Tagged: vegetarian

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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Mooli (radish) Thepla

We arrived in the US of A one hot sweltering Texas morning and within a few hours found ourselves in the little town of College Station. We grew to love it over our years in grad school there but that very first day, we were distraught. After the hustle, bustle and multitude of humanity that had surrounded us every single day of our lives in Bombay, this place was remarkably unnerving. The heat sapped all our energy and our jet-lag addled brains couldn’t quite process this other side of the world where we could see no one, not even after spending an entire morning at the window of our student house. No one stirred on these streets. The grass was impossibly green for a place so hot. Most importantly, for all of us arriving students was this truly awful problem – for the first time in our lives, having stepped out of our childhood homes, our fridge was bare.

Empathetic older students fed us that night. In the following days, we explored the new town and found out very quickly that if we were going to enjoy a taste of home, it had to come from either our own kitchens or that of expat friends. College Station had one Indian restaurant and it was the most rotten example of its species. I was in despair. Was this the fate of Indian food outside of India? Did it get watered down to a shadow of its origins in its attempt to appeal to a broader audience? I fervently hoped this wasn’t true.


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Diwali faral: Shankarpali

The blue glow of the gas flame cast as eerie flickering glow on my kitchen walls. It was a bright, crisp November morning but my kitchen is at the back of my apartment. It has no windows and only enjoys borrowed light from my living room unless I turn on the lamp overhead. There was no need for that to heat a cup of water for tea.

Stirring the chai in my cup. I contemplated what sweet should be made for Diwali, which has approached much too fast this year. (Weren’t we just celebrating Holi?) I had the savoury portion covered with the poha chivda I made earlier this week. I just needed on sweet thing to complete the picture. I didn’t really want to step out to the shops today. Looking around, I saw my AP flour jar and immediately knew it was going to be shankarpali. It takes some doing but the ingredient list is three things: flour, sugar and ghee.
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Methi Malai Matar

I was the poster child for introverted, preferring always the company of the imaginary characters in my books and looking for a quiet room to read in for them to come to life. Celebrations like festivals, weddings, pujas generally placed me squarely out of my element. I would have liked nothing better than to have been left out of all of them entirely. Inventions of fictitious homework and illnesses only went so far before my mother made it her life’s mission to make me a bit more sociable. I grabbed a couple of books and resignedly went along, consoling myself with the thought that at least there would be fancy ‘celebration’ food.

All Indian events have two things in common. The first is people. Hordes of people. Uncles and aunties coming out of the woodwork. Extended family, family friends from distant places, people you only see at these functions, who come up to you and pinch your cheeks and ask you if you remembered them. There were women dressed to the nines in Kanjeevarams and Paithanis and Benarasis, the glorious sheen of the heavy silks competing only with the sparkle of the gold & diamond jewellery. They would bustle about, sharing the gossip of absent friends and neighbours as one does in rare meetings. Laughter and lilting voices rose from tightly scattered groups. The scent of the rajnigandha would fill the air vying for attention with jasmine perfume and the redolent waves of spice. My nose followed that spice to where the warming bowls stood lined up on the buffet.

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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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