Tuesday, December 24, 2013

LessWord Wednesday - 2

Find of the week: Split horse gram dal. I made horse gram podi/chutney powder with it, with mint and coriander.

It looks better cartoonized.

What goes into it:

About as much coriander and mint as you can see in the photos below, washed well and fried in one spoon of oil
 A few pieces of garlic, fried in the same pan that the greens were fried in

 Roast these one by one and cool:
 9 tbsps of horse gram dal
7-8 red chillies
1.5 tbsp coriander seed
Important: We need a lime-sized ball of tamarind, seen nowhere in these pictures.

Grind the dal, chillies, coriander seeds, tamarind and fried garlic.
Add the fried coriander and mint leaves.
Grind again.
Add salt and mix.

Goes well with rice, idli and I'm sure with a lot of other things. When I try it I'll let you know.
This post goes to Simona at Briciole who is hosting Susan's My Legume Love Affair, now managed by Lisa.

Friday, December 06, 2013

An Update On My Life and Eight Steps to Popped Amaranth Bars

I just read an article on how to give great titles for tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts. At the risk of sounding conceited, I will say that I knew and practice most of that. Have been, really, for many, many years. I never thought that the "Caption This" Photo/cartoon contests for which we tried so hard as kids would become a daily challenge for me in adulthood but it's one that I welcome mostly.

Still, given that I blog far less frequently than earlier, I will borrow from the tips given in the article and see if I get more hits than usual. The article tells me that people want to be taught and references to oneself pique curiosity, depending on the social medium. I, of course, am combining all that and giving you both a "how to" and an update on my life. I am not linking to it, however, because the illustration for one important point on how to use photos that are direct vs those that are indirect simply did not make sense to me and I didn't waste any time after a couple of attempts.

The word update is just to test whether the reference to myself brings you all rushing here. My life has really not changed much since the last post, nor since last year, or the year before, or the years before that. I keep saying I want change but of course, I only want the nice parts of it, and of course, that's not acceptable to Change which is as stubborn as I am, so we are somewhat deadlocked. But still, I am going to put this post out as per the instructions and see whether there's any change.

Here's the update, a tame one but a pleasant one: It's a cool December night and it feels very nice and calm despite the boring cricket commentary going on in the other room. It's not even bothering me, that noise. And I am thrilled to tell you this is the first blog post I am doing from my laptop - all these years, I've used a desktop and found it very convenient but in the last week or so, sitting in front of it has been affecting my head and eyes strangely - I had not been well - so I've just placed the laptop on the dining table, on a table mat and am typing away. I guess I had not done it all these years as I was worried I wouldn't be able to do it smoothly, but it is very smooth. Of course, a laptop can never be like a desktop because I have to be conscious of the charge and run for the power cord to plug it in when the charge runs out, but other than that it's really comfortable.

I made these amaranth bars at least two months ago. As usual, I bought three packets of popped amaranth as if I had foreseen a famine of this particular commodity and tucked it away in a commodious container. (Given that this is a commodity one finds in organic stores, which in my experience do not maintain a steady supply of goods, I can be forgiven for fearing a famine.) I soon tired of the morning cereal of amaranth and curds and the amaranth was ignored for a long time. Then Guilt knocked at my door and though I did not want to make anything sweet or dessert-y, I did not find anything very different with amaranth on the Internet and made two batches of popped amaranth bars instead.
This is the recipe for the first batch. In the second batch, I used desiccated coconut and dry cranberries. Not only did those at The Refuge of Failed Experiments (the workplace, that is) like this, they all asked me for the recipe which I mailed them over the weekend. They said they wouldn't really be trying it anyway, but I mailed them anyway.

None of this activity did much to exhaust my stock of popped amaranth, though. And now I wonder if it's my imagination or it's really beginning to smell a little stale. Sigh!

Anyway, here goes the recipe:

1.5 cups popped amaranth
1 cup cashew, roughly chopped
1/2 cup choc chip
1/2 cup sunflower seed

a handful of raisins

4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup jaggery
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

Melt butter, jaggery and honey on low heat till it comes to a boil and then thickens somewhat. (Can add some cinnamon powder here if you like.)

Once it thickens, take off fire.

Add vanilla and salt and stir.

Add it to ingredients in first cluster and mix thoroughly till they are all well coated.

Place in a not-too-deep baking dish, level surface and bake/toast in a slow oven (160 degrees C) for 10 mins till top browns.

Switch it off, stir it,  and then pop it back in the oven for 5 mins.

Switch off after 5 mins, remove and add raisins and level it again.

Cool and then refrigerate. Cut into pieces after a couple of hours.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making Peace With Sambar

That's a beetroot sambar in the making

Till I went to hostel where I spent six years, my meals, made at home in Andhra Pradesh by my grandmother, had been varied: a dal everyday, sometimes a gravy, a couple of dry vegetable preparations, a chutney. There would be a fresh menu in the evenings, usually lighter, except on the days that we had meat, which was made for dinnertime because everyone in the family would be present. This meal consisted of bottlegourd or ridgegourd curried in milk, or a tomato-based curry, another dry vegetable dish or scrambled eggs and ‘charu’. This last ran the gamut from a dal-less, pepperful affair to a red tomatoey one to one that was full of vegetables and yellow with a little dal. I don’t remember where sambar figured in all this. Maybe it was made when we had idlis for breakfast and it would be served again in the evening. In any case, those were days when I did not care too much about the distinctions between charu and sambar so I may well have eaten one thinking it was the other. All I know was that it was not a daily affair.

When I went to college in Tamil Nadu and lived in the hostel, sambar made an appearance at every meal, morning and evening, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, yes, there was the odd day when we were given a chapatti dinner and sambar would not be available then, but I swear, one day we were given sambar and bread for breakfast! The food at the hostels I lived in had the salutary effect of making me eat whatever vegetables were served, but it also bred in me a long-lasting distaste for sambar which I have not been able to shed quickly. And in Tamil Nadu, wherever you go, hostels or hotels, it unfailingly makes an appearance. I don’t mind home sambars so much but I keep institutional sambars at an arm’s length.

It also took me a while to realize that vegetables were a sideshow to the sambar, because at home, we mix them directly with the rice and consume them, unlike in Tamil Nadu where they accompany the rice which has been mixed with sambar. I still don’t believe that sambar and coconut chutney are the best accompaniments to tiffins, and my first choice of food to eat or serve will never be sambar.

In ordinary circumstances.

About two or three months ago, I realized it can be a very convenient dish to make when you are time-, sleep- or energy-poor. Ever since I stumbled on the realization that ‘lime-sized ball of tamarind’ does not cut it and my perfect sambar needs to be made with tamarind at least the size of a small orange for a cup of toor dal, I have felt more enthusiastic about it. And The Spouse has been bred in sambar-land, and he does not really seem to need anything much else if there is a vat of it available. And I love vegetables, which, if I cannot prepare them in a style to suit my own taste because of the lack of time and energy, sambar is an opportune vehicle to carry them.

Of course, this is easier done The Spouse-style when you put everything into the pressure cooker – vegetables, tamarind, dal, spices – and finish off with it, but I like my vegetables to retain their shape so I pressure cook them separately and finish the sambar in two stages. I have even gone so far as having fun with it by using different brands of sambar powder to check which one tastes best. I seem to have overdone it, though, because I don’t remember now and I must begin the cycle all over again.

Last evening, I was telling my friend that I had the title of the next post on my blog but not the substance, really, and that must have been playing on my mind. Because I came home and extracted all the edible odds and ends from the fridge and they did not amount to much, especially considering The Spouse who was chugging back home in a journey that began seven hours ago. It was past 10 p. m. I had three carrots and two shriveling beetroots – I cut up those and set them to pressure cook with an orange-sized fistful of tamarind. Then I extracted the cooked vegetables, cooled the tamarind, gave it a good squeeze, discarded it, transferred the juice and the vegetables to a pan and added some cooked dal that I had in the fridge to it and let it boil after adding some sambar powder to it.

I have had beetroot sambar only once earlier, at an aunt’s house about 20 years ago, and meal time was dominated by laughs about how strange and funny that maroon sambar was. As I prepare to post this on the blog, the 146,000 Google results the computer returns in 0.44 seconds tells me it’s not all that unusual. Probably the reason why half of the few friends who responded to a ‘Guess what’s cooking’ photo on Facebook got it right!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Perfect Recipe For a Grindless Gravy

Six years ago, I came up with an event called Grindless Gravies. The main condition was that no electric appliance like a mixer-grinder or hand blender should have been used to make the gravy. (There were lots of other conditions and I kept updating them as they kept occurring, which, I'm sure, frustrated a lot of participants, you can find that in the comments.)

This recipe, though, is not bound by those rules, but does not need to circumvent them either. I discovered this formula recently. I was looking for a recipe for chicken liver curry or fry when I came across this recipe. I adapted it to a pressure cooker and it resulted in a gravy that was exactly like the one you get in non-vegetarian restaurants specialising - broadly - in South Indian cuisine. As I've said before, for something to be great, it has to taste like your grandmother made it, or like something that came out of a restaurant - and this fit the bill.

I then decided to apply it to a vegetable/vegetarian affair and see how it fared - and it was wonderful. The best part is that you don't need coconut or flour to thicken the gravy. I've tried it three times since then, with different combinations of vegetables, and it came out nice and thick every single time.

I'm sure it's not an unusual recipe but for me it's a big discovery of a convenient method. The thickness of the gravy, without it going all thin and watery, is what thrills me.

The formula - for 3 cups of vegetable/main ingredient

Fry 3/4 cup of onion, a sprig of curry leaves (optional) and 3 tsp of ginger-garlic paste in that order in 2-3 tsp of oil in a pressure pan or pressure cooker. 

Mix a pinch of turmeric, 1 tsp of chilli powder and 1/2 tsp of garam masala (curry powder) in 2-3 tsp of water. Add it to the oil and fry it till it separates. 

Add mixed vegetables (the gravy in the photo has chick peas and soya nuggets; another had beans, peas, capsicum and potato), salt, mix well, and then add 1/3 cup of water and pressure cook for three whistles. 

In both the above cases, my gravy turned out to be too salty. To the second one, I added tomatoes at the end and cooked it again - it was perfect. To this one below, after it had cooled a bit, I beat some curds and added it in spoonfuls till it absorbed the extra salt.

You can garnish it with coriander.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why I Still Blog, Seven Years Later

It's my seventh blog birthday and I'm sitting rather dumbly in front of my computer wondering what I should say. It's a Saturday, a day when no one seems to notice a blog or even a Facebook status, and mine, even less.

I continue to blog - yes, I still do, even if it's a pitiful one post a month nowadays - at a time when life is getting busier and harder and there seems to be lesser time for pleasurable pursuits. I blog in an era when utterly addictive social media have crowded our lives and no one seems to have the time to read blogs. I continue to blog despite falling visitor statistics and comments. I continue to blog even as the blogs of talented fellow bloggers have fallen silent. I persist even as my friends and readers seem to have less and less to say on my blog. Sometimes they don't have much to say on their own either. I struggle to involve myself in my friends' blogs when they don't talk to me as much as they did earlier.

I continue to blog even though I do not read much more than the same blogs I used to. I blog even as my friends tell me their time is too valuable to spend on the computer, on the Internet. (But I see that they can't stay away.) I blog even as bloggers I like tell me they do not want to get involved with other Indian bloggers as they are political. I blog even though I do not/cannot/am too lazy to market my blog.

I blog even though I don't always eat exotic, seasonal, local, home-grown or organic produce, and my food does not always turn golden on cooking. I blog even though the oil never seems to separate or leaves the sides of the pans. I blog despite knowing little about my tradition. I write despite my blog's lack of clear positioning and classification.

I blog even though I feel jaded. I blog a 1,000 words stubbornly; my photos are no paragons of beauty. I blog because there is some flickering, undying hope that it will lead me to what I want it to lead me to. Above all, I blog because it's sanctuary, the one activity that occupies me completely, when the rest of my life fades out entirely. (Of course, it comes flooding back soon enough.) Blogging is one of the very few things in my current life I like doing wholeheartedly. And giving up on it out of a sense of futility real or imagined would be like giving up on life itself.

Thank you, dear readers and bloggers, for still spending time on my blog. Here's wishing you all get all the time you want to put up your feet a bit more and do the things that make you happy.

And now for some less heavy reading. Here are my previous anniversary posts:


And here are some resources on why blogging still matters




And why there's a place for blogs that write rather than shoot

And a blog that I like to think I had a bit to do with, in terms of prodding the blogger to start/not delay blogging:


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

If Grandmother Could Read My Blog ...

(Read the post to know why I used the photo.) 

 Dear Readers,

Some of you will know about The Fifty-2 Weeks of 2013 project that we are doing on Facebook. Of course, it's well over seven months old and we are no longer accepting members but I am glad to say the project is going on. Well, chugging on.

This week's theme, Aparna's idea, was this:

Write a very short story beginning with the following paragraph. Your story should begin with this paragraph and then you make it all your own.
"It was past ten at night. I had finished clearing up after dinner, and locked up for the night. The rest of the family had turned in for an early night. I was looking forward to a hot shower, and then snuggling under the covers for a quiet read before dropping off to sleep.
That's when the peal of the door bell startled me. Who could it be this late at night? ....................."

It was past ten at night. I had finished clearing up after dinner (actually we had eaten out) and locked up for the night. The rest of the family had turned in early. I was looking forward to a hot shower, and then snuggling under the covers for a quiet read before dropping off to sleep.

There’s nothing like turning on the AC and the fan and curling up under a thick, warm blanket with a book in hand. My grandmother would always, say, though, that she found it absurd – why fan, AC and then cover yourself, she would question. Dear Ammamma, who would neither cover herself nor sleep on the bed. She would sleep on the floor with her hand under her head for a pillow.

I was smiling to myself, remembering my granny, now gone for two decades. That's when the peal of the door bell startled me. Who could it be this late at night? I looked through the peephole but I could only make out a vague shape. It looked like a woman of a certain age, head bowed, waiting …

I opened the door – and froze. It was my grandmother. No, really, it was. As alive as ever. Not a day older than when she died. 72.

“Papa, give me some water. I’m thirsty,” she said, before I could scream.

No doubt, it was a dream. I was not going to be afraid, I wasn’t even going to pinch myself, I would just grab the dream and spend a few more minutes with her. I got her some water, of which she had a long drink.

“Hammayya! That’s better, I feel more alive now,” she said, settling down comfortably in a chair at the dining table. “Didn’t go to work today?”

“No, it’s my day off,” I said. “Oh, what did you do then? Cook?” she asked.

“Nothing. We ate out and I have many leftovers.”

Grandmother went over to the fridge, looked at the many containers of various sizes occupying the shelves – rice, bits of dal, bits of vegetables, chocolate – and turned back to me.

“How old is this stuff?” she asked.

She looked bemused when she saw me trying to recollect – and downright disgusted when I told her the oldest curry was five days old.

“What is happening to you, Sra?” she said. Now it was my turn to look bemused. Since when did she call me Sra?


“Yes, I read your blog, I know this avatar of yours. I know what you’re cooking, who your friends are and often, I find myself mentioned – I am flattered, of course – I also know you keep saying you’re busy and lazy and are struggling with leftovers but I didn’t know you let things moulder in the fridge this long!”

“But Ammamma, things never go bad.”

“Maybe, Sra, but I know you. You never enjoyed eating the same thing more than twice, and from what I gather, you don’t enjoy it now either. But instead of cooking afresh, you’re now eating out, and letting all this stay in the fridge.”

“The others don’t mind eating it. And I feel guilty to waste food. Some of them carry it to work.”
“But five days? Five days? Aren’t all of you bored out of your minds seeing the same things day in and day out? The same old things?”

Some get eaten up more quickly than the others, I told her. And yes, after some seven days, I do throw it away, fresh or not. Every week begins with a new resolution that I should not waste food, and every week the fridge groans under the weight of the leftovers.

“But it has gotten better, Ammamma, it’s not as bad as before. I don’t waste as much raw material now, maybe now I have to learn how to cook just enough for a day.”

“Yes, if you’re making mixed vegetable curry, cook with one carrot, one potato and 1/8th of a cauliflower instead of a quarter kilo of everything. That should work,” Ammamma said.

“And when you don’t have the time, don’t cook, just take it easy. Your family can eat at the canteen or get takeout. I don’t even understand why you’re so keen on cooking, I didn’traise you to cook and talk about cooking and go into raptures about it – I wanted you to do something in life and make something of yourself! Why don’t you write a proper book? Win the Pulitzer? What is this every week writing something in the blog about this curry, that curry – and then when I visit you, you’re not even eating well!”

“But cooking is a life skill …”

“Life skill, my foot! Looks like this kitchen and this fridge are sucking your life away!” said Ammamma, and opened the fridge again. I stood up but she pushed me back into my chair. She went into the kitchen, brought my dustbin and proceeded to throw in everything into the dustbin, steel containers et al. She threw off the bits of imported chocolate carefully preserved in bits of foil, she threw away the eggs after checking the dates printed on their smooth exteriors, she attacked my vegetable crisper, the the pantry and then the storeroom with a savage energy that could only have come from spending twenty years in the world beyond! She didn't even spare the onions, and we all know what prices they command these days!

By then I was a burning ball of shame and sadness. Shame because there was no rest for my grandmother from looking after me and my affairs even at this age. And now that Operation Fridge was over, I was sure the dream was going to end and I would lose her all over again.

Suddenly, Grandma was back, she had had a bath and I am pretty sure she had napped too, on the cold bare floor in her usual style. She looked fresh and as if a weight had been lifted from her. “I’m off now, but I’ll be reading your blog and watching over you – don’t let me see all this rubbish in your fridge again. Cook if you enjoy it, but cook just a little, eat well and be well. I’ll see you soon. And win the Pulitzer,” she said, and walked towards the door.

I woke up, hopeful, but of course, everything in the fridge was just the way it had been before I fell asleep. It was 2 a.m. All the leftovers were in recycled plastic containers I would not regret losing. I cleared out everything from the fridge, it looked like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. What a refreshing sight! I would tackle the pantry and storeroom tomorrow. The Great Purge had begun!


There, I hope you enjoyed that! 

Have lots of leftover vegetables to clear? Follow this link, the many recipes there might help

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Devilled Dhal Curry from The Emerald Isle

Last month, when I went to Sri Lanka, dhal curry made an appearance everywhere at breakfast. We ate it with appams and red rice idiyappams. It did not strike me as very different or even very tasty - the only unusual thing I did notice about it was that the grains of dal retained their shape.

I had bought a book of Sri Lankan recipes from the bookshop at the hotel I stayed in. It's by Doreen Peiris and is called A Ceylon Cookery Book. The dhal curry recipe from her book listed saffron and coconut milk and six red onions. I did not have the saffron so I opted for the devilled dhal curry which left out both the saffron and the coconut milk. It listed '1 dessert  spoon maldive fish (optional)' so I left that out too. I would have left it out anyway, optional or not.

Here's the recipe, the substitutions and measurements are mine

Masoor dal - more than 3/4 cup, less than 1 cup
Kashmiri chilli powder - 1 heaped tsp
Water - 1/4 cup + a little more (please see notes)
Salt water - 3 dessertspoons (36 ml)  (I just used a big spoon that I had)
Green chillies - 3, cut
Coconut oil - 2 dessertspoons (same spoon as above)
Curry leaves- 20-25
Shallots - 6, sliced

Boil the dal till soft with the salt water, water and chilli powder. Each grain should hold its shape, though, not become mushy.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan, temper with curry leaves and add shallots. Once they are fried, add the dhal and mix well. Let it absorb the flavours and take it off the stove.


Cooking the masoor dal takes some time as it has to be grainy. The instructions were to boil it with salt water and chilli powder, which is unusual for me - I've been told that dal will not boil well with salt (and it did not). I didn't have the patience to watch over it and I pressure cooked it for just two whistles. Despite that, it was hard and I added another 1/4 cup of water and let it cook without closing the lid. I ended the cooking when I felt the dal was beginning to lose its shape.

Also, I am assuming the author meant six shallots rather than onions. Six onions would have been too disproportionate to the cup of dal I used, so I used the shallots. I looked for confirmation on the Internet but was too impatient to continue when the first few results did not show anything so I just went ahead.

The aroma of curry leaves and shallots fried in coconut oil was a revelation (I don't even use coconut oil once a year) and I would make this dish again.

As for the use of the word 'devilled', it occurs a lot in the book that I bought. When I rechecked the meaning of devilled on the Internet, it said 'to prepare food coated with spices'. This was not really spicy, though, but that could have been because I used Kashmiri chilli powder instead of regular chilli powder as I have run out of it.

This is off to Aparna for MLLA this month, started by Susan and managed now by Lisa.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Not a Foodie Holiday in Sri Lanka

About two weeks ago, I visited our neighbour Sri Lanka for three days. I did not get much opportunity to taste authentic, local food because our group was busy touring. There was Sri Lankan food in the breakfast buffet in our hotel and on my request, a couple of dishes at lunch the next day, but they were not very different from what we eat here in India.

We got appams, egg appams (hoppers), red rice idiyappams (string hoppers) with dhal curry, and milk rice. We also tasted some sambols, especially the pol sambol, seeni sambol and katta sambol. For me, the pol sambol was no different from the coconut chutney made at home with red chillies and a bit of tamarind.

Here are some pictures from my Sri Lanka trip.

The beach at Bentota, where I stayed.

Plumeria/frangipani, which was everywhere

I don't know what this is but it was so beautiful - the stems holding the leaves were so thin that the leaves seemed suspended in air.

The beautiful Alpenia, from the ginger family

I always thought rambutan came from South-East Asia, I was surprised to see it growing wild here.

It was being sold in heaps on the street.

I'm told this is some kind of a mushroom, it's sprouting from a bench.

Lawariya, string hoppers stuffed with coconut and jaggery

This caught my fancy.

So did this.

Oil cake, or konda kevum, somewhat like the unniappam of Kerala

Athirasa, made of rice flour and jaggery

Walithalapa - it is sweet, but not sure what it's made of

Pol roti (foreground) and vegetable roti 

King coconut

Overlooking the fort are the various blues of the Indian Ocean

Cinnamon sticks, in a plantation

Cinnamon, shaved and laid out to dry

Processing the cinnamon

Just like India!

Palm sugar treacle - it's supposed to be a great delicacy eaten with curds

Outside a grocery store

Coconut-stuffed pancakes


Mixed greens mallum

The Bentota railway station - did you notice it is designed to look like a train?

Kalutara stupa

Kalutara vihara

Offerings at the Kande Vihara temple

The Buddha, said to be the largest seated Buddha in Sri Lanka, at the temple

The 18th century Kande Vihara temple, between Aluthgama and Beruwala in South-West Sri Lanka

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Inner Bengali And The Green Beans Bhorta

I have told you about my pan-Indian looks, about my inner Malayali. Now here's another story.

 A few months ago, a relative of mine wrote his life story in which he mentioned my great-grandfather (henceforth referred to as GG), who was his uncle. Apparently, my GG liked living well and was given to spending a lot of money. One of his expenses, I hear, was on getting a cook from Bengal to come down to where he lived in current-day Andhra Pradesh and make rasgullas for him and his family.

 I wish my grandmother was around to tell me more about GG, who died before I was born. I knew he was wealthy and had a temper, but not much beyond that.

 Many years ago, even before the blogs came into my life, I discovered Bengali cuisine through a book. I took a fancy to it and would often make something from that book, a no-frills affair which tried to pack three or four recipes into a single, short page. I usually experiment with vegetarian food as it's simpler and I took a liking to mustard oil and panch phoron. I even made a chorchori with vegetable peels!

 Gradually, the blogs, including my own, entered my life, and during some discussion in the comments, Sandeepa once asked me if I was Bengali, or if The Spouse was. We are not, but I wonder if my GG's predilection for rasgullas and the length he went to for them, commissioning a Bengali cook, worked its way into the gene pool and manifested as my love for Bengali food. I don't eat even one rasgulla a year, somehow, but I do make something or the other from my Bengali cookbooks.

Now, of course, I have one more, Sandeepa's, and what I found utterly fascinating in that book was the green beans bhorta, a Bangladeshi recipe.

 It HAS to be a thick paste she said, when I checked with her, and I was a little disappointed, because I thought it would be another chutney, and a chutney's nothing exotic for us in the South, if you kept aside the fact that it was made green beans. I would have liked it to be a coarse, multi-textured affair, just so it would be new and different. And the recipe called for fried shrimp to be ground with the mix too - I thought I would fold it into the bhorta but I ended up grinding them in anyway. (My inner Bengali prevailed.)

 I was wrong - it was as unlike any chutney I've ever made or eaten, or even unlike any Bengali food I've ever eaten or made. It calls for sauteing, in a little mustard oil, a small onion, sliced, four to five cloves of garlic, eight green chillies and four cups of chopped green beans, in that order, till the beans are cooked. Cool it down and grind it with half a cup of grated coconut and fried shrimp. It has to be a thick paste, so if it has become loose or watery, dry it up in a lightly oiled pan. Garnish it with chopped coriander.

 I made enough for three meals and finished it in two days. The shrimp is optional, of course. When ground, it imparts a rather strong flavour/aroma to the mix, and you can choose to leave it out or retain it as garnish for a variation.

 Here's the bit of Sandeepa's book that stuck in my mind. Food, she says, is "life wrapped in a soft egg roll with slices of crunchy onion and bites of feisty green chilli." She arranged for me to get a copy of the book, and as soon as I got it, I read the introduction (and the acknowledgements where yours truly is mentioned). This sentence is from the introduction. I got thinking about life, eggs, onions and chillies and even made omelettes for dinner the next couple of days! The book is as hilarious and as full of joie de vivre as her blog. I know that whenever I want a laugh, all I have to do is read a chapter, or even a portion of it, and I'll be happy.


Friday, June 07, 2013

The Things I Don't Really Crave/Eat But Relish Making

Sometimes, I don't quite know why I do the things I do.

Sometimes I buy maida to make cake to get rid of extra fruit, and then I am stuck with the maida so I make more cake after letting it sit in the pantry for months.

I made marmalade last year simply because my uncle and I had a conversation about thick-cut marmalade and it seemed very romantic to make marmalade. Of course, it wasn't.

I don't really crave these things, leave alone eat them. Today, I gave away the marmalade to a friend who invited me for lunch.

Then, overtaken by an overwhelming urge to have some Andhra-style bobbatlu (poli/holige) after Ugadi went by, I used the last of the maida from God knows when to make them. I don't think I've kneaded dough in the last 14 or 15 years, if I ever did. But I plunged into it, literally. At one point, I couldn't extricate my hand from the dough, I couldn't even find it, it got stuck in it. A frantic call to a friend then had me adding ghee to the dough and rescuing my hand. I managed to make the bobbatlu which turned out better than I expected for a first-time attempt and earned appreciation from The Spouse and The Refuge of Failed Experiments (aka The Office).

The next day I attempted another batch but of course by then I had tired of the whole thing so I kneaded the very last of the maida, a little more ghee and the filling together and made sweet rotis.

Convinced I could now make chapatis, also something I don't really crave or eat, I bought a packet of wheat flour which is now resting unopened in my pantry. I was reminded of it today when my friend, who had me over for lunch today, mentioned the cooking classes she had been attending and a keema khameeri paratha (there was a fourth word in the name, I've forgotten) and offered to give me the recipe. I didn't rise to the challenge as I did in the above instances. I declined. The wheat flour will probably be given away soon.

A few weeks ago, my colleague treated us to a lovely green mango jam-kind of affair. She called it 'paagu manga, Tamil for 'mango in syrup'. It was all gold and languid syrup, and the mango pieces had a great texture, having lost their crunch after boiling but having acquired toughness and shape after stewing in the syrup. This was her grandmother's recipe from long ago, she said, and they used the relish as an accompaniment to curd rice, dosas and chapatis.

Of course, I had to make it, though I draw the line at eating it with curd rice and dosas. Having seen people eating chapati and jam in the hostel, I am more open to the thought of eating it with chapatis. I'm not saying I will, just that I'm less resistant to that idea.

About two weeks ago, I went home to visit my folks and came back with four green mangoes. I used one for dal, one is still in the fridge and I used the other two for this.

There are many notes below the ingredients and the method as I messed up somewhere, and had to do a lot of repairing, but let's get the basic recipe out of the way.

The ingredients

1 cup mango - 3/4 cup of sugar (that's the proportion - I used two mangoes, peeled and cubed)

Some honey

Some powdered cardamom

A smidgen of salt (my touch - optional)


Boil the peeled and cubed mangoes in water just enough to cover them. For just three minutes and drain them immediately. Dry them on a cloth for a few hours.

Then make a one-string sugar syrup and I did, with help from the Internet.

Put the mango pieces into the sugar syrup and let them soak for a few hours.

In the evening, stir in some honey, tasting as you go along, and the salt and powdered cardamom.

My experience

After I boiled the mango pieces for three minutes, they became soft, I didn't know if they would hold their shape at all.

The sugar syrup turned to a hard sheet of sugar at the bottom of the bowl and was all liquid on top - maybe the mangoes had oozed liquid as well but they were swimming in more syrup than I had made in the morning.

I was tempted to throw it out but I let it stay in the fridge for about five or six days during which I sought repair advice on Facebook and got a few suggestions, of which I took one - fish out the mango pieces with a slotted spoon, drain off the liquid and melt the sheet of sugar. When I did that, I ended up fishing out very little sugar so I added a splash of water and heated it. It caramelised and I abandoned the attempt.

Sitting in the fridge, the mango pieces seem to have absorbed some of the sugar and attained a texture somewhat similar to my colleague's own paagu manga.

I simply added some honey and the cardamom and salt to the mangoes. It looked runny and I was disappointed again, but I resolved to let it stay in the fridge for a few days.

It seems to be thickening.

I ate with my popped amaranth cereal for some texture, it wasn't enough to sweeten it, though.

All in all, I am very taken with its process of maturation.

How, or whether, I will eat it is another thing entirely.