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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Alu Papdi Chaat

During my initial years of engineering, our college functioned out of a leased premises. Other than a canteen that served bad meals but great tasting bread pakoras, there was nothing to munch on during the short breaks. And then, all of a sudden, this guy selling Papdi chaat perched himself near the gates at a predetermined time every day. Though he dished out a rather frugal version of the Papdi chaat that was sans any 'dahi' or chutney, it tasted awesome and was eagerly gobbled by the college students. His stuff would be sold out in less than an hour's time and he would count the money before treading home. With the chaat priced at just rupees ten per plate, he hardly made fortune. But he never thought of increasing the price or buying a bigger 'thela' so that he could sell more number of plates and make more money.

Then a year later, we shifted to a new campus and forgot all about this guy. But one day when I was looking into the ever burgeoning finances of our household, I was reminded of this poor soul after many years. How did his simplistic approach towards life fare in the face of rising inflation? How many plates did he still sell and is it enough to feed his family ? Is that guy covered by the financial inclusion plans that has been rolled out by the new government and if yes, how will it help him in the long run ? Can we trade our aspirational lifestyles in favor of something more simpler without being branded as social outcasts ?  Such questions kept hounding me for days and yet I was at a loss for any convincing answer.

Since this is a very minimalist recipe that can also be consumed on 'no onion no garlic' days, one can give more bite to it by adding some boiled chickpeas/yellow peas/kala channa, chopped cucumber and tomatoes/raw mangoes. Recipe here -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

For the Papdis
  • 2/3 cup maida/ all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup atta/ whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp semolina
  • 2-3 tbsp split gram dal ( I forgot to add this)
  • 2 pinch ajwain/ carom seeds 
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • salt to taste
  • oil for deep frying

For the chaat -

  • 10 papdis
  • 1 small potato (boiled, peeled and cubed)
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • black salt as per taste
  • a pinch of chaat masala
  • cilantro for garnishing

Preparation - Take the maida, atta, semolina, oil, carom seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix well and then add water little by little to bring everything together into a smooth dough. Cover with a moist cloth and keep aside for 20 mins.

Knead the dough once again before dividing into 3-4 portions. Roll out each portion on a flat surface. Take a circular cookie cutter or even a sharp edged bottle lid/cap and cut out small circles. Using a fork, punch holes in the small circles to prevent them from puffing up during frying.

Heat sufficient oil in a wok. Add the papdis, a few at a time and fry them on a medium flame. Lower temperature will turn the papdis chewy while high heat will brown them too quickly leaving the insides under cooked. Adjust the flame accordingly. Remove and place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Allow them to cool down completely before storing in airtight containers. Stays good for 8-10 days.

For assembling the Alu Papdi Chaat -

Layer 10 puris/papdis on a plate. Throw the cubes potatoes over them. Sprinkle chili powder, chaat masala, lemon juice, chopped cilantro and black salt. Mix in and consume immediately.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Navratan Korma ( Without Onion and Garlic )

Navratan Korma derives it name from the nine jewels of Mughal emperor Akbar's court. The dish is supposed to consist of an equal number of vegetable simmered in a sweet and mildly spiced creamy gravy. While the regular version of this recipe makes use of an onion, ginger and garlic paste, I have prepared a no onion- no garlic verison that can be consumed on 'vrat' or auspicious day too.

The have used eight vegetables and paneer along with a paste of poppy seeds, almonds and cashews for the recipe. The vegetables have been boiled in milk instead of water to add richness and sweetness to the gravy. But since milk slows down the cooking process, it is best to have the vegetables half cooked by the time milk is added. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 1 hour

Ingredients -

  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 cup carrot (small cubes)
  • 1/2 cup capsicum (long strips)
  • 1/2 cup beans ( inch long pieces)
  • 1/2 cup potatoes ( peeled and cubed)
  • 1/2 cup baby corn ( inch long pieces)
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 200 gm paneer/cottage cheese ( long pieces)
  • 2 large tomatoes (freshly pureed)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 cardamom 
  • 2 inch long cinnamom stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp kasuri methi
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1/3 cup raisins and broken cashews (mixed)
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp ghee

For the paste -

  • 2 tsp poppy seeds
  • 12 cashews
  • 4-6 almonds

Preparation - Soak the poppy seeds, cashews and almonds in a cup of hot water for 1-2 hours. Drain the excess water and peel the almonds before grinding everything into a smooth paste.

Cooking - Heat the ghee and oil in a wok. Add the whole spices followed by the chili, turmeric, coriander and garam masala powders. Roast for 10 seconds before adding the tomato puree. Cook everything till oil separates from the tomato paste.

Then add all the chopped vegetables and stir fry them till half cooked. Alternately cover with a lid for faster cooking.

Add the poppy seeds and nuts paste to the wok along with a little milk. Mix in. Add the rest of the milk, cashews and raisins. Adjust salt and allow the curry to simmer till the vegetables are completely cooked.

Add the paneer cubes, kasuri methi ( rub it lightly between palms before adding ) and honey. Simmer for 2 minutes before removing from the flame.

Garnish with coriander leaves before serving hot. Goes best with all Indian flat breads and mildly spiced rice dishes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

HiFi in Bollywood - Rishi Vohra (Book Review)

Now I have to say that this is 'hatke' (slightly different) book than the types that I usually read. The protagonist Rayhan is a guy who is besotted with Bollywood and dreams to making it big . His father on the other hand is a guy who thinks that a respectable career in finance and a future in America is what his son should be looking at. In purely filmy style, Rayhan lands up in Mumbai without the knowledge of his father. And needless to say the incidents that follow have a very filmy flavor to them. Right upto the climax. Yes, this book is an ode to the Hindi Film Industry and the millions of dreams that it has inspired.

Along with our hero who is a guy with a Finance degree, we have a small time goon who aspires to be the first Catholic villain and a dark skinned girl who wants to become a heroine. It speaks volumes about the lure of celluloid which spares no segment of society.

Throughout the book, the Hindi film industry is refered as 'HiFi' instead of Bollywood which is a welcome relief given the Tollywood, Sandalwood, Ollywood type crappy names that it has spawned. The author has covered a lot of aspects of the film industry like having the importance of having the right contacts, the egos of the big stars that always need assuaging, the fact that actresses have a limited shelf life and the general insecurities that folks from the industry possess. Darker aspects like the casting couch and drug abuse also get a mention. It also gives a detailed insight into the work environment on the sets and the amount of hard work that is put in by everyone who work behind the scenes.

This book is a lighthearted read that should be picked by all Bollywood fans. Or even those who want a quick insight into the ways of this industry.

[And no I would not compare Rishi Vohra to Chetan Bhagat as I never think of comparing the latter to Paulo Coelho and Khaled Hosseini. It is just like people do not compare a Rohit Shetty movie with a Sanjay Leela Bhansali one. Take a chill pill and enjoy the diversity.]

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Baby Corn Masala

With baby corn becoming popular in India sometime during the early twentieth century, another popular vegetarian dish captured the imagination of restaurant owners and their patrons alike. The Baby corn masala or Baby corn butter masala became part of the menu and has remained a popular choice ever since. The natural sweetness of the baby corn is accentuated and complimemted by a lightly sweet and rich gravy which has just the right amount of tang in it !!

Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 40-45 mins

Ingredients -

  • 1 1/2 cup baby corn ( chopped into centimeter long pieces )
  • 1/2 cup capsicum (cut into strips)
  • 1 small onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder ( I used the regular one so made it 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/5 tsp turmeric
  • 1/5 tsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp Kasuri methi
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey 
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt to taste

For the gravy

  • 1 medium onion ( chopped into chunks)
  • 1 large tomato ( chopped into chunks )
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 inch ginger (roughly chopped)
  • 1 1/2 tsp oil
  • a pinch of salt

Preparation - Heat a frying pan . Add the oil and thrown in the onions first and fry for 2 mins. Then add tomatoes, ginger and garlic. Fry for 4-5 mins and remove from the flame.

Allow to cool down a bit before making into a smooth paste.

Cooking - Heat the butter in a wok. Add the finely chopped onion and fry till translucent.

Add the chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder and garam masala. Roast for 10 seconds and then add the above paste. Fry for 2-3 mins before adding the baby corn. Sprinkle a little salt and cover with a lid. When the baby corn is half done, add the milk and bring it to a boil. Simmer till the baby corn is almost done.

Add the capsicum strips, kasuri methi and honey at this stage and allow to cook for 3-4 mins. Remove from the flame.

Garnish with a dollop of butter and chopped cilantro and serve hot. Goes best with Indian flat breads or a simple rice dish.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dahi Kadhi/Kadhi Pakoda

Kadhi Chawal is a very popular North Indian meal. Immensely soothing and low on effort, it qualifies as comfort food on almost every level. Another good thing is that there are quite a many variations possible with it. I usually stick to a simple kadhi base (without any onions and garlic) while I keep changing the addons. Sometimes I go for the usual pakodas and at times tinge them with some greens ( palak/methi) . If I am in the mood for veggies, I fry some okra or eggplant or even tomatoes and add to the kadhi. Simple yet delicious.

This is the regular version of Kadhi Pakoda. Read on for the recipe -

Preparation Time - 30 mins

Ingredients -

For the Kadhi -
  • 1 cup dahi
  • 2 tsp besan
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1-2 finely chopped green chili
  • 21/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • a pinch garam masala (optional)
  • salt to taste
For the Tempering -
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 2 dry red chili
  • a sprig of curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • a pinch of fenugreek seeds
  • a pinch of cumin seeds
  • 2 pinch asafoetida

For the Pakoda -
  • 1/2 cup besan
  • 1 medium sized onion cut into thin long pieces
  • 2 tsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp jeera powder
  • a pinch of garam masala
  • a pinch of amchur
  • pinch of baking powder
  • water to make a thick paste
  • oil for deep frying

Preparation -
For the kadhi - Take the curd in a mixing bowl. Beat it lightly  to break any lumps. Add everything else and mix well.

For the pakoda - Take all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and add water little by little to make a thick batter/paste.

Cooking - Heat sufficient oil in a wok for deep frying. Add spoonfuls of the pakoda mixture and fry till golden brown. Remove and keep aside on paper towels.

Bring the kadhi mixture to boil in a separate wok.

Heat 2 tsp oil in a tadka pan. Add broken/whole red chili, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. When it starts spluttering, add it to the kadhi and boil for 15 mins on low flame. Finally add the pakodas and switch off the flame.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Note - The pakodas remain crispy when added at the end but if you want them to soak up some of the kadhi, add them 5 mins before switching off the flame.

Bedtime is Bonding time with my Baby !!

Babies are cute. At least for folks who have encountered them only in telly advertisements and maybe sometimes in the parks/malls. But for those who have had a chance to see them up, close and personal, it takes almost a miracle (or sometimes a miraculous product) to keep them at their happiest best. And being a mom to a hyperactive three year old, I can vouch for such a product that I have used ever since he was a week old. And I still use it when we are travelling long distance or going over to a friend's place as I am a bit skeptical about my young one using a toilet outside our home.

My baby did not sleep for the first few nights after he was born. He would fall into a fitful sleep only to be awakened by the wetness of the cloth nappy. After 2-3 hours of howling and a few dozen lullabies, he would doze again for roughly the same time before waking up yet again. And then I discovered Pampers and its miraculous effects on my baby thanks to a dear friend. I can never thank her enough as it helpful put some kind of order into the madness that had suddenly gripped our world. With all babies being different, some may argue that diapers may irritate a baby's tender skin or that a little bit of wetness would not hurt a baby. But with Pampers, I have never faced any such problems. The cloth like breathable diapers are infused with Aloe vera and have very soft adjustable waist bands. And I would never take a chance with wetness especially in a place like Bangalore which has a cool climate almost around the year.

Once I started putting my baby in diapers, it was easy to embark on a night time routine to get him to sleep peacefully. Till he turned one year old, I would start this ritual by giving him an oil massage for 20-30 minutes. With his tiny muscles all relaxed, I would give him a quick bath. After drying his skin and hair, I used to rub a gentle baby lotion all over. This would be followed by sprinkling baby powder especially on his bottom and skin folds. Finally I would put on his diaper and a set of loose cotton clothing. By this time, he usually started to yawn and nod/rub his head ( a signal that he is sleepy ). Once he was settled in the bed, he would fall asleep even before I completed the third lullaby. And he would wake up all refreshed and smiling after a good 9-10 hours sleep.

When he entered the second year, I substituted rhymes for the lullabies during his bedtime. And after another six months, the lullabies got replaced by stories which had animals, birds and even people in them. As he completed two years, I introduced him to picture books which had him hooked. With kids having too much energy, it is difficult to get them to concentrate when they are fully active. Hence, with this ritual I get him to relax and learn something new at the same time. No wonder he sleeps blissfully and dreams of the objects that he had come in the stories or books that I told or read to him.

This post is written for Pampers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Things to do before I die !!

Life is all about bigger goals interspersed with smaller moments of joy that add spice to an otherwise mundane existence. Everyone dreams of things like owning a house, buying that swanky car, sending the kids to a big school/university, taking a world tour and yet having a large enough corpus for retirement. Yes, I am no different from such folks and there are the things in my Bucket List (in no particular order though) -

1. Owning an independent house /villa with a small patch of garden. With most apartments offering tightly crunched flats with hardly any sunlight or ventilation, some good old fresh air is what I always crave for. And a nice little patch of soil to plant those fresh herbs and vegetable plants. Imagine the joy of plucking the fresh produce and heading straight to the kitchen to rustle up a colorful and healthy meal. Also, it should be located near to our respective offices so that we have ample time to appreciate and enjoy our home instead of wasting it in commuting

2. A date with those adorable kangaroos and penguins comes next on my list. With Australia offering so much, I want to take a really long vacation and savor every bit of it. The awesome food, the beaches and the vast oceans, the lovely streets to be explored and of course a lot of shopping that goes with it .

3. Like every parent, I too have big dreams for my kid. While I would love to see him playing tennis at the international level, I would do every bit to allow him to make his own career choices. And choosing the right school is the first step. An international school with a curriculum that excels in introducing children to activities and interests beyond studies is what I have in mind. Such schools offer the flexibility for a child to nurture various talents instead of simply cramming up on the written word. Plus I would love to take him on a vacation to Disneyland while he is still young so that he can enjoy the pure fantasy of it.

4. Buying a set of wheels that would make all my friends and relatives go green with envy. Whenever I looked at names like BMW, Audi and Mercedes, I always associated them with success. Whether it is the success factor that gives it that exclusive feel or the other way around with people using the exclusivity card to make themselves seem more successful has always been debatable in my opinion. But this argument notwithstanding, I would still like to own one of these names.

5. Writing my book and having enough funds to publish and promote it. Yes, finding that first break as a writer is tough and one needs to put in the right amount of investment to ensure that it reaches the targeted audience. Of course quality matters most but in this age of self promotion, one needs sufficient funds to open the right channels.

All this is possible with correct financial planning and the right amount of investment. And IDBI Federal provides just the right plans for me to live life to the fullest while staying secure.

This post is written for IDBI Federal Life Insurance.