Heroine from India

The second Emory conference on Religion, conflict, and Peacebuilding 2011 took place this past weekend. Yesterday, Dr. Kiran Bedi gave a public talk on “Contemporary Issues and Practical Solutions” that included her movement against anti-corruption in India. Her fame started when she issued a parking ticket to the Prime Minister of India (Mrs Indira Gandhi) and now Dr. Bedi has been responsible for apprehending chief ministers, banking fraudulent and organizers of the Commonwealth Games. Even today, of the allocations, only $16 of every $100 is actually spent on building infrastructure in India. The rest fuels corruption and bribery. Clearly, the astronomical growth of the Indian economy needs to be counterbalanced with a strong infrastructure, and sound political and judiciary systems. You can join her movement abroad by visiting NRIAC.

I first met Dr. Bedi when I was a teenager growing up in Chandigarh, India. She had come to speak of her recent achievements at our local Rotary club. Even then, she left a deep impression on me. As a powerful woman in a male dominant career, she inspired young girls like me to demand respect and transform society. She did not stop there. Over the past few decades, she has been a humanitarian, peace keeper and activist. Dr. Bedi spoke about the need for our youth to be giving, to serve the communities and participate in the political affairs. Watch the video where Dr. Bedi gives her message.

                                    Video Kiran Bedi on youth

If you are not familiar, here is a brief background on Dr. Bedi (from the web)….

Dr. Kiran Bedi is an Indian social activist and retired Indian Police Service Officer (IPS) and became the first woman to join in 1972. She worked as Police Advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Since retirement, she founded two non-profit organizations: Navjyoti and India Vision Foundation, which seek to improve the lives of Indians through education, addiction treatment, and programs for women and children living in India’s slums, rural areas, and prison. She has won numerous international awards for her courageous work in Indian prison and justice reform, including the equivalent of the Asian Nobel Prize. She has been the host of popular Indian court television, as well as the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary of her life, “Yes, Madam Sir”.

 

10 ways to eat your boiled eggs

Have a lot of leftover Easter eggs and don’t know what to do with them? Well, there is good news for you! You can use your hard boiled eggs in lots of international recipes that your family won’t get bored with. Some of these are even good for entertaining. So take a stroll around the world and see how you can expand your egg-horizon within the boundaries of your own kitchen.

 

1.      Deviled eggs – A tradition at every backyard party, but you need not stick to the basic flavors. Mix taco seasoning and a sliver of avocado. Dot some salsa on the top and serve it on a nacho. There you have a Mexican bite deviled egg.
2.     Egg Biryani – Biryani is a rice dish cooked with a meat (chicken, goat), fried onions and saffron. Boiled eggs can be sliced and used for decoration or eliminate the meat entirely and make it an egg biryani.
3.     Egg salad sandwiches – Chop the eggs in a large bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Toast bread slices, layer with a spoon of butter, lettuce, tomato and the egg salad and enjoy on a summer afternoon.
4.     Egg curry – A simple Indian style curry can be prepared with green peas and potatoes. Fry whole boiled eggs till the skin crackles and add to the curry. Serve with naan.
5.     Egg pâté – A Russian egg pate is so easy to make that you would want to take it to every summer gathering. Grind the eggs with dill, scallions, butter, mayonnaise and salt to make a paste. Pour into a mound and chill in refrigerator overnight. When ready to serve, decorate with sliced cucumbers, olives and crackers.
6.     Egg pakora – Pakora is an Indian style fritter. The batter is made with gram flour, water and spices (cumin seeds, red chili powder, garam masala and salt). Cut the eggs in half and dip each piece in the batter. Deep fry in a wok with vegetable or canola oil until golden brown. Serve as a snack with mint chutney.
7.      Eggplant parmesan – Make traditional eggplant parmesan with slices of fried eggplant, layered with slices on mozzarella, marinara sauce and sprinkled diced boiled eggs. Top the final layer with sauce and bake in a 35oF oven for 30 minutes.
8.     Use in salads – Adding protein to any salad makes it a more wholesome meal. Add sliced or halves boiled eggs to potato salad, spinach salad or a smoked salmon salad.
9.     Meat balls and patties – Sounds strange but mashed up boiled eggs do magic to your meat. It makes it soft, retains the moisture and adds more flavor. For meatballs, combine ground beef, onions, parsley, eggs, bread crumbs, fresh garlic cloves, paprika and salt. Grind all the ingredients in a food processor till chunky but not mushy. Shape into balls and pan fry with olive oil till completely cooked.
10. Nicoise salad – The French version of the American Cobb salad, the Nicoise salad makes a complete and healthy meal. Use light vinaigrette and honey mustard dressings for the veggies before plating them. Place canned tuna meat, cooked whole green beans, and boiled potatoes on a plate lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with olives, cut tomatoes, slices red onions and quartered boiled eggs.

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Not your everyday chicken curry

Chicken curry is a popular dish in India, served at every household and restaurant. The preparation however varies from region to region. The Karwar version of the chicken curry includes coconut and a concoction of spices. These are not your typical out of the box seasoning and a visit to an ethnic grocery store would be required. However, you can prepared the spice mixture ahead of time and store it in an air tight container in the freezer for a long time. 

Preparing the marinade:

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

5 to 6 whole green chilies

2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

Pinch of salt

 Blend all the ingredients in a blender. Add 2 tablespoon water to make a thick paste.

Marinating the chicken:

2 tablespoon plain yogurt

2 lbs chicken pieces (with bones)

Soak the chicken in yogurt and the marinade in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour so the juices get absorbed.

Making your own dry spice mixture:

 12 whole cloves

3 whole cardamoms

12 peppercorns

6 red dried chilies

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

3 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon anise seeds

 Place a wok or large fry pan on medium heat. Once hot, add all the spices and roast for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. The spices would release an aroma once roasted. Do not brown them. Let cool at room temperature. Then use a coffee or spice grinder to grind the spices into a powdery consistency. Store in air tight container until ready to use.

 Finishing the spice blend:

 3 medium onions, coarsely chopped

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups grated coconut (unsweetened)

2 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

 In a large fry pan, heat the oil. Then fry the onions and coconut lightly. Let cool completely. Then blend with dry spice mixture until thick paste in formed. All steps till this point can be completed ahead of time.

 Cooking the chicken:

 1 small onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1 teaspoon salt

In a medium size pressure cooker, heat the oil on medium heat. Fry the finely chopped onion till brown in color. Add the marinated pieces of chicken and fry it for 3 minutes. Add the spice mixture and salt to it and fry for another 2 minutes. Add a cup of water and pressure cook for approx. 7 minutes on medium heat. If the whistle blows before 7 minutes take the pressure cooker off the flame.

Serve warm with steamed rice.

An undiscovered gem from southern India

Karwar is a small town on the western coast of India, just south of Goa. It was an ancient site of sea trade visited by the Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, French and later the British.  Karwar is still known for its pristine beaches and a bustling seaport.

Although a lot of information can be found on Goan cuisine, the cuisine of Karwar is largely a well kept secret. The two happen to have a few commonalities but still differ in taste, flavor and variety. You will not find any cookbooks revealing the regional recipes and the only way to get them is through a native. And so I did! One of my friends happens to be from Karwar. She has also lived in Mumbai and Goa, but is loyal to her Karwari roots. After months of persuasion, she finally let me into her classified kitchen closet in Atlanta where she showed me her stack of whole spices that I had never seen or heard of before. Among these was my new discovery – white kokum phool. Kokum is a small round fruit that has its origins in India. It has a sweet and sour taste, similar to tamarind. It is dried and sold in packet or made into powder. In Karwar cuisine, it is used as generously as salt and pepper.

During the course of the evening, we prepared shrimp fry, fish fry, and coconut chicken curry. The generous hostess had already cooked other side items to go with our banquet style dinner.

The shrimp and fish fry are prepared in the same manner and served as an appetizer.

 

 


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Shrimp Fry

 

1 teaspoon garlic paste

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ lemon

1 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed

½ cup vegetable or canola oil

½ cup semolina (known as Sooji at Indian stores)

Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice into the spices and add 1 tablespoon of oil to make it pasty. Rub the spice mixture on the shrimps using the half of the lemon to coat. Leave aside for 5 minutes.

Heat oil in a large fry pan on medium temperature. Spread the semolina on a plate. Lightly coat each shrimp with semolina on both sides, and then add to the hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Tandoori in Iceland

When I visited Iceland in 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect from its culinary scene. Iceland has known to be exorbitantly expense due to its distant location, extreme climate and scarce population. Out of its 300k citizens, only 4% of the population is employed in agriculture. They primarily grow potatoes, turnips, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Other than that, the farmers keep cattle, horses and sheep. Being surrounded by waters, seafood is definitely a big source of food and export for the country.

I saw all of these items on the menu but did not dare try the horse meat. I try to stick to being a pescetarian whenever possible. While there were lots of options for seafood lovers, the most pleasant surprise I had was the Icelandic lobsters. They are very different than the North American lobsters, being smaller in size, almost like a prawn. Also, their texture is much softer and when cooked well, they melt in your mouth.

The Icelandic lobsters preparations varied at the different places I tried them at. In Vik, there was a huge plate of scampi style as well as a lobster meat pizza. In Reykjavik, there were lobster tails in a cream butter sauce with julienned vegetables.

Perhaps the best dish that I tried was tandoori lobster tails at an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik. There were a dozen tender juicy lobster tails perfectly marinated with spices and grilled to perfection. They were served with a mint yogurt chutney and fresh baked naan. Only if i could find the Icelandic lobsters here in the south, I would be preparing this recipe at every special occasion. Until then, just make do with regular American lobsters.

Recipe for Tandoori Lobster Tails

4 medium lobster tails, (removed from shells) meat only

½ cup plain yogurt

¼ cup tandoori paste

Mix the yogurt and tandoori paste in a large bowl, add the lobster tails. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Heat a grill to 350F. Place the lobster tails on the greased grill surface and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook the lobsters as they will become too dry and chewy. Serve immediately with mint chutney.

Bread, not cake

In spring of 2000, I was enrolled in a Leadership and Group Dynamic course while pursuing my Bachelors degree at Georgia State University. On the last day of class, we were asked to bring a dish each so we can have a potluck party and celebrate the end of the course. It was also a diversity exercise so we were encouraged to bring a dish that represented our own culture or ethnicity.

I prepared bite size tandoori chicken nuggets. Others brought sushi, noodles, macaroni, etc. One American girl brought a dry nutty cake in a loaf pan. It was delicious so I asked her what it was. (Growing up in India, I had never come across anything like it). She said it was “banana nut bread” and I was a bit confused.  I exclaimed to her that it tastes like cake, looks like cake, so how is it bread? Well, I am sure she had never been asked that question before so her response was “Well, it’s just called banana nut bread.”

Whatever you want to name it, I like to have my banana nut bread for breakfast, coffee time, snack, and dessert! I have also gotten my mom and hubby hooked on it (especially the one I bake). I have tried different recipe, made my different people and restaurants. Some are too dry, others don’t have enough crunch. After my banana nut bread tasting escapades, I decided to create my own recipe that would perfect everything that they all are lacking (wink). Believe me; I have people who can testify!

It is pretty easy to make provided that you have the right measurements.  I also like to make it a little healthier by using olive oil instead of canola oil or butter. The cereal helps it from getting soggy and also adds a nice crunch.

Banana Nut Bread

  •  1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Post banana nut crunch cereal
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 9×5 loaf pan coated with baking spray. Lightly toast walnuts in toaster oven for 2-3 minutes at 300F. In a kitchen stand mixer, beat the sugar, eggs and oil on high till combined. Reduce to medium speed, and then add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Once the mixture is creamy, break the bananas with your hand and blend into the batter. Finally, add the cereal and walnuts and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in oven for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temprature. Add chocolate chips into the batter to make it more fun. Serve with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce to make it a restaurant quality dessert.

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Tipping on a budget

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In these financially demanding times, it can sometimes get difficult to pay for the services we normally would. Moreover, you want to compensate the service provider by tipping him/ her adequately. All of these costs add up quickly.

I want to share a story with you on tipping when on budget. When my grandparents first visited US from India in the 1960’s they were allowed to bring only $80 cash per person with them and credit cards did not exist at the time (at least not in India). My grandmother brought tons of souvenirs and gifts with her to give away as tips. She would leave a pair of earrings (artificial costing less than 25 cents) or a scarf for the waitress after a meal and the waitress would be so grateful. She would think that a queen has just left her a tip! Sometimes, my grandmother would take off the (inexpensive) jewels she was wearing and leave them behind…How classy! Her suitcase was full of goodies like these that she would use whenever a tipping need existed. America wasn’t exposed to ethnic wear back then so it they were much appreciated exotic gifts.

Fifty years later, I seem to carry some of her habits. Just the other day, I gave away two tickets to a comedy show (which I got for free) to my Barista at Starbucks. (I did ask him before if he would like them). Also, I brought back very unique key chains from Morocco during my last visit (with designs of good luck, ethnic shoes, blessings, etc.) which I have given as tips and thank you gestures too. During Christmas, it can get very expensive to give cash to service providers, so I usually go on a baking spree. I make biscotti, apricot breads and plum or fruit cakes for my hairdresser, manicurist, mail delivery lady, massage therapist, etc. They seem to appreciate it a lot. 

It’s a funny story but by no means am I propagating substituting cash for goods to your service providers. They work hard too and deserve to be paid for it. But if the cash value of your gift is more than what you can afford to pay then, I believe it’s ok to do once in a while. Just make sure you are genuinely thanking them.

Cooking Fusion in your home

In my attempt to stimulate your global palette, this is the second post in a series of Fusion cooking.  These are just some tips that will veer your creativity in the right direction. Keep in mind, there are unlimited possibilities in terms of what you can do yourself!

 

Trick #2 : Play with spices

Spices have been traded, imported and introduced across borders for many centuries. Some say humans have been using spices since 50,000 BC for medical remedies, food and mummifying. Spice trading was an important activity amongst sailors. Fortunately, we now live in a world where our neighborhood grocery store bestows us the best spices from Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America – all in one isle!

India is the largest producer of spices in the world, but you need not cook Indian cuisine to enjoy them. Here are some chows and spices from different parts of the world that you can combine to create your own fusion….

Saffron – The sweetness from saffron makes a risotto very flavorful. Use only a pinch in the beginning as it will continue to add color as the risotto cooks. It can also be used with short grain rice or Israeli couscous.

Curry Powder – Use a teaspoon of curry powder as base of soups, before you add stock. It adds a new dimension to your potato leek soup or squash bisque.

Paprika – Sweet and spicy kinds of paprika are sold in Hungary. It is now used to add a little heat in a number of dishes, but the sweet kind can be used more freely. Try a paprika chicken stew using both kinds, but be careful not to go overboard with the spice or you won’t be able to taste anything else.

Cumin Powder – While cumin seeds are lightly roasted and used in some Indian cooking, cumin powder is fine to use straight out of the box. It has a strong peppery fragrance and is best when combined with other spices. You can add it to stews, soup and curries.

Red Pepper – These come in a variety depending on the geographic source and vary in their heat and flavor accordingly. Powdered red pepper should be used to flavor dishes, season meats and add taste. Fry a pinch with oil and roast nuts in the pan for a quick cocktail snack. Rub it on raw chicken or meat along with salt and pepper before you cook. Mix with some crushed peanuts and season fish fillets, then pan fry for a Thai style treat. Sprinkle on breads, add to sauces and don’t be afraid!

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Additionally, spice mixes such as Zatar, Cajun, Garam Masala can be used to season meat and fish and paired with a starch from another cuisine. See Cooks across borders for more ideas.

I am eager to hear from you. What are your favorite spices? Have you had a recipe go wrong by adding too much or too little spice? Please share…


Best Friend’s Chocolate Cake

I attended high school in a small town in northern India. It was an all-girls Catholic Convent school, right across the street from where I lived. Our school was considered to produce polished, well-spoken, and smart girls who were quite successful in whatever path they chose after graduation.

From sixth grade until now, I have been best friends with two of my classmates. We use to hang out together all the time, be it sitting in class, having lunch during break, going for movies on the weekends, to spending all festivals and holidays together. All three of us moved to different parts of the world after college, but still managed to remain in touch and keep the friendship alive.

When my friends would come over, my mom would sometimes bake cakes and make noodles (my two favorite eats growing up). Since she could not find bags of chocolate morsels in stores, she would buy bars of Cadburys chocolates and melt them into the cake batter. It would be so delicious and rich!

One of my best friends from high school came to visit me at my home in Atlanta, back in 2005 while she was in New York for an assignment. Needless to say, I showed off my culinary skills by baking a chocolate cake for her. She fell in love with it and asked me to make it every time she visited then on.

It’s a very simple velvety chocolate cake with no layers or icing. I like it because it’s not too sweet and can be had at any time of the day. It serves well at tea or snack time so you don’t have to wait for dessert to enjoy it.

Chocolate Cake RecipeDan's Chocolates

1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate morsel

½ cup butter, at room temperature

16-oz brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

8-oz sour cream

1 cup hot water

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoon powdered sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for 1 minute or until smooth. Stir gently.

Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed for 5 minutes, and then add eggs, 1 at a time. Beat until just blended. Add the melted chocolate and beat for another 30 seconds.

Mix together flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Now, gradually add the flour mixture to the chocolate base, alternating with sour cream. Beat at low speed during this process. Add the hot water in a low steady stream still blending on slow. Stir in the vanilla.

Spoon batter in a prepared (floured and greased) angel cake or a 10-inch round pan. Bake at 350F for 55-65 minutes or until wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, sift powdered sugar on top and enjoy.


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Leela’s Lobster Malai

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel in Bangalore. It was a magnificent palace converted into a 5-star hotel, rated as one of the best in India. The architecture and gardens of the property are worth considering a tourist destination itself!

Even their restaurant is rated the best in town. The hotel advertised a special party to celebrate the occassion. At a steep entry fee of $100/ person, you would get access to an open bar, a mile long multi-cuisine buffet, entertainment and dance floor. Since I could not afford to stay there, I decided to splurge for New Year’s Eve at least. The place was adorned in a carnival theme, with colorful drapes and masks of every origin. There were two rooms with buffet tables that would put a King’s banquet to shame. Needless to say, it was worth every penny!

Here is a recipe from the web site that I tasted in the buffet. I love lobster and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into ethnic cuisines. Hope you like it too!

Lobster Malai –  Serves 4

Ingredients   Qty.
Large Fresh Lobster : 04 No (600-800 Gm. Each)
Fresh Onion Paste : 250 Gm.
Ginger Julienne : 20 Gm.
Green Chilli Finely Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coriander Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coconut Milk (Ist Extract) : 200 Ml.
Fresh Coconut Milk (2nd Extract) : 250 Ml.
Bay Leaf : 02 No
Cinnamon Powder : 02 Gm.
Spice Clove Powder : 02 Gm.
Coconut Oil : 110 Ml.
Turmeric Powder : a pinch
Salt : To taste
Ginger : 75 Gm.
Cumin Power : 08 Gm.

Preparation

  • Blanch the whole lobster in hot salted water. Take out the meat from the tail and cut length wise slices.
  • Heat oil in a kadai, put chopped green chilli and ginger julienne. Fry for sometime. Add fresh chopped coriander and fry well.
  • Add ginger, cumin powder and sauté well.
  • Add onion paste and sauté till the raw smell goes out.
  • Now add second extract of coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Put salt and turmeric powder and reduce the sauce to half.
  • Add cinnamon, clove powder and bay leaf.
  • Add first remove of coconut milk and lobster meat slices and simmer for sometime.
  • Garnish with ginger juliennes and fresh coriander sprig., serve hot with Malabar Parottas or Appam

 I appeared in the local newspaper the next day for being at the Faces and Masks party. You can see my picture on the DNA India web site.