Monday, December 26, 2011

Of Just Desserts and Going Bananas

My first memories of eating out date from the time I was seven. I was visiting my parents in the US and I know we ate out more often than we did in India, where I don’t ever remember being taken to a restaurant except when we went to Madras as it was then known to see off parents and aunts and uncles to the US and stayed in hotels. (My favourite then was a green pea soup at a hotel that is still around and popular.) In the US, some of the places we ate out at were Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s. I tried spaghetti and meatballs. I tasted pizzas, French fries and other legendary junk food I don’t remember now.

Later we went on an extended road trip of both the US and Europe. I remember being not too fond of the new food. (Could that really have been me?) I was always looking for rice and other familiar food. The one time my parents did locate some rice dish, in some place we had halted for lunch in FRG, as West Germany was known then, it was ice-cold and strange and I threw a tantrum. My father was annoyed, my mother more patient – I’m sure one of those two poor souls downed it so as not to waste resources. (I also made them buy me rolls of coloured wool in some other country though neither they nor I had the faintest idea of what I would do with it, despite my father protesting we were “on a budget” and we couldn’t afford to waste money.)

During that time, I remember, my father would always ask me, “Do you need help?” and lean over and relieve me of a bit of whatever was sitting on my plate. That joke continued throughout the trip and after. I didn’t think it was a big loss unless I liked the food.

It just struck me that the tables have now turned – whenever I visit my parents, my father opens the fridge to find that his nightly dessert of cream, curds (yoghurt) and bananas is halved or wiped out. A fortnight ago, after it happened a couple of times, he factored me into the scheme of things and started adding one more banana and some more cream and curds.

My father seems to have discovered a way to add more taste – and where taste lies, calories follow – to this nightcap. This visit, he told me that the inside of a kajjikai (karanji) crumbled over the curds-banana concoction is a great addition. It seemed interesting, but where would I find kajjikai with the same filling here? As I was mulling the possibilities, the brain in me ticked off the idiot in me (the morning diet of soaked almonds must be working) and told me I didn’t have to go searching for a kajjikai, deconstruct it, extract the filling, crush it and sprinkle it on the dessert. I could simply make the filling myself.

The pictures that you see are my father's, photographed at my request, but in the interests of his diet, I didn't ask him to add the topping, so there is no picture of that.

Banana: 2, sliced (I prefer the chakkarakeli variety, seen in picture above, the second and third from left)
Cream from the top of curds: 2-3 tbsp

Note the layer of cream on top - this is home-made curds/yoghurt.

Dessicated coconut: 1 tbsp
Semolina/rava/sooji: 1/8 cup
Sugar: 1/8 cup
Cardamom powder: A smidgeon
Chopped cashew: 1 tsp
Raisin: 1 tsp
Ghee: 1 tsp
In a pan, heat the ghee and toast the coconut in it on medium flame for a few minutes. Remove, keep aside.
In the same pan, add another ½ tsp ghee and roast the semolina 7-8 minutes.
Powder sugar, mix with the sooji, coconut, cashew, raisin and cardamom powder.

To assemble: Put the sliced banana in a bowl and top with the cream. Mix lightly. Sprinkle with topping.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Wedding In The Sixties - Black & White Wednesday

These are from my father's pictures of his sister's wedding sometime in the Sixties. Ingredients for the festive meals were usually bought by the family, not a wedding contractor or planner, those days.

The photo seems to be full of family members. I can only recognise one.

Notice the graceful bottlegourds. I think the vegetables in the other basket above are ladies' fingers/okra, towards the right, and I don't know what is in the other basket which is full of straw. Mangoes, perhaps, because that was how they were sold and ripened.

Do click on them to see them at their best.

This goes to Susan's B&W Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Egging You On

On a boring Sunday evening, that’s two days ago, I had a brainwave. I wasn’t very hungry but wanted to eat a snack before I turned in for the night with a nice book to read. I wanted something somewhat spicy. There were four old eggs in my refrigerator. I suddenly started craving a bullseye with crisp edges and cracked pepper. I’ve already forgotten whether I thought of it then or at the moment I poured the first spoon of oil into the pan, but I got the jar of mango pickle, took a spoon of oil from it and added it to the pan. It couldn’t be any worse than an omelette with some pickle smeared on it, and that’s not such a bad idea, try it if you haven’t already!

So here’s an idea for a different version of fried eggs. I don’t like it sunny side up and always like mine fried on both sides.

The oil traditionally used in the mango pickle (mamidikaya pachadi/avakaya) I have is gingelly (made from sesame seed). A mixture of mustard, fenugreek, red chilli powders and salt goes into it. So do tiny black chickpeas and skinned garlic.

I don’t know the procedure or the proportions but all these are mixed with the mango and heated and cooled oil is poured over the pickle. It takes about 4-5 days to mature, for the spices to go from salty and bitter (from the mustard and fenugreek) to mellow. All the same, steaming hot rice, butter or ghee, and a small bowl of the new pickle are set out to be enjoyed right on the first day.

As the spices steep in the oil, which has to be a few inches above the rest of the pickle so that it can provide a protective medium against contamination, it gets flavoured with them, not to mention the mango and other ingredients.

So you don’t need anything except a little salt, in my opinion, to get the eggs to taste great!

What you need:
Oil from the pickle: 2-3 tsp (or it could be a mix of regular and this)
Eggs: 2
Salt: To taste
Heat the pan and spread the oil around.
Break the eggs into the pan, sprinkle the salt over them and let the whites set.
Turn over and let the yolks set.
Turn off the heat, slip it into a plate and enjoy!

Here's another idea for the pickle oil

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Done Washing Up

Honestly, I can't fathom how and why the little cooking I do results in this mountain! My help, S, has to deal with it, and sure enough, on days such as this, quite a few dishes have little crusts of green dishwash soap on them. I guess I should be happy I don't live in a country where I'd have to deal with this myself. But, when it comes to manual (and not machine) labour, I'd do the dishes rather than wash clothes. Any day.

This goes to Susan's B & W Wednesday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tasty Solutions To A Hairy Tale

Coriander and mango-ginger chutney - don't you love the colour?

Idiyappam with shallots and mango-ginger

To go from really short hair to hair that's just 2-3 inches longer is an endeavour fraught with impatience, irritation, heat, sweat, rubber bands, clips and such paraphernalia one hasn't used in a while. Enough is enough, I told myself, a good stylist will not whine about the non-growth, but they did. I walked out of one salon as the smile on the stylist drooped but stayed put in the second because frustration took over - and, of course, the stylist there marketed it (my hair - to me) better. It really isn't that much longer, he said, acquiescing to my request to 'give me more volume at the top but retain the length' and doing none of that (or so it seemed). He spent a few minutes, charged a lot and I came away looking and feeling just as I had earlier. Just a lot poorer.

My friend, who came over to drop off a macaroni-spinach-paneer creation yesterday, exhorted me not to give in to frustration. "It's only going to get cooler. Grow it, grow it, he's cut off just half an inch anyway," she said. So for now I've abandoned the thought of cutting my hair after six weeks, and will probably only cut it six months later. I have been looking at various Web sites to find out how to make hair grow faster and one of them has some really kinky suggestions, including grinding up birth control pills and mixing them up with some shampoo, and trimming the tips of your hair each month during a waxing crescent moon.

In the face of such exotica, bizarrerie or whatever you may call it, I'd rather fall back on my own innovativeness for hair growth. Which includes grinding up some oh-so-good for health good old greens and a cup of mango-ginger into a chutney.

Mango-ginger, cut

I love mango-ginger (go here for another picture) and how it smells all mangoey and summery, but haven't used it with much variation, so I'm glad I came up with this recipe one night after coming home to dosa batter and no accompaniment.

Mango-ginger, sliced: 1 cup
Coriander: About a handful
Curry leaves: About a fistful
Green chillies: 2
Peanuts: Less than a fistful ***
Oil: 2 tsp

Heat the oil and fry the mango-ginger for about 6-8 mins on a low flame.

Add the coriander, curry leaves and green chillies and fry for a couple of minutes more.

Grind with the peanuts and just a little splash of water.

*** I only added the peanuts to give the chutney some body. The amount I used did not affect the taste but next time I would use more coriander and curry leaves and not use the peanuts at all.

The other discovery I've made recently is idiyappam. Yeah, yeah, I know it's been around for ages, just not in my home or in my consciousness. The abovementioned friend had me over to lunch a couple of weeks ago and that's when I learnt idiyappams could be crumbled and tossed with tomatoes and onions. I did that for a couple of weeks. It's a very convenient and simple thing to make if your grocer stocks ready-made idiyappam. (A friend tells me I can do this with the rice sevai/noodles that one finds in stores - I haven't tried it.) When I brought the mango-ginger home, I tossed the idiyappam with some minced shallots and grated mango-ginger. I resisted the temptation to add lime and was glad I resisted.

Idiyappam, broken up: 2-2.5 cups
Oil: 2-3 tsp
Mango-ginger, grated: 1.5 tsp
Shallots, minced: 10
Green chilli, chopped: 1
Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 - 3/4 tsp
Water: A little

Heat the oil and temper it with the mustard seed.

Add the shallots, chilli and the mango-ginger and fry for 3 minutes.

Add the idiyappam and the turmeric, moisten with a little water.

Mix carefully. Taste it (the idiyappam already contains some salt, and add salt accordingly.) Let the flavours meld on low heat for a few minutes and then turn off the heat.

This post if off to Cinzia at Cindystar who's hosting Kalyn's WHB.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Kitchen Under The Stairs

Ever since this kitchen came into being, I've wished I had something like it. My own small kitchen is bigger than this but it's inside an apartment and I feel hemmed in when I'm inside it for various reasons - too many things in too little space, not enough ventilation, not enough light.

I love the al fresco feel, not to mention the fact that it seems so compact. This is at the back of the house, which has a bigger kitchen inside. The stairs lead to the terrace. The windows you see jutting out belong to a room where the cook of this kitchen stays.

I want lots of light, some greenery (though you can't see it in the photo, there is some - a neighbour's tree hangs over the stairs) and some open space in my life.

This goes off to Black & White Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Of Birthdays, In Real Life & Blogwise

I don't usually celebrate personal milestones in public but religiously put out blog anniversary posts every year, today being the fifth year since I started writing this blog.

I want to indulge in some birthday memories, though, real-life birthday ones. The only cakes we got in our town were the brown, fruit cake kinds with hard icing, hard pink, green and purple roses, silver balls and twisty little candles. In the absence of mothers, aunts and grandmothers who did not make cakes but only Indian sweets and "hots" (savouries), I suppose we looked forward to this cake. Even if the flowers were solid enough to have claimed a tooth or two, that's what we had and cherished.

Those were the days when a 'return gift' wasn't known, and asking a guest to the birthday party, "What gift have you brought me?" would result in a slap, never mind you were only five or six or that it was your birthday. Grandmothers would kit us out in embroidered frocks and there would perhaps be a trip to the temple.

At school, the only time we were allowed to wear "colour dress" (not the uniform) was on Saturdays and birthdays. At Assembly, the teacher presiding would ask if there were any birthday girls or boys and one, two or three, sometimes urged by their friends, would stand up hesitantly and make their way to the stage, upon which the Music Master would begin strumming his guitar and all of us would sing "Happy Birthday to You!" I remember not owning up to a birthday one year, my cousins who studied in the same school telling my Grandmother about it, and my Grandmother scolding me for it. Why had I been so shy? Was it also the birthday I wore a white dress with blue, red and yellow clowns all over? Maybe. I couldn't be sure.

Stage or not, the 'distributing sweets' routine was all-important, and after the first period began, the birthday girl or boy would distribute sweets to the entire class, to the teacher, and then accompanied by another, go and give the headmistress some, and maybe the other teachers too. A classmate's birthday was also the first time I saw a pink guava - her folks brought guavas in big baskets and distributed them to the entire school, and one of them was pink. The popular sweets distributed were "Goldspot" sweet (orange hard-boiled candy) or a green-wrapped toffee. The thing to do, after you'd popped the sweet into your mouth, was to twist the wrapper into what was supposed to be a dancing girl. The green wrapper was particularly prized. For one birthday, I remember asking everyone to give me back their wrappers. (I'm cringing, childhood is no excuse for such behaviour.) One boy refused, I prepared to cry, and our teacher stepped in, saying she would give me hers. I don't know what I did with them. Not all could refuse a birthday girl, however ungracious, could they?

In the evening was the party, with the cake, streamers, balloons, friends, cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbours. There were home-made sweets and savouries, or some would be ordered from the Udupi hotel in the town centre. There was jelly and ice-cream in little globe-shaped containers. There were no games, no party hats, and gifts brought could be as simple as a packet of biscuits. The cake was cut, food eaten, and everybody went home after an hour or two. Till one was eleven or twelve and deemed old enough for the parties to stop. Truly old, because at thirteen, I had just one friend over and that was to pour my heart out to her over an evil classmate.

And now from nostalgia to the Oscar speech: Thank you, readers, bloggers, family, friends, blog aggregators. You keep this blog going, and this blog keeps me going.

Here's my first anniversary post, and here's another nice post on how children celebrated their birthdays in the Seventies and Eighties.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Salad Days, Green in Judgement, Hot in Chilli*

You're not an original!" screamed the Internet back at Sra.

"Oh, alright, alright," said Sra, sullenly. "How many other crazed foodies do you think would call their dish cucumber noodles? Well, quite a few, it looks like," she muttered, teetering on the edge of a sour soliloquy, pausing to wonder if they had also tempered olive oil with red chillies and garlic and seasoned it with zatar, and all this only after adding some zucchini noodles to the cucumber.

And that, dear audience, is exactly what I did.

Peeled three tired old cucumbers and again peeled their flesh into strips - these are what I - and several other foodies - call noodles. Did the same with one tired old zucchini which hid its fatigue very well. (Tired meant that I had to discard quite a few bits.)

Chopped up an onion and added it to the above.

Heated a splash of extra-virgin olive oil and tempered it with two red chillies and two cloves of garlic

Added about 2 tsp of zatar, a splash of red wine vinegar and some salt

Tossed it all together in a bowl and let it rest an hour or two until dinner.

Then I tasted it and discovered it was one chilli too hot for comfort. And I'm no wimp when it comes to chillies.

But I ate it up anyway because no one else would - there were two other diners - and adding some dal to the salad reduced the heat.

You could do that too. It's also my tried-and-tested substitute for rice in rice-and-dal - I've done it before. You needn't peel the cucumber into strips for that, though, just cut it up regular.

And my favourite use for zatar is to use it on baked potatoes.

*I'm no Cleopatra, so I hope Shakespeare will at least forgive me if not appreciate me for twisting his words this way ...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There's A Girl In My Coffee!

Last week, for a couple of days, my Mom took up residence at the city's latest mall. Aunt and I accompanied her. On the first day, they went ahead to the mall while I joined them less than 30 minutes later. I rang my mother about 10 times but she only heard it the eleventh time. By this time, 45 minutes had passed and I had wended my way through three floors with a cup of lukewarm coffee in hand - I don't usually drink coffee but use it when I need to get rid of a headache.

When I told them I had had coffee, they immediately wanted some themselves and looked at me accusingly - then I told them that I had come more than an hour ago and I had got a headache from the number of futile calls I'd made trying to locate them. Then they looked contrite and I took them down for some coffee.

My coffee came from another cafe and though I asked for plain South Indian filter coffee, I got some frothy mess to which even two packets of sugar didn't make a difference, so I took them to another cafe which had some alluring chocolate eats as well. We bought a brownie for the three of us and ordered two lattes.

I was busy chatting with them when the person at the counter called out to me to come get the coffee but his colleague had still not finished making it. So I stayed there and watched the people go by - within two minutes, I'd got my coffee and voila, this was what I saw in one of the cups.

I didn't notice how he did it, whether he did it with the little jug of milk itself or whether he used a brush or some other implement. That set me off on a voyage of YouTube where I saw many videos that showed baristas making hearts, leaves and associated flora, and yes, even some fauna, in the cup, all by pouring the milk in stippling motions above the coffee cup. I only had my mobile phone to photograph this with so that explains the size and the quality of the picture. A thrilling experience for me which I'd like to share with you all because my experience of coffee art is limited to hearts and flora.

Naturally, we all felt sad that the drinker (I don't remember who, Mom or Aunt) had to stir it to add the sugar. The girl dissolved into the coffee but next time I go there, I'm going to try and get them to give me the same design, headache or no!

This is my entry this week to Susan's Black and White Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hungry Enough To Eat A Horse Gram Pancake?

Recently, some nutritional advice saw me adding to my ever-creaking pantry. I was advised to eat dosas made of sprouted ragi (finger millet) and red rice flours so I have two tins full of those now. As I feared, the 3/4 cup:1 cup proportion of ragi to red rice flour did not work and I was left with a sticky, wet pancake that felt like a cold fish.

Even as I was mulling, well, not mulling, strictly speaking, but stressing out about how to use up the abovementioned flours, I got some further advice on supplementing nutrition with pancakes made with whole grains and millets of various kinds. Well, there is already a millet (ragi) in my pantry, and I wasn't about to buy more till I had lessened the load on those shelves a little bit, so I bought some horse gram and combined it with dals, flax seed and some of the ragi to make an adai of sorts. Adai is something like an unfermented dosa, made of a mixture of dals and rice, and always leaves me feeling like I've eaten something uncooked - it doesn't go down my throat smoothly and has always been a disappointment to me whenever and wherever I've eaten it. I've finished with keeping an open mind about it.

But I digress. This creation was much better than any adai I've come across and I think it's a keeper of a recipe. I already feel full of sunshine, vitamins, trace elements and folic acid. (You know I exaggerate.) Here's how you can get some yourselves.

List 1

Horse gram/Ulavalu: 1/2 cup
Bengal gram/chana dal: 1/4 cup
Whole masoor dal: 1/4 cup
Flax seed: A fistful


Sprouted ragi flour: 1 tbsp


Green chillies, roughly chopped: 2
Ginger: 2-inch piece, peeled, roughly chopped


Coriander & curry leaves: 3 tbsp, washed, chopped


Soak all the items under List 1 in plenty of water overnight or for 8 hours.

Drain the water, wash once or twice and blitz in the mixer with the ginger and green chillies. Add splashes of water only enough to ensure that the mixer's motor runs smoothly.

Once it becomes a fairly fine paste, add the sprouted ragi flour. Mix it really well or operate the mixer on 'pulse'.

Add another splash of water if you need to achieve a 'spreadable' batter. Add the salt. Fold in the chopped coriander and curry leaves.

(Note: In my experience, this doesn't spread as smoothly as dosa batter. I can make perfect dosas, but these, they are 'maps of the world'.)

Take a ladle of batter, put it on an oiled, heated tawa/griddle, and spread it as carefully as you can. At some point or the other, it might threaten to come off along with the ladle you're spreading it with, but just pat it gently, leave it alone and simply go to another portion of it and smooth it there.

With the flame on medium, add some oil around the edges - 1/2 a tsp should do. Once the bottom feels cooked (you should be able to lift it off without bits sticking to the tawa), flip it over and cook all the uncooked parts.

I ate it with ginger pickle.

This goes off to Preeti at W'rite' Food who is hosting Susan's My Legume Love Affair.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Of Sibling Rivalry - Of Chalks & Chopsticks

So what if she made fun of me? She's always doing that - taking a swipe at people through her dratted blog. Does she think I can't make out who she is or what she does? Just because she lives in this fond delusion that she has a gift for "writing" - and a gift for pretending she can cook and bake - she writes a food blog? Why shouldn't I do the same?

Sisters, I tell you! So irritating! How does she always stay one step ahead? Oh well, maybe it's time I learnt not to compete with her, even mentally. Thank God, I've never said this aloud to anyone, they'd say I was jealous of her!

I can't faff about myself like she does. So self-absorbed, hmph! Who gives a fig whether she went to Japan and had yuba out of a Bento box or went to Taiwan and gingerly tasted one measly pickled chicken's foot? Evoking Grandma at every possible juncture and talking about "my grandma's recipe" in her bl***y blog, never mind that she wouldn't lift a finger to help her! And she doesn't even cook - all that those swooning, frenzied fans of hers see on her blog is what she gets the cook to do, and passes off as hers. She can't even make lime juice, and she has a food blog?

So what if I made guava payasam? It's no worse than onion or brinjal halwa, is it? And Belgian cauliflower fudge - what was so funny? Mum and Dad couldn't even guess what was in it, and neither would this idiot have, if Aunty hadn't let on that she saw me chopping cauliflower. (I'd made the entire thing in their kitchen so it would be a surprise for their wedding anniversary.) Everything had been going fine, they were enjoying the party, had downed quite a bit of the fudge, chocolate fiends that they are, till she had to spoil things by announcing that the supersoftness came from cauliflower. Ever since it happened, the intensification in the look of despair that comes over their faces when they see me has not let up at all. It's not like I poisoned them, is it?

I'd love to teach her a lesson, wouldn't I? I know the password to her blog. Oh yes, I do! I may be a cook unappreciated and unsung, a non-starter of a blogger, but I can observe, spy. She has no love lost for me but that didn't prevent her from using my name and date of birth as her password. Stupid fool!

Pic courtesy: Desi Soccer Mom

The latest is some hare-brained effort to make marmalade. Look at all the fruit she bought for that - she read somewhere eons ago that the fruit should be soaked overnight in water, macerated (which she spells 'masserate', of course) , and that fascinates her. Her friend's mother once fed her pommelo jam and our comics used to carry ads for silver marmalade, made of limes and lemons, and she thinks she's going to get it right just by looking at recipes on the Internet and mixing them up.

Tell me, who needs marmalade? She is fat. I don't touch the stuff. Neither does anyone else. But it allows her to write stuff like: "Yoga done, showered and ready to face the world, I come down to see the rays of dawn illuminate the pantry with a warming glow. The pantry, the kitchen, this is where I bond with my loved ones, these rooms that have so much soul. I take a deep breath of fresh morning air, grateful for the bounty I have been given. As I turn to go out the door and give myself up to the crisp air and the morning dew, I catch sight of my sister's things in the fruit tray. I'm so fortunate to be blessed with a beautiful and brilliant sibling who would think nothing of combining okra with marmalade to give it some beautiful green flecks ... Oh oh, let me go put her charger back where she usually puts it, she's going to worry when she wakes up and finds it missing."

Okay, okay, so I'm getting carried away. Left to her own devices, she would even pickle the charger and not notice. Still, I won't hack into her blog or anything, but I will surely give her a birthday present of marmalade with bits of okra in it. I'll tell her it came for her through some bloggers' surprise event in the mail and feign hurt at how mean she was to hide her blog from me! I bet you anything she will think it's mint or angelica or some other exotic herb until it starts going bad. And then, I will watch the fun.

This piece of utter fiction goes off to Desi Soccer Mom who's hosting Aqua's Of Chalks and Chopsticks July-August. It was DSM's idea to incorporate in this year's round a visual cue, the elements of which would find a place in the story. With life in the real world, burn-out, deadlines and laziness getting in the way, it has been a real challenge to come up with a story that doesn't seem too contrived. But we managed, I think. You can read my previous story here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When The Drumsticks Came Home To Curry

My mother is the kind of person who, as a busy doctor without household help, would make a meal of salt, chilli powder and leftover rice. So it comes as a surprise whenever she expresses an interest in a recipe or proffers one herself. Which is why this recipe is very special and unusual, because she told me about this recently when I was stressing out about how to cook a full meal for someone I'd invited home for lunch.

Now invitations from me are rare because I too, though not a busy doctor, have a hectic life, what with my insomnia and harried rising, gym-and-back-from-gym routine, and work and after-work routine, my insomnia and harried rising gym ... you see how it goes.

I have a two-hour window in the morning with which to turn out some stuff to eat and I managed to make this rather swiftly along with some payasam and two other vegetables. Now that's not a spread by any stretch of the imagination but that's what you can expect if I invited you on a weekday and you accepted my invitation. I had tomatoes and with my mother who arrived the previous day, came from my grandmother's garden fresh drumsticks (or saragwa - always reminds me of Sarajevo and Archduke Ferdinand ever since I heard the name not too long ago).

Known as mulagakaya in Telugu, drumsticks are a household vegetable in South India - not only are they popular, many houses have a tree. It's notorious for harbouring furry and itchy caterpillars, but the benefits outweigh that risk, with the leaves being considered extremely nutritious as they are sources of beta carotene, Vitamin C, iron and protein.

They have a taste that I can only describe as delicately pungent, an oxymoron, I know, but really, you have to taste it to know it. They're the kind of vegetable that you appreciate better as a grown-up. Like brinjal/eggplant, for instance. In my house, we've never had the leaves, only the fruit. And now I don't find any in my locality though there are a few saplings struggling to grow in my apartment building. I've even seen recipes using the tree's flowers. Here is more information.

It's pretty much an as-you-like-it curry and it was almost two months ago that I made it so I'll give you the general guidelines about how to make it.

You will need

2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 drumsticks, cut into 2-inch pieces
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Cumin seed - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4-1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder and salt to taste
Oil - 1-2 tsp

In a pan, heat 1-2 tsp of oil.

Pop the mustard and then the cumin.

Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat till pulpy.

Now add the spices and cook a little more.

Ensure the tomato isn't drying up - if need be, add some water.

Then add the drumstick pieces, mix well, add just 1/4 cup water if there isn't any already in the pan, cover and cook till insides are soft.

Chew to your heart's content once it's done. My mother's grandfather is supposed to have chewed them so long and hard, with such relish, that they were bleached white!

One more way to cook them.

This goes off to Chriesi at Almond Corner who's hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, now run by Haalo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Muddapappu For MLLA - A Guest Post

Friend, shoulder and guide. Literally, she's all three of them - never fails to listen when I rant and whine and took me on a day-long walking tour of New York city in 2009. When Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook invited me to write for her special anniversary event to commemorate MLLA which is entering Year 4 this month, I was only too happy to say yes.

I'd initially thought of posting this for various events but it somehow seems fitting that I never got around to doing it all these years - maybe it deserved a better effort and a bigger showcase and I'm glad to say it's finally here!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Breakfast & The Battle Of The Wills And The Won'ts

In my ideal world, my ideal breakfast would be waiting for me at my table at 7 a.m., but since little about my world is ideal, next best will have to do. I wake up at around 7.30 and get out of bed an hour later - the hour between is spent willing myself to go to sleep; willing the doorbell not to ring; willing work chores to not crowd my mind; willing The Spouse not to make even the slightest noise as he moves around the house on his way to work; and sometimes even willing S, who helps me with the work around the house, to not turn up on time so I could sleep a little longer, and willing the world not to crowd into my consciousness during the extra time I hope to sleep after 8.30.

Naturally, all this willing needs an extraordinary amount of will power which won't happen if I sleep, so needless to say, I rarely go back to sleep, and am groggy, tired and unhappy when I finally open the door for S. Then we load the washing machine if The Spouse hasn't already done so and I set about the cooking. So you see, amidst the vegetables to be peeled, chopped and diced, the dal to be soaked and all this to be done before S leaves in the next couple of hours, there's very little time for breakfast.

One of the breakfasts I've come up with is a cheese slice melting over a fried egg. It's that simple. Spray some oil onto a griddle. Heat it and crack an egg on it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn it over - I don't like runny yolk. Then put a slice of cheese on top and add a wee bit of salt and red chilli powder.

You can add an egg to this too. I haven't tried frying an egg atop a piece of bread - it will probably cook due to the heat on the bread and the heat underneath the bread if the stove is still turned on. Or you could take the less adventurous way out and simply top the bread with the egg and cheese assemblage.

Friday, July 01, 2011

My Mug Shot & Masala Chai - Of Chalks & Chopsticks

Really, she didn’t deserve these mugs. Such pretty, sunny possessions they were, too, and how she abused them!

She had a philosophy - something she had evolved to curb reckless spending. It went like this, and she never tired of hearing her own voice dispensing this exquisite piece of advice: If you like something you see, move away from it. Only if it haunts you, go back and buy it. If it’s not there, well, it was never meant to be yours.

How often had she said this to people, with such conviction that no one dared find it funny. She couldn’t control her impulse, however, when she noticed these at the crafts festival, and justified the expensive buys telling herself she needed it, otherwise she wouldn’t want them so much. (Now, had she just hit upon the converse of the other philosophy? And that reminded her, how long had it been since she had thought of that word - converse - now where had she come across it last, in school, Maths? Physics? …)

Both were hand-crafted. The one with the lattice pattern on the rim was an antique too! How many years had she dreamed of taking a day off from work and sitting by that quiet, sunny corner with a fine cup of tea and a book? She would sip her tea, savour every swallow, pause to read a few paragraphs, sip some more. Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper would all meld with sugar, milk and tea leaves to form a harmonious whole that yet retained the individual flavours. (Now had she picked up that line from somewhere or was it her own? Didn’t she sound like an advertisement, or worse, like a food blog which made everything sound exotic?)

Hadn’t she wanted each sip to remind her of her home in a dusty town in North India, which she had at first been so glad to leave behind but missed desperately later? And hadn’t she found a less tasty but acceptable version outside her office in another city further South - ginger was the more predominant taste; after all, one couldn’t expect a poor South Indian hawker to realise the importance of the right proportions of spices or to buy good amounts of those costly commodities!

Anil Chai, or so she thought of the masala tea vendor, shared space with a sugarcane juicer and she’d watch, appalled yet fascinated, as the flies milled around the machine, which snapped up the sugarcane stalks and threw them out in a smooth movement as quickly. “Ganne ka ras, with essence of fly,” she had remarked to herself often, even as the machine operator filled the green extract into dirty and dull glasses, added some lime juice and chopped ginger and served it to waiting customers. She wouldn’t ever drink that juice off the streets, nor ever in these mugs, no, the very memory would sully them!

But she had besmirched them. The mugs had held fond fancies, but she had squashed them with her penchant for practicality. Didn’t find a glass to mix her smelly Ayurvedic medicines in? Resort to the mugs. Didn’t find another mug to bake her one-minute microwave chocolate cake in? Use these. Didn’t feel like extricating a soup plate from the crockery cupboard? Pick one of these off the kitchen counter, fill it and heat it up in the microwave, never mind that she hadn’t enquired whether 200-year old mugs could be heated so! No wonder the antique one was acquiring a yellow cast - must be all that turmeric from the curries and Indian soups she was heating up all the time. In her case, a one-pot meal involved putting a few tablespoons of rice into dal or curry heated in the mug and eaten with a long-stemmed spoon in front of the TV. Constipated? Drink mugs and mugs of hot water, alternating between the two.

Enough! She’d had enough! She’d wallowed enough. Practical she was and what she had done with the mugs all along was extract value for the money she paid for them. It was time for romance.

She rose from the bed and made her way to the kitchen. Out came a new scrubber. She wet it and washed the mugs vigorously with liquid detergent till they were odorless to satisfaction. Henceforth this scrubber would be dedicated to these two mugs.

She moved towards a shelf and reached for some jars - whole spices, some of the finest Assam, sugar. Milk came from the refrigerator. Her stone mortar and pestle were waiting - she ground the spices as fine as she could, not minding her aching arms. She boiled the water and the milk, added the rest of the ingredients and boiled some more. She turned off the heat. Now she would strain the tea into not one but both mugs, take herself over to her window and live her fantasy!


There, I've done it, met the deadline when I thought I would fail badly. This story is going off to the food fiction event Of Chalks & Chopsticks, hosted by Bong Mom and created by Aqua.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Chalks And Chopsticks - The Round-Up

We made an attempt to revive Of Chalks & Chopsticks last month. As I expected, Sandeepa, Jaya and Aqua, the creator of the event, joined in and we have a bouquet of four stories for you. This event was an event with a difference - Jaya's idea - of having a photo or a line or a phrase to be used in the food fiction the blogger came up with.

I had a photo ready - and I put it up. Here it is:

Bong Mom was the first to post:

"They ask me, "If your wife is a food blogger, why do you do all the cooking in the house?" "Arre Baba, I only cook dal, rice and chicken curry, my wife she makes rhubarb clafoutis," I tell them. Those moron neighbors look at me like they have never heard of rhubarb. People can be so closed and backward in this part of India, it is like you are in the forests of Congo or something."

Read the full rib-tickling story of a blogger and her husband here.

Jaya wrote hers just a little later:

"She had grown up on the omelets her dad made, with onions, bell peppers, green chilis and cilantro. Her mom had insisted he put a pinch of turmeric, cumin seeds and a little bit of grated ginger to the eggs. It added a whole new dimension to the eggs, a taste she could never find in the omelets served in American breakfast restaurants. Her mother-in-law found the omelets so bland, she would douse them with tobasco sauce and even then, she thought the pale yellow omelet hadn’t been fully cooked."

Read her exposition on omelettes, Indian-style, here.

Aqua, who had to take some time off blogging, posted yesterday:

"Ma, in the meantime, had finished her marathon cooking session and walked out at exactly the moment that papa clicked the strawberries.
"Look at him, taking pictures of everything in this house except mine." "

A familiar scene to many of us, and we might grow into it, too. Read about this relationship here.

And here's mine:

"Once an experiment with milk and guava had gone wrong and they had been forced to taste some guava payasam, watery and flavoured with cardamom. Not since his parents died had he shed tears, but on that day, he did. It was awful. He and his wife hadn't been able to discern if the milk had curdled or the ground guava lent it that appearance."

Read the full story of a well-meaning, cooking enthusiast daughter and her I-can't-take-it-no-more father here.


Here is the promised fifth link to Haritha.

Bong Mom is hosting this month's edition of Of Chalks & Chopsticks. Head there to find out how to participate if you haven't already!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yegg Fried Rice (Andhra Style, i.e.)

Sometimes, when life seems really bleak, you should reach deep into your being and you will realise that deep within you lie wonderful reserves of strength. All that you want is within you, you need not look outside.

Translation: Sometimes, when you don't have any energy but have to come up with the minimum, look into your crisper - you may find a box of curry leaves.

On the way back from work, I wanted to buying a biriyani for dinner but the thought began to smell too sharp and spicy, so much so I felt nauseated and smothered, so I abandoned it and schooled myself to make do with this egg fried rice. It was quick fix enough to be unhealthy as it contained no vegetables and the only fibre of any consequence there was a handful of curry leaves. Nevertheless, I would recommend the rice that you see above.

What you need:

2 eggs, beaten well, with a little salt. (Scramble them or make an omelette and cut it into small pieces.)
2 cups cooked rice
2 -3 tsp sambaar kaaram - this is a garlicky chilli powder that has some coriander, fenugreek, cumin and black gram, so try adding all these if you don't have a spice mix that approximates this
10-12 curry leaves.
Salt to taste
Oil - 2-3 spoons

Heat the oil in a wide pan on low heat. Add the curry leaves and then the chilli powder. Heat it but make sure it doesn't burn.

Now add the rice and mix it with the chilli powder and oil till it's all evenly coated.

Add the salt.

Now add the prepared egg and mix well once again.

Switch off the stove, pile it into a bowl or a plate and tuck in.

This is the fourth of the promised five links to Haritha.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Of Unusual Combinations, and Of Chalks and Chopsticks

The granite tabletop was satiny and cool to the touch. It was one of a few expensive acquisitions he had made recently. He had decided to be less careful and finally enjoy some of the money he had made. Another treat he had bought himself was a 40-inch, full HD, LCD TV.

The treats extended to the smaller and finer things in life too. Most of the food that he had enjoyed in New York 40 years ago was now available in the shiny new supermarkets that had invaded the smallish city he had returned to, in the last six or seven years. Modern retail, they called it. And indeed! What a difference from stopping by the road at a heap of papayas or mangoes spread on the dust and choosing the cleanest one. Or having to negotiate a crowded market where one kept bumping into someone else because the paths were so small. He and his wife could not stop buying their daily needs and luxuries in these places. After a weary day at work, this was what they looked forward to - buying bottlegourd and coriander in air-conditioned interiors. And if the price they had to pay for it was a not so fresh bunch of onions and potatoes, so be it. It didn't matter much.

His daughter was always protesting - she would say that in her many years of living in a bigger city with much older, more evolved stores, the best vegetables were to be found at the neighbourhood greengrocer who sold his wares out of a shack. And he didn't think she bought any of those lovely American and Chinese apples that were to be found throughout the year now - she looked down her nose at them quoting pesticides and unseasonality and professed some sympathy for 'those poor apple farmers' in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, and had even lectured the salesman on relegating the Indian apples to a hot and dusty corner of the store while tending to the foreign ones on chilled shelves.

Oh well! One man's meat is another man's poison, he told himself philosphically, removing the strawberries from the refrigerator. The daughter had promised to make strawberry mousse but knowing her, it could well end up as strawberry salad - she was a lazy lump. After weeks of luring him with pizza, she had presented him with a cowpat.

"I thought you were making pizza," he had told her, laughing to hide his disappointment. "Why do you have a cowpat inside the house?" "Very funny, Dad," she had replied, "this IS the pizza. Burnt. I told you I didn't know how to operate a microwave." She didn't. She had refused their offer to buy her one. Well, at least since the cowpat pizza, she had bought a microwave. (Though she didn't make pizza.)

His wife saw him fiddling with the strawberries and said, "Now what?" "She's promised to make mousse," he said. She looked at him scornfully and they started laughing - their daughter's experiments with cooking were legion. The stuff of legend, nay, nightmare. Rarely would anything end up in the intended form. Once an experiment with milk and guava had gone wrong and they had been forced to taste some guava payasam, watery and flavoured with cardamom. Not since his parents died had he shed tears, but on that day, he did. It was awful. He and his wife hadn't been able to discern if the milk had curdled or the ground guava lent it that appearance. They didn't enjoy having to feel bits of the seed on their tongue. It had been so hard to sneak into the kitchen and pour it down the drain with his daughter whizzing in and out of the kitchen with bowls and spoons. Didn't they raise that girl to have taste, if nothing else? How could she create something like that and be cheerful about it?

In came the daughter with some fresh red chillies. "Don't tell me those are going into the strawberries," he said. "They are, Dad, the dish will be redder," she said.
"But just give me some ordinary mousse, the straightforward, no-frills kind I got in the deli in New York all those years ago. I don't want a Cordon Bleu version."
"Don't be silly, Dad. Who has the patience to seed them? I'm making strawberry chutney. I don't have the patience to whip cream and soak the gelatine and all that nonsense."
He wasn't disappointed. Really, he had expected this. But chutney?
"And how do you propose to make the chutney?"
"Simple," she said. "All those strawberries, some soaked tamarind, fresh red chillies and garlic fried, a cup of grated, fresh coconut all whizzed in the mixie together. Seasoned with salt and tempered with the usual mustard, cumin, urad dal (black gram) and curry leaf in oil."
"Really, Dad! My friend's mother, who lives in Mahabaleshwar ... she owns a strawberry farm, I've got the recipe from her and I've tweaked it. And to make it interesting, we can add a couple of pieces of bittergourd too. Listen, Dad, after we make the chutney, let's take a photo with your camera. When I get my food blog going, it will be the first post, and it's a really unusual recipe."

He felt, knew, he had to stem the tide before it got out of hand. Open-mindedness was one thing, waste and bad taste were another. God knew he had put up with enough experimentation. If he were to be God's vessel for South Indian strawberry chutney, he'd have taken to the idea better, he was sure. And what was this girl saying about a food blog? Did she really think she would be read? Could he stand by and watch her inflict her madness on an unsuspecting bunch of foodies? He glanced at his wife, who was watching her TV soap with a beatific expression on her face. No sympathy from those quarters, for sure. She would just tell him that it was all his fault for having food on his mind all the time, and for raising another foodie, and one with a twisted sense of taste at that ...

He rolled out a red mat and spread it on the table. He placed a porcelain bowl and the strawberries on it. He called his daughter. Seeing the camera in his hand, she said, "Oh wonderful, Dad! So we're doing step-by-step photos. One, of the strawberries intact, one when they're being sliced, one in the mixer, one with some chutney in a ladle over the mixer jar and so on, and then the final product. That's what many successful bloggers do."

"Didn't I see some cream in the fridge? Bring it here."

"But, Dad, cream in a chutney?"

"I don't see why not. We're pairing strawberries with cumin and urad dal too, aren't we? But no, you're not making chutney, I have a better idea."


"A classic. Strawberries and cream. And I'll relive the time I went to Wimbledon. I'm going to watch tennis with a bowl of this in my hand. This is the last batch of strawberries in season!"

"But it's the French Open that's on now!"

"Doesn't matter, dear! 'Tis the spirit that counts! And what's wrong with starting your blog with a classic recipe?"

She pouted.

"I ate your guava payasam, your papaya-fish soup and I was even prepared to eat your cowpat pizza. Don't you think we can eat something traditional once in a while?"

She started to protest, but the look of abject despair in her father's eyes was too much to bear. She really shouldn't complain, her parents tried their best to be appreciative of her efforts. So what if the idea of strawberry chutney was anathema? Let him have his way today. In any case, these chocolate fiends would find it hard to resist her Belgian cauliflower fudge chilling in her aunt's refrigerator as a surprise for their wedding anniversary tomorrow.

My entry to the event I'm hosting, created by Aqua.

And here's the third link to Haritha for guessing the curry leaf berries right.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Shape Of Puddings To Come

This past week, weird and unlikely things happened to me.

I saw (and ate) green chaklis

A khakra arranged itself like the crescent moon

My niece told me she wanted a "snake cake" for her third birthday and certain promises (from the tailor, the electrician) were kept. I wanted to not go to work at least one day this week but kept accepting various assignments that came my way, despite myself. I also made fair use of two mangoes that The Spouse bought the previous week.

The skin of one of them was just beginning to pucker so I told him to put them on the dining table so that we couldn't miss them when we walked in from work. Increasingly, the thought of merely peeling, slicing and dicing them and eating them as a pre-good night's sleep snack in a cool air-conditioned room seemed less appealing than a hot morning spent making mango payasam. (I have a sadomasochistic streak, I suppose.)

Over that sleepless night, though, I discovered I didn't really want to make mango payasam if it involved looking up recipes, measures, proportions and the rest of that stuff. I did try, half-heartedly, but gave up soon enough. After all, what was the guarantee that I'd have all the ingredients? I wanted to use up the tin of condensed milk that I have but I really didn't feel like braving a rice and mango combination in oversweet milk, nor did I want to wrestle with the thought of how much ordinary milk I should use and how I should use the rest of the condensed milk because the recipes didn't call for an entire tin.

But there was Mikcee and it has been rather neglected since I bought it a month ago. A mikcee being used just four times in a month in a South Indian home? Shameful! A new mikcee at that? Shameful and worse! It was time I gave it its due.

But I wasn't done with the payasam yearning just yet. All these confused feelings - thrift (use up mangoes, condensed milk, mikcee), craving (dessert, Indian flavour) and novelty (it had to be different) culminated in this ... pudding, shall we call it? Glop is more like it but that's what happened after it stayed in the fridge for hours - when I beat it in the mikcee, it attained this pneumatic, souffle-like quality that had me wonder at my unlikely and rare potential for serendipitous happenings. (If only I knew it was going to be shortlived and fall flat, I wouldn't have wasted any grey cells marvelling and feeling grateful.)

Glop connotes something unappetising but this isn't so boring, and it was tasty, and it is summer and you should have mango-something, so here's how you go about it:

Milk: 1/2 litre (500 ml)
Mango pulp: 1 cup
Sugar: 4 tbsp
Semolina/Rava/sooji: 1-2 tbsp
Ghee/clarified butter: 1-2 tsp
Cardamom: 1, heated and crushed/powdered

Boil the milk well. Turn the heat down completely, stir in the sugar and let it dissolve.

Meanwhile, heat the ghee and fry the semolina lightly. Turn off the heat and add this to the milk. Mix well but gently till milk thickens. Add the cardamom/powder.

Turn off the heat and cool it completely.

Add the mango pulp to the milk-semolina mixture and whiz in the mixer.


By the way, did you notice the mango shape inside the green chakli? Quite season- and situation-appropriate, don't you think?

Here's the second of the promised five links to Haritha's blog. (I know, I missed out three posts in between, but I don't think it's fair to retrofit them into old posts.)

Don't forget Of Chalks and Chopsticks - get that imagination working and send me your entries by May 31.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Slap of Paneer & How I Moved My Cheese - Again

Recently, I got a new mikcee. A no-frills, three-jar affair which doesn't even have a jooser. As fate would have it, I've used it very little in the three weeks since I bought it.

A few days later, during my weekly shopping for vegetables, I saw nicely sliced jikini in the store - this store cuts and packs some vegetables everyday but as I almost always go there on Sunday evening, I rayrely buy them as I no longer like to store them in the fridge for whenever I next cook, which could be too days later or five days later. This time, I couldn't help myself, I bought the pack.

I also had a slap of paneer, a couple of carrots and I don't remember what else, the photo may offer some cluse.

I had coriander and I knew there were some kashyoos in the fridge. I had also seen some fresh red chiles in the store so those were there too.

So I desided to make a miksed vegetable currry - and I could test the mikcee too. After all, hadn't I bought it after a lot of research - all the Internet opinion slammed it but real-world opinion was dayametrically opposite so I went for it.

Mixed Up Paneer And Vegetable Curry

Paneer/Cottage Cheese, cubed - 250 gm
Zucchini, diced - 2 cups
Carrots, diced - less than a cup

Cumin - 1 tsp
Oil - 2 tsp
Salt - To taste

Grind the following to a fine paste with a little water (only as much as you want):
Coriander - 1/2 a cup
Cashewnuts - 10-12/a fistful, soaked for a little while
Fresh red chillies - 2

Heat the oil and pop the cumin.

Lightly fry the paneer and then add the zucchini and carrot. Saute for a couple of minutes

Turn the heat down, sprinkle a little water and cover and let it cook till done (but I wouldn't want my zucchini to be shapeless).

Then, add the salt and the ground paste/liquid, whatever it has become.

Turn the heat up just a tad, mix well and simmer for a minute or two.


Don't forget Of Chalks and Chopsticks - get that imagination working and send me your entries by May 31.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Of Facts, Fiction, Food, Chalks & Chopsticks

In the last few months, a few things happened that were rather stranger than fiction: Long-ago people I was busily and blithely investigating on the Internet got in touch; The Spouse misplaced his mobile phone only to find it on the slope of his car roof, after a 45-minute journey; and for the first time ever, in my entire life, someone told me I looked like the Telugu film heroines of yesteryear. I exchanged my 8-year-old-but-mint-condition fancy food processor for Rs 900 off on a no-frills mixie and wondered if it would ever forgive me for sending it away and almost checked it to see if it was shedding tears. It may be inanimate but couldn't it not have soul?

I'm sure I'm deeply empathetic and highly sensitive but when these qualities cross over into physics and metaphysics, I know it's high time I stuck to something more real. Like rolling up my sleeves and making a better effort at my blog posts, which have been less voluble and more infrequent. I've been missing Of Chalks & Chopsticks, the food fiction event that was Aqua's idea. Some discussion with her, Desi Soccer Mom and BongMom yielded an enthusiastic response and another idea - how about giving participants a picture, or a set of words that can be used in the story they are going to write?

So here it is: This is the picture that you will use for your story. It's up to you to use it or not in your post, but if you do, please mention that it's mine. It's my photo and the copyright to it is mine.

And here are some more rules, most of them copied from Aqua's page:

1. Spin us a yarn - an original one. It could either be based on a real incident or could be something competely imaginary. Explore any genre: humour, romance, mystery, paranormal etc.

2. The story you write has to have some food - it doesn't have to be a recipe.

3. There is no word limit on the story you write, but it has to be written in one single post.

4. Posts written for this event CAN be shared with other events.

5. Please link to this post and Aqua's original post mentioned above.

Post your story and the recipe between now and May 31 and mail it to me at: srablog (at)gmail(dot)com

Include the following details in your mail:

1. Name and URL of your blog

2. Title and URL of your post

I have a reputation for being a strict host and I fully intend to maintain it, so if you have any questions about the event, please leave a comment here, I will answer it and clarify the rules if need be. Happy imagining!

And here's the second of my five promised links to Haritha.