Idli Dosa Batter

Ever since I can remember, our family has been very big on South Indian breakfasts. Idlis, dosas and uthappams were an everyday thing and amongst the basics that I was taught to make. I hear a lot of people struggle with getting the batter right and I think once you get the proportions right, or start understanding how it works, it is fairly easy to do. Making this batter requires just a simple understanding of its nature, quite like with baking bread or cakes. Just knowing how the process works and what gives it it’s texture is all you need.

While my Mom has her own recipe for the batter, I now use a recipe that I’ve learnt from a lot of amazing women who have put it up on their blogs, namely – happyandharried, hebbarskitchen, vegrecipesofindia and kannammacooks. I shall try my best to help you with the process but please go and have a look at their blogs to get a better understanding.

While a lot depends on the temperature in which the fermentation happens, this is a basic ratio for the batter-

  • Idli rice – 1 cup
  • Urad dal – 1/2 cup
  • Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Poha – 1/4 th cup ( This can also be substituted with cooked rice, although I have never tried doing it)
  • Salt –  to taste ( Please keep in mind that salt works to retard the fermentation, so salt it mildly if it is winter and well if it is summer. You can always add more salt as needed once the fermentation is complete)
  • Water – as needed ( Again, be careful of not over thinning the batter)

 

Wash the rice, dal and fenugreek well and soak all the separately, overnight. The next morning soak the poha for 5 minutes. Grind everything separately again. The dal in particular needs to ground very well and for long.

Alternatively, you can soak the rice and poha together and the dal and fenugreek together before grinding them up.

In both the cases, take care to not add too much water to the mix.

Add salt, as required, and mix well with your clean hands. Leave to rise overnight either on the kitchen counter or in a warm (but switched off) oven, if you live in a cold climate.

Make sure you leave at least half of the container empty so the batter can ferment and rise overnight without spillage.

Ideally the idlis are made the first day, dosas follow and uthappams at the end. Take care not to mix the batter too much as you scoop up the froth at the top to make idlis.

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I make the dosas on a cast iron tawa that that has been seasoned painstakingly and is something I am extremely proud of. The batter will of course need to be thinned to spreading consistency and salted to taste.

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Uthappams are made when the batter has soured a little and you can see the beautiful little holes form all over the pancake. We love our onion podi and onion capsicum podi version and this is our ideal Sunday breakfast.

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Hope this inspires you to give making your own batter a try. Let me know how it goes for you and I shall try my best to help you with any questions you might have! Happy Breakfasting!

The valley of snow!

Sikkim is, if I have not stressed it enough already, one of our favourite places to disappear when we need a break. The people, the land and the food, are all such welcome salves when you want to get away from the jaded city life. This is precisely what we were looking for on our trip to North Sikkim. Our destination after Lachen was Lachung.

The Yarlam resort is the best the village has to offer and we were booked for three days here. Just like the Apple Orchard resort, this one too might seem a little expensive, but considering the harsh weather and terrain, we were glad of the comfort they provided. We were greeted with tea and shown our abode. The room was all we could have asked for plus had a marvellous view of the mountains on both sides.

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The view from one of the windows of our room.

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Since it had taken us a while to reach here, just like in Lachen, we decided to make use of the massage chairs [ at an extra charge] and some music that evening. We were informed by the hotel staff that the snowfall had been very mild here and that they had heard of the snow blanketing Lachen. I think the snow gods were pleased with us during our trip. We retired for the night and while we were snuggled in our heated matresses, there was a heavy snow storm happening all around us.

The next morning we started off for Zero Point but could only reach Yumthang Valley. The army had once again asked tourist vehicles to not go further ahead as the temperatures had reached – 16  and there was a lot of snow piled high on the road. The valley was blanketed with a thick white sheet of virgin snow. For someone like me, who had never set eyes on snow before, this was exhilarating. We could see quite a number of other tourists just as excited and soon almost all the snow which was easily accessible had been trampled on or played with. We were extremely thankful for our gloves, snow jackets and boots. Well, boots for one of us at least, I had only packed my trekking shoes and they were soon soaked through. The rented boot shops all around came in handy and soon I was back in the snow.

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Untouched snow as far as our eyes could see!!

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On our way to Yumthang, our driver had made a short stop to give a ride to a friend of his who had a vegetable stall at the market. The one thing that always makes me marvel is the hardworking locals who never seem short of a smile or a helping hand. And this seems to be true of all hill folk. Always stylishly turned out and cheerful and always ready to go the extra mile if theres livelihood to be made. We saw a few enterprising souls here too. There were makeshift stalls and small shops selling maggi and hot drinks on the road approaching the stop.  There were also ladies selling alcohol but if you are not used to the altitude, it is best to stick to tea/ coffee or soup. We have seen people have shortness of breath and worse because of having a drink too many in the mountains.

I think it shall help you prepare better for a holiday in the mountains if you stick to what the locals ask you to do. Eat what they eat, sleep when they sleep and start the day when they do. There is a reason behind everything and at temperatures and altitudes that your body is not used to, it is best to heed people who are in the know. We tend to do just this no matter where we travel, and so, inspite of the sub zero temperatures, there was not a day we felt sick or did not feel comfortable. They made sure we ate right and kept us toasty warm all through our stay. The staff at Yarlam were the sweetest and right from making sure we drank only warm water to bringing hot puffed rotis to us every single time, they looked after us like we were home. Stick to the local vegetables and fruit not to mention the local cuisine. Tashi, Jeevan, Bhumika and Sangam were some of the most wonderful staff we’ve encountered. They came to call us out for a snow ball fight when it snowed the next night because by now they had seen how much I enjoyed it. Even though snow to them is a fairly normal event, they were as crazy as us and we had a fabulous time catching snow flakes on our tongues, making angels and having snowball fights.

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Just a couple of the many delicious, local dishes we tried.

Our time here passed quickly- taking village walks, buying essentials at the local store and taking pictures. We absolutely loved their heated beds and the heater which not only kept us warm, it also helped us dry out our socks and gloves. We found a locally made lip balm, which managed to do what all our branded ones could not in the harsh climes and we smiled with uncracked lips at the sheer relief. This was suggested by a lady who owned a store in the village. I had my doubts given that I had never seen the name before, but she insisted that this was just what we needed and we remain grateful.

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The wonderful lady who helped us find the perfect lip salve 🙂

We proceeded to Gangtok from here and had an adventure or two along the way. An extremely huge boulder missed us and a car that was coming towards us from the opposite direction as we made our way on the hills. We stopped at the same small eatery that we had on our way going up and fed about 29 [ Yes, you can trust me to count] dogs outside it. Mountain dogs are the most gorgeous with their beautiful fur and limpid eyes. As we sat outside with the sun shining bright, so many beautiful furries at our feet, full tummies and chatted and laughed with the locals, I silently thanked whoever it was that had watched out and saved us from a sure death.

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Our favourite spot as we drove from Lachung to Gangtok

Winter Wonderland

“It does not snow in March anymore”, we looked across at Phuchung as he said this. The three of us had climbed a small hill next to our resort, Apple Orchard in Lachen and I had been wondering at whether I was about to witness the first snowfall of my life that day. We were exploring the sleepy village with its ever smiling locals and the Lachen ‘Ngodub Choling’ Monastery.

Can’t top this!
Japanese cherry blossom

 

Hey there!
Country roads..

The day had started off crisp and bright but seemed to be rapidly moving towards biting cold and grey. As we climbed back and sipped on our tea sitting outside under the apple trees, we looked through the many books on sikkim and the local flora and fauna that Kumar, the manager had thoughtfully brought out for us. We were also given many sympathies over our unsuccessful foray. Our early morning excursion to Gurudongmar lake had come to nought, the army had advised against tourist vehicles going ahead because of black ice on the roads. We tried to take as many pictures as we could of the surreal winter wonderland before we were turned away halfway from our destination.

Seeing our crestfallen faces, the staff had rushed to ply us with hot food and drink and make sure we were entertained. We  still had the packed breakfast given to us at dawn and were admonished when we offered to eat it instead. Being the sole guests at the resort did have its perks, while the weather was certainly not one of them, the almost familial warmth we felt at the hands of the staff, certainly was. We insisted they join us for tea so we could talk and find out a bit more about the locals. Over piles of fresh and warm home baked cookies, we were regaled by the lot about stories of adventure as the locals went into the protected areas, reserved only for the indigenous tribes to go and hunt for a magic herb which is extremely expensive and very sought after. Half plant and half insect, this herb is said to delay signs of aging and is an aphrodisiac. As we poured our second cups of chai, we looked up to find the first snowflakes descending. As the chef and Kumar looked out, they turned to us and smiled “ Aap ka luck acha hai” and it most certainly was.

Chai?

The first time you experience anything, even more a natural phenomenon as beautiful as a snowfall, is sure to make you break into a smile. We made plans with the kitchen staff to have our dinner in the dining area by the fireplace. Ten minutes into us reaching our room, there was a power cut. The town has very sparse lighting as it is and with a power cut, it was literally pitch dark as far as the eye could see. The only hotel to have a power back up in the area was ours and within half an hour we had the power back on, though limited. Luckily our room was warm enough from the heaters being on earlier. The temperature outside had dipped to sub zero and we were freezing even after our thermals and warm outerwear. The guys at the hotel let us know that the snow had made the stairs too slippery for people unaccustomed to walking in the snow and that they wouldn’t want us to risk coming down in the dark. What followed made us feel so welcome and well looked after that we thanked the guys a million times. Not only did they humour me with my requests of local food, they fed us a proper feast in our room. The rooms are quite a few flights of stairs away from the kitchen and when we thanked them, we were told it was the least they could do, they do not meet many outsiders and having us over was fun for them. The monastery that was clearly visible from our room otherwise, could only be made out because of the sound of the tibetan horn and chanting coming from it. We washed up as quickly as we could, taking care to not run out all the hot water, and tucked ourselves in with the two hot water bottles at our feet and the heaters facing the bed. When the power came on sometime during the night and both the heaters kicked in [only one had been working till then], we actually got warm enough to want to push the hot water bottles away.

The beautiful Apple Orchard, our home away from home.

As we looked out, we truly understood how too much of a good thing can be bad.

Mornings like these..

 We had decided to try for Gurudongmar again but we found out the place had experienced abnormally heavy snowfall during the night. It looked like our rendezvous with the lake was not to be and we were told we would be lucky if we were not snowed in and stuck in Lachen for the rest of our trip. We made the most of what snow we found along the way to the lake and back. The one thing travel teaches you is to make hay while the sun shines, or run around like demented monkeys while it snows. We bid the sleepy town of Lachen goodbye with promises of returning and left for our resort in Lachung.

 

Hakka Noodles

Growing up in Calcutta, the one thing you develop a hankering for once you move away, is the indo chinese food that is found at almost every street corner. The Hakka technique of cooking is called so because the vast majority of Chinese settlers in Calcutta were from the Hakka region.

There are Chili, schezwan, sweet and sour, american chopsuey and all variations of Chinese food that I’m sure would raise a few eyebrows in the motherland. This is a variation of the typical roadside vegetarian “chowmein” as it is called. Since it is always cooked up right in front of you, it is very easily customised.

You might find it hard to believe but one of my favourite stall guys even serves up his chowmein with chopped cucumber, carrot, beet, onion and a liberal sousing of somewhat orangey looking ketchup. However weird it sounds, it all seems to work amazingly well together. Hope you enjoy cooking and eating these as much as we did.

 

Vegetarian Hakka Chowmein (serves 4)

Ingredients :

Noodles 1 packet -200/250 gms

Ginger garlic finely chopped – 1 tablespoon or little more

Mixed veg cut into thin  strips – cabbage, capsicum, carrot, beans, mushrooms, spring onion

Soya sauce

Vinegar

Black pepper + salt

Chinese spice mix [ I used Keya but you can pick any you like]

Method:

Add salt and oil to boiling water, cook noodles a minute less than instructed on the box. Drain and rinse under cold water. This helps the noodles to stop cooking and not become a soggy mess. Add oil and toss the noodles so they don’t stick together.

Heat oil in a large wok and add chopped ginger garlic, after a couple of minutess add in chopped spring onion followed by carrot, mushroom and beans. This is done in this order to make sure each vegetable gets the cooking time it needs. Fry on high heat for couple of mins and add in cabbage and capsicum. Sauté for another couple of minutes. Add soya sauce, some Chinese spice mix and salt and pepper. Add in cooked noodles and vinegar. Mix well on high flame and serve garnished with the green spring onion.

I used organic apple cider vinegar instead of the regular synthetic one. You can use the white vinegar if it’s more easily accessible or you are better adapted to that taste.

Please let me know how you liked this!

 

Bon Apetit!

 

Kairi Pudina / Aam Panha

As the summer descends upon us, we find ourselves reaching for things that can soothe our parched souls not to mention our tastebuds. This recipe is perfect for both. Quick- so you don’t end up spending hours slaving over the hot stove and tart and sweet enough to make you glad kachi kairi season is here, looking at the bright side, always ;).

 

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I am an extremely firm believer in organic and local produce, as you might have known if you’ve been following me on instagram. This recipe, as do almost all of my others uses all organic and local produce.

 

Kairi Pudina

Serves 5/6

Ingredients

4 raw mangoes

1 big bunch of mint leaves

Himalayan Pink salt

Black salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground roasted cumin

Jaggery/ Brown sugar/ Stevia to taste

 

Method :

Wash the mangoes and mint thoroughly. Boil the mangoes, skin and all and cool.

Pick the leaves off the mint and keep aside to drain.

Scoop out the mango pulp [ scrape it off the skin and the seed as well] and give it a churn along with the mint leaves in the mixer. Add the rest of the spices to taste. Keep in the fridge for a few hours to chill. Serve mixed with chilled water and ice.

A tasting session at Chef Atul Kochhar’s NRI

Some gush over actors and sportsmen, some over singers and writers, yours truly, gives Chefs as celebrated as Atul Kochhar the same platform. Hence, when an opportunity to be at a tasting at his newly opened casual dining space presents itself, you make sure you attend. The restaurant itself, has chosen quite the location given the audience it caters to. The interior itself is minimalistic and yet warm. The light wood furniture and warm golden glow from the bare bulbs sees to it. The tables have small pails of cutlery and are casually set on paper menu mats in keeping with the vibe. The table near the entrance is graced by the presence of books written by the man of the hour and that was as close we got to meeting him. The papads, biscuits and indian candy kept on the table are maybe just a tad bit cliched given the number of restaurants employing the same concept.

 

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The concept is derived, quite simply, from the longings of the heart when you are away from the land you grew up in. Again, quite befitting the return of the prodigal. The menu is derived from the food cooked by the indians living far from home, the immigrants and labourers who tried to replicate food that sated their indian souls while sitting in foreign lands. Funny how much you identify with your nationality once you are out of the nation.

 

The service, as is expected was quite impeccable. We were looked after by Rohan Nair who guided us through the menu and made the entire experience so much more enjoyable by regaling us with stories that come with the curries. Take that, all the other restaurants. Does it get any more Indian? Serving stories with meals! Quite the concept! Chef Jerry, in whose able hands Chef Kochhar has left the restaurant, was a delight to meet and convinced us to have a taste of the Daalim shakarkandi chaat, but more on that later.

 

The meal started for us with the drinks we chose, the place has a vast selection of alcoholic drinks and wines but we stuck with the mocktails. The Konkan Medley with Kokam and passion fruit, and the Eastern Elixir with Galangal and kumquat oranges were both refreshing and just the right amount of sweet and tart for our tastes. Both of us are not fond of artificial colours and flavours and these were right up our alley.

 

The Phaldari chaat with the smoked yoghurt dip won our hearts. We love grilled anything and the grilled fruits with the smattering of masalas and the killer dip was perfect. The dip deserves another line on its own, get a taste and you will know what I’m talking about. If you could just liquefy the very essence of a kebab, this is it. So good that we asked the good man to leave it with us so we could scrape off the last bite with every thing we ate. The Pind da Hummus was good. I love almost all hummus and this one was perfect. Could not have gone wrong with me. Flavored with anaardaana and smooth like a dream. The falafel’s served with it were quite a revelation for us. My marathi mulga has never been a big fan of the things, finds them too dry and bland almost everywhere we go. Here? You should have seen the look on his face to have found falafel’s he loved. Made with dal and not dry at all! The guy isn’t star struck with stars of any kind but sports, so you can be sure that the delight was real! The shakarkandi chaat that we had earlier thought of giving a miss was pressed upon us by the friendly chef and we couldn’t say no. A chaat loving health freak’s dream is what this was. The creaminess of the yogurt foam set off wonderfully by the fried dal and the hot, sweet and sour chutneys create an Indianised salad for when you want your chaat and no calories too.

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I love eating curries with breads and buns and the bunny chow deserved a taste just for that. They tell you a story about how the particular dish came into existence as they serve you your meal and this I shall leave you to experience. The chow was a Rajma based curry and tasted like comfort in the bread bowl. The Malaysian Korma with Roti chennai or as it is now called, Roti Canai, won favor with us as we love coconut curries. The spices and the mild coconut curry are beautiful served with the flaky parotta.

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The much talked about Mithaiwala concept is wonderful and fills you with childlike glee as a cart laden with the most beautiful desserts is rolled out to you. We decided to let the head win over our heart here and settled for two of the beauties. The others we shall be back for. The Brownie with baileys cream was indulgent and yet light. Difficult to fault this one. The Raspberry Verrine was loved by moi for the berries. The Gondhoraj tart and the Maricaubu Orange await our return.

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The only grouse from us would be, for a casual dining space, the impeccably mannered and extremely warm staff seem a little restrained. Introducing an atmosphere of bonhomie and relaxed wear would perhaps add to the charm. For us the restaurant delivered just what it promised, a simple and comforting taste of home. Seeing how close the place is to us and how much we loved it, a repeat visit or two is definitely on the cards for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The surreal sunsets of Kanyakumari

 

The next stop for us was Kanyakumari. This place stole our hearts in a way that has us craving for a repeat visit. And this even before we had left. We started the day with a visit to the Thiruvalluvar statue and the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The entire thing was done in such an orderly manner, given the teeming crowds that they had, that it made us wonder at the endless queues and jams we get back home in the cities for almost everything. Once you buy the tickets, you join the queue and wait your turn to get onto a jetty that takes you to both the islands. The breeze and the beautifully coloured greenish blue ocean is sure to take your breath away.

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We had just the two days in Kanyakumari and regretted our short stay the very first evening. The windows looked right over the sea and we could tell we had a spectacular sunset awaiting us the very evening we checked in. As we left our resort and walked towards the beach, we were waylaid by the sight and smell of bhajiya’s being fried right in the open. The absolutely charming and beautiful mother-daughter duo ladling out the goodies, were absolute sweethearts and gave us a couple of freebies too. Language is really not a barrier when you’re travelling, we barely spoke and yet I doubt any of us would ever forget them. Our evening was spent taking in the most spectacular sunset of our lives till date. The beach is a short walk from the hotel and we stayed out watching the colours till the last trace vanished. This is one of those things that you must do once in your life if not more. I find it hard to believe a more beautiful sunset is possible anywhere.

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Our hotel was the Sparsa Resort. The property is beautiful and has efficient staff who make your stay as comfortable as they can. Could not find any faults with the place given the rates they charge. Complete value for money and pretty good food. We  have had our Karwachauth vrat happen on quite a few of our trips every year and this hotel hosted us during the karwachauth of ’14. Since the both of us fast on this day, not religious but sentimental, almost all the hotels we stay have had staff that go to such lengths to make us juices and make sure we eat well at night. Not to mention the “aw, so cute” looks and comments we keep getting. These guys were the same and we were bestowed with beaming smiles all day.

We left but not without witnessing two of the most gorgeous sunsets of our lives and a wish to visit again and stay on to see a few more.