Plantain Two Ways

Plantain is such an under-appreciated vegetable in so many cultures. Even here, in the Caribbean, they make tostones, fried plantains and that’s it. But we, South-Indians have so many plantain recipes. And seeing plantains so often in the supermarket, in the farmer’s market, or simply on the street side shops, makes me very happy.

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Vazhakkai, has so many uses in the South-Indian kitchen. We make so many sides, bajji, pan-fried, sautéd with spice powder, steamed, and I’m sure so many more preparations. I’m gonna try all of them, as plantains are in season here now. In fact, in South India, we use every part of the banana tree. We cook with banana stems, blossoms, plantains, bananas, we eat on banana leaves.. I remember a time when we used to go to our grandmother’s house for summer vacation, and there were a few banana and coconut trees in backyard, and we used to cut banana leaves just before lunch to eat on them.

But here, in the Cayman, it’s still here. If you go down south, to the older, non-touristy parts, every house has a couple of banana trees and coconut trees, sometimes neem trees and mango trees. (New life aim to live in one such house).

In the past one month (it’s been a month since we moved here? :O), with my limited kitchen utensils (no, our shipped stuff is still somewhere mid-atlantic), I’ve tried out 2 recipes using local plantains. One is pan-fried, and the other steamed. Will give both recipes here. I am also currently ripening one plantain to make platanos maduros. More on that later. Now to the recipes.

Pan-Fried Plantain (Vazhakkai varuval)

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Ingredients :

Plantains – 2
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Chili powder – 1 tsp
Salt, to taste
For tempering –
Oil – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves – few
Asafoetida – a pinch

Method :

  1. Peel and slice plantain thinly. You can use a mandoline for this.
  2. Marinate it in a mixture of turmeric, chili powder and salt for salt.
  3. Heat a wide pan, add oil and temper mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida.
  4. After the mustard seeds splutter, add the marinated plantains to the pan, and try to spread them so they’re in an even, single layer on the pan. (If your pan is too small, and the plantains look crowded, pan-fry in two batches).
  5. Pan-fry them, on medium high heat, turning once or twice, so it cooks evenly on all sides.
  6. When it’s cooked through, and you have the desired level of crispiness, remove from pan and serve.

Vazhakkai podi (Plantain spiced powder)

The traditional recipe, of course, doesn’t use flaxseeds. I’m adding it here because, flaxseed is super healthy with fibre and omega3, but has to be eaten powdered and raw. Also we should consume it immediately after grinding. So this podi is only meant for serving right away, not to be kept for later and eaten. But, even if the nutrients deteriorate, it would still be good kept in the fridge for 3-4 days.

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Ingredients:

Plantain – 1
Urad dal – 2 tbsp
Chana Dal – 2 tbsp
Red Chili – 2
Curry leaves – few
Flaxseed – 1 tbsp (optional)
Tamarind – 1/4 tsp of extract, or tiny bit of raw tamarind
Salt – to taste
Asafoetida – a pinch

Method:

  1. Steam the plantains with their peel on, in a steamer or in your pressure cooker for 10-15 min.
  2. Remove off steamer, and peel the plantains. The peel should slip off easily. Grate the plantains on a box grater and keep aside.
  3. Roast the dals, red chiles and curry leaves in a tsp of oil till golden brown.
  4. Grind the roasted stuff, along with a bit of tamarind, salt, and asafoetida coarsely.
  5. Add the grated plantain, spin the blender a few more times, till you get an even mixture.
  6. Vazhakkai podi can be eaten mixed with plain white rice and ghee. Or you can use it as side for curd rice, idli, dosai.

Vendakkai Kari (Pan-fried Okra)

I’ve always had a thing for cooking/buying local, in-season produce. I don’t understand people who live in India and pay Rs.200 for an avocado, or people living abroad hunting for imported Indian mangoes. Sure, once in a while is fine. But regularly, we should all try to eat local produce. They’re fresher, cheaper and definitely much healthier.

Hence, I frequent farmer’s markets. After our recent move, it took me one day to locate the time and place of the local market. It was quite easy given that the area of the island is just 75sqmi. But the local market here is so different from those I’ve been to before, the produce so different. Summer in NY means, best of fruits – peaches and apricots and berries. Here it’s mangoes. So many varieties of local mangoes. And star fruit and guavas and coconut. It’s quite a revelation. As far as veggies go, right now, okra and plantains are in season. I buy them every week and try out new ways to fix them.

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Today, I will give here my Okra recipe. I never buy frozen okra, because my favorite way to make it crispy, pan-fried, and okra and moisture don’t go well. Look how gorgeous this farmer’s market haul is! And I’ve never seen red okra before! I’ve always loved okra, and not because my mom told me that eating okra makes you a genius at Math. Now my kids love it too. It’s their favorite vegetable of all time. Here’s how I make it (and how my mom made it).

Pan-fried Okra (Vendakkai kari in Tamil)

Ingredients

Okra – 1/2 kg (about 1 pound)
Oil for tempering
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Curry leaves – few
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 1tsp (You can change this based on your spice level, but I keep it here otherwise you can’t really taste the okra, or anything else)
Salt – to taste

Method

1. Wash the okra well. Wipe it well with a fresh tea towel. Let it sit in a colander for 10-15 min to air dry. You don’t want any water on the okra. Dry it again with a paper towel if you must. No water!

2. Slice it with a sharp knife, taking care not to bruise it too much. And don’t slice it carpaccio-thin, thinking it would be crisper. Slice it thusly.

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3. Use a wide pan. Don’t use your vANali/wok here. You need a pan wide enough to fit the okra without crowding it in a pile. You don’t want it to steam.

4. Heat oil (medium high heat). Temper mustard seeds, urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds have spluttered and the dal is brown, add turmeric powder and chili powder. Don’t burn them, but let it mix with the oil well.

5. Add the chopped okra. Mix with the seasoned oil well and spread it out evenly in the pan so it’s not all crowded. Let it sit here and cook for a bit.

6. Resist the temptation to stir the okra too much. The more you stir, the more gooey the okra becomes. Also, notice we haven’t added salt yet. And we won’t till the very end. This is because salt is hydrophilic, and will draw moisture out of the food. We don’t want more moisture in there. Keep the heat at medium-high as well.

7. Stir the okra once every five minutes. so it cooks evenly on all sides. In about 15 min, you will notice, while stirring, the okra is no longer gooey and has turned color slightly. At this point, add salt to taste, stir well, and cook for another 5-7 minutes, till the okra is at desired level of crispness.

8. Take off heat and serve with rice/roti or just eat it off the pan. I’ve done all 3.

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ParuppuruNdai mOrkkuzhambu


There are some dishes bring about a bout of nostalgia. Mother’s kitchen. Sunday lunches. Weeknight dinners. Birthday cakes. Brunches. Everyone has that one special recipe that reminds you of mom, of simpler, happier times. For me, it’s this dish. I can just close my eyes and go 20 years back, sitting on my mom’s kitchen counter, watching my mom cook, waiting for her to finish, so I can eat it, with steaming hot rice, and pan fried okra. Those were the days.

But it’s still nice to know that I can make the same kuzhambu (sauce), and re-live those memories, even though mom is thousands of miles away. So here is the recipe of mom’s paruppuruNdai mOrkkuzhambu (steamed lentil dumplings in a spicy yogurt sauce).

ParuppuruNdai mOrkkuzhambu

Ingredients:

For ParuppuruNdai:
Chana dal – 1/2 cup
Toor dal – 1/2 cup
Dried red chilies – 2-3 (depending on your spice preference)
Curry leaves – 1 bunch
Salt to taste

For mOrkkuzhambu:
Buttermilk – 2 cups (or plain yogurt 1 cup and water 1 cup blended together)
Cumin – 1 tsp
Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
Toor dal – 1 1/2 tsp
Green chilies – 1-2 (depending on how sour your buttermilk/yogurt is)
Fresh grated coconut – 3 tbsp
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
For tempering: Oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafetida.

Method:

For ParuppuruNdai:

Soak the dals and red chilies in water for 2 hours.
Drain, and grind it with curry leaves and salt (without extra water) into a coarse, thick batter. Do not add more water.
Shape into lime sized balls, using a light touch, don’t press too hard to shape them, they tend to become too hard when steamed.
Steam for 15 – 20 min. (Be it in the idli cooker, rice cooker or stove top steamer)

For mOrkkuzhambu:

Soak cumin, coriander seeds, and toor dal in water for 15-20 min.
Grind into a fine paste with green chilies and grated coconut.
Mix the ground paste, turmeric and salt in the buttermilk/yogurt.
Place on the stove (medium heat) and heat the kuzhambu till it bubbles up. Do not let it boil, as this will separate the curds and whey in the yogurt.
Add the paruppuruNdais.
Temper mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafetida in oil, and add to the mOrkkuzhambu.
Let it sit for 30 min, so the paruppuruNdais will soak up the flavor of the kuzhambu.
Serve with hot rice, or sEvai (rice noodles).

Tips:

1. Leave the yogurt/buttermilk on the counter for a few hours so it turns a bit sour. Sour is better for this dish, because it holds up well to the spices.
2. The same paruppuruNdai recipe works for paruppusili too, after steaming, temper and saute with steamed veggies.
3. You can make the mOrkkuzhambu without the lentil dumplings, and use veggies in it’s place (okra, squash, eggplant)
4. You could add the lentil dumplings in other sauces too: vathakuzhambu, kaarakuzhambu.