Semolina Crepes with Pear Compote, Mascarpone and Coconut Rum Caramel Sauce (Sweet Rava Dosa)

A savory semolina crepe, better known as a rava dosa is one of my standard quick fix meals. Rava dosa are the instant version of the South Indian classic dosa.

The classic dosa is a lot of work and not easy to do for people like me who do don’t plan dinner 3 days in advance. It is made by soaking rice and lentils overnight, then grinding the mixture into a batter, and then letting the batter ferment overnight. Semolina (rava) makes instant dosa batter in under 10 minutes, and frankly tastes even better than the original. (more…)

5 Things I miss about living in India

When I was living in India, I couldn’t wait to get back to the US.  Now that I’ve been here a while, without being able to visit India in several years, there are some things that I really miss.

1.  Food.  Specifically, STREET FOOD!

There is something magical about street food in India.  It tastes about a 1000 times better than regular food. And it’s everywhere. All along the streets near train stations, near schools and colleges, near residential complexes pretty much anywhere there is a large collection of people.  And that is literally Everywhere!

There are so many varieties of street food.  There is dosas, pani puri, pav bhaji, Chinese (Indian-Chinese fusion), samosas, vada pav, the list goes on forever. I am planning a more detailed post on street foods soon. But bhel is one of my all time favorites. (more…)

Narcopolis – Sex, Drugs, and Religion in Mumbai’s Underbelly

When I heard about Narcopolis, I was immediately intrigued. Even though the author was talking about the same city I’d grown up in, Jeet Thayil’s Bombay was much darker, insidious and frankly more interesting than the extremely sheltered suburban life I was exposed to while living there.

When I read the book it did not disappoint. Thayil, who was himself an opium addict haunting the streets of Bombay in the 70s and 80s, tells the story of the old Bombay as it transitions into Mumbai through the eyes of a handful of opium addicts. The evolution of the city runs parallel to the evolution of the drug industry as it shifts from being dominated by laid back, relatively benign opium to dark and terrifying heroin.

As the lives of the addicts descend into heroin induced chaos, so does the city with Hindu-Muslim riots. In Thayil’s book, the city of Bombay is as much a lead character as any of the people. I found myself completely hooked on the story and evolution of the city. (more…)

Cardamom Semolina Shortbread Cookies

Cardamom Semolina Shortbread Cookies by

Cardamom is the Indian vanilla. It basically functions as a vanilla substitute in Indian cuisine. We use it in pretty much any sweet dish ranging from rice pudding to nut fudge to masala chai.

I love the flavor so much, I chew on cardamom pods in place of mints…I know I’m weird.  Don’t judge!  I have a method. I pop a whole pod into my mouth and enjoy the flavor and texture of the skin for a while. Then, I put a small crack in the pod and start to pull out the seeds one at a time. They are the prize! I love the spicy, minty, intense flavor that you get when chomping down on one of the little black seeds. (more…)

Reflections on Indian Independence Day

It’s Indian Independence day today. All day, I’ve been thinking about the difference between how August 15th is celebrated in India and how July 4th is celebrated here.

My usual Independence Day routine while in India consisted of my mom waking us up extra early, even though it was a holiday, so that we could show up on time to a flag hoisting ceremony either at our local elementary school or the grounds of our residential complex.  A significant crowd always gathered for these ceremonies.

Somehow every person ended up with a miniature Indian flag – although I don’t remember my parents ever buying one. The little kids would run around waving the flag until someone with a very stern voice called everyone’s attention.  The flag would be hoisted as the national anthem was sung; everyone stood pin straight at military attention (the proper way to show respect for your country).

When I was younger someone who had participated in the Freedom Struggle against the British, would then give a speech about the glory of India and it’s hard won freedom from the British Empire.

Our resident Freedom Fighter, Mr. S, was widely known as not actually having ever been involved in the freedom struggle at all.  As the story goes, he was out to get milk when the British were doing rounds and arrested him with a pail of milk.  After serving time in a British jail he was hailed by friends and family as a de facto freedom fighter…after all he had been to jail! (more…)

Cumin and Lemon Salt

I love cumin! It is my favorite savory spice and probably the most used spice in Indian cuisine. I love it in tomato soup, on roasted vegetables and of course in my curries.

Last week, the Splendid Table podcast featured Sally Schneider who made an herb salt with garlic and rosemary. Schneider talked about how salt is a great carrier for infusing flavors into food and I had to try it. Of course, I decided to make a spice salt with the flavors I love most – cumin and lemon with a touch of black pepper. (more…)

Tomato Chutney Bruschetta

Tomato Chutney Bruschetta by

Tomato chutney was a special Sunday treat when I was at boarding school. My friend A, whose parents taught at the school, would let our group of four friends know that mom was making some tomato chutney later. We would quietly sneak up to their place (we had to be sneaky because we weren’t allowed to visit teachers in their home even if we were friends with their children — it was just one among hundreds of stupid rules probably made for the hell of it) and waiting for us would be a loaf of bread and the spicy, tangy, tomatoey relish. (more…)

Grilled Vegan “Meatballs” (Kofta)

Grilled Vegan Meatballs (kofta)

How many times have you been to a barbecue and been severely disappointed by the selection of store bought burgers and hot dogs with a bare minimum of condiments?  It happens to me all the time.

Since it’s 4th of July week, I’ve been thinking about barbecuing all week.  Even though I love grilled vegetables, I wanted to grill something with protein.  Store bought veggie burgers and soy hot dogs were not an option.  They always taste bland to me. (more…)

Mixed Veggie Casserole with Dumplings (Undhiyu)

Many of the ingredients and techniques in this recipe seem a little unusual. I mean, what the heck is a hyacinth bean? And what! You want me to use a pressure cooker? And, yes I’ll admit this does take a little time to make.

But I know if you make it, you won’t be sorry!

Undhiyu (Mixed Vegetable and Dumpling Casserole)

This mixed vegetable casserole, known as Undhiyu, is a much loved Gujarati dish that was traditionally baked in a clay pot buried upside down with a charcoal fire above. My mom just cooks it in a pressure cooker but  can also be baked in the oven. (more…)

Indian Flame Grilled Corn (Bhutta)

I often think of eating warm corn on the cob or Bhutta as we call it in Hindi on cloudy, rainy days. I know it seems weird because here in America, we often associate corn on the cob with summer and barbecue. But in India, fresh corn becomes available in the rainy season. When the corn season starts, the streets are suddenly flooded with makeshift corn vendors, with their push carts piled high with freshly picked, succulent corn cobs.
Roasted Corn

When we were kids, my friends and I would stop at the corn cart to buy fire roasted corn while on break from boarding school in Panchgani (a hill station in India). We’d walk up to the vendor, select the cob we wanted to eat, watch him peel the husks away and throw it onto his tava (an iron wok like contraption) lined with sand and charcoal with a healthy flame going. (more…)

Stuffed Okra, an Indian Take on a Versatile Vegetable (Bharela Bhinda)

There is no vegetable quite like Okra (Bhendi in Hindi, Bhinda in Gujarati, also known as Lady’s Finger in English). My very favorite okra dish is a bharela bhinda nu shaak.

Most people have strong opinions about the slimy vegetable – they either love it or hate it. If it isn’t obvious by the fact that I’m posting about it, I absolutely love Okra! Aside from being my favorite vegetable, this underused vegetable can be incredibly versatile.  It can be used as a thickener in soups and stews like gumbo, it can be pickled, fried and can be cooked into a variety of side dishes.  I love the chewy texture and the subtle flavor.  As a child, I insisted that my mom make me a simple dry okra shaak each week.  We had it so much that my parents would groan every time I asked for okra.  Luckily, they were nice enough to put up with my childhood okra obsession and we continued to eat it regularly.