Rain again!

If there is a searing summer, then a torrential monsoon will follow. The taste buds crave for hot, crisp savoury foods and it is not unusual to come across deep-fried foods in many homes across the country. It takes a few drops of rain for us to rush to roadside vada pav stalls in Mumbai and gorge on these hot spicy potato bites of heaven often served with fried green chillies and a spicy garlic chutney. Perfect with a cup of hot Masala Chai! Something like chole tikki back in Delhi is a filling snack on a rainy day. Growing up in Delhi, I do remember sitting cozily inside the house with a plate of mirchi bhajiya while the Earth got washed by the seasonal rains but this time lets go down south and see what our beautiful southern states have to offer during the monsoon months!

Go Goa
Close to Mumbai is Goa – a tourist’s paradise which becomes more verdant in the rainy season. When it rains in Goa, the rivers become bubblier than before, the leaves on the trees are sparkling clean and the wind chimes through them musically. To a new visitor,   monsoon in Goa is full of surprises – it can mean sudden bursts of torrential downpours that usually last for a short time, although there are occasional periods when it rains for hours on end. These sudden bursts are always succeeded by bright sunshine that lights up the countryside in brilliant colours.

Being close to Arabian Sea, Goa boasts of excellent seafood. The fresh supply of seafood and coconuts dominate delicacies of Goa. During the monsoon, from mid June till end September, fresh fish is scarce and people have to be satisfied with fish caught in the rivers and creeks. During this season, it is salted shrimps and mackerels (prepared in numerous mouth watering ways) that find their way to the family table. Its ‘no-fishing’ time during the months of rain and the fish loving locals are well prepared. They dry, salt and store seafood to use when there is no fresh catch of the day. The requisites for authentic Goan cooking are certain ingredients peculiar to it like triphala and kokum. Hardly any Goan dish is complete without coconut as one of its main flavouring agents. Fresh coconut, in one form or other is added. It could be grated, ground fine into a paste or in form of milk extracted from the flesh of fresh coconut. Fish Ambotik served with rice is one of my favourite combinations.

Fish Ambotik
Fish Ambotik

Land of Murukkus
Let’s travel a little further south to Karnataka famous for the murukkus and Mysore Paak. This state is perhaps as green as it could be! There are craggy precipices; huge stones precariously balanced one on top of other, curvaceous rivers and beaches bleached to a silver. It has dense forests, the Nilgiri Hills, temples and archeological relics, which if they could narrate would tell stories of thousand years back in history! For foodies, Karnataka offers a fantastic vegetarian cuisine with rice, sambhars, rasams, dosas and bondas sprinkled with fragrant ghee. When the wet months come, so does the fear of malaria. There are certain traditions that are followed in Dakshin Kannada in the wet months. A bitter decoction of maddale is made in most homes as a preventive measure to malarial fever during the monsoon. A sweet dish is prepared out of madhtoppu herb, which is found growing luxuriantly in Coorg. This herb is believed to have eighteen medicinal properties and is harvested on the eighteenth day of Karkatamasa (July 15 to August 15). This day is also the day Coorgis prepare kozhi (chicken). Say they, during the monsoon the chicken accumulates excessive fat content to fight the cold weather and if eaten will add to the body fat. One of my favourite cold remedy also happens to be my favourite food – Tomato Rasam – sip on a bowlful of this piping hot soup topped with coarsely crushed black pepper and say goodbye to colds!

Tomato Rasam
Tomato Rasam

God’s own country
Being a small coastal state, Kerala is known for its lush greenery and palm lined backwaters and rich dance form Kathakali! It enjoys a very good monsoon from June to November making it one of the pleasanter states to visit any time of the year. And when it rains here, it is as if cans of green-coloured paint have been emptied onto the landscape. When there is torrential rain, the usual fishing activity comes to a standstill.  But Keralites savour non vegetarian food, so mutton dishes are also quite popular. As the coastline is dotted with plantations of coconut palms, coconut finds its way into almost every preparation. Overall, food in Kerala is non-greasy, delectable and comforting. Crisp banana wafers and jackfruit chips fried in fresh coconut oil are a speciality of the land. Crisp pancakes and steamed rice-coconut cakes or puttu made from pounded rice along with spicy chickpea curry make up breakfast in many homes on a rainy morning.

Keralites love seafood but fishing is not greatly encouraged during the monsoon season which is the main fish breeding season so as to preserve the wealth of the sea. The locals believe that the monsoon season (karkkidaga) slows down digestion and appetite and hence, tackle it in many different ways. Inchikkari, made of ginger and other spices, acts as an appetizer besides aiding digestion. Since rheumatic disorders seem to increase when it rains, porridge made of navadhanyas (nine pulses and cereals) called karkkadakka kanji is served to old people. Any visitor to a home in Kerala during the rainy season is sure to be treated with Chukkuvellam which is a medicated drink made using chukku or dried ginger and other spices. Besides being a welcome drink, it aids to dispel cough and cold generally seen with a change in weather.

A taste of Chettinaad cuisine
One place I travel to often is Chennai, the capital on Tamil Nadu. I always enjoy the steaming hot Kanchipuram idlis and aromatic filter coffee! You would be surprised to know that rainy season in Tamil Nadu is between October and December when the northeast monsoon brings rains in spurts. November is a good month to experience cool clime but come armed with raincoats. Tamil Nadu, whatever the season, is known for its idli, dosa, vada, appam and kadubu. Many of us would also equate Tamil Nadu with its spicy hot Chettinaad cuisine. It is one of the spiciest, oiliest and most aromatic in India. Most dishes have generous amounts of peppercorn, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, nutmeg, green and red chillies. It is enjoyable to have food that tastes like this and enlivens the taste buds when the rains make the day dreary. Chettinaad fried chicken is simply perfect!

But when it rains what every local person would like to enjoy with filter coffee would be crisp vadas. It could be medu vada made of (urad dal) or it could be ambada (chana dal)  and sometimes vadas made of masoor dal or tuvar dal or even mixed dals. Or it could be a kozhikara vadai.

Kanchipuram Idli
Kanchipuram Idli

Where heat reigns
This trip ends at Andhra Pradesh which is so hot in summer that the skin sizzles, the hair frizzle and the roads seem to be covered with a layer of steam as if the tar is melting. It cools down a bit from July to October as monsoon sets in. When the rains are lashing down, what is needed is something to satiate the hunger pangs and fight the heat! Cooling foods such as raw tamarind chutney or a yogurt and onion relish offsets the heat of the day and the hot chilli content of a typical Andhra meal. Andhra is well known for its Guntur red chillies. One would notice that the number of vegetarian dishes is more in Andhra Pradesh than non vegetarian stuff. Tamarind rice dish called pulihara is a favourite and is usually served with spicy sambar. Also worth talking about is the Nizami food that makes Hyderabad so famous. Some specialties are Haleem – paste of wheat and meat spiced delicately, mirchi ka salan and bhagare baingan. All these foods are filling and nutritious and perfect during the rainy season.

So tell me about your monsoon food quests till I write again sharing some more of mine. Till then get drenched in the rain and the awesome world of monsoon foods!

Happy Monsoon!

Konkan cuisine – the fun and fiesta of festivals

The people of Konkan region celebrate a host of national as well as local festivals. Added to this are the numerous family occasions like birth, child naming ceremony, thread ceremony, engagement ceremony, marriage, etc. which express the locals’ love for festivities and celebrations throughout the year.
Being a predominantly agricultural region, most of the festivals occur during the monsoon, when a rich harvest is promised by nature and when plentiful of fruits and vegetables grow.
On festive days, Konkani people make sweets from rice flour and liquid jaggery. Some of these are eliappe, shevais served with sweet cardamom flavoured coconut milk or Patolis, which are packets of steamed rice flour with a sweet coconut filling. There is a large variety of ghavans, which are like dosas, eaten with dry or fresh chutneys. The Konkan coast is short of milk, therefore sweetmeats are made of rice, wheat, besan or coconut.

Gudi Padwa or Ugadi is the first day of the springtime month of Chaitra heralding the New Year. This festival coming around March-April is typical of this area, as it commemorates the triumphant expeditions of the Maratha armies of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Even in the present day every household in this region raises the ‘gudi’ or standard of victory comprising a pole with an upturned metal pot surrounded by folds of silk fabric, marigold and mango leaves. Gudi Padwa is considered as an auspicious day for marriages, house warming and any new beginning. Homes and the entrances are decorated with torans (garlands) of marigold, flowers and mango leaves. Sweets are distributed among the neighbours and relatives.
Shravan, at the peak of monsoon in August, is a month of festivals starting with Nag Panchami when people worship the snake God. Various milk sweets are made and offered to the deity. People avoid cutting, frying, etc., hence vegetables are cut a day before by many followers. The celebratory meal cooked on this day includes Puran Poli, Kheer, jaggery flavoured Moong dal khichdi, a dessert called Dhondus and several vegetables and pulse preparations.

Come September

A wow month awaits! There are festivals and feasts that bring so much good cheer…the rains continue to bless Mumbai and I think we have a reason to smile.

So on www.sanjeevkapoor.com, come September, we not only make you smile but also tell you some reasons why Laughter is the best medicine. As the monsoon continues, look out for Food Poisoning (we have some tips). Those who think their kitchen is small, learn some exciting storage tips and also many many festive recipes that will load your table with glee.

I have noticed that the potato is one thing that is an extremely versatile….it is not only meant for chips and crisps plus it is not the tuber that is fattening, it is the treatment we give it that makes it so. In days gone, the potato was blamed for those extra inches around the waist because of its starch content. But now the blame has shifted onto bread which has three times the calories! Potato has a high starch content but it is energy-giving and is also valuable source of vitamin C. It also has considerable amount of protein of high biological value and also alkaline salts. In addition it is rich in soda, potash and vitamins A and B.

As technology makes it presence felt on many foods, so has the potato been washed and pre-packed mechanically, canned, turned into crisp, frozen chips and instant mash. There are innumerable ways and recipes for using the potato… according to some tidbit I came across in a book 500 or so ways… and the most exciting is of course, chips! Crisp on the outside and juicy inside, chips are winners all the way. But there are some not so exciting facts connected to the consumption of chips. Take a look: a 100 gms of raw potato produces 85 gms of baked potato (which provide 87 calories). The same amount of raw potato makes 50 gms of chips (210 calories) or 44 gms of potato crisps (245 calories). Now which version of the humble potato would you go for?

Whatever may be the case, the fact remains that potatoes are a versatile sort that can
do wonders to any meal. But it is recommended that potatoes are more nutritious with the peel on. Upto a quarter of a potato’s protein is lost by peeling because the protein is most highly concentrated just below the skin. And if a peeled potato is boiled, up to half of its vitamin C content is dissolved. So to retain as much goodness as possible, bake or boil unpeeled potatoes. Green skin however should preferably be removed – it contains a detrimental alkaloid.

So you can have a potato soup, or jacket potatoes, chips and crisps, add them to pies or other vegetables, casseroles, you name it. I love the Caldo Verde soup in which mashed potatoes form the basic ingredient. It is a perfect beginning to a sumptuous meal, is easy to prepare and above all is simply delicious and wholesome. As potato can be stored in your kitchen, especially during the rainy days, I have a variety of potato goodies lined up for you.

Broccoli, Aloo aur Tofu ki sabzi
Sukhe Aloo
Aloo Tikki Chaat

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor

Come rain or shine, yogurt is healthy!

We all talk about dahi/yogurt being a health food and some of us also have a decent quantity of it daily – we might like to have a plain bowlful, or sprinkled with salt and roasted cumin powder. Some of us like it with a spoonful of sugar whereas chaas or lassi is a must in most homes. Chaas and lassi are not only good coolers but also good digestive aids.

Yogurt or dahi has been used as a food for so long that its origins are clouded in legend. The story is told that long ago, some nomads wandering in the desert somewhere in the Middle East were supposed to have placed some milk in a leather pouch, newly made from a sheep’s stomach. The bacteria present in the pouch, plus the steady warmth of the day, curdled the milk which then set to a delightful creamy texture in the cool of the desert night. When we make dahi at home all we do is take some warm pasteurized milk and add some starter (bacterial culture). Then we mix it well, sometimes whisk it hard to make a foam, and then leave it at room temperature for a few hours. Once the dahi sets, we put it in the refrigerator. The bacteria that thicken the milk stop undesirable bacteria growing, at least for a time.

It is the presence of this very bacteria in dahi that makes it a health food. The human gastrointestinal tract contains billions of bacteria, which can be divided into more than two hundred different species. These carry out many functions, ranging from breaking down dietary fibre and undigested starch to synthesising vitamins and regulating the time that food residues stay in the intestine. Their presence also stops many undesirable bacteria taking up residence. Dahi is also rich in protein and calcium and as it is made with the help of good bacteria it acts as an anti infection agent in the intestine.

Sometimes harmful bacteria can overpower normal bacteria. This is what happens when you suffer an attack of diarrhoea. Having yogurt with the good bacteria gives the stomach lining a friendly atmosphere to work in and even in cases of diarrhoea, yogurt is one food that even the doctor allows!

As is the tradition, I will wind up with some recipes….dahi special!

Teen Dal ke Dahi Bhalle
Dahi Papdi Chaat

Chocolate Yogurt.

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor

Monsoon ka magic

I was thrilled to see the enthusiastic response to the Monsoon Snack contest. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all your recipes….it was no mean task short listing only 2 winners! And while reading through good recipes, hunger pangs are bound to strike and this is what happened to me too….lovely mouth watering contributions and I think so many of you are talented chefs. So, Congrats to the winners and better luck to all of the rest for the next time.

We have just finished canning some more episodes of Khana Khazana and there are some novelties lined up for you….how to cook fast and smart, how to cook with less fat, and loads of different snacks best for tea time and as starters. I do want to tell you more but then there is no fun if the suspense is not built up. Right!

In fact, the demand for new snack recipes will live forever! I think everyone enjoys a new starter or snack for the simple reason that they add some panache to daily food of dal chawal roti sabzi. Imagine a meal with the essential four just mentioned and one exciting new snack dished up as a surprise…kids would be thrilled and so would the elders be as excitement is an important addition to the dining table. The same holds true for new desserts and one can add zest to daily meals by serving new snacks and desserts alternately.

To liven up the weekend table, here are snacks and desserts that you should try:

Stuffed Potato Shells
Pyaaz Tamatar ka Bun
Oatmeal and Buttermilk Teacakes

Have a good weekend!
Sanjeev Kapoor.

The 5 must haves

Cooking three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and doing this daily can become a drudgery especially if there is a scarcity of recipes. Having the same combinations repeatedly will cause some friction at the dining table because adults (like kids!) also get bored. And then the same holds true for the person who is cooking. There needs to be some magical trick that can alter the taste of the dish and take it to a new tastier level.

There are five little suggestions that can come in handy in the kitchen when you want to add some new kick and flavour to everyday dishes.

Tomato Ketchup
What would the world do without this! It is a relish, no doubt, but added to mixed vegetables with a dash of cream can give you a new recipe. Ketchup also livens up baked dishes. Equal proportions of tomato ketchup, cream and yogurt make a good base for a chicken. One friend adds some ketchup to mashed potatoes when she is making cutlets.

Soya Sauce
I think the use of soya sauce should not be restricted to Chinese food only. Soya sauce has that typical tart and fruity flavour that can be added to other preparations. Try adding soya sauce to some soaked and squeezed soya nuggets. Mix with gram flour and chopped spinach and some spices. Make bhajiyas. One can also deep fry leftover idlis and temper them with a dash of soya sauce. I do suggest that while using soya sauce keep a control on the amount of salt added to the dish. This especially holds true for those recipes where is sauce is to be used in the marinade.

Mustard Sauce
Mustard Sauce is no longer restricted to use in burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. Adding a little to a potato preparation or a chicken dish can perk it up. Whisk some eggs and add a dash of mustard sauce with chopped mushrooms and capsicums. Here is an omelette which will become a family favourite.

Hot and Sweet Tomato Sauce
Mix with mayonnaise and make an entirely new sandwich spread. A dash of this sauce in potatoes for aloo paranthas also makes a difference. Any leftover rice can be served in a new avatar with some vegetables sautéed with some hot and sweet sauce.

Tamarind Chutney
This can be added to dals and pulses for the immediate touch of sourness. No need to extract tamarind pulp or look for lemons. And of course when the immediate need is to serve bhelpuri use the chutney for a quick serve.

With so much to talk about, how about actually using the sauces for cooking?



Add some sauce to rainy days!
Sanjeev Kapoor.

There’s goodness in my soup!

Half of 2010 gets done today. It seems like yesterday that we were all wishing our friends some good wishes for the new 2010! Anyway, time to take stock and see where we are and where we want to reach and then change tracks or pick up speed if on the right track!

Taking stock also reminds me something little that we do at home in the rainy season. Keep a stock of food and essential pulses, masalas, tins and milk in tetrapacks. Never know when you need them on a rainy day. We also enjoy a variety of soups in the rainy season. They need not be hot, can be cold – something like Gazpacho.

Secret of a good soup is its foundation – a good stock. Thin soups in general are lower in nutritive content as compared to thick soups. Chicken sweet corn and green pea soups are especially valuable for their protein content. A bowl of spinach soup provides one third of an adult’s daily iron requirements. So if it is protein you are looking for try chicken, fish, egg, meat, lentils and beans as main ingredients in your soup. If you are wanting a vitamin and mineral rich soup make soups using vegetables like spinach, celery, carrot, peas, sprouts, cabbage and lettuce. South Indian rasam and saaru, the saar from Maharashtra and the osaman from Gujarat are light soups. Not only are they low in calories but are also a good source of vitamins and minerals.

A mixed vegetable soup is a clever way of giving vegetables to your young fusspots. It not only has vegetables but also the goodness of wheat flour and milk. As it is fibre rich it is good for the elders in the house too. Serve it with wheat and soya breadsticks and rest assured there will be no leftovers!

Cold soups are incredibly healthy form of soups, basically served chilled or at room temperature and they are as good as hot ones in terms of nutrition, taste and flavour. Just that one has to develop a taste to relish the subtle taste steeped in the cold soups while preparing them. There are simple tips which when followed would yield elegant and delicious cold soups.

  • Use fresh and ripe ingredients for brilliant results.Heavily season cold soups than hot ones, because the cold temperatures lessen the spice taste.
  • The soup can be served immediately, or you can cover and chill it so the flavours blend. For a colder soup that’s ready instantly, replace some of the liquid with crushed ice.
  • At the same time, the longer the soup sits in the refrigerator, the spicier it will taste. Four to ten hours is the optimal chilling time.
  • Before serving, chill the serving bowl and the individual soup bowls or mugs. Place them in the freezer for ten to fifteen minutes. And if using fine crystal ones, place in refrigerator for twenty to thirty minutes.

So are your soup spoons ready?

Chicken and Prawn Laksa
Cream of Vegetable Soup with Spinach
Dal Soup with Tomato

Till I write again
Sanjeev Kapoor.