Monday, March 6, 2017

The Unlikely Biriyani

Indian homes are very particular about the Indian food recipes during a hosting event. Every Indian woman was supposed to know how to cater to the extended family’s food habits – which explained the dialogue every Indian woman has grown up listening to: “Whatever will you do when you have to cook for your family?”

Yes, it is depressingly patriarchal, and definitely unfair to the daughters of this land. But what this did successfully for many decades was to percolate the culinary knowledge, with very little loss in transmission, through multiple generations of Indians. Today it is heartening to see menfolk in enlightened households pay as much attention, if not more, as the ladies of the house, in the culinary extravaganza that Indian cuisine lends itself out to.

The Kayastha community in Northern India, is one such community. This community developed as scribes to powerful Mughal rulers in India. Ofcourse, the fact that they were good with numbers and were mostly educated, helped in establishing their position as trusted accountants and record keepers of the royal books. Needless to say, their position and proximity to royalty impacted the most important facet of their lives – their food!

The Kayastha community is known for their love of food.  They consumed meat just like other Hindu Kshatriyas, but they also developed the sophistication of the Mughal kitchens in their cuisine. This explains the similarity of ingredients used between Muslim and Kayastha foods. Thus, all over North, Central and Eastern Indian states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, spread the unique Kayastha cuisine.    

A successful Kayastha hostess can baffle you with her ability to match vegetarian options that are no less elaborate than its mutton counterparts (always mutton – chicken is not even remotely as popular). Infact, the lady of the house beams with joy when an aromatic Jackfruit biriyani baffles her guests into wondering how meat could be so tender!  Or how a Bengal Gram  (kala chana) cutlet passes off as a mutton cutlet with some tricks to create texture.

Made during those feasts where vegetarian guests are expected, this Kathal (Unripe jackfruit) Biriyani is sometimes much more talked about than its illustrious mutton counterpart.

The recipe, perfected by many generations of fabulous cooks, now uses modern cookware – that is the only margin allowed to be changed! The trick is to fry the Jackfruit pieces till golden brown, and treat them as tender pieces of delicate meat while preparing a biriyani. Layering the half cooked Jackfruit chunks with aromatic rice and herbs is an art.

Only whole spices are used to flavor the biriyani, and a compulsory addition is potatoes. The test of the biriyani, learned cooks say, is for the Potato to carry in it, the same flavor as the aromatic rice and jackfruit (or meat, if a mutton biriyani). What is amazing to know, is that many of the womenfolk who cooked wonderful non vegetarian delicacies in the Kayastha communities, were confirmed vegetarians!

(Published first at - The Foodwalk Experts)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Pepper Chronicles

The food of the Indian sub-continent has a distinction like none other –  food was not merely a medium to fill the stomach – it was a highly evolved science that had documented recipes, preservation methods and nutrition enhancement techniques built into it – and all this as early as pre-historic times.  No wonder the Indian sub-continent is one among the “Cradle of Civilizations”!!

And hence, it is no wonder that food assumed unparalleled importance in these civilizations. From being considered offering to Gods (Prasad, Naivedyam etc) to being compared to medicines in the Ayurveda, food has been assigned the highest position of purity and worship.

In fact, food was almost always sustenance with medicinal properties. Almost all the ingredients that were added, were done not only for taste, but also with an inherent healing property. And leading that list is our very own “black gold” – the black pepper.

Black pepper is one of the reasons India was a hot destination (pun intended!) for traders from across the globe – from Portuguese to Arabs, every trader who wanted to make it big came in search of this beautiful fruit which when dried and powdered, seduced the taste buds. No surprises why pepper is the most traded spice in the world!

Our forefathers knew various life hacks that this little fiery fruit brought to our dinner tables and medicine cabinets alike. We have also (albeit with a tiny bit of contempt and skepticism), listened to moms and grandmoms tell us how pepper is better than any “firangi medicine” to cure our common ailments. 

But guess what – these life hacks work! And motherhood is when I discovered most of them, since these were quick, effective home remedies, and one did not have to worry about side effects. So here goes: 

  1. Add it to any savory dish to create a whopping flavor – continental, Indian, Chinese – you name it! Salads and steak to soups and buttermilk – use it for the zing. 
  2. Digestive issues (well, most of them) are caused by the lowered production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach (for those of you who bunked bio class – yes! Your body produces it). Pepper is known to increase production of this acid in the stomach – which is why appetizers work wonderfully well with a healthy dose of pepper. Think pepper Rasam and you know what I’m talking about. 
  3. Further with digestion, it aids in relieving gas issues. For people who complain of gas (the lower body kinds, not to be confused with the ones that people have in their heads – no cure for that!) try replacing red chilly powder in your food, with black pepper powder.
  4. Every Mom in India knows this – drink a concoction that has pepper, either with honey or with ginger, to clear up the stuffy nose and chest congestion – absolutely safe for children.
  5. Dandruff issues? Have no fear – black pepper is here. Mix about a teaspoon of crushed pepper to a bowl of curd. Apply to scalp for 30 minutes and wash off with cold (remember, never hot water!) water. Do not use shampoo. The antibacterial properties of pepper is good for any infection including dandruff.
  6. Due to the same antibacterial property, pepper is a magical fix for acne as well. Crush pepper, and mix with some rose water, and use as a scrub – do remember to scrub gently!
  7. Adding pepper in your regular diet will ensure you have a skin that is more resistant to ageing than most others
  8. Remember the way you sweat when you have pepper? Well, that is another superhero property – pepper flushes out toxins and other icky stuff out of the body by causing sweating and increased urination.
  9. Here’s a bonus for all who speak the metabolism jargon – pepper spikes up your metabolism rate. Translated into simple-folk language – it aids in weightloss (yay!!) if added in small quantities to your (healthy) meal. Adding it to Maharaja Mac doesn’t count, sadly.
  10. To maximize the good properties of pepper, store pepper whole, and crush it when you need it. Use a good pepper mill – grinding it in the grinder will produce heat, lowering the effectiveness and the flavor.
  11. Ants bothering you? Black pepper to the rescue! Just sprinkle black pepper in those corners and in between drawers to keep ants away! (hmmm..... much like pepper spray for other kinds of pests!)
  12. Kids colorful clothes fading too fast? Just add a teaspoon of black pepper to one load of colored clothes to wash and the colors remain bright.
  13. Trying to quit smoking? Try smelling black pepper – research has shown that the inhaling pepper oil causes reduced craving for nicotine.
  14. Pepper is a ‘warming’ spice. Using pepper oil mixed with a carrier oil (that's any oil like olive, coconut, etc) to massage aching muscles after a heavy workout, or using it for arthritic joints will help relieve the pain.

Hoping you stock up your kitchen cupboard with this wonder spice, and find these life hacks useful. Do write back in the comments if you have tried any of this, or if you have any more interesting uses of pepper. Happy winters!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Memories and Flavors

Here’s something to tickle your foodie brains - see if you can identify the very familiar food that finds itself into every Indian home for any special meal. The clues:
  • It stems from the Hindi word “to lick”
  • Found in almost every color and consistency
  • Can be made of anything -  from shrimps to dates, from sesame to fenugreek
  • Your Grandmother probably made the best variant, and you still haven’t found how to get it just right (this is from my various failed experiments to recreate the magic of my Ammamma’s kitchen)
  • Never mind the theme – this little addition peps up any party; whether you want a coastal seafood journey, or a vegetarian snack party – some avatar of our superhero dish brings out the best in every dish on the table

Still guessing? 

The humble Chutney that is a part of every Indian household across the length and breadth of the vast Indian subcontinent is the hero of our discussion today, folks!

Picture courtesy

From the coconut chutneys that grace the South Indian breakfast tables, to the fiery chutney that uses fermented fish and “bhoot jholakia” (the hottest chilly in the world!) in a Nagaland household; from the sweet and spicy mango chutney of the Gujarati feast, to the pungent radish Chutney with typical Kashmiri flavors, Chutneys instantly perk up any ordinary meal with its burst of flavors.

Chutneys originated as a quick fix to dress up a humble meal. But it also had to do with elongating the shelf life of perishable seasonal fruits and vegetables. In geographical conditions that sometimes became hostile, the Indian homemakers found ingenious ways to make seasonal produce last for weeks, sometimes months together by pickling, or curing them. These ingredients were then freshly ground, pounded and mixed together to form chutneys.

Chutneys also allowed clever cooks to bribe the palate a little – take for example the dried shrimp chutney in Kerala homes. In many Kerala homes that are non-vegetarian, a fish dish is the only way to coax family members into a satisfying lunch. But In the event the fish monger was a little late, or greedy, or the lady of the house was just feeling a little under the weather, she would just grind together a little dried shrimp with tangy raw mango and coconut, throw in a few curry leaves and ginger for flavor, spice it all up with a few whole red chillies – and voila! The shrimp chutney would bring a smile to the fussiest little eater.

And who can forget the spicy, flavorful garlic chutney that Vada Pav lovers swear by? I remember walking miles with a friend to find THAT particular street vendor whose chutney brought tears to the first time taster (some may claim they are tears of joy, but trust me, it’s the chilly), but once you got the hang of it, you couldn’t imagine a vada pav without it!

Sometimes, we are awed by the little flavor bombs that get placed, quite unceremoniously and without aplomb, next to its more illustrious main dishes. And when describing it to the less knowledgeable, we explain, with much pride and association, how our humble Chutneys fill our senses with flavors and tastes that stay in the mind for a long time.

And that, dear friends, is my New Year wish for you – may your year be filled with various flavors – sometimes intense, sometimes sweet, sometimes strange – but at all times enjoyable. Happy New Year !!

P.S. I have started the new year with a promise to myself that I would do stuff that makes me happy - so please say hi to my new venture with some like minded friends - More Than Just Curry - we are gourmet food tour curators... read more about us at or visit out FB page for a little more insight.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Golden Words

I chanced to speak with a mentor yesterday night. It was his birthday, and I remembered only just before the day had ended. The conversation was as it always had been - endearing, and inspiring. That conversation led me to believe that I was doing myself a great disservice by not writing my heart out.

So with a renewed vow to myself, and to all the beautiful people who have constantly reminded me that my last post was over two years ago, here I am, fingers poised on the keyboard, my mind taking slow, awkward steps to write a few lines.

Most of us have a personal hero-list. I mean the list of people we hero-worship..... parents, siblings, cousins, friends, teachers. I have managed to compile here, a few golden words by my personal heroes. Most of these, when I think back, have caused to change something in me to make me a better person.

But ofcourse, here I will NOT tell you the reference to context for fear of letting out more skeletons out of my closet than I really care to :-).

"Go play the game. If you win, we celebrate. If you lose, we celebrate the lesson we learnt." - Dad 

"There has to be some difficulties in your life. If not, would you ever remember to pray?" - Mom 

"Wait. Don't do anything stupid till I get there." - Friend 

"If you don't feel like jumping into your work clothes and rush to work, do something else - you've got only a few decades left to live!" - Boss

"You better take care of yourself, because I can't be there right now." - Friend  (yup! got married to the poor chap)

"Always put lesser salt than you think you need. Increasing it later is much easier than trying to save a dish with too much salt."- Mom 

"If you keep thinking that you just want finish what you are doing, in order to do something else, the task in hand will never get over." - Mom 

"If you feel the need to lie to me, just don't say anything." - Dad 

"Always have some boiled potatoes in the fridge."  - Mom (yup, she was one helluva life hack guru)

"I don't care what anyone thinks - what do you want?" - Sister 

"You will look back and regret it if you don't find time for your passion." - Mentor 

"You look nicer when you smile" - My kids

"I don't want a party for my birthday - just spend the whole day with me." - very young daughter

"You will always have people around you who love you immensely - you will never go wrong if you think of their well being at every step of your decision-making." - Mom

"Karma is your surest and easiest life insurance. Just keep doing the right things" - Mentor

I consider myself very lucky - not because I haven't seen difficult times. But because I have, and those difficult times have shown me the wealth I possess in the form of friends and family. This post is dedicated to all of you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Celebration called Life

This post is for an Activity being organized and conducted by BlogAdda in association with Kolte Patil India

What does 'Celebration' mean? The Dictionary defines the word 'Celebration' as thus:
  1. To observe a day with festivity or rejoicing
  2. To perform a religious ceremony
  3. To extol or praise
  4. To make widely known; or display
Why do we end up waiting for an occasion to bring out the fine bone china dinner set? Why do we wait forever to wear that beautiful red dress we have tucked away for that 'special day'?Why do we wait for that rare get-together to meet up with people who were an important part of our lives at some point in time? Is not life, in itself, a beautiful gift worth celebrating?

Should we wait for the right occasions, the memories that strike us when it is a dear one's birthday, or anniversary; or when we reminisce the rituals in a festival? Or do we live each day to its fullest, breathing in deeply each lovely scent, filling our senses with each lovely sight - celebrating it?

To my mind celebrations occur each time:
  • You wake up to the sound of birds chirping, and the sight of golden filigree of sunlight through the leaves of trees streaming into your room.
  • You are able to hear muffled laughter of your children, who are trying to hide their own little jokes from you.

  • When you watch their sleeping forms, and realize just how much they had played in the sun the whole day; and then sigh as you know they will soon outgrow their games.
After a  full day at play 
Can't even wait to finish food !

  • In the midst of a busy day, you can sit with a cup of steaming coffee, with a book, right by that cosy corner in your room flooded with sunlight
My favorite spot in the world!

  • In the kitchen when the little one discovers a new recipe, and it looks just like it does in the cookbook - and it tastes good too

  • The uncomplicated, unconditional love you get when you come back home at the end of the day and your pet dog greets you like you have been away for years.
  • When you just cannot stop laughing even when you know that the little one should be reprimanded

Yeah.... I am just too cute for my own good 
And many more such little moments that can be found so often within the confines of our own homes. Isn't each one of them worth 'celebrating'?

My very skeptical sub-conscious immediately jumps at me with the "Buts"....  Life isn't a bed of roses - we have head spinning amounts of worry..... our careers, our daily commuting challenges, the difficult financial decisions, the corrupt state of affairs of our country, the stench of the garbage piling outside our homes, the burglaries and the unsafe environment - everything makes us miserable.

However, there is no denying that the right house can solve many of the worrisome parts of our lives.  Kolte Patil Developers feel that a good house is the best way to celebrate life every day. In an attempt to revive the spirit of celebrating life, they have created the Ivy Estate in Wagholi near Pune, a property spread over 85 acres in the lap of nature, which marries modern amenities and natural charm perfectly. 

#CelebrateLifeAtIvy by owning a dream home at Ivy estate, an 85 acre estate with 34 acres of greenery and open spaces. Join the 1600 happy families already living here. Check out this walkthrough video and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Silver Lining

Ever have those days when you feel the walls are closing in on you? When you arrive at the point where you feel everything you do, anything you do, is futile; that the world is still a cruel, sad place to be living in? That all your endeavors as a parent may just not work out?

Well, I did have a day like that. A day when I wondered if anything we did as parents was enough to make good people out of these little projects we have called children.

Why do I call them projects? Well, because they ARE - they live with us, they thrive on what we give out to them, but they don't BELONG to us. They are handed over to us by providence, or nature, or God (if you aren't an atheist) to nurture and place, when they are ready, into the world - much like a project.

Anyway, going back to the realization that we have so little control when it comes to raising them; how do we actually know that we are on the right track? Well, we don't know it. We can only take subtle hints thrown in by the great Sensei (yes, am a Karate Kid fan) called life.

We must be in the right direction if we see signs like these right?

  • Kiddo aged seven, in all earnestness, wants to bring home every stray dog he can find. Though he was crestfallen when we told him dogs do not like to be kept indoors in his room, he decided he was going to feed them every chance he got.
  • His elder sister, all of 11, wants to donate her books to a kid who cannot go to school. We have gone to great lengths to un-label, put in fresh covers and re-label her old books to give them out - all at her insistence.
  • When the adults in the house (that translates as me and hubby) fight over things that matter little to them, the brother-sister duo spare no words to let us choose between being "sent to the Principal" or "shake hands and be friends again". 
  • They call up their grandparents to tell them how much they loved the biryani they ate at their place. (And then promptly proceed to tell them embarrassing truths of my home!)
  • Little fellow comes home from cricket match one day singing "Chikni Chameliiiiiii, Chup ke akeliiiiiiii, Kowa chadhake Ayi"  When we explained to him that the song was not really about a pet crow (Kowa) - and that kids don't actually sing these songs, he promptly replaced the song with "Jungle jungle baat chali hai......." (You know the rest!)
  • Little one propped his pudgy little hand on my cheek and asked me how mosquitoes knew the blood group of the people they were drinking blood from. (we had just filled out his medical form where we had filled out his blood group as well)
  • 11 year old wears a dress, but looks at the mirror, and decides she looks fat. However, she changes her mind when the little fellow looks at her closely, and gives her the best compliment she has ever got - "You can sit with me in the birthday party." 
  • After a PTM meeting (let me assure you, its more stressful than business meetings) that went particularly well, little one asks, "Mom, are you inpred with me?" (that is 'impressed' in baby talk)
  • Elder one comes home one evening upset that a friend spread lies about her in school. So when I asked her what she wanted to do, she said she would ask her friend about it. Because, "she is my 'bestest' friend!"
  • On another occasion, when she found out that our domestic help could not understand English, she was distressed and started tutoring her. Watching the elder sister tutoring, the little one promptly brings out his crayons, and declares to the bewildered woman, "Now I will teach you coloring!"
Amidst laughter and tears I realize how maybe, just maybe, we are doing it right!
copyright @Pinterest

Friday, April 17, 2015

Living Life Queen Size

This is a post towards

Everyone knows that the first time you do anything, you need tons and tons of courage to take that first step forward. Especially if that one step means changing your entire life! And we do come across many such crossroads in our lives - one of which is when you leave the home you have lived all your young growing up years to become an independent adult.

I am sure we can all relate to the feelings and emotions that course through our hearts at that point - apprehension of actually, really being on our own, alone, fear of not being able to manage fending ourselves, excitement at getting a chance of living life on our own terms, pride of having been able to take that step.

I moved out of my parents' home quite early on. Professional college not only taught us the ropes in the academic world - it also taught us what taking care of ourselves really meant. It meant that when you walked into your tiny rented apartment you shared with 3 more (similarly mortified) strangers, you could not call out to your Mom that you were famished, and find hot, delicious food on the table. It meant that every scrap of paper, every piece of clothing that you left on the floor, was still lying there waiting for you when you came back tired and irritated. It also meant that water bills, electricity bills and anything that had to do with you paying for something, was your responsibility.

Four clueless individuals (including me), with no experience of living alone and armed with glorified visions of 'living on our own' thrown together to fend for themselves, DO NOT make for smooth, dignified existence. Needless to say, we had hilarious moments of learning in our lives.

The first few days we made do with basic amenities, which meant a bed, some bed spreads borrowed from Mom, a couple of towels and (the so important) bucket, mug and toiletries. And we guarded them with our lives!

As we learnt more things about surviving on our own, we discovered packaged foods, and also how to keep them hidden from plain view. We also learnt that parents sending food to us DID NOT mean that we ate all of it ourselves. Gradually, we learnt the art of keeping count of spending. We learnt that money somehow had this uncanny ability to stretch itself out during the last few days of the month - which meant that the last 100 Rupees in the wallet stayed untouched during the last lap of the month.

We also learnt to clean! Yes, frequencies were a matter of much heated debates, but we did learn how to keep our corner of the room clean. Bedspreads on the beds were protected (with requisite threats and violence if required) from dirty feet of others - even if that meant spreading out last week's dirty sheet ON TOP of the current one!

The landlords were a sweet middle aged couple who sometimes took pity on us and called us over for dinner, only to be shocked at the amount of food that we puny skeletons (we then were) could tuck into our bellies. We were given tips on how to wash clothes, how to keep them from flying off in the wind when drying them, how to fill out water in the morning so that we are not left high and dry (literally) in the middle of a shower.

The years spent in that little apartment, with well-intention-ed, but clueless friends amidst all the chaotic learning, were perhaps the best lessons we have learnt as young adults.