Methi biryani

Methi Biryani

Every restaurant, juice shop, or roadside frankie stall I go to, there’s already a couple of Swiggy and Zomato guys ahead of me. I see them at every traffic light. On the road, there’s always one of them behind me who is trying to overtake me from the wrong side. When I step out on the balcony I see one of them zip past my house. What are the odds? But the one I am waiting for always goes to my neighbour’s house instead. I then provide all my id proof details to persuade him that I am the rightful owner of that biryani. We’re not cooking as a people, I conclude. What’s happening?! I find that disturbing. This is one of those small, innocuous little changes that just happen and seem perfectly reasonable but are actually harbingers of a much bigger shift. It can’t seem right that we’re cooking less and less at home. We may well forget how to cook. There’s nothing more tragic. Cooking is a life skill. Jagan believes checking the car’s coolant, changing a punctured tyre and cleaning the AC filter are important life skills too. We agree to disagree. Cooking is zen. Cooking is power. Cooking is freedom.   I know I can make biryani if I was tempted by all the Bhai biryani but I had no muslim friends to give me Biryani. I know I can make Thai green curry if I really wanted it. I need not eat Pongal if everyone else in the family loves it but I hate it. I can make myself a sandwich instead. Note that this is not applicable if you’re in a joint family. You’re screwed. I am eating healthier. I am eating fresher. I am also avoiding all that plastic packaging that comes with home-delivered food. Cooking is work. It has taught me patience and compassion. I am more understanding now when my mother’s vadai is not as fluffy one day, when the hotel’s tiffen sambar is less stunning today than last time, when my own biryani is ear-shattering hot this time. There’s nothing more fulfilling, more soul-satisfying than a sitting down to a favourite home-cooked meal. Yes, it’s a little work but so worth it. I know what you’re thinking in your minds. “Then why do you order on Swiggy and Zomato?” I try my best not to. Sometimes I need to. And...
Teriyaki Noodles

Teriyaki Noodles

Before whatsapp groups happened, how did women show off their Krishna Jayanthi decorations to relatives and friends? Did they just do something simple that appealed to them and let that be? Wow. That must have been peaceful and boring. Those days, they didn’t try to make it look pretty. A heap of mangoes would lie in a corner of my grandma’s Poojai room, left there to ripen slowly. A motley set of photos and figurines lined the window sill and wall around it in no particular order.  The Kamakshi Amman vilakku (lamp) stood in the middle. A stack of Sami-books lay in a corner. A godrej bero stood in a corner unrelated to everything else in the room. This was the set-up the whole year round. I can only imagine what my Ammama would have said if I had asked her to make it look cute for a picture. Remember this is the family that cannot sit together for a family picture, the family that will not change out of lungis and crushed cotton sarees, children were always just in jattis, a family where some will grumble about photos shortening their life-span and others who cannot smile and still others who’re just too busy for this shit. If I had asked my Ammama to pretty up the poojai room for a picture, the old lady would have kicked me out on my butt and given me the toilet brush and phenoyl bottle and asked me to start from there. She took no nonsense. She ran a big busy house. She cooked round the clock, served coffee, Maltova and Horlicks to different people at different times of the day without anyone asking, remembered to sprinkle sugar on my upma for my school tiffen, told me stories and dozed off midway but started off right from where she left off once I woke her up and let me plait her beautiful long hair while she took her afternoon nap. She didn’t care what people thought of her. I think the world of my Pattamma Ammama. I am not there yet. I still feel I need to show the world when I’ve worn a saree.  When I get to her state of un-care I would be fully free. Her unique brand of cynicism and wit have rubbed off on her grandchildren as also her love for good food and cooking. This teriyaki Noodles...
Ice cream sandwiches

Ice cream sandwiches | Fun dessert to make with kids

Not all recipes are born from inspiration. Not all of them are from grandma’s handbook. None in my family had the forethought to document any of the grandmas’ recipes. They were all too busy stuffing their faces with food and gossiping about the Athai in Chidambaram and the Mama in Vellore. These ice cream sandwiches were born out of spending too much time on Amazon.com trying to figure out the best stuff in the US that is not available on Amazon.in and that’ll fit into the 35 kg baggage allowance. This is a legitimate thing. Everyone does it. I hope. “I am making the best use of the opportunity”, I tell Jagan. I’ve saved all the import duty that I’d be spending if I bought the same stuff on Amazon.in. Jagan: “What if you didn’t buy these things at all? How much would you save then?” Jayanthi: “That’s hypothetical.” I am shopping in the US without being in the US. Without the visa interview, 18-hour flights, toilet paper, decoction coffee and suddenly being polite and well-mannered and traffic law-abiding. That’s something. Jagan is my Kuruvi. If you don’t know what Kuruvi means you can watch Vijay’s “Kuruvi” movie. Kuruvis are the wonderful people who go on these long flights and drink decoction coffee so that they can carry stuff back home without import duty – Smugglers. Jagan isn’t a full time kuruvi. He does that only for me and unwillingly. For others he may do more willingly. His actual job is much less flashy – he does panchayat in the US, I mean project management. Before I go off on a tangent let me tell you about these ice cream sandwiches. I found these ice cream sandwich molds on Amazon a few years back and I couldn’t resist. Note that I had not tasted ice cream sandwiches before. But I had to buy them because they were too cute. My kuruvi brought them for me. I admired them and then safely put them away in my cupboard. I possessed them now and it was ok. I could get on with other things. So they sat in my cupboard for a few years. This year, I happened to catch sight of these ice cream sandwich molds when I opened that cupboard. I showed them to Hasini and Yuvi. That’s all the accountability that I ever needed. They made sure to follow...
Milagai bajji

Milagai Bajji, 3 ways

You know that spring of joy when you look out the window and see rain? It’s hard to make sense of it. It’s almost visceral. Rain means happiness, that everything’s going to be alright, that this too will pass, that good things will happen. Whoever said “rainy is gloomy” watched too many Wimbledon matches. It’s like the rounded R’s that people mouth when they return from the US. It’s what we think we need to say. It’s not what we feel deep inside. Rain always, always means happy things. We’ve got it down to a well-worn formula in life and in cinema. Rain means traffic, so we can be late. Rain means cheery rain songs on radio & hot crispy snacks in the canteen. Rain means cancelled classes and school holidays. In cinema rain means heroine introduction, rain means a happy dance, rain means romance, rain means an important twist or the climax. These are the clichés that we love and cherish. For me rain means “Oho Megam” song from “Mouna Raagam” or “Vaan Megham” from “Punnagai Mannan”. Only those two and nothing else. My mind seems stuck in the late 80s. And only Ilayaraja songs will do. That’s just how it is. I am an 80’s child. Rain also means a big plate of piping hot, sinus-opening, throat-scorching Milagai bajji. I love the classic Milagai bajji – the entire chilli, seeds and all, dunked in bajji batter and fried to golden brown perfection. My nose may start running and I may appear to be weeping. But don’t take the plate away from me. It’s the kind of dare-devil things I like to do. I long wanted to try a few other variants of the milagai bajji. One was a potato stuffed bajji that I thought might be a milder, just as tasty version for less adventurous souls. In this one, I make a slit and scrape out the seeds from within the chilli and stuff with spiced potatoes. The third version is a mini milagai bajji bomb. If wolfing down an entire chilli seems forbidding, you can start with these mini milagai bajji bites. I cut up the chilli into little roundels and dunk in bajji batter and fry. These are like the bijli vedi (the little cigarette like single-shot deepavali cracker) – small and cute but still explosive. Last Saturday, I woke up to a cool, drizzly, cloudy...
Prawn masala

Prawn Masala

Did you ever think what someone would make of your youtube viewing history and browsing history if they ever got hold of that information? I am not talking about cookies and sophisticated algorithms that place an ad for the vacuum cleaner you looked up on Amazon on every site you visit. They do a pretty good job of profiling you. I am talking about what a real person would make of it when he goes through your internet activities. It’s worse than having someone go through your diary. If someone were to profile me purely on my internet activity with no prior knowledge about me, here is how I think it will go: Instagram feed is chock-full of runny eggs, stretchy cheese, melting chocolate Fat glutton – Not totally inaccurate, but I am only eating raita today Watches a ton of nail art videos Nail artist, Has pretty nails – The last manicure was about a year back before a marriage. Has the shortest convent-cut, trimmed to the max nails. Is simply mesmerized by the nail art videos. Likes every funny baby video out there Mommy – Yes Watches tamil cinema songs, Shinchan, Home Décor DIYs, Craft DIYs, Cleaning DIYs, Shaun the Sheep, Ted talks, tamil comedy youtube channels Is a local tamil person with tamil sensibilities – Yes Is a child at heart – Has unruly kids at home Is an enthusiastic DIYer. Does everything on her own – Mannangatti! Translates to No. Likes DIYers and secretly wishes husband can be that all-in-all DIYer. Has thoroughly researched cleaning products, brooms, mops & brushes Part of the housekeeping team – Not really, kind of… at home Uses Google maps regularly for a lot of the same places near and far Maybe a part-time ola/uber driver – Is Dory’s real life character, cannot remember directions Overall, you see it is a fun exercise and not totally off the mark. Try imagining what your online profile will look like to others. If you do try this exercise, share your comments. I’d love to hear. I also realized that my blog is being perceived as a mostly non-vegetarian blog. Funny, how that came about. I would have thought I blog more vegetarian recipes than non-vegetarian recipes in general. I am surprised.I don’t want to deliberately share a vegetarian recipe now in order to prove my point. So I’ll go ahead and share the...
Chicken Alfredo pasta

Pasta in Alfredo sauce

I finally get excited about the Aadi sale happening all over town. I have terrible luck with discounts. So I am pleasantly surprised that the dressy slippers with glittery brown straps I like, is on 50% discount. I can’t remember when I last bought something like it. It must have been my marriage. I’ve since donned several different sizes of round, I’ve all but lost interest in clothes and consequently in shoes, bags and mirrors. Having finally lost some weight (although nowhere near my goal weight yet), I finally feel a faint interest well up again. I tell myself it’s time I dress better. I buy the dressy slippers to wear with sarees. The next day is the paal kudam festival at our temple. I wear the glittery strapped slippers right out of the box. I’ve never done that. I never wear stuff as soon as I buy them. I let them sit awhile, get a little old and familiar and not as precious before I wear them. This time though, I thought a change was in order. I was putting off things too much. I told myself I had to jump in and do things. I was feeling chirpy. Not normal. I left my slippers outside next to a flower-seller’s shop thinking to myself how pretty it looked. I returned a couple of hours later to find that my slippers were gone. The rest of the family’s slippers were intact. Only my new dressy slippers with glittery brown straps were gone. I asked the “poo kaari” (flower-selling woman) nearby about it. She didn’t for a minute ask me what I was talking about. She seemed too ready for the question. She told me it wasn’t her job to take care of our slippers. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. I knew then that the “poo kaari” shared my taste in dressy slippers too. I returned home barefoot. I was at my rotten worst the rest of the day. I swore. I cried. I threw a fit. Jagan, at the receiving end of all of this, offered to buy me the exact same slippers the very same day. I again swore, cried and threw a fit and then agreed. I went to the same shop and bought the same pair at 50% discount again. Jagan told me “You weren’t meant for the discount”. My maamiyaar told me that I’ve...
Double beans biryani

Double beans biryani

Here’s a rambling update of things here in Chennai. It’s the season when the morning is hot and usual but a sudden burst of afternoon rain springs a cheery surprise on us. The dusty leaves on the trees get a nice washing and look greener. The tar roads look glossy. Kids return from school, their shoes wet and muddy. Suddenly autos go into hiding. Ola rides get pricier. There’s no time for tea and bajji. Mid-terms are around the corner. Dosai it is. Yuvan’s been missing his tamil text book for more than 2 months now. We didn’t miss it. I calculate to the end of the school year. I wonder if I can continue without it for the remaining time. I decide to decide later. People assembled before the TV last Friday awaiting big news, live TV drama and maybe a holiday or two. Nothing happened. They continued to check over the weekend hoping to ride over the Monday with that single piece of news. It wasn’t to be. They got back to work and looked up the next public holiday. That was Aug 15th, Wednesday two weeks away. Dejected, people strayed to facebook and whatsapp and wasted more time. The Neelam mangoes have arrived on store shelves ushering in the last of the mango season. I hoard like a mad woman and my kattai pai (dowel bag) breaks at the checkout counter and my mangoes tumble out. I take it as a sign that I’ve crossed my limit. I continue to come up with shortcut recipes out of sheer laziness and waking up late. One such recipe is this double beans biryani recipe. This is a no-chop biryani. You won’t be doing any chopping whatsoever. Raita doesn’t count of course. The onions, garlic and ginger are being ground into a punchy fragrant masala. There are no veggies or meat either to chop since this is a double beans biryani. This is truly a lazy person’s biryani. My style. But hey, this biryani can give any veggie biryani a run for its money. This biryani is deliciously fragrant and unbelievably yummy. The double beans are a great substitute for meat or potatoes. I am really happy to share with you one more Somberi recipe. I hope it helps you maintain your somber lifestyle. Serve with raita and chips for a complete meal. Enjoy! Print Recipe Double beans biryani This...
Chicken parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana

Morning when I am working in the kitchen, I make a mental note that I am out of maida, mustard seeds, urad dal and basmati. I’ve used the last onion but still 3 more days before the weekend when I usually stock up on veggies. I need to clean the oven and take stock of the top shelf. I have a number of once used sauces, yeast and spices that I am afraid may have morphed into something else altogether.   I am doing poojai and I realize I need to take down all the frames and give them a good wipe down one of these days. I go to the bathroom. No, I don’t think I should get liposuction done. I’ve once again forgot to bring the new soap in. There is only a small sliver of the soap left and it looks strangely the same size as yesterday. What did Hasini and Yuvan use to bathe earlier? Did they? I have to enquire about this later. I also need to bring that new soap. I make do with the razor like soap for today. I come back from work late. I resolve to leave earlier in future. In bed, I scroll through about 27 videos of stretchy cheese on Instagram and feel my eyes getting hot. I put away the phone. I should be reading. I pick up the book I’ve been reading for 6 months. I want to go to the bathroom. I feel lazy. I decide to go after I finish the chapter. I fall asleep in 5 minutes. I didn’t finish the chapter, so I didn’t go to the bathroom. I wake up late. I wake into my onion-less kitchen. I make a mental note that I am out of maida, mustard seeds, urad dal and basmati. I need to clean the oven and take stock of the top shelf. I have tons of things to do. I am nowhere near. I need time off to simply catch up. I don’t really believe I can be caught up with everything but I believe I can and should get better. Do you guys have any tips for me?  How do you guys manage? I’d love to hear your tips and how you catch up with life. Please share in the comments. One of the few things I manage to catch up with is food. I made...

Basic baby potato roast

A wise person once said – “If you want to test the strength of the bond between the maamiyaar and marumagal, ask them which way they’d cook potatoes for a dinner party. If you want to test the bond between two brothers, ask them to lend the other their car with a smile.” People pay more attention when you prefix it that way. It’s not totally untrue. I am not exaggerating when I say the potato roast sparked off one of the biggest controversies in the family. A controversy so massive it spanned a week, traversed from potatoes to sambar to fridge shelf space to kids to clothes to opinions of relatives to waking up times to respect to freedom to total chaos and altered the family equation permanently. If you are expecting the ugly details of that family controversy, I am sorry. I am not about to wash the dirty linen in public for pageviews, for facebook likes, for blog traffic. Never! I am planning to sell the rights of that story to a SUN TV mega-serial. This baby potato roast is so basic, you may refuse to accept this as a recipe; Rightly so. However this baby potato roast is proof that tasty things can happen if you keep it simple, let the main ingredient shine and add a lot of oil. This potato roast is splendid with just about any kind of rice – lemon rice, curd rice, sambar rice, rasam rice, ghee rice etc. This potato roast also goes well with phulkas. Enjoy!  If you liked what you read, you can like Foodbetterbegood on facebook and instagram to get all the updates. You can also subscribe to get Foodbetterbegood in your email.    
Aglio e olio

Aglio e Olio

I was watching the Bigg Boss show over the weekend. One of them (doesn’t matter which one) said that he wanted to call the other his dad. Then his dad would be his periappa, his periappa his thaatha, his thaatha a mama? I know Vijay TV shows are primed for drama. Judges on shows often become the dad, mom, brother, sister, grandfather or grandmother. No, not yet wifes or husbands. However this phenomenon is not restricted to TV shows. I see this everywhere around me. The auto and cab men are “Anna” (brother). The flower selling lady and the maid are “akka” (sister). I’ve seen people call their in-laws “Amma” (mom) and “Appa” (dad). How does that work? How do you manage that kind of love? Or conversely how do you manage that kind of insincerity? I am willing to believe it is love. I am just not comfortable with having to call them that. On one side is the insensitive undermining of important relationships. The woman who will make a new tiffen for me at 10 pm because I threw a tantrum about dinner, the woman who will hunt down all the lizards in the house for my sake, the woman who never made me feel guilty about waking up late (and left me totally unprepared for the rest of the world) can only be my amma (mother). No mother -in-law, aunt, teacher or anyone else can be my amma. I can call no one else “Amma”, not even Jayalalitha. The other side of the argument is the basic sincerity that I feel I owe to the auto guy, the courier person or my mother-in-law. I wouldn’t want to say something I didn’t mean, not even to the HDFC woman who calls me every day at 11 in the morning asking me if I want a personal loan. This atrocious metaphorical substitution for when you want to make someone feel extra special, when you are lazy to look for the precise descriptor, when you err on the side of dishonesty is a special kind of low that is unique to this age we live in. This is not even just about people referring to other people. Look at the food world. Cauliflower rice is not rice. It is cauliflower mince. Oothappam or dosa or flatbread topped with cheese and veggies do not make a pizza. They are vegetable cheese...