Saturday 26 April 2014

Handy tips (சமையல் குறிப்புகள்)

Experience teaches certain easy ways of handling recipes. Such useful tips are often shared between women, and those I have learnt over the years are listed below in question-answer format. You may know some of these tips, while others may be new. Relevant tips are also given along with the recipes for the benefit of the user.

Sambar and Kuzhambu   

How to improve the consistency of sambar? If the sambar is watery, you may add a mixture of 1 teaspoon gram flour in little water to the boiling sambar. Add slowly, while stirring continuously. This will increase the consistency of sambar.  

How to use jack fruit seeds for making sambar?  Dry jack fruit seeds in the Sunlight well. Pound them lightly using a pestle. Now the thick whitish outer coat can be easily peeled off. You will have to pressure cook the seeds (brown in color) before adding to the sambar. They give a distinct favor to the sambar.

What is the difference between new and old tamarind? The quantities mentioned in the recipes refer to new tamarind (புது புளி), which is generally brownish in color. Use lesser quantities of old tamarind (பழைய புளி), which is blackish in color. If you use old tamarind, your kuzhambu will be darker in color. 

How to improve the consistency of kuzhambu? If kuzhambu is watery, you may add a mixture of 1 teaspoon rice flour in little water to the boiling kuzhambu. Add slowly, while stirring continuously. This will increase the consistency of kuzhambu. 


Can I make dhal rasam without cooked dhal? Yes, you can make dhal rasam (பருப்பு ரசம்without cooked dhal. You may use lentil powder (பருப்பு பொடி) instead of cooked dhal for making rasam. Follow tomato rasam recipe, and use all ingredients except for cooked dhal, which can be replaced by a teaspoon of lentil powder. Reduce the quantity of rasam powder to 2 teaspoons, as the dhal powder will also add spice to the rasam. This way, you can still make dhal rasam in just 10 minutes.  

Can we use more than one vegetable for making 'Thengai potta poriyal'? While preparing 'Thengai potta poriyal', combination of some vegetables works very well, such as carrots, cabbage & beans; carrots & chow-chow; and carrots & radish. Two tablespoon of pressure cooked whole green gram (பச்சை பயறு) or black eyed peas (காராமணி) may be added to snake gourd or chow-chow. This improves the taste as well the nutritional value of the poriyal. 

Can we use lentil powder to spice vegetables? You can use lentil powder (பருப்பு பொடி) instead of red chilli powder while making potato fry; this is especially suitable for children. You can also make cabbage poriyal by using 2 teaspoons of lentil powder instead of red chilies and coconut gratings.

Mixed Rice

How to make lemon/coconut rice more interesting? You may fry a tablespoon of peanuts (நிலக்கடலை) in little ghee till they turn light brown and add to lemon rice or coconut rice. This adds to the taste of the preparation. 

Preserving Groceries
How to safe guard rice from infestation? While storing rice, add a few dry red chillies (மிளகாய் வத்தல்). This will prevent rice getting infested with weevils or bugs (வண்டு () அந்துப்பூச்சி).

How do I protect the groceries from infestation? Sweet flag or vasambu (வசம்பு) is a natural insect repellant. Place a few sweet flag sticks in each shelf, where you store your grocery items. This is generally effective against insects and weevils. You may have to change the pieces once in a few months for better results.


How do I find out if the idlies are cooked? When you are steaming idlies, the steam will emit idly flavor if the idlies are cooked.You may also use a  wooden tooth pick to test if the idlies are cooked or not. Wet the tooth pick and drive it through the hot idly in the mould. If the idly is cooked, the tooth pick will come out smoothly with no batter sticking on it. 

Why does idly or dosa batter rise after standing over night? After grinding, idly or dosa batter should be allowed stand overnight or at least 8 hours to enable fermentation. It is believed that the air borne wild yeast causes fermentation. Use a larger container to hold the batter overnight, as the batter will rise (மாவு பொங்கும்) when fermented. In tropical temperatures, fermentation happens automatically. If the temperature is low (in cold climates), covering the vessel containing the batter with a thick blanket helps fermentation.

How can I use 3-4 days old leftover dosa or idly batter? After 3-4 days idly or dosa batter becomes sour in our tropical climate. You can make dosa, idly or oothappam by adding some ingredients to this batter. 

Dosa/Oothappam:  Simplest way of using it is to make onion oothappam. Alternatively, you may add 2 big hollow ladleful of maida (all purpose flour) and 1 big hollow ladleful of rava (semolina) to 1 teacup (200ml) of left over batter. Add enough water to make the batter into thin pouring consistency. Add half a teaspoon of pepper corns, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and required salt and mix well. Make rava dosa with this batter.

Idly: Add 1 teacup (200ml) of ready-to-make rava idly mix and 100ml of water to 1 teacup (200ml) of left over idly/dosa batter. Mix well and allow it to stand for 10 minutes. Mix the batter once again and make idlies.
Base Items (Sauces, gravies etc..)

How do I make coconut milk (தேங்காய் பால்) at home? Grate the coconut meat and keep aside. Alternatively you can cut the coconut meat into small pieces. Grind half a cup (100ml measure) of coconut with ¼ tumbler of water (50ml) into a very fine paste. Add 50ml of water to the paste, mix well and strain through a strainer into a bowl. Squeeze the coconut residue left in the strainer with a spoon to extract coconut milk.This is the "first coconut milk" (முதல் தேங்காய் பால்), which is thicker. You grind the coconut residue again with half a tumbler (100ml) of water.Strain the ground paste through a strainer into a different bowl. This is "second coconut milk" (இரண்டாம் தேங்காய் பால்) that is thinner. Usually the second coconut milk is used first in the recipe. First coconut milk is added to the preparation in the end, mixed well and the fire is switched off immediately. This adds to the flavor of the dish prepared. 

How do I make paneer or cottage cheese at home? Click here to know easy steps to make paneer.

Sprouted green gram
Cereals and Pulses

Can I sprout green gram at home? Yes, you can. Wash and soak green gram in double the quantity of water overnight. Next morning drain the water and tie the green gram in a clean cloth. Keep it in a vessel, preferably in a cool place. Green gram sprouts in 1-2 days. Remove the sprouts from the cloth and use it for cooking. 

Flours and Powders

Can I make urad dhal flour at home? Of course, you can. Roast urad dhal in a kadai till the dhal turns golden brown in color. Allow it to cool. Then grind the dhal using a dry grinder into a fine powder. Alternatively, you may grind the dhal in a neighborhood flour mill. Sieve the flour to remove any coarse particles. Store the urad dhal flour (உளுத்த மாவு) in an air tight container and use it

Mortar and pestle
when required.

How do I prepare methi powder? Roast required quantity of methi seeds in a kadai on medium flame till the seeds turn reddish. Remove from fire. Cool to room temperature and powder the seeds in a mixer-grinder. You may use the mortar and pestle to powder small quanty of methi seeds.  
Mortar and pestle (உரலாணி): The mortar is a heavy bowl made  of      stone, metal or ceramic, while pestle is elongated round ended object for pounding the ingredients.Traditionally, mortar and pestle are used in the kitchen for powdering small quantities of spices or making pastes such as ginger, garlic or green chilli paste. 

Cutting and Cleaning (vegetables & greens)

How to prevent cut brinjal from turning dark? While cutting vegetables, please soak cut pieces of brinjal, plantain, sweet potato and potato in water immediately, lest the pieces will turn dark if left exposed to air.

Indian spinach or Pasalai keerai
What is the difference between Pasalai keerai and palak? Pasalai keerai (பசலைக் கீரை) is Indian spinach, which has large dark green leaves with a thick red or greenish stack. When you cook pasalai keerai, it gets sticky. Whereas, Delhi palak is different type of spinach - It also has large leaves, with a thinner greenish stalk and the leaves are crisp. 

How do I clean palak?  Delhi palak has large leaves with a thinner stalk. Separate the leaves and cut them into smaller pieces. Soak the cut palak in large quantity of water for 5-10 minutes. Leaves float on the surface. Remove the leaves with your hand and discard the dirty water. Repeat this process 2-3 times, before cooking palak.

How do I clean a cauliflower? Separate the florets from cauliflower. Boil sufficient water (enough quantity to immerse the florets) and add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water. Switch off the fire. Add the florets to the boiling water and cover with a lid. Allow it to stand for 5 minutes. Drain the water. Rinse again with cold water, drain fully before using it for cooking. 

How do I clean a plantain flower? Plantain flower (வாழைப்பூ) has several layers of dark skin. Under each layer of purplish brown skin, you will find neatly arranged yellowish white florets. Discard the covering purplish brown skin. Separate the florets. Remove the thick central stamen (கள்ளன்) from each floret. Add a ladle of butter milk to half a liter of water. Keep this mixture ready before starting to cut the florets. Cut the florets into tiny bits and add them to the water mixture immediately. Boil the florets in water mixture with enough salt. Once florets are cooked, strain through a colander. You may  now use the plantain flower for cooking after it is fully drained.

How do I clean greens? Various types of greens can be used for cooking. Greens that are commonly used in South Indian cuisine include Indian spinach (பசலைக்கீரை), Delhi palak (பாலக் கீரை), joyweed (பொன்னாங்கண்ணி), tender amaranth (தண்டு கீரை), black nightshade (மணத்தக்காளி கீரை), sorrel leaves (புளிச்ச கீரை), spleen amaranth (அரை கீரை) and fenugreek leaves (வெந்தய கீரை). Separate the leaves. Cut them into smaller pieces. Soak the cut greens in large quantity of water for 5-10 minutes. Leaves float on the surface. Remove the leaves with your hand and discard the dirty water. Repeat this process 2-3 times. Drain well and then use the greens for cooking. 

How do I clean plantain stem? Mix 300ml of water and a small hollow ladle of buttermilk in a bowl. Keep this bowl ready before staring to cut plantain stem. Make a shallow vertical slit on the plantain stem and remove the thick outer layer. This can be easily peeled off. Discard the outer layer. Inner stem is pearly white in color. Slice the stem into thin circular pieces as shown in the picture (Fig.1). As you cut the stem, you will find fibers stretching between the cut circular piece and the stem. Roll  the fibers around your finger and remove them (Fig.1). Now cut the circular piece into tiny bits (Fig-2) and immediately immerse the cut pieces in the buttermilk mixture kept ready (Fig.3), as plantain stem turns darker if exposed to air. Now, you may proceed with the recipe. 

Home-made Remedies

What are the home remedies to treat cough and cold? Cough and cold can be treated with homemade remedies. You may break and smell the Indian borage leaf (கற்பூரவள்ளி) for its soothing effect on congested nose. Alternatively boil water in a vessel, add a handful of Indian borage leaves and steam your face to get relief from nasal congestion.

Honey (தேன்) is a natural cough suppressant. You can drink honey mixed with warm water or you can just take a teaspoon of honey to treat cough. Palm candy (பனங் கல்கண்டு) is a natural sugar that provides relief from cough. Just keep a piece of palm candy in your mouth, let it soak and slowly eat it. Alternatively, you can mix palm candy with hot milk and drink it. Extract of Indian borage gives relief from cough. You may also use Basil extract to get relief from cough and cold.

Is there a natural way to treat pimples? My grandmother recommended ‘Thulasi’ (துளசி இலை) or basil leaves for treating pimples. Crush a handful of basil leaves and squeeze the juice out. Apply the Basil juice on the face. Alternatively you may make a paste of basil leaves and apply over the pimples. 

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  1. Dear Rathika:

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    Thanks & regards

    Hamida, Content Manager, Sulekha US

    1. Thank you for your observations. I appreciate them.