Monday, 28 January 2013

ANZAC Kheer!

Barley Kheer

Photos by Amruta Nargundkar

26th January 2013

Australia Day, Indian Republic Day

As I settle down to watch the morning news with a cup of tea, the hot topic for discussion on TV is the rising incidence of drinking and alcohol related violence on Australia Day in Australia.

If Australia Day is a celebration of our patriotism and national identity, the latest evidence suggests that we have a major problem on our hands. Research shows that more Australians get drunk and violent on Australia Day than on any other day of the year, says the panel.

Having a drink is often associated with being inherently Australian. You are un-Australian if you don’t drink. While most people celebrate in a safe and respectful way - many with a drink or two, it’s unfortunate that so many people think it is fashionable to binge drink on Australia Day.  Many get caught up in drunken aggressive behaviour and yet many get involved in accidents.
Others spend their Australia Day dealing with drunken idiots in hospitals or police lock-ups, or drunk drivers on our roads.

Is it just because the Australia Day weekend is the last long weekend before summer ends and people would like to let down their hair? And letting down one’s hair is always associated with drinking binges for many? Is the traditional barbecue inconceivable without the drinking? Is drinking an indispensable part of celebrations? Is it something that we can blame on the companies that manufacture alcohol and those that promote it so vigorously?
A public holiday on a festival or national day is meant to give you time to remember the reason for celebration, meet with like minded people and remember, redefine and relate the significance of these special occasions to our lives today…

Then we change channels and watch the Indian President address to the nation. Our rascally, irreverent hoots at his accented English gradually slowly dissipated, replaced by keen attention as the Rashtrapati candidly spoke about the recent tragedy in Delhi. His words made impact.

“It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass.”

 “The anxiety and restlessness of youth has to be channelized towards change with speed, dignity and order.”

And I remember Mother, who may well have spoken so.

When we were kids, Mother, a proud daughter of freedom fighter parents, always made something nice (and sweet) on national holidays.

“But this is not a festival like Diwali and Dasera”, we would say.  Mother would tell us these days were as significant, or perhaps more, as our traditional festivals, for they are more current and related to our immediate lives.

She would liken Dasera, celebrated to commemorate Ram’s victory over Ravan, the triumph of good over evil to the Indian Independence Day. Diwali marked the return of Ram and Sita to their kingdom, signifying the return of peace and sovereignty, quite like the Indian Republic Day.  In a few hundred years from now, Independence Day and Republic Day would also be observed like these two days. They will symbolise freedom from bondage of whatever is troubling the society at that time. They will entail a celebration of the establishment of the supreme law and governance of the land for the happiness and well being of the people of those times.

Some of this wisdom is recreated from memory and experience, for it must have been lost on us young kids.

Wow! We would think, as we fantasised how festivals would be celebrated in a futuristic society. Will they make sweets? Will they perform a puja? Will they buy new clothes and crackers?

As we settle down to watch the spectacular, larger than life celebrations at the Republic Day Parade on TV, the family asked “So what’s for lunch, Mum?”

I try to come up with a dish that would have elements of celebration and significance for both the countries so dear to us, one our 'janmabhoomi' and the other our 'karmabhoomi'. 

I think oats, coconut and brown sugar of the ANZAC biscuits that sustained diggers (troops) during the Great Wars. 

I remember the gavachi kheer, the wholesome sweet gruel made with wheat pearls and jaggery, a feast food in Marathwada.

I see oats or barley, coconut and jaggery. 

I say,  “ANZAC kheer!”

Barley Kheer

1 cup pearl barley
1 cup dates, chopped
½ cup chopped almonds
¾ cup fresh grated coconut (desiccated will do)
½ cup jaggery, grated (or sweetener)
1 tbsp poppy seeds, dry roasted
½ ts fennel seeds
½ tsp powdered cardamom
¼ tsp powdered nutmeg
Handful of chopped almonds to garnish
Handful of chopped dates to garnish
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp whole-wheat flour (atta)
2 cups full cream milk
Ghee to serve (optional)

Grind the coconut, roasted poppy seeds and fennel seeds together. Keep aside.

Wash and cook the pearl barley really soft with plenty of water. I pressure cooked it.

In a suitable heavy bottomed pan, melt the ghee and add the wheat flour and roast it well.  Remove into a small dish. Then to the same pot, add the cooked barley and some water to adjust the consistency. Add the coconut and poppy and fennel seeds ground together, the chopped dates, chopped almonds and some jaggery or sweetener to adjust the sweetness. When it comes to a boil, slowly mix in the roux or roasted atta. Add the milk and bring it back to a simmer. Adjust the consistency. Add the cardamom and nutmeg. Keep on adjusting the consistency till you get a thick creamy gruel.

Serve warm, garnished with some almonds and chopped dates and topped  with some melted ghee.

This kheer is like the gavhachi kheer made in Maharashtra and Karnataka. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Another fad ?

Pearl Barley and Red Lentil salad

The husband came back from a trip to India with some dietary advice from a nutritionist he had seen while there.

Have barley water everyday, it read. Another fad, I sighed.

A tad disbelievingly, a little indulgently as well as optimistically and promptly the barely was bought. The broth was prepared, strained and stocked.  Loathe as I was to throw away the boiled grains, I put them away in the fridge and promptly forgot about them.

No one wanted to drink this barely water, not even the husband. Can’t bear the thought of drinking this dishwater, he said churlishly. The box of boiled grains got pushed further and further behind other things each time the fridge was opened. I was growing concerned about the barley brew going bad, after all it was starchy water- did it look a little cloudy? I removed the container to inspect and as luck would have it, my hand lost its grip and the brew spilled on to the kitchen floor. Dang! Maybe a portent? Cleaning the mess, I was in no mood to even look at the unassuming dregs, patiently but strangely confidently trying to catch my eye.

A day or two later, overcome by a sense of duty and decency, I ventured to taste a few grains and was pleasantly surprised. It tasted good! So, is barley really good?

My friend Google, as usual was very supportive and informative and I had struck pay dirt!  

This apparently is a ‘golden’ grain. Low GI -pearl barley reportedly has a GI of 22-wow! It has soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and regulates blood sugars. Moreover, barley is full of vitamins and minerals. To top it all, it actually tastes good!

I brushed aside my sheepishness with bravado and got busy devising this salad out of the remnant grains.

Pearl Barley and Red Lentil (Masoor) salad

1 cup pearl barley
½ cup soaked and sprouted red lentils
1 cup finely shredded cabbage/lettuce
1 tomato, chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
A handful of baby rocket, chopped
A handful of mint leaves, chopped
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs lemon juice
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tsp honey or some sweetener (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pomegranate seeds to garnish

Cook the pearl barley and red lentils in a saucepan with plenty of boiling water and a teaspoon of salt for about 25 minutes until tender. Drain the water - you can use it in soups or for kneading dough.

Alternately, you can pressure cook the two, with the salt and about three cups of water.

Place all ingredients in an airtight screw-top jar and shake well till you get an emulsion.

Place the shredded cabbage/lettuce, sliced carrots, chopped tomatoes, chopped herbs and the cooked pearl barley and red lentils.

Add dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Monday, 21 January 2013

No flash in the pan

Flaxseed/ Javas Chutney  (जवसाची चटणी) 

“Mum- the Gabriel Method says flaxseeds are great for weightloss …” says the daughter.

“ Rolled oat museli with flaxseed clusters” declaims the box of cereal.

“Nine-grain bread enriched with flaxseed and quinoa” blazoned on the wrap of our daily bread.

“Chew 1 tsp of flaxseed with every meal” reads a dietitian’s advice to the husband. 

Flaxseed is the new super food, staring us in the face all the time, like scores of new foods in the lime light that are actually traditionally common choices.

It’s interesting- and sometimes annoying- how the health benefits of long recognised foods are re-recognised and promoted. We don’t need this commodification and gimmickry. Superfoods like flaxseeds, olive oil, avocado, peanuts and the likes have been part of human diets and cuisines for ages.

Take, flaxseeds for instance. It was a fixture in the pantry for my grandmother and mother and mother-in-law. Known as ‘javas’ or ‘alshi’, it was made into chutneys, added a crunch to nutritious winter laddus, its pods were boiled into a potion for stubborn coughs and…

I jog my memory for more uses - and am stopped short by an epiphany. The fact that I am struggling to recall indicates the disuse. I haven’t really thought of, or cooked with flaxseeds in years.  So why am I disparaging the attention and recognition they are receiving as ‘flash in the pan’ fads!

We do need these re-discoveries - for those, like me, that have forgotten them, for those who need to be re-educated, for those who never knew about them, for the younger generations and for posterity. As for whether the corporates will take advantage of these trends to fill their coffers, that’s a small trade-off for re-embracing and re-introducing these foods in our lives.

The grand dames in the family told us that flaxseeds are beneficial. Internet explicates further that flaxseeds are the highest plant source with omega 3 fatty acids and they are very high in lignans and mucilages (soluble fibre). It helps promote bone and cardio-vascular health, lowers cholesterol like statin drugs and helps maintain hormonal balance in women.

Here is a simple way to introduce flaxseeds into your diet. Make this simple chutney that goes with any staple like rice, bhakri (jowar or bajra), roti, phulkas, dosas, idlis or even bread. Pour a drop of olive oil if you must. You can even dust it over a cut salad, or mix it into a yoghurt raita.

The other day, I successfully used it as a substitute for eggs in a cake. Will post the recipe soon!

Flaxseed Chutney

1 cup flaxseeds
2-3 dry red chilies – or more
1-2 big cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp roasted peanuts (don’t bother skinning them)
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Salt to taste


Pick and clean the flaxseeds. Heat a pan and lightly dry roast the seeds and the chillies for a minute or so. Add the cumin and sesame seeds and roast for another few seconds. Remove from heat and add the desiccated coconut and mix well. Let the mixture cool.

Blitz the roasted mixture, peanuts, garlic and salt in a spice grinder.  Check the salt and the heat factor and adjust to taste.

Cool again as the mixture can get hot in the mixer. Store in an airtight jar.