Chaat- concept food!

Coming from Delhi – the land of fast food, chaat is high up on my list of mouth-watering delicacies, be it home-made or bought out.

During both my pregnancies I craved madly for chaat. Pregnancies are over, children have grown up but craving doesn’t still subside!

Chennai is far away from the land of chaats- Delhi, Bombay, or Calcutta, however, in the last ten years that I have been here I have seen the city grow and adapt itself to the needs of us immigrants, gracefully. Right from small thela- valahs to well constructed neatly glazed cha(a)t rooms with a/c have propped up everywhere! 

The way I understand chaat is a bit different. It is more a concept than a mere recipe. I make it at home with this in mind; I use the concept and bend the recipes to include crazy flavour combinations to create a quick lip-smacking snack. 

For example- pani poori balls, freshly fried filled with spicy salsa with tomatoes and chillies, topped with hung curd dressing flavoured with cool cucumbers and garlic. Corn salsa mixed with date sauce, topped with green chutney mixed with thick yogurt, garnished with sev and coriander leaves. 

I recently came across a chaat joint in Chennai that has adopted this idea of creating chaat items with a twist – a place called Indiska Magic, Harrington road.

Here there is chaat with an interesting dimension. Each item on the menu is well thought out and brought on a plate testing your taste buds! And by that I DO NOT mean cheese is the most innovative addition! (By the way I think adding cheese to everything makes it nothing but ABCD!!!)

They have some originals on the menu which are unbeatable! The elusive pav bhaji.. It arrives on a sizzling platter, hot with the goodness of melting white butter straight from the hot wok with soft buns toasted with crunchy golden corners. It took me straight back ten years – to Haldirams in Delhi!

These are their special items. Their Lucknowi galoutis are crispy nan breads greased in fresh fat rolled with tangy goodness of veggies blended with soft panner. Each bite is a trip into flavour paradise!

Their Mathura ki bedmi poori aloo is NOT the usual ‘boorisaeedishh’ that we get everywhere else. The aloo is well cooked and seasoned, soaking in the goodness of a gravy with a yogurt base flavoured with rich turmeric and a spice powder that travels all the way from Mathura. It IS a secret! This is served with a pickle – soaked fenugreek with tamarind and greenchillies thrown in with whole fennel seeds. The combination is another trip all the way to food heaven and back!

They created the yummy but unhealthy aloo chaat into a healthy replacement with sweet potatoes instead of potatoes. Trust me you wont know the difference unless you have a keen sense of taste! It is so worth adopting this trick with difficult children and conning them into good food!

Their slushes were also very original. Kala khatta did not taste like an essenced cocacola like it usually does and their aam panna was filled with colour but had a naughty sweet and salt flavour that brought a smile on my face with each sip.

All I will say is DO NOT miss this place! 

That is not it. They are the only outlet in Chennai to sell various kinds of baklawas and kunafas which are delicacies straight from the land of the Mediterraneans.  

One trip will not ever do justice to this haven of fast food!

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Vegan= limitation or opportunity?

I turned vegan about three years ago. ‘Vegan’ is a label that people associate me with (along with ‘abnoxiously anti-plastic). 

Well, I turned vegan and saw the be wfits of it almost instantly. So I decided that my family should turn vegan too. As an involved mother, I felt I was commiting a crime if I were knowingly serving my kids something that is acidic and unhealthy.

I saw this more as an oppurtunity than a limitation. I felt that I could get more creative in the kitchen ans understand taste, textures and balance in the food that I was serving. I started experimenting a lot more. More than half the times I was successful, maybe because I was desperate that being vegan shouldn’t be a limiting factor for my children: they should have tasty home cooked meals. They deserved it and they should miss it when they grew up and live all by  themselves, away from home.   😜

So I try to replace the ‘cream and cheese’ factor with dry-fruits  and coconut milk and much to my surprise it works more than 80% of the time!

This one time when I did a culinary course in a school with children, I taught them how to prepare cream with cashews. They refused to believe me when I told them about it; but the fact that the cream was licked clean even before it reached their plates from the blender, had said enough. 

I shall share my experiences here. You can try them too if you like.


This is me…

My home is a cozy lil’ two bed and open kitchen in the centre of Chennai city, a stones throw from the beach. Crisp cool mornings greet my balcony doors as the sun goes up and moon calls out on my kitchen window throwing light inside with the soft aounds of ruffling leaves as the sea breeze gently blows away.

Maharashtra’s Masala

What doesn’t cease to amaze me is how we have multiple region based cuisines all over India. Invariably, one cuisine seeps through harmlessly to its neighbours territory not just influencing them and getting influenced.

Tanjavur, the district in Tamil Nadu that I hail from is highly influenced by the Marathan cuisine. Sambar varieties, bajjis and upmas that we probably thought as native cuisine are borrowed glories. According to the sangam literature what surely belonged to dravidian cuisine were things like idiappams and dosais made of various millets and rice. Even Idli fermenting technique was something we borrowed from Indonasians.

Visiting Bombay for the first time, my mind was set to taste all the flavours the region has to offer. I believe local flavoura are always best tasted in small shops and roadside vnedors rather than fine-dining restaurants. So, I did walk the length and breadth of Bombay and speak to a lot of people before I went on food walks. Thanks to Zomato, things were relatively simpler to figure out.

Available all day long on menus are Vadapavs, batata vadas at roadside thelevala vendors next to train stations are almost always fresh and tasty in your tummies and super light on your pockets.

Missal pav is a typical protien filled roadside breakfast where Missal is the gravy made of many kinds of pulses, big and small, flavoured with goda masala, which is a speciality of this region. Goda is a ten spice blend, the variation of which is something called a kala masala, addition being sundried fried onions.
Kandha lehsun masala is the other spice mix with onions and garlic mostly used in dry preparations.

kandha poha is a delicacy made of fried onions and beaten rice flavored with chillies, lemon and tumeric. Thalipeeth is another mid-maharashtran speciality. These are thick pancakes made from various   millets, flavoured with herbs and fried onions. These are served with coriander chutney and white butter. Yumm!

Sabudana vada and sabudana khichdi are two preperations made from tapioca balls flavoured with roasted peanuts, green chillies and seasoned with cumin and ghee. They are mainly breakfast dishes and so are quite heavy on the tummy. Being free of onions and garlic, which usually marathis dont cook without, these are mostly fasting food.

Piyush is a local drink made of yogurt sweetened with sugar and flavoured with saffron and cardamom, its heavy alright but its something you shouldn’t miss! The other local drink is the kokum sharbat. Kokum is a fruit like tamarind that grows all along the west of India, largely used as an ingredient to add acidity and tangyness to a dish. The sharbat is a nice drink to start your meal with or even refresh yourself after a long, hot day. The syrup makes an exotic addent to your fridge too.

There is still so much more to explore here in Bombay. My next account is quite detailed as I am about to explore the famous bombayya chaat in a place called Elco market bang in the middle of Bandra.

Foodology of my 37-year-old

On the days I fast, I am mentally tired. I make sure I cook for everyone who requires food and their specific quantities for the day and retire to my other chores.
Today, I woke up and decided to fast as I had eaten in a restaurant yesterday. My better half comes along and says – “I think.. hmm.. maybe I should fast too.” He also did his best to share this with whomever he met during the morning, as he always does and gained all their sympathy, and giving me the stares as though I am the villain who starves him!

I cooked enough for the two kids for the day.

In the afternoon, as is the case always, his fast was coming to an end and he was rummaging through the kitchen to eat. Tv, being his primary activity when home, always makes him crave for food. That coupled with the sight of me feeding the kids totally killed the idea of a fast in his mind! Unfortunately like always, when he decided he has fasted enough. I had no witnesses for this act, sadly! None of those people who took pity on him in the morning got to know how short his definition of a fast is. Its only the good-old boring wife who knows the skeletons in his closet!

He got up vigorously and proclaimed he was going to make dosas for himself. I took pity on him and said – “Why don’t you just keep a cup of rice because there is Sambar and two curries in the fridge.”

THIS IS THE PART THAT YOU SHOULDN’T MISS!

He picked up the cooker and filled it with water and left in on the counter. He picked up a dish measured rice with the wrong measuring cup(thank heavens it was dry) then added three tumblers of water to it and realised it had small black weevils. He then washed it in the RO water and drained the water in the sink, again filled water and kept it inside the cooker. The flame was blazing. By the time I got from the kitchen to my work room, the first whistle shot up. Then another, then another. He was going to switch it off when he asked me – ” only three whistles right? ” I said no, it needs a lot more cooking. The cooker seemed to be blowing away whistles at bullet speed, I felt like it was screaming out to me for rescue against this mortal abuse. He let it yell a couple of more times, switched it off. Minutes after switching it off, he rushed into the kitchen, picked up tongs and tried to release the pressure, came back unsuccessful, However, this exercise he did relentlessly a few more times, and the cooker finally gave in – crying white gooey tears and asking for mercy and forgiveness. Deepak was plain brutal. I wondered – was it the hunger or the movie he was watching that was working on him. After all, there is research that says tv screen makes one hyper active!

The moment of truth had arrived and I was so eager to see what happened to the rice inside. once the cooker was opened there it came – a dish full of murky water with rice half cooked lying in its bed staring at Deepak, telling him – “Hey buddy, cooker and I share a special thing. You got to give us our time to do our thing. It doesn’t work otherwise.”

ROFL

My food journey

Something my dad said to me once will remain etched in my memory. “From the moment you pluck a vegetable from the plant till its cooked, you should be visualising the smile on your child’s face as he puts the first spoonful of it in his mouth.”

Sadguru says, our physical body is an outcome of the food we eat.

These are two things that made me realise that food prepared at home is way more than a mere chore. When love for our family is combined with respect and thankfulness to mother earth for blessing our homes with such goodness-filled produce, the purpose is acheived. What comes on the plate is automatically filled with positive energies. It is all about filling hearts before tummies!

My parents brought me up to be a gastronomic vegetarian. They were both excellent at not just cooking regular fare but also at trying out new recipes as they kept traveling all over India.

In the kitchen they are an ideal couple. Sometimes I secretly wish I shared such a bond with someone – anyone!

The two key things that they inculcated in me were to be clean and use ingredients to the optimum.

Over the last ten years I have additionally   learnt also how to cook easily and practically and how to make a variety available for a whole days meals in shortest period of time.

A very close friend of mine insisted on me  creating this blog because he and I share a bond over food, its a bond I cherish. I stay in India and he is abroad. So I am waiting ardently for they day the two of us can hit the kitchen and churn out a feast for our close friends and family!

In a conversation I said to him – “Cooking for me is a process of thanking the universe for such ingredients andputting something   on the plate that makes the human body grow and develop.. Its magical… .” Till date he mentions this like its some quote. (Lol)

I herewith, plan to jot down all my easy to make recipes with some photos so that people who share with same bond as he and I can maybe benefit from it.

Looking forward to fill these pages…