An evening with Go Cheese

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Rich, buttery, piquant and oh so satisfyingly savoury, cheese is a well-loved food that people from every culture have enjoyed and experimented with since ancient times. You could be a cheese snob turning up your nose at mass-produced blocks of processed cheese heaped in supermarket coolers, a paneer addict whose day isn’t complete without a helping of squishy cubes dunked in spicy masala or a cheese aficionado who finds something to love in every bite of cheese that makes its way into your mouth. Whatever tastes and textures your taste-buds gravitate towards, there is a cheese somewhere that you’ll surely fancy.

If you were to peep into the Tadka fridges you’re likely to find us well-stocked with a fair number of cheese varieties for snacking and cooking with. Lately we’ve been trying out many Indian brands of cheese, which we find are really coming into their own. We’ve found that brands like Go Cheese have an extensive and inexpensive range of good quality firm cheeses, spreads, slices and shreds with some interesting flavours. What we also like is the fact that they are produced locally. Instead of spending a bundle on that block of imported Emmental that may or may not have been handled and stored properly, we’d much rather support our local cheese industry.

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An invitation to a cheese appreciation session that promised wine-pairing and a tasting menu curated by Chef Ranveer Brar found its way into our inbox, and it sounded promising enough for us to head to The Biere Club on a Monday evening. The event was organised by Go Cheese and Femina, and started off with a hilarious standup comedy act by Sahil Shah. This was followed by an informative session with the marketing head of Go Cheese who talked about their products including the Gowardhan brand that includes milk, butter, ghee and dahi.

Chef Ranveer Brar then shared with us some facts about cheese in general, and some of his ideas on cheese pairings. We enjoyed the cheese platters featuring Gouda, mild Cheddar and Colby from the Go Cheese range. These were served with complementing foods like grapes, crackers, fresh figs and dried apricots. The cheeses were mild with a subtle creamy sweetness and paired well with the other foods on the platter.

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The five appetizers that were served were the highlight of the evening. These included a lovely Beetroot carpaccio with herb Almette and mini greens (centre above). This was surely the dish of the day and the rich, creamy herbed cheese tasted heavenly with the wafer thin blanched beet slices. The mini calzone (top) was adequately flaky and gooey, and the crumb-fried nugget (right) had the chilly grape chutney  to offset the heaviness of deep-fried cheese. The Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese flour nacho with avocado salsa (bottom) had our favourite fresh Mexican flavours and the bruschetta (left) with the sliced cheese on top was lifted with the addition of olives and mustard. 

Chef Ranveer Brar also shared some tips on pairing cheese with wine and delighted the audience with the interesting flavour combinations that he shared of cheese with typical Indian ingredients like green tomato chunda, starfruit, khakhras, panch phoran etc.

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For those with an insatiable sweet tooth there is now a range of desserts that make good use of the tang and creamy lusciousness of  cheeses like ricotta, mascarpone and cream cheese. We were served a Saffron cream syllabub with fresh fruits and biscotti crumbles and a slice of Hummingbird cake frosted with Amlette cheese.

Here’s a super special Tadka dessert that you could try with cheese – Mini chocolate-cheese tartlets and for a weekday main course we love nothing better than our cheesy Impossible Pies.

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Thanks Go Cheese and Femina for inviting us and for the hamper with delicious samples. We’re definitely looking forward to trying the Almette cheese in all kinds of applications, and the Monday-Friday cheese slices in flavours like Green Chutney, Achari and Kacha Aam are sure to pep up our lunchbox sandwiches.

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The Mighty Millet Matters

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Millets have recently become a trending buzzword, with foodies, bloggers, fitness buffs and all manner of folks scrambling to discover more about these tiny grains that offer big promises. We attended a wonderful session aptly titled “The Mighty Millet Matters” led by Dwiji Guru, a technology developer working for sustainable solutions in food and agriculture. The session was hosted at Buffalo Back‘s old world Organic Studio in Jayanagar, Bangalore and the homely, well-lit space, with its stone benches, exposed brickwork walls, open kitchen and cool red oxide floors was not just completely appropriate for the discussions but also seemed to open up warmly to accommodate all the people who came in.

Since it was a long session, covering all kinds of details about the millet eco-system, we would like to bring you some interesting highlights and our key takeaways from it. The first thing we learnt was that the term ‘rice’ which to most of us means steaming mounds of fragrant white grains of paddy on our plates, actually is a generic term that refers to seeds or food grains obtained from grass-like plants. When you heap a scoop of millets or any other grains on your plate, then that is rice too, for example you could serve foxtail millet rice with your tadka dal.

So why are millets topping the charts as wonder grains and prime health food? The nutritional profile of millets we were told, is far superior to that of the paddy or wheat grains that most of us like to eat. One reason for this is that strains of grains that are domesticated and cultivated on such large-scales as wheat and paddy are selected mostly for characteristics like high-yield and hardiness, and not really for their nutritional content. Also, these selectively bred grains themselves, having been grown in comfortable farming conditions over long periods of time, become less nutritious than their cousins that grow in more spartan environments. Therefore, the less domesticated the grain or seed is, the more nutritious it is! An equivalent example for this is the oils that we consume..artisinal edible oils obtained from seeds like apricot, nigella and flax are far superior in their nutritional content than the oils from mass cultivated sunflower, safflower and palm crops.

Dwiji Guru also explained to us why the cultivation of paddy and wheat gained momentum and eclipsed other ancient grains like millets, sorghum, kamut and spelt all over the world. It is not that paddy or wheat are easier to cultivate than millets. They require intensive investments in terms of the type and fertility of the soil, topography of the land, pesticides and fertilisers, water, farm labour and processing facilities. Millets on the other hand are hardier crops that can grow in drier, rugged terrains, with high tolerance for drought conditions.

Perhaps due to the human penchant for things that come with a premium tag, over time paddy and wheat became the rich man’s food, and the native grains were left behind to feed the birds and nourish the economically poorer sections of our society. Paddy and wheat cultivation also gained huge impetus due to investments and stakes by the government in terms of subsidies, R&D, infrastructure for processing and marketing support. Powerful schemes like the Green Revolution brought in sweeping changes in agriculture and contributed to the gradual undoing of millet farming.

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One key learning for us was that the millet we buy from the stores may not be whole grain! If the millet grains look white and smooth, then we must check whether the bran has been removed before packaging.

We were asked to look closely at samples of the different varieties of whole millets that Dwiji Guru had brought, including red and yellow Foxtail, Barnyard, Little and Proso millets. He also asked us to try and remove the husk from some of the whole millets using sandpaper, so that we could see the difference between the whole and refined grains. Since they are so tiny, millet grains are harder to process and this is one reason for the higher price tags that they carry in comparison to paddy and wheat.

Natural grains would also leave traces of an oily residue on your palms after being handled, whereas this would have been stripped away if they have been refined. Always try to buy the whole grain millets to gain the best out of them.

millet dishes

Millets are highly nutritious, and have high levels of dietary fiber, antioxidants, calcium and essential trace minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. They are gluten-free and easy to digest. They are also low on the glycemic index. It was suggested that we cook with a range of millet varieties and other whole grains rather than serving only rice and wheat at our tables.

In our experience it is difficult for small families to stock a large variety of grains in the pantry, especially organic ones, since their shelf life can often be limited due to being unprocessed. What we like to do is to buy a couple of different ones each time we shop, to ensure variety, while still keeping pantry stocks manageable.

Cooking millets is easy, and once you start using them you will discover inventive ways of including them in your meals. Whole cooked millets can be cooked up as porridge or khichadi, wheat rawa can be easily subbed with millet rawa in your morning upma and plain cooked grains can be served like rice as mentioned earlier.

Millet flour is a nutty and rich-tasting whole grain and gluten-free substitute, and most millets can also be easily ground up in dosa and other batters. Minimally processed millet products like millet flakes can be substituted in poha preparations, and now you can even find popped millet kernels in speciality stores. The trick is to stay close to the whole and unprocessed form of the grain..a millet cookie that has been baked with maida tempered by a dash of millet flour and oodles of hydrogenated fat is obviously not the best choice in the scheme of things.

Our hosts served up some delicious millet-based dishes that brought to our tastebuds the versatility of these grains. A pearl millet ganji or hot drink, spiked with the throat-tingling heat of ginger and pepper was perfect for the mild Bangalore winter. We loved the savoury Kodo millet kozhukattais or steamed Kodo millet balls, served with a herbed coconut chutney. And some mixed millet cookies rounded off the delicious sampling.

Here are some millet recipes from the Tadka kitchens that you may want to try – Multigrain Pilaf

Foxtail millet kheer with jaggery

Barnyard millet vangi bath

Millet-stuffed mushrooms

You can find more recipes here for many varieties of millets.

We hope that you enjoyed this post. Watch for our next “Around Town” venture where we tell you more about the delightful venue where this millet session was held.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tadka Travels: Magical, Mystical Benares

Benares is a rich, technicolour dream that explodes on your senses, one sight, sound and smell at a time. Yes, it is dirty and many shadows lurk under its old skin. And yes, that bit has been glorified to the point that it may even repulse some folks when they have to walk on its pan-stained, sorely defiled cobblestone streets. Even so, Benares is a city that evokes a deep-seated fascination for anyone who loves places with character, history and strong cultural identities.

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It is not often that you go to a place and come back feeling a little lost, a little overwhelmed, and a little delirious, all at once. Benares does that to you. You want to breathlessly discover so much more of it on your feet or on board a cycle rickshaw, and yet just sit still in one spot, say by the flowing Ganga, to imbibe the peace it exudes. You want to disregard the shrine-fanaticism, but you stop in your tracks for a moment when you happen upon an idol in a wall or on the pavement, taken by the positive energy that surrounds it. You want to re-do the things you did the day before just one more time before it’s time to go back to your life. You want to turn away from the painful things and turn right around and at once embrace the little joys it offers. You want to be there for every offbeat experience and yet disappear into all its renowned, magnificent acts with a thousand others. The whole point of a city like Benares, so radiant and promising from a boat on the Ganga at sunrise, and so full of despair in the darkness of its alleys where people cling on to dear life consumed by the filth of their past, is the dichotomy.

Here is a list of recommendations that you should definitely go for in Benares.

Sunrise On A Boat

If there’s just one thing you absolutely must make time for, against all odds and your urban body clock, it is this. Sunrise on the Ganga is simply breathtaking and you will be enamored by how, despite the gridlock on the river with several boats paddling about within inches from one another, and umpteen eager beavers flashing their cameras at the rising sun, a sense of sheer bliss and calmness will wash over you.

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There are no adequate words to describe just how mesmerizing the sight is, of the liquid gold of the sun splashing on the steel-grey sky across from your vantage point on a boat, and the ghats gradually filling up with people on the other side.

Tadka Tip:

The boat rides are typically Rs. 200 per person, and last for about an hour and a half, starting at 6 am. You can arrange for the rower to come and pick you up from your hotel/ home-stay, and take you to the Ghats. Do stop for a Kullad Chai (see below) on your way to fuel up for this sublime experience!

Ganga Aarti

The Aarti is just as magical from the Ghats as it is from a moored boat a few feet into the river. There’s something so captivating about the rhythm of the prayer and the flickering glow of the lights against the ebony of the night sky, that you forget all about the milling crowds and the resulting congestion. The devotion of the priests as their swaying bodies perform the rituals is a pleasure to behold. The burning incense, the flare of flower petals, the chiming of the sacred bells, the cadence of the chanting..all come alive so majestically that it’s hard not to be enamoured.

Tadka Tip:

For just Rs. 10, you can buy a ready-to-light diya (lamp) and light it as the Aarti progresses, to set it afloat on the river!

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Food

Kullad chai is a must have in Benares. We met a friendly chaiwala who gladly gave us a bunch of kullads to take home. A handful of crushed ginger steeping into chai boiling over in a dented kettle over a coal stove is the best thing you’ll set your eyes upon, whether it is at the crack of dawn or at dusk.

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Only in Benares will you encounter friendly cops who show you the way to a cozy little nook where you will dig into the most delectable kachori-aloo saag at half past seven in the morning. Of course you’ll have to top that breakfast with piping hot jalebis and some dahi, if you fancy it, and thank the cop and all of creation for putting you in that place at that hour. Sunil’s Mishtan Bhandar is your go-to place for this burst of morning deliciousness.

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Lunch at Granny’s Inn, prepared by the ever-obliging cook – Kashi, is sumptuous to say the least. Priced at Rs. 250 per head, it comes with salad, dal, two sabzis, rotis, and rice.

For snacks, you could try Deena’s Chaat shop, or any snack shack around the corner, where samosas and kachoris are ready just when you crave some.

One of our most favourite places to eat in was Niyati Cafe. Homestyle food peppered with the amicable banter and warmth of the owner, Ravi. We tried everything from Chowmein to Dal Fry and really loved it all.

The Brown Bread Bakery has some nice breads and cakes, for Christmas! It’s a wonderful little tuck shop to clock into when the morning is just opening up into endless possibilities, and when you need a break from the deep-fried desi goodies.

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Baati Chokha is a delightful restaurant serving authentic UP style food: baati, chokha, rotis, rice, dal, chutneys, salad, churma, kheer. High on the spice and heat factors, the food is quite the grand feast and will definitely leave you asking for surplus dessert, even if you’re full to the gills. The ambience is warm and inviting, with charpoys and traditional murals, and the place is packed with throngs any given time of day.

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Malaio is a typical Benarasi dessert, which is made particularly in the winter months, by exposing thick, creamy milk to the kohra or mist, under the wide open night sky. Then, in the morning, the milk is infused with badam (almond) powder, kesar (saffron), sugar, rabdi, and fresh cream, and whipped in a traditional churning device. The result is an almost non-existent, towering foam of cream. The subtlety of the sweetness makes this even more special as it melts into the depths of your mouth, tingling on the tongue for just a few seconds so you can discern its goodness. Ceremoniously washed down with badam milk, this is an ambrosial treat to the taste buds.

While we were at the Malaio-wala’s, we heard a bunch of people frantically asking for extra servings of kadhai doodh or skillet milk. That’s exactly how the milk is treated, at the malaio-wala’s, and eventually, how the rabdi is made, too.

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We had several helpings of rabdi, alternating with hot jalebis, after dinner, when we would just take a stroll down the lane, taking in the aroma of burning coal and all kinds of food, ranging from deep-fried to slow-simmered. In fact, we met a lovely young couple who claimed that their late evening samosa binge was actually dessert, after a long hour of culinary exploration around the bylanes near the Vishwanath temple.

Stay

We cannot recommend Granny’s Inn, run by two adorable grannies – Asha & Aruna, enough. It is a charming home-stay with clean, well appointed rooms adorned with Benarasi silk curtains and fresh linen. The foyer, living and dining areas are filled with quirky wall art and plants potted in innovatively repurposed coke bottles, among other containers. The hosts are friendly and warm and make you feel right at home, always ready to guide and assist you in your plans. They’ll even organise a cab for you, if you wish to go on a day trip.

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Around Benares

Sarnath, a 45-minute drive from the heart of Benares, is the site of Gautama Buddha’s first sermon after he attained enlightenment.

The place is buzzing with activity on any given day (save for Friday, when the museum is closed), and is dotted with monastic institutions and temples, a vast expanse of excavation ground which is home to the Ashoka pillar and several Buddhist relics dating back to the third Century BC.

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The main attraction is the Dhamek Stupa, a massive commemorative structure of Buddha’s first sermon, inscribed with prayers in the Brahmi script. It stands tall against the flat expanse of land, marked with the ground-level archeaological finds.

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The museum is across the street, and is filled with antiquities ranging in time from third century B.C. to twelfth century A.D. The exhibits range from sculptures of Buddha in sitting and standing positions, Vajrapani, Bodhisattva Padamapani – made from a variety of materials like red sandstone, chunar sandstone, etc. – to earthy objects like figures of birds, animals, everyday utensils. The biggest draw of the museum is perhaps the Lion Capital, India’s national emblem (the pillar-base is at the excavation site, and the head is at the museum), with its lustrous Mauryan polish, at 2.31 meters in height. (No cameras inside the museum).

There is also a unique and fascinating exhibit – a fragment of an umbrella, with an inscription from the Kushana period, depicting the four noble truths of Buddha’s first sermon at the deer park.

There are street vendors selling everything from artifacts to beaded jewelry around the museum, and many gift shops selling silks and souvenirs, too.

Shopping:

The streets leading upto the Ghats are filled with little shops and carts, selling a host of knickknacks, flowers, sweets, fabric, Puja paraphernalia, etc. Ambling down these streets and the gulleys they lead to could in itself be a great way to spend time and revel in the vibrant, eclectic appeal of Benares. You’ll likely encounter cows and their dung, motorcyclists and pedestrians, persistent hawkers and beggars, children and toys, monkeys and dogs, dilapidated buildings and cobwebbed windows..all along.

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Tadka Tip:
Some of the things we found are: sandalwood logs and powder, copper tumblers, rosary necklaces, beaded bracelets with Om motifs, wooden stamp blocks, Christmasy bells, scarves and stoles, German silver jewelry, and a stainless steel wire roaster, of all things under the sun. The seller of this roaster was kind enough to also provide a recipe for baingan bharta, in an effort to elaborate the utilitarian value of his ware.

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All things considered, Benares can never get too much with you. As if the mesmerizing mornings and evenings on the Ghats aren’t enough, you’ll find that Benares has its heart in the right place outside of the Ganga too. Benares is alive 24 hours of the day, and its steady pulse will fill your heart, seemingly at the ready to fall into your dreams long after you’ve left its grip. Benares is the quilt of all this and much more that falls outside the realm of words, which you’ll want to wrap around you forever. Do go to Benares, and come back a little richer, and perhaps a little humbled.

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Crusty Mushroom and Millet Bites

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Steering away from carb and fat-heavy meals is the order of the day. Small portions of healthy food appeal better across demographic groups, and even a typical food-centered festival is sized down to the extent that satisfaction comes from quality, and not quantity. The whole idea of finger food is in line with the thought that one eats for nourishment and not to fill the stomach to the brim. We’re big fans of that school of thought and appetizers are a favorite with us – while the Russian caviar and Turkish mezze have their place in the grander scheme of culinary traditions – stuffed mushrooms have always scored big on the Thanksgiving table.

Our recipe uses millets, infused with diverse flavors. The versatility of millets, to lend themselves to the richness of the spices and yet hold their own, adds so much in terms of texture and taste to this recipe, and it’s a refreshingly welcome change from the run-of-the-mill stuffing ingredients.  Whether you make these as a pre-cursor to a simple and elegant Thanksgiving meal, or as part of a big line up of bite-sized delicacies to tide you over until dessert time, they are so good that you can rest assured you won’t have any leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving from our families to yours!

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Millet-stuffed Mushrooms

(Serves 4)

  • 200g button mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup millets, any variety
  • 1 tablespoon oil plus more for cooking the mushrooms
  • whole spices – 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 green cardamoms and 1 star anise
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted walnuts
  • Cucumber, red bell pepper and lemon wedges for serving
  1. Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove the stems. If necessary, use a paring knife to remove some of the mushroom flesh around the base of the stem to make room for more filling. Chop up the mushroom stems and set aside.
  2. To make the filling – rinse the millets, drain well and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a small pressure pan.
  4. Add the whole spices and saute on low heat.
  5. Tip in the chopped onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and then cook on medium heat until the onions start to brown. Add the chopped mushroom stems and saute until everything caramelises.
  6. Add the ginger garlic paste to the pan and saute until the raw smell disappears.
  7. Add the salt, chilli powder, garam masala, coriander and cumin powders and stir well.
  8. Add the millets and 1 cup of water to the pan. Stir.
  9. Pressure cook until the millets are done – reduce the heat after the first whistle and cook on low heat for 3 minutes. Switch off the heat and let the pressure release on its own. Fluff up the millets with a fork and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove and discard the whole spices. Stir in the walnuts, if using.
  10. Stuff the mushrooms with the cooked millets, pressing them in well and mounding the stuffing a little.
  11. Lightly grease a paniyaram/abelskiver pan or non-stick frying pan. Place the mushrooms in the pan without crowding, stuffing side up. Drizzle a few drops of oil all around.
  12. Once the mushroom bottoms brown, carefully turn them and cook the other side until crusted and brown.
  13. Serve hot with chutneys of your choice, lemon wedges and crisp slices of salad vegetables to add some colour to the dish.

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Note: We like cooking stuffed mushrooms in our cast iron paniyaram / abelskiver pan because it makes them crusty on a larger surface area. You can also use a regular frying pan or tava to cook them.

 

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Pumpkin Shrikhand with Honey-roasted Pumpkin Seeds

roasted pumpkin shrikhand with pumpkin seeds

Over the years, Diwali has lost its acute edges in our world, and with that, the loudness and garishness have faded, too. The parties have gotten quieter, the  firecrackers relegated to a few sparklers lit by our girls to honour the essence of the festival, and the tall order of lavish gift and sweet boxes have been replaced by humbler, more meaningful favours. Only, the recipient lists have gotten bigger..and with reason.

The prospect of a simple sit-down meal with the family seems so much more satisfying, and the thought that the dear ones we lost this year are looking down upon us with grace and love, seems to bring a curious sense of relief. In their memory, and in the hope that the grounding it will provide to the next generation will be strong, here is a simple recipe for Shrikhand, with the season’s flavour..sweet pumpkin, and hints of saffron and cardamom coursing through it. It’s mellow and perfect to take to a festive potluck, and just right to follow that home cooked meal on Diwali or the days leading up to it, too.

Happy Diwali! Wishing that we are all surrounded by love and light.

Pumpkin Shrikhand with Honey-roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Shrikhand with Honey-roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3 cups thick curd
  • 300g yellow pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons ghee
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 8-10 saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon warm milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 cardamoms
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream
  1. Place a cheesecloth in a large sieve and the sieve over a bowl. Pour the curd into the cloth, cover and place in the refrigerator for about 2-3 hours or until most of the whey has drained away and the curd is very thick.
  2. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
  3. Peel the skin of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and fibres. Cut the pumpkin into about 1″ pieces. Toss with the ghee and add a pinch of salt. Spread the cubes on a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until tender and just starting to brown.
  4. Spread the pumpkin seeds on another small tray, drizzle the honey over them and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until brown. Set aside
  5. Soak the saffron in the warm milk and set aside.
  6. Grind the sugar with only the seeds of the cardamom pods and set aside. Reserve the skins for another use.
  7. Once the pumpkin is roasted, remove it from the oven and allow to cool. Grind the pumpkin cubes in a small mixer, adding the cream as needed to achieve a thick puree. Set aside.
  8. Transfer the hung curd to a bowl. Whisk until smooth.
  9. Add the pumpkin puree, sugar-cardamom mixture and the saffron with its soaking milk. Whisk the shrikhand well. Taste and adjust the sweetness.
  10. Transfer the shrikhand to a serving dish and top with the pumpkin seeds. Chill well before serving.

Pumpkin Shrikhand with Honey-roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Oven-roasting concentrates the mild flavours of the pumpkin and removes its natural moisture effectively. However, you also can steam or pressure cook the pumpkin, grind it into a puree and then hang the puree in a cheesecloth to remove the excess water.

Don’t throw away the whey or water that you get while draining the curds or pumpkin! You can use these nutritious liquids to make dough, or in dals and soups.

Pumpkin Shrikhand with Honey-roasted Pumpkin Seeds

 

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Granola..As You Love It

Fruit and nut honey granola

The term “Granola” probably makes you conjure up a scene in 1970s Los Angeles, zooming into Sunset Boulevard, perhaps, where Hollywood stars ordered their power breakfasts brimming with high-protein ingredients like chia seeds, tossed with hand-pounded crunchy oats and grande coffees before taking on the day. Zoom out back to the reality of today, where even small towns around the world, not just America, are teeming with counterculture lifestyles, and you’ll see fruit-nut muesli and seed-studded granola varieties, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, listed conscientiously on menus.

In the wake of this new health-food revolution that is sweeping past us, it isn’t essentially a lofty task to make your own wholesome breakfast mix or snack fix. Our grandmothers and mothers have been at it for ages now, and if that isn’t inspiration enough, what is? Here’s a Do-It-Yourself granola recipe that works like a charm, whether you’re in La-la-land or just at home sweet home. You don’t need a dictionary to learn how to pronounce the ingredients, or a lavish list of exotic add-ons. You can mix and match your favorite dry fruits and nuts, seeds and even staples. Rolled millets or wheat, flax or hemp seeds, desiccated coconut slices, prunes, cranberries are just a few of the variables we can think of. The expanse of the baking sheet, as it were, is your only limit.

Fruit, Nut and Honey granola

DIY granola

(Makes 5 cups)

  • 2.25 cups (200g) rolled oats (preferably not the instant/quick-cooking variety)
  • 2 tablespoons seeds (sunflower or pumpkin)
  • 1/4 cup flaked or chopped nuts
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or sunflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons powdered cinnamon
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (raisins, dates, blueberries, cranberries, apricots, kiwi, or pineapple)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C.
  2. Line a large baking tray with parchment or foil. Set aside.
  3. Place the oats, seeds and nuts in a large mixing bowl and mix lightly.
  4. Pour the honey and oil in a saucepan. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and heat the mixture until it just starts to simmer. Do not boil.
  5. Pour the hot liquids over the oat mixture and toss well with a spoon.
  6. Spread the oats evenly in the baking tray in a thin layer.
  7. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the oats get to a deep brown colour without getting burnt. Remove the tray from the oven after about 12 minutes of baking, toss the oats and spread them out again. Return to the oven to complete toasting.
  8. Place the tray on a rack and allow  the oats to cool completely. The granola will crunch up as the oats cool.
  9. Toss in the chopped dried fruit and chocolate chips with the granola once cooled completely.
  10. Store in an airtight container to retain freshness.

fruit nut and honey granola

Tadka Tip: This granola can be eaten by the spoonful as a snack, with milk as cereal and scooped on top of yogurt and fruit for a light breakfast. Its lightly sweet and spicy flavours and crunch work well when sprinkled on salads, or on top of wholesome muffins or snack cakes just before you pop them into the oven.

fruit nut honey granola

 

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Smokin’ Hot Fire-roasted Corn Dip

Fire roasted corn dip

If all our growing up years were to be condensed into a single nugget, what would it contain? There was so much play, and there was so much done on impulse. There was music that soothed the senses as it poured out of vintage gramophones, and books that were read cuddled up under the bed in a little pool of torch light. There was scope for carefree moments that involved dancing in the rain, and hopscotch being played until the bones creaked. There were games invented during power cuts, even as shadows on the wall teased us from an arm’s length. And then there was food. Food smothered in Mother’s love, food cooked by grandma on a wood-fired stove, and food devoured at the wayside shacks without a moment’s thought for anything else but the appetite, sometimes washed down with a pop of cola.

Corn-on-the-cob is probably at the top of that list. It brings back a rush of tender, warm memories..of rain, lips burning from the dust of fiery, hot chili powder, and the sweet aftertaste of the fleshy corn kernels lingering on until it was time for the next meal. This recipe, inspired by that childhood memory, is stellar on all counts. It has the zest of corn-on-the-cob, conveniently spruced up and mashed down. You can scoop it up, one spoon at a time, and eat it all on its own, or use it as a dip or a spread – whatever soothes your soul. This right here, is what we call – a true taste of nostalgia, in a bowl.

Fire-roasted Corn Dip

Fire-roasted Corn Dip 

  • 1 corn cob
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 4 pods garlic, minced and smashed
  • to taste Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  1. Shuck and then roast the corn cob on the flames or grill. Cut out the corn kernels while holding the corn upright on a plate. Grind the kernels to a paste in a grinder, adding the stock as needed to achieve a smooth paste. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small nonstick saucepan or kadai set on medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and sweat them for a few minutes, with a generous pinch of salt.
  3. Once the onions just begin to turn golden add the tomato and cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Now add all the spices (red chilli powder, paprika, white pepper and cumin powder) and toast them briefly.
  5. Transfer the corn paste to the pan. Stir well and cook, covered, on low heat for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dip to a bowl and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top. Dust with a pinch of paprika, if desired.
  7. Serve the dip hot, warm or at room temperature.

Fire roasted corn dip

 

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Tadka Travels – Magical Mysore

Volumes have already been recorded about the magnificence of Mysore, the land of spices, silk and sandalwood, as the word goes, and should you want to plan a quick trip to this lovely little town just about 150 kms from Bangalore, the internet will indubitably offer an overdose of information. Yet, there is something so magical about the place that it warranted a log of sorts in our little nook here.

Mysore is a small town that is a perfect mix of old world charm and green-thumbed innovation, an ideal weekend getaway when the city life gets too much with you. If you’re driving, make sure you’ve stocked up on a variety of pickings and plenty of water for the road, and also be prepared for heavy traffic up until Bidadi if you leave home after 8 am and especially if it’s a long weekend, which could feel cumbersome as you worm your way out at a snail’s pace. The standard eating pit-stops are Kamat Lokaruchi a little past Ramanagara, MTR after Channapatna and Adiga’s near Maddur. Maddur vada is a hot favourite that will manifest in almost all the eateries.

Tadka Tip:
If, however, you prefer to sit back and bury yourself into the folds of gripping page-turners or lose yourself in day dreams, then the train – the Shatabdi in particular – is your life line. Just hop on board and thumb through your books or take a little nap, and you’ll be in Mysore before you know it. The Shatabdi gets you there in just two hours!

Where to stay:
There are numerous stay options in Mysore, and while the plush interiors of star hotels might seem alluring to some, some others would prefer low-key homestays, known for their simplicity and unpretentious bearing. We, on the other hand, chose a heritage hotel, an erstwhile palace – Chittaranjan palace (can’t beat that when in Mysore, can you?) called The Green Hotel, which was worth every penny in the wallet, especially given that all profits go to charities and environmental initiatives. A charming, quaint hotel with Victorian undertones in every pillar and post, it is dotted with antique furniture, well-tended green alcoves both inside and outside to take refuge in, and houses a well-appointed library at the back, too. The sprawling garden with white furniture and exquisite, paisley-printed table linen is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy your morning coffee and breakfast spread, which is a lovely combination of South Indian fare and Continental bites, or evening cup of tea, with a comely line of fresh-off-the-oven nibbles from the bakery tucked into the back of the hotel, which is also the face of the delightful Malgudi Cafe.

magical-mysore-1

What to see:

The sights of Mysore are many, and they’re bound to enthrall you from the word go. If you intend to squeeze as many of them in during your visit, your itinerary would probably be a round up of all the standard places of interest spelled out in the books. If you’d rather have a leisurely visit and soak in the culture of the city, here’s a list that could be useful:

Jaganmohan Palace & Art Gallery

Highlight:
A big collection of musical instruments used by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

(Photography is prohibited inside the gallery)

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The Mysore Palace

Highlight:
A golf cart tour of the palace grounds and the spectacular sound and light show in the evening, recounting the stories that broke and made the kingdom, complemented by the dazzle of a thousand lights.

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Chamundi Hills

Highlight:

A panoramic view of the city.

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St. Philomena’s Cathedral

Highlight:
The Gothic architectural magnificence of the cathedral is a highlight all on its own, not to mention the tall twin spires that scrape against the sky.

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Zoo

Highlight:
We definitely squealed over the lions and cheetahs, the too-tall giraffe and the peculiar sleep-standing birds, like the Sarus Crane, for one.

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Karanji Lake

Highlight:
Winged friends, especially the peacocks, in the walk-through aviary.

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R.K. Narayan’s House

Highlight:
Everything about R.K. Narayan’s house is a significant part of the overall experience, right from the photographs to the accoutrements on display..which tell many stories about the greatness of the writer and the humility of the human being that was R.K. Narayan. It was a surreal experience to get a glimpse into his life and to go down memory lane with snippets of Malgudi Days adorning the walls that once housed its creator. A wonderful initiative by the City Corporation..and it gets a big thumbs up from us!

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Grub Hubs

Mysore offers an eclectic mix of traditional food halls and fancy hole-in-the-wall cafés. Here’s the Tadka hot list of eats and eateries you must try when in Mysore:

Hotel Original Vinayaka Mylari:
Benne Masala Dosa and filter coffee – no second thoughts about this one!

magical-mysore-9a

Depth ‘n Green:
Choose from a range of pastas, smoothies and vegan desserts, or just opt for the homely vegetarian thali that comes with a delicious Indian sweet – we had gasa-gase payasa or poppy seed/ khus khus kheer in coconut cream, which was lapped up to the last drop.

magical-mysore-9b

Café Cornucopia:
Sandwiches are a surefire hit here, if you ask us, and so is the caramel custard, which is curiously unique.

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The Old House:
With delectable wood-fired pizzas and desserts, this is a favourite that scores big for both ambience and service.

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The Green Hotel/ Malgudi Cafe:
The Green Hotel serves a kingly breakfast on the house, and the a la carte menu for lunch and dinner is rather comprehensive, too. A special recommendation would be the pastries and breads from Malgudi Cafe, particularly the carrot cake.

magical-mysore-9e

It’s hard to say good bye to this beautiful little town, which bears the seductive seal of romanticism in its laid-back appeal, offering a rich tapestry of sights, sounds and smells, to the weary-eyed city slicker. As the refrain goes..”Nammooru Mysuru,” everyone feels at home in Mysore and no one can just visit once.

Go to Mysore to experience the magical world of Maharajas. A world that comes alive every step of the way, in the streets and walls that house big monuments. And in the way you get treated by the locals, if you were to stop and ask a question, or just listen as they tell you stories of a glorious past, and hum a notable tune or two, set to the rhythm of regal, Godly yesterdays.

Tadka Tip:
If you want to experience Mysore Dasara in all its chaotic liveliness, you should probably plan at least a month ahead. But there’s nothing quite like clocking into this fascinating little town before the frenzy takes over (or perhaps after it has died down), when you can have all the serenity and space that you possibly can, with visitors that are few and far between.

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Tadka Travels: Teatime at Valparai

When one is weary of the bustle and smog of the city, the idea of heading out for a mini vacation is pretty appealing, at least until you find yourself marooned at a crowded spot, along with a million other souls who have had exactly the same notion. This scenario is highly unlikely though, if you happen to wander into the tranquil green hills of Valparai in Tamil Nadu, India.
Located in the Anamalai region of the Western Ghats, Valparai is a short and pleasant drive of about 100 kms from Coimbatore city, with about 40 hairpin bends thrown in to appease the adventure seeker. There’s so much to look at all around, as the sweeping views of the plains are replaced with softly rolling hills, and then the lush expanses of tea plantations.
Much of what Valparai is today was shaped by the British. They planted miles of tea bushes in the rich soil of the hills, and setup factories to process the harvest. Sprawling estates, bungalows nestled in picturesque spots, tiny hamlets with neat rows of huts, and colourful temples is what meets the eyes all around. Every inch of the landscape is carpeted in the verdant green of tea bushes in bloom, with evergreen forests nestled at the fringes. There’s plenty of water to be found, at least in the rainy season, and you would encounter tiny ponds, rivulets and quite a few sparkling waterfalls as you drive through the area.
Many of the British-era bungalows have been re-engineered into hotels, and staying at one of these is highly recommended for that ultimate tea estate experience. We just couldn’t get enough of the Sirukundra Bungalow (managed by Briar Tree Bungalows) where we spent the night. Set in manicured gardens blooming with lilies and roses, complete with a porch at the entrance and verandahs running through the front and sides, this immaculate property makes you smile even as you drive in.
The Sirukundra Bungalow was constructed in 1917, and is beautifully maintained and elegantly furnished with period furniture and antique objects d’art. There is a spacious living room with lots of comfortable seating that opens up to the front of the house, and a bright and airy dining room, with an old-fashioned pantry area and powder room attached to it.
The three generously-sized bedrooms, furnished in pretty blues and greens, each have a large attached bath, and a inviting sit-out area with comfortable chairs.
Wooden and tiled floors, working fireplaces and botanical prints on the walls..all bring that old world charm alive. There are so many little touches that make the decor special.. coffee table books, antique knickknacks, a set of flowered plates on the sideboard and warm rugs placed underfoot.
Other options for stay here at Sirukundra include wooden chalets and well-equipped tents. They’ve even put in a swimming pool on the property!
If you’re wondering what there is to do in Valparai, the best answer would be to just let the peace, fresh air and greenery soak restfully into your mind and body. You can do this from the depths of a recliner on the front porch, while sipping on ginger tea and munching on crunchy onion pakoras. Or, you could take a long rambling walk around the plantation, through the paths worn into the dirt by decades of tea pickers, stepping over muddy streams and knotted roots, perhaps stopping every few minutes to admire the endless emerald vistas of the rolling hills. Do remember to get back to the gates before dark, since the area is prone to visits by wildlife, including leopards and herds of elephants.
And yes, we’re happy to report that the kitchens at the Sirukundra bungalow turn out some pretty delicious and elaborate meals. The cooking is home-style and the taste finger-licking good. A special word for the lovely desserts which are too often overlooked – a rich, caramel-tinged butterscotch pudding at lunch and creamy, not-too-sweet tender-coconut souffle at dinner.  Yum!

Visiting Valparai is like stepping back into another era, and you may never want to head back to modernity. The quiet calm of the hills cleanses the spirits, and whether you like to laze around or trek energetically, take photographs or paint pictures, tour factories or explore local markets, spot wildlife or go bird watching, this is one of those perfect nooks of the world where there’s really something for everyone to love.

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Piping Hot, Sticky Sweet

p1080065The Indian palate is well-accustomed to the stipulated mixing in of flavours – be it hot and sweet, or sour and spicy. Still, those fall on the ends of a broad spectrum of tastes, with the fine, nameless nuances of some others waltzing along the scale. (Some words in the vernacular cannot effectively be translated into English, and chatpata is just one of them).

Honey-chilli potatoes with corn kernels is one dish that reflects all of the above, and it’s a hit from the word go in our households. This recipe resulted from an experiment to re-create a restaurant-style appetizer, sans the deep frying and cornflour-aided thickening, both of which tend to leave a slurry-like after taste in the mouth. It’s really a breeze to put together and works great as a side dish with fried rice, noodles, or just as an evening snack, all on its own.
p1080071Honey-chilli Potatoes ‘n Corn
(Serves 2-3)

For the sauce

  • 2 tablespoons honey  
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar  
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce  
  • 3-4 tablespoons water, stock or orange juice

Mix the listed ingredients well, set aside.

For the potatoes ‘n corn

  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil  
  • 4-5 pods garlic, minced or crushed  
  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, cubed  
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, thawed  
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of red chilli powder  
  • Finely chopped coriander leaves for garnishing
  1. Heat the oil in a pan, and add the crushed garlic, fry for a minute.
  2. Add the potatoes and fry on medium flame until light brown, then tip in the corn, toss well.
  3. Add salt, cook covered, for about 8 minutes, on a low flame. Add the chilli powder, mix well.
  4. Add the prepared sauce and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes on a high flame, turn off heat.
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.

p1080073

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