Chai Masala

This spice mixture is the holy grail for me, when it comes to my teas or Dhoodh Chai (a traditional drink that has a combination of tea and milk). How you like your tea is matter of habit, more than anything.

At my in-laws’ place, most of the people like the basic tea which has tea, milk, water and sugar. The milk-water ratio is 50:50 for them. But, at my mother’s side, the teas are loaded with this masala. A normal person will start getting hiccups if you take a few sips of my mother’s tea. And the milk-water ratio is 30:70–so it’s thin in consistency and darkish brown in colour. We don’t drink our tea in China cups but in small steel tumblers and steel plates (that resemble saucers).

Usually, mum gives me this masala so that I’m always stocked with it. When my mum visits me, she would expect me to have some fresh ginger for her teas; or, chances are there, she might carry a large piece in her bag. Ginger and chai masala is a must in her tea. And gradually, I have noticed that I can’t do without it too. Just the ratio can be different.

Recipe: My mother’s Chai Masala

Ingredients: 10-15 gm cardamom pods, 20-25 cloves, 50 gm black pepper, 1 piece of nutmeg (jaiphal), 1 piece of dry ginger or saunth or 3 gm ginger powder (the size of the nutmeg and the dry ginger should be almost the same).

Method: Chop the nutmeg into pieces and then put it in the grinding jar. Add all the whole spices in and churn till you can get a coarse powder out of it. Store it in a clean container. I like to add 2 to 3 pinches of this masala in two cups of tea.

Delhi-style Matar Chola (with Kulcha)

It was yesterday when I and my husband were going about in the car with our kid to buy something, and I ended up watching these food carts selling Chola Kulcha. At one particular cart, I saw a school girl waiting for her turn, and the food seller was busy mixing his matar chola with some fresh veggies; the aroma was something that I could notice while sitting in the car. Now, given the current situation, we try not to indulge in roadside or restaurant food. And I knew I had to make it at home, come what may. So, late in the evening, we went to buy some white matar and kulcha for our Sunday lunch.

We have lived in Gurgaon for almost five years, and in our residential area, there was this famous Chola Kulcha guy by the name Pramod. There were always some SUVs parked near his food cart. For the nearby office people, this food cart was like a blessing. And it was the same for us. Every weekend, we tried to buy a plate of Chola Kulcha with a glass of buttermilk at his place. And with every plate, we became even more certain he makes it the best.

This is what you require to garnish your bowl of Matar Chola: ginger, green chilly (preferably a pickle), tomato, onion and lemon wedges. Pramod people also give their customers a salad that comprises beetroot, cucumber, carrot and onion–but I just went with the garnish.

Recipe: Matar Chola
Adaption from: Meenu Tomar’s Kitchen (thank God for her)

Ingredients:
White matar – 350 gms
Onions – 4 (two for the gravy, two for garnish)
Tomatoes – 4 (two for the gravy, two for garnish)
Green chillies – 2-4 (mild ones)
Ginger – 2 tsp finely chopped, 2 tbsp – sliced, length-wise
Lemon – 2 (juice of a lemon, and lemon wedges)
Spices:
Garam masala – ¾ tsp
Chola masala – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Rock salt – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Black pepper powder – ½ tsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Chat masala – 1 tsp
Raw mango powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp  
Other ingredients:
Tamarind chutney or tamarind water – ½ cup
Coriander leaves – ½ cup
For final garnish ingredients, refer to the image I shared above.

This is how the gravy looks, which has raw veggies and loads of spices in it.

Method:

  1. Soak the white matar overnight. Next morning, give it a boil in the pressure cooker. This will take a hell lot of time, so be patient. You can go for six whistles on low flame. When it comes to the quantity of water, I would say, make sure the matar is well-dipped in water. Then, you can add another cup, and it should be good.
  2. Once the matar is cooked, add in all the spices; ginger, green chillies, coriander leaves, tamarind water, etc. Keep a plate separate that includes all the stuff you need to garnish. Mix this well. Use a potato masher, mash a bit for a better consistency.
  3. Now, before serving, heat this mixture, and once hot, take a bowl of it in a plate. Add in the garnish materials as shown in the image: ginger, green chilly (you can use a homemade pickle as well), tomato and onion. Keep a lemon wedge in the plate as well.
  4. Serve this with roasted Kulchas.

Palak ka Saag

If you have your roots in the northern region of India, chances are high that you love your Saag. Now, usually, a Saag is made of mustard leaves, spinach and chinopodium album (that is sarson, palak and bathua in the local lingo). But as these are available in winters only, one can only dream of a saag during the hot summer days.

My mother-in-law loves her Saag. She is someone who would always be on time, and so, she’d spend her entire morning preparing for this, so that we can have this Saag at noon (and on time). So, this is her recipe; this is how she makes it. And I love it. Its rustic flavours are nourishing for your health. Have it with your whole-wheat/cornmeal/sorghum rotis/chapattis.

Ingredients:

One bunch of spinach, half glass water, 2 tbsp – gram flour (Besan), salt to taste, garlic cloves (three), ginger (1 tsp), 1 medium-sized onion, 2 small tomatoes, green chillies (two, if spicy), oil/butter for tempering, 1/4 tsp each of coriander and turmeric powder, two pinch – asafoetida, 1/2 tsp red chilly powder, a pinch of cumin seeds.

Method

1. Clean your spinach in water. Chop it roughly, including the stems. In a cooker, add in these leaves. Whisk one tbsp of gram flour in a small bowl and add it to this. Add in water and a bit of salt. Give it a whistle or two. And then, mash it with a potato masher. Some people prefer to grind it in a mixer. My MIL likes a coarse texture, so she avoids doing so.

2. Now, finely chop the garlic, green chillies, ginger, and onion. I used a vegetable chopper when I helped her prep. Keep it aside all together in a bowl. Then, finely chop the tomatoes and keep aside separately.

3. In a skillet, add in some oil. Then, add in the cumin, asafoetida, turmeric, and the onion, garlic, ginger and green chillies. Sauté till for two-three minutes, then, add in the tomatoes. Now, add in a bit more salt and the rest of the spices. Sauté for another five minutes.

4. Now, add in a tsp of gram flour and mix it really well. Whisk the gram flour paste beforehand if you want to, so that there are no lumps.

5. Lastly, add in the mashed spinach. Now, you don’t want too much liquid in your Saag, nor do you want it to be too dry. So keep mashing and stirring it, till you achieve the consistency. And voila!

Wild Melon Chutney

My mother-in-law makes this chutney and I loved it with parathas. It’s raw, and simple to execute. Shows how simple Haryanvi women like their food. Peel some wild melons, taste each (cut a slight portion) and make sure no melon is bitter. For this chutney, you can take 5-8 small wild melons. That’s the only hard work that you have to do.

Wild melon chutney has a fresh taste. It’s a bit citrusy but it’s still cooling like cucumbers. The onion in this recipe will give your chutney body, and you won’t stop eating it with parathas.

Ingredients:

Small wild melons (kachari) – 5-8; salt to taste; a medium-sized onion; green chilly – 1-2.

Method

In a grinding jar, add in all the ingredients. Make sure the melons are roughly chopped. Churn the mixture so that it has a coarse texture as shown in the image. Melon seeds are hard, so they won’t grind so easily, but you still have to be careful.

Jaisalmer’s Masala Pooris/चरकि/नमकीन पूड़ी

This is the best travel food in the world. And, something that is perfect for your busy mornings. Soft in texture, and full of flavour—masala pooris for me is pure love.

Ingredients and method:

One cup – whole wheat flour, 2-3 tbsps of gram flour (besan), two tsp – oil, salt to taste, 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of red chilli powder, 1/4 tsp each of turmeric powder, carom seeds (ajwain), cumin seeds and coriander powder. Mix the oil and the flour well, then add in the spices and knead the dough. We don’t need a tight dough, but preferably not loose too.

The best combination: mango pickle, fresh homemade curd and masala pooris.

Fry them in oil and have it with spices curd and mango pickle. You can make a batch and save it for later as well; the spices in it make it last more than a day. That means, it won’t go stale so soon.

Whole Wheat Brownie Cake

As you all know, I and my husband left our Mumbai home in March this year, and we plan to go whenever his office reopens. Which, clearly, doesn’t look like soon. Whenever I used to crave a food dessert in Mumbai, I hardly had to bake anything at home. There were too many options out there. But I can’t say the same for Rohtak, which is why, I make things myself.

I’m at my MIL’s kitchen these days, and there was something I couldn’t crack till now. Baking. As there’s no oven in the kitchen, most of my baking dreams don’t exist (as if my baking skills are at par). But recently, when my dear friend, Vaidehi Venkatraman, shared a brownie recipe with me, I saw a ray of hope. Her suggestions are almost always the best. And, so, I couldn’t skip this cake recipe without trying. Little did I imagine, it turned out to be one of the best cakes I have made.

Baking cannot change your life, but it can surely heal your woes and lessen your heartache. My story idea rejections were lending me too much of anxiety, you see. Coming back to this cake. Try out these simple yet drool-worthy brownies that I made without oven, and I guarantee you’ll be on cloud nine.

Recipe inspiration: My Terrace Kitchen

Ingredients:

Whole-wheat flour – 1 and a 1/2 cup, sugar (I used regular one) – 3/4 cup, Dutch processed cocoa powder (I recommend mild flavour by Indian Natives) – 1/2 cup, almonds and walnuts – 1/4 cup, Olive oil – 4 tbsps, Makhan (homemade butter) – 1/2 cup (this should be melted before use), Baking powder – 1/2 tsp, Baking soda – 1/4 tsp, Vanilla essence (didn’t have extract) – two drops, Milk – 3/4 to 1 cup

How to set your skillet/kadai for baking

Put a packet of salt (empty the entire packet) in the skillet and place a steel stand on it. Take the biggest skillet available in your kitchen and cover it with a lid. You need to preheat it for 5-8 minutes on medium flame.

Method

1. Roast the nuts and keep aside (or add salt and a tsp of water to it, let it rest for 15 minutes and roast well as suggest by the Terrace Kitchen in her YouTube video).

2. In a huge bowl, add in the dry ingredients. Mix it well with a whisker. Then, add in the oil and other liquid ingredients. Add milk for consistency, as per your liking. We are not looking at a runny batter or a really thick one. It should be somewhere between the two. Then add the nuts and keep some for garnish.

3. Now, place a butter paper (if you don’t have it, spread some ghee on a normal white piece of paper – as once suggested by Kabita’s Kitchen) or aluminium foil on your cake pan. Don’t ever forget this. Without this, there are high chances your brownie cake will stick on the vessel. Make sure it is filled with the batter upto 3/4 of its size only. Don’t fill the pan with too much cake batter, as you’ll be baking in the kadai and you’d want to avoid spillage.

4. Take some salt and put it in the kadai. Preheat it for 10 minutes, then, dump the cake pan on a steel stand and cover it well with a lid.

5. After ten minutes, put the flame from medium to low. I checked after 30 minutes and it was not done (pushed a knife in the middle of the cake). After another 10-15 minutes, the cake cooked perfectly and didn’t stick as well; thanks to the foil.

6. Pull the cake out with the help of the foil after 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Mukhwas/Seed mixture

For a person like me, who’s into mostly traditional food, having seeds can be a task. You may add seeds to your smoothie bowls and salads, or just have it in a trail mix pack. Wish I liked smoothie bowls. For me, Mukhwas is a quick fix when it comes to having seeds in my diet. But it’s rare that I make this mixture myself. Thanks to the unending lockdown, I found myself making some this week.

You can keep a small jar of this Mukhwas on your dining table, handbag (well, we’re no more commuting), or the bedside table. If you have it at home, I would call it a luxury.

A tsp of this roasted seed mixture is perfect after meals, as it helps in cleansing your palate and improves digestion as well.

We all know flax seeds has omega-3 in it, and it’s something that’s good for your heart. White sesame seeds have calcium in it, and fennel seeds are good for your gut and overall health. Let’s see how I made this Mukhwas, shall we?

Roasted seeds

Ingredients:

Flax seeds, white sesame seeds, fennel seeds, salt and lemons.

Method

1. In a plate, empty your raw flax seeds and sprinkle juice of half a lemon on it. Add a bit of salt as well. Mix well and keep aside.

2. In a similar way, take a separate plate for each seed content, and repeat the process for fennel and sesame seeds as well.

3. After a few hours, you will need to roast these seeds on a skillet/kadai. You will need to roast each seed variety separately. Flax seeds took the maximum time for me (25 minutes). Fennel took 15 and sesame seeds took around 20 minute of roasting. Keep tasting the seeds in between. You will need a good crunch for sure. Mind your tongue as you don’t want to burn it.

4. Once the roasting is done, keep adding the seeds in a plate. Let it cool for 10 minutes and empty it quickly in a air-tight container. I roasted my fennel seeds first. Added them in a jar. After that, I roasted my flax seeds and sesame seeds; let it cool down and mixed it all together in the same skillet as the last step.

Italian-style Beetroot Salad

I have always used beetroots in juices. Other than that, it has always gone overlooked in the fridge. But this salad is something that I can make not only at home but as a party appetiser too. I saw many versions of it, but this is something I did it to suit myself (according to my kitchen resources). Hope you like it as much as I did.

So, here’s how I made it. I finely sliced a fresh beetroot. Would recommend using a mandoline.

For the filling, I mixed fresh yogurt (although Greek yogurt would be great) and cottage cheese. I mixed three tbsp of yogurt with half a cup of mashed cottage cheese. Added salt and pepper for seasoning. Next up I added dried basil and mint leaves. Mint here made all the difference. I didn’t have fresh basil leaves, but that would take the taste a notch higher and closer to the true Italian flavours. Finished the filling with a drizzle of olive oil. Kept it in the fridge for later.

When I was ready to plate, I took my beetroot slices and arranged them on the plate. Now, if you have more time, you can marinate the slices in some kind of a vinegar but I only drizzled a few drops of lemon juice on it. Add in the filling on each slice; I found using my hands better here rather than a spoon.

For garnish, you can use any nuts and herb of your choice. I added crushed walnuts and mint leaves. And of course, a drizzle of olive oil. Again.

I can’t wait to try it again and share with my friends. But I guess, it will take a few more months or probably an year to get the party season started again.

Recipe inspiration: Pickle & Honey and The Peasful Vegan

25 Food Labels We Love {Part Two}

The magic of a handmade product is heartfelt for both the maker and the consumer. Truth be told, conscious buying means supporting the local people. Our effort of finding food labels that you can choose to set your kitchen pantry continues. Here is the list of seven such food labels (see Part One for the previous 11).

Zizira

Every piece of land offers a different taste and aroma. And as a food explorer, we must try what the other states have to offer. The spices grown in this part of India stands out for the similar reason. Established in 2015, Zizira is a passionate tale of saving local crops by reaching out a close network of farmers. Based in Meghalaya, the label and their dedicated team promise to bring forth chemical-free spices, exquisite teas, honey and more. They also offer a local turmeric variety that is pure and true to its original flavour, the all-natural and nourishing Lakadong turmeric. @zizira_explorers; Ph: 8119840256

Sue’s Homemade Preserves

Sue uses her naturally grown orchard goodies (located in Pauri, Uttarakhand) to handcraft food products that involve no chemicals or artificial flavours. Imagine a countryside table setting with the most delicious, seasonal, and fresh gourmet jars of plum preserve, grape jelly, tomato Kasaundi, Garhwali lime pickle and more—all from Sue’s hand-picked farm produce. Sue works with an undying passion to use traditional recipes with a twist of her own. Ph: 9958215553

Spirit of The Earth

At Spirit of the Earth, you can find heritage rice varieties from West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, and Bihar, all under one roof. Grown in the fields near the bank of river Kaveri in a village called Manjakkudi in Tamil Nadu, the artisanal rice harvested here come in different colours—red, white, brown, black. To know which one would suit your health, go to the website, read the benefits of each rice, and select the one that suits your concerns. For instance, I wanted a rice variety for my baby and zeroed in on the Navara, a native version of red rice. @spirit_of_the_earth_2017; Ph: 044-24987977

Ammiji’s

The last time I went to Amritsar, I saw the famous Papad Wadiyan being sold in the streets near the beautiful Golden Temple. Having missed buying those, it was a pleasant surprise to see someone who’s passionate about the local goodies and want them to reach people. Ammiji’s, a small food business that started out with the founder’s grandmother’s (who is nearing 90) Classic Chai Masala, now sells homemade pickles, chocolate caramel spread, Chyawanprash, Kaadha, Phaalsa berry sherbet and of course, Papad Wadiyan. Labels like these beautifully treasure traditional recipes. We totally needed this, especially during the lockdown times, didn’t we? Ph: 8287508020.

Gouri’s Goodies
Here’s a solution for your evening food cravings and pre-workout nutrition. Mumbai-based Gouri Gupta’s delectable creations are something you want to stock up on for a quick fix for your hunger pangs. Apart from cereal mixes, the label offers energy bars and ladoos that are made with the finest ingredients and contain no artificial flavours. Gouri’s website also has some healthy recipes that one can create at home. After all, healthy eating doesn’t mean compromising on taste. Ph: 9820645789

Hill Wild

Hello, chocolate lovers! Hill Wild offers chocolate variants like King Chilli, Plum, Black Rice, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Wild Apple that are made with naturally grown ingredients and come at nominal prices. Established in 2017, in Ukhrul district, Manipur, Hill Wild was founded by Leiyolan Vashum and Zeinorin Stephen, who boost their regional produce and hand-crafted techniques and create delightful chocolate bars. Try these chocolate beauties and include them in your gifting lists for this Rakhi. @hillwild; Ph: 8256968904

Naturally Yours

Founders Vinod Kumar and Priya Prakash established Naturally Yours, a decade ago in Mumbai, with a vision to enhance the lives of the local farmers and offer healthier pantry essentials. For us, their gluten-free pasta (red lentil, chickpea, quinoa) and healthy noodle varieties (multi-millet, red rice, buckwheat) stand out. These products do come with a high price tag, but if you are in for relishing junk food without any guilt, go ahead and eat clean. @naturallyyours6; Ph: 8767801982

Note: All pictures have been taken from the respective brands’ social media pages.

Notes from my diary

It was March end, when the curfew was supposed to hit the country. My husband and I did not prepare to leave Mumbai, but my mum was not listening. She wanted us to be with her come what may. I clearly remember the rush. I had stocked my kitchen with pantry essentials and so was the fridge. But all had to be given away. I stashed some basics in three bags for the three of us, my husband, myself and my 1.5-year-old baby. It was too hard to leave home, somehow. Looking at the plants, while shutting the balcony doors, it did hurt us that we are going to miss this space, but we thought it would be a matter of a month at the maximum.

COVID-19 is all about social distancing, so when we reached Surat, it was a different zone altogether. Life took a chill pill for weeks. My husband gave me a good shouting in a week’s time and asked me not to panic while meeting the building mates. They are risking their lives too by talking to you, so take it slow, he said to me. Ours is a three-decade old four-storied apartment. And our neighbours are almost like family. So, not meeting them would be a shame. At least, we had to greet each other.

The worrying soul in me about social distancing had to calm down a bit and let the lockdown period sail without anxiety. But I did have it a lot in me. Sleeping on my tummy did help. The whole thing about the future and people dying across the globe made me cry once every night. It was too difficult to imagine so many grandparents die in Italy. I could imagine them lying alone in their hospital beds and dying without seeing their families. It was sad to go to bed with these thoughts. And as the lockdown got extended again and again, I started questioning our sense of keeping hope. 

Writing wise, the lockdown period was great, as it pushed me a bit in terms of trying new things. I started interviewing chefs for my blog, but knowing that I have hardly any readers, it did feel sad. But I had to keep writing. Whatever ideas I pitched to editors went to trash I suppose, as I hardly got any replies from them. The blog was all I had with me. And I had to write something. 

Another thing that kind of got me upset was the fact that I was no more in my Mumbai kitchen. My ingredients were not there with me. I had to depend on my mother’s kitchen and her pantry. This thing was happening to me the second time. I mean, I was on bed rest for almost a year during my last pregnancy, so the lockdown thing didn’t feel like a burden. It was fine. But I did miss my freedom in the kitchen. I’m a mess of a cook. I hardly care for proportions, cleaning up the counters every five minutes and fearing new experiments. Which is why, within 10 days of staying at my mum’s, I had a small argument with her, and I had to make myself know that I’m no more in my kitchen. I had to let go. And soon, when my sisters-in-law stepped in, I started keeping away from the kitchen. I lacked confidence to be around so many people. I’m used to being alone, all fearless. 

Online grocery shopping was something that kept us occupied. We were ordering stuff like there was no tomorrow, but slowly, we got a grip and realised it’s not going so bad, and that food stores will be open all year round. I tried my hand at baking buns and loved it. I also mastered a few Chinese dishes and the Pink Pasta. 

The best part about my stay in Surat was the food sharing business with the sweet neighbours. I got to learn a few recipes that I always wanted to know from them. Meetha phula, gujiya, keri ki laungi, mint cooler, etc. Also, the more I noticed my mum in the kitchen, the more notes I made in my mind. For instance, I started nailing simple dishes like her. Also, mum has this thing about her. She keeps a positive vibe in the house, and so, I was at a relaxed mode. We had a help, who stayed with us, so the basic housework was taken care of well. My son had the best of his time there with kids all around, and I loved it. 

Soon, I realised we had to fly to my in-law’s place. When the airports opened up again, we were a bit sceptical about the safety, but after a few weeks, we realised it’s a little risky, but it should be fine too. And in a few days, after out three-month stay in Surat, we flew to Delhi and rode to the nearby city, Rohtak. This is where my in-laws live. I haven’t stayed here for more than three weeks, but it didn’t bother me much. 

After a week, I realised I had to do some major grocery shopping. Why would my mother-in-law, who is nearing 70, keep stuff she doesn’t make in the kitchen? Also, now was the time when I had to cook a lot. I couldn’t eat the stuff that my mum and dad made back in Surat. I especially missed the sweet items that they made like Kasar, Besan ki Chakki, Choorma, etc. I missed their food a lot. But I hardly had any time to think about it. My new schedule was tight, and in the spare time, I just used my phone to update my social media page or slept. The new pantry was sorted till some extent but having no basil leaves didn’t help. 

For the next few weeks, I plan to make some DIYs for my baby, and plant some herbs too. I do miss my Mumbai home, but these times are hard on all people around, and I should only pray and protect my family as much as I can. I need to start exercising as the right side of my neck is bothering me a bit. And I need to take care of my husband’s diet, as staying at home all the time can ruin one’s diet. We also need to get my son’s vaccinations done, but we lack courage to visit a hospital for that. I have started shopping a lot, online that is. From Yuvi’s books to home essentials, our list is endless and my husband is really tired of it. 

There is so much happening around, sometimes I lose track of how to be hopeful for the future. Till what extend can I protect my family from COVID? What impact will it have on us all in the coming months? When will a possible vaccine be available? Also, domestic tensions have started to crop up, and knowing the suicide cases around us through social media makes me all tensed. What does this time want to teach us? I don’t know. I only have questions in my mind as of now. Let’s keep gratitude till we sail through these times. And a wee bit of kindness towards each other will do no harm too.