Discovering The Prickly Pear (Cactus Fruit/Findla) In Ahmedabad

When the husband and I set out to attend the International Kite Festival 2018, on our recent visit to Ahmedabad, little did we know that we were going to make a foodie discovery!

The moment we walked in the entrance at the kite festival, we found ourselves in a sprawling food court, peppered with everything from Gujarati farsan and winter delicacies to ice cream and cakes. It was at one of these stalls that I spotted these prickly, pretty pinkish-red fruits displayed in a basket. I was drawn in, and absolutely had to go and find out what these were. Soon enough, I gathered that these were the fruits of the wild cactus – called ‘Findla‘ in Gujarati, often referred to as ‘Cactus Pear’ or ‘Prickly Pear’ – and… they are very much edible!

Findla aka Cactus Pear or Prickly Pear on display at the International Kite Festival 2018 at Ahmedabad

The people manning the stall – from an Ahmedabad-based firm called Royal Gabat – told us of vast quantities of cactus growing wild in the arid rural areas in Gujarat. Cactus plants are also widely used by farmers to fence off their land. Flowers and prickly fruits grow on these cactus plants throughout the year, fruits that tribals and people from the villages have been consuming for ages now. Only recently, though, has research been done on the health benefits that these fruits hold, the staff at the stall told us. And, apparently, the fruits do possess nutritional benefits by the truckloads.

Cactus Pear aka Prickly Pear or Findla has anti-cancer properties, helps manage diabetes and high cholesterol, aids in weight management, promotes good dental health, helps relieve arthritis and muscle strain, boosts the immune system, and aids the production of iron in the body. These fruits – and the health benefits one can gain from them – are not very popular in the urban areas, and that was just what Royal Gabat had set out to rectify. The firm produces a variety of food products using the Prickly Pear – from syrups and jams to a ready-to-drink juice. The fruits have a lovely sourish taste to them, which lends itself beautifully to juices and jams. A lot of care needs to be exercised in handling the Prickly Pear, however, as their surface is full of thorns.

The beautiful findla sherbet or prickly pear juice we tried out at the stall

For a princely sum of INR 20, the husband and I sampled a glass of the ready-to-drink findla sherbet – juice made from the Prickly Pear, with rock sugar instead of the regular refined sugar. It tasted absolutely delicious, sweet and tangy and cool and refreshing. I am so glad I got to taste this beauty and discover this wonderful fruit!

Since our luggage was already threatening to exceed the permissible in-flight weight limits, we restrained ourselves from picking up any of the Prickly Pear goodies from the stall. 😦 We don’t use much bottled, packaged stuff, anyway.

Prickly Pear Jam on sale at the Royal Gabat stall

I think I would love to experiment with the fresh fruits in my kitchen, whenever I can get hold of them. They would make some awesome desserts, me thinks. Any leads on where I can find Prickly Pears or Cactus Pears in Bangalore?

Check out this Wikipedia link for more info about the Prickly Pear!

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Kalyana Rasam| Brahmin Wedding Rasam

Kalyana Rasam‘ refers to the rasam that is typically served in South Indian weddings. It tastes absolutely delicious, with well-balanced tangy and spicy flavours, with just a tinge of sweet to it. In Tam-Brahm weddings, there is no garlic added to this rasam and it is, hence, referred to as ‘Brahmin Kalyana Rasam‘.

Why restrict yourself to slurping on this beautiful rasam just at weddings, when you can very easily make it at home yourself? I often do! I tried out Kalayana Rasam for the first time at a relative’s wedding, a few years ago, and loved it to bits. I loved it enough to walk into the kitchen and request the staff to teach me how to make it. They were sweet enough to oblige, and this Kalyana Rasam has been a regular fixture at our dining table ever since.

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The husband, the bub and I absolutely adore this Kalyana Rasam. We are big-time fans. It brightens up a dull day for us, and is a saviour on those occasions when we want to eat something hearty but don’t know what to cook. It is not very tough to put together either!

Today, I share with you the recipe for the gorgeous Kalyana Rasam that the gracious cook once taught me to make. Do try it out, and let me know how you liked it!

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

For the spice mix:

  1. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  2. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  3. 2 teaspoons toor daal
  4. 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  5. 2-3 dry red chillies or as per taste
  6. 1 teaspoon ghee

Other ingredients:

  1. 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  2. Salt to taste
  3. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  4. A small lemon-sized ball of tamarind
  5. 1 tablespoon jaggery or to taste
  6. 1 sprig of curry leaves
  7. For the tempering and garnishing:
  8. 1 teaspoon ghee
  9. 2 pinches asafoetida
  10. 1 teaspoon mustard
  11. A few sprigs of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

First get the spice mix ready.

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon ghee in a pan.
  2. Add the black pepper, coriander seeds, cumin, dry red chillies and toor dal. Fry at medium heat till the ingredients start browning and emit a lovely fragrance. Ensure that the ingredients do not burn.
  3. Let the ingredients cool down completely and then grind to a powder in a mixer. Keep aside.

Now, get the ingredients for making the Kalyana Rasam ready.

  1. Chop 2 tomatoes and puree them in a mixer. Keep aside.
  2. Chop the remaining 1 tomato finely. Keep aside.
  3. Soak the tamarind in boiling water for a few minutes. When it has cooled down enough to handle, extract a thick paste out of it, adding more water if needed. Keep aside.
  4. Finely chop the coriander. Keep aside.

Now, we will make the rasam.

  1. Take the tamarind paste, salt to taste, curry leaves and chopped tomato in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook on medium flame till the tomatoes turn mushy and the raw smell of the tamarind goes away, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Now, add the tomato puree, jaggery and turmeric powder. Add about 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till the raw smell of the tomatoes goes away, 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the ground spice mix. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Let the rasam simmer for a couple of seconds and switch off the flame.
  4. Now, add the chopped coriander to the rasam.

Now, we will make the tempering.

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon ghee in a pan.
  2. Add mustard and allow to splutter.
  3. Add asafoetida and let it stay in for a couple of seconds. Switch off the gas.
  4. Now, add this tempering to the prepared rasam. Mix well.

Serve the Kalyana Rasam hot with steamed rice.

Notes:

1. Ghee, and not oil, works best for making this rasam.

2. Do not cook the rasam too much after adding the spice mix. Just simmer a couple of minutes after adding it.

3. Skip the jaggery if you want to, but I wouldn’t personally suggest it. The jaggery adds a lovely flavour to the rasam.

4. Adjust the quantity of water you add, depending upon how thick or watery you want the rasam to be.

5. The pureed tomatoes will add just the right thickness to the rasam, and there is really no need to add in cooked toor daal. However, if you want to, you can add in a couple of tablespoons of cooked toor daal to the rasam, too. If using, add the cooked daal in while you are adding the tomato puree.

6. Add a dash of red chilli powder if you feel the spiciness from the ground rasam powder is not enough. I typically use a mix of Bydagi and Guntur dried red chillies to make the spice mix.

Do you like this recipe? Do let me know, in your comments!

 

Walking With The Peacocks At Karanji Lake, Mysore

For most of the tourists visiting Mysore, the palace, Krishnaraja Sagara Dam, Chamundi Hills, the zoo, and Brindavan Gardens are the top attractions. Mysore is a place is ‘done and dusted’ by many in a matter of two days. Not for the husband and me, though. The obvious is never all there is to a place, for us, any place. We cannot ‘do’ any place, however small, in two days flat. We are explorers at heart, and were bent upon exploring ‘Mysore off the beaten track’, on our last holiday to the royal city. Well, we explored as much as we could with a little baby in tow! The beautiful, serene Karanji Lake is one place that charmed us the most in Mysore, our personal favourite spot from the holiday.

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This was the sight we walked into, as soon as we entered Karanji Lake. Isn’t it charming?

The story of Karanji Lake

Spread over about 90 hectares, Karanji Lake – locally called ‘Karanji Kere‘ – is one of the lesser known tourist hot-spots in the city of Mysore. Nestled at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, the lake was originally built by an erstwhile ruler of Mysore as a source of water to the city. At the time, the lake was a favourite with various migratory birds. However, as time passed, the lake fell into a state of disrepair, thanks to rapid urbanization, sewage water mixing in, and heavy water pollution. This began taking a toll on the resident and migratory birds at the lake.

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Boating on the tranquil waters of the Karanji Lake, when we visited in 2016.

Thankfully, good sense prevailed, and in 1995, the local government began undertaking steps for the restoration of this lake. The waters of the lake were cleansed, and the migratory slowly and gradually began finding their way back to them. Care was taken to rehabilitate some of the resident birds in a large aviary. The numerous plants and trees here were given a new lease of life. Karanji Lake began to be developed as a tourist destination.

Today, Karanji Lake is a lovely, well-maintained, clean and serene place where one can commune with nature and watch birds. Like I said earlier, the place charmed the socks off us. It was love at first sight between us and Karanji Lake, and as we walked deeper inside, this love only deepened. We ended up spending hours on end here, thoroughly enjoying every bit of it.

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At Karanji Lake. Doesn’t this picture scream ‘serenity’?

The aviary and the swoon-worthy peacocks

We absolutely adored the walk-through aviary at Karanji Lake. It is large and clean, the birds not enclosed in cages, but free and happy and content. The birds here are probably used to people walking around with them, and are not one bit scared or camera-shy. This was a unique experience for us – getting up, close and personal with some magnificent birds – something we haven’t ever done before, something all of us loved to the max.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the peacocks here! Swoon-worthy they are – see for yourself!

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What a beauty! Such a regal, elegant, colourful bird!
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Isn’t this a scene straight out of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie? Except that this is a real-life scene, right inside the aviary at Karanji Lake!
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Posing proudly for the camera!

Karanji Lake is believed to house over 100 species of resident and migratory birds. We spotted quite a few of them in the aviary, looking quite at home.

A few of the birds we spotted at the Karanji Lake aviary. Top Left: Grey Hornbill; Bottom Left: Lady Amherst’s Pheasant; Top Right: White Peacock; Bottom Right: Black Swan

The amazing Orchid Park

We had to literally tear ourselves away from the aviary to check out the other things that Karanji Lake has to offer. We were richly rewarded for this, via the Orchid Park. This section houses several stunningly beautiful varieties of orchids, which we had a lovely time ooh-ing and aah-ing over.

A few of our favourite orchids from Karanji Lake’s Orchid Park

Simply wow, this section of Karanji Lake is!

The mesmerising Butterfly Park

Karanji Lake also houses a small Butterfly Park, where one can spot several varieties of the winged beauties. We spotted just one particular species, but the Butterfly Park managed to charm us with its prettiness and greenery all around.

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Other attractions

We chose not to do the boating here but, instead, sit on one of the many stone benches here and gaze out at the calm waters. This filled us with a deep sense of peace. I am sure the boating here would have the same effect on one, too.

There is a small patch within the park that houses different species of cacti. Another interesting space this is!

The small kid’s play area here kept my daughter entertained for a while. The wide and clean paths of Karanji Lake are also ideal for walking and running around, both of which we enjoyed doing. Cycles are also available, for those who don’t wish to walk around.

Several species of flora and fauna can be spotted at Karanji Lake, and the top of the watch tower here is just the perfect spot to gaze over at all the gorgeousness the place holds within. The views from the top of the tower are stunning!

I think Karanji Lake has something to offer every kind of traveller there is, particularly so for the nature enthusiasts and bird-watchers. The next time you visit Mysore, don’t forget to include this place in your itinerary!

Tips for travellers

1. There is a nominal entry fee involved at Karanji Lake, INR 25 or so. Camera charges and boating charges need to be separately paid.

2. Karanji Lake is a strictly no-plastic zone. Please do follow the rules when you visit here.

3. A visit to the Karanji Lake can be clubbed with Chamundi Hills and Mysore Zoo.

4. Karanji Lake is closed on Tuesdays.

Mint & Lemon Mojito| Virgin Mojito With A Twist

The birth of the mojito (pronounced mo-hee-toh) is believed to have taken place in Cuba, Havana, as far back as the 16th century. Traditionally, the mojito is a cocktail – an alcoholic drink prepared with white rum, soda, sugarcane juice, lime juice and spearmint. Over the years, though, the mojito has become a highly popular drink the world over, and it is one of India’s favourite drinks today. Several different versions of the mojito, using different ingredients, have been developed by bartenders across the world, some of them highly imaginative and unique. My personal favourite version is a simple non-alcoholic mojito (called ‘Virgin Mojito’), made with lemon and mint.

For today’s post, I have tried to give a few slight twists to this simple Mint & Lemon Mojito. I have used raw cane sugar instead of refined sugar syrup, and added in some powdered Hajmola. The powdered digestives add such a lovely kick to this drink! Do try out this Virgin Mojito With A Twist this summer, and let me know how you liked it!

Ingredients (for 1 Mason jar of Mint & Lemon Mojito):

  1. Juice of 1-1/2 lemon, or to taste
  2. 1/4 cup chilled water
  3. 4 ice cubes, or as needed
  4. About 15 leaves of fresh mint
  5. 4-5 tablespoons raw cane sugar, or to taste
  6. Chilled Sprite or 7-Up, as required
  7. 4-5 Hajmola, or to taste

Method:

1. Crush the Hajmola to a powder, using a mortar and pestle. Keep aside.

2. Take the raw cane sugar and chilled water in a Mason jar. Mix well.

3. Add in the mint leaves. Muddle the mint leaves with the back of a spoon, to release their flavour.

4. Add in the ice cubes.

5. Fill up enough chilled Sprite or 7-Up to top up the Mason jar.

6. Add the powdered Hajmola to the Mason jar. Mix well and serve immediately.

Notes:

1. Refined sugar or a simple sugar syrup can be used in place of raw cane sugar. Alternatively, you could use jaggery too.

2. Plain soda can be used in place of Sprite or 7-Up. You might want to increase the quantity of sweetener that you use, in that case. Personally, I prefer making this Virgin Mojito With A Twist with Sprite or 7-Up.

3. Basil can be used in place of mint, to add a different dimension of flavour to the mojito.

4. Increase or decrease the quantity of sweetener, Sprite or 7-Up, Hajmola, water and ice cubes that you use in the mojito, depending upon your personal taste preferences.

5. Jaljeera masala or pani poori masala can also be used in this Virgin Mojito With A Twist, instead of powdered Hajmola. Alternatively, a mix of cumin powder, amchoor powder and chaat masala can also be used. You could use any other powdered digestive instead, as well.

6. Don’t miss out on the muddling of the mint leaves in the lemon juice and chilled water, using the back of a spoon. This is an important step, which releases flavour from the mint leaves into the water. Alternatively, you could grind the mint leaves slightly before adding them to this Virgin Mojito With A Twist.

7. Use water that has been chilled in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, for best results. The same goes for the Sprite or 7-Up that you use.

What do you think of this recipe? Do let me know, in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for the week is ‘Mocktails’.

Amway Launches Nutrilite Traditional Herbs

I don’t think, as a brand, Amway needs much of an introduction. Most of us are familiar with at least one of Amway’s various products, right? Well, the brand added one more product to its extensive portfolio yesterday – Nutrilite Traditonal Herbs – a range of dietary supplements based on a combination of ancient Indian wisdom and modern science. Along with a few other bloggers across genres, I had the opportunity of witnessing the launch of the product at Amway’s spanking new Digital Experience Centre at Indirangar, Bangalore. The event commemorated Amway’s 20th anniversary as well.

Ms. Simrat Bishnoi – Head, Corporate Communication And CSR, Amway India – speaking at the event

About Nutrilite Traditional Herbs

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Nutrilite Traditonal Herbs, on display at the venue

Amway’s Nutrilite Traditional Herbs is a range of four dietary supplements, prepared using Indian herbs like Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Brahmi and Amla that are known for their medicinal properties. These supplements are recommended for anyone and everyone above 12 years of age, to help combat the negative impact of modern-day circumstances like high stress levels, unhealthy sleep patterns, improper diet and sedentary lifestyles.

Mr. Ajay Khanna – Category Head, Nutrition And Wellness, Amway India – speaking at the event

Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Ajay Khanna – Category Head, Nutrition And Wellness, Amway India, stated that the firm believes in the ‘prevention over cure’ philosophy. It advocates being pro-active about one’s health and avoiding ailments rather than rushing to a doctor only when illness occurs. Amway’s Nutrilite Traditional Herbs helps you be pro-active in terms of your health, Mr. Khanna stated. The Ashwagandha is supposed to support vitality; the Brahmi, mental agility; the Tulsi, immunity; and The Amalaki, Vibhitaki & Haritaki, digestion.

The four supplements included in the Nutrilite Traditional Herbs range

Further, Mr. Khanna talked about Amway’s commitment to being highly vigilant and personally involved at every stage of manufacturing of the Nutrilite Traditional Herbs range. The firm ensures the herbs are picked up only from 100% organic, non-GMO, Indian farms. Care is taken to ensure that the right species of herbs are used (there are, after all, several hundreds of species!) to provide maximum benefit to consumers. Their team of doctors and other experts ensures that the right part of the plant goes into making the supplements, under extremely hygienic and sustainable conditions.

The supplements are manufactured in Amway’s state-of-the-art LEEDS ‘GOLD’ certified plant at Dindigul, Tamilnadu, entirely untouched by human hands, and follows stringent quality control measures. These supplements have been extensively researched, formulated and tested to ensure that they are completely safe for use, and are FSSAI-certified. Every unit of Amway’s Nutrilite Traditional Herbs range comes with a QSR code which, when scanned, provides complete details about tAmway’s ‘Seed to Supplement’ approach is what differentiates it from other health supplement brands available in the market today, Mr. Khanna stated. The four supplements together are priced at INR 649, 60 tablets per container.

This makes Amway’s Nutrilite Traditional Herbs an entirely ‘Made In India’ venture, Mr. Khanna added, very much in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision.

Why Nutrilite Traditional Herbs?

Dr. CA Kishore, Ayurveda expert, also spoke at the event, clarifying the importance of nutritional supplements in today’s fast-paced world.

Dr. CA Kishore, Ayurveda expert, speaking at the event

“You might wonder why you should eat a Tulsi or Amla supplement when both of these are widely available in raw form throughout India,” Dr. Kishore stated. “This is so because of Amway’s commitment to providing the benefit of the right kind of herbs, the right part of the plant, in the right dosage, to customers via its Nutrilite Traditional Herbs range. The range is the perfect combination of ancient wisdom and modern science,” he added.

The supplements come in easy-to-carry, easy-to-use containers, Dr. Kishore said. You need to concern yourself with just consuming them, without any worries about sourcing raw ingredients. Amway has that part of it all covered, he added.

Personally, I don’t think I have the knowledge to comment on the ingredients or the health benefits. I will let the experts do the talking.

About Amway’s Digital Experience Centre, Indiranagar

Remember those days when Amway products only used to be available via dealers? Well, the firm still continues to sell majorly through dealers, enabling them to become entrepreneurs and better their standard of living, but that is not the only channel of sales now. One can also buy directly from Amway’s website. The firm is also in the process of opening up brick-and-mortar stores across India, where customers can check out all of their various products. Amway’s Digital Experience Centre in Indiranagar – a sleek, swanky blend of technology and brick-and-mortar – is a move in this direction.

Located on the bustling 100-Foot Road in Indiranagar, the Amway Digital Experience Centre has on display all of Amway’s products – including products for health care, skincare, personal care and home care, products for kids, as well as their newly launched Amway Queen cookware.

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Amway Queen premium cookware, designed to help one cook with minimal oil and water, preserving taste and nutrients

The store has facilities such as ‘Interactive Table Application’ and ‘Virtual Cart’, too, for tech-savvy customers. There is also a Beauty Zone in-house, where one can consult with skin and hair care experts to find out which of Amway’s products are best suited to them.

Some of Amway’s skincare products on display at the Beauty Zone, Amway Digital Experience Store

A ‘Virtual Make-Up Zone’ simulates how customers would look with make-up on, and what type of products would best suit their facial features.

So, so very interesting, right?

If you are in Bangalore, do drop in at the Amway Digital Experience Centre. Don’t forget to check out the new Nutrilite Traditional Herbs range!

‘The Taste Of Malabar’ Food Festival At Nook, Aloft, Cessna Business Park

What comes to your mind when you think of the Malabar region? For me, a mere mention of the place conjures up images of lush greenery, gorgeous beaches, swaying coconut trees, banana chips, appams and stew, toddy, little chai shops, red rice and a whole lot of other things that are quintessentially Kerala. That said, I don’t have any personal experience of visiting the Malabar, that coastal region in Kerala that runs from Goa to the southernmost part of the country. All the impressions I have about the Malabar region are purely based on things I have read and holidays undertaken in other parts of Kerala.

So, it was with great curiosity that I recently reached Nook, a restaurant by Aloft Hotels, in Cessna Business Park, Kadubeesanahalli, Bangalore. I had been invited to experience the ongoing ‘The Taste Of Malabar’ food festival at Nook, and was very eager to check it out. Let me hasten to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, savouring the lovely food that was served to me.

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The swanky, contemporary decor at Nook by Aloft, Cessna Business Park

The Taste Of Malabar food festival at Nook by Aloft

The festival is an attempt by Chef Aniket Das (Executive Chef at Nook) to showcase the cuisine of the Mapilla community from the Malabar coastal region. Mapilla – also called Moplah – is community of Malayalam-speaking Muslims in the Malabar, with a distinct cuisine of their own. There is a heavy-handed use of coconut oil and spices like dried red chillies, cloves, cardamom and pepper in Mapilla food, as is the use of curry leaves, tamarind, ginger, coconut and rice. The cuisine borrows heavily from the Arabic world, thanks to widespread trade relations between the two places. Though non-vegetarian food rules the roost in Mapilla cuisine, there are several vegetarian delicacies worth savouring as well.

Ambience and decor

I loved how the food festival brought Kerala to life. A little stall was set up to represent the chai kada (tea shop) of Kerala, complete with a variety of chips, bananas hanging off hooks and Malayalam newspapers. Coconut-leaf decorations adorned the ceiling, and most of the food was presented in earthenware utensils that are so typical of Kerala. Another small stall handed out tender coconut water to the guests who requested them. An exhibit showcased a few ingredients that are indigenous to Kerala – coconuts and red rice and red bananas. The front office staff were dressed the Kerala way too, with golden-bordered kasavus, white shirts, mundus and veshtis.

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A Kerala-style chai kada set up at Nook, as part of The Taste Of Malabar food festival

I am a sucker for attention to such little details as these, which indicate that research and thought have gone in into providing a complete experience to the customers.

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Assorted chutneys, chips and poppadums served in earthenware vessels at the food festival

Food and drinks

The food festival menu is in addition to the regular buffet at Nook, at no additional charge. A walk around the buffet showed me that it was quite, quite expansive, spanning a vast variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. I really mean it – the spread here is HUGE.

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The pretty bread basket that is part of the buffet at Nook

A live fish fry counter that had been set up for the food festival elicited sighs of pleasure from my fellow diners. I sampled only the vegetarian fare, of course.

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Live fish fry counter at Nook, set up for The Taste Of Malabar Food Festival

As we settled into our seats, little pots of Kerala delicacies were brought to us to munch on – assorted chutneys, poppadums, rose cookies, tapioca chips, sweet and savoury banana chips, and jackfruit chips. Every bit of this was thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly, especially the lip-smackingly gorgeous pumpkin, curry leaf and raw mango chutneys.

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Top left: A variety of chutneys; Bottom left: Poppadums; Bottom right: Sweet and salted banana chips and jackfruit chips; Top right: Tapioca chips; Top centre: Rose cookies

Next up, I tried out the somasi – wheat flour shells stuffed with different types of fillings and then deep-fried. I loved the two vegetarian versions, with paneer and mushroom stuffing within.

The onion samosa that I sampled alongside was also beautiful, crisp and perfectly done, the filling delicious.

I understand, from my non-vegetarian fellow diners, that the somasi with chicken and beef filling was exquisite too. The stir-fried squid and chicken was, apparently, very well done as well.

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Left: Mushroom somasi; Centre: Onion samosa; Right: Paneer somasi

The buffet also included three drinks (if I may call them so!) that are integral to Kerala – neer more or mildly spiced buttermilk, cumin-flavoured water, and water that is infused with a herb called pathimugam or sappanwood.

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Left: Water infused with pathimugam; Centre: Neer more; Right: Cumin-infused water

I chose some salads from the regular buffet to sample, next. I must say I absolutely loved the salad counter at Nook, it is so very expansive, with several types of vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions available. There are different types of chaats on offer at the counter as well.

I loved the Capsicum Salad here, with a sweetish dressing, served with bits of feta. The Jackfruit Salad (yes, you read that right! Nowhere else have I come across a salad like this!) was a close second favourite. The Ripe Fig Salad was good too, as was the Soya Nuggets Chaat (the latter, again, something I have never come across before).

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A few items from the salad counter at Nook by Aloft. Top left: Grilled pineapple, grilled watermelon and capsicum salad with feta; Bottom left: Soya nuggets chaat and pesto pasta; Bottom right: Fresh micro greens; Top right: Fresh fig salad; Top centre: The jackfruit salad that I so loved

For main course, I tried out the Kerala Red Rice with Ulli Theeyal, a tamarind-based preparation with shallots. While I loved the earthy taste of the red rice, I felt the ulli theeyal could have done with a bit more flavour. The Cabbage Mezhukkuperatti or stir fry that I sampled alongside was very well done, too, mild and simple, yet full of deliciousness.

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Left: Kerala red rice; Centre: Ulli theeyal; Right: Cabbage mezhukkuperatti

I also tried out the Vegetarian Pizza, Singapore Noodles and Hot-And-Sour Vegetables from the regular buffet, which I felt were just about okay. I loved the Paneer & Papad Sabzi I sampled from the buffet, too (Just how innovative that is, right?!)

As per my fellow non-vegetarian diners, the Mapilla Chicken Biryani was out of the world, and the appams with chicken stew were fantabulous too. I didn’t have space enough in my tummy to try out the vegetarian versions. The sheer variety of pickles that was part of the buffet – from chicken and prawn pickle to lal mirch ka achaar and mixed vegetable pickle – was mind-boggling!

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Some desserts on offer at Nook by Aloft. Left: White chocolate with roses and nuts; Centre: A decoration that caught my fancy at the dessert counter; Right: Chocolate gateau with a (surprise!) mango filling within

The dessert counter at Nook is vast, just like the salad bar, including stuff for every kind of sweet tooth there is. Thanks to the food festival, the dessert counter had typical Kerala sweet dishes like buckwheat halwa, Calicut halwa and Vattayappam (sweet steamed rice cakes made with toddy). This was apart from the regular sweet dishes like ice cream, pannacotta, mousse and various Indian desserts.

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Some of the desserts on offer at Nook by Aloft. Top left: Basboosa, an Arabic dessert; Bottom left: Calicut halwa; Bottom centre: Buckwheat halwa; Bottom right: Vattayappam; Top right: Mango and ginger mousse (stuffed with mixed fruit jam!)

I was able to try out very few of the desserts, of which I adored the chocolate gateau and the buckwheat halwa. The vattayappam, basboosa and mango-ginger mousse were so intriguing that I had to pick them up but, sadly, they did not hit the right taste notes with me.

Festival details

  • Type: Lunch and dinner buffet
  • Price: INR 1099 + +
  • Date: March 15 to 27, 2018
  • Timings : 12.30 – 3.00 PM & 7.00 – 11.00 PM.
  • Address: Cessna Business Park, Sarjapur – Marathahalli Outer Ring Road, Kadubeesanahalli, Bellandur Post, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560103
  • Phone: 08045101010

In hindsight

Overall, the buffet was quite interesting, not to forget vast. I loved how the kitchen has gone to great lengths to add that element of surprise to some of the dishes. Also, like I said before, I loved how the overall look of the place and the food makes the mind travel to Kerala.

A few of the dishes I tried out from the regular buffet were just okay, while the others were beautiful and par excellence. That said, the buffet menu changes regularly, so the items (and taste) I encountered might not be the case with you, when you visit.

Considering that Mapilla cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, options for vegetarians are relatively limited on the food festival menu. However, the regular buffet more than makes up for it.

The buffet is definitely value for money, with or without the food festival, considering the huge spread. I don’t think I can try out all the items at one go, even if I tried to.

That was quite something, right? Do book yourself a slot at The Taste Of Malabar before the food festival ends!

Gujarati Kadhi Recipe

We are quite the kadhi-loving family. A well-made cup of kadhi makes our day. We love most versions of kadhi – from the non-sweetened Gujarati one and the South Indian more kozhambu to the Himachali rehru. Making kadhi is always the preferred way to use up any leftover curd in the house.

Today, I am going to share the recipe for another version of Gujarati kadhi, sweetened with jaggery or sugar. This is a very simple dish, rendered full of flavour thanks to the assorted spices that go into the tempering. This Gujarati kadhi makes for a beautiful accompaniment to phulka rotis and sabzi, with khichdi or plain steamed rice.

Let’s now see how to make this Gujarati kadhi, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

Basic ingredients:

  1. 3 cups home-made sour curd
  2. 1.5-2 cups water
  3. Salt, to taste
  4. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  5. 3 tablespoons besan aka gram flour
  6. 2-3 green chillies
  7. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  8. 3-4 tablespoons sugar or jaggery powder
  9. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves

For the tempering:

  1. 1 tablespoon oil
  2. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds aka rai
  3. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds aka jeera
  4. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  5. 1 sprig curry leaves
  6. A 1-inch piece of cinnamon bark
  7. 4-5 cloves
  8. 4-5 dry red chillies

Method:

1. In a large pan, mix together the curd, water, salt to taste, jaggery or sugar, turmeric powder and gram flour. Whisk well.

2. Slit the green chillies length-wise, and add them to the pan.

3. Peel the ginger and grate it finely. Add the grated ginger to the pan. Whisk well once again.

4. Now, place the pan with the prepared curd mixture on medium flame. Stirring intermittently, cook till it comes to a boil.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the tempering in a separate pan. For this, heat the oil in a pan. Turn flame to low-medium. Add the mustard seeds and let them pop. Add in the cumin and the asafoetida, and let them stay in for a couple of seconds. Add the cloves, cinnamon bark (broken into two), curry leaves and dry red chillies. Leave them in for just a couple of seconds, stirring with a spoon to prevent clumping. Switch off gas, and keep aside.

6. After the curd mixture has come to a boil, lower flame further. Now, add the prepared tempering to the mixture. Simmer for a minute, stirring intermittently. Switch off gas.

7. Chop the coriander finely. Add to the prepared Gujarati kadhi. Serve hot, with phulkas or steamed rice.

Notes:

  1. It is best to cook the Gujarati kadhi on a low-medium flame, to prevent curdling. Similarly, prepare the tempering on a low-medium flame, too, to prevent burning.
  2. Use sour curd for best results. If your curd is not sour, leave it outside, at room temperature, for about half a day for it to turn sour.
  3. I have used home-made curd to make this Gujarati kadhi. It was only moderately thick, so I have used only about 1.5 cups water. If you are using store-bought curd that is very thick, you might want to use more water. The curd-water-gram flour mixture that you prepare must be runny and not very thick, but not very watery either.
  4. We do not use red chilli powder in Gujarati kadhi. The only heat in the kadhi is from the grated ginger and the green chillies. Increase/decrease the quantity of green chillies you use, depending upon how hot you want the kadhi to be.
  5. You can either finely grate the ginger or make a paste, before adding it to the curd mixture.
  6. While preparing the tempering, add the dry red chillies at the very end, to prevent them from exploding. You can make the tempering in oil or ghee, or use a mix of oil and ghee. I have used just refined oil here.
  7. Do not skip the jaggery or sugar – sweetness is a must in Gujarati kadhi. Let your tastebuds determine the quantity of jaggery or sugar you want to use. You can also use raw cane sugar or palm jaggery here.
  8. Make sure all the ingredients are well integrated with the curd, before proceeding to make the kadhi. I use a small wooden whisk to make sure everything is well incorporated together.

Do try out this Gujarati kadhi, and let me know how you liked it!

******************

This recipe is for the Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge that I am part of. The theme for this month is ‘Gujarati recipes’. I was paired with Shailaja Reddy, who writes at Sahasra Recipes, and she gave me two ingredients to work with – curd and gram flour (besan). This Gujarati kadhi is what I decided to make with these secret ingredients.

A Less Than Awe-Inspiring Boat Ride On River Umngot, Dawki

I’m sure many of you would have seen pictures of a green, green, green crystal-clear river in Meghalaya, a rustic boat floating gently on its surface, the water so transparent that one can even see the rocks and vegetation below. The place looks magical, other-worldly, like Fairyland. Have you?

Well, the river in question is Umngot, which flows through the little village of Dawki in Meghalaya, barely 95 km from Shillong. Right next door is Tamabil, the land border between India and Bangladesh, manned by extremely friendly army jawans. The specialty of the Umngot is its pristine water, so clean and clear that you can see right through to the river bed in spite of it being about 20 feet deep. The water here usually has a beautiful greenish hue, and is so transparent that the boats plying on it look as if they are floating in mid-air. So, it was but natural that when the husband and I visited Dawki in May 2017, we came with huge expectations. Sadly, the sight we met with was less than magical and our boat ride across the Umngot was definitely not the awe-inspiring thing that we had imagined it would be.

Our first sight of the Umngot

Our visit to the Umngot was scheduled en route to Shillong, after spending a day in Mawlyynong, touted as the ‘cleanest village in Asia’. The drive was beautiful, across scenic vistas, with gushing waterfalls taking us by surprise every now and then, barely any vehicle crossing our path. As we got nearer and nearer to Dawki and to the Umngot river, though, the atmosphere changed – the surroundings were still beautiful, but hordes and hordes of tourists started appearing. It was, after all, the month of May, the start of monsoon in Meghalaya, when the state is at its best, supposedly tourist season.

Our cab driver dropped us at the spot designated for drop-offs, where we were met by our tour guide. He led us through the winding maze of tourists, and we had our first sight of the Umngot. The river looked muddy and in no way clear as crystal, and was FULL of boats. To me, the water looked angry, almost threatening to overflow its banks. We were told this was because of heavy rainfall the previous day – apparently, the water is pristine only when you visit in the summers. Disappointment seeped in.

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Our first sight of the Umngot, with lots of boats waiting to pick up tourists, and tourists haggling over the fare

The husband and I decided to go ahead with the boat ride, as scheduled. A visit to Meghalaya does not happen frequently, after all! Thankfully, we did not have to bargain over the fare for the boat ride, as we saw so many other tourists doing – since we had booked a complete package, everything had already been arranged for us.

Getting down to the boat

We climbed down some very narrow stairs, rendered slippery with rain and slush, as careful as could be, holding hands, tightly gripping the bub’s hand in ours. Under normal circumstances, I am guessing, the descent would not have been so harrowing.

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The descent to the river Umngot and the boat docking area. See those narrow steps?

The boat ride

Soon enough, we were introduced to our boatman, a sweet guy called Joseph. We were seated in a pretty, old-fashioned boat that seemed quite sturdy. Joseph began to row us across the Umngot – quite a long stretch, actually – and we began to relax slowly.

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Joseph, our companion on the boat ride across the Umngot

The husband and I began to take note of the beautiful surroundings around us. My camera came out, and I began clicking away. If the place could look this beautiful with muddy waters, just how pretty would it be on dry days?, we wondered aloud.

One of the many beautiful vistas we encountered during our boat ride on the Umngot. That there is the Dawki bridge that connects India and Bangladesh.

We passed through nooks and crannies in the hills, the sunlight playing hide-and-seek with the rocks.

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A tourist boat plying along the Umngot, in a relatively quieter spot

Little waterfalls along the route sprayed water on us, providing us relief from the stiflingly humid weather.

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A waterfall we encountered in the midst of our boat ride

All the while, the water lapped impatiently against our boat. We wondered if we had taken a huge risk in deciding to undertake the boat ride when the river was so very full, but at that point there was not much we could do about it. We sent up a silent prayer to keep us safe.

The island of rocks

After a while, Joseph anchored the boat near a small island in the midst of the Umngot river. The island – full of rocks in all shapes, sizes and colours – It was a pretty little spot. It would have been just perfect for pitching a tent or lying down and gazing at the sky, on a cooler day, I think. No wonder people all around us were going crazy taking selfies!

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The rock island, in the midst of the Umngot river

We took a few pictures here too, and sat dangling our feet in the water. The water around the island is very shallow, and the bub had a fun time letting the little waves lap over her feet.

As we got ready to leave the island, we picked up a few pebbles, to bring back home with us as keepsakes.

The Bangladeshi side of the Umngot

We cruised along the river some more and came to the border between India and Bangladesh, right there in the waters. The spot was marked by a string of plastic bottles, bobbing merrily in the waves. ‘This side of the bottles is India, and that side is Bangladesh,’ Joseph told us. Precisely how this demarcation was arrived at, I am curious to understand.

Bangladeshi tourists enjoying themselves on their side of the Umngot

In spite of being a small village, Dawki is a busy place, I understand, thanks to its strategic location. Trucks pass through it all the time, ferrying goods for trade between India and Bangladesh, two countries which have friendly relations with each other. Dawki is a fishing village too, with a number of fishermen operating on the Umngot river on a daily basis.

‘Earlier, there used to be free movement of boats between the Indian side and the Bangladeshi side, on the Umngot,’ Joseph told us. ‘That is no longer the case,’ he added.

The end of the boat ride

After about 25 minutes on the river, we were brought back to the boat docking area, and escorted safely back on level ground. Thankful to be safe, we bid adieu to Joseph and Dawki.

This particular boat ride had been less than satisfying.Now, however, we have had a glimpse of just how magical the place can be in a different clime, different time. We cannot wait to visit again, to see the Umngot in all its crystal-clear beauty.

Tips for travellers

  1. If the clear waters of the Umngot are what you want to see, please do plan your visit in drier weather, between October and April. In May, the monsoon begins in Meghalaya, and the Umngot turns angry and muddy.
  2. In hindsight, we think we should have skipped the boat ride, considering the river was threatening to overflow its banks. If you are in a similar situation, I would suggest that you follow your gut instinct.
  3. Be sure to enquire about a reasonable charge for boating on the Umngot river, from your tour guide or hotel help desk.
  4. Make sure you leave your belongings in your cab as you descend for boating, keeping just the bare minimum with you. The steps are safe, but quite narrow. The descent can be a bit steep for very young children, the aged and infirm.
  5. Do visit the India-Bangladesh border at Tamabil, which is just adjacent to Dawki.
  6. Dawki can be covered as a day trip from Mawlynnong or Shillong. Do request your tour guide or hotel to help you plan the trip.
  7. Considering that Dawki is quite a small village, there is no reliable public transport to and from the place. A private cab hired from Mawlynnong or Shillong would be your best bet.
  8. You can shop for little Bangladeshi articles in the little shops around Dawki. We tried out a Bangladeshi litchi drink here, which was absolutely delicious, priced at a princely sum of INR 10. Our cab driver also suggested we pick up a soap from Bangladesh here, just for the fun of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaas Masala| How To Make Spiced Buttermilk

The summer is here! It is getting hotter by the day, at least here in Bangalore. I am sure it is not long before it gets so stifling hot that we will want to sip on cool, refreshing drinks all day long. Today, I present to you the recipe for Chaas Masala, a simple spice mix that can add loads of oomph to a simple glass of buttermilk, making it a perfect home-made summer thirst quencher. Do try it out, will you? It takes barely a minute to put together, after all!

How to make chaas masala:

Ingredients (yields chaas masala enough to make about 10 glasses of buttermilk):

  1. 2 teaspoons cumin (jeera)
  2. 1 teaspoon amchoor powder
  3. 1 teaspoon black salt, or to taste
  4. 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
  5. 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder

Method:

1. Dry roast the cumin on medium flame till fragrant. Ensure that it does not burn. Let it cool down completely.

2. When the cumin has fully cooled down, grind coarsely in a mixer. You can grind to a fine powder too, if you want. Transfer to a cup.

3. Add in the amchoor powder, black salt, asafoetida and red chilli powder. Mix well. Store in a clean, dry, air-tight box at room temperature. Use as required.

Notes:

  1. Black pepper powder can be used instead of red chilli powder.
  2. Dry mint powder, chaat masala, dry ginger powder are some other additions you can make to the chaas masala. Some people add in cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a few other spices to the chaas masala, too. I have kept it really simple and basic.
  3. Stored in a clean, dry, air-tight box at room temperature, the chaas masala stays for months on end. Use only with a clean, dry spoon, as and when needed.
  4. This masala can be used not only to make spiced buttermilk, but also on khakras, fruits, chips, etc.
  5. This chaas masala is best made in small quantities and used when super fresh.
  6. Increase or decrease the quantities of the ingredients used, depending upon personal taste preferences.

How to make spiced buttermilk:

Here is how to make spiced buttermilk using the chaas masala we prepared earlier.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  1. 2 glasses of buttermilk
  2. Chaas masala, as prepared above, as required

Method:

1. Add the chaas masala, as prepared above, to the buttermilk, in the required quantity. 2. Taste and adjust quantity of chaas masala. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. For best results, use buttermilk that is neither too thick nor too watery, just slightly sour. If the buttermilk has been chilled in the refrigerator for a couple of hours ahead, even better.
  2. Finely chopped coriander, crushed chilly and/or ginger, and a tempering of oil and mustard can be added to the buttermilk too, for better flavour. This is purely optional, though. I have used only buttermilk and the chaas masala prepared above.

Isn’t this chaas masala so very simple to prepare? In spite of the preparation being a breeze, it is such a flavour bomb!

I hope you will try out this recipe, and that you will enjoy tall glasses of home-made spiced buttermilk this summer!

****************Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This post is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for today is ‘dry masala powders’.

Podi Ari Upma| Broken Matta Rice Upma

Do you often cook with matta rice?

I hadn’t, until very recently. Matta rice – also called Kerala red rice, Palakkadan matta rice, red parboiled rice or Rosematta rice – was a totally new ingredient to me. I had heard about it, of course, but had never eaten it or cooked with it all these years. On our recent trip to Wayanad, I picked up a bag of broken matta rice at a departmental store, so I could get home and try it out. Following an online recipe, with a few variations of my own, I used the broken matta rice to make vegetable upma in a pressure cooker, which turned out absolutely delicious! The upma was a delight, especially when eaten warm! Mildly spiced, lovely in taste, and a breeze to cook, the upma – known in Kerala as Podi Ari Upma – was a huge hit at home.

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For the uninitiated, matta rice is a special type of brown rice that is cultivated in Kerala. It has numerous health benefits, and is a much better alternative to the highly polished white rice we commonly consume. It is rich in fibre, calcium, magnesium and assorted vitamins. Thanks to the dense black soil of Kerala in which matta rice is commonly cultivated, it has a distinct earthy flavour to it. (Information courtesy: Wikipedia)

Matta rice is harder than white rice and, hence, needs a bit of soaking beforehand for it to be cooked thoroughly. However, since I used broken matta rice (broken into tiny granules, like semolina, not hard at all), I did not need to soak it at all. My podi ari upma turned out just right, perfectly cooked, soft, yet fluffy. I am pretty sure this broken matta rice upma will find pride of place at our dining table pretty often!

Here is how I made the broken matta rice upma.

Recipe Courtesy: Nimmy’s Kitchen

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  1. 1-1/2 cups broken matta rice
  2. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  3. 1 medium-sized onion
  4. 1 medium-sized carrot
  5. About 1/4 cup shelled green peas
  6. 1 small capsicum
  7. 3 green chillies
  8. 1 teaspoon oil
  9. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  10. A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  11. 1 teaspoon cumin (jeera)
  12. 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
  13. A few fresh curry leaves
  14. Salt, to taste

Method:

  1. First up, we will get the veggies ready. Peel and chop the carrot and ginger finely. Chop the capsicum finely. Keep the curry leaves, shelled green peas, and grated coconut handy. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
  2. Wash the broken matta rice a couple of times in running water. Drain out all the water, and keep aside.
  3. In a small pressure cooker (I use a 3-litre one), heat the oil. Add in the mustard seeds and let them pop. Add the asafoetida and cumin, and let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
  4. Now, add the ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, onion, carrot, capsicum and green peas. Saute for a couple of seconds on high flame.
  5. Add in the washed and drained broken matta rice. Saute for a second on high flame.
  6. Add in 3-1/2 cups water and salt to taste. Mix well. Taste the water – it should be slightly salty; when the rice is fully cooked, the saltiness will be just perfect. Adjust salt if required.
  7. Cover pressure cooker and put the whistle on. Cook on high flame for 4 whistles.
  8. Let the pressure release manually and then open the cooker. Fluff up the broken matta rice upma and add the freshly grated coconut. Mix well. Serve piping hot, on its own or with chutney of your choice.

Notes:

  1. The broken matta rice that I used was quite small in size. I used 2 cups of water per cup of broken matta rice and it was just perfect. Here, I have used 3.5 cups of water (3 cups for the 1.5 cups of broken matta rice + 0.5 cup for the veggies). I get a well-cooked but fluffy upma. You can increase/decrease the quantity of water you use, depending upon how well-cooked you want your upma to be as well as the size of your broken matta rice.
  2. For us, the heat from 3 green chillies and the bit of ginger is just right. Increase the quantity of green chillies you use, if you want your upma to be spicier – mine is quite mild.
  3. You can add in any vegetables of your choice. I commonly use whatever is handy in my kitchen when I am cooking this.
  4. Use a small pressure cooker for best results. Also, it is imperative to have all the ingredients ready and work quickly, to ensure that there is no burning.
  5. Add in the fresh grated coconut at the very end, after the broken matta rice upma is cooked. This adds a lovely touch to the upma.

Do try out this broken matta rice upma! I’d love to know how you liked it!