Saturday, 27 December 2014

When it rained watermelons at Christmas

Watermelon Subzi by Sumati Rajurkar (my Aai)

My post today is about when it rained watermelons when Santa brought the Edgar’s Mission residents 300kg of watermelon for Christmas!

Edgar’s Mission is a not for profit Farm Sanctuary that seeks to create a humane and just world for humans and non-humans. Named after Edgar Alan Pig, the founder Pam Ahern’s first rescued pig, the farm is set on 153 peaceable acres nestled in the tranquility of the Macedon Ranges in Victoria. The farm sanctuary currently provides life-long love and care to over 300 rescued animals.

Millions of farmed animals daily endure lives of abject misery in factory farms in Australia.  Barely able to move, they endure acts of cruelty that would be illegal if they were your cat or dog. Imagine a life without sunshine, without freedom, without being able to socialize, without hope … that’s the ‘life’ of a factory-farmed animal.

How has this happened? As custodians of this planet, we have designated some animals friends and some animals food. Yet they are no different. All share the same ability to suffer; the same need and desire to experience life, for it to have joy, meaning and purpose.

Edgar’s Mission offers a glimpse into a different world – a merciful world.

A world where chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, cows and sheep run across the sunny green meadows as their humans run ahead of them and burst cool and sweet watermelons on the ground for them slurp and burp on!

You can watch the very heartwarming video on the link below:

Information and video courtesy Edgar’s Mission.

It rind watermelons some other place too!

I am spending the Christmas week with my Aai and Niki and Tala, my brother’s husky and malamute dogs respectively, while their mum and dad and brothers are on holidays in India.

After feasting on exotica like biryani and Christmas goodies for a couple of days, it was refreshing to dig into a very deliciously homespun meal of rice and dal and some watermelon rind subzi Aai made.  Here goes the recipe.

Watermelon Rind Subzi


2 cups cubed watermelon rind (only the whites)
2 tbsp chana daal – soaked for 20 minutes and drained
1-2 green chillies, chopped
2-3 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tsps oil
¼ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
A large pinch of hing
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp coriander powder
1 tsp crushed roasted peanuts
1 tsp crushed toasted sesame seeds
Salt to taste
A few curry leaves


Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds and mustard seeds to crackle.  Next add curry leaves, chillies, asafetida and turmeric. Now add the cubed rind and stir well into the spiced oil to coat all pieces.

Next spread the soaked and drained dal on top of the cubed rind and cover and cook for a while, taking care not to stir - so the dal starts to cook with the moisture underneath.

Uncover the pan and add a little water if required and then cover the pan and continue to cook it on low flame.

Check on the doneness from time to time. When the watermelon rind looks translucent and the daal is cooked, it’s time to season the subzi with salt, crushed sesame and peanut, coriander powder and let the subzi rest for a while to soak up the flavours.

Garnish with chopped coriander. Serve with chapati, poori, paratha or hot daal and rice.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Rum to the rescue

 Rum Balls

Rum comes to the rescue when

-       A St. Barnard finds you buried under an avalanche
-       Your girlfriend/boyfriend ditches you
-       It’s Christmas and the stuff you baked doesn’t quite rise to the occasion

These rum balls are made with a cup of crushed chewy choc chip cookies, a few crushed Marie biscuits, half a cup of rum- soaked sultanas, currents, candied peel, chopped cashews and some more rum for consolation.

Mix all the ingredients well and roll them into small balls and then again, roll them in some desiccated coconut or chocolate vermicelli or hundreds and thousands.

These rum balls are ready to rub shoulders with the fanciest of the season’s goodies. Everybody knows they are rum balls and everybody knows what rum balls are made of - more so; everybody knows why they are made.

Yet, nobody is any wiser as he or she pops one after the other – for they are after all rum balls!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The “saar” of a soup

Tomato Saar (टोमॅटोचे सार)

“Saadhu aisa chahiye, jaisa soop subhay
Saar saar ko gahi rahe, thotha de udaay”

Savita Behenji is explaining “dohe” couplets by the poet saint Kabir.

“What soup is Kabirdaas talking about?” She asks the silent class.

Questions like this weren’t appreciated during the pre-lunch Hindi lesson.

A precocious young me, used to (read – forced to) helping Aai winnow wheat and jowar before despatching the grain to the local flour mill, smiled smugly as no one in the class answered.

Not only could I winnow the chaff from grain quite expertly, but also sift large stones and clumps of dirt with the large bamboo sieve.

I could also proudly pan stones from soaking grains using the two-basin method with the panache of a prospector.

What more, I could clean mustard seeds and poppy seeds by placing them in a metal plate and tilting it at an angle of about 30 degrees and pushing the playful pips up. The chaff stayed on the top while the clean kernels rolled to the bottom.

Picking to clean was way down on this scale of skills. Starting very young with rice and wheat, I was progressively given higher responsibilities such as examining roasted brinjals for Trojan gurbs, as Aai’s spectacles grew thicker by the year.

I was to realise the utilitarian value of such skills along with their therapeutic value only much later in life.

At the time however, it was at once a “behenji” type activity that I was ashamed of, and a skill and knowledge that I could confidently boast of in front of my stylish peers in the “convent” school.

For the life of me, I can’t understand, nor pardon, those who use the word “convent” to denote any/all boys/girls/coed English medium schools.

Hang on- I stray from my swaggering. So, really, how many 10-12 year olds studying in a “convent” school could/would do these chores? Even forty years ago…

I am as humble as Savita Behenji is funny.

“Behenji, the soop is a winnow.”

I proffer, putting an end to the little pogrom she had in mind.  

I know she wanted to string us out for a while longer before leading the class to the inference.

Tomato Saar, tomato soup… I knew what was coming.

Behenji’s “teacher” jokes would have killed us, if extreme hunger hadn’t already done so.

Thwarted, Behenji goes on to describe how Kabir likens a wise man to a winnow that keeps the grain of good sense, while blowing the chaff of “non-sense” away.

The bell rings for lunch just then, and my classmates’ looks of envy are replaced with gratitude.

Good sense has prevailed. It’s time to turn to the saar.

Tomato Saar (टोमॅटोचे सार)


1 cup canned, chopped/crushed tomatoes (canned tomatoes work the best for soups and saar)
¾ cup coconut milk (I use canned coconut milk)
1-2 shallots, chopped
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 small green chilli
1 tsp oil
¾ tsp toasted cumin
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Coriander for garnish
Salt and sugar to taste
Water as required


Heat a saucepan and a tsp of oil. Lightly sauté the chopped shallot, garlic and green chilli. Blend with the tomato, cumin and pepper into a smooth puree using a stick blender (or mixer).

Add water to the blended puree to adjust the consistency and bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and let the soup simmer for a while until a bright orange foam forms on the surface.

Add the salt, sugar and then introduce the coconut milk. Do not boil much after this stage. Check and adjust the flavours.

Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve hot with khichadi, masaley bhaat, vaangi bhaat or even plain rice.

Or slurp it up in a cup.

The epitome of everything essential to warm the cockles of your heart, this soup is for keeps.

I am sure Kabir had this soup in mind when penning the doha.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Baby and the Bathwater

Potato Masala

Do you lob the baby out with the bathwater?

I mean do you pitch peels of potatoes into the garbage bin?

Well, you could just be forsaking a storehouse of nutrients.

Potato skins are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients and healthy weight-friendly fibre. Half the spud’s fibre is in the skin, which is also brimming with potassium and immunity-boosting vitamin C. The skin also contains B vitamins, calcium and is rich in phytochemicals. Potato skin contains no fat, no cholesterol and no sodium.

I hardly ever remember Aai peeling potatoes and this has influenced my cooking. Wherever possible, I don’t peel the potatoes. 

The only time I concede to “peel pressure” is if the peel isn’t very clean or is a bit green.

At other times, for less understandable reasons, I give in to “peer pressure” in presenting a more standard or aesthetically pleasing peeled potato dish.

However, recently – thanks to my foodie uncle, Jayant Mama, I have started using pureed peel in potato preparations and even in the most unexpected dishes.

Needless to say, it allows me to retain both the appearances of the dishes and the advantages of the peel.

I am so sold on my own spiel, that I will have to stop myself from binning the flesh and cooking only with the skin the next time I boil potatoes!

For now, I present my most favourite potato bhaji made with both the skin and flesh.

Do watch out for more recipes with potato peel puree!

Potato Masala

This is the closest I have got to the quintessential masala dosa kind of bhaji from Tajmahal Hotel (Udupi) of my childhood, or the poori-bhaaji type of saagu from Shanbhag Hotel.

Over the years, I have seen restaurants adding peas, tomatoes, carrots and what-have-you to this bhaji, but the beauty of this bhaji is in its simplicity as presented.

Potato Masala


500 gms potatoes (I use Desiree or washed white potatoes)
3 tbsp oil
A handful of chopped cashews
1 tsp hulled and split urad dal
1 tbsp chana daal
1 tsp mustard seeds
A few curry leaves
2 large onions, roughly chopped
½ tsp turmeric
2-3 green chillies, finely sliced
2 tsp fresh ginger paste
Salt to taste


Thoroughly brush and wash potatoes and boil until tender. Drain and peel them and set the peel aside. Roughly crumble them with a fork or by hand keeping some bits large. As a child, I used to treat the occasional large lump of potato in a masala dosa as serendipitous bonus. Even that extra-large piece of onion raked out of the recesses of the roll added to the experience.

Heat oil in a pan and when hot, add the chana dal and the urad dal. Stir and fry for a few seconds until the dals turn just a shade darker, then add mustard seeds to splutter. Next, add the chopped cashews and curry leaves and stir-fry for about 30 seconds and then add the chopped onion, chillies and ginger and sauté for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Take care not to burn the chillies.

Blend the skins into a smooth puree with a cup of water and add it to the onions.
Cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring in between until the onion softens completely. Add salt, a pinch of sugar / sweetener and turmeric and mix well.

Then incorporate the roughly crumbled potatoes into this mixture.

Check adjust the salt and remove from heat.

Serve hot as masala rolled up in a dosa, or with hot puffed pooris.