Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BEST EVER Thakkaali Oorugai - Amma's Slow roasted Tomato pickle

Every time we come home from the hostel and its time to go back, the following conversation would occur on the day before, between my mom and either me or my sister or both. We were in the same college and hostel so our timings to go back to the hostel would be the same.

Mom: What do you want to take along when you go back?
Me/my sister: Thakkali Oorugai
Mom: Just that?
Me/my sister: Yes.

By now, you all must know that I'm a big fan of my mom's cooking. Her Thakkali Oorugai, Thengai burfi, Ribbon pakodas, Prawns curry, Chinna Nellikai oorugai, Kozhi Rasam and Varuval, Kollu Chutney, Podi thooviya Surakai kulambu are exceptional. And her Thakkali Oorugai - THE BEST EVER!!!! We're really crazy about her Thakkali Oorugai. So are our friends. So were my hostel mates. So are her sons-in-law. Everybody, who tasted it once, fell in love with it. It's THAT good! And it goes with everything... Idli, dosa, rice, thayir saadam, poori, chapathi, bread, kambu saadam - it goes with just about any food (other than desserts) you can think of.. Heck! It even got me eat that dreaded upma without a flinch in my face. Like most of her recipes, this one has no precise measurements. Especially with a tomato pickle recipe, it's hard to write a precise recipe - Depends on how sour the tomatoes are...and how sweet, and how pasty and how ripe those tomatoes are. Hers is more of a method to make it, than a precise recipe.

Slow cooking the well ripe tomatoes and stirring it often - is one thing she insisted on, again and again. Now, standing near the hot stove stirring tomatoes is not my cup of Chai. I had to find a way to make it easier. I wished somebody would just suck the moisture of the tomatoes and leave the juiciness intact and make it more tastier.. Who would do it? I would! I would! Suddenly I heard a voice. Just kidding! But yes, it occured to me suddenly that somebody would just be willing to do that for me. My OVEN! The most favorite appliance in my kitchen.

The food processor dude (in case you are wondering, that's my DH) was glad to help as usual. He cut all those 5-6 pounds of well ripe tomatoes beautifully. I transferred that to a big glass casserole dish or two, drizzled olive oil, sprinkled some salt and roasted the tomatoes in the oven for a long time. About 2-8 hrs depending on what temperature I left the oven on. I stirred it whenever I remembered...maybe every hour or so. I also soaked some tamarind pieces in hot water, to compensate the sweet-but-not-sour taste from the tomatoes we get here. The oven took longer time to cook, but the flavor was better than the stove top version that I make and required very little stirring on my part. We loved the pickle and from then on, this is the only way, I make tomato pickles at home. I sometimes use the blender to crush the roasted tomatoes for me before finishing the pickles on stove top...and sometimes I use the roasted tomatoes as it is, for a nice chunky texture. Both taste great, it's really up to you to decide on which texture you prefer.

So, did it turn out exactly like my mom makes? Yes, I think so. DH thought so too but I did see him hide a smile when I asked that question...

Oven Roasted tomato pickle
Well Ripe Tomatoes - 5-6 pounds
Olive oil - 2 tbsp (you can use sesame oil for roasting the tomatoes in the oven too)
Sesame oil - 3 tbsp
Chilli powder - 2-5 tsp (or more)
Asafoetida - 1/8 tsp
Fenugreek seeds/Methi - 1 tsp
Mustard - 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp
Tamarind - a small lemon size
Curry leaves - two sprigs
Peeled garlic cloves- about a cup (slice lengthwise)
Sea salt - to taste

1. Soak the tamarind pieces in hot water.

2. Wash all the tomatoes and chop them into small pieces. Put all these in a glass baking dish or a stainless steel roaster (No aluminium pans please) and sprinkle some sea salt over this. drizzle some olive oil as well. Stir lightly and roast in the oven at 350 until the water is almost dried up. Don't let it get too dry as the tomatoes have to cook for sometime with the other ingredients for the flavors to fuse well. Let this cool down a bit. Meanwhile, let's get the other stuff ready.

3. Dry roast the methi seeds + mustard seeds (1 tsp each) and let it cool down. Make a fine powder using a spice grinder and keep it aside. I make a slightly larger batch and store it in a glass jar and use it, for all the pickles I make.

4. Extract thick pulp out of the tamarind.

5. Using a blender, slightly pulse the roasted tomatoes. (Just pulse it. Don't grind to a fine paste. The tomato seeds when crushed, turn bitter). You may skip this step, if you prefer chunky tomatoes in your pickle.

6. Heat the sesame oil in a thick bottomed stainless steel sauce pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the asafoetida, the garlic and curry leaves. Saute for 2 mins until the garlic is very lightly roasted. Add the tomatoes (chunky or pulp as you prefer), the tamarind pulp, red chilli powder and salt. Stir well for a minute or two and let it cook for sometime. It should be ready in 10-20 mins.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Soaked Wholewheat Rotis - What's the idea behind soaking?

It all started when I read the book 'Nourishing Traditions' by Sally Fallon. An online friend from one of the forums I belong to, told me about this and I went looking for it in the library. It is a book that really challenges the politically correct nutrition... What I read there, shocked me, surprised me but mostly, overwhelmed me. And then life intervened in the form of newborn and I promptly forgot all about the book.

After a few years, I recently came across a forum which discussed Traditional foods (hereafter referred as 'TF') and WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) and the book 'Nourishing Traditions' (hereafter referred as NT) by Sally Fallon. Weston Price had done extensive research in the methods, traditions practiced by all the ancient cultures around the world. Sally Falon's NT is based on the research findings of Weston Price. She is the founder of the WAP Foundation as well. The more I lurked on this forum and the more I read some NT blogs, the more curious I became. This time, it wasn't an author who was telling me what to do, but by real people who incorporated all those traditional nourishing practices and sharing what they did and how well it worked for them.

The first thing that piqued my interest was soaking. We soak beans and sprout beans at home often - to get rid of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and toxins and to increase its nutrient density. And also for easier digestion. We also use sprouted flours once in a while. But the book and the NT based blogs that I read suggested me to soak any wholegrain flour that I use, anywhere in my cooking - pancakes, muffins, breads, just about any dish that uses wholegrain flours! Not just grains, soak the flours - they said. Why? Read on...

Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion.

Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, Overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures. Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, Pg 25

Read more about soaking here, here and here.

I saw kimi make soaked crackers... the dough didn't seem to go bad. Lindsay's Soaked pizza, soaked bread, Kimi's soaked muffins, soaked cookies, soaked pancakes .... Hmmmm. What about our rotis? Aren't they made of wholewheat flour? Is all that phytic acid preventing my attempts to get healthier?? I wondered... I wanted to try making soaked rotis. How would they taste? Like cardboard? Or like those javvu chapthis served at hostels? Would they be sour? Would they be weird? Would the dough get mold? And then decided a cup of Atta is well worth this experiment and went about giving it a try.

To my surprise, it was very easy to roll the dough out for making the rotis. Second thing, the rotis were very soft! The third surprise also came on the same day. Every time my DH ate rotis, he'd get acidity. And had to drink milk which made him feel better. But this time, with the soaked rotis, NO acidity problems!! None... whatsoever! Since then, this is how we make rotis at home. I've also made Kimi's soaked crackers, created my own soaked pancakes, the soaked oats dosas, created my soaked yeasted wholewheat bread (yeasted as opposed to sourdough), etc and I really see the benefits of soaking. That soaked bread was the best ever bread baked by this novice baker. And then, I even read about Peter Reinhart's methods of baking Wholegrain breads, involved soaking a biga and starter for 1-3 days to get really good bread! Makes sense to me, now!

The word 'Soaking' usually makes us visualize water standing on top of the soaked stuff. But here it just means you make a dough like you normally do and leave it alone at room temperature for minimum 8 hrs. Avoid salt while soaking as it meddles with the phytic acid neutralization. I don't add salt to my rotis at all. I like the sweetness of the wheat flour as it is. But if you want to add salt, add it later, after the 8 hrs period. Just sprinkle a bit over the dough and knead it in. I've noticed that soaking for 8-10 hrs is plenty for a roti or a chapathi. But if I soak for more, say 18 hrs, the texture of the roti changes to soft naan like texture but with a pita like hole inside, esp. when I make the phulka/roti that puffs up on a grill. I call that my No yeast-pita!!

If you have access to sprouted wheat flour and use that for making rotis, then you don't 'have to' soak it. All the phytic acid has been neutralized already. But you can soak it for an hour or two if you wish so. Soaking does give an elasticity to the dough and makes rolling out very easy. Sprouted wheat flour also makes a great flour to use while rolling out the rotis.

NT Soaked Rotis
Wholewheat Atta - 1 and 1/2 cup
Water - somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 cup (depending on the flour)
Plain yogurt - 1 tbsp (See note ***)
Oil - 1 tbsp (I use olive oil)

Note *** You can substitute with lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar or whey (water that stands out in the homemade yogurt) The acid in the whey/yogurt/lemon juice helps in the neutralization of the phytic acid.

1. Make a dough, like your normally do. Knead for 2-3 mins. Put it in a container and cover it with a lid. It doesn't have to be airtight. (I use a casserole pan with a lid as my 'soaking' pot!). Leave it on the counter. NOT IN THE FRIDGE. The first 8 hrs have to be at room temperature. You can then store it in the fridge or make rotis

2. After 8 hrs, knead it for a minute. Use as little flour to sprinkle on the counter as you can (or use any sprouted grain flour for this) and roll the dough into rotis. And make rotis on a hot tava.

3. I usually make Rotis / Phulkas (puffed rotis) using the grill this blogger uses and it turns out puffed up every single time! And sometimes I make them as Chapathis (cooked on the tava with some oil).

The Chapathis freeze beautifully. After I make the chapathis, I put that on top the grill (which is not on the stove top.. I just use it for the ventilation it provides at the bottom) and pile the chapathis on top of it as I go. After all the chapathis are done, I let them cool completely and pack them in ziploc bags (squeeze as much air out as possible). If I will be using within a day or two, I put it in the fridge. Else it goes in the freezer. Whenever I need, I take a few from the freezer, peel them from each other (they come off, easily) and leave it on a plate on the counter for 5 mins. Meanwhile I put the tava on the stove top and let it get hot. It takes very few mins to warm the chapathis on the tava.. You can use the oven too. I have stopped using microwave to heat things up. But you can use that to warm the chapathis if you wish so.

I also noticed that these NT style soaked rotis make an awesome kothu roti or kothu parotta.

Variations to rotis
High EFA rotis - Add 1/4 cup of flax seed meal to the wholewheat atta while kneading. ( If you are using it everyday, use less, say about 1-2 tbsp per person, lesser for kids.
Low carb roti - Substitute half cup of besan to half cup of flour
Herbed/spiced rotis - Add crushed, dried herbs like kasuri methi, dried cilantro leaves, spices etc

I wouldn't add freshly grated veggies or greens to this dough, because they tend to make the dough very moist after some time.