Tag Archives: Praba Iyer

Saying it With Thanks – New Thanksgiving Recipes

In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.

The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.

As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.

Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”

So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!

As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.

Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry

Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad
Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad

Tomato Salad Ingredients
1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed
1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed
10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved
1 Persian cucumber sliced
1 green chill minced

1 teaspoon ginger
1 lime juice
1 teaspoon chaat masala powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili

This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.

1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed
and chopped
½ can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large red onion minced
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine
2 green chilies minced
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt to taste
1 cup root beer
¼ cup water

Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria

This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.

½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 bottle white wine (like Riesling)
1 ripe papaya chopped
1 cup ripe pineapple chopped
1 serrano chili slit
Basil leaves for garnish

Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves. 

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.

This article was first published in November 2017.

My Artichoke Girl

I remember what we were wearing the first time we met. She was in a green dress and I was wearing capris with a sleeveless top. We were the two odd ones in a room full of half-saris and long skirts at the admission hall of my new high school in Coimbatore. She was tall, beautiful with big almond eyes, a bright infectious smile, and two pigtails. She and I said something together in English, our words clashing and disappearing in the loud chatter of Tamil around the room. We laughed and  walked out together and she said “I am Geetha.” Little did I know the huge imprint she would leave in my heart.

We took the same courses—from National Cadet Corps. to French, basketball, and track—and soon we became the inseparable duo. High school passed and we continued as college mates and roommates.

Ooty, India

Geetha was a farm girl from Ooty. She would say that her soul was in that soil. Our nutrition course in college required a paper on a vegetable of our choice. She picked artichokes and I picked mushrooms.

In those days artichokes and mushrooms were rarely used in Indian cooking. We  hit up all the libraries in town for articles and books to read for research. There were many moments when we wanted to give up on the vegetables we had chosen. We considered okra and eggplant, but then we wanted to be different from the crowd.

Many Friday evenings, during that time, we caught the 6 p.m. bus to Ooty on our way to her farm. Together, we picked artichokes and mushrooms to begin recipe testing. We grilled, ground, boiled, and fried, all the while discussing our lives, and longings. We had big dreams and aspirations, but destiny had other plans for her. Exactly a year ago, she left this world to permanently belong to her soil in Ooty. Here’s to my dear friend, my Artichoke Girl.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer, media talent and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the bay area. You can reach her at praba@cookingmastery.com.


At the Heart of Artichokes

Pablo Neruda

 Ode to the Artichoke
by Pablo Neruda
The artichoke
With a tender heart                                                          
Dressed up like a warrior,               
Standing at attention, it built  
A small helmet
Under its scalesIt remained
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil …

 Chilled Artichoke Soup
This chilled soup is a hearty soup for a hot summer day

1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic minced1 small onion minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 can artichoke hearts drained and rinsed2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh chives to garnish

Heat oil in a sauce pan and add  the garlic and onions. Saute for a few minutes until translucent and then add the artichoke hearts and vegetable broth. Puree this mixture in a blender with lemon juice and add it back to the sauce pan and warm it. Remove, let it cool, check seasonings and refrigerate.  If it thickens, add a little water to loosen. Serve it with sprinkles of chives.

Artichoke Pakoras

1 can of artichoke hearts drained and rinsed

For the batter:
½ cup chickpea flour
1 tsp cayenne powder1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1 tsp cumin powderSalt to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro stems mincedWater to mix into a batter
Oil for frying

Mix the batter with water and set aside. Heat oil in a fryer to 350 degrees. Chop the artichoke hearts into half. Dip each piece in the batter and fry until it is crispy and golden in color. Remove and serve hot with  chutney, ketchup or dip.


Spicy Artichoke Chutney

1 tbsp oil
2 shallots chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 jalapeno chopped
1 tomato chopped
5 -6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
½ can artichoke hearts drained and rinsed

For tempering:
1 tsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp urad dal
Curry leaves

Heat oil in a small pan and saute the onions, garlic, jalapeno, tomato and curry leaves. Then add the artichoke hearts and sauté for a few minutes. Remove and grind the mixture  to a smooth chutney. Heat oil in another pan, add the mustard seeds and once it splutters, add the urad dal and curry leaves. Remove and add it to the chutney and serve.

Recipes with Spirits!

My grandmother had an iron traveler’s trunk. This trunk had all her life possessions and it was barely full. It contained her Bhagwad Gita, Narayaneeyam books, three white nine yard sarees, a khadi silk nine yard saree, a shawl, a silver plate, and bowl, a pack of crisp new rupee bills, a small pouch  with coins and a newspaper wrapped bottle inside a small bag. When I asked her what was in the bottle, she said it was a strong kashayam—an Ayurvedic medicine. When I asked for a taste of the kashayam, I was told that it was too strong for kids. Years down the road, my mom told me the secret of the kashayam bottle. She said that my uncle had given my grandmother a bottle of brandy saying it was medication for cough. According to her, my grandmother had no clue that it was alcohol, and no one bothered to tell her. But I really think my grandmother, being a smart, intelligent, cheeky old lady knew exactly what was in that bottle, took her innocence with her to the grave.

So, in my home, alcohol was the big elephant in the room. No one talked about it, nor did anyone deny it. Out of respect for my grandmother, there were many code words used for a drink.

After all these years, I would rather cook with it than drink it. I do enjoy a good cocktail every now and then.  Here are some of the recipes with spirits that I make quite often.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor who teaches team-building through cooking classes and custom cooking classes in the bay area. She is a consulting chef at Kitchit (www.kitchit.com). You can reach her at praba@rocketbites.com.

Roasted, Battered and Flambed

Wine Roasted Mushrooms
This dish is the best way to use leftover wine. It is delicious on a crostini or as a pie stuffing or in a Panini sandwich. You can substitute mushrooms with eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 shallots minced
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
½ tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1/3 cup of red wine
Garnish 1/3 cup fresh parsley
Heat oil in a flat pan and add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, sauté for a few minutes and then add salt and pepper. Then add the red wine and increase the heat to high. Allow the alcohol to reduce gradually, and continue to sauté until all the liquid is evaporated.
Remove from heat and add parsley.

Fried Cheese with Beer Batter
I stumbled on this dish many years ago. I had to take an appetizer to a party and realized that  I had no baking soda. Since beer is carbonated I used it in place of the missing baking soda. The result was a crispy fried tasty delight. Later on, I learnt that beer battered onion fries and fish are very famous dishes in southern states.

1 cup of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
1/3 cup chopped basil
1 egg
1 can of beer or bottle (about 12 oz)
10 small goat cheese balls
10 small cubes of Monterey jack cheese
Oil for deep frying

Mix all the dry ingredients,   Mix in the egg and basil and then whisk in the beer to make a batter. Heat oil for frying to about 350 degrees.

Dip each cheese ball and cube of cheese in the batter and make sure it is fully covered in batter. Then carefully drop it in the hot oil and fry it until golden brown. Remove and place it on a pan layered with paper napkins to remove the excess oil.

Jaljeera Shots
Jaljeera literally means cumin water, but jaljeera also has black salt, black pepper, mint, lemon juice and sugar along with the cumin and water.
All the guests at my party kept asking for this drink.

½ cup of lemonade
1 teaspoon heaped jaljeera powder
1 teaspoon of fresh roasted cumin powder
3-4 mint leaves minced
2 ounces of vodka
Garnish a slice of lime

The ratio is 1 part vodka to 2 parts jaljeera. And 1 part is equal to 1 ounce. Make a pitcher of jaljeera and make the shots as needed.
Chill the shot glasses and wet the rim and dip it in a plate of cayenne pepper. Mix all these ingredients chill and serve in cayenne rimmed shot glasses with a slice of lime.

Gulab Jamun Flambé

This is a show stopper. I make this for smaller get together and serve it  at the table.

1 ounce cognac
Coconut ice cream
Garnish with mint
A few gulab jamuns in syrup

Remove the jamuns and place it in the serving bowls.  Heat the syrup in a small pan. Add the cognac and once it begins to flame up, carefully transfer it over the jamun in the bowl. Then add a small dollop of ice cream on top and add a mint leaf and serve. The combination of hot Jamuns with cold ice cream and a kick of cognac is a good dose of heaven in a bowl.