Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Z' is for Ziti ... . A to Z Challenge Day 26.

When I got married, my nephew was all of three and my niece almost two. They were the first children I had seen at close quarters. They quite easily wormed their ways into my heart and I took to taking them out with me all over the place: be it shopping, loafing about or swimming. Yes, swimming was the high point in all our lives!

Then, a few years later came my own two daughters, born a year apart. They were followed by another niece and then a few years later, another nephew. The latest additions to our family are three month old twins: a boy and a girl. As a result I am now a proud 'parent' of eight children, whose ages range from 22 to 3 months!!!! Two of them have left home. One lives in Canada and visits annually. The older niece is in Bangalore but currently at home on vacation. 

And I love to take them swimming. In fact that's one thing we all love to do. Right from the time they were small we had these outings when we would go to the club, have a leisurely swim and lunch...

"So what has all this got to do with ziti or even food?" you ask. 

Thing is, and I will never understand why, on each and every one of these outings someone or the other always, but always, orders the Club Macaroni and Cheese. In fact even the fussiest eater of the day (and that crown moves around) cannot say no to Mac and Cheese. I have tried it sometimes, its the same horrible bland taste every time. So the other day I said I'd make them Mac and Cheese at home. The youngest one, all of five, piped up. "But it won't be like this one here!" 

So the other day at the store, I found a packet of Ziti. I've decided I'm going to make a nice meat sauce with bacon and sausages and I'm going to bake it with cheese.... 
And I'll call my children over for dinner!!!

And since this is the last day of the challenge I leave you with a happy picture of me and 6 of my kids.... just after a satisfying meal that had a lot of Mac and Cheese! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Y" for Yours. A to Z Challenge Day 25.

There's no one quite like your mother.
Or anyone who cooks like her.
Or anyone who can take the place of your father.
Or the time he spent teaching a little girl to poach eggs
All the times you tried to cook and failed
Or the times you were sure you screwed up up but didn't.
Or the joy you felt when your meal was praised
Or the way you squirmed when the salt was too much
There's that kitchen you call your very own
A five-star affair...or is it a hole in the wall?
Too small, too big, just about right...
Where you conjure dishes day and night
That oven, that old pan with the loose handle
That measuring cup that has seen better days
That old cooker that was a wedding gift
Those serving dishes you use with care...

All that...every moment
you spend cooking
spreading smiles
sharing love
are special
are all YOURS!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"X" is for Xacuti. A to Z Challenge Day 24.

Xacuti is a Goan curry. You can make it with fish or mutton or chicken but the recipe I want to share today is with prawn. If you like Indian curries, this will certainly be a favourite. Just adjust the cooking time if you are using chicken or meat.


  1. Prawns (medium size) 1 cup tossed gently with a little salt and pepper.
  2. Onions (large) 1 chopped finely.
  3. Coconut grated 3/4 cup
  4. Nutmeg powder 1/2 tsp
  5. Coriander seeds 3/4/tsp
  6. Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
  7. Tamarind paste 1/2 tsp
  8. Poppy seeds 1/2 tsp
  9. Fennel seeds 1/2 tsp
  10. Dried red chillies : 3/4
  11. Star Anise 2/3 (optional)
  12. Cinnamon 1 (1 inch) piece
  13. Cloves 2/3
  14. Oil: 1 tbsp
  15. Salt: to taste

  1. Dry roast the coconut till it turns lightly brown. Keep aside.
  2. Dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, dried chillies and star anise, if using till a nice aroma comes out. Do not burn. I usually do this in a tawa over a low flame once the tawa is hot, 
  3. Gring the dry roasted seeds with the coconut into a smooth paste. Add as little water as possible. 
  4. Heat oil and fry the chopped onion. When it starts to brown, add the masala and fry till the oil separates. 
  5. Add the prawn and fry for about 3/4 minutes mixing the prawns in the masala nicely. Add some water and cook till prawns are done. Do not over cook as the prawns will turn rubbery and hard. 
  6. Add nutmeg powder, tamarind and cook for 2 minutes till blended. 
This is lovely with rice or roti but it's really special with local paos (buns)!  

Monday, April 27, 2015

"W" is for Wednesday Dinners. A to Z Challenge Day 23.

Growing up, my Mom was a Librarian at our school. We had a lady who used to take care of us. She seemed to have been around forever, Pramilla was her name. Most of our childhood memories have Pramilla there somewhere.
Now this Pramilla used to have a evening off every week. Every Wednesday after we returned from school in the afternoon, Pramilla would take off to be with her family and not return until the next day.
Hence, on Wednesday nights, without fail, my mother cooked dinner.

And Ma never made rice and daal and boring stuff. Often it was roast mutton. Or chicken. Sometimes Moussaka. Or Shammi kababs. Caramel custard. Lamb chops cooked to perfection, chicken shaslik, grilled fish, meat loaf..... the whole house was infused with delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen. We'd help in whatever way we could but Mom was happy and cheerful those evenings although the utensils piled up in the sink. After the cooking was over, my Mom would have a shower, wear some perfume and dress up nicely and wait for my father to return.

I never could figure it out. Then. It made no sense.
But, oh yes, we all loved Wednesdays, specially at dinnertime! 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"V" is for Vindaloo. A to Z Challenge, Day 22.

In college we were a hungry lot.
(I've already said that.)
In any case, days before we were coming home for our holidays, we used to be dreaming of all the delicious goodies we would eat when we got home!
Those were the days of the snail mail. Long distance phone calls were a luxury I could ill-afford. So six weeks before I was due to go home I would start penning the menu that should be waiting for me from the day I reached home. I still remember my favourite orders: Aam Shoal (a fish spiced with raw mangoes), dahi vada (no one still makes it like my mother!) Mangshor jhol (mutton curry) Moussaka (we all know what that is!) and on and on it went, the list was endless.

As they say, all good things come to an end. So it was with our vacations. I don't know what made us more sad, the fact that we were leaving home or the fact that we would not be getting all the good food we got while at home... For me I am sure it was the latter.
So my mother devised a way I would not miss home food for a few more days even as I was away from home.
She made vindaloo.

The train journey from my city to a place called Kalyan, took 36 hours. After a two hour wait we boarded another train which took four hours to reach our final destination, Pune. This was provided the trains all ran on time and there were no delays or mishaps on the way. Often, these journeys across India were taken in the fiercest heat; as a college student I never travelled by air conditioned coach.

So what is Vindaloo?
Vindaloo is Goan dish made with mutton or pork or even chicken (My mom made it with mutton for me to take to college.) It is marinated in garlic and  ginger and other spices and cooked with vinegar. It is almost pickled and hence stays for a few days so it would survive the journey to college... That's when I learnt that if there is onion  and/or water in a recipe it will spoil fast. Same with potato.
But there I was.... miles, days away from home;

Savouring, little by little, a slice of home!

Friday, April 24, 2015

'U' for Ugh. A to Z Challenge Day 21.

Let's face it. Not everyone can cook. Although some people have the best of intentions and spare no effort or expense in doing it. If fact there have been times when even the best home cooks do screw up. I've done it: experimented with something, tasted it and gone "UGH. That cannot be how it is supposed to be!"
So every once in a while you may be invited for dinner or given something to eat and although it looks presentable enough, when you taste it your heart sinks. "Ugh," you think!
So what do you do then?
Here's what I do.
I calmly finish the food, as much as I can anyway, find something on the menu that's half edible, (like the salad, maybe?), set down the plate and profusely thank the host and tell them what a wonderful meal it has been.
That's manners!

And then there are some things that make you go ugh anyway and you wouldn't touch it for the world. It may be the smell, the texture, the taste. After all, we all have our preferences.
For me, it's the smell of Bombay Duck as it's cooking.
It's the mild fish curry cooked at home day in day out. Smells too fishy, I never touch it.
It's plain boiled okra with it's slimy texture.
It's the yolk of fried egg sunny side up... could never stand it, either the taste or the texture though I know people who would kill for it. Well, almost.
It's idli and vada after more than a month of having it day in and day out at the hospital canteen. Thankfully that was temporary.

The list goes on.
So tell me, what are the food that make YOU go "ugh!"?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

'T' for Toad-in-the-hole. A to Z Challenge Day 20.

Let's talk about toad in the hole.
Nope, it''s not about a big fat warty toad in a muddy hole.
It's an odd name for a dish, isn't it?
A dish made with yummy sausages and batter?
With gravy on the side....

Do you like sausages?
Did I hear you say yes?
Go on then, try having a toad in the hole.

It's easy.
Your kids will love it.

Here's how:


  1.  100g plain flour
  2. 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  3. 1 egg
  4. 300ml milk
  5. 8 plain pork sausages (okay, chicken...if you must)
  6. 2 tbsp oil (canola/sunflower)
  7. 2 onions, sliced. 
  8. 1 tsp brown sugar
  9. 500 ml chicken or beef stock 
  1.  Make the batter: Heat oven to 220 degrees C. Take flour in a large mixing bowl and stir in the mustard powder with a good pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg, then pour in a little milk. Stir gradually adding the flour and milk until you have a smooth batter and all the milk and flour has been mixed together.
  2. The batter should be smooth and lump-free and the consistency of double cream.Keep it in a jug for easier pouring later on. Use scissors to snip the links between the sausages and drop them into a 20 x 30cm roasting tin. Add 1 tbsp of the oil, tossing the sausages in it to thoroughly coat the base of the tin and  roast in the oven for 15 mins.
  3. Cook the batter: Take the hot tray from the oven, then quickly pour in the batter – it should sizzle and bubble a little when it first hits the hot pan. Put it back into the oven, then bake for 40 mins until the batter is cooked through, well risen and crisp. If you poke the tip of a knife into the batter in the middle of the tray it should be set, not sticky or runny.
  4. Make the gravy: Soften the onions with the remaining oil in a large nonstick frying pan for about 20 mins, stirring often, until they are golden brown. Sprinkle in the sugar for the final 5 mins. Add a spoonful of flour to a little bit of stock till smooth. Add it to the onions and stir. Gradually pour in the stock, stirring well to make a smooth sauce. Bubble for 4-5 mins to thicken and season with salt and pepper. Cut the toad in the hole into large wedges and serve with the gravy spooned over.
  5. Do please let me know how the kids (or even the spouse!) reacted when you said you're serving a toad in the hole!!! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'S" is for Sunflower Seeds. A to Z Challenge Day 19.

In college I was introduced to sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and the like. We jokingly called them "bird-feed". They were eaten by the Arab friends of our who got packets and packets of the stuff. They were  not shelled, roasted and salted and we took to munching them and spitting out the shells. It was quite an art to do it without using your finger to shell the seed!

Cut to many years later. We were travelling in the UK with our girls who were then 4 and 5. Impressionable and sweet, they hung onto every word I said. This was their first trip Westwards. I was constantly on the alert to ensure that the knife was in the right hand, the mouth was closed while chewing, the Ps and the Qs came out at the appropriate time, the shoe laces were tied, etc etc etc. It was quite a crazy holiday!

In London, we stayed at this apartment on Queensway. It was lovely and only a short walk to Hyde's Park where we took the girls to run around. Inside the Park I let them be, I did not have to worry about table manners and, luckily, they have never been the screeching type! On one such occasion, on the way to Hyde Park, we stopped at a store to buy some juices and stuff. There I spotted a packet of sunflower seeds, the same seedless salted stuff! Nostalgic, I bought a pack,

Once inside Hyde Park, I taught them how to shell and eat the seeds... Intrigued, they tried it for some time till they got bored.
Walking back, they asked me, "what will happen if we eat those seeds?
Inspired, I replied, "why, you'll have sunflowers growing in your tummy!"

The rest of the holiday saw them munching sunflower seeds, running up to me, opening their mouths wide and asking me, "do you see the sunflowers, Ma?"
I always did.

Those were the days, were they not?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'R' for Rice. A to Z Challenge Day 18

I'll be honest with you. I had to take a pick between Rice and Roast and it was a tough call. You see, both, to me, are comfort food. More about the roast another day, let's try the rice for now.
As an Indian, I have grown up eating rice all my life.
Add to that the fact that I am Bengali.
Bengalis in particular are predominantly rice eaters, rarely does any meal NOT have rice.

So it's no wonder I love my rice. Oh I can go without it for some time. But then after about a week of ricelessness, I get restless. Like when we are on vacation, invariably after about a week or so of sandwiches and hot dogs and stuff, the spouse and I find ourselves on the look out for Indian or or Chinese or even Thai joints.. You see, we are certain we will find rice there! Be it biriyani, or pulao or fried rice or khichdi  or even plain steamed rice..... rice is comfort food.

And the most comforting comfort food is Pish-pash, a rice and chicken meal that my grand mother used to make when we were not feeling well or had fever and it still tops my list of 'good food'.

Here's how you do it:


  1. Rice : 1 and 1/2 cup
  2. Chicken with bones: one small, cut into biggish pieces. about 2 pounds. 
  3. Onion, 1 large chopped fine.
  4. Garlic: 4 pods chopped.
  5. Butter
  6. Potatoes: 3 medium sized, peeled and halved. 
  7. Cauliflower/ peas/ carrots/golden corn (optional) : chopped biggish, about 1/2 cup
  8. Salt and pepper to taste. 
  9. Oil: (Canola/sunflower/any white oil)
  10. Bay leaf: 1
  11. Whole pepper corns: 5/7. (optional)
  1. Clean and wash the rice. 
  2. In a pan heat I tbsp oil and add the Bay leaf. Add garlic and lightly fry. Add onions and fry for about 3 minutes. Do not allow the onion to turn brown. Add pepper corns if you like. 
  3. Add the chicken pieces and mix in the onions etc. 
  4. When it has browned, add the potato pieces and saute some more. 
  5. Add the washed rice, move it around the pan, taking care not to let it stick. 
  6. Add water, 3 to 4 cups. Salt to taste.  1 cup of chicken stock and 2 to 3 cups of water will also do nicely.
  7. Let it boil and cook stirring occasionally until the rice is done. the chicken and potatoes too should be done. Check and see and add water and boil some more if required. If adding vegetables, add it when the rice is half cooked, else it becomes too mushy. 
  8. When the rice is cooked, the mixture should be soupy. Do not let the rice stick, keep adding water as requires. The dish is soupy, I repeat and not dry. The rice should be soft and the chicken very tender. Melt in your mouth consistency. 
  9. Serve hot with a big dollop of butter.
  10. Never fails with fussy eaters! 
I think I know what we are having for dinner tonight! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

"Q" for Quiche. A to Z Challenge Day 17

Q put me in a quandary...  what food can I think of  that begins with Q?
Quinoa....? Naah, don't care for it!
Quince...? What can I write about a pear?
Quail? Too tiny.... and I've never tried it either.
Quesadilla... ? But that's not local, not even available anywhere near me, the last time I heard.

It struck me:

Quiches are fun. Quiches are easy to make. And they are filling. A slice (or two) of quiche and a light salad on the side, washed down with a glass of draft beer. That's my kind of lunch!

The more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea was. I had my post all thought out. I'd add a nice and easy quiche recipe.. I'd certainly find that old tried and trusted Betty Crocker recipe with one time I made it a lot.... it's been a while since I made one....
I took the idea to the girls. "What quiche," they said, "we've never had quiche made by you!"

And presto, here's what we had for dinner last night...

It turned out nice and golden. Yes, I used bacon. And spinach. And a few mushrooms that were lying in the fridge!

And I must mention we had surprise guests for dinner. Everyone loved it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"P" is for Pickles. A to Z Challenge Day 16.

Most families have their own secret pickle recipes. When we were young, come raw mango season, each house would be making their own. My Mom made four versions, each one was special. One was a sweet one spiced with dried chillies and ginger. Another was a sour dried stick that could make your tongue curdle. Yet another was grated raw mango in oil, spiked with mustard and chillies. The signature one, the recipe for which had been handed down my father's family for generations, was made with lentils.

Growing up, I remember the cut raw mangoes drying in the sun on the terrace. There were these big nets to protect them from the crows. We used to steal the raw mangoes and get into trouble for touching it with our grubby hands...

Pickle making, sadly is now a dying art. Who has the time, the patience, the energy? So let me share one special recipe with you in the hope that it will live on.

And even if you are not planning on making the pickle, I would request you to read the recipe in any case and maybe appreciate the time, effort and patience our mothers and grandmothers put in to ensure we had that tangy tasty thing on our dining table!


Usually pickles are made in bulk. Why? Because, made properly, they stay for a long time. And in those days it used to be shared out in the family. The following recipe however only uses 2 kgs (about 10/12) of  raw mangoes. It can be increased proportionately if you are feeling adventurous enough!


  1. Firm raw mangoes without marks. 2 kgs.
  2. Mustard oil: 1 litre
  3. Bengal Gram daal: 1 cup
  4. Panch Phoron: 2 tbsp
  5. Turmeric
  6. Salt.
  7. 2 clean glass jars with tight lids. 
  1. Wash the mangoes well, taking care to remove all the gum near the head. Dry them completely with a towel. 
  2. Cut the mangoes lengthwise and then across. The pit should be a little hard but you should be able to cut through it. Take care not to cut your hand as it can be hard. You could try it with a meat cleaver. Discard the inner pit, It's soft and comes off easily. 
  3. Rub the mangoes with salt and turmeric. Take care not to let any water touch the mangoes. 
  4. Put the mangoes out in the sun to dry. Spread it out and cover it with a net or light cloth to ensure the sun gets to it but not the birds! 
  5. Clean and wash the daal. Spread it in the sun to dry as well. 
  6. Wait. Remember the mangoes and the daal have to dry completely. You have to turn them over from time to time but not too often. Do not touch the mangoes except with washed and dried hands. Each evening the mangoes have to be taken in and then put out in the sun in the morning. In case of a thunderstorm or rain, the mangoes and the daal have to be rescued immediately! It takes about a week or ten days for the mangoes to be ready for the next stage. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Take care not to let ants or other creepy crawlies get to them. 
  7. When the mangoes are dry but not too dry, dry roast the panch phoron. 
  8. Mix the dried daal, the mangoes and the panch phoron and add some salt. Divide into two glass jars. Pour mustard oil into the jars till it just covers the mangoes. You may not need all the oil. Remember, no water! The glass jars should be completely clean and dry. 
  9. Seal the glass jars completely. By this I also mean that once the jar has been closed, cover the mouth with a clean cloth and tie it up tight. Thereafter put a plastic cover on the lid and tie that. This will prevent the water from entering the jar in case of rain. 
  10. Now put the jars out in the sun. 
  11. It takes a month or so for the pickle to mature. At least. During that time it must be in the sun every day. Care has to be taken, oil has to be added if less. Also once in a while the jars have to be shaken so that the oil gets to all the mangoes. As before, look after the jars in rain and storms. The mangoes will darken as they 'cook' in the sun.
  12. When the pickle looks ready, unseal the jar and enjoy! Take care never to use a dirty or wet spoon to take out pickle as it will spoil. Once made, pickles stay for days... even years. See the picture, that's very mature mango pickle that I made two years ago!

Friday, April 17, 2015

'O' is for Octopus. A to Z Challenge Day 15.

Frankly, I never imagined people actually ATE octopus. You know, those things that live under the sea and have eight tentacles? I just remembered that rather dumb joke: what did one octopus say to the other? "I want to hold your hand hand hand hand hand hand hand hand..."

So imagine my surprise when, about ten years ago, we go to this Bar and Grill right here in Calcutta and find Baby Octopus on the menu! It was one of those places where you choose what you want as much as you want and they grill it for you. After a tentative nibble at the first octopus, I decided they were definitely edible... I must have eaten at least eight octopuses that night (in addition to all my other stuff, of course)...
I looked up to see my husband looking at me strangely, "don't eat any more, you'll get a tummy ache," he said gently.
"Imagine those poor creatures wriggling about in your belly!"

My daughters, when they heard were shocked, "but Ma, they were babies!"

Some time ago I found octopuses being sold in a store. I got them home, learned how to cook them and grilled it with butter and garlic.
I'm happy to report I have one daughter on my team now!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"N" is for Nizam's. A to Z Challenge day 14.

Tucked away behind New Market on Hogg Street is one of the most famous eating joints of Calcutta. Nizam's. Arguably Nizam's is also known as the inventors of the world renowned 'Kathi Rolls' which is basically a wrap made with a paratha and boneless pieces of mutton or beef or chicken kebab. This is spiked with slices of fresh onions and chillies, if desired and a squeeze of lime or chilly sauce. Nizam's rolls in fact, are legendary. And when we were growing up, you didn't have roll shops on street corners as you do now. In fact when I was in college, Kathi rolls were essentially snacks native to Calcutta only. Rarely did I find anything that even came close!
Luckily, Nizam's was pretty close to my Dad's office.
On Saturdays my Dad worked for half the day. He used to come home at about 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. By then, we had all had lunch: my mother, sister and grandparents were all indulging in their afternoon snoozes. I had no time for such things, I used to be awake: planning the next mischief, sneaking around stealing pickles, reading, lolling on the sofa listening to music or whatever. I knew the sound of my father's key on the door. Often I would open the door just as he was about to insert the key in the lock.
Anyway, getting back to the story, sometimes my Dad did not have lunch at the office and used to come home on these afternoons with three Rolls from Nizam's. Two for him and one for me because he knew I'd be awake!
We'd get the plates and glasses out, careful not to make too much noise and sit across each other on the dining table and eat the rolls. We'd talk and share our lives. share jokes and generally spend time together, just the two of us. It was always special.

That flat where we lived now lies vacant. Or so I am told. When I pass that way I always look up but never see anyone at the balcony. But in my minds eye I can still see that dining room where a father and a daughter sits and laughs together in the pale afternoon light when everyone else is asleep.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

'M' is for Mansaf. A to Z Challenge Day 13.

Mansaf (Arabicمنسف‎) is a traditional Jordanian dish and Palestinian dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur. (I got that off wikipedia)

That said, in college we had a lot of Palestinian friends. They exposed me to a whole new world, specially when it came to food. I learnt to cook meat with okra or beans. There was also a lovely chicken pulao cooked with aubergines and cauliflower. But the one I love the most is Mansaf. This dish is one of the few things I will eat at anytime. In fact the joke in our house goes that if anyone wakes me in the middle of the night and hands me a plate of mansaf and rice I will quietly eat it and go back to sleep without getting angry! 

Getting back to college, obviously we could not get all the ingredients like Tahina and stuff so we made our own version. Here it is: 


  1. Mutton or boneless beef: 1 kg
  2. Plain yoghurt/curd: 750 gms
  3. Onions: 2 medium sized
  4. Garlic: 12 large pods
  5. Eggs : 2
  6. Almonds: about 20.(optional)
  7. Salt to taste
  8. Butter 1 tsp
  1. Wash and clean mutton. Chop onion and two pods of garlic and boil with mutton and two cups of water and some salt. i use a pressure cooker. the mutton/beef should be tender when it is done. 
  2. Coarsely chop the remaining garlic and fry in the butter till nicely browned (but not burnt) and keep aside. 
  3. Put the almonds in a cup of water and run it in the microwave for a minute. Wash in cold water. The skin will peel off easily. Chop the almonds into slivers and keep aside.
  4. When the mutton broth has cooled, take out the meat pieces with a slotted spoon and place in another pan. 
  5. Pour half the broth, half the curd and one egg in a blender and blend till smooth. Do not over do it, I usually blend for about 15 seconds on the highest setting. Pour into pan with the meat pieces. Repeat with the remaining broth, egg and curd.
  6. Put the pan containing the meat and the blended broth on the stove and gently heat it stirring constantly. Do not let it boil over but let it come to a quiet boil so the gravy cooks nicely. add the slivers of almond. Check salt. It should be tangy and smooth.
  7. Add the butter fried garlic over the gravy.
  8. Serve hot with plain boiled rice. 
Nom. Nom. I'm hungry already! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"L" is for Lemons! A to Z Challenge, Day 12.

When life gives you lemons.....
add some Tequila and salt! 

Jokes aside, a slice of lime improves the taste of almost anything, specially Indian food. The spouse will not agree, but try a few drops on anything from boring old daal to kofta to fish fry makes the dish that much more lively!

And lemon has other uses too. I remember when we were in school and at a very impressionable age, we had this rather sexy English teacher at school. She was tall and very elegant and, among other things, known for her tiny blouses teamed with well draped Georgette sarees. She never taught my class but there was this one free period where she came to sit in and started telling us how important it was for a lady to be well groomed. "Lemons," she told us, "are magical for cleaning elbows!" We looked at her, stunned. It was like she was talking in Double Dutch. "When I go home," she continued, "I take a lemon and make lemonade. And then I take the two halves and turn them inside out. As I watch TV and sip my lemonade, I rub the lemon peels on my elbows. They stay clean and do not look black." All of us promptly checked our grimy elbows...

Somehow I never got round to following the beauty tip, but I haven't forgotten it either! 

Monday, April 13, 2015

'K' is for Kakori Kabab, A to Z Challenge Day 11

Kakori is a hamlet near the city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India. The story goes that the Nawab of Lucknow was terribly fond of kababs but had lost his teeth. He ordered his cooks to make a kabab that would be so succulent, juicy and tender that he would not need to chew the kabab: it would melt in his mouth.
And Kakori Kabab was born.
This is a lamb dish where the minced lamb is smoothed into a paste and flavoured with spices and stuff and cooked on a spit. So I think. I guess if I search the internet I will find some splendid recipes but this is one thing I do not want to learn to cook. I always believe that there are some things you should leave to others!
In Calcutta, one of the places that offers the most sumptuous kakori kababs is a restaurant called "Dum Pukht" in the ITC Sonar, one of the many five star properties in the city. We do not visit it too often, saving it for that special occasion.
I have a dear cousin who was visiting for a day on Saturday. He came in from Jamshedpur in the morning and had a flight to Beijing at night. During the day we had guests over and an elaborate Bengali meal and were frankly, stuffed to the gills! We couldn't possibly eat anything else....
Yet, while on our way to the airport, the spouse stopped at ITC. Yes, we had Kakori Kabab. There's always space for Kakori Kabab! Wouldn't miss it for the world!

Thanks, Shan and Amitesh! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

'J' is for Jackfruit. A to Z Challenge Day 10.

I love jack fruit. I always have. Ripe, the fruit is nice and juicy. Many people dislike the smell but I don't mind it. The ripe fruit has a fleshy seed which can be boiled and used in delicious curries. The raw jack-fruit too can be used in curries. In Bengal we call it "gaach pantha" or "mutton growing on trees", it is cooked just like mutton curry and (arguably) tastes almost as good!

Having said that, when I was in college, although I loved jack-fruit, I knew jack-shit about it.

One day, I was sitting outside the room I rented and generally watching the world go by when I spotted a lady vendor carrying a fairly large ripe jack-fruit which she was trying to sell. I was tempted, it had been a very long time since I had had that particular fruit.
A deal was struck, the jack-fruit was mine!
I put in on the floor of my room and set to work with this huge knife I possessed.
Within minutes, I knew there was something wrong.
In ten minutes I was sweating and heaving, there was a white gum oozing from every pore of the fruit, my hands were sticky and itchy and it was all over the floor, my hands and my clothes. Far from reaching the fruit, I had managed to cut my hand and slice into the flesh of the fruit without extracting a single bulb of fruit. It was a disaster.
Just as I was contemplating screaming for help, I saw the neighbour's maid passing. I called her and told her to remove the offensive thing from my floor! She gently laughed, lectured me softly in Marathi (a dialect I did not understand) and left. Taking the damn thing with her.

I spent days trying to get that goo off my arms and legs and the floor. I had to sacrifice the pair of shorts and the tee I had been wearing when I embarked on my little adventure. the knife could never be put to any good use thereafter. I swore I would never look at the fruit (vicious little animal) again!

Later, much later, I learnt what I did wrong. My mother heard and started laughing. "oh, you should have put some oil on your hands before your started... you should have oiled the knife... "

Suffice to say I have never ventured to cut a ripe jack-fruit ever again.

I still eat it though... when I see the bulbs being sold in the market. Or in Thailand where they sell the delicious ripe yellow bulbs in little containers with cling-film on top!

Friday, April 10, 2015

'I' is for Indian. A to Z Challenge day 9.

In India we have a saying: "Ghar ka murgi, daal barabar." Loosely translated, it means:  "Even the most delicious chicken, if it is cooked at home, tastes like boiled lentils."
So while I have friends and relatives all over the world oohing and aahing about Indian food, it is the last kind of cuisine I would choose to have when I am eating out.
In fact I look forward to vacations abroad so I can try out the different cuisines and local food. So you will find me digging into the street food at Thailand or neck deep in black pudding in Scotland or gobbling a Bratwurst in Germany...the list is endless.

On one such holiday, the spouse and I had gone to Europe for  three weeks. Our tour started and ended in London. Off we went, Lichtenstein, Belgium, Rhine Falls, Venice, Mount Titlis, Paris, (not in that order) etc etc. We sampled local cuisines, drank their wine and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Satiated and exhausted, we returned to London where we were staying with an Aunt and Uncle. That night, they served us Indian food. Rice, daal and mutton curry. After three weeks of spice-less, bland food we realised what we had been missing: the aroma, the unique blend of spices and taste brought the flavour back into our lives.

It was one of the best meals I've ever had!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

'H' is for Hunger! A to Z Challenge Day 8

When I left for college back in 1989, I had never lived alone. I so looked forward to the big adventure. We also did not know a soul in Pune, the city where I was studying. So I had no one to watch over me nor did I have anyone to run to if I was feeling miserable or hungry or whatever. Pune was, also, in terms of distance almost as far away from Calcutta as you could get. It was a 40 hour train journey with us having to change trains once. Flying was not to fashionable those days and was expensive. That said a flight was two and half hours and the airport in Bombay  was almost five hours away !  
I guess that's why I picked the place.
College was a varied gamut of experiences. That was also when I learnt what it was to be hungry. Two reasons:
1.       I never had enough money. Don't get me wrong. My parents ensured I had enough. But you know how young adults have no budgetary sense? I used to save most of my money for petrol. Because I believed I had to be able to reach wherever I was going. I knew I could always drive over to a friend in the AFMC and she would give me food from her college canteen. Food that was wholesome and filling and dirt cheap. Only that particular canteen was at the other end of town. But that designated 'petrol money' never lasted...I would end up using it for other things and then mid-month realise I was broke!
2.       Our hostel had no decent canteen. After going to college from a home environment where food is always available and something you take for granted, it was a surprise when I suddenly found I had to fend for myself, which meant cooking! I tried a dabba wala but the food was so spicy that within a month I had mouth ulcers! I had a roomie then, a Kenyan girl called Jane who nursed me, making me drink cooled soup and bland food and one Kenyan dish which involved boiling cabbages which smelled disgusting but did not taste half bad! So that left me to cook for myself and that meant shopping and cleaning and all kinds of stuff and THAT is a whole new story altogether!

Getting back to hunger. Sometimes, I think it is good for the soul. I learnt not to waste. I learnt to appreciate plain bread dipped in tea. I learnt to shop, I learnt to cook. I learnt to share and cook for others. I learnt no one could ever become poor by sharing food. I learnt to drink a bottle of water and go to sleep feeling 'full'.
Most of all I learnt to adjust and live with things I could not do anything about.

And that's a big lesson. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"G" is for Garlic. A to Z Challenge Day 7.

Ah, garlic. I can add it to almost anything. It's like the bacon of the vegetarian world!
Although a lot of vegetarians will argue with me on this.
In many communities, garlic is considered 'non-vegetarian'.
I wonder why. Is it because of the strong aroma?

There are few things as versatile or flavour-enriching as garlic.

The next time you are having a grill, take a whole garlic and add it to the oven rack. not only does the aroma spill over, you can also eat those cooked pods of garlic. And it is delicious!


Take a cup of plain yoghurt. Add garlic seasoning, fresh ground black pepper and some black salt to taste. Blend well and serve with chips or khakra!


Chop three tomatoes. Crush two pods of garlic. Add the juice of half a lime and salt. Add some chopped chillies if desired. You can have it as a salad or over toast!

And the vampires will not bother you either!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

'F' is for Fish! A to Z Challenge Day 6.

As a true-blooded Bengali, how can F be anything but Fish!? We eat all kinds of fish, tiny ones, big ones, medium sized ones, bony ones, boneless ones and we do not spare the head or the tail either!

Having said that, I must admit, I am not a big fish eater.

Hence, even after I got married, I couldn't cook fish to save my life. I had some idea about the basics of how it is cooked but the actual deed was done by the maid.
Then one day my father-in-law was dropping by for lunch. He wanted something light, like fish curry. 'Macher jhol'  as we know it, is a very light, mildly spiced fish curry. No problem.
Except that the maid was not there.
So what? I thought. I'll do it, big deal!
So I got the fish, fried it with salt and turmeric and made the gravy with cumin and ginger. Just the way it is done.
I was pleased as punch.
Later, much later, when we were alone my husband told me that that was the worst fish curry he had ever tasted! The fish hadn't been fried properly and hence smelled fishy and the gravy was too watery and had too little salt!
"But Baba never said anything, he ate it quite happily!" I argued.
And stopped.
Fathers are like that aren't they?
I remember when I was at school we had learnt to make 'aloo dum' which is a spicy Indian potato dish. I tried it out at home and served it at the dining table. My dad had it first and said it was lovely. Every one else had so much to say: not enough salt, too much tamarind.... Etc etc. Dad never complained. When I was learning how to make chapatis my rolling pin churned out long misshapen rotis. Everyone laughed at me. My father told me, "well, everyone can make round rotis, you can make the funny shapes!" Now I make perfectly round rotis and wish there was some one to make misshapen ones for!
For both my fathers are now gone.
And there's no one to love me (or my cooking) that way any more.
I guess F is for fish. But F is also for a father's love that turns up unexpectedly and gives solace.

Monday, April 6, 2015

'E' for Egg. A to Z Challenge Day 5.

It was one of those days in Chambers. All of us had been working against a deadline, my Senior was not in a very amiable mood and I was frantically looking at the clock as I was supposed to go home and make dinner. Needless to say, it was well past 11 PM.
A colleague sensed my restlessness. When I said I'd be making eggs (that's all that there was at home), he suggested a recipe for egg curry. I ultimately managed to escape and went home and tried it. Yummilicious!

So here it is: Egg Curry with a Twist.


  1. Eggs: 4, medium size
  2. Milk: 1/2 litre
  3. Fresh Coriander leaves: a bunch
  4. Ginger: a thin sliver
  5. Green chillies: 2/3
  6. Oil for cooking: 1 tsp
  7. Salt to taste.
  1. Pour the milk into a saucepan with the sliver of ginger and bring to boil. When it is boiling reduce heat and simmer stirring occasionally and thicken the milk. 
  2. While the milk is thickening, hard boil the eggs. 
  3. Peel the eggs, coat with a little salt and fry in the oil till browned on all sides. 
  4. Don't forget to keep and eye on the milk! 
  5. Make a paste of the coriander leaves and the chillies. (Increase or decrease chillies depending on how spicy you want it!)
  6. By now the milk should have thickened considerably, it should not be watery and yet not too thick. Keep stirring and add the green paste. The gravy should be thcik but runny, not congealed. Turn off the heat if you feel the gravy is too thick. Add the fried boiled eggs and salt to taste.
  7. Serve with plain steamed rice. Nice with rotis or paratha too, but the spouse loves it with rice!
  8. Enjoy! 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'D' is for Diet. A to Z Challenge Day 4.

I am happily overweight. With a 5 foot height and a stout disposition, it is not difficult to look fat.
And although I love my body, once in a while I look at myself in the mirror and think I see a ball!
Take this: we are lying in the sun in a lovely beach. The breeze rustles the trees... the beer has hit the spot and I'm drifting off, book on my lap. My daughter is happily taking pictures of anything that moves. Or doesn't.  
We return from the holidays and I look at the pictures. 
Yikes! What is a beached whale doing in the picture...? It even has my sunglasses and book! 
One friend encouragingly said, "don't worry, photos always make you look fatter...I'm sure it wasn't so bad."
Another said, "Exercise, exercise, after all you are over 40, you should go swimming or something..."
And then one said, "DIET!" 

That is the most frightening word I have ever heard.

I have friends who diet, I have friends of friends who are perpetually on a diet. They frighten me. I admire their amazing will-power to bypass the biriyani at the five star buffet and drink only clear soup! I have sat through a delicious meal while the hostess nibbled at some fruits while we devoured the dinner cooked by her! I have watched someone chew through two huge bowls of chopped cucumber and tomatoes and then start on dinner and pretend it is a 'lifestyle choice'!

I have never, for the life of me, been able to go on a diet. I love my food too much! I remember the one time I tried. This friend recommended the Atkin's Diet. It sounded like a lot of fun. Lots of protein: meat, eggs, fish chicken and no carbs! Wow. All my favourite things, I thought. 
Two days into the diet I was craving rice.... by evening I had polished off all the bread in the house and was thinking of making chicken pulao! 
No no, diets are not for me. 
I do not like feeling deprived.
So I eat whatever I want and I am happy...
But I do have one policy... that helps me to more or less maintain my weight and not bloat out of control: 
No second helpings. No matter how delicious the lamb is, you do not go back for seconds! 
Try it!?

Friday, April 3, 2015

'C' for Crabs. A to Z Challenge Day 3.

After I had been married for less than two years, my father-in-law assumed office as the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh. So off they went and settled into a large palatial mansion which had more rooms than even our extra large family could fill.
Of course every vacation we would visit them. And often, other cousins and relatives would drop by too!
On one such vacation I remember it was quite a full house with a lot of cousins, nieces and nephews running about. Good fun.
Now I was, at that stage, a weird cook. I could make a good pork chop or Apple pie but was pretty clueless about basic curry or daal. Those things never interested me. But apparently people thought otherwise for one fine day a brother-in-law went out to the market in the morning and returned with a fairly large quantity of fresh crabs. "Ipsita will cook it for lunch," he announced happily.
My husband looked at me uncertainly, he was aware of my limited culinary skills. I quietly went into the kitchen where a huge bowl of raw crabs greeted me.
I was aghast. But also too proud to admit I knew nothing about the damn things.
So, from the kitchen itself ( yes, there was a phone in EVERY room) I dialled my mother in Calcutta.
She must have sensed my disquiet. For, very patiently she told me how to clean the creatures, how to take out the rich buttery layer and keep it aside and use it for flavour and told me a simple recipe to cook crabs Bengali style.
I'm happy to say it turned out very well and had every one raving at the dining table at lunchtime.

Since then I've learnt how to make simple and complicated Bengali dishes, I am quite adept at things like shukto and muri-ghanto and the like. I can also make crabs in many ways...I can steam them with butter and garlic or bake them or even make crab cakes.

But the most enduring recipe is the simple kakrar jhol that my Ma taught me that day.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

'B' for Beef. A to Z Challenge Day 2.

When I first thought of this post, 'B' most certainly was for bread, for baking.. for who can resist the aroma of fresh baked bread?
But the recent ban of beef in Maharashtra changed it all.
The more I think about it, the more irked I get.
I lived in Pune, Maharashtra for the five years of my college life. I practically lived on beef. When I could afford it. You see, we lived those years on a dwindling budget. The beginning of the month saw us eating at cheap restaurants and by the end of the month we were reduced to one meal  a day of maggie noodles or eggs and bread. As one friend lamented, "We have two menus in college. You can have bread and eggs or you can have eggs and bread!"
Oh yes, those were the best years of my life. I also discovered beef. I say 'discovered' because although I had eaten beef often enough, it had always been in the sterile atmosphere of the Clubs in Calcutta in the form of steaks and the like. I had never cooked it, much less roamed the dingy meat markets to buy it! Beef is a very versatile meat. It can be cooked it many ways and it was the cheapest meat going around. With boneless beef priced at 16 rupees a kg while chicken was 35 and mutton 48, the thought of cooking chicken or mutton never crossed our minds!
And when we had our birthday money or our family members visited or we were celebrating, guess where we went? "The Place" and "Zamu's" for the yummiest steaks  and  "Jaws" for juicy beef burgers! 

So when I heard beef has been banned in Maharashtra, I felt saddened.
I just don't understand the reasons for such a ban. I'm sure there are many. Do they hold water?
One, I am sure, is faith. The bottom line is that I do believe that everyone should be allowed to exercise their freedom of choice when it comes to the food they are eating, no matter what their religious inclination is, or isn't. Beef is a meat consumed not only by Muslims and Christians in India but also Hindus. My father, who was one such Hindu, was of the opinion that the kitchen has no manner of association with the puja room. As a result, we were never told that we should never eat something or the other. Not for religion...

I wonder what the stats will be like. I wonder how many students, like me, lived on the meat because it was easily available and cheap. I wonder how many livelihoods have been affected. How many small eating joints will have to shut down and sell 'vada-pao' instead? Not that I have anything against 'vada-pao', but who wants a bun with a potato ball and mint chutney when you are in the mood for a juicy burger with cheese and mayo?

P.S. I found this article today, that is 3rd April and feel I have to share the link here. So relevant, so true.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

'A' for Asparagus, Avocado and Arugula. A to Z Challenge Day 1.

Asparagus, Avocado and Arugula.....
Some my favourites foods start with A. None of them are available in Calcutta except in winter and only in very elusive shops in New Market. In fact, once in Bangalore I saw asparagus in summer and I was so excited, my friend actually bought me some! So the other day, while it was still winter here (now a distant memory) I made that trip to New Market, which is not new at all, and found all the ingredients were available. Now that's a rarity so it set me wondering if there was something that could be cooked up featuring  all three of my favourite  greens!
So I checked online and found a lovely recipe for Triple A (asparagus, apple and avocado) salad. The recipe is at this link:, do have a look at it.

And, if you are feeling adventurous, do try out my version!  

AAA Salad

  1. 1/3 cup honey
  2. juice of two lemons, about 1/4 cup
  3. 1 pod of garlic, minced fine but not ground to a paste.
  4. 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
  5. 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/2 cup olive oil (I use extra virgin for salads) 
  8. 2 to 3 cups Arugula leaves, washed, torn into bite sized pieces.
  9. 1 cup Asparagus, cut into 1 inch slices
  10. 1 or 2 Avocado pears peeled and sliced (about a cup)
  11. 1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and chopped into biggish pieces
  12. 1/2 cup feta cheese
  13. 1/2 cup bacon grilled crisp and chopped/crumbled.

  1. Combine the honey, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, salt and oil in a glass bowl. 
  2. Blend with a hand blender or in a food processor for about 2 minutes until well combined. You can use a salad dressing mixer too, if you want. 
  3. Check seasoning and sweetness. You may prefer to add a little honey or lemon. 
  4. Place the cut asparagus in a separate bowl and cover with boiling water. Count to ten and then discard the boiling water and immediately fill the bowl with ice-cold water. Wait ten seconds and discard that too. 
  5. Place the Arugula leaves in a salad bowl followed by a layer of asparagus, chopped strawberry, avocado and bacon. Add the dressing and toss. Crumble feta cheese over the salad and serve immediately. 

DISCLAIMER/NOTE: Why the bacon? Because I love it and believe that it adds flavour to anything from mushroom soup to liver pate, omit it if you want. Or replace it with roasted chopped walnuts! 
All my ingredient measures are approximate. I am sorry but I never seem to have proper measures for anything I cook. A lot of it is by eye, if you know what I mean.... I hope the measures I have given will do the trick!