THE TIFFIN TALES

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The word tiffin always excited me as a child. What could have Mum packed for my lunch today? Would be an exciting thought. The fading of curiosity after opening each container of the tiffin and the smile it brought on my face when I would see my favorite food sent, cannot be expressed with mere words, and now, when my son comes back home and very warmly tells me “what an amazing lunch you packed today mom” makes me feel totally satisfied.

 

Talking of the time when I would take tiffin to school, I very vividly remember the first day of my school. My school A.F Petit a very old renowned school, had a huge campus with lots of greenery. The building structure was colonial, old but strong and solid. Since it was located on Pali Hill in Bandra the school was built on different levels. One could describe the school like Enid Blyton would have describe in his stories, just like a fairy tale world.

The pre primary section was located in a cozy corner with a beautiful play ground with slides, swings and sea saws and how could I not mention the jungle gym! I’m going to stop right here, as I could go on.

Exterior - Bai Avabai Framji Petit Girls High School Images, Bandra West, Mumbai - English Medium Schools

I was in Sr KG and it was my first day at school. Mum had come to drop me off and while leaving she promised me a surprise for lunch. As the day began, I mingled with most of the kids, some who were crying aloud inconsolably, some looking in wonder and some who couldn’t care less of what was going around. The two girls that grabbed my attention were Suruchi and Soumya and in no time we were playing together till the bell rang, announcing lunch break. I ran to the window of the class – room, to see Meera our house help waiting with a cane basket. Once my class teacher Ms Fernandes handed me over to her she gave me a warm hug and took me in the garden to feed me my lunch.

 

I was so impatient and curious to see what mum sent in the tiffin. I was not even allowing Meera to place the mat in the garden for me to sit comfortably and eat. But she was quiet a disciplinarian and after doing the needful she brought out a shinny steel tiffin which had 4 containers, a plate, spoon and a napkin. She arranged everything in front of me and opened the containers. While she was opening the containers I was very curiously looking into others tiffin’s as well.

 

Well in my tiffin there was steamed rice, dal, crisp fried mildly spiced potatoes, salad with just carrots and cucumbers and a small paper box with Monginis written on it. As I leaped to check the contents, Meera very authoritatively said that, I could have what’s in it only once lunch was done.

 

Hurriedly I finished my lunch to Meera’s satisfaction and out came the pineapple pastry from the box like the Jin from Aladdin’s lamp. I called out to Suruchi and Soumya who were sitting with their respective parents and we gorged on that pastry and since then became best friends forever. A delicious, tiffin helps in making good friends for the rest of your life too.

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As days passed by our lunch breaks were getting memorable and full of fun. Many TIFFIN TALES to share with you, but slowly and steadily, one by one. I’m sure you all must be having similar memories of your tiffin’s as well that bring a big smile on your face. It would be lovely if you could share them with me too.

 

Back to the roots

We all have fond memories of food cooked by our mum, grandmas or aunts. My grandma (Amma) was a fabulous cook. My grandma also had the most beautiful rustic kitchen in our ancestral home in Aversa, Karnataka. It was a longish kitchen with a mud stove, where food would be cooked on wood fire. Just above the stove there was a small window that worked like a chimney.

The beautiful sparkling brass, copper and steel utensils would be standing proudly on the wooden shelves near the stove. Small brass containers filled with ingredients required for daily use like coffee, tea, sugar closer to the stove. Masalas and batters would be ground on a ragda (stone grinder) and spices would be pound on a khal batta (motar and pestle). Her food would always taste divine.

The smell of the wood fire would bring a beautiful smoky aroma to the dish. Today when I travel to quaint villages in India and I smell food cooked on wood fire, its nostalgic. I always wondered, why the smoke from the wood fire remind me of Amma’s food? The answer to this I found which I must share with you was that, the burning of wood breaks its cellulose, which releases two chemical compounds that excite our sensation to smell to detect unique taste and smell. The experience of something being flavorful is a combination of taste and smell.

When Amma would visit us in the city she would bring a lot of goodies along with her, some raw ingredients as well. Mum a great cook herself would cook them just they way Amma would make it but there was always a difference in the flavors and Amma would always attribute it to the latest gadgets that would make cooking fast and easy, or the newer variety of utensils one was using. Though mum always stuck to cast iron, brass and clay utensils. I guess the water in the city would also alter the change in the taste, but Amma always had her fixed thoughts and it was difficult to convince her otherwise. She would always insist on using the age old methods of cooking, giving her reasons, which I totally agree with today.

A few years back, I shifted to new home with modern interiors with a beautiful modular kitchen. The utensils I bought were also the kind that would suit the kitchen, mostly the pretty looking, colorful, non – stick cookware. The food would get cooked easily with less oil and also initially I thought it was easy to maintain. I changed my mind quiet soon about that, as sometimes by mistake the cook would use a metal spoon to stir and then oops a scratch would be seen and then it has to be simply thrown away.

We at home love hot, crisp dosas and can have them for any meal. On the weekend the menu is usually a spicy masala dosa with sambar and chutney. I got out my non stick dosa pan very happily and excited to spread the dosa batter and looked forward to some crips, golden dosas. But the outcome  was not exactly what I had expected. The dosa was white as if white washed even after keeping on the tava for a little longer than usual smearing it with oil and crinkled on the edges and it looked so unappealing. The excitement was over in no time.

Disheartened I called my mum and she tried talking to me about switching over to the old traditional utensils. Honestly I was not very receptive to that initially as seasoning, brass, copper and cast iron utensils seemed like a task and then the thought of maintaining by regularly seasoning them just scared me as most of us don’t have the time and energy for all this with all that we do to survive in the city.

Exactly a week later, mum came over home to see how settled we were and she bought a cast iron tava along with her as a small gift from her end. That was the best gift I could have received. She had called for it from the village and had seasoned it by washing it with a mild soap, wiped it dry and simply coated it with a thin layer of oil and left it in the sun for 24 hours. Repeated the process for three days and voila! The pan was ready to be used. The next time dosas turned out just like the way I love, crisp, golden and thin as paper.

This experience made me think of changing my non stick cookware to the age old traditional ones. I didn’t do it over night by slowly and steadily over six months I managed to replace most of the non stick utensils.

So, at first I bought a cast iron kadhai, seasoned it the same as mum had and the first recipe I cooked in that was a chicken sauted in a masala with onions and spices. The outcome was amazing to look at and tasted delicio.

Cooking in the cast iron kadai was great, the masala would get bhunoed (sauted) evenly as cast iron heats evenly and the masala would get the perfect brown color and the food would cook evenly and quiet quickly. By now I was throughly enjoying cooking with this new introduced piece of equipment and soon I realized it was time to move on further.

I went one day to matunga market and bought a clay utensil to cook our traditional stew and curries. After googling on the internet and getting confused with all the different ways, as usual, mum came to the rescue.She told me to collect all the starch water from the cooked rice which I would usually drain off and soak the clay pots in that for three days. On the third day she told me to wash it with mild detergent, dry it in the sun for a few hours and then coat it with oil and place it on the stove and heat it on a low flame for an hour and then fill it with oil and fry bhajiyas and lo! The clay pot was good to be used. The prawn curry that I cooked in that got me many compliments from my foodie family. After the successful attempt cooking in a cast iron kadhai and a clay pot, there was no looking back. The adventures in the kitchen were getting very interesting and exciting.

I frequently travel to Pune a city 150 km away from Mumbai and I love visiting Tulshi baugh, a market place which has quaint small stores that sells a variety of unique as well as traditional cooking equipment’s and many other things. My cook at home would always tell me amazing stories of food which always had the mention of grinding the masala on the stone.I went there with an intension to buy a pata varvanta (stone grinder) and grind masala’s on that. The old gentleman who I bought it from was quiet a unique character suiting the place. He was quiet surprised to see me enquiring about the various sized stone grinders that he was exhibiting, as my appearance didn’t make him believe that I would use one, let alone use it but he also seemed to have a doubt if I even knew how to use one. He assumed  I was going to keep it as a prop and so was trying to sell me a not so good one till I sternly explained to him I needed to use it.

He figured I was serious and slowly started telling me how to cure it before I used it. He told me to wash it, soak it in water for 5 days. Wash clothes on it after that! I was like who the hell washes clothes on a pata varvanta!! He calmly told me one needs to do that to get rid of the impurities and the tiny grains of stone that are loose on the flat platform and after grinding some soaked rice he said I could use it freely. Well I did exactly what he told me and when the pata varvanta was good to be used I ground a coconut based masala for a okra curry. It was not just fun grinding on it but the flavor of the curry was different and way better. This was because when you grind in an electric grinder the heat that is produced alters the flavor of the ingredients. I remembered my grandma telling mum that garlic ground to a paste in an electric grinder is probably making the garlic taste a bit bitter vs pounding it to a paste on the stone or motar and pestle. Well she was right.

Recently I made a dhaba chicken curry using techniques like pounding the spices and the aroma of the curry was all over the home, which was mouth watering. Basically the pounding of the spices had broken each cell of the spice releasing its aroma and the oil secreted enhanced its flavor and so the curry was truly a great hit at my home.

I never had thought a slight change in the methods and equipment for cooking would bring out such fabulous results. Cooking has always made me happy and feeding my loved ones satisfying, but the use of traditional cookware has enhanced my cooking even further and that pleasure cannot be described! So when are you all planning on taking the plunge

Here is a recipe of a crab curry cooked in a brass utensil (you can use chicken or mutton as an option)

INGREDIENTS

10 crabs cleaned / 1 kg mutton or chicken

3 onions sliced

1 large onion finely chopped

1 1/2  cups of grated fresh coconut

1 1/2 cup of grated dry coconut

2 tbsp of malvani garam masala powder (available in any grocery store, if not a regular garam masala is an option)

4 tbsp oil

1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste each

Salt to taste

METHOD:

1- Heat a cast iron pan and sauté the sliced onions till golden and then add the fresh coconut and fry till slightly brown and finally add the dry coconut and roast till the mixture turns a nice brown. Cool and grind to a fine paste.

2- Heat the oil in a brass vessel and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add the chopped onions and sauté till the onions are soft yet pink and then add the ginger, garlic paste and sauté till the raw smell has gone.

3- Add the malvani masala and the crabs / mutton / chicken and sear it on a high flame for 3-4 minutes

4- Add the ground onion coconut paste and mix well. add 2 liters of water and salt and cover and cook (crabs for 15 minutes and the meats till done).

5- Serve hot with chapatti or bhakri or any bread of your choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking …a therapy

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A person who was bubbling with energy and having the zest for life suddenly one morning felt her heart beat fast, fatigued, low, dull and she felt something was amiss. She could not put a finger on what was really wrong but she just didn’t feel energetic like always. She assumed it was nothing but fatigue, stress due to work pressure that was making her feel that way.

As day’s passed by she became irritable and restless. Managing a daily routine became a chore for her. She would snap at people at a drop of a hat and behave unreasonable with her colleagues and then, she would feel miserable about her behavior and weep.

Things were not getting better and soon she found it difficult to go to work and meeting up with her friends, who she was always happy to be with. Getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day was feeling like a big chore to do. She would lay down in bed longer than her usual time not realizing how wet the pillow would get with her tears. She just couldn’t figure out what was going on within her. Her parents tried to talking to her, but she, would just be quiet and cry.

She thought a break from office, and pursuing a hobby would do her good. She loved cooking, painting and listening to music. She enrolled for a cooking class and went for it, but she felt so restless that she left mid way and came home. Her parents were getting worried with this sudden turn that had happened in their daughters life. They spoke to her friends to figure out if something had gone wrong at work or with her friends, or was she on any drugs, but most of them were themselves clueless of her behavior as she had become very quiet and would prefer to be by herself.

She was very fond of cooking and that was one of the things that gave her immense happiness, but in no time she lost her confidence to enter the kitchen and even boil a cup of water. She soon confined herself to her room and would refuse to even come out for meals, she just didn’t feel like eating and lost oodles of weight. She was finding it difficult to sleep as she would be sitting in bed and trembling all night with anxiety. She had become frail and pale. She refused to meet her friends who would visit her. That’s the time her parents realized it was not a very simple issue she was going through.

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Her parents took her to their physician, who recommended counseling and told them she needs to visit a psychiatrist for it. Her parents were wondering why would their daughter need counseling, and probably it was just a phase and they were sure she would get out of it. They thought so probably because they were not ready to accept that their daughter was having a psychiatric issue and also people are still averse to visiting one due to social pressures. But her situation got worse, and finally they were left with no choice. They decided to seek help from a psychiatrist.

The doctor heard all that she was feeling and going through. Many tests were conducted, some medical and some written and finally after the diagnosis was done the treatment started. The doctor had figured out the issues that were troubling her.

Slowly but steadily the counseling started and the  journey of up’s and down’s, working on stability, consistency, confidence and patience started. Certain medication was given which brought down her restlessness and she could sleep well.

The doctor gave her ideas to help her deal with her situation and to get her confidence back and would reinforce the thought that she needed to start her life afresh, which she struggled at first but religiously followed his advice. The medication also helped her sleep better, but yet she was not feeling confident enough to resume work or getting out of home.

Inspite of all that she was trying to do, it was taking sometime to get on track which was frustrating her at times, bringing back negative thoughts, anger and irritation, and at such times the doctor would tell her to hold on and not give up and also reminded her that Rome was not built in a day. He helped her to build her patience and to stay focused and be consistent and the results would be slowly seen.

During the course of treatment the doctor realized her love for cooking and how the thought of food bought an amazing twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face. She would share some amazing stories with him related to food and travel during her childhood. How she would like to try new recipes and once she would perfect the recipe she would write it down in a book.

He asked her to start cooking again and may be that would make her happy. She  told him she found it difficult to enter the kitchen leave alone cook. So now it was time to deal with her fears he realized. At the end of the session the doctor asked her who was a foodie himself to cook something for him and get at the next session.

When she reached home, a little late in the evening after the session, she smelt her favorite dal being cooked, she stepped into the kitchen and simply sat on the kitchen platform and observed her mother boiling the dal. Her mum was very surprised and happy. Her next few days went in observing what was cooking in the kitchen and seldomly telling how the recipe could be made in another way.

One evening, the father returned home from work a little earlier than usual, not aware his wife was out shopping grocery. He needed a cup of hot tea to beat the fatigue, he asked his daughter with hope in his eyes, if she could oblige him with a cup of hot tea. That evening, she somehow, didn’t have the heart to refuse her father as she saw how tired he looked and slowly she walked up to the hob and after a bit of a struggle she managed made a cup of tea for him. I think Daddy’s girl just wanted to see her Daddy smile. That cup of tea she made, brought a sense of achievement in her and a big smile on her Dad’s face, not just because the tea was nice but it was all about the fact that she had managed to make it. It became a routine for a few days after that, where she would make tea for her father

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Her friend after a long time, came over home to see her after work and was quite famished with hunger and demand something to eat. She made a simple bread, butter and jam sandwich, which progressed to sometimes making corn on toast, or a chutney sandwich later. Some of her friends started frequenting her home again and they were really happy to see her getting a grip on herself and her life.

New year was around the corner and most of the friends were keen on her coming over to  a friends farm house and bring in the new year. She refused the invitation as she was  just was not ready to leave her comfort zone. The thought of doing something different was building in anxiety. Her friends tried talking to her but it didn’t help. Her parents convinced her that it would be all good and a change away from home would help. The doctor too said the same.

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On 31st December morning, she along with her friends left for Karjat. Unsure, slightly uncomfortable as she was out with her friends after a long time. It was very sensitive of her friends to not give her unnecessary attention and make her feel different. In fact they were all having fun and she also became a bit comfortable in sometime. That evening was fun, they sat by the poolside and bar – be – qued and chatting and generally having a great time. She was feeling low at certain moments as she missed home but being with so many friends helped her over come that feeling.

It had become a routine for her to go straight to her room when she would be back from the doctor’s, but this time when she came back home from the trip, she sat with her parents who were keenly waiting for her and to hear all she had to say. While she was narrating all that happened, she realized that it was not so bad after all, in fact she enjoyed it.

Soon enough she felt she needed to snap out of what she was emotionally going through and that, this was no way of leading a life and that she was not a looser. She slowly but steadily started to lead a life like the way she did before. Would wake up and get ready and tried to dress up well. She made it a point to sit in the living room more often and read, go to the market with her mom. Though there were some up’s and down’s in her moods, but along with her psychiatrist and parents she was managing to get a hold on herself.

On one of the appointments with the psychiatrist she surprised him. She gave him a small box of a carrot cake that she would bake well. The doctor was not just surprised but most happy to see the change in his patient, that feeling was more sweeter than the cake itself. The praise she received after he had the first bite, made her think even more strongly that the road ahead was beautiful !

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NOTE: Picture source GOOGLE

 

THE TREE OF LIFE

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A coconut tree is once such tree where each and every part of the tree is useful.

The roots were used to make dyes, tooth brush, mouthwash and it also has medicinal values.

The leaves are used to make thatched roofs. Also used in making containers for storage. We store rice

The coconut water, we all love to drink. The thick, crisp, inner flesh of the mature seed is a regular ingredient in a diet for people in the tropics and subtropics.And from the same flesh of the mature seed oil is extracted, which is used for cooking and frying. Coconut milk is also made from the same, which is used to flavor different curries.

The coir from the fibrous husk is used in making a variety of furnishing products.

The coconut also has a religious and cultural significance in certain societies particularly in India

On this note I want to share some memories of a trip that I took to my village.

The part of India that I hail from Karawar in Karnataka is rich and luscious with coconut trees. Whenever I visit my maternal ancestral home the first thing that is served is fresh coconut water.

I went to Aversa a village  few kilometers away from Karwar where my ancestral home is in the rains. It was a trip that was planned on the spur of the moment. At 8:00 am in the morning I got a call from my uncle Balu kaka, saying I should attend the Nopi festival, which was a day away. So by 9:00 am I packed my bag and headed to the airport. Surprisingly I managed to get a ticket for the next flight and landed in Goa at 1:30 pm.

Found a local taxi that would take me straight to Aversa. It was a beautiful mesmerizing two, hour drive. Driving through the small winding roads and passing through quaint villages was so nostalgic. Finally reached Aversa and on seeing my entire family the fatigued of the travel just vanished.

As always Balu Kaka (uncle) went and plucked a coconut and served me fresh coconut water while the rest of the family was surprised to see me. Balu kaka and I decided to make it a surprise after her had convinced me to come. My parent, cousins, aunts and uncles were really happy that I came.

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The evening was spent well with family, we went for a long walk to our fields nearby and then returned home to see a sumptuous spread that my aunts and mum had made of fried fish, batatya talasni (sauté potatoes), dalitoi (dal made with ginger and chilles and laced with coconut oil) and rice. Nothing to beat a simple home cooked meal.

The next morning was even more fun. We all cousins had left for a town called Ankola at 6:00 am to buy the vegetables, coconuts, fruits and the rest of the ingredients that were going to be needed for the pooja the next day, where after the pooja the entire village is given a feast and so we had to go to the town to procure all the goods. All the ingredients and us cousins were loaded on a small truck back to Aversa, where the truck driver dropped us off to the village temple. The bumpy ride back home was fun but our bones were creaking too at some point.

My uncle who was the chef and in charge sorted the vegetables, fruits, flowers and over 100 coconuts and kept in their respective places. He was going through his lists and checking the stock and scribbling on small chits of papers assigning jobs for the prep.

After a while it was announced that I will be chopping vegetables along with other ladies of the village and then if time permits and my job done, I was also instructed that I would have to assist in making the garlands for the gods. These are anyways a few of my favorite jobs to do.

The menu for the next days lunch was a very elaborate and a traditional one of gajbajya randoi (a vegetable curry using gourds), muga molya randoi (sprouted mung curry), bhendi ghosalya upkari (okra and ridge gourd vegetable), dalitoi, rice, ambaya nonche (hog plum pickle), payasam (Kheera), kesar bhaat (saffron and sugar rice). The number of people eating would be 600, so one can imagine the kilos of vegetables to be chopped and the number of coconuts to be scraped, sounds tough but I was sure it would be fun.

In the afternoon after we returned home, the rest at home were relaxing in the courtyard sipping wine and vodkas and relishing freshly fried crisp mackerel that Balu kaka was frying and having a gala time. We joined in as well and had a wonderful afternoon where lunch went on till 4 pm till we finally one by one crashed in our beds for an afternoon siesta.

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After a cup of hot tea in the evening at around 7:00 pm we all assembled in the temple courtyard where the vegetables were washed and kept. We were 8 women who were on the job of chopping vegetables. As we were about to start one of them started singing hymns and the rest followed. I don’t know how to speak kanada very well so I was a silent observer enjoying it completely. By about 10:00 pm all the veggies were chopped and the coconuts were scraped and everything was neatly kept in a small room and locked.

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The next morning my uncle Gundu who was the chef woke up at 4:00 am and after a cold water bath at the well and headed to the temple kitchen with his team. So for this festival the cooking is done only by the males of the family, while the women get dressed in their fineries and head to the temple for the pooja.

So I along with the rest of the ladies at home, got ready in my fineries and went off to the temple and sat down to make the garlands.

The next few hours were just totally divine and mesmerizing. The melodious sounds of the mantras, the fragrance of the flowers, camphor and the incense sticks and the rain had simply put me in trance.

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By the time the pooja was over it was 1:30 pm and all the villager were queued up with their little offering of flowers, bananas and coconuts. After which they all moved to a hall where the food was going to be served. I too went along with my family, but to serve the lunch that was cooked by my uncle.

It was a long hall with a smooth slurry flooring where the banana leaves were placed in rows. One by one all the villagers sat down and washed their banana leaves with the water that was served for drinking. After that we all started to serve. First the pickles and salt was served followed by the dry vegetables and then the curries. Finally the rice and dal was served. After the priest finished saying some mantras aloud the people started eating. The system of serving was so well organized that I just didn’t imagine we had serve more than 600 people that afternoon. At the end my family and I sat and relished the meal to our hearts content.

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I returned home really tired but totally satisfied. This was indeed one of the best trips ever for me.

What is cooking today?

Amti

In Marathi amti means a curry and there are a variety of amti’s that we cook. Mashyachi amti (fish curry), channyachi amti (chick pea curry), dalichi amti (flavored and tempered toor dal), and sometimes amti’s are made using vegetables as well.

Usually the amti made with the toor dals is sweet, sour and spicy to taste. While amti’s made with lentil, fish or vegetables, is mildly spiced with a base of coconut gravy and is flavorful.

It is said that the sambar was invented in the quest to make an amti.

So in the year 1673 a fierce battle was imminent in Tanjore as the ruler od Madhurai had decided to capture Tanjore.The courtiers of Tanjore decided to seek help from the Marathas and sent a secret message to Shivaji’s brother Venkoji who decided to be a part of the war himself and marched to Tanjore with his army.

The Maratha army bought their food and taste along with them and after the war Venkoji was so much in love with Tanjore that he decided to settle there.

There are a few stories as to how the Sambar originated. So the sambar that’s an integral part of the South Indian cuisine was created by the Maratha’s.

Sambhaji the son of Shivaji came to Tanjore to visit his uncle and since Sambhaji loved amti, a dish similar to it was prepared and was named Sambar in his honour.

According to another story, Sambhaji was a food lover and he loved to cook as well. he once wanted to make the amti and while preparing it he realized there was no kokum which is a very typical Maharashtrian ingredient used in making amtis and on an advice of a cook he used tamarind which enhanced the flavor of the amti and hence it was called sambar.

Today for dinner I have made 2 varied amti’s one with toor dal and the other with bhindi.

Both the recipes are rather simple and yet very unique and delicious.

Dalichi amti

1 cup toor dal washed and kept aside

1 medium onion finely chopped

½  a raw mango chopped into 1” pieces

1” ginger finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic crushed

4 green chillies slit

2 tsp sugar

¼ cup fresh coconut grated

3 tbsp of finely chopped coriander

½ tsp turmeric

A pinch of asafetida

½ tsp mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

Few curry leaves

1 tbsp ghee

1 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

Method:

Pressure cook the dal along with the onion for 3-4 whistles or till done

Once the dal is cooked add the chillies, sugar, ginger, raw mango, turmeric and salt and boil for 5 minutes on a medium flame.

Add the coconut and coriander and boil for 2 minutes and shut the flame.

Heat the ghee and oil and splutter the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Then add the curry leaves and the crushed garlic and let the garlic turn golden and then add this to the dal and your amti is ready.

Steamed rice goes amazingly well with this.

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Bhendichi amti

½ kg okra chopped 1” in length

2 cups of fresh coconut grated

6 dry red chillies

6 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp coriander seeds

½ tsp turmeric

Tamarind to the size of ½ a lemon

3 tbsp oil coconut oil

Salt to taste

Method:

Grind the coconut, tamarind, red chillies, 4 cloves of garlic, coriander seeds and turmeric to a fine paste.

Heat 2 tbsp of the coconut oil and sauté this paste till the color darkens slightly and the moisture is reduced.

Then add the chopped okra and sauté further for 2 minutes and then add 3 cups of water and make a nice gravy. Add salt and boil till the okra is done.

Heat the remaining oil and crush the remaining garlic and add to the oil and fry till its nice and golden and add it to the curry.

The Bhendichi amti is ready and can be had with chapatti or steamed rice

Bon Apetite!

 

What’s cooking today?

Varan.jpgThe weather has been really hot these days and with the temperature rising by the hour all I can think is of simple food and lots of cold water to drink.

As usual Sarita my cook came and asked me in the morning what would I like to eat for lunch and I thought what could be better than the humble Varan Bhaat (dal and rice) for lunch today.

So basically Varan is a dal made by simply boiling Toor dal (pigeon peas) along with some turmeric powder and asafetida, the cooked dal is mashed, some cumin seed powder, jaggery and salt is added and then the dal is further boiled till it’s nice and thick. This humble varan tastes best when eaten along with hot steamed ambe mohar rice (a variety of rice that grows in Maharashtra which literally means mango blossom as it has a strong aroma reminiscent of mango blossoms) and a dollop of home made tup (ghee)

So the varan is a vegan preparation which is a typically from the Maharashtrian or Goan cuisine which is served on all occasions.

In most Maharashtrian homes varan, bhaat is served as the first course followed by chapatti and vegetables.

A varan, bhaat, tup and limbu (lemon) is a complete meal by itself. Proteins from the dal, the carbs from the rice, fat from ghee and vitamin C from the lemon makes it a complete meal.

Most Maharashtrians even today have this at breakfast. I would always find it very unusual till I realized we also have Idli, sambar and chutney for breakfast using the same ingredients.

Long ago I had heard a story of a women who on her death bed told her sister in law that after she dies her son should be fed nothing more than varan, bhaat twice in a day as she was aware of the sister in law ill treating the son after her death. The mean aunt was more than happy to fed the mother less soul remains of varan, bhaat along with some ghee and lemon wedge. The boy in turn grew up to be healthy and strong, as his aunt was not aware of the goodness of this simple meal, unlike the mother.

So today its Varan, bhaat, tup and limbu for me!

 

 

Moringa! ……not a film character but a tree!

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Yesterday I went to the local market gadding about looking out for some unique vegetable that I could buy and cook.

After walking for a bit I reached my regular vegetable vendor Ram Prasad who usually sells leafy vegetables and I found a small cane basket full of tiny white flowers tucked away slyly in a corner. The basket was not clearly visible

Curiously I looked deeper in the corner and I realized they were the moringa flowers and suddenly there was a big smile on my face.

I gave Ram Prasad a look which made him feel guilty of hiding those flowers from me and he quickly tried to cover up his blunder saying that the produce was too less to be sold and so he had kept it away.

Well after all the convincing he tried I bought the small basket of the moringa flowers and walked back home like I had won the war.

My staff at home, were very excited to see these flowers and were not sure what I would make of it. I told them a story of my childhood, which I will share with you all as well.

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In my hometown Aversa we have our ancestral home which we would visit every summer vacation. My Grandma would eagerly wait for all of us to come and relish the different varieties of mangoes, guava, chickoo and jackfruit. It would be a feast for us to gorge on the amazingly tasting fruits.

So in the front garden she had planted some mango trees, a guava tree, a chickoo tree, a jackfruit tree and right in the corner of the garden there was this delicate Moringa or drumstick tree.

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The leaves, flowers and the drumsticks of this tree are used in our cuisine. With the leaves Amma (grandma) would make a simple vegetable, which would be sautéed in coconut oil, onions and green chillies and garnished with fresh grated coconut.

The drumstick would be used in sambar and many a times coated with chilli powder and rava and pan fried crisp to perfection.

 

Back then food would be cooked on wood fire. Every morning Amma would offer a small prayer to the Agni deva before she would lit the fire. Then she would scrape fresh coconut for the meal and grind it along with some spices on a stone grinder to make curries. My favorite part would be to grind on the stone, pluck the fresh vegetables for the curry.

 

One morning while we were all seated on the floor for breakfast with banana leaves placed in front of us and garma garam soft idli and sambar served she asked me to help her pluck the morninga flowers after I had finished, but my excitement and impatience took over my hunger and I simple left the breakfast and dragged her to pluck them.

While we were picking the flowers I asked her what was she going to cook with these pretty looking flowers and she smiled and said Vade (cutlets) I was quiet surprised and had a puzzled look on my face. She looked at me and said wait until you taste it. After picking the flowers I trailed behind her to the kitchen. She placed them on platform and asked me to clean them and wash them genteelly.

She put some freshly scraped coconut and spices to grind on the stone and I offered to help and to her surprise I managed to make a paste just the way she wanted and the cutlets with the moringa flowers were made

img_8405The feeling of helping Amma cook a dish even today boosts my morals when I am cooking something difficult

Chaitanya by The Walke’s

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Sometime back my friend KD mentioned about an eatery at Dadar, which serves the most amazing Malvani cuisine. A foodie that I am, I decided to visit this place called Chaitanya, which was highly recommended.

And so a drive from Andheri to Dadar was planned to enjoy dinner at this simple quaint eatery along with my friend Sheetal. At first it was a bit difficult to spot this place but after a few turns and returns and reverses I found it. Honestly it was not very difficult but I think “I” could not find it.

We walked into Chaitanya not expecting anything more than good food and service. It was a small place, done up very simply, where 7-8 simple tables with chairs were place in a row. The owner Surekha Walke sitting right at the entrance managing the counter. She seemed busy and as I walked in she just looked up through her spectacles and looked towards a boy wearing a white shirt and khakhi shorts with a napkin on his shoulder, suggesting him to seat us. We were seated on a table of 6 while we were just 2 of us while the eatery was almost empty. Sheetal and I took our seats and said hope KD is right about this place. Sometimes looks can be deceptive. The boy again came upto our table with a wet cloth and wiped it clean and in a hurry placed 2 steel galsses of water. From the way he was operating I realized this place must be usually busy.

So, after scrolling down through the menu, we decided to order our thalis without wasting any time. Sheetal ordered a fish thali while I the vegetarian option. We also ordered some extra dishes like fried crabs and Kaap (rava coated fried potatoes). The wait was not too long and what came on our table was simply outstanding.

So the fish thali had a fried pomfret, a surmai curry, sol kadi (kokum kadi) and rice bhakri (roti)

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My vegetarian thali was like a feast fit for the king. There was a kalya vatanyachi usal (black peas curry with the traditional malvani garam masala) bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal) methichi bhaji (fenugreek subzi), gavar (cluster beans), dal, chapatti and a very unusual dessert called the fruit khand (fruits mixed with homemade shrikhand).

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The food was truly wonderful. After such an amazing dinner the chef had to be complimented and so we walked to the counter and gave our compliments to Surekha tai (sister). She also had showcased a few masalas which she had kept on a rack to sell. I bought the fish fry masala which when I tried at home was indeed loved by all.

At the end of the day Sheetal and I both left like two happy souls. A) because the food was really delicious and B) it suited the pocket.

 

And the party is over …..

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Today was a very close friends birthday….  Age should not be discussed …. She is yet young at heart…. So an impromptu lunch was decided to celebrate Rakhee’s birthday. At 7:00 am my mobile was beeping with messages on the Crazy girls chat which has Sheetal, Rakhee and me on it and lunch at a fancy café was fixed.

After my walk a little late in the morning, dragging my feet to satisfy my soul feeling good that I didn’t ditch my walk, I went straight to the nursery to pick a plant for Rakhee as her birthday gift, with a profound thought that flowers will wilt away soon but if she nurtures the plant it will live forever……and so I chose a nice ceramic white pot and planted the jade in it and went straight to her home all sweaty and exhausted.

Rakhee relaxing in her PJ’s was shocked to see me …. She anyways says I have a shocking personality! I wished her, gave her, her gift and ran home promising to meet her at 12:30 pm at the decided venue.

As usual a sucker for time that I am I was the fist to reach and managed to get a table and trying to get comfortable in an uncomfortable corner. Well just as I was going through the menu in walked Rakhee and in a few moments came Sheetal.

When the three of us are together our mind and the tongue seem to loose their connection and then we are a rage. So it was no exception for today. Sheetal who has been the quiet types rather observant for a long time has started giving unbelievable funny one lines and then trying to compose herself as the behaved one has now started becoming a regular feature.

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The girl who was waiting on us was not really trained well and the three of us were wondering a five star hotel should at least train their staff well. Even after repeatedly telling her the table needs to be cleaned she just came and kept the cutlery on the not so clean table. We were dumb struck and then I did sweetly give her a piece of my mind, which was invain…. We ordered our salads and sandwiches and got back to our much fun conversation.

Food arrived which we relished and then it was time to cut the cake. A simple tiramisu pastry was ordered with the message Happy birthday Mataji (Rakhee). One needs to meet Rakhee to know why so. After cutting the pastry and the three of us relishing it….. ummmmm imagine one pastry and three of us sweet tooth people, so now one can imagine how we must have relished it paid for the lunch and left

I went on further to finish my chores, while Sheetal went to office and Rakhee home. She had dinner plans with her son and husband…so she was going to rest and look fresh for the evening

At 6:00 pm again the phone beeps and this time Rakhee’s message says “Girls I have fallen sick after lunch. Hope you both are ok?” I was feeling queezy after lunch and I was blaming the tanker water coming these days in our area where the BMC water supply has been cut down drastically as some pipe line is undergoing repairs.

Sheetal was going strong and finally after a brief conversation I just announced I think the girl waiting on us probably took her revenge!!

Well what went wrong we don’t know but poor Rakhee had to cancel her dinner at Papaya and have simple curd rice at home…. What a shame !!

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