Sunday, 7 May 2017

Of Sambhar and memories...

For us Delhiites, the very definition of South Indian food begins and ends with Sambhar. Be it Dosa, Idli, Vada or Utappam, we like to pamper ourselves with Sambhar. I remember during college days, me and my bestie Surbhi would often hang out at Madras Hotel in Connaught Place for some awesome Masala Dosa and Sambhar. The USP of the outlet was its "to die for" Sambhar. The servers or Anna as we called them would serve us generous helpings of Sambhar till our tummies would feel like gas balloons. I remember once we were so full (in the tummy, not in the heart) and sleepy after the meal that it was a tough walk from Madras Hotel to the bus stop from where we had to catch the bus to home (Delhi metro was non existent those days)!

My fondest memories of Sambhar are from my childhood, when my papa would prepare lip smacking sambhar with dosa. I still remember we had this special big tawa/griddle exclusively for preparing dosa. Even though kitchen was mom's baby, Sambhar Dosa was entirely papa's department. 

How Papa, an otherwise non cook material learnt to prepare the perfect Sambhar Dosa is also a very interesting story. Apparently, once during a long wait for bus at the bus stop, papa started chatting with a roadside Dosa stall owner. While the bus came way late, it gave papa enough time to learn the art of preparing the perfect Sambhar Dosa. So perfect is he with his dish that often his boss would drop by our place for savouring Dosa Sambhar. While mom would happily don the hat of an assistant that day, papa would be so full of zeal on being the head chef! Since we were a family of 6, the batter would be prepared in a large vessel in huge quantity. After the day long fermentation, it was time to savour the Dosa and Idli.  There was also a giant pressure cooker bought just to prepare enormous quantity of Sambhar.

Despite a Sambhar expert available at home, I never bothered to pick up the skill, being the lazy chef that I am! Even after marriage, Dosa Sambhar to me meant a visit to the popular Dosa joint in the WEA market in Karol Bagh and pampering myself to Dosa and unlimited Sambhar.

But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention...

After we moved to Mumbai, the spicy North Indian style Sambhar became a luxury. I still remember the first time I had Sambhar in my office cafeteria. I walked up to the server and asked him if they put the sugar by mistake in Sambhar! Pat came his reply to my horror, "M'am that's how Sambhar is to be, how else?" Oh My God! For the Delhiite used to spicy Sambhar, this was nothing short of a cultural shock! Not willing to give up that easily, I tried my luck with few more joints so called "popular for their South Indian food" however, the ordeal repeated each time. 

At the cross roads, the foodie in me had just two options - either to forego the joy of relishing sambar or learn to prepare Sambhar as per our North Indian preference.

I decided to take things in my stride and became a pro at preparing Sambhar, thanks to my mom in law.

Sharing the simple and easy Sambhar that saves my day each time I have the craving to eat South Indian food.


Ingredients (for 4 portions)
  • Tuur/Arhar Dal - 150g (soaked for an hour) (I have learnt a simple measurement rule from my mom in law - a fistful dal per person)
  • Water
  • Vegetables (Bottle Guard, Pumpkin, Onions, Tomatoes, Potatos, carrot, french beans) - Diced in mouthful size pieces (Sambhar is the best way to use the leftover grocery in the fridge!)

  • Salt - to taste
  • Turmeric - 1tsp
  • Tamarind - to taste (deseeded and soaked in water for half and hour)
  • Sambhar Powder - 2-3tsp
  • Oil - 1tbsp
  • Onion - 2 chopped
  • Red Chilli Powder - 1tsp
  • Rai/Black mustard seeds - 1tsp
  • Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch (aids digestion)
  • Jeera/Cumin seeds - 1tsp
  • Curry leaves - few

Method -
Wash the soaked Arhar  Dal and drain out the water

In a pressure cooker, take all the diced vegetables, add the Arhar Dal and water. The water should be half index finger level above the vegetables.

Add turmeric powder and salt. Close the lid and pressure cook. 

After the first whistle, keep on low flame for 2-3 minutes and turn off the stove. Remove the lid and mash the vegetables a bit with the back of a round spoon (this will give a rich, thick Sambhar. You may skip the mashing if you like your Sambhar to be watery)

In a separate kadhai, heat oil. Add the asafoetida, rai, cumin seeds and curry leaves.

When the rai and cumin seeds begin to splutter, add the chopped onions and sauté.

When the onions turn golden brown, add the sambhar powder and sauté.

Next, add the red chilli powder and sauté till the mixture leaves oil on sides. 

Add the mashed vegetables and water and mix well. Finally, mash the soaked tamarind into a homogeneous paste (you may also choose to blend in a blender) and add to the Sambhar.

Give the mixture one nice boil. 

Tadaaa! Piping hot Sambhar is ready!

For the Onion Utappam
  • Dosa batter - I am a lazy cook and allow myself some shortcuts in the form of readymade Dosa batter from the South Indian store nearby!
  • Spring Onions - 2-3 chopped
  • Green chilies - 2-3 chopped
  • Salt - to taste
  • Asafoetida - a pinch
  • Oil - 1tbsp

Add a pinch salt and asafoetida to the readymade dosa batter for a good flavour and easy digestion.

Mix together the chopped spring onions and green chillies and keep aside.

In case the batter is too thick you may add a bit water to dilute else skip the step. The batter should be flowy for crisp Utappams.

Heat a tawa/griddle. Spread some oil.

Once the oil is smoky hot, with the help of a round spoon, spread some batter on the tawa. The technique is to pour a spoonful batter on the tawa and make circular motions with the round spoon, reading the batter from centre to edges.

Spread some onion chilli mixture evenly on the utappam. 

Smear oil and once the other side looks brown, change sides.

Once both sides are cooked, the Utappam is ready to be served with Sambhar.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Movie - A Dog's Purpose

Genre - Drama/Comedy
Duration - 1h 40min
Director - Lasse Hallström
Based On - A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
Cast - Josh Gad (narration), K.J. Apa, Dennis Quaid, Bryce Gheisar, Peggy Lipton, Juliet Rylance

My View
If you are a dog lover, keep a pack of tissues handy.

If you are not, don't bother watching for there is nothing the movie has to offer you.

A Dog's Purpose was not one of the most popular choices for cinema lovers when I came to know about it. Blame it on Bahubali2 that is ruling all the theatres. But since I am not a part of the Bahubali brigade, the movie seemed like a nice weekend watch. The first thing that prompted me to go for the movie was the innocent face of a golden retriever in the promos. Isn't he adorable?

Dogs and emotions have become by now the USP of director  Lasse Hallström. His last movie Hachi:A Dog's Tale remains one of my favourite movie, for it spoke so much about Dog-man relationship. I had therefore, high expectations from his latest offering.

A Dog's Purpose is very different from Hachi:A Dog's Tale, or Marley & Me. While the latter speak about the life of a dog and his relationship with his master, A Dog's Purpose revolves around all that goes in the mind of a dog during his various lives. 

The major part of the movie is about Bailey (Josh Gad), a golden retriever, or rather an intelligent golden retriever who always has questions in his mind about his existence. What, why, who, where....Bailey is an inquisitive dog and sometimes one wonders this is a dog thinking and feeling like humans! From the lap of his mother to dog catchers, Bailey is on the move till he gets rescued by Ethan and his mom Elizabeth. Despite resistance from Ethan's father, who clearly comes across as a non pet lover, Bailey finds his place in the home and heart of Ethan and his mom. The first half is a treat for dog lovers as Bailey is seen to have a great time with Ethan in the 60's. Like a true buddy, he follows Ethan everywhere. True to epitomising friendship, Bailey ensures to be a part of all the important moments in Ethan's life. He shares Ethan's joy when he enjoys a baseball match; his happiness and excitement when Ethan meets his girlfriend Hannah; his sorrow when the family goes through a split. Surprisingly, Bailey also plays the cupid in Ethan's life which was kinda cute to watch. Bailey also is a true loyal, for he risks his life to protect Ethan and his mom when their house burns down. 

Ethan's life however, changes after the fire incident. Bailey moves with Ethan to his grandparents' house in the countryside. Ethan goes through tough times when he loses his scholarship and breaks up with Hannah. Bailey tries a lot to cheer Ethan up however, all his efforts go in vain. With Ethan leaving for college, Bailey loses the focal point of his life and soon succumbs to old age and illness.

While one wonders the story is over, Bailey surprises us with another incarnation as a female German Shepherd Ellie since he remembers each detail of his previous birth. In his short but adventurous life as Ellie, the police dog in the 70's, he discovers that the purpose of his life is to protect mankind. 

In his next incarnation as a corgi named Toni in the 80's, he learns that the purpose of his life is to bring happiness and remove loneliness in the life of Maya and helps her find true love. 

His last life however, is the most eventful one. Born as a Saint Bernard in the 90's, he has a short stint with an abusive family indicating so much about people who bring dogs home without thinking whether they are prepared to raise one. After the family abandons him, he goes through major coincidence. While in every life, he missed the warmth of his relationship with Ethan, a chance meeting with an old Hannah brings back all the smells afresh in his memory. He soon sets out in search of Ethan and finds an old and lonely Ethan in the same house. With Ethan back in his life, Bailey aka Buddy's life finally comes a full circle and he does best to bring happiness back into Ethan's life.

Although Bailey feels that his purpose in life is to live in the moment and spread happiness, I felt it was more about Bailey's love for Ethan and his homecoming. 

I guess, A Dog's Perspective could have been a more appropriate title!

  • The cute and innocent faces of pups would make you go Awww.
  • One sure shot way directors know to make the viewers go numb is putting generous dose of playful doggie moments. If you ever had a dog you will remember him each time you watch Bailey playing with Ethan. 
  • The director successfully triggers your tear glands. A pack of tissues will be helpful for you will see a dog dying multiple times in the movie.
  • The actors are skilled in their craft to invoke the right emotions in our hearts.
  • The most interesting part of the movie is the constant narration in the voice of Bailey that gives a dog's perspective on all that he sees. 


  • Despite the director trying his bring in the whole concept of purpose in a dog's life, by retaining Bailey's memory and his love for Ethan, it appeared more like Bailey's story and his homecoming. 
  • A strong story is the base for a good movie. Somehow, I found the story to be weak. The director seemed confused between depicting a dog-master affectionate relationship and various experiences in a dog's life, or rather multiple births.
  • Dunno how true this is, but a clip by TBZ went viral on internet showing cruelty to the German Shepherd during the shoot. Though, American Humane Association later concluded that the video was tweaked to mislead people, yet the incident led to a lot of negative publicity for the movie.

My Rating

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Aloo Parantha simplified

My parantha preparing skills are directly proportional to the number of years I have been married!

Though I always loved to savour stuffed paranthas prepared by my mom, I never bothered to try my hand at them....till i got married. One lesson cooking teaches you is that "practice makes one perfect!"  And when the family is typical North Indian foodie, there is virtually no escape from cooking! Over the years, it has been an interesting journey - from joining two separate dough discs with stuffing spread between them to effortlessly managing all sort of stuffed paranthas. My heart swells with pride when my mom in law says I have become a pro with Paranthas. Finally! All married women will understand what that means coming from the MIL herself! 

Being a lazy cook, one thing that gives me jitters is elaborate recipes. Often I have skipped recipes by merely glancing at the long list of ingredients. Having spent decent amount of years honing my culinary skills, I can say that a good recipe is not one involving elaborate ingredients but the right quantity of the right ingredients. For just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many ingredients mask the flavour of the key ingredients!

Sunday breakfasts is incomplete without hot paranthas. Here's the way I prepare Aloo Paranthas, albeit my simple way, sans any elaborate ingredients.

Ingredients (for 3 adults having 2 paranthas each)

Potatoes - 3 (boiled and peeled)
Onions - 1 large (chopped coarsely)
Green chillies - 2-3 
Red chilli powder - very little (as per your preference)
Coriander powder - 1 tsp
Green coriander - few sprigs, finely chopped.
Salt - to taste
Asafoetida - a pinch (aids digestion)
Ajwain/Ova/Carom seeds - 1 tsp (aids digestion)
Wheat Flour - made into a medium dough. Also, some loose wheat flour for dusting
Refined Oil - for cooking

Mash boiled potatoes in a bowl. The potatoes should neither be hard boiled nor very soft as it will be a herculean task to manage the paranthas that way. A simple tip I have learnt from my mom in law is that the softness of the dough should be in perfect harmony with the softness of the stuffing to get the perfect paranthas. If the dough is too tight vis a vis the stuffing, the stuffing will escape the paranthas whereas if the dough is too soft, you will have a nightmare rolling the paranthas.

Add chopped onion, chopped green chillies and chopped coriander.

Now add the spices - salt, red chilli powder, asafoetida, carom seeds, coriander powder and mix well into a homogeneous stuffing.

Take a ball of the dough (I take a little larger than the normal ball I take for chapati, since a lot of stuffing has to be accommodated). A little larger than the size of a boondi laddoo, I would say. Roll the dough into a small circle using a rolling pin.

Place the stuffing in the centre and centre and spread a bit taking care to leave enough distance from the sides. Now the quantity of stuffing is subjective. Depends on how much stuffing can you manage without tearing the paranthas while rolling. I say, start safe and increase the quantity as you gain confidence.

Fold the sides keeping the stuffing in between. Dust some dough on the disc and with hands, press lightly to expand as much as you can.

Now, using a rolling pin, lightly roll the parantha till it reaches the side of a chapati. Take care to roll lightly, else the parantha will tear and the stuffing will escape.
Avoid this

That's better

Heat a tawa/griddle and place the parantha on it. Cook both sides well, smearing oil (Punjabis are very generous with oil however, I prefer low oil paranthas). 

When the parantha gets a nice golden brown colour, take off the flame. 

Paranthas are the most favoured North Indian breakfast. Serve with curd/raw mango pickle/Mint -Corriander chutney or just a generous dollop of homemade butter!

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Instant Raw Mango Launji / Aam ki launji

I confess, I am a lazy cook! 

Like all good Indian wives and mothers, I too love to whip up delicacies for my husband and child. 

The reality - Juggling between a demanding job, house and a toddler in his terrible two's, my passion for cooking is limited to something simple and quick that helps me save "me time" yet bring a smile of satisfaction on the faces of my loved ones.

My fondest memories of summers from my childhood are related to mangoes. Since we weren't a typical small nuclear family (we are 4 siblings!), mom would make frequent trips to the wholesale fruit and veggie market (called Mandi in Hindi) and come home with Aam ki peti! (wooden cartons used in wholesale markets, containing anywhere between 5-10kg mangoes). The mangoes would be welcomed with a lavish dip in bucket of water from where they would be carefully picked by each one of us at our own wish. 

Mom would also get the most amazing ambi/raw mangoes/kairi. While most would be used for the annual mango pickle ritual, a sizeable lot was saved for the aam panna. Another delightful side dish mom prepared was the ambi/raw mango launji - a raw mango chutney. Mom would make lot of it at one go and we would eat it with our morning paranthas.

I had been craving for mango launji since the time mangoes announced the arrival of summers. But the very thought of standing in front of the gas for long would make me chicken out!

Finally, my mom in law came to my rescue and taught me to prepare instant raw mango launji. At first, I was apprehensive, but believe me, the moment I took a bite of launji with parantha, it tasted just like the raw mango chutney I once ordered from Kitchens Of India.

Sharing the recipe.

Preparation time - 10-15min

Ingredients (for one bowl chutney)

  • Raw mango - 1 large, peeled and shredded/diced into mouthful pieces      

  • Salt - to taste
  • Black pepper - to taste
  • Water - 2 cup
  • Jaggery - 1 cup chopped (you can increase/decrease the quantity to alter the sweetness)
  • Desi ghee - 1 tbsp
  • Cumin seeds - 1/4 tsp
  • Asafoetida - a pinch

Method -

1. Heat ghee in a kadai, add asafoetida and cumin seeds and allow the cumin seeds to crackle.

2. Once the cumin seeds crackle, add the shredded raw mango.

3. Add salt and pepper and mix. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes.

4. Add 2 cup water. Cover and allow the water to boil

5. When the raw mango becomes tender, Add the chopped jaggery. Cover and cook on low flame for  5 minutes.

6. Check the consistency. Once the chutney thickens to a chutney like consistency and the jaggery gives it a beautiful brown colour, the chutney is ready! 

7. Transfer to a bowl and serve chilled with paranthas.

The chutney has a shelf life of 3-4 days when stored in refrigerator. However, it tastes so awesome that you will most likely finish it on the first day itself!

While it is the perfect accompaniment for paranthas, it can also add zing to an otherwise boring meal.

Simple na! 

While we used to have many varieties of mangoes in the North - Safeda (tastes best in mango shake), saroli, chausa, langda, dussehri, totapuri, my favourite ones were the langda and the chausa, simply for their sweetness and abundant pulp! I could have anywhere between 3-4 chausa at a time! However, Mumbai boasts of Alphonsos (though I am yet to learn to identify the authentic ones) and Kesar and our palates are slowly getting conditioned to them.

Which is your favourite mango variety? Do you have an interesting mango recipe to share? Do let me know in the comments section.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Movie - Chandni (1989)

Genre – Drama, Musical, Romance
Director – Yash Chopra
Duration – 3 hours 6 minutes
Cast – Sridevi, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Anupam Kher, Wahida Rahman, Sushma Seth 
Music – Shiv-Hari

My View
I must have been five when Chandni was released. Though I have faint memory of watching this movie with my family in theatre, all I remembered about the movie was Sridevi's "Safedi ki chamkaar" white clothes and the song, "Mere haathon mein nah nau choodiyan hain" 

The song was a rage among girls and I remember, no ladies sangeet function or birthday party would be complete without girls dancing to match Sridevi's steps. So impressed was I with the song that I made mom buy similar combination glass bangles for me!

Those were the times when I would go to theatre not for movies, but for Campa Cola! Yes, you heard me right. A bottle of chilled Campa Cola would be my reward for being sensible throughout the movie! 

While I am sure the movie would have been broadcasted many a times on TV all these years, I never got a chance to watch it. Tried searching on Youtube few years back, but the trailer and paid version was not a motivation enough. 

So, after 20 something years, I finally chanced upon Chandni being broadcasted by Max2. Not wasting the chance, I announced my veto over remote control as I really wanted to know what was the rage all about!

Right from the first scene, the movie presents flavour of typical Yash Chopra movies, as we see a big fat Indian wedding in full swing! The bubbly and vivacious Chandni (Sridevi) makes a heartwarming entry into the viewers' hearts as she arrives for her cousin sister's wedding. Simple girl with a zest for life, this girl next door of the 80s had no frills or air about her. So, when Rohit (Rishi Kapoor) spots Chandni dancing to Mere Hathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan, it is love at first site. When Rohit stops Chandni's way and proposes to her, somehow I was reminded of the latest buzz around anti romeo squads! Jokes apart, the romance of 80s was simple and a lot about communication with mere  expressions. So, when Chandni agrees to stay back for a few days after the wedding, Rohit understands that his feras (hovering) around his dream girl were finally paying off!

But, like all Bollywood movies, there would be no spice if all went smooth. Hence, comes the great economic divide! While Chandni comes from a typical middle class background, Rohit belongs to an affluent family that views his true love with a jaundiced eye. However, Ramesh (Anupam Kher), Rohit's brother-in-law and surprisingly, the selfless and sensible Ghar Jamai, mediates and convinces the family to accept Rohit's choice. Though, as the movie progresses, one realises the acceptance is only namesake, for the family shows no visible signs of affection for Chandni or her family, even post engagement. 

Life seems like a fairytale with Rohit and Chandni romancing in the Alps (For a moment, I thought the director decided to give the wedding sequence a miss and jumped straight to the honeymoon shot!). Just when you think the remaining story would be about the sweet Chandni struggling to achieve "Hriday Parivartan" (Change of heart) in her in-laws, the smart director leaves your expectations far behind and proves his mettle by dropping another bombshell. In an effort to pamper Chandni by showering her with flowers from a helicopter, Rohit hurts himself and is declared paralysed and bed ridden for the rest of his life. While the middle class values in Chandni transform her from a fiancé to a caregiver, the family grabs this opportunity to insult her by calling her unlucky for their son. Gradually, to Chandni's horror, Rohit's attitude too changes and he rebukes her care in the name of sympathy. Now, one thing about Bollywood movies is that the hero can never be shown in bad light. Hence, immediately after, a sad Rohit is seen confessing to Ramesh that he did all this to save Chandni from spoiling her life with a paralytic. 

Anyway, a heart broken Chandni is forced to move away from Rohit's life to Mumbai, where she tries to gather her life and move on. She finds shelter in her friend's house and begins her job hunt. As luck would have it, on her way to an interview, she bumps into Lalit (Vinod Khanna) who, incidentally happens to be her prospective boss. While all this may have been sounded as a surprise back then, the tactic was used later by directors to display smartness of ambitious girls. 

For a moment, life seems to be giving Chandni and Lalit a second chance as a lonely and heartbroken Lalit gets drawn towards Chandni. But, then the story can't just move on leaving Rohit behind. So, one fine day, the volcano of Rohit's love erupts and he decides to get on his feet to win back his lady love! 

As luck would have it, Rohit and Lalit bump into each other in Switzerland (Yes, how can be a Yash Chopra movie be complete without Switzerland!) and get on like brothers lost in Kumbh Mela! Though I am sure if they knew they shared a common love interest, we would witness a duel in the Alps!

For Chandni, who had been trying to move on, the typical emotional dilemma of a Bollywood heroine begins, with both her lovers trying to win her love. Though she had half heartedly committed to Lalit's proposal to honour his emotions and his mom (Wahida Rahman)'s love, would she be able to forget her first love?

While most of you would definitely know the answer, let me leave this puzzle unanswered for those who are yet to catch up on this popular movie. 

I ain't sure that in 2017, how much would you be able to resonate with the story. But, would definitely recommend this movie as a one time watch for feel of 80's romance, when handwritten letters, romancing around trees, wearing full clothes and no kissing scenes too could express love beautifully!

You will remember the movie for
  • Shiv Hari music. One can't ignore the background score and generous use of Santoor and Flute (with music coming from the maestros Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia)

  • Mere Haathon mein nau nau choodiyan

  • Mitwa (The song still enjoys presence in romantic playlists)

  • The song that is still played by radio stations each time it rains - "Lagi Aaj Sawan Ki"

  • The beautiful Sridevi's mascara eyes and vibrant 80's dressing, especially her white suits and bangles, epitomising the title.

  • Lots of red roses (remind me of Silsila)

  • Switzerland locations, though my home sick eyes found happiness to see India Gate, Dandi March statue and ridge.

What kept me wondering...

  • Why would someone sing a song like "Main Sasural Nahi Jaungi" (notice the complete lyrics) at her own engagement, that too knowing the hostile nature of her in-laws?

  • Why would a shy Chandni wear a Chiffon saree and dance in the rain in her boss's lawn, that too when she hardly knew him! (Lol!)

  • Sridevi is shown to share accommodation with her friend when she lands up in Mumbai. However, once she finds job as a secretary in Vinod Khanna's company, we see her graduating from a paying guest accommodation to a swanky duplex bungalow!

  • In one sequence, both Lalit and Rohit are seen trying to reach Chandni on her landline. In the age of letters, when social media and internet were non existent, how come Rohit knew Chandni's Mumbai address and contact number, especially when he had lost touch with her?
Did You Know?
Chandni was the first movie in which Sridevi dubbed her own dialogues. She even sang the popular number "Chandni, O Meri Chandni"