Monthly Archives: October 2008

Jenny’s Famous Carrot Cake

Kate – Uma’s mom- captioned her e-mail quite aptly when she sent me the recipe for this carrot cake that Indira so loves.

I first heard about it when Jenny baked it for school some months ago (her granddaughter Dylan was in Indira and Uma’s class till she moved away recently).

Then Kate made it too, a few weeks ago, and Indira told me again how much she liked it, after Uma shared some with her on the bus coming back to school from their weekly swimming trip.

So yesterday she was really thrilled when I told her she could help me bake it for their gouter.

Noor, let it be noted, pitched in too, fetching and clearing things, stirring the mix a bit, and was delighted to be allowed to use the the new electric whisk.

Jenny’s Famous Carrot Cake

4 eggs

2 cups of flour (I use a mix of whole wheat and plain white flour)

1 cup of melted butter or cooking oil

2 cups of sugar

3 cups of grated carrot

1 tsp each of baking soda,baking powder,cinnamon and salt, mixed in to the flour

1/2 tsp of vanilla essence (optional; I added it, though the original recipe does not mention it)

For the icing:

75g cream cheese, 50 g butter,1 tsp of vanilla essence and icing sugar(to taste), all well-blended

To make the cake:

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, then add the sugar and the butter, and blend well. Now add the carrots, stir just to blend, then add the flour mixture. Mix this in well, and pour in to a cake tin (use one tin if you are not going to ice the cake, or two equal-sized round tins if you do intend to make the icing too) and bake for 45 minutes-1 hour at 175 degrees C.

To ice the cake, layer the two rounds with it, and also put some on the top.

I have it on good authority that the icing is delicious, so you may want to try and make that extra effort.

I skipped this part but Indira said “Oh but it’s exactly the same !!!” anyway, thank goodness 🙂

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

Look who’s cookin’ !!!

Noor was home, bored and moping a couple of days ago, while Indira was at her music lesson.

So I suggested to her that she could help me make the paranthas for dinner.  She of course promptly brought out her little apron and settled down on the kitchen floor with her own little rolling pin and board.

She did a pretty good job of rolling them out,I thought; what say you?!

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

A simple,mild Rasam

This home made answer to what restaurants call mulligatawny soup went down very well with our guests on Saturday.

Rasam

6 medium sized tomatoes( or 1 or 2 more, if you would like a more sour soup)

5 tbsp of arhar daal

½ tsp of grated ginger

½ tsp of mustard seeds

2 tbsp of ghee

½ tsp of turmeric

a pinch of asafetida

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tbsp of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

Soak the daal for 1-2 hours, then pressure cook it till it is very soft.

In a large casserole, warm the ghee, and add the mustard seeds. When these begin to crackle, add the curry leaves and the asafoetida. Fry these for just a few seconds, add the ginger, and fry till for a few seconds till it starts to turn a golden color. Now add the tomatoes and the turmeric, and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the salt and 2 cups of water next, and let the mixture come to a boil. Continue cooking for 7-8 minutes, mix in the daal, and simmer everything together for a further 10-12 minutes or until the soup has acquired the thickness/consistency you’d like. Stir in ½ the coriander and turn the heat off, keeping the rest to add a little to each bowl before you eat.

For a spicier flavour, grind pepper on to each portion. It definitely lifts the taste; gives it a great kick that goes well with the tanginess of the tomatoes.

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Matar Paneer

I was delighted to see how much the girls enjoyed this too, last weekend.

Matar Paneer

For the paneer:

1 liter of whole milk

125 gms of whisked yoghurt

2-3 tablespoons of lime juice

For the gravy:

2 small onions, chopped very fine

2 large tomatoes

½ a tsp, or a little more, of grated ginger

2 large cloves of garlic, grated

½ a tsp of cumin seeds

½ a tsp or a little more, of coriander powder

½ a tsp of turmeric

½ a tsp of kashmiri red chilli powder

½ a tsp of garam masala powder

1 or 2 tbsp of cashew nuts, roughly crushed (this is an optional ingredient)

salt to taste

3-4 tbsp of sunflower oil

1 cup of frozen, shelled peas

To make the paneer, boil the milk in a thick-bottomed pan. When it has come to a full boil, turn the heat down very low, add the yoghurt and the lime juice, and stir these in thoroughly till the paneer begins to form. Now drain the paneer through a sieve that has been lined with a large, fine piece of cloth. Keep some of the whey by collecting it in a vessel placed under the sieve. You can use this later to add to the curry; some say it adds to the taste, and it is full of good things anyway.

Place the cloth with the paneer in it carefully on a large chopping board, and form it carefully in to a large square shape. Fold the cloth over this, and press the paneer down with a heavy weight (typically a large vessel full of water) that places uniform pressure on all parts of the paneer’s surface, for 20-30 minutes, so that all the excess water drains out and the paneer becomes firm. When the panner seems set, cut it in to 1/2 ” or 1″ squares.

Make a fine paste of the cashew nuts. To do this, first boil them in 1/3 cup of water for 7-8 minutes, then grind them fine either with a hand-held blender or manually with a rolling pin (this is messier though).

Boil the tomatoes in a little bit of water till the skin starts to break. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel off the skin and puree the tomatoes.

To make the curry, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds, and when these start to release their aroma put the onions in. Fry these till they start to turn golden brown, then add the ginger and the garlic and fry for another minute. Then add the cashew nut paste and fry the mixture till the onions turn a darkish brown. Now add the tomato puree and cook till everything is well-blended and the puree starts to dry. Add the spices and fry for a further minute. Finally, add the peas, salt to taste, and fry everything together for a few minutes. Now add a cup or a little more of the whey or boiled water, and pressure cook the curry for 5-7 minutes.

When the cooker has cooled enough for you to be able to open it easily, add the paneer pieces and simmer the curry for a little while so that the gravy is not runny.

For an everyday version of this curry, I skip the cashew nuts, and I use them only for a more formal meal like Saturday’s; they add a slightly sweet, and quite rich taste.

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Date Cake

Loaded with soft dates, this cake has a special, really delectable taste.

I almost did not buy the creme anglaise to go with it, when I decided to make it for dessert last Saturday, but then I was glad I did because everyone seemed to enjoy the combination !

Date Cake

1 egg

1 and ¼ cups of chopped dates

½ cup of chopped walnuts (optional but a nice touch)

¾ cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of melted butter

1 and a ½ cups of any flour (refined is probably ideal, though I often bake with even whole wheat flour)

1 and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence

½ tsp of salt

1 tsp of baking soda

1 tsp of baking powder

Soak the dates in 1 cup of boiling hot water, after adding the baking soda and leave them aside to cool. In the meanwhile, beat together the egg and the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla to this mixture.

In another bowl, combine the flour, the salt, and the nuts.

Add the dates once they have cooled to the first mixture, then add in the flour mixture.

Now stir in the melted butter and combine well.

Put this cake batter in to a cake mould, and leave it to stand for 15-20 minutes.

Then bake in a preheated oven at 180degreesC for 1 hour, or till a table knife inserted in to the middle comes out clean and dry.

Like the chocolate and date loaf, this cake makes for quite a fancy dessert, eaten with crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream 🙂

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Methi Chicken


This dish, which I cooked last Saturday when we had friends for dinner, always takes me back almost two decades, to the many wonderful meals I ate at the Pandara road “dhabas” in New Delhi with three very very dear school friends. The pudina paranthas; the different kinds of chicken curries (including methi chicken, although a richer sort) and kebabs that we feasted on… maybe it was the company, maybe it was the conversation (life! boys! books! everything), maybe it was the food. But those meals really stand out in my mind….

Methi Chicken

800 gms of chicken without the skin

200 gms of whisked yoghurt

3 tbsps of kasoori methi(dried fenugreek leaves)

4 large onions, sliced very fine

4-5 tsps of grated garlic

4-5 tsps of grated ginger

4 cloves

3 pods of black cardamom, pressed to split it open

3-4 small sticks of cinnamon

6 black peppercorns

1 tsp of turmeric

1 tsp of kashmiri chilli powder (more if you like ; we eat very mild “hot” food)

6 tbsp sunflower oil

salt to taste

Wash the chicken, pierce each piece with a fork in several places, and marinate it overnight in a mixture of the yoghurt, turmeric, chilli powder, ginger, and garlic.

To cook the chicken the next day, heat the oil in a wide and thick-bottomed pan, add the whole spices, and fry till they begin to crackle and release their aromas. Now add the onions and fry for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of water next, and cook the onions on a fairly high heat till the water dries up. Then add the kasoori methi, add ½ a cup of water, and cook again on high heat till the water dries and continue frying till the mixture is a golden brown. Now add the chicken with its marinade, season it with salt and fry it well (turning the pieces frequently to avoid burning) till the yoghurt dries up. Now add a cup or a little more of boiled water (this will depend on how thick or thin you’d like the curry to be), cover the pan, lower the heat a little, and leave to cook till the chicken is very tender. Do turn the pieces over a couple of times during this time or the masala/the chicken can tend to stick to the bottom of the pan.

This is a delicious, aromatic curry that is best enjoyed with phulkas or paranthas.

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What a great line

I just browsed news accounts of a charity event in New York attended by the Republican and Democratic nominees of this year’s American presidential election.

At the event they both got to speak, and apparently both their pieces had a lot of humor, directing at each other as well as at themselves. That made for good reading.

For more on what they said, see here

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/us/politics/17smith.html?ref=us

and here

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122421158010543749.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

One of the things McCain said about Obama was this -“I can’t wish my opponent luck, but I can wish him well.”

I thought that was a classy thing to say.

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Tadke vali Arhar – Our Daal for all seasons

Any day or time of the year, this daal, with phulka, is what Shri loves most to eat, I think. And when he says “I am a daal-chawal kind of person”, surely the daal he’d be happiest with would be this one.

It is made from the same lentil – arhar daal – that his other favorite, varan, is made from.

While the tadka is not very unusual, I have borrowed two little ideas from my mother in-law, and my sister-in-law Vasanti, who is another really excellent cook and her daal with tadka is the nicest I have ever eaten.

That I add jaggery to the daal is inspired by Ma’s varan; and I add the coriander leaves to the tadka towards the end of the frying process like Vasanti.

Tadke vali Arhar Daal

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

2-3 tbsp of sunflower oil (you could replace half the quantity of oil with ghee for a great flavor)

1 large onion, or 2 small ones, peeled and chopped very fine

1 large tomato, chopped very fine

1 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves

a pinch of asafetida

1/2 -3/4 a tsp of turmeric powder

1/4 tsp of cumin seeds

1/4 tsp of mustard seeds

1/2 or 1 tsp 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 turmeric and jaggery.

While the daal cooks, in a frying pan heat the oil and add the asofetida and the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the cumin seeds. When these start to release their aroma, add the onions and fry them on a moderate heat until they begin to brown. Add the tomatoes and cook till they are quite soft. Now add the coriander leaves, fry for a few seconds, and add this tadka to the daal and boil everything together for 5-7 minutes. If the daal is thicker than you like, add some boiled water (sometimes this daal goes thick if kept for some time after cooking).

With the fresh taste of the coriander mingled with the richness of the tomatoes and onions, and the very mild sweet note from the jaggery, this daal really does have the most delicious flavors come together. I like to eat this one straight from the bowl, though it is great with hot rice too.

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Paanch phoron

I am not certain how or why paanch phoran, a classic element of Bengali cuisine, became such a constant feature of the food my mother cooked.

I tend to attribute it to the fact that my father, who was a student in Kharagpur, West bengal in the 1960s acquired a life-long love of Bengali food there, and often asked her to flavor her daals and curries with this spice mixture.

Or it might have been because our family lived from 1964 until 1984 in Bihar. They use this spice mixture in Bihari cuisine too so it may just have been a local influence.

Either way, paanch phoran and its wonderful flavors make up a very special part of my childhood memories of my mother’s table – red masoor or sometimes chana daal tempered with paanch phoran; lauki cooked with tomato and a little milk and flavored with paanch phoran; a sweet and sour tomato chutney tempered with paanch phoran; khichdi made with rice and yellow moong or red masoor daal with paanch phoran in the tempering; rasedaar aloo tamatar flavored with paanch phoran; kadhi tempered with paanch phoran ; the list goes on.

Consequently the five spices that make up this mixture -mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and fenugreek seeds – are staples on my spice shelf and I couldn’t bear to run short of any of these !

I have listed these spices in that particular order because that is the sequence in which I put them in the oil.

You could mix equal quantities of the five and keep the mixture ready to use in a bottle. But I prefer not to do that because each spice takes a different amount of time before it’s aroma is released; so I find that sometimes by the time the fennel reaches this point, the fenugreek and the cumin seeds have almost burnt, giving the fenugreek, especially, a very bitter taste.

So what I do is that I  let the oil heat (though not to smoking point), and then first add the mustard and the nigella. Then when the mustard seeds begin to pop, I add the fennel seeds, and let them fry for a few seconds till they start to go a very light brown and to release their aroma. I then add the cumin seeds and let these fry for a few seconds till they begin to brown (without letting them go black which I feel spoils the look and the taste). Finally, I add the fenugreek and fry for just a couple of seconds before adding the ingredient which comes next in the recipe.

This probably takes a little longer than heating the oil to a high temperature and adding all the spices together, but IMO preserves the flavors better.

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Kalaunji(Nigella)

The star of the show in a subzi that my mother makes with spring onions, and one of the 5 components of  paanchphoran, an aromatic spice mixture used in Bengali cuisine, kalaunji has a nice mild flavor.

The small black seeds that make up this spice are obtained from the Nigella Sativa plant. Variously referred to as black cumin, black caraway, and black sesame in English (none of those names are accurate, though when a Bengali talks of “kala jeera” she is in fact talking of nigella sativa seeds), they are also sometimes mistakenly defined as onion seeds. One more name- a nice one- for this plant is “love in the mist” !

In India kalaunji is used to flavor breads such as naan, pickles, vegetables, and of course the afore-mentioned paanchphoran.

Like many other spices, this one too has been used since ancient times in many parts of the world for its medicinal properties. In the Middle East it is known as the “Habbatul Barakah’, or the seed of blessing.

The active compounds -nigellone and thymoquinine- in the seeds and the oil have been shown in studies to have antioxidant , anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, anti-microbial and anti-tumor properties.  Perhaps this is why both the seeds and the oil find use in traditional remedies for the symptoms of a range of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, stomach ailments and skin conditions such as eczema and dandruff.

Nigella Sativa is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and protein, and it is also thought to help keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels low. The former may be due the high level of betasitosterol , a common plant sterol, that is present in this plant.

The sources I browsed:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W7N-4GHR95F-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=e345d191d868f35f0fedd8a9dfeb4570

http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=15041029

http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69141.cfm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigella_sativa

One quite detailed article about nigella sativa which lists all its sources, is here: http://www.answers.com/topic/black-cumin-seed-extract

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Hing(Asoefetida/Asafetida)

Once again, there isn’t a great deal I was able to find out that would validate the claims made for another spice I use a lot – hing.

Here’s what I did find out.

I was surprised to learn that hing has been called some pretty uncomplimentary names in many languages, usually alluding to the devil: merde du diable (devil’s shit) in French, devil’s dung and stinking gum in English, Dyvelsträck in Swedish, and Seytantersi in Turkish, among others!

I quite like the aroma of this spice (admittedly quite strong) even before it is added to oil or hot water.  So this was news to me, that to so many people the smell of raw hing is not appealing at all. However, the flavor released after hing has been fried in a little bit of oil is described variously as being akin to that of shallots/leeks/garlic, and in fact the spice seems to be used by many – such as those communities in India that do not use onions and garlic in their cooking – for this reason.

The English name for hing -Asoefetidais derived from the Persian word “aza”, which means resin, and the Latin foetidus, for “stinking”.

This spice, reddish brown or yellow in color, is a gum resin obtained from the sap of the giant fennel plant Ferula Asoefetida , of the family Umbelliferae.  The entire plant gets used as a vegetable, and all its parts give off a strong odor, a result of the sulfur compounds that it contains. This plant is native to Iran and Afghanistan, though most of the raw asoefetida from these places is sent to India for further processing. In India this plant is grown in Kashmir.

Commercially available forms of this spice include both hard pieces of the resin, as well as a powder form in which the resin is mixed with rice flour and gum arabic, after being crushed.

Asoefetida, believed to aid digestion, is commonly used in Indian cooking, albeit usually only a pinch at a time, to prevent flatulence. It is also believed to be an effective anti-spasmodic.

In traditional medicine it is often used as an antidote to brochitis,asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. In earlier times in Europe, it’s strong smell was thought to repel germs, and to help calm episodes of hysteria.

And apparently court singers in the Mughal empire would habitually eat a spoon of asoefetida with butter in the belief that it improved their singing voice.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/37633/asafetida

http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/asafetid.html

http://www.kurma.net/glossary/g1.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asafoetida

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Tomato and Basil Soup

We had soup for dinner this evening, because Noor has developed a cold.

I had picked up a large bunch of fresh basil yesterday because I wanted to use some for the soup today; they say this herb is beneficial when one has a cold.

It also, of course, adds the most amazing taste and aroma. Indira sniffed at her bowl as she sat down to eat and said “Ummm…I know, this has basil !!”

With french fries on the side, I had two content little faces at the table

tonight 🙂

Tomato and Basil Soup

3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 medium sized carrots, diced fine (optional)

1 large clove of garlic,roughly chopped

1 large leek, tough part cut off, and chopped fine

3 tbsp olive oil

salt to taste

1/2 of a large bunch of basil leaves, washed thoroughly

In a pressure cooker or a large casserole, warm the olive oil on a low heat and add the leek and garlic. Cover and cook till the leek is soft. Add the carrots if you are using them, cover again and cook for 6-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the salt, and cook till the tomatoes start to break down. Add 2-3 cups of water, and cook everything together till all the vegetables are very soft.

When the contents of the cooker/casserole have cooled a little bit, add the basil leaves and blend everything together. Strain the soup through a sieve. If the soup seems too thick, add some boiled water and then let the soup simmer again for a few minutes.

You could add the basil a little bit at a time while blending the vegetables; this way you could decide how much of its flavor you are happy with.

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Daal with vegetables

This is a recipe that evolved from the daals and khichris I used to cook for the girls when they were babies.

The format was usually the same – a couple of vegetables (one green, the other red or yellow) fried with some onion,garlic, sometimes ginger, and tomato, and then cooked together with one of the yellow daals. For a khichri I added rice to that combination.

Of the various combinations I cooked together then, the one I have continued to make over the years is of red lentils (masoor) cooked with spinach and squash/pumpkin.

This is one the girls eat without demur, and the leftover portion is very useful for making dough for puris and paranthas that are full of taste.

I also like the idea that I don’t have to cook a subzi separately, when I cook this daal for a meal,since there is a decent amount of vegetables in the daal.  So yesterday, when I made this daal for dinner, I made only some plain rice and peanut raita to go with it.

Daal with Vegetables

1 cup of masoor (red lentils), washed, and soaked for an hour or two

75-100 gms of very finely chopped fresh or frozen spinach

100-150 gms of finely diced pumpkin/butternut squash (or 2 medium sized carrots)

1 large tomato, finely chopped

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated

1/2 tsp of cumin seeds

1/2 tsp of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp of coriander powder

1/2 tsp of garam masala (optional)

salt to taste

3 tbsp of sunflower oil

In a pressure cooker, heat the oil, add the cumin seeds, and fry the onion till it starts to turn a golden color. Add the garlic and the pumkpin, and fry till the onions start to turn brown and pumpkin starts to look quite soft.

Add the tomatoes, and fry till they are soft. Now add the spices, and fry for a couple of seconds.

Add the spinach and the salt, and fry for 3-4 minutes. Now add the daal, 3-4 cups of water, mix everything thoroughly and pressure cook  for 7-8 minutes, or till the vegetables are quite soft.

Add a little boiled water to thin the daal, if it seems to thick, and a tsp of ghee for flavor, if you like.

If you plan to make puris or paranthas with the leftover portion, do thicken the daal over heat first, else you’ll end up using too much flour to knead the dough.

let me know if you try/like this, since this recipe is truly my own 🙂

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Why,why are we like this?

While browsing the Times of India this morning I came across this story:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Jaipur_Woman_thrashed_for_witchcraft/articleshow/3578363.cmsIt is the story of a woman in a  village of Rajasthan who was accused of being a witch and bringing about two deaths in another family. The village panchayat apparently then insisted that she dip her hand in a vessel of boiling oil to try to take out a coin at the bottom of it. This, it seems, is a a common method of establishing the fact of a woman being a witch, or not.

This is something that is just beyond my comprehension, that people would do this to another human being.

As a woman, this makes me rage. As an Indian, it makes me feel ashamed. For all our success in industry, as a people it sometimes feels as if we still live in a more primitive age…

Problems like these are not limited to villages. Delhi, our capital city, was voted the most unsafe city of all in India in a recent industry survey, by women employed in industries that require them to work night shifts. Bangalore, our answer to Silicon valley, has the dubious distinction of being not far behind in that statistic, according to this survey.

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Delhi-most-unsafe-for-women-working-at-night-Survey/371368/

While the industry body has recommended that the companies in these industries should make the necessary security arrangements for their women employees, and steps such as making mandatory the installation of GPS units in cabs, none of this will address the basic issue. Which to my mind, is that as a civil society we seem to lack the respect for women that would allow them to feel secure outside their homes.

Go to work, yes, but at your own peril…

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Rai(Mustard)

This spice is one of my favorites, because the images it evokes most for me are those of the regional Indian cuisine I love best – that of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

So I was a little disappointed when I google-searched to learn about the benefits/properties/effects of this “global” spice.

I suppose what I was looking for was the sort of sources I managed to find aplenty for spices such as turmeric- articles in mainstream news media, and reports of scientific research related to the spice.

I did find some, but if there are others you may have found which you think meet that criterion, do tell me.

In the meanwhile, here is what I have come across.

Mustard seeds can be the product of one of three different kinds of plants; black, brown (Indian), and yellow mustard.

Mustard greens, the seeds and the oil made from them have long been used in Indian and other Asian cuisines. In France, it is  ground mustard that is something of an institution (it is used as an accompaniment to meats). And medieval European courts apparently employed a “mustardarius”, an official who supervised the growing and preparation of mustard !

The mustard plant belongs to the Brassica family of phytonutrient-rich vegetables such as  broccoli ,cauliflower, kale and  cabbage. Therefore everything derived from it – the greens, the seeds, the oil – offers health benefits.

Mustard greens are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C and E, and iron; one cup (140 gm) would provide an adult 60% of the recommended daily Vitamin A requirement, all the Vitamin C requirement and about one-fifth the iron.

Mustard oil is apparently extremely heart and health friendly. It has cholesterol reducing and anti-oxidant properties; it contains essential vitamins; it has saturated fat levels lower even that of olive oil,and high levels of good omega 3 fatty acid and mono-unsaturated fatty acid.

Like the greens, the seeds are also an excellent source of selenium and magnesium, minerals that are helpful in reducing the severity of asthma and in lowering high blood pressure.

In India mustard oil has been used traditionally in the treatment of respiratory conditions ,arthritis and rheumatism.

Mustard seeds also act as a preservative, which is why they are often used in making pickle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_seed

http://www.hindu.com/2007/03/26/stories/2007032618560500.htm

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=106

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/mostof_mustard.shtml

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Brassica_juncea.html

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Sevai Kheer (aka “Pasta” Kheer)

I have not had any cooking to do today, since we are invited to eat at the home of a friend this evening.

So I decided in the afternoon that this would be a good opportunity to make some kheer for the girls’ gouter. They often have a glass of milk when they come back from school, with some fruit , or a slice of cake, or a muffin. But milk is not something Indira especially is particularly fond of; so a bowl of kheer will break the monotony in that routine.

They both like this kheer a lot, as does Shri. I often make it for dessert when we have friends at home for a meal, and most people love it.

When the girls were younger, they called it “pasta” kheer and they were not wrong, because I do in fact make it with angel hair pasta, instead of with vermicelli, which is difficult to find here. This kheer cooks fairly quickly too, which is always a plus in my book 🙂

Sevai Kheer:

6 tablespoons of sevai(vermicelli) or angel hair pasta

3 tablespoons of ghee

2 tablespoons of raisins

4-6 tablespoons of sugar (add less or more, depending on how sweet you like your kheer)

750 ml – 1 litre of milk

1 teaspoon of freshly powdered green cardamom seeds

In a thick-bottomed pan, warm the ghee, and add the vermicelli/pasta.

Fry the vermicelli for a few minutes, turning it occasionally, till it begins to acquire a light brown color. Now add the raisins, and fry everything for another couple of minutes, till the vermicelli starts to turn a darker brown. Add the milk now, and cook the mixture, stirring every few minutes, till the vermicelli is very soft. By this point, the milk will have started to thicken too, so scrape the sides of the pan every time you stir the mixture, to recover and add back the bits on the side -this is basically khoya, I guess, and certainly adds to the taste of the kheer🙂.

When the vermicelli is as soft as you’d like,add the sugar and the cardamom powder, and allow everything to cook together for another 5-7 minutes before taking it off the heat.

Ideally, the kheer should by now be a very light brown/creamy color.

This kheer sometimes thickens further by the time it cools down, so take that in to account while you are cooking it and waiting for the milk to thicken.

Eat it hot or cold – either way this kheer is quite delicious 🙂

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Filed under Desserts, Starters and Snacks

Spanish Omelette(Tortilla)

All this last week, I have had a solitary red bell pepper sitting among the other vegetables in the fridge and  looking at me -I felt -reproachfully for being left unused.

I usually love red bell pepper in salads, but I haven’t felt like making salad since the weather has turned cold. So I decided this evening to make a Spanish omelette instead, since red pepper makes a healthy, tasty,colorful addition to it. I will use some of it for lunch tomorrow for Noor and me – it is a food she loves. This omelette, called a tortilla in Spain, luckily keeps well for a few days in the fridge, so the rest of it will be handy for dinner for the 4 of us one evening later this week.

You could add meats (such as diced ham) and vegetables to the basic egg and potato combination, to make different kinds of tortilla. Here’s the recipe for my version of it.

Spanish Omelette

6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut across in to very fine round slices( I use a food processor to do this; I’d find it a challenge to slice the potatoes as fine by hand)

6 eggs

1 large red bell pepper, cored and diced

2 medium sized onions, peeled and sliced fine

4 tablespoons of olive oil

Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil very slightly in a large, fairly thick-bottomed frying pan. Add the onions and the potatoes, cover, and leave to cook till the potatoes are soft, over moderate heat. Turn the mixture gently from time to time with a flat/wide cooking spoon, taking care that the onions and the potatoes don’t brown or burn. Try to separate the fine slices of the potatoes – which tend to stick to each other because they are so thin – each time, so that all of it gets cooked. Half way through, add the pepper.

When the mixture is cooked (the potatoes should be soft but not lose all form and become mushy, though they will be smashed up a bit), take it out in to a large dish, and allow it to cool.

Break the eggs in a separate bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add to the first mixture when it has cooled and stir gently to mix evenly.

Return the frying pan to the heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, turn the egg and potato mixture back in, cover, and leave it to set, on moderate heat. When the mixture is almost set (this will take about 10 minutes;the middle won’t yet be set but don’t wait for this to happen else the other side will get burnt), turn the omelette over by sliding it on to a large plate, and then leave the other side to set. This will take just a few minutes.

Take it out when it is cooked on to a large serving plate and when it has cooled down, wrap it in cling film to store in the fridge.

This omelette makes a complete meal, with a green salad or soup, and some bread. And since it is easy to carry, sliced up, it is a great picnic food as well. I also make it sometimes for an indulgent, leisurely sort of weekend breakfast.

I am looking forward to my delicious lunch tomorrow, already 🙂

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Filed under Breakfast Ideas, Easy One Pot Cooking, Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks

Haldi(Turmeric)


When I decided to find out more about turmeric, I was sure there would be lots I’d learn.

And wow ! It has certainly made for some pretty impressive reading.

It wouldn’t be wrong, I think,  to call this a wonder spice. The list of real and potential benefits that tradition and even modern research claim for it is very long indeed (though some of these claims, as a few sources are careful to say, are based on clinical trials with animals, with similar effectiveness in humans yet to be conclusively proved) .

Here is a summary of the highlights:

Haldi, a commonly used spice, has been an important element of traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. It has been used as an antiseptic , to treat respiratory problems, to treat skin diseases, to treat rashes, boils, ulcers and infections. In fact in 1997, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial research managed to stop a patent being granted to researchers (led by two Indian born scientists) in the U.S., who were working on creating products based on the healing properties of turmeric, by proving that knowledge of the benefits of turmeric has been in the public domain in India for a very long time.

The active/main compound of turmeric is curcumin, a polyphenol that has been found to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial qualities. It has been found to be effective in the relief of arthiritic pain, because it alleviates joint inflammation.

Turmeric, which has been the focus of a great deal of research around the world in recent years -to quote one source, two hundred and fifty-six curcumin papers were published in 2004 – is being hailed as a potential cure for a range of health conditions – neurodegenrative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and MS, auto-immune diseases, many kind of cancers, and Type-2 diabetes.

Scientists have noticed for quite long now that prostrate cancer – the second most common cause of death due to cancer – is rare in India. This is attributed to a diet rich in vegetables such as cauliflower, and the use of turmeric in Indian cooking. In laboratory tests, curcumin has been found to inhibit the growth of human prostrate cells implanted in immune-deficient mice.

(The flip side to the potential befit of turmeric for inhibiting cancer cell growth is that recent animal studies indicate that dietary turmeric may inhibit the anti-tumor action of chemotherapeutic agents so it has been suggested, for example, that breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should  limit intake of turmeric and turmeric-containing foods)

The use of turmeric in Indian food – is also the reason, studies indicate,for the much lower occurrence (one of the lowest rates in the world) of Alzheimer’s among older Indians who are in the age group usually at most risk for this disease.

Research has also shown that curcumin helps lower bad cholesterol, and increases the levels of good cholesterol, in the body. It also helps alleviate the inflammation response in the body caused  by obesity, and could thus help prevent Type-2 diabetes.

If you want more detail on any of this, here are the sources I looked at:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Feb192008/snt2008021852974.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric

http://www.drugdigest.org/DD/DVH/HerbsWho/0,3923,4046|Turmeric,00.html

http://www.bri.ucla.edu/bri_weekly/news_060206.asp

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/turmeric-000277.htm

http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/11790.cfm?Disclaimer_Redirect=%2Fmskcc%2Fhtml%2F69401.cfm

http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2008/06/23/Turmeric_may_reduce_type_2_diabetes_risk/UPI-96261214219482/

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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

Carrot Cake

A few days ago Uma, one of Indira’s classmates, brought carrot cake to school for her snack and she shared some with Indira, who loved it and has asked me several times since then to try and make one.

So this afternoon, I decided to try out a recipe I have for carrot cake (from Jean Pare’s fantastic “Muffins and More”) and this is what the girls had for their gouter today, with a glass of milk. Noor liked it a lot, and asked for and finished a second piece. Indira, though, said she preferred the one that Uma’s mom made. Oh well…

I liked it a lot too; it just bursts with flavor and taste, thanks to the carrot and the spices.

Noor stayed home this afternoon for her nap instead of going back to school after lunch, and helped a lot with fetching and putting the ingredients together, breaking the eggs, mixing the batter, etc.

Well done, Noor, and thank you !!

Carrot Cake

This recipe has a few changes from the original, but still works well.

2 eggs

1/2 cup of melted butter (a cup of 200 ml measure)

1 and 3/4 cups of flour

1 cup of brown sugar

1 cup of finely grated carrots (you will need 3-4 carrots for this quantity)

2 and a 1/2 tsps of baking powder

1 tsp of cinnamon

1/2 tsp of freshly grated/powdered nutmeg

1/4 tsp of freshly powdered cloves

1/4 tsp of ginger powder

walnuts – 1/4 or 1/2 cup

Blend together the sugar, the eggs and the butter. Stir in the carrots.

Mix all the other ingredients in a bowl. Add to the previous mixture, and gently stir together till everything is well-blended.

Pour in to a loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes at 180 degrees C.

Remove the cake from the pan only after it has cooled down, to keep it from breaking.

This is definitely one to make again.

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

Potato and Feta cheese cakes

I made soup for dinner two days ago and fortunately there is enough left for another meal for the four of us. So tonight, I am going to make only these potato and feta patties/cakes, to go with the soup. We’ll pick up some nice walnut bread from the boulangerie when we walk back from school, and that will round off the meal nicely.

The good thing about this recipe is that the mixture keeps well for at least a day, in the fridge, so if there is some left over, I can make a few patties for the girls’ gouter for tomorrow evening.

Potato and Feta cheese cakes

500 gms potatoes

100 gms feta cheese, drained

1 egg, lightly mixed in a small bowl to combine the white portion and the yolk

2 tsp of thyme ( I use the bottled kind)

1 tbsp of lime juice

2 small onions, chopped very fine

salt and black pepper to taste

all-purpose flour

sunflower oil (enough to shallow-fry the patties)

Cook the potatoes in the microwave( I prefer to do it this way rather than pressure cooking because the latter method leaves the potatoes with some water inside, making the final mix prone to sogginess)  till they are soft.

When they have cooled, peel and then mash them in a large mixing bowl. Now mix in the feta cheese (well-crumbled), the onions, the egg, the salt, the pepper, the thyme, and the lime juice.

Mix everything thoroughly, cover the bowl with cling film, and leave it in the fridge for an hour or two.

To make the patties, divide the mixture in to equal sized balls, flatten them between your palms in to 1cm high discs. Coat each lightly in all-purpose flour , then fry them in moderately hot oil in a skillet/shallow frying pan till they are nicely browned and crisp on both sides.

These patties need gentle handling because the cheese makes them quite soft and therefore prone to crumbling.

The original recipe, which I found in a cookbook for vegetarian food from different parts of the world (it is written in French and that has been great for expanding my vocabulary of French culinary terms), calls for fresh thyme and spring onions. But since I never seem to have those two ingredients at hand, I invariably end up using bottled thyme and regular onions, and the patties taste great anyway. The girls just adore them – they don’t seem to care that they contain feta, a cheese that they wouldn’t go near in it’s original form!

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Filed under Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Khatti-Meethi Daal

This afternoon, when I soaked the daal for the evening’s meal, I found myself thinking that I did not want to make varan yet again. As I mulled over the various ways in which arhar can be cooked, I remembered for the first time in a long while of a childhood favorite – a sweet and sour version of this lentil.

My mother sometimes made arhar flavored with tamarind and jaggery. And though the others at home -my father, my brother and my dadi – did not favor this variation, she made it quite often just for me.

I had never made it myself until today, but managed to achieve the same taste as in my mother’s version. And I was quite pleased to see that the girls liked it too.

Khatti-Meethi Daal

1 cup arhar

1 medium sized onion, chopped very finely

1 green chilly, sliced through(optional)

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp of fenugreek seeds (methi)

1 clove of garlic, sliced in to thin slivers

5-6 curry leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric

salt to taste

2 tsp of thick tamarind paste

1tbsp of crushed jaggery (you can vary the amount)

Soak the daal with the fenugreek seeds for 2-3 hours, then pressure cook it in 3 cups of water, with the onion, the jaggery and the salt, till the grains are absolutely soft.

When the daal has cooled down a little bit, add the turmeric and the tamarind paste and stir everything together thoroughly with a whisk so that the grains dissolve completely.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, then when they start to crackle add the curry leaves, the green chilly, and the garlic and stir till the garlic starts to turn a very light brown. Add this tempering to the daal and boil it for 7-8 minutes to allow everything to really come together.

This daal is just great with plain white rice.  Add a little bit of ghee to that, and it’s heaven 🙂

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Filed under Daals