It’s Falooda Time At Swensens!

What do you think of when you think of falooda?

I think of glasses filled with pink, pink, pink milk lined up on a street-side cart, vermicelli and chia seeds swirling around in it. I think of people grabbing these glasses with sweaty hands. I think of them gulping all of it down in one go, an attempt to sate their parched throats on a hot summer’s day as well as to placate rumbling tummies with the cool, sweet, rose-laden drink.

When I encountered the falooda at Swensens, at a recent event for food bloggers, it both matched and did not match the picture in my head. The event aimed to familiarise us with the latest introduction on the Swensens (India) menu – the falooda – or, rather, the chain’s version of it. We also met Director – Swensens (India), Mr. Pinaki Mukherjee, who talked to us about the salient features of this  falooda.

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Left: Mr. Mukherjee talking to the food bloggers about the Swensens falooda; Right: The three versions of the Swensens falooda (small, medium and large) that are currently available

The Swensens version of this dessert is classy and beautiful, all jazzed up, as against the street-side version. It is made with quality ingredients, all the little things that have always comprised the falooda. It is just as cool and refreshing, too. The rose and the vermicelli are there, but no chia seeds or milk. I would say it is Swensens’ attempt to recreate the falooda, without deviating entirely from the way the drink originally tastes.

At the event, we were shown how the Swensens falooda is made – layer by layer by layer. Each layer is built to give a different taste, a different feeling, to the eater. We watched in wonder as waffles (crushed and whole), rose syrup, saffron syrup, saffron-flavoured ice cream, broken cashewnuts, saffron-flavoured vermicelli, rose petals and the signature Swensens cherry all went into the making of the falooda.

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Left: The Swensens falooda, standing tall and pretty; Centre and Right: The team demonstrating the various steps in the making of the Swensens falooda

Mr. Mukherjee told us of how each ingredient used in the falooda is sourced with great care and caution, to ensure good quality and consistent taste. The Maraschino cherries that are a part of all Swensens ice creams come from a farm in the US of A – apparently, the entire crop of the farm is booked by Swensens in advance, every year. Similarly, the roses and saffron (for the rose and saffron syrups used in the falooda) comes from select fields in India. Also, the vermicelli used herein is cooked fresh every morning, infused with saffron, unlike the plain vermicelli commonly found in falooda elsewhere.

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Isn’t she pretty?!

I’m not a big fan of falooda, I admit. I never have been. This version of the falooda did win me over, though. I liked the way it tasted, each layer contributing towards the delectable taste of the whole. I love the fact that Swensens offers the falooda in small, medium and large sizes, so patrons can choose the exact quantity they would like to have. The large size is like a complete meal in itself!

This is definitely one dessert that I would love to have again, if I can look past the Sticky Chewy Chocolate Fantasy that grabs my fancy every single time I enter Swensens!

Why don’t you go ahead and try out this pretty and delicious dessert, too?

  • Where?: At all Swensens outlets
  • When?: Limited edition for about 3 months, ongoing now
  • Price?: INR 99 for the small (Happy Falooda), INR 149 for the medium (Carnival Falooda), and INR 229 for the large (Crispy Crunchy Falooda)

    I was invited to sample the product, and to share my feedback about the same. The views expressed herein are entirely honest and my own, not influenced by anything or anyone

    Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs, Day 2: How To Cook With Millets

    If Day 1 of the Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs was enlightening, Day 2 was even more so. Day 2 was when all participants couldn’t take their eyes off stage, when they watched goggle-eyed the magic being spun before them, riveted to their seats. Day 2 was as full of practical sessions as Day 1 was of technical ones, with a number of chefs coming up on stage to demonstrate all the delicacies that can be cooked using millets.

    The point was to prove just how versatile millets are, how they can lend themselves to a variety of dishes, Indian and international, healthy and not-so-healthy, simple and five-star-menu worthy, sweet and savoury, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Together, I think, the chefs more than proved this!

    Here is an overview of Day 2 of the workshop, for your viewing and reading pleasure. I think I’ll mostly let the pictures of the food do the talking – that left all of us speechless, for sure!

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    Day 2 began with Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, Honourable Minister of Agriculture for the state of Karnataka, addressing those present. In his speech, he recapped most of what was discussed on the first day – enunciating how exactly millets are good for you, for the farmers, and for the environment as well.

    (Check out my detailed post about the key take-aways on Day 1!)

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    Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, in his inaugural address on Day 2

    Then, Dr. Bhaskarachary of the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Hyderabad, came up on stage to talk about the role of millets in today’s society. He talked at length about how the inclusion of millets would go a long way towards creating a balanced diet, as opposed to the wheat- or rice-heavy diets that most people these days seem to use. He spoke of how the high nutritional value of millets is not something that we should miss out on, especially now, when lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are on the rise. Dr. Bhaskarachary also stressed on the role of chefs, dieticians, home cooks and food bloggers to spread the right information about millets, and to encourage more people to include them in their diets.

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    Dr. Bhaskarachary addressing the participants of the workshop

    After this, some heavy-duty action began on stage! It was the turn of chefs from all over Bangalore to showcase their delectable millet confections!

    Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraju, Executive Chef of Vivanta By Taj, Bangalore, went first. He demonstrated how to make a beautiful Spinach-Stuffed Millet Ravioli With Primavera Sauce, as well as some Pan-Seared Chicken With Millet Stew And Sauternes Sauce and Smoked Chicken And Baby Pineapple Salad With Crispy Foxtail Millet.

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    Left: Chef Selvaraju demonstrating his recipes; Right: Top – Spinach-Stuffed Millet Ravioli With Primavera Sauce, Centre – Pan-Seared Chicken With Millet Stew And Sauternes Sauce

    Next, Ms. Vani Anamdas, Manager – Housing & Food Services, International Crops Research Institute For The Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, came up on stage. Her team demonstrated the making of Finger Millet Cake With Hot Garlic Sauce, Millet Manchurian, and Millet Kashmiri Kofta In Palak Gravy.

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    Left: Ms. Vani Anamdas addressing the participants; Centre: Top – Finger Millet Cake With Hot Garlic Sauce, Bottom: Millet Manchurian With Gravy; Right: Top – Millet Kashmiri Kofta In Palak Gravy, Bottom – Dry Millet Manchurian

    Ms. Anamdas’s team from ICRISAT also went on to demonstrate how to make Ragi Shots, Sorghum Stuffed Kulcha, Millet Waffles, Ragi Banana Bread, and Sorghum Flakes-Fried Chicken.

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    Top left: Ms. Vani Anamdas’s team demonstrating millet-based recipes; Bottom left: Sorghum Flakes-Fried Chicken; Adjacent to bottom left: Ragi Banana Bread; Bottom right: Millet Waffle; Top of bottom right: Sorghum Stuffed Kulcha; Top right: Ragi Shots

    Post this, Chef Nagarekha Palli of Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (RUAS) came up on stage to demonstrate two more millet-based recipes – Foxtail Millet Crisps With Millet Sprouts and Smoked Kodo Millet Kabab With Yogurt Dip. She also demonstrated how to get millets to sprout beautifully into long, delicate, green shoots, over a period of four or five days.

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    Left: Chef Nagarekha Palli demonstrating on stage; Centre: Foxtail Millet Crisps With Millet Sprouts; Right: Smoked Kodo Millet Kabab With Yogurt Dip

    Chef Shyam Prasad of RUAS then came up on stage to show the audience how to make Millet Paella (yes, you read that right!) and Finger Millet Tacos.

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    Left: Chef Shyam Prasad demonstrating his dishes; Centre: Millet Paella; Right: Finger Millet Tacos

    Chef Shashi Sharma of RUAS then showed everyone the method of preparation of his Millet Paneer And Spinach Tikki and Millet Chicken Risotto.

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    Left: Chef Shashi Sharma on stage; Centre: Millet Paneer And Spinach Tikki; Right: Millet Chicken Risotto

    After this, Chef Sridhar Krishnan of RUAS demonstrated how to make two beautiful, beautiful, beautiful millet-based desserts – Greek Yogurt Cake With Citrus Glaze and Toffee Chocolate Tart.

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    Left: Chef Sridhar Krishnan on stage; Centre: Greek Yogurt Cake With Citrus Glaze; Right: Toffee Chocolate Tart

    Day 2 of the workshop concluded with a panel discussion, where participants could ask relevant questions to the experts on stage. The experts included Chef Shashi Sharma, Chef Shyam Kumar, Chef Sridhar Krishnan, food blogger Ruth D’Souza Prabhu of the Bangalore’s Restaurants fame,  Chef Nagarekha Palli, Chef Vani Anamdas, and the Joint Director of Agriculture, Mr. Jayaswamy.

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    The experts on stage, for the panel discussion

    Key take-aways from Day 2 of the workshop

    ~ Millets can be used to cook a huge variety of dishes, ranging from traditional Indian fare to the highly exotic. And millet-based food can look great, too!

    ~ Millets can be used to create healthy dishes as well as junk food like manchurian and calorie-heavy dishes like cakes and other desserts. The dishes demonstrated at the workshop were a mix of both these types. I admit some the dishes shown to us weren’t very healthy, but I guess the aim of the workshop was to demonstrate the vast range of possibilities. Also, as the experts stated, people would be more amenable to using millets if they saw them being used to make contemporary food that is tasty as well.

    ~ While cooking with millets, one needs to be aware of the inherent properties that each type possesses. Some types of millets, for instance, needs to be soaked for a while before cooking, to ensure that they are cooked well and not very chewy. This understanding comes with trial and error, experimenting with millets in your kitchen on a regular basis.

    ~ Baking with millets can be a tad tough, since they do not possess any gluten. Hence, it becomes essential to mix maida or whole wheat flour with them, to get a good-quality finished product.

    ~ When you substitute millets for rice in a dish well-known to you, there might be a change in the texture of the dish as it is known to you. This is something you must be ready for, when beginning to cook with millets.

    Well, that was all about the beautiful millet workshop I attended. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it will be of help to you.

    Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs, Day 1: An Overview

    The 25th and 26th of July, 2017, saw a beautiful workshop on millet foods being conducted at the MS Ramaiah campus in Matthikere. This workshop – Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs – was organised by the Government of Karnataka, in association with MS Ramaiah Institute, with the intention of spreading more awareness about millets and millet-based foods. This is an extension to the #LetsMillet campaign being vigorously undertaken by the Government of Karnataka, an attempt to reach out to the masses after the hugely successful Organics And Millets Mela held in April 2017.

    I am thankful to have been offered an invite to attend and cover the workshop which, I think, was just as successful as the Organics And Millets Mela. It was met with a wonderful, enthusiastic response from chefs, dieticians, students, home cooks and various dignitaries from the worlds of food, nutrition and politics.

    To say I am overwhelmed and enlightened by the experience of attending the workshop would be an understatement. I’ve learnt so much in these two days; watched so much of magic being unravelled; life in my kitchen is never going to be the same again, I’m sure.

    Some of the most commonly asked questions about millets were answered, this first day of the workshop. Here’s a glimpse of all that happened on Day 1 of the workshop, and the key take-aways, for your viewing and reading pleasure.

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    The workshop began with an address by Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, Honourable Minister of Agriculture for Karnataka. He spoke about how millets are the need of the hour, speaking about what exactly millets are and the need to inculcate them in our daily diets

    We’ve been hearing about this ‘millets’ thing day in and day out. But what are they, really?

    Millets are actually grasses with tiny seeds, something that has been cultivated in India since ages. They are hardy crops that can be grown with little investment and little usage of water, and hold immense nutrition within their tiny selves.

    If they are so good for us, why aren’t we using more of millets?

    Once upon a time, millets were consumed in generous quantities by Indians, and were extensively used to feed cattle as well. However, with advancing times and the increasing influence of Western culture, millets began to be looked down upon. They began to be called ‘poor man’s food’ or ‘cattle feed’, and our diets changed to include primarily wheat-  or rice-based products. Our consumption of millets has gone down drastically, both in urban and rural areas, so much so that it is negligible. People have forgotten how to use these ancient powerhouses of nutrition aka millets.

    Why millets?

    Today, when global warming is a scary reality that we are slowly waking up to and water conservation is the need of the hour, millets can be of great help. Growing 1 kg. of rice consumes about 4,000-5,500 thousand litres of water, while growing a kg. of millets needs just about 20% of that. Moreover, millets can be grown even in bad weather conditions, in poor soil conditions. They are sturdy crops that aren’t usually infested by insects or diseases and, hence, require little or no pesticides and fertilisers. Therefore, the cost of growing millets is much, much lower than that of cultivating wheat or rice.

    Sadly, though, there is little demand for millets today. Today, millets are grown only by those farmers who are unable to grow anything else, because they are extremely pressed for money or have land that has extremely poor conditions. Millets are good for the farmer in a lot of ways. So, if you begin to include more millets in your daily diets, you are actually helping the poorest of farmers, saving them from a life of misery.

    By buying millets, you also contribute to environmental good health, by reducing the stress on already stressed-out water resources. You also help in cutting down the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Millets are, therefore, good for the environment, too. 

    This is not all. Millets are good for our health, too. Today, non-communicable or lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol are rampant in rural and urban India. Many of these diseases occur because of our sedentary lifestyles, increasing stress levels, and an unbalanced diet (read: increasing use of junk food and drinks, a high level of wheat- or rice-based foods, and a lack of inclusion of different types of fruits, grains, vegetables and other ingredients). Thanks to their high nutritional content, the inclusion of millets in our daily diets can be one of the ways out of this situation. It is rather sad that people today are turning to foreign grains like quinoa and oats for their nutritional values, but ignoring our very own millets, which are far superior to these foods (even to rice and wheat, in case of most nutrients).

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    Shri Krishna Byre Gowda releasing a special cookbook containing millet-based dishes, at the workshop, along with other dignitaries

    What’s this #LetsMillet thing? Who are the various stakeholders?

    The Government of Karnataka is presently on a mission to propagate awareness about millets through workshops like this one, to encourage people to use more of them, and to teach them different ways in which they can do so. Check out the #LetsMillet hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to take a look at the considerable work that has been done in this regard.

    Chefs, dieticians, food bloggers and other social media influencers have an important role to play in contributing towards this end.

    So, millets can be used just to make stuff like ragi mudde, right?

    Millets can be used in a variety of dishes, traditional and contemporary, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Also, people take millets to mean just ragi (finger millet) or bajri (pearl millet), while that is so not the case. These are just two types of millet – there’s a whole millet family out there, for you to explore and get the benefit of. Pearl millet, kodo millet, little millet, proso millet, finger millet, barnyard millet.. there are so many varieties of millets! Most people today don’t even know what these grains look like! 

    Further, these grains can be used to make anything from gobi manchurian, dosa, idli, curd rice and bisi bele bath to risotto, ravioli, cakes and breads. For the last two years or so, chefs, home cooks and food bloggers have been experimenting with different types of millets, and there is now a wealth of recipes to be explored. So, millets does not translate into just stuff like ragi mudde.. almost anything can be made from them! They can be used in place of wheat and rice in all the dishes you commonly consume today, like curd rice or sambar rice, and they can be made into delicacies like payasam and kesari bath, too. That said, millets possess certain qualities that are inherent to them, and a chef should work around them while trying to develop dishes with them. 

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    Some of the exhibits at the workshop. Left: The various kinds of millets, and some other grains that we should be consuming; Centre (top): Palak dosa made with navane (foxtail millet); Centre (bottom): Different types of breads and cakes prepared using millets; Right (top): Various snacks prepared using millets; Right (bottom): Thalipeeth prepared using bhajni (a flour made with mixed millets and grains)

    Should I use millets just because my ancestors used them?

    The Honourable Minister of Agriculture ended his speech with a request to everyone to consider increasing the use of millets in their daily diets. He stated that he does not solicit people’s co-operation because increasing consumption of millets is a political agenda, or because our ancestors used these grains, but because they are good for us in so many different ways, a fact that has been backed up by a whole lot of systematic scientific research.

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    Dignitaries speaking about various aspects of millets, including their nutritional values and the way in which they should be introduced into one’s diet. Among the dignitaries who graced the occasion were Dr. Vilas Tonapi, Director – Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Hyderabad; Dr. Bhaskarachary of IIMR, Hyderabad; Dr. Vibha Shetty, Professor of Prosthodontics, Faculty of Dental Sciences, MS Ramaiah Dental College and Hospital; Ms. Hema Arvind, Chief Dietician, MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital; and Dr. Govind R Kadambi, Pro VC-Research, MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences.

    What are the various nutrients that millets possess?

    • They are high in dietary fibre, so they fill you up with lesser portion sizes. Therefore, they are helpful in weight management. They also help in lowering constipation.
    • They possess a low Glycemic Index (GI), and are thus useful in controlling diabetes.
    • They have anti-tumour and anti-carcinogenic properties too.
    • They are low in sodium, so they are helpful in the management of hypertension.
    • They help in the lowering of serum cholesterol and triglycerides.
    • They possess a highly alkaline nature, thereby helping in preventing and lowering the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, acidity, gallstones and stomach ulcers.
    • They are rich in anti-oxidants.
    • They possess hypo-allergenic properties and, hence, help in preventing allergic reactions.
    • They are rich in iron, thereby helping in the prevention of anaemia. 
    • They are useful in the prevention of liver disorders.
    • They are completely gluten-free.
    • Millets are far superior to wheat and rice and even quinoa, as far as various micro-nutrients are concerned.
    • They are quite high in protein, and hence, play a crucial role in a vegetarian diet, wherein protein sources are limited.
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    A panel discussion on millets by experts from various fields. The experts include food blogger Archana Doshi, reputed dietician Geetha GH, Yogen Dutta – Executive Chef of ITC Gardenia (Bangalore), and Dr. Vibha Shetty – Professor of Prosthodontics, Faculty of Dental Sciences

    If millets are so high in nutrients, should I be switching over to an all-millet diet then?

    No, that kind of extreme switching over in diet is not advisable, not recommended by dieticians or nutritionists. Yes, millets are very high in nutrients, but they do need to be supplemented by wheat, rice, pulses, vegetables, milk, meat, eggs and a variety of other foods, so as to provide complete health to a human being.

    What is advocated, really, through campaigns like this is an open mind, an acceptance to trying out different kinds of millets, at least a basic introduction of millets in your daily diet. All meals/snacks that you consume in a day need not be millet-heavy, but it would be great if at least one of them is.

    Also, millets are not a miracle cure for all your ailments. The increase in lifestyle diseases in today’s times in not just a product of an imbalanced diet, which can be cured by the introduction of millets in your diet. There are other steps that need to be taken, too, to curb this, such as lowering overall stress levels, incorporating more physical activity in our lives, etc.

    What are the things that I should keep in mind while introducing millets in my daily diet?

    • Millets can be used by people of all age groups, from a 6-month-old baby to a geriatric person, irrespective of their health condition. However, millets are believed to be goitrogenous in nature (i.e. they can enlarge one’s thyroid gland) and, hence, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before beginning to consume millets if you have a thyroid condition. If you have any other chronic ailment, too, you should ideally consult with a doctor to check on how much of millets you should consume in your daily diet, and in what form.
    • Soaking millets and throwing away the water, sprouting, cooking, roasting and fermenting are some techniques that are recommended to reduce the negative goiterogenous properties of millets.
    • Do not get carried away when you are just beginning to introduce millets into your daily diet. Do not go overboard. Introduce them slowly, little by little, into your diets, and wait and check whether they suit you. To start with, you may consume just one type of millet for a while, mixing it with rice or pulses, about twice a week, to see how they agree with you. Slowly and gradually, you may increase the quantity of millets you use.
    • Since millets are non-glutinous, baking with them can be tough. You might have to mix whole wheat flour or maida to them, to get good results.
    • There might be a slight difference in texture, when you substitute millets for rice in a dish known to you. For instance, pongal made with barnyard millet or proso millet might be grainier in texture as compared to that made with rice. That is something you should keep in mind while using millets.

    Well, that’s how Day 1 of the workshop ended. I hope you enjoyed reading the post, and found it informative!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Discussing ‘The Power Of You’ With Anaida, At SodaBottleOpenerWala

    Last weekend, I was invited to be a part of a workshop titled ‘The Power Of You’ at the famed Parsi eatery SodaBottleOpenerWala, on Lavelle Road. The workshop promised to touch upon things spiritual and emotional, including the healing power of food, how to choose the right ingredients for your food, and how to be the best version of yourself. The person conducting the workshop was none other than Anaida Parvaneh, pop star of the 1990s, a highly unlikely suspect for such a thing.

    I had a lovely time at the workshop, where I felt Anaida spoke my mind about food. I returned with my faith in the power of food and cooking renewed. This post is all about my experience at the workshop.

    About Anaida Parvaneh

    Many of us still remember the pretty Anaida crooning to Oova Oova, back in the ’90s. She was a rage back then, after all, as we were growing up, singer of many more such groovy hits. What most of us don’t know (yet) is that there is a whole other side to the beautiful Anaida – Anaida Parvaneh (yes, that’s her last name!) is an Iranian by descent, someone who loves the food of her homeland. OK, she is a foodie at heart, who loves food in general. She is also a healer, writer and consultant for the entertainment and hospitality industry. I hear her workshops on yoga, meditation and overall wellness are extremely popular, the world over.

    SodaBottleOpenerWala (Bangalore) is presently running a food festival called Persian Pop-Up Kitchen, wherein Anaida will be acting as Chef and whipping up some lovely heirloom recipes that have been handed down through generations of her family. Interesting, right? This workshop is an extension of the food festival.

    Major take-aways from the workshop

    The workshop began with Anaida speaking about the immense healing power that food possesses, of how it can be used to heal your mind, body and soul. She spoke of how, consequently, the person who cooks has a great responsibility – he/she is nourishing a whole being, and hence, needs to do the act with great love, caution, respect and patience. This is something I have always believed in, too.

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    Anaida opening the workshop, with Chef Hemant Sonar from SodaBottleOpenerWala, Thane, Mumbai

    Then, she went on to speak about how it is critical to choose the right ingredients for your cooking. The ingredients pass on their energy, their nutrients, to you, through your food, and it is, hence, important that you choose them with great care. Use fresh and seasonal ingredients that haven’t undergone undue stress (read: unhygienically grown crops, unethically raised meat, or extremely processed food). She also talked about how one needs to be aware of the different properties that various ingredients possess, and to use them wisely – most of the medicines you require for your small and big ailments are already present in your kitchen, she believes, and I vouch for the same too.

    She suggested showing gratitude to food, to the ingredients that have gone into it, thanking the Universe for providing nutrition to you, thanking all those whose efforts have gone into putting your food on your table. Once you become mindful of this, she says, you cannot not eat right and stay healthy. I heartily agree, and strongly believe in the same.

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    Anaida, in the course of her workshop

    She also spoke about how food per se does not make you fat, but it is the kind of relationship that you share with food that determines whether it is healthy or unhealthy for you. If you eat in a hassled way (read: paying no heed to your food, seated in front of a television, or emotional bingeing because you are upset or happy), you will tend to veer towards the wrong foods or overeat, ultimately negatively impacting your health. On the contrary, if you build a good relationship with food, if you love and respect it, you will automatically begin to eat just as much as you need. So, it is not the rice or the ghee or the kheer that makes you fat – do include them in your diet, too – but the lack of being mindful with them that does.

    Anaida then went on to tell the participants about how food need not be elaborate or have too many ingredients for it to be comforting and nourishing. The foods that comfort you, that heal you, are, more often than not, simple ones. So true, right? These comfort foods are different for different people, and you need to figure out your own. It is you and you alone who can pinpoint the exact things that bring you comfort and happiness from deep within.

    For the benefit of the participants, Anaida demonstrated one of her favourite comfort foods – something she calls her Magic Soup. She believes this soup – loaded with vermicelli, turnip, coriander, carrots, corn, mushrooms and mixed sprouts, among other ingredients – has healing properties and that it can help anyone who is feeling under the weather. The soup, indeed, was simple, yet beautiful – I tried out the vegetarian version.

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    Left: The ingredients for Anaida’s Magic Soup; Centre: Anaida demonstrating the non-vegetarian version of her Magic Soup; Right: The vegetarian version of the Magic Soup that I sampled

    At the workshop, we also had the pleasure of meeting Sourav Sachin of the Flipkart fame, who spoke about how all the power that you need to lead your life is right within you. It is your attitude that determines whether others are fair or unfair to you, he stated. It is your way of looking at things that makes life good or bad for you, he added. When you stop looking outside, and start looking deep within, your light will shine, he concluded.

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    Sourav Sachin, speaking at the workshop

    In conclusion…

    Both Anaida and Sourav’s words resonated with me, struck chords within me. The workshop felt like a reiteration of beliefs that I have always held. Deep inside, I think, all of us know all of this, but we often forget to be mindful in the chaos of everyday life.So, here’s to being more mindful, more slow, more accepting and aware of ourselves and what we really need!

     

    Tete-A-Tete With Chef Michael Swamy, On His Restaurant, Food And Travel

    A while ago, I got the wonderful chance to witness Chef Michael Swamy in action at a cook-off organised by Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, Bangalore. It was an informative, enriching experience that set me thinking about different food-related aspects.

    I am glad to have had the opportunity to interact further with Chef Michael Swamy, to have a little chat with him about things foodie and otherwise. I present our conversation here, for your reading pleasure.

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    Chef Michael Swamy (right) at the recent cook-off at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, alongside Chef Aniket Das (left)

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    Me: How did your journey into the culinary world start?

    Chef: I grew up in a family who entertained a lot. Growing up, we were always surrounded by great food. Also, I loved food, and loved watching cookery shows and pretending to be a TV chef. It was my mum, a documentary film-maker, who pushed me in the direction of art, food and photography, and insisted on my being a chef before I became a “TV chef”. I did my HAFT from Sophia’s and then went to London to pursue Le Cordon Bleu. Since then, there has been no looking back…

    Me: How has the ride been so far?

    Chef: It has been an awesome ride, meeting different people, chefs, and food professionals. It has also has its down moments, but I believe in continuing to do the things I believe in. At the end of the day, I go to sleep with the happy knowledge that, no matter in how small or big a way, I am working towards fulfilling my dreams.

    Me: How do you think Indian food is perceived outside India?

    Chef: It is perceived as food to be eaten when downing a beer or just a cheap dinner. It is not considered as a global cuisine yet. Also, it is perceived as a very complex cuisine, requiring a laundry list of ingredients for every dish. This is not true, as I feel that some of our best dishes are the most simple ones.

    Me: Would you like to change that?

    Chef: Of course! We need to globalize Indian cuisine and really highlight the aspects which the world will relate to, aspects which are very much present in our cuisine. We need to delve and record our culinary histories, though that is something that will take many lifetimes. One needs to make chefs more prominent. Here, I mean the true chefs, the ones that work day in and day out in their chosen profession. We need more professional chefs to become TV chefs and educate people properly about our myriad cuisines. Of course, chefs also need to come out and share their knowledge openly.

    Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

    Chef: I think the best-kept secret is that there is no secret to Indian cuisine. Each household uses their own family recipes and techniques. The same dish sometimes tastes different from village to village, city to city, and house to house. Also, some of the techniques used in Indian cooking are so unique and rare, owing to the abundance of certain elements and absolute dearth of others in several regions.

    Also, I think the cuisines of the hills, Coorg, Munnar, the inner coasts of eastern India are relatively unexplored. There are many secrets and traditions in there, and we only have barely touched the surface.

    Me: How do you think food in India has changed over the years?

    Chef: I think India is always 10 years behind global food traditions. The acceptance of the Indian palate to global foods is very slow. This is due to the fact that not much is being done to explain different cuisines to other parts of the world. We’re all too busy reviewing restaurants than actually delving into the cuisine and studying the food philosophy a chef follows and trying to understand it better. We like the role of the judge more than that of an experiencer.

    Me: Why did you choose to showcase Latin American cuisine in your restaurant Nueva? What inspired you to do so?

    Chef: As a chef and history lover, I do a lot of food research. About a decade ago, I had predicted the rise of Peruvian cuisine on the world scene, and so it was. I had studied a lot about the Spanish influence on the cuisine and the history of the continent of South America, as their culture and rain forests have always intrigued me.  At the about the same time, the executive chef at the Marriott in Bombay was Peruvian and I, being a regular at the hotel, spent a lot of time with him, even interviewing him for a magazine I was the editor of then. Though not consciously, I think I may have wished to do something with this cuisine right back then. Also, whenever I do something, I see what the world is doing and set out to do something different. When this opportunity came to me, I saw that though people were beginning to dabble in Peruvian cuisine, nobody was doing justice to the rest of South America. So, I decided – why not me?

    Me: How challenging was it to source ingredients and train staff in a cuisine that is as exotic as Latin American?

    Chef: It was, and still is, a bit challenging. That said, I have a good network, and know most of the vendors handling exotic produce from my times when I handled Masterchef India and through all these years of restaurant consultancies.

    Training staff is always a thrilling challenge and, here, the case was interesting because I decided to work mostly with freshers who did not carry any baggage of “the way we cooked at our earlier job”. None of them were familiar with Latin American cuisine or techniques, so it was a re-learning with them of sorts. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the process.

    Me: How difficult are you finding it to be an entrepreneur, vis-à-vis being a cook and food stylist?

    Chef: It is difficult, but I don’t’ know why people don’t consider being a food stylist as an entrepreneurial role! Why are only restaurateurs thought of as entrepreneurs? I have been running a business in food media for 15 years now, and it has been much more difficult to run and manage, given the much higher demands of the scope of work – and we covered the full spectrum from print to television there.  Also, people forget that I became a chef first and then decided to step out of the kitchen to pursue food styling. So, as a stylist, I was a chef, an author too!

    Me: What do you think of the recent trend of using millets in place of rice, in a lot of traditional Indian dishes? Is it here to stay or a fad that will pass away?

    Chef: Like all fads, they will disappear in the city. However, small cities and villages still rely heavily on the use of various millets. It’s just become a trend in the big cities because it has suddenly been marketed well in the west. And, sadly, despite our history, we are still so besotted with the west that we refuse to acknowledge and value our own wisdom. However, looking at the trend through the eyes of a modern cook, millets may seem daunting and not so easily applicable or likeable for many, so the busy housewife is going to return to the familiar stuff.

    Me: What do you think are the major culinary trends that will be making news in the next year or so?

    Chef: South American, Korean, and Vietnamese are the cuisines to watch out for!

    Me: How do you manage to stay healthy in spite of so much cooking, day after day?

    Chef: A healthy eating style of a good breakfast and good lunch, a light dinner before 7 pm, and some exercise when I can pull it off has helped. Also, once I eat something, I don’t dwell on the number of calories I’ve consumed. I enjoy my food and value it, and I think that’s one reason why the food I eat also keeps me healthy.

    Me: Tell us about the chefs who have inspired you the most…

    Chef: Anton Mossiman, Gary Rhodes, Charlie Trotter, and Heston Blumenthal have greatly inspired me. Their work continues to inspire me to do my best.

    Me: How was the experience of serving cricketer Virat Kohli?

    Chef:  Frankly, I’m not a person who is starstruck. My parents hailed from a media background, and I have cooked and served several celebrities through the years. The tendency of looking at a celeb and feeling awestruck is past, for me. For me, every guest, regardless of their stature in society, is equally important.

    Me: Considering the passionate traveller that you are, which are your most favourite holiday destinations?

    Chef: Dhanachuli in Uttarakhand, the mountains, and Mc Leod Gunj. The jungles of Kanha and Corbett move me too. I also love the winding roads of Ireland and the scenic lakes of Italy.

    Me: Could you tell us about your upcoming projects? What are you working on currently?

    Chef: Cookbooks are always an ongoing project for me. I am expecting my next book to be published shortly. Other than that, I’m toying with the idea of doing something content-related for television.

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    I hope you enjoyed reading this tete-a-tete just as much as I enjoyed having it!

     

     

     

    In Conversation With Chef Kunal Kapur: About Food And More

    A chef who has trained under some of the most reputed institutions out there, who has a couple of television shows to his name, who is well recognised by all and sundry in Indian households, who has been a judge of the famed MasterChef India, who has been witness to some of the most exciting trends in the culinary world, who has had the opportunity to cook for the nation’s Prime Minister and the foreign dignitaries visiting him – that is Kunal Kapur for you, a celebrity in his own right. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity, recently, to attend a ‘Food Camp’ by the celebrity chef at the International Institute Of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore.

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    Chef Kunal Kapur demonstrating different techniques of plating and the basics of molecular gastronomy, at his Food Camp, at IIHM-Bangalore

    I had gone to the event prepared with a set of questions for the chef, and was so glad the bloggers present were given a chance to have a little one-on-one conversation with him. Chef Kapur was happy to answer my questions, in his cool and composed and smiling manner.

    Without further ado, here’s presenting to you the conversation I had with Chef Kapur, about food and more.

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    Me: What is comfort food for you?

    Chef: Ice cream and chocolate – these spell out ‘comfort’ to me (laughs). Also, homely, old-time stuff like daal chawal or khichdi are what I turn to when I need comfort.

    Me: How do you think food has changed over the years?

    Chef: I think everyone wants to order out these days. There are very few people today who really love cooking, and that is a sad state of affairs. Food has become fancy. Plating is of crucial importance now. Soon enough, actual home-cooked, simple food will be a luxury.

    Me: How do you manage to stay fit, in spite of cooking so much, day after day after day? 

    Chef: I try to burn whatever I eat – that is the only way. I think you can eat all that you want, but in moderation. And you have to work out, get moving, and burn fat.

    Me: You are currently researching unique pickles across India for your latest book. Could you tell us more about this book?

    Chef: Yes, you are right. I am travelling from one place to another in India, talking to people, trying to find out about various pickling practices used in the country. There are so many unique pickles made in our country, many of them unheard of by common people. That is the stuff I want to bring to light through my latest book.

    This book will take me at least two more years to write. The Internet hasn’t been of much use in my research – this is something that needs extensive travel and first-hand research. I am in full-on research mode, for the book, as of now.

    Me: What are the most unique pickles that you have come across, in the course of your research?

    Chef: A very unique pickle I encountered, in the course of my research, was one made of mustard leaves, in Darjeeling. The leaves are pounded, put into a sack and buried under the earth for over a week’s time, to ferment. Post this, the fermented leaves are dried and pickled. This is something I had never heard of before!

    Then, there was this mahani root pickle that I tried out in South India. The root is pickled in buttermilk, which is said to preserve the pickle. This completely blew me away. Commonly, when we think of pickles, we think of a whole lot of salt, spices and oil – but this pickle is so very different!

    Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

    Chef: I would say, the dadis and nanis in Indian families, the grandmothers, are the best-kept secrets of the culinary world. These grandmothers possess a wealth of experience and knowledge. They have, in their repertoire, a number of culinary secrets and recipes that are, largely, unknown to the modern world. They are the best people we should be learning to cook from!

    Me: You have been conducting food camps in different cities across India. What do you plan to achieve with them?

    Chef: Yes, I have been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. These food camps are, basically, workshops where students can learn the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends and reinvention. These hotel management students are the chefs of tomorrow, which is why I want to work with them, to train them. I want them to get the benefit of my experience of all these years.

    Through these workshops, I plan to bridge the gap between the trends prevailing in the culinary world, nationally and internationally, and the syllabus followed in these institutes.

    Me: How was your experience cooking Sattvik food for PM Narendra Modi, on his visit to Bangalore? And for the visiting German dignitaries? Do tell us more!

    Chef: Oh, it was a wonderful experience! I had a lot of fun preparing a slew of vegetarian dishes for Narendra Modiji, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the other honoured guests. I am so glad I got this opportunity to showcase the wealth of vegetarian dishes we have in India, to these guests.

    You know, I was okay cooking Sattvik food for Modiji, since he is used to vegetarian dishes. I was actually scared of preparing vegetarian food for the German dignitaries, who are hard-core meat-eaters. What if they didn’t like what I had to offer them?, I worried. I needn’t have worried, though. Everyone loved the meal, German dignitaries included.

    Me: Is there a memoir in the offing? Do you plan to write a book telling your fans all about yourself?

    Chef: Oh, I don’t think I am accomplished enough to do something like that! I’m still learning about food, trends and different cuisines of the world. There are a whole lot of things about food that I want to write about – not myself.

    If someone else wants to write about me, though, they are welcome to take it up (laughs). That is not a task that I want to undertake myself.

    I hope you enjoyed reading our little conversation, folks! Do let me know!

     

     

     

    Kunal Kapur’s Food Camp, IIHM-Bangalore: An Absolutely Enthralling Experience

    Earlier this week, I was invited to be a part of ‘Food Camp’ by celebrity Chef Kunal Kapoor at the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore. It was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands, because why would a foodie like me miss a chance to learn from a celebrity chef himself?!

    This post is a sneak peek into the event, and what I learned therein.

    About Kunal Kapur’s food camp

    Since the start of this year, Chef Kunal Kapur has been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. Each food camp is basically a workshop, where he trains students of the institute in the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends prevailing nationally and internationally, and the like. In his own words, ‘these food camps are my way of bridging the gap between actual trends in the culinary world and what these students study in their institutes, as part of their syllabus’.

    A sneak peek into the food camp at IIHM, Bangalore

    This week, the camp was held at IIHM in Indiranagar, Bangalore. I got an opportunity to be part of the event, in my capacity as a food blogger. It turned out to be one of the best events I have ever attended, very interesting and enlightening. I am sure the things I learnt at this food camp are going to stay with me and be of use to me, for a long time to come.

    The approximately 2.5-hour-long session began with an introduction to Chef Kunal Kapur (no one needed it, of course!). Then, the chef came up on stage to talk about how food and the way we perceive food has changed over the course of time.

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    Chef Kunal Kapur talking about the way food has changed over the years

    He talked about how plating is a skill that is crucially important for chefs these days, because everyone expects their food to look good.

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    The Chef, demonstrating different approaches to plating food

    Then, to a spell-bound audience, the chef went on to demonstrate three of the widely used approaches to plating food – Classic, Linear and Asymmetrical. He plated the same dish – chicken breast with sauce – using each of these three approaches, something that won him a huge round of applause.

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    Left: The classic approach to plating (food in centre of plate); Centre: The linear approach to plating (food arranged in a straight line across the plate); Right: The Asymmetrical approach to plating (as the name suggests, food arranged without any apparent symmetry on the plate)

    Then, we were shown a variety of techniques to make sauces or purees look attractive while plating food. Using simple kitchen utensils – a juice glass, a spoon, a ketchup bottle – the chef went on to create awe-inspiring patterns on plates. So, so, so very interesting this was!

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    A variety of styles in which sauces and other purees can be plated, as demonstrated by Chef Kunal Kapur. Picture courtesy: at200deg

    Lastly came the most impressive, the most interesting, the best part of the entire event – a session on molecular gastronomy!

    ‘Molecular gastronomy is the ‘in thing’ in restaurants in India and abroad these days. It is nothing but the use of science in cooking and plating,’ said Chef Kapur. ‘Through its use, you can change the form of various ingredients in your dish, as you know them. Through it, you can reinvent the way a traditional dish looks like – change the clients’ perception of how a particular dish is supposed to look like – without changing its taste,’ he added.

    ‘We drink orange juice. We can use molecular gastronomy to convert the form of orange juice, so people can eat it. This is but one example,’ Chef Kapur said.

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    Chef Kapur demonstrating how to make spheres from curd

    Then, Chef Kapur literally spun magic on-stage, as he used substances like Soy Lecithin, Sodium Alginate, Agar Agar and Calcium Lactate to convert the form of certain ingredients as we know them. He converted orange juice into little beads resembling caviar, which burst in your mouth and create a burst of delightful flavour. He converted the imli ki chutney that we have all used a countless number of times in chaats, into foam that would stay put for some time and taste exactly the same as the chutney. He went on to create beautiful, beautiful spheres from sweetened curd and a thick, flavourful gel out of pomegranate juice. By this time, all of us were transfixed, riveted to our seats.

    The session ended with a demonstration of Chef Kapur’s version of dahi papdi chaat, a dish that is no doubt delicious, but often isn’t very visually appealing. The chef reinvented dahi papdi chaat as we know it, with potato hummus, imli ki chutney foam, anar gel, and dahi spheres. Super-duper cool!

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    Left: Chef Kapur’s version of a deconstructed dahi papdi chaat, Right: The dahi spheres that made up part of the dish (The picture on the right is courtesy of at200deg)

    Overall, this was an event that I thoroughly enjoyed, an experience that I will cherish forever. Chef Kapur was such a sport, humble and sweet, answering questions in such a composed manner, open to sharing the knowledge of his years of kitchen experience with eager students. It made me look at the profession of a chef with new eyes, with new respect. This surely wasn’t an evening I am going to forget for a long time to come.

    I can’t thank IIHM-Bangalore for this opportunity to get up close and personal with Chef Kunal Kapur. And, oh, I even managed a little one-on-one conversation and interview with the chef – coming up on the blog soon! Watch out for it!

    Cook-Off With Chef Michael Swamy, at Fairfield By Marriott

    I recently got the opportunity to witness celebrated Chef Michael Swamy in action, at a cook-off organised by Fairfield By Marriott. It turned out to be a fun evening, as Chef Swamy, alongside Chef Aniket Das (Executive Chef at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar) demonstrated a few recipes from Maharashtra and Karnataka. The best part? The Chefs showed the audience, consisting of food bloggers and foodies, how to cook these dishes in a healthy way, without having to compromise on the taste.

    The cook-off began with Chef Das demonstrating a dish from his childhood in Maharashtra, usal made with moong sprouts. He explained how the dish is full of nutrition, thanks to the addition of moong sprouts and is made with extremely little oil. It can make for a lovely breakfast option, he said.

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    On the left: Chef Aniket Das demonstrating moong sprouts usal at the cook-off, On the right: The usal that Chef Das created, served with pav, onions and slices of lemon

    Next up, Chef Swamy showed the audience how to prepare Fish In Chinchoni Masala. Chinchoni masala is a special kind of spice mix used in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, that adds spicy and sour flavours (‘chinch‘, in Marathi, means ‘sour’). The masala can be prepared very easily at home, and imparts a beautiful reddish-orange colour to any dish that it is used in. The fish used in this particular dish was steamed (rather than fried) and cooked in very little oil, making this a healthy yet flavourful preparation.

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    On the left: Chef Michael Swamy demonstrating Fish In Chinchoni Masala, On the right: The dish, prepared and beautifully plated

    Lastly, both the chefs jointly demonstrated a Karnataka-special recipe – Ragi Shavige aka Ragi Vermicelli Upma. All of us know of the numerous health benefits that ragi (finger millet) possesses, and this upma is a delicious way to use all of that goodness, Chef Das stated.

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    On the left: Chef Michael Swamy and Chef Aniket Das jointly demonstrating Ragi Shavige, On the right: The ragi shavige aka ragi vermicelli upma that the chefs jointly created

    Both the chefs then expressed their desire to make Indian cuisine better known in the world. ‘India has such a vast culinary heritage. Every little part of the country has several indigenous foods to boast of, and yet, when the world talks about Indian cuisine, it is mostly understood to be just a few dishes like chicken tikka, masala dosa and chicken curry. That is so not the real picture,’ said Chef Das.

    ‘The only way to clarify this misconception is through masterclasses like this, where people get to know the real breadth of Indian cuisine,’ said Chef Swamy. That is so very true, when you come to think of it, no?

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    Chef Aniket Das (left) and Chef Michael Swamy (right) posing alongside the three dishes they demonstrated as part of the cook-off

    The cook-off ended with a beautiful high tea that showcased selected dishes from Maharashtra and Karnataka, like pao bhaji, podi idli, ragi dosa, bhel poori, vada pav, gobi manchurian, mirchi bajji, onion pakoras, thandai, cutting chai, filter coffee, and mango milkshake. Delectable much!

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    A sneak peek into the high tea at the cook-off! On the left: Gobi manchurian and vada pav, Centre: a variety of mini idlis, ragi dose, Maddur vade, On the right: Mumbai-style bhel poori, onion pakoras and mirchi bajjis

    I have to thank the chefs as well as Fairfield By Marriott for this very well-presented, thought-provoking, and informative cook-off!

    About Chef Michael Swamy

    Chef Michael Swamy is a well-known figure in the Indian and international culinary world, with a career spanning over 20 years. This Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef has had the honour of having cooked for and served several prestigious personalities like Sir Andrew Pagewood and Prince Charles. He has authored two Gourmand Award-winning books, The East Indian Kitchen and Easy Guide To Pairing Indian Food & Wine. His third book, Comfort Food, co-authored with Mugdha Savkar, was released recently.

    Chef Swamy has worked as food critic and feature writer for various magazines and periodicals, such as Jetwings and Jetlite (in-flight magazines in Jet Airways), Liquid, and Asian Photography. He has also contributed articles on various aspects of world and Indian cuisine, patisserie, desserts and sweets, for various newspapers, magazines and websites.

    In February 2017, Chef Swamy launched his own restaurant, Nueva, in New Delhi, where he serves his take on South American cuisine.

    About Chef Aniket Das

    Chef Aniket Das heads the kitchen at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, Bangalore. This culinary artistry expert has been associated with the Marriott group for over 7 years now, juggling various roles in different hotels in the group. He has also had international exposure with a 2-year stint at the Movenpick Hotel in Doha, Qatar, as Executive Sous Chef.

    Chef Das believes in keeping his flavours authentic and his plating artistic.

    A Lego Kiddie Workshop In Bangalore + Product Review: Lego Duplo’s My Town (10832)

    I am sure the name ‘Lego’ needs no introduction, especially to the parents of young kids. Lego is known for its good-quality building blogs that are believed to stimulate creativity, and are coveted by children and parents alike. So, a while ago, when I was invited to attend a workshop for kids by Lego, at Orion Mall, Bangalore, I readily accepted.

    Lego’s Build Amazing Workshop For Kids At Orion Mall, Bangalore

    At the workshop, I saw first-hand how impressionable, creative and unfettered young minds are, and how moulding them the right way helps. The kids were offered a whole lot of Lego pieces in all imaginable shapes and sizes and colours, and were asked to create various things  – ‘Make something that flies!’, ‘Build something beautiful!’, ‘Build something using only red Lego tiles!’ – and I was constantly amazed by all that they came up.

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    Something that flies… who’d have thunk?!

    At the workshop, I learnt that Lego is presently on a year-long campaign called ‘Build Amazing’, wherein it aims to introduce kids and their parents (from different walks of life, in different parts of the world) to its toys, educating them on how to use these toys to promote children’s natural creativity. To make Lego toys accessible to parents of all income groups, new and affordable Starter Sets have been introduced. These Starter Sets come in different styles and for different age groups, all priced between INR 399 onwards.

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    Mr. Amit Kararia, Sr. Regional Sales Manager, South Asia, Lego Sinagpore PTE Ltd., speaking at the workshop at Orion Mall, Bangalore

    Great initiative, this!

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    A review of Lego Duplo’s My Town (10832)

    Post the workshop, I was sent one of the new Lego Duplo Starter Sets to use in play with the bub and to review honestly. The product that I received was called My Town, numbered 10832. (There are other Lego Duplo ‘My Town’ products available as well, with different numbers.)

    About the product

    Lego Duplo’s My Town (10832) is meant for children between 2 and 5 years of age. As the name suggests, it includes blocks that represent ‘town’ life aka urban life, like balloons, a bespectacled lady, birthday cake, see-saws and presents. The package also contained a little chequered carpet that can be used wherever and whenever the child’s imagination dictates. The toy is meant for the kid to help create scenes from modern-day life.

    Within the package, also, was a leaflet about the other Starter Sets I could buy to supplement these blocks, to create a bigger, more extensive collection.

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    Left: The package that was sent to me for review, Centre: The contents of the box, immediately upon opening, Right: A close-up of some of the building blocks from the package

    Price

    This set is priced at INR 1299.

    Availability

    Lego Duplo’s Starter Sets are available in most toy stores, as well as on Amazon.

    My impressions about the product – Low-down on the good and the bad

    1. I love the fact that there are no sharp edges or tiny pieces that I have to watch out for, constantly. The product is meant for little kids who would be sorely tempted to put things into their mouth, and I am glad this thing has been taken care of.
    2. I love the product quality. Every block has great quality, meant to last long.
    3. I am thrilled with the fact that this is such a gender-neutral toy. There are all colours in there – not only pinks or blues! The types of building blocks provided are such that be enjoyed both by little girls as well as boys.
    4. There are some really unique building materials in there – a bespectacled lady and balloons, like I said before, for instance. The materials are something that a kid living in a city like Bangalore would easily be able to relate to.
    5. I felt the number of building blocks are quite less, considering its price. In fact, when I opened the package, I wondered for a while whether I had missed receiving some blocks – there were too few of them! I would have liked for the product to have come with more blocks. There are just a limited number of permutations and combinations that you can (easily) come up with using the few blocks that have been provided. Eventually, one would have to scale up by buying other sets to supplement this product.
    6. I loved racking my brains and coming up with different ways to use the building blocks. I built a birthday party scene, then a garden scene, then one where two kids and their mother was decorating the terrace for their dad’s birthday – all pure imagination. The bub loved watching me building these scenes, and listened intently while I explained them to her. I am an adult with a creative bent of mind, and was still finding it tough to come up with more than these scenes – so I cannot fathom a very young kid (like my daughter) doing a lot of imagining and building using these blocks. Building with these blocks is, to be honest, sort of abstract and requires colourful imagination. Maybe, when the bub is a bit older – say, 4 or 5 – she will be doing a lot more with the blocks – for older kids, the limited number of blocks might actually force them to think out of the box and come up with extraordinary creativity. Maybe, for now, I should teach the bub other activities like counting, identifying colours, and so on, using these blocks.
    7. My 2.5-year-old daughter finds it a bit tough to join two or more blocks together or dismantle them, so she lets me do the job and just watches on. I am guessing more motor skills are needed to be actively involved and playing with these blocks.
    8. I felt the package lacked a guide of some of the things that can be built using these blocks – that would have been lovely. I mean, the box does have some illustrations depicting what could be built, but everyone knows that boxes aren’t for ever. A descriptive booklet indicating the various ways in which these blocks can be used would have been a great help.
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    The three scenes I could imagine and build – Left: A kid’s birthday party, Centre: A park, with a see-saw, Right: A mother and her two kids trying to decorate the terrace for the father’s birthday

    My verdict

    Overall, I feel this is a good product, one that will endure for at least 3-4 years. However, I felt the price does not justify the limited number of blocks provided. I would probably look for discount bargains on this one, or try to buy a bigger product which has a more reasonable price.

    Disclaimer

    I received this product free of cost, in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed herein are completely my own, not influenced by anyone or anything.

    Have your kids played with Lego? Which are their favourite Lego sets? What would you think of this particular product?

     

    Barnyard Millet Dosa| No-Rice Dosa Recipe

    I’m new to cooking with millets. I know there is a lot of talk, these days, about how millets are extremely good for us health-wise and environment-wise, and how we should be cooking a lot more with them. I haven’t really used millets much, though. At the most, I have used just two varieties of millet – ragi aka finger millet and bajri aka pearl millet – and that too in just a couple of dishes. I understand there’s a whole millet world out there to explore – a whole lot of varieties of millet, a whole lot of things that I could do with them.

    I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Mr. Jayaram HR, owner of The Green Path, a restaurant that serves a variety of foods made from millets, as well as some ‘forgotten foods’. He has an interesting life story, but that is for another day. His talk on how it is high time millets found more of a foothold in our lives acted as a catalyst for me – it inspired me to do more with them in my kitchen.

    And then, close on the heels of this talk, the hugely successful Organics And Millets Mela was held at the Palace Grounds, which I managed to attend. The scale of the event, the effort made by the government to reach out to the commonest of people, and the sheer variety of millet-based dishes on display stunned me. The mela gave further shape to my dreams of cooking with millets. Campaigns by fellow food bloggers for the mela gave rise to the sharing of a huge number of millet dishes, wowing not just me but a whole lot of people.

    To cut a long story short, all of this has ensured that I have, finally, jumped up on the millets bandwagon too. I have started cooking with other types of millets too – other than the two varieties I was used to. It’s too early to say whether this has had an good impact on my health or not, but I have started using them for sure, slowly and steadily. I will update you all about my millet journey, as and when I reach significant milestones.

    For now, here’s presenting to you a tried and tested recipe for Barnyard Millet (‘Kudhiravaali‘ in Tamil) dosa, which all of us in our family love. These dosas contain absolutely no rice, and taste just like the regular ones – no one can tell the difference! They are supposed to be more filling, yet lighter on the digestive system, than the rice-based dosas.

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    No-rice dosas using barnyard millet aka kudhiravaali

    Here is how I make these barnyard millet dosas.

    Ingredients (makes 15-18 dosas):

    1. 2 cups of barnyard millet aka kudhiravaali
    2. 3/4 cup whole white urad
    3. 1/4 cup sago pearls (sabudana)
    4. 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
    5. Salt, to taste
    6. Oil, as required to make the dosas

    Method:

    1. Wash the barnyard millet 2-3 times in running water, or till the water runs clear. Soak it overnight in just enough water to cover it.
    2. Wash the urad thoroughly. Soak it, along with the fenugreek seeds, overnight in enough water to completely cover them.
    3. Soak the sago pearls overnight, in just enough water to cover them.
    4. In the morning, drain out the excess water from the urad and fenugreek seeds, and grind them to a fine paste in the mixer. Remove into a large vessel.
    5. Now, drain out the excess water from the barnyard millet and sago pearls, and grind them together to a fine paste in a mixer. Transfer to the vessel that contains the urad batter. Mix well.
    6. Add salt to taste to the batter.
    7. Keep the batter, covered, in a cool and dry place in the kitchen for about 8 hours, to ferment. Fermenting time might be less than 8 hours in case of hot summer days.
    8. Once the batter has fermented and risen sufficiently, keep the vessel, covered, in the refrigerate.
    9. Get the batter out of the refrigerator only when you are ready to make dosas.
    10. Heat a dosa pan till drops of water dance on it, and then reduce the flame. Spread out a ladleful of the batter in the centre of the pan. Spread about 1 teaspoon of oil around the periphery of the dosa. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then flip the dosa over to the other side. Let cook for a couple of minutes more. Transfer the dosa to a serving plate.
    11. Prepare all the dosas in a similar fashion. Serve hot with sambar or chutney of your choice.

    Notes:

    1. You can substitute barnyard millet with any other type of millet, to make these dosas.
    2. Beaten rice aka poha can be used instead of sago pearls, in the same quantity.
    3. There is no need to add additional water while grinding the urad, sago, fenugreek and barnyard millet. If you feel you aren’t able to grind the batter well, add a little water.
    4. Do not keep the batter at room temperature for too long, after fermentation occurs. This will increase the chances of the batter turning sour.
    5. There is absolutely no difference in the proceedure of making these dosas, vis-a-vis regular rice-based dosas.

    You like? I hope you will try out these dosas too, and that you will love them just as much as we did!

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    Interested in reading about the other millet recipes on my blog? Here you go!