Pineapple rasam: Of Dad in the kitchen…

My dad wasn’t very often in the front of the kitchen cooking, but what he did every single day was the backend work of chopping vegetables – and believe me – chopping veggies for a family of three hungry kids with, as often as not, a few guests thrown in for good measure, was no small task! Mum, despite being a doctor and working eight days a week, dad constantly touring on his engineering job, always seemed to find the time to welcome guests; very often guests came to stay for months on end – for medical treatment under Mummy’s eye, for a holiday or generally because someone was out of a job and needed somewhere to park self and family till the next job turned up!
As kids, we loved it when guests came because there were always more kids to play with, fight with, make up with….woke up many mornings to find a few extra heads on the pillow next to me….and the excitement of waiting for these many cousins to wake up so we get down to the serious business of playing…
Today, i wonder how these many mouths got fed by mom and dad with their extremely busy schedules… I remember once an uncle coming with his family of five to stay with us for several months because he had a brain tumour and was being operated on. My mother was very tied up with her work at the hospital and it was one of those times when the cook had decided to take a holiday! Daddy got into the act, hitching up his lungi, tying a make do turban (towel!) around his head and chopping and cooking away with zest!
All that thunder and lightning – literally because my dad would sing loudly and tunelessly through this whole operation while our dog Tommy howled alongside – either in harmony or despair at my dad’s singing! – enough indeed to produce a nawabi feast – was needed to make saaru (rasam) – that his mom- my appamma- was justifiably famous for!
Here’s my appamma’s rasam – my addition is pineapple – to satisfy family’s sweet cravings! The most important ingredient is the rasam powder – which MUST be made like this ONLY – if you want the rasam gods to smile on you, that is!!
Rasam powder (saarin  podi):
Chili powder – 2 measures ( my measure is abt 1/2 cup)
Dhania – 2.5 measures
Pepper – 1/2 measures
Jeera – 1/2 measure
Methi seeds – 1/4 measure
Mustard – 1/8 measure
Curry leaves – 1 measure – washed and dried
Asafoetida – 2 lumps the size of tamarind seeds
Home made ghee (i buy butter and make ghee)
Roast each of these ingredients (except chili powder) separately (i never said it was going to be easy!) on a low flame in a few drops of ghee each.
Cool and powder to reasonable fine powder in the mixie, adding the chili powder. This quantity lasts for about a month for a family of 4.
Now to the actual rasam itself – which is simplicity itself.
Two ripe tomatoes – preferably the sourer country variety – chunked and crushed
Tamarind paste – 1 flattened teaspoon (or to translate from Telugu ‘thala kottesi’- head lopped off!)
Cooked toor dal – 2 tablespoons
Turmeric – 1 large pinch.
Jaggery – 1/2 tsp
Rasam powder – 3 tsps
Water – 3 cups
Pineapple pieces – optional
Boil the tomatoes, tamarind paste and water. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 5 minutes more. By now you should be fainting  with the heavenliness of the aroma and everyone in the house should be coming around to sniff and ask when lunch is going to be ready 😉
Switch off. Garnish with coriander.
Tadka – 1 tbsp ghee, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, a pinch of hing and a sprig of curry leaves.
Bask as the compliments roll in 😉

Ridged gourd curry: Rasedaar thurai – and in simplicity lies… great taste!

When i was growing up, Beerakai (the Telugu name for Thurai/Thori/Ribbed or Ridged gourd/Peerkanka)was one of those things that appeared on the table at the end of the month when budgets were running tight, our piggy banks were being raided (always returned with interest by an overly conscientious mother!!) to last till payday came around. We loved it when Mummy ‘borrowed’ money from us – after what can quite equal the thrill to an 8-year old of ‘lending a tanner’ to an adult and seeing it returned with an additional buck or two?!

Nothing quite exemplifies the Indian maxim by which generations grew up – ‘cheap and best’ as the humble gourds. Up to 90 % water, packed with vitamins and trace minerals, they are also a dieter’s dream, as I discovered after I grew up.
Like many other gems of wisdom, common sense (are they really different??) and simplicity, this recipe was taught me by a very dear friend from Rajasthan.
Thurai or ridged gourd – 2 large, fresh ones. – Peel (reserve peel for chutney) and cube
1 tsp ghee
1.5 tsp dhania powder
1 tsp jeera powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 large pinch asafoetida
Kasuti methi – 1 large pinch
1/2 cup milk
green coriander – to garnish
Heat ghee gently in a saucepan and add all the powdered masalas and hing. Stir for a minute but do not burn – either self or masalas 😉
Add cut vegetables along with a tablespoon of water and cook, covered on a low flame, stirring occasionally till the vegetables are tender. Add kasuti methi and milk and switch off. Garnish with coriander and serve with phulkas – makes a filling but very light meal.
And if you insist on adding the calories, substitute the milk with cream – but STATUTORY WARNING : watch what it does to the hips!!!

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Soups: Diet soup

Me? Diet? Naaaah! No way! Nada. Period.
Was what I used to think till even a couple of years ago – I pooh-poohed all diets,  maintaining with great pride L that I needed my three square meals a day! Yes, till last year when my weighing scale kept insisting on telling me the truth about the needle pointing ever northward!
Lots of research about diets, I decided to improvise my own – based on the two days a week semi fast. It was difficult to feel full on the supposed 500 calories a day so obviously MUCH improvising happened! Here is the result of one such. I make a large 1.5 litre pot of soup with many goodies in it and eat that through the day whenever I’m hungry – which is still most of the time. Interspersed with glasses of buttermilk (which, btw is counted a zero-cal food- yay!!), it keeps me happy.
Here’s the soup:
Ooty double beans – 1.5 cups – I use the fresh ones when available or rehydrate the dried one when not.
½ cup chopped shallots
1 large carrot – cut into cubes
1 knolkhol – cubed
Green beans – de-string and snap into two – 1 cup
Tomatoes – chopped – 2
Capsicum and zucchini – ½ cup each – cubed
1 pod garlic – optional – chopped
Oil – 1 tsp
Rosemary, sage and oregano – 1 large pinch each
Fresh mint leaves – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper
Saute the shallots and garlic  in a pressure cooker in the oil till golden brown. Add the beans and cook for 2-3 whistles. Switch off, let the pressure release, add the rest of the ingredients except the capsicum and zucchini. Simmer till vegetables are still a bit crunchy. Add the capsicum and zucchini and continue to cook till just done – about 3 minutes more. Switch off, garnish with mint and eat for the rest of the day.
End of day, get on the scales and if you haven’t lost weight, you’ve been eating chocolate cake!!!Cheater!

Winter root vegetables pickle

A few years ago, when my daughter Archana was studying in Delhi, I decided I wanted o experience a “Delhi winter” – that everyone seems so scared of. So off we went – realizing another long-cherished dream – to do a journey across India by train. Nursing hangovers from a well-partied New Year’s, we caught a train from Chennai Central and steamed ( I know, I know – electric engines don’t steam but then steam is sooooo romantic!) into Delhi some 36 hours later – 4 hours late and completely, blindingly smogged out.  It WAS cold, but not bone-chillingly so and coming from the city of hot-hotter-hottest seasons (aka Chennai), the cold was refreshing!
Over the next week, we ‘did’ Delhi – from Hauz Khas to Akshardham to Lotus Temple to Haldiram’s. Two of my favourite memories, though – are of eating huge jalebis in Chandni Chowk and the sheer heavenliness of “Paranthe wali galli”.
Arch and I sit down in this tiny joint which looks like it can’t hold more than four diners at a pinch and miraculously seems to hold at least twenty!  Opposite the bench on we sat, sharing a table with us, was a couple of sisters-in-law – who ordered something called ‘paapad ke parathe’. She must have seen me look surprised ‘cause the next thing was her hospitably sharing her paratha with me when I said I hadn’t even heard of such a thing! Maybe it was that spontaneous gesture of hospitality but along with the asli ghee ke fumes, I was soon encased in a warm and loving fug..
Artery-clogging (am sure there must be a self-cleansing mechanism in there) parathas arrived with the most fabulous carrot pickle and dahi. Very soon, like Oliver Twist, I was asking for mo’e. And then, this little boy, a server, takes my plastic pickle bowl, opens a large jar of pickles, puts his whole hand in and then takes out a fistful of carrot pickle! My hygiene-conscious heart nearly gave up it’s ghost that day but my tummy shushed it!
Here it is – my take on gajar ka achar with winter root vegetables:
·         Carrot – 1 large
·         Turnip –2 tender ones
·         Radish (preferably the red variety) – 1 tender
·         Knolkhol – 1
·         Mustard powder – 1.5 tbsp
·         Chili powder – 1.5 tsp
·         Turmeric – ½ tsp
·         Kasaundi paste – 1 tsp (optional – for extra mustardiness)
·         Salt – about ¾ tsp
·         1 large pinch asafoetida
·         Gingelly or mustard oil – 2 tbsp
·         Juice of 2 lemons
Pick the tenderest and freshest of winter root vegetable. Wash, dry and peel. Cut into thin slivers – about an inch long and 3 mm square. Toss all the ingredients together and leave to infuse for a couple of hours. This pickle can be refrigerated for upto a week. Serve as a side with paranthas.

Curd rice: A paean to Perugannam

My go-to comfort food for more decades than I care to remember – it never fails to “settle” me – whether the organ that needs to be “settled” is my tummy or my soul!

Truly soul food, this was my mother’s – and my beautiful, soft and cuddly ammamma’s, always smelling of some mild perfume that she had, mantra for all ills. I am sure that they must have made me eat chaarannam (rasam and rice) when I had a fever, but my memories of comfort will always be tied up with ammamma’s soft- as- butter skin and the wonderful, soft white perugannam that she mixed with so much love.

I always thought I made a pretty mean perugannam myself, till I visited one of the temples deep in the South where curd rice is offered as prasadam and then – I tasted divinity!  A little judicious (and friendly!) overtures to the officiating priest resulted in him calling out to the cook to come and meet this woman who was in awe of his prasadam! Some friendly banter and exchange of family histories later (and here I will give full credit to a hubby who is as patient as they come!), I had the recipe for ambrosia in my hands!

Here goes:

·         Hot, soft cooked rice – 2 cup (not Basmati but either Ponni or jeera samba or any of the short grained Indian varieties)

·         1 tbsp table butter

·         Cold milk – 1 cup

·         Fresh curd – 2 cups

·         1 tbsp ghee

·         Salt

·         Mustard seeds – 1 tsp

·         Urad dal – 1 tsp

·         Asafoetida – 1 large pinch

·         Curry leaves – 2 sprigs

·         1 green chili – finely chopped

·         Finely chopped cucumber  – 2 tbsp – optional

·         Chopped coriander – 1 tbsp

·         Seedless green grapes – 1 cup (optional but yum!)

Mash the butter into the hot rice along with the salt. Heat the ghee in a pan and mustard, wait till it pops. Add urad, green chili, ginger and curry leaves. Pour over the rice.

Add milk a little at a time and mix till the temperature of the rice comes down to warm. Mix in the curd a little by little. The end product should be of soft, dropping consistency.  Add the coriander. Add cucumber pieces. Add more milk and curd if needed.  Rest for about an hour.

Dot with grapes… The food of the gods!