Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Poee (Goan Bread)

Goa holds a special place in my heart – we planned our honeymoon in Goa because our dear friends A & S were getting married there the week after our wedding – what better way to start our married life than attending a true blue Goan wedding! It was a fabulous time and we have returned many times since then – always coming away with a yearning to stay back for just a little more time. Goa does that to you. It also leaves the bride and groom locked out of their room on their wedding night, but that’s another story!

We did the touristy thing only that first time – ditching the regimented hotel tour after the first day and preferring to go around on bikes, making up our own itinerary. The churches and temples truly went beyond being mere monuments and I could feel the sense of history and of so many lives and cultures intertwined.

Subsequent visits have been just about not going anywhere except the beach and the shacks, eating and drinking in the company of friends, snoozing on the sands after a dip in the sea and NOT expecting anything to happen on time. Whether it’s been a visit to bring in the New Year with friends 5 years back or attending a wedding this year, we have enjoyed every visit. And know we will be back for more of the sea, sand and susegad - a Konkani word which refers to a laid back attitude and an unhurried pace of life.

Goan cusine is a lesser known area of Indian cusine in my opinion and didn’t get it’s rightful due for a long time. I have always loved eating at my Goan friends’ homes and the Gomantak thali places in Mumbai (I used to spend so much time there and then lived in Bandra for 3 years; Mom was convinced I would end up marrying a Goan!) and though not a great meat eater, have liked many of the dishes they prepare.

While hotel food in Goa is more accommodative to vegetarians, street food is almost always geared towards the meat eaters! Fried fish and fresh batter fried calamari, steaming fish curries and rice, chicken cooked in different styles, lamb vindalhos and pork sorpotels – and all this often accompanied by the rustic Goan bread – the butterfly shaped Poee. Similar to the Pav/Pau made famous by Mumbai’s famous Pao Bhaji, this bread is soft and spongy and can be found in shops as well as the small bakeries in Goa.

While slowly getting accustomed to the chilly days in Delhi as winter is setting in and mentally dreading the even colder temps to come in January, I had this sudden urge one lazy Friday when the three of us had bunked work and school, to bake something; as if the warmth of the oven might permeate the house too. And what better “warming” food to bake than bread!

I had just picked up Madhur Jaffrey’s book Flavours of India from the library and it had a recipe for Poee which seemed just the ticket for my mood.
I looked for other recipes on the net which might give a whole wheat flour version, but surprisingly couldn’t find any (I did find this recipe which is quite close to Jaffrey’s recipe). So I decided to adapt the recipe on my own – after all bread is usually quite forgiving as recipes go.

I replaced a little less than half of the quantity of all purpose flour with wheat flour and half of the water quantity with milk. I also upped the quantity of yeast by one more teaspoon and brushed the tops of one batch of bread with a tsp of butter for a golden brown crust.

The first batch which I baked for 20 minutes at 220 C came out a bit crisper than what I wanted, so I baked the next batch for 15 minutes and reduced the temperature to 200C and they turned out softer.

Though I quite liked the consistency as it was this time, the next time I might try increasing the baking powder by one more teaspoon just to see whether they become spongier.

The bread was good the next day too and when I warmed it up with a pat of butter inside it, my 2 year old couldn’t have enough of it. The brown crust and the soft insides are really satisfying and the lovely smell of the bread baking filling the house is incentive enough for me to bake this again and again.

The bread is great to eat with hot curries and in a kind of reverse planning, I started looking for a dish to accompany the Poee after I had finished baking them. I picked out Chicken Xacuti (Recipe here) from Madhur Jaffrey’s book again ; together they made a delicious meal.

Poee - Recipe adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India

Makes 6-8 poee


Maida (flour) – 3 ½ cups (I used 1 ½ cups wheat flour and 2 cups maida)
Active dry yeast - 1 tsp (I used 2 tsp)
Salt – ½ tsp
Water – 1 ½ cups (I used 1 cup water and ½ cup milk)
Sugar – 1 tsp


1. Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water and then sprinkle yeast over the mixture,mix well and set aside for 10 minutes till it is foamy.
2. Combine the flour and salt in a big bowl, add the yeast mixture and milk/water to this and mix well. Knead the dough till it is soft, adding a splash of water if it is too dry. Keep some flour handy and add a little at a time if it seems too wet. Knead well for about 5 minutes and then roll into a large ball, cover with oiled cling wrap or a damp cloth and keep aside in a warm place for about 1 and half hours till it doubles in size.
3. Knead the dough again and divide into 6-8 portions. Roll each portion into a round and flatten a bit, then make a vertical slash over the top in the centre with a sharp knife.
4. With your fingers at the vertical slash, pull the dough apart gently from the centre to the sides. The ball will now look like an open book.
5. Repeat with all the portions and place on a greased baking sheet and set aside in a warm place again till it rises – about half an hour to 45 minutes. Each portion will now look like a butterfly.
6. Sprinkle a little flour on top of each and bake in a pre heated oven at 200-210 C for about 15-20 minutes.

Serve as breakfast bread or as an accompaniment to a curry dish for a meal.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Podalangai Masala (Snake Gourd & Lentils)

One of the recipes I learnt from my MIL was one which was prepared, not in her maternal Mudaliar home, but by her MIL who was from Thanjavur. The base recipe for the masala was used with some other vegetables like raw banana and yam, but I liked it best when it was made with snake gourd.

Snake gourd otherwise has limited preparations that I know of, the bland poriyal category – for which I feel it isn’t crunchy enough; the chana dal kootu or dal – where it usually completely loses its character and merges with the soft lentils- and the stuffed version which is quite time consuming.

This preparation allows the snake gourd to retain it colour and at the same time spices it up with the aniseed flavoured masala. Traditionally it is a dry accompaniment to the sambar/kozhambu, rasam meal, but I have found that it also pairs well with chapattis and my husband loves carrying it in his lunch box.

The chana dal to snake gourd proportion can be adjusted according to one’s preference, I prefer more snake gourd to chana dal so that the spiciness isn’t dulled by the dal.

Podalangai Masala (Snake Gourd & Lentil Vegetable)


Snake Gourd – ½ kg
Chana Dal (Split Bengal Gram) – ½ cup (soaked for 1 hour)
Dried red chillies – 4
Aniseed (Saunf) – 1 tbsp
Grated coconut – ¼ cup
Salt – to taste
Oil – 1 tbsp
Mustard – 1tsp
Curry leaves – 5-6


1. Wash and peel the snake gourd, then slice it vertically into half. Remove pith and seeds and cut into semi circles horizontally.
2. Cook the chana dal in water till just tender, it should not get overcooked and mushy. You can cook this on the stove top or in a pressure cooker for just one whistle. Ideally, it should still have a little bite to it so that it can cook some more with the masala and the snake gourd.
3. Grind the masala ingredients to a paste adding a little water adding as little water as possible.
4. Heat oil in a kadai/wok; when hot add mustard seeds and when they pop add the curry leaves.
5. Add the chopped snake gourd and stir fry for 3 minutes on high. Then reduce flame, add the masala and fry for 3 minutes more.
6. Add salt and ½ cup of water or just enough to cover the snake gourd, cover and cook on low for 3-4 minutes till the snake gourd is half cooked.
7. Add the cooked chana dal to the half cooked snake gourd, adjust salt and then cook for another 5 minutes till the snake gourd is fully cooked and the masala becomes dry and chana dal is soft and mixes well with the vegetable and masala. Add a splash of water if needed.If there is excess water; increase the heat so that it dries up.

Note: The chana dal shouldn’t get mashed, so if it is already very soft after cooking, then it should be added right at the end to the vegetable and not stirred too much, so that it remains whole and doesn't fall apart.

Phulkas, Masur Dal and Podalangai masala

Edited to add: Some people asked me about snake gourd and how it looks etc, so I am posting a pic of the one half I had left, unpeeled and the insides too.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back to the Future - Breakfast at Karims

Ever since I moved to Delhi I have heard and read a lot about Old Delhi and its hoary past. It is variously known as “the walled city”, Shahjahanabad (It was built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan over a period of 10 years) and sometimes by the name of one of its most famous streets - Chandni Chowk. It is probably one of the few “old cities” of the world which has a thriving residential and commercial population. The walls are crumbling and the 17th century havelis(mansions) have broken facades marred by shop signs, but it is still a hub of activity and home to about 5 million inhabitants.

Chandni Chowk, in particular, is very famous even outside Delhi as a hub of shopping, wholesale and retail trading and a place for great bargains;but in fact it is one of the principal streets of the area which leads from the Red Fort. Other than this, there are other lanes dedicated to different businesses – one for gold, one for silver, others for bangles and other accessories, stationery, spices, brass, copper, hardware – you name it. The labyrinth of lanes has havelis standing cheek-by-jowl and it’s impossible to negotiate a car in the narrow crowded streets. The preferred mode of transport is by cycle rickshaws, bicycles and two wheelers.

One of the most famous landmarks of Old Delhi is the Jama Masjid – a beautiful mosque built by Shahjahan in the 16th century, its azaans going out even today to call the faithful to prayer. It is actually Masjid -i- Jahan -Numa: “the mosque commanding a view of the world” and is popularly known as Jama Masjid referring to the Friday gathering for prayers (jum’a meaning Friday in Arabic). One of the largest mosques in Delhi, it's courtyard can accommodate 25,000 worshippers.

The beautiful steps on all three sides are made of red sandstone and it is one of the few mosques built on high ground giving it a really majestic aura.

Pics from Wikipedia – read more there.

And tucked in a bylane (see map) opposite the mosque is another veritable monument – Karim.

Karim’s present day avatar started out as a roadside dhaba (local eatery) in 1913, almost 100 years ago. But their ancestors date back to the time of Mughal emperors for whom they were the royal cooks. They used to prepare their secret family recipes in the environs of the Red Fort till the last emperor fell in 1857 after the Mutiny and they went into exile to escape the British rulers. The family lived in hiding in Lucknow till 1911, when they came back and set up their dhaba here under the aegis of Haji Karimuddin the grandfather of the current owner. There has been no looking back since – their mutton gravies and chicken kababs, delicious biryanis and earthy rotis and naans have attained global fame. Karims has found mention in BBC, Lonely Planet, Time magazine and even the National Geographic.

Today, they are a family establishment owning a chain of restaurants in and around Delhi. The most famous one though, remains the one near Jama, tucked away in the same alleyway where they originated so many centuries ago.

So I was more than happy when our dear neighbor A came up with a “Sunday breakfast at Karim’s” plan. Now I’m not much of a meat eater and mutton is a no-no anyway, what with it being difficult to digest for me, but there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity for a foodie adventure like this!

So off we set off one chilly November morning, 3 kids in tow and met up with another couple at the Ashoka Road Metro station, where we parked our cars. We then took the Metro line and got off at Chawri Bazaar station. This was the first time I was travelling by the Metro and I was really impressed at how clean and efficient the whole system was. There is still a lot of the city left to be connected and it won’t be fully complete before 2025 but if we manage to run and maintain the network as it is envisioned, Delhi will really get less congested as more and more people start using it.

From Chawri Bazaar station we took three cycle rickshaws and made our way to Karim’s – we passed by the Jama Masjid and our eyes were automatically drawn to its high domes and slender minarets. I remember going inside when I was on a visit to Delhi with my parents at age 15 and gazing at the marble flooring in black and white.It was like travelling back in time.....the crowded streets almost empty since it was a Sunday, the old buildings reminding me of similar looking ones in the older areas of Mumbai.....cows sharing equal space with dogs and goats. After a short drive we stopped at a non descript looking street.

Karim’s now also has lodging and it was a bit confusing with many signs saying "Karim’s" all around. We entered through a narrow passage and found ourselves outside the unprepossessing restaurant – just about capable of seating 50 people at a time. Formica topped tables scrubbed clean with functional chairs to match. A cash counter which had a board above proclaiming boldly that they didn’t accept any credit card!

We didn’t have to wait long for two tables to be joined to accommodate us and we placed our order of rotis, sheermal, paya and nihari – the only items on the menu at that time of the day. The rotis are these huge, soft, almost fluffy yet slightly crisp rounds of flatbread, made with flour and egg and baked in a traditional tandoor (clay oven).

Sheermal is another type of flat bread which is made with milk and sugar, leaving it ever so soft and slightly sweet and tinged with a caramel brown colour. It was simply delicious and one could keep eating those circles with the waffle like tiny square impressions, without a break.

Payaa is goat or lamb trotters cooked to perfection over several hours and served in thin spicy gravy while Nihari is a stew made from beef or lamb, the pieces being traditionally prepared with spices and then cooked overnight or for 6-8 hours till really soft and tender. Nihari is now very popular in Pakistan where it was taken by the Delhi Muslims and is also known as a breakfast curry; a delicacy once enjoyed only by the upper echelons of society, for its rich taste and subtle variations.

Payaa as made in the South is very different; either in a tamarind based gravy or in a coconut based gravy. Here it was spicier (which surprised me) and also had more of the rich mutton flavor than any overpowering spice. The Nihari was thicker and a bit creamier though I don’t think it was because of any additional fat, rather the mutton stock itself thickening and reducing as the pieces cooked in it.

The service was warm and friendly with our waiter gently prodding us on to order some more rotis to mop up the gravy and then some more gravy to finish the rotis, till everyone was so stuffed they could hardly breathe. All in all, a really great foodie experience!

I think it would be a good idea to do this kind of breakfast only once in 6 months ……but I will definitely want to come back to Old Delhi and Chandni Chowk to explore it’s other treasures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chicken and Red Pepper Crustless Pie

When I saw this recipe for savoury muffins on Jugalbandi I knew I just had to try it out! The roasted peppers sounded like they would taste amazingly delicious along with the goat’s cheese. We had invited some new friends home for dinner – the first we were having after moving here – so I decided to make this as an appetizer.

The only thing was that, on the menu I had in mind, there was already a vegetarian appetizer and I needed one with chicken in it. So I decided to adapt the recipe and incorporate chicken into it. I also didn’t end up getting either feta or goat’s cheese in this village….err city…..so I had to settle for cream cheese. I don’t want to hear anything more said about Chennai being a small town – even the next door Nilgiri’s there used to stock imported cheese! I take back all my petty rants Nilgiri!

Then I decided that since there were other things I had to bake in the oven or grill, I didn’t want to spend time fiddling with individual muffins so I baked this as a sort of pie/quiche, without a crust – don’t know whether there is an actual name for this (Pudding? Tortilla?), so will call it a Crustless pie for now!.

I cut down on the cheese because of the additional chicken added to this recipe and increased the other proportions to serve about 10 people.

I roasted one red pepper in my oven, but found it annoying to keep opening the oven to turn them, so ended up roasting the others on the gas flame with a pair of tongs till black on all sides, wrapping them in foil tightly for 10 minutes and then peeling them. That worked fine for me.

So, this is my version of Jai & Bee’s wonderful creation, many thanks to them for inspiring me to bake this. The roasted red peppers were indeed a fabulous idea and gave it a lovely flavor, the pie itself was moist and fluffy; I served it with a hung curd dip.

Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Pie

Wheat flour (atta) - 3 1/2 cups
Egg whites - 6
Milk - 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups
Boneless chicken cut into strips – 250gm
Baking powder – 2 ¼ tsp
Baking soda – 1 ¼ tsp
Mixed dried herbs – 2 tsp
Salt – ¾ tsp
Garlic cloves minced – 3
Roasted red peppers peeled and chopped – 2 cups (about 3 large peppers)
Cream cheese – 150gms
Olive oil – 4 ½ tbsp
Ajwain – ½ tsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Crushed black pepper – 1-2 tbsp
Spring onions, fully chopped – 1 ½ cups separated into green and white part

1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease a large shallow pie plate or an oven proof glass platter with a depth of about 3-5 inches.
2. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a non stick pan, add the ajwain and when it changes colour, add the garlic and the spring onions (only whites) and sauté for 5 minutes.
3. Add boneless chicken pieces and cook on high till it turns white (approx 5 minutes) and then cook on low for 2 minutes more, adding a splash of water if needed.
3. Remove the mixture from the pan and cool.
4. Beat eggs well; add the remaining 1½ tbsp oil, 1 cup milk and green part of the spring onions.
5. Add wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, dried herbs, salt, crushed black pepper and chilli powder. Mix gently till smooth and add a little more milk if needed.
6. Add the chopped roasted red peppers and cream cheese.
7. Pour into the greased pie plate or a glass platter and bake at 180 C for 40-45 minutes. Test to see if a skewer comes out clean, cool.
8. Cut into wedges and serve warm or cold.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Giving Word

I found this site and BOY! am I addicted.....for a good cause of course. You don't think I would just spend time on a site showing off my vocabulary skills and marvelling at all those new words I learn, unless there was some good coming from it, do you?.

Free Rice donates 10 grains for each word you get right - go ahead - feed someone while you feed your mind.

My best word learning so far has been "hardtack".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Masala Uttapam (Savoury stuffed rice flour pancakes)

When I was in the first year of degree college in Mumbai, there opened this Udipi restaurant in Matunga called Shri Sundars. Matunga and King’s Circle in Central Mumbai is filled with Udipi joints, some of them which have been there for decades, so a new one opening in that area was just another addition to the clutter. But as we discovered during the three years we frequented it (and I use this term loosely, “lived there” would be more like it!), the restaurant came up with dishes which were quite unusual in terms of Udipi restaurants then which were almost identical in terms of their menu and appearance. Except for Ananda Bhavan idlis…mmm….but that’s another story.

Spring Roll dosa, Chowmein Dosa and some other really wacky sounding dishes filled the menu card of Sundars (we dropped the Shri almost instantly!). Of course there was the usual idli, sambar, medu wada, mysore masala dosa which were really good, but what attracted us at first were these unusual items. Soon we were regulars there - the place was clean, the waiters soon knew us by sight (and hardly got any tips) and the prices didn’t hurt our bare pockets and purses.

And what one of our gang of 8 would definitely end up ordering, was the Masala Uttapam – something I loved and had never tasted till then. I still remember that dish – uttapams stuffed with a delicious potato masala and always, always topped with a juicy slice of tomato embedded right in the centre. I recreated this dish from memory, not sure if this is what they do since it wasn’t as brown and the masala wasn’t exactly stuffed, but it tasted just right to me.

I guess nostalgia wears rose coloured glasses but this place, with all its memories of the fun times I had with my friends, holds a special place in my heart. P & G, I will always remember you guys, ordering one paper roast dosa since that’s all the pocket money you had (or maybe because you were just plain cheapskates!) and then each would begin eating from one end, so whoever ate faster would get more of the dosa! This recipe is for you and the rest of our gang.

Masala Uttapam

Dosa batter – 400ml (preferably a day old or a little sour)
1 cup rice, 1/3rd cup urad dal –soak rice and dal together in water with a tsp of fenugreek seeds for about 5-6 hours. Drain the water and keep aside, grind in a mixie or grinder till you get a smooth batter. Add the drained water little by little and as much as is needed. The batter finally should be smooth and neither too thick and nor too thin. Transfer to a large vessel with space for it to double after fermentation, add1/2 tsp salt and mix well. Keep overnight and by morning it should have risen to the top.

Potato masala
Boiled potatoes – 4, peeled and mashed
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Onions – 2 chopped fine
Green chillies – 3 chopped
Mustard – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 6-8 leaves
Chana dal – 1 tbsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp for the potato masala and more for making the uttapams
Coriander – 1/2 cup chopped


1. Heat 2 tsp oil in a kadai and add mustard, when it splutters add the chana dal and urad dal and stir for 2 minutes till golden. Add the curry leaves and green chillies and sauté for 2 minutes, then add onions and fry till transparent.
2. Add the turmeric powder, salt and mashed potatoes and fry for another 4-5 minutes, add chopped coriander and take off flame. Cool.
3. Keep the dosa batter ready , heat a non stick tava till just warm, smear some oil on it and then pour a ladleful of dosa batter on it; spread the batter from inside to outside but not too thinly. It should be thicker than what one would do for a dosa.
4. Immediately take a big spoon of the potato masala and carefully spoon it onto the still uncooked uttapam in a smaller circle, taking care not to disturb the batter. Press down with a spatula till well embedded in the batter. All this should be done on a low flame.

5. Increase the flame to medium high and circle the uttapam with about a ½ a tsp of oil. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes till the underside is golden brown and then flip over with a spatula and press down. Cook for another minute and then remove from tava.
6. Serve hot with coconut chutney and sambar.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sindhi Sai Bhaji (Spinach,lentil and vegetable gravy)

Spinach is one of my favourite greens and I love the ease which it lends itself to most dishes. The greens dishes we used to eat while growing up were either Masiyals or Kootus made out of molai Keerai/arai keerai/siru keerai(all amaranth),murunga keerai(drumstick leaves),agathi keerai,poonaganni keerai,pulichai keerai,manathakali keerai. "Keerai" being the generic term for all greens which can be cooked, so spinach would be called "Paalak Keerai"!!

Masiyal (Mash) was just the greens by themselves, cooked and mashed with garlic and tempered with red chillies,urad dal and mustard.Kootus were made with dal. Paalak Paneer and Alu Methi made a rare appearance sometimes.

And then there were some other mysterious greens which I still don’t know the names of, since my mother loves greens so much she would just pick them up and ask the vegetable vendor what it was and they would reply with some Marathi name she wouldn’t remember. She would sometimes even ask them how it is prepared….and then at dinner Dad would mutter under his breath that he didn’t know whether he was eating plain grass at times! Mom would then launch into a spiel about the nutritional value of greens and how fibre is so good for the body etc etc. Now that she has her own little backyard garden, she is very happy growing her own greens.

Spinach is indeed nutritious and a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, and several antioxidants as well as folic acid and calcium. However, when I was advised to cut down on my fiber intake due to the difficulty in digesting it, I did some research on what nutrients I might be losing out and found that spinach does not contain as much iron as we are normally led to believe and even what iron it contains may not be fully absorbed into the body. Vitamin C helps in better absorption of iron from spinach, however on the whole because of containing high levels of oxalate which binds itself to iron and calcium, it decreases the level of absorption of both calcium and iron contained in the spinach.

What it does have though is anti oxidants, which go a long way in protecting us from cancers of the colon, prostate, ovary and also against heart disease. Read more here

So I still indulge my love for spinach but just in smaller quantities than before and in my efforts to find different recipes which use paalak so that we don’t have the same dish every time, I came across this dish which is a Sindhi specialty and it has become a staple in our home. Spinach leaves cooked with mixed veggies and chana dal till they are well blended – this dish is rarely seen in restaurants and I think is home cooking at its best. It goes well with rotis but I often have it with rice, papad and pickle. Some recipes also include a handful of methi or dill in this dish so feel free to add any other greens you like.

Spinach (like most vegetables) retains its nutrients best if it is not overcooked. So, I usually dunk it into boiling water for about 5 minutes, then in cold water for another 5 minutes to retain its colour and freshness and then either chop, mash or puree it.

I adjust the below recipe then, by cooking the chana dal separately till soft; I then fry the spices and vegetables in the same order as below and cook till done, adding the mashed cooked spinach and cooked chana dal at the end and cooking for another 5 minutes till well blended.

The recipe below I use when I am short on time and can’t cook everything separately. This time I made this dish in the cooker for a quick dinner and I thought it was a good match for sra’s Grindless Gravies event over at her blog when my soup came alive .

Sindhi Sai Bhaji


Spinach – 1 large bunch
Chana Dal – ¼ cup (soaked for 1 hour in warm water)
Potato – 1 diced
Eggplant/Brinjal – 2-3 (small) diced
Bottle Gourd – ½ cup diced (can substitute with ash gourd)
Tomatoes – 2 chopped
Onion – 1 chopped
Green chillies – 2 chopped
Ginger Garlic paste – 2 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp

1. Wash the spinach leaves in several changes of water till clean, chop and keep aside.
2. Take a pressure pan or a cooker in which you can cook directly and heat oil.
3. Add cumin seeds and when it changes colour, add onions and sauté.
4. When the onions are sautéed, add green chillies and ginger garlic paste and fry 3 minutes, then add the chana dal and fry another 3-4 minutes.
5. Add the vegetables, chopped tomatoes, coriander powder and fry for 4-5 minutes,
6. Add salt and 1 cup of water, pressure cook for 10 minutes (two –three whistles).
7. When the pressure is released, open the cooker and mash well. Serve hot with rotis or rice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No wonder chocolate is so addictive!

It started out as an alcoholic drink 3100 years ago!
Researchers testing residues in pottery vessels in Puerto Escondido, Honduras, dating back to 1100 BC have found traces of a chemical compound (theobromine)found exclusively in the cacao plant. This then makes it the earliest known use of cacao which is the basis of chocolate as we know it today.Before the current study, the oldest known use of cacao was marked by the discovery of a bottle containing traces of the material excavated from a grave in Colha in northern Belize. The bottle dated to 600 BC.
Image from here
news.au.com reports "The earliest cacao beverages consumed at Puerto Escondido were likely produced by fermenting the sweet pulp surrounding the seeds," the scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.One of the researchers, anthropologist John Henderson, of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said "What we're seeing in this early village is a very early stage in which serving cacao at fancy occasions is one of the strategies that upwardly mobile families are using to establish themselves, to accumulate social prestige,"
Read more here
So, a chocolate based alcoholic drink served as a status symbol - doesn't sound that far fetched does it? A small group of people in the upper echelons, enjoying a commodity and appreciating it's "value" and denying access to the hoi polloi so that it gains all the more snob value. Well, we sure inherited those genes!
That article also goes on to say that, the style of the 10 small, elegant serving vessels suggested the cacao brew was served at important ceremonies perhaps to celebrate weddings and births. Classy!

Image credit: PNAS/National Academy of Sciences; pottery vessel from Honduras similar to the ones in which scientists found the earliest known evidence of the use of the cacao tree.

The chocolate beverage which was consumed by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations may then have come later, maybe as a by product of the brewing process - or even by accident. And even later,the Spanish conquerors (after decimating a whole civilization) brought cacao to Europe in the 16th century after which it evolved over the centuries into its present day form.

The researchers say that they are being conservative and further studies might even prove that they date upto a couple of centuries earlier.

Well, for those of you who drink, have you ever liked chocolate flavoured alcoholic drinks? I usually steer clear of any drink which has things like vanilla ice cream, pineapple,strawberry and other sweet stuff! But I know plenty of people who adore these cocktails and so obviously there must be some of you who would like, for instance, chocolate martinis?! If so, you are keeping up an ancient tradition! Cheers!


I discovered the magic of Salsa in Chennai of all the places - in the one and only Tex Mex restaurant it has, courtesy the restaurateur Mahadevan. This former professor turned entrepreneur is credited with introducing global cuisine to Chennai in the 90’s when not many people ate out in the first place, let alone try new cuisines.

And almost every one of his restaurants turned out to be a huge success. Including Don Pepe’s Tex Mex which is located on R K Salai (Cathedral Road) surrounded by his other success stories – Hot Breads ( a bakery chain ) and Zara’s - a Spanish Tapas bar which has the distinction of serving up some delicious Tapas style snacks as well as being the only stand alone pub in Chennai worth it’s Tequila.

Well, it’s not strictly a stand alone pub I guess, since it is technically part of a hotel; which it has to be, due to some archaic rules framed to protect us innocent people from being corrupted - which we would if there were pubs dotting the horizon. But if they are tucked inside hotels which are either too shady or too expensive, than we will escape the lure of alcohol and our morality will remain intact. It’s for our own good.
Of course, I’m not sure about the people who consume 19.3 % of 119 million cases of spirits and 9% of 93 million cases of beer each year in Tamil Nadu (info from here) – couldn’t be us you know, since there aren’t any pubs around! Must be those immoral out-of-towners.

On to the salsa at Don Pepe’s – S and I used to shamelessly polish off almost the whole complimentary bowl even before the appetizers arrived! And then ask for refills for the main course. It used to be juicy, freshly made and absolutely delicious. Oh, how I miss that place after moving to Delhi…….
The bottled ones are mostly a vinegary, pureed concoction with more ketchup than tomato in them and hardly fresh. When we bought a packet of taco chips recently, I decided to make my own salsa. I’m so glad we didn’t get the bottled stuff that day in the convenience store, making this fresh was so worth it!

To the recipe below I also added one roasted red capsicum diced, which I had left over from another recipe and it took the salsa to a whole new level.

I also zapped the diced green pepper in the microwave with a tbsp of water for about a minute just to soften it since I don’t like it too raw.

Some recipes call for the salsa to be pulsed a couple of times in the processor till chunky, but I like it unprocessed.



Tomatoes – 4-5 firm, deseeded and diced (2 cups)
Sweet Corn kernels – ½ cup
Garlic – 2 tbsp minced
Jalapeño peppers – 2 deseeded and chopped

(I substituted with green chillies). You can also have a combination of Jalapeno/chipotle/habanero peppers depending on the heat level you want.

Spring Onions – white part alone, 1 cup chopped fine
Green Pepper – 1 small diced
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 2 tbsp
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Coriander leaves – 1 cup chopped
Dried Oregano / Mixed dried herbs - 1 tbsp
Tabasco sauce – 1 tsp (optional)
Salt and pepper – to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix together and check seasoning and adjust spice.
2. Let rest for about 10-15 minutes till the flavours mingle and serve with taco chips or nachos. Or on the side with Burritos/Quesadillas/Chimichangas.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beetroot Poriyal (Foogath)

There’s something really satisfying about porials (also called foogath), something I have been able to appreciate only in the last decade or so. The tiny chopped vegetables, sautéed in minimal oil, tempered with mustard and curry leaves, steam cooked till just tender and crunchy and then finished with a garnish of grated coconut.
Beans, carrot, cabbage, beetroot, chow chow, snake gourd – all these taste just right to me cooked this way, their colours still intact. Cabbage, in fact, I used to hate till I figured out that it was the overcooked, wilted, turmeric yellow appearance that I disliked, but loved it when it was all crisp, white and delicately flavoured. I learnt to like these veggies when Maragatham cooked for us – she was our neighbour's cook who cooked for us for about a year and she used to turn out perfectly cooked porials time after time.

I think most Indian cuisines have this in various versions - upkaris/shaak/poriyal

My daughter seems to have caught on much earlier than I did – she loves porials and will often ask for more while refusing another spoonful of rice – I happily give in.

The other day,I made puli kozhambu and cooked beetroot porial to go with it. I have always thought of porials as being the perfect foil to fiery kozhambus, sort of balancing the spice and sourness with their nutty flavor.

Beetroot porial


Beetroot – ¼ kg
Mustard – 1 tsp
Chana dal - ½ tsp
Urad dal – ½ tsp
Curry leaves – 5-6
Green chillies - 2
Salt to taste
Oil – 1 tsp
Grated coconut – 2 tbsp

1. Wash beetroot, peel and chop finely.
2. Heat oil in a kadal, add the mustard seeds, when they begin to pop, reduce the flame and add the green chillies, chana dal and urad dal and wait till they brown a bit – ½ minute. Add the curry leaves and stir.
3. Add the chopped beetroot and salt and mix well on high for 1 minute, reduce flame, sprinkle 2 tbsp water, cover and cook on low for 4 minutes. Remove lid, check if cooked, sprinkle some more water if not and cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes till just tender.
4. Add grated coconut just before removing from fire.

Note: The key to a good porial is to make sure the vegetables retain their colour and texture and are not overcooked. Less oil and steam cooking helps in this, as does cutting them finely so that they cook faster and more evenly.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Walnut & Ginger Bite Ring

One of my close friends gifted me the Baby & Toddler cookbook by Tarla Dalal, just prior to the arrival of our daughter. I dug out this cookbook a good six months later,when I started weaning her off milk and into more of solids and made quite a few of the finger food recipes like cheese straws made of whole wheat flour etc since the alternatives readily available in the market (like bread sticks and Glucose biscuits ugh!) were usually made of plain flour which I wanted to avoid.
The other foods like dal,khichdi, soup and the like were our everyday food which I didn't need recipes for, and as she started eating more and more of what we were eating and I stopped cooking separate meals for her, the book lay forgotten.

While doing a spot of Diwali cleaning, I came across it lying with my other cookbooks and started leafing through it. I found this recipe for a Spiced Walnut Ring which I decided to make for a Diwali dinner we had been invited to and for which I had volunteered to get dessert. The evenings have just started turning chilly in Delhi and I thought this cake, with its spicy notes,would be apt for the occasion.

I did a fair amount of tweaking to the recipe and substituted the ginger powder (soonth) with chopped pieces of candied ginger. The spicy sweet pieces of ginger are a nice surprise when one bites into the cake.

I also cut down on the condensed milk and sugar quantities which I figured might be burnt off by active toddlers, but probably not by us!

I served it warm with a bit of vanilla icecream on the side, but some people also had it with chocolate sauce drizzled over. The warmth of the spices and the bite of ginger and walnut made it a delightful ending to a festive evening.

You can find the original recipe here

Walnut & Ginger Bite Ring

Serves 8


1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger pieces
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
3/4 cup white butter (unsalted)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup condensed milk
3/4 - 1 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease a ring mould and keep aside.

2. Sift the flour,baking powder and cinnamon powder together.
3. Whisk the butter and sugar together till soft and creamy.
4. Add the flour mixture, the chopped walnuts, chopped candied ginger, condensed milk and combine till mixed together.

5. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix till you reach a cake batter consistency, add some more milk if it's too thick.
6. Spoon the batter into the greased ring mould and shake to settle evenly. Bake for 30 minutes till done and a skewer inserted into it comes out clean.
7. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes and then turn out of the ring onto the rack and let it cool further.

This is my entry for November for the Think Spice.... event hosted by Sunita's World
where this month's spice is Ginger.

This is the first food blogging event I'm participating in and I thought this versatile spice would a good place to start!.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Happy Diwali!!!

This is our first Diwali away from Chennai in the last 10 years - away from home, friends and family, familiar rituals and the comfort of sameness. Our first Diwali in Delhi - new city, new customs.....why it's even celebrated on a different day!
It brought back to me all those years growing up in Mumbai, when we would be the only family in the whole colony who would be up before dawn, a day earlier than everyone else, lighting crackers in the pre dawn silence. When I moved to Chennai, it then seemed even stranger to have the whole neighbourhood awake before dawn, making it impossible to sleep late even if we wanted to!And then today in Delhi, it seemed weird to get ready for work after the puja since it wasn't a holiday here - and as the calls came in from friends and family with the deafening noise of fireworks in the background, we felt a bit lost.
But the spirit of Diwali takes over as always.....I was determined to make this a special Diwali for my 2 year old daughter, so I made some traditional sweets at home since we wouldn't get them here, got her pavadai chattai ready for her to wear and borrowing from the North Indian customs, brought out last year's Karthigai deepam lamps.
As she and her "best friend" bent over the lamps trying to help us light them and then held hands and watched them glow, it seemed like a perfect Diwali all over again. I guess it's what each one of us brings to it that makes this festival so special.

I'm just happy if I can recreate some of the simple traditions we used to enjoy rather than succumbing to the crass commercialization that is all pervasive today. And that's not more on display anywhere else than in this city which ties itself up into traffic gridlocks on Dhanteras with people making a mad scramble to buy buy buy on this "auspicious" day. How is it that we remember the legend which honours Goddess Lakshmi, but forget the one which celebrates the day when Yama was outwitted by Lord Hima's daughter-in-law intelligence, so blinded was He with all the wealth she had heaped on her doorstep, a clever ploy so that her husband wouldn't die.

But there are good things too - many children today are the ones who are pushing their parents to stay away from noise and air polluting crackers and those made with the aid of child labour. I feel ashamed to think of the packets of sparklers we used to fight over so many years ago.

So let's take the best we have - in people, in cities, in traditions and rituals - and make this Diwali a really special one!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Puli Kozhambu

Tamarind is the fruit of the Tamarind tree (Tamarindus Indica) and is native to tropical Africa.It reached India a long long time ago and then the Persians and Arabs who called it "tamar hind" or "Indian date".Most of its colloquial names are variations on the common English term. In Spanish and Portuguese, it is tamarindo; in French, tamarin, tamarinier, tamarinier des Indes, or tamarindier; in Malaya, asam jawa; in India, it is tamarind or ambli, imli, chinch, etc
The food uses of the tamarind are many. The tender, immature, very sour pods are cooked as seasoning with rice, fish and meats.The ripened fruit pulp is edible and popular as a spice in Latin American and Asian cuisines.
Above info,picture and more on tamarind from here

My earliest memory of tamarind is when I was about 7 or 8 years old, in my paternal grandfather’s house in Trichy, collecting the seeds so that I could rub them on the floor till they were hot and then press them on an unsuspecting cousin’s hand and quickly run away as they let out a surprised yelp! The same magnificent tree was the one under whose cool shade we used to rest on scorching summer afternoons with our library books.

Tamarind is the base for many South Indian dishes and even to non South Indians who are aware of this, it never ceases to surprise them that there is a dish like this which is based solely on it; no dal added like in Sambar, no ground masala with coconut to balance the sourness – Puli Kozhambu.
In Tamil, Puli means tamarind and Kozhambu is a generic term for curry(gravy) dishes. Well, my Dad had an English translation for this dish which used to annoy my mother to no end – “Ah!Tiger Broth!” he would say, snickering at his own joke – “Puli” in Tamil, pronounced slightly differently means "tiger". It's one of my comfort foods today and I still remember that joke.

Puli Kozhambu (Tamarind based Spicy Curry)


Pumpkin – 100gm, peeled and chopped into 1” squares
Garlic – 6-8 cloves
Onion – 1 big, sliced or 1 cup shallots peeled
Tomatoes – 1 big chopped
Thick Tamarind pulp – about 150 ml (Soak a lime sized piece in warm water, squeeze to extract pulp and filter)
Coriander (dhania) powder – 3 tsp heaped
Chilli powder – 2 tsp
Salt to taste
Veg. Oil – 1 tbsp
Til Oil – 1 tbsp

Tempering (Thalimpu)
Mustard (rai) – 1 tsp
Fenugreek (methi) seeds – ½ tsp
Asafoetida powder (hing) - pinch
Curry leaves – 6-7

1.Cook chopped pumpkin in water till 3/4th done. Peel garlic and crush lightly
2.Heat a kadai(wok) and add both the oils, when it heats up, add mustard.Wait for the mustard to pop,then add the fenugreek seeds and asafoetida , as soon as the seeds change colour, add the washed curry leaves. Reduce heat, add garlic cloves and fry on low for 3-4 minutes.
3.Add sliced onions or whole shallots and sauté on low till translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry till pulpy.(about5 minutes)
4.Add the coriander powder and chilli powder and fry 1 minute. Add tamarind pulp along with 100ml water and salt and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the chopped pumpkin and reduce flame to medium. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes till the tamarind is cooked and doesn’t smell raw. Adjust the salt and cook for 5 - 10 minutes more till the gravy is reduced to little more than half.
5.Serve with steamed rice or dosais.

Note: Pumpkin makes this dish a bit sweet which I like because the gravy itself is sour and spicy and that makes for a good mix of flavours. But if you (like my husband) don’t prefer the sweetness to intrude on the spice, you can replace pumpkin with:

-Sticky potato/Colacassia (Arvi)boiled and cut into 1" pieces
-Okra -1" pieces lightly sautéed
-Vadaam – sun dried balls made out of a mixture of urad dal flour,spices and salt with a lot of variations which include onions and ash gourd pieces.Used to be handmade at home, but now is readily available in most grocery stores. They are fried as part of the tempering before adding to gravies and add an instant burst of spice and flavour.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sweet Beginnings - Chocolate Pudding

This amazingly rich dessert is one I tried after seeing it on Jugalbandi, where Jai and Bee had in their meticulous style made it seem so simple that I just had to try it out! I made it for a dinner we hosted, on the eve of my husband’s birthday, and it turned out to be the perfect sweet ending for a lovely evening.

And since J&B have been a major inspiration for me to start my own food blog, I thought it appropriate that I should begin my blog with this dish – my photos don’t do as much justice though, I hope that in time they will improve and look as good as the dish itself.

I increased the proportions from the original recipe as well as omitted the lavender touch from J&B’s recipe since I didn’t have any on hand and not the faintest clue on where to find any in this city!

It’s an easy recipe and a surefire crowd pleaser; plus it doesn’t take much time to set, so you can make it just an hour or so before the guests arrive. OR if it’s just for you and yours, all the more reason to have something so delicious to enjoy with minimum effort.

Jai and Bee – this one is for you! Love your blog!

Chocolate Pudding


Dark chocolate, chopped – 225gms(I used Lindt which is fairly easy to find in Indian cities)
Sugar – 1 cup
Milk – 2 ½ cups
Corn flour – 3 tbsp
Egg yolk – 1
White butter (unsalted) – 2 tbsp
Vanilla essence – ½ tsp
Salt – a pinch

I added these variations recommended by J&B
Cocoa powder – 1 ½ tsp
Instant coffee powder – 1 tsp
Bailey’s Irish Cream – 1 tbsp

I followed the detailed method and instructions from Jugalbandi which you can find here and since it looked so intoxicating, poured the pudding into 8 shot glasses filled up 3/4th of the way.

Though initially, I felt that this might be a tad less quantity wise, it turned out to be just right. You could increase the milk by another 1/4th of a cup for more volume and for a less concentrated taste.
Though the recipe called for one egg yolk, since that was also described as optional, I didn't double it for my recipe and used only one egg yolk.


Sunday, November 4, 2007


Peppermill is an attempt to chronicle my love affair with cooking – from giddy teenager trying to bake in mother’s kitchen to independent girl living alone for the first time; from not-so-shy bride excitedly setting up a kitchen in a new city to suddenly being pushed to the brink of no return by a rare condition which didn’t allow me to eat for a whole year; from cautious patient-in-recovery to carefree mother who wants to enjoy every minute with my beautiful daughter.

I have, over the years, collected a number of recipes through family, friends, books, magazines and the internet. Most of them have been tried out, favorites are much repeated, others get buried under the comfort of routine, still others call to me every time I see them but never seem to have that one ingredient which even I ,the Queen of substitution, can’t overlook. Through this site, I hope to share these recipes, try out some new ones and recreate the memories that were created along with the dish.

Why peppermill? Pepper is one of my favourite spices – indigenous to India, it was “black gold” at one point in time – valuable trade currency and one of the reasons the spice route to India became so famous and led to her being colonized by the Europeans. This adaptable spice brings its own touch to any cuisine it flavours – from mild European to scorching Chettinad; and as it goes through the mill, the coarsely ground flakes filtering down seem to come out all the more stronger in flavor – a trait I would like to think I identify with.