Tag Archives: Summer

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


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


  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


  • 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


  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


  • 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:


  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


  • 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


  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


Mythologies of the World In the Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons is my first novel set in the fiction world, Adijari. I reworked it countless times to make it a seamless and enjoyable read. It follows the emotional story of a young orphan boy Gradni who wants to eradicate dragons because he is convinced they are the scourge of the earth. Along his journey, he discovers that they are not what he has been told, but he is torn between doing what is right and making a name for himself. All this while caught in a political back and forth of factions that have their own agenda. This world is full of a great variety of dragons, all of which are heavily influenced by my study of global dragon and serpent mythologies.

I grew up in Oman and the U.A.E and caught the writing bug back in high school. My mother gave me a giant blue ledger book and I carried it with me all the time. I just really enjoyed telling stories and knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life.

As a fantasy writer, I’m infatuated with mythology and what these ancient stories can teach us about humanity today. I read Nordic and Persian myths first, and then got into indigenous folklore from America and around the world. Indian Mythology is the one I keep coming back to in between reading up on others. The commonality, uniqueness, and vastness of these different worlds are an infinite well of creativity for me to draw from as I create stories in my own make-believe world of Adijari.

Kirkus Review is calling my book: “An ambitious fantasy tale that builds an enticing world with simple but effective detail.”

Looking ahead, I have a novella coming out sometime this summer and am working on an online project that is more directly inspired by the Mahabharata. This work is also influenced by reader participation. I’m grateful for my imagination and the imagination of creators who have influenced me. I hope that my stories similarly inspire the imagination of others. You can find The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons and more of my writing at www.spjayaraj.com where you can also sign up for my newsletter to receive news on upcoming releases and special offers.


The Road to College Admissions

Lost for where to start your journey to attending a top U.S. college? Wondering if you’re behind your peers? Confused about what step comes next?

We have a map to help you find your way. There are steps you can take all four years of high school to improve your candidacy for a top university acceptance. With hard work and the right guidance, you can make it to the finish line! 

This guide walks you through each high school semester, but don’t forget to take advantage of those summers, too! Even if your teachers or peers aren’t thinking ahead, summer break is the perfect opportunity to set yourself apart.

Here are some suggestions for your superstar summers:

  • Rising Freshman Summer: Reach out to friends and look at the list of clubs you can join. You can also brush up on fundamental subjects.
  • Rising Sophomore Summer: Practice target skills, take a class at a local community college or online, build good writing and study habits, and explore extracurricular and academic interests.
  • Rising Junior Summer: Take more advanced courses in subject areas that most interest you. Start participating in camps or competitions. Start narrowing down your list of schools and majors. Prepare for standardized tests.
  • Rising Senior Summer: Apply for competitive summer programs, internships, and hands-on opportunities to set yourself apart. Begin the actual college applications.
  • Final Summer before college: Some schools offer bridge classes to help you adjust to college workloads. Otherwise – spend time with your family, check off any bucket list activities in your hometown, and get excited about your new home for the next few years!

Navigating the college application process can be challenging – that’s why we recommend speaking to a college counselor. Empowerly connects you with a team of college admission experts, handpicked based on your interests & goals. Whether you’re looking to develop your extracurricular profile or need support with summer programs or college applications, our counselors can boost your admissions chances to your dream college. 

Learn more about Empowerly here or call +1(800)491-6920.


Golden Knights Debate Their Way Through the Pandemic

As more summer programs were being canceled, I saw there was a need for keeping students engaged and stimulating their creativity. Being a high school student myself, I could only imagine that those younger than me must be struggling. With COVID-19 bringing in a new distance learning environment and a summer lockdown for students, a group of eight middle school students (Milpitas Golden Knights) with my active volunteer guidance came up with a creative plan to spend the summer holidays safely indoors and socially connected – engaging in Public Forum Debate.

How did this idea begin?  

Eight 6th grade Merryhill school students showed interest in practicing and learning techniques for public forum debate.  With my assistance and leadership as the debate Advisor and judge, the debate club was formed and sessions were organized.  I helped design the debate classes and practice sessions every week for 12 weeks with the idea to keep the students connected, stay mentally healthy, and keep connected during challenging times.

About the Debate Sessions

With dedication, we started to practice from the end of May and the kids continued to learn and acquire the skill that would assist them through middle school. Every week, the team gathered in a virtual meeting session and reviewed through debate materials/rules, watched debate videos, and practiced speeches.  The program was executed as four teams with two members in each team. For every debate topic, the team members were regrouped to support each other. The debate team independently handled work sessions between themselves during the week to prepare for the debate and keep connected. This helped the students to learn and practice teamwork. At the end of each debate, the group voted for the next debate title and continued to challenge themselves. In addition to debate sessions and in the spirit of rewarding and motivating the students, the program was expanded to include a general knowledge quiz, which covered topics like science, history, geography, politics, and sport, at the end of each debate session.


By the end of the debate session, the kids were able to meet at a local park to celebrate their achievements, while social distancing. It was their first time meeting in real life since the start of the summer and the kids enjoyed catching up. They were presented with trophies and medals to congratulate them on their progress and improvement in debating. Team pictures were taken and speeches were given to thank everyone for their participation in the program.

Presenting to the Mayor of Milpitas

The final debate session was attended by the Principal of MerryHill School, Ms. Quinn Letan who recognized the effort put together by the students.  The students were also given the opportunity to present the program to Mayor Richard Tran of Milpitas. In the end, the credit really goes towards all students of this program – Nalika, Diya, Saatvika, Aadya, Sohan, Adithya, Hrithvik, and Katthir. 

If you would like your child to join the debate team, contact sundramr@hotmail.com for more info!

Meghaa Ravichandran is a high school sophomore at Notre Dame High School is the leader and coach for the Milpitas Golden Knights team.

No Academic Competition, No Problem!

Eighth-grader Navneeth Murali was “totally shattered and devastated” when he learned in April that the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held the following month was canceled. He has aged out of the competition and under current rules cannot participate next year. Like other competitive spellers, mathematicians, geography whizzes, and young scientists, it was a season of disappointments, as practically all academic competitions have been canceled.

When competitions are stopped and there seems nothing to win, it seems the students committed to these institutions do not stop studying.

We often think of studying after school to be a chore. The assumption is that youth want to do “fun” activities rather than academic ones. A school principal I spoke with said, “I can’t believe you’re going to find kids who are passionate about long division. I just don’t believe it.” The cancellation of these competitions presumably would give these kids a reason to finally relax.

Having interviewed dozens of children who compete in spelling bees and/or math competitions in elementary and middle school for my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, it is clear that they are passionate about what they are pursuing. Yes, studying is tedious. Even the most committed youth feel staring at worksheets can become “utter toil” at times. They put in hours each weekday and weekend — on top of homework — to these pursuits. 

But while many start their academic pursuit because parents drag them, those who stick with it have a sincere interest. As one spelling contestant at a national finals competition told me, “I just viewed it more as fun than work.” Years later, former contestants appreciate how much they learned not just in their particular subject but also about the process of learning. They had confidence that they could tackle major challenges.

Stopping would give the wrong message, that the only reason to bother reviewing German-origin words and quadratic equations was to win the championship. Educators know that the emphasis should on the studying process and effort, not the outcome. The best way to alleviate the sense that all that studying was a waste is for youth to keep studying, for it affirms the fact that the youth has an interest in the subject and gains through the process of studying.  

Just as a child should not stop practicing baseball or softball in the backyard because their championship game has been called off, the same applies to those training for academic competitions.

Rather than stop preparing, kids should study in a more relaxed manner. Children should find a new routine, one that dwells on the enjoyable parts of the subject rather than geared towards what weaknesses they need to work on in order to win. This should be a time to remind them what they enjoyed about their academic pursuits in the first place, before the pressure of the national competition came on, just like the ball player remembering what playing catch in the backyard used to feel like before the drills and practices for the big game got intense. 

What’s more, one never knows what the preparation will lead to. A few weeks after feeling devastated, Murali was crowned a spelling bee champion in a national virtual bee hosted by two former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists. He has another chance later this summer to do it again in another national bee. The South Asian Spelling Bee (which Murali won last year) may also host an annual competition this summer.

Take it from a former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalist who has since coached spellers. Dev Jaiswal offered, “My advice for current eight-graders is to continue studying at a comfortable intensity. I would have been very disappointed if the spelling bee was ultimately canceled, but I would not think of my extra time spent studying as a waste.” 

Pawan Dhingra is a professor at Amherst College and author of Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. He appears in the Netflix documentary, Spelling the Dream.

Southern Summer, Indian Charm

Summer in the South East lingers on like an old friend. Fall waits patiently to move in. Winter is a distant dream in books about Christmas, and long days are still a tangible reality. While others around me await cooler weather, I rejoice holding on to every balmy bit of the remaining glory of summer.

The abundant southern sunlight falls onto my wooden floors, strong, straight, sharp lines of hope.The power of the scorching sun is ruthless and inescapable.

Summer rains are answered prayers. The subjects of love poems and Bollywood story lines, a nurturing potion to an Indian heart. The dampness in the air before the smell of showers accentuates the heaviness of the humid air. The smell of the earth after a monsoon like rainstorm is the quintessential smell of Indian soil. And when the rain hasn’t complied, the dust rises as a mountain. Smells, of chai and curry travel heavily reverberating to the lazy spinning of ceiling fans on sleepy afternoons. While working the invasion of bugs, slothful, creeping, crawling creatures, the irritating jewels of summer.

Visually the subtropics of the South are similar to the topography of India. The ripe green of the thick trees as the leaves mature from spring to late summer, ripened  by the very harshness of the sun, waiting for a new life. Jasmine and rose linger in the air, so do basil and ginger. House plants include lemons and chile pepper and farmer’s markets sell Okra!

Traditional houses have Carolina rooms and long porches with high roomy ceilings, drinking ice tea, eating peaches and watermelons, much like afternoons of sharbat, pakoras (hush puppies, anyone?) and,cucumbers with a dash of salt, Lassis and hand held paper fans. Ahh the carelessness, the pleasure of complaining about the heat over shooing flies from mangoes. Diverse bugs serenade the big mouths of hazy street lights in blue-grey late dusk.

Carolina wrens break out into rippling sonorous songs much like the cuckoo, the best sound of my childhood and just when the cacophonous daytime sounds of the chiquitas fades, the crickets start their soporific, deafening music. In the arms of such warm comfort I can sleep soundly, without a care, for it will be just as hot tomorrow and I will be home.

Preeti Hay is the Managing Editor of India Currents.

Yoga Day Celebrations and A Yoga App!

International Yoga Day is right around the corner, on June 21st, the same day as the summer solstice.

Doing yoga every day has many benefits for physical and mental health. Tracking these yoga habits can also prove beneficial. Here’s a way for you to start your yoga practice with a high tech way of keeping track.

Yoga Bharati recently created an app to help track your yoga practice. The app was created in accordance with their 2019 Yoga Yagna. The Yoga Yagna is a challenge to do yoga and track your yoga habits for 21 days, until the summer solstice, because it is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit.

Yoga Bharati will continue hosting the app even after Yoga Yagna is over.

The app is extremely easy to use, and with a simple click of the ‘I Did Yoga Today’ button, your exercise habits can be tracked.

Through the app and website, you can join a number of different groups based on which yoga habits you would like to track.The link below will guide you in how to use the app and the benefits of tracking your yoga habits.


Washington, D.C. also celebrated International Yoga Day. While the holiday falls on the summer solstice, June 21st, the celebration took place on June 16th at the Washington Monument.

The Indian Embassy in D.C. partnered with Friends of Yoga to give everyone, no matter their yoga experience or age, a chance to bring out their inner Yogi or Yogini.

Participants of the celebration were welcomed by Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who noted how yoga has been adopted all over the world. The Ambassador’s welcome was followed by a guided yoga session led by Dr. Moxraj, Teacher of Indian Culture at the Embassy of India. Afterward, an Indian food festival took place at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art. Your health and wellness are important, not only on International Yoga Day, so celebrate with us – but continue on with your yoga journey. And don’t forget to track your yoga habits!

Here are 3 videos to help you do the surya namaskar!


When Summer Comes: Ayurvedic Do’s And Dont’s

The period of transition of seasons is challenging for our health. Weather conditions may fluctuate a lot before settling down. During this time we are most susceptible to illness, so it is important to negotiate the seasonal transition carefully.

Early summer temperatures may vary wildly between cool mornings on some days and extreme heat on other days. So it is important to dress appropriately. On hot days, wear a light layer of cotton and open footwear; cover your head with a broad rimmed hat when you step outdoors. Avoid exposure to the mid-day sun, but do step out and enjoy the evening, when it is breezy and cooler.

Hotter conditions tend to increase pitta dosha in the body, so to maintain a healthy balance, consume foods and drinks that have a cooling potency. Summer squashes like zucchini, bottle gourd, bitter melon and seasonal sweet fruits like apricot, peach, plum, and melons are preferred. Flavorful herbs like cilantro, basil, parsley, mint, dill and mild spices like cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek, and turmeric help to aid digestion and keep doshas in balance, thus promoting general health and wellbeing. You will tend to sweat more and it is easy to get dehydrated in summer, so drink plenty of cool water. Coconut water, lightly sweetened lemonade, and warm whole milk are also good choices for fluids.

Avoid or reduce intake of pungent spices like green chili, black pepper, and garlic which increase body heat. Unlike most other sweeteners, honey has a heating effect; so it is best avoided on hot days. Alcohol causes dehydration, so avoid alcoholic drinks in summer or take in moderation and drink plenty of water.

On hot nights, you may want to take a quick shower at bedtime, apply a few drops of cooling jasmine, lavender, vetiveria, or sandalwood oil, and go to bed early. Nights are shorter in summer, and you do need your full quota of sleep.

Ashok Jethanandani is an ayurveda practitioner in San Jose, California.

Summer Cookouts and Picnics

Summer Cookouts and Picnics

The idea of a summer cookout generally conjures a vision of meat on an open fire, but the joy of cooking and sharing food outdoors can be enjoyed by vegetarians as well. Among my fondest childhood memories of my village is that of farmers sitting around an open fire roasting freshly picked corn in the field.

Summer picnic basket
Summer picnic basket

Summer’s a perfect time to get together with friends to enjoy food that is cooked outdoors on a grill. The host need not feel isolated within the kitchen at home; instead all guests can help with cooking outside, adding to the feeling of communal sharing. Plan a varied menu that includes complementary dishes. It helps to familiarize yourself with your grill ahead of time, so you can avoid surprises at the event. Since grilled food is very hot, keep some oven mitts, potholders, towels and tongs handy. In your picnic basket, you can include
* water, juices, soda and root beer
* organic wine and micro-brewery local beer
* for the grill, purchase vegan deli items like firm tofu, tofu dogs, soy burgers and veggie burgers in addition to homemade deli items such as Tabbouli and Baba Ghanooj (recipes below).
* a variety of local and imported cheeses
* freshly baked bread, crisp-bread or crackers, with some gluten-free options
* gluten-free chips
Here are recipes for three Middle Eastern dishes that are perfect for your outdoor party.

Tabbouli is a visual feast, a beautiful salad of bulgur and vegetables made with aromatic mint leaves and fresh olive-oil dressing. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week.

1½ cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
4-5 cups warm water
1 large bunch (2 cups) curly parsley, (remove stems)
1 cup fresh mint leaves (remove stems)
1 bunch scallions, chopped finely,with some of the green tops included
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into very small cubes (1-1½ cups)
1 red bell pepper or a fresh tomato, cut into very small pieces (½ cup)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
¼ teaspoon crushed oregano leaves, dried or fresh
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, cover the bulgur with warm water and let it soak for 30 minutes.
Wash, drain and mince parsley and mint leaves; combine the leaves and vegetables in a large bowl. Drain the soaked bulgur completely by wrapping in a cheesecloth and squeezing out the water or take a handful of bulgur at a time and squeeze most of the water out. Add the drained bulgur to the bowl of leaves and vegetables. Toss all the ingredients gently to mix.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake or whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the desired amount of dressing to the bowl of tabbouli and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes about six to eight half-cup servings

Variation for Gluten-Free Tabbouli
Bulgur is made from wheat, but a gluten-free version of tabbouli can be made with rice and quinoa. Instead of using bulgur, use rice and quinoa. All other ingredients remain the same as above.

1½ cups water
¾ cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
¾ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained

In boiling water, add rice and quinoa. Cover and simmer over moderate heat for 15 minutes. Then, keep covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Prepare vegetables and dressing as discussed above. Cool the cooked grains by spreading them out on a platter. When they are cool, combine the grains with the vegetables, add dressing and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes six to eight servings

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs
Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Ingredients for marinade
.¼ cup balsamic vinegar, or rice vinegar for a milder flavor
.½ cup olive oil, or peanut oil if using rice vinegar
.¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
.4–6 cloves garlic, minced
.2 tablespoons fresh, minced herbs, such as oregano, basil, and thyme
Ground pepper, salt or soy sauce

Ingredients for kebabs
2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2 gold-bar squash, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2–3 yellow-fin or red potatoes, washed and cut into thin slices
1 or 2 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, cut into long strips
12 large mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
12 cherry tomatoes
16–20 oz. firm tofu, drained, dried, and cut into 1-inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients except for the salt or soy sauce. Add vegetables to the marinade bowl along with the tofu. Stir gently to be sure that everything is coated with marinade. Cover and set aside for an hour, or keep in the refrigerator overnight.

First, add the soy sauce or salt to the kebab bowl. Next, thread the vegetables onto skewers and place the loaded skewers on a platter. Save the leftover marinade. Just before grilling, baste the vegetables liberally saving the leftover liquid.
Place the skewers on the grill and turn them frequently so that all sides cook Drizzle the cooked kebabs with the remaining marinade and serve immediately.
Makes approximately 12 servings

Baba Ghanooj
Baba Ghanooj is a dip made from fire-roasted eggplant and tahini (sesame paste). You can roast the eggplants on an open fire outdoors, or cook them above the stove-top flame in your kitchen. However, cooking the eggplant in an open fire adds a special flavor and aroma that is hard to replicate indoors.

1 pound (about 4 to 6) small whole eggplants, preferably Japanese eggplants, washed or 1 large whole globe eggplant, washed, dried and top knobs removed

3 tablespoons toasted or raw tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

Prepare the dressing ahead of time by whisking together all the ingredients except for the parsley and refrigerate.

If you are roasting the eggplants by the open fire, cook directly over the flame or glowing coals (without covering them with a foil). Turn the eggplants frequently using tongs, roasting to allow the skin to blister all over and crack. Remove from flame when the flesh is softened completely. Set them aside in a platter or a cutting board to cool.

After the eggplants have cooled down, remove the charred skin with your fingertips and mash the pulp. Add few tablespoons of the dressing at a time, stirring with a fork until a creamy consistency is formed. Garnish with the parsley and serve with bread or crackers.
Makes eight to ten servings.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco.

First published in August of 2017.




Baggage: The Fine Art of Overpacking!

With the school year drawing to a close, the overarching concern in my mind is not if I should seek out summer camps or let my kid be a ‘free ranger’ in our backyard. Rather I find I am consumed by a strange manner of anxiety mixed with excitement centered around ‘suitcases’! The annual rite of passage – our trip to India is around the corner. Taking on the proportions of an existential conundrum, it looms ever closer… spiking my propensity for planning, shopping and list making into high gear. 

You’d think that 26 years of life as an NRI and countless mini-migrations across the oceans each summer, to visit the country of my birth, would have eased this quandary. Uhh…NOPE! Come summer, the dormant slumbering creature inside me best described as ‘part maniacal consumer – part packrat’ springs to life, and off I go on the seasonal dance of list-making, shopping, standing in the returns line, packing, weighing, repacking, and checking in… phew! 

It isn’t just the gifts. I find the same tendency extends into packing clothing for the 2 month pilgrimage. Especially for my child! Like laundry facilities are an unheard of thing back in India! LOL. (shock face emoji). Amazing isn’t it?

“What do you gift family and friends these days?” my friend asked me recently. I had asked the same question not too long ago. With the discussion that ensued, it became clear that it is indeed a daunting task! Global economy and consumerism has leveled the playing field tremendously over the years. There isn’t much that is not available in an Indian marketplace today. Added to this, online shopping has made our job of finding interesting and unique gifts even more difficult!

But despite this, we find ourselves filling suitcases to the brim and transporting them back and forth. Of course I wouldn’t dare generalize! But all you have to do is observe the baggage carts lined up at the check-in lines of any India-bound international carrier. They are literally groaning under the weight of the umpteen cases and boxes piled in a manner defying the laws of physics! At this rate, I am convinced that very soon, airline companies are going to charge us for breathing the recycled air on the flight! So… back to the question of the season.  “What do we fill ‘em cases with?”

NRI or otherwise – we are, at the root of it, a generous culture. We prize our guests, just as much as we prize the art of hospitality. And we absolutely abhor walking into the home of a loved one empty-handed. I get that. Totally understand. I am living by the same cultural moires after all. So it isn’t just the act of shopping until I drop that confounds me. My seasonal raids of wholesale warehouses yield much of the same stuff as my cousin’s shopping list, and that of her sister-in-law’s. In the end, piles of similar consumables end up stuffed in refrigerators and closets of the network of common relatives along our family trees! They could open a warehouse of their own, if they’re enterprising enough!

Maybe it is time to change this ritual? I am in no way suggesting that we should turn into rude, thoughtless goons. But it bears thinking. Is it just my brain hardwired with “What if I need…, or “How will it look if I don’t…?” OR, is it just that I have let myself get habituated to this way of consumerism? I swear I am a normal, practical individual on most days. Just not in the weeks before summer break.

You will find me “pinning” blogs and information about ‘Minimalism’ and ‘Mindfulness’ – my personal M&Ms! And I try. I really do try to live by these tenets. So what happens to me when I’m confronted with a suitcase? It is as if my brain goes into paroxysms of guilt over pockets of empty spaces – calling out to be filled. And M&M fly straight out the window! 

Last night, trying to avoid the yawing mouths of two suitcases, I indulged in a bout of nostalgia from my childhood. My father was employed with the Indian Railways and we moved around quite a bit. Helping my mother pack, my sister and I acquired a knack for it over the years. Everything we owned, our whole life, was carefully packed into three mammoth ‘trunks’ fashioned out of timber from sleeper beams. Large sealed padlocks adorned them as they were transported from place to place. Before we started packing, we embarked upon a ritual of combing through our possessions and eliminating the inevitable clutter that had made its way into our necessities.  We had the “Want” list and the “Need” list. As hard as it was to part with the wants… we managed well enough. We learnt early how to make do and improvise. And we had fun! The biggest take away from these experiences were the wonderful memories we acquired with each move!

I am determined to try and make a go of this upcoming trip to India – with – ONE suitcase! (Ok. Maybe… a duffle bag along with it). And except for a small list of specific personalized gifts, I would like to try and spend more time with the ones I love. Because, I’m pretty sure they would appreciate it. There is the prospect of day trips being planned that is sure to yield a treasure trove of fun. My daughter is looking forward to time with her cousins. She is eager to start her own ‘Want Vs Need’ list! 

And Me? I’m looking forward to packing my single NRI suitcase full of precious memories for the return journey! 

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.

Summer of Service Program


Laura Fennell, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Intuit and Renu Bhatia, vice president of business development at NVIDIA, are busy Silicon Valley tech leaders who were looking for summer activities for their young teens too old for traditional summer camp but too young for a job. That’s when they found Summer of Service at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose and are now the program’s biggest fans. This nationally recognized program that connects teens in grades 7 – 10 with volunteer opportunities kicks off today with four, two-week long sessions through August 5. (see schedule below).

With an emphasis on responsibility and purpose, participants in Summer of Service have the option of volunteering in one of five focus areas for each session including community outreach activities, early childhood education, the environment, activities for museum visitors, and leadership development. After participating for three summers and fully engaged in making a difference in the community through volunteerism, Bhatia’s son, Nirban, is launching his own literacy program, Write 2 Succeed, on June 23, for kids age 9 – 13 at West Valley Branch Library. He also successfully lobbied the Spirit Halloween corporation with repeated contacts and a petition on Change.org to remove an Osama Bin Laden terrorist costume that Nirban felt resembled a Sikh man and offended his community. According to his mother, “In Summer of Service, he learned how a person his age can truly help others and feels responsible to make a difference by using his talents and energy.”

Fennell’s son and daughter both participated in the program for several summers and became interns. “My children were motivated and empowered at the camp – they woke up with energy and commitment. They wouldn’t have missed a day because they felt responsibility,” said Laura Fennell. “Those are characteristics I try to cultivate in the workplace – employees who are self-motivated, positive and empowered – not entitled. I think that is the definition of success.”

There are 18 service sites located in the South Bay that provide rewarding opportunities for teens to earn up to 32 community service hours per session doing such things as mentoring preschoolers at Estrella Family Services, harvesting fruits and vegetables for low income families at Veggielution, clearing evasive species at Ulistac Natural Area, and putting on a luau for seniors at the Alma Community Center.

While service hours are an important edge on college applications, Summer of Service participants gain valuable life skills including “Emotional Quotient” (EQ) and leadership skills, a greater awareness of and responsibility for those less fortunate, and the belief that they can make a difference as a valued teenager. “I think one of the most important skills teens develop in our program is what is now referred to as ‘perspective taking,’” said Marilee Jennings, executive director of Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. “Recent brain research shows that one of the most important EQ skills for tomorrow’s workforce and a thriving community goes far beyond empathy. It’s actually the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see through their eyes. Our program provides many opportunities for teens to experience different perspectives – from the diversity of the youth interacting with each other in camp– to learning about different sectors of the community and the issues each face, and lastly, inward

The first session launches June 13 and the last session starts July 25 and ends August 5. For more
information, visit cdm.org. To register, email sos@cdm.org or call 408-673-2833.

Summer of Service Sessions

Session 1: June 13 – June 24

Session 2: June 27 – July 8

Session 3: July 11 – July 22

Session 4: July 25 – August 5

For more information about the Museum, visit www.cdm.org.

Destination Bali

Bali is a very devout, sacred Hindu island—a shining green emerald etched into the equatorial heart of the primeval, volcanic Indonesian archipelago. Bali continues to maintain its ancient cultural links to India—it is an adamant and joyous outpost of Hindu reverence and religion. A ring of high, coastal perimeter temples guards their sacred, secret island both from invaders—and from the omnipresent forces of lurking, local black magic practitioners. The Balinese are secure under this divine benediction: everything that they do is done under the protection of the gods. The Balinese will never give up their deities, sacred religious foods, village priests, cycle of offerings, village ceremonies, temple anniversaries, and extravagant, traffic-stopping processions.

Local Balinese women in brightly colored, pink and yellow lace kebayas and silken sarongs parade through the narrow village streets in breathtaking, traffic-stopping, single ceremonial file. They balance heavy, six-foot-high, layered-fruit offering towers (banten tegeh) on their heads while enroute to visit another village temple.  I took a one-day class at Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum on how to construct the offering tower (the trick is in a hidden, vertical interior stand and sharp bamboo sticks to affix the fruit in even rows!)

There are elaborately carved, strategically placed paras stone temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Vishnu in every single village on the island—long referred to as “the island of ten thousand temples.” The Balinese will invite you to come to their homes to share their ceremonies, home art galleries, village cooking, and weddings. Royal cremation ceremonies showcase Bali’s devotion to the Hindu divinities.  Everything else stops—time itself ceases and freezes solid—whenever a massive, elaborate cremation ceremony must be staged to honor (and consecrate to the flames) a king or member of the royal palace of Ubud. Indian tourists to Bali will be warmly welcomed, and you will find much that is familiar in shared roots and religion—but with a delicious Balinese cultural twist!

Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate
Delicious traditional Balinese food served on a leaf plate

“Spiritual growth and health tourism” options are abundant in the rice-field-ringed, traditional village heart of Bali. Ubud is the cultural capital and sacred healing center of Bali, blessed with an abundance of yoga studios, spas, herbal healing sanctuaries, beauty and massage treatments,  traditional healers, local village balian, jamu sellers, beauty regimens, natural beauty products, Balinese dance performances, health meditation teachers, and holistic intuitive healers.

Shadow Puppet Performance
Ubud is the perfect setting to see a wayang kulit shadow puppet performance—a spiritualized art form which still holds tremendous power in Bali and Java. The highly trained dalang (puppet master) assumes formidable supernatural powers (he is almost in trance) during the entire wayang performance. Sequestered behind an oil lamp-lit screen, he re-enacts ancient familiar scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana legends (spliced with contemporary, often comical, Balinese social and political commentary).  He uses and manipulates his own large, ornate, powerful collection of carefully crafted and blessed, magically charged puppet characters. Behind the glow of the ancient oil lamp, he is an otherworldly spiritual force to be reckoned with—and treated with great care and deference. The wayang kulit can typically go on for hours on special ritual occasions.  Young Balinese couples will still hire a wayang group to stage a performance at their home wedding ceremony to entertain the guests.

Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show
Behind the scenes of a Wayang Kulit Puppet Show

Balinese Wayang Kulit shadow plays take place in conjunction with temple celebrations or other religious gatherings. The first time that I saw the wayang was in Ubud in the 1990s—I was captivated and entranced by both the ink-black, night-time, rubble-strewn performance space and the sacred ritual subtext of the experience.  The purpose of the wayang is to bless the occasion by inviting ancestral spirits to visit the location.  Bountiful offerings are presented before, during, and after the performance, which may last from three to four hours. Balinese wayang is not an all night performance as it is in Java. Plays usually begin sometime between nine and eleven o’clock. The Balinese dalang takes on the role of priest, performing acts of offering and cleansing. Mantras are recited before and after the performance. A primary purpose of the shadow play is for the dalang to make holy water—to be used for prayer and to bless the area and the participants. Holy water is prepared by adding flowers to water from a high stream, and reciting mantras with incense and sprinklings of rice (abundant offerings are also presented).

Natural Spas
Luscious-smelling, organic spa products manufacturers are clustered in the environs of Ubud—offering their own brand of authentic, village boreh scrubs.  These poultices originated in the golden age of Balinese rice cultivation. Tending the bright green, terraced rice field rings, the farmers were constantly exposed to the raw elements. They labored under the heat of the sun—standing fast against tropical gusts—while mired knee-deep in damp earth, irrigated, mirror-like flooded paddy fields, and pools of water. This gave rise to assorted muscular aches and pains. The cure was a restorative boreh powder—a combination of medicinal roots, spices, and bark crushed into a healing pack. Bali’s ancient, indigenous boreh—a healing and warming paste used for sickness—warms the body, enhances blood circulation, relieves aching joints and sore muscles, and enhances skin elasticity.  The fresh herbal aromatics also relieve headaches, colds, flu, and runny noses.  It is commonly applied to the forehead and temples, shoulders, back, foot, knee, and legs. Following a harsh day hoeing in the fields, the boreh provides welcome warmth to cold rural legs and feet. After the farmer washes up, eats dinner, and gets ready for bed, the pack will be applied and left in place throughout the night (especially during the cooler rainy season). It will be rinsed off in the morning. This warming sequence is also applied in modern, “traditional spa treatments,” with boreh described as a body warmer, beauty scrub/body scrub, healing paste and exfoliant all at the same time—both remedial and cosmetic.

A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath
A Balinese spa with a natural spa bath

A healing boreh product is usually composed of fresh coconut oil, flowers, aromatic roots, cardamom, cinnamon, wild ginger, galangal, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and rice powder. All ingredients are milled into powders and blended with warm water for immediate use. The archetypal bark and cloves blend has a pleasant odor (brown rice acts as a glutinous viscous base). The paste is applied to areas of ailment and then left to dry. In the villages, you can see the typically rugged Balinese elders with patches of dried boreh on their temples, arms, and legs. Different ailments may call for alternate or additional ingredients such as sandalwood, mesui, and sitok (other indigenous tree barks), coriander, bengle (a type of plant widely used in local and Chinese medicine), and an extensive list of herbs. Older Balinese (even with a mild cold) will send a child to purchase a list of herbs and spices from a small, traditional warung stall across the village road, or simply gather some home-grown roots and leaves from their back yard gardens and fields.

A relaxing, rejuvenating day spa indulgence is another integral element in Ubud’s arsenal of healing, happiness, and wellness choices. I recommend the Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses in Ubud for the ultimate in luxurious, body-pampering bliss. It lives up to its beautiful name—a place for magical caretaking, delicious scents, and the ultimate in body and soul rejuvenation. Most spa products in Bali are natural and contain local Balinese herbs, plants, flowers, and spices grown in Ubud’s equatorial, tropical highland Garden of Eden. The native plants used in the Tamarind Spa all grow in rich, local volcanic soil. The village of Ubud (obad means “medicine” in Balinese) is the source of many of the Tamarind Spa’s superior concoctions—a naturally fertile area lush with emerald green leaves, roots, barks, and herbs.

In Bali, spiritual income is as important as physical income: the use of raw, organic spa ingredients benefits the local farmers. Honeycomb may come from area bee keepers, and seaweed is brought over from Bali’s pristine sister island, Nusa Lembongan. The high quality of the fragrant ingredients enhances the Spa’s body and bath treatments, scrubs, facials, massages, and exfoliants. You will stare—with love and longing, and anticipation—at your beautiful, fragrant bar of soap sitting on the treatment room ledge. It awaits your every pleasure. This is the type of soap that you bond with—that you build an intimate relationship with—an indulgent delight! You may find yourself lingering in the gorgeous hot shower in a fragrant haze. Your skin feels soft, silky, smooth, and relaxed—like everyone and everything else in Bali.

A private and serene area of a Balinese spa
A private and serene area of a Balinese spa

For the ultimate Balinese spa experience, you must take the famous, flower-filled, mandi lulur bathtub extravaganza—which originated in the sumptuous royal palaces of Java to preserve the beauty of the pampered royal princesses. You will luxuriate for an hour in a warm, gleaming tub filled with fresh flower petals, red hibiscus blossoms, and vivid marigold flowers and sip hot ginger tea from small, elegant, celadon-green stoneware cups. It does not get any better than this.

The nearby Tjampuhan Hotel and Spa on Jalan Raya Tjampuhan (near the old Dutch suspension bridge) is another well-established, wellness destination in Ubud. It offers a unique Romanesque grotto setting decorated with traditional Balinese carvings and stonework set into the river valley. Hot and cold whirlpool baths compete with multi-level, gladiator-like natural, tree ringed pools: I lingered here all afternoon in amazed bliss. The cliffside day massage beds are unique in the world: clients can relax “en plain air,” accompanied by the relaxing sounds and sights of the rushing river below. I had hours of fun watching a beautiful, brightly colored, yellow and brown striped snail slowly crawl up the rocky wall of my open-air massage space.

Yoga and Healing
If you want to recover, grow, and find inner peace, you must come to Ubud. Ubud’s organic/healing sensibilities run deep: some of the finest and most creative yoga studios in the world make their home in the sanctuary of this bustling, rice-field bracketed Balinese village. Linda Madani’s Intuitive Flow yoga studio is perched high above the stone stairs leading up to the bucolic, beautiful local village of Penestenan. A Canadian expat, Linda, has done advanced spiritual training with a member of Ubud’s royal family, Cokorda Rai, in ancient Balinese yoga and healing techniques. Her gorgeous, Intuitive Flow yoga space has a wrap-around view of the lush countryside below: classes with Linda are a life-changing, life-enhancing, “spiritual yoga” odyssey.

Bali has a worldwide reputation as a monastic refuge of restorative healing, renewal, and health. The massive Bali Spirit Yoga Barn studio on Jalan Hanoman in Ubud is relaxing, friendly, comfortable, earthy and unpretentious. Here, you can nourish your body, mind and soul. The Yoga Barn has five yoga studios with wooden walls and floors, blessed by a myriad of carved Ganesha statues. The multi-level Yoga Barn is nestled in an oasis amidst lush rice paddies, an organic farm, and a jungle ravine: it is a Balinese architectural miracle of local green grasses, lotus ponds and bamboo.

A center of spirituality, the Yoga Barn offers delicious organic vegetarian food, a yoga clothing boutique, and a full roster of mind and body-opening yoga classes, retreats, yoga festivals, and yoga teacher training courses. The instructors are international “yoga teachers in extended residence” in magical Ubud (from the United States, Australia, and beyond). It is a very liberating experience to enjoy your yoga practice in this special, supportive, transformational environment: “If you hug Ubud, it will hug you back!” I bought a special seven-day pass to the Yoga Barn, and was in residence there from morning until night for one of the best weeks of my life!

I finally learned the meaning of the all too common “monkey mind” expression: like an overactive macaque, our unquiet, unsettled thoughts are always jumping from tree to tree!  Nor will I ever forget Bodi Whittaker’s “bliss ball” teachings—straight from Byron Bay, Australia. Hold your palms body-width apart, facing each other in front of you.  Imagine that there is a large round bliss ball between them.  You can feel the very palpable, joyous positive energy running between your hands. Use it as an open-ended source of happiness, peace, and enlightenment. It works!

Vivienne Kruger, Ph.D. is the author of Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali, 2014.  Vivienne Kruger launched her own tour company and is leading fabulous, fully guided two-week tour groups to Bali.  Please visit www.balinesefoodculturaltourstobali.blogspot.com for complete information and booking.