amatuer watercolourist, foodie, cook, traveller, all rolled into one. simple yet fun recipes accompanied by watercolour sketches.

Friday, March 2, 2007

three meals in hong kong

We took a trip to Hong Kong over the longish holidays for Chinese New Year. I found the city had changed quite a bit since I was there last three years ago. More people from mainland China reshaping the former Bristish colony, I guess. I went with high hopes of getting some sketching done, but it drizzled almost all the time we were there. Also, this time around I steered clear of the malls and swankier eating places and instead walked the smaller streets and alleys, haggled at the flea markets and dined like a king at the smaller stalls.

The lamp was unbelievably red and I saw the proudest rooster straddle a pile of coins.

Dim Sum for breakfast: the menu was in Cantonese and the restaurant staff had no English whatsoever, so we simply pointed at random items and got lucky. This picture shows but two of the twelve items we ended up sampling. Gluttons.

A little shrine at the end of Stanley Market.

Roasted goose (a first) and cow's intestines (the honeycomb lookalike, another first) for lunch. I was a tad apprehensive about the intestines, but they turned out pretty tasty in a crunchy way.

The ubiquitous neon signs along Nathan Road.

Stir-fried pork and vegetable noodles.

Friday, February 16, 2007

kafka's soup

This Valentine’s Day I got a lovely book as a gift. Kafka’s Soup; A complete history of world literature in 14 recipes by Mark Crick. (Libri Publications Ltd.)

The 95 odd page book is filled with quirky illustrations, lovingly composed photographs and recipes in the voices of famous writers: Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, Franz Kafka, Irvine Welsh, Marcel Proust, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Steinbeck, Marquis de Sade, Virginia Woolf, Homer, Graham Greene, Jorge Luis Borges, Harold Pinter and Geoffrey Chaucer.

The recipe for Lamb with Dill Sauce a la Raymond Chandler begins with classic Chandler world-weariness:

I sipped on my whisky sour, ground out my cigarette on the chopping board and watched a bug trying to crawl out of the basin. I needed a table at Maxim's, a hundred bucks and a gorgeous blonde; what I had was a leg of lamb and no clues.
I took hold of the joint. It felt cold and damp, like a coroner's handshake. I took out a knife and cut the lamb into pieces. Feeling the blade in my hand I sliced an onion, and before I knew what I was doing a carrot lay in pieces on the slab. None of them moved.

And the Mushroom Risotto a la John Steinbeck could well have come out of The Grapes of Wrath:

She shared the mixture out carefully in the cracked bowls, and sprinkled on the last of the parmesan. It was not meat and potatoes, but at least her family would eat tonight.

The book's perfect if you love reading and cooking. Thanks, Ash!

Monday, February 12, 2007

gini's fish recipe with a twist

Gini's blog was one of the very first that I started visiting regularly. Her blog has some of the most innovative recipes, all accompanied by detailed steps and the loveliest photographs. I'd never had, let alone cooked, anything like her fish with baby fenugreek leaves. So I set about trying to replicate her recipe in my kitchen. But as luck would have it, for the longest time, I couldn't lay my hands on the three main ingredients: pomfret, fenugreek leaves and time. However last Sunday, I'd had enough and simply decided to go ahead and improvise with what I had at hand. Thanks Gini!

So I had to substitute fenugreek leaves with baby red spinach leaves. And instead of frying the fish whole, I made fillets.

What to take:

for the fish

1 large pomfret, cleaned and filleted into four
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
salt to taste
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine the turmeric, chilli and coriander powders and salt. Add just enough water to make a thick paste. Smear the paste all over the fish fillets and marinate for an hour.

for the spinach

3 cups of chopped baby red spinach
1 small onion diced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

How to make:

Heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan. Shallow fry the fish fillets till they turn golden brown. Set aside.
In another pan, heat one tablespoon oil and add the mustard seeds.
When the mustard seeds start to crackle, add the onion and curry leaves.
Stir in the chilli, turmeric and garam masala powders when the onions turn soft.
Once the raw smell of the sices disappears, add the chopped spinach leaves and cook covered for about eight minutes.
When the spinach leaves start to reduce to a paste, add half a cup of water, and cook covered for another three minutes.
Slide in the fried fish fillets to the thick gravy and stir gently so that the gravy coats the fish.
Serve hot as a side with steamed rice.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

mumbai meri jaan

Two weeks ago, I returned to Mumbai for work after an interval of almost thirteen years. Three days is hardly enough to savour all that Mumbai has to offer, but I did the best I could.

Pani poori, bhel poori, ragda patties and vada pau off the streets whenever I could. I caught this guy reading the newspaper as he waited out a lull in business.

The most awesome gobi parathas with my blogger buddy, Poonam, at Papa Panchos in Bandra.

Beer, akoori, tandoori pomfret and great ambience at Cafe Mondegar, Colaba with Niranjan. Mario Miranda characters on the walls. A teenager at the table beside ours spouts wisdom: "Life is fun if you don't try to escape it." Whatever that means.

I finally caught a glimpse of the six sigma-certified, business school-lecturing dabbawalas. The sketch makes the guy look sad, he was anything but.

Many other lovely moments that I could not capture either with my sketches or the camera:

Pan-fried pepper pomfret at Soma, the Grand Hyatt, roomali roti and dal tadka at Jashan in Bandra, Vasudha's works at the Jehangir Art Gallery, a long ride with a taxi driver who comes to Mumbai every six months from his little village in Uttar Pradesh. His farm provides enogh food for his family. His months in Mumbai pay for the other necessities. He lives with three other taxi drivers in Santacruz. They get together in the evenings and cook meat, fish, vegetables and rice. He misses his village and his family, especially, he said, his wife's mutton curry.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

fridgesaver #1 (noodles with stir-fried vegetables)

Both my wife and I work for ad agencies. And as is typical of ad agencies work comes in sporadic bursts. And boy, when work comes, does it really come? Lately we've been knocking off from work around nine, and that's on a good day. As a result we end up eating out a lot. But every now and then, we'll make an effort to knock up something quick and easy at home (partly driven by the guilt of all the lovely vegetables sitting in the refrigerator, and partly because I think of cooking, and sketching, as therapeutic.) As a rule I abhor any food that comes out of a pack. But some days the rules must go out the window.
Well, last night was one such night.

What to take:

Honestly, anything and everything in your refrigerator's vegetable section.
I used

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced into inch long pieces
Green peas, half a cup
French beans, cut into inch long pieces
Baby spinach, chopped 2 cups
Vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon
Spring onions, 3 stalks chopped fine
1 pack Maggi noodles
2 tablespoons ketchup

How to make:

Parboil the carrot, peas and french beans.
Saute the onions, and add the parboiled vegetables and salt and stir fry until cooked.
Boil 1 and 1/2 cups of water (ignore the manufacturer's advice to add 2 and 1/4 cup. Also ignore the little 'chicken flavour' pack that they throw in. It's full of MSG.) and add the noodles to it.
Cook for two minutes.
Add the ketchup to the noddles and stir well.
When the noodles are semi-dry, toss them together with the vegetables.
Garnish with the spring onions and serve.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

stuffed aubergine

I found this recipe in Curries & Bugles – A Memoir & Cookbook of the British Raj by Jennifer Brennan. The book has over 200 recipes peppered with little illustrations, old photographs and short nostalgic notes that reflect a rare warmth and affection for the country where she was born and raised and her forefathers ruled.

I made the mistake of trying this recipe with really small aubergines. They're hell to stuff. Jennifer recommends the 5 inch long ones.

what to take

6 aubergines about 5 inches long
2 tablespoons ghee
1 small onion finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon jeera (cumin) powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 inch fresh ginger finely chopped
2 sprigs of coriander leaves chopped
salt to taste

how to make

Parboil the aubergines for about 5 minutes. Cool and cut lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Reserve the skins.

In a pan, heat half the ghee over medium heat and fry the onions till golden brown. Add the spices and salt and fry for another 3 minutes.

Add the flesh of the aubergines and the coriander leaves and mix thoroughly. Remove the filling form the heat.

Fill the skins and tie the lids on with thread.

Heat the remaining ghee in a pan over moderate heat and fry the aubergines on all sides until they are slightly browned. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook for 6 minutes.Serve with chapatis.

other tricks with aubergines

1. Baked aubergines from deepann

2. Sailu's stuffed aubergine curry.

3. And finally, baingan bharta from Rosie

Friday, January 19, 2007

alan watts on the perfect kitchen

There should be an ample central table of plain well-scrubbed wood which may be used both for eating and preparation; and at least in my ideal kitchen, strings of onion, sausages of hard salami, cheeses in wax or muslin, and basketed bottles of Spanish and Italian wine would hang from beams overhead. As no true lover of books would keep them hidden in cupboards, so the basic food supplies that need no refrigeration should not have their comforting presence concealed. Flour, sugar, salt, rice, and other grains should be kept in stoppered glass jars…Spices, canned goods, boxes, and bottles should adorn the walls on open shelves, covered only with sliding glass panels if protection from glass be necessary…. skillets and saucepans, together with such utensils as the pancake turner, cooking spoon and fork, strainers, skewers, and snail pans should dangle from well-ordered wall hooks and not be flung in drawers.

Allow no utensil in the kitchen that is not in some sense a work of art – not prettified stuff but exquisitely functional, such as the best wooden spoons from Italy, made from lemonwood, enameled casseroles from Sweden, Solingen kitchen knives, terra cotta bowls from Mexico, Revere ware or heavy copper saucepans from England, or a fine Chinese wok with its turner and spoon.

Alan Watts is to Zen Buddhism what Steve Jobs is to personal computers. He made it cool and accessible to the average man. Of the numerous books that he wrote, my favourites are 'This is it' and Does It Matter?'. The passages above are taken from the chapter 'Murder in the Kitchen' in the latter book. Alan Watts was said to have been an enthusiastic if not great cook and entertained the likes of Timothy Leary and D. T. Suzuki in his boathouse on Sausalito.

Monday, January 15, 2007

simple chicken curry

When I moved into the flat at Thimmiah Road, Bangalore, my cooking experience was zilch, zero. After having shared a room with three other guys at the YMCA in Chennai for three years, moving into one’s own apartment was like walking into heaven, with a gusty greeting to St. Peter.

And for the first time in my life, I found myself in a moderately large, sunny kitchen. I soon acquired the minimalist material trappings of a bachelor: a refrigerator, a pot, a pan, a knife, a chopping board, four plates, four spoons, and a few jars to keep the spices in.

This is probably the first meat dish I ever cooked. It’s that simple.

It serves two and takes 30 minutes to make.

What to take:

300 grams chicken thighs
2 onions (diced)
2 tomatoes (chopped as small as possible)
2 cloves garlic (chopped teeny weenie)
1 inch of ginger (ditto)
3 cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick
A sprig of curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of red chili powder
2 teaspoons of coriander powder
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1-cup water
Salt to taste
2 sprigs of coriander leaves

How to make: 

Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pan.
Add the cloves and cinnamon stick.
After a minute, add the minced garlic and ginger.
Stir for a minute and add the onions.
Fry the onions till they turn golden brown, and then add the turmeric, chili and coriander powders. Stir well, till the raw smell of the spices disappears.
Add the tomatoes and salt and let it cook covered.
When the tomatoes are reduced to a thick paste, add the chicken, stir well, and let cook for ten minutes.
Add a cup of water and let cook uncovered for another ten minutes.
Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with chapattis.

Other tricks with chicken:

1. A cool chicken curry recipe from Anthony's Kitchen

2. Arundhati's chicken curry for dummies.

3. Chicken curry with baby potatoes from Hooked on Heat

Friday, January 5, 2007

Kovakka (gherkin/ivy gourd?) stir fried

There is some debate as to whether kovakka are really gherkin (Kovakka is what they're called in Kerala. My wife's from Karnataka and she knows them as 'thondakkai'. Up north, they are called 'tindra'). Gherkin, according to the purists, is baby cucumber, and I'd be the first to agree that kovakka is not even remotely related to cucumber. To start with, they are a lot tastier. Secondly, they are more nutritious. But what's in a name? A kovakka by any other here's my mother's recipe for stir-fried kovakka.


100 grams kovakka (quartered lengthwise)
1 red onion (diced)
8 curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup water


Par-boil the kovakka and onions with the chilli powder, turmeric power and salt in a small pan.*
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to crackle, add the par-boiled vegetables and stir fry until the kovakka turns crispy brown.

Serve with chappatis or rice and curds.

*Allow all the water to evaporate

Other tricks with Kovakka:

1. Also see Shyamala's neat tricks with the vegetable. She's probably right in calling them 'ivy gourds'.

2.Prema has an interesting take on the same.

3. Gini Ann has an awesome recipe too.
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