Archive for August, 2009

Pick a Peck of Pepper Pakodas

OK, so enough quasi-philosophical talk from me!
Time to get back to the kitchen.

It may not be the banner year for tomatoes that I had hoped,
but I am fortunate enough to have beautiful peppers in abundance.
Who am I to complain? πŸ™‚

banana and serrano peppers from the garden

Ever since Shammi posted this recipe for baked (lowfat!) veg pakodas, I have been thinking of how much I love pepper and besan combo, and how much I wanted to make them with the peppers in the garden. Friday’s storm had me picking peppers like mad, so I had lots to play with and tonight I tried it.

I followed Shammi’s excellent recipe and instructions and only changed the ingredients a little — ok, I love cumin and peppers too!
I halved the recipe because I was experimenting and also using the toaster oven.

No dissertation is necessary; here’s how I made them:

Shammi’s Baked Pakodas with Banana Peppers

1 c chopped banana peppers
1/2 c chopped onion
1/3 c grated potato
1 serrano pepper, seeded and diced fine

1 tsp cumin pwd.
1 tsp kashmiri chile pwd.
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c rice flour
1/2 c besan

1/2 TB canola oil
Pam and Olivio sprays


Microwave the peppers for 2 min with a TB water. When cooled slightly, mix in the onion, potato and serrano pepper.

Sprinkle the cumin, chile pwds and salt. Mix well.
Add flours, mixing well again. Sprinkle clean hands with water and begin to mix, stopping when the batter comes together tightly. It should be sticky.
For this quantity I used about 1 TB water.

Heat the oil to smoking and add to batter — allow to cool slightly and mix thoroughly.

Preheat the toaster oven and its tray to 350F. When hot, line the tray with wax paper sprayed with Pam. Scoop the pakodas into balls with hands or two spoons, flatten and spray lightly with Pam.

In the toaster oven I baked as follows:

For softer pakodas:

Leave the balls a bit thick and bake 7-8 min — turn over while the Pam is still liquid and bake an additional 3-4 min. This gives a nice bit of crisp on the outside while soft inside.

For crisper pakodas:

Press the balls a bit thinner and bake 10 min, then flip and spray with Olivio spray. Switch to toast setting and cook for 5 min. This gives crunchy results!

grated potato, with chopped banana and serrano peppers and onion

the mixed batter

pepper pakodas waiting to bake

Baking these in the toaster oven, I might try toasting the besan first next time —
to compensate for the lower energy heat.

Banana peppers come in hot and mild variety. Mine are mild — nevertheless when I seeded them, I got a very slight stinging sensation in my eyes. I tasted the peppers raw, but they didn’t seem spicy to me even though my tongue tingled a wee bit. Perhaps my tastes are changing for the better (read:hotter!) πŸ˜‰

Something else to do with banana peppers:

Shilpa’s Spicy Banana Peppers

and with peppers in general:

Colorado State Extension

banana pepper pakodas ~ crispy on the left, softer on the right ~ dipping sauce of anji panca mixed with yogurt

Thanks Shammi, they were delicious!!!
(PS — did I win a prize for using ‘mix’ the most times in one recipe???) πŸ™‚

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We’re Still Standing ~ Tomatoes and Me

It’s been a stormy August. I’ve been pushed to the brink of my sanity; out of my mind with the ever-building heat raging round me, totally beyond my control.
This past Wednesday I could take it no more; needs must, when the devil drives.

I took a stand, said “enough, I don’t deserve to melt like
the Wicked Witch of the West”!!

And I wore my casual clothes to work.

Then Friday night was so stormy I feared the garden might be lost. A tornado watch was posted — a rarity for this part of the world. When I left work I could see a wall of dark clouds building to the west; once on the road I felt the wind rocking the car with joyful, reckless abandon.

Upon reaching home, one of the tomatoes on the deck had already toppled over in the gusts.

“Be Prepared”!! my old Girl Scout motto shouted, half in a panic from the depths of my brain, above the rising winds.

So half in a panic, I went to work picking every ripe pepper and brinjal — to save them of course — just in case, mind you.

Half in a panic, I set about making sure every container was full of water — well weighted down — and tightly tied to deck and stakes. After all, the little garden had already survived the New England monsoon of June, and the late-blight tomato scourge! I couldn’t walk away, desert it, and watch it be beaten to the ground just because this storm promised to be a bit rougher.

Once the garden was secured, I took a deep breath. A strange sense of calm came over me then; the calm that arrives once panic has passed. All at once, my heart and mind cleared as if a fog had lifted — and I was reminded of the larger lesson: you can’t be prepared for everything life throws at you. Faced with a problem, there is a choice: ignore it and let it consume you (and your garden) or address and resolve it.

I thought to myself, “I’ve done everything in my power. The rest is not up to me”.

Happily, the battering winds and rain passed (as they usually do), and the
garden survived. Oh, a few tomatoes blew off the vines before they were properly ripened, but with a little time and patience, they will ripen all the same — a testament to their hearty constitution.

It’s easy to think clearly once the panic has passed.
Sometimes I baby the garden a wee bit too much πŸ˜‰

banana and serrano peppers in safe harbor

I’ve been thinking — about life, love, and the pursuit of gardening, self-reliance, and happiness — all of which require courage in the face of adversity — courage to stand up and say, I am no longer afraid. Let the hurricane roar!

I will survive.

Here I am setting down, in no particular order, an eclectic mix of some favorite quotes — words of wisdom that bring me peace when my heart and brain are in overdrive.

Anyone else have a favorite?

“When you have no choice, mobilize the spirit of courage”.

— old jewish proverb

“Smooth seas do not make strong sailors”.

african proverb

“The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests”.


“True courage consists not in flying from the storms of life, but in braving and steering through them with prudence”.

Hannah Webster Foster

“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow”.

Chinese proverb

“Boys, there ain’t no free lunches in this country. And don’t go spending your whole life commiserating that you got the raw deals. You’ve got to say, I think that if I keep working at this and want it bad enough I can have it. It’s called perseverance”.

Lee Iacocca

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”.

Thomas A. Edison

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish”.

John Quincy Adams

“A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it”.

— unknown origin

“When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn”.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Though you cannot go back and start again, you can start from now and have a brand new end”.

— unknown origin

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”.

Mark Twain

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem”.

Theodore Rubin

“March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path”.

“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious of the rose”.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but
manifestations of strength and resolution”.

Khalil Gibran

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present”.

Rabindranath Tagore

“A friend is one before whom I may think aloud”.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

β€œI can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one”.

“Love cannot endure indifference. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another’s heart, or its flame burns low”.

Henry Ward Beecher

“Do not be afraid to cry. It will free your mind of sorrowful thoughts”.

Hopi saying

“When we show our respect for other living things,
they respond with respect for us”.

Arapaho saying

“Nobody is stronger, nobody is weaker than someone who came back. There is nothing you can do to such a person because whatever you could do is less than what has already been done to him. We have already paid the price”.

Elie Wiesel

growing anew, in spite of the storms

the deck jungle still stands!

So to end this ramble, if you made it this far, thanks for listening!
Tomorrow it’s back to work, back to the kitchen, back to routine.
But tonight the little garden and I are laughing in the face of fear,
rockin’ out to the great Sir Elton John!!

“I’m still standing, better than I ever did…
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid…
I’m still standing after all this time…
Pickin’ up the pieces of my life… ”

goose creek
even down to one goose creek heirloom beginning to blush ripe…
who knows, maybe they will all surprise me!

remember the little curry leaf tree?
hope springs eternal…

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sea creature? maxixe!

I loved all the guesses! πŸ™‚

I found these maxixe or “Brazilian cucumber” at the farmers market. Although I have been picking cucumbers all summer, I couldn’t resist the look of them.

Shammi’s delightful Food In The Main was one of my first favorite blogs, and it remains a place I return to time and again for a healthy dose of delicious cooking (complete with step-by-step photos!) and dry wit. I can really relate to one recent post in which Shyam so eloquently struck a familiar chord in my little foodie heart:

“. . . I like having well-stocked kitchen cupboards – I have more things than I know what to do with, all of which I’ve bought on the off chance that I might need it for a recipe – because it would be a disaster if I didn’t have it when required. Sometimes I think I should just live in a supermarket . . . ”

Upon reading this, all I could think was “oh, ME TOO”!!!

things like this speak to me from grocery shelves…

Case in point — this little treat found in a Latin American market earlier this summer. I had passed the place countless times when I worked in the area, but never ventured in. I caught sight of this gen-u-ine imported-from-Peru anji panca sauce for only $1.09, and of course I had to have it. I was sure I had read a hundred recipes calling for it, and would need it soon.

thick and rich anji panca sauce

Of course it’s been sitting on the counter for weeks now — not yet relegated to the pantry where myriad similar ‘necessities’ find themselves banished.

Since I had the Brazilian cucumbers, I thought I’d flavor them with the Peruvian pepper sauce. Those green spines had me a bit nervous, and they were chock full of seeds, so I decided to pressure cook the cukes with some dal.

Anji panca sauce is on the salty side, so I didn’t need salt.

Maxixe Dal with Anji Panca

Pressure cook the following:

1/4 c each toor dal and whole moong dal
1/2 c chopped onion
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
5-6 maxixie, chopped
1 small piece of tamarind
2-3 red chillies (anji panca is *not* spicy)
drop of oil and pinch of turmeric

When done, mash the dal and stir in
1/4 c anji panca sauce

A simple tadka of cumin and curry leaves can be added.
Swirl in a little extra anji panca and it’s ready to serve.

maxixe dal with anji panca

While this tasted fantastic, I’m not sure I’d go for the maxixe again due to the millions of seeds. Anji panca on the other hand, is sure to find its way into many more meals!

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Udupi Beetroot Rasam and Cucumber Curd Rice

long bean flower ~ in early morning light

and a double flower ~ unexpected beauty in the midst of a cloudy morning

udupi beetroot rasam ~ spicy rich!

Well, as usual I am late late late for an event.

I didn’t want to miss RCI Udupi and Mangalore at Sia’s lovely Monsoon Spice,
but of course life got ahold of me and I was away at the deadline.
When I visited today, lo and behold, she’s been very busy too!

So, if I am too late for the roundup dear Sia, I certainly understand!
All the same, I have cooked a little something for you πŸ™‚

The recipe for this rasam was taken entirely (and followed precisely,
except I boiled my beets) from this blog, which, sadly, seems defunct.
If you’re out there Pavithra, thank you so much for the delicious recipe!
The combination of beet and coconut was absolutely amazing and
I know I’ll make it again.

Since I don’t know the blogger, I won’t reprint the recipe here —
please visit Pavithra’s Udupi Kitchen to get it.

To go with the gorgeous ruby red rasam, I made some cucumber curd rice;
which I am sure isn’t authentically anything, but it made good use of the gigantic cuke I picked πŸ™‚

cucumber ~ straight eight variety

In making the rice I referred to Pedatha’s recipe, which calls for pressure cooking. I didn’t do that, but I did cook the rice with some extra water to get a softer consistency. Then I mashed it lightly while still warm. I used thick greek yogurt rather than the boiled milk and regular yogurt called for — less fat for me, but still very creamy. The rest of it I just sort of made up πŸ˜‰ … many thanks to all the great cooks whose curd rice recipes I have read over the years!

Cucumber Curd Rice

scant 1 c rice, rinsed well and cooked with a little extra water,
slightly mashed while still warm

mixed with

1 small tub (7oz) greek yogurt


1/2 big cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated, then salted and
drained well in a colander lined with coffee filters
(once drained and squeezed thoroughly, this amounts to about 1/2 c cucumber)

season with tadka:

1 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp cumin
few curry leaves
1 big green chile, seeded and minced, added at the very last

salt to taste
(careful, the cucumber has already been salted)

Set overnight in a cool place for the spices to mingle.

The pretty, flavorful beet rasam and the spicy yet cooling curd rice made
a most appealing lunch.

udupi beetroot rasam with cucumber curd rice ~ a comforting combination
even if you don’t feel much like eating

Here are a few more beet rasam and curd rice recipes that I am craving πŸ˜‰

Asha’s Bangalore Style Beetroot Rasam

Shreya’s Beetroot Rasam

Red Chillies’ Beetroot Rasam Rice

Mythreyee’s Many Curd Rice Variations

Indira’s classic: Yogurt Rice with Mango

Vineela’s Beautiful Dadhojanam (with cashews!)

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Farmer’s Market II, a Click, and a Garden Story


A few weeks ago I got a lovely bunch of pea shoots at the new (woo-hoo!) farmer’s market. I cooked them very simply in a little olive oil, in which I had first sauteed alot of garlic.

pea shoots and tendrils with garlic

I put some goat cheese on a freshly toasted roll and ran it under the broiler till the cheese was lightly browned.

goat cheese toast

Served up with a sprinkling of salt and a splash of lemon ~ that’s it!

dinner in the deck garden
dinner in the deck garden ~ pea shoots with garlic and goat cheese toast
for Click – Allium over at Jugalbandi.


The garden is growing, in spite of a slow, rainy start to summer. I had no luck last year with bell peppers, so planted only various chiles this year, and they are all bearing heavily.

cayenne peppers

banana peppers, mild variety

Ichiban eggplant, which has been such an easy plant in the past, was very slow to blossom this year. Happily, brinjals are taking off just in time to pick up the slack from the cucumbers which are likely on their last legs.

a welcome sight, beautiful brinjal blossoms

even more welcome are the brinjals!

Long beans, with their fascinating flowers, are climbing.

strange and lovely flower of a long bean

long beans, almost ready to pick!

The ridge gourd vine has a mess of babies, just waiting to blossom and hopefully, grow before frost.

ridge gourd blossom, three days ago

baby ridge gourd today!

Chard is an old standby — you can hardly kill it if you try.
Good for those with tenuous green thumbs like me!

ruby chard and fordhook variety

Even the tomatoes, which here in the Northeast are in imminent danger
it seems, from late blight, spot and speck and every other problem you can think of, are showing their true colors now.

To me, gardening is akin to a way of living; an amazing thing.
It is a constant learning process.
If you cease to seek knowledge, you lose.

To me, gardening is so much more than the physical sowing and reaping…
it’s an investment in the hope and promise which lie therein.

You plant a seed carefully in rich soil.

You water it and keep it warm and wait for it to emerge; a tender young seedling. And then, oh! how you admire it.
You feed it and water it carefully, moving it into the sunshine and protecting it from the elements that might spell its demise.

As it grows stronger, you know its roots run deep.

The little seedling, patiently tended, grows steadily; eventually it blossoms. Breathing in the heady feeling that comes with the first flower,
you know that all of your time and special attention is worthwhile.

But what to do if the first blossoms don’t fruit?

You don’t give up here. You regroup, dig in, and struggle on. Perhaps you research and learn of some new nourishment the young seedling needs;
then you find a way to provide it, so your much-loved seedling may continue to grow and eventually flourish.

When you’re willing to go that extra mile, your seedling gains enough strength to withstand even the most adverse conditions.

Then one day, exhausted from worry and toil, you look up and lo! you are rewarded with a wondrous sight! A beautiful plant, braving the elements, stretching its strong yet graceful arms to the sky. Joy surges through your heart when you finally see that it bears the small yet steadily growing fruits of your labor.

Now standing so tall and confident, leaves fluttering in the wind, perhaps this lovely living, breathing tree somehow knows…

It was carefully chosen and planted.
It was lovingly tended.
It was meant to bend, and not break,
even through the tumultuous storms of this summer.

And it was worth the wait.

tomato tree ~ nearly 7 ft tall!

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Bpla Pad Phuk Gaad Dong ~ Only Slightly Corrupted

It’s time for a bit of dusting.

So without further ado, may I present…

a long-forgotten draft from April!


I love to visit Asian markets — ANY Asian market — and once inside, it seems I cannot leave without something new to try.

I found myself off an hour off early from work, so I treated myself to a visit to the biggest Asian grocery in the area — literally a supermarket. It appears to be geared mostly to Chinese and Japanese clientele.

However, there is something for everyone.

They carry an excellent selection of fresh produce (*four* types of Asian pear, for example, and numerous varieties of bok choy and the like, ash gourd, etc etc etc), including many fresh greens I don’t know the uses for (rice paddy herb, anyone?).

There are mountains of rice, yards of noodles, and aisle after aisle of interesting spices, pickles, pastes, and other condiments. There are giant bags of dried black mushrooms — imagine a bag that holds 20 lbs of rice and you’ll know the size. The refrigerated case holds all sorts of tofu, dumpling wrappers, quail eggs, and more.

For those so inclined, there is a gigantic meat/poultry section with all the unusual things you care (or maybe like me, not so much care!) to think of.

There is a large fresh fish counter ~ and I do mean *fresh*.

You can also buy myriad woks, pots and pans, utensils, chopsticks by the hundreds, and frozen goods from all over Asia.

I could spend hours gazing… πŸ™‚

In the end, I considered myself lucky to get out with just a few new things. Along with my usual pile of eggplant, I got some fresh bamboo shoots from the produce section. I also got some oh-so-sour pickled mustard greens and pickled baby eggplant from Thailand, and a bargain-sized 99 cent container of ground white pepper — good for hot and sour soup.

all kinds of goodies for asian cooking, including fresh bamboo shoots
(right, on board) and suck-in-your-cheeks-sour pickled mustard (left on board)

Browsing around for something to do with the pickles, I came across this Thai cooking site. The stir-fried fish with sour pickled mustard caught my eye.

I changed it up a little, tossing in a bit of this and that like some sort of fusion-maniac. The end result was delicious enough that I’ve made it several times since, often with tofu in place of the fish.

Fresh young bamboo shoots are nothing like those from a can — they are softer and less fibrous, with a pleasantly bitter undertone. Pickled mustard is sour and crunchy. Tamarind adds a fruity tang that melds surprisingly well with the sour pickle, and the deep jaggery flavor complements the complex sweetness of Thai fish sauce. Soy sauce and oyster sauce add salt with character, while the ground white pepper is tingly-hot. The fish is smooth and buttery. Earthy mushrooms play well against the richness of the finished sauce, and the noodles soak up the combined goodness and tie it all together.

Of course if you prefer, you can make this vegetarian and omit the fish sauces and fish itself. It’s equally good with firm tofu.

Bpla Pad Phuk Gaad Dong
adapted from Joy’s Thai Food ~ enough for two good-sized meals

2 tsp canola oil, divided

1/4 lb thick white fish in one piece
(I used halibut)

1 c fresh mushrooms, sliced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 TB garlic paste
2-3 green onions, sliced

1 TB good-quality thick tamarind paste
(like Swad brand — or even better, use fresh)
1-2 tsp good-quality light soy sauce (or substitute 2-3 tsp dark soy sauce)
1 TB oyster sauce (optional)
1 TB Thai fish sauce (optional)

1-2 tsp ground white pepper or to taste
1-2 lumps jaggery

1 c fresh bamboo shoots, sliced
1/2 pkg sour pickled mustard, diced
(about 1 scant cup)

1 pkg House Foods tofu shirataki noodles, rinsed, drained, and cut
(see note below — fettucini style only!)


Heat 1 tsp oil in a shallow pan over med-high. Add fish and cook, turning once, about 3-4 min per side, until lightly colored. Remove and drain on paper towels.

In the same pan, add the other 1 tsp oil and when hot, add mushrooms. Stir-fry over high heat, stirring often, until they begin to brown and stick. Lower heat and add garlic and green onions. Stir-fry a minute or two, then add all the sauces: tamarind, soy, oyster and fish if using. Also add 1-2 TB water (helps prevent burning). Bring to a simmer and add white pepper and jaggery, stirring to dissolve.

Now add bamboo shoots and pickle. Mix well and simmer a minute or two, then add the noodles. Add the fish last, stirring gently to cover with sauce, and simmer 1-2 more minutes before serving.

Tastes good hot or at room temperature — even better reheated the next day.

***About tofu shirataki noodles

This my very favorite “diet” food. For anyone who craves noodles as I do, this slightly “westernized” adaptation of a Japanese staple is a life-saver, not to mention calorie saver. While I don’t think they taste great with Italian spagetti sauce, they ROCK in any Asian dish. You just have to get past the prep. And please, please don’t use the spagetti shape. Hold out for fettucini-style. As with many foods, in this case, the texture makes a big difference.

Like tofu itself, tofu shirataki noodles absorb flavors well — however, you don’t want to really COOK these noodles, or they will become rubbery. Just rinse them well in hot water and drain them well (even pat dry with paper towel if you want to get really carried away). Cut them with a knife or scissors into managable length. Then gently fold them into the dish, allowing them to warm. It’s worth all the work, I promise!!

Incidentally, if you recognize the logo of suddenly-super-popular “Hungry Girl” on the package — I can honestly say I found these years ago in Porter Square, Cambridge — too bad I didn’t develop a website about ’em! πŸ˜‰

Bpla Pad Phuk Gaad Dong
bpla pad phuk gaad dong ~ only slightly corrupted πŸ˜‰

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Someone to Watch Over Me

“There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me…

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me…

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh how I need
Someone to watch over me
Someone to watch over me…”

— George Gershwin

mama sanderling, watching over her babies at the edge of Lake Superior

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