(Lima) Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t

Monday, November 28, 2005

French Beans with Grams and Coconut

This was a dish I had been craving for some years now. I first tasted it when C, a Keralite friend brought it for lunch at my first workplace. I liked the taste of coconut in the beans; it was distinctly different from the potato-beans with cumin seeds, usually cooked in our kitchen. But what I liked the most about C’s recipe was the crunchiness of the beans, even after they had been cooked nicely. So recently when I found this recipe on Lokpriya, the link for which I got from Nupur’s blog (thanks, Nupur), I was ready to jump with joy…okay, not that dramatic, but I was delighted all the same.

These green beans are full of nutritive value, and so when I saw the chance to make a dish out of them that tasted good as well, I grabbed it with both hands. The beans are a storehouse of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, and iron. They help strengthening your bones, protect your heart, provide prevention against colon cancer, give you a good skin, and boost your memory. For more details, read this.

Recipe for French Beans with Grams and Coconut:


French beans – a bunch, chopped
Grated coconut – 2 Tablespoons (I didn’t have fresh coconut on the day and substituted it with coconut powder. The result was just as yummy though).
Urad Dal – 1 Teaspoon
Chana Dal – 1 Teaspoon
Curry leaves – 10-15
Cumin seeds – ½ Teaspoon
Mustard seeds – ½ Teaspoon
Dry red chili – 1
Asafoetida (hing) powder – a pinch
Salt to taste


1. Heat oil in skillet and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, the two types of grams or dal, red chili, hing powder and curry leaves.

2. When mustard seeds begin to splutter, add the chopped beans and salt to taste. Add a little water, cover the skillet, and cook on low heat until beans are tender.

3. Add the grated coconut/coconut powder, mix well, and serve hot with parantha or chapatti.



Friday, November 25, 2005

Wonder Citrus – Amla or Indian Gooseberry

It is mind-boggling to think of the multitude of nutrition-rich as well as delicious herbs, fruits and vegetables that are found in India. Growing up here, we tend to take these for granted. Until someone points out how power-packed they are.

Well, that’s how I feel when I think of this citrus fruit. Since childhood, we grew up seeing it in its myriad forms, yet never once stopped to find out about its properties or benefits. Until very recently that is.

Found all over the Indian sub-continent, Amla is the most potent source of natural (not synthetic) Vitamin C. The Vitamin found in the fruit isn’t destroyed by heat or light and is more easily assimilated by the body than its synthetic variant. Find more on the amla here and here.

Amla lends its versatility to a number of tasty concoctions from pickles, to juice, to perhaps its most famous avatar—amla murabba. As much as I like relishing the murabbas, having been born with a sour tooth, my favourite is the Amla pickle my grandma so lovingly made in a mustard oil base with spices similar to those used in the north Indian mango pickle.

It is said that to derive the most out of this gem of a fruit, it’s best to eat it in raw form. So just about a couple of years back, my mother came up with this innovative idea (not sure how original this is, but at our home, it was a novel idea alright) to eat Amla. Here’s how:


Amla – 3-4
Green chili – 2
Salt to taste


Just grate the amla and the green chili. Remove the amla seeds. Add some salt to the amla-chili mix. Your chutney/pickle is ready!

This must be made fresh. Goes very well with the regular roti/rice meals. And is one of the best ways to stock Vitamin C in your body—both amla and green chili being prime sources of the Vitamin.

Yet another way we have it is boil the amla, mash it into a pulp, add green chili, salt and a dash of mustard oil with it and have it with freshly made, hot plain rice. Much like what Anthony mentioned in his Mashed Potato post, except, as you can see, the amla version we make is much simpler, in the sense it requires lesser ingredients. But if you have a taste for sour, you will love it.

Don’t be shy to try!


Friday, November 18, 2005

Of Fish, Chili, and a Little China in India

Lima has returned to these corners. With the irresistable Turron even! Yummy. Welcome back to your own blog, Cesar! (Sorry, couldn’t resist being a little mean, C).

Getting back to food in the earnest; this week I found the recipe for a simple-to-cook dish, which can be best described a spin off of Chinese cuisine. Sometime back, Cesar wrote about Chaufa rice and referred to the manner in which Chinese food got improvised in Peru. From talking to friends from different parts of the world, I have come to observe, that’s the deal with Chinese food. It has penetrated almost every corner of the globe, and nearly in all those corners it has taken on the flavour of the region, flexibly lending itself to the local eating and cooking ethos, and generating interesting if a bit distorted geographical variations. This to some extent explains why the dish I cooked, Chili Fish, is probably a brainchild of some Chinese cuisine loving Bengali. I mentioned earlier how fish and Bengal are inseparable.

However, Chinese association with Bengal goes back a long way. In the late 18th century, a Chinese called Young Atchew (what an interesting name—Young at-chew…) landed in the city of Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal. He wanted to try his luck at setting up a sugar mill in the city and even though he made an effort in that direction, he ran out of luck, mainly because of scarcity of funds and labourers deserting his enterprise. Three years later, Atchew died a disenchanted man and his tomb now serves as a pilgrimage site for Calcutta’s Chinese populace. However, the influx of the Chinese into the city did not stop. In the World War II years and later during the Chinese Revolution of 1949, a sizeable number of Chinese reached the shores of Bengal, and made it their home. Of the areas in Calcutta where they settled, no place bears the insignia of Chinese culture better than Tangra, situated in the eastern part of the city. Here, you will still find authentic vignettes of Chinese life, be it during traditional festivals like the Chinese New Year or in the many restaurants run by Chinese. Calcuttans love the cuisine and I know many Bengalis outside Calcutta, who while visiting the city, make it point to dine in an authentic Chinese food joint.

Little wonder then, that Chinese influence rubbed off on the Bengali palette and even made its mark on the local wok and griddle. My attempt at making Chili-fish paid off nicely, and for all fish lovers reading this, this is a recipe you must try, for its sheer ease of making. The good taste comes as a happy bonus though.

Chili Fish


* 500 g bhetki fish (bhetki machh)—This is a non-scaly sea fish. You could substitute it with Pomfret too.
* 1 onion, diced
* 1 green pepper, chopped into cubes
* 2 green chillies (You could use more, depending on your liking)
* 1 tbsp vinegar
* 3 tbsp Soya sauce
* 1 tbsp tomato sauce
* ¼ cup water
* Oil for frying
* Salt to taste


* Wash and cut fish into 2 inch pieces. Rub fish pieces with salt.
* Heat oil in a skillet. Add fishes and fry lightly. Caution: Since bhetki has no scales, the pieces tend to jump in the oil while you fry them. A tip is to put the fish pieces into the oil, lower the flame, cover the skillet and let the fish cook. Open the lid and keep turning the sides a few times. Once it’s lightly fried, keep the fish pieces aside.
* Add the diced onion to the same oil and fry till transparent.
* Add green chillies and green pepper. Stir fry for about 2-3 minutes.
* Add Soya sauce and water. Add tomato sauce, vinegar and salt.
* Add fish. Cover and cook for around 5 minutes until the gravy is thick.
* Serve hot with plain rice.

Once you get the ingredients together, making this dish is a matter of minutes. And the result is surprisingly yummy. Try and test (taste too) for yourself!


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The November October Tradition

Been a while since I've been here but don't think I'm gone. Busy eating I guess :P Seriously, this past month was especially significative for Peruvians (for those who don't know yet, I'm from Peru). October is what we call "Purple Month" and it is the festivity of the "Lord of Miracles". The story behind this tradition is fascinating but it is the effect what leaves people speechless. During the month of October, thousands of Peruvians go to the Church in Nazarenas to have a glimpse and pray to the image of the Christ of Pachacamilla (an image which was painted by a Mulato back in a little town that later was destroyed by two earthquakes, none of which could bring down the wall where the image was). Three days are of the utmost importance, for it is here when a duplicate image is carried out of the church in procession. The number of people who follow this image is uncountable. An enormous trail of people dressed in purple habits follow this 2-ton image (carried by the brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles) for blocks.

But this is not the only October tradition for us Peruvians. Along with is comes the bullfights (frowned by many, loved by others), the day of criollan music (the typical music from Lima) and of course... food! Yes, this is a food blog. And so I bring you our typical irresistible October dessert: Turrón.

Yes, if there is a dish that immediately makes us think of all the October traditions, that is Turrón. It basically consists of a sort of very compact dessert, with lots of honey and color sprinkles on top. The secret to the taste of turron is an ingredient called anise.

Turrón is a little piece of engineering. The dough is made into a number of bars. A number of these bars are placed next to each other, making a base. You then pour some honey (we use an fruit called chancaca which is really sweet) on top of the bars, then you repeat this operation to make two more stories. You finish by coating thw top with a generous portion of honey and lots of color sprinkles. Here there are some little sugar shapes (stars, moons, hearts).

If you ever get the chance, try it. You won't regret it.



Sunday, November 13, 2005

Real SWEET sweet smile...

Diwali, the sparkling Indian festival of candles and fireworks, just went by. It's followed by another festival called bhai-duj. It's known as bhai-phota in Bengal and is marked by sisters putting a mark on their brothers' forehead, with wishes for their safety and well being. Since childhood, I have looked forward to this day for the delightful stuff my mother makes that day.

The enormously tempting fare almost always comprises luchi (check out this space for that one)along with chholar dal and begun bhaja or fried eggplants. And that is followed by some mouthwatering traditional sweets my mother makes so painstakingly.

Pantua is one such. Almost the same as the famous Indian dessert gulab jamun, the only difference with making pantua is the use of cottage cheese or paneer/chhena in it. Making gulab jamuns isn't tough anymore, what with the grocery stores flooded with premade mixes. But if you want the traditional taste, soft and blissful, try out this recipe.

Pantua: Steps with Ingredients:

1. Make paneer/chhena made from 1 litre skimmed milk: To do this, bring the milk to a boil and squeeze in the juice of one whole lemon in it. The milk would solidfy and float on the top of the vessel. Cool it and pour into a cotton cloth pouch. Hang the pouch to drain the water out of the paneer.

2. 150 gms of homemade khoya: For this, my mother adds some sugar (use discretion) and raisins into the milk and boils it on slow flame, until the milk turns into a sticky solid state. Keep stirring so it doesn't get burnt.

3. Mash the paneer, with the water drained out, into a paste-like consistency. Ma does this with her hands and it takes a fair amount of patience...Okay, now add the khoya to this and mash some more.

4. Divide this mixture into 8 equal parts. Take flour equalling one of these parts, add a teaspoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of ghee in it. Now bring all the 8 parts together and add the flour mixture into it. Make a dough.

5. Make small balls of the dough. Take each ball, make a well in its centre with your finger. Put a seed of black cardamom and one grain of misri or sugar crystal in the well and remake the ball by rolling it in your palms.

6. Sugar syrup: Take about 500 gms of sugar and four cups of water in it. Bring to a boil, but make sure the syrup isn't too thick.

7. Deep fry the balls in oil or ghee.

8. Pick them up and dip into the sugar syrup. Let the balls soak in the syrup and...


Another sweet Ma makes is a typical Bengali dessert called lobongo-lotika. This is basically a pastry made of flour, filled with khoya or condensed, dry milk and raisins, and sealed with a lobongo or clove stick. I don't have a sweet tooth, but this is one dessert I really savour. So here's sharing it with you all :)

Lobongo-lotika: Steps and Ingredients:

1. Make khoya in the same way as for pantua (see step 2 of Pantua above). You could add some shredded coconut to it for taste.

2. Take about 250 gms flour, add some water, a couple of tablespoonfuls of ghee and knead a dough, of a consistency neither too hard or soft. Divide the dough into about 8 portions.

3. Roll the portions into small puris. Put a tablespoon of the khoya mixed with raisins in the middle of the puri. Now fold it into a rectangle and seal with a clove stick in the centre. You can put even 2 sticks so it holds better.

4. Deep fry the rectangles.

5. Take 250 gms of sugar, add a cup of water in it and bring to a boil to make a thick syrup.

6. Now dip the fried lobogo lotikas or rectangles in the sugar syrup.

7. Serve cold.

Note: You can add some rose water into the sugar syrup for both the above desserts.

Try these and share with others. I am sure some hearty smiles will fly back in your general direction.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cuisine Camaraderie

Well, I doubt any of these items are even remotely Indian, but they sure were a delight to savour. I was treated to this delish platter during a recent lunch invitation from a friend. Thanks for the good time and good-er food, A.

On the plate are pasta cooked with basil, garlic, and tomatoes, grilled pork with orange and water chestnut, spiked with liberal rum sprinkling, and roasted cauliflower. The cucumber salad (with a vinegar-oil-garlic dressing) and pineapple juice proved just the right accompaniments for the appetizing meal.

I am glad I accepted the lunch offer. What better way to catch up with a friend than over food? A being the great gourmet and gourmand he is, proved his mettle--from peeling garlic, to cooking the delights and washing the dishes in the end. I came back from the lunch with a hearty stomach, and highly impressed with A's all-round skills.

Bon Appetit!


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Think Food

Image courtesy: http://www.indianfoodsco.com/

I found this interesting resource on Indian food. Worth the reading time of Indian food admirers and food lovers in general. The section on Bengali Cuisine is here. I myself learned a lot of new things about the food of my region.

Happy eating, er...reading ;)


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Chaat I -- Gol Gappa

Okay, the camera returneth, and so do I. With the first of our series on Chaat. Uniquely Indian, chaat comprises snacks that are lip-smacking in taste and easy on the wallet. Deadly combination for the majority there, and that explains the enormous popularity of chaat across the country. Chaat is also ubiquitous--you will find it on streets sold by vendors, in small restaurants, and even in five star hotels. For a while, they have also become a regular feature of the menu for social occasions such as weddings and other parties. Indeed, it's one of the best representatives of popular culture in India.

Delhi prides itself on its chaat, and I am lucky to have tasted the best of it, all over town. The snack we talk about today, Gol Gappa is an especially potent, high-voltage snack. What exactly is it? Let me see if I can explain it in plain terms. Basically, you have these spherical, deep-fried, puffed balls made from a dough of either wheat flour or semolina.

The balls are hollow inside, and that is how the magic of gol gappa happens. Here's how. When you go to the chaat vendor and ask for a plate of gol gappa, he would typically serve you around 6-8 of the flour balls. With his deft hands he would prepare the following concoction for you: Pierce the ball with the index finger to get a hole, then fill the inside of the ball with three delightful ingredients--yogurt, cubed, boiled potatoes, saunth or a thick, sweet chutney made of tamarind and sugar. Then, he would dip this filled-up ball into a green liquid--water flavoured with mint and lime.

All done within seconds and off it goes into your plate or leaf bowl. You just lift it real fast and gulp it, and whoa! The tangy sweet-sour combination along with the crispiness of the ball or gappa itself...smirking joy, bursting inside the food pipe. Once you have finished your plate, you get bowls full of the green water free of cost. It's an excellent digestive, what with mint and lime in it. It's also very refreshing, especially in summers, when the vendors put huge chunks of ice into the container holding the water.

Gol gappa is my personal favourite among all chaat items. I still remember the first time I had them. I was eight or nine and saw some neighbourhood ladies having this peculiar snack on the street across my house. Too tempted to resist, I went to join them. However, since I had no money, the only thing I could ask for was the green water. The usual practice is to taste the water first (much like testing the waters, eh?), and then, based on how fresh and delicious it is, go for the real gappas. The moment I had the water, I felt as if I had been electrocuted. My throat wasn't used to the knocking chilli punch that came by way of gulping the green liquid (yes, that's another important feature--chilli). It wasn't a pleasant experience, to say the least.

However, there was something irresistable about that eletrifying liquid, and I had to return to it. Soon, the very sight of gol gappas became like a magnet for me. I have got down from a public bus at an unknown stop simply because I spotted a gol gappa vendor, I have made numerous detours while returning home from work, just to go to a snack shop where they sold gol gappas, I have teamed up with an equally chaat-crazy colleague to go and snack on these ping-pong (the size of a gol gappa ball) delights on far too many evenings than was warranted. And the best of all...

a few years back, when a long time school friend bagged a high-profile job, he came over to give me the good news and offered to give me a treat. "What would you prefer," He asked. "Indian, or Chinese?" Looking at him sheepishly I said, "Umm, T, would you mind treating me to gol gappas?" T was taken aback. Here he was, ready to treat me in the best of restuarants in town, and I just wanted to have a plate of gol gappas?

Yep. That's the extent of my love for the gappas. If you haven't tasted one yet, go do it now! You won't take long to join my creed, I assure you.

Chaat away!


PS: In Hindi, the word "chaat" literally means to lick.