Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Umami: The Elusive Fifth Taste

We have all learnt about the four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter and we also know the different sensitivity of the different parts of the tongues to these tastes.

There are more than these four basic tastes however. The fifth taste that we hear less often of is umami that is the taste of amino acids such monosodium glutamate (ajinomoto), cheese or meats. When I heard about this new taste, I went back and thought about the taste of cheese. Yes, it has a salty edge, but if you think back on it, the particular taste of cheese does not really fit into any of the four basic taste categories.

As we all know tastes interact with each other. A little bit of saltiness brings out sweet taste. If you see we do not use unsalted butter for baking even though it is commonly available. I have seen many sweet baking recipes where Sanjeev Kapoor has added a little pinch of salt to the batter or dough. Sourness brings out saltiness. Have you ever drizzled a dash of vinegar on your chips? Now you know why they get tastier (apart from the fact that they are fried of course!)

The interesting effect of this taste is that it brings out the flavour of all the tastes. This is because it enhances the binding of the taste molecules to their particular receptors on their respective taste buds. Think about it, when we add cheese to a dish, it not only adds its own flavour to the dish, but the taste of other ingredients of the dish comes out better too. Now we know why the (Indian) Chinese food that we eat with MSG tastes good!

And apparently cheese is not only adds flavour to your pizzas and garlic bread and other savoury dishes but can also do it for your sweet dishes. One example of this that comes to my mind is the weird combination (to me) of cheese and jam sandwiches that a lot of people around me really relish and I have been asked to try. Maybe I will try them sometime and see!

So to knowing about the elusive and less heard of umami. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Homemade Wadas for a Rainy Day

They're spicy, they're crispy, they're tasty and they're everyone's go-to food in Mumbai... they're wadapavs! They're available at every corner (literally, just turn around and you'll see a gaadi or a small shop selling them). And the best part, they're extremely easy to make!



6 medium sized potatoes boiled
3 green chillies
1/2 inch ginger
6-8 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp asafoetida
1 1/2 tsps turmeric
2 tbsps oil
Salt to taste

For the batter

1 cup gram flour
5-6 tbsps water
Salt to taste

Oil for deep frying

Pav to serve


Mash the boiled potatoes. Make a paste in the mixer of the ginger, garlic and chillies.

Heat the oil in a kadhai and add in the asafoetida. Now add the turmeric powder and the paste of the ginger, garlic and chillies. Fry for 30 seconds in the oil till the garlic loses its raw smell. Add in the mashed potatoes, the salt and mix well. Lower the flame and let the mixture cook for 10-12 minutes on a low flame. Keep stirring every 2-3 minutes to prevent the mixture from burning at the bottom.

Prepare the batter by mixing the gram flour, salt and the water. The batter should be really thick, like the consistency of dosa batter.

Heat the oil for frying. Make balls of the potato mixture of around 2 inch diameter and flatten a little on the palm. Coat with the batter and fry in the hot oil till both sides turn reddish.

Serve hot in fresh soft pavs with green chutney and date and jaggery chutney. Go to the balcony or window and enjoy with the rains!

Enjoy hot in the cool rains!

Friday, 26 July 2013


Hot wadapav from a gaadi in rainy weather... sometimes it's just as simple as that!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

On Eating Bitter Foods

As we all know, we have an innate dislike of bitter foods. This has evolved in us since in ancestral times where bitter tastes were an indicator of poisonous substances and avoiding them was key to our survival. So much so that we are sensitive to bitter taste in solutions that are 0.008 times as concentrated as salty or sweet solutions.

Despite this scientifically rational dislike there are people (and even communities) who claim to like bitter foods such as karela. In Bengali cuisine, for example, the first course or the appetizer course is predominated by bitter tasting dishes such as uchche charchari and shukto.

One of the reasons that struck me as underlying this preference is in the preparations that are eaten of these vegetables like bitter gourd. Bitter gourd, before being cooked is generally rubbed with salt and then squeezed to remove the bitterness (even by people who claim to like it!)I know of a lot of people who like karela chips that do taste bitter. It is just that they are fried and laden with calories, something the human body also has an evolved preference for. In uchche charchari, rice  and ghee are added to the bitter gourd which are carbohydrates and fats that our body needs whereas shukto has other vegetables and spices that we have learned to have a preference for.

So to get the nutrients we need, we have come up with ways of getting over the limitations of the substances we can get this from and making them more appealing to us. This in essence is where I guess cooking started from.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Dals Week 5: Palak Dal

Some more experimenting with dals! Dals are a rich source of protein and adding in spinach makes it almost complete meal in itself. Adding spinach also adds a great new flavour to the bland dal that complements it well. It is a great way  to hide greens so your kids will eat them!

Dal with a green twist!

Palak Dal


3/4 cup toor dal

2 tbsps oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida
6 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 tsps turmeric powder
2 tsps chilly powder
1 tsp cumin powder
3 tsps garam masala powder
15-20 leaves of spinach shredded
2 pieces of dried kokum or juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste


Soak the toor dal in 2 cups of water for an hour. Add 1 more cup of water and pressure cook for 3 whistles on a high flame and cook on low flame for 8-10 minutes. Remove and blend to form a mixture with soup like consistency. Add a little more water if you want the dal to be thinner.

Heat oil in a pan and temper with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida. Once the seeds splutter, lower to a medium high flame and add in the chopped garlic. Fry for 1-2 minutes till the garlic starts turning golden brown.

Add in the chopped onions and fry till they start losing their rawness and start releasing the oil. Now add the turmeric powder, the chilly powder, the cumin powder and the garam masala powder and roast till the masalas start releasing the oil.

Now add in the spinach and fry with the onions, garlic and masalas till it loses water and becomes about half in volume.

To this, add in the cooked toor dal, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add in the lemon juice/ kokum and let it simmer on a low flame for 8-10 minutes. And voila!

Serve hot with steaming rice!

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Dals Week 4: Upma

When I started the dals week, I was thinking about the versatility of dals. They not just as used to make dal for dipping rotis or having rice with, they are also used to add texture to pliant vegetables and flavor to bland ingredients like rawa in upma.

So coming to upma, I recently tried the recipe using udad dal in it about two months back and have transformed from a ­I-HATE-upma  to a I-LOVE-upma person! I have had more upma in these last two months than I have even bothered to look at in my entire life. I have found the balance of flavours in it that I enjoy, and I really am enjoying it!




2 tbsps oil
2 tsps mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
10-15 curry leaves
2 tbsps white udad dal
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 cup rawa
3 cups water
3-4 tbsps lemon juice
Salt to taste
Finely chopped corriander to garnish


Heat a pan and dry roast the rawa on a low flame for 7-8 minutes till it starts turning reddish and releases its aroma. Remove and keep aside.

On the other side, heat the water till it comes to a boiling point and let it be.
In the same pan, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and the asafoetida powder. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the curry leaves and let them crackle.

Now, lower the flame and add in the white udad dal. Fry in the oil on the low flame till its starts turning red.

Add in the finely chopped onion and fry till it softens and starts losing its raw aroma. Now add in the roasted rawa and sauté it for 2-3 minutes.

Pour the hot water into the rawa mixture and add the salt. Bring to a boil. Then on a medium high flame let the rawa mixture cook in the water till it starts to thicken and achieve a porridge-like consistency. You can let it continue cooking for a bit more if you like it thicker.

Lastly, add in the lemon juice.

Serve hot topped with fresh corriander or sev and chopped onion. Don’t wait, dig in!

Upma with sev and chopped onion

P.S. You can add in more vegetables such as carrots, beans or peas. Just parboil them and add them in about 2 minutes before your desired consistency is achieved so as to avoid overcooking of the vegetables.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Dals Week 3: Maharashtrian Aamti

We all know that everyday lunches and dinners are generally full meals with at least one sabzi, dal, roti, and rice and then the add-ons. When having lunch or dinner at home, I eat either roti or rice, and preferably roti (I like rice a little less). Except when there is aamti. Then I will eat some rice, even if it's two morsels, despite how many rotis I have polished off! That's the magic of this everyday Maharashtrian dal for me! There are various recipes for aamti and you can add vegetables such as drumsticks to it, but  I generally make the basic aamti quite often.

This recipe uses goda masala for flavour. Goda masala is made primarily of corriander seeds with small amounts of 10-12 other spices (the recipe varies in each home) such as 2 types of cumin seeds, bay leaves, 2-3 types of red chilly, cloves, 2 types of cardamom, dried coconut etc. It is one of the three basic spice powders used in everyday Maharashtrian cooking, along with turmeric powder and dried red chilly powder. Like in Gujarati cuisine we have dhania-jeera powder with turmeric powder and dried red chilly powder and in Punjabi cuisine there is garam masala apart from turmeric and chilly powder. It is one of the three masala powders the regular seven spice box that we see in almost all Indian homes carries in Maharashtrian homes.

Goda masala can be brought in stores and there is no substitute really to it. Garam masala with the five or six basic spices used in it doesn't come close. If you get goda masala, open it and just take a whiff of the smell of the masala. The notes of pungent, piquant, with an edge of sweet at the end will be proof of what I am talking of! 



1 cup toor dal

2 tbsps oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 1/2 tsps turmeric powder 
1 1/2 tsps dried red chilly powder
2 tsps goda masala
3-4 dried kokum pieces or 1 1/2 tsp kokum extract
1 tsp jaggery
Salt to taste
Fresh chopped corriander to garnish

Soak the dal in 3 cups of water for at least half an hour. Add salt and turmeric and pressure cook for 3 whistles on high flame and about 5-7 minutes on low flame. Remove and blend to get a thick-soup like consistency.

In a deep pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin and the mustard seeds. When they start to splutter, add in the asafoetida powder and the chopped onion. Cook the onion for 3-4 minutes on the medium flame in the tadka. 

Once the onions are reddish, add in the chilly powder and the goda masala and roast for about 2 minutes till the masalas release the oil.

Now add in the cooked dal, the kokum (extract), the salt and the jaggery. Bring it to a boil on high flame and then let it simmer on low flame for 8-10 minutes.

Garnish with chopped corriander and serve hot with steamed rice and a dash of lemon juice!

All it needs is steamed rice and a dash of lemon juice!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Dals Week 2: Punjabi Mom's Dal Makkhani, Simplified!

Dals Week 2: Punjabi Mom’s Dal Makkhani

Dal makkhani (literally buttery dal) is my standard dal order at a restaurant. I love it for its rich aroma, earthy taste and the melt-in-your-mouth buttery creamy texture. 

At my place dal makkhani, as in any other non-Punjabi home, was a loved-at-restaurants-but- never-tried-at-home recipe. Now that I have a Punjabi neighbor whose mom also had come to visit, I have asked for and tried these recipes by the dozen. 

And the myth is broken! This one, that seems complex, is extremely easy to make and is one of those few that tastes as good as and sometimes even better than the restaurant at home!

Dal Makkhani


1/2 cup black udad dal
1/2 cup masoor dal
1/2 cup rajma (optional)

2 tbsps oil
5-6 cloves of garlic crushed
1 medium-sized onion finely chopped
1 medium-sized tomato finely chopped
1 ½ tsps turmeric powder
1 ½ tsps red chilly powder
2-3 tsps garam masala
20 ml fresh cream (optional)
Salt to taste
Fresh coriander finely chopped to garnish

The dals

And that's all the ingredients you'll need!


Mix the dals and soak them in 2 cups of water for at least 2 hours. If you are using rajma, they will need to be soaked overnight in 3 cups of water.  Cook the dals and rajma  in a pressure cooker for 3 whistles on a high flame and then on a low flame for 10 minutes.

In a deep pan, heat the oil and add the crushed garlic. Cook for about 1 minute till the garlic releases its aroma.

The crushed garlic being fried in the oil

Add the chopped onion and sauté on a medium high flame for 3-4 minutes till they turn reddish.

The reddish colour of the onions on being cooked properly

Add in the chopped tomatoes and sauté on the medium high flame till they start to release the oil.

The oil separating from the tomatoes when they are cooked

Now add the turmeric powder, the red chilly powder and the garam masala powder and roast till the masalas release their flavour and the oil separates.

Adding in the spice powders

Add in the cooked dals and mix them well into the cooked masala. Add a little water to adjust consistency (dal makkhani is supposed to be richly thick in consistency). Add salt to taste and let the dal come to a boil. Then cover the dal and let it simmer on a low flame for 10-15 minutes, the more the patience you have with this the better the flavours will seep into the dal.

The dals being cooked with the masala

If you wish to add in the cream then you can add it at the end, keeping the dal on the low flame and let it simmer for a couple of minutes more.

Garnish with fresh coriander (and a dollop of butter) and serve hot!

Yummy buttery and creamy!

P.S. I just added a side note to a blog post on my other blog today about how simple, everyday things can be complex and profound. And this just turns out to be an example of how complexity can actually be very simple!

P.S. 2.... Since I seem to be having a love affair with dals, it is beautiful serendipity that I found out about the food blog event My Legume Love Affair today. Submitting this entry for it's 61st edition...

As a requirement of all such events, I am sharing their logo. It is one of the better designed ones that I have come across!

Spreading the word about My Legume Love Affair (the event and my personal love affair too!)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cooking Beyond Eating

Eating is a joy to people because it is the activity that appeals to all the five senses. The tastes of dishes play with the tongue, the fragrance appeases the nose. The eyes are visually seduced by the colours and presentation of the dish. The ears crave the sounds of gulping, sizzling, crunching, slurping. And the skin enjoys the seductive warmth, the pliancy and the textures of the food as we eat with out fingers.

Cooking meets all these needs. You see the colours of the ingredients and how they blend together, and enjoy the maturity that the smells achieve as the dish cooks. You have the textures ranging from the strong ones of rice and dals to the silky soft ones of flour and spice powders for your skin. You have the musical grilling,sizzling, whistling, boiling, frying sounds for your hearing and of course the graduating tastes of the dishes at different times in cooking.

But cooking also has so much more for those who love it. It jogs your brain and memories and tests you on your creativity. Ask someone who cooks daily for the family how he/she comes up with new menus to keep the interest going and fingers licking, and you'll know what I am talking about. It brings with it a sense of great accomplishment with every meal. Ask the mother of a three year old who manages to find new ways to make the toddler eat the veggies the toddler has an absolute dislike for, and you will know what I am talking about. And it gives you a way to express your love. Ask the lover who has just appreciated the home-cooked meal cooked by their loved one, and you'll definitely know what I am talking of.

No wonder I love cooking!

P.S. This is just an aha moment that had to be captured! The week of the dals continues today with the recipe for the Punjabi favourite, but ordered by all only at restaurants, Dal Makkhani later today.

The Dals Week 1: Marwari Panchmel Dal

I love dals. They are the main source of protein in our vegetarian kitchens and one of the most comforting foods that you can have on your plate. They are also extremely versatile and adaptable to many uses. In upma, white udad dal is used to add flavour to the bland rawa along with the other spices . My friend's mom makes this amazing farasbee chi bhaaji in which she adds yellow moong dal fried  in the tadka for crunch, adding a new level of texture to the regular bhaji.

This past month I have dug out, discussed, adapted and experimented with different recipes for dals and I will blogging some gems I have discovered this whole week.

Marwari Panchmel Dal


1/4 cup yellow moong dal
1/4 cup green moong dal
1/4 cup chana dal
1/4 cup toor dal
1/4 cup black udad dal
1 tsp turmeric
2 bay leaves
2 tsps cumin powder

2 tbsps oil or ghee
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
3-4 whole cloves
1 green chilly slit
2 dried red chillies
1 medium tomato finely chopped
2 tsps garam masala
Salt to taste
Finely chopped corriander for garnish


Wash the dals thoroughly and soak all the dals in 3 cups of water for at least 2 hours.  After the dals are soaked, add the turmeric powder, bay leaves, cumin powder and salt and 1-2 cups of more water. Pressure cook the dals  with the spices for 3 whistles on high flame and then about 10-15 minutes on a low flame till they are done. Remove the dal mixture from the cooker and fish out the bay leaves and discard them.

The dals with the spices in the pressure cooker

In a deep cooking utensil, heat the oil or the ghee. Add the cumin seeds when the oil is heated. When the cumin seeds start turning red, add in the asafoetida powder, the cloves, the green and the red chillies. Stir these in for about 30 seconds and add in the finely chopped tomato. Let the tomato sautee till they are cooked and start releasing the oil.

The tomatoes cooked in the tadka releasing the oil 

To this add the cooked dal mixture, the garam masala powder and salt as per your taste preference. Bring to a boil on high flame and then let it cook on medium flame for 5-7 minutes and then on low flame for another 10 minutes for the flavours of the spices to seep well into the dals.

The dal mixture being cooked with the tadka and spices

Garnish with chopped fresh corriander and serve this home-y dal with hot steamed rice or fresh fluffy rotis.

The home-y dal on a comforting plate of food


Monday, 15 July 2013

Thai Style Red Cabbage Salad with Mint

Salads are healthy and filling but the real reason I eat them are because they are tasty and easy to make! I am not lazy when it comes to cooking but its great once in a while to take time off and just chop some stuff up add a dressing and just enjoy the meal. Salads to me are also a great way to play around with textures and minimal flavours and make it really fun to experiment with!

This is again a recipe I found online but I have adapted it to the ingredients commonly found in an Indian vegetarian kitchen except the red cabbage which however is easily found nowadays at your local vegetable vendor!

Thai Style Red Cabbage Salad with Mint

For the salad

1 small red cabbage shredded
1/2 medium sized green cabbage shredded
1/4 cup mint leaves shredded
1/2 cup spring onion greens chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts broken down coarsely by hand

Contrasting purples

For the dressing

2 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp sugar
1-2 tsps chilli flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
Salt to taste

Mix all the salad vegetables, pour the dressing and then add the peanuts last to preserve their crunch. Refrigerate for some time (about 20-30 minutes) before serving.

The photo Contrasting Purples is for The Colour Me Photography Challenge Series

Friday, 5 July 2013

Date A Girl Who Loves To Cook

She'll always have the shortest route to your heart, through your stomach.

Go with her to the supermarket. You might have to spend more than average time at the supermarket but you will see her true joys. Enjoy the twinkle in her eye as she discovers a good ingredient. Listen to her describe the putting together of the new recipe she has thought of after seeing available ingredients. Explore the regular supermarket in a new way through her eyes.

Talk to her about food and see how she is able to relate the basic-most of things to the larger things in life.

Her joy comes from varied sources: from the simplicity of a clear soup to the elegant complexity of a well put-together seven course meal. She knows of the depths and loves of both.

She will make you push your boundaries and start exploring new experiences even in daily monotony of life.

She knows that everything she will try will not always be successful, she knows of failures, she goes through them and yet takes the gamble, happily!

She understands the intricacies of various components such as texture, flavour, taste, look in creating a meal; how all the senses need to be appealed to and appeased. She  understands how small things come together to make a great experience.

She will look to you for suggestions, she will ask for your opinions and listen intently because she wants to share her love of food and the experience with you: you matter! Praise what she has made for you and you will hear her sigh softly, yes you really do matter...

Join her someday in the kitchen, hum along with her as she cooks, ask her questions, give her suggestions; she will welcome them with a lot of joy and a bright smile.

And you'll have the most obvious advantage: one of the most basic necessities of your life will come to you with lots of love... every time...

Inspiration credit: http://littlemissdorkette.tumblr.com/post/3118512524/date-a-girl-who-reads-by-rosemarie-urquico

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


I have managed to travel less so I try to travel trough food cooked in my kitchen at times. I love cooking dishes from the various regions of India: Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, south of India and I am exploring more regions as I come across more recipes to cook.

Very recently a friend travelled to North East and was raving about Thukpa: a clear soup with a piece of meat, noodles and shredded fresh vegetables to add. I googled the recipes available for it and got the basics, adapted it to my vegetarian kitchen. Whenever I have this soup I can see the snowy mountains in the backdrop and feel the cold weather of North East, despite the heavy rains of Mumbai! This beautiful, light yet filling and simple yet flavourful soup with depths of textures of noodles, broth and crispy shredded vegetables, has already become a family favourite and is eaten with great relish at least twice a week!

Hot thukpa soup with noodles and fresh vegetables


For the vegetable stock

1 litre water
4-5 leaves of cabbage
1/2 medium green capsicum
1 medium sized onion sliced
2 inch piece of gourd

For the broth of the soup

1-2 tbsps olive oil
6-8 garlic cloves finely chopped
2-3 green chillies finely chopped
Prepared vegetable stock
Salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp black pepper

For serving

100 gms of plain boiled noodles (rice/ hakka/ Maggi)
1 cup of shredded vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, green capsicum
5-10 corriander leaves 


To make the vegetable stock, add the vegetables and the salt to one litre of water. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes and then drain.

For the broth, heat the pan and add the olive oil. Add in the garlic and fry till it turns golden. Then add in the green chillies and fry for 1 minute. To this add the vegetable stock prepared as above and add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for about 10-15 minutes till the flavour of the garlic and the chillies seeps into the broth.

Cook the hakka/ rice noodles as per packet instructions. If you are using Maggi noodles, bring to a boil 300 ml of water, add in the noodles (and not the masala) and cook till they separate out and cook.

To serve, put in some noodles in the bowl, fill in with the broth and add the shredded vegetables and corriander leaves for garnishing. Enjoy!

All set to be slurped and crunched up!

And now I am submitting this post for my first food blogger's event! Fingers crossed! 

Pasta in Pesto Cream Sauce

It was liked by a close one who doesn't generally like pasta and avoids eating it! Need I say more?


For the pesto sauce

25-30 leaves of Italian basil (not Thai basil or Indian basil, which is our very own tulsi)
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps olive oil
6-8 walnuts
Salt to taste

For the pasta in pesto cream sauce

1 cup of penne/ fusilli pasta cooked according to packet instructions
2 tbsps olive oil
2-3 tbsps of pesto sauce
30 ml cream
200 ml milk
20 gms grated cheese (optional)
Salt to taste


Blend all the ingredients of the pesto sauce in the mixer till a thick paste of chutney-like consistency is formed.

Heat a pan, add the olive oil and 2 tbsps of the pesto sauce and let it saute lightly for 2-3 mins (Italian basil becomes sweeter on cooking so do not cook too much or it will lose the piquancy completely).

Pesto sauce being sauteed in olive oil

Add in the milk, the cream and the cheese and the salt and cook till the sauce thickens. Adjust seasoning and add more pesto sauce if you want more flavour.

Pesto sauce with cream, milk and cheese added in

To this add cooked pasta and stir till the pesto cream sauce coats the pasta and cook for a couple of minutes. Add more milk if you want it creamier (it's the healthier option than cream!)

Pasta added into the pesto cream sauce

Serve hot and dig in!

Pasta in a creamy pesto sauce served hot!