Friday, April 30, 2010

A Thing of Dirty ...

... is a joy forever.

If you need an unusual mould for your cottage cheese or puddings, use the strainer in the sink.

And don't forget to pay me a royalty.


Buy four packets of milk.

Freeze for a week or more.

Then, empty one pack into a pan, set it to boil on the lowest flame, watch it curdle, throw it away.

Next day, repeat the action - and face the same consequences.

The third day, history repeats itself.

On the fourth day, put it in the pan, recognise the signs, give up.

Neatly deposit the block of milk-ice in the kitchen sink.

Leave well alone, even though there are more recent packs of milk in the freezer.

Go into the kitchen about 40 minutes later for a drink of water. Et voila, what do you find?

Disengage carefully, with the back of a spoon.

Look for the camera, click away.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cabbage, Chalks And Chopsticks

The jaundice had whittled her down by half or more, and everyone was exclaiming over the transformation. She was just nine, too young to hope the loss of appetite would be permanent in the interests of her figure. Her grandparents fussed over her, making sure she took the Liv 52 and other medicines on time, pleading with her to eat “something at least”. She just couldn’t, she had no hunger and the oil-less food that was served, lovingly and carefully made by Ammamma, did nothing to titillate her numb taste buds.

She welcomed the break from school, though she wondered what it would do to her rank. After three weeks, would she still be able to come first in the monthly exam? Or would she be somewhere in the middle of the list? Dad always said, “If you’re not in the first five, then …” and would trail off ominously.

When she wasn’t lying down and reading books, she would be receiving visitors, mostly her other set of grandparents who lived close by. That grandfather was a doctor, and he would often tweak the skin under her eyes to see if the yellow had faded.

“How are you feeling today?”, he would ask, and she would tell him she was alright. One day, the skin on her lower lip began to chap, and when she pulled at it, it peeled off, just like that. That day, when he came to see her, she peeled off some and showed it to him. “Tatayya, what is this, is this normal?”, she asked, holding out a scrap of skin. “Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about that. Are you feeling hungry today?”, he asked.

“I want to eat tamata chaaru. Can I?” she said. “Go ahead and eat it, absolutely no harm in it,” said Tatayya.

Ammamma was amazed, even a little hurt, she guessed. “Papa, if you had wanted it you could have told me, I‘d have made it for you for lunch,” she said.

“No Ammamma, I felt it only now, will you please make it for dinner?”

“I will, darling, is there anything else you want?”

“Umm … no, just tamata chaaru.”

That night, at dinner, she ate rice and tamata chaaru to her heart’s content, the grains floating in a thin, red river. There was some spicy cabbage-channa dal to keep it company. The cabbage was a mixture of fiery red and yellow, the channa dal undistinguishable from it at first glance. Had Ammamma got it wrong? It was usually a pale green, why did it look almost orange today?

Hesitantly, she asked Ammamma to serve her some cabbage. She put some in her mouth. It didn’t taste of anything. She had a little more rice mixed with chaaru. Then she had some more of the cabbage. She did this two more times, alternating between the rice and the cabbage. Some taste began to come through - slightly spicy cabbage steamed with dal cooked a little earlier, a little bit of resistance when a grain of dal asserted itself amidst the soft shreds. The tang of the tomato and the heat of the cabbage tickled her palate, and she was on the road to recovery - both of good health and every single lost kilo.

Here’s the recipe for the cabbage:

Cabbage, chopped: 1 medium-sized (3-3.5 cups)
Channa dal/Split chickpea: ¾ cup, soaked for a while and cooked until soft but not mushy
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Urad dal/Split & skinned black gram: 1 tsp
Broken red chilli: 4-5 pieces
Curry leaves: 3-4
Salt, to taste
Chilli powder: 1-1.5 tsp
Turmeric: 1 tsp (or less)
Oil: 1-1.5 tbsp (actually you may not even need that much; definitely not if you’re jaundiced)
Some water, optional

Heat the oil and pop the mustard, cumin and urad dal. Add the curry leaves and red chillies.

Before the chillies and urad dal turn black, add the cabbage and saute well.

Lower the flame and add the salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Mix well, cover the pan and let it cook in its own steam. If you’re not confident of that, add one or two tablespoons of water before you cover it.

Once the cabbage is cooked, add the channa dal and mix well with the cabbage. Cover again and simmer till the dal absorbs the flavors.

Tomato chaaru: Put two small pieces of tamarind, 3 sour tomatoes, rasam powder and salt in about a litre or more of water and pressure cook for a while (or boil for a very long time till it looks all well blended and mushy.)

Temper with ½ a tsp of mustard and cumin and 3-4 curry leaves in ½ a tsp of oil.

This post goes off to Aquadaze's event, Of Chalks And Chopsticks. Spun a yarn yet? Hurry, you have another 10 days left.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Of Lucky Escapes, Quinoa & The Past Week

The week started off with what was meant to be a spouse-pleasing biriyani, but the dustbin, not his stomach, became its receptacle instead.

Don't try to imitate the dum action by weighing down a light and unsteady lid with a heavy stone mortar and pestle. They will overturn the lid and fall inside the biriyani if you're lucky, otherwise spill the biriyani all over the stove and under the microwave, in which process you would burn your arms too.

I was lucky.

After fishing out the hot mortar and pestle from the hot biriyani and washing your arms to make sure the experience doesn't leave any scars, a most familiar fire and brimstone smell (well, not really, it smelt like well done kababs) tells you your biriyani is going going gone to hell anyway - that you should have trusted your gut instincts and added some water to the meat underneath the rice in the heavy-bottomed pan despite the instructions in the fancy cookbook.

Cook in its own steam? Hah!

It's a few days later and you remember having soaked some dried cranberries overnight a few days ago, forgotten that you drained and stored them in the fridge. You have an hour before work starts, why don't you set about making the salad as planned with quinoa, that wonder grain with all the eight essential amino acids, among other goodnesses?

Step 1: Retrieve the cranberries. Reach in, pluck that dish out and realise it was the milk after it spills all over the fridge and under. There's some on your feet too - rub it in for a free beauty treatment! Clean up the mess (the bonus is that the dust bunnies under the fridge come out).

Step 2: Set to making the salad on the dining table with the TV news on in front of you. Topple the basket of TV remotes over, fix all the loosened parts and leave it in the same precarious position.

Mince, chop, boil, grind.


The salad, that is.

Meanwhile, YOU can go have the third bath of the hot, humid summer's day that it is, sit under the fan a while to try and calm and cool the tortured spirit and flesh and give thanks that bigger misfortune hasn't befallen you.

Get through the day thinking of this new, never-before-in-your-experience salad.

Here's the original recipe, or is it from here? (And below is how I made do.)

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
4 tbsp honey
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons minced green chillies
1/2 cup dry cranberries, soaked overnite, drained
Juice from 2 big limes
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
Salt to taste

Rinse quinoa several times. Boil water, add quinoa and simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Let rest, cool a bit. Add some salt, fluff.

Meanwhile, combine half the honey, garlic and green chillies in a bowl.

Whiz the cranberries and remaining honey and lime juice in a mixer.

When quinoa has cooked and cooled a little, stir in both mixtures.

Add the mint, cilantro and red onion to the quinoa and mix thoroughly, but not with a heavy hand.


This goes off to The Cabinet of Prof Kitty who's hosting Kalyn's WHB this week, now administered by Haalo.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Of Chalks And Chopsticks

Soon after I took Sandeepa's cue and wrote my foodie short story, Aquadaze mailed us both wondering whether we'd like to turn this into an event. Both of us liked the idea a lot, I think mainly because it would get us to dust the cobwebs off our fiction writing, and asked Aqua to kick it off.

Well, she has. So please head over to her blog, read the rules for Of Chalks and Chopsticks and put on your thinking and writing caps - we would love to read the outcome of your fevered imagination!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Nutcracker And The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook

A short while ago, I wrote a post saying I didn't know if my family/community had many cooking traditions, and what they were. I'm sure they did, just that I never bothered with them that much. But we did have one tradition, no, two, that I remember right now. One was to pour ice cubes into a napkin, gather the ends and clutch it so that none of the ice-cubes fell out, and bang it heartily against the wall. And we would have crushed ice. (Though I no longer remember what it was used for.)

The other, more mine than family's, was this.

The Nutcracker

Don't do that, the doors will get damaged, my grandmother would say, but who would listen to her? (I'm sure one of the adults showed me this trick.) The walnuts, whenever they were available, would be cracked like that in the space between the door and the hinge jamb, and consumed. I wouldn't crack that many walnuts, and never did the doors get spoilt.

A few months ago, my mother sent me a bag of whole walnuts. (Aside: I'm suddenly anxious to buy more whole walnuts even though I have half a bag of them with me still, are they still sold whole?) Anyway, I was more exasperated than happy and I suspected she was getting rid of them (there will be rather indignant recriminations if she reads this, I'm afraid) but managed to sporadically use up about half of them in sundry cakes - I recently went through a baking phase.

They are beginning to smell rather odd from being cooped up inside a plastic packet inside a plastic container, and I despair of using them up before they smell more desperate.

But asides and digressions aside, here's what I rediscovered in my cookbook shelf:

This is The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, by Jean Hewitt. How I could have not tried something from this since I bought it a few years ago beats my comprehension (or have I?). It's in excellent condition and the inside cover has 'Senke' written on it. Of the many links that I came across about this book, I read just a few, and all of them related how the writer had stumbled on to this cookbook at a sale. Here is some more information about the book.

Bereft of a mystery or a sitcom to immerse myself in, I took this book to bed, and came across this Mediterranean Cucumber Salad, which I made today. It was attractive to me because I had all the ingredients, though the cucumber was regular size, not small, and the raisins were not monukka. I let it chill from morning to evening and ate two helpings of it for dinner. The Spouse has promised to have it for breakfast.

I think the raisins did it. Made all the difference, I mean. This recipe was contributed by "Jane Margulies, New York, NY"

Here's what you need:

Cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced: 1-1.5 cups
Curds/Yoghurt: 1 cup
Raisins: 3 tbsp
Onion, chopped: A small fistful
Walnuts, chopped: 1/4 cup
(Sea) Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mint leaves, chopped: 1 tbsp

Place the cucumbers in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Chill and serve very cold.

And yes, I've started another tradition here - using my expensive, branded, and very impressionable (read 'not stain-proof'), ab stretch exercise mat as background for my pictures. What crazy traditions did you follow?

This post is off to Haalo who is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week, the event started by Kalyn.