“Lots of Joy puns will abound!”, so said Joy when I mentioned that I might write a blog post about our cooking date. Well, they might, so consider yourself warned. Joy and I had been thinking of cooking together for several months now, but something or the other kept ruining our plans. Finally, my disappointment with the newly opened Sarvana Bhawan branch in the neighborhood did it. We decided to make our own South Indian meal.
It was a breakfast menu for dinner: sambar (obviously), idli, khara pongal, coconut chutney and tomato chutney. We made sambar with pumpkin, turnip, eggplant, carrots and green beans, and ground our own sambar masala. Once you get used to eating sambar made with freshly ground masala, it is very difficult to enjoy the readymade sambar podi. Turnip is my new favorite sambar vegetable..it soaks up the sourness of the gravy so well..yum!
It was the first time we were attempting to make idli from scratch. So, two days before Joy came over, I had soaked the urad dal and ground it with idli rava and fermented the batter. The batter had risen nicely, but I do feel that I should have ground the dal into an even smoother paste. My biggest fear was that the idlis would turn out to be hard, but thankfully, softness was not an issue. They were fluffy and not at all bad for a first attempt. A lot more experimentation shall follow in future.
Khara pongal was, by popular vote, the tastiest dish of the day. And there is only one word that explains all the love it received: ghee! Not only had we cooked the pongal in lots of ghee, spoonfuls of it were added as a topping towards the end. Pongal is a south Indian version of khichdi and what’s not to love about khichdi ! Both Joy and I love coconut chutney, so we made a little extra. I really, really enjoyed the tomato chutney as well.
Even though I love my independent, modern, working (does Ph.D. qualify as work?), city life and wouldn’t give up any of it, I occasionally miss the old-world charm of families bonding over the traditional ways of preparing food. Some of it was necessary because there weren’t too many gadgets and machines in the kitchen (and elsewhere in the house) and as a result, almost everything was homemade. So, when I was growing up, seasonal activities like pickling, canning, papad-making, drying red chillies and powdering them involved several family members and neighbors, mostly women and children, working together on the terrace in the winter sun. And it was so much fun! I doubt many of us will get to experience the same joys with our children and a little part of me feels sad about it.
But even though I don’t see a sun-drenched terrace covered in dry papads in my future, hopefully, I will always be able to find time to cook with family and friends and at least, bond over shelling peas, chopping onions and stirring soups. Thank you for one such wonderful day, Joy :-).
simple tomato-coconut chutney
- 4 medium sized tomatoes
- 4-5 dry whole red chillies
- 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the red chillies. Pull them out of the pan and keep aside.
- Add chopped tomatoes to the oil and sauté till they are soft and cooked. The longer you cook the tomatoes, the more concentrated the flavor will be.
- Let the tomatoes cool for 4-5 minutes.
- Grind the tomatoes with coconut, red chillies and salt into a fine paste.
- Heat up the remaining oil in a small pan and once it is hot, add the mustard seeds. Let them splutter.
- Pour this tempering (i.e. mustard seeds + oil) over the ground chutney and mix.
- 3/4 cup yellow moong dal
- 1 cup rice
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 5-6 curry leaves
- 3-4 small green chillies
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 3/4 cup grated coconut
- 2-3 strands coriander leaves
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 6-8 cups of water
- Salt to taste
- Wash daal and rice in several changes of water till the water runs clear.
- Heat ghee in a pressure cooker. Once it is hot, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and when they start popping, add curry leaves, crushed black pepper and green chilies. Fry for a minute. Add onion and fry till it turns brownish.
- Add dal and rice to the cooker and fry for a minute. Add 8 cups of water.
- Mix in the coconut, chopped coriander and salt. Close the lid of the cooker and cook for 2 whistles. The Pongal should be in a semi-liquid state when done, like regular khichdi. My cooker is not big enough, so I had added a little less water, so the pongal looks thicker in the picture than it should be.
- Garnish with a few spoonfuls of warm ghee and eat!