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February 28, 2009

Click: Cheese & Tofu

I almost didn't but I had to. 

Unlike last month, I didn't burn my brain trying to figure out what I'll click. I was about to let this month pass silently but I got a few nudges from here and there, and ideas actually being mailed to me that I couldn't let it pass. 

I thought of a few things to do but ended up doing something entirely different simply because I was too lazy and didn't want to go grocery shopping on Friday evening. 

Anyway, here it is. I used this golden fried tofu to make an awesome dish and I will share the recipe very soon. 

Golden Fried Tofu


February 27, 2009

Daal Makhani Recipe-Maa Ki Daal-Daal Makhni-Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani, a popular Indian dal recipe is also known as maa ki dal, as I discovered recently. This is my least favourite dal dish to order in a restaurant and I am yet to eat a good dal makhani in any restaurant except maybe Sahib Sindh Sultan who does do a pretty good dal makhani that even I can agree to order sometimes. Note: Check out another version of dal makhani recipe here.

Ironically, my mom doesn't cook this so this isn't really maa ki dal to me. We are South Indians for whom dal doesn't form part of a typical meal and though amma cooks an occasional rajma masala or paneer tikka masala, dal makhani is too foreign to us and never really occurred to her to try and cook, I guess.

Her daughter, obviously, loves to take on more than she can chew sometimes (literally!) and takes pleasure in experimenting on never-before-cooked recipes especially when she has guests. I most often mess up on my most tried and tested recipes when I have guests (is it the pressure or is it the expected behaviour, I can never tell).

Anyway, dal makhani has been on the back of my head forever and I recently got a bag of whole black lentils (whole black urad dal) and I decided to try it on an evening we had a young North Indian couple. Brave, aren't I? ;)

This is a milder version of the dish as I was serving it with spiced up vegetable pulao. I also avoided the cream that is usually an essential ingredient for this recipe.
Dal Makhani Recipe
(Serves 4)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup whole ural dal (black lentils), soaked overnight
4 tbsp rajma (red kidney beans), soaked overnight with the dal
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tomato, chopped fine
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp red chilly powder
2 dried red chillies
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
Salt

How to make Dal Makhani:

1. Heat oil in a pressure cooker and saute onions till transparent. Add salt, chilly powder and the ginger-garlic pasted and fry for a minute.

2. Next, add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes so that the mixture combines well together. Add the lentils and beans, and enough water to just cover them. Pressure cook for 3-4 whistles. Remove from fire and set aside.

3. Once the pressure leaves the cooker, keep it on a low fire. Add the milk and bring to boil. Keep it on sim and let it boil while preparing to temper it.

4. Heat the butter and oil in a pan and throw in the cumin seeds. Once they start spluttering, add the chopped garlic and the red chillies each torn into 3 pieces. Fry until the garlic starts browning and smelling lovely.

5. Remove the dal from fire and add the tempered butter-oil directly to it. Follow immediately with garam masala and mix well. Adjust salt.

Serve with warm rotis, naan or an easy veg pulao.

February 25, 2009

Erissery Recipe - Kerala Pumpkin Erissery Recipe - Onam Sadya Recipes

Erissery (with pumpkin or mathanga) is a typical Kerala Onam sadya recipe that's almost always made during a festival or wedding. I realised a couple of weeks back that its been quite a while since I posted any Kerala recipe in here. It wasn't surprising because when I think of making a new dish, I always try to look up Brahmin recipes since that's something TH would enjoy and something I can learn too.

But on this particular weekend, I was all "I want Kerala food, coconut all the way". I usually shop for my vegetables for the week on Sunday evenings but that weekend, I headed off bright and early, ok 11am to be precise, on Saturday and guess what I saw first thing I stepped into the vegetable section.

This beauty right here. I am no pumpkin lover but erissery has always held a soft spot in my heart. Mom doesn't make it that often, actually. She makes pumpkin koottu more often, with dal. But erissery is a quintessential part of the Onam Sadya and I realised I haven't even tried it myself yet. That idea and this pumpkin combined, and the rest is history ;)

I couldn't resist more pictures of the pumpkin. It was bright orange-yellow and smooth spotless on the outside. Since this was during Chinese New Year, vegetables in Singapore supermarkets were fresh and mostly from China.

If you would like to check out more Kerala recipes, then my favourites are inji curry, Kerala avial, and cabbage thoran.

PUMPKIN ERISSERY RECIPE - MATHANGA ERISSERY RECIPE

Ingredients
(serves 4 as a side)
Pumpkin / mathanga - 3 cups, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
Grated coconut - 1/2 cup (fresh works best but you can use frozen too)
Cumin / jeera / jeerakam - 1 tsp
Green chillies - 2, or to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
For tempering
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Grated coconut - 4 tbsp
Shallots - 3, sliced
Red chillies - 3
Curry leaves - a few
Coconut oil - 2 tsp (or any other oil you have)

How to Make Pumpkin Erissery:

1. Boil the pumpkin in 1/4 cup water with salt and turmeric, until soft. This should take about 7 to 10 mins.

2. Grind coconut, green chillies and jeera to a paste with requred amount of water. Add this to the cooked pumpkin and keep fire on sim. Adjust water if the curry is too thick at this stage. Add spoonfuls at a time so that it doesn't get too watery. If curry is too watery, then let it boil or add 1 tsp of rice flour mixed in 2 tsp water. Cook until desired consistency is reached, add salt and keep aside.

3. Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the urad dal, shallots and red chillies. Fry until the dal turns golden brown and the shallots turn transparent. Tear curry leaves and add to this. Mix well and pour directly over the cooked pumpkin curry.

4. In the same pan, add the 4 tbsp coconut and fry on low heat till crispy and golden brown. Mix this into the curry and serve with steamed rice and pickles. Adding the fried coconut in the end is very important for the flavour of the curry so don't skip this step!

Mathanga Erissery

February 23, 2009

Food Photography Basics : Using The Right Bowls, Plates and Colours

Before you read this post on Food Photography Basics and wonder why on earth I am taking pictures of empty bowls and plates, reading the first two posts in the series may help.


At the end of the second post I had asked for suggestions on what you would like to see next. Thankfully, most of you opted to see the bowls I have and what I think works best for food pics when it comes to shapes, colours, and types of bowls and plates to use. (I got really lucky 'cuz if you guys had picked shutter speed, I wouldn't have had time to do this post today).

So, before we take a peek into my collection, I have a couple of disclaimers:

1. This is not by any means an authoritative post on anything. All I am doing is sharing what I have and how I use them in my food pics. If you found anything useful in here, I would consider this post a success.

2. I didn't get time to edit the pics much beyond adding my watermark so bear with me and look only at the contents of the pics :D

3. All typos are due to exhaustion and susceptibility of my left wrist for coming down with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Alright then. Onto my collection.

I thought I will share the set of bowls that have received the most attention. Each time I use these I get questions on whether I photoshopped them to match my food, where I got them, how many colours are there, etc.

This is the entire set - 6 colours. The bowls are small and slender and I got them as a wedding gift from my dad-in-law's friend. This one of the very few wedding gifts I use regularly - and how!

Here are some examples of pictures taken using these bowls. I think I've used the black one the most.


Next are ramekins! I got them about three months back and have used them in every other food pic I take - almost! I love ramekins. To begin with, they are white, and white works best for food pics in my opinion. It makes the dish stand out and these are just the right size for you to take gorgeous pics. The corrugated sides are so pretty too. I am a total ramekin fan. Does it show?

I got these in Singapore at a baking supplies store in China Town. They were about S$ 1.30 a piece and I thought that was a steal. Maybe you get them cheaper in the US, I'm not sure.

Here are some pictures I took using these.


My pretty red and black bowls are next. I bought these at a roadside stall during my second week in Singapore because I didn't have anything to serve noodles in! They were really cheap (I think 50 cents each) and came with these tiny dishes that the Chinese use to serve their sauces in. I have used these in a few pictures and love the shape! A totally good buy, even though unintentional at the time.

Here are some pictures taken with the bowls:


I also used the small sauce dishes in the Andhra Paruppu Podi picture.

I have only two black bowls, the ones you see below. They were a gift from TH and thoroughly overpriced. He got them at Nick Nish in Forum Mall, Bangalore for 90rs a piece. That's robbery, right?

I am not really complaing because I have used them in quite a lot of pictures. They travelled with me to Singapore and were sensible enough not to break or crack under all my other luggage.

Black looks really good when you 'shadow' the picture in Picasa. I have heavily 'shadowed' all my pics taken in this bowl and it blends nicely into a black background, bringing the entire focus on the food.

Here are examples:


Good 'ol steel bowl comes next. I have a few of these but used only one for the pic since the others are all in the fridge. These are bowls that I have in the kitchen for my day-to-day use but invariably find themselves in some picture or the other when I want them to feature in an authentic Indian recipe.

I am terribly under-stocked in good steel bowls and make do with these much-used, hand-me-downs in the kitchen.


Here are examples of some steel bowl goodness:


Like I mentioned before, I feel white works best for food pictures since its neutral and also bounces light well back on to the food. The other white bowls I have (apart from the ramekins) are below. Some I brought with me from India and some I got in Singapore. None of them are above S$ 3 a piece.


The white rectangular tray

Food pics taken in this:



The white round bowls

Food pics taken in these:



The wide beige-white Ikea bowls (60 cents a piece)

Food pics taken in these:


These are the only plates I have apart from my everyday steel plates. I got these at Mustafa a week after we arrived in Singapore and needed some plates to serve guests (when we made friends and they came to visit!)

I think these were about S$ 2 a piece and I bought four. I am glad I went for basic white because they form a great base for 'loose' food and I love the pictures I took with these in them.


Food pics on white plate:


Here is the answer to my coloured backgrounds that many of you have asked about. Construction paper! I bought a pack for 4 dollars and they came in most of the common colours. These are A4 size so I always have to bend and break my back to make the entire picture fit in this size. But I still love them. The yellow and the blue ones you see in the pic are ruined because of oil marks on them. That's the flip side, you can't just wipe them with a wet cloth and re-use them, sadly. But you can always buy another pack ;)

I use these in almost all my pics but here are some example pics where I have received the most number of questions about what background I used and whether I photoshopped the colour in. Photoshop is good to have, but really not necessary, trust me!


I also bought some tissues recently from Ikea. These could form good backgrounds or bases for food pics. I haven't tried them yet but I have a good feeling about them.

Blind-like coasters also make very good bases for food pics. I had a few when I was in Hyd but I brought only these two with me to Singapore. When I buy coasters, unless they come in pairs, I buy only one. That's all you need anyway so why waste money.

Here are some pics using these coasters:


Ok, now who wants to help me put away all these and clear up the mess? Oh God! I need to do this before TH comes to iron his clothes. This table doubles up as my photography area, ironing table and the study table from where I work if I need to get something done over the weekend.

There is a window to the left, my primary (and only) light source when I take pics.

I buy a bowl or a plate whenever I go shopping. It doesn't need to be expensive, just colourful and of the right size. If you are just starting out, I would highly recommend getting some plain white bowls. I have a square white bowl on my wishlist, as well as a round wooden bowl to shoot raw ingredients in.

Once I am done cooking, I open my cupboard and look at these beauties inside. In under 2 mins, I instinctively know how the final picture should look like. I see it in my head. Starting off with a small yet good collection will give you flexibility and motivation to take it another step, buy that extra bowl and notice things in others' food pictures that you may not have before.

Its fun, isn't it? I am glad I got on this bandwagon of food blogging when I did. Its made me a better person. Fatter, but better :)

February 20, 2009

Akoori Recipe | Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms & Masala

I happened to chance on some Parsi recipes while random browsing the other day and came across this incredibly simple recipe for scrambled eggs, what the Parsis call Akoori. It didn't look very different from the usual masala scrambled eggs recipes I use, except that they add ground cumin in this. I wanted to follow the recipe exactly but my hands itched to use up some extra mushrooms lying around after making the Broccoli Mushroom Stir Fry, so I decided to use them up here.

Akoori Recipe | Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms & Masala
Though I really didn't create an Akoori exactly at the end of it, I was quite intrigued by this simple scrambled egg recipe that I saw, that I had to share it.

Pain old Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Masala. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it?

Scrambled Eggs (Akoori) Recipe

What I Used:
(Serves 2)

Eggs - 4
Onion - 1 small, chopped
Tomato - half of one, chopped
Mushrooms, any variety - 1/4 cup (remove hard stem and quarter the cap if using button mushrooms)
Capsicum - 1/4 of one, cubed
Curry masala / Garam masala - 1/2 tsp
Ground cumin / jeera / jeerakam - a pinch
Red chilli powder - a generous pinch (you can also use 1 sliced green chilli)
Curry leaves - a few
Oil - 2 tsp
Salt - to taste
Pepper powder - for sprinkling on top while serving

How I Made It:

1. Break the eggs into a bowl and mix well with salt. If you want to separate a couple of yolks and use only the whites, that's fine too.

2. Heat oil in a wide pan or wok and saute the onions until transparent. Throw in the mushrooms next, increase the heat and let them cook for a few seconds before tossing. Let them cook again for some time and then toss again. Do this cook-toss routine till the mushrooms start sweating and get softer. (Should take about 4 mins or so depending on the mushrooms you are using).

3. Now add the cumin powder, chilli power, and the curry masala and mix well for a minute.

4. The tomatoes go in next and you can tear the curry leaves and throw them in too. Mix around for some more time until the tomatoes get a little soft and give out the water. I chopped them fine so they pretty much broke into a mushy pulp at this stage (psst.. I don't like chunky pieces of tomatoes in my egg, quite distracting!).

5. Now our stars make the entrance. Lower heat to just over sim and add the eggs. There are two ways to mix them at this stage. If you mix vigrously and continuously, you will be left with fine pieces of scrambled eggs and if you let it cook for a while and then break it up, cook-break, cook-break, then you will get slightly bigger, softer pieces of egg. I prefer the latter method so that's what I did.

6. Once the eggs are cooked through, remove from fire, sprinkle some pepper powder on top and serve with toast, rice, or anything of your choice. I won't tell anyone if you eat it as is, if that's what you prefer to do ;)

Akoori Recipe | Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms & MasalaThough I prefer the first pic, this one has a better view of the mushrooms so here you go!

February 18, 2009

Coriander Rice - Coriander Rice Recipe - Kothamalli Sadam

Coriander rice or kothamalli sadam is another recipe from Chandra Padmanabhan's Southern Spice. I have been trying more and more recipes from the book with good results and this kothamalli sadam recipe is definitely a winner. Both TH and I love fresh coriander and pretty much anything made with it. When I have some extra leaves on the verge of wilting and wasting away, I chop them and add them to dosa batter, that's how much we love it!

The original recipe in the book called for mixed vegetables to be added but since I didn't have any carrots or cauliflower, I only added frozen peas. You can keep this recipe as the base and add vegetables and even paneer/tofu to get a different dish each time.

coriander rice
Recipe For Coriander Rice
Ingredients:
(Serves 2)

Basmati rice (or any long-grained rice) - 2 cups
Green peas - 1/4 cup (optional)
Salt - to taste
For the Coriander Paste:
Fresh coriander leaves - 1 cup
Chopped onions - 1, medium
Green chillies - 2, more or less
For Tempering:
Oil - 2 tsp
Chana dal / kadala paruppu - 1 tsp
Urad dal / uzhunnu parippu - 1/2 tsp
Hing / Asafoetida - a generouns pinch
Curry leaves - a few
For Garnish:
Roasted cashewnuts - a handful
Chopped coriander leaves - 1/4 cup
How to Make Kothamalli Sadam:

1. Soak the basmati rice in some water for 20 mins and cook in sufficient water until the grains are cooked, yet firm. I pressure cooked it this time for one whistle with 1:1 rice:water ratio.

2. Grind the ingredients for the coriander paste with little water.

3. Heat oil for tempering and roast the chana dal and urad dal until golden brown. Add the curry leaves and hing and mix well.

4. Now add the ground coriander paste and blend well adding enough salt. Throw in the green peas and let it simmer for 2-3 mins.

5. Switch off fire and mix in the rice while the paste is still hot.

6. Garnish with cashewnuts and chopped coriander leaves.
coriander rice
I served it with a simple cucumber raita and papad. The flavour of this kothamalli sadam or coriander rice will be a true delight for coriander lovers!


February 15, 2009

Basic Food Photography Editing With Google Picasa 3



As I promised in the last post of the Basics of Food Photography Series, I am going to share how I edit pictures after I upload them from the camera. This is the most basic of edits and just involves a few clicks on Picasa. It's quick, easy and totally lazy-friendly.

If you don't have Google Picasa, you can download it here. It's free and quite useful!

Okay, so here is the picture we are going to use and a side-by-side comparison in case you guys want to see what I am going to talk about for the rest of the post. It's the baby corn I bought to make baby corn masala.

Once you have Picasa running on your computer, it will automatically sync all your pictures into the program. To edit a picture, open it in Picasa.
Let's look at the editing process step-by-step now.
This is how my picture looked SOOC - Straight Out Of Camera.

The first thing I always check is whether my picture can use with a crop. I sometimes chop off considerable amount of the picture when I feel the main stuff is not getting its due attention.
In this case, I feel there is a bit more space on the left than the right so I am going to crop off a bit of the green space on the left.

In the menu to the left, under Basic Fixes, choose 'Crop'. Click and drag the mouse to choose the portion you want to retain in the picture. Hit 'apply'

There you go, much better!

The next thing I want to fix is the faint line you see near the base of the bowl. I used to chart papers to form as the base and background of the picture and this is where they meet on the table. I want that line to be as invisible as possible.

To do this, choose 'Retouch' from the menu on the left. Use the box at the bottom right of the picture to navigate to the portion of the pic you want to retouch. Choose brush size from the left menu. Click on the area you want to retouch while holding the left mouse button down, then click on a space in the picture that's smooth.

In this case, I slightly increased the brush size from default, hold-clicked my cursor on one end of the line on the left. Then I clicked on a smooth portion of the green background so that the line gets blurred a bit.

After working the whole line to the left of the bowl, here is how the picture looked like.


Notice the difference on the left and right of the bowl? The line is blurred and blends better with the background. If I hadn't brought your notice to it, you wouldn't have noticed it in the picture ;)
Quick tip: The retouch tool is very useful to remove blotches of curry or small shreds of vegetables that appear on the side of your bowls in pictures. Just click on the blotch, and then click outside on a smooth part of the bowl to make it disappear! Same method to remove that unwanted pimple on your profile picture in Facebook ;)

Do the same retouching on the right of the bowl as well. Here is the final retouched picture.

Now its time to move to the second tab in the left side menu in Picasa - the 'Tuning' tab - my absolute favourite.

I use the 'fill light' option if the picture looks a bit too dark. Since this one is fine in the lighting department, let's jump to the 'highlights' slider. Play around with this option until you feel your picture looks better then before. We don't want the pic to be too bright. I moved the slider about 1/4th of the way to the right to make it look like this.

See the difference? The greens are a bit brighter. Just a tad, that's all we need.
Next is the 'shadows' slider. Ooooh, I love this! It can give an instant boost to your pic. What this does is, it enhances the shadows in your picture. It brings out the colour beautifully in most cases so play around with this as well. Be careful not to be too enthusiastic because if used badly, this can make one portion of your pic really dark.

Like for my pic, the shadow is darker on the right hand side so if I go overboard with the 'shadows' slider, the right hand side will look too dark.
I brought the slider about 1/3rd of the way to the right.
Here's the result.

See how the colours are popping out? I always love the effect of 'shadows'. It works especially well if you have a black background and use a black bowl. Like in this picture.
Ok, now let's increase the colour temperature a bit. This is also to accentuate the colours in your pic a bit so increasing it a bit never does harm. I increased a bit on this pic and here's how it turned out.

You'll notice that the colours generally 'warmed' a bit, especially the yellows of the corn.
Time to click on the third tab, 'Effects', now.
This has a lot of options that you can experiment with but the one I use most is the first one, 'sharpen'. Now the tool comes with a slider so you can control the amount. I don't sharpen too much since it makes the pic look unnatural, but a little bit never hurts.
Here is the above picture, sharpened.

Ah, nice. Almost done!
Hmm.. I didn't notice that glaring patch of light on the bowl before. Do you see that? On the bowl, towards the rim on the left?
Let's try and see if we can use 'Retouch' under 'Basic Fixes' to remove that.

Ack!! Bad idea!! Good to demo that Picasa does come with limitations and you can't perform magic with it, just close to magic ;)
Thank God for the 'undo' function! Undo undo!!

Ah good. I think I am pretty happy with the pic now so all I need to do is add my watermark, the copyright info. Initially, I used to add it to one corner in the bottom of the pic but these days I add it to the center of the pic and make it blend as much as possible.

Use the 'text' tool under 'Basic Fixes' and play around with different fonts and text colours. My favourite is Bradley Hand that's subtle enough to put in the center of the pic.

There you go! Good to upload to flickr and type up a post.
I know this seems like a lot of steps but once you learn your way around Picasa you will realize how ridiculously easy it is.
Even with having to save the pics at the end of each step for this demo post, I still took under 20 minutes to do the whole thing.
Here's another look at what we just did.

Happy editing :)
Now I have a question for you all. I have three ideas for my next post in the series.
1. Blurring backgrounds using Photoshop
2. Plates and bowls, what works best and what I have
3. Shutter speed and ISO (if you choose this, I will have to teach myself what they mean, first :D)
Let me know what you would like to learn more about next.

February 12, 2009

Koorka Thoran and Koorka Mezhuppuratti Recipes - 2 Recipes, 1 Post

Ok, I don't know how to explain koorka to you guys. The best translation for this vegetable I saw on the Internet was Chinese Potatoes. I have no idea if this is even available in China. As far as I know, in India, you get this only in Kerala. I never used to give it much thought while there but I cannot explain how I felt the moment I saw this packet at Mustafa in Singapore. It was labeled 'poor yam' and it was hard to figure out exactly what it was since it was packed and I couldn't see inside clearly.

They call it poor yam but it's not really cheap!

TH thought it was 'cheppan kizhangu' or arbi (not sure of the english name for this) and since he loves stir-fried arbi, he encouraged me to buy it. I instinctively knew it was koorka but I didn't whoop with joy until I came home, scratched some skin off the vegetable and smelled it :D

Hairy, aren't they?

Koorka is a hairy tuber that looks similar to arbi but doesn't have that slimy feel to it when chopped. It also doesn't make your hands itch like elephant yam / chena does.

Preparing it to cook, however, was a pain. My mom had warned me about this when I excitedly told her I found koorka in the supermarket but I didn't think it will be this bad. Maybe I didn't choose the easiest method to do this.

This process was a pain in all the wrong places!

There are three ways you can prep koorka for cooking:

(a) pressure cook it for one whistle and peel it like you would potatoes.

(b) put it in a sack or jute bag and beat it on the floor till the skin peels off. I know this sounds weird but in Kerala, most households follow this method, apparently. I am guessing the koorka needs to be really fresh for you to be able to do this.

(c) Use a knife to scrape off the skin.

I followed option c. Pressure cooking it removes the flavour a tad bit and I didn't want the final dishes to be anything less than delicious. I regretted this after scraping about 10 koorkas and had a gazillion more to go! I got TH to help me and he did after I swore it won't irritate his palms like elephant yam does. Sheesh, touchy man, my husband.

Anyway, once I got all of them peeled, I felt much better. The worst was over. Since I couldn't decide between a thoran and a mezhukkupuratti, I made both :)

Par-boiled koorka

Before you decide to make anything with koorka, its a good idea to boil it in some water until half cooked and let it drain.

Recipe For Koorka Thoran



Ingredients:

Par-boiled koorka - 1 cup
Grated coconut - 1/3 cup
Green chillies - 2
Shallots - 4
Cumin / jeera / jeerakam - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Urad dal / uzhunnu parippu - 1/4 tsp (optional)
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves - a few
Oil - 2 tsp (use coconut oil for a more authentic taste)
Salt - to taste

How to Make Koorka Thoran

1. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. When they pop, add the urad dal and fry until golden brown.

2. Grind together the coconut, green chillies, jeera, turmeric and shallots. Add this to the fried urad dal. Stir around for about 10 seconds.

3. Next add the boiled koorka, curry leaves and salt. Mix well and let it cook for another 2-3 mins.
Recipe For Koorka Mezhukkupuratti



Ingredients:

Par-boiled koorka - 1 cup
Dried red chillies - 2
Garlic - 3 pods
Shallots - 2 (optional)
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Oil - 1 tbsp (use coconut oil and it will be yummier)
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves - a few
Salt - to taste

How to Make Koorka Mezhukkupuratti

1. Heat oil and add mustard seeds. Once they pop, add the koorka and stir-fry for about 3-4 mins.

2. Crush the red chillies, garlic and shallots in a pestle and mortar if you have one. Otherwise just grind them together coarsely without water. Add this to the fried koorka with the curry leaves and the turmeric powder.

3. Fry for another 2 mins. Add salt.
Serve with rice and gravy of choice - totally worth all that skin-scraping!

The koorka thoran and koorka mezhukkupuratti were incredibly easy to make and tasted so good, just like how mom makes it, that one taste of these answered my question "why on earth did I waste so much time on this stupid vegetable when I could've made maggi for lunch?!".


February 10, 2009

Ridge Gourd Chutney-Beerakaya Pachadi (Chutney) Recipe

Ridge Gourd or Beerakaya is a vegetable I haven't seen much in Kottayam. Or maybe it was available but I never noticed it. I do remember the dried ridge gourd (peechanga in malayalam) that we used to scrub ourselves in the shower. This was before the entry of a free loofah with every bottle of body wash (God! I feel old now!).

Anyway, ridge gourd is very commonly seen in all supermarkets and wet markets in Singapore. I used to pass by without a second glance because I had never cooked with it before and had no clue where I can fit it in. I vaguely remember amma making a bajji (not the deep fried kind, we also refer to pachadi-like curries as bajji at home) with the vegetable but I wasn't even sure if this was the same vegetable.

I would always resolve to go home and search for ridge gourd recipes online so that next time I can buy it. Of course the search never happened and I invariably forgot about it until I came to the supermarket next.

One day, I have no idea what came over me but I walked straight to the ridge gourd tray and picked up one. TH panicked. I could read his thoughts which went 'now what experimental dish is she going to cook up with this weird looking thing?' He asked me a few times if I knew how to cook it and I very confidently said 'I will figure something out'. The challenge was not to cook something with it but to cook something that he would like.

Long story short, I came home and searched online for ridge gourd recipes and, of course, Sailu's blog was among the top ten. I saw the recipe, realized it was quite easy and made it over a weeknight. It tasted so good that I had to take a picture even in sucky light just so that I can share it.

And yes, TH liked it too :)


Ridge gourd is known as beerakai in Telugu, peerkangai in Tamil, peechanga in Malayalam and torai/dodka in Hindi/Marathi.

Recipe for Beerakaya Pachadi (Ridge Gourd Chutney)
What I Used:

Ridge gourd - 2 cups (1 medium sized vegetable), peeled and chopped
Fresh coriander leaves - 1/2 cup, chopped
Green chillies - 2, or to taste
Chana dal / bengal gram / kadala paruppu - 2 tsp
Urad dal / uzhunnu parippu / ulatham paruppu - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds / jeera / jeerakam - 1/4 tsp
Hing / asafoetida / kaayam / perungayam - a generous pinch (optional)
Sesame seeds / til - 1 tbsp (I used white sesame seeds, do not avoid this ingredients as its vital for the flavour)
Tamarind paste - 1 tsp (or use 1 tbsp lemon juice)
Salt - to taste
How to Make Beerakaya Pachadi:

1. Peel and chop the ridge gourd into chunks. Cook this with 1/2 cup water until soft and mushy. Set aside to cool.

2. Dry roast the chana and urad dal in a pan. When they are about to turn golden brown, add the sesame seeds and keep roasting until all are nicely browned and smell good. Throw in the jeera and the hing when the pan is still hot and set aside to cool.

3. Once the ridge gourd and the roasted ingredients have cooled completely, grind to a smooth paste with the coriander leaves, tamarind, green chillies and salt.
Tastes good with dosa and steamed rice. Actually not just good, but really really good! The sesame seeds are the winners in this recipe so do not avoid those. Oh I said that already? Ok then!

February 8, 2009

Food Photography Basics - Aperture, F-Stops & DOF

Before you run away after reading the title, repeat with me - "aperture is my friend". If you haven't met yet, then now is the best time!

So, meet your best friend when it comes to food photography - aperture!

Before we go on to learn more about aperture, let's quickly recap what I shared in the introduction post.
- Light is the most important component in any kind of photography.

- If you determine where to place your food and how much light there should be, you are that much closer to clicking great pictures.

- Click lots of pictures in different angles and even in different light situations (near window, facing window, on kitchen counter, even under a table lamp) to find out which one works best for you and your camera and even your dish.
Ok, now its time to meet aperture.

Your lens camera is like your own eyes. Of course, with technology and digital cameras, the clarity and range is superior to human eyes but the basic concept of how they work is the same.

To understand this further, and yes I did this, hold your thumb about 15cm from your eyes and focus on it. You will notice that the thumb is clear whereas the background is blurred.

Now, try holding your thumb in the same position and look at an object in the background without having to move your head. You will notice that your thumb is blurred. Right?

This is the exact concept behind using aperture settings for your food photography. The idea is to focus on one object or one part of the object and the background will appear blurred. Now, the amount of blur or clarity of focus depends on your camera and how much of it you can manually set.

With my old basic Nikon L10, there were hardly any settings I could control. So all I used to do was turn on the macro setting and shoot away. This is where lighting becomes even more important. The more basic the camera, the more preparation you will need to do with respect to lighting, angle of shot and editing afterwards. In the next post, I will share one quick trick in photoshop that will help you blur the background 'cuz our friend, aperture, is waiting to meet you.

So, more about aperture now.

Aperture is what controls the entry of light into your camera lens, like the pupils in our eyes. The larger the aperture setting, the more light you are allowing into your camera lens, and vice versa.

A confusing bit here, and this took me about 8 months (ok, 2 years) to digest, is that the larger the aperture setting number (called F-Stops) in your camera, the smaller the opening that lets light in, and vice versa (let me know when this expression starts getting annoying!)

Once more - the larger the F-Stops, the lesser the amount of light entering your camera lens. The setting is denoted by an 'f' in most cameras.

The range for my camera is from f2.8 to f8. So -

f 2.8 means a bigger opening and more light can enter the lens.
f 8 is the smallest opening and less light can enter the lens.

This brings us to the next character that we need to meet, Depth-of-Field (DOF). No no, I am not going to kill you now with information overload. I just want you to know what DOF means as well, since F-Stops and DOF are very closely connected.

Ready?

Ok.

Depth of Field means how much of the photo is in focus and how much is blurry. If you can choose these settings in your camera, then you are already well on your way to taking much better looking pictures.

So a shallow depth of field means the subject will be in focus, the background will be blurred and you will need to choose a large aperture, which would be a small number, like f 2.8.

This technique is very useful for food photography and for taking portraits.

This pic was taken with f3.2. I wanted to focus on
the branch that had the fruits (acerolas) and blur the rest.

Here is another one.

This picture was taken with the smallest F-Stop setting my camera allows - f 2.8.
See how beautifully blurred the background is? Oh God, I am in love with F-Stops!
This is a durian, by the way.

A large depth of field means you want pretty much the entire picture in focus and so need a small aperture which would be a large number, like f 8.

For SLR cameras, the F-Stop ranges may be around f1.4 to f22 which explains some wonderfully background-blurred pictures in some food blogs that you have admired.

This pic was taken with f8. You will see that I wasn't trying to focus on
any one thing (no hot guys on the beach that day), just the landscape.


Here is another one.

This is at f 5.6 (my camera automatically lowers F-Stop number when I zoom)

Do I hear people saying they would rather learn algebra than try to remember all this? Trust me, it gets easier with time. And always remember one thing - if Nags can do it, anyone can :)

If you are wondering why I started off all simple and then went technical on you, fret not! Next week, I will share some editing options for basic point and shoot cameras. No jargons, I promise!

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