Tag Archives: Recipe

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.

Tea for Two

In Seeing Ceremony, Meera Ekkanath Klein’s sequel to her 2017 debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen, the narrator, Meena, is now ready for college and continues to rebuff her mother’s need to subject her to seeing ceremonies in advance of formally arranging her marriage. The continuing obstacle is that Meena refuses to think about marriage until she returns home to Mahagiri, degree in hand, ready to begin her own life as an adult.

Her confidante and neighbor Mac, an elderly Scotsman who owns a tea plantation, is always ready to lend an ear and offer sage advice. However, reality enters Meena’s life when he reveals a friend is interested in purchasing Meena’s late father’s spice plantation. With the express understanding that the transaction will honor Meena’s father’s legacy, the money exchanged is Meena’s ticket to a college in California where her uncle is a professor.

During the brief pages devoted to Meena’s time at school, she studies agriculture, discovers Chinese tea, and embraces the calming concepts of the Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies. It is then, in a flash of brilliance, that she understands creating a tearoom in which a variety of teas could be sampled and tea ceremonies would be held, maybe the answer to bolstering her mother’s remaining business.

On her journey home following graduation, Meena meets Raj Kumar, a young Indian businessman. They take an immediate liking to each other, and while at the airport in Singapore, they spend their layover time dining and chatting. As expected, neither can get the other out of their minds after going their own ways. Later, in a convenient twist, Meena and Raj come face to face again.

The bones of the story are good and hold promise, but much of the plot isn’t new. The seeing ceremony, arranged marriage, traditional vs. modern attitudes, and going to college in the U.S. are overused. Nevertheless, the elements of agriculture, introducing new crops, rotating crops, and bringing concepts from overseas are fresh enough to bring balance to the novel.

That said, this book should be a massive celebration of the senses, yet the ubiquitous spices, the meals prepared, the visit to a tribal village, and the vistas Meena experiences both at home and at her father’s plantation exist with an assumption that the reader is familiar with all of those essentials when sensual imagery would have enhanced Meena’s narrative and assisted in building her world. Instead, that part of the storytelling was incomplete, like a coloring book with pages half colored and abandoned.

On the plus side, Seeing Ceremony can be read as a standalone novel. It isn’t necessary to read My Mother’s Kitchen to enjoy this succeeding story. However, since the books are billed as novels with recipes, you may want to see what’s cooking in both. In “Kitchen,” the recipes are found at the end of chapters which, unfortunately, impede the reader’s flow. In “Ceremony,” the recipes are conveniently gathered at the end of the book.

If you’re in the market for a quick read that may take you away, introduce you to some interesting characters, tell a story of finding one’s way back home, and offer some recipes to spice up your next meal, this may be the book for you.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North and South Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 


Seeing Ceremony: A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein. Homebound Publications. 270 Pages.

Irani Cafes Influence Dishoom’s Cuisine

From Bombay with love

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

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

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

Dishoom Shoreditch, London

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

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

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

The book’s walking tour starts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My journey with Dishoom

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

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

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

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

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

The East Indian Gimlet – used a homemade lime cordial. 

—–

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

Easy Wintertime Afternoon Snacks

 

When we lived in Coimbatore my mom and our neighbor, who was at least twenty years younger than her, became the best of friends. Many an evening, as I walked home from school, I would see mom and her bestie sitting on the stairs with a cup of coffee and a plate of their innovative snacks, chatting and giggling away like teenagers. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations.

One lazy afternoon in California, my son walked in saying, “Mom, I wish I could have some animal style fries, right about now.” And I had a quick flashback to Coimbatore and the snacks that my mother whipped up.

I could have picked up my keys, driven to an In-N-Out, stood in line, picked up some fries with the so-called secret sauce, then made a detour to an Indian store, picked up some kachoris and samosas, stood in the next never ending checkout line, irritated with the people who cut into the line, and then driven back home in crazy 4 p.m. commute traffic. But I decided to stay home and be creative, instead.

It’s not as hard as you might think. Here is an animal fries recipe—a healthier version of what you might get at an In-N-Out, which will make your grumpy teen smile from ear to ear. The recipe is for my nieces who can never resist making a pit stop at In-N-Out when they come to visit.

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.


Animal Fries with Secret Sauce

Ingredients for the Fries
4 russet potatoes cut into matchsticks.
2-3  tbsps oil
salt to taste
3-4 slices of American cheese
1 large white onion chopped fine

Ingredients for the Secret Sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup ketchup
2 tbsp dill (chopped) pickles with juice
1 tsp mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
a dash of sugar

Method
Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and whisk it together. Set aside.
Heat oil in a non stick flat pan and add the chopped onion and saute until it’s completely browned. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 430 degrees along with an empty sheet pan in it. Place the potatoes in  a bowl mix in the oil, and salt. Carefully remove the hot sheet pan from the oven with a mitten. Brush it with oil. Spread the potato matchsticks flat so each stick is separate. Place this  sheet pan with the potato matchsticks in the heated oven.

Cook the fries for 25 to 30 minutes until the bottom of the fries is brown, then flip them and let them roast evenly.

Assembly
Place the fries in a bowl, layer  the American cheese slices on top, sprinkle the browned onion, and finally drizzle the secret sauce.

Variations: Add a little minced garlic and minced fresh basil to the potato matchsticks before roasting them in the oven for some added flavor. You can also make the same with roasted wedge potatoes, tater tots, or even hash brown.

Idli Chaat
This is a crispy crunchy delight that I often crave.  I used the leftover idlis in my fridge to make this recipe.

Ingredients
4-5 idlis sliced into matchsticks oil for brushing on idlis
1 red onion chopped fine
1 small tomato chopped fine
1-2 thai chilies chopped fine
1 sprig of fresh cilantro chopped fine
a dash of chaat masala
a squeeze of a lime

Method
In the same preheated oven at 430 degrees, place the matchstick idlis on the sheet pan and brush it with oil. Brown it evenly by flipping the pieces once they are brown on one side.  It takes about 15-20 minutes each side.

Place the oven fried idlis on a plate, sprinkle the onions, tomato, chilies, cilantro, chaat masala. Squeeze the lime over. Yum! You got the chaat without the fat.

Variations: Sprinkle the idli chaat with sev for an extra crunch.

Bread Upma
This is one of my favorite snacks. It’s crunchy, full of carbs and a perfect match for a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Ingredients
10 slices of any kind of bread
(chopped into cubes)
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp chana dal
¼ cup roasted peanuts or roasted cashews
a pinch of asafoetida
3-4 curry leaves
3-4 green chilies chopped fine
1 red onion chopped fine
1 roma tomato chopped
salt to taste

For the Garnish
¼ cup cilantro leaves
chopped juice of ½ a lime

Method
Heat oil in a pan, add the mustard and let it splutter. Then add the urad dal, chana dal, peanuts, asafoetida, curry leaves, green chilies and red onion.

Saute for a few minutes until the chopped onion pieces are slightly browned.

Add the cubed bread, mix well, and fry until the bread cubes are crisp.

Finally, add the chopped tomato and mix gently without making it soggy.

Remove and garnish with cilantro and lime.

First published in September 2015 under the title, ‘Sunday Afternoon Snacks.’ This article was first published on January 11th 2017.

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts (Balushahi and Dry Fruits Milkshake)

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts

Honey was man’s first sweetener. Honey was also an important condiment in medieval times. We crave sweets, as our stone-age forefathers have been deprived of it for centuries. Humans (Homo sapiens) evolved some 50,000 years ago, whereas bees were making honey 40 million years before that. Honeybees as a group probably originated in South East Asia. It seems they developed social behavior and structural identity similar to what we observe in modern honey bees, some 30 million years ago. Apis mellifera, known as the western honey bee, is a commonly domesticated species. It is believed to have originated in Africa and spread later to Europe and Asia. Honey was the staple sweetener in Europe till the 1500s. The name “honey” comes from the English word “huning.” In 1622, European colonists brought these sub-species to Americas. Cooking with honey was a mark of privilege and it was long used for preserving fruits whole or as a jam.
Cave paintings in Spain from 7000 B.C show the earliest records of bee keeping. Honey is also mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings from 2100 B.C. From available evidence, we know that humans have been collecting honey for 10,000 years. But the interplay between bees and flowers is understood much later in 1000 A.D.
The pre-historic cave paintings at Bhimbetka in India show men despoiling beehives built on rocks, perhaps around 6000 B.C. Even as early as the Rigvedic period (2nd and 1st century) the Rbhu brothers were credited with building artificial hives of reeds and straws. The Mahabharata (4th century B.C.) has references to apiary keepers, flower gardens and pollen yielding plants, indicating some degree of commercialization by then.
Bees were domesticated in artificial hives both in India and Egypt about 4500 years ago. The earliest record of bee keeping in Egypt is found in the Sun temple (near Cairo) believed to be erected in 2400 B.C. In 1800s, when archaeologists were working in Egypt, they found a large jar of honey, and found that it tasted perfect, even though it was thousands of years old.
Honey is truly an insect product of high nutritive value. The food value of honey may be estimated by the presence of about 80% sugar in it. One should not mistakenly assume that honey is only a plant product because the nectar, pollen and cane-sugar are all secretions from flowers. As they are digested by bees, it gets mixed with their saliva and it soon undergoes certain chemical changes due to the action of enzymes. At this stage sugar (sucrose) is converted into dextrose and levulose. At the same time some ingredients of bees are also added to the mixture and the water content reduces. The whole mixture is then collected in the crop until the honey bee reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive cell and is known as “Honey.”


Honey Dipped Balushahi
IngredientsBahulashi
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp. yogurt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. clarified butter
* ghee for deep frying
* Honey for dipping
Method
Mix all the ingredients together, except ghee and honey. Prepare smooth fluffy dough. Divide them into equal parts and shape them as you please. Now, heat the ghee to medium hot (not too smoky) and fry these balushahis to golden brown. Then, dip them in honey until it coats all over it. Serve chilled as a dessert.

Dry Fruits Milkshake
Honey Jar* 3 fresh figs
* 5 dates
* 5 almonds
* 3-4 cashew nuts
* 4-7 pistachios
* 1 large banana
* 2 tsp. honey
* 4 cups of organic milk
Method
Blend all the above mentioned ingredients together till smooth. Serve chilled in tall glasses.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com

First published in May 2017.

Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

Ingredients
2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Method
Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

Avial
This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Ingredients
Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Method
Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

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.praba@cookingmastery.com