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!

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!