Wednesday, August 08, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And a Request finally fulfilled - TAPORIA/BESAN MIRCH

Hi everyone! This is G reporting from India where plenty of eating and experimenting has been indulged in the past few weeks. However, the rains have disrupted my internet connection hence the delay in posting. I hope all of you are doing well and are ready to wish me and the blog Happy Bday.

Yes, yes. The B-day was 29th July. But remember the rains. And I have been soooooo late in responding to S's very patient request for the recipe below that I guess I was well served when I missed the JFI after my own heart - chillies! I guess its only fair.......

(Taporia served with Rice and Masoor Dal)


This is one dish that I absolutely love and that I think epitomizes Rajasthani cooking - simple ingredients, short cooking time and immense flavor and heat.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, this dish has also been one of my Waterloos - neither did I manage to get the taste right, nor the texture. This time I made it in front of Great-Aunt Shiela (as opposed to her talking me through it over the phone) and then I tried it again at home. I am pleased to announce that the taste is SPOT ON! The texture could use some work, though.


Green Chillies - 4 large (large, not very spicy variety)
Oil - 1 tblsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Heeng - 1/4 tsp
Besan/gram flour - 1 large tablespoon


Corriander pwd - 1.5 tsp
Red chillie pwd - 1 tsp (adjust this to the hotness of the green chillies. The idea is to attain a balance of flavor and heat)
Amchur pwd - 2 tsp (again, the more hot the green chillies, the more amchur can be put to ameliorate the heat)
Haldi - 1 tsp
Saunf pwd - 1 tsp
Whole saunf - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste (efficacy of Indian salt is different from that of salt in the US so I wont hazard even a guess)


1. First, take besan in a vessel with a thick bottom and dry roast over a low flame till the color of the flour has changed (see pic) and a raw smell has gone (say 5-7 mins). Remove besan from the vessel. While this is happening you may cut the green chillies into large chunks.
Hint: The besan starts burning in a flash. So you cannot leave it unattended for long. Constant stirring may be needed.

(Roasted Besan)

2. In the same vessel, heat oil, sputter the mustard seeds. Then add cumin seeds and heeng. Saute for 30 seconds. Add the green chillies and step away (this thing splatters like crazy). Maintain your safe distance, add 2 table spoons of water and put a lid on the vessel.
(Green chillies after cooking for 3-4 mins)

3. After 3-4 mins, remove lid and add all the powders. Dry roast for a bit. You can add another 2-3 table spoons of water to make sure the spices are done.

4. After 3-4 mins, add the roasted besan and stir. Any residual water that is left will be absorbed by the besan. Keep on flame for 30secs-1 min until everything is fully incorporated. Serve
In 15 mins you have a delicious side which uses the most minimal and common of ingredients. Thats what I call cooking.

You may wonder why it was so hard for me to make it all this time - well as you can see from the pic above the texture of my dish did not come out right even this time. The main problem was when and how much of water is to be added (in the current attempt I have added too much water). If you add too much......its a gooey mess. Too little means nothing is cooked and fully incorporated. For your reference I am also posting a picture of the 'perfect' taporia below made by great-aunt Shiela.

(The Perfect Texture)
This dish may take a little time to master but its a wonderful, quick side to keep in ones arsenal for those days with nothing much in the fridge and Rajasthan on the mind.
Btw, there is something else also that has kept me busy over the past fews weeks in India. I am getting married in November and my mom has been dragging me around on endless rounds of shopping. This despite the fact that she has been preparing(i.e. shopping) for this for years!

Which brings me to a question: Were any of you driven MAD by all your wedding preps? Most of my appalled reactions to the preps are along the lines of " Are you crazy spending so much money?!" or "I would rather die than sit on a stage!" or "How cheezy!" !! Is that just me? Or were you too like that? I havent attended an Indian wedding in about 10 years so I really have lost perspective on the entire wedding circus :)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bad Girl Round Up

Its been a long long time since I posted anything. I have been cooking new things a lot in the meantime but somehow, the camera, the laptop and I were never in the right place at the right time together. Plus the last parts of the Spring semester are always really hard and time-consuming. So I took a bit of break....and welcomed my brother for a visit! So its been a hectic and fun time the past month. We rushed through the East Coast, have been back on MO for the past few weeks and are off to India in the next couple.

I have been reading all of the blogs that are bursting with new recipes and interesting ideas! I started visiting the local farmers market and marvelled at the freshness of the veggies (they last twice longer in the fridge), I discovered a great (though pricey) all-natural store in town, I ate at a wonderful all-vegetarian(!) south-east asian restaurant in NYC (Gobo is the name, if you are visiting NYC), I failed at making Bitman's no-knead bread (any tips?), I excelled at frying tofu (thanks to Barbara), I hosted two barbeques and 3 dinners..................phew!

Here is a list of the high points of the past 2 months cooking. I am not posting the entire recipes....just the source's that I adapted from and the changes that I made.

Early Summer BBQ: Farm-fresh zucchini, Eggplant, Green peppers, Onions and Tandoori cauliflower. I marinated the cauliflower in yogurt, ginger, garlic, garam masala and salt - was relatively successful. Any tips about grilling cauliflower?


One thing not in the picture was wildly successful - grilled portabella mushrooms marinated for 2 hours in am emulsion of dijon mustard, honey, soy sauce and olive oil. The paste coated the shrooms and gave a really lovely, crunchy, slightly burnt crust when grilled (10 mins, high heat).

Grilled Strawberries!!!

They were wonderful! I washed, thoroughly dried the berries, removed the leaves and threaded them on skewers. A little brush with butter (salted butter actually tasted better), 5 mins on the dying embers of the grill and serve with whipped cream and/or mascarpone cheese. My new absolutely favorite dessert - soft, light and not too sweet.

Ina Garten's Lemon Cream Sauce - very versatile and insanely easy.


This is a keeper recipe. The cream may make one slightly wary but you can put in any amount of veggies in this to ameliorate your conscience!

Try 1: Used baby spinach (not arugula), normal tomatoes (chopped in large chunks). I also added some basil leaves (roughly torn) and mint leaves on top of everything, right before serving.
Try 2: A zinger - while the garlic was infusing into the olive oil I also added some (ok, a lot) red pepper flakes. I think it adds another dimension of flavor: cream, lemon, heat.......can you ask for anything more?

Orzo with Oven-grilled veggies and a light, mint-cream sauce.


This was Try 3 of the basic lemon cream sauce (above) but with half the amount of sauce. Since I didnt have any spinach or basil or arugula I tossed orzo with the cream sauce and slightly crushed mint leaves. And oven-grilled veggies, of course. I think this is light and healthy summer dish. Plus it has the advantage of helping me use up all those tiny amounts of veggies that somehow always get left over (eye's rolling).

Asian Adventures! Tofu stir fry


Its prolly stupid to be excited about a stir fry dish but it took me FOUR tries and a long long post from Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries to finally be able to shallow fry tofu!

Learning curve:

1. I learnt that sesame oil handles better if you drizzle tiny amounts over nearly-cooked dishes, rather than in a hot, smoking wok.

2. Thanks to Barbara I think I will also use shallow fried tofu in Indian dishes though till now I have thought it a very bad sub for Paneer.

3. Another lesson: In my grocery I found small packets of mixed veggies in various combos (not in frozen section, they were near the fresh veggies) which are PERFECT for stir fry's. I usually dont like to 'waste' packaging by buying small servings but these are perfect cooking for 1 or 2 people and when you do not want to buy huge bunches of carrots, large zuchinis and pounds of snow peas! Particularly if you are capricious like me and do not want to see the same veggies again for at least 2 weeks :)

4. New & exciting ingredient in my pantry! Dried Mushrooms! They taste amazing and last long and they are very easy to use (woe be the amount of fresh 'shrooms I have shoved into the fridge, forgotten about and had to throw away!). I wonder why they seemed so intimidating before? Oh! And the recipes to use them on the back of the package are great too.

PS: The dried oyester mushrooms werent so great. Main problem was a fishy smell during the rehydration process. It is my pet peeve but may be ok with you.

Light Summer Pizza - adapted from Micheal Chiarello


I wanted to try out store-brought pizza dough and this seemed like a great summer pizza. I didnt have feta cheese (so skipped it) . I used hummus made in a local restaurant (yummy!) AND my twist was to use some new ings.........I raided the grocery store salad bar for olives, sun dried tomatoes and capers. I dont usually use these ings and so it seemed wierd buying whole jars for 1 recipe. Me thinks raiding the salad/olive bar is great idea to use new ingredients without having to buy them.

The last sinful entree! Three Cheese Mac and Cheese

Why, you ask...why this heavy comfort food in the middle of summer. Well readers, I wasnt well for pretty much the entire month of May. Nothing major, nothing urgent.....just dull, gnawing malaise. Horrid!
This version of M&C was inspired by Ina Garten (as you can see, I have been a model TV viewer!). And I have to say, a combination of cheese (rather than the normal cheddar) makes a world of a difference. I am a huge fan of comfort food but after three bites of mac and cheese, I am already bored....and looking around for condiments. Well, you wont need any with this version.



Basic Bechamel sauce---------------- 1 cup (see my recipe here)
Assorted cheese----------------------1 cup.
I used a not-so-gourmet store brought mixture with mozzarella, cheddar and .....something else!
Grated Romano and Parmesan --------1/4 cup
Cooked Pasta-------------------------3 quarters of box
Hot sauce (only Cholula!)-------------2-3 dashes

Method: Pre-heat oven to 350

1. Once Bechamel sauce is almost done, stir in the cheese and hot sauce on low heat. If the sauce is too thick you can use some milk to get the consistency to that of dosa batter.

2. Put a layer of pasta at the bottom of baking dish. Drizzle liberally with half the sauce. Put in the rest of the pasta and then layer with the rest of the sauce. Top with grated Romano and Parmesan (they gave a good crust and color).

3. Put in oven for 15-20 mins till there is a brown colored crust.

Phew! That was a long post and I hope that you enjoy these recipes and forgive me for my long sorjourn from blogging :) I promise (to try) to be more regular from now on.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Makkai Palak

Makkai Palak
Originally uploaded by g_food.
Second time's the Charm

It prolly sounds really wierd to everyone (particularly since I am a vegetarian).....but I have not had much experience dealing with *fresh* veggies. Of course I eat veggies ....but *fresh* eating happens in India. And there, I do not have to deal with the cleaning, cutting, storage etc of the veggies. In the US, till now I have not had the time or the money to buy (particularly) fresh greens. The boxed spinach and frozen methi were good enough.......especially since I was cooking for 5-8 people.

But now I do have the money (time is debatable). A few months ago I bought a bunch of delicious and beautiful chard. Stupefied by the beauty I quickly rinsed and sauted it. The flavor...the smell.....the grits of dirt in my mouth! It was horrid! Still, I have tried to get over that and made 'Makkai palak' (Corned Spinach) with farm-fresh spinach. Only this time I remembered that farms (and hence the greens) have dirt and that I need to remove it.

So I used the great Alton Brown's trick --- wash the sink *thoroughly*, fill it with ice cold water, dunk the spinach and let hang out with occasional stirrings. Then drained the sink and ran the greens under running water for a full 5 mins, rubbing vigorously with my hands...........Excessive, I know......but realise that I have been burnt!

So here is a recipe (with due credit to Lalitha who provided crucial inputs).


2-3 cups ---------------------very very washed, roughly chopped spinach (thawed if using frozen)
1 inch -------------------------ginger root
2-3 cloves -------------------peeled garlic
1 -------------------------------Bay leaf
1 stick ------------------------Cinammon
3-4-----------------------------Big cardamom
3-4----------------------------Green chiliies, washed and 'tail' removed

Method: Put all the above in a deep pot and put just enough water so that half the spinach is covered. Turn on the heat to medium-high and let come to boil. let the boil continue for 5-8 minutes. The lesser the water you can use, the better.

Turn off the heat and cool a little bit. Then dunk a hand blender into the same pot (deep sides useful now!) and puree away. I have also used the plain old blender for this. However, this takes away the texture of the spinach too much for my liking. But its still *totally* edible.

Once pureed, put the puree on a low flame (same pot). Add the corn. Season to taste.

In the meantime:
1/4 ----------------------------red Onion, chopped
1/2 inch----------------------ginger, cut into long, thin strips
1/2 cup-----------------------Frozen corn, thawed
1/2 tsp-----------------------Cumin seeds
1/4 tsp-----------------------Red chili pwd
1/4 tsp-----------------------Garam masala
1 tsp--------------------------Oil

*Heat oil in a small pan. Sputter the cumin seeds, saute the onion for 3-4 minutes.
*Add the red chilli powder and ginger. Swirl around. Pour this over the spinach-corn mixture.
*Sprinkle the garam masala....and some lemon juice.

Ready to eat! with sides of turmeric rice and a simple zuchinni curry

What would I have done different? Well, before puree'ing I wanted to fish out the dry spices (cinammon, cardamom). I really should have put them in a cloth bundle (or tea infuser) to save some time.

I was watching Emeril the other day and he demonstrated a really great way to clean leeks. Made me think that one of the intimidating (bok choy!) things about using fresh (and unfamilar) veggies is that you dont know
a. how and what part to wash?
b. which part to use? and for what?

I realise that this sounds very stupid. But it is true for me. So it would be great if we can share ways and methods to clean, cut and store fresh veggies as well as recipes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pasta Bechemel

Pasta Bechemel
Originally uploaded by g_food.
To Long breaks, New beginings, Less Dishwashing and Emeril - I have conquered my Waterloo!

Hi folks! Its been a long time since I posted anything. I was a regular reader and commentor during this time. But somehow, posting effort. So I thought it would be better to wait until I was ready.

Whats been happening in the meantime? Tons and tons of cooking and exploring new territory. In fact I conquered one of my cooking Waterloo's -- white sauce. Thanks to Emeril for providing the inspiration and THE trick to get good Bechamel sauce everytime.

It began as a simple evening meal (which I also wanted to eat for a light-ish lunch). So I boiled some pasta and made some sauce. Excited by the success (!) I completely forgot about the vegetables. Routed around in the fridge for veggies (peppers, mushroons, zuchinni and garlic)......oh no! I would need another pot to saute them!

Inspiration in the form of an oven. I decided to roast the veggie in the oven and now I am not sure whether I will ever saute them again. So here's how it goes.


Red bell pepper--------------half, long slices
Mushrooms ------------------ 1 big portabella, long slices
Zuchinni ------------------------half, long slices.
Garlic ----------------------------3-4 cloves
And anything else you fancy. I tried this with red onions and that worked great too.

Lay out some foil on a baking tray. Put in the veggies, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Hold the foil like a sack and give a few shakes to distribute everything evenly. Then unfold the foil flat on the baking tray, put veggies in one layer. Pre-heated oven 400F, 10 minutes (sometimes 15). Thats it.


Milk+cream --------------- half cup (in any ratio that you want, can be 1:0)
AP Flour -------------------2-3 big spoons
Olive oil--------------------half tsp
Bay leaf -------------------1

1. Set the milk-cream mixture on low heat on one burner with the bay leaf in it.

2. On another burner, put the olive oil and the AP flour, and keep stirring the flour. Now according to Emeril, the time you do this varies with the kind of sauce you want. A 'blond' Bechamel roux will need 2 sips of wine/beer/water to get done (while the duration is a bottle of beer for a gumbo).

3. Now grab a WHISK -- nothing else will do. Steadily pour the warm milk-cream mixture into the flour, whisking continuously. Once fully incorporated you have ---------Bechamel!!!!

Put together:
Mix the sause with cooked pasta and your oven broiled veggies. Season carefully since you already seasoned the veggies. Some fresh basil and you are good to go.

FAQ: So WTF was it so hard for G to do all these years?
Ans: After many many trials with this method, I think there are 2 keys tips. First, the temperature of the milk-cream should be similar to that of the flour. If not............LUMPS! Secondly, only a WHISK can be used to make this. Believe me, a wide variety of kitchen instruments were tried and none worked. This was the first time that I had an actual, legit excuse to buy one more kitchen thingie!

Btw, the creation was so good that I was able to circumvent my natural tendency to "Indianify" -- no cumin, dry red chillies, green chilliesm Maggie hot and sweet etc.

My exploration has now taken me into Oriental territory. Inspired by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries (as well as by the bottle of MSG that I smuggled in from India), I have been trying out Chinese dishes.

Oh and btw, MSG..........not so bad. Latest research says so, NYT said so and Mom (scientist) said so.

Friday, March 16, 2007

व्यंजा में आपका स्वागत है!

Here's to blogger in Hindi. Hope other langauages come soon.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Little Something for Home-sick Souls

Sorry couldnt embed it but click here to see it!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Holi to all of you!

Holi (the festival of color) is my most favorite festival and so it is even more depressing that I can not celebrate it.................sigh.........all the colors; the chemical smell of the goop that your brother smears on your face (which will NOT come off for weeks unless you take some precautions); the first hit of cold water as a friend catches you unawares; the trying to avoid being drenched while trying to drench someone else; the trying to find a patch of sunlight to dry off and get a little warmer; the trying to recognize people by squinting your eyes (they are colored out of recognition usually..but mostly becos of the fact that you are not wearing your specs); the every-year "surprise" visitors who come at 3 pm just as you have bathed and who color and drench you all over again; the listening to Papa's sermon about how India is a water scarce nation and so we should not play Holi with water; eating Mom's super-famous Holi spread, the continuous stream of visitors from 7 am to 10 pm...................God, I miss it sooo much!

Actually this post was supposed to be about some of the items in Mom's famous Holi spread. Things like gujiya (empanada-like entities with a sweet filling), kannji (a sour fermented drink, made with carrots, beets, water, mustard seeds, salt and water and left in the sun for at least a week), potato chaat, rice kheer, kachoris......................However, this post is NOT about these things. Why? Because I am SUPER home-sick right now.........maybe a little later?

To cheer me up, I am sticking with very simple comfort food these days. The items on the meal in the pic are exactly that - simple, filling and comforting - Mangori Aloo in yogurt gravy, punjabi tinda and paranthas.
Punjabi Tinda


Tinda (fresh or frozen) 500g
Oil 2 tsp
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
Onion 1/2 cup chopped
Tomato puree 1/3 cup
Ginger-garlic paste 1 tsp
Corriander pwd 1 tsp
Red chili pwd 1/2 tsp
Turmeric 1/4 tsp
Garam masala 1/4 tsp

1. Whether you are using fresh or frozen tinda, steam them in the microwave for about 10 minutes or till they are soft-ish. The "ish" is there because they dont become super soft ever. The best way is to bite into a piece and if your teeth dont encounter too much resistance, you are fine.

2. While this is happening, heat the oil and put in the cumin seeds. Once they are brown put in the onion, lower the heat and sit back. Let the onions saute on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is the key aspect of this recipe since in Punjabi cuisine, onions are slowly browned until they are soft and mild and totally mind-blowing.

3. After about 8 minutes (oil will be seperating from the onions now), add the ginger-garlic paste and let go for another 2-3 minutes. If the onion starts sticking to the pan then you can pour more oil OR a splash of water. It should be just enough to prevent sticking because the main aim is to remove all possible moisture from the onions.

4. Now put in the powders, stir till incorporated and add the tomato
puree. Again stir and leave alone for 5-7 minutes. After that add the tinda, cover and cook for a 5 minutes. Garnish with some corriander and serve with rice or bread.

Now this does seem like a pretty time consuming dish to cook (that too for a simple veggie like tinda). However, the proper browning of the onions is the key feature of this dish and of Punjabi cuisine in general. The sweet, smoky flavor of the done product is more that worth the time. Also, you can go about your business for the most part and need to stir only once in a while. Deccan Heffalump at Cooks Cottage has a great little essay about the proper treatment of onions here.

Another little trick is to actually make big batches of roasted onion-ginger-garlic masala and use them for various dishes or over time. Once fully cooled, you can refrigerate the onions and use them easily for upto 2 weeks.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rajasthani Papad ki Subzi - Extraordinary out of the Ordinary


There are many days when I am so hungry and tired when I come home that the idea of a hot, fresh dinner that is ready to eat in 10 minutes is ........AMAZING. The dish that I am going to talk about today is like that. It also has a plus point - it is made out of the most common, ordinary ingredients that I am bound to have. So there is no planning required - this is almost always the mark of a classic recipe to me. Plus, with the calcium in yogurt and the protien in chickpea are getting the most out of comfort food.

North Indian Papads are crisps made out of besan (chickpea flour) and spices. The flour is kneaded to a dough using some oil and water ( and spices). Then it is rolled out into really really thin taco-like entities. These are then dried in the sun for a few days. After this, they are storable for centuries (almost). How are they eaten? Well, you could fry them....but the healthier, and in my mind tastier way, is to grill them for 30 seconds (each side) on an open flame. But today we are going to use them 'un-cooked' to make a delicious and super-fast curry.


Oil 1/4 tsp
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp
Heeng (asafoetida) 1/5 tsp

Buttermilk 1/4 cup (You can use watered down yogurt) - the tangier the better.
Water 1/2 cup
Tumeric pwd 1/3 tsp
Red chile pwd 1/3 tsp
Corriander pwd 1/3 tsp

Papad (poppadum) 2-3 cut into small pieces
Garam masala 1/3 tsp



1. Heat the oil in a pot till hot, put in the cumin seeds and asafoetida. Let be till cumin seeds have popped.
2. Remove the pot from heat. Wait for 1 minute and then stir in the buttermilk/yogurt. Stir continuously and put on low heat. Add the water now. Stir continuously!
3. Add the powders ( NO SALT yet)
4. After 4-5 minutes of off-and-on stirring, you can turn up the heat to medium. Go about your other tasks....but stir every 2 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. (Yes, yes I do increase the heat at some point to make it quicker). Once it boils, you can let it boil away for another 2-3 minutes (no stirring required now).
5. Lower the heat and add the papad pieces. Let simmer for another 2-3 minutes until the pices are translucent. But you dont want them to fall apart. So taste. In fact, now would be a good time to taste and add salt. Sprinkle with garam masala and serve!


You can go wrong in two places. First, the buttermilk/yogurt could split if the pot is too hot when you put them in. We have a rememdy for that - 1 tsp of Besan (chickpea flour) will bind everything together again.
Second, if you salt too soon the buttermilk might split and/or the dish is toooo salty to eat. This is because Papads have a lot of salt. It is wisest to wait until the dish is done, taste and then add salt (if needed).

Here is my simple meal of Papad subzi, paranthas and green chilie pickle.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lesson Learnt! The Hard Way!

Ok, dont get me wrong. Its not like I am stupid or I think you are........but I could not understand why most of you have comment moderation etc enabled on your blogs. Then I started recieving some things like "Hey, liked your blog. Buy a house from me...". Theek hai......can tolerate that.

Then today, I was checking the keyword analysis for my blog in StatCounter......and apparently a pretty dirty phrase - when searched- was coming up with my blog!!! OMG OMG OMG. I nearly fainted! There were dirty comments posted on my blog but on really really old I never saw them.

So anyway, I appreciate your use of the tools more now - I guess you could think of this as a "coming-of-age" ceremony in the blogging world. Sigh........ :)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Garlic Chutney - keeping the chills and home-sickness at bay


As I mentioned in a previous post, Laxman makes one of my MOST favourite things to eat -- garlic chutney. There are many variations of garlic chutney across regions and cuisines. This one below is a pretty typical Rajasthani version, adapted towards my preference for extremely high spice levels and preference against actual pieces of garlic. Smooth, spicy, packing a punch and making any thing (even slices of Wonder bread!) interesting. Also, depending on how much you spice it up it can really keep the chills away! Plus it stays in the fridge make a huge batch once and enjoy for months.

Its a pretty long-ish post for a pretty simple thing. But its quite easy to go wrong with this (pro'lly cos you didnt listen to Laxman or thought yourself too clever) and I have learnt from many mishaps. Hope I can save you some of them.


Garlic pods 2-3 cups (!!), pealed
Green chille 3-4 (optional, but Laxman uses it to bump up the spice level so that you dont have to use too much red chille powder)
Cumin seeds 1 tsp
Red Chile powder 4-5 tsp (or to your taste)
Water 2-3 cups water.
Oil 4-5 table spoons (yes, its a lot)


1. Grind the garlic and green chille to a smooth paste. The definition of 'smooth' is really yours. I prefer mine without any solid garlic pieces. You can add water to ease the grinding process.

2. Start heating the oil on medium heat. In the meantime, take the garlic-green chile paste and mix with the red chile powder and salt. Add water.

Note: since you may have added water during grinding, but dont worry too much about the quantity. The consistency should be like dosa batter.


3. The oil must be heating up now. Add the cumin seeds. Once they sputter, SLOWLY add the mixture. The SLOW is essential since we are adding a lot of water to a lot of hot there is going to be spattering!

FAQ: So whats up with the quantity of oil?
Ans: Good question. You NEED it. Skimp...and regret. But here's a trick that Laxman taught me. After a 20-25 minutes cooking time, there will be a thick layer of oil over the chutney. You can leave it there (for maximum flavour) or skoop it out and use it for tempering for dal or veggies. Basically, the oil is garlic-chile infused oil and packs a HUGE flavor punch which can be used for anything....even for dipping bread in.


4. Cook on low flame for ...............20-25 minutes! Yes, it takes that long to cook. Basically, the combination of water and oil will gently cook the garlic and this needs to go on till ALL the water (from the garlic as well as the extra water we added) evaporates.

FAQ: Can we skimp on the time needed? Can we not add so much water when making a paste so that we dont have to cook the mixture for so long???
Ans: Absolutely NOT. Yours truly thought herself very clever and tried doing that a few years ago and ended up with raw garlic goop........and nearly got booted out by room mates 'cos of the smell. You need both the quantities of water and oil for the mixture to cook thouroughly and to have a wonder, coooked-garlic aroma waft through your home.

After about 15 minutes, the mixture will look like..................the picture at the top of the post. As you can see the water is almost evaporated and everything is starting to look (and smell) cooked. But dont give up.......Let things go for another 10-15 minutes on low flame.

Unfortunately, I dont have a pic of the final product - I ate it all!

FAQ: How to eat?
Ans: My favourtite method is to put one big heaping tablespoon in to one bowl of yogurt, swirl and eat with hot, steaming rice. But can and should be eaten with roti's, dosas (out of the world) or on slices on bread (very convenient and the best sandwich ever).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Non-Food, yet Important Post

Hi all, I have been meaning to blog about this for some weeks since I saw this video on YouTube.

Please do watch the video as well as the responses that have been posted. It was very eye-opening and a little scary even to me ( I dont have kids). I guess it really points to the importance of being involved in schools and not taking anything for granted. In this age of super-specialization we have a (natural enough) tendency to defer to the opinion of "experts". However this should not be at the expense of using our own common sense and experience.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

From Russia, with Love - Beet and Pineapple Salads

I colleague and friend of mine (O) is Russian and through her I have tasted some really great unusual Russian dishes. Of course, there is a lot in Russian food that I can not eat and O's constant nag is that she does not know what to cook for me since I dont eat meat! However she herself says that this pushes her to be a little more adventurous and out-of-the-box..........yeah, vegetarians!

Last Fall, O and her husband invited us to their home for a lovely dinner. I fell in love with these two salads to go along with Borcht. Both are super-simple and super-quick to make. Also, they dont require any "special" no planning required -- always a plus point to me!

I introduced my parents to Russian food this time and it was a huge success. They were demanding Borcht pretty much every evening. Of course, beets were in season in India and so it was an ideal soup for cold, winter nights. But for sunny winter days, the salads were in great demand too. So much so that I made them for the 50-60 people lunch party (which eventually became a 90-100 people party!). Again, huge success for very little effort. These pictures are from India.....hence the huge quantities. However, I have scaled down the quantities in the recipes.

O's Beet-Pickle Salad


Beets 1 cup, chopped into small squares
Carrots 1 cup , chopped into small squares
Dill pickle 1/2 cup, chopped (I used the normal, bottled variety)
Garlic 6-7 cloves, grated/pressed finely
Olive oil 1 tsp (dont remember if O adds it or not. I prefer to add)
Corriander leaves chopped, handful
Cheese for garnish (optional)
A twist of lemon juice (optional)

1. Steam the chopped beets and carrots till tender-to-your-taste.
2. Mix everything and garnish.

It is THAT simple and immensely tasty.

O's Pineapple Salad


Pineapple 1 tin (this turns out to be one of the dishes where tinned is actually better than fresh)
Sour cream 1/4 cup (I substituted home-made yogurt in India)
Cream 1/4 cup (optional, can be tried with milk too)
Garlic 4-5 cloves finely pressed
Cheese 1/2 cup (any kind that grates easily) grated not-too-finely
Salt to taste

1. Do not drain all the syrup from the tinned pineapple. Take out the rings and chop into desired size pieces.
2. Mix the sour cream, cream, garlic, salt. Make sure fully incorporated.
3. Put in the grated cheese and pineapple peices. You can add some of the syrup from the tin until you reach the sweetness level that you like. I would suggest that you dont make it too sweet.

The slight tartness of the pineapple, the sweet from the syrup, the punch of garlic....its a whole bunch of flavors packed into a really simple salad.

At O's place, we had the most scrumptious dessert! Hows this for Russian candy?!


This is O's daughter, Z -- the most adorable scamp ever!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bajre ki Khicchdi - Millet Mish-mash
Note: was posted on 9th Feb

Hello everyone. Thanks to everyone for visting and revisiting in the past 2 weeks....and basically waiting for me to get over a major bout of home sickness. I have been dying to post stuff for some time. But everytime I look at my pics from home........everything here seems to suck!

Anyway, no more whining. I promised to show you some of a 40-50 people bash (which eventually turned into a 100 person bash) at our place on Sankranti. Well, we had some cooks from outside come to our place and make some stuff...but mom insisted on doing the 'crucial dishes'. One most important one was Bajre ki Khicchdi- that is a mish-mash stew of a millet. This is an interesting crop since

a. it is perfectly suited for production in semi-arid regions of the country. Basically, it requires 1/3rd of the water that normal staples like wheat and rice would require.

b. It is highly nutritious vis. minerals. But not so much wrt to carbs. And hence it has been termed an inferior good- one whose consumption declines as people get richer and can shift to the more expensive wheat/rice.

c. It is making a huge comeback in the diets of middle-class (and above) Indians-- for both the above reasons. The reasoning that the Green Revolution that occured in Indian agriculture during the 1960s (which basically involved in large scale use of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice) is draining a lot from the soil and environment is starting to take root. And all of this is exacerbated as a renewed interest in rural and small town India that I have mentioned in a previous post.

Anyway, since we belong to a semi-arid (actually, plain arid region) of India, the use of bajra in various forms has always been part of our cuisine and rituals. Particularly during winter, since this millet is supposed to be very 'hot'-- it raises your body temperature when you eat it.


The way to make the stew is pretty labor intensive. The grain needs to be de-husked. That basically means either pounding it in a mortal or pestle or whirling it in a mixer for a few minutes, then removing the displaced husk by winnowing & sieving. And then repeating this process ad infinitum...........ok, at least 4 times. Here is Balbeer doing the dehusking.


Then you bung in the grain with triple the water and put it on a reaaaaaaaaly slow flame. In our case, this was a real, live, wooden stove in the backyard. The pot was coated on the outside with mud-water slurry in order to slow the cooking even more.

Wood fired stove

And after about 3-4 get Bajra Stew. It is traditionally eaten with Kadhi and mixed veggies in the winter. In the summer, instead of stew bajra is pounded to flour and flatbread (roti) is made.

Bajre ki Khichdi

Again, thanks for the great comments and thanks for checking in. More stuff soon..........hopefully. I wish I could shake this homesickness off.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Special things deserve their own space. A few days ago when I posted some of my favourite food/food related things, I did not mention this breakfast. Its just tooooo special and needs its own space.

For as long as I can remember, every morning we were in my grandparents house there was struggle. My grandmother who started cooking at like 6 am would want us to eat her breakfast while I only wanted to eat 'chakkar ki kachori'. Dont get me wrong -- I loved my grandmom's food. But breakfast was reserved only for kachoris. So my grandad would drive us to Chakkar (a cicular market in Ajmer, hence the name) and in a corner of that market is a shop about the size of a large crate of fruits (really).

In that sits a very fat, sweaty, immensely polite man and he serves the most divine kachori's ever!! To go with kachori's, there are also samosa's, crisp pakora's made of ground lentils, tamarind and ginger sweet chutney, coriander chutney and ......Kadhi! Kadhi is something like the standard chickpea flour-buttermilk stew that we know but the proportion of flour and water is really high and spices seem to be present in equal proportions to the flour (!!!) and bits of potato and other veggies are floating in it.

This time we got take-away breakfast from Chakkar and here's how it went.

1. First you feast your eyes and nose

Clockwise: Kachori's (filling of ground fried lentils, liberally spiced), lentil pakora, Kadhi, Dona (bowl made of leaves), Ginger-tamarind chutney, samosa.

2. Then you grab one 'dona' (bowl made out of dried leaves and twigs, oldest known disposable utensil environment friendly), place a kachori in it. Then break it up in the middle. Fill the depression with pakoras. Top with tamarind-ginger chutney.


3. Top this concoction with the 'kadhi' and enjoy.


The interesting feature of the Chakkar-kachori guy is that he has a very clear business model which involves only 3 business hours a day, every day irrespective of anything! He arrives at the shop at 7 am and is packed up for the day by 10.30-11 am. His day starts at 4 am when he and his entire family wake up to make the dough, filling, kadhi etc fresh. He brings the prep-ed ingredients to the shop, fries and assembles everything there, sells to his only clientele- the breakfast crowd and is done for the day. His business during those 3 hours is so brisk that he does not even bother to stick around for afternoon or evening business (hence I have no picture of him this time). His prices hover around Rs. 3 (7 cents) per heaped 'dona' and many poor villagers only buy 1 serving of the kadhi which they eat with home-cooked bread.

Here's to comparative advantage, super-specialisation and knowing-your-customer.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


What can I say? Words have been bubbling for days but either there was no time or no net connection. The "broadband" that we get in Delhi is like an Indian 'babu' (officer) -- temperamental, slow, very sarkari (beaurocrat-y).

So this past week, we visited Ujjaini-- an ancient and holy city in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It has religious claim to fame and is mentioned in the Purana's as one of the holiest sites in India. It is on the banks of the river Kshipra that is supposed to have originated from Lord Shiva's finger. And it is the home to a HUGE number of temples the most well known of these being the Mahakaleshwar Shiva temple. This is the only 'Swayambhu Jyotirlingam' in the world. That is, it is the site of a 'lingam' (one form in which Lord Shiva is worshipped) which originated by itself. That makes it a place where "....god came and stayed by himself and did not need an invitation from us..." in the words of our priest.

The town has many other interesting temples and traditions. Given the location of Ujjaini in the Malwa region bang in the middle of the country, this city has been at the cross-roads of all major cultural, religious & political movements in India be it marching armies or marching 'sadhus'. In order to get from the North to the south or from the east to the west, you have to pass through this region and this city.

This confluence is reflected in everything in the region! Rajathani, Gujrati and Marathi (the region has borders with all 3 states) cuisines, languages and cultures have come together in a different, softer avatara. Since my 1 day visit there largely consisted of a long puja on the banks of the river and then dashing from one temple to the next, I was not able to take many notes or many pictues. But I will share one really tasty snippet with you. And that is a popular breakfast dish 'Poha' or beaten rice.

Firstly, the region is one of the biggest and best producers of poha and secondly, I have NEVER eaten such a dish nor seen any recipe for poha like this. Our train stopped at 7.30am in a small town called Nagda, a few hours from ujjain. There was a huge crowd around a tea stall on the platform and the sight of a huge urn of fluffy yellow poha, topped with fresh corriander and served with a topping of fresh 'sev' namkeen......I just could not resist. Not only did I gulp down 2 helpings, I also had a conversation with the owner about how to make this divine variation of a standard dish. In the picture below, note the unique way in which the dish is kept warm over a huge pot of boiling water. If kept on direct flame for too long, the poha lose their fluffiness and are quite hard to eat.


Here is Govind's (guy in picture) recipe:

1 cup Poha, 1.5 tblsp sugar, oil+mustard seeds+turmeric powder+green chillies for tempering+tons of 'besan ke sev' and corriander for garnish.

Soak the poha in water for 7-10 mins till soft. In the mean time, heat 0.5 tsp of oil and add the mustard seeds. Once they pop, add everything else. Stir till incorporated- will only take 1-2 mins since the poha is already soft enough to eat due to soaking. Garnish with coriander and then with a heap of sev. Serve. The gujrati sweetness of the marathi poha interacts really well with the savoury rajasthani namkeen and the universal freshness of coriander.

Talking of namkeens......they are awesome here! I am sure you might have heard of "Ratlami sev'....well Ratlam is an hour from Ujjain.

There are many reasons for visiting/re-visiting Ujjain -- religious, cultural and particular one curry that I was dying to try out but could not -- Poppy leaf curry! The state of MP has quite a large cultivation of poppies (primarily for opium, unfortunately) and during season, this vegetable is very popular both for its taste as well as for ............other things! Reason to go back? Absolutely!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


The latest Outlook magazine has a whole feature on food and foodies in India. But they are not talking about the usual suspects in Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai. The whole feature is about food specialities in 'mofussil' (rural, far away) areas. Its is well written feature and they really try to capture the essence of eating and living in small town India. If you have time do give it a dekko.

It also raises an interesting point - 'Bharat' is as fascinating to 'India' as it is to foreign tourists. Even a casual reader of Indian news or views will tell you that this distinction between the urban, upwardly mobile, globalized, as-comfortable-with-basil-as-with-coriander India ('India') and the rural/small town, benefiting-but-not-much-from-economic-reforms, basil-worshiping India (called 'Bharat') has been in the news quite a bit over the past few years.

There has been a recent resurgence of curiosity about and respect for regional cuisine and lifestyles. In the early 1990s there was a renewal of interest in handicrafts and hand looms and that has continued and in fact, has been incorporated into high fashion as well. People like me who studied in Delhi University or JNU in the late 1990s will remember the khadi or hand loom kurta's, kolhapuri chappals and jhhola's that were the mark of a true intellectual, a symbol of empathy for those worse off than us as well as a symbol of their empowerment through the use of traditional arts.

But in this century, as economic reforms have started fructifying into massive economic gains the movement is about more than clothes. It is about awareness that a train ride away lies a land that may as well be foreign to you. It is about awareness that ignoring either India or Bharat can have electoral consequences (the last general elections were lost by the incumbent BJP and one of the reasons that is propounded is that the party did not pay as much attention to Bharat as it did to its traditional, middle class constituency in urban India). It is about awareness that the massive economic gains are leading to a fast, permanent shift in Indian society. The extent of social and geographic mobility has increased ten-fold just in the past 10 years. Places like Pune, Bangalore, Gurgaon are the new melting pots and it doesnt matter whether you are from the posh GK-II locality in Delhi or from Balia district in UP. But the fact that GK-II and Balia is squished together in space-starved cities means greater curiousity about what Balia has to offer the world.

As I undertook my own bi-annual tour of 'mofussil' places this winter, I could not but help think about how important and relevant this movement is right now. I hope that it is not just a fad that will pass away. I hope that we (India or Bharat) continue to be curious about each other and respect each other. And yes, here I do presume that the distinction holds. You may have your own views about this and I would love to hear them.

So what have I been up to the past few weeks? Eating my way through India and Bharat alike! Here are some of my FAVOURITE things ever to eat ordered by the time I took their pictures.

Lets Begin!


Favourite 1: Bengali Sweet Shop (South Extension Market) Chaat 'Bhaiyya' (brother). This guy makes the best roasted potato chaat as well as tikki's ever. And the 'gol gappas' (little balls full of spicy water) are as tasty as ever (despite using bottled water and gloves :)). My most-favorite chaat shop used to be in Khan Market but unfortunately, it closed last year since Khan market is getting “too cool” to have a sweet shop! Much as I like upmarket coffee shops and Italian bistros, they do not have chaat!!!

Winter Lunch
Favourite 2: Simple home-made lunch of potato-pea curry, dahi vada (lentil dumplings in yogurt), home-made green chilie pickle and 'Bathua' paranthas. Bathua is a green that is quite nutty in taste and really comes out well in paranthas as well as in raitas. Clean the leaves in cold water and then blanch in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Grind to a paste. For parantha's, incorporate this into the flour while making the dough. For raita: cool the paste and mix in yogurt. Sprinkle salt and ground, roasted cumin seeds.

Favorite 3: Mughlai food the way it is supposed to be at Minar resturant, Outer circle, Connaught place. Clockwise: pudina naan, chicken kadai (for best friend Malini) and Malai Kofta for me! And of course the mandatory pickled onions and papads. Reasonable (by Delhi standards) prices and really good food.

Now we proceed to Jaipur. Here is Bai making a delicious stew for me. She and my grand-aunt thought and thought and thought about what to make for me that I had not tasted. And they came upon this really traditional Rajasthani stew called 'Rabdi'. It was delish! It is a variation of the traditional 'Kadhi' made out of chickpea flour. Here instead they use 'bajra' flour. It is made into a paste with water. Then it is incorporated into buttermilk and cooked for hours on a low flame with constant stirring! It tasted perfect for a winter night. Plus all those wonderful minerals in bajra. Kudos to Bai and grand-aunt.

Bai in Jaipur 1206
New favorite: Bai in Jaipur making 'rabdi' for me!

But of course, that was not the evening meal! There was a proper dinner to be had which included my MOST favorite green chili dish ever (which is saying a lot since I love chiles in every form known to man). And also, the dish that has been my Waterloo for years. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many times I try, no matter how many tricks I use I can never get my 'Besan Mirch' to have the right taste and consistency. But hope is still alive...........maybe one day mine will taste and look just like my grand-aunt's did.

Super – Favorite: Green chillies in Chickpea flour

Favorite: Dinner at Grand-aunts home. Very simple, very very rajasthani. Clockwise: chickpea kadhi, besan mirch, potato-green bean curry, potato-cauliflour curry and a thick fat masala roti.

Non-food! Picture from the busiest market in Jaipur. Hustle bustle, color, rickshaws and traditional turbans (look at the red things above the shop). These turbans called 'saafaa' are worn by men and are made of meters and meters of beautiful, tie-dye cloth.

And now Ajmer – my mom's home town. My grandparents are no more yet the house and the place has so many memories of them and all the fun that we used to have their as kids. A large part of those memories involve food (my grandmother was an awesome cook)-- eating it, cooking it, shopping for it. My grandfather was a food enthusiast and a botanist to boot! So it was really informative going veggie shopping with him. Going there now is a treat because we get reminded of my grandfather and the vegetable sellers remember him and us! Like Bai in the picture below......she allowed me to take a picture because she had seen me since I was a kid.....and only on the condition that I print it out and bring it for her the next time I came! Also, 'Bai' means lady and is used to refer to women respectfully.
Bai in Ajmer 1206
Favorite: Vegetable market in Ajmer, Rajasthan. Tons of colorful personalities and beautiful, fresh, totally unmodified veggies.
Favorite: Fresh red chillies.

Favorite: Ugly and small.........but immensely tasty baby Brinjals.
Absolute favorite! The basket right in the middle (next to the scale) is an awesome kind of bean thingie called 'Mogri'. Its basically wild radish greens. Its chopped up and sauted in oil-cumin with potatoes with a sprinkle of powders.

Only favorite fruit; Guavas!

And now I will let you into the secret ingredients in my cooking. Yes, yes...its the Indian spices that you know all about. Just their source is Prithvi Masala Store, Gol Market Ajmer. I always take spices from here and almost never need to buy them from the Indian stores in the US.

House of Spice Ajmer 1206
For me, its like a treasure trove. Everything is fresh and he will grind, pack and seal in front of you so that you know that you are getting the real stuff.

Favorite and healthy: Fresh, unground turmeric. That is the real color, no digital tricks.

Sample box 1: Unground 'khadda' spices. Left to right, top row: Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin. Second row: Javitri (red flowers), ..............., star anise, Kalonji. Third row: White pepper, Big cardamom, dry mint leaves, dry methi.

Sample Box continued: Top row, left to right: Fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, black pepper, cloves. 2nd row: Ajwain seeds, cumin, anise (saunf). 3rd row: Red chillie powder, Coriander poweder, Turmeric powder, white pepper pods.

Dried mango
Fresh, Dried Mango before being ground into 'amchur'.

Pickle Masala all mixed and ready to go. Am planning to try this when I get back.

Back in Delhi, it was time for new years. And a north indian favorite was our first major meal of the year.

New Years Day Lunch
Yum-o: Makke ki roti (corn flour bread) with Sarson ka sag (Mustard leaves curry) accompanied with home-made butter, green chillie, Potato-Dill (!) curry and Onion curry. The recipe for all of these a little later in the season.

Favorite: Laxman in Kitchen making makka rotis.
He has been with us since I was born and pretty much brought up my brother and I. We used to spend so much time with him that both our tastes in food are more like his- totally Rajputi, Rajasthani, super-spicy, very onion-y, garlic-y – rather than like my parents ( very little spices, onion, garlic). In the next post, we will talk about my most, absolute, super favorite thing that he makes......Yes, I am repeating myself but there are only so many adjectives!

Next stop on this journey is going to be Ujjaini – the holy city of the Malwa region. Also, this coming weekend we have a huge (50-60 people) party at home. And since it is 'Makkar Sakranti' / 'Pongal' on Sunday, Mom will be making a traditional favorite – Bajre ki Khichdi with Kadhi. More on that closer to Sunday!