Sep 15, 2010

A guessing game for the tea party

My heartfelt thanks to all you lovely people who took the time to pause and read this post and then give you precious comments. I have had fun making this for Anita’s Tea Party. It was my first time attending and it was a blast. However, amidst all the fun was the backdrop of plagiarism and blatant lifting of copy and pictures, not just by fellow bloggers but by long standing institutions (?) like TOI. (Read her powerful post here.)

It is easy to stamp your feet and proclaim that a recipe does not have a copyright, especially if it is specific to a particular region or cuisine. However, there is copyright infringement when ingredients and sometimes the method of preparation is lifted blatantly and passed off as their own. I have never had the misfortune of my copy being lifted, and frankly I don’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief or to feel slighted at the insignificance of my blog.

But ask a blogger whose content was stolen and she will tell you it is like slaving over a ten-course meal the whole day and then have the mother-in-law take the credit for your hard work. I sure would not want to be in either of their shoes, which is why I try my best to give credit where it is due. And if you, my dear readers, have ever felt tempted to pass off on giving credit, be aware. It is a small knit community and sooner or later you will be caught and exposed for it. So, go ahead and copy past that link you have been debating about. Link Karma is a powerful thing and it will come back to bite you or reward you, depending on how you treat it.
Now, back to the tea party...

“Hey, I’m leaving work now. Will be home in another 45 minutes,” he said over the phone. “Got another surprise for me?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, would it?” she asked with a smile in her voice. “Drive safe,” she said and hung up the phone.

A few weeks ago, when she started their little game of “guess what’s for tea?” she didn’t think it would come back to haunt her so soon. It had started out of a desire to connect with a man she barely knew. She would call him when he was driving home in his car and they would play the guessing game till he reached home.

The first time they played it, she had found a neat trick, while surfing the net, to make batata vadas without getting her hands dirty.  He wasn’t much of a tea person and he didn’t care much for the fried stuff either. She, from the land of kachori and poha, missed the fare and the company. She would sit in the cold apartment and think back on the days when relatives and friends mingled and chatted over cups of hot tea in her parent’s two bed room home.

He, from the same land but without her attachments, was happy with some dal-chawal-sabzi-roti. But he had gradually got used to her waiting with the tea. “Now,” she thought happily, “he craves that cup of chai as much as I do.”

The batata vadas were a gamble, but she couldn’t have chosen a more opportune time to make them. It had been raining the whole day and by evening the clouds had ceased their pitter-patter. A cool breeze had picked up and the air smelled of wet earth. He had come home to find the apartment smelling of fried vadas and ginger infused chai. He had guessed right on the third try that she was making something deep fried.

Him, “Is it round or clumpy?”

Her, “It is round.”

“Is it yellow in color?”


“Is it batata vada?”

It was almost too easy that first time. After that, she had to get creative each time, if not with the snack then with the hint. Like the time she told him it was something baked.

He had guessed everything from cakes to muffins to scones. “Well,” she had said when he looked at the chutney sandwich, “I meant the bread was baked. I didn’t say I baked it!” He had started laughing at her guile and she was happy and emboldened.

Today, she was in trouble. He was expecting a Q&A and she had zilch. She opened the fridge and spotted the cilantro-mint chutney from two days ago. “Nah, we had sandwiches yesterday.” There was half an onion wrapped in saran wrap. She was still getting used to the supersized onions of this land. She missed the small, red bulbs of her homeland that tasted sweet and sharp and pungent at the same time.

She banged the door of the fridge a bit harder than she wanted to and started rooting around the various cabinets. Her eyes lighted up as she saw the red and gold packet sitting forlorn in an upper shelf. “How did I miss this?” she said out loud.

She was transported back to her mother’s kitchen, trying to decipher the chatter from the hallway beyond and keeping an eye on the pot of boiling tea. Her mom was calling out to her to bring out the big kadhai where she and her sisters were sitting around gossiping. The smell of onions and cilantro and something else she couldn’t remember. The laughter and the talk as someone tossed and mixed everything in the big kadhai. Her mom scooping out the spicy goodness in stainless steel bowls. An aunt straining the tea into the mismatched tea cups.

She jumped when she heard the phone ringing. She had been clutching the red and gold packet for ten minutes. “Hello,” she said into the phone.

“It’s me. I am fifteen minutes away. Sorry couldn’t call you before for the Q&A,” he said on the other end.

“That’s ok, just come on home. I haven’t decided what I am making. We can just have toast and biscuits,” even as she said the words she realized she knew what she was going to make for this tea party.

She put a small kadai on the cook top and started dry roasting the puffed rice. The onion was unwrapped and chopped. A few sprigs of cilantro floated in a glass of water as she put the tea to boil in a saucepan. She reached for her Aaji’s dabbas and quickly added the sugar and tea leaves to the water.

She found a small tomato that she deseeded and chopped. Half a cucumber was stripped of its dark green coating, deseeded and cut into fine cubes. She almost reached for a sharp green chili but decided against it.

She took the now crispy puffed rice off the flames and mixed it in with the Haldiram’s khatta mitha, some bhujia and a handful of neylon sev. She looked up at the watch before reaching for the mint chutney in the fridge. “Five more minutes,” she thought as she started mixing the onions, tomatoes and cucumbers in the kadhai.

She looked over to see the water boiling, changing from a light tan to a dark brown color. She quickly added a splash of 1% milk and grated some ginger with the tiny grater her mother-in-law had given her.

The cilantro was demanding attention. She lifted the sprigs from their water bath and patted them in between two paper towels. As she chopped the cilantro over the mix, she smelled the heady smell of onions, cilantro and the salty-sugary-spicy aroma of the mixture.

“Almost like that day,” she wondered aloud and then remembered that there was something still missing. “It is not the mint chutney,” she thought. That was her addition; just like the dried cranberries she had found hiding behind the packet of raisins. What was it her mom had added that day? It was there, she knew, at the tip of her tongue. She could almost taste it, smell it, but it remained elusive.

“Ah well,” she shrugged as she took the tea off the heat. She heard the front door open as she started to strain the tea into the two mugs. And then it hit her, chat masala. How could she not remember chat masala for chat?!

The two sat down on the balcony with the tea and the big bowl of bhel. He popped a spoonful in his mouth and chewed it slowly, letting the flavors mingle and sing on his tongue. As he reached for some more, he said, “You know, this is what you should take to Anita’s tea party. It is perfect.”

Sep 10, 2010

Of Chalks and Chopsticks roundup

Here they are, a dozen plus one pieces of food fiction that will make you laugh, cry, wonder and enthrall. Above all, these stories will make you salivate and hunger for the rich fare they serve on the side.

1. Chow chow! Really? I can’t believe you used it in a salad, and I can’t believe it doesn’t taste crappy; The sweet potatoes don’t really do it for me, though, maybe you didn’t roast them well enough; That’s grated egg? I thought it was coconut!; I love shrimp, but I dislike the smell of fish; You’d have made a great chef, Amar, maybe you should write a cookbook one day! She ate the last of the chocolate cake and the bread pudding, lapping up every crumb, licking the spoon clean as he looked on fondly.

2. Fresh sliced bread was obtained from the town's only bakery. Amul butter was set out to soften. Cheese cubes were grated into a snowy white mound. Finally, the stage was set and four warm ripe tomatoes were harvested with great care, sliced and tucked into sandwiches. An old blackened sandwich toaster was pulled out to make golden toasts, oozing with melted cheese and fragrant tomatoes. The two best friends sat down to a lunch that had been months in the making.

3. She remembered the potful of idli batter chilling in the fridge. While the idli batter had to be undoubtedly exhausted, the reality was that children would stage a mass exodus from the house whenever they saw those white balls of steamed batter. They despised the mere look of greased idli plates as they knew what lay ahead. They would frown, make a fuss and succeed in inveigling bowlfuls of maggi noodles from Rajni.

4. 'Come children, let's go and have some coconut kheer, amma's [Mother] favorite'. All those gathered hurried to the dining room to savor amma's favorite kheer that Leela aunty had prepared.

5. The sweet rasgullas excited temptation that Temptation, herself, couldn't resist. Vividh gulped another gulla and went to the next Raag on her list. She sang Malhaar, and it rained a monsoon. She ate one more and sang Raag Des. The whole country, nay, the whole WORLD, was united in a patriotic blaze. Another rasgulla, another song.. now Raag Multani was in tune, and every woman's pimpled acne cleared up before you could say, "So soon!?"

6. His mother made puran polis like no one else could, with whisper-soft, flaky layers of poli sandwiching a core of buttery, melting-sweet puran. His mother’s puran polis were the talk of the town, and neighbors often asked her to make them some when they had special guests coming that they wanted to impress.

7. She went to kitchen and started marinating the keema.  She was not at all in a mood to deep fry the masala paste and then deep fry it with keema for that would have taken at least an hour. And she just wanted to get out of the kitchen as soon as it was possible.

8. She thought of all the sadyas that she had enjoyed and smiling, moved to pick up a little plastic packet that she'd bought on her last shopping trip. The smile became wider as she added milk and sugar to it and put it into the pressure cooker. By the time she was done with the rest of her cooking, the whole house was filled with a heady, sweet aroma.

9. She would preen secretly and patiently answer. Her voice glided from dull to sensuous while explaining the onion's color and shape. With a sparkle in her eye, she could go into details about how exactly the oil separating from the masala look and what it meant to beat an egg white to stiffness.

10. On the left side he wrote butter, cheese, eggs, steak, fries, doughnuts, sugar, pie. On the right, he wrote coffee, cream, cake. His pen hung over the “e” in cake as if pondering the magnitude of the work.

11. People of all shapes and sizes and ages in groups or alone wondering what to eat – dosas, egg bhurji, vada pavs, chaat or Chinese food – they were spoilt for choice. The hissing of the stoves and clanging of spoons on the huge woks. The air redolent with the smell of food and more food.

12.  After few days of tasting her uncooked food, more salty food, very spicy food, stone like idly, more oiled chapattis, burnt halwa.... he was very upset.

13. She had been thinking about the pav bhaji her cousin’s cook was going to make for dinner; tomatoes and potatoes, sweet peas and mushy green bell peppers, a hint of cauliflower, simmering with spices, sparkles of finely chopped onions and garnished with finely chopped fragrant cilantro and a slice of lemon.

I am pretty sure I covered everyone who sent an entry. But I am human after all, and if I did miss out anyone, do drop me a line and you will be added pronto.

Sep 8, 2010

Guernesy literary potato peel and pie society and

a dash of cilanto-mint chutney

It is 1946. World War II has ended. London is trying to resurrect itself from the ashes of destruction and Juliet is trying to get her writer’s mojo back. A successful columnist during the war, she is now on a publicity tour of her book, a compilation of her war-time columns.

Juliet is a liberated woman for her times, who dumps her fiancé the day before their wedding. His offense, you ask? Emptying her bookshelf and boxing up her books to make room for his hunting and sports trophies. So this then is our liberated heroine, a lover of books, who is searching for a subject that will inspire her to take up writing again.

Enter The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A group of mismatched citizens of Chanel Island who inadvertently end up forming a book club and lifelong friendships in order to hide their roast pig dinner from the occupying Germans. Her interest piqued by a certain Mr. Dawsey Adams of the aforementioned club, Juliet starts corresponding with the various members of the club. Her correspondence with the literature loving simple folks inspires her to sail down to the island and find the inspiration for her book and a treasure trove of war time stories – of children separated from their parents for the duration of war, of famine and hunger, of the German’s cruelty and generosity, of the islanders’ struggle of survival in the midst of eating nothing but potatoes and turnips.

If this isn’t enough of a gist, savor the fact that this is Mary Ann Shaffer’s first and last book. Written as a series of sometimes witty, often times poignant and almost always revealing letters between Juliet and various characters in the book, it takes a few letters to grasp all the characters. Once you do, you can’t stop reading till you have read them all. It is almost like a guilty pleasure to read someone’s private letters but at the same time, the book makes you want to pick up a pen and paper and write a letter back home instead of shooting off an email.

The rava idlis that accompany the chutney were made from a box, and not from scratch.

For our book club, This Book Makes me Cook, I decided to go the way of our ancestors and tried to think up how they came up with green chutney made by grinding some abundantly growing cilantro and mint in their backyard. To be honest, I was stuck by the islander’s use of sea water in their cooking as a substitute to salt. This led me to think that maybe one of the older women pottering in the yard chanced upon some cilantro or mint and thought, “Hmm, this smells nice. Maybe if I grind it with some green chili and some garlic, it will spice up the bland rice?” In the same spirit of honesty I will also admit that the chutney is what I made in the morning and got a decent photo of it.

The recipe for this green cilantro-mint chutney is simple, really, but you can adjust it according to your taste. Increase the amount of mint to cilantro ratio or make it spicier by adding more chilies or creamier by increasing the crushed peanuts. This essential condiment in every North Indian kitchen requires the basic skill of pressing down the blender button. For this reason, the chutney goes to Aqua, who is hosting B2B this month for me. If you would like to host it for me for the coming months, send me an email here.

Cliantro-Mint Chutney

1 cup washed and clean cilantro/ coriander
1-2 sprigs of mint
1 green chili
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tbsp of roasted, crushed peanuts
Salt to taste

Grind everything to a smooth paste, adding water as necessary.

Coming up in the next few posts: The roundup of Of Chalks and Chopsticks and the second part of my story, It takes two to err… marry.

Sep 4, 2010

Global Kadai -- Indianize Tofu roundup

It is time for another roundup of the monthly Global Kadai, envisioned by Cilantro and hosted by me for the month of August. For all intents and purposes, this blog will not host another event for some time. Without further ado, I present the GK roundup, showcasing numerous ways to use tofu in Indian dishes.

PJ at Seduce Your Taste Buds, lives in the land of tofu. Was it a surprise she sent not one but three ways to Indianize this bland but nutritious hunk of vegan meat. Check out her Tofu Peas Pulao, Tofu Bhurji and Southwest Tofu Scramble.

Sangeetha of Sangi’s Food World sent in these delicious tofu spring rolls and spicy tofu masala.

Priya of Priya’s EasynTasty Recipes will show you four different ways to cook tofu. Microwave Tandoori Tofu, Tomato Tofu Pulao, Capsicum Tofu Zunka and Tandoori Tofu Kababs.

Denise of Oh Taste and See used the humble tofu to not only make a tofu bread kofta curry but also added it to whole wheat flour to make these lauki tofu parathas.

If you haven’t visited Soma at eCurry, I suggest you do so immediately and check out her delicious recipes and cool clicks, especially of the Tandoori Tofu.

Aparna at Apycooking decided to stuff multi colored bell peppers with a spicy tofu mix and bake it.

Satya at Satya’s Super Yummy recipes sent in a Chili Tofu Wrap that looked so yummy I wanted to make one for myself. In addition, she also made an Indian style tofu hotdog and some yummy stuffed tofu parathas.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the roundup. I know it is on the lean side but it is the nutrients content that counts. The above entrees Indianized tofu and then some! So, if you thought tofu wasn't for you, check out these entrees and try some of them. I am positive you will be a convert or you get a free link on this blog.

Coming up this month will be another short but wonderful roundup of Of Chalks and Chopsticks and I will try to post it by the middle of next week. So if you have an idea percolating or have a food fiction on your blog, send it in.

As to my resolve of not hosting another event for a while, it still stands but Sra has graciously agreed to host Back to Basics for the month of Sept. It is being hosted at Aqua’s as we speak and the deadline is still a couple of days away. On a parting note, if you would like to host B2B, send me a mail here.

PS: If you are wondering what happened to the second part of my fiction, It takes two to err... marry, I am at a roadblock. But I am trying my best to finish it and post it as soon as possible.

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