Saturday, September 21, 2019

Do you know the magic ingredient to be added to Turmeric milk ?




Down with cold, cough or a sore throat ??? Have a cup of warm turmeric milk and you will get going :) This is how an average Indian has been brought up since his or her childhood. Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice and Turmeric milk or haldi ka doodh has been a typical home remedy in almost all Indian households for generations now.

Be it an infection, fever or a deep wound, this golden drink has been given to us by our grandmoms and moms for time immemorial as a medicine or as a supplement to the modern medicines and antibiotics....and I am sure, we would continue doing the same for our future generations as well.

Turmeric or more importantly, its active component curcumin, has tremendous, clinically proven, medicinal benefits. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent with no side effects. If you wish to know its properties in more detail, then please visit this link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section9

So our civilization from ancient times has always known that turmeric milk is a golden drink for our health in many ways but do we know the right method of preparing this golden concoction? Do we know the magic ingredient needed along with turmeric to make this drink effective? 

Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, unfortunately is not easily bioavailable; which means it is poorly absorbed in our bloodstream. To overcome this bioavailabilty issue, black pepper is used as a supplement in curcumin supplements. Black pepper contains a natural substance by the name Piperine, which enhances the curcumin absorption by almost 2000%. Hence it is advised that pepper be added to turmeric preparations...so now you know that Pepper (black or white) is that magic ingredient :)


Recipe:

Milk - 2 cups
Turmeric powder -  3/4th  to 1 teaspoon
A dash of black pepper ( I use freshly ground pepper)
A pinch of saffron
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of cardamom powder
Sugar or jaggery powder to taste - around 2 tsp

Tip: It is recommended that we use an inch-long turmeric stick for the above recipe and crush it coarsely using a mortar-pestle rather than using its ground powder. The grinding process which generates heat destroys the medicinal properties of turmeric.

Warm the milk on a gas stove and then add all the other ingredients. Allow it to boil on a low flame for 3-5 minutes. Strain it and enjoy the drink warm.







Monday, September 16, 2019

Saaru (Rasam)

This is a recipe straight from my grandmother's kitchen. We use this recipe to make 'tili saaru'. Tili means watery....water taken by settling the boiled toor dal.

When the toor dal is cooked and mashed, add water to the bowl and let it rest. The water on the top is then used to make saaru and is very nutritious. Saaru is a good appetizer and can be had as a soup or as an accompaniment with rice.





Saaru powder:

1.25 cup - coriander seeds
0.5 cup - Jeera
0.5 cup - Whole black peppercorns
2 tsp - Chana dal
1-1.5 cup - red chilli powder ( to be mixed at the end)


Dry roast all the above ingredients and grind it to a fine powder. Add the chilli powder and mix it well. This powder stays good for many months and can be made in huge batches depending on your consumption.



Tomato Saaru/Rasam:

2 cups - water/water from the dal
2 big ripe tomatoes - blanched, peeled and made into a paste
2-2.5 tbsp - Saaru powder
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - to taste
1 tbsp - chopped coriander leaves
Tamarind juice - 2-3 tbsp. Optional. Can be used if not using tomatoes or if you want to increase the sourness quotient
Jaggery - a small lump - Optional


For the tempering:

Oil/ghee - 1 tbsp
1 tsp - mustard seeds
1 tsp- jeera seeds (optional)
A sprig of curry leaves
Broken dry red chillies - 1 or 2 (optional)
Hing - a pinch
Garlic- crushed and chopped - 1 tsp - Optional. Nowadays, I have started adding garlic to the tadka as my husband likes it.

Boil the water in a deep vessel. Add the tomato paste, turmeric powder, saaru powder and salt. Allow it to boil nicely for a good 5 minutes or so. Boiling it well helps impart the flavours into the broth.

Meanwhile, prepare the tempering or the tadka in a small pan. When the saaru is boiled and done. Switch off the gas and add the tempering and the coriander leaves to the saaru.

The saaru is ready to be eaten with soft, hot rice and a dollop of ghee. Mix it well with your fingers to enjoy it the traditional way.









Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ratalyache Kees






I always try and buy sweet potato even though it is not a favorite in my house. Reason? Just because it is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals :) 

Now, one lone, big tuber of sweet potato was lying on my shelf for more than a week now. As usual, I googled up recipes to make it an more interesting eat. The very first recipe  that popped up was that of ratalyache kees (a recipe using grated, boiled sweet potato). I remember my grandmother making it occasionally on her fasting days. 
The recipe is very simple almost like that of sabudana khichdi and is a upvasachi recipe (fasting recipe). Fasts were definitely kept so that we could eat nutritious food time and again and also to break the monotony of our everyday meals.

The recipe is a keeper for a quick-fix and can be made using our plain good, old potatoes as well!

1.5 cups grated, boiled sweet potato
1 or more chopped green chilly - as per taste
2 -3 tbsp ghee
1 tsp jeera
2-3 tbsp peanut powder
Salt - to taste
a dash of lemon (optional)
Sugar - 1 tsp (optional) - I did not use it
coriander leaves - to garnish

Heat ghee in a kadhai and add jeera. Once the jeera starts spluttering, add the chopped chillies and fry it for a few seconds till the flavours seep in the ghee. Then, add grated potato, salt and mix it well. To this add the peanut powder, coriander leaves, lemon juice and again give it a stir. The kees is ready!


Monday, August 12, 2019

Bhaja Caves - Grandeur of the Past

Bhaja - Facade

It was a rainy Sunday of August in Pune and we were really tired of sitting indoors weekend after weekend.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive down to Bhaja Caves near Malavli, some 48 kms from our house. We were not sure of how the traffic along the Mumbai-Pune expressway would be, nor were we optimistic about the weather in Malavli. Still, we decided to step out and I am glad we did; for we thoroughly enjoyed our short outing in the rains amidst the breathtaking greenery and numerous rippling waterfalls all along our route.

Tip: Onwards, we took the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway as the Google Maps guided us and while returning, we took the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Driving on the Expressway was a treat that Sunday with absolutely minimal traffic and gorgeous views all around us!

In little more than an hour, we reached our destination some 2 kms from Malavli railway station. We paid an entry charge of Rs 5 per person to enter the premises. A small parking area for around 10 vehicles was right next to the toll collection point and free.

There are about 150 steps to climb the 400 feet to the caves. The rains had created numerous rivulets and falls along the steps which made the climb a breeze. The view below from the top too was awe-inspiring. Monsoons had carpeted the land lush green below. The rice fields, temples and red-tiled houses set against the Sahyadris were a treat to the eyes.

The Village Below


The History of Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves is a group of 22 rock-cut caves situated 400 feet above the village of Bhaja near Lonavala. They date back to the 2nd century BC and the viharas  (rock-cut caves usually provided with a stone bed) were homes to the monks  and places of rest for the weary travellers and traders who used the ancient route between the Arabian sea to the Deccan plateau. The protected monument belongs to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The prominent amongst the excavations is the chaityagriha (a prayer hall), housing the stupa with a vaulted horseshoe ceiling with wooden beams covering the dome.  Records indicate that the earlier chaityas were built using wooden beams and later replaced with stone structures. The wooden beams  here at Bhaja seem to be propped up by stone pillars beneath it.

The chaityagriha is one of the earliest of its type and is found to be at least 2200 years old! These caves are renowned for their wooden architecture. The findings of a percussion instrument in the carvings here point to the fact that drums or tabla were in vogue those days and women were quite adept at playing it.

Chaityagriha


Stupas

There are about 14 stupas in the complex with 5 inside the chambers and 9 outside. Stupas are Buddhist shrine containing relics of monks who stayed and died at the very place.  They are places of religious ceremonies and prayers. Some stupas have inscriptions on them revealing the names of the monks and their titles.

Stupas outside the chambers


As we move towards the last cave, we were greeted by a cascading waterfall and the view of a fort (may be Lohagad, Visapur?) beyond it.



Viharas next to the Chaityagriha
More Viharas and the obscure fort beyond in the clouds...



Tip: A couple of hours at least are required to climb up the steps and enjoy these ancient caves. Did not see any guides at the ticket counter; however, one can enquire if one is really interested. The entrance fee is Rs 25 per person for an Indian national


There are no major hotels or restaurants in the vicinity of the steps. However, there are plenty of fast food shacks, bhutte wala and tea tapris to satiate your hunger, if you should feel famished after the small hike.

So, the next time you are in and around Lonavala, don't forget to pay a visit to these caves. They are worth your time for sure :)









Monday, July 8, 2019

Mahabaleshwar - The Queen of Sahyadris



Our journey onwards from Konkan...

We continued our trip through Konkan to Mahabaleshwar. While the Konkan stretch of our journey was all about tranquil beaches, heritage sites and home-style food; Mahabaleshwar was all about the breathtaking landscapes in the Sahyadris.

We reached Mahabaleshwar from Guhagar in under 4 hours. The road conditions were broadly good but a good part of the stretch was under construction for road widening. Nevertheless, once we hit the ghats, the Sahyadris mesmerized us with its sheer expanse and volcanic rocks. I was too excited to be back to the hillstation which I visited once with my parents as a kid.

Reaching Mahabaleshwar, we checked into Le Meridian and put our feet up for the remainder of the day enjoying the amenities of the resort.The temperatures dropped drastically after sunset and made us pull out our jackets. The verdant chilly weather was a perfect ode to the festivities of the Christmas season. We wound up the day with a nice and warm dinner at an in-house restaurant.


@ Le Meridian - Enjoying the Christmas Decor


We already had chalked our plans  for the next 3 days of our stay there.  Two to three days is a good enough time to explore this hill station. There are so many places of interest on this single hill station that there is never a dearth of things to do atop this verdant mountain. Scenic vistas, age-old temples, Venna lake, the busy local bazaar, fresh, luscious strawberries, Asia's second largest tableland in Panchagani, adventure sports like paragliding, parasailing, trekking and many more. You name it and this place offers it all.


@ Pratapgad:

I am a big history buff and was longing to tick off our trip with a visit to this historic fort. So we started driving towards Pratapgad at around 9 in the morning,  stopping on the way to pick some farm-fresh strawberries from a roadside vendor. There are a quite a few strawberry farms on the way  with the farmers selling their fresh produce to  the passers-by. Strawberries are the local produce of this region and is found in abundance here.

We hired a guide at the base of the fort and set forth to refresh our history lessons. Pratapgad literally translated as the Fort of Valour, is one of the must-see places around Mahabaleshwar which stands a testimony to the courage and determination of Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji had disemboweled Afzal Khan with his wagh nakh (tiger claws) on this historic fort and had vanquished the threat to his pursuit of Hindavi Swaraj.


The entry door to the fort


One of the numerous buruz(s)


The Bhavani Mata temple in the fort was built by Shivaji in the 17th century. The ashtabhuja (eight-handed) idol of Goddess Bhavani, draped in a saree, graces the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Alongside it, is the legendary sword of Kanhoji Jedhe, Shivaji's captain, who single-handedly killed 600 soldiers of Afzal Khan in the battle of Pratapgad.

Afzal Buruz



Shivaji had ordered a dargah to be built at the fort, known as Afzal Buruz. The fort has two parts to it, namely the lower and the upper fort. The upper fort housed a number of important building including the Mahadev temple. The royal court used to be held right in front of this temple so that no would dare to lie in such a holy place. The fort is still owned by a scion of the Maratha empire and is a popular tourist spot, being just 24 kms from Mahabaleshwar.

It took us a little under 4 hours to explore the fort and have a leisurely lunch at the restaurants/dhabas inside. Lunch was fabulous with a healthy, rustic spread of pithala, bhakri, bharit and thecha. Oh god! It was truly spicy yet quite a gastronomic experience.


The spicy and rustic (and super healthy too!) lunch at Pratapgad


Tip: Try and visit this fort in the morning hours for it gets really crowded in the afternoon.


The lively Market Road


@ Local Market:

In the evening we visited the local market to check out the local fare. It was a big, long street, hustling with tourists, numerous restaurants and eateries on the side and yet very very clean. This is something which really impressed me there - everything in Mahabaleshwar was spectacularly clean and maintained. :) The entire place just became all the more inviting with its crowded, yet clean surroundings. At the end of the day, we ended up buying a few funky ear warmers, some lovely, gooey fudge and again more strawberries ;)

The ubiquitious Strawberry vendor


The must-try dessert of Strawberry n Creme'

Tip: Do try the Strawberry Cream dessert here at the local market!





@ Panchagani Plateau:


Panchgani Tableland

The drive to Panchgani plateau took us an hour from our resort. On the way, we stopped at Mapro Gardens and ended up buying lots of flavoured syrups, strawberry crush, honey, jams, etc. The place houses a restaurant as well and has good arrangement for parking with all the crowds thronging in there.  Breakfast options are plenty here. The Vitthal Kamath restaurant opposite too is a crowd puller.


@ Mapro Gardens



Resuming our ride, we stopped just short of the tableland at a point named Parsi Point.  We were glad that we decided to stop there as it is really popular scenic point with amazing views of the Krishna valley and Dhom dam. It has a small temple within its premises adjoining a games area. Not to mention the food vendors out there who were doing a brisk business with all the tourists vying for their quick service.


The fruit vendor @ Parsi Point


Finally, with all our stops in between, we reached the tableland, Asia's 2nd  highest plateau after the Tibet plateau. It has an astonishingly flat volcanic surface nestled amidst five surrounding hills. That's how it gets its name - Panchgani. One can easily spend a couple of hours on the tableland. Horse riding is a very popular tourist activity there. A visit to the caves situated under the tableland is also interesting. All in all, it makes for a nice walk around the place taking in the scenic views of the Deccan plateau.





Tip: Enjoy horse riding on the plateau and do stop at the Parsi Point to take in the scenic views.


Venna Lake 

On our way back, we stopped enroute our hotel at Venna Lake. The evening around the lake was bustling with enthused crowds queuing up for the boat rides and horse riding.  We indulged in some gaming activities for a while like shooting balloons and ring toss and then diverted all our energies on gorging on delicious corn pattices and pav bhaji!

Tip: Do not miss the corn pattice there for anything else in the world! 



@ Old Mahabaleshwar:

Our last day in Mahabaleshwar was spent exploring the local temples and view points in Old Mahabaleshwar also known as Kshetra Mahabaleshwar. Photography was not allowed inside the temple premises. So there are no photographs to capture our moments but the memories are still fresh in our minds. We visited the Mahabaleshwar temple, an ancient temple where the shivling is in the form of a rudraksha. It is a well-preserved temple said to be more than 400 years old. The hill station owes its name to this very temple. The Panchganga temple in the vicinity, as its name suggests, is said to be situated at the confluence of five rivers - namely, Gayatri, Savitri, Krishna, Venna and Koyna.

Both the temples were well-maintained with ample of shopping and eating stalls lined up on the way to it. It was a serene experience visiting the temples inspite of the thronging crowds. The Kshetra Mahabaleshwar with all its positive vibes, is a lovely religious place to visit.

With half a day still left, we decided to visit a few popular view points of Mahabaleshwar and ended up visiting Arthur's Seat and Tiger's Spring. Arthur's Seat is said to be the place from where Sir Arthur, a British officer, used to stare at the mighty Savitri river which drowned his wife and daughter. Inspite of the tragedy, the point does offer a scene to behold.

Tiger's Spring is a natural, thermal spring near river Savitri. It is a 10 minutes walk from Arthur's point. The water is claimed to have spiritual powers. We did not try drinking it though. :) There are many points in the vicinity which could be reached by walking some distance. However, we decided to skip them as it was getting very crowded with queues of cars piling up on the narrow roads.
We got lucky by a few minutes to avoid the long, serpentine car queue in either directions and could escape the mad rush!

Mahabaleshwar can get really crowded during holidays, especially because of its proximity to Mumbai and Pune. Excess crowds can be a  disappointer; however, it is a gem of hill station in the Sahyadris, to be visited at least once in your lifetime.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Roadtrip to Konkan

Our December vacation was a road trip from Bangalore to Maharashtra and back. Yes! we always wanted to do a road trip in our Bimmer.  This trip was not only about enjoying the car but the joy of exploring an unknown territory spread out all around us, prompted us to go ahead. Additionally, having our car handy all the time was a real boon in an area like Konkan.

Who says it is always the destination which counts! Sometimes the journey too can be as interesting, if not more, as the destination :) This road trip was beckoning us to explore the ever changing landscape as we passed along the Karnataka-Maharashtra border. As we kept on driving, not only the topography and natural landscape changed but also we witnessed a perceptible change in the social and cultural landscape - the farmlands, the type of crops, the small villages along the way, the local dress of the village folks, the temple structure, the local houses  - everything kept changing as we cruised along. Not only that, but to our good fortune, the food too changed flavours and texture as we entered Maharastra. Experiencing this firsthand was possible only because of the road trip that we took, which was a gorgeous, no-hassle drive with good roads and service throughout.

This is the route we took when we started from North Bangalore:

Bangalore-Mangalore Highway (NH75) --> NH48. Continue on NH48 for almost all of the 7-8 hour drive --> Belgaum

We stayed overnight at Belgaum before proceeding to Konkan coast the next morning. Our itinerary was planned to the hilt but we had to change it last minute to accomodate some unwanted events - which I can, however, call a blessing in disguise :)

Itinerary

1) Drive from Belgaum to Ganapatipule in Konkan and make that our base for the next 3 days. 

2) That was to be followed by driving to Dapoli, some 4 hours away up north and spending another 2 days there.

No, we couldn't reach Dapoli at all as our car experienced a burst tire in the middle of a jungle while we were on our way. However, we could drive for more than 40 minutes in that situation  (thanks to tubeless tires!) to the nearest Shringartali village, where a car garage helped us assess the situation and change our plan. So deciding against driving to our hotel in Dapoli, which was another 65 kms away, we decided to check in at the nearby resort -Mango Village in Guhagar.

3) Finally, we had planned to spend our last leg of the vacation in Mahabaleshwar, a picturesque hillstation in the Sahyadris, before returning to Bangalore and Home Sweet Home!



Ganapatipule:

This little seaside village got its name due to the popular Ganapati Swayambhu temple, which is situated right next to its beach. It's basically a small little temple town boasting of gorgeous beaches, a Prachin Konkan museum and awesome authentic food. There are breathtaking views and beaches at every 5 min drive from the main part of the town. Ganapatipule beach, Aarey Waare Beach, Malgund beach are all beauties with white sandy stretches spreading across miles.

Aarey Waare Beach from the road

Another secluded beauty!

My son's sand art @ Ganapatipule Beach

The beaches are no doubt gorgeous but what we loved the most in Ganapatipule was the local Brahmani thali and the fresh snack items found in almost all eateries all throughout the day! Bhau Joshi Bhojanalay and Mehendela's Swad Dining are two such eateries which literally served mindblowing authentic fare. Take a look for yourself 😋😋😋

@ a roadside khanaval (dhaba) on the way to Ganapatipule - clockwise from left- methi chi bhaaji, batatyachi bhaaji, varan, koshimbir, ghadichi poli, papad, lonche (unlimited and fresh-off the stove fare)

@ Bhau Joshi Bhojanalay in Ganapatipule - Solkadhi (drink)  and aamras in the vaati - clockwise from left- pithala, sreekhand, bhendi chi bhaaji, poli

@ Mehendale's Swaad Dining - clockwise from left - Modak, bhopla mirchichi peeth perun bhaaji, koshimbir, papad, lonche, thecha, varan, kalya vatanyachi usal, dahi, poli and aamrakhand.


I can safely say that Ganapatipule was a culinary destination for us more than a sightseeing destination. We ate and ate and in between did a quick day trip to the nearby Ratnagiri as well 😁 . Visiting Tilak Ali Museum, the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak and the Ratnagiri fort, is time well spent. The town is also a good place to shop for all the Alphonso mango preserves like aamras, aam papad, aamba burfi, dry chutneys, kokum agal and syrups.


Tilak Ali Museum (The word 'Ali' stands for a narrow lane in Marathi). The house is situated in a really narrow lane as were the roads in those days


View from the Ratnagiri fort


Well, for us, Ganapatipule was all about relaxation, beach hopping, a bit of sightseeing in and around it and of course, gorging on delicious food...how are you going to plan it?



Tip: One can buy conches and shaligram (holy stone) from the Prachin Konkan museum. 




Guhagar:


Sunset @ Guhagar Beach


This was the next leg of our journey. We were glad that we stayed back at Guhagar instead of driving up all the way to Dapoli. Mango Village Resort is a lovely place tucked away near the scenic Guhagar beach. Little independant bungalows dotted the resort village with a restaurant that again served mouth-wateringly delicious local food. A small clubhouse, a play ground and a Ganesh temple at one end of the resort completed the 'village' feel.

Mango Village Resort @ Guhagar



The best part of Guhagar is its beach. This gorgeous white sandy beach stretches for around 6kms in a straight line till it merges with the horizon at one end. A silhoutte of a whitewashed temple at the other end  with the setting sun in the background reaffirms the beauty of the entire landscape. The serenity, solitude and beauty of the beach during the golden hour of the  sunset made all of us feel really light-hearted and happy. It is difficult to describe in words how vastly this magnanimous nature can influence us lesser mortals!




The beach was spotlessly clean and was flocked by sea gulls at one spot. The setting sun casting its orange light on the flapping sea gulls made for a lovely sight. One can easily spend hours there gazing at the blue sea, enjoying the breeze and doing nothing. It is a must-visit spot if you are in Guhagar. We spend a lovely evening there chasing the sea gulls and leaving our footprints to be washed away over time.

Tip: Guhagar is a small village with a lovely beach and a couple of lakes nearby. It is a retreat for a perfect relaxing weekend. So do not expect many commercial activities and establishments like water sports, restaurants and the usual buzz in there.

My next blog on Mahabaleshwar is in the works...till then...adios...



Monday, October 29, 2018

Goan Sorak Curry

Spicy, Tangy and Simple - Sorak Curry with Bhindi

I have really fond memories of this curry from my childhood. My grandmother used to make the vegetarian version of this curry with lauki for me whenever I used to visit her and used to serve this with piping hot steamed rice. The combination of this curry with rice just creates magic on your taste buds. The midly spiced curry with the flavours of coconut, tamarind, coriander and chillies, just leaves one craving for more.

My late grandmother was a native of Goa and so I can vouch for the authencity of this lipsmacking curry which is a basic preparation in every Goan household. As I researched this curry, I got to know that this is a staple during the monsoons when fresh fish is not easily available and hence is usually made with dried fishes and prawns with our without vegetables.

I have adapted the recipe to the available items in my pantry but I am also giving the recipe the way my grandmother used to make it :)

Recipe for 3-4 servings:

Bhindi - 10-12, chopped into 1inch pieches (Lauki cut into medium sized cubes also tastes great in this curry)

Coconut milk - 1 cup or 1/2 cup freshly grated coconut ground into a fine paste with Kashmiri red chillies, jeera and a little water*( I used the store-bought coconut milk)

Kashmiri red chillies - 5-6 chillies to be ground into a smooth paste with coconut and jeera as given above(Optional - I used 1 tsp of chilli powder instead) The Kashmiri chillies lend a bright red colour to the curry.

Jeera - 1 tsp
One medium sized onion - chopped finely
One medium sized tomato - chopped into thin slices
Slit Green chillies - 3 or as per taste
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Coriander powder - 1-1.5 tsp
Curry leaves - a sprig
Tamarind pulp/kokum/lemon - to add sourness to the curry as per taste
Water - 1/2-1 cup to adjust consistency
Oil - 1 tbsp
Sugar - 1/2 tsp or as per taste
Salt - to taste

Saute the chopped bhindies and keep them aside. In a kadhai, prepare the tadka with jeera and add chopped onions to it. Once the onions become translucent, add curry leaves, green chillies and fry them for a while.

*If making the recipe using the coconut paste with chillies and jeera, then add this paste to the tadka at this step and saute the mixture till it leaves oil on its sides. Instead of adding jeera to the tadka, add the paste here.

Then add the tomatoes and the other dry spices. Again, saute it for a minute or two by adding some salt to bring out the juices from the tomato. To this mixture, add the coconut milk, tamarind pulp, salt, sugar, water to adjust consistency and then bring it to a boil. Traditionally, this is not a very thick curry but feel free to adjust the consistency to your liking.


Serve this curry with steamed Goan red rice for an authentic and tasty Goan meal!