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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pondicherry : Peace , Palette , Paradigm



So it was that time again. I usually take short trips with my yoga friends from Mystic Yoga , from time to time. I was  all excited about this trip even before it got announced officially . Hailing from a punjabi family , you  are never expected to go on a holidays that can be described as  “ tranquil” “peaceful” “holistic” . So as children we usually went to places that were associated with “fun”. Thus, such holidays were a rare occasion . And in our busy lives , we don’t really tend to think of such vacations  either. Thanks to Mystic, I have been able to catch up with myself over the years now . A long weekend in a remote hill station  or in the outskirts always helps to refresh the soul .



Well, besides  all the peace and tranquil mumbo jumbo, I was super excited about the food. A foodie is always a foodie. And when my friends were busy planning meditation sessions, I researched on food and shopping scene of Pondi. They talked about the warmth of the people, I measured the warmth of the pizza oven . They talked about solar energy, I talked about solar power gelato . Who ever knows me well enough, I am all about food . I can talk about food all day, all night and not get bored . Food makes me happy, always .

So  the day began at 3 am, when we landed at the Chennai Airport, and to my surprise, where everything, including the cafĂ© was shut. I MEAN SHUT! So outside the airport we found a lovely filter coffee stall that came as a blessing post a horrid night flight. And we were set to hit the lovely Auroville. As per their set format, we don’t ever stay in the main city. The resort chosen was the Ashoka. We had beautiful Gazebos on  the beach a little away from Auroville. That day, we got going in the direction of the Aurobindo Ashram, sat in peace by the shrine and enjoyed tranquil silence of the place. This was followed by a lovely lunch at one of the iconic colonial hotels of Pondicherry, Hotel Du Parc. The food was pretty average, so I’m  not really going to elaborate on it. 

This was followed by sitting on the rocks at the promenade. The water seemed as exited about the next couple of days as we were. There is something really playful  about  the Bay of Bengal. It calls you , touches your little toe and runs back, as you step forward, it moves a little further backward, and after a few more times, when you least expect, it envelopes all your senses with its magnanimous presence.  And this is exactly what the  waves were doing. Somewhat theatrical, each waver just lured us and welcomed us to the contrasting  peace of Pondicherry .

The night at the hotel was magical,  the sound of the waves singing you to sleep, was pure healing. Each day began with a lovely yoga session by the beach,  followed by soaking in some salty goodness of the sea and then a beautiful South Indian breakfast at the hotel .

The lunch at auroville will  remain etched in my head for long. A great melange of simplicity, freshness and a lot of love . Auroville as a town is so so positive. Where people from so many nationalities live so harmoniously with each other. Just love those cycles, hammocks, some bakeries, organic grocery stores. Simple happy life. Even the fruits here taste so good, I guess it's because that’s how nature wanted them to grow. Organic.


The frequent trips between Pondicherry, Auroville and the hotel made us stop at various stops. One of them being the Sunday market. Apparently, they say , there is nothing that is not available at this market. Mostly second hand stuff, but I did find myself some really cool MODAK moulds, and interesting back scratchers.  Also found the Red Banana or Kerala Banana, that I have never eaten before, and a tamil cousin of our puchka. The best way enjoy a city is by exploring the street food .



The trip ended with sunset at Mahabalipuram. Much to the displeasure of my guide , I was not even slightly interested in the history of the place . I was busy clicking pics of the food vendors and tasting their fare . A bonus to this was the Mamallapuram Dance Festival . A lovely range of performances showcasing  Kathak , Bharatnatyam and Odissi . The sunset , The temple and culture , perfect way to bid farewell .

 I didn’t even spare the tea stop at on the way to the airport . Adyar Ananda Bhawan was a tea and refreshment . I got myself a bag food of goodies and ended on a sweet note with some Dry fruit halwa .

I fell in love with pondicherry , the minute I read about the food scene . Some of the highlights of what we ate were as follows:


Zuka :










Absolutely loved the chocolates at this artisan chocolate shop. They had those stunning coffee truffle. mildly sweet , and a soft yet robust truffle core that cots our palette like fine silk. They even tempered their chocolate well. Tried the miniatures and the the mouse shaped Chocolate Jerry , bothe were stunning.




This baby is pizza heaven . As per the norms of the trip , we were vegetarian . You will not complain one bit post a meal at this place . I am confessing , it’s the tastiest pizza I have eaten in  my life . Mind you , I have eaten a lot of good pizza . The Sauce was perfectly tart , the seasoning was spot on , and the cheese , oh my , was perfect . A drizzle of chili oil and I was it was “ love at first bite” . The best was the Pesto Spinach Pizza , The freshness of the spinach just stole my heart .


I just fell in love with the grocery store . The chocolate they sell is mainly Mason and Co . But the cheese and the banana chips were crazy . They also serve some delicious baked goods . The Lemon Meringue Pie was like music . The tang of the lemon with the contrast of the meringue made me go silent for a while . They even make brilliant brownies , some of the best I have ever tasted .



Matri Mandir :  
First , the aparajita sharbat , light lavender in colour, full of floral goodness , and has medicinal properties. The next was the hazelnut gelato . It was mildly sweet , nutty and made with solar powered freezer . How  cool is that !  


This was followed by some curd rice with rasam and sambhar  and the stunning range of chocolates from Mason and Company .





Sunday Street Market :

I started with some Patti Samosas which were pretty nice and three types of bananas ( I Love Bananas )  The South Indian Cousin of our Puchka , Gup-Chup was quite a surprise . The water looked pretty colourless , but was loaded with flavor , piquant , spicy and had a Kanji like flavor . Simply loved it .



Mahabalipuram :
Well , the couple of hours at Mahabalipuram were like a dream come true. Started an thinly sliced raw mango . coated with chili powder . These were totapuri  mangoes , hence , the skin was thin and they were semi sweet . Next in Line were the Tapioca Chips . Oh My God , they were a riot ! crisp and so different from anything I’ve eaten before . this was followed by tiny gooseberries , they was tossed in a spice mix and tasted brilliant . I also had some sliced pineapple and smoked Palm Roots . and is all that wasn’t enough Some Boiled corn. Very fresh and different from the street food of North or Kolkata .










I am sure I will visit Pondicherry again , this time alone perhaps , Need to be a backpacker and click tonnes of pictures . And as I weave the fond memories of the trip in this story , I long for another few days, a few more dips in the sea and few more slices of that heavenly pizza . Adios !

                                                                                    



Thursday, February 2, 2017

Welcoming Spring with Chholiya


There are many signs of spring. Nature has ways of telling us that it is time to change our lifestyle. Change in temperature, change in the time of sunsets,  in the flowers,  in the fruits and vegetables, they all tell us that our bodies are meant to change our eating habits , living habits as time and season. Our ancient scriptures tell us that we should eat seasonal produce, and every seasonal ingredient solves a nutritive purpose in its respective season . yes now we do get certain seasonal fruits all year round, but these hybrid fruits and vegetables don't solve the purpose they intended to do in their actual season .


One such ingredient is chholia , or green chana . this is the pod form of gram . young , sweet , fresh and so different from its brown version. When you walk down lanes of vegetable markets, one sees these vibrant mounds of green chana. unfortunately its a big hit amongst its fans and it disappears as soon as it comes. There is a small bengal variant  which is tender and a rather strong and sturdy patna variety. Both taste very different from each other .   These do not have a great shelf life , so try and  consume them on the same day .

Chholia is also available in bunch form . This is how it actually grows , in pods . as children we used to sit in the sun in early spring and eat these pods. the tender chhola saag is also very tasty . it has this really tender leaf taste , somewhat like morning dew .

I am using both Chholia and Chana Saag and Creating a beautiful recipe. Made a lovely chholia kadhi , in which the pakodas are made with the saag and the chholia is pureed and added into the kadhi. so here goes .

Saag 


Chholie ki Kadhi






For kadhi

Curd 1 cup
Water 6 cups
2 tbsp besan
Chholia ( pureed ) 1/2 cup 
Salt
Pepper
Haldi
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Dhania powder 1 tsp
Oil 2 tbsp
Pickle oil 3 tbsp
Onions 2 nos chopped
Ajwain 1 tsp

  • Heal oil and pickle oil and temper with ajwain onions
  • Mix all remaining ingredients together and add the onion tadka
  • Cook till thick ( approx 40 mins )

For pakoda

Pakoda Batter 


Besan 1/2 cup
Onion chopped 1/2  nos
Green chilies 2 nos chopped
Salt
Pepper
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Ajwain ½ tsp
Water
Chopped chana saag 1/2 cup
Pureed chholia 1/2 cup 
Baking powder 1 pinch
Oil for frying 

  • Mix and deep fry
  • Put into the kadhi and simmer till soft

This pakoda batter can be made with soaked daal puree instead on besan and fired on the griddle like a pancake to make a lovely snack that can be enjoyed over a hot cup of tea. Do enjoy this beautiful ingredient  quick it is available only for a few weeks . 

Cheers !






Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Roasted Pumpkin and Chicken Salad : Delicious Yet Guilt Free



I know its been long since I posted a recipe and I regret my absence, but being on a life changing journey has its ups and downs. In this time,  I discovered a side to myself that I had no clue about , the fact that guilt free food can be absolutely delicious is my new discover.We all love pumpkins and in Bengal, pumpkin holds a special place of respect in the kitchen . But the humble pumpkin also has this soul comforting thing about itself . Be it sweet , indulgent kumror chhokka or  a nice creamy kaddu ka halwa, we do manage to use this bright orange vegetable to its fullest . 

Besides all this we forget that the humble pumpkin is a rich source  of minerals, like potassium . and is also rich in vitamin c . Well, I'm sure we all can google the health benefits of pumpkin and figure out , so  I can cut the nutrition class short . Sharing a lovely recipe where the  common vegetable might not be the hero , but does add that spunk into the salad . 



Pumpkin 100g (cubes)
Salt
Pepper
Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp
Chopped mint leaves 1 tsp
  • ·         Mix all ingredients and bake in the oven for 15 mins at 200 degrees Celsius

Chicken Leg boneless 100g
Black pepper sauce 2 tbsp
Salt
  • ·         Marinate the chicken meat with salt and black pepper sauce leave aside for 30 mins
  • ·         Bake at 150 degrees for  45 mins
  • ·         Do not throw the pan juices

Assorted lettuce 100g
Cherry tomato 10 nos
Toasted almond flakes 1 tbsp
Lemon juice 1 tsp
Honey ½ tsp
Diced bell peppers 2 tbsp
Olives slices 1 tbsp
  • ·         Make a bed with the washed lettuce
  • ·         Arrange halved tomatoes , olives and bell peppers
  • ·         Place the pumpkin on the salad , slice the chicken and add to the salad
  • ·         Whisk the chicken pan juices , honey and lemon juice to form a dressing
  • ·         Pour over the salad , Finish with almond 

Friday, June 6, 2014



From the time I have seen the listing of this outlet on Zomato, I have been after all my friends to pay a visit . Essentially , Fifth element is an oriental food joint,  ( which Kolkata is saturated with ) but it has some things that keep it apart from the others, The restaurant is beautifully planned and i love the stairs that lead to the restaurant .



Exactly speaking, this is on the juncture of suburban hospital road and Ashutosh Mukherjee Road.

As our group hit the place we fell in love with the interiors, although the lighting was dim the place had delicate interiors and designated areas for the elements of FIRE, WATER, WIND, and EARTH... The Fifth element being the food on the plate . We received a very warm welcome from ARIJIT, who was on his toes all evening to keep our large group satisfied .





We sat in the earth room and on request the lights were brightened, I loved the aquarium in water section, the bamboo ceiling in the fire section and the wood paneling in the earth section . Although I feel that place would look much better during the day in natural night.

Coming to the food .....

Som Tam Salad : Simply brilliant in terms of texture , I think we  were served a vegetarian version , as missed the hit of fish sauce in it . The beans , cherry tomato , and nut were not overshadowing the papaya salad and it tasted delicious .


Crab-Meat Asparagus Soup : Well, it tasted divine .... The crab didn't overpower the asparagus one bit and yet had its individual presence in the soup, the meat was sweet and the overall soup was very smooth . I think it was one of the better soups i have had in the city .


The  Chicken Wantons:  were delicious and crunchy and came with a hot garlic dip, they were crunchy even after 15 - 20 mins of service .


Pan fried Chili Fish: Decent not brilliant, i think the fish they use is basa , for dry tarted it was a tad bit less flavorful. A better fish choice will improve this dish.


Corn Fritters: They were very average, flavored with kaffir lime they were quite oily and didn't please me much . It was too ordinary to be on a restaurant menu .


The Cracking spinach: This dish had always surprised me and their rendition as better than its counterparts in many other restaurant , The occasional chili in the bite was lovely .


Sweet Soya Chicken : Simply Stunning ! This was a show stopper . The juicy thigh pieces were out of the world. The charred chicken had a brilliant smoky flavor and made us go quiet .


Chili Pork: As I don't eat pork I took feedback from friends who do and they said it was tad bit over crooked but tasty.


Thai Vegetable Green Curry: This came as another blessing . Finally a green curry that did not taste desi ! I ADORED IT !


Black Pepper Corn n Broccoli: Was disappointing and I mention it to he management as well


Ginger Capsicum Fried Rice and Vegetable Hakka noodles  : Lightly Seasoned and perfect Accompaniment  to the food .





Caramel Custard : the second disappointment on the table : One of the easiest things to make in the dessert world and all one needs is correct proportion and temperature . The custard was over cooked and lacked caramel flavor .


South Indian Filter Coffee Ice-cream : HATS OFF ! one of the best frozen flavors I have had in the city , outstanding .

Well , fifth element is fairly new and has the potential of setting some brilliant trends  and breaking the monotony of the regular Chinese food we eat here in kolkata

KUDOS !

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mutton Rezala - A Recipe to Comfort the Soul .



If you are born in Kolkata and have been a mutton fan, this recipe is sure to be a favorite . There are very few people in the world who don't like mutton rezala. If you have have Muslim friends ( I have some who are brilliant cooks ) you have always eaten this at their parties as this is a sure shot hit .

Although very nawabi , the white rezala in a native to Bengal itself and the rezala i have had in Hyderabad is brown

A rezala, essentially means REAL . and the beauty of this dish is that every recipe claims to be authentic, whereas most aren't.  few pointers of a good rezala are as follows:

  • A rezala should not be too thick, 
  • must have distinct flavor of yogurt,
  • the yogurt should never curdle or get gritty 
  • there must be a meaty flavor 
  • the kewra or rose should be only an afterthought 
  • should be cooked in ghee 
  • the should not fall off the bone
  • should not be over cooked 

I am sharing my version of the recipe . Most rezala recipes will call for nut pastes or poppy seed paste, I don't like using it .

Here Goes


Recipe 

Mutton 500g 
onion 3 large 
ginger 1 cm piece 
green chilies 3 nos 
ghee 1/2 cup 
cream 3 tbsp 
curd 3/4 cup 
cinnamon 2 sticks 
cardamom 5 nos 
whole black peppers 1/2 tsp 
bay leaves 2 nos 
dry red chili 1 nos 
rose water 1/2 tsp 
kewra water 1/2 tsp 
cardamom powder 1/2 tsp 
salt to taste 
pepper 1 tsp 
coriander powder 1 tbsp 
garam masala 1 pinch 
sugar 1 tbsp 


  • heat ghee and temper with bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, dry chili and pepper corn 
  • blend onion ginger and green chili in to a fine paste and add to the ghee 
  • make sure it is a heavy bottom pan 
  • add the mutton pieces and sear the meat 
  • add some sugar and cook till it starts to give out a caramel smell 
  • add the dry spices and seasoning and cook for a few seconds 
  • add the cream and a little water a cook till oil leaves the sides 
  • switch off the gas and add yogurt , let it stay untouched for a few mins ... 
  • as the yogurt adjusts to the temperature stir it in gently
  • then rest again for few minutes 
  • pressure cook or cook covered till the meat is tender 
  • finish with rose water and cardamom powder 
If cooked properly, a rezala speaks to you and talks to you , 




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mirch Ki Meethi Chutney - Red Chili Relish





Chili ..... Remains my all time favorite ingredient. The bright red chilies just set my mood right . Red being my all time favorite color and I love hot food in general . Winters bring to Kolkata an array of chilies that one can make into a million things. Be it Mirch ka Saalan, or Mirchi Wadas, or Chili and Mozzarella Pops.

My love affair with chilies began when I saw "Mistress of Spices".  I had always loved the book and then was an ardent Aishwarya Rai fan. There was this poster of "Amrican Beauty" which all teenagers were dancing over and here I was looking at the posters of "Mistress of Spices" in awe.

When I began cooking in general, I know "Spice" and "Heat" were my things and chilies always have been my obedient ingredient. Be it lacing my garlic oil with a red chili or maybe making a Stir fry of chili and water-chestnuts .


 One of my all time favorite dishes is this jaggery and red chili relish. I make a large batch every year and we eat it with rice preparations and it also serves as a really nice dip with fried seafood snacks .
The recipe for it is as follows:

Ingredients

Red Chilis ( non spicy variety ) 500 g
Jaggery (Gur) 200 g 
Sugar 1/2 cup 
Vinegar 1/2 cup 
Mustard oil 1/2 cup 
Nigella Seeds 1 tsp 
Chopped Ginger 2 tbsp 
Salt
Kashmiri chili powder 1 tsp 
Amchoor ( raw mango powder ) 2 tbsp 
Coriander Powder 2 tbsp 
Water 1 cup 
Asaphoetida 1 pinch 


  • Divide the chilies into 3 parts . Chop one, puree the second and the third, slit in half 
  • Heat mustard oil and temper with asaphoetida and nigella seed and add ginger 
  • Saute for a few minutes and add the chopped chilies and the halved chilies 
  • add the chili puree and the dry spices and seasonings and saute till the mixture releases oil 
  • Add the jaggery, sugar and cook till they melt 
  • Add the water and simmer for 10 minutes 
  • as the oil is released again , cool and bottle 
  • keep refrigerated stays good for months 
p.s. If you like it hot , keep seeds intact, if you like it mild remove chili seeds before cooking 

Pictorial description is shown below, for any questions please feel free to ask in comments and I will respond 













Cheers to Chilies !!