Thursday, April 28, 2016

Life Lessons from the learned…

     There's this comfort cocoon , a shell that all of us (or lets just say me) love going back to, to feel good about ourselves, our achievements and our contribution to society. This greatness is measured on our own scale and parameters that are a result of our experiences, perceptions and transactions in this world . Needless to say its hence coloured with our world view . And then (for all of us without doubt ) there are these eureka moments , these wake up calls that drag us out of this comfort zone with a feeling that there is a way of seeing life and achievements beyond how we see them.
I believe these eureka moments don’t show up to prove us wrong, there can be no wrong way of looking at life ,can it ?  they show up to create a moment for us, the moment of realization.

A question that I come across often (& often i am the one posing that question to myself ) is about finding happiness. Am sure that's a common dialogue between us and the voice in our heads. finding happiness can be quite a task, keeping it once found, well that’s another story.

        There have been two moments in my recent past when both me and the voice in my head have agreed to just be quiet and let the moment of realisation seep in , both these have been interactions with children , children whose parents earn (or used to earn when they were alive) way below the national average income .
MOMENT 1 : Every Diwali there's an influx of children who come with their  families selling flowers and diyas .Their presence was unnoticed by me till three years ago when a dear friend, Ruchi Srivastava took the initiative of distributing food boxes to these kids who live on the sidewalk for the duration of this festive migration and help their parents earn. 

Last Diwali I went out distributing these food boxes with hotel management students and saw the two powers at work, the power of giving and the power of children.  Like I had gone in the first year ,the students also went with an expectation of seeing scarcity and hunger , instead we saw happiness and gratitude. The only imperfection was in the way we were looking at them; for them, life was perfect. They were busy with life, studying or taking care of younger kin or tying together garlands for sale. 
There was not one child who did not thank us for the food or who wasn’t curious why we were doing this. 
We in fact were doing this for ourselves and that what all the students eventually realised, while we started out to fill in for a need on the streets we eventually filled up our souls with gratitude; the happiness that the students got was really moving. 
My eureka moment that made me realise that our need to give is born out of our need to get(actually borrow, a little bit of happiness from these children )

MOMENT 2 : I was at another friend, Rushina's cook Studio with young children from teach for India Foundation. It was supposed to be a quick visit to taste some egg dishes that they had made and it ended up being the most memorable 2 hours that will stay with me for this lifetime. these children (who were from extremely economically challenged families ) in Addition to happiness also showed another virtue , responsibility. Every dish tasted divine and the first guess for anybody would have been that these were seasoned hands at work. In a way they were because they were cooking ever since they were six or so due to challenging situations back home . This happy shock wasn’t enough to make my day , the best was yet to come.

There was apparently a test with 12 questions to check on how they had fared in their food classes, which various chefs had taken n the last 8 weeks . To me the questions seemed largely unfair to be asked to a bunch of 10-12 year olds and the silence that ensued post question paper distribution confirmed it for me , i stayed back just out of curiosity with no expectations. To make it easier on the kids i didn’t check the papers and started a discussion hoping to make them feel better for not knowing . what happened next moved me to tears ,suddenly everyone was excited to answer and everyone had the right answers . the reason for silence that i mistook for not knowing was for responsibly relaying what they had learnt and the quiet focus was on winning this challenge that had been posed . I had never heard a better explanation of how chocolate was made that i heard from a 9 year olds mouth . the process of fermentation was explained to me in a way that i had no more to ask . then i saw all answer sheets they had all questions answered in all papers . here i was trying to make them feel comfortable for not knowing where the only person to not know was me myself. lesson learnt - knowledge is not a function of resources available , its a function of commitment to learning which occurs in the human mind , the space where theres no rich or poor - only purity , love and happiness .

Life is about learning from the learned and i feel both silly and wiser now having learnt from more learned children around me (All thanks to people who take a stand for me and to Ruchi and Rushina who catalysed this learning for me)


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The 'King' is back

              Spring time is the time of festivities and the start of the harvest. To a farmer it signifies abundance and food for the next year, hope and belief - in Mother earth and in the merit of hard work. To any Indian it signifies the arrival of the king – Alfonso. The mango that the world waits for.
              The Portuguese, ever since they landed in Calicut have given us many things and got back many things in return starting late 1400s, whether it's the art of plantation or the science of Nautical Navigation, there's a lot that we have got; but the most significant gift has been the grafting of many a Brazilian Mango strains with ours (In fact the first people to use the word "manga" were the Portuguese). 
              Any Keralite would swear by the Mulgoba and any Indian will have Haapus or Alphonso sunk deep in their mango memories. The most common story is that It is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese administrator of Goa and Malabar, and Admiral. In one of the famous journeys undertaken, the Brazilian graft found its way during Afonso de Albuquerque's voyage when he brought his famous namesake fruit to India. So, the Alphonso mango found home along the verdant shores of the Konkan in Maharashtra India. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety was then taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India. 
              Another folklore credits a Spanish Monk St. Alphonso Rodriguez. Since most varieties were named after grafters, the two things that are true are, one that it's a grafted variety and two that it's named after a Mr Alphonso - the person we thank every time there's spring and the smell of Haapus comes to live in our kitchens.
Mango Flavored Brown Rice Phirni
1/2 cup soaked brown rice
4 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
6 tbsps sugar
1/2 cup alfonso mango puree
2 tbsps almond, peeled and sliced
Few strands of saffron
5 to six dry cranberries
Mint leaves for garnish
Method :
1. Soak the rice in water for an hour. Drain, wash and drain again. Pat dry on an absorbent kitchen towel and blend in a mixer. 

2. Add ½ cup of cold milk and mix well to make a paste. Keep aside. Boil the rest of the milk and gently stir in the rice paste. Cook for about 15 minutes on a slow flame, while stirring continuously.
3. Add the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Now add the mango puree and stir well.
4. Pour into serving containers and keep aside to cool. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve chilled garnished with almonds, saffron strands, mint leaves and dry cranberries.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Health and Diet

             All around us we see a spurt of health food and health food concepts. Physical Health has always been an important part of our well-being. It's important to understand that food unfortunately bears the most brunt for our health issues and our lifestyle, of which our diet is only a small part. It's time that we spoke about well-being and its relationship to lifestyle as a whole, rather than blaming a diet while just looking at our physical health. Here's a couple of healthy recipes that can help you get there. 
Anjeeer Kebab Samosa
5 to 6 Anjeer (dried figs) (soaked, drained and chopped)
I cum yam, boiled and mashed
1/2 tsp green chilies, chopped
1/4 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
A few coriander leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp chaat masala powder
1 tbsp paneer, grated

1 tbsp hung curd
1 tbsp cashew nut paste
4 tbsp besan flour
1 tsp yellow chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala

1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
8 Samosa patti/ spring roll patti
1. Mix the curd, yam, cashew nut paste, besan, salt, yellow chili powder, garam masala and coriander leaves in a bowl. Add little water if required and mix to make a thick batter. 

2. Mix the figs, green chillies, onions, ginger, chaat masala powder and salt. Take a portion of the yam mixture and stuff 1 to 2 tsp of the fig mixture in the middle. Shape into a round patty. 
3. Heat oil in a nonstick pan and gently slide the kebabs and fry until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a serving plate. 
4. Stuff the kebabs in samosa patty/spring roll patty and fold into triangle shape. Seal the edges. Dust a baking tray and arrange the samosas. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degree C until cooked from both the sides.  
Baked Oondhiyo

For The Green Chutney
3/4 cup chopped coriander (dhania)
4 green chillies
1 tsp lemon juice
For The Garlic Chutney
10 garlic cloves
2 tsp chilli powder
For The Sweet and Sour Sauce

3/4 cup jaggery (gur)
1/2 cup tamarind (imli)
1/2 tsp chilli
salt to taste
Other Ingredients
750 gms surti papdi (fresh vaal)
500 gms purple yam (kand)
250 gms potatoes
250 gms sweet potato
2 to 3 brinjal
1 tsp carom seeds (ajwain)
1 tsp ginger - green chilli paste
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 to 2 tbsp oil
lettuce leaves
salt to taste
Green chutney, garlic chutney, sweet and sour sauce, sev and oil (optional) to serve
1. For the green chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidiser. Keep aside.
2. For the garlic chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidizer. Keep aside.
3. For the sweet and sour sauce, blend all the ingredients except coriander in a liquidizer. If too thick, add enough water to get the right consistency. Keep aside.
4. String the papadi. Do not separate into two. Peel the kand and cut into big pieces.
Cut the potatoes and sweet potatoes without peeling. Make slits on the brinjals.
5. Mix all the vegetables. Apply the ajwain, chilli-ginger paste, soda bi-carb and salt. Mix thoroughly and apply the oil all over. 

6. In a small earthen pot (matka), put a few leaves of lettuce at the bottom. Fill with all the vegetables and cover with the remaining lettuce leaves. Cover the matka with an earthen lid and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree F) for 1 hour. 
Alternatively, instead of cooking in a matka, wrap the vegetable mixture (without lettuce leaves) in aluminium foil and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree f) for 1 hour. 
Serve with green and garlic chutneys and sweet and sour sauce, oil and sev.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Chili history

            One of the many stories that Indians refuse to believe is the one of the chili and its origins. Its unfathomable as a layman to believe that Chilies are not Indian and are less than 300 years old! Well, true story and here it goes... India being their trading partner, the Europeans had used black pepper as a medicinal aid and to spice up their cooking since Greek and Roman times. 

              By the Middle Ages, black pepper had become a luxury item, sold by the corn and used to pay taxes. Traders looked for new ways to India and the lands beyond — not just for pepper but for other lucrative spices, and for silks and opium. Columbus did not find India and black pepper, but he found a fiery pod that would, within years, not only infuse Southern European cooking with bold new flavors but also revolutionize cooking in India. 
            The remarkable spread of the chili is a glorious chapter in the story of globalization. Few other foods have been taken up by so many people in so many places so quickly. Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum, family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. Only five of Capsicum's 25 species have been cultivated, and in South America, where most of the world's wild chilies are still found. The Europeans didn't immediately fall for the chili, they did become its greatest propagator. Portuguese traders carried it to settlements and nascent colonies in West Africa, in India and around East Asia. 
             Within 30 years of Columbus' first journey, at least three different types of chili plants were growing in the Portuguese enclave of Goa, on India's west coast. The chilies, which probably came from Brazil via Lisbon, quickly spread through the subcontinent, where they were used instead of black pepper. Yet its amazing how India took to Chilies and used them for all possible aspects, colour, texture flavor and spice. Today if there is one common thread other than cricket and Bollywood that binds the country together it's the "Mirch". The often taken for granted chilly is here and here to stay, a perfect example of globalization even before the word made it to the modern day lingo....