Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review : Korma, Kheer & Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi

I first heard of Pamela Timms, when I had just returned to India in December 2010. We were posted to Delhi and by February 2011, I had connected with local foodies and heard rave reviews of her Upar-Wali Chai's - the pop-up High Tea Parties - that she used to organise with her friend Laura. Sadly, by the time I could contact her, Laura left for the Netherlands and these pop-ups came to a full stop and I had to satisfy myself with drooling at the pictures on her blog - eat and dust.

Baking is something that is stressful for me as I am too much of a rebel at heart, especially when it comes to cooking. I'm more comfortable cooking by andaaz (touch, smell and feel), than in following exact measurements. I happily "adjust" recipes from blogs and recipe books when I cook for ourselves, but you see the potential for disaster when it comes to baking? Hence the need to be satisfied with drooling at pictures.

Pamela Timms is a Scottish Journalist who has been living in Delhi since the last 10 years. In 2005, her husband Dean moved to India as a foreign correspondent and she and their children accompanied him.

I saw so many similarities in Pamela's life as an expat in Delhi, with my life as an expat in Cairo and perhaps this is why I connected even more with the book. Except for the food, the monuments and the history of Delhi, there is little else that I love about the city (its just too aggressive, rude and in-your-face for me, I'm happier in a Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad or Mumbai than Delhi. Even living in Guwahati and Ahmedabad has been a 100 times more pleasant)

By a strange coincidence, the last book I read was : Ismail Merchant's - My Passage From India - and in that he recounts how one of the Rejection Letters that he received from a studio for their movie "Heat and Dust" (based on Ruth Prawer Jhabwalla Booker Prize Winning novel of the same name, the movie later won a BAFTA and was nominated for 7 others) was "we are not currently interested in your project of eat and dust" Mr, Merchant wasn't impressed with the production house getting the name of his movie wrong, but it has proved to be an apt name for Pamela's blog that is currently extremely popular.

Another strange connection between these 2 books is that Merchant Ivory productions, produced 3 movies based on books by E M Forster - A Room With A View, Maurice, and Howards End and Pamela was inspired by the heroine of another E M Forster Book - "A Passage to India" that she read shortly before she moved.

After a couple of disastrous rental accommodations (which made it difficult to cook) and the extra attention of being a fair skinned expat in Delhi (constantly besieged with "you want maid?", "you want driver?" and once even being bundled into an autorikshaw by policemen, when all she wanted to do was walk!), she found a refuge (from the stifling Expat Bubble of New Delhi) in Old Delhi.

To paraphrase Pamela, the people of Old Delhi were too busy with their business and their lives to give them any extra, unnecessary attention. Each one was caught up in their own routine and treated them as just another customer. Old Delhi was a sensory overload, but left them exhilarated. (I know the feeling: wandering around the Khan el Khalili in Cairo, in a long sleeved kurta and jeans, with my basic Arabic - as long as I didn't get into a conversation - I blended in as a local and was pretty much left alone to explore the area on my own whims.)

I completely empathise with and understand Pamela's experience of cooking Roast Chicken with Pasta and Tomatoes (an excellent recipe by the way), I've been through it myself.

In Egypt and Dubai (or even Mumbai or Bangalore), when I had a dinner party at home, I just had to visit one large hypermarket and get everything I needed from there. In Delhi, it was a trip to a large supermarket to buy staples, one to Godrej Nature Basket in Def Col to buy boneless meat, imported ingredients and cold meat, INA market for fresh fruit and vegetables and Jor Bagh Market for pork. This is manageable (except for the time taken to get from place to place) as long as you go with a fixed menu in mind and a list of ingredients, but a bit of a toughie for someone like me who looks at ingredients (which are the freshest and the most inspiring?)  and then decides what to cook. This turned out to be more of a mystery box challenge for every dinner party - as I never knew what I would get at the next shop and whether it would match with ingredients I had already picked, to make up a cohesive meal.

But this review is not about me, so to come back to this brilliant book :  Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Five Seasons in Old Delhi - is a a beautiful food memoir of Old Delhi / Puraani Dilli / sheher.  The book has history, culture, food, travel, recipes (just about 14-15) and personal stories all woven into each other. I absolutely LOVED it - if I ever get around to writing a book, this is the book that I would aspire to emulate, it has captured all my favourite interests.

I read this over last weekend and I loved it so much that I gave it to Brajesh and asked him to read it immediately and he also finished it at one shot. While he promised Rushina, that hers would be the first "food" book that he would read, he just read through the introductions of each chapter in "A Pinch of This, A Handful of That" and skimmed over the recipes. In "Korma, Kheer & Kismet" he again skimmed over the recipes, but as it is more memoir than recipe book, he felt that he had actually "read" it. He is now fixated on locating "Ashok & Ashok" on his next trip to Dilli.

As I was reading this book, I found that I was marking a few statements and underlining the names of restaurants and locations and other food writers mentioned in the book. Then I realised that this was the first time since college that I was doing this in a non-management book. (I hate having my books marked permanently in any way, I prefer to use post-its for the occasional note.) This is just a sign that I valued and wanted to emphasise all the new things that I learned in this book - even if it was just the name of a dhabha in Amritsar - but it serves the best cholle bhature in the world.

There is so much depth in this book

- a depth of knowledge of Indian food - Pamela is not just another "visitor" to India, penning a book after a 2 week holiday in the country, she has spent time, energy and effort into researching the topics that she writes about.
- a depth of research - into the families and people cooking up old favourites in this part of the City and into the history of food in general.
- a depth of passion and love - for food and the Old City.

My only issue with this book is the pictures. Being spoiled by the gorgeous technicolour / HD photos on her blog, the Black & White pictures in the book are a disappointment, some of them have become very blurry in grayscale. I understand that printing colour photos in a book, raises costs significantly, but I think a lot of them would have been better off as a link to a colour photo on her blog than as a grainy image in grayscale.

A lot of my Delhi friends have read this book over the long weekend and are already planning an eating expedition to the Old City, while also keeping Rahul Verma's tips for the monsoons in mind.

Charmaine O'Brien's - "Flavors of Delhi" is much more comprehensive and wide in its spectrum, but Pamela's book has a ton of passion - which clearly makes it a much more emotional and enjoyable book.

If you like (notice I don't say love) food and live in Delhi or are visiting Delhi, this is a book you MUST read. Its also a beautiful gift for someone moving to Delhi.

Rating : 4.5/ 5

Friday, August 15, 2014

Recipe : Corned Beef per Eedu (Parsi Inspired)

I've been dreaming of Grilled Hash & Eggs for a very very long time, but since we are doing our best to eat healthy at home (there's no moderation on food when we travel, and we travel 10-15 days a month) and husband has eliminated potatoes from his diet (along with white flour and a few other white carbs and sugars), it didn't seem worth the effort.

However, when I dreamed about it again, I put more thought into how I could adapt it to be faster and without the potatoes, and I remembered the string of Parsi Breakfast (or anytime dishes) of eggs on top of anything (per eedu). Eggs are put on top of anything from okra / bhindi / ladyfinger fry, onion, + tomato sauce, minced meat, potato wafers, and even jaggery+ghee.

So I adapted my older recipe for Grilled Hash & Eggs into a faster, slightly healthier version, which you can serve with bread for breakfast or dal & rotis for lunch or dinner.

1 tin corned beef
2 medium onions chopped
2 medium tomatoes chopped
1-2 green chillies chopped
1 -2 tbsp kashundi (or any sharp mustard)
2 eggs
Pepper Powder (to taste)
Grated cheese (optional)

Choose a frying pan or flat bottomed shallow vessel (preferably non stick) which has a good lid that fits tight.

Heat the pan and add a few drops of oil.
Fry the onions, tomatoes and green chillies for a couple of minutes (I prefer the onions with a bite, but you can cook them till soft if you prefer)
If the tomatoes aren't juicy enough, add a tsp or so of tomato sauce.
Now add the kashundi and stir well.
Add the corned beef and mince it up a bit.
Stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Now flatten/smoothen out the whole mixture in the pan.

Crack and drop 2 eggs on top of the mixture.

Sprinkle pepper on top.
Cover and cook till almost done. (soft or hard yolks of your choice)
If adding cheese, add at this stage.
Cover and cook again till done.

Serve hot with toast / pav  or rotis.

Note :
- Don't add salt, unless you absolutely need it, the corned beef will have enough salt.

- I used a brownish smoked cheese, that's why the topping looks brown rather than white or yellow

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review : The Essential Kodava Cookbook

C B Muthamma & P Gangamma Bopanna's - The Essential Kodava Cookbook has been out of print for a couple of years now, but I've constantly been keeping my eyes open for it. The other day there was an online offer of an old copy, but I immediately snapped it up.

The book starts with a brilliant introduction into Kodava Philosophy and Culture. What stands out especially is the role of a woman in Coorgi society. Even when she is married, she still is treated as an important and essential member of both households. Its an outstanding essay and definitely worth a read.

The Recipe Section is divided into Rice, Meat & Poultry, Fish & Prawns, Vegetables, Chutneys & Pickles and Desserts & Snacks.

Coorgi recipes do have a lot of local ingredients like Sannakki rice, kaachambuli etc which aren't easily available outside Coorg (although, recently Bangalore has had quite a few Coorgi ingredient shops open up). The authors have kindly provided alternate ingredients.

The Meat section focuses on mutton & pork with chicken only being advised as a substitute for mutton.

The number of recipes is quite limited (given the other titles in the Penguin - Essential Cookbook series), but it is quite comprehensive and the popularly known dishes are all in the cookbook.

The recipes are quite easy to reproduce at home for someone who is familiar with general cooking techniques and there isn't too much specialised equipment that is required to cook these dishes

While a lot of the rice based dishes are similar to what is cooked in Mangalore and Kerala, the meat and vegetable preparations have their own unique flavour.

If you are looking for something new, I would quite recommend this book to you, but there's no need to buy this book, if all you are looking for is - the famed Pandi Curry (there are enough online recipes for the dish)

Rating : 4 / 5

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Recipe : Pepper Chicken Stir Fry

This is a light recipe, quick to assemble, once you have the marinated chicken. It barely takes 15 minutes to get to the table once your marinated chicken is at room temperature. I used boneless chicken and this cooks much faster. If you use pieces with bone, you will need to cook it a little longer. You can make it less spicy, by decreasing the pepper powder and the chillies.

500 gms chicken (boneless better)
1-2 tbsp pepper powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1-2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp olive oil (or any healthy oil)
1 tbsp fennel seeds / saunf (optional - its good for digestion and iron content)
5-10 cloves garlic chopped
1 large onion chopped
4 green chillies chopped
2 - 3 red or yellow capsicums/ bell peppers in bite sized pieces
100 gms baby corn chopped same size as capsicum
natural vinegar / lime juice to taste

Clean and chop the chicken to bite sized pieces.
Marinate chicken in a paste of pepper powder, chilli powder, ginger garlic paste and soya sauce for an hour or longer. (if longer, then marinate it in the fridge)

When ready to cook, bring the chicken back to room temperature (otherwise you will have hard, stringy chicken)
In a pan, heat the oil, add the fennel seeds.
When the fennel seeds splutter, add garlic and brown lightly.
Then add the onions and cook it to your required level of doneness (we preferred a bit of crunch in our onions, but you can even caramelise them completely.
Add the chicken and stir fry on high heat.
When half cooked, add the green chillies.
When chicken is almost cooked, add the baby corn and capsicums and give one good toss in the pan, so it all reaches a good temperature, before turning off.
Add some vinegar or lemon juice to your taste, give a good stir and serve hot.

You do not need to add salt in this dish, as the soya sauce will provide the saltiness.

Kim's Tips:

We eat this dish as an entire meal, on the days that we are avoiding carbs. But you can serve it with noodles or fried rice.

You can experiment with other vegetables too - broccoli, green beans, carrots etc.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Recipe : Vegetable Stir Fry (Vegan)

Since we are now trying to be a bit cautious about our weight, whenever we have over indulged ( by eating out, eating late, eating heavy, eating dessert), the next day I keep the food really light and healthy. so most Mondays end up being fruit or salad days.

One of B's favourite dishes are stir fry's. He loves the fact that the veggies remain crisp, so he doesn't crave something fried for texture.

You can use any combination of vegetables for a stir fry, but the crisper ones are what work best - cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, baby corn, capsicum, beans, carrots are all great options. I love adding mushrooms too for their deeper, earthier flavours.

Your seasoning, can be anything that you like, I am partial to garlic, black pepper, star anise and sichuan pepper in various combinations.

I also tend to use soya sauce for flavouring at the end, so I don't add any salt. You can use your choice of homemade dressings or ready made stir fry / oyster sauce or any combination of sauces that you like. I often add some drops of tabasco sauce, just to up the heat a bit.

While I was making this stir fry last night, husband promised to help with taking some photos. He was very excited with his new phone and its camera features, hence there are some whacky images, that did look interesting, so I'm going to add them at the end. Let me know what you think.

Stir fry's are one of the few rare dishes that i prep for completely before I start to cook. Most times, I keep chopping, washing, cleaning through the process. But given how quickly the veggies cook in this dish, I like to keep my mis-en-place ready before i start.

The order in which the veggies go into the pan is dependent on how long each one needs to cook to your level of doneness.

Ingredients :
1 large bowl of mixed chopped vegetables of your choice
(in this instance I used broccoli, red & yellow peppers, baby corn, cabbage and mushrooms)

 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1" ginger grated
1 tsp pepper pounded coarsely
5-6 Sichuan Peppers pounded coarsely
1 star anise pounded coarsely
soya sauce to taste
natural vinegar / lime juice to taste

Warm the pan on high heat and add the oil
Drop the chopped garlic and pounded spices into the hot oil and let them splutter and the garlic brown a bit.
Now add the mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, baby corn and bell peppers in order (intervals depend on how well you want each one cooked)
Keep stir frying on high heat until done.
Take the stir fry out into a serving bowl and season with soya sauce, vinegar or sauce of your choice.

Your meal is ready

Below are some of the pictures B took, using the special effects on his phone.

And my favourites of the lot - The Kaleidoscope Effect

This post is also submitted for the Indiblogger & Borosil #BeautifulFood contest

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Recipe : Roasted Pumpkin (Vegan)

When we visited Canada a couple of years ago for a cousins wedding, we had a BBQ at U Ossie & Aunty Aureen's house and one of my (many, many) aunts - Belinda (who hates being called "Aunty" by me cause it makes her feel "old" LOL) roasted some butternut squash which was amazingly tasty.

Seeing that we don't get a variety of squashes in India, I hadn't had the opportunity to try making this myself. Today though, I saw some lovely red baby pumpkins in the market and remembering this recipe, I picked one up.

Sadly for me, the pumpkin wasn't ripe enough, so the end product was missing the sweetness, but I think the flavours worked very well and I will ask for help to select a ripe pumpkin next time and retry this recipe.

I could have added some brown sugar to this while baking, but this week is diet week and sugar and sweeteners are off the menu.

Its quite easy to assemble and takes about 10 minutes to prep (depending on the size of your pumpkin) and then another 45 minutes in the oven that you can use to prepare the rest of your meal or just have a bath or a glass of wine while the pumpkin is roasting.

Ingredients :
1/2 kg ripe pumpkin or Squash
6-8 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (you can also use all spice)
1 tsp chilli flakes
sea salt to taste
1/2 tsp of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 180C / 355F.
Clean and chop the pumpkin (you can retain the separated seeds for roasting)
Place the pumpkin pieces in an ovenproof bowl
Add the chopped garlic, cinnamon powder, chilli flakes, sea salt and olive oil.

Toss or stir till it is all well combined.
I used my hands and gave all the pieces a light massage with the spices.
If you feel the pumpkin isn't sweet enough, add a bit of brown sugar too.

Roast in the oven for 30-55 minutes.
(if you have cut your pumpkin into chunks, it will take closer to 55minutes, if you have sliced it fine, it should be done in around 30 minutes - ripeness of the pumpkin is also a factor in how long it will take to cook)
Serve hot

Kim's Tips for Leftovers :
While, I was roasting the pumpkin in the microwave, I placed the seeds in an ovenproof glass lid and slid it under the wire rack on which the pumpkin dish was placed. The roasted seeds can be lightly seasoned and eaten as a healthy snack or tossed into salads where they provide fibre and crunch.

If you don't feel like eating leftover roasted pumpkin for a second meal, give the pumpkin a whiz in the food processor until finely blended. Add some chicken or vegetable stock (till you get your desired consistency) and bring to a boil with some fresh herbs and cream to garnish.

You can even mix the roasted pumpkin pieces into a green leafy salad for an alternate texture and a sweet flavour that goes well with bitter leaves.

Kim's Tips:
While I piled all the pumpkin into one dish (given the limited size of my microwave oven), the better spaced the pumpkin pieces are, the better will be the caramelisation of the pumpkin.

The skin adds fiber to the dish, but you can remove it if you prefer.

This post is also being submitted for Round 2 of the Indiblogger & Borosil #BeautifulFood Competition

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Borosil Contest #BeautifulFood

As most of you who follow my blog know, I was one of the bloggers shortlisted for Round 2 of the Indiblogger and Borosil "My Beautiful Food" Contest

So for Round 2, I had to serve food in the dishes sent to me by Borosil.

There was such excitement at home when the parcel from Borosil & Indiblogger finally arrived. We had been waiting a couple of days, the rains in Ahmedabad had played spoilsport and the roads were inundated, making life difficult for the poor courier delivery guys. Mum and I have been baking and serving dishes in Borosil Glassware for ages and she had been hoping to see the new designs before she left the city.

Everything was beautifully and securely packed and all the fragile glass articles reached me safely via Mumbai - Navi Mumbai - Baroda. That is some really great quality packing.

However, mums & my first reaction on looking at the dishes was "but these are so small!" Neither of us is comfortable cooking in small quantities, we tend to cook large meals and love feeding people. And if we have 4 people coming over for a meal, I will end up cooking about at least 6-8kgs of food. I think this trait has been passed down through my nana's genes. We are more comfortable cooking in large quantities than small ones, although most of the time these days mum and I are cooking for 1-2 people for daily meals, but in this case we serve/paroso onto the plate directly from the kitchen.

So yes, it was a huge challenge to cook in these dishes. But once I started cooking in them, I realised that while they looked small, they did carry a lot of volume 1/2-1kg of food in the serving dishes and a little more than 500 ml in the awesomely cute Baby Gourmet Bowls.

The first opportunity that I got to use these dishes, was the very same evening, since a friend had arrived from Delhi and I served an Andhra style Meal for dinner.

There was a spicy Chicken 65, Kebabs (as starters) Parathas, Biryani, mixed vegetables and a mutton curry, with a salad and some accompaniments.

I was struck by how my accompaniments (Pudina Chutney, Raita, Mirch ka Salan) mirrored the colors of the Indian Flag and used the Borosil Glasses to emphasise the colours

The centrepiece of course was the biryani and I think that transparent glassware, shows Biryani at its best where you can admire all its colours and layers.

Over the following week, I used the dishes to serve whatever was made at home (the contest was an incentive) whenever I remembered to use the dishes and click pictures.

Even something as simple as steamed corn with a chilli-garlic vinaigrette looked so lovely in the Borosil dishes.

And the Baby Gourmet Bowls made my simple tomato soup, look so posh!

The glassware in all these pictures was part of the hamper sent to me as a prize for Round 1 and can be bought on


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