Thursday, June 22, 2017

Upholding Upma

Upma is making national headlines - and I am cashing in on it to come out of blogging hibernation. An innocuous comment by a film director on his love for upma - that it deserves to be the national dish - stirred a news channel to rage, chef, nutritionist and reporters in tow, whether it wasn't culinary chauvinism to make such a demand. I saw it a day later on YouTube, but I hear it ran on prime time. The outrage and the self-righteous discussion made me laugh out loud. Whether news channels are losing their sense of humour and proportion is a debate I will leave to other fora, but let me hereby reaffirm my love and affection for this blob of nourishment which sustains many of us on days when there is no time or energy for the preparation of better nutrition.

How much simpler can a dish be? Just a couple of spoons of oil, a tempering of mustard, urad and chana dal, green or red chillies, whichever is at hand, curry leaves to add zing, if you have them, water, salt and semonlina/rava. That's all you need. Add plump cashewnuts for oomph. Onions for taste. All done in less than 10 minutes. With enough lubrication or enough moisture (oil or water), its journey is a smooth glide down your throat. Not for me chutney or sambar or powder or even lime juice as an accompaniment. Try squeezing the chillies in it lightly to release the bits of upma trapped in them - that's heavenly, if you like some heat.

A few months ago, I met a friend from college at her hotel for breakfast. Both of us ordered upma, room service. It came, unctuous, glistening, crunchy with well-fried dal. We lapped it up as we rehashed old memories, gossiped and exchanged notes about growing older. The years melted away. Laughter and upma filled our heart and soul. That day, upma was extra-special.

Upma is as unpopular as it's popular, I know. But I'm one of those who love it. It's easy to make, fulfilling, elemental. It's easy to enhance too - bathe it in tomatoes and it becomes 'tomato bath', add more nutrition by adding chopped vegetables, using quinoa or millets instead of semolina, use buttermilk or curds to cook it,  or add mushroom, chicken stock and coconut milk to recreate a $100,000 prize-winning version. That sounds like something I would draw the line at, truth be told, but then I haven't tried it. I haven't ever eaten it with sugar, a popular accompaniment. I don't intend to start now. Give me the good ol' classic version any day! I would even recommend it to be the national dish of the world!



Sunday, January 01, 2017

Delhi Belly, Daulat ki Chaat and A Decade of Blogging

Best wishes for the new year!

It's the beginning of a new year today. Another round of hope for happiness, goals and milestones begins anew. I had a significant milestone last year. Is it a sign of maturity that I haven't celebrated my tenth blog anniversary? It was in September. It would be so marvellous to be detached from such milestones, but I suspect it's more of dullness and less of detachment that has me blogging less and less. I keep wishing fervently every year that this blog could go back to its heyday, but the rest of life seems to have gotten in the way in the last few years. Over the last one-and-a-quarter years, I've had a new hobby as well - I've been dabbling in art, you see the result above - and that has consumed a lot of my free time. I have also been cooking less and less, and trying to cut down on eating out.

Some of the life that got in the way was pleasant. It involved some travel, mostly to familiar pastures, but also to Taiwan, which I visited in 2010, and most recently a trip to Delhi. It resulted in me making something I thought was blogworthy. I went there on work and had half a day ahead of the day-long workshop I had to attend. I hoped to visit the famous Paranthewali Gali in Chandni Chowk and a friend's pictures of her own trip to the place where she had the famous Daulat ki Chaat jogged my memory of this confection.

I remember reading about it as Nimish from Lucknow. It's made with milk and the dew that settles on it in winter nights. I have never made it to Lucknow and don't see myself doing so anytime soon, but I'm glad to have had this version. I heard that the Daulat ki Chaat would not be available after 11 am. I knew I would probably have such disappointments so it wasn't a disappointment - my maturity kicking in, you see - but my friend who lives there said she would take me to Paranthewali Gali anyway. I had done no research as my trip to Delhi was short and my schedule unclear till the last minute so I was happy to wind my way through Chandni Chowk's narrow streets and absorb the sights and sounds.

As soon as we disembarked from the car and approached PG, what confronted us but a vendor with a huge container of Daulat ki Chaat!


I've been reading that the genuine thing is very difficult to find nowadays, and that cream of tartar or hydrogenated fats are used to retain its light and airy consistency. My knowledge of science is rudimentary but even I can understand that something that is made with dew can't last as the sun shines high and bright. Well, that's what I have deduced. It will flop - and when my friend's husband passed on the information that Daulat ki Chaat would not be sold after 11 a m, I thought that was the reason why. We probably had the modern, engineered-to-stay version, but I am glad that I did. It was really of a delicate consistency, creamy and sugared just right and garnished/mixed with nuts.

I took this picture for the signboard saying Parathewali Gali. I did not buy or eat anything at this store.

As for the paranthas, I had a bhendi parantha for the first time ever. I had never even thought it could be used for a filling. I also had a peas paratha and a green chilly paratha. I loved the mustardy, pickled vegetables that were dumped in bowls on the tables. The parathas we got were served with a potato curry and a pumpkin curry, along with a few pieces of banana in a jaggery-chilli powder syrup.



Nankhatai, I'm told. So different from the ones in the bakery!
The day after the workshop was a Saturday. I didn't have to work so I spent the day with my friend. She took me on a short walk through her locality. She lives at the end of a lane that opens out on to a busy road overtaken by the Great Delhi Metro, but the other end and further up was so peacefully small-town I could easily have forgotten I was in India's capital city.

For perhaps only the second time in my life I saw hara channa/choliya, and brought back some to cook. My friend said I could freeze them too, for later use. Well, I froze half of them, and converted the rest of them into this

Choliya and potato curry
As usually happens when I am impatient to get on with a culinary discovery, I chose, shed and fused elements of several recipes to come up with this gravy. I cannot find any of those recipes now, I even searched History on my computer but it isn't helping. Most of those recipes contained tomatoes and no potatoes, while I had no tomatoes and several potatoes. I used curds for the tang. I came up with a gravy of intermediate thickness but ate is as soup.

In a pressure cooker or pan

Fry

3 chopped onions

in 2 tsp of oil

I can't remember if I added ginger-garlic paste, but add it now, after the onions have wilted.

Add

1/2 a tsp of turmeric
1-2 tsp of coriander or cumin powder
1 tsp of red chilli powder

and fry.

Add 2-3 diced potatoes, 250-300 gm of green/ hara channa/choliya and salt. Mix well.

Add water to cover the vegetables. Close the pressure cooker. Let it whistle 4-5 times before you switch off the flame. Let the pressure drop on its own before opening it.

If the gravy is too thin, mash a few pieces of the potato into the gravy and cook a little longer without the lid till some of the liquid evaporates/thickens.

Top with 1/2 a tsp of garam masala.

Confession: I don't know if I used cumin or coriander powder. My sense of smell failed me.






Thursday, June 23, 2016

Qapsicum Qurd Qurry



Last month, I went home to my parents for a week. It was something of an old-fashioned summer vacation. There was a new baby to visit, an older child with whom we played a lot of indoor games – I must have played carrom board after more than 20 years – lots of mangoes and other summer fruit to eat, much sighing over the heat and hoping the monsoon would somehow arrive early, and some kitchen experiments with the aforementioned older child, my eight-year-old niece.

One of those games was Name Place Animal Thing (NPAT). It’s where the players take turns to name a letter and then everyone has to write down a name, place, animal and thing that starts with the letter. In one of my turns, I landed on a Q. (A player tells you to “Start” – reciting the alphabet silently – and when they tell you to “Stop” you have to mention the letter you were stopped at and that’s the letter you use for the next round.)

I finished my turn and was waiting for my niece, whom we give a little extra time as she’s still very young. After a few minutes she said she couldn’t proceed as she didn’t know anything much with Q. “Then you get a zero,” I said gleefully, :and I get a 40", ten for each of the four words/nouns we have to write down in the game.

 “No way! I don’t agree,” my niece ranted. “How can I write anything if you throw a Q at me? I don’t know anything with a Q. Even Mom doesn’t. How can you give me something I cannot do and then say I get a zero? I won’t accept it,” she stormed.

After I came back, I was exchanging notes with my neighbour who too has an eight-year-old niece. Her niece too had trouble with a Q, she said. Her excuse was that she hadn’t been taught much Q in school yet. “Queenie, Queensland, quail, quilt,” we rattled off almost in unison and burst out laughing when we realised this list hadn’t changed in the many years since we played NPAT with the same ardour as 8-year-olds.

Quill was another ‘thing’. I remember seeing a picture book with a bird called a quetzal. When I used it once, I seem to remember my co-players refused to accept it saying all I was making it up, no one has ever heard of a quetzal. They were easy to overrule, not my niece.

In the food blogging world, on and off I’ve come across alphabet-based challenges. Some bloggers get really inventive with names of dishes when it’s the turn of alphabets such as Q and X and Z. So in time-honoured tradition, here’s the Qapsicum Qurd Qurry, inspired by Tarla Dalal’s Achaari Dahi Bhindi, two shrivelling qapsicums and no coriander powder.

 Notes
The tweaking I did with the recipe was to halve the amount of ladies’ fingers, add about three cups of diced capsicum, increase the amount of curds to 1 cup and the spices by just a pinch.

As the capsicum didn’t need to be fried, unlike the ladies’ fingers, I added them directly to the gravy as soon as it began to ‘pulse’ a bit in the pan. I didn’t cook it too much, I let it remain a little crunchy, it would get softer as the gravy cooled.

I added the ladies’ fingers just two minutes before I took it off the stove, about seven minutes in all.

 Dalal recommends rotis and parathas to go with it but we ate it with good ol’ rice and it was just fine!

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Trifecta of Lassis, Of Friendships and Trips

Lassi is not something one looks to when they are looking for a pick-me-up, is it? That role is better played by something like coffee or tea, all dark and smouldering, with some bitterness to offset the rich brown good looks. Lassi, by contrast, is a fair, chocolate-boy kind of offering that would be my last choice of beverage (or boy). But what would I know? I, who have been blogging for almost 10 years now, have turned into an occasional, even desperate blogger you’d say, resorting to drawing similarities between lassi and the males of the species to inject some life into my blog. You may be right, in part, but this post is actually to reinforce and put on record the importance of giggly girl friendships in one’s life. And, of course, how to stay current and blog away to glory. (Were we envious? You bet!)


A couple of months ago, some of us, your favourite bloggers, went on a short holiday. We took trains, we took cars, we walked, we traipsed along trodden ways, wielded our cameras big, small and medium, ate and drank – not lassi or alcohol, but lots of the rich brown stuff – and laughed to our hearts’ content. And as it was a bloggers’ meet, deliberated on the future of blogging, bloggers, us bloggers (vs Them bloggers), how to make our blogs more popular, and find simple, stress-free ways to blog frequently and visibly.

I know I’ve mentioned in the past the state of my life and fridge and home and work and the insomnia and the pressure and all that keeps me away from blogging nowadays. The bloggers’ meet was useful in that there were some important takeaways:

1.       Anything is a recipe.
2.       There is no recipe too ordinary or common-sensical (I know it's not a real word) or unworthy of blogging.
3.       Lassi can be enhanced in three different ways (or four, or five, or fifty-five.) And each variant can be a recipe.

And so I have for you a trifecta of lassis today.

If you’re like me (life, fridge, work, insomnia, so on and so forth), here’s the smart girl’s way to making and blogging about lassi.

Buy lassi, any brand. I’ve tried not to let the brand show here as I don’t drink lassi and don’t intend any endorsements, but there are several brands, each with several flavours.


Buy some chopped fruit (or chop some fruit. Actually, just shave some off the top of the fruit, that will do.)

Empty the lassi into a pretty glass, top with fruit. Photograph. Blog.
(This is Lassi No 1.)

Too simple?

Well, blend lassi and fruit and some more sugar, if you like. Put in a clean tray and photograph. Blog.
(This is Lassi No 2.)

You can vary the colour and the taste of the lassi depending on the number of additions. The addition needn’t just be fruit. It could be essence. It could be fruit concentrate. It could be saffron. It could be spices. It could be even be another juice, like litchi juice. It could be chocolate spread.

It needn’t even be lassi.

No, really. It could be vegan. Lassi in spirit, if you like. You could substitute the lassi with almond milk. I found one in my supermarket for the first time today. (Again, this is no endorsement, I haven’t even opened the pack.) Or you could use cashew curd.


You could add the litchi juice or the chocolate spread – I’m assuming they are vegan, do check the label – to it, beat it a little with a fork or blend it mechanically, and your vegan litchi/chocolate lassi is ready!
(This is Lassi No 3.)

But, dear readers, do go on trips with your friends, eat, drink and be merry. I am lucky to have several such friends in my life and though such trips are not as frequent as I would like, I know we will be bound till the end of time by the things we have done, eaten and discussed – such as these lassis. You may or may not need lassis but you do want a smashing good bunch of friends with whom you can guffaw and hoot and snort and howl with laughter well into the night. And I’m sure Aparna, Harini, Lata and Sanjeeta (names in alphabetical order) will agree.





Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Zippy Zesty Za'tar Zeanuts


Well, I had to keep up the alliteration, didn't I? I mean peanuts. At my workplace, colleagues often bring a snack called Congress Peanuts (read about the name here) from Bangalore, which I love for the combination of chilli powder, curry leaf, asafoetida and sugar that they seem to be spiced with. I usually have peanuts in stock thanks to The Spouse who thinks peanut chutney goes with anything and everything - from idlis to khichdi to biriyani.

 I swiped his stocks and set out to make them but as I am always in fridge-cleaning and pantry-cleaning mode, I remembered the stock of za'tar I had and proceeded to use that. It didn't make a dent - I used only 1.5 tsp, but it made for a snack that had my colleagues at work compete for it. One of them said it woke her up, and hence the title of this post!

 I used olive oil since it went with the za'tar, Mediterranean thing.

 What you need

 Extra-virgin olive oil: 2 tsp
Turmeric: a pinch
Za'tar: 1 tsp + some more
Salt: 3/4 tsp of iodised fine salt, to begin with

Peanuts, roasted, skinned and halved: 300 gm

 Heat the olive oil gently. Continuing to keep it on low heat, mix the spices with the oil and heat for less than a minute. Add the peanuts and mix well to ensure they are coated well with the spices. After you take them off the stove, let them cool and taste for seasoning. Add some more of the salt and za'tar if you like.