Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Continuing culinary experiments: An Indian Journey

The minute I wrote that I was staying away from curries in my last post on my cooking experiments, I realized I was generalizing curries and that there is a difference in styles and taste from house to house. Without stepping into Sri Lankan cuisine, I decided I would try some Andhra cuisine with recipes from Sailu's Kitchen - pappu tomato and carrot kothimira pachadi. The dishes were a big hit at home and my mother seemed to enjoy them very much as it kind of reminded her of her grandmother's cooking.

Andhra meal: Pappu tomato, ava pettina aratikaaya kura, ullipaya pulusu with rice and pappadam
So, I decided to make some more Indian dishes and to make the experience more interesting for me, I decided to take an Indian culinary journey. I challenged myself to make up vegetarian dishes from each of the twenty-eight Indian states.

Rajasthani meal: misi roti, Rajasthani dal, bharwa lauki, gajar ki launji, kakdi ki sookhi subzi with basmathi rice
As my journey around India started, I found the responses of my family, particularly my mother, to the different cooking styles interesting. It seemed that besides Andhra cuisine, South Indian cuisine was generally preferred at home.

Kerala meal : beetroot thoran, aviyal, tomato rasam, cherupayar ularthiyathu
Kerala cuisine was quite a hit at home, particularly the beetroot thoran and aviyal as was Goan cuisine with mergol de quiabos and mushroom vindaloo.

mergol de quiabos
I also tried making some snacks - paal poli, Mangalorean ponsache patholi and gariyo, Gujarati rava dhokla  and Bihari litti which turned out quite decent.
Sooji Dhokla
ponsache gariyo
ponsache patholi
paal poli
With my confidence in cooking building up and my interest for trying to make new food expanding, I could see that my mother's eating habits were slightly improving, if only to taste a spoon or two of whatever I made. She seemed to find the names amusing and took pleasure in following the path of my Indian culinary journey and in procuring the raw materials that I needed from the market during her morning or evening walks.

Sikkim meal: momos and tomato achar
It was also interesting to note how the usage of spices varied as I went from state to state. The use of mustard, cumin, coriander, garlic and curry leaves in the south was quite similar to Sri Lankan cuisine as was the use of coconut and tamarind.

As the cuisine moved to the northern and north western states, the dishes became more time consuming to prepare and involved using multiple, comprehensive masala mixes in the dhansak, bharwa lauki that I tried making. The north also seemed to use a lot of curd in their cooking as I experienced while cooking the Lucknowi koftanadheir yakhean, veth chaman etc.

nadheir yakhean
The cuisine of the eastern states seemed to involve spices in a range in between the southern and northern cuisine particularly in the dalma and bengal channa that I tried out and particularly a mix of the sweet in the Bengali dishes which my family didn't quite take to.

The vegetarian recipes of the north eastern states were a pleasure to come across. Not only were they quite simple and fast to cook, they involved minimal spices. The common spices seemed to be the simple chilli, cooking soda and salt in Mizo bai, Manipuri ooti with a little bit of the five spice mix for the Assamese khar.
Nagaland black-eyed beans meh (substituting the betang in the betang meh)
cabbage bai
hawaitharak ooti
Overall, the Indian culinary journey turned out to be an interesting experience in not only encouraging my mother to eat better but also for me to have a slightly improved understanding of the culinary patterns across India.
Sindhi kadhi
It was particularly interesting to learn of my mother's tastes. I guess I have never really tried to identify that before. Her favourite from all the Indian food that I cooked was the popular Indian street food, pav bhaji, and she very much enjoyed all the dishes from Andhra Pradesh and some of the dishes from Kerala that I made so much so that she has made them a few times since.

pav bhaji
To celebrate the conclusion of the Indian culinary challenge, I decided to make a special dinner not focused on health food but rather as a treat, my favourite Indian food from my childhood - poori/ bhathure, chole and gulab jamun.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Fight Dance Sing: A Capoeirista's Story

I was in the mood to watch a dance movie so I typed ‘dance movie’ under youtube search and a whole list of movies turned up. As I swiftly browsed through the list noting those that I had already watched, a title caught my attention - Fight Dance Sing: A Capoeirista’s Story. I didn’t know who a capoeirista was but it made me click on the link.

I soon realized it was an independent movie, which was more like a home-made movie. However, something the way the story was evolving kept my attention and I watched it to the end.

A story about a capoeirista who has grown up in Bronx, NYC and how he deals with how his routine life is overturned after his aunt dies. I liked the way absurdist theatre is thrown into the movie, with the interaction between the protagonist and the man at whose truck window he throws a bottle at.

Kamal Robinson has done a good job over his first film and I think the story is quite interesting and keeps the viewer interested enough to continue. What is commendable is also that he has self-funded and produced his own movie. I also now know what capoeira is.

For the full movie posted by the film-maker, Kamal Robinson, go to Fight Dance Sing.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Culinary experiments

For the last couple of months, I have engaged in something that I would never have dreamt I would be doing. Cooking.

The reason it is surprising to me is that I have never enjoyed cooking. I always felt it was a waste of time to spend time in the kitchen and in the instances, when I have had to cook, I have always focused on simple, basic ten to twenty minute recipes like dal or a simple pasta. Further, I did not really have the patience to go through a recipe, understand what seemed like a secret, complex code and make something. Fortunately for me, whenever I am at home, Amma's excellent cooking and ownership of the kitchen spared me the need of venturing into that domain.

Apart from my dislike of cooking, I also had a mental block in my head that I should not be in the kitchen. I remember as a teen, my father used to make a fuss that as a girl, I had not ever stepped into the kitchen and would not be able to make anything in an emergency especially since he had been able to cook rice and a dal and sambol by the age of eight. Amma, a liberal minded person, never thought of it that way and said that when the need arose, each person would do what they could and that I didn't have to be in the kitchen. She preferred that I focused my energy on my studies and later on, on my career.

However, over the last few years, I had been increasingly worried about Amma's health. This year in particular, after returning home from some months abroad, I saw that she had become very frail. I felt that the fact that she hardly eats and when she does eat something, it is either a slice of toast or some instant noodles, is contributing towards her weakening health. Amma's excuse has always been that she has never been able to eat what she cooks as she feels full after cooking and serving food to the rest of the family. She says that that feels like as if she has eaten a full meal. I personally think she is anorexic.

For Amma's birthday this year in April, I felt I wanted to do something special. I decided to try my hand at making an apple crumble. As a friend had said that it was very easy to make and I love apple pies, I decided to make it. It didn't come out great but it was eatable and everyone at home was surprised. Amma particularly was quite proud of it. My sisters heard of it and started suggesting that perhaps I should think of making some food for Amma to encourage her to eat better.

I gave it some thought and since I had just completed a consultancy assignment and was at home, in between work, I decided I would give it a try. The problem was what to cook. Amma was anyway cooking complete Sri Lankan meals for us each day. There was no point in me trying my hand at making a curry when hers was the best. So, I decided to make my cooking chore fun for me while making it interesting and tempting for my mother. I enjoy travelling and decided that while I was at home, I would look at travelling through food.

I scoured the net and depending on my mood, would select a nutritious, mostly heart healthy, diabetic friendly recipe from a different part of the world each time. From simpler, healthier Vietnamese style tofu noodle lettuce wraps and savoury vegetable pancakes, I soon progressed to making okra and chickpea tagine, mushroom and barley risotto and spinach pizza. It didn't necessarily mean that my food turned out well all the time but at least, they were eatable, flavourful and different.

I particularly seem to enjoy baking. I love making Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) and different breads such as vetebrรถd or mint and feta cheese bread as well as baking cakes or brownies.

Amma, while not having significantly improved her eating pattern, at least consumes a little of what I make and hopefully gets a slightly better nutritional balance. She is a very picky eater and I appreciate fully now the patience she must have had with us as kids to experiment and find what we preferred and to encourage us to eat balanced meals.

I still don't enjoy spending much time in the kitchen and try to finish up in an hour, when I do go and make something. What I am quite proud of though is that looking at a recipe now feels like reading in a language I understand. I can now decode.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Colomboscope and Jaffna music festival in March

This year, the organizers of the Galle literary festival decided to take a break so I did not go on my annual visit to Galle this january.

However, there is to be a 2 day festival in Colombo in March called the Colomboscope at the Park Street Mews on the 23rd and 24th March under the auspices of the Goethe Institute. While not much information is available on the programme, the Goethe institute website has the following brief information. The series of art, music, literature, dance events will be centered around the theme "identities".

The Jaffna music festival on the other hand has its own website and it is the second time that the festival is being held. The event will be held on 1st and 2nd March at the Jaffna municipal grounds and is a free event, where musical artistes from around Sri Lanka and around the world perform.

While it is a pity that GLF didn't take place this year, I am looking forward to the upcoming Colomboscope and JMF.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chris Stewart's Driving over lemons

A lovely book I discovered by chance at the local bookstore and the title, the cover photo and the synopsis made me buy it without further ado.

While I have read the book in a well-paced out manner over the year, it increased my appreciation for the book and the writer's experience of converting a run-down, remote farm in Las Alpujarras into a home.

It's the experience that held my interest - the experience of a family throwing up their familiar existence to try out something new from scratch.

For Chris Stewart's website, please go to Driving Over Lemons.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Death in the Andes

Read Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa's Death in the Andes this weekend. Besides some chapters from Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, this was the first Peruvian novel that I read. So, it was with great anticipation that I started the book. If I read the book through to its end without letting many days pass, it means that I am enjoying either the writing style, the story or both. I read this book in two days and yes, I find the writing style engaging. However, the story is dark.. ancient, cannibalistic rituals and belief that are carried on in the present day - in varying forms, the militia, the civil guards, the dark potion brewers and the rest of the people who played into their hands. A story of a decaying society carried forth by people sacrificing other people's blood to prolong their existence conveyed through Corporal Lituma as the main protagonist trying to make sense of what was happening around him. The only light shining through the darkness is a tender love story narrated by one of the key protagonists - Tomasito Carreno, which reaches its happy conclusion - a ray of hope amongst the enveloping darkness.

While I didn't find the book thought provoking, it is an interesting read for someone who is starting to read South American literature. I kind of find it intriguing that both books that I read from that continent and particularly Peru, by two renowned writers, were very much focused on spirits and belief in communicating with and appeasing spirits.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shatranj Ke Khilari

I watched this 1977 Satyajit Ray movie today. Using the game of chess as a metaphor, it focuses on the ineptitude of the ruler and wealthier citizens of Awad to protect their land from the company and colonization. From the friendship treaty signed by the British with the Nawab's ancestors for providing human resources, money and land to expand the company conquests in India, the movie focuses on each move of the British until the check-mate point with the Nawab symbolically handing over his crown to avoid blood shedding of his people.

While the main theme is the game of chess played by the British and the rulers of India's various states, the story is taken along through two wealthy landowners of Awad - Mir Ali and Mirza Ali - who have become addicted literally to the game of chess to the extent that they are blind to what happens around them - they are indifferent to what is happening in their country, their state, their village and even their own home. This last point is pushed home by the glimpses of failed marriages in the lives of the two men due to their addiction to chess. While Shabana Azmi and Farida Jalal acted well their parts, it is a pity that an actress like Shabana Azmi was only provided a very small role but then again, the film did not have much room for women to act as it obsessively focused on the games of chess played by the two men as well as the larger game played by the colonizers and the rulers.

Overall, Shatranj Ke Khilari is a beautifully filmed movie by Satyajit Ray.