Category Archives: cooking

Cooking with an open mind

 

October 2018

“You know, cooks should have open minds. Otherwise how can they learn new things?” ~Tarika K.

My niece is so smart! And she’s right too. A good cook is willing to experiment and learn. The reward of an open mind (and kitchen) is a delicious and wonderful meal or dish.

Cooking is also an opportunity to slow down and be mindful. Chatting while chopping can lead to bleeding, so be one-pointed. Give your undivided attention to the meal preparation and you will be rewarded with a tasty dish as well as a calmer mind.

I love mixing and matching cuisines and my cooking is heavily influenced by California fresh produce and my south Indian upbringing. At a recent meal I set out to impress out-of-country guests with an array of dishes that showcases produce from our Farmers Market as well as my cooking skills.

Here is one recipe that wowed the crowd and was as tasty as it was pretty.

Samosa Bites.

These Samosa Bites are a flavor explosion in your mouth. There is the buttery, flaky filo crust, the savory potato/pea filling and the two or three toppings that add that a certain type of  deliciousness. First there was a tangy sauce from Kerala called inchipully which features bits of fresh ginger in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Then a small drop of super spicy fresh-tasting coriander gave a hot bite to the dish. Finally the dish was finished off with some Greek yogurt, flecked with fresh mint, dill and parsley. One bite, so many sensations!

Recipe:

1 package mini Fillo pastry shells, thawed. (You can easily make these with sheets of Phyllo dough but I opted for the easier pre-made version for this recipe)

Potato filling

1 large potato, cooked, peeled and mashed lightly

½ cup frozen or fresh peas

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped red, yellow or green pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp. turmeric

A few fresh curry leaves (optional)

Salt and fresh pepper

Heat oil in a small saucepan, add mustard seeds and cover with lid. When the seeds have popped, add onions, pepper and curry leaves, if using. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about five minutes. Add cumin seeds, turmeric and stir and then add peas. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and then add mashed potato and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Coriander Chutney

1 large bunch coriander leaves. You can use stems. Wash thoroughly

½ cup raw walnuts

½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut

4-5 jalapeno peppers

1 small shallot or onion, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup or more hot water to blend

2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

Curry leaves

Use a blender or food processor and process or blend all ingredients except oil, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Heat oil in a sauce pan, add oil and mustard seeds and wait for the seeds to pop and turn grey. Add curry leaves and prepared chutney. Turn off heat and stir thoroughly. Taste for salt. It will be spicy but will mellow out when refrigerated for a couple of hours. This chutney can be made a day in advance.

Inchipully

There are many versions of this exceptional sauce. This is the simplest (and tastiest, in my opinion) version.

1 generous knob, size of large lemon, tamarind from a block of tamarind (see note)

2 cups hot water. Plus extra ½ cup

½ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1 green chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 sprig curry leaves

1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

½ tsp turmeric powder

2-6 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tsp. salt or to taste

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. Using your fingers crush the tamarind and extract as much pulp and juice.  Use a sieve to separate out the pulp from seeds and fiber. Use an additional half cup of water to extract as much pulp from the tamarind paste. Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Once the seeds have popped and turn grey, add fenugreek seeds, chopped ginger and curry leaves. Let it toast for a minute. Don’t let the seeds burn! Add tamarind water, turmeric powder, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. The sauce should be fairly thick. It will thicken more after it cools. Taste for salt and sugar and add more if needed. The sauce should be sour and sweet with a bite of fresh ginger.

Yogurt Topping

1 cup Greek Full-fat yogurt

½ tsp. salt

½ cup fresh parsley and/or mint, finely chopped. Dill can also be added

½ cup finely chopped fresh cucumber

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about a teaspoon

Stir all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Putting It All Together!

Bake Filo pastry cups according to direction. Cool. Add a generous spoonful of potato filling to the pastry cup. Now add a drop of Inchipully or Coriander Chutney or a dab of both. Finish off with a spoonful of yogurt topping. For best flavor sensation, pop the entire thing into your mouth at once. Close your eyes and savor!

 

NOTE: For best results use tamarind that comes in a block and that has no sugar or salt added. Indian and Middle Eastern stores carry this item. Of course there is always Amazon too.

 

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Filed under California cuisine, cooking, Davis Farmers Market, family, Fillo pastry cups, Fresh produce, harmony, Indian food, meatless, Mindful cooking, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, new traditions, Personal experience, recipes, Samosa, South India, Uncategorized

Small World, Big Connections

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Happy Vishu!  Dear reader, may the coming year be blessed and prosperous for you and your family.

April 2017

Life in the Blue Mountains, Nilgiris, of South India was much simpler during my childhood. Back then it was a small world where service was close and personal. Our milk was delivered by a young woman named Helen who’s family also grew the most beautiful and fragrant roses. (Years later we bought huge bouquets of the colorful blooms for our wedding).  The baker was a family man who made sure he gave us the freshest coconut buns. Every winter the tangerine man came to our front door with a basket filled with tiny orange fruit, juicy and tart.

Even though our town was a sprawling tourist attraction, it was like living in a small village.  After my father’s death the entire town kept a close eye on my sister and me.  The stationary store owner, Rajan, knew when we had important exams and was ready to sell us the latest in fountain pens. The Alankar Bakery owner gave us an extra cookie or raisin-studded bun and always inquired about my mother and uncle (it didn’t matter to that he had never met my uncle!).

There was an invisible grapevine that was almost as effective as Twitter!   My mother heard all the important news of the day from her bus driver on her way home from work as a school teacher.  So of course she knew right away the one day I had left our school campus during lunch hour to visit the local bazaar. Surprisingly I didn’t get in trouble but it gave me pause because I knew there were a lot of eyes on me.  Small world, big connections!

I missed those personal interactions when I moved to California more than 30 years ago but I found another village in the city of Davis. For the past 19 years I have discovered that this college town has a small-town heart.  Small world, big connections.

Case in point: Recently I participated in a community theater production and was pleasantly surprised to see the cashier from the local supermarket in the audience. After the performance she hugged me and told me she’d see me at the store soon.  Another example of small world, big connections.

Social media can fool us into thinking that we are making personal connections while seated in front of our laptop computer or smart phone, but I have found that nothing beats face-to-face interactions.

So this coming year (April 14th we celebrated Vishu or Kerala New Year) I hope you will find the joy of life in the real world, away from the small screen.

THE END

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, community theater, cooking, Fresh fruit, Fresh produce, Indian food, meatless, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, Personal experience, recipes, Seven, South India, spring, renewal, Uncategorized, vegetables, world peace

Recipe? What recipe?

March 2017

Cups, teaspoons and tablespoons are the bane of my life.   Who needs measurements anyway? As I try to write down exact measurements and directions for my recipes, I find I don’t like it one bit. For this I blame my mother.  Every little cook learns by observing. It seemed to me that my mother would throw random spices in random amounts into a pot to create a tasty dish. Her recipes for family favorites were safely tucked away in her head. Nothing was ever recorded or written down.  Cooking was an art form for my mother but that doesn’t help me now as I try to re-create childhood favorites. I have to rely on my memory and my palate.

So what would have happened if I had insisted that my mother share a recipe? I imagined her poetic and cryptic answer to my question.

What Recipe?

Where is the recipe, I ask my mother

What recipe, she replies?

Just take a small onion

A pinch of hing

A hint of turmeric

A splash of golden ghee

Some diced onion and mustard seeds

A few okra

A couple of tomatoes

A handful of shredded coconut

Just a little coriander powder

A bit of cooked lentils

Two fiery peppers

Salt, pepper and tamarind

Mix, cook, and serve

The tangy smoky sauce perfect with steaming rice

How did she do it?

Give me a recipe, I plead.

What recipe, she asks?

Just add a handful…

You get the idea.

THE END

 

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Filed under cooking, dinner, food poems, Indian food, meatless, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, Nilgiris, Personal experience, poetry, recipes, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables

This Kitchen Does Not Discriminate

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Meatless Meal in Minutes

January 2017

Welcome to a new year!

Our household is a melting pot, a microcosm of America. Here East meets West in harmony (mostly).

This fusion and mingling of cultures is most evident in my cooking. My kitchen does not discriminate. Mustard seeds co-mingle with Italian pasta. Monterey Jack Cheese melts in homemade Indian Chapatti bread. Kale and eggplant simmer in coconut milk. Feta cheese adds a tangy bite to warm potato salad.

Take tonight’s dinner for example. The menu consisted of angel hair pasta with an Indian twist and cauliflower and chard tossed with toasted almond slices. The entire meal took less than 20 minutes to cook and was tasty as it was colorful. Can harmony in the kitchen translate into world peace? Perhaps not. But I like to think it is a step in the right direction and that I’m bringing people together, one plate at a time.

So here’s my recipe for world harmony!

South Indian Pasta

1 package De Cecco Angel Hair pasta, cook for barely 2 minutes and then drain and soak in cold water.

Meanwhile…

You will need:

1 large onion chopped

1 sprig curry leaf

2-4 tablespoons channa dal (Indian yellow split peas)

2-4 tablespoons coconut oil

1 can of beans, any kind, drained. I used white beans

1-2 tsp. turmeric powder

¼ cup chopped coriander leaves

1-2 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt

Juice of one lemon

Heat a large pot, add desired amount of oil.  Warm. Add mustard seeds and allow the seeds to pop. Immediately add chopped onion, sprig of curry leaf and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add channa dal and continue cooking until the dal is brown and toasty. Stir in turmeric powder. Add beans and coriander leaves. Stir. Drain pasta and add to the pot. Sprinkle Himalayan Pink Salt. Stir. Add lemon juice. Stir and taste for salt.

Cauliflower Almandine

I head cauliflower, cut into florets

I bunch chard, rinsed and chopped roughly into pieces, stem and all

Steam the vegetables for about 5 minutes, don’t overcook.

While vegetables are steaming…heat a tablespoon of butter plus one tablespoon olive oil. Add generous half cup sliced almonds. Stir and cook the almonds until they are golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Add steamed vegetables to the almonds. Stir. Add 1 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt. If you want you can squeeze some lemon juice over the vegetables but they taste fine without the juice.

Dinner is served. Sit in quiet peace and enjoy.

 

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Filed under Book clubs, Celebrations, cooking, dinner, harmony, Himalayan Pink Salt, Indian food, meatless, my mother's kitche, pasta, Personal experience, pots and pans, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables, world peace

A list for me, and you!

 

December 2016

I love making lists and reading them too! So here is my latest list, in no particular order.

  1. Get outside more: Dog lovers do this every day, rain or shine! Everyone can benefit from being out in the fresh air. I love walking Duke at dusk under a pink and purple sky. On a recent walk the eastern sky was lit up by the moon and the western sky was aglow with the setting sun.
  2. Be more mindful: My close-knit circle of family and friends call mindfulness by another name. They practice the art of meditation. But whatever you call it, set aside some time to be still. Practice going inward and calming the mind. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll notice the difference in your life.
  3. Eat more yogurt (if you aren’t a vegan): In south India, we finish our meal with some homemade yogurt. Yogurt or curd rice was a tasty way to get some protein and beneficial bacteria.
  4. Bring back tea time: The other day I had the joy of sharing a pot of Chai Tea with a group of friends. We munched on savory and sweet goodies and enjoyed an afternoon of camaraderie. When I was growing up in the Blue Mountains or Nilgiris of south India, my sister and I looked forward to our afternoon cup of tea and snack. Most often the snack was just leftover breakfast but once in a while we had a special treat when the cake man came to our house. His visits were rare and delicious. He carried a large tin suitcase filled with small cakes and pastries. My favorites were the tiny iced cakes, topped with the brightest, most unnatural colored icing. My sister and I could never get enough of these sweet treats, but my mother was a cautious shopper and only bought one small cake for each of us. Iced cakes are still my favorite tea time snack. Taking time to have an afternoon cup of tea forces us to slow down. Elaborate tea making and drinking ceremonies are common in many countries. I like to boil tea with a few slices of ginger root or cardamom pods. The boiled tea is mixed with fresh whole milk and served with a dash of coconut palm sugar. This spicy concoction is delicious and invigorating and as my son calls it, “dessert in a cup.”
  5. Read a book or two: When my boys were in elementary school their teachers asked them to keep a reading log and to try to read for at least 20 minutes a day. Luckily, both boys loved reading and the 20 minutes a day was an easy quota to meet. During our recent tea party we also exchanged wrapped books. It was so much fun to unwrap the gift and discover a book that you would never chose for yourself. I received one that may help me tidy up my house. If all goes well and my house is less messy, I’ll blog about it.
  6. Support a local author: Recently I attended a book signing for a local author and came away with three instant and personalized holiday gifts. Most books are under $25 and authors are thrilled to meet you and sign a copy or two. You know what they say? Make an author smile and an angel gets his/her wings. Just kidding. But it does make us happy to hear you are enjoying our work.
  7. Take part in a mini-fast: By skipping one meal you can wake up your taste buds. I had a wise relative who recommended we eat only one meal on Sundays. Studies have shown that fasting for 12-16 hours can help revive our metabolism and help the body cope with a myriad of ills. Don’t do this every day and use commonsense when fasting.
  8. Stretch: Take time for a quick (or long) stretch. This is a great way to start each day.
  9. Take a break from electronics or social media: Whenever I find that I’m spending too much time on my phone or computer, I try to schedule a “media recess.” This break can be anything from 1 hour to 24 hours and perhaps you’ll find the time to read that book or go on that walk!
  10. Your idea here: Send me some of your suggestions and perhaps there will be enough for another blog.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!

 

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Filed under Blue Mountains, Celebrations, cooking, fasting, grandmother's wisdom, lists, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, reading, tea time, Uncategorized, yoga, stretching

A bowl of many memories (and uses)

November 2016

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It will never be a collector’s item or be coveted by antique dealers. Yet, this simple bowl holds a special place in my heart (and kitchen).

Receiving and giving stainless steel pots and pans as wedding gifts is a time-honored tradition in India. Thirty years ago, on my wedding day I received a number of pots and pans but this one with its unique design and lid stood out. It was a gift from my aunt Malathi and Uncle Bhanunny. I knew this because their names were etched on the side of the bowl.

When I decided to return to California, my mother insisted that I take this particular bowl back with me. It will be useful, she stressed. Back then I had just discovered the convenience of Pyrex and plastic and thought a stainless steel bowl was old-fashioned and frankly useless. So it was with great reluctance that I lugged it back with me. I packed it away; surely I would never find use for such a thing!

But one day, when my boys were just toddlers, I unpacked a cardboard box and found the bowl. I ran my fingers over the inscription and the names brought back a flood of memories. Mrs. Malathi and Mr. E.B. Unny. I remembered my aunt, uncle and their three beautiful daughters with affection. Perhaps I could find a use for this in my kitchen after all.

So for the past 20 odd years that bowl has become an integral part of my kitchen. I can’t imagine ever being without it.  It was the perfect size for tossing a green salad. I used it to knead homemade pizza dough. It has been used for making cakes and delectable frostings. The bowl was just the right size for whipping cream and even mashing potatoes. One year when my son wanted a soccer ball-shaped birthday cake, the bowl became a cake pan. It truly was a bowl of many uses!

So for our Thanksgiving Day feast, the bowl may be filled with roasted root vegetables but what it will really serve will be a huge helping of precious memories. My mother was right, as usual!

THE END

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Filed under Celebrations, cooking, grandmother's wisdom, Indian food, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, Personal experience, pots and pans, South Indian, Uncategorized