Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

Hasini was doing subtraction the other day. She was puzzled and I impatient. She asked me if every time we borrowed, we borrowed only 1 and not more. I looked at her genuinely curious face. I felt sorry for being harsh. Yuvan meanwhile was singing “Dumka, A dumka, A dumka dumka dumka!” and writing the wrong spelling. The two giggled uncontrollably. I felt myself teetering between laughing and yelling. I couldn’t make up my mind which way to go. Many times I go berserk and hate myself for it. I will never understand how after dropping the bournvita on the floor, colouring the eraser black, drenching the AC remote, plotting with the thatha paati to secretly eat ice cream, losing the 3rd water bottle in 2 months and stapling together the pages of their rough book, they can look as innocent as they do when they sleep. A wave of guilt and remorse washes over me as I watch their sleeping faces, yuvi sleeps with half closed eyes, Hasini with her mouth slightly open, her arms under his head, he hugging his cheetah, his legs kicking her back. They take turns waking up during the night, to go to the toilet, to complain about the snake, the tiger, the skeleton; I pat them back to sleep without opening my eyes promising to slay them all. They insist they have to go “chuchi” and pat me to sleep and go to the toilet.  How and when do these little creatures grow up and what are the mothers to do then? Cut to morning 7:35 am I turn up the heat on the dal makhani, heat the dosa tawa and sprint to the fridge to get the dosai maavu (dosa batter) while Yuvan stands on the little stool in the kitchen tying his tie and asking what I am making for lunch. Hasini walks in with hair brush and hair bands in her hand for her ponytail, I ask her to wait, she stares out the kitchen door dreamily, Yuvan brings a bottle of milk from the fridge asking for a bournvita. He demands an answer, I tell him its Dal Makhani and Ghee rice, he kicks and screams that it is not what he wants, that it’s always Hasini’s favourites, I make a dosai, brush Hasini’s hair, take out the dosai, Hasini says it’s not her favourite either, I warn them...
Shakshuka

Shakshuka – The Muttai thokku of foreign origin

Hasini and Yuvi cracked up when they heard it’s called Shakshuka. They made up their own words out of it – “sokka pota suka”, “shoppu shappu”.. If you’ve never heard of Shakshuka, let me explain. Shakshuka is the mottai thokku of foreign origin. The muttai thokku (poached egg curry) that we make when we’re in a hurry, when we’re not in the mood to cut vegetables, when we’re craving a meaty dish but have nothing on hand and settle for an egg dish. Our humble muttai thokku is the sexy shakshuka of the western world. Like Haldi Doodh and Turmeric latte, Dal and lentil soup, kurma and curry, lassi and smoothie. Hasini loved the Shakshuka more than anyone else. Towards the end, I sprinkled some grated cheese over the eggs, covered the pan for a couple of minutes and let the cheese melt. We toasted some buttered bread slices and mopped up the Shakshuka with them. It made a delicious and filling breakfast. It’s also a great recipe to make for your next brunch.
how to make avial, easy avial recipe

Avial

It’s almost the end of summer vacation and it looks like we did every “don’t”. I woke up late everyday. The kids woke up even later. They didn’t work on their handwriting. They didn’t read. They didn’t help around. They did watch Bahubali thrice. They watched Inception with Jagan, Maanagaram and Kannathil Muthamittaal with me and Vijay TV serials with my mother. They binge-watched cartoons. I joined them at times if they were watching Motu Patlu. Hasini, Yuvan & Paati struck a secret deal with the Kwality walls fellow to stop every morning at our gate at an hour that I am usually scurrying around to get ready for office. Hasini and Yuvi eat their ice cream under the protection of the grandparents and arrive at the breakfast table with wiped mouth and hands and a poker face. They learnt to ride their bicycle without the practice wheels. They sing all of Bahubali’s songs. Yuvi does a katappa head bow when I ask him to finish his dosai. I am hoping that all the cinema will give them a good foundation in the arts. I didn’t make any of the vathals I planned to make. I bought vadu maangai with good intentions, lovingly stored them in the fridge just until they rotted and promptly threw them away and felt a weight lift off me. Weekends were even lazier which meant I made a heavy breakfast served it late and pretended to not notice lunch time. One lazy weekend morning we had this adai avial for breakfast. I’ve never been a big fan of Avial. But I was a convert once I ate Adai Avial at a restaurant. I asked my friend Lakshmi how she made Avial at home. She expertly and very simply broke down the Avial recipe for me in between mouthfuls of Adai Avial we were sharing. It worked like a charm. Boil vegetables with salt till tender, grind together your avial masala, combine everything together and top it off with a fragrant coconut oil tempering. That is really all there is to it. Try it.  
Fish Moilee

Fish Moilee

I hope you had a good Mother’s day. I hope you didn’t post a selfie of yourself with your mother. That would seem too much of a cliché I’d think. I am sorry if I offended those who did. In my family, we don’t hug. We don’t crowd our heads together for selfies. Wish someone “Happy Birthday” and they’ll get awkward and reply “Ok, sure”. Try getting everyone into a family picture and you may very well give up the idea of family pictures forever. The entire family has difficulty expressing affection. They’ll make biryani, chicken kurma to say “welcome back, I missed you”, they’ll heap Himampasand mangoes to say “take care”. This family doesn’t recognize Mothers day, Fathers day and such. I dared to try. I decided to gift my mother a leisurely no-cooking day. I made green peas brinji, poori, vegetable kurma, fish fry and mango parfait. I told my mother to not cook anything for the day. She being who she is made just an Upma, some more kuzhambu, rice and seppankezhangu fry, nothing else. She has no idea of Mothers day. I tell her while I serve the brinji I made. “Oho sari sari”, she says. She enjoyed the meal. I am not going to take any chances with my kids. I start a day earlier. I tell them all about Mothers day. I tell Hasini and Yuvan – “It is Mothers day tomorrow”. I explain the concept to them. I dwell on the part about making it special for the mother. I then ask Yuvi – “What are you going to do tomorrow?” “I am going to ride my cycle” I look at Jagan for any signs of training. He seems surprised and amused. Hasini was very excited about getting me a present for mother’s day. She pushed us out from the couch, into the car and to the store to get me a cotton top. I really do love the top. I had a lot of leftover fish from Mother’s day that I was wont to fry. I made Fish Moilee instead. I learnt this recipe on one of our trips to Kerala. I cannot believe I’ve waited so long to make it. You could use this basic stew recipe and substitute prawns instead of the fish to make Prawn Moilee. This is one of those fragrant, delicately spiced but gorgeously flavourful stews that...
Paneer rice bowl

30-minute Paneer rice bowl

Do you know the “spoon in the fridge” trick? You keep a spoon hidden in the fridge so that when you are craving a spoon of bread halwa, gulab jamun or chocolate mousse you just grab your secret spoon that only you know of and dig in. Think that’s bullshit? OK, Picture this. You’re about to go to bed. You go around to switch off all the lights planning to scoff a tiny scoop of bread halwa. You see the dirty tumblers and coffee mugs and you gather them up. You also pick up the clothes from the floor to deposit in the laundry basket. Both your hands are full when you see the hot wheels car in your way. You push it to the corner with your leg and walk over to the laundry basket and almost drop the coffee mugs in but catch yourself at the last minute and drop in the clothes instead. You walk to the kitchen to deposit the tumblers and notice that the peace lily is drooping and you haven’t watered it. You put away the snack boxes on the counter back in the shelves. You come back out, see the plant and go back again to get a pitcher of water to water the peace lily. You go out to the balcony to water the other dying plant there, pick up the shoes there and put them away in the shoe rack, put away the newspaper, open the Amazon parcel on the table, check it out and then safely put it in one of the cupboards and promptly forget the location, shove the plastic covers flying around in the big bag of plastic covers, step on a lego piece, pick it up and put it away in the lego box, find 3 more lego pieces in the sofa crevices, trudge back to the toy cupboard and put them away and start switching off lights everywhere. You go to the fridge but realize you need to go back to your cutlery drawer, switch on the lights, walk to fridge, eat, close fridge, put away spoon and switch off lights. You decide that’s too much work and go back to bed. You walk past the folded clothes of the past 4 days, hop over the towel and lie down on the bed. You find a couple of pencils under your back. You shove it under...
Khoya_aloo_mutter

Khoya Aloo Mutter

I have woken up late. It is a holiday. I don’t go downstairs to the kitchen because I want to scrub myself clean today after a week of 5-min showers. Actually I want to avoid the late-comer scene. There may be no dialogue but those scenes are usually the worst. I put it off for later.   I massage copious amounts of oil on kids’ heads trying to make up for instant noodles, lollipops, smartphones and excessive T.V. I hope I am making up in some way. I scrub them up, dress them and send them downstairs so I can wallow in the bathroom in peace. I massage oil, apply the face pack for good measure and think of soaking my feet but begin to feel I am taking too long. I then try to relax but hurry along at the same time. It is some auspicious day. When I finally descend downstairs feeling clean, smelling nice for a change, I am ravenous. I eye the kids in the hall watching TV and eating from banana leaves. I head to the kitchen. Nobody’s around. I find some vadais are already fried, payasam made, sambar, rice and potato thokku ready by the side. I grab a vadai and bite into it. There’s no salt in it I realize. I go out with the half eaten vadai and see that there’s no banana leaf in the Pooja room. Poojai is not over yet. You don’t eat before the poojai (Kids don’t count). I turn back to the kitchen and try to find a nook to hide my half eaten vadai in. I also know that there’s no salt in it. At that moment, somehow everybody emerges ready for Poojai. Maamiyaar heads to the kitchen to fry more vadais. I have just enough time to snuck the vadai in a corner. I walk out trying to look innocent, casual and purposeful. I don’t want to be stopped. I hold the terrible truth about the salt-less vadai batter. It breaks me to think I’d have to eat salt-less vadais. My mind races on how best to expose this truth before the vadais are fried. Just telling her is not an option. That’s not how we roll here. I ask the kids about the vadai. They haven’t eaten it yet. They’re too engrossed in TV. I manage to corner Jagan in the hall, I lower my...

Masala Sundal

Day 2 of school today. I drop them and come home. I feel an amazing sense of calm, at once peaceful and serene.  I do some wall push-ups, a couple of surya namaskars and sit down to sip my lemon and honey while reading the days paper. I remember an instance when I mentioned to a fellow mom (a house-wife) that it’s good that children will be away at school and she quickly retorted “For you maybe. You will anyway be away at office.” I didn’t understand then. And I don’t understand now. ‘Kids going to school’ is the best alternative for any mom, whether stay at home or office going, wouldn’t you think? It seems logical. Why would you prefer to watch Hattori, referee their fights and remind them for the 48th time to finish what’s on the plate? Over reading a book, or just being? It beats me. Did you wonder about the wall push ups? I am going to tell you anyways. I can’t explain  but I find doing push-ups one of the coolest things ever. I have never managed to myself. That scene in Irudhi suttru where Madhi does her one-handed push ups is one of my most favourite scenes. So my latest goal is to do push-ups, proper boxer kind of push ups, on the floor. I have given myself 30 days to do that. I am starting with wall push ups. I will then move on to inclined push ups and finally to real push ups. I read something in a book recently, something simple and inherently logical that suddenly made tremendous sense to me. If you were to pick something you want to learn, anything at all and if you do it every day for 30 days, at the end of that period, you would have mastered it. Don’t pick Bharatanatyam (this is no Shankar movie) or Karate. Pick something small, something specific. It could be making perfectly cooked rice (my Maamiyaar still doesn’t think I make it right), it could be waking up early, it could be reading 100 pages each day, it could be learning to whistle, it could be anything. I will let you know how it goes with the push ups.  In the meantime, here is a recipe to the much loved Masala sundal sold at roadside kadais and at the beach. It is so simple to make in a pressure...
Thai green curry

Thai Green curry

After 12 long years of ups and downs, happiness and sorrow, after 12 summers, 12 diwalis, 12 pongals, 12 Aadi thizhuvizhas and innumerable “everydays”, she broke up. I missed her when she was away, more than I missed Jagan when he was away on business. She completed us. She knew where Yuvi’s black hotwheels car was, that the uniforms were not ironed, that the umbrella was broken. She knew where was what. She was the silent lever that kept the whole house running like clockwork. I cannot believe she is gone and I cannot imagine how I am to go on. Not a day would pass without looking for her arrival each morning. I doubt you’ll understand the pain I went through when she did not turn up someday. I’d run my conversations over and over in my head to be sure I had not irked her in some way. Now she is gone for good. Where am I to find a maid like her? Ok, I admit it. I may have feelings for her. Ever since she broke up (I’d say quit if I didn’t care about her), I’ve been running around the house like a mad woman, racing against time trying to multi-task at a multi-level – loading the washing machine while rice, idli and tadka (tempering) pan are on the stove, and running out to pluck some curry leaves and running back to a blackened pan to throw in the curry leaves, scrubbing the vessels while sambar is simmering, ignoring the calling bell (go back, come back in 2 months) making N coffee/teas one at a time (morning coffee/tea drinkers never preferring to converge, each inevitably asks for theirs at a unique time), taking out the compost and absentmindedly opening the lid without knocking and jumping at the sight of the lizard and running all around the house and coming back to check if it is gone, all the while yelling to the kids to brush teeth, bathe themselves, water the money plant and get the hell down here to help me with the lizard. In spite of this great loss, I managed to make this Thai green curry last weekend. I had to move on. I needed to treat myself after a hell of a week. Thai food is among my most favourite foods. I absolutely love Thai curries. Thai green curry has been on my list...
Vegetable kurma restaurant style

Vegetable kurma – restaurant style

I am trying to mentally note down little pieces of dialogue that kids happen to say, to narrate later. Over weekends, I am adjusting the web-cam to fit everyone into the skype window or scouring the country’s Amazon website for the best deals that I can get without shipping and exchange rate overheads. I do what a wife-of-frequent-traveller-husband does best. For a short period, I live a slightly lame bad-ass, almost-single-but-with-kids-and-domestic-duties kind of life. I while away weekends, play loud music, defraud dinner, read the day’s papers first, in its original folding from the living room instead of the toilet, get around to my long-lost to-do list & re-do that list and command kids freely.   I schedule my best laid plans for the husband-away days. Finally I have the remote, but I’ve lost touch. So TV remains off. The Bose player is on throughout starting with M.S. Subbulakshmi’s Suprabatham in the morning to “Saathi Malli poocharame” in the evening. I plan my vathal and pickle learning sessions, parlour appointments, family visits, pondy bazaar shopping trips and meetings with friends during these times. I make Mor Kuzhambu, keerai masiyal, dal and rice with abandon. No Mor Kuzhambu opposition party to accommodate. I read into the night in full glow of the CFL. I write through the night, I’d like to think. I am staring at the blank document, watching cake decorating tutorials on youtube, staring at the document, scrolling facebook and staring at the document. I make vegetable pulav, vegetable curry and order vegetarian pizza because Jagan is a strict non-vegetarian. I make different iterations of vegetable kurma (This recipe is from the canteen maami. Thank you!) I test and re-test. I make again till it tastes like this. It is hot and heady aromatic pulling you from wherever you are to the kitchen, is full bodied enough to scoop with a piece of roti or mop up with some idiyappam and you eat an extra roti/idiyappam for the kurma. That to me is a true tribute to the kurma. This vegetable kurma is that kind of kurma. Enjoy!  

Shahi Paneer

Somebody please explain to me what’s with all the Halloween themed dress up parties here in India, spooky deserts and special Halloween themed menus at restaurants. I am at a loss here. I understand Indians living abroad dressing up their kids and showcasing for us on facebook. They’ve got to get along. But here in India? Why ya? There is only so much pumpkin spice anybody can take. And you guys do know we get pumpkin all year round around here. Does Kasi Halwa ring any bell?     I am not on the beef banning side, mind you, in case you start to think I am a saffron propagandist. I am all for embracing other cultures but I really wish we were more aware of our own rituals and festivals.  Embrace local. Take pride. Learn about them or they may be lost forever until Americans patent them and National geographic makes a documentary. Did you know about the Maasana Kollai festival? I bet 8 out of 10 wouldn’t know. It is an ancient Tamil ritual that is at once scary and fascinating. Dr. Lakshmi, our family friend often recounted tales of how she’d stay up all night during Shivaratri playing Dhaaya kattai with her sisters and cousins. It sounded like fun but I have never stayed up during Shivaratri. I don’t stay up for New year’s eve either. I generally don’t stay up. When I was a little girl, still in school, we once went to the beach during Chitra-pournami in a huge group of family and friends with a big picnic hamper of lemon rice, tamarind rice, curd rice, vadam, mor milagai and maavadu. It was a fun outing. I wish I’d stayed up for shivaratri, I’d woken up for Vaikunta yegadesi, accompanied my mother for the golu round-ups and learnt to make adhirasam from Ammama. I wish I’d slept less.  You know what I’ve been making lately? I didn’t make pumpkin spice anything, you’d know. Bread toast and bulls eye. I can’t seem to tire of it, ever. I can safely say I’ve mastered it. One of the days, I made Shahi paneer along with mushroom pulav for Hasini’s lunch. I’ve unknowingly reared a paneer fiend here. The little girl will order paneer anything anywhere anyday. So paneer finds its way into our menu at least once every week. This is a Sanjeev kapoor’s version of Shahi paneer, minus...

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