Monthly Archives: November 2008

Orange Cake

This afternoon, we had three of Indira’s and Noor’s friends/schoolmates come over for a play date.  I had planned to get some pain au chocolat for the girls’gouter, to go along with compote/fruit yoghurt/fruit.  But when I went to the local boulangerie I found that they had run out of pain au chocolat as well as croissants, the other French bakery classic that most children love.

So I decided that I’d bake an orange cake, instead.

I have been wanting to make one anyway, ever since I ate some a couple of weekends ago at the birthday party to which I took the crispy peanuts. One of the other guests had brought delicious orange cake, and I really like it because it was just full of lovely flavor.

I did get the recipe from the gentleman who had baked it, but when I went through it again today I realized that it uses rather a lot of butter -300 gms for a 4 egg cake, plus more for a glaze. So I started looking around for another recipe that might promise the same taste – after all, I reasoned, in an orange cake the dominant flavor would come from the juice and the zest of the fruit – without using quite so much fat.

And I was very pleased to find one such recipe sitting on a shelf in in my own kitchen- in Ms. Jean Pare’s excellent collection titled “Muffins and More” .

This recipe below- a slight variation on the original – uses a lot less butter but the cake tastes as nice, IMO.

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Orange Cake

For the cake:

2 eggs

1/2 cup (75 gms) of unsalted butter, melted

1 cup of sugar

2 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 tsp of salt

2 tsp of baking powder

Zest from one orange

Juice from one orange (plus a little water, if required, to make the specified quantity) 1/2 cup

For the glaze:

Juice from one orange

1/4 cup sugar

In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking powder.

Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Now blend in the sugar and the butter. Stir the zest and the juice in, then gradually fold in the flour mixture taking care that no lumps form. Pour this mixture in to a non-stick baking tin, and bake at 180degreesC for 45-60 minutes.

In a small saucepan, prepare the glaze by mixing the sugar and the juice and heating until the sugar has dissolved completely. Pour the glaze over the cake as soon as you take it out from the oven, and then leave the cake to cool for about 20 minutes before taking it out gently from the tin.

Noor, Alicia, and Celine loved it and the older girls in fact asked for and finished a second piece each. Indira didn’t like it too much (though she says she really likes the crust with the glaze), and nor did Alicia’s little sister Flora.

This cake makes a great little snack with a cup of tea; it is not very heavy on the stomach, and has a wonderful flavor (which owes a lot to the glaze so don’t skip that bit).

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

“Yoghurt Sauce with Mint” – aka – Pudina Raita

As I watched Indira happily polish off the remains of the yoghurt in Noor’s pot (Noor, who hasn’t been too well, had already gone in for her sieste without finishing her lunch)  after finishing her own, I was reminded once again of how Mataji, my maternal grandmother, used to call me “dadhipriya”, because I loved yoghurt so much. I see the same fondness for this food in Indira too.

It reminded me too, of her favorite raita, though that is not how she thinks of it. The extent of Indira’s francisation– the result of attending the local maternelle for three years and of eating lunch in the school cantine since the last two years- struck me one day last summer when she said,”You know that yoghurt sauce you make sometimes, that has mint in it? Will you make that again, please? I love it !!”

It took me a while to figure this one out , that she was talking about pudina raita.

So although it is a fairly cold winter day here, I thought I’d document this recipe too, since she loves this “sauce” so much. Of course, it is best eaten on a hot summer day, since the mint has such a cooling effect.

Pudina Raita

250 gms of yoghurt

2-3 tbsps of finely chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 tsp of sugar

salt to taste

Whisk the salt and the sugar in to the yoghurt. Mix in the mint leaves, and then turn the raita in to a serving bowl and leave for an hour or two before eating, so that the flavor of the mint blends well with the yoghurt.

This raita is great with pulavs, paranthas, and heavy and spicy curries and meats. And it is a wonderfully cooling and fresh addition to meals in the summer.

And with tikkas and kebabs, I imagine it could even pass off as a dip or -yes ! – sauce:-)

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Filed under Dips,Chutneys,Sauces,Spreads, Raitas

Carrot Muffins

Just before dinner tonight, Indira said “Mama, what can I take for gouter tomorrow?”

Tomorrow being Tuesday, they will be going swimming again from school , and I know she enjoys having a special gouter to eat on the bus coming back, rather than the usual clementine or apple slices.  So I suggested that I could make some carrot cake, since this is a current favorite with her.

She was quite pleased with the idea, but requested that I make muffins, instead of a cake, so that is what I did.

The recipe is the same as for the carrot cake that I wrote about recently, except that I put the mixture in to muffin trays, and the total baking time was around 15 minutes shorter than it would have been for the cake.

I don’t know what it is about muffins – but I do believe the ones I have made tonight taste nicer than the cake I made the last time with the same recipe (I have been eating the bits stuck to the muffin tray)

Two small changes that I made – I skipped the vanilla essence this time; and I used a wheat flour available here that is called “semi-complet” ; it is sort of halfway between the whole wheat and refined kind. it makes the muffins more prone to breaking if not handled carefully when you are taking them out of the tray-though they hold just fine after that- but I don’t like the idea of using refined flour too much because it is “empty” calories, as they say.

With half the quantities as in the recipe for the cake, I was able to make 12 muffins.

And now, I will need to try and resist a midnight snack !

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

“It’s like kheer!”-Porridge with Dates and Walnuts

That is how one friend, Sarita, described this combination, after she tried it out.

It is what Indira and Noor used to eat for breakfast quite often when they were younger, and they really loved it.

When they were babies, too, their favorite food was cooked oats mixed with banana, and I even carried a box of oats with me(along with other cereals) as a standby option when we traveled, in case they did not like whatever was on offer. Oats can be cooked so easily and quickly as long as there is a microwave available, and banana is a fruit that is pretty ubiquitous.

I add dates now sometimes, instead of banana, to sweeten the oats and milk, and some walnuts and/or almonds.

This is another breakfast food that always puts a smile in my stomach !

Porridge with Dates and Walnuts

2-3 tablespoons of quick cooking oats

120-150 ml of skimmed or half-fat milk

4-5 soft, seedless dates chopped fine (or half a banana, chopped fine)

1 tablespoon of walnuts (chopped or in larger chunks, as you like them)

3-4 almonds,preferably soaked overnight, then peeled and either chopped or sliced(you could use them without soaking them first, too, though I believe soaking overnight makes them easier to digest. For more on that, see here http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060929121033AA7Lfj2)

Combine the milk and the oats in a micro-wave proof bowl and cook uncovered at 750W for 2 minutes. At the end of this time, the oats will have almost started to boil over. Watch out for this and take the oats out before this happens.

Turn the oats and milk mixture over in to a cereal bowl. Add the chopped dates and walnuts(plus the almonds, if you are using them), and a little more milk if the consistency is too thick. Stir to mix everything well.

Enjoy !!

It’s a warm, satisfying, delicious and healthy start to the day.

A variation -simply soak the nuts and oatmeal together in the milk for 20-30 minutes before you are ready to eat.

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So just how bad are sausages- and other processed meats -for you,really?

I have held this vague notion for a long time that this form of meat, as well as other processed meats, are just not a healthy food choice.

So I have been thinking for a while that I need to find out exactly why they say that processed meats, including sausages, aren’t good for you. Is it the additives and preservatives? Is it the high amounts of salt? In the case of sausages, is it the cuts of meat used to make them? Are there are some kinds that are better than others? Should I relax the rules at home about not eating processed meat too often?

One suspicion commonly held against processed meats is that they cause cancer. But I found mixed evidence of this.

In 2006, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden seemed to find a connection between processed meats and stomach cancer.

They analyzed the results of 15 studies, of patients suffering from stomach cancer, published over the last 40 years across Europe, and North and South America .

They found that, compared to the normal population, those people with stomach cancer were more likely to have processed meats in their diet – foods like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, land liver pate, and that the highest risk factor among these was bacon.

But as can happen with scientific studies, this one was not conclusive because it was felt that it could well be that people who ate processed meats led a lifestyle that predisposed them to cancer from other causes, rather than it being that the processed meats were the cause.

But the results added to a growing body of other evidence linking processed meats to cancer. Last year in a study they were linked to pancreatic cancer, and in other earlier studies, to cancers of the colon and rectum.

So how might the consumption of processed meats lead to cancer?

This brings us to two controversial ingredients of processed meat; the additives and the preservatives- the latter are the nitrates and the nitrites which are added to meat to retard rancidity, to stabilize flavor, and to establish the characteristic pink color of cured meat, and because they are antioxidants.

As with the link between processed meat and cancer, the news on nitrites is somewhat mixed.

The concern really centers around nitrosamines, or the compounds derived from the nitrate and nitrite salts, which are known to be carcinogens.

One reason those barbecued sausages may not be a good idea- apparently the high heat at which sausages and bacon are sometimes cooked aids the formation of nitrosamines.

And nitrites, and by association cured meats, are linked to the incidence of chronic pulmonary disease (though a conclusive causal relationship has not been established.

But there are also studies reported in scientific journals which say that nitrites may protect the stomach from ulcers; topical nitrite preparations are known to be effective in wound and burn healing; there are studies which indicate that nitrites may help improve recovery after a heart-attack (demonstrated so far only in animals), and there is some expectation that dietary supplementation of nitrites and their topical uses will be effective and inexpensive therapies to help decrease the incidence and severity of heart attack and stroke or enhance recovery.

Interestingly. vegetables have high levels of nitrates too. But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says that someone on an average daily diet of fruit and vegetables is unlikely to consume a dangerous level of nitrates.

Whatever the truth of the matter, nitrates and nitrites certainly have a negative connotation and therefore some manufacturers have apparently begun to make “nitrite free” products though these often get around the problem by introducing nitrites in the meat through the use of additives such as  celery and cane sugar juice,as well as selected types of salt, which are high in “natural” nitrate.

The other additive to look out for in sausages is E128, also known as Red 2G. It is banned in some countries such as Japan already and in 2007 the EFSA recommended that it cannot be considered safe for humans because it gets converted in to aniline in the body, which is a substance known in lab studies to cause cancer in animals.

Another risk, associated with eating salami and other raw sausages (found by a 2001 study done at  Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology) is that a bacterium in these foods, which is resistant to antibiotics (and which could be transferred to humans consuming these kinds of meats and other raw foods such as some kinds of cheese) can render consumers of such foods non-responsive to antibiotic treatment.

The source of this is the antibiotics that animals like cows are given in their food, and against which the animals gradually develop genes resistant to them.

(The scientists who carried out this study did intend to try and find out next if the same can happen through plant foods).

As for what goes in to making a sausage- many people’s reservations are related to the use of offal – “anything on the floor”, as some have said.  (Offal is the term used to describe the entrails, internal organs and extremities of an animal – the parts that fall off when the carcass is butchered. For a detailed discussion on what exactly makes up offal, see http://www.offalgood.com/site/what-is-offal and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offal).

After reading those links, I quite understand how this would make some people squeamish, and certainly I won’t be looking at a sausage too fondly the next time ! For aficionados, though, and people who believe that it is a waste to not use all parts of an animal, I believe the saying goes “you can eat all of the pig except the squeal” (For an amusing read on one lady’s experience of eating the very popular French sausage called Andouillette, see http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/sally_peck/blog/2008/02/16/offal_rejection).

Of course, as with everything else, one can always make one’s own (http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/aa030298.htm).

The other option I guess would be to buy discerningly, from speciality sausage makers who promise only prime cuts of meat.

As for me, I guess I am going to err on the side of caution and continue to skip processed meat as much as possible, or I’ll start to think about what kind to buy and where. Those nitrites – especially the nitrosamines that they get converted in to – worry me and I think what Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) said may well hold true even today –  “The less people know about how sausage and laws are made, the better they’ll sleep at night.

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/nitrosamine.html

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/Sausage_and_Food_Safety/index.asp

http://publicaffairs.uth.tmc.edu/media/newsreleases/nr2007/nitrite_nitrate.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2006/08/10/1710593.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6286834.stm

http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Quality-Safety/Nitrite-free-Where-does-the-truth-end

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/health-news/antibiotic-hazard-found-in-sausages-686099.html

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Product-Categories/Flavours-and-colours/Annatto-may-replace-nitrites-in-cured-meats-study

http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Nitrite-nitrate-rich-foods-may-not-be-so-bad-after-all

http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Quality-Safety/No-risk-from-nitrates-in-vegetables-says-EFSA

http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2008/11/06/36811_food-wine.html

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

http://www.answers.com/topic/sausage

http://www.sausagelinks.co.uk/sausage_buying_guide.asp

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Filed under The Food Police says...

Bari/Moti Elaichi(Black Cardamom)

Bari elaichi -an important ingredient of garam masala, which in turn is a key spice mix in many curries – is another of those spices that evokes many memories of my parents’ home. I associate this spice with the quintessentially Punjabi rajma; the karha (a concoction of tea and various spices all boiled together) that my mother gave us to drink when any of us had a cold or cough; winter meals of hot paranthas with the most delicious gobhi ki subzi cooked with potatoes or peas or both, to which my mother always added whole pods of badi elaichi ; and the very flavorful and aromatic mutton curry that was my father’s signature dish and which I loved to watch him make, in which the first spice to go in to the oil was always bari elaichi.

Indira seems to have absorbed my fondness for this spice, because she loves to pick out the pods from any curry or subzi I put them in, to suck on. She says she loves the taste !

I make a karha-style tea sometimes, in the winter, when Shri or I have a cold, that involves boiling the water with a couple of cracked black cardamom pods, 3-4 black peppercorns, and some grated ginger. It does wonders to clear the woozy and heavy-headed feeling that can come with a stuffy nose, and sends the most warming sensation coursing down the throat.

Here is some information on the spice, from the sources listed below.

Black cardamom belongs to the Amomum genus of the Zingiberaceae family of plants, with different species that grow across India, China and the other parts of the Himalayan region. The name in Hindi – elaichi – derives from the Sanskrit ela.

Though a very expensive spice, it is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. Sometimes erroneously described as inferior to green cardamom, it has its own special place in Indian cuisine, as it is used to flavor many curries, vegetables,pulaos and biryanis where it cannot be substituted by the green variety. In fact unlike the latter which is used to flavor many sweet dishes, black cardamom is rarely used in sweet preparations.

Black cardamom is used in Vietnam and by the Chinese too, especially in the cuisine of the Sichuan region.

While native to Asia, these days most of it is grown in Central America with Guatemala the largest exporter in 2007.

Black cardamom has been used in traditional Indian medicine as a cure for obesity, as a digestive, and as a remedy for respiratory problems such as coughs and bronchitis. The variety grown in China,Laos, and Vietnam is also used in traditional medicinal systems of those areas as an antidote for digestive ailments, as a treatment for nausea and vomiting, tooth aches, etc.

This spice is best stored as pods, since the powdered form – though widely available – loses its aroma quite soon once the package is opened.

http://www.hindu.com/mp/2008/05/22/stories/2008052250660300.htm

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

genebank.rda.go.kr/asiamediplants/home/doc3_1_view.asp?seqno=120

http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Amom_sub.html

http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices/cardamom-whole-pods-inner-seeds-ground-and-black

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

http://ayurvedicmedicinalplants.com/plants/3236.html


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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

Crispy Peanuts

Some days ago, I asked my mother for ideas for a starter, to serve to guests we had invited to dinner last weekend.

She suggested these peanuts, that are coated in chick pea flour and then fried. As she described how to make them, the memory of having eaten them, long ago when I still lived at home, gradually came back and I remembered that they have a great crispy texture.

I therefore did go along with her suggestion and make them, and was glad I did. Our friends really liked the taste (I gathered from Naveen that this is a Rajasthani recipe and this may explain how my mother knows it since that is where she grew up), as did all the children, especially Noor, and Sarita and Naveen’s two and a half year old Kriti.

The thing I really loved about them is how quick they are to cook !

Crispy Peanuts

200 gms of unsalted and grilled or plain peanuts, without the skin

1 small cup – 175 ml measure –  of besan (chickpea flour), though you may find you need a little more

1/2 tsp of turmeric

1/2-1 tsp of kashmiri or other chilli powder (adjust according to your taste)

1 tsp of coriander powder

1 tsp of amchur (dry mango powder)- optional

salt to taste

750 ml sunflower oil, to deep fry

Put the oil in a wok/karhai and leave it to heat till it is of a temperature high enough to deep fry without letting it reach smoking point.

In the meanwhile mix the salt and all the spices in to the besan, and rub it through your fingers for a minute to make sure that there are no lumps. Put the peanuts in a bowl, and wash them under running water, draining out any excess. Now add the besan in to this bowl, and coat it well on the peanuts, adding a little bit of water if required but don’t let the besan become at all pasty or runny – it should have the texture and feel of sticky dough.

Take the peanuts in to your hand about 1-2tbsp at a time, and drop them gradually in to the oil, trying to separate them as you go. Now wait till they start to rise to the surface of the oil and then with a slotted frying spoon gently try and separate the peanuts as much as you can by gently pushing at the little clumps that will have formed.

Turn the peanuts over a couple of times and take them out as they start to look crisp while still retaining a yellowish rather than a brown color, and drain the excess oil on absorbent paper. Take care not to let the peanuts brown too much or they – and the besan – will acquire a bitter kind of taste.

These peanuts won’t seem very crisp at first, right after you take them out, but they get a lot crispier after a while, so leave them to cool and then store in an airtight box after they have cooled and acquired the right bite. You can try to separate them some more once they have cooled.

My mother suggests serving these with a sprinkling of chaat masala; I forgot that part on Saturday but everyone enjoyed them anyway.

As a postscript, I would like to add that I made them again yesterday, a much larger quantity this time (500 grams of peanuts). This was for the birthday party of a friend’s daughter this afternoon. And it was gratifying to see them go pretty quick this time too !

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Filed under Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks

Achari Paneer

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This dish really does have a deliciously tangy, chatpata taste -akin to that of pickles – that does justice to its name. Shri and our guests on Saturday liked it a lot.

When I first came across this recipe, in  a fantastic cookbook called “The Art of Indian Cuisine”, I was delighted because a) it uses all the spices that make up my beloved  paanchphoron b) other than the time required to make the paneer – which in fact in many places can be bought in a store – the rest of the process seemed pretty simple and quick.

But on closer reading I saw that it also requires quite a large number of green chillies. I couldn’t quite get my head around the surprising – to me – number specified and so I used far fewer (and I substituted kashmiri chilli powder for regular red chilli powder) when I cooked this dish on Saturday.

Achari Paneer

600 gms of paneer (the recipe for matar paneer describes how to make paneer; you’ll need 4 liters of milk and 400 ml of yoghurt to make this quantity of paneer)

400-500 gms of yoghurt (the original recipe says 1 cup but I wasn’t sure how much that meant. So I sort of  eyeballed the paneer and decided to use 500gms which worked out fine)

3 medium sized onions, chopped fine

4 tsp of fennel seeds

2 tsp of cumin and mustard seeds

1 tsp of fenugreek seeds and nigella seeds

2 (or a few more, if you like) green chillies, slit lengthwise in half

2 tsp each of sugar, turmeric powder and kashmiri red chilli powder

3-4 tsp of dry mango powder (amchur)

3 tsps each of garlic paste and ginger paste

salt to taste

5 tbsp of sunflower oil

Cut the paneer in to 1″ or slightly larger cubes. Mix the sugar and the 3 dry spices in to the yoghurt and whisk it well.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil, then add the 5 whole spices in the sequence I have suggested for paanchphoron.

Once the whole spices start to crackle and turn brown, add the green chillies and the onion and fry  till golden brown. Add the garlic and ginger pastes next, and fry for another couple of minutes.

Turn down the heat a little now, and add the yoghurt mixture, and cook till the yoghurt is cooked/absorbed. At this stage, the cooking oil will rise to the surface, and you’ll see it has a lovely rich red color. Add the paneer pieces and salt, and fry everything together for 4-5 minutes. Add a cup and a half of boiled water, turn up the heat a little, and simmer till the gravy is as thick as you’d like, turning over the paneer pieces once in a while.

This dish needs to be made at least 3-4 hours ahead of eating, to allow time for the paneer to soak in the flavors, and for the “achari” taste to develop.

There is lots of yummy flavor here to savor. Enjoy !


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Filed under Curries

This week in our history…

Barack Obama has deservedly won a historic election. Though I found myself wishing, as I watched the media focus so much attention after his victory on the country of his father’s birth, that they would also then stop to acknowledge that it is his mother and her family who played the far more important role in his becoming the person who has been able to get to where he is today. As he has said himself about his mother “What is best in me I owe to her”.

But, other than that minor gripe, what a fantastic thing to happen. As I wrote to someone I discussed this with, this has been an event that for me has made America after a long time seem the place it is supposed to be, not the place it has appeared to become in the last few years.

Also very heartening is the fact that Mr. Obama won 66% of the youth vote , or those between 18-29 years of age. Looking ahead, this gives me confidence that the America my daughters may travel to later in their lives, for work or study or both will be a more fair-minded, more color blind place than it is today.

Closer home, Indira has been reading “Grown-ups make you Grumpy” to me.

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They get one book each week from their teacher, to bring home for reading practice.

This one is about the humor in some common phrases.

We have had fun discussing how when the teacher says ” Come on Jack pull your socks up !!” she means to get sharp and do your work, not to literally pull your socks up, and when Mom says “I’ll put the kettle on”, she doesn’t mean she’ll put it on her head, but that she’ll boil water in it.

Today at bedtime Noor “read” to me again every page in that little book in the picture -Ma petite voiture rouge– verbatim, from having heard Indira and me read it to her a few times. it is a just such a pleasure, I must say, to hear her do that, and say even the bigger words like silenceusement so clearly 🙂

Not too long ago, she used to call a boulangerie a “boonjali”, and said “rimberer” for remember.

I feel a pang in my heart for the babyhood she is leaving behind…

And on the subject of food – this Saturday, I made a very interesting,spicy dish called Achari Paneer for our guests who came to dinner; and some Besan vali Moongfali ; a very quick-to-cook (albeit not very healthy on account of it being deep-fried) starter to munch while the early arrivals waited for the rest.

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

I wish this rainbow would stay awhile…

It has rained without much let up these last few days, and each time the girls and I went for a walk in the rain, (they love to do this, dressed for the weather in wellies and raincoats and holding their little umbrellas over their heads) Noor asked, “Mama why isn’t there a rainbow in the sky?” Indira, being the older and therefore the wiser/all-knowing told her very knowledgeably each time that first it needed to stop raining and the sun to come out.

Well this afternoon finally it did – i.e it stopped raining and the sun came out and now there is this HUGE  rainbow across the sky.

But Indira has gone for the day to a friend’s home and Noor is having her nap. And I am feeling so sad that neither of them is with me right now. Somehow rainbows make you want to have everyone around to exclaim over them !

I can’t get the camera to work either, so I can’t record this for them, which is another bummer because I know the rainbow will be gone by the time Noor wakes up.

I hope Indira at least will have seen it from Uma’s house.

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

Jeera(Cumin)

Aromatic jeera is a spice that is ubiquitous in Indian cooking.

Not only does it go in to the tempering for many daals and subzis, it is also an important ingredient in such diverse things as tamarind chutney,the delicious summer drink aam ka panna, as a flavoring in many raitas, and of course jal jeera, another very popular summer drink that takes it’s name from this spice.

This spice is used in both it’s seed form as well as ground in to a powder and is therefore sold in both forms too. But I feel that the latter is best made fresh each time some is needed; bottled jeera powder doesn’t pack half as much flavor, IMO.

So whenever a recipe calls for jeera powder, I usually lightly roast some cumin seeds (it is important not to brown the seeds too long/let them burn to black else this ruins the flavor) and then crush them with a rolling pin or in an electric mixer if the quantity is large enough. The resultant aroma is worth the extra effort !!

Cumin -scientific name Cuminum cyminum – is used in diverse cuisines, such as Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern and belongs to the same plant family (Umbelliferae) as parsley, dill and caraway.

It is native to Egypt and has been cultivated since antiquity in Indian, China, and the Mediterranean region.

The Bible mentions it as a seasoning for soup and bread, and as a currency to pay tithes to priests while the Egyptians used it as an ingredient in the mummification of their pharaohs. In Europe in the Middle Ages, cumin gained popularity as a symbol of love and fidelity. People carried cumin in their pockets when attending wedding ceremonies, and married soldiers took along a loaf of cumin bread baked by their wives when they went to war !

Cumin has been traditionally used due to its cooling effect, and its’ ability to aid digestion. Research does indicate that cumin probably helps stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, compounds necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation.

Cumin may even have anti-carcinogenic properties, due to its’ potent free radical scavenging abilities as well as the ability to enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes. In fact, these same properties make cumin an important aid to overall wellness.

A very good source of iron and manganese, cumin is highly regarded in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for it’s varied curative properties. It can apparently help treat skin problems such as boils, psoriasis, eczema and dry skin; it is believed to help purify the blood; to reduce superficial inflammation; to help control flatulence, stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea; can help alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome; and is believed to be an antiseptic.

If you come across material – studies/scientific papers -that talk about the benefits of jeera , I’d love to hear about it.

The sources I referenced are:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=91

http://lifestyle.indiainfo.com/2008/05/14/0805141143_the_benefits_of_cumin_seeds.html

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

http://www.articledashboard.com/Article/Commending-Cumin-seeds/557628

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/three-spices-that-aid-digestion/242736/

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Filed under Exploring the Spice Shelf

Honey and Nutmeg-flavored Chicken Tikkas

I have been thinking for a while that I would like to extend the repertoire of starters I am able to cook, especially of the non-vegetarian kind. I have made the same mangoris, tikkis, and vadas too often now.

I also would love to introduce the girls, gradually, to other kinds of chicken and lamb-based preparations in Indian cuisine that are not the usual curries. At a restaurant in Mumbai some months ago, I noticed that the girls really enjoyed eating reshmi kebabs, and it has been on my mind since then that I should try and make those at home for them, for a change from the usual fare.

So I decided recently to start trying out the recipes in an interesting little book I have had for years in my kitchen, called “Tikkas and Kebabs”, a compilation of recipes by various chefs at prominent restaurants in India.

The one that I tried this evening caught my eye because of the unusual- to me – ingredients that it uses(honey and nutmeg) and because it looked so easy. The tikkas I made with this recipe turned out really well, and both Indira and I loved them. Noor didn’t seem too keen on the taste though; I guess that was down to the unusual/unaccustomed flavor of nutmeg (she said the chicken had a “funny” smell” !!) though that is precisely what I loved about these tikkas.

I think these would be very nice as a first course, served over a layer of salad leaves (and maybe some grated carrot, or as a starter.

Best of all, this recipe really is amazingly simple. An added bonus is that it needs very little oil.

Honey and Nutmeg-flavored Chicken Tikkas

Chicken breasts(de-boned)/chicken fillets  500gms

Lime juice 4 tbsps

Honey 3-4 tbsps

1/2 tbsp of red chilly powder (I don’t like my food “hot” so I used kashmiri chilli powder; you could use a stronger kind)

Garlic paste  1/2 tsp

pepper powder 1/4 tsp

Nutmeg powder 1/4 tsp

a pinch of red food color (I’d say this is optional- the original recipe lists this but I never use any food color)

salt to taste

Mustard or any other cooking oil to baste 1 to 2 tbsps

Cut the chicken in to 2 inch pieces, and pierce these lightly with a fork. Mix all the other ingredients to prepare a marinade. Toss the chicken pieces in it thoroughly and leave in the refrigerator for 5-6 hours. Then put the pieces on skewers, or line the grill with cooking paper and lay them flat on this, and grill at the top of the oven at 200 degrees C till the pieces are well done.

During the cooking process, baste the chicken with mustard oil (I used sunflower oil since I have no mustard oil at the moment) on each side once.

Do try this one; the honey and lime is a delicious combination with the chicken, and nutmeg adds a superb flavor.

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Filed under Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments