Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ching's Secret and Indian Chinese recipes

No Indian from India can ever forget the taste of Indian Chinese. From our Chow Mein to Gobi Manchurian, we crave each greasy bite of this "caravan" food. This was a term used in the early 2000s to describe food from Hawker vans - this was mostly Indian Chinese.

In Delhi - NCR, caravans with mostly Nepali chefs on board, sprouted overnight in the mid 2000s and now we are all addicted to this idea of Chinese cuisine. It is, thus, a shock for Indians who venture out of their land to discover the so called authentic Chinese food - sometimes it enchants but, mostly, it horrified the Indian of those days who was still loathe to be adventurous.

Luckily, such Indians managed to keep from starving when abroad thanks to the compassionate efforts of Maggi and its noodles 

and most of all, to Ching's Secret.

One of these days I shall post more about a few of my family's favourite Indian Chinese dishes. But in the meantime just a short word to say that I made Indian vegetarian Chow Mein with Chilli Chicken (the latter using Ching's Paneer Chilli) and I will never forget the way my husband went at it. My son was gallivanting around town at that time and so I was terrified that none would be left for him.

Luckily, my husband's stomach eventually told him to take a break and some little survived for my son. So the next day I made the Chilli Chicken when he was around. Again there was danger as my husband came home before my son sat down to his meal. My peaceful husband who is anything but a glutton again started behaving in a most unusual way and I could only barely manage to stave him off with a small plate of the chilli chicken.

All this is just to warn Indian wives and mothers all over the world to keep their rolling pins handy when they make Indian Chinese as it seems to bring out the beast in our men.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


A handful of shallots, peeled and cut in two

1 tomato, roughly chopped

6 dried red chillies, or less if you don't like it hot

A teaspoon of cooking oil

A drizzle of coconut oil
Saute the first 3 ingredients one by one in the following order: chillies, 




Drizzle with coconut oil.

Serve with idlis, dosas, or any other South Indian breakfast food. Can also be used as sandwich spread.


Toss in a couple of fresh curry leaves and/or a green chili or two and/or some fresh chopped ginger.

For those who can't eat spicy food, it is better to reduce the chillies to almost nil and/or add some peanut butter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quick Raw Mango Pickle

This is ideal for "lickings" ( A Malayalam term for the appetisers served with alcoholic beverages).
1 raw mango cubed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red chili powder
A drizzle of coconut oil


Mix the cubed mango well with the salt 
and chili powder and drizzle with coconut oil.

This won't keep for long - mainly because it's very tasty!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rice Cooker Chicken Curry

As a housewife and freelance translator I often find myself acting as though I were one of those many armed Hindu Goddesses. Instead of holding things like a lotus or a mace though, I wield spoon, knife, dish scrubber, peeler, and the like with one hand and, with the other, I run the washing machine, type at the PC, sweep, dust and what not.

In such circumstances, cooking a curry in a pan, on the fire, is flirting with disaster. Earlier, in India, I would judiciously balance a stainless steel Indian plate filled with water on the pan and this would prevent the contents from catching on the bottom of the pan and burning. Since we are temporarily in Malaysia where I'm convinced that the pans and stoves are geared to the Chinese stir fry methodology, I often ended up burning the food.

One such story is most memorable. When I first came here I was determined to adjust to the new conditions - especially the food. For each culture, the food smells of another can be daunting and, thus, I had to adopt a very Yogic posture of being, all accepting when faced with the smells and sights of dried fish all over the place, for example. 

One of the first evenings, in our new place, in a Chinese neighbourhood, I smelt something very interesting. I told myself I would have to get used to such odors and bravely went about doing this and that. It was not till much later that I found that the strange smell was coming from my very own "wet" kitchen (Malaysian homes have a "wet" kitchen which is generally outside the main house)! I had left some chicken bones to boil in a pot of water and forgotten all about it and it had boiled and burned and beyond!

After many an episode of charred meals, I began considering the humble rice cooker from a new perspective. The portly gadget squatting on my kitchen floor thought it could get away with just making rice for our dinner but little did it know that I had greater designs for it.

Well, one "auspicious" day, the rice cooker was subjected to a curry-making experiment and, since then, there has been no looking back.

For one thing, nothing gets burnt and, for another, the slow cooking seems to amplify the flavours.

I go about the curry, step by step, and can merrily pursue the other household tasks while waiting for each step to be over.


500 gms chicken (I use the breast and legs, with bones, and almost no skin)
1 small cup of finely sliced onions (about 2 medium onions)

About half a cup of chopped tomatoes (1 medium tomato)

6 small cardamoms
A piece of cinnamon
6-7 cloves
About one teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns
One small bay leaf

Some 3-4 cloves of garlic and about half the amount of ginger, ground to a paste

6 green chillies, slit lengthwise

1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 tablespoon of red chili powder
1 tablespoon of coriander powder

Salt to taste
A handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves
3 large spoons of cooking oil


Let the rice cooker get a bit hot and then add the oil. Let the oil get hot while you chop the onions.

Add the sliced onions to the hot oil and let them wilt. In the meantime, you can chop the other things and gather all the other ingredients. Add the salt, to hasten the browning of the onions. In this style of cooking, the onions may not become too brown.

Add the cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns and bay leaf and let it go on for a minute or so more. In the meantime you can rinse some dishes or attend to the washing machine.

Note that the green things in the cooker are bits of raw mango I threw in for the sheer fun of it!

Add some water to the chili, turmeric and coriander powder to make them into a paste. Add this paste and the tomatoes to the contents of the cooker. Let the whole thing cook for about five minutes but do check now and then to make sure nothing burns or sticks to the bottom of the vessel.

Add the ginger-garlic paste and maybe some more water to ensure that the contents do not stick to the bottom of the vessel.

Now let the contents cook till the raw smell of the garlic goes and the oil starts seeping out of the curry mass that has formed.

Add the chicken after moving the "masala" to one side. Heap the "masala" on to the chicken pieces.

Cook until the chicken changes colour. You will have to stir the contents around once or twice so that all the sides of the chicken pieces change colour.

Add water as required-depending on how watery or how thick you want your curry.

Let your curry cook while you attend to some other chores-roughly some 15 minutes.

Garnish with chopped green coriander leaves.

Best served with hot rice and poppadoms.

It can also be eaten with bread, chapatis, parathas, or even with appams or dosas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pineapple Rasam

1 small pineapple (preferably sour), chopped into bite-sized cubes
four cups water
1 tablespoon Rasam Powder ( Use more if you are accustomed to the taste)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 or 2 dried red chillies
a few curry leaves
Boil the pineapple pieces in the water with salt and rasam powder until soft.
Heat the oil. Add the red chillies, broken into 2-3 pieces. Add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Lastly add the curry leaves.
Always use a very low fire for seasoning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Instant Chutneys

A "chutney" is something of a semi-spicy, semi-tangy Indian dip.

When I was a kid, growing up in Bangalore and Pondicherry (in the States of Karnataka and in the vicinity of Tamil Nadu respectively), a chutney was basically made with fresh grated coconut.

Simple Coconut Chutney

Blend one cup of freshly grated coconut until properly pulverised.
Heat a wee bit of oil (about one teaspoon) and add to it a quarter teaspoon of black mustard seeds. When these have fully spluttered, add one dried red chili, a quarter teaspoon each of channa dal and split white urad dal. Go easy with the fire so that nothing burns. Lastly, add a few curry leaves.
Pour it on the ground coconut and add salt to taste.

There are many variations on this.

When, at the raw age of 20, I met the love of my life, who is from Kerala, he introduced me to chutneys made with shallots.

Uli Chutney

Some 4-5 shallots
Half a tomato
1 dried red chilli
About one teaspoon of coconut oil.

Heat most of the oil and saute, one by one, the chili, shallots and tomato.
Blend them well in a grinder and add salt to taste. Drizzle some coconut oil just before serving.

And this is what we have been whipping up over the more than twenty odd years that we've been man and wife.

Somewhere along the way the Love of my Life once told me of a friend who claimed that a chutney could be made with almost any left over.

And so it came about that, today, I opened the fridge and beheld a plate of leftover bits of spaghetti in some Prego sauce. It was laced with some stir fried zucchini, onions, green bell peppers, etc.

Chutney with Leftovers

1 cup leftover veggies (Do try anything else that takes your fancy)
1 or 2 dried red chillies
A teaspoon of coconut oil

Saute the chillies in a bit of oil until brown but not burnt.
Blitz with the left overs and drizzle with coconut oil before serving.

Serve with "idlis", "dosas", any type of Indian bread, rice, any type of bread, tortillas, enchiladas or anything else which comes to mind!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Punjabi Corn Bread and Fake Mustard Greens

My dear mother, who was from the far North ( Abbottabad which is now in Pakistan), often waxed nostalgic about Punjabi dishes. Thus, we often heard of makki ki rotis or unleavened bread made with corn flour that is yellow and has a somewhat rough texture but it is only when I moved to Delhi that I first tasted a makki di roti (Ki is "of" in Hindi and di is the Punjabi word for it).

These breads are routinely eaten with a dish made of the green leaves of the Mustard (sarson) plant, a good tall glass of Lassi (although I have provided the Wikipedia link, the general idea of Lassi is Indian yogurt - we call it curds in India- churned until it is ever so frothy with a lot of water or ice cubes, if it is a blazing Delhi summer, with some sugar) and some sliced raw onion. Some feel it is de rigueur to add a couple of raw green chillies to bite on - one can dip their tip in a bit of salt to enhance the bite or subdue it as the case might be.


1. A small cup each of the makki ka atta (I would say one small cup per person)
2. A few cups of hot water
3. Any left over cooked spinach-roughly one bowl
4. A tbsp or so of Kasuri Methi
5. About a handful of any left over vegetable like cabbage - I used some celery sticks to enhance the pungency of the dish.
6. A few cloves of garlic, minced
7. A small piece of fresh ginger, minced.
8. Green chillies to taste, also minced
9. Some slices of raw onion and a couple of green chillies (whole)
10. Some dahi (yogurt)
11. Some butter


1. Pressure cooker (Optional in this case unless the vegetable is raw-if using the real sarson ka saag or mustard greens, a pressure cooker might be required to save time as they need a lot of cooking- you have to cook 'em to pulp!)

2. Tawa ( flat Indian griddle)

Preparing The Flour

Make a volcanic mountain out of most of the makki ka atta
- that is heap it up and make a depression in the centre. Keep aside about one good spoon of the flour for thickening the greens.

Pour some hot water into the depression and mix it well with a spoon.
Let it sit and ponder on its fate as you go about doing the rest of the cooking.

When the greens are ready, heat the tawa.

The flour would now be cool enough to knead a bit by hand. Make balls- about the size of an orange. Gently place a flattened ball on the griddle.
Reduce the flame and cover the roti

When the top looks cooked, prise it over with a flat sharp spoon- like a spatula of sorts. The side on the griddle should have now acquired a few brown freckles. Flip it over and let the other side cook.

Alas, you might have to have someone to toil at this while the other eats as these are best eaten hot off the fire.

Pressure cook the left over spinach, kasuri methi and vegetables -one hiss of the cooker will do. This is merely to blend them all together well into a nice green mish-mash.

When the cooker cools enough to be opened, add the spoonful of flour and mix well to avoid forming lumps. cook it gently for a little longer, stirring frequently to avoid its sticking to the bottom and burning.

Add salt to taste- go easy and taste frequently as you are using left-overs which might already contain some salt.

Gently heat the butter in a pan or any suitable vessel and add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic, green chillies. Saute them until the onions are nice and translucent.

Pour this over the greens and give a nice stir.

Serve with the hot rotis -gingerly make a few craters on the surface of the roti and dab some butter into the holes. Tear off a piece and use it to scoop some of the greens. Put it in your mouth leaving just enough space to bite off a slice of raw onion and a wee bit of the green chili (dipped in salt of course!). Put out the flames which are now shooting out of your mouth, ears and nose by managing to spoon in some cool dahi. If this will not douse the fire, then you will have to call for the fire engines!

Note: It is we modern wimps who whimper and slice our onions (that is why the tears flow down the cheeks at our cowardice). In the times of yore, the man of the house would smash the onion with his bare hairy fist. It is supposed to taste much better that way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Expect the Unexpected!

It is no exaggeration to say that the diversity of India is mind-boggling. Perhaps it was with great foresight then that this diversity has been classified into various kinds of castes and languages, not to mention genres of cuisine. The Indian abroad often reels with indignation when asked to speak "Indian" (India is a veritable Tower of Babel). Amongst ourselves, we navigate by politely asking the other's name. This will more or less reveal from which region the person "hails" as some put it in India and maybe even what this specimen ingests ("namoona"- a slightly mocking way of putting it. We Indians tend to be highly sarcastic as a result of our frequently pungent diets).

In my youth I would flinch at the question "Where are you from?" for I'm a typical example of a favourite Indian comfort food (Khicidi- a mixture of rice and lentils. The term is used to denote any hotch-potch of things). This sad state of affairs was all the fault of my dear parents who had to go and marry spouses from faraway States (India is divided into States and Union Territories). Thus, while my late father was from the Southern Indian State of Andhra and a Brahmin ( a priestly caste that is strictly vegetarian) to boot, my mom, also now busy configuring her next Avatar, "hailed" from what is now West Pakistan and was a Mona Sikh ( Sikhs whose males need not maintain beards and wear turbans, nor need carry any of the other five requisite k's as in kesh, kirpan, kangan, kada, kacchha- hair, sword, comb, metal bangle, boxer shorts-or some form of underwear-Sikhs are supposed to be fairly warrior-like and thus do occasionally indulge in the eating of flesh). I was born in Bangalore, now famous as a software capital of India- this is in the State of Karnataka whose cuisine is a whole new story. I grew up in the sea-side town of Pondicherry- an ex-French colony and now a Union Territory engulfed by the Sate of Tamil Nadu. How was I to answer the all important "From where do you hail?"

I got into a greater pickle ( No Indian will survive for long without a good bottle of pickles-several are known to get pickled at the drop of a hat) when I decided to fall in love with a man from the Southern Indian State of Kerala- famous for its matriarchs and coconut garnished dishes. We lived out most of the first twenty years of married bliss in and around India's bustling capital city and thus acquired addictions to the tangy street foods that floated down to the Moghul-monument bedecked Delhi, along with heaps of dust, form neighboring Rajesthan (Famous for camels, desserts and castles in the sand).

It will be no wonder then if the recipes presented here bear scant resemblance to their original models. Much is morphed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Madhu's Mean Curry

1. About 5 fishes of the kind shown-cleaned and cut as depicted.
2. Roughly quarter cup oil (any vegetable oil should do).
3. A small handful of Madras onions (shallots), finely sliced.
4. 6 green chillies slit.
5. 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped.
6. One piece of ginger cut in juliennes.
7. a small handful of curry leaves.
8. A quarter teaspoon of turmeric.
9. A tablespoon of red chilli powder.
10. A tablespoon of coriander powder.
11. A pinch of fenugreek seeds.
12. Salt to taste.
13. Some 4-5 pieces of cocum.

1. Heat the oil in the clay pot.
2. Add the onions, green chillies, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Saute for a couple of minutes.
3. Lower the fire. Add the fenugreek seeds and the moistened powders (add some water to the powders before putting them in the pot so that they do not burn).
4. Let it all fry well until there is a good smell-add a bit of water now and then to prevent burning.
5. Add the fish, cocum torn into pieces and enough water to cover the fishes.
6. Bring to a boil and cover and let it cook.