Category Archives: My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel With Recipes

A fairy tale (of sorts)

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Once upon a time there was a young girl who dreamed of adventures. She would look up at the bright blue sky imagining she was flying away in one of those rare airplanes she glimpsed from her hilltop home in the Nilgiris, the Blue Mountains of south India.

It took nearly 20 years but one day she found herself on a plane flying off to faraway California, leaving behind her mother and sister. Under the loving and watchful eyes of her uncle and aunt she thrived. She loved campus life and learning. But one day she met a boy and her life changed all over again.

He looked like he belonged on a beach with blond hair, tanned skin and bright blue eyes but he was actually from New Jersey.

With her uncle and aunt’s blessing, the young girl returned to south India and soon the young man joined her. They asked her mother if they could get married.

The mother was taken aback but quickly adjusted to the idea and soon set a date for the wedding. It was decided the ceremony would be held on September 14, the same day as Onam or the harvest festival. It was a simple ceremony in a humble home decorated with Nilgiri roses and fresh jasmine garlands.

In a real fairy tale the story would end with “happily ever after.” But this is real life and so the young couple’s life was full of ups and downs, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow but 33 years later they are still together. To paraphrase Robert Browning “Grow old with me. The best is yet to be….”

Indian Fusion

We were married 33 years ago because we wanted to but it turned out we were trend setters of a sort. Our house has been a multi-cultural, blended home for decades. Our sons are beige-brown with Indian names. We celebrate Christmas along with Vishu and Onam. So it is natural that our dinner plates reflect our diverse background. We have channa dal on pizza with mozzarella and masala dosa with kale and cheddar cheese.

This pasta dish celebrates my husband’s Italian heritage and love of pasta and my south Indian roots. Sometimes a melting pot truly is a delicious meal.

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Pesto-fused Indian Uppma

This is a very forgiving recipe. You can increase or decrease the amount of pasta and veggies. Add a cup of cooked chickpeas for extra protein. Add thyme, oregano or other fresh herbs for flavor. Use a spoonful of nutritional yeast to make it savory.

1 pound pasta, any type, use chickpea pasta for GF version

4 tablespoons ghee (or vegetable oil), divided

1 tsp. brown/black mustard seeds

2 cups diced onions, white or yellow

1 cup diced pepper, any color

1 jalapeño, diced (optional but the heat is tasty!)

1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger

¾ tsp salt, more as needed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons prepared pesto (or ½ cup chopped basil, if you don’t have pesto)

1 tomato, chopped

4 cups veggies, any type. I used broccoli, carrots and potato. Turnips, peas, corn, zucchini, asparagus and eggplants are some choices. In winter use squash, sweet potato and root veggies

Optional toppings: fresh basil, dry roasted cashews

Method:

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, reserving ½ cup water and toss with 2 tablespoons ghee.

Meanwhile, heat remaining ghee in a skillet with a top. Add mustard seeds and allow them to pop and turn grey. Immediately add chopped onions, peppers, ginger and jalapeno. Sauté for about five minutes. Add chopped veggies, tomato and salt. Cook, covered, for about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on type of vegetables, just don’t overcook the vegetables.

Remove skillet from heat, add lemon juice and pesto or basil leaves, stir to combine. Use your fingers to separate pasta (if it is sticking together) and add in small batches to the vegetable mixture, mixing thoroughly each time. Taste for salt.

For a fantastic taste sensation, serve with banana raita. Or serve with spicy tomato chutney. Or just eat it plain!

 

 

 

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Filed under bride and groom, California cuisine, Celebrations, family, Indian food, Indian Fusion, Italian-Indian fusion, multi-cultural, my mother's kitche, My Mother's Kitchen: A Novel With Recipes, Nilgiris, Northern California, pasta, Personal experience, recipes, South India, Uncategorized, vegetables

Garden meditation

August 2019

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience; everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~May Sarton.

Our tiny backyard garden is a year-round source of peace and produce.

Gardening is a form of meditation for my husband. He finds solace and joy in pulling weeds, preparing the soil, carefully planting the seeds, watering and nurturing the plants and then harvesting the fruits of his labor.

Harvesting cherry tomatoes or handfuls of fragrant herbs gives him immense pleasure. The fact his harvest ends up on his dinner plate makes the whole process even more satisfying.

I love fresh produce but I admit gardening is not my thing.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy our backyard oasis. In the middle of the day, when the lawnmowers and leaf blowers are finally turned off, a warm stillness settles in the garden. The neighborhood children are in school and there is a profound silence all around me.

The warm sun, chirping birds, buzzing bees and an occasional butterfly are my only companions. Some days the peace is broken when a territorial fight breaks out between the mocking birds and the aggressive Scrub Jays. These tiny guardians are fiercely protective of their space.

The bees and butterflies pay no attention to the screeching birds. Gathering nectar from golden sunflowers and purple zinnias is much more important.

As the day warms and the sun’s heat wilts the green basil and the valiant tomato vines, I settle in the shade to enjoy the peace. For me the real harvest is not the produce but the serenity of growing things.

Surrounded by verdant and lush bushes and plants, my breathing slows down. I can feel my muscles loosen and my aches and pains fading.

Northern California’s fierce heat melts away my cares and worries. As my body relaxes my mind calms down. Those annoying thoughts zapping around my brain slowly wind down.

I don’t usually call this meditation but sitting in my little green garden on a quiet weekday afternoon does feel like a moment of deep reflection. Now I understand what my husband finds so tranquil in the garden.

Recently we visited our son in his first apartment. His tiny patio is a little green oasis. I hope he discovers the restfulness of being surrounded by growing things, even if it is just one cherry tomato vine, a single pepper plant and a few herbs.

Making a place for quiet contemplation, a moment of mindfulness and meditation is essential in this busy world. I hope all of you find a minute or two to slow down and breathe deeply.

 

 

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Filed under garden, gardening, grandmother's wisdom, harmony, harvest, meditation, Mindful cooking, mindfulness, my mother's kitche, My Mother's Kitchen: A Novel With Recipes, Northern California, Personal experience, Summer, Uncategorized, vegetables

A Condiment Worthy of a Celebration

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May 2019

Recently instead of a birthday cake, my son requested a jar of his favorite condiment—injeepully.

For those who don’t know, injeepully is a tart and tangy combination of ginger and tamarind, and is a must-have accompaniment to holiday meals for the people of Kerala.

This condiment, a true Kerala invention, is said to bring taste buds to life. In fact, there is a saying in Malayalam (roughly translated) that even the simplest meal becomes a feast when injeepully is served.

Now this sauce is not without controversy! The name injee (ginger) and pully (tamarind) is what my mother’s family called the condiment but on my father’s side it was called pullyinjee. After all, what is in a name, especially if the ingredients are the same? Apparently a lot, if you believe my relatives.

But whatever you call it, injeepully is totally delicious and addictive. I remember my first taste of the spicy sauce which set my three-year-old tongue on fire. My father gave me a spoonful of creamy sweet cardamom pudding to dampen the heat in my mouth. So a new favorite flavor combination was born.

My son, now 27, has always had a bold palate. His favorite snack as a toddler was slices of fresh Asian pears smeared with a bit of ripe bleu cheese and topped off with a piece of raw walnut. No pretzels or Gold Fish for this kid.

Along with his favorite injeepully, I also made him fresh mango pickle. We used to call this dish “hurry-up pickle” in our family because my sister and I were always asking my mother to hurry up and finish tempering the mango so we could mix it with rice and yogurt and gobble it down.

Mango pickle is simple to prepare. Peel and dice a green (unripe) mango. Toss the mango with some red cayenne pepper and salt. Temper the pickle by heating a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and adding a teaspoon of black/brown mustard seeds. When the seeds pop and turn grey, add a sprig of fresh curry leaves and toss the mango/chili mixture in the warm oil. Hurry-up pickle is ready!

The injeepully recipe can be found in My Mother’s Kitchen: A Novel with Recipes. Or you can see my super simple easy version below.

Exciting News: Turns out the doors to My Mother’s Kitchen will once again be open. Look for news about the upcoming sequel in the coming weeks. Find out what happens to Meena and her family.

Simple Injeepully recipe: This is my version of the spicy condiment.

Use tamarind that comes in a block (available in Indian/Middle Eastern stores). Soak a generous knob, the size of a medium lemon, of tamarind in about 2 cups of hot water while you prep the ginger. Once the tamarind is soft, use your fingers to dissolve the pulp and strain the tamarind. You should have about 1½ cups or so of tamarind water. Meanwhile, peel and finely dice some ginger (about ¼ cup). Chop a green chili or two. Set aside. Heat oil in a pan, add brown/black mustard seeds and when they pop and turn grey, immediately add the diced ginger, chilies, a sprig of curry leaves and a generous spoonful of fenugreek seeds. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tamarind water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Season with ½ to 1 tsp salt and 4-8 tablespoons of brown sugar. Other additions: Fresh or dried turmeric, a pinch of hing or asafetida.

 

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