Lying in bed with the ‘Poet of the appetites’

Standard

I have received warnings, dear reader, several warnings. Warnings to stay in bed. The culprit is a back pain that has had me out of action for almost two months now. I won’t go into details about the back pain in this public forum. I want this space to be about happiness and health, and gratitude and good food.

A short bout of recovery created an insatiable urge to ‘live’ life again. That led to three versions of tandoori fish (each a failure of epic proportions), half a litre of mango lassi for a potluck lunch, a jar of mango pickle, feverish activity on my blog and traipsing around in the Marina Bay Sands mall. Karma caught on quickly: my back is in pretty bad shape again. I am sheepishly heeding to the warnings now. So here I am, curled up in bed with heating pads and analgesic creams.

I am not complaining though. A super short trip to the library en route the doctor’s yielded a bunch of treasures.

8 books-all centered around food. My idea of bliss.

8 books-all centered around food. My idea of bliss.

As if savoring a new dish, I have tasted the first few pages of M.F.K. Fisher’s classic culinary essays in her “Love in a Dish”.  Each page sparkles with her philosophy that eating is inextricably tied to living well.

She combines recipes with memorable anecdotes, childhood reminiscences and passionate storytelling. You delight in the insistence of a fanatical waitress to feed her fresh pastry. You want to go back to her childhood and dip into her favorite creamy mashed potatoes and catsup, even if you are not quite sure what catsup is.

She says that the love of food builds a marriage:

“…even steak and potatoes, when they have been prepared with a shared interest and humor and intelligence, can be one great pleasure which leads to another, and perhaps–who knows–an even greater one.” 

What is left unsaid is as riveting as what is said.I always believed food creates love, but could I ever say it so subtly and deliciously? John Updike called her the ‘Poet of the appetites.’ Oh Mary Frances Kennnedy Fisher, I want to be like you. I am even willing to get two extra middle names if it will get me to write like you.

I am not complaining about having to lie in bed for one more day. After all, I have a poet for company.

 

 

Mango Achaar: Tickled by a Pickle

Standard

I feel apprehensive and unsure but also a little excited. Nearly those feelings that are evoked on a first date. But no, these feelings are being generated by the ridiculous adventure I am on today- making mango pickle for the first time ever. It is a bad sign when the feelings that are evoked on a first date are showing up at the prospect of mango pickle.

I just don’t see myself as a pickle-making kinda girl. I like to think of myself as cool and all that. And isn’t making mango pickle something your grandmas did every summer? But here I am,dear reader, intently chopping tart,raw mangoes into bite-sized chunks to create my first mango pickle ever. Valiantly defiant that my coolness quotient is rapidly dipping southwards with every incision I make into my beautifully green mangoes.

My mango tray is precariously positioned over three horizontal bars that are used for drying out clothes in Singapore. The sun is  really hot, so hopefully my mangoes will dry before they topple down 16 floors.

My mango tray is precariously positioned over three horizontal bars that are used for drying out clothes in Singapore. The sun is really hot, so hopefully my mangoes will dry before they topple down 16 floors.

My Punjabi and Rajasthani friends used to bring a green mango pickle in their lunch boxes to school–chunky pieces of raw mango that looked as though they had tons of fun rolling around in a bed of fragrant spices and mustard oil all summer. Just a tiny bite of that pickle with some chapatis or fried rice sent an explosion of flavors through your system. Unfortunately, none of the ready-made mango pickles that I have tried buying from the Indian store ever match up to that taste. Also, they are dripping in oil and artificial colors.So the only option left for me is to make my own mango pickle. 

My masala tray. I love the contrasting colors of the spices.

My masala tray. I love the contrasting colors of the spices.

 

I will report to you in a few days how this experiment turns out.  I thought of Aita (my grandma) a lot today. Aita spent hours making large quantities of mango, lime, green chilli and mustard pickle every summer. When she passed away in 1995, I did not even know how to make a cup of tea.The kitchen was the last place I wanted to be at. Wherever she is, she must be so tickled by the idea of me making a pickle.

MANGO PICKLE RECIPE

I adapted this recipe at http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/punjabi-mango-pickle/

The only change I made was I rubbed salt on to the mango pieces and put it out in the sun to dry for 4-5 hours before I rubbed the spices on to them. The trick is to get the mango pieces absolutely dry of moisture, but the flesh should still be a bit moist. Otherwise, it is difficult to preserve and spoils in a few days.

 

 

Jiggs Kalra, Take a Bow: Appraising ‘Punjab Grill’, Singapore

Standard

No, this is not a food or restaurant review. I don’t think I am qualified enough to write a review of a restaurant that is the brainchild of  of the ‘culinary maharaja’ of Indian cooking, Jiggs Kalra. I grew up reading Jiggs Kalra’s food columns in the ‘Telegraph’ magazine and watching his food show ‘Dawat’ on TV while I was growing up. But reading recipes and watching food being cooked is completely different from tasting the food. I read a column where Jiggs Column says that critiquing a restaurant is a huge responsibility. “You appraise the food, you don’t critique the restaurant”, in his words. So I am writing an appraisal.

So, today when we went for a Sunday ‘kabab and biryani’ brunch at Punjab Grill at Singapore, I had high expectations. This is the first time that I felt like I should stop cooking for the rest of my life. Every dish I have cooked till date seems ludicrous after the food I tasted at Punjab Grill. I was feeling proud of the mango lassi I had been making for the past few weeks. But the taste of the mango lassi I had at the Punjab Grill blew my mind and gave me a alphonso mango sized inferiority complex.

I think I should list what we ate just in the order. The hope is that I might be able to preserve some of the taste if I list out what we ate for lunch.

1. Papad with mint, yoghurt and mango chutney. I like sweet, so I liked the mango chutney the most.

2. There is a buffet section with beverages and salads. Jaljeera, Mattha (Buttermilk) and Mango lassi. The beverages were served in cute earthen pots.  The salads consisted of a tomato and cucumber salad, a fruit salad, and a mixed beans salad. And along with the salads was a Papdi chaat. Out of all these starters, the light flavors of the mango lassi with a hint of the fragrance of saffron truly stood out.

3. The vegetarian kebab platter consists of crispy corn kebab, mixed veg seekh kebab, paneer kebab and dahi ka kabab. The dahi ka kabab is something I have never eaten before. How can you get dahi into lovely round shaped patties? When I dug into a piece of the dahi ka kebab, I immediately knew that the binding agent was rice flour. You can taste the powdery grainy texture, but the mild flavors of cilantro in the kebab is what I liked best about the dahi ka kebab.

4. The non-vegetarian kebab platter consists of fish kebab, two types of chicken kebab and mutton seekh kebab. The fish kebab had a crispy outer crust and was smooth melty (what melty is not a word. well, it should be!)  on the inside. Well, all I can say is I my very vegetarian friend tried a bite of the fish kebab and decided that she wanted to have a whole fish kebab. Its a big deal, you know, when a  fully vegetarian Tamil Iyer appreciates a fish kebab :)

5. The main course consists of a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian platters. In the vegetarian platter, you can choose between mixed vegetable biryani and kathal (raw jackfruit) biryani. In the non-vegetarian platter, you could choose between mutton biryani and chicken biryani. BUT, before they bring the biryani, they serve a platter of naan, tandoori roti and a Punjab Grill special dal makhni. This daal is the mother of all daals I have eaten all my life. And I am a daal fan-I eat daals at weddings, and in five star restaurants. Our friend summarized it beautifully ” The humble daal is daal no more.” I couldn’t agree more.

6. To round off our gastronomic celebration there was a dessert platter too. It consisted of kheer (rice pudding), phirni (ground rice pudding), rasgulla with a dash of mango syrup, chocolate cake and a mango cheesecake. I was so full by this point but I still had two helpings of kheer.

What stood out to me was that all the flavors were so mild. Though I cook Indian food at home all the time, I learnt something just by eating the food at Punjab Grill. The dishes were flavorful but the flavors were so mild. They played on you but did not overwhelm you. I read a few articles on Jiggs Kalra online and I read this little blurb about how he is against the idea of “pinch” of anything in recipes. “Your pinch is different than mine. Ingredients must be measured to the last gram.” Moms, aunts and grandmoms in India’s home-kitchens are experts at eye-ball cooking, so there really is no precise way of cooking one dish. This is probably the reason why the food at Indian restaurants is so unpredictable.

I was inspired at having read Jiggs Kalra’s insistence on precision cooking. I think the next on my to-do list is to acquire his recipe books and learn to cook from it. If I am going to learn, I should learn from the master.

P.S. I think my blogs are too long. Must work on writing shorter blogs.

 

Mango Lassi: Tied through Karma

Standard
My first attempt at mango lassi

Mango Lassi: Yoghurt-based mango smoothie.

When we were children, one of my friends would hide mango in her closet beneath her clothes. This was her strategy to avoid sharing her favorite fruit (“dearer-than-my-life” in her words) with her brother. She was my neighbor. Every summer evening,we would walk to a neighboring fruit juice stall which served mango smoothie. It was in the heydays when we couldn’t care less about the calories that came from the full-fat milk, cream and sugar that went into the mango juice.  The mango smoothie added just  that wonderful touch of sweetness as we walked and talked, sharing our teenage hopes and dreams.

I have carried the karma of being attracted to people who LOVE mangoes wherever I go.  When I went to college in Delhi, the breakfast that was served in the hostel was eminently uninspiring. Slices of hard toast, boiled egg, fruit and watered down tea. And one little cube of hardened butter that came directly from the freezer. So it was impossible to spread it on to the toast. So I came up with this brilliant innovation. I would slice the boiled egg (which was hot)  in half and I would put the cube of hardened butter between the two egg-halves. The butter would soften very quickly due to the heat of the egg.  This technique of melting butter spread like wildfire through the hostel and soon, everyone was melting butter in the ‘womb’ of an egg. If you can’t tell already, I was quite proud of this discovery. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the temptation of bragging with my butter story, but the point is that breakfast was quite inedible.

Until the day I met S. Hostel usually closed down during the summer, except for those who were working through a summer internship. Both of us had summer internships that year. Since there were so few people in the hostel, we started spending a lot of time together. She introduced me to this tiny juice stall a little distance away from our hostel that made the most delectable mango lassi.Lassi is traditionally a drink from the Indian province of Punjab that is made with yoghurt and milk. Mango lassi essentially involves whisking yoghurt and milk with the pulp of mango. I like mango lassi better than mango smoothie because the yoghurt adds a tartness to the drink – just an additional layer of flavor that I enjoy.

Everyday, we started skipping breakfast to take a five-rupee rickshaw ride to the Sharma’s lassi-stall for mango lassi.The stall owner whisked sweet Dussehri mangoes, creamy yoghurt and milk in a blender and pour out a smooth liquid into tall glasses. Then he would garnish it with pistachios, thinly sliced cherries and top it with a sprinkling of roasted coconut.The lassi stall was a small and rickety makeshift structure. Just as most street-food stalls in India are. There was only a raised platform with enough space for a blender and a few glasses. There was one wooden bench on the side, big enough to seat three people. We usually stood in front of the stall in the bright hot morning Delhi sun. After drinking the full glass of lassi, we threw away the straw and tilted the glass over our mouths to ensure that we drank the last few drops of lassi which the straw couldn’t reach. Whenever there were people seated in the wooden bench, they stared at us while we were mooching off the last few drops of lassi. I guess there is something stare-worthy (is that a word?) about two girls standing next to a busy highway with cars whizzing past, tilting their glasses to reach the last precious drops of mango lassi.

I don’t think I have gone as religiously to a temple  to pray as I went to Sharma’s for lassi. The moment Sharmaji saw us, he would whip out two mangoes and get to work. Though he served a host of other fruit-based beverages, he knew we were his mang0-lassi-loyalists. After a few weeks, Sharma ji reduced the price  of one glass of mango lassi from Rupees ten to Rupees eight. He smiled and said, “Students’ discount.” This was virtually the cherry to top our mango lassi escapades.

These stories happened more than a decade ago. But I can still taste Sharmaji’s mango lassi. I remembered my friends today as I set out to make my mango lassi . I am still in touch with both my mango-loving friends. But I do feel a twinge of sadness when I think that both now live in countries where mangoes are not readily available in the summer. One of them sent a distraught text I message to me saying that no mangoes would be available to her this summer because there was some export ban on mangoes.

I am in the midst of a bad back ache that prevents me from doing too much in the kitchen. But I am really trying to get this blog off to a start. If I procrastinate, “its not gonna happen babe-eh.” So I had to come up with the simplest recipe that I could make and write about. So I chose Mango lassi. It doesn’t surprise me that I am married to a man who loves mangoes. When we go grocery-shopping, he usually goes through the process like a zombie, but the moment we reach the mango section, he behaves like a man who has just downed a bottle of ‘Hamdard ka Cinkara’ and gets into an enthusiastic mango-buying spree.

I have recreated this lassi with low fat yoghurt, skimmed milk and honey. If the mango is very sweet, you can even omit the honey. You could make a vegan version of this beverage with light coconut milk and flax milk.

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/vegan-mango-lassi

MANGO LASSI

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe mangoes, pitted, peeled and roughly chopped

    My first attempt at professional photography. Frankly, its quite terrible.

    My first attempt at professional photography. Frankly, its quite terrible.

  • 1/2 cup yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp chopped pistachios

Purée all ingredients in a blender. Garnish with pistachios. Chill before serving.
Some recipes call for adding ice cubes during blending. You can do this if you want, but I find that it makes the consistency a bit runny.

Epilogue: I went about cleaning up the kitchen after handing over the glass of lassi to L, who was busy on his laptop. As I walked past him, I saw something that made me stop and smile. He had the glass tilted above his mouth, waiting for the last drops of lassi.

 

 

Poffertjes (Dutch traditional dessert in Indonesia)

Standard

Small, fluffy, hollow pancakes served with butter and sprinkled with sugar. What surprised me is this dessert is perfectly rounded but is hollow inside. Apparently, they are made in a special pan with several shallow indentations in the bottom to hold the batter and make perfectly puffed small pancakes. It is made of buckwheat flour and sugar syrup. It tastes delicious, much like the Indian ‘maalpua.’ I would totally recommend the Dutch to dip these in sugar syrup!

Image

Puffy Poffertjes

I tasted these on vacation in a tiny hill resort in Indonesia known as the Puncak Pass Resort.

The hill-town of Puncak (prounounced Poon-chak) is only three hours away from Jakarta by road but because of its altitude, it is blessed with fabulous weather.

Puncak Pass Resort is a heritage resort built by the Dutch colonialists in 1928 but is still beautiful even today. The resort sits atop a small hillock and you can see the green valley and the clouds floating by, as you dig into your poffertjes and sip hot coffee.

The restaurant in this resort retains some heritage Dutch foods on the menu. These  dishes have become part of Indonesian culture and are very popular even among Indonesians now.

 

Tuna Salad for Carb Girl

Standard

I am a carb person- the rice-potatoes-pasta girl. When I try giving up carbs at dinner, my body goes into withdrawal mode. I get headaches and hunger pangs. So I have given up on giving up carbs. Instead I am trying to have around 4-6 tbsp of brown rice at dinner. Then I load up with meat and veggies so that hunger doesn’t drive me to raid the refrigerator at night. Let’s see how it works.

I made a tuna salad today.

Ingredients:

  • Lettuce chopped, 3 cups
  • 1/2 can of tuna
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4-6 tbsp brown rice, cooked
  • 1 egg, hard boiled.

Dressing

  • Olive oil, 2 tbsp
  • Pepper, 1/2 tsp
  • Lime juice, 3 tbspImage
  • salt (to taste)

Mix the lettuce and red onions. Add in the hot rice and tuna. The hot rice will make the lettuce a little mushy. Mix all ingredients of the dressing, pour it into the rice mix and toss well. Chop the egg and mix into the salad. Enjoy!

I had committed myself to making a big salad everyday but I am having a nasty pain in my foot from plantar fasciitis so it has been difficult. I ignored the pain for a while and it only good worse. But I read a Louise Hay article on how we must never criticize ourselves, so I won’t.

I also read a blog today on the virtues of coconut oil for beautiful skin. I feel bad now about the times when I screwed up my nose when my mom would try to massage my hair with coconut oil on Sunday mornings. Always listen to your mom!

I couldn’t take a picture of my salad because its really difficult to take a picture while standing on one leg. But I am posting a picture of last night’s midnight raid on the refrigerator. SIGH !!!

 

Garbanzo Beans Salad

Standard

This one is an easy and filling go-to salad when I am HUNGRY!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned canned garbanzo beans (chhole) , rinsed and drained OR soak and boil chhole in pressure cooker.Garbanzo_beans_salad_April20
  • 1 medium sized red onion , finely chopped
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes , chopped
  • 1 cucumber,peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce, sliced

For dressing

  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. chili powder
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. dried dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp. dried dried oregano
  • 1 clove garlic , finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil

Optional

  • 1/2 cup low fat feta cheese cubes
  • 2 low fat chicken sausages, sliced

Method

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic when the oil is heated. When the garlic is light brown, add garbanzo beans and fry, stirring often, until crisp and golden, 5 to 7 minutes.Add 1/8 tsp. salt and chill powder. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, basil, oregano, and remaining 1 tablespoons oil, salt (to taste), and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to make a dressing.Add tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, tossing gently to combine.

Transfer to bowls. Garnish with the garbanzo beans, Add in the cheese and sausages. Serve.