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...

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:...
Thinai kichadi

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 cheese vegetable sandwich (Juice junction style)

I’ve taken it upon myself to teach Hasini one Tamil cinema song a week, every week until I find a music class for her. I want Hasini and Yuvi to appreciate good cinema and good music as much as I want them to appreciate good food. Born into a nil-music background family, but a bonafide cinema-crazy family Hasini needs to keep up. Do you remember those days there would be little cinema song booklets sold on road platforms that had the lyrics for every song in the movie. I don’t know if these are around still. I’d love to get my hands on some. My dad would collect those booklets, memorize the lyrics and sing along to the songs on the gramophone. I sing along to the radio in my car. I don’t want Hasini to just sing along to her i-pod. Hasini is the family’s only hope. Lately Hasini and Yuvi have been pouting “Let’s take a selfie pulla, give me a umma umma” which is kind of cute but I don’t know if her principal might approve of it. What if her principal is a “Thala” Ajith fan? I have a hard time picking songs that are appropriate for her. Ever since Hasini won the fancy dress competition in her school singing M.S Subbulakshmi’s “Kaatrinile varum geetham”, she has been singing that for every teacher in her school, every athai, paati, onu-vitte-mama, next-door aunty and postman. I want her to sing a wider variety of songs. I am no purist but I don’t want to teach her “Daddy mummy veetil illai” or “Katti pudi Katti pudi da”. If you have suggestions for good songs that she can learn please do let me know in the comments box at the bottom of the post. I’d really truly appreciate it. I’ve been mixing up her lunch too for a little variety. I sent her this paneer cheese vegetable sandwich yesterday hoping and praying that she’d eat it up and not bring back leftovers and embarrass me. Yeah, it is a very big deal.I opened her lunch box with nervous anticipation and peered inside.Just a few tomato slices. I was ecstatic. She told me later that she didn’t like the tomatoes but the sandwiches were good. I’ve wanted to re-create these sandwiches ever since I ate them at Juice-junction in Bangalore, which is a very very long time ago. I loved...

Vegetable stuffed Somas

It is finally raining here in Chennai and my kids are sound asleep already. It’s such a pretty sight the two things and together it’s almost poetic. I am left strangely unoccupied and free and for a moment I didn’t know what to do. Confused, I called up a couple of numbers but none of them picked up. I could watch TV, cook, bake, read or write. I chose to write. It’s been raining all over Tamil Nadu but not in Chennai. It finally rained today. So tomorrow morning’s Tennis class is Ooooo (Ooooo in Chennai Tamil is “gone”, “game over”). But did I tell you that these days I wake up before 6 am everyday, Tennis class or not. Yeah, it’s a medical miracle. I don’t know if Kochadaiyan’s advice (“Suriyan ku mun yezhundhu kol Suzhiyaniye jeipaai”) had anything to do with it. But I am changed.  Every night I prep for next day’s breakfast and lunch, box them and shove them into the refrigerator – chopped vegetables for curries and poriyals, grated coconut and sautéed onions for chutnies, boiled potatoes with skin for potato fry, peeled garlic, finely minced ginger, sautéed pureed gravy bases for gravies and curries and anything else I can prep beforehand without worrying about it getting spoilt. Next morning as soon as I am up, I pull out all my boxes from the fridge and start them all off – grind, temper, sauté and have them cooking while I run back and get a kicking Hasini out of bed and ready for Tennis class. By the time we leave for Tennis, they’re all almost done. We rush back from Tennis, shower, dress, eat and rush to school just a few minutes late as always. That is again a miracle how we always seem to arrive at that time irrespective of how packed or totally empty our mornings are. The few mins after the bell seems to be our steady state. I feel like a super-efficient, mean machine like a fighter bomber – planning and prepping the previous night, cooking and packing Hasini’s lunch, taking her to tennis class, readying Hasini and little Yuvi for school and finally dropping them off. The bombs are dropped. Mission accomplished. By the time I reach office, I am done. What Iittle is left, my boss finishes off for me. I made these vegetable stuffed somas on one of...
Appam and vegetable stew

Kerala style Vegetable Stew

Happy New Year everyone! It’s the 1st day of the Tamizh calendar – Chithirai 1. I hope all of you have a fruitful, healthy and yummy new year. May this year bring the long awaited promotion, a discernible hike at the very least (sometimes I can never make out the difference, it’s that miniscule), weight-loss & hair-gain (I know everybody wants these), good food, great recipes and  family time. I am starting the year with a yummy vegetable stew. I had always thought Aappam was tamil. But appears Aappam is as much Malayalam as it is Tamil. Aappam is one of our beloved breakfast items at home.  We have it with sweetened coconut milk or with vegetable korma. I love it with sweetened milk. We like to tear up the soft spongy centres of Aappam and soak them in the sweet coconut milk while we eat the the lacy, crisp edges.  By that time the aappam pieces would be drenched in all that sweetness and each piece would be a little piece of heaven – sweet, soft, melt in the mouth madress. In Kerala, the vegetable stew is popular with Aapams. The vegetable stew is again a subtly spiced, elegant and creamy coconut milk based stew. It’s easy and tastes luscious. I tried Kerala style Pal Aappams with the vegetable stew. The Pal  Aappams did not turn out too well but the vegetable stew was great. My kids loved it. Prep Time: 20 mins Cooking time: 20 mins Serves: 4 Ingredients Carrots – chopped ½ cup Green Beans – ½ cup chopped Potato – 1 small, peeled and cubed Green Peas – ½ cup Onion – 1 medium sliced Coconut milk – 1st and 2nd extract from 1 medium cococut Salt to taste Whole Black peppercorns – ¼ tsp Curry leaves – 1 sprig Cinnamon – 1 inch piece Cloves – 2 Cardamom – 2 Oil – 2 tsp Spice Paste Green chillies – 3-4 Ginger – 1 inch piece Method 1.       Heat oil in a pan. When hot add cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Then add the whole black peppercorns and curry leaves.  After a minute add the sliced onions and sauté until they turn translucent. 2.       Meanwhile grind together ginger and green chillies to a fine paste. Set aside. 3.       Then add the chopped vegetables and salt. Mix in the ground spice paste. Pour in the 2nd thin extract...
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