Friday, 23 August 2013

Murukku (Melt-in-the-mouth Crisps) & Chennai Express Film Review

First - the Chennai Express Film Review.
So, my husband and I went to watch Chennai Express, and I have some strong feelings to share. There are a large number of South Indians who have watched this movie all over the world and expressed their sheer rage and offense over this movie, claiming that it "mocks" South Indians and stereotypes them as aruva-kathi gundas who fight in rings all day, feast on yoghurt rice and are part of large don-families who don't care about their children and siblings. It's rubbish - what they're saying. I will stand up and say very honestly that as a cultured and tamizh-speaking South Indian, the film was genuinely funny. We thoroughly enjoyed the film, and so did many more of my South Indian, tamizh-speaking friends. The film is out to provide comedy to the world and humorously display the way in which North and South Indians would interact, given the opportunity, not knowing each others' language. Sure, Shahrukh Khan's Tamizh was really, REALLY bad, but who cares? Has the world become so racist and racist-phobic, that we can't even enjoy a film for its sole intent to provide harmless humour? Will the world only criticize and ban films like this which don't have malicious intents, but do absolutely nothing when people are tortured, abused, spat on and hated all in the name of caste and race?

Shame on you. Get some perspective, you small-minded humans. Humour is humour. Racism is racism. Know how to differentiate the two, and react accordingly.

Deepika did a very commendable job. It wasn't an easy role, and her attempt, although not perfect, to imitate the Tamizh accent whilst speaking broken Hindi was well done. It was the first movie I saw of hers, where I enjoyed watching her acting. Their chemistry was great, and most of all, the film was decent. Apart from that one song where some half-naked woman is dancing provocatively and making a fool of herself, there was absolutely no vulgarity, no A-jokes, and no nonsense. But gone are the days when people cared about these things. These days, its all about misinterpreting dialogues and analyzing meanings behind films to somehow portray them in a bad light, all the while forgetting to criticize movie directors out there who exploit women for their bodies and videograph disgusting songs like Munni Badnaam Hui and Fevicol Se. The women are senseless too, of course. Apparently the excessive abuse of women in our country wasn't enough to wake people up, so women continue to exhibit more than half their bodies for the world to see. They make it look like it's excusable, and it is far from that. My point is, Chennai Express had none of this. It's a decent film which you can take your parents and your kids to watch, and guarantee everyone will have a memorable and wonderful time. This is my honest view in light of recent negative comments about the film. I respect that everyone might not agree with me, but this is my opinion.
Onto other things in life, the music in Chennai Express was quite nice. I especially liked the song Titli, beautifully sung by Chinmayi and Gopi Sunder. His voice didn't match Shahrukh at all, but strangely enough, it seemed to work; it didn't sound off. I loved the tamizh part and the picturisation of the bharthanatyam scene. The sunset in the background was perfect, and the lyrics were beautiful -
"Kondal vannanaik kovalanay venney
Unda vayan en ullam kavarndhanai
Andar kon ani arangkan en amudhinaik
Kanda kangal marronrinaik kanave"
Translation: I have seen the One whose color is like dark rainclouds
He is the one with the mouth that swallowed the butter of cowherds,
He is the Lord of the devas,
He is Lord Ranganatha (Lord krishna)
He is my nectar, my life!
My eyes have seen my Lord and will not see anything else! 
(written by a poet Thiruppaan Alvar (8th century A.D) several hundred year back) 

I've had this song on my mind for a few days now. It's pleasant on the ears and makes me feel good. Ideal to listen to on a weekend when you're relaxed and making some sweets and savouries for a festival. I made Murukku on the weekend. Whilst it's not my absolute favourite snack, it's one liked by many and easy to make. Don't believe me? See for yourself!

Total Time Required: 30 - 45 minutes (depending on how many you make)
Yield: Approx. 30 murukkus

2 cups Rice Flour (fine)
1/2 cup Ultham maavu / Urad Dal Flour (fine)
1/4 teaspoon of perungayam / hing / asafoetida
3/4 cup Ghee / clarified butter
3 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

In a large frying pot, fill it half way with oil and turn on the heat. It will take at least 5 minutes to reach optimum heat for frying. 
In a bowl, put in the 2 cups of rice flour, 1/2 cup of urad dal flour, hing, sesame seeds and salt.
In a frying pan, add the 3/4 cup of Ghee and heat it till it becomes aromatic. Pour it into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix it through with a spatula. It should be partially combined. Sprinkle some water and mix it till you get a dough. You do not need to knead the dough. As long as it's well incorporated, that's sufficient. Have a look:
That snazzy little piece of equipment is available everywhere these days, even here in Sydney! My mother in law sent me this press (kozhal / acchu), and it's great. It comes with all types of attachments to make murukku, thengozhal, ompuri, kola vadai and ribbon pakoda!

Fill up the inside of the press 3/4 way with the dough. Take a plain plastic sheet or a zip lock bag as the base and press the murukku in concentric circles, close to each other, then seal the end like so - 
Check if the oil is ready by dropping a tiny piece of the murukku dough into the oil. It if immediately sizzles, the oil is ready. Carefully lift the plastic sheet, flip the murukku over on your hand and slip it into the oil carefully. Don't throw it in otherwise the oil may splash on your hand.

Fry till golden brown and then drain and transfer to a bowl with paper towels to absorb the extra oil. Serve warm or cold - they're awesome either way!


Sri Om

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Molagu Kozhambu (Pepper Infused Tamarind Sambhar) + Paruppu Thogayal (Toasted Lentil Chutney)

Sri Om. I recently returned from an exhilarating trip to the Himalayas, visiting Holy Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash. I returned feeling cleansed, peaceful and rejuvenated. It was by far the best thing I've ever done.

I learned a lot from the experience of absolute purity and tranquility. It teaches you to appreciate the simpler things in life, and embrace nature at its best. You forget about your body and materialistic possessions, and focus more on your mind and soul. It reminded me of a powerful verse in Bhaja Govindam, composed by Adishankaracharya in a bout of ecstasy, sung by M.S.Subbulakshmi -
"sura mandira taru muula nivaasah,
shayyaa bhuutala majinam vaasah.
sarva parigraha bhoga tyaagah,
kasya sukham na karoti viraagah.."
Translation: Make your abode within in a temple or below a tree, and wear a simple cloth for your protection. Rest upon mother earth as your bed, and renounce all attachments and comforts. Blessed with such vairagyam (dispassion), could anyone fail to be content? 

She brings to the song a unique power that I don't think anyone else can possess. Listen to the whole keerthanai by M.S.Subbulakshmi here.

We experienced the vibrations of Manasarovar and Kailash, and let me tell you - you cannot escape it. It gets into your skin and penetrates your nerves before you know it, and you stand there, dumbstruck, not knowing how to react. We awoke one morning whilst staying near Kailash to the best view in the universe. Kailash was hardly a few kilometres away from us and the mountain stood there majestically, kissing the skies, radiating a golden glow of purity, protected by a warm blanket of snow and ice. An epitome of perfection.

The trip taught me a lot about food too. My mother brought lots of herbal foods with her to keep our energy levels up, and after eating simple and powerful herbs like that, you completely lose any appetite for masala-filled foods. Don't get me wrong; the tour agents and sherpas were incredibly hospitable in providing us hot and healthy meals, and they would always use boiled water and fresh vegetables, but their sabzis were often filled with dabba masalas. This didn't quite agree with many of us. Eating simple kept our stomachs happy!

Simple is the way to go. Iyengars used to follow that tradition of eating simple and healthy, and our family chooses to maintain that. On that note, I bring you Molagu Kozhambu and Paruppu Thogayal today - a family favourite. This combination will not only cleanse you and flush out all the toxins in your stomach, but it is also the tastiest kozhambu you will ever have! Molagu Kozhambu is a pepper-infused tamarind sambhar which is supposed to be thick. You only need a little bit of it to mix with rice, and it's a delicious tangy soup with a tantalizing kick. You'll love it, I guarantee you. Paruppu Thogayal is a thick paste of toasted lentils and spices. It's blended with some coconut and mixed with rice. These two dishes are a match made in heaven. It's completely healthy too - only a tiny bit of oil in the sambhar, kicks from sinus-cleansing pepper, and plently of protein from the lentils!

We usually mix the thogayal with rice, make a well in the centre, liberally pour in a ladle of the kozhambu, and enjoy this delicious combination. You don't need no nothin' else.

Saturday's menu was Paruppu Keerai, Lemon Rasam, Cabbage Dry Curry, Molagu Kozhambu and Paruppu Thogayal. An Iyengar feast, you might say!

Molagu Kozhambu (Pepper Infused Tamarind Sambhar)
Total Time Required: 45 minutes
Yield: Enough for 5 people

1 and half lemon sized balls of puli / tamarind / imli (or 1.5 tablespoons of tamarind paste)
1/2 teaspoon of perungayam/ hing/ asafoetida
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
1 strand of curry leaves
3 tablespoons of cornflour or rice flour1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
1 tablespoon of oil
Salt to taste

For powder:
1 cup Thoram Paruppu / Toor Dal
1 tablespoon of vendhayam/ methi seeds/ fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons of whole black pepper
2 dried red chillies
1 strand of curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon of jeera / cumin seeds

Take the ingredients under "For Powder", and dry roast them in a pan till they are golden brown and aromatic. Spread it out on a newspaper and allow to cool.
In a bowl, add the tamarind and pour in 3 cups of hot water (hot enough for you to touch). After a few minutes of leaving it to stew in there, use your hands and squeeze out as much essence from the tamarind as you can. The water should now be dark brown, and you shouldn't be able to see the bottom of the bowl. Filter this and keep the concentrated tamarind water aside. Pour another 2 cups of water into the bowl with the tamarind. Squeeze essence out again. Filter into the other bowl with tamarind water. Keep this large amount of tamarind water aside.

In a pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it's hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds have spluttered, add in the large bowl of tamarind water. Add in the hing and turmeric and allow this to boil for at least 15 minutes. The tamarind should be completely cooked through and there should be no raw smell.

While this is boiling, take those ingredients from "For Powder" that you had dry roasted and put them in a mixie or blender. Grind these ingredients into a very fine powder. Add 3 tablespoons of this powder to the boiling pot. Allow the mixture to boil for another 10 minutes. NB: Yes, you will have some powder left over. Store it in an air tight container and use it for next time!

Take the 3 tablespoons of corn flour or rice flour and mix it with a few tablespoons of water. No lumps should be there. Add this to the boiling pot.

After a few more minutes of boiling, you should notice that the kozhambu is a nice and thick liquid. Add salt to taste. Boil once more and turn off the heat.

Serve with hot rice and paruppu thogayal. Enjoy!

Paruppu Thogayal

Total Time Required: 20 minutes
Yield: Enough for 5 people

1 cup Kadala Paruppu/ Chana Dal/ Bengal Gram Dal
1 cup Thuvaram/Thoram Paruppu/ Toor Dal
5 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon whole black pepper
1/2 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
1/2 teaspoon perungayam/ asafoetida/ hing
Salt to taste

In a pan, dry roast the Chana Dal, Toor Dal, dried red chillies and pepper till the dals are golden brown. This amount of chillies and pepper will make the thogayal slightly on the spicier side. If you want a milder thogaya, use 3 red chillies and 1/2 spoon of pepper.
You want this thogayal/chutney to be golden in colour, not dark, so be careful not to over-toast the dals. This toasting process should not take more than 5 minutes on high heat.
Once toasted, spread it on a newspaper and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
In a blender or mixie, put the toasted mix in and grind it dry first. Let it become a coarse powder. Then add the coconut and blend it again. Then add some water little by little until you have ground it into a thick and well-blended paste.
Transfer contents into a serving bowl. Add hing and salt to taste and mix very well.

Serve with rice and molagu kozhambu for best results and compliments!

Sri Om