Kashmiri Wazwan @ Radisson Blu, Marathahalli

I consider myself incredibly lucky for having had the chance to visit Kashmir, the land touted as ‘Paradise on Earth’, not once but twice so far. I am glad I have had a chance to explore a little of the cuisine of this beautiful place, to delve deeper into the food that nourishes the people of this land. Kashmiri cuisine has always surprised me with its out-of-the-box (at least for me) preparations, the use of spices to make food magical, and its simplicity. So, when I was recently invited to partake of a Kashmiri feast at Saffron, Radisson Blu in Marathahalli, I absolutely had to go. I ended up having an absolutely lovely time here, with some great food being served.

This is one food festival you must head to!

Kashmiri Wazwan food festival at Saffron

Saffron, the restaurant at Radisson Blu, Marathahalli, is celebrating a Kashmiri food festival till August 20, 2018. Kashmiri chef Irshad Ahmad Wani and his team are all set to serve to the citizens of Bangalore a feast full of the flavours of his hometown.

The special menu curated for the food festival, called Kashmiri Wazwan, is available only for dinner at Saffron, on an a la carte basis. There are loads of options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, which is something I loved. I also loved that the menu encompasses more than Kashmiri pulao, kahwah and dum aloo, which is what Kashmiri food means to a lot of people.

If you are in ‘uru and have always wanted to try out food from the valley, this is your chance to do so! The food for the festival is being cooked by an actual Kashmiri chef and his team, and is hence as authentic as can be. How cool is that, right?

The ambience at Saffron

Saffron exudes an old-world charm, with its dark wood furniture, high ceilings, and large windows. The decor is simple and understated, yet elegant. There are little, classy pops of art here and there, which add to the charm of the place.

Glimpses of Saffron, the restaurant at Radisson Blu, Marathahalli

The restaurant feels airy and bright, in spite of having a generous number of seats. This is not a dimly-lit place, but one filled with natural sunlight, and I absolutely loved that.

The open kitchen at the back lets you have a view of all the behind-the-scenes action, building up your appetite in the process.

The service was impeccable, the staff attentive yet not hovering. They were brimming with Radisson Blu’s characteristic courtesy, warmth and friendliness.

Food and drinks

Now, let’s take a look at the food and drinks we sampled at Saffron!

We started our meal with Sabzi Badami Shorba, a light vegetable soup with slivers of almond in it. It was subtly spiced, the perfect foil for all the beautiful dishes that were about to be served to us in the course of the meal.

Top: Subzi Badami Shorba; Bottom left and right: Papads and fries with assorted dips

Along with the soup, we were presented a basket of papads and fries, with an assortment of Kashmiri dips. The dips – spicy onion, walnut and curd, radish, and green chilly and mint – were so very lovely. We loved munching on these, especially so because they brought back fond memories of hearty meals we have had while holidaying in Kashmir.

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The starters we tried at the Kashmiri Wazwan food festival. Top Left: Paneer Tikka (Picture Courtesy: Avril’s Food Journee); Bottom Left: Makai Malai Tikki; Bottom Right: Nadru Ki Shaami; Top Right: Zaam Doodh Kebab

Then came the starters. The Paneer Tikka (cottage cheese marinated in spices and grilled) and Makai Malai Tikki (corn and cream cutlets) were presented first, both of which were decent. The paneer was supremely soft and the corn tikkis melt-in-your-mouth, but, again, I felt they could have done with a bit more flavour.

The next starter, Nadru Ki Shaami, cutlets made with lotus stem, didn’t really titillate my tastebuds. They were really well done, but I would have loved some more flavour to them.

The Zaam Doodh Kebab or hung curd patties that were brought to the table next were beautiful – the star of the starters for me. They were just the right amount of sour, perfectly made, and the walnut stuffing within took the taste up several notches.

And then, it was time to move on to the main course.

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The main course dishes we sampled at Kashmiri Wazwan. Top: Assorted vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes; Bottom Left: Assorted flatbreads with Modur Pulav and a non-vegetarian gravy; Bottom Centre: My main course platter; Bottom Right: Al Yakhni, which stole the show for me

With some wonderful, pillow soft flatbreads, I sampled four vegetarian Kashmiri curries.

The Kashmiri Dum Aloo, baby potatoes cooked Kashmir-style with a yogurt- and tomato-based gravy, was just beautiful.

The Tamatar Chaman, deep-fried cottage cheese cooked in a tomato-fennel gravy, though, was just average.

The Schuk Wangun, baby eggplants cooked the Kashmiri way, with a tomato-and-tamarind base literally had me licking my fingers. Yes, it was that delish!

It was the Al Yakhni, a yogurt-based preparation with bottlegourd, that stole the show for me. It was so mild, so simple, yet so delicious! Who would have thought bottlegourd could be this fantastic?!

The Modur Pulav that came next – a sweet Kashmiri preparation with basmati rice, dry fruits, nuts and herbs – was brilliant too. It was so fragrant, so subtle, yet an absolute delight to eat.

Left: The First Kiss, a mocktail at Saffron; Top Right: Black Magic, another mocktail; Bottom Right: Kashmiri Kahwah

Along with our meal, we sipped on a couple of mocktails from Saffron’s extensive drink menu. I tried out The First Kiss, a medley of orange, apple and lemon, was very well made and refreshing. I also sampled Black Magic, a mocktail with cola, lemon, ginger and mint that I loved to bits. Please note that the mocktails are not part of the Kashmiri Wazwan menu, but they can be served to you from the regular bar menu if you so desire, at an additional cost.

We washed the food down with some Kashmiri Kahwah, a warm and mildly sweet concoction that was very well brewed.

Phirni and Kesar Ras Malai at Saffron

Our meal ended with the two desserts that are on offer as part of the Kashmiri Wazwan menu – Phirni and Kesar Ras Malai.

I have never been a big fan of the grainy texture of phirni or its taste so, as always, it didn’t excite me too much. The Kesar Ras Malai? Now, that was a different story altogether. It was so very well done, with just the right amount of sweet and thickness. Served cold, with a hint of saffron to it, it was heavenly!

In hindsight…

All of us had a thoroughly enjoyable meal at the Kashmiri Wazwan food festival. I loved most of the food that was served to us, and Saffron’s wonderful hospitality ensured that we had a great experience overall.

Like I was saying earlier, the food took us back to our holidays in Kashmir, making us remember some lovely meals we have had there. The food is, indeed, true-blue Kashmiri, or at least to the extent that that is possible in Bangalore.

Don’t miss this! Head to Saffron at Radisson Blu, Marathahalli, on or before August 20 for your fix of Kashmiri flavours.

 

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Nei Payasam| Kerala Rice Kheer

This year, the festival of Onam falls on August 27. I am eagerly waiting for the day to arrive, so I can lay my hands on a typical Onam sadya (a traditional plantain-leaf feast served on the occasion of Onam). ๐Ÿ˜‰ Till then, I plan to herald the festival on my blog through a series of Onam-special recipes, courtesy of my mother-in-law who hails from Palakkad.

Today, I present to you the recipe for Nei Payasam, a Kerala-style kheer made with matta rice. This payasam is typically served in the course of an Onam sadya. It is also commonly prepared during weddings and other festive occasions, and as an offering to God in the temples of Kerala.

Nei payasam‘ literally translates into ‘kheer with ghee‘, and, true to its name, this kheer is redolent of the goodness of ghee. All of us at home are big fans of this nei payasam, with its coconut-ghee flavour, and slurp it up by the bowlfuls. Yes, the bub included! ๐Ÿ™‚

This kheer is traditionally made with jaggery, and is really sweet and rich and heavenly, especially to those with a huge sweet tooth like us. In fact, this dish is often referred to as ‘Kadu Madhura Payasam‘ or ‘kheer that is very sweet’ in Kerala households. I have slightly reduced the quantity of jaggery, ghee and coconut than what is usually used, but the payasam still tasted absolutely beautiful.

Now, without further ado, let’s get to the recipe for this Kerala nei payasam aka kadu madhura payasam, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1/2 cup broken matta rice
  2. 1 cup jaggery
  3. 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
  4. 2 pinches of dry ginger powder (optional)
  5. 2 pinches of cardamom (elaichi) powder
  6. 4 tablespoons ghee (divided)
  7. 8-10 cashewnuts
  8. 1 tablespoon raisins

Method:

1. Wash the broken matta rice thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water.

2. Pressure cook the washed and drained rice with 1 cup water for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the jaggery together with 2 cups of water. Keep on high flame till the jaggery melts completely. Let the jaggery syrup come to a boil.

4. Now, turn the flame to medium. Add the cooked broken matta rice to the melted jaggery in the pan, along with the fresh grated coconut.

5. Cook on medium flame, stirring intermittently, till the mixture begins to thicken.

6. When the mixture starts thickening add in 2 tablespoons of ghee. Cook for a minute or so more, or till the mixture is thick, yet slightly runny.

7. Add in the dry ginger powder and cardamom powder. Mix well. Cook for a few seconds, then switch off the flame.

8. In another pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add in the cashewnuts (broken) and the raisins. Once the raisins plump up, switch off the gas. Ensure the cashewnuts and raisins do not burn.

9. Add the plumped raisins and cashewnuts to the rice-jaggery mixture in the other pan. Mix well.

10. Serve the nei payasam hot, at room temperature or chilled.

Notes:

1. I have used broken matta rice here, which is also called Palakkadan rosematta rice or Kerala red rice. You can use any variety of Kerala rice to make this nei payasam.

2. You can even add slivered almonds to the nei payasam. I haven’t.

3. I have used yellowish-coloured jaggery to make this payasam, which has contributed to its light colour. Traditionally, in Kerala homes, reddish jaggery is used, which gives the payasam a deep reddish-brown hue.

4. Some people add in slices of banana to the payasam, after it is cooked. I have skipped that.

5. The quantities of rice, jaggery, water and ghee above were just perfect for us. You may increase or decrease the quantities of these ingredients, as per personal taste preferences.

6. Make sure the cashewnuts and raisins do not get burnt.

7. For best results, use good-quality grainy ghee and jaggery. Also, ensure that you use freshly grated coconut.

8. You can add in a few slivers of coconut while frying the raisins and cashewnuts. I haven’t.

9. Do not overcook the payasam, as that will lead to the rice getting overly hard. Also, add in the rice when the jaggery has fully melted and the syrup is beginning to boil.

10. Remember that the rice needs to be pressure cooked well, but should not be overlooked. A slightly grainy texture works best for this nei payasam.

11. Switch off the gas when the payasam has thickened considerably, but is still quite runny. It thickens quite a bit more on cooling.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog HopThis post is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme this week is ‘Onam Recipes’.

I’m also sharing this with Fiesta Friday #236, whose co-hosts this week are Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

Thai Grapefruit Salad

Did you know that the grapefruit lends itself beautifully to a salad? Grapefruit salad can be super refreshing and super delicious, especially if you make it the Thai way. Thai grapefruit salad is beautiful, bursting with sweet and salty and tangy and spicy flavours.

A few days back, a couple of ruby red grapefruit found their way into my shopping bag. I was picking up our weekly quota of vegetables when I spotted these grapefruit that had been imported from South Africa. Now, I don’t usually buy stuff that isn’t local or seasonal in Bangalore, but I made an exception for these – I wanted to introduce the bub to grapefruit, and I wanted to try this fruit out myself. So, in they went.

Sadly, though, none of us liked the slightly bitter aftertaste the fruit has. I didn’t have the heart to throw out good fruit, and this Thai grapefruit salad is what happened to it. Unlike the fruit itself, the salad was hugely loved by everyone at home; it became an instant hit and was gobbled up within minutes of the making. Like I said before, it was bursting with flavours, quite delicious and refreshing. It was a breeze to put together as well!

Now, the husband is asking me to buy more grapefruit just so we can have more of this lovely salad. ๐Ÿ˜‰

When I posted a picture of this salad on my Instagram and Facebook, I had quite a few people DMing me to ask for the recipe. As promised, here is the recipe for all of you guys.

Here is how I made the Thai grapefruit salad.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  1. 1 big ruby red grapefruit
  2. Juice of 1/2 lemon
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
  5. 2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
  6. 1 green chilly
  7. 2 teaspoons soya sauce or to taste
  8. 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce or to taste
  9. 1/4 cup peanuts

Method:

1. Dry roast the peanuts on medium flame till crisp. Ensure that they do not burn. Let them cool down completely.

2. Peel the grapefruit and separate the segments. Remove all seeds, skin and pips. Use your hands to make small bite-sized portions of the flesh. Place these in a mixing bowl.

3. Pulse the roasted peanuts a couple of times in a mixer, a couple of seconds each. You should just coarsely crush the peanuts and not make a fine powder. Add the coarsely crushed peanuts to the mixing bowl.

4. Chop the green chilly very finely, and add to the mixing bowl.

5. To the mixing bowl, add salt to taste, raw cane sugar, finely chopped coriander, lemon juice, soya sauce and Sriracha sauce. Mix well, but gently. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. If you feel the heat from the Sriracha sauce is enough, skip adding the green chilly.
  2. I used Sriracha sauce from Thai Heritage to make this salad.
  3. I used soya sauce from Ching’s to make this Thai grapefruit salad.
  4. Adjust the quantity of salt, raw cane sugar, lemon juice, soya sauce and Sriracha sauce as per personal taste preferences.
  5. Honey or jaggery powder can be used in place of raw cane sugar. You can even use brown sugar or powdered white refined sugar.
  6. You can use a pomelo (chakota), sweet lime (mosambi) or orange in place of the grapefruit.
  7. Make sure you don’t burn the peanuts while roasting them. Also, they need to be just coarsely crushed and not finely powdered.
  8. Be careful while adding in the salt. The soya sauce will be quite salty too.
  9. The chakota or pomelo is also sometimes referred to as Indian grapefruit. I used a ruby red grapefruit imported from South Africa, to make this salad.

Did you like this recipe? Please do let me know in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #236. The co-hosts this week are Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

 

Kavuni Arisi Adai| Indian Black Rice Pancakes

Have you ever cooked with black rice? It is an ingredient very new to my kitchen, for I started cooking with black rice fairly recently. These Indian Black Rice Pancakes are something I used it in a while back, and they were so much loved by everyone at home!

Some quick facts about Black Rice

  1. Black rice has a deep black colour, which comes from the anthocyanins present in them. Anthocyanins are a family of antioxidants that are present in foods with a similar colour, such as blackberries and blueberries.
  2. The anthocyanins in black rice help in preventing cancer and heart disease, regulate blood sugar, and reduce the absorption of cholesterol. This rice is higher in fibre and protein than ordinary white rice, too. It has a high level of iron and Vitamin E. It has a lower number of calories than brown rice.
  3. Black rice has a mild, nutty taste that lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes. The rice turns purplish in hue when cooked.
  4. Black rice is majorly grown in tropical areas like North-East region in India, as well as in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. There might be variations in the types of black rice grown at each of these places.
  5. Considering that black rice is so high in nutrition, it was once reserved only for royalty in China. Only rulers and their families would be allowed to eat it, due to which it was given the name ‘Forbidden Rice’. Though the rice is still referred to as Forbidden Rice at times, it is now widely available in supermarkets and health stores across India.
  6. In spite of its high nutritional content, black rice still remains a largely unexplored ingredient in India. The Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, though, has been using this rice since ages. The Chettiars or the locals of this region, mostly traders, would often travel for business to Indonesia and Burma (now Myanmar), and would bring back packets of black rice with them. The Chettiars call this rice Burma Rice or ‘Kavuni Arisi‘, and largely use it in a sweet preparation called ‘Kavuni Arisi Halwa‘.
  7. Black rice is also referred to as Purple Rice or Magic Rice.
  8. It is different from Wild Rice.
  9. For best results, black rice should be soaked overnight before cooking. It is best cooked in a pan, covered, with twice the amount of water. Care should be taken to ensure that it is cooked just enough, as overcooking will make it quite sticky and mushy.
  10. In North-East India, black rice is commonly used to make a sweet dish called Chak-hao.

Recipe for Indian Black Rice Pancakes

In Bangalore, black rice has been making an appearance lately on the menus of new-age cafes, mostly in the forms of salad and pudding. I decided to use it in a savoury preparation, a very South Indian one at that – Indian-style pancakes or adai.

The Kavuni Arisi Adai tasted lovely, and the addition of onions took the taste higher by several notches. Thanks to the urad daal in it, it turned out super soft too. Actually, I added in a variety of lentils to the batter – even some of the black moth daal that I picked up in Kashmir. Super nutritious, with all those whole grains in!

 

Here’s how I made the Indian Black Rice pancakes or Kavuni Arisi Adai.

Ingredients (yields 28-30 pancakes):

For the batter:

  1. 1 cup black rice or kavuni arisi
  2. 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
  3. 1/2 cup raw rice
  4. 1/2 cup Kashmiri black moth daal
  5. 1/2 cup chana daal
  6. 1/2 cup split black urad daal
  7. 1/2 cup toor daal
  8. Salt, to taste
  9. 7-8 dry red chillies
  10. 6-7 cloves of garlic, peeled
  11. A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  12. 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

To make the pancakes:

  1. Oil, as needed
  2. Finely chopped onion, as needed (optional)
  3. Finely chopped coriander, as needed (optional)

Method:

  1. Place the black rice, chana daal, fenugreek seeds, urad daal, raw rice, toor daal and Kashmiri moth daal together in a large vessel. Wash these ingredients well under running water a couple of times. Then, drain out all the water.
  2. Add in enough fresh water to cover all of these ingredients. Cover the vessel with a lid. Let the ingredients soak for 8-10 hours or overnight.
  3. When the soaking time is over, drain out the excess water from these ingredients. Grind half of the ingredients to a coarse batter, in a mixer jar. Transfer the ground batter to a large vessel.
  4. Now, take the rest of the soaked ingredients in the mixer jar. Add in dry red chillies, peeled garlic cloves, and peeled and chopped ginger. Grind coarsely. Add this batter to the one we ground earlier.
  5. Add salt to taste to the batter, as well as curry leaves. Mix well. The batter is now ready to use to make pancakes or adai.
  6. When you are ready to make the adai, add finely chopped onion and coriander to the batter (optional), as needed. You may even add in finely chopped green chillies, as needed. To make the adai, heat a dosa pan well on high flame. Now, reduce the flame to medium. Place a ladleful of the batter in the centre of the pan, and spread it out. Add some oil all around the adai. When cooked on the bottom, flip it over. Cook on the other side too, on medium flame. Serve immediately.

Notes:

1. I used Sona Masoori raw rice in the batter. You can use any type of raw rice that you prefer.

2. I used Manipuri black rice from Happy Healthy Me, to make these adai.

3. If you do not have Kashmiri black moth daal, you can entirely skip adding that to the batter.

4. This batter does not need any fermenting, and can be used immediately after grinding. However, if you want a slight sourness to the adai, you may set aside the batter, covered, at room temperature for fermenting for a few hours.

5. If you do not plan on using the batter immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator. It keeps well for 2-3 days.

6. Add the onion, coriander and green chillies (if using) just before you begin preparing the adai. It is totally optional to add these, but I would highly recommend that you do.

7. I had a bit of batter left over after making these adai, with onion and coriander added, and used it to make kuzhi paniyaram. Those also turned out absolutely lovely, soft and delicious!

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8. These Kavuni Arisi Adai do not really need an accompaniment. However, they go well with powdered jaggery or a simple South Indian coconut chutney.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Also, would you like to see more black rice recipes on my blog?

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #236. The co-hosts this week are Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

Gujarati Dalwada| Mixed Lentil Fritters

We don’t do much of deep frying at home. It is only occasionally that we indulge in deep-fried snacks, sometimes to commemorate a special occasion, sometimes because the bub likes them, sometimes because we desperately crave for them. Right about now, the weather in Bangalore is perfect for deep-fried goodies – cloudy but bright mornings, followed by short showers in the evening. I absolutely had to dish up some Gujarati dalwada, one of my most favourite fried snacks!

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If you have never had Gujarati dalwada before, you must absolutely try them out right away. They are so delightful – crunchy from the outside and soft on the inside, beautiful in taste. I have grown up eating them on rainy days and, even today, I cannot think of monsoon without thinking of these beauties. A newspaper cone full of these dalwadas, served with some fried green chillies and salt-soaked thinly sliced onions, spells out B-L-I-S-S to me.

Different people make dalwada in different ways. Some use only split green moong to make them, while some use a mix of lentils of their choice. I prefer the latter, using a mix of lentils and some rice, as I feel this gives a much better texture and taste to the dalwadas. Today, I will share with you the recipe for mixed-lentil Gujarati dalwada, the way a friend of mine taught me to make them.

Here’s how to make Gujarati dalwada or mixed lentil fritters.

Ingredients (serves 5-6):

For the dalvadas:

  1. 1-1/2 cups split green moong
  2. 1/4 cup chana daal
  3. 1/4 cup split yellow moong daal
  4. 1/4 cup urad daal (whole or split)
  5. 1/4 cup raw rice
  6. Salt, to taste
  7. A 1-inch fat piece of ginger
  8. 8-10 cloves of garlic
  9. 6-8 green chillies, or as per taste
  10. A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves
  11. Oil, as needed for deep frying

For serving (optional):

  1. Onions, as needed
  2. Green chillies, as needed
  3. Salt, as needed
  4. Lemon slices, as needed

Method:

  1. Wash the split green moong, split yellow moong daal, urad daal, chana daal and raw rice together thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the extra water.
  2. Place all the washed and drained ingredients in a large vessel, and pour in enough fresh water to cover them completely. Let these ingredients soak for at least 3-4 hours.
  3. Once the above ingredients are done soaking, drain out the water from them. You can reserve this water to use while grinding the batter or throw it away – that’s completely your choice. Transfer the soaked and drained ingredients to a mixer jar. Do not add in any water at this stage – just the soaked and drained ingredients.
  4. Chop the green chillies finely. Peel the ginger and chop it finely. Peel the garlic cloves. Add the green chillies, ginger and garlic to the mixer jar.
  5. Add salt to taste to the mixer jar.
  6. Grind the ingredients in the mixer jar coarsely. Pulse a couple of times for two seconds each, stopping in between to scrape down the sides of the jar. Remember that you need to coarsely crush the ingredients and not make a fine paste. You can add in a little of the soaking water you might have reserved earlier, if needed, while grinding. If you don’t feel the need to add any water while grinding, you need not add any. The batter needs to be thick and not runny.
  7. Chop the coriander finely and add it to the batter you just ground. Mix well and keep aside.
  8. Heat oil for deep frying in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it reaches smoking point, turn down the flame to medium. Drop balls of batter into the hot oil, 4-5 at a time. Deep fry evenly till the dalwadas turn brown. Serve hot.
  9. Gujarati dalwadas are typically served with thinly sliced onions mixed with a little salt, deep-fried green chillies with a little salt sprinkled on them, and slices of lemon. If you want to serve the dalwadas the traditional way, make sure you prep the onions, green chillies and lemon slices at the same time as the dalwadas get fried and ready. Alternatively, you can serve these fritters with tomato ketchup, though that isn’t something I personally prefer – I’d go for the traditional way, any day!

Notes:

  1. You can skip the garlic in the dalwadas, if you don’t prefer it. Personally, though, I would suggest adding it, as it takes up the taste of the dalwadas higher by several notches.
  2. Adjust the quantity of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the dalwadas to be.
  3. My mom makes these dalwadas using just split green moong. She soaks 2-3 cups of split green moong for 3-4 hours, then drains out the excess water and grinds it with green chillies, garlic and salt to taste. Mom’s dalwadas are delish too, but I prefer the ones I make, with raw rice, urad daal, split moong daal and chana daal added in.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #235. The co-hosts this week are Mara @ Put on Your Cake Pants and Hilda @ Along the Grapevine.

I’m also sharing this with Friday Frenzy.

 

A Holiday Full Of Experiences At Sterling Fernhill, Ooty

In the world of holidays, Sterling is not a new name. Sterling is known for its ‘timeshare’ holidays, wherein members pay an annual membership fee and get to stay at any of their properties for a fixed period, either rent-free or at a discounted rate. What a lot of people do not know about Sterling, however, is that rooms in their resorts can be booked by non-members too, and that they can also be used for weddings and other events. Then, there’s also the fact that Sterling has recently rebranded itself as an ‘experiential holiday company’, priding itself on providing to guests various local experiences at all of its properties. #HolidayDifferently is Sterling Holidays’ new motto, and they aim to offer patrons unique experiences that will make their holiday hugely memorable.

Recently, a bunch of bloggers from Bangalore and Chennai were invited by Sterling Holidays for a two-day staycation at one of their properties in Ooty, Fern Hill, and to indulge in some of the indigenous experiences they offer. I had the opportunity to join the group too, and ended up having a wonderful mid-week holiday that I will cherish for a long time to come. This was my first-ever time travelling without family, and I am so glad it all turned out so well.

About Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

The beautiful colonial facade of Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, which was our abode for two full days

Located away from the hustle and bustle of ‘proper’ Ooty, Fern Hill is a sprawling property that boasts of over 100 rooms of different types. It is a colonial structure with oodles of old-world charm, and lots of greenery all around. And then, of course, it offers some gorgeous views of the magnificent hills of Ooty!

I loved the simple room that I stayed in at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, especially the huge window with a mesmerising view of the mountains, the comfortable window seat (which I didn’t want to get up off at all!), the writing desk by the window, and the super soft bed. The room, equipped with basic amenities like a heater, an electric kettle and hair-dryer, was kept painstakingly neat at all times by the resort staff. At all times, we found the staff to be warm and friendly, courteous and eager to help.

Glimpses from our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

We enjoyed our meals at the dining room here, looking out at the scenic landscapes of Ooty. The food was decent, a good mix of Tamilnadu and international cuisines. I found it quite charming that a lot of the herbs and vegetables they use in their daily cooking comes from their very own, organic garden patch!

The activity centre at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill offers several in-house activities for kids and adults alike, including Burma Bridge, vertical climbing, painting, archery, table tennis and bonfires. If you are in the mood to pamper yourself, you can also avail of the spa facilities here or shop for souvenirs at the little store in-house.

Some Sterling Experiences We Enjoyed

I am an experience seeker. I seek small and big memorable experiences wherever I travel to. That is what makes travel worthwhile for me. In that respect, this trip to Ooty with Sterling was a hugely satisfying one for me. The Sterling team had lined up several experiences for us bloggers, to indulge in during the course of our stay. Some of these were quite touristy, while some others were quite off the beaten track. All of them put together, they helped us delve deeper into the place that Ooty is, dig deeper into its cultural fabric.

Here are some of the Sterling Ooty experiences we thoroughly enjoyed.

1. ‘Root Vegetables Of Ooty’ Themed High Tea At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

Scenes from the themed high tea at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

While in Ooty, we paid a flying visit to another property by Sterling, Elk Hill. Again, this is a beautiful, sprawling resort with some great views of Ooty, and I loved the look of this place. I adored the little patch of garden here, where a lot of the veggies and herbs used in the kitchens comes from. There is also very cute play area for kids at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, complete with box hedges and swings of different types, which I think the bub would have absolutely loved!

At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, we bloggers were treated to a beautifully thought-out and very well-executed high tea. In addition to the usual suspects – tea, coffee, milk and the likes – we were also served a variety of sweet and savoury dishes, all made using the root vegetables that abound in the hills of Ooty. Beetroot Cutlets, Sweet Potato Halwa, Tapioca & Mutton Biryani, Carrot and Beetroot Shots and Carrot Cake were some of the delicacies that were presented to us. And, you know what? Over half of the root vegetables used to make these dishes came from the gardens of Sterling Ooty Elk Hill – just how lovely is that?!

2. Getting up close and personal with the Todas

Some snapshots from the Toda way of life

The Sterling team took us bloggers to a settlement of the Todas, an indigenous tribe in Ooty with a very interesting way of life. We got up close and personal with them, getting to learn more about their lives, an experience I loved to bits. I have been to Ooty several times before, but somehow never got around to visiting a Toda group. I am so glad Sterling gave us this opportunity!

While some of the Todas have started leading modern-day lifestyles, quite a lot of them still live a life that is untouched by modernisation. They reside in very pretty, small huts, called munds. They have a beautiful dressing style of their own, complete with a very unique hairdo. The Todas talked to us of some customs they have been following since centuries, and I was awed at the way they have been religiously protecting their history.

The Todas follow an entirely vegetarian diet, and lead lives that are in harmony with the flora and fauna around them. The very in-sync-with-nature process they use to extract honey from honeycombs hugely fascinated me, when I heard about it. I can’t wait to experience that some time!

3. Shaking a leg with the Todas and Badugas

The Badugas performing their traditional dance for us. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

The first day of our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, we returned to the resort to find a bunch of Todas waiting for us, decked up in their traditional costumes. They were there to perform their traditional dance for us! We were thrilled to watch them singing and twirling, around the bonfire that had been set up in the courtyard. Isn’t that some way to get guests acquainted with the local culture?

When the Todas were done with their performance, it was the turn of the Badugas to go up on stage. The Badugas, a caste that forms the majority of the population in Ooty, were there too in their traditional wear, to present their songs and dances to us! They kicked up quite a storm with their energetic dancing, which looked deceptively simple but so wasn’t! How do I know? Well, because we bloggers were also offered a chance to join in the dancing, and to learn the steps straight from the Todas and Badugas. Super fun!

4. A picnic lunch in the midst of a tea garden

All of us bloggers enjoying a picnic in the midst of a gorgeous tea estate. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

I’m sure all of us who have ever been to Ooty have visited a tea estate, and have taken beautiful pictures in the midst of all that green gorgeousness. I have been there, done that too. However, on this holiday to Ooty, the Sterling team arranged for a different sort of experience for us – a picnic lunch in the midst of a tea estate! It turned out so very lovely!

We drove up, up, up in the hills to reach a beautiful, beautiful private tea estate. With prior permission from the estate owner, a sumptuous picnic lunch had been set up for us here, complete with a carpet, big umbrellas, a wicker basket, fruits and packed lunch boxes. The mist rising up out of the hills added tonnes to the atmosphere. This was such a charming experience that felt like something straight out of a storybook!

5. Learning the alphabet of T-E-A

The goings-on inside a tea factory. Shot at Benchmark Tea Factory, Ooty

Visiting a tea factory is a very touristy thing in Ooty, something a lot of tourists do. We never got around to doing this, though, in spite of having visited Ooty quite a few times. When the Sterling team arranged for a tea factory visit, for us to learn how our everyday cup of tea comes about, I was glad of the opportunity to do so. We had an enlightening experience.

We learnt how the leaves are plucked off tea bushes, sorted and brought to the tea factory. The leaves pass through several processes at the factory to reach the ‘granular’ stage that we commonly find in stores. We were enchanted to learn how green tea, black tea and regular tea all come from the same plant – it is the differences in processing that makes each of these different.

We sampled a variety of beautifully brewed tea at the factory – green, black, ginger, cardamom and masala. We also tried out some white tea, which is one of the most expensive tea in the world.

6. Hopping on the toy train from Ooty to Coonoor

The quaint train we rode on from Ooty to Coonoor. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

Most of us know about the ‘toy train’ plying in Ooty, which is quite a huge draw for the tourists. This quaint train by the Nilgiri Mountain Railways runs between Mettupalyam and Ooty in Tamilnadu, chugging along some really scenic mountain paths. Riding on this train is quite an enchanting experience, for children and adults alike.

I have done the Ooty-Coonoor toy train ride a couple of times earlier, but never with the eyes of a travel blogger. I am so glad to have been given a chance to do just that, by Sterling. As always, it was a cute journey I couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

7. Checking out the bisons

When the mist cleared, and we spotted the bison amidst the bushes

When the Sterling team told us we would be taken to a spot amidst the tea estates where there would be hundreds of bison grazing, it sounded like a fairy tale. Sterling did keep up its promise, and took us to exactly such a place. There was mist all over when we arrived, and when it slowly cleared, we could see the bison amidst the tea plants. There were not one or two bison, but flocks and flocks of the huge, majestic animal, grazing busily alongside the workers on the tea estates. Both parties seem to be quite used to working in the presence of the other. What a sight this was!

I have spotted wildlife in the Bandipur forest area en route to Ooty, several times, but this was a first for me. The husband is fascinated by bison, and I am sure he would have thoroughly loved this experience. I’m raring to do this all over again, with him around!

Would you like a Sterling holiday too?

The next time you visit Ooty, do consider staying in a Sterling property. Why, go the whole hog, and take up some Sterling experiences as well – they will show you a whole different side to Ooty, I’m sure!

From what I could gather, I think the Sterling resorts are great places for families, with something for every member to love. They might not be uber-luxurious spaces, but they are definitely places I would like to stay in with my family.

Do get in touch with the Sterling team for prices and other details!

This post is brought to you in collaboration with Sterling Holidays. All opinions expressed in this post are based upon the experience we had at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill. The views herein are entirely mine, entirely honest, not influenced by anything or anyone.

Mixed Vegetable Badi Ki Sabzi

The Indian state of Jharkhand came into existence in the year 2000, carved out of Bihar. Much of the state is covered by forests, heavily populated by elephants and tigers. I have seen a friend of mine from Jharkhand sing paeans about the state’s natural beauty, but have never had a chance to visit. I am glad to have gotten this chance to get at least virtually close to Jharkhand’s cuisine, via the Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge that I am part of.

For this month’s Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, all of us food bloggers are cooking dishes from the state of Jharkhand. This month, I was paired with Aruna, the lovely blogger who writes at Aharam, and she assigned me two secret ingredients to make my dish with – potatoes and tomatoes. I decided to use these ingredients to prepare Mixed Vegetable Badi Ki Sabzi, which turned out finger-lickingly delicious and became an instant hit with everyone at home.

About the cuisine of Jharkhand

Before we move on to the recipe for Mixed Vegetable Badi Ki Sabzi, here’s a little glimpse into Jharkhandi cuisine, via Wikipedia.

Jharkhand shares borders with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Chattisgarh. The cuisine of Jharkhand has heavy influences from those of these neighbouring states, but it also has several indigenous dishes of its own – kera-dudhauri, for instance, which is a dish made with milk, jaggery, rice and ghee; or charpa i.e. fritters made with mashed rice, spices and vegetables. The cuisine of Jharkhand uses a large amount of rice, but a limited number of spices.

Handia, also called Diyeng, is a locally made rice beer that is quite popular in Jharkhand, consumed during marriages and other festive occasions. Mahu, a liquor made using the fruits and flowers of the Mahua tree, is also a favourite among locals in Jharkhand.

Mixed Vegetable Badi Ki Sabzi

Aloo Badi Ki Sabzi – a curry made using potatoes and sun-dried lentil badis or vadis – is quite a common dish in the households of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. I decided to make the sabzi even more wholesome by using an assortment of vegetables, rather than using just potatoes. This gave me just the perfect opening to make use of the beautiful, fresh rajma beans I picked up at the vegetable vendor’s a while back.

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The lovely Mixed Vegetable & Badi Ki Sabzi, which I served with parathas

The badis or vadis used in this sabzi (they can be used in a whole lot of other ways, too!) are typically made at home, using either moong daal or urad daal or vegetables. They are commonly made in bulk in the months of summer, when sunlight is plentiful, and then stored for use during the rest of the year. I, however, used store-bought urad daal vadis to make this dish.

The store-bought urad daal badis or vadis that I made use of

 

Now, let’s take a look at the recipe for the Mixed Vegetable & Badi Ki Sabzi, shall we?

Recipe Source: This recipe from Patna Daily, with a few minor variations of my own

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 4 medium-sized tomatoes
  2. 5-6 cloves garlic
  3. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. 1 medium-sized potato
  6. 1/4 cup shelled fresh rajma beans
  7. 6-8 beans
  8. A few large florets of cauliflower
  9. 1 medium-sized carrot
  10. 1 small capsicum
  11. 2-3 big urad daal vadi/badi
  12. Salt to taste
  13. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  14. Red chilli powder to taste
  15. 2 teaspoons garam masala or to taste
  16. 2 teaspoons coriander powder or to taste
  17. 2 teaspoons cumin powder or to taste
  18. 1 tablespoon oil
  19. 1 teaspoon cumin
  20. 2 pinches asafoetida
  21. 2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander

Method:

1. Peel the garlic cloves and ginger. Chop the peeled ginger and tomatoes into small pieces. Grind the ginger, garlic and tomatoes to a puree, using a mixer. Keep aside.

2. Now, we will prep the vegetables we need to use. Peel the potato and carrot and chop into cubes. Remove strings from the beans and chop into small pieces. Chop the cauliflower into smaller pieces. Peel the onion and chop finely. Chop capsicum into small pieces. Keep aside.

3. Break the urad daal vadis into small pieces. Keep aside.

4. Heat the oil in a small pressure cooker bottom. Drop in the broken vadi. Fry on medium flame for a minute or till they turn brown, then transfer to a plate.

5. Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida to the residual hot oil in the pressure cooker bottom. Keep the flame on medium. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.

6. Now, add in the tomato-ginger-garlic puree. On high flame, cook for 2-3 minutes or till the raw smell disappears.

7. Add the chopped onion, potato, beans, carrot, capsicum and shelled fresh rajma beans. Mix well.

8. Add salt to taste, garam masala, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder and cumin powder. Add in the fried vadis, along with about 1 cup water. Mix well.

9. Close the pressure cooker and put the whistle on. Allow 4 whistles on high flame.

10. When the pressure has entirely gone down, open the pressure cooker. Mix in the finely chopped coriander. That’s it! Serve the sabzi hot with rotis or parathas.

Notes:

1. If the tomatoes are too tart, you can add a tablespoon of sugar/jaggery to the sabzi, to even out the taste. However, that is purely optional.

2. I have used store-bought urad daal vadis here. You can use any type of vadi/badi available to you.

3. You can use any vegetables you have, in the making of this sabzi.

4. The vadis I used were big in size, so I broke them up into smaller pieces. If you have small vadis, you can go ahead and use them directly in the sabzi.

5. I used a 3-1/2 litre pressure cooker to make this sabzi.

6. The amount of water you add to the sabzi will depend on how thick/watery you want it to be. The above quantity worked just fine for us.

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Did you like this recipe for Mixed Vegetable & Badi Ki Sabzi? Do tell me, in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #234, and the co-hosts this week are Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio.

 

Stuffed Kuzhi Paniyaram, My Tribute To The Ravishing Rekha

Today, I present to you the recipe for Stuffed Kuzhi Paniyaram. These might look like ordinary kuzhi paniyaram from the outside, but one bite into them and you’ll understand that they are far from ordinary. These are kuzhi paniyaram with a difference – the surprise inside will surely blow your mind away!

I prepared these Stuffed Kuzhi Paniyaram for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop, which has a very unique theme this week – Filmi Foodies! All of us food bloggers are paying a tribute to Bollywood, via food of course! ๐Ÿ™‚ Interesting, right? This is my little tribute to the ravishing and hugely talented Rekha ji.

Foodie Monday Blog Hop

I can watch Rekha ji in action any time, any day. I am never not awed by the depth of her acting, the way she brings her characters to life, the way she carries her movies on her shoulders. She can carry off any role – from that of a demure housewife to that of a siren – with equal elan. She is timeless – even today, years after she has stopped appearing in films, she still has the same grace and beauty to her. And, oh, those Kanjeevaram sarees and big bindis she makes an appearance in! She has had a tough life, and has withstood all of it.

Image Source: Free Press Journal

The kuzhi paniyaram, too, like Rekha ji, is timeless. It is a South Indian classic that will never get old, which will continue to win the hearts of kids and adults alike. Like Rekha ji, this Stuffed Kuzhi Paniyaram might look simple from the outside, but it packs in quite a sucker punch!

Now, let’s move on to the recipe for Stuffed Kuzhi Paniyaram, shall we?

Ingredients (makes 25-30 pieces):

  1. 3 cups idli/dosa batter
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. About 5 cubes of processed cheese, or as needed
  6. 10-12 big slices of pickled jalapenos, or as needed
  7. 1 teaspoon oil + more as needed to make the kuzhi paniyaram
  8. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  9. 2 pinches of asafoetida

Method:

  1. Take the idli/dosa batter in a mixing bowl. Add in salt to taste.
  2. Chop the onion finely. Add to the mixing bowl.
  3. Add the finely chopped coriander to the mixing bowl.
  4. Chop the pickled jalapeno slices finely, and add to the mixing bowl.
  5. Heat oil in a pan, and add the mustard seeds. Allow them to pop. Add in the asafoetida, and let it stay in for a couple of seconds. Switch off the gas, and add the mustard tempering to the mixing bowl.
  6. Mix the batter well and keep ready.
  7. Cut each of the cheese cubes into 6 small pieces. Keep aside.
  8. Drizzle a little oil into each of the cavities of a kuzhi paniyaram pan. Place on high flame and allow the oil to heat up a little.
  9. Now, reduce the flame to low-medium. Using a spoon, drop a little of the batter into each cavity of the pan. Ensure that the cavities are only about half filled with batter. Drop a piece of cheese in the centre of the batter, into each cavity. Spoon in some more batter into the cavities, filling them up to the brim, covering the cheese.
  10. Cover the kuzhi paniyaram pan with a lid. Cook the paniyarams on low-medium flame till they begin to brown at the bottom. Ensure that they do not burn. Now, flip the paniyarams over to the other side, using a spoon. Cover again and cook on low-medium flame till the paniyarams turn brown on the other side too.
  11. Transfer the stuffed kuzhi paniyarams to a serving plate. Serve hot.

Notes:

1. You may also add in grated carrot, finely chopped spinach leaves or mint, finely chopped cabbage or capsicum or any other veggies of your choice, to the batter.

2. I have used store-bought pickled jalapenos in these stuffed kuzhi paniyarams. If you don’t have them, you can use finely chopped regular green chillies instead.

3. Use idli/dosa batter that is well fermented and only slightly sour, for best results.

4. I have used Amul processed cheese cubes to make these stuffed kuzhi paniyarams. Alternatively, you can use any other type of cheese.

5. Once the kuzhi paniyaram pan has heated up, lower the flame to low-medium. Make the stuffed kuzhi paniyaram on low-medium heat, to prevent burning.

6. These stuffed kuzhi paniyarams do not really need an accompaniment, and can be served on their own. However, if you do want to serve them with an accompaniment, you can use a chutney of your choice, some pasta/pizza sauce or Schezwan sauce. Here is how you can make a delicious pasta/pizza sauce at home!

7. I have used home-made idlidosa batter here.

Did you like the recipe? Please do tell me in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #234, and the co-hosts this week are Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio.

Pressure Cooker Gutti Vankaya Koora| Healthy Andhra-Style Stuffed Baby Eggplants

Gutti Vankaya Koora is one of my most favourite preparations using brinjals or eggplant. This is an Andhra Pradesh specialty, where baby eggplants are stuffed with a spice mix and then cooked in a fragrant, flavourful gravy. It tastes absolutely heavenly with some hot phulkas or rice.

There are a whole lot of variations to the Gutti Vankaya Koora, from what I understand. Different families cook it in different ways, use different types of stuffing. This particular version, taught to me long back by a Telugu neighbour of ours, uses a groundnut and garlic stuffing. It is so simple to make, yet so rich and bursting with flavour!

Our neighbour made the Gutti Vankaya Koora in a pan, though, cooking it in a lot of oil. With time, I began making it in a pressure cooker, with just 1 spoon of oil. It still tastes the same, but is healthier and makes me feel less guilty afterwards.

Here is how I make Gutti Vankaya Koora in a pressure cooker.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 8-10 baby eggplants
  2. 1/2 cup raw groundnuts
  3. Salt to taste
  4. Red chilli powder to taste
  5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  6. 5-6 fat cloves of garlic
  7. A gooseberry-sized ball of tamarind
  8. About 1-1/2 tablespoons powdered jaggery or to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon oil
  10. 1 teaspoon mustard
  11. 2 pinches asafoetida
  12. 3-4 dried red chillies
  13. 1 sprig fresh curry leaves
  14. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water for some time. When it is cool enough to handle, extract a thick paste out of it, adding a little more water if needed. Keep aside.

2. Peel the garlic. Take the garlic cloves, raw groundnuts, red chilli powder and salt to taste, and the turmeric powder in a small mixer jar. Don’t add in any water. Pulse a couple of times, for a second each, stopping to scrape down the sides of the mixer. You should get a pasty, coarse powder. Keep aside.

3. Remove the stems from the baby eggplants. From the bottom towards the stem, make two long slits in the eggplants, in a + shape. You should cut half-way through the eggplant, leaving it intact towards the stem.

4. Stuff a generous amount of the groundnut-garlic mixture into the slits, in each baby eggplant. Keep aside. If there is any extra groundnut-garlic stuffing left over, do not worry – we will be using that later too.

5. Heat the oil in a small pressure cooker. Add in the mustard seeds, and let them pop. Now, add the dry red chillies, curry leaves and the asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.

6. Add the stuffed baby eggplants to the pressure cooker. Stir gently, ensuring that they do not break, for a couple of seconds.

7. Now, turn the flame to low. Add in the tamarind paste, about 3/4 cup water, any leftover groundnut-garlic stuffing you might have, and jaggery powder. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings (salt, red chilli powder or jaggery) if needed.

8. Close the pressure cooker and put the weight on. Allow 3 whistles on high flame. Switch off gas immediately.

9. Chop the coriander finely and keep handy. When all the pressure from the cooker has released naturally, mix in the finely chopped coriander. Your Gutti Vankaya Koora is ready – serve it hot with rotis or with any rice dishes of your choice!

Notes:

1. For best results, use fresh baby eggplants that are neither too big nor too small.

2. Gingelly oil works best in the making of this Gutti Vankaya Koora. If you don’t have it, you may use any other kind of oil that you prefer.

3. Adjust the quantity of garlic, tamarind, salt, red chilli powder and jaggery as per your personal taste preferences.

4. I make this Gutti Vankaya Koora in a 3-1/2 litre pressure cooker.

5. I prefer cooking this curry for 3 whistles, which yields soft but not overly cooked eggplants. If you want the eggplants to retain their exact shape, you can cook for 2 whistles on high flame.

6. Add in less water if you want the eggplants to be drier. We prefer this curry with a bit of gravy, so adding in 3/4 cup of water works perfectly for us.

7. Be careful while stirring the eggplants. Stir gently, making sure they do not break.

8. You may increase the quantity of oil in this curry, if you want to.

Did you like this recipe? I hope you will try this version of Gutti Vankaya Koora out, and that you will love it as much as we do!

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Foodie Monday Blog HopThis recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘stuffed vegetables’.

I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #234, and the co-hosts this week are Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio. I’m also sharing this recipe with Friday Frenzy.

 

Jamia Masjid, An Architectural Marvel in Old Srinagar

Just a few minutes after driving into the heart of Srinagar, fondly referred to as Old Srinagar or Downtown Srinagar, we noticed the landscape around us begin to change. The relatively modern buildings and wide roads of modern Srinagar – where we were staying – began to fade. The roads got narrower and narrower as we drove on, the buildings getting more and more ancient, some with rather pretty latticework on them.

Electricity wires seemed to dangle out of nowhere. Vendors selling everything from vegetables and spices to fancy trays, baskets, Kashmiri shawls and dry fruits dotted the streets. Tiny shops choc-a-bloc with some really interesting stuff – like the kangris or wicker baskets that the Kashmiris use to carry a coal brazier, to keep themselves warm or pretty, pretty, pretty samovars that are used to make the local kehwa – began to whizz by. I would have loved to get down, to take a long, exploratory walk around the place, even indulge in some shopping, but I didn’t. We were on the way to see the famed Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Old Srinagar. The bub wasn’t keeping too well, and we wanted to limit exploration and get back to our hotel quickly. Before the husband and I could even realise it, our cab stopped. We had reached our destination.

What is the Jamia Masjid like?

One word – beautiful.

The Jamia Masjid of Srinagar, a hugely sacred mosque and place of worship for Kashmiri Muslims, is a beautiful specimen of Persian architecture, with a few influences from Buddhist pagodas. There has been generous usage of Kashmiri glazed black stone, bricks and deodar wood in the building of the mosque, which gives it a quaint, charming look. Our first glance of the mosque stunned us with its prettiness.

Our first glimpse of the mosque, as soon as we had set foot inside the main gate

The Jamia Masjid was constructed by Sultan Sikandar Shah Kashmiri Shahmiri in 1394 CE. The mosque was originally built to accommodate 33,333 people at one prayer session, besides the imam. It is a huge structure, believed to be about 1,40,000 square feet. There are four entrances to the mosque, from the east, west, north and south.

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The prayer hall we walked through, to get to the actual mosque

As soon as we stepped inside the main gate, we found ourselves in a gorgeous prayer hall with a beautiful wooden ceiling and columns. The high ceilings gave the hall a roomy, airy, light feeling. We walked through the prayer hall to reach an open courtyard with a little Mughal-style garden and a fountain. This courtyard housed the actual place of worship, the mosque, a stunning edifice.

The main prayer hall at Jamia Masjid

The mosque was, apparently, extended later, when Sultan Sikhandar’s son Zain-ul-Abidin added turrets to it. The landscaped Mughal garden which we saw outside the mosque was also added later, we learnt.

One of the turrets of the mosque. Notice the similarities to a Buddhist pagoda?

When we visited the Jamia Masjid, on a weekday morning, it was drizzling lightly and the place was almost empty. Almost to ourselves, we spent about an hour here, walking around, admiring the architecture, offering our prayers, soaking in the peace around us. I am sure the scene would have been completely different on a weekend or on a festival day.

Exploring the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid

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A glimpse of the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid, Srinagar

Step out of the Jamia Masjid gates, and you will find yourself amidst a little bazaar of sorts. Little shops, manned by smiling Kashmiris, sold household things like spices, dry fruits and groceries, dresses and footwear, tea sets (which I learnt later is a huge passion in Kashmir), curtains and bedsheets, suitcases, bags and purses, kitchen utensils and the like. Walking around these shops, checking out things, photographing, learning and shopping was a treat in itself.

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Some beautiful outfits that we came across, for sale in the bazaar outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid

I fell in love with a tiny spice shop in the bazaar, filled to the rafters with culinary treasures. I was hovering outside, asking the owner a battery of questions about the several indigenous-to-Kashmir ingredients he stocked. He invited me inside to take a look, and I became a kid in a candy shop.

The charming little spice shop outside Jamia Masjid that I loved

We ended up spending over an hour here, chatting with the owner about this and that – the cockscomb which is apparently the reason for the pink cheeks of the Kashmiris, the Kanagucchi or the special ear-shaped mushrooms that come up in the forests only when there is a cloudburst, the local tradition of drying up vegetables and fruits to preserve them, Kashmiri tea and black moth daal and veri masala. I picked up quite a few things here, small quantities of all that I wanted to go back home and try out.
In the meantime, the owner plied the husband and me with the pinkish salt tea aka noon chai that a whole lot of Kashmiris prefer to sip on, and the bub with big fat kishmish from his shop. Marketing? Probably. Probably not. All I can say is that we absolutely adored the time we spent in this little shop, and we valued the conversation with the owner. Moments like these are precisely what makes travel worthwhile for us.

Some of the treasures we found in the spice shop. Top left: Dried lauki aka bottlegourd; Centre left: Kashmiri black moth daal; Bottom left: A cake of freshly made Kashmiri ver masala or veri masala; Bottom right: Cockscomb, a flavouring agent that is typically used in Kashmiri cuisine; Top right: The tea that is commonly used for different types of brews in Kashmir

Don’t miss this grand mosque whenever you are in Srinagar!

Tips for travellers

  1. The Jamia Masjid is located in Nowhatta, in the heart of Old Srinagar, quite a sensitive area by the looks of it. Monday to Thursday would be a good time to visit, as the mosque tends to become crowded on Fridays and weekends.
  2. There are no entry fees here. Photography is allowed.
  3. Visitors should cover their heads and remove their footwear before entering the mosque. Please ensure that these simple rules are followed. Also, considering that this is a sacred place of worship, maintaining silence and decent conduct is advisable.
  4. There is not much to do here, in terms of activities. However, the place is, indeed, an ocean of calm and peace, which one can spend any amount of time soaking in. The architecture of the mosque is a treat to the eyes, as well.
  5. If you want to time your visit with a prayer session in the mosque, please check on the exact timings before you embark.
  6. Do spend some time at the bazaar outside the Jamia Masjid, walking around, learning, shopping, photographing. This is a great place to learn about traditional Kashmiri culture and culinary traditions, if you are interested in that sort of thing. This is where you can shop for some unique foodie souvenirs from Kashmir, too. The shopkeepers are friendly, and most of them speak Hindi. Prices are reasonable, we felt, and we didn’t feel the need to haggle.