Curried Up: Chutney Pudi

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Chutney powder is a beloved condiment in South India, known by many names (chutney pudi or podi, even gun powder) and appearing in many forms (peanut, garlic, chilli, methi, til, dals). It finds its key spot on the breakfast plate, with dosa, idli, paddu, upma etc., as well as at lunch, to be eaten with hot rice and ghee. Every community boasts of a distinct variety of chutney powder, scaling the heat and spice up or down, mixing in a new element like coconut (desiccated) or dry fruits (dates) even.

It has been a staple for years in our families, and in fact, has served its purpose at its full potential when, for instance, an illness had crept in and the taste buds craved something with a zing. We would even sprinkle some on hot buttered toast sometimes. It is known to have been the only saving grace for farmers and labourers, who couldn’t afford much more than rice or ragi balls on some days as they strove to make meals out of scraps of vegetables and bits of dried meat.

With a little bit of ingenuity, one can amp up the nutritive value of this ubiquitous condiment today, by adding flax seeds, moringa leaves, and the like. Here’s a variant that brings in the high iron and fiber content of curry leaves. It’s a favourite with us and it doesn’t last long!

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Curry Leaves Chutney Powder

  • 2 tablespoons chana dal
  • 2 tablespoons urad dal
  • 1 tablespoon moong dal
  • 1 tablespoon toor dal
  • 2 red chilies
  • 1/4 teaspoon methi
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 1 cup cleaned curry leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon tamarind powder
  • A pinch of hing/ asafetida
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon jaggery powder
  1. In a pan, dry roast the dals first until they turn light brown, set aside in a tray.
  2. Roast the red chilies, methi, coriander seeds and pepper, set aside with the dals.
  3. Fry the peanuts until brown and set aside – you can remove the skins once the peanuts are slightly cool or let them be.
  4. Roast the curry leaves until they turn crisp, set aside with the rest of the ingredients.
  5. Once cool, grind the roasted ingredients with the tamarind powder, hing, salt and jaggery.
  6. Let it cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
  7. This powder can be stored for up to 4 weeks in a clean, airtight container. 

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Note: You could also add 1 tablespoon of lightly roasted desiccated coconut powder to this – but the shelf life will be considerably reduced. Another variation is to add roasted garlic – but you’ll have to eliminate the hing/ asafoetida in that case.

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Soup’s On! Pressure Cooker Minestrone

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Winters are for curling up with a good book or movie and hot, comforting food. The days that seem so much shorter bring on a wave of inertia and we barely make it to the coffee pot without grumbling. Gone are the times when cooking was an elaborate ritual, involving standing for long hours in front of the stove, stirring and whisking things until they came up to an aromatic and bubbly simmer, tasting a small spoonful from time to time, then sprinkling a little bit of this or that, until the alchemy of it was near-perfect.

In this age of that familiar fastness about everything, we like to take things a little easy, and all the more better if it can be accomplished with little foot or hand work. A one-pot-meal has been an eternal favourite, no doubt, but a one-click one, even more so. This Minestrone has all the magic of a slow cooked soup, except, it’s made in a short time, by throwing a bunch of nutritious elements into the pressure cooker and allowing it to do its thing. A great way to beat the winter blues, when the bones are cold and tired and the spirits need uplifting.

Go on, reach for that book you’ve been wanting to read, or turn the TV on and tune into that fun movie. Supper will almost make itself ready!

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Pressure Cooker Minestrone Vegetable Soup

(Serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons mixed Italian herbs
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 4 large tomatoes, blanched, skinned and roughly pureed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • Parmesan cheese to top while serving
  1. Warm the olive oil on low heat in a medium sized pressure cooker. Season with the dried herbs and chilli flakes.
  2. Tip in the onions and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add  the celery, leeks and carrot, continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the zucchini to the cooker and toss well.
  5. Now add the chickpeas and tomato puree to the cooker.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of turmeric.
  7. Now close and bring the cooker up to full pressure. Switch off the heat and allow the pressure to release on its own.
  8. Serve the soup topped with some grated Parmesan, pesto and any fresh herbs you have on hand.

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You could add some shortcut pasta to the soup if you like. Add half cup uncooked pasta when you pour in the tomato puree. Do remember to stir in about a cup of extra water for the pasta to cook in.

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Mushroom In Creamy Basil Sauce

img_0594Mushrooms are unique because they absorb a variety of flavours in different recipes. To tone the meatiness down, you can spike up the heat, and balance off with warm spices and the sweetness of garlic, in most recipes. You can pan-fry, roast, grill, or braise them with just a touch of salt and pepper, and use them as a bed for eggy breakfasts, or wholesome one-pot meals like pastas or quiches, or as a substantial filling in sandwiches and wraps.

What you can also do is douse them in savoury gravies, like most Indian recipes dictate. To take a kink from the monotony of the everyday tomato-rich gravy, we tried a creamy basil one and it worked like a charm. The sharpness of the basil is a perfect match for the blandness of the mushrooms, and you can serve this with just about anything – rotis or rice, millets or Thai-style noodles. The spice level is rather mild, which leaves room for experimenting as well as keeping the essence of the simple, down-home meal intact.

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Mushroom In Creamy Basil Sauce
(Serves 3-4)

For the Basil Sauce –

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 medium-sized onions, cubed
  • 4-5 garlic pods, crushed
  • 2 green chilies, sliced
  • 1/4 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled cashew
  1. Heat the oil in a pan, toss in the onion, garlic, green chillies and cinnamon stick
  2. Fry until lightly browned, and allow it to cool.
  3. Grind to a paste with the basil leaves and cashew, using a little bit of water.

To prepare the Mushroom –

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon jeera
  • 1 pack (200 grams) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon aamchur
  • Salt to taste
  • Prepared basil sauce
  1. Heat oil in a pan, and season with jeera
  2. Once it crackles, add the sliced mushrooms and saute until the water evaporates and they cook down, acquiring a nice, brown tinge
  3. Add the masala and aamchur, then the salt
  4. Pour in the prepared basil sauce, add more salt, and let it come to a simmer for about 5-7 minutes
  5. Turn off the heat and add the cream
  6. You can also garnish with freshly chopped basil just before serving

    Note:
    As a variation, you could also add some fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels after the mushrooms cook down. 

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Around Town: MTR Karnataka Food Festival

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Karunadu Swada, which translates into The Taste of This Great Land – evokes a feeling of blissful homecoming in any Karnataka resident. This is truly the land of many tastes. Go to different parts of Karnataka and you’ll come across foods that are not just delectable, but also very distinct in flavours and textures. Here’s a glimpse into the recent (Jan 21-22) food festival organized by MTR, at the St. John’s Auditorium in Koramangala, where over 100 dishes unique to Karnataka cuisine were up for grabs.

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The Tulunadu or coastal regions of Mangalore-Udupi are known for their partiality to coconut and dishes that are cooked in really exclusive ways. Sometimes, wrapped in leaves and steamed, and sometimes, simmered on low heat for hours to get the right balance of spice, heat, sour and sweet.

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If you were to randomly sample little bites from across regions, some of the dishes that would stand out would be: the Moode Kadubu from the Mangalore region – idlis wrapped in Moode leaves and steamed, the tiny dollops of buttery goodness in Benne Kadambuttu (steamed butter dumplings) from the Coorg region, the somewhat-crispy, somewhat-tender Matvadi Palya – made with ground lentils and cluster beans, typically from the Bangalore-Mysore regions and the Khar Byali, a toor dal based curry from the North.

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You can’t get past the ragi rotti or the obbattu counters without tasting some! There were at least 3-4 varieties of side dishes, including chutneys, that you could dunk the hot pieces of rotti into, and the soothing effect of the pasty, sweet filling in the obbattu is something else. We went back for second servings of the obbattu, especially after licking up the last of one lip-smacking but fiery hot chutney or another.

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The chutneys of North Karnataka warrant a chapter unto themselves. There was a green chilli chutney, which could’ve set the fire alarms ringing, a red chilli and garlic chutney that was tangy and delicious, a dry peanut chutney and a wild til chutney powder, too. We couldn’t have enough of these and would gladly have asked for “to go” portions if such a thing was permissible! There were so many other goodies at this counter – one of our absolute favourites. There was the chilli bajji (with the hottest variety of green chillies, replete with seeds!), jolada rotti with a donnekayi (capsicum) curry. We couldn’t help but marvel at the tenderness of the whole capsicums used in this dish – the skins were almost paper-thin and the flavour of the vegetable perfectly complemented the spiciness (not spiked with undue heat) of the gravy. We could discern the taste of peanuts and garlic in the masala and were happy to ask for several helpings of just the curry, to which our friendly servers obliged with smiles that stretched from ear to ear!

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Paputtu is a lovely dish from the Coorg region, made with coarsely ground rice flour, coconut, milk and sugar, with hints of cardamom. Not very unlike the puttu from Kerala, it is great as a breakfast or snack and is quite filling. Kadale Gassi or Bean Curry is from the Mangalorean cuisine, which could, in fact, pair very well with the Paputtu!

Who can stop with just one Sandige from our own Bengaluru? These crunchy fryums are made from paddy puffed rice, grated potatoes or white pumpkin/ ash gourd, green chillies, etc. They are ceremoniously made in large batches during the summer and sun-dried until both sides are completely brittle, then stored in airtight containers for use throughout the year.

And of course, no one can resist the MTR masala dosa! Crisp and crackling, with the chutney smeared inside in a stroke of genius, and filled with just the right amount of potato masala, then topped with with creamy butter that hisses its way along the sides.

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Here is a small sample of the platefuls of food we relished! We went back for seconds and thirds so many times that we lost count!

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The dessert counter was filled with plenty of delicacies, ranging from dry fruit laddus to Dharwad pedha, banana payasa and hayagreeva. We also loved the haalubai!

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Our most enjoyable part of the whole set-up was the live demo of special Mangalore delicacies by renowned food historian and author, Chandri Bhat. She was a bundle of unending energy as she stirred and mixed ingredients with the skill of a magician, before assigning sous chef duties to her equally wonderful helper. She told us so many stories that there were moments when we almost forgot about the food. The keyword being – almost!

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One of her signature savoury dishes was Potato Saung, made with onions, potatoes, and cooked tender cashews, simmered in a wonderful and really simple masala. It is typically eaten with Neer Dosa.

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The sweet dish: Bot Nevri Kheeri, as she said, is nearly extinct! A painstaking and time-consuming labour of love, it is made with mini rice flour dumplings filled with a coconut and jaggery mixture, then dunked in a lovely coconut milk and jaggery base, or kheer. We couldn’t have enough of this, but we also knew better and saved some appetite for yet another round of the chutneys at the North Karnataka stall.

We had a great afternoon, immersed in food and culture, both of which often reflect in our own work: whether it’s for recipe ideas or workshops. We believe that food and culture are two sides of the coin that makes our lives richer and fuller. Everything one needs to know about a particular section of the society, one can learn from its food and the culture of its people. We certainly hope MTR comes back next year with version two of Karunada Swada!

 

 

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Shades of Red: Monochrome Salad

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Aesthetics is such an integral part of food that it’s hardly surprising that most of the big trends to make a splash in the culinary world are rooted in it. Whether a fad decrees that you work with a particular type of ingredient (for example, different varieties of millets), a platter of gourmet cheese samples paired with just fruits and nuts, or chomp your way through the colours of the rainbow in a day – be it in a buffet spread with green salads, yellow curries and brown beans, or a mishmash of a one-pot-meal, with a little bit of red and a little bit of white, we know better than to neglect the nutritive value of our food.

Monochrome food is one such novelty that we’ve embraced in this recipe – and obviously not just for the ring of hype around it. Does that mean it shouldn’t look appealing? Of course not. It is definitely a comely little bowl of salad from the word go. But it’s even better that it’s made with locally grown vegetables, and that it is merely a palette for bigger possibilities. Our Red Salad is a wonderful mix of sharp and sweet tastes, held together by a tangy dressing. The textures in it are just as lovely, too – crunchy, chewy and everything in between. This is a salad that not only looks great, but tastes terrific too, and it’s won many raves in our homes.

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Monochrome Red Salad

Serves 4

For the salad –

  • 2 large red carrots, also known as Delhi carrots
  • 1 pink radish
  • 1/4 red capsicum
  • 4 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons cooked red kidney beans (rajma)
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate arils
  • 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts with skin
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries 

For the dressing – 

  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli garlic sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  1. Scrape and then wash and shred the carrots in a food processor. You can also grate them by hand. Spread them out on a shallow salad plate.
  2. Slice the radish, capsicum and cherry tomatoes into strips and arrange over the carrots.
  3. Sprinkle the kidney beans, pomegranate, peanuts and cranberries all over the salad.
  4. To make the dressing pour all the ingredients in a glass jar and shake well.
  5. Pour the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

 

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Note: To add a fruity twist and more sweetness to this salad mix in some sliced strawberries and watermelon chunks.

 

 

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Tadka Travels: Aapno Rajasthan

Rajasthan is truly spectacular, from every labyrinthine sandstone jali to vibrant, hand-painted marble pillar. There’s something so stately and sublime about the place that you end up feeling like a ribbon slipping through its landmarks, imbibing their grandeur, coming out fuller and more alive. Rajasthan is much more than a geographical wonder, made of endless stretches of sand, sprawling palaces and mighty forts. It is a land of lore and rich history where even the gardens and blocks of stone have stories to tell. It’s virtually impossible to condense the length and breadth of Rajasthan, and the depth of its virtues, in a single blog post.

In our travel diary here, we hope to recount the offbeat, enriching experiences we had in Rajasthan during our recent visit – when we stopped to spend a few moments immersed in curiosity over something extraordinary, the sudden waves of excitement that washed over us when we discovered new aspects of the local culture, and the little things that seemed to be bigger than us and our imagination.

Winter is a marvelous time to be in Rajasthan as the temperature is just right to warm your shoulders during the day and nippy enough to have you bring out the long-forgotten woolens during the night. We started our sojourn in Jaipur, a city bustling with bazaars that distend from palatial gates, populated by small shacks selling everything from clothes to joothis, houseware to groceries, and the marginally more spacious bhandaars of all ilk and order, ranging from bartan (kitchen utensils) to mishtan (sweets).

Where to stay in Jaipur

Umaid Bhawan (Bani Park):

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A beautiful heritage hotel that is a true testament to the mastery of Rajasthani artisans. A well-kept lawn with a zen fountain, traditional wall art, beautiful flower arrangements dotting the property around every bend and mezzanine are some of the things you’ll notice as you make your way to your room. We stayed in a suite with a cozy balcony, overlooking the garden on one side and the pool on the other, and absolutely loved it. The room decor is traditional, and we had a big diwan to lounge around on, decorated with satin-lined cushions and a silk spread.

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Breakfast was a meal fit for royals and it was one of the highlights of our stay here!

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We also recommend – The General’s Retreat:
A gem of a place, the retreat was built in the early 60s, and comes with a plush garden and simple, homely touches to the decor. Centrally located and peaceful, this property is perfect for a budget stay, and comes with complimentary breakfast and wifi.

Tadka tip for getting around in Jaipur:
You can hire a cab for 8 hours x 80 kilometers at Rs. 1500.

Eating out

Kachoris at Doodh Mishtan Bhandar (DMB)

We had a lavish, deep-fried goodies spread on the breakfast table the day we landed in Jaipur at DMB and would highly recommend it, even if you have to wash it down, like we did, with a tall glass of fresh lassi, replete with malai!

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Shahi Samosa at Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar (LMB)

You can’t miss the Shahi Samosa at LMB if you’re in Johri Bazaar! A unique, cone-shaped, open samosa, this is a snack that will make you feel and behave like royalty!

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Kanji Vada

This street food comprises spiced mung dal vadas dunked in a mustard-based fermented liquid. You can find kanji sellers at every other turn, in any of the shopping markets.

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Anokhi Cafe

A lovely little cafe attached to the Anokhi store, perfect for grabbing sandwiches and salads, pastas and soups and other multi-cuisine delicacies, if you’ve had your fill of traditional Rajasthani fare.

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Shopping

Sireh Deori Bazaar (near Hawa Mahal):
Stop here for joothis and mirror-work skirts, kurtas and stoles, and little knickknacks.

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You’ll likely happen upon a Biscuit Thelewala, selling stacks of baked goodies, around here. If you can elbow your way through the milling crowds, you might even find a cup of chai to dunk them into.

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Johri Bazaar:

The go-to place for silver jewelry. A snaking trail of jewelry shops beckons here, with sterling and oxidised silver jewelry, with that distinctive antique finish. You can also find kundan and minakari inlay on gold and silver jewelry in certain shops. Also, this is a great place to buy saris and dresses – tie and dye, block print, gota patti and hand-embroidered fabric and the likes.

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A Trip to Bagru

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Bagru is a small village about 30 kilometers from Jaipur, where the Chhipa community of block printers live and run their small businesses. We hired a cab to take us to Jodhpur, and stopped in Bagru for a couple of hours to witness the Chhipa community in action, and were bowled over, to say the least.

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With the exclusive use of all natural, vegetable dyes and wooden blocks to print on fabric, the 300-year-old Chhipa tradition continues to thrive in this little community. It’s a tough life for the Chhipa artisans, and we highly recommend buying directly from them rather than from bigger stores.

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Jodhpur:

Jodhpur is accessible by road and rail, from Jaipur. If you take the road, it should take you about 6 hours and you can make stops along the way, like we did, at Bagru and a little later, at a wayside dhaba a little past Ajmer for a bite.

Sunset at Mehrangarh is the thing to do in Jodhpur, even if it’s hackneyed and painfully touristy.

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It is a mesmeric sight, one that goes beyond the bounds of mere words. As we stood there watching the sun go down, leaving behind broad brush strokes of gilded coral across the sky, while the blue houses of the old city that were vibrant just moments ago faded into a distant haze, it wasn’t hard to realize that everything is immaterial in the face of nature’s magic. 

From the humble, honeycombed compound walls of standard buildings along winding roads to the magnificence of the seven palaces in the cannon-pockmarked fort, not to forget the fort’s own baroque grandeur and the appeal of the royal palanquins, Jodhpur takes over your senses in one fell swoop.

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Jaisalmer:

Jaisalmer is barren and beautiful, in its own special way. It is accessible by rail from Jodhpur, and takes about 7 hours. We spent our time listening to stories and music around the fort and palace areas during the day, and then traversed long stretches of dusty roads in an open jeep, as we made our way to the desert camp in Sam in the late afternoon. Time became a mere onlooker, as the splendor of the desert rose above us in spiraling waves of sheer rapture, taking us with it.

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The evening was spent riding on camels, which took us to the Sam dunes, and then boogieing down the dunes on little boards. We drank tea made by our camel boy on a makeshift, wood-fired stove and watched the sun sink slowly into the distant, pink-tinted horizon.

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The night was one of revelry on the one hand, and of the quiet comfort of the razai holding us against the cool breeze, under a clear, star-lit sky, on the other. We sipped on our hot teas as the fire eater ate his fire, the dancers balanced their pots on their heads, and the folk artists broke into elaborate rustic tunes. Food was served hot-off the skillet, and the music and dance flowed on until we dug into the last morsels.

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Desert Camp
We highly recommend Damodra Desert Camp, which is a well-maintained, gorgeous property. The courteous staff and delicious food only add to the charm of Damodra and they’ll arrange to pick you up from the city, if you so desire.

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Tadka tip for a good stay option in Jaisalmer city:
We recommend Hotel Helsinki House, a small property that is modest and clean. It is pocket-friendly too. They serve delicious meals on the rooftop, where you can get a wonderful view of the fort.

Tadka tip for getting around in Jaisalmer:
You can hire a tuk-tuk rickshaw for about Rs. 600 to take you around for a few hours, or you could hop in and out of autos depending on your schedule. Typically, a ride within a 6-8 kilometer radius would cost you Rs. 50.

The Ravanahatha is an ancient musical instrument not very unlike the violin. We came across many Ravanahatha players, and even bought a CD from one of them. The music is soulful and plangent and will stay with you long after the notes have dissolved into the air.

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Living Fort:

The living fort of Jaisalmer is a massive one, holding together bits of royal residences and temples made of marble, sea fossil and yellow sandstone. It is bustling with fort dwellers who sell traditional arts and crafts for a living, and you’ll likely happen upon at least one of the following, no matter where you turn: antique coins and locks, block-printed and applique-work bedcovers, souvenirs, shoes and clothes. The view of the city from atop the living fort is dizzyingly beautiful, too. You could spend a few hours here, or an entire day, and still feel like you haven’t seen enough.

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Eating out

Cafe The Kaku:

A comely little cafe decked up with old-fashioned lanterns and menus encased in camel-leather covers, serving Rajasthani delicacies – particularly a rather spicy version of Ker Sangri – made with desert beans and berries – also offering a terrific view of the fort, especially if you want to catch the sunset.

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These were some glimpses into the enchanting and alluring world of Rajasthan – where Padharo Mhare Desh isn’t just a mellifluous folksy refrain that you’ve heard on the telly; it is the very breath of the state, where people are so incredibly warm and welcoming. Rajasthan is where low-walled houses and palaces, myths and realities, the archaic and the modern, all overlap and prevail in their own unique way and you’ll want to go back just to get another peek into the rich tapestry of its culture. Besides, there’s so much more to Rajasthan than the places highlighted here.

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A New Take On A Holiday Classic!

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A few years ago, a visit to Door County, Wisconsin, during the holiday season threw up some wonderful possibilities. The lake was a sheet of glass, the twinkling lights were everywhere, trees adorned with glimmering ornaments towered over us, the aromas of cinnamon and cocoa swathed us in a warm embrace everywhere we went, sparks flew from the hearth where wood was burning to a blue-tinged glow, and everything seemed fairytale-like. 

Up for sampling one evening was a range of baked goodies, and a slice of fruitcake was naturally the strongest contender. It was there that we learnt that there was something called “holiday cake weather,” as dictated by the chiming of a distant church bell, clear as crystal as it cut through the cold air, with no bird call interruptions. 

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It isn’t often that you happen upon such details, and it’s these little things that make experiences richer and more fulfilling. We’ve had our share of Christmas cake samples around the world, and we carry slices of the stories that made them on our backs and into our kitchens, where the ovens are fired up for the annual tradition. 

It’s never too late to bake a holiday cake or start a new tradition, and here’s a simple one that you can try this Christmas. You can serve it for New Year’s too, if you please. It’s a whole wheat fruit ‘n nut cake, moist, crumbly and just a touch cinnamony. Right now, we’re not just revisiting a holiday memory, but also a few recipes that have been tweaked and turned a little, to arrive at this one. 

Season’s greetings to all!

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 Whole Wheat Fruit ‘n Nut Bundt Cake
(Makes 1 Bundt cake)

  • 3 cups Whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered jaggery 
  • 1 cup organic/ sulphur free sugar, powdered
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 orange rind, cleaned and chopped fine
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 1/2 cup almond and pecan pieces
  • 1/2 cup raisins and other chopped dry fruits (apricot, plum)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180° C.
  2. Grease a Bundt pan and dust it with flour.
  3. Mix whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt with a fork and set aside.
  4. Whisk the butter, jaggery, sugar and cinnamon powder until light and fluffy. 
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well with each addition.
  6. Add the vanilla extract and orange rind, mix gently.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with milk, ending with flour – mix gently with each addition.
  8. Add the nuts and dry fruits and fold them in very slowly.
  9. Pour the batter in the prepared pan.
  10. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool completely before transferring to a plate.

 Note: Serve this cake warm, with hot cocoa or a glass of milk.

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Fresh Fig Clafouti

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French desserts don’t always have to be complicated and daunting, and the Clafouti is a perfect example. Classic custard ingredients are whisked together and then baked up along with fat chunks of whatever fruit is in season. Cherries, pears, plums, all work well, though we’ve used some beautiful fresh figs here that were conveniently home-delivered from our go-to grocer. The jammy flavor of the figs intensifies beautifully when they are baked, and their tiny seeds pepper the velvety creaminess of the warm baked custard with their faint crunch. This Fresh Fig Clafouti is a perfect pre-holiday dessert, setting the stage for decadence to follow..

fig-clafoutis

Fresh Fig Clafouti

(Serves 4-6)

  • 10-12 fresh figs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Generously butter a 9” pie plate or medium oven-proof dish and set aside.
  3. Wash and dry the figs gently. Then trim away the stems and quarter the figs.
  4. Scatter the figs around the prepared dish. Set aside.
  5. Put all the remaining ingredients along with 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar into a blender and process for about a minute or until smooth.
  6. Pour the mixture over the figs.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the custard and fruit.
  8. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the custard is puffy and golden and a knife inserted in the custard comes out clean.
  9. Dust with a little icing sugar and serve warm with thick cream.

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2-Layer Paneer Canapes

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The lavish menu at a premium, fine-dining restaurant would possibly enthrall you with a dozen-odd varieties of paneer dishes, each stylishly titled, like Paneer Manpasand or Paneer Rosti, and ornately described, with a mouthful of adjectives. In our kitchens, blocks of paneer are prized possessions, whether freshly made or stored in bowls of water in the refrigerator for a few days. Paneer, bearing high protein content and an edge of versatility (crumble and make a quick bhurji, cube and slip into tomato-based gravies, marinate and grill to jazz up a party platter), fares well in all columns on our chart, starting from nutrition to taste.

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Even if it’s not party time, we like to serve varieties of finger food as tea-time accompaniments for guests or after-school snacks for our girls. Featured here are easy to make Paneer Canapes, all crackling brown and semolina-crusted on one side and lightly grill-seared paneer on the bottom. These two-layer beauties are one-bite pickings at best, and pair well with a wide range of sides, right from chilli sauce to salsa. They’ll last a few minutes, or just long enough for you to blink before thinking of the next course of the meal.

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2-Layer Paneer Canapes

(Makes 18)

  • 200g Block of paneer 
  • 1/3 cup fine semolina / suji / rawa 
  • ¼ cup thick yogurt / curds 
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ¼ cup minced tomato 
  • ¼ cup finely grated carrot
  • 1 green chilli, minced
  • 2 tablespoons coriander leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala
  • Pinch of red chilli pepper
  • Pinch of turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying
  1. Cut the block of paneer into 9 equal pieces, and slit each piece into 2 thin slices. The pieces you get should be bite-sized..about an inch square, and ¼” thick. Season these with salt and set aside.
  2. Mix the semolina with the yogurt in a bowl. Stir in the onion, tomato, carrot, chilli, coriander and mint. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, garam masala, red chilli and turmeric.
  3. Heat a large non-stick frying pan with a drizzle of oil.
  4. Put about a heaped teaspoon of the semolina mixture on top of a paneer cube and press it down slightly so that it forms a thick layer all over the paneer. Carefully place this in the hot frying pan with the semolina side down. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
  5. Fry the semolina side of the canapes on low heat until well-browned. Then increase the heat to medium-low and flip the pieces over. Fry the paneer side very briefly or else the paneer may become tough.
  6. Remove the fried canapes to a paper towel. If you were not able to fit in all the pieces in the frying pan, repeat the process with the remaining paneer.
  7. Serve the paneer with your favourite condiment. We like green chutney, ketchup, chilli sauce or salsa.

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* Paneer is a fresh, non-melting cheese used in Indian cuisine which is made from curdling milk and draining out the whey. The milk solids are pressed down to form a block of the cheese.  You can find it in Indian grocery stores or try haloumi or firm tofu as a substitute in this recipe.

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We like to serve these canapes with some fresh lettuce leaves to wrap the pieces in. Small leaves work best, and add a lovely freshness and crunch to the dish.

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Around Town: Buffalo Back Organic

buffalo back organic store Bangalore

At the end of our post The Mighty Millet Matters we had promised to share here a few pictures and notes about the charming venue. And this post is all about Buffalo Back, which is an organic studio that operates from Jayanagar and Yelahanka in Bangalore. They carry an extensive range of local and natural products that they source from farmers and co-operatives across the country. The stores also carry fresh vegetables from their farm off Bannerghatta road on a designated day of the week at each store, and they home-deliver fresh foodstuff to select areas in Bangalore.

For the last 2 years our family has been enjoying just-picked greens, tasty seasonal vegetables, fruit and dry goods from Buffalo Back, and we believe that they have made a significant difference to our health and well-being. Buying organic is a matter of trust, and Buffalo Back has our trust for not just the fact that the food is organically produced but that is produced and sold to us in ways that are sustainable and fair to the farmers and workers.

buffalo back organic store Bangalore

Buffalo Back also stocks heirloom varieties of staples like rajma, black horsegram, nanga jou or unhulled barley, Emmer (Farro) and Khatiya varieties of wheat and their flour, all kinds of millets and an amazing range of rices including Black rice, Bamboo rice, Rajmudi rice and Red rice.

If you’ve been looking for the very elusive free-range eggs you can pick up cartons of Happy Hens eggs here, which are our family’s favourite. They also work with other farms in Uttarakhand, Himachal and Ooty to bring us fresh produce like apples, rhubarb, broccoli, strawberries and speciality products right from the source.

buffalo back organic store Bangalore

Thanks to Buffalo Back we’ve switched to organic, cold-pressed oils, and alternate between the peanut, coconut, sesame and mustard oils that are available here. They also carry ghee made with desi cow and buffalo milk. Buffalo Back grows their own cacao and you can find the dried cacao beans, as well as raw cacao powder that they have processed at the farm.

Other not to be missed specialities in the store include the apple cider vinegar that they make themselves, all natural rock and sea salts that are great for cooking as well as for medicinal uses and their handcrafted all-natural soap bar creations.

Buffalo Back Organic store bangalore

We also found some comfortable-looking clothes here made from earthy organic cottons, and there was a nice selection of mud pots and earthenware dishes, along with ladles made with natural materials.

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We’ve experienced Buffalo Back’s strive to reduce packaging waste and appreciate their efforts to move to a zero-waste enterprise. Our weekly order is delivered in pretty cane baskets or carry bags that we empty and handover right back for reuse. Glass bottles, jute bags, cloth bags, paper bags..they use every eco-friendly packaging possible to keep the use of plastics to a minimum.

Here’s a quote from a facebook post by Buffalo Back – “Our efforts will always be to either eliminate or minimise packaging of real organic food. No branding – from real small marginal genuine organic farmers across Karnataka and neighbouring states (effort to stay as local as possible). And only heirloom landrace varieties of grains and pulses/ legumes. Sold loose/ bulk in reusable cloth bags and recycled glass bottles and jars, all of which you can return and reuse. Or better still – bring your own containers and bags.”

Do visit the Buffalo Back stores in Jayanagar or Yelahanka New Town for an old world experience of buying groceries, and vegetables that are actually local and farm-fresh, and not just labelled so by marketing gurus. You won’t find a new wave enterprise here that’s shiny and modern but your bags can be loaded with real food that is grown in a manner that is healthful for the soil, the farmers and the consumers.

Contact:

Buffalo Back,

Jayanagar – 43, Mountain Street, Jayanagar 1st Block East, opposite Madhavan Park, Bangalore, India

Yelahanka – Self Financed Society 208 Colony, Yelahanka New Town, Bengaluru, 560064

Email: vishalabuffaloback@gmail.com

Note: The views and recommendations expressed in this post are our own and we have not been compensated for the same by anyone. 

 

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