Archive for March, 2009

Embracing Ayurveda with Sukham Ayu

Not long ago, I was the fortunate recipient of Sukham Ayu,
authored by the same talented ladies who invited us into Pedatha’s world in Cooking At Home with Pedatha.

Given my interest in Indian cuisine and culture, I was, of course, aware of Ayurveda. I had seen it mentioned and read a little. I never delved deep.
Perhaps because I am not Indian, I keenly felt what I perceived as my shortcoming. Ayurveda was far away, out there somewhere, high above me — residing on a plane beyond the realm of my understanding.

I was so wrong.

Cooking at Home with Pedatha brought the delights of traditional Andhra cookery within anyone’s reach. All you needed was a stove and pot, a few spices, and a willingness to learn — you, too could make Pedatha’s vangi bath!

With Sukham Ayu, in similar fashion, dear Jigyasa and Pratibha have lifted the veil of mystery from Ayurveda.

With their trademark ease, they have showcased the beauty and simplicity of age-old principles; making Ayurveda accessible to anyone with an open mind so that we may all reap the benefits of this ancient art.

The ability to bridge, through printed word, a world full of physical and cultural divides is truly a gift, and Sukham Ayu is truly a spectacular book. Once more I feel honored to be invited to the table — not only as a guest, but as an eager participant in the kitchen aforehand. All the while, I am embracing Ayurveda, and breathing deeply of the soul-food found in the lush greenery of the Western Ghats, above Mulshi Lake.


soya pulav from Sukham Ayu, served with oat-bran pita and spicy gongura pickle to temper my kapha and vata doshas

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Lowfat Ma Po Tofu, Spring, and a Chinese Dosa?

I just had to show you this — a Chinese dosa??

It’s spring at last!!

Finally, the days are longer and the thermometer is ever so slowly creeping upward. All the extra sunshine is soaking into my bones to wake me from a long winter nap. Of course waking up from winter naps means taking out spring clothes, and as usual, too much winter makes too much me!

To that end, I picked up a package of Nasoya Light silken tofu, and thought about that melt-in-your-mouth Chinese dish, ma po tofu. I wanted to try it without the oil called for in most recipes. And while it can be made without pork and without too much oil, it can’t be made without Sichuan hot bean sauce (or paste), and for that I ventured out to my favorite Asian market. I’m usually in there buying Indian groceries — today it was a little trip to China.

chinese groceries, clockwise from top left ~ sichuan peppercorn (tepal), light and dark soy sauces, dried fungus, canned water chestnuts, canned sichuan hot bean paste, sesame oil (Japanese brand)

Next time I will invest in a jar of the hot bean paste rather than the can. I think the jars have more chili heat. Made with fermented soy or broad beans, this paste is *very* salty; between that and the dash of saltier-than-regular light soy sauce, the salt shaker is not necessary. Taste the bean paste before beginning to determine how much chili powder is needed. The dish should be quite spicy.



wood ears ~ before, top, and after soaking, right

This comes together so quickly it could easily be a weeknight meal. It’s mostly based on the recipe in my favorite Chinese cookbook: The Taste of China by Ken Hom.

Ma Po Tofu

1 tsp canola oil
2 TB each garlic and ginger, minced
1 1/2 TB sichuan hot bean paste
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Chinese light soy sauce
2-3 dried black fungus (wood ear, tree ear), soaked, drained, and thinly sliced

1 block silken tofu, drained well and cut in cubes
(mine was Nasoya light, 16 oz)

2 TB cornstarch mixed with 2 TB water

1/4 c green onions, sliced
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp sichuan peppercorns, toasted and powdered


In a wok or large non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, saute a minute until fragrant, then add bean paste and chile powder.
Stir-fry 2 minutes, then add about 1/2 c water to prevent burning. Add wood ears and stir well.

Cover and simmer on med-low about 5 minutes, then gently add the tofu.
Use a wooden spoon to gently stir the mixture, then cover and simmer over low heat about 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, uncover and raise the heat to med-high.
When the mixture bubbles, add the cornstarch-water mixture and stir thoroughly.
Fold in the green onions, drizzle with the sesame oil, and give the mixture a final turn.

Remove from the heat to a serving bowl, and garnish with the ground sichuan pepper.

Serve hot over steamed rice. I had mine with plain steamed cauliflower as a substitute.

Tips: soak dried fungus/wood ears in hot water for about 15-20 minutes to reconstitute. Cut out the tough edge, then roll up and slice like a cookie-dough roll. If you’ve never cooked with these before, don’t be put off by the name. It has no real taste of its own, but provides a nice crunchy texture.

You can toast the sichuan peppercorns in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds. Then grind as you would any dry roasted spice. Don’t try to crush in a mortar and pestle as I did — you’ll be picking little sichuan peppercorn coverings out of your teeth!

spicy low-fat ma po tofu over cauliflower

another yummy version:

Pel’s Ma Po Doufu (vegan)


All I can think about is getting back into the garden. I have ordered tomato plants already(!!) to arrive mid-late May. I’ve rounded up all the seeds leftover from last year — many from dear ISG — plus the things I saved over the winter.
I have picked up two types of cucumber and three varieties of long beans to try, okra, and calaloo, not to mention seeds for mint, dill, oregano, and of course catnip! Pinkie loves catnip — perhaps Daisy will take to the fresh variety.

pinks and daisy being lego-kitties

daisy in early spring sunshine

What will you plant in your garden this spring?

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Food For the Soul ~ Kanji, Payar, and Kadachakka Thoran from Shn

I had a jar of breadfruit. Actually I’ve had it for a month. I can never resist a new food and when I saw it in a new store, I had to buy it. I looked for recipes, and I came across Shn’s wonderful post.

Things happen for a reason right? The breadfruit led me to kanji and payar — suddenly I felt it was well worth the wait ๐Ÿ™‚



kadachakka thoran ~ breadfruit dry curry ~ recipe from shn’s mishmash

mmhmmmm…payar… from mishmash ~ aka shn ๐Ÿ™‚


kanji from dear shn

The photos are mine, but this outer-space-creature (haha, Sandeepa!) got the recipes from Shn at Mishmash! and the idea to put the kanji in a glass, as well as much insight, from Inji. Many thanks to you both! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Pakoda for a Spring Snowday

frying pakodas on a late-winter evening

If you have kids, you know what a ‘snowday’ is –more than just a storm —
it means no school! I think of this month as the start of spring, but here in
New England a blizzard in May is not unheard of. We are used to seeing
March come in like a lion and that’s what it did Sunday night.
About 18 inches fell between midnight and 6 am.

School was cancelled yesterday, and though I had to work,
I could go late and in casual dress — so a bit of a holiday for m and me.
I spent the early morning watching the birds — juncos, goldfinches and their irruptive cousins the pine siskins, along with a solitary song sparrow and a lone carolina wren.

These and the merry band of chickadees and their usual cohorts, tufted titmouse, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers, made for a cheery morning amidst the blowing white.

Then thanks to ISG, I got the idea to make some pakodas last night.
A snowday late in winter inspires such cravings… I could afford to indulge in a little crispy goodness. Of all the veggies I have fried (admittedly not too many) my favorite is bell pepper. The flavors of bell pepper and besan seem to have a special affinity. I had a red bell pepper and that came out delicious.
Still I think my fav is the green.

Other than the peppers, I thought of Sailu’s yummy ulli pakodi, but after a lazy weekend with little shopping, discovered I didn’t have one fresh onion in the house! I’ve been trying to get the veggie drawer cleared out, so I made use of a few different things I had on hand — sans onions.

crunchy dried jackfruit chips

they taste delicious reconstituted too ~ especially in sambhar!

This is not exactly a recipe, as I didn’t really follow any one.
It’s more a little tale of my learning experience.
I am no expert in fritters! The pepper pakoda came out best.
Perhaps someone has a better way to fry greens (fry greens!??)!

Please do let me know! ๐Ÿ™‚


Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Pakoda

1 c dried jackfruit chips, soaked in boiling water for 30 min, and drained well

2 c mixed spinach, baby greens and mushrooms, chopped

2 big green chilies, chopped fine

Red Bell Pepper Pakoda

1 red bell pepper, seeded, scored on the outside, and cut into small pieces.
Wash well and drain on paper towels.


For the jackfruit and greens, I mixed mostly rice flour and just a little besan.
I got the idea to go heavier on rice flour from Mandira’s crispy beguni recipe.
I mixed it according to Sailu’s recipe with green chiles but skipped curry leaves; and seasoned all to taste with salt. Added some melted ghee and a few drops of water. The first batch fell apart and I had a tasty, albeit messy plate of fried individual leaves. I sprinkled a little more flour and a few more drops water — this time mashed it all together with a fork until it would hold together (the reconstituted jackfruit will mash a bit like potato). This second batch was better, and the rice flour definitely made it crunchier!

For the red bell pepper, I mixed 1/4 c besan with 1/2 c rice flour, then following Mandira’s instructions, added poppy seeds, salt and seasoning. Then just enough water with this to make a medium batter. The scoring helped the batter adhere to the peppers.

I took a photo, then I decided to add some Rajwadi Garam Masala to the ketchup — a very happy discovery! I am shamelessly addicted to this particular store-bought masala. It releases a deep, mellow aroma when you cook it; in this instance it made a delightfully spicy and flavorful dip for the deep-fried goodies.

spiced-up ketch-up!

So there you have it ISG, thanks for the inspiration! And thanks Mandira and Sailu for sharing your tips and recipes. Come right over next time it snows ๐Ÿ™‚

kitchen-sink and red bell pepper pakoda in EAPG ~
Michigan pattern by US Glass, circa 1902

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