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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Healthy snacking: Make some granola at home

I tried this out because I was looking for healthy snacking options for those post-lunch binging sessions at work. So, I thought, what's better than an oat-based snack, eh? I like having porridge for breakfast but it does tend to get boring at times, and I had been trying to figure out healthy alternatives to the oily pohas and omlettes available at the canteen upstairs. 

Store-bought granola is mostly imported in the Indian market, and therefore frightfully expensive. But, when made at home it costs less than a third of the price with the additional advantage of the possibility of customizing the recipe. The thing is, there is no one perfect granola recipe. What you love, goes in to your version!

My favourite obviously has lots of nuts and a generous flavouring of cinnamon and vanilla. I modified a recipe I found online and I love it. And, as I said, the possibilities are endless - dried fruit, coconut shavings, anything can be added! 

Fun bit

An assortment of my favourite nuts

What you need

3 cups, oats*
3 tbsp, brown sugar
1 cup, nuts of your choice (walnuts, almonds, cashews)
3 tbsp cup dehydrated fruit or raisins
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp, flax seed
1/4 tsp, salt
2 tbsp, mixed melon seeds

1 tsp, vanilla essence
1/4 cup, vegetable oil
1/3 cup, honey + Maple syrup 

* I used Quaker's oats. Do not use one of those instant, pre-flavoured ones.

How to

Step 1: Take a large mixing bowl and mix all the dry ingredients in it.

Step 2: In a separate bowl, mix all wet ingredients. 

Step 3: Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones. These need to mixed till you have a crumbly, soggy mess at hand ;)

Step 4: Take a flat baking tray and line it with aluminium foil. Lightly grease it. Pour out the mixture on to the tray. You should have a thin layer that is uniformly spread out on the tray.

Step 5: In a pre-heated oven, roast the oats for about 15-20 minutes, turning it over once in between.

Step 6: Take out the granola from the oven. Let it cool. The finished product has a crumbly texture.

Here's to snacking in bed!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Quick guide to Khajuraho

Well, hello there 

I have been missing in action for the longest time, but it feels good to be back. The new year has been kind to me and things have been rather busy on all fronts. In the midst of it all, Len and I managed a quick breather: a short trip to the temple town of Khajuraho that has left us with uplifted spirits and weary bones! I thought I'd keep this post resourceful for anyone who is planning a visit to this charming town. 

Contrary to popular conception, the intricate carvings on the temples of Khajuraho are not only about erotic art as we found out. But, sex and eroticism were probably a part of the everyday lives of Gods and Goddesses as well as common men back then, and the sculptures depict that. Not surprisingly though, the Kamasutra was being sold at every nook and corner of the town, as well as imitations of the highly sexualized sculptures.

Relics of a glorious past
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

About the town

Technically a village, and we instantly noticed this as we moved away from the main road along which are located the Western Group of Temples, museums, and Shilpgram - an artisans centre. This is the heart of the town, with most hotels and eateries concentrated within this 1-2 kilometre zone. The local occupations (apart from hospitality) are farming and cattle rearing. 

Watching the sun set in the horizon
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Peak of architectural flourish 

Needless to say, the main tourist attraction of Khajuraho is the Hindu and Jain temples built during the Chandel dynasty in around the 11th century. These are segregated into three groups: western group of temples, southern group (Jain) of temples, and eastern group of temples.

The western cluster is the largest of the three, and is organised inside a gated garden. Tickets need to be purchased from a counter next to the entrance and cost Rs 30 (Indians) and Rs 500 (foreigners). These temples are large and beautiful with manicured lawns all around. Near the temples, there are two lakes and a number of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops selling everything from fridge magnets to so-called pashmina shawls and clothing items. We would recommend Raja Cafe and the Madras Coffee House for a meal. 

Sunny day at the Western group
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Under the shade of a peepul tree
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

South Indian thali at Madras Coffee House
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip 

The best EVER pasta carbonara: a must-try at Raja Cafe
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

A 20-minute walk will take you to the southern group with three Jain temples inside a single compound. One of these still functions as a live temple. Less crowded than the western group, I found this place to be very peaceful and a nice place to rest under the shaded peepul tree or at the Parshawanath or Adinath temples.  

Shantinath (Jain) temple
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
Next to the Parshawanath Jain Temple
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

The last of the temples we visited are located on the eastern fringe of the town. There are three temples that are slightly scattered across large green fields. When we visited, we saw many animals grazing - cows, buffaloes, and even pigs. I loved this place the most. It was open and breezy and if one sits on the steps leading to the Vamana temple, it is a calming sight to take in. Sitting here, I could hear birds chirping, crows cawing, and an occasional cow mooing. I think I even heard a rooster :) We didn't see any hotels this side, only hutment. 


Getting around

There is only one mode of transportation in this town - big autos that can be shared with other passengers or booked individually. Mostly they will ask you for Rs 100 no matter where you want to go, but this can easily be negotiated at Rs 30 or Rs 50. Auto drivers try to strike a deal with you for anything between Rs 300 to Rs 500 for a temple tour. This is quite pointless as the temples are actually all within walking distance and it is easier (and cheaper) to find an auto to ferry you to a particular set of monuments on a need basis. Even better, you could hire a cycle and ride around the town. 

About 20 km from Khajuarho town is the Ken Gharial Sanctuary. More on that, soon!

Best time to visit

As with most plains of India, the winter months are most suited for travelling, and I would recommend end of February for two reasons. First, weather-wise it is comfortable. It is easy to walk for a couple of hours even under the sun. The second reason is the Art Festival that takes place this time every year. Set against the backdrop of the Western Group of Temples, one can enjoy classical and folk dance performances in the evenings. In addition to these, there are also art exhibitions by artists across the country (and some international as well). 

Life-size Chhau dance dolls inside the Art Festival ground
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

Kathak dance performance
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip

The other fun factor for us was the local Shiv Ratri mela that was taking place at the time. For anyone who is keen to visit a true blue rural mela (fair), this is just the perfect place. It was rustic India at its best, without the pretense of sophistication! We took a ride on a massive, rickety giant wheel, among others :)


This little boy on the trampoline was so keen to pose for us
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
Freshly made sugarcane juice with a dash of lemon and salt
Photo courtesy: Len Haokip
We stayed at Isabel Palace Hotel, which is about 1.5 km from the heart of the town. The distance seemed reasonable at the time of booking, but if I have to return I would probably stay at Zostel (an upmarket hostel), or at the state-run Hotel Jhankar. Khajuraho shuts down completely by 11 pm and restaurants serve up to about 10:30 pm. Also, the roads beyond the market get dark and deserted after 9 pm. I wouldn't say it felt particularly unsafe, but it would have been more convenient to stay closer to the western group of temples. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Orpie's Beet 'Loot' Salad

The perfect side dish

If you live in India, then you cannot have missed knowing about the demonitization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. For or against is a different matter altogether, and something I will not get into right now. But owing to the scarcity of smaller value currency I decided to try out online grocery shopping from Modern Bazaar. It was a good decision, and the vegetables that were delivered were bursting with freshness and colour :)

I wanted to make a healthy salad and after spending some time Googling recipes, I didn't really find a recipe that was perfectly matching the ingredients I got delivered. So I tried out my own version that Rupak has famously called the beet 'loot' salad! Haha! I was super impressed how the salad turned out and I said to him, "had I had eaten out and paid for my beet 'root' salad it would have been pretty expensive. Needless to say most halfway decent restaurants are making a LOT of money dishing out simple salads. 'Looting' customers!" And, then he called it my beet 'loot' salad! How perfect! And that is how this salad got its name.

What you need

The ingredients are very flexible obviously. I simply used what I had. 

2-3 beets, medium sized (I used one large and one medium)
Handful of spinach leaves (or, any salad greens)
Some sweet corn, steamed or roasted
Some paneer (could use cherry mozarella, or feta, or tofu)

2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
3-4 garlic pods, crushed
salt, to taste

How to

Wash and pat dry the beets. Cover them in foil and roast them in the over for about an hour at 180 degrees.

Ready for the oven
While the beets are getting cooked, wash the salad green and keep aside.

Steam, or roast, the sweet corn.

Prepare the vinaigrette: Mix together all the ingredients under dressing.

Come back in an hour to check on the beets. Once they have cooled for ten minutes or so, peel the skin and slice thinly. 

Beautiful beets

Ready to assemble
Well, then. Mix everything together and add some crumbled paneer or feta or cheese on top! But remember to assemble this salad just before serving or else you will have a salad that is all beetroot-red in colour! :D


Sunday, October 23, 2016

To cook from scratch, or not

Basa in black bean sauce

Theoretically I like the idea of making everything from scratch. This not only applies to my interest in cooking, but also to other aspects of my life. And so, assembly line isn't really my thing. Needless to say the satisfaction that one derives from doing something from get-go all the way to the end, is far beyond any that involves assembling ready-made items. Hence, I ask, when it is really okay to say 'I made this from scratch?' Let me give an example, when I have a peanut butter jelly sandwich using store-bought peanut butter, jelly, and bread, and say that I made it - is it really true? Or am I merely putting together these three components of the sandwich? :P

Well, that said, how practical is my idea? Not particularly, and definitely not when one is like me, with oodles of the lazy gene and a natural tendency to love sleep! In an ideal world, where I could do only the things I wanted to, perhaps things could have been different, in addition to having a bank account spilling over with crisp, clean notes. In fact, after my pesto post, I am ashamed to say that there has been little experimental cooking in my kitchen. 

Lately, I had been craving for Chinese food, especially for some variety of a stir-fried fish preparation. I zero-ed down on fish cooked in a black bean sauce, and did a Google search for a black bean sauce recipe, and realized that fermented black beans would be next to impossible to find here. Well, not impossible perhaps, but with limited means and an urge to instantly satiate my craving, I did what any sensible person would do. I bought a bottle of black bean sauce! And out flew all my plans of working from scratch!

Ah well. So, last weekend for my mum's birthday, I decided to make a quick fish in black bean sauce and served it with some noodles. The sauce turned out delicious. Basa, like always, had an almost-melt-in-the-mouth texture, perfectly complementing the slightly crunchy green capsicum. The original recipe can be found here.

On a platter

What you need

500 gm basa fillet
2 tbsp cornflour
2 onions, small-sized, quartered
2 capsicums, cut into small pieces
1 inch ginger, sliced
2 pods garlic, chopped
1 dried red chilli, deseeded
2-3 tbsp water mixed with 1/2 tsp cornflour, as a thickening agent

2 tbsp black bean sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp fish sauce
3/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp water

How to

Wash and clean the fillet and cut into small bite size pieces. Sprinkle this with the 2 tbsp of cornflower and keep aside.

Once the fish has been prepped, the sauce can be prepared. In a small bowl, mix together the black bean sauce with the sesame oil, fish sauce, and sugar. Add 2 tbsp of water to this paste.

Now for the cooking: In a non-stick pan, add some cooking oil and let it heat. Then add the dried red chilli, ginger, onions, garlic, and capsicum. Cook on high heat till fragrant. 

Now, move the veggies to the side of the pan and add the corn-flour coated fish. Give everything a good stir and cook until the fish is three-fourth cooked. Basa is a very soft fish and it took scarcely a couple of minutes to complete this step.

Then, add the sauce and give it a good stir so that the fish and veggies are coated in the sauce. 

Finally, add the cornfour mixed with water. After five minutes turn off the heat and cover the pan. This restaurant-style fish in black bean sauce is now ready to be served!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mutton cooked with raja mirchi

Seriously, when it comes to food, there are no limits to how much an average Bengali will eat during Durga Puja. Yesterday, was Dashami, or the tenth day, that marks the end of the pujas. It is a day on which it is customary to eat fish, which seems funny to me at times, because when did we stop eating it anyway?

Unfortunately, I am not very traditional and owing to the fact that I  had no fish at home, I decided to make mutton. One of the items on my to-cook list this puja was Bhutwa Mutton. I wrote about this in my last post and I thought to myself what better than make just that. It took me about an hour and a half to prepare this dish, during which time I realized that I had run out of two ingredients from the original recipe. How important these were I cannot tell, so I decided to do what every home-cook must resort at such times of crisis. Improvise!

And so, in place of Schezwan pepper, I used my all-time favourite raja mirchi from Manipur. These lend a beautiful smokey flavour and a LOT of heat to the dish.

Bhutwa mutton with a twist

What you need

750 gm mutton

Whole spices
2-3 black cardamom 
3-4 cloves
10 peppercorns 
1 bay leaf 

3/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 dried Kashmiri mirch
1 dried raja mirchi (can be deseeded to reduce the heat) 

1 onion, medium sized, chopped 
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (I used slightly more garlic than ginger in my paste) 
2 tbsp coriander powder 
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional) 

Mustard oil
Salt and sugar, to taste
1 cup hot water

How to

Wash and clean the mutton. Drain excess water and pat dry the meat with a kitchen towel.

In a hick-bottomed, non-stick vessel, add the oil, and let it smoke. Once the mustard oil has smoked, let it cool before you add the four whole spices listed above. Fry for a minute, or until oil is fragrant.

Now add the fenugreek seeds and both kinds of chilies. Give it a stir and wait for a minute or so. Throw in the chopped onions and fry until light brown in colour.

Add the mutton into the hot oil and let it brown. This should take at least fifteen minutes. During this time, you could add the ginger-garlic paste, as well as some salt and sugar. Keep the vessel uncovered.

When the meat has browned sufficiently, add a cup of hot water and cover and cook for half hour. Alternately, in case using a pressure cooker, give two whistles and turn off the heat. In case of the latter, you would need to wait for sometime before you can open the cooker and cook the meat for some more time until the oil separates. The water needs to evaporate completely, and the mutton should be dark brown in colour.

Let the finished dish sit for at least half hour before serving.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Homemade pesto for Shoshti

Pesto in a jar
I gave myself a pat on the back. That my friends, on top, is my first jar of homemade pesto sauce.

I wouldn't say the ingredients for this sauce are super easy to get if you live in Delhi, so on the whole I would say this is 6/10 on the difficulty scale. But, the method is easy-peasy so that's a big help. Also, the fact that it can be stored in a refrigerator makes it worth the effort.

Fresh from the garden

A couple of months back, during a visit to my favourite nursery at Noida, I happened to buy a small but perky-looking basil plant. We transplanted her into a biggish pot and she has grown into a lovely, healthy, fragrant shrub. I plucked a big bunch of leaves but even then I find the yield isn't much. Perhaps, next season when she grows larger... :)

The second most important ingredient used for this sauce is pine nuts. Pine nuts, as I found out, are chilgoza. Again, not a commonly available nut in the neighbourhood. Another added disadvantage is that it is super expensive! And then if course is Parmesan. I have found my favourite store for buying Parmesan in the city, but it is not very close to home. I am yet to purchase a fresh block next time I head that side. This jar of pesto thus has that crucial element missing in action yet!

Then there is the garlic and the olive oil that makes this sauce come alive! For about half a jar, I used three loosely packed basil leaves, a handful of pine nuts, 3-4 cloves of garlic, a generous amount of olive oil, juice of half a lemon, and salt. The method is simple: Put everything (except the cheese) together in a food processor and whizz away. You can always adjust the seasoning (and the Parmesan) at a later time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Flu fighting and welcoming Durga Puja

Along with planning the festivities, I had landed one more task in my kitty. Nursing a viral. Delhi seems to be drowning a deluge of the evil-faced virus, a bit of a biological warfare as I like to call it. But keeping with the spirit of the times, I think I have been able to ward off the evil-spirited virus just in time to salvage some of my Pujo plans. I don't see myself wearing any heels this time thanks to my creaking, aching joints, but that is a small price to pay, if I can at least be up and about with friends and family. 

For most Bengalis and indeed for many others in the vicinity, Pujo comes with one immutable fact. No cooking at home. I mean, why cook when the entire neighbourhood is practically transformed into one giant food paradise? I delight in these every year but this year I thought I thought of making use of some of my time to cook up one big indulgent meal for the family. One of the perks of being ill is that it gave me plenty of time to search for the perfect recipes.

I have listed below the seven recipes that I want to try out in the next couple of days. The first three are from yet another great treasure-house of Bengali cooking. The second list is a mish-mash really - my own take on some classic recipes. These are perfect for a quick healthy sandwich or a quick meal and just the thing for rushed mornings and weeknights.

Recipes for Pujo (coming soon!)

Homemade preserves for the season (coming soon!)

  • Marinara sauce
  • Pesto sauce with fresh basil
  • Hung curd dip
  • Honey rolled oats