Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nan Khatai/Cardamom-scented sugar cookies.

Has there been any food you turned your nose up at, as a child, and you weirdly crave now? Let's take dosai, for example (Fermented rice pancakes, for the uninitiated.)

Chitra says she's jealous of me, each time I take photos of a dosai and put it up. I'm attributing it to the fact that she hasn't been in India for almost a year. At my house, when my mum makes dosai for dinner from the batter she made idlis with, for breakfast, we all groan. Go on a hunger strike. Give it up in ten minutes and eat 5 dosais (my brother, the wuss). Refuse to budge and sneak down at midnight to scarf down a bowl of cereal (me).

Nan Khatai is one those ubiquitous things in the snack-almirah. Often mispronounced as "nana katha", they're quite simply cardamom-flavoured sugar cookies. One of recipes that has all the women of the house come out to the porch and make on languid afteroons, gossiping about who ever isn't there then. Each tries to outdo the other with the shaping of the cookies. The children pop in and about to steal handfuls of the raw cookie dough.

After the Information-about-Calories Age and the following Age of Calorie-awareness, however, I gave up on them. If I was going to embracing obesity, why not with cheesecake or lasagne, right?

Thank God for the Age of Food Obsession. Now I'm willing to have a bite of almost anything, if it's tasty enough and halal. Mum and sister-in-law were making these biscuits the other day, and I photographed them for you to see. And put it up for you to try on your own/salivate.

Nan Khatai:


1 kg/2.2 lb All-purpose flour (maida)
1/2 kg or 1.1 lb Powdered Sugar
1/2 kg Ghee *
4 tsp powdered cardamom

*If you have no access to ghee, click here or try using browned butter!


1)Mix together the dry ingredients- sugar, cardamom and the flour.

That's a lot of cardamom. The cookies need it.

2)Make a well in the centre, and add the ghee into it.

Mix into a dough with your hand (the heat from your palms will help everything bind together).

You can use a hand-mixer, but it won't taste right. Says mum. Don't knead it so much like you would for bread, because you'll get stiff, hard cookies. Just mix until you can take small balls and shape them into cookies.

3)Get everybody together, make sure they've sterilized their hands and start shaping!

You can do traditional designs (circular, with a finger-indentation/"the Indian tear" in the centre). Or circular cookies with incisions.

Or go crazy, as much as your imagination and skills allow.

Or shape out letters for someone special or for your food blog.

4)Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees centigrade or 350 degrees Fahrenheit. These cookies should take 10-15 minutes (the bottoms should be golden-brown). Or what the heck. Taste it.

Let it cool down to room temperature on a wire-rack. Store in airtight containers. Or serve with tea.

These keep for a while. As long as you're one of those perfect people who doesn't eat between meals. Or you have a mum who locks everything up in a snack-almirah.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gloria Jean's/PalmGrove/Dewberry's: A weekend to remember.

It's been quite a while since I reviewed any restaurants. And when I finally decide to, it's on a Tuesday. This could be because I'm:

a)A sadistic jackass, of the variety that salivates and dreams about the food she'll be imbibing in the weekend, and wants to inflict a similar mode of visual torture on her readers.

b)A lazy cook who has run out of delicious recipes to post.

Would you be believe me if I say I'm neither?

And instead of doing restaurants, I'm going to review dishes that didn't have me thinking what I'd do change it or wishing I hadn't ordered it. Basically, dishes I loved.

1)The BBQ chicken wrap at Dewberry's, on R.K.Salai. Costs 160 rupees. The only qualm I have about it is that the portion wasn't enough. Not oh-my-GOD-it-was-so-freaking-good-I-can't-have-enough enough. More like "give-me-a-real-piece!" enough. Not all of us have a 26" waist to maintain. Not all of us use food as an accesory/prop.

The chicken is spicy, succulent, creamy from the mayo and the wrap is nicely toasted. The fries are above OK, and the coleslaw is borderline OK.

Pretty decent. Give it a go.

However, it's one of the places that are key on ambiance I'm guessing. For a cheapo foodie, it might be a letdown. For a date: double thumbs up! It's completely an Open-Air restaurant which, I know, sounds disastrous in Madras. But. There were plenty of charming fans whizzing around, strategic lighting and no mosquitoes. If your company is good enough, you won't even notice how bland the pesto pasta is.


Don't order it. Pesto should be bursting with the flavour of basil and the creaminess of the pine nuts, even if it's not meant to be spicy. Not a congealed mass of flavourless, gummy, overpriced gluten.

2)The Onion Rava Masala Dosai at Hotel Palmgrove, off Nungambakkam High Road.

Bad photo. Yum-yum-yummy dosai.

Oh my good God. I didn't even know this place existed. And I've lived here all my life.

The potato masala comes on the side. It has chunky bits of carrots, peas and cashewnuts in it. It is so simple, so fabulous. It has a homey-ness to it, a flavour I know I've tasted but can't quite put my finger on. It really is an experience. Go try it.

And if you're in the mood for retro-style drinks, order the grape juice/pineapple juice. Only if you like Kalimark Bovonto or Saravana's Grape Kuchi Ice (Popsicle) though. The old grape juice of lore, mildly cough syrup-ish, but still with chunky grape skin it. And I thought these things were dinosaurs, all extinct. Costs 50 bucks a dosai/drink.

3)The doughnut at Gloria Jean's, Express Avenue.

Gloria Jean's is expensive. Any of their ice-blended coffee drinks will set you back by more than a 100 bucks, assuming you order a Grande instead of Regular (um. Duh).

However, they have the nicest sprinkles. I'm a sucker for those suckers.

And coffee cups holders.

And their doughnuts. Oh, man. I tend to pooh-pooh at the banana bread (Rs 60/slice) and the mini-muffins (50 bucks a piece), because I can whip those up at home. Not doughnuts, though.

And these are killer. At 45 bucks, they're a bloody steal (coming from a penny pincher/careful eater like me, you better believe it). It's huge enough to fill your stomach, adverse effect of which is that you'll feel like a pig after you're done with it. A happy pig though. They heat the doughnut for you, so it's all warm and the chocolate frosting (not glaze, frosting, mind you) melts and makes a delicious mess. Mmm. No. Mmmmm.

 And you can totally sit at Gloria Jean's and eyeball the shoppers/vetti people loitering about EA. Paradoxically making you one of the vetti lot, but how fun it is to run people down when you're with your girls from school.

You'll notice how the last four senteces started with an "And." So grammatically incorrect, so emphatically true.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spicy paneer on papad/Chaat for Dummies.

Guess what? After all the huffing and puffing about not doing enough Indian food on the blog, I decided that it was high time I stop cribbing and do one. And while I'm there, why not go all out and make a Mughlai chicken curry, right? The kind that has half a kilogram of almonds ground into it, to make up for the absence of khas-khas (the poppy seed from which opium is derived.) that was traditionally used in the emperors' curries.

Yeah, that didn't happen. Baby steps. Can't blame a girl for dreaming big.

So I immediately fell back on two things that can't go wrong: Sanjeev Kapoor and Chaat. Chaat is the ubiquitous Indian street food, the kind that'll taste awesome and authentic only from the street vendor and chez your Marwari friends', and annoyingly insipid and lacking when you have a go.

Don't give up just yet. Sanjeev Kapoor is the closest we've got to a celebrity chef in India. If anybody could teach chaat, it'd be him. To fend off any comparisons, though, I adapted the flavours of chaat into a classic Sanjeev Kapoor dish.

So we've got paneer (cottage cheese) frolicking with coriander/cilantro, red chilli powder, chaat masala (a fantastic mix of everything from rock salt to raw mango powder), green chillies and pineapple. All of it sits pretty on crispy appalams/poppadams. If you're in India, you've lucked out. You have all these things in your kitchen, and if you don't, your neighbourhood Grocery store will have all of those in ten different brands.

If you're not in India, fret not. Cottage cheese is easily attainable. Rotis/Toasted pita or tortilla chips can be used in lieu of appalams/poppadams. But, chaat masala, I'm afraid, you're going to have to track down at an Indian spice store or grocers'. It's one of those magic ingredients that brings boring dishes to life.

And it's totally cool on the health factor, because the appalams are toasted/roasted/baked/grilled and not fried. Use a non-stick pan and teeny bit of oil so that your ginger doesn't burn on you.

I thought I was being smart by skimping on the oil and not using
a non-stick pan. Serves me right.

 A mere sprinkling of salt/chaat masala isn't going to skew anybody's sodium out of whack. If it's 6:00 PM, you're starving and dinner is a long while away, this one is for you.

Spicy Paneer on Papad:


Papad/Mini-tortillas 8
Oil 1 teaspoon
Ginger-garlic paste 1 tablespoon
Green chilli 1
Cottage cheese (paneer)150 gram
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder 1/2 teaspoon
Chaat masala 1 teaspoon
Mint leaves, chopped 4-5
Fresh coriander leaves, a handful, chopped.
Pineapple, cut into chunks 1/2 cup


In a non-stick pan, heat the oil. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute so it doesn't burn, for one minute. Add the green chillies, saute for 30 seconds or so.

Add the paneer, salt, red chilli powder, chaat masala, mint and coriander. Toss well, but don't mix so much that the paneer crumbles.

Take pan off the heat and add the pineapple chunks.

In a panini grill or a tawa or a griddle, place half a papad piece (semi-circular piece). Before it cookes completely, shape it in the form of a cone. This step is difficult as the papad will be hot and may not get fully cooked by this method.

Once the cones are shaped, you can stuff in the paneer mixture.

So what I did was to just spoon the mixture on top of a roasted papad.

You can serve these as amuse-bouches/appetizers. Each bite will have heat from the chilli, a tang from the chaat masala and sweetness from the pineapple. You'll have freshness from the herbs and different textures, what with the paneer and the pineapple and papad and whatnot.

Or you can just hog it all by yourself and not have space for dinner. God, I'm such a bad influence.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Moussaka/It's all Greek and Greek to me.

Logically, I should be exploring/exploiting my heritage/roots, in a Kylie Kwong-esque way (who I have total respect for, by the way). I should be telling you how to make idi appams (String hoppers) and coconut-milk stew. Or at least do a post on how to make 13 different types of chutneys to accompany your idlis. Instead, I give you yet another Greek-style dish.

I'm not crazy. Hear me out.

I'm sure you can make vadais better than I can. And I bet you anything there's a good Idli-Dosai kadai within a ten minute radius of your house. Assuming you're in Chennai/Madras, of course. If not... I'll work on it another night? Tonight, it's Moussaka.

The only time I've had Moussaka in Madras was at Kryptos. If you've read the post, you might remember how I raved like a lunatic over it. Meat and cheese in a tomato-onion-garlic broth? You seriously didn't think I'd be Googling around for Moussaka recipes and shoving one into the oven very, very soon?

It's like Lasagne, only with zucchini and Aubergines/Eggplant/Huge-ass Brinjal instead of the pasta sheets. It's hard to top that argument. Another thing Moussaka has going for it is that it is very Veggie-friendly. You can make a show-stopping, centre-piece style dish without any meat. I doubt even hardcore carnivores would miss the meat too much.

That's how thick the zucchini/courgette should be cut if you want it to stand out in the dish and have a bit of a bite to it. Replace with more potato and aubergine if you can't track it down at the greengrocers'!

Salt the aubergine well and let it drain the bitter juices out. Not dehydrating these babies and roasting them prior to using them in the Moussaka would be disastrous!

 This recipe is relatively healthy; I don't fry the potato or aubergine. I also sneak in a little garam masala because having an Indian palate, I can't eat meat unless it's well-spiced and well-cooked. Old habits don't die, let alone hard or not.


Serves 6-8 hungry people.



3 medium-sized potatoes, parboiled.
2 aubergines, sliced 
1 zucchini, sliced
500 g lamb meat, minced (can substitute with veg or tofu) 
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
400 g tomato, pureed in the mixie
4 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup 
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala (yes, GARAM MASALA)
1 stick cinnamon
4-5 cloves
2 bay leaves
Olive oil, as required

For the bechamel
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
750 ml milk 
1 tsp nutmeg 
2 egg yolks
A handful of grated parmesan cheese or crumbled feta.
Salt and pepper


1) Preheat the oven to 250° degrees centigrade.

2)Prepping the veggies:

Potatoes: Parboil for 15 minutes or so, so that it is cooked but not falling apart. Peel, cut into slices.
Brush with a little olive oil on both sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in an oven at 250 for 10-15 minutes.

Aubergines: Can be used peeled or not. Cut into slices. Salt them well and let it drain over a colander for 30 minutes. Discard the juice. Rinse the slices well. Pat dry with a kitchen towel or tissue. Brush with olive oil on both sides and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.

Zucchini: Slice and use.

3)For the meat filling:

In a hot pan, add the meat, little at a time, so it sears/sizzles the second it's put in the pan. Add a teaspoon olive oil if necessary.

When the meat is nicely browned, add the onions. Saute. When the onions are pinkish, add the garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes.

Add the tomato paste, mix well with the meat. Cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the tomato puree, mix well. Add the spices-bay leaves, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and garam masala(if using). Add salt and pepper, as per your taste. Mix until well combined.

Cook for 20-25 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally so that the bottom doesn't burn. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4)Bechamel sauce:

Heat the milk until warm, not boiling. Set aside. Bring another pan to heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the flour and stir.

Add the milk now to the roux and whisk until completely blended. Heat until the sauce is thick and bubbly. I used my Braun blender to get rid of the lumps.

Take the pan off the heat. Add the egg yolks, mix well.

Add salt, pepper, grated nutmeg and half the cheese.

5)Assembling the moussaka:

Layer the baking dish with half the potato slices.

Place on top, a layer of aubergine and zucchini slices.

Make a layer out of half the meat filling.

Place the remaining aubergine, zucchini and potato.

Add another layer of the meat sauce.

Finally, drown the whole thing with bechamel.

Sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.

6)Reduce the oven's temperature to 180 degrees centigrade. Bake the moussaka for 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown.

7)Take the moussaka out, and rest it at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Recipe source: loosely adapted from

The moussaka is eaten warm, not hot. The resting stage is important, as the spices need to meld together. This is one of the dishes that taste best the next day, when all the components have marinated well in the tomato-y goodness. Sort of like biryani.

Speaking of biryani, that is also something we don't make at home because it'll be an insult to the marvel that biryani is. I grew up eating a lot of biryani, though, so if I come across or manage to cook up great biryani, I promise to share it with you guys. You don't even have to keep it a secret.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough, The Not-so-tough Eat Nutella.

On some days, you don't want to cook. Heck, you don't even want to eat. And definitely not go out for a bite. It's alright. From the minimal training in Psychiatry that I've had during the course of my MBBS education, and from Life and Judy Blume books, I know it's alright.

During the nights I was on duty in the Labour Ward and the days before I gave my General Medicine/General Surgery/OB-GYN/Paed exams, all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball with a jar of Nutella and a House Marathon (?ironic) on the TV. That would have been a luxury; it replaced my long-long desire to have the Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serenditipity III at NYC.

And Mum was initially happy we all loved Nutella. She used them as spice containers. So unintentionally kitschy.

But no addiction can truly be kept under control. All the surplus jars take up cupboard space and Mum is already irritated because Nutella is an expensive addition to the Indian grocery bill. It's difficult to deal with tight clothes and an irate mum simultaneously.

So. Treat it well. I'm going to once again acknowledge the number 13 in my blog address, and do 13 ways to have Nutella:

1) Add a tablespoonful to your regular oatmeal (which will have bananas and nuts and raisins, I'm guessing?)

2)Swirl it into cream cheese for an easy cupcake frosting.

3)Add a tablespoonful of Nutella and a tablespoonful of peanut butter to whitebread and grill until the insides are oozy and gooey. Recipe courtesy of my namesake and supremely talented chef-cousin, Rabia machi and Nihad.

4)A teaspoonful of Nutella sandwiched between 2 Marie biscuits and dropped into your kid sister's Scooby Doo Snacks Box will win you Sister of the Year.

5)Slices of banana and a dab of Nutella on top of your crepes/pancakes will make the best Sunday morning brunch of all time. Or a passably fancy dessert. You can serve it to me any time and I'll make you an award.

6)Nutella enveloped between two squares of Puff Pastry/Phyllo dough and baked until the inside is gooey, not scorched.

7)A couple of teaspoons of Nutella, a tea cup of milk, a stick of cinnamon  and a pinch of coffee powder warmed over a stove and whisked until frothy. Hot chocolate in an instant.

8)Instead of making French/Bombay Toast with a plain old piece of bread, try making it with a Nutella sandwich. But only if you can handle it.

9)Acidic fruit like strawberries pair fantastically with Nutella. Dip the strawberry into the Nutella, set it out on wax paper and refrigerate. You can use this to top your cakes or for the culinary-wise-challenged, this could be your go-to Valentine's Day dessert; easiest way to fool a man into thinking you can cook.

Ayire poi solli oru kalyanam etc and all that.

10)If you or your teenaged sister/daughter has a bunch of Mean Girls to impress during a sleepover, do this: Go to Subway, buy half a dozen Double-Chocolate chip cookies. Make pizzas with Nutella as the sauce, Cookies as the base and bits of nuts and strawberries can be the topping. Even if they have Eating Disorders or body issues or whatever, at least they can pose with them for photos to put up on Face book.

If you luck out and have fabulous friends or are metabolically gifted, make them any way.

11)On really, really fancy bread. Croissants, brioche, baguette slices all freshly bought from French Loaf or baked. If it's steaming hot/flaky, OMG.

12)Poke a skewer/knife into a marshmallow. Toast it over your slow fire on gas-ring until the outsides are golden brown (be very careful). Spread Nutella on Britannia's NutriGrain or similar cream crackers (graham crackers as the Americans call it) and place the oozy marshmallow on top for S'mores.

And sometimes, you don't feel like doing any of the above. Go on, drown your sorrows in the bottle. Get those endorphins and enkephalins releasing. My medical advice.

13) Help yourself to a heaping tablespoonful-neat, straight from the bottle. The true connoisseurs'/clinically depressed individuals way to eat Nutella. I've been doing a lot of this lately, but I'm not going to tell you under which category I fall into. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quboos/Whole Wheat Pita (Fullstop)

In Tamil, we've got this famous saying. Kal irundha naye kaanam; naye irundha kal-la kaanam.
Which roughly means, "You've got the stone, but the dog has disappeared; the dog is around, but the stone is nowhere to be found."

OK, it isn't all that famous, and my translation is a bit dodgy. The moral of this pointless/cruel and PETA-anger-incuring story is that I made Chicken Gyros, took plenty of photographs, posted them for you to see and didn't tell you how to make the pita bread/Quboos that is SO crucial for the dish.

It's like having peanut butter and no toast, yogurt and no granola, shawarma without pickled chilli and Nutella without a spoon. Depressing situations I wouldn't wish upon any of you.

Don't not try this bread because it's whole-wheat. Breads have to be whole grain, just like cakes/tarts have to be refined flour. That's the natural order of life and to mess around well-established good things is asking for failure.
Pita is kind of ambiguous on the whole flour-thing, sort of like chapatis are. You can use white, white flour and end up with paranthas/yummy pita. Or use grainy atta and end up with regular roti/yummy pita. I use a mixture of both because just wholewheat flour being used would lead to glutinous, heavy dough. And they aren't pita bread if they aren't "soft-fluffy-light!" brand of delicious.

And since my sarcasm in the middle of the recipe is "distracting", I'll do a little captioned collage-montage-flowchart first, and give you an uninterrupted recipe at the end. Deal?

Most hand-mixers come with the dough hook attachment. If you've lost yours or didn't have them to start with, a big spoon and arm power are decent substitutes.

I used Active Dry Yeast and honey from Coorg. Yeast and honey. A combination that has survived centuries and spawned the thing I love so much: Bread.

And when mixed and kept aside for 5 minutes, it gets foamy. If it doesn't, the yeast isn't Active enough, and you have to start over. Bummer. But yay!, if it does.

After the minimum flour has been added and left to bubble up some more.

Don't let the sticky mess deter you. Just add lashings of flour until you can form a dough ball.

Make sure the bowl is oiled/greased. Sticky messes stop being fun after the first five minutes.

The dough has risen. I wish I had an inkling about photography/perspective to show you the difference in the size. But from the indentations I've made with my thumb, you can see that it's poofy and big, right?

It'll be nice if you can divide them into 8 equal balls. If you don't, just tell the person with the smallest pita that Life isn't always fair and neither are you.

See how much maida I've added to the work surface? Little by little, add until it stops sticking to the marbletop/work surface.

Rolling out pita into the size of a small scale. 15 cm, 7 inches, max, I should think.

Ideally, you'd let them rise with kitchen towels over them, but I don't have 8 clean kitchen towels laying around, so I improv'd it with newspaper and covered with more newspaper.

I'm sorry the picture sucks. I can't deal with cameras and red-hot fire at the same time. I don't like 2nd to 3rd degree burns. They hurt like a bitch. Just make sure the baking tray is preheated and HOT, so the pitas start cooking the second they're put on it.

Whole Wheat Pitas:


2-1/2 tsps Active Dry Yeast
1 Tbsp honey/sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (around 40 to 50 degree C)
1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour (maida), plus additional for kneading
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (Atta)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt


In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup warm water, yeast and honey until all the yeast bits are completely dissolved.
Set aside for 5 minutes, you should have foam on the top.

Add 1/4 cup of All-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of Wholewheat flour into the yeast mix, whisk until well combined. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set it aside in the warmest part of your kitchen for 45 minutes. The dough should have doubled in bulk.

Stir in oil, salt, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and remaining 2 1/2 cups flour mixture until a dough forms.

Transfer the dough onto a marble top or work surface that has been strewn with flour. Keep kneading for 8-10 minutes. I used my dough hook attachment to knead. The dough should be smooth and pliable at the end of it.

Transfer the kneaded dough ball onto a bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or a lid or a kitchen towel and let it rise until doubled in size. This should take 1 hour maximum, at Madras.

Punch down the risen dough. Divide into 8 equal balls.

Flatten each ball, roll it out in the manner of a roti with a floured rolling pin. Transfer them to clean surfaces or foil and cover with a clean kitchen towel/newspaper and let them rise for 30 minutes. Make sure the plastic or whatever has been floured, or it may stick.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celcius or 500 degrees Farenheit. If you have a pizza stone, put it in. Or improvise a stone out of a baking tray and foil. They should be preheated as well/

Transfer each pita onto the baking dish. Bake for 2 minutes, until it puffs up like a poori. Turn it over with tongs or a spatula and bake for a minute more.

Cool for a couple of minutes. Serve warm or keep them in a bread basket, well-wrapped.

Recipe Source: adapted from Gourmet Magazine, by Confections of a Foodie Bride.
You can store left-over pitas in an airtight box for 48 hours. Or cut them up like the spokes of a wheel into triangular shapes and make pita chips to eat with hummus.

Think of it this way. Once you make bread, you've crossed off an important point in your 30 Things Before 30 list.