Monday, 21 January 2013

Simple & Superb Aviyal/Avial

I watched Life of Pi last week (not in 3D) and I absolutely loved it. My friend, my husband and I walked out of the theatre simple bewildered at how good the film was. There were many fantastic attributes to this film, but the greatest by far, would have to be Richard Parker. That tiger has got to be the most beautiful creature I've ever seen, and that one scene where he is so weak that Pi goes and sits next to him, and takes his head, places it on his own lap and strokes him to sleep - I couldn't hold back the tears at seeing a scene that was so pure and magical. That is love, I tell you!

Pi's lullaby stuck with me the moment I heard it, and I truly hope that one of my favourite singers of all time, Bombay Jayshree, wins the Academy Award for singing such a heart-warming melody. Sure, the Academy Awards are often biased to the "popular" and A-list people, but I hope they listen to this lullaby with their souls, appreciate it for its beauty and simplicity, and present the award to the woman most deserving of it!

Listen to it here: Pi's Lullaby by Bombay Jayshree

Pi's Lullaby:

Kanne, kanmaniye. Kannurangaayi poovae,
Mayilo, tokai mayilo, kuyilo, kuvum kuyilo,
Nilavo, nilavin oliyo, Imaiyo, imaiyin kanavo,
Rararo... rararo, rararo... rararo...

Malaro, malarin amudho, kaniyo, cenkaniyin suvaiyo,
Rararo... rararo...

My darling, the apple of my eye, Go to sleep, my dear precious one.
Are you a peacock? A peacock displaying its beautiful plumage?
Are you a Cuckoo Bird? Are you the chirping Cuckoo Bird?
Are you the moon? Are you the moon's light?
Are you the eyelid? Are you the dreams within the eyelids?
Sleep humming... Sleep humming..
Are you a flower? Are you the sweet nectar of the flower?
Are you a fruit? Are you the sweet taste of the ripened fruit?
Sleep humming..

There's nothing quite like sleeping to the tunes of your mother's voice, just like there's nothing quite like eating food prepared by your mother, from her loving and caring hands. How, oh how, can someone put a price or even a description on each and every act of love performed by a mother?

My mother and another close aunt of mine prepare Avial very well, and I've always thought that such an amazing dish HAS to be difficult! But preparing it for the first time yesterday, I realised that it was not difficult at all. In fact, it further reinforced my point that simple food is the most delicious. My husband loves Avial, and anything that he loves - I will JUMP to prepare with perfection. So we finished a whole pot of this yesterday itself! Sweet, sweet victory :)

I saved a cup of this just to take photographs, and we finished this bowl too in the evening! :)

Here are the simple and detailed step-by-step pictures on how to make delicious Avial/Aviyal:

Cooking time: 1/2 hour
Yield: Serves 3 people

2 small sized carrots (or 1 large carrot) - cut into oblong pieces
2 small potatoes (or 1 large potato) - cut into oblong pieces
1 very thick slice of a pumpkin - cut into oblong pieces
10 long beans - cut into small pieces about 3cm in length
5 cheppankizhangu/arvi/arbi/colacasia steam cooked and sliced into thick pieces

To Grind:
1.5 cups of grated or dessicated coconut
5 green chillies (we like it spicy, but if you prefer it mild, add only 3 green chillies)

2 cups of thick yoghurt/curd/thayir
1 strand of curry leaves
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
Salt to taste

(NB: Traditionally, Avial has many more home grown vegetables like snake gourd (podalanga), white pumpkin (poosnika), ash gourd, yam, plantain (vaazhakka), kathirikai (eggplant) and murungakka (drumstick), but I just used the vegetables I had at hand and made this Aviyal. If you have any of the above ingredients, please add them! They will make the avial EVEN BETTER!

Take all the cut vegetables and put it into a pot, add only a bit of water till all the vegetables are submerged, and allow it to simmer on a small flame for about 15 minutes or until tender.
Don't keep stirring the vegetables, because they might break or become mushy. Only heat them till they are about 3/4 way cooked, and leave it alone. You want to retain their shapes.

If you put too much water, drain some of it out. Avial should not be watery at all.

Now, add curry leaves, salt and turmeric.

Gently stir, and be careful not to make the vegies mushy or break.

In a mixie, put the 1.5 cups of coconut and 3 or 5 green chillies and add 1 cup of water. Grind this very, very well till it is very smooth. Add more water if necessary.

Add this mix to the slowly cooking vegies and stir very gently:
 Allow this to come to boil and allow most of the water to evaporate. Don't stir it too much.

Once it is nice and thick, turn off the heat and leave it alone for about half an hour so it can cool down completely. The reason we leave it alone before adding the yoghurt, is because if you add the yoghurt when the mixture is still hot, the yoghurt will turn sour and ruin the taste of the Avial.

When cool, add the yoghurt and gently fold it in.

Serve with hot rice, adai, dosa or roti. Enjoy! This can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days, but just make sure you don't leave it outside, otherwise this simple and superb dish will become sour!


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Authentic Theratipaal / Kalakand - The Long and Worthwhile Process of Making Gold

Fact: No matter what I post in the future, this single post will forever be the most meaningful and exciting post for me in my life, ever! Why? THERATIPAAL.

Here's my adaptation of a famous jingle based on Mangoes (Maampazham) for this Theratipaal occasion:

"Theratipaalaa theratipaal, palkova theratipaal,
Srivilliputhurin theratipaal, thithikkum theratipaal, 
Azhagana theratipaal, halwa pondra theratipaal,  
Ungalukku venduma? Ingiye odi vaarungal, 
Pangu poattu thinngalaam!"

Chennai is home to one of the world's best brands of milk products - Aavin. Yes, I am biased. No, I don't care. Aavin created (I'm going be delusional and say it was created for me) the world's most amazing theratipaal / kalakand. Every single day, fresh in the morning at 6am, every Aavin store in every suburb gets their delivery of fresh theratipaal to sell to customers. When I visit Chennai, I'm the first in line at the nearest Aavin store, because it's worth the 15 alarms at 5 in the morning on a holiday to force myself to get up and go to the local Aavin outlet. I love my Aavin theratipaal so much, I'm happy to be called crazy for going to great lengths to get my hands on some. It is THAT GOOD:

You see, theratipaal is one of India's most beloved delicacies, which takes hours of love and careful churning to perfect. What is theratipaal, you may ask? Theratipaal (as known in South India), also known as Palkova/Paalkova/palgova/paalgova, milk peda or kalakand/kalakhand (in North India), originated from and is still wildly popular in Sri Villiputhur (which is where Andal was born). It is a soft Indian sweet that is made primarily out of milk, and the authentic process of making this dish involves hours of stirring milk till it reduces to a thick consistency, that is then set in a dish, cooled, sliced into pieces, and devoured. The most important thing to remember is that you have to be quick - in grabbing pieces before they disappear into others' stomachs!! :P

All over the internet, you will see recipes for making the fast and shortcut version of this dish, but seldom have I seen the authentic way of making it from scratch. This recipe is the first of it's kind on the internet from what I can search, because I've added the secret ingredient that is often substituted - compliments of the best cook in the world: my mother!

I'm so excited, I can hardly hold still in my seat! Here we are...


Kalakand / Theratipaal 
Total time required: Approx 4 hours
Yield: About 25 medium sized pieces

1 Muslin cloth (or a thin cloth that can be used as a strainer)
4 Litres of Full cream milk
2 spoons of lemon or lime juice
2 spoons of cardamom powder
And the secret ingredient...
Wait for it... drum rolls... Jaggery (vellam)! X 3 cups

Vellam is the special ingredient that is used to create the dark brown theratipaal. It gives a much more authentic taste than adding sugar. In the olden days, jaggery was the only sweetener used for all Indian sweets when sugar had not yet been widely introduced. They both come from sugarcane, but jaggery is the traditional unrefined and uncentrifuged whole cane sugar.

Take 2 Litres of milk in a thick bottomed vessel and keep stirring this till it comes to boil. Reduce the heat and keep stirring till it boils again.

Add the lemon juice and keep stirring lightly till the milk splits. Collect this in a muslin cloth and hold it together.
Wash it under running water thoroughly to remove all traces of the lemon juice. Hang it as shown above until we need to use it.

During these 30 minutes, in a zip lock bag, put the 3 cups of jaggery. In a small pot, fill it half way with hot water. Keep the bag of jaggery in this zip lock bag to loosen up the jaggery:

Start the next step. Take the remaining 2 Litres of milk in a thick bottomed vessel (I used a very thick non-stick vessel which worked wonders to prevent the milk from sticking or going brown).

Heat it on high and continuously stir it till it reduces to about 1/2 in quantity. This process will easily take about 45 minutes:

Now reduce it to very low heat and move on to the next step. 

Now, we need to use the hung split milk (paneer). When you open up the muslin cloth, the thick paneer will look like this:

Crumble this paneer with your hands.

Add paneer into the thick bottomed vessel with the reduced milk. Take the jaggery out of the zip lock bag and also add this to the pot.

Add the cardamom as well.

Mix well and use your utensil to mash up any big chunks of panner or jaggery.

Turn the stove up to high heat and continuously stir it. At this point, you will feel as though you're getting no where because it will still be a liquid with chunks of solid in it, but bear with it! Sabar ka phal meetha hota hai! (The fruit of patience is very sweet.)

You will need to keep on stirring for at least another 2 hours till this mixture thickens very well. I was lucky enough that my wonderful husband helped me out in stirring occasionally when my hands were tired :)

Here are a few snapshots of how the theratipaal transforms from liquid to solid. It will not only turn into a beautiful golden colour, but the aroma will really test your temptation!

Ensure that you keep stirring till all the water has evaporated. Towards the end, it may seem as though it's ready, but take a chunk out, put it into a small bowl, leave it alone for a few minutes and you'll see that there is still some liquid floating in it. You want to end up with a thick yet soft solid.

Once it is done, put it into a setting pan, flatten it out and let it set for at least 1 hour. Then, cut it into pieces and devour!

I felt no need to add any nuts like pistachios or cashews to this sweet. It's amazing as it is, and wouldn't want anything to change it's flavour!

Now, it's time I had my share of this. It's calling out to me :D