Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chasing ... Reality

I observed a jolting sight which got me thinking about a lot of things we go through in the course of life. A drive back from lunch today, stuck in traffic, head lolling due to the lack of sleep all because of the blurred life we all live - work, social, personal etc. I suddenly saw a half naked little kid probably about the age of 4 spring out of his hut and in another second his doppelgänger rushing out of the same hut and chasing him. They went round their hut twice, they ran on the footpath still chasing and being chased and ran around again repeating the same thing till they fell back on the side of the road on a small patch of dried grass laughing heartily and started munching on lollipops. The green light came on and the cars accompanied by the inevitable cacophony jolted me from my observation and I was back to reality.

Reality? what reality. I was lost in thought over something quite jarring about life and how we evolve. I re-winded my thoughts to 24 year ago, when I too recollect, running - carefree ! just like these two little kids munching on lollipops.

Think about it, every time, as kids we would be left off to play and we would land up "running"; running to catch a ball, running to chase another person, running to hide, running to throw. The finale would be an exhausted and aching body but with a very surreal satisfied feeling.

They very first game we played in life is "chase". The only difference is, the young chase because they are attuned to breaking free off anything remotely stifling or tying down and as adults we are on a chase and only land up stifling and being tied down.

Why then the first lesson in life we learn, cannot be integrated in the way we lead it. Life as you know, is one big chase or race... but have you ever considered to stop and wonder what or against whom are we racing? As kids we never considered what or whom we raced and chased, we just did it for our satisfaction. It never mattered that we caught the person we chased, nor did it matter that he was faster. In the end, we would fall back with the other and rest it out probably laugh about it and get back to our own little world, till the next time/day when the chase would begin again.

Now, all we do is chase our dreams, chase our career, constantly rushing to catch up with just generally everyone within our purview and ... I wonder, where is that pause button where we just fall back, satisfied and be able to laugh?

I have consciously vowed to integrate this little incident and lesson into my life. Pause, randomly, but pause. You deserve to have that luxury a lot more often than normal and all things materialistic will automatically cease to exist. Try it, and as I quote a term from a friends gtalk status, you'd be experiencing "Mini Moksha" every time you did.

In an anomalous way, this next dish can quite relate to what I experienced in those few moments. I call it Sweet Sago Pops. These are mildly spiced sago kabob's skewered onto sweet sugar-cane sticks to resemble candied lollipops but savoury and deep fried. Instantly, it takes you back to your fun carefree lollipop filled chasing days.


3 large potatoes boiled, peeled and mashed
1 cup Sago (Sabudana)
1 tablsp Ginger Chilli Paste
1 White Onion - finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic - mashed
2 tsp Mango Powder
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tsp Cumin Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup Arrowroot Powder (or Cornflour)
A Large Sugar-cane Stick
Oil For Frying

While buying the sugar-cane stick, ask the vendor to cut it into foot long pieces and peel it for you. Chop it into long finger chip size pieces when you get back home and keep aside in the refrigerator.

Soak the Sago in a cup of warm water for a few hours. It should be puffed up well and translucent.

Keep aside a handful of sago and add the seasoning's and paste to the rest and being to mash it all up well. Slowly add a little of the mashed potato and continue to mash till all the potatoes and the sago mix are all well incorporated. In a little pan, heat a tsp of oil and stir fry the garlic and onions till translucent. Top it onto the sago-potato mix and stir it up. Check salt and pepper and keep this dough aside.

To proceed add a few spoons of arrowroot or cornflour into the mix. Take one of the finger-chip sized sugar-cane stick in one hand and  a table tennis sized ball of the dough in the other. Proceed to wrap this mixture onto one end of the sugar-cane stick and squeezing it gently with your palm to resemble a kabob. Keep aside on a paper towel and proceed to make the rest of the kabob's till the mix is all used up.

Heat oil in a deep bottomed vessel. Dip the kabob side into the oil either with your hands (if you are comfortable getting so close to the hot oil) or with a pair of tongs. Fry the pops till crisp golden brown and drain on paper towels.

If you use a frying pan, try using a smaller but deeper one. Add only enough oil to cover the length of the kabob and place the kabob sticks, kabob side down, with the sugar cane sticks resting on the sides of the pan. This way you need'nt hold onto it or do them one at a time.

Serve with a side of fiery mint chutney and indulge your senses to a spicy starter with a chewable sweet stick you can munch on while you reminisce about your own childhood.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strung Out of Exoticism

I get these sudden urges to have maniacal combinations while creating recipes and the one thing I stay away from is ruffling through complicated recipes in cookbooks where the dish title is longer than the recipe itself. I also rarely like to name my dishes - which is odd, but I prefer leaving it anonymous or unnamed for the benefit of the next benefactor of the recipe.

One such recipe was thought up by me during the Mango season. You will agree we Indians are slightly addled when the season begins, with people haggling over the sky rocketing prices of mangoes but still gleefully taking it back home like precious gold and carefully placing it on its throne - the kitchen mantle where is shines in all its glory, er, waiting to be devoured. End of it all, you will suck the life out of that kingly fruit and satisfy your craving, leaving it all up to the next day, when the haggling starts again.

This dish was just a thoughtful diversion from the usual way people consume mango, of course this time the mango was reduced to a meagre side role and the main attraction was a delicious juicy pear (I still get nasty stares from certain individuals in the family when I mention this dish, the same people who swear by this fruit and consume it like a drug, raw and inhibited).

This dish is a wonderful combination of juicy pears poached in a fruit and wine concoction, served with creamy vanilla ice-cream and of course - mango. Off season as it may be right now, the mango may be replaced (blasphemy!) with a variant such as a tangy kiwi or probably plums.


3 Large Pears (fragrant and blemish free)
2 cups Cranberry Juice
1 cup Red Wine (Sula, Chantilly works as well, leftover even better)
1 Stick Cinnamon
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Orange & Lemon Rind - (grated, ensure the white part does not get in)
1 tablsp Cointreau (optional)
Mango (or any other fruit) cut into 1 inch cubes
Basil Leaves
Chilled water
A scoop of Vanilla Ice-cream

In a large bowl, mash the basil leaves and add chilled water to it. Place the mango cubes in the chilled water and keep aside.

Peel the pears and cut into large wedges, place into a pot with the stick of cinnamon. Pour the juice and wine into the pot, making sure the juice covers the pears completely, if you feel the pot is larger, just add more juice or take a smaller but deeper pot. Add the rind and Cointreau and keep on a low flame to simmer. In about 15-20 minutes you will notice the pears absorbing the reds of the juice and wine and releasing its own juices. Poke it with a knife or fork to check on firmness. The fruit should not turn mushy, it would be a good time to drain the fruit once you check that its firm enough.Keep the poached pears aside.

Retain the juice-wine liquid in the pot and add the sugar, turn up the heat to a medium high and simmer the liquid till it thickens. Once boiling, switch off the heat and leave the sauce to cool. It should have a thick saucy consistency.

To serve, place the poached pears on a plate, add a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side. Drain the mango from the chilled water and spoon it on the side of the plate. Drizzle atop with the juice-wine reduction and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Gentleman to the “T”

A few days ago I visited my ex-boss, more of a friend, guide and mentor. A gentleman to the “T” and an even better business man. This time the visit was not for keeping in touch or a casual acquaintance, but for the fact that he is suffering from the dreaded “C” which is, unfortunately, on its last stage and I felt I should atleast drop in a friendly hello and keep him company for a while.

A man who I look up to only because of his perseverance in fighting his illness and moving on with life as though nothing has affected his day to day activities. I had an enlightened chat with him about the various going-on’s in my life and the conversation conveniently veered towards food. Now, this man, before his entrĂ©e into the world of business had taken up a management course in hotel & catering, a fantastic cook himself and more so with the abundance of knowledge of the finest foods in the world. A well traveled person who has tried and tested many varieties of the cuisines in his travails. He was a walking talking dictionary of food and, for a change, a person, who had as much passion in eating as he had in making food.

He had made himself comfortable with a cup of tea and his audience which comprised of me and a small group of his family members quickly got enraptured in his tirade about the “perfect cup”.

He started off with a dose of how the mushrooming coffee and tea bars make commercially appreciated tea and instead connoisseurs of tea would probably leave drinking tea forever if they tasted the variety we got in most of these places. He even gave an insight into the tea tasting profession which is much revered in tea growing states and a particularly high end job which pays handsomely. A little gyaan on the various stages tea went through to finally get nitrogen packed in most commercial brands was discussed and then he finally got down to how one should brew the perfect cup.

Now, I do not know if it was the stages involved in brewing the perfect cup or the fact that I brewed a cup step by step the way it was reiterated to me – but there is something meticulous about brewing tea the right way which finally satiates your senses, mind and body like how fine wine would.

A coincidence that recently I should get a whole bag of flavored teas from one of the finest tea estates in Sri Lanka, which got me tearing open a box of Jasmine Tea and getting down to brewing my own little tea cup the connoisseurs way.

I started off by pulling out a small cottage shaped curio ceramic teapot which was the only ceramic teapot I had and coincidentally from Sri Lanka! (yes, the first thing one should do while on an attempt to make tea is to get a teapot which is ceramic) and proceeded to the first step in tea making.

The teapot, well washed and free of any out worldly smells is to be warmed. Now we can, of course, not warm it over a flame or in the oven, so the warming of the pot is done by pouring hot boiling water into the pot, closing the lid and pouring out the water through the spout in about four minutes.

The tea is then spooned into the hot pot to a ratio of one spoon per person and one small extra for the pot. The lid is closed and the tea should be given a minute for the natural heated vapors to soak in. This step ensures that the leaves are gently made accustomed to the heat they would be subject to in the next few minutes and more so in getting the natural oils and flavors (in case of flavored teas) activated for the final brewing.

Warm water is brought out, to be sure its not boiling, and then poured gently into the tea pot. At this point, once the lid is closed, you must not shake, stir or touch the brew, but leave it to settle for not more than 5 to 7 minutes depending on how strong you would like your brew. 5 minutes is an excellent time for flavored teas whereas 7 for other high-ended pure teas.

The tea is then strained out carefully into individual cups, take in the sweet aroma, drop in a cube of sugar to sweeten things up and you are set to enjoy the perfect cuppa. For pure teas you can add milk or cream as per personal preference.

Some of the finer points to be noted:

No boiling or zapping the tea into oblivion as you would then be practically burning the leaves and having a mish mash of bitter flavors

No re-heating should be done – as this method is only for instant drinking and meant to be that way

No using boiling water when commencing with the actual brewing

Time bound and precision inspired, as only then will you enjoy the real and actual flavors

The steps for the perfect brew can be used for any tea possibly made by mankind

This way you'd be proud of the fact that it’s a world of difference making it the way it’s actually supposed to be made. Try it one fine day when you have all the time in the world, I assure you, its nothing less than a relaxing spa treatment.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Down & Dirty

I was always intrigued and in awe of the word “Martini”. As a kid (all thanks to James Bond) I thought that’s the proper cocktail for a man. Dad was a whiskey drinker, others had Pilsner and the ladies always had a Bloody Mary? But the lure of movies is such that I always felt when I was old enough to have “adult” drinks it would start with a Martini. (A fine example of my upbringing you might think, what with other kids my age having aspirations of being a pilot, architect or doctor); anyway no judgmental views here.

My first tryst with a Martini was a complete let down. I might have just turned 16, fresh out of school and into college and our gang of buddies decide to go to a night club (in the afternoon, yes, those were the days). Money was limited so a round of beers was ordered and those who were experienced started confidently swigging. I, being the experimental kind and a little extra cash on hand (all due to the excitement of a night club! Teens, I tell you) went up to the bar and ordered a Martini (yes, yes, I used the cheesy line – shaken not stirred) and got a Martini for sure, in a Martini glass, but, wait for it – it was horrendously bitter, strong as hell and surprisingly warm? I thought to myself, it’s no wonder Dad takes to Whiskey.

Though it never occurred to me at that time that anyone could mess up a drink, especially a simple Martini, I was determined to find out the right recipe.

I have definitely come a long way from the Blue Riband® Gin and Cinzano® Vermouth days. The Cinzano® remains my all time favorite as dry vermouth, but I have conveniently shifted over to Bombay Sapphire®, it being easily available in most wine stores nowadays.

The deep colored and rich turquoise blue bottle instantly reminds you of a serene and calm blue sea and the gin somewhat relates to the dryness of the hot sand; the age old recipe of this gin comprises of ten of the most carefully select botanical ingredients which are distilled to perfection to reveal its true flavor making it a wonderfully crisp and balanced spirit. Of course, this Gin when mixed up with Dry Vermouth – makes a perfect Martini.

There are many kinds of Martinis, the quintessential being Dry Martini with its posh slightly briny flavor and pimento stuffed olive garnish. The Dirty Martini takes the cake with a little bit of olive juice to the mix while stirring it up (and of course 3 olives to make it murkier, hence the name Dirty Martini) and my favorite – the Lemon Drop Martini.

The recipes floating around as also mixed up in most bars use Vodka and Cointreau as the alcoholic base. I like things the classic way and have tweaked the classic martini a bit. The lemon drop martini I stir up is a heavenly bouquet of Gin, Sweet Vermouth and of course sour lemon. I am sure you too will not be able to resist it.


60ml Bombay Sapphire Gin
30ml Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano)
1 tsp Lemon Juice  
A Lemon Rind (twirled) for garnish
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Cracked Ice
Alternately you can use the Martini® Brand Mix instead of Vermouth

I like this drink shaken, so I usually put all of the ingredients except the garnish and Bitters in a shaker filled with cracked ice. You can throw in the squeezed lemon for good measure. Shake it for a good half a minute and strain into a Chilled Martini Glass. I then add a drop of Angostura® Bitters and am set to garnish and serve.

I’ll share with you a little trick for the garnish. Before adding the lemon rind hold it over the drink filled glass with tongs, with a lit matchstick or a lighter, lightly brush the flame onto the length of the rind for a second or so, ensure that you do not burn the rind and drop it straight into the drink.

This method releases the citrus oils in the rind and when it falls into the chilled drink, the oils spread and impart a strong and sharp flavor instantly.

Try this drink on a hot summer evening, I am sure you wont regret downing it in gulps (hangover can go fish!)