Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for their traditional recipes (you may download the e-book here). I could find a number of vegetarian recipes that we, Indians, could very well try without demur owing to the fact that most of the ingredients are easily available here. Incidentally I found an exceptional cake recipe using fenugreek seeds, the commonly used Indian spices, in this book.
The search for perfect curry powder began when we caught the whiff of mouth-watering parotta salna (flaky flat breads with spicy curry) emanating from the “parotta shop” on our way back home from school. After several trials of various curry powders available in the local market, my brother found Karunanidhi curry masala closely racing behind the one used in parotta shops. It was really useful to elevate my mother’s biryani, vegetable kurma, etc. to a whole new level and I still remember the flavourful fragrance in her kitchen while preparing those dishes.
“It is horrendous to gorge oneself on extremely bitter balls”, this was the thought we all had in unison when we were asked to swallow marble-sized neem balls in an empty stomach early in the morning. Our grandmother tried various methods by sprinkling tiny sugar crystals over these emerald green balls, and promising us a “paal” icecream stick (creamy milky ice pop) in the afternoon or a movie show in the evening, etc. But all her tactics usually went in vain as older children escaped from her clutches easily and young kids just spat them all out.
Although Thai cuisine boasts of a wide range of meatless preparations, we could find every vegetable salad, soup, or curry tinged with fish sauce/ oyster sauce/ dried shrimps/ shrimp paste. People declaring themselves as vegetarians in Thailand are actually pescatarians, they don’t take any meat but seafood. So it is preferable for vegetarians/ vegans to order food from live counters (or roadside vendors) rather than buffet restaurants as we can insist them to avoid using seafood as flavor enhancers while preparing a vegetarian food.
Reading Panchangam (an almanac prepared based on Indian calendar system) is an age-old custom followed every year on the day of Tamil New Year celebrated in the middle of April. A few centuries ago it was a customary that royal priests were summoned to read a new Panchangam in the king’s court mentioning important dates of the year and also foretelling the calamities like flood, war, etc. Even today every TV channel telecasts the speech rendered by astrologers predicting the next prime minister, rain fall, gold price, etc. that are of great interest to people of all walks of life .
Oil bath is almost a forgotten weekly routine followed by every South Indian family until 3 or 4 decades ago. Surprisingly it offers pretty much the same benefits of Ayurvedic massage. But people nowadays prefer to visit Ayurvedic clinic for massaging therapy, and spend a few hours & a few bucks there. Most of us take oil bath at home only as a religious ritual on the day of Deepavali festival every year.
Channa kulambu prepared using small black chickpeas was one of the few curries I liked to relish during my childhood days. In those days large white chickpeas were sparingly used for the reasons still unconvincing to me. Eventually I switch to large white chickpeas for their soft, melt-in-mouth texture and prepare even more delicious channa kulambu. Nowadays I like to prepare chettinad style aromatic channa kulambu using white chickpeas, drumstick pods & eggplants (brinjal) to savour the beautiful aroma of drumsticks & delicious flavor of channa.
It is a common practice that we carry a box of assorted sweets, chocolates, or dry fruits when we visit our friends or relatives. Likewise we also receive such gifts from our guests and we usually finish them all in a couple of days, but the milk sweets remain untouched for few days. Ever since I read a slogan encouraging veganism “cow’s milk is for calves, not for humans”, I began to feel that it is our greed to use cow’s milk, and hence we have no right to waste milk or milk products. So I always look for efficient ways of using left-over milk, curd or milk sweets, and I find carrot halwa as the most delectable transformation of milk sweets.
Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, it is a common sight in some families here that men treating his worldly wise mother as Sarasawathi, the goddess of wisdom & knowledge, his caring wife as Durga Devi, the goddess of strength & protection, and his lively daughter as goddess Lakshmi who brings in prosperity. Even our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. Ironically we could find several references in our ancient literature which stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms. Thiruvalluvar, an enlightened sage lived in 300 BC, wrote about the eternity of values to be followed by kings, men & women in all walks of life in Tamil (the oldest language in the world) and compiled Thirukkural, the greatest Tamil literary masterpiece known till today. Interestingly he did not miss to highlight the women power in his classic text 2000 years ago as below:
A long time ago I read through an eye-opening piece of information published in almost all the newspapers & magazines about the special menu meticulously planned by the top chefs to ease the tension during the talks between Indian premier & Pakistan president at Agra summit in 2001. It made me to realize for the first time that the food we ingest not only nourishes our body but also influences our mind, mood, or thoughts as well. It also struck me that it is possible to tame the tantrums played by kids, or to channel the teens’ minds to set their goals by serving mind-calming foods. Apparently every mother could play a crucial role for the physical, mental & emotional well being of her children by serving appropriate food to fulfill their needs.
Despite the fact that peanuts can cause ama (indigestion), my father, an ardent follower of Mahathma Gandhi, encouraged us to snack on peanuts even at the young age for 3 reasons: Peanuts are the only legumes grow underground, hence the rich sources of micro-nutrients than any other legumes; they are beneficial to vegetarians for being the greatest sources of plant-based protein; and it is possible to rid of ama while taking peanuts. Raw peanuts and roasted peanuts cause ama but not the steamed peanuts, so we avoid taking raw peanuts altogether but we take roasted peanuts along with jaggery, some spices, or herbs that aid in getting rid of ama. Generally we snack on boiled peanuts salad (sundal), a popular street food, specially during monsoon or winter and we also relish peanut candies, fried peanuts, etc. made using roasted peanuts.
It is quite hard to find someone who dislikes samosa, a scrumptious tea-time snack, with crispy thin layers of pastry covering chewy flavorful filling. Typically samosa is prepared by deep frying triangle shaped pastry sheets stuffed with vegetables or minced meat. But nowadays I switch to baked samosa as deep fried samosa have always been my guilt pleasures.
Ever since I underwent a course of detoxification procedures in an Ayurvedic clinic I realized that detoxification is as important as nourishment of our body. It is essential to keep not only toxins but also toxic thoughts & toxic people at bay for our well being. Since Ayurveda is popular for effective detoxification, I feel it is a good idea to include detoxifying herbs & spices by incorporating ayurvedic concepts into the detox diet. We all know that Ayurveda is pivoting on the principles of three major forces of energy vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (water) and we have a mixture of these energies (dosha) within ourselves and in our environment in different proportions at different times. Ayurveda believes that when any of these forces are out of balance (or exerted excessively on us) it causes disease, so it recommends us to take appropriate dosha-pacifying food (or avoid taking dosha-aggravating food) to reduce the effects of excessive dosha. You may refer the comparison tables below to understand how our body & mind is influenced by these forces.
Anjarisi pongal, a rice dish made using 5 varieties of rice, is a traditional pongal served in sumptuous Chettinad wedding feasts. They usually prepare anjarisi pongal or anjarisi payasam using black kavuni arisi, varagu arisi (kodo millet), rava (sooji), javvarisi (sago) and raw rice. But I tried using indigenous rice varieties well known for their nutritive values especially for low-GI property like white kavuni arisi, varagu arisi, moongil arisi (bamboo rice), mappillai samba arisi (red rice), and kaikuthal arisi (hand-pounded rice) for making delicious and nutritious pongal.
I wish all my readers a blessed New Year full of happiness and health! In this new year I aspire to rise up, glide above my comfort zone and hanker after the recipes I never dared to try before. Now I have tried traditional boli that I enjoyed in my childhood days but I never had the courage to try. There are a number of varieties of boli prepared by South Indians, but the traditional boli is the most delicious boli I ever tasted in my life. Those boli were made thin, flaky, papery & large and stuffed with mashed sweetened lentils. It is really challenging to prepare perfectly shaped boli as it is made thinner than any other boli and hence it turned out to be a larger boli. Nowadays it is hard to find these traditional boli in the sweet shops here, they are usually made thick, chewy, greasy & small which I feel unpalatable.
Earlier elders in our family were of the opinion that baking cakes is a painstakingly strenuous procedure, and hence nobody dared to bake cakes at home. We usually devour the cakes bought from the reputed bakery in our locality, and we also had an opportunity to relish home-baked cakes on every Christmas shared by our neighbors & friends. Home-baked cakes are undeniably special & precious as it is rare to find such soft scrumptious old-fashioned Christmas cakes like dark brown fruit cake, pale yellow semolina cake, etc. even in the city’s premier bakery.
According to ancient Indian medicine systems Siddha and Ayurveda, tamarind fruit is believed to have numerous healing powers. It is a quintessential ingredient of the commonly prepared south Indian curries like sambar, rasam, or kuzhambu. In a recent study it was found that we can largely reduce the loss of nutrients while cooking vegetables by boiling them in tamarind juice instead of plain water, which we have been following for generations. Besides we also make pungent tamarind soup (puli thanni) and sweet tamarind juice (panakam) that have been customarily served on the day of fasting for its excellent detoxifying property. Obviously tamarind juice or tamarind soup can be included into our detox diet which also aids in weight loss.
For centuries Indians have been enjoying the luxury of employing a battery of domestic helps like a cook, house maid, driver, gardener, etc. Nowadays people prefer to avail the services of Uber than appointing a cook or driver, but finding it difficult to manage their daily chores without the support of house maids. On the other hand house maids have been increasingly lackadaisical about their works in recent times. Some, especially the urbanites, may identify their maids in some way or the other with the poster shared in social media.
Elders in our families are unable to withstand to watch the children blowing out candles on their birthday as lighting up lamps is considered auspicious here and it symbolizes brightening up the people’s lives. Earlier traditional lamps (kuthu vilakku) were treated as supreme deities at home, but statues & pictures gradually gained the special status rather than those lamps. Nowadays we gift lamps to our friends & relatives for wedding or for house-warming ceremony wishing them happy & prosperous life. We also prepare edible lamps & light them during Thirukarthigai festival.
Despite the facts that moringa trees are known to attract pests and they are so fragile that they can not withstand strong winds, they are grown in almost every house to enjoy the benefits of nutritious leaves, flowers & pods. Normally we don’t allow children to go near this tree as woolly caterpillars found on it may cause skin hives when contact with their strands. It is a common phenomenon that branches of drumstick trees break apart and fall down during windy or rainy season.
“Can you crunch murukku?” is one of the commonly asked questions when oldies meet each other during the festival of Deepavali. It is regarded as a blessing (or as a sign of good health) if one could relish crunchy murukku even at an old age. There is an old saying in Tamil “norunga thindral nooru vayathu vazhalam” (meaning crunching ensures longevity), it is considered healthy to snack on crunchy murukku as it takes longer time to chew and also it makes us feel full, hence greater satiety.
Dumplings are not only traditional but also universal, they are ubiquitous in almost every cultural cuisine in various forms be it boiled, baked, steamed or fried. Chinese dim sum, Italian ravioli, Nepalese yomari, Jamaican fried dumplings, Polish potato plum dumplings, British herb dumplings, American apple dumplings, etc. are some of the old-fashioned adorable dumplings that still delight the gourmets across the globe.
Sweet saffron rice (zarda pulao) is a Persian rice dish, and it was the most sought-after pulao among the royals during the Mughal era dated back to 16th century. Noor Jahan, the multi-talented Mughal empress, devised new techniques to stain rice grains with edible dyes. Zarda pulao was made using such rice grains of various colours and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at the royal weddings & banquets. She brought revolutionary changes in every art form, she designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds, and she also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which is regarded as a draft of Taj Mahal.
Navarathri is a festival of worshiping the goddesses Parvathi (for creative power), Saraswathi (for wisdom) & Lakshmi (for wealth). Navarathri celebrations in Tamilnadu is incomplete without offering sundal (legume salad) to deities. I like to make karamani (black eyed beans) sundal for the soft skin & creamy texture. Today I used karamani of mahogany, peach & white colors and prepared 4 types of sundal.
There were plenty of healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. We relished them as much as the deep-fried snacks like puffs, samosa, chips, or sugary snacks like candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, etc. during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
I am thankful to the creator of The Popeye show for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for insipid spinach even at his tender age. This cartoon show made my job easier to convey the importance of taking wholesome food and also made a small kid to understand a profound theory, “we are what we eat”. He did not like to take spinach with rice when he was a kid, instead he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like the great Popeye did.
Lord Ganesha is worshiped by Hindus, in the same manner, God Janus is regarded in Greek mythology. It is interesting to find the striking similarities between the two as they both hold the honor of being the first god worshiped in every ritual. I also like to start my day by listening to the hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written on Him by the 14th-century poetess Avvaiyar sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.
As a child I used to shy away from talking about food fearing that I might be mistakenly stamped as a gourmand. Nowadays it is a common sight that teens are talking all about food with their peers with no inhibition, and there is also a welcome trend that kids happily wielding small ladles to cook up their favorite meals (thanks to the TV shows like Masterchef Juniors), and above all we could find gourmands proudly call themselves a foodie.
Poppy seeds payasam is a delicious and nutritious dessert popular in Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh. Earlier I had been using poppy seeds scantily as a thickening agent along with coconut, so I could not identify the flavors in these seeds. But when I started to use them in larger quantity while making payasam, the flavor became so conspicuous that I could notice its nutty flavor similar to sesame seeds and also its sweetness as that of peanuts.
It is a common practice in the most parts of the world that people preserve bountiful seasonal fruits and vegetables by freeze-drying them in a freezer and use them all through the year. But on the contrary we, Indians living in a tropical climate, preserve them by drying under the sun as it shines here almost all the days of a year. Sun-dried (dehydrated) products have been used by us for both culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Even the medicines recommended by Ayurveda, Siddha, or other Indian medicine systems have been traditionally formulated by sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs; fresh herbs are mainly used for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc., whereas dried herbs are used for making powders and tablets (chooranam).