Nibbling a bar of chocolate, over a delightfully fat book, tucked into the window seat by the frangipani and bougainvillea. Heralding the various seasons of childhood – lightly salted and deliciously sour jamuns, biting into the year’s first mango or green apple, shelling water chestnut by the dozen. Standing by the ice-cream truck, making the all-important decision of which flavor to choose. The meal cooked by my grandma especially for me. Street food and ice lollies with friends, graduating to midnight feasts and food experiments gone wonderfully off-track. A hot cup of tea after being drenched in a sudden monsoon shower. The perfect afternoon, a languid picnic or a late lunch, with the setting sun lingering on to share the laughter. My best memories invariably involve some form of food, the clink of glasses, good conversation, broad smiles, and being perfectly content in the moment. As I am sure do yours. Do share, in the comments, would love to listen to your favorite food memories.
This weekend was spent adding to list of good moments over home-made meals. The family got together over drinks and dinner, followed by a sleep-in breakfast and some lazy splashing in the first swim of the summers. While the brother-in-law put together the Bloody Marys, I made grilled zucchini nachos topped with roasted tomato salsa, refried beans and a cheesy yoghurt dip. The salsa and the dip have sort of become my signature potluck dishes and this weekend also marked a first in which a neighbor friend asked for my recipe. For the record, I wrote them out on pretty paper, and successfully resisted the strong temptation to stick on cut-outs of golden stars and hearts. It is not every day that I get asked for my recipes.
Roasted tomato salsa. Adapted from here.
Roast over an open flame, three large tomatoes, till charred. Peel and chop. Heat some oil in a pan and cook till soft, one chopped onion and some green chilies. Add the tomatoes along with some vinegar, salt, pepper, tomato puree, and chopped coriander. Cook for two minutes. Chill till serving.
Refried beans. Adapted from here.
Soak overnight 1 cup of red-kidney beans. Pressure cook, for five whistles, the beans along with one tomato (chopped), half an onion (chopped), some green chillies and salt. Drain and reserve the water. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the remaining half of onion (chopped). Add some chili powder, cumin seed powder, a dash of butter, and the cooked beans. I blended the hot mix into a puree, adding the reserved water, for a smooth consistency. You may choose to mash it by hand. Leave some beans whole to add to the texture.
Grilled zucchini nachos from here.
The simplest recipe ever. Slice into ¼ inch thick rounds, some zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes each side, in a hot pan.
To assemble, layer the nachos and top with the salsa, refried beans, some yoghurt dip. Grate over some cheese, if feeling indulgent.
I wanted to experiment with grilled potato nachos as well. Something for next time, I guess. Will tell you how it goes.
Meanwhile, write in with your favorite food memories.
Last week, the world celebrated Christmas and ate plum cake along with ginger bread and wine. Those who bake dished out chocolate crinkles and thumbprint cookies. People sat around Christmas trees and kids left out milk for Santa Claus.
I was vacationing in Ahmedabad, where my baby sister has recently set up home. The trip was expressly made with the purpose of imparting basic cooking skills to her. Instead, it somehow became one long binge of eating out. I ended up chronicling the food scene in the city, which I insist on sharing with you, through some interesting quantitative data, facts and figures.
#Eateries in every square meter: 3
Every foot or so, you shall encounter a joint where you can get some buttermilk and a bite to eat. Folks in the state are mostly vegetarian, and Jain to boot, which means no garlic, no onions, certainly no meat or eggs. Curiously, every restaurant, no matter what size, scale or location has vegetarian food from all over India (read North Indian, and Dosas). Strangely enough, many will also have Chinese, Italian, Thai and Mexican. You would think with so many eateries, places will be mostly empty, and you will be quickly seated. On the contrary, not one single time that we ate out, did we not wait in queue. We had occasion to stroll through Khao Gali (literally Eat Street) which is miles and miles of street food complete with endless rows of plastic chairs, and hawkers selling everything from plastic toys, balloons to giant blow ups of angry birds and soap bubbles. On an average evening, or so my sister tells me, there isn’t an inch to move for the thronging crowds. We reached just when the sun was dipping over the horizon, and the river of people had barely started trickling in. You could see vendors all over doing their mis en place in preparation of the deluge. The mind boggles, takes a vacation, while the stomach takes over and happily goes to town.
# Pounds of butter consumed: 300 KG.
When in Ahmedabad, you have to eat at gastronomical heaven aka Jassi De Parathe. A genuine and buttery piece of the North in the very heart of Gujrat, this restaurant easily serves the best parathas I have had outside of homes of Punjabi grandmothers. A distinguishing trademark of Jassi is fresh white butter, garlic chutney and green chilli pickle; accoutrements which take the parathas from good to great. The jewel in the crown is, without a smidgen of doubt, the butter. Not having ever made fresh butter the old fashioned way, it is not like I am transported to childhood memories of sitting by the charpoi, winter sunshine warming the face, churning pats of the good stuff from milk of cows grazing yonder. Instead, I go straight to silky buttery heaven and repeatedly thank god for mercies bestowed.
# Pounds of cheese: 500 KG.
The only reason they are not picking bits of exploded fat me (300 KG butter and 500 KG cheese!) off the highway is that I put in my 10000 steps daily. You see, Christmas Eve was spent at Tomato’s gorging on their chilli con queso, which is nothing but oodles and oodles of melted cheese, kept bubbling at the table, along with tortilla chips, nachos, bread sticks, carrot and cucumber slices. Even if you are beyond sick and ready to forswear food for 3 days, you shall continue gorging on the cheese. Gluttony is one of the seven for good reason. Tip: when eating at Tomato’s, be wary of the large portions and do not over-order, else the doggie bag will be breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. You would think that after the cheese overdose, I would stay clear of all milk products for a month. Do not estimate the power of whey. Boxing Day saw us at Toritos, another charming restaurant, where the queues snake around the block. The 30 minutes of waiting was quite forgiven, with the arrival of the fusion nachos. I believe that fusion should never be attempted or ordered. Happily, these were outstandingly good, wafer thin potato slice, deep fried, and smothered in cheese, beans and salsa. A definite must try both at the restaurant and to re-create at home.
# unlikely Christmas celebrations: 1
The city is not big on Christmas, and apart from token decorations and a few festive stars, the festival goes largely unnoticed. Of course, it did mean abnormally crowded restaurants, though not a pre-soaked raisin was in sight. Christmas being sandwiched between our cheese binges, we traipsed on a street food exploration of the new city. Beginning with vada pav and dabeli drenched in butter, at Jay Bhavani, we wound our way to the vendor selling sev puri in-front of the nearby mall.
Then came the walk to Khao gali, an encounter with an unlikely Christmas tree, wolfing down pani puri and winding the day up with some wonderful sapota or chikoo kulfi. The next time I am in town, I am determined to try the roadside maggi and wood-fired pizza from this tiny van across the road from sis’s college campus. And the rice pulav, and the special dosas, oily Chinese (though sis did try delicately telling me that I am too old for so much grease) and the ubiquitous sandwiches. I wish there was a way to super-size the appetite.
Alcohol units consumed: 0
Let’s just say that Bridget Jones would have had very different diary entries, if she had happened to live in Gujrat, a dry state. Though she could have legally obtained a liquor permit as a foreign tourist residing there. Turns out even those visiting from other Indian states can also obtain alcohol legally by producing proof of domicile. I found this pretty late into the trip, thankfully, else the cheese and butter would have had beer for company, and you would HAVE TO pick bits of exploded me off the highway.
# popcorn binges: 4
We caught two movies and with an average of two binges per movie, I was drowning in butter and caramel popcorn my third day into the stay. When your eyes are hypnotically trained on the big screen and the poor brain is frantically signaling you to stop eating, the dratted stomach forces you to keep going like the goblin driving the hobbits deep into the caves, with the help of whips and other deadly weapons. As you can guess, we watched Hobbit 3. While Azog the Defiler (killed by Dain in the battle of Battle of Azanulbizar, but given a new cinematic lease of life by Peter Jackson) struck terror on screen, the butter popcorn coated my alimentary canal and wound its wicked way into my arteries. Why don’t movie theaters serve carrot and celery sticks?!
My last meal in the city ended with a big bowl of cake smothered in warm chocolate sauce. At this point, my stomach grudgingly accepted defeat and hopefully, retired for the rest of the year. The brain, with considerably weaker and greasier synapses took charge again. I went back to the original (and healthier) Hobbit that I was reading. To end, I quote:
The Tookish part was getting very tired and, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. “I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair”