For those of you lucky enough to visit Chennai during your lifetime, (god forbid during the month of May) there are a few places you must go to while in the city. One of those is Fruit Shop on Greams Road – a fresh juice and milkshake institution in Chennai. The original shop is located on Greams Road, hence the name, but branches can now be found in other parts of the city as well.

Given that this is my last week in India before heading back home to the US, I decided I’d have to pay Fruit Shop one last visit. For the last few months, since I picked up a menu and discovered a custard apple milkshake available, I’ve been dreaming of tasting one and how fitting it would be considering the name of our blog. Well tonight was the night I made my way there to order just that.

Fruit Shop now delivers so it would make sense that I just call them up and have one brought directly to my doorstep instead of walking the few kilometers there in the sweltering heat. BUT I haven’t topped up my phone and can’t make outgoing calls and there’s a 150 rupee minimum order so I couldn’t really justify buying three 50-rupee milkshakes just for myself. Well I finally got to Fruit Shop, wiped the sweat from my brow, placed my order, and then was promptly told it wasn’t possible. Custard apples are out of season!!! Apparently these milkshakes are only available in December (indicating this on the menu and preventing a poor girl from experiencing extreme disappointment would be too much to ask).

I forlornly walked home and imagined what a custard apple milkshake might taste like. Next time, I’m sticking with the standard, yet delicious chocolate…as should you.

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Bombay (street) food

June 14, 2011

Having spent six months in Bombay last year, there are a number of restaurants, cafes, roadside stalls etc. that have become favourites of mine. Although there is definitely a significant, and increasing, outlet for sophisticated gastronomic tastes in the city, mine tend to fall into another, less refined, shall we say, category (although perhaps that is rather due to the fact that I was a penniless NGO intern…)

Bombay Sandwiches (from pretty much any street corner) – no one else seems to understand the satisfaction that a good Bombay sandwich gives me. Thin slices of cucumber, tomato, beetroot, some grated cheese and potato masala, sandwiched between plain white bread (often of the slightly cheap variety), the inside of each slice slathered with coriander and chilli chutney, toasted and served with tomato ketchup on the side. And then, my favourite part – cut into nine little criss-cross squares. (Rs 30 max)

Chaat – it’s hard to explain chaat to someone who a)has never experienced it before and b) isn’t too familiar with Indian food. Basically, it is a form of Indian snack food, vegetarian in nature and often consisting of puffed rice, poories, potato, a blend of spices, fresh coriander – but it comes in many forms.(Rs – varies)

Chicken Burger – This stall, on a small road between Hill Road and Lilivati, opens between 2 and 6pm every day of the week and serves small, hot, flavourful chicken, mutton or vegetable burgers, cooked in the house across the road and delivered by a man scurrying back and forth to replenish stock (which goes down at a surprising rate…) (Rs 25)

Kathi roll – a number of stalls serve these – grilled meat (mainly chicken/mutton), wrapped in a naan-esque bread, along with chilli chutney, red onions etc…best eaten hot off the grill, freshly made, on a street corner.

Mango smoothie at Amrut Sagar (not really street food…) – a thick yoghurty mango shake, with big chunks of fresh alphonso mango lurking within (only available during mango season). This time I ate half and put the rest in the freezer to have the next day as a frozen treat. (Rs 90) A cousin has just given us 6 imported alphonso mangos…so if i can steal one away from my mother (who ADORES them), I might try and recreate this using plenty of thick gorgeous greek yoghurt.

I do miss Bombay street food – however, this place in London, Dishoom (and its ‘Chowpatty Beach Bar’, currently open in the London South Bank) , proclaims to recreate some of the magic, serving up masala chai, roti rolls and even a ‘Gola’ – the bombay version of an ice lolly. I will most definitely be paying it a visit in the coming weeks.

Sweet parathas

June 4, 2011

Whilst I was making Raju’s aloo parathas, I wondered whether the potato filling could be substituted for something sweet – we did it for the samosas, why not do it for parathas too? Rooting around in the kitchen cupboards and the fridge (both delightfully full…one of the joys of living at home), I managed to rustle together some dried apricots, raisins, pecans, pistachios, honey and ground cinnamon – choosing to take the Indian paratha down a sweet Moroccan-esque road. Blitzing the ingredients in a blender, I then followed the same ‘assembling the paratha’ step as with Raju’s recipe below – plonking a dollop of the sweet fruity/nutty paste into the centre of a flattened piece of dough and then wrapping the dough around it. The only difference was, that when I then went to roll the first one out, the dough split in a number of places, with the mixture oozing out. I think this was due to the fact that a) I had overfilled the balls and b) I mistakenly let the filled balls dry slightly before rolling them out, which meant that the dough had hardened and wasn’t so malleable. However, it just meant that I had to make the parathas smaller and deeper, as you can see from the photo.

They were good. Not great, but still yummy enough to want to eat (I had two…). I, however, am someone who has a weakness for all things sweet/dough-related…so I’m really not sure if I can be trusted to be entirely objective. My parents liked, but weren’t blown away by them – I think it is a recipe that has potential – with time and effort, it could be refined and perfected! (My mum said the filling would probably work perfectly with filo pastry instead of paratha dough, but then it would cease to be a sweet paratha…)

(I didn’t note down specific quantities of the ingredients, as this was very much trial-and-error)

Curried pumpkin soup

June 3, 2011

I feel like this soup deserves a lot of acclaim considering it cost me more than $300 to make. Technically you can make it for a mere fraction of that, but I had to fly from Chennai to Bangkok in order to locate the canned pumpkin called for in this recipe. And let me tell you, it was worth it.

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I’m obsessed with anything pumpkin. Each year I count down the days until Starbucks starts selling their pumpkin scones and I don’t even want to know how many I’ve consumed over the years. So once I found this recipe a few years back, which combines the greatness of pumpkin with a subtle hint of curry, I was hooked. It’s really easy to make and like most soups, tastes even better on the second day.

Makes 4 large bowls

Ingredients

2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger (I used 1 Tbs of garlic ginger paste instead of preparing garlic and ginger separately)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
2 (15-oz) cans solid-pack pumpkin (about 3 1/2 cups; not pie filling)
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)

Preparation

– Cook onions in butter in a heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
– Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
– Add cumin, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
– Stir in salt, red pepper flakes, pumpkin, water, broth, and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
– Purée soup in batches with a blender until smooth.
– Season with salt and pepper.

Note: I usually blend this soup, but I don’t have a blender in India and it actually turned out quite nice without this step. Additionally, since I can’t cook meat, I used water as a substitute for the chicken broth and minimal flavor was sacrificed.

Despite living in India for a total of nine months, I have learnt shamefully little about cooking Indian dishes. Eating them, yes, but cooking them, absolutely not. This isn’t something I have avoided, it’s just I never seemed to get around to doing a course or finding someone who would be willing to give me the odd lesson. Such is the busy nature of Bombay life! However, during my brief one-week break in Bombay before returning home, the cook of a good friend of mine agreed to give me a paratha lesson (although I’m not sure how much say he had in the matter). It turned out to be not so much a hands-on lesson, rather me observing him make a batch – but he led me through each step, patiently waiting for me to take photos/jot down ingredients/measurements…I’m just hoping that some of Raju’s skill rubbed off on me! Now that I’m home, my family can be my guinea pigs….

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a paratha is, let alone an aloo paratha, it is a type of unleavened indian flatbread, fried and eaten in northern, western and central parts of India, typically for breakfast (this being news to me). ‘Aloo’ refers to the spiced mashed potato mixture which is stuffed inside).

Makes 6 aloo parathas

Ingredients:

Filling –

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and left to cool
1 clove garlic, crushed
Couple dashes of turmeric
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
1 tsp salt
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small bunch of fresh coriander

Dough –

1/4 kg wholewheat flour
1/4 cup water (might need more/less according to how dough binds)
Optional: splash of vegetable oil

Step 1 : Making the potato filling

 

 

– Add the the turmeric, cumin powder, garam masala, salt, lime juice and coriander to the cold mashed potato and mix.
– Fry the crushed garlic and when browned, add the potato mixture and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes.
– Take off the heat and allow to cool
– When cooled, split mixture into six balls and set aside.

Step 2: Making the dough

– Make a well in the flour and add water a bit at a time, until it becomes a non-sticky, kneadable lump of dough
– Knead dough for a few minutes and then split into six balls.

Step 3: Assembling the parathas

 

 

 

 

 

– Place dough ball in hand and flatten a little
– Place potato ball on top and wrap dough around it ensuring that it is evenly covered all the way around
– Pinch the dough together at the top and seal
– NOTE: The potato mixture MUST have cooled completely, otherwise the parathas will not roll out effectively
– Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the ball (seam down) into a circle with a depth of around 3mm.
– It is now ready to be fried!

Step 4: Frying

 

 

 

 

 

– Ideally one would use a flat cast iron pan called a ‘tawa’, but a pancake pan (or really any pan) will do
– Preheat the pan and when hot, place the paratha on the pan
– Once it has browned slightly, flip over and fry the other side
– When golden brown on both sides, remove from the heat.
(Raju dry-fried the parathas, rubbing a little knob of butter on each one after removing it from the heat. This is largely to reduce the oil (and hence, fat) content of the parathas, as they can be oily (ghee-laden) things, but if you would rather fry with oil, then this can be done too)

Indian Tostadas

May 23, 2011

If someone were to ask what type of food is my favorite, I would immediately respond with “Mexican.” A very close second, however, would be Indian. So I got to thinking. Why not combine the two and make something wonderful? And that I did.

Using a variation of Rajma red kidney bean curry, I made the base for the vegetarian tostadas, which is full of spices easily acquired outside of India as well. I’m sure chicken would also be great in these, but I’m not allowed to cook meat at my house, so that took away the option. And instead of using the plain old (but also quite delicious) pico de gallo, I made mango salsa with ripe Alphonso mangoes – quite possibly the best thing about living in India. If it hadn’t been so hot this morning while I walked around the neighborhood gathering all my ingredients, I might have stopped at the store that sells avocados to make fresh guacamole as well, but I opted to just head home to my A/C.

After assembling the colorful, flavorful tostada, I didn’t really want to ruin it by eating it. Then I took one bite and the rest was history. I will definitely be making these again soon.

Serves two

Spiced red kidney beans (recipe below)
Mango salsa (recipe below)
2 Cups iceberg lettuce, coarsely chopped
1 roma tomato, diced
2 chapatis (I used the ready-made ones. You can also use whole wheat tortillas if these aren’t available.)

 

Spiced red kidney beans

2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 large green chili, chopped (optional)
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
Dash of cayenne
1 ½ Cups boiled red kidney beans or 15 oz. canned kidney beans
1 Cup water

– Heat oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat and add ginger, garlic, onion, and green chili and let sizzle for 1 minute.
– Add the diced tomato, salt, and spices and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
– Reduce heat and add kidney beans and water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Mango salsa

½ Cups ripe mango, chopped (I used Alphonso mangoes)
¼ Cup red onion, finely chopped
¼ Cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
½ large green chili, chopped
¼ tsp salt
Dash of pepper
Juice from half a lime

– Place ingredients in a medium bowl and mix together. Keep in the refrigerator until tostadas are ready to assemble.

Assembling the tostada

– Heat chapatis or tortillas on a lightly oiled frying pan.
– Place chapati on a plate and layer with a generous scoop of kidney beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and mango salsa. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
– If you’re feeling even more adventurous, add a dollop of dahi (or sour cream) and some sliced avocados on top.

Anand’s masala chai

May 20, 2011

‘I could close my eyes and do this’ were Anand’s words as he, in the midst of his morning slumber, assembled the ingredients needed for his family’s masala chai.

Masala chai is enjoyed by millions of people around the world, yet how many of you could actually make a proper cup at home? In northern parts of India, in particular, it is a staple, sold by street vendors, offered to guests on entering a home and served at upscale hotels. It is not something to be gulped down in a hurry, but savored – we find the milky sweet and aromatic tea to be something of a comfort.

A common misconception is that a good masala chai can be found throughout India. However, upon moving to Tamil Nadu we were shocked to discover that this was not the case. Luckily, our friend Anand has been kind enough to make us the odd cup or two, and has also shared his family’s recipe to go along with it.


Makes one cup

Small chunk of ginger (change according to taste)
1-2 cardamon seeds (apparently there are 12 in a pod…)
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1-2 cloves (change according to taste)
1 1/2 tsp of white sugar
1 heaped dessert spoon of black loose leaf tea (Anand suggests Lipton Yellow Label)
3/4 Cup water
1/4 Cup milk

– Grind spices in pestle and mortar and place in pan (if pestle and mortar not available, just place spices in whole)
– Add loose leaf tea and sugar
– Add water and heat on stove until it reaches boiling point
– Take off the heat, add milk
– Place back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes
– Turn off the heat and strain into the cup

We know that this salad might not seem blog-worthy to a lot of you, but for us two, sitting here in the 95F/34C Chennai heat, with humidity levels soaring, this salad came as a welcome relief! Delving into our bag of fresh produce, bought from the local roadside vegetable stall the night before, we threw together this very simple, but refreshing and satisfying lunch. To top it all off, we picked up a fresh whole grilled chicken to liven it up a little.


Serves two (with seconds…)

6 roma tomatoes, chopped roughly

1 Cup grilled skinless, boneless chicken

Half a red onion, chopped finely

½ Cup/a few sprigs of fresh basil

Generous sprinkling of salt and pepper

Splash of balsamic vinegar

–    Throw ingredients into a large salad bowl and mix together. Simple as that!

(If at home, we might have added a few chunks of fresh mozzarella, feta or goat’s cheese, and perhaps had a nice chunky piece of French bread on the side to soak up the juices)

Custard apple (kŭs’tərd ăp’əl): n. Annona squamosa (also called sugar-apple or sita fruit) is a species of Annona native to the tropical Americas and widely grown in El Salvador, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The fruit flesh is sweet, white to light yellow, and coats the many black seeds. The fruit flesh resembles and tastes like custard.

India in the Backyard

May 11, 2011

A Tandoor Oven Brings India’s Heat to the Backyard

This article immediately caught my eye when I opened the New York Times website this morning. It appears that when I return to the US, I don’t have to rely on local Indian restaurants for food. The only problem is finding an apartment with a backyard and $1200… Anyone feeling a bit generous?

photo courtesy NYTimes

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