Ring It In With Some Spice

I couldn't let 2012 fade away without a recipe! But, first, let me wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Happy New Year
May good health, happiness, success and joy be yours in 2013!

Happy Diwali!

It's my favorite time of the year! It's Diwali!

दिवाळीचा पहिला दिवा लागता दारी,
सुखाचे किरण येती घरी,
पुर्ण होवोत तुमच्या सर्व ईच्छा,
आमच्याकडुन दिवाळीच्या हार्दिक शुभेच्छा!

Happy Diwali to you and yours!

Eat Me, Said the Cardamom Cake

Dearest Anita,

Every year, you call on us to celebrate your blog with a Mad Tea Party of our own. I tried my best to celebrate in the month of August and in the month of September but I just could not make it happen. Until last night. It all came together. And how!

A Mad Tea Party
Four mad hatters: me, me, me and me

Bappa Morya Re!

And so it's here again. That 10 day festival to celebrate my favorite God. Yes, it's Ganesh Chaturthi!

Ganpati Bappa Morya!
Jai Ganesh!

Crabby in a nice way

It's the last week of peaches and if you're looking for something to make with them where the overwhelming after-taste is not sugary, then give this chutney a try. It is based on my apricot chutney but I think I might like this better and I'll tell you why: the crabapples are so tart that I didn't need to use as much vinegar as was called for in the apricot chutney. The vinegar therefore takes a back-seat in this chutney!

I made this chutney in August when crabapples first appeared on the trees in our Open Spaces. I was far more bold this year than I was last year about "stealing" fruit from these trees. Labor Day last year saw me and my friend Lisa picking fruit from the crabapple trees at one of our several neighborhood annual picnics in a local park. I'm ashamed to say that I was not able to do much with them as I was slammed by work soon thereafter. I vowed that things would be different this year.

foraged crabapples

In The Kitchen With Vinita, Part 2 of 2

Happy Onam! And, thank you for the great feedback and comments on In The Kitchen With Vinita, Part 1!

One of the things I really like about Vinita is that she's always ready for a cup of chai no matter how hot it is, indoors or outdoors. Yes, rather like me!

chai in the makingbreaking bread

Vinita was brought up in the steel city of Jamshedpur but her roots go back to the Palakkad District of Kerala. The traditional ishtu or stew from this region is a simpler version of the Kerala Ishtu that Asha Gomez had made at my workshop, Culinary India, in June. This Palakkad ishtu is one of Vinita's father's favorite dishes, she explained as she quickly peeled the boiled potatoes. Onam sadya was considered incomplete without this vegetarian potato stew.

In The Kitchen With Vinita, Part 1 of 2

Vinita, the mastermind behind Thing with a Zing
You have to smile right back!

Vinita has an infectious smile and a charming extroverted personality. I am lucky to be able to call her a dear friend. Not just because she personifies exuberance but because she's beyond amazing. Vinita is an audiologist by profession but a food entrepreneur by choice. She is the mastermind behind Thing with a Zing, where she creates, bottles and sells Indian chutneys. These are not anything like British chutneys in which vinegar plays a key role in the flavor profile. As she puts it, her chutneys are a bold flavor for your senses in the true sense of the word. Her chutneys can be found in several stores in the Denver-Boulder area, like Whole Foods, Alfalfa's, and a couple of other natural grocery stores.

Sneak taste preview of Mango Pineapple Chutney
Under development

One of the privileges of having a friend who jars tradition with a unique twist into an edible treat, is being able to taste her creations before they hit the market. I love pineapple, I love mango, I love the combination of spices in this chutney and now, I have a problem. I don't know which of her chutneys I like best. This will be her third chutney, the second one being That Sweet Zing which is a cranberry-ginger chutney. All of them are truly excellent. Furthermore, since Vinita adheres to food safety guidelines, I never have to worry about the quality of her product, including the seal on her chutney jars.

Sunday Snapshots: Bharat Natyam Recital

This weekend our friend's 15-year-old daughter gave a private two-hour Bharat Natyam recital at their home. Her performance was beyond brilliant as she wove stories through her graceful movements, gestures and expressions. The light was difficult and I wish I had the patience to energize the two doors in the background into oblivion using Photoshop. But I will not complain because this was a performance to be cherished.

Sunday Snapshots: Isabelle Farm, Lafayette, CO

It's been a rough three weeks.

My carpool buddy developed sepsis from an undiagnosed infection and is in her third week of hospitalization. She is recovering but it will be a while before she can return home.

People went to watch the premier of a movie in Aurora not knowing that their lives would change drastically.

This morning a Sikh temple was the target for reasons beyond comprehension.

Life changes in an instant. We're here now. Make the most of every moment. Keep your loved ones close, enjoy your friends and reject all forms of negative energy.

I went to another Mile High Food Swap today, a welcome distraction. It was hosted by Isabelle Farm, an organic farm in neighboring Lafayette. Isabelle Farm leases the Thomas Open Space from the City of Lafayette where they grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, squash, okra and many other vegetables. The farm also has a CSA that runs for 20 weeks between June and October. Tiffany Carpenter gave us a tour of the farm and explained how the people of Lafayette had voted for an organic farm instead of yet another golf course.

In a Chutney with Apricots

It's been raining apricots around here. Literally, so. It's a hazard to walk into some of my neighbors' yards. Or it might just be me that those trees are aiming for, as I have been the target of many an apricot in free fall.

Organic apricots
Organic apricots from my neighbor's tree

These aren't your regular supermarket apricots. They are much smaller, less than two inches in diameter, and very sweet. When firm, they are quite tart and ripen quickly to near-mush, if not eaten immediately. I picked slightly firm apricots from the stash that was given to me and roasted them, strawberry-style. While that was tasty, roasted apricots weren't as popular with my family as balsamic roasted strawberries always are. I should have tried one of Suvir's suggestions at Culinary India: add a smidge of black pepper or hot green chiles to bring out the natural sweetness of a fruit. He recommends trying it while making roasted strawberries, to cut down on the amount of sugar one would normally add to sweeten them.

Apart from tearing the fruit apart and feasting on the ripe apricots, I made apricot chicken with a batch that I picked from my neighbor's tree. It's not your usual chicken curry and is sweet, sour and spicy, all at the same time. That set the tone for what I wanted to do with yet another batch of apricots that were delivered to my doorstep by another neighbor. Something spicy. A jelly or a jam would not do; it had to be a chutney of sorts—fruit and sugar cooked down in vinegar to a reduction. Anita's mango relish had triggered memories of gulchaat—green mangoes cooked with jaggery and spices—so I knew that I was going to use jaggery instead of sugar. But I had no recipe!

Culinary India, a dream come true

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.

~ Henry Ford

It wasn't just the synergies and camaraderie between Suvir Saran, Ammini Ramachandran, Asha Gomez and myself that propelled this workshop towards success. We couldn't have done it without the foresight and vision of Ellie Scott and Ken Hause of Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Boulder, Colorado.

It began with a heartfelt plea from me to Ammini to come to Colorado to teach Kerala cuisine. She and Asha had just completed a cooking tour of several Texan cities through Central Market Cooking School. Not one to pass up the magic of cooking with feisty women, Suvir insisted he wanted to be a part of the team. Who can resist Suvir's charm? Not that we would have said no to such a celebrated chef!

It finally came to fruition on a hot weekend in June, when the temperatures soared to over 95F in Boulder. Not many of the workshop participants noticed as they sat enthralled by stories that included memories, traditions, and regional diversity while we showed them, again and again, that Indian food is not exotic but very accessible. We cooked with as many local ingredients as we could. Dan Hayward of Savory Spice Shop sponsored all the spices we used for Culinary India, again underscoring the accessibility factor. And, contrary to what several cooking channels will have you believe, we did not use "curry powder" and used very little garam masala. Imagine that! Yes, it's true, we cooked Indian food without either of these two "essentials." Kelsey Nixon of Cooking Channel might have even learned a thing or three if she had attended Culinary India.

Culinary India - Special Discount for IFR Readers

As most of you know, I have been busy with menu planning and other details for my Culinary India workshop, to be held June 16-17, 2012 from 10am to 2pm on both days.

Escoffier Culinary School of Arts, Boulder, is offering a special discount for IFR readers, making this workshop even more attractive.

Sign up online before end of day Wednesday June 13th, enter the code MANISHA and pay only $400 for the workshop.

Or call Ellie Scott of Escoffier at 720-204-3492 and mention this offer.

How awesome is that?!

This workshop makes for a perfect Father's Day gift, too. At the workshop, we will explore the cuisine of India by learning techniques and recipes from Top Chef Master Suvir Saran, food historian and researcher Ammini Ramachandran, restaurateur Asha Gomez, and your favorite Indian food blogger — me, of course!

Also included are signed copies of Ammini's cookbook and my vegetarian Bible, Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts, as well as Suvir's latest cookbook, Masala Farm.

Do it, I say! (and don't forget the super-special code MANISHA)

Please feel free to share this fabulous offer with friends and family in the Denver/Boulder area who have an interest in Indian cooking. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Culinary India, a two-day workshop in Boulder

If you've been a reader for even a little while, you know how I feel about the Indian food served by Indian restaurants that dot the US restaurant scene. Both you and I know that the essence of Indian cooking has been lost in cream-laden curries that masquerade as Indian food. Say it with me: There is more to Indian cooking than chicken tikka masala, saag paneer and naan. There! I feel so much better already!

It has been, and continues to be, my passion to bring home-style Indian food to a wider audience, first by writing this blog, and subsequently, through a series of demos and workshops — the first of which is here: Culinary India.

Culinary India, hosted by Escoffier School of Culinary Arts Boulder, is a workshop steeped in the traditions of India, using as much local produce as possible. Joining me as instructors are three of the very best chefs, instructors and food enthusiasts I know:

Suvir Saran, who made waves with a grand exit last summer on Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters, needs no introduction! His cookbooks have brought Indian cooking within reach of anyone interested in the flavors of Indian cooking, without overwhelming the cook or the palate. His cooking embodies his lifelong passion for the traditional flavors of Indian cooking and that resonates very strongly with me. I am particularly in love with his lamb kababs and cardamom roasted cauliflower (recipe on Cooking Boulder). Suvir has written several cookbooks, the latest of which —Masala Farm — is about Suvir's life as an organic farmer, punctuated by recipes that are light on the fuss and big on the flavor, using Indian techniques and flavors that bring an exciting freshness to the table. Suvir travels extensively to teach audiences, ranging from home cooks and fellow chefs to physicians and nutritionists. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from a witty and accomplished chef!

Ammini Ramachandran is rather well-known on this blog and for good reason! She is the author of Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts, that weaves history with the traditions and culture in which it is rooted. It is my favorite Indian vegetarian cookbook and it was among the four self-published cookbooks that ranked #76 in Saveur's Tenth Annual 100 List in 2008. It's very difficult for me to pick my favorite recipes from this cookbook as everything I have cooked has been exemplary, but I am partial to her okra kichadi and tomato chutney. A former financial analyst, Ammini is a prolific writer and her work has been published in The Flavors of Asia by the Culinary Institute of America, Flavor & Fortune, Storied Dishes and Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism. She is also a regular contributor to Zester Daily, an award-winning online publication produced by an international collection of experienced journalists, food writers and wine experts. Ammini teaches Indian cooking classes at Central Market Cooking Schools in Texas and the Institute of Culinary Education, New York. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from a food historian and meticulous cook!

Asha Gomez has taken the Atlanta food scene by storm, not once but twice. She was the mastermind behind Spice Route Supper Club, an underground supper club, where she explored the breadth of India’s culinary traditions by serving five-course meals with themes that focused on a region or an ingredient. After a successful year of home entertaining through her Supper Club, Asha opened her own Indian restaurant, Cardamom Hill in Atlanta. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from a supper club enthusiast who is now a respected chef in Atlanta!

This interactive cooking demonstration will explore and explain eight recipes each day using as much local produce as possible. Saturday’s workshop will be entirely dedicated to vegetarian recipes while Sunday's menu will include meat and seafood. There are limited seats so be sure to sign up as soon as possible so that you don't miss out on this unique experience!

Join us!
Saturday & Sunday, June 16th - 17th
Time: 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM on both days

Register for Culinary India

In The Kitchen With Dawn

After two consecutive hot and dry months, we gladly take precipitation in any form. The clouds opened up yesterday to shower us with rain and by the time I arrived at my friend Dawn's house in Boulder, the tiny hail bouncing off my car quickly turned into a snow shower.

Snow in May brings...
Snow in May, not unusual. And we like it!

There was no better day to fry some pakodas, soak them in steaming hot kadhi and warm our insides as we watched the snow come down steadily for a couple of hours. The snow did not stick — which is a good thing — as the parched ground, too, got its fix.

chopped ginger and serranos

My friend, Dawn, learned this kadhi from her husband, who in turn was trained by his mother. Her in-laws hail from a small village called Shergarh in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

My First Mile High Swap

The end of the first quarter of the year is always a busy time. It's also spring break. Unfortunately for me, spring break is slowly becoming synonymous with poor health. Last year, I was hit by shingles; this year, it was a tryst with the dreaded flu. It was, therefore, a good thing that our spring ski getaway was canceled, albeit for completely unrelated reasons. Not only was there mainly slush on the slopes due to unseasonably warm temperatures, but March also proved to be one of the driest months for the mountains, instead of the snowiest.

I've been busy. That's always good, especially in these trying times.

Green Beans Koshimbir
Green beans koshimbir

The only recipe I have for you in this post is my Green Beans Koshimbir, written for my Cooking Boulder column. Take a look and let me know what you think, if you try it.

I do have more to food-related stuff to share though! I went to my first food swap yesterday. It was organized by the Mile High Swappers, a community that I have been following since it was launched a little less than a year ago. I tried to make it to a swap in Boulder in March but that was doomed from the start so I decided that the April swap would have to be it. I roped in my friends, Lisa and Zara. Zara convinced her sister, Tarahta, to join us. We gave her only about 15 minutes notice, as long as it took for us to drive to her house to pick her up on our way to the swap, hosted by Stonebridge Farm in Lyons.

The ubiquitous red barn, at Stonebridge Farm

Celebrating Spring with Colors

If you've been reading my blog for a while then you probably know that Holi is not one of my favorite festivals. While I never cared much for celebrating with color and the liberal dousing with water as part of the Rangapanchami or Dhulivandan celebrations, I did enjoy the real Holi a great deal.

Apart from puran poli, masala milk or thandai is a milky treat that is always served on Holi.

I have never attempted making puran poli and when my friend from grad school asked me if I had a recipe for thandai, it occurred to me that I hadn't made that either. My excuse for not making puran poli is that it is daunting, especially the way my mother used to make it. Helping was always easier. As for thandai or masala milk? Well, we are all lactose intolerant. But that also meant that Medha has never had thandai and I felt the need to fix that.

Happy Holi!

Sunday Snapshots: Cham Towers, Vietnam

I'm very sure that Bay, our driver and guide when we were in Vietnam last Thanksgiving, thought we were curious people. We were not interested in the regular tourist spots and I made him pull over at all kinds of nondescript locations. Like these neglected Cham Towers, for example, that suddenly showed up on the side of the highway when we were on our way to Nha Trang from Phan Rang. He couldn't understand why I wanted to stop here when we were headed to the better-known and better-maintained Po Nagar Towers in Nha Trang. Well, that's just it! I wanted to stop because it was deserted.

At least, I thought it was deserted until I saw a young man walking through the grounds, overgrown with weeds, hand-in-hand with a beautiful girl. I almost believed they were an apparition because, after all, these were ruins from the Cham Dynasty, a Hindu people that once ruled southern and central parts of Vietnam from the 7th century to early 1800s.

Cham Tower
Cham Tower

Mustard oil dilemmas

Soon after I posted my Bengali Dal on Cooking Boulder, I was quickly taken to task for posting a Bengali dish that was not made with mustard oil. My pleas of but that's how I make it and have been making it for what seems like forever did not impress until I remembered why I don't have mustard oil as an essential pantry item. The FDA disapproves. Bottles of mustard oil have warnings that range from "Not for human consumption" to "For external use only" to "For massage only."

In the past, I have tried using mustard-flavored oil, a blend of regular cooking oil and mustard oil. No wonder my mutschgand did not taste anything like hers. I think I poured most of that oil into my used oil container, and it was eventually recycled.

Pure mustard oil can be found on the shelves of Indian grocery stores, rubbing shoulders with peanut oil, coconut oil and cooking oil. But, according to the FDA, you are not supposed to cook with it. Bengalis, however, have been cooking with it for centuries and are still some of the nicest people I know. So it's not doing anything to their charming disposition, nor is it affecting their intelligence or creativity in any way.

To Bay or Not to Bay

It's taken everything and more to get me to focus on this post. In my mind, it was due two weeks but fate decreed otherwise. I think we are all still in shock, reaching out to one another to seek solace and comfort, hugging our families as much as possible.

Charming Ellen of Helliemaes Salt Caramels put some spunk back in life by sending me a box of her new Chili Palmer Caramels. It served as more than a thoughtful pick-me-up as it ripped through my nasal and sinus congestion to remind me that I still had taste-buds. Whoa! These babies pack a punch! Of course, I promptly brewed a cup of tea to increase the burn.

Thank you, my lovely friend, these hit the spot!

The rest of this post is a PSA. Not a pet peeve, because then you would think of me as only being about pet peeves. I promise you, there is more to me than pet peeves!

Raji, I will miss you.

Raji, so gorgeous!
Rest in Peace, my beautiful friend

My beautiful friend Raji Shanker passed away early Monday morning. It was news I was hoping I wouldn't hear for a very long time. But she knew. She had told me a couple of weeks ago that it didn't look very good for her, that the prognosis was bleak. But you would never know it — not from her posts or her upbeat and witty comments on all our blogs.

Handy Tip: Storing Ginger

<pet peeve>

It's Ginger. Not Ginger Root.

Ginger is a rhizome or an underground stem.

That means that it cannot be a root.

</pet peeve>

4 weeks old

I need at least one small knob of ginger in my refrigerator at all times. Over the years, I've tried different methods of getting it to last without turning bluish-green and moldy on me. Freeze it, they said. Make a paste and store it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator, exhorted another. I tried both, even a combination of both, and rued the loss of flavor.

Sunday Snapshots: Dam Market, Nha Trang, Vietnam

Dam Market in Nha Trang, Vietnam is listed as a must-do on several travel web sites. I was interested in Vietnamese spices but thus far, they had seemed elusive. Snake wine, dried seafood and dried persimmons were more ubiquitous. I found one woman selling spices, buried deep inside the Dam Market. She spoke no English, our guide was no help on the spices front and my pocket English-Vietnamese dictionary was curiously devoid of anything remotely spice-related. She shoved a piece of paper and pen in my hand and motioned me to write what I was looking for. I printed cardamom carefully so that my squiggly unreadable handwriting did not throw her off as it had Medha's elementary school teachers. She stared at it and then her face broke out into one of the widest smiles I have ever seen. She rushed off into a dark alley, only to return with a packet of fragrant smoky Vietnamese cardamom. I bought some cinnamom, too, happy in the knowledge that I was all set to make some authentic aromatic Pho when I got back home.

We had only a few more hours to explore Nha Trang so I did not go deeper into the market. I did get these pictures, though.

Puffer fish

And that's Indian, you say?

I cannot write this without getting into pet peeves, first.

<pet peeve>
Dal is not soup
Dal is soupy. Dal can be served as soup but it is not soup. We eat dal as part of the main course. We drown our rice in dal or use rotis to scoop up dal. Unless it is specifically made to be eaten as a soup—more an exception than the norm—dal is never served as the soup course. If it were, we would need another dal, kadhi or curry to wet our steamed rice, for we don't eat our steamed rice by itself.

We are not East Indians
The country? India.
Its people? Indian.

Simple enough, yes? Yet, in the US, Indians are called East Indians to make a distinction between native Americans, whom Christopher Columbus incorrectly called Indian, and people from the country of India. Others explain it as a need to distinguish between the West Indies and India.

A quick history lesson: The East Indies was and is a colonial term that dates back to the 15th century. It was used to describe lands of South and Southeast Asia, occupying all of the present India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and also Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The term East Indian is now used in the USA to refer to Indians from India. Folks from the rest of the countries in that set of countries got away from being labeled with this misnomer.

Please stop using it.

Accord us the respect we deserve instead of addressing us with qualifiers that reek of colonialism, another form of slavery. Are you listening, NPR?
<pet peeve>