Khoka, one of the wonders of Khejri tree

During our summer vacations in Jaiselmer, we kids munched on these Khokha pods and spit its seeds aside. It was something that was done while playing or talking to the cousins. It requires no cooking or washing. Khoka is mostly sweet in taste but not overtly sweet. When the Leeli Sangri (the green pods) grow up on the Khejri tree, they become stiff in texture (when not plucked from the tree) and are called Khoka.

When a bag of Khoka is kept in a room, its sweet fragrance takes over so much so that you can almost find it difficult to bear; but not me! I love it! My Nani got this bag full of Khoka for her eldest son, Deenu (one of my dear Mamas).

The nearby deserts of Jaiselmer enjoy the goodness of Khejri tree; each stage of the tree gives back to its caring keepers. No wonder people worshipped trees back then. And for someone living in the desert, each tree mattered so much!

It’s her day

My blog is all about my mother; it’s my personal journal where I save my mother’s recipes. When I got married into a different community and in a different state, I started to notice the difference and valued Marwari food, especially my mum’s hand-cooked food even more. She never gave us stale or leftover food; she knows how to cook a meal in 15 mins and we have always had freshly made food on our plates. Food trends never mattered for her, but native grains did. In spite of having three kids, mum managed the kitchen extremely well. Abundance, that’s what her kitchen is all about. Abundance of food to feed the family, nearby animals and birds and the underprivileged. Even when we did face a financial crunch, mum never let us feel that we have less; our platter was always full with healthy and flavourful food. One thing I have inherited from her is her love to feed the family and friends without praising herself. Good food is meant to feed souls not your ego; and she is the one who taught me this. For my mother and I, it’s not about how perfect the food is but how we can share with more people around us. I hope I succeed in my endeavour to save all her recipes through my blog; it might take years, but I hope I do my best. Can I cook like her? Not in this lifetime, but I will keep trying till I breathe my last. And so, today, I want to wish all the mothers of the universe, on earth and in heaven, a happy Mother’s Day! A mother’s magic never ends even if she is far away amidst the stars or just a feet away.

Eat like a local in Indore

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Welcome to Indore, the city that is often rated as one of the happiest cities of the country in newspapers. And why not? The city’s light-hearted people, vibrant food culture and slow life makes it a fun place to live and enjoy life. But for me, the highlight has always been its historic yet constantly evolving food scene. Local food here will not just win your heart, but please your taste buds, enrich your soul (hell, yes!) and leave a mark on your mind.

I wanted to revisit the busy lanes and tiny food stalls that I explored as a teenager, when I visited the city a few months ago. After attending a family function,  I had three days on my own. In spite of wasting a day visiting the loo (I surely had an upset tummy), I was geared up to hit the local food bazaars with my cousins.

First up, we had Poha and Jalebi from a nearby food stall that we have in Gumasta nagar. Later, we reserved our morning routine for the spiritual deities. We went to Khajrana Ganesh temple; fresh flowers, coconut and a box of sweets in my hand. It is said that people often come here to fulfil their wishes. And I had a small list to be taken care of, too.

My cousin had a little fight with a tempo wallah while driving on the road, and the way they were exchanging words angrily! Sweet! Indoris are too sweet to make a fight look ugly. Whereas in our Gurugram, even a gaze from another car driver gives me shivers. Okay, I didn’t say it.

So, it was me and the chilling weather of February and a lot of leg-pulling and giggles coming from my cousins when we went out to enjoy the food of Indore. I was their guest, and my cousins did a fairly great job as food guides.

Also, I would like to mention that Indore has come to be a pretty clean city. They have their segregated trash system in place, and you will hardly see any plastic trash in the city. In fact, no store is allowed to sell stuff in plastic bags. Even the most crowded of the food bazaars had big dustbins kept in front of their food stalls. The city has actually gone a lot cleaner, and that’s commendable.

And, so, here I bring to you, a round-up of the places I went to eat (it’s a serious business, I tell you!). Try not to let the hunger pangs hit you. My good wishes are with you! Also, I might have missed many, many places… but probably that’s why I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Indore in the beautiful state of Madhya Pradesh!

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Shreemaya Celebrity

Who doesn’t like to have lunch at a cosy bakery that serves delicious food and freshly baked goodies? We had a South-Indian meal, and it matched our expectations! This bakery (we went to the one at RNT Marg) has an old-world charm, and it was so good to see people selling cookies with a humble smile. I loved the vibe of this place. Before stepping out, however, I bought a few boxes of cookies for my husband. In my bag were Jeera cookies, Nan Khatai, Butter Atta, and Honey Oats cookies. The honey and oats cookies sold on the counter was the best. I was especially surprised to see the prices; coming from Gurugram had its advantages.

Joshi Dahi Bada House

This old food stall in Sarafa market offers a quick respite for people who’re busy shopping for real/artificial jewellery and silver items in this busy lane. I got to taste Bhutte ka kees, which almost melted in my mouth. And then came up the Kachoris; yum! Mind you, these busy food stalls are not meant to be fancy, so don’t expect immaculate and perfumed tables, if you know what I mean.

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Khopra Pattie

Vijay Chat

After shopping in Rajwada, we were too hungry to catch an auto and head home. My cousin quickly took me to a place nearby. I could read a huge board of Vijay Chat. My cousin Sonu and aunt Shobha (whom I call badi ma) promised me that I will love the Khopra Patties, and surely I did! The hot patties laden with spices, grated coconut and crumbly potato was a win-win! Ignore the crowd when here. Frankly, it was too good to be back in these busy lanes; I didn’t miss my swanky food hubs of Gurugram! I promise!

Rasgulla House

All right. So after visiting temples and spending hours shopping at Rajwada, we finally went to the Rasgulla House (at Gita Bhawan Square) before heading home. At first, I really didn’t understand the fuss about it. I mean, I like Rasgullas, but I can hardly eat more than one. What would be so great about this place, I questioned myself. It was almost evening, and there was hardly any rush at this shop. I could only see old people work here (it’s their family business, said my cousin), and was dumbstruck by the calm I felt here. The magic happened when the old uncle simply served some Rasgullas in a steel dish, and I took a bite into the utterly soft Rasgullas and couldn’t control myself from eating too much! I had 4 to 5 Rasgullas at one go, and oh boy! I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, come what may! You see, this is the charm of the oldest food stalls here that believe in serving good, authentic food, nothing more. These Rasgullas top my list of my favourite food items of Indore, and my aunt gave me a big box back to Gurugram as well. My cousin had a few Rasgullas almost every day when she was pregnant, and I was just not surprised. Have it and you’ll experience heaven on earth. Enough said.

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Chappan

As a teenager, I remember coming to the Chappan Dukan (where they say originally stood 56 food shops), late in the night, and during our busy afternoon outings, relishing various kinds of Maggi noodles, Sabudana Tikkis, Flavoured milk shakes, and much more! This time around, I had Cheese Dabeli, Twisted Potato Rings and a few other things (seriously, I don’t remember the names!). Before going back, I made sure to have some Cholia or Hoole (young green chickpeas) that were roasted and flavoured with hot charcoal and salt. Food hawkers like this become a part of your food memories. My brother has spent seven wonderful years in Indore, and he loves Johnny’s hot dogs (you cannot eat just one!), Dal Bafla (Shree Prathvilok’s), FYI’s awesome Maggi noodles (it has a creative menu that will get in a laughing riot), etc.

Sarafa

It was my last night here in Indore, and we cousins had to include Sarafa to make my trip all the more fun! Where should I even begin? We parked our cars, and it was almost midnight. And we started with Fafda chat. Next up was Sabudana Khichdi. Then, Garadu (fried yam; a winter food speciality). Next, it was Biryani. And we couldn’t stop eating whatever the vibrant bazaar had to offer us! You know, this bazaar is actually a jewellery market that converts into a food bazaar in the night. People of all ages come here and enjoy the food to the fullest! And for us, the winter chill added all the more fun!

Om Sweets

My aunt was too sweet to leave me without any food items in my luggage bag; she took me to Om Sweets, and it was almost the last food shop I went to. There were hundreds of snack/namkeen samplers kept on its counters, and I being indecisive, it was tough to select what I like. I anyhow managed to pick up a few snacks that included Fariyali snacks too (for those fasting days).

I missed out on a hell lot of things, but thanks to my upset tummy, my cousins had to spare me from going overboard. Can’t wait for my next trip! Also, try not to rate every item that you taste here. When the food critic gets in you, can hardly let the flavours do its trick.

Indore is all about its street food that is historic in its own way, and the people here surely value them too, along with the new restaurants that have come up. For instance, tiny sweet shops like Sawariya Sweets that sell pure ghee sweets like the Kesariya Peda (has natural food colour in it) that may be highly priced but is totally worth it. My cousin Khushbu loves it because of its natural ingredients like milk and saffron. These are a few of the things that you can take home, and also Jeeravan powder for that matter. Sprinkle this masala on poha or khichdi, and enjoy the flavour of Indore!

PS. While flying back to Delhi, I had two jute/cotton bags full of food items. You can understand my plight.

The curse of an anxious mind

I never knew my life in my 30s would be like this. I mean, I’m happy to have an extra supportive family and ever so lovely husband, but if you look closer at me, I have really lost it all. The dreams, the rebelliousness, the constant riots of laughter… all seem to be lost. And here’s what has actually taken a toll on me: anxiety.

Living alone with my husband in a different city, having no great work at hand, and no friends with whom I can have a heart-to-heart, or share a few weird habits like listening to rock music, cribbing about life, etc. has shaped my personality to what has it is today. I don’t even want to look into the mirror. I only see hopelessness, so much so that my attitude towards life has gone down. I can never be able to see the glass half-full. It’s all empty for me. And I really don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s what. And it would be safe to say that I need to find help, think positive and let go of the depressed thoughts that rule my mind.

What’s going to happen next? Will there be anything good for me? Will I fall in love with the city I live in? Will I ever be able to do what I want to do in life? Learning to dance, singing my heart out, being in touch with the magazine world, and creating beautiful memories with friends… can I even see these things happening to me ever again? Will the people around me like me? Can I have a happy home that I’m not running away from? May be yes. May be no.

I tried a few things to get over with over-thinking and to divert my mind, but really, nothing seems to work. It’s all bogus for me. The art classes, the heaps of books and the YouTube videos of awesome people… nothing seems to inspire me.

I’m at my mother’s place these days, and I can say, the people whom I know since decades cannot understand what’s wrong with me. Why is she so negative in life? Where has her spark gone? She has become so dull. These are the things I can hear around me in spite of no one telling me anything. And I agree with their reactions. I have lost all my confidence. The happy smile that I proudly used to put on my face is gone. Life seems to be stuck in a muddy place.

But I also think I should see what’s with me and record my thoughts. And I don’t want to stop writing, come what may. Dying with unaccomplished dreams is easy, hoping for good things in life is tough, and may be I need to be at it. Need to find some calm back in life. And live with a mind that’s alive!

Because things could be worse.

Anyway.

As I said, I’m at my mother’s place these days. And today, I tried to make some Thecha. A green chilli chutney (kind of) that is commonly made in Marathi households. It was my first time, and it didn’t turned out to be good, just edible if I may say.

If you’re into spicy food, do try it. But let me tell you that it has a strong taste of groundnuts also, which you might like or not. I’m okay with it. Actually the first time I tried Thecha was at Grant Road, Mumbai. I was at a fashion shoot, and my editor made me taste it. She had ordered it from somewhere in the area. I was really hesitant to try it, but I absolutely loved it. Till now, I haven’t yet tasted the same Thecha but many other versions of it. These versions have almost failed in my eyes. And this one, was edible, that’s it.

Here’s what went wrong. I asked my sister-in-law to grind it into a fine paste in the grinding jar. You need to hand-pound the green chillies for an authentic flavour. The chillies should overpower it; in my case today, the lemon juice took the focus. And the groundnuts should only add a texture; too much of it can also take from the chutney. Do you have it in you to try it and nail it? Let me know how it goes.

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Recipe: Thecha

This recipe was given to me by a former magazine editor I worked with a few years back. Her name is Archana Pai Kulkukarni, and I’m thankful to her for a many things, and of course, this. She didn’t mention cumin seeds, though; I just added it.

Ingredients

¾ cup – roughly chopped green chillies (the medium-spicy one)
a little less than ¼ cup – roasted groundnuts (with no skin)
1 tsp – lemon juice
a few sprigs of coriander leaves
salt to taste
a pinch of cumin seeds (optional)
1 tsp – oil
¼ cup – garlic flakes

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Method

1. On a hot griddle (tawa), roast the roughly chopped green chillies, groundnuts, a few sprigs of coriander leaves and garlic flakes with some a hint of oil. In about 12 to 15 minutes, after you’ve kept roasting the mixture, turn the flame off. Let it cool in a plate.
2. Now, in a mortar and pestle, add in the ingredients you just roasted with some salt, lemon juice, and some more coriander leaves. Serve with hot Bhakhri rotis (as my editor recommended; we might not work together anymore, but she will always be my editor).

Dolly hates yogurt

Just like any other family, even we were excited to welcome a new member into the family. You know, you think of all the beautiful moments you are going to spend with the newbie relative of yours. My younger brother’s fiancée was visiting us on one of the occasions. And just when she was about to leave, we started talking about food, and I accidently asked her, “So you do like Raita, right? You know, for us, it’s like a staple food.” She looked down and shyly admitted, “No, actually I hate yogurt.” My mum laughed and didncourse’t react. In fact, none of us did. Of , she must be joking!

After getting married, it was one of her early days at home. Our excitement levels still very high. I and Dolly were having thepla and soon, I called for a bowl of dahi (fresh yogurt). She immediately got up and brought a new plate for herself. “Hey, what happened?” I asked coolly, without realising my mistake. “I told you, di, I don’t like yogurt,” she said, with a big smile. “You got to be joking, bhabhi! We love yogurt! It’s like out staple food. We can have our roti with it and call it a meal. Okay, fine, come back, and eat with me. I will keep this bowl of yogurt at my side,” I tried to make up. “I don’t even like it in my plate, di,” she said. Oh. My. God. Is she kidding me? How will this work? What is going to happen in future? She really can’t hate yogurt, I thought to myself.

But, it was true. Dolly hates yogurt. There followed endless ‘eating’ occasions when without knowing I kept asking for yogurt, and the poor thing had to unhear or overlook what I did to her. It used to occur to me pretty late. I just couldn’t fix it in my memory.

Some time back, she visited us in Gurugram, and we took her to Cyber hub, a posh locality where there are endless swanky restaurants. It was me, my husband and Dolly. We decided to take her to Farzi Café, as the Indian dishes there have a twist and it’s such a thrill to bring someone new with us to taste it.

I was busy over the phone, and it was so urgent that I had to walk out of the restaurant. After I came back to our table, I saw my husband sitting idle. “What’s wrong? Where’s Dolly?” I questioned him. “She went to the loo,” he said. “Why. Is everything all right?” I beamed. “Actually, I really didn’t know that the complimentary starter that these guys give is made of yogurt. And I offered her, and she almost puked,” said my husband, in a low, soft voice, almost regrettably. “Oh my God! Yes! Mishti Doi, the Bengali sweet, is made of yogurt! How could you forget that Dolly hates yogurt?” I replied to him back, almost breathless. “I’m sorry. I just forgot about it,” said the husband. “No. It’s okay. It’s really hard to remember it all the time. May be we should fix it in our memory as soon as possible.”

And there she was, donning a big smile. “I’m really sorry you had to eat the yogurt! Did you really puke?” I asked Dolly, all concerned. “Oh, di! It’s all right. I realised it after eating it. It was served very differently, looked like an eye ball. And I do hate yogurt, di. They say, when my mother was carrying me, she ate yogurt so much so that I hated it since childhood. I have never had yogurt. Never liked it. And I can’t help it,” confessed Dolly.

I almost felt sad about the situation. Here was the reason why she hates yogurt, and Raita, and yogurt ice-cream and buttermilk and almost everything that’s made with yogurt.

As they say, acceptance is key. And just like how I hate to eat a few things (count donuts, waffles, pancakes and all sweet-laden junk food items) even this girl hates a few things. And that’s the reality.

You see, every new family member brings different things to the table. And it’s up to us, how we accept it.

But sometimes I can’t help but wonder, does she really hate yogurt?

Standing in the queue

I paint my dreams auburn, when I know they’ll never come true, when I know they’ll be broken again.

Sometimes, I just feel life is about sailing by.

But if you live a slow death, yes, there can be such times, you need to look at the other side of life.

Look into the mirror, see those freckles and eye circles, the strands of white hair that act like a crown on your head, that chapped smile and hopeless eyes.

And force a smile. May be, just for one more instance, pray, saying that this time, God will paint your dream pink and make it true.

Morning mantra

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In today’s day and age, we have access to huge streams of knowledge that pours in from all social media pages, mobile apps and informative websites. Still, it remains a challenge when it comes to eating healthy. Let’s accept it, implementing a nourishing diet on a daily basis can be daunting, and one might feel the urge to remove the packet of noodles or ready-to-eat food item so that you can bring some kind of food to the table on time. Distraction is easy, but remaining attentive can be tough. Have a mother at home who likes to feed you good food? In that case, I envy you. As I and my husband have to depend on each other for this.

So, recently, I have begun keeping my breakfast the healthiest meal of the day. It’s usually multigrain rotis (I mix around five to six flours like jowar, bajra, chana, makki and wheat flour) that we have with curd and pickle. Multigrain rotis are filled with fibre and can also help those who have constipation.

During our breakfast time, we also like to have a fruit or two like banana, kiwi, pomegranate or chikoo (in season now), and a handful of soaked nuts like walnuts, raisins, almonds and figs. We finish off our breakfast with a glass of milk.

When I’m too lazy to cook, we like to have a banana with milk as our mini morning meal. During summers, it can be a filling smoothie comprising soaked nuts, seeds, banana, peanut butter and cocoa powder.

Also, before stepping out for work, my husband grabs a spoonful of pumpkin or flax seeds. I keep munching on them and on some salted watermelon seeds (we call it coolie in our language) that my mum keeps sending me.

Some days, I like to make stuffed Parathas (options like grated cottage cheese with onions, boiled potato masala, cooked radish or cauliflower, or some boiled and mashed green peas) and serve it with fresh curd and a tsp of lemon pickle. On other days, it’s Poha, Upma or even Dalia.

Also, a bowl of fresh, homemade curd is a must for me! I like to have it plain. Curd has good bacteria, and it is good for your gut health as well. Also, if you’re recovering from an illness or feel low in energy, a glass of coconut water can help too. I had it this morning myself. Usually, I struggle to finish off my fruits in the morning, but then, I have them during the day.

Today, I had a few veggies in the fridge, like half tomato, a small piece of beetroot and carrot, and a bowl of frozen green peas. So, I thought, why not make some vegetable Dalia and use the leftover veggies that can go ignored soon? Frankly, it’s rarely that I make Dalia, but I keep reminding myself of the resolution I took up this year: finishing off what I have in my kitchen pantry. And a jar of Dalia was stuck in one of the shelves since ages. So, it will be best if I finish it soon.

My recipe of vegetable Dalia is inspired by Pramila’s Cook Book, a YouTube channel that I follow for Rajasthani recipes. Pramila, who seems to be based in Jodhpur, is too good, and she deserves more followers than she already has. Do check out her channel if you like Rajasthani cuisine. This is my version of the vegetable Dalia and you can give it a twist with whatever is available on hand.

Having said all this, there are days when we go off track and end up forgetting the nuts or a fruit. But we should keep striving for a healthy diet, as much as we can, right? What did you have for breakfast today?

Recipe: Vegetable Dalia

Ingredients

¾ cup – Dalia or broken wheat (Pramila suggested toasting dalia before soaking it for an hour)
veggies of your choice – I used chopped onions, finely chopped carrots, a handful of frozen peas, half a tomato and half beetroot.
curry leaves (optional)
ghee
salt to taste
spices (½ tsp each – turmeric, coriander powder, red chilli powder)
2 tbsp – split green mung dal (soaked for an hour)
a pinch of asafoetida
¼ tsp – cumin seeds
coriander leaves – for ganish
½ tsp – ginger (crushed)
1 green chilli (chopped)

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Method

1. In a cooker, heat some ghee. Add the asafoetida and cumin seeds. Let this crackle and give it a quick stir.
2. Next, add in the curry leaves, ginger, green chilli and onion. Give it a mix. After about a minute, add in the other veggies as well. Now, keep tossing it or stirring it every 20 seconds or so.
3. After about 2-3 minutes, add in the soaked Dalia (make sure you wash it thrice), split green dal, salt and spices. Give it a mix and keep roasting it for another minute.
4. Now, add in some water. I like to cover the Dalia so much so that I can see one and a half inch of water. Now, give it five to six whistles.