Monday, September 30, 2013

unusual greens : drumstick greens and paneer curry and a makhana raita

How would drumstick greens taste when paired with paneer in a regular tomato based creamy paneer curry made north India style? I am sure you were wondering about a weird tasting 'healthy' curry that you have to gulp down with water after every mouthful. What if I tell you to recall methi matar malai?

drumstick greens and paneer curry and a makhana raita

Yes this curry can be served as methi matar malai if you add some green peas to it. There is a subtle difference of flavors but that can be differentiated by only those who have a sensitive palate. I would emphasize at the same time, that the flavors of drumstick leaves in a slightly creamy curry is wonderful even if not compared to fenugreek leaves.  Drumstick greens have a nice aroma of their own which shines well with a slightly sour ingredient, a little added fat in the form of cream or butter balances the flavors nicely.

Try to find tender drumstick greens so they are less fibrous and the flavors are mild. The mature leaves are slightly bitter and alkaline in taste. Use lesser amount of drumstick greens if using mature leaves.

( 4 servings)
cleaned and chopped drumstick leaves 2 cups packed (about 200 gm)
paneer 200 gm
fresh ripe tomatoes 200 gm (2 large)
ginger garlic paste 2 tsp
finely chopped onion 1/2 cup
red chilly powder 1 tsp or to taste
turmeric powder 1 tsp
everyday curry powder 1 tbsp
tejpatta 2
mustard oil 1 tbsp
fresh cream 1/4 cup
salt to taste


Heat mustard oil in a pan (kadhai) and tip in the chopped onion along with salt and fry till pinkish brown.

Add the ginger garlic paste and bhuno (cook while scraping the mixture) the mix for about 2-3 minutes or till it looks glazed and gets aromatic.

Add all the powdered spices along with 2 tbsp water, mix and bhuno again on low flame till all the spices get aromatic and stop sticking to the surface of the pan.

Add the chopped drumstick leaves and the tejpatta, bhuno again till the leaves get limp, make a paste of the tomatoes in the meanwhile and add that to the cooking mixture. Cook well while stirring till the mixture gets aromatic again.

Add the paneer cubes, add a cup of water and mix everything well. Simmer on low flame for 5 minutes adding a little more water if required.

Add fresh cream in the end, let it come to a soft boil and take the pan off the heat. Serve hot with roti or naan.

drumstick greens and paneer curry and a makhana raita

We had it with amaranth flour rotis (whole wheat and amaranth flour in a ratio of 1:3) and makhane ka raita.

To make makhane ka raita, just soak a cup of makhana in hot water for an hour or so. Squeeze lightly and add to a cup of beaten yogurt with salt and pepper. Garnish with mint powder or chopped mint and a little red chilly powder. Roasted cumin powder can be added if you wish. 

Good taste can just be a simple recipe away. Just use good ingredients I say.

You keep seeing many unusual ingredients on this blog and probably come back to see more of such stuff here. Right? This curry wont be unusual once you make it, it is such a normal paneer curry like we make with any other greens.

I have a drumstick tree and had planted a few saplings in pots for giving away to whoever wanted them, as announced in this post about a colocasia stir fry with drumstick greens. You can also mail me if you want a drumstick sapling and can pick up from my place in New Delhi. I will be glad to gift a drumstick sapling to those who can grow it.

Make an egg scramble with drumstick leaves or just make parathas with them. Add them to any daals you make for a change and see how easy it is to include these naturally organic greens growing in a pot in your sunny balcony.

Monday, September 23, 2013

picture recipe | a pasta with peaches and parmesan

A pasta with fruit. You can make a pasta using strawberries or peaches almost the same way you make it with fresh cherry tomatoes. Use fresh herbs, slightly sweet and tart fruits, cheese of your choice  and you are good to go with a nice flavorful fruit based pasta dish.

Here the pasta is a home made whole wheat pasta, rustic but very flavorful. Will share the recipe sometime. This picture recipe is it for now :-)

Please do tell me if you like it.

a nice Japanese meal at Guppy by Ai

Japanese food has a very quaint charm if you ask my opinion. The fresh vegetables, light flavors and seafood is what I crave for and gari and seaweed is my weakness. I love the subtlety of oriental flavors, the herbs and the light sauces and the way vegetables are served, barring the tempura. It sums up the way I look at this cuisine. Yes I don't like tempura as much as others do, and would reach out for sushi, the fresh vegetable salads and rice paper rolls and miso soups more than tempura.

Guppy by Ai is the new Japanese food destination in the city and you would realise it is already abuzz as you spot a few who's who of the city while you dine. But that would be after you have absorbed all the design elements of this place. Many quaint corners with small aroma lamps, fresh Gerberas in cute miniature watering cans, origami patterns on the walls, framed kimonos and beautiful lamps all around.

Some rustic elements, some nature, burst of colours and loads of Japanese figurines, faces and masks, antique knickknacks perched over wooden shelves along with utility cutlery etc. Conversation inspiring, very cozy and very chic.

Sound of flowing water makes you look around and you see a nice red kettle spouting water in a basin, so artistically done, the flow of Chi, the life force. I fell in love with the place. The colors so nature oriented, the sounds so calming. That will be when the place is not full to the brim though, we had to block our ears to a constant loud banter of another guest seated close to us. But that didn't make us miss what great things were there for us.

Good that we had planned this visit with Deeba and her husband (Mr. PAB, as known to her readers), it really turned out to be a cozy dinner.

Chef Vaibhav Bhargava decided to treat us with his selection of menu while we decided our mocktails. Arvind decided to have Southern Elle (Macerated lime, Orange soda and Sprite), Mr. PAB opted for Guppy's Iced green tea. Deeba's favorite is cranberry so she chose Currant affairs (black currant, Cranberry juice and sour mix). I wanted some pineapple and chose Sip Sensation (Strawberry with Pineapple juice, coconut and Grenadine).

Mr. PAB found his green tea insipid, it was green in colour strangely. Arvind liked his drink as it was enough a citrus rush for him, I found mine to be too sweet and thick, Sip Sensation could have been a little lighter and more pineapple and grenadine may be. Deeba also found the Currant affairs to be a bit sweet but good enough.

But the nibble that accompanied our mocktails was incredible. Edemame sea salt chilly garlic was an instant hit. There were mature Edemame legumes and you have to squish the seeds out of it, we loved it from  the word go.

Next came the Guppy House Salad, seasonal crunchy vegetables, palm hearts and bamboo shoots dressed in karashi mustard. The toasted sesame on this salad was perfect crunch along with slices of radish and beets.

Chirashi Seafood Salad was an assortment of pickled prawn, tuna, salmon, crab and baby
greens in goma-ae dressing. This is one of those seafood salad where you get the fresh crunch of vegetables in each mouthful, complemented by tiny bursts of fish roe. Flying roe looked beautiful and the salad was rich with the toasted sesame flavor of the dressing.

Mushroom Gyoza was a gluten-free, crisp bottom steamed pot stickers, served with ponzu soy dipping sauce. These were triangular and the pastry was very delicate. I wouldn't personally care for gluten free but it is a good choice for those who do. The mushroom stuffing was great  and the tart ponzu was not needed as such. I loved the Prawns Gyoza dipped in ponzu better. Everyone loved it, I would like the dumpling steamed better than pan fried always. But that is a personal choice.

What was more refreshing were these beautiful rice paper rolls with shredded vegetables and some lettuce peeping through. It had an interesting sesame based yuzu kosho dipping sauce with it. The toasted sesame sprinkling on the rolls intensifies the sesame flavors. Loved it, very interesting combination of textures and flavors here. 

I didn't like the Crisp Vegetable Harumaki much. Although I know many people would love it just for the crisp texture of the filo pastry baked well, for me it just masks the vegetables inside. Arvind loved it obviously. Lovely plating I must add.

 The next much awaited dish was  Guppy Signature Pork Belly, slow braised pork belly, glazed with soy honey and served with mustard miso sauce. The interplay of miso and honey along with hints if mustard and spring onion is very interesting and almost addictive, but the pork was too chewy for my taste.  We were informed it is cooked for 72 hours but the meat didn't do anything for me. The saucy glaze was awesome.

The vegetarian counterpart was much more interesting. Chilly Lime Dressed Agedashi Tofu was loved by all. Crisp fried silken tofu, dressed in sweet and spicy chilly lime dressing is very flavorful and satisfying. One could make a meal out of it.

The sushi and sashimi platter is definitely a must try at Guppy. You get nice vegetarian options in sushi and I like vegetarian sushi as much as tuna or salmon. The fresh vegetables, the nori, the sticky rice and the toasted sesame make magic together, be it with fish or vegetables.

Japanese Vegetable Roll which is a yamagobo (vinegared red ginger), asparagus and kimchi dressing, is wonderfully fresh and light.

Asparagus Tempura Roll is made with Spicy mayo and leeks, equally good. 

California Roll is made with Crab, cucumber, avocado and tobiko (flying fish roe) was the best for my taste. A wonderful mix of textures and flavors.

Spicy Salmon Special Roll and Spicy Tuna Roll both are great.

Teriyaki Glazed Artichoke and Tofu is good but nothing special for my taste buds. The soy glazed grilled artichoke and tofu, served on a bed of asparagus has great seasoning, fresh vegetables that I like, but tinned artichoke is something I would avoid. Tofu was nothing exceptional as well.

I loved the Wok Tossed Exotic Teppan Vegetable which is a platter of wok tossed bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, beans and asparagus, glazed with sesame soy. This was a wonderful surprise for a simple looking vegetable stir fry. I would order it again when I go next. Sesame soy seasoning is addictive and the multiple textures with different vegetables is just mid blowing.

The Guppy Signature Black Cod is served with a drama element. A huge round stone which is incredibly hot is placed over a wooden block and the fish fillet is perched atop. 

The heat radiates till your face. The server would ask politely to serve it for you as it's too hot, please allow him to do so, as it really is tricky. 

The fish which is a baked miso marinated black cod leaves you wanting for more. Very flaky, doused with miso and soft as feather. Gone in a second.

Grilled Jumbo Prawn is lovely. I prefer small prawns and shrimps more for the flavor, but this one is cooked so well and the seasoning is so perfect, you would fall in love. With the assorted vegetables with pepper garlic seasoning  this tastes perfect.                                        

The dessert was a Warm Carrot Cake with Mascarpone frosting. Good cake which is really soft and the mascarpone is almost melting when it reaches your table. But somehow the cake didn't work for us. I normally don't eat cakes but this one even Arvind didn't like. Now this is a sad situation when a certified sweet tooth denounces a cake.

No the cake is not bad, it just isn't the way we like carrot cakes.

Leaving you with some more pictures of this beautiful place.

The place mat had an origami diagram. More origami on the walls.

And the little corners where you spot interesting conversation pieces strewn like a story.

Next time I am going there in day time. It is a nice place to hang out, have a filling snack or a light meal, some good tea or a mocktail and feel refreshed and energized.

I recommend the place even when you are on a diet as you get so many options to choose from. All good quality ingredients cooked to perfection so even a small meal gives you the utmost satisfaction.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

picture recipe | hot chocolate with cinnamon and marshmallows

How about a cup of hot chocolate with hints of cinnamon and a fat marshmallow floating on it? I enjoy it very often and keep recommending everyone I know. A great way to have a hot soothing cup of chocolate without sugar. Yes the marshmallow has some sugar (not the healthy type, but minimal) and it keeps melting while you drink, giving you a hint of sweetness as you go.

Use full fat milk, good quality chocolate and cinnamon powder to get the best results. I used Ghirardeli 100% dark chocolate for this.

You know well good quality chocolate uplifts your mood and helps relieve PMS. Right?

And please do let me know of you would like such picture recipes on this blog. I am planning to do small picture recipes so I can share more and more recipes with you, writing in detail becomes a restriction sometimes. What say?

Friday, September 20, 2013

recipes with kiwi fruit and health benefits | learning more kiwi recipes from Chef Darren Conole

Kiwi fruit is known as Chinese gooseberry as it originated in China. It is also known as China's miracle fruit, owing to it's nutritional value. The fruit is also known as 'horticultural wonder of New Zealand' as the fruit took really well to the climate of this country, so much so it has become a popular backyard vine there. Aptly the national fruit of New Zealand.

Kiwi fruit is now being cultivated in India as well, in Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir and North eastern states and we have been getting a lot of locally grown kiwi fruits in the markets. This is a good thing as the fruit is quite nutritious, I hope it becomes a popular backyard vine in India as well. I would love to grow it some day for sure. Read about a Kiwi Pomegranate Salsa, a Kiwi Pineapple slush and a Kiwi Quark Mousse that I made recently.

With a high ORAC value  (The antioxidant value of Kiwi, gold, raw described in ORAC units is:
1,210 μ mol TE/100g.) kiwi is excellent anti oxidant containing leutin and zeaxanthin which is further aided by a great vitamin profile that this fruit has. Rich in Vitamin C, E and folic acid the fruit is one of the most nutritious ones. The black seeds of kiwi are edible and provide a nice crunch, not only that, they are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. The skin is also rich in omg 3s, but many of us don't like to eat the skin though it is edible too, just brushing off the fuzz makes them better for consumption. The rich mineral profile of the fruit helps to improve metabolic rate. Many reasons to eat this fruit frequently, better to grow it in my backyard. One day I must.
I was invited for a masterclass with Chef Darren Conole and a four course lunch at Shangrila's-Eros Hotel, designed by the Chef himself. The menu was created with Zespri kiwis of New Zealand and the team created wonderful salads, gazpacho soup, a lamb main course and a wonderful dessert sushi platter.

A Kiwi Marinated Civiche of Clam with Rocket Cress was such a refreshing salad that I polished it off within seconds I remember. The raw clams are marinated in a mix of kiwi puree and coconut milk so the acids in kiwi make the clams really succulent (no more slippery that clams are naturally) and flavorful. The micro greens of mustard, some dill leaves and rocket cress was just amazing in this salad.

The soup was a cold gazpacho, a Chilled Roasted Pepper, Chinese gooseberry (that's kiwi) Soup. Very interesting with undertones of kiwi, the red bell pepper is yummy when roasted but I think the garlic in the soup didn't go well with the overall flavors. I love garlic and yet it was something where I felt it was out of place. The soup was not something I would want to have again.

The meat main course was excellent. Loin of New Zealand Lamb with 'Kiwi de Menthe' jelly and Moroccan Jam Quinoa. I liked the way lamb was cooked just medium rare, very succulent and soft. I loved the carrot, celery and onion salad that was served on the side. Quinoa was okay, I don't like quinoa much, Kiwi de Menthe jelly was nice. Good balance of flavors for me.

The desserts looked stunning. It was a platter of Kiwifruit Sushi, arranged alternately with dehydrated chips of apple and pineapple. I found the chips rather bland and plastic like, I have had better dehydrated chips and the sushi didn't make a mark either. Although I liked the California rolls coated with toasted sesame. Sticky rice was created with a thick kheer which didn't work for a sushi. Also, milk products should not be paired with kiwifruit, I am addressing the issue later in this post.

Before the lunch, Chef Darren Conole demonstrated making a nice kiwi based mayonnaise and a salsa dip along with cooking tips to prepare a medium done loin of New Zealand lamb. I love such classes and Chef Darren Conole is a funny man. He kept quizzing us and informing us about little trivia about the country, the kiwis and how kiwi enzymes are used a s meat tenderizer as well.

The enzyme Actinidin in kiwi fruit is proteolytic in nature and can be used to tenderize meats. Just as Papain from papaya is a meat tenderizer, raw papaya is used extensively in Indian cuisine for meat marinades. Bromelain from pineapples is also the same kind of proteolytic enzyme apart from being a great antioxidant.

Came back from this masterclass with a box of Zespri kiwifruits, fresh, succulent and perfectly juicy. And then I used these kiwis for making a few of my favorite things.

These recipes are so quick I always struggled to take pictures as they would be consumed as fast as they are made. This time I decided to make smaller quantities and take pictures for the blog as well.

I use kiwi for occasional salsa or smoothies sometimes. Eating the fruit raw is the best way to consume it, and eating it as soon as it is peeled and cut is great. Here are a few things I tried with kiwi fruit recently.

Kiwi salsa with pomegranate 

This is a very simple yet very flavorful salsa. We had it with a Amaranth flour crackers this time, a wonderful pairing of flavors.

The recipe of kiwi salsa with pomegranate arils..

To make about 1.5 cup of this salsa you need one ripe kiwi peeled and chopped. 2-3 tbsp of finely chopped red onions, 1/2 cup of pomegranate arils, one chopped fresh Thai bird chilly or any hot red chilly and salt to taste. Just mix everything and mash up a bit and the salsa is ready.

The sharpness of onions is well balanced by the crunch of pom seeds and the slushy kiwi bits. The nutty crackers were a delight with this salsa. Recipe of the crackers will be shared very soon.

I love this pineapple and kiwi slush as well.

Very refreshing drink that aids digestion as well. You can have it diluted with more water along with a meal or in a thicker avatar as a snack smoothie for detox benefits.

Another recipe with kiwi is a dessert that has been a favorite with us, more because it is so easy, raw and pleases everyone owing to it's exotic looks. Kiwi is an exotic fruit for us till we start growing them in our backyard right?

Kiwi quark mousse infused with tulsi

Quark cheese can be made at home easily, you just mix a carton of Amul fresh cream with 500 ml full fat milk, heat to a lukewarm temperature and add a little live yogurt culture to it. Let it set kept in a warm place and then drain it through a muslin lined colander, the colander and dripping curds refrigerated till drained. The yogurt cheese that you get after about 6-10 hours is a creamy cheese that tastes like fresh homemade yogurt, but is creamier.

ingredients for kiwi quark the mousse
(for 4 servings)

quark cheese 2 cups
2 kiwi fruits peeled and chopped
a dozen tulsi leaves (holy basil) macerated along with a tbsp of sugar*
1-2 tbsp sugar if required or as much honey


*To macerate the tulsi leaves with sugar, put both of these into a marble mortar and pestle and rub together using the pestle lightly. Now scoop out this fragrant sugar and use as required.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve immediately in glass mugs or shot glasses.

Note that I mentioned 'serve immediately', this is for a reason. The actinidin enzyme starts acting on the milk products and it changes the taste a little bit towards bitter after an hour or so. Not that the milk proteins become toxic or something, it definitely changes like cheeses do. So the fresh taste of quark will be changed if you keep this dessert after assembling it. So chill the ingredients separately, mix them all just when required and serve immediately.

Finally, try growing a kiwi vine in your backyard. May you get lucky.
I am looking for a seedling now, pretty desperately.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

chiwda dahi (beaten rice with yogurt, fruit and nuts) | a forgotten breakfast from the past..

chiwda dahi (beaten rice with yogurt, fruit and nuts)

Chiwda or pohe is beaten rice (after parboiling it to some extent, hence probiotic) and dahi is cultured yogurt.

Chiwda dahi or dahi chiwda as it is called in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is a very interesting easy breakfast that the rural folks still have. But it is a largely forgotten breakfast for the urban world, what with a flood of all kinds of cereals packaged in attractive boxes, claiming several health benefits.

Honestly speaking, we did not have this very often at home, but a winter harvest festival (makar sankranti) was a time when this dahi chiwda was made with a lot of fuss, and enjoyed thoroughly. I remember my grandmother would set yogurt with great difficulty during the chilly winters with added saffron and nuts and the yogurt will be mixed with some more fresh cream in the morning to be further mixed with soaked chiwda (beaten rice). I still remember the melt in the mouth fragrant dahi chiwda of those days which was very lightly sweetened with raw sugar.

It was not a regular breakfast at my place but I saw Arvind was quite used to it and would ask for it every once in a while. It so happened that my MIL would give both his sons this easy breakfast quite often as she had a lot of chores to handle along with a job. Later I also started liking the plain yogurt dahi chiwda as well, the saffron infused yogurt that my grandmother and mother used to make for makar sankranti is made only occasionally now, not that it was frequent back then.

Poha or chiwda is a probiotic grain and it is very light on the system. I use it in smoothies and a savory poha recipes as well. Here is how a brown poha looks like.

poha or chivda (flattened rice)

To make the dahi chiwda, the poha is rinsed in a colander using filtered water. Leave the rinsed and drained poha for about 5 minutes and then mix it with fresh yogurt, fruits and nuts.

Banana is a common 'add on' to dahi chiwda but mangoes make a very nice variation during mango season. Add almonds and other nuts to fortify some protein as well as some crunch to the dahi chiwda. I do not add any sugar to it so a few chopped dates or raisins also go into it.

chiwda dahi (beaten rice with yogurt, fruit and nuts)

Dahi chiwda is best served cold or chilled if you like. It is a frequent breakfast for the husband, he sometimes likes it with honey.

chiwda dahi (beaten rice with yogurt, fruit and nuts)

Do try once if you haven't already tasted this wonderfully simple and tasty breakfast cereal. I say some traditional indigenous foods are also 'fast', 'instant' and yet so healthy.

I was talking about the food wealth of India last time. Dahi chiwda is one of those traditional things we can bring into our repertoire or daily breakfasts.

We make this mango poha with added seeds and nuts, some grated coconut too sometimes and that is another way to have a delicious probiotic breakfast. 

chiwda dahi (beaten rice with yogurt, fruit and nuts)

It is an excellent probiotic food as the yogurt, poha and banana or mangoes are all pro and pre biotic in nature. Can it get any better?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

First Food ~ a taste of India's biodiversity | a book that celebrates indigenous foods from the country and a hemp seeds chutney recipe...

Desi indigenous food lures me like nothing else. I am someone who would keep looking for weeds in the garden and pluck and wash some wild purslane to make a quick omelet with it or a besan ka cheela with wild purslane (noni ka saag). The real riches from the mother Earth, just beneath our feet are untapped. We need to revive them, celebrate them and use them for getting the best nutrients.

All the naturally growing Drumstick trees, Goolar (wild Indian fig) trees, mulberry trees and Jamun trees in my vicinity provide a rich supply of tremendously nutritious, organic food all round the year but no one seems to care about them. It's a blessing to be picking the fruits from under the tree, rinsing them and preserving them to make yummy jams.

I wonder why people are choosing processed packaged foodstuff in a country like India where you get cooks and maids so easily who can take care of the daily chores and provide one with good home cooked nutritious meals. I think everything instant is replacing the slow cooked, chemical flavors are hijacking the taste buds and food industry is inundating people with false notions about nutrition as well. After all a nutrient stripped fruit juice which is coloured and flavored chemically and then fortified with chemically synthesized nutrients is now considered a must have at the breakfast table and our local amrood and ber is sidelined. Blame it to the marketing and advertising, packaged is deemed better than real. Painful reality.

That is the reason I wanted to have a copy of this wonderfully curated book First Food, a taste of India's biodiversity, edited by Sunita Narain while the concept and research is by Vibha Varshney. The book is about all the traditional foods from Mahua to Makhana, karonda, chaulai in the form of greens as well in the form of grains, hemp seeds and drumstick leaves. A subject very close to my heart.

For your information, drumstick leaves can be used everyday for egg scrambles (recipe here) and curries. See how drumstick leaves have immense nutritional potential. Real nourishing food is easy and fast as well. See it yourself.

I attended the book launch that happened amid much fanfare, a very welcome step as more and more people need to appreciate real food from our land. The food that grows in our jungles, in the water bodies by the villages, in the dry arid areas where nothing else can grow and in our own neighborhood, be it in the form of roadside trees like mulberry, jamun , tamarind or Bauhinia (kachnar) or the common garden weeds alike amaranth, wild purslane, oxalis, punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa) or bhumiamlaki (Phyllanthus niruri), has much value not only in nutritional terms, but supplementing and conserving biodiversity of our remaining breathing land.

The book launch was held at India Habitat center, in association with Indian Accent and Chef Manish Mehrotra created magic with all these desi ingredients. We enjoyed ramdane ke laddu, bajre ki khichdi, sattu ka paratha and many more desi foods. Gahat ki daal (horse gram) gets a new lease when Chef Manish Mehrotra cooks it from the book. 

See the ramdane (chaulai/amaranth) ke laddu dipped in chocolate and some rice with gahat ki daal being enjoyed by all.

The riches of the poor as Dr. Pushpesh Pant rightly quoted at the book launch, the book is a pleasant collection of all things desi. Absolutely my kind of book.

Here is Sunita Narain speaking at the book launch and Dr. Pushpesh Pant, Vinod Dua and Vibha Varshney looking on.

The book generates curiosity instantly. This book will be a reference point for many of us who want to know more about regional foods..

Food is not only about feeding the populations and nutrition, it is also about sustainable growth, preserving the ecosystem and supporting the small time farmer whose makhana and singhada would be in demand and the poor man who just collects mahua flowers from the jungle and makes a living out of it. Trust me you would find ways to get some sun dried mahua flowers once you have tasted how a malpua sweetened with it tastes like. I am reminded of my grandmother who used to procure it from her sources as we could taste those things because of her. She made us savour Sanai ke phool, Sanai ke patte (jute flowers and leaves) as well as Goolar ki subzi (wild fig curry). 

A kachnaar ki kali ki subzi or cheela was a favorite.

First Food talks about all these foods and more. Food from Himachal and Uttarakhand hills, from southern states, fermented soybeans and khuri (buckwheat pancake) from the north east are introduced to an urban reader and the concept of food safety is discussed. Although I wish Food safety was given a little more mileage, would have been more useful for someone who wants to procure dehati (rural) foods and cook with them.

There are numerous recipes from Bael ka sherbat to Kali gajar ki kanji, Karonde ki chutney, pitha in turmeric leaves, til ke laddu, singhade ki katli, makhane ki kheer, etc etc. You see I have written in detail about such foods over and over again. Here is a rich kheer with makhana and curry and raita with makhana is common at our place. I wish this book had some more such foods from our faraway lands, sitting in a metro city really disconnects most of us from the roots and that looks like a faraway land.

I have a few concerns about the recipes in First Food. Many recipes are not well explained and someone who has never handled those ingredients will be lost. Like Amaranth (chaulai) laddu is an exhaustive recipe just because you need to know how to pop amaranth seeds. The recipe doesn't throw light on how to pop amaranth seeds, it just says 'roast chaulai lightly'. Which is misleading. Also vegetable oil is used in many recipes while all traditional regional recipes are normally cooked in mustard, sesame, coconut oil etc etc. Vegetable oil is crap (a larger concern after a flood of pomace, canola and rice bran oils in Indian markets) and the book should have talked a little about cooking oils as well. I missed that in the book. I also felt the pictures could have been better for a book that is printed on good quality paper and is priced premium. 

I had made a bhang ki chutney (hemp seeds and coriander greens pesto) some time ago and it was waiting to be shared here. What would have been a better occasion than unveiling a book like First Food, the chutney is here with all it's nutty aroma. I always pick up my hemp seeds from Trade fair and the Krishi mela held at IARI and the recipe is by those stall owners who sell hemp seeds. I shall try the recipe from First Food soon as it has some fresh apricots added.

Hemp seeds are a desi super food. A complete range of nutrients makes it the ideal food for the common man. Thank God it is still available freely in the hills of Uttarakhand.

Finding great food value from neglected ingredients, not just for the frugality but for keeping those foods alive, is a mission I have taken up through my blogs. I find First Food very close to my heart that way. Waiting for more such books from Down to Earth (and CSE) and congratulating Vibha Varshney, Sunita Narain and team for such an excellent work.

PS : The Hemp seeds chutney is called Bhang ki chutney as Mr. Deepak Dhyani has mentioned. Bhangeera or Bhangjeera is another oily seeds found in the hills that comes from a wild growing herb called Perilla frutescens.