Food Travails - beginnings

This is a blog about the politics of food. This interest began when i read a couple of books by Eric Schlosser,Michael Pollan and Rachel Carson . Their focii were:

1. Analysis of Dept of Agriculture policies and their effect on what ends up on our table
2. The food chain in processed food
3. The food chain in the journey of raw food from the field to the table.

Eric Schlossers account of how the production and processing of food by the Fast Food Industry in America with particular emphasis on Mac Donalds was both,"funny and terrifying". As the blurb went, "You are what you eat. But do you really know what you’re eating? ". Thats when i started looking at what i was eating.

On the other hand was Botany of Desire, a seductive lament to the way the apple was( and tulip, marijuana and potato) and is. This book opened my eyes to natural foods, and their histories. It is amazing what a hundred years of human attention has done to the apple.

When i went back to India , i really looked around me. There were huge Gulmohur trees(more about them in a different post), natives from Magdascar. Hmm, imagine that. So many foreign trees and plants around me , and i just did not know. Natural history in India is as much a melting pot as its cultures. What is the quality of nature in India and our attitudes towards it?

When i ate my food from the thali (Hindi word for food plate) , I asked- now where did this come from? What fields, what waters, how did it grow? Was it processed? How was it processed?

For India, I found some answers in KT Achaya, Ramachandra Guha, Vandana Shiva. But this is a blog of a journey just begun. I would love to hear your comments / opinions and about similiar works on India.

1. Eric Schlosser "Fast Food Nation"
2. Michael Pollan "Botany of Desire"
His blog on the NYT site is also awesome, however might be restricted access to members.
3. Rachel Carson : Silent Spring

Iam expanding on the Indian authors assuming that you know/ have access to the Western authors.

One example of food studies in India is KT Achaya's oft referred and seminal work, Indian food :a historical companion deals with the prevalent crop patterns in India until today, traces the introduction of various species like the Potato and Red Chilli in India, and traces the history of foods still current. What it does not deal with are the politics and the ecology of food in India.

Vandana Shiva : Now India has always focussed on agricultural policies, filling the nations granaries has been a preoccupation for long. Vandana Shiva's analysis of the role of the World Bank in Indias green revolution in the 60's, Dam preoccupations, and pesticide use in India is great. Some of this information , specially on pesticides(with particular focus on pesticides in softdrinks) can be found on the CSE( Center for Science and Environment website).

Mr.Ramachandra Guha (This Fissured land, An Ecological History of India and Ecology and Equity) gives the best possible introduction to Ecology, Environment and their history in India , his focus is rather broad and does not include particularities on either pesiticide - use and impact or foods.

Food On Paper

Some of the best cookbooks on Indian i have run into so far

1. Shivaji Rao Holkar & Shalini Devi Holkar "Cooking of the Maharajas"
Unfortunately this book is out of print now, you might find it on amazon or in your local library if you are lucky. A very well written book on Royal food complete with cuisine from a dozen fiefdoms with anecdotes to match.

2. Madhur Jaffrey
Indian Cooking Barrons Educational Series 1983
Flavors of India West 175 Publishing 1995
From Curries to kebabs Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail Clarkson Potter Publishers 2003
3. Others :

Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the great subcontinent Artisan 2005

4. My current reading list / wish list :

Maya Kaimal
What to Eat - Marion Nestle

5. Articles
Lizzie Collingham "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors"
Find the New York Times Review (NYT) here
Famous chefs talk about their favorite out of print cookbooks
Might require membership to NYT for access
The New Puritans - New York Times
Analysis of the wave of books hearkening to organic, nutritious, anti big corp food


Spiced Fruit Kabobs

1. Spiced Fruit Kabobs:
Pineapple and Plums
Unsalted Butter
Confectioners Sugar
Lime Juice

Tandoori Kabob:
Tandoor Masala
Salt Chilli Powder
Mushroom, Red / Yellow Bell Peppers, Paneer, Onion.

2. Vietnamese Corn Fritters

1.25 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs beaten
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
grated rind of 2 limes

3. Zucchini Drops
3 small zucchini
olive oil for frying
1 small onion grated
1 clove garlic
salt & garlic


1. Herb and Garlic Broth(Aigo Bouido)
Big head of garlic
6 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
2 parsley branches
sea salt & Pepper
Olive oil

Put 5 cups water in a soup pot over a high heat. Separate the garlic cloves, peel them and add them along with the herbs and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered for 20 minutes, then strain into a clean pot or simply remove the herbs leaving the pearly garlic cloves if you wish. Season and add Olive oil. You can now enjoy this as a broth or use it as the base for a soup.

2. Rustic lentil soup with spinach
11/2 cups lentils
Olive Oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot finely diced
1 red bell pepper - roasted peeled chopped
2 tbsp parsley
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp mustard paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
Hefty bunch of spinach chiffonade
Chopped mint or parlsey for garnish
red wine vinegar to taste

Warm the oil in soup pot. Add onion, carrod, red pepper and parsley. Cook over medium heat , stirring now and then, until the onion is softened and starting to color. Add the garlic, then stir in the tomato paste and mustard, working both into the vegetables and cooking until theres a film on the bottom of the pot. Pour in the wine, scrape up the pan juices, then simmer until partially reduced after a few minutes. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot with the bay leaf and water, using the larger amount if the lentils were soaked only briefly. Bring to a boil, then reduce the ehat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes. Add salt and cook until lentils are soft. Add spinach chiffonade and serve.

3. Lentils with pounded walnuts and cream

2 cups lentils , soaked
2 - 4 tbsp butter
1 onion finely diced
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper

for walnuts:
1 plump garlic clove
1/3 cup walnuts lightly toasted
1/2 cup cream

Drain the lentils, melt butter in pot, add onion and bay leaf and cook over medium high heat for 5 min. Add lentils and cook until soft. Pount garlic in a mortar with pinch salt, add walnuts and start working them into a paste. Add cream a tsp or so at a time, which will make it easier to break down the nuts. Serve soup in soup plates and add walnut cream, parsley and pepper.

4. Cream of barley soup

1/3 cup barley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large or 3 medium onions diced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 large leek
1 large carrot
1 large garlic clove
sea salt
1 cup sour cream

to finish:
1/3 cup barley
1 leek white part julienned
2 tbsp butter
mushrooms thinly sliced for garnish

Cover the soup barley with water and soak. Heat olive oil and butter in soup pot until foaming. Add onion and oregano, give a stir and cook for 5 min. Then add the leek , carrot and garlic. Cook for 10 min more until glaze forms on bottom of pot. Drain barley and add it into the pot along with 6 cups water. Cook until soft and puree the soup with sour cream until smooth. Return soup to the pot , taste for salt and season with pepper.

Rinse the remaining barley and cook until tender. Simmer the leek in salt water until tender, drain and toss in a little butter. Saute mushrooms in butter. Serve barley soup with the added barley grains, mushroom and leek.

5. Avocado soup with herbs, slivered radishes and pistachios

2 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup yoghurt
1 large avocado
1 cucumber
1 large garlic clove
sea salt and fresh pepper
3 slender scallions, white parts and a little green finely minced
2 tbsps chopped dill
1 tbsp snipped chives
1 tbsp minced marjoram or oregano
1 tbsp minced tarragon
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 chile
zest and juice of one lime
bit sweetner

to finish: finely sliced chives and chive blossoms
thinly slivered radishes
dill, mint and cilantro sprigs
1/2 cup shelled pistachios

Puree the buttermilk, yoghurt, avocado and a quarter of the peeled cucumber in a blender until smooth, then pour it into a bowl. Mash the garlic with 1/2 txp salt and stir it into the puree along with the scallions, herbs, chile and lime zest. Season to taste with salt, pepper, lime juice and sweetner if needed. Seed and finely dice remaining cucumber and add to soup. Cover and chill.
Finish with chives, radishes, herbs and pistachios

Recipes from my mom in law

1. Mysore rasam
Toor dal 1 tbsp
Channa dal 1/4 spoon
Dhania 1/2 tbsp
Roast with oil
Add coconut
Puli, Salt, Curry leaves, Asofoetida tomato Boil.
Add paste.
Add boiled Toor dal
Kadag and kothamali thalikofy.
Add slight vellum

2. Normal Rasam

Puli, Salt, Curry leaves, Asofoetida tomato Boil.
Add paste.
Add boiled Toor dal
Kadag and kothamali thalikofy.
Only Foam , donot boil.

3. Madras Koot

Equal Parts of moong and toor dal.
Boil with veg
Add turmeric, peringayam, Karvepillai, Kootu Powder and donot have to thalikofy.

4. Vayakka Kai

Roast Urad dal and red chilli and peringayam powder. Steam Vayakka with thol, peel and mush. Add fresh coconut. No thalikofy

5. Yellow Pumpkin Morkoyumb

Channa Dal
Red Chilli
Roast with oil.
Grind with fresh coconut. Mix in buttermilk. Thalikofy with mustard. No peringayam.

6. Normal Morkoyumb
Channa dal + green chilli
Roast vendiyum and powder
Jeera Dhania

7. Vengayam Sambhar
Saute Vengayam until soft and translucent. Add water.

Channa dal 2 tbsp
Dhania 11/2 tbsp
Molaga to taste
Vendiyum two or three seeds

Puli + karvepillai + salt + parap

To make it more "oniony" grind a raw onion into the sambhar

Pies & Pastries

1. Chocolate Bavarian Cream
2 oz Unsweetened baking chocolate 2 inch piece vanilla bean 1 cup milk 3 large egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar salt 1tbsp unflavored gelatin 1 cup heavy cream whipped

Combine vanilla and milk in a saucepan and gently heat the milk until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, stirring to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Remove the pan from the heat. Beat the egg yolks lightly in the top part of a double boiler set over simmering water, or in a heavy 1 quart saucepan over low heat. Gradually beat in the sugar. Add a dash of salt. Then gradually add the hot milk . Stir and cook the custard until it coats a metal spoon. Remove the custard from the heat. Strain the custard into a bowl and stir in the softened gelatin and the chocolate. Cool the cream over the ice beating to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Fold in the whipped cream .

2. Cheese and Water cress puffs:
1 bunch watercress
1 cup milk
2 eggs beaten
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
2-3 tsp fresh chopped parsley
salt & Pepper
firm goat cheese

Preheat oven to 425 F. Blend all ingredients, place a chunk of cheese in middle and bake for 15-20 min until risen and golden in muffin pan.

3. Rosti:
1/4 cup butter
8oz onion finely chopped
1 pound potatoes, grated soaked in cold water
4 eggs beaten
salt and black pepper
goats cheese for garnish.

Cook onions in olive oil, combine everything else. Fry.


Recipes from Neelam Batra

1. Okra with baby tomatoes

2 pounds young okra
1 small onion , sliced finely
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp mango powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
20-25 colorful cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cilantro.

Fry Okra until golden. Remove. Cook onion with masalas and onion. Add Tomatoes and cook in pan until skin begins to separate. Add the fried okra , season with salt, top with cilantro and serve. Makes a very colorful party dish.

2. Peas, carrots and Potatoes

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 green chillis
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
1 cup cilantro
3 cups peas
2 cups yough carrots in slices
3 small potatoes in 6 wedges
1 tsp mango powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
3 tbsp chopped cilantro

3. Naan
1 tbsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 large egg
1/2 cup smooth yoghurt
1/2 cup warm milk
4 cups maida
3 tbsp butter at room temp
1/2 tsp salt

Mix egg, yoghurt, milk. Make the yeast bloom in the warm water. Combine all with butter and flour. Ferment until double in volume. Roll and broil until browned. Optional topping, nigella seeds, sesame. Brush with water and ghee when in oven.

4. Dal Makhani
1 cup black urad dal
2 tbsp dried pinto beans ( substitute rajma)
3 cups water
1/4 cup split yellow chickpeas
1 tbsp mustard /peanut oil
10 small dried red chilli
1tbsp garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp asafetida
2 tbsp ginger
1 cup cilantro
6-7 cups water
tomato paste
1/2 cup milk / cream
1/2 tsp garam masala

Soak all beans overnight. In oil in pressure cooker, add red chilli, garlic - fry until garlic is golden. Stir in cumin seeds, coriander, cumin , asafetida, ginger, cilantro and fry for another minute. Add beans and cook in pressure cooker with adequate water. Simmer, add tomato sauce and cream / milk. At the very end add garam masala and garnish with cilantro.


Recipes from Mom

1. Salem Tape :
3 : 1 rice pottakadla
some sesame seeds (ell)
tenga pal ( Coconut Milk)
Salt to Taste

2. Mysore pak
1/2 cup Besan
1 cup sugar
1 cup ghee
2 tbsp water

make two tar pag
add half ghee and salikofied besan
Keep adding rest of ghee slowly
Just before taking it of the heat, add baking soda to get porous structure

3. Kanchipuram Idlis
Take black urad dal 1Raw rice 2
soak separately, grind and ferment
add dried ginger, whole pepper, jeera, peringayam, karavapila, in lots of ghee

4. Upma koyakatta and Katrika Gochhu::
til oil - tadka, kadag peringayam, ultamparap, karvepillai, one cup rice- rice rava, three cups water 1/2 cup coconutcool and make shapessteam again
cut katrika, kadag peringayam, tomato juice, kadala parap, dhania, tenga , molaga, puli

5. Puliyodare
Red Chilli + Dhania seeds - 1 sp eachMethi Seeds
Tamarind Paste - 4 to spoonsSesame Oil , Kadag, PeringayamPut puli pulpsaltboil for a long time , maybe for an hourPepper powderTurmeric Powder
Minimum 4 to 5 hours it should soak
Spread the powder, mix nuts
Vella, jadika, yellaka, half maida, half rice and half vellam and half water

6. karvepillai thokku:
kadag peringayam red chilli thalikofy roast urad dal in same, add tamarind, add the karvepillai

7. Sambhar Powder
1 spoon channa dal
1/4 sp tuver
10 peppercorns
2 kernels vendiyum
1 tbsp dhania
2 Red chillies

8. Rasam Podi
1 cup tuver dal
1/2 cup dhania
3 spoons jeera
pepper less than 1/4 rth cup
red chilli


From Curries to Kebabs Madhur Jaffrey

1. Stuffed Vegetable Curry ( Aku Shaak)

4 tbsp chickpea flour

2 tbsp roasted ground peanuts

2 tbs dessicated coconut

1 tbsp grated ginger

4-5 cloves crushed garlic

11/2 tsp finely chopped green chillies

2 tsp salt

1.5 tsp cayeene pepper

1.5 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp jaggery

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp ground cumin

olive oil

1 tsp lemon juice

6 small round eggplants

4 tomatoes

4 onions

1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds

1/4 tsp asafetida

4 dried hot red chillies

3 medium boiling potatoes

1/2 cups grated tomatoes

1 green pepper, seeds removed and cut into small squares

Put the chickpea flour, peanuts, coconut, ginger, garlic, green chillies, salt, cayenne pepper, turmeric , jaggery, cilantro, coriander and cumin into a bow. Mix. Add 1 tbsp of oil and rub it in. Add the lemon juice and 1-2 tbsp of water to get a crumbly paste.

Cut deep crosses in the bottom of the egglplants , onions and tomatoes. Stuff with mixture.

Pour enough oil into the bottom of a pan to line it with abt 1/16th of an inch and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, put in the mustard seeds, asafetida and red chillies. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the potatoes. Stir for 30 seconds. Cover and cook for 3-4 min. Carefully put in the onions and eggplants in to the pan, cut side up. Cover and continue to cook over medium high heat for 7-8 min. Uncover and add abt 4 tbsp of water. Jiggle and move the vegetables around gently. Cover it with lid and cook for around 15 min. Put in tomatoes, scatter pepper pieces, grated tomatoes, remainder stuffing and cook for 20-25 min until done.

2. Mushrooms and Cilantro Curry

5 tbsp oil

2 medium sticks of cinnamon

2 smallish onions finely chopped

3 fresh green chillies

1 cup plain yoghurt


2 pounds medium mushrooms

1/4tsp ground cloves

1/4tsp ground cardamom

2 packed cups cilantro

3 tbsp hvy cream

Pour oil into a wide heavy lidded pan and set over med high heat. When the oil is hot put in the cinnamon. Stir add onions and chillies. Stir and fry until onions are golden brown. Take the pan off the heat and add the yoghurt and salt. Return the pan to the heat and cook , stirring until all the yoghurt is absorbed and you can see oil at the edges. Put in the mushrooms, adnother 3/4 to 1 tsp salt, cloves, cardamom and cilantro. Stir, reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for 10-15 min, stirrring now and then. Remove lid and boil off some liquid. Add cream if desired and serve.


Im just here for the food

1. Red Onion Tomato Jam

2 tsp olive oil
2 cups red onions sliced lyonnaise style
1/4 cup shallot
2 cups seeded and diced tomatoes
3 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tomato paste
1 cup stock
salt & pepper
basil cut into fine chiffonade

Heat a small pan over med high heat and add the oil. Add the onions and shallot and toss to coat with the oil. Reduce the heat to low and allow the onions and shallots to sweat and caramelize . Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and tomato paste. Stir to combine and cook until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add the stock and reduce to thick bubbly consistency again. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set half the mixture aside. Puree the other half and fold it back into reserved mixture. Fold in the basil