Oggarane Anna with a twist

Which is the most entertaining event in India? is it the soap operas? no; movies? no; IPL? no; Elections? Yes; We have "Shehezada", "Monkey", "Joker","Hitler","Mussolini","Idi Amin" and what not...It is entertaining nevertheless a disgrace that we have handed over our future and the future of our country to people who are not debating the issues that need their attention but are engaging in name calling, one-upmanship and blatant populism. We have so called leaders who trivialize a violent crime like rape, openly threaten people to vote or to loose water supply and worst of all accuse an esteemed institution like EC of partisan politics. Some times it surprises me as to how we have survived all these years despite the negativity but then 'men may come and men may go but' India will go on for ever like it has always been.

Now for some Ogggarane Anna. When ever there would be some left over rice from the previous dinner, my mother, Ajji and Ammaji (both my gradmother), indeed all the women folk in the family would make this the morning after. The underlying current of patriarchy would become striking on such occasions. The  servants were the first in line for Oggarane anna. Any thing more would be for the women. The next in line would be children. But men folk almost never ate something like for breakfast. It was always fresh-hot breakfast for them. How much ever we deny the under currents of caste and patriarchy has always been a part of our life. So much so that Pranoy  Roy was calling Karnataka a 'CASTE'-nataka. It took me a while to realize he is right indeed. Caste back home determined what we eat and how we eat and where and when we eat too! So much for a state that boasts of itself as the Silicon Valley of India.

Oggaraneanna is Chitranna-coconut + onions.  To make it a little more healthy, marginally so ,I added a handful of spinach too. So here is Oggarane Anna

We will need,

Rice(cold, left over preferably) 2 cups
Peanut oil /Coconut oil 1-2 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/4 tsp
Urad dal 1 tsp
Channa dal 1 tsp
Curry leaves a handful
Hing a generous dash
Green chillies 3-4 (adjust according to taste)
Onion 1 small chopped
Turmeric a dash
Spinach washed and chopped  2 cups (loosely packed)
Coriander washed and chopped a handful
Salt and lemon juice to taste

  • Heat the oil in a wok. Throw in the mustard, Jeera, Urad dal,Channa dal, curry leaves and Hing. 
  • Once the spices sizzle, throw in the green chillies and onions. Saute till the onions are soft.
  • Increase the heat and throw in the spinach . Saute till the spinach is wilted.Remove form heat and allow it to cool down.
  • Once slightly cooler, stir in the rice and adjust salt and lemon juice. Finish with fresh coriander.

Vegetable Soup

It is election time in India. I love elections, somehow the curiosity of who is going to be our next leader and the hope that someone will do a difference for the better gives me a high that nothing else can! Despite all the negativity and vicious personal attacks, this election has thrown us two welcome surprises. One is Modi and the other is AAP. I am hopeful about Modi because he is a guy who was born in to a regular lower middle class family and became what he is only because of his hard work and merit. As a chief minister, he has improved infrastructure in Gujarat. I for one have always believed that development follows proper infrastructure. Despite several criticisms against him I feel he is a welcome change in the  Indian political scenario where meritocracy has always been an endangered species.

Then the AAP. That is a political outfit started by people like me. It is an outfit where people like me can participate in the democratic process from a closer quarter. So much for the dynastic politics, the very thought that a regular person could build a political party from scratch is exciting. It is indeed exciting times in Indian political scene.

Let us say cheers to these two developments with some warm vegetable soup, a regular Minestrone that I have adapted to suit my complex Indian palate. The idea is to cook up a delicious broth with our regular spices instead of using canned broth or stock. Not only does my palate reacts favorable to the flavor of spices but also that it is way healthier to cook something from scratch at home than use processed product like canned broth/stock.
Spring in the North East is cold, rainy and best time for a bowl of vegetable soup.

We will need,

Coconut/ peanut oil 3 tbsp
Garlic 3 cloves
Big Cardamon 1
Star Anise 1 
Bay leaves 2
Cloves 3-4
Onion 1 big chopped

Carrots 2 diced
Green Beans 1/2 lb chopped
Mushrooms 1 pack diced
Zucchini 2 diced
Tomatoes 4-5 medium chopped
Spinach 1 pack washed and chopped
Chickpeas .51 cup (cooked)
Coriander fresh a handful
Mint a handful
Salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.

  • Heat oil in a soup pot. Throw in all the spices and the garlic. Cook the garlic till it is golden brown. 
  • Throw in the onions  and cook till slightly brown. Add the carrots and  green beans cook for about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and saute for a few more minutes. Once the tomatoes look slightly softer, add about 10 cups of water.
  • Throw in the chickpeas, zucchini and mushrooms. Bring the broth to a boil. Once the vegetables are tender, throw in the spinach and the rest of the ingredients. Adjust salt, pepper and lime juice to taste and remove from heat. The heat of the broth will wilt the spinach.
  • Serve hot with crusty bread or crackers.
1.Cooked rice or pasta can also be added  to the soup to make it a hearty meal.

Nimbe Uppinakayi lemon pickles

I ran out of homemade pickles a few weeks  back. Sunny boy being so particular about pickles, I had to make a fresh batch. While shopping at Target stores, I found this Anchor Hocking Half Gallon cookie jar. I fell in love with it. It is so much like our own "Uppinakayi Jaadi" the pale while and yellow-brown ceramic jars, some long ,some stout each one for a different pickle in my Ammaji's (maternal grandmom) kitchen. I am sure she is proud of me for all the  homemade pickles!
I have just one jar unlike Ammaji, but that is sufficient for my family. Ammaji makes Uppinakayi for the entire clan, therefore she needs multiple jars. After years of making Uppinakayi in assorted jars and bottles, I have come to the conclusion that jars with tight fitting lids end up making sticking and slightly off smelling pickles. But jars with loose fitting lids like a cookie jar makes good uppiakayi. Once done, however, they do stay good  in regular glass jars in the refrigerator. It is just initial 3-4 weeks that are critical in  the life cycle of the Uppinakayi.

So here is my newest batch of Lemon Pickles...I had filled it to the brim and look how much it has shrunk!

Recipe can be found here. This time around it is just a 8-9 organic lemons and skipped the bitter gourd the other ingredients are roughly the same. Cannot wait to try them..On the pickle factory list for summer are Mangoes, chillies and bitter gourd and Nallikayi, then I am  set for the year.

Balekayi Gojju / Plantain Gojju

There was a time when I was way younger, every festive feast, like wedding, house warming, naming ceremony etc used to feature Balekayi Gojju and/or pineapple Gojju. It took me a while to realize that menu for such feasts do follow "fashion". Roomali roti and Panner were in fashion a decade back, then came Akki rotti/ Jolada rotti and ennegai and of late I see a variety of salads / Kosambari like Mexican salad, sweet corn Kosambari etc. Fortunately classics like Chiroti, Peni have stood the test of time. The sweet dish playing the second fiddle have again been subject to fashion, from Laadoo to Rasmalai to Malpuri to Jaleebi they have come and gone.But there are times when we remember dishes from the by gone era and lo behold they pop up in our kitchens.

Honey got a couple of plantains the other day and insisted that I make Balekayi Gojju. So here it is Balekayi masale gojju.

We will need,

Balekayi/raw plantains 2 medium peeled and diced
Peanut oil 2-3 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves a handful
salt and lemon juice to taste

For the masala

Garlic cloves 3-4
Green chillies 3-4 (adjust according to taste)
Kopra/ Dessicated coconut grated 1/4 cup (loosely packed)
Fresh coriander a handful
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Black pepper corn 1 tsp

  • Combine all the ingredients for the masala in a blender and pulse till very smooth, reserve.
  • Heat oil in a thick bottom pot. Throw in the mustard seeds, Jeera and curry leaves. Once they stop spluttering, add the diced plantains.
  • Add a generous pinch of salt on  to the plantains and  cover. Cook for a 1-2 minutes.
  • Now add the Masala paste and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook on medium heat till the plantains are soft.
  • Adjust salt and lemon juice and serve hot with Roti or rice.

Tomato Bhaath- Ajji style

To me food is not just about cooking and eating. To me it is also about people, people that love me, the people I love, the people I loved and lost. Food is about memories, the way I saw the world once upon a time. My Ajji passed away a few months back. Unlike my grandfather, I never spent a lot of time with her, but there was always a longing for some time with her. For umpteen number of reasons it never worked that way. But in the time that I got to spend with her a few hours, each time I went home during last decade and half, I got a piece of her, very little at a time, just like the summer rains it left me far from satisfied. If anything it only left me parched and dry looking for more of her. Human relationships are so weird. Unfortunately, this contorted relationship will remain that way.

But I still remember her for all the foods that she made. This past Shivratri, I was reading one of my previous posts, and I noticed that three years ago, I had called her for the Tambittu recipe. This year all I am left with are the recipes I collected from her over the years.  I hold close to heart, her signature dishes, Idli, Sambar,Chutney and sweet Chutney, Tomato Bhaath, Kargalu , Mosaru Shaale, Akki tari uppittuand her Kodbale , Rave unde, Mithai....the list goes on. For  now it is Tomato Bhaath. My sister spend a while with my Ajji and she did pick up a few of her signature dishes. So this time, I borrowed the recipe from her. The trick really was to use very little fat but to get the best of flavors in the dish, just like my Ajji did. I guess it was just her. She could do it much better than any one else in my family.

So here is  Tomato Bhaath my Ajji style.
We will need,

Rice 1.5 cups washed and soaked in water for 20-30 minutes.
Tomatoes 300 grams (about 3 medium)
Peanut oil 1 tbsp
Mustard seed s1/4 tsp
Fennel 1/2 tsp
Cardamon 1
Cloves 10-13
Cinnamon 1" piece
Onion 1/2  chopped ( small )
Methi leaves from 1 bunch (washed,cleaned and tough stalks discarded)
Avarekalu /Indian beans/Papdi Lilva 3/4 cup
Salt and juice of Lemon to taste.

For the Masala Paste
Coconut 1/2 cup grated
Green chillies 5-8 (adjust according to taste)
Mint leaves a generous handful
Garlic 5-6 cloves
Ginger 1" piece chopped
Onion 1/2 small

  • Heat oil in a thick bottomed pot. Throw in the mustard seeds, fennel, cardamon, cloves and cinnamon. 
  • Once the spices stop sizzling, add the onions. Saute for a few minutes and then throw in the Avarekalu and Methi leaves. Saute till the greens and avarekalu are tender.
  • Grind all the ingredients under the Masala paste  and pour it into the onion-methi mixture. Add about 1/2 a cup of water and cook the masala till fragrant. Separately grind the tomatoes into a smooth paste as well and reserve.
  • When the masala no longer smells raw,  add the tomato paste. Bring the mixture to a boil and add about 3 cups of water. Adjust salt, add lemon juice if the tomatoes are not tart enough. Bring it to a boil.
  • Drain the soaked rice well and add it to the tomato and masala mixture.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook till the rice is soft and fluffy.
  • Finish with a tablespoon of Ghee if  desired. (I always do it ) Serve hot.

MIxed Veg

North Indian summers are brutal. So brutal that most vegetables disappear from the markets. During my years in Delhi, summers was a pain. A vegetable lover like me could hardly stop dreaming about Gobi,Karela, Bhindi etc and unfortunately most of them are winter vegetables in North India. I did know that these were seasonal vegetables at all.
On such boring summer evening. I went to my hostel dining hall for dinner and my appetite died a sudden death looking at the cabbage curry. I asked the lady in charge of serving us why they were not making Gobi, Karela ,Bhindi. She looked at me as if I am from Mars and said. "lo! Yaad kiya to kab yaad kiya. Garmiyome kaha banenge Gobi,Karela". I am bewildered! what! you do not get these vegetables in summers. I see that counter lady is seriously convinced that I am indeed from Mars. Then I was smart enough to not look like a Martian any more and proceeded to eat my share of cabbage. But is was such days that reminds of 'mixed veg'. Every self respecting North Indian restaurant will have Mixed Veg on menu. When the weather gods are not benevolent it  is quite natural for ingenious cooks to make a dish of using the spare few vegetables on hand. No wonder potatoes are so 'hot' in Northern India.
So here is  mixed veg. It can be very delicious, or I could be pathetic. I have had both. The key to this dish is the texture. The vegetables must be cooked just right. So here it is..
We will need,

Mixed vegetable 1lb
(i used Carrots, mushrooms and Peppers)
Garlic 2 cloves crushed
Peanut oil 2-3 tbsp
Mustard seed 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Fennel seeds 1/4 tsp
Green chillies 3-4 (according to taste)
Dhania powder 3/4 tsp
turmeric 1/4 tsp
Jeera Powder 1/2 tsp
Garam masala 1/4 tsp
Salt and lemon juice to taste.

  • Heat oil in a pan. Toss in the mustard seeds, jeera , fennel and green chillies. 
  • Throw in the carrots (or the vegetable that takes the longest to cook) .Cook till half way through.
  • Now throw in the spices and  salt and  the other vegetables that takes just minutes to get done like Mushrooms and Peppers.
  • Cook for a few more minutes. The vegetables should  be still tender crisp. Remove from heat. The vegetables continue to cook in the hot pan, so turn off the heat while the vegetables are still raw.
  • Serve hot with Rotis.

Malai Mushroom

I was once in love with Mushrooms, back then it was a rarity, something the local HOPCOMS sold seasonally in smalls packets that were rather expensive. But then as time went by, mushrooms became more like green beans and carrots, something we could always pick up. Now  I do not like them as much. I eat them but not with as much relish as before. I think it is yet another case of familiarity breeds contempt!

Mushrooms are like blank canvas, except for texture they are not much when it comes to flavor. So the good part it, it fits into most gravies and masalas that  I make.  Malai style gravy is one of my favorite. It is light, rich and makes any dinner very special. Needless to say I make Malai gravies only if we are having guests. Last week it so happened that we  expecting a friend to join us for dinner and on friday's she does not eat any thing sour. I was at  a loss to feed her. I could not think of many recipes that did not either include tamarind or tomato. Then finally it occured to me that Malai fits the bill. It is one of the rare recipes in my repetoire that does not call for any sour ingredients. But there was yet another catch. I typically make Malai gravy with Panner  but Panner again was fermented therefore my friend would not eat it. So I decided to substitute mushrooms for Panner. The only mistake was I used brown baby bella Mushrooms rather than white button mushrooms. So the gravy turned out to be light brown in colour, though I prefer my Malai gravy to be white, at the most off-white,...taste wise i do not think it matter much.

We will need,

Mushrooms 10 oz (1 pack ) cleaned and chopped into quaters
Methi leaves  1 small bunch (pick and  wash leaves and discard the stalks)
Butter 1 tbsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Garlic 2 cloves (grated)
White pepper 1/2 tsp
Green chillies 2-3 (adjust according to taste)
Garam masala 1/4 tsp
Cream 3/4 cup
Salt as per taste

  • Heat the butter in a thick bottomed skillet. Throw in the Jeera and garlic. 
  • Once the garlic is fragrant throw in the Methi. Saute till the Methi wilts down. 
  • Make some space in the middle of the skillet and throw in the green chillies and Garam Masala.  Saute till fragrant.
  • Now increase the heat and throw in the mushroom. Saute for a few seconds and once the Mushrooms starts to soften, reduce heat and pour the cream. 
  • Bring it to a gentle simmer. Adjust salt and  white pepper and remove from heat.
  • Serve warm with  Roti or a bread of choice.

Soppu bele Palya

Where am I these days... well after moving to a new house in the suburbs life is thrown out of gear. We are settling down and the last thing I have time for it  to take pictures of the food I cook. Therefore not updated this blog in a while. This state of affairs will continue till I have the house set up!

For now it is Soppu and Kalu palya. North American winter can be brutal. This season has been the most unkindest and most brutal in years.. All kinds of dubious records have been created and February end feels like early Jan. The  only vegetables which can withstand this kind of brutal weather are Mushrooms (mostly because they are cultivated indoors / green houses) and hardy greens like Kale, Chard and Collards. Unless we are ready the buy the waxy super market produce which has been transported half way across the globe, there are not many choices. So during times like these I end up  cooking greens 2-3 times a week, sometimes even more.  How creative can I get with greens? Well not much I should say. My creativity is limited to the same old templet of Huli,Saaru, Gojju and Palya, only the combinations vary. May be I will experiment a bit more on this front in the coming weeks since the old man winter does seem to be going strong for now.

For now it is Palya with mixed greens and Hesaru kalu as the star ingredients. 

We will need,

Greens / Soppu (assorted/ choice)  1 big bunch
Whole Moong/ Hesaru Kaalu   1/2 cup
Onion 1 small
Green Chilli 2-3
Peanut oil 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Hing a generous dash
Curry leaves 8-10
Coconut grated 1/4 cup
Salt to taste
Lemon Juice to taste

  • Pick and clean the Moong. Wash it in several changes of water and soak it in water over night. 
  • Drain the Moong and cook till it is soft. (Pressure cook, stove top cook. ) It can be cooked till al dente or till the belly bursts (as my mother says ) These days I tend to cook it till the belly bursts, that is it gets rather soft. That way it is easy to digest. Also use the stock to make rasam, saaru or soup.
  • Wash and clean the greens. reserve. Chop the onions and slit the green chillies. Reserve.
  • Heat oil in a skillet. Throw in the mustard seeds , Jeera and the Hing. Throw in the curry leaves and the onion. Once the onion is soft throw in the greens. Saute till the greens are tender. 
  • Stir in the coconut, followed by the cooked Moong. 
  • Adjust salt and lemon juice. Cook till the beans are warmed through. Remove and serve with rice, curry or a bread of choice.

The Holy Grail called Jalebi..

More stories from India. My little Sunny boy was a very picky eater till his previous trip to India. During our last visit, when he was just about two, we visited India and he fell in love with the food. It was wonderful to see him explore the restaurant Masale Dose, initially with suspicion and then experimenting with all sort of combinations -with chutney, with sambar, with both and with neither. Then there were the Gobi Machuris, Chilli Panner, Noodles and the other Chinese restaurant staples and finally the Dhabha staples like Naan, Panner and surprisingly Kalmi Kabaab. However he did not seem to have a sweet tooth. It was just Gulab Jamoon for him especially the giant but absolutely tender and warm Khoa ones in Lucknow. This trip was not as long as our previous trip so he did not get to eat out as much as I would have wanted him to.  In the two years since our last visit, he has acquired quite a sweet tooth and now in his list of favorites are Jalebi, Kaju Katli, Rasgulla  too. We had quite a lot of Jalebis. But It was never enough. I have been trying to make some at home because it is his favorite food and we do not always get to go to Sukhadia's to get their awesome Jalebis. Making some at home sounded reasonable. My grandmother was an expert at making Jalebis. Every Deepawali that was what she made. I had asked her for the recipe long back, but I did not write it down and now she is senile and her recipes are not fool proof as it used to be. So I had to do a lot of trial and error.

Jalebis  are not a straight forward affair.  They need to crunchy and almost uniformly hollow  where the sugar syrup eventually enters and settles down making the Jalebis heavenly and sweet. There should be a discernible hint of tartness in the background plus it should remain crunchy after a while. That is  a lot to wish for in a dish with a handful of ingredients out of the cupboard and needs no special equipments either. But to get to the end product that meets my specification and that is appreciated by my little Sunny boy is not easily at all. I have seen them all in my previous attempts, the soggy ones, the flat ones, the somehow-smells-off ones. But now I think I am getting there. A few more times, we should be good enough. On my list is to try bread flour and use the beater.

We will need,

All purpose flour (Planning to try bread flour too, will update the result)  1 measure
Yogurt 1/4 measure
Turmeric a pinch
Sugar 1/2 tsp for every 1/4 cup of flour
Corn starch 1/3 measure
Sugar 1 measure
Saffron a pinch
Ghee to deep fry

  • Mix the flour, turmeric, yogurt and a little water to make a dough that resembles a very thick custard.
  • Stir in the sugar and set it in a warm place to ferment, preferably over night so that it develops  the much desired tartness.
  • Once the batter is well fermented, stir in the corn starch and beat the mixture very well. It is something like kneading the bread dough. Keep stirring the mixture till it is fairly elastic. Set it aside to rest for another or so hour.
  • Mean time combine the sugar and equal quantity water and simmer till the syrup reached the one thread consistency. (That is the syrup pulled between the thumb and forefinger should form a single thread.) Throw in the crushed saffron and set it aside to cool.
  • Now heat the Ghee.
  • Beat the Jalebi batter well once more and fill it into squeeze bottles. Gently squeeze Jalebi spirals into the hot oil and fry till golden brown of both sides. 
  • Remove the Jalebi and place it onto paper towels to drain it well. 
  • Once the Jalebi is well drained, pop it into the sugar syrup. Soak the Jalebi in the sugar syrup for a few seconds and remove to a serving dish. Serve warm for Breakfast with warm milk, else as a dessert with Rabdi.

Tomato Tovve

Wishing all my readers a very happy new year. I spend the fag end of 2013 back home in India with my loved ones.  We spent some good time together, ate great food and yapped to our heart's content.  I realize that when I am here, I always refer to India as 'home', when I am in India, I refer US as 'home'. I guess the is the true sign of an expat! To think of it, we Indians we always global citizens. If we ignore the past century or so we were always outward looking. Thousands of years ago our ancestors traveled to far away places in all directions for trade, religion etc. It was just this past century that we lost our true self, we imported inward looking socialistic and left-leaning ideas. It never was us, so it did not take deep roots and here we are again in the spirit of our ancient ancestors truly global Indian.

This time I visited Bangalore and Mysore. Mysore has a special place in my heart, it is the place that I lived the longest till date. I wanted my Sunny boy to have a piece of Mysore too. Raju hotel being no longer in operation, we had to go to GTR for Masale Dose, unfortunately they do not serve Sambar with their Dose. Sunny boy was disappointed. But he really enjoyed their Noodles! He had a gala time at the Dasara Exhibition, Mysore zoo and not great but good time in Nanjanagudu and Chamundi Betta.  We had a delicious Jolada Rotti oota at Kamat Manuvana right in front of Manuvana which is the Royal burial grounds (in simple terms that is..)

On a more somber note, it was also just a few weeks after the death of the Maharaja and there were tributes on every street and gully. Dasara will never be the same without him, but time is indeed the greatest healer, Dasara will be go on....

For now it is some Tomato Tovve. It is not our regular Tovve, but something similar to what my Akka makes, which she picked up from her in-laws.

We will need,

Toor dal /Togari Bele  1/4 cup
Tomatoes 2
Turmeric a pinch
Ghee 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Ginger 1/4 " piece
Garlic 2-3 cloves
Chili powder 1/2 tsp (adjust according to taste)
Dhania powder 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Lemon wedges to serve

  • Wash the dal in several changes of water and place it in a pressure cooker. Add about 2 cups of water, the two whole tomatoes and a pinch of turmeric. Cook the dal till it falls apart. Remove from heat and let it cool
  • Chop the ginger garlic and crush it in a mortar-pestle. Set it aside.
  • Heat ghee in a wok. Throw in the mustard and jeera. Once they stop spluttering, add the ginger garlic paste. Cook for a few seconds and turn off the heat. Then add the dhania and chilli powder. Stir and let it cook in the heat of the wok for a few more seconds. 
  • Once the spices are fragrant, pour it into the cooked dal. Place the dal again on low heat. Using the back of a heavy spoon, mash the tomato well. 
  • Combine the dal, the spices mixture and tomatoes gently and adjust salt. Heat it thoroughly and serve with rice, pickles, papads and lemon wedges.

Hesaru Kalu Menasina Saaru

Money and power corrupts us mortals like nothing else, more so my fellow Indians who are rich and powerful. As an expat, it is very uncomfortable when a fellow Desi is apprehended for violating the law.  More than anything else is the Visa violation for domestic helps that riles me. Our more privileged brethren seems to think that because they are rich or powerful or both, they are entitled to bi-pass the law of the land. They process papers for domestic help and under pay them or abuse them, there by breaking the law. They seem to carry the 'Chalta Hai' attitude over to this side of theA tlantic. Well don't they realize that USA is far more an egalitarian society than India and that despite money,connection and power the law of the land is mightily enforced here?
Recently an Indian diplomat in NYC has been arrested on similar charges. And India is creating a furor over this. If we so worry about the image of our country what is the first lesson we need to impart our diplomats? It should be "Never break the law of the land you are posted in". This should be written on the stone. Second, if the law of the land is violated, the violator should be held accountable and GOI-MEA should not politicize the issue.It is interesting that an Indian diplomat had her domestic help imported from India! If she did, she ought to respect the law of land and make sure the domestic help is compensated properly.  If she did not, then the law must take its own course. Some one from MEA had commented that Indian diplomats cannot be expected to pay $9 + /per hour for domestic help because they do not make much themselves. Well, if you cannot pay the minimum ways stipulated by law, you should not be having domestic help at all. There are thousands of us living well without a domestic help. We all balance dual careers, children, school, extra-curricular activities, households everything. It does help us that we left behind the sense of entitlement, the "Chalta Hai" attitude that comes to privileged citizens of India, the privilege of bending the laws to suit us and go scot-free.
A bellicose India in this particular case means disrespect towards the law of the land. Besides MEA were informed about this two months ago.. They did nothing. Now after the arrest they are acting like school children. What else could it be during an impending election but dirty politics?
However, the accused, deserves to be treated courteously. Not because she is a diplomat, but because she is a women who was dropping her daughter to school and that the she is not a criminal. She did not have to be put behind bars with drug peddlers etc. Looks like Mr. Preet Bharara needs to slow down a bit. Treat Indian ladies with more respect please, because that is what GOI expects from the rest of the world though GOI cares two hoots for the safety and dignity of women in its own land.
The most hilarious part of the story is Mayawati playing the Dalit card. Who ever knew this particular diplomat was a Dalit and who ever cared if she is one? To us she was just an IFS officer, the creme de la creme of Indian bureaucracy, the best my motherland has to offer to the rest of the world. Sadly this 'best' however was already involved in the Adarsha housing society scam.
To me this story looks like a classic case of privilaged 'Desi' throwing their weight around in a land which is better than 'Des' at enforcing their law. Remember Shah Rukh Khan's detention in NY airport? Kudos to people like Abdul Kalam, who never made much of a similar incident. Indeed it is people like him that are the best India has to offer the world.

Now for some food. As winter sets in it is time for bone warming Rasams and Saarus.. This winter had a particularly snowy start. We have already had three snow storms and it is not yet January. 

We will need,

Green gram whole /Hesaru kaalu 1/2 cup
Turmeric a pinch
Ghee a drop +2 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp

Curry leaves a handful
Garlic 3-4 cloves
Jeera 1 tsp
Pepper 1 tsp (more if you prefer spicy)
Dried red chillies 3-4
Tamarind extract 3/4 tsp
Jaggery 1" piece (according to taste)
Salt to taste

  • Wash the green gram in several changes of water and place it in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water, turmeric and ghee. Cook till the green is soft and mushy.
  • Once the pressure cooker is cool enough to handle, open the lid and mash the dal. Throw in the tamarind extract, jaggery and enough water to get the Saaru to desired consistency, simmer.
  • Crush the pepper, cumin and garlic coarsely.  
  • Heat ghee and throw in the mustard seeds, the garlic mixture, curry leaves and the red chillies. saute till the spices are fragrant about 20-25 seconds. Remove from heat and pour the contents into the simmering green gram mixture. 
  • Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and adjust salt. Serve hot with rice or in a bowl with some crusty bread.  I love it both ways. In fact I do not even need the bread, just a bowl of nice hot Saaru to warm my soul and my cold bones!

Dhideer Chakkuli / Easy Chakkuli

This Deepavali, I did not have in stock Mom's or MIL's Chakkuli flour also means that it is about time I go home. So I was forced to make my own. Obviously I do not have the luxury of flour mills,nor do I have the luxury of time here so I had to do something easier and quicker. Mom suggested me a recipe which is popular in the rural areas. My folks who live in the more rural parts  and do not have uninterrupted electricity, make Chakkuli for Mahaekadashi this way.
Chakkuli made this way turned out to be crispier and stays that way for as long as three weeks. But appearance wise  they have a rustic look to it and it might look a little patchy, not homogeneously golden brown. But they did taste absolutely good and super crunchy.

We will need,

Urad dal (washed and split) 2 cups
Rice flour (as required, sorry I could not measure it)
Cumin seeds 1.5 tsp
Sesame seeds 2 tsp
Chilli powder (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Oil to deep fry.
  •  Pick and clean the Urad dal and wash it in several changes of water. Place the dal in a pressure cooker with 4 cups of water and cook till the dal is soft.
  • Once the dal is cool enough to handle, use a wooden spatula to mash the dal.
  • Stir in the rest of the ingredients into the dal. Keep adding rice flour little by little to form a soft dough like that of Chapati. Knead the dough well and keep it aside.
  • Adjust all the seasoning.
  • Now heat the oil in a big Kadai.
  • Grease a Chakkuli mould. Press the dough into spirals of Chakkuli on a wax paper. 
  • Once the oil is warn enough, lower the Chakkuli spiral into hot oil carefully.  Fry till golden brown, remove and drain on several layers of paper towels. 
  • Once cool, store in an air tight box. Chakkuli's stay good for several weeks. If a good(i prefer refined sunflower oil) oil is used to deep fry, it will stay good for as long as a month, though they are unlikely to last that long!

Mango Phirni and tribute

This past weeks has been very eventful. In a sense it is an end of an era, things that make me feel that every new day I am growing old and the world around me is getting older too.  Sachin Tendulkar retired finally. I cannot remember Indian cricket with out him. I am not a Sachin fan, much less Cricket fan. But, he is a part of my life, my memories. Those were the days when everyone in my family, all my neighbors, my entire city watched cricket; those were the days when there would be a curfew like atmosphere on the street every time India played a one day match with Pakistan;those were the days when Door Dashan was the only channel to watch on TV and if there was power cut in between the match, everyone would call the K.E.B (Karnataka Electricity Board) and yell, curse the poor folks at the other end. It was a different time, but feels like a different world.
I remember that time when middle order collapse was the hallmark of Indian Cricket, Sachin still at the crease meant a convincing chance of victory. He was the man who could deliver, who could be relied on and most importantly we gave us hope. I stopped watching Cricket long long time back. The last complete match I watched was the one in which India exited the World Cup in Eden's Garden, eventually Sri Lanka went to win that World Cup. I was never a big fan, I do not miss much. But I miss those days. Cricket than was an occasional treat but now it is reduced to just another routine like the soap operas,nothing special about it.

A few days back Srikanta Datta Narashimharaja Wodeyaar passed away. Having lived for a long time in the Shankar Mutt area of Mysore, he was a constant presence. He had contested elections won many, lost many. He would come to a school near my home to cast his vote with his family. We would occasionally catch a glimpse of him when we walked through from one gate to the other gate of Mysore Palace. He stood for a different era, he was still the Maharaja, the man who was destined to wear dark shades because his direct gaze was supposed to bring hardship to his people. He did hold a private Durbar during Dasara full with regal splendor. With him and that he does not have any male heirs, comes to end the grand tradition of Dasara.

Then it is my own grandmother. She passed away last week. She was in the eighties. She is the one that made the best ever Idlis, Sambar, Chutney and sweet chutney. I cannot remember any other Idli that was better than the ones she made. She also make very good Bisibelebath. But I am not glorify her in death. I am very aware of our tradition, we do that. A scrooge in death becomes the man with the largest heart. But I want to be realistic about what my grandmother and her death mean to me. She played favorites all her life. She preferred my cousins over me and my sister. She made her dislike very clear, in life and death. She was apathetic when I was sick but went into frenzy when my cousins were sick. She glowed when my cousin came home with small accomplishments at school, but was not happy when I or my sister came home with trophies in state level competition. All her happiness and all her tears were for my cousins, she had nothing to give us. Yes! sometimes I wonder how a parent can play favorites with her own kids? Now that I am a parent myself, I cannot bring myself to play favorites but she did. When I was young, I resented her preference but as I grew older, I accepted the fact. We were very civil to each other. But the day I got to know that she was on the verge of death, I cried, so much that I did not know she would elicit in me. After a few days of mourning, I was wondering why at all was I sad? I loved her no doubt, though she never returned it. I cannot remember fondly any moment she spent with me, any 'grandparent' moment that everyone has. My own father remembers all those fond moments he spent with his grandmother. I know a lot of people who tell me that I am lucky to have played in my grandparent's yard. Naturally grandparents are associated with pampering. I am not the lucky one though. Pampered we never were, not by my paternal grandparents. That part of my life is a big hole and sadly I should say, I missed the 'grandparent' moment even though my grandparents were very much alive into my thirties. With her passing away it is another 'end of era' moment. I remembered the days when she did make Rotti with loads of ghee /butter and oil to her loved ones and ask my mother to make Rotti without any of those for us. She reminds me of an era when cost of food was very important. She reminds me of an era when we had to go to fair price shops, stand in the line for hours to get our monthly quota of food supply, she reminds me of an era when her favorites ate different foods than us lesser mortals. She reminds me of the dangers of playing favorites. Now she leaves behind a great deal of bitterness between me and my cousins. I wish she had known where she was leading us. Had she not played favorites, we would all be lot more nice to each other, probably I would have enjoyed my 'grandparent' moment too. It is now end of something, a long wait for acceptance, for her love, for the love that I saw in her eyes for my cousins. Now there is no hope that there will be such a day, she left, leaving a hole in my heart, the grandparent hole.
After all the bitterness, I feel like serving something sweet. Here is some Mango Phirni.

 We will need,

Broken rice 1/4 cup
Ghee 1 tbsp
Milk 1 liter
Sugar according to taste
Mango pulp 3/4 cup
Cardamon 1 (seeds crushed and skin discarded)
Pista a few for garnish

  • Heat ghee in a non stick pan. Throw in the broken rice and toast it till it is fragrant about 5-8 minutes
  • Pour in the milk and reduce the heat to low.
  • Keep stirring the mixture and make sure the bottom does not scald. 
  • Cook till the mixture reduces and thickens to about a third. 
  • Remove from heat and stir in the cardamon. Allow it to cool and then stir in the mango pulp. 
  • Garnish with pista and served chilled.

Khara Sev /Shevu and Deepawali Thindi

Every Deepawali I make loads of goodies to be shared with loved ones and friends. This time on the menu were the usual suspects Kajjaya, Godi Laddu , Seven cups and savory debutantes- Chakkli and Khara Shevu.  Typically either my mother or my MIL would send me Chakkli flour and I did make Chakkli. This time around no one came from India this past year nor did we visit home. So I had to make it myself. Mom suggested me an easy method. I followed it and viola, I had prepared some rustic looking super crunchy Chakklis. Yum.

For now it is Khara Shevu. I do not know why it should be called Shevu, when Sev sounds better. But it is one of those unexplained phenomenons where it might sound weird but tastes fabulous. The best part  of this snack is that even though it looks very complicated, it is rather easy to prepare and also it does not absorb a lot of oil while frying. I love the effect it has on my Deepawali platter.

We will need,

Kadale Hittu / Besan 1 measure
Rice flour 1/4 measure
Ajwain or Jeera (1/2 tsp per cup of Besan)
Salt and chilli powder to taste
Hing a dash
Oil to deep fry

  • Heat the oil in a wok. 
  • Stir in all the ingredients in a wide mouthed steel/glass bowl. Make a well in the center.
  • Once the oil is hot, ladle about 1/4 cup of hot oil into the well in the flour. 
  • Stir the flour carefully to incorporate the hot oil into the flour. 
  • Pour in water a few tablespoons at a time to make a firm dough.
  • Oil the Khara shevu mould. Break orange sized balls of dough and stuff it into the mould. Press the mould to squeeze the khara shevu into desired shape.
  • Gently lower the Khara shevu into hot oil and deep fry till golden brown in color. Remove and drain it over layers of paper towel. 
  • Store it in air tight containers for up to two weeks. I am sure it would not last that long though.

Cranberry Jeera Rice

It is not that I love cranberries. It is just that I happened to buy a bag impulsively at Costco and struggled to finish it until I realized that they could be used everywhere we traditionally use raisins. In fact there are dishes especially the savory ones which gets better with cranberry because of the tartness in the background. It worked especially well in Jeera rice. The color of the cranberries also make the dish pop and festive! So here comes Cranberry Jeera Rice.
We will need,

Basmati Rice 1 cup
Ghee 2 tbsp
Jeera 1 tsp
Cardamon 2
Green chillies 3-4 (slit)
Dried Cranberries a generous handful
Salt to taste
Scallions 2-3 chopped

  • Wash the rice in several changes of water and soak for 15-30 minutes and drain.
  • Heat the ghee in a thick bottom pot or pressure cooker.
  • Throw in the whole spices and the green chillies. Once the spices stop sizzling, throw in the cranberries. Saute for a few seconds and throw in the rice. Stir gently to coat the rice with ghee and is translucent. 
  • Pour in about 1.5 to 2 cups of water (depending on how soft the rice is desired).
  • Adjust salt, cover and cook till the rice is done.
  • Garnish with chopped scallions before serving. Serve it with Sorekayi Kofta Curry .

Kesar Peda

It is the time of the year to go crazy over shopping. Usually by this time I would be having my shopping list ready, would have checked the best prices for the stuff on my list and have a mental map of stores to hits on black Friday. But this time around no such list and I have not even looked for the black Friday flyer. What is wrong with me? Have I grown out of retail therapy? or have I reached some sort of saturation buying stuff that I do not need all because they were on sale? or is it that I have grown slightly more sensible? or that I am just trying to be very sensible right now and end up buying cart full of stuff on the actual day (and be stupid!). No straight forward answers for now, will have to wait and watch.
Till then it is more eating. The season of eating continues. Thanksgiving, quintessential celebration of over eating is round the corner. This time where ever we are (company and program not yet decided, but food will be plentiful wherever we decide to go) I am determined not to over eat. (The probability of which will be ever so slight, unfortunately).  These were some Pedas I made the other day. They were Yummy and ran out pretty fast. They are not uniform. I should have paid more attention to the size. But does it not scream "HOMEMADE" and no one will asked me if I made them. It is quite obvious that you do not get Pedas of differing size/shapes in store. Happy eating everybody.

We will need,

Ghee 3-4 tbsp
Ricotta cheese 2 lbs
Milk Powder 1 cup
Sugar 1-2 cups (I used a little over one cup. But if you prefer your Pedas sweet, use 2 cups or more)
Saffron a generous pinch (crushed)
Milk 2 tbsp
Food color (optional, I do not use food color)
Cardamon 2 (shelled and the seeds crushed)
Pistachios 4-5 for garnish (finely chopped)

  • Freeze the ricotta for a day and thaw it on the kitchen counter for a few hours. By doing this we can easily separate the whey from the milk solids and making Pedas will be faster. 
  • Line a colander with multiple layers of cheese clothes.Pour the ricotta over the colander and drain as much whey as possible.
  • Heat ghee in a non stick pan. Once the ghee is warm, throw in the ricotta, milk powder and sugar. The mixture will be very loose but will thicken pretty fast.Keep stirring constantly to make sure the mixture is not burning.
  • Heat the milk till it is pretty warm and soak the saffron in the warm milk.
  • Once the ricotta mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan, stir in the saffron and crushed cardamon.
  • Remove from heat and once it is cool enough to handle, pinch lime sized (or smaller/bigger) balls of Peda and flatten it slightly between the palms of your hand. 
  • Garnish the Pedas with chopped pistachios. It will last a couple of days at room temperature or about a week in the refrigerator.

Bendekayi Huli Gojju

Deepavali is just round the corner. Wishing you all and your families a very happy Deepavali. This year as usual most of my Deepavali 'tindi' is ready. Just Kajjaya needs to be fried. I will update my Deepavali thali very shortly. Like I said in my previous posts and all my posts at this time of the year, this is my favorite part of the year. It is all about feasting, celebrating with friends and family and a whole lot of cooking. What is there to not love about it! I ending cooking the entire weekend. I was physically tired after standing at a stretch for hours. But at the end of the day I was so happy that I was able to finish everything that I had in mind. The tediousness only added to the festive mood. That is how you should end up feeling on a festival. In fact when I was young and my mom would work crazy during festivals like these, I would ask her to stop being so crazy. Back then my point was if you cannot relax what is the whole point of a holiday? But now I sort of get what she was up to. Now I really do not feel festive if I did not do my share of shopping-cleaning-cooking and getting tired routine. That is what festivals are all about.

Now for some Bendekayi..Bendekayi aka Okra aka Lady's finger is my favorite vegetable. I love them in all form. Bendi-do-Pyaza, Tawa-Bhindi, Bindi-Masala, Bendekayi gojju, chutney, raita, anything and everything! So when ever I find good Bendekayi, I am sure to buy some. This time around I was in a playful mood and tried something slightly different from my usual favorites.

We will need,

Bendekayi/Bendhi 1 lb cleaned and trimmed
Ghee 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/4 tsp
Hing a dash
Ginger grated 1/2 tsp
Green chillies 4-5 (adjust according to taste)
Dhania powder 1/2 tsp
Tamarind extract 3/4 tsp
Salt to taste

  • Heat ghee in a saute pan. Throw in the mustard seeds, Jeera and hing. Once they splutter, throw in the green chillies and the ginger. Saute for a brief second 
  • Throw in the Bendi. Saute till the stickiness disapper. Keep moving the Bhendi on medium high flame.
  • Once the Bendi is no longer sticky, throw in the chilli powder and dhania powder. Saute for a few seconds and then stir in the tamarind extract along with 1/4 cup of water. Stir well and cook to reduce the water a bit. 
  • Adjust salt and remove from heat once the Bhendi is slightly tender. Serve hot with rice /roti.

Sorekayi Kofta Curry

Navrati to Deepavali is all about eating! It is another thing that to me eating well is a very big part of living well. But this time of the year is all about reckless and guilt free eating. But then it is also challenging to cook something different from our traditional recipes because during Navratri we usually resort to abstaining from consuming onions and garlic. Our typical Huli, Saaru,Chitranna, Bisibelebhath, Vangibath fit this bill and they are my go-to recipes during festivals. But then there are days when I feel like making something different but still fit the no-onion-garlic bill. I had to work around a bit but Kofta curry turned out very well without onions or garlic.Not as rich as it is normally but just enough to make the table festive. Here it is.

We will need,

For the Koftas,
Sorekayi/Lauki 2 medium (grated)
Chickpea flour 3-4 tbsp
Red chilli powder (to taste)
Salt to taste
Dill chopped 2-3 tbsp
Jeera a generous pinch
Oil to deep fry

For the curry,
Peanut oil /Ghee 2-3 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/42 tsp
Fennel seeds 1/2 tsp
Cardamon (big) 1
Green Cardamon 2-3
Dhania powder 2 tsp
Turmeric 1/4 tsp
Jeera Powder 1 tsp
Tomatoes 5 medium
Cashews 1/4 cup
Green chillies 5-6 (to taste)
Garam masala a pinch
Salt and lemon juice to taste

  • Sprinkle some salt on the lauki and place the salted lauki in a colander to drain the excess water. Squeeze the lauki to get rid of excess water.
  • Combine the tomatoes, cashews and green chillies in a blender and blend till smooth. Reserve.
  •  For the curry, heat oil in a thick bottom pot. Throw in the whole spices and once they stop crackling, throw in the turmeric, Dhania powder and Jeera powder. Stir for a few seconds and then pour in the tomato paste and enough water for the gravy (about 2-3 cups). Bring it to a gentle boil and simmer till the curry is fragrant.
  • Meantime prepare the Koftas. Combine the lauki with all other ingredients for the kofta except the oil and mix gently. Take two tablespoon fulls of the mixture and pat then into the shape of Kofta. 
  • Heat oil in a Wok and deep fry the prepared koftas. Remove once the koftas are brown and drain them on paper towel. 
  •  To finish the curry, sprinkle the garam masala and adjust salt and lemon juice. While the curry is still warm, place the koftas and serve immediately.  Serve it with raita and Jeera rice or Jeera-Carnberry rice (recipe coming up shortly).

Cashew Burfi

My fondness for sweets is well known. I sometimes doubt if it is the sweets that i like better than the festival itself. And what can be better than nine continuous days of celebrations and of course sweets. This time around I did not make sweets everyday of Navratri, this is the third one and may be there is room for one more.
After two Pedas I was ready for a burfi. Burfis are always difficult, consistency is not right then burfi either gets too crumby or never sets. So after a lot of trial and errors I figured out that cooking the sugar separately is the best way to solve the problem.
The immediate question was what Burfi to make. I was thinking of Almond Burfi but yesterday I scored a good deal on Cashews at the local Indian grocery so decided on Cashew burfi instead. Cashew burfi has a different texture than the more popular Katli. I love them both for now it is just Burfi.

We will need,

Cashews 1 cup
Sugar 3/4 cup
Ghee 2 tbsp
Saffron a few strands (optional)
Water 1/4 cup

  • Pulse the cashews in the food processor till the nuts are fine.
  • Heat ghee in a non-stick pan. Throw the cashew powder. Toast the cashew powder till fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove onto a plate.
  • Heat the sugar, saffron and water in the same pan. Cook the sugar till the sugar reaches two thread consistency. (i.e. when the sugar syrup is pulled between two fingers the syrup forms at least two threads.)
  • Stir in the toasted cashews into the sugar and cook on very low flame and keep stirring the mixture.
  • Once the mixture leaves the side of the pan, remove  and pour the mixture into a greased pan. 
  • Score the mixture and when it is slightly cool cut it into pieces. Store in an air tight box.

Dharwad Peda

Darasa continues. Today is Saraswati Pooja. May the blessings of Mother Saraswati  be with us all the time.
While writing my previous post on Peda, I happened to think of Dharwad Peda. Once the thought of it entered my little brain, I had to make it. So here it is Dharwad Peda. It is quite easy to prepare but it takes about 2-3 hours at the least.A good way to go about it is to turn on a movie on laptop/tablet. Turn on the stove and keep stirring while watching the movie. That is exactly what I did. I watched Fukhrey while making this Peda.
Once the Pedas were done, they needed to be cooled. So I left them on the table and took Sunny boy to a near by temple for Navrati Aarthi. When we came back home, Honey looked quite pleased. He asked me who was back from India? I thought for a while and said no one. Then he asked me who got these Pedas from India.. I take it as a big compliment.

We will need,

Ricotta (old fashioned) 1 pint (Fresh Khoya can be used too)
Ghee 2-3 tbsp
Sugar (fine variety ) 4-5 tbsp (adjust according to taste)
Whole Milk 2-3 tbsp

  • Drain the ricotta into a cheesecloth lined sieve to remove excess liquid.
  • Heat the ghee in a non stick pan. Throw in the ricotta. Cook the ricotta till most of the liquid evaporates. Keep stirring all the time.
  • Once the ricotta becomes dry and sort of comes together into a ball, reduce heat and break the ricotta into smaller pieces. Keep stirring lest the cheese burn.
  • Keep breaking the cheese up and stirring till the cheese resembles grains of sand. Remove from heat.
  • Pour the milk over the cheese, add about 3 tbsp of sugar and stir well. Allow the mixture to cool well.
  • Once the mixture is cool, run the mixture in a food processor till the mixture is very soft and smooth. Add a little more milk if necessary. 
  • Return the mixture to the pan and heat it gently. Taste and adjust sugar. The peda should be nice and sweet but not very sweet. It should still taste like caramely milk.
  • Once the mixture comes together into a ball, remove and shape it into walnut size balls. 
  • Roll the balls in sugar and set it aside to dry. To make it look distinctly asymmetrically flatish Pedas, throw the round pedas into a plate of sugar from a distance. 
I prefer to use ricotta because we get fresh, very good quality ricotta while the khoya we get is the one that has been in the freezer for a while. A good quality Khoya will work just as well.

Vangi Bhaat MIL style

Navratri is in full swing. This past weekend we went to a south Indian temple to see the Bombe habba. Then in the evening we went to a Punjabi temple for Durga aarti. Later we went to a Gujarati temple to be a part of  Garbha. Sunny boy loved it all. I am very happy. Such a cultural mosaic, so colorful and so festive. All of us celebrate the same festival in so many different ways. This is indeed my favorite part of the year.

I have often professed my undying love for Vangibhaat. It is on my bucket list and has always been. Needless to say, there are various way to make the right Vangibhaat. Mom makes it in her own style. MIL's variety is slightly different but equally good. This time around I made it MIL style because it is much more faster and lot less labor intensive than Mom's. The most critical part of getting the Vangibhaat right is choosing the right eggplant/brinjal. They must be tender, should not be thicker than two-three of your fingers put together. The green variety is the best but if the green ones are not available then the purple ones can do. But they must not be thicker than two fingers. The fatter the eggplant the mushier it gets and the Vangibhaat looses its texture. So getting the right Vangibhat is half the battle won.

We will need,

Eggplants /Brinjal 1 lbs
Green Peas 1/2 cup (optional)
Tomatoes 2
Peanut oil 1/3 cup
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves a handful
Hing a dash
Cashew pieces a handful
Vangi bhaat masala powder 3-4 tbsp (adjust according to taste)
Salt and lime juice to taste
Ghee 1 -2 tbsp (optional)
Rice (cooked and cooled) 3-4 cups

  • Wash and clean the eggplant and wipe it dry. Cut it quarters vertically and chop the quarters into 1.5" long pieces. Chop the tomatoes and reserve.
  • Heat the oil in a wide saute pan. Throw in the mustard seeds, jeera, hing and curry leaves. Once they stop spluttering throw in the cashew nuts. Once they are golden brown, remove it using a slotted spoon and drain it on tissue paper.
  • Throw in the eggplant and gently stir to coat the eggplants with oil. Keep moving the eggplant till they are almost tender. 
  • Throw in the green peas, vangi bhaat masala powder and the tomatoes. Toss the mixture gently. 
  • Cook the vegetables till they are tender. Adjust salt and remove from heat once all the moisture has evaporated.
  • Once the mixture is slightly cool, mix the cooled rice along with toasted cashews and ghee.
  • Adjust salt and lime juice and serve immediately.

Ricotta Almond Peda

It is my favorite time of the year. Dasara/Navrathri has begun and we as usual have the bombe (dolls) out and all set up. So for the first day I was thinking of making something special, not the usual stuff. I had a container of ricotta cheese in the fridge, and what better way to finish it?
Pedas! ah...they are sweet, they are soft, they come in all different colors and flavors and they are absolutely delicious. The brown not so sweet but sugary Dharwad Peda, the milky, fudgy off white Doodh peda with floral designs on top, then the saffrony Kesar Pedas.....Ah! I love them all. Just that they have to be fresh and have just the right amount of sweetness to it. I hate the ones that are too sweet.
Unlike Burfis peda is relatively easy. Burfi can be problematic if the sugar syrup consistency is not accurate, but peda is quite forgiving. So for me when ever I try something new, I start with a Peda. If the Pedas turn out nice, I think of a Burfi. So this time around it was peda.

We will need,

Ricotta cheese 1 pint
Almond 3/4 cup
Ghee 1/4 cup
Sugar 3/4 cup (adjust according to taste, I like it on the less sweet)
Salt a pinch
Saffron a few strands
Cardamon 2 pods (seeds ground into a powder and skin discarded)

  • Drain ricotta using a sieve and a cheese cloth. Reserve the cheese and discard the whey.
  • Soak the almond in warm water a few hours. Remove the skin and blend it into a smooth mixture using as little water as possible.
  • Combine the ricotta and the almond paste.
  • Heat ghee in a thick bottomed pan.
  • Throw in the ricotta almond mixture and cook till the mixture changes color and leaves the edges of the pan.
  • Mean time, cook the sugar with a 2-3 tbsps of water and melt the sugar. Remove from heat.Throw in the saffron strands.
  • Pour the sugar syrup carefully into the ricotta mixture stirring all the time making sure there are no lumps. 
  • Cook till the mixture comes together again. Stir in the cardamon powder. The mixture is ready when it begins to harden. Remove from heat.
  • When the mixture is cool enough to touch pinch small balls of the mixture and roll it between palms or shape as desired. Optional garnishes include Pista, Almonds etc.
Happy Dasara ! Happy eating and celebrating.

Methya Avarekaalu Khara Bhaath

I often always have stories to tell, reams and reams of paper to write, yarns and yarns to knit my stories,but the  past few months have been surprisingly dry for no apparent reason. I had photographs ready to go, blog waiting for me, but I somehow could not bring myself to write a word! Today I woke up and said to myself, 'today is the day, got to write something'. So here I am.
Past few weeks has been eventful. As an immigrant living in a foreign country, there are things that even after years of living abroad appear foreign to you. Generations later the foreignness disappears and immigrants become mainstream. Once that happens the new cohort of immigrants feel a lot less foreign in the new country. Something of that sort is brewing here right now. We have a new Miss America who happens to be an Indian-American. There are also Indian-American senators, state governors, Mayors, Judge, Astronauts not to mention doctors,engineers, professors, entrepreneurs etc. The children of Indian immigrants are well adjusted, thriving and they are not the stereotypical "American Born Confused Desi" aka ABCD. Thinking of how different the part of the world their parents came from, it is indeed a tribute to the human spirit. Imagine someone growing in India during the 1960s-1970s, where buying as much as a loaf of bread was a challenge let alone radios, TVs or cars, coming to USA to a land of plenty, to an open society, a free economy. Their children growing up often as the only brown kid in their schools,a generation of ABCDs. I do not see that anymore.  Now Desis are a lot more mainstream. The only brown kid in the school is not weird, he is just Indian, the kids who would go on to the spelling bee. It is no longer that the brown kids eat a lot of smelly-spicy strange foods, on the contrary it will probably be surprised to non-brown kids to know that we do not all eat 'Naan or chicken vindaloo' for dinner!
The Celts,the Italians, Asians, South Asians and people from everywhere melting into one pot. It is interesting indeed. The parallels are very similar. This is exactly what happened to India centuries back. The promise of a better land, a better life invited people from far away and India became home to people of different ethnicity, language, religion, food habits, etc. As an Indian pluralism is my second nature. I am a Kannadiga, I am also a Hindu, I am also a South-Indian, I am also an Indian. Now I am also an Indian-American! I am happy that both the oldest and the largest democracies are pluralist societies. It reminds me of a former colleague who happened to be half-Lithuanian. The first time we met, I told her I was from India. She said immediately, 'Yes! We are all from somewhere.'. At the same time I am thankful that I am not in a society where pluralism is not tolerated, let alone respected. It is sad that most of the world is.

So here is a tribute to all Indian-Americans. A bowlful of Menthya-Avarekalu Khara Bhaath. It is funny to see Avarekalu here. Because Avarekalu is available in all Indian groceries here. But I never got to see/eat them during my years in Delhi, nor did my parents find it in Uttar Pradesh during there three long years there. So is 'Home' just so archaic an idea? Got to think about it.

We will need,

Akki Tari /Idli Rawa 1 cup
Fenugreek greens /Menthya soppu a bunch
Avarekalu /Surati Papdi Lilva 3/4 cup
Ginger 1"
Cloves 4-5
Cinnamon 1"
Mint a handful
Fresh Coriander a handful
Green Chillies 5-6 (adjust according to taste)
Ghee 3-4 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Hing a dash
Salt to taste
Lemon Juice to taste.

  • Heat a thick bottom Pot. Toast the Akki tari/ idli raw till it is warm to touch. Remove it onto a plate.
  • Pour water into the pot and throw in the Avarekalu and salt to taste. Bring it to a boil and simmer till the Avarekalu is tender. Drain the water and reserve the Avarekalu.
  • Pick the leafy parts of the fenugreek. Tender steams can be included. Discard the tough steams. Wash the greens in multiple change of water and reserve.
  • In a blender, combine the ginger, cloves, cinnamon, mint, coriander and green chillies with as little water as possible and pulse it into a smooth paste. 
  • Heat the ghee in the pot. Once the ghee is hot, throw in the mustard, jeera, hing and curry leaves.
  • Once the spices splutter, throw in the masala paste. Stir for a few minutes and throw in the fenugreek. Saute till the fenugreek is tender, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add two (a little more if you like it soft , i do!) cups of water to the mixture, adjust salt and lemon juice. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and throw in the Avarekalu.
  • Give the mixture a good stir and gently pour in the toasted rawa, stirring to combine the mixture. Make sure to pour in the raw in a slow stream else it will end up lumpy. Cover and cook on low heat for a few minutes till the water has evaporated and the rawa is tender. 
  • Serve hot will dollops of ghee on top. Yummy.

Brussel Sprouts Rice

We Indians have long been a seafaring community. We have long gone to unknown lands and called it our home. Our forefathers went to lands as far as Guyana, Caribbeans,South Africa, Mauritius, Belize, Fiji, Malaysia ages ago when they were quite sure that once they left there was no coming back. Back in those days when there was not as much as a telephone much less 'unlimited calling to India and 60 other countries- try Vonage today'!

How did they feel when they landed on lands that were so alien to what they had seen their entire life? Were they forced to leave their home country because the far off lands promised them a life that their home land could not afford? Was life back home so miserable that they readily boarded a ship to cross an ocean they had never seen? Was it the spirit of adventure, the innate human curiosity to see and experience things that were new? What ever it was, we were absolutely unapologetic about it. We went everywhere, where ever we went, we took a part of homeland and made a new land our new home. So people in Trinidad still eat what their ancestors remembered for their meals back home albeit with new ingredients and substitutions for ingredients that were hard to find. That is why curry is so pervasive all across the populations descending from the south Asian stock. (I meam the broader sense of curry, the subzi,bhaji, saaru,kari, all together)

As I think of all these people, I think of myself an expat too. I also think of people who came to the States about thirty-forty years ago, who ended having and raising kids here. The first time they set their foot in this country of skyscrapers, underwater tunnels, cable bridges and other engineering marvels! of 24 hr electricity, metaled roads, cars...coming from a country that had a handful of airports let alone metaled roads or 24 hr electricity or TV! When I set foot here for the first time, it was just another place. I was used to almost 24 hrs electricity, back up power, broadband internet, car and a pot holed but still metaled road. There were a few cultural surprises but I was not surprised that buildings could indeed be so high. All I could marvel was the time they were constructed. Just around the time when my great grand father as a police officer rode a horse all night long across tiger infested jungles to attend a status meeting with his British bosses!
As I try to incorporate more seasonal produce in my menus, the more I Indianize, just like our forefathers elsewhere did, to please our palate. So here goes a sort of Vangibhath styled Brussel Sprouts rice. Please do not go in search of Brussel sprouts if it is hard to find. Just substitute any leafy member of the cabbage family.

We will need,
Rice 2 cups cooked and cooled
Brussel sprouts 2 lbs washed cleaned
Peanut oil 1/4 cup
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves 15-20
Green chillies 2-3 (Adjust according to taste)
Hing a dash
Chilli powder 2 tsp (adjust according to taste)
Dhania powder 2 tsp
Jeera powder 2 tsp
Turmeric 1/4 tsp
Garam Masala 1/4 tsp
 Salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste

  • Spice the brussel sprouts length wise and chop the halved into thin strips (julienne). Set it aside.
  • Heat oil in a wok. Once hot, throw in the mustard, Jeera and Hing. 
  • Once the spices stop spluttering, thrown in the curry leaves and the slit green chillies. Once they stop sizzling, throw in the powdered spices. Saute the spices for a few seconds till aromatic and throw in the brussel sprouts.
  • Saute the sprouts till tender crisp. Keep moving the vegetable, we need it nice and tender not steamed and mushy.
  • Adjust salt and remove from heat. 
  • Stir in the cooled rice, adjust lemon juice and serve warm with yogurt on the side.

Grilled Veggie Salad

I got to know that recently a Kannada cookery show aired an episode featuring Oats in good old Akki Rotti. Ah! So good job Quaker and agriculture department of Australia.
It looks like there are pouring tonnes of money on promoting the 'healthfulness' of oats and our people are readily buying it. So we are abandoning our native grains which our forefather ate, thrived well on and lived long healthy lives, for grains that were grown and consumed in very different climates by people with very different lifestyle, habits and of course genes. We so very well buy the argument of loud MNCs than look at our own backyards. There is a saying in Kannada, 'Hittala gida maddalla'. Your backyard herb cannot be a medicine! indeed.

I know we are a generation living on instant gratification and depth of sensual experience. But our common sense is not something that should take a back seat. 'I was never thus, but keep going on...' goes a poem. Yes I was never thus. But as more candles pile on my birthday cake my point of view changes. Now when I look back at all the years trying to  'live healthy' eating 'canola oil' I cannot stop but think 'what the hell was I thinking?'.
Now it is all about eating sensibly. No hard rules. But I am not going to buy ten different of things, just because a recipe calls for it,or it so 'oh!god so healthy'. So if I have peanuts instead of peanut butter I just go ahead crush some and toss it. I am not buying raw peanuts, peanut butter and salted peanuts. I am also not going on a missionary quest for some strange vegetable that I read about or the miracle food that has kept some Amazonian tribe youthful into their eighties.  

The mantra now is what is available locally and seasonally. The best part of summers in this part of the world is the bounty of vegetables. Keeping in mind my current approach to food, I just grilled a few fresh vegetables and served it with minimal dressing. It was yummy. The dressing also was do-with-whatever-is-in-your-fridge, but very creamy and tasty.

We will need,

Zucchini  2 medium cut into length wise and diced into half moons about 1/4"thick
Peppers   4 medium cut into 2" squares
Red Onions 2 medium cut into quarters and separated
Lettuce as needed
Oil as needed

for the dressing,
Yogurt/sour cream 2-3 tbsp
Ginger grated 1 tsp
Garlic 1 clove
Green chilli 1 minced
Coriander a handful
Salt to taste
Juice of lemon to taste

  • Heat a griddle on high heat. Brush the griddle with some oil and dump the Zucchini, peppers and onions. Sprinkle salt. Grill till the vegetables and nice and charred on the edges. Remove and keep it warm. If the griddle is small, do the vegetables in batches as we do not want them steam. Also the vegetables can be done one at a time because the cooking time varies for the vegetables. My griddle is fairly big so I could accommodate all of them at once.
  • Crush the garlic and ginger. Push the mixture through a sieve and collect the juice in big serving bowl. Discard the ginger garlic fibers. 
  • Toss in the lemon juice, green chillies, chopped coriander and yogurt/sour cream. Adjust salt. 
  • Toss in all the grill vegetables. Serve warm on a bed of lettuce. We had it for lunch and this was the only dish that day. We just grated some cheese on top.  It was yummy.