Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Retrospect

My posts and memes have said quite a bit about my blog and me, and have even had the odd reader tell me that they’d “observed that you wrote all about yourself” so when it comes to doing a Best of 2007 post, I’m rather wary of having to face that comment again.

But I WILL participate for one reason – true to exasperating form, I cheered lustily for this event (and as usual found myself unable to make the time for it and now time is running out rapidly and my enthusiastic cheerleading mocks me from its place on Nupur’s blog where this event was announced).

I’ve thought short and hard of where my blog went this year and what I want it to do next year and I regret to announce I don’t have anything very lofty to share – I want to have more fun and become more popular. Yes, I actually said that, what nerve (and how shameless, I can hear some of you say)! And a little voice in my head tells me, beware, you may actually get what you wish for! But hopefully, that's a story that will never come to pass, and it's a year away.

Now is there anything I want to do for others, my readers? Yes, many of you who have cared to comment said that my posts have often made you smile, and I wish to do that over and over, with every single post. Truth be told, I visit the blogs I do because I enjoy the sharing of life, the humour, the fun, and often empathise with the tears. The recipes are secondary, and I always feel a pang when I’m introduced as someone having a “cookery web site”. Oh well, can’t expect the whole world to see what you want it to!

I’ve taken more pride in my writing than in my photographs and I suppose that’s one thing I would like to change – I want to make more time for my photographs. I usually don’t fuss with accessories and place settings and stuff for the photos, and I don’t much want to, given that the more I have, the more space they take up, so I’ll have to find a way to deal with that.

I also haven’t made much time to investigate or research the recipes I present – in the form of links to other sources about them/the ingredients. That’s something I hope to remedy.

I haven’t participated in as many events as I’d like for various reasons – time, diet considerations and lack of space in the refrigerator – I do want to change this, but I’m not sure how just at the moment.

Here are what I think are my best posts. Best encompasses not only what I enjoyed writing, cooking and photographing but those that seemed to be popular with others, not just going by the number of comments and traffic they attracted but by the intensity of feelings expressed in the reactions.

Some of them are recipes, few are comment and rant, some others are memories and nostalgia.

Foodwise in India

This found a lot of empathy, despite the Gawd-what-a-post! reactions.

The all-important milestone

A rare find

A good-looking dish

A post that struck a chord

Showing off in the summer

Another rare find (a dessert on my blog, that is)

So on that sweet, sinful note, I bid you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Oh, and how could I not mention this milestone, preparing carefully for its moment in the sun - stay tuned!

Friday, December 21, 2007

A recipe and a reminder

Remind me to never, ever fry paneer. I never do, even when it's recommended, but did that in the interests of authenticity as I make Kashmiri dishes so rarely, but it just made the entire thing rubbery even though I kept it soaked in some water.

Even a half measure like shallow-frying it robbed it of its texture, something The Spouse demonstrated long ago. But the gravy was quite a scorcher if you could discount the oily blobs that overran it. This is my third Grindless Gravy for the event, and it just makes the deadline. What's happening with your entries? If they're sitting in your drafts, please rush them as the deadline ends today.

On to the recipe now, adapted from The Pleasures of Kashmiri Cookery by Anu Wakhlu.

Cottage Cheese/Paneer - 500 gm, cut into 3-cm squares.
Red Chilli Powder - 1 tbsp
Aniseed Powder - 1 tbsp
Ginger Powder/Sonth - 1/2 tbsp
Curds/Yoghurt - 2 tbsp, beaten
Black Cardamom/Badi Elaichi - 2
Regular Cardamom (Green) - 2
Cloves - 3
Peppercorns - 2-3
Bay leaves - 2-3
Oil - 2 tbsp
Water - 2 cups
Salt - to taste

In a pan, heat the oil. Add the red chilli powder and a little water and heat till bright red.

Add the beaten curds and fry for a few minutes. Add all the spices and salt and mix well.

Add 2 cups of water and let it boil.

Add the cottage cheese pieces and cover and cook on a slow fire for about 20 minutes till the gravy thickens.

According to the book, the paneer has to be deep-fried beforehand. Also, once the curry is done, it's finished off with a splash of ghee and shahjeera (caraway) for garnish - I only shallow-fried the paneer, which was bad enough, and didn't have the ghee so didn't use that, or the shahjeera.

PS: Anita has a tip on frying paneer in the comments, take a look.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More from Thailand

I’m away again for a couple of days, hopefully I’ll have some time to tell you my Thailand stories then. For now, here are the rest of the pictures from my trip.

Please keep those entries coming for Grindless Gravies! Dec 22 is the deadline.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's all Thai!

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” _ G. K. Chesterton

As always, places and situations are not what you assume they may be. And I found myself somewhere in the grey zone between a traveler and a tourist, desperately wanting to accept but sometimes unable to. Among other things, one thing I learnt about myself in Thailand last week was that I was less adventurous than I imagined when it came to food. Did the food have to be sanitized and deodorized and presented in the interiors of a plush restaurant to make itself acceptable to me? I hope not; after all, I did try the food off Chiang Mai’s streets _ sausage that was all cloyingly sweet cake in taste and texture, shrimp and squid fries that reeked but were as tasteless as very deep- and long-fried pakoda are wont to be, coconut cakes that smelt and tasted overwhelmingly of coconut, and almost unfamiliar fruit, which were lovely. And in the market, I saw boxes of fried, ribbed creamy worms without flinching.

But all in all, I could have done without that one peculiar smell that assailed me on the street - it was the same in most places, very strong, very sharp and I found myself hurrying past it, holding my breath. After some amount of study, guessing and mulling, I’ve concluded it’s a green leafy vegetable, a combination of coconut and pandan leaf/essence and the cooking medium that did it. What mattered is that it affected Me the Foodie. Now Not So Foodie, and it hurts.

More pictures follow from my trip, but meanwhile, please don’t forget the Grindless Gravies event – the deadline is December 22.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Au Revoir!

The planning took the better part of two months. The holiday is just a week long. Such is life. I hope to be back with a wealth of posts, lots of photos and a waist size that’s no larger than the present. Meanwhile, keep your noses to the grindstone and think up some nice Grindless Gravies for me. All will be acknowledged upon my return.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gravy Drain

It’s not often that life gives you a perfect cauliflower. Lemons it does, in plenty, but not a cauliflower. So when I got one last week, with an unblemished, uniform complexion even at the fag end of the day, I was determined to make the most of it.

As soon as I came home, I did the needful – soaked it in some hot water with a pinch of turmeric and salt, drained it after half an hour, tore it into florets and lovingly stashed it away in the fridge hoping to find a deserving recipe in the next couple of days.

It so transpired that the brown rice I had cooked that day stayed abandoned so when I came upon a Gujarati recipe that called for rice-and-besan patties in a vegetable gravy, I went to bed the day before I made this with fond hopes of my various aims being fulfilled – leftovers used up, several veggies being used up, all nutritious and novel to boot! Plus, it would be another Grindless Gravy!


Next morning saw me add several teaspoons of besan (chick pea flour), way beyond what was prescribed in the recipe, to the rice, after which I was finally able to fashion crudely-shaped patties.

As I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, I wondered if it would be thick enough to qualify for a gravy, but I needn’t have worried, for it did – the besan thickened the water and the one-pot meal was ready! Now let’s see if he can resist this, I told myself, that’ll teach him to reject brown rice.

I reached for my delicately painted but finely cracked porcelain bowl, ladled the gravy into it, took some pictures and then left it on the table while I got ready to go to work.

Back on the table, it's a lovely picture, clean table, lovely dish, fat peas playing peekaboo with the cauliflower and the beans in a rather novel, pale yellow gravy. As I reached for the dish, it split neatly into two, spilling mostly on the napkin that I used to hold the dish, but also on to my newly upholstered dining table chairs – and that, dear readers, is the story of the Gravy Drain!

The recipe I tried to follow was Tarla Dalal’s but I made many, many changes, here it is!

For the patties

Cooked brown rice: 1 cup
Coriander, chopped: 1 tbsp
Besan/Chick pea flour: 8-9 tsp
Green chillies, chopped: 2
Ginger, chopped fine: 1-inch piece
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Oil: 1 tbsp
Salt to taste

Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Asafoetida/hing: ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Oil: 1 tbsp

French beans, chopped: 3/4 cup
Cauliflower florets: ¾ cup
Green peas: ¾ cup
Coriander, chopped: 2 tbsp

Patties: Combine all the ingredients to form a soft dough.

Divide into 15-20 equal portions and roll out into rounds. Keep aside. (They wouldn’t roll out for me, so I just used my hands to pat them into shape.)

Heat oil, pop mustard, asafoetida, turmeric powder, chilli powder and 4 cups of water.

Add all the veggies and salt. Simmer till they are cooked.

Increase the flame and add the patties one at a time.

Simmer for 10-12 minutes till they are firm.

Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander.

Keep those entries coming for Grindless Gravies! Details here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On The Gravy Train

There was gravy drain too, but more about that in the next post!

As I found out, this is another great pantry cleaner – take some odds and ends, vegetably speaking, dress up some coconut milk and you have a great curry. I had some potatoes that were sprouting; sweet potatoes, all twisty and runt-like to begin with that steadily shrivelled with each passing day; a portion of the cauliflower that I had used the greater part of in the gravy drain and some beans.

Now, all I needed was some carrot to give it a bit of colour but seeing as some had gone to pot in my fridge last week, I denied myself any in penance this week! As I debated using the sweet potatoes, Musical’s Thai Curry came back to me – I had wondered about the combination with coconut milk, so this was the perfect occasion to try it. It’s an unusual taste – sweet, sour and mellow all at once. The gravy itself is like silk. And Bee has posted another dish with some of the same ingredients today.

This recipe is adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana of Indian Recipes. This is another entry of mine for the Grindless Gravies event.

Potatoes, peeled, diced into 1-inch cubes: 3 small
French beans, cut into 1-inch pieces: 12-15
Cauliflower: ¼ of a flower
Sweet potatoes, peeled, diced: 1 cup
Shelled green peas: ½ cup

Coconut milk: 200 ml (mine came out of a pack)
Tamarind pulp: 2 tbspn (about three dry strips soaked in half a cup of water)
Red chilli powder: ½-1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbspn
Turmeric: ½-1 tspn
Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tbspn
Salt: To taste

Oil: 1 tsp
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Split, hulled black gram/urad dal: 1 tsp
Curry leaves: 8-10
Dried red chillies: 2

You will need thin coconut milk to cook the veggies – I diluted about a third of the coconut milk with 1-1/2 cups of water.

In a pressure cooker, or a pan, boil vegetables with salt, tamarind extract and thin coconut milk till ¾ done. (In a pressure cooker, this took about three minutes before the weight needs to be put on.)

As that’s cooking, mix the ginger-garlic paste with the cumin, coriander and red chilli powder.

Now, add this to the vegetables and cook for ten minutes. (In a pressure cooker, this could take about 2-3 whistles. Let the pressure drop on its own before you open the cooker.)

Heat the oil, pop the mustard, black gram and the red chillies. Add curry leaves and add this to the curry.

Now add the thick coconut milk and simmer for two or three minutes. You can eat it on its own or with some rice.

Hope you've all put your thinking caps on for Grindless Gravies. The deadline is December 22, that's a whole month more!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Making the Date

Ah, at last I'm posting something for AFAM!

Growing up, dates were those rather boring, plastic, chewy fruits that came with several wrinkles - you'd find just the one in a packet of dry prasadam (food that has been blessed) sold at temples but now they are available in various forms and consistencies here in India - fruit, most often dried - full, sliced, pressed and sticky, embedded with almonds, cashews, pistachios and other nuts, as syrup, but once in a while, at certain shops, fresh too.

I recently came across some really shiny and soft dates, so sweet that I find it rather difficult to believe there is no added sugar in them - there is no ingredients list on the packet so I have to buy it in good faith and hope, but the positive side to that is that they worked well with this Qatayef recipe I found on the Internet. My adaptation of this recipe is below.

This recipe goes to the event A Fruit A Month started by Maheswari of Beyond The Usual, hosted this month by Chandrika of Akshayapatra.

For the pancakes:

¾ tsp dry yeast
¼ tsp sugar
¾ cup warm water
½ cup all-purpose flour/maida
¼ cup semolina/rava
A pinch of salt
Butter for frying

For the filling:

Lightly toasted walnuts: ½ cup
Sticky dry dates, chopped: 1-1/2 cups
Ground cinnamon: ½ tsp

Honey: to drizzle, a few tsps

Combine yeast, sugar and ¼ cup of the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes, until you notice some action – bubbles forming.

Meanwhile, in a large enough bowl, mix flour, semolina and salt. Gradually add the remaining water to the dry ingredients using a hand mixer. (I just scrubbed my hands raw and mixed it with my hands.)

When the batter begins to resemble thickened milk (or white sauce, in my case), add yeast mixture and mix well. Cover and set aside for three hours.

After three hours, when you’re ready to make the pancakes, place pan on stove, heat 1 tbsp butter and pour a scant ¼ cup of batter into the pan.

Cook until the entire surface of the pancake is covered with bubbles. This, along with the top of the pancake losing the gloss/wetness, is your signal that the pancake is ready. It should remain pale on the top.

Do not flip and cook on the other side.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Add a little more butter if you need to. (I got four pancakes of fairly similar sizes from this recipe.)

Keep aside. If you’re stacking, keep some waxed paper in between the pancakes to ensure they don’t stick to each other.

For the filling, combine the dates with the walnuts and ground cinnamon.

Place one tbsp of the filling in the centre of the pancake, unfried side up. Fold pancake in half to form a crescent. I used cloves to hold it together as pinching the edges did not help seal them.

Place filled pancakes in a plate.

Just before serving, in a skillet, heat ¼-inch of vegetable oil over medium high heat. When the oil’s very hot, fry as many pancakes as will fit easily. Fry for a minute or two till brown. Flip and brown the other side. Drizzle a teaspoon of honey over each pancake.

Here are some interesting things I found on Wikipedia about dates.

Dates can also be dehydrated, ground and mixed with grain to form a nutritious stockfeed.

Dried dates are fed to camels, horses and dogs in the Sahara.

In northern Nigeria, dates and peppers added to the native beer are believed to make it less intoxicating.

Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm.

The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity.

The flowers of the date palm are also edible.

Traditionally the female flowers are the most available for sale and weigh 300-400 grams. The flower buds are used in salad or ground with dried fish to make a condiment for bread.

Source: Wikipedia

Here's a solo, with a ball of the date-walnut mixture:

Don't forget about Grindless Gravies. Read more about the event here. Please remember that for this event, daal/lentil preparations won't count as gravies because that will make things too easy! Same goes for yoghurt-based kadhis - this is getting tiresome (for you all), I know, I know!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How Was My Diwali?

“How was your Diwali?” asked K. I was on the way out, she on the way back home from work. “Oh, nothing much,” I said, with a weak smile. “What did you do?” “The usual, cooking, frying, eating more heavy food than I should,” said K, before I cut in to ask if she really enjoyed all this.

“Yes, I do. That’s the one day I try out new recipes. I made X, Y, Z … It gives me immense satisfaction. You DO have to slog, even for the Puja, but you have to work hard to get something, don’t you?” she said, with a “this is natural” smile.

Could I feel myself cringing, even as I told her I too loved cooking but only at my own pace? Over the years, all the “How was your Diwali?” questions are something I’ve come to field sportingly – sporting not because I think it’s none of their business but because the truth is that I don’t do anything much, which amuses or surprises people – but I’m always embarrassed to own up to it in the face of such enthusiasm.

As a teenager, soon after our home got its first TV, I was surprised to hear the sound of muted sniffling. A quick glance around the room revealed nothing – there was my grandmother and a couple of others watching the drama unfolding on the screen dispassionately, there was me, and my grandfather. Whom we had never known to watch a movie before the arrival of the TV into the house. And who was now struggling to maintain a straight face, lips pursed, his red nose the only giveaway. Tatayya cried?

One sleepless morning, at 5 a.m., curled up in a dark corner of the living room, I witnessed him stir, get up, go through the darkness of the dimly-lit room and straight into the puja room, put on the light and fold his hands in prayer. Tatayya prayed?

Till then, the only person whom I had known to do anything approaching a puja at home was Mother, who lit a lamp and sat in the small puja room for a few minutes every morning and evening. My grandmother would tinkle the brass bells hung in the bell-shaped cut-outs on the room’s door and I don't remember if I prayed at all.

The only time we had a puja was during Vinayaka Chaturthi and that was only family – grandparents, brother, father, mother – we would take turns reading the story of how Ganesha was created, beheaded and restored to life, how it is considered bad luck to see the moon on that day and how performing the Puja and reading the story would prevent you from being blamed for something you did not do – till today, this is the main reason for which I do the Puja. Selfish, hardly the true spirit of worship. But … once bitten, twice shy, a story for another day.

In my home, festivals were a day for gaarelu (vadas) and payasam. Sure, each festival came with its own prescribed pujas and sweets, but Mom’s lamp in the puja room, vada and payasam it was for us! As in most other homes I was familiar with. Sankranti was the harvest festival, which we town-bred ones looked forward to only for the sights – the Haridasu, the Gangireddu, the muggulu (rangoli). Dasara was a day for the Dasara puli, of thanking helpers and worshipping the tools that helped us ply our trades and get around – vehicles would get a special wash, be anointed with turmeric, kumkum and flowers, and a few coconuts would be broken in thanksgiving. And there were gaarelu and payasam.

And Deepavali? It was a day for decorating the house with earthen lamps, one for the groove in the Tulasi stand at the rear, the nod to Goddess Lakshmi; a day of insufferable noise, beautiful, often blinding, lights and fumes, of a tour of the neighbourhood, a day that ended with a vigorous shampoo to get all the chemicals out of your hair. And gaarelu and payasam, of course.

Several years later, Deepavali is Diwali, even in the South, and is more than crackers, feasting and family time. Back home in Andhra Pradesh, I was not aware that people had to formally exchange sweets for this festival, or others, for that matter – whatever we got or sent were homely affairs from close family in steel boxes, usually because they had been made, not because they had to be made. Hopefully, those home cooks did it out of their own free will and not out of guilt, not out of I-shouldn't-deprive-my-kids-and-grandkids and associated feelings but I will never know as they will never acknowledge; only laugh and say there was nothing to it, that it hardly took them any time. So is it just staying in a different region that puts the pressure on me to buy new clothes, make stuff to eat for the festival, and observe it in some way? Nobody forces me to do anything, so why do I feel I have to commemorate this now highly commercialized festival in some way?

This year, I didn’t have the time to buy fireworks, sweets for the neighbours (so I put them on a diet with some fruit), new clothes or the fixings for a grand feast. I didn’t plan a menu for the festive lunch, though I hazily intended to do something – how could I not, it was Diwali, after all, and I’ve already forgotten how we observed Dasara, just a few days earlier. Come morning, late rising and general lethargy, and The Spouse saying Hey, let’s get out of here fast, I don’t want to spend the day sitting at home, we find ourselves sitting in the food court in the relatively deserted mall, eating Mexican rice and tandoori vegetables. Was I for real? What happened to Diwali? All my plans for a festive meal?

Then after some rounds of stores to check out the festive season discounts, we come back home with an acquisition and light some candles, only to go out again, watch the fireworks, return, and eat the cold rice that I had cooked that morning (to salve my conscience – that I hadn’t totally ignored the festival) with some pickle and leftover curry and chutney from the fridge.

Then I see Bee’s post on her blog and it only intensifies the welter of emotions I already feel – which run the gamut from guilt to vindication - from wanting to eat old favourites, light a few sparklers, hunt for the earthen lamps somewhere in the belly of my storeroom but being too lazy to do this to wondering why I feel so much pressure to observe the day when there is none, except in my own mind.

Could it be that I wanted to observe it for the memories, to recapture a bit of the past, to celebrate a day off from the routine? I think so. I didn’t want the day to slip through my fingers like every day that has its own high points but doesn’t get recorded in a diary despite the best intentions; I didn’t want to smile feebly at people who asked me how my Diwali was and tell them that it was no big deal.

Arguably, the most visible face of Deepavali, the fireworks, is fading, and I miss that, though I myself buy only a packet of sparklers, and even then, rarely. More than the vadas and payasam, I miss seeing the houses lit up with rows of lights, a popular practice back home. I dislike the commercialization, and the lurid and loud character this festival has acquired. But, somehow, despite myself, this question, How was your Diwali, did work up some angst in me this time.

Note: This was what I wrote last night and debated posting - I'm posting it anyway. And oh, we went out for a walk tonight, in the inner lanes off our busy main road, and the air was cooler than usual, and the nightqueen's fragrance continued to accompany us even after we passed the house it grew out of, and I came home, took out my big blue diary and jotted the day's high points down. I've always wondered, how do you continue holding on to a nice experience, ensure it always stays with you?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Announcing Grindless Gravies, the Event

So here’s the one-off event I’ve been mulling. Grindless Gravies stems from a day when you really aren’t in the mood for a number of procedures but also want a thick, fulfilling gravy. On some days, I find even the most mechanized of cooking laborious– be it fixing the jar on the blender, filling it with ingredients, waiting, watching and testing to see if the paste is fine enough, and then washing it thoroughly – who wants mango milkshake flavoured with idli batter? Judging from the comments to my previous post, it’s not a bad one and I’m all curious to see how the rules are interpreted and what you all come up with.

A request: Please follow the rules in the spirit rather than the letter (which means that even if you spot loopholes you should ignore them).

Since the food blogosphere is full of events, I’ve decided to give intending participants six weeks to send in their entries. So the last date for entries will be December 22. The host is also giving herself time to do the round-up sometime in the next six weeks ;-)

Here are the guidelines and what you have to do:

1. Please make a thick gravy specifically for this event. You can point to other such dishes on your blog, but the entry itself has to be fresh – just for some fun.

2. No electric grinder, mixer, (hand) blender or food processor or food mill in any form should have been used in the making of the gravy. A quick grating of cheese or onions (or other stuff) is fine but it can’t go on for … more than three minutes, shall we say? The less the labour, the better.

3. You can use packaged/prepared/frozen stuff like ginger-garlic paste, onion paste, tomato puree, spice powders and convenient stuff of that sort to make the dish, but that does not include commercial gravy/curry pastes/powders/mixes that you can just dunk vegetables or meat into to make an instant gravy (the butter masala mix, kolhapuri gravy mix, kadai whatever mix, I’m sure you get what I mean). Nor does it include homemade one-type-suits-all gravy that’s been sitting in the freezer. It can't all be lentils or all curds/yoghurt/all coconut milk (they shouldn't form the bulk of the dish because that makes it too simple and that's no fun - they should be dressed up substantially - please see my On The Gravy Train dish to get what I mean). As I said no dunking veggies or meat in a readymade curry mix and presenting it, I feel compelled to apply the same rule to something where the gravy's overwhelmingly made of one single ingredient so gravies like that are out too! {Sra flees the scene, trying to escape the brickbats and blows ...} It can belong to any cuisine.

4. I don’t mean that you should make the ground equivalents by hand, either. No, you don’t have to make ginger-garlic paste in the pestle and mortar if you don’t have it ready, just find another way to include those ingredients. Paste will take a long time in the p & m, so I usually smash the ginger and the garlic with a lentil masher or the pestle – just one or two thumps should do it. You can even crush the tomatoes with your bare hands. Violent, huh? You can even mash some of the vegetable pieces in the gravy to make it thicker.

6. You could mention the time, the (number of) implements and utensils used for this dish – the fewer the easier the recipe. The gravy can also boil away for as long as you like – if it allows you to catch up with the day’s papers or the news or give yourself a breather, that’s fine. You just don’t have to be in the kitchen watching over the pot, or washing the mixer or assessing paste consistencies.

7. You can send in your entries to srablogATgmailDOTcom. Please say ‘Grindless Gravies’ in the subject. The e-mail should contain the specific link to the dish, your name and blog name. As for photos, please send me a 75 x 75 pixel picture of the dish. I am not computer-savvy, already have a bad wrist and won’t be able to do this myself, please. Your entry will still be included in the round-up, it just won't have the picture.
A link back to this blog/event is necessary.

If you're not a blogger, please mail me the entry with the photo, I'll put it up on my blog with the details.

8. I will do the round-up sometime in the first two weeks of January.

There are a lot of questions, I will add the clarifications here as they come in:

Yes, of course, non-vegetarian, cream and international stuff is allowed

On to my own contribution for this event.

It’s an adaptation of a dish that’s quite new to me, called Gummadikaya Pindi Miriyam (yellow pumpkin with black pepper and flour). From what I understand, this is made with rice flour as one of the thickeners, the other being coconut and ginger, not to mention the mixture of freshly ground coriander, pepper and a smattering of chana daal/split chick peas.

I didn’t have rice flour, omitted the coconut and the chana dal, and used pre-ground spices to make the dish.

Gummadikaya Pindi Miriyam (Yellow Pumpkin with Black Pepper and Chickea Flour)

Yellow pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces: 2 cups
Green chillies, chopped: 3, or less
Water: ¾-1 cup-1-1/4 cups
Black pepper, ground: 1 tsp
Cumin, ground: 1 tsp
Coriander, ground: 1 tsp
Turmeric: A pinch
Ginger: 1-inch piece, peeled
Besan/Chick pea flour: 3 tsp
Salt: To taste


Oil: 2 tsp
Mustard seed: ¾ tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Urad dal/Split, hulled black gram: 1 tsp
Red chillies, broken: 2
Asafoetida: A sliver, or a pinch

Coriander/cilantro, chopped: ½ a cup

In a pressure cooker (or a pan), place the pumpkin and the water, season with salt and turmeric and boil till the pumpkin only begins to soften. If you’re using a pressure cooker, just boil it for a couple of minutes – it shouldn’t have boiled just yet.

Now season the vegetable with the ground black pepper, cumin and coriander.

Mash the ginger roughly (I did this with just one blow of the pestle on the chopping board, separated the fibres a bit) and add to the dish. Add the green chillies. Let the pumpkin cook till soft. It should hold its shape, though.

(If you’re using the pressure cooker, now cook under pressure for 3-4 minutes. Let the pressure come down on its own.)

Mix the besan with some water to make a lump-free paste and add it to the curry. Let it boil till thick. Turn off the heat.

In another pan, heat the oil, add the mustard seed, the urad dal, the cumin, the red chillies and the asafetida, in that order. You can even add curry leaves.

Once the urad dal browns and the red chillies just turn colour, turn off the heat and tip into the curry. Garnish with chopped coriander, mix gently.

Happy Deepavali and Season’s Greetings!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

If You Can't Beet 'em ... & Your Thoughts On An Event - Grindless Gravies

Chips, as we call them in India (crisps to the rest of you), immediately bring to mind the potato, but of late, some enterprising stores here in India have taken to making and selling chips made from yam, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot, okra/ladies’ fingers, and even bittergourd, which is one of the most palatable ways of downing this vegetable.

All these different chips here have their own unique taste and idiosyncracies – the yam never fails to smell fishy (literally), the sweet potato is excellent but probably doesn’t lend itself well to chipping I see it so rarely, the beetroot takes on a shine, the carrot shows some black in its grain, the okra goes out of shape and the bittergourd, stiffened by the flour it’s dipped in, holds it.

We don’t often pulverize these same veggies into chutney, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, as I’ve been discovering slowly. In India, it’s mostly the 'watery’ vegetables such as eggplant/brinjal, gourds and greens that are used for chutney – easy to mash and influence, unlike the starchier, sturdier vegetables which will mash but also stick to the pestle or won’t submit with such ease.

It’s not impossible, though, to chutney-fy them as I have been discovering. I first chanced on a carrot chutney, probably my aunt’s invention/innovation – a tangy, orange affair to which curds and besan lent body, and this beetroot chutney, a friend’s grandmother’s, both in the last three or four years. I’ve always failed with the carrot chutney but the beetroot was a success even when I made it for the first time just recently.

In my previous post, I recounted the story of the lost opportunity in beetroot chutney, but a few of you wanted the recipe, saying it was news to you too, ergo the post.

But before that, I need your opinion on something: I’ve been planning a one-off event for months now, but between wondering how it can be at least a little different from the others going around and finally deciding on one, I am not sure if it will appeal to you all.

It will be called Grindless Gravies and the idea is to come up with a thick gravy WITHOUT resorting to the mixer or grinder or even to heavy-duty grinding by hand, if anyone does that anymore (or grating something long enough to allow it to become pulpy enough to add bulk)– the idea is to find ourselves recipes for fulfilling gravies without the elbow grease. So tell me if this idea appeals to you and help me formulate the terms and conditions and make sure there are no escape clauses and I will announce it formally.

Finally, on to the chutney recipe:

Beets, chopped, boiled until just tender: 2 cups
A lime-sized lump of soaked tamarind
Green chillies: 6, chopped (or less)

To temper:
Oil: 2 tsp + 1 tsp
Garlic: A few cloves, skinned, split
Mustard seeds: ¾ tsp
Urad dal/hulled, split black gram: 1 tsp
Curry leaves: A few
Cumin seed: ½ tsp

In one tsp of oil, fry the green chillies well. It just needs to wilt a bit so don’t worry if the oil’s absorbed all too quickly.

Temper the other two tsps of oil with the mustard, cumin, then the black gram (wait for it to brown slightly), garlic and the curry leaves.

To the beetroot, add salt, the green chillies, the tempering and the tamarind lump. Put this in a grinder and grind.

You can even do a second tempering with the same ingredients or some of them if you want more crunch in the chutney.

More chutneys here and here

Don’t forget to let me know about the event! You can even write to me at srablogATgmailDOTcom . I would appreciate any input: what to watch out for, what to add, what not to, what else I can do to make it interesting. Thanks!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lessons from a Spud

It’s funny how some pretty common dishes escape your notice. Even now, despite the blogs. You think you’ve invented, innovated, tweaked, customized but there always seems to be a post somewhere that’s beaten you to it. Not that it’s a race, but that oh so slight sense of the smug rapidly melts away as a search throws up at least 20 variations in the first few pages.

I did that with a beetroot chutney. I saw my friend’s grandmother make it and marveled at her inventiveness. A few years later, it emerged from my mixer and uploaded itself on to my computer. Waiting for its moment in the sun, it found itself among a rash … er … slew of beetroot chutneys that populated the blogs in close succession. As this blog has often told whomsoever it may concern, it will only carry recipes that the writer finds unusual or unprecedented – that doesn’t exclude those that are a discovery to her but routine to others – but it’s no fun when they abound.

So why is she posting this confessionist, self-deprecating piece? Obviously, she’s never been on Oprah, let alone a chat show, but could that be all? Or is it that she slaved over this photo as well, decorated it with borders and scripts and was pleased with the result. Bad enough that it didn’t have the mild, mellow taste she expected it would have. Worse that it tasted like some other chutney altogether. Then why?

For one, with her avowed intention of not wasting anymore, and in her perpetual quest for novelty, she put it to use which she thought was rather a first. That’s one reason – if you have too much mashed potato left over, this is one solution.

Second, though she didn’t like the texture, or the combination, others did. And let it sit in the fridge till they finished every soured blob of it.

Third, because this is a blog not just about the victoires and the histoires but about a slice of life as well.

And, of course, it’s been ages, or it feels like ages, since she’s posted something on her blog. So here’s to the humble, humbling, potato raita.

Potato, boiled and mashed: 1, big
Curds/yoghurt: 1-2 cups, beaten (go by the amount of mashed potato, and whether you want a runny raita or a thick one)
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Coriander, chopped: A little, to garnish
Savoury mint chutney, Indian style: 1 tsp (optional)
Oil: 1 tsp

Mix the mashed potato with the mint chutney.

Add it to the curds.

Season with the salt.

Heat the oil, pop the mustard and then the cumin. Add this to the curds.

Garnish with the coriander.

Another raita recipe here.

This goes to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Pille of Nami-Nami.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hitting the bottlegourd

For this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook, it was a toss-up between potato raita and this dish, bottlegourd with chick pea flour. No other reason, except a very shallow one – looks. In fact, I’d slaved over the potato raita photo more than I did for this but just as we all come across people who don’t seem to do anything extra to earn all the good luck they attract, this photo was a winner in just a few takes! The colours were clear and striking, each and every mustard seed was well-defined, and in the debate for precedence, good looks took over the simplicity and familiarity of the potato which went into a raita.

This vegetable is a bit like Plain Jane. One of those vegetables that reduces quite a bit as it cooks, it doesn’t have a taste all its own and eaters often pause to wonder what it is for a second before confirming that the vegetable in their stew is bottlegourd and not white pumpkin or chow chow (chayote/ “Benguluru vankaya”) or a similar vegetable that looks and tastes quite similar when cooked. Of late, I’ve come across people who swear it’s a good weight loss aid – grate it, puree it, season with a little salt and drink it in the morning. It’s also used to make halwa and payasam.

In Andhra homes, it’s often put into pappucharu (stewed lentils), pulusu (tamarind-based stew), cooked with a little milk, or stir-fried. Some homes even put a sprinkling of sesame powder on it. I rarely make the first few dishes, and my stir-fry always looks limp and forlon in the pan, and turns out less than tasty – the only reason I eat it is because I don’t want to waste it. And it’s a relatively calorie-less way of filling up. But this recipe I found in a Telugu cookbook made this vegetable quite interesting, and I would really try it again.

Bottlegourd/sorakaya/doodhi, peeled, diced, then sliced fine: 2 cups
Gram flour/Chickpea flour/Senagapindi/Besan: 3 tbsp
Green chillies: 2, chopped
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Hulled, split black gram: 1-2 tsp
Cumin seed/jeera: 1 tsp
Red Chillies: 1-2, broken into bits
Salt: to taste
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Oil: 2 tsp

Heat oil in a pan. Pop the mustard, add black gram and cumin. Then add the red chillies.

Now add the vegetable, salt, turmeric and green chillies.

Turn heat down to simmer, cover and cook till the vegetable is done – till it’s transparent. It shouldn’t go squishy, though. You can sprinkle a little water before covering the pan to hasten the process.

Now remove the cover, increase the heat just a bit, and add the flour. Mix it really well. Remove from fire.

As they say in the Telugu cookery shows on TV, your sorakaya senagapindi is ruddyyy!

See more gourds here

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vegetarian Rogan Josh & My Life in Fours

What do you call a situation when you look at a cookbook and discover you have every single ingredient the recipe calls for?

A miracle.

What do you do when you realize, after pledging to stay true to the recipe, that it calls for deep frying?

A. Chicken out
B. Compromise: Don’t fry at all – use the vegetable directly/ bake it and then proceed with the recipe
C. Stick to the recipe in the interests of authenticity.

From the above multiple choices, I chose C.

The recipe is from The Pleasures of Kashmiri Cookery by Anu Wakhlu (Hind Pocket Books, 1995). The dish is called Parim Al Roganjosh (Red Pumpkin in Roganjosh Style). I didn’t change a thing. The introduction to the book says the oil traditionally used is mustard but that refined oil is also used now – I used one which was a mix of sunflower and rice bran.

Red Pumpkin – 500 gm
Oil - for deep frying + 2 tbsp
Beaten curd/yoghurt – 1 tbsp
Aniseed/Saunf powder – 1 tbsp
Ginger Powder (Sonthi) – ½ tbsp
Salt to taste
Red Chilli Powder – 1 tbsp
Cloves – 2
Asafoetida water – 3-4 drops
Water – 1 cup
Oil – 2 tbsp

Peel the pumpkin and cut into pieces.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and deep fry the pumpkin to golden brown (actually, mine stayed a golden yellow).

In another pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil.

Add the asafetida water and let it fry. (Careful, it splutters and sizzles like crazy.)

Add the pumpkin pieces and fry well.

Add the chilli powder and 1 tbsp of beaten curd and mix well till a red colour appears.

Add the other spices and mix well.

Add 1 cup of water and cover the pan.

Simmer for about 20 minutes till the vegetable is cooked and the gravy thick.

This resulted in a mild curry.

Sig of Live to Eat has tagged me for this meme. I wish my life was as full of travel as hers, or my meme as delightful, but here goes:

4 Places I’ve lived


4 jobs I’ve (NEVER) had

Food & travel writer
Award-winning novelist
Fat-advance-bagging novelist
Gazillionaire rich witch

4 favorite places I’ve holidayed

Matheran, Maharashtra – For the memories, the serenity in our resort, and the reservoir nearby
The UK - For its countryside
The US – for New York, for Las Vegas
Goa - For many of its quiet, isolated forts and churches

4 favorite foods

Now this is tough!

The ‘stir-fried bean sheet with vegetables/shrimp’ that I get at a Chinese restaurant down the road
Semiya payasam (Vermicelli in sweetened milk)
Jeedipappu paakam (Cashew-jaggery brittle)
Chikkudukaya koora (Hyacinth beans stir-fried), the way grandmothers/cook at home make it

4 places I’d rather be

In a home office
In a more ergonomic chair than the one I’m sitting in now
In a serene country cottage with vistas of rolling meadows
Travelling all over the world

4 bloggers I'd like to tag

Musical of Musical’s Kitchen
Sharmi of Neivedyam
Sunita of Sunita’s World
Jyotsna of Curry Bazaar

Monday, October 08, 2007

Herbal Hardsell

I had a couple of those rather desirable Old Mother Hubbard moments this past week when there weren’t too many veggies in the house (rare) and the ones I did have were beginning to rot (common). What I did have fresh were lots of potatoes so I told myself I would make a kofta (dumplings) curry with a tomato gravy (in whisper [rotting tomato gravy]) but come dawn and some fuzzy thinking, I ended up with mashed potato rather than koftas.

However, the surprise lay in the gravy, which I concocted solely to get rid of the tomatoes, coriander and celery I had at home – I expected it to be a mess both to look at and to taste but was pleasantly shocked to find that only one of those doubts turned into reality. This was not attractive to my eye, but think herbs (tres chic, gourmet), green leafy vegetables (healthy) and exotic (the combination), and I had a keeper. I’m also told it looked somewhat like the pav’s bhaji, a suspicion I harboured but couldn’t confirm till an observer told me.

It’s a fulfilling curry and you can even have it by itself if you want to keep away from rice or bread. It takes just one big potato, very little oil and is bursting with health and vitamins, to borrow a phrase.

Here’s how I made it:
One big potato, about 200 gm
Onions, chopped fine: Two
Tomatoes, medium-sized, minced/pureed: Five
Coriander, chopped: 1-1/2 cups, stalks and all
Celery: 2 stalks, with leaves, chopped
Savoury mint chutney, Indian style: 1 tsp (Substitute: 10-12 mint leaves and a spoon of lime juice)
Cumin seed: 1 tsp
Salt: to taste
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Chilli powder: 1-2 tsp
Oil: 2 tsp or less

Grind celery and coriander with a little water in the mixer to a fine paste. If you’re using fresh mint, add this to the mix. (I used the mint chutney because it was beginning to dry up.)

Peel potato, prick with fork all over, microwave for 3 minutes on either side, with a resting period of 3 minutes in between. Let cool, mash with a pinch of salt and mint chutney.

In a pan, heat the oil, pop the cumin and fry the onions till transparent.

Add the ground paste, fry well.

Add the tomatoes, salt and spices and let them cook to mush. Add a cup or two of water and let it boil down almost to the consistency you want.

So when it’s not quite thick enough, add the mashed potato-mint mixture bit by bit. Be mindful that the potatoes will do their bit to thicken the gravy.
Mix well, simmer till it’s as thick as you want. Remove from heat.

Strangely enough, without the usual additions of ginger and garlic, curry powder/garam masala or other whole spices, this was quite spicy. I wonder why. And the other revelation was the taste of celery – having never used it much before, and much less in curry, the only word I have to describe its taste is “interesting” – I would use it again.

I’m sending this off to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Kalyn herself – it’s the second anniversary round.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Midweek Rant: Puking Into Potted Plants

If you’re eating at this moment/squeamish, stop reading right here.

At first, it was the backyard, near the well. Then it slowly moved to the bushes and now has entered the house. The receptacle of choice is the potted plant. And I’m not exaggerating.

I would be hard put to identify the movie that actually shows a heroine or sister vomiting into a potted plant but they exist, and many of you from India would be familiar with this scene, or the others described above.

I’m talking about the way impending babies are announced in the Indian movies. Especially when they are born outside marriage, and three months into the pregnancy. (No, says a friend, even the inside-marriage kinds are announced that way. And why on earth do you want to write about this in a food blog, she asks, don’t you fear putting off your readers?) Forget the pregnancy bit, puke is shown when the character is unwell too – is it necessary to show it in such revolting detail?

I just happened to be channel-surfing and came across this all too familiar scene. In the latest movie I watched too. Please, movie-makers, can we be spared these graphic, repulsive scenes – of vomit cascading in white globs or jets? And don’t tell me all those who are expecting/ just plain unwell don’t have the time to run into the bathroom before it happens. The friend above also points out that she has seen movies where, if the pregnant/sick one is attired in Westernwear, she is seen rushing to the bathroom, but if she is sari-clad, she almost always throws up al fresco. I would make concessions for old movies – not too many bathrooms or wash basins or WCs, especially in rural households – but in this day and age? And into plants? Please don’t do this to us, especially when we’re settling down in front of the TV with a plate full of food!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cutlace, Somehow Or The Other!

This is a post inspired by one of the comments from my previous post. I had discussed some of the twists and turns English takes in India on menus across the country, to which some added their inputs. One of them was cut-lace
(aka cutlet, cutless, cutlite – on the train stops at stations, I’ve almost always heard it morph into cutlai…sse, and buttermilk becomes butt-raa-meel…).

As soon as I saw that comment, I knew what the fate of the fenugreek leaves (methi/menthikoora) in my fridge and the potatoes in my storeroom would be. (Oh yes, my potato-methi cutlets had to be a first. At least a third or a fourth – well, I don’t remember seeing such a recipe and don’t correct me if I’m wrong.)

Only, I hadn’t factored in my microwave failing me this time so when I was rewarded with potatoes lumpy in parts that refused to mash, I whizzed them in the mixie. Heh heh, of course, this was a brainwave that wasn’t one, so I was rewarded with a starchy, green paste that refused to cooperate with me in any way.

It wouldn’t form patties, nor would the moisture dry enough on the tawa and form some sort of cutlet. Trying to be innovative, I diluted it with some water and tried making a potato-methi-coriander dosa. No dice. I pressure-cooked another three potatoes and mashed them into it. Didn’t improve.

I refrigerated it and spent the rest of the day wondering how to salvage it – they probably would have made good, freehand, deep-fried treats but I didn’t want those. A friend suggested mixing them up with maida to make chapathis/parathas but we rejected the idea because of the ‘white’ flour.

Then I went in for white bread.

In my defence: It’s easily available, I used only three slices, and the larger, nobler purpose was to not let the potato paste go to waste nor did I want it to hang on in the fridge till the time another brainwave for its judicious use hit me, so here’s how I went about the whole thing, errors and all. This made about 13-14 cutlets.

Big-leaf fenugreek – 200 gm bunch, use only the leaves and tender stalks (sprinkle water on it, microwave this for 2 minutes)

Potatoes: 8 (5 microwaved, 3 pressure-cooked – sorry, can’t tell you the weight as I didn’t check but they were not very big ones)

Onion – 1, chopped

Coriander/cilantro, chopped – 1-1.5 cups

Bread, white – 3 slices (you can use other varieties too, am sure)

Salt – to taste

Chilli powder – 1 tsp

Curry powder/garam masala – 1 tsp

Oil – 2 tbsp

Whiz all these on the highest speed in the blender/mixer for just five seconds and you’ll be rewarded with a thick paste that I haven’t yet discovered an independent use for.

Now, tear three slices of white bread carelessly into the mix and mash as well as you can.

Now you’ll be able to form patties that can hold their shape.

Heat a pan with the oil, place the patties in it.

On medium heat, brown on both sides. (Mine look well-roasted, I know, I know.)

Thank God you were able to save the whole enterprise, put them in a halfway decent dish, start shooting.

Then consume with sauce of choice.

I'm sending this off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything At Least Once.