Sunday, February 26, 2006

mahali pickle recipe

if you're looking for a blood purifier or just something to soothe your nerves and settle your stomach, look no further than a small portion of mahali pickles. it will set your tongue on fire before settling you down, but it sure works. made from indian sarsaparilla, a root that grows in central india, mahali is a much loved south indian pickle. it is delcious with just plain yogurt but can also be a great accompaniment to upma or morkali.

sarsaparilla roots - 250 gm
chilli powder - 2 tbsp
turmeric powder - 1 tsp
salt - 2 tbsp
yogurt - 4 tbsp

soak the roots in water for 30 minutes. scrape the skin. remove the hard vein inside. cut the roots into tiny bits. add chilli powder, powdered salt and turmeric powedr. add curd and mix well. mahali is available at matunga market in bombay:


this recipe is from lifco's "how to cook" by mrs. vedavalli venkatachary. this is probably one of the cookbooks that i most frequently use. my father presented it to me when i got married. he was really worried as i had never cooked in my life and didn't even know how to make a cup of tea! i can't tell you what a saving grace this book has been. it has simple recipes for all the south indian delicacies that i grew up eating. you can buy the book directly from the publisher's website.

craving california

i start craving california every time i eat figs. it seems hard to believe that just a few years back we were living in a lovely house in the bay area which had a fabulous view of emerald hills, lots of sunshine, a great deck, a six person jacuzzi on the deck and several fruit trees (oranges, lemons) including a very special fig tree.

we were renting from a wonderful man called gabe who over the four years that we lived there became a dear friend. i'll never forget how gabe offered me lemon juice and figs from the tree when we first saw the place and loved it immediately. it wasn't until we moved in that it registered to me that the lemons and figs grew in the backyard! gabe was the one who got me hooked on making fig jam which i dilligently did every summer that i lived in california. i continued the tradition in new york though it just wasn't the same. i missed picking the figs from the tree and getting my fingers all sticky from the milk oozing out.

i so miss making bottles of fig jam for my friends. h was always fighting to keep all the jars at home and not give them away because he loved the jam so much. i used the jam in many different ways. on toasted waffles for a quick energy blast in the mornings. on a baguette with manchego cheese and greens at lunch. with crackers and gooey brie for a cocktail. with crispy dosas for a light dinner.

in case i've inspired you to make some fig jam, here's my trusted recipe that i found on epicurious five years ago:

Saturday, February 25, 2006

comfort food

thepla, khadi, sweet mango pickle (chundo) - that's comfort food for me. i usually like to make everything myself except theplas and parathas. my father sends me the most delicious theplas from bombay which last for several weeks. i buy frozen parathas from the indian store on drummond street. a few days back i made khadi but was too lazy to make rice as well so i heated up some theplas instead and had a yummy mid-week dinner.

Monday, February 20, 2006

thai green curry with jasmine rice

thai food is so wonderfully sensuous to cook. just washing the lemongrass before cutting it leaves a lovely scent on the fingers which last all evening long. and then there's thai basil which is much more fragrant than regular basil. galangal, cilantro and lime also add to the fresh flavour blasts one gets when cooking thai.

i made green curry last night from a kit i bought at waitrose, london's version of wholefoods. even though the vegetables came pre-cut, i felt like i was making the recipe from scratch as i made the paste in my blender from all the ingredients provided - shallots, green chillis, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, thai basil, cilantro and lime.

trim the ends of the lemongrass and place in a food processor or liquidiser, together with the shallots, garlic, zest of the lime and 1/2 tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin and black peppercorns. add 4-5 tbsp cold water and 1 tbsp vegetable oil and blend to a smooth paste. the lemon grass is really hard on the blade of the food processor so take care not to have the green curry spray all over the counter.

heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a medium pan and gently fry the paste for 1-2 minutes. stir in 1/2 of a 400ml can coconut milk and cubed tofu.

simmer for 2 minutes until the tofu is piping hot. add the juice of 1/2 lime and season with a little salt. garnish with leftover coriander and the thinly sliced remaining chilli. serve with jasmine rice. i also made a vegetable stir-fry to enjoy with the green curry and rice.

ps - now that i am writing this recipe for you, i just realised that i used the whole can of coconut milk. no wonder the curry seemed light green and not as rich in colour as i was expecting after all that fresh basil and coriander!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

simple spaghetti

the easiest dinners can be the tastiest dinners. h loves a spaghetti dish i make using extra virgin olive oil (e.v.o.o.), finely chopped garlic, crushed red chilli flakes(lots of them!), chopped green olives, sweet pimientos and capers.

i fill a huge pot with water and bring it to boil while i begin to chop the garlic, green olives and sweet pimiento. i then pour a few glugs of oil in a large pan and get it going on medium heat. then i add the garlic and allow it to fry for a minute or so before throwing in the other ingredients - i just love the smell of garlic sizzling in olive oil. i then turn the heat on low and let all the flavours mix together. i add spaghetti to the boiling water and after ten minutes or so when it is cooked al dente, i drain and add to the olive oil mixture. last night i also made a side using oyster mushrooms and mange tout beans. i lightly sauteed the vegetables in e.v.o.o. and then add some truffle oil at the very end.

we drank an italian red wine called da luca from the taranto region in italy. the wine was a primitivo-merlot which is a wonderful combo of spicy flavours from primitivo grapes and chocolatey flavours from merlot grapes. these old world/new world wines are increasing in popularity in the states as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

japanese manga


i have become very fascinated with japanese manga especially since i found bilingual manga for sale at a bookshop in narita airport. japan is one of three great comic producing nations in the world. the other two are the united states and france. but i think the scale and popularity of comics in japan is at a much higher level than in the other countries. there are more than 3000 professional manga artists living in japan churning out dozens of comic strips each of which can claim readership of over a million each.

the word manga in japanese originally omes from two chinese ideographs "capricious" and "images" which referred to clever pictures. in japan you have manga devoted to every demographic including senior citizens.

i picked up the first volume of three manga which caught my fancy. i then hope to ask my japanese colleagues to mail me all the other volumes of the ones i like. i am most intrigued by "the wonderful world of sazae-san" by machiko hasegawa, japan's first successful woman comic manga artist. the heroine is a cheerful and scatterbrained housewife who has a very ordinary life. the period is post-war japan when japanese life was marked by food shortages and grim conditions. for those of us unfamiliar with japanese culture, this manga gives a glimpse into the daily lives of an average family, their hopes and desires.

i think that in 2006 manga will take off globally in a big way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

monsoon cafe in western tokyo

tired of japanese food already, we went in search of thai tonight. my dk eyewitness guide recommended a nice place in western tokyo that served royal thai cuisine which was supposed to be quite spicy. unfortunately, rice terrace was closed when we got there. i'm not sure if it has gone out of business or it was just shut today for some reason. we wandered around the neighbourhood which seemed a bit touristy (given the several "italian" and "english pub" restaurants) and finally settled on a casual place called monsoon cafe.

the decor at monsoon cafe felt very indonesian. there was a lot of dark wood and animal carvings. i got a somewhat tropical feel from the jungle themed wallpaper in which elephants and monkeys happily co-existed! i ordered a mango mojito which was quite delicious though i was a little afraid of the quality of cocktails at this place.

my colleague ordered a few appetizers which we shared. the first was a green papaya salad which i enjoyed mucho because of the simple but super fresh ingredients. i'm a big sucker for the lime, cilantro, bean sprout and raw carrot combo with crumbled peanuts in a spicy dressing.

the other appetizer we ordered was an indonesian dish called gado gado. it was my first time eating gado gado and i totally loved it. assorted steamed vegetables (cauliflower, green beans, lady's finger, mushroom etc) are lightly blanched and placed in a medium sized bowl. peanut sauce, garlic and a poached egg are then poured over the vegetables to dress them up. whether you like gado gado or not depends entirely on the peanut sauce. monsoon cafe makes a really wicked peanut sauce from freshly ground roasted peanuts, chilli sauce and soy sauce.

main course was green curry with vegetables and brown rice. i was eating my curry and rice with chopsticks when my colleague pointed out that they never use chopsticks in thailand. i wonder if that is indeed true. geez, i feel like quite an idiot. i've been eating thai food with chopsticks ever since i discovered this cuisine in college and no one ever pointed this out until today!

dessert was tapioca in coconut milk with aduki beans. the sweet red bean paste is a bit of an acquired taste but it added some excitement to a potentially dull dessert.

overall, dinner at monsoon cafe was very satisfying. i highly recommend it if you find yourself in western tokyo and not particularly in the mood for japanese.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

tempura restaurant in ginza

i can't believe i'm stuck in a foreign city for valentine's day second year in a row. last year was sydney (also for a business meeeting) and this year it's tokyo. valentine's day has become such a non-event that h doesn't even bother to wish me anymore. sigh...

the upside is that i went to dinner with a very charming colleague who has worked in asia for years and is a wonderful conversationalist. he's been to japan many many times so was the perfect companion for a first evening in tokyo. we chose a tempura restaurant in ginza, a short walk from the akasaka prince hotel where we are staying. i hadn't realised that there is no such thing as a "japanese" restaurant as i knew them in charlotte, san francisco, new york or london. here it's sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, sashimi or one of the other elements of japan's amazingly diverse cuisine. a respectable japanese restaurant will never mix and match. too bad for us who like a little variety. being vegetarian, i might not have had much to eat at a sashimi joint but tempura worked out ok. at least i din't go hungry though i had to dig into some seafood to satisfy my hunger.

mark and i ordered two pri-fixe dinners of assorted tempura (vegetables, seafood etc), rice, japanese pickles, salad and dessert. we also ordered a bottle of pinot to wash it all down. i was ravenous as my last meal had been a light breakfast consisting of an english muffin and some marmalade right before we landed at narita. right after, i had to go straight into meetings with a japanese client all day till 8 pm. i was tempted to ask them around 6 pm if they had any valentine's day plans which they needed to leave for but decided against that. the work culture here is hard core. i was lucky to get three milky teas between 2pm and 8 pm which were a true saving grace for my stomach which was churning by the time dinner came around.

tempura's origins in japanese cuisine date back to the portuguese who taught the japanese how to deep-fry seasonal vegetables and seafood in a light, crisp batter. the japanese have elevated the basic technique to a pure art. the freshest in-season vegetables and seafood are use and fried one morsel at a time in high quality sesame oil and the tempura are generally never too oily, if done the right way. i picked on bean, eggplant, lima bean and tofu tempura but also had to taste some prawn and other assorted seafood tempura as there just wasn't enough of a selection of vegetables. luckily for me, the pinot was pretty good so i pretended the non-vegetable tempura were just different forms of tofu. miso soup was served right at the end it had baby mussels floating in it. it was actually much tastier than the miso broths i have had before, even at nobu. dessert was a choice of melon, pineapple or mango. no surprised as to which was was my selection!

Monday, February 13, 2006

deli at the virgin clubhouse

virgin is the best airline in the world. i'm always amazed at how much this brand is constantly pushing the envelope to make the experience simpler and more stylish for customers.

i'm writing this post from the virgin clubhouse at LHR. the limo picked me up from the japanese consulate as my visa took a whole week to process (cheers to the indian passport!) and i didn't get back my passport with the japanese visa till this morning. the drive to heathrow was a breeze as the roads were pretty empty - it's half-term at schools. i had a drive through check-in at the airport and then got through fast track to arrive at the trendy clubhouse in t3.

i love the virgin lounge. you can get your nails done, sip a martini, indulge in a massage, surf the web wirelessly and help yourself to fantastic free food all day long. i ordered a demi baguette sandwich with cheese and grainy mustard. i really enjoyed biting into the fennel, sesame and poppy seeds in the bread. i also drank a mug of freshly squeezed orange juice which had fresh mint leaves. the light snack and refreshing beverage put me in just the right mood for my twelve hour flight to tokyo. got to run for my back massage before my flight is called. hasta manana!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

konnichiwa, tokyo!

i'm leaving for tokyo tomorrow morning and will be gone for a week. i'm super excited as i've only transited through narita but haven't spent any time in japan. i've always heard of tokyo as the ultimate dream for urban explorers. the energy and vibe is supposed to be even more fabulous and charged than new york city. i'm really looking forward to soaking in the sights and sounds of a culture which is always on the bleeding edge!

i suspect that jetlag might provide lots of opportunities for blogging. i'll take my camera along to give you my take on japanese food and culture. do let me know if you have any recommendations of must-dos while i'm there!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

i love lychees

lychees - i can't get enough of them! and the good news for me is that this tropical fruit is easily available in london all year round, i think. the peak season is not till june/july but they seem to be in the market already. i don't think i ever saw lychees in any of the grocery stores in new york, not even wholefoods. i had to get canned lychees from kalustyans to satisfy my cravings.

i like being pure when it comes to lychees. sometimes i'll indulge in a lychee martini at a restaurant like nobu or lychee with vanilla icecream after a indian chinese meal but most of the time i totally love peeling the rough skin and eating the sweet flesh with my hands. so delcious!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

baked egg in mushroom and tomato ragu

i've begun to cook without consulting recipes. though i have loads of cookbooks, i find myself reading them as novels at bedtime or on weekend mornings. i'm getting into the mode of being inspired by photos and description of dishes but then doing essentially my own thing.

i had some mushrooms left over from a minestrone soup i made a week back. i also had a few tomatoes lying around in the fridge. and then there were a few eggs as well. so i decided to try baking an egg over a mushroom and tomato sauce.

i thinly sliced the shiitake mushrooms and sauteed them on medium heat with some chopped garlic in a little bit of extra virgin oil. after about five minutes when the mushrrooms started to release their juices, i added some chopped tomatoes, a handful of loosely torn rosemary leaves, paprika, sea salt and pepper. i allowed the vegetables to cook for about ten minutes till sauce like consitency. i spooned the tomato and mushroom ragu into ramekins, broke an egg on each and stuck into an oven for about 7 minutes till the eggs were done. i then garnished with a sprig of rosemary and served with jarlsberg cheese and a slice of wholewheat toast. i have to confess that i loved my own baked egg creation which is a nice warm brekkie on cold weekend mornings!

Monday, February 06, 2006

kashmiri rajmah

my dad sent me tarla dalal's "cooking & more" magazine last year in which i found an absolutely delicious recipe for rajmah made with kashmiri red chilli powder. some of you may remember that i posted this recipe on lulu loves manhattan last april.

i made rajmah last night and took a picture this time since i'm using only my own photos on my london blog. i have to say that this recipe is completely foolproof! i'm amazed how yummy the rajmah is every time i make it. you can use less oil and skip the butter if you want to make it healthier. rums taught me that you can even subsitute lobia for the rajmah to make a lighter version if you find rajmah very heavy.

serves 4

1 cup kashmiri rajmah, soaked overnight
2 tsp kashmiri red chilli powder
2 cups chopped tomato
1 cup grated onions
2 tsp garlic
1' piece ginger, cut into strips
1 cup chopped coriander
6 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter salt to taste
choppped coriander for garnish

1. pressure cook rajmah with 1 tbsp oil, saly, 1 tsp red chilli powder and 2 cups of water till it is overdone (i usually wait for 4 whistles). keep aside.
2. heat oil in a kadai (wok), add grated onion and tomato with 1/2 tsp salt and saute till the mixture leaves the oil.
3. add the garlic, giinger, the remaining red chilli powder and coriander and saute for about 7-8 mins.
4. add this mixture to the boiled rajmah and pressure cook for another 10 minutes and later open the cooker and let it boil till the rajmah turns into a semi thick gravy.
5. finish by adding the butter -essential for the flavor! garnish with chopped coriander. serve hot with basmati rice.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

kensington gardens


today was the first day in over a month when i felt relaxed enough to take a walk in the park. didn't feel like shopping or eating or socialising or doing up the house. it's been quite hectic since we moved to london with barely any time to relax and chill out or "chillax" as our friend joy would say. but now that we are somewhat settled in our new home, i'm going to start exploring and chillaxing a whole lot more!

we had gorgeous weather today which inspired us to take an afternoon stroll in the park near home. kensington gardens is one of eight royal parks in the city. it covers 275 acres and was originally part of hyde park. the magnificent trees, the kensington palace and the round pond distinguish it and make it more special than the more famous and crowded hyde park next door.

we spent a few hours this afternoon strolling around kensington park.not only was it as high as 10 degrees centigrade but we also had sunshine for about four hours today so we were totally determined to make the most of every minute in the sun. can you believe that london had only 8 hours of sun in the entire month of january?? today was a real treat indeed!






Friday, February 03, 2006

poha for weekend breakfasts

living away from india for over six years now has made me a breakfast cereal junkie. i usually have a bowl of big K (vanilla almond, peach) with skim milk accompanied with a cup of early grey tea on week days. i take sips of tea and spoonfuls of cereal while i juggle everything (ironing, hairdrying, make-up etc etc!) and get ready for work every morning. this has become such a routine now that i don't even think to deviate from this set formula for fear of being late for work. and on weekends i tend to think of making pancakes, crepes and all varieties of eggs.

but i do fondly miss the hot and savoury breakfasts i grew up on - upmas, pongal, dosas, idlis, adai, pav bhai and poha to name a few. although they give you quite a spice kick in the morning, they're so satisfying and tasty that they invariably get you off to a good start to the day. i am also a huge yogurt and mango pickle fan, choosing every opportunity to add dahi to my meals which i obviously can't do with cereal and eggs.

in london, i've decided to make indian breakfasts on either saturday or sunday every week. last week, manoj was visiting from seattle and provided me the perfect opportunity to start my new resolve. raj also spent the night with us so i had three hungry and a bit hungover men to feed saturday morning. i made poha (beaten rice flakes) for the blokes which they devoured in no time, washing it down with orange juice.

poha is one of the easiest indian breakfasts to make. here is the recipe which i doubled for 4 people.

3 katoris (small cups) poha
1 large potato finely chopped
1 large onion finely chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
A few curry leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
A few corriander sprigs, loosely torn

wash the poha thoroughly in water, drain and keep aside. heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. toss in the mustard seeds. once they start crackling, add the onion, potatoes, turmeric and curry leaves. stir fry till the onions are pinkish and the potatoes are cooked. now add the drained poha and mix thoroughly. cover the pan and lower the heat. cook for about another 4 to 5 minutes. remove the pan. add lemon juice, corriander and salt to taste.

i like to make an easy raita to accompany the poha. take some yogurt and add water until the consistency is buttermilk-like. add salt, chillie powder and half a chopped onion. serve with the poha.