Tag Archives: Food

The Indian Umami

Whenever you chomp, slurp, chew, and munch food, around 10,000 taste buds on your tongue and palate help you boldly go where you’ve never gone before on your modern-day quests for new tastes.

Sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, were thought to be the only four types of tastes we humans experienced—even though we’ve always been tasting the fifth taste, since the dawn of, well, eating. This fifth taste remained unnamed and unknown, until the discovery by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemistry professor, over a century ago, because he was determined to detect a dominant savoury taste in his dashi or soup base. Thanks to his sensory curiosity, the world now has a fifth new “savoury” taste which he named umami or “deliciousness” in Japanese.

What is umami anyway? Asking people to describe umami sometimes yields fun answers such as “It’s that special something.”

But don’t despair, as I am about to give you the simplest explanation of umami, that will make you the ultimate umami aficionado for your next conversation.

The five basic tastes we can sense are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. A dish will have that savoury, umami, fifth taste when it is made with one or more ingredients rich in natural glutamic acid. In the professor’s case, he discovered that the glutamic acid-rich seaweed was creating the savoury taste in his dashi.

Umami or the savoury taste of glutamic acid is naturally present not only in meat and seafood, but umami is abundantly present in vegetables, mushrooms, dairy, seaweed, fermented foods, and even green tea. And dishes rich in natural umami make you crave them more. If you crave certain dishes and find them to be mouth-watering and irresistible despite multiple servings—then you have experienced umami.

Different sources of Umami (Image from Ajinomoto.com)
Different sources of Umami (Image from Ajinomoto.com)

I am not talking about the food additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG), the mass-produced salt form of glutamic acid, which is known to be toxic in levels higher than our body can handle, but I am strictly talking about the naturally-occurring glutamic acid in the plant and animal world. Our own human body naturally produces glutamate, a powerful and vital neurotransmitter released by the nerve cells in our brain. Both MSG and natural umami are one and the same by the way, but it’s easier to consume harmful levels of glutamic acid in the MSG salt form, as is the case of unhealthy fast foods.

Since the use of the word umami in the international culinary parlance, umami-rich dishes from countries around the world have become well-known, but what dishes come to mind when you think of the Indian umami?

Umami has rarely, if ever, been associated with Indian cuisines. This is unfortunate because our rich tapestries of cuisines are replete with umami. And one particular dish perfectly epitomizes umami for me—look no further than the South Indian maami’s umami dish—the splendiferous sambar.

Sambar, the South Indian vegan stew, has more than half a dozen ingredients rich in natural glutamic acid. Onions, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, daikon radishes, drumsticks, and seasonings including asafoetida, mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds, just to name a few. Combining these ingredients creates a unique umami flavour profile found in no other dish worldwide.

Much like our Tollywood and Bollywood movies, sambar is the joyful song and dance number without which the South Indian breakfast, lunch, and dinner are certifiably incomplete. With household and restaurant kitchens serving up copious amounts of this delectable umami treat every day, sambar is that ubiquitous and trusty friend Jai, to the idlis, dosas, rice, poriyals, and the other Veerus on our plates, singing “yeh dosti hum nahi todenge.”

The dozens of varieties of sambar and kozhambu are not just power-packed with delicious flavours, textures, veggies, minerals, vitamins, and protein, but they are also packed with umami. This is what makes sambar so addictive. And its umami-ness is why we never get tired of eating sambar every day. Pair sambar with a potato fry and it will undoubtedly send shockwaves through your taste buds because, you guessed it, potatoes are rich in glutamic acid too.

So let’s raise our buckets and ladles filled to the brim with this Indian umami goodness and say, “More sambar please!”


Bae is an artist, book author, food writer, and creator of Bae’s Kitchen Show. Find her latest works on Instagram @queenbaeshive.


 

Indian Summer Grill And Chill Recipes

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

Summer is here and that means we’re spending a lot of time outdoors, engaging in family-friendly summer activities and backyard cookouts. These fast summer recipes give you more time for what really matters: picnics, sunsets, and pool time. Most of these recipes are easy to make ahead and assemble right before you eat and pair beautifully with a summer cocktail or sangria.

Paneer Tikka Salad

Comes together quickly, most can be made ahead and tossed when serving.

Paneer Tikka Salad
Paneer Tikka Salad

INGREDIENTS

For Paneer tikka :

  • 400 grams of Paneer
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri red chili powder
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 tsp cumin-coriander powder (dhana jeeru)
  • 1 tsp garam masala powder
  • 1/2 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
  • 1/2 tsp black salt
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander 

For the Salad :

  • 1 cup of chopped cucumbers (Persian preferred as they are seedless)
  • 2 medium onions sliced (I prefer to grill these too)
  • 1 medium capsicum sliced (I prefer to grill these too)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander 
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
  • 3 green chilies finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper 
  • 1 tsp chaat masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

PREPARATION

  1. In a bowl add the oil and Kashmiri red chili powder and mix well.
  2. Next add the rest of the ingredients to make a smooth paste: yogurt, ground ginger, cumin, coriander, garam masala, dry mango powder, black salt, salt, coriander.
  3. Cut the Paneer into medium sized chunks and marinate it in the prepared paste. Coat the paneer completely and rest it overnight or for a few hours.
  4. Grill, or airfry/bake till golden brown on all sides.
  5. In a large mixing bowl add all the vegetables under the salad. Add the grilled paneer. Mix well.

Spiced Indian Corn (Vaghareli Makai)

A roadside staple growing up!

Vaghareli Makai
Vaghareli Makai

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 red chilis, seeded and sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon ghee
  • 11/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 3 cups (about 3 large ears) grilled fresh corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • lemon or lime wedges
  • 2 tablespoons sev

PREPARATION

  1. Grind the chilis, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and salt to a smooth paste.
  2. Heat the ghee in a wok. Add the mustard seeds wait for them to pop, 
  3. Stir in the corn kernels and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, until tender.
  4. Stir in the peanuts, half of the cilantro and half of the paste. Cook for another minute then taste. If desired, for additional heat, add more of the paste. 
  5. Remove from heat and squeeze some lemon/lime juice. Sprinkle with sev.

Aloo Chaat Pizza

Aloo Chaat Pizza
Aloo Chaat Pizza

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium potatoes, sliced into thin slices 
  • 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/3 cup Pur Spices Green Chutney Powder (so yummy! or use homemade green cilantro chutney)
  • 11/4 cups grated cheese (I used double cream gouda cheese)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb pizza dough homemade or store-bought

To drizzle on pizza before serving:

PREPARATION

  1. Rinse and thinly slice the potatoes(It’s important to slice them thin here in order for the potatoes to cook evenly in the oven.)
  2. Place the potato slices in heavily salted cold water for a half-hour. 
  3. Pre-heat oven to 475 F degrees. Drain the potatoes, pat dry using a kitchen towel, and transfer them to a bowl.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala, 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder to the potato slices and toss until the slices are coated.
  5. Prepare your pizza dough by stretching it into your desired shape. Sprinkle some cornmeal on the pan place the prepared pizza.
  6. Brush the dough lightly with oil, then prick with a fork and bake at 475 F for 4 to 5 minutes. (We are just pre-baking the crust a little here.) 
  7. Remove from oven and spread 1/3 cup of cilantro powder or chutney all over.
  8. Top with grated cheese.
  9. Now, start arranging the potato slices, in a single layer or overlapping, depending on how many slices you have.
  10. Bake 475 for 10/15 minutes until the cheese melts and potatoes are lightly browned. 
  11. Broil for 2 minutes to get the topping a nice brown top
  12. Remove pizza from the oven, sprinkle with chaat masala, drizzle with cilantro chutney and sweet tamarind chutney. 
  13. Garnish with cilantro.

Curried Cauliflower Street Tacos

You can substitute cauliflower for pork. I garnish with avocado, cilantro, cashew, yogurt crema, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and finely chopped jalapeño. You can add any garnish of your choice.

Cauliflower Street Tacos
Cauliflower Street Tacos

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower  
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Achaar Masala (I use Pur Spices Achaar Masala powder)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 Cup Red Onion (grated or chopped)
  • 2 cups spring greens
  • 1″ Ginger (fresh ginger, peeled)
  • 2 Garlic (cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Powder (mild paprika)
  • 1/2 tbsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 tbsp Cumin Seeds
  • 8 crispy tostadas 
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower and cut them into small, bite-sized florets.
  3. Heat oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds, once they pop, add the onion, cook till translucent. Add the achaar masala and salt.
  4. Add the cauliflower and toss until well-coated.
  5. Cook till the cauliflower is tender. Alternatively, you can also spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through, until it is tender and slightly crispy.
  6. To Assemble Tacos: Warm tortillas shells in microwave or oven.
  7. On each taco add 2-3 tablespoon curry cauliflower, top with avocado, cilantro, cashew, yogurt crema, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and finely chopped jalapeño. Add a dash of lemon/lime juice before eating.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Left to right: Author, Shoba Narayan and book, Food & Faith.

Food and Faith: The Intrinsic Prasadam at Hindu Temples

As a child growing up in India, I have visited my fair share of temples, partaking in the rituals and the prasad handed out the priests and never quite questioning my parents on why we did what we did. Nevertheless, I did wonder about the role of religion in our lives. So, when I was asked to review Shoba Narayan’s Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India, I jumped at the chance.

Calling herself a lapsed Hindu, who was first an atheist in her teens, then agnostic in her 20s, she says, “After having two kids, faith was a way of going back to my roots, finding meaning. The journey of writing this book also became a sort of pilgrimage.” Narayan sets about visiting many of India’s iconic places of worship, trying to understand their rituals and make sense of religious polarities. In doing so, she attempts to answer the question that confounds many of us as we seek spirituality: what sustains us? 

In India, you can’t separate food from faith. If the 29 diverse varieties of Indian cuisines, each coming from one state in the country are not enough, we also have recipes that the temples and shrines in India dole out. Narayan attempts to spotlight many of them. “I started with a simple calculation. I would visit those temples that had good prasadam or sacred food offerings. These are, literally, foods for the gods, which belong to a time, place, and a specific deity. After offering it to God, the devotees partake of this ‘gracious gift of God’.” 

The book is divided into fourteen chapters based on where the author is traveling to, each chapter can be independently read as a short story. Narayan coincides her visits with each region’s most important festival. She travels to Puri during the Kumbh Mela, to a Jewish household in Mumbai during the Passover, and to Haridwar during a time of convergence of yogis.

Accessibility was also one of the criteria in finalizing her list. Shobha also lists “geography, history and the seasons. Going to these temples at the right time, being able to speak to priests and scholars about the food, having some sort of connection with the food so that I could actually write about it, and also ensuring that the multitudes of faiths present in the land that we call Bharat or India” as the other factors she considered. She had wanted to include temples from the Northeast but “ended up not being able to because accessing those temples and interviewing the priests proved to be very difficult.”

In each chapter, Shoba talks not just about the food and history of the temples, but how her faith identifies with the practices and what makes her uncomfortable (like caste segregation). There are lovely little vignettes like the mechanization of Palani panchamritam, how onions were sneaked into the Udupi masala dosa, and why copious amounts of ghee is used in the food at the Kashi Annapurna temple, revealing that no outsider is allowed inside the Jagannath temple kitchen except the 1000 male cooks who make 56 different kinds of offerings called the chappan bhog, that is served to the Gods, six times a day. 

Shri Jagannatha Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License 4.0)
Shri Jagannatha Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License 4.0)

I always knew that most traditions at temples always started with a logical reason, which then morphed into ritual. It was interesting to note that Narayan did dig deeper into the root of prasadam. The satvik food served at Udupi is what we tout as local and sustainable farming, the langar at Amritsar develops a feeling of community, that the strict food preparation practice at Puri is a tribute to the area’s tribal food habits, and the practice of drinking small sips of water before food was a way of activating the thyroid gland. A major instance of agriculture and the way it influences temple meals is during the Tamil month of margazhi, when vaishnavite temples serve ven pongal: “Hearty with rice and dal, with complete pepper for our ‘winter’ months and beneficent addition of ghee for heat.”

Apart from Hindu temples, Narayan also talks about experiencing “the layers of tradition” in a Goan Christmas, a dargah in Ajmer, where there was qawwali and kesari bhat, and being part of a Jewish Rosh Hashanah, or New Year with the Bene Israelis in Mumbai. “Each dish had meaning: a bowl of pomegranate signified bounty, there was head of fish and goat…,” she recalls.  

Narayan has a narrative, oftentimes self-deprecating style, that draws the reader in, transporting us with her to the Kashi, Ajmer, or Kerala as she explores the cultural heritage that is passed on through religions, especially through their unique practices and cuisines. Most of the book is based on Hindu temples and customs, which she delves into deeply. She stresses that religions in India are inevitably interlinked in many ways, and while she tends to delve deeper in the beginning, Narayan seems to be in a hurry towards the end of the book and glosses over sections in Goan and the Bombay Jewish faiths.

It is refreshing to see Narayan’s candor as she writes about her own spiritual journey, which in turn encourages us to explore our relationship with religion. For some of us, the notion of a God, faith, and prayer might be difficult. But when Narayan talks about her visit to Haridwar, the pomp of the Kumbh Mela, the long line of Naga Babu’s jumping into the Ganga to seek salvation…I see her point. We look at prayer as a way of connecting to nature. Prayer as a way to touch flowers, fruits, stones. By giving thanks to nature and its bounty, by seeing the universe in a grain of and God in a single rock.

We may pray to Jesus, Ram or Allah, “but at the end of the day, we are all children of God. We each have many identities. Religion is one, but there are others. We are each of us son/daughter, spouse, sibling, friend, and professional. I tend to identify myself through my work, and I would suspect that most of my readers are the same way,” concludes Narayan.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Newark Farmer's Market Haul (Image by Mona Shah)

Indian Recipes Inspired by a Newark Farmer’s Market

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

There is nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of a busy farmer’s market on a beautiful spring day. It’s so easy to get inspired by the rows of fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, local honey, and cheese. I love wandering through the stalls at my local farmer’s market in Newark, CA. Not only does it give me easy access to produce that is in season, picked at the peak of its flavor, with the shortest amount of travel time, but it’s the connection and conversation with the farmer and their kids that I enjoy the most.

Farmers will gladly tell you how they grew a tomato that tastes so divine or give you advice about the best way to prepare that giant bunch of green garlic (that I bought two of!) However, wandering around the market can get overwhelming. The abundance of produce is tempting, and sometimes we buy way more than we can consume in a week. So here are a few recipes using produce that is in season to jumpstart your meal plan.

Green Garlic Vegetable (Hare Lehsun Ki Sabzi)

Green Garlic Vegetable - Hare Lehsun ki Sabz (Image by Mona Shah)
Green Garlic Vegetable – Hare Lehsun Ki Sabz (Image by Mona Shah)

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 small (new) potatoes
  • 1 cup mixed veggies-optional (any that you have on hand. eg: carrots, beans, broccoli, small eggplants)
  • 1 large bunch of garlic green or garlic chives. The more greens you have, the better garlic flavor you get.
  • 1 tbsp. mustard or vegetable cooking oil
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 dry red chili, broken in half
  • A pinch of asafetida powder
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • Salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Wash and cut potatoes into quarters
  2. Cube the rest of the mixed veggies (if using)
  3. Clean garlic green or garlic chives, picking out any damaged/dry leaves. Very tender stems can be left in. When cleaning the bulbs, remove any tough outer layers of skin.
  4. Wash well and chop finely.
  5. Heat oil in a wok or karahi.
  6. Add cumin seeds (jeera) and a pinch of asafetida (hing) powder. Once the seeds crackle, add the red chili and stir for a few seconds.
  7. Add potatoes/veggies, spices, salt, and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add garlic leaves/chives, stir and cook covered until all water is absorbed and potatoes are done. If the leaves are fresh and you cook on low/medium heat, no additional water will be required.
  9. Adjust salt and chilies, raise heat, and stir-fry until all the water is absorbed and the vegetable looks shiny. Turn heat off. Garnish with some raw garlic greens if desired.

Easy Pickled Radish

Easy Pickled Radish
Easy Pickled Radish

Great on just about everything, from sandwiches, tacos, chole, biryani

INGREDIENTS

  • 15 average size radishes
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup warm water

PREPARATION

  1. Slice radishes as thin as you can and place in a mason jar
  2. In a bowl, combine apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, and warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. 
  3. Pour the pickling mixture over the sliced radishes and let them set for an hour. 
  4. Once cooled, cover and store in the fridge.

Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale 

Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale (Image by Mona Shah)
Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale (Image by Mona Shah)

You can use any greens here: fresh fenugreek/methi, spinach, arugula. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup toor dal 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bunch washed sliced kale or any greens you are using
  • 1/2 tsp. canola oil or vegetable oil (ghee/clarified butter is preferred if you have it)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2-1 tsp. red chili pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp. asafetida/hing
  • 1/8 tsp. garam masala (optional)
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Cook the dal in the water until it is soft. (IP about 10 mins, natural release, stovetop about 35 mins or until soft and mushy.) Use a hand blender to completely puree the dal. Set aside.
  2. In a deep skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and the garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the ginger and kale and stir. Add one tablespoon of water and cover the pan. Stir every minute or so, and cook until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the dal and remaining ingredients to the kale. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. 
  4. Optional tempering: Heat some oil in a small pan. Once hot add some jeera seeds, once they sputter add red chili powder and pour over the daal right before serving. Garnish with cilantro. 

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Three recipes with locally sourced ingredients and single origin spices.

Mindfully Spiced Foods for a Sustainable Planet

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

Every time I think about changing up my diet and incorporating more clean foods, I tend to put it off. All I can think of are buddha bowls and raw salads. Do I really have to suffer through several meals of incorporating raw kale into my meals to enjoy a delicious, eco-friendly diet?

Earth Day prompted me to rethink my approach to clean, healthy eating and cooking.

I figured it didn’t have to be all or nothing to reduce my ecological footprint and to start being more environmentally conscious in the kitchen. I began with seasonal organic and locally sourced ingredients -earth-friendly cooking doesn’t mean endless amounts of tofu or raw veggies. Instead, I hit up my local farmers’ market for some seasonal bounty. Wasting less food and cooking a tasty meal was paramount.

Spices are such an integral part of our Indian meals, that I wanted to find single-origin spices that are equitably sourced from countries with the best growing conditions, climate, and expertise to make sure that even the smallest pinch packs the biggest punch.

My friends who are chefs highly recommend Burlap and Barrel. I spoke to Ethan Frisch, cofounder of Burlap and Barrel, who used to be a chef and is working towards ending inequality and exploitation in food systems that disenfranchise skilled farmers.

“Mainstream conversations around food sustainability rarely consider the people involved in growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, and cooking food. Sustainability is discussed in terms of environmental impact, or the comfort of livestock providing meat, dairy, or eggs. We believe that the standard measures of sustainability must evolve to consider the conditions in which the farmers who drive global food supply chains earn their livelihoods. Single-origin ingredients draw attention to the unique environments in which incredible ingredients grow and to the farmers with the expertise and commitment to grow them well.” 

With all the pieces in place let’s cook with sustainable recipes that benefit the earth, are delicious and beneficial to both our health and the environment.

Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce (Image by Author)
Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce (Image by Author)

Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 14 oz firm tofu or Veggie Smart ground (plant-based “beef” ground with 11 grams of protein)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil 
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts – about 1 cup, chopped
  • ½ cup, chopped bamboo shoots (optional) 
  • 3 cloves minced garlic 
  • ½ teaspoon of powdered ginger (I have used Burlap and Barrel’s Buffalo Ginger)
  • 1 head Boston lettuce or butterhead lettuce
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves for garnish

Peanut Butter Sauce

Mix together organic peanut butter (I used crunchy), honey, vinegar, olive oil, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, pepper, minced garlic, and salt.

PREPARATION

  • Heat a nonstick pan and add oil. Crumble the tofu or the Veggie Smart ground into the pan. Sauté the tofu/smart ground over high heat until the mixture starts to turn a light golden brown color. About 6/10 minutes.
  • Lower to medium-high heat. Add the onions, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and ginger/garlic. Sauté until the onions start to soften.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves
  • Layer two leaves of lettuce on top of each other and spoon the tofu filling in the center. Top with peanut sauce.

Couscous Salad

Couscous Salad (Image by Author)
Couscous Salad (Image by Author)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • 1 medium cucumber, halved and sliced
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh sweet corn 
  • 1½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A pinch of ground black lime (a yummy savory, tart flavor: I have used Burlap and Barrel’s black lime)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

PREPARATION

  • In a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool slightly.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, onion, corn, and parsley/cilantro.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the oil, honey, black lime, salt, and pepper. Pour over couscous mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Pistachio Cardamom Snowflake Cookies

Pistachio Cardamom Cookies (Image by Author)
Pistachio Cardamom Cookies (Image by Author)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick soft butter
  • ¼ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom (I have used Burlap and Barrel’s Clod Forest Cardamom)
  • 1 1/8 cups sifted flour
  • ¼  teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

PREPARATION

  • In a stand mixer, mix together the softened butter, sifted confectioners’ sugar and cardamom till it’s a light and fluffy light golden color.
  • Mix in the flour and salt. Then add in the pistachios. At this point, you can mix with a spoon.
  • Once the nuts are thoroughly incorporated roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and chill. The dough can remain in the fridge for a 1/2 hour or even overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • To bake, roll into 1″ balls. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet (I lined it with parchment paper). Bake until set but not brown, for exactly 8 mins (depending on your oven, but no more than 10 mins).
  • While still warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again if you want a nice even coating of sugar. I didn’t do that to cut down on the sugar.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Grow, Eat, Share and Sell – Local Families Get New Resource for Heritage Seedlings

Valley Verde to sell culturally-meaningful and hard-to-find seedlings for families to ensure food security and comfort during pandemic and economic uncertainty 

Today, Valley Verde launched a new offering of seedlings for culturally-preferred produce at a price point that communities can afford (even offering a discount to low-income shoppers). With unemployment and the cost of living high and a crisis like COVID-19 hitting our community, a backyard or porch garden can provide economic security and a nutritional safety net for families in need.

“Families want to grow healthy, fresh, organic, and affordable culturally-meaningful organic produce like Thai basil, bitter melon, chayote, and chili peppers in their own gardens. We are here to help them every way we can,” said Raul Lozano, Founder of Valley Verde. “People can grow their own food and eat it, share it, or even sell it to other families in the community.”

Diverse South Bay communities can have difficulty finding seedlings for the healthy, culturally-meaningful, and organic produce they would like to grow and eat. When families must rely on big stores and corporations for food access it can be easy to feel disconnected from their cultural food roots. With this new effort, Valley Verde is making it easier to grow the vegetables that our communities want. 

Valley Verde has provided participants in gardening courses with homeland seedlings for four years, and  is now expanding this opportunity to meet community demand. This includes opening an in-person nursery at 59 S Autumn St. on Saturday, March 27th where families can buy seedlings and have access to resources for new gardeners. 

Lozano added, “Food unites our communities and nourishes our souls. Planting seedlings in a home garden or community garden is a critical first step to food security. Harvesting foods from our heritage is also a way of investing in the future and creating the community we want to see.” 

To tell this story, we can offer media:

  • Interviews with Valley Verde representatives (Languages: English, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi)
  • Interviews with local growers/gardeners (Languages: TBD) 
  • Site visits to the nursery, including on the day of its grand opening – Saturday, March 27th, 9am
  • Photos and b-roll of gardens and people working in their gardens

Seedlings will be available for sale at:

Homeland seedlings for sale (at prices ranging from $5.00 – $10.00) include:

  • Amaranth 
  • Thai Basil 
  • Chinese bitter melon 
  • Alok – bottle gourd 
  • Chayote 
  • Chinese eggplant
  • Satsuma long eggplant
  • Squashes and zucchinis
  • Cilantro
  • Fenugreek 
  • Daikon radish 
  • Epazote
  • Huacatay
  • Hoja Santa
  • Thai hot chili and other peppers
  • Okra 
  • Lemongrass
  • Habanero, jalapenos, and serranos 

About Valley Verde

Valley Verde is a San Jose-based nonprofit focused on increasing self-sufficiency, health, and resilience through a culturally informed community based food system. We own greenhouses and help local residents plant gardens to promote food security. We offer monthly workshops and one-on-one mentorship in a variety of languages (including Spanish) to help home gardeners have a successful harvest. We want to support our community as they build resilience through food sovereignty by providing culturally preferred vegetable seedlings, environmental education, and supporting the development of edible gardens.

 

Eat Yourself To Health

Viruses are smart, they are masters of survival. They can hijack our body’s own mechanisms to live and multiply. During a productive infection, viruses hijack, multiply and destroy the cell that they call home for a very short time. Bacteria and parasites have also devised various intelligent and opportunistic methods of attacking the human body. To protect ourselves from these infectious agents, the immune system is the frontline of a preemptive defense, while some infections may be controlled by therapeutics. 

Vaccines are the most overtly and urgently effective route to control these infectious agents as they specifically direct the body’s immune defenses against these intruders in multiple ways. However, we can take the initiative to maintain a strong healthy baseline. In addition to stress alleviation and staying active, we can consciously incorporate a few things in our diet to hone our intrinsic defenses. One aspect of this could be accomplished with a few spices, herbs, and condiments that we are familiar with. 

Spices and herbs have fragrant oils that impart the flavors that we know and love, but they also pack alkaloids and other compounds which can have specific effects on the human body. Although detailed ayurvedic knowledge about the effects of these dietary inclusions exist, this article is meant only to raise awareness, and not delve into the depths of beneficial and harmful aspects of the few spices mentioned below. 

Black pepper

Dubbed the ‘queen of spices’ and ‘black gold’, pepper is native to the Malabar coast of Kerala, and was the original spice that fueled the European spice trade. It was the mainstay for introducing pungency and heat in Indian cooking until the Portuguese introduced chillis to India in the 16th century. Among other effects, pepper has antipyretic properties. However, another important property of piperine, an alkaloid in pepper, is to increase the bioavailability of other compounds. That is, it increases the absorption of other chemical entities that are by themselves not readily absorbed. This leads us directly to the next spice, turmeric.

Turmeric

Hailing from the ginger family, the root of turmeric is used as a spice with a familiar hue. In addition to imparting a rich yellow color to food, turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-infective properties. Curcumin, an alkaloid in turmeric, also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and has been studied extensively for its properties in ameliorating diseases, and in promoting general health. However, curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body, and combining its use with black pepper improves its absorption.

Tulsi

Otherwise called Holy Basil (appropriately called Ocimum sanctum in latin), tulsi is more associated with religious ceremonies and Ayurveda than with cooking. It is related to, but distinct from, the basil used popularly in Thai cuisine. I have often wondered why tulsi is not used in Indian cooking given its amazing flavor, but it appears its religious associations preclude its use in something as mundane as food. Tulsi is an adaptogen, in addition to having several other medicinal properties, including antibiotics, and blood pressure control to name a couple. As an adaptogen tulsi is advocated for general wellbeing and stress reduction. Tulsi when added to tea imparts a soothing flavor, and occasionally adding a couple of fresh leaves (for those of us who have a plant at home) or a pinch of dried tulsi leaves while brewing a cuppa makes for an excellent beverage.

Oregano

Since we are in the age of fast food, and Italian food can be a popular healthy option, oregano is a spice that we are all familiar with although it is not commonly used in Asian cuisines. In terms of flavor, it is a close cousin to ajwain belonging to the cumin family that is used in Indian cuisine, but the plants are not related. Oregano packs an intense flavor and has several essential oils, including thymol, which are thought to be antiseptic among other properties. Oregano can also be taken for general well-being, and both tulsi and oregano can potentially boost the immune system. Not surprisingly, they belong to the same super-family of fragrant herbs, Labiatae.

Garlic

The medicinal properties of garlic were known to several ancient cultures, and its health benefits are thought to range from digestive to respiratory and circulatory systems but, of current relevance, it is anti-microbial. The pungent odor and taste of garlic are due to sulfur-containing compounds that are released when it is cut or crushed, and the best known of these is called Allicin. In addition to being anti-bacterial, allicin is also thought to have anti-viral properties. Other members of the garlic family, including onion, share the same compounds, but in reduced amounts.

This article is not advocating the ingestion of these spices at the level of a therapeutic or dietary supplement, but only regular inclusion of these as spices in day-to-day cooking. It is also not an exhaustive list of all the benefits these spices are thought, and known empirically, to confer. Several other spices and condiments that we are familiar with also have beneficial health effects: cumin (jeera– anti-parasitic), ginger (anti-inflammatory), fenugreek (methi seeds– anti-bacterial and laxative), yogurt (pro-biotic), cardamom (blood pressure control), cinnamon (anti-microbial), green and red chillis, and so the list goes on. Finally, it should be mentioned that cooking could destroy a percentage of the active principles and the ensuing health benefit, and frying (including seasoning or tadka) would inactivate a higher percentage.

So, a periodic shot of rasam may not be a bad idea. In fact, variations on the theme of this thin soupy concoction are found in most Asian cuisines. Mix in different spices for variety: pepper, turmeric, lemon, cilantro, lemongrass, oregano, basil, neem leaves, garlic, red chilies, and others to complement your daily creativity and menu. It adds variety, in addition to providing an excuse for an excellent sinus-clearing aperitif! 


L Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar and at www.liyengar.com.

The Learning and Unlearning of Lebanese Cuisine

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

Today I was perusing my cookbook, an old notebook. In it, I have recipes that follow the arc of my life. Handwritten recipes by my Mom and me — of foods that I love — newspaper or magazine clippings of recipes that caught my fancy at some moment in time. And post-it marked pages of recipes that I make again and again. 

One such recipe is Falafel and Hummus by Yotam Ottolenghi. My dad loved his deli in Notting Hill known for its inventive dishes, characterized by the foregrounding of vegetables and unorthodox flavor combinations, he was and still remains the driving force behind the vegetarian Middle Eastern cuisine trend. 

After every visit to London, Papa would ask my mom to re-create hummus and falafel at home, which she did, and her “Indianized” version of falafel bhajias and “sauce” is a flavor that I still crave and create. However, the authentic taste is what I was after. So, I took a master class with chef Yotam Ottolenghi and here I share the joys of the perfect mezze of hummus, falafel, and pita.

Sahtein! (Enjoy the meal).

Hummus

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups/250 g dried chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 1/2 cups 
  • 1 cup tahini paste
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 100 ml ice-cold water 

PREPARATION

Chickpea Prep

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with enough water to cover by several inches. Note: they will double in size so use a large bowl and lots of water
  2. Drain and rinse, then add to a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and salt to taste. (You can use the Instant Pot or a pressure cooker which is what I do)
  3. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to medium, cover with a lid, and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, until the chickpeas are soft enough to crush between two fingers. Pressure cooker: 4 whistles. Instant Pot: Pressure Cook setiing:12 mins
  4.  Drain and set aside until ready to use.

Preparing the Hummus:

  • Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. Then, with the machine still running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and 11/2 teaspoons of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and allow it to mix for about 5 minutes, until you get a very smooth and creamy paste.
  • Plain hummus can be made ahead of time and refrigerated, but cover it with plastic and gently press down on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Best served at room temperature.

My mom’s “Sauce” recipe

  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 1 cucumber 
  • 1 red bell pepper 
  • Green chili 
  • Cilantro 
  • ½ cup of sesame seeds 
  • ¾ tablespoons of yogurt  

Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a blender and whir till combined. 

Air-Fried Falafel 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ¼ cup (225 g) dried chickpeas *soak for 24 hrs. 
  • 1 cup onion, diced 
  • ⅔ cup mint, roughly chopped 
  • 1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped 
  • 1 cup curly or flat parsley, roughly chopped 
  • ⅓ cup scallions, roughly chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning 
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 3 tbsp chickpea flour 

PREPARATION

  1. Soak the chickpeas in water for 24 hours so they soften up. When the chickpeas are soaked, drain the water, rinse the chickpeas thoroughly. Do not cook the chickpeas. 
  2. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are finely minced. Do not over-pulse – the mixture should be coarse, not smooth or paste like
  3. Using a cookie scoop (for even balls), shape the falafel mixture into small balls. Arrange in a single layer in your air fryer basket and air-fry for about 15 minutes at 370-380°F. Rotate till all the falafel are golden brown and crisp.

My mom’s Indianized version

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup black-eyed peas 
  • ½ cup split green peas 
  • 3 tsp sesame seeds 
  • Cilantro (one handful)
  • 1 tsp ginger 
  • 1 tsp garlic 
  • ¾ green chili 
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Place all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and pulse until everything is ground into a smooth paste. Deep fry by scooping balls with a spoon and dropping them in hot oil.

Homemade Pita Bread

Servings: 8 pitas

INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast 
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water about 95 degrees F 
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar 
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

STEPS 

  1. In the bowl or a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Use a small whisk to thoroughly combine. Let the yeast proof for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy and bubble. If using Instant dry yeast add yeast, sugar, and warm water to the flour directly.
  2. Add the kosher salt to the bowl, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix on low or by hand, while slowly adding the rest of the flour, until it is fully incorporated. Knead the mixture for about 5 minutes. The dough should look sticky, and should just form a loose ball. 
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about an hour and a half until the dough has doubled in size. 
  4. Place a pizza stone or a perforated pizza pan into the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. 
  5. Flour your work surface and slowly pour out the dough onto your work surface. Flour your hands and gather the dough into a ball, tucking the edges under. Use a bench scraper or sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. 
  6. Roll each piece into a smooth ball with your hands, and place it on the floured board to rest for 5-10 minutes. Dust some flour on the top of each ball, and cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap. 
  7. Roll out one ball at a time into a flat 6-inch circle, making sure the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin or work surface. Quickly place 2 pitas on the hot pizza stone at a time. 
  8. Make sure that they’re totally flat. Bake for 4-5 minutes, until the pita bread puffs into pillow-y pocket. 
  9. Cool on a rack. Once all of the pitas are baked, place them into a plastic bag. The little bit of steam actually keeps the pita bread soft and moist. 

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at mona@indiacurrents.com.

New Recipes For the Daily Grind

Dig-In MealsA column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I’ve always believed that using freshly ground spices elevates a meal, even everyday food, so I blend whatever combo a recipe calls for almost daily. My trusty Secura grinder stays on the countertop, at attention. However, this daily grind is not always the best option, especially now, when we are all working from home and eating multiple meals a day. Slaving, even for a few hours, in the kitchen is a thing of the past.

However, I wasn’t really enthralled by what I found in the supermarket or at my local Indian store. Buying a jar of McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun seasoning or Shan’s Chana Masala was anathema. How long had it been sitting there, I wondered? When we peruse supermarket spices, do we really think about freshness in the real sense of the word?  

My best bet was to buy from a company with the shortest supply chain possible—ideally, one that sources spices straight from their origin and sells them directly to the consumer. Freshly ground, small-batch spices and blends with clarity of flavor and no additives. To my surprise, I didn’t really find too many places selling them, but I did find a renewed interest in single-origin spices. Individuals that had formed small companies with a strong commitment to social and economic equity, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting the just treatment of farmworkers and food pricing that provides the farmers with a livable income. Once I tasted these, I was hooked! Flavorful, fresh, high-quality spices…now there’s no looking back.  

So, during this holiday season, a very different one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to make the evening feel special for you and your family. Whether it’s a Zoom dinner with friends or a nice sit down with the people you live with, here are some recipes that are quick and easy showstoppers.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • 1 yellow or red onion, diced
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 small red or Yukon gold potatoes diced
  • 1 ½ cups vegetarian or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil (I have used Amy Riolo Selections Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • toasted walnuts or cilantro, for garnish

PREPARATION

  • Roast the cauliflower by tossing it in olive oil and baking for 20 mins or till the edges turn golden brown.
  • In a skillet melt butter and olive oil. Add the onions, sauté till translucent. Add diced carrots and potatoes and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Add the broth.
  • Add 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Blend with an immersion blender. (I save some chopped cauliflower pieces and add after the soup is blended.)
  • Garnish with toasted walnuts and cilantro.

Black Pepper Tofu

Picture Credit: Jonathan Lovekin

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packet extra firm tofu drained and pressed to release all the water
  • oil for shallow frying
  • corn or rice flour to dust the tofu
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 10/12 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 fresh red chilies thinly sliced (I have used Diaspora Co.’s heirloom Sannam Chillies)
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tbsp sweet soy sauce, kecap manis (or make your own by boiling 1 cup of regular soy sauce with ½ cup of brown sugar)
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tsp dark soy sauce 
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 5 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns (I have used Burlap & Barrel’s  Ea Sar black peppercorns)
  • 16 spring onions, cut into thin angled matchsticks

PREPARATION

  • Start with the tofu. Cut into thin cubes and toss them in corn flour or rice flour. I use a combination of both, I find the rice flour gives it a nice crunch. Shallow fry or air fry till they are crispy and golden on all sides.
  • In a separate pan, add butter. Once it melts, add the shallots, chilies, garlic, and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat till they turn soft. 
  • Add the soy sauces, caster sugar, and crushed black pepper. Stir to mix. 
  • Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Stir in the spring onions. 

Inspired by the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty 

Pindi Chole

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup dry chana (chole)
  • 2 tea bags (earl grey or any black tea that you have)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 4/5 cloves whole cardamom 
  • ¼ tsp Baking soda 
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon 
  • 3 tablespoons of Chana Masala (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie’s blend)
  •  ½ tsp Black salt (kala namak)
  • 2 tablespoons Tamarind puree (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie)
  • ½ cup Tomato puree
  • 1 onion pureed
  • 3 tsp ghee
  • ½ teaspoon ajwain seeds
  • ½ teaspoon jeera seeds
  • Oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 3 green chilies 
  • 2 tablespoons of julienned ginger

 PREPARATION

  • Soak the chole in water overnight till they double in volume.
  • Add them to your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Add the tea leaves, salt, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves. 
  • Cook the chole over high heat for about 5 whistles, or 14 mins in IP. Once done allow the pressure to release naturally.
  • Once the pressure is released open the cooker and remove the tea bags and all the other whole spices. Discard.
  • Strain the chole, mash them a bit. Make sure to keep the water, we will use it as it is very fragrant.
  • In a pan heat some ghee, add the ajwain and jeera seeds, once they crackle add the tomato puree and the pureed onion. Cook for a few mins till the raw smell is gone.
  • Add the Chana masala, tamarind pulp, and 1 cup of the reserved water.
  • If you want some more gravy in the chole then add another ½ cup of water and cook on high flame for 2-3 minutes. 

TADKA

  • In a small pan oil, once hot add the finely chopped garlic and green chilies. Be sure to watch carefully as garlic burns very fast. 
  • Once the garlic turns golden brown, add the red chili powder and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Pour this tadka over the chole. Garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro. Serve Hot.

3 Ingredient Almond Cookies- Flourless almond butter cookies 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup Almond Butter (I use homemade)
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (to make it eggless: reduce the sugar and add half a banana)

PREPARATION

  • In a medium bowl, mix the almond butter, sugar, and egg until well combined. 
  • Take a small cookie scoop or a large tablespoon and spoon the mixture 1 inch apart onto baking sheets. 
  • Flatten the mounds with the tines of a fork, making a crosshatch pattern on the cookies. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins.

Easy Lemon Cookie

Makes 12 large or 16 small

INGREDIENTS

  • 18.25 ounces lemon cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon  
  • powdered sugar for garnish

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees  
  • Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, lemon juice, and zest until well blended. 
  • Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or up to an hour
  • Form dough into small balls and roll them in confectioners’ sugar till lightly covered. 
  • Line a cookie sheet with greased parchment paper. Place balls an inch apart.
  • Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

What Would You Feed Aliens for Thanksgiving?

Legends of Quintessence – a column that interacts with Science Fiction in a South Asian context. 

On Sunday, November 22nd, India Currents Sci-Fi writer, Rachna Dayal hosted a live interview with Seema Vaidyanathan (@addictedtospice) on Instagram as part of the Sci-Fi Column: Legends of Quintessence. 

Arugula Pear Squash Burrata Salad
Arugula Pear Squash Burrata Salad made by Seema Vaidyanathan

Seema is a home cook, foodie, philomath, home gardener, idea queen, and busy mother. Trained from a very young age by her mother Girija, an expert traditional Indian home cook, Seema is widely influenced by the different regional cuisines of India, through her upbringing and travels across India and abroad. 

She loves to share the hidden delicacies of simple, traditional South Indian cuisine of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka states. She has a special love for the coastal cuisines of India. She enjoys experimenting with food and is passionate about using seasonal produce in her everyday cooking. Her motto is to keep it simple & fast yet delicious & nutritious.

We threw a challenge at Seema to come up with a recipe to feed aliens. Seema decided to create a salad that would provide a multisensorial experience to the aliens by combining sweet, sour, bitter flavors, and soft and crunchy textures. 

The salad was a mix of arugula, pear, and burrata cheese with pomegranate molasses and honey dressing. This salad has some special seasonal toppings of roasted spiced honeynut squash, spicy candied pecans for some crunch, and fresh pomegranate seeds. 

Find the recipe and conversation below!

Arugula Pear Burrata Squash Salad

Ingredients

  • 3-4 handfuls of baby arugula salad greens
  • 1 large ball of burrata cheese, drained from whey
  • 1 firm pear sliced into very thin slices
  • ½ cup of candied nuts of your choice (pecans, walnuts, or toasted pine nuts)
  • ½ cup of sautéed honeynut squash/butternut squash (see a separate recipe for this below)
  • ½ cup of fresh pomegranate kernels

Optional ingredients:
Crispy bacon bits
Sliced clementine/mandarin oranges 

Pomegranate molasses salad dressing recipe

  • Combine two tablespoons of balsamic or cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of Pomegranate Molasses
  • 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a bottle/bowl
  • 1 tbsp of honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.
  • Optional: crushed garlic 

Directions

Pick a platter to assemble the salad 

Hint: wait until just before serving to add pears, and drizzle dressing at the table. You may even leave dressing to be self-served by diners individually.   

  1. Begin by preparing a bed of baby arugula greens 
  2. Next, scatter the cooled sautéed honey but squash (refer to the separate recipe)
  3. Tear the burrata into a few pieces and place pieces on a platter – try to make it visually appealing 
  4. Spread the pomegranate kernels evenly
  5. next up candied nuts 
  6. lastly slices pear
  7. add more of earlier fixings to create a layered salad, so that each serving has all the elements. 
  8. Lastly, drizzle on pomegranate molasses dressing 

Tadka Chilli Honeynut Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut/honeynut squash, peeled and cubed (1/2 inch) (may use acorn, kabocha, or other orange-colored, sweet squashes or pumpkin available in the fall)
  • 1 tsp – Red Chilli powder/ cayenne pepper/ gojugaru Korean chili flakes
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp – Asafetida
  • ¼ tsp – turmeric
  • 2- 3 tbsp. – extra virgin coconut oil (may be replaced with sunflower, peanut or canola oil)
  • few fresh curry leaves (may skip if not available)
  • Kosher/sea salt (To taste)
  • 1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Directions

Utensils: Wok or a wide shallow pan, long spatula to stir, and a lid for the wok/pan. Begin preparation by tempering hot oil (technical word in hindi- “Tadka” or in Tamil “Thalippu”)

  1. Peel and Chop butternut/honeynut squash into ½ inch cubes 
  2. Warm the wok/pan on medium heat, add 2 tbsp. oil to this, let the oil warm up slowly on medium heat
  3. Add mustard seeds, let sputter 
  4. Add cumin seeds and wait 20 secs to be toasted
  5. Add curry leaves (bruise the leaves or tear in half before adding)
  6. Add turmeric and in 30 secs add asafetida, wait 30 secs to a min
  7. Add cayenne pepper, sauté for a minute, (notice the fragrance) 
  8. Add chopped squash, add salt, mix well and cover to cook for 5- 10 mins (folding occasionally to turn up the cooked pieces at bottom of wok/pan)
  9. When close to being done, add some sugar (depending on how sweet you like this to be)
  10. Continue to cook on medium-high with the lid opened
  11. Check for doneness and seasoning, adjust accordingly. 
  12. Keep squash just tender, take care not to overcook- affects the texture. 
  13. Let cool.

Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Uppa is Made of Momos

Uppa calls it the Mainland. For most people living outside of South Asia, India is nothing more than the mainland. India’s recognizable triangular shape is just a part of the story.

Uppa’s India snakes into the Himalayas, toward the North-East part of the subcontinent. Not only does it touch China, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar but it is also home to hundreds of thousands of individuals who despite being ethnically and culturally very diverse from other parts of India, are Indian citizens.

She comes from one of the many tribal communities that fill this northeastern region of India. Not long before the spread of COVID-19, she migrated to the United States and has been living in New York City. When I asked about her transition to the United States, one of the first challenges she brought up was just how difficult it is to get the foods she craves. Her story, her life even, is, like many of ours, defined by her access to and emotions around food. 

Despite these challenges, Uppa still takes great pride in her favorite meals and often grows nostalgic for them. Living in the U.S., she particularly misses momos: a quasi-dumpling from Northeast India and Ladakh. Think gently masala-spiced meat and vegetables, delicately rolled into a delectable, far-less processed and certainly less sickly-sweet Hershey kiss package, steamed or flash-fried in jumping, shimmery canola oil over a wood fire or massive gas burner that will surely burn your eyebrows off if you stand within six feet of it! Served on a flimsy piece of tinfoil, these bundles of joy are often viewed as a Delhi-street food staple. Bumble some broken Hindi phrases like bahut accha (very good) or svaadisht (delicious) to the momo-wala (momo seller) like the foreigner you are and he may even slip you an extra one!  

But when Uppa spoke of the momo, this simple meal became something far more poetic and perhaps a little less sweat-inducing… 

Far from being fast-paced or born on Delhi’s sweltering streets, momos are slow, delicate, and almost like family to Uppa. She describes them as a painter might describe a long-lost piece of art. It is about the family connections and the creative process, not just consumption. Respecting this process is just as important as the bite of momo itself. 

“Momos are not a one-person task. It becomes a family thing. Like everyone is doing their bit… One person is making the dough… I tried making them on my own but when my mom makes them, they remind me of happy times.”

While I might try to make dumplings at home merely for the fun of it, Uppa seemed hesitant to try preparing them during her time in the U.S. Why make something when there might be a missing ingredient or spice made by an unfamiliar company? Why make a momo when half of its taste comes from mom’s expertise, the other half from Dehradun’s fresh green chili? For her, the U.S. momo will inevitably be lackluster.

“Momos are a treat, they were a happy occasion food. Okay, you were sick, you just got out of being sick? Let’s make momos.”

Aside from her anxiety about differences in taste, it seems that Uppa’s craving for momos is also connected with her love for her community. The people, the place, the experience: these are the modes through which food shapes who we are. 

“I look at food slightly differently than a lot of people. Coming from a tribal community… our food is definitely different from the mainland. Food is best when it is still in its natural essence… not changed at all like the mainland’s cuisine.” 

For many people in the U.S. and Europe, India conjures up images of colorful chalk, deep dishes of buttery, oily chicken, elephants, and a flyer asking them to “feed the children.” These sentiments are particularly apparent in the ways people think about food. Food constructs Uppa’s identity as much as her swanky clothing choices, move to New York, or upbringing in the Himalayas. 

“India is so much more than just kebab and naan. If people only just opened themselves up to more than what just the stereotype of Indian food is in the west, they would see that Indian cuisine is so diverse, it’s amazing. I definitely think the west needs to open up its mind to Indian food beyond kebab and biryani.” 

Uppa, like all of us, identifies with the differences, the nuances of her place, her food, her people. The mainland of India, despite its diversity, feels too homogenous to encompass her preferences. The momo is a journey to Uppa’s world and an understanding of herself. A journey into her upbringing and identity. It captures the essence that makes Uppa.


Dan Soucy currently supports refugee resettlement and advocacy efforts throughout New England as a case manager and employment specialist with the International Institute of New England. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University where he conducted oral history interviews with South Asian migrants to the United States. Dan has also studied, lived, and worked in various parts of India for 2 years. 

A Tale of Two Valleys

Whew.

For the next year, my ability to Google will be ensured by the fact that roughly 200,000 people across 50 countries are working from home.

And, I can like your Facebook posts for, well, forever, because Mark Zuckerberg “guesses as much as 50 percent of the company’s 45,000-person workforce could be working entirely remotely in the next five to 10 years.”

These may be private sector decisions. But they impact the public’s understanding of immigrants and immigration. And that leads policymakers to value the Googler much more than the farmworker.

Look, as COVID-19 cases keep growing across California, the state’s tech industry and its nearly 1.8 million workers in 2018 — with over 805,000 of those jobs in San Francisco and San Jose — is doing fine. Their companies are growing, their bottom lines look great.

And, with the exception of those on the sector’s retail or gig front line, most are working from home.

The breathless media coverage leads us to think that this is the new reality for most workers. It is not.

Among U.S. workers, 11 percent are employed in the agricultural and food sectors — almost twice as many as those who work in tech. Of the approximately 22 million full- and part-time jobs in the ag and food sector, about 2.6 million are direct on-farm jobs, and nearly 13 million are jobs in food service, eating and drinking places.

These workers are not earning six-figure salaries. And they definitely are not working from home. (If they are working at all.)

In fact, go about two hours east of the work-from-home Silicon Valley and you find yourself in the hot fields of the Central Valley where more than 250 different crops, with an estimated value of $17 billion per year, are grown. In total, the Valley supplies 8% of U.S. agricultural output (by value) and produces a quarter of the nation’s food, including 40% of our fruits, nuts, and other table foods.

Over 675,000 people work in the agricultural industry up and down the Central Valley.

In California, like across the country, these are the jobs that require workers to go to the “office.” But, for these workers, the office is a field, a farm, or a ranch where something needs to be planted or picked, cared for, or caught.

Everything surrounding these jobs puts people at risk. Sharing a ride to work, close quarters at the workplace, homes that do not afford any modicum of social distancing. As a result, the rate of positive coronavirus tests in the Central Valley could be as high as 17.7% — more than double the 7.8% statewide average over the last seven days.

While California works to get financial and medical resources directly to these agricultural communities, the federal government turns a blind eye. Under the CARES Act, both parents must have Social Security numbers for the family to receive relief. This makes entire families, including U.S. citizen children and spouses, ineligible for much-needed COVID-19 economic assistance.

This is a dynamic playing out in communities across the country. Immigrant families, even those with U.S. citizens among them, are going without any sort of relief.

These are trying times that require all of us to sacrifice. For some, the sacrifice is social distancing and working from home, while raising a family. For others, it is losing your job altogether.

And, for others, it is doing a job that is essential to the health of the country — but detrimental to your own health.

As we approach six months of this national crisis, it is easy to lose perspective and think that our own reality is the reality of others, to believe that our protection from COVID-19 is the same protection others have.

We begin to think COVID-19 is a disease “they” get. “They” did something to put themselves at risk. “They” were not healthy enough to fight off the disease. “They” live somewhere else, do something else.

Well, more than we probably realize, “they” are putting food on our table. And, “they” are most likely to be people of color and/or immigrants.

This lack of perspective leads the nation down a slippery path where economic and social divisions widen, where moral leadership is replaced by transactional leadership, where the bottom line is more important than people.

It’s a dangerous path that leaves the least among us without support — left to fend for themselves without health care or financial relief.

There is still time for the country to get off this path, and for Congress to ensure that all of us can access the relief and support we need.

The fact is that the skilled farmworker, documented or not, putting food on our table is just as, if not more, important to our lives and livelihood as the skilled engineer putting Google on our screens.


Ali Noorani is President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of Only in America. And, terrible golfer.

Featured Image by Coolcaesar and licence here.

Original article can be found here.