Tag Archives: #indianfood

Trailblazer Chef Manish Tyagi Shares His Signature Recipes with IC

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist! Check this space every so often as I speak to other professional chefs and share their “secret” recipes to spice up your homemade meals.

For centuries Indian cuisine was synonymous with spices and hot curries, but now we have several Michelin-rated South Asian chefs that are changing the way Indian cuisine is perceived, elevating traditional flavor profiles with their signature twists.

The San Francisco Bay Area culinary scene is known for being as diverse as the city itself. With a sudden profusion of high-end Indian restaurants and celebrity chefs that want to show diners that beyond Butter Chicken and Paneer Makhani, there is a whole universe of Indian food that is seasonal, plant-based, light in flavor.

On a recent lunch with Chef Manish Tyagi, owner and chef of Aurum in Los Altos, we got to talking about his journey as a chef and his signature dish– Spinach and Paneer Lasagna, the famous dish that beat Bobby Flay. He’s been executive chef at some very high-end Indian restaurants — Rasika West End (the Obama’s loved dining here), Amber Dhara, and August (1) Five in San Francisco. He has broken many culinary shackles and has modernized Indian food with a focus on home-cooked food rather than Indian-syle restaurant food. 

Chef Tiyagi with India Currents' columnist Mona Shah.
Chef Tyagi with India Currents’ columnist Mona Shah.

I playfully asked him if he would share some of his recipes with our readers and he immediately agreed. A lot of what he creates surprises the palette and that is key. He has some basic advice, don’t overcook your food and don’t douse the dish with sauce. The components should come together, but still be separate, so that the person eating it can experience and relish the dish as they see fit. So, meat covered with cream and butter is a big no-no!

Whether you are a novice cook or looking to level up behind the stove, indulge in some feel-good home cooking with Chef Tyagi’s signature dishes.

PULLED PORK THEPLA TACO

Pork Thepla

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

Pulled pork thepla taco is a Californian name for Indian-style cooked pork and thepla. Flatbreads are an integral part of the Indian dining scene, so I took an opportunity to take bread from one region and the protein preparation from another region of India and added my own style and experience to make it appealing here in California. It’s a flavor bomb and full of umami. It gets pungency from fenugreek leaves, sourness from malt vinegar and pickled onion, sweetness from jaggery, creaminess from sour cream and soft pork butt, and savoriness from degi chili, cumin powder, and coriander powder.

Pork Ingredients:

  • One 5- to 6-pound bone-in pork butt (sometimes called Boston butt)
  •  4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon degi chili
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Barbeque Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup water, for deglazing the roasting pan

Thepla Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fenugreek leaves (methi), tightly packed
  • 1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) gram flour (besan) 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) pearl millet flour (bajra flour) 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) sorghum flour (jowar flour) 
  • 1-inch ginger, crushed to a paste
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon chopped green chilies or serrano pepper, crushed to a paste
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder 
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt or add as required
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons yogurt, curd, or water for kneading or add as required
  • Oil as required for roasting thepla

Serving ingredients:

  • 1 cup cotija or queso fresco 
  • 1 cup sour cream (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

For the pork

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and set an oven rack in the lower-middle position.
  2. Pat the pork dry with paper towels.
  3. Mix the salt, paprika, cumin, ginger and garlic paste, dry mustard, brown sugar, and pepper in a small bowl. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Rub the spice blend all over the pork, turning to coat evenly (don’t leave any of the spice blend in the bottom of the pan; keep turning the meat until it all adheres).
  4. Roast, uncovered, for 6 to 6-1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork registers 195°F.
  5. While the pork roasts, make the barbecue sauce. Combine the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit until the pork is done. 
  6. When the pork is done, take it out of the oven and set it on a cutting board or platter; tent with aluminum foil and let rest for about 10 minutes. 
  7. Pour off and discard the fat from the roasting pan (remember the handles are hot). Add 3/4 cup water to the roasting pan and set it over a single burner on medium heat; scrape with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently until the liquid is reduced by about half. (The liquid will be very dark; that’s okay.) Pour into the saucepan with the barbecue sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  8. While the pork is still warm, use two forks to pull the meat away from the bone into large shreds. Remove and discard any large pieces of fat or sinew. Put the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish and pour about two-thirds of the barbecue sauce over it. Toss so that the pork is evenly coated with the sauce. Taste and add more sauce, little by little, if desired.

For the thepla

  1. Rinse methi leaves very well in water. Then drain them and chop finely.
  2. Add the flours to a mixing bowl. I use millet flours, but if they’re not available, use 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour and ½ cup besan.
  3. Add all the spices and herbs.
  4. Add the chopped methi leaves. Mix everything well.
  5. Add yogurt or curd (for a vegan option, add very little water instead).
  6. Mix again and knead into a dough. Don’t add water while kneading as methi leaves release water.
  7. Knead to a soft and smooth dough. If needed, add more curd while kneading.
  8. Make medium-sized balls from the dough. Sprinkle some flour on it.
  9. With a rolling pin, roll the thepla to rounds of 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Cooking thepla

  1. Place the thepla on a hot tawa or skillet. Flip when one side is partly cooked (about one-fourth or half cooked). You will see some faint air pockets on the top, and this is the time when you need to flip it.
  2. Spread oil on this side. Flip the thepla again when the second side is half-cooked.
  3. Now spread the oil on this side. Flip a couple of times till you get golden spots and the methi thepla is cooked evenly. You can also press the thepla with a spatula while cooking.
  4. Remove and keep in a roti basket.

ASSEMBLY

When ready to serve, apply a spoonful of sour cream (if using) to the thepla, then add pulled pork and top it with cheese. Serve immediately.

CAULIFLOWER BEZULE FOR 2

Cauliflower Bezule

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

Cauliflower Bezule is my adaptation of South Indian-style Kori Kempu.

Ingredients:

  • For batter
  • 10-12 cauliflower florets 
  • 4 tbsp rice flour 
  • 2 tbsp gram flour 
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 tsp turmeric 
  • 8-10 leaves fresh curry leaves, chopped 
  • 1 tsp degi chili powder 
  • salt to taste 

For tamarind chutney

  • 1 cup Tamarind pulp 
  • 4 tbsp Jaggery / sugar 
  • 1 tsp Coriander powder 
  • 1 tsp dry ginger powder 
  • 1/2 tsp black salt / regular salt 
  • 1/2 tsp fennel powder (optional) 
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder 
  • 1 cup water 

For tempering 

  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 1 pinch nigella seeds 
  • 1 pinch fennel seeds 
  • 1 pinch mustard seeds 
  • 1 pinch cumin seeds 
  • 1 thai chili, slit 
  • 3-4 curry leaves 

INSTRUCTIONS

For tamarind chutney

Heat a heavy bottom pan, add tamarind pulp, and wait for boil. Once boiling, add sugar and other ingredients and mix them well, lower the heat and allow it to cook until thick chutney or coating consistency. Once cooked, set aside to cool. 

For batter

Make a pouring consistency batter with water (not too thick) and mix well with cauliflower. Fry battered cauliflower until half done. Fry again when ready to serve. 

For tempering

Heat oil in a frying pan. When oil is hot, add all the spice seeds and allow them to splatter. Add green chili and curry leaves and sauté for a bit. Add crispy cauliflower and add 1-2 tbsp of tamarind gel and sauté nicely so that tamarind gel get coated evenly on cauliflower. Serve with tomato ketchup or ranch.

SOY, TOFU AND MOZZARELLA KOFTA 

Soy, Tofu, Mozarella Kofta

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

This kofta is an imitation of a Scotch egg. 

Kofta Ingredients: 

Part 1

  • 1 cup soy nuggets
  • 1 large boiled russet potato
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • ½ tsp chopped serrano chili
  • Salt to taste

Part 2

  • 1 cup extra firm tofu
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • Salt to taste

Part 3

  • 4 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 -2 drop  yellow food coloring
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch to coat the koftas

For sauce (gravy)

  • 2 tbsp ghee or oil
  • 1 tbsp cashews
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic  paste
  • ½ tsp degi chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ tsp fenugreek powder 
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 medium-sized tomato
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp cream

For garnish

  • 3-4 each soy nuggets
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 small red beet
  • 2 each green cardamom

INSTRUCTIONS

Kofta – Part 1

  1. Soak soy nuggets in water for a good 1-2 hours to make them soft and spongy. Meanwhile, boil the potato, or, if you have boiled potatoes, then grate them and set them aside.
  2. When soy is soft, tightly squeeze out all the water and grind them to make a fine and soft crumble. Add potato to the crumble.
  3. Heat a frying pan over add oil and when it’s hot add cumin and allow them to crackle. Add ginger and green chili and saute them for a minute and add them to the soy potato mix. Season with salt and set aside.

Kofta – Part 2

  1. Mix the tofu, garlic powder, onion powder, cornstarch, and salt. Make into a stiff dough consistency. 

Kofta – Part 3

  • Add yellow food coloring to the cheese to make it look like yolk and make four equal size balls.

ASSEMBLY

Coat tofu mix over cheese balls to give it a shape like egg and put in a chiller to make them firm. Then cover with the soy-potato mixture to give it a feel of ground meat and coat it evenly with cornstarch. Fry on medium heat till the upper crust becomes crisp.

For Sauce

  1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add cashew, and saute. Now add cumin and allow them to crackle.
  2. Add ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute. Add all the powdered spices and cook for another minute. Add tomato and salt and cook till nicely cooked.
  3. Let it cool and make a fine puree by adding water. Now pour it in a pot and cook it again, set seasoning.
  4. Finish the sauce with butter and cream. 

For Garnish

  1. Heat water in a pan with cardamom until it boils. Add sugar and remove it from the flame. Add roughly chopped beet, vinegar, and soy nuggets and leave it for some time so soy nuggets take the pickle flavor and color from beet.
  2. When soy nuggets are ready, cut them into half or in the desired shape.

Pour the sauce in a pasta bowl and place one whole kofta and break another one into the half with a knife so that mozzarella cheese oozes out. Arrange pickled soy pieces decoratively on the plate. 


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


 

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


 

Bacterial strains in the guts of humans and chimpanzees diverged and began to evolve separately 5 million years ago and 15 million years ago in humans and gorillas. Humans and apes evolved into a new specie at about the same time. A mutually beneficial relationship between gut bacteria and animal hosts may contribute to the formation of a new species (Credit: Darryl Leja, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health)

A Microbe Connection: the Good, the Bad, & the Necessary

Engage – Discussions on active involvement in personal health and global wellness.

This two-part series highlights the emerging relevance of our microbiome in human health. In this first part, we discuss the establishment of the microbiome from infancy to adulthood and the highly responsive nature of these trillions of cells to the environment. The geographical diversity of microbiomes in various cultures, and the mandatory nature of the acquired living situations of immigrants are of immediate relevance. The second part, which will be published in June, will focus on the effects of the microbiome on human health and disease. 

Traditionally, our interaction with microbes has been focused on how deleterious they can be. Viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms have been responsible for several contagious diseases, including typhoid, cholera, mumps, smallpox, polio, malaria to name a few, some of which we take credit for controlling with medicines and vaccines. 

However, emerging knowledge of the human microbiome is informing us that an entire army of microbes including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other fauna coexist in symbiotic (meaning mutually beneficial) and commensal (meaning neutral coexistence) relationships with our bodies, and are beneficial in that they play an important role in maintaining homeostasis and optimal functioning of the body. Comprising of at least an equal number of cells as the human body itself, the microbiome constitutes what is termed a newly discovered organ in our bodies – one that is dynamic, diffuse, and very different from what we conventionally think of as a discrete human organ (liver, heart, brain or lung). 

Microbiota colonize the entire surface of our bodies and the specific niches within. Several studies have tried to describe the species that are found in various locations, and these descriptive studies paved the way to deeper ones aimed at understanding how they are established, maintained, and function. We are learning that the establishment of these populations occurs from the earliest days of one’s existence, and their effective maintenance throughout one’s life is as important as having a healthy heart. 

Infants are exposed to the maternal microbiome during the process of birth, and differences in the complexity of their microbiomes are seen in normal birthing situations versus cesarean sections. During their early days out of the womb, colonization of microbes within their bodies and also on their skin is associated with good overall health, in the immediate and long term. Taken a step further, this intergenerational transmission can be extended to envision a co-evolution of humans with their microbiomes as a discrete ecological unit. Members of a family, or people who occupy the same household, are known to share similarities in their associated microbiomes. A linear study of 6 large Indian joint families also indicated changes in microbiome with age.

Further afield, one can well imagine that geographical and cultural differences will lead to variations in associated microbiomes. Most of us are aware that microbes exist in the intestines and mouth, and there is an immediate and important influence of diet on these populations. While different species of bacteria have been found to be the dominant population in different geographies, one study reported that the African diet was associated with the most gut microbial diversity. In general, a lack of microbial diversity is associated with urbanization and developed countries, and some factors thought to be related to this outcome are increased consumption of processed foods, increased use of antibiotics, reduced sleep, and loss of natural habitat. This lack of microbiome diversity is directly related to human disease. We are learning that diet can lead to changes in the microbiome in a matter of hours, not days, and can regulate the secretions of the bacteria in addition to the populations of the bacteria themselves. 

South Asian diet contributing to gut microbiomes.
South Asian diet contributing to gut microbiomes.

Even within the same geography, different lifestyles and ethnic groups showed differing gut microbiomes. In a cross-sectional study in Malaysia, the gut microbiome of Malaysians of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Jakan descent varied principally by ethnicity of the subjects, who were of the same socioeconomic status and geographic location. Perhaps more relevant to this discussion, studies conducted to compare gut microbiomes in rural and urban groups in Thailand and India suggested that urban populations have reduced numbers of bacteria that can produce beneficial anti-inflammatory molecules. In most cases, researchers associate these reductions and changes in gut microbial diversity with dietary preferences of urban and rural settings- urbanites tending to include less natural foods, vegetables, and whole-grain in their diets. 

Pioneering studies in immigrant communities were conducted in Amsterdam and Minnesota. The Amsterdam study analyzed six immigrant ethnic groups including Moroccan, Turkish, and South Asian Surinamese, and as with the Malaysian (non-immigrant) study the gut microbiome varied principally by ethnicity. Southeast Asian immigrants from Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand were sampled in Minnesota, and it appeared that their gut microbiome assimilated to their new homeland. It took about a decade for this group to substantially transition to the US-associated gut bacterial profile. Although diet would play a big role in this, it is thought that other lifestyle changes, medicines including antibiotics, and other as yet unexplored variables may play a role in this remarkable change. An unfortunate correlation among these immigrant populations is the onset of obesity and diabetes. 

Our understanding of this complex and dynamic organ continues to develop, in tandem with our understanding of its involvement in human health. These aspects will be discussed further in the second installment of this article. 


L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas and writing. Her short story will be included in an anthology showcasing a group of international women writers, to be published in 2021 by The Nasiona. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar. www.liyengar.com

Featured image license here.


 

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


 

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.

Irani Cafes Influence Dishoom’s Cuisine

From Bombay with love

“The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that.” Julian Sands.

Dishoom is so much more than a cookbook. It is a walking serenade to South Bombay and it’s Irani Cafes. The refreshing, authentic, and passionate storytelling style of the authors, Shamil and Kavi, make this book a pure treat to all your senses. The vibrant visuals and descriptive narratives are bound to make your palate salivate. This 400-page walking tour guide starts off with a vintage map of South Bombay. The map highlights all the 34 places that you will be visiting through its pages. The book is filled with old black and white photos, overlayed with recent snapshots to provide a colorful canvas for this love story.

If you are not from Bombay, the city can overwhelm you. Shamil and Kavi ease you into the chaos and bustle, to settle you down with a backdrop of their childhood in Matunga, where they spent many holidays with their grandparents, near Koolar and Co., one of the oldest Irani Cafes. 

Dishoom Shoreditch, London

They introduce you to Chef Naved and his exquisite recipes that showcase their restaurant Dishoom in London. They also give you an overview of the fascinating history of Bombay from how it got its name to many an anecdote about different locales.

The migration of the Parsi community to Bombay is not well documented in most Indian history books. Parsi history usually starts and ends around their move from Iran to India to escape religious persecution and their settlement in Bombay. Shamil and Kavi give us a much richer treatise to the Parsi community.

Irani cafes were instrumental to the cosmopolitan culture of old Bombay. They were the very foundation in the hearts of our two authors, for their new restaurant venture, DISHOOM in London. Like they say, “We serve dishes in Parsi, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian traditions which all jostle on our tables for space.” Poetic indeed!

The book’s walking tour starts…

An 8 am breakfast at Kyani and Co. What a treat! Every Indian can relate to the nostalgia of dipping a pau (bread) into your chai (tea). I stopped reading at this point and made myself a cup of masala chai, just to take in that memory. 

Chef Naved starts us off with some simple recipes like the Akuri (Parsi scrambled egg) and the Chilli Cheese toast which is the base for the Kejriwal (Fried Egg) – yes Kejriwal! 

Mr ‘Knock Out’ Zend’s Yazdani cafe and his simple Brun (Bun) Maska dipped in hot chai will make you drool for more. “Dip the brun into the sweet chai, allow the butter to melt slightly and put in your mouth for an immediate, simple, and true delight.”

We feast ourselves with chicken berry pulao and salli boti (meat curry) at the legendary Britannia, in the presence of its famous owner Mr. Boman Kohinoor

“In a place as hectic as Bombay, the allure of Chowpatty is clear. Here you can partake in the serious business of idle pleasures. A gentle stroll on Chowpatty at sunset, with plentiful snacks.” Sink your teeth into a piping hot pau (bread) bhaji or a spicy bhel (puffed rice), or the ever famous vada pau, the iconic Bombay street food. Wet your lips with the falooda (sweet dessert) and kulfis (ice cream) and end your cravings with Sharma Paanwala’s paan (betel leaves) to digest the day’s symphony of dishes in your system. 

Get back on track with Kala Ghoda’s Trishna for the finest butter pepper garlic crab.

Walk down to Mohammed Ali Road, past a spectacular array of food stalls and antique stores. A notable pit stop for a meat lover is the Surti Bara Handi. How can you miss Halim and Aamir’s Taj ice cream and Burhanpur hot, hot jalebis?

Not sure how much stomach you have left, but the tour hasn’t ended yet as it dives into the third dinner at the famous Bademiya in Colaba. The picturesque and flamboyant tossing of the dough by the chef and service on warm car bonnets, stays with you for a long while. 

After 3 heavy dinners it’s time to walk along Marine Drive promenade and gaze out to the sea. You will run into the famous Rustom and Co.’s ice cream parlor known for its seasonal flavors. 

The tour ends with an ode to the Taj hotel. Little did we know of it being the backdrop for the glorious and illustrious jazz scene of the 1930s through the Independence era of India. I love a good cocktail and the tipples section is clever and innovative with some interesting drinks like the Kohinoor Fizz, The Commander, and the Dhoble.

As whimsical and flowery as the descriptions in the book, the experience I had preparing the recipes brought me quickly back down to earth. Recipes that started off as a few easy steps evolved into a complex multitude of steps, that required different preparatory recipes, all infused into one large recipe. 

Some recipes are not for a novice cook. I recommend you read and prep all the sub-recipes before you decide to make a more complex dish. For example, the chole (chickpeas) has 2-3 sub-recipes that are found in different sections of the book. As a cookbook, it was a bit tedious to maneuver back and forth between the pages of this heavy book. 

Make sure to carefully read the serving sizes, as they vary from dish to dish, and are not consistent. I had to take a picture of the recipe and sub-recipes to make it easier to follow. I still have a lot more recipes to try out. What would have helped is a listing of all the dishes in the table of contents, or next to each section, to avoid the constant referring to the index page to find the recipes. Furthermore, the metric system measures in the recipes are not ideal for an American audience. 

Overall, this is a great gift for anyone who enjoys food, history, and stories. For all the avid readers out there, the recommended reading is an added bonus. The genuine voices of Shamil and Kavi along with Naved’s journey into making Dishoom a world-renowned restaurant is commendable. 

My journey with Dishoom

The chili cheese toast had a kick to it and with the masala chai was a delectable breakfast. 

The Mattar Paneer was tasty, but needed a little more cooking to soften the frozen peas, as they stood out without soaking into the onion- tomato masala with a gentle simmer of 5 minutes and cook time of extra 10 minutes.

The Murgh malai recipe was a classic hit. The juicy thigh meat with two marinades was well worth the effort. 

Pau bhaj – I made this for my Bombaite nephews and nieces who grew up eating vada pau and pau bhaji. Their consensus was that it was a little sweet and westernized. Maybe what it missed was the ginger/garlic green chili paste?

The warm pineapple and black pepper crumble was a huge favorite especially with some vanilla ice cream on top. 

The East Indian Gimlet – used a homemade lime cordial. 

—–

Praba Iyer is a Chef Instructor, Food Writer, and cooking judge. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for Venture Capitalists and Tech Companies in the bay area. She teaches Thai, Mexican, Pan Asian, Indian, and Ayurvedic cooking classes. Praba is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She was an Associate Chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. 

Robots Making Rotis

Pranoti Nagarkar looks across the kitchen counter at her partner Rishi Israni. Gosh they had come a long way. 2008 was a distant memory when they had fought about who was going to make the hot roti flatbread for dinner. Pranoti, who had rolled rotis since the age of 8 under her mother’s eagle eye in Pune, seemed to have perfected the dance of adding water to the flour, pinching the dough to check for the right consistency, adding just a drop more to ensure the dough was soft and yet not too soft, and then letting it rest for ten minutes for the gluten to set in before balling it into just the right size balls to be dusted with flour and rolled into perfect sized discs, not too big and not too small.

It was always a combination of science and art that ensured that the discs when they had been heated on side and then flipped over would release the steam and fill the roti into little balloons. The little balloon would float from the black iron skillet onto the plate of the diners. It was not always that the discs popped up and fluffed with pride. They were coaxed along with a dab of cloth here and little nudge there to ensure that the steam filled every corner of the roti.

Pranoti calculated she was spinning out at least 3000 rotis a year making two rotis per family member once a day . Dishes may change but the roti was a constant companion to all dishes. The tedious repetitiveness of the task done every single day in the household got to her.

If the clothes have their washing machine why don’t we have a robot to make the rotis for us she thought. Being an engineer and a problem solver with a desire to be an inventor she set about solving this problem. As a mechanical engineer she had worked as a designer and had taken an idea from a sketch on a paper napkin to production. She decided to give this a go. It was not going to be easy. Pranoti knew and understood the pain and skill of making the rotis and getting them to puff up. It would be a tough problem to solve.

Pranoti looked objectively at the problem. Rotimatic was not just a collection of moving pieces, she needed Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that would prod the dough and check its smoothness just as Pranoti did in the kitchen. In order to marry hardware with the perfect software she turned to her software engineer husband Rishi Israni.

The Rotimatic was now ready and working in her kitchen.

What she did not bargain for was the challenges of entrepreneurship. Once she had designed the product she had to sell her vision to investors most of whom were male and did not have first hand experience of dealing with the pain of feeding rotis to a family. She soon realized the challenge of fundraising and marketing. Different users and their varied expectations took her by surprise.

Investors needed to be convinced that not only did the product solve a problem but also that there was a market for it. In 2013 they floated a video showcasing the product on to the Internet where it was picked up like hot cakes or shall we say hot rotis. 3 million views in the first month and 200,000 signups up for the product led Pranoti and Rishi to offer the device on a pre-order of $59 initially only to the people from the United States. $5 million worth of Rotimatics were sold within 7 days.The overwhelming response forced them to stop taking any more pre orders.

This was an important metric for the Silicon Valley venture capitalist investors who gave them $12 million to meet this order. Manufacturing started and in 2 years the order was delivered. A long email list had grown in the meantime. In 2018 another $22 million was raised.

So far 70,000 machines have been sold and 78 million rotis have been made. Silicon Valley has 45,000 Rotimatic users. It is available for purchase only online on their website and now Amazon, mainly in the US, Canada, Australia, Middle East and United Kingdom. It is not sold in India and yet 2000 Rotimatics have made their way to India via Singapore.

Masala Egg Rolls by indiansimmer.com

“Customer loyalty is very high. Once a Rotimatic user, always a Rotimatic user,” says Pranoti. “It is not an impulse purchase that is transitioned to a shelf in the garage. People who have it use it frequently.”

The Facebook group, Rotimaticowners, has 20,000 members who share recipes. Recommended lists of attas have been given but users add protein, masala, spinach etc and Rotimatic adjusts the dough as they go along. Artificial Intelligence steps in with tactile sensing to tweak the dough. It adds flour or water in real time to make the right consistency of dough.

Not just wheat rotis but pooris, bajra rotis, gluten free rotis etc can now be made. New recipes are seamlessly downloaded onto the machine via wifi. Servicing the machine is easy as it is done through the cloud. Wifi connectivity helps 24×7 customer support. Additionally the app tells the user how many rotis have been made, calories consumed and time saved.

The job of an entrepreneur is never done. Besides working on new recipes offerings co-CEOs and founders Pranoti Nagarkar and Rishi Israni are now working on the evolution of their business model.

Ritu Marwah is a senior writer whose articles and awarding winning stories are awaited with great anticipation by her readers.