Tag Archives: #homecooked

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.

Cookbook

Culinary Skills Don’t Always Come Easy

While cleaning the pantry yesterday, I found some of my old forgotten cookbooks and my mom’s handwritten recipe book that I hadn’t referred to in a long time. My relationship with cooking has been somewhat similar to raising a family. Sometimes easy to manage and sometimes testing your patience.

As any new bride, those days my trousseau also contained these three cookbooks, one given by a friend’s mom and two by my aunt. I felt confident and well equipped to handle any recipe but after landing in Boulder, Colorado, my confidence plummeted because my equipment was of no use. There was no Indian store for 30 miles and we didn’t have a car. But we managed, started hitching rides with friends, and thus began my adventure with various cuisines.

Soon every letter from home was accompanied with a recipe or two either written or a clipping from a magazine or newspaper that my mom thought I would like or more likely, my husband would like. This was probably because of the popular quote – A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! Those were days before the world wide web and before the dawning of the awareness that cooking is gender-neutral. 

Recipes were all handwritten in a book, index card, paper, napkins, receipts, paper towels- anything you could find! At times not every ingredient and quantity was mentioned or the method understood. A frantic phone call would follow for clarification, verification, and substitution! 

Having grown up in a joint family where cooking was handled by my mom, grandma, and aunts, I never learned cooking and my talent was limited to making tea, maggie noodles, boiling eggs, and upma. Cooking was an elaborate process at home, as we prepared for a five-course meal. Rice, chappatis, a dry palya, a kootu or kolumbu or gojju (vegetable in a sweet &  tangy gravy), rasam or sambhar, and of course yogurt.

One of My Mom’s Recipes

TOMATO GOJJU

Tomato Gojju made by Author, Anita Mohan.
Tomato Gojju made by Author, Anita Mohan.

Ingredients 

  • 3 – 4 medium size tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 2” cube of jaggery or 2 tbsp brown sugar 
  • Salt to taste
  • 1tbsp oil
  • ¼ tsp Rasam powder (any brand)

For tempering

  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp chana dal (split Bengal gram)
  • ¼ tsp urad dal (split and husked black gram)
  • 2 dried red chilis whole
  • A sprig of curry leaves

Method

Heat oil in a skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When it starts to splutter add the rest of the tempering ingredients and once the lentils turn brown add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, salt, rasam powder, & jaggery and cook till the desired consistency (semi-thick gravy) is reached. Garnish with a tsp of fresh chopped cilantro and serve with hot chappatis. 

Adding to the Repertoire

Like any art form, cooking requires patience and passion. There are many who believe in preparing and serving elaborate meals but I have always believed that as long as a dish is palatable, appeals to your tastebuds, and satiates your hunger, it is good food. 

Today, even after thirty long years, I am still a novice when it comes to preparing a good, sumptuous meal. It has been quite an experience and a fascinating journey trying to find new and interesting recipes. Recently many new dishes have been finding their way onto my dining table, thanks to the pandemic. Food bloggers, foodies, and chefs have made it so easy to find any recipe. There are numerous YouTube videos, TV channels, social media pages, and groups, where you can find a variety of national & international tried and tested recipes! If you’re looking to try something new, Rajma Chawal is one of my new comfort foods.

Cooking a meal is just a small part of the process. Preparation is time-consuming but what about the presentation? These days Facebook and Instagram are full of photos of food especially since cooking has become fast, easy, and appealing since the invention of Instant Pot. 

I marvel at people who can not only cook delectable and elaborate meals but also present it aesthetically and actually make it look like a signature dish. I neither have their patience nor the passion for cooking and presenting. But I do enjoy whipping up good dishes from time to time and elaborate dishes depending on my mood. Cooking is a personal experience and sometimes a single comfort food goes a long way than a few exquisite dishes. 


Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture. She likes to bring everyday mundane objects to life.