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.

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!  
carrot beetroot chutney

Carrot beetroot chutney

My biggest gripe during the Chennai rains was that Jagan was away for the most part of it. I would have loved to see him unarmed, unplugged and unwired – without his phone, TV and laptop, forced to turn around and talk to fellow humans. Result: He just doesn’t seem as moved and emotional about the whole Chennai humanity outpouring situation. Honestly, my feel-good quotient is wearing out too and I think it’s time for people to get back to work. Muggings of volunteers, harassment of women volunteers and looting of relief material surely means everything’s back to normal. Too much of a good thing never is good. I am a pathological cynic. That explains everything. “Feel-good’ers”, don’t crucify me for this. Since we’ve all already imbibed the life lessons that the Chennai rains have taught us that ‘money doesn’t matter but people do’, and since I am a cynic, and since I am no good at feel-good, I’ll restrict myself to the small day-to-day lessons that I have learnt. 1.   I have been postponing composting at home because I haven’t found the right bin. Un-pardonable, I know. I know I am responsible too for the garbage bags that clog the dump yards. It’s time for me to start segregating the waste at home, to compost. Here is a wonderful presentation on composting that my friend Ashwin shared a while back. I am starting this week.  You should give it a try too. 2.     I am going to carry my own water bottles everywhere. I just haven’t done this consistently enough. Read the story of the bottled water here. 3.   Choose sustainable at every step. Choose wooden tops and handmade toys over battery powered ones, use jute bags for your grocery shopping, take a cloth bag everywhere you go – you never know when you’ll need to shop, walk more – drive less. I am no undercover agent of United nations environment programme. I know nothing about climate change. I am far from perfect. I just know we can make small changes in the everyday things we do. And yes, they matter.     4.     Wasting food is criminal. Make smaller portions if unsure. Upcycle, get creative. I did just that with this carrot beetroot chutney. Beetroot poriyal is hugely infamous in our home and has never been finished in its history. So I roasted yesterday’s beetroot poriyal along with...

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...

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...

Thavalai Adai

“Sarkarai mazhai vandhudha, annikki dhaaaan…  (the day it rained sugar)” she trails off. We’re lying on the quilt sharing a pillow. “Ammamma Ammamma, apparam yenna?” “Sonaana, apparam.. “ She dozes off mid-story, I shake her awake, she continues from where she left off, dozes off next line, I nudge her, prompt her. We continue till the story is over, till she is asleep. I then run away to my mother. She adjusts her 8 kallu besari nosepin and smooths her hair every now and then. I imitate her. She laughs. She makes me do it for my Appa, Babu and Athai. Ammamma sits on the thinnai talking to my athai while I plait her long hair into a mess. She packs Arisi upma for my tiffen and tops it with lots of sugar. She makes a huge deksa of vegetable bath for my birthday party. Guests ask to take home leftovers. She makes Adhirasams like Adhirasams were always meant to be. The breeze is nice and cool. Athai, Babu (my chithappa/uncle) are sitting on the thinnai (bench type settee) talking. Amma is folding clothes. I am balance-walking on the walls of the little fountain in the dhalam (courtyard). The aroma of crisping dal wafts over the evening air from deep inside the kitchen to the dhalam. Shortly Ammama brings a plate of piping hot Thavalai Adai – small round oothappam sized adais, golden brown and crisp outside, soft inside. She ladles the batter into a greased kadai, drizzles oil all around it, covers the kadai, waits forever, doesn’t check in between, opens and flips the thavalai adai, the bottom is golden brown and crisp, drizzles some more oil, covers and waits again for the other side to brown, flips it on to a plate, adjusts her besari and smooths her hair and pours in another ladle of batter. She goes on one at a time, each one cooked to golden brown perfection while we eat. I recount how Hasini wakes me up when I doze off mid-story just like “Sakkarai Mazhai” times, as she lies on the hospital bed, drifting in and out. She listens, tries to adjust her besari, the IV drip pulls at her wrist, remembers after a moment, smiles, her eyes well up. Everything I cook reminds me of her. She was the starting point. I did not realize until now, until she was gone. Prep time:...

Fried Moong dal Toast

I am in ‘plan-B’ mode these days. I think I must make a decorated, layer cake for my dad’s birthday, then switch last minute to a brownie with frosting and finally make just the brownie. I buy loads of green chillies to make Mor Milagai but I can’t find Mor (buttermilk) anywhere. But I didn’t look for it. To think that just a couple of weeks back our fridge harboured not just tons of Mor and yogurt but other assorted wild cultures of I don’t know what (and I threw them out, peasant me. Sour-dough illiterate!). I make pizza dough, pizza sauce and even ready the toppings but don’t make pizza because I can’t find Mozzarella. My to-make vathal and oorkai (pickle) list are growing, summer is full blast on in Madras and I do nothing. I am waiting for yogurt to sour when there is no yogurt at home, for bananas to blacken but they get eaten up. I am there, yet not there. It’s there, but not there. I want to do, but don’t. I know many people who’d call this laziness. Maybe. I can’t wholly deny that, so I’ll accept it. So one morning I wake up to an idli-batter less fridge which means tiffen other than idli/dosai. I’d planned pesarattu or French toast but made Fried Moong dal toast instead. It is not my invention though. I remember a similar recipe in a Nita Mehta book that I am not able to locate now. I soaked moong dal in some hot water for 10 minutes (you can soak in regular water for 20-25 minutes) because I woke up late and I was in a hurry which is my normal state of things. I then ground the dal to a coarse paste, mixed in finely minced green chillies and fresh coriander leaves and slathered them on some bakery bread (these are smaller than your regular loaves and are usually softer) – both sides of each slice and then deep fried them till the edges are dark brown and crisp. I had a mild attack at the amount of oil the bread was taking up and I tried a skinny pan fried version with a couple of slices. I am sorry health freaks but deep fried toast was undoubtedly the winner – crispy edges and slightly chewy, crunchy dal coated inside. It was fantastic. I made this for...

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...

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