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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


 

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

Indian Recipes Inspired by a Newark Farmer’s Market

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

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

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

Green Garlic Vegetable (Hare Lehsun Ki Sabzi)

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

INGREDIENTS

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

PREPARATION

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

Easy Pickled Radish

Easy Pickled Radish
Easy Pickled Radish

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

INGREDIENTS

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

PREPARATION

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

Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale 

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

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

INGREDIENTS

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

PREPARATION

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

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


 

Three recipes with locally sourced ingredients and single origin spices.

Mindfully Spiced Foods for a Sustainable Planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce

INGREDIENTS

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

Peanut Butter Sauce

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

PREPARATION

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

Couscous Salad

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

INGREDIENTS

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

PREPARATION

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

Pistachio Cardamom Snowflake Cookies

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

INGREDIENTS

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

PREPARATION

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

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


 

Madhumeha: Ancient Origins, Recent Epidemic

Diabetes has existed for millennia. It has been recognized by several ancient cultures including Indian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Persian. Sushruta, a surgeon and physician who lived around 600BC in the Varanasi area in northern India, documented it in his works. They recognized that ants were attracted to the urine of affected individuals and it was named Madhumeha (Sanskrit; madhu- honey).

Ancient physicians also recognized that there were two types of conditions that involved excessive urination and loss of weight. This recognition of excessive sugar in individuals affected by diabetes was refined over the next 2000 years, and in the 18th century, England Johann Peter Frank is credited with the identification of two forms of diabetes- diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. Mellitus (Greek; honey) was associated with high levels of sugar in the urine, while insipidus was not. In fact, diabetes insipidus is an unrelated condition related to hormonal control of the kidneys, leading to excessive urination. 

By the 5th century physicians in India and China had noticed that there are two kinds of diabetes mellitus- one of which was prevalent in older and heavier individuals. Methods to recognize, understand and treat diabetes mellitus have evolved with technological developments. Relatively rapid progress since the 18th century has identified insulin as the hormone secreted by the pancreas that plays a central role in this indication, and also defined type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 (also termed ‘early onset’ and ‘insulin dependent’) is a condition that generally develops in children and younger individuals where insulin production by the pancreas is compromised or completely shut down due to several reasons. Type 2 diabetes (also termed ‘adult onset’ and ‘non-insulin-dependent’) is the focus of this article and has become a global health problem. 

In its current trend of prevalence Type 2 diabetes, or T2D, has blurred two boundaries. It was previously confined to low- and middle-income countries but is now on the rise even in the higher-income countries. Secondly, the age of onset is not confined to older patients. Among the Indian population worldwide, T2D is gaining numbers within India and also within expatriate Indian and southeast Asian communities. Some studies put the number of Indians in the US as the group with the highest incidence of diabetes than any other racial group at an age group above 20. Similar reports have been made with respect to Europe and UAE. Within India itself the numbers of T2D in adults 20 years and above has tripled over the past 3 decades.

This appreciable increase in T2D in southeast Asian expatriate communities, and also within their countries especially India and China, is thought to be due to the relatively recent cultural changes in diet and lifestyle over the past 50 years, such as an increase in consumption of fried foods, fast food, refined grains and sugars, lack of dietary fiber, and sedentary lifestyles.

In addition to these behavioral changes T2D is caused by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors, and familial history serves as an indicator for individuals to be forewarned about their own health. That said, considering the speed with which changes in the age of onset and frequency of T2D are being documented, it appears that environmental, diet, and lifestyle changes are the major contributors to the current epidemic. Also, in general, Indians have a higher degree of insulin resistance than Caucasians, which occurs when the cells of the body lose the capacity to respond to insulin even when it is being produced by the pancreas. 

The burden of the long-term health effects of T2D are significant to the individual and from a public health perspective. The more stark chronic manifestations include neuropathies, foot ulcers, blindness, kidney dysfunctions, accelerated aging, and a general decline in health and productivity. In addition to insulin, newer medicines exist to control blood sugar and insulin response, and other therapies are being developed including stem cell therapeutics. 

If there is a good aspect to T2D it is that it can be prevented or the onset delayed. The fact that onset can be delayed is a point of practical importance, as most of the clinical manifestations arise due to cumulative effects of high circulating sugar. Prevention is the best cure, as the adage goes. A regular health check-up will flag a ‘pre-diabetes; condition. Glucose intolerance tests, HbA1c levels in the blood, body mass index, and overweight are common tests to gauge pre-diabetes. This indication should be taken as a warning, and acted upon seriously and with a positive attitude. 

The trinity of diet, exercise, and stress management are often called upon. Eat less. Eat on time. Walk more. In general, the lifestyle changes that are recommended are geared towards helping maintain an even level of blood sugar and reduction to, or maintenance of, an optimal body weight.

Processed grains, and refined carbohydrates like maida (all-purpose flour), have a high glycemic index. As against whole grains, they are quickly metabolized to sugar and result in a sudden spike of increase in glucose in the blood. Our standard fare includes white rice or chappatis/other breads as a base, and this can be substituted with brown rice and atta (whole wheat).

Instead of serving up a plate with a large portion of rice and sides of vegetables and protein, switch around the amounts and serve up rice as a side dish instead. Control portion sizes, and maintain steady time intervals between meals and snacks. Include soupy low-calorie items which will serve to fill up the stomach. Fasting is not recommended. Eat a diet of high fiber which includes green leafy vegetables and excludes starchy vegetables, skim milk-based yogurt, and whole grains. High fiber dals (moong, masur, urad, etc., along with sprouted whole dals) and beans (such as chole and rajma) should be a mainstay. Including methi (fenugreek) regularly in cooking, and in salads and dals after sprouting (sprouting methi completely reduces its bitter taste) adds flavor and a health benefit. Fruits that are delicious and low in sugar include papaya, guavas, blueberries, and jamoon

Items to be conscious of and exclude, or eat in disciplined quantities, include fried foods and fatty foods in general (including our delicious tea-time snacks!), foods that include sugar and artificial sweeteners (yes, some sweeteners and bulk additives added to sweeteners can produce a sugar spike!), and processed grains. While regulating these will help with the maintenance of body weight, avoiding sugar, sweeteners and the inclusion of whole grains will maintain even levels of blood sugar. Depending on the stage of diabetes fruits may be eaten in moderation, but high sugar fruits such as mangoes, grapes, and sapotas should be avoided. 

As with diet, steady exercise is highly recommended for diabetes. Even our hoary sage Sushruta recommended this, and in some studies, the inclusion of exercise had the most obvious ameliorative effect. The type of exercise will need to vary based on the individual’s age and capacities, but even a basic activity like a daily brisk walk for about thirty minutes would make a difference. Obviously, more will be required if weight loss is an objective. Although yoga is excellent for weight maintenance, it will not suffice for weight loss regimes. Walking, yoga, and exercise, in general, will also help in stress management, and others may be included, such as reading, meditation, etc., depending on individual preferences. 

Tackling the diabetes epidemic at the global level would need to start with the individual. 


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


 

A Fresh Start: 30 Food Prep Shortcuts

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

The advent of a New Year harks new beginnings, a way to do things better, faster. Check out some tips and quick hacks—creating better habits around cooking more, saving more—to shift your behavior in the kitchen.  

  1. To preserve the color of your homemade ginger-garlic paste add some oil and salt to it.
  2. Make a big batch of fried onions in your air fryer or stovetop. Add mint while frying onions enhances their flavor. Use as a pizza topping, on biryani’s, pastas, etc.
  3. While grinding coriander chutney, add some ice cubes in the blender. This will help to reduce heat buildup and preserves the vivid green color of the chutney.
  4. Keep your unused avocado fresh. Take any Tupperware or a bowl filled with just enough water to submerge the exposed side of the fruit. Then, simply place the avocado half in the bowl, cut-side-down, and the next time you’re ready to use it, the avocado should look like it was just cut.
  5. To reduce the spice in any dish, add a few drops of lemon juice milk, or yogurt in the dish. 
  6. Perfect fluffy scrambled eggs: whisk them with whole milk before cooking 
  7. To achieve optimal firmness for your sautéed vegetables (eg: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus) is to blanch or boil them briefly before sautéing
  8. To make a perfect batch of French toast soak your bread in an egg and cream mixture overnight in the refrigerator. This will keep the bread from falling apart, resulting in a rich and crispy toast when cooked.
  9. No more dry chicken: Brine your bird in salt and water (and lemon juice and herbs if you’d like the additional flavor) for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  10. Keep extra salad greens fresh and crisp by adding a few paper towels to the bag or container. Store in a tightly wrapped bag with just a little air.
  11. Recipe calls for onions? Chop, slice, or grind them and freeze in labeled freezer bags.
  12. At the end of the day, sprinkle some baking soda and vinegar in your sink. Take dishwashing liquid and coat the entire area. Leave the solution for half an hour, rinse to get a disinfected and clean sink!
  13. To remove the food smells from the kitchen, add the peels of lemons and oranges into a pan filled with water. Bring to a boil. As the water boils and releases the essential oils, it will neutralize the smells.
  14. Sharpen the blades of your blender by adding dry salt and whirring it for a couple of minutes.
  15. The stems of coriander and mint can be used in chutneys and stocks to flavor chicken/veggies.
  16. To increase the shelf life of fresh green chilis, remove the stem part of chilies before storing.
  17. Extra oil in your dish? Wrap a few ice cubes in a paper towel, then skim them across the top of your sauce/soup. The ice cubes will encourage excess fat to solidify, making it much easier to scoop out and discard! 
  18. While making paratha dough, adding milk helps softens the dough 
  19. To make gravies rich and creamy use beaten curd or a cashew past in lieu of cream.
  20. If you add extra salt to a dish, add a small ball of dough or drop a peeled potato into it, it will absorb the extra salt.
  21. Can’t seem to keep your potatoes from sprouting in storage? Just drop an apple in the bag or basket where you keep the potatoes
  22. Make your paneer last longer, store in water with few drops of vinegar in it.
  23. Want your butter to reach room temperature faster? Grate it. 
  24. While sautéing onions or aromatics for a curry/gravy, add a pinch of turmeric and salt. It speeds up the cooking process.
  25. Wrap the end of the banana bunch with plastic wrap. The skins won’t turn black and the fruit will remain fresh for longer.
  26. Freeze herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, or coriander with melted butter or olive oil in an ice tray. Pop into any sauce.
  27. Microwaving whole garlic for around 20 seconds helps it to peel faster
  28. Use left-over whey after making paneer to make buttermilk for kadhi, add to gravies, or dough
  29. Everyday ingredients like eggs and potatoes can be boiled in advance and refrigerated for later use. Peel and quarter your potatoes before boiling or roasting them. The more surface area is exposed, the faster they’ll cook.
  30. Love lasagna but hate the long preparation time? Egg roll wrappers are a good substitute for lasagna sheets because they don’t need to be boiled. They come in small, easy to use squares

Perfectly Fluffy Basmati Rice in the Instant Pot

The ratio is 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water. Close the lid. Valve to sealing position. Select pressure cook (high). Set time to 7 min. Once done, quick release the pressure after 10 min.

Optional: You can add 1 tsp ghee and 1tsp salt to the raw rice and water mixture before closing with the lid to enhance the flavor.

PS: Don’t use the rice option. 

Perfectly Dried Herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley, basil)

Sprinkle on just about anything.

The key to drying herbs is to eliminate moisture content without burning the leaves. Too much moisture left behind can result in mold growth, while high heat can scorch your leaves. Always thoroughly wash and blot before setting it out to dry. You can air dry or use the oven (my preferred method).

Low heat is critical to prevent burning leaves to a crisp. Set the temperature on your oven to the lowest possible — at most 200°F. Evenly spread out leaves to ensure everything dries at the same pace. Don’t layer leaves atop one another.

Bake at low heat for approximately 20/30 minutes. Keep an eye on your herb to avoid burning it. 

After 20/30 mins, turn off your oven and leave the herb to continue drying overnight. After about 12 hours in the dry, warm oven you should have easy-to-crumble bits of your herb ready to store.


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

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

Dressing
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.

Ingredients
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.

Ingredients
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.

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.

Gulab Jamun Cake

My Love Affair With Cardamom

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

I come from a family of spice traders. My mother-in-law’s family hails from the Cardamom Hills and Thekkady in Kerala. Their land is beautifully verdant, with cardamom growing in a tropical rainforest-like environment, wild alongside pepper vines, cloves, and lots of unidentifiable wild greens, butterflies, and bees everywhere.

My life has been full of spice, as I witnessed the yearly ritual of sourcing and storing spices for the coming year. My mom and aunts talked endlessly about what was in season, sourcing single-origin spices, discussing how to roast them to perfection, and hiring people to freshly grind everything on the terrace of our building. This of course segued into a discussion about recipes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations. 

Spices play such a vital role in Indian cuisine. The blended use of herbs and spices has been part of our culture for millennia, and that their use had some medicinal and restorative properties is well documented in Ayurveda.

With the resurgence of interest in everything natural, I wanted to explore, along with you, one spice that has caught my fancy and share some recipes using it. This week it is the warm and fruity Cardamom. I love how it instantly elevates every dish into something just a bit more refined and comforting.

I’m a self-taught cook and married to someone who needs dessert every night, so I became a self-taught baker. Homemade desserts are so much healthier than the manufactured versions, additive-free, made with natural ingredients, and you can easily sub the fat and sugar content. I tend to gravitate towards non-fussy recipes, down and dirty, with no special equipment needed.

Here I share two of my current favs, with a generous dose of cardamom in them. The first is a Gulab Jamun Cake recipe created by Hetal Vasavada and the second is a Cardamom Latte. I have tweaked several recipes that I found online and in cookbooks in order to arrive at the perfect balance of flavors.

Tips

I find that home-ground cardamom (both whole pod and seeds only) boasts a much stronger flavor than pre-ground store-bought varieties. Grind them in big batches–take the easy road, leave the husks on–and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for a year.

Gulab Jamun Cake

This cake is a fusion with all the treasured flavors of classic Gulab Jamun without the deep frying or long soak in sugar syrup. What’s not to love?

Ingredients for 1 Bundt cake or 6 mini Bundt-lets

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah
Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

Cardamom Infused Sponge Cake

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup  dry full -at or non-fat milk powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • 8-10 saffron strands
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Alternatively, to make it eggless you can:

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup Plain Yogurt/Curd
  • ¾ cup Milk
  • ½ cup Oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Glaze and Garnish

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 ¾ if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
  • ½ tablespoon whole and ½ tablespoon finely chopped pistachios
  • I garnished with pink/red hearts and some gold sugar flakes 
  • Optional: Top with halfmoon gulab jamuns placed an inch apart and serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Make the cardamom cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. Whisk the butter, sugar and cardamom powder with a hand or stand mixer till the butter is light and fluffy, about 9/10 mins.  Add salt and vanilla essence and whisk till combined.
  3. Now add one egg at a time, till incorporated.
  4. Add the milk powder to your flour mixture and whisk till combined. Add these dry ingredients till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour the batter into your greased Bundt pan and tap on counter to release air bubbles.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking make the Sugar Syrup.

Note: We want the syrup to be warm when pouring on the cake.

  1. Add the water, sugar, saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the rose water and lime juice. 
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and discard. 
  3. Reserve 60 ml of the syrup for the glaze.
  4. Once the cake is done poke holes all over it with a fork. Pour the warm syrup over the warm, just out of oven, Bundt cake. Rest the cake for 10/15 mins for the syrup to be fully soaked. 
  5. Place your serving platter over the bundt pan and invert into the platter. Be very careful during this step. The cake is heavy with syrup and will break or form cracks, so be very gentle during this step.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved syrup to make a glaze.
  7. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake. Sprinkle with the dried rose petals, pistachios and gulab jamun half (if using).

For the Eggless Cake base

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Whisk in the oil and rosewater.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk powder, semolina, corn flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and saffron.
  4. Gradually combine the wet ingredients into the dry till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Bake for 55-60 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Fall Flavors in my Cardamom Latte

  • Cardamom Latte
    Cardamom Latte

    8 ounces strong French press coffee (I used George Howell’s Tarrazu Vienna with hints of Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Walnut)

  • Optional: 1 heaped tablespoon of Instant Coffee (Nescafe or Bru, with hints of chicory, are optimal)—Add 2 drops of water and beat with a spoon until white and slightly frothy.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thyme Cardamom Syrup (Note: Flavor it with whatever spice you have on hand.
  • I’ve used Thyme but rosemary, pumpkin, lavender all work really well)

For the Thyme Cardamom Syrup

  1. In a small pan over low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant, stirring often. Watch closely to avoid burning them.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the cardamom pods. Pour the pods and any exposed seeds into a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add the water, sugar and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Strain solids through a fine-mesh sieve. Store syrup in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Preparation

  1. Heat milk till hot. Use a whisk or a spoon to beat milk until foamy.  
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of cardamom syrup in a mug. 
  3. Pour hot, strong coffee over syrup. 
  4. Top with foamy milk and serve.

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.

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.