Monday, January 30, 2006

spices, spices, spices

those of you who cook many different cuisines regularly must have a huge collection of spices like i do. i’m having such a hard time organising them neatly. in new york, i used a combo of a spice rack and old pickle and jam jars but i’d like a prettier solution in london. thus far i haven’t been able to find any. all the spice jars that i’ve seen so far come fully stocked – i guess i should look online and order something from the net. maybe i haven’t found the right cooking shops in this city. i miss the container store!!

my 18 jar spice rack in the picture is what i brought along from new york. it has assorted spices for mostly non-indian food. i have sage, tarragon, oregano, nutmeg, ginger, thyme, parsley, dilweed, basil, cilantro, fennel, curry leaves, kesoori methi, lemon grass, mexican seasoning, chinese five spice and vanilla beans.

i’ve loaded my indian spice box with new spices i just bought from a fabulous indian grocery store on drummond street. you see methi (fenugreek), jeera (cumin), black mustard seeds, turmeric, chillie powder and salt. i haven’t made up my mind as yet on what to put in the last available container – maybe garam masala. or coriander seeds. or sambhar powder. i still have 15 odd spice packets lying around waiting for a home. among the destitutes are anardhana powder, white pepper powder, black peppercorns, garam masala, kalonji, shah jeera, kashmiri chilli powder and anardhana seeds to name a few. which of these do you think most most deserves a place in my indian spice box?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

home sweet home

we finally moved in this weekend to our new home in kensington. although we had a pretty decent temporary flat, there's nothing quite like the feeling of your own place. all our stuff arrived safely from new york and cleared customs quite quickly but they did charge us about £50 pounds as customs duty for some wine and vodka that we had snuck in the shipment - i'm amazed they found it! the packers did a phenomenal job in less than a day. to my pleasant surprise, not a single item was damaged. we got lucky indeed with the move.

i love my neighbourhood already. the road we're on is lined with charming houses and is pretty quiet while still being just a few blocks away from all the action - shopping, restaurants, cinema and parks. we're a four minute walk from high street kensington tube station and a seven minute walk from the notting hill gate tube. we're also between holland park (one of the nicest parks in london) and hyde park. both are less than eight minutes away. i went for a long run in holland park this morning discovering the various trails. once inside the park, i felt like i was in the woods. it was unbelievably peaceful even at 9 am in the morning. just a few other joggers and dog walkers were enjoying the park. the mud trails, the ungroomed trees and the absence of "dressing-up " of plants give the park a very natural feel. there's a lot more to holland park that i'll blog about as i learn more.

here are a few photos of my kitchen. a bit plain vanilla but give me a few weeks and i'll be adding my signature look and feel! i've been told that it's a great size for a london kitchen as kitchens tend to be very small in this city. i guess a lot of londoners eat out or reheat prepared food most of the time! i love the huge windows that overlook a small enclosed atrium which has the sun roof of our neighbours below. the kitchen has plenty of storage which i'm pleased about because i have way too many kitchen items. the movers even remarked about that wondering how i was going to fit all my stuff. but i am confident of tucking everything away.

the two most fabulous aspects of my new kitchen are the bookshelves and the gas flame. i can proudly and neatly display all my cookbooks and the gas flame will let me roast peppers, brinjal etc quite easily. yeah!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

loads of fruit

i'm eating a lot more fruit in london than i ever did in new york. the fruits just look and taste a whole lot better. in manhattan, the fruits at the farmers' market at union square and wholefoods were gorgeous and delicious but in london even the ordinary fruit cart outside farringdon station has fresh and totally irrestible fruit that's just waiting to be consumed. as a result, i find myself eating plenty of nectarines, cherries, tangerines, crunchy and juicy green grapes and pink lady apples to name a few. the fruits are so good on their own that i rarely have any left over to use for puddings or crumbles. good news for my waistline, i guess!

Monday, January 16, 2006

brick lane

curry has recently become britain’s favourite food. i’ve discovered that many londoners head to a place called brick lane (a five minute walk from the aldgate tube) to get their curry fix from any one of the twenty plus “indian” restaurants (they are all bangladeshi-owned actually) on a ten block strip interspersed between indian grocery stores, sweets shops and video libraries. i picked up 3 hindi movies on dvd (salaam namaste, black and garam masala) for £10 on my way to dinner with h, joy who was visiting from new york and joy’s british indian friend manish who brought us here. it doesn’t really matter which of the restaurants you eat in on brick lane, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. and in fact now i can’t even remember the name of the place we ate it. i think it was called preem but i’m not sure.

the meal was very unbelievably ordinary. we got off to a promising start with onion bhajis (onions deep fried in a spicy gram flour batter) and kingfisher beer but then it was all downhill from there especially for me, the only vegetarian. the boys thoroughly enjoyed the vindaloo which was fiery hot. i tasted just a bit of the gravy in bravado despite warnings and was thoroughly shocked at how many red chillies must have gone into the dish. my mouth was on fire and my ears were burning as they do when i eat something too spicy!

if it hadn’t been for the pineapple raita that came with my very average vegetable biryani, i would have had to suffer the burns much longer. apparently they even serve a more spicy vindaloo called “paal” but it’s not on the menu in case a non-desi sues the restaurant!

dessert was not bad actually. we popped into a “sweet meats” store where freshly made rosogollas, kala gulab jamuns, rasa malalis, chumchums etc tempted us. we got one of each and quickly polished it off. the sweets were overpoweringly sweet but very enjoyable nonetheless. i may not be returning to brick lane any time soon for anything other than the dvds.

Friday, January 13, 2006

spicy bolivian butterbean soup

since we still haven't moved in to our new home, i am doing a lot more eating out in london than cooking. the kitchen in our temp flat is not very inspiring, to say the least!

it isn't terribly cold in london these days (8 degrees C, 50 degrees F) but it's chilly enough to crave soup all the time, especially at lunch. one of my colleagues introduced me to this lovely soup kitchen called nusa located in clerkenwell, about a ten minute walk from work. nusa offers unusual soups like goan chickpeas and spinach, root vegetable and spicy bolivian butterbean. i was intrigued by the bolivian soup so tried it at lunch today. it was just delicious. the butterbeans were cooked to perfection in a spicy tomato broth. they also provided the necessary protein to a light meal. all nusa soups come wth a generous portion of freshly baked pita bread with sesame and kalonji seeds.

butterbean is another name for lima bean. it is of andean and mesoamerican origin. perhaps, sury or cesar who write the lovely blog lima (beans) and delhi cha(a)t can tell us more about these beans!

nusa kitchen
9 old street
london ec1 9hl
020 7253 3135

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


i don’t think i had heard this term before i moved to london but now i hear it all the time, especially since h seems to have developed (literally overnight!) a big fancy to gastropubs. as you all know, pubs are are a very english institution. the english drink a helluva lot and they all seem to head to the neighbourhood pub for drinks right after work and hang around till almost the last tube home. did you know that london alone has over 5,500 pubs? they vary greatly in style from the classic pubs to the sports bars to the gastropubs where the food is the focus. i learnt from a friend that the word “pub” is derived from the fact that these bars are considered public establishments. which means that the public have the right to use the facilities for free. you can just walk into any pub and plonk yourself down and nobody can throw you out. this was a handy tip because when you are out and about and need to use a toilet, you can always use the ones at any pub without feeling guilty that you haven’t bought anything to drink or eat.

h and i have been checking out many gastropubs and one that has quickly become our favourite is builders arms, a somewhat preppy gastropub tucked away on a side street, off king’s road in south west london. this is the heart of chelsea - you wouldn’t find yourself here unless you lived in the area or you own a zagat’s! our friend, anne, gifted us a zagat’s guide to restaurants and nightlife in london and it has been an invaluable guide. builders arms feels like a gastropub for the erudite. it’s like a library with old, oversized books that you just have to remove from the dusty shelves and browse through. in fact we spent hours looking at an old atlas which had detailed maps for all the european countries we want to visit. the clientele at builders arms appear to be 20 and 30 something trendy londoners fond of chilling out with friends over beer and smokes at all times of the day, especially on weekends. the food is “modern british” and zagat tells us that the sunday roast at brunch is extremely popular. builders arms even has several chess sets on tables throughout the bar in case you’re up for exercising those grey cells over a draught beer or a glass of wine! there’s a fireplace which adds to the cozy feel but i haven’t been able to score a table near the fireplace on either of the times we went. i can’t really comment on the food as we only ordered some chips along with beer but the chips (fries as they call them in america and finger chips as they say in india) were thick- cut and delicious, especially with some salt and vinegar! i know we will be coming back to builders arms quite often. next time, i’ll make it a point to eat here so i can report on the food which is supposed to be the key attraction anyway!

builders arms
13 britten street
tube: either south ken or sloane square

Friday, January 06, 2006

noura on jermyn street at piccadilly

lebanese restaurants in london are as common as mexican restaurants in san francisco. we had dinner last week at noura, an upscale chain of lebanese restaurants, which was highly recommended by rutton, a high school classmate of mine who also lives in london. rutton has been to the noura at jermyn street (the nicest one of all in london) so many times and brought so many friends here that the waiters know him by name and give him special service. we didn’t even bother to look at the menu as rutton did all the ordering for us. i have to admit that we didn’t progress beyond appetizers though as we were all completely stuffed on the excellent breads and various starters . the most outstanding dish i’m told was the arayess which is lebanese bread filled with seasoned minced lamb charcoal grilled. of course, being vegetarian, i didn't taste it. i thoroughly enjoyed the selection of 5 cold mezzes - hoummos, moutabbal, tabbouleh, warakenab (vine leaves) and mousakaat (aubergine) along with some thyme and sesame seed herb pizza with olive oil. yum!

122 jermyn street
sw1y 4uj
tel: 020 7839 2020

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

platform for art

the london underground runs a unique program called platform for art that uses the tube stations as art galleries for upcoming artists. what a splendid way to promote new talent as well as treat daily commuters to a visually appealing side of the station. h and i are currently in temporary housing, located about five minutes from the gloucester road (pronounced “gloster”) tube station, one of the participating stations in this program. commuters using the central and district line platforms are currently enjoying brazilian artist beatriz milhaze's “peace and love” installation instead of being bombarded by advertisements. i love how milhaze's work plays off the tube stations' gorgeous architecture. i take the central line to work every day and am quite amazed at how milhaze’s work is so energizing in the morning and so soothing when i come home.

Monday, January 02, 2006

pure gujarati khadi

one of the reasons that i was so excited to move to london is that my best friend, darshini, lives here. she has a lovely 2 bedroom house (a converted victorian) in west hampstead and is the proud mommy of an adorable little boy named arav. i love going over to darshini's place because she cooks the best gujju food in the world and she always does such a great job with presenting the food, making even a simple dinner seem so special. she loves to make different dishes for me but i always beg for her khadi every time i go over for lunch or dinner. so now darsh just makes sure there is a steaming bowl of khadi just for me no matter what else she is making.

khadi is super simple to make and i can easily make it myself at home. but somehow, darshini's khadi is infinitely more delciious than mine although we use exactly the same recipe!

start with a of sour curd. add two tablespoons of besan and 1 cup of water. start to boil. meanwhile, grind together 2 green chillies, half an inch of ginger, 1/2 tsp each of cardamom and cinnamon, a few sprigs of coriander and some salt. boil for about five to seven minutes on a low flame and stir continuously to prevent the mixture from boiling over. in a small frying pan, add one tbsp of oil. add jeera and mustard. and then some fresh curry leaves and asfoetida. then pour over the khadi. enjoy with steaming hot cooked basmati rice or phulkas. yum!

ps - samarat in bombay serves a great khadi as part of their thalis.