Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Market Place, hosted by Vedic Village Spa Resort in Calcutta | an effort towards natural living for all


I am so glad I get to witness events and gatherings about real food, natural living and organic wellness. We need to talk about real food more and more, the sources of food, how it is grown and marketed and how to consume food so it nourishes our body mind and soul.

We are learning more and more about being responsible for the environment, how food should be grown naturally and in sustainable ways. In the past couple of decades we have realised that the farmers need the support of the consumers, I am so glad I have some fantastic farmer friends who have taken natural and organic farming to a new level. I firmly believe framers are the new age heroes. I really do.

We need to know our farmers too, just as we know our grocers, our favourite eateries in town and our favourite brands of breakfast cereals or our wines. There should be more farmers' markets in every town, more direct purchase from the farmers even if it is through a website and moe interaction between the farmer and the consumer. We really need to fine tune our food procurement so it takes care of our own health as an individual as well as the health of the planet. Something we keep talking on this blog often.

Earlier this month I got the opportunity of attending a great congregation of farmers, consumers and a few great minds who work in the world of food, and it was in the City of Joy Calcutta. And what a Joy it was to interact with like minded people and absorb the food wisdom shared.

The Market Place, as the event was named as, was curated by Salmoli Mukerji and hosted by Vedic Village Spa Resort, in Calcutta. The venue was the perfect place to bring together all the elements that we need to propagate the philosophy of natural living and loving. The Vedic Village Spa Resort is such a breathtaking property that I sorely missed my camera. I was there just for a day as it fell between the dates of the Banaras food festival I was curating at the ITC Maurya this month, but I am so glad that I could make it even for a day.

I am certainly going back to Vedic Village Spa Resort sooner or later for a proper holiday. I will keep craving for it till I actually go there. Here are some phone pictures of my cottage whose huge windows opened to a water body.


Seeing a family of Cormorants just outside my window was the first sight to relish as soon as I entered my room and that moment I made a promise to myself to be back. Huge sunny washrooms, an open air shower surrounded with greenery and absolutely comfortable room with a great view, what more to ask for. Their spa facility is fantastic I heard from all those who were staying there, the natural skin care products I could use and they are so good and purely natural. Imagine a fragrant powder face wash that leaves your skin radiant.

And then it was time to rush to the venue of The Market Place. Fresh produce from Darjeeling, hundreds of rice varieties from Bengal, several varieties of puffed rice and bodis (dried lentil condiments) including goyna bodi, artisan Indian chocolate, terracotta pottery, woodcraft, artisan jam and conserves, hand loom, natural beauty products and many more farm produce and artisan products were available for sale.


All these farmers and craftsmen were brought to showcase how natural living supports those who work closely with nature and the credit of curating is so well goes to Salmoli Mukerji.

It is high time we bring out the treasures from our villages and people, to celebrate and revive the living database of knowledge and skill that threatens to get lost if we don't value it rightly.

I could taste great Bengali food by Bhoomi, the restaurant at the resort and it was the best Bengali food I have ever eaten I must say. The dinner curated and cooked by Chef Abhijit Saha combined the fresh produce from the region and modern cooking and presentation skills, a real treat indeed.

And last but not the least, I got an opportunity to speak at this conclave too. The topic of my talk was, how our traditions, festivals and wedding rituals have helped conserve some of the foods and ingredients, an anthropological analysis and lessons for us to follow. Here is a picture of me speaking at the event, a phone picture generously shared by a dear friend.


All the talk sessions and live cooking sessions were being streamed live, Arvind watched me on his phone from Chandigarh and gave me his critical feedback too thanks to technology.

But I am so glad someone very dear complemented me just after the talk and said this should be the first chapter of your book. This was really overwhelming and I count it in my blessings.

Sharing the literature of the event details so you can see the line up of other speakers too.

You can click and enlarge these pictures to read better.

We need more such efforts in every city. I wish Salmoli Mukerji keeps doing it frequently to support the local farmers and artisans. 


Friday, December 23, 2016

amla and curry leaves chutney for immunity and skin health


There has been a lot of healing food in my diet lately, thanks to the damage Chikunguniya did to my system. While I am planning to write about how to heal yourself after this dreaded disease and how to be prepared for a long battle with dysfunctional joints, sharing a few quick recipes that I have been trying is a good idea.

One irritating symptom that Chikuguniya has is the way skin peels off during the fever stage and later too. Hair fall follows and it really made me feel like an old woman especially when the aching joints make movements difficult and even the walk and gait changes. Thankfully it heals and I can see improvements slowly. The skin is not peeling anymore but looks dull, the hair fall has now stopped but the damage has been done. 

I got this amla and curry leaves chutney made when my hair fall got alarming. I don't remember when my hair got so bad last time, I had to do something about it of course.


amla and curry leaves chutney

Amla and curry leaves together help with micro nutrients while we kept eating our homemade Chyawanprash and sesame-almond-flax seeds-chia seeds laddus. Making things tastier works better in our case, in most cases in fact, although I know a few people who can eat anything if it is god for health.

This chutney can be served with the parathas or khichdis but the most frequent use it found was in the buttermilk and raita recipes. Just add a tbsp of this chutney to a plain onion raita or buttermilk to get the nutritional benefits. The minerals in curry leaves and yogurt (Iron and Calcium most importantly) are absorbed really well when consumed with amla and green chilies as in this chutney recipe.

Add some sesame seeds to this chutney and make it a wholesome mineral supplement. We have been having this sesame laddu and the drumstick leaves and sesame chutney regularly so I skipped adding sesame to this chutney.

ingredients

3 fresh amlas chopped, seeds discarded
3-4 fat green chilies, the mild hot variety is better
8-10 full grown springs of curry leaves
3-4 garlic cloves
5-6 peppercorns
salt to taste

procedure

Pulse everything together in mixie or food processor till it makes a smooth enough paste.

Empty in a glass jar and keep refrigerated. Use as desired.

This chutney keeps well for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.

Here are few ways in which you can use this amla curry leaves chutney.
  1. Add 1 tbsp per serving of plain buttermilk and enjoy a spicy drink. 
  2. Add 1 tbsp of the chutney to 1/2 cup fresh yogurt and 3-4 tbsp chopped onions to make a quick raita. Serve with khichdi or paratha or any Indian meals. 
  3. Add to boiled and cubed potatoes to make a quick potato salad with a drizzle of cold pressed mustard oil.
  4. Add to plain boiled mung dal to make a quick lentil soup. 
  5. Add generous amount of this chutney to the methi paratha dough to pack it with more nutrients.
  6. Add 2 tbsp to 1 cup lentil stock (boil any dal in lot of water and use the extra water for this) and make amla rasam, enjoy in this chilly weather.
  7. Add this chutney to hung curd and make a tangy spicy dip. 
  8. Add to grated radish and make a nice salad for a khichdi or rajma chawal meal.
I am sure you can devise more ways to use this chutney as per  your own taste and that is the whole idea. Do make this chutney even if you don't have any skin or hair problem, it helps maintain a healthy Hb level otherwise too. 


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

new winter menu by Chef Veena Arora at The Spice Route, The Imperial New Delhi


Meeting women chefs is always a heart warming experience, however I may be a little biased in my impression. It has nothing to do with their proficiency but the way we get talking about our challenges, health issues and sharing tips and tricks that I always come back beaming with joy whenever I have had a relaxed chat with a woman chef. So was the case when we went to check out the new winter menu at The Spice Route and Chef Veena Arora (Chef De Cuisine at the restaurant) joined us for lunch, talking at leisure about her childhood spend in small towns in Thailand, the way Thai women use herbs for food and folk medicine and her childhood food memories.

I have always been fascinated by the judicial use of herbs in Thai cooking and little did I expect that the new menu will be liberally infused with herbs. Some of the herbs are common to India and Thailand and some are used differently in both the countries, never failing to make the food awe inspiring.

The Spice Route is a beautiful south-east Asian restaurant at The Imperial Hotel, known for its beautiful carved wooden pillars and wall panels that took 7 years to build. The artwork on the wall panels depicts the story of spice routes, made using vegetable and flower dyes by mural painters brought in from Guruvayur temple of Kerala. The design of the restaurant is so overwhelming that I always forget to click pictures of the interiors.

I stepped out into the courtyard this time and this serene water body greeted me. Stunning design.

new winter meu at The Spice Route

The splendour is carried on to the table as well. We have dined at The Spice Route a couple of times earlier and have been awestruck by the simplicity of the dishes with flavours shining through every bite. It was a similar story this time as well, for obvious reasons.

Yum Thalay, the Thai spicy seafood salad with tom yum paste came generously infused with Lemongrass and Kaffir lime, the freshness of the ingredients making a bold statement about how well the mixed seafood has been treated. It was a delight to nibble into.

The Kung Hom Pha, prawns wrapped with Por Pia skin (thin philo pastry) with mild lemongrass and pepper flavours was great too. The textures and flavours work really well for such a dish.


new winter meu at The Spice Route

The salads were followed by Tom Yum Thalay, a hot and sour mixed seafood soup infused generously with Galangal, Kaffir lime and Lemongrass. The large chunks of mixed seafood, mixed wild mushrooms in the warming soup with citrus flavours was really comforting. We kept talking about how wonderfully herbs are used in south-east Asian cuisines, I will share more about the herbs soon.

For main course we had Rendang Udang, a Malay style prawn curry cooked with more lemongrass, roasted coconut and coconut milk with Thai Jasmine rice. By this time we had already spent two hours talking to Chef Veena and when she announced the ice creams are made of tofu we felt like tasting them even though we were overstuffed.

We tasted the Green tea, Coconut and Cinnamon flavours of the ice creams made with tofu and found them nice. I am not too fond of ice creams but tofu based ice creams can be a great thing for diabetics and people avoiding commercial ice creams.

Did you know you can just blend silken tofu with ripe sweet bananas or mangoes (frozen) and make a quick ice cream at home? Try that sometime and see how a healthy ice cream in ready in a jiffy. 

Or just head to The Spice Route and get one of these exotic flavours of tofu ice creams. The food will definitely overwhelm you if you love seafood and the Thai herbs.





Sunday, November 27, 2016

sesame almond laddu | mixed seeds and nuts protein snack


Sesame laddu or til ka laddu is a traditional snack that we have grown up eating every winter. Sesame is great for winters and it is considered warming for the body. This calcium, iron and potassium rich seed is a convenient and cheap way to supplement these minerals.

sesame almond laddu

During the last few months I have been having sesame laddus regularly to heal my bones and joints. Initially my finger and wrist joints were so bad I could not even think of making these laddus because working with a ladle and shaping the laddus by using hands was not possible at all. Those early days I depended on the sesame chutney that my house help used to make for us.

We consumed insane amount of coconut water to hydrate ourselves during the first month. There was lot of haldi doodh and healing rasam made and consumed that helped me manage the pain better.

My doctor advised that the pain and stiffness will stay for the duration it is meant to be but it can be made manageable by healing foods and some physiotherapy. This approach worked actually, even though I was baffled with all the disability it brought along.

So as soon as I was able to handle a ladle and a hot kadhai (wok), I made the sesame laddu. This time it was supplemented with a few more seeds and even some grated turmeric along with ginger, some nutmeg and some pepper powder was added to make the healing process faster.  It definitely gave me energy as I was feeling completely sapped of all energy for the longest time.

ingredients 

500 gm sesame seeds
250 gm flax seeds meal (powdered coarsely)
250 gm chopped almonds raw (add some walnuts too if you like, I added to the first batch I made)
200 gm chia seeds
50 gm dry ginger powder or 200 gm grated fresh ginger
5 gm pepper powder
2 tbsp grated fresh turmeric 
little bit of nutmeg powder
600 gm jaggery (use a little more if you feel it wont bind well)
150 ml water

sesame almond laddu

procedure 

To make the process a bit easy on my hands I baked the chopped almonds and sesame seeds in the oven. Spread on a baking tray it took 20 minutes at 180 C. The flax seeds were roasted lightly in a pan before being powdered.

Mix all dry ingredients and keep aside.

Mix the jaggery and water in a pan and heat till the jaggery melts. Strain the melted jaggery in a large kadhai and place it on the gas stove. Start simmering the jaggery syrup with the grated turmeric and grated ginger if using and keep cooking till it starts frothing and there is a shine in the syrup.

You can test it by dropping a little syrup in a bowl full of cold water. If the syrup makes a ball it is ready, if it dissolves it needs some more cooking.

Now dunk the dry ingredients together in the kadhai and mix quickly and thoroughly. Let it cool till you can handle the mix. Shape into laddus once cool enough. Grease you hands with ghee to prevent the mix sticking to your palms.

If you are in a hurry you can spread the mix on a greased baking tray and press down completely. Let it set and then cut into desired shapes.

sesame almond laddu

I realised while shaping the laddus using hot mixture my finger joints relieved a bit as it worked similar to fomentation.Small joints were the worst affected and it was good to see some improvement happening just by making these laddus. I made really large laddus this time to ensure there is lesser work to do and we eat enough seeds mix this way everyday.

We have been having the laddu everyday and I have already made 2 large batches since then. I will make a few more batches this winter as I know we can't ignore our health at all.

This sesame and mixed nut and seeds laddu actually is a nice protein dense supplement of minerals and omega3s. Make it this winter if you are into heavy workouts or there is some joint discomfort.

Consult your doctor to diagnose your condition first, ask if these ingredients are safe and then you can get it made and consume regularly. Prevention is better than cure, but correct diagnosis is a prerequisite to cure and healing.

Cheers.



Monday, November 21, 2016

wholewheat date walnut tray bake (no sugar added), a rich mildly spiced cake sweetened with dates


I rarely bake cakes but winters come with the excuse of keeping the kitchen warm. Also, who doesn't like nice and warm aromas of  something being baked in the kitchen? This is the time I keep looking for opportunities to bake some cake to be shared with someone or to be taken somewhere as we don't eat much cake at home.

wholewheat date walnut tray bake

So this time when we visited our friends at Tijara farm I thought of baking a dates and walnut cake without added sugar as one of our hosts is diabetic and everyone else likes lightly sweetened desserts. The liberal use of nuts and whole wheat makes this cake low glycemic too.

It happens quite often that I end up adding some flavours to the cake just for the sake of making my kitchen smell warm and cozy. This lightly spiced dates and walnut cake made using whole wheat flour was a result of one such impulsive moment when I added garam masala along with rum to the cake batter, the result was so good I wanted to bring back a few slices for ourselves, to be enjoyed later.

Usually I bake such cakes in a loaf tin but I realised I need to bake a larger cake so I decided to make it a tray bake. Baking it in a tray helps get a wider crust in each piece of cake, a very important feature in whole grain cakes with chopped nuts as the crumb can be really crumbly sometimes when sliced out of a loaf cake.So even if you decide to bake this cake in a loaf tin, keep the height of the cake less.

ingredients 
(makes a large cake that serves 12-15 people)

good quality soft dates, seeds removed 350 gm
rum 50 ml (optional)
whole wheat flour (atta) 320 gm (2 cups +3 tbsp)
baking powder 1 tbsp
baking soda (soda bi carb or meetha soda) 1 tsp
butter 250 gm (melted at room temperature) oil can also be used
eggs 6
vanilla extract 1 tbsp
walnuts 200 gm (I used a mix of almonds and walnuts)
special garam masala 1/2 tsp (optional, note that this is not a regular garam masala, check link)

baking tray (9"x12" size) 

wholewheat date walnut tray bake

procedure

Chop the dates so they distribute well in the batter. If the dates are hard ones you can soak and make a paste. It shouldn't get too loose as it affects the consistency of the cake batter. It should be a thick jam like consistency.You can use ready made date paste if you wish.

Mix the rum with date paste if using. Keep aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and garam masala to the flour and use a whisk to mix well. You can sieve the whole mix to ensure better mixing. Keep aside.

wholewheat date walnut tray bake

Mix the eggs with melted butter (room temperature or 25-30 C) and whisk till it becomes creamy smooth. Add vanilla extract and the date paste and whisk again and let the date paste loosen to make the mix smooth.

Now add 1/3 the flour mix and whisk to mix, fold in the remaining flour mix in two parts till the mix becomes a thick batter with a consistency of muffin batter.

Fold in 2/3 of the chopped nuts and spread the batter in a baking tray (9"X12"). Pat down to smooth the surface, sprinkle remaining nuts and press a little.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 40 minutes.

wholewheat date walnut tray bake

Let the tray bake cool down completely before cutting squares. Use a sharp knife pressing down (not sliding across) to cut pieces as the crumb of this cake is quite delicate and the pieces of nuts cause some breakage if you are not careful.

You can store the cake in an airtight cake box and refrigerate for 2 weeks or so. At room temperature it stays for 3 days.

Serve at room temperature or warm as per choice.

wholewheat date walnut tray bake

You might like it warm with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup if serving for dessert and plain with hot milk if it is a part of breakfast. But the cake tastes great even at room temperature in this season.

I had baked this cake for a gathering where most people like lightly sweetened desserts and everyone had it without any sweet additives apart from a child who didn't take second helping.

With any such lightly sweetened dessert, I would recommend taking at least 2 bites before deciding to top it with honey, or syrup, as once the palate starts recognizing the natural sweetness the added sweetener will not be required.

PS : Since I mentioned that this cake recipe is suitable for diabetics too, I must clear the fact that the use of eggs and nuts makes this recipe low on Glycemic Index. Else dates are not suitable for all diabetics even in a cake like this. So if you are tweaking this recipe and substituting eggs with a replacement or if you use lesser amount of nuts, please do not consider it suitable for diabetics.


Friday, November 18, 2016

black sesame pudding made from scratch | how to make heavy cream from Mother Dairy Premium milk


Black sesame is one of my favourite flavours and there are a few dessert recipes that I have been planning to make for ages. One is a sticky laddu that my mother makes and another is an ice cream that we love at The metropolitan Hotel, this black sesame pudding was made a few times but in slightly different ways.

You would know what I mean by calling black sesame as a flavour when you eat this. Promise.

homemade black sesame pudding

I think I have found my perfect recipe of black sesame pudding and even the perfect way to serve it. The pudding is lightly sweetened, is topped with whipped cream (made from scratch) and a sprinkling of chopped candied cranberries and candied ginger. All winter flavours.

Oh yes, I said "home made" heavy cream that whips like a dream, that stays stiff for more than 8 hours at room temperature (26-17 C day time temperature right now in Delhi) and tastes pure and delicious, just like real cream should taste.

Did you know the market is replete with non dairy whipping cream loaded with trans fats? Almost all bakers use that cheap whipping cream because dairy based real whipping cream is hard to come by in India. Whipping cream contains 30-35% fat and heavy cream has up to 40% or even more. While whipping cream whips well to be used as a topping or cake frosting, heavy cream sets really well as a frosting and stays as is for longer. 

More reasons to make heavy cream from scratch at home. I know you would be surprised when I tell you how easy it is to make heavy cream at home and that too from whole milk. The newly launched Premium milk from Mother Dairy makes it even more easy even for beginner cooks.

You know how we simmer the milk for a few minutes even if we get pasteurized milk that can be used directly out of its packaging. Yes it is a cultural habit that we don't use and store milk that has not been simmered for a while. This habit of refrigerating milk after simmering for a while can be of help while making whipping cream.

Take a look how I do it.

home made whipping cream

The milk is emptied into a stock pot and simmered, then it is refrigerated overnight. We observe that all the fat content accumulates on top that we call as Malai, see how it looks in the top right picture. The same malai can be used to make whipping cream if you take care of measurements. It takes just 5 minutes once you have the refrigerated premium milk. Any dessert malai maar ke is our way.

ingredients 
 2 Liters of Premium Mother Dairy milk

equipments 
a stockpot or deep pan to simmer the milk
a  glass bowl of 2 liter capacity to whip the cream (keep it chilled into the refrigerator)
a wire whisk

procedure 

Empty the milk into the stockpot and place on gas stove to heat up. Lower the heat once it reaches boiling point and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Cool down the milk and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.

Separate the malai (coagulated cream on top) in a measuring cup along with some thick milk on top, it should be 300 ml total volume so it makes heavy cream of about 46% fat content. If you collect 400 ml from the top layer it will result into whipping cream of 35% fat content. Simple mathematics.

Now transfer the malai into the chilled glass bowl and start whipping. In less than 5 minutes you have the perfectly whipped cream that can be used directly or mixed with icing sugar for any purpose.

Note that you can refrigerate the premium milk even without heating, the resultant whipping or heavy cream will be as good. I am recommending heated milk as we anyway store the milk this way, so the whipping cream recipe becomes simpler to follow any time.

For 2 Liters of Premium milk from Mother Dairy (7% fat) you get enough whipping cream to frost a cake or to top 6-8 portions of this black sesame pudding.

black sesame pudding made from scratch

black sesame pudding recipe 
(minimally adapted from here)

ingredients 
(3-4 servings)

3 tbsp black sesame seeds
300 ml whole milk
2 tbsp sugar or honey
3/4 tsp or 1 tsp gelatin powder, depending on how firm you want the pudding. I used 3/4 tsp
1 tbsp water

candied cranberries and candied ginger
whipped cream (unsweetened)

procedure 
(takes only 10 minutes of active cooking time)


Soak the gelatin in 1 tbsp water. Keep aside.

Rinse the black sesame seeds and drain. Make a paste in blender adding 5 ml milk at a time, helping it make a smooth creamy paste.

Transfer this paste into a pan along with the milk and sugar. Heat till it boils. Take the pan off heat and add the bloomed gelatin. Whisk well to mix.

Pour into serving bowls or glasses. Chill for 2 hours before serving. The pudding keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Top with a quenelle or smooth blob of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle generously with chopped candied cranberries and candied ginger.

black sesame pudding made from scratch

It is a soft set pudding that jiggles when you scoop with a spoon. Keep some extra whipped cream and cranberry ginger topping on the table so one can go bonkers with black sesame pudding.

This black sesame pudding is smooth textured and nutty in flavor with a slight bitter aftertaste that actually works in its favour. The candied tidbits add great texture to the black sesame pudding and act as little bombs of flavour that explode in between.

black sesame pudding made from scratch

Now that we have mastered the whipping cream and heavy cream, why not make some white butter too.

After all the same malai is used a little differently to make cultured white butter that we have loved since our childhood.

Here is how you can make the cultured white butter from scratch.

homemade cultured white butter

Starting from step 3 of the heavy cream procedure, collect the malai from top of the chilled milk, mix with active yogurt culture and let it set overnight at the kitchen counter, at room temperature. In summers it takes only a couple of hours, but you need to chill it again before making white butter.

In winters you can whip the cultured cream (sour cream) with a wire whisk directly for 3-4 minutes (for cultured cream from 2 L milk) and get white butter instantly when needed. Of course Mother Dairy Premium milk yields more white butter for the same effort.

cultured buttermilk and white butter

You get some cultured buttermilk as a byproduct when you collect the white butter from top. Collect the white butter in another bowl and press it down to separate all the buttermilk from it. This buttermilk is so delicious you might want to make white butter for the sake of this flavourful buttermilk too.

Use this white butter to top your parathas, soups or dals or for baking cakes and cookies.  



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

a chutney to supplement Calcium, Iron and antioxidants | drumstick leaves-kachri-sesame chutney or dip for everyday nourishment


Using easily available local produce for making everyday food nourishing and tasty is the greatest favour we do for ourselves and for the planet. Each drive to the market leaves a dent on the carbon footprint and each leaf growing nearby could undo the same.

And no, I am not being a snob locavore here. I do cook a lot of food with things growing around me and I believe in walking to my neighborhood markets to buy the everyday food and grocery. We often don't realise that it is the least significant everyday chores and choices that define our green habits, or otherwise.

Of course we have to travel long distances too for work and even for entertainment but everyday food is managed mostly by a weekly shopping of fruits and vegetables and walking to neighborhood stores for other groceries. Some exotic stuff is bought from faraway corners of the country when we travel.

Like I had bought a large bag of sun dried kachri when I visited Bikaner for work this summer. Kachri is a wonderful resource of nutrients that grows wild in the vast deserts of Rajasthan and like a weed in Punjab. It is foraged and used either fresh or is sun dried to be used in various preparations.

fresh kachri

The other names of this vegetables are Chibad, Sane and Kaachar in various parts of north India. Sun dried kachri is powdered to be used as a souring agent and also as a meat tenderiser especially for game meat which gets cooked in pits.

Chutneys can be made with either fresh or dried kachri. The sun dried kachri chutney has been shared earlier too but this time the recipe serves a bigger purpose. 

sun dried kachri

Yes the purpose this time was to make the chutney suitable as a supplement too that takes care of the healing our bodies need after the Chik-V sickness. I used drumstick (Moringa) and curry leaves from my garden and added sesame seeds for the added calcium boost, kachri itself has good amount of proteins, calcium and even OMG3s in the seeds, the resultant chutney was quite delicious and smooth textured. It was actually smooth enough to be used as a dip for crackers, crudites and even as a sandwich spread.

Drumstick leaves are traditionally used for joint health and curry patta or curry leaves are very rich in Iron and minerals along with enough Vit C to make everything absorbed well. Addition of lime juice or tamarind serves the purpose of making the minerals readily available for the system too.

drumstick leaves-kachri-sesame chutney or dip for everyday nourishment

Make this chutney rich in garlic flavours if you like but keep the chilli heat milder so you can consume more chutney with one meal.

ingredients 
(makes about 500 gm chutney) 

150 gm drumstick (moringa) leaves
50 gm curry leaves (about 15-20 mature strings of leaves)
200 gm sesame seeds
a dozen or more fat garlic cloves
dry red chillies to taste
50 gm sun dried kachri or 100 or more fresh kachri 
a little tamarind extract or lime juice to balance flavours
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
1 tsp peppercorns
2 tsp sesame oil or any other oil of choice
salt to taste

procedure 

Steam the drumstick leaves till soft. Keep aside.

Lightly roast the sesame seeds and keep aside

Heat the oil, add hing and peppercorns and wait till they turn aromatic. Add the Garlic followed by clean dry curry leaves and saute till the leaves get aromatic too. Add this to steamed drumstick leaves.

Now mix everything together and make a smooth paste, adding a little water as required. Add the tamarind extract or lime juice slowly to balance the flavours.

Serve the chutney or dip as required. We kept having a small bowl of this chutney with every meal for some time till I was able to make some sesame laddus for ourselves.

Here it is served with red amaranth leaves and red lentil savoury pancake.  

drumstick leaves-kachri-sesame chutney or dip for everyday nourishment drumstick leaves-kachri-sesame chutney or dip for everyday nourishment

Thankfully we had someone who could follow instructions and cook for us.

These healing foods have helped a lot to heal our joints and even muscle and nerve damage. Chik-V took a toll in a way we had never imagined. But we must be grateful for the nourishing plants growing around us so eating healthy was not as difficult as it could get possibly.

Do try this chutney recipe to supplement calcium, iron and even OMG3s in everyday diet. Have it regularly if there has been an acute illness, else it can be included once in a wile. Another such chutney rich in calcium and iron has been shared that serves the same purpose but the recipe is a bit elaborate.

I have shared these recipes with many friends and family members already and have got great feedback. Please share a line or two if you try these chutneys. Use them as dips or sandwich spread as per choice.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

recipe of chickpeas salad in a fresh green pepper salad dressing


Boiled chickpeas in the fridge is a great convenience always. It can be made into a curry with mixing whatever vegetables one finds in the fridge if needed but my motive always is to be able to get a nice filling salad without much effort.

While I do believe in slow cooked warm meals, I feel it is equally important to get filling nourishing meals even if one is strapped for time. Chickpeas make sense on both counts as they are slow cooked from scratch by soaking dry chickpeas and then cooking them till soft. After this the refrigerated cooked chickpeas can make an instant meal by combining a few more ingredients.


Chickpea salads have been my go to meals many times.

This chickpea salad is made with refrigerated boiled potatoes, and some olives along with rucola from the garden. One can add fresh mint or coriander leaves or whatever is available.

The most interesting part of this salad is the green peppercorn salad dressing that can be made and bottled for a couple of weeks together. This dressing can even be made to last a year with minor adjustments in ingredients. This is one salad dressing that packs a hot punch.

Green peppers are not very easy to come by but whenever you get them you can make a batch. If you don't have any chance of getting green peppers you can soak black peppers in water overnight, crush them lightly in the morning and make the dressing using that. The green peppercorns impart a fresh flavour though.

recipe of chickpeas salad in a green pepper salad dressing

green pepper salad dressing
(sufficient for using several times)

4 tbsp green peppercorns (or soaked black peppercorns)
2-3 tbsp minced garlic (more the better)
1 tbsp minced green chillies (hot or mild depending on taste)
1 tsp lime zest (scrape fresh Indian limes to collect the zest)
1 tbsp salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or any other vinegar of choice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (Or use cold pressed Indian mustard oil)

Mix everything together and fill into a glass jar. Use as required.

chickpea salad 
(2 servings)

1.5 cup boiled chickpeas
1/2 cup diced boiled potatoes
about a dozen olives of choice (I used pimento stuffed olives)
leafy greens of choice ( I used rucola from my garden)
1 tbsp of the above salad dressing

Toss everything together, adjust seasoning and serve. This salad tastes great at room temperature and stays well for 5-6 hours at room temperature so it is a great choice for lunch boxes too.

You can add some diced cucumbers to the salad to add more texture. I avoid tomatoes with this dressing normally but you can go ahead and add those too if you wish.

Earlier last month we were visiting a coffee estate where I am working on the menu and food for their upcoming resort. I will share more information later but the pepper vines at the estate were a delight to see. We clicked some birds perching on those vines and wondered if they eat the hot peppercorns.

recipe of chickpeas salad in a green pepper salad dressing

I was reminded of this green pepper salad dressing when I saw the pepper vines growing luxuriously at the coffee estate that is located in Palani hills of the southern state Tamilnadu.

Few months ago I had procured green peppers with great difficulty for a photography project and had made the dressing in bulk with the leftover green peppers. I had been using the dressing in so many ways too but never got around to sharing it here. Green peppers are easily available in some places as I have seen them being sold by the kilo in Chennai markets a few years ago.

Make good use of the green peppercorns if you find them easily. I will share an easy pickled green peppers too and that pickle can also be used to make salad dressing and can be added to salads as an ingredient too.

If you sun dry the mature green peppercorns they become black peppercorns.



Friday, October 28, 2016

2 quick dessert recipes for Diwali | quark cheese mousse with candied berries and lemon- vanilla paneer doughnuts


Winter starts with a promise of festivities. Everyone starts warming up for more and more shopping just as the nip in the air hits our skin. Yes, shopping for home, shopping for loved ones and shopping for more festive food. 

The shopping is at it's peak at Diwali time as all kind of products are launched or heavy discounts given to lure the consumer. While one can manufacture more cars, more mobile phones and more television sets I never understand how so much 'festive' food comes into the market overnight. All this festive food used to be mostly milk based in older times but even now the traditional festive food includes mithais and desserts of all types. 

Diwali festivities

I remember no one used to buy any milk products during Diwali back home, especially khoya even though a dedicated khoya gali in Banaras does brisk business, just because we always doubted where is all this khoya coming from. So we either made khoya at home or depended on mithais that don't need khoya like besan ka laddu and shakkarpara. Or we will make sondesh, kheer, rabdi and malpua etc. with the milk we used to get from the neighborhood milkman.

But we don't have the luxury of the neighborhood milkman now. Most city dairies procure milk from faraway corners of the country and have good quality control so we can trust them fairly. 

I asked Mr. Anant Choudhary, Director, Freshmen's Valley, a dairy brand based in Moradabad that distributes throughout Uttarakhand and western UP,  about how they ensure good quality milk. He said that their objective is to create an amalgam of traditional values and high-end technology. He informed how they are using robust procedure of quality checks and measures coupled with international testing standards at the reception (or milk) level. They source their milk from Terai region of Himalayas which has the best milk fat and SNF, ensuring good quality milk.

I think it is better to get milk and milk products from reputed dairy brands and make all the desserts and mithais using those. I am sharing two dessert recipes using yogurt (dahi) and paneer that we easily get without the concerns of adulteration.

The recipe using plain dahi (cultured yogurt) is the quark cheese mousse with candied berries.

 quark cheese mousse with candied berries

ingredients 
(serves 6 or more)

1 kilo dahi (plain yogurt)  
200 gm fresh cream 
75 gm candied mixed berries or try sun dried strawberries  
1/4 tsp of pure vanilla extract
fresh fruit for garnish (optional) 

procedure 

Whisk the dahi and fresh cream together and let it rest for an hour at room temperature (27-30C). 

Now line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the dahi and cream mix into it. Let the whey drain keeping this apparatus in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight. Once the whey is drained completely the quark cheese is ready.

Now chop the candied or sun dried berries finely and fold into the quark cheese with a light hand. Spoon this mousse into serving glasses, pour some strawberry preserve over it and garnish with a slice of any fresh fruit in season.
 
 quark cheese mousse with candied berries

Chill well before serving. This quark mousse with candied berries stays well in the fridge for 2 days.

Gluten free lemon and vanilla doughnuts made with paneer.  

The round donuts made with paneer are very soft inside with a nice crisp crust that holds. I adapted this recipe loosely from here, replacing ricotta with paneer along with some more adjustments and the result was very encouraging. 

Lemon and vanilla being a favourite flavouring these gluten free donuts will be made frequently for sure. More because it responded well to shallow frying in a Paniyaram pan (or Ebelskiver pan), I used drizzle of ghee to make the crust brown while the crumb remained soft and melting even after the donut rising to almost double it's volume.

*You can deep fry these in hot ghee or oil too.


ingredients 
(makes about 25 round donuts)

for batter
150 gm paneer 
120 ml fresh cream 
5 tbsp besan (chickpea flour) 
2 tbsp sugar
zest and juice of one large lime 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
1/4 tsp soda bicarb 

for glaze 
2-3 tbsp powdered sugar  
juice of one lime 

about 2 tbsp ghee for shallow frying. *More if you want to deep fry.*

procedure 

Crumble the paneer with fingers and mix it with the ingredients listed for batter. Blend this mix in a mixie blender or your food processor till it becomes a smooth batter. The consistency has to be like a cake batter.

Now grease the paniyaram pan with ghee and heat it. Pour about a tablespoon batter into each depression and let it get crisp from one side while the donuts fluff up. Turn each one of them with the help of chopsticks or a thin stick. Even the tip of a knife works well for this purpose. Drizzle more ghee to cook the donuts nicely.

Fry more batches the same way. Keep the flame medium while frying the donuts.

Mix the powdered sugar with lemon juice in the meanwhile and whisk till it makes a thick glaze that can be poured.

Collect all the donuts in a serving bowl and drizzle the lemon glaze generously and uniformly all over the donuts. 

Serve warm or hot. These donuts tastes good enough even after they were cold at room temperature but it is the best when hot.


It is better to fry these donuts after finishing the meal if you are planning to serve as a dessert. Hot paneer donuts drizzled with lime glaze are really a delight. The firm and crisp crust gives way to a melt in your mouth crumb and that makes one addictive dessert. But since it is low on sugar and ghee and gluten free too, you can have a second helping without a feeling of guilt.

* If you are planning to deep fry these donuts, reduce the amount of fresh cream to half and drop spoonfuls of thick batter in hot ghee or oil to fry. Keep the flame medium to cook them thoroughly and serve hot.

Make this paneer donut if you want something hot and the quark mousse if you are the one who likes chilled desserts. These healthy options for Diwali desserts will be great even if you don't have much time left for making something nice for the family.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Stop gifting junk for festivals, care for the planet and gift organic food and ingredients | 11 organic food gifts you can source directly from farmers


The great Indian season of festivals is on. We have slayed one festival (ahh that was Ravan) already and gearing up for another, the one that celebrates the arrival of the God, wealth and knowledge, light and awakening, Diwali, when we decorate our homes and light lamps of all types.

Diwali gifts

For the last 2 decades Diwali has become a festival that makes the lives of asthmatics difficult and most of us feel sick of the pollution caused by the firecrackers. Our family has not been lighting any firecrackers since around 1989 when my younger brother came home one day saying we wont do any firecrackers since they cause air pollution. We were not into firecrackers even before that but a customary phuljhadi and anar (both sparklers) were brought to usher in Diwali every year, we realised the customs can be changed with changing times.

We can't afford to pollute our surroundings even more.

But it is not just the firecrackers that cause pollution, a lot of plastic waste and other types of solid waste is also generated during Diwali. One walk through the markets around Diwali and we can observe how the tradition of gift exchange during this festival has become more and more trashy, literally so. Carton packs of soft drinks, plastic bottles of artificially coloured and synthetically sweetened drinks, a sea of crackers and cookies in shiny plastic packages and more shiny wrapping keeps luring people to buy more and gift more.

gift ideas

All markets target more and more sales, cheap products and shiny packaging helps sometimes. As consumers we need to take stock of the situation. If it is food we need to be alert and aware all the more.

Deeply concerned about all such reasons I thought of asking a few of my farmer friends how they would revolutionize Diwali gifting if they had to offer their own produce as Diwali gifts. How wonderful it will be if we all started supporting the farmers directly by ordering our Diwali gifts also from them.

gift ideas
The suggestions by the farmers friends who grow organic food have been listed below. I think these produce are impressive as gifts, and support the farmers who are struggling to get market for small quantities they grow.
1. Cold pressed oils. Many farmers grow oil seeds and getting cold pressed oils directly from them for home consumption as well as gifting is a great idea. Good quality ghee is also difficult to get so if you know someone who makes it, better make good use of it.

cooking oils
    2. Single origin or wild honey, neem, mustard or multi-flora honey is also a great gift. Many farmers do beekeeping as it helps their crops in pollination too. Some farmers make their own jaggery too, we can find them if we try harder.

    alternative real sweeteners
    3. Some artisan quality healthy products like Malted ragi drink, fresh sattu (roasted chikpea flour) etc are some of the products that are not available easily in the markets but you can trust your farmer friends. For unpolished lentils, local rice varieties and pearl barley etc I find my farmer friends absolutely reliable.

    spices and healthy flours
    4. Millets of the season. Yes the fresh millets are a delight to cook. For ages we used to get dusty and rancid millets because they were stored poorly, the reason being millets were being marketed only as bird feed and few humans cared about them. Now more farmers are growing them and one can get fresh millets to know how good they are. Include some red or purple rice varieties grown in India and may be Amaranth, Buckwheat and pearl Barley to the mix.

    millets
    5. Spice blends and individual spices that the farmer is growing. I am just back from a coffee estate where pepper is grown as a secondary crop and the pepper is so good it is the best pepper I have ever had.

    spices
    6. Healthy processed foods like peanut butter, tahini, fruit preserves, sun dried tomatoes and vegetables etc can be sources from farmers you know. Try and find out more you will actually bump into many such organic farmers. I have seen Jimmy's kitchen in Chanakyapuri Organic Farmer's market and his nut butters are nice.

    nut butter and preserve

    You can get some jams, marmalades or preserves made by some home cook too. See this spiced amla jam that went for a gift hamper of Eat With India this season, along with the kanji. Eat with India is promoting regional cuisines and home cooks in several innovative ways.

    gift ideas
    7. Get your tea and coffee from plantation owners directly. Yes it is worth it for everyday consumption as well as for festive gifting.

    Once you start sourcing the non perishable ingredients directly from the farmers located in all corners of the country, you would know how we are shortchanged for the value of our hard earned money. The quality of good produce speaks for itself.

    brewed coffee in a dawra mug
    8. Dried herbs and flowers for making teas, tisanes and herb blends of your own. Like these Parijat flowers can be dried and made into a healing tisane.

    parijat tea/tisane

    One can get different flowers and spices mixed with green tea to make a new aromatic tea blend. All organic farmers grow a variety of flowers and fruits because maintaining a good diversity at the farms and plantation helps improve productivity in many ways. So you will find that a millet farmer can also send you good quality herbs, dried flowers and some fruits in season.

    herbs and tea blends

    We can just trust the farmer friends to send us whatever they grow in the season. This way we can get a unique blend every time and the flexibility to mix and match the flavours.

    herbs and tea blends
    9. Seeds and garden starter kits can be great gifts for the green thumbs you know. And of course kids can learn gardening if you gift them such novel, unusual and yet thoughtful gifts. Or you can gift potted plants and micro greens starter kit.

    gardening

    10. Seeds and nuts are the best Diwali gifts and one can buy them from source too most of the times. The power of the internet is admirable in such times when you search for farmers and orchard owners who grow nuts and fruits in the mountains or even peanuts and sesame somewhere in arid regions.

    hazelnuts

    Yes we get good Hazelnuts too grown in India. There are orchards and forests in the Himalayan region where you get to see such things.

    All we have to do is to look around we can find anything. And if we don't find it was not meant for us, yes that means it is no grown in the country.

    11. The best gift of the season is here. A friend Nina Sengupta has published a coloring book that illustrates edible weeds and flowers that will make a great gift for adults and kids alike. You can order the book from here.

    Now you have a good list of ingredients and resources, picking up gifts for healthy living will be easier now I am sure.

    I am listing the farmers and retailers and will share that soon on the blog. You can get in touch with them directly and order their specialty stuff either for gifting or for personal use.

    Don't forget to tell me if you really think that a compilation of organic food sources will help you here.

    Hope these gifting ides helps make better decisions when you buy food for yourself and for friends and family as gifts.