Monday, December 18, 2017

A Toast To Sweet Potato

Just this morning, I discovered that #sweetpotatotoast (that's Sweet Potato Toast) is a thing. I'm trying to scroll down the Instagram feed of some 13,000 posts to see when the fad began but I still haven't gotten past posts on it from the last week of November. For me, it was a serendipitous discovery last year that simply some cinnamon sprinkled on sweet potato slices could replicate the smell and taste of French Toast. I'm no nutritionist but I do know that sweet potato has a lot of vitamins and fibre and is one of the healthiest foods. I went looking for a comparison with bread and I found this.

 I had this brainwave sometime last year when sweet potato was in season. I think I was looking at desserts made with sweet potato, but as usual, I lost interest, probably because there were too many ingredients I would have to buy just for this, and left it to languish in the vegetable basket. Then when my conscience nudged me, I baked it or pressure cooked it - I really don't remember now - and sprinkled it with cinnamon. And the strangest thing happened - the smell of my grandmother's French Toast arose in my kitchen. She used to make it for breakfast often when I was a child, with bakery bread that came in thicker slices than today. I've never been able to replicate the taste. I even took it to work and shared it with a couple of colleagues who liked it.

My method

This time, I simply steamed the sweet potato in a colander over a pan of water that was boiling something else.

I peeled and sliced it, put it on an oiled tava/skillet, and let it cook on both sides, adding a few drops of extra oil whenever I felt the slices would begin to burn.

Once they are crisp and brown around the edges, sprinkle a tiny bit of salt and some powdered cinnamon, let sizzle, pause for a few seconds. Turn them over. Repeat.

I've even got step-by-step photos for you below (from bottom upwards)!

I'm not recommending any amount - I went with pinches of cinnamon till I arrived at the taste I liked. A few slices make a great mid-workday snack.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Lazy Beans, Cool Beans

I came up with the idea for these beans on a lazy Saturday. Now when I say lazy Saturday, don't for one minute think the Saturday was one when i lazed about the house. (Recently, all my plans to laze about the house and watch nothing but travel and food shows on TV are coming to naught for some reason or the other.) Oh no, it was a day a friend was coming for lunch, and I had drawn up a decent list of things to make for her. However, I didn't feel up to slaving over the stove for long, and one of the things I made was a brainwave - from years of Internet exposure to whole cooked beans, I suppose. No topping, tailing, chopping, none of that tiresome stuff. However, the poppy seed addition was my idea. Their appeal is mostly visual, but tell me, how often don't we look for style over substance. (And the substance here is not half bad!)

"Cool beans!" is an expression a young friend of mine uses, fairly new to me, but Urban Dictionary tells me it's been around since the Sixties, and is used to describe something very favourable or pleasing. It fits this dish well.

Here's the no-fuss recipe where I didn't bother with measurement or proportion.

Wash green beans well.

Pressure cook them with just a little water, don't immerse them. One whistle will do. (Alternatively, boil them for a couple of minutes.)

Open cooker, and plunge the beans in cold water. Leave to drip in a colander.

Heat some olive oil, saute the beans for a minute or two. The important thing is to ensure they don't turn colour.

Add some crushed/ slivered almonds, mix, and let cook for half-a-minute.

Throw in a very small fistful of poppy seeds, some salt, mix once again, warm through, and you're done!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Carrots for Curry

Don't you like these carrots? I grew, nay, drew them myself, and when I found out I couldn't colour them in Paint for some reason, I altered them to look all beta-carotene-y in an app on my phone. It's a good way to illustrate a blog post when there is no photograph of the actual food. Of course, this has no resemblance to the finished product, but I'm so thrilled I thought of it. It's certainly better than my photography!

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at my friend's place, feeling low and worked up. She called me over for lunch to divert my attention and I ended up infecting her with my sadness. But this was after lunch, for which she had made the most amazing cauliflower roast (with gram flour and a bit of ground rice to make it crisp), sambar and a beetroot-green gram stir-fry. She said carrot could be used instead of beetroot, and I've tasted similar stuff she's made with greens as well. So the following week I made this stir-fry/curry with carrot at my place. My grandmother would use green gram with raw banana to make a stir-fry. I should make that next.

There are many recipes on the Internet for this. Here's mine:

Carrots, diced: 1 cup
Onion, chopped: 1
Green gram/moong dal, soaked for a while: A big fistful
Green chillies, slit: 2-3
Salt (I used 1/2 tsp)
Oil: 1-2 tsp
To temper: 1/2 tsp each of mustard and cumin; 5-6 curry leaves; 1 broken red chilli

Heat the oil, add the mustard, let it pop, then add the other ingredients. They will splutter right away, so once they do that, add the onions and green chillies and fry them for a couple of minutes. Then add the carrots and the gram, cover and cook till softer. Add the salt and cook a little more. Take it off the heat. Garnish with coriander, if you like.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Upholding Upma

Upma is making national headlines - and I am cashing in on it to come out of blogging hibernation. An innocuous comment by a film director on his love for upma - that it deserves to be the national dish - stirred a news channel to rage, chef, nutritionist and reporters in tow, whether it wasn't culinary chauvinism to make such a demand. I saw it a day later on YouTube, but I hear it ran on prime time. The outrage and the self-righteous discussion made me laugh out loud. Whether news channels are losing their sense of humour and proportion is a debate I will leave to other fora, but let me hereby reaffirm my love and affection for this blob of nourishment which sustains many of us on days when there is no time or energy for the preparation of better nutrition.

How much simpler can a dish be? Just a couple of spoons of oil, a tempering of mustard, urad and chana dal, ginger, green or red chillies, whichever is at hand, curry leaves to add zing, if you have them, water, salt and semonlina/rava. That's all you need. Add plump cashewnuts for oomph. Onions for taste. All done in less than 10 minutes. With enough lubrication or enough moisture (oil or water), its journey is a smooth glide down your throat. Not for me chutney or sambar or powder or even lime juice as an accompaniment. Try squeezing the chillies in it lightly to release the bits of upma trapped in them - that's heavenly, if you like some heat.

A few months ago, I met a friend from college at her hotel for breakfast. Both of us ordered upma, room service. It came, unctuous, glistening, crunchy with well-fried dal. We lapped it up as we rehashed old memories, gossiped and exchanged notes about growing older. The years melted away. Laughter and upma filled our heart and soul. That day, upma was extra-special.

Upma is as unpopular as it's popular, I know. But I'm one of those who love it. It's easy to make, fulfilling, elemental. It's easy to enhance too - bathe it in tomatoes and it becomes 'tomato bath', add more nutrition by adding chopped vegetables, using quinoa or millets instead of semolina, use buttermilk or curds to cook it,  or add mushroom, chicken stock and coconut milk to recreate a $100,000 prize-winning version. That sounds like something I would draw the line at, truth be told, but then I haven't tried it. I haven't ever eaten it with sugar, a popular accompaniment. I don't intend to start now. Give me the good ol' classic version any day! I would even recommend it to be the national dish of the world!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Delhi Belly, Daulat ki Chaat and A Decade of Blogging

Best wishes for the new year!

It's the beginning of a new year today. Another round of hope for happiness, goals and milestones begins anew. I had a significant milestone last year. Is it a sign of maturity that I haven't celebrated my tenth blog anniversary? It was in September. It would be so marvellous to be detached from such milestones, but I suspect it's more of dullness and less of detachment that has me blogging less and less. I keep wishing fervently every year that this blog could go back to its heyday, but the rest of life seems to have gotten in the way in the last few years. Over the last one-and-a-quarter years, I've had a new hobby as well - I've been dabbling in art, you see the result above - and that has consumed a lot of my free time. I have also been cooking less and less, and trying to cut down on eating out.

Some of the life that got in the way was pleasant. It involved some travel, mostly to familiar pastures, but also to Taiwan, which I visited in 2010, and most recently a trip to Delhi. It resulted in me making something I thought was blogworthy. I went there on work and had half a day ahead of the day-long workshop I had to attend. I hoped to visit the famous Paranthewali Gali in Chandni Chowk and a friend's pictures of her own trip to the place where she had the famous Daulat ki Chaat jogged my memory of this confection.

I remember reading about it as Nimish from Lucknow. It's made with milk and the dew that settles on it in winter nights. I have never made it to Lucknow and don't see myself doing so anytime soon, but I'm glad to have had this version. I heard that the Daulat ki Chaat would not be available after 11 am. I knew I would probably have such disappointments so it wasn't a disappointment - my maturity kicking in, you see - but my friend who lives there said she would take me to Paranthewali Gali anyway. I had done no research as my trip to Delhi was short and my schedule unclear till the last minute so I was happy to wind my way through Chandni Chowk's narrow streets and absorb the sights and sounds.

As soon as we disembarked from the car and approached PG, what confronted us but a vendor with a huge container of Daulat ki Chaat!

I've been reading that the genuine thing is very difficult to find nowadays, and that cream of tartar or hydrogenated fats are used to retain its light and airy consistency. My knowledge of science is rudimentary but even I can understand that something that is made with dew can't last as the sun shines high and bright. Well, that's what I have deduced. It will flop - and when my friend's husband passed on the information that Daulat ki Chaat would not be sold after 11 a m, I thought that was the reason why. We probably had the modern, engineered-to-stay version, but I am glad that I did. It was really of a delicate consistency, creamy and sugared just right and garnished/mixed with nuts.

I took this picture for the signboard saying Parathewali Gali. I did not buy or eat anything at this store.

As for the paranthas, I had a bhendi parantha for the first time ever. I had never even thought it could be used for a filling. I also had a peas paratha and a green chilly paratha. I loved the mustardy, pickled vegetables that were dumped in bowls on the tables. The parathas we got were served with a potato curry and a pumpkin curry, along with a few pieces of banana in a jaggery-chilli powder syrup.

Nankhatai, I'm told. So different from the ones in the bakery!
The day after the workshop was a Saturday. I didn't have to work so I spent the day with my friend. She took me on a short walk through her locality. She lives at the end of a lane that opens out on to a busy road overtaken by the Great Delhi Metro, but the other end and further up was so peacefully small-town I could easily have forgotten I was in India's capital city.

For perhaps only the second time in my life I saw hara channa/choliya, and brought back some to cook. My friend said I could freeze them too, for later use. Well, I froze half of them, and converted the rest of them into this

Choliya and potato curry
As usually happens when I am impatient to get on with a culinary discovery, I chose, shed and fused elements of several recipes to come up with this gravy. I cannot find any of those recipes now, I even searched History on my computer but it isn't helping. Most of those recipes contained tomatoes and no potatoes, while I had no tomatoes and several potatoes. I used curds for the tang. I came up with a gravy of intermediate thickness but ate is as soup.

In a pressure cooker or pan


3 chopped onions

in 2 tsp of oil

I can't remember if I added ginger-garlic paste, but add it now, after the onions have wilted.


1/2 a tsp of turmeric
1-2 tsp of coriander or cumin powder
1 tsp of red chilli powder

and fry.

Add 2-3 diced potatoes, 250-300 gm of green/ hara channa/choliya and salt. Mix well.

Add water to cover the vegetables. Close the pressure cooker. Let it whistle 4-5 times before you switch off the flame. Let the pressure drop on its own before opening it.

If the gravy is too thin, mash a few pieces of the potato into the gravy and cook a little longer without the lid till some of the liquid evaporates/thickens.

Top with 1/2 a tsp of garam masala.

Confession: I don't know if I used cumin or coriander powder. My sense of smell failed me.