Tag Archives: Mona Shah

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


 

Cinematic Gold from Bollywood and Beyond

The advent of winter brings with it the annual 3rd i Film Festival, a visual smorgasbord of fresh perspectives and brave new voices by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, UK, Italy, and the USA. 3rd i’s 17th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) launches at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco from November 7-10, moving to Palo Alto on November 16. Some of the movies are unafraid to explore issues that are uncomfortable, give voice to the oppressed and shed light on matters often overlooked or ignored.

A highlight for this year coming straight out of TIFF and Venice Critics’ Week is Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose. In the rich, colorful and layered hand-painted animation there is an ethereal brightness to the chaotic Mumbai streetscapes where Bollywood cinema is both satirized and romanticized, and small town folks in the big city can be crushed by its mean streets, or redeemed by love. The film moves seamlessly between a documentary feeling of present-day struggles in Mumbai, to the lusciously designed dream sequences set in ancient India and inspired by Mughal folk art. Yoav Rosenthal’s original score merges swooning ballads with traditional Bollywood music and a haunting Latin love tribute.

A still from Bombay Rose

This year’s special focus is on Young Voices, with a host of films that feature stories with strong youth characters. Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence is a witty, off-beat take on the road movie, set against the breathtaking landscapes of Ladakh. The film features an inter-generational storyline about the relationship between a young boy and an elderly man, as they head for the peace and tranquility of the Silent Valley, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Filmmaker Gai, a philosopher by training and originally from Ukraine, has made India her filmmaking home and is touted as an exciting new voice in Indian cinema.

A still from Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence

Also part of this youth focus is Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing. The film takes us back to the timeless beauty of the northeast in this bittersweet narrative that draws inspiration from her own experiences of growing up in the Assamese countryside. This is no simple rural idyll however; in Das’ deft hands, the film transforms into a deeply compelling exploration of love, loss, and adolescence.

A still from Bulbul Can Sing

Safdar Rahman’s heartwarming story of young Chippa features Sunny Pawar (award-winning child star of LION). Chippa sets out into night-time Calcutta looking for a father he has never seen, finding a city of migrants who speak in a curious mix of languages. Chippa is not oblivious to the grim reality and communal suspicion surrounding him, but chooses to encounter this world with a mixture of bravado, curiosity and humor.

A still from Chippa

Another film in the youth category is The MisEducation of Bindu screening in Palo Alto, which premiered at Mill Valley Film Festival, and follows a day in the life of formerly homeschooled Bindu as she endures an American high school and tries to graduate early. Her mother does her best to keep Bindu on track while maintaining her South Asian heritage, and her clueless stepfather tries to give Bindu advice on boys and high school life in America. Paying homage to Bollywood rock with one fantastical Bollywood dance number, Bindu dreams about escaping and longs for her home in India. Director Prarthana Mohan will be present for a Q&A session after.

A still from The MisEducation of Bindu

 

Rounding out the youth films in Palo Alto is romantic comedy Bangla, with Phaim. An awkwardly charming 22-year-old Italian-Bengali panics when he falls in love with an impulsive and spirited Italian girl. The attraction between them is immediate, and Phaim will have to figure out how to reconcile his love with his life full of rules. This whimsical lens on the clash of cultures is based on the director’s own life, who plays the lead fictionalized version of himself.

A still from Bangla

 

Another stellar narrative in Palo Alto is Rohena Gera’s Sir, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. A nuanced and sensual film, it explores the forbidden attraction between Ratna, a maid, and her employer Ashwin, a wealthy Mumbai bachelor, with each character quietly yearning to break free from the narrow bounds of their class and gender-based expectations. Gera achieves a particular delicacy in her directing, combining an appealing, understated sweetness with an edge, and thwarting all expectations and stereotypes of a typical Indian love story.

A still from Sir

 

The festival features stories of addiction, which includes acclaimed black and white photographer Ronny Sen’s indie Cat Sticks. A gritty and haunting narrative, the film follows the stories of several addicts looking for the high of halogen, a synthetic brand of heroin that created havoc in India at the turn of the millennium.

A still from Cat Sticks

 

The other film in this focus is Bhaskar Hazarika’s quietly shocking The Ravening (Aamis), which opened to great acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival. An unforgettable meditation on taboo and transgression, the film blends gentle romance and body horror into a unique cinematic experience. Hazarika masterfully concocts a tale of love and addiction that builds slowly – from a lilting rhythm to a pounding finale.

A still from The Ravening (Aamis)

 

While this year’s program predominantly showcases narrative features, documentaries are also part of the lineup. Equal parts comedy and self-discovery, Laura Asherman’s intimate doc American Hasi is a portrait of Indian-American comedian, Tushar Singh. In an attempt to accelerate his career, Singh maps out a 35-day tour in India (with his mom in tow), taking part in India’s flourishing stand-up scene.

A still from American Hasi

Comedy also features prominently in this year’s edition of Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s signature shorts program which brings California filmmakers into conversation with filmmakers from South Asia and the Diaspora. The program includes Varun Chounal’s Gabroo about a young Sikh boy’s complicated relationship with his hair, Mahesh Pailoor’s portrait of Pakistani-American comedienne, Mona Shaikh, and Andrew Sturm’s political satire on the border wall, 31 Foot Ladders, along with a variety of short docs, narratives, and music videos.

A still from Gabroo

This year for the first time in the festival’s history, 3rd i will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking from the talented documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain (City of Photos, Lakshmi and Me, At My Doorstep, Gulabi Gang). Jain returns to SFISAFF to talk about her filmmaking process, to present excerpts from past work and the present, and to talk about the different social and political movements in India and its alignment with her work. Jain’s work holds up a mirror to some of the most pressing concerns in India today, including India’s #metoo women’s movement.

Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking.

Women’s issues are at the forefront of several other films in the lineup. Vasanth S. Sai’s Sivaranjani and Two Other Women pays a cinematic homage to the “everyday” woman and is a deeply moving work that focuses a critical lens on patriarchy, with outstanding performances by each of the lead actresses. The film captures the micro awakenings of identity and self-worth when family dynamics, early marriage, and pregnancy threaten to usurp the individuality of three women, unfolding across three different time periods.

The festival brings back Sri Lankan director Prasanna Vithanage with a screening of the historical epic feature Children of the Sun (Gaadi) about a Sinhalese Buddhist woman in the 1814 Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka, stripped from nobility, who subverts the destiny forced upon her. His searing masterpiece is a period drama that takes on caste conflict and British colonial influences in Sri Lanka in the early 1800s. Director Vithanage will join a panel discussion following the film.

Among the voices to amplify, LGBTQ+ themes feature prominently in Poonam Brah’s Home Girl  about a British lesbian woman’s coming out story while navigating her mother’s death in Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s shorts program, as well as Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks illuminating the life and trials of a transgender sex worker, and Rima Das’ engaging youthful exploration Bulbul Can Sing.

Castro Passes ($35) are only available online until Nov 5. Tickets to individual films are $11/online and $13/at the door. More information about the festival, including expanded program, guest and ticketing information, please visit www.thirdi.org

 

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines.

Cover photo credit: 3rd i Films. 

This article was edited by Culture and Media editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

The Men and their Music Help Give the Gift of Vision

shankarehsaanloy_large

Lending their star power for a cause, the trio Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy perform for Sankara Eye Foundation’s (SEF) annual fundraising concert on April 29th.

The performance is a tribute to R.D Burman and S.D Burman, making it extra special for those who cherish the music of yesteryear with a touch of fusion. By the end of this evening, Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy will leave you mesmerized. The three have a unique camaraderie and many a time one feels like we are peeping into a private jam session.

Shankar Mahadevan born March 6, 1967 in Mumbai, Maharashtra, is a famous singer and music composer. He left us speechless with his first album called Breathless. He has won the National award four times, three times for best playback singer and once for best music director. We can never forget his heart touching song “Meri Maa” from Taare Zameen Par for which he won an award for best playback singer.

Ehsaan Noorani born October 12, 1963 in Hydrabad India is a famous music composer and guitarist. He has lent his vocals to many Bollywood songs such as “Ek Junoon” from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and “Don The Theme” from Don. Loy Mendonsa played guitar and piano for A.R Rehman before he became a music composer.

Siddharth Mahadevan, born April 16, 1993, is the son of Shankar Mahadevan, and is a playback singer and composer himself. He is a promising new talent and is well known for his debut song “Zinda” from the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaagand his most recent hit song “Malang Malang” from Dhoom 3.

The trio of Shankar/Ehsaan/Loy has created magic together and won many national awards for best Music Direction with such hits as Kaal Ho Na Ho, Dil Chahta Hai, Bunty aur Babli and Rock On. They also won awards for Two States (Best Music) and Mission Kashmir (Best Background Music). Here is your chance to witness their live performance in San Jose.

Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a non-profit organization that has been working for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of “Vision 20/20 by the year 2020,” SEF currently has 11 hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore and Jaipur.  Like any successful nonprofit, SEF proudly boasts a base of 200-plus dedicated volunteers throughout the United States, and several in India, who have practically devoted a lifetime to perpetuating the cause of the Sankara Eye Hospital.

What is 20/20 by 2020? It was initially difficult to define the scope of this ambitions goal, Murali Krishnamurthy, Founder and Executive Chairman at Sankara Eye Foundation explains. After careful thought, SEF arrived at a viable target: build 20 hospitals in India by the year 2020, each performing up to 50,000 eye surgeries per year, totaling a grand figure of a million per year. “We think that figure will act as a catalyst and make a big dent into the visual handicap,” Murali adds.

By far the most unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception, has enabled over 1.35 million people to receive the gift of vision, utterly free of cost.

It is an organization started in the living room by three committed volunteers and retains the character of a people’s movement. Over thousand volunteers service the fifty thousand plus SEF donors with meticulous attention to detail.  The grass roots organization is flat where any volunteer can propose, take the lead and run with a project and it is seen as a collective achievement.

In the delivery of its vision it became imperative for SEF to manage the use of funds in an efficient manner. Cost of building a hospital, not including the cost of the land, is four to five million dollars. Once the capital expenditure is incurred, it is imperative that the hospital become self-sufficient and run on it’s own steam. By following the eighty-twenty rule, within five years a hospital is able to bear all recurring expenditures. For every two paying patients, eight patients are treated free.

Also, it has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy – get your and your loved ones’ names on the Wall of Founders.

It truly takes the vision of a caring community to enable the needy with sight. If you would like to participate, donate, or know more about SEF’s activities, visit www.giftofvision.org.

April 29th, 7:30 p.m. Event Center at SJSU, 290 S 7th St., San Jose. Tickets: home.giftofvision.org

Filmmaker Mira Nair Recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award

Filmmaker Mira Nair will be the recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, honoring the director’s expansive body of work and celebrating her unique contributions to the art of cinema.

Mira Nair has been an exhilarating if lonely bridge between American and South Asian film traditions for more than thirty years. Her provocative work draws elements from classic Bengali cinema and Bollywood on one hand, Italian neorealism and Golden Age Hollywood on the other. Her greatest films – Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist – passionately recount stories of the Indian subcontinent, perfectly attuned for a global audience. The award will be presented to Nair at Film Society Awards Night, Monday April 25 at Fort Mason Herbst Pavillion (2 Marina Blvd.).

Mira Nair will also be honored at An Afternoon with Mira Nair where a screening of her film Monsoon Wedding and an onstage conversation about her career highlights will take place.

Screening: 4/24 -4:30pm @ Castro Theatre

Monsoon Wedding Mira Nair, India/USA (2001)

Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in 2001, Monsoon Wedding is a film of gigantic heart served with an ample dollop of social satire. Five romantic entanglements threaten to derail a high-end New Delhi marriage as the film effortlessly shifts between Bollywood expressionism and Altman-like character intrigue, gut-busting comedy and tender romance. 

Two other South Asian Film Screenings at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival

Thithi Raam Reddy, India (2016)

In a small South Indian village, a cantankerous centenarian keels over and dies, setting the stage for a capricious comedy of errors among three generations of dissimilar sons. Conflict, confusion, corruption and a series of ill-conceived actions all come to a head at the funeral celebration (the titular thithi).  With its charming cast of non-professional actors—both human and ovine—director Raam Reddy’s feature film offers a playful portrait of intergenerational conflicts and differences.

Screenings:

4/30 – 3:30pm @ Roxie

5/1 – 3:15pm @ BAMPFA

5/4 – 9pm @ Alamo 

 The Man Who Knew Infinity Matthew Brown, UK (2015)

Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones

Self-taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) seeks to burnish his talents at Cambridge’s Trinity College on the eve of the First World War in this entertaining fish-out-water biopic. Invited to study by don G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), the Madras, India, native faces prejudice and clashes with his new mentor over methodology, but remains committed to realizing his gifts. Writer/director Matthew Brown celebrates Ramanujan with a drama that encompasses the triumphs and the tragedies of his life.

Screening:

4/24 – 1pm @ Catro

Tickets to An Afternoon with Mira Nair are $20 for SFFS members, $25 for the general public. Tickets for this special event are on sale Tuesday, March 29 for SFFS members, Friday, April 1 for the general public, online at sffs.org.

For more information about Film Society Awards Night please call 415-561-5028 or email specialevents@sffs.org, festival.sffs.org