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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Literature- Book review

How The Banana Goes To Heaven (Paperback)
by Ratna Rajaiah

Ratna Rajaiah is good, stylish writer with deep insight towards minute details. Her book is written with meticulously researched information, which she collected during her weekly columns in the Sunday edition of the ‘New Indian Express’, tracing back the history and the nutrition value of each ingredient. This book is like a food bible, where every food item is personified exposing its health and medicinal secrets, its origin, some anecdotes, some facts and finally a recipe.

Take the example of ‘White Pumpkin’ now I am not too fond of this ingredient and wouldn’t even touch it with a yard stick but the author arouses my interest by addressing this vegetable as ‘The Goddess Gourd’ and goes on to say “The white Pumpkin is not only a popular offering to the gods in Hindu ceremonies but is also considered effective in warding off evil spirit and evil eye- the very reason why it is often seen hanging outside newly built houses and buildings” An interesting information which will henceforth make me notice a Pumpkin if I see one.

There are many other secrets revealed in the pages as you go along with her exploring the traditional fare and, BTW, did you know that ‘White Pumpkin’ is used to treat various kinds of nervous disorders and mental illness? I didn’t. She writes: “One well-known Ayurvedic preparation made from it is used for the treatment of epilepsy and even insanity” She goes on to talk about its other medicinal and health benefits and how it is used to cure many other diseases.

Interesting to note: “The ash made from burning the seeds and the peel of white Pumpkin is mixed with coconut oil and is used to promote hair growth and as a treatment for dandruff” hmmmn!

Small wonders roll out from every chapter, unfolding the secrets of different ingredients, as we begin to understand the nutrients of various food items used in our everyday cooking. Every new chapter begins with a food quote on that particular ingredient, tuning your mind in the receptive mood. The book is packed with information on vegetables, grains, oils and also on vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, etc.

For a food lover like me, this book is a treasure, packed with so much information that I would recommend to everyone to have one copy of their own for regular reference PLUS one more to gift your loved ones whose health and well-being, you really care…..

Also Cross posted my review at flipkart

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Around the World with Rice gourmand

During my last trip to Bangkok, on my back to Mumbai, I sat down to eat at the restaurant for the last meal at the Bangkok airport and even packed some more dishes for my cousin back home in Mumbai. Although it was quite tasty and authentic Thai style cooking but nothing compares the taste of khao phat like the one you get at the Bangkok street lanes. There is a different kind of pleasure in sitting on those hard rickety chairs and watching those Thai ladies hit the pan hard (making noise or music perhaps) while stirring in the ingredients into the rice dish with the fumes rising up in the air filling the air with aroma so strong that you can’t wait to take a mouthful.

Khao phat is the fried rice that is made on Bangkok streets and contains basil leaves, pork, shrimps, chicken, eggs and lots of chilies. I drool while I write this but this is one dish which is best enjoyed steaming hot, straight from pan to plate.

Back during the time when I lived in Suriname, my home was next to Indonesian restaurant and all I had to do was to holler from my balcony and the lady would send me a great quantity of Nasi Goreng which would last me all day.(She always gave me extra portion with a smile). Nasi Goreng is bit sweetish in taste since kecap manis (a thick sweet soya sauce) is added and they normally make it from left-over (or cold ) rice, stir frying it with garlic, shrimp paste, shallots and red chilies. It is topped with fried eggs(sunny side fried both sides), shredded cabbage and chopped cucumber, served with fried prawn crackers.

Each country has its own way of making the rice dish. In India, every city has their own style, even from region to region the taste differs, we have nawab style Biryani from Hyderabad to coconut, mustard seeds flavored rice in the south, from pulav to Kanji to methi rice to saffron rice, there is unlimited variation for creating a new dish each time.

During my short stay in Kuwait, (this was before that Iran-Iraq war)I was invited for a dinner to an Afghani’s friend’s house and was too delighted to taste Qabali rice which, besides containing cooked chicken it also had carrots, raisins and pine nuts and made a colorful presentation at the dining tables as she served in a large glass bowl. It has been a long time ago but I can still remember its’ taste.

On my recent trip to Lagos, I ate Jellof rice, an African rice dish at a private club of which my cousin is the member. We went late evening and it was raining quite heavily. We sat facing the rain, with a drizzle splashing our face. The Jellof rice was spicy (maybe he added extra chilies for me). They normally brown the chicken on both the sides before transferring into the large pot to simmer till it is tender. The rice is fried separately with onions, bell pepper, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chicken and the stock is added and then cooked with vegetables like carrots, green beans, cabbage and spices to make it a colorful dish. It is served with salad and boiled eggs.

And those were the days, when I had overstayed in Hongkong, five months at a stretch, extending visas several times to stay some more time. The stay was so long that I was beginning to feel at home. There were days when I would have sleepless nights and I remember one such night when I was awake all night. At 4am I was hungry but when I went into the kitchen I couldn’t find anything interesting to eat (I am very selective about what I eat, even though I am hungry, I still won’t eat what I don’t like). Everybody was asleep at home, I quickly got dressed up and at 5am went down stairs, took a bus-ride to reach a place where they served the most delicious breakfast- rice congee- a improbable ratio of one cup of rice to 15 cups of water. They would serve in soup bowl topped with finely chopped vegetables and shredded chicken, it was steaming hot which I would garnish with chopped shallots and chilies soaked in vinegar.

But most interesting rice preparation that I have ever witness is in Tenerife, Spain where there is a special festival when a rice-dish called Paella is made in huge fry-pan in the open space and served to the whole community. Although bland in taste (truthfully speaking, because they don’t use chilies at all), it is a very healthy rice dish that contains chicken, fish, prawns, shells and vegetables.

My family is mostly vegetarian and so it becomes mandatory for me to learn the vegetarian version of every dish. My niece, who is also a good chef, cooked the vegetarian paella which was equally good. I had blogged about it while I was in Tenerife.

When I am not travelling I am cooking and many people relish my Chinese fried rice. It’s simple but tasty. The trick is cut all the ingredients that you wish to use in the dish before hand, because my dish takes just five minutes to cook. I used the white boiled rice. I chop all the veggies finely in the size of rice (okay a little bit bigger) the vegetables like carrots, beans, onions, mushrooms, green chilies, garlic and cut the strips of fried egg omelets and long strips of cabbage. On a very high flame, add garlic, chilies and then the veggies, stirring all the time and finally add the boiled rice, mix and garnish with egg strips and strips of cabbage.

Having the different cuisine from different countries is nice but nothing can beat my mom’s cuisine. Mom made soft rice with dhal and would churn it well to make it into porridge and tempered it with mustard seeds, it made a delicious breakfast which we ate regularly with curd and papad.

Oh! BTW have you tried eating just Rice with butter and sugar crystals sprinkled over it?

Source for pics of  Jellof rice, Qabali, Nasi Goreng, Khao Phat

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cooking for a Cause

During this Joy Giving week, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal decided to celebrate the festival of giving in a different way and I was the benefactor (I chose to be), receiving the tips of her culinary skills through her cooking demonstration at Courtyard Marrriott’s Chinese restaurant ‘Red Sun’  that included some of the dishes which she has created herself by trial and error method and had been successful.

 This was the charity demonstration, proceeds of which would actually benefit the people affected by leprosy living in Baratapuram colony at Chennai.

We were a small group of about 20 members watching closely as she created four dishes in just two hours.

She started her session with cooking demonstration on ‘Tamarind Prawn’, A very simple dish and yet so tasty.

In a bowl she made the combination of sweet/sour/salty sauce by mixing lemongrass, fish sauce, brown sugar and tamarind till dissolved.

In a wok, she fried garlic till golden brown and added lemon grass, Thai chilies, till crisp, then in went the sweet/sour mixture solution to simmer till it was slightly reduced. The sweet aroma of lemon grass was stronger in the room but our attention was fixed on the aromatic fumes emerging from the pans. She added kaffir lime leaves and finally the prawns, stir-fried just for a minute on each side in the sauce and the dish was ready to eat. I shared this recipe with my cousin, who promptly cooked for her hubby earning a brownie point.

The other dishes that she cooked were Asian coleslaw, White sesame curry and Anise and Orange Chicken Puloa.

The cooking demonstration was followed by delicious lunch and the hotel had designed an edible miniature Marriott Home donation box where we could dare to care by helping those who needed our assistance.

Tummy was protesting and we all headed towards the dining room for yummicious lunch

Lovely afternoon where we ate, thought and talked about food.

Rushina is a food blogger who is passionate about her cooking. I met her the first time at Nature Basket, where I am a frequent shopper. And later I attended her workshop at Kala Ghoda Festival, and then there have been many other events where I do bump into her but she is a warm person and is always willing to share her culinary tips.

I have met her several times now and I hope to become good friends in future since we share a common interest and that is:
To cook for the people we love.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ladies finger! Hmmn..Okra for you, Bhindi for me…

One of the things that I missed the most on my dining table in Spain was 'Bhindis'. This veggie was available only on certain days and that too at Indian Super-market which was far away from my home. These were imported from London and the stock would finish on the day it arrived. Since we lived in the rural regions of Tenerife, (at Icod de Los Vinos) going to Indian Super-market at Puertos de la Cruz was a weekly event, if we were lucky, then we would be able to grab just a kilo of it. We counted (4-bhindis-per-person) and cooked, the rest we stored in the freezer

I wished somebody would locally plant this vegetable so that it was readily available at all times. 
 Since we lived in rural areas, our clients were mainly tourists or farmers, who would visit our shop to buy some electronics from our store. The local natives of the place were very friendly with us and sometimes sold us veggies and fruits that they grew in their farm. One day, I asked them to bring Bhindi and he looked surprised. He had never seen it. I showed him and he looked at it curiously. I asked him to plant it in his farm, but Bhindis need warm climate so he was not sure if he would be successful. Nevertheless, he did plant for me in his warm nursery and brought a big basket full of bhindis for me. But it was just an experiment for him and since Spanish don’t have this veggie on their dinner table, it was not profitable for him. I enjoyed this veggie till his passion lasted and then back to Indian supermarket, once in a while........
Believed to be originated in African regions, it is enjoyed in stews in most parts of the world. In Africa, the bhindis are normally short, thick and quite hard, they are grated and put into chicken and mutton dishes to make stew or thick gravy.
During one of the chats on BlackBerry, my cousin sent me the picture of Bhindi that grows in his garden in Texas. They were quite long, some of them longer than spoons, and they weighed heavy, bending the branch. He said that it was quite tasteless and people just chew and then throw it away.They are mainly used for medicinal purpose.
Bhindis are chopped and soaked in water overnight and drinking its solution early in the morning is good for health, it reduces cholesterol level, blood pressure and it also helps to stabilize the blood sugar by curbing the rate at which sugar is absorbed from intestinal tract. (and Oh..I tried drinking this Bhindi solution too but yucks! I could not continue this slimy stuff, I puked..sorry!)

My cousin in Malaysia says her maid uses bhindi for stuffing fish, it is a part of young ‘tau foo’ cuisine whereby it is stuffed with fish paste and boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, interesting recipe I must say, and sometimes they use pork too...
The few years while we lived in Surinam, mom grew many vegetables in her kitchen garden. The soil was very fertile and the weather was warm. We had Bhindis, tomatoes, coriander leaves and also chillie and avocado trees. While she cooked I would go downstairs and pluck out bhindis, tomatoes and chillies, just enough for the cooking, during those days I didn't know how to make Gaucomali, so we just cut avocado and spread it with bread like butter with just salt and pepper (it was so delicious that I can still remember the taste).

In India, Bhindis are served at every home and everybody has their own unique style..

There are so many different ways that one can cook this vegetable that every time I buy it I am set thinking. There is finely chopped deep fried bhindis, stuffed bhindis, bhindi potatoes in green masala or in onion masala or just dumped in Sindhi curry.

In some restaurant they also serve thinly sliced crispy bhindi (have you tried those?, yum..!!)

Even if you simply deep fry it and add dry masalas, it makes a nice accompaniment with dhal and rice. You could add dry powder like coriander powder, mango powder, lots of red chillies powder, jeera powder and coriander leaves.(cough! cough!

My favorite recipe is Bhindi with potatoes. Why? because its easiest to cook......and its quickie like Masterchef's fifteen minutes pressure
I deep fry chopped potatoes and Bindhis till tender

Make an onion masala separately by cooking onion, tomatoes, garlic, green chillies, turmeric powder and coriander leaves.(dump them in the pan and let the low flame do its work)
Mix the fried bhindi and potatoes to the onion masala and cook on slow flame for five minutes.

Lunch is ready..... I have it with chappatis and chopped cucumber….. always tastes good and I love it.
 BTW did you know that the world's most beautiful women, Cleopatra of Egypt and Yang Guifei of China loved to eat Bhinids ??

Mirror, Mirror on the wall........
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