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.
Rava Idli

Rava Idli

When I am moping, I lie in bed while my kids climb over me, I shut my eyes tight when Yuvan pries my eyes open. I hear Hasini echo my dad’s words – “You’re always late.” Back in the days when I was single, when I was free, I’d brood on the toilet seat for hours without visitors, knocks and questions – “why are you taking so long?”, “what are you doing?”, “Did you go out the window?” (That’s a good idea!). I’d lie in bed reading all day, sleeping in between, ransacking the fridge at midnight for something sweet, going back to bed to read. Chocolate soothes me. Reading drugs me. Those days, I like to eat Paal Saadam (Rice and milk). I feel comforted.   When I am stressed, when I am wound up and exhausted after a frenetic day of work, I want to eat Dominoes Pizza and coke. I want to eat biryani and thumbs up. I want my soda. I want sugar. I want cheese. I want chocolate. I want empty calories and Vadivelu comedy. When I am happy I want to eat Molagai bajji, chocolate cake and Lasagne. When I miss home, I yearn for idli, vadai, sambar and thengai chutney and Ilayaraja songs. I want paruppu rasam saadam and fried egg and Balachander movies. When I am angry, frustrated, I want Paneer soda and friends to hear my story. A small paper cup with watery canteen coffee would do too. When I am hungover, I want Jagan’s lemon soda in a dark room. When I am busy at my laptop, I have filter coffee by my side and Hasini combing my hair. I want pattani and uppu kadalai while watching TV. There are times when I make Rava idli. I make Rava idli every time my………………………………….. yogurt turns sour. Every single time I feel ingenious to be making rava idli instead of rava upma. I am terribly proud of my soft, tender rava idlis that I make from scratch. Rava idlis were one of the first things I made after my wedding. I’d make them from MTR’s rava idli mix. I’d make MTR rava idlis and coriander chutney and wait for the Maamiyaar to be impressed. I had no clue then that making them from scratch was just as easy. You’ll never go back to buying the readymade mix once you make these...

Bombay Toast

I am officially jet-lagged. I am dozing away early evening, at night and waking up late too and finally that seemed to be acceptable. But someone told me that sleeping any time of the day is actually extreme laziness being passed off as jet-lag. I pretended to be falling asleep when ‘someone’ was still talking. I am very mature. I spent the last month in US of A but resisted the urge to change my Facebook location. Don’t worry guys – I made sure to visit Niagara. Indian travelling to east coast is not allowed back in India if they don’t produce their Niagara floaters. I did what I had to.   I ate my way through chicken salad sandwiches, quinoa bowls, Burritos, orange chicken, Japanese bento box lunches, pancakes, cheese burgers, Greek Gyros, pizza, Bao buns, eggplant parmigiana, pot-pies, ravioli, grilled chicken and Spanish tapas – and everything with a large order of fries and coke. I forget Bud light Lime. I lost myself in the food aisles of Walmart – ready to cook pot pies, Lasagne, pasta sauce in jars, canned beans, tortillas, minced garlic, pancake mixes, puff pastry, breaded chicken cutlets, biscuit mixes. Why would I chop vegetables, knead dough, roll out dough, soak beans? I lost reason for effort. I picked up some bare essentials as a back-up for hungry times, for lazy times. Strange that I went looking for garlic paste, ginger paste, garam masala and basmati rice for my back-up. I wanted to be equipped to make biryani when the need arose. Now that I am back in India I want to make croissants. I loved the stick sized butter and the tbsp. measurements on the wrapper. Third world me, I’d spend 5 whole minutes trying to mentally register all the snacks in the snack vending machine before choosing. I met some old friends, among the sweetest ones while I was there. Nisha made us dosa after crisp dosa along with a fiery hot chicken curry. It was around the first week when everything seemed all wrong – “The steering wheel is on the wrong side”  “The vehicles are on the wrong side of the road” “The restaurant tips will bankrupt me” “Stop making small talk with me – “check out person”, “store lady”. I have no ability for that.” I was sure I hated the place. It was around this time that we...

Banana buttermilk pancakes

In the mornings, Hasini likes to lay on the bed and sing while I am in the toilet. I like to listen to her while she sings like nobody is listening. She sings songs I didn’t realize she had memorized, songs from another time, some of my favourite songs which I like to play but didn’t think she’d remember. This morning she sang “Saathi malli poocharame” followed by “Rasathi en usiru ennathilla OOOOOO” complete with the deep throated “OOOOOOO”. I chuckled inside. Yuvan woke up a little later. Together they strolled out of the bedroom on to the “dhallam” heading downstairs to watch Ninja Hattori like they usually do. They stopped midway. There was the unmistakable aroma of mango wafting over and a series of loud thuds on the asbestos above the carpark. They ran over to peek. There was Venkatesan up on the tree plucking mangoes and tossing them into the bucket on the ground. It was mango picking day today. “Manga parikaranga…  Manga Manga….. yaaayyy”  they went hollering downstairs to catch the mangoes being tossed. They ran up to the terrace to climb on chairs and pluck those low hanging mangoes they had been eyeing for a long time. I asked for a small basket of mangaoes to be set aside for my pickle experimentations. We’re enjoying the summer holidays, revelling in the homework free evenings, late mornings and leisurely breakfasts. One such morning I made these banana buttermilk pancakes although it doesn’t take too long at all to whip up.  In fact these banana buttermilk pancakes are super quick and super easy to make. I cannot believe how soft, moist and absolutely delicious they turned out. I am a sucker for sweet breakfasts. I loved these. I made these without eggs. You could add eggs for fluffier results if you wish. These pancakes are a great way to use up your over-ripe bananas. Go on, make these. Top with pancake syrup, caramel, chopped bananas or whatever makes you close your eyes and say “Hmmmmmmm”. Enjoy!  

Maida Dosai

I didn’t go on a trip to Europe. I didn’t have a baby. I didn’t get a book deal. I didn’t even lose a kilo of weight. In case you missed me, in case you were wondering why I was gone.  I was buried in work.  I’ve found that that is never reason enough, never glamorous enough. So for your interest, our water purifier was down yet again and I was wondering when and why we moved from boiled tap water, my kids’ colds are back again, they lie glibly that they didn’t eat ice cream and I have absolutely no control, and I end up with the most unexciting health issues that are not serious enough to get admitted but still a pain and its official now – even my doctor has declared that I need to lose weight. Now don’t you think “buried in work” sounds more interesting? Among other things, I am contemplating changing up a few things on Foodbetterbegood, having some regular themes – diet friendly recipes, one-pot meals and make-ahead meals being top on my list. Do chime in if you’ve got any ideas. I did cook but in spurts, for guests, for occasions but not the daily grind. I eased into the daily routine with this easy, not-instant but nearly so Maida dosai. There is only one way to eat it and that is hot, right off the stove with some freshly ground coconut chutney or milagai podi (gun powder) mixed with gingelly oil. This maida dosai is a bit stretchy, unlike your regular dosai. I like to add a load of chopped onions and green chillies to the batter just before I am going to make the dosai. This dosai works in a pinch when you are out of dosai batter, when you are wont to change into something decent to go buy dosai batter and when upma evokes shrieks and swearing. This Maida dosai is for those times.     

Chicken Kheema Pav Bhaji

Something I read yesterday on Facebook hit me hard –  “I am being forced to not eat meat to respect you. What if you’re forced to eat meat to respect me?” Bang on! Please answer, judgers, the right wing vegetarian converters and especially the born again vegetarian converts out to sermonize the barbaric chicken tikka eaters at the other end of the table. Before you call me names, before you judge, let me explain. I am a mostly vegetarian, occasional meat eater who can’t live without eggs. I am neither, yet I am both. I don’t think vegetarian food is tasteless. In fact I think it is vastly under-rated and I think it can be as tasty as the cook wants it to be. I never chastise vegetarians for uprooting living, thriving greens (keerai), leaves, roots and all, for yanking cute little carrot tops out of their homes, for coldly cutting off all water to the rice paddy fields to let the plants dry so that they can be killed (ouch)/ harvested. To me, a chicken’s life is as precious as a turnip’s as a cow’s as fenugreek greens’ as a dinasaur’s as a carrot’s. We are finding newer, more dangerous ways of one-upping one another, of being the more righteous group, the more moral group, the more correct group, the better group; in the food we eat, in the books we read, in what we speak, in the cartoons we laugh at, in how well behaved we have our women. Scary. Someone who today supports the meat ban in Maharashtra today, may have been shocked by the ban on AIB roast and may be outraged if alcohol is banned tomorrow. Many of us are missing the larger conformist angle because the particular conformist action now fits us, because “I am a vegetarian and I am better” or “because I can’t appreciate literary freedom, I can’t accept non-conformism even in a story, I need to burn the book, hound the author and make him promise to behave, to think proper, to write decent”.  I am pained that this one-upping had to move into what we should and shouldn’t be eating, and what others should be eating. I am as surprised as you are that this post turned out as sombre as it did. I needed to say this though. I love me my vegetarian readers and my meat eating readers. I...

Cheesy potato tomato sandwich

The day I work out, I feel I am obligated to have that Cadbury or eat Queen’s toffee at Ibaco. As compensation. And like that, I maintain status quo, never missing a chance to level it off. The other day after I’d done my 5 minute plank routine in 2 minutes and was resting face down, sprawled on the floor I discovered my long lost pen under the bed, a couple of hot wheels cars under the wooden almirah, Hasini’s time-table sheet, a comb, hair pins and a pencil. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and pretended I’d not seen any of it. I couldn’t interrupt my 10-minute rest time. I couldn’t crawl under, on my elbows and knees; that would be too much work.     I remember to not take the lift at office, I take the stairs. And when I take the stairs at office, I feel I must eat the masala vadai at tea time. I’ve become somewhat of an expert on energy conservation. I realize I am trying hard to maintain status quo. I am afraid of change. I realize I need to meet it head on. But I don’t trust myself. I cannot trust myself to add a touch of cheese, I will smother in cheese like I did with this cheesy potato tomato sandwich. I cannot indulge responsibly, I cannot eat a small square of chocolate. I have to compulsively finish that bar of chocolate. I cannot exercise portion control with biryani. Can anyone? So I joined a gym yesterday. I wanted to hand myself over to the instructor, tell him to work me all-out no matter what I say later, no matter the excuses I give. It was his duty to reduce me by 1/6th. I didn’t want to scare him the first day. I kept my mouth shut. This cheesy potato tomato sandwich is one of those healthy sandwiches that turned out a bit cheesy. If you’re master of your will, you can leave out the cheese. But I wouldn’t recommend that. Nevermind my recommendation if you are master of your will. I smear a thin layer of green chutney spread on bread slices, arrange sliced onions, sliced tomatoes and boiled, sliced potatoes, season with salt and pepper and top with a dash of cheese. I slather (you can lightly brush if you like) butter on both sides of the sandwich...

Mysore Masala Dosa

  When I am visiting and my mother makes dosai for tiffen, I cringe. She laughs knowingly. The dosai legacy of my husband’s place is legendary. At any point, we grind enough dosai batter for our entire street. We may run out of salt, but not of dosai batter. Huge gundaans of rice and urad dal would be soaking on the counter before the last ladle of the old batch is used up. Zero downtime.   Still, if we were to go to Saravana Bhavan or our favourite Udupi restaurant, I will order Masala Dosai.   I don’t understand it either.   My love-hate  relationship with dosai has been going on for a long time. Apathy at home, love at Udupi restaurants, I looked inward. I thought really hard.     I realized I missed the ghee laden, crisp fried, golden dosa , enveloping a luscious potato masala and smeared with a spicy flavour bursting channa dal chutney and dunked in freshly ground coconut chutney. I missed the frills. I wanted the full package.    I make dosai every day but seldom the light, airy, crisp fried version, the coconut chutney every other day and the potato masala too every once in a while but never all of them together.   Dosai regulars will know that the home-made regular dosai which is more pliable than crisp (which is our usual) is different from the masala dosa/paper roast batter which is different from the thicker benne dosa variety they serve in karnataka that has an almost paradoxical crispy outside and a porous inside texture.     I’ve been waiting for about 237 weeks now waiting for a teeny weeny pause in our batter making machinery to try and squeeze in the mysore masala dosa. And finally one humid, sweaty Chennai evening, when we were out of dosai batter finally, when the counter was free of soaking rice and dal, when the idli/dosai top management was away at a wedding, I took it upon myself to grind up my longtime dream – the light, airy gorgeous mysore masala dosa batter.   You will not believe how thin you can make these dosas. They make the most gorgeous crispy, paper thin dosas.   If you were just about to send your husband out to get a packet of ‘dosai batter’, wait. I know what you’re thinking.   No, it is not as hard...

Shortcut Bhel Puri

The kind of holiday I really like is the one where I am the only one on holiday and everybody else is busy. Kids are at school and very important – husband is working too and not from home. Others at home are away too. I am at home, I am alone and I am free. I can watch TV but I’ve lost touch. I don’t know what I’d like to watch. I can sleep but I am too excited to. I can read. Aha, What a pleasure! Which among all those “first chapter alone re-read several times to get back into context” books do I read now – “Sita’s Ramayana”, “Interpreation of Dreams”, “Hegemony or Survival”? Or should I write? Should I read or should I write? I am not making the de facto lunch of the house. I am not making rice, sambar, varuval and poriyal for lunch. I am not making dosai for those who won’t eat rice. I am not making an extra poriyal for those who won’t eat kezhangu. I am not making omelettes to order during lunch hour. I am not making an extra portion of rice just to be on the safer side and then deal with the leftover rice. I am not cooking at all. I am making a bad-ass shortcut bhel puri. I am going to lounge in my shorts, have some friends over – no mommy friends I need to behave with, where I need to be at my best. Note to me: There aren’t any such.   It’d have to be lazy-ass friends who’ve seen worse, who can be just as bad. +Sangeetha, +Lakshmisri Gopalan come to mind. We’d eat extra large portions of bhel puri for lunch, watch a dabba Tamil movie on K TV, talk and gossip uncensored, uncut and unthinking. My shortcut bhel puri is truly shortcut. And you know how fond I am of shortcuts however long they may be. I had to visit 4 grocery stores this week to get all my ingredients in place, not that they’re difficult to find. But I just couldn’t find the one ingredient that I wanted in the store that I had gone to. Happens to me all the time. I make a simple sweet and sour sauce with tamarind and jaggery and that is by far the only work in this recipe. I have to say this but I...

Puttu and Cherupayar curry

Yuvi told me this morning that he hates singing rhymes. I couldn’t help smiling. What do you say to that? I couldn’t justify why he should. Instead I told him if he didn’t get out of bed, I’d complain to his teacher. He kicked, squealed and made it clear he is doing it but he is against the whole school going thing. I said “See, All these kids go to school. You should be cheerful going to school” and immediately felt shallow for saying that. I didn’t ever skip joyously to school. I am stumped by these moral dilemmas daily. Last weekend, Hasini asked me “Why are you eating dosai? Why aren’t you eating the Ven pongal?” I: “I don’t like Pongal Hasini” Hasini: “But everyone should eat what’s there for breakfast. Why are you eating something else?” She was telling me what I tell her all the time. How do I explain to her my deep-rooted, absolute indifference to Ven pongal which happens to be one of her favourite? I can eat it but I just don’t like it. I wonder if she has thought the same about some of my favourites – “Pesarattu”, “Urundai Kuzhambu”? I reasoned it is ok to not like something if you have tried it, if you have really tried to like it but you couldn’t, if it just wasn’t meant to be. Like Ven Pongal and me. It just isn’t meant to be. I reckoned that Hasini can’t know now if Pesarattu will become her favourite one day, if she’ll grow to love it or if she’ll opt out for a dosai instead. She’ll need to try some more, for the time being. I am torn between Dosai and Puttu-cherupayar curry, between Pogo and Two and a half men, between Hamley’s and Lifestyle, between monster print shorts and linen shorts, between clogs and shoes, between loose hair and pigtails, between candies and chocolates, between “Dandanakka” on the car stereo and nothing. When did they join the league? It is not just Jagan and me now. Hasini and Yuvi have arrived and are calling the shots. Now we play “Dandanakka” on the car stereo and Jagan and I shout over it, we buy both the monster print shorts and the linen shorts, we watch Pogo and Two and a half men on each one’s personal TV. But Puttu-Cherupayar curry had to happen. Hasini tried...

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