Sunday, June 17, 2012

Simple Stir Fried Red Potatoes and "Lunch"

We had one permanent sabji wala (vegetable and fruit seller) who would make rounds every other day and bring fresh produce from his garden. He had this huge basket made out of bamboo which he would carry on his head and would make rounds around the neighborhood. Mummy would select things that interested her most out of that basket and that would decide what we will be eating for the next couple days until the sabji wala comes back again. We knew what to expect in that basket depending on the season. He would bring lots of dark green and crunchy cucumbers in summer along with some juicy yellow and red mangoes. Winters would be mostly about root vegetables, mustard greens and beans while monsoon brought carrots. So if he brought carrots in summers or cucumbers in winter, mummy would teach him a lesson or two about organic farming and return back everything. This is how we grew up and still never realized how lucky we were.
When I was little, we were lucky enough to have access to local small farmers who would drop organic produce from their garden, at our doorstep. We were lucky to know the real taste of mangoes and we knew why some vegetables took longer to cook than others. We were taught that its better to eat your potatoes with skin on and crunchier the beans, the better. Those little lessons and those bits of knowledge fed to us at the dinner tables, in and around the kitchen and out in the backyard while getting our hands dirty, always stuck with me. Although, the true realization didn't come until I had a child of my own and I relived those experiences with her.
She is almost three now and curiously observes things around her which amaze her a lot. She tries to find a reason behind everything we do. She doesn't like to be told what to do but likes to watch us and does what we do because she thinks whatever Maa and Papa do is right. Her big eyes get even bigger when told that we can make a birdhouse out of a milk carton and then sits with me the whole afternoon painting the carton, hoping it would turn into a birdhouse and then her favorite humming bird will never leave the house after that. She goes speechless when her Papa shows her how seven stars can come together to make a big spoon and wishes she could use it to eat her cereal every morning. Everything amazes them and everything makes them more curious.
She is equally amazed to see that the tomatoes that she ate till now were green before they actually turned red and juicy. Carrots actually come out of the soil and not from a plastic box at a grocery store and it takes way too much time for the strawberries and cherries to be good enough for her to pick off the tree. I have seen that when she gets an answer to all her why, how and whats she eats her food better. She prefers to pick carrots and broccoli over french fries and hamburgers when she understands what will make her healthier and stronger.
That's how the kids are. If they are helping in the garden and are involved in the preparation of the food then they are more likely to try that food than just setting it on the table and asked to eat. They want an adventure out of everything and at the same time they thrive to learn. So all we need to do is educate them and let them get their hands dirty. Teach them where their food comes from and how the whole life is interconnected. Teach them the importance of locally grown and organic food. We sometimes really underestimate our kids about what they would and wouldn't like. I am guilty of that too! But slowly and gradually I am trying to teach her and learning a lot myself along way. Not only about the food that we eat but also about my child and how her likes and dislikes change depending on my habits.

Its no secret how in America we are struggling with teaching our kids about healthy eating habits. Although I do not think its just a national issue but has become a global crisis or else famous and influential people like Mrs. Michele Obama and Prince Charles of Wales would not work so hard everyday to make their voices heard. Lunch, a small yet powerful documentary is trying to do the same. Lunch, a movie directed by Avis Richards, founder and CEO of Birds Nest Foundation is a documentary that shines a light on school lunch programs and teaches kids about healthy habits, gardening, fresh foods and more. I was invited by the wonderful people behind Lunch to watch the movie and if I believed in what they say, then tell you about it. I strongly support the message Lunch conveys and would encourage you to buy the movie or first watch the trailer and then decide. Its about time we stop feeding into all the politics and petty things that go behind the food that we eat and start thinking of our young people, our kids.

Today I am sharing a very simple recipe using a few basic ingredients. Some stir fried red potatoes from a local farm and I spiced them with cumin and curry leaves.

1 pound small red potatoes
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
12-15 curry leaves
2 1/2 tablespoon ghee *Can substitute it with an cooking oil of choice
Salt to taste

Cut the potatoes into quarters. Wash them with water. Drain water. Set aside. I used small potatoes. If you think yours are a little bigger, cut them to 1 approx. 1 1/2" size.
Heat ghee/oil in a thick bottom pan. Add cumin seeds. As they sputter add curry leaves. Step aside for a few seconds because curry leaves sputter a lot because of the water content in the leaves.
Add sliced onion. Cook them on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until they are slightly golden brown in color.
Add potatoes. Stir fry over medium high heat for approx. 5 minutes. Add salt. Stir well. Cover with a lid and let it cook over a medium low heat for 5-8 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.
Uncover and over medium high heat, cook off extra liquid if any. Serve hot as a side.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sweet and Savory Orange Cumin Shortbread Cookies

Homemade Khasta Cookies

Papa worked for the government so we lived in a small government quarter as kids. It had one bedroom. Well, two, but one of them was Papa's office and it was filled with files and more files. We were never allowed to enter his office and back then we never understood why. But now that I have a curious little butterfly of my own who has the ability of turning the whole house upside down in seconds, I know exactly why he did that.

Shortbread cookies with milk
Next to his office was a veranda which was our dining cum entertainment room and attached to that was mummy's tiny kitchen. The size of that room was exactly what the word tiny means! It was just about enough to accommodate almost one and a half person in it. Mummy did most of her prep work sitting on the doorstep of that kitchen. She would sit rolling mathri (Indian crackers) and filling samosas right there on the doorstep of that kitchen. That was the tiniest kitchen I have ever stepped into but the fondest food memories of my life came out of that kitchen.

She had this funny looking tabletop oven which I guess she owned even before we were born. It would be neatly packed and tucked in to the top shelf of her kitchen. She would pull it out only when it was our birthday. That's when she would make fruit cakes for the party. Strawberry icing for my birthday and chocolate for my brother's or when she would make khasta biscuit, sweet and savory shortbread cookies with some whole spices. The ghee in them would make them crumble if held too hard and they would melt in the mouth in seconds.
Sweet and Savory Shortbread Cookies
The ones with cumin and black pepper were her favorite and also my dadi's (grandma). So when we visited dadi, the oven would come out and mummy would make those cookies. The tiny oven would take not more than a dozen at a time so the process of making 50 of those would take the whole day. I have eaten those shortbread cookies a million times in my life but every time they taste exactly the same, lightly sweetened, just a tad bit of salt and cumin just enough to command its presence.

I tried to do something similar recently. Well, not recently but a few weeks back before this thing called "writer's block" hit me and I started running away from anything that involved typing words on a blank screen of my computer! But now that I forced myself out of that condition, I thought it would be right to share with you the recipe for these orange flavored khasta biscuits which I tried to make, inspired by the recipe of my mother. So here's the recipe for Sweet and Savory Orange Cumin Shortbread Cookies.

Cookies in a jar.
Ingredients: Makes 3 dozen
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup ghee (clarified butter) *Can substitute it with softened butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (loosely packed)
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of two large oranges- almost 2 1/2 tablespoon
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2-3 tablespoon orange juice ** Can substitute with milk.
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.
In a large bowl, sift together salt, all-purpose flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and ghee (or butter if using that) until they are just combined. Add orange zest and cumin seeds. Slowly add the flour and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Add orange juice to make the dough smooth.
Take the combined dough out of the mixer and knead with your hands over a clean counter top lightly dusted with flour. Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll them into logs. Cover with a plastic wrap. At this stage I just smoothed out the longer sides of the log giving it a square shape. Put it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to firm.
Pull the dough out and cut into squares about 1/4"- 1/2" thick. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, an inch apart from each other.
Bake them for 10-12 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown in color. Take it out of the oven and cool on a cooling rack before serving with hot milk, coffee or chai.
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