Monday, November 17, 2014

Things I've Been Learning, Making, Doing from the Internet

Like most other people, I used to call them pomegranate seeds. Only when I started blogging did I learn they were called arils. I knew a lot about food and ingredients but when I discovered blogs, I found myself telling bloggers 'I never knew you could do that' or 'Oh, I do it this way, I haven't tried it your way'. Then one day someone told me something which gave me the impression that to even say, conversationally, 'Oh, but doesn't X ingredient go into it, usually?' could be seen as criticism so I stopped saying it in some blogs. I thought it was just conversation, I know I wouldn't be affected by a comment like that. What do you think?

But I digress. One of the few things I did in my baking-only days were brownies. Like I've mentioned earlier, I was quite famous in my family for them. I had only one recipe - from a cookbook for a gadget called the Twink Inframatic Cuisinette which my mother had bought years earlier. It was an all-in-one, all you had to do was change the plates as required and you could turn out waffles, sandwiches, brownies, cakes, and quite a lot of other stuff in the little baking tray that came with it.

Recently, I went to lunch with a friend, we decided it would be a potluck and I would take a salad and dessert. I decided on brownies and wanted a recipe that would help me finish the dark chocolate and drinking chocolate I had at home. I came across BBC Good Food's recipe for the 'best brownies ever' and replaced the cocoa with drinking chocolate and golden caster sugar with ordinary caster sugar. I must have put it in a smaller pan than recommended because only the top baked and the bottom didn't. Even when I baked it again for 10 more minutes. It stayed gooey, so I just put a lid on it and went to bed, hoping it would somehow solidify by morning. (It didn't, of course.) But it was terribly tasty.

It had to be. That recipe seems to be written with so much love and enjoyment it has to work. Well, I took some of it to lunch and to work, and it was a big hit. I put the rest in the fridge. The greatest surprise was the evening - I took it out and it had solidified quite a bit. Unexpectedly, my kid brother, who lives in another city, visited and when he tasted some, he raised his eyebrows appreciatively and said it was great. He had it with all the meals he had. He didn't make fun of my cooking, as he was wont to, and lapped up every morsel. To look at him, the thought of mocking me didn't even cross his mind. He's grown up, I thought, and my brownie is really, really good! He even had it for brunch. Here's a picture which I took during the making of it, I don't have any of the finished product.

Here's a recipe for flourless brownies.

 One of the other things that I used to try my hand at was apple pie or strudel. The pastry would fail me but the fruit mixture would come out fine. Later, I discovered an apple crumble. Last week, I had one lone apple sitting in my fruit bowl and I thought I'd make a quick dessert if the sweet craving hit me at night. Well, it did and I put it together quite easily.

I remembered something from those days about rubbing the flour into the cold and hard cubes of butter such that it resembles bread crumbs and sprinkling it over the apple. I even remembered reading that you only had to let your fingertips do the work otherwise it would become too warm and not work out. So I did that. I used about 4-5 tsps of flour with the little butter that I cut from a hunk of it so I can't tell you how much it was. I started with the butter and 1 tsp of flour and went up to 5 tsps. I consulted the Internet to check the oven temperature and confirm I was on the right track with the rest of the recipe. Cut the apple into pieces, with the skin, toss a tablespoon of sugar into it, a teaspoon of flour and a teaspoon of cinnamon powder. Mix. Top it with the flour-butter mix and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes at about 180 C.

Months ago, I chanced on something called Dhuska, a recipe from Jharkhand and Bihar, which was described as a kind of puri, eaten with chickpea curry. I tried it but I have to say it came out nothing like a puri and everything like a pakoda, and I didn't think the curry suited it either. It was interesting enough on its own. Pickle made a nice accompaniment, though!

Then, those of us - and I'm at the top of the queue, I'm sure - who have been agonising about dwindling readership on our blogs, can read this post for a fresh look and well-articulated reasons on why we keep blogging. The comments are equally interesting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Clean, Mean, Crisp And Crunchy Capsicum and Apple Salad

When I meet friends that I don't see often, I rarely go without taking lots of photographs. Apart from holding on to the memories, there are other reasons that are quite selfish. It is in the quest of the perfect Facebook profile picture where I look as slim and as happy and as put together as possible. Needless to say, only how I look reflects in my picture so I end up being disappointed with a lot of the pictures I take. This is the first time I went without taking pictures at all when my friends and I met a couple of days ago. Instead, I took pictures of the salad I had made because I was so in love with its looks.

I even managed to take decent 'arty' pictures of half-empty plates, something I have always wanted to do. Whenever I've tried, those plates would look like gory battlefields and I would abandon them. Ah, how important it is to appear perfect if not actually be perfect!

I somehow end up not liking my own salads because my dressings never seem to achieve the right balance of tastes and I felt the same way with this too. However, this time I did things the right way and tossed the salad only when it was time to serve it, and my friends lapped it up. One of them, H, said that the taste of the capsicum had adhered to the apple and she found it interesting. That was because I had cut up the fruit and vegetables and chilled them in the serving dish before taking them over to V's place where we ate. I had mixed the dressing too ahead of serving time and let it sit for a while so that the flavours could meld.

The ultimate result was my dream salad: The others liked it, so did I, it looked beautiful, stayed crisp, was light and had clean, uncomplicated flavours. Incidentally, did you see this article in the kitchn? Until I read it and the comments it attracted, I had always thought 'clean' meant light, straightforward flavours that came through without the diners having to wonder what they were. Turns out it could mean different things to different people, and even gets their goats.

Here's the recipe for my clean, mean, fruit and vegetable salad.

Capsicum/bell pepper - 3, diced
Cucumber - 1, de-seeded and diced
Golden apple -2, sliced
Juice of 1 lime

Toss the apples in lime juice, mix with the capsicum and apple and chill. 

Juice of 2 limes
An equal volume of olive oil
1/8 tsp of minced ginger
2 pinches each of cumin powder & red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar substitute
1 tsp iodized salt

 Put all the ingredients in a small dish, 'beat' well with a fork and then store the dressing till you need to use it. Pour over salad at serving time, toss salad. Enjoy!


When I asked for critical evaluation, after some consideration, H said that maybe I could use fewer capsicum because not everyone might like more of those in relation to the rest of the components. She herself liked it, she said.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

How To Make A Mixed Gourd Salad

Someone always gets there first. Almost always. And I say this with a smile and a sigh rather than pique. I had been thinking of a gourd salad for a long time. However, I didn't search the Internet for it till I bought a variety of gourds a couple of days ago and was surprised to find several results for it. Most used one gourd, and those were mostly bitter gourd and snake gourd.I rather thought I'd be the inventor of the gourd salad but no, several people have beaten me to it, so let me call myself the inventor of this mixed gourd salad.

Most of the components of this dish are gourds, most of them are green and I'm quite pleased with myself at how I went about building and dressing the salad. The previous night, I had decided to bunk yoga class yesterday morning to spend more time in bed. I went to bed late, breaking my rather new rule of no-Internet-on-big-screens-at-night (my beginner-size, low-tech smartphone is the exception). I surfed and surfed - "yoga for weight loss", "yoga to prevent diabetes", Facebook (why had a schoolmate accepted the school rowdy as her friend, what had he made of himself - I couldn't find out) and several pages of results for gourd salads.

Despite all this, I couldn't sleep beyond my usual quota. (Why did I think yesterday would be any different from other days?) After spending a couple of wide-awake hours trying to solve the day's cryptic crossword, I found myself cutting and steaming vegetables for an hour. I whizzed a few ingredients to make a dressing and sprinkled it over the salad. Then I added - nay, squished into it - some bocconcini which was past its best-before date and immediately regretted it because I didn't think the flavours would go together and took out as much as I could. Live a little, Sra, my heart told me, so I added it back in. I did not add any salt because the cheese had some. Nor did I add any oil at this stage. I thought the fat in the cheese would coat it enough. (See notes below.)

For the salad
Snake gourd, peeled, chopped into strips: 1.5 cups
Ash gourd/white pumpkin/winter melon, peeled and diced
Tender ridge gourd: 1.5 cups
French beans: 6-8, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Onion, sliced: 1

For the 'dressing'
Shredded coconut, fresh: A handful
Roasted peanuts: A handful
Green chilli: 1, chopped
A pinch of salt

 Lime juice: From two limes
Bocconcini: 5-6 balls

Cook the snake gourd and French beans in the microwave with a little water for two minutes on High. (I did not treat the other vegetables the same way as they were very tender and juicy.)

To make the dressing, pulse the coconut, peanuts, salt and green chilli just once to make a coarse mix that can be sprinkled over the vegetables.

Put the vegetables in a dish, mix the bocconcini into them, pour the lime juice over and sprinkle the mixture on top of the salad. Chill.

Notes: At lunchtime, I served myself some of the salad and decided it needed more salt. However, I added the salt to my portion of the salad and not to the entire dish lest it got all watery. It also seemed a bit dry so I added a spoon of plain oil to the salad on my plate, mixed it in gently, and then it came together. However, the Spouse had none of these complaints and liked it as it was.

I am sending this off to No Croutons Required, hosted this month by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sanwin Makin - A Little Bit Of Burma

Senwei mekei or senway mackay - that's how my friend's family, where I was introduced to a selection of food from Myanmar/Burma, used to pronounce it. Years later, when the Internet came to India I would type in those words and get nowhere. I don't remember how I finally found out - maybe I searched for 'Burmese dessert with coconut milk' or something like that, maybe my friend told me- but I realised it was spelt 'sanwin makin'. I think I tried it once before and failed, or maybe I haven't - I'm not remembering a lot of things right at the beginning of this post! But that aside, when my friend's mother made it, it would look so lovely. It was a translucent brown, and puddingy, rather like a China Grass dessert than like cake. Aunty would set it in a plate, cut it into diamonds and sprinkle poppy seed over it.

As a student of marketing strategy for the last 15 years, I have picked up some jargon from the field, including the words 'pull' and 'push'. They mean one thing in marketing but in this post, they mean quite something else! Sometimes the pull of a memory is so strong that it's almost a physical sensation, but this is not why I attempted this dessert. It was push - I needed to push out some brown semolina (brown sooji/godhuma rava - I had the fine variety) from my kitchen. A good way to exhaust it is to find things to make with it other than upma with vegetables, which seems to be the most common use for it. You can use ordinary white sooji/semolina.

Then I did something that marketers, especially retailers, are unhappy about. When I went to look for the coconut milk cartons that I usually buy, I saw that they were dated April. And this was September. I scrabbled further into the dark recesses of the shelf and found some packed in July. I took all half a dozen of them and paid for them. (One retailer actually protested when I said I always look for the most recently packed ones - he said I had a duty to pick up the oldest ones which were at the front because if everyone did what I did, the old ones wouldn't sell. Well, I'm not having any of that!)

I had been looking at various recipes for sanwin makin and finally followed this. It was like making a rawa porridge with coconut milk, adding the eggs after the mixture had cooled and then baking it. There were two differences from the original method: I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream and I did not manage to separate the eggs as the whites and yellows just plopped into the bowl one after the other. I ended up beating them and adding them to the pan after it had cooled, at Step 4. For about 25 minutes after I put it in the oven, it stayed flat. Then it rose gloriously.

Then it went back to normal after a while, and came out as a dense cake, moist, mildly sweet and even mildly coconutty - that was because I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream, I suppose. It was a hit at work, and someone who was on a strict diet and had lost 8 kg took it home because it was only mildly sweet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Don't You Read Me Anymore? Some Questions on Turning Eight

This blog turned eight a few days ago, over the weekend. This is the first time I didn't put out an anniversary post on time. I did not feel like it. Given what my statistics tell me everyday, I did not think many of you would see it, let alone read it. I am more curious than sorrowful as to why so few of you visit here these days.

I'm not asking why you are not commenting. Oh no! I've gotten better at accepting that - but I am interested in knowing why my readership numbers are falling. I have never been wildly popular in numerical terms. If I were to borrow a leaf from a friend who worked in PR, I would call this a "niche blog", a "boutique blog". (But I won't borrow it - I confess that I do want to be wildly popular and wildly successful.) The readers are not many, but they were regular. They come/came for the stories, the discussion, the chat, not the photos, not even the recipes, I would guess. There would be a decent spike in readership as soon as I put out a new post and it would slow down to normal till the next post came up.

But this has changed over the past one year. Readership has plummeted, and the spike has lost its sharpness. And I am trying to understand why.

Is it because I do not blog as often as earlier? Are my posts less interesting? Is it me? Is it the death of Google Reader, because that's when I began to notice the drop in visitors. Had frequency of posts been the reason, the numbers should have started falling earlier as I had not been blogging frequently for a few months before that.

The one bright spot in recent times was this post - A Pox on Plagiarists - which took the first day's readership to an all-time high. And plummeted only on the third day, instead of the second. Of course, it touched a chord in the blogging world.

As I said, I am more curious than sorrowful, so let me know, will you, why my niche is shrinking. As much as I love blogging and want to continue it forever despite everything, I would be grateful for some cheering.

As always, thank you, dear readers, for helping sustain my blog all through these years.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How to Rehash an Old Post - and a Recipe for Lazy Potatoes

This earlier recipe of mine was a big hit. This was in the good old golden days of blogging, in 2008. Those potatoes attained glory by sheer accident - I was busy with all manner of things, most of all an animated conversation with my friend about whose city was better to live in, when I was cooking them so they just kept roasting on the fire and attained that look! In retrospect, I realise my earlier camera was very good too, it had a food setting, but my current camera, which was much more expensive, does not.

This photo, though, was taken with The Spouse's phone. This potato curry was put together a couple of days ago when I got back home from work at 9 30 pm and could not face another meal made up of leftovers. It's less involved than even the lazy potatoes of six-and-a-half years ago - it's simple to put together when you get someone else to boil and peel the baby potatoes, which The Spouse did with far greater success than I have done in a long time.

Baby potatoes: 500 gm
Turmeric: 1 tsp
Sambaar kaaram/special chilli powder: 2 tsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Black gram dal, split, hulled (urad dal): 1 tsp
Cumin: 1 tsp
Oil: 2 tbsp

Boil/pressure cook the potatoes until just tender. We let the pressure cooker whistle about 8-10 times. When the pressure drops, open the cooker, drain the potatoes, cool and then peel them.

In a pan, heat the oil. Pop the mustard seed, then add the cumin and black gram.

As the black gram turns brown add the peeled potatoes.

Now add the turmeric, the sambaar kaaram and salt to the pan, mix well. Let fry again for a while.

Serve with rice, pappucharu and curds. They make a nice snack by themselves too.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Not So Bitter And Twisted

Finally! I invented a new dish which is not already on the Internet. I sometimes come up with something, like this potato raita or this beetroot chutney, thinking it would be unique, but somebody has already made it. But not this time. Well, something like it does, after the sixth or the seventh page of results, but not really.  It isn't cooked like mine, nor does it look anything like mine.

It started when I bought some ready-cut bitter gourd at the vegetable store. It was cut in strips, not in circles, as it is wont to be, and that's what attracted me to it. The next day, I stir-fried it so that it stayed fleshy and then added two tablespoons of thick curds to it. Once I tasted it, I couldn't stop thinking of it - and it's a long time since I felt that way about my own cooking.

My grandmother, who was diabetic, for some time used to drink a glass of raw bitter gourd juice in the hope that it would control the diabetes. It was not mixed with anything but water. I wonder if relieving the bitter gourd of its bitterness will still confer the health benefits it is supposed to. Not that I would not do it. I did. But let me tell you more about how I invented the dish and added flavour as I went along.

First, I put some salt on the strips of bitter gourd and left it alone for about 30 minutes. Then I squeezed all the water out of it, well, as much as I could, with my fist. Blithely, I assumed that most of the salt would have been discarded in the process. I was wrong, I should have washed it well in water after squeezing it, but I discovered that much later, when I tasted it as it was cooking.

I heated some oil (*the list of ingredients and proportions is at the bottom), tempered it with mustard, cumin, black gram, red chillies, curry leaves and garlic, then sauteed it constantly on a medium flame, never ignoring it. I do not use a lid as I do not want it going limp before I can control it.

After it had cooked for about eight minutes, I spiced it with some turmeric, salt and my special chilli powder, mixed it well and continued to saute it on low flame for another 2-3 minutes. At this point, I tasted it. It was still a little raw - I had not used any water till then - and it was quite salty.

I had soaked some tamarind in water for pappucharu so I sprinkled two handfuls of that water (not juice, I had not muddled it with the water yet to extract the juice, so you can call it tamarind-flavoured water) on the vegetable and finally put a lid on it as I was tiring of it not cooking. I kept an eye on it and when it tasted perfect - spicy, a wee bit tangy, less salty and not raw (but still firm), I took it off the fire.

After cooling it completely, I mixed thick curds, perhaps a day old, in gently. I am extremely gratified at how it turned out - the curds coated the bitter gourd just right, making it moist, not wet, and soaked up the spices marvellously. I even tried some plating because I was tired of my ordinary photos and I have to say I thought it looked like an alligator or a chameleon or a fish - I was not aiming for that effect, believe me!

 Here is the list of ingredients
 Bitter gourd, chopped: 2-3 cups (discard fibrous centre and seeds)
Gingelly/sesame oil: 4-5 tsp
 Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin seed: 1/2 tsp
Black gram: 1 tsp
Red chillies: 2, broken into 4-5 pieces,
Curry leaves: 7-8
 Garlic: 5 cloves, bruised and peeled
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder, special or ordinary: 2 tsp, or less (If you're using ordinary chilli powder, use 1 tsp of coriander powder and 1/2 a tsp of cumin powder too)
Tamarind-flavoured water: 2 handfuls
Coriander leaves, to garnish
Thick curds/yoghurt: 2 tbsp (do not beat it)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Currying Favour With Mushrooms, Simply

A few months ago, when I was at home with my parents, I took some lessons from my cook. One of them was for pappucharu, and I am glad to report that I now make a good version of it. So much so that I have given sambar the go-by, and am I relieved! I tolerated it for various reasons, like many wives/husbands grow to tolerate their spouses or resign themselves to them. The other dish I observed our cook make was a mushroom curry.

 Taking notes helped. Even though our cook cannot speak in tablespoons and teaspoons, I got a fair measure of his proportions once I parked myself in the kitchen next to him with pen and a piece of paper. This mushroom curry fulfilled my criteria of a successful dish: it tasted like it had been made by my grandmother, it looked like a thick, brown gravy from a hotel, and most wonderfully, it achieved that consistency and that look without any grinding. I attribute it to the long soaking the onion gets in the mushroom juices.

Button mushrooms: 400 gm, quartered
Onion, chopped/minced: 1 cup
Coriander powder: 1.5 tsp
Cumin powder: 0.75 tsp
Chilli powder: 1/2-1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tsp
Salt, to taste
Oil: 1 tsp
Coriander leaves, chopped: To garnish

Heat the oil and saute the onion.

Then, add the ginger-garlic paste and mix it well with the onion, let it cook on low flame for a while till the aroma mellows.

Now add the mushrooms and saute till the onion and paste coat them well. The mushrooms will start yielding water. A lot.

Add the spices and keep stirring on medium flame till the water evaporates, leaving a thin, clingy gravy. Yes, yes, I know I said it looked like a thick gravy earlier but it looks like that - it is actually thin and flavourful and rice is a great vehicle for it. I've made this quite a few times now.

Note: You can add some green peas too, when the mushrooms start boiling.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Caught In The Light - Black & White Wednesday

When something shimmered as I was coming out of the kitchen, I went back in and watched. They were these lines reflected in the vessel. It is lying on top of other vessels in my draining basket, a circular construction of stainless steel rods. I use this vessel very often but I only noticed how its shape caught the light a couple of days ago. This goes off to B&W Wednesday hosted by its creator Susan this week and managed by Cinzia.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Pox On Plagiarists

I haven’t been plagiarized from often. My camera skills are middling, but I guess the best of the lot have appealed to a few. I used to think I would feel a tiny bit, at least, of pride when someone stole my pictures. It would mean my pictures were good. But no, the immediate and continuing reaction is one of anger. Any pride that may hazard a presence is burnt to a frizz by the flames of fury.

It’s like how I got called a ‘chick’ once by some guy in my aerobics class – the first time ever in my life, well into my late twenties or early thirties – and felt uncomfortable, not thrilled. (The guy has since grown a paunch, another chin, looks unshaven, unrested and greets me conservatively on the odd occasion we run into each other, typical of the average middle-aged man he has turned into - just saying, in case you were curious.)

First, a newspaper used my picture. I complained, and they took it down from the online version. Even as that correspondence was going on, I got a snarky comment on that post – I am sure it was the content supplier who got scolded for their misdemeanor. I told them to chill.

The second is a restaurant in this city that stole my picture of red chillies in a sieve. I happened to eat there and that’s when I noticed it. I complained, I yelled, made a big fuss, followed up for a while and as life took over, prioritized other things.

Now I find that a picture of my meatless, wheatless haleem shows up on Google attributed to some restaurant in some other country. I am going to file a DMCA complaint but meanwhile I want to curse all plagiarists and content scrapers to my heart’s content. You can join in too.

But first, a little classical inspiration: “There is a very pretty Eastern tale, of which the fate of plagiarists often reminds us. The slave of a magician saw his master wave his wand, and heard him give orders to the spirits who arose at the summons. The slave stole the wand, and waved it himself in the air; but he had not observed that his master used the left hand for that purpose. The spirits thus irregularly summoned, tore the thief to pieces instead of obeying his orders.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

  • Yes, may your business/blog/website be torn into pieces! 
  • May you flail in a vat of meatless, wheatless haleem and be discarded like some unloved vegetable!
  • May the heat of a hundred ripe, red chillies burn your bottom before you think of plagiarising again!
  • May your apricots rot before you steal another picture!
  • May your computer self-combust every time you think of stealing! Better still, may your computer bite you in your sensitive parts every time you attempt to steal! 
  • May visitors to your website get an Error 404 every time they try, and stop visiting!
  • May you be shown up for the lazy and dishonorable bum that you are!

How would you curse a plagiarist?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As You Like It 'West Asian' Potatoes

Where I work, we have always been encouraged to refer to the Middle East as West Asia. The reason is explained here. My own exposure to West Asia is limited - I have friends who grew up there, I have been there for just half a day en route to Ireland, and I have several spices and condiments from there. I have had these for several years, the most recent ones are several months old.

I made these without any Internet consultation, just to use up the spices, but just now, before writing this post, when I searched for West Asian Potatoes, I did not find any direct hits, just a lot of scholarly discussions on potato farming. I did find several recipes for Middle Eastern ones, though, but mine look very different. I have many times roasted potatoes in the oven with zatar but this is the first time I am pan-frying them.

For me, this recipe is  a keeper. It has the spice mix zatar, sumac and pul biber, a chilli powder, spices from more than one West Asian region, and mellowed in intensity a few hours after cooking. It was quite tangy initially, even though I used only a pinch of sumac. It was not as salty as it might have been because when I added salt, I forgot that zatar has salt in it. Pul biber does too. I have called it As You Like It because I used as much spice as I deemed fit, did not use any calculations for it.

Peeled potatoes, cut into wedges - 3 large (or about 600 gm)
Zatar: 2 tbsp
Pul Biber: 1-2 tsp
Sumac: A pinch
Salt: A pinch
Extra virgin olive oil: 2 tbsp

Heat the oilve oil gently in a skillet and swirl it around.
Put the wedges in and saute for a couple of minutes.
Then add the zatar and toss them gently so that they are all coated.
Now add the pul biber, the sumac and the salt and mix well but gently.
Cover with a lid and let them cook through on simmer. Check to ensure they are not burning. When they yield to pressure, they are done. This takes about 10-15 minutes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Red Peppers and Me on Twitter

Earlier this week I promised my Twitter following, all of nine, that I would post this dish on the blog this week. I am giving my social skills on Twitter another go. (I had an account there years ago, I can’t find it now.) You can find me there as

I posted my most alluring picture of red and yellow capsicum (peppers) topped with besan (chickpea flour) and hoped for a reaction. I got one follower after that. 

I have been plagued with power cuts and lack of time since then so I’ll make this snappy.

Capsicum/Peppers (red, green, yellow or a combination): 4, medium, sliced
Besan or chickpea flour: 4 fistfuls
Sambaar kaaram: 2-2.5 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Urad dal/black gram: 1-2 tsp
Cumin: ½ tsp
Mustard: ½ tsp
Oil: A few tbsp

Heat about 3-4 tsp of oil in a large pan and temper it with the mustard, cumin and urad dal in that order.

When the urad dal begins to turn brown, add the capsicum and sauté on high. Keep sautéing, do not cover it as the colour tends to dull if you do that.

After about 4 minutes, season with the turmeric, salt and sambaar kaaram. Mix well – the seasoning tends to get stuck in the curves of the slices.

Saute some more, on medium heat.

After 3 minutes, sprinkle some chickpea flour all over the capsicum and mix well. Keep sprinkling the flour till you feel the vegetable is well covered with it. Add some more oil from around the edges of the pan and mix well. Keep stirring so that the flour gets crisped in the oil and does not stick to the pan or stay raw.

Test the capsicum. Take it off the fire when it’s still a little crunchy and the flour is cooked and has absorbed the taste of the spices.

The red and yellow capsicum are mild and sweet so this tastes a bit different when compared with green capsicum.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

How to Make An Authentic Pappucharu

Several years ago, I caught my aunt taking down a recipe from my grandmother. What recipe are you discussing, I asked my aunt. Pappucharu, she replied, with a slightly embarrassed giggle, and I burst out laughing. This thin stew-like concoction is a staple in Telugu homes. By then my aunt had been running her own household for almost 20 years and I found it funny that she had not picked up this basic dish.

Soon enough, I didn’t find it so funny. I found myself in the same position.

Worse, my attempts to make pappucharu were turning it into sambar or sambar-like affairs. Many of you know I am no fan of sambar though I acknowledge its convenience. I love pappucharu, though, all the more so because it remained elusive to me all these years. No amount of advice that it’s sambar without as much dal and sambar powder could help me get it right.

So when I went home to my parents recently for vacation, I pinned the cook down, notebook and camera in tow, and learnt how to make it.

 So here’s a classic recipe, to serve six

Toor dal: 1 teacup
Tomatoes: 2, quartered
Green chilli: 1
Garlic: 8 cloves, peeled, crushed
Onions: 4 (2 chopped and 2 peeled, halved or quartered. If small, use one more and leave it whole after peeling it)
Tamarind: 4-5 1-inch pieces, soaked and juice extracted
Salt – to taste (our cook used about 2 tsp of crystal salt)
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sambaar Kaaram (this is not sambar podi – use red chilli powder if you don’t have this) – 2 tsp

Red chillies – 2-3
Mustard seed: ½ tsp
Cumin/Jeera: ½ tsp
Gingelly oil: 3-4 tsp
Curry leaves – a sprig


1. Pressure cook the toor dal with 1.5 teacups of water, the turmeric and cool and mash it well. Add the sambaar kaaram as you are mashing it. Add some water if you have to make it easier to mash.

 2. Heat the oil and pop the mustard and cumin. Add the red chillies and the curry leaves.

 3. Fry the onion and garlic.

 4. Now add the rest of the onions, tomato, green chilli, salt and 1.5-2 cups of water. It has to boil really well.

 5. Once it has boiled for 15-20 minutes, add the tamarind extract and boil for a little longer.

 6. Add the dal now and add some more water till it’s as thin as you want it to be. Boil for about 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.


It needs a lot of boiling for all the flavors to meld.

Add other vegetables if you like at stage 4. I added some recently and I did not like the result though the Spouse did. I am going to stick to this barebones version for a while.

 I don’t dare make an all pressure-cooker version till I master this version.

For the differences between chaaru, pappucharu and sambar, see the comments section of this post. Also, our cook tells me that the composition of the sambaar kaaram and sambar powder is quite different, which makes pappucharu and sambar very different from each other. No chana dal and toor dal are used in the former.

Here is a pappucharu attempt I made earlier.

 I am sending this off to My Legume Love Affair, now managed by Lisa, and created and hosted this month by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Two Vegetables, One Way

Bittergourd curry

Pumpkin curry

Today I went to visit a friend and ended up staying for lunch.It was my kind of lunch. More accurately, it was the kind of lunch I appreciate nowadays - cooked by someone else. It was home-made, simple, and yet new and alluring because it wasn't of my own making.

There was pale green snakegourd set off with a sprinkling of grated coconut and tempered with mustard seed, a spicy cauliflower and butter bean stir-fry with garlic, tempered chickpeas garnished with coconut and sambar which reminded me of the pappucharu we make back home. My hostess pushed the ghee container towards me, I put some on the rice and though she had intended for me to eat the sambar with it, I began eating the cauliflower curry with the rice, which comes naturally to me because that is how most of us from Andhra Pradesh eat our vegetables. The vegetables are rarely a "side-dish" as they are in other parts of South India. These curries are also eaten with curds or curd rice, and usually not mixed with the sambar or pappucharu.

I try to keep the cooking simple these days but rarely succeed in feeling satisfied with the result. Definitely, I have tired of my own cooking and I have wearied of what I cook. It takes a lot for me to enjoy what I have cooked these days even though The Spouse and my friends are full of compliments for my cooking. And yes, I have made a small beginning at entertaining again - I've had two persons over for lunch already, and cooked them a traditional Andhra meal. A previous stint at entertaining a few months ago saw my pasta, bocconcini salad and other dishes being cleaned out, and earned me the title of 'best curd maker' from my friend's daughter who is a foodie and has a discerning palate. Recently, I had some guests staying with me and they approved of my cooking, but I can't get myself to like my own cooking.

What I did do differently with the entertaining was use ordinary, un-fancy vegetables that I don't see being used in many homes nowadays. At least, they are not served all that often to guests, which is probably one reason why I don't see them. I think it's a great pity. These bittergourd and pumpkin curries should not be ignored and are the exception to the tired-of-my-own-cooking syndrome that I face nowadays. I have a few theories why sometimes, some curries succeed in pleasing me.

1. They look good. (Let me be honest, their photos turn out good.)
2. I am in a good frame of mind when I cook them, which includes not feeling hurried and harried.
3. They are not something I make often - they are part of the traditional cooking that I so often defer in search of the new and unusual.
4. They taste exceptionally good.
5. I haven't spent too much time on them.

 Theories 1, 3, 4 and 5 apply to these curries.

I bought a pack of cut bittergourd on my way back home from the gym (some of the prep stress is gone this way), salted the rings and waited for half an hour while I read the day's newspapers (or I might have made myself an egg and cut up fruit for my breakfast, it was so long ago, I don't remember) and only then set to work on the recipe.

Bittergourd, deseeded, cut into rings: 2
Onion, chopped: 1/2 a cup
Red chillies: 1
Chilli powder: 3/4 tsp
Salt: 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp
Water: To sprinkle

Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin: 1/4 tsp
Urad dal/black gram, skinned and hulled: 1 tsp
Oil: 2 tsp
Curry leaves: 1 sprig

Jaggery: 2 tsp

As I mentioned above, sprinkle some salt on the bittergourd slices and leave them alone for 30 minutes. Then, squeeze them in batches, thoroughly, between both your palms and set aside. Drain off any remaining salt water.

(This should not be done with the pumpkin, just wash it well, cube it with the skin on and use it directly.)

Heat the oil and pop the mustard. On a medium flame, add the cumin, urad dal, red chilli and curry leaves in that order and wait till the dal turns brown.

Now add the onion and saute till it turns pink.

Add the bittergourd (or pumpkin), saute well, on and off, for about four minutes.

Sprinkle some water on it, cover with a lid and lower the heat. Let it cook till it's green and translucent.

(The pumpkin can cook till it's just soft.)

Taste the bittergourd at this stage. If it's crunchy/ yields with just a bit of resistance, it's perfect. Check if it needs more salt - it will probably retain some from the salting during the prep. Add the chilli powder and salt, if needed. Mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes more with the lid on.

Now open the lid, add the jaggery and mix till it's all coated. Simmer. The onion and the jaggery caramelise to make it a great bittersweet curry.

You can eat this plain, with rice, plain curds or curd rice. Bon appetit!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Truly Simple Stuffed Brinjals

A couple of years ago, I went on holiday to a resort which served food based on their Ayurvedic beliefs. They did not use cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes and brinjal/eggplant.They did not use red chilli or red chilli powder either. Since I came back, I haven't eaten too many cucumbers or tomatoes and hardly any brinjal at home. (I use the chilli, though.) However, about two weeks ago, I found some good-looking brinjals and bought them. I wanted to make stuffed brinjal, but an easy version that did not involve chopping and grinding.

I took recourse to the Net and all the easy stuffed brinjal recipes that popped up involved chopping onions, shredding coconut, frying/roasting some other ingredients and grinding them all together. I was only willing to scoop ingredients out of their jars, mix them with my hands, stuff the brinjals and shallow fry them - and I needed a recipe that was willing to confirm my vague ideas as to how to do that. I had figured out that I needed gram flour (chick pea flour/besan) to do it because many stuffings are a combination of ingredients that involve fried and ground channa dal or chutney dal. For once, I had besan at home. Then I chanced across a blog that mentioned a stuffed version with ajwain/carom, something to do with Gujarat, but it was just a fleeting glimpse.

It was probably this, but I can't be sure.

That was enough for me to work out what I could do.

What you need
Brinjals/eggplant: 250 gm
Gram flour/besan: 1/2-3/4 cup
Carom seed/ajwain: 1.5 tsp
Cumin powder: 1/2-3/4 tsp
Coriander powder: 1.5-2 tsp Red chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Salt: 3/4 tsp of ordinary, iodized salt is how much I used
Oil: Enough to coat the surface of the pan you are going to cook the brinjals in. It could be several spoons. I used a smallish pan and my brinjals got crowded in it.

Cut brinjals into four and keep them joined at the stem end.

 Roast the flour on a low flame for a couple of minutes. Cool.

Mix the flour and the spices and stuff the brinjals with the mixture.

Heat the oil and arrange the brinjals carefully in the pan.

Cover with a lid, lower the fire and keep checking to see if they are done on one side.

Then turn them over to the other and cover again.

After 3-4 minutes, take it off the fire.

You will get soft brinjals with delicious insides. Don't expect the stuffing to show very clearly, though, it will coat the insides of the brinjal, unlike the chopped and ground version with onions and coconut which adds to the volume of the dish.

If you have any besan mixture left over, you can make a most delicious kadhi with it. Dilute some curds, mix the besan with it, temper some oil with mustard and curry leaf and add the curd-besan mixture and when it begins to boil, bring it down to a simmer for a couple of minutes and take it off the fire.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Salad Days Are Here Again - Mango Caviar

The Refuge of Failed Experiments (a k a my workplace) rarely lets me down. Successes or failures or halfway houses between the two, I take them there, and they are cleaned out, with compliments to boot. So when I offer them something saying it looks terrible, but tastes okay, it's no wonder that they immediately rush to comfort me, saying 'it's not bad at all', or 'it's not as bad as you think', or 'it's interesting' and proceed to empty the dish.

This was one such concoction that I could not bear to put in its actual avatar on the blog, so I cartoonized it. If you have noticed, I have given the blog a makeover and it does not deserve an ugly photo. Style over substance, yes, but indulge me - and if you go by what my colleagues said, it was worth it.

Well, this dish up there is very simple to throw together. I first got to know of a mango-sago combination some eight years ago, when I started blogging and experimented with it a few times. This time, I wanted to make a salad of this dessert rather than a pudding so I literally threw a few things together and came up with this winner. Yes, a winner, even though it is not the prettiest thing I have made. A colleague has already declared dibs on it the next time I make it and one was rather disappointed that I did not bring it on a day that she came to work.

The dibs-declaring colleague named it mango caviar. She also told me that sabja, the black grains that you see in the picture, are very cooling in nature. Now isn't that all we need for this hot, hot summer? The sabja, or basil seeds, or falooda seeds, as they seem to be better known nowadays, were such a curious discovery when I was a kid. A friend showed me what happens when you put them on your tongue - they develop a grey jelly-like coating on coming into contact with moisture, and for a few days, all I did was go to the yard, plunder the tulsi (holy basil) plant for its seeds and put them on my tongue.

My interest in them was revived recently when I read about chia seeds for weight loss and thought these were the same, but soon found out they were not. I bought them just for the fun of it, though, and thought of using them in this salad.

What you need

Ripe, yellow mango, cubed: 1.5 cups
Sugar: 1.5 tsp
Sago: A handful, soaked in water for 30-40 minutes
Sabja/basil seeds: 1-2 tsp, soaked in a little water

Sprinkle the sugar over the mango, stir lightly so that the cubes are not squashed.

Boil the sago till it is transparent, drain and cool under running water. Drain again.

The basil seeds swell up as soon as they are put in the water so do this just as you are assembling the salad.

Toss them and the sago over the mango and stir lightly. Bon appetit! And may your summer be full of mangoes and other cooling agents! I'm sending this off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, organised by Haalo hosted this week by Lucia of Torta di Rose

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chocolate, Dark and Drinking, Makes Flourless Brownies

In my newly-adult, newly-baking days, I had a bit of a reputation where brownies were concerned. I would make them often and their fame spread across continents. When my cousins visited from the US and the UK during that period, they would ask me to bake brownies for them and I would. My baking days now are few and far between but I've never stopped loving brownies and love the idea of dark chocolate brownies after having made them once from a box mix. When I made these a couple of days ago, I could feel it in my bones that these moist, dark chocolate-drinking chocolate brownies would be a hit, and my bones were not wrong. They were cleaned out at work, and their numbers quite diminished when I got back home and checked the container in the fridge.

These days, the motivation to experiment comes more from a restless and guilt-induced funk to exhaust the ingredients groaning under the weight of their long wait in my kitchen rather than from an appetite or curiosity about something culinary. Very slowly, I am getting better at managing waste. I am still having to buy a few things to hasten the process of using up a few other things but this time I did not mind. I bought a slab of dark chocolate to finish my drinking chocolate. I know I will be making these brownies again. Very soon.

Recently, I cleaned out my kitchen shelves for a photo op for a 52-week project I did last year. With many sighs - of guilt and relief in varying measure - I threw away a few things. Maybe I hoped the drinking chocolate would be riddled with insects. It was not. It smelled heavenly and had not turned into a lump. While I like chocolate, I'm not a fan of it in liquid form. As it happens in my case with long-unused stuff, I do not recall why I bought the drinking chocolate. Probably because it is reputed to be a soporific, and I am a raving insomniac.

I have been thinking of flourless brownies for a few months now. Every recipe I read till my patience ran out suggested almond meal. I have made flourless cakes with it earlier but some reports about enzymes in raw almonds interfering with digestion made me wary. Moreover, as I do not get almond meal but have to make it myself, and that translates into more labour, I kept looking for ways to make brownies that used drinking chocolate as a replacement for flour and almond meal. I did not find any soon enough.

So I just launched into it myself and started looking for recipes which were close. I found this. I had all the ingredients, including the coconut oil. I was not too sure about the coconut oil though I was open to using it. One resource on the Internet said the oil had to be used in solid form, but that it should not solidify by being refrigerated. The recipe, and many other coconut oil-in-brownie recipes, called for the fat to be melted along with the chocolate. So what was I to do?

I searched for butter as a replacement for coconut oil in baking. And found out that it had to be browned before it could be used because a large part of butter is water. So I browned it, strained it and set about making the brownies.

Here's how I made the brownies:


Dark chocolate chunks: Just over 1 cup
Butter, browned: Over 1/2 a cup, less than 3/4th cup
Eggs: 5 (The ones I used were small)
Sugar: A little under 1 cup
Drinking chocolate: 1 cup
Salt: 1/2 tsp
Irish Cream: 2 or 2.5 tsp


Brown the butter and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave on high for 3 minutes.

Add the butter to the chocolate and mix it lightly, it will continue to melt.

Whisk the eggs and the sugar.

Gradually, add the chocolate-browned butter mix.

Now add the drinking chocolate in ladlefuls, folding it into the mixture after every addition.

Add the salt and Irish Cream, mix.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 20-25 minutes until a knife/fork/toothpick/anything else inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fridge-Cleaner Gravy with Secret Ingredient, Oil-Free

The other day, my friend S came over for lunch. We had decided earlier to make it fuss-free so we decided on pasta. I cooked the pasta and she brought the sauce. Her sauce smelt good, exactly like the soup sachets from the US I used to ask my folks to bring me now and then. When I mentioned it to her, she began telling me how she made it.

 "Tomatoes, secret ingredient, vegetable stock, ..." she started. I stared at her but she looked like she did not even notice my staring at her. "What?" I said, a little taken aback. "Secret ingredient, stock, ..." she went on, but I interrupted.

 "You won't tell me what the secret ingredient is?" I said, hoping my voice was not going hoarse with incredulousness. Could she be witholding something so simple from me? I had only heard of people witholding recipe secrets, but did they really do it? Even as I was saying it, she said, "I'll tell you what it is after you eat it, I want you to guess."

I named a vegetable, because that was what I had used myself sometime the previous week to thicken a gravy.

"Nonsense," she said, waving her hand dismissively. We then took the food to the table and even after a couple of tries, I could not guess what it was. She then revealed it to me and all I will say is that it was a cousin of the vegetable I had myself used. I will leave it to her to start her own blog and reveal her secret ingredient, but mine is zucchini.

What happened was that I had very few vegetables besides potatoes and peas. I also had a stump of yellow zucchini (or was it green, but it doesn't matter). I didn't want to eat any more takeaway, or go out to eat, so I was bent on finding something to eat at home. I wanted to make it oil-free just for the challenge. I already have some oil-free recipes on my blog, this and this, but I wanted something else.

I wanted something wholesome. I was bummed that the bulk of it would have to be potatoes, as those were the vegetables I had in the largest quantity, but I was concerned about the fat aspects of them. Other than that, I had precisely one tomato, one shallot, half a zucchini, and some peas. I had no idea how to give bulk to the curry other than crush some potatoes.

But then I had a brainwave and decided to use the zucchini, grated.

Here's how to make a fulfilling oil-free gravy, then! And guess what? It's also grindless, if you use pre-ground ginger and garlic.

Potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, cut into medium-sized pieces – 3, medium size
Shelled peas – 1 cup

Zucchini, grated - 1 cup
Cumin - 1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste - 2 tsp 
Shallot - 1-2, minced
Tomato – 1 medium, chopped 
Green chilli – 2 (I used a bit of red chilli paste since I had that)
Turmeric – a pinch
Salt – to taste
Tamarind - 3 small pieces

Water: 1/2 cup
Garam masala/Curry powder – to taste (Optional)

Coriander - to garnish

Note: I made those other oil-free curries a long time ago and they were different, so my recipe/method here is by trial, error, estimate and guess work. So it will be idiosyncratic and inexact.

Heat a pressure pan and put the cumin in. Once it begins to darken, add the shallot and the zucchini and saute.  You have to watch it as you do, because it can get burnt very easily.

Once it begins to change,  add the green chillies and ginger garlic paste. This is an advantage because finally there is some moisture in the pan. Saute this too.

Add the tomato and mix it well with the onion-zucchini and ginger garlic paste mix. Let it cook for a while till the tomatoes get mushy. Add the turmeric.

Add the potatoes and peas and mix well to coat with the gravy in the pan. Add the tamarind, salt, garam masala and pressure cook it for 5-7 minutes or for 3-4 whistles. You can even sprinkle the garam masala later, after opening the pressure cooker. Open the pressure cooker only after the pressure drops. If you're in a hurry, put it under a running tap till the pressure falls. Close the tap, check the weight to see if the pressure has all gone and then open it.

Garnish with fresh coriander.

You can make this curry in an ordinary pan too. It will take more time.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Meandering through Monda Market, Secunderabad

I find that after having lived life to a certain length, I sometimes get confused when I see something unusual. It may well be the first time that I am coming across it but I wonder if I really have not seen it or heard of it before. Sometimes pictures and good descriptions confuse me into thinking I have actually seen it with my own eyes. A couple of weeks ago, I made a quick trip to Hyderabad to see an old friend who was visiting India after almost 10 years. She had to finish some work in Secunderabad but it was not time-bound, so we took our time wandering through the small shops and stalls in Monda Market. Soon, we came upon this

and I guessed that they were fresh chickpeas in the pod. I have only heard of them, never seen them before. (Or so I think, but no, I really have not.) My friend was amazed. She has several memories of buying them and nibbling them on the way back from school and thought they were pretty common. I did not grow up or live in any place where they are commonly available so they are a novelty to me.

So we bought some, about 250 gm, I think, and kept popping them into our mouths throughout our walk. They were not very different from the brown chickpeas soaked overnight and handed over as prasadam during the bommala koluvu held during Sankranthi or Dasara. I have been to some koluvus as a kid where the chickpeas were not processed any further, though in Tamil Nadu, the tradition is to cook and temper them (sundal) before handing them out to the guests.

See those black things on the right side of the photo? Those are water chestnuts which my friend had never seen before! I told her to try one and we shared one.

I tried getting a picture of the chickpea in its pod but this is all I could manage because by this time we were in a store and the conditions, which includes my non-mastery of my camera, did not permit anything better than this.

I hear this market is a place where you can find things that are not found easily in other places in the city, especially leaves and herbs for rituals. What you see above are coconut palm leaves woven into festoons.

I had not planned to take photos but my friend wanted them. So I got pictures of the green lotus buds, 

of this stall which sells so many things of which I can identify the betel leaves, lotuses, banana leaves and chrysanthemums.

The rhizomes behind the lotuses are probably fresh turmeric, though I only see them now, as I upload these pictures.

Don't you think this is a lovely picture with all the purples, pinks and greens?

It has been ages since I saw chrysanthemums in this colour.

And in this - I now yearn to wear some, or truth be told, just possess some.

Garlands galore!

Those are rose petals stitched into a garland.

And that's a floral plait you can use over your own.

This is one of the must-shoots in many Indian markets - kukum and turmeric. Often, one finds kumkum in various colours as well.

My friend likes papayas, and wanted a shot of these.

And these are colours for rangoli, quite in demand in the Sankranthi season.