Health and Diet

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All around us we see a spurt of health food and health food concepts. Physical Health has always been an important part of our well-being. It’s important to understand that food unfortunately bears the most brunt for our health issues and our lifestyle, of which our diet is only a small part. It’s time that we spoke about well-being and its relationship to lifestyle as a whole, rather than blaming a diet while just looking at our physical health. Here’s a couple of healthy recipes that can help you get there.

Anjeeer Kebab Samosa

5 to 6 Anjeer (dried figs) (soaked, drained and chopped)
I cum yam, boiled and mashed
1/2 tsp green chilies, chopped
1/4 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
A few coriander leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp chaat masala powder
1 tbsp paneer, grated
1 tbsp hung curd
1 tbsp cashew nut paste
4 tbsp besan flour
1 tsp yellow chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
8 Samosa patti/ spring roll patti

1. Mix the curd, yam, cashew nut paste, besan, salt, yellow chili powder, garam masala and coriander leaves in a bowl. Add little water if required and mix to make a thick batter.
2. Mix the figs, green chillies, onions, ginger, chaat masala powder and salt. Take a portion of the yam mixture and stuff 1 to 2 tsp of the fig mixture in the middle. Shape into a round patty.
3. Heat oil in a nonstick pan and gently slide the kebabs and fry until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a serving plate.
4. Stuff the kebabs in samosa patty/spring roll patty and fold into triangle shape. Seal the edges. Dust a baking tray and arrange the samosas. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degree C until cooked from both the sides.  

Baked Oondhiyo

For The Green Chutney
3/4 cup chopped coriander (dhania)
4 green chillies
1 tsp lemon juice
For The Garlic Chutney
10 garlic cloves
2 tsp chilli powder
For The Sweet and Sour Sauce

3/4 cup jaggery (gur)
1/2 cup tamarind (imli)
1/2 tsp chilli
salt to taste
Other Ingredients
750 gms surti papdi (fresh vaal)
500 gms purple yam (kand)
250 gms potatoes
250 gms sweet potato
2 to 3 brinjal
1 tsp carom seeds (ajwain)
1 tsp ginger – green chilli paste
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 to 2 tbsp oil
lettuce leaves
salt to taste
Green chutney, garlic chutney, sweet and sour sauce, sev and oil (optional) to serve

1. For the green chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidiser. Keep aside.
2. For the garlic chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidizer. Keep aside.
3. For the sweet and sour sauce, blend all the ingredients except coriander in a liquidizer. If too thick, add enough water to get the right consistency. Keep aside.
4. String the papadi. Do not separate into two. Peel the kand and cut into big pieces.
Cut the potatoes and sweet potatoes without peeling. Make slits on the brinjals.
5. Mix all the vegetables. Apply the ajwain, chilli-ginger paste, soda bi-carb and salt. Mix thoroughly and apply the oil all over.
6. In a small earthen pot (matka), put a few leaves of lettuce at the bottom. Fill with all the vegetables and cover with the remaining lettuce leaves. Cover the matka with an earthen lid and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree F) for 1 hour.
Alternatively, instead of cooking in a matka, wrap the vegetable mixture (without lettuce leaves) in aluminium foil and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree f) for 1 hour.
Serve with green and garlic chutneys and sweet and sour sauce, oil and sev.

Digging out the Tapioca …

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Rediscovering India through its ingredients

“Shappu curry” or Toddy shops in kerala are known for their food as much as their toddy. A Shappu curry kitchen was the first kitchen I entered on my visit to Kottayam ,Kerala and was struck by an astoundingly huge wall of Tapioca stacked neatly .”Kappa” as it’s called was the fastest moving starch in the Shop , faster than rice or “puttu” the steamed rice flour cakes.

This was my third meeting with manihot esculenta after Mexico and Assam and it was definitely a sign to dig further. It’s clearly accepted that Tapioca is a 5000 year old south American tuber, however most Spanish colonies traded with India through Philippines and Burma and that explains the Assam connection which is around 200 years old, but how did tapioca get to Kerala? The answer is that it had multiple entries into India, it also came in and probably much earlier through the slaves of Spanish colonies in Africa.

Well here’s another googly.. why has this tuber, no mention in recipes more than 120 years old? The answer is that it started getting used only in late 1800s. Thanks to the Ruler of Travancore in 1880 (Vaishakam Thirunal) who, after the great Famine spent a lot of time, money and energy researching alternate sources of starch and zeroed in on Tapioca, a tuber that could grow in the back yard and be kept in the ground until required. It’s said that the ruler personally went out advocating the use of this starch and demonstrating how to get rid of the bitterness that comes in due to the Cyanogenic compounds. Tapioca is not a good source of protein though and therefore has been intelligently paired with fish curries in kerala . “KAPPA” , Remember this magic word to utter when in a Kerala restaurant, to get this magic dish which, besides all the “nice to know” things listed above is an “awesome to eat” dish with your fish curry…..

Kappa Kuzhachathu (Tapioca mix)
1/2 kg tapioca cleaned and roughly chopped into cubes
Salt to taste
For grinding
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp scraped coconut
4 cloves garlic
3 shallots
4 green chillies
For seasoning
2 tsp of coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5 shallots sliced
Curry leaves
Chopped coriander leaves


1) Cook the tapioca pieces in salted water and sieve out.
2) Grind the cumin, turmeric powder, coconut, garlic, green chilies, and shallots coarsely.
3) Mash the tapioca in a heavy bottomed pan and mix in the ground coconut on medium flame for about 3-4 minutes and then turn off the flame.
4) in a small pan, for seasoning, heat oil, pop mustard seeds, add in curry leaves and fry the shallots till they are golden brown in color.
5) mix the seasoning well into the cooked tapioca mix and garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves.

About artisan Breads … and the Poders of Goa

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There’s much talk about Artisan breads and about the premium label attached to the handmade wood fired breads .The Boulangerie has always been my favorite area of study and observation because of the science involved. One could spend a lifetime understanding the complex lactic and acidic flavors produced by fermentation and the effect of heat on these flavors.

On one of my trips to Goa, I developed a much higher sense of respect for the Trade thanks to the “Poders” or the local bakers. Poders have been the Traditional “wake up calls” for Goa for the last 4 centuries, first with their clanking walking sticks and then with the air horns on their bicycles.

Jim Gomes was one such kind poder who allowed me to spend a night in his Padaria (Portuguese for bakery) in Salcette. I was aware that earthen ovens had become scarce due to their substitution by their electric and gas counterparts, so the moment I saw the traditional earthen oven at Jim’s, I was overjoyed and shocked. Shocked as the oven was filled to the mouth with lit firewood and no space for baking. Later when the firewood was burnt to ash it was removed completely.

I asked Jim the design and composition of the oven to better understand what was going on and got my answers. The Oven has a very small opening (9 inches by 4 inches) and a very low roof (12 inches max at the center). Its walls are packed with all good conductors of heat inside like iron, glass and salt. So the oven is lit for 4 hours , and even after removing all fire wood it retains the heat for 4 hours of baking . So to sum it up ; the baking happens without any fuel and completely in the steam of the bread . For people from the trade like me this was surely a eureka moment. The variety  of breads (Ondo. katre, Poie and the bangle shaped Kakon) and the unique baking process place the 500 year old Goan Baking tradition amongst the most artisan in the world .

Next time in Goa : stop the Poder , smile and buy a poie you would have done your share of humble service to Artisan bread making . Oh and if you get a chance ask him to show you his earthen oven because very soon we just might see them in Museums.

Paprika:Travel of the chilly … Mathania and beyond

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Being a chef in hotels has a lot of perks, one of them being that the latest food trends and “in” ingredients come to your doorstep via keen purveyors. it helps the hotel chef keep abreast of the latest “power ingredients “ that are moving or will soon enough move the market .
Of late various forms of paprika seems to be that power ingredient coming in various shades and spiciness. Hungarian Paprika has made good Inroads into a country that produces the most chilly in the world .The Rising Star Award however has to go to the “Spanish” Smoked paprika or pimenton , a sweet deep flavor that gets enhanced by the smokiness imparted during smoke drying as opposed to sun drying.

Yet this is not about Spain or Hungary , this is about a small village 30 Kms outside of Jodhpur on way to the Osian Desert, the village of Mathania . I was introduced to the beauty of the Mathania chilly by Mot Singh , a cook to the Royal Family of Jodhpur . While making Laal Maas he used Mathania chilly paste and bet with me that his laal maas would be redder and sweeter than mine (I was trying it with the Kashmiri degi mirch). Needless to say I lost the bet but gained a lot of respect for this small village. Mathania mirch is indeed the reddest  and the sweetest chilly that I have cooked with In India . One could easily replace the “Half sharp Hungarian “ paprika with this fleshy and low scoviile chilly from the desert.

Oh and here is another reason why you should only use Mathania red in your laal maas – According to a report by Central Arid Zone research Institute , Mathania chilly is on the verge of extinction . The best way to keep it alive is to use it, and trust me you will be amazed with the results.

Considering that Chilly came to India through the Portugese only in 1498 and either travelled upwards from Goa or Eastwards from the middle east to Reach Rajasthan ….. How dated does that make the laal maas ? .. another conversation for another time I guess

Here’s a really cool way to use the Mathania red

Mathania Chilly – strawberry – chocolate mousse


100g/3½oz milk chocolate, chopped

01 strawberry chopped

01 fresh Mathania red chilly deseeded and minced

300ml double cream, whipped to soft peak.

Chocolate glaze to coat


Place the chocolate into a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and heat, until melted.

Stir in all of the chilli and strawberry. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Fold the melted chocolate into the cream in a large bowl, then spoon into a bombe . Chill until needed.

Pandan …. The superflavour

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These sugarcane leaf like leaves of which Fresh is preferred but frozen is plenty in supermarkets has quite a story to reveal.

Pandan leaves have many uses , of which the most preferred  ones  include steaming it with fish and meats in it and flavouring rice preparations with knots of these leaves .

In my recent trip to lucknow I met with a unani hakim who introduced me to the leaf of the kewra tree and told me that it goes well in biryanis and rice preparations when steeped in the Yakhni or the broth . I smelt the leaf and my food memory trasnported me to Singapore where I had a Pandan cake10 years ago.

Lo and Behold ….. Pandan wasn’t alien anymore, it was a just the leaf of our kewra plant , a relationship was immediately established. Its scientifically proven  that the flavour giving compound of basmati and pandan are actually the same .. surprised ? so was I when I found out . But there’s more to the story . Pandan is grown all across south east asia and many other parts of the world, yet nobody else but us Indians thought of using the flowers for Ittar that can be used in food all the way from Delhi to Hyderabad through Lucknow . Another trivia to keep it interesting and keep you connected to pandan: pandan flowers and leaves were thrown in wells to mildly perfume the drinking water.In the mango belt , whole sacs of mangoes used to be dipped in these wells to infuse them with this perfume to impress the Taluqdars and Nawabs. The use of science of infusion at its best …right?

So next time just take the leaf of the shelf and boil it with your rice it will be a great introduction to a wonderful ingredient .To make the deal more interesting-  Pandan solves skin problems , arthritis issues and strengthens gums .Now ready to try the recipe?

Pandan steamed fish with a red thai sauce

Pandan leaves                                           5 nos

Fish fillet cut into 100 gms cubes               01 medium

Finely Grated coconut toasted                   50 gms

Red Thai curry paste                                 2 tbsp

Coconut Milk                                            1 cup

Lime leaf and coriander leaf chopped         ½ cup

Tomatoes quartered                                   1 nos

Lemon juice                                               ½ cup

Jaggery                                                      1tsp


For the fish, marinate with salt-pepper, lemon juice ,1/2  chopped herbs and toasted coconut .

Wrap in Pandan leaf and steam till cooked

For the curry sauce , dry broil the curry paste and add the remaining ingredients along with water .

Cook on slow and remove the tomatoes after 3-4 minutes

Serve the tomatoes as an accompaniment and the sauce on the side