Her feet caught my eye. Coated with talc-like dust, they seemed part of the dark earth with solid silver rings curling around her toes and thick, silver hoops dancing around her ankles. Like some ebony tree wreathed in bottle-green foliage, she wore her green saree tribal-style, blouseless with one bare shoulder shining like onyx in the sun. Her beauty was ancient (imprinted in my memory, even after so many years); as if it existed like an old palace, weather-worn and maybe a little faded but timeless. And she was the queen of clay pots. Smooth, rich red-earth-coloured, round-bottomed creations arranged in neat pyramids. I was enchanted by her and her traditional Indian kadais, chattis (cooking utensils) she was selling for a pittance on the side of a dusty highway. Needless to say, I bought a kadai (a deep, circular, cooking vessel with curved handles on its sides) but in my heart, didn’t expect it to use it much.
I was wrong. In its 9-year life with me, it has dished up many a fish/seafood curry, but was consigned to the back of my kitchen cupboard off late, a little forgotten, like its seller. Contemplating Dorie Greenspan’s very French Chicken in a Pot for Sunday lunch, I had a flashback of my trusty clay kadai, and the memories came whooshing back. A country-style French dish in a rustic Indian pot – the idea sounded delicious. Even the food gods willed this to happen because my chicken was just the right fit for my kadai. I couldn’t wait to try! Continue reading →
“The happy sing their songs whilst the rest of us seek poetry”
Read this somewhere recently and it gave me pause. And like the sun spilling its light at dawn, which, like flood waters in slow motion fills every dark corner of the world, realisation rushed over me that it rings so true. At least with me.
Pathos in my life is not a tragic monolith blocking out the light. Rather it is a darkly liquid, deep, deep well upon which I gaze and see the true face of the world and its ways. But ever so often, it revels a reflection of my own soul. Melancholy is internal and perhaps essential to experience the complex nuances of poetry, which again is deeply personal. Even the happy have a little cupboard in the corner where they store their sadness. I seek joy like any other yet it is sadness that makes me sigh at cruel irony, endure pain and respect the invincibility of life every time it knocks me down, be grateful for happiness and yes, seek poetry and find it to be ever so much sweeter. Continue reading →
I wanted a bowl of calm. A spoonful of a Zen garden with limpid, darkly-soothing pools of elegantly standing lily pads and gracefully gliding, vermilion-flashing koi. If only I could partake of that invisible yet fluid harmony between the visual, the smell and the taste that I had experienced in many Asian meals. I felt I had been unable to achieve that beautiful balance in similar home-cooked dishes. This time I was determined to get my recipe for homemade harmony, right.
Four elements came to mind. A broth that spoke a baritone – rich, reassuring yet clear. Rice, so essentially Asian and a versatile vehicle of all kinds of flavours. Something meaty yet light to build a deeply complex umami soul. And finally, the colour and crunch of greens to balance it all. So I decided chicken-mushroom broth with hot, sour and sweet sesame rice balls and chilli garlic Chinese mustard greens would be the foods to suit my mood. Continue reading →
Who am I in terms of food? What do I cook and what do I like to eat? These questions bothered me plenty when I first started blogging and still do from time to time. The truth is that I cook all kinds of food from all over the world if I can get my hands on the ingredients. And I certainly like to eat my way through life. To me, the journey is about both discovery and delight. I would call myself a little bit of a scientist, an artist, a cook, an explorer, a glutton and a gourmand.
My last experiment was to test if one of the world’s hottest chilli peppers rubbed off (pun absolutely intended) on a traditional roast beef. The Bhut Jolokia (ghost chilli) or Raja Mirchi grows in North-East India, where it is sold both fresh and smoke-dried. It packs an SHU or Scoville Heat Units (a measurement of heat in chilli peppers) of 10,01.304, which I assure you is scorching to say the least. It was introduced to me by a good friend who makes a delicious dish of pork and bamboo shoots with Raja Mirchi paste. Since it is pungent but also deliciously smoky, I thought this chilli would make a great rub for red meat. Continue reading →
You can be a breast person or a leg-lover. A few may even be wingmen or women. But you can be sure nobody wants to be a friend to chopped liver. This delicious, nutrient-packed and inexpensive part of a chicken has always been treated like the ugly step sister. I think chicken livers deserve a second chance. It’s time to push aside the pates and bring on the pepper. Spices can make chicken liver sing. Paired with the potent mix of pepper, green chillies and curry leaves, they become delightful savoury morsels, slightly charred and fiery outside and soft and fragrant inside. This quick, South-Indian style stir fry is unbelievably simple and is delicious eaten with plain rice or even toast; but serve it as an appetiser with ice-cold beer and you will proudly declare yourself a liver lover. Continue reading →
I have a memory. A cold winter evening in a small town in Bihar, North India in the early 1980s, Mom, Dad and me sitting around our sunmica-topped dining table eating shepherd’s pie. This old English favourite was new to us but we loved it. A rustic dish, it was my mother’s attempt at ‘Continental’ cuisine. Meat and potatoes, yes, but with dollops of butter, a hint of Worcestershire, lashings of melted cheese, and the happy hum of Indian chilli powder. And soon this dish from rural England became a regular feature on our winter dinner table.
When I started making it, I had no measurements and no written recipe. I cooked purely by instinct and my memory of watching Mom cook it. And it turned out fine. Instinct, I think is the biggest asset a cook can have. Anyway, this humble pie was a big hit with my friends and I slowly began to write down measurements as requests for the recipe began popping up. And then I also reached a stage when I took a break from it for a few months….actually maybe a year and then some. Continue reading →
Summer is early and the rains are reluctant. Chameleon-like, green plantains change colour in less than twelve hours as I think of ways to cook with them before they go to mush. Although, ripe plantains and bananas make great milkshakes, banana bread and cupcakes, my palate craves something savoury. In Kerala, in South India, they have countless ways of cooking both green and ripe plantains – from crunchy, completely addictive chips to mildly sweet fritters, quick stirfries tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and rich, coconut-laden curries. And happily, marriage to a Malayali has meant that I had great many meals dedicated to savouring and even learning to cook many of these delicious delicacies.
But today I want a completely new experience of cooking plantains, perhaps with an exotic combination of ingredients to feed my sense of adventure and anticipation. Maybe a taste of Brazil. I had never heard of its cuisine until recently when I became good friends with a bunch of warm-hearted Brazilians, and like our friendship my love for their beautiful cuisine continues to grow. The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Shwartz is now a proud member of my cookbook collection and I’m dreaming to try its recipes. Continue reading →
Rain on the phone in another continent, leaks into my ear, a hypnotizing drip-drip slowly flooding my brain. Drowned memories float up. Striped paper boats born from ripped pages of school notebooks, plastic raincoats smelling like a wrestler’s underarms, wrinkly toes squeaking in brimming school shoes and earthworms sneaking in through bathroom drains. In a different time, cups of coffee, seaside strolls, hormones and anticipation in the theatre of the monsoon – all drama and moist poetry. Many monsoons later, I still succumb to the scent of monsoon mud vicariously inhaledthrough phone conversations. Continue reading →
Everyone loves a fat, meaty, juicy burger. There’s something immensely satisfying about a burger meal and just the thought of meat patty caramelised on the exterior with moist, deliciousness inside is enough to get me salivating copiously. But rather than pick up a stash of fatty patties from the nearest fast food joint, I choose to make my own healthy but loaded-with-flavour burger. And unlike what most people think, it’s not time consuming. Plus, because it’s healthy, I can give my son a burger treat more often than I would’ve if I was buying readymade, which gets me more hugs and many ‘you’re awesome Mom(s)’ (can never have enough of those!).
I prefer lean ground beef but you could use richer beef or even ground chicken or lamb. To prevent the meat from tasting dry and also to add extra flavour, I mixed feta cheese into the meat. Little snowflakes of melted cheese make the burger so much more interesting. Minced garlic, dried oregano, smoked paprika, cilantro and onion make up the supporting cast of this yummy creation. Continue reading →
Garish weddings, cakes groaning under sugar sculptures, pancake and blue eye shadow, bling and blow-dried beehives, melodramatic soaps and mushy greeting cards crammed with pink hearts, gilt and glass drawing rooms,red and oily overcooked curries…are just some of the things that make me scream OTT (over the top) in a shrill, Sridevi-like voice! OTT is definitely not my thing, I’m more of a less is more kinda person.
And this is true of my cooking too. There’s nothing I dislike more than making elaborate dishes which involve subjecting the ingredients to multiple processes of boiling, frying etc till they resemble and taste like nothing. To me, simplicity is seductive – like pasta tossed in the best extra virgin and garlic or a clear savoury broth brimming with flavour, or a salad where crisp greens glisten with freshness under a fine spray of lemon juice. Foods like these make me want to close my eyes and relish every bite, in which each ingredient speaks for itself and yet lends its colour and character to the composition of the dish. Continue reading →