Tag Archives: curry leaves

Squash Soup, South Indian Style

south indian curried squash

South Indian squash curry

I posted a squash soup with spicy tahini recipe just last week. And I’m following up with a variation of it. You see,  that soup was inspired by a friend’s post. And while I was making that, my South Indian instincts took over and I had to make another version! You know what they say, you can take the girl out of South India but…

So here’s this ultra simple and awesome dish: Squash Curry. Simple, hearty and healthy! Living with food allergies does not have to be boring!

By the time this posts, I will be in Hawaii on vacation. Thank god for being able to schedule posts as this means I don’t have to take my laptop with me. This will be my first time traveling for more than a couple of days after being diagnosed with all the food issues. Fortunately, we were able to find places to stay with kitchens. So I’ll be cooking in Hawaii and hopefully learning more about its cuisine!

I made this with a mix of one squash and one small pumpkin each. For a sweeter version, use just the delicata squash.

South Indian Style squash and pumpkin curry

serves 3-4

  • 2 cups squash / pumpkin puree (cut into slices, brush with olive oil, bake at 425 for 40 minutes and then puree)
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (coconut oil or vegetable oil works fine too)
  • 15 curry leaves
  • 2 dry red chilis
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 green chilis, chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger cut into thin matchsticks (grated works too)
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime or to taste

Recipe

Heat the ghee or oil in a small saucepan. Sizzle the cumin seeds, curry leaves and red chilis. After 10 seconds, add the ginger and green chilis and saute for another 20 seconds. Remove from heat. This is your tadka or spice seasoning.

Thin out the puree to your desired consistency and warm up in the microwave. I like the consistency of this curry to be thinner than pumpkin soup but not too runny. Mix in the tadka. Add salt and lime juice to taste.

Serve with rice and cucumber.

tadka for the curry

Tadka for the Squash curry

dairy free, gluten free, fodmap, Squash and pumpkin soup, South Indian style

Squash and pumpkin soup, South Indian style

Simple, hearty and healthy! Living with food allergies does not have to be boring!

 

 

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Meet My Herb Garden

curry leaf plant

Meet Gopi – my new curry leaf plant

apple mint and chili plants

Chilies and Apple Mint

cilantro plant with coriander seeds

The cilantro plant bolted. But I can plant these coriander seeds!

There is supposedly a green thumb gene that runs through my mom’s family. My grandmother’s garden used to be full of fruit trees, roses and different flowers every year. That garden bears witness to many childhood memories. We spent many summers there with my cousins playing Shark, a game we made up, climbing trees, enjoying tea parties on the lawn and getting bit by the biggest mosquitoes known to seven year olds.

I’ve never grown anything before. I mean I’ve watered potted plants and sprouted seeds for a Biology class experiment. But I’ve never really had a garden. I’ve even managed to kill cacti. Yes multiple ones. And we (here I share the blame with my husband) even managed to kill an indoor palm tree that was supposedly a pretty easy plant to take care of. It’s a long story, but we think the nursery was at least partially complicit.

So it was with some hesitation that I decided to start an herb garden this year. Where we live, we have access to a great backyard. Now, every time I *must* have curry leaves, it involves driving all the way over to the “Eastside” where the Indian grocery stores are. It’s such a chore. So I really wanted to grow my own curry leaves.

There are a few nurseries in the US where you can buy plant starts online. After one order fell through as the nursery had actually oversold their curry leaf starts, I found another source. They were fantastic, they shipped right away and the little plant arrived in a shipping tube all bundled up. I had to name him. He’s Gopi.

Once bit by the planting bug, I went further and planted apple mint, cilantro and two different chilies. The cilantro has already bolted (flowered) which means I won’t get herb from it. But, I can plant those seeds you see for new plants. The mint plant though is doing really well.

I’m crossing my fingers for chilies, cilantro and most of all for curry leaves. I hope I don’t kill Gopi in the weeks it will take for the plant to get well established and I can harvest the leaves.

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Curry Leaves and Curries

Curry leaves

Fresh curry leaves

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe and I hope to make amends with this guest post. This is a post for Chitra Agrawal of The ABCD’s of Cooking, a kindred spirit in NYC. I met Chitra on Twitter a couple of months ago and love what she’s doing with her blog, videos and events to educate people about authentic Indian cooking techniques and share homestyle food . If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll check out her cooking events and supper club. About that same time I met Chitra, I had also ordered a curry leaf plant start online. So when Chitra asked if I would contribute a post on her Spice Route segment, I knew what I’d have to write about. Alas, the curry leaf plant never made it to me. The farm had more orders than plant starts and they canceled my order. But, the blog post did happen.

So, I’m excited to introduce Chitra here and send you over to her cool site for more on curry leaves and a Cauliflower Curry that marries the earthy flavors of curry leaves beautifully with the sweetness and richness of coconut milk.

Enjoy!

mise en place with spices and herbs, finished cauliflower curry

The ingredients are simple and few to make this yummy cauliflower curry

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Heavenly Curry Leaves

Fresh curry leaves

Fresh Curry Leaves

Having a bad day at work? The weather got you down? Had a fight with someone you love? All things that happen to everyone. How do you deal with a down day?

When the oil’s hot and the mustard seeds start sizzling, I add the curry leaves. That aroma, the bright, citrusy and fresh aroma instantly lights up my day. I love the smell of tempered spices and it never fails to transport me to a happy place.

Curry leaves are from a tree that is native to India and often grows in the wild. This herb is a must-have ingredient in most South Indian dishes and Sri Lankan curries. Curry leaves are almost always used with vegetarian food and rarely ever in meat curries.

The moniker given this herb is unfortunately very confusing. While curry leaves are used in curries, curries get their flavor from many other ingredients as well. Curry leaves are NOT what Curry Powder is made of. Curry powder is a western invention, a weak imitation of Indian spice blends. Curry powder includes many spices like coriander, cumin, chilis, and turmeric and is often used in fusion food to add a touch of India to the dish.

If you can, use fresh curry leaves as they have more flavor than dried. Fresh curry leaves will only last about a week in the fridge. Since I don’t live too close to an Indian grocery store, I buy many packs of the curry leaves when I do go. I keep a pack or two in the fridge to use within a week. I spread the rest out on paper towels on a clean surface and leave them out for 2-3 days. Once dried, I store them in an airtight box. Before using, I simply crush the leaves with the palms of my hands to release some flavor.

I’m told that curry leaves are easy to grow when it is warm out. I can’t wait for spring to try for myself! Look for seedlings or seeds of Murraya koenigii if you want to grow your own curry leaves plant.

tarka or tadka masala

A simple “tadka” of mustard seeds, curry leaves, and dry red chili. this would add great flavor on Daal or lentil curry

Curry leaves can be air dried

Air dry curry leaves

curry leaves

My favorite herb!

Recipes that use curry leaves: A South Indian eggplant dish and a mixed vegetable curry

Veena’s Market kits that contains curry leaves (air dried): Delicious Daal

Online source for curry leaves: Veena’s Market pantry 

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Curried mung beans

If you’ve ever been to a temple in India, you may remember being offered ‘blessed food’ or prasadam. Prasadam or prasad is often laddu or another sweet but can also be savory. Some temples are so well known for their prasad that I suspect some ‘devotees’ are really after the food. They’ve checked their offline version of Yelp and who can blame them? Those temple cooks can be really good!

One of my favorite foods to receive was curried mung beans. This is also a dish that is often served as a side at homes. While the spices add flavor, the mung beans and shredded coconut provide texture making this a great side dish to eat with rice and Daal.

All you need are a few spices and pantry items. You could also make this with black-eyed peas or chickpeas, both available canned. See notes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mung beans, soaked in 3 cups of water overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small onion, diced (roughly 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 green chili, diced (optional, de-seeding helps reduce the heat)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 5-10 curry leaves
  • Pinch asafoetida
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • Roughly 3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons lime juice (fresh is best)

Recipe

  1. Place the soaked mung beans in a pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes or till the mung beans are cooked and slightly mushy.
  2. In the meantime, prep the remaining ingredients and have all the spices ready to use.
  3. If you are using frozen coconut, thaw to room temperature. If using desiccated coconut, re-hydrate in 1/2 cup warm water for 5 minutes.
  4. Heat the oil in a pan or skillet over medium high heat. The oil is hot enough if you throw in a mustard seed and it sizzles.
  5. Carefully add the mustard seeds to the hot oil and wait a few seconds or till the seeds start spluttering. Add the curry leaves and asafoetida.
  6. After 10 seconds, add the green chili and diced onion. Cook for a few minutes while stirring occasionally till the onion is translucent.
  7. Add the cooked mung beans, cilantro, shredded coconut, salt and lime juice. Mix well and taste. Add more salt / lime juice if you like.
  8. Serve as a salad or with rotis, chapatis, toasted tortillas. My favorite way to eat this is with rice, yogurt and mango pickle.

Notes:

Soaking, rinsing and draining  any dried legumes removes some of the water-soluble carbohydrates that are typically hard to digest. You can  substitute 2 cans of either black-eyed peas or chickpeas (or one each). Rinse and drain before adding in step 7.

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Upma – South Indian Soul Food

Upma or uppittu

The intoxicating smell of fresh curry leaves in hot oil wafted around corners and into the bedroom where I was trying to sleep off the flu but was instead tired and cranky. The aroma of freshly roasted semolina hung around the kitchen inviting me to peek in. I just had to get out of bed and go get the camera. It was right after Christmas. I was at my mom’s and she had been busy cooking.

My mom’s ‘upma’ (also known as uppittu in Kannada, my mother tongue) is one of those memory triggering foods. Others made their upma too soft and mushy. Her’s always had a much more interesting texture. The lentils in the dish get crunchy when fried in oil and add greatly to the texture. But for some reason, my brother didn’t like anything crunchy. So if mom added the lentils, he didn’t like it and if she didn’t add them, I complained! Poor mom. This time though, he said it was OK (I asked nicely) which was very nice of him. We fought over the silliest things when we were kids!

I dug in eagerly, savoring the flavors and appreciating the crunchiness of the lentils contrasted with the moistness of the semolina. I’m sure the upma helped me get over the flu. Upma though is great anytime whether you’re ill or not. It is truly South Indian soul food.

There are many upma recipes online but I wanted to share my mom’s recipe as a couple of things have been simplified. The ingredients can be found in an Indian or Asian grocery store. Many of them can also be found at Whole Foods.

My mom was happy to share her recipe for upma with you. Here it is. I hope you get to make it sometime soon!

Ingredients

2 cups upma semolina (can use couscous instead, both are made from durum wheat but the couscous grains are larger and processed slightly differently)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal (split skinless black lentils)
1 teaspoon chana dal (split chickpeas)
5-10 fresh curry leaves
2-3 green chilies (optional and to your taste), chopped
½ onion thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 cup frozen peas and carrots mix (can also use edamame or grated carrots)
4 cups water (3 if using couscous)
¼ cup grated unsweetened coconut (if dessicated, rehydrate in 1/3 cup warm water for 10 minutes)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (or to taste)
 
 
Recipe

Heat the water over medium heat high and bring to a boil.  Add the peas and carrots. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. While waiting for the water to boil, proceed to the next step.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (should hold the semolina and the water) over medium heat. You know the oil is hot if you drop in a mustard seed and it sizzles.

Add the mustard seeds and wait 5 seconds or till they start crackling.

Add the curry leaves, urud dal and chilies and stir constantly to prevent from burning. Saute for 10 minutes.

Add onion and sauté till translucent plus another minute

Then add the semolina or couscous. Fold in with the oil and spices and roast for two minutes.

Pour in the boiling water with the cooked peas and carrots. Stir to break up any lumps that may form.

The semolina should be cooked in 2-3 minutes. The couscous may take a minute longer.

Add salt and squeeze lime to taste. Mix in the grated coconut.

Serve hot with yogurt onthe side. You can  mix the upma with yogurt if it is too spicy.

Savory semolina

Enjoy and feel good!

Veena

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An Indian Spice Pantry


People often tell me they love to cook but have no idea where to start when it comes to Indian dishes. They are also put off by not wanting to buy a million different ingredients. And this is really why I started Veena’s Market. The whole process of trying a new cuisine and getting familiar with a few recipes is such a thrill. For those of you interested in cooking Indian recipes on your own, I want to help!

It’s no secret that the symphony of spices is what gives Indian food its complex and mysterious flavor. If the spices are the musicians, you are the conductor. Spices impart different flavors based on when they are added to the cooking process, if they are added whole or ground, and in what proportions. Today, I’ll leave you with a primer on basic spices and practical suggestions for buying and storing spices.

Buy whole rather than powdered spices and avoid pre-made mixtures. And please please please never buy anything called Curry Powder! As you learn to make the blends for different recipes, you can adjust the relative quantities of the ingredients to suit your taste. And then you don’t need to stock up on a different blend for a different curry.  Most commercial blends have too much of the cheaper ingredients anyway.

Store your spices in airtight jars and they will last a good two to three years. To make spice blends, I generally roast whole spices in a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat for 5 minutes and then grind them in a coffee grinder. I don’t use this grinder for anything else. I’ve tried a few grinders and read many reviews. The one I like is a Delonghi coffee grinder that I bought at Crate & Barrel.

The following list of spices is what I consider essential to have in your pantry if you are serious about cooking Indian food. There are many more spices but you can add them to your collection later as you need them. These you will likely need in every other recipe. This list also includes spices common to South Indian cooking.

Cumin

An ancient spice native to Egypt, cumin is widely used in Mexican and Indian cuisines. It is said to aid in digestion and be a rich source of iron.  If you like yoghurt, spice up plain yoghurt with a bit of salt and whole cumin that has been roasted over medium heat on a skillet for a few minutes.

Coriander

An herb and a spice, this versatile plant has antibacterial properties[1].  The herb and the spice are referred to as coriander though in the Americas, the term cilantro is often used for the herb. Add a pinch of coriander powder to mashed potatoes for flavor and you’ll get a good sense of its taste profile.

Black mustard seed

These seeds are added whole to hot cooking oil and will ‘split’ or crackle when cooked. This process is called tempering the oil and is a very common first step or last step in cooking Indian recipes. The Divine Dosa and the Delicious Daal kits from Veena’s Market both use this process. You can substitute brown (but not yellow) mustard seeds.

Green cardamom

These wonderfully aromatic seeds are contained in pods that are typically sold dried. The blend in Veena’s masala used in many kits contain both the green and black varieties for extra aroma and flavor. Cardamom is a must have ingredient for making Indian chai and adds great flavor in many desserts. If you make milk shakes or lassi (a yoghurt drink that can be sweet or savory) at home, add a big pinch of freshly powdered cardamom.

Red Chilies

Chilies are originally from South America and only made their way into India in the 16th century thanks to the Portuguese. The Guinness Book of World records named a chili called the Bhut Jolokia from the Assam region of India as the hottest chili in the world in 2007.  This is the one spice where I will sometimes use the powdered version vs. the whole. Some chilies are OK, but the hotter ones do burn your skin. Another reason is that many Indian recipes call for Kashmiri chilies which can be hard to find in the US.

Cinnamon

True cinnamon grows only in Sri Lanka and is also called Ceylon Cinnamon. What is typically sold as cinnamon in the US is actually Cassia. Cinnamon is lighter in color, flakier and easier to break. Its taste is more complex and sweeter than that of cassia. You’ll notice the aroma is different as well. It’s also more difficult to find. If you do make that cup of chai using cardamom, add some cinnamon as well. It’s just perfect for a rainy day!

Cloves

Cloves are strongly aromatic and help add wonderful heat to a dish. While often added whole to a dish, they are not really meant to be eaten as the flavor is too strong. But it precisely because of their strong flavor that some people will chew on them to freshen their breath. My grandmother would always have a few cloves handy in her purse!

Black pepper

The rounded pepper we consume today is a variation of the long pepper that is native to India. Long pepper was the primary method of adding heat to a dish before the introduction of chilies into India. The best peppercorn still comes from the Malabar Coast of India.

Indian Bay leaves

The Indian bay leaf is not of the same species as the bay laurel but is closely related to the cinnamon tree. While you can often do without bay leaves in a dish, I’ve added it here as I think it adds a wonderful fragrance. The dried leaves are commonly used in the Mughal cuisine of North India. It is usually OK to substitute bay laurel for Indian bay leaves.

Curry Leaves

These aromatic leaves are used in South Indian cooking mostly and impart a heady aroma. The fresh leaves are added to hot oil right after the tempering process. It is often difficult to find fresh leaves. When I do, I buy a lot, dry them at home and store them whole. Before I cook, I crush the leaves in my palm to release the flavor. Often dried and crushed curry leaves are sold. Don’t bother buying this as there is no flavor left.

Turmeric

This rhizome which is also a powerful natural dye (so be careful when cooking with it!) is a key ingredient in South Indian curries. It has a lovely earthy smell and a distinct flavor. Many commercial curry blends add too much turmeric causing a slightly bitter aftertaste especially when the spice blend is not fully “cooked”.

Asafetida

Due to its strongly pungent odor, the name for asafetida in many languages translates to “devil’s dung”[2]. Indeed, if you don’t store this spice in an airtight container, it will contaminate the flavors of other spices stored close by! But don’t be put off by this description! This is really an amazing spice. Amazing flavors are released when it is cooked in oil. Asafetida is an ingredient in many curries due to its flavor and um, how shall I say it, its very useful property of helping to digest food! If you are gluten intolerant or celiac, please note that commercial asafetida is often stabilized with wheat. Please check the ingredients or ask.

So that’s it. That is the basic list of spices for Indian cuisines. There are of course many more but I’m TRYING to keep this list short! Do you have a favorite spice? If you could add one more spice to this list, what would it be?

I hope you enjoy stocking up on these spices, cooking and experimenting with them! And if you’re looking for one of our recipe kits that already includes all the spices you need, you’ll find them here.


[1] The World’s Healthiest Foodshttp://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=70

[2] Gernod Katzer’s Spice Pages, http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Feru_ass.html

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