Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Coriander soup

I'm fighting off a really bad cold and viral attack and went home early from work yesterday, to lie in bed and wish I were dead. Isn't it funny how terrible a relatively simple ailment like a cold can make you feel? In the evening, appa came over with a nice, spicy saaru-soup which was wonderful. Of course, what contributed much more to my feeling of well-being, though not being well, was the fact that he had taken the trouble to make it, and came and spent the evening with me.

Handful coriander leaves
5-6 black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lime-sized ball of tamarind, soaked in 1/2 cup hot water for half hour
1 tbsp saarina pudi ( rasam powder) (Recipe below)
1 cup arhar dal, cooked and cooled
3 cups water
Salt to taste
2 tsp ghee
1 handful curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch turmeric

Pound together the cumin seeds, garlic, coriander leaves and garlic in a mortar until finely crushed.
Put the ghee on to heat in a small wok/ bandley.
Add the crushed ingredients and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Squeeze all the juice out of the tamarind and strain the water into a large saucepan.
Put the tamarind juice on medium heat and cook until the 'raw' smell of the tamarind is gone.
Add the saarina pudi and let it boil, adding a bit of water if the tamarind juice is drying out, until the fine smell of rasam starts drifting out (3-4 minutes).
Meanwhile, blend the arhar dal in the blender until finely pureed.
Add the dal, the water and the crushed ingredients to the tamarind juice and let it come to a rolling boil. Keep it simmering for a few minutes and then turn off the heat.
Add the tempering - for saaru I always prefer ghee rather than oil. Heat the ghee, and add the mustards seeds. Wait for them to pop, then add the turmeric and the curry leaves,and then pop this into the waiting saaru.
Drink hot, with crusty bread on the side or fried papad.

This saaru also tastes good with rice, with a vegetable as accompaniment. I also make a version of this that substitutes dill leaves for the coriander.

Saarina Pudi
200 gms coriander seeds
200 gms dried red chillies
2 tsp each:
Black mustard seeds
Fenugreek seeds
Black peppercorns
Cumin seeds
White poppy seeds
1/2 tsp asafoetida
1 inch piece of cinnamon bark
Handful curry leaves, washed and dried
1/2 tsp turmeric

Roast the coriander seeds and red chillies together in a wok, with a few drops of oil, until the chillies turn bright and shiny. Keep aside to cool.
Roast the next five ingredients, again with a drop or two of oil, until they start giving off an aroma and the mustard seeds and cumin turn brown. Keep aside to cool.
Roast the cinnamon and asafoetida until they too turn aromatic, then add the curry leaves and turmeric and switch off the stove.
First finely powder the coriander-red chilly mix. Keep aside.
Then powder the mustard seeds-cumin seeds etc until fine. Add the curry leaves/ asafoetida mixture and powder again. Finally, add back the coriander-red chillies powder and run the blender again to ensure all the ingredients are well-mixed.
This powder will be a deep maroon-ish colour. It keeps well for up to a year, though it may lose its potency gradually after 6 months. The taste mellows after a few days, too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marrow - petha family

I, like many Indian school children growing up in the '70s, was addicted to Enid Blyton's books. She had the ability to make the most everyday food sound delicious - tomatoes fresh from the garden, e.g. But I was always puzzled by her references to marrow jam, since the only marrow I was familiar with was bone marrow. It was only years later that I realised she was referring to the petha family of veggies. By and large I'm not a huge fan of this variety of vegetables, finding them too tasteless for my liking. But I do love petha halwa, and petha huli ( sambar). Yesterday I discovered that my one and a half year old also likes petha. We had petha huli for dinner and little miss happily fished out piece after piece of the veggie from the spicy huli and gobbled it up, screaming when her portion was finished.

Dumrothe (Petha Halwa) was served at my sister's wedding feast, many years ago. All the guests relished it, including me, and sadly none was left by the time my parents were free to sit down for their meal. I have tried with varying success to make it at home, mostly because it takes a lot of patience, which is one condiment in short supply at our house.

1 petha, medium size, grated finely
1 cup ghee ( clarified butter, recipe on one of my blogs)
1 tsp saffron strands
Half as many cups sugar as of grated petha
Cardamon - 4-5 pods with the seeds removed and crushed into fine powder
1/2 cup pistachio halves

Tie the grated petha into a muslin cloth and hang over a sink or place in a colander with a heavy weight placed on top, to ensure that all the water drains out.
Once the petha is almost dry, put it into a non-stick wok on medium heat and roast, stirring occasionally until it is almost dry.
Add the ghee and the saffron strands, and stir to mix, frying for about 3-4 minutes.
Then add the sugar slowly, stirring to mix.
Once all the sugar is melted and the halwa has taken on a pale yellow colour, remove from heat and stir in the cardamom powder.
Garnish with pistachio halves before serving.

Petha Huli
1 cup arhar dal, well cooked
1 lime sized ball of tamarind, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water for half hour
1 lime-sized ball of jaggery ( or brown sugar if Jaggery is not available)
1 petha, cut into 2 inch long and 1 inch wide segments and boiled until well done
Salt to taste
2 cups water
1 handful fresh grated coconut
1-2 tbsp Huli Pudi ( recipe given below)
Tempering ( voggarane)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
2 dried red chillies

Squeeze the tamarind juice into the hot water, and strain into a deep steel utensil or saucepan.
Add the cooked lentils and boil for a few minutes to get rid of the 'raw' smell of the tamarind juice.
Meanwhile, blend the fresh coconut along with the Huli Pudi and half cup of water to make a smooth paste.
Add the paste to the lentil-tamarind mix and add the cooked petha, jaggery and salt.
Boil together for 4-5 minutes so the ingredients blend well together.
Add the tempering and serve hot.

Petha huli goes well with rotis and rice.

Huli Pudi Recipe
1 handful coriander seeds
I handful dried red chillies
Half handful chana dal
Half handful urad dal
2 tbsp dessicated ground coconut
1 2 inch piece of cinnamon bark
Pinch asafoetida ( heeng)
1 handful dried curry leaves
1 tsp turmeric

Fry the coriander seeds and red chillies together in a wok with one drop of oil, un til the red chillied turn shiny. Keep aside to cool.
Fry the chana dal and urad dal ( add urad after chana is half done) with a drop of oil, until they turn crunchy and light brown. Then add the coconut, cinnamon, asafoetida and curry leaves and fry until the coconut turns slightly brown and gives off a nice, toasty aroma.
Keep aside to cool.
In a dry grinder, powder the coriander seeds and the red chillies together into a fine powder. Add the rest of the fried ingredients and powder until you get a dark brown-gold powder. Then add the turmeric, which helps the keeping power of the powder.
Remove, mix with a spoon and store in a tightly closed clean container.
This powder can keep for up to a month in a dark cupboard, and longer in cold weather.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thai Biryani

I love Thai food - the fresh, light taste of it, the numerous vegetables that go into it and the mixture of the familiar and the exotic in the spices used. one of my favourite one-dish meals is Thai curry rice. This is a dish typical of Thai muslims, and thus has overtones of Biryani while not being as heavy on either spices or the stomach. It makes a great end to the week, served up with minty cucumber raita, and is also a good party dish. Our Sunday meals often consist of this, followed by fruit, with the after-effect of making us feel extremely virtuous due to the high health quotient.

Mussaman curry rice
5 small shallots/ 3 large red onions, diced
Rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 inch Thai ginger
4 green chillies or dried red chillies
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 inch lemon grass
5 Kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp oil
2 cups boiled mixed vegetables - beans, carrots, broccoli, peas, potatoes, cauliflower, small eggplant...( cut the vegetables into 1 inch tall, slim fingers)
1 cup brown basmati rice or plain basmati rice
Salt to taste
3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed ( do this with a mortar and pestle, not a blender as that would make the pieces too fine)

Grind together the onions, lemon rind, cinnamon powder, ginger, chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and lemon grass.
Put the oil on to heat in a large wok.
Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook for one minute.
Add the ground paste and cook, stirring occasionally until the paste turns pale brown.
Mix the paste together with the vegetables, the rice and salt to taste.
Top the dish with the spring onions and peanuts just before serving.

This makes enough for 3-4 people of reasonable appetite.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Maavinakaayi Chitra Anna

I don't know why - perhaps it is to do with our tribal origins - human beings have an inherent need to form groups or cliques, each of which firmly believes in its own superiority over the others. You can see this behaviour in children as young as three on a playground, and of course, as adults, the belongingness and superiority need seems to get reinforced. Naturally, then, as a Kannadiga, though born and brought up in Delhi, I firmly believe in the superiority of South Indian food, in particular Karnataka food, over anything else the world has to offer, in terms of taste, nourishment and satisfaction. I was thrilled to find a food blog event on Karnataka recipes for this month. I debated whether to plunge into BBH - Bisi bele bhaath - a signature dish for both Karnataka and myself - one which my friends repeatedly request when they come over. But in 37 degree heat, BBH ( or RC - reinforced concrete as we fondly call it in the family) is too heavy and spicy, so I decided to save that and make one of my summer favourites.

Mangoes are called the king of fruit and for most Indians they truly are, with their intensely fragrant aroma and succulent golden honey flesh. The number of things the mango lends itself to is also amazing, from Thai salad ( use the semi-ripe mango as an alternate to raw papaya in Som Tham ) to shrikhand, lassi, pickles, ice creams, shakes to being eaten as they are, the juice dripping from one's chin, salted and chillied for the Thothapuri variety or without accompaniment for the badami, Malgoa, Hapoos or the Chausa. One mango dish I look forward to at each Kannadiga wedding down south is fresh mangi pickle - made and consumed within a few hours.

A Karnataka mango dish that appears regularly at our table in the summer is mango rice- maavinakaayi chitra anna - tart, spicy and tongue-ticklingly chatpata, its texture a melange of soft rice and crunchy peanuts. A perfect summer dinner involves mango rice, accompanied by cold curds, straight from the fridge, and a crisp cucumber salad, followed by sweet, sweet mangoes eaten the desi way - skin ripped off using one's teeth, and the flesh bitten into chunks, followed by the ritual suckling and slurping of the gotta - the seed - until it becomes bleached white.

Maavinakayi Chitra Anna


2-3 green, raw mangoes, grated
1 handful grated fresh coconut, or desssicated coconut
2-3 green chillies
1 dried red chilli
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tsp heeng ( asafoetida)
Pinch turmeric
1/2 cup raw peanuts in their skins
3 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
1 cup long grained basmati rice, cooked and spread out on a platter
Handful coriander leaves, chopped fine and half cup fresh coconut for garnish

Put the grated mango, coconut, green chillies, red chillies and 1 tsp mustard seeds into the blender and blend until it becomes a smooth mass.
Heat 1/2 the oil in a bandley ( wok).
Add 1 tsp of the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
When they pop, add the turmeric, then curry leaves, then heeng.
Add the mango-coconut paste and stir, cooking on a medium flame for 2-3 minutes until the mango is cooked but not overcooked. Set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil and put in the peanuts. Fry them on a medium flame, stirring occasionally until they turn crisp and brown. Remove from heat.
Add the mango paste and the peanuts to the rice, as well as salt, and mix well, checking to see if the flavour is uniformly mixed. It should taste sharply sour, salty and spicy. In case the mango is not sour enough, you can add a bit of lemon juice to the rice.
Let the rice stand for 2-3 hours, so the flavours are fully absorbed and mature.
Garnish with coriander and coconut before serving.

This dish is served cold, so it can be made well ahead of time if you are entertaining guests.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My food memories

I just started reading a book called Death by Pad Thai, an interesting read about people's food memoirs. It is amazing how human beings from all over the world have such an intimate relationship with food. For us, as a species, food is about so much more than filling one's stomach, unlike for the rest of the animal kingdom. It's about love, about control, emotions, competence, stress-relief...

The fact that I have a food-oriented mindset is (sadly) obvious. Apparently when I was as young as two, when mom was busy washing clothes in the loo, I polished off a whole ceramic jar of lime pickle, on one occasion, and a whole steel utensil full of either Gojju( spiced tamarind sauce) or Saaru ( lentil dish with tamarind and spices) on another. However, many of my food memories center around the summer holidays.

During the summer, mom, my sister and I would travel south to meet the family, and my favourite stop would be in Mysore at my uncle's house. My cousins and the two of us were the only kids on dad's side of the family, and we were extremely close. The age-gap was considerable - my eldest cousin was 6 years older than us 2 middle ones and we were 6 years older than my sister. But that never got in the way of a good time, and the four of us were a great gang. The tiny two-bedroom flat accommodated Grandfather and grandma, my aunt who lived with them, and maybe one of dad's sisters who would accompany us from Bangalore, my uncle and aunt and their two kids and my sister and I and our parents. It never felt crowded ( unless someone was in a hurry to use the one loo), and there were always enough beds, enough food and enough love to go around.

My grandfather would get up very early in the morning - around 5:30 - and go out to fetch the milk for coffee. I used to accompany him, the two of us walking down 100 feet road, clanking the big steel vessel for the milk. The air would be crisp and cool, the gulmohur trees overhead bursting with crimson blooms. A coffee roasting shop at the corner of our street would send out the warm, spicy scent of coffee into the morning air. We'd step carefully around numerous cow patties and walk all the way to the milk booth and back, grandpa telling me stories in his wheezy voice. When we came back, he would carefully make coffee for the entire household, pouring out the decoction he had set the previous night, heating the milk and adding measured spoons of sugar. Then he would make a separate cup of milky coffee for me and watch me gulp it down, his face alight with affection.

Every couple of days, we would all march down to the Mysore market, one of the first and most famous covered bazaars, and buy a variety of vegetables and fruit from the vendors. My parents always claim that fruit and vegetables available in the south are more flavourful and fragrant - I'll have to check that out for myself as a grown-up 'foodie'. Perhaps it was the laughter and companionship of loved ones that added the extra savour. Mom would go crazy about the flowers, and buy long strings of jasmine to put in her hair - something she missed badly in Delhi. Mangoes would be bought by the dozen - thothapuri, to be eaten with salt and chilli powder, huge malgoas, sweet and silky, fragrant banganpallis from Andhra and small, delightful badamis - to be had by themselves or made into Mango Sreekarane ( see the recipe at delight2read.blogspot.com)

Sreekarane was a family favourite, to be eaten after a meal as dessert, with the chappattis as an accompaniment or anytime as a snack. It involved squeezing all the flesh off the mangoes, and we kids would get the gottas or the seeds, with whatever flesh was adhering to them, to polish off by ourselves later. Once, when the extended family had come for a visit to the new house we had built ( 35 people in a 3 bedroom home for the summer!), my cousin and I decided to help make the Sreekarane. We craftily barely so much as bruised the mangoes before dropping them into the gotta pile, and had amassed quite a healthy stock until we were sadly discovered and chased out of the kitchen.

One of the exclamation points of the summer was eating out at restaurants, which we never did in Delhi. My cousins' next door Gujarati neighbours were very fond of all of us and their kids would be in and out of my cousins' home all day. Bhabhi and Kalyanji used to take all of us kids to Lalit Mahal Palace, which stands white and serene next to the brooding majesty of Chamundi Hill. In those days, its gardens used to run wild and we kids would have a wonderful time playing amidst all that greenery. Moreover, the outing was made extra-special because we'd go in Bhabhi and Kalyanji's car - an old Fiat which was packed to the gills with all of us - which made us feel like little Maharajas and Maharanis, so rare was car ownership.After we were finished playing, we would head for Indra Vihar restaurant - which had the added attractions of a. being a drive-in restaurant, and b. having a set of swings in the courtyard - where we invariably ordered chhole bhaturey.

Set dosa was another summer staple. My uncle would fetch it from a nearby hotel for breakfast, accompanied by chutney and huli. The dosas would come wrapped in layered banana leaves and be stored in a casserole dish to stay warm as successive batches had their share. We used to bring out the soft, fluffy, homemade white butter and put dollops of it onto each hot, bland, pillowy white dosa, the chutney a fiery counterpoint.

All meals were batch-processed, because there were simply too many of us for any table. Every day the grown-ups would quickly finish their meal and get out of our way. We kids preferred to be the second batch, because our meals were interminable. It used to take us two hours or more to finish because we would be so busy talking, fighting, arguing, and inevitably, shaking in uncontrollable fits of laughter until no one knew what she was laughing at any more, just that she was laughing. On one memorable occasion, my cousin was so busy laughing, she didn't notice she had poured all the contents of the salt shaker into her curd-rice until she took her first mouthful.

In the evening, a number of visitors would drop in, for my uncle's family was a social hub. My grandmother's sister ( about 3.5 feet tall!), any number of dad's cousins, uncle's friends from NIE, my cousin's friends, grandpa's clients...Hot filter coffee or sweet tea was of course available to anyone who wanted it. Apart from that we would have tongue-tingling snacks like churmuri or hacchida avalakki. We kids would watch the entire process, our mouths watering, as our moms sliced the cucumbers and cut the onions and green chillies, roasted the avalakki and blended the ingredients to produce a healthy snack that exploded in a flavourful mouthful of fiery, sour, crunchy, cool and soft all at the same time. We used to take the snack out onto the rooftop, from which you could see most of Mysore - a warren of red-tiled roofs, with the golden dome of the Palace glowing at sunset, and a tiny beacon at the top of Chamundi Hill. It was wonderful to feast on favourite recipes while enjoying the fresh breeze and the sight of the birds returning to their nests in the big peepul-banyan trees in the courtyard of the temple opp0site our house.

We would go on excursions and picnics together, either all the grown-ups and the kids, or just the four of us. Now I find it incredible that a 13 - 14 year old would be in charge of 2 eight year-olds and one toddler, and that the four of us would wander all over Mysore without coming to any harm. A favourite destination was Kukkarahalli Kere, and the four of us would start off early in the morning - around 7 - to walk all the way there - a distance of 2-3 kilometers from our house. The lake was always interesting, with flocks of birds, beatiful trees and shrubs and gardens, and tons of waterlilies clogging the lake waters. At the end of the excursion, we'd go to Ramya restaurant for breakfast, consuming vast quantities of hot idlis and vadas with coconut and onion chutney. Another picnic venue for the four of us was the Mysore Zoo, which is a beautifully green place. We'd walk there and back, and linger for hours, seeing all the animals, gathering gulganji ( bright red, hard seeds) to play Alagulimane (known as Mancala in the West), and inevitable have a whole bottle of Bejois mango drink. Chamundi Hills and Brindavan Gardens were outings for everyone, and we'd hire a van to drive there, with food packed for the day - flasks of hot filter coffee, yelakki bananas (tiny bananas bursting with sweetness), puliyogare or bisibele bhaath, curd rice and all manner of crunchy fried stuff, to keep our mouths busy all day.

After dinner, the inevitable practice was to stay up together, all of crowded into the big front room, catching up on the extended family and bringing old skeletons out of their closets while playing 28 ( a card game). The session used to go on until midnight or later, though grandfather would excuse himself to go sleep relatively early since he was a man of highly disciplined habits. Then my middle-cousin would drop off, and my sister. I was the proverbial night-owl, drinking in all the stories from when my dad and uncle were children. Finally, when everyone decided it was time they all went to bed, a nightcap would be made of Horlicks or Bournvita, the hot milk poured from one steel tumbler to another until a thick froth rose on top, which would leave a creamy moustache on my face, to be licked off at the end. Even today, the taste of Horlicks is the taste of childhood, those neverending days of sun and laughter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sindhi Curry

I love experimenting with food and think that India has an amazing repertoire of dishes. Every corner of the country has its specialties, every household has its own individual touches and flourishes which make for a unique food experience. We have two food weeks at home which everyone looks forward to. One is world cuisine week - each day I cook an all-vegetarian meal from a different part of the world - France, Italy, Middle-eastern, Chinese, Thai, British, Mexican...The other one is India food week - each day is devoted to a different part of India - Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bengal, Gujarat, Kashmir, Punjab...This event gives me and my family lots of pleasure and of course, I do learn dishes which are used through the year to add variety to the daily table.

Among the varieties of Indian cooking that I picked up is Sindhi food. On Saturday, as my in-laws were coming for lunch, I made Sindhi curry with Jimikand ke kabab. Both the dishes turned out great and are definitely on my list of daily menus for the future.

Sindhi curry
1 cup of tur dal (I used mixed dals since I get a bigger kick out of that)
6-7 kokum, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp tomato puree
150 gms guar phali (cluster beans), topped and tailed and whole/ cut into halves
100 gms lobhia beans (long beans), topped and tailed and whole/ cut into halves
1 inch Ginger, pounded fine
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
Pinch turmeric
2-3 green chillies
1 stalk curry leaves
2 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
Pinch asafoetida (heeng)
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Chilli powder to taste
8 cups water

Cook the dal in 2 cups of water with the tomatoes. When done set aside to cool and then whisk/ run in the blender so the dal blends into a smooth mush.
Put the oil in a deep, heavy bottomed pan to heat on medium.
Add the turmeric, followed by cumin seeds, when the oil is hot. When they turn toasty, add the fenugreek seeds and asafoetida, followed by the curry leaves.
Then add the green chillies, followed by the ginger.
Add the besan and roast, stirring occasionally until the besan starts giging off its characteristically warm aroma.
Add the kokum, the dal, the beans and the water and set to simmer. Keep it cooking until the beans are done - about 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Then add the salt and chilli powder, adjusting to your level of spice.

I added a small lump of jaggery as I preferred it that way, though that is not traditional. This curry is typically served hot with rice, though it tasted good with rotis as well.

Jimikand ke kabab
1 medium sized jimikand (Yam), peeled, chopped and boiled/ cooked in a pressure cooker with minimal water
1 tbsp dhania powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
2-3 gloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Chilli powder to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or 2-3 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
2-3 tbsp oil

Mash the jimikand into a smooth paste.
Add the other ingredients and mix together to form a dough, excluding the breadcrumbs/ besan and oil.
Form the dough into 15 - 20 round balls, adding the breadcrumbs to help it hold together.
Flatten the balls into patties.
Shallow fry on a griddle/ frying pan at medium heat until browned on both sides.
Serve with a meal or as starters or a snack, with green dhania-mint chutney.

PS. I believe Yam is from the broad family of cacti and succulents. Succulents are among my favourite types of plants, they are so individualistic.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chhole bhaturey

This weekend was a very foodie one. It was A's birthday so we went out to a new French restaurant, Terroir, for dinner on Friday. Then Saturday, his parents were coming over so I enjoyed cooking up a special meal for them. Finally, on Sunday, despite a rather hearty lunch at the club, I made Ali's favourite food - chole bhature for dinner.

It's a little weird that I should enjoy cooking so much, given that as a youngster, whenever my mom tried to teach me how to cook, I'd shrug it off as a 'girl' thing in my feminist avatar. Maybe it's the appreciation hound in me:)!

Anyway, I have always loved the chhole made at Bengali Sweets in Bengali market. There really is something special about those, and when A and I used to work in CP, it used to be a regular haunt for us and our gang of friends from office. A would always unwaveringly order the chhole bhature, and I always made him ask for a second bowl of chhole for me. Some years later, I discovered a recipe for Pindi chana which recreates the same taste, except, of course, that I'm not quite so liberal with the oil as the Bengali Sweets cook.

Pindi Chana
1 cup chhole ( chick peas)
2 tsp ajwain (carom seeds)
1 inch ginger, cut into thin slices
1 tbsp tea leaves
3 tbsp besan ( chickpea flour)
Black/ rock salt to taste
1 tsp anardana ( pomegranate seeds)
1 tsp Amchoor ( dried mango powder)
4 cloves
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves ( Kasoori methi)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp chilli powder ( or to taste)
5 tbsp oil

Cook the chhole using the quick-soak method - soak the chick-peas for one hour. Then cook them in the pressure cooker for 1 whistle. Let them soak again for an hour. Then cook them with 1 tsp of soda-bicarb and 2 tbsp oil for 2 whistles, along with the tea leaves, cloves and ginger tied in a thin muslin bag. They'll come out soft, dark and mushy and the soda bicard reduces the 'gassy' quality of chhole. Discard the muslin bag. Reserve the liquid in case it is needed later.

In a wok, put the rest of the oil and heat on medium flame. Put in the ajwain seeds and stir.
After half a minute, put in the besan. Let the besan roast until it starts giving off a warm aroma and turns marginally darker.
Add the rock salt, amchoor, anardana, chilli powder, dried fenugreek leaves, pinch of turmeric and stir to mix.
Add the cooked chhole to this and stir. add a little of the reserved liquid in case the chhole turns too dry.
Garnish with sliced onion rings, tomato rings and slit green chillies.

This chhole has a tendency to keep drying out unless you add heaps of oil, which I don't dare to do, so I add the reserved water every time I re-heat it.

It tastes wonderful with bhaturey of course, but also goes well with rotis.


2 cups plain flour (maida)
1 cup semolina/ cream of wheat ( sooji)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sour plain curds ( yoghurt)
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
Warm Water

Soak the sooji in just enough water to cover it and keep aside for 10 minutes.
Separately, mix the salt, baking powder, baking soda and plain flour together.
After ten minutes, sift these ingredients into the sooji mixture.
Add the curds and just enough warm water to make it into a pastry/ roti type dough.
Put into a greased polythene cover and keep aside for 3-4 hours in a warm place.
Make 8-10 balls out of the dough.
Roll out into either an oblong or round shape (I prefer round because I have a small wok), approximately the diameter of the palm.
Deep fry by sliding gently into hot oil, then pressing down until it puffs up.
Serve hot.

I like a vegetable to join us for every meal, so yesterday I made some Indonesian eggplant to go with the chhole Bhature, and it accompanied the dish really well. This is from one of my favourite food authors, mMdhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook.
4 long, slim purple eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
4 shallots
5-6 dried red chillies
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch ginger
2 tbsp tomato puree
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil

Grind the shallots, garlic, ginger and red chillies together.
Fry the eggplant - I prefer shallow fry though it tastes even better deep-fried.
Heat the oil. Add the ground paste to it and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the fried eggplant and the tomato puree and stir to mix.
Cook for 2-3 minutes so the paste infuses the eggplant.
Add salt to taste.
Serve hot.

This tastes great with rotis, puris, even crusty bread. It also provides a hot and spicy contrast to bland, creamy curd rice.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stone Soup

I was thrilled when I saw that one of the foodblog events for this month is on soup. Soup is one of my favourite forms of nutrition, as a meal substitute, complement or just an in-between snack. In fact, in winter in Delhi, when the supply of vegetables is bountiful, soups are a part of every single meal for us, and there are endless variations on each theme that one could come up with.

Soup is also one of the easiest types of food to experiment with, and all one is limited by is one's imagination. One of my favourite fairy tales is the one about Stone Soup. A broke soldier is wandering around the countryside and begs a night-shelter at the home of an old woman. He is extremely hungry. She however is miserly and does not offer him any food. Then he entices her by saying that he can make stone soup - all it needs is water and a stone to make the most delicious soup. She is intrigued by this and sits by to watch as he puts water on to boil, adding a large grey stone to the pot, and a pinch of salt. Then he says it tastes delicious but some potatoes would make is superb. She digs into her larder and finds some potatoes. Then he suggests adding some tomatoes, then some carrots and so on. The gullible old lady readily supplies each new ingredient in her greed to discover a soup made of nothing until he finally dishes up a flavourful broth, 'made of nothing but stone and water'.

I have a version of stone soup too, born of ingenuity. All it requires is rooting around in the fridge and the larder and artful editing!
Stone Soup
2 carrots, cut into 2 inch sticks
Handful of French beans, cut into 2 inch sticks
4 tomatoes, diced
Yellow bell pepper, cut into 2 inch strips
Handful of green peas, fresh or frozen
Cup of haricot beans, soaked over night and cooked until soft but not mushy
4-5 spring onions, cut small including the green
2 shallots, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1.2 litres water/ chicken stock
Bouillon cube
Salt to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
Sugar to taste
Paprika or cayenne pepper to taste
Mixed Italian spices
2 tbsp pesto/ arrabiatta sauce/ sun-dried pesto

Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan.
Add the garlic and onions and stir. Cook until the onions are transparent.
Add the shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, then the green beans. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes, then add 1.2 litres water and the bouillon cube.
Let it come to a rolling boil, then add the carrots and cook for a few more minutes until the carrots are al dente.
Add the bell peppers, then the peas and lastly the beans.
Add the spices and the seasoning and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the pesto/ arrabiatta sauce and stir to mix.
You can add a garnish of cut chives or scatter torn basil leaves on top before serving.
Serve hot with crusty bread.

This soup turns better with keeping, and works really well as a meal in itself, with a salad of greens on the side. You can add any number of vegetables - courgettes, diced pumpkin, cherry tomatoes or sundried ones, mushroom, baby corn, spinach or kale stir-fried in a little oil...You can also substitute the pesto with any number of things - rasam or sambar powder, thai nam pla sauce, thai sweet ginger-chilli sauce...

Another of my favourite soups, and a truly sophisticated and refined one in contrast to the rustic and earthy flavour of 'Stone Soup' is Red bell pepper soup. This one is always a hit with everyone whom I've served it to and makes a delicious accompaniment to a festive meal.

Red Bell Pepper Soup
Ingredients (for a 4 person serving):
4 Red bell peppers - count one pepper per person
3 Tomatoes, pureed - count 3/4th the number of tomatoes to the number of peppers
1-2 onions, diced
1 blob butter
2 Fresh rosemary sprigs (use 1 tsp if using dried rosemary)
120 gm heavy cream
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
1 tsp red chilli powder
1.2 litres water/ veg stock

Roast the bell peppers in an oven and then peel. The best way to do this is to stash the bell-peppers in a ziplock bag immadiately after roasting, zip it shut and put away to cool. This way you don't lose any of the delicious juices oozing out of the pepper. Once cool, the skin comes off easily.
Chop them roughly.
Puree the fresh tomatoes - I usually just grate them, using the finest holes on the grater, which gives me a good puree and saves me the bother of fiddling with the blender and skinning the tomatoes beforehand - the skin comes off while grating.
Put the butter into a heavy bottomed pan and let it melt. Add the onions and cook until translucent.
Add the bellpeppers, the rosemary and the stock. I like to tie the rosemary up in a muslin cloth, as the needles shed otherwise and it's a pain to fish them out.
Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Let it cool down, remove the rosemary and then blend in batches.
Put the soup back on the stove and add the tomato puree. Let it come to a simmer, and add the seasoning. The sugar is required if the bell peppers or tomatoes are not sweet. In India we tend to get more sour tomatoes, so I usually add a spoon or two of sugar. Add half of the heavy cream, stir/ whisk to blend and then turn off the heat.

Serve hot, using the rest of the cream as a decoration, delicately swirled into each bowl, with a sprinkling of paprika on top.

This soup has a lovely, elegant and rich taste, so I find it does best by itself, without any bread on the side. The quality of the ingredients really makes a difference to this soup, so shop for the ripest, sweetest tomatoes and bell peppers you can find. The soup should have a gentle, sweet taste, with no hint of sourness from the tomatoes.

I do have my shortcuts for this soup - I find it tastes just as well if I add just a tiny bit of the stock to the bellpeppers and blend after simmering, and then pour in the rest of the stock. This is mainly because I'm a disastrous blender of larger quantities of liquids ( mostly because I don't have the patience to process it in batches) and have learned my limitations after turning my kitchen walls parti-coloured over years of soup-making. Also, you can make it without the rosemary at a pinch, but its addition takes the taste of this soup from delicious to sublime.

Tip: I like the contrast between the soft, velvety sweetness of the vegetables and the punch of chilli powder but if you're not a chilli person, you can use just paprika for the flavour and for its colour.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Summer Perfection

I've been doing my usual lunchtime thing of trawling food blogs, and I noticed several entries about heirloom tomatoes. Which brings me to a simple recipe for an amazing salad that I came up with this summer. We were on holiday in Greece, Santorini, to be exact, and staying in an apartment, planning to cook some of our own meals. Santorini is an island that formed from a volcano, and something about the volcanic soil is meant to produce special tomatoes. So we bought a bunch of Santorini tomatoes to go with our meals. One bite and we were hooked - these are the more intense, flavourful, sweet, fruity, tomato-ey tomatoes we'd ever tasted. We wanted a side dish to go with a simple meal of moong dal and rice, and this not only met the requirements but became a staple for the rest of the week.

Plum tomatoes - count about 6 per head, sliced in half
3-4 cloves garlic
Really good extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Basil if you want to be naffy

Put the cut tomatoes into a bowl. Pound the garlic into pulp and add to the bowl and toss. Leave for about half hour. Add salt just before serving, else the tomatoes go all watery, and toss to mix. Drizzle the olive oil generously over the top. If you really want to, tear the basil leaves roughly and scatter on top. ( coriander leaves would taste equally great!)

This tasted great with a relatively bland Indian meal, but would go well with a cheesy pasta (Alfredo?) too. The tomato juices at the bottom of the bowl are lovely for mopping up with a bit of crusty bread.

Gorikai Palya

A, my husband, decided to start brown-bagging his lunch a few weeks back. This being summer, we are swamped with veggies like tinda, tori and ghiya, none of which he was used to eating before he got married. Though in my infinite nerdiness, I like all these veggies (wait, there's more, my favourite veggie is aubergine/ brinjal, followed by spinach!), he can only take so much of them before he rebels. And despite being an aloo lover, I can't have aloo every day. So the tug of war continues week after week, though he has redeemed himself and me at his office this week thanks to my afghani baingan and masala puris. So having catered to his whims, I thought it was time to take a time out for a health check with guarphali, known as gorikai in kannada, and cluster beans in angrezi.

Obviously I couldn't follow the easiest course and make a simple south-Indian curry out of it - mustard seeds+ karipatta choka + green chillies + coconut garnish - there was no way A was going to scarf that down without protest. So I had to innovate and find a way to make it less-guarphali-full. I tried adapting good old bhindi ki sabzi techniques to cluster beans and it worked a treat. Even I really enjoyed them this way, whereas usually I tolerate them, at best.

1/2 kg cluster beans, washed, topped and taiked and cut into 1 inch segments
2 tomatoes, chopped fine
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 pinch turmeric
2-3 green chillies, chopped fine
1/2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

Put the oil on to heat.
Add the cumin seeds and turmeric. Wait till the cumin turns toasty, then add the green chillies.
Add the onions and fry on a medium flame until they are brownish.
Add the tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes are mushy.
Add the guarphali and stir to mix.
Cover the wok and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat.
Uncover and check to see if the guarphali is done - they should be bite-ready but not mushily soft.
Add the salt.
Serve hot.

This veggie goes well with chapattis, with a cucumber salad on the side. You can also serve it wiht rice and a bland dal, e.g. moong. The trick is to let the onions brown so they are slightly caramelised. The sweet taste of these onions blends well with the sweet-bitter taste of cluster beans.

PS. I was surprised to see in Wiki that they say that though Guar beans can be eaten as food, their more important use is as a source of guar gum, which is a dietary fibre supplement and is used in ice cream and as a stabiliser for cheese. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Krishna is my favourite God, so any festival that celebrates him is joyous occasion, and what could be more of an occasion to celebrate than his birth? We have some interesting traditions to do with Janmashthami from my parents' home, and I try to follow the same as far as possible at our place too. Of course, the pooja is in the evening. On Janmashthami, we try and make the food that Krishna reputedly loved, so I try and keep a little home made butter or ghee on hand as part of the prasada. We don't eat rice or rotis on this festival. Instead we have an array of 'thindis' or snack-ey foods for dinner. One dish that is a must on this festival is avalakki mosaru anna - poha ka dahi chawal. It comes from the Krishna-Sudama story, where Krishna's poor friend from Gurukul days comes to meet him to beg a favour. He is so poor that he has nothing to offer Krishna as a gift but his wife makes some poha ka dahi chawal which Krishna was partial to. When Sudama reaches Krishna's palace, he feels ashamed of his poor gift and doesn't show it to Krishna. But of course, Krishna has divined everything and devours the dish with great enjoyment. Sudama finds that he cannot bring himself to ask a favour from his friend, and leaves empty-handed. but when he reaches home, he finds that omniscient Krishna has granted him prosperity, without his needing to ever ask. What a lovely paean to friendship!

At our place, I make it a point to tell my kids this story and the story of the birth of Krishna, among others, on this day. We also paint baby footsteps leading from the entrance of the house till the pooja ghar, as baby Krishna is expected to step into these and make his way in. Of course, my son, now being four and well-versed in birthdays was after me to make Krishna's birthday cake and wanted to stay up and play with Krishna when he came! After the pooja yesterday, my son, for the first time in God knows how long, gobbled up his dinner without any arguments - a testament to the deliciousness of non-food.

The menu:
Masala Puris
Shavige payasa
Avalakki Mosaru Anna

Masala Puris
1 cup Thin semolina ( sooji)
1 tbsp oil
salt and chilli powder to taste
Water, as needed

Mix all the ingredients together, then knead into puri dough, adding water as needed. Keep aside for half hour. The dough should be a bit on the drier side.

Make 10-12 small round balls of the dough.

Roll out into thin puris.

Deep fry by sliding gently into the wok, then pushing the puri down with the slotted spoon till it puffs up, then turn over for the other side to cook.

Fry the puris until they are a gentle golden colour.

These taste good on their own, or with mint-coriander chutney or even Potatoes in gravy. They stay crisp for a long time, so they are good party food as well.

Shankar Poli ( a fried namkeen)
1 cup plain flour (maida)
Salt and chilli powder to taste
2 tsp Whole jeera seeds
2 tsp oil
Water as needed

Mix the ingredients and knead into a dough, using water as needed. Keep aside for half hour.
Make 5-6 balls of the dough
Roll them out into thin rotis.
Using a knife or a cutter, make diagonal lines on the rotis, then cross these with diagonal lines going the other way to make diamond-shaped pieces.

Deep fry on low heat till done. They should be a gentle golden colour. Store in an airtight container.

1 cup sooji (semolina/ cream of wheat)
1/2 cup ghee
1 cup sugar
Cardamom powder - 2 tsp
5-6 saffron strands
2 cups water or 1 cup water, 1 cup milk
1/2 cup raisins

Roast the sooji on a low flame in ghee till it gives off an aroma, then take it off the heat and let it cool. the sooji should turn a milk golden colour, not darker than that.
Boil the water/ water and milk till it comes to a rolling boil.
Put the sooji back on a low flame and add the water, stirring to ensure the water goes till the bottom of the wok (with a long-handled spoon to avoid getting splashed).
Cover the wok and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
Remove the cover and add the sugar, saffron and raisins. Stir to mix, cooking for a further minute or so.
Top with cardamom powder.
You can garnish with cashews roasted in ghee or slivered almonds.

An option I like to use is adding ripe banana pieces or pineapple. It imparts a uniquely fruity flavour to the dish. It's also a good way to use up over-ripe fruit. Just cut the fruit into chunks and add after the sugar.

Monday, September 3, 2007

It's greek to me

Over the weekend, A and I were feeling nostalgic about our vacation to Greece, so we decided to head for one of the 2 Greek restaurants in Delhi. It's Greek to me is a tiny place at the back of Safdarjung Enclave, near DLTA. The decor consists of mural-led walls with Greek-style pillars and greenery painted on them, and all the doors leading out of the restaurant are painted a bright blue - like that of the Greek Orthodox churches we marveled at in Santorini.

The restaurant had an extensive menu of starters, which they called Tapas, for some reason. We chose the Feta pie, in memory of our favourite restaurant, Volcano, on Santorini ( you can read all about it on my travel blog), and the zucchini fritters. Most of the main courses and the bulk of starters are non-vegetarian at this place. The starters came quickly and the portions were small but delicious. The service was very good - efficient and friendly. Little A had become fixated on sausages (which he has never tasted), for some strange reason, so we ordered those for him. A wanted to keep lunch light as we were going out for dinner, so he chose an omelette with spinach and feta cheese, and I didn't find anything Greek from the menu exciting as a main course so I ordered Pasta with pesto sauce and roast bell peppers.

The omelette was vouched for by A and little A enjoyed his sausages, but the pasta was not up to the mark. The pesto had way too much parmesan and as a result, was of a gluey consistency. I had to leave most of my portion, and was a little surprised that the waiter did not enquire about it when he cleared my plate.

We had fig icecream and Baklava for dessert. The ice cream was nice but the flavour could have been stroner. The Baklava was tasty and chock-full of nuts but not at all crisp. All in all, we were a bit disappointed with our meal and knew we wouldn't be going back there again.

A similar thing had happened the previous weekend with Tabula Rasa, a much in demand hotspot. A and I had gone there for brunch some time last year and enjoyed the experience. Last week we went there with friends for drinks. They have an interesting cocktail menu, with each cocktail highlighted on a separate page, and some exotic items were on the menu, including Cachaca which my Brazilian collague had told me about the same day. But when we ordered it, we were told that it was not available. The same thing happened with a couple of other drinks so we gave up and resigned ourselves to Martinis. The Apple martini was delicious and crisp, but the Pomegranate one I had ordered tasted like vintage cough syrup! It also cost a bomb, since it was made with Belvedere Vodka - about Rs. 1000, which I really thought was highway robbery, since a whole bottle of Belvedere costs about 2 K at a duty free.

The starters were delicious, especially some rolls wrapped in spinach and served with Thai chilly-garlic sauce.

We had asked for a separate table for the two of us, since the friends we were with were meeting another group for dinner, but the place was booked solid. "We'll see what we can do", was the best response we could manage, but eventually the manager did manage a table for us. The maitre d' was terrific, finding a really good table for us at the back. Later on he noticed me taking my inhaler and came over to tell me about a home remedy for asthma, which I thought was really nice - Only in India!

The music was good, and the place was rocking with Delhi's PYTs and wannabe HHs. Sadly, the food did not live up to the expectations we had from the restaurant. It was average, at best, and took a really long time to come. Moreover, while the waiters outnumbered the guests at times, they were ill-equipped to handle any request out of the ordinary. We had asked them to split the bill for drinks and starters from our earlier table, since we didn't want our friends and their gang to wind up paying for it. It took about 45 minutes, several repetitions of the request and the eventual appearance of the maitre d' for the transaction to go through!

A and I were discussing it last night and we thought that perhaps most retaurants are putting in so much effort to be different and innovative that those adjectives alone define the food experience. The delicious factor was missing from both these restaurants, and we most likely will not revisit either of them. (Well, maybe Tabula Rasa, for the music and the starters!) The only restaurants to which we have returned time and again - Diva, The Great Kebab Factory, Olive (now sadly closed), Tonino. All of them first and foremost have terrific food, followed by good service and ambience, not the other way around.