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.
Chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie

Do you buy baby potatoes to make Dum Aloo but then make potato varuval out of it? Do you get brinjals intending to make bhaingan bharta but make kathirikkai kuzhambu out of habit? Do you pick up baby corn and cauliflower with a mental picture of a stir fry but drop it in the vegetable kurma instead?  You do? Then I am your best friend. I buy chicken mentally vowing not to make chicken kurma or chicken fry. I see hot and sweet chicken wings, popcorn chicken, chicken satay and all the 1 minute food videos in a slideshow in my mind. But the morning I intend to cook the chicken, I’ve run out of corn flour or I don’t have enough time or the rest of the dishes I am making don’t go with this. I will find a reason to not make popcorn chicken. This was the story of the Chicken pot pie. Pot pie has been on my radar for a few years now. Long before I ever tasted it, I knew I’ll like it. I knew I wanted to make it someday. Last year I tasted pot pie when I visited Boston. I was smitten. I knew I had to make it. I also knew I’ll find a reason to not make it. Last week, I wrote down Chicken pot pie in my weekly menu. I shopped for the ingredients. I had everything I needed. I didn’t make it on Monday. I barely made it to the school van on time. I hobbled across the road, hair brush in my pocket, Hasini’s tie in one hand, lunch bags dangling from my shoulder, holding the kids hands, handing over the tie to hasini’s friend in the bus asking her to help Hasini with it. I don’t remember if I packed dosai or jam sandwich that day. I rolled out, folded, and chilled the puff pastry dough again and again over the week, while yelling at the kids to put away their school bags, just before crashing on to the bed, when I went to get a drink of water at night. The rolling pin and bowl of flour were out all week. I decided I was going to make it on Friday. I woke up early that day. I knew it was a sign. I made it. I must tell you. This chicken pot pie is pure...

Mexican style rice

For all the serial whatsappers and facebook addicts, I believe many of you would have come across touching stories in your newsfeed that “will make you cry, leave you stunned, will make your day” where the husband/wife/friend/son/daughter realized they’re missing real conversations with real people because they’re staring at their phones all day. I bet you have liked and shared these stories too. And? Am I the only emotional nut taking forwards seriously? I once turned a vegetarian because I read a forwarded message on how foie gras was made. I couldn’t keep it up too long  though because I couldn’t subsist on nothing. Our family was an exclusive non-vegetarian group then. But shortly after I gave up, my maamiyaar turned vegetarian and now we’re a very inclusive group. Timing. Not one of my strong points and never on my side. The little fella is missing for 20 minutes but everything is silent. They’re not fighting, nothing is broken, none of them have run up crying and the TV is not on. All of this can mean only one thing. Look for your phone. It’s gone. So is the grandmother’s phone. Hasini and Yuvi are curled up on the bed with a smartphone each playing games and colouring pictures. Everybody is staring at a screen. No one to talk to. Not even little Yuvi. Best time to try something in the kitchen. Maybe some Mexican style rice. I rinse the rice and beans, heat up the oil, peel the onions and start chopping the garlic. At that point when I am committed, when I am more in than out, when the oil is hot and when I’ve just thrown in the garlic, Yuvi shouts out to me “Ammaaaaaaaaaaaa“. Timing. Never on my side. Prep Time: 10 mins Cooking time: 20 mins Serves: 4  Ingredients – Mexican style rice Long grain rice/Basmati rice – 2 cupsTomato puree – 3/4 cupGarlic – 4 cloves chopped fineOnion – 1 medium chopped fineGreen peas – 1/2 cupFresh red beans – ½ cup (substitute with butter beans or other quick cooking fresh beans of your choice)Green chillies – 4 slit lengthwiseCinnamon – 1 inch stickWater as necessarySalt to tasteOil – 3 tbsp Ingredients – Salsa Chopped tomato – ½ cupChopped green capsicum – ½ cupCoriander leaves – a handful choppedLemon juice – 2 tspSalt to tasteSugar – 1 pinch Method 1.       Rinse rice well in 2-3...

Thalapakatti style biryani

You know you’ve reached the steady state when you make an online money transfer to your husband for his birthday present and he in turn checks out your Amazon cart for your birthday present. Win-win. No more guessing if the shirt will fit, no more aspirational “for your good, for us” gifts he never unwraps, no surprise awkward spa experience that makes him blush. Who would think of getting a Quad copter drone for a 33 year old’s birthday present? I wouldn’t. He wanted just that. We are now seasoned enough to appreciate that we don’t know each other’s areas of interest, that it is not necessary or easy to know and it is best to ask. I was the surprise junkie, going for the surprise factor, for difference, extrapolating from my head to his. Not anymore. Now, we discuss, I put forth my ideas, he rejects them all, I agree to buy what he decides, find that it doesn’t fit in my mental make-up (flying toy for $50!) and agree to transfer money instead to avoid the hassle. Cool! I still bake his birthday cake and I decide what to make. I cannot be making a sponge cake or chocolate cake. I have a blog to write for. I cannot be making reruns. I have my bucket list of cakes I want to make in life. Sorry! But there is one thing that we both agree on, one thing we both love, that we’re both passionate about – biryani. I had to make one of his favourite biryanis for his birthday. After all it is his birthday. So Thalapakatti style biryani it was. It tastes much like Thalapakatti’s signature biryani – spicy, heady, aromatic, ghee laden seeraga samba rice biryani. No tomatoes in this biryani. The magic is in the ground spice paste. I went with 12 green chillies. It is hot but we like it that way. Feel free to reduce it to your taste. I marinated the chicken the previous night and ground up the masala too the previous night. I was making it on a weekday morning before school. I needed to pre-make as much as I could. That is all there is to it actually. This Thalapakatti style biryani is among the easiest I have made in recent times and I am going to be making it many more times. One more biryani crossed out...

My Lasagna search ends in my kitchen

Is it possible to be possessive about cheese? To covet cheese? What about knives? Tell me it is normal. I guard my best cheeses for the very best recipes, the foolproof ones, the ones I know would work. I then made this Lasagna. Cheese well spent. A short while back, but for quite a long time I was going crazy. Reading that sentence makes me think I really am. I really was going nuts. You know that famous saying “Order Lasagna and you’ll know what the restaurant’s worth!” You didn’t? It is not a saying. But it could be. It should be. Just saying.Well, I ordered Lasagna everywhere I went but I didn’t get any. I got hybrid, indigenous versions that tasted like baked korma pasta which made me even more determined to have my lasagna. At “That Mad#$%  place” the lady told me that that was how they made Lasagna at their restaurant, it was their signature Lasagna and that was how they’ve been making it since they opened (opened when? 1930?). Tell me something – When you order oothappam at a restaurant wouldn’t you expect to eat that slightly thick pancake like thing made with slightly sour dosa batter topped with onions, green chillies maybe, maybe a sprinkling of milagai podi, the oothappam we’ve always known? Would you take a toasted idli topped with onions if it is their signature oothappam, if that is what they call oothappam, if that is how they’ve been making it since they’ve opened? Would you take idlis dunked in kara kuzhambu as somebody’s signature sambar idli? Imagine my horror, my disappointment, my misery. Time to take things into my own hands. The best way to make lasagna I’ve learnt is to ready the components the previous day. First the Bolognese sauce – It is a cinch to make if you give it the time, if you can wait, if you can resist slurping it all up. It needs to cook slow and long and scents your kitchen. It is quite heady, divine really. With the Bolognese in the fridge, I slept a little more confident that the Lasagna would turn out well. I made the béchamel sauce, grated up the cheese and cooked the pasta sheets. I cleared the entire dining table to lay out my Lasagana cast – Bolognese sauce, very slightly warmed with a ladle, cooked pasta sheets carefully spaced out...

The Best Macaroni and Cheese

One of the running themes on my blog apart from my fixation with tamil cinema, joint-family drama, maamiyaar stories, good food and good eating are my ‘weight-loss’ attempts. But this time I have decided to get down to business, to cut to the second half of the film, to get to the chase. Last weekend Hasini and I got on the merry-go-round at the beach, the mini-version of the giant wheel that has the cradle like hanging seats (the one that Kaipulla sits in in “Winner”). What was I thinking? At the beach and without the extended family around (by extended family, I mean the maamiyaar/mother-in-law) I fancy myself a little girl too. I help Jagan dig pits to get to wet sand, stuff myself with masala kadalai, bajji and ice cream and then when Hasini pleads to get on the vertical merry-go-round, I join her.  The merry-go-round guy eggs me on “Vaanga vanga, neenga kuda varalam” (You can get on it too). For a moment, I forget that I am notoriously woozy headed, that I am overweight, that the poor fellow might break his arm. But up we go, and every time he has to let people get on or off the wheel, he has to keep us up. He grunts, exerts his full strength and then realizes it is beyond him, shouts out to his friends for help. I expect his entire kuppam to come running, but a slender little teenager steps in from the neighbouring merry-go-round to give him a hand. When I finally get down, I vow to return a fit and svelte mom. It may be months before I bite into chocolate, lick mousse cups clean, eat biryani and bajji, order ghee roast or slurp basundhi. Now before I go on a diet, a diet that defies all things that I believe in life (and my belief in life can be summarized in two words “eating well”) I want one last cheesy, gooey fling. I want to go crazy. I make an over the top macaroni and cheese (courtesy: Food52), chock full of all my favourites – roasted cauliflower, sweet corn and chicken, all stirred into the most luscious béchamel sauce and loaded with grated cheddar, topped with breadcrumbs and baked to cheesy bubbly perfection. Amen!   Prep time: 20 mins (does not include cooking chicken, roasting/blanching vegetables)Cooking time: 40 minsServes: 5-6 Ingredients Macaroni –...

Thinai Kichadi

I didn’t soak my fruits for the Christmas cake 3 months back although I did buy a batch of figs, raisins and apricots that I can’t seem to find now. I didn’t make Christmas-tree shaped sugar cookies with royal icing. I most certainly didn’t make a gingerbread house. I am not very good at this blogging thing. I am sure many of you are violently nodding your heads at this point now. I’ve always had a hard time keeping up, getting along, doing the ‘in’ thing and having conversations with my kids friends’ mommies. And I am just plain busy. Plain busy as in “Plain-busy”, not “fun-busy” with all the parties I have to go to, not “brag worthy-busy” with my yoga classes and marathon runs, never “socially busy” with all the friends I catch up with. I am plain busy giving my kids a bath, going to work, coming back, picking up their toys, cooking, cleaning, renewing insurance premiums, paying bills, searching for the TV remote, surfing channels hoping for a movie (a good one), ordering serial lights and sizzler plates online and battling with customer care for my undelivered items. “Thoo” – Did someone say? Some may call this lazy. I call it plain busy. Strangely (or not) last year too when the blogging world was bursting with cookies, fruitcakes, cinnamon rolls and festive goodies, my blog was there with a Rava Kichadi. Again I am wrapping up the year with this Thinai Kichadi. What a coincidence!! There is definitely some sign here. That my blog will always stand out, be timeless and different Or 2. That my blog will never be current and happening No voting on what sign it is! Please desist from calling out what sign you think it is. I’d like to think it is 1 and continue blissfully. This Thinai packet that my Maamiyaar brought home from an organic store, spent the first 3 months in a basket at the bottom of the kitchen cupboard. Then my Maamiyaar made a Thinai upma with some of it and the packet that I so thoughtfully fastened with a rubber band moved to the middle shelf and sat amidst the dal and rava jars for 2 more months and got tossed around everytime we took out the dal or rava. One day I decided I wanted to do away with the Thinai packet in a tasty, nice...

Paneer Pasanda with Ghee Pulav

Today while we were walking to Hasini’s class in the morning because we were uncharacteristically and shockingly early and the gates were still open, Hasini’s buddy joined us. Hasini’s buddy: “Hasini didn’t finish her oothappams yesterday” Me:  “Yeah, she didn’t. She doesn’t finish her lunch, keeps bringing back leftovers these days. She shouldn’t right?” Hasini’s buddy: “Maybe you should make what she likes” (Palaar – slap sound) Me: “Bae.. Bae – ” (thinking Who have you been talking to? My Maamiyaar?) After this most humbling conversation I felt grateful that I had packed Hasini Vegetable fried rice and Chinese style hot and sweet potatoes today. In my defence, Hasini likes oothappams and I had exactly 27 minutes that morning to pack lunch, make breakfast, bathe the kids and ready them for school. That I got up late is besides the point. I had to somehow make do in 27 minutes. And you wouldn’t believe but every time we go to a Saravana Bhavan or Vasanta Bhavan Hasini orders the seven taste oothappam ever since she tried it during a trip. She wouldn’t trust us that they’re out of oothappams. She likes to confirm with the waiter herself. But yesterday, the little rascal wasn’t in the mood for oothappams it seems. My fundamental principle, the absolute core of my faith is that children need to appreciate all kinds of food. I don’t want them turning up their noses to Upma, away from Adai and kanji or being reluctant to try Lasagna or Risotto. I want them to give everything a try. So In-spite of that most chastening advice from Hasini’s friend (and domestic cold wars nothwithstanding), I’ll still send Hasini the beetroot rice or cabbage stuffed parantha or Thinai Kichadi. I do make it a point to mix it up with some of her favorites. Like this Paneer Pasandha and ghee pulav (She loves paneer). She polished off her lunch that day and had the leftover Paneer Pasandha for dinner too. She licked her fingers clean. If you’ve always been frying paneer cubes and tossing them into gravies, then you’ve got to try this one. You’ll want to make it for guests, for dinner parties. It is lovely. All said and done, Oothappam smeared with milagai podi and gingelly oil is a perfectly acceptable lunch, don’t you think. That’s what I thought for very many years. Prep time: 20 minsCooking time:...

Varahadi Masale Bhaat – Maharashtra rice dish

On to Maharashtra, I made this one-pot rice and vegetable Bhaat which along with a simple raita would make a wonderful meal. The Varahadi Masale Bhaat is rich and well rounded. I chose to make this Bhaat because I loved the masala that went into it – fried onions, coconut, ginger, garlic and jaggery. Don’t worry, the Varahadi Masale Bhaat is not sweet. The jaggery and fried onion paste add a subtle sweetness that balances the heat from the red chilli powder but without making the dish sweet. I know a majority of us don’t like to mix spicy and sweet tones in a single dish. We use both in this Bhaat but in balanced proportions and the result is a wonderful aromatic one-pot rice dish. My kids enjoyed it a lot. Do adjust the red chilli powder and jaggery slightly to your requirements. Maharashtra on the western coast on India is one of the largest and one of the most populous states in India. Choosing a single dish to make from Maharashtra was a huge task. It is such a treasure trove of food. Choosing one was really difficult. I finally chose to make this slightly lesser known Varahadi Masale Bhaat (from here) especially because it was lesser known. I would love to make their misal pav, usal pav and batata vadas someday. Prep time:  15 minsCooking time: 25 minsServes: 4-5 Ingredients Basmati Rice/Long grain rice – 1-1/2 cupsOnion – 1 medium chopped finePotatoes – 1 large peeled and cubedCarrots – 2 scraped and dicedGreen Beans – a handful choppedGreen Peas – ½ cupGhee – 2 tbspStar anise – 1Bay leaf – 1Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceCloves – 3Green cardamom – 2Black cardamom -1Cumin seeds – ¼ tspRed chilli powder – 1 tspGaram Masala powder – 1-2 tspSalt to tasteYogurt – 3 tbspJaggery – 1 tbspOil – 2 tsp Ingredients – Masala Paste Onions – 1 medium chopped roughlyGrated coconut – ½ cupGinger – 1 inch piece choppedGarlic – 5-7 pods peeled Method: 1.      Rinse basmati rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak rice in water for half an hour. 2.      Heat a pressure cooker or a wide, thick bottomed pan. Add the 2 tsp oil and the 1 roughly chopped onion. Fry till it turns nice and golden. Remove the fried onions with a slotted spoon to a plate. Set aside. 3.      To the same...

Bisi Bele Bath – Karnataka one-pot rice, lentil and vegetable medley

As the campaign trail hots up, so does the state-wise blogging marathon. We’ve already cooked our way through a dozen states and are now at Karnataka, our very friendly neighbour. The best Bisi bele bath and Vangi bath that I’ve tasted were in Bangalore. You have to give it to the Kannadigas. They really have a way with these rice dishes. I love their curry podis and I like their sambar as well, all laced with a subtle sweetness. I’ve lived in Bangalore for roughly 3 years and I managed to NOT pick up a single full sentence in Kannada. I have a great appreciation for their food though. Although I call it a one-pot medley, it is made in several pots and pans and involves multiple steps but is worth every minute. I enjoy the Bisi bele bath served in weddings here in Chennai with sambar onions and potatoes and everything else that is traditionally never a part of Bisi bele bath. Jagan likes Bisi Bele Bath too – one of the few vegetarian rice dishes that he approves of. Although I’ve made Bisi bele bath several times before, I wanted to try the authentic Karnataka version this time. I relied heavily on the Bisi bele bath recipe at veggiebelly and it is more of a thesis on Bisi Bele Bath than a post – Stunning photographs, minute detailed instructions and a beautiful recipe. I like it that she says “Don’t open the ground up spice powder until you’re ready to add it to the bath or you’ll lose the aroma”. I love that kind of meticulousness. The Bisi bele bath turned out fabulous. I’ll definitely be making it again. I would just be cautious while adding the spice mix towards the end, adding it in in small increments and tasting it as it is very easy to go overboard and I really do like my Bisi bele bath with a little less masala. The best accompaniment to Bisi Bele bath is potato chips. Make this for a weekend lunch and serve hot drizzled with ghee alongside potato chips. Don’t bother making anything else. It’s a complete meal unto itself. And rememer that bisi bele bath has everything in it – rice, lentils and vegetables. It will be very filling. Less is more. Always use smaller quantity of rice for your bisi bele bath than you usually would if...

Get Foodbetterbegood in your inbox

Like what you are reading? Never miss a post. Enter your email address to receive updates by email

Subscribe!