Saturday, July 28, 2007

Y for Yam with black-beans :)

Yes, Y is for Yam, a name that's been claimed by both Amorphophallus (Suran) and Dioscorea (Sweet potatoes), depending on the place on the globe :). Since where i live, Dioscorea is easily available and is called Yam, i am using this in my recipe (was that a disclaimer?). Now, i do have my thoughts on what we calls Yams here in the US. These are also referred to as sweet potatoes, but to my palette, they are not nearly as sweet and starchy as the desi shakarkand (sweet potatoes)-and i am thrilled about it, because that makes them a perfect replacement for the Amorphophallus (the stuff we call Yam in India)! Today, i am pairing the yams with black-beans, and folks, let it be known, i am thrilled with the outcome :)).

The plus is that if get lazy while making this dish, you'll end up with something good half-way through still (ahem, that was kind of a note to self), he he ;). Feel free to try this with raw plantain, cassava or any starchy vegetables/tubers etc., and yes, that includes potatoes :)). Black beans may be replaced by lobias, fava beans, rajma/kidney beans or chana/garbanzos. And this dish is for the A-Z e-potluck at Nupur's place :).

So, here's the how-to:

We need:

  • 1 cup cubed yams
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 5-6 mild green chillies-crushed/equivalent amount of bell peppers-chopped (optional, i used them and love them)
  • 1 onion (finely sliced)
  • A 2" (atleast) piece of ginger (julienned)
  • 1 big, ripe tomato (chopped)
  • 1/4 tsp. each shah-jeera (black-cumin) and dhaniya (coriander seeds)
  • Turmeric (very little, as a spice) and red chilli powder (if you are not using green chillies or settle for bell-peppers)
  • Salt to taste
  • Amchoor/lime juice to taste (if you like it a lil' tangy)
  • 1 tsp. oil/melted ghee
  • A pinch of garam masala
  • Kasuri methi or Chopped Cilantro (for garnish and aroma)
First, lets peel and cube the yams-this may be a lil' difficult. So, we can put the yams in boiling water for a few minutes or microwave the tubers for 2 minutes. After cubing them, we microwave the cubes for 3-4 minutes. While we are doing this, we also have soaked the black beans in warm water (though its not necessary, just pressure cook them an extra cpl. of whistles if you choose not to soak them). These beans are pressure cooked atleast 5 whistles, if soaked before. And the action begins now! We heat the ghee/oil, splutter the jeera and dhania and saute' the onions. This is followed by adding ginger, and after 2-3 minutes adding the chopped tomatoes-all this while we are stirring this stuff :). We now add the crushed green chillies or chopped bell peppers and cook for 2-3 more minutes and then add turmeric and (if using) the red chilli powder and souring agent like amchoor or lime juice. The next step is to add the microwaved yams, stir them in and cook 5 more minutes.

What next? From here, either we choose to cook the black beans and yams together or cook yams for 5 more minutes, add salt to taste, add some cilantro and have it with parantha or chapati or even roll yourself a nice burrito with this sabzi and cooked black beans plus some cheese-or may be a quesadilla :). I did the former (although many a time, i settle for the latter). To do that, we just add the cooked yams to the pressure cooked black beans and simmer on low heat till the gravy thickens. Lets garnish this with cilantro and enjoy! The chunky, cubed, bordering on sweet yams in the luscious dark black beans gravy is just bliss! I had this combo for dinner with chapati and the my lunch next day was a burrito from boiled beans and cooked yams! Or do it like they do here in one Pita place close to where i work: Black beans (and lets add the yams too) and melted cheese with some salad in the pita-to make what they call as a bean wowshi!

There's more yams for you here :). Enjoy the yummy yams, your way!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mothaan di khichdi, Sukke aloo and Paneer di kadhi

Three dishes, so different from each other :). And all three are pretty simply, yet delicious! The first one, a very simple khichdi. Now, this khichdi is the simplest ode to this whole genre of dishes-dal+chawal=khichdi! As simple as this sounds :). Moth/matki and rice cooked together to creamy perfection with just some salt and ghee! Its a lovely meal, and is my favorite since childhood. My Bibiji used to make it a lot.....daal and rice slowly blending together on angeethi (movable earthen stove) and the final taste and aroma would come from moth, ghee and the smoke! Yes, food cooked on slow fire on an earthern stove has that distinct touch.....and sometimes, simple food can be the most delicious :). Anyway, years later, when i was in the hostel, i once wrote a letter to my Mom telling her how much i craved this khichdi. and in her really cute response she wrote, "You've to learn to cook, to eat something delicious". If it were chat, you would see some wink symbols after this ;). So yes, i love this one. I don't have an angeethi or a chullah (fixed earther stove), so i can't get that real smokey flavor, but hey, its still delish :)).

The next one, the sukki aloo sabzi is another quick eat and is a Multani style recipe. Sliced potatoes cooked with dry spices. Yummy and tangy :). The last one, is one of those really old fashioned dishes, sounds quite odd, but is real easy to make and easier to fall in love with. The only pre-requisites: sour curds and freshest possible paneer :). I have had it a few times, long ago.....The memories of this dish were rekindled again during a casual conversation with an acquaintance, who fondly mentioned how his Mom makes the best paneer kadhi :).

So lets start:

Mothaan di khichdi:

We need:

  • 1/2 cup moth/matki (soaked 1 hr. in warm water)
  • 1/2 cup rice (non-basmati, i used brown rice)
  • salt to taste
  • a pinch of red chilli powder and garam masala
  • 1-2 tsp. ghee

Pressure cook the moth daal in 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups water(4-5 whistles) till its really soft. Add the washed rice and add some more water. Add salt and chilli powders to taste, a tsp. ghee and stir. Pressure cook for another 2-3 whistles. The result should be a liquidy, creamy khichdi.

Bubbling with joy ;)

Blend in the remaining ghee and enjoy with mango pickles, dahi and papad. Occasionally also with raw onions (broken with your fist, pendu/rural style). The khichdi looks gorgeous with its reddish color and tastes great!

Sukke aloo:

We need:

  • 2-3 potatoes (sliced into rounds)
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ajwain (ground coarse)
  • a pinch of strong heeng/asfoetida
  • 1 tsp. sunddh/saunth/dry ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. amchoor (traditionally its anardana/pomegranate seeds, i was out of it so i used amchoor)
  • Salt and red chilli powder to taste
  • Turmeric
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • Crushed, dried poodna/pudina/mint leaves or mint leaves powder (to taste)

This is a low-fat adaptation :). The original calls for deep frying potatoes. I usually either bake the slices or stir-fry and then cook with a lil' drizzle of water. So, heat some oil and splutter the cumin seeds, add the rest of the spice powders except amchoor. Add the potato slices and stir on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Add amchoor, drizzle enough water, so that the slices do not stick to the pan. Lower the heat and cover to cook till the slices are tender. Don't forget to stir a bit in between. Finally, add the pudina powder or crushed dry leaves and serve hot as a side dish :).

One of the interesting recipes i found on the internet is a coriander take on this classic and involves baking. Its called Multani Aloo (the author says that this dish gets the name from Multani masala, but for some reason doesn't have the masalas like ajwain, heeng and sunddh, which are very popular in Multani food). Paging Rachna :).

Paneer di kadhi:

We need:

  • 10-15 cubes of fresh paneer
  • 1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk or beaten curd (sour preferred)
  • 3 tbsp. besan
  • 1/4 tsp. each Shah-jeera (black cumin), methi dana (fenugreek seeds) and kalonji (nigella seeds)
  • a pinch of strong hing
  • Turmeric and red chilli-powder (to taste)
  • Kasuri methi
  • 2 tsp. oil

Prepare the besan-curds mix by first beating the curd smooth and then slowly blending in the besan. Heat 1 tsp. oil and add methi dana and heeng. Add the cubed paneer and stir till the cubes are lightly toasted. If you are using fried paneer then just throw the cubes in and proceed to the next step. Add the turmeric and chilli powder and mix. Reduce the heat to very low and stir in the besan-curds mix slowly. Stir again and add some water and mix thoroughly. Bring this to a boil and cook on low heat till the kadhi thickens. Now with the remaining oil (or melted ghee, if you will) prepare another quick tadka of shah-jeera and kalonji and pour it over the kadhi. Stir in some kasuri methi and garnish with hari-mirch. Enjoy this kadhi hot with rice or pulaav (and if you are like me, even with a sourdough panini sandwich).

Indira posted a recipe with paneer and dahi some time back, and i find it to be a kinder, gentler version of a kadhi. That dish requires addition of beaten dahi in the end and has no besan. Do try that as well, because it is a lovely one :).

So folks, enjoy these yummy dishes :).

And, these dishes are my contribution to RCI: Punjab, an event hosted this month by Richa (As dear as salt) and originally envisaged by Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine, to celebrate the regional cuisines of India.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Arbi-bataun di sabzi-taro root and eggplants :)

This is just as simple as it sounds, friends. Arbi is taro and bataun is baingan, eggplants, aubergines, brinjals etc etc.....Now, isn't that combo interesting :). I know, i know.....y'all are thinking, hey, wasn't it meant to be aloo-baingan ;). The ever favorite of Punjus, the great spud, needs to take rest sometimes ;). Meanwhile, arbi/arvi or taro-root steps in and how! Aloo-bataun/aloo-baingan or "potatoes and eggplants", with or without wadis, is a classic Punju combo. Equally yummy, but a far less talked about variation is the use of taro with eggplants. Well, that statement is not completely true: it is a rather popular summer time combo in rural Punjab, but not much talked about elsewhere. So here's our chance to talk about it and enjoy it :). And its a very versatile combo too: enjoy it as a simple, mild, tari-wali (gravied) sabzi or a spicy, kicked-up sukki (dry) sabzi. It is usually made with Chinese eggplants (the long eggplants), but you can use any variety available and it would still taste good. So here are the two recipes: for all taro and eggplant lovers to enjoy.....and also as my contribution to RCI:Punjab :). My agenda is clear here :). That is, to blog about Punjabi recipes, that used to be common once upon a time and are fading away, or are not well known outside Punjabi community, or recipes that are only made in specific parts of Punjab, the regional specialities.....last post exemplified a recipe now sorta' extinct, and another one thats typically Punju, but not particularly famous outside Punjab. Why i am doing it? Just my attempt to preserve a bit of my own culinary heritage.....and share it with my friends.

Arbi-bataun sabzi (tari-wali):

We need:

  • 1 big eggplant (round) or 4-5 Chinese eggplants or 6-7 small round eggplants
  • 7-8 taro roots
  • 1/2 onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • 1/4 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds
  • Turmeric and red chilli powder (to taste)
  • 1 heaped tsp. Amchoor (mango powder)
  • 1-2 green chillies (chopped, optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp. melted Ghee/Oil
  • Chopped cilantro
  • A pinch of garam masala (from the red-lobia post)

Wash the eggplants and cut them into 2-inch long pieces (traditional way). Wash and scrape the taro-roots and cut them into 1-2 inch long pieces.

In 1 tsp. hot oil, splutter the cumin and coriander seeds and saute' the onions. Add the cut taro pieces and cook with the onions on high heat for 4-5 minutes to eliminate the stickiness. Alternatively you may bake/toast the taro lightly or microwave the chopped taro for 4-5 minutes. In a separate pan, add the remaining oil and then stir-fry the eggplant pieces for 4-5 minutes. Add these to the taro and stir. Add the copped tomatoes, stir and cook for a cpl. of minutes. Now add the turmeric and chilli powder, followed by salt. Stir again and add 1 and half cup of water. Bring to boil and then cook on low flame till the gravy thickens. Add the chopped green chillies, cilantro and garam masala.

Ready to be served with chapati/phulka, parantha or rice :).

Arbi-bataun sabzi (sukki):
We need:

  • 1 big eggplant (round) or 4-5 Chinese eggplants or 6-7 small round eggplants
  • 7-8 taro roots
  • 1 onion (sliced thin)
  • 2 inch piece of ginger and 4-5 garlic cloves (made into paste)
  • 1/4 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds
  • Turmeric and red chilli powder (to taste)
  • 1 heaped tsp. Amchoor (mango powder)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp. Oil
Chop the vegetables as in the recipe above. Microwave the taro pieces for 5 minutes. In a pan, heat 1/2 tsp. oil and splutter the seeds. saute the sliced onion on low heat till tender and brown. Add the ginger-garlic paste and stir again. Add the taro pieces and stir. Now add the remaining oil, followed by the eggplant pieces. Stir and cook on high for 5 minutes. Add the turmeric, chilli powder, amchoor and salt. Stir and cook on low heat after covering the pan till done. To enjoy, inhale the spicy, yummy aroma, make some rotis or parathas and enjoy with this sabzi and some curds :).

Notes: The gravy sabzi is meant to be mild, if you have another dry sabzi to accompany. in that case you may omit the green chiliies. The dry sabzi is preferably enjoyed as a lip-smacking spicy dish with some chilled dahi/curds (with some salt and black pepper).Talking about dahi, many Punjus enjoy a small katori/vatki/cup of curds with sugar after lunch :)). i am not one of them.....i love my dahi with salt!! For variations, if you are using Chinese eggplants, cut them into rounds. Arbi can also be cut into rounds. Cutting the vegetables differently changes the taste and look of the dish! Makes a lot of difference! Also, you may like to try this recipe with arbi alone (just reduce the amount of onions, or omit them altogether and use hing and dry masala instead). I have tried to minimize the oil requirement here :). Patience is the key here, the eggplants do get cooked in due time, you don't need too much oil :). I mention this, because some households use deep-frying for the dry recipe. On an aside, I prefer using Olive Oil for my cooking. Try it :).

Oh! and the pictures for the dry sabzi have been taken with my camera phone! My camera is not working anymore.....he he, first the internet, now the camera! These pictures are doing no justice to how this dish actually looked!! Hmm, now that i am talking, lemme also tell you that the first recipe was meant to be posted for JFI eggplants as well.....but as i mentioned, internet wasn't helping :). So here it is finally :)).

Hope you'll enjoy this eggplant-taro affair :).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

W for Wadi-toriyaan di subzi and Wagocha :))

Hello everyone! Please allow me a few minutes to explain that title :). Am sure you all know about the first two words "W for" : they refer to dear Nupur's A-Z of Indian vegetables (an event that i am so excited to join again, after the hiatus). As for wadis, they are spice cakes made out of daal (urad or urad+moong) and petha (ash-gourd), with lots and lots of spice-sun dried to perfection and used as condiments in Punjabi cooking. Now, toriyaan is the plural for tori or turai (ridge-gourd). They are also referred to as ghiya toriyaan (to distinguish them from bhindiyaan toriyaan)! So wadi-toriyaan di sabzi would mean, a vegetable preparation made out of ridge-gourd and wadis. I confess to having used zucchinis in place of ridge-gourd here :).

Ah! now its the last word "Wagocha" that i have to do some real explaining for :)). The Punjus in the crowd sure must be thinking that Musical has gone crazy!! Who has heard of such a dish!! Wagocha is a Punjabi word, implying a hurried job, quick and dirty sorts :)). Like one would say, "eh ki wagocha poora kita e" (what a rushed up mess you've made). And, this, on a food-blog!! So, dahlings! there does (or used to) exist such a dish.....long long ago.....forgotten in the years that have gone by since.....quite contrary to its literal meaning, a wagocha implies a gravied dish made out of wadis and rice!! A dish thats quick and versatile, and can be had both as a spicy sabzi with rotis or if thickened a bit, as a lip-smacking rice dish. How do i know about this?? Well, i consider myself fortunate to have spent my formative years in the rural Punjab (or the Pind).....and even more fortunate, that courtesy my dear Bibiji (Grandma), i was able to relish this spicilicious dish :). Bibiji and i, we both loved spicy khana.....and she would treat me to this dish often. It probably got this name, because its quick, versatile and doesn't need much preparation.....this is a very Pendu (rural) name. Its one of those Punju dishes that are hardly made these days.....

So this Wagocha along with wadi-toriyaan di sabzi, a signature everyday summertime Punjabi dish, have been prepared for much love and affection for Nupur's great e-potluck and also as my humble first contribution for RCI-Punjab, hosted by my dear friend Richa. RCI is a fantastic event highlighting regional Indian cuisine, conceived by the very creative Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

These two dishes will also appeal to another friend who recently craved wadis :).

Wadi-toriyaan di sabzi:

A very versatile sabzi. Can be prepared dry or with gravy. The former needs no potatoes and goes really well with simple daals like the trademark Punjabi moongi-masoor daal (Marathi speaking friends, this is not mungi (ant), its Moooongi (Punju word for Moong)) :-D. The latter can do well to have some potatoes and tastes good with any dry sabzi of your choice.

We need:

  • 6-7 tender turais/ridgegourds or 4 zucchinis
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (for dry sabzi) or chopped fine (for sabzi with gravy/tari or rase wali sabzi)
  • 1 roma tomato, chopped
  • 1 big potato (cubed, only needed for gravied sabzi)
  • 2-3 Punjabi wadis, crumbled (adjust amount depending on how much spicy you like it)
  • A generous pinch of hing/asfoetida
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. amchoor for dry sabzi (or lime juice to taste for gravy sabzi)
  • 1 tsp. oil

Wash, clean and cut the toriyaan or zucchinis into small pieces. Heat oil and add the hing. Fry the sliced/chopped onions. Now add the tomatoes and stir them in, followed by crushed wadis. Add the turmeric powder, stir and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the chopped toriyaan, salt and stir. If making the dry sabzi, add amchoor, cover and cook on low heat till the toriyaan are tender-ready to serve.

For making the gravied sabzi, add the potatoes, cook for 5 minutes and water to completely cover the vegetables. Simmer on low heat till done. Add the lime/lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro (only for gravied sabzi)-ready to serve :). Enjoy with rotis or rice.


This dish calls for a non-basmati rice. Yes friends, Punjus do eat rice other than basmati :). We usually make it with Parmal/Parimal rice back home. Sona Masuri and Samba rice also are quite good, for that matter any rice that's not as aromatic as basmati.

We need:

  • 1/2 cup rice (i used Samba rice)
  • 2-3 Punjabi wadis (crumbled)
  • 1/2 onion (chopped)
  • 1 big tomato (chopped)
  • 1-2 potatoes, cubed (optional, used if you want to have it as a khichri)
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • Red chilli powder (to make it spicier, optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro (chopped)
  • 1 tsp.melted ghee (or any oil)

In a pressure cooker, heat ghee/oil and saute' the onions, followed by tomatoes. Now add 1/2 of the crumbled wadis and stir. Cook for 2-3 minuted and add potatoes, if using. Add turmeric powder, chilli powder and salt. Stir again and add water (2-3 cups). Add rice after washing it throroughly and stir. Bring to boil and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Release the pressure and add more water to make gravy, if you want to have this dish as a sabzi. Add the remaining wadis, bring to boil and simmer on low heat for 4-5 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve hot with chapatis.

In case you plan to have this as a spicy khichdi, reduce the amount of salt and wadis (don't add the second half), use potatoes for sure and enjoy with dahi and achaar. Let the simple pictures not fool you. Try it once, you will enjoy it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lal lobia-aloo and a me-me :)

The ever charming and chirpy Sig, host of the fun blog "Live to Eat" tagged me for this meme :). My first time on this food blog, and i am supposed to share seven random facts about me. Sure Sig, i would love to have few mins. of fame ;). And then i was looking for a recipe to go with this meme. Having read Sig's recent experience with lobia,

Hey Musical, guess what, my dear husband went shopping and got me some black colored beans and huge kidney beans instead of black eyed beans from the Indian store. So I had to send him to the regular store again, and he bought white lobia instead of red... I made Olan and Erissery with the white beans, it looked very pretty and was yummy!!!
Sig speak in the comments section ;)

I felt i should share a simple, traditional recipe made with lal-lobia (red lobia),

as lal-lobia is what she craved for then :). So, here are the goodies: a meme and the lal lobia-aloo recipe :). Have fun!

Seven random facts about me.....

1. Me and cooking: lucky by chance ;). i hardly did any cooking before i came to the US. At home, there was always the best of khana lovingly prepared by Mom. In the graduate school, there was the mess (which was decent, i must say.....not at all a mess!). When i started cooking, surprisingly things turned out was like, Mom's blessings.....oh, and btw, for some reason, i don't own a single cook-book, i have no idea why!! now call me lazy or crazy-your choice ;).

2. I love cats =^.^= i love dogs and other animals too :).

3. Fruits make my all time favorite dessert, followed by ice-creams (Kulfis rule, so do gelatos!). Frozen yogurt and home made smoothies are another favorite. But once in a while i enjoy other sweets too. The only requirement is that it should not be too sweet! My favorite foods: Upma and Rajma Chawal (and countless more).....and i am pickle FANatic :).

4. I have this habit of reading while eating!! anything is good: books, magazines, even catalogs!! and i usually pursue 2-3 books at a time.....just like one follows 2-3 TV programs ;).

5. I love flowers, in their natural habitat.

6. I am not too much into sports and games!! I watch cricket only when India plays and baseball only when Red Sox plays :)). Tennis is enjoyable too, only when my favorite players are playing (Like Sunday's Wimbledon Men's Finals).The only sportsy activity i do is excercise: mainly yoga and aerobics. I have played carrom and chess only once.....and am totally clueless about card games!

7.I believe that the taste of good food multiplies, when you share it with others.....your loved ones, friends.....and thats why i enjoy food blogging.

Who am i going to tag: anyone who considers themselves a friend and is willing to take it up :)

After having bored you thoroughly, lemme make y'all something good: the lal lobia aloo :)

Here goes:

We need:

  • 1 cup red lobia
  • 1/2 onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 heaped tsp. ginger-garlic paste (more ginger, less garlic)
  • 1 small tomato (preferrably Roma, chopped)
  • 2 potatoes (peeled and cubed into big pieces)
  • Some chopped sweet peppers (bell pepper or Holland pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp. black cumin (shah-jeera)
  • 1 tsp. amchoor/lime juice
  • Turmeric and chilli powder (to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp. oil/melted ghee
  • Chopped cilantro (for garnishing, be generous here!)
  • Masala ( roast 4 cloves/lavang/laung, 1/4 cinnamon/dalchini stick and 1/4 tsp. mace/javitri-grind together and use 1/4 tsp.)

First thing is to soak the lobia in warm water for 1-2 hrs. Meanwhile, chop the vegetable and get ready ;). Add the cubed potatoes to the lobia and pressure cook for three whistles. Thats the reason the cubes should be really big, else the potatoes would get mushed up!

Red lobia takes a lil' longer to cook compared to the white lobia. While this stuff cools down, prepare the tadka. In hot oil, splutter shah-jeera and then saute' the onions. Now add the ginger-garlic paste (preferable make fresh with ginger to garlic in 3:1 proportion). Saute' and add the chopped peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes, followed by the addition of tomatoes. Add turmeric (not more than 1/2 tsp.), chilli powder and the souring agent (amchoor or lime juice) and cook for 5 minutes. Add this to the cooked beans and potatoes. Add salt and stir. Bring it to a boil and then cook on low heat till the gravy thickens. Take care not to mush the potatoes. Once done, stir in the garam masala and chopped cilantro. Enjoy with rice or chapati :). Or if you are like me, with a crisp toast!!

Notes: Shah jeera is a good addition to the whole beans like lobia, Rajma, urad and masoor-it balances out the vayi/vayu element from these beans. I rarely use garlic in my cooking, but in this dish (besides paav bhaji, some chhole preparations and another few select dishes) i enjoy it a lot! I would prefer ghee to oil, as ghee adds its on aroma. Cilantro is a must.

Variations: Use white lobia for this dish. The two lobias taste quite different, so it does make a nice variation. Also you might like to try this with lal lobia :). During winters, Kasuri Methi can replace Cilantro to give a totally different flavor.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A basket full of fruits and memories.....

Ah! at long last, am back! oh yes, i am, for real ;). and once more, my thanks to all the loving friends who enquired.....its strange how things go after another, something or the other comes up to keep you busy :) we'll get to those set of stories later though :). Its time to talk food now, folks.

Fruits forms an essential part of my daily meals and are totally my type of dessert. So, dear friends, its not a surprise that i am choosing to cover fruits first, in whats going to be a short series on my trip to India, which happened end of May to mid June. That part of the globe, which i relate to as "Home", is blessed with countless varieties of fruits. And while i could have expressed my annoyance at the time of year i was travelling to India, it being peak summer, with mercuries soaring past 45 degrees C, i instead chose to feel blessed :). Why? obviously in sweet anticipation of the flavorful abundance that was to come my way.....ah! those luscious lychees, the divine mangoes, chunky chikoos and tangy n' sweet berries.....

Dussehri Mango tree :with fruits and manjari/boor (floration)

I landed in New Delhi late in the night.....and after reaching home, i settled for a comforting, soothing dinner of chilled "Safeda" mangoes and enjoyed them along with some nimbu-pani (desi style limeade).....The next day brough along not only ripe, delicious, fragrant mangoes, but lychees too.....and was more than three years that i had tasted any of these.....with each bite, i cherished them, loved them , more than ever before.....tears welled up my eyes for some reason.....the time and distance had completely vanished.....i was in a different set of familiar tastes and smells.....nostalgia rules.....

The first stop, after i was through all my academic duties in New Delhi, was my Chacha ji's place in Punjab, located in a lovely pind (village) between Chandigarh and Jalandhar. They have a lovely garden that boasts of "Dussehri" mangoes,

chikoos, limes and aloochas! Homegrown fruit is totally a different thing, ever more delicious! Now, before you wonder what aloochas are, here's what they are: Botanically named Prunus aloocha, they are smaller, tangier cousins of plums or as they are known in Hindi, aloobukharas. They do sweeten up a bit, when ripe, and are best enjoyed with some salt (loon or namak, as we call it in Punjabi) sprinkled on them :). They are also good for making chutney and sweet relish with jaggery or gur. I enjoyed homegrown chikoos (or sapotas; chikoo is a grainy, sweet tropical fruit, with a brown core)

Chikoo tree with near ripe fruits.....umm! yummy!

and amb (Mango) di chuntney, achaar, gudumba (mango jam made with jaggery, either plain or spiced up). And the karelas (bitter gourd), bataun (eggplants), bhindi (okra), mirchaan (chillies) and mooli (radishes) from their kitchen garden (we'll chit-chat on that later). Not to mention that the limes were mostly being used for making gallons of nimbu-pani/limeade every day!

Nimbu/Key limes: the provider of that elixir called skanjvi!

Here's how you make nimbu-paani/shikanji (Hindi) or Skanjvi (Punjabi): Juice from one lime/lemon, sugar and salt to taste. Mix. Add chilled water and enjoy! My taste buds call for more salt that sugar, though traditionally there should be a fair amount of sweetness to this. There is a reason for that: in hot summers, you tend to lose a lot of salt. For a change add a lil' bit of kala-namak instead of regular salt or try some ground black pepper! Best thing would be to listen to Anita and start using some lime rind extract as well, i tried and it works like magic!

Now, whats that! oh, you've seen this "paheli" before: a Guava in the making.

When it comes to mangoes, i am all about variety :). No fanaticism will do here ;). While i was able to enjoy only the early varieties (like safeda, sindoori, totapari/totapuri, neelam etc.) for the most time, i was also fortunate to sample some middle season varieties like dussehri and langda which had just started showing up on the fruit vendors' carts. Safeda is a rather popular variety and is known as Banganapalli in Southern India. One of the sweeter varieties, its so called because of its rather pristine color (which though is pale, more than white. safed means white in urdu). Sindoori gets its name from its rich, red hues which resemble sindoor or vermillion. Its a more fibrous variety and quite sweet. Neelam is the most fibrous mango and the first one to show up in Northern India during summers. Totapuri is lovely too, bordering on sweet and tangy. Raw totapuri makes excellent material for chutneys :) and in Bangalore, we used to enjoyed it with salt and chilli powder :)). Oh! and before the brickbats come my way, i did have my share of hapoos or Alfonso :) which is ever enjoyable!

Talk about us, please.....more guavas!

There are many more varieties which i love, but didn't get to taste, e.g. Malgoa, Raspuri and Parry (the former two were my favorites besides Banganapalli, when i lived in Banaglore and the latter one is a favorite from Maharashtra), Chausa (very acidic, ripes from the core first, comes from UP), Malda and Fazli (both from West Bengal n' Bihar and both yummy! Fazli is this really huge mango, and absoluteky delicious).

So, which one is a favorite? My answer: anything thats fresh :). Because even the best mangoes would lose flavor when kept in cold storage or ripened before time. The best taste of any mango comes when its not put through any of this. To me, Hapoos and Safeda are both equally dear, as are Malgoa and Malda! If by saying so, i am commiting a blasphemy, so be it ;).

Chikoos and lychees are further proof of how much the freshness factor matters! Locally grown lychee tastes much better than the one that comes from a place far off. I am a fan of Dehradun lychees, while in Delhi. But when i Punjab, i would prefer to by something thats locally grown, like say from Pathankot. All i am saying is, all fruits taste good, provided they are not tortured with prolonged travel and cold storing :).

Oh, the guavas tell me, that i should mention them too :). Ofcourse, why not! I love guavas (or Amrood, as they are called in both Hindi and Punjabi). They are another yummy, grainy fruit, perfect for anytime, either by itself or with some namak, masala and lime juice thrown in, as a chaat!
And then there are these berries: Phalsa and Jamun (or Jamnu, as its known in Punjabi). Anita once very cutely said, "Mere paas phalsa hai"! How true! One of the most delicious, but undervalued berreies!! Its a tiny berry with a grainy core. Phalsa berries grow on a lil' bush. Green when raw and rich maroon hues (rich in antioxidants) when ripe. Raw phalsa would make good chutney and salsa :). Ripe phalsa, oh well, just sprinkle kala namak and enjoy!
Sweet and tangy phalsa: the desi wonder-berry

oh, and its also made into a fabulous phalsa sharbat too :). After i reached home (which is in a village near Amritsar, my next stop), i enjoyed it everyday :). Phalsa has plenty of medicinal uses too. Jamun gets its name from the purple hues its so rich in. It tastes mildly sweet, dries the mouth a bit because of its astringent action and is extremely good for health. Jamun fruit and seeds are considered very good for Diabetes. Jamuns are also enjoyed either plain or with kala-namak. We have two jamun trees at home, but the berries were just beginning to take shape.....he, he, and while writing this i remember the sing-song tone of the rehdi-wallahs (cart wallahs) who sell phalsa and jamuns! "Thanda-mitha phaalsaa' and "kale-kale jaamnu" :).

Talking about our home, Dad has always preferred to keep our garden "au naturale", so much so, that we would and still do refer to it as Jungle ;). No jokes here :). We have planty of Sheesham (Indian Redwood, called Tahli in Punjabi), Ber/Beri (Indian jujube), Bargad (Banyan, called Bohad in Punjabi), Peepal (Pippal in Punjabi), Keekar/Babool (Acacia, Kikkar in Punjabi) and Neem (Nimm in Punjabi) trees. Also very dense is the canopy of Dhrek (Persian lilac, Melia azadirachta) trees!
Dhrek tree with ghatonis

Dhrek is a cousin of neem, with a much more tender trunk. Also the Dhrek leaves are depper green compared to Neem.

Our Neem Tree

Its flowers look quite like Neem flowers, except that they are purple. And unlike the subtle, crisp scent of Neem flowers, Dhrek flowers are blessed with a very dense, sweet and intoxicating scent! I wonder why no one ever made perfume out of it! Dhrek along with Sampige flower scent are the most intriguing and enticing, yet undervalued scents.....Dhrek trees flower end of March and Neem just a lil' later. So, very obviously, i missed out on the dharek flower scent! Dhrek fruit called Ghatoni in Punjabi, unlike Neem fruit (Nimoli/Nimboli) is green and very hard and not edible wven when ripe. Ofcourse birds love to chew on ghatonis :). I love my share of Nimolis though, but they were just beginning to show up as tiny bulges.

Papaya tree

In the middle of all these trees are some papaya (Papeeta: Hindi and Punjabi) trees, which means that i had my regular share of kachhe papeete da parantha (raw papaya parantha) and ripe papaya for dessert :). Also, there are few trees of lasoodi, or the gummy berry! As kids, we used to enjoy these "bland, bordering on sweet " berries for the sheer fun of plucking them and then sticking them onto a friend.
Loasoodi da rukkh (tree)

There's even an ode of a phrase referring to lasoodi. When someone is bothering you perpetually or just sticking around longer than one is needed to, you say, "ki lasoodi di tarhan chimbad gya/gayi ain!" (you are sticking around like a gummy berry!). The bigged cousin of these berries is the lasooda (Cordia mixa), its quite like gonda berries, and is preserved and enjoyed as spicy pickles. Ah! though i am missing some old friends in this jungle: the phalsa bush, the almond (badam) trees, the peach (aadoo) trees and the mango tree.....As a kid, i used to enjoy picking raw almonds, which sometimes would be used for making badam-paneer sabzi! and before the fruition, the almond and peach trees would make a lovely scenery, what with the blossoms all over the place.....

So, these, my friends, were stories about the fruits of the land.....a land we call India or Bharat.....will be back with stories on the vegetable and street foods from that part of the globe, next. Meanwhile, you enjoy the fruits that your corner of the globe offers and thank Mother Nature for blessing us with these wonderful things to enjoy!