By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
From an evolutionary perspective and in the natural world, winter is a time of dormancy or hibernation; storing whatever energy we can from the reduced hours of daylight, trying to keep ourselves warm against the harsh cold and staying put. From a culinary perspective, the cold season is a great time for hearty stews, steaming soups, slow-cooked curries, anything-with-a-side-of-potatoes and mulled wines. You will notice that your body craves different foods during the colder months and for many, carbohydrates can be the ultimate comfort but you can rely on other sources as well.
By Conchita de Souza
We know that the cuisines of India are defined by the different combinations of spices, some of which are unique to different regions of India, such as panch phoron which is found in eastern parts of India as well as in Nepal and Bangladesh and contains the seed forms of the following spices: cumin, nigella, fennel, black mustard and fenugreek. The realm of spices used extend beyond dried, powdered and whole spices to fresh spices as well, or what we would term as ‘herbs’ in western cuisines.
Today’s post explores the common ‘herbs’ used in Indian cuisines. Whilst herbs are often used as garnishes or in marinades, some of the herbs listed below are used during the tadka or tempering stage of cooking. Fenugreek leaves can be used as the star of the show. Not surprisingly, most, if not all of these herbs possess medicinal qualities, which has not been discussed in depth.
Green chillies - Depending on whom you are asking, green chillies pack a lighter punch and can be used as a decorative garnish on dishes that are milder. Green chillies are often eaten as an accompaniment to meals and often you will see it served with cucumbers and onion slices alongside any street food dish as the heat from it intensifies the flavours of the dish.
- Red chillies - Usually more pungent in flavour and used at the beginning stages of cooking. Remove the seeds for less potency. Add as a garnish as you would with green chillies if you like a bit of zing.
- Curry Leaves - Heavily used in south Indian cuisines, these little leaves are bitter-tasting but once tempered, are easier to digest and actually have numerous health benefits such as enhancing digestion. Curry leaves have antibacterial and antifungal properties. As an illustration of such properties, I have friends who insert a small part of the stalk (washed beforehand I assume) into their piercing holes to prevent the holes from becoming infected when they remove their piercings. The twigs from the tree were used as toothbrushes back in the day to promote oral hygiene because they would protect the mouth from harmful bacteria.
Fenugreek leaves - These bitter-tasting leaves are prepared as a vegetable or added to breads like parathas and thepla. When the leaves are dried (known as kasuri methi in Hindi), they can be crushed into a dish as it is completed adding a flavour and aroma that permeates the dish but doesn’t take away from its original flavours. We have dedicated an entire post to the awesomeness of this plant which you can read here.
Coriander - Whilst it may seem that the world is divided between those who like coriander and those who do not, it goes without saying that it is used heavily in Indian cuisine, especially as a garnish. It tastes wonderful on top of egg-based dishes such as the Parsi version of shakshuka or the classic masala scrambled eggs and adds a pop of freshness to the dish.
- Bay Leaves - A subtlely fragrant and pleasant-smelling leaf that is used by other cultures in their cuisines as well. It is usually added during the time of tempering which releases its oils and goes well with red meat dishes and rice dishes as well.
- Mint - A cooling and soothing herb that goes well in drinks but also on top of raita. It can be made into a standalone chutney or blended with coriander.
- Dill - One of my all-time favourite herbs thanks to the beautiful fragrance and taste it produces. Like fenugreek leaves, it can be used to make a vegetable, mixed in with dough to make flatbreads and added to lentil-based curries like dal.
By Conchita de Souza
Today, I wanted to reflect on what mother’s cooking has meant to me, and to so many others who have been nourished daily by the food lovingly prepared by our mothers and mother-figures.
All of us have been nourished and nurtured by our mothers, even before we take our first gasps of breath on this earth. Right from the very point we are conceived and as we grow as foetuses inside our mother’s wombs, we are provided with nutrition and oxygen through the umbilical cord that connects us to our mother’s placenta.
After our arrival on earth, we suckle at our mother’s breasts and the milk from it nourishes us until our tiny bodies are ready to take on the challenge of solid foods. Up to this point, mother nature places mothers at the centre of a baby’s universe, completely and utterly dependent on their mothers for sustenance.
Our bodies continue to grow, from childhood to adolescence and we rely on our mother’s cooking to get us through the school days, the weekend activities, the night time studies, the after-school munchies and the birthday party meals (not to underplay the role of fathers play in this process too). And if it isn’t our mothers, then perhaps it is our grandmothers, aunties, neighbours or family friends that come into the picture when our mothers are not comfortable cooks, are busy with work, are unwell or struggling, or have left home or left this earth.
For many, a home-cooked meal is synonymous with our mums, and the love and effort they put into the food they prepare knowing that it will nourish us one way or the other. If on one weeknight we return home as parents ourselves, her food conjures up memories of the past and of the ignorant blisses of our childhood. If we have been away from for too long, her food reminds us of the safety, security and comfort of home. If we are sick or unwell, her cooking heals our ailments just as bandages and plasters heal wounds and broken bones. If we have had a bad day at school or work, her food soothes bruised egos and dejected souls alike. This is the reach a mother’s cooking has, no matter how simple or elaborate the meal she makes.
I have been blessed to have various mother-figures in my life, and I am grateful for them all, especially after losing my own mother in my late teens and missing her terribly to this day. In cooking and having a meal with me, these women have shared their roots, their cultures and their stories. Whether it be the traditional food preparations of my ancestors as shared by my godmother from our ancestral village, the unique fusion of Chinese and Indian cuisines in a Malaysian dish as shared by my neighbour in her kitchen not too far from mine or the intricacies of making melt-in-the-mouth Pakistani shammi kebabs as shared by my aunty. Thank you for nurturing and nourishing, healing and soothing, inspiring and invoking; I hope, one day, to do the same myself and be on the giving end rather than the receiving one.
By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
Image: Sabudana Kheer is a pudding made from sago and can be consumed during fasts.
If you are not familiar with Hinduism and its many deities, it can be difficult to follow the elaborate and intricate mythologies and accompanying rituals that have developed over the millenia. Though I come from a strong Catholic upbringing, my time spent living in India as an adult as well as my practice of a classical Indian dance form (Kathak) have given me the opportunity to experience hindu traditions and learn about the customs, stories and practices that define it. From a very basic introductory level, the three Gods you might want to acquaint yourself with are Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer), the last of whom this grand festival honours.
In Indian mythology, Lord Shiva is pictorially depicted as a muscular being with long flowing dreadlocks, the crescent moon on the side of his forehead and the third eye at its centre, a snake draped around his neck, a bare torso and his loins draped only with the skin of a tiger. He is depicted sitting in a meditative position, cross-legged with his four hands, two of which are held in mudra and the other two holding a trident (thrissur) in one hand and a percussion instrument (damaru) in the other. Aesthetics aside, Shiva is not so much a physical character as he is an all-pervasive energy and consciousness itself.
Image: A depiction of Lord Shiva (unknown)
Maha Shivratri literally means the Great (maha) Night (ratri) of Shiva and falls on the night before the new moon in Hindu month of Maagha or Phalguna (marking the start of springtime in the Northern Hemisphere). Like many grand festivals in India, it is celebrated in different ways according to the region and community and even the lore surrounding the origins of this festival differ. The underlying purpose of this festival is to honour, worship and rejoice in Lord Shiva.
The stories behind the origins of the festival include:
- The emergence of Shiva linga - Lord Shiva, at the request of the other gods, decided to humble Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu who were arguing that each was the greatest of all gods. Shiva manifested as a great fire spreading across the universe. Brahma and Vishnu tried to find the ends of the fire with the former deity taking the form of the swan and trying to reach the top and the latter taking the form of the boar and ploughing through the earth. Brahma on his way up came upon a frangipani flower (ketaki) and when he asked where she came from she told him she was an offering from the pinnacle of the fiery column. Brahma stopped there and carried the flower as proof that he reached the summit. Shiva saw through the lies and punished Brahma so that he would not be worshipped by anyone.
The day that Lord Shiva performed his cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. This dance is known as Tandavam and will be performed by classically-trained dancers at major Hindu temples across India (such as at Khajuraho in the central state of Madhya Pradesh).
- Lord Shiva’s union with Goddess Parvati whose devotion to him was pleasing and who is the avatar of the Goddess Shakti, representing the power to defeat evil.
- Lord Shiva is said to have saved the world by drinking a pot of poison when the oceans were being churned. Shiva never swallowed the poison but only held it in his throat which is why he is depicted as blue in colour.
Lord Shiva and Yoga
In the Yogic tradition, Lord Shiva is known as Adi Guru or Adi Yogi, which means that he was the first Guru from whom the science of Yoga originated and the first to practise Yoga. Those of you who practise yoga might be familiar with the position shavasana which is laying still, as though dead. Shava, lifelessness is the opposite of Shiva which embodies the potential for life. It is believed that on this auspicious day Lord Shiva, who had been in a state of meditation for millenia become completely and utterly still.
What happens on this day
Maha Shivratri is an auspicious time when the positioning of the northern hemisphere of the planet allows for human beings to experience a natural upsurge of energy. It is therefore a time of prayer, meditation and fasting.
A devotee would start the day with a sunrise dip in the holy river Ganga (or a shower/bath for those who are not able to bathe in the river) and put on fresh and clean clothes. They would proceed to a temple to offer a pooja (prayer) that involves a specific ritual of bathing Shiva’s linga in milk and/or water. The linga ritual will happen every 3 hours and the statue is bathed in natural items including that of milk, honey, yoghurt, sandalwood paste and rosewater.
Most devotees would observe a complete fast throughout the day (no food or water), or, if eating, would consume light meals such as fruit, milk and certain vegetables and non-grain items. Spices are restricted to jeera (cumin), pepper, green cardamom, cinnamon and ajwain. Salt is avoided and instead black salt is used. Vrat foods such as sabudana khichdi (a dry risotto made from sago) and sabudana kheer (sago pudding) can be consumed, but usually only after the evening prayer.
In the evening the prayers continue and devotees will meditate, recite vedic mantras and chant hymns as well as offer seasonal fruit to Shiva. They keep vigil throughout the course of the night until dawn the next day when they will break their fast eating prasad (the food offerings made to the gods).
By Conchita de Souza
Image: Kanji is a cooling probiotic drink made from beetroots and carrots
Summer may almost be over (cue *teary eyes*) but hopefully the warmer weather will linger well into the first month of autumn. This time of the year permits us to savour summer’s many bounties, whether that be the longer days (though they are becoming shorter as we tilt further away from the sun), the fresh fruits (plums, nectarines and peaches are still in the market), picnicking or entertaining outdoors and swimming in various bodies of water to cool off.
Most parts of India experience harsh summers and the heat ranges from sweltering, highly humid or searingly dry heat, all of which are pleasant experiences when you throw in a population of 1.1 billion! These extreme conditions have resulted in creative ways to stay cool in terms of architecture, fashion and diet.
I was smart enough to backpack across five Indian states in the month of April, at a time when the summer heat was cranked up enough to risk burning your feet if you decided to go anywhere barefoot (I visited a lot of temples). The states I travelled across were Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar. All of them were exceptionally hot (save for my time at the hill station Darjeeling). During my travels, eating food was not nearly as important as staying hydrated and even water alone could not quench my thirst. On the hottest of days, I can clearly recall the refreshing feeling of a cooling drink as I pressed the glass/carton to my burning cheeks before the contents slid down my throat.
Here are our favourite summer coolers that you can try out when the mercury skyrockets:
Coconut Water - Mother nature’s juice is a no-brainer really. The water of the coconut is naturally hydrating because it contains electrolytes. It is nutritious and contains antioxidants and is best enjoyed fresh but for those of us living in metropolitan cities without a coconut tree in sight, the carton will have to suffice (*sigh*)
Jaljeera - Cumin water may not sound like your go-to on a hot day but this drink is extremely refreshing due the mixture of both fresh and dry spices and the fact that it aids with digestion (helpful when it is boiling and your insides are feeling weighed down). The tanginess comes from tamarind pulp and lemon, the freshness from spices like coriander, mint and ginger and sweetness from a dash of sugar. You can easily prepare this at home and our recipe can guide you.
Lassi - a yoghurt drink that is mixed with cold water to thin it and is unbelievably refreshing. Our recipe allows you to create four variations and my favourite without a doubt is mango. You can make this yourself quite easily but if you are unable to, your local indian grocer will have ready-made cartons that you can buy and pack for a hot day ahead.
Image: Salted lassi
Nimboo Pani - This is like your homemade lemonade minus the fizz and with a dash of kala namak (literally black salt, it is a type of rock salt) for that extra kick. Nimboo Pani is not as sweet as normal lemonade and has the perfect balance of citrusy, tangy and sour flavours but is also very light. In India, small limes are used - they are more fragrant and tangy than our yellow lemons.
Kanji - This beautiful magenta-coloured drink serves as a probiotic and aids with digestion. The colour comes from the use of beetroot and carrots which are fermented in water until the water develops a tangy flavour. You can then refrigerate the liquid and use the vegetables in a curry.
Sol Kadi - Hailing from the Konkan region is this savoury and cooling drink served with most restaurant meals. It is made from the kokum fruit, an ingredient that is dried and used in Goan curries to add a sourish taste.
Image: Ingredients for preparing sol kadi
- Falooda - Lastly our favourite is more like a meal, this traditional dessert is similar to a milkshake that has crossed paths with bubble tea. Enriched with a velvety rose syrup and sweet basil seeds, this is a drink that satisfies the body and soul. Serve as a pick me up on a hot day when you are not in the mood for a warm meal.
By Conchita de Souza
Image: Teatime snacks of gathiya (left) and chaklee (right) as well as channa masala (bottom) are all dishes using the chickpea.
In the last fews years and thanks to the rise of TikTok and Reels on Instagram, there have been popular trends using certain ingredients in ways that we had not thought of before. For example, who would have thought that Zucchini (or courgette) could be used as noodles or spaghetti or as a key ingredient in loafs? And sweet potatoes in brownies?
In India, the humble chickpea has been and continues to be used in a myriad of forms - sweet and savoury. Today’s post explores its use throughout Indian cuisine and beyond.
A bit about chickpeas
Chickpeas are said to have originated in the Middle East with traces found in Turkey dating as far back as 7,500 years ago.
The two main forms of chickpeas are the Kabuli Chickpeas, also known as Garbanzo beans and Desi chickpeas which are known as Kala Channa in the Hindi/Urdu languages or Bengal Gram. The former is lighter in colour, almost beige and the latter has a dark brown coating. Desi chickpeas are skinned and split to make channa dal. Green chickpeas (hara channa) is another variety that is sweeter than its counterparts.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), India is the world’s largest producer of chickpeas followed by Australia and Turkey.
From a nutritional perspective, chickpeas are a great source of both protein and fibre, allowing you to feel fuller for longer.
Used as a whole legume
Many states/regions in India have a localised chickpea curry that is a staple in homes. Ours is a favourite of many customers and you can try it here.
- Chole or channa masala is served either with deep fried flatbreads - puri (small and unleavened) or bhature (large and leavened).
- Ashtami prasad - this is traditionally eaten on the eighth day of the Navratri festival and is a dry dish accompanied by poori and halwa (sweet made from semolina) as an offering to the goddess. Kala channa is used and it is prepared as a dry dish with a combination of spices like chilli powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, raw mango powder (amchur) etc. The south-Indian version is described below.
- Shondal (temple chickpea salad) - this tangy dish is prepared and served to the devotees in south Indian temples. Here’s a link to this simple snack/side dish.
Used in flour form
In India, channa dal, which is the black chickpea skinned and split, is ground into flour and called besan. Chickpea flour made from kabuli chickpeas is not the same as besan, which is finer and softer. Both are great gluten-free alternatives to regular wheat flour.
Besan is used to thicken gravies, bind patties and to dust fish before frying. It is indeed a staple in an Indian pantry.
Kadhi - A simple lunch time curry served with rice hails from the North of India. You can drop in pakoras (see below) to take this to the next level.
Image: Kadhi is a yoghurt-based curry mixed with besan
- Chillas (chickpea omelette) - finely chopped onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander are mixed with besan and water before being cooked in a pan like pancakes.
- Murkuru/Chaklee - these are usually spiral shaped snacks that are enjoyed with chai
- Ghathiya - thin straw-like crispy snacks that are spiced with chilli powder, turmeric and ajwain.
Pakora/bhajia - our favourite tea time snack in which a batter of chickpeas flour and spices are used to coat vegetables, fishes and even chicken before being deep-fried until crisp.
Image: A teatime favourite - chai with onion pakora
Many a mithai is made from besan and the reason it works so well is because of the naturally nutty flavour it imparts. More importantly, the besan is ever-so-soft in texture and your teeth sink through it with every bite and it melts whilst sitting on your tongue.
- Besan Laddoo - a round-shaped sweet made primarily from three ingredients; besan, ghee and sugar.
- Soan papadi (pictured here) is a melt in the mouth flaky sweet that is similar to fairy floss in terms of its lightness and airiness but not form.
Image: Round cakes of soft and flakey soan papadi
- Channa Doss - a delicacy that hails from Goa and has a fudge like consistency.
- Barfi - usually a milk-based sweet but it can also be made using besan
Other uses of Besan (Beauty)
Chickpea flour is made into a paste and is used in lieu of soap to wash babies after they have been massaged with a vegetable oil.
It can also be used as a natural face mask to cleanse away impurities. Click here for a homemade recipe that has just three ingredients including the flour itself!
We trust you have been convinced to give Chickpeas and Besan a home in your pantry.