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Recipes: a winter heatwave from India, by way of LA

Anybody looking for a bit of warmth and spice this winter (or any time of year) can look to January Indian festival favourites for inspiration! Two major holidays on the sub-continent, Lohri, a Punjabi folk festival in north India and Pongal, a multi-day Hindu harvest festival celebrated by Tamils in south India, stir things up with their own specialty dishes. Tulsi Indian Eatery restaurants in Los Angeles are keeping that party going by not only serving them, but sharing recipes from Tulsi’s kitchen to bring the flavour of the festivals to your kitchen.
     Sarson ka saag, a traditional and hearty vegetarian specialty from the Punjab region, is made with mustard greens and a blend of spices, and is often served with makki di roti, a type of unleavened bread that’s cooked on a griddle until it is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The banana leaf combo, a mini-buffet of south Indian specialties, is headlined by pongal, a traditional south Indian dish made with rice and lentils, cooked until creamy and flavourful, and paired with masala idli (a rice flour pancake), medhu vada (a savory fried donut), sambar and chutney.
     All recipes and photos provided by Antonio Kanickaraj, director of operations at Tulsi Indian Eatery, Los Angeles.

Sarson ka saag
Total cook time: 60 minutes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serves 2
1 bunch (½ lb) spinach, washed and finely chopped
1 bunch (½ lb) mustard greens, washed and finely chopped
1 to 2 green chili peppers, such as jalapeños or serranos, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 large onion, grated
1 Tbsp grated ginger or ginger paste
1 Tbsp grated garlic or garlic paste
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala (Indian spice blend)
1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice (juice of ½ lime or lemon)
1 Tbsp Bengal gram flour, chickpea flour, or corn flour
Unsalted butter, garnish
     1. In a large pot, mix the spinach, mustard greens, green chilies, and salt. Add 1 cup water, cover, bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-high and continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
     2. Mash the greens and mix well to make a coarse paste. Alternatively, pulse several times in a food
     3. Melt the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the grated onion and fry, stirring occasionally until light golden.
     4. Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic and ginger paste, coriander, cumin, garam masala, lime juice, and flour.
     5. Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the mixture is thick and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
     6. Add the greens to this and stir until fully blended and warmed through.
     7. Adjust the seasoning with salt to taste, and garnish with a dollop of butter.

Masala idli
Total cook time: 30 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves 2
5–6 idlis (savoury rice cakes, can be found at many Indian markets)
20–25 curry leaves
4–5 dried red chilis
3–4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp black peppercorns (sabut kali mirch)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal (split and skinned black gram lentils)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sambar masala (house blend)
½ tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
1 Tbsp oil or ghee
     1. Put these ingredients (dried red chilis, curry leaves, cumin seeds, garlic cloves and black peppercorn) into a blender and grind them coarsely. If you are using fresh made idlis, refrigerate them for 30 minutes before using them.
     2. Cut the idlis into bite-sized pieces.
     3. Heat oil in a pan and fry the idlis till they are crispy and light brown in colour. Traditionally, the idlis are deep fried, but I have just shallow-fried them for a healthier version. You can also bake the idlis instead. Set the fried idlis aside.
     4. In the same pan, add some black mustard seeds (rai) and urad dal.
     5. Add a few curry leaves if you wish. This is optional, and you can skip adding them here since they are already in the spice blend we prepared earlier.
     7. Now add the spice mixture prepared earlier and fry for a few seconds.
     8. Add the fried idlis to the pan.
     9. Add salt, sambar masala and amchur. Toss the idlis in the masala mixture (Salt, Sambar Masala, Amchur) to coat them evenly.
     10. Fried idlis are ready. If you want you can sprinkle a pinch of chaat masala on the top before serving. Serve with coconut or tomato chutney!
Medhu vada (small)
Total cook time: 40 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves 2
1 cup split husked black gram (dhuli urad), soaked for 4–6 hours
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp asafoetida
¼ tsp powdered black pepper
1 Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
½ tsp green chilis, finely chopped
Oil (for frying)
     1. Drain the daal and grind to a smooth paste.
     2. Add salt, asafetida and the black pepper, and beat well to make it light and fluffy.
     3. Mix in coriander leaves, ginger and the green chilies.
     4. Heat oil till a drop of batter dropped in comes up at once.
     5. Shape the daal mixture into flat rounds, make a hole in the centre and fry, first over high heat, then over lowered heat until brown and cooked through.
     6. Filter the vadas out of oil and drain on absorbent paper and serve.
     Serve with chutney and sambar!


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