Monday, July 26, 2010

A First For Me

This is it … my very first attempt at story writing. And it goes to Chalks and Chopsticks - Edition 3, being hosted by Sra of When My Soup Came Alive.

Loving Sonia

“Whew! That’s it for today”, I told myself as I turned off my laptop and stuffed it into my backpack along with a handful of folders to read over the weekend. It was nearing nine o’clock as I strode down to the basement car park of my office building and bade a cheery goodnight to the security guard on my way out. The weekend ahead filled me with a sense of anticipation. Both Sonia and I had been planning this for the last ten days. Not even the extra work I was carrying with me could dampen my spirits as I drove home humming tunelessly. It had been a crazy few months lately. The law firm I worked with was no doubt a high profile one, but it certainly extracted its pound of flesh, and then some! Sonia had been a gem, putting up with my erratic work schedule and managing our home almost single handedly with hardly any contribution from me.

A smile automatically touched my lips as my thoughts turned to Sonia. Best friend, confidante, lover, soulmate … all rolled into one. We had known each other since childhood, ever since her family moved next door to mine. My mom, outgoing and caring person that she is, lost no time in welcoming the new neighbours and befriending Meera Aunty. Soon our families were thick as thieves, with Amit Uncle and my dad too teaming up for the occasional game of tennis followed by drinks at the local club. The fact that we belonged to different religions seemed to matter not one bit as the two families bonded over card sessions during Diwali and Iftaar parties during Id.

Sonia was enrolled in the same school as mine and being two years her senior, I was naturally expected to watch out for her, a job that I undertook rather unwillingly. “She’s new, poor thing. It will take her some time to get used to your school. You must help her”, said my mom. “But Ammijaan, she’s just a kid. All my friends are going to consider her a pest”, I protested. “Nothing doing, you are older, you must take care of her”, overruled Ammi. Not that Sonia needed much looking after. A bright and spunky kid, she soon made several new friends. She excelled at studies and was a talented singer as well. And yet, she dogged my footsteps throughout our growing years. For all my outward reluctance, I was secretly thrilled at the adulation Sonia showered on me. The small trinkets she would make for me during craft class, or the delicious tidbits she would sneak out of her mother’s kitchen would make me feel ten feet tall. Meera Aunty was an exceptional cook and Sonia inherited her culinary talent. As she grew, her cooking experiments were much appreciated throughout the neighbourhood. Sonia’s biryanis were robust and flavourful, her souffles as light as air, and her chocolates as sinful as the devil.

Thinking of her yummy offerings now made my stomach rumble loudly reminding me that I had had nothing more than a cardboard sandwich at lunch. I smiled thinking about the hot meal Sonia would have ready when I reached home. “I hope she has made my favourite moong sprouts with roasted bell peppers”, I thought dreamily. My musings were rudely interrupted by my cell phone bleating noisily on the passenger seat. Plugging in my hands-free, I listened with half a ear as Tom, my supercilious boss ranted some last minute instructions on the legal brief I was currently working on. Promising him that I would take care of it, I hurriedly hung up and turned my thoughts to more pleasant ones of our upcoming vacation.

As I finally turned onto our street, I looked up to see the lights glowing welcomingly at our window. As I pushed open the door, my senses were gently assaulted with the tantalizing aromas of spicy daal, fragrant rice, and vibrant bell peppers nestled on a bed of moong sprouts. Sonia smiled at me as I entered, and just seeing her made all the stress melt away. We sat down to dinner and I more than did justice to the delicious meal. It was only later, while doing the dishes together, that I finally noticed Sonia looking a little pensive and worried. “What’s up, sweetheart?”, I asked gently. “I received an email from Mom today”, she replied. “They have seriously started looking at marriage proposals for me.” My heart sank like a stone. “You think they suspect about us?”, she was sounding panicked now. We had been living together for about two years now and we had been very careful to conceal the fact from both sets of parents. “Don’t worry”, I said with more confidence than I felt. “I’ll talk to Ammijaan tomorrow. She’ll make Meera Aunty understand it’s much too soon for them to be contemplating marriage for you. You’re barely 24. I’m sure Aunty will agree to wait for some more time.”

“I don’t think Mummy will listen to her. You know how it is between my parents and yours now”, sobbed Sonia. Yes, I did know. What I didn’t know was how things could turn sour overnight between two families that were as thick as ours. It was more than just a Masjid that got demolished all those years ago. The warmth and camaraderie that our families shared was slowly replaced by suspicion and distrust. Sonia and I were discouraged from hanging out together. “Stop meeting that Muslim kid so often. Don’t you have any other friends?” Sonia was told every now and then. Ironically, our bond strengthened even as our parents drifted apart. And it was during those turbulent days that we discovered what we meant to each other.

Now even as I continued to console Sonia, I was aware that I was just giving her meaningless hope. I knew that my parents barely spoke to hers anymore. Chances that her mother would listen to Ammi were slim to none. That night when we went to bed, I took Sonia in my arms and held her close for a long time. Our lovemaking was marked by a quiet desperation, as if we both knew it was the beginning of the end, but neither of us had the courage to say it aloud. After Sonia drifted into a troubled sleep, I lay awake staring at her lovely face, as if committing it to memory. “God knows how many days we have left together. We simply must make the most of them”, I resolved.

The next morning I woke up to the whiff of freshly brewed coffee. “Good morning, honey”, Sonia greeted me cheerily. But beneath the chirpy exterior, I sensed a false sense of calm, as if she too had come to the same conclusion as I had… to reach out and grab whatever happiness we could find in the limited time we would have left together.

After breakfast, we drove to the beach resort where we had decided to spend the weekend. Away from the stress of the city, of our busy schedules and of our interfering albeit well meaning folks. The beach was not a very well known one, and we had most of it to ourselves. Sonia went off for a swim, and I lounged in the mild sun, trying to read a book. I could barely concentrate on the pages in front of me and after a while I gave up. Gazing at Sonia, cavorting among the waves, I couldn’t help but brood about how I was going to go on without her.

I remembered the first time we realized the depth of our feelings for each other. It was at an overnight college picnic that we both confessed how we felt more than “just friendship” towards the other. Of course, we had to keep it all under wraps, given the needless animosity between our families. Soon I was accepted at an Ivy League college in the US to study law, but the intervening years only served to make us yearn even more for each other.

I was accepted as an apprentice by a leading law firm based in New York and soon got swallowed in the corporate world. Sonia, in the meantime, had established a successful catering business back home and was swamped with orders. My vacations home were filled with secret meetings and hurried trysts before getting back to the legal jungle.

One day, I got a call from Sonia, nearly bursting with excitement. She had been awarded a scholarship to study food technology in New York. Once Sonia landed in the Big Apple, it was paradise found for both of us. She moved in to my apartment, and the months we spent in each other’s company were truly ecstatic. The only fly in the ointment was Sarla Aunty who lived in the same neighbourhood back home, and had come to visit her son who also had an apartment in my building. After spending a substantial amount of time in the US, she had no doubt noticed the unusual closeness between Sonia and me, and dropped some not-so-subtle hints to Meera Aunty.

“Penny for your thoughts”, smiled Sonia, as she stood over me dripping water. “I was just thinking whether it was you or was I imagining a mermaid emerging from the water just now”, I joked trying to hide my dismal thoughts. The weekend flew by, as we lost ourselves in each other.

As we drove home, I felt remarkably lighter and a lot more confident that somehow things would work out. Sonia too, I noticed, had lost her air of forced cheerfulness and was looking a lot more relaxed. As we neared our apartment complex, we noticed a car with rental plates parked near the entrance. “Who could it be?”, we wondered. As we walked into the lobby, we ran smack into Meera Aunty and Amit Uncle who looked as if they had been waiting there for a while. As soon as we entered, Sonia’s mother jumped and exclaimed, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting here for hours!” Sonia quickly recovered from the shock of her parents flying in unexpectedly all the way from India, and we all trooped upstairs quickly.

“What’s going on here?”, demanded Meera Aunty. “Have you both been staying together all this while? Do you know what people are saying about your relationship? Sarla Aunty took great pleasure in telling everyone who cared to listen about how our girls get spoilt once they go to the US, forgetting all about our culture!” “It’s not like that Mummy”, Sonia tried to say, but she was cut off before she could finish. “We have fixed your marriage with Alok. He is a banker in Australia and you will be miles away from here. You are coming home with us. We’re booked on the first flight tomorrow”.

Sonia sobbed and begged her parents to reconsider, but her mother was adamant. As she moved about our apartment, packing her belongings, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Knowing that I would never see her again was like a knife cutting through my heart. I could barely sleep that night, knowing that it was the last one we would be spending together under the same roof.

Early the next morning, Sonia shook me awake and whispered a sad goodbye. Looking at her red rimmed eyes, I knew how hard it was for her too. As the car drove away taking them to the airport, I flung myself on the bed sobbing my heart out. One part of me wanted to lash out at Sonia for not being strong enough to stand up to her parents; for giving in too easily. At the same time, another part of me asked how could I not understand Sonia’s pain? How could I not understand the pressure she felt from her parents? Did I not go through the same as well? Of course, I understood. How could I not? After all, I too am a woman!

And on to the recipe

Today’s recipe is a tweaking of Sonia’s mixed sprouts with bell peppers being used as a sandwich filling. I like sprouts in all forms and love to try different ways of serving them. Both A and I also like a sandwich called Michigan Spread that is served at Wich Latte, a little cafe that we frequent. I tried my hand at a little matchmaking and the resultant recipe turned out to be a happy marriage between the two. Just call me Cupid :)

The original sandwich base is a multi grain loaf, and fortunately the café also sells its bread. So I was able to use the same base, while changing the filling ingredients to incorporate an element of sprouts. This is also a great way to use up any leftovers that you may have on had by way of cooked vegetables.

Sprouts Submarine with Roasted Bell Peppers
(serves two)


Multi grain bread – 2 loaves
Sprouted moong – 1 cup
Onion – 1 no (finely chopped)
Tomato – 1 no (finely chopped)
Garam masala – 1 tsp
Red chilli pd – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Oil – 2 tbsp
Water – 3 glasses
Finely chopped coriander – for garnish
Bell peppers – red, yellow, green – 1 no each

Grind to a thick paste (using water)

Fresh grated coconut – 3 tbsp
Coriander leaves – a handful
Green chilli – 1 no
Onions – 2 nos (finely chopped)
Garlic – 6-7 cloves (peeled and roughly mashed)
Ginger – a small piece (peeled and roughly mashed)
Tomato – 1 no (chopped into big pieces)
Turmeric pd – ½ tsp


1. Heat oil, add onions and sauté till soft
2. Add salt, dry masala powders and stir till well mixed
3. Now put in the masala paste and cook till the raw smell disappears
4. Add sprouts and 2 glasses of water
5. Cover and cook till the sprouts are done
6. In case the mixture is still moist, cook uncovered for a bit till it is fairly dry
7. Garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves

To assemble

Lightly toast the multi grain loaves
Lay one loaf, and arrange some of the bell peppers on it
Spoon some of the filling on top
Sprinkle with grated cheese and a dash of cracked pepper
Cover with the remaining loaf.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An Ode to Adaptation

Adaptation comes in so many forms. You enter this world from the warm cocoon of your mother’s womb … you adapt
You break away from the apron strings for the first time, when you start school … you adapt again
You experience freedom in college … it’s adaptation time once more
You step into the big, bad world of corporate sharks … you’d better adapt!
You fall in love … of course, you adapt!
You get married and share your life with someone, you adapt like never before!!
And so it goes on….
Since adaptation is so ingrained in our nature, it’s but natural for us to keep on doing it in every sphere of our lives. Be it dressing, eating, speaking, it’s what we do, without a second thought. And of course, when it comes to cooking, adaptation is a fundamental right!

One of A’s schoolmates runs a very successful snack bar cum sweetmeat shop called Trupti. The original store is located in CP Tank and has been in the family for I’m not sure how many generations. R and his wife have expanded the business to open a new outlet at Phoenix Mills. Not wanting to compromise on quality and personal attention, they are limiting themselves to just these 2 stores, at least for now. Their sweets and snacks are simply lip-smacking, you can’t go wrong with anything you buy from here. A and I love their Aloo Tikki, which has a crisp potato coating encasing a delicious filling. Now, coming back to my earlier point about adaptation, I wanted to try and replicate the crispiness of Trupti’s tikkis and while doing a net search, stumbled on this recipe at Earth Vegan. I followed the recipe to a T, but we found the tikkis turned out a tad too dry, albeit tasty. So the next time around, I reduced the quantity of rice flour and besan by half and added moistened slices of bread to the potato mixture. Now these little babies hit just the right note - crispy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside.

Potato Tikkis
(makes about 15)


Potatoes – 3 nos, medium sized
Onion – 1 no, medium sized
Green chilli – 1 no, minced fine
Chickpea flour – 1 tbsp
Rice flour – 1 tbsp
Ginger – 1 tbsp, grated
Garlic – 1 tbsp, chopped fine
Bread slices – 2-3, moistened and crumbled
Curry leaves – 2 sprigs, crushed
Coriander leaves – a handful, chopped fine
Salt to taste
Oil for deep-frying


1. Boil, peel and mash the potatoes
2. Add finely chopped onion
3. Mix in all the rest of the ingredients and knead well to bind together
4. Moisten your palms and grab small handfuls of the mixture to form into flat patties
5. Heat oil for deep frying and cook the tikkis on both sides till golden

This recipe goes to Blog Bites #3 – Adaptation, being hosted on One Hot Stove. And just to give a little twist in the tale, here’s an adaptation of another kind :-) For sometime now, I was in search of a simple crochet pattern for a shoulder bag, that was “holey” enough for a lining to show through. Clicking on links that listed patterns for “Bags and Purses” did not yield any joy. So, I hit upon the idea of looking at items like blankets, afghans and dishcloths, from where I could simply take the pattern of stitches and adapt it into a bag! Et voila … this granny square blanket at The Handmade Dress was the perfect match. Here is my work in progress.

I simply loved the summery, citrusy colours of this yarn. I plan to make 2 of these squares, and then crochet 3 strips wide enough for the sides and base. Finally, all these pieces will get seamed into one shoulder bag… whew, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping the finished product will be blog worthy :-)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Steakhouse Blues

Well, I didn’t really suffer from them years ago when I gave up eating non vegetarian food. I would attribute it to the fact that I was, in any case, a rather sporadic meat eater. Never having developed a liking for seafood and eating meat only on occasion made me virtually a vegetarian before I actually turned into one (except for eggs). The only non veg dish I missed was the Goan Roast Beef that my aunt used to cook and the Pepper Steak at Fountain Sizzlers in Mumbai.

Of late, I was wondering if we vegetarians could get a close enough substitute to the original pepper steak that would be as tasty as the real McCoy. I found this recipe by The Chubby Vegetarian which I then adapted based on the ingredients that I could find here locally. The original recipe calls for Portobello mushrooms, but these are something I wasn’t able to locate anywhere in Mumbai (surprisingly!). I made do with the Porcini variety, which also gives a nice, meaty texture when cooked.

Mushroom Steak
(serves two)


Porcini mushrooms – 1 jar (prepare them as per instructions)

For the Marinade

Roasted tomatoes – 1 no
Garlic – 4 cloves (peeled and roughly mashed)
Onion – 1 no
Olive oil – ½ cup
Juice of 1 lemon
Ajwain – ½ tsp
Cracked pepper – to taste
Salt – to taste

For the Sauce

Garlic – 3 cloves (peeled and roughly mashed)
Onion – 1 no (chopped fine)
Flour – 2 tbsp
Butter – 2 tbsp
Olive oil – 1 tsp
Vegetable stock – 1 cup
Cracked pepper – to taste
Salt – to taste


1. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade, except the olive oil, and blend until smooth
2. Gradually drizzle in the oil and continue to blend till completely mixed in
3. Coat the prepared mushrooms with this marinade, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours
4. Melt the butter and oil till it stops bubbling
5. Add the flour and stir constantly till browned
6. Add onion and garlic and cook till translucent
7. Add pepper & stock and allow to thicken to the required consistency
8. Grill the marinated mushrooms
9. Assemble on a serving plate with the sauce spooned on top
10. Sprinkle a dash of cracked pepper

I chose to serve my faux steak with a side of mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. I am sending this experiment to Blog Bites #2 – The Copycat Edition being hosted at One Hot Stove.

My tips:

1. If you don’t have any stock on hand, you could dissolve a Maggi cube in one cup of water. The salt content in the cube is rather high, so be careful while seasoning. You may not need to add any more salt

2. The Porcini mushrooms I used are available at the Godrej Nature’s Basket outlets. Anyone knowing where I could get Portobello mushrooms in Mumbai, do let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eating Pretty

Good eating, I’m sure you will agree, is a lot more than just good taste. It involves all the five senses. In fact, the more the number of senses a dish engages, the higher is the enjoyment level the eater experiences. No rocket science there :-) The crackle, splutter and hiss you hear when ingredients are being cooked; the aroma and fragrance you smell when a dish comes together; the widening of the eyes when you see the final product; the texture of the food you feel as you consume it; and of course finally the taste that you slurp, smack and savour … all of which contribute to the ultimate eating experience!!

I am constantly amazed and quite overawed by the talent exhibited by food bloggers the world over who keep updating their blogs with beautifully illustrated posts. If what is seen is as drool-worthy, then I can only imagine what these delicious looking concoctions must taste like! What is even more remarkable about these bloggers is that they are not necessarily “blogging pros” who make a career out of blogging, but are people with demanding jobs and other responsibilities. Yet, they find the time to update their blogs regularly with highest quality standards – both in their writing as well as their photos. This, to my mind, speaks volumes about their passion, commitment and creativity, not to mention their generosity of spirit when it comes to sharing recipes, tips and techniques. Hats off to all of them.

My baby steps into this world of prettying up food presentation were crocheting this set of placemats. These go to our friend D, as a belated birthday present. Both D and her sister J are amazing cooks. A and I have enjoyed many a lip-smacking meal at their table, which I hope my little offering will grace the next time we are invited over :-)

The yarn I used for these placemats is what is called “Purse Thread” here in Mumbai stores.

Chain 70
Row 1: DC in second chain from hook and all across. Ch 3. Turn.
Row 2: Skip 1 DC, DC in each of next 3 spaces, DC in skipped DC sp. Rep across.
Repeat rows 1&2 till your work reaches desired length. Fasten off.

I finished off the placemats with matching lace edgings that I purchased separately and got my tailor to sew across.

As a final round-up to this post, here is just a small sampling of some of the wonderfully talented bloggers who I would like to raise a toast to. Cheers! More power to you as you continue to inspire fledglings like me.

Stirring up Sweetness

We celebrated Gudi Padva this week. One of the many fond memories I have of my childhood is that of festivals being celebrated. One didn’t really care about whether or not you belonged to a particular community or practiced a certain religion, those special days were all enjoyed with equal gusto.

It saddens me now that somewhere in the daily grind of life, this spirit of celebration has somehow lost its meaning. A festival that comes by is welcomed more for the holiday it brings than for what it actually signifies :-( The camaraderie of family & friends getting together, the joy of donning new clothes, the pleasure of exchanging gaily wrapped presents and of course, the gleeful devouring of all those lip-smacking goodies ….. sigh…where have they all gone?

A common tradition in most Indian households, on any festive occasion, is to make a special sweet or dessert. Now that is something, I have resolved to keep alive, if nothing else!

My father-in-law loves Firni. So that is what I chose to make this Gudi Padva. This is a classic North Indian specialty very similar to rice pudding. While it uses a few ingredients and is pretty simple to put together, the process of continuously stirring the milk is a tad laborious. In fact, A and I were wondering as to why is Firni so called? And we laughingly concluded that it probably comes from the Hindi (or is it Urdu?) word “Firna” which means “to go round in circles”. That said, a special occasion rightfully deserves a little more effort … and the end result is so worth it. Cold and creamy, it made for the perfect after lunch dessert that sweltering afternoon.

(makes 6 servings)


Milk - 1 litre
Sugar - 6-7 tablespoons
Raw rice - 3 tablespoons
Salt - 2 pinches
Cardamom - 10 pods, peeled
Unsalted Pistachios - to garnish


1. Pour the milk into a wide, preferably non-stick pan
2. Bring to a boil without letting the milk spill over
3. Quickly turn heat to medium - the milk should simmer as vigorously as possible without boiling over - and cook, stirring now and then, for about 15-20 mins or until the milk has reduced to 750 ml (1 1/4 pints)
4. In the mean time, while the milk is coming to a boil, grind the rice and cardamom finely
5. Sprinkle the ground rice slowly into the pan, stirring as you go
6. Add the sugar and salt as well
7. Stir now and then cooking for 7-8 mins or until the pudding has thickened to a creamy consistency, turning the heat down a bit towards the end.
8. Turn off heat and set aside to cool
9. When the pudding has cooled to lukewarm, ladle into individual serving cups
10. Sprinkle the top with finely slivered pistachios
11. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours until cold and set

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hello Uncle Sam(osa)

One of the most popular desi snacks that I’m sure every Indian must have eaten at some time or the other is the ubiquitous samosa. From lending its name to a tie knot to satiating hunger pangs in a quick bite, this yummy delicacy is a study in versatility. I say this because there is no end to the fillings you can experiment with. The classic versions include peas and potatoes in the vegetarian option and a spicy minced meat concoction in the non-vegetarian one. Here is a detailed description of this delightful treat.

My friend K had been to Goa recently cos’ she’s getting a Portuguese citizenship on account of her ancestry. Lucky her, now she can travel to Europe on a whim without going through the pain of applying for a visa! But, I digress. While there, she got back for A and me, a bunch of mushroom samosas from Café Central in Panjim. They were absolutely divine and inspired me to try my own version of the same. Given A’s undying love for cheese, I divided the filling in half and made a mushroom-cheese adaptation as well.

Mushroom Samosas

(makes 15 pieces)


Mushrooms – 1 pkt (about 200 gms)

Onion – 2 nos

Ginger Garlic paste – 2 heaped tsp

Green chillies – 2 or 3 nos

Turmeric pd – ½ tsp

Red chilli pd – 1 tsp

Coriander Cumin pd – 2 tsp

Asafetida – a pinch

Salt – to taste

Coriander leaves – a handful

Samosa covering strips – 15 nos


  1. Wash and clean the mushrooms well. Mince into tiny itty-bitty pieces
  2. Chop onions and green chillies very finely.
  3. Heat oil and sprinkle asafetida
  4. Add ginger-garlic paste and green chillies. Stir around a bit
  5. Mix in chopped onions and continue to cook till soft
  6. Add dry masala powders and salt. Mix well
  7. Finally add in mushrooms and salt
  8. Cover and cook on low fire till mushrooms are done
  9. Sprinkle coriander leaves and keep aside to cool
  10. Take a strip of the samosa covering.
  11. Fold in a triangle and fill in some of the stuffing.
  12. Seal edges with water.
  13. Heat oil in a deep pan and fry the samosas till golden and crisp
  14. Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot.

I served these at a little do we had with friends over the weekend. They were absolutely melt-in-the-mouth and were walloped within seconds.

The samosas can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer. You need to thaw them by keeping them out at room temperature for about 4 hours.

The samosa covering strips are easily available at most grocery stores.