On ma’s puliyogre gojju.

As if there are not enough reminders of how long it has been since my last meal in Mysore home, ma’s puLiyogre gojju/puLikaachal is now teetering between dangerously low and tearful levels. I am very good at making things last until my next trip back home usually but who am I kidding? The pandemic has thrown any semblance of such pride in the air. And am not over reacting. I can learn to make this myself and try to recreate ma’s presence like I do with a lot of my cooking but I refuse to. Not this time. Those dabbas of poDi and uppinkai and thokku and gojjus that I carry from home after my father carefully double and triple packs them and meticulously weighs them so I never have to suffer at the airport are my way of having ma in the kitchen, in those jars with their lids tightly shut only to be embraced every now and then, preciously, deliberately and very very conscientiously. There is a lot of love that goes into them, there is a lot of excitement in making them and a lot of satisfaction in them being being used to make a meal. Objectively speaking, making a great gojju or pickle is not something only mothers can do and yet to me, they are unparalleled. Colour me sentimental and overcome by an extreme longing for home, but what is my food without it? 

Blood orange almond cake

A couple of weeks ago, I chanced upon beautiful Ippolito oranges in my local supermarket @waitrose . These were my first ippolitos and I loved how they blushed from atop the shelf amidst the satsumas and clementines. While we enjoyed juicing two of them, I really wanted to bake a single flavour orange cake and found a couple of ideas on the net. This orange almond flour cake is adapted and slightly tweaked from Louise’ idea  @nordickitchenstories to create something K and I would enjoy which meant keeping it less sweet and slightly altering the proportions of almond flour and all purpose flour (APF). The cake calls for making an orange caramel glaze (highly recommend you to not skip this ofcourse). I love that the peel of these oranges were ever so slightly bitter and lent such a beautiful flavour and taste to the cake – the sweetness of the glaze and the slight bitterness of the slices with the peels on and that texture! The almond flour being finer than almond meal but coarser than flour makes for a lovely texture – while we enjoy a luscious moist cake, we love trying different textures and ingredients in the cake base and this is a good tip that you can try with other flavours – am thinking coconut , vanilla or another citrus like lemon ! This recipe uses almond flour which is finer and this was blanched (no skin) so if you do substitute with coarse almond meal, there is a risk that the cake may not rise or hold together since the particles are coarser. We enjoyed ours with Greek yogurt but you can do cream fraiche too! 
I love inverting my cake tin and uncovering the pattern of an upside down cake. I have baked a few but there is always a nervous excitement as I peel away the parchment paper – it is a pattern I have come to love finding, a pattern of baking I have come to love.

Ingredients for the cake: 
2 big juicy blood oranges/ sweet juicy oranges 
100-120 gm caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
100 gm almond flour
80 gm plain flour
3 eggs
50 gm butter – melted
Some finely minced ginger – about 1.5 tsp

Ingredients for the orange caramel glaze: 
100 gm caster sugar
1 big blood orange 

Making the orange caramel glaze:
1. Heat 100 gm of golden caster sugar in a pan until it starts becoming brown and gooey and smells caramelly. Take care to give it a mix as it melts so that it doesn’t burn.
2. Once the sugar is all melted and it is a brown thick liquid, add the juice of an orange – this will be spurt so be careful. The melted sugar will set as one big caramel lump now – so just keep mixing and breaking that lump on medium heat until it dissolves. If a small lump is left just take it out and enjoy the candy.

Baking the rest of the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 160C. 
2. Peel two oranges and cook in hot water for about 15-20 mins until it is soft. Chop it into mushy chunks and keep aside.
3. Line the based of a baking tin with parchment paper and grease the sides with butter or oil.
4. Slice one of the oranges (With the peel, if blood orange, the peel is less bitter) into 2-3 mm slices. Place these slices on the parchment paper on the base of the tin. 
5. Pour the glaze on these slices. 
6. Now mix all the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs with sugar until thick, light and fluffy and fold the dry ingredients with the melted butter, orange pulp with the egg sugar mix.
7. Pour the batter on top of the oranges and bake for 35-45 mins at 200C until a toothpick inserted at the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let it cool and enjoy with cream or yoghurt or honey!

Brown butter banana bread

Happy Banana Bread Day!

Brown butter banana bread – has quite the zing to it, does it not?

I totally think banana bread deserves a day to be celebrated – in a pandemic, it brought together a nation and people from different corners and there was a camaraderie as people baked and shared and liked each others’ banana bread on the gram and perhaps elsewhere. There are very very few people I know who dislike or don’t care much for it but there is otherwise an ubiquitous love for this extremely endearing bread that doubles as cake and is inviting as a breakfast (when toasted) or as a dessert (perhaps with ice cream?). It is also the most hospitable bread – welcoming chocolate chips with as much gusto as walnuts and dates and well, your pantry is your limit, really! This time, I went for a decadent brown butter banana bread. Having baked a batch of brown butter cookies, I had this sudden brainwave to make banana bread with browned butter and sour cream.

So I mixed 170gm flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt in one bowl. In the other, I mixed 150 ml sour cream, 100 gm browned butter, 60 gm of caster sugar, 4 mashed ripe medium bananas (reduce by 1 if you add 2 eggs), 30 gm honey, 30 ml maple syrup. Taste the sweetness as you add the sweeteners (t must be pretty sweet as you will add this to the flour). Now fold the dry flour mix into this without over mixing it. Bake until the insides are cooked and a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool while walk around frantically waiting to dig in and then waste absolutely no time ! 

Do not worry if it appears a bit dense the next day, just toasted it or warm it for 20 seconds in the microwave and it will be delish. Add anything you fancy but just bear in mind the sweetness and it is simple because in the eggless version, you can taste the batter as you go. I would love to try it with jaggery and coconut and make it a rasayana-bread.

You know how they bake cookies during house shows to make it smell warm and inviting? I would totally bake a banana bread 🙂

I have been reading (3) on Audible…

I say reading but I actually mean “listening” to audiobooks.

Indistractible by Nir Eyal

I listened to this on Audible @audible_uk as I went about my tasks. It is great to listen to in the author’s voice. The main message is: figure out what you want to do, schedule that, and don’t be distracted.

What you want to do can include a wide range of tasks and Nir Eyal drives home the point that when you are doing these tasks, don’t let other triggers and thoughts distract you from them. Sounds simple? If only doing it was as easy. Nir offers some very doable suggestions and advice on how to go about being less distracted. He offers a well laid out discussion of different triggers of distraction – from your own mind to the world around you. He has some handy tips on how to address them before they happen at times offering a cultural context (not very in-depth though). I have actually implemented some of this in my work and find them helpful though I do have a long way to go. 
There is nothing earth shatteringly “new” in this book but it has the kind of reminders we all seek at some point. Reading it will give you the chance to reflect on how you prioritise your life, how and why you get distracted, and how to refocus on what matters. Since the fundamentals of what he writes are probably known to you already, it is the refreshing of your memory and the act of reflecting on your situation as you read that would make the book worth your time. As a bonus the book is short and easy to read and I think reading it was worth my time.

Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou

I listened to Dr. Maya Angelou narrate “Letter to my Daughter” in her brilliant motherly voice. Voice is so powerful and to listen to an author narrate their own writing especially non-fiction is something I really appreciate. This is a collection of essays, wisdom, stories, call it what you will but it is writing borne of a life-time of reflection shared so simply and hence beautifully. It has all the intimacy of a conversation. This is a book as much for daughters as sons. I said this of Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele” too because I think it follows quite naturally that lessons for the daughters must be known by the sons too. Angelou narrates seemingly simple snippets with the most profound epiphanies and sometimes it is you as a reader who has to interpret and make of it what you will and what it means for you. Some of my favourite bits (this was not easy to choose) were parts where she talks of fighting to win where it matters, simplicity being the epitome of sophistication, finding friends in strangers – but my favourite takeaway was about courage being the biggest virtue because one needs it to practise any other virtue – be in kindness, beauty, wit, mercy and I think it made most sense to me given where I was at the time of listening to this book. The events are not necessarily in a chronological order but it did not taken away anything from the experience because they stand alone. This is my first experience with her writing, it is simple and spoke to me so I really hope to read more of her works.

I have been reading (2)

Commute by Erin Williams

I had a personal target to read more graphic novels and comic books last year, a genre I tremendously enjoy. So I started March with this and am sorry but this was a big letdown. I sometimes refrain from sharing books that did not work because I feel it may work for someone and I often think that my opinions will not particularly help someone. But this sort of bordered on botheration for me and I wonder if it would trigger some readers. I picked this book up from a bookstore in a train station and read most of it on the commute. The positives: I admit I liked the simple sketches and the way the book is laid out. I like how this could have been pretty powerful – I loved the title and felt it would touch on all those moments during commute that one has felt threatened, the different encounters and circumstances on a commute as a, in this instance, a woman. While Erin has been unflinchingly honest about some of the issues and thoughts, stereotypical as they maybe, I was really disappointed that she picked up different “issues” such as objectification, self worth and left them hanging in the air without unpacking them enough or exploring in its entirety sometimes sending across an incomplete undesirable message. I want to be understanding in that the author has tried to show instances of oppression that she faced as a way to talk about some other women too. But her takes on fear of being fat and undesirability and its links to loneliness leave one wanting for more clarity. Being brutally raw and honest is appreciated especially given how painful it must have been but it was vague and many times un-relatable and just did not do it for me.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Every now and then, you come across a story that moves you incredibly and leaves with an unparalleled sense of joy – this was one of them thanks to S on Instagram. The story revolves around a mathematics professor who after an accident, ends up with a memory that lasts 80 minutes. After having a few housekeepers who do not seem to stay for long perhaps given the special circumstances, there is one housekeeper who walks into the Professor’s life along with her son (with whom the Professor develops a wonderful bond, caring for him as his own) and what follows is a series of beautiful moments between them. The professor’s love for and faith in math is so deep and eternal that it is hard for the housekeeper and her son to not be influenced and wrapped it in its magic. It is a story of living life by the day, savouring the present, in the little moments that Ogawa etches so beautifully thorough the book that I had to keep reminding myself that it is not a memoir. The references to math are particularly enjoyable and left me wanting for a teacher who could have shown the magic of numbers the way the Professor did. So content, that is what the book made me feel.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

“It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” This line really stood out to me in the book but I didn’t know then that this truth wove together the three seemingly disjointed stories of the 1) legendary Money King, 2) a second generation Chinese-American kid and 3) a white American kid whose Chinese cousin ( a stereotypical character) comes for a visit. They are presented as different stories that come together in the end and that really caught me by surprise though I had read the foreword and knew that they had something in common. I was talking to a friend about how this is a thought provoking exploration of immigrant experience in US – the overwhelming need to fit in and the struggles of imbibing a new cultural identity starting from learning a new language to all the daily struggles.
The book really had me engrossed. The author, Gene Luan Yang does such a great job of deconstructing stereotypes and highlights the everyday pressures to assimilate to the predominating culture albeit at the cost of one’s individuality. The illustrations particularly the expressions of the characters are so well done. This is an author I’d like to read more from – take a bow, Gene Luan Yang!

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I first read James Herriot in 8th grade. I stumbled on his book at Manasa Library, my local library which was as big as a local grocery store and housed some of the best treasures that I cherish to this day. I don’t know if it was Pa or me who picked this one up but there has been no looking back. I have read a few of his works and this one is a gem, like them all. His words and work offer an escape to Herriot world – over the hills in Yorkshire Dales that is full of deep love for animals and life itself. These are the stories that give me solace and company no matter the tumultuous times. His books are wonderful in that, they are not unputdownable. Infact they are the opposite. You can read one of his hilarious accounts of delivering piglets at 3 in the morning or an incredibly moving story of an animal he had to put down (thankfully these are fewer) or his humorous and poignant interactions with the farmers in Yorkshire, and then heave a sigh of contentment and go to sleep only to come back for another tale the next day. His tales are episodic and unforgettable. He sketches the personalities so well in all his timeless stories, that I have “met” so many of the character in his book. I read some of these stories to Mili and K on some of the nights before we go to sleep and it elevates our mood so much. Herriot is so endearing and I love his works so much, that I know we’d be really good friends when we meet someday. 

So tell me, what are you reading?

A note: Just do it, already.

I truly miss those days when I would look forward to coming back from a trip or excitedly go through an experience all the while rejoicing in the fact that I can write about it, reflect on it and read what another reader may have to say. Somewhere along the line, PhD happened and there was a lot of writing, reflections and critiques happening in the academic world, I met new people, learnt new stuff about the world and myself, travelled way more than I imagined and loved every single bit of it and my previous blog that I was decently consistent with, became forgotten. I always sought that enticing pocket of time where I could sit down and write to my heart’s content and express myself in the best way possible through words. That, my friends, clearly did not work. The thing is – I just had to do it without thinking too much into making it the best. Somewhere along, the boundaries between writing to express for myself and writing to express to the world became blurred and it is an everyday act of unlearning for. I often struggled struggle to find a balance between making a perfect start and just starting. It baffles me because I can be so impulsive at times and yet there are instances when this spontaneity alludes me and when a false sense of seeking perfection engulfs me. If anything, living through this pandemic, as privileged as it may be, has taught me to “just do it”. The start needs to be made.

Somewhere along, Instagram came along offering the chance to share bite sized reflections and some sneak peaks to moments. They may not capture the entire picture (ha!) but still, it felt good to immediately jot down my thoughts as and when I desired and share a moment as and when I wanted and of what I chose to. But my utter disregard for this space causes a niggling feeling every time I think of it. It isn’t that I have not much to say. Au contraire I have lots to say but I am also aware that writing down sometimes means teasing this jumble of thoughts and lending clarity to them, an act that requires patience and also time. In a way, this sort of commitment has kept me off too, I feel. It takes some dedication to listen to your thoughts, separate them, organise them and lend words to them. The more I think of this, the more I feel this is a basic act of survival and to me, happiness as well. And so it is, that I make another start with renewed vigour.

With this space, I wanted to document thoughts, travels and tit-bits as I manoeuvred through life. I hope to do that more in the days to come. All those travels are not going to write themselves, will they?

I fear we will forget.

Forgetting and carrying on is a double edged sword. There are times I know I need it like so many of you. But I fear it too – I don’t want to forget how these months and especially the last few weeks have made me feel. I have tried to find solace in everyday acts of living and sources of joy and gratitude but there have been days it got harder to bury myself in the mundane. I harbour a fear – a fear that we/I will forget.

There is such an influx of resources and personal narratives everywhere now. People are enraged and so many of us want to do something about it, anything at all, from where we stand. And yet, I fear we will forget.

Moving on and doing what we have to do is unavoidable of course. But there is a power in tragedy, loss, shame and rage that spurs a lot of us to instant reaction that only sometimes goes on to become a part of us. And time and instances in history have shown us that more often than not, we move on a tad too quickly. The learning does not register and especially not if we have been at the receiving end personally. We do sympathise, we are aware of what went wrong, and sometimes even have an idea of what could have been done better and yet, over time, we forget. The impact and trauma of a particularly difficult time fades away or stays as an unpleasant memory that surfaces once in a while only to disappear again.

Now that is indeed helpful if we are coping with loss but eventually need to march forward and make something of our lives. But this ability to forget or temporarily tuck away in the deep recesses of mind and move on, becomes dangerous when we let extremely detrimental practices and systems to carry on too and become evasive of our roles and how pro-active we need to be over time and not just reactive to calamity.

It is a great opportunity to educate ourselves now – there are a lot of resources and platforms coming to the fore and spreading their message. But we don’t need to be overwhelmed. Here is what am striving to do – to listen calmly, drawing parallels to my own experiences, identifying patterns and narrowing them down in ways that make sense to me for starters. We only need to make small changes – little changes to our actions and subsequently tweaks to our thought processes that have been comfortably etched in our minds. We each need to take one step forward and collectively, we’d have moved massively as a community. I have identified 3 things I want to do and act on. It somehow makes it more actionable, less overwhelming and makes me feel useful and proactive. Quite frankly, I could do with feeling a bit resourceful, right now. Alongside, I can continue to educate myself, tease out patterns and processes that are deeply ingrained. It is just making that start and sticking to it that will empower me to empower the community I am part of. I want to move beyond being reactive and stay consistently proactive, responsive and responsible.

Jam thumbprint cookies

One evening, K and I got talking about jim-jam cookies – the cream sandwiched biscuits with the most alluring jujube on top? And then we had a hankering for jam cookies. That is it – that is the story behind how these happened in my kitchen. Jam thumbprint cookies that have the crumbliness of a nankhatai (or beNNe (butter) biscuit as we call them in Kannada), rolled in walnutty goodness and a good dollop of strawberry jam.
As we waited quite impatiently for the cookies to cool a bit, I remember how it started getting dark outside and then we took the tray up to the living room and enjoyed them in that fading daylight with all the silence in the world. I remember our hurried steps and followed by that complete silence as these cookies melted in our mouth. It may seem like such a random and eventless recollection but this scene and how it made us feel is etched in my happy memories so much like the thumb print cookies themselves.

You need:

  • 180g butter, softened at room temperature
  • 80-90g caster sugar – go up to 110 g if you like them sweeter.
  • 1 large egg/ 2 small eggs with yolks and white separated.
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 220g plain flour
  • Jam of any flavour of your choice.
  •  (Optional) Crushed nuts of your choice to roll your cookie in – I used walnuts

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. 
  2. In a bowl,  beat the 180 g butter (high speed if you have speed settings)  until creamy – I used a hand held mixer with a paddle attachment but you can do this in a stand mixer too. 
  3. Now add sugar (80-90 g), egg yolk(1 large/ 2 small) and vanilla extract (1 tsp) and beat together until it has all combined well.
  4. Now add the flour (220 g), a little at a time and mix in. You can used a hand mixer/ stand mixer (use a really slow speed setting if you do)  but I just used a spatula and gently combined it together – do not overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough by mixing it too much or kneading it a lot, the biscuits become hard. So really, just bringing it all together into one mass should be good.
  5. At this stage, if your dough is slightly on the wetter side, then do refrigerate it for 30 mins to 1 hour. Mine was alright but I chose to refrigerate it for 30 minutes. I like to refrigerate my cookie dough – they reduce the spread of the cookie. You don’t need to do it for all cookies and you can omit it for this cookie as well. It is just a comforting step for me, I guess. 
  6. Line a baking sheet/tray with parchment paper and slightly grease it with any neutral oil. 
  7. Make small lemon sized balls of the cookie dough with your hand (gently rolling).
  8. If you are using the nuts, beat the egg white until foamy. Slightly dip these cookie dough balls in the egg white and roll them in the crushed nuts and place them at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. The egg white acts as a binding agent to keep the nuts on. So if you skip the nuts, then just make lemon-sized balls fo the cookie dough and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  9. Now for the fun part – gently press the cookie so that you have a dent in the centre – make it as big or as small as you’d like depending on how much jam you would like in it. 
  10. Fill the dent with a jam of your choice and voila! They are ready to go into your pre-heated oven.
  11. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until the nuts start browning slightly. 

Notes for notes:

  • You could probably substitute with other flours/ almond meal, I haven’t tried that yet. 
  • I have tried these with another filling that I will share soon as well – but really just go wild with what you would like.
  • Please watch the oven as these bake – they do turn around in a very short time so unless you are really sure of your oven and how it works, I’d recommend watching over them. 
  • I always like to use the middle rack as that works best for me – but I understand that may not always be the case with different ovens. Just a tip.
  • You can drizzle sugar/ glaze these as well – we love them as is 🙂

A chilly evening with chilli-chauLi

One of the evenings not too long ago, I made a chilli with chauLi (black eyes peas). I have made chilli with different beans before and I feel like this is one of the most versatile dishes that cannot go wrong for that very reason because all you need to do is add everything you like and enjoy, in desired amounts. And it comes together in one pot if you have boiled/prepped your beans/lentil before. I used black eyed peas, onions, red bell pepper, peeled plum tomatoes from a can, soya chunks, green beans, spring onion and garlic. I used some Italian herb seasoning but you can play with veggies, lentils and seasoning of your choice. A quick simple that is healthy and very easy to put together.

Before I go on to share how I made it, can I just tell you how it blows me away when the ingredients, everyday, common, unassuming ingredients, come together to form a magical dish? Sometimes, I have no memory associated with it, it is not anything I have eaten before and yet it feels so comfortingly familiar. I love that about food, its ability to take you to a warm comforting spot.
While I really want to share the method, I must warn you. My cooking is largely (largely but not completely) driven by mood, instinct and sensorial experience that the moment offers as I temper, sauté, fry, roast, grill, bake.. While I do follow some techniques and measurements while needed, curry is probably the last place where I am exact. So, please treat this as an idea and make it yours.

I used:
Soya chunks (soaked in hot water and softened)
Vegetables: Spring onion (separate the white bulb from the green part), minced garlic, chopped – onions, green chillies, tomatoes (I used canned but feel free to replace with free ones), fresh corriander
Spices: Turmeric and chilli powder
Herbs: Dried parsley, dried basil and dried oregano
Any neutral oil for tempering
Salt to taste

Here is how I made it:
In a deep bottomed pan, I heated a couple tsp of oil. Once the oil was hot, I sautéed white tips of spring onion and chopped onions until translucent and garlic until the raw smell was gone. I added chopped green beans and red bell peppers and sautéed for a couple of minutes. I then added peeled plum tomatoes from a can (I like canned tomatoes and that soupy goodness in this though I have used fresh tomatoes too). I also added a pinch of turmeric, chilli powder and let it simmer for 10 mins in its own sauce. After this, I added a tsp of dried oregano, dried basil, parsley, salt and some soya chunks and some water let it simmer for a further 15-20 minutes finishing off with chopped corriander, the green bits of the spring onion and a squeeze of lemon.

We enjoyed it with toasted slices of baguette, but this would taste on its own too or possibly as a pasta sauce. The possibilities can be endless and as your heart fancies!

Eating through this winter

I love how seasons speak to my soul through my taste buds and of course gut. I never knew growing up, that I would remember food and associate it with a lot of happy memories years on. But turns out, I very very happily do. For someone coming from a place that boasted of moderate weather through the year (well, the summers have gotten hotter now) seasons trigger a lot of special and specific memories. And of course, the availability of seasonal produce had a big role to play and I fondly remember how seasons primed cravings and continue to do so, as I write this.

Having moved to UK, I have fallen in love with autumn and winter. It is every bit as beautiful and picturesque as I had imagined. What compounds this love is my love for the food that winters are made of – warm, comforting to the point that a dish regarded as an indulgence or sometimes even not the healthiest for your diet, becomes comfort food. I am talking about the pakodas, samosas and their clan, ofcourse. The last couple of months have seen a fair share of snacks and chaats and we had the perfect excuse for it – the weather. Growing up, we did not eat a lot of fried food at home. The amboDes, bajjis and pakoDas were occasional and immensely appreciated when they did happen. But we always had easy access to fresh puffs and aloo buns from the local bakery and our evergreen and ever favourite Ragavendra bakery in the city that makes puffs and rusks like no other.

But I always remember tamaashi bajji. Literally translates to “fun bajji” but when pa says it, he probably means “special bajji”. I have never asked. When ma made onion and potato bajjis (fritters for lack of a better word), some bajjis would have potato slice and some onions in them instead of being exclusively either. So we’d happily start eating one of them thinking it is an onion bajji but a potato would surprise us! And these were far and few but they were there surely in each of our bowls and would have us squeal in excitement when we found one. I make these tamaashi bajjis for K and myself sometimes. I realize now that they are as tamaashi making and sneaking into a loved one’s bowl as much as finding in mine. Pa has nailed it as usual, of course. Crispy along the edges and soft inside, these disappear by bowl-fuls. The perfect accompaniment to all this has to be the ginger-cardamom chai that K makes so so well. We make a big pot of tea and help ourselves every now and then. The bajjis moved us to a state of calm and snuggly and only whetted our appetite and souls for more.

I must admit that the vaDa pav is not a winter comfort alone, at ours. We eat them almost every fortnight. We have a favourite little restaurant in Hounslow called Shree Krishna VaDa Pav that makes them so well that we drive all the way there because it is just so incredibly worth it. With storm Dennis and incessant rains, our plans to head out for vaDa pav went kaput. So I decided to make them from scratch at home, the vaDas and the chutneys I mean. The pavs came from Morrisons. The chutneys are the heart of the vaDa pav, to me. I need all of them to have a full-fledged experience. Haha I am serious. The sweet and tangy imli (tamarind) chutney, the green corriander chutney, the chilli- garlic powder that is bomb-diggidy and of course the butter. As I blend the coriander chutney in the blender, with the tamarind chutney simmering away on the stove-top and the potatoes cooling down in the pressure cooker, K makes a vaDa pav playlist (extremely soulful Bengali music) as his tea masala in the mortar and pestle makes the environment heady. This is how I remember the makings of vaDa pav from that day. Ofcourse, it helps that K called them “so fantastic” in between a big bite because who doesn’t enjoy making loved ones happy?

Vada Pav

When you have pavs at home, the only logical next step after you have had your share of vaDa pav is pav bhaji. This is so simple and versatile to make with vegetables at hand though potato is a must. So ofcourse, it happened. I started making pav bhaji a few years ago but I can see I have come quite far with this one which is funny because like I said, it is not that hard to make. I admit I make small changes that my heart fancies but I wonder if those little changes have helped or if I have grown to like what I make. All questions don’t need to be answered so I shall let it be.

Somewhere along an extremely easy peasy chole chaat with onion-corriander leaves- cumin seeds-tamarind paste masala topped with Greek yoghurt, chopped onion, tomatoes and nylon sev happened. This is sort of my go-to for a chaat craving. It comes together in a jiffy and the minute I garnish it with finely chopped onions, fresh corriander and yoghurt, I know I want it.

You have to forgive me for grainy, badly lit pictures as I click hurriedly under the exhaust light trying to stand as far as I can to avoid a shadow. I do have a quiver of excuses about short daylight, extreme hunger, impatience, a phone that had absolutely zero storage (a dropbox activity that I have procrastinated for long and hence this day has creeped up on me again) that makes me take shots on instagram and do poorly edits before posting and yada yada but underneath them all has been my laziness to change some of that. So even though the picture of the ghughni (dried peas cooked in a gravy) is grainy, the experience is crystal clear in my mind – piping hot spicy ghughni with buttered and toasted sourdough (feel free to butter them again) in a dimly lit conservatory as we ate in silence with little nods and sighs of satisfaction – bliss.

It was on one of the drizzly evenings we decided to bring a dhaba home. We often think of these roadside restaurants often along highways in India serving some fantastic local fare both meals and snacks that sometimes make journeys that much more enjoyable. Even now, every time we go on long drives, I look forward to the pit stops. So I made these pakoras with marinated baby corn and fried some poblano peppers and they were so perfect for the time and place we were in.

The comfort and joy of making dishes from scratch is unparalleled especially when you are in the mood for it. These samosas stand testimony to that. These take a bit of time but it is quite something when you make samosas and chai in your kitchen. Now that we have reminders to stay safe, slow down, rethink our actions and use the opportunity to bring the best out in ourselves, what better way than to create some of those moments in the kitchen? If you are someone after my heart, you will know what I mean.

To create is to find a voice and communicate – ideas and emotions. This winter, I did a lot of it. And, I cannot be more grateful.