Shades of Red: Monochrome Salad

img_0017-copy

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.

img_0049-copy

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.

 

img_0035-copy

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

 

 

Posted in salads, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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):

rajasthan-001

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.

rajasthan

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

15823473_10154991313992216_8810862630188010713_n

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!

15873357_10154991314117216_3398917970330575886_n

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!

img_0621

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.

rajasthan1

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.

15800146_10154991336497216_4539539331775961883_o

Shopping

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

rajasthan2

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.

rajasthan3

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.

desktop7

A Trip to Bagru

rajasthan5

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.

rajasthan4

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.

rajasthan6

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.

15584990_10154945600847216_823998306543140701_o

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.

rajasthan7

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.

rajasthan9

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.

rajasthan10

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.

rajasthan11

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.

rajasthan8

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.

img_20161218_110159

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.

rajasthan14

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.

rajasthan12

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.

Posted in Tadka Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A New Take On A Holiday Classic!

img_1135

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. 

img_1140

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!

img_1145

 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.

img_1151
Posted in Bakes And Cakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fresh Fig Clafouti

fig-clafouti

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.

img_1871

Posted in Party Planner, Sweet Treats | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2-Layer Paneer Canapes

img_9634

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.

img_9655

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.

img_9652

img_9623

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.

img_9659

* 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.

img_9646

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.

Posted in Appetizer Alley, Funnibles, Party Planner, Picnic Basket, Snack Attack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

img_1842

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. 

 

Posted in Around Town | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An evening with Go Cheese

go-cheese1

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.

go-cheese2

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.

IMG_9789.JPG
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.

go-cheese

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.

img_9618

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.

Posted in Around Town, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mighty Millet Matters

Millets1

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.

Millets2

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 millets grains can be cooked up as porridge, pongal 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 that mild Bangalore winter day. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Around Town, Rice 'n Spice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

benares-20161

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.

desktop7

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!

desktop8

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.

desktop9

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.

desktop10

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.

desktop11

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.

desktop12

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.

desktop13

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.

desktop14

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.

desktop15

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.

desktop16

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.

desktop7-001

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.

***

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.

Posted in Tadka Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crusty Mushroom and Millet Bites

img_8227

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!

millet-stuffed-mushrooms

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.

img_8250

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.

 

Posted in Appetizer Alley, Snack Attack | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment