Friday, June 27, 2008

Not Unholy Combinations

My grandmother, who brought us up, would serve us food which, only much later, I realised, was not the norm. If I was offered milk at someone else's home, I would wrinkle my nose at the smell or taste because it contained sugar, and I grew up thinking tomato sauce was the traditional accompaniment to crisp-edged ootappams. (Naturally, I thought tomato sauce was Indian in origin.) Neither would my grandmother offer salt when curds was served.

Though the main breakfast was traditional, the accompaniments were not. Coconut chutney was rarely served with anything - rava upma was accompanied by some slices of lime or mango pickle, semiya upma with fresh ginger chutney, idli with various spice powders or other chutneys (one's here), dosa with lime pickle - so for me it's really no fun to go in for South Indian food and find myself stuck with coconut chutney and sambar. When we had chapatis for breakfast, thick, well browned, square and well fried, they were accompanied by a sweet and sour onion gravy made with jaggery and tamarind. I don't think we were familiar with the word kurma. My grandfather would eat his chapati with a fried egg, sunny side up, dipping pieces of the chapati in the runny yolk - not something I've done or see myself doing. And pesarattu was never accompanied by upma, its traditional mate.

Though my aunt says they were familiar with it, we were never served poori with sugar. Nor upma, nor idli. Nothing was served with sugar, in fact, and I didn't see this in anybody else's house, either, until I went to college and joined the hostel, in a different State. I was both repelled and fascinated when I saw all conceivable manner of tiffins being downed with sugar, chapatis with jam (which I took to; only, the hostel chapatis were so bad, even jam couldn't redeem them) and bread with pickle (good, a favourite midnight snack). I even spread green chilli pickle on Marie biscuits and made a snack/meal of them at times - they are a great combination but I'm not sure that green chilli pickle is available any more. I guess the only sugary breakfast we had at home was what we called toast - of the French variety. Of course, I thought that was Indian too. No wonder very few of my friends and classmates knew about it.

What unusual combinations are you fond of?

It's funny how what we take for granted at home is completely alien to others. Peanut chutney was never, ever made at home; it's so common in others'. Eggplant is combined with milk and curds in some homes, not so in mine. And I did not notice the amaranth-curds combination till recently in a relative's home, which I took to instantly. I am used to a lot of curd-based dishes with different vegetables, but none with greens. I don't often remember to make this but when I do, I always ask myself why I forget - it's so good. I was flipping through the pages of Cooking At Home With Pedatha recently and was reminded of it. This version is less elaborate than hers and doesn't contain the coconut or the daal that she included in the recipe.

Here's the recipe:
Curds/yoghurt: 3 cups, well churned
Amaranth/thotakoora: Chopped, 2 cups
Tamarind pulp: 1 tbsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Green chilli: 1, slit
Curry leaves: A few
Dry ginger powder: 1-2 tsp
Oil: 1 tsp
Salt: to taste

Grind to a fine paste
Coriander: 1/4 cup
Green chillies: 2

Mustard seeds: 1 tbsp
Red chillies: 4, stems removed, broken into two

In a pan, heat the oil and pop the mustard. Lower the flame and add the red chillies.

As they turn colour, add the amaranth. Cover and simmer till well done, stirring now and then.

Add the turmeric, curry leaves, chilli powder and tamarind pulp. Cook for a few more minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the curds.

Chill, and enjoy!

This is going off to Siri for her Frozen Yoghurt event.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Eggzacting Routine

As it turns out, I’m on a losing streak right now. Well, the word ‘streak’ here has nothing to do with the pace of my losing, because the pace is excruciatingly slow, but if I’m losing, I’m winning, because I am talking about weight.

My day starts at 5 a.m. My class starts an hour later and it’s no holds barred. “How much today?” demands the trainer, and I reply, not entirely oblivious to the other people around. The ‘much’ refers to the number of grammes I’ve lost since the previous day, and if I haven’t, the discussion moves on to what I’ve eaten the previous night, how much oil it was cooked in, and whether my bladder and bowel are clear. Whatever I say I’ve eaten is met with a raised eyebrow or a whoop of horror depending on the mood, and my requests/assertions that I will weigh in only once a week go unheard.

By this time, the others around get into the act, probing, analyzing, sympathetic, eyebrows raised or whooping in horror, as their predispositions might dictate. Gyms, by their very nature, have always been places to discuss figures, bodies, ailments, hormones, pimples, thyroids, hemorrhoids and other things biological, but the daily inquisition is a novel experience. All my exercising life, I’ve been told not to weigh myself everyday, here it’s the contrary. It also has to do, I suspect, with the trainers having to divest their wards of a certain number of kilos for their incentives to kick in, but maybe I’m simply being uncharitable and over-imaginative. My trainer’s face now hovers over every meal and morsel I have and I admit it has made me more vigilant than ever, and for that, I give thanks. Apparently, everyone in the gym has lost tonnes, even at their age, so why can’t I do it? Even as I, and you, ponder such questions, I present you with a recipe which I resorted to in the fond hope that it would be tasty and not too sinful.

As it happened, I ate three of them after breakfast (when I start cooking) and two of them for dinner, helas!!! My plan was to make patties and store them in the fridge to toast on the griddle as and when I wanted to eat them, but my assistant at home said, “Finish it off, ’ma, the batter won’t be any good if you put it in the fridge.” I didn’t argue, as they refused to form patties in my palm but did so in hers, and I didn’t want her to leave before I could deal with them!

Eggs, boiled, cooled and shelled - 4
Chickpea flour/gram flour/besan - 3 tbsp
Onion - 1, chopped
Coriander - a handful, chopped
Green chillies - 3, chopped
Garam masala - ½ tsp
Salt - to taste
Oil - v little

Crumble the eggs and mix everything else with them till you get a fairly dense dough - it shouldn’t lose shape when you fashion patties of them. (My assistant says the best way to do it is on a plastic sheet, a la vada batter.)

Put them on an oiled griddle/tawa and cook on either side till brown. Dribble a drop or two of oil off a spoon around the patty if necessary. This could take a while, and still taste of raw chickpea flour after you think they’re finished, so experiment with one first, taste it and then proceed.

I am sending this in to Sangeeth's Eat Healthy - Protein Rich.

I'll sign off by saying that I condemn the rampant and brazen plagiarism we're hearing of and seeing in the blogosphere, be it a large organisation that thinks it can get away with anything, a smaller one that thinks it can intimidate bloggers into silence and helplessness or just another blog like yours and mine that lifts pictures and posts to use, even without having an obvious commercial objective.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Of Blogging, Breaking and Summer Bounty

I’ve been on an impromptu blogging break for quite a while now. Contrary to most others, this break has done nothing for my blog or writing/cooking skills (not that it was intended to) and further, seems to have diminished my photography skills. The ennui that has enveloped my blog life threatens to become permanent, if not for the fact that I’ve begun to miss blogging, despite not knowing what to write about. My friend V, of late a blogger herself, who misses my posts and messages me whenever she feels I've gone too long without a new one, tells me she can be my reminder service for a small fee!

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to go on a blog break, though. I’ve been obsessed with the blog ever since I set it up nearly two years ago and always looked upon those who took long breaks with a mixture of curiosity, awe and jealousy. Yes, jealous because they seemed to be able to get away from their blogs, not miss them and I couldn’t see myself doing that, which, as I knew somewhere, was somewhat unhealthy, as obsessions are. The only time I don’t miss my blog nowadays is when I’m indulging in my other obsession - travel - and that, alas, is not as frequent an occurrence as I would like it to be.

As it turns out, the only way to beat one mania is to develop yet another (or two, or three) - and that’s precisely how I came to stay away from blogging.
One of the last posts I read before I slipped away from the blogs was Jugalbandi’s Click for Bri. While my photo’s nothing to write to them about and I won’t be posting any recipes for the dishes in them (except maybe the dosakaya chutney), I did want to participate in the cause. Here’s what you can do to help Bri and here's wishing Bri a speedy recovery.

Sunday Meal is my entry for Click. It was my meal this past Sunday and features some traditional favorites in the parts I come from.

Clockwise from left: Dosakaya (melon cucumber) chutney, mudda pappu (plain, boiled toor dal with a bit of salt) and mamidikaya pulusu (mango in tamarind gravy with some jaggery). The dal and the gravy are good eaten together with rice and some ghee, if you like, or the dal can be mixed with rice, ghee and some mango pickle for yet another traditional combination.

Here is some summer bounty - pix taken on a road trip to and from home!

Palm fruit (taatikaayalu) and pot full of toddy (kallu). The mugs are probably what the toddy's served in!!!

The contents of the palm fruit are a favourite summer delight! Called taati munjalu, they are sadly missing in cities, or if they're available, they come all torn, crushed and wrapped in plastic. Supermarket-compatible, totally unappetising!

This is yet another gift of summer that I'm yet to see outside Andhra Pradesh. These are called kobbari mamidikaya (literally translates as coconut mango, probably because of the size) and are a great snack, sweet and sour even though they're green! Come to think of it, I'm yet to see one go ripe yellow, either on the outside or the inside. Each fruit cost Rs 25.