Thursday, 29 August 2013

Salmagundi is English for हिंग पुस्तक तलवार

Blood orange, tangelo and green beans salad

“Salmagundi is a mixture or a mixed plated salad comprising many disparate ingredients, which dates back to 17th century England.”

This is a new addition to my gyan – and an apposite translation of “Hingpustaktalwar” or हिंग पुस्तक तलवार !

No – this isn’t gibberish, but a concatenation of three words from the Indo-Aryan language family.

Yes – it’s another family meme.

And like with most family memes, the origin of this one is now forgotten –it probably was a story of a man who was given an incongruent shopping list featuring some asafetida, a book and a sword.

This description is used and abused in the family for an unrelated shopping list, a mélange menu or a higgledy piggledy composition or an ensemble gone awry.  Generations of girls, including the in-law variety, have suffered disproval and diatribes from the dynasty dames for “hingpustaktalwar” menus and dishes, be it a wedding feast (especially one hosted by the in-law party) or a family dinner.

Interestingly, this throwing together of disparate elements of taste, texture, temperature, colour, cuisines, condiments actually yields great results, as I experienced with this salad.

Why was this disparate and unlikely?

First of all, the dish comprised raw ingredients topped the blanched beans in a mélange of fruit, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices.

Then, I have always been disdainful of cooks who throw things together in the name of innovation – much like arty-farty practitioners of modern art who throw lines and strokes and colours together into facile,futile frames. Not unlike the cacophonous medleys of fusion “raga music”…

Granted, a dish “… in an orange reduction” has enhanced snob value for some. But for the incredulous me, the idea of oranges in savoury dishes had taken a while to go down. For this dish, I had even- by sheer force of habit- sliced and segmented the oranges on my fruit chopping board (the one that is never allowed to be used for cutting vegetables) only to realise I was mixing the fruit with raw onions.

The skepticism persisted.

Wasn’t I being foolishly intrepid, blending flavours of orange, thyme and garlic? Was I overreaching myself- tossing oxymoron textures of crunchy beans and luscious oranges?
What was with this droll plating of the Kandinski-esque cuts, colours and contours of components in this eclectic salad?

And most importantly - would the family like it?

Would this dish be a suitable complement to the pumpkin risotto the daughter had made for dinner that night?

The salad was such a winner, that now I really want to call mother or my aunts and ask if anyone remembers the story of that poor man – I am dying to know what he did with the asafetida, the book and the sword.

Blood orange, tangelo and green beans salad

NB. Tangelo is a hybrid of a tangerine and a pomelo (grapefruit). You can see the blood orange in the photo.


¼ kg green beans, trimmed
Ice water, for chilling
1 blood orange, cut into thin half- slices (you can leave the rind on)
1 tangelo, peeled, pithed and segmented
1 tangelo, zest and juice extracted
1 tbsp oil from a tub of Persian Feta (this is the herbed olive oil that the Feta is suspended in – but if you can use 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, a spot of garlic, a pinch of dry thyme or a sprig of fresh thyme, salt and pepper)
1 medium Spanish onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A handful of roasted pistachios to garnish


Boil a medium pot of water and prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the green beans to the pot and cook until crisp-tender, about 3-4 minutes, and then plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Once cool, dry the green beans completely and season with salt.

Using a sharp knife remove the skin and pith from the second tangelo and carefully slice in between the membranes to get the petals out. 

Combine the juice and a tiny bit of the zest of one tangelo in a large bowl and add the herbed oil or 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, a spot of garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Toss in the green beans and sliced onions in this dressing to combine and taste again for seasoning. Arrange the beans on a serving plate lined with the blood orange half- slices. Garnish the beans with tangelo sections and pistachios.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A bumpkin in the soup

Coriander, cumin “warm-hug” pumpkin soup

As the first spoonful of this delicious soup slid down into our guts, spreading a warm haze all over our inside and up to our souls, my first-born christened it as the warm-hug pumpkin soup.

We had saved a portion for the photo shoot, yes - all my food blogger friends and food groupies will agree that there comes a time when we have to defer to the family’s wishes and eat in haste so we can shoot at leisure.

You can see how the impromptu christening gave the daughter an idea for styling the soup for the photo.

The photo and the soup – and the name- extol the virtues of a hug, which got thinking about this phenomenon.

Growing up, we were hardly ever hugged beyond a certain age. But I don’t think we were any worse off or felt deprived of affection. There were so many ways in which we felt the warmth of our parents’ love- through their care, their ceaseless efforts for us, through the underlying warmth in their tone when they even nagged us. I'd even say there was warmth in their worrying about us and in their reprimanding harangues – okay, perhaps I go a little overboard.

We were exposed to the norms of social distance and personal distance all around us.  Our hands folded reflexively in a Namaste and we had to learn to proffer a hand to shake.  Isn't it ironic that we were acutely aware, and not just instinctively, of even an inadvertent touch or contact from the opposite sex- while we actually lived in a populous society where pushing and jostling were an everyday feature.   

It took us a bit of growing up to even get used to the word itself without childishly giggling at any unintended puns in our vernacular. Then, all of a sudden, almost in another world, we realised that even older relatives (mostly our NRI ones) preferred a hug to the traditional “touching of their feet”.

Long lost friends gave you bear hugs while you were racking your brains to remember if you had ever made any physical contact with them. Even as we were getting used to shaking hands at the first meetings without reaching out for that little bottle of hand sanitizer, hugging people during the very next meeting had come out of the seemingly insincere phalanges of the socialites and film stars and was actually expected of us.

So many times I have bumped heads and knocked noses with people in my bumpkin attempts to respond to their hugs, never quite sure if it’s going to be a one arm or a two arm hug, or how many sides I am supposed to hug, or for that matter how many cheeks to touch. The only reassuring thing about some of these norms is that one doesn’t have to – err, one isn’t supposed to let lip meet with the cheek.

So why the perfunctory hug and the equally facetious smooch?

A sincere smile, happiness at meeting someone genuinely glowing through the eyes and heartfelt words expressed generously – are preferable any day to an exuberant but empty embrace - in the same way as this simple 
un-pretentious, almost rustic warm-hug soup so innocuously thawed its way to our hearth and hearts.

Coriander, cumin “warm-hug” pumpkin soup

  • 1-2 tbsp oil
  • ½ kg butternut pumpkin, skin and seeds removed, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup assorted vegetables  – broccoli and cauliflower stalks, green beans, etc. (I used up the vegetables I had boiled to make stock a day earlier)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp toasted coriander powder
  • ½ tsp toasted cumin powder
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt to taste
  • red chilli powder to taste (optional)
  • A squirt of lime juice (lemon will do too)

Place the butternut pumpkin, potatoes and onion in a sauce pan. Add oil and sauté well. Add the garlic, ginger and the cumin and coriander powders and sauté a little more. Add the stock and the other boiled vegetables and cook on low heat till well done. This should take about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Then use a food processor or stick blender to process the soup until smooth.

Adjust the consistency by adding more water. Heat the soup again and season with salt, black and white pepper, nutmeg and chilli powder. Add the lime juice. Check and adjust all other flavours.

Serve hot, garnished with some fresh chopped parsley and with some toasted sourdough bread on the side.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Swatantrata Samosa

Mattar Paneer Samosa

In the days before TV, the only time we saw the official Indian flag hoisting ceremony at the Red Fort was in the Newsreel that was shown in the movies. But we never missed these grandiose events, for we had celebrations in every nook and corner of the community around us.

Every galli, nukkad, naka, chawl, colony, roundabout and chowrasta had enthusiastic patriots – some of them mere “chanda” gathering charlatans- organising flag hoisting ceremonies for denizens who gathered in the early hours of the 15th of August by the dozens.
Buntings would be strung along electricity lines.  A temporary dais would be erected for parochial politicians or corrupt corporators to make patriotic speeches, not always insincere, and unfurl the tricolor on makeshift flagpoles.

All the while, loud speakers with large horns would blare Aao Bachcho Tumhein Dikhayen and De Dee Hame Azaadi Bina Khadag Bina Dhaal by the Kavi Pradeep or Lata Mangeshkar soulfully singing his Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon…and who could forget Iqbal’s Sarey Jahan Sey Accha Hindustan Hamara

What I also remember, and not merely because I am very hungry at the time of posting this, is the little oil stained paper packets of samosas and laddus that were distributed to all.

The laddus were not a novelty, but the samosas were certainly a treat.  

Our strict home-rules about establishing the origins of a samosa (and yes, a cutlet too) before pronouncing it fit for consumption were thrown to the wind. “Don’t tell me if your tummies go bad!” was a caution we collared, even at the risk of the insufferable but inexorable “I told you so!”

Hot, freshly fried samosas were ok we were told– but you could never be sure as to how long the filling had been exposed to the elements. There were far too many examples of how eating samosas on display, in storage or in transit at under the requisite 60 C or above the 5 C (BTW - the temp range is recent gyan) had ruined many a fun outing.

As my interest in cooking developed, I realised all this could be avoided if we made samosas at home.

The writing on the wall was always clear.

When I finally got down to making samosas at home, it was actually so liberating not be at the mercy of suspect stuffing of unknown origin and antiquity… So emancipating not to be ambushed at first bite by a filling at pungency levels that would scorch any Scoville scales…  So releasing not to fear rancid re-used oil…


Matar Paneer Samosa

For the pastry

250 gm plain flour

2-3 tbsp ghee

Salt to taste

¼ teaspoon ajwain

Water to knead the dough

Oil for frying


In a bowl, sift the flour and salt. Then add the ghee and rub it into the flour with your hands until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the ajwain and gradually add the water to make a smooth, firm but pliable dough.  Cover with cling film and set aside for an hour.

For the stuffing

2 tbsp oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
½ tsp garlic
½ tsp ginger
1-2 green chillies, chopped fine
1 cup grated paneer
1 cup frozen baby peas
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and mashed
1 tbsp chopped cashew nuts
½  tsp amchur powder or lemon juice
½ teaspoon coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
Salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves


Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds followed by the onions, garlic, ginger, green chillies and cashew nuts and sauté well. 

Add the paneer, peas, and sauté further. Then add the coriander powder, amchur powder, chopped coriander leaves and garam masala. Add the mashed potato for binding and mix well. Cover and cook on a low heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Divide dough into equal parts. Make a ball out of each part and roll it into discs like a poori. Cut each disc in half. Fold each semi-circle in a triangle and prop it open like a cone and fill it with a spoonful of the matar-paneer mixture.  Fold the edges over run a finger dipped in water along the edges to seal them.   Prop the prepared samosas in a row.

Heat oil in a kadai or pan and fry the samosas on medium heat till golden and crisp.  Drain them onto kitchen paper to absorb excess oil. Serve hot with chutneys like mint and tamarind-date.