Tagged: stovetop

Caramelized Brown Rice (Vagharela Chawal)

It puzzled me to no end.

My best friend was a good student, good athlete, loved the arts, and was crazy about Neil Patrick Harris in Doogie Howser M.D. In short, she was a completely normal young teenage girl. But the way she ate her lunch was far from ordinary.

My sister and I lived close enough to school to go home at lunch-time. Most days mom would have a hot meal ready for us. There were some days though, when she was going to be out, she would let us take a packed lunch to school. I looked forward to those rare days because it meant I could spend more time with my friends. It also meant we could share lunches if we wanted to.

Some days I’d sit with a friend whose grandma brought her lunch to school for her everyday. I marvelled at the energy of that wonderful lady who was one of the spriest grannies I knew. (God bless her soul) She brought a hot lunch for both her grand-daughters and made me adore her even more when she let me share their little fried papads.

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Luisa Weiss’s Pasta e Ceci with Rosemary and Chilli

One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.

That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.

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Dhansak Masala

I have early memories of going to the market with my mom with bags of gahu, wheat for atta. There was a chakki (mill) there run by two men. My mom would pass the bag of wheat over to one guy who would pour it into a large metal funnel. A few strategic taps and a drum would be on a roll and within a few minutes we had freshly milled flour. The guy at the other end would scoop the flour into bags. Occasionally puffs of flours would rise up from the pouring process, bathing the entire interior of the shop in a milk cloudy haze. Fine as the best talcum powder, I can still remember how warm those bags would be, filled as they were with the still warm flour. The machine, the process; all of it fascinated me.

While waiting with mom for the flour, I noticed other people walking up with considerably smaller bags, even tins. The contents of those tins were tossed into a much tinier machine and were ground within seconds. Mom explained this was the masala mill, used by people to make their own masalas or ground spices. Sometimes a person would walk up with a bag and walk away with scarlet-hued dusted sack. These were folks getting their very own chilli powder ground. The gold flecked ones were generally garam masala.


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Stir-fried bhindi (okra) & potato

Up to about the age of six, I was a super picky eater. I’ve chronicled my hatred of fish before but that was just the tip of the food-berg. As far as I was concerned there was an embargo on radish, squash, pumpkin, any kind of gourd, string beans, even okra. Even back then, my little mind could not fathom my distaste for okra. I thought it was the cutest vegetable ever (in India we call them lady’s fingers how cute is that?). I loved the flavour of the vegetable my mother made. I mean it had potatoes. I’ll eat pretty much anything with potatoes. And yet, I couldn’t stand to eat it. I’d separate out the potatoes from the okra. My younger sister was easily distracted and excelled at slipping the pieces of okra into her plate when she wasn’t looking.

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Kashmiri Paneer with Spinach

Even though the rains are slow in leaving us this year, it is well and truly spring. In fact, it seemed like spring was here in early February. The weather was nippy and grey, but it didn’t matter really. Not when there were cherry blossoms softly blooming all over the city.

It is ethereal how these trees blossom in what seems like the depths of winter, a sure signal of the coming spring if there ever was one. Dull, dead branches magically unfurl gentle pink buds. Chancing upon one for the first time will take your breath away and leave you marvelling at this majesty of nature.

The first time I saw this tree I was lucky enough to see an avenue of them, covered in blushing pink blossoms, no leaves in sight. Ahead and beyond, there were hibernating trees, brown and withered with nary a leaf. They stood there, graceful, delicate pink blooms fluttering down with every cold gust of wind, a resplendent symbol of awakening life. I will never forget that scene. Every year since then, I look forward to the cherry blossoms blooming all over the city. A harbinger of seasonal flux as sure as the changing colour of leaves in the fall.

The plum blossoms soon follow. They aren’t as readily found but as just as pretty. We found a whole row of them up in Napa last month. Just as elegant a sight to behold.

The cherry blossom blooms last but a couple of weeks before the dark, velvety red leaves sprout and take over for the rest of the year. They signify change and are celebrated. Those few weeks are enough though, to lift a gloomy city’s grey mood. These annual events provide much needed nourishment to the spirit. Best of all, they are simple and accessible to anybody.

Good food done right can be as much of a nourishment to the soul as to the body. Most often, it will be the simple dishes that provide the most comfort. Shallow on your effort and your time, with a satisfaction quotient inversely proportional to either. Some of my favourite foods are the ones that work this way. A steaming bowl of hot dal, this potato vegetable rolled up in a chapati, or this one over some couscous. This fried rice topped with a gently fried egg. Or this soul-satisfying paneer dish.

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