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.


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


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.