Monday, February 18, 2019

Of Jamuns and Jambudweep!

Summer and Monsoons bring back several fond memories for me, one that stands out, is Jamun season. Munching on the salted tangy fruits on the way back home from school, stained shirts, chewing on the jamuns till the piths were bare and comparing purple coloured tongues would be, I am sure, childhood memories many of us share.

Jamun, Black plum or Jambu Phalinda (Sanskrit) is native to the Indian subcontinent. Our Puranas mention the division of the seven continents in which the Indian subcontinent is referred to as “Jambudweep” or the island of Jambu/Jamun trees.
Hindu and Buddhist texts place Jamun trees at the centre of the Universe. Hindu mythology places it as the favourite fruit of Lord Krishna, making it a popular buy during Janmashtami. It’s also (or at least used to be) typical of Lutyen’s Delhi.

Jamun is the first fruit of the monsoon season. The trees grow well in a broad range of soils, can grow up to 30 metres in height and live up to 100 years. Ibn Battuta, the famed traveler mentions the trees in his travelogue too, Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354.

Jamun has immense value in the Ayurveda and Unani systems of medicine. The fruit, is a great source of iron and Vitamin C and known to treat ailments of the heart and liver. It’s also used to treat stomach disorders and its seeds are of special use for keeping blood sugar in control. Jamun is also a popular source for making wine and vinegar.

Adding salt to the jamuns is another stellar example of contrast in flavours, something that I believe, Indian cuisine excels at, at every level. Salt beautifully balances the astringency of the Jamuns and assists in the hydration process as well.

In this day and age where we are obsessed with superfoods and exotic berries, go ahead and bite into some Purple magic – for nostalgia and good health..

Kebabs - the journey and beyond

As a true blue Lucknowite and a chef, a familiar query or point of conversation that I inevitably attract is about Biryanis and Kebabs.

Given, my heart will always beat a little extra for the Lucknowi Biryani, but let’s save that spicy conversation for another day. Let’s talk about Kebabs today.
A gift from Turkey & Persia, Kebabs made their way through via the Silk route & what happened next was what we do best. A marriage of flavours, spices & techniques to make this dish a ubiquitous part of our cuisine.
Pic credit: Stock Secrets
Mentions of Kebab-style cooking of meat however, go as far back as the Mahabharata era. Where the pre-Mughal kebab was more about marination & open grill cooking, basically more rustic in nature, the Mughal culinarians evolved it into a delicacy, enhancing them with spices, dry fruits & cooking techniques.
Kebabs don’t just come with variations, they come with interesting foodfables! 
For instance, the Galouti or Galawat ke Kebab, a labour of love from the legendary Haji Murad Ali for the toothless Nawab, is synonymous with Lucknow’s kebab tradition, to the point of becoming a must-do on your itinerary. There are many more that deserve equal mention and respect. Let's talk about a couple of them close to my heart..
Kakori has its own claim to fame. Nawab Syed Mohammad Haider Kazmi’s chefs were instructed to make the seekh texture as fine as they could to counter a snide remark from a British guest. After much research and toiling the Kakori Kebab was born. The secret to the softness being the Maliabali Mangoes used to tenderize the meat. 
There’s another kebab which is always on my personal favourite list, the Dorra. A delicate kebab from Rampur with nearly a 200-year old recipe, its flavours stand out from the use of smoked meat, rare & exquisite spices and being cooked on a silken thread dabbed with sandalwood oil. The trick here is to cook without burning the silk thread & gently pull it off with a single tug before serving..
Aren't food stories the true spice of any dish?

The Pilgrimage - Antinori family

The Antinori family is truly the first family Of Italian wine legacy. Having started in 1385 as a family business this family has seen it all over the last almost 30 generations. 

The birthplace of Chianti Classico Tuscan wines and winemaking owe a lot to the Antinoris. For the creators of Tignanello, which revolutionised wine making in Tuscany, to create a much hailed category Super Tuscan, a feat went a long way in bringing Italian wines back on the world map. 
Two traits of the family absolutely inspire me, perseverence and courage. Perseverance because they have seen it all, the wars the floods and the famines and yet stood the test of time making them timeless, just like the wine they produce.
Courage because they were the first to defy norms and blend the sacred Sangiovese with non traditional grape varieties and age wine in small oak casks with almost no white grapes in the blend. 
The cellars are set under a mountain estate and are a true trip back in time. Must do in Tuscany. But book in advance as tours are booked weeks ahead. Or you could try pleading and cajoling (like I did) and get in ;)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dadima No Varso (Guest blog by Rushina)

Indian Grains Month, a campaign that ran whole of October on my social media channels, has been a small step towards increasing awareness and encouraging people to reroute their culinary preferences to what's good and inculcate more millets into their diet.
Sharing more thoughts on the same, Rushina Ghildiyal happily agreed to contribute her thoughts on her experience with indigenous grains. A friend, mentor and co-foodie, Rushina has been my partner in crime in many a culinary ventures. She's one of the pioneer bloggers of our country and blogs at

Rushina's passion for discovering and rediscovering heirloom recipes and tracing their roots shows in her work. Here's her write-up on her brush with Barnyard Millet...

DADIMA NO VARSO (Grandmother's Legacy)
Guest blog by Rushina Ghildiyal

            As a child I remember looking forward to days when my Grandmother observed fasts. Unaware of the religious connotations of her fasting, my only focus was what she ate when she sat apart from everyone for her one Ekadashi meal of the day. And eagerly waiting for leftovers! Because they were far more alluring than the usual daily fare of RDBS (or roti, dal, bhaat, subzi).  I think at some point she figured this out, because the leftovers doubled in quantity! The dish that had my attention? Ghensh, a savoury porridge like dish made of a millet, also called Moriyo in Gujarati.

    I remember watching our Maharaj make Moriyo (before he started cooking the rest of the meal for the family) on those days. A small kadhai would go onto the gas. In would go some ghee. When it was hot, cumin would be added, furiously crackling as the kitchen filled with that magic aroma of spices and fat coming together. Green chilli would go in next, spluttering as it let of its fire. But soon, buttermilk (or a thin yogurt solution) followed, cooling, gentling the spices and settling things to a slow simmer. The Moriyo and potatoes would be added, and the whole slow cooked till the grains were turgid and the potatoes tender and moreish having absorbed the green chilli laced sourness of the yoghurt. As I write I remember the distinct spicy lactic sourness, a flavour profile that was unforgettable!

So, imagine my surprise to find it again, years later, in Garhwal as Paleu made by my husband’s Nani. A dish of Jhangora cooked in buttermilk or yogurt in an iron kadhai and eaten as either a sweet porridge with sugar or a savoury one with Hara namak (a flavoured condiment made by pounding green garlic with salt and green chillies). The composition was a little different, but the flavours were almost the same!

But a bit of research and connecting of dots and it was not so surprising. Moriyo and Jhangora are both strains of a millet species collectively called Genus Echinochloa, commonly named Barnyard millet, a species that has been part of the traditional Indian diet for centuries! Millets are mentioned in some of the oldest surviving Yajur veda texts and the consumption of Barnyard millet, (called Aanava at the time), goes as far back as around 4500 BC. Its use spread with the dissemination of Indian cuisine and is today used across the country, and came to be known by many local names. From Samvat Ke Chaval in Hindi and Jhangora in Garhwali, to Vari Che Tandul, Varai or Baghar in Marathi and Samo or Morioyo in Gujarati, to Kodisama in Telugu and Kudirai Vali in Tamil.
Although traditionally consumed as a regular part of the daily diet in many regional cuisines, today 
these tiny round grains are predominantly associated with fasting meals. During fasts, tradition calls 
for consumption of a limited selection of ingredients, of which Barnyard millet is one that is allowed
and therefore used as a substitute for rice in rice-based dishes since it is a traditionally foraged food 
that is easily digestible. The fact that it has low GI has also seen it being adapted as a diabetic friendly food.

But here’s the thing. Barnyard Millet should not be relegated to fasting days and special diets! 
We should all be eating more of it and other ingredients, like our Grandmothers. 
Millets have been the major staple food our diets for centuries. In fact, until as recently as 50 years
ago, they were a major grain grown by us, and an integral ingredient in our local food cultures. 
The Green Revolution and the promotion of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat during the 1970s and a growth in prosperity brought aspirations cause millets to be perceived as “coarse grains” that did not fit into more sophisticated diets, causing them to be displaced from food basket.
Which is ironic, because it is its “coarseness’ that makes it good for us! 
With a ‘sophisticated’ flattened diet that consumes just rice and wheat, and a handful of supermarket shelf vegetables, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are losing out on something extremely valuable. Our food diversity. And the critically important, richly varied, nutrients that the diverse diet of our ancestors provided.
Because while we focused on what Barnyard millet does not have, we forgot what it DOES have. A 100 gm of barnyard millet contain 11.9 gm of moisture, 6.2 gm of protein, 2.2 gm of fat, 4.4 gm of minerals (one of the highest value among grains), 9.8 gm of crude fibre, 65.5gm of carbohydrates, 20 mg of calcium, 5 mg of iron and a high level of phosphorus at 280 mg. That’s a lot of really good stuff we are missing out on! My Grandmother and yours would agree!