Monday, June 17, 2013

Hostel Khichdi - Memories of Pune

The years spent in the Deccan College hostel in Pune, and thereafter in our little dream cottage with the not yet hubby were full of food. Though frugal, our meals never lacked in flavour or innovation. K was an accomplished cook already and I was an eager learner, happy to experiment and feed us and our permanently hungry friends too!

A bastion of most hostel cooks' repertoires of easy one pot meals is Khichdi. This humble mix of rice, daal, a few spices and vegetables often makes a daily appearance when you're broke, have a very basic kitchen and  are not a very skilled cook as yet. Khichdi is also synonymous with home cooked food, food that Mom makes, food that comforts and soothes and fills you up.  We made loads of khichdi and we made it in many, many variations.

Khichdi allows you to stretch your creativity and is a very forgiving dish. The basics remain the same - small grain rice, daal, a few basic spices and a pressure cooker are all you really need. You can build on this base and take this humble food to high levels of sophistication. I have added everything from minced lamb, Goan choriz and even spicy tangy prawn pickle to khichdi with fabulous results.

I cannot replicate those hostel flavours however hard I try. I think the secret was in the fact that it cooked very slowly on the hot plate. No matter how low you keep the flame on the gas burner it simply does not cook as slowly and therein lies the difference. But that doesn't stop me from making khichdi every once in a way.

We made khichdi packed with assorted vegetables most frequently. The highlight would be a dollop of ghee on the steaming hot khichdi and this invariably resulted in a burned tongue! While I was quite used to adding potatoes, green peas, carrots and even cauliflower florets, K introduced me to the idea of adding brinjal to khichdi. My mind baulked and I was not at confident that it would work. It did. And how! Now I cannot imagine making khichdi without adding a few pieces of brinjal to it :)

Hostel Khichdi

3/4 cup short grain rice.
1/2 cup masoor or mung daal
1 large onion, sliced
1 large potato, cut into large cubes
6 baby dark purple brinjals halved or 1 medium sized bharta brinjal, cubed
1 tomato chopped
2 fresh green chillies
a hand full of fresh green peas
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
turmeric, cumin, kashmiri chilli powders
mustard oil (or whatever oil you prefer)

Wash the rice and the daal really well, drain and leave aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in your pressure cooker and fry the potatoes. Once they turn slightly red add the brinjals. Fry for a bit and then add the green chillies and the onions. Stir well and let the onions cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, the ginger garlic paste and the powdered spices and salt. Add a splash of water so the dry spices don't burn. Stir everything well and chuck in the peas.
Add the washed rice and daal and mix it all well. Add a generous amount of water and bring it to a boil. Shut the cooker and simmer as soon as it whistles. Cook on simmer for 5 minutes and switch off. LEt the steam disperse on it's own.

Serve the khichdi with a generous dollop of ghee, fried/roasted papads, fried fish or prawns or with that Bengali favourite, begun bhaja.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peanut Butter Crinkles

Peanut Butter is something I have loved since I was a toddler. My earliest memory of peanut butter is this large glass jar of Kraft peanut butter that my paternal uncle and his wife had brought for me from Canada. My mother treasured that glass jar for years until it finally broke when I was in my teens. In fact, my love of peanut butter was so well known in the family that my aunt (the same one who sent that glass jar of Kraft) sent me a jar of Kraft peanut butter among all the lovely gifts she sent me for my wedding :)

I have been so caught up with work and with painting that I've hardly baked anything in recent months. But I've been yearning to! We out at a friend's house for dinner last night as we talked about different foods and favourites, the famous Shrewsbury biscuits of Kayani Bakery in Pune were mentioned. The hubby and I exchanged glances and without saying a word we knew that I'd be baking Shortbread today. Buttery, salty and not too sweet, these melt in the mouth morsels are ridiculously easy to make and they are simply divine.

I dug out my tomes of cookie recipes. If I was going to make cookies I wanted to make many, even some new kinds. The peanut butter crinkles are very easy to make and are just heavenly. Since I had all the required ingredients at hand I decided to make them too.

The recipe is from The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits published by the Australian Women's Weekly. I have tweaked it a bit, of course ;)

Peanut Butter Crinkles

125gms butter. I used Amul
1tsp Vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 and 1/4 cup plain flour

Take a large clean mixing bowl. Cream the butter with all the remaining ingredients barring the flour.Sift the flour on a sheet of paper or in another bowl.Tip it into the creamed butter sugar mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon to form a firm dough. if you find the dough is soft add a little flour and knead very lightly to make it firmer.

Shape the dough into walnut sized balls and place onto your cookie sheet. press down with a fork and mark a rough criss-cross pattern on the tops and flatten the cookies out a little. Don't press very hard, just spread the cookies a bit.

Bake for 15 mins in a preheated oven at 180C. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Make yourself a mug of coffee, grab a pile of these cookies, curl up in a cozy corner with a good book and enjoy these peanut butter crinkles. The hubby went a step further- he slathered a cookie with raspberry jam and stuck another cookie on to it to make a PBJ cookie sandwich!

They're so easy to make I'm sure I'll be making them again really soon.