Monthly Archives: March 2010

Donkeys in the Springtime

That seems an improbable title for a post, but it is just what we have had in Mougins le Haut these last couple of days.

The Mairie seems to have decided to send out seven donkeys to our village, to clear up the grass that’s grown everywhere after all the rain these last few months.

The news of their impending arrival had spread already the previous day and the children were looking forward to it, so the sight of them created a lot of fun and excitement as the children all came out from school on Tuesday evening and saw them munching away on the grassy slope that runs along the road going in to school.

I thought this a great idea on more than one count. It is probably a cost-effective solution for the purpose, as well as eco-friendly (the Mairie, which is very green-minded, is advertising this measure as such- the digital display board on the side of the road that climbs up to the village says just now, “Ecologie !… ” and announces the work the donkeys are doing). And of course  the children’s delight at the whole scene makes me hope the donkeys will be back next spring too.

Here’s a picture of les’anes.


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Tuna and Potato Cutlets

I first tasted these delicious fish cutlets at a potluck meal to which Jinia brought this dish as one of the starters.

I got the recipe from her when I made them for a “Cuisine de Monde” day at school when Indira was in the maternelle.   She had suggested that I make these, when I discussed the event with her, because in her experience, she said, this was a popular finger food with kids. And she was right about that – most of the children loved them, I remember, as did the mothers who were there.

I hadn’t made them again since then, but today as I mixed a salad for lunch and added some canned tuna to it, I was reminded of these cutlets. So I thought that instead of racking my brains trying to think of another potato-based dish for the boulangerie – since I don’t feel like making aloo tikkis or batata vadas again next week but potatoes do seem to be popular – I would make these cutlets, with the rest of the tuna in the can I opened this afternoon, for the girls’ gouter and take a couple of them to the boulangerie for Patrick to taste.

The girls, especially Noor, liked them a lot; I’ll find out tomorrow whether these will be part of the order for next Tuesday.

Tuna and Potato Cutlets

For 10 small cutlets –

90 grams of tuna (packed in water), drained

3-4 small potatoes

1 small onion, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon of coriander powder

salt to taste

1/2 red chilli powder (optional) or 1 small green chilli, chopped fine (optional)

1 and a 1/2 tablespoons of cooking oil

2 eggs, whisked in a deep bowl (in which the cutlets can be dipped in to the egg)

6-7 tablespoons of breadcrumbs

Enough oil to deep-fry the cutlets

Boil and then peel the potatoes. Drain the tuna and break up the flesh with a fork. In a small frying pan, heat the oil, fry the onions till they are translucent, then add the tuna and cook for a just a little while till it is dry. Mix in the spices and cook for another minute, then take off the heat.

When the tuna is cool, mash in the potatoes and mix everything together thoroughly. Form 10 cutlets from this mixture. Dip them in the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs and deep-fry till they are golden brown.

This really does transform plain, canned tuna in the nicest way.

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Filed under Picnic Food, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Fish Fillets in Coconut-flavored Sauce aka Fish Malai Curry

Inspired by the decent results from the trial run of the Prawn Malai curry – I made a very small portion to take to the boulangerie for Patrick to taste and he liked it a lot – and prompted by Indira who was very curious to know what sort of curry I am going to make for this Tuesday’s order from the boulangerie, I decided to make the same curry with white fish fillets and the result is very nice too.

The fish that I used is called cabillaud in French and that’s haddock/hake/cod in English, I think.

We had this tonight with a peas pulav and a small, very fresh-tasting salad of red bell pepper slices and mesclun (the Provencal term for a mixture of young salad greens) tossed in an olive oil, lime juice and basil flakes dressing.

The girls said they liked their dinner very much so I am glad I gave this a try.

Fish Malai Curry

300 gms of fish fillets, cut in to 2 or 3 inch pieces

2 small onions, chopped really fine

4-5 tablespoons of tomato puree

2 teaspoons each of ginger and garlic paste

a couple of bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon of garam masala powder

3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1/2 a teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli powder

1 green chilli, slit in half (optional)

salt to taste

3 tablespoons of oil

50-75 ml of packaged coconut milk (vary to taste – I like the coconut flavor to not be too strong)

Cut the fillets into 2 or 3 inch pieces.

Mix the salt and turmeric in a large bowl and turn the pieces of fish in this mixture gently, to coat them well.

In a frying pan, heat the oil, add the bay leaves, fry for a minute, then add the green chilli and the onions and fry till they are a golden color. Now add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry everything for a few minutes till th onions start to turn a golden brown- but without letting the onions burn or brown too much as this will affect the final color of the curry.

Add the tomato puree next and once the oil starts to appear on the sides, add the turmeric powder and the red chilli powder and fry everything for a minute. Now add the fish pieces, turn over gently a couple of times to coat them well with the onion-tomato mixture, then pour in the coconut milk and water. Simmer the curry for about 10 minutes or till it has the right consistency (not thin and runny, but it shouldn’t be too thick either).

Stir in the garam masala and garnish with fresh, chopped coriander leaves.

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Filed under Curries, Easy One Pot Cooking, Quick Meal Ideas

Simple Scrambled Eggs

This is such a simple recipe that maybe it doesn’t need to be written down, but Noor asked me when I cooked eggs this way for dinner one day last week, to go with a vegetable soup, whether I’ll teach her when she is older how to make this dish.

So I figure she likes this a lot, so it may be worth writing about here too.

Scrambled Eggs

6 eggs

3 tablespoons of milk

a teaspoon of butter (or a little more)

a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Crack the eggs in to a bowl, season with salt and mix the yolks and whites till they are quite well blended with a spoon or fork.

Heat a pan, add the butter and when it  melts spread it all over the base of the pan with a cooking spoon, then pour the eggs in.  Cook the eggs on a low-to-medium heat, stirring very frequently (scrape at the bottom of the pan as well, to lift up the mixture since it will tend to stick) so that the folds that form are small. Take the pan off the heat while the egg mixture still looks a little wet i.e while the eggs are still not completely cooked. The pan will be hot for a little longer and this will finish the cooking process and allow the scrambled eggs to stay soft and creamy when they are served;otherwise they can become a little dry.

Just before taking the pan off the heat, add the cheese and fold it in. This is an optional ingredient but adds a very nice touch.

Add freshly ground pepper to each portion when it’s served.

This dish is ideally made just before it is brought to the table.

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Filed under Breakfast Ideas, Easy One Pot Cooking, Quick Meal Ideas

Prawn Malai Curry

When the boulanger asked if I could do a fish curry for next Tuesday, my first reaction was to tell him honestly that I have very little experience cooking fish. But then I remembered that I made this Bengali curry, which combines prawns and coconut milk, once a long time ago and the girls did like it.

He was quite happy with that suggestion when I mentioned it so this is what I am going to make for next Tuesday along with some peas pulav, batata vada, mint-coriander chutney and carrot salad.

The classical chingri (that’s Bengali for prawn) malai curry does not include tomatoes I think, but I prefer to make it with them.

Prawn Malai Curry

10-12 medium-sized prawns (shelled and de-veined; so I like to use the frozen, ready-to-use variety)

1 small onion, chopped really fine

3 tablespoons of tomato puree

1 teaspoon each of ginger and garlic paste

a couple of bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon of garam masala powder

3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1/2 a teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli powder

1 green chilli, slit in to half (optional)

salt to taste

3 tablespoons of oil

50 ml of packaged coconut milk (or a little less would be okay too)

3/4 cup of water

Soak the frozen prawns in some water for a few minutes, then drain the water and pat the prawns dry.

Mix the salt and turmeric in a large bowl and turn the prawns in this mixture gently to coat them well.

In a frying pan, heat the oil and fry the prawns till they are a golden color (don’t fry for too long else the prawns can become a little hard). Take them out and keep them aside.

In the same oil, add the bay leaves, fry for a minute, then add the green chilli and the onions and fry till they are a golden color. Now add the ginger and garlic pastes and fry everything for a couple of minutes, without letting the onions brown as this will affect the final color of the curry.

Add the tomato puree next and once the oil starts to appear on the sides, add the turmeric powder and the red chilli powder and fry everything for a minute. Now add the prawns, stir together everything well, then pour in the coconut milk and water. Simmer the curry for about 10 minutes or till it has the right consistency (not thin and runny, but it shouldn’t be too thick either).

Stir in the garam masala and garnish with fresh, chopped coriander leaves.

This curry is best eaten with plain, hot Basmati rice or a peas pulav, IMO and makes a great change from the more time-consuming chicken or lamb curries. It reminds me of that ad from long ago – I think it was the TV commercial for Maggie noodles when they were first introduced in India – “quick to cook, good to eat!”

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Learning a lovely word-Kaffeeklatsch- and acknowledging an irony

I came across this word – kaffeeklatsch – for the first time just a few days ago, when a friend used it.  Though I had never encountered it before, the context in which she used it made the meaning obvious. As the Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes it here, it is an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation/gossip.

And then, in a little coincidence, I saw this very interesting article here a little while ago which describes many “mommy blogs” as a sort of kaffeeklatsch.

While this “mommy” blog, unlike some at the conference the article describes, is not trying to build a brand or monetize its’ content,  the title resonated with me because I am guilty sometimes of saying ” Honey, don’t bother Mommy…(or words to that effect)” to my daughters as I concentrate all my attention on this virtual space.

When I stop to think about it, it strikes me as a little ironical that though this blog began as a project  for and about them, it also prevents me now from conversing with my children in real time, sometimes.

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Filed under LE FUTTED BALLON-life with the girls, NOT ABOUT FOOD

“He’s a growing boy…

…his clothes are just not keeping up, he’s a growing boy, look how he’s shooting up !”

or something like that, I think. Those were the words of a Complan or Bournvita commercial on Indian television many years ago, and I am often reminded of it each time I see that the girls’ shirt sleeves are getting shorter yet again, which means that through the long winter they have grown and so it is time to go shopping for clothes again.

I sometimes feel a little guilty, and ill-prepared, when I send them to school on a winter morning in a shirt or sweater the sleeves of which are not quite long enough to cover their arms as much as they’d like so as to be really cozy.

Then yesterday, when I was in the library with Indira’s class as they did some online research, I was amused to see that there were at least three other children whose sleeves looked as if they could definitely be longer.

So probably it happens to other mothers too, I thought, that you suddenly find yourself scrambling for clothes that fit them well !

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Chicken Pulav(1)

I wanted to persuade the boulanger to try something other than chicken curry – though that does seem to work well with his clients – for next week’s order.

So since I had some boneless chicken left over in the fridge, I used it to make chicken pulav. The girls liked it a lot and fortunately there is enough that they can have it for dinner tonight.

As for the boulanger, his reaction was so pleasing.  He said, without tasting either the pulav or the upma (which is what I have had made for lunch today so I took some of that too, for him to taste) that he would like me to make both these things for next week; when I asked him to taste both dishes so as  to be sure, he said that wasn’t necessary since “whatever you bring is all delicious “.

Now, I have my fingers crossed that his clients feel the same way next week 🙂

This recipe is adapted from one in Rocky Mohan’s “Art of Indian Cuisine”.

Chicken Pulav

2 cups of basmati rice, washed and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained thereafter

400-500 gms of boneless chicken, cut in to small pieces

3 teaspoons each of ginger and garlic pastes

2 medium sized onions, chopped fine

4-5 cloves

4 pods of green cardamom

3-4 small sticks of cinnamon

2 green chillies, finely chopped

4 tablespoons of sunflower oil (or 3 of oil and 1 of ghee)

To be mixed together:

150 ml of yoghurt

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1/2 a teaspoon of red chilli powder

1 tablespoon of coriander powder

1/2 a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

the juice of 1 large lime

salt to taste

To make the Pulav:

In a large frying pan, warm the oil and add the green cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Fry for a few seconds till their aroma begins to be released.

Add the onions and fry till they begin to look translucent.

Now add the pastes and the green chillies (optional; I skipped this) and fry again till everything turns a golden-brown color.

Add the chicken pieces next, turn up the heat a little and fry till they are golden all over.

Add the yogurt mixture, season with salt and mix everything together well. Cover the pan, lower the heat and cook till the chicken is tender and the water in the yogurt dries up, turning the mixture over every once in a while.

Add the rice, mix it in thoroughly, then add 3 and a half cups of hot water. Cover the pan, turn up the heat and bring the water to a boil. Now reduce the heat again to quite a low setting and simmer till the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.

Leave the pulav covered for a while before serving it as I feel this allows the flavors to develop further.

This is so quick and easy to make; a great alternative to biryani.

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Filed under Easy One Pot Cooking, Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Rice-Pulavs,Biryanis,Baaths

Vangi Baath: An unorthodox variation

Traditionally, vangi baath is a pulav/fried rice that has only one vegetable in it and that is the aubergine which gives the dish its’ name.

But when I decided to make it for dinner tonight,along with some khatti-meethi daal, I felt there ought to be a dash of green in our meal.

So I made this rice dish today with aubergines and green beans.

The girls don’t know what the original is like, in any case, and Shri usually gamely goes along with all these variations to the classics!

This recipe is adapted from the one in Viji Varadarajan’s “Samayal”, a book about South Indian vegetarian cuisine.

2 cups of rice, cooked-with a little salt-  beforehand in 3 cups of water (which makes this recipe a great way to use leftover rice)

1 thin and long aubergine, diced

1 medium-sized tomato

1 cup of chopped green beans (optional)

1 large onion, chopped fine

1 green chilly , slit in to half (optional)

1/2 or 3/4 of a teaspoon of turmeric powder

1/2 a tsp of mustard seeds

6-8 curry leaves

1 and a 1/2 tablespoons of pitlai powder

3-4 tablespoons of thick tamarind juice

4 tablespoons of sunflower oil

In a large frying pan, heat the oil, then add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves. After a few seconds, when the seeds crackle, add the green chilly, the onions and sauté till the onions start to look translucent. Add the beans, cover the pan and cook till they start to soften just a little. Now add the aubergine, cover and cook again till the aubergines begin to soften too, turning everything over once in a while.

Now add the tomato and fry for a few minutes till the tomatoes begins to become quite soft.  Add the spices next, fry for a minute or two, then add the tamarind juice and mix it in well.  Season the vegetables with salt, add the rice – separate the grains gently with a fork first – and fry for a few more minutes till everything is thoroughly mixed.

I might try this dish without the tomato – and with peanuts – another time, since I think I remember eating it like that a long time ago.

Tonight, the girls each asked for a second helping of the vangibath with a little ghee, and I tried that too. Yum !

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Filed under Easy One Pot Cooking, Quick Meal Ideas, Rice-Pulavs,Biryanis,Baaths

French Fries “Bag” with Stand

That is the name – as on the box – of this cute little holder for fries that I bought at Casa today. I fell in love with this dish as soon as a I spotted it.

It will do equally well for potato wedges, or other small-ish sized finger foods, I think.

It reminded me, when I saw it in the store today, of the humble paper donas, so common in India, that are used to hold street foods like peanuts, spiced or roasted chana and jhaal muri which is still the one thing I look forward to on train rides that go across Bihar or West Bengal.

I have sometimes seen similar paper bags being used here too, to sell roasted chestnuts and caramelized peanuts during fairs, though they are not

as common a sight.

I thought the girls might get a kick out of this, to see their beloved wedges served in this dish. But more because it is such a reminder of times past, I decided I just had to buy this !

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Filed under KITCHEN EQUIPMENT - My Favorite Things

Peanut Butter-The Good and the Bad

The girls – and, I must confess, Shri and I too – have taken to peanut butter in a big way in recent months.  A spoon of it on a crepe, or a slice of bread -or just heaped on the spoon ! -makes for a very satisfying snack. The girls sometimes have a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast now, with a glass of milk.

Hence this post, as  I try to find out whether it is all good or whether there are things about it we need to know.

It seems that trans fats, which are part of the problem  in all processed foods, are the chief villain here too. The mostly fat-derived calories are not such an issue – though eating this food in moderation would therefore be a good idea – because the fat in peanuts is supposed to be the good sort.

From the sources I have looked at so far, it looks like switching to an organic variety should allow us to continue indulging – but only once in a while.

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Filed under The Food Police says...

A walk in the park

The walkathon yesterday was just that – we did indeed walk in the Parc Valmasque (in Sophia, near the CIV)and it was a very easy trail too, so that even Noor walked 6 kms!!

The way it happened was that she and Indira and Shri did the 3 km circuit once with some of Indira’s friends and their parents, while the mother of  Indira’s friend Emmeline and I sat at the registration desk for walkers from our school.

Later, we all went together with Emmeline’s family and their two beautiful dogs Pastis and Snoopy so that was 3 km more for the children and the fathers.

Noor is ever so pleased that she has this impressive feat for us to write about in her Cahier de Vie, about this weekend.

I had thought that they’d be very tired today, especially since we  had Celine and her parents for dinner yesterday so we all slept very late last night.

But as it’s turned out, it’s me that has had an almost 3 hour nap this afternoon, while they have been up and playing as they usually do !

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Tadke vali Masoor ki Daal

The very first time I cam back home for a holiday from boarding school, this daal was one of the things that Ma made for my first meal at home the day I arrived, along with bhindi ki subzi, boondi ka raita and plain white rice, because that combination had always been my favorite meal since I was very small.

I guess Ma saw from my reaction just how much I missed these things in the school mess, so every visit after that first one, for the next six years, till I started working and set up a kitchen of my own, she continued to make these dishes for my first meal each time. She still does, in fact, sometimes when I go back to see her in Jamshedpur with the girls.

So when I made this daal for the boulanger’s customers this Tuesday, I did so with a certain feeling of nostalgia.

It was then all the more wonderful to find out later that day that it got a response the boulanger called “tres bonne” (which means very good, or excellent as when it is said with the appreciation that the boulanger‘s voice showed) and so he wants to include it among the things that I will cook for next Tuesday.

This is one of those recipes of Ma that I follow quite faithfully.

1 cup of dhuli masoor (red lentils)

1 onion, peeled and chopped fine

1 tomato, chopped fine

1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder

1/2 or 1 tablespoon of chopped green coriander

1/4 teaspoon each of the five spices that make up paanchphoron

1 tablespoon of sunflower oil

1 tablespoon of ghee (or a second one of oil)

Wash the daal thoroughly and soak in water for an hour or two (the daal can be cooked without soaking it beforehand and in this case it will usually need a little longer to cook).

Pressure cook the daal with salt till the grains are quite soft and well-blended. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and mix it in well.

In the meanwhile, heat the oil plus the ghee in a frying pan. Add the paanchphoron as described here and when the seeds begin to crackle, add the onions and fry till they begin to turn a dark-ish brown. Add the tomatoes next, and cook till they are quite soft; by this time the oil will begin to appear a little on the sides of the mixture. Mix in the green coriander now, fry everything together for 1/2 a minute, then add this mixture to the daal and simmer it for 5-6 minutes.

The daal can of course be tempered with only cumin seeds, or with cumin seeds and mustard seeds, instead of with paanchphoran and the green coriander is an extra too. But the latter two ingredients together spell magic here 🙂

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Sevai Upma

A long time ago, Priti and I shared an apartment in Bhopal for three months, while we worked on a project at the BHEL factory.

One of the many things that made it such a memorable time was the cooking we did together.

It was also where I got my tea habit, but that is another story.

This post is about the delicious sevai (vermicelli) upma that Priti used to make, the taste of which has stayed with me all these years.

So recently I asked her to mail the recipe to me  since I had forgotten both the process and the proportions of the various ingredients.

She sent me a picture too –

Here’s what she told me to do, in her words, with  some variations of my own in parentheses.

1 generous tbsp of oil to roast the vermicelli in
1tsp mustard seeds
2-3 carrots julienned
1 green capsicum  julienned (I used red bell pepper today)
julienned hari mirchi (I had no green chillies so I used half a whole red chilli)
1 sliced onion (optional and so I cooked the upma without)
1 cup measure of  vermicelli (I used a thicker variety since the usual kind was not available the day I went looking for it)
6-7 curry leaves
2 tbsp shelled peanuts (optional and so I cooked the upma without)
lime juice

Steps :
1. Roast the vermicelli in the oil on a thick bottom/non stick pan.  You have to keep stirring the vermicelli otherwise it tends to burn quickly. I like to roast it fairly dark brown but not burnt-it’s a fine line (I agree – I found myself stirring constantly !)
2. Set aside the roasted vermicelli. In the now empty pan, add another 1.5 tsp (I used a little more) of oil , then add mustard seeds and curry leaves. If you are using onion cook them until brown. Then add the vegetables, stir 4-5 times (I covered the pan for a few minutes to cook the vegetables, stirring every once in a while)
3. Add  2 cups of water, salt,the vermicelli and the peanuts .
4. Cook, covered, on low heat. Watch for the water- if it dries out and the vermicelli does not become almost double it’s original size then add some more. Sometimes I just turn off the stove and let it cook in the steam.
5. Add lime juice; the vermicelli tend to unstick once the lime juice is added so you can add the juice, leave the upma covered for a couple of minutes and then transfer to the final serving dish.

Here’s how my version looks, which I have made for lunch today.

Some of the girls’ reactions –

After the first forkful, Indira said “ummm, very nice !”

A few minutes later – “It’s delicious, and I am going to call it pasta upma” (I guess that because the thicker vermicelli I used does it make it look

a bit like spaghetti !)

And Noor says “It’s excellent, this noodles upma“.

Thank you, Priti Aunty, for a very successful lunch.

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