Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mango Delight - A Mango 'Thira' Preparation

This is a delicacy of my childhood made from dried ripe mango sheets that I wasn't too keen on. Yet age and distance had the power to make it such and I was happy when my Mom remembered to bring some this time around on her visit. Yes, my 83 year old Mom is visiting. Yay! Age has made her fragile yet have mercifully kept her healthy in every way that I thank God for this. At this moment in my life with my Mom here I feel like I am home. Looking into her sweet gentle face I see my childhood come full circle.

I didn't ask for anything from home as most of the things are available here yet my Mom instinctively brought the things I had craved the most and had given up on. The ''Thira' used to be made from Mailappoo' mangoes that fell plentiful in our lower farm land where the much beloved tree stood laden with fruits. Mangoes will fall all the time but some windless days in the afternoons they stayed put. I used to sit on the large stone steps leading down to the tree waiting for the telltale movement of the leaves and the all familiar sound of mangoes touching base. There was even a song for the wind to come so mangoes can fall. Mailappoo was just one variety in the land but it was special because of its ease of access for us kids and the sheer number of fruits making for an easy snack whenever. 'Moovandan', 'Komanga', 'Nadan', 'Neelam', and the list goes on. In the front yard there was a large mango tree that was treated special and was my Grandfather's favorite. The fruits from it could only be eaten if we picked it at the right time and made to ripe in the house. The taste once it ripened was out of this world and if there was only one ripe mango on a day it went Grandpa of course. I use to check them out surreptitiously and knew ahead of time if we will get a mouthful of the delicious slices or not. Mom informs that the tree had to be cut down last year or so as it had grown too old and dead branches were falling onto the roof. It must have been a bud grafted tree because Mom had planted many of its seeds, but none of the fruits came close to the original in taste.

There is something about seeing a mango tree break into flowers in anticipation of the rich harvest ahead. There is a smell in the air and the mango season almost always coincided with long 'mid summer vacations'. My older sister the botanist loved eating ripe mangoes sliced and mixed with dried red chili powder, onion and salt. 'Mailappoo' fruits were especially suited for this. She would prepare and I would eat. Later in undergrad years my best friend and I would beg/pilfer raw mangoes from our hostel kitchen and bring to the room to mix with previously stashed salt and chili powder. We have spent many such afternoons getting 'high' on the mangoes. Mangoes are so intertwined with one's life in India that they have a special place in the heart and tummy for many people. Look here for some good mango memories.

Coming to the point, I mean recipe, there is not much to add. You have to have some 'Thira' made from mangoes to begin with. This is made usually in an abundant mango season when there are too many mangoes even after the whole neighborhood had their fill and it just does not feel right to throw them away. A new sheet or 'paya' is spread out and the ripe mangoes are squeezed and rubbed onto it and set out in the sun to dry. The process is repeated everyday for as long as mangoes keep coming. Other matching fruits can be added to enhance the flavor. Once done the resulting sheet or 'Thira' is cut and stored in a cool dry place. This will keep for a long time and longer still with refrigeration. Mom said this set she brought was made from a daughter tree of the original Mailapoo since that one had long gone. Following measurements are approximate so proceed at your own risk:-)

In The Mix

Mango 'Thira' - a 8"x8" piece cut into small pieces
Fresh grated coconut - from 1/2 a shell
jaggery or brown sugar - to taste

How To Do

Put all together in a pan on low heat. Mix for a few minutes till all blend well together. Remove from heat and enjoy!

A good friend got me some fresh grated coconut from a Vietnamese store near her place but I think dried coconut can be used instead after hydrating beforehand. Dried mango might be available in Asian stores though not the same as the home made variety mentioned here. The snack was a delicious treat to nostalgic taste buds. Look below for a snap of the 'Thira' in its original form.

Note added on August 16, 2009
My Mom specifies that the other ingredients in her Thira include rice flour with a little jaggery mashed up with some jackfruit (the soft version) along with the ripe mango pulp to keep it sturdy and flavorful. This could explain the darker color that mishmash was wondering about.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stir Fry Noodles

What do you do when life gets too busy and days seem to roll into one? Drop everything and go on a trip which becomes all the more fun if there is a family wedding also to attend. So that is exactly what we did. Visited the nation's glorious capital, attended an awesome wedding and visited some dear relatives and all was well when we got back:-) Washington DC is not to be done in a short trip though and we will be back. One could spend a full day in just the National Gallery of Art which houses a Da Vinci original not to mention the array of Manet, Monet, Rembrandt, Raphael and the likes!! I have visited many Art Museums but what sets the one in DC apart is the amazing collection of originals that can be viewed with no admission fees and the excellent but barely noticeable security that lets you enjoy the paintings in all abandon.

We also enjoyed eating out with the kids. One place that caught my fancy was Silver Diner which I came to know is a chain found in and around Maryland. The experience was new, service friendly and food choices many for adults and kids. This was the first choice from the concierge at the Hotel that we stayed at when queried about a local place to dine with kids. The building looked like a giant silver bus especially once you are inside. I think it is a relic or a mimic of truck stops. Marylanders might know more.

Nothing much has been cooking except my attempt to make the previous beef recipe with chicken. It is pretty good I tell you. But this time I am going to introduce what has become a family favorite that my husband perfected over the years. Quite often he silently gathers his ingredients and whips up this amazing treat that the kids and I enjoy to no end. It gives you a good feeling with all the veggies and a good taste with the touch of non vegs. Thus goes the recipe as given by the Chef himself:

In The Mix
Egg Noodles : 1 pack ( we get this from the local chinese store. these are not dry but rather soggy to the touch)
Vegetables : 1 cup each of diced cabbage, mushroom, bell pepper, thinly sliced carrots and anything else that you want to add to the medley.
Scallion : two stalks sliced to small pieces.
Stir Fry Sauce : 3 tbsp or as needed. we use Kikkoman's
Red Onion : 1/4 sliced large
Beef : 1/4 lbs thinly sliced ( can add cooked shrimp too)
sesame oil : 1 tbsp or as needed
olive oil : 1 tbsp or as needed
green chilies : 2 or 3 sliced in circles (optional)
or chili garlic paste : 1 tsp (optional)
salt : to taste

How To Do
Saute the onion first and then beef together for a while. Once beef is cooked, add carrots and bell pepper. No need to cover. Cook on high heat. Add mushrooms and scallions. Saute well till cooked. Now pour the Stir Fry Sauce and mix together. Add cabbage at the end to preserve crunchiness. Don't forget to add salt as needed at any stage.

Meanwhile cook the noodles by adding to boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Keep under cold water and drain. Add sesame oil to keep the noodles from sticking together. Add drained noodles to the prepared mix and cook on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Toss the pan as needed for a professional touch:-) Remember, high heat is a key factor. Add green chilies or garlic chili paste depending on your heat tolerance at this time. voila! Delicious dinner is ready. Garnish with fried egg strips if you have the time. Enjoy with homemade vinegar-soysauce mix.

For Vinegar-Soysauce Dressing
This is something that both my husband and his Mom needs if they are to eat noodles at home. I have come to sort of like it but he just relishes it.

Green chilies - 2 or 3 cut in circles
soy sauce - 4 tbsp
vinegar - 1 tbsp
water - 3 tbsp
salt - to taste

First add water to a small pan. Once it boils then add vinegar, salt, soy sauce and finally the chillies. Let boil for a minute or so and the dressing is ready to go.

For Fried Egg Strips
Beat one or two eggs together with salt. Make a thin omlette and cut into long strips. I saw this first when my HMom had this with a biriyani she had made for my birthday sometime back. It looks quite good on anything I'd say.