Friday, February 29, 2008

An Update, A Recipe & A Meme

I’ve been tagged for a couple of memes in the recent and not-so-recent past. Much as I have fun doing them, I can’t always come up with material, and of late, I’ve even been forgetting about being tagged. Memes have their uses – not only do you get to talk about yourself on the very expedient, guilt-free excuse that someone wants you to do it, but they also fill the silence when you don’t have anything much to say.

Rachel of Tangerine's Kitchen tagged me for this meme. Considering I’ve not been honest about the really bizarre side of me, I hope this is at least a halfway good read.

1) I can never read books or watch movies or shows which don’t have women characters in them. I try, especially if it’s a must-read/must-see, but I can never go through with it. I find them extremely drab, and yes, I’ve missed out on a lot of good works this way. I’ve been this way since I was a kid.

2) Similarly, I can never finish self-help books. I’ve borrowed several to read, and they’ve gone right back to their owners. I have one with me right now, which my friend swears is wonderful, but the very layout of the book is putting me off! Bad, because it promises me that if I adopt its teachings, I will get whatever I want.

3) As much as I dislike traveling by autorickshaws (the Indian equivalent of cabs), because of the bargaining and arguing involved, I do. Often, when the driver grumbles on the way, I shout him down with unassailable arguments of fair, just and such virtues, or if he doesn’t return the change, shake my index finger violently at him and curse him that he will lose double that money, then reach my destination and begin worrying that he will somehow wreak revenge on me.

4) I am a worrier. If, for some reason, I catch myself feeling good and relaxed, I worry about that. Didn’t I have something to worry about just a few minutes ago, come on, bring that back, what was that?

5) I’m often accused of being too polite and too politically correct. (My mother won’t agree, of course.) I can be tediously nice but since that’s not naturally me, I sometimes slip and say something that sounds most tactless and clumsy.

6) I am quite opinionated but of late, I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of most other people before I criticize them - and it’s become a bad habit. The heat of all this tolerance is threatening to melt all my cherished beliefs and principles, and I’m turning into a dithering jelly of doubt.

7) I used to snack in even numbers. Yeah, so if I had a third chocolate, I'd have to have a fourth, and so on. Happily, I've gotten over that ...

I tag Shyam, of Food in the Main; TBC of The Budding Cook; Saswati of Potpourri; ET of Evolving Tastes; TC at The Cooker; Revathi of En-Ulagam and Bhags of Crazy Curry. Up to you, of course, to take it up or not.

AFAM update: I expect to be busy for a week starting today, and even have to travel for a couple of days next week. I will do the round-up of AFAM-Pomegranate after I return. Meanwhile, here’s a recipe I’m pretty chuffed about, a recent discovery.

I rarely pick up these beans because the ones I get here are mostly pod and very little bean, but I’ve discovered this is a nice way to include them and get over your dislike of just the pod.

Chikkudukaya/Broad beans – ¼ kg, chopped/ 2 cups, boiled till just tender
Toor daal – ¾ cup, soaked for 30 minutes and boiled till soft, but should hold their shape
Dry red chillies – 2-3, broken up
Garlic – 3-5 cloves, minced
Mustard seed – 1 tsp
Urad dal, split and hulled – 1-1/2 tsp
Cumin seed – ½ tsp
Oil – 2 tsp
Curry leaves – a few
Salt and red chilli powder – to taste

Heat the oil in a pan, pop the mustard and cumin.

Add the garlic and as it sizzles, add the urad dal.

Once the urad dal turns colour, add the red chillies and curry leaves.

Turn just once, and immediately add the beans.

Saute well on medium heat. Add salt and red chilli powder, stir well.

Add the toor dal. Mix so that all the seasoning and tempering is well distributed.

Remove from heat.

Variation: Moong dal can be used instead of toor dal. This method can be adapted to many other vegetables, including amaranth greens and stalks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

To An Ode, To A Feast

It’s been a last few days of spectres: of mercifully elusive but relentlessly persistent ones; of work goals that don’t meet self-imposed deadlines; of library return-by dates that are sure to overtake the pace of my reading; of a major conference of which there seems to be no mention anywhere except on my e-mail; of lethargy and blogger’s block.

I’m tempted to plop the recipe and get it over with, but that wouldn’t be me. I am always worried about running out of narratives for my posts, and I’m afraid this is one such moment. All my potato memories seem to have been used up for other recipes, and since the deadline is fast looming (certainly no spectre this), let’s just get on with it, shall we? I’ve had this post for about a week now in my mind, am trying to dust the cobwebs so it can go off to Sia and Dhivya who are singing odes to the spud and hosting potato feasts.

Now this is another recipe (adapted from Nita Mehta’s Punjabi Khana) where I used shortcuts and tried to cut down on calories to a certain extent – but four tbsps of cashew is bad enough, whether you deep fry the potatoes or not! It’s a heavy dish, and after eating it for three days straight, I donated it, and I’m assuming it would have been much appreciated.

Potatoes with Curd-Cashew Paste

Baby potatoes – 16
Nigella/Kalonji – 1 tsp
Bay leaf – 2
Onions – 2
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Garam masala – ½ tsp
Chopped coriander – 2 tbsp
Yoghurt/curds – ½ cup
Oil – 2 tbsp (I had some mustard oil lying around so I used that)


Cashews – 4 tbsp, soaked in a little water (or a mixture of almonds and cashews)
Ginger – 1 tbsp
Garlic – 1 tsp

to a fine paste.

Boil the potatoes till tender.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the nigella and bay leaf.

Add the onions and cook on low heat till the onions turn soft. Do not let them brown. Add the turmeric and garam masala. Mix well.

Add curds and fry on low heat till the water evaporates. Cook till dry.

Add cashew paste, cook for a minute.

Add about one cup of water to the gravy. Boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Cook on low heat till gravy thickens and coats the potatoes. (As I found out, it was thick enough so I didn’t really have to wait until it coated the potatoes.) This is meant to go with rotis and parathas.

Here are other potato posts from this blog:

Lessons from a Spud

Palette in Pastels

Cutlace, Somehow Or The Other

Herbal Hardsell

Sunshine, And a Bird

Garlicky Spuds a la Mode

No Couch Potato This!

Aloo Dum(b) and Oil-Free

Easy Peasy

A simple stir-fry


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Queer Fish This!

I was the kind who had waist-length hair, two plaits and liked wearing strings of jasmine in them. At least, I think I enjoyed wearing the flowers, because I’ve been missing that ever since I cut my hair, which was quite a long time ago.

The rigours of adolescence, studies and hostel connived to reduce my hair to a rat’s tail, and the best option to make it look better was to cut it. Off I went to the hippest saloon on a day we could get away from hostel for a couple of hours. The stylist, who to me looked really exotic for various reasons including her nose ring, her looks, the scarf wrapped around her head, and her unusually spelt usual name, held up my hair, took one look at it and pronounced it was full of split ends. There was no use cutting it if she didn’t hack it off right from the top, she said, warning me my hair would become pretty short then.

I told her to do the needful, and she gave me a step cut which, later, an aunt who lived in the West told me was called a shag, or a shake. Well, between Aunt and I, one had the former, and the other had the shake – I don’t remember who had which.

How I also bought the hairstylist’s specially formulated oil to restore my hair to its former splendour and used up exactly half of it the next day in post-haircut trauma is a tale for another day, but my hair has gotten progressively shorter since then, and poses a problem for many people who try to guess which part of India I come from. I would have thought it was a cinch to guess, given the rest of me, but it’s as much not, as I was to discover.

While Telugus who know I’m from Andhra Pradesh ask me if I can speak/read/write Telugu before proceeding to speak to me in English, others take it for granted that I hail from Punjab or West Bengal or Kerala, because of whatever aspect of my form they associate with these States. My name, and I’m not telling you what it is, is often taken for Bengali, and if I fib that I am, I’m asked to bring Sondesh (unfailingly pronounced the Bengali way) the next time we meet. My full figure is often mistaken for Punjabi but it really entertains me that people discount my height and my colouring when they make their stereotype-based assessment. And Kerala, I am not sure why. Maybe my colouring, and the fact that most Malayali women in their know sported short hair, probably.

I really don’t know, but I had the amusing experience of stepping off a train in Coimbatore and having a woman speak to me in Malayalam, asking me if I wasn’t Rega of Palakkad when I looked uncomprehending. At a meeting in Paris, an Indian colleague comes up to me and says something I don’t understand – when we introduce ourselves moments later, he says he had spoken in Bengali, and my name is further proof of my putative Bengaliness.

Then there was the friendly co-passenger in the train home, who declared that however much I had my hair shorn, my face made it quite plain I was typically Telugu. And there are others who say, “Ah, I didn’t say it but I guessed you were Telugu,” like it’s a fact better kept hidden, a truth they intuited but mutely conspired with me to keep silent! And there was the staff nurse at the hospital my Dad consulted who said she thought I was born during my parents’ years “in America because you are “little bit healthy” (yeah, that’s kind for “fat”).

This amuses me no end, and while I'm glad to look a bit of all these, I respectfully deny my name is typically Bengali, my figure is Punjabi and my hair is Malayali – my looks could be resoundingly Telugu, I suppose; I’m glad I reflect my heritage in some small way or the other. So in celebration of the number of States I could well hail from, let’s tuck into some fish, which is dear to all these ethnic groups.

The recipe is Tomato Fish, based on one from Nita Mehta’s Punjabi Khana.

Fish – 500 gm, cut into 2- or 3-inch pieces (preferably boneless/skinless)
Oil for frying

Salt – to taste
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 2 tbsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp

Combine all these ingredients and marinate the washed fish in the mix for 15 minutes.

Ripe red tomatoes – 500 gm, pureed (The author recommends blanching them first)
Oil – 1 tsp (she recommends 5-6, but the fish has been fried, so I didn’t go by the book)
Garlic – 5 cloves, skinned
Red chilli powder – 1 – 1-1/2 tsp
Salt – to taste
Garam masala – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Sugar - 1-1/2 tsp (I left this out)
Kasoori Methi – 2 tbsp
Coriander – to garnish (and green chillies too, the book says)

Heat oil in a shallow pan and fry the fish lightly. Do not make it crisp. Remove and keep aside.

Heat the 1 tsp of oil in a pan. Add the garlic and fry till light brown.

Add tomato puree and the other seasonings including the kasuri methi. Let it boil once, as your stir continuously.

Slide in the fish pieces and let them boil for 4-5 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with the coriander.

Please don't forget AFAM-Pomegranate (link in the sidebar or further down) - the deadline of Feb 25 is fast approaching!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eggs In The Morning

It’s been a long day and I can’t think of any witty/anecdotal intro for this piece, other than recall this about how a woman, when confronted with a leering male who asks her how she likes her eggs, should retort, “Unfertilised.”

Moving away from double entendres, I like mine scrambled, and I’ve a recipe for quick, scrambled eggs that are ready in under seven minutes from scratch – you don’t have to assemble anything beforehand and I read on the Net that this particular method contains less than 100 calories. I’ve often made it this way so I’m thrilled to know I’ve been doing something right. Paired with fruit such as watermelon or papaya which are light, it makes the perfect light breakfast or lunch.

My idiosyncratic contribution to this is a handful of curry leaves. And curry leaves have become dearer to me all the more after I started blogging and it was reinforced to me how it’s a real treasure to many of us who live away from India. I’ve also finally found the best way so far to store curry leaves – a discovery to ME, anyhow – and that is to store them on their stems in an airtight container in the fridge. They remain good for about a week and serviceable for another.

There’s very little that you need for this dish:

Whole egg yolk – 1
Egg whites – 2
A pinch of salt
Green chilli – 1
Curry leaves – 2-3 sprigs or just as many as you want
Oil – ½ tsp

Beat the whole egg yolk and whites together with the salt. Not too long, just so that the yolks get mixed up.

Snip the green chilli with scissors into the mixture (time-saving measure), mix.

Place a pan on the fire, put in the oil and swirl as much as you can. Do all this on low heat.

Once the oil’s hot, add the curry leaves and sauté.

Add the eggs. In less than a minute, you will notice them beginning to solidify at the bottom; now, turn the mixture with a spoon back and forth till it becomes softly solid.

Just as the wetness of the yolks threatens to disappear, switch off the fire and let it rest for a few seconds. Then scoop it on to a plate, enjoy!

Here are some links to various facts and recipes for scrambled eggs. Bon appetit!

If you don't mind the heat, it's nice to bite into bits of chilli filled with egg, but otherwise, here's a milder variation.

Find out what you can do with the leftover yellows from the eggs.

This gives you the recipe for the James Bond version of scrambled eggs, and this tells you of the myriad ways in which they can be enhanced.

This recipe goes to Suganya of Tasty Palettes who is hosting Weekend Breakfast Blogging started by Nandita of Saffron Trail.

Please keep those entries coming for AFAM-Pomegranate. The deadline's less than 10 days away!

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Memory Of ...

If you were alarmed at reading that headline, don’t be. It’s not directly about anyone shaking off the mortal coils, it’s just about how their families choose to perpetuate their memories after they do.

Of course, this piece will also take into account how people ensure you remember the auspicious occasions too. The method is largely similar – give away steel/silver items engraved with the name of the dead or the stars of the occasion. I’m not sure if this custom exists elsewhere, but it certainly does in the South, especially in my home State of Andhra Pradesh, and quite a few utensils in many homes are courtesy such fortunate/unfortunate events. Party favours, if you can call them that, only, the party needn’t have been for anything very joyful!

I’ve tried to find out how and why the custom started but all I can gauge is that as ceremonies of all sorts got grander, the turmeric and kumkum and coconut and betel leaf doled out at poojas and weddings began to be accompanied by more permanent keepsakes. Depending on your finances, competitive spirit or a conventional or need-to-reciprocate mindset, you choose between a steel tumbler, plate or vessel or the same in silver and maybe even gold. (Actually, I don’t think silver or gold objects are given away at death ceremonies; I have also seen copies of the Gita being distributed.) Nowadays, some of us choose to give out china or porcelain, and I am glad for the variety – they look good in the glass cabinet, and I can use them for the blog!

My Dad tells of how his father, his attention diverted at lunch by one such tumbler duly engraved with the name of the dead and the date of the passing, roared at no one in particular that all “these dirty, wretched, morbid, depressing dishes” should be thrown out of the house. When Grandad left this world six years ago, he had no say in the matter, and we had a merry discussion on the memento we should choose to hand out to the attendees at the final death ceremony. “A steel tumbler,” said one. “Come on, tumblers are passé, let’s think of something different,” said another. “How about a dabba (container)?” “No, too common, what about a tray?” “Ah, but not everyone (read domestic help) will use trays,” pointed out another. Ultimately, however, we settled on trays, procured several hundreds of them and issued them to all those who attended.

I was in charge, with an aunt, of collaring these people as they left the venue, making sure they didn’t leave trayless, but in the bargain, found myself facing one or two who came back for seconds. “Er … but didn’t you just take one?” I asked a guy who had demanded one just 10 minutes ago, claiming he was the postman. “Yes, but I need one more,” he said. At this point, my aunt said, “No, only one per person,” and that was the end of that.

Of course, you have to make sure that you give out one favour per couple, and ensure, amidst all the chaos, that everybody has got one. “Hey, did my mother-in-law get one? She came specially for this occasion,” says a harried daughter-in-law, while someone else says, “Listen, make sure you give so-and-so a couple – last time, they let us know they didn’t get one.” Then there are those families which, once they get the load from their daughter-in-law’s parents, decide it’s too good to share with all and sundry, and end up keeping quite a bit for themselves. (It’s a widespread tradition for the bride’s parents to supply the groom’s family with boxes full of sweets, which the latter distributes when the daughter-in-law arrives at their home.)

Death and marriage are not the only occasions. There’s the housewarming, birthday parties, Satyanarayana Vratams and the pre-puberty and puberty functions. (Now, why can’t we have a nice, euphemistic term like ‘coming of age’ to describe these - whenever I enter a hotel and see these events announced so bluntly, my delicate sensibilities are offended.)

In many homes, every time we get containers of something special from family and friends, we read the inscription on the dish to make sure it’s theirs before we send it back. “In memory of K. Subba Rao, 9.9.1998” has to be the dabba of a cousin whose husband’s maternal uncle bore that name, while a similar dish inscribed with another Subba Rao of a different initial (or Appa Rao or Krishna Rao or Venkata Rao) would be our neighbour’s. Some have their names inscribed just to ensure they don't get mixed up.

I’ve got a motley collection of such stuff which keeps going in and out of my house, some which others insist isn’t theirs but mine alright, but for the life of me, I don’t know who Swetha is, and why her “flower-adornment ceremony” (???) dabba is in my kitchen!

Note: All names and dates are entirely fictional and any match with any persons, other creatures and objects dead or alive is purely coincidental.

What does all this have to do with the paneer recipe I’m presenting here? Well, the steel dish you see in the picture is one such favour, and I really enjoy using it – I haven't checked to see if it’s of the ‘in memoriam’ variety or the happy variety, but I’m glad to have it.

Paneer – 200 gm, cubed
Tomato puree – 3 tbsp
Ginger – 1-inch piece
Bay leaves – 3
Cumin seed – ½ tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Coriander powder – 1-1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp
Almonds, blanched – 2 tbsp
Oil – 3 tsp
Water – ¾ cup + ½ cup
Kasoori methi/dried fenugreek leaves – 1 tbsp

Grind the cashew, almonds, cumin and ginger to a paste with a little water.

Heat the oil in a wok. Add the bay leaf. Lower flame and add the paste. Stir.

Stir-fry for 10 minutes till the paste leaves the sides of the wok.

Add the red chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric. Cook for half a minute.

Add the tomato puree. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add ¾ cup water. Boil.

Add the salt and the kasoori methi.

Lower flame and add the ½ cup of water, cook for a few minutes till it reaches the consistency you want. Or you could skip this step if the consistency is good enough for you.

Add paneer to the gravy, cook for about 5-7 minutes till heated well through. Serve.

Please keep those entries coming for AFAM-Pomegranate.

Friday, February 08, 2008

When Pomegranate is a Leafy Green

We foodies often do strange things for our blogs. We have had our moments of the crazy, the ridiculous and the farcical – this has got to be one such moment.

I have a recipe for a pomegranate leaf kadhi – I found it in Shyamala Kallianpur’s book ‘Cooking With Green Leafy Vegetables’.

When it came round to me to host AFAM-Pomegranate, started by Maheswari of Beyond the Usual, I blithely announced the fruit without much idea of what recipe(s) I would come up with and went off to Japan, but the presence of a pomegranate plant/bush in my compound waved me on reassuringly.

Late last night, at a loose end, I leafed through the book, and found out this kadhi required coconut. Which I don’t stock. And I’d gotten into one of those moods where I had to get it over with.

I had long ago decided the plucking of the leaves would be a covert operation under the cover of night – don’t want any funny looks from the neighbours, nor questions – but I’d forgotten to pluck the leaves, and I’d changed out of my work clothes. I changed back into my day clothes, went down with the white cup you see in the second photo and skulked under the pomegranate plant/bush trying to pick half a cup of leaves.

Problem! The recipe asked for young and tender leaves - and the plant/bush mostly had leaves that various plant-dependent creatures had feasted on. It was also located in a dark corner of the building, so yours truly couldn’t see the young and tender ones too well if they existed at all - but she was on a roll - so she quickly got herself as many unblemished ones as she could find and hightailed it back to her apartment.

She substituted the coconut with a handful of cashewnuts and a cup of coconut milk, and faltered several more times during the making of the recipe, but will not bore you with those details. Suffice it to say that it tastes like sol kadhi, bringing back the memories of a trip to Goa almost a year ago!

The pomegranate leaves aid digestion and is an ideal remedy for a bout of indigestion, says the author.

Here’s how I bumbled through the recipe:

½ cup tender leaves of pomegranate (chopped) – I didn’t chop them.

1 cup fresh grated coconut (I used a handful of cashews, soaked, and 200 ml of coconut milk)

A lime-sized ball of tamarind (I soaked it a little ahead)

2 flakes of garlic

4-5 red chillies (roasted)

Salt, to taste


1 tspn ghee (clarified butter)

8 flakes of garlic, crushed


Cook the leaves in a little water.

Grind together cashews, tamarind, garlic and chillies to a smooth paste.

Add the leaves to the paste and grind again.

Put this paste in a pan, add some water to give it a pouring consistency.

Add salt and bring to a boil, stirring well. Do not allow it to rise and boil over.

To temper, heat the ghee, add the crushed garlic, sauté and add to the kadhi. Cover the pan immediately. Serve hot with rice.

And the pomegranate arils you see in the cup – that is artistic licence, you don’t really need to do that. I was lucky they even showed up – because they initially sank to the bottom of the kadhi when I was setting up the shot!

Googling led me to this bit of info unexpectedly - now let's find a way to use this minus the cashews and the coconut milk!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Treats from Japan

Toji temple's wooden pagoda, Kyoto. Typically Kyoto, said our guide. This five-storeyed pagoda (can't see the fifth) is usually used as a stock image to represent Kyoto. I took many shots of this, but this was the best. Though the wooden detail of the pagoda is not clear, I am glad for the silhouette-like effect framed by the bare trees of winter.

Dessert at Kyoto dinner. I was told this was made of sea weed. The oranges were okay, it was great plain too!

Rice with bonito fish and pickled vegetables

At this restaurant we were taken to, our places were set with various condiments and cutlery in anticipation of the meal. To accompany each place setting was a little origami bird, perfectly crafted. Our guide then proceeded to make this origami piano for us - one of the simplest, she said, as we reminisced about paper boats and floating them in rainwater.

The restaurant was chosen because it afforded us a meeting with this lady. She is 18, has finished junior high, and has tried hard to improve her English but failed, she said. Our guide interpreted for us.

Thanksgiving and prayer. Among all the requests in wood, this one stood out for its English. At the Kiyomizu temple, Kyoto.

Window dressing at a Kyoto restaurant

We designed our own T-shirts. Okay, with the help of a stencil. It was still a great kick.

A wintry afternoon in Kyoto. I tried to capture rows and rows of bare trees several times throughout my visit. This was my only success.

Fruit and seaweed of various kinds in dessert. At a Chinese restaurant, Kyoto.

Rice porridge at the same restaurant.

Radish wrapped in cabbage, gluten flowers and other vegetables.

Soya chicken and stir-fried vegetables

Soya ham, tofu and cabbage wrapped in seaweed

Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. It didn't strike me so much when I looked at it but once the photos came through, it seemed such a picture-perfect setting.

Another view of Kinkaku-ji/Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. I fell in love with those stark trees.

Yuba (tofu skin) at an Osaka restaurant

This is a view of the Namba area in Osaka, from the 20th floor of my hotel.

Mushroom in miso soup. I found a great variety of mushrooms in Japan.

Dumplings at the Chinese restaurant, Kyoto. The white one had a plum filling, the yellow pumpkin.

Bento box lunch, all vegetarian, Osaka

Gotcha! Successful with chopsticks

Tabletop cooking, at a drive-in en route to work

Mushrooms over rice, full of texture, nice and bland

Chowanmushi, savoury egg custard with mushroom and shrimp

Typical street at night, Osaka

Advertising, Namba, Osaka. I don't know what the sign says.

Please send in your entries for AFAM-Pomegranate. Please remember the deadline is Feb 25, 2008. I am having a big problem with a capricious Internet connection so may not be able to reply promptly or visit your blogs immediately - please bear with me.