May 17, 2012

Peanut Chikki

    As a kid, no vacation to my grandma's place was ever complete unless I bit into my favorite 'Kadalai mittai'. I can still remember how we kids used to buy peanut chikki (peanuts and jaggery toffee) from the store near grandma's home.Each small square would be covered with colored dried coconut shavings, mostly pink and yellow colors. I still love kadalai mittai and bring back a packet each time I visit my mother's place.This recipe is a purely accidental one as I was attempting to make the 'puran' for the delicacy called 'puran poli'.Simply said, the jaggery syrup boiled a wee bit longer and changed color and consistency.Knowing it was beyond the 'puran' point, I hurriedly fried peanuts and added them to the syrup, spread it on a sheet, cut it and lo and behold, I get peanut chikki :))  What a sweet accident it turned out to be! The picture below may not appear very appealing as I was in a big hurry to snap a picture before my tasty chikki was all gone!

Peanut Chikki


Raw Peanuts - 1 to 1 1/2 cups
Jaggery - 3/4 to 1 cup
Water - 1 cup
Ghee - 1 tbsp (to grease plate)

1) As you'll need peanuts without the skin, you would first need to remove them. The easiest way to remove the skin is to roast the peanuts.Heat a kadai or saucepan on high and start roasting the raw peanuts.Reduce the flame to medium once you see the skin peeling off.Transfer to a plate and allow it to cool a little. Now using your hand rub off the remaining skin from all the peanuts.Your roasted peanuts are now ready.
2) Grease a plate with the ghee to place the chikki on.I greased a foil and placed it on a cookie sheet.
3) Mix the water and jaggery in a heavy bottomed pan and heat it on high flame till the jaggery dissolves.It is better to use powdered jaggery to make the syrup, as I have always struggled to break hard jaggery balls bought from the Indian store.Strain the syrup once to remove any impurities from the jaggery.Once the strained syrup begins to boil, the jaggery will start to get a thick, glaze like consistency.Take a little of the melted jaggery between your thumb and index finger and check for one string consistency.Continue to boil till you get almost a two string consistency and the jaggery starts to leave the sides of the pan with almost a toffee like appearance.
4) Now remove from the gas and immediately add the roasted peanuts.Mix well and spread on the greased plate.Cut it into squares.Yummy chikki is ready to be relished.

Variation: You could try adding some cardamom powder and colored dry coconut shavings while mixing the peanuts with the jaggery.

Note: I got 20-25 chikki squares. Also, the measurements given here are based on 'Andaaz se' (using your own judgement) as I have already said, this was a on the spur creation to prevent wasting the jaggery syrup :) A lot of traditional Indian recipes handed down from grandmothers to mothers are based on this 'Andaaz se'.The chikki's turned out crunchy, hard and tasty,just like the ones at my grandma's place. But I must admit, the quantity of jaggery was a wee bit more than the store bought chikki. Should have added more peanuts perhaps...some sweet accident, eh!


May 14, 2012

Ulundu Vadai/ Medhu Vadai

    Vadai or vada is a south Indian delicacy.Serving up a meal with vadai and payasam is considered the ultimate in 'Athithi Sanskar' (hospitality) in the south.So much so, wedding feasts are considered incomplete without  the vadai...either urad dal (ulundu) or channa dal. Ulundu vadai or Medhu vada is truly can add onions and peppercorns to it, serve it up plain with coconut chutney or sambar, soak it in sambar to create sambar vadai, soak it in lots of home made curd and serve it up with chaat masala and imli chutney to make the mouth watering dahi vada.....the ulundu vadai will never disappoint you :) I learnt to make this vadai from my mom and in true tradition, I used to make the vadais as soon as I ground the soaked urad dal(ulundu).The general belief is that the batter would become watery if the vadais are not made immediately, due to the salt added to it.Apparently, this is not true and I improved my vadai making skills by watching Vahchef Sanjay Thumma on the internet.The secret of making light, crispy and fluffy vadais is to beat the batter by hand to incorporate air after mixing salt and other ingredients.So, here is the recipe for plain it as is or with coconut chutney.Enjoy!

Ulundu or Medhu vadai with coconut chutney


Urad dal without the skin (whole or split) - 1cup
Onion - 1/2 (finely chopped)
Curry leaves - few
Pepper powder - 1/2 tsp (you can use whole peppercorns too, instead of the powder)
Salt - 1/4 tsp (the batter should not taste salty )
Hing(Asafoetida) - a pinch
Oil - 1 to 1 1/2 cup for deep frying
Water- about 1/3 cup for grinding and 1/3 cup to soak hands while making vadai

1) Wash and soak the urad dal in water for atleast 1/2 hour. You can buy this at the Indian store and it is commonly called 'black gram' or 'white lentil'.You don't need to soak the dal for too long.I usually soak it upto a maximum of 2 hours.

Urad dal before soaking
2) Grind the dal in a mixie or blender.Add a little water at a time,taking care not to add all the water at one go.Grind to a smooth but slightly thick paste like consistency (the ground batter should not be of a flowing consistency like dosa batter).Transfer batter to a vessel.
3) Now add the chopped onions, curry leaves, pepper powder or whole peppercorns,hing and salt to the batter. Use your hand to blend in all the ingredients.Check the taste of the batter and add more salt if needed. Just keep in mind  that the vadai should taste of all the condiments added to it, not just of salt.Moreover the quantity of salt is kept to a low in this vadai to bring out the flavor of the chutney/sambar/dahi accompanying it. In case you get a salty batter, just add more chopped onions or balance it with more pepper powder.

Ulundu vadai batter ready to be fried!

4) Now comes the trick! Once you have added all the condiments to the batter and mixed it all once or twice with your hand, continue to mix a while longer in a manner so as to incorporate air into the batter. Let the batter rest for about 5 minutes.You can also make this batter a day ahead, refrigerate it and then make vadais.Don't will not become watery.You just need to leave it outside the fridge for about 15-20 minutes before making the vadais.Also remember to first allow the batter to cool down to room temperature after grinding it, then store it in the refrigerator.
5) Next, heat oil in a kadai or heavy bottomed saucepan on high.To check if oil is hot enough, spoon a little batter into the hot oil.If it sizzles and floats on the top, then the oil is at the correct temperature to fry the vadais. Keep a little water in a glass bowl handy, to soak your fingers into while making the vadai.Wet all the   fingers and using your right hand scoop a little batter out onto your left fingers.Make a hole in the batter and place it in the hot oil. Be very careful while doing this.You could reduce the flame while placing the batter in the oil.Don't worry too much if you don't get the perfect vadai shape.To me, the taste is more important than the shape and it takes a little practice to make perfectly round vadais.
6) Once the vadai turns golden on one side, flip it over and fry till the other side is golden in color.Remove and drain on paper towels.You should be able to fry about 3 vadais in one go.Serve with sambar or the all time favorite, coconut chutney.

Variation: Try adding a few chopped green chillies in lieu of the pepper. Or try a few finely chopped pieces of ginger and finely chopped fresh coriander.

Note: This recipe will make about 15 medium sized vadais.Frying the vadais may seem a little messy process. But I'll bet, you won't stop with eating a few crispy will definitely long for more!

May 10, 2012

Badam Burfi

   Burfi is a traditional sweet made for almost all Indian festivals, especially Diwali.The name has its origin in the Persian word 'Barf' (snow) as most burfis are similar in appearance to ice or snow.Plain burfi is usually made with mava (khoya) or condensed milk and sugar with almonds and pistachios for decoration. Nowadays you will find burfi's in all colors, flavors and shapes.... most loved shapes being diamond, squares or rectangles.My friend Isvarya gave me the original recipe from a cook book she had referred to.I looked it up online and found one using lesser sugar.I must admit though that the burfi I made was way less in ghee and different in texture than the badam and kaju burfi's made by my mother-in- law.MIL is an expert in making much so that I usually call her kaju burfi, 'ghee' burfi as she uses tonnes of ghee to lovingly make them :) This recipe is so easy to make....its almost a cinch! The badam burfi I made were really delicious...hmmm, never thought I would be able to make such delightful burfi. And this is a good way to get picky toddlers to eat  nuts, if they are not allergic to them, that is!

Badam Burfi


Badam(Almonds) - 3/4 cup
Cashew nuts- 1/4 cup (I used cashew nuts as I did not have enough badam)
Sugar - 3/4 cup
Milk - 1/2 cup
Ghee - 2 tbsps
Cardamom - 1 pod (grind to fine powder)

1) Soak the badam in water for more than an hour, to remove the skin.I soaked the cashew with the badam as I was not too sure if I was to powder them separately.You could microwave the soaked badam for a minute to speed up the process.Peel the skin off and grind the badam and cashew to a fine paste in the blender.I added the 1/2 cup milk to this paste as it was very sticky and ground it some more.This way I could get the fine paste to come out of the blender.You could maybe try grinding the badam, milk and sugar all together, like my friend did.Just use a large jar while grinding, keeping in mind the quantity of paste you will get. 
2) Grease a flat plate or thali with little ghee to pour the burfi into.Set aside.
3) Put the badam and milk paste into a kadai or heavy bottomed saucepan.Add sugar to this and stir continuously on slightly medium to low heat.After about 5 minutes add the 2 tablespoons of ghee and continue stirring on low heat, till the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan.This entire process takes about 15  to 20 minutes.You will know when to switch off the gas as the mixture would have changed to a slightly creamish color by then. Take care not to burn the burfi mixture. I do wish there was a way to avoid the stirring as my arm did slightly ache as it was my first time.But entirely worth the effort!
4) Remove from the stove.Add the cardamom powder and mix well. Transfer to the greased plate and flatten the mixture with a flat spoon or ladle.Allow it to cool sometime and cut into diamond shaped burfi. You can add a pinch of saffron while adding the cardamom powder.Garnish with silver foil (varki) if you like.

Note: This recipe will make about 30 burfi.

May 4, 2012

Choco- Walnut cookies

  Baking is a passion with my mother. Such is her dedication, that she has at times gone to the extent of baking an entirely new batch of cookies with freshly made dough if she wasn't happy with the previous batch :) Ditto for her cakes! I have eaten so many varieties of her home made cookies....pinwheel, salted, almond, nan khatai,pista, ice box,cornflakes cookies to name a few.In fact, I think there were hardly any times when we ran out of home made cookies.... she enjoyed baking so much :) Anyways ,the recipe I have here was my very first attempt at baking cookies.These are actually sugar cookies, but I added walnuts and few choco chips just for taste.When starting out with the measurements, I had no idea I would have so much dough that it would bake almost five batches of upto forty cookies. So watch out if this is your first time and halve all the ingredients, else be prepared to stand an extra hour in the kitchen.....hmm worth the effort though as these came out just great! My family and friends enjoyed them thoroughly.

Choco-Walnut sugar cookies

All purpose flour- 2  3/4 cups
Unsalted butter- 1 cup (2 slabs, at room temperature)
Baking soda- 1 teaspoon (tsps)
Baking powder- 1/2 tsps
Sugar- 1 1/2 cups
Salt- a pinch
Eggs- 1
Vanilla extract- 1 tsps
Almonds- 3/4 cup (roasted and coarsely chopped)
Chocolate chips- 1/2 cup or more
Cookie sheet, wire rack and parchment

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour,salt,baking powder and baking soda. Set this aside.Always remember that unless specified in the recipe, all measurements are flat and not heaped. So do not pack the flour in the cup while measuring.Ditto for the baking powder and soda.Take a heapful in a teaspoon and using another spoon or your finger, flatten it out.Add the almonds and chocolate chips, mixing them once.You can add more or less depending on your taste.
2)In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer or stand mixer.I made the mistake of using cold butter as I read somewhere that it will automatically melt while being creamed.I must say that it is easier to cream 1/2 cup of cold butter, but 1 cup is a whole lot. I almost ruined my hand mixer doing this.So soften butter till it is at room temperature. If you are in a hurry, you can try microwaving it maybe for about 20 secs till it is just soft, not melted.First beat the butter till it is all mushy, then slowly add the sugar.You should get a pale yellow and smooth texture.
3)Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again.Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.You can use a spatula for this.Keep in mind that you will be mixing a very large quantity of dough, so use an appropriate mixing bowl.
4)Line the cookie sheet with parchment.Scoop a heaped teaspoonful of the dough, make a small ball and place them on the parchment, 2 1/2 inches apart. You should be able to place 9 such balls on the sheet.Don't worry about the size of the balls as they will spread while baking.
5)Bake them in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes for soft cookies. If you want crisper and slightly harder golden colored cookies, bake for 15 minutes.Once done, remove the sheet from the oven, leave the cookies on it for a minute and then transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies will appear soft initially, but once cooled they will harden.Will make about 40- 45 medium sized cookies.

Note: Cool the cookie sheet completely before baking another batch, or else use another sheet. If not completely cooled, it will alter baking time as the cookies will start to bake even before they hit the oven.