Tagged: winter

Meyer Lemon-Lavender curd

It’s possible I’ve waited too long to tell you about this. Waited is not quite the mot juste here. There isn’t a single word that comprehensively covers how I’ve been dying to tell you all about it with nary a writing opportunity available. This lemon curd got made, gifted, photographed, eaten and thoroughly appreciated, in short, everything but captured in this space here. I’ve been very remiss.

Let’s rectify that right away. Even though chances are that the Meyer Lemon obtaining avenues are closing fast, unless you’re the lucky owner of a tree or you refrigerated your last precious batch. They last in the fridge a long time, these little globs of sunshine. They brought much needed cheer to many a cold winter’s day in my last three months. It’s important that I give this fragrant citrus the some much required props in my virtual home too.

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Sunset’s Meyer Lemon Chicken

There was this book I had when I was four. Just like all my books at the time, I had inherited it from my elder sister. It was this beautiful cloth-covered hardbound volume called ‘365 stories‘ with ostensibly a story for every day of the year. (Apparently the authors pretended the extra leap year day didn’t count or that it could be be swept under the rug like so many cookie crumbs). There is a marked difference between my sister and I. She is marvellous at maintaining her things. Me? Not so much. At the time, I thought this was only because I was four and she was fourteen. But as it turns out, the only thing I got better at taking care of, was books. Practically everything else I had, including my haircuts, look like they have survived the ravages of war. But my sister, she had used socks and stockings that looked brand-new seven years later. (Granted, she had little use for stockings in tropical Indian climes, but you get the picture). Her books, toys, clothes had this amazingly unused air about them, as if she tenderly placed them in crystal cases and refused to even breathe on them. Fact is, she did use them, and often. She played with all her toys and most certainly wore all her clothes. But she treated with a tremendous amount of respect for someone so young.

I, on the other hand, drew a moustache on her wooden dog, glued a tail to her teddy bear and coloured outside the lines on all her preciously maintained fairy tale books. I’m not proud of it, but in my defense, I was four! I didn’t know better. Giving me access to all my sister’s stuff was probably not the best move my mom could have made. (She thought the second one would be just like the first. We all live and learn.) Keeping the books away from me didn’t help. All those beautifully preserved words had woven their spell. At one time I had been read to, but allegedly I had started grabbing books and doing it for myself very early on. Once positioned on this path, I could not be dislodged, much like a limpet on a favourite rock. I loved books. I eventually learned that you don’t colour on all books, and have several of my childhood books saved in fair condition to this day. But every book I had before this had already lost its shot at such posterity. Which, as I think about it, might be why my younger sister never took to books and reading quite like us older ones. (Would you want to look at the words on the pages when the gingerbread house next to them, tastefully decked out in virulent green and electric blue vied for your attention? I didn’t think so.)
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Saveur’s Raspberry Sandwich cookies

(I grew up calling the delicate ones biscuits, and the ones with chocolate and other chips in them, cookies. I still try to stick with the English I love and grew up with, though it has hybridised into the English I hear every day in the country I now call home. So sometimes it is neither here nor there. England and America may be two continents divided by a common language, but India taught me that divisions exist only as long as you let them. With that, I invite you to continue on into my biscuit-cookie meanderings. For the purpose of this post, they mean *exactly* the same thing. The title? I’m sorry but cookie monster rolls off way better than the alternative, biscuit zombie)

Christmas, it seems, is right around the corner. Can’t quite claim it crept up quietly. The subtle-as-a-hippo-in-tights signs have been everywhere since Halloween. In the past weeks, you couldn’t turn a fraction of a degree without having your senses assaulted by holiday commercialism. (Wait, did I say commercialism? I mean holiday spirit. I seem to be (un)intentionally channelling Festivus.) But then I take a deep breath and open my eyes; all you see is glimmers of hope and quiet smiles. Everyone wishes that this year will sound clear, high notes when it ends compared to those began with.

In this season of renewed hope, I thought I’d try something I don’t necessarily do, making holiday season sweets. Do I hear you gasp in shock? Hold on, before you follow it with disappointed heads shaking, allow me to explain. Every year, Diwali shows up about a month or so before the December holiday season. This is one time when I sorely miss being back in India. I go overboard trying to recreate the spirit of the festival, with the lights, and the food. This leads to an unavoidable surfeit of sweets. Setting about making them again seems impossible. But this year I decided to go for it. More importantly, I decided to make holiday cookies. This is significant for another reason. Everyone has their nemesis. Sherlock Holmes (yay! Sherlock Holmes!) had Moriarty. I have cookie-making.

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Mom-in Law’s Potatoes with Fenugreek seeds & Coconut (Methi batata)

(I’m excited to announce that aside from my own blog, I just began writing for KQED’s Bay Area Bites, a San Francisco chef and foodie blog here in the Bay area! It is a wonderful blog collective showcasing the talents of many local chefs and writers. The following is my first post there.)

The kitchen was always interesting to me as a child because it had a number of things I wasnʼt allowed to touch. My sisters didnʼt have these rules. That is because my mother didnʼt worry that they would kill themselves by trying to eat salt or spices straight out of their tins. My curiosity almost always overshadowed my caution. All that stopped the day I knocked loose a couple of my milk teeth; the day I tried to munch on methi (fenugreek) seeds.

When you look at the squat, rectangular and extremely hard seeds of fenugreek, you may wonder why anyone would take any trouble to work with it. But this unyielding spice is accompanied by a nutty, bitter and mellow flavor that could not be replicated by anything else. It loses some of its toughness when you gently fry or boil it, which also brings out its subtle flavor. The fragrance of the whole spice is a bit woody. But the wheaty, caramel colored seeds release a nutty aroma when cooked. In a spice blend, its flavors meld with the other spice to give the blend a deep bass note.

Due to the tough physical nature of the spice, it finds wide application in its ground form. But its seeds are also popular. A little goes a long way with this spice, as too much can make your meal overwhelmingly bitter. This is especially true if you are using whole seeds.

Fenugreek seeds also have medicinal qualities. As traditional remedies, concoctions of fenugreek are used as an appetite stimulator, in the curing of cough and congestion and prescribed to nursing mothers.

In India, the leaves of the fenugreek plant are used as a fragrant herb when dried and used as greens in their fresh state. The bitterness of the seed is reflected in the fresh leaves. They are very fragrant when they are dried. In the dry form, fenugreek leaves are used in curries and paired with vegetables like peas. They pair especially well with cream-based recipes. The seeds are like a more humble cousin. They too are used in different kinds of curries and in combination with various vegetables like okra and eggplant. The difference is that the seed will form the base of the recipe while the herblike leaves will be sprinkled on top of a dish towards the end of cooking.

While several dishes use fenugreek seeds, either as part of a spice mix or on its own, the seeds are the star of this recipe along with the very versatile potato. It would be hard to define the roots of this dish. It falls under some semblance of western Indian cooking, but I think the credit lies with my mother-in-law, from whom I got the recipe. Were you to try to look for a similar vegetable recipe, you would most likely end up with several using fenugreek leaves. Like most Indian dishes, this one involves a combination of a few spices but they all come together in celebration of this unassuming seed, which is often relegated to a supporting role.

Potatoes with coconut and fenugreek seeds

Click here to read the recipe

Pav Bhaji

There are probably very few cities in this country where I could live without pining for Bombay very often. In San Francisco, I know I have found one of them. The easy access to many things Indian is icing on top of the fabulous cake that life in these wonderful climes is. But then suddenly, a random fragrance or vivid colour will send my mind spiralling back to India. Especially where I grew up. Bombay. There is quite literally no other place like it. Hustle and bustle take on an entirely different meaning in this city that truly never sleeps. It was a big city even back then, the Bombay I knew, loved and grew up in. Though it was immense and teeming with life of all kinds, not for a second did I ever feel unsafe in it. It’s true we don’t have largely famous forts or gorgeous old temples, but we have our very own rich history, written and perpetuated by the people who lived there and carry a piece of it wherever they go, as I do. The attitude of Bombayites (or Mumbaikars as they are now known since the city was renamed Mumbai) is unique in India. There is at once a sense of openness with a strong background of tradition behind us. And it is the eternal dream city. So many people from all over the country aspire to live there. The city is always assimilating yet keeping true to itself. And the cultural influence has helped Bombay develop a cuisine in which you will recognise many things from many places It is a veritable melting pot.

It is ridiculous but also very cool, how food minded this city is. Throw a stone around from anywhere in it and you are liable to hit at least three food establishments. Granted, one of those ‘establishments’ may very well be a guy with a tokri (large woven basket) selling peanuts or raw mango laced with salt and chilli (slurp!!). But you will never, ever want for variety in food in this city. When I lived in it, there were enough food joints that you couldn’t try each and every one in your life time. Today, you could probably make that a few life times. Globalisation has brought with it all kinds of food and India as a whole is happily enjoying the boost to the palette. Thai, Japanese, Mexican, you name it, and you will find it there. You may not recognise it, because of course just as there is the adaptive General Tso’s chicken here, there is the Maharaja Mac and McAloo Tikki there. We’ve always been great at taking things and adapting them to make them our own. India’s history is filled with foreign elements vying for dominion. They didn’t last but the things they brought with them stayed with us, several of them in our food. It is hard to imagine that some four hundred years ago, the Indian foodscape would have looked very different in the absence of, among other things, the potato, the tomato and what so many people automatically associate Indian food with, the chilli peppers.

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