A New York state of mind: food, travel and life as we know it

Anjali Venugopal April 12, 2017 NO COMMENTS

“Some folks like to get away

Take a holiday from the neighbourhood

Hop a flight to Miami Beach or Hollywood

But I’m takin’ a Greyhound on the Hudson River line

I’m in a New York state of mind”

I lived these lines penned by Billy Joel as we set out on our much awaited get away to the ‘city that never sleeps’. Even today, as I sit by these massive glass windows, as the sun comes streaming in, while the corner of my eye catches a glimpse of the pristine white Viennese structures, with windows so artfully carved that one can’t help but silently bless the hands that added one block at a time, to the beauty that surrounds me today, I will shamelessly admit that I am still hungover from the jolt that was New York.

I recall my first time in the city 4 winters ago rather vividly. The fact that I was travelling alone gave me an extra adrenaline rush. I remember being utterly smitten by the sights and the sounds; the blinding lights at Times Square; the residents, diverse in terms of looks but unified by their impeccable sartorial choices, strutting down the streets on a weekday; the way you have to crinkle your eyes in an attempt to scale the towering skyscrapers. The subway spelt out the word ‘busy’ for me. Every average person on the train, leaving aside the occasional gospel preacher (whose victim, yours truly ended up being, for a good half an hour) seemed to sport the same expression on their faces; pensive with a hint of disdain and a teaspoon of misery.

Since I was still in college then and my trip was on a shoestring budget which was sanctioned by my dad after a day’s worth of negotiations, I clearly remember making the choice to eat at food trucks (no regrets) through most of my trip, excluding the occasional beer chugged at the shady looking pub, so that I would still have enough cash to splurge on my own sartorialism. I recollect the way my face froze on the ferry to Staten Island, to witness the Statue of Liberty for the very first time, that it almost felt like ceramic by the time I got my feet back on the land; the sense of utter (un)belonging, if there were such a word, as I walked up and down Wall Street for I always knew that my calling lay at least a thousand yards away from the term ‘finance’. I also remember walking down Times Square, wide eyed, enamored by the lights and the sights and thinking to myself that I would come back sooner if not later.

And so, I did.

This time, a lot seemed to have changed. I was of course older and not much wiser, but married and travelling with my most favourite travel companion. There is indeed something about visiting a new place on your own and then coming back after a few years to pay the place a visit again with your partner. I cannot put my finger on what exactly it is that feels different; maybe it’s the companionship, maybe it’s that scowl on your face when you know you both need to hit mid ground in terms of your ‘live in the moment’ or ‘be spontaneous’ plans versus his complete order in life, maybe it’s just the change in perspective, but the one thing I can tell you is that, it is nothing short of beautiful.

It was also a planned reunion with my soul sisters. Two beautiful women who stand by me through all the battles I fight; two women who laugh with me while we crack the poorest of jokes seventy five times at a stretch; two women who have seen me at my cringe worthy worst, never judging, their steps never faltering.

For some strange reason, I happened to witness NYC in a new light this time. I wasn’t quite blinded by the lights nor was I as wide-eyed as I was when I first set foot in the city. I had always felt that New York had something about it that makes you feel like a sheep in the big city; something that makes you feel meek; insignificant. Something that tends to suck out every bit of life in you, in your eternal attempt to fit in to a social bracket that is merely a figment of your imagination. I feel so, because time is an exceedingly precious commodity there and no one has enough of it to be wasted on something as inconsequential as you. It is almost as though you have to struggle so much to keep up with the pace at which the city glides that you are left with severe palpitations. If you pay close attention to the people around, you can just about see the slight grey tinge tarnishing their façades that look like they are effortlessly holding their heads above the water. I could sense the pressure that was built up in society to look a particular way, even feel a particular way. I tend to feel a slight constriction in my windpipe when feelings and emotions are dictated by societal norms, and I felt that there.

I shall now take a detour and talk about happier things, in fact, the one thing that I find fascinating no matter where I go; the food. This visit did not see me loitering around food trucks or other street eateries. Apart from spending quality time with my girlies, the sole purpose of my visit was to find a couple of places that would leave a lasting imprint on my palate and you bet I did. Considering the amazing diversity in the population gifted to this massive city, the vast number of incredible eateries offering exquisite varieties of cuisines should come as no surprise. I take this opportunity to confess that I did not chase after great burger joints during my stint there (yes I know, NYC, burger, beer, yada yada yada) and that is mainly for two reasons. One, I am not the biggest burger fan coupled with the fact that I have already found my go-to burger joint here in Vienna, that satiates my burger craving, without leaving any room for error, as and when it knocks. Two, if you are the die-hard burgerholic (just had to resort to a cliche, for want of a better word), you don’t need me to write about it since enough, if not too much has already been said and written on the best burger joints in NYC by other seasoned burgerholics.

So, I shall proceed to take you on a virtual gastronomical tour to a few of the places that left indelible marks on my palate.

1. Laut Malaysian/Singapore Kitchen: One of the first Malaysian restaurants in NYC to be awarded a Michelin Star, Laut was the definition of the usage “blew me away” and I could not possibly emphasize it enough. Although this list is in no particular order, I cannot help but place this restaurant, that gives off a mini Malaysian food street vibe, right at the top. Quite contrary to the popular notion on what Michelin Star restaurants should look and feel like, Laut is a welcome change. The place has a lovely, jovial ambience with people chattering away to their hearts content while digging into yummy looking plates of food, which works best for someone like me who prefers a relaxed, comfortable environment to a place that makes you feel like even the cutlery is judging you.

Even the food was so heartily presented and that I feel deserves more credit that it gets, since it helps in building an appetite in me, as opposed to the fancy-schmancy, sometimes bordering on over-the-top plating which makes me rethink my life choices. But hey! That’s strictly a personal opinion. As I keep harping time and again, I feel food is supposed to bring you joy; it is something that should fill your tummy and your soul. The food at Laut ticked all these boxes for me as I could taste the love and the sheer effort that had gone behind the preparation of every bite on our plates.

What we ordered:

Singapore Chili Crab– Crispy fried, soft shelled crabs dunked in a lovely, sweet and sour chili sauce with a dropped egg adding wonders to the velvety texture of the sauce. Served with fried and steamed Manatau. It would be a crime if you were to walk out of Laut without giving this dish a go. Period.

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Nasi Goreng: Nasi Goreng translates to ‘fried rice’ is Indonesian and Malay and is a popular main dish in those areas. The Nasi Goreng served at Laut, with sumptuous amounts of shrimp was by far the best I have had in a long time. The explosion of flavor in my mouth after the first bite will not be forgotten that easily. Huge hit.

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Nasi Lemak: Considered to be the national dish of Malaysia, the Nasi Lemak yet again was nothing short of amazing. This was a plateful of food comprising rice, some pineapple sambal, dried anchovies fried, some pickled prawns and succulent pieces of chicken coated in a thick gravy, somewhat resembling a ‘roast’ as the term would mean in south India.

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Young Coconut Pudding– The soufflé which was filled into an actual green coconut got my thumbs up even before I tasted it for the sheer beauty in presentation. And when I did taste it, boy oh boy, the silky texture of the soufflé with the right amount of sweetness made it so refreshing and light on the tummy that it felt like the perfect way to end such an incredible meal.

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Having said all this, if you have an inkling at the back of your mind that this meal (along with other appetizers) would have cost us a fortune, please rest assured that you are thoroughly mistaken. The Michelin Star is solely in terms of food quality and this is yet another feather on Laut’s cap.

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2. Sigiri: This unassuming nook placed on quite an insignificant location on 1st Ave and specializing in authentic Sri Lankan cuisine deserves its own dot on the world map for the brilliant, spicy food it serves. This is a place that focuses solely on the quality of food. The ambience is plain and minimalistic although clean and well kept.

What we ordered:

The Black Chicken Curry and the Fish Curry, both of which were spicy and so full of flavor. The chicken was cooked in fried coconut and has sumptuous amounts of whole spices infused in to the gravy and this got along beautifully with the plate of hot white rice. The fish was cooked in a tamarind paste with basic masala simmered in a thin coconut milk and this reminded me of South Indian cuisine in parts. We ended the meal with a plate of homemade caramel custard which was on the house (additional delight). Must visit for all spicy food lovers!

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3. BCD Tofu House: Impeccable Korean food. Period. This was one of the last meals we had in the city and for this reason I cannot stop thinking about it. The fact that this spacious restaurant, nestled in Korea Town, was packed on a Friday afternoon speaks volumes about the quality of food.

What we ordered:

Seafood Pancake– A yummy pancake stuffed with all kinds of seafood. Perfect for an appetizer and tasty.

Spicy Pork Bulgogi– This was one of the best pork dishes I have had in a long time and possibly a strong contender for the best Bulgogi I have tasted. This dish comprised succulent shreads of pork in a semi dry, spicy paste served with stick rice and a super spicy seafood (clams, mussels, shrimp, squid), tofu and beef soup. The ‘Tofu’ in the name stands there for a reason I realise and the reason being the silky, melt-in-the-mouth tofu these guys serve. Coming from a person who is not even a fan of tofu, you may want to take me seriously. You can let them know your spice tolerance levels when you order.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-12 at 18.30.404. Levain Bakery: You haven’t had the best cookie in NYC (or maybe anywhere else on earth for that matter) if you haven’t eaten at Levain Bakery. It can’t get much better than those huge, warm, heavenly cookies oozing chocolate from all sides.

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Special Mentions:

1. Grom– Best hot chocolate ever, I mean seriously. Thick hot chocolate whipped to perfection with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Perfect for those grey, rainy days when all you need is to snuggle under a warm blanket with a book and a cup of this lovely creation.

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2. Sprinkles– The cupcake ATM was super fascinating. Lovely cupcakes with a lot of attention paid to the base cake, which I loved. The butter or cream cheese frosting is a tad too sweet for my liking but certainly worth a solid mention.

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3. BEA– Beautiful looking bar with bare bricked walls and lots of indoor greenery, perfect for a casual date or a night out with friends on the days your wallet does not feel too slim. Haha. Great drinks and average food.

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(image obtained from http://www.beanyc.com/inside/)

Be not fooled into thinking that these are only places we visited in that one week. These are just the places I would want each of you to visit if ever you are to find yourself in New York. I hope you had a good read and don’t forget to let me know your thoughts. 🙂

 

 

Tastes like home, Part 2: Kerala style Parippu Curry, traditional lentil curry from Kerala

Anjali Venugopal March 27, 2017 NO COMMENTS

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All our 16 year old selves have been found guilty of wanting to grow up, be independent and leave home eventually. The rules, the curfews, and the choices our parents made were never good enough for us. Life was “boring” as we called it. Especially for an upper middle class teen like me, the city wasn’t as “happening” as I would have liked and incessantly dreamt of a “cool” life in a bigger city.

My dream was to find my way, by hook or crook, out of that lovely, green corner I was born and raised in, which is home to the most beautiful rain I have witnessed; where it is commonplace to wake up listening to the birds outside your window at dawn; where it is the norm to know the entire neighbourhood by their first names; where twilight is welcomed by the soft scents of agarbati, where my happy family sat on the verandah, watching the sun go down, sharing a joke and laughing to our hearts content, where Amma would make a stern reminder about our homework at 7 PM on the dot as though she had some sort of alarm clock embedded in her system. A couple of hours of fiddling with my homework would mean dinner time and food would miraculously appear on the dining table and all I ever had to do was show up, washed and clean. Amma would serve the usual staple of some boiled rice, sautéed seasonal veggies tempered with a hint of coconut and some spicy fish curry or even some fried fish on the good days. My sole duty was to quietly wipe my plate clean but no! I would choose to make a fuss, making a face at the veggies and maybe even throw a verbal tantrum as I grew older. All this would last till Amma’s patience snapped or when she would just beckon to my dad to come take care of the situation, when all of a sudden, silence would fall like those thick velvety curtains back in my school auditorium. To think this was the life I wanted to run away from…

Somehow, in our eternal pursuit behind what will be instead of what is, maybe we lost out on the sweetest fruits of life. Today as we sit, laboring away at a corporate job, staring into the computer screens for hours at a stretch, nibbling at a sandwich made of some dry bread for lunch, struggling to pay our bills, craving for a warm plate of mom-cooked food, how many of us can say honestly that we are indeed happy? And how many of us would trade the lives we lead now to go right back to your wooden study desks at home racking your brain to somehow make sense of the quadratic equation staring back at you from those single lined note books, while you fiddled with the new gel pen that you proudly got for yourself after saving up 10 rupees from your pocket money?

Well, one can wish. As somebody once said, we are the oldest we have ever been and the youngest we will ever be, and keeping that in mind let us resolve not live in the past or whine about the present. I have realized that there are few things a warm, tasty meal cannot solve. Let me arm you with a simple recipe to combat that yearning to go right back in time to your mom’s kitchen waiting for her to serve you dinner. This is a Kerala style lentils dish that is extremely popular in my part of the world. This goes best with some hot, white rice with a generous spoonful of ghee drizzled on it.

Things you will need:

1. Moong dal (aka Mung bean, green gram)- half cup (peeled and spilt)
2. Coconut- 2 table spoons (grated or desiccated)
3. Cumin seeds- ½ teaspoon
4. Turmeric powder- ½ teaspoon
5. Green chilli- 1
6. Ghee- as your heart desires
7. Mustard seeds and dried red chillies (curry leaves if available) for tempering

How to go about it

1. In a pressure cooker, dry roast the moon dal for about 4 minutes or till you start to get the lovely, roasted aroma of the dal.
2. Add three times the amount of water and a tablespoon of ghee to the dal and pressure cook it for around 4 whistles on a medium heat. (dal: water = 1:3)
3. In the meanwhile, grind the coconut, green chilli, cumin seeds and the turmeric powder to form a nice smooth paste. Keep that aside.
4. After 4 whistles, keep the pressure cooker aside to let the pressure release naturally.
5. After the pressure is released, using a whisk, mash the dal very well to make the consistency even. You may also use the back of a large spoon for the same.
6. Add some more water if you feel the dal has become too thick for your liking. Put the cooker back on the heat, sans the lid, add the paste, stir well and bring to a boil.
7. While that is being done, heat a bit of ghee in a pan and temper the mustard seeds and dried chillies (and curry leaves if available). Add this to the dal, mix well and enjoy your happy meal.

Malwani Chicken Sukka

Anjali Venugopal March 9, 2017 NO COMMENTS

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Realization dawned on me this morning that it has been six whole months since we moved to this enchanted city, Vienna. That thought, coupled with the fact that we are on the third month of 2017, leaves me with my jaw on the floor. I cannot for anything believe that it has been almost a full year since I said goodbye to my bustling and not particularly exciting life in Mumbai; when my mom had come over to help me pack, into twenty thousand suitcases, all the earnings I had fetched for myself in the form of all sorts of garbage, over the seven years of my stint in Pune/Mumbai.

Today, as I sit around munching on a bowl of dried fruits and crunchy nuts, I get reminded that this will be my first spring ever. Spring to me, has always been confined within the hardbound covers of the books I have loved or behind the screen of the television. The closest I have got to spring was probably in my Social Studies classes in third grade, sitting in a boiling classroom in Kerala, when I was taught the four seasons. That piece of information obviously made little sense to that 8-year-old who came from that part of the world, where people would refuse to give the weather talk a break, if the temperature dared to fall as much as below a solid 30 degrees Celsius; where we wore the same kind of clothes all the year over; where we were taught to shower twice a day from January to December. Now that I am in a place where I get to witness spring for myself, I can finally accept that it is not as mythical as it seemed to that 8-year-old.  Watching the trees, the shrubs and the grass coyly coming back to life, is as exciting as the child once imagined it to be.

Sorry, the powerful desire for an afternoon siesta took over my soul and I dozed off. Now that I am up and have stuffed my face with a second lunch that comprised another bowl of the leftover chicken pulao from last night with a cold glass of orange juice to wash it down, I am ready to talk more. Yes, coming back to what I was saying. I lived a score and six years of my life in India. Apart from the occasional holidaying abroad, I have never ‘lived’ anywhere else. So, it goes without saying that Vienna is a land of firsts, for me. It is probably my first time when I don’t know a single other person living in my building. Coming from India, where the line between friendliness and psychotic intrusion got blurred a long time ago, if I am honest I am sometimes torn between feeling the need for someone to know me by my name versus the absolute pleasure of just going about doing your own sweet thing. I can’t tell if this particular emotion is a tiny prick to the ego because I don’t seem to bear any significance whatsoever, in the lives of the people around or if it that feeling of utter cheerful abandon, where you are more than welcome to just do what your heart tells you without the constant anxiety of what the neighbourbood would say.

Something else that is a first for me, is the miraculous public transport system here and how people, irrespective of their designation or bank balance, use public transport. I remember, in Mumbai, I would rather stay stuck in traffic for 2 hours than get my visceral organs squished out of my mouth on a local train. I used to be the one to call for an Uber every time I sneezed. Back in Kerala, beyond a certain level in the social strata (not that high up either), using public transport such as buses is looked at with disdain. Utterly illogical but that is unfortunately how a group of insecure people, who have nothing to their credit apart from the money they happened to recently get a hold of, living together thrive; the criteria that are prevelant while making the progress report for a person’s worth is ridiculously funny in most parts of our country but I shall reserve that for another day. Coming back to cabs, I learnt as soon as I moved here that I couldn’t do that primarily because the public transport is on point and also because I can’t afford cabs by habit.

What I am about to list out next, is something that warrants a longer rant, so, I shall leave just a precis here which will be developed on another day. It is nothing but the bizarre Indian practice of keeping people who speak English reasonably well, high up on a pedestal with a garland around their necks, and treating them like gods. Don’t be surprised to see other measly beings touching the god’s feet every now and then too. It could possibly be the aftermath our colonial masters left behind them, but it is more often than not, atrociously funny. I am used to seeing people around me being apologetic and filled with shame when (if ever they do) they need to introduce some family member of theirs who does not know English. It is invariably this line. “Hey, sorry man, my mom does not speak English.” I have heard that umpteen times since my Hindi was at that point, negligible and a work in progress. Why were they apologetic?! I was pleasantly surprised to see the change in how the same sentence is framed in this part of the world. “Oh my parents speak only Italian!” Do you spot the difference or are you thick? That was a first. When a single language became the yard stick for a person’s worth, I will never know. Most people in this part of the world are multi lingual to the extent that they are people who speak as much as seven languages fluently. That, I feel is reason enough to be proud. But you, measly creature, who barely manages to scrape the epidermis of English and says with utmost pride that you don’t understand/speak even your respective mother tongues, please go hang your head in shame for a good two hours. It really does not count for anything. And for those of you who think you have conquered the world with your subliminal English speaking skills, let me assure you, you haven’t. 🙂

Back in to business. Today I share with you the recipe for a dish that can make you look nothing short of an Indian chef-extraordinaire. It is a Malwani Chicken Sukka. Malwani cuisine comes from the Konkan region of Maharashtra and Goa. Typically a coastal area, the cooking in this part of the nation is extremely flavoursome and uses coconut liberally, which I love. So without further ado, here goes the recipe.

Things you will need:

  1. Chicken- 500 gms
  2. Onions- 2 medium thinly sliced
  3. Fresh coriander leaves- 1/4 cup

For the Malwani Masala

  1. Dried red chillies- 5
  2. Whole peppercorns- ½ tsp
  3. Cloves- 5
  4. Bay leaf-1
  5. Mustard seeds- ½ tsp
  6. Cinnamon stick- a small piece
  7. Cumin seeds- ½ tsp
  8. Star anise- 1
  9. Coriander seeds- 2 heaped tbsp.
  10. Turmeric powder- 1 tsp

For the paste

  1. Coconut grated- a little more than half cup
  2. Onion- 1 small
  3. Green chillies- 2
  4. Garlic pods- 3
  5. A small piece of ginger

How to go about it:

  1. Dry roast all the ingredients from 1-9 under the head “for the malwani masala” in a pan till they start releasing the aroma. Let the spices cool, before proceeding to make a smooth powder in a mixer grinder. Add the turmeric to this powder and keep it aside. “malwani spice mix”
  2. Next we move to the coconut paste. In the mixer grinder, grind all the ingredients from 1-5 under the head “for the paste” and keep it aside. “coconut paste”
  3. Next heat some cooking oil in a wok and sauté the onions till they are a nice golden brown.
  4. Add the coconut paste to the onions, stir well and keep sauteeing till the coconut is beginning to change colour. This should take about 7-8 minutes on medium flame. Keep sauteeing to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the wok.
  5. Add the malwani spice mix to the wok and stir well to form a homogenous texture.
  6. Add the chicken to the wok and mix it well to make sure the masala is coated well on all the pieces uniformly.
  7. Add about half a glass of water, mix well and keep the wok closed till the chicken is fully cooked. Open and check once in a while to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the wok.
  8. Once the chicken is cooked, open the wok and fry the chicken on a higher flame to ensure the gravy is thick and the dish attains the desired consistency.
  9. Add the coriander leaves, mix well and take the wok off the heat.
  10. Keep wok closed for about ten minutes before serving.
  11. Dig in! 🙂

Tastes Like Home, Part 1: Dal Khichdi

Anjali Venugopal February 25, 2017 2 COMMENTS

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‘Home’ is one word that can trigger a myriad of emotions in us; especially ones like me, living in faraway lands hoping to get a solid grip of the real adult life. There is something about twilight that invariably reminds me of all things home. Just as I watch the sun bid adieu outside my window, I cannot help but reminisce about my own little corner in the world, where I was taught that ‘love’ was the answer to all the questions life had to throw at you.

I get carried away to the laughter, the fun, the fights and the tears the walls of my home have witnessed through the years. I can just close my eyes, take a deep breath and I can smell my pillow who has seen more tears than I would like to admit to; I can feel the warm rice porridge seasoned with nothing but a pinch of salt on my lips fed to me by my amma’s soft hands when I came down with that wretched flu when I was 8; I can feel the taste of that crisp, raw mango my granddad plucked for my sister and me, from the neighborhood tree, which we relished with some chilli powder and salt with a dash of coconut oil; I can see my dad helping me out with my first set of tube paints; I even remember vividly the first sip of beer I had with him; I can see myself in my new pink and black frilly dress ready to celebrate my sister’s second birthday; even the first swing my dad put up for me on the chikoo tree behind my house; I can almost see myself at my granny’s knee listening to her ramblings of her first time on a ship. In fact, I can even see myself at my first formal date with the Husband, many years ago by the sea nibbling on a plate of chicken stir fried in some oriental flavours.

However, coming to think of it, I realize that the concept of ‘home’ has little to do with the structure of your house. It is the memories you have made all your life with the people you love without realizing you were making them. But to me, food plays a serious role in bringing back these memories. I associate a great deal of nostalgia with every bite I take and it is no secret that every time I miss home, a good home cooked meal helps to alleviate the emotional turmoil at least by 20%. Well, that is how it works for me.

There are days when I am moody beyond human comprehension and the only thing I want to do, is devour a plate of hot rice with amma’s spicy fish curry. There are other days when I sense a void, when nothing but a plate of some steaming hot momos, drenched in that killer sauce can satiate my soul. I come to realize that every single place I have spent a reasonable amount of my time at, has something to contribute to what I call ‘my idea of home food’. I have seen a considerable portion of India, ever since I left home at 17 and each of the cities I have had to spend a fraction of my life in, have in some way or the other affected my taste buds and the way I see food in general.

When I left home in 2007, my palate could not have been more mallu. All I craved for, day in and day out, was some boiled rice, stir fried vegetables and the mackerel curry. However, at some point in my life, it dawned on me that my palate has evolved and that there are days when I crave for that Andhra Chili Chicken from Nagarjuna on Residency Road, in Bangalore. There are other days when I all want is a plate of Rajma Chawal from my hostel in Delhi. Or maybe just some rich Dal and that sweet Kadhi that is lovingly served at Mayur Thali on JM Road, in Pune. Maybe this signifies that all these cities have, in some way or the other, altered my definition of home and have broadened it to include the love that is served in the form of food in our incredibly diverse nation; and this being solely because I may have unlocked certain cockles of my heart when I unknowingly felt at home in the nooks and corners of these places that warmly took me in.

So, today I share with you my recipe for a dish that is so warm and wholesome that it could arguably be the number 1 comfort food for many of us; the Dal Khichdi. It took me many years to comprehend that the sick man’s khichdi had a yummy variation too. Here I share with you, the not so sick man’s version of the simplest Dal Khichdi. Whip up a plate of this for yourself, and feel at home!

Things you will need:

  1. Masoor dal- ½ cup (red split lentils)
  2. Basmati rice- ½ cup
  3. Turmeric powder- ½ teaspoon
  4. Chilli powder- less than ¼ teaspoon
  5. Onion- 1 medium sliced finely
  6. Garlic- 4-5 pods sliced finely
  7. Ghee- as you may deem fit
  8. Water- 4-5 cups
  9. Mustard seeds, dried red chillies- for tempering

 

How to go about it

  1. In a pressure cooker, add the rice and the dal (1:1 ratio) along with the turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt and one tbsp of ghee. Add 4-5 cups of water. (I prefer my khichdi nice and gooey) Let it cook on a low flame for about 5 whistles. After the whistles, keep the cooker aside and allow the pressure to drop on its own.
  2. In the meantime, in a pan, heat some cooking oil and temper the mustard seeds and the red chillies. Once tempered, sauté the onions and the garlic till they turn nice and brown and start giving out that wonderful garlicky aroma.
  3. Once the pressure has dropped, whisk the rice and dal well to achieve an even consistency. Add the tempered onions and garlic to the khichdi and mix well. Drizzle some ghee on your khichdi in the end and your khichdi is ready to be pounced on.

Chicken Chettinad

Anjali Venugopal February 17, 2017 1 COMMENTS

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Today for some strange reason, feels like a super productive day; feels like I have achieved quite a bit. Whereas, in reality, all I have actually done is find my way around the city, relying solely on my phone or my instincts as I would rather believe. My exceedingly pitiable navigational skill is no secret. I currently hold the record for the maximum number of times a single person has circled the same area around my (ex)house in Mumbai before eventually ‘accidentally’ finding the house, that seemed to have miraculously risen from the ground sometime during the last lap. Keeping that in mind, you cannot blame me for gloating a slight bit for having successfully found the way back home, after my jaunt to the newly discovered salon.

It is a norm all the world over, that the lady at the salon would be talking nineteen to the dozen while tending to you. At least that is how it normally is with us women, I am not quite certain if that’s how it works with the men. Care to update me on that front? The nice lady at the salon today, was no exception. She was warm and friendly and refrained from asking any inappropriate questions whatsoever (brownie points right there). She was just happy to yap on about how she moved to Vienna 21 years ago, newly married and how she set up her home from scratch with her husband; how she knew absolutely no one in the city and how daunting it was at the beginning; how she made a drab little apartment her home and how she started warming up to the new environment.

I could relate to her banter on so many levels. Hearing that this path I am walking on has been trodden many many times before me, felt like a cool breeze on my forehead glistening with sweat on a sultry day in May. While walking back to the tram station I kept replaying the stories I had heard for the day in my head, as usual. What she had said was so true; there certainly is something incredibly beautiful about setting out on your journey of life, in a new city, with the love of your life. Something endearing about that strange emotion you encounter just as you hug your mother tight right before you set out to make your own home, just as your mother did, many years ago. Something unnerving about the responsibilities that await you in a foreign land.

I have been living on my own since I was about 17. For the longest time I thought I had mastered it all; living alone, cooking, cleaning, looking after your keys and other such belongings, dealing with homesickness, managing money, the list is endless. However, nothing can (or should be allowed to) take away the joy of setting up your own home as a couple. Starting from the first step of figuring out (to be read as arguing/ biting each others’ heads off) the expendable budget for a home, the journey is nothing like anything I have done before. I still remember the day we moved in and we were faced with the quick decision of who sleeps on which side of the bed. That was cake walk because the Husband picked the side with the plug points which meant that I got what I wanted; the side with the bed side shelf to store my lip balm and foot cream. Haha. Well, the point being, every single step is a joy in its own way. Be it picking that gigantic floor lamp together, or the visits to ikea and spending almost your life’s savings, be it the day you sit together under the blanket on a cold day browsing through fifty thousand pages on amazon trying to fix on the right vase for round wooden dining table, be the aimless walks through the supermarkets every weekend stocking up on groceries, be it that bottle of white wine that called to be opened since new wine glasses had joined the family or even the walks to the florist around the corner to decide whether to pick yellow tulips or those pretty white carnations.

I shall now make an abrupt detour and get into business. Today, I share with you the recipe to an incredibly yummy chicken gravy (yet again 🙁 I promise I am finalising a few of my vegetarian recipes and you shall get hold of them in no time). This time, a Chicken Chettinad recipe. This popular and much loved dish from south India does not need an introduction. For all those days your palate craves for some spicy south indian food,  here you go.

Things you will need:

  1. Chicken- 500 grams
  2. Onions- 2 large sliced
  3. Tomatoes- 2 medium chopped
  4. Ginger garlic paste- 1 tbsp
  5. Turmeric powder- 1 tsp
  6. Corinader leaves (chopped)- quarter cup

To roast:

  1. Cinnamon sticks- 2 pieces about an inch long
  2. Cloves- 6
  3. Peppercorns- 1 tbsp
  4. Whole coriander seeds- 1 tbsp
  5. Cardamom pods- 4
  6. Dried Kashmiri chillies- 3 large
  7. Grated Coconut/ desiccated coconut powder- 2 ½ tbsp.

How to go about it:

  1. First, in a pan, roast on a medium flame, the ingredients from 1-6 under the heading “to roast” till you get the aroma of the spices. This should take about 4 minutes.
  2. Then add to the pan (with the spices) the grated coconut or coconut powder and roast till the coconut turns a nice golden brown. The coconut powder will brown much faster in comparison with actual coconut. Once it reaches the golden brown colour, take the pan off the heat and keep it aside to cool. Once cool, grind the roasted mix in a grinder without using any water, to form a smooth powder, keep it aside. (“Roast Spices Powder”)
  3. Next, in a wok, heat some cooking oil. Sauté the onions well till they are turn a golden brown.
  4. Add the ginger garlic paste and keep sauteeing till the raw smell is lost.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, sauté for a couple of minutes and keep the wok closed for a minute or two.
  6. Once the onions and tomatoes are soft and cooked thoroughly, add the turmeric powder the Roast Spices Powder and mix well.
  7. Add the cleaned pieces of the chicken along with a teaspoon of vinegar, mix well and then keep the wok closed till the chicken fully cooked. (Stir occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the wok).
  8. Once done, add the chopped coriander leaves to the gravy and mix well before taking the wok off the stove.
  9. Serve with hot white rice or chapatis or anything else that suits your fancy 🙂

A peep out of an introvert’s window

Anjali Venugopal February 2, 2017 3 COMMENTS

Vienna seems to be losing her mind. It has been snowing like there is no tomorrow for the past couple of days. After having taken a day off from work since I was feeling rather under the weather this morning, I had in my head, a long list of things to do while I stayed indoors in the warmth. Now, on taking a quick recap of events, I realize I haven’t ticked off as much as one item on the list. The clothes that were to be ironed haven’t moved an inch from their spot, the laundry basket is still grinning as he has not been parted from his friends yet, the plants have not been watered, my toe nails are still sporting the bright orange lacquer, quite contrary to what I had planned for the day. But hey, this is my house and I make them rules, don’t I?

Having said all that, a quiet house with only a ticking clock to keep me company, gets me thinking and that in turn motivates me to jot them thoughts down. Before I get in to my pointless blabber, tell me something. How many of you guys flee at the thought of making small talk with people? And how many of you thrive on it? The question is being asked since I am, hands down, one from the former lot. There is nothing that makes me more awkward than just the thought of having to make small talk. Let me give you an example.

*almost every day at work*

My desk phone rings and I pick up.

Me: “Hello?”

Colleague X: “Hi!! How are you?”

Me: “I am all right. Why did you call?”

Colleague X: “Erm well erm okaayy… In the Statement of Claim that you sent to me… yada yada yada”

In short, X took offence, because I was apparently too abrupt and curt. I always end up talking about such tiny details to the Husband in the evening and he invariably tries to tell me how important it is to be polite and all I am expected to do is to just “say a few words nicely”. I ponder about this into the night and make a reminder in my head to ask the caller how he is doing and “be nice”, the next time he calls. The thought that I could have possibly upset the caller, does not sit well with me, because hey! I have an inherently good heart.

*Next day at work*

Tring tring

Me: “Helloooo!! :D”

Colleague X: “Hello, do you have a minute?”

Me:*taking a deep breath and rehearsing everything I had taught myself the night before *

“Of courseee!!! How was your weekend? How is your mother? Did you play rock paper scissors? I like to cook and I made some fancy spaghetti. Ohh and guess what, I bought new undies over the weekend. And the not so happy news is that my landlord is constipated.”

You wouldn’t under any circumstance want to know how that call proceeded. Sigh. How on earth do I explain to anyone with a reasonably sized brain in their skulls that I cannot ‘try’ to be nice without making myself look like an absolute moron?!

Let me get to the point.

I remember, as a child, how I always wanted to be the outgoing extrovert and that is precisely how I projected myself to be. I used almost every opportunity I had, to try to mould myself to be one of them. Even as an 8 year old, I had a knack to understand people and their psyches and I knew that being introverted in school meant, you wouldn’t be picked as the class prefect; you wouldn’t ever be picked to be the lead in the famed English drama; in spite of your exceptionally good language skills, next to that overtly loud, pompous dude, you still wouldn’t stand a chance to be the compère for the annual day; the quiet ones minding their own business were never given the limelight, irrespective of all the talents they meekly mustered; the gist being nobody gave three hoots about you, and I knew, right from that tender age, that was not what I wanted. I told myself that if you were good (be it in whichever field), you had to scream it out. Anything lesser than that would be promptly overlooked. Oh and hey a loud, outgoing sibling in the same school always helped the cause. Apart from that concession, noone was going to invest their time, energy or patience in figuring out if the soft spoken, meek looking characters had anything to contribute, whatsoever. I was so good at pretending to be the extroverted kid that I wouldn’t expect any of my mates from back in the day to think otherwise.

Let this not give you an idea that this mindset is confined within the four walls of high school. That was meant to serve as merely a relatable instance of what the actual social mentality is, in almost every walk of life.

It took me a great deal of self introspection and active tearing apart of the mask I wore, to comprehend that I was an introvert. And today, I am happy and content to be one. The faster I accepted the fact, the easier my days got. I couldn’t possible be more relaxed with the few friends I have in my kitty. I despise loud, flamboyant parties where the music is so loud that one cannot hear the other person speak, so, everyone is just forced to refrain from scratching beyond the epidermis of the conversation. I dread dinner parties with people I just barely know, where everyone speaks about the latest “cool” sitcom or Skrillex’s latest album or the damn weather. 😐 The sheer thought of travel plans with a huge group of people, of whom I know nothing of, beyond their faces, names and professions, makes me want to go hide under the bed and never return. *shudder*

I have always maintained that I am the old, run-down pub, that plays Simon and Garfunkel, kind of person, sipping on undiluted beer in giant mugs with the right amount of froth, with the people I hold close to my heart; where I needn’t care if the colour on my nails match my lips. I want to sit by the bonfire, on a cold night under the starry skies, with the same set of people sipping on some hot chocolate talking about the experiences in life that hurt us, changed us and almost pushed us to give up. I want to go on a trip with the people who are not repulsed by silence; where two of you could be sharing a ride home and there is no incessant pressure to keep talking; when it is okay to just look out of the window pondering about the happenings of the bygone days. I want to share a simple meal with someone who understands that there is no such thing as “awkward silence”; someone who understands that it is okay to eat your own food, enjoying the company of the person in front of you, without having to screech out every 30 seconds, that you are having a good time. I want to sit by the beach holding your hand silently, leaning against a rock in the moonlight, watching the waves wash the shore tirelessly.

Having said so much, do not at any cost, get that inkling that my idea is to make this look like a mockery of the extroverts. It is not. You may not be my cup of tea, but that will not stop me from gawking at you in awe, every cell in my body wondering as to how you do what you do with so much ease and grace. However, next time you find your inner social butterfly at yet another social gathering, remind yourselves in all that clamor and fun to look around you. You may just find the one you will connect the most with, sitting in one corner, at his/her awkward best sipping on a glass of wine, looking around sheepishly. And as they say, opposites attract and maybe, just maybe.. you will thank me for my banter later? 😛

 

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Hi, I am Anjali

A lawyer who gave up law to pursue her one true love, food.

I was born and raised in Trivandrum in arguably one of the most beautiful corners of the world, Kerala (the southernmost state of India). I have now made a home in Paris with the love of my life.

If I had to pick two things that made me the happiest, I would pick cooking and meeting new people.

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