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Friday, 22 April 2011

Dave, Beans and Baby

June 2010. Wembley Arena. 1500 people, awestruck at the sheer brilliance of the man performing in front of them. Dave Matthews, a living legend, a true performer in every sense of the word. He has the voice, the music, the lyrics, and the personality. A truly insane amount of personality. We are in the standing area, upfront. So close that I can see his brows furrowing in concentration as he connects with his audience. The air is charged, the energy is electrifying. I am 5 months pregnant, but I am dancing with the best of them. Who can resist that voice?

The tickets were bought before we knew I was pregnant. Actually, the tickets were bought before we were even thinking of trying to become pregnant. Because Dave Matthews belongs in that enviable category of people, who to get lucky enough to see, you have to compete furiously in cyberspace against an unknown number of competitors in a time-warp. And win. It’s usually all over in a matter of seconds.

Anyway, we are the lucky ones, not only with tickets, but with tickets so close that I can see his brow furrowing in concentration. And I am loving it, every mindnumbingly phenomenal moment of it.  

Two hours in, as I ponder upon both the extreme genius and the extreme lewdness of his lyrics, and I wonder what goes on in that brain of his, I realise there's only one thing going on in mine.

I am absolutely, flaming ravenous.

I look at Sid. "Can we...like get something to eat?"
He looks surprised. "Didn’t we just have the burgers?"
And he's right, of course.  Just as we'd staked out our prime viewing spots, we had indeed consumed one HUGE burger each. Cheese and all. True, very true.
I sigh. And bite my lower lip. "Umm...that was a while ago, no?" I say hopefully.  And then I add quickly – "It's this baby you know. All it's fault...always hungry. I mean, what can I do?"
"Ok, ok," he says, "Don’t make those sad eyes – let’s go and find you some food!"
I squeeze his hand gratefully. "You're the best, you know?"
He squeezes my hand back. "I know," it means.

We step out. I don't want burgers again. Not in the hot-dog mood. Not fish & chips. Not ice-cream.
I look at Sid again. "I want something...different."
"Like what?" he asks
"Like...Rajma." (Indian red bean stew)
"Like what??"
"Like Rajma," I repeat with infinite patience.
"Honey, we're in Wembley arena..."
I make ‘those sad eyes'. "I know, I know" I say, "I'll settle for something else"

I sigh again. This is really the crux of the pregnancy problem, isn’t it? You want food all the time, but you don’t want just any food. You want that one thing.  

I’m just about ready to compromise (big time) for a side of mushy peas from the fish & chip guy when I spot him! Way in the corner, the very last stall of all, but with a promisingly long line emerging from his counter, its none other than the Chilli guy!
My heart jumps gaily. There. I tell Sid, triumphantly - Rajma!!!
I choose a vegetarian three-bean chilli.

Nothing could taste better. It’s not Rajma, but it’s right up there with it. A hot bowl of delicious wonderfulness. Perfectly seasoned, so I can taste the tartness of the tomatoes and the sharpness of the capsicum and the garlickyness of the garlic and the coolness of the sour cream. There is nothing like getting what you want, when you want it. I am in heaven.

My baby inside me - the one who is always hungry, the one whose fault it is - agrees. He has started kicking furiously. I feel the growing roundness of my belly, his little kicks against my hand. And I am filled with so much love for this body, inside my body. So much love that I didn’t think my heart was big enough to hold.

We go back inside, Sid and I, hand in hand. Dave Matthews is still singing and my baby is still dancing. I wonder if he is listening to the words:

"It's crazy, I'm thinking, just knowing that the world is round
And here I am, dancing on the ground
Am I right-side up, or upside-down
And is this real or am I dreaming?"

-----------------------x-------------------------x----------------------x---------------------

Please try it:

- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 green capsicum
- 1 onion
- 3-4 cloves raw garlic
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 can tomato puree
- 1 can Red Kidney Beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 can Pinto Beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 can Black Beans (The Spanish frijole negro!) (rinsed and drained)
- 2 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin powder
- 3 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt, to taste

Garnish (optional)
-  1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 tbsp sour cream
- 2 scallions, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot. Chop the onion finely and add to the oil. Cook until the onion is soft. Add the cloves and bay leaf. Mince the garlic, and chop the tomatoes and capsicum and add to the pot. Next, stir in all the beans, tomato puree, chilli powder, and cumin. By now, you should be able to smell the flavourful, earthy, aromatic tastes all cooking together. Add salt to taste. Simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving, stirring occasionally so that all the flavours are properly mingled. I like leave it to simmer at least an hour before serving. When you are ready, ladle generous servings into a bowl and top with scallions, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Even as I try a spoonful of what I have just cooked, I am transported back to that evening in June. Try hard enough, and I can still taste that chilli. It wasn’t fancy, served from a tin shack in a paper bowl, but I tell you, nothing could taste better. The cheese melts in the heat of the bowl, the beans melt in my mouth, and my jumping heart melts somewhere inside me.  

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Club Classic


The Club Sandwich. A Classic.

There are few dishes more iconic than The Club Sandwich.

For my Indian compatriots, especially those who grew up in the Indian “club culture,” the image of the club sandwich probably stirs up feelings of nostalgia – swimming lessons, tennis lessons, Sunday lunches with family, carefree times spent with friends after school – the association is strange, and hard to explain, but I know those who understand, understand.

For the Club Sandwich - distinguishing itself with having three slices of bread instead of the usual two - is a lifer on the food and beverage menu of any Indian club. And somehow, it doesn't matter if you're in Bangalore or in Madras, in Delhi or in Bombay, it's not a city thing, it’s a "club thing" - no matter where you are, they all seem to make it the same way. And really well!

Although food historians credit the inventor of the generic sandwich to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, interestingly, it appears that the club sandwich was probably created in the United States during the late 19th/early 20th century. The most popular theory contends this sandwich - as the name suggests - originated in men's social clubs, most notably the Saratoga Club in Saratoga, NY. The specific where & who behind this classic sandwich remains a matter of culinary debate as does the fascinating question of how it came to India and of course, how it remains such an integral part of the modern diet of the country.

I think back to my recent trip to India this past winter. Here's some food for thought (and my puns are always intended):

Sitting out in the Delhi Gymkhana Club lawn on a sunny December afternoon under colourful umbrellas fluttering in the breeze, you think to yourself - could life be any better? Cheerful waiters, dapper in their starched white uniforms, scurry back and forth carrying plates of freshly made food and drink to various tables. There must be close to a hundred people having lunch, but somehow, they seem to greet everyone by name. You are sitting under a jolly looking red and white peppermint striped  umbrella, sipping a cool "fresh-lime soda, half-sweet, half-salt" (another club classic, this time on the beverage side) and piled high, on a plate in front of you, is a perfectly made, perfectly toasted, perfectly presented, club sandwich.

Granted, the ambience has much to do with it, but as you take your first heavenly bite, you wonder - what on earth am I doing in New York (or London or Chicago or whichever other part of the developed world it might be) I mean, Man - this is the life!

That's a serious question, by the way. If someone in my boat has that figured out, do let me know.

Anyway – from that sunny afternoon in Delhi to my sunny kitchen in London – I can't replicate the ambience, sadly, but here's how you make the sandwich:

- 3 slices of toasted wholemeal bread
- Mayonnaise, to spread
- 1/4 pound chicken breast, cooked and thinly sliced
- 4-5 tomato slices
- 3 strips of cooked, crispy bacon
- A handful of lettuce leaves
- 1 fried egg
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Now, for the fun bit - build your sandwich! Spread the mayonnaise over all the slices of toasted bread. Place a small pile of torn lettuce leaves and 2-3 tomato slices on top of the mayonnaise coated side of the bread. Season the cooked chicken and fried egg with salt and pepper, place on top of the lettuce and tomato and add the next slice of bread, mayonnaise side down. Next, add another layer of lettuce, another layer of tomatoes and 3 rashers of crispy bacon. Place the final slice of toast, mayonnaise side down, on top of the bacon and press the sandwich lightly. Carefully slice the sandwich on the diagonal into 4 triangles.

Put your feet up, grab your plate and enjoy with a side of potato crisps, and a chilled glass of fresh-lime soda!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Toast to Virtue!

Salads make me feel virtuous. 

Let's be honest: As the weather gets warmer and we head towards Summer - that glorious Season of all seasons - I want to be able to wear a bikini on my beach holiday. And look good in it.
I also love food. Too much.
It's a difficult dilemma, this.

I ask my beautiful French friend, AE, how French women stay so skinny.
"Aah, to be honest Ameee," she says to me smiling sweetly, "they eat breakfast and lunch but most of the time, for dinner, they just have a glass of wine and, you know, they 'forget' to eat..."

Hmph.

I don't think - for all the bikinis in the world – that I could ever 'forget' to eat. 

And since I’ve given up on the starvation idea before even attempting it, I am just quite happy with myself when I eat something healthy. And in the end, it’s all about feeling happy isn’t it?

So salads make me feel virtuous. Cool, crunchy, and full of nutrients, salads are a super-convenient way to work in a couple of servings of fruits and vegetables into a single meal.  There is so much research out there expounding the health benefits of salads that I won't bore you (and myself!) too much with the scientific jargon. Very briefly though – all the raw vegetables in salads provide fibre, which in turn lowers cholesterol levels. Eating salads is also a smart way to get “good fats” - the essence of brain function, into your body. Good fats are found in olive oil, avocado and nuts, all common salad ingredients. And finally, the most obvious of them all - simply the health benefits of the fruits and vegetables themselves, which provide a whole host of powerful antioxidants including vitamins C and E, lycopene, folic acid, alpha- and beta-carotene...

All this and the fact that I genuinely like salads. Both making them and eating them. I enjoy the mix of colours and flavours and textures, the simple, beautiful, refreshing zinginess of a well-made salad. And of course, the fact that you can put together a salad that both looks and tastes good in about 10 minutes!

I'm going to make my salad and eat it on my deck. I throw open my patio doors. The sky is blue and cloudless, a slight breeze carries the distant voices of children playing, a red robin hops happily in my sun-drenched garden.

Its a salad day.

I decide to keep it simple, use just whatever I have in the fridge:

- 1 head of red-leaf lettuce
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 Granny Smith apple
- 1 clove raw garlic
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 tbsp cranberries

Wash the lettuce and tear it into bite size pieces. Chop tomatoes into small pieces. Core and cut the apple into chunks, leaving the skin on. I am using Granny Smith, mostly because that’s what I have (!!) but also because it usually works really well in salads - it is a hard, crisp apple with a tart, refreshing taste and a distinct, juicy "crunch" to its bite. Combine lettuce, tomatoes and apples in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and cranberries into the mix and toss well.

Dressing this salad is a simple affair. Mix together the olive oil and vinegar. Peel a clove of raw garlic and mash or mince. Add the garlic to the dressing and combine well. Pour the dressing over the salad just before you are ready to serve.

This salad contains sweet, sharp, nutty, and salty notes – the perfect thing to get your tastebuds going on a warm Spring afternoon! And just to create a small scandal in France, I decide decadently on both food and wine.  I pour myself a glass of sparkling white – cool, crisp, refreshing – much like my salad!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Breakfast in Bed

Who says the old "way-to-heart-through-stomach" adage only applies to men? Because it most certainly applies to me, and oh-so-fortunately for me, I married a man who knows just the way to my heart (in more ways than one)!

Sid, hands down, no contest, is the better of the two of us at Breakfast. Maybe its because I'm still too sleepy at breafast time for creativity of any sort to kick-in, but not Sid. Sid whips up a whole array of breakfast dishes expertly, whether its eggs, french toast, blueberry pancakes or a steaming, frothy cup of perfectly brewed cappucino.

It is therefore sort of assumed in our home that if we don't have other plans, weekend brunch is his department. This usually involves us traipsing down the stairs in our pyjamas, settling down on our couch, opening up our respective favourite sections of the newspaper (money and football - you're on the other team), and when the hunger pangs start to strike, we have a cursory "shall we have x for breakfast honey?" conversation, and off he goes.

So imagine my utter and absolutely amazement when he actually woke me up yesterday - a warm, lazy, Sunday morning, holding - (take a breath, ladies and gentlemen) - a Breakfast Tray!!

Not much renders me wordless, but that sight? Totally and completely wordless.
For on his face, was the happy, shy grin,  that I haven't been able to resist since I first set eyes on him, and on the tray was a delicious looking prawn omelette, 2 slices of wholemeal toast, a bowl of cut fruit and a cup of coffee! What took me over the edge was that the tray had, in the center of it, a small vase with a single bright pink (fake) flower!!

I bit my lower lip the way I do when I am searching for the right words, but can't.
If I wasn't such a tough cookie, I would have cried a little. I mean, this is love, no?

No one has ever made breakfast in bed for me, and that too, such a fantastic breakfast - wonderful nutty bread, toasted to exactly the right crunchiness, freshly cut fruit, crisp and cooling and - golden brown, juicy and delicious, the dish that I'm writing about today - just a perfectly made prawn omelette!

Here's how he did it:

- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp of milk
- 10 prawns, peeled and de-veined
- 4 spring onions, washed and finely chopped (optional)
- 1 tspn extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine eggs, salt and pepper to a bowl and whisk until the yolks and the whites are completely mixed. Adding a splash of milk to the egg mixture usually makes them fluffier. Add prawns, and the spring onions if you're using them - they give a bit of an Asian kick to the dish and add some colour as well, so using them definitely adds on some brownie points in the presentation coloumn. Heat up the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Pour in the egg and prawn mixture. Use your spatula around the edges of the omelette to make sure that it is not sticking. When the bottom is browned, flip over the omelette until it is golden brown on both sides. Serve open or folded in half.

Incomplete without lots of love and a single bright pink (fake) flower!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Half-Moon Apple Delight

I'm too sweet to have a sweet tooth. Ha!
But sometimes I do crave something sweet, and when I do, its usually something fruity. Berry-anything is my favorite, but I also love cooking with apples. The Apple. Available almost everywhere, delicious and crunchy, the apple is as versatile as you get them. There are more than 7,500 known varieties of apples, which means that almost every desired characteristic you want - sweet, tart, crisp, sharp, honeyed - you can have.

I'm using Golden Delicious apples today. These apples are exceptionally sweet, with a rich, mellow flavor - when allowed to ripen fully on the tree, and eaten fresh, its almost like eating raw sugar cane! Golden Delicious is also one of the best all-around cooking apples, as it maintains its shape after baking.


So while I'm craving something sweet to go with my after dinner espresso shot, I'm way too lazy to bother with anything too complicated. All I want is a little pick-me-upper! I decide on "Half-Moon Apple Delight," inspired, believe it or not, from a bachelor friend from my Manhattan days. The genuis of this recipe is that it can be ready and done in 5 minutes, there is no whipping, no whisking and no baking - just the thing I'm after right now!

Here's what you need:

-          2 tbsp unsalted butter
-          2 tbsp brown sugar
-          6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced
-          4 large croissants, halved lenghtwise
-          Vanilla ice cream
-          1/2 tspn ground cinnamon powder, for dusting
Add the sugar to a saucepan and cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar melts and begins to caramalise. Add butter to the pan and mix together until you get a caramel sauce. You should now start to get a delicious "caramelly" aroma from the mixture. Add the apples and turn them around, so all sides cook evenly. Simmer the apple mixture until the apples are fork tender.
Heat the croissants in an oven or grill until browned and giving off that wonderful "just-baked" smell. Split the croissant halves open, spoon on the warm caramalised apple mixture, dust with cinnamon powder. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Perfect with a shot of hot, strong espresso!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Meenakshi's Matara

This is a wonderfully comforting, wholesome and tasty, dry-pea stew that you will be hard-pressed to find in any Indian restaurant; this is Indian home-cooking at its best.

I am dedicating this post to my friend Meenakshi, not only because the first time I ever tasted matara was at her home, but also because there is no one I have met since who makes better matara than her.

I first met Meenakshi at Harvard Business School where her husband and I were classmates. We met quite early on during orientation week, at a random networking party in some nightclub on Massachusetts Avenue, and hit it off instantly. At 2am when it was time to go home, she was part of the group of us that walked in the freezing rain in our short skirts and high heel shoes for 45 mins waiting for a cab kind enough to take us home. Little did I know on that cold, wet, drunken night that she would become a friend for life.

Meenakshi was really my saviour at Business School when it came to food. Between all the work involved in being an MBA student, there were simply not enough hours in the day to cook. It was time consuming business, this cracking the network, (aka, partying) leaving whatever little time I had left over, for homework, such is the hard life of a typical B-Schooler. As the spouse of someone in the same boat, she probably took pity on the rather unique nature of our time constraints, and I will never be able to repay her for the innumerable times she invited me over to her apartment for a hearty, healthy, home-cooked meal. Which I welcomed gratefully after spending most evenings at one of the several classy establishments in Harvard Square, downing $4 drinks (Really!), networking.

And so, it was on one such occasion when she first cooked matara for me. It was an icy-cold November night in Cambridge. The 5-minute walk from my apartment to hers felt like 5 years as I huddled under my coat, trying to protect myself from the wind off the Charles, cutting into me like shards of glass. I rang her bell, just grateful to be someplace warm, when I was greeted by the delightful aroma of something that I just couldn’t place straight away.
“What did you make,” I ask her curiously, as she takes my coat.
"Nothing", she says in her typical unassuming manner, "just some simple matara"
“Some what?” I ask her, “what’s matara?”
She looks at me amazed - "You’ve never had matara?"
Somewhat sheepishly, I shake my head, no.
“Don’t worry” she says quickly, rescuing me, “I think it’s just a very common Delhi thing, how would you know?”
“Oh.” I say...“well, I’m excited to try it! Can I see?”

I follow her into the kitchen. Simmering away on the gas is a large pot of matara - it looks like chana (chickpeas) to me, but it is lighter in colour and mushier. Up close, it smells even more delicious. I can't wait to try it. Meenakshi is brilliant with dough and she serves the matara with home-made kulchas (soft leavened bread, that I learn later goes typically with matara. Matara-Kulcha. Like Fish & Chips.)

When she serves me, I am blown away by the taste of the matara. Delicately spiced so that the flavour of the "matar" - the peas from which it gets its name - comes through easily, it simply melts like butter in my mouth.

“Oh my god, this is amazing - how did you make it?” I ask her excitedly. She not only writes down the recipe for me, but gives me a generous rubber-maid container of leftovers to take home with me.

And so - this one is for you, my dear friend, in your name, and in your honour, for the countless delicious meals you have cooked for me.

Ingredients for Meenakshi's Matara:

- 250g dry peas
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon corriander powder
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon amchur (dry mango powder) or 1 teaspoon tamarind pulp
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- salt, to taste

Garnish (optional):
- 1 bunch of chopped corriander leaves
- 4 chopped green chillies
- 1 inch ginger, peeled and grated

Place all ingredients in a pressure cooker, making sure you fill enough water so there is at least half an inch to an inch of water above the ingredients. Cook under full pressure for 3 whistles or until the peas are soft. The natural sweetness of the dry peas is enhanced beautifully by tartness, so the amchur or tamarind are essential for a well-flavoured cooked matara. Garnish with coriander leaves, ginger, and chopped green chillies.

Serve piping hot with Kulchas!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Mint Raita

I am having a few friends over for lunch today, and I've marinated some lovely pieces of Tandoori Chicken in the fridge overnight. I'm expecting all the flavours of the marinade to have soaked in and tenderised the meat, so that when I barbeque it, it is hot and crisp on the outside and wonderfully tender on the inside.

I'm ready now to make the light and refreshing Mint Raita that I intend to serve with my chicken.
Raita is really one of my favourite dishes: healthy, cooling and delicious, it can serve as a welcome accompanimemnt to most Indian meals, counterbalancing the spicyness of the food, with its cool, fresh tartness. With a bit of creativity, Raita can be made with several ingredients, but today, I've settled on a lovely Mint Raita to go with my meal.

Here is what I need:

 - 200g natural yoghurt
 -1 bunch mint
- 1 bunch coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp anardana (dried, groud pomegranate seeds - optional)
- 1/2 tspn chilli powder
- 1/2 tspn cumin powder
- 1 tspn sugar
- Salt, to taste

Simply blend all the ingredients together in a food processor. Garnish with a few corriander leaves and a sprinking of cumin and chilli powders (just for some colour!). Serve chilled!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Tandoori Chicken

When he was a litle boy of nine or ten, my uncle had a dream. He dreamed that growing right outside his bedroom window was a Tandoori Chicken tree. It was a splendid tree, that tree of his dreams, tall and green, boasting plentiful Tandoori Chickens from it's strong, broad branches. And in his dream, my uncle was reaching outside his window, breaking off pieces of chicken and eating them. So hungry was my uncle and so resplendent was the tree that he continued to do this all night long..."I was breaking them and eating them, breaking them and eating them, breaking them and eating them...it was the best dream I ever had!"

:)

Well, sadly enough, I don't think that dream will ever become a reality (sorry uncle!) but in the absence of trees that grow Tandoori Chicken, I suppose we could try and make some!

I have a few friends coming over for lunch tomorrow, and what better than some delicately spiced, perfectly barbequed chicken, hot and crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. I decide to marinate my chicken overnight so I can cook it tomorrow when I get up, well in time for lunch!

Here's how I make my marinade:

- 1 cup of natural yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon (about 6 cloves) fresh crushed garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin powder (jeera)
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander powder (dhanya)
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red turmeric powder (haldi)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 pinch red colouring (optional)
- Salt, to taste

I take a large shallow, oven-safe dish and mix all the ingredients together into a smooth paste. For my chicken, I use 4 chicken legs, 4 chicken thighs, 3 chicken breasts, all skinned and cut into large pieces. I add the chicken to the dish, making sure every piece is well coated with the marinade. I then cover the dish and leave it in the fridge overnight for all those flavours to really soak in.

Tomorrow morning, when I am ready to cook my chicken, I will pre-heat my oven to its highest setting. I will place my dish of marinated chicken in the oven for 25 minutes. I will then turn over the pieces, reduce the oven heat to 120°C and cook my chicken until the juices run clear and the meat is tender.
I will serve my Tandoori Chicken with a wedge of lime, accompanied by some Naan and some cooling Mint Raita for a simple, relaxed and yummy lunch with friends! Can't wait!!
Guess what I'm going to be dreaming of tonight??
Goodnight and Sweet Dreams!

Yummyami

I li(o)ve to eat. Food delights me, it excites me, it satisfies me. It makes me happy. So really this blog is about food. And a little bit about me.

Inspiration comes from unexpected places and the idea of a food blog came from reconnecting with friends on Facebook that I haven’t seen in fifteen or twenty years. I realized very soon that it couldn’t be a coincidence when several of them emailed me – “...it's so nice to hear from you...blah blah...and I remember the food in your house was great...”
Really? What did you eat that you actually remember twenty years later?

And that got me thinking. Because it’s so true. How often have I had “that great meal” – somewhere, sometime, in someone’s home or in a restaurant.  Years later, something happens and it triggers a memory, that I think about with fondness, but that’s all I do. Life is just too busy for more than a fond thought.

So I decide to change this, just a little, just for myself. Because I have been fortunate enough to have had some truly great food. And if I leave it all just to memory, unspoken, undocumented, it will fade. Little by little, until there is nothing left. Which would really be the saddest thing of all.

And so, I sit down with my 92-year old grandmother. She is frail now. Fragile. When I close my eyes, I don’t picture her like this – I picture her breezing in and out of the kitchen, creating world-class cuisine with casual, confident non-chalance. Her food was exceptional, every umami-filled bite of it. It is she who taught me to love food. And so I decide to make her speak, for her mind is as sharp as I remember her body to be. “Tell me your secrets,” I say to her, “so I can keep them alive.”

So a lot of the recipes in this blog are my twist on her “secrets”, because that’s the kind of food I’ve grown up with, and that I know and love best.  Others - old ones and new ones - are from family and friends, kindly shared and stashed away somewhere in my head to recreate someday. Many are just accounts of me having a bit of fun in the kitchen with the ingredients I happen to have at the time. And some are just ramblings on culinary experiences of note that I have had – with a dish, a restaurant, a city or even across a country. No matter who or what my inspiration, however, in every post, I attempt to talk about or recreate dishes that matter to me, in some way. That connect me with a person, a place, a memory, an emotion. For it’s the connection between the taste and the thought, that I remember, that I want to remember.

As a former investment banker, with every aspect of my life so painstakingly structured, I have decided to leave this blog unstructured and just let creativity dictate its terms. So my blog - not unlike my cooking - is spontaneous, quirky. And a bit eccentric.

Having lived now in two cultural extremes of the globe and settled down in London - the magnificent middle of it all - I try and incorporate in my cooking, bits of learning from everywhere, and it is this wonderful amalgamation of ingredients and spices, taste, cultures and cuisine, that I attempt to record.

I am Yummyami.
The kitchen is my playground and words are my toys.
I am passionate about food, and not much else.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mango Fool

I was walking by Soho Street last week on one of those rare London days when the sun was beating down steadily, and in all honesty, (but who's complaining?) it was positively hot! I was headed to Frith Street to check out some lunch options that I could pick up and eat on a shady bench in Soho Square when I passed the Hare Krishna Temple and next to it (part of it?) - Govinda's Pure Vegetarian restaurant.

My first instinct was to cross the street. Somehow the sight of large groups of men in saffron robes sporting sikhas (the snaking curl of hair in the middle of an otherwise shaven head), is ho-hum if I was seeking the blessings of a priest in some temple in India. In the middle of central London, it unnerves me.

Just as I was about to leave however, my inner foodie took over and sort of compelled me to steal a naughty glance towards the large group of al fresco diners enjoying the sun and – I must admit – a rather good looking thali. Peering into the restaurant through the large glass windows, I was intrigued to see that Govinda's was full. All tables taken. And then, just as the people dining inside were beginning to stare at me, staring at them, I saw something that I simply had to have. For sitting in a row on the shelf directly in front of me were glasses of chilled Mango Lassi. Labelled neatly. Calling my name.

I hesitated merely for a second and two pounds later, held a glass of the cold, sweet, delicious beverage in my hands. I took a big sip, letting the flavour slowly sink in. Pretty good. The "mango" in the lassi was clearly from a can, but it was a really good lassi, not too sweet and just the right consistency.

Now I am a self-professed mango stalker. I don't just love them, I obsess about them. There was a point in my life where as a university student in the States, I would return to India for my summer holidays (designed, naturally, to overlap with mango season. Just kidding.) and eat three mangoes a day. Not just kidding. But jokes aside, mangoes do have several health benefits – they are a delicious self-contained bundle of beta-carotene, potassium, iron, and vitamins - A, C, E and some of the B's as well.

Anyhow, back to here and now. I've been thinking fondly about my Mango Lassi from last week – the stuff is maddeningly addictive, I warn you - and given that I actually have 8 Alphonso mangoes sitting on my kitchen counter as we speak (thanks to my husband who brought them back for me from a 2-day trip to India – told you I am obsessed...) I decide to make some for myself.

Now, if the mango is called the King of Fruit (it is), the Alphonso is certainly the King of Mangoes. It has few rivals in sweetness, scent or flavour, so if you can get your hands on Alphonso mangoes, you really should.

Merrily, I peel two mangoes and scoop out the fleshy pulp into my food processor. I suck the fruit completely off the stone before discarding it, enjoying the luscious, ambrosial fruitiness dribbling down my chin. This is truly heaven. I mean – truly!

I reach for my cardamom pods, peel them and remove the little grains. I powder them roughly with a mortar and pestle and add the powder to the blender. Right. Time for my last ingredient – natural yoghurt. Happy as Larry, I open the fridge... only to discover to my dismay, that I am out of yoghurt!

No yoghurt? Ouch. Now what? Run to the store? Too lazy. Take the fruit out of the blender? Too messy. The mark of a promising young cook? Improvisation.

So I decide to cheat a little. I replace yoghurt with milk and I call my creation - "Mango Fool." Here is what I use:

- 2 mangoes, peeled and cut
- 1 cup of milk (strike your own balance between waist line and taste, but as I always say, "wholer" = tastier)
- 2 pods worth of cardomom grains or a pinch of ready-made cardomom powder
- 3-4 cubes of ice

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture reaches the consistency of custard. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios and almond slivers.

Variations:
1) Sugar - Feel free to add a tablespoon or more of sugar to your taste. I tend to like the natural sweetness of the mango enough not to miss the sugar at all, but it depends on the ripeness of the mangoes and your own taste!
2) Mango pulp - If you can't get fresh mangoes, Govinda's mango (pulp) lassi was still pretty good. Substitute 1 fresh mango for about every 1 cup of the pulp.
3) Yoghurt - Mango Lassi of course uses yoghurt instead of milk. 3 cups of plain natural yoghurt should work quite nicely for 2 mangoes worth of Lassi.

Sit back, relax and enjoy – I promise you’ll be coming back for more!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Chilli Cheese Toast

Although we live in a world where there is an "Indian store" or two (or twenty) in almost every major city of the western world, there are still several items that they don't stock, perhaps because there just isn't enough demand for them - or as my foodie friends argue - you get far higher quality stuff in a basic western supermarket for the discerning Indian shopper to want to buy it from an Indian store. Fair enough! Anyway, whatever the reason, for me this means that there is always a long list of foodstuffs that I only get to eat when I go back to visit family in India, and among them, notably - is Amul Cheese!

My mother laughs when I ask her to make sure that there is Amul Cheese at home before I come - "You live in a country where there are a thousand varieties of fresh cheese," she says, "hard cheese, soft cheese, cheese from cow's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk, sharp cheese, mild cheese, full-fat, low-fat, no-fat...and you want processed cheese??"

Well, what can I say? Childhood tastes die hard!

I am starry-eyed when I visit India today. Search hard enough and you can get every Western retail brand under the sun, be it food or fashion. But I grew up in a different India. Choices were limited, decisions were few, shopping was easier (and dare I say it? - less stressful?!!) - 3 flavours of ice-cream, simple white bread, 1 TV channel and 1 kind of cheese. And yet, somehow, strangely, we grew up content with our lot. Food products manufacturer, Amul, smarly made its market as the only well-known branded supplier of cheese at the time, and so "cheese" became synonymous with Amul Cheese.

Well, the fewer the ingredients, the more you learn to do with them - with a bit of creativity. If I asked my 92-year old grandmother for a list of dishes that use Amul Cheese an an ingredient, she could perhaps write a book. But for starters, here is my recipe for Chilli Cheese Toast. Since it is still quite rare to find Amul Cheese outside of India, I just buy the closest tasting kind from the supermarket - sharp cheddar does the trick, but if you know people travelling to India, and well enough to ask a favour - ask them to bring back a small tin of Amul Cheese, just for a taste of the real thing!

Here are the ingredients for my Chilli Cheese toast:
The quantities make a tasty tea-time snack or quick lunch for two!

- 6 bread slices, white or brown
- 1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese
- A handful of fresh, roughly chopped corriander leaves
- 4 finely chopped chillies
- 2 small capsicums, de-seeded and finely chopped. I use different colours for a bit of fun!

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Toast the bread slices in the preheated oven. Take a large bowl and combine the grated cheese, green chillies, corriander leaves and capsicum. Mix well until the mixture looks and feels creamy and smooth. Take the toasts out of the oven and spead a thick layer of the cheese mixture
on the toasts. Don't forget to lick your fingers! Place the cheesy toasts in the oven again and cook until the cheese melts. Serve with tomato ketchup - or as they say in India - sauce!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Chai

Chai. One of those wonderful words which, when I hear it, makes me want it. Straightaway. No matter what time of night or day, no matter how hot or cold outside. Or inside. Chai. I hear it and I want to taste it. Freshly brewed, delicately spiced, milky, sweet and strangely comforting.  Chai is so intrinsically linked to life in India that it's almost too difficult to describe...it is drunk several times a day, usually at different times by different members of the household, it is the beverage most likely offered to guests who "drop by" to say hello - as guests often do in India,chai is served everywhere - literally everywhere - from roadside stalls in busy city streets serving up steaming versions of the beverage in steel or clay cups to fancy cafes in 5-star hotels serving their version of the "Indian Masala Tea" for 10x the price - in fact so ubiquitous is the association of Chai with India that the main protaganist of Danny Boyle's Oscar Winning Slumdog Millionnaire is mockingly referred to as "chaiwallah" throughout the movie (although he is really a junior call center employee whose duties include, amoung other things, making tea).

To me personally, the word invokes countless wonderful memories of home - waking up to smell of freshly brewed tea, family roadtrips upto the hills that inevitably involved stopping every half an hour for "chai-breaks" at the numerous makeshift stalls dotting the dusty pavements along the highway, train stations where vendors market their wares with their familiar, repetitive "cha-iiii, cha-iii", long chats with old friends over steaming mugs of chai, rainy evenings cuddled up on the couch with a cup of tea and spicy pakodas. And so, even though there are hundreds and thousands of varieties of tea and while purists will advocate that tea is not tea if it isn't just tea and boiling water, in my mind, tea is always chai - hot, sweet and milky.

Which brings me to my recipe. While there are countless recipes for chai across homes and restaurants combining brewed tea leaves with different spices to get the strong, spiced taste of the traditional masala chai, I tend to be really basic with my chai. Its takes me only 5 minutes to make. Here are the ingredients I use for my everyday tea:

- 1 cup milk (I use 1% milk, though -"wholer" milk = tastier chai...)
- 1.5 cups water
- 3 teaspoons tea leaves (usually a strong black tea, such as Assam tea)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cardomom pod, split open
- 1 pinch grated fresh ginger

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Strain, pour and enjoy!
(Be careful not to look away. If it boils over, it takes longer to clean than to make...)

Sometimes I experiment with other spices in my chai - ajwain (carom seeds), a pinch of black pepper, dry ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, nutmeg...

Want a cup? Mmm...me too.