Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mooli Rouge

I never grew up hating mooli, unlike many I know. To me it was one of those aberrations, something that you found floating in your sambar one fine day, and stared at suspiciously, surprised by its crunch on your palate, while the mother explained, “I didn’t have time to go to the market, and there was nothing at home.” But you wondered why she was being so apologetic, as it tasted quite good anyway.

So this is not going to be one of those radish rants. I honestly don’t find its odour pungent or putrid whatever they claim it to be. At least I never had to hold my breath while negotiating a mooli.

There was a time when Samovar beckoned every once in a while with its mooli parathas and pudina raita served with an assortment of chutneys. Nowadays I go to Guru da Dhaba in Lokhandwala for my mooli cravings. I am not the type who will labour over parathas, and my cleaning lady-turned-cook has just about managed to get three recipes right so far, so it’s a bit early to get her to graduate to mooli parathas. And all my Panju friends have vanished into thin air, so I’m not getting fed at their homes any more.

Unlike many, the mooli’s sharpness in taste is something I can deal with—nothing that a dash of lemon can’t beat though—I think lemon is the best antidote to all things that are still making up their mind whether to be nice or nasty to you.

Coming to think of it, there’s plenty you can do with mooli. You could cut it into strips, rub some lemon and pepper onto it, leave it be for 20 minutes and then stir-fry in mustard oil, adding salt, red chillies and amchoor, till all the water dries. Makes for a great starter. Alternatively, you could make khatte lachhee, ala Punjabi style—a tangy side of grated mooli and its leaves, green chillies, salt, and a garnish of the sweet-sour date and tamarind chutney (ala bhel). If there’s no chutney, tamarind pulp, slightly sweetened will also do the job.

And of course, the ubiquitous mooli raita—Grated mooli, mixed with dahi and chaat masala- very cooling, and not smelly at all. I often make a mooli salad with pomegranates, where I chop the leaves and the tuber really fine, add lots of lemon juice, a dash of chaat masala and salt, and throw in the pomegranates. The latter offsets the residual sharpness (if any, after all that lemon) of the mooli and also gives makes for an aesthetic blend of colours (okay, I art-direct my food, but what’s wrong with that?)

Recently, I stumbled into a Gujju recipe (courtesy my friend Dipti) that got my taste-buds into a frenzy. It looks like a lot of work, but believe me, it’s not.




Mooli muthiyas

Ingredients

Wheat flour - 1 cup

Besan - ½ cup

Oil - ¼ cup

Mooli (grated) + leaves (chopped) - ½ cup

Red chilli powder - 1 tsp

Lime juice - 1 tsp

Sugar - 1 tsp

Mustard seeds - ½ tsp

Salt, hing



To garnish:

Chopped coriander leaves and grated coconut.



Method:

Grate the mooli. Chop its leaves. Mix both.

Mix both flours, grated mooli and leaves, chilli powder, salt, haldi, sugar and lime juice.

Add half the oil & knead to a soft dough, adding water, little by little.

Make balls and shape into 1” diameter rolls.

Steam the rolls for 10 minutes

Cool, cut the rolls into desired size

Heat the remaining oil, temper mustard seeds, add the muthiyas, saute well for a few minutes

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and grated coconut.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mum’s not the word

The mother was over visiting this Saturday, laden with goodies as usual, positive energy and plenty of advice on this, that, and the other. She claims that meeting me gives her a sense of clarity, because on the phone, she can never be sure she has said all that she wanted to say. I did try to get her to make notes and give me a 30-second lowdown on everything, or just highlights rather than the unedited version (I sub enough copy anyway). But it never really works, because mothers like details. “Wait till you become a mother. Then you’ll know,” is her retort. I can’t imagine how mothers have gotten away all their lives with this line. Yes mother, I can’t wait to find out, and I will keep you posted, is what I say.

Now, moms are a great species, god bless their soul, but if they just learn how not to dispense advice unless asked for. They don’t. They just wait till they ensnare you into their trap, and then the advice comes gushing, like a dam just broke or something. My rules for the mother-in-law are just the same. My simple logic to being straightforward in my communication and not sugar coating everything is, “I don’t want to set any precedents that I can’t keep up with. She might as well get to know me as I am in the first year of marriage, so there are no illusions.”

So if she tells me, in a roundabout way how I should rethink my pets, I tell her, no thank you, I have thought it all out. If she tells me now to always think happy thoughts and listen to happy music, I tell her I don’t really have the liberty, as I have to go with the flow. If she tells me I should use the baby to emotionally blackmail the husband to stop smoking, I tell her that’s a pathetic plea, and he is adult enough to know what he is doing.

My friends are shocked. They wish they had done the same. But most of them have worked themselves into the ideal-daughter-in-law trap and now it’s too late to wriggle out.

But this time, the mother blew me over. The advice was not from her, but from a third party. Apparently, a certain geriatric in her society (who claimed he was a fan of my writing) believes I should not be making digs at my husband in my column—how the male ego is rather fragile, and so are marriages, and so, in the interest of the longevity of my relationship, I should refrain from making any remarks about the husband in print. I was shocked, and told her no thank you, but the biggest component of our marriage was SOH, and that the said gentleman should email me if he wished to discuss it further.

I am still waiting for that email.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Belly buttons

When you are pregnant, you get ‘the vibe’. Suddenly, people realise that they can love you or hate you, but sadly, can’t ignore you, especially when your belly makes an entry before you do. The reactions are many. Some good, some weird, some bad:

Like triumph, from the husband, who was ecstatic to find out that his sperm was not as lazy as him.

Fear too, that the baby might oust him from his recreation zone.

Ecstasy, from the mother, who is thrilled that you have moved to stage two now, and finally she gets to do whatever she missed doing for us.

Approval, from the relatives, who might have dismissed your marriage as a fluke, but this, they think is serious business. Finally, they recall that you did grow up in their laps, even though you never had much of a rapport in your adulthood.

Lust, from single men who still have a crush on you, and are now intensified in the demonstration of their affection, as you are more woman that ever before.

Skepticism, from DINK couples who look at you in askance, thinking, “Ah, another one bites the dust. We thought she was cool, but she is probably not..”

Curiosity, from couples who have been ‘at it’ for a few years, keeping ovulation diaries, taking fertility treatments, working on their sperm motility. “How the hell did they manage?” is what they are not saying.

Relief, from women on the wrong side of 35 who are paranoid about their biological clocks ticking away, and thinking, “If she can, yes, we can.”

Indifference, from confirmed singletons who puff away and pretend they didn’t notice your bump.

Hatred, from women who have been trying hard to get there, and not succeeded, and hated you anyway.

Cynicism, from couples who are still dealing with the existentialism of marriage.

Admiration, from fellow yoga students who are curious about how you manage with the belly.

Competitiveness, from other couples who got hitched the same time as you.

Euphoria, from friends who love you anyway, single, married, pregnant, not pregnant.

Deep care and concern, from some who have been there, done that, and think it’s a great expedition and have tons of advice to give you.

Irony, from some women who have been there, done that, think it’s a big deal, but never thought you would make it.

Sympathy, from random strangers who think you might need help crossing the road or getting into an elevator when you don’t.

Fellowship, from Mommaholics Anonymous, who are happy to welcome you into their fold, and assure you not to worry too much, it will all be good.

Fear, from single men and women who don’t quite know what to do with you, now that you are off-debauchery and therefore, not much use to them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

All’s not Greek here

There was a time when I thought my mother was into some insider trading as far as methi (fenugreek) seeds went. Whenever I called her with an ailment, she would ask me to consume methi. She later told me that universally, there were only two classic disorders of the intestine—one that couldn’t hold anything, and the other that couldn’t release anything. In both cases, methi came to the rescue.

In her books, the only difference was in the way they were consumed. For releasing powers, it's methi soaked in water and then swallowed, and for retaining powers, it was methi seeds ground, mixed in buttermilk and swallowed. I can’t remember which one was less disgusting, but it would suffice to say that I was repelled by methi for a long time. Though I never realised that it was often hidden in my curd rice tadka or the ubiquitous sambar powder or assorted powder chutneys that my mother made-and-kept, for you never know. I also saw my mother throwing in a pinch of the seeds into a dosa batter. “It makes them really soft,” she would assure, when she saw me rolling my eyes in disbelief at the nefarious ways I was being made to consume this condiment. The only thing I could bear was the aloo-methi subzi, which got made every once in a while for our tiffin lunches with chapatis.

Till I entered the magical world of theplas and khakras during my trekking phase, I never realised methi could be a object of deliberate comsumption and did have addictive powers. “Ah!” I thought. “The leaf is less notorious than the seed.” And thus methi began to occupy a happy place in my life. Another revelation was that methi could happily blend with palak and other greens in sai bhaji, which to my mind is the greatest gift of the sindhis to vegetarians.

At a recent brunch, I had this long conversation with a lactating mother, and she held forth on the powers of the methi that aid in lacatation, and try as I might, I couldn’t fathom chomping on truckloads of the stuff, even though it would make me a better food-provider for the forthcoming baby. She also gave me a recipe that I am a bit scared to try, as it involves throwing in a tempering of garlic onto a bed of fresh methi leaves, adding salt, and then eating it (yes!). I asked her if there was something missing, like sautéing perhaps, or adding lemon juice, something? She said no, this was it. Someone please validate it for me (as I will feel like a cow in more ways than one otherwise)

But the day I realised methi was cool was when I tasted this salad at a friend’s Christmas lunch. Since I was the only vegetarian (which I usually am at such dos), the salad was dedicated to me, and it had baby methi happily mingling with pomegranate and other greens in a honey-lemon dressing. I fell in love all over again.


Baby fenugreek and pomegranate salad with lettuce


One or two bunches of baby fenugreek leaves, mildly broken (keep the roots intact)

Half a head of iceberg lettuce, shredded

One cup shelled pomegranate

Juice of one lemon

One tablespoon honey

A dash of olive oil

Salt to taste


Method:

In a large bowl, mix all the above. Chill. Eat.

To beet or not to beet

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the beetroot is also its downfall—its colour, which leaves a trail, and literally so. Memories of stained faces, dresses, especially when they are white, loom large and the beetroot has often been pointed out as the guilty party.

Back in my childhood, my dad usually stayed a mile away from it (the beetroot didn’t awaken the restless chef in him, nor his tastebuds), but my mother often rustled up a quick sabzi, sautéing it with onions and tempering with mustard and green chillies, and we were usually delighted to mix it with curd rice and watch it turn all pink (though today, that sight might be a tad offensive to me). She also grated some into a salad with carrots or cabbage and no one really complained.

Much has been said about the beetroot’s high glycemic index, something that most tubers are guilty of, but the beetroot takes the cake, so to speak, and even supercedes the often- guilty potato. Moreover, its iron-richness and resultant role in blood formation (the colour association is back again) has often rendered it to the status of anemia-alleviator, but that is far from what its real goodness is all about. Being rich in folic acid, fiber, manganese, potassium and phosphorus, beetroots are a healthy and a nutritious form of food, and one can also get creative with it, much against popular opinion.

Sadly, the views on the beetroot are often antipodal, the chief culprit being the fact that either it was served in too bland or regimented a format (“Eat this boiled beetroot, its good for you”) or too pickled (gross misuse of vinegar).

The most exotic it got for me was in Goa when, in this exotic French restaurant called Le Poisson Rouge in Baga. It was an Arugula Salad with parmesan served on a bed of beetroot carpaccio—thinly sliced raw beetroot with a herb vinaigrette—that too in a beetroot reduction, for those fascinated by molecular gastronomy. It was one of the best salads I have ever eaten.

In the meanwhile, these are a few of my favourite concoctions.

Beetroot soup

Ingredients:

2-3 beetroots, boiled and grated

Carrots (optional)

One large onion

2 teaspoonfuls of cornflour

Lemon juice

Black pepper

Salt to taste

Butter



Method:

1. Boil and grate the beetroots and keep them aside.

2. Dry roast the cornflour till golden brown and keep aside.

3. Sauté the chopped onions in oil till light brown.

4. To this, add water, beetroot, cornflour, and cook for 10-15 minutes.

5. Transfer this to a blender or liquidizer and churn well

6. Re-boil the mixture, turn off the gas, add lemon juice, black pepper to the soup and a dollop of yogurt or butter for added flavor.

7. Garnish with thyme or parsley



Beetroot raita

Ingredients:

2 cups beetroot, finely grated

1 cup Curds

Salt

Oil, mustard, green chillies and curry leaves for tempering

Method:

1. Heat oil in a pan, add mustard. When mustard splutters, add a green chilli, curry leaves and the grated beetroot.

2. Stir on low fire till lightly cooked.

3. Add salt, remove from fire and let it cool.

4. Beat the curds, mix with beetroot and serve.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Arm candy politics

Considering that I am five months pregnant, and very obviously showing, the dating game should perhaps be the last thing on my mind. But since I am experiencing what one could call an exaggerated sense of awareness about the world around me, and I can never cease to be interested in the man-woman dynamic, well, I can’t help but share it.

A recent occurrence got me back to thinking why things are the way they are in the dating game and how one can turn things around. A friend of mine who recently turned consummate blogger, wrote a new post about her dating dilemmas, and how men wanted to be friends with her and not really date her. She went into much detail about the definition of dating in various cultural contexts (whether real or adopted) and what people meant when they said what they said. Needless to say, the blog got several hits and several men wanted her phone number.

But it got me wondering. Why would a sensible guy with his heart and mind (and other vital parts) in the right place not want to date an attractive, articulate, intelligent and spirited girl? Was there something I was missing here?

I found the answer at a recent party when I bumped into her accompanied by what one can only describe as a bad prop. Okay, I may be snobbish, but here is my theory: when men see you with someone they see as competition, they want you even more. When they see you with a loser, they think you are one too. Period. The same works for women.

So if you are looking to date, be seen with someone interesting. It could be your best friend, your buddy, cute office colleague (do they still make those?), random guy you met, even a girl friend or the DJ. But be sure the one you are seen with is someone at least two other women wouldn’t mind being seen with. A bad arm candy is worse than going solo, because at least when you are solo, you have the power to be whatever you want to be.

This bloke, I am sorry to say, was the epitome of average, not eligible by any measure and to top it all, he was a leech and never really left her alone, so there was no way she could have scoped the scene or eyed worthier blokes. A classic case of being at the right place with the wrong guy, I thought, and instantly wanted to add a comment to her blog after my aforementioned postmortem.

Remember cute guy who walked in with stunning arm candy and how all of us wanted to be the candy? Now imagine cute guy with insipid arm candy and how the same guy got labeled a loser? Get the picture?

Of course, if Salman Rushdie is your arm candy, there is a whole different math to that.