I know what you are thinking: she accepted the Schmooze award and promptly did an about turn and became an UnSchmoozer. Well, not true. If I had hogged the Schmooze Award, polished it, displayed it, gloated over it and then morphed into a turncoat, some of that earlier statement might be true. But I shared it with a go forth and multiply attitude. And multiply, it did!
This pesky thing called life has been very hectic on all fronts. If there was an overflow:delete command, my trigger finger would have been poised over it at all times. So, to those of you who have visited my blog in the last few weeks and left comments, I offer you my most sincere apologies. I have read all your comments and I hope to catch up with you, here and on your blogs, in the weeks to come.
Since all work, dishes, laundry and no play makes Manisha a sad girl, we made a quick dash to Moab, Utah and stared in awe at glorious arches, buttes and canyons in Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park, along with ancient petroglyphs. We almost rented a Jeep Wrangler for some off-roading and jeeping but destiny decreed otherwise. The person who rented it before us smashed it up by taking a stock vehicle on the toughest 4-wheel trail in Moab. All we would have done was Shafer Trail to see the Colorado River gooseneck through Canyonlands. It was all very well as Medha's cold gripped her left nose as well as her right nose - yes, she has several of that appendage - and she even ran a fever later that day.
This short getaway was full of fun. And even though it was too-darned-hot, I had to have lots and lots of tea. Iced tea would have been just dandy but the timing of Salubri-tea could not have been worse. It came too late! That, too, when we were huddling under blankets and putting panes back into our windows instead of at a time when sunshine was in abundant supply, in Utah! You see, no matter what, I always take my 10 year old trusted tea-ball with me whenever I am travelling. That, and my tea leaves.
This time, I even carried limes that I had on hand and some sugar. We had delicious nimboo-pani (limeade) at the end of each day in Utah. Sure beats drinking stuff out of a can or a bottle!
In India, my hair dryer was my never-fail companion. In the US, it has always been my tea-ball and tea leaves. In 1997, when we drove across the US and back, I carried tea bags. Towards the end of that trip, I found my tea-ball and it's been with me ever since. So attached am I to it, that I thought I had left it behind in Canada in July and was rather morose for days till my husband found it tucked away in the khauchi pishvi. Life was just peachy again!
Is there any must-have that you take along with you when you travel?
In other news, this weekend we are going on our annual neighborhood camping trip to listen to the elks bugle and watch their rut. It's quite an amazing experience to hear that high-pitched call emanate from a hulking bull with even larger antlers perched on his head! Elk cows and calves invariably traipse through the campgrounds and we get a real up-close and personal experience. Some elks take it a step further. Residents of Estes Park had to recently deal with an elk that decided to take on a swing, instead of another bull! Don't miss the images that go with the story.
Since we haven't seen or heard from our tent after our camping trip a year ago, we opened it up and camped in our backyard on Saturday night. Urban camping rocks, I tell you! Drink water and beer with abandon for a toilet with running water is just a few steps away. Cold? Run inside and grab a comforter and another beer, too! Just because!
That's Medha trying to be scary. And the light inside? It's what made this campout in the backyard even more über. We had long - and I mean really long - extension cords going from the patio to the tent and we had a bedside lamp in the tent. Its glow reflected off our faces while we had a blast playing rummy late into the night. And since it was a cool night with temperatures in the mid-forties, we slept in and woke up quite refreshed. So refreshed that I even thought of cooking instead of just putting things together. I had some lovely organic red chard and after that cool night, a patal bhaji was what my soul yearned for. But with such gorgeous weather, I did not want to toil over the stove so I took the easy way out and made my Quick Fix Patal Bhaji.
If you are a purist or believe that things must be cooked in a certain way only, then stop reading now! I believe that cooking is constantly evolving. There is no one way of doing things. Doing something a little differently does not make a dish less authentic. If I had all the time in the world and all the inclination, I might do things the way my grandmothers did. And if you're thinking, "But this is not how patal bhaji is made!" Well, my answer to you is: It's how I make it.
Patal Bhaji (paht-tull bhah-gee) is a Maharashtrian dish that is essentially veggies or greens in a coconut sauce. Usually there is an accompanying dal that gives the sauce some extra body. In our family, we make patal bhaji just with whole masoor (red lentils), no veggies or greens. The main seasoning is usually kala masala but since I am all out and too lazy to make my own, I grind my own masala just prior to making patal bhaji. It's a breeze and goes from stove to table in 30 minutes or thereabouts.
- 1 bunch chard, chopped including the stems
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- pinch asafetida
- 1 dried red chilli, broken into two pieces
- 1/8 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup tur dal, washed and uncooked
- 3 cups water
- Tamarind, the size of a dollar coin
- 1 cup coconut milk, canned is just fine
- 1 tbsp grated jaggery or brown sugar
- 1 to 1.5 tbsp fresh ground masala
- salt to taste
- 3 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Toast the whole spices in the oven or on a tava. Allow them to cool and crush to a fine powder in your spice grinder.
- Heat oil in the pan of your pressure cooker.
- Toss in the mustard seeds and when they crackle and splutter, add asafetida, and the dried red chilli
- Add the chopped chard, the washed tur dal and 3 cups of water
- Soften the tamarind by heating it in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds in some water. Mush it up and discard any pips and fibres. Add to your pressure cooker pan.
- Add fresh ground masala, jaggery and salt
- Pressure cook this for 4 whistles or its equivalent - as long as it takes for tur dal to cook in your pressure cooker
- Once the pressure cooker has cooled, open it up and add 1 cup of coconut milk and bring to a boil again.
- Serve this right away! It tastes great with steamed rice. Or as I found, it's like a spicy hearty soup that can eaten while engrossed in a good book!
- I use tamarind that is called Thai Tamarind Fruit Pulp. I find it easier to use than the dried and salted tamarind from India. I can pull out as much as I need without needing any kitchen tools and since it is already soft, it doesn't take long to extract a thick tamarind juice. Tamarind extract can be used, too, but it lends its dark color to a dish and its flavor can be overwhelming if it is not used judiciously.
- Patal Bhaji has to be spicy for it to be good. 1.5 tbsp of the fresh ground masala was at the extreme end of the spectrum for us, especially since my dried red chillies also pack in a punch. And, 2 tsp is way too less. Even Medha said that I could add some more spice the next time! Start with 1 tbsp of the masala and add more later, if you think you would like more heat.
I am going to be busy preparing for the camping trip so I won't be able to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, like we did last year. I'm hoping to make some chavde and besan ladu when we return. See you all next week!