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.
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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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Kancheepuram Idli

Temples in India are special in that they attract food enthusiasts and gourmands as well, thanks to their “prasadham” (offering). Each temple (let me stick to my homeland) in Tamilnadu, has it’s own special food offering. And for a relatively cheap price, sell it to all the visitors. One temple in Kancheepuram, Varadharajar temple, offers this special, spicy idli as prasadham. My mom tells me, her great uncle was the cook there for many years, making these idlis day after day, and this recipe from him, has been in the family forever. Try it, it’s both healthy and delicious, with a spicy kick from the dry ginger and black peppercorns.

Kancheepuram Idli

Ingredients:

Idli Rice – 1 cup
Raw Rice – 1 cup
Black Urad dal – 1 cup
Salt – as per taste
Sour yogurt – 1/4 cup
Dry ginger (sukku) – 1″ piece
Black Pepper Corn – 1 tbsp
Cumin – 1/2 tbsp
Curry leaves (fresh) – 10
Ghee – 2 tbsp

Method:

1. Soak black urad dal overnight.
2. In the morning, soak the rice, for 3-4 hours.
3. Grind the dal, and rice  separately, into thick batter (don’t add too much water).
4. Mix the dal and rice batter with salt, and ferment for 10-12 hours. (or until the dough rises and has bubbles on the surface). At this point, you can store the batter in the refrigerator for future use. It can be used for a week.
5. On the day of cooking, mix in sour yogurt (just leave 1/4 cup of yogurt on the counter overnight).
6. Coarsely powder dry ginger, cumin and black peppercorns and add it to the dough, along with fresh curry leaves.
7. Heat the ghee (clarified butter) in a small pan, and pour hot ghee over the spice powder on the batter.
8. Mix the batter well.
9. Now you have two choices, you can cook it in regular idli pan for 20 mins, or pour all the batter into a cake pan, or the steamer pan of your rice cooker (lined with aluminum foil), and steam for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
10. Cut into wedges and serve with idli molaga podi, or chutney of your choice.

Tips:

1. If you can’t find whole black urad dal, you could replace it with regular urad dal. You don’t have to soak regular urad dal overnight though.