Sunday, 19 January 2014


Healthier Tilgul - Quinoa Sesame Granola

In response to a question on a greeting on FB featuring bajra bhakri on the occasion of Bhogi, I rack my brains as to why raw onion was served with the bhakri even on an “auspicious” day. Going into the “Aai mode”, thinking what she would say and what she would do, I hazard a couple of guesses -  kanda-bhakar go well together... or it's part of the cornucopia of the season... or the fact that this is more of a social, harvest festival than religious. Then, the reader-pleaser that I am, I propose the ultimate resort – will ask my mother!

Aai is my safest bet. I still like to hold a very childlike belief that she knows everything. If she doesn't, she'll honestly admit it, but that is not the end of the matter. She perseveres, makes a mental note to ask someone or reads up about it.  But will she then stop?

No, not until she has loud-thought and exhausted all possibilities - and her listeners. I didn't dare to interrupt her as a child, but over the years, have learnt to distract her into finishing. 

Of late and worrisomely, and as my girls will agree wholeheartedly, I may be displaying signs of this trait…

Back to Aai, a scientific questioning mind contributed to her love of elucidating to us kids the significance of every ritual and rite woven into the warp and weft of our lives.  Not just from the Indian culture, but from the world over. From her I learnt to deduce that it was no big deal if Cleopatra bathed in donkey’s milk, the Mesopotamian Ziggurats couldn't have been built with anything other than clay bricks in the alluvial land between the two rivers, or that most Chinese or oriental music melodies were pentatonic perhaps because they were easier to be played on the bamboo flute…

It goes without saying that my curiosity why kites are flown in India during Sankranti, met with a rational account of how the change in the temperatures caused by the slanting rays of the sun caused strong and dry winds suitable for kite flying to blow, and how this tradition originated in farmers flying kites to assess the weather in preparation of their next lot of crops.

Oh yes, Makar Sankranti did lend itself very well to her generous exposition.

There was an element of thanksgiving for the bounteous harvest in preparing offerings with the produce such as cluster beans, sugarcane, carrots, green garbanzo (hari boot) and jujubes (ber). The plenty and prosperity also brought about peace, and in their bonhomie people urged each other to be cordial at all times.

‘Til gul ghya, god god bola!’

In a brief sojourn from their tough routines, women folk socialised and celebrated their good fortune (literal meaning of the word ‘saubhagya’), gifting ‘haldi and kumkum’, bangles, little combs and trinkets, paan, supari, symbols of their privileged marital status. This was called 'vaan'. In their largesse, they would give out little clay pots called ‘sugadi’ containing fruit, vegetables and chunks of peeled sugarcane, sesame seeds and jaggery. Care packages of khichadi grains, tea or sugar and cakes of soap were the more utilitarian options.

With the womenfolk having such fun, can the kids be left behind? Not only did they tag along to all haldi-kunku functions collecting the ‘loot’, but they also had their own blasts. The ‘bor-nahan’, quite literally a jujube-shower for kids under the age of five, celebrated the mother’s indulgence in her child in this time of rest, relaxation and richness. Whatever pangs a mum may have had about neglecting her kids during the hectic sowing season, were assuaged by dolling them up in trinkets made of sugar and til candy and showering them with a confetti of goodies like jujubes (ber), puffed rice, tilgul.  Other kids at the bash playfully plundered the confetti amidst laughter and fun.

Long before studying history at school, I gleaned from Aai that culture emerges with leisure…

And of course, Aai’s explanation as to why these foods, came uncanvassed. Since the festival is celebrated in winter, foods that lend energy and essential fats to keep the body warm and nourished are used. Freshly harvested til and gur happened to be some such foods. A torrid bajra roti with snowdrops of white butter, a heartwarming soft khichadi, a medley of spicy seasonal vegetables, and a very earthy and hearty gul poli glistening with oodles of ghee made for a well-deserved and well-earned meal to sate the hard-working farmer and his family.

This year’s Sankranti was almost stolen by a Grinch. My firstborn, my partner in culinary crimes has been away and the lastborn is trying to be vegan and has always been least enthusiastic about sweets. The husband is on a diet, while my doctor has put me on notice to monitor my vital signs closely.

Sankranti treats, though healthy, are heat inducing and Melbourne is experiencing its worst heatwave in over a century…how and when and why should I make tilgul?

The Sankranti cornucopia in my heart, the conch shell resonating my primordial rhythm across the seven seas, heeds neither topsy-turvy seasons, nor situational hurdles… a vegan and healthier ‘tilgul’, more in sync with my current cadence suggests - almost by itself.

Quinoa flakes and amaranth pops are cooling. Pepita and flax prove to be soothing seeds. The peanut/ sesame /coconut triumvirate is charmed by the low GI sweetness of the coconut sugar…

There you go, don’t say I didn't warn you about inheriting that trait…

Healthier Tilgul - Quinoa Sesame Granola


½ cup quinoa flakes (these are available as a breakfast cereal)
¾ cup sesame seeds
¾ cup shredded coconut (reserve some to sprinkle on the tray)
2 cups coconut sugar (you can use fresh dates or figs to give sweetness and bind the ingredients)
½ cup peanuts
½ cup amaranth seeds
½ cup roasted gram
¼ cup Pepita seeds
2 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Seeds of 3-4 green cardamoms and 1 black cardamom, crushed


Layer a tray with baking parchment and sprinkle the reserved shredded coconut on it. Set aside.

Soak the amaranth seeds for a few minutes, drain thoroughly and then pop them in a hot heavy bottomed pan, stirring continuously until most seeds have popped. Don't worry if all don’t pop. Remove on a plate. In the same pan, lightly roast sesame seeds and set aside. Next lightly roast the peanuts, flax seeds, poppy seeds and the shredded coconut one by one.

Mix the seeds and nuts and reserve half a cup to be retained whole to add to the texture. Blitz the seed nut mixture for a quick few seconds, so you get a coarse meal.

Heat the same pan and add the coconut sugar and about ¼ cup water. Mix thoroughly and let the mixture bubble and froth on low heat. Don't stir the mixture, unless it is burning. Test the syrup consistency on a plate. It should stand its own ground without running, but shouldn't be too stiff– you have to get it sticky enough to bind the mixture together. Mind your fingers, as the sugar syrup can be deceptively hot. Add the pulsed nut and seed mixture, the reserved whole mixture, nutmeg and black and green cardamom powder. Mix thoroughly into a sticky ball.

Pop the sticky ball of the mixture on the baking parchment and pat it flat with a spatula. If you want to flatten it uniformly, place another sheet of parchment on top of this flattened mixture and pat it into a shape. Then carefully roll it into a uniformly thick mixture with a rolling pin and pat everything into place.

Allow this to cool slightly and score the sheet into diamonds or squares or bars. Separate the shapes when completely cooled and store in an airtight container a cool and dry place.

This healthy tilgul can be a munchy between meals, a breakfast supplement, something to crumble over your muesli, or that piece to pop when you want something sweet after a meal.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The decoy McCoy

Gajar Paneer Halwa

As a child whose additional language was English (yes, did you know this is a new ‘inclusive’ term for English as a Second/Foreign language?) my understanding of the word ‘diet’ was limited to a ‘weight loss diet’. 

In the 70s, it had become a buzzword for grown-ups around me, almost like a fad.  Family and folks used it with such natural ease that I didn’t even think it was an English word. Everyone seemed to have an opinion, an anecdote and gratis advice to mete out about 'diets'.

And everyone had someone in the family who had seriously asked the question, “Should I eat this diet stuff before or after a meal?”

I must have been about 8 or 10 years old, long gone past the 'cute and chubby', 'pullable-cheek' stage and endowed out of the 'puppy fat' category, when this “d” word became a dreaded reality for me personally. What had hitherto been unconditional praise for my precociousness, started to come with a proviso bordering on a warning – albeit to my mother, 'but you should get her to diet, you know…'

Over the years, I fought with my foodophilia and succumbed to many diets – the GM Diet, the Atkins Diet, and the Cabbage Soup Diet – you name it and I was game for it.   But alas! These adventures invariably started with ditties and ended in dirges.

If you didn’t take it so seriously, 'Diet' digs were doubly doomful.  When I self-righteously refused a sweet while on one of these grueling regimes, I was told-  go ahead, have it… it’s a boiled sweet… You’re on veggies and fruit? Try this carrot cake ….  how about some apple pie…

My calling as a food blogger has seen me ingeniously tiptoeing around recipes with 'sugar/sweetener' options and 'fry/bake' discretions, attempting brilliant coups to overthrow the white supremacy of the butter-sugar-flour clan. But I won’t be honest if I don’t admit that many times these dishes are but shadows of the real McCoys.  

But not this one. 

Here’s a “diet” gajar paneer halwa, which cheats in every possible way, but manages to beat the fray!

Gajar Paneer Halwa


2 cups lightly scraped and grated carrots
10-12 cashew nuts, halved 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp ghee (optional)
1 cup skimmed milk
½ tsp green cardamom powder (only if you don’t have a cardamom hater at home)           
2 cups grated paneer
4-5 tbsp coconut sugar
Sweetener as required to bring the halwa to your desired level of sweetness


Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan, and add the cashew nuts and fry them slightly and remove from the pan. Now add the grated carrots and sauté for a few minutes. Add milk and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the milk evaporates and the carrots are cooked. Stir from time to time.

Stir in the grated paneer and coconut sugar and cook for two to three minutes or till the sugar melts and mixes well, stirring continuously. The coconut sugar, made from the sap of the coconut palm does not taste like coconut at all. It is not only a low glycemic index sweetening option, but also gives a caramel flavour to the halwa and deepens the colour. Coconut sugar also has nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and amino acids.

Add some sweetener like Splenda or Agave syrup, if required.

Add the green cardamom powder and the tablespoon of ghee (if using). Continue to cook for a minute more.

Garnish with halved cashew nuts. Serve warm. Forget the clichéd ice cream.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The marriage of Gajar and Methi

Gajar-Methi Subji

For me, all dishes made with methi are equal. But the Gajar Methi subji is more equal. 

Very few vegetable combinations cause a “party in your mouth” to borrow a phrase from my younger daughter, like the gajar-methi subji - a match made in heaven.

I believe it is owing to the symbiotic relationship the two share, and I don’t just mean the complementary nutritional values.  The no-nonsense, rooted-in- common-sense constitution of Gajar lends constancy to the heady flirtatious aphrodisiac that Methi is!
(Yes! Methi is supposed to have these qualities, maple syrup smell syndrome notwithstanding!)

In its cooked savoury form, Gajar is often relegated to being a mere filler of colour, texture, or even nutrition - by crafty mothers who sneak some into 2-minute noodles as trade off.  However, this subji is one dish in which Gajar holds its own ground as an equal, assuaging the fragrant but slightly bitter, piquant flavours of methi by its smooth sweetness. Gajar chivalrously lends body, moisture and a silky texture to the subji to set off the slight fibrousness of the leaves.

Methi too comes more than halfway to this amalgamation with a lot of verve, lending aroma and savouriness, but accepting the tempering by the carrots with grace. The result is remarkable!

I haven’t got good pictures of the dish - simply because I couldn't wait to dig into some hot jowar bhakri and this Gajar-Methi.


2 cups washed and chopped fresh methi (use the tender stems as well)
2 large carrots, cut into slices or diced
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
1-2 green chillies
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of hing
A pinch of turmeric
Salt to taste
Pinch of sweetener/sugar (optional)


Heat a pan and make a tadka (tempering) with the oil and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to splutter, add the green chillies and onions. Sauté for a minute and add the hing and turmeric. Add the sliced carrots and the chopped methi. Mix well and cover with a lid with a little water on top and cook for a few minutes. Remove the lid carefully so as not to spill the water into the pan. Add the coriander-cumin powder, salt and sugar/sweetener. Cook for a few minutes more, till done. 

Serve with bhakri or bajra roti/rotla, phulka or rice. 

The next time I make this, I would like to dress it up and serve it as party dish, with hot pooris!