A sweet sojourn


It is a hot Saturday afternoon, as my husband and I head to the vegetable and provisions market to stock up for the week. While there is definite fun to be had in shopping for clothes and accessories, I say there is deep contentment to be had in shopping for vegetables, fruits, grocery and everyday necessities.

We walk to our usual vegetable vendor, who greets us like we are his long-lost friends. The fresh and vibrant coloured vegetables look enticing. As I look at each vegetable, I imagine the dishes that I can rustle up with each of them. I stock up on fresh gooseberries – their light green colour and round shape making them look like transparent marbles. I sniff appreciatively, as the lady next to me picks up coriander and mint. While I am in-charge of the ‘healthy’ shopping, my husband is busy stocking up on many packets of wafers, chips, boondi, bhujia and other savouries.

Once we check out, my husband says, “Let’s go and buy some traditional Indian sweets.” My husband has a sweet tooth, and is already walking towards the sweet shop, before I can say anything.

During our childhood, most sweets that we ate were Indian ones, and all of them were prepared at home by our moms. When we arrive at the shop, absolutely honey-sweet memories come rushing in. The smell of ghee and sugar, the sugar crusting on a badushah, my mom’s hands patiently making yummy boondi laddos, the dripping of the batter through the small colander spoon to make the boondi, the trays into which the 1234 cake mix or badam cake mix was poured to be cut into perfect rectangles.

But above all, it was the joy that pervaded our home when these sweets and savouries were being made. We were like birds waiting to peck at the sweets or take tiny bites of the dough. We hopped about in and around the kitchen, just waiting for our mom to call us to come and try the sweets. We charged into the kitchen, where we had our first bite of a mouth watering mysorepak or a melt-in-your-mouth coconut barfi.

And now, after ages, I am actually standing inside an Indian sweet shop to buy sweets. My eyes are like saucers as I look at the variety. There are laddoos, jangris, paal kova, halwa, badam cake, cashew cake, paneer jamun….and so many many more.

The assistant is very helpful, and asks us if we want to try samples. We nod eagerly. We taste them, concurring and disagreeing on which ones we like and which ones we want to buy.

I look at the fluffy pink coconut burfi. And as I bite into the sample, I take a small sojourn into the alleys of my childhood. A feeling of absolute delight engulfs me, as it perfectly captures the excitement of memories past, of innocent times and simple joys, where my aunt grated the coconut and my mom stirred the mixture of sugar and coconut to the perfect consistency, adding a drop of pink colour that completely elevated the look of the barfi. I catch my husband’s eye and see the same joy reflected there.

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The assistant asks us which ones we need. We choose some bright orange jangris, golden laddoos, some badushas, some mysorepaks and barfis.

I ask my husband if we really need so many. He says, “Yes, we do.” And that’s that! I agree. Once in a way, yes, we do.

An autobiography of a pressure cooker


The first memory that I have of my life is that something soft lifted and placed me on a shelf. I was soon to know that the ‘soft something’ was a pair of human hands, and that it was my life’s purpose to serve them. I had no idea who I was, until one of my sedate family members told me that I was a pressure cooker. School was tough, and some of the courses, especially ‘How to handle pressure 101’ were gruelling.

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The day finally arrived when I bid adieu to my family and friends. As I travelled down the conveyer belt to be packed, I stole quick glances at myself in the mirrors that lined the belt. I looked dapper, an elegant shade of silver. After that, things are quite blurred in my memory because we travelled for a long period. I knew by now what humans looked like and the sounds they made. I spent two days in a supermarket, before my new family came for me – a slightly older woman who lovingly ran her hands over me, and a younger one (her daughter, as I found out later), who was to be married soon, and to whom I would belong. I felt a small frisson of excitement run through my gasket.
I was packed and taken home, but was kept inside the carton for a few days after the bride went to her new home.

A few days later, light suddenly streamed into the carton, and my owner, Rhea’s hands gently lifted me out. She placed me on the gas burner and filled me with water. I was ready to live my life, to rejoice in the experiences that would come my way. I was both excited and nervous. Soon, I could hear Rhea talking on the phone, “Ma, I miss you so much. I have just taken the cooker out, and I remember the days before the wedding when we went shopping Ma,” and her voice caught. For a brief second, I felt nostalgic for my family too, but I quickly snapped out of my sombre mood.

Two small vessels containing raw rice and dal were placed inside me. My lid was closed, and I heard my handles engage, followed by the gentle thrust of the weight being placed on my head.

I felt my insides getting warm. And slowly, I took the test – I bore the heat and the pressure with dignity, checking if the rice was turning fluffy, and if the dal was of the right consistency. Finally, when I reached my threshold, I nudged the weight on top of my head gently, and let off steam for a few seconds. I put myself through the process over and over again. After the fourth or fifth cycle, the heat was turned off. My insides continued to simmer for a good ten minutes after that. This was my first assignment, and I had held my own; I had neither succumbed to the pressure nor had I blown my top. I had survived.

The first few assignments were difficult – sometimes when chole or rajma were cooked, I withstood pressure for prolonged periods of time, then again, when Rhea’s baby was born, I discovered that I could be caring and sensitive – I patiently cooked carrots and other mashed vegetables with love and tenderness.

The years seem to have flown away. Two more cookers have joined me – one of them is electric and has it really easy; but I am still the one who has pride of place in the household. But I do have some niggling pain in my gasket these days. My reflexes are not what they used to be.

But I have no complaints, life has been good. Rhea’s daughter is now nearly ten, and I have witnessed the ups and downs of human family life – petty arguments between husband and wife, happy moments, sad moments, fun moments, lots of laughter and lots of music.

I find it strange that these humans always talk about stress and pressure in their lives. They obviously have no clue about what real pressure feels like.

Kattu Saada Koodai (Packed Rice Basket)


Today, I want to eat a South Indian wedding meal. The craving was triggered by a lovely aroma that wafted from my neighbour’s home earlier today.

Many types of dishes are served in a typical South Indian wedding. The wedding festivities are spread over 2 to 3 days, and each meal offers something special. The most important meal is the one that is served immediately after the wedding. This is the grandest meal of them all.

However, I want to eat the meal that is served on the third day, when people are preparing to go home after the wedding.

Many, many decades ago, when there was no motorized transport available, guests and family members had to walk many kilometers (sometimes even for a few days) to attend weddings. Sometimes they arrived in bullock carts!

So, on the day after the wedding, when these people had to go back home, the bride’s family usually packed baskets filled with food packets; food that would ‘keep’ till they reached home. This food was also light on the stomach, to neutralize the effect of all the rich wedding food that people had consumed!

Each group of people who left after the wedding carried this basket with them. It was called the ‘kattu saada koodai‘, which translates to basket with food packets!

Though people do not have to travel for many days or walk to get home after weddings these days, the kattu saada koodai is still in vogue, but has taken on a new avatar.

Rather than packing the food in baskets, all items that were traditionally packed in a kattu saada koodai are now served as a meal on the day people are going back home.

These meals are my favourite. Served on fresh banana leaves, the kattu saada koodai menu has rice mixed in a special, spicy gravy with a tamarind base containing many small berries, which are known for their digestive properties. Papadams are included. There is curd rice with a small serving of pickle too!

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A simple meal, light on the stomach, but totally yummy!

There’s no wedding in the family anytime soon, so maybe I should just prepare the meal myself. Hmmmm!

The Cooking Cycle


We South Indians use a lot of curry leaves and coriander leaves in our cooking. Usually, when we run out of veggies, we describe the emptiness of the refrigerator thus, “There are no vegetables at home, not even a sprig of coriander!”

This happens once in about 10-12 days, when I have used up ‘all the veggies and all my creativity’ to make interesting dishes out of boring vegetables.

And this is the trough of the sinusoidal cooking wave in the cooking cycle.

When we hit a trough, it is reflected in the faces of my husband and kids; they realize that it’s the ‘boring cooking phase’, when mom is lackadaisical, and the food looks uninteresting.

And then, the cooking wave slowly moves upward. This happens when I go shopping for veggies and grocery.

I come back and stock my refrigerator to its brim. The fresh smell of mint, coriander and ginger is in the air! My fridge looks colourful with orange carrots and pink radishes, green chillies and yellow bell peppers vying for space in the cold confines of the fridge’s crisper.

Red apples, shining grapes, serious-looking papayas and cheerful oranges settle down on the fruit rack.

With my cupboards and fridge overflowing, my cooking cycle hits a peak. I am inspired! I am charged! I scour my recipe books, draw inspiration from recipes on social media and try out new dishes that I have tasted at friends’ homes.

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My family knows this phase, and they sniff in appreciation, as interesting aromas waft around the house. The dining table looks colourful and vibrant. We are spoilt for choice.

This cycle keeps repeating, like most other things in life…..!

Today is a Sunday, and I have hit a peak on the cooking wave.

We are going to tuck-in to a yummy meal. See you all soon!

Mom’s Magic Masala Powders


Indian cooking is both an art and a science. It is as much about mixing and experimenting with different flavours, as it is about precise quantities and ingredients-in-recipes that cannot be altered.

Indian cooking is about flavour, culture, local produce and the local weather. It is also about blending, grinding and pounding techniques that are used to extract ‘that’ perfect flavour!

But more than anything else, Indian cooking is about the hundreds of masalas and spices that are added to make each dish unique.

A lot of cooking happens in Indian homes. This whole cooking phenomenon in Indian homes rests on a very strong base.

What is this base, you may ask? It is what I choose to call “Moms’ Masala Network”.

If you visited my home and raved about my spicy potato curry or my onion sambar, I would probably tell you that both the sambar powder and the spicy powder mix I used for the potatoes, were home made; made by my mother.

Go to any Indian home, ask the lady of the house, and her best dishes will be those ones, where her mom or grandmom have made the masala powders at home; if not made by them, the recipes that she uses would be theirs, for sure!

My refrigerator has at least ten types of these masala powders.

However, of these, three masala powders are most precious, as my mom makes them at home and gives them to me.

Every summer, when the Indian sun is roasting everything in sight, my mom shops for the ingredients for sambar powder, rasam powder and chutney powder.

She reserves a day to do the shopping. She sun-dries the ingredients, roasts them and then gives them to a small mill in the neighbourhood, where the ingredients are ground to fine powder.

My mom sends huge steel containers to the mill. Once the powders make it home, she carefully packs them in huge zip-loc bags for her three daughters.

On each package is a small sticker label, which gives details about the type of powder and the date on which it was made.

I treasure these masala powders, because my kitchen runs on their strength and their flavour.

A yummy South Indian breakfast of idli or dosa is incomplete without my mom’s chutney powder. On a typical Sunday afternoon, the kitchen is filled with the aroma of onion sambar, thanks to my mom.

These products are available in the market, but the taste of mom’s masala powders cannot ever be matched.

Thank you, Amma.

Paneer Paranthas & A Decade-long friendship


The sky is fast filling-up with dark rain-bearing clouds. I can hear the koyal’s call as I walk to my friend’s apartment.

It is nearly noon, when I enter her house. Over the next twenty minutes, the ‘gang’ shows up, each of us having rushed through chores and assignments to be here with everyone else.

It is not often that you get to spend quality time with your closest friends; friends you’ve known and grown with for more than a decade.

What’s a meeting of dear friends without yummy food. There’s only one dish on the menu today – paneer paranthas.

The host, who is a cook par excellence, starts rolling and stuffing the first parantha. She tosses it with practiced ease on the tawa, as we watch her in admiration.

Paranthas are to be eaten hot, so we settle down on the kitchen floor for a round of gossip. We take turns to eat. The smell of ghee wafts all around us, as the paranthas are being made. Hot, golden, soft paranthas – perfect in every way. We add pickle and fresh yoghurt to our plates.

We talk about everything and nothing. We laugh at the silliest of jokes and relive old incidents, and talk about cooking fiascos, children-related stories, and of course, our dear husbands.

We realise how time has flown. Nearly a decade has rushed past. Where once we talked about birthday parties and play dates, food and party cakes, now we talk about universities, marriage and retirement. We talk about travel, about meeting up every year.

We realise how blessed we are to have this group of friends to lean on, laugh with and share these yummy paranthas with!

Bliss in a butter dosa!


The mid morning heat envelopes us.  My husband and I are in the city of Bengaluru, making our way through winding streets and small alleys that are crammed with shops that sell every thing that one could ever want.

The sound of blaring horns and moving vehicles is punctuated by street hawkers selling their wares – clamouring for attention. People are moving, elbows jostling, from shop to shop or hawker to hawker, inspecting clothes or kitchen utensils or fruit or flowers, bargaining, closing deals. Some people are oblivious to the cacophony as they plod on, expertly weaving their way through the wave of humanity.

My husband and I are working our way down the ‘all-important’ shopping list. After weaving through the labyrinth, we are finally done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

My husband suggests that we go to a small eatery called CTR (short for Central Tiffin Room), a small restaurant that has been around for decades. My husband raves about their speciality – benne dosa (meaning butter dosa). The dosa is a South Indian delicacy, which looks like a pancake. The dosa is salty and not sweet. It usually has a potato stuffing, and is eaten with various chutneys and sambar. 

I am easily persuaded. We walk down to CTR. We are given a table on the first floor.

We order the benne dosa and await its arrival. When the golden dosa arrives, I am in bliss. Golden crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, with potata masala stuffed inside. The chutneys and sambar are perfect.

The butter-soaked dosa is superlative. It melts in the mouth. Truly delicious!

Like true South Indians we finish with a cup of strong filter coffee served in cute stainless steel tumblers.

                   Bliss is in a benne dosa and filter coffee!

The humble ‘upma’


South Indian cooking has a very long list of tasty dishes from its four states; dishes that range from spicy to tangy to salty to sweet, and many other flavours.

There are a few dishes that are common to all four states, and one of them is the ‘upma’. It is not served with too much fanfare. In restaurants, on the menu card, the upma  is usually listed far down the menu, after one has run through the exotic dosas, vadas and idli varieties, all of which have pride of place in South Indian cooking. 

The  upma is made from semolina. It can be cooked plain, or made interesting with vegetables and cashewnuts.

Why do I talk about the upma, you may wonder? This is because the upma has not been given its due.

In India, at least when we were growing up, people did not call and inform that they were visiting. They would just show up,  unannounced. It was the norm, and at any time of day or night, friends and family were very welcome.

The moment the guests landed up, the kitchen committee comprising my mom and grandmom would kick into high gear. 

And this is where the upma requires to be treated with respect. 

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It was the easiest dish to make for impromptu visitors. The base ingredient, semolina, also lends itself beautifully to be made into a sweet dish called kesari. 

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So, the upma was served along with piping hot, frothy filter coffee. Adults had the upma with pickle, while kids had it with sugar.
The upma usually saved the day. It is one of my favourite dishes, though there were times when my sisters and I would pick out all the vegetables in the upma and hide them under our plates, in total innocence, not realizing that our mom could figure out what we had been upto.

Do you have any such dish like the upma? Would love to know!


Mom’s cooking


Indian cooking is elaborate. Every dish requires time to perfect. Most dishes involve multiple processes such as wet grinding, pounding, roasting, seasoning etc.

We Indians celebrate many, many festivals each year, and the high point of these celebrations is the food. Every festival has specific dishes to celebrate it.

Most Indian women, atleast the one’s from my mom’s generation, are walking recipe books.

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My cooking skills took shape only after marriage, and rather than consult any recipe book, I would just pick up the phone to call my mom.  Our conversations went something like this.

Me: Hi Amma

Mom: Hi…How are you?

Me: All good. Can you tell me the recipe for this sweet dish (some name)?

Mom: Sure…it’s very simple. It is 1:1:2.

Me: Wait..what’s 1:1:2

Mom: It’s the ratio of the ingredients.

Me: Mom, can we start with the ingredients?

Mom: Aha…of course…

And she gave me the recipe, baby step by baby step.

Over the years, I have become quite an accomplished cook, and know all my ratios.

But I am still trying to achieve that finesse in my dishes, which my mom seemed to achieve with ease; and that perfect aroma when all the ingredients have blended just right. 

Even yesterday, I called my mom to ask for her Vegetable Biriyani recipe. Just listening to the recipe brought back memories of cousins and happy Sundays, uncles and aunts and afternoons of play.

I could remember the smell of my mom’s Biriyani wafting through the house – chillies and ginger and mint and garlic and coriander and onions….and cloves and cinnamon and bay leaves…and many more lovely ingredients.

Mom’s cooking…always the best!