Monday, 25 August 2014

Sev the day

Sev Batata Paratha 

What do you when your best laid plans of cooking up a hearty brunch of alu parathas before heading out shopping with the girls are foiled?

Eat out? Not if I had my way.

Last night I had boiled some potatoes and kneaded dough so I could quickly fix brunch after a sleep in and still make it to the shops – shopping for our new home.

All shopping expeditions in the last few months have surely started with well meaning targets and goals, but have ended up as weekend outings, when a much debated lunch or brunch lulled us into a post-prandial tristesse.

With the move to the new home very imminent, we have to get things moving, literally and figuratively.

No lunch on this trip, I had announced last night, snuffing any possible dissent about - when we should eat - as soon as we head out or later? What we should eat - pasta or sandwich, salad or fries? Where should we eat – at the food court or go in for some fine dining?

This morning, feeling chuffed as if it were a project going per its Gantt chart, I got down to preparing the stuffing.

Someone had been at my boiled potatoes… must have been the husband on his mid-night snacking trips…

How can I feed a family of four with just two and three quarters of a potato?

Even if I keep the skins on?

I started enlisting - some sev decided to participate on a whim, a handful of thick poha gallantly volunteered to stockade - chest doubled with pride, some lovelorn panipuri masala loyally followed the sev into the mixture, so how could best buddy pudina forsake its mate?

The usual onion, garlic, ginger, green chillies, amchur, fresh coriander and garam masala were shamed into doing their jobs as per contract.

The result was spectacular.

The sev indeed saved my day.

Sev Batata Paratha


1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger and garlic paste
¾ cup sev
½ cup medium thick pohe, washed and drained
2 ¾ of medium potatoes, boiled and mashed (I kept the skins on)
1-2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped pudina
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp garam masala
1 tbsp panipuri masala
A pinch of hing

Oil to make parathas

For the dough
Wheat flour
Salt to taste


Knead dough for making paratha and keep it aside for some time – or overnight.

In a pan heat a little oil and sauté the chopped onions, garlic and ginger paste and the green chillies. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and divide into equal portions and make loose balls out of the stuffing.

Heat a tava. Roll a small ball of dough into disc and place a ball of the stuffing on it and pull the edges of the disc to cover the stuffing with the dough and flatten it. Flour the surface and gently roll the flattened balls into a paratha. Cook it as you would your usual alu paratha, with some oil.

Serve hot with sweet date and tamarind chutney, some sev and a salad made with mandarin segments, diced cucumber, salt, chilli powder, hing and lemon juice.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The “All attractive” Krishna

Chickpea and Peanut Sundal

As a child, I used read anything that I could lay my hands on- from Phantom and Mandrake the Magician to Champak and Chandamama; from Amar Chitra Katha comic books to Marvel and DC comics; from Enid Blyton and Anna Sewell to Sane Guruji and Faster Fene in Marathi.

The old and yellowed pothis and purans and Shukravar chya Katha (religious books with stories and illustrations) that were a part of my grandmother’s collection were as interesting as the stories of the Greek Gods or Beowulf.

These characters made a lasting impression on my little mind and heart. But the most fascinating, impressive and all-rounder character of them all was Krishna, my most favourite among the Hindu Pantheon.

The cute little brat’s escapades would put Dennis the Menace or Tom Sawyer to shame. The clever youngster who defeated Kalia the snake was smarter than Frederick Algernon "Fatty" Trotteville from Enid Blyton’s Five-Find-Outers.

The brave adolescent and his strong brother Balram who repeatedly outwitted their tyrant uncle King Kansa could make Mandrake and Lothar his muscle man- a combination of Shakti and Ukti or Magic and Muscle-   seem so
two-dimensional and mono-chromatic.

The shrewd and brave charioteer of Partha inspired more faith and trust than Phantom, the Ghost-who-walks or Hercules.

The tactful friend who took such care of the poor Sudama seemed more loyal than Pythias who did not fail to return to free Damon.

A little later in the journey, came the realisation that the strong dark and handsome hero, who graciously assumed as many forms as the number of gopis, giving each lady the satisfaction that he was there to dance exclusively with her, was no Casanova.

He was more chivalrous than any Arthurian knight and more romantic than a Mills and Boon hero.The16,000 wives could only be an indication of his generous patronage and protection extended to thousands of damsels in distress, and not a sign of depravity like that of Bluebeard.

And much later, Socrates’s wise and patient tolerance of Xanthippe’s quarrelsome ways pales in comparison to Krishna’s sagacious handling of Satyabhama’s possessiveness.

Such a superhero, such a multi-faceted being could only be called Krishna, the “all attractive”!

Here’s wishing the cute, naughty, funny, clever, kind, smart, wise and witty Krishna a very happy birthday!

Chickpeas Sundal

This is a Janmashtami favourite from the south, using the kabuli chana of the north.


1 cup chickpeas or garbanzo bean, soaked overnight or for 4-5 hours
1/3 cup raw peanuts (optional)
1 tbsp oil
¾ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1-2 green chillies, chopped. You can use dry red chillies as well.
1 tsp of grated fresh ginger
A pinch of asafetida
8-10 curry leaves
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
3 tbsp fresh grated coconut
Salt to taste


Cook the chickpeas and peanuts till soft done. I usually add some salt, so it gets infused.

In a pan, heat 1 tbsp oil and the urad dal. As it begins to turn golden, add mustard seeds to splutter. Then add the chillies, asafetida, curry leaves and grated ginger.
Immediately add the boiled chickpeas and peanuts. Mix well and adjust the salt and fry for a few minutes. Add lemon juice and the grated coconut and mix well.

This dish is suitable for naivedya and makes a very tasty prasad.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Seasonal Affect

 Javasachi Chutney (Flaxseed Chutney)

The current cold wave in Melbourne has got us into the Dhanurmaas mode. 

Dhanurmaas is an exceptional month in the Hindu calendar in that it is a solar month and not a lunar one. For the largely North hemisphere centric Hindu community, this month marks the movement of the Sun northward from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer, starting mid-December and ending with Makar Sankranti.

For me, dhanurmaas evokes memories of Aai recalling dhundurmaas (in colloquial Marathi) activities of her childhood. An elderly aunt would wake the kids up in the wee hours, subject them to a quick splash wash all the while telling them about how in her childhood, they didn’t have the luxury of hot water at home and how they would hit the river early for their daily ablutions. 

“Why on earth would they go to the river so early on such cold mornings?” I would wonder aloud.

“ Most people would bathe at the river in those days, so they went early in winters while the river was still warm.” Aai would supply.

“But wouldn’t the water be cold at the time?” I would persist, a bit impatient with my own niggling doubt that had impeded such an interesting narrative.

“Water bodies get heated up and cooled down slower than land masses. So when the land is already cold in the morning, water is still warm,” Aai would explain, giving me another geography lesson which I would recall years later when Sr. Teresa rasped on and on in her dry and drab class on land and sea breezes.

Agog with excitement akin to going on a school picnic, the scrubbed and slicked kids would go temple hopping in the cold and crisp dawn. 

They marveled at how the aunt knew so many temples in the little town, winding her way from one to the next like the Pied Piper, pausing at each turn to hurry tardy followers so they wouldn’t miss the arati. 

How did she know by memory the schedule of the  “kakad-aratis” in each temple they visited? I would quash another niggling doubt, knowing Aai had almost reached the most interesting part.

The adults would grade the early morning sortie by the quality of the darshan and timely attendance at the aarti at various temples, but the kids lay store by the sweetest khiraapat prasaad they so looked forward to. 

The cold, crisp morning’s activities would whet their appetites, and the miniscule amounts of prasad would further tease and test it.

On returning home, a further treat of a sumptuous breakfast-as-big-as-lunch awaited them. 

The chillar party would be seated cross-legged in a semi-circle in another aunt’s warm kitchen, warmed further by her wood fired chul on which she baked a pile of sesame encrusted Bajrichi bhaakri with the flourish of a magician catering to an expectant audience.

Their plates would have already been set up left and right with peanut and flax seed chutneys, fresh lemon and ambe hald pickle, vangyache bharit (baingan bharta), a lekurwali bhaji (a mixed undhiyu like bhaji made with seasonal vegetables like carrots, flat beans, field beans and baby eggplants), when a hot bhakri landed in the centre of the plate and was joined by a rapidly melting blob of butter.

“Gul-tup ghya re,” the grand dame would urge indulgently, pressing a side of ghee-softened sweet jaggery on the kids who needed no second bidding. 

The meal was rounded off by some hot khichadi topped with freshly clarified ghee and sloshed with a sesame laced sweet and sour kokum or tamarind saar. 

Raising her own family, Aai was never one for temple going, but she did take us annually to the Muralidhar Baag temple in Hyderabad during their annual Dasara Festival to fulfill a family tradition of “Oti”, a symbolic fertility offering to the Mother Goddess.  I will write about this during the Navaratra, I promise. 

To continue with Aai’s story, she did recreate some of the magic of her own childhood for us during the Sankranti festival in January each year, not just with the delicious seasonal foods she made for us, but by sharing with us her stories and most importantly, the wonderment of it all.  

We have chosen to live in a country, nay continent, in another hemisphere. So while the Sun must have started on a journey back southward from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, the season affects me in exactly the same ways.  

Warm memories come flooding back this winter, Melbourne’s coldest in the last decade, one that saw snow and frost like never before in the neighbouring towns and suburbs.

And while my ageing bones protest at the changes in barometric pressure, winter suddenly seems more romantic. I free myself enthusiastically out of the clutches of my warm snuggy wrap to celebrate my own dhanurmaas, and make this meal of bajri bhakri, eggplant and tomato subji and javasachi (flaxseed) chutney.

Javasachi (flaxseed) chutney


1 cup flaxseed
¼ cup peanuts
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup desiccated coconut
5-6 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp red chilli powder, or more
1 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste


Place the peanuts on a microwave proof dish and roast them for 1 minute on medium/low power. Then mix them around and roast for another minute or so. 

Alternately, you can heat a kadhai and dry roast the peanuts till they are brown. Remove and keep aside.  

Next, in the same kadhai dry roast the flax seeds and sesame seeds until they pop. As they begin to pop, add the desiccated coconut. As soon as the popping stops and the coconut is lightly toasted, remove from heat.

In a spice grinder, add all the roasted ingredients, garlic cloves, cumin seeds, salt and chilli powder and a teaspoon olive oil. 

Serve with bajra/jowar bhakri or hot rice, or with anything that asks for a chutney or even a dukkah like dry dip.

Store in an airtight container. It will last for a while at ambient temperatures, depending on the freshness of your ingredients. If you think some of them might go rancid, store in the fridge. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Lean Lessons

Makai Dhokla (Rice and Corn Dhokla)

Over the last decade or so, I have flirted with very impressive and “important” sounding terms and concepts like TQM, Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Kaizen, JIT.

By no means do I profess a good understanding, but at least I can name drop.

The idea is, as long as you stay in the general vicinity of their meaning, you can’t go wrong.

Isn’t that what most people do?

I guess, one of the reasons we don’t really pay attention to these concepts, is because we think they only apply to manufacturing and industry and aren’t useful in or aren’t a part of or our daily lives.

Except of course for name-dropping.

When I look back and beyond - at Aai, my mother and Mai my grandmother- and all around them, I see so many women, homemakers and professionals alike, who had expertly used these quality improvement and waste management mechanisms at home and especially in their kitchens.

These women held black/yellow/green belts of an improvement mechanism that was born out of a need to make the most out of everything and to make-do with the makeshift.

Never did a morsel go waste in their kitchens, their pantries worked on a very lean inventory, their stocks control was tight.

“Kondyacha Manda”, was Mai’s favourite homegrown idiom to describe this quintessential gift of thrift and ingenuity. 

The impossibility of the proposition strikes you at the same time as the significance.

Imagine how clever and difficult it would be to make manda, a very fine sweet bread with coarse bran that was usually considered fit only for cattle!   

But the adage also highlights the compulsions of these women. They had limited resources - for their world hadn’t become so commoditized. They dealt with unpredictable supply versus growing demand –as their incomes weren’t so disposable and they had no cold storage and supply chains.

Any wonder then, that such constraints made these women use the most highly efficient and imaginative methods to eliminate waste. 

If my foremothers could metaphorically make fine dishes out of impossible things, I certainly could make a dhokla out of the last dregs of yoghurt that the husband had consigned (almost) to garbage and that last cob of sweet corn that no one was wiling to eat.

Makai Dhokla (Rice and Corn Dhokla)


1 ¼cup very very sour yoghurt
3 tbsp coarse rice rava
1 tbsp cornmeal
2 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)
½ cup corn kernels (I used boiled fresh corn, but frozen will also do)
1 tsp green chili paste
½ tsp ginger paste
1 tsp coriander + cumin powder
A pinch of hing
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Eno Fruit Salt

For the tempering

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp small mustard seeds
1 pinch of hing
1-2 green chillies, chopped
A few curry leaves
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp finely grated coconut


Mix the yoghurt, rice rava and flours and keep covered in a warm place for 4-5 hours.

Just before making the dhoklas, add the ginger and green chilli paste, hing, the coriander and cumin powder, salt and sugar and mix well.

In the meantime, grease the bottom and edges of an 8-inch cake tin or deep thali or a dhokla/idli stand.

Boil two or three cups of water in a pressure cooker or a large pot with a lid, If you are not using a dhokla or idli stand, place a small steel bowl full of water in the cooker to act as a stand for the greased thali or cake tin. Let the tin heat with the steam until you prepare the batter to pour into it.

Add the boiled corn kernels to the batter and check and adjust taste and consistency. It should be slightly thicker than idli batter. Sprinkle Eno Fruit Salt on it. The mixture will foam instantly. Gently fold in the Eno Fruit Salt without breaking the bubbles but making sure that all the batter has risen and pour the mixture into the hot greased tin/pan/thali.

This ensures the instant rising of the dhoklas. Place the lid on the cooker without the pressure or weight and steam the dhoklas for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Take out the cake tin or thali and allow to cool. When completely cooled cut into squares or diamond shapes and pour tadka made with oil, mustard seeds, green chillies, hing and curry leaves on the top.

Garnish with coriander and coconut and serve with green chutney or tamarind chutney.