Friday, November 6, 2009

Spring & Roll I come.

A nagging, little devil somewhere inside of me surfaces now and again. It prods and prods till I finally break down and do what it asks of me. This particular one, I battled with for a really long time. With a battery of perfectly good excuses - I didn't know how to make them, I was too busy, the mission was too involved, I had no supplies, and no one, except me, wanted them anyway. " But you have the recipe", the devil said.

" You're not that busy- don't you watch TV for two hours straight every night?"

" Aren't you going for groceries soon?"

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Piece of Pie

Nothing gives as much pleasure as the times when an impromptu brainstorming session culminates in excellent results. In this case, the result was a one of those "throw things together" kind of a dish that I have managed to perfect over time. But there is a story behind it. At work, everyday, I get together with a couple of colleagues to eat lunch. Sometimes they get adventurous, and ask to taste my rotis and/or sabzi that I pack from home. One day the conversation led me to confess that I am a non-baker. I had never baked in India, and haven't really experimented with the oven here. That led us to a heated discussion on how easy baking was compared to rolling out rotis!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Autumn, Fall and I

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thali ka Baingan....

I don't remember the incident clearly; but just the sight of baby eggplants is enough to remind me of one chilly, but bright and sunny, Delhi afternoon ages ago. I must been all of 4 or 5 yrs. old. I remember my mom and "4B wali auntiji" sitting on our balcony, gossiping over Mooli drenched in lemon juice and chaat masala. And they were giggling about something. Aunty had also brought along some baby eggplants that she was going to prep for the evening, and my mom had her knitting handy. Then auntiji said something about "baingan", and they both broke into fresh guffaws, enough to make me look up from whatever I was doing. And then aunty let her baingan roll in the thali, point towards me and repeat her remark about "Thali ka baingan".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dal for Dessert anyone? Moong Dal Halwa

A study in contrast applies perfectly to this famous dessert. My dad used to call Moong daal a poor man's feast. According to him, it was the most abundant produce in the state of Haryana in Northern India while he was growing up, and hence the cheapest. And yet, it is used to make the most coveted sweet of that region. The recipe is simplicity personified, and yet so hard to master! I could never understand why my mom only made it on birthdays and Diwali, seeing that it only used 3 basic ingredients. Now, I do. This has got to be the most tedious, time consuming and fattening dessert ever! Don't get me wrong- I still love eating it. It is just that, making it is so....tedious (did I mention that before?)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Diwali is in the Air

The festival frenzy finally caught up with us. We enrolled Anya in language and culture class this year. So, the first weekend this month she came all abuzz with stories of Diwali that her teacher told her. She had a zillion questions, which I had to google to provide the answers! And the excitement caught on. We accepted a flurry of Diwali get-together invitations from friends just so A could get a feel of the festival this time. One of the invitations we went to came from her culture class teacher. For this pooja gathering, we had to bring a Diwali crafts activity, some Diyas and a traditional Diwali dish from our part of India. So, A and I sat together and made this simple rangoli with crafts sand. I drew it for her and she glued the sand down. A bit tacky, but not bad for the first attempt by a 7 yr old, huh! I was going to send this to the Kids delight Event, but am too late now. Wish I could have done this post a day earlier...sigh! Anyhow, we had the rangoli and diya, and then I had to think of a dish to take to the potluck. And as always, I was running late at work. The quickest dish I could think of was Kheer. In our household, makhane (lotus seeds) are thought to bring prosperity and are key ingredients in the kheer made during Diwali. So that's what I made.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Green Bean!

Love it or hate it. I grew up hating it. To me, it tasted horrendous, I hated the smell of hing that my mom always used for cooking beans, and it made me blow air at both ends!! But all my hee-hawing had no effect, and I'd have to eat up my beans just like everything else. My happiest dream those days was to grow up and move away from my mom, so I'd never have to eat beans again (beans were just a part of huge list, but more on that later...). And when I did grow up and move away, I avoided beans like dead cat.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Soulful Soups

My friend sent out a mass email last week to brainstorm kids school lunch ideas. Two weeks into the school year, and she was exhausted- or so she said. I've been packing food-to-go for my daughter ever since she was born and considered myself an expert on this. So I made a lengthy list for my friend and sighed with the satisfaction at the job well done as I hit my "Send" button. Two minutes later, another friend on the mailing list emailed me a one-liner tagged with hundreds of smileys: "You forgot Campbell's Alphabet Soup!" That was true, sad but true. How could I forget that most kids love the Alphabet soup? My daughter actually learned her alphabets from those tiny pasta letters! Thanks for putting me in my place, my friend- I no longer consider myself an expert on kids school lunches! In my defense, the soup is usually my after-school thing , for those cool fall evenings. It is so easy to make, that you'll give Campbells a competition if you try it! Plus you can dress up this same basic recipe and end up with yummy minestrone, for those "I'm not really hungry for food" days. Enjoy the soup's warm comfort on those nippy evenings with these three easy recipes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An event and a Chaat

This month, we celebrated my daughter's 7th birthday. As I sat there mulling over what make-ahead starters we could have for the gathering of 40 or so friends, my memory registered seeing a blog competition about legumes the day before . A quick google brought me up to this announcement by Sia of Monsoon Spice who is hosting Susan's event this month. And an idea was born! I decided to make an effortless matar chaat, so popular on the streets of Old Delhi. It is easy, make ahead, and was real successful at my get-together. Unfortunately, there was no time to take pictures of the actual thing - I promise to remedy this soon enough!

Zhatpat Chatpat Matar Chaat
(Dried peas salad)
Dried green peas 100g soaked for about 4h 
Cucumber 2
Onion 1
Tomato 1
Lemon for juice 1
Red/Orange pepper 1
Ginger juice 1 tsp
Apple juice 1/2 cup
Salt to taste
Green chillies 2-3/ to taste
Chaat Masala to taste

Now, it is all a matter of tossing everything together!
  1. But first of all, drain the soaked peas and cook them al dente. I used a pressure cooker, and cooked for about 10 min. (till two pressure whistles) in 1/2 cup of water. When done, the peas are almost dry. 
  2. Chop all the veggies as desired- I had kids at the party so I chopped them up real fine! 
  3. Toss the veggies together with apple juice, lemon juice and ginger juice and reserve till the peas have cooled down. 
  4. Now mix the veggies and peas together, add the green chillies, salt and chaat masala. Keep aside for 30 min or more, to blend the spices together.
And voila, you have the chaat from streets of Chandni Chowk! Serve it with the spicy pudiny-dhaniya chutney and sweet and sour Imly chutney on the side, for that additional spice. The street vendor back home will serve you this chaat garnished with julienne of sweet radish and ginger, sprinkled with cilantro and sev and an additional wedge of lemon. Try all the frills- you won't be disappointed! Another option is to serve it with toasted pita bread on the side. This here, then, is my entry for September's My Legume affair.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Musings Sweet and Sour

It's the little things in life that make a big difference, a smile, a kind word or gesture, or even a thought can make your day. I long for time to watch the sun and clouds, sit and do nothing or play with my kids without worrying about chores left undone, almost as much as I long for my mom's perfect come-home-to lunches during my growing up years. My mom, like everyone else's mom, was the greatest cook on earth. And I, like most of you (I hope), took her cooking for granted. She didn't have any recipes written down, and I had no interest in learning how to cook. At first, it didn't matter. I could cook the everyday stuff reasonably well, so we didn't go hungry. 

But then, as years passed, that nostalgia for mom's food came out of shadows and took on giantesque proportions. We ate out, I tried to cook like ma, but it wasn't the same. It was never the same. I could never figure out the little something that made my mom's cooking so extra special. So, please forgive me if I bang my own drum to inform you that I've finally perfected ma's technique of making this sweet and sour imli chutney. On second thoughts, I might even have beat her to it.....(okay guys back off, I was just kidding! I know I can't be better than my own mother....). This common accompaniment to most Indian snacks and chaats is surprisingly simple and almost makes itself once you get the ingredients together. 
Imly and date Chutney 
Imly (Tamarind) 100g 
Gur (Jaggery) 75g or to taste 
Kala Namak 1tbsp/ to taste 
Red chilli powder 1/2 tbsp/to taste 
Sultanas/ Raisins A fistful 
Dates about 10, pitted and chopped 
Fresh pomegranate seeds about 1/4 cup (optional) 

  1. The tamarind I used is available as a block in most Indian grocery stores. I took half of this block and soaked it in about 300ml water for 3-4hrs. When the tamarind softens, mash it in your palms and separate the seeds and fibers from the pulp. You can add more water and soak for an additional 1h (or even overnight) if you wish.
  2. Pass the tamarind paste through a large mesh soup strainer. Collect the tamarind water, and try to separate as much pulp as you can. 
  3. That's it, like I said, this chutney will cook itself. Add the salt and half of gur to tamarind water, and cook on low heat for about 20 min with occassional stirring. 
  4. Taste the chutney, add the rest of the gur, dates and raisins and keep cooking till the volume is reduced to half. You might want to do an occasional taste test and add the gur slowly, since both raisins and dates will also contribute to the sweetness. 
  5. And lastly, add the fresh pomegranate seeds just before you turn off the stove, and your chutney is ready! The little things that made a big difference in the chutney this time ( I think),
  1. Separating tamarind from seeds rather than the ready-to-use paste that I always used. I think the little fiber that remains from tamarind block adds to the texture and taste.
  2. Kala Namak or black rock salt instead of regular salt
  3. And finally, the pomegranate!
I've finally hit the taste-pot with this one! Linked to Pickles & Chutneys Event.

Fasting Feasting

My thought for today is- why does fasting make you think of food? I am really not kidding, I challenge you to prove otherwise! Probably that is why the fasting holidays in any religion end with scrumptious feasts! The nine days of Sharad Navratris, saluting the strength, power and the femininity of the Supreme, are celebrated with a flurry of fasting, poojas and all-night dandiyas. The Navratras also herald the beginning of the annual Hindu festive season. The fasting during these days means that you can only eat one meal a day, and you can't eat "Anaaj", which loosely translated includes all grains, dals and legumes so staple to an Indian diet. That brings us back to comment on feasting - when I decided to fast these Navrartras, I had all intentions of truly fasting, with only a once-a-day fruit diet. On the very first day, I had my stomach growling with hunger at 11am, and I was hallucinating about the yummy food my mom made during this time. I could smell, and even taste, the sabudaana vadaas, makhane-ki- kheer, kuttu ke pakore, sabudaana kheer, aloo tikki and what not.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Timeless Ritual

Today, I am sad, and happy. I'm happy to see my daughter back in school, and sad as I realize that she's grown up a whole year today! As schools re-open and kids go back to school, I'm reminded of two sayings that I read recently. First, that if it wasn't for schools to take children away, moms would be inmates of an asylum! Second, Labor day is a wonderful holiday because it is the end of summer vacation- it would have been called Independence Day, if we did not already have one! Both, so true. But then, I'm thinking like a mom.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Going Nuts and Bananas

Well folks, I'm back again. One more impromptu "We're craving for...." request sent me hurrying over to the kitchen. Don't get me wrong; I do feed my kin. But they definitely have a knack for putting me up against odds. Oh sorry! No more rambling; here's what happened. One of the holiest season amongst Jains is what is observed as 8-day long Paryushan by the Svetambra sect or the 10 holy days of Das lakshna by the Digambars. Its essentially celebrated as a festival of forgiveness, and observance includes fasting and abstaining from your favorite foods, to build self-control. So, we (read "I") decided that my family will give up store-bought baked products (as in cakes), which is essentially a staple snack around my home. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Breakfast Biscuits with Blueberry Sauce.

So, I finally convinced my other half to agree on some DIY home projects in the coming months. And the first one I wanted was to paint our eyesore of a sun room. Ever since we moved into this house, the 1950s wood paneled, chocolate brown door sun room irritated me. It was too dark and gloomy despite full- sized windows on each wall. But my husband is a chronic procrastinator, and not at all handy with home repairs. As for me, I am a really good supervisor, and stick to this role with all my heart....So we jiggled the thought back and forth and ended up doing nothing. Until now, that is.

This saturday, we geared up and made a list of supplies and actually bought stuff we needed to begin painting. The plan was to get up early sunday morning and not waste any morning hours. And plans in our household are meant to be taken with a pinch of salt...or sugar, if you prefer! Sunday morning dawned with massive appetites, that wouldn't agree to the staple breakfast of milk and cereal with cookies. And so I bribed all the family into picking up tape and brushes, prime the sun room while I conjure up a "sunday breakfast". Don't be fooled by what I promised. I was in no mood to cook an elaborate breakfast spread for them. I was just going to toss some things together and come up with something edible. The first thing I saw in my fridge was a fistful of blueberries, picked out of the bushes in our backyard. They were smallish, and not very sweet- guess we didn't wait for them to ripen enough before picking them. Not good to eat, but good enough for a sauce! Hmm...and waffles or pancakes..or..voila- I'd try to make some biscuits instead. Pat on my back; good thinking D! And this is what I did.  

Blueberry sauce: Cook the blueberries in water over low flame for 10-15 min. When soft enough, mash the berries or blend in a blender. If you dont like the skin, pass through a strainer (I didn't), and return to the flame. Add some sugar and a dash of lemon juice.

Biscuits: All purpose flour 1 cup Butter 2tbsp Sugar 1/2 tsp Salt 1 pinch Baking soda 2 pinch Milk 1/4 cup Preheat oven to 375. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and crumble in butter. Add milk slowly while stirring to get a thick sticky batter- should be thicker than the pouring consistency. Drop spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Flatten with the back of a spoon and bake 7-8 min, or until golden brown. Sprinkle some powdered sugar when still a bit warm. Turned out that the biscuits were devoured even before i could click a picture!

So next time folks. And for purposes of full disclosure, the biscuits were flaky on the outside, and soft inside. Yummmm! Blueberry sauce will need some tweaking, me thinks- don't know for sure what kind though. So, either try making it at your own risk, or make do with the bottled kind instead!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stuffed Eggplant Roundels

Last evening, I got late at work; really late. To top it off, there were no left overs for dinner. Now, I am not big on eating out. So I had to come up with a plan. Dal - roti is always an option, albeit a boring one. So, I go through the fridge and come up with a single smallish white baingan (eggplant / aubergine). Growing up, I never ate this veggie, purple or white. Not be cause of any prejudices on my part, but just because the Jain community in India shuns it for religious reasons and does't even buy it. I've heard explanations range from it being absolutely nutition-less, to that it is filled with worms inside. My Naani (grandma) was actually convinced that worms grow out of nothing inside this oblong object! But here in US, eggplants herald arrival of summer. And I had actually bought this little guy from an organic produce shop. Now the only problem was, I didn't know what to do with my only fair one! I've learnt how to make baingan-bharta, but for that I had to have the purple kind. I have never eaten a white eggplant before so squishing off its taste in a pureed, over spiced dish like bharta didn't appeal. As I mulled over my dilemma, I sort of remembered a stuffed lauki recipe that I'd read about here . So, the recipe was born. I didnot have the original recipe printed out, so I worked by memory. And I am glad to inform you, that it turned out pretty well!
Stuffed Eggplant Roundels
White eggplant 1 
Smallish Potato 1 medium, boiled and mashed 
 Ginger 1tbsp grated 
Onion 1/4 cup, chopped fine 
Amchoor powder 1/2 tsp 
Turmeric powder 1/4 tsp 
  Salt 1/2 tsp/ to taste  
Red chilli powder 1/2 tsp / to taste
Cumin seeds 1/4 tsp  

Garnish (Optional)
  Onion 1/4 cup chopped  
Tomato 1 small, chopped 

  1. First thing I did was to cut the eggplant into thick round slices (about 1/2 inch thick). Scoop out the flesh, making little bowl like indentations. I used a spoon for this. 
  2. Soak the slices in a cup of water with 1 tbsp salt for about 5 min. 
  3. Now chop up the scooped out eggplant and mix with mashed potatoes.
  4. In a heavy bottomed pan, add 1tsp oil, and cumin seeds to splutter. Then add, your potato, eggplant mixture and all the powdered spices. Saute for 2 minutes or so and allow to cool slightly.  
  5. Drain the eggplant roundels, and pat dry with a kitchen towel. 
  6. Fill the stuffing inside your eggplant roundels. You will get something looking like the pic on your left. 
  7. Now, the next step can either be inside an oven at 375 degrees or the traditional stove top way like I did. I heated 1tbsp oil in a kadai and cooked these roundels on low heat. Insert a tooth pick to check when the eggplant is done. This takes about 15-20 min. You don't need to flip them over. 
  8. Finally, in a separate pan, saute some onions and tomatoes in a dash of oil. Sprinkle this garnish on top of the eggplant roundels for that extra texture. Add a cilantro leaves on top for color. And I was happy. I had an accompaniment to my dal-roti-dahi dinner!
Linked to:
Only Event- Side dishes at Foodelicious

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of Brother, Rakhi, and Paneer Nargisi

This year on Raksha bandhan, when my MIL called to wish us, I was already at work. And unaware till then of having missed that important day. Now, being the kind of person that I am, forgetting a day of festivities really bothers me. In my own defense, I wasn't always like fact, growing up in a posh South Delhi neighborhood, traditions were actually meant to be scoffed upon. But, since then, I've done a lot of growing up. Having established a home away from home, with a family of my own, skies and oceans separating me from my parents and bro, now I feel more and more drawn into the the traditional rituals of my childhood. And as an added incentive, I want to actually give my girls a taste of India as they grow up. So, as I drove home that evening, fuming and generally mad at myself and the the rest of the world, I decided to do something to right the wrong of forgetting. And what better way than to cook up a feast to celebrate?