Chettinad Kathirikkai (eggplant) gravy

After an un-inspiring week of idli sambar, dosa sambar and rice sambar potato thokku at home and then a nice languid trip to Pondicherry, beautiful vanilla crepes, gratins and curries later I am still blank and clueless. The vegetable basket in the fridge is near empty. I’ve not stood staring at stuff in a grocery store in weeks. The stash of fresh rosemary and dill I lovingly bought are dried, wilted and frozen for eternity in my freezer. The last my oven saw any activity were some nice crispy Parmesan biscuits weeks back. The oven has been having a holiday ever since. But I’ve been hoarding bowls, plates and cups like a mad woman. I can’t think beyond tiffin sambar for idli, potato fry and sambar. I’ve got into the dangerous home cook rut. It is scary. I turned to my cookbooks for help, for inspiration, for solace. I found this Kathirikkai gravy in the “Chettinad cookbook”. I found joy. I found one more side dish for dosai. I found a sustainable alternative to sambar. I made this curry in 15 minutes flat when Hasini and Yuvi were clamouring for their breakfast on a Saturday morning. It was very late in the morning (too late to mention). We had taken our time with the weekly “yennai and thalai-kulial” (oil massage and hair-wash). I had Pogo on to distract them while I got the gravy underway, but the commercial breaks are so much longer and the kids come running again. I heave the dosa kal (tawa) on to the stove while the Kathirikkai gravy simmers beside it, the aroma already wafting up from the kadai. While the dosa kal heats up, I try to engage little Yuvi in some conversation “Cone dosai” or “Round dosai” or “Kutti dosai”. Yuvi: “Yedha kuda ippo” (Give something now) I pour some dosa batter on the tawa and furiously spread it out in fast concentric circles to make a crisp dosa, drizzle some oil and then check the gravy, nearly done. I ladle hot chettinad kathirikkai gravy beside each dosa and bring it out to my cartoon watching, by now furious patrons. Hasini declared “I don’t want kathirikkai”. I cajole, threaten, lie and coax her to taste the gravy. She does. She asks for a second helping. Prep time: 5 mins Cooking time: 15-20 mins Serves: 5 Ingredients Kathirikkai/Eggplants/purple brinjals – ¼ kilo cut into...
Asian stir fry paneer and veggies

Asian stir-fry of Paneer, sweet corn and Vegetables

I didn’t make much of it when in our early days Jagan’d say often how he loved travelling to far-off places, driving all the way. He loved being behind the wheel. Little did I know that that meant me becoming the ‘cleaner’ buckled into the passenger seat for hours together, fishing for change for toll booths, operating the GPS navigation keying in destinations and via-points and handing around water, snacks and cooling glasses, only relief being when the kids had to pee and I got to stand straight. I have a strong feeling I’ve taken the shape of XUV’s bucket seats after 5 days of travelling from morning till night. Every morning we’d wake up, shower, eat, pack up and pile into the car. We’d drive all day, reach our destination just in time for dinner, eat and sleep. Wake up next morning and drive to the next one. 5 nights – 5 places. We covered around 2000 km in just over 5 days. He has all the makings of a champion truck driver no doubt. It’s been more than a week since we returned. I still grope around for the seat belt even when I sit in my office chair and I feel faintly irritated whenever somebody asks me to sit. Thippanahalli home-stay in Chikmagalur The only time I willingly sat down was for the delicious home-cooked Malnad food – fresh Kadubus (rice balls), Akki rotis (rice flour rotis) served with a lip-smacking hot chutney, fragrant Tomato Rasam, steamed rice and Chicken Saaru in Chikmagalur. Heavenly! We stayed at an absolutely wonderful home-stay “Thippanahalli” set amidst a huge coffee estate in Chikmagalur.  Coffee beans, grown on the Thippanahalli estate I stalked the cook and helpers for the recipes the entire time I was there and managed to extract a quick abridged recipe rundown from the host’s mother who must have thought ‘Silly Apprentice cook – doesn’t know even Tomato Rasam’. My Maamiyaar must think the same thing too. I make a few nice rasams but I’ll go after every good rasam out there, think what people may. Rasams are some of the simplest yet soul-stirring foods there are.  Taking a walk through the coffee estate The recipe today is not from our drive-athon trip though (it’ll come soon). This is a simple light stir-fry that is great for after-trip guilt. Having stuffed my face with all the good food...

Another Monday and it’s Lemon rice and potato kari

Another Monday and I had to drag a whining Yuvi out of bed and into the shower, threaten him, cajole him and persuade him to wear his shorts and put on his shoes and go to school. He went from “sound asleep” to “distraught outburst” in seconds when he heard the word “School”. He couldn’t believe it was Monday already and he just couldn’t bear the thought of going to school and spending 3 hours among his bawling friends and harried teachers. He’s not yet accustomed to Mondays. I am not, after 30 odd years. I hate Mondays too as I do all working days, only more because it’s the start of many more working days to come. Hasini is more resigned to the inevitable and goes about getting ready looking dull and downcast. Hasini takes lunch to school these days. So lunch has to be readied before 8:30 am. Have you noticed that you oversleep when it’s raining or when it’s Monday? You don’t? Then it’s probably just me. I generally over-sleep and I was trying to find some pattern. But whatever it is, Monday lunch has to be quick and simple. You don’t want to fiddle around with koftas or vazhaipoo vadai on a Monday. Nothing like Lemon rice for a hustled, rushed Monday morning. As much as I deride Lemon rice, Lemon rice is what I turn to it when I am in trouble. Plus it is perfect for packed lunches. You know the cardinal rule of variety rices. If you don’t remember please go back and read it here. Variety rices must be accompanied by a heavy duty side dish or potato chips. So I made Potato kari to go with the lemon rice. This potato kari also features on my TamilNadu meals I made a couple of months back. Now I call this dry potato fry a “potato kari” for a reason. Did you notice that it is “kari” and not “curry”? This is an Iyer style potato fry, the way Tamil Iyers (Brahmins) make it using a kari powder (Recipe given below) and that’s how they call it. They (clue: I am not TamBrahm but I love their food) call vegetables “karikai” and their vegetable preparations as “potato kari”, “kathirikkai kari” and so on. There is no garlic, ginger or onion in this fry but it tastes fantastic with lemon rice or just plain...

Breaded sweet potato crisps

I waited outside the gate to the kindergarten section at Hasini’s school this morning bracing myself for a fight. I was prepared to talk to the Head-mistress if necessary or stage an online protest, post facebook ads… whatever it took. I came home on Friday last week to a teary eyed Hasini who ran up to me and wailed “Amma, Miss adichitaange ma, thititaange ma, naa school po maaten”(Teacher beat me, scolded me, I don’t want to go to school). She cringed at the mention of school but she could not get it out of her mind either. However much I tried to move the conversation to cheerier things, she circled back to school Me: “2 days leave – Saturday and Sunday. Jolly!” Hasini: “Adhukku apparam school a” (After that is there school?) Me: Lunch pidichidha inniki? (Did you like your lunch today?) Hasini: Nariye yen vecha? (Why did you pack so much?) I could not bear to see my child so forlorn and anxious. She forgot her worries temporarily over the weekend watching Chotta Bheem, splashing around in our huge new inflatable swimming pool (which I spent 2 hours inflating with a hand pump and would have taken another 8 hours but then remembered our vintage vacuum cleaner and managed to finish inflating in 2 minutes) and getting her nails polished. But she woke up today, silent and dull and wouldn’t eat a thing. When the assembly was finally over, I walked over to her classroom and met her teacher determined to be direct, diplomatic, firm and tough all at the same time. I introduced myself and told her how miserable Hasini was. The teacher replied smiling “I know Hasini well. I was just being stern.  I think of them as my own kids..” and I burst into tears. The teacher was mighty embarrassed and had a hard time consoling me. For all my bravado, I am a scaredy-cat when it comes to my kids. I really hope the teacher meant what she said. And I hope Hasini had her lunch. I made these breaded sweet potato crisps that she really enjoyed eating recently (at Mathsya’s buffet) for lunch today along with baby corn pulao. The sweet potato crisps were nice, crisp and tasty. I carefully packed a small portion of pulao and sweet potato crisps so she wouldn’t worry about finishing lunch. Prep time: 20 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes:...

Mango Pachadi | Sweet Mangai Pachadi

My knees are feeling wobbly and my elbows are fatigued after just day 2 of the 30 day “AB workout challenge”, which half of all “facebookers” seem to be taking on. My friend Priya and I decided to take it too. We’re always game for short-cut ways to get fit and 30 days seemed to be just right for us. True to style, I missed doing the day 1 exercise and so did Priya. I am in good company. We figured that we could handle day-2 straight on, exercise veterans that were, so we jumped to day 2. I finally huffed and puffed through my crunches, sit-ups, leg raises and planks just before crashing into bed yesterday. I cursed myself for all the Kasi Halwa, pathir peni and mangai pachadi that I’ve been eating while doing the leg raises and planks. I was paying for all that sugar. Sugar is my failing. I cannot live without it. So I live with love handles, love tyres and love seats. Its hereditary, this sugar craze. Diabetes runs through the family too. But you’ll always find a couple of Cadbury bars and a few mini single-serve badam halwa cups in the fridge, a box of gulab jamuns in the cupboard and assorted sweets from weddings or my cooking experiments on the dining table. Add to that this sweet mangai pachadi. I love mangai pachadi. My mother’s version is full blown sweet. My maamiyaar’s version I am posting today is a hot and sweet version and I have to tell you it is simply exquisite. The pachadi is a delightful burst of hot, sweet and sour tones. It is splendid with curd rice but goes equally well alongside sambar rice or rasam rice. Summer is not complete without mangai pachadi.  Make this mangai pachadi today while mangoes are still around. Don’t worry, we can take the “PEEPA workout challenge” next month. I’ll give you company. Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time:20 mins Serves: 4 Ingredients Raw Mango – 1 washed and cut into 2 inch pieces (unpeeled) Onion – 1 medium chopped fine Tomato – 1 medium chopped fine Red chilli powder – 1-1/2 tbsp Turmeric powder – ½ tsp Salt to taste Jaggery – ¼ cup + 2 tbsp grated (adjust as per taste) Mustard seeds – ½ tsp Oil – 2 tbsp Method 1.     Rinse mango well and cut into 2 inch pieces....
Egg & Cabbage scramble

Egg & Cabbage scramble | Muttai Muttagose podimas

I am feeling jittery and overwhelmed. Come next week, I have 2 snack boxes and 2 lunch boxes (3 when Jagan returns from his trip) to pack, a breakfast to make that not everybody hates,  2 spoilt little kids to ready for school, a tennis lesson for Hasini squeezed somewhere in-between and all this by 8:30 am!! Hasini’s school reopens next week. Terror Yuvi will also be starting school next week. Terror Yuvi is a mighty spiderman at home but wails the shrillest in school. I’ll have to be fanatically-prepared and extraordinarily organized none of which I am. And I’ll have to wake up early which my neural network has been unable to ‘get’ in its 30 year history. I tend to round off my age to the nearest lowest round number divisible by 10 to keep things simple and to feel better. There’s no better time to use my Meal planner than now. I created the meal planner at the beginning of the year meaning to use it every week but haven’t used it continuously. Now is the time. I need to plan my menu for the week, stock groceries and produce for the week and also prep them as far I can so that I can pull something out and finish quick. I need quick, healthy and tasty recipes. This Egg & Cabbage scramble is just the thing, perfect for lunch boxes too. It is super quick, tasty and most definitely healthy. My kids love eggs in any form and they love this one too. If you’ve never tried the combination, egg and cabbage may sound weird but try this one and you won’t be disappointed. Serve this scramble alongside variety rice, rolled in rotis with a little ketchup if your kids are the ketchup loving ones, with pooris or sandwiched between toasted bread, mayo and some fresh veggies.   Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time: 15 mins Serves: 4 Ingredients Cabbage – 3 cups shredded or chopped Eggs – 3 Salt to taste Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp Green chillies – 3 or 4 chopped fine Onion – 1 medium chopped fine Oil – 3 tbsp Method 1.      Beat eggs lightly in a small bowl. Add turmeric and salt and beat till frothy. Set aside. 2.      Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and green chillies and sauté till the onions turn translucent. 3.     ...

Potato Biryani and Vegetable Kofta – Kid’s Lunch Series

This month’s lunch box series is really close to my heart. I love packing lunches and I take it very seriously. Whenever I pack Jagan’s lunch I make sure to not repeat, to not pack wet food (that sounds like dog food but I actually meant – sambar rice, kuzhambu rice and the likes), to not include exotic non-veg food (to not hurt the noses and sensibilities of his vegetarian friends), to include a dessert or a drink and to pack them tightly. There was still the one time when his Lassi spilled all over his lunch bag and he reeked of yogurt. But mostly I am careful. With so many donts to packed lunches, it is a daunting task planning lunch every day. And to think that come June (Hasini would start carrying lunch to school), I’d have to get everything cooked, packed and ready to go by 7:00 am (that’s when I wake up, nowadays it is even worse), I’d have to be super-efficient and extraordinarily prepared. If I do manage it pull it off, it will be a new chapter in my life – The chapter where I finally wake up early, where I am on time for things. My kids enjoy biryanis and potatoes. They’re children of this “mass biryani everywhere for everything” generation. They’re disappointed if a banquet doesn’t include biryani. At weddings, birthdays, Hasini asks the waiter why biryani is not there. I made a potato biryani a couple of weeks back but used Seeraga Samba rice for a change instead of the regular Basmati rice. Seeraga Samba is short grained, thin and aromatic and is used in the popular Thalappakattu Biryanis. I made vegetable koftas to go with the potato biryani. Vegetable koftas are not the kind of things you’d want to do on a weekday morning. Just prepare ahead. I like to boil, mash vegetables, season them, shape into balls and roll them in bread crumbs and then refrigerate them the night before. Meaning I just don’t fry them but ready them to that stage. The next morning I just shallow fry them and they’re done. I tried to get creative, sticking in a couple of cloves for eyes and making ketchup smiles for the kofta balls to make them look like little chickens sitting on a bed of coriander leaves. They found it  amusing. I will stop when Hasini or Yuvi...
Pesarattu & Ginger chutney

Indian Statewise food – A Roundup of the past month

Here’s a short recap of the last one month’s statewise blogging marathon conveniently compiled in a single page. I’ve put together all the regional foods from all over India that I posted over the last one month. Feel free to click on the images of specific dishes to get to the recipes.  After this non-stop marathon month of blogging, I am exhausted, but inspired and restless. I hope it has inspired you guys to try new dishes in your everyday cooking too. Tiffen and Snacks Andhra’s Pesarattu has always been a family favourite tiffen but this time I made Pesarattu along with it’s best friend Allam Pachadi (ginger chutney) and the duo is unbeatable. I had a great time deep frying my way through Dal pooris of Jharkand, the sel roti (sweet batter rings from Sikkim) in the strangest of shapes, the tasty egg shoap from Nagaland and the lovely bhaturas (the stuff of dreams). Chhattisgarh’s rice Pakoras are the easiest pakoras you’ll ever find. Badeel was Uttarakhand’s version of poricha paruppu urundais – a yummy anytime snack. The vegetable momos and red chilli dip transported me to north-eastern India. Curries The curries were all a grand success – the Punjabi chicken Tikka being the best curry forever (BCF), the creamy luscious Pondicherry Fish Assad, the everyday Oriya Dalma (will be a regular on our menu), delicious Bihari Gugni, Delhi’s famous street food Matar Kulcha, Goa’s famous Vindaloo, the absolutely magnificent Mutton Rogan Josh of Kashmir (that can give any restaurant rogan josh a run for its money) and the simple and elegant Sana Thongba from Manipur (a light Paneer and Peas curry). Kerala’s Pal Appams bombed (I waited and waited for the batter to ferment, checking every now and then more eagerly than I waited for my engineering results) but the vegetable stew saved the day – it was just about perfect. Soups, Chutnies and Dips The red chilli dip is a real keeper – perfect for so many things. The Tomato oambal of Tripura was a revelation – a wonderful fusion of sweet, tangy and hot notes in a simple salsa like chutney. The Thukpa, a himalayan noodle soup is full of fresh, simple flavours. Rice dishes Maharashtra’s Varahadi Masale Bhaat was a wonderful spiced one-pot rice and vegetable meal – easy and tasty. Karnataka’s Bisi Bele Baath was a thing of beauty. This would be my go...

TamilNadu Meals

There’s no place like home and there’s no place like TamilNadu. TamilNadu is my home state. I’ve been living in Chennai my entire life except for a brief period when I was in Bangalore and I’d happily live the rest of my life here in Chennai knowing for sure that I can get the freshest Keerai on Station road in West Mambalam, the best filter coffee powder on Arya Gowda road, the top quality cashews and wheat in Parrys corner, the best catch of fish on Lloyds road and the world’s tastiest idli sambar in Rathna Café Triplicane. I can’t think of anything else. I know no better. To say TamilNadu is just about idli dosai sambar, non-veg food is all about Chettinad food and veg food is TamBram food, is to believe “Chennai express” is about Chennai. There is a treasure trove of food to Tamil Nadu, much more rich and varied than restaurants, advertisers and others would have you believe (although idli-dosai, TamBram and Chettinad dishes are special in their own right). Idli-Dosai are definitely the most popular tiffen that are had for breakfast, dinner or as a snack any time of the day. Idli-Dosai are my life savers. Our bottom shelf in the fridge is reserved totally for Idli-Dosai batter. They keep well, are easy to make, are quick and can be varied endlessly. No wonder they’ve captured the imagination of people the world over. If you thought otherwise, Non-vegetarian food is as popular as vegetarian food. A simple potato varuval is made using a curry podi by Brahmins, powdered whole spices by Chettiars, using onion and ginger garlic by Naickers.. Every food is made by every community but differently and each one is as delicious as the other. This is not to say that Chettiars don’t use onion-garlic or others don’t use whole spices. Now everybody does it every way. There are slight nuances that differ between even each household. I love it that the thengai araithu kuzhambu (ground coconut stew) that my Periamma does is different from the one my mother does which is again different from the one my maamiyaar (mother in law) does. The Kari kuzhambu that we make in Chennai could be very different from the one made in Trichy, Aathur or Andipatti. In fact, the cooking in the smaller towns and villages is usually untouched by restaurant flourishes and is quite...

Bhutte ke Khees | Spiced Sweet corn – Madhya Pradesh street food

First up, a few updates on what’s happening in life..  It was my dad’s birthday last Sunday and I made a Madeira cake for him. It turned out great, looked exactly like McRennet’s Madeira cake and tasted great too. I made an exception and did not run away with it for a photo session. I was in a hurry, as we were getting my son’s cast removed that day and we had to be at the doctor’s at 9:00 am. I don’t even make it to office by that time. But Sunday, we actually made it by 9:00 am. I grabbed the Madeira cake hot from the oven, dropped it into a plastic cover, pan and all and took it along. My son is finally free from his PoP cast but in 1 and half months he seems to have turned a leftie. He still uses his left hand to race his little cars. I am relieved to be able to give him a bath without having to hold up his hand. I really wish he’d slow down. I worry about the little fellow. If you’re wondering, he is 2-1/2.  Today’s recipe is not much of a recipe but it’s a nice variation of sweet corn to have up your sleeve. It’s sweet corn slightly differently spiced. This bhutte ke khees is a popular street food in Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s biggest states bang in the centre of India. Its claim to fame is that it’s old and historic and has a number of world heritage sites including the Kajuraho temple and the stupas at Sanchi.  There are quite a few variations of Bhutte ke Khees on the internet that are a little more involved. I picked mine from a Nita Mehta book and it is almost too simple.  Jagan yelled at me today – “You need not photograph every single thing you cook”. He was waiting for his lunch box and I ran upstairs with my bhutte ka khees for some urgent passport photos for the blog. I clicked a few random shots and hurried back down, spooned some bhutte ke khees into his lunch box (as thanks for waiting) along with his chappathi and cauliflower curry and then handed it to him. I told him “Today it is Madhya Pradesh” and Bhutte ke khees has to go on air today! He glared. He doesn’t...
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