Monday, 30 July 2012

Peel repeal!

Doodhi/Lauki (Bottle Gourd) Peel Chutney

One of the most interesting phenomena of the present times is the groundswell of people- men, women and children – evincing a keen interest in food shows, reality cookery shows, blogs, food photos on Pinterest and Flickr, YouTube videos, presentation shares, and what have you!

I am amazed by the journey we have travelled, starting with Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khana Khazana on the new exciting Zee TV in 1993 and Star TV's Yan Can Cook. Anyone can cook now! Watchers have now become presenters and their repertoire of dishes is astounding. Some tread where even the most experienced cooks would fear to! Food has gone viral and global, changing the coordinates and blurring the lines between the foreign and the local.

But my pet peeve is that a lot of food enthusiasts make dishes in isolation, taking the dishes out of their real life/time context?

Cooking is after all an organic process wherein one step always leads to another or one dish is a result of another or has been a cause of or impetus for another.

In real life/time, cooks have so many things to take care of such as the mise en place and workflow (there is no way we can afford the luxury of getting everything chopped, measured, pre-made/mixed/fermented/baked, etc.)

And not to forget the packing/ putting away or storage of dishes and the punitive, gruelling cleaning up! This is the only part of cooking that most of, and certainly I don’t like! And so, we glare in disapproval when presenters casually use pot after pot and discard pan after pan, use and throw scores of spoons of various descriptions into the sink and yet lick their fingers! No, no, no!

And we frown hard at presenters discarding the whey from hung curd or paneer, the water from boiled pasta, the seeds of continental cucumber, the peels of bottle gourd and ridged gourd, stems of herbs and greens! How we cringe when clean washed potatoes are peeled without a reason!

Yet, do we actually save, wash and dry pumpkin seeds on the kitchen window sill, so we could munch on them when dried!

Brought up in a family of great cooks who also firmly believed in the maxim ‘Waste not, Want not’, I follow quite a few of the family tips and recipes for making most of every things that’s available in the fridge or the pantry. Rarely would people go shopping for ingredients just for one dish or one cooking event. The shopping lists were not dictated by what was cooking; instead what was cooked was geared around what was available, in season or grown at home! 

Maharashtrian cuisine has chutneys made of stir fried peels of vegetables like doodhi (lauki), ribbed gourd (tori), lemon or yellow cucumber and raw peels of green cucumber and ripe banana peels, to name a few. These peels are an excellent source of nutrients, chlorophyll and dietary fibre. Not only do they add to the variety of fare, but they taste delicious, too!

I wonder how many people still make these dishes.

I dread the day I have to watch a demonstration of the making of peel chutney and worry about what the chef will do/ has done with the lauki flesh! 

Lauki/ Doodhi Peel Chutney


1 cup chopped tender lauki peels, chopped into small pieces

2 tablespoons chana dal

2 tablespoons urad dal

2-3 red/green chillies, chopped (you could use more!)

2 tablespoons freshly grated coconut

2 tablespoons dry roasted and skinned peanuts

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp chopped coriander

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon oil

Salt to taste

Sugar to round off the taste (optional)

Tempering/ tadka made with 2 tsp oil, ¾ teaspoon mustard seeds and a pinch of hing (optional).


Heat a tablespoon of oil in a kadhai, add the lauki peels and sauté on a medium flame for a few minutes. Add the dals and the peanuts and allow them to fry on low heat till they turn a light golden brown. The moisture from the peels will not burn the mixture quickly and in the time it takes the dals to brown the peels will also get cooked. Add the chillies and cumin seeds just before removing from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.

Place the cooled peel and nut mixture in a blender and add the fresh coconut, lemon juice, coriander, garlic, salt to taste and sugar (optional).  Add half a cup of cold water and blend into a slightly grainy paste. Add the tempering.

This chutney goes well with idlys, dosas, pesarratu, adai or anything that needs a chutney!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The skewer test!

Pumpkin Cake

Produced by Amruta Nargundar. Directed by me. Art direction, photography by Amruta Nargundkar.

Anca from BG reports she loved the two pasta dishes she made following my recipes. Monica from Bglr tells me (and shows me, too!) that her family loved the patrodes or colocasia rolls she made following my silverbeet substituted recipe!

Oh, it's so very gratifying to know one's recipe has passed the skewer test of cooking by others!

I used to think all my cooking life that I can't go by recipes as I am a ' bit of, pinch of, handful of, fistful of, splash of, twist of' kind of a cook! And then the writing of recipes was not easy for the kind of cook that I am! But thanks to my new cyber family and friends, especially my friend Atul Sikand for appreciating, encouraging, supporting, and cajoling me into cooking and posting on Facebook.
It takes a lot more effort than just cooking- plating, taking photos, transferring, cropping, selecting of photos. But you know what- it's a labour of love and I especially love to read the comments!

And certainly posting a recipe on Facebook or on my blog is not easy- it is like giving a daughter away! You are at once happy and at once anxious – as if wondering how the in-laws will accept her and she them. You also fret about how the recipe turns out and try and hover over the cook giving tips. The comments, compliments, doubts all take you up and down - just like you would excruciate about the impression your daughter is creating in her 'sasural'. The happiest moment and the moment when you are ready to let go, is when enthusiasts who try your recipe report a successful turnout! That's thanks to your good upbringing- ahem, ahem!

Speaking of daughters, this pumpkin cake was a collaborative effort of my daughter Amruta and me. She has this growing reputation as a cake queen among friends and family. If she is not baking the most delicious red velvet cake I have ever tasted or a black forest cake that will give any bakery a run for their money, she is Pinteresting cake photos, reading up recipes and watching baking videos. She has this knack of designing and baking or commissioning the most spectacular cakes for birthdays, whether it is a drum kit ensemble cake, a book shaped cake or a Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme cake.

Since I don’t bake as much as I cook, I am beginning to rely on her for expert advice. For this “first time” cake, we pooled in our ideas. My contribution was the concept and direction- the flavours inspired by the sweet pumpkin dishes mother made- pooris with jaggery and poppy seeds, kheer with a roux made of whole wheat flour and pumpkin seeds and the pumpkin pie with the maddening aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg. Amruta was the producer – applying her knowledge of cake recipes, organising the logistics, mixing the batter down to licking the bowl. Not to mention the styling and plating!

The cake did pass the skewer test, well and clean!

Pumpkin Cake

2 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups boiled and mashed pumpkin (we used butternut squash)
2 large eggs
1½ cups oil
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar (we used sweetener)
½ cup golden syrup
½ cup butter milk
1 tbsp black poppy seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds


Pre-heat oven to 180C.

Sift the flour, spices, salt and baking soda together and keep aside. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs with a hand mixer for about half a minute. Then add the brown sugar and golden syrup and beat well. Add the pumpkin pulp and buttermilk and beat well till the mixture looks like an emulsion.  Then fold in the flour and spice mixture. Beat the batter well for a minute or two.  Now add the poppy and pumpkin seeds and mix with a rubber or silicon spatula. This batter will be thicker than usual as this cake is made dense by the mashed pumpkin.
Brush a large non-stick bundt pan with oil. Spoon the thick batter into the pan and then thump the pan lightly on a surface to distribute the mixture evenly. 
Bake the cake in the centre of the oven, at 180 C for about 45 to 50 min. Check if the cake is done with a skewer or knitting needle. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Cool the cake and then run a sharp knife gently along the sides of the pan to unmould the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice along the ridges in the bundt pan for a good cut and serve warm with a cup of tea!
Usually cooked in autumn the ‘season of fruition’, this cake has the rich, earthy, spicy flavours of pumpkin and a nice moist texture. But beware! It tends to develop craters or ridges on the surface where the excess steam from the pumpkin pulp tries to escape during baking (I love to expostulate such theories). Maybe that’s why it’s a good idea to bake it in a bundt pan which has a ring in the centre to allow the heat to reach even the insides of the cake. Or maybe because a bundt cake allows you to serve it upside down, thereby presenting the best side! 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Less is more, but it takes all sorts...

It’s a khichadi of all sorts!

(Photos by Apurva Nargundkar)

·         A rice dish with only five ingredients apart from salt, water and rice

·         Tasty enough to risk your reputation as a cook by posting

·         Innovatively presented

·         Photographed

·         Recipe written up

·         All done and dusted by the 25th of July

Now that is a tall order for a dish in the Rice Bowl  Cookoff on my home food group!

It’s like participating in those team building games for survival where you are asked to pick up only 5 things in the event of an emergency and make a dash for your life. What should you take and what can you miss?

Or like the riddle of how a boatman who has to take a tiger, a goat and a bundle of hay across the river and can ferry only one of these along with himself.  How will he do this? If he takes the bundle of hay, the tiger will eat the goat, if he takes the tiger with him ....  okay, folks I think you get the drift!

From tiger to Tolstoy, what a ‘hotch potch’ or ‘khichadi’ of ideas and thoughts! How much land does a person need?  More is less or less is more? How much spice do we really need in life, er..., I mean in a dish? Do we have to smother dishes in spices and condiments and that anathema of mine- heat? Does food have to swim in artery-clogging oil, butter and ghee?

It was a very therapeutic exercise to be so disciplined. It was very excruciating to decide if the hing got the ditch, the bay leaf  was to be ignored (the chillies can sulk- I don’t care much about them anyway) but surely the pepper was disappointed at being cold shouldered like this!

A lesson in austerity and economy of ingredients surely brings out the real cook in all of us. Our habitual (or obsessive?) cluttering of the dish, the palate, the table, the party- gets a welcome break.

 From this churning or ‘Halaahal’ emerges a dish.  

Call it a khichadi (remember hotch potch?) or a pulao, this dish will stay true to its five ingredients.

And please welcome Sichuan pepper as my latest fad or fling!  

Sabut Moong Dal Khichadi


1 tbsp ghee

2-3 cloves

½ tsp Sichuan pepper

1 inch piece of stone flower

½ tsp of cumin seeds

2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes

¾ cup unskinned green gram (sabut moong dal), soaked along with the rice

Salt to taste


Heat ghee in a pot and add the masalas. Once they start spluttering, drained rice and sabut moong dal and toast for a bit. Add 4 ½ cups of boiling water. Add the salt. When the water reduces and the surface of the rice appears to have holes, cover the rice and reduce the heat. Check for all tastes and switch off the gas when the rice is done.

Serve with Tomato Saar or Kadhi and appalam or poppadoms the (poppadoms featured in the photo have been microwaved for 30 secs each)

This very healthy rice dish is doing the rounds of events-! It is my entry to Sangeeta and Vardhini's Show me your HITS event!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Oo la la! Santra Bhaat

Orange (Mandarin) and Poppy Seed Rice

Photo by Apurva Nargundkar

Sitting in the balcony of the old Victorian house in the busy market of Badi Chawdi, the sun streaming down on us like depicted in calendar paintings, leisurely watching interesting happenings in the market below us and eating Nagpuri Santras (Mandarins), Mother and I would not have realised that we were living a moment that would be etched forever in our memories.

I was recuperating from typhoid and had enjoyed care and pampering by Mother. She had devotedly cooked the most delicious meals for me and kept me cheered and entertained. I was basking as much in the warmth of her attention as in the warm sun rays cutting the chill in the air. A little earlier we had done recky operations on which cart lined up alongside the kerb in the market had the biggest, juiciest and the best mandarins in the market and had sent for them. Mother and I watched squabbling vendors and shoppers, cows taking the mickey out of pedestrians, monkeys eyeing fruit and waiting to catch a vendor off their guard.

We didn’t have TV and this was the best real time audiovisual entertainment we could get!

And so educative this joblessness was!

I learnt to identify the features of the best vegetables and fruit, to select the best produce, learnt to haggle for the best price, was exposed to the survival tactics and techniques of vendors and shoppers, beggars and stray animals. The Badi Chawdi police station was a stone’s throw away, so we had the most interesting and strange episodes presented to us on a regular basis. One time it was a stolen prize winning sow who spent a night squealing most horrendously in the lock up while feuding parties decided who she belonged to! Pickpockets and small time thieves and cops amiably sharing a cup of tea and chewing tobacco after they were let go with some roughing up was a common sight!

I learnt the most from my mother, though. Always game for experimenting and innovating, she never tired of discussing any subject. That morning I remember talking about what possible dishes could be made out of those delicious mandarins. We were on our sixth mandarin and had probably started getting diminishing returns from the fresh fruit! The first couple of ideas are unrememberable, but on our third dish she exclaimed, “Santra Bhaat!”

Charged, we went on and on extempore about what it should be like! The discussion is as fresh in my mind as the bright orange fruit that I love. Each winter I am reminded of the Santra Bhaat of our dreams. Over the years my ideas of what should go into the dish vacillated.

Then for the last few months, ever since the mandies- as we affectionately call them, started coming home in hoardes, the idea of using them with poppy seeds in a rice began to harass me till I finally made it today, as my post on the Rice Bowl cook-off on Sikandalous Cuisine!

O la la! Santra Bhaat!


1 tsp ghee

1 tsp black poppy seeds
A pinch of salt
1 cup basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 ½ cups peeled mandarin segments
½cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp fresh / frozen grated coconut
4 tbsp sugar/ sweetener (depending on the sourness of the mandarins)

Heat a heavy bottomed pan and melt the ghee in it. Add the black poppy seeds and let them splutter just a bit. Add the drained rice and toast it in the ghee and poppy mixture for a minute. Add the pinch of salt and then 1 ½ cups of boiling water. Let the rice cook, covering after a while. When the rice is almost done, add the mandarin segments, coconut and sugar / sweetener. Mix well and cook covered on very low heat. Check after a few minutes and add the freshly squeezed orange juice. Cover again for a few minutes and then switch off heat after making sure the grain is cooked and the taste is balanced and to your liking (Mandarins and oranges tend to have different sourness levels).

Serve warm.

P.S This rice is like the Maharashtrian sakharbhaat, except I have not used sugar syrup. Sakharbhaat is used a main dish in a meal and not as a dessert! Hence it is served warm, with some ghee on the top!

P.P.S  While plating, I took advantage of the lots of mandarins lolling around! Oo la la!

This bhaat has rolled into the Show me your HITS "Rice" event cohosted by Vardhini and Sangee!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

One thing lead to another...

Papeta, Tameta, Biladiino Toap Per Eeda Ane Palakni Bhaji

Enjoyed a lovely brunch with papeta per eeda, another version of the Parsi dish I have posted a few days ago. I had read about another Parsi dish, with eggs on potato- two items absolutely indispensable in a Parsi pantry.

When I began to make it I thought, this is like a Spanish tortilla, the dish has all the elements of a full egg breakfast! It has representative flavours, textures and tastes of rossti, eggs, fried onions, roast mushrooms and tomatoes and steam blanched baby spinach. All this with an enhancement by the garlic/ginger/garam masala/chilli!

I began to think fusion!

One thing lead to another ... (I invariably laugh and roll my eyes at this phrase!) and here is an extrapolation of the traditional dish!

I had to come up with the name in Gujarati- I hope the online dictionary has given me the correct translation for Gujarati words! :)

Ingredients (in order of appearance!)

2 tbsp oil

I medium onion, sliced and rings separated

2 green chillies (or more) chopped

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 medium potatoes, sliced thinly without peeling

1 tsp garam masala (optional)

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 large tomato sliced into half circles

4-5 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Baby spinach for topping (8-10 leaves)


In a large fry pan heat the oil and add the onions and green chillies, followed by the garlic and ginger. Then add the potato slices and fry them on low heat till they begin to crisp and turn golden. Flip them to make sure both sides are roasted. Sprinkle the garam masala on the potatoes. When the potato slices are half done, add the sliced mushrooms and stir them around to brown them. Next, organise the mixture in the pan in a circle and lay the tomato half circles on it. Sprinkle some more salt for the tomatoes. Identify the spots where you are going to break the eggs into the mixture and make slight indents in it. Break the eggs into these spaces. You can choose to break the yolks or keep them intact. Sprinkle a little more salt and some pepper as required. Arrange the baby spinach on the top. Cover the pan for a minute or two. All this time, take care to cook on very low heat, so as to prevent the bottom layer from burning.

Serve with roti or bread.


You can cook the eggs as you want, runny or well done. It’s a good idea to place the pan under a salamander or grill if you wish. I started making this in a pan with a bakelite handle so couldn’t give this effect!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Four hungry characters in search of a dish...

Paneer in a yoghurt sauce

Hungry stomachs don’t really eat any d*&m thing that is placed in front of them.

Au contraire, beyond a certain point, hunger makes you very choosy and you’d rather remain hungry than eat something you don’t want to.

I used to think this was true of small kids who get cranky when they are sleepy or hungry. But funnily, when my family gets hungry, they actually get cranky- and no food suggestion seems to hit the spot. Maybe it’s got something to do with being spoilt for choice!

But paneer is my gambit!

This sure shot favourite puts an end to all squabbling over whether we should have pulao or fried rice, sheera or upma, upma or pohey,  chapati or jowar roti, pithala or sambar...

But wait,  this is only a momentary ceasefire - before the four hungry characters in search of a paneer dish make another  go for it. “Paneer makhani... kadhai paneer... paneer bhurji... “

This time I try a trick, “Okay, let the fridge be the mystery box and yield whatever it wants to.”

Move conceded, the characters rummage through the fridge and find...

500 gms paneer, cubed

200 gms yoghurt (beaten)

1 red pepper, cut into small squares

¾ cup green peas

100 gms cream

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

2 green chillies (or more)

1 tbsp chopped coriander

The pantry panders ...

1 medium onion, chopped

1 star anise

1 tbsp garam masala

A pinch of turmeric

1 tsp sugar or sweetener

Salt to taste

1 tbsp oil

The characters have found their dish. The family stops arguing. Pirandello is put to rest.

How did I make it?

Heated the oil in a pan added the green chillies, fried the onions, followed by the ginger and garlic paste. Then, added the turmeric, followed by the star anise and garam masala. Sautéed the mixture for a minute more and added the red pepper, peas and paneer and tossed it around. Then added the beaten yoghurt and let the gravy boil for some time. Added the cream, salt, sweetener and adjusted all tastes. The chopped coriander was happy to grace the dish, which barely stayed in the lovely red bowl it was served in.  The hot chapatis were waiting to enfold it on their way to deliverance- into our hungry tummies!

Just realised this is very similar to Aman Kahlon’s Dahi Paneer. Coincidence?

No- must mention T.S. Eliot’s essay, “Tradition and the individual talent” here.

Now that is another post, another time, another dish. Till then...

Monday, 16 July 2012

They also serve...

Bottle Gourd and Chana Dal Subji ( Lauki and Chana Dal)

In his sonnet ‘On His Blindness’ John Milton laments his inability to fully exploit his talent and fulfil what he thinks is his purpose in life- to serve God. Patience murmurs to him ‘Who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best’.

Sitting in Dr. Nagarajan’s office and listening enrapt to the brilliant scholar’s discourse on justifying the ways of God to men, I have been oblivious to the hunger pangs.

Sitting with friends during the break, I hand around my lunch box of bottle gourd and chana dal subji and chapatis freshly made that morning. My friends grab my box and pass it, er, toss it around like piranhas while I wait patiently to reclaim my lunch. As the only married girl in the class, I prepare my own lunch and whatever I cook gets polished off by the motley crowd I call friends. Two boys who live in the university hostel and two girls who think it isn’t hip to bring lunch in a stainless steel tiffin box. I get the box back and look at half of a torn chapati and a spoonful of lauki and chana dal subji with an indulgent smile…

Back in Dr. N’ office, we listen to his heavily accented but sonorous voice chant over and over again, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’. Various nuances explained, interpretations invited from us students, insights that come with age and experience shared … in the midst of this charged atmosphere, my stomach rumbles the most embarrassing sounds of hunger. There is no way I can stymie the gurgling. I am hungry. I am reminded of my foiled plans for the lauki bhaji and chapati…

That is the moment of realisation, the dénouement- this humble vegetable in the tame rendition of bhaji with asafoetida, turmeric, fresh curry leaves from the garden and one small chilli has a special providence in the scheme of things!

Its silky mildness will give any spicy, onion-ginger-garlic-garam masala- curry very stiff competition. The lauki subji will not stand out and demand attention on a table laden with exotic spicy gravies, but anyone who is in need of comfort and succour will reach out and find this soul food. Battered palates and ulcer-sore stomachs will crave the doodhi- quite literally the vegetable full of the milk of human kindness. The lauki is never in our face, we seek it out.

Dr. N is reciting, and I zone out. All I can see in the eye of my mind is the tender and soothing lauki, patiently bearing its mild yoke.

It also serves as it stands and waits…

Lauki and Chana Dal Subji

1 small and tender bottle gourd, peeled and diced small

2 table spoons chana dal, soaked for 30 minutes

1 tbsp oil

½ tsp mustard seeds

A generous pinch of hing

½ tsp turmeric

1 red/green chilli (or more)

A few curry leaves

1 tsp sugar/sweetener (optional)

Salt to taste

1 tbsp grated coconut or powdered and roasted peanuts (optional)

1 tbsp chopped coriander to garnish


Heat the oil in a pan and add mustard seeds to splutter. Add the chilli, curry leaves, hing, and turmeric and add the diced bottle gourd. Drain and add the chana dal. Cook covered. If the bottle gourd lets out a lot of water, it will cook in it and also cook the chana dal. But if it doesn’t, you will need to add a little water or a few tablespoons of milk. Another idea is to add the water in which the dal was soaked. Stir a few times, but replace the lid each time. In the last few minutes, let the subji cook without the lid to evaporate any excess liquid. Add salt, sugar, coconut or ground peanuts.

Remove from heat when you see the bottle gourd translucent and done.

Serve- garnished with coriander and with chapati!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Myriad mirrored memories...

Badam Milk (Almond and Carrot Milk Drink)

Eating out as part of a work day or an end of the day ‘can’t be bothered to cook tonight’ lazing was unheard of in our childhood. So was impulsive eating out.  However busy, ill, tired or bored our mothers were, the kitchen fires were kept burning. The only concessions to such times that required a contingency plan came in the form of a one dish meal like khichdi, varanphal or a simple meal like kadhi chawal or pithla bhaat.  

Very insidiously and without batting an eye lid, we have graduated from feeling awed and excited at the rare prospect of eating out, to eating out at the drop of a hat for a any number of reasons. We have taken ‘dining out’ and even ‘ice cream or cold drinks and chocolates’ from their exclusive realm of celebration, treat and entertainment and let impulse and ease influence the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ of eating and drinking.

Today I see people polish off a 50 cent McDonald cone, a Cold Rock ice cream or gourmet gelatos with equal nonchalance. Scores of varieties of juices, drinks and chocolates are consumed for no rhyme or reason – maybe ‘because they are available’ or ‘because people feel like one’.

In the days of yore, an occasional and unexpected bar of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate would generate so much excitement that we would judiciously apportion little blocks for popping one by one into the mouth to make it last as long as possible. Even after the bar was finally finished, we would preserved the silver foil it came wrapped in flattened in books to savour the fragrance and to cherish the memories of the treat.

Ice cream, chocolates and cold drinks were invariably considered as treats and hence, were rare. The ice cream and cold drinks parlour we called the ‘mirrored shop’ was a very attractive and iconic institution.

There were several such shops in Hyderabad, perhaps under the same management, or each replicated the décor to establish brand recognition. The shop was invariably a rectangular hall with a continuous padded seating along the walls. The tables were individual, allowing customers to slide in and out and had individual chairs on the other side. Halfway up, the walls had mirror panels which created innumerable images of one, adding to the mystique charm.

One panel always used to be the black board which featured the painted menu, showing how it was static, while the dynamic prices were indicated in chalk. Home made grainy Kesar pista ice cream served in a stemmed cut glass bowl with a shovel shaped spoon was one of the main attractions. If parental will and or indulgence or our shameless begging prevailed, we would also get to play a second inning.  A glass of the most delicious and sweet and tangy grape juice made of Concorde grapes with luscious deseeded and skinned grape jujubes floating in it used to delight us when the the juice slinked past the teeth into our tummies while we chewed on those jelly like grapes.  The brilliantly coloured orange juice was essentially a sweet and flavoursome mandarin float with crunchy, juicy orange petals. Imagine my utter disappointment when I enthusiastically chose an orange juice on my first international flight with this juice in mind and almost gagged on the acrid taste of the typical canned OJ!  The third option, a tad rich one, was the badam kheer AKA badam cold or almond milk shake.

This was the most delicious milk drink after mother’s basundi. 

Sitting on those bright red quilted rexine seats, slowly sipping the badam milk in the tall glass and licking off the milky moustaches each sip left on our lips, we would want to linger in the joy of the taste, yet were in a hurry to finish the drink as we waited to serendipitously discover large bits of almonds from the dregs with the eagerness of urchins diving for coins.

We would also count the number of multidimensional reflections those panes of mirrors facing each other threw for us. Were we trying to prolong and cherish the experience just a little longer? Did we hope the mirrors would multiply our pleasure of that one glass of badam milk? Did we wish the innumerable reflections would store the memory of the rare treat more vividly in our little minds?

Now those quaint shops are gone, replaced by chic, glossy and more contemporary parlours and outlets of every description and size.

Only the memory remains, inspiring attempts like this badam milk…

Badam Milk – a quick, healthy and delicious milk drink I have been making since I tasted one made by a friend from Mysore more than 20 years ago. These measurements are what I used recently, you can tweak it to your taste.


2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into roundels and boiled (I microwave for a couple of minutes carrots with a spoonful of water)

½ cup almonds, blanched in boiling water

5 cups milk (skimmed will do)

A pinch of saffron

4-5 peeled green cardamoms

Sugar to taste (I used Spelnda)


Heat four cups of milk in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Place the boiled carrots, blanched almonds, cardamoms and saffron with a cup of milk in a blender and grind it into a fine paste. Add this paste to the boiling milk (you can boil the milk longer to reduce it if you like, but there is no need really). Allow the mixture to boil further for about 5-6 minutes stirring constantly so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Check if the almond paste has cooked and switch off the heat. Add the sugar or sweetener to taste.

Serve warm or chilled.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Grain gain!

Pumpkin and Feta Risottini

(Photo by Apurva Nargundkar)

Settling into a seat across the table for a business lunch one cool autumn afternoon, I was wondering how the meal was going to go. I don’t like business lunches or dinners and I find business breakfasts most distressing. First of all, I am not a big breakfast eater Then, I would like to have VFM, irrespective of whoever is paying. So it’s such a pity that I have to make this hard choice between tucking into the eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, tomato, spinach and the works, or stick to weetbix as is my wont and maybe nibble fashionably at some grapefruit?

And if the breakfast is somewhere that serves an Indian hot food selection, I feel this compulsion to go for Indian, although I know for a fact that I will be disappointed. But on a business trip I store up Indian food like a camel before setting forth a trip across the hot desert sands. Who knows when the next Indian meal is going to come from!   Did I also tell you, one of the reasons I don’t like to mix victuals and work is because I can’t work on a full stomach! I envy those who can polish a two course meal with a few glasses of wine at lunch time and then head back to work…

So it was with great trepidation that I ordered a pumpkin and feta risotto at that restaurant that autumn afternoon. The decision wasn’t too difficult. This was the only vegetarian dish (no chicken/beef stock- I was assured) apart from buffalo mozzarella bruschetta - sounds good- roma tomatoes and fresh basil- lovely! - and garlic and chopped Spanish onion! Yikes- not at lunch time!

The risotto was good. The nutmeg and pepper subtly vied for attention with the slightly dominant rosemary. The feta gave a nice tang to the creamy sauce which gently hugged the grain- why did the grain always feel as if it was a bit underdone?  I don’t really like the chewy Arborio rice. If only it tasted like durum wheat pasta. Hmm, that’s an idea- I have often seen rice like pasta in the aisles of supermarkets. It is called risoni or Orzo.

And I have already christened it- a risottini! Mama Mia!

The chill in the air and the discovery of the idea of new pasta dish had whetted my appetite. Already my mind was making plans to skip work and go- not for a post-prandial snooze, but to the supermarkets to buy risoni. But I had business to attend to and a proposal to get across.  

The deal clinched, the meal and the supermarket visit had to be abandoned. But the risottini resonated in my mind, until I made it tonight.

And now I don’t feel like writing the recipe – didn’t I tell you I don’t like to work on a full stomach?!


Pumpkin and Feta Risottini

500 gms Risoni

250 gms butternut squash/pumpkin

200 gms sliced mushroom

I medium potato boiled (in the stock)

1 medium brown onion, chopped

1 tbsp crushed garlic

4-5 cups vegetable stock – kept on simmer till required (you can use chicken stock as well)

4 tbsp double cream

100 gms cubed low-salt feta cheese

2 tbsp butter

3 tbsp olive oil

A generous pinch of nutmeg

2 sprigs of rosemary (or a teaspoon of dried rosemary)

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cube pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Don’t discard the peels, you can throw them into the stock along with vegetables like a stalk of celery, half an onion, a potato, half a carrot, some cabbage or cauliflower stems, broccoli stems, etc.)

In a large heavy bottomed pan heat half the oil and stir fry the sliced mushroom and keep them aside. In the same oil, add a little butter and pan roast the pumpkin with some rosemary. You may want to cover the pot with a lid. Remove the pumpkin and keep it aside along with the mushroom. Add the rest of the oil and butter and sauté  the chopped onion in the same pan. Add the garlic and then the risoni and fry it for a minute or so. Add two cups of stock and the seasoning including the remaining rosemary. Mash and add the boiled potato. Add more stock cup by cup until the risoni absorbs most of it. Add a little hot water if you feel the pasta is getting too sticky. The risoni will be done in about 15 minutes. Test it; it should be soft, not al dente. Add the cream and check the taste. Add the pumpkin, mushroom and let it rest covered for a few minutes to infuse the flavours.

Serve warm, garnished with cubed or crumbled feta. Bon appétit! 

Monday, 9 July 2012

HappyAppy Pizza and Pasta!

HappyAppy Pizza and Pasta

21 years ago, my little baby arrived in this world. The first memory I have of her is that she smiled the most beautiful smile, barely a few minutes into this world. The same beatific cherub now pokes fun at me showing off her knowledge of psychology (gained at the university whose psychology department ranks no. 8 in the world) whenever I narrate this memory. “Babies can see very clearly for a while after they are born, then their eyesight goes kaput, only to recover a little later. So they clearly see that you are smiling at them and mimic you. Their smiling doesn’t mean a thing!” she explains.

I jump to the defence of my memory of my baby. "No way! You were a gifted baby; you knew I was smiling at you!"

They say it takes a while to get emotionally attached to your new born baby as an individual, although instinctively a mother will most certainly feel some kind of love for her baby far earlier than the point at which the bonding as two humans happens. In my little baby’s case, the bonding was instantaneous. The baby had the most angelic smile, the most serene demeanour, hardly cried, slept well, fed well and burped rather too well- what more could a second time and working mother living as an expatriate in an alien country without a family support system ask for?

The baby grew like a reed, but was soft and cuddly enough for me to squeeze tightly and bite lightly. Hugging her was a very calming experience, sleeping with her head resting in the crook of my arm was the sure shot recipe for a good night’s sleep. (No, we do not believe in separate rooms for babies and toddlers.)

I have always felt much chuffed while watching The Super Nanny show. Both my girls never dug their heels into a supermarket floor, clutching the floor tiles, little chests heaving with dry retching and snorty snotty or dry sobs and bawling their heads off! Nor did I have to shoo and shush while evading the pitying eyes, the shaking heads and smug smirks on the faces of busybodies and supercilious supermoms!

Good girl, funny, witty, mischievous, but obedient to a fault - would follow teacher's instructions in word and spirit, much to my exasperation when helping her with school projects!

She was called Happy Appy, Junglee toofan tyre puncture' and a myriad names including ‘bhutya’, our ode to her almost superhuman ability to tackle a task at the first attempt- whether it is riding a bicycle, roller skating/roller blading ice skating/ riding a motorcycle and to our greatest surprise reversing a 4WD into its parking spot the first time she ever sat behind a wheel! The only person in the family to bring home sports trophies and ribbons, she got teased that she was a foundling as none of the three of us have this kind of sporty dexterity!

This darling of ours turned 21 today, poised on the threshold of adulthood. I somehow still don’t believe 18 should be the age to vote, marry, drive, drink- in any sequence. How about 21? Whatever! But it certainly should not be the cut off age for not being called your mum’s baby.

One of her most attractive attributes is her exceptional musical ability and perseverance – a human metronome. Drums, tabla, Punjabi dhol, Indian halgi, glockenspiel, congas, and a clang of other known and unknown instruments and side rhythms from her school band ensemble- it’s a thrilling experience to sit in the audience - eyes and ears only for her -watching and listening to this magnificent creature almost in a rhythmic trance. To me the comments, the thundering applause, the wonderment of the audience seem only for her! Little wonder then she is the darling of all.

A surprise gift of a statuesque African djembe has enthralled her. The house is agog with the sounds of her fingers expertly dancing on the perfectly tuned drum.

Everyone is happy. There are half a dozen parties and celebrations in the offing. Her older sister, who has always had her under her wing like a little mother, has made the tastiest, reddest and brightest red velvet cake for her. Her much loved friends have set the mood by coming over at midnight last night to wish her. I have to be a tad rueful, for she is no longer my small baby... but that’s ok...

So we turn to the indulgent task of cooking her dream birthday dinner- pizza and pasta tonight –with just the four of us.

HappyAppy Pizza and Pasta

Ladenia (Greek  pizza) for my ladli... this is a yeast free pizza- good for the times when you have a craving for pizza and can’t wait for the dough to rise! Comes out very crisp and light!


For the dough

2 cups of self-rising flour

2 tbsp softened butter

½ cup milk

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste

For the sauce

1 can (375gm) chopped tomato

2 tbsp tomato sauce

½ small onion, chopped

1 tbsp chopped garlic

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp oregano (dried)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

For the toppings

Roasted vegetables- eggplant, zucchini, green/red peppers, caramelised onions, kalamatta olives

(I didn’t have them in stock)

½ cup grated Gruyere cheese

½ cup grated mozzarella cheese (you can also use some bits of feta cheese- I didn’t have any)

A sprinkle of red chilli flakes


Combine all dough ingredients. Oil your hands and knead for at least 10 minutes and keep covered.
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for a minute and add the can of tomato. Allow it to boil for a few minutes. Add all the seasoning and the tomato sauce.  Let it cook for a while until it thickens and looks glazed.
Roll out the dough about 2 cm thick. The dough will make one 18 inch pizza or two 9 inch pizzas. Pre-bake the pizza crust for 10 minutes. Top the base/s with the sauce, toppings and the cheeses. Bake for another 10-12 minutes at 210 c or until the top is evenly browned.

Creamy mushroom pasta

375 gms penne pasta cooked according to packet instructions and drained (reserve 1 cup of the salted water in which the pasta has been boiled)
200 gms sliced button mushrooms
1 tbsp crushed garlic
200 gms light cream
50 gms Gruyere cheese, grated

75 gms cream cheese

50 ml sour cream or yogurt or buttermilk

1 cup milk+1 cup of the salted starchy water from boiling the pasta. You cal also use vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp oregano
A generous pinch of grated nutmeg
White pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Sliced green onions and chilli flakes to garnish


In a heavy bottomed pan heat the olive oil and throw the sliced mushrooms in. Add the butter to the sautéing mushrooms. Add the salted water(or veg/chicken stock). Add the cheeses, butter cream cheese, sour cream or butter milk or beaten yogurt. Let the broth boil a bit. Add the cooked pasta and the seasonings. Add the garlic- yes it does not need to be sautéed!

Allow the pasta to settle in nicely with the sauce coating it and seeping in. Adjust the consistency with the milk. Adjust the salt and other condiments to taste.

Serve hot with a garnish of sliced green onions and chilli flakes.