Tagged: appetizer

Creamless ‘Cream’ of Avocado Soup

He came home to a dark flat. He paused at the threshold for a moment, straining to hear sounds of the television, of her laughter at said television, of any signs of life. He could hear the electronic wheeze of the 31-Muni opening its doors at the corner of the street. He could hear the washing machine running in the upstairs apartment. The street lamp cast long shadows through the open windows, silent and animated. There was, however, no other noise inside.

He stepped in, letting the door close behind him as he reached for his phone. He punched play on the voice-mail wondering if he had gotten her message wrong, but there was her voice telling him she’d be going home early. The past two weeks had been filled with busy days and exhausted nights for the both of them. All they had been able to do as they crawled home was stop at the small cafe on the way home. It was open late and made Vietnamese sandwiches, which they would gratefully devour standing in the kitchen at home with paper towels held under to sop up any spills. They were entirely too tired to have dishes to clean. There in that kitchen, the aroma of the smoky vegetables would help blot out some of the tiring day while the layers of avocado provided much needed comfort. At any rate, he was glad that those weeks were now behind them. Any sandwich, no matter how delicious, was tiresome after a third straight night. He preferred home-cooked food anyway, eating out only under duress or because she loved to try new places. He had been looking forward in anticipation to dinner all afternoon.

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Lotus Stem (nadroo) chips

Bombay is a vibrant, exciting city but I’m certain that even its most ardent supporters would agree that it isn’t the prettiest one out there. Yet, it had these particular settings, these spots which were serene and sublime. Most of these were by the sea – Worli Seaface, or Marine Drive. One of my favourites was the view from the Mahalaxmi temple. Situated on top of a cliff, the view of the Arabian sea behind the temple is a beautiful one.

One of the other things I loved about that temple was that it was the only one at the time that offered lotus flowers for worship. These lovely pastel-hued blossoms are some of the most graceful flowers there are. I thought of them as a thing of beauty. It was when I got invited to dinner one time at Amey’s house that I learnt that the lotus plant is also delicious.

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My aaji’s (grandma’s) Semolina fried prawns

“Why do they get to have so many when we have so few?”

“Because they don’t eat the paplet (pomfret), raja.

“It’s not our fault they don’t eat fish. Why are we being punished? We like the kolumbi (prawns) too”

“Next time, I will ask for many, many more to be bought from the market. Then you can have all that and the fish. Chala putano, jeva aata. (Come my dears, eat your food now.)”

Pick any weekend when there was a fish dinner at grandma’s and you could count on this conversation replaying like a broken record. My cousin Pags and I always knew that we had a sweet deal. His sister and mine knew that that nothing would change, the same thing would happen the next time. Yet one of them always complained of the unfairness of it all. It was almost ritualistic, their complaints, my grandma’s cajoling, Parag and I eating up quick before anyone had a chance to change their mind, the post-dinner grumbling.

I still cannot eat fried prawns without thinking of that time.
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Annie Somerville’s spicy corn with tomatoes, chilli and cilantro

Did not mean to stay away for long but time has really zoomed on by here, what with all the packing, moving and unpacking I’ve been doing since I last checked in with you. This moving thing, it really is as annoying, niggling and downright disruptive as others say it is.

You may wonder how I didn’t know this before. Surely, you might think, a girl who had to move all the way over here from a whole other country must have encountered this before. To answer that; not really. I moved to this country carrying my life in three large suitcases. The one soul-splitting decision I had to make then was which books to bring along. I dealt with that by avoiding the decision and bringing all of them over; that I had to leave most of my clothes behind to do this, is another story. The only other time I moved was from grad school in Texas to San Francisco. In two years, the glorious salary of a grad assistant hadn’t gone very far in adding to my original possessions. I tackled with this move by allowing the postal service to do the heayy lifting, first shipping off said previous possessions to my sister and once I got a job in San Francisco, to Amey, who was already here. I found an apartment and moved possessions into it. Then I just stayed put, adding a few odds and ends to the tally – mostly other books.

It wasn’t planned to be that way. We were supposed to move when we got married. My limerick-sized apartment with its haiku-sized kitchen was barely enough for one. It fairly exploded when Amey moved his things into it. We assured each other this would only be temporary, while we found a larger apartment that we liked, but time had its way with us. Before we knew it, we’d celebrated four anniversaries in that apartment.

So here we were seven years since I originally moved into the place, finally working on moving out. Up to that point we’d been congratulating ourselves on how well we’d managed to live, not buying more than would fit into the place. recycling stuff, purging before buying. Based on this and my previous moving experience, I’d thought this move would hardly be more irksome than before. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d paired canary yellow shoes with a shocking pink outfit. Or put bacon in my chocolate. *shudder*

Patient reader, this move has drained us to the very core. The act of trying to pack up the contents of a small apartment while still living having to live in it is as aggravating as trying to put seven terriers in a Mini Cooper. They will all get in eventually but they will then proceed to make a nuisance of themselves and get in your way every time you need to do something essential, like grab a tissue for your nose, which is running freely from all of the dust you’ve been kicking up. There were boxes of all sizes at every turn. We stacked and sidled, but there was no way around it. Going to work was sweet joyful relief, despite the crazy deadlines we were facing that month. For a while, all you had to do was walk up to Amey and say ‘packing’ and he would glower and start hurling invective like a wet dog shaking off water. All this and we were only at packing.

We managed to move in somewhat one piece, something that sadly cannot be said of several of my ceramic dinner plates. This move involved quite literally blood, sweat and tears. In my typical clumsy fashion, I’ve cut, scratched and bruised myself in every imaginable fashion as I’m wont to do in any situation that requires physical movement on my part. As you can imagine, there hasn’t been much time to really cook anything new, mostly stuff that was quick and ready in as little time as possible. That was on days that we could cook, there weren’t many. Most days we were just grateful for the concept of takeout.

Before we moved from our old apartment; the one that managed to be aggravating yet wonderful at the same time, I had cooked this as my last post from there. I never got to it while I was there but here it is now. There is corn to be had and while it’s still around I urge you to try this side dish that could very easily be a whole meal. It was for us. It will not take up too much of your time. You redeem some ears of corn of their kernels, cut a scallion or two and dice up some jalapeno. Shake everything into a pan with some oil and cayenne pepper. Then you take it off the heat and shower a cupful of ruby red cherry tomato halves into it. A dash of vinegar, some lime juice, a sprinkle of cilantro…voila! That’s all there is to a light dish that makes your stress disappear, be it from a day at the office or wrestling with prodigious quantities of duct tape.

Spicy corn with Tomatoes, Chilli & Cilantro
adapted from Annie Sommerville’s Field of Greens
Serves 2-3 as a salad and 4-6 as a side

Corn kernels – 4 ears or 2 cups
Jalapenos – 4, de-seeded and diced or slivered
Champagne vinegar- 1 tbsp
Lime juice – 1 lime
Scallions – 2, white and green bits, sliced thin
Cayenne pepper – a couple of pinches
Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup
Cilantro – a couple of sprigs, finely chopped
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste

– Heat the oil in a pan on medium low heat until it shimmers, then add the corn, jalapeno and scallions.
– Add the salt and cayenne and give the contents of the pan a good stir. Let heat for 8 – 10 minutes.
– Add the vinegar and lime juice and toss the veggies in it. Move the dish off the heat immediately.
– Pour the contents of the pan into a bowl then add the cherry tomatoes and cilantro while the corn is still warm. Mix to incorporate.

Makes a great side dish or accompaniment for chicken, rice or any number of things. Makes a great salad with some crusty bread thrown in and oh, it is a quick and fabulous Cinco de Mayo side! Though you may need to thaw some frozen kernels then. 

Cook’s notes:

The rules contained in this recipe are more like guidelines. You cannot go wrong here no matter how you change up the steps. Throw the tomatoes into the pan with the corn for example, or toss the lime juice and vinegar in once off the heat (actually this is what the recipe instructs. I always forget to and throw them in the pan – no problem.) It makes little difference to the general make-up of the dish. Add as much or as little jalapeno as you want. Personally, a de-seeded jalapeno tastes like bell pepper to me, so I use 4. I like the soft crunch it brings to the party.The cayenne pepper will help you turn the heat up or down so use according to taste.

The sweetness of the corn mingles so well with the acid and heat of the other ingredients to create a dish that is quite gratifying. We had this as a salad with some crusty Ikea cardamom toast and tea. San Francisco was cold and foggy that day but the sun broke through the fog just as we sat down to eat. I’m sure the meteorologists have an explanation. I prefer to think it was the power of suggestion from this simple meal.

Annie Somerville’s Spring Vegetable Salad with Meyer Lemon vinaigrette

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.”
– Oscar Wilde

Beets were used in the previous citrus and beet salad

What truly makes a good salad anyway? How do you tell if you are in the presence of a good one? More importantly how do you make one that is excellent?

In my opinion, what differentiates a good salad from a passable one is a couple of things; the harmony of tastes and textures you fold together under an unctuous drizzled coating of flavourful liquid and the ratio of the liquid to solid ingredients. These two are key. Get it right and the salad could be sweet, sour, bitter, spicy or any combination thereof and it will still work.

There is then, a secondary tier of things to remember. It is important that you source your greens well. There is a case to be made for pillow packs of greens; if you’re in a hurry, have no access to anything else and more importantly, intend to use the packet within a day or so of buying it, by all means, go ahead and use one. However, if this is what you use all the time, then you’re missing out on one of life’s simple pleasures; the first, cool, crisp bite of leaves that are new to your taste buds. Those convenient vacuum sealed packs only have a set variety of leaves and I don’t know about you, but to me a mixture of three different kinds of lettuce is not much different from just one kind of lettuce. I like a good Caesar salad as much as the next person (well, may be not as much. The next person here and now is my husband. His insane devotion to Caesar salad confounds me) but there is so much more joy to be had in the peppery bite of arugula or the spicy snap of cress or the salty tang of an unusual leaf. Such greens I would never have discovered in pillow packs.

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