Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Year Gone By.....


...and what have I done?
Plenty; but not enough......
As a part of self-improvement plan, I aspired to, and got into a fellowship program. Whether the goal came of  a need for a mid-life career change, or a sense of underachievement, is irrelevant. Just the odds of competing against kids almost half my age, and succeeding, was fulfilling. It hasn't been easy going back to the life of assignments and grades, but I've survived half a year...and I look forward to actually getting back in a classroom at the receiving end this Spring.
I've kept up with this space here...sporadically, but surely. Writing this blog and hearing back from all of you has been uplifting in my darkest moments. Lets just suffice it to say that through you, I've managed to fill in a niche as close to my loved ones as possible.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gajar Ka Halwa - slow cooker


Gajar-Ka-Halwa and Delhi winters are synonymous, in more sense than one.  Start November, and fresh, red juicy carrots flood the vegetable markets. By December, the were the most prolific fresh produce you’d find for the next three months. This deluge of carrots also coincided with the festive and the marriage season back home. There just was no escaping this rich Indian fudge like sweet made with fresh grated carrots, milk, and loads of ghee.  

Although it requires relatively few ingredients, the actual recipe varies from family to family. My mom’s style of cooking this popular North Indian dessert involved roasting the grated carrots with  a humongous amount of pure ghee in a heavy bottomed karahi, till the moisture evaporates completely. Then she’d add whole milk and sugar and cook till the carrots were mushy and milk evaporated. Then she’d top off with khoya, nuts and raisins and crushed cardamom seeds.  It was melt in your mouth delicious, but it also took a greater part of half- a- day from start to finish to get it done. Whenever I made it here in the US, I never got it right. First because I did not have any heavy-bottomed cast iron pots to cook it in- so the milk eventually, almost always, got stuck towards the end and gave me the burnt flavor. Second; for all my faux-health conscious issues, I always skimp on the ghee….and third, my patience usually lasts about 45 min or so. So if it don’t cook by then, I just assume it’s done :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Weekend Morning Brunch with Samosa

We grew up in a time when schools and offices in India dictated a 6-day work-week rule. To re-affirm Sunday as his day off from work, my dad did all the things that he normally wouldn’t on a week-day. He was always an early riser, but on Sundays, he made tea for mom and himself.   He also let her sleep that extra half-hour - a big concession since he was a stickler for time and schedule. My dad was also a foodie, as well as overtly conscious of hygiene. He loved eating spicy chaat and “gourmet" food; but then insisted that his digestion-related issues were because of the unhygienic conditions of the roadside stalls rather than his over-eating. In his mind, the perfect solution was to start a Sunday Brunch tradition where he insisted that we break free of the dal-roti-sabzi routine and cook something “special". My mom wasn’t too keen initially; but he promised her he would help her with getting the brunch started. And he kept his promise as far back as I can remember….

One of the first recipes I remember him bringing home is that of a Samosa. He had it on a piece of a greasy, lined notebook sheet, with step-by-step diagrams for my mom to follow. He said he’d given 10 rupees to his favorite roadside-samose-waale-panditji for the recipe. Mommy was so miffed, that she refused to make it for him. So him and I sat down with a bowl full of all-purpose flour and emptied a big jug of water to make the pastry dough. And then, we were stuck- for the recipe said to break the dough into balls while we had a river of white gooey stuff in our bowl…nowhere near a dough that you could break balls out of….The samose-waale-panditji, in all his wisdom, hadn’t bargained for complete novices trying to replicate his recipe. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Craisin Scones

This past Thanksgiving, the kids were hankering for a meal like they had read about at school. Baby P actually came home with a written down menu that was a "vegetable..rian". We were to have corn and potatoes and beans :-) So I humored her. We had creamed corn soup, mashed potatoes, pickled beets (beets and beans sound the same…so I chose to mis-hear her since I just had beets in the fridge!!), oven roasted sweet potatoes….and this easy cranberry scone recipe for bread.  Went fairly well with the rich soup, even though I didn't add enough milk, and so the scones came out a bit crumbly….

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks.


The beginning of this week- A came home from work and told me. Some one we knew, not very well but well enough, had passed. I knew he had cancer. In fact he had had a surgery less than a week ago. He'd been delighted when I went to meet him in the hospital. " The prognosis is good"- he wrote for me since his tracheostomy prevented him from speaking. "The doctors give me at least 3yrs, but I'll show them how to beat it". Five days later, he was dead. The news left me shaken up. Made me realize how fragile and precious life is. And how obscure, the line between being alive and not. Though  Thanksgiving is not a traditional holiday in our family, today, I needed to look back at my life and give some measure of thanks. 

First of all, I feel blessed to have my life as it is today. There have been ups and downs, trials and tribulations. But that is what is meant to make us stronger. So I'll take whatever came my way and learn to be thankful. My past made me what I am today, shaped my dreams and hopes and expectations. I'll live up to them, and work towards a spiritual contentment, a sense of balance.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

15-bean Vegetarian stew in a slow cooker

Today, I want to talk about now. No stories, no memories.

A couple weeks ago, a recipe of Panchmel Dal that I's submitted to a fabulous event called My Legume Love Affair, first started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook was chosen to be a winner of the giveaway. As a result, I became the proud owner of a gift basket sponsored by Hurst Beans.  Then, in a separate pack, Susan sent me this great looking soup spoon. I couldn't wait to try the great bean selections I'd got.


My Gift from Hurst Beans courtesy Hurst Beans.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A blast from the past: Kalmi Vada

My MIL claims not to be much of a cook herself. But the truth is, her discomfiture in the kitchen makes her one of the better home cooks I know of. She measures and tastes and strives for perfection when most people, including yours truly, get side-tracked by their own confidence into serving without tasting first.  One of the first things I remember from her kitchen was this delicacy she called Kalmi vada.  I had been married barely about a month,  when she made these for the Holi festival over a decade ago.  I remember she'd sounded surprised when I said that I'd never eaten those before. Apparently,  Kalmi vada is a Rajasthani snack....never saw it made in my Rajasthani side of the family though.....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gulgule: A Childhood Favorite


Holidays have this way of creeping up and evoking nostalgia. Long forgotten memories, of people and things that we have taken for granted for too long....and when life gives you a breather, you turn back to realize that those memories have gotten a lot hazier than you ever thought they could. 

Today we celebrated Karwa Chauth- an annual ritual I grew up with - a day, that my mom described as her day off. For according to tradition she couldn't touch any needles.  Without her sewing machine or knitting needles, she had the whole afternoon to while away. And she did that by spoiling herself and me. She couldn't eat or drink till moon-rise. But that didn't keep her out of the kitchen. Together, we made a whole bunch of goodies for the special dinner at night; went shopping for red glass bangles and bright red vermillion, oiled, washed and braided our waist long hair. Around mid afternoon, she sat me down to listen to the "katha"- mythological folk-lores glorifying the day of Karwa Chauth- before handing me a plate of the mouthwatering, strongly fennel-flavored Gulgule.

Friday, October 4, 2013

10 Recipes for Navratri

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Navtri- literally translated: nine nights.

Navratris come twice a year- a whole 8-days of fasting with a pretty rigid diet rules.  The one in the fall is especially important though. Bengalis celebrate it as Durga Puja, and Gujrati festivities include girls in pretty clothes dancing Garba all night. Punjabi community in our part of Delhi was known to set up community praying events known as Mata-ki-Chowki; was pretty fun, albeit a bit loud!  Traditionally meant to celebrate the power of Goddess of Durga, the win of good over evil- in my home it was celebrated by  7 days of all fruit and vegetable diet with a celebration of the girl child on the 8th day.  No real festivities for us - just the fasting and praying. As a child, the real incentive was being invited to all our neighbors houses for a meal; and a token gift. 

Although religion does play a major part; it isn't all that drives my fasting ritual. Growing up, my brother and I had a pretty dismissive view of religion and tradition. In our minds, if it was tradition, it was ambiguous and meant to be discarded. Till some one twisted religion into science for me. I fast- because it detoxifies. A gluten-free diet every 6 months can be extremely beneficial to overall health. ...and girls, in a patriarchal Indian society, are pretty precious. So no hard feelings for giving them a week of fun and festivities :-)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

For the love of Gaundh- Traditional Jain Gum-Nut-Coconut Brittle.

This post here, has languished in the draft format for more than 15 days now. It was meant to be a quick one, to coincide with the occasion that it is associated with; namely the Jain fasting days of Paryushan or Das Lakshan Parv. But time flew by quickly. And life got busier than it has been all summer.  I will try to get a bit more organized and regular, but meanwhile, this is what you've been waiting for - another one of my MIL's specialities. She's made it every year that I've been with her during these days of fasting. The first couple of times, I didn't pay much attention. But then last year, by the time I figured that I'd like to know how to make it, she was already done. So this year, I was ready. Made sure she made it on a weekend, at a time when I was around, and got to see it being prepared first hand. As far back as I can recall, this is nothing that I ever saw in my own home.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Panchmel Daal- no onion or garlic.

Making Indian dals look appetizing in a photograph has got to be the trickiest thing ever. I haven't been able to master the art at all.  Which is one of the reasons why my dal posts lie languishing away, gathering dust for ages....as did this one. Then, this past weekend, I had the pleasure of dining with some dear friends. Her mom is visiting from India; and she had made Panchmel dal for dinner.  We played the guessing game for a while, then she finally revealed what went in the dal. I was quite surprised; mostly because despite having the same ingredients, her Panchmel tasted so different from mine.  Guess it is all in a mom's touch....!! But then that dinner prompted me to brush some dust away; and picture or not, this old post is going to see the light for for sure.

Panchmel dal- as the name suggests- is a mixture of five dals; or lentils. You usually mix the lentils with comparable cooking times. In my family, the mix is made up of skinned moong dal (split green gram), red masoor dal (whole red lentils), chane-ki-dal (split Bengal gram), arhar (split red gram) and urad dals (split black gram).  Panchmel dal as a preparation was always considered a delicacy and held in high esteem; reserved for special occasions, such as a son-in-law's visit. Typically served as an accompaniment with baati, or missi roti with dollops of hot, melted ghee on top...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Of 150 ramblings; 4 years; and things gone right....

When the dashboard threw out the number at me, I was surprised. Didn't know I could persist as long as I have, in this blogging atmosphere. A bit over 4years (started on Aug 9th 2009), and this post today will be my 150th. Just goes on to say that I jabber too much :-) Jokes aside, it's your support through all this time that kept the motivation alive.  This blog started as a means to relieve some of those feelings that threatened to suffocate me. It stayed private for a few years, open only to some family and close friends. My Life & Spice became a public blog at the insistence of my "bitter-better half" :-) And there has been no looking back since......

 I couldn't have done it without either A or those of you who are regulars at the blogger site and those that keep the encouragement flowing through my Facebook page. It is for you all that I keep it up through everything else that comes up in everyday life, sharing my trials and errors in the kitchen.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Teej Greetings- with Malpua/ Indian Pancake

Today, I learnt this morning, is Shravani Teej.....the festival of swings and mehendi.

For many many years in my growing up years, the first rains of monsoon would begin an impatient wait for Teej. More often than not, I knew it was around the corner when some strange messenger rang our doorbell with a box-ful of goodies for my mom - saree, red and green bangles, bindi-kajal-sindoor, toe rings, mehendi and mouth watering sweets made especially for my mom by her mom.....The D-day I'd see my mom deck up in all her finery, and dream of looking as beautiful as she did then; someday.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bhature - A Punjabi Flat Bread

I just came back from a 10-day vacation. My plan, apart from doing everything else you do while on vacation, was to catch up with blogging. In anticipation, I loaded up a few pictures, and saved a couple of draft versions of posts.  While I was doing that, I realized that this space of mine has become therapeutic to me. Writing relaxes me; but I have also become addicted to all the lovely comments that you all leave me. The last 10 days, I actually had severe withdrawl symptoms.

The one day I remember, is while visiting some family in Sweden. She made Chole-bhature for dinner. But somehow, her dough for Bhature got too sticky. They were hard to roll, and wouldn't puff up. I asked her her recipe, and realized it was quite a bit different from mine. So I figured, I'd share how I make this quintessential Punjabi flat bread. This may not be an authentic recipe, but this is how my mom told me I could make a fairly sticky dough manageable...and it works quite well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bhindi ki Sabzi- without the slime....


A couple years ago, I went looking for okra seeds to plant in my little vegetable patch. The lady at the counter in this quaint little organic farm stared at me for a while before finally speaking out her mind...."why on earth would you want to plant okra?" The confusion must have shown on my face, because she went on to elaborate...."okra is nasty...slimy and gross. Pick something else to plant- I have cucumbers, tomatoes- everything else except okra."

By the time I walked out of that nursery, I realized that the world can be divided into okra-haters like the plant lady; and okra-lovers a.k.a moi.....

Till that conversation, I had not even noticed the slime that okra generates when cooking. After that, I became obsessed with trying to find a way to cook crispy okra....

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Of Shakes and Mangoes.

Summer in India, and mangoes are two sides of the same coin. Can you envision one without the other? Summer brought with it initially the green tart unripe kairis- which would instantly be used up to make Aam kaPanna, ambi –pudina ki   chutney or ambiyari daal. As the sun ripened into a ferocious, blistering orange so did the mangoes. The tart turned to juicy, and the savory turned to sweet.  Rather than waste an over-ripe mango, you just made mango shake with lots of sugar in it.

Back again in my grand mother’s place, making a mango shake was a fairly communal event. The aam-wala was a maali from the neighboring orchard who loaded up his donkey with fruit that fell off the trees. Often he’d just plonk himself on somebody’s verandah asking for water to drink. Once the lady of the house came out, he’d expertly cajole the “bai” to taste his fruit.  A little sweet talk, a lot of haggling, and a deal was made.  Then he’d call out in a loud voice letting the neighbors know how this bai approved of his fruit, and what a deal he was giving her. More often than not, he’d attract several more customers. A few hours later, his donkey went home a load lighter...while the aamwala got loaded up :-)) 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Seyal Bread- or Bread Upma

The very first childhood friend I can recall was a very pretty little girl who lived two doors down from us. She was a year older than me. We met when we hadn't even started school, and remained friends till her marriage right after graduation. Those early years, we were inseparable. She was Sindhi, and I loved her mom's food. Around 4pm, her mom would stand on the balcony and call me- that was her tea time, and she always made a warm "tiffin" to go with it, which I devoured.

Those early years, all our dolls married each other....until that last time......

My uncle brought me a life-sized baby doll that could walk, talk and blink her eyes from some far-away land. The day after I showed off my "Rosie" to my friend, she fished out an old moth-eaten bean-bag doll and declared that we should have a massive wedding for them. All aflutter, I agreed. we set up a roof-top tent on a warm summer evening. My mom stitched up a red dress for Rosie, while my friends' doll got boys' clothes and a turban. The menu included those little sweet Sindhi rotis that I think were called Loli; and my mom's chole-chawal. We were happy enough to invite our younger siblings to the wedding, and serve food in my "real" China dinner set- again a gift from my sailor uncle from some mysterious land.  Our brothers provided music by beating out-of-sync on their drums, while my friends' younger sister was the designated gypsy dancer. All went smoothly.  My bride arrived in my brother's prized, battery-operated car. We sang, danced and had a very fun wedding. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Muchri Roti : And reminiscing about Dad...

I find it strange how memories have a way of popping out of my head at the vaguest moment.  

Recently, I came across something called Muchri Roti on a blog post.  I had no idea what it was. But as I read through the recipe, it was though I was 10yrs. old, standing in my mom's kitchen watching her serve warm-straight-from-the stove rotis to my dad. She had a way of picking up the roti straight from the tawa onto the palm of her hand, lathering it with generous amounts of ghee, and then mushing it up by rolling her palm so that the roti separated into crusty layers. My dad called that roti "Muchri roti"- just like that blog post did.  I had never attached much significance to that name, or that roti. Although sometimes I did wonder why I could never get the flaky layers to separate in my cooking ever. Always attributed it to my lack of experience.  But turns out that Muchri Roti is in a class of it's own....

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Orange Creamsicle

Baby P is taking an inordinate amount of interest in cooking now-a-days. First they made apple sauce and rice crispies in school. Then, not long ago, she came back with a Princess Tiana cookbook from her school library, spent a laborious one week reading all the "lecipes", asking me if we had a particular ingredient listed in the recipe or not, before deciding that we should make Jambalaya.
"It has meat in it", I said.
"No, we can make it without the meat- it will still be good".

So, I made Rajma Chawal, heaped them in a bowl and passed it off as Jambalaya

That night at dinner, we had a face that shone with happiness because she was eating what Princess Tiana eats for dinner. 

Realization hit home- hard - two days later. She come from school literally in tears. 
"I did nothing when you made Princess Tiana dinner- that's not cooking!!"
"But little kids can't cook- you've got to grow up a bit..."
It took some mighty effort to hush her down.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Daily Dinner (17): Rajma Rasedaar

This then, is the prelude to last week's post. 

The only thing I loved more than rice growing  up, was Rajma...

The ongoing joke was that for me to get married, my maama (maternal uncles) will have to make sure that I had enough Rajma-chawal to last me my whole life. For no one in Rajasthan (in my naani's world) ate either rice or kidney beans....

My grandma (naani) had not seen Rajma (red kidney beans) till they shifted base to Bhatinda, Punjab.  And then, all the age-old inhibitions came to the front. She never learnt to cook or eat these beans. To her, the color, shape and meatiness of them was a big put off. To some extent she even refused to believe that red kidney beans were a plant product.....not so, though, for my mom's younger siblings. All four of them would scout the neighborhood Punjabi families, and make themselves available at whoever's table was serving Rajma

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Simple and Sweet- Cheeni-Ka-Paratha.


The earliest memories I have of my grandma are of feeding my toddler brother a smushed up roti with ghee-boora (powdered sugar with clarified butter).  She, on a low woven seat we called peedha; and he, toddling about around her with a ball in his hand. All through the summer holidays that's what he and I ate. Naani was the best when it came to indulging picky eaters like us. She didn't insist we eat our veggies, was always ready to make a meal especially for us, and if both options failed; handed us a huge bowl of ghee-boora

Back in Delhi, my mom opted for a no-mess route incorporating the boora, ghee and roti together to make us a Cheeni ka Paratha. When we were very little, she'd roll it up, and hand it to us so we could  eat while we played. My dad occasionally threw a fit, threatening us with cavities and toothless grins, but mommy always found a way to ignore his rants.  As I grew older, my ma and I were often at loggerheads. With daddy gone for work or at school most of my growing up years, this Paratha was what resolved most of our (my) skirmishes....

Monday, April 29, 2013

A breakfast to remember- Carrot and Orange juice

Our juicer got a new lease of life this weekend...and I had nothing to do with it. It was A's insistence. He remembers it off and on. Actually, he's the one that bought our machine a decade ago. Sadly, it hasn't been used as many times as the years it has lived in our house though. I knew that's what would happen to it when he brought it home one day from Macy's, excited as a kid, ostensibly for a very pregnant me.... I've lived through the juicer experience with my mom. Back then, it was a brand called Inalsa- might sound familiar to those of you growing up in India in the 80's. A brand new company at that time, exclusively sold and serviced through door-to-door sales, and came with a box-ful of attachments. 
Too expensive- my mom said.
I can take care of that- said daddy.
I don't need all that stuff in the box. Who needs a juicer when we have a juice-shop around the corner.
He's a filthy fellow. And his glasses are dirty.  (My dad really was a germ phobic....)
I still don't need it- too many little things to put together and clean up afterwards.
I will do the setting up, and cleaning. You get get the fruits washed and ready for juicing. I am there for everything else. (A typical Main Hoon na...clause, that works well putting an end to inane arguments...)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sujjige - Sooji-Ka-Halwa (but Not)...

Sooji-ka-Halwa had got to be the most common dessert that I knew of, growing up. My mom made it the drop of the hat, for any occasion (or not), celebration or an unexpected guest that stayed on for dinner.  And the only way I knew of making it is as I have told you about here. But it was always served as an end of the meal sweet-taste. Then I got married, and my MIL made a version of cream of wheat porridge, using Sooji , for breakfast. It always reminded me of baby food, which is why I made a lot of that for Baby P when she was a toddler.  I could never really eat it myself though.

One time,  my sister-in-law, who has developed quite a taste for our version of Sooji-ka-Halwa, mentioned that in Goa, they make a similar dish but using milk and egg mixture for moisture rather than water. That sounded interesting, but fairly out of reach because of the egg. I often wondered if I could just use milk instead of water for my version of Halwa.....as usual, never tried. Recently, I came across a recipe for Sujjige, a Kannada recipe that reminded me of my SIL's Goan dish, but without the eggs. It also reminded me of my MIL's semolina-milk breakfast, minus the baby-food consistency! So yesterday, for the day of Ashtami, instead of my regular Sooji-ka-halwa, I tried out the Sujjige recipe...followed the recipe to a T this time...[except for the cashews and raisins....baby P doesn't like any texture in her sticky sweet :-(  ]. Follow the link, and see the beautiful recipe and pictures at Radhika's site... In essence, the difference is using a mix of water and milk instead of water alone for cooking the Sooji.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ebinyebwa or Ugadan Peanut Stew: A New Twist to Navratri.


Food somehow has a way of bringing people together....

There have been times that I've had random strangers walk up to me, and comment on my home-packed lunch. Many times, I've done the same. A lot of students have asked to, or offered me, a taste of what we've got for lunch.  Many a times, I have picked up a recipe or two following our interaction over food. The two that immediately come to mind, and that I've shared on this space are Buckeyes, and Watergate salad. There are several others, random scraps of paper, that are just waiting to be tried.   Waiting for me to garner up my courage and take a dive....But rarely have I had a vision of the occasion that I would try the recipe at flash before my eye while hearing someone speak of it; until now.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holi Greetings, and some chit chat...

I tried explaining Holi to my colleagues at work today- and all that came to mind was it is a Spring festival. But trust people to come up with interesting "observations"! I pulled up some pictures on the net, and a student asked- why is everyone wearing white? And why do you put on colors? The explanation I concocted on the spur of the moment- because white is the color of winter, and we're covering it with colors of Spring- sounded so right, even to my ears.....that I let them assume that this was age-old wisdom, rather than a fabric of my imagination :-)

This year, I've been pretty lazy. Haven't done anything to mark the day. But then, I was never a Holi person. It takes a special kind to love all the rowdiness and noise that accompanies Holi celebrations in India :-) The images that do crop to mind are ancient....

Monday, March 25, 2013

Daily Dinner (16): Comfort Food

The common complaint now-a-days is that I love Baby P more than her older sister. And all because (a) I never "yell" at Baby P and (b) I always give her what she wants to eat. What is lost in all this adolescent tantrum-throwing frenzy is that (a) all my yelling is mainly to make "someone" finish her meals and not sit with them in front of her, perplexed as to the purpose of the plate in front of her....and (b) all baby P wants is dahi, dal and roti - which is pretty much what I cook for an everyday dinner. I don't see where the complaints are coming from, just as much as the complainant doesn't see the reasons I have put forth in front of you today....

Anyways, in order to appease the 10-going on- 16 in my life, we've set aside Fridays to be the non-Indian food days. Doesn't work though- I still get accused a couple times during the week of favoring the younger one. This past week, hoping to set some things straight, we had Soup and Pasta dinner at least 3 times. Anya was happy, I sustained myself on soup all 3 nights, and Baby P got leftovers from the freezer.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Making Paneer at Home...a pictorial


I don't usually do this. It is so much more convenient to buy a block of Paneer from the store than actually make it. But sometimes, when I run out of choices and am craving for something specific (like today), and a trip to Indian store is not even a remote possibility, or if I need fresh crumbled Paneer for preparations like Paneer ki bhurji, I do this. I did explain making Paneer at home here, but here's a quick pictorial from today. 

Paneer

Put milk to heat .....

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shakargandhi-ki-Chaat - Easy Peasy Lemon Sqeezy

Through winter and spring in Delhi, Shakargandhi was a common sight at vegetable vendors. Stacked right next to the potato piles, the two were barely distinguishable. My mom had 2 ways of cooking up this tuber- the first, bury them deep underneath the koyla and wood. in the angeethi (wood-burning stove) and not worry about it for a couple hours at least; gave the best, smoky, juicy shakargandhi ever, The second, teeny-bit less on flavor, but definitely faster was to use a heavy iron tava (griddle) on a very low flame. She never cut up the shakargandhi, and she never used oil. And I could never resist either version....
 
Here in USA, I tried to make Shakargandhi on a hot tava like my mom. Never got it. They got too mushy, the flesh stuck to their skin, and I got very little out of them. When my mom came to visit, she tried to make them as well, without success. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Khumb Matar

If you grew up in Northern India, you've probably heard kids refer to wild mushrooms as "Saamp ki Chatri" or a snake's umbrella. The local kiddie legend is that snakes seek refuge under these mushroom umbrellas during the rainy season, and leave their poisonous sting in them. No doubt aimed at keeping pesky little curious buggers from eating those wild mushrooms..... the fable totally instilled a gross dislike of mushrooms in me. Most of my childhood, I never saw mushrooms other than the ones that sprung up on the sidewalks during monsoons.  Yes they came up for sale in the high-end produce stores, but we never got them. My aversion for them was fanned by these old-wives "Jain" tales of how mushrooms harbor live bugs inside their fleshy "umbrellas". And if you ate them, you had to atone for taking millions of little lives :-)) Didn't help that when I came up to major in Botany in college, the first fact about mushrooms we learnt was that it is a "parasitic fungus" - instigating nightmares about flesh-eating, mold-like mushroom spreading it's roots inside my gut and choking my innards to death.......all in all, I hate mushrooms.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Humble Beginnings: Khichdi

In a country as diverse as India, where language, religion, clothes, celebrations....anything you name,  changes within a few miles, the humble Khichdi holds fort as one unifying force. Gujrat may like its khichdi with Kadhi, and the Southern states may call it Pongal, it still remains a rice and lentil comfort food across India. In Eastern India, it represents traditional Pooja food. At many Kali Baris in Calcutta and at the Jagannath temple in Orissa, we've been handed this out as Prasad after a Pooja. Around the locations that I'm familiar with- Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi- it is a simple dish strictly meant for family times, never ever made for guests or visitors. According to Wikipedia, Khichdi, believed to have originated in South Asia, went global with the British who concoct their own version with fish and eggs and call it Kedegree! And recently, I came across the mention of an Arabic dish called Mujahadra that is nothing but ....our Khichdi

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Simplicity at it's finest- Achaari Aloo

I find it pretty amazing that most of my "memories" of people and incidents are somehow also linked with food. Even when food is not the central focus in that memory; it is still prominent.  Not only does my mind take me back to the day that I'm reminded of, but sometimes the feel and smell of the day is revoked as well.  

Traveling with food comes naturally to most of the families from the Indian sub-continent. My MIL packs a stash of "Pooris" and a boiled potato.  After peeling and chopping the potato, she'd mix in some salt and pepper and it was ready to eat with her Pooris. My parents, and my grandparents before them, always travelled with their traditional  potato preparation called "Achaari Aloo" along with wonderfully crisp "Parathas".  As soon as the "tiffin" opened, the smell of this mix between an achaar (pickle) and a subzi permeated the whole train car.  I have these elaborate memories of us sharing our food with whoever happened to be our neighbor in the train car, or got drawn to our berth by the mouth-watering aroma of Achaari Aloo.  Not even my mom could make this dish taste like my grandma's. Towards the end of every summer vacation at my naani's, we'd get a letter from my dad (this was the pre-telephone era in India) requesting that she send him some of her Achaari Aloo and parathas. Naani always did. And daddy got to the food the moment we got home, and ate it all up. If, per chance, there was some left over, he'd tell my mom that he wanted it for breakfast - this from a guy who never ever liked leftovers......

Friday, January 18, 2013

My "cook" shelf is growing...


A quick note...to break the monotony of all the other writing I've been doing today....

Last week A came back with a bunch of books for me from the library's bin-sale.  Apparently he thinks that since I write mostly about food in this blog, I have a keen "interest " in cooking.  Little does he know that the best vacation I ever had was the one where all the food came with the lodging, so all I had to venture out was from the pool to dining room :-)) 

At any rate, now I am the proud owner of 5 cook books- the first one is going back to the library bin since it has almost no vegetarian dishes, the second one are "slow cooker" recipes- again mostly meat. But doesn't matter since I don't own a slow cooker- yet.  I  doubt if I even glanced at the other ones. The one that caught my eye and I most certainly intend to use is the one that is sort of like a diary where you can jot down the name of the restaurant you dined in, along with your order and comments.  Going through the month of December in this diary I found a whole page with printed matter.  Curious, I went through it....

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Daily Dinner (15): Rajasthani Thali

There were times when my mom categorically, adamantly, insisted that her children never inherited any form of "Rajasthani-ness" from her.  When she was really mad, she'd use her limited vocabulary of the Haryanvi dialect to announce that we were all born Haryanvis (there is that subtle underlying disdain in my soft-spoken, Rajasthani part of the family for my loud and boisterous paternal family.......). That is when dad would point out "pointedly" that she technically herself was a true-blood Haryanvi; and that her Rajasthani-ness was just an effect of her being transplanted there as a baby. And all of this drama, because we three criticized her most cherished meal of Rajasthani Baatis as...well...dirty....

But let me back track a little bit here.  So the way baatis were cooked in my grandma's home in Rajasthan was in a chulha - a little area on the kitchen floor outlined on 3 sides by a clay wall about 6 inches high. Naani used pieces of wood in here to create a cooking stove.  More often than not, the high temperature required for the first spark of flame to burst out of wood was achieved using uplay underneath the wood.  These little sun-dried cakes of sawdust and (please ignore the grossness that follows) cow dung smolder, rather than flame, and reach temperatures high enough to light up the kitchen fires for a long time.  And baatis were buried deep underneath inside the chulha to cook. You just brought them out, dusted them off, and ate them with the inevitable daal, churma and ladles of ghee.  Us city dwellers, instead,  turned our noses up at Naani and her "dirty" baatis, and opted for rotis instead.