Book Review: Short history of the American stomach

Always a sucker for an attractive title, I picked up this new book at my local library recently. I am a history buff, but my knowledge of American history is limited to its urban history.

The parts I loved about the book, the parts that were smooth, informative and hilariously funny - about half the book, had a good comparison going on between past and present in way that made food history accessible to the layman. The very first chapter compares the cookbook craze of this era with that of a century ago. The very first chapter also has a hilarious comparison between Food network camera work and the shot angles of porn movies. Yes you read that right, the author gets a porn star to review food network and its video, which then segues into a short story on the frustrations of being a food network star. All very amusing and clever- but I did not get the slightest hint of any historical angle to this brief insight into food media.

I feel better that todays' twin sins of dieting and then desperate self starvation are very old ideas, and the author does do a good job of descibing the excesses of over and deliberate starvation centuries ago. The oldest reference in history that I can think of , of a people, a class - deliberately doing this to themselves are the Romans with their Bacchanalia. They used to eat ginormous quantities of food and then tickle the back of their throat to vomit the whole thing, and start the whole feasting process again. Whew - an orgy sounds more like work than pleasure to me today.

Some of the best ideas of the book however are underdeveloped and orphaned early. For example later in his book , the author Frederick Kaufman explores the relation between Food, its purity and spirituality. He goes on to explore how even the act of declaring a food pure enough to eat by a particular religion has become a big business.

The other good idea he has is the outsourced stomach. In these days of outsourced everything, why not the stomach? But this is where he focuses on minuteae and forgets the big picture. He focuses of a particular type of genetically reengineered Asian oyster which he laments is replacing all the native oyster species. I just do not get it, exactly which meal of his is completely american? My own garlic comes from China, my tomatoes from Italy, my Okra from China and India. Focusing on native / invasive species debate misses the wood for the trees.

My recommendation: Skip this book unless you have a good grounding in American History.


The Healthiest Chappati

Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert. My only qualifications are my frequent dieter miles! Do let me know about errors logical or factual.

My entry for Srivalli's roti mela.

Srivallis Roti Mela has brought my inner mad scientist to life. Here are the results of my experiments to find the holy grail of all chappati flours, the very healthiest one to make the very healthiest phulka ( a chappati that puffs up into two layers).

In the tradition of long ago hot afternoons spent in my high school chemistry laboratory we begin with a

HYPOTHESIS: There exists the perfect chappati flour, which will puff up perfectly as a phulka- with low carbohydrates, high protein and loads and loads of vitamins and good stuff. This automatically eliminates all the mixed flour rotis like thalipeeth or thepla or parathas, which while perfectly healthy donot puff up into two layers.

What I did was try and mix different flours, soy, amaranth, even moong dal flour; with atta(durum whole wheat flour)in different proportions and make phulkas. Healthy stuff + healthy stuff must equal healthy stuff right? All the combinations had 1/4 cup of yoghurt and salt to taste. If you are looking for instructions to make phulkas from normal durum whole wheat check out Nupurs beautiful puffed up chappatis.


Wheat gluten is the protein part of wheat. It is commonly sold as vital wheat gluten from Hudson Mills. Iam not sure if it is available in India. My mother takes her soy beans to the local atta chakki and he makes it into flour for her. So people looking to source Amaranth flour or soy flour in India could try that idea.

METHODOLOGY / Different types of Chappati flour combinations tested:

Calorie information above is for the entire 11/2 cups of total flour. Each combination yielded 8 to 10 rotis. The proportion of all non wheat flours was limited to 33%( 1/2 cup of soy flour to every 1 cup of whole wheat) of the total. It says right on the back of the Amaranth and soy flour bags from arrowhead mills that you can substitute wheat flour with amaranth or soy upto 30% successfully.


Taste: All the chapattis fluffed up beautifully. The tastiest was the Amaranth Wheat flour combination- per my chief taster my husband H.It had a slightly sweet, characteristic nutty sort of flavor. All the soy combinations had a slight bitterness if you had the chappati straight. With sabzi or dal this was not noticeable. The revelation was the soy wheat gluten combination - i had almost no hopes of anything tasty emerging - it was virtually the same as the wheat and soy roti and fluffed up nicely. The wheat gluten holds the roti together and helps it puff up like a normal roti.

I am sure you could add sugar to modify the taste of the soy rotis, but that would kind of miss the whole point of this experiment.

What does this experiment mean ? One thing is obvious, there is no real calorie advantage in these different rotis. The main advantage as I see it is increasing the quantity and type of protein you get from your roti.

I guess if you are on a diet or into heavy exercising the Soy Wheat gluten roti might be perfect for you, because this roti is really high in protein. triple a normal roti.It is also very high in iron, always good for anemic people.

If you are looking for a complete protein and heart benefits , the Amaranth Roti might be for you. Amaranth is also said to be easier to digest.

As a vegetarian, I am always looking for ways to integrate soy protien into my diet. At the end of this experiment I am glad that at the very least I can now make all my rotis into soy wheat flour rotis without sacrificing an iota of the look and feel of the traditional roti. Yippee!


Thank you Thali #2

A big thank you to Suganya ,Archana Nandita and Tee for making my thali this week! I loved the Eggplant Pumpkin Curry from Suganya of Tasty Palettes not only for its unusual combination but for its great flavors. Gujarati Dal is familiar to me, but I loved the Gujarati Dal from Archana of Archanas Kitchen with its delicate cinnamon flavoring.

I also made Pumpkin Dhansaak from Nandita of Saffron trail and Bharli Vangi (Stuffed Eggplants) from Bhatukli. Unfortunately I donot have any pictures of these two. I loved both these recipes too. The pumpkin dhansaak defintely was tastier the second day around, I would add more pumpkin next time around.

I apologise that my pictures of your dishes donot do justice to them, but I wanted to serve them hot at dinner. I usually do my blog photography at lunch so that H. my husband does not have to suffer cold food.


Mexican Series #9: Chiles Rellenos:Stuffed Ancho & Poblano

My entry for Dhivyas A.W.E.D Mexican.

My Gujju heart says that Chiles Rellenos is only Bharela Marcha by a different name, localized with Mexican Ingredients. Bharela Marcha is a stuffed chile( either the mild long one or the Capsicum) that is sometimes fried as a fritter or Bhajiya. Big picture settled, the details are very very important. Mexican cuisine is all about the marcha or the chile. They have n number of chile varieties, which when they combine with n number of fillings leads to billions of variations and that spins my head round and round and round......

uh coming back to Chiles Rellenos, it is, then, a classic Mexican dish of stuffed, battered and deep fried Poblano , Ancho or even Jalapenos or Habaneros in different regions of Mexico. In a way, Jalapeno Poppers, that cheese creamy hot goodness is a Chiles Relleno.

Do check out my other vegetarian Mexican recipes here.

Donot get intimidated by the long list of ingredients or the equally long method, this dish is worth the work. This recipe does not deep fry the chiles for a healthier chiles Rellenos. It is a main course dish and you can eat it by itself.

The two most common Chiles Rellenos, have to be the stuffed Poblano and Ancho. Poblano is a deep green, fresh, long and mild pepper while the Ancho is a deep red dried Pepper. Both are easily available in local Mexican or farmers markets.Images from Happynews.com and Wikimedia

Check out Asha at Foodies Hope who has a detailed post on the stuffed Poblano Chiles Rellenos. I guess the only things I could add to her detailed instructions is you could also char the poblanos on a gas stove top, cover it for ten minutes and then peel it. Remember that you should char the poblanos only until they are black and blistered. Too much and you wont be able to peel them. Also, try not to wash them under water because that dilutes the flavor. Dont worry about little bits of skin, they taste damn good!

Stuffing Anchos Chiles is a slightly different procedure, you have to first rehydrate the chiles. This recipe is from a book called Rosa's Mexican Table which I liked for its beautiful pictures and slightly unconventional stuffing.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers & Ancho Peppers in a thin tomato sauce:
Chiles anchos rellenos de puntitas de res:

To rehydrate the Anchos:
2/3 cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup piloncillo or jaggery or 3 tbsp brown sugar + 2 tbsp molasses
8 Large Ancho chiles, dry but pliable

For the filling
1/3 cup of soft goat cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1.5 pounds trimmed beef tenderloin ( I substituted with TVP made from Soy. You could also use Rice- Brown or white - Works out to about 2 cups-cooked)
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed chopped
1 large white onion finely chopped
2 medium jalapenos, chopped finely
11/2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2.5 tsp dried oregano crumbled
salt to taste
3/4 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

6 medium tomatoes roasted in an oven at 400 degree F for 10 minutes( if you find yellow tomatoes use them for a beautiful color contrast)
1 habanero chile
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 (11/3cups)small white onion finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Blend all the sauce ingredients except the onion. Take some oil in a saucepan and heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the blended sauce and cook the blended sauce until it thickens. The Author recommends 40 minutes, I did not have the patience and I used a thinner tomato sauce, tasted just great.


First, Rehydrate the Anchos: Take six Dried Anchos in a Large bowl. Combine 4 cups water with the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, Stirring until the piloncillo is dissolved. Add the water to the Anchos. Put a heavy weight on top of the Anchos so that they are submerged. Soak for about an hour until they are soft. Drain. Carefully make a slit on one side and remove most of the seeds. Make sure the stem does not fall off and try not to tear the chile.

Prepare the filling: In a pan with add the oil, add the cumin, onions, rice or tvp, jalapenos, garlic, oregano, salt and mushrooms and saute until the onions are cooked and the mushrooms are lightly browned and all the water from the mushrooms have evaporated.

When cooked add the goat cheese and cilantro.

Stuff each chile carefully. This mixture should fill around 6 Anchos. The extra anchos are in case any chile tears or does not become soft.

Place the chiles in a baking dish, add the tomato sauce to upto half way up the chiles. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degree F.

From Recipes from Regional cooks of Mexico Diana Kennedy
1. Chiles Rellenos con Calabacitas Chiles stuffed with Zucchini
2. Chiles Rellenos de Elote con Crema Chiles tuffed with corn and cream
From The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
3. Chiles stuffed with Cheese
4. Ancho Chiles stuffed with Potato and Chorizo
From Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless
5. Pan fried Chiles Rellenos with sauce and without
6. Black Bean Chiles Rellenos
From Cocina dela Familia by Marilyn Tausend
7. Chiles en Nogada Stuffed Chiles wih Walnut Sauce
8. Chile Rellenos de Fiesta Unstuffed Stuffed Chiles
From Elise of Simply Recipes
9. Chiles En Nogada
10. Chile Relleno Casserole


Growing Amaranth/Mulaikeerai

Two pictures of my baby kutti Amaranths grown from Organic Rajgira seeds

Now, plants hate me because I usually approach them with love and affection but eventually kill them off! It is not neglect, I take care of them, but they still die on me. Whats a girl to do? I have been eyeing the lovely Amaranth recipes Indira has at Mahanandi for a while now. We donot get Amaranth leaves in our local farmers market.So finally I decided to grow these in a pot on my windowsill.

My mother in law sent me a copy of the English edition of the famous Tamil cookbook Samaithu paar, which had an, "Amaranth kootu/ Mulaikeerai recipe"- This is when I realised that Mulaikeerai is an Amaranth. My mom grew up having Molakeerai or Araikeerai Kootu everyday of the week - Both of which turned out to be Amaranths. Yay! Growing Amaranth myself now brought me closer to my moms roots too- an unexpected bonus.

Did you know that amaranth is over 4000 years old? Or that it was found at a Harappan site(Surkotada, Kutch: Gujarat)? I did not!

KT Achaya's Indian Food, a Historical Companion is the first book that my husband H. bought me from the Oxford University Press. It is not a work you read from cover to cover because of its serious academic tone, but whenever I dip into it - I come away with fascinating historical insights into Indian food.

Some other fascinating tidbits about amaranth from this book:
Amaranth is a genus with many different species. The most common amaranth grain variety in India is A. hybridus. It is also called ramdhana, chua, bathua , pungikeerai or thotakura in India. Rajgeera itself comes from the variant A. hybridus subsp. cruentus whose leaves are eaten as chaulai, mathbhaji or pungikeerai.

The third species A. caudatus is an ornamental garden plant also called love lies bleedng, and it was originally brought in from South America. The Picture on the left is of Love lies Bleeding and is from Britannica. I seem to remember this plant lurking in the gardens of my childhood.

Three other Amaranthus species are found in India, with Sanskrit names and probably of Indian origin.
A. Spinosus, in Sanskrit Alpamarisha, in Hindi Kantachaula and in Tamil Mulaikeerai.
A. Tricolor, in Sanskrit Marisha, makanada or tanduliya, Hindi Chaulai and Tamil Araikerai or thandukeerai.
A. Viridis , in Sanskrit tanduliya or vishnaga and in Tamil kuppukeerai or sinnakeerai.

These three are also called Malabar Spinach, Chinese Spinach & Tampala ( Generic Sri Lankan Name)respectively in the Western World.

Amaranths are also very nutritious, more about that in another post. Also Recipes for amaranth coming up in future posts. I cannot wait for my little, kutti plants to grow up - when I can finally try out the Amaranth recipes Indira has!


Ghau na fada ne Dudhi na Muthia

Muthias are a much blogged about Gujarati snack / light meal. I am a gujju @ heart so I love Muthias- they are steamed , they have a good proportion of veggies to carbs, they are tasty!In this version, my mom uses Ghau na fada or cracked wheat, which is different from other recipes in the blogosphere. Cracked wheat is less processed than flour and provides some bite,texture and fibre to this recipe.

The only thing you have to be careful in this recipe is the proportion of Cracked wheat to veggies. Too much and your muthias will be very very hard.

2 cups grated dudhi or bottlegourd
1 cups cracked wheat or ghau na fada
1/2 cup Besan or Kadala maavu
3 cloves of garlic(large)
1 green chilli

For the seasoning:
1 tsp mustard
pinch asofoetida
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
Coriander Leaves
Grate the Bottlegourd. Add a tsp of salt and leave it alone for ten to fifteen minutes. Water will leech out of the Dudhi. Now add the Besan, Ghau na fada or cracked wheat, Garlic, Green chilli and salt if needed. Now shape into a log and steam for fifteen minutes as shown in the picture.

Open the steamer vessel and let the Muthias cool down for another fifteen minutes. If you try to cut them while hot ,they will break.

Add oil to a wide and shallow vessel. When hot, add the mustard. After the mustard pops, add the sesame seeds, muthia, red chilli powder and turmeric in that order. Saute for two to three minutes or until the turmeric does not smell raw.

Turn off the heat and add the salt, sugar, lemon juice and coriander leaves.

You could also try a Muthia Recipe from other Blogs:
1. Jugalbandis Mystery Veggie Muthia
2. Kajals Dudhi na Muthia
3. Mansi's Palak and Dudhi Muthia
4. Meeras Microwave Muthia
5. Coffee Mixed Vegetable Muthias


Mexican Series #8: Quesadilla Education

Quesadillas are everywhere simply because they are comfort food like grilled cheese sandwiches. But they have several names- quesadillas, empanadas, molotes, tlacoyos etc according to Rick Bayless. What do quesadillas and empanadas have in common? I decided to do some digging.

The two authors I ran into in my exploration of Mexican food via books were Diana Kennedy- an older, pioneer woman in the documenting of Mexican cuisine and Rick Bayless - a contemporary chef who runs the Frontera grill in Chicago.

Diana Kennedy is strict about what a quesadilla is, " a corn masa turnover doubled over a filling of oaxaca cheese, a strip of poblano chile and some epazote leaves". Wait a minute CORN MASA ? Not even a cooked tortilla? If you make a quesadilla according to Diana Kennedy, as I did, it looks something like the picture below.

The more common quesadilla Ive seen so far is like the one below, two tortillas sandwiched over some filling. This is more accurately called a quesadilla synchonizada- so called because of the two synchronized tortillas on top of each other.

What are empanadas then? Rick Bayless suggests that an empanada is a wheat flour turnover / samosa with typically meat fillings. I will be posting empanada recipes soon.

To sum up,
For the quesadilla, roll out some corn masa like in the picture, keep some stuffing in the middle , fold and cut in a half moon shape. Deep fry or fry on a non stick skillet. The crisp exterior gives way to soft and melty corn dough and then to melty cheese. Yumm!

How to mix corn masa/ Lime processed corn flour? Refer to my previous post on corn tortillas

For the Quesadilla synchronizada, Place a tortilla - either corn or flour, on top of your skillet on medium heat. Top with about a tablespoon of filling - smooth out. Add as much cheese as you like - Domestic Sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, Muenster or if you have access to Mexican cheeses, Oaxaca string cheese and chihuahua . Top with another tortilla and toast on both sides until crisp and the cheese is completely melted.

You can also optionally grill the quesadilla synchronizadas. One good tip is to top the quesadillas with some sal limon, that is lemon salt with paprika just before you take the quesadilla off the skillet. Easily available in mexican markets it gives a tangy sour patch type of finish which kids are sure to love.

For the filling you could use simple and delicious cheese or my recipes from previous posts on Mexican Stewed Mushrooms ( Hongos Guisados) or Mexican Swiss chard and Potatoes(Acelgas Guisadas).

Another filling for quesadillas/ empanadas/ Burritos that Ive come up with is

Makes enough for four quesadillas
2 roasted Red peppers( beautiful post from jugalbandi on how to roast red peppers)
1/2 a medium onion
1 chipotle pepper or to taste in adobo sauce
1 tsp mexican oregano
salt to taste

Saute onions until soft and translucent, add the rest of the ingredients and saute for a minute more until the flavors are blended. Cool and use as filling. This is really delicious even if I say it myself!