Saturday, April 18, 2015

Following the Appam trail

What do you do, when you 
a. Want to vacation during the Christmas/New year time 
b. Are on a limited budget
c. Hate long flights 
d. Love seafood

You go to Kerala.

My very own Kerala postcard picture 
Our decision was also largely influenced by a kick ass ticket deal on Air Asia which took care of points b and c from above. Our trip was about 9 days long with 3 days each in the hilly Thekkady, the backwaters of Alleppey and the charming city of Cochin.

When it comes to vacation planning, my type A personality is unleashed in its full glory. I read up on the destinations, call up the hotel to find out the amenities, pour over tripadvisor, make an hour by hour itinerary with back up options, pre-book activities that get sold out, in short, I go all out. Having a 2.5 year old has not dampened my spirits, I know plan keeping her in mind (a separate post on travelling with kids perhaps).

Food is a big part of travel for us (husband and I) and we love making wishlists of things to eat and on this trip we wanted to eat the best prawn biryani and appam that Kerala had to offer.

The food trail started as soon as we left Cochin airport to drive down to Thekkady and stopped at a small place on the highway called Malabar palace where we had the best bony fish fry and small white rice flour rotis.
I made my way through a zillion bones to eat this spicy fish at Malabar Palace
In Thekkady, we stayed at a home stay that was run by a vegan couple who made the loveliest breakfast each morning, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh baked bread with amazing jams and spreads.
Clean plates -pretty much every breakfast in Thekkady
For lunch we started on our biryani hunt and tried the most famous restaurant in the town of Kumily – Thekkady Cafe The place was packed with tourists, dishes flying around, paneer and dal for the vegetarians, fish fry on every other table, biryanis, chicken curries served in narrow oval stainless steel dishes that are only seen in restaurants. I love people-watching at such places, looking at families and groups who have traveled far and wide for a holiday. The large Bangladeshi family who were critical of the fish in Kerala, the couple from Maharashtra who were relishing the new flavors, the group of friends from Karnataka who had probably driven down and directly landed to eat. Unfortunately as fascinating as the microsm of people was, the food was bland, the prawn biryani was particularly bad.
Some average food

The next day we set out to try appams at another popular restaurant, whose name I do not recall, the appams were amazing with a lovely mutton stew. The biryani was a let down again.

For dinner, our hosts at the home stay decided to make an amazing vegan Mediterranean meal with falafel, babaganoush, some lovely salads and this great bread, as it was 31st December. So we literally rang in the new year in a food induced coma.
Amazing Mediterranean dinner 

The next day was spent on the road going from Thekkady to Alleppey , we took a lunch stop at this place called Avees puttu house, you know a place is a legit foodie haven when you see different kind of patrons, locals, tourists, people who have specifically driven and come to eat here and you see people who know exactly what to eat. I’m not a big fan of Puttu which is a classic Kerala dish so we decided to eat what else but Appams a choice that we would rejoice for days to come, the Appams at this place are something else, they have this amazing soft texture and a sweetish after taste eaten with the perfectly flavored chicken stew. We hunted down another branch of Avees puttu house in Alleppey to savor the best appams ever.

On reaching Alleppey, which is much more touristy place than Thekkady, I had a longer list of places to eat at and boy we were not disappointed. The roasted prawns in coconut was amazing at Choola restaurant so was the food at Cassia restaurant and the Italian food at Dreamers Cafe and Restaurant was welcome change (by this time we had given up on finding good prawn biryani).

My love for sea food just escalated

The last leg of our trip was the city of Cochin or rather the twin cities of Cochin and Ernakulam. I had done the least amount of research on this place partially because we had some family staying there who had agreed to show us around. I realized how little I knew about this small city that was actually less than 500 Kms from Bangalore. Charming cafes, lovely small markets filled with artsy goodies, a relaxed way of life and a beach, Cochin is lovely. I’ve heard of how people travel to someplace and instantly feel that they could live there. I’ve never felt that way in any place in India, but in Cochin I did. Barring the sweltering heat and a very complicated language I loved this city. In fact, I was most amazed as to how clean everything was and how little plastic was used.

The fort Kochi area is one of its kind, old Portugese and colonial style architecture that has been amazingly restored and the cutest cafes that one could see. The 3 month long art and design festival called Muziris biennale was going on and I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits. I never thought I’d say this but one of the highlights of the trip was visiting a supermarket, the Lulu supermarket. A near replica of the Dubai branch of the same supermarket was massive by Indian standards. Long aisles of cheese, a massive dry fruit counter and an amazing deli section with Kerala, North-indian and Arabic food. We picked up some paneer with a middles eastern bread called khubbus that landed directly from a conveyer belt onto our plates we paired with a spicy sweet date pickle. With an oriental meal, a middle eastern lunch a few more coffee cups and some great marble cake from Anne’s bakery our Kerala trip came to an end.

Quirky Kochi

More quirk

The science nerd in me loved these exhibits 

Vertebral column made out of tar

I’m writing this post exactly 3 months after the vacation and I’m surprised as to how vividly I remember each of my food related experience. Such is great travel coupled with amazing food.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Tamate ka katt (Tomato extract)

This one is for the bookmarks, the little sheets of paper that you pull out to cook from, the recipe lists that you scribble for inspiration or an online link that you save and forward  to yourself.  This viscous red concoction that fires up the taste buds with its simple but incredible taste.
Growing up, I loved eating the tangy tamate ka katt, a staple in Hyderabad with boiled eggs and shaami kababs on a mini heap of rice. But, my mother in law’s  version of the dish that is something else,  the first time I ate it I was blown away and continue to do so every time I eat. The difference is that the hyderabadi version uses a thickening agent and this one does not, its pure tomato in all its glory. My praise may seem a little superfluous but perhaps I’m biased with my love for the tangy and mild flavors, maybe you can try?  

When I cook Tamate ka Katt these days it is mostly in bulk as it is labor intensive. I freeze atleast 2 boxes and devise menus in the coming weeks to find an excuse to  defrost a box. 

Ingredients (bulk version, scale down quantities accordingly)
4 kg ripe tomatoes ( if you live in Bangalore, you will find  a round , uneven variety and a thick long , firmer ‘ salad’ variety , I prefer to use a 1:1 mixture of the two)
5 red onions medium sized
1 tsp haldi
2 tablespoon oil
2-3 tea spoons red chilli powder
2 table spoons zeera and methi seeds powder
2 green chillies
Salt to taste

Tadka / baghar / tempering
2 tsp zeera
10 garlic cloves
3 dried red chillies
2 tsp rye/ mustard seeds
10-12 fresh or dried curry leaves

Oil for tempering (about 2 table spoons)

Slice onions lengthwise and chop tomatoes into small cubes.

In a large pressure cooker, fry the onions till translucent.  Add green chillies.

Add salt, haldi, red chilli powder and zeera methi powder.

Add the tomatoes, put on the lid and whistle and let it cook for 15 mins. There is no need to add extra water.

Open the lid, once cooled. The tomatoes should taste cooked and there should be a little floating oil on the surface.

Take a sturdy large metal wire mesh sieve and pass the tomato mixture to extract the pulp. This step takes a bit of time and requires care. The pulp must be sieved completely yet bits of skin should not pass through, the red color will intensify because of the very superficial layer of pulp just below the skin , be sure to get it out. Do not use a hand blender. My mother in law uses a tightly pulled cloth to sieve, the consistency is super smooth but I prefer the metal sieve for practical reasons.

Cook the extracted mixture for about 20 minutes, till the raw smell of tomatoes completely disappears. Adjust the spices if required.

Heat oil in a tempering spoon and add the ingredients in the following order – Garlic, mustard seeds, zeera seeds, dried red chillies, curry leaves. Once browned add to the katt.

Serve garnished with boiled eggs. The katt goes really well with shaami kabab, fried/grilled fish and pepper chicken along with white rice.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Roasted Beetroot and Haloumi Salad – A warm salad for chilly days

The chill is beginning to set in Bangalore and as days get cooler, I find myself hating any task that involves leaving the comforts of a blanket. The problem is that, in Bangalore, indoors become pretty chilly while the outdoors stay bearable and yet its not cold enough for any form of heating (atleast not for the husband). So, my clothes get more mismatched than those of a scarecrow, PJs, with hoodie and a kashmri shawl, socks and fur slip ons and my plans to get a headstart on the new year’s resolution a few months in advance, derail.
Eating healthy during the fall/winter is challenging, you crave some deep fried snack with hot chai or a warm brownie on a cold night but, should be eating a cold cucumber salad. 

I saw a picture of roasted beets on some blog a few days back, and one evening when I craved a snack and had neither a brownie nor a cold cucumber, I heated my oven and savored this amazingly simple salad.

3 small sized beetroots
2 medium sized red/white onions
1 large red bell pepper
About 30-40 gms of haloumi cheese
5-6 large mint leaves
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to about 2000C. Set it on roast setting (uniform heat on all sides)
Wash and dry the beets, bell pepper and mint leaves
Lightly coat the beetroots with olive oil and tightly cover with aluminium foil. Each beetroot must be individually covered.
Place the onion (unpeeled), beetroot and bell pepper on the wire rack inside the oven
Let the veggies roast for about 15 mins or so. The bell pepper will need turning around 2-3 times and the beets and onions once.
Check the done-ness by sliding a thin knife through the beets and onion, there should be no resistance. The skin of the bell pepper would have shriveled and there would be a few ‘burnt’ patches on the surface.
Remove the veggies from oven and allow them to cool
Next peel them one by one and chop the heads off.
Cut the peppers in strips, beetroot in rough cubes or thick slices and the onions as long slicess
Chop the haloumi in to cubes
In a salad bowl mix in all veggies and cheese, add mint , drizzle some olive oil and finish off with salt and pepper
Serve at room temperature

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A very short 'Food Trip'

Hear of an eatery named Food Trip and you think of a global menu, a vibrant décor and at least something that you've never seen or tasted before. So with moderate expectations of a ’cool’ new joint in Koramangala , the husband and I stepped into food trip (where the semi decent Leb Mex was previously located). I glanced at the interiors and kind of got what the owners were trying to do, giving out this cute global vibe and a clean minimalistic not kitschy way. The color scheme was white with red and yellow thrown in. The walls were plastered with icons of a Mexican hat, the Golden Gate bridge, leaning tower of Pisa, a kathakali dancer and so on.  

We took a look at the menu and I thought it was missing a few pages, but once I glanced carefully I realized that that was it. So the concept, if you would like to call it that, is you pick a main protein/carb from a ridiculously short menu of 6, 3 vegetarian and 3 non vegetarian and choose to have it served as a burgerwich  (apparently a square bun) or a roll or a rice bowl . They also had a selection of fries and some other deep fried starters. And if you thought you are short of filling your daily calorie intake with one meal, they had some shakes to make up for the deficit. 
So the 6 options that you could choose are pretty uninspired and randomly named – Netaji’s Tandoori Paneer, Bitter Sweet Bangkok Dreams, Ninja Fried Chicken and Empire State Spicy Chicken. This is 2014 and even the colonel has gone grilled and most options seem to be directed towards deriving value from the deep fryer investment. 
My husband is the most indecisive meal-chooser at a restaurant that I know, he mulls over the menu even at a Shiv Sagar and here he was mulling yet again, but for the opposite reason, there was nothing to choose from!
We finally chose, Punjabi Lion Tikka Rice Bowl and Empire State’s Spicy Chicken Roll with Exotic Carribean  Fries. 
We looked around the ambiance whilst waiting for our meal and realized that the management was fairly weak, for example there was an open half door that exposed the not so aesthetic kitchen, the music was super random hindi stuff from the 90s, the front desk was empty for half the time, the wait staff was courteous but not particularly well trained.

Finally, the food arrived, the rice bowl was ok, very desi flavors but nothing unexpected. The roll was again fine nothing to complain in terms of taste but nothing to go gaga over either. There were no special sauces no unexpected twist. The portion sizes were modest but for the cost they were justified. The best part of the meal was probably the fries, the flavor was just right.

The rice bowl

The roll

The fries

We were kind of hungry at the end of the meal but the menu just had nothing that we could order so we quickly left after paying the bill and walked towards the numerous smaller joint in the same row thinking, "we wanted to like you but ....."

Overall verdict: Only if you are really hungry, in the area or both

Food Trip
487, J.T Plaza, Jyothi Nivas College Road, Koramangala 5th Block, Opposite Krishna Temple, Koramangala,Bangalore

Friday, October 10, 2014

The 100 foot journey

Food movies, movies on food, eating, cooking have a magical capability of bringing out the warm fuzzy in us, couple it with a side of romance and you have a 100 odd minutes well spent. 

The 100 foot journey does precisely that, albeit, in a slightly clichéd way. So, we have the Mumbai based Kadam family - Mama, Juhi Chawla (in a sweet cameo), Papa, Om Puri, the 'star son' Hassan, Manish Dayal (dishy!), who is blessed with haath mein jadoo when it comes to cooking and another 2 sets of brothers and sisters who complete the family. Driven by communal riots, death of the mother, political asylum and a dislike for the UK, in that order, leads the family to wander across Europe, only to have a (expected) vehicle failure in a quaint French town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Since cooking is what they do best, the family decides to start inhabiting the town and open an Indian restaurant across the street, about 100 feet away, from an uber sophisticated Michelin star holding one run by the haughty Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren). They also meet the warm and affable Margarit who is a sous chef under Ms Mallory. 

The rest of the story follows a slightly predictable path, sprinkled with the right dose of humor and romance. Hassan’s culinary genius spanning Indian curries, classic French sauces, contemporary French as well as modern molecular gastronomy is the crux of the film. 

What was good?

Heartwarming story: The characters and situations are warm with a lining of humor. The romance between Papa and Madam Mallory was better conceived than the one between Hassan and Margarit, although the two made a great couple. The mother- son scenes were a little forced but, added to the story well.

Acting: The acting was pretty top notch by most of the cast, Manish Dayal is perfect as the innocent faced genius who has an unending passion for food. Om Puri and Hellen Mirren are fab. The rest of the cast excel in their limited roles.

Food, food, food: The love, passion, hard work that all the main characters have towards food, oozes out in multiple scenes. Hassan and Madam Mallory obviously are the top of the lot, with their passion to create magic and win the coveted Michelin stars. Margarit’s jealousy and the head chef’s defiance and for that matter Papa Kadam’s arrogance were all a result of their love for food.

Indian food is the best ‘not’: I liked the fact that at no point there was a dramatic declaration that only Indian food can solve all problems. The story showed the Indian restaurant coexisting with the French one and not a dramatic turn of events where the clientele upon one taste of a curry turn their backs on French food.. Hassan’s signature style was also shown to be one  blending contemporary French with a hint of Indian. 

What could be better.

The ‘clichéd-ness’: From the sea urchin seller prophesizing about Hassan, the spice box (which seem to be unlimited to have survived of years usage at a restaurant), to Madam Mallory’s turn of heart for Hassan, to the scene around  home cooked food in a swanky Parisian setting. But, if you could ignore these minor irritants and focus on the beauty passion and chemistry the movie really works.

The last 20 mins or so: Too slow, too much, too rushed, the last 20 mins or so could do with better screenplay and direction.

Overall, the 100 foot journey is a lovely, heart warming story that should be savored like a perfect omelet on a lazy morning.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A comeback, with Mutton Tahari

I feel like mouthing an aging bollywood actress, "comeback? What comeback? I ‘ve been here all along." But the facts are clear, the ‘latest post’ is dated April 2013, and an embarrassingly poor frequency of posts, this is definitely a hiatus.

The apologies
Dear Blog,
You've been in my thoughts for months and probably years, thought of you when I traveled to a fascinating place, ate a memorable meal, cooked a half decent dish. In the pictures I’ve clicked, in the notes I made, in the thoughts in my head, the experiences I’ve had, lie a lot of unfinished stories, some written and some unwritten. You, my blog, hold a special place in my heart to say the least, but like many a well-placed intention, this one failed to translate into a well-run, well updated place. Sorry.
Love (really)

The promises
I don’t promise to not go missing in action once again or lose steam to pen (in this case type) my thoughts, but what I do promise is to keep the passion for all things food up and running, no matter what, because that’s what brings me back to this place again and again. I also hope to include travel and, for the lack of a better word, lifestyle content onto this blog. So here’s to the person from Poland who probably uses a linux OS to browse my blog (courtesy blogger stats), I love you and I will try not to disappoint you.

The proof
Writing a comeback post on a food blog with no recipe is like saying, “I’ll be back soon”, only to disappear from the back door.
So here goes my recipe for Tahari, a hyderabadi dish that ranks way high up in my list of comfort food. It’s like biryani but not as grand, it’s like pulao but way wholesome. The bonus is that it is a one pot dish that can be eaten with just a side of yogurt raita. I’ve eaten quite a few versions of tahari, but this one is my favorite, it’s a well balanced flavor that is relatively lighter, provided you don’t binge on multiple servings!

French beans (deveined and cut into 1 inch pieces) – 8-10
Potatoes (cubed) - 3
Carrots (peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces) – 3
Peas (shelled) -1/2 cup
Methi leaves (big leaf, whole without stems) - 1
Tomatoes (medium sized, finely chopped) - 7-8
Limes (juiced) - 1
Coriander leaves (finely chopped) – ½ cup
Mint leaves- (finely chopped) -1/3 cup
Green chillies (slit) -10
Onions (medium, sliced) – 5
Ginger garlic paste -4 tablespoons
Yogurt – 400 gms
Mutton (with our without bone)- 1 kg
Redchilli Powder -4 teaspoons
Turmeric- ½ teaspoon
Cloves – 3-4
Cinnamon – 1-2 medium sized
Cardamom – 3-4
Shahzeera (thin variety) -1 teaspoon
Garam masala powder -1 teaspoon
Salt -2 tablespoons
Rice (Basmati or plain) -7 cups
Oil – about 6 tablespoons
Hot water - as required

  • Wash, clean and cut all veggies and set aside separately. Preheat oven to 2000C. The more traditional method calls for deep frying the vegies but I prefer baking them, both taste pretty much the same. If you feel that the potatoes are slightly tough, a short boil should help.
  • In a pressure cooker pour oil and fry the onions till golden brown, take care as to not turn them dark or crispy. After about 5-7 mins, add ginger garlic paste and continue frying.
  • Meanwhile, place the potatoes in one baking tray and carrots and beans in another, drizzle some oil and bake the former for 15 mins and latter 10 mins.
  • Back to the onions, add a dash of water if needed to fry them further, there should be no smell of raw onions persisting. Next add the following at 5-10 minute intervals, tomatoes; red chilli powder, salt, garam masala powder; yoghurt; meat. Place the whistle of the cooker and cook for about 5 mins on high followed by 10 mins on medium heat. The tomatoes and yoghurt should provide enough liquid for the meat to cook but if you feel appropriate you may add a little hot water before fastening the whistle.
  • Wash and soak the rice for 30 mins, while the meat cooks
  • Open the cooker, check for the ‘doneness’ of the meat, it should be almost done but not falling apart. Add the baked veggies, methi leaves, coriander, mint, lime juice and continue cooking. Add the whole garam masala- cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, shahzeera. By this time the meat veggies mixture should be in the form of a thick spicy gravy with the oil floating on the top.
  • Add about 2 cups of boiling water to the mixture, plus a teaspoon of salt, you can transfer the mixture into a larger cooking vessel if you want. Add the rice and cook for 5 mins uncovered followed by 10-15 mins covered. Additional water may be needed for the rice to completely cook.
  • I’ve seen people serve a tablespoon or so of hot liquid ghee over their plate of tahari, personally, I cannot bring myself to literally add extra calories to a dish, but if you don’t mind it I guess it will taste pretty delish. Otherwise just raitha should be perfect.