Mint~Pudinah

Regular readers of my blog might be familiar with my love for gardening. Ever since I landed here, I have always maintained a little garden come spring/summer until fall, consisting of a few basic veggies and herbs. This has been my annual spring-summer ritual that gives me immense joy. Among them all, one herb that I always plant is Mint. I love the aroma and flavor of mint, also called as pudinah in Urdu.

store bought bunch of mint leaves from an Indian store,
this is Indian variety of Mint

Alluring aroma, bright green and crinkly opposite leaves with brownish square stems are some of the characteristic features of mint plant. There exist dozens of varieties of this hardy perennial. Out of all, I usually buy and use the kind available in the Indian grocery stores for my cooking. And at times I make do with spearmint which according to me is the closest of the Indian mint in flavor.

plucked Indian variety mint leaves

To grow Mint:

Growing mint from other healthy stems is very easy. There are two ways to grow your own mint.

1. One way is to grow them through store brought saplings.
2. The other way is to grow them from stem cuttings.

1. Buy your favorite variety of mint saplings from the garden centers or nurseries or from some friendly gardeners, and transfer them to wide and deep pots. I usually buy Spearmint or Peppermint or Indian mint. Place outdoors during spring/summer and water daily. Mint loves moist soil and grows vigorously once established. Keep snipping off the tips from time to time and use them in your cooking to promote a bushy growth and avoid flowering.

2. To grow mint from stem cuttings:
I always choose mint sprigs to be used as cuttings from Indian stores, as I find their tatse to be strong and synonymous to Indian culinary preparations. You can choose any variety you like. Just cleanly snip off two sets of opposite leaves from the bottom and leave the remaining at the growing tip. Make a clean diagonal cut just below the bottommost node, and plant the cutting in soil in a small container, or you can also place the cutting in a bowl/container with fresh cool water, such that the bottommost node is covered with soil or with water, in a bright area at room temperature that receives plenty of indirect sunlight.

stem cuttings of fresh & healthy Indian variety mint
placed in a glass with some fresh cool water so that they root

stem cutting beginning to root

In a week or two you will notice that the stem cuttings will start to root and develop new leaves. These roots are very fragile. Transfer these stems to a large and deep containers and place in a partly sunny area outdoors. Keep watering regularly whenever the soil looks dry. Soon you will have enough mint to share with your neighbors. Pinch back mint tips which make beautiful garnishes, or as required. This helps to keep the plant bushy and delay flowering.

Good to Know:

I advise growing mint only in large sized pots, tubs or containers and never in ground, as it invasive and quickly spreads out like a weed taking over your entire lawn or garden. Growing mint from seed is difficult, therefore I only recommend buying small seedlings from nursery or garden centers during early spring or use a stem cutting from the store brought mint you use for cooking. If during winters it gets very cold and snows in your area, then mint will die, but do not fret, it revives once winter ends. Bring the mint pots indoors during winters and place in front of windows that receives some bright daylight. Do not crowd several varieties a single pot/container. Mint prefers partly sunny areas and a moist soil, water it frequently whenever the soil looks dry.

Indian Mint growing luxuriously outdoors in a pot on the deck

To Store Mint:

Fresh is best when it comes to mint or any herbs. Buy one can always store it by either freezing the leaves or by drying them. I do not like to dry them.

1. To store fresh leaves, make a fresh cut below each stem and place the stems in a glass. Pour a little amount of fresh cool water into the glass that acts like a vase, taking care the water does not touch any leaves. Place it on the kitchen countertop in an area away from harsh sunlight. Change the water daily. This way, the stems will root which you can also use to plant the mint, and the leaves will stay fresh for a about 2-3 weeks.

2. An another way to store fresh mint is to pluck all leaves and store them covered in a zip-lock bag or container lined with paper towel in the refrigerator until needed.

plucked mint leaves

This way the mint will stay fresh for about a week or two maximum.

3. I also freeze chopped mint, just like I do with fresh cilantro. This way you can store fresh mint indefinitely and you can add it to curries whenever you need it.

chopped mint in ice-cube tray ready to be freezed

Wash the mint leaves in fresh cool water. Spread on a kitchen towel and let dry for 30 minutes. Now chop all the mint leaves roughly. In an ice-cube tray, tightly pack roughly chopped mint into each of the molds of the tray. Cover with water and freeze overnight. The next day, working quickly, unmold the frozen mint cubes from the ice-cube tray and transfer them to a zip-lock bag. Squeeze out air from the bag and freeze immediately. To use, add the frozen cubes to the curries during the last stages of cooking.

Luv,
Mona

Chaandi ka Varq

Shimmering with gold or silver tops are seen various desserts at mithai~sweet shops in India. The stunning embellishments are actually butterfly-wings like delicate edible silver, called as Chaandi ka Varq meaning Silver leaf; the gold leafs are called as Soney ka Varq. Varq-also pronounced as warq, vark, varkh, varaq, varak, is an Urdu word which means ‘leaf’. Chaandi ka Varq is most commonly used. These very fragile foils are lustrous, with no aroma or taste, but perfectly edible and are used as a garnish for sweets (mithai), supari (betel nut), paan (betel-leaf), and fruits in India.

Chaandi ka Varq~
it is usually sold stacked in between local telephone directory pages

Making these delicate adornments involves a backbreaking job. Prepared with great caution in workshops in India, usually in Ahmadabad, Lucknow, Delhi and Hyderabad, minute nuggets of silver or gold are placed between tissue paper and placed in leather pouch and beaten repeatedly with a heavy hammer until it becomes a dainty leaf fit to adorn the tops of Indian desserts or biryani, kawabs etc. They are available very easily in India at most stores and at most leading Indian stores outside of India.

Sooji ka Halwa~Semolina Dessert, adorned with Chaandi ka Varq~Silver leaf

To use as a garnish, hold the paper with the silver leaf and carefully invert and dab onto the surface of food while it is still warm so that the the silver sticks to the food as you peel away the paper.

Head over here to go through the process in brief.

Luv,
Mona

Aloo kay Samosay

Chai shops, bakeries, mithaiwala shops, cart vendors, chat bhandars along the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, all sell these magical pastries. Originated and traveled to India possibly from the Middleeast, Samosas are triangular pastries, a popular street food, usually stuffed with minced meat, or a potato mixture. They are the usual appetizers that make their presence at the Nizami Hyderabadi meals, and also enjoyed throughout India and also all over the world by everyone. Samosas are also very famous in Toronto and loved by people here.

Samosas – ready to be eaten

This classic Indian snack food appears in different avatars and types within the Hyderabad city, and also all over India with minor regional variations, some differing in the fillings used, others varying in shapes. For example Luqmi, a rectangular qimah-minced meat stuffed appetizer commonly eaten in Hyderabad, is a royal cousin of samosa. Other regional variants of samosas include the sambusak, samusak or shingara etc.

Today I had prepared some aloo samosas~potato stuffed pastries that are just as good as the Qimah Samosas – minced meat stuffed samosas. You can even bake them if you wish, bit I like to deep fry and prepare them the way they were supposed to be made. The crisp outer texture of samosa is what I love the most.

Aloo kay Samosay – Potato Stuffed Triangular Pastries

Ingredients:

Canola Oil to deep fry
For Filling:
Canola oil – 2 tbsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Black mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Fresh Ginger – 1 tbsp, finely grated
Potatoes – 4, peeled and chopped
Carrot – peeled and chopped, 1 cup
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Dry roasted Coriander powder – 3/4 tsp
Dry roasted Cumin seed powder – 1/4 tsp
Kasuri methi – 3 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Frozen green peas – 1/2 cup (or) Dried green peas – 1/2 cup, soak them in surplus water overnight and pressure cook until soft the next day, drain and keep aside to use
Lemon juice – 4 tbsp
Garam masala – 1/2 tsp
Cilantro – 2 tbsb, finely chopped
For Covering:
All-purpose flour/Maida – 1 cup
Whole wheat flour/Durum flour – 1 cup
Carom seeds/Ajwain – 1 tsp
Nigella seeds/Kalonji – 1/2 tsp
Canola Oil or Ghee – 2 tbsp
Water
Salt to taste

Method:

1. In a saucepan, heat oil and as soon as it warms up add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and ginger and let them splutter. In a few seconds add the chopped potatoes and carrots. Add water to cover the vegetables and add red chilli powder, salt, cumin seed powder, kasuri methi and cover with a lid. As soon as the potatoes are done, uncover and add the frozen peas or cooked dried peas, garam masala, chopped cilantro and lemon juice. Cook while stirring until the mixture is dry. Keep aside.

2. Now prepare the dough. Add maida, ajwain, kalonji and salt in a mixing bowl and mix. Add canola oil or ghee and mix well using fingers. Gradually add water and knead to form a smooth and pliable dough. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until elastic. Cover with a towel and keep aside for 30 minutes for the dough to rest. Later shape the dough into 8 balls and cover them with a towel.
3. One by one roll the balls into thin ovals. Using a pizza cutter or a knife cut each oval in the center into two halves, thus a total of 16 half-ovals will be produced. Cover the rest with a towel while filling others. Take a half-oval and brush half of each straight edge using your fingertip with water. Fold the second half of the straight edge over the fist half to form into a cone. Pinch close the seam. Hold the cone with the open end up and fill the cone with some of the filling. Cut off any excess dough and use it later. Brush one side of the open end with water. Pinch to seal the top edges enclosing the filling. Prepare all the samosas the same way and keep them covered under a towel.
4. Once all are ready, heat oil in a deep saucepan or kadai. To test if the oil is ready to be used, drop a pinch of dough into the hot oil, the dough should come up within a few seconds. Deep fry the samosas a few at a time until golden. Using a slotted spoon remove them into a strainer. Serve warm along with tamarind chutney or ketchup. Once cool, they can even be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and reheated in the oven.

To Bake the Samosa:
After step 4, place the samosas in a greased or non-stick baking tray. Bake in a pre-heated 220° C oven for 20 minutes or until light brown in color. Serve immediately

Note:
1.If you are finding it difficult to enlcose the filling in the dough this way, please head over to Qimah Samosa-Minced meat stuffed samosa where I have explained an easier way to assemble samosas.
2. If there is any left over dough and the filling has been used up, you can make namakpaare out them.
3. If there is any left over filling and the dough has been used up, use the filling to make vegetable curry puffs.

This month Sailaja is on a chaat spree and she is dishing out varieties of chaat items on her blog. Head over her blog to go though them all.

Luv,
Mona

Kachalu (chaat)

Its not that guavas arent available here. Infact most of the desi stuff is available in Toronto, but they are not always actually affordable. Back home in India, tropical fruits as such like guavas, sapodillas etc are so easily available and a mediocre sight, that one doesnt give them their due importance. People been living outside India bereaved of such delectations I know can understand my pain.

Yellow Guavas

We even had a giant and very old but healthy green guava tree amid others in our ancestral house. In season the tree used to be full of chirping parrots, atleast a dozen of them, amongst many other visitors, that nibbled and destroyed most of the fruit for the annoyance of my dadi.

Yellow Guavas

So a couple of days back, I was thrilled to see a few those alluring guavas on sale at reasonable prices. First I thought to prepare some guava jelly using them. My dadi was an expert at it and her guava jelly used to be distributed among neighbours and loved ones during the season. Then, I recollected the classic kachalu that makes its appearance quite frequently at iftaar during Ramadan, and I just couldn’t resist making it. Kachalu is the name for guava chaat, made by adding flavorings such as sugar and black pepper power.

It was such joy to taste guavas (also called as jaam or amrood in Urdu) and to be able to fill my lungs with their characteristic musky odor after a long time. Can’t wait to visit Hyderabad and enjoy all that I have been missing inshallah.

Jaam ka Kachalu – Guava Chaat

Ingredients:

Ripe Guaves/Jaam/Amrood – 1.5 lbs
Granulated Sugar – 4-5 tbsp
Black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp

chopped guavas

Method:

Wash the guavas well. Top and bottom them. Now chop them into thin triangles and transfer to a bowl. Add sugar and black pepper powder to taste, or according to the measurements given and mix well. Do not worry if a few of the pieces mush up. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for a few hours the flavors to intensify until chilled. Serve as chaat at tea-time.

Kachalu (chaat)

Note: Use ‘just overly ripe guavas’ to prepare this chaat. Green guavas that are hard/unripe are not suitable for this preparation. Also, the seasonings such as sugar is needed according to the sweetness of the guavas and to your fancy.

Luv,
Mona

Phulay Chane ki Chutney

Finally, spring is almost here. I cant wait to see life on dead trees and cheerful colors bursting all around me inshallah.

There are two kinds of chutney’s that I usually prepare along with along with Dosa or Idli, in addition to the quintessential Sambar. One kind that has the sourness as well as the spice/hotness, and an another kind that is mild with just a hint of spice sans any sort of tartness in it; all this because of the individual taste preferences in my house.

This particular chutney falls into the latter category. The phula chana (details of this dal below) which is the star ingredient for this chutney, imparts a mild taste, while the dried red chillies contribute the spiciness, and the dried roasted coconut render a creamy and nutty flavor to the chutney.

Roasted Split Gram:
Other names: Bhuna Chana; Chutney dal;
In Marathi: Dalia (Dalia is a Gujarati word for pappulu or bhuna chana. Usually broken wheat is referred to as Dalia); Phutana dal;
In Urdu: Phula Chana (phulay chane is plural, and phula chana is singular)
In Telugu: Putnala pappulu
In Tamil: Pottu Kadalai

Phula Chana is obtained when Black chickpeas/Kala Chana are roasted in special places called as bhattis in India. These are then skinned and split, then packed and sold ready made in packets at stores (Note that this cannot be done at home). There is no need to cook this dal, you can pop phula chana directly in your mouth as a healthy, crunchy, guilt free snack too.

Easy to prepare and dainty to taste, this chutney is a good choice for all those who do not possess an affinity for a sour taste.

Phulay Chane ki Chutney – Roasted Split gram Chutney

Ingredients:

Dried Red Chillies/Baghaar ki mirch – 6-8
Roasted split gram/Phula Chana – 1/3 cup
Desiccated Coconut – 4 tbsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Canola oil

Method:

In a small frying pan or a tawa, heat 2 tsp of oil at medium heat. As soon as it is hot, add the dried red chillies and roast the dried red chillies, phula chana and dessicated coconut individually one by one just for a few seconds. Do not burn the spices. Remove into a platter and let cool. Once cool, grind them all together adding just enough water to aid in the process (I added about 1/2 cup-3/4 cup) until smooth. Add salt and mix. Serve along with dosa, idli or any snacks.

Luv,
Mona