Tuesday, Aug 22nd

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Lost Treasure – Masala Kairi

If I had to pick one, and only one favorite summer food, my vote would go to ‘Masala Kairi’ aka ‘Salted and Spiced Raw Mango’.  Nothing can get as simple and basic as this, and yet nothing can match the flavor it brings to your palate. All you got to do is slice up the raw mango, rub it with salt and red chilli powder and there you go!!

I love to eat Masala Kairi with bhel-puri. As kids, our summers would be spent at my nani’s place in Kolhapur, a town in southern Maharashtra. This place is known for its great weather, even in summer and its impossibly spicy food. From misal-pav to Kolhapuri mutton rassa, everything has to look bright red and make your eyes and nose water. So no wonder, even bhel-puri  got spiced up a few notches. Normally a salted green chilli would accompany the bhel. But come summer and Masala Kairi would make its heavenly appearance.

There are many variations of Masala Kairi. I have seen some people use chat masala, others use salt and black pepper, and some even add a small pinch of turmeric. In Andhra Pradesh, they make pickle from sun-dried masala kairi. Totally yum!! Speaking of sun-dried, that’s a wonderful way of preserving masala kairi. Dress up raw mango slices as you desire, dry them in the sun for a day or two, pack in air-tight bags or containers and freeze.  Now you can enjoy Masala Kairi all year long!

So how do you use it other than with bhel-puri? For starters, munch on the slices for snack. The fiber will fill your tummy and the spices will satisfy your palate really fast.  Eaten in limited quantity, it’s a nice snack if you are watching your weight. Make pickles or chutneys with the sun-dried version. Serve it along side various chat items. Add a few slices to your salad to kick up the flavor. Serve it as a side item along with scrambled eggs or anda-bhurji.  Just use your imagination! Raw mangoes are a wonderful source of vitamin C and have good amount of vitamin A. So now you can get your vitamins in a delicious way.

When I moved to the US in the late 90s, I somehow completely forgot about this gem. I think it was because of the fact that both kairis and sun (for drying) were hard to find. But as the world has grown smaller in the past decade, I have rediscovered this Lost Treasure. Now kairis are found aplenty in the US. Also since I live in the South now, there is no dearth of sunlight to undertake the preservation process. So if you haven’t had this wonderful treat in a while, what’s keeping you away? With summer being here, as they say in Hindi, ‘Mauka bhi hai or dastoor bhi’.


Life Lessons from a ‘Wannabe Cook’

First things first - I am neither a good cook nor a food expert of any sort. Actually, I’m not even a passionate foodie. I have no credentials whatsoever that are associated with such topics. For that matter, I didn’t start cooking until I was 21. And that was solely because I had to fend for myself after leaving my mom’s yummy cooking behind, thousands of miles away.

Secondly, I have absolutely nothing to do, even remotely, with motivational speaking, writing or any such talent that benefits others.

I’m sure by now you are wondering what the point of this narrative really is. Believe me, there is! In fact, more than just one! Maybe you will relate to some of them, in different contexts, or maybe you are one of the chosen ones who have a perfect life. Either way, I hope you will ponder over these for at least a few seconds…..

Recently, I connected with a dear friend of mine after a long time. And yes, it was on Facebook. Is there really any other way now-a-days? She wrote on my wall, “So when did you become such an expert cook?” Her question was obviously directed towards all my food related posts. I shot back a witty (or so I thought) but true reply to her “Well, I write better than I cook”. This exchange really got me thinking though. So, what had changed in all these years? How did I start cooking actively and even enjoying it to some degree? Was it the circumstances, or my attitude, or a feeling of responsibility, or some combination thereof?

So here goes point # 1. Life changes! You not only have to adapt accordingly but find ways to enjoy the change.
As a single student first and then as a newly married couple, there was a lot of flexibility in when, what and how we ate. But with the kids, came the responsibility of setting the right habits and feeding them healthy food. Even today, if I had a spare hour and had the choice between cooking and playing tennis (or reading a book), I would much rather do the latter. I don’t usually have that luxury though. The kids have to be fed, and fed well. Then why not just enjoy the time when I have to cook? Frankly, the results turn out much better too. So I started making it a fun and creative activity. Mix up flavors, mix up techniques, mix up ingredients…just stay away from pre-set recipes. Let the imagination rule. Over time I have started liking it and in fact enjoy baking quite a lot, A little change in my attitude towards cooking made a big difference. I think this goes for everything in life.

Lesson # 2 Weed out the things, routines, practices (and under really extreme conditions, even people) that do not add value to ‘your’ existence and happiness.
I have to clarify here that the term ‘your’ could be the singular you or the collective you...as in, your family, your friends, your community and so on. In the case of the ‘Wannabe-Cook’, she dreaded (with a capital D) the chores associated with the actual cooking process - the cleaning, the cutting, masala preparation and the list goes on. To her all this was pure drudgery that eclipsed the creative process. The solution? Toss the boring things out…totally out! Get pre-cut, pre-readied ingredients and outsource time hogs like chapatis. What hinders your happiness? Time to say good bye?

And finally, point # 3. Be a student for life. Keep the fire burning!
I know for a fact that I can never be a Rachel Ray or a Sanjeev Kapoor. Oh well, I don’t think I can even be as good a cook as my mom or some of my awesome friends. But you see, that’s really not the point. It’s not about comparing or competing with others. It is about trying your best and learning as you go. For me, it is simply about becoming as good a cook as I can ever be, a “Wannabe Cook”. It’s all that matters!

Here are some of Wannabe Cook’s personal favorites.

Spicy Raw Mango Rice

Seviya Upma

Matar Paneer

Besan Laddoos

Ukdiche Modak

Uttar-dakshin Khichadi

Uttar-dakshin KhichadiKhichadi and Bisibelebhath are two of my most favorite comfort foods. There is nothing more satisfying than eating a piping hot bowlful, with a dollop of ghee melting on top. Khichadi is a popular dish in North India and Maharashtra. Bisibelebhath is a staple in the South, especially in Karnataka.
So I decided to experiment a little and came up with this Uttardakshin Khichadi that combines the flavors of the two dishes. Its super comforting, healthy and easy to make. Enjoy!
- 1 cup short grain rice (example, Sona Masoori)
- 1/4 cup moong dal
- 1/4 cup toor dal
- 2 tbsp sambar masala
- 3 to 4 dry red chillies
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder or as per taste
- Salt (per taste)
- 1 cup green peas
- 1 cup green beans
- 2 tbsp ghee for tadka
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp hing/asafoetida
- 1/2 tsp haldi/turmeric
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
How To Make:
Wash the rice and dals is separate containers and let the wet grains stand for half an hour. Then cook them separately in a pressure cooker such that they are quite soft (rice should become softer than regular white rice).
Heat the ghee in a heavy bottomed pan. When melted, pop the mustard seeds and add hing, turmeric and red chillies. Add the vegetables, sambar masala, chilli powder and salt and sautee for 3 tp 4 minutes. Add the cooked dal mix along with a cup of water. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat low and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add the cooked rice, mix well and simmer on low for a couple of minutes or until the khichadi has reached a thick consistency.
Turn off the heat and add finely chopped cilantro for garnish. Serve hot with a small dollop of ghee (clarified butter). You can also add roasted cashews, peanuts, or fried onions on top for crunch and additional flavor.

Egg Curry

- 8 boiledegg Curry eggs, cut into halves
- 2 cups (about 1 big) finely chopped onion
- 1/2 to 3/4 cups (about 2 small) finely chopped roma tomatoes
- 2 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 2 small green chillies, finely chopped or grated
- 1/4 tsp haldi
- 1/8 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 3/4 to 1 tsp salt (per taste)
- 3 tbsps vegetable oil
Heat oil in a flat bottomed pan, add green chilli and garlic. When garlic starts to brown, add onion and saute until onion is well cooked and slightly brown. Mix in turmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala and fry for a minute or so. Add chopped tomatoes, about 1 cup of water and salt. Cover and cook on medium low heat until tomatoes melt and form a thick gravy. Add the eggs and stir to cover them with the gravy. Turn off the heat and let the eggs marinate in the gravy (covered pan) for at least an hour. Garnish with cilantro.

Matar Paneer

Matar PaneerIngredients:

- 1 medium onions
- 2 medium roma tomatoes
- 2 small green chillies
- 2 medium cloves of garlic grated
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp turmeric (haldi)
- 3/4 to 1 tsp salt (or as per taste)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp ghee/oil
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 cups green peas
- 2 cups paneer cut into bite size pieces
- 1/4 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
- 1/4 cup roasted cashew powder (optional)
- Cilantro for garnish (optional)
Blanch the onions and tomatoes first. For blanching, bring water to a boil and add peeled and quartered onion to it. Boil for about 8 minutes and then immerse the onion in cold water to stop the cooking process. Similarly blanch tomatoes. Puree the blanched onions and tomatoes separately. Heat ghee/oil and add the onion paste, ginger and garlic. Saute until onion is golden in color. Add finely minced green chillies, turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala and salt. Saute the mixture for a minute more and then add the tomato puree. cook covered on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the peas, cook them for about 7 to 8 minutes and then add the paneer. Continue to cook on low heat until paneer is soft and the mixture looks homogeneous. Turn off the heat and adda couple of splashes of milk and sugar. Mix well and serve with rotis, parathas and naan.
For a richer gravy, add the cashew powder while roasting the onion paste. Use evaporated milk in the end instead of regular milk.

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