Helbeh

Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks for the traditional middle east recipes written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. You may download the e-book here. I find several vegetarian recipes that we, Indians, could very well try without demur since most of the ingredients are readily available here. Helbeh is one such recipe that caught my attention as it is an exceptional semolina cake prepared with fenugreek seeds and almonds. 

Curry Powder

The search for perfect curry powder began in my family 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 came handy to elevate my mother’s biryani, vegetable kurma, etc. to a whole new level. I still remember the aroma of this curry powder in her kitchen while preparing savoury dishes.

Neem Balls

“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 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.

Green Curry

Although Thai cuisine boasts 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 they don’t mind taking seafood. So vegetarians/ vegans may order food from live counters (or roadside vendors) rather than dining at buffets, as they can make sure to avoid using seafood as flavor enhancers while preparing vegetarian dishes. I am a fiend for Thai curries especially, green curry for the pleasant green color, creamy sauce, and the delightful aroma of Thai herbs & spices.

Mukkani Payasam

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 .

Classic Blackgram Porridge

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

Channa kulambu prepared using small black chickpeas was one of the few curries I liked to relish during my childhood days. In those days my mother never used large white chickpeas, perhaps it was available only in specific places. Nowadays I switch to large white chickpeas for their soft, melt-in-mouth texture and prepare even more delicious channa kulambu. I like to prepare chettinad style aromatic channa kulambu using white chickpeas, drumstick pods & eggplants (brinjal) to savour the beautiful aroma of drumsticks & the delicious flavor of channa.

Carrot Halwa

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.

Sesame seed squares

Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, we could find 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 Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. We could also find several references in our ancient literature that stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms.

Coconut milk biryani with Kashmiri dum aloo

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.

Peanut Butter Mug Cake

Despite the fact that peanuts can cause ama (indigestion), my father, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, encouraged us to snack on peanuts even at a young age mainly for 3 reasons: Peanuts are the only legumes that 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; it is possible to rid of ama while taking peanuts. Raw peanuts and roasted peanuts cause ama but not the steamed peanuts, so we can avoid taking raw peanuts altogether. Instead, we can take roasted peanuts along with jaggery, some spices, or herbs that aid in getting rid of ama. Here I have prepared a peanut butter using jaggery and added it into my mug cake.

Vegetable Samosa

It is quite hard to find someone who finds samosa unappetizing. Samosa is a scrumptious tea-time snack with chewy flavorful filling enclosed by crispy thin layers of pastry. Typically samosa is prepared by deep frying pastry sheets stuffed with spicy vegetables or minced meat. Lately, I switch to baked vegetable samosa as deep fried ones have always been my guilt pleasures.

Ayur Detox

I began to realize the significance of detoxification only when I started taking a course of detoxification in an Ayurvedic clinic. Detox is as important as giving nourishment to 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 more effective for detoxification, it is a good idea to include detoxifying herbs & spices by incorporating ayurvedic concepts into our detox diet. In this post I have outlined the Ayurvedic concepts and shared a few of the recipes for Ayur detox.

Anjarisi Pongal

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.

Boli

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 the traditional boli that is fairly difficult to prepare. Generally, Indians prepare different varieties of boli or poli with soft or flaky skins and powdery or moist fillings, but I find the traditional one, popular in Kanyakumari & Nagercoil regions, is the most delicious boli. They were usually made thin, flaky, papery & large, and stuffed with a sweet dry filling (paruppu pooranam).

Fig upside down cake

Earlier elders in our family were of the opinion that baking cakes is a painstakingly strenuous procedure, and hence nobody in my family dared to bake cakes at home. We usually devour the cakes bought from the renowned bakery in our locality. During Christmas we had opportunities to relish home baked cakes like dark brown fruit cake, pale yellow semolina cake, etc. shared by our friends & neighbors. Those days home-baked cakes were so special for people like us as it was rare to find such soft scrumptious old-fashioned Christmas cakes even in the city’s premier bakery. Later we all bought the oven and bake spongy cakes at home even with local flavors. Here I have baked an eggless fig upside down cake using whole wheat flour & foxtail millet flour.

Puli Thanni (Tamarind Soup)

According to ancient Indian medicine systems Siddha and Ayurveda, tamarind fruits have numerous healing powers. Nowadays, nutritionists recommend to boil the vegetables in tamarind juice instead of plain water to prevent the loss of nutrients, but we have been practising the same for generations. Tamarind is a quintessential ingredient of the traditional south Indian curries like sambar, rasam, or kuzhambu. Besides, we also make pungent tamarind soup (puli thanni) and sweet tamarind juice (panakam) specially on the day of fasting.  Obviously, tamarind juice & tamarind soup have excellent detoxifying property and hence they aid in weight loss also.

Dishwasher in India

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.

Edible Lamps

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.

Murungakkai Masala (Moringa mash)

Moringa trees are the most common trees grown in almost every house here in South India. Despite the facts that moringa trees attract pests and they are so fragile that they can not withstand strong winds, we grow this tree mainly to enjoy the benefits of nutritious leaves, flowers & pods. Normally, we don’t allow the children to go near this tree as woolly caterpillars found on it may cause itchy skin hives when contact with their strands. Also it is a common phenomenon that branches of drumstick trees break apart and falling down during windy or rainy season.

Murukku

“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 take crunchy snacks for 3 reasons: It takes longer time to chew them, thus it makes us feel full (even with fewer calories), and hence greater satiety.

Deepavali Dumplings: Susiyam, Munthiri kothu & Bonda

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. Susiyam, Munthiri kothu & Bonda are the traditional dumplings prepared in my family for Deepavali festival.

Saffron Rice

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 the 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 colors and it became so popular that it was served to the guests at royal weddings & banquets. The empress brought revolutionary changes in every art form. She designed dresses with silver or gold-threaded brocades, cutlery & crockery engraved with rubies & emeralds. She also commissioned magnificent buildings including a tomb for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg which was actually a draft of Taj Mahal.

Karamani Sundal

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 making sundal (legume salad). Generally, we offer sundal as naivedyam to deities during Navarathri. Typically, we prepare sundal using chickpeas or other legumes. I like to prepare sundal using karamani (black eyed beans) for the soft skin & creamy texture. So I have used karamani of different colors viz., mahogany, peach & white colors and prepared 4 types of sundal.

Amla Relish

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.

Chinese Spinach

I am grateful to the creator of the well renowned TV series, The Popeye show, for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for an insipid spinach even at his tender age. Though he did not like to take spinach with rice, he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like his hero, the great Popeye, gobbled it up! This cartoon show successfully conveyed a profound theory, “we are what we eat”, even to the kids.  Thus it made my job easier to convey the importance of taking wholesome food.

Poomparuppu Sundal

Lord Ganesha is regarded in the same manner as God Janus 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 like to start my day by listening to the soul-stirring hymn, Vinayagar Agaval, written in Tamil (the oldest language) and sung by the late legendary singer M.S.Subbulakshmi.

Pesarattu

We often felt shy talking about food during our childhood days as we might get teased by our peers or others as gourmands. Nowadays, it is a welcome trend that the kids are happily wielding small ladles to cook up their favorite meals (thanks to the TV shows like Masterchef Juniors), and the teens turn to food critics with élan. Today the gourmands proudly declare themselves the foodies and try various cuisines. Apparently, a foodie would find Pesarattu, the golden green crepes, served with melt-in-mouth savory sooji (upma), flavorful lentil stew (sambar), spicy ginger chutney and creamy coconut chutney as a gastronomic delight.

Poppy seeds Payasam

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, so I could barely identify the flavor of these tiny seeds. But when I started using them in larger quantities while making desserts like payasam, the flavors became so conspicuous that it has a nutty flavor similar to sesame seeds and a mild sweetness similar to peanuts.

Vatha Kuzhambu

The larger population of the world generally prefers to preserve their bountiful seasonal fruits, vegetables & other fresh produce by freeze-drying them. But we, Indians, prefer to sun-drying our fresh herbs, berries & spices. We have been using sun-dried (dehydrated) ingredients for culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1000 years. Ayurveda, Siddha, and other Indian medicine systems prescribe medicines prepared using sun-dried herbs or fresh herbs. We use dried herbs for making powders & tablets (chooranam) and fresh herbs for external applications, or for making decoctions, etc. We also prepare delicious vatha kuzhambu, a traditional South Indian kuzhambu, using sun-dried vegetables, berries, or fruits and serve with rice.

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