Badam Beerakaaya (Almond Turia)

The badam-beerakaaya combination is a new recipe that I have come up with the beerakaaaya harvest. This recipe really concentrates the flavor and brings out the sweetness of both beerakaaya and badam. Dice the beerakaaya, saute and add ground badam paste. Simple vegetable curry with some protein profile, badam-beerakaaya makes a delicious filler for chapatis or pav-wiches on low appetite days.

Beerakaaya (Turai/Turia)

Badam-Beerakaaya Kura
(for 2 or 4, for 2 to 1 meal)

    3 beerakaaya – fresh and firm, about arm length each
    3 tablespoons - badam butter paste (ground almonds)
    4 green chillies – finely chopped
    1/4 teaspoon – turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon -salt or to taste
    For curry leaf talimpu:
    1 tablespoon, peanut oil, 1 sprig of fresh cury leaves, pinch each-cumin and mustard seeds

Peel the beerakaaya ridges. Wash and dice beerakaya to bite-sized pieces.

In a big pan over medium heat, heat peanut oil until hot and do the curry leaf talimpu. Add curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds. Saute to fragrance, stirring frequently.

Add beerakaaya and chilli pieces. Cover and cook on medium heat. After about ten minutes, remove the lid and stir in ground almonds, turmeric and salt. Mix well and cook for another five minutes or until the beerakaya juices have reduced and sweetened with almond paste.

Serve badam-beerakaaya kura warm with chapati, bread or rice and dal for a tasty meal.

Badam-Beerakaaya Kura with Chapati
Badam-Beerakaaya Kura with Chapati ~ For Meal Today

For Homemade almond paste:
Soak 8 almonds in water for about an hour. Drain the water and peel the almond skins. In a mixer or mortar, take almonds, add a pinch of salt and grind to smooth paste.

Turai with Chana Dal

Garden dreams – When they come true, it’s a glorious feeling.

One of my lifelong garden dreams has been growing turai at home. This summer, beautiful turai vines smiled with pretty yellow flowers and it has been turai tanmayam ever since. Total number of turai harvested so far was around 60 from four turai vines. Garden goddess is in good mood, it’s the only reason I could think of for this blessing.

Turai is such a lovable vegetable with succulent, white flesh and delicate, sweet flavor. Tender turai doesn’t take much time to cook and digests easily, nourishing the spirit. We love our turai and we have been cooking many great turai recipes to our hearts content for the past one month.

The following turai recipe is Vijay’s creation. Tasty turai, little bit tomato and some chana dal, cooked together, it was a good meal and a simple solution to overwhelmed brain with excessive turai.

Homegrown Turai
Homegrown Turai

Turai with Chana Dal
(for 2 or 4, for 1 or 2 meals)

    3 fresh and tender turai, arm length each
    1/4 cup chana dal, soaked in water for about two hours
    2 semi ripe tomatoes
    4 green chillies, finely chopped
    1/4 teaspoon, turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon, salt or to taste
    For cumin tadka: 1 tablespoon peanut oil,
    pinch each-cumin and mustard seeds and few fresh curry leaves

Peel turai ridges. Rinse the vegetable well. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
In a heavy pan, heat peanut oil. Add and toast cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves to fragrance.
Add the rehydrated chana dal to the skillet. Saute the dal to pale red.
Add tomato and cook to soft.
Add turai pieces. Sprinkle turmeric. Mix well. Cover and cook the turai for about five minutes or until the pieces become soft.
Stir in salt. Sprinkle a tablespoon of grated coconut if you wish. Cook another couple of minutes and turn off the heat.
Serve the turai with chana dal warm with rice, chapati or bread for a light and tasty meal.

Turai with Chana Dal
Turai with Chana Dal ~ for Meal Today

Summer Garden Harvest ~ Beerakaaya(Turai)

This is a video of the beerakaaya plant from my garden. Filled with pretty, yellow flowers and long, ribbed vegetables, beautiful beerakaaya vine is a sight to behold during peak summer time.

Beerakaaya (Turai) Harvest
Beerakaaya Harvest for this Week

The Pleasures of Festivals ~ Nagula Chavithi

I grew up in a household where every festival was and still is religiously celebrated with great bhakthi and bhukthi. I’ve been trying to recreate those traditions here at my home. Each festival has its own set of pooja procedures. I am writing what I remember here at Mahanandi. This pleasure of festival series is for me and for those of you who would like a reference point. The pooja traditions I follow are from my birthplace, Nandyala in India. You are most welcome to contribute what you know and follow.

The Pleasures of Festivals ~ Nagula Chavithi

About:
Nagula Chavithi is a festival where serpents are worshipped with great devotion. Nagula Chavithi is celebrated during the months of “Sravanam”(August) and/or in “Karthikam” (November). “Nagu” means the snake and “Chavithi” is the fourth day after every newmoon day. On this day, devotees observe fast and worship Nagamayya, the supreme snake- the Seven hooded cobra. Fresh flowers, milk, vadapappu, chalimidi, nuvvula-mudda and fresh coconut are offered as neivedyam. Thoranam is also placed infront of Nagamayya. Devotees offer milk to Naga Vigraham beneath the bodhi tree in temples and some complete the pooja at home placing an idol of a snake just for that day.

The Legend:
Legend behind Nagula Chavithi is that during the churning of the ocean by gods and demons in search of “Amrutham” (the nectar of immortality), a snake was used as rope and in the process, a terrible poison (“garalam”) emerged. The poison would have engulfed the whole world, but for Bhagavan Shiva, who swallowed it and retained it in His throat. His throat turned blue – hence, Bhagavan Shiva is called “Neelakantha”. However, a few drops spilled and to ward off the evil effects, people worship the Cobra, the king of snakes, to pacify the brood and protect themselves from any ill effects.

Pooja Preparation:
The day before:
Clean the home. Clean the bhagavan mandir.
Shopping list: Yellow moong dal, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, jaggery, cardamom, ghee, fresh milk, dry coconut and fresh coconut for pooja, cotton thread for thoranam. Fresh flowers and fruits.
Ingredients preparation: Crush or grate the jaggery to fine. Grate the dry coconut. Crush the cardamom seeds and prepare cardamom powder. Store them in clean jars.

On Nagula Chavithi Day:
Purify with a head bath. Decorate the mandir with fresh flowers.
Prepare neivedyam: Vadapappu, chalimidi, sesame laddu.

Vadapappu: Soak half cup of yellow moong dal in two cups of water for about an hour. At pooja time, drain the water and add the rehydrated moong dal to neivedyam platter. For detailed vadapappu recipe and photo -click here.

Chalimidi: soak 3/4 cup of rice grains in water for about half an hour. Drain the water and spread the rice on a clean cloth to air-dry for about 15 minutes under the sun or fan. Take the semi-dried rice in a food processor or mortar. Grind or pound to fine powder. It comes about one cup of rice powder. You could also use readymade rice powder for chalimidi for convenience. The taste won’t be the same though.
To this rice powder, add quarter cup of dry coconut powder, one cup of finely crushed jaggery, a tablespoon of white poppy seeds and a teaspoon of cardamom powder. Blend the ingredients without adding any water until well combined. Take this sweet rice mix in a bowl. Take about three tablespoons of this mixture into your hand. Press gently into round shape and some into cylindrical shape. Usually the moisture from rice and jaggery is enough to shape the mixture into rounds. If necessary, sprinkle few drops of water or melted ghee for easy shaping. This is chalimidi. Place few chalimidi on neivedyam platter.

Nuvvula Mudda (Sesame Laddu): Crush or grate jaggery to superfine mix. Take a cup of sesame seeds in a food processor or stone mortar. Add a cup of jaggery, quarter cup of rice powder, quarter cup of dry coconut powder and a teaspoon of cardamom powder. Grind or pound the ingredients well without adding any water. Sesame seeds have to reach from powder to oily mix stage. When you see the oil from sesame seeds starts separating, remove the mix to a bowl. Mix in a tablespoon of poppy seeds. Take two to three tablespoons of mixture into your hand. Press gently into round shape and some into cylindrical shape. These are nuvvula mudda. Place few nuvvula mudda on neivedyam platter.

Now the neivedyam is ready. On to the pooja.

For Nagula Chavithi Pooja:

Prepare Nagamayya: I do not have Nagamayya statue at home, so I make Nagamayya with wheat flour. Take quarter cup of wheat flour in a bowl. Sprinkle few tablespoons of water, knead and make tight dough. Roll the dough into a long, round coil. Shape the coil into a snake form and press the coil end into snake head(padaga/ hood) form. Cover the snake in turmeric and kumkum mixture. This is Nagamayya and the deity of the day is ready now. Place the Nagamayya in bhagavan mandir. Decorate with fresh oleanders and other flowers. Place a small glass of fresh milk and a spoon on the side.

Prepare the thoranam: Take a cotton thread in three rows. Apply turmeric to the thread. This is thoranam. Place it in front of Nagamayya.

Pooja Vidhanam:
Place the neivedyam platter with Vadapappu, chalimidi and nuvvula mudda in front of Nagamayya. Place fresh fruits (bananas).
Light the deepam and agarbatti.
Offer milk to Nagamayya. Take a teaspoon of milk and gently pour onto Nagamayya head.
Recite Sri Subramanya Swamy Astothharam for Nagamayya. Meditate.
Break the coconut. Offer coconut water and then mangala arathi to Nagamayya.
Take the thoranam and tie it to your right wrist. Do the same for your family members. While tying the knot, make a wish.

The pooja is finished. Leave the home and spend few minutes in front or back door. This is a tradition so that the Nagamayya can have some privacy to enjoy the neivedyam.

After few minutes outside, come inside and have neivedyam prasadam with family and friends. Usually we fast on Nagula Chavithi and have only neivedyam, milk and fruits. The next day on Naga Panchami, we prepare the feast with payasam, pulihora and vada or bajji, along with rice, dal, curry and dahi. After offering the neivedyam to bhagavan on banana leaf, the festival feast is shared with family and friends.

Mothers gift their married daughters new clothes, bangles, sesame laddus and dry whole coconuts. Elder sisters also share the gifts with younger sisters.

After evening mangala arathi, sendoff Nagamayya into woods. Place the deity on a plant or tree and leave it there for the nature.

This completes the Nagula Chavithi celebrations.

I had the pleasure of celebrating the Nagula Chavithi and Panchami last Friday and on Saturday (August 13th and 14th). I wish I had taken some photos of neivedyam for this article. Even without photos, I hope the pooja procedure is clear and easy to follow. May Nagamayya bless us all.

Jai Hind and Jhangri

Sing Jana Gana Mana. Salute, Jai Hind. Enjoy chocolate or biscuit with friends.

We fondly remember the days when we were kids attending the Independence Day celebration at school. Though it was small and just a single piece, receiving that simple sweet for us young minds was a sure cause of celebration.

At our school, Swami Vivekananda Vidyalaya at Nandyala, children are getting a chance to enjoy some of the traditional sweets like jhangri and laddu on special occasions. This Independence Day children enjoyed jhangri.

Happy Independence Day to Beautiful Bharath!

Jai Hind and Jangri on August 15th
One of the cute young girls enjoying Jhangri on this 15th August ~ from Swami School, Nandyala.

Semiya (Vermicelli) Upma

One of the first recipes from my beginner cooking days I was confident to cook was the utterly delicious semiya upma. Like Maggi noodles for this generation, comfort and quick college food was semiya upma for us in those days. Fry the onion, boil water and add the roasted semiya. A one dish meal with minimum utensils and effort, and a tasty end result, it’s very easy to latch on semiya upma for comfort.

Semiya is Indian vermicelli. Made with durum wheat and free of egg, it’s available very thin, broken and in packets in Indian grocery stores.

I have been craving semiya upma for some time and made it on Ekadashi. Semiya upma, aavakaaya and avocado – it was a blessed meal.

Roasted Semiya
Roasted Semiya

Semiya Upma
(for 2 to 4, for 2 to 1 meal)

    2 cups, semiya (Indian vermicelli)
    1 medium sized red onion or shallot, finely chopped
    2 fresh chillies, finely chopped
    1/4 cup fresh peas, shelled
    1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
    1/4 cup roasted, cashew pieces
    1/4 teaspoon, salt or to taste
    1 tablespoon, peanut oil
    from masala dabba, for curry leaf tadka: 10 curry leaves, and
    1/4 teaspoon each- urad dal, chana dal, mustard seeds and cumin

1. Heat a wide pan over medium heat. Add semiya. With a slotted spoon, turn the semiya over and over again and roast until the semiya is uniformly pale red. Transfer the roasted semiya to a plate. The roasting process prevents the semiya becoming a gooey mudda in the end and increases the ruchi very much.

2. In the same pan, heat peanut oil. When oil is hot, add curry leaves, urad dal, chana dal, mustard seeds and cumin. Saute the tadka ingredients to fragrance, constantly stirring. Add onion and chilli pieces. Saute to soft. Add peas and 3 cups of water. Sprinkle salt. Mix well and cover the pan with a lid. Increase the heat to high.

3. When the water comes to a rolling boil, remove the lid and constantly stirring, add the roasted semiya to water. Reduce the heat to medium. Partially cover the pan and cook the semiya till the water is all absorbed. Turn off the heat.

4.Garnish with cilantro and cashew pieces. Gently mix and leave the semiya upma for ten minutes for flavors to mingle well. Then serve the semiya upma hot with pickle, chutney or podi. Kids love it with some sugar sprinkled on the top. Tasty semiya upma can be had for breakfast, evening snack, or for meal.

Semiya Upma
Semiya Upma with Mango Aavakaaya and Avocado ~ for Meal on Ekadashi

Kitchen Notes:
for 1 cup of semiya – add one and half cups of water

Beach Snack ~ Boiled Peanuts

Bottlenose Dolphins in Galveston Bay
Bottlenose Dolphins in the Galveston Bay

Last weekend, we went to Galveston, a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about an hour drive from my home. We spent time watching bottlenose dolphins and on the sea on a free ferry ride. The weather was balmy and the beaches were crowded. Still it was fun, thanks to brief rain and cooling breeze. I packed some boiled peanuts to snack. Shell and eat, within minutes they were gone. Salty and succulent, they were the perfect snack for a beach day. Being from the India, I think we are destined to crave boiled peanuts.:) They are very addictive.

Boiled Peanuts
Boiled Peanuts ~ for a Beach Day

For those of you, who would like to engage your tastebuds in a salty succulence with delicious boiled peanuts, here is the recipe.

    2 pounds, raw, fresh peanuts
    2 tablespoons, sea salt
    Big pot or pressure cooker and a colander

Wash peanuts in plenty of water. Take them in a pressure cooker. Add salt and enough water to cover them.
Close the lid and on medium-low heat, pressure-cook the peanuts to tender. Slow cooking produces excellent results with soft and salty peanuts.
Pour the cooked peanuts in a colander and drain the water. Cool for few minutes.
Break open and enjoy the tasty boiled peanuts. Yum!

Weekend Offer ~ Red Chilli Pickle

Red Chilli Pickle from Andhra
4 oz jar of red chilli pickle

Red Chilli Pickle:

Last week I prepared an Andhra style, red chilli pickle with ripe, red Serrano chillies. The pickle is all natural ingredients, stone-ground, and extremely hot. It tastes great when applied in small quantity on breakfast items, to spread on sandwiches, or to spike up the sauces. The detailed recipe is here. I am offering 5 jars of pickle for those of you interested chilli fans who would like to try.

4 oz jar for $ 9.99 (includes shipping).
Update: Soldout. Thank you!

Red Chilli Pickle (Pandu Mirapa Uragaaya)

Gloves and Kerchief
caution ahead

Chillies play an important role in Bharath bhojanam. Their haunting vigour is celebrated in a variety of preparations. Legendary among them is the Red chilli pickle from Andhra Pradesh. Known as Pandu Mirapa Uragaaya in Telugu, it’s ripe chillies raw glory. There is no cooking or simmering of chillies like in hot sauce. Chillies are ground and their potency is enlivened by salt, lemon juice and pungent methi. This stomach scraper’s fiery nature and daredevil attitude has a cult like following in Andhra. I was not a big fan until my thirties. Blame it on mature palate or hard life lessons digested over the years, now I am a blissed-out believer in uragaaya mahatyam. If keen on exploring this chilli extreme, you may reason that chillies are loaded with vitamin C in a chirpy, holier-than-thou healthy way.:)

Because we don’t get Guntur chillies here in Houston, I prepared the uragaaya with Mexican native Serrano Chillies. Ripe Serrano chillies are bright and biting with a delayed flavor fuse. Just the right variety for Andhra’s Pandu mirapa uragaaya.

Ripe Serrano Chillies and Juicy Limes for Red Chilli Pickle

Red Chilli Pickle (Pandu Mirapa Uragaaya) from Andhra

1. Rinse the chillies clean in plenty of water. Drain, and blot dry with a kitchen towel. Spread the chillies on a paper and air-dry for one hour under hot sun.

2. While chillies are drying, in the meantime, prepare the pickle ingredients.
- Heat a skillet. Add methi seeds and on low heat, slowly roast to light brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and when they are cool, take them in a mixer and powder to fine.
- In the same skillet, heat sesame oil on medium heat. When oil is hot, add urad dal and stirring constantly toast to red. Add mustard seeds. When seeds start to splutter, add hing and methi powder. Toast for a minute. Remove the skillet from heat and allow to cool completely.

3. Back to chillies now. Bring them inside. Wear gloves and cover your nose with a handkerchief. Remove the chilli stems. Chop. The smaller the cut, the easier it will be to blend. Place the cut chillies in a clean and dry, stone-grinder or food processor. Add sea salt. Grind to fairly smooth consistency. Do not add water. It will spoil the pickle. Moisture in ripe chillies is enough and mix with a spatula in-between for easy blending.

4. Take the ground chilli in a clean ceramic or glass bowl. Add the hing tadka and pour the lemon juice. Mix well. Keep the bowl on the countertop where air circulates freely, loosely covered for about a day.

5. On the second day, store the chilli uragaaya in a clean jar. Keep an eye on the pickle for a week. Usually enough salt and limejuice will rectify any potential spoilage.

This no-cook, raw style chilli uragaaya stays fresh from six months to a year as long as pickle precautions are taken (no wet spoons, moisture/humidity).

We can serve this pickle immediately but the pickle matures and tastes much better with age. Apply it on idly, dosa, pesarattu, spread on pav-wiches, Mix some to perk up the sauces or simply mix and eat with rice/roti. It’s good to have some chilli pickle company on those cloyingly sweet days.

Red Chilli Pickle (Pandu Mirapa Uragaaya)
Ready to Eat ~ Red Chilli Pickle (Pandu Mirapa Uragaaya)

Notes:
This pickle is also prepared with tamarind instead of limejuice.
Telugu to ingleesh: Pandu = Ripe, Mirapa = Chilli, Uragaaya = Pickle

Gongura Peanut Pachadi

Thanks to the frequent rains this summer, my gongura plants are thriving. In fact, there is a surplus of fresh gongura leaves and that allows me experiment some new recipes. You know the peanut chutney in which we add tamarind or lemon juice to perk up the pachadi? I thought why not replace them with fresh gongura leaves. Gongura’s tangy taste should be a perfect compliment to nutty peanuts. It has turned out a good recipe with gongura.

Fresh Gongura Leaves
Gongura Madi

Gongura Peanut Pachadi

    1 tablespoon, peanut oil
    2 garlic cloves, skin peeled and chopped coarsely
    1 red onion or shallots – coarsely chopped, about a cup
    6 to 8, fresh or dried chillies, Indian variety
    Fresh gongura leaves – about 6 cups, tightly packed
    Roasted, shelled, skinned, unsalted peanuts – 3/4 cup
    1/2 teaspoon, salt (or to taste)

1. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Saute to soft brown. Remove them into a cup.

2. In the same skillet, stir in the gongura leaves. It will seem an enormous quantity but the leaves reduce rapidly to less than half the volume. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about five minutes. If the gongura is very fresh, the mixture will be juicy. Remove the cover and continue to cook until the water has evaporated, for another two to three minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

3. In a blender or mortar, take the peanuts. Add salt. Grind or pound into a fine powder. Add the cooked onion-gongura mixture to peanut powder. Stir in half cup of water. Blend the ingredients to smooth pachadi. Remove to a cup.

Gongura-peanut pachadi tastes good with breakfast items, rice or roti.


Gongura-Peanut Pachadi with Ponganalu ~ for Meal Today

Summer Blooms ~ Scarlet Rose Mallow

Scarlet Rose Mallow Flower in Closeup
Scarlet Rose Mallow Flower

Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus Coccineus), also known as Scarlet Rose Mallow or Swamp Hibiscus, is a one of a kind, native perennial plant. Hardy in warm areas, this hibiscus is known for its maple like 5-lobed leaves and star like 5-petal blooms. The big, bright red blossoms last a day, with new flowers quickly taking their place. This hardy perennial is a butterfly and hummingbird magnet.

I have this plant in my garden since last year and I am very pleased with its low maintenance and high blooms appearance. After seeing the flowers this year, many of my friends wanted to have this plant in their garden. I shared the seeds with them. I have some more seeds for sale for those of you interested in native plant gardening.

Seeds sprout easily in soil or in containers with enough sunlight and water exposure.
Once established, the plant does not need much care or water.
Dies down in winter and comes back again in late spring from seeds.
Profuse, pretty blooms from July to October.

Scarlet Rose Mallow (Hibiscus Coccineus): 20 seeds for $4


Scarlet Rose Mallow Seeds
Scarlet Rose Mallow Seeds

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