Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Food Post #210: The Top Six Must-Have Spices You Need to Cook Indian Food

If you are an avid fan of Indian food, and are interested in learning how to cook Indian food, then here's a list of the top six spices you absolutely must acquire and keep handy before you begin your cooking adventure. A lot of these spices come with added health perks.

Asafetida, also spelled as Asafoetida, better known as Hing (or heeng)

Okay, asafetida stinks!! As soon as you open that container of hing, as a newbie, you are bound to find it stinky. It is beige or yellowish brown in color. It tastes very pungent too, and can be pretty off-putting to a novice. But not to worry, it's not going to kill you! ;)

If you were to ask any Indian elder what is asafetida, they will probably just say- it's hing!! Honestly, I too had no clue what it was, until I looked it up online. There's quite a bit of research done on the medicinal properties of hing. It is a gum resin extracted from the thick horizontal stem and root of the plant named Ferula asafetida. As with everything, it's all up there on the internet. If interested, you can look at images of this plant too. It's pretty cool.  


1. As with most spices used in Indian cooking, asafetida works like magic for digestive issues

2. Regulates blood pressure

3. Helps ease menstrual issues such as horrendous cramps that a lot of women experience during their period

4. Useful for treating certain conditions of the Central Nervous System

5. Respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis

Grandma's Home Remedy for a Stomach Ache: 

Take some hot steamed rice in a bowl. Add a pinch of hing, a little bit of ghee, and a pinch of salt. Mix and mash it all up, and eat.

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds are tiny, round, ranging from black to brown color. There's also yellow colored mustard seeds. As far as taste goes, as the name indicates, it is mustardy (think wasabi), and bitter. The seeds come from mustard greens.


1. Eye health

2. Alleviating pain caused by sore muscles, and stiff joints

3. To ease menstrual pain

4. For headaches, sinus issues, etc

5. Promoting healthy hair and skin

*Mustard oil is used for massage on infants, and children in north India. While in the south, they use sesame oil.

Grandma's Home Remedy for a Cold and Cough:   

Take a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Crush using a pestle and mortar. Add this to some hot steamed rice. Mix with ghee, and salt. Mix, and mash. And eat!

Cumin Seeds

These are tiny, brown colored oblong seeds, that taste almost peppery-nutty. Cumin seeds come from the cumin plant. I think this is my favorite spice. It's also used quite a bit in Mexican and North African cooking.

Health Benefits:

1. Just like hing, cumin helps alleviating gastrointestinal issues

2. Regulating cardiovascular health

3. Respiratory health

4. Regulates blood sugar level

5. Women's health

Grandma's Home Remedy for Nausea:

Roast a couple teaspoons of cumin seeds, until fragrant. Crush using a pestle and mortar. Mix with hot steamed rice, ghee, salt, and black pepper. Mix, mash up, and eat!

Green Cardamom

Green Cardamom is a truly ancient Indian spice, that grows abundantly in the southern coast of Malabar. It is related to ginger root. Good quality cardamom is a lovely green color, almost tender, and very fragrant. As it dries up, the green turns a bit brown, but the tiny seeds inside remain fragrant. The seeds are black in color. I would describe the taste as being blunt to a novice palate, but to a seasoned palate, it is blunt, yet flowery, almost lemony. Some prefer consuming just the seeds, and discard the skin. I think that's such a waste of the lovely spice.

Health Benefits: 

1. You guessed it- gastrointestinal health

2.  Cardiovascular health

3. Oral health- you can just pop a cardamom pod or two into your mouth instead of gum. Yes!

4. Respiratory health

5. Regulating blood sugar level

Every Indian Chai lover will swear by "elaichi waali chai," meaning Cardamom Tea. The recipe is simple. While brewing a cup of tea, add a couple pods of green cardamom, coarsely crushed. The tea will be elevated to a whole new level. Flowery, fragrant, and delicious!


Cinnamon is also an ancient spice originally from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It is obtained from the inner bark of a tree! Pure unprocessed cinnamon does in fact look like tree bark! This spice is spicy, woody (duh!), and sweet.

Health Benefits: 

1. Controlling blood sugar level

2. Oral health

3. Big time antioxidant

4. Cardiovascular health

5. Arthritis management

Quick fix for sore throat- Add a pinch of cinnamon powder into a cup of warm water, add some honey, and drink. It will soothe your throat.


How can we forget good old turmeric? That beautiful yellow colored spice used in so many Indian dishes. Fresh turmeric can often be mistaken for organic ginger root. Well, they are cousins after all!  The type used commonly in cooking is the dry powder form of turmeric. It tastes slightly bitter. It has a nice aroma to it. A word of caution, passed down by my grandma to my mother to me- do not use too much of turmeric as it can become toxic. Now I don't know what "too much" really means, but I just assume not more than 1-2 tsp in any dish. I am still alive and kicking, so I assume I have been using the right quantity all these years!!

Health Benefits: 

1. Antiseptic properties

2. Respiratory issues

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis

4. Digestive health

5. Extensive research has been done in the past on it's cancer therapy properties, and some positive results were found. Research continues.

Grandma's Home Remedy for that Nasty Cold and Cough: 

In a cup of milk, add a pinch of turmeric, some black pepper powder, and some sugar. Bring the milk to boil. Pour into cup, and sip away.

There are many more spices that are used in Indian cooking. This was just a snapshot, to get you started with. If you noticed, almost all of these spices are beneficial for overall digestive, cardiovascular, menstrual, and respiratory health, as well as diabetes, and arthritis management, and even in cancer therapy. Spices not only impart flavor to foods, but are in fact good for you.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Food Post #209: Green Mango Cilantro Coconut Green Chile Chutney

This is one vibrant green chutney, hot and spicy and tangy and deeeeelish! Goes very well with idlis, dosas, rotis, bread, etc. Bonus- you can whip it up in under 20 minutes!

Idli Chutney 


Green Mango 1, chopped into size good enough for your blender

Cilantro, fresh 1 bunch

Green Chilies (I prefer Thai) 4-6
*Adjust according to desired level of heat

Coconut, fresh grated 1/2 cup

Salt to taste

Jaggery 1/2 tsp

Oil 1 tbs

Mustard seeds 1/2 tsp

Cumin 1/2 tsp

Asafetida a pinch


This is basically a 2-step process:

1. Blend green mango, cilantro, green chilies, coconut, jaggery, and salt into a chutney in your nifty blender.

2. Heat a tablespoon of oil, add a pinch of asafetida, followed by tempering some mustard and cumin seeds. Pour this onto the chutney.

Done! Mix and serve with hot spongy idlis, or crispy dosas, or make a sandwich. YUM!

Note: If you find that the green mango is not tangy enough, just squeeze some lemon juice. The chutney should taste tangy, hot, and spicy, with a very slight hint of sweetness.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Food Post #208: Bread Pudding- Hyderabadi Double ka Meetha

If you know me, you know that I am not too much into sweets. Gimme spice, gimme heat, and if you really want to give me something sweet, then I don't mind one of those Godiva dark chocolate bars. Well, and if you want to give me some ice cream, then make sure it has some chocolate, and some nuts, such as Baskin Robbins' Jamoca Almond Fudge. As far as Indian desserts go, I quite like rice kheer, and halwa. I also don't mind rasmalai, and perhaps hot gulab jamun. Oh, and hot jalebi. Oh, and obbattu. And shrikhand. And oh yeah, I like this Hyderabad specialty called double ka meetha- a delicious bread pudding made with deep fried bread, soaked in saffron milk, sugar syrup (or honey), spiced with cardamom, and topped off with some cream, nuts such as pistachio, and almonds, and some edible silver. Sometimes they also add figs to this pudding, and my oh my! It is rich, sweet, and delicious!!  Ahem, okay- so I just completely contradicted myself. Looks like I am not too much into sweets, but then I do like them, a lot of them, in fact, in small doses once in a while.

To start off the new year on a sweet note, I thought why not make some dessert for once? And so I made my own quick version of the regal, rich, sweet double ka meetha. It isn't as rich and decadent as the original recipe, but it sure is delicious. Bonus- it's way healthier.

Total time from start to finish: 30 minutes


White bread- 1 or 2 slices per person

Oil for shallow frying- 1-2 tbs per slice, adjust quantity according to number of slices of bread

Water- 1 cup

Sugar- 1/4 cup

*Adjust quantity of sugar according to preference

Cardamom- 2 pods

Saffron- a few strands

Nuts- a small handful. Cashews, almonds, pistachio all work well


1. Cut bread into desired shape, such as triangles, rectangles, or squares. Shallow fry until golden brown in color. Set aside on paper towel to blot off any excess oil.

2. Mix 1/4 cup of sugar into a cup of water, and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Add cardamom for flavor. Can also add saffron. Heat until the syrup thickens a little bit. It doesn't have to be as thick as honey. Turn off heat.

3. Take each fried piece of bread, dip into syrup, and place in serving dish. You can top each sweet fried bread piece with some nuts, and place another fried bread piece dipped in syrup on top, like a sandwich. Top with some more nuts. Drizzle syrup on top to finish off. Done!

Best to serve while it's still warm. The bread will still be crisp, and sweet, and yum!

Healthy and Delicious Quick Double Ka Meetha

Happy New Year!



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Food Post #207: And it's a Wrap

This year is almost over!! Just to wrap things up, here are my food highlights from this year:

1. January: Aam ki Sabzi or Raw Mango Relish

2. March: Salmon over Couscous, and Sautéed Veggies etc  Sunset Dinner Cruise

3. August: 

3.1. Outstanding Food (as ever!) in India!! India Trip 

3.2. Bitter Gourd "gojju"- delicious hot, sweet, and tangy preparation made with bitter gourd and spices. Bitter Gourd Gojju

4. November: 

4.1. Muhammara- delicious Mediterranean style dip made with roasted red bell peppers, walnuts, and pomegranate. Recipe for Muhammara

4.2. NOT Shrimp Vindaloo- shrimp in a delicious sauce made with poppy seeds, ginger, coconut, and other spices. Recipe

5. December: My very awesome "vegetarian" Lamb Curry. I think this is definitely My Dish of the Year. Lamb Curry without onions and garlic

So there, that's my food highlights for the year 2017. Let's see what I cook, and eat in the New Year! :)

Wait, I do want to end this post with a brilliant quote. This was uttered by my darling friend from school, Nanda. As with many such casual utterances, these words just came out. And man, was I amused!! Quick backdrop: we were both trying to encourage one another, and trying to lift up our spirits. You know, we too have had our share of heart breaks and heart aches..... and in trying to uplift one another, these brilliant words came out from her mouth: "We are ahead of time and human intelligence. That's why nobody understands us!" We both burst out laughing. Now that's some serious stuff.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Food Post #206: Vegetarian Lamb Curry

Here's a lovely recipe for not-your-typical-lamb curry. Bengalis call it "vegetarian lamb," and I believe Kashmiri Pandits also make this dish. It is "vegetarian" because they don't use onions and garlic. Funny! How do you make lamb curry without onions and garlic?? Well you see, you can.

Yield: 4 adults 

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes (in a pot) 


1. Lamb (cut for stew)- 2.5 lbs

2. Fennel Seeds- 4 tbs

3. Cumin- 4 tbs

4. Cinnamon powder- 1/2 tsp

5. Cardamom- 4 pods

6. Cloves- 4-6 

7. Bay Leaves- 2

8. Asafetida (hing)- 1/2 tsp

9. Ginger- 1.5 inch

10. Green Chilies- 8-10  

11. Buttermilk- 1 bowl (or yogurt- whipped)

12. Cooking oil- 8 tsp

13. Ghee (clarified butter)- 2-3 tsp

14. Water- 1 cup (adjustable) 

15. Saffron- a good pinch or two

*Soak saffron in buttermilk (or whipped yogurt) at the beginning of the cooking process


1. Powder ingredients 2 to 8 in a small coffee grinder, and set aside. 

2. Make a coarse paste of ginger and green chilies, and set aside.  

3. With some cooking oil plus ghee in a thick bottomed pot, get the heat going, place lamb pieces one by one, allowing one side to brown up. Then turn over to brown up the other side. This shouldn't take too long- say about 5-7 minutes on high flame. 

4. Now add the dry spice mix we made in step 1 to this, and fry for a couple minutes, followed by the ginger green chili paste. Stir everything together. At this point, enticing aromas will begin to emanate from the lamb and spices. 


5. Now add a cup of water, or enough to barely cover the lamb pieces. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil, cover, reduce flame, and simmer for 30 minutes. 

6. At the end of 30 minutes, uncover. At this point, I like to break the lamb into smaller bite sized pieces with the help of the ladle itself. The lamb will still be a bit tough. Cover again, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Now the lamb will be nice and tender, just the way I like. Add some more water, as the liquid would have reduced at the end of 1 hour.  

7. Now slowly add the buttermilk with saffron, while stirring the curry as you pour the buttermilk. Bring to boil, reduce flame, cover, simmer for about 8-10  minutes.  

Buttermilk with Saffron 

Delicious Lamb Curry

8. For a final touch, add some freshly ground pepper, and a couple chilies slit lengthwise. Serve with steamed rice. A side of quickly sautéed greens such as swiss chard and spinach goes very well with this lovely lamb curry and rice. 

Lamb curry over a bed of rice, with some swiss chard on the side

See? You can in fact make curry, that too lamb curry (!!) without using onions and garlic, and red chili powder, and tomatoes. It's turns out as delicious as ever. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Food Post #205: Who Made These Rules Anyway

There's rules everywhere. All. The. Time. I have learned to make peace with most (unspoken) rules.... can't do much, that's how it is. But of late, I am having trouble understanding social rules. I have to be politically correct all the time, else someone might get offended. I have to watch what kind of jokes I cut around people, else someone might get offended. Even if something is bothering me, I have to fake it, and just shut up, because my saying anything, might result in someone getting offended. Even if someone offends me (I too have an ego, you see!), I have to just suck it up, else I might offend the offender. The only person I can really be me is with myself.

They have cooking rules too. And there's pasta rules as well. Yes, "pasta rules." Cook it al dente. Cook it in salt water. Do not use oil in that salt water when you cook that pasta. If it's pasta with fish, do not use cheese. Every pasta is to be cooked differently according to its shape. One time a friend commented- you put peas in your pasta?? He seemed to be appalled. I mean, what's wrong with putting peas in pasta? Heck, what's wrong with putting cheese on fish? I'll put peas, fish, and cheese in my pasta, for all I care! Cooking the pasta al dente seems like a reasonable tip; I say tip, not rule. But other than that, it's up to the cook, in this case- me, to use whatever ingredients I want in my pasta. I'll follow pasta rules if and only if a *true Italian cook* tells me that these are indeed the rules to cooking perfect pasta. Then again, maybe I won't! The only person that rules in my kitchen, is me!  

My No Rule Pasta with Mushrooms, Artichokes, Pimento Stuffed Olives, Corn, Capers, Crushed Hot Chili Garlic Sauce, and Torn Basil, topped off with Grated Parmesan 

Pasta a la Appi

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Food Post #204: Mediterranean style Muhammara

I am excited to present to you a brand new dish that I made yesterday- Muhammara- a delicious, red colored, peppery, lightly sweet, tart, and nutty Mediterranean style dip. I ate this on a plane ride from Seattle to Dubai a couple years ago, and I quite liked it. It's a great addition to that Mezze platter that you can serve as an appetizer at your next party.

The traditional key ingredients in Muhammara are roasted red bell pepper, aleppo pepper, walnuts, and pomegranate. Now as it often happens in my home kitchen pantry, I don't always have all the ingredients at one time for one dish, and so then I make do with whatever there is available. In this case, I didn't have any walnuts, nor aleppo pepper, so I decided to use almonds instead, and some reaper chilli flakes. My friend had given me some sumac, a tart spice (very similar to the Indian anaardana) a few months ago, and I was delighted because I could finally use some of it in this dish! :)

The only longish step in terms of time is roasting the bell pepper. Once that is done, it takes under 10 minutes to whip up this tasty as well as super healthy dip.



Red Bell Pepper- 2

Almonds- 2 tbs

Garlic- 2 cloves

Pomegranate- 2-4 tbs

Chilli flakes- 1-2 tsp

*If using reaper chilli flakes which are VERY HOT, a pinch will do

Salt to taste

Sumac- a pinch


1. Wash bell pepper, wipe dry, brush oil all over the bell pepper, place in an oven safe pan/dish.

2. Broil under high setting for 10-12 minutes each side. The idea is to char the skin of the bell pepper.

3. Set aside to cool.

4. After it has cooled off, remove skin, and the stem. The seeds will come off with the stem, which is exactly what you want.

5. Cut this roasted, peeled red bell pepper into strips, and transfer into your food processor. Add some chili flakes, and salt to taste.

6. Toast some almonds, and add a couple cloves of garlic to the toasted almonds to soften them up a bit.

7. Add the above to the bell pepper in the food processor. Also add some pomegranate seeds to the same. Blend it all into a nice dip.

8. Transfer into serving dish. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, sumac, and a drizzle of good olive oil. Serve with some warm pita, crackers, or vegetables.