Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Very Special Christmas

Meelie was here 🙂

As was her husband Anu and though they were here for less than 48 hours, the Christmas eve and day we spent with them has been one of the  highlights of this year for me.

The torrential (“elephants and hippopotamuses”, as the girls kept saying) rain of the previous five days stopped magically on 25th morning so that we had a beautiful sunny day. We spent it in St. Paul de Vence where we actually managed to eat lunch outside, on the terrace of a nice little restaurant , thanks to the brilliant sunshine.

I couldn’t have asked for a nicer way to end the year…

Thank you Santa, for an absolutely lovely time.  Also for the excellent Christmas pudding (my first time !), which we continue to feast on each night after dinner, from your stop in London 🙂


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Coriander and Mint Chutney, the way Ma makes it(1)

For the first four days this last week, it rained “elephants and hippopotamuses”, as the girls said.

So we had soup for dinner quite often, and one evening we had pakoras as well, since it was just the sort of weather when I enjoy them most.

I happened to have some coriander and mint chutney left over from a lot that I made a couple of weeks ago so we polished off the pakoras with that.

I usually keep this chutney now in a pretty glass jar which I brought back a couple of years ago from my mother’s kitchen as it is a pleasing reminder of the years when b. and I grew up in Bokaro. The way I remember it, this jar was always in the fridge, full of chutney. And the taste of the sandwiches b. and I sometimes made, with left over baigan bharta and this chutney,  is one of the nicest gastronomic memories of my childhood 🙂

Noor likes it a lot too, especially with dhokla.

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 small onion

One clove of garlic, peeled

1 green chilly, stalk removed, or a little red chilli powder, or half of a whole red chilly (optional)

salt to taste

1 tbsp of lime juice (use more or less, as you like)

1 tbsp of sugar (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, instead of 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, add the sugar and lime juice 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.

This is such a  tangy treat with so many different things; besan ka cheela, pakoras, batata vadas and, yes, in sandwiches too !

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Filed under Dips,Chutneys,Sauces,Spreads, RECIPES

An Indian tradition – Atithi Devo Bhava

This morning Venu forwarded a link to a talk by a gentleman who dwells on some of the things which make Indians the way we are, and which make us different from those of some other cultures.

The speaker makes some interesting observations which explain some of the subtleties of the Indian way of being, things which people of other cultures therefore don’t “get” about us a lot of the time.

This made me think of another aspect of our Indian-ness which ,over the years here, I have found people of many other cultures are often surprised by. And that is the manner of our hospitality.  It is there in the spread of food when we entertain (the fact that this requires the host to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen and which we do willingly appears to make a real impression on some of our guests);  it is there in the manner in which we welcome guests in to our homes so that they are accorded the same respect and treatment as members of the family;  it is there in the willing and friendly help we extend to foreigners who are visitors in our country (one could write a whole book about the warmth, friendliness and generosity that people we meet recount having encountered during their travels in India and which strikes them as such a positive point of difference from other cultures they know) ; it is in the the effort we make to welcome guests in to a clean, tidy home; all of these things are informed, I feel, by the philosophy of atithi devo bhava – literally, “the guest is God” . It is a way of being which I think permeates our culture and is perhaps ingrained in our collective DNA.

Not that we can claim this quality to be ours exclusively.  For example, Jenny and her family are Jewish, and when we visit them I find that many of the same operating principles prevail in their home.  And I think there is a Spanish saying ,”mi casa es su casa” , which expresses much the same idea -“my home is your castle” i.e. “you are welcome and feel at home”. There is, as well, the Iranian mother of one of Indira’s classmates who talks proudly of a whole way of  Iranian hospitality which I am able to relate to since it sounds so similar to the Indian way.

But the reaction from many of those not from India, to the way we are as hosts has often made me wonder over the years about the reasons that make us like this (some admire and appreciate this difference, others seem discomfited by it. Perhaps the latter feel that it places on them the burden of an expectation of equivalent reciprocity, although this is not our intention?).  I tend to think now that this is because our side in many of these interactions is informed, often subconsciously, by this ideal- that the guest is God – that most Indians  internalize but which to them may seem like a very quaint notion if I were to elaborate it to them.

In this context, I also seem to recall an interesting parable about the origin of this Sanskrit saying.  I don’t know if I have the details right but I think it involves God visiting, in the guise of a stranger,  a household whose members received him well even though they had no idea it was God they were playing host to. They therefore received his blessings and this became the basis for the injunction to treat every visitor as you would God.

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Filed under NOT ABOUT FOOD

A difficult – but very pleasing ! – word

The two “sh” sounds in conscientious have always made me think of it as a difficult word to pronounce and in fact this has sometimes made me opt for a synonym.

But yesterday I was only too pleased to say it aloud as I read through Indira’s first term evaluation report from school and discussed it with her.

For Mrs. Guez says Indira is that sort of student, among the other nice things she has written about her and her work 🙂

Well done, Indira !

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

A Reflection on Marriage

A while ago I was talking about this subject to Pooja, who got married last week.

Then I came across this piece tonight. It’s closing paragraphs express beautifully some of what I was trying to convey to her.

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Filed under NOT ABOUT FOOD

Khamang Kakdi – Cucumber Salad with Peanuts and Coconut

This is of the same family as the carrot salad that wins hearts all the time !

Indira likes it better than that one, especially if I add fresh, green coriander.

Khamang Kakdi/Cucumber Salad with Peanuts and Coconut

1 large cucumber

3-4 tbsp fresh, finely grated (or dessicated) coconut

3-4 tbsp ground peanuts(koot)

2 tsp sunflower oil

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

4-5 curry leaves

salt, to taste

2 teaspoons each of sugar and lime juice, or to taste (you could replace the sugar and lime juice with thick jaggery paste and tamarind juice)

1-2 tbsp fresh, chopped coriander leaves

Peel, wash and finely dice the cucumber. Heat the oil in a small pan, then add the mustard seeds and wait till they pop. Move the pan off the fire (this keeps the ingredients that you will be adding next from getting burned) and quickly add the cumin seeds and curry leaves. Stir for a few seconds then pour this tempering over the cucumber. Now add the coconut and peanuts, the salt, sugar, lime juice, and coriander, and toss everything well before serving.

If you want to make this a few hours ahead, then add the tempering to the cucumber earlier but mix in the rest of the ingredients just before serving, otherwise the salad can become quite soggy.

Use freshly grated coconut whenever you can, for a much nicer taste. And IMO, this salad is so much tastier with tamarind and jaggery instead of with lime juice and sugar.

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Filed under Salads

Yummy Vegetable Biryani

The recipe for this comes from Shefali.  She made an excellent vegetable biryani for the  birthday party we had for their son Vayun, and Noor, this last March. I had been meaning ever since to ask her for the recipe.

Then, when I was wondering what to make for dinner this last Saturday evening, to go with the tikki-chole and tandoori chicken that I was planning for the main course (we had Jenny,Stefan,and Uma and her parents’  Kate and Oliver come over to eat with us) , I remembered this biryani and felt it would round out the meal nicely.

Shefali very patiently explained the entire process to me – and it certainly is a long one – over the telephone, after which I did a trial run during the week. The girls especially loved the biryani , though Shri I guess would have liked me to not skip the fried onions that usually adorn a biryani. But there was so much oil/ghee that had gone in to the rice already, I decided I just had to skip this last bit of garnish !

Since the experiment worked out well I did make the biryani for dinner on Saturday too and our guests liked it a lot.

Instead of the traditional accompaniment of  raita, I made khamang kakdi to go with the biryani – as I wanted to include a salad on the table – and it wasn’t a bad combination.

The three girls had pasta, a leafy green salad and potato wedges that evening but I made enough so that Indira and Noor – and Shri and I, too – had the leftover biryani for lunch on Sunday and I have to say this is another dish that tastes even better the next day !

For the rice :

2 cups of Basmati rice

2 tablespoons of sunflower oil

3 bay leaves

3 pods (cracked) each of green and black cardamom

5 cloves

salt, to taste (I would add 1 teaspoon)

For the vegetable mixture:

2 tablespoons of oil

3 medium carrots, peeled, washed, sliced in half along the length then diced in to 1 cm wide pieces

3 medium potatoes, peeled, washed, sliced in half along the length then diced in to 1cm-2 cm wide pieces

150-200 gms of fresh green beans, ends trimmed then diced in to 1 inch pieces

250 gms of whisked yogurt

3/4 teaspoon each of turmeric powder, red chilly powder and garam masala powder

3 tablespoons of mint-coriander paste (made with equal amounts of the two herbs) or mint-coriander chutney (I had some in the fridge so this is what I used and it added a nice tangy touch, I think)

1 large onion, chopped very fine

2 tomatoes, chopped fine or an equivalent amount of canned tomato pulp

1 and a 1/2 teaspoon each of ginger and garlic pastes

salt, to taste (I would add about 1 1/2-2 teaspoons)

You’ll also be using:

approx. 120 ml of warm milk

a generous pinch of saffron strands (I used almost  3/4 of a tablespoon, I think)

2-4 tablespoons of melted ghee

1-2 tablespoons of fresh mint leaves for garnish

Wash and soak the rice for 30 minutes. Then in a rice cooker or large sauce pan, heat the oil for the rice,fry the whole spices till their aroma is released. Now add the rice after draining it and fry for 4-5 minutes. Add the salt, 3 cups of water and cook till all the water is absorbed and the rice is almost but not entirely cooked (it should have  just a little bite left).

While the rice cooks, soak the saffron strands in the milk and start to prepare the vegetable mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a shallow frying pan and add the potatoes. Fry till they start to acquire a  crispy, golden color. Then add the carrots and the beans, and cook for a few minutes till they seem semi-cooked. Take the pan off the heat and let the vegetables cool.

Make a marinade for the vegetables by mixing the chutney and the turmeric powder, red chilly powder and garam masala powder in to the yoghurt. When the vegetables have cooled completely, add them to this mixture, toss everything together gently to coat the vegetables well and keep aside for at least an hour.

Now heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in the same frying pan as the one used for the vegetables, and fry the chopped onion till it is a caramel-brown color. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry for another couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes next, and fry the mixture till the tomatoes are well-blended. Add the  marinated vegetables and cook everything together till the yogurt is absorbed but take the mixture off the heat before it goes too dry. Season with salt and toss in to the vegetables.

In a large baking dish, spread half the vegetable mixture, then spread half the rice over that (after gently fluffing the rice in the pan in which you cooked it to separate the grains. While doing this, also remove all the whole spices; the rice will have absorbed their flavors in any case). Sprinkle over, evenly , half the milk and saffron mixture , and half the ghee (I skipped this bit with the ghee the first time I made the biryani and it makes no big difference to the taste, I think). Now spread the remaining vegetable mixture, then the rest of the rice, followed by the remaining milk-saffron mixture and then the ghee. Garnish with fresh mint, wrap and seal the dish well with aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour, at 170-180 degrees C.

After the end of the baking time, leave the dish in the oven for 15-20 minutes, then keep the dish well-covered till you are ready to serve/eat.

Then dig in with a large serving spoon to bring up all the yummy flavors, and eat slowly to savor them 🙂

This one is so worth the effort. Thanks again, Shefali !

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Filed under Baked Main Meal Dishes, Rice-Pulavs,Biryanis,Baaths

Discovering Scrabble

Indira and I played our first game together today 🙂

Julia, the teacher for the French curriculum, asks them to make words on their little white boards, every once in a while,  with 10 letters she gives them at random. This has piqued Indira’s interest in Scrabble and since she is obliged to stay at home all this week – Dr. Galliano’ orders due to an ear infection and a stomach infection she’s developed which are very contagious, he says – she asked me this morning if we could play a game of Scrabble together.

I was only too pleased to be able to take out the board and dust it off after all these years !

She enjoyed the game, even won it (98 points to my 96, albeit with some help :-)) and helped me make a nice word too ( I was going to make “fled” but she spotted the “I” among my tiles and suggested that I could make “field” instead).

Here’s looking forward to more.

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls

Besan ke Cheele/Poore

I remember this  snack from chilly, rainy evenings in Bokaro – my Ma would give these to us fresh off the tava and I’d polish of mine with her delicious home-made ketchup (I should make that for the girls sometime; they’ll never like the store-bought stuff as much again), or pickle or some mint-coriander chutney if there was some.

I make these for the girls’ gouter now, sometimes. Noor really loves them. She calls them besan dosas 🙂

I do like to see them enjoying good ‘ole desi khana, and not just the croissants from the boulangerie in the neighborhood, excellent as those are.

Besan Cheelas

8 tablespoons of besan (chickpea flour)

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

salt, coriander powder and red chilli powder to taste

1 onion, chopped fine (optional)

3/4 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger

1 and a 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of fresh green coriander leaves, chopped very fine

sunflower oil to cook the cheelas

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and make sure there are no lumps in the flour. Now add water a little bit at a time, blending it in well – a hand-held whisk is good for this – till the batter is thin enough to pour but not too runny (it should be thinner than the batter for dosas).

Heat a crepe pan till it is quite hot but not smoking, then rub a few drops of oil all over it’s surface with a kitchen towel.

Pour 3-4 tablespoons of batter on to the pan and spread it across the pan as evenly as you are able(this can be tricky because of the onions in the batter). Cook the cheela/poora on medium heat till the lower side looks done when you lift it up a little with a spatula, spreading  oil (1/2 to 1 tablespoon) on it’s surface halfway through this time (at which point the surface of the cheela will begin to dry as the lower side cooks). Now flip the cheela over and cook the other side till it’s done.

These just have to be eaten hot off the pan !

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Filed under Breakfast Ideas, Quick Meal Ideas, Starters and Snacks

A Healthier Kofta Curry

I have always loved eating the kofta curry my Ma makes with paranthas, though it is something I myself made only very rarely until recently because the thought of deep-frying the koftas made me avoid this curry as not the healthiest choice.

But seeing how much the girls and Shri enjoyed the courgette-kofta curry I made a couple of months ago set me thinking again that I needed to figure out how to make the koftas with as little oil as possible. I did know it can be done- Gunchu di once told me that she makes them in the micro-wave oven. So some time ago I decided to carry out a little experiment and baked them instead, as Shri is not too keen on my using the micro-wave oven for cooking.

As it turned out, none of them noticed anything different about the kofta curry that evening; so I will be making it like this – by baking the koftas – and therefore a lot more often now !

The baked koftas; the roses are from November 6th .

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Filed under Curries