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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Carrot Rice ( A light and healthy Lunchbox favorite )

Some days back I had done a lunchbox collaboration with a few of my blogger friends where we had shared quite diverse and easy recipes that could fit in for breakfast, lunch or even the smaller breaks. Now it is almost 4 weeks since the schools have reopened and most of us would have exhausted the multiple permutations and combinations of those recipes. Even kiddo has started getting bored with some of the stuff that I put into his box. Hence, it is time to work out on a fresh set of recipes.

With rice dishes being his favorite, I almost always turn to some version of a pulao or fried rice by the end of every week (blame it on the weegarlickend blues that stay-at-home moms get). Recently I tried out this rather simple but very delicious 'Carrot rice' recipe for his box. Limiting the spice content for the monsoon season which adversely affects digestion and enriching it with loads of antioxidants ( read carrot and garlic), I have kept it filling as well as healthy. And if you have any doubts about the carbs in rice, kids really need those carbs given that they are quite prone to running around all day. 

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 10 mins

Ingredients -

  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 small onion ( finely chopped )
  • 3-4 garlic flakes ( finely chopped )
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1/2 inch cinnamon
  • 1 green chili ( optional )
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp ghee
  • 1 tsp oil
  • pinch of turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tsp chopped cilantro for garnishing

Cooking - Heat 1 tsp oil in a non-stick pan. Add the cloves and cinnamon. Fry till fragrant.

Add the finely chopped onion and garlic. Throw in the whole green chili as we just want a little flavor and not the heat.

Once the onion is translucent, add the grated carrot and fry for 3-4 mins.

Add the cooked rice along with salt and a pinch of turmeric. Toss lightly for 3 mins.

Finally add chopped cilantro , ghee and lemon juice. Mix gently and remove from flame.

Let it cool down a bit before packing it into the lunchbox. Or have it right away if not in the mood to do any cooking.

For more lunchbox recipes check HERE .

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Kamal Kakdi ke Kofte ( Vegan Side Dish )

First the promise. For the longest time, I have have been bombarding you all with dishes made with 'Lotus Stem'. No prizes for guessing that it is my current obsession/fixation/or whatever you choose to call it. But I swear upon all my years of cumulative culinary experience that this the last one I will be posting. That is at least for another month or two.

Ok. Now coming back to the recipe, it is yet another delicious preparation that goes rather well with rotis or even pulao. Unlike the melt in the mouth koftas that one is accustomed to, this one is quite a mouthful. But that does not mean that it is anything less delicious. When combined with the sweet, tangy and mildly spicy gravy, it is a most welcome change.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 40 mins

Ingredients -

  • 100 gm Lotus stem
  • 1 small potato
  • 3 tbsp besan
  • 1/2 tsp GG paste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • Fortune Vivo oil for deep frying
For the gravy -

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 tsp GG paste
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1 green cardamom
  • 1/2 inch cinnamon
  • 2 dry red chili
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • kasuri methi
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 4-5 cashews
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • cilantro for garnishing

Preparation - Wash, peel and chop the lotus stem into 2-3 inch long pieces. Transfer to a pressure cooker along with 2 cups water and a little salt. Cook for 3 whistles.

Chop the potato into very small pieces. Or even better, grate it.

Keep aside till steam is released. Take out the lotus stem and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Mash it up. Add chopped/grated potato, besan, GG paste, chili powder and salt to the mixing bowl. Mix and bring everything together. Take small portions of it and shape into small lemon sized balls.

Cooking - Heat sufficient oil in a wok. Add 4-5 koftas at a time and fry to an even brown color . Remove and drain it on paper towels.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a nonstick pan. Add the whole spices and fry till aromatic.

Add the chopped onions and fry till translucent. Put in the GG paste and cook till raw smell goes away.

Finally add the chopped tomatoes and cook till mushy.

Add the kasuri methi and broken cashew to the wok and switch off the flame. Once it cools down, blend into a smooth puree.

Heat 1 tsp oil in the same pan. Add the cumin seeds and allow to splutter.

Add the puree along with 1 1/2 cups water, sugar and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then let it simmer for 5-7 mins.

Once it reaches the right consistency, add the koftas and switch off the flame.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot/warm.

For more 'Kamal Kakdi/Lotus Root' recipes , click HERE.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Aish-el-saraya ( A Luscious Lebanese Pudding for Ramadan )

Orange blossoms. Rose water. Toasted pistachios. Some of these heavenly ingredients they put in the Middle Eastern desserts just makes me wonder if any of those aromas would be still be lingering in the air after nightfall and adding to the magic of the Arabian nights. Just the vast expanse of white sand, the deep blue canopy of the sky punctuated with a million twinkling stars and the air smelling of roses. Quite the setting to imagine the legendary romance of Alladin and Jasmine.

That bring me to another kind of love. The love for good food. And Ramzan is quite the right time for spreading some foodie love. 'Aish-el-saraya' is one of those luscious middle eastern desserts that can make one forget all about keeping a tab on the calories. It glides like velvet in the tongue and bombards the senses with a zillion delicious sensations that cannot be called anything unlike an orgasm. Yeah, it's that sinful and addictive too. But the good part is that it is quite easy to whip up. Sadly, it takes a while to set.

There are quite a few recipes for 'Aish-el-saraya' floating about on the net. I got mine from Youtube channel 'Heghineh Cooking Show'. It is run by an Armenian Youtuber who makes these really nice real-time videos and is also a mum with a kid running amok in the kitchen. No surprise that she has all my sympathy and support too. Have put the video at the bottom of this page.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 40 mins ( plus loads of standby time )

Ingredients -

  • 1 packet of rusk 
  • 1/2 liter milk
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water or syrup ( I could not find it hence skipped )
  • sliced/crushed pistachios for the garnishing 

For the syrup -

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • juice of 1 lemon

Preparation - Take the bread rusk in a food processor. Pulverize into a fine powder.

For making syrup, take 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 4-5 mins.

Remove from heat and them add the rose water, orange blossom water and lemon juice.

For making the custard, take 1 cup milk and dissolve the cornflour in it. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil, add the cornflour paste and whisk it till it becomes thick. Dissolve the condensed milk and remove from the flame.

Add the rose water and orange blossom water to the custard and mix it in.

Finally when it cools down somewhat, add the whipped cream to it and fold it in.

For the layering - Take a deep glass dish ( 1.2 lt capacity ).

Mix the powdered rusk with just enough sugar syrup in a mixing bowl. Transfer to the deep dish.

Spread into a uniform layer and tap it all over with the bottom surface of a bowl to pack it tightly.

Pour the custard and whipped cream mixture over it.

Sprinkle the pistachios all over the cream mixture. Put it in the fridge and let it set for 6-7 hours.

Just before serving, remove it from the fridge. Cut it carefully and drizzle some over the remaining syrup over the slices.

Enjoy this delectable dessert for Ramadan !!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Soya Stuffed Peppers ( A healthier take on Mirchi Bhajji )

There is something about the rains that brings out the foodie in me. The splattering sounds made by the water, the ever present chill in the air and even the lovely smells that the rains unleash gets me into a good mood. Being ravenous is a not-so-desirable side effect of the monsoon showers but these days I am hardly complaining. I have managed to lost a bit of weight by turning partly vegan and have been working out regularly. So, a once in a while indulgence is kinda welcome.

Tea and mirchi bhajjis is one such combination that makes me go weak in the knees. But the amount of oil that goes into making the bhajjis always makes me change my mind at the last moment. However, today I had skipped lunch and ended up quite hungry around 5 in the evening. I wanted something quite filling with my tea . So, I decided to give the bhajjis a healthy makeover by stuffing them with some spicy soya filling and then pan frying them.

It is quite a simple recipe yet it turned out delicious. Read on for my 'Soya Stuffed Peppers' -

Preparation Time - 20-25 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup soya chunks
  • 1 medium potato
  • 5-6 large peppers 
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup besan
  • 1/2 of a medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 pinch garam masala
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp chopped cilantro

Preparation - Cook the soya chunks and potato in a pressure cooker for 1-2 whistles.

Allow steam to escape. Open lid, take out the soya chunks, squeeze them and rinse 2-3 times in clear water.

Squeeze out all the water from the soya chunks, put in a mixing bowl and mash to a coarse paste. Peel the potato, mash and add to the same mixing bowl.

Add some water, salt and a bit of chili powder to the besan. Mix well to make a paste of medium consistency.

Cooking - Heat 1 tsp oil in pan. Add the chopped onion and ginger garlic paste. Saute for a while till the raw smell goes off.

Add the soya and potato paste along with salt and chili powder. Mix everything together and cook for 4-5 mins.

Finally add the garam masala and chopped cilantro. Mix and remove from the flame. Let it come down to room temperature.

Make a single slit on the side for each pepper. Remove the insides and stuff the soya masala into it.

Dip the stuffed pepper into the besan paste and take it out. Shake lightly to remove excess batter clinging to it.

Spread the oats on a plate. Roll the battered peppers over the oats taking care to form a uniform layer. Repeat this process for all the peppers.

Heat a non-stick frying pan. Add 1 tsp oil to it and place the stuffed peppers. Drizzle some more oil over them.

Fry on a medium flame till they turn golden brown on all sides.

Remove from pan.

Serve hot with mayonnaise and ketchup.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Maharastrian Amti Dal ( with Kokum )

The ascent of monsoon marks a period of lethargy and frequent bouts of illness for most people. My household is no exception to that and I find myself reluctant to cook elaborate meals during the rains. Dal-chawal-bhaji, parata-dalma, roti-subzi or even khichdi with alu bharta (mashed potato) are regulars on the monsoon menu. While I do prepare a variety of dals, I am always looking for new versions that would do away with the need to cook another curry. Just a dash of pickle and maybe a papad, and I am good to go.

This Maharashtrian Amti dal had been on my list for sometime now. Just that I could not lay my hands on some good quality Kokum so had been putting it off till last week. Once I found that I could purchase it off the net, I ordered it along with a cache of exotic foods like the chia seeds, quinoa and black rice. Since June is the birthday month for my blog and I am also inching close to the 1K mark, I was in a mood to indulge myself and surprise my readers with something new. Yes, my baby has turned 7 !!! Thanks to all you lovely folks out there for being an indispensable part of this most amazing journey !

The deluge of recipes like quinoa kheer, quinoa and kidney beans salad, Kung pao lotus root and chia pudding on my blog is just the beginning as I plan to give a more cosmopolitan touch to this space. More surprises are on the way, so stay tuned !

Read on for the recipe of 'Amti' -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -
  • 1 cup toor dal
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 pinch asafoetida
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala ( use Goda masala for authentic taste )
  • a pinch of stone flower (pathar ke phool) (optional)
  • 3-4 kokum petals ( can be substituted with a thumb sized piece of tamarind )
  • 2 tsp powdred jaggery
  • 3-4 tsp grated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1 tsp oil

Preparation - Soak the kokum in 1 cup hot water.

Cooking - Wash the toor dal and transfer to pressure cooker with 2 cups water, salt and turmeric. Close lid and cook for 2-3 whistles.

Keep aside till steam escapes. Open and give it a good stir with a heavy spoon.

Heat the oil and ghee on a pan. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, stone flower, curry leaves and asafoetida. Once the seeds start to splutter, add the cooked dal.

Mash the kokum slightly and add to the pan along with the water in which it was soaked. Also put in the jaggery, chili powder and garam masala. 

Finally add the coconut and the cilantro. Give it a good stir and take it off the burner.

Serve hot with white rice and papad.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Quinoa Pudding ( A healthy take on 'Chaula Khiri' from Odisha )

Rice kheer or Chaula Kheeri is one of the most frequently prepared dishes at home. If not for a festival, I find myself cooking some for guests or even on husband's request. And I prefer doing it the hard way. Slow cooked to a rich creamy texture and caramelized flavour, the taste is something just out of the world. But at times, the effort and time required proves to be just too much and I end up with a delicious kheer but a grumpy mood to go with it.

That is precisely why I ended up trying to cook Kheer with quinoa as soon as I got my hands on this wonder grain. I wanted to find out if I could save time by doing so and yes, I had guessed it right. The grains being smaller tend to acquire that melt-in-the-mouth texture quite faster as compared to Basmati rice or even the small grained 'arua chaula' that we use in Odisha. Have not used any thickening agents like milk powder, khoya or condensed milk to keep it as healthy as possible.

Quinoa being a superfood, has a high amount of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron and B2. Apart from the fact that it is gluten-free, it is also one of those food grains that remain non-GMO (GMO stands for Genetically modified and while it may be the only answer to a billowing population and the only hope of abating global hunger, I can't help being scared of what Frankensteins one might be consuming). It is the grain of choice for diabetics as it has a low glycemic index. Plus people trying to lose weight will benefit from eating quinoa as it makes one feel fuller and also takes time to get digested.

Without much ado, read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 1 hr

Ingredients -

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 2 ltrs whole milk
  • 8-10 pepperorns
  • 2-3 green cardamom
  • 4 tbsp sugar ( adjust as per taste )
  • 1 tsp ghee

Preparation - Wash the quinoa under running water. Let it soak for 30 mins.

Cooking - Bring the milk to boil in a large pan. Keep stirring it at regular interval so that it does not catch at  the bottom and the layer does not form on top. Switch off after boiling for 15 mins and keep aside.

Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker. Put about 1 tsp sugar in it and wait for it to turn brown. Before it starts to smoke, add the rinsed and drained quinoa to the pressure cooker. Roast it for 5 mins to give it brownish shade and also to ensure that it's typical smell goes off. Now add 1 cup water and close the lid. Cook on medium flame for 2 whistles.

Keep it aside till steam escapes.

Now add the cooked quinoa to the boiled milk. Cook on a low flame for about an hour or till you reach the desired consistency. (remember that it get still thicker after cooling down)

Add the powdered peppercorns and cardamom to the kheer and give it a stir. Keep aside till it coold down.

Serve at room temperature or even chilled.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kung Pao Lotus Root

Blog hopping is one of my favorite pastimes . And I find that I get to pick up a lot of stuff off the blogs these days. Being an avid reader myself, I can tell you that a few of them are so well researched that they may as well compete with books but for the fact that they are so concise. However that is fast turning into a advantage as people increasingly look for short reads to fill up the gaps in their schedule.

Be it when you are waiting for the cab to arrive or a friend to show up at the coffee shop, reading a short blog is just the right way to utilize that time. Of course, it is a matter of habit and one can as well read a book in that time, but I prefer to pick one when I am in a more relaxed setting and with enough time to cover a few chapters. Travelling to a foodie event a few weeks back, I was checking out some blogs to kill the time and take my attention off the crazy traffic at MG Road. And I found this blog called 'The Mala Project' . I liked one of the recipes but it was only when I read the brief about this blog, that I truly fell in love with it. Even though I may not be cooking Chinese on a particular day, I just pay a short visit to this blog and enjoy going through the posts.

Kung Pao Lotus Root is the only recipe that I have had the time to replicate in my kitchen and it turned out to be amazing. Even though I did not have a few ingredients mentioned in the list, I hardly found anything to be amiss. Hot, sweet, sour and spicy, this is a great option when you are in the mood to serve some vegan starters to your family .

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 15 mins

Ingredients -

  • 100 gm lotus root ( Use one that is unblemished and thick )
  • 3 tbsp chopped spring onions (greens only)
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic (thin slices )
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger ( thin slices )
  • 3 dry red chili peppers ( medium heat ones )
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • 1/3 tsp peppercorns 
  • 3 tbsp canola oil

For the sauce -

  • 1 tsp thin soy sauce
  • 2 tsp vinegar 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1/5 tsp salt (or to taste)

Preparation - Peel and slice the lotus root. Soak in water till you use them.

Take the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and cornflour in a cup . Add 2-3 tbsp water to the cup and mix into a thin paste.

Cooking - Heat the canola oil in a wok.

Remove the lotus root from water and dry them on paper towels. Shallow fry in small batches on medium flame till they turn brown on the edges.

Remove from wok and drain on paper towels.

Drain most of the oil from the wok leaving just about 1 tsp oil. Add the broken red peppers and peppercorns. Once they release their fragrance , add the spring onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for 2 mins without browning them.

Add the fried lotus root along with the sauce. Stir fry till the sauce thickens in consistency.

Finally add the peanuts, give it a toss and switch off the flame.

Serve hot.

Note - You can check out the original recipe HERE . I have skipped a few ingredients which are not available easily and substituted the chicken stock with vegetable stock to keep it vegan 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pumpkin Kidney Beans and Quinoa Salad ( Vegan Lunch Diaries )

In the gastronomic world dominated by upstarts and gorgeous vegetables like the zucchini, purple corn and red cabbage, the humble pumpkin hardly finds any takers. But if you have been following my blog for sometime now, my fascination with the rather out of shape member of the squash family won't come as a shocker to you. I love the vegetable to an extent that one would always find some stocked in my fridge. While it is a rather common ingredient in most of the curries/dal in Odisha, I love to cook the vegetable just by itself. A simple pumpkin fry would do on most days, the spicy Sri Lankan Pumpkin curry is a must-have when I am in a mood to indulge myself.

With kiddo following in my footsteps, our family's love for this vegetable is now widely recognized. Just to ensure that he does not get teased about it, I now have a mission to give this down-market vegetable a sexy new makeover. And this vegan salad recipe, a complete meal in itself, is the first thing that came to my mind. Filling to the core and bursting with fiber, this is something that one must give a try.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup boiled kidney beans ( or use canned ones )
  • 1 cup pumpkin slices
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes or crushed pepper
  • salt to taste
  • a sprig of cilantro

Preparation - Take the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, chili flakes/pepper and salt in a bowl to prepare the dressing.

Chop the onion into thin slices and add to the dressing. Keep aside for 20 mins.

Cooking - Wash and cook the quinoa with 1 cup water and a tiny pinch of salt in a saucepan. Once the water is absorbed, fluff it up .

Sprinkle a few drops of oil on an iron skillet. Once it starts to smoke, throw in the pumpkin slices . Sprinkle a tiny amount of salt and cook them on high till brown spots begin to appear. Flip them over and cook on the other side as well. Once they are done ( not mushy ), remove and keep aside.

Add the boiled kidney beans, the pan-seared pumpkin and the dressing to the quinoa. Toss gently.

Garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Padma Nada Batibasa ( Lotus Stem Cooked in Quintessential Odia Style )

After the three days of marathon feasting ( aka Raja festival ) last week, I was in the mood for some super light vegan fare. Since pitha and ghuguni had dominated the menu for the festival, I was predictably out of vegetables. Hoping against hope, I scoured the fridge to salvage enough to drum up a simple lunch for two. An opaque container came within my reach and as I picked it up, I could feel the contents sloshing about. Now, I usually make it a habit of using transparent containers in my fridge as one can clearly see what is within them. But these cute 'keep-fresh' tabs from Tupperware were on a discount and I could not help buying half a dozen. And having run out of the transparent ones, I had used one of them to store something in the fridge.

Something ? God what could it be ? I had completely forgotten about it and as I tried hard to remember, I realized that I was having another bout of momentary amnesia. Expecting the worst, I popped it open. But got a pleasant surprise instead. It had about a cup and a half of neatly cut and thoroughly cleaned lotus stems which meant I could directly cook them. No hassles. Just what I would have wanted on a lazy day.

So, I quickly made some 'batibasa' or mustard based semi dry curry with it. The beauty of the 'batibasa' lies in its simplicity. All the ingredients are thrown together and cooked on a low flame. No stirring required. Just a bit of a mustard garlic paste, a little poppy seeds paste, some more crushed garlic, a few green chilis (if you like it hot), a spot of mustard oil, a pinch of turmeric and salt to taste are all that one needs to whip up this super easy dish.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 20 mins

Ingredients -

  • 150 gm lotus stem
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 5 garlic flakes
  • 2 green chilis
  • 1 tsp mustard oil ( I used Fortune Vivo which is a blend of rice bran and sesame )
  • pinch of turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds

Preparation - Peel the cut the lotus stem. Wash it thoroughly to remove any dirt sticking to the holes.

Grind the mustard seeds, 2 garlic flakes and 1 green chili into a smooth paste.

Soak the poppy seeds in hot water for 1-2 hours. Drain water and crush them into a light paste with a pestle or a grinding stone.

Cooking - Mix all the ingredients evenly using about 3-4 tbsp water. Put it in an oven-proof dish and pop it into the oven for 15 mins at 170 degrees.

Or put it on the stove top in a thick bottom vessel. Cook covered till tender.

Serve warm or at room temperature with steamed rice and yellow dal.

Note - Lotus stem can be cleaned and stored in water for about a week when refrigerated. 

My Coonoor Chronicles

"It feels great to hit the road", I said. Hubby did not dare to disagree. After all, we were taking a trip after a long gap of almost an year. It was just about 5:30 in the morning and Bangalore was slowly edging into consciousness. We drove as fast as we could to avoid the crazy traffic that has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. But little did we know what lay in store for us.

Feeling a little better once we had left the chaos of the city roads for the picturesque Bangalore Mysore highway, we took a quick break for some tea and snacks at one of the Kamat eateries that line the highway. These places always serve quality food at a decent price. Getting back into the car, we drove past Channapatna, Mandya and even Mysore without facing any traffic at any point.

Driving through never-ending forests of Bandipore, we finally reached the foothills of Ooty around 12:30.  And after those negotiating those 37 hair pin bends and encountering droves of tourists ( May being the peak tourist season), we finally reached Ooty around 1:30 pm. Quickly covering a few of the usual tourist hangouts (all of which were packed to capacity and required one to stand in an incredibly long queue), we settled for lunch at the Planter's Paradise, a centrally located restaurant. It is one of the few good places to eat when in Ooty as other options can leave one with a bad taste in the mouth. Food was predictably good and well priced. Service was quick and I was amazed that they could manage to keep it up given the staggering number of folks walking into the restaurant.

Ooty Botanical Gardens - Anyone game for a song n dance ?

With food in our bellies, the tiredness of the journey finally kicked in. Desperate to reach Coonoor for a siesta, we battled the traffic rush which was unbelievably high due to the confluence of the tourist rush and an upcoming election in TN. But it got worse when one reached Coonoor, much of this sleepy town being designed to handle single lane traffic and nothing more. And since our destination, Lamb's Rock, was situated right next of one of the most popular sightseeing spots of Coonoor, we had to battle it out with others who were eager to return back to Coonoor/Ooty after visiting the spot.

Finally, after witnessing traffic queues that could put Bangalore to shame, we managed to reach the villa. Situated in a tea estate, it looked straight out of a dream. Standing in the tiny patch in front of it, I could only manage stare at the beauty that surrounded this place. To use a much abused expression, it was 'fifty shades of green' and a few more that I could spot around me. Buffeted by the undulating slopes of the tea estates on one side and a awe inspiring Shola forest on the other, this place was situated right in the lap of Nature.

Tea estate in front of our stay

The cozy vacation stay 

While one would expect such places to be enveloped by a deathly silence, it was far from quite. The air was rent with the cries of cicadas and a million other insects. This cacophony quickly changed into a strange howling once the winds started blowing though the leaves of the statuesque trees. Being so far from the main town, there were very few lights to be seen and when the fog suddenly descended upon us, even they dimmed out. A primal fear gripped me at the moment but it was mingled with a sense of exhilaration. Something like being cast out of civilization but at the same time, of being ensconced in a cozy capsule. Maybe it was the effect of the villa which was just so warm and cheerful.

The villa had a kitchen which was stocked with all necessities. If you are a pasta lover, I strongly recommend you to carry some pasta, olive oil and a few herbs when you visit this place. But since we were not carrying anything and also being extremely tired, we had an early dinner ( takeaway from Dragon restaurant ) before dropping dead. And slept for the longest time. Waking up around 7:30 in the morning, I was captivated by the dazzling blue of the clear sky. Brewing a cuppa for myself, I took a short walk in the tea estate and came across some over-enthusiastic bees who did not look like they would take kindly to my strange presence in what was obviously their territory. Taking a cue, I beat a hasty retreat and settled down in the tiny patch of a sun-kissed lawn with a Murakami.

Once kiddo was up, it was hard to contain him inside the house. The cozy tent pitched in the lawn proved to be a magnet for him but what made matters worse was the presence of the four-legged furry friends. The shenanigans of Blackie, Puppy, Socks and Pepper were too much to resist. The breakfast was on the house and we were a bit disappointed with what turned up at the table.

A quick shower and we were ready to step out for some sightseeing. A short trip to SIM's park turned out to be good hike as it is landscaped onto the slope of a hill. The pretty flowers, the ancient looking trees and the small lake built in the center of a garden are the major attractions of this place.

Wanted to hug this grand old tree !!

The next point we visited was Dolphin's nose. Nice view but nothing spectacular. View points like these are the usual suspects in any hill station down South. However it was the ride to this place which turned out to be the best part of the trip as we took a breathtakingly beautiful circuitous route through the tea estates of Coonoor. Yes, it did remind me of Munnar and the song 'Kashmir Main Tu Kanyakumari' from Chennai Express.

The waterfall at the distance !

Yours' Truly striking a pose !

The final stop was the tea factory. It was a quick tour and one ended up much enlightened about what goes into a making of India's favorite beverage. Chai point could not have put it any better than when it claimed that 'India runs on Chai'. And yes, as always I ended up buying every possible variant (read  organic,green, masala, ginger, etc) of the beverage.

How cud I resist this one? Anyone ready to pop the question?

Wrapping up the sightseeing as quickly as we could, we traveled back to the villa. But before that, we stopped for a quick lunch at the Orchid Boutique Hotel. Inspite it's reputation, he food was a complete letdown.

Back to the villa, we settled for a siesta to recharge our batteries. And just one hour prior to sunset, we set out for Lamb's rock. This short walk through the forest canopy was most exhilarating. The thunderous clouds gathered in the sky had darkened the path more than usual. And the chatter of the birds and the insects felt scarier than any of the sound effects in the horror movies. It was enough to send chills down one's spine. But once we reached the point, the throng of tourists broke the spell that had been cast on us. Within a few minutes, it started drizzling and we had to beat a hasty retreat. Half walking, half running we managed to reach our stay but not before we had been drenched completely.

Once we had changed into dry clothes, it took a few cups of steaming hot tea to warm us up. Arranging the dinner turned out be another nightmare as it was raining quite a bit. Inspite of being situated very near to the 'De Rock' hotel, the hosts do not have a tie-up for the meals ( can't really blame them as the place is actually a B&B kinda thing. Chk it out on AirBnB ). That proved to be the only con of staying at the "Welaro'. Finally the dinner arrived late and we called it a day.

The next morning I rose quite a bit early to spend more time amidst the lush greenery of the tea estate. I wanted to capture as much as I could of the awe inspiring beauty that surrounded the place. But then, time is a tricky thing and soon it was time for us to make a move. A quick shower and breakfast later, we were ready to hit the roads by 9. As if on cue, our furry friends too turned up at the doorstep to bid adieu to us. It was a tearful moment as kiddo had become rather fond of one of them.

Striking a pose - Baby and Blackie !!

Since we had started early, we manged to avoid a lot of traffic driving through Ooty and down the hills. A pit-stop at Planter's Paradise for breakfast and a short halt for lunch at Empire restaurant on the Mysore-Bangalore highway helped us reach Bangalore in good time ( just before 5 pm ). Yet another eventful trip had come to an end but the memories would stay with us for years to come.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sijha (Muan) Pitha ( And A Happy Raja to All )

The swings have sprung up all over the city. The latest Odia blockbusters are also out. Malls look all spruced up. Ongoing sales have the people coming out of their home in droves. Pretty girls are everywhere to be seen. And there is even a 'Raja Queen' contest to anoint the prettiest amongst them. That's the typical scene in Bhubaneshwar or even the smaller towns and cities of Coastal Odisha during Raja, the 3 day festival that is celebrated in honor of Mother Earth. Being one of the rare festivals that celebrate menstruation, the three days signal a period of complete rest from physical labor ( in accordance with what Ayurveda prescribes and not what marketeers of the extra absorbent winged protection and menstruation cups would like us to believe ) and eating to one's heart content.

Now for a scene from a typical Odia household that boasts of a hell raiser (aka a teenager). Makeup. Check. New outfits. Check. A spring in the step. Check. Pitha. Skip. "It's so loaded with calories", being the most common refrain with teenagers who are turning weight conscious. "What ? Do these teens think that KFC and their ilk fry chicken in water ?", I want to shout back. But then I already know the answers. As do these people.

But then, some wise Odia lady of yore was obviously thinking ahead of her time as she lovingly doled out pithas to her extended family. The humble pitha or the traditional Odia snack ( both sweet and savoury ) comes in a dazzling array of shapes, sizes and flavors. And thankfully, all of them are not ghee-guzzling entities that could give nightmares to any fitness freak. Or for that matter, any individual who believes in a moderate diet. The 'Muan Pitha' or 'Sijha Pitha' is just one among them. A steamed savoury delight with just the right amount of sweetened roasted coconut stuffed into it, it is usually eaten with a yellow peas curry or Ghuguni.

The traditional method of preparing one is to tie a piece of clean cloth over the mouth of a wide vessel containing water. A thick batter is poured over the cloth, covered with a lid and steamed till it is cooked. But I have employed the steamer attachment of a rice cooker to prepare this Pitha with almost identical results. Plus, it is minus the mess caused by the traditional one.

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 1 hour

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup urad dal ( skinless )
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 cups freshly grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup powdred jaggery ( as par taste )
  • 2 green cardamom ( powdered )
  • 1 tsp black pepper ( powdered )
  • 1 1/2 tsp ghee
  • salt to taste

Preparation - Soak the rice and urad dal overnight. Wash and grind into a fine paste the next morning. Allow to ferment for 10 hours or so depending on the climate. 

Season the batter with salt just before steaming the pitha.

Cooking - Heat the ghee in a wok. Add the coconut and roast till it starts getting a little brown.

Add the powdered jaggery and cook till jaggery melts and coats the coconut evenly. Finally add the powdered spices,mix in and switch off the flame.

Grease a steamer pan with ghee . Pour a layer of batter about 1 cm thick. Spread a layer of the sweetened roasted coconut over it and finally cover it with another layer of the batter.

Boil water in the main pan. Place the steamer pan over it and close lid. Let it steam for about 15-20 mins.

Switch off the rice cooker/steamer. Remove the steamer attachment carefully. Let it cool down for a while before you cut the pitha into pieces of desired size.

Serve with a curry of your choice.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Oats Chia Pudding

"Did you start taking Amla juice ?"

"Hey what about those yoga classes you were planning to join ?"

"Did you buy that wheat grass powder ? "

"You on started drinking Women's Horlicks . Do you find any difference in your energy levels ?"

"Are you using Olive oil for everyday cooking ?"

Women chatter. Having done with kids and husbands, the female conversation inadvertently steers towards the topic of eating and staying healthy. Most of us are fighting an everyday battle in terms of balancing taste with nutrition. And since we tends to relegate our own needs in favor of those of our spouse or the kids, the results are all too visible. Weight gain and dipping energy levels are some of the most common issues faced by women post their thirties. But ask anyone of them if they are doing anything about it, and the most common response would be " I do not find the time. "

While it is very much true that the household work load distribution ratio in India is very much skewered, there are some simple changes that can be brought about in one's lifestyle. Start with eating the right kind of breakfast. Usually I find women eating breakfast all too late or eating too much of carbs or fat and rarely any fruit. Hence, this is one area where we can definitely improve upon.

And an overnight Oats Chia seeds pudding with a serving  of fruit is definitely one step up the hierarchy of good health. Oats, Chia seeds, milk, yogurt, almonds and fruit make it the most complete and balanced kind of meal that can replenish the depleting sugar levels and keep one going for hours. Plus it is ridiculously easy to put together and can be have had out of jar even as you go about the house pulling out socks and books from the unlikeliest of places.

Read on for the super easy recipe -

Preparation Time - 5 mins

Ingredients -

  • 3/4 cup oats 
  • 2 tsp chia seeds
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 2 pinch nutmeg (optional but recommended
  • 2-3 drops vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp chopped almonds
  • 1 serving of fruit ( apple/banana/strawberry/mango or anything one likes )
  • 1 tsp sugar or 1 tsp honey

Preparation - Take a jar or a small glass. Pour in 3/4 cup milk, yogurt, almonds, nutmeg and most of sugar/honey. Mix well and the add the oats. Let it sit for 10 mins.

Mix the remaining milk with vanilla extract, a few drops of honey and the chia seeds. Pout it over the soaked oats. Close it and pop it into the fridge. Leave overnight.

Let it stand at room temperature for about 30 mins to 1 hour in the morning before consumption. Top it with chopped fruits of your choice ( you would be having some left after adding them to the kid's cornflakes or making a fruit chaat for husband's lunchbox) and eat.

Note - Soak about 25-30 almonds overnight. Drain and wash them under running water. Peel and chop up into small pieces. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge and add 2 tsp to your Oats-Chia pudding everyday. The overnight soaking process stimulates the production of enzymes in the almonds and hence one gets the maximum benefit of consuming them.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Kheema Bhindi ( Okra Stuffed with Spicy Chicken Mince ) (Ramadan Special)

The holy month of Ramadan has commenced and the hogging fever has kicked in with full frenzy. Looking at the luscious photographs on social media, I cannot help feeling nostalgic about my Hyderabad days. Haleem and Biryani topped the list as did a plethora of butter/ghee dripping chicken dishes. But having crossed the threshold of thirty, one needs to deal with the stark reality of a slower metabolism. The days of carefree hogging have been left behind and a smart diet is now my prime focus area.

I have always admired the Bengali diet which makes it a point to include veggies and greens even when there is a yummy fish curry or mutton curry on the plate. Since any given person can only eat a certain volume of food, including vegetables reduces the amount of animal protein/fat consumed and hereby the overall calories consumed. Plus one gets a lot of fiber ( it adds bulk and signals the brain that one is full ) and vitamins too. Of course, a lot depends on the preparation method too. For example, lightly sauteing the vegetables or grilling them adds lower calories than what would be added if one curried the same set of vegetables. I will be doing a complete blog post on 'healthy eating' in the near future so watch out this space.

Getting back to the 'Kheema Bhindi' that I prepared as a part of the Ramadan Series, it can be served as a delicious and slightly more healthy starter as compared to the Kheema samosas or the Kheema pops. Okra being a highly fibrous vegetable helps in alleviating constipation, a common complaint when people gorge on oily and meaty dishes. Plus, it is all too easy to cook. For this preparation, pick ones that are tender  and large enough to hold a good portion of the kheema.

Read on for the recipe -

For the Chicken Kheema -
  • Minced Chicken - 200 gms
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped tomatoes 
  • 1 small onion
  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/5 tsp garam masala
  • 3 tsp oil
  • salt to taste

Others -
  • 15-16 nos Okra
  • 4-5 garlic flakes (thinly sliced)
  • onion rings for garnishing
  • lemon wedges for garnishing

Preparation - Grind the onion, garlic and ginger into a coarse paste.

Cooking - Heat 3 tsp oil in a pressure cooker.  Add the onion-ginger garlic  paste and saute till raw smell goes off.

Add the powdered masalas and saute for 1 min.

Add the chicken kheema and turn up the flame for 2-3 mins. Let it brown a bit.

Once it starts to stick to the bottom, add the chopped tomatoes. Stir fry till the tomatoes are somewhat mushy.

Add very little water, sprinkle salt and close the lid. Cook for 1 whistle.

Once steam has escaped, open the lid. Carefully remove 1-2 tsp of the oil that would have separated. This can be used later to pan fry the okra.

Put the kheema back on the flame and cook it a little more till it just dries out. Leave aside to cool down.

Wash the okras and pat dry. Put a slit along the length and remove the seeds. Stuff about 1 - 1 1/2 tsp kheema into each one.

Heat a pan. Add the oil that one had removed earlier from the kheema. Add the garlic flakes and fry till fragrant. Remove the garlic from the pan.

Place the okras carefully on the pan, sprinkle a tiny bit of salt over them and cook on medium to high flame till just done. The okras should retain a slight crunch.

Remove from the pan. Serve immediately.

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