Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you cook on Thanksgiving?

Such a simple thought and yet so difficult to practice.  Just as activities expand with the availability of time, so do our desires with the availability and the widespread culture of shopping around Thanksgiving.

Historically, the roots of thanksgiving goes back to the harvest season and the pilgrims, but for once, I am going to skip the history, because the idea of families gathering to share a wholesome meal brings warmth and a smile to me.  

Most holidays are centered around kids, Thanksgiving is not. It's one of those days that you have to be a grown up to appreciate. 

The world Thanksgiving, conjures up images of a turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie's galore. For a vegetarian family or at least when the chef in the family is a vegetarian, it poses a different dilemma, how does one combat the challenge of making it all vegetarian and yet have the family enjoy it. 

This thanksgiving, like every other year have been invited to a friends for a gathering filled with food and laughter. Appreciate and thankful that she takes the time every year and includes us in the celebrations. 

It's going to be mostly a vegetarian affair at her place, with some bird :) So thought of sharing a few of my favorite vegetarian dishes that work for holiday potluck dinners.  What am I taking this year? The Vegetable Biryani.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. Count the little blessings, the big ones will come automatically. 


Saw this idea originally on Show me the curry and I thought it was brilliant. You can choose either red or white sweet potatoes. I tried both and settled on white. I added a few twerks and this is how it goes. 

Dice sweet potatoes into small squares. This is the longest and the hardest part for this dish. 

On high, heat some oil in a wok, add some Panch Phoran (its a five spice mix of fennel, nigella, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds.) 
If you don't have this - no worries, you can use cumin seeds and if you have neither  - don't worry, just kip this step. Add a pinch of ginger and lots of crushed peanuts for the crunch and texture and saute for a minute.  

Allergic to nuts - Add finely chopped celery and green peppers instead. 

No allergies - Add it all :) 

Add the sweet potatoes and stir fry on high till they start feeling tender. You can test the tenderness by pressing a little with your spatula. Once a little tender.. Add the magic ingredient, Sriracha Sauce. 

Yes, squirt in Sriracha depending on how spicy you want it to be, add salt to taste, stir fry for another 5-10 minutes or more if you like your sweet potatoes a litte mushy, cook for a few more minutes and your done.  Top with some finely chopped green onions. If you don't like onions.. cilantro works well. If you don't like cilantro.. top with some dried cranberries. If you like them all - its your lucky day.. add them all. 


  • Take some lettuce, un wrap the leaves slowly _ I haven't quite figured out how restaurants have those perfect lettuce cups, but I am sure some day, I'll find out.  Buy an extra lettuce just in case you don't get the perfect cups from the first one.  
  • Add the sweet potatoes, top with your favorite sweet sauce OR do what I do, I take a basic Indian tamarind sauce, mix in some Sriracha and it tastes like heaven :) 
Ok, now you know, one of the secert ingredients in my pantry is this Sriracha sauce. No need to re-create the wheel, the makers of this sauce do an amazing job. Save yourself some time and use it creatively for the most amazing flavors. FYI.. it works very well with Thousand Island dressing too :)


Biryani takes it's roots in the Persian culture. It probably took centuries and many trade routes to reach India. The word Biryani originates from the Farsi word Birian which basically means "fried before cooking."  Guess mom knew this, cos she always washes the rice, then stir fries with ghee an cumin seeds before adding the water and letting the rice boil.  Scientifically, the stir frying breaks the gelatin layer of the rice and allows for a separate grains rather than them being stuck together

So that's what you go to do first, take any long grain rice, wash it, stir fry it with rice and anise seed. Another favorite of mine and oh so aromatic. True to its name, it is a star ingredient. 

Sorry, did not take pics of rice cooking :) and I cooked it in a pressure cooker.. so did not stir fry. But it took literally 5 mins to make the rice. 

Since I already have the rice, I am stir frying the veggies (any hard vegetable works; onions, green peppers, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, mushrooms - cut them all length wise,) with anise seed, some cloves, cumin and bay leaves.  You only need to add some salt and cayenner pepper to taste now. 

Decided to make it in a Tagine, since there is nothing better to do today than cook. It's going to take it's own sweet time. Once the vegetables get tender. Layer the rice with vegetables OR do what I do, I just fold in the rice. 

I like the rice to get the shades of color due to the spices.. makes it look so much more fall like than being plan white :) 

ROASTED MEDLEY: Cauliflower with Red pepper sauce. 

This is a very easy recipe and can be prepped two days ahead of time.  

For the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:  Buy the peppers: Only Red or a mix of red, yellow, orange works too. I usually roast them in the toaster oven at 350, till they start looking roasted :) Sorry, have never timed it. But you will know. The aroma fills the house and they are ready to be taken out. You can turn them after 10 mins or not, it works either way. 

As the peppers roast, take your head of cauliflower. You can choose to marvel at the beauty and magic of nature for a minute and wonder how it creates such perfect symmetry without any tools and gadgets or take your favorite knife and go for it. It's a personal preference.. You can either cook it as a complete flower, chop it into big florets or chop it into smaller florets.  This time, since its more kid friendly, I chopped it into medium size florets. 

Now mariniate them.  Add salt, cayenne pepper (not too much as you will be adding some in the sauce too,) add about 2tbsp of ginger, one or two cloves of garlic (if you like them, if not, the cauliflower still loves you ;)), a pinch of oregano an thyme, squeeze in just a tad bit of lemon juice and give it a squirt of olive oil and now just mix till they are evenly coated.  Then you can store them in the refrigerator till you are ready to bake them. 

Meanwhile, your roasted red peppers are beginning to cook. 
  • Once cooked, take them out and let them cool a little - toss them in the blender and give it a twirl, till it is a complete smooth paste. 
  • Now take a saucepan, add some butter - let the butter brown. Which basically is a fancy way of saying, on medium high, let the butter burn for a little - u want it brown not black :)  immediately lower the heat, stir profusely as you add cumin powder, some oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper.  
  • And add the roasted red pepper puree. 
  • Keep it on low, add salt to taste and a fist full of finely chopped cilantro. If you don't have cilantro.. that's ok.. skip it. 
  • Now cover this with a splatter screen and let the sauce simmer on low for a good 30 mins. 
  • Once cooked, you can freeze it or use it for anything from cauliflower to pasta to pizza. 
ROASTED MEDLEY - Cauliflower with red pepper sauce. 

To assemble, just add some sauce in a oven safe pan, add layer it with cauliflower, add some more sauce and bake at 350 or 400. This for me depends on if I have other things to do at that time or not. 
If you bake at 400 - you have to keep an eye on it. If at 350 - you can easily forget it for 30 minutes :) and then check it with a fork to see how tender it is. I like it when the cauliflower can be separated but its not mushy.  

Serve hot over rice or as a side with bread. It is YUMMM! 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking - A fashionable, edible art.

Cooking is simple. If you can dress yourself every day you can cook too.  Ever read those articles, where a fashion expert takes 15 basic pieces to give you 30 or maybe even more different looks.  Cooking is the same way. There are few basics and then it’s an art of mix and match. Sometimes the combinations are brilliant, and sometimes they are okay, but every time they are YOUR originals and that’s what makes the dish great. It is YOU and your touch.  How you cut the vegetables? How you stir fry them, at what temperature, do you add the spices before the tomatoes are softened or after? It is these little nuances that change a dish. The greatest chefs of the world don’t have any special ingredients. In fact the best chefs use the most commonly available ingredients and spices.

What are the basics cooking? Let's see, some of your basic pieces of clothing like the good pair of jeans, and a tan jacket with a little accessories can go from casual to WOW, similarly there are a few building blocks to the ""Sans Recipe" route.

Aaloo - Tikki
Kofta - 
"Sans Recipe" was not something I aspired to learn; I grew up with the style. The variety of colors and textures my mom laid out on the table for the simplest luncheon to a formal gathering was nothing less than a feast both to the eyes and palate. It was from her I learnt the skill of menu planning. It is because of my Mom that I never serve Aaloo-Tikki as an appetizer and then have Malai kofta as an entre'e - why you ask? The answer is quite simple, they both are made from potatoes and are fried. The only difference, one is flat and dry, the other is a pot bellied ball and submerged in a gravy.

To go the “Sans Recipes” route and create some sexy food, you need to know the basic rules of cooking and a well stocked pantry. 

They are: 
  • A well stocked pantry
  • Techniques
  • Your tools - Your spices and the pots n pans of course
  • The gut to experiment 
That's really all you need to create some sexy fashionable and edible art. 

From the above, stocking your pantry is the easiest one. All you got to do is go on a shopping trip :)

Pots n pans are an interesting one. Go back the memory lane, your comfort food most likely came from a humble kitchen with very basic pots filled with lots of love and honest ingredients. Pots n pans are a personal preference. There are some who only cook in cast iron, some who never use non-stick, some who revere the aroma in a clay cooked pot, personally, for me it depends on how much time I have. If I have the whole day to myself and nothing else going on, yes I love my tagine, on the contrary if I have thirty minutes to whip up a meal, I need my heavy bottom pan so I can crank up the heat and be done just in time to pick up the kids from school. 

What technique did you use, this dish is amazing? Did you fry it or bake it? Again, another confusing question. I always wonder at it, because when you bite a dish, isn't the technique obvious. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be an expert here, but I think its pretty easy to tell if a dish was steamed, baked or fried.  In my mind there are five main techniques to cook; we bake a dish, roast a dish, steam it, stir fry (sauté’) it or deep-fry it.  Ok, we can get technical and say there is braising, poaching, browning etc. But if you look closely, they are all a variations of the basics.

Experimentation, the fun starts now: It’s cauliflower, cut it into medium size florets, sautéed with some chopped potatoes, a pinch of salt, a hint of turmeric, a double hint of ginger, a dash of coriander powder, a spoonful of garam-masala, a pinch of cinnamon and amchur, cooked till tender on medium high heat gives you a delectable “aaloo-gobi sabzi” from the North Indian kitchen. Now take the same medium sized florets, add some oregano, thyme, salt and sauté. Add a hint of garlic, some cayenne pepper, maybe even a squirt of ketchup mix in some  al-dente penne pasta, throw the mix in a casserole dish, top with cheese and bake till the cauliflower is tender, you just created an original - Cauliflower Penne.  

The point is in less than 30 minutes, you made two scrumptious dishes using the same main ingredient.  So next time your daughter wants pasta and your in-laws prefer Indian food, you know what to do.

No industry today follows the same laws as it did centuries ago, then why do cookbooks or rather, why do we follow recipes and every time we see a delectable dish, we instantly ask for the recipe, only to realize that no matter how accurately we follow the direction the dish continues to taste different than what we originally ate.

Ever wondered why?

It’s simple; the original dish tasted heavenly, because it was an original.    

Next week, together we cook up a vegetarian thanksgiving feast that would make the carnivores green with envy. But first, let us stock that pantry!

Gone are the days when eating out was a luxury. Today a home cooked meal is a luxury and totally in-style. Stay true to yourself, to your pantry and in no time, you’re going to hear the shy spinach demanding some of that bold cinnamon flavor!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fiction to Reality.

Today is special.

Today I got the best gift possible; I now have 

This space has been in the making for years. This is where I take the bright vibrant reds and blend them in with the calm blues to create the imperfect and yet mystical purple :) Okay, yes I am a pink and purple girl.  It's more than a palette of vibrant colors, it's a way to connect, aspire and create.

The blogposts, some thought provoking, some silly and some cribbing will continue, but only once a month.  There's a new kid on the blog, its called "Sans Recipes." It's my new baby, and so get's more attention :) 

Few weeks ago, I took you In My Kitchen.  With "Sans Recipes" together, we experiment in a virtual space to share and create real hearty food from anything and everything in our pantry. There is only one condition, no recipes.  Ever wondered, why cooking seems like a chore to so many of us. It's because we limit ourselves to the recipes. Why does every Indian curry start with a tomato? Sans Recipes hopes to take the boredom out of cooking. It doesn't matter what your pantry does not have, a yummylicious wholesome meal can always be made with a few basic ingredients.  With Sans Recipes I hope we can break free from the slavery of recipe cooking.  

Last year in November, you met The Shy Girl. Today the shy girl is feeling blessed and thankful for all she has.  We are a product of our experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly; all of them make us complete.  Every good fiction has a central character and every good story has a character that evolves and reshapes with the story to make it complete. The story of life is no different from the best selling fiction novel.  It's a fiction indeed 'cos life happens one day at a time. Every day we take the fictitious tomorrow and make it a reality.  

Today my fiction became a reality.  

Happy Birthday to ME! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Art of Annoyance.

Art of annoyance? Really, it is. 

There is always annoyance in the world. She is annoyed at life, he is annoyed because there isn't enough time to finish the to-do list, she is annoyed because things are not falling into place, he is annoyed at how work is and this week most of my neighborhood is upset because it's going to rain on Halloween. As I write this post I am annoyed at how someone is turning the house upside down because someone said something about a project. Which project, who said what? I am not supposed to know, for he says he'll figure it all out. Yes, he will. He has to, I tell myself to let go for he is annoyed too. 

Reasons can be different, but how we deal with annoyance is the same for all of us. 

  • So I take a deep breath.
  • I remind myself that there is nothing I can do unless I am told what the problem is
  • I want to react, but decide against it. Mom wisdom says to just let it go. 
Anger, annoyance call it what you may but they are very interesting emotions.  They bring out the worst in us and yet sometimes from that annoyance stems the most beautiful ideas. Every wondered who made Velcro? How did the idea originate? Google it. 

Two days ago, I was pretty upset with things in general. It was a blah day when not much felt good.  Retail therapy seemed the only option. I fought every urge to go shopping, stepped into my garage and just started at the 6 sets of candles waiting to be painted. Yes, I create in the most uncreative place. I picked up the bright red one, stared at it and kept it back. Instead of picking up the paints, I picked up the broom at started cleaning the garage.  As I aimlessly swept the floor, I mumbled and jumbled to myself, clearly confused and annoyed. Then it happened. A kid in the neighborhood walked by with her grandma. The giggles of that unknown child snapped me out of the boredom trance.  I kept the broom back and went back to stare at the candles. This time I picked up the purple candle and gold paint.  Positioning my hands delicately on the candle, I let the color move, the sinuous strokes stayed small and looked dainty, I had just painted a rose bud.  

This wasn't something I had planned, it just happened.  From annoyance came art that I had never planned for. After that it was pure bliss. Here I am today writing a blog and wondering why I was so annoyed that day. Today it seems so silly.  This is what annoyance is. It's a fleeting feeling at the core, however we as humans make a big deal out of it.  We over process the information, imagine the problems and find solutions to problems that don't even exist. 

Before you start marveling at how brilliant I am, please make note that this wisdom is not age old. I am guilty of complaining or being annoyed at life for most of 2014.  It has taken me a very long time to accept some moments, but I think I have finally conquered the feeling and lately I proved it to myself by forgiving and moving on. 

Moving on is the key. It is a very hard thing to do, but yet is the key. The moment that has passed cannot come back or be changed, so why do we hold on to it so tightly? Why do we fail to recognize the magic of present and the hope of future? Why do we despair?  I don't have answers to all these questions, the only thing I have learnt in over four decades on this planet is that the key to most problems is better communication.  

We all need a confidante, someone we can vent out at. It can be friend, a sibling, a spouse, a parent, a diary or maybe a blog :)  

Just as we all learn differently, we all talk differently too. Some of us prefer to talk with words, some talk by exercising, some talk with gardening and some of us talk with art.  Let it be YOUR medium of choice but find that one medium. This medium will release you from the most unpleasant situations and take you to calmer and peaceful places.  

This medium will take your annoyance and create a poem, a flat belly, a blooming garden or a beautiful candle.  

It is called the Art of Annoyance.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Happy Diwali.

Smile a little, it's Diwali. 
Forget your sorrows, it's Diwali. 
Forgive, it's Diwali. 
You may or may not get a second chance, 
Celebrate, it's Diwali. 

The word Diwali conjures up the memory of lighting 100 diyas every year. My brother and I climbed roof tops and strategically placed the diyas. It had to be a total of 100. Why? No body knows, it was just one of those teenage fancies I had and my parents graciously obliged. Then we patiently waited for dusk, filled up the diya's with oil, added the wicks and lighted them. I remember running out onto the road, standing far back and admiring the labor of hard work and love. What took 3 hours to set up, lasted for but an hour and on a windy day, maybe a few minutes. Yet the effort seemed totally worth it.  Such is the magic of Diwali. It brings about a transformation unlike any festival in India, and India has a lot of them.  

Diwali, to me was never the religious holiday. Yes, there is a story behind it, but then that's what it is, a tale. I don't necessarily wear new clothes or buy new clothes. I don't necessarily make the umpteen dishes my mom used to make. I don't necessarily follow the auspicious time announced by the priests, and yet the magic of Diwali thrives. 

The magic of Diwali comes from reminiscing the carefree years of lighting diyas, jumping and dodging the sparkles from the Chakri and about all the love and laughter that echoed on every street, every corner and every home. The deafening silence of Diwali fireworks and diyas, the calorie watching and simultaneous eating of deserts, the helping hand of a stranger and the arrival of cousins from lands faraway is the magic of Diwali. 

Today, I sit miles away preserving my memories. The house sleeps and I huddle in my corner realizing that Diwali to me is about celebrating my cared for past, content present and looking forward to future. 

Diwali is about celebrating my roots.   

Wishing You and Yours a Very Happy Diwali and an amazing New Year ahead! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In My Kitchen...

In my kitchen, there are no recipes. 

Cooking for some is a chore with a sink full of dishes to clean, for some it is microwaving a pre-made meal and for some of us it is an art. I fall in the last category. A self proclaimed artist at soul, cooking is an art for me. I do believe that we eat with our eyes.

Art never followed any rules. The same holds true for my kitchen. There are no rules or recipes followed here. Yes, I do have a collection of cookbooks only because I love browsing through the vibrant colors and the brilliant plating.

Do you know that person who always chooses to bring drinks to a party because they don't cook? Ever wondered, how they survive without cooking? I do. For most it is the fear of "what if." 

I was 12 years old when I made my first dish; "Baigan ka Bharta." For my western world friends, it is roasted eggplant, mashed up and seasoned with carmelized onions, tomatoes, salt, cayenne pepper, a dash of garam masala and tons of cilantro.  The one thing that dish is not supposed to have is "turmeric," and that's exactly what I added.  My Nani said, "you never put turmeric in Bharta." Of course I knew that, but the damage was done. So I quipped.. really, I don't know Mom always puts it...LOL. Blame it on Mom, that's what 12 year olds do anyway.  

What if I add more salt than needed, what if it doesn't taste that good? These and more are kitchen fear factors. My answer, so what. So what if there is more salt, you can always add more stock or vegetables to tone it down. So what if it doesn't taste perfect, a pickle on the side or a chutney on the top takes away the imperfections to make a dish that is uniquely perfectly you.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. 
In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
                                                                                                         ― Julia Child

Throw out the what if's and bring in the so what's is the key to making cooking fun.

What does cooking mean to you? 

Cooking is a therapeutic for me.  It's a stress buster, an escape from the world. Back in the olden days, serving restaurant food was a luxury, today serving a simple home cooked meal to your friends and family is a luxury.  I am proud to say, be it a single family dinner or a multi-family holiday dinner, It's only home cooked food in my home. Yes, I have been told I am crazy for making everything from scratch, but then its craziness in a good way.

Cooking is satisfying.  My family gets treated to an a la carte menu every nite.  As long as I have their requests in by 5.00pm, I can give them food of choice. When my son was little, I learned the hard way that food cannot be forced down a throat. It has to be relished and enjoyed, only then does it bring in the benefits of healthy and nutrient rich growing, and so started the tradition of a la carte menu. Crazy again, yes.. but the joy of seeing my kids enjoying their food and licking their fingers makes it worth the effort.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but its not. A friend once told me, "you make us working women feel guilty." I told her, "I also have only 24 hours like you do, so don't feel guilty."  All it really takes is a well stocked pantry and some imagination.  I usually never plan a weeks worth of menu or grocery list. I buy what my eyes take fancy too and then when its dinner time, I open the refrigerator and make it work.  Over the years, I have some staples in my pantry and these staples make it all so easy. Trader Joes Red Pepper Spread is one such staple.  This little jar is magic.

A hearty delicious vegetable soup.
Every so often when I open the refrigerator there are ten different containers with left over food. What does one do? For instance, recently had lots of spinach dip and my favorite plain simple vegetable soup left over. I could have done sandwiches with the dip but the soup would still be the same. So instead, took the dip and made it into a cream of spinach soup AND took the soup, added some rice with a dash of some more spices and it made a scrumptious pulao. A completely new menu with the left overs. Yes, there is something about the upbeat jubilant homemaker in all this, but it is also very liberating to see an experiment come alive

Cooking is also love.  My daughter always wants to know what the secret ingredient is. My answer has been consistent; It's love.

So next time you are having a tired day, a blah day or a celebration day; step into your kitchen, take a look at your pantry, open the refrigerator and just stare at it for a few minutes. I am sure you will cook the most amazing meal your family ever had.

What did you say? You want a recipe.. free yourself of recipes. Through this space, I'll show you how.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

To Barbie or Not?

Barbie, it's just a doll.  You know it, I know it, We know it and yet we worry. Why? Why do we take an adult logic and perceptions and apply it to a toy designed for little girls.  

We, the women are intelligent. We know that no matter how hard we try, it is humanly impossible to have her phyisque. That perfect neck, the toes pointed out and heels that never touch the ground.. come on, it would take the act of god even for the most accomplished plastic surgeon to give that to a woman.  

We, the women sneer at those other women who buy Barbies for their daughter. We talk about how Barbie single handedly lowers and demeans our very existence and yet we crave for those flat abs and put ourselves to the mercy of green juices and detoxifications. 

We undercover the muffin tops only to whisper a hush hush wish for the perfect curve. The long tresses, the flaunting stride and the perfect twirl; yes we have always admired them, but when a doll does it, we scorn and despise. 

We who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, fire-fighters, astronauts, nurses, pilots, police-women, fitness experts, chefs, dentists, fashion designers and so much more choose to shun a doll and probably the only doll that has 150 careers on her resume allowing little girls to imagine and be anything they want to be. 

We the women choose to focus our attention on a plastic doll's over sized boobs and thin waistline and ignore the fact that the doll has embraced all the traditional male dominated careers and broken the plastic ceiling before the real woman did and then we stretch our vocal chords on how biased the corporate world is towards women and how under represented girls are in STEM based careers.  

Come on ladies, be serious. Do you really think a 4-5 year old focuses on the anatomy of a doll or the fact that her doll is the perfect companion to be anything that she wants to be?  Dolls don't create women who are anorexic, it is us and the world around us.  

Think about it, when we the women say that Barbie is ruining the self esteem of girls, aren't we are undermining the female intelligence? Don't you think your daughter is smart enough to know that Barbie is a doll and not a real human being?  Unrealistic beauty images are all around us, starting from your own friend circle. Come on be honest, I am sure you know her; the one who starves and sweats daily just to slide into THE dress and then waits for the likes and comments to flow in. 

Barbie is the least of our worries. We need to worry about ourselves, the women. 

If your daughter likes pink, let her wear it. If she wants a twirly skirt, buy her one. If she wants a birthday with all the glittery stuff, give her that birthday and celebrate with her. 

Allow her the freedom of being comfortable being a girl. Nature gave her the curves and the dainty look. Grant your daughter the permission to be demure. When she's ready she will adorn THE lab coat with pride and ease.