Monthly Archives: September 2008

Ajwain(Carom seeds)

This is about ajwain, a spice that tends to not get its fair share of mention, IMO.

I have often come across people to whom Indian food is all about the usual suspects – turmeric, chilly powder, “curry” powder (though just as there is no one pan-indian cuisine, there is no one standard curry powder, in actual fact).

But ajwain has a very integral place in most of my Indian cooking, and finds a prominent spot on my spice shelf. I am a firm believer that it helps with digestion – any time you find yourself with this heavy feeling in your stomach, perhaps induced by some gastronomic indulgence, try this old home remedy. Chew just 1/2 a teaspoon of ajwain (if the taste is too strong for you, squeeze a couple of drops of lime juice in to it) , and you’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll feel some relief.

I therefore use ajwain in many recipes – in curries (especially those made with chickpeas, kidney beans and kala chana) , when cooking vegetables such as cauliflower and potatoes that are said to cause gas to develop in the stomach, and I add it also to the dough for puris and paranthas for the same reason.

Here are a few things I have found about ajwain (sources below):

scientific name – trachyspermum ammi

Ayurveda counts ajwain among the 10 foremost herbs known for their anti-colic or anti-spasmodic action; infant colic is often treated with a poultice of ajwain. It has a stimulant action on the uterus and the digestive and circulatory systems, and can help with asthma and arthritis.

Ajwain seeds contain an essential oil which is about 50% thymol, which is a strong germicide, anti-spasmodic and fungicide.

Ahwain is sometimes used in a steeped liquid form against diarrhea and flatulence.

Research in India has shown that its oil can effectively cure ringworm infections.


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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

One of Atto’s – Tangy Coriander & Mint Chutney

Atto – my husband’s bua – is one of the best cooks I know.

What makes her food more special though, is the care and affection with which she feeds people.

I have been saying to her for years that she ought to write a cookbook. In the meanwhile, here is her recipe for just the most delicious green chutney (with a couple of minor variations of my own; like I don’t recall if Atto used onion when I saw her make it, but my mom does in her coriander chutney; so I use it too)

Coriander and Mint Chutney

A big bunch of coriander; another of mint (I tend to use less of the mint and more of the coriander)

One medium sized onion

1 green chilly, stalk removed

salt to taste

2 tbsp of thick tamarind juice (use more or less, as you like)

3 tbsp of a thick solution of jaggery dissolved in water (again, you could use more or less)

Wash the herbs thoroughly, then chop roughly after removing the hard stalks (I always retain the softer stems, and don’t bother about using only the leaves; it seems a waste to let the stems go since they have so much flavor too).

Peel and chop the onion in to 6-10 large-ish parts.

Blend together all the ingredients, using as little water as possible. This will therefore take time, since you will have to stop every once in a while to keep the machine of the food processor from overheating, and to stir the contents of the bowl/jar in which you are making the chutney. But it is worth spending the time rather than using too much water, since that would result in a watery chutney.

Also, you could add the tamarind and jaggery pastes gradually, so that you can control the amount you will use of each, depending on the balance of sweet and sour tastes that appeals to you.

I just love this chutney; I find the use of tamarind instead of lime juice quite a great touch.

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Filed under Dips,Chutneys,Sauces,Spreads

Dhaniya (Coriander)

Whether it is the fresh leaves, the aroma of the seeds as I roast them before grinding a fresh lot of the powder,or the older quantity sitting in a bottle on the spice shelf in our kitchen; Indira loves to sniff at coriander in any of it’s forms. It is quite an amusing sight to see her grab the bottle of coriander powder from my hand, after I have finished adding some to a curry or subzi that is cooking right then, and take a long, appreciative sniff at the contents. And she absolutely loves the trip to the vegetable shop from where I buy fresh coriander and mint, since she knows the fragrance will fill the air in the car on the way back !

So I figured this is the spice I should begin this section with.

here is what I have found out (sources below):

Apparently the plant is of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern origin; the Romans used it for treating digestive problems;it was even mentioned in the old testament.

The leaves are variously referred to as coriander leaves, cilantro ,dhania , Chinese parsley or Mexican parsley.

There is a host of fascinating stuff here about the history of the use of this spice; I am only listing some of the medicinal benefits mentioned.

Thanks to its to its exceptional phytonutrient content, it seems that coriander can help control blood sugar, cholesterol and free radical production; it is a very good source of dietary fiber, minerals such as iron and magnesium, and a very powerful antibacterial compound. It is  effective against colic and indigestion in both adults and children, and apparently coriander oil can help ease joint pain due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties.


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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

A quick lunch for two – Salmon Salad

It was just Noor and me at home yesterday for lunch. She loves baguette and we had picked up one from the boulangerie when we walked back home from school just before noon.

So I decided that I’d make some salad for lunch, to eat with the baguette, with fruit yoghurt to serve as dessert.

Luckily I had cherry tomatoes in the fridge, and canned salmon and sweetcorn in the kitchen cupboard. Noor LOVES each of those things, so I knew she’d approve of the salad, even though I was planning to sneak in some green beans. This is how I made it.

Salmon Salad

(serves 3-4)

1 150g can of salmon, packed in water

1 150g can of sweetcorn

100-150 g of fresh/frozen green beans, cut/snapped into1 inch pieces

150-200g cherry tomatoes

1 or 1 and a 1/2 tsp dried basil

2-3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp of lime juice (add more, or less, if you like)

Cut the tomatoes in to halves and put in a salad bowl. Sprinkle the basil on top and add the olive oil.

Mix these 3 ingredients together gently and leave for some time, say 30 minutes (this is the key to making a really tasty salad if you are using tomatoes and olive oil. The flavors of these two things mingle to produce the most divine taste there is, and you really have to give it time for it to develop).

In the meanwhile, steam the green beans and allow them to cool. Drain the salmon and break up the meat with a fork. Now add the beans, the corn, and the salmon to the tomatoes, season with sea salt, add the lime juice, and toss everything together.

Serve roasted potatoes on the side, for a more filling meal.

Bon appetit !

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Filed under Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Salads

Empty Nest Syndrome, already

It is the first day that Noor has gone back to school, for the afternoon session, after eating her lunch with me at home. And I find myself a little – forlorn.

It was easier for me to deal with the transition when Indira started to go in the afternoons, back when she was in maternelle (kindergarten). I guess because I had so much to do then, and so little time, since Noor was just a six month old baby.

And Indira had had a tough time getting used to going to school even only for the morning sessions; so it was actually a relief when she started to go in the afternoons as well- it was a sign that she had finally adapted/integrated.

But this afternoon, as I handed Noor over to her teacher at the door of the dortoire (it is the place where the little ones nap), I found myself overwhelmed with that same familiar urge to cry that I have experienced on other similar occasions – when I said bye-bye to Indira outside her maternelle her very first morning there, 4 years ago now; when I walked back after dropping her off on her first day at her then-new primary scool last year. I was really worried that she would have to start the process of making friends, making a place for herself all over again -though as it turned out, she did just fine and is absolutely happy there now.

But Noor seems more than ready for this step, and I am sure that I too will quickly come to treasure these 3 quiet hours I will have each afternoon to myself.

There will be no interruption at 2.30 or 3pm, which is the time when Noor usually finishes her nap and comes to me. And yet that interruption has been welcome too; it meant that I had a legitimate excuse to stop work to either play with her, or to start on household chores, since that is one more way to keep her occupied- to ask her to help and give her some little task to do.

But today, this first day, I find myself wishing that I had put this off just a little bit longer…

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

Comfort in a bowl – Varan

Indira seemed both interested and amused when I showed her this blog a few days ago. Both the sisters now look forward to watching me take pictures of the food these days, and eagerly wait to see them on the computer.

Even so, this evening I was pleasurably surprised when she told me, watching me serve her varan to her, “will you please put this recipe on your blog too, since I really love this daal?”.

It’s true, she does, as does her father.

Varan is a Maharashtrian way of cooking arhar daal, and I learnt to make it from my mother-in-law.

Both the girls have pretty much grown up on the stuff and it continues to be their favorite food in the whole world. Just like when they were babies, even now when all else fails to appeal they never say no to a bowl of this daal.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about this staple food of our home is that its gentle flavor complements the spice-rich taste of many everyday subzis.

It really does have the most soothing,satisfying taste, and I LOVE how simple it is to make.


1 cup (200 ml measure) of arhar dal, soaked for 1-2 hours

A tbsp of ghee

a pinch of asofetida

1/2 a tsp of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp of cumin seeds (optional)

1 tbsp of crushed jaggery

Pressure cook the daal in 3 cups of water, after adding salt to taste. When the daal is well-cooked (the grains should be fairly well blended), stir in the asofetida,ghee,turmeric and jaggery, and boil the daal for 7-8 minutes till everything is well mixed.

If you want to flavor the daal with cumin seeds, then add only the jaggery and the turmeric directly to the daal.

Now heat the ghee in a small pan, add the asofetida and cumin seeds to the ghee, then pour everything over the daal before boiling it for 7-8 minutes.

Serve the varan over plain rice, or drink it straight from your katora like soup, as we do sometimes 🙂

I’ll post the picture tomorrow; I think I’ll let the girls click this one.

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This one’s for Neelam: Chole masala

This evening, I was somewhat taken aback at dinner time when Indira exclaimed, on spotting her katora of raungi curry  “Oh no, i don’t like raungi anymore !! please make chole next time !!”

She has never shown much of a preference fo chole until today; for her it has always got to be varan-the simplest kind of arhar daal, it is a maharashtrian way of doing it, or then the other end of the scale -a typical punjabi kind of chicken curry.

In the meantime my friend Neelam also wrote today and suggested that I post my recipe for chole – she has been kind enough to say in the past that there is something different about the way I make it. Well she is about to find out that what makes the difference, most likely, is no credit to me, really, but to a well-known spice company in India 🙂

Here’s what I do. If Indira is still partial to this curry some years from now, she may want to know too !

Chole Masala

1 cup of chickpeas/chole ( I use a cup that is a 200 ml measure)

1 large or 2 small onions, very finely chopped

3 tbsp of sunflower oil

a 1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated fine

2 pods of garlic,grated fine

2 medium sized tomatoes, boiled in a little bit of water, then peeled and pureed

1/2 tsp of ajwain seeds

1/2 tsp of cumin seeds

3 pieces of badi elaichi; a couple of sticks of cinnamon;5-6 black pepper seeds

1/4 tsp of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp of coriander powder

1/2 tsp (or more, if you like) of kashmiri red chilly powder

1/2 tsp of chole masala of the Everest brand (and this is the key, IMO)

Soak the chickpeas for 5-6 hours, or overnight, then cook them in a pressure cooker till they are very soft.

In a frying pan, add the badi elaichi,cinnamon and black pepper and fry for a minute or till the aromas are released. Now add the ajwain and cumin seeds , fry till they are light brown (don’t let them burn), and add the onions. Fry the onions till they start to brown. Now add the ginger and garlic and fry again, till the mixture is quite a dark brown (but don’t let it fry till it starts to turn blackish).

Add the tomato puree next, and as it starts to dry, add the dry spices, and fry the mixture till the oil starts to appear on the sides. Add the mixture to the chickpeas in the pressure cooker and boil everything together for 10-12 minutes.

Before serving, you could dress the chole with some finely sliced onion,green chilli, and tomato.

You could serve some tamarind chutney too;  it goes very well with this dish.

Potato tikkis, or puris, both go wonderfully well with this curry.

There you have it – a really hearty, flavorful dish that can carry a meal on its own.

One further observation – this curry is always much tastier if eaten the day after it is cooked.


Filed under Curries

On choosing breakfast cereals carefully

Remember that old adage, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and so on?
There is plenty of scientific data out there to support that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

For many people scrambling to get to work or school on time each morning, a bowl of cereal with milk makes for a quick, convenient and filling start to the day. But is it always as nourishing as it ought to be?

There is of course a dazzling array of choices in the cereal aisles of food stores and supermarkets.

But a closer glance at what is on offer would reveal that instead of a product that in an ideal world would be nutrient rich and based on complex carbohydrates, what is on offer is often an unhealthier option, with excessive amounts of added sugar, hydrogenated oils and too-highly-processed grains.

The added sugar usually appears on the list of ingredients of most cereals in more than one avtaar – sugar, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup and maple syrup, among others. The choice of your breakfast cereal becomes significant when you consider that the amount of sugar permissible each day on a 2000 calorie diet (make that around 1500 for children) is a mere 40 g and many popular brands fulfill 25-50% of that amount. So eat breakfast like a king, yes, but like a wise one, not a hedonistic one.

Hydrogenated oils too are bad news when you consider that they are linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. So why do manufacturers use them, instead of healthy polyunsaturated fats, in the processing of their products? Because hydrogenated oils increase the shelf life of these products and add to their taste and texture.

The third big source of trouble comes from the cereal or grain itself. Most commercially available cereal-based products use refined flours, since the oils present in the whole grain can cause rancidity, which would complicate processing, storage and transport.

But the milling that cereals undergo during refining, strips them of the bran and the germ portions of the seed, leaving only the endosperm. This means that vital nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and natural oils are lost in the process.

It is important therefore, to look beyond the marketing hype on the front of a box of cereal and to read the list of ingredients very carefully. The biggest ingredient is required to be listed first. So if this not “whole wheat”, for example, then you are not looking at a product that is made with whole grain. A common trap is a label that says “made with whole grain”. The loophole here for manufacturers is that the product is often made with refined flour, in the case of wheat-based cereals, with a little bit of whole wheat thrown in for effect, since they are not required to say HOW much whole grain is actually used.

So what is one to do? What is the alternative to the myriad ready-made delicious ways to start the day, with sugar, chocolate and honey added in rash abundance to all those pops, flakes, clusters, loops, krispies and cookies?

Make your own. Here’s my formula, which so far has worked reasonably well with both my daughters, aged 7 and 3 and a 1/2.

I keep a selection of the simplest -read no added sugar and not too highly processed -cereals like oatmeal, Weetabix, wheat flakes and muesli mixes, because these typically have a much higher percentage of unrefined grain as compared to the bulk of cereals targeted at children.

To make these staid choices exciting, I keep fresh fruit and nuts handy that can be chopped and added easily to any of these cereals. Some additions that I find they enjoy are soft seedless dates, blueberries, apple,banana, raspberries, apple or pear compote, raisins, almonds and walnuts.

The beauty of this is that most of the time, you don’t even need to add any sugar since the fruits bring their own sweetness and flavour to the cereal though a small spoon of honey or unprocessed brown sugar works well with some of those additions.

This is not to say that we deny ourselves the occasional treat from a box of chocopops or honey loops. But even there, I sneak in to everyone’s bowl a spoon of wheatgerm, commonly available in powdered form, to console myself that there is a smidgen of nutrition in what my girls are eating that morning.

Hey, what’s a mother to do – just trying to beat the cereal makers at their insidious game.


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Filed under The Food Police says...

Their favorite Cake – Chocolate and Date Loaf

As I put together the ingredients, earlier today, for the cake that I took as dessert to the home of friends that we ate with this evening, I realized that this is the third time this month that I am baking the same cake. I made it for Indira’s birthday when we invited all our family friends to a picnic, and it is the one that I sent to school too, for her class.

But this is the cake that she and Noor love best, of all the various recipes I have tried over the years.

This recipe makes a large-ish cake (12- 16 quite big pieces) so tonight it was very gratifying to see it go quite quickly though we were only 5 adults, Indira, Noor, and our hosts’ 14 year old son 🙂

Chocolate and Date Loaf:

2 eggs

3/4 cup melted butter ( I use a cup that is a 200 ml measure)

1 cup sugar

2 cups of wheat (whole or refined) flour

1/2 cup of cocoa

1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of baking soda

1 cup of soft dates,finely chopped

1 cup of boiling water

1 tsp of baking soda

1 and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence

Combine the last 4 ingredients in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Best the first three ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Mix the remaining ingredients in another bowl.

Add the date mixture after it has cooled down to the eggs,butter and sugar mixture. Now stir in the rest of the ingredients, and pour in to a cake tin (if it is not the non-stick variety then of course the tin will need a light coat of melted butter and then a sprinkling of flour over that).

Bake at 180 degrees C for 50-60 minutes till a knitting needle/table knife comes out clean.

This cake goes really well with some creme anglaise or vanilla ice cream served on the side . It makes quite a fancy dessert at parties 🙂


Filed under Cakes and Muffins, Desserts, Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks

Rainy days are here again-Tomato Soup with coconut milk

Today has been one of those lazy days, when I have not wanted to do much of anything.

I was up until quite late last night, working, and managed to finish something that I had set for myself as a target for yesterday. That sort of makes me feel I can take things easier today.

So lunch for Shri and Noor today was just a sandwich (Actually, quite a yummy kind – built up with salad leaves, layered over with slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese, and a slathering of pesto on top, all packed in to a baguette or some nice olive bread that has been sliced through and has had some olive oil sprinkled over the insides), instead of the more effort/time intensive upma or poha that Noor would have liked.

When I opened the fridge to take out the cheese, I noticed that there were only 4 tomatoes left and so on impulse I decided that I’d make soup for dinner, one that uses coconut milk, and use those 4 tomatoes up before I bring a fresh lot tomorrow. Fortunately there is a little bit of the vegetable pasta salad left over from last night’s dinner, and a pizza in the freezer, so the soup will go nicely will all of that.

The rain that the colder weather and winds of the last 2 days presaged has started to come down in earnest during the afternoon, so they are  going to be quite happy to eat soup for dinner, I think, especially since it is one that they like.

Tomato soup with Coconut milk

4 large tomatoes

60 ml of coconut milk

1/2 tsp of grated ginger

2 tsp of sunflower oil

1/2 tsp of cumin seeds

Wash the tomatoes boil the tomatoes (whole) in a saucepan with 200 ml of water till they go quite soft.

After they cool down, take the skins off, and blend the tomatoes. Strain the puree through a sieve.

In another saucepan, warm the oil and add the ginger. Once it starts to turn pink (don’t let it brown/burn), add the cumin seeds, wait till their aroma is released, then add the strained puree. Season with salt, and let the puree boil for 5-7 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, a pinch of sugar if the taste is too sour and keep the mixture on the heat for only another couple of minutes.

Voila ! Doesn’t that seem quite simply done? And it is, really.

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Filed under Soups

Autumn’s coming ! Pumpkin Raita

In another sign that summer is on it’s way out, that very autumn vegetable – pumpkin – has started to appear in the vegetable aisles.

To give them their due, the girls do eat it without much fuss even if I make  petha (a sweet and sour preparation that I grew up on and love) with it, and it blends so easily in to soups too.

But they definitely like it best when I make a raita with it. And as has become Indira’s wont, when I cook these days something she likes, yesterday too she said to me, when I made this raita for dinner ,”PLEASE tell me how you made it, I REALLY would love to make this when I am bigger”.

So here’s the recipe, for my chef-in-the-making.

Pumpkin Raita (serves 4)

250 gms of yoghurt

150-200 gms of pumpkin

3 tablespoons of dessicated coconut(optional; the raita is nice even without this ingredient)

salt to taste

a pinch of asoefetida, 2 tsp of sunflower oil, 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds, and 4-5 curry leaves for tempering

( optional -1 dried red chilli for the tempering)

1 tablespoon of finely chopped green coriander

Peel and chop the pumpkin, then pressure cook it till it is soft enough to be mashed.

Add the salt to the yoghurt and whisk gently with a spoon or fork. Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the mustard seeds and when they pop add the curry leaves (and the red chilli if you are going to use one) and fry for a few seconds. Add the asoefetida once you have taken the pan off the heat (or the asoefetida might burn) and pour this tempering in to the yoghurt. Mix it in, as well as the coconut. Now add the mashed pumpkin, and the coriander and mix everything thoroughly.

As with most recipes I post, this one too benefits, I feel, from being made a little while ahead of eating, so that all the flavors mingle.

It goes quite well with pulavs, and helps up the vegetable quotient of a meal like last night’s when I only made a curry with black-eyed beans, and paranthas with dough made from the previous day’s leftover daal and aloo palak.

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Filed under Raitas

Indira’s favorite Red Bell Pepper,Carrot(or pumpkin or orange sweet potato), and Tomato Soup

This past Sunday, we were eating dinner when Indira said, “can you tell me how you made this soup because I’d like to make it when I am a big girl”.

Well that is what this blog is supposed to be for, I thought so here’s the recipe for this soup, which actually looks quite pretty sitting in it’s bowl since it is a gorgeous red-orange color.

Ingredients: (to serve 4)

1 red bell pepper

3-4 medium sized carrots, or 2 small sweet potatoes, or a about 200 gms of pumpkin

2 small (or 1 large) leeks

2 pods of garlic

3 large tomatoes

3 tablespoons of olive oil

Discard the hard part of the leeks, and chop the rest, after washing it carefully. Chop the garlic too.

In a large casserole/pressure-cooker, warm the oil and then add the leeks and garlic. Sweat these down gently, making sure not to let them brown or burn.

Next, add the red pepper and sweet potato or carrots (all chopped in to fairly small pieces) to the leeks and garlic mixture, and cook together for 10-12 minutes, turning frequently, till the vegetables start to really glisten and look soft. Then add the tomatoes (chopped), salt, and cook till the tomatoes start to break down.

Now add about half a liter of water, and then pressure-cook the vegetables so that they cook down thoroughly.

Blend the vegetables after waiting for them to cool down a bit, and then strain the mixture through a sieve to discard the seeds/skin etc.

Voila, le soup !

You could add a little bit of milk  to the soup before serving it, to give it a nice creamy taste.

Do add some black pepper too; this aids with digestion (this is one of my mom’s fundas; may or may not be true but I play safe and grind some in to each bowl).

This is a real hearty filler; all you need to make it a complete meal is a loaf of some wholesome bread, and scrambled eggs or grilled fish on the side if you like. Our preferred accompaniment is a loaf of corn bread; I will post that recipe as well, one of these days, should Indira want to make her own bread too !!

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Filed under Soups