Saturday, 30 May 2015

Seeds of labour

Vegan Tandoori Aloo

I ventured out on this recent holiday to Europe and the US with apprehension about the food scene.

During my previous trips to the US, both the times accompanied by young kids and an elderly parent, it hadn’t been easy to find vegetarian food. Certainly not the kind of one would indulgently eat while on a holiday.

My daughters’ holiday in NYC two years ago had been a pizza pilgrimage and they had come up with their definitive list of the best vegetarian pizza and pie places around the Hudson.

Then they both embraced veganism.

Hence my fears, that this time as well we could be glancing at menu cards full of meat and more meat, finally settling for an unfinishable cups of lukewarm coffee or undrinkable tea to wash down cloyingly sweet Krispy Kreme doughnuts or greasy croissants.

Or we could be helplessly stuck with soulless stuff like tofu and tempeh and dry kale or rancid coconut chips.

What we actually saw was a groundswell of healthy and tasty eating, wholesome and organic food that was mostly accessible, fairly affordable and imminently edible.

Even the gram flour coated, baked kale chips we tasted at a vegan meet-up were actually nice.

Mainstream stores like Pret A Manger and Whole Foods stocked freshly cooked salads and convenient hot meals, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.

Vegan and vegetarian “options” – did I just hear chalkboard scraping?

I have plans of writing more about these experiences, but for now will quietly marvel about this revolution.

A population battling obesity and related diseases in overburdened state healthcare systems, a generation of people with an all time high awareness of the environment around them, a growing sensitivity to the cruel excesses of the meat and dairy industry, celebrity endorsement by the likes Jamie Oliver, Stella McCartney….

Surely, the seeds of labour are bound to sprout.

This was my mantra while growing the notoriously difficult to grow coriander for the first time. I waited, watched, pretended not to watch and watered the patch patiently, until one day the brown soil was dotted in green.

Here’s a dish I made while the coriander was in full bloom and seeding in April this year.

Vegan Tandoori Aloo


4-5 large potatoes or 10-12 chat potatoes, boiled
8-10 cashews, soaked for 30 minutes
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp chat / pani poori masala
½ tbsp garlic ginger paste
½ tsp red chili powder, or more
Pinch of haldi
Pinch of ajwain
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp kasuri methi leaves
1 tsp amchoor powder
Salt to taste
Pinch of sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp any other cooking oil

For garnishing

Finely sliced Spanish onion
Coriander leaves, preferably seeding coriander


Peel the boiled potatoes.  Cut into large cubes. If you are using small potatoes, there’s no need to cut them.

Do not discard the peels.

In a mixer, put together the peels and all the other ingredients except the oil, and blend till you get a smooth paste. Adjust all flavours and salt to your taste.

Heat a piece of charcoal/ briquette on the stove till it burns evenly.

In a pan heat the olive oil and add the peeled potatoes and sauté for a minute or so. Pour the paste over the potatoes. Stir-fry on high heat for a few minutes more until the rawness disappears.

Place a katori/bowl lined with aluminium foil on the potatoes and place the burning coal in it. Pour a tsp of oil on the potatoes and when it starts smoking, place a tight lid on the pan so the potatoes are smoked thoroughly. Remove the lid after a few minutes.

Serve hot with sliced Spanish onions and seeding coriander.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Pithla Company and Burping in Brooklyn

Pithla - and a big hello to all my readers in the USA! 

Thank you and love you! 

“Pithla Company” is a good-natured racial slur, almost like an in-joke we have to denote Marathi speaking people, including ourselves. It does seem like it, but it’s really not meant to be derogatory.  

How could it be offensive, for pithla with bhaat or bhakri is one of the most comforting and satisfying foods one can ever think of?  

It's a quick and easy dish that is made when one is in a hurry or needs a palate cleanser after a series of feasts. It's equally an apt "shramaparihar" after a tiring wedding function, as an offering by one's neighbours  in commiseration when there’s a death in the family.

My daughter and I have been travelling in Europe and the US, soaking in the culture of the cities and countries- it has been all about museums, monuments and mementos. Just as it has been about Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Victor Hugo and Walt Whitman. And it also has been about Pharaohs and mummies and the Gothic and the Baroque. 

But as true foodophiles, it has been significantly about local cuisines, what is grown, how it is cooked and presented, what people eat and why and finally, what we could eat as vegetarian and vegan “Pithla Company”.

We have made it a point to visit local grocers, wholefood stores, farmers’ markets and even local desi or Asian groceries like Shah & Cie where we met Mr. and Mrs. Shah who had moved from Madagascar to Paris 40 years ago. Then there was Le Marché Sacré Coeur up the street up the street from the hotel, which has large bowls full of brined olives and vegetables of all description, size and colour.

There have been the sporadic, short-lived dalliances with Indian restaurants. We have had some memorable meals such as last night’s masala dosa at Sarvanna Bhavan in Manhattan; the dal soup and veg biryani at Ravishankar Bhel Puri Centre near London’s Euston Station; the crispy bhindi at "Dhishoom, the Bombay style Irani café in Covent Garden in London and the Lebanese platter near the Louvre in Paris. 

But often we have paid more for the familiar comforting sights and aromas of Indian food, than for any real satisfaction of a great meal. 

All we crave now is a simple home cooked meal.

This morning we moved into a serviced studio apartment in Brooklyn that is going to be my daughter’s home for the next month when I head back home in a week.

Three important discoveries we made this morning:

•  there are many cute semi-feral (/sɛmaɪ/, please – we’re in the US) cats living 
   off the dumpster in the basement of the building 
•  there is a community-owned natural food store nearby 
•  and that there is a Laundromat four doors away.

More about the cats and conveniences later, but here is a list of things we bought among many others:

•  Basmati Rice
•  Garbanzo bean flour
•  Veggies, coriander and curry leaves
•  Sunflower oil
•  Spices – cumin, mustard et al
•  Some peanut butter that you can freshly crush in the coop stores
•  Some desiccated coconut

The menu is a no-brainer - at least for the "Pithla Company". 

Pithla – bhaat, cabbage chi koshimbir - made very authentic with the addition of the crunchy, freshly crushed peanut butter and Batatyachi D-chi bhaji (named so by a child in the family as the quartered slices look like the alphabet D).

The meal is ready in not time, despite our fastidious thorough cleaning of the kitchen and pots and pans – for we don’t know what previous guests have cooked in it, on it, with it…

Adequately pre-admonished by my daughter to keep the photo session short, we took some quick clicks for the blog and tuck into the best belch-inducing meal of the tour so far.

You can take  “Pithla Company” out of Maharashtra and/ or India, but you can’t take the pithla out of the “Pithla Company”.

The hearty “dhekar” or burp of satisfaction will vouch for that.


2 tbsp oil
 ½ tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of haldi
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 onion, chopped
A few curry leaves
3 heaped tbsp gramflour or besan
About 2 cups of water (depends on how thick you want it)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
A large pinch of cumin powder
2 tbsp chopped coriander to garnish


Heat the oil in a large pan and add mustard to splutter. Add the chopped onion and sauté for a while. Add the haldi and red chilli powder and sauté further. Then add water and bring it to a boil. Then gradually sprinkle the besan, a little at a time, and keep mixing continuously to avoid very large lumps from forming. Small lumps are ok, in fact the pithla tastes better with some small lumps.

Add salt to taste and the desiccated coconut and cumin powder and stir lightly. Cover and cook for a short while until you see white steam emanating from the sauce. Be mindful that if you make it too thick, the pithla will start to spit and scald you!

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with rice.

Don’t forget to burp afterwards – a good, loud, deep and long-drawn one.

It’s polite for “Pithla Company” to do so.