Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mango Harvest

A short photo-essay.

There is one lone mango tree in my parents' backyard but it is an old, ample and generous soul that manages to keep us well-supplied with prized alphonso (hapoos) mangoes throughout the mango season. The bright summer sun filtering through the dense mango leaves is a beautiful sight.

It is almost the end of the mango season but two days ago, there was still a lot of fruit hanging off the tree, ready to be picked.

Picking mangoes off such a huge tree without injuring the mangoes (by dropping and bruising them) and without damaging the tree is an art in itself. My Dad fashioned this low-tech device that works beautifully. Atop a bamboo stick, there are two blades and below them is a sack. The blades lop off the mango right at the stem and it falls into the basket.

Mangoes are picked when they are still green and they ripen indoors after picking. If you leave them on the tree to ripen, the birds and monkeys will beat you to it! Trust me, even after picking the mangoes, there are plenty left over in the upper branches for these critters.

After picking comes the sorting. The smaller kairis (raw or semi-ripe mangoes) are set aside for making panha (a beverage) or chhunda (a sweet-spicy-tangy preserve of shredded mangoes). Then the chosen fruits are nestled gently in straw beds where they ripen over several days. I share the room where the mangoes are kept and enjoy the heady fragrance of ripening mangoes as I drift off to sleep and as I wake up. The straw is a wonderful incubator for the ripening mangoes. You pick one up from its straw bed and it is incredibly warm to the touch. You can feel the metabolism burning and transforming the hard astringent raw mango into the sweet silk of the ripe mango.

It is a daily chore to keep an eye on the mangoes and inspect each one carefully. Those with rotting spots are removed immediately. Ones that are fully ripe (they get incredibly fragrant, a little wrinkly, they yield to pressure and turn that gorgeous shade of yellow-orange) are washed and refrigerated.

This one tree provides enough fruit that my parents can share it with everyone and anyone they know. Even after sharing, eating and pickling the mangoes in every imaginable way, in some years, there is heaps of fruit left over. One year my mother contacted a canning company to can the pulp. They politely explained that they undertake large canning contracts with the aamrais (mango orchards) and don't deal with folks who have one tree in their backyard. My mother does not take no for an answer and she pleaded with them until they gave in and processed 30 or so cans for her. A couple of these found their way to me in the US and thrilled me to pieces. This year, we may try freezing or bottling the pulp if we have too many mangoes left over (unlikely, at the rate V and I eat them).

I was watching a Marathi cooking show and the fancy-schmancy chef who was hosting the show confidently said that he would demonstrate some innovative recipes with mangoes, seeing as how many people are drowning in ripe mangoes at this point. He made two recipes that I can only describe as elaborate and outlandish. One was a mango canneloni where mango chunks were sauteed with spring onions, stuffed into painstakingly made fresh pasta sheets and topped with a garlic cream sauce. The other was a mixture of crushed fried banana chips and mango stuffed into peppers. The peppers were dipped in batter and fried. I have two questions for this chef: "Really??" and "Why?".

As far as I am concerned, there is only one sublime recipe you need when you have ripe mangoes on hand. Three Four easy steps-
1. Cut the mango.
2. Eat.
3. Repeat.
4. Thank your lucky stars.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Maushi's Summer Salad

Hello from sunny India! After some travel adventures including missed connections, 10 hours spent in Heathrow airport, 2 consecutive nights on long-haul flights and a lost bag, we are finally here. Bombay feels more like the inside of an pressure cooker than anything else, but Southern Maharashtra is quite nice with pleasant mornings and breezy evenings. And the food, oh the food! Ever since we landed, life has just been a series of delicious meals, punctuated with platters of ripe mangoes.

A couple of days ago, my aunt ("maushi" is aunt in Marathi, specifically the term used for your mom's sister) made us a fantastic dinner. One of the things she made was an unusual salad of fruit and veggies mixed together. As I watched her make it, I admit being a little skeptical of how the flavors would work together. In the end, this salad was a tasty and refreshing counterpoint to the rest of the rich dishes served that night- spinach-mint pulao, paneer-peas curry and okra masala. I had to share this easy recipe in this space.

It could not be simpler. Peel and cut the following into small neat dice and mix together:
1 apple (don't need to peel this)
1 orange
1 sweet lime (mosambi)
1 cup canteloupe melon
2 cucumbers
2 bell peppers (any colors...yellow/red/orange peppers look beautiful but she used green this time)
Toss with salt, freshly ground pepper and a dash of cinnamon powder. Eat!


This sounds like a fruit salad but is actually very crunchy and savory and wonderful with a meal. My maushi is a superb cook and loves to garnish her creations beautifully. She planned to carve some elaborate decorations that evening for the salad. But we dragged her off for some shopping and she was left with very little time. She managed to grab a pair of kitchen scissors and use the orange and sweet lime peels from the salad-making to make these quick flowers and leaves that you see in the picture.

I managed to write this post through a rather uncooperative dial-up connection. I'll keep posting as and when I can. Bye for now!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Indian Vegetarian 100

In true copycat fashion, here is my list of the 100 Indian vegetarian foods that I think everyone should try at least once in their lives. It is a highly subjective and very eclectic list, featuring what I believe are some unique ingredients, restaurant classics and regional specialties. It demonstrates my biases, because many of my own favorites are in there to the exclusion of other dishes. We are so lucky to be absolutely spoiled for choice while filling this list- India is home to tens of thousands of unique flavors.

I have placed links (don't worry, the links won't be copied when you copy the list) to a picture or a recipe for each food, for someone who may not be familiar with that particular food. I thoroughly enjoying browsing the blogs and flickr looking for suitable pictures. The pictures which thrilled me the most were those depicting the "people behind the food"...the vendors and cooks who earn their humble living by expertly making the foods we crave the most. Hats off to them, and many thanks to the talented bloggers and amateur photographers who document these foods and people for us.

Apart from being a meme to fill a few moments of boredom, I hope this list could be used as a starting point for a traveler looking to try new flavors in India, for us to introduce our non-Indian friends to new foods (as Lavanya suggested) and for home cooks to try and make some of these all-time favorites in our own kitchens.

To all those who shared their own lists in comments on the previous post- thank you! It is fun to see how we keep coming back to the same dishes as perennial favorites. And that many of our favorite foods are simple home-style dishes that never fail to comfort us.

Your challenge, should you take up this meme is to:

  • Copy the entire list, along with these instructions, into your blog post

  • Bold the foods that you have tried

  • Strike out the foods you would never try

  • Tell us your score in the comments :)

  • If you wish to, make your own list or add to this one

Nupur's Indian Vegetarian 100

1. Ripe mangoes
2. Curd rice
3. Chaat
4. Phulka
5. Puran poli
6. Boiled peanuts
7. Samosa
8. Stuffed baby eggplants
9. Aviyal
10. Stuffed paratha
11. Masala chai
12. Tirphal
13. Murukku
14. Curry leaves
15. Banana chips fried in coconut oil
16. Jaggery
17. Vada pav
18. Tender coconut water
19. Paneer
20. Madras filter coffee
21. Boondi laddoo
22. Boondi raita
23. Navratan korma
24. Kokum
25. Masala peanuts
26. A home-cooked Indian vegetarian meal
27. Sugarcane juice
28. Sabudana/sago in any form
29. Horsegram
30. Maggi noodles
31. Podi with rice and ghee
32. Roomali roti
33. Bitter gourd
34. Nylon sev
35. Vegetable biryani
36. Thali at a restaurant
37. Plantain flower
38. Undhiyu
39. Nimbu pani
40. Papad
41. Kotthu parotta
42. Panch phoran
43. Drumsticks
44. Indian "French toast"
45. Sarson ka saag
46. Bhakri
47. Pav bhaji
48. Sitaphal
49. Glucose biscuits
50. Sprouts
51. Chole-bhature
52. Amla
53. Tomato "omelet"
54. A wedding feast
55. Grilled corn on the cob with lemon juice, salt and chilli powder
56. Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate
57. Sai bhaji
58. Solkadi
59. Indian-Chinese meal
60. Jalebi
61. Black forest cake
62. Bharwa bhindi
63. Kashmiri saffron
64. Misal
65. Ripe jackfruit
66. Idli-chutney
67. 'Tadgola'
68. Bhut jolokia
69. Baby mango pickle
70. Meal off a banana leaf
71. Falooda
72. Moong khichdi
73. Bebinca
74. Daal baati
75. Methi greens
76. Basundi
77. Gunpowder
78. Appam-stew
79. Sweet lemon pickle
80. Ridge gourd
81. Bisi bele bhath
82. Coconut burfi
83. Caramel custard
84. Thecha
85. Rasam
86. Baingan bharta
87. Mysore pak
88. Punjabi wadi
89. Chhunda
90. Dal makhani
91. Paper dosa
92. Gongura
93. Hand-churned butter
94. Pakoda
95. Curd chillies
96. Mustard oil
97. Fresh cashews
98. Tomato pickle
99. Rajma-chawal
100. Chaas

My own score: 95%
I don't remember ever eating horsegram (#29), plantain flower (#37), kotthu paratha (#41), or mustard oil (#95). And I certainly have never tasted bhut jolokia (#68), the newly crowned hottest chilli in the world and currently enjoying fame on the US restaurant scene, I hear.

Next update- in a week or so!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Vegetarian 100

During my long blogging break, I missed several of the blog events and memes that I enjoy so much. One that was quite interesting started as The Omnivore's Hundred, a list of 100 foods that an omnivore should try at least once in their life.

The idea caught on and before long, the vegetarians among us got a chance to play along. Barbara over at Tigers and Strawberries made her list of 100 vegetarian foods and I'm participating in that meme. She says (emphasis is mine)-

"If you want to play along, here’s how you do it: copy the list, including my instructions, and bold any items you have eaten and strike out any you would never eat, and then post it to your blog. If you want, you can leave a comment here, linking to your results, or you can link back to this post so I can try and keep tabs on what folks have eaten and not eaten."

Barbara's Vegetarian Hundred

1. Real macaroni and cheese, made from scratch and baked
2. Tabouleh
3. Freshly baked bread, straight from the oven (preferably with homemade strawberry jam)
4. Fresh figs
5. Fresh pomegranate
6. Indian dal of any sort
7. Imam bayildi
8. Pressed spiced Chinese tofu
9. Freshly made hummus
10. Tahini
11. Kimchi
12. Miso
13. Falafel
14. Potato and pea filled samosas
15. Homemade yogurt
16. Muhammara
17. Brie en croute
18. Spanikopita
19. Fresh, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes
20. Insalata caprese
21. Stir-fried greens (gai lan, bok choi, pea shoots, kale, chard or collards)
22. Freshly made salsa
23. Freshly made guacamole
24. Creme brulee
25. Fava beans
26. Chinese cold sesame peanut noodles
27. Fattoush
28. New potatoes
29. Coleslaw
30. Ratatouille
31. Baba ganoush
32. Winter squash
33. Roasted beets
34. Baked sweet potatoes
35. Plantains
36. Chocolate truffles
37. Garlic mashed potatoes
38. Fresh water chestnuts
39. Steel cut oats
40. Quinoa
41. Grilled portabello mushrooms
42. Chipotle en adobo
43. Stone ground whole grain cornmeal
44. Freshly made corn or wheat tortillas
45. Frittata
46. Basil pesto
47. Roasted garlic
48. Raita of any type
49. Mango lassi
50. Jasmine rice (white or brown)
51. Thai vegetarian coconut milk curry
52. Pumpkin in any form other than pie
53. Fresh apple pear or plum gallette
54. Quince in any form
55. Escarole, endive or arugula
56. Sprouts other than mung bean
57. Naturally brewed soy sauce
58. Dried shiitake mushrooms
59. Unusually colored vegetables (purple cauliflower, blue potatoes, chocolate bell peppers…)
60. Fresh peach ice cream
61. Chevre
62. Medjool dates
63. Kheer
64. Flourless chocolate cake
65. Grilled corn on the cob
66. Black bean (or any other bean) vegetarian chili
67. Tempeh
68. Seitan or wheat gluten
69. Gorgonzola or any other blue veined cheese
70. Sweet potato fries
71. Homemade au gratin potatoes
72. Cream of asparagus soup
73. Artichoke-Parmesan dip
74. Mushroom risotto
75. Fermented black beans
76. Garlic scapes
77. Fresh new baby peas
78. Kalamata olives
79. Preserved lemons
80. Fried green tomatoes
81. Chinese scallion pancakes
82. Cheese souffle
83. Fried apples
84. Homemade frijoles refritos
85. Pasta fagiole
86. Macadamia nuts in any form
87. Paw paw in any form
88. Grilled cheese sandwich of any kind
89. Paneer cheese
90. Ma Po Tofu (vegetarian style–no pork!)
91. Fresh pasta in any form
92. Grilled leeks, scallions or ramps
93. Green papaya salad
94. Baked grain and vegetable stuffed tomatoes
95. Pickled ginger
96. Methi greens
97. Aloo paratha
98. Kedgeree (the original Indian version without the smoked fish, not the British version with fish)
99. Okra
100. Roasted brussels sprouts

My score: 81%

The only things I had to strike out (I have tasted these but don't care to taste them again) are the stinky cheeses. No thank you. V says he is happy to eat my share every time.

As for some of the items like imam bayildi, kimchi and pressed tofu, I am fairly sure I have eaten them at some point or the other, but I did not recall specific occasions so I left them as things I have yet to try.

Some other items on this list are recipes that have been on my to-make list for a long time, such as muhammara, fattoush and pear galette.

There are more vegetarian 100 lists over at Feeding Maybelle and Green Gourmet Giraffe. There is a vegan 100 list over at Bittersweet. This last list contains many items that I am frankly terrified to try, such as natto, vegan haggis, durian and green smoothies.

I love lists! I'm planning to write an Indian vegetarian 100 list of my own. But the world of Indian vegetarian food is vast territory and my experience is limited to only a few regional cuisines, and I can hardly say that I am an adventurous eater in any case. I need your help in compiling this list.

So tell me, all ye lovers of Indian food, what 5 foods of the Indian vegetarian persuasion are must-try foods for you? They might be delicious, weird, exotic, seasonal, rare, memorable, daily staples that you can't imagine life without, or anything that stands out to you as something you would like everyone in the world to get a taste of. Want to play along? Leave a comment!

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Anybody out there? :)

[Hearing echoes of my voice in this poor neglected empty space]

What can I say? Time sure flies! Do people remember how to write rudimentary HTML after months of not writing any, I wonder? Is it like riding a bike?

Over the past several months, I have been writing SAS code instead of blog posts, studying and working as best as I can, and spending quality time with the needles and hooks. Somewhere along the way, I found the time to reach a milestone birthday- the big three-oh (YAY! I think.) For all those who left loving e-mails and comments asking how I am- thank you! I am doing well, busy but happy :) And for all those who could care less about me but want to know how Dale is doing- he is well. A little older and grayer around the muzzle, but much wiser, he says.

Am I "back to blogging"? Yes and no. I'm off to India soon for a vacation, and my schedule is still awry. The plan is to indulge in some guilt-free blogging, writing whenever I can about whatever strikes my fancy food-wise. Visits to India are always sensational in terms of food, and I hope to come back with some tales of meals shared with friends and family. I also intend to barge into the kitchens of homes I visit to learn some new tips and recipes from my favorite home cooks and share them with you.

*** *** ***

I made a quick bread this morning- an eggless carrot cake inspired by Shammi's recipe. I don't do much eggless baking, I realize, but I wanted to bake a sweet treat to take along on a visit to friends, and the family avoids eggs so it was a good excuse to give egg-free baking a try.


We hear so much about baking being an exact science and how you can't really get away with tossing in a bit of this and a little of that. All true- but this recipe is certainly an exception to the rule. I tweaked it merrily and got excellent results. Here's how I made it. Feel free to walk on the wild side and use "proper" buttermilk, yogurt, a vegan substitute or whatever you have on hand. My feeling is that this is a very robust recipe and will turn out fine.

The short-hand I use is: C refers to cup (8 oz), t refers to teaspoon while T refers to tablespoon.

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together 1¼ C all-purpose flour, 2 T powdered buttermilk, 1 t baking soda, 1 t baking powder, ½ t salt, 1 t ginger powder, 1 t cardamom powder, 1 t nutmeg powder.

3. Stir in 2 T ghee, 2 T canola oil and ½ C water.

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in ½ C sugar, 4 small to medium grated carrots, handful of chopped pecans and handful of mixed dried berries.

5. At this point, the batter was too thick and to be able to fold in everything, I added a splash of milk.

6. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes clean.

To my delight, the loaf rose beautifully and I got the prized crease on top of the loaf. Oh, the little things that make my day!

I barely waited 10 minutes before lopping off a slice to taste. This tastes like a cakey version of gajar halwa- simply delicious, and, dare I say it, less laborious to make. That's one more awesome recipe from Shammi.

Have a sweet weekend!