South Indian Comfort Food Feast & Jazzy-Indian Tunes

Eats:  Tomato Pappu, Pulau, Indian Omelet & Chaat Okra Fries
TunesFull playlist here on SpotifyRed Bharat; Arun Ramamurthy Trio… and a couple bonus tracks
Convo: Fun facts about the food/origins

Intro

Over the years, this meal combo has become not only one of our favorite comfort foods, but also one of the go-to meals for families new to our dinner parties.

Tomato Pappu (dal) is a staple in Hyderabad and my husband lauds his mom’s as the best (of course).  Over time, however, we’ve evolved our own favorite version and I’ll share it below.  In tasting it, hubby inevitably says “you put a lot of tamarind, and it needs a bit of salt….”  but as he trails off, I do nothing, and then he says “It’s good actually.  Really good.”  And then the next day, or weeks later, enjoying a defrosted container of it, both of us gush at how much we like it.  But please don’t read this as a brag!  Read this as fire under your bum to go get the ingredients and make it yourself.  You won’t regret it. 🙂

This combo pairs tomato pappu with what we call “Indian omelet,” which is just scrambled egg fried very thin like a tortilla, with spices and onion (bottom of header photo), and a quick rice cooker pulau (recipes also below).  We also eat it with Chicken 65 and plain basmati rice, or even just with ice and yogurt!  And, for a quick working from home lunch I’ve also been known to eat it with baguette.  Pourquoi pas?!

Fun Facts

If you’re eating this at our home, there are a few fun facts that will undoubtedly be shared by our mini ambassadors, and spur some conversation at your table as well:

  • Our son will want to be the first to tell everyone that we eat with our hands, “even rice and yogurt!”  We included one reason for this, and a how-to video in the Butter Chicken post, and today I came across another that I will suggest at our next dinner: that it brings us closer to the divine.  Watch this brief “Why We Do What We Do” video and see what you think…
  • Our daughter likes to tell guests that this dal was their very first food (blended with yogurt and rice and water, and pureed).
  • They also love to tell everyone that okra makes you good at math (or rather ‘maths,’ as hubby’s parents would have said it to him, growing up in India).  I’ve yet to find any solid evidence for this, though a quick google confirms that it’s a well-known wives tale.
  • As of 19Nov17 it was also discovered that tomato pappu makes you funnier.  This was evidenced by the increasingly silly jokes our son would tell after each bite of dal.  Nothing like a little gamification of dinner to help move things along.

Tunes

In the same way that the food we serve is an evolution of of my husband’s favorite comfort food from growing up in Hyderabad, the music we usually have on has similar cross-pollination and evolution.

The cooking is usually accompanied by some upbeat Red Baraat, the meal Arun Ramamurthy Trio, and the obligatory post dinner dance party is controlled by the kiddos (a few current favs have been added to the end of the playlist.

Note that due to availability of the music, this time the playlist is split between Spotify and Bandcamp.

Red Baraat (as noted on their website) “is a pioneering band from Brooklyn, New York. Conceived by dhol player Sunny Jain, the group has drawn worldwide praise for its singular sound, a merging of hard driving North Indian bhangra with elements of hip-hop, jazz and raw punk energy.”  My first time hearing them was also our then three-month-old daughter’s first live show (at one of the 2011 dance parties at Brooklyn Bridge park…. the Celebrate Brooklyn season kickoffs that BRIC used to do in May.  BRIC!  Bring those back!).  Now we delight in dancing like mad at their annual Festival of Colors.

Jazz Carnatica is an album by the Arun Ramamurthy trio, a Brooklyn-based group and is definitely one of my desert island albums.  I put it on start to finish, on repeat, and I bet you will, too.  I literally can’t get enough.

Eats

Overall plan:

  1. Get the dal going first.
  2. Make the cookie dough and bake, or put it in fridge to cook on-demand.  Freshly baked, warm cookies are a nice treat if it’s a small party and you’ve got a toaster oven (so as not to heat up your whole small apartment if you live like us).
  3. Working backwards from when you want to eat, get the rice in the rice cooker.
  4. The egg mixture can keep in the fridge a couple hours if you’d prefer to cook it before guests arrive.
  5. Lastly, just 10 minutes before eating, heat up the pan, to get the first round of omelets ready as diners sit.

Meghna’s Tomato Pappu

  • 1 cup yellow dal
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt + 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 inch cube of tamarind pulp, reconstituted in hot water
  • 3 cups tomatoes, diced (about 6)
  • 1.5 cups onions, diced (about 1 large)
  • 4 tbsp ghee (or sunflower oil, or salted butter…. but ghee is the best)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 20 curry leaves
  1. Boil some water to reconstitute the tamarind, pressing it with a fork to break it up in the hot water
  2. Put dal, turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt and 3 cups of water in a large pressure cooker, and when it reaches pressure, cook for 8 minutes and then use the quick release method.
  3. Meanwhile, use a food processor to quickly chop the tomatoes into very small pieces (or if by hand, chop everything before cooking the dal), and dice the onions by hand.
  4. By now the dal is likely done so when pressure is released, remove the cover and add the tomatoes, tamarind and remaining salt, and putting the heat back to medium.  Let it all cook for some time, stirring every so often and scraping the sides and bottom to ensure nothing sticks (and add water if needed).
  5. Heat ghee in a fry pan over medium heat, and when hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds.  When the seeds begin to sputter/pop, add the onions.  When the onions begin to become translucent, add the curry leaves.  Continue to fry until onions brown a bit.
  6. Add the onion mixture to the dal and stir to combine.  Continue cooking at medium for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Then lower the heat to low and continue to cook a bit until the desired consistency (see note below). I’d cook another 15 minutes on low to really meld the flavors…. And/or let it cool a bit, heat it again, cool a bit….. until it’s dinnertime.

Notes

  • Both in typical Indian homes, and in restaurants, the dal will typically be the consistency of a thick soup that can get soaked into rice a bit.  We prefer ours a bit thicker.  Not so thick that it would be like a dollop on the plate, but it also wouldn’t be sloshing around the plate.
  • Lately, my husband will taste the dal and say “you put a lot of tamarind… add a tiny bit of salt…. Actually, it’s good.”  Which just may be his way of coming around to my version of his mom’s tomato pappu.  😉  It’s one of my fav foods, but this recipe is decidedly my version.
  • The recipes I’ve based this on often recommend not to cook the dal too long… that seeing the chunks of dal adds flavor.  We disagree and like it to be more on the mushy, blended side. Similarly, like a tarka flavoring, some recipes will call for minimal additional cooking after the onion mixture has been added.  We like the flavors to meld, and even get  towards the it’s even ‘better the second day’ phenomenon.

Not-too-spicy Indian Omelet

Before kiddos we used to make this with green chilis instead of chili powder, and cilantro instead of coriander powder.  To make it tasty for all but not spicy, we began making it per the below, and now it’s our favorite way.  The coriander and dash of chili give enough heat and flavor, and doesn’t bite back like the barely-cooked green chili would.

Figure about an egg per person, or maybe a bit less, and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

  • 3/4 cup red onions, diced
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder (Or more per your taste! We like a bit more.)
  • dash of chili powder
  • 1-2 tbsp salted butter
  1. Dice red onions, and break them up into individual bits with your finger, so as not to be clumped when added to the egg mixture.
  2. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, and before beating them, add the salt & coriander powder (helps incorporate them).
  3. Beat the eggs, salt and coriander with a fork.
  4. When well combined, add the diced onions and stir.
  5. When ready to cook, heat a nonstick pan to medium heat.  When hot, rub the chunk of butter across the pan, and then quickly spread a very little amount of egg mixture on the pan.   To give you a sense, 2 tbsp might make a circle(ish) of about 5 inch diameter.  (I will remember to take photos next time!! When will I have an assistant? 😉).
  6. Let the egg cook for about a minute and then peek under using a spatula.  When the top appears mostly cooked thru, and the bottom is browned, flip the egg, cooking for just a few seconds longer (10 max), and then it’s done.

Notes

  • We’ve certainly eaten the “Indian Omelets” as leftovers the next day (and I even used to put them in the kiddos lunch), but they are definitely better fresh off the pan.
  • You can prep the egg mixture (steps 1-4) ahead of time and keep in fridge until ready to cook.
  • The original recipe I was given called for chopped fresh cilantro and diced green chilis, but we’ve adapted this to our tastes.  Kiddos aren’t so big on the chilis and we don’t always have cilantro in the house because we use it infrequently enough that it usually goes bad and i hate wasting.  I’ve got to say I really like this version and I don’t miss the cilantro or chilis, but if you want to try it the “original” way, let us know how it goes.
  • I now do big batches of these across a double burner, but it’s probably easiest to start on a 10 or 12 inch pan and make 2 or 3 until you are comfortable with timing.
  • Keep them warm in a covered baking dish in a 200 degree toaster oven, or just have your diners at the table ready to eat while you cook (let’s face it, that’s the more realistic version).

Quick Rice Cooker Pulau

Of course this can be prepared without a rice cooker, but if you eat a good amount of rice, do yourself a favor and get this rice cooker!  It cooks so well, is hands-off and there’s no worries of burnt rice.  Someday I’ll add more rice-cooker recipes.

We go on streaks where we have this once a week.  Sometimes I’ll get it cooking to complete when a babysitter is on her way, and ask that they have it with fish sticks from the freezer, or hard boiled eggs.  The spinach not only adds color, but iron and nutrition.  I WISH I could put it in their lunchboxes but both still can’t bring nuts, and the almonds add too much flavor to remove them… maybe next year.

  • 2.5 cups basmati rice
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 3 tbsp buffalo ghee (or cow if you can’t find buffalo… why can’t we get it here in the US?!!)
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup slivered raw almonds
  • 5 cups of water
  1. Rinse the rice:  measure the rice into the pan of the cooker, add a few cups of water and agitate it with fingers  a bit and drain the water.  Repeat a few times, until the water isn’t so cloudy.
  2. With the rinsed rice at the bottom of the rice pot, add, salt, spices, ghee, spinach and almonds. give it a bit of a stir to declump it a bit (it won’t combine much).  Add the water and set it to cook (on fast or slow method).
  3. When the timer rings, give it a gentle stir to combine but not mash, and also ensure it is not burning on the bottom.  If it appears dry, add a bit of water (particularly if you intend to keep it an the ‘keep warm’ setting for a while.
  4. Enjoy, and make your own versions and tell us about it!

Chaat Okra Fries

Adapted from the text (not the recipes) of this Kitchen Window post, this is something we make at least twice a month.  It’s that good, and crazy simple.  And my kids literally fight over the last ones.  They will eat anything else on their plate quickly, just to ensure they can scarf down more okra.  I’ll note the recipe for 1 lb of okra, but I’m betting you’ll double it as of the next time you make it.

Before kids, we’d just cover all of the okra w/ chaat masala.  Our kids haven’t yet developed a taste for chaat masala so we serve it plain, with chaat masala passed in a small bowl.

Mmm. I’m salivating as I type. Might need to find some okra for tonight…

  • 1 lb fresh okra, washed well in advance!
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • chaat masala, to taste (which is to say pile it on if you’re me!)
  1. Wash the okra well in advance so that it is DRY as a bone before you roast it, lest you end up with mushy okra.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 410
  3. Trim the ends off the okra, and chop any outlier huge ones into 2 small logs for more even cooking.
  4. In a large baking dish or pan, toss the okra with 1 tbsp of olive oil and salt, ensuring even coverage.  Add olive oil if needed.
  5. Cook the okra for about 45 minutes, tossing every 10-15 minutes for even cooking.  Add a bit of olive oil if they appear to dry out at all. It’s done when it begins to brown pretty well.
  6. Serve with chaat masala.  It’s that simple and delicious.

Before & After: