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.