Earth-friendly fashion, food and travel

Last week was Earth Day. I usually don’t pay much attention to such “days” because most of them are mere eyewash, but Earth Day got me thinking. Can I really make a difference in building a better future for a greener planet?

I assessed my passions (fashion, food and travel) and I figured- sure, I can make an impact, and quickly sat down to make a rough list. At the end of an hour, I re-read the list and scratched out a few unfeasible ideas. But a handful of practical and pragmatic earth-friendly ideas survived. An inner voice said, “Hey, this can work!” So I decided to take the list public and share it with you all.

Here goes:

Fashion

Biba kurtas

Shop within a limit. And I don’t mean your credit card limit. Plan your shopping and decide what you need to buy before you head to the mall. Even with just a dozen tops and half a dozen pants, you can be trendy and stylish. Sure, end of season sales are tempting and a wonderful excuse to buy the orange top or pink dress on your wishlist, but do you really need Blouse No. 52 in your wardrobe? Instead, do a thorough wardrobe cleanse over a long weekend, then only add new clothes and accessories to replace an older one that’s worn out.

Recycle and reuse. I’ve been hearing this mantra for years now, but never followed it. Late 2014, I reused my mom’s wedding dupatta with a new ensemble and made a modern-looking blouse to match her traditional sari, I realized that this formula works. You can transform a large silk scarf into a top or stitch neutral-coloured sari blouses to wear with well-preserved saris. Besides, you get bragging rights to declare, “I’m wearing vintage!”

pink dupatta

Buy locally-made clothes. Here’s how the supply chain of most fast fashion brands (like Zara) usually work: Clothes are manufactured in Country A, then sent to home country and dispatched around the world. Or the garments are shipped directly to warehouses or stores in Countries B, C, D and so on. Working on tight deadlines and short turnaround times, manufacturers often dispatch the merchandise via air. With hundreds of manufacturers and dozens of countries, you can imagine the amount of emissions a single brand’s business could generate. A simple thumb rule (broad generalization): the shorter the distance a garment travels, the more planet-friendly it is likely to be in terms of emissions. Buying clothes made in another part of the world may often be the easier (read: cheaper) option, but do try to opt for a local brand when possible. India has dozens of clothing and accessories brands that source and manufacture locally. “Made in India” seems appealing, doesn’t it?

Buy good quality clothes and accessories. You bought a cute pair of chappals from Linking Road and a stylish cotton kurta from Lajpat market for a steal. Both get worn out in a few months. And so you want to buy new chappals and another cotton kurta. Instead, how about you pay a bit more and buy chappals and a kurta that last longer? This way you generate less waste and save money in the long run. Think of each purchase as an investment of sorts, and calculate the returns in terms of how long it will make you happy. True, better quality may often mean more strain on your wallet, but when you’re buying fewer clothes and shopping less often, the extra bucks you spend are actually working to save you money in the future.

Food

Fresh local produce Chaing Mai Thailand

Eat local produce as much as you can. Of course, that’s not always possible. You don’t get great India-made feta or miso paste, but local fruits and vegetables are always the freshest and have travelled much shorter distances to reach you. Besides, seasonal fruits and vegetables are often delicious. So, if you have a choice, buy local.

Carry your own shopping bag. A cloth or jute bag or locally made basket is super handy in the market. My granny had gifted my mom couple of hand-woven baskets several years ago which she still uses. Myanmar has some lovely woven baskets as well, and I’ve bought not one, but two of them!

Use cloth instead of plastic and paper. Replace kitchen tissue with cloth towels to dry pots, pans and plates in the kitchen, or wipe your hands. There are some “highly absorbent” options which you can use for several days before throwing them for a wash. (Yes, I use just such a towel!). And oh, I prefer to use a handkerchief instead of paper tissue.

Reuse (yes, again!). I saw bamboo straws in Cambodia, and regret not buying them. They were reusable and very cute! Conscious foodies often carry reusable cutlery such as forks and chopsticks instead of using the disposable ones found in takeaway joints or fast food restaurants.

Travel

Boat ride Copenhagen

Use public transport. This one’s a no-brainer. And besides, if you’re using a local bus or public ferry you’ll get a better feel of local life. Better still, cycle around town.

Carry a reusable water bottle. Invest in a sturdy good-sized water bottle. In several countries, you can fill up your bottle with tap water (especially across Europe) or from a water dispenser in airports or malls. I carry my reusable water bottle all the time- when I’m going shopping or to a movie, so I’m not tempted to buy water or cold drinks, usually sold in paper cups, tin cans or plastic bottles. Besides reducing possible wastage, I avoid the extra calories in cold drinks. 🙂

Avoid takeaway. Takeaway meals are usually packed in plastic bags and cutlery, thermocol boxes and disposable plastic boxes for sauces etc. Instead, try to relax and enjoy your meal at the restaurant. You’ll savour the food experience a lot more.

Indian thali food

Book online. And don’t print your ticket, if it isn’t required. Save it on your phone or tablet instead. There are several museums, airlines, theatres, trains and other touristy places that don’t need a paper ticket. We once travelled in an overnight train from Rome to Palermo with the ticket on our iPad without a problem. And when I booked a ticket on the IRCTC website from Vapi to Mumbai, all the TT asked for was my ID proof. Most hotels are fine with electronic booking vouchers as well.

Carry e-copies. When my mother and I first travelled abroad in the late 1990s, we were advised to carry multiple copies of our passports, visas and tickets in case something went wrong. Now we save the scanned copies of our documents on email and in our phone’s photo gallery, so it’s accessible even without an internet connection. Do the same. Save paper and ink!

Stay earth-friendly and chic!

Breakfast: Totally Rad Leftover Idlis

Ever since I introduced a set of idli molds in my Yangon kitchen last November, rice idlis and homemade slow-cooked sambhar have become an important weekend ritual. By important, only these two dishes can be served at Sunday lunch.

Our ritual is something like this: on Saturday evening S and I head to our friendly and familiar neighbourhood market. (Despite being very “Burmese”, Indian ingredients are not so difficult to find here.) We know the couple who stocks curry leaves in their stall and the trio of sisters who have drumstick (really!). We buy the ingredients for sambhar: curry leaves, a few ladyfingers, a carrot, some french beans, a couple tomatoes, a quartered pumpkin and S’s favourite, a drumstick. While watching TV that night, or just before we go off to bed, we divide the prep activities and chop the vegetables. I wake up a bit early on Sunday and soak the toor dal for couple of hours. After a light breakfast and quick shower, I begin preparing the sambhar, first pressure cooking the dal, then cooking it with the vegetables and spices. Finally, I add the tadka.

The idlis, though, are mostly S’s job. While I step out for couple hours for a Spanish lesson to the outskirts of Yangon, S prepares the batter, double boiler pot and molds. He often makes a few extra idlis for next day’s breakfast as well.

This week we had a few more idlis leftover than usual. Three, to be precise. Not wanting to throw them away, I vaguely remembered eating mini masala idlis at a South Indian buffet in Mumbai several years ago. The mini idlis had been cooked with spices and were bright red, quite spicy and delicious.

With this vivid food memory playing on my mind, I thought I’d create my own version of masala idlis. Using standard Indian breakfasts like poha and upma as inspiration, I began to play with some simple ideas and conjured up a dish.

I prepared the ingredients Sunday night, knowing I would feel super lazy next morning. And so I did. Luckily, this breakfast dish took just a few minutes to cook and I was relishing it soon enough.

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

Generously spiced, delightfully colourful, crumbly and crunchy at the same time, I’m happy to say that the leftover idli experiment was a success. I’ve dubbed this dish Totally Rad Leftover Idlis.

In this recipe, sweet onions and sour-ish tomatoes provide an easy base for the dish, while capsicum (green bell peppers) add the crunch that I like, a perfect contrast with the soft idlis. The secret spice blend (okay, it’s not really a secret, see recipe below) will wake up your taste buds (as they did mine). I was very tempted to top the dish off with grated cheese, but I’m glad I didn’t. It would have messed up the uniquely Indian flavours of my Totally Rad Leftover Idlis. Instead I had it with a glass of orange juice.

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

Of course, I don’t think this is an authentic way of eating idlis, but like a good homemaker (how I hate that word!), I don’t like throwing away perfectly edible home-cooked food. And this recipe turned out to be a quick, fuss-free way of using up idlis in the fridge.

I tweeted a photo to S, who was away for work. I’m sure he’s going to want Totally Rad Leftover Idlis for breakfast next Monday.

PS- I’ve used stevia in this recipe because sugar is banned in my home (yep, we’re crazy health nuts). Feel free to add a bit of regular sugar instead.

Recipe: Totally Rad Leftover Idlis

Prep time: 7 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 teaspoon oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida (aka hing)

1 dry red chilli (whole)

3/4 teaspoon urad dal

3-4 curry leaves

1 small green chilli chopped

1small onion chopped

1small tomato chopped

1 small or half a large green capsicum chopped

A pinch of stevia/ sugar (optional, only if tomato is too tart)

1 teaspoon sambhar powder

Red chilli powder to taste (optional)

4 leftover idlis- chopped or broken with hand into bite-sized pieces

Small handful coriander leaves to garnish

Serves 1-2 people

Method

Heat oil in a small frying pan or wok.

Add mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, add asafoetida, curry leaves, urad dal and dry whole red chilli.

Fry for couple of minutes, then add green chillies and onions, and cook till the onions begin to soften (we don’t need to brown them). This should take around five minutes.

Add tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes lose their tartness. If they seem too sour (from aroma and taste), add a pinch of stevia (or sugar).

Add the sambhar powder and red chilli powder (I skipped the latter because the green chillies in Myanmar are VERY HOT), along with salt.

Add capsicum and mix well. If you’d like to leave the capsicum crunchy, stir for just a couple of minutes. For softer texture, cook a bit longer.

Add the chopped idlis and mix till coated with the spices.

Switch off the flame, serve in a bowl or plate, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Enjoy!

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

A sweet corn soup story

Sweet corn soup was my favourite dish at Chinese restaurants when I visited with my family two decades ago. There was something about the soup that appealed to my cousins and me- it wasn’t spicy but it wasn’t bland either, it didn’t look intimidating like some other Indian Chinese(?) dishes, it was served at most restaurants we went to, it tasted perfect, and most importantly, our parents approved of it.

But alas, the yummy sweet corn soup run ended a few years ago. Almost everywhere I went, a well-made vegetable sweet corn soup became elusive. Our favourite restaurants shut down, chefs changed, or perhaps nobody cared about the humble sweet corn soup anymore. I had to switch to manchow soup with the fried noodles, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t as comforting as my favourite sweet corn soup. And, hot and sour soup is too strong on flavour for me.

Sweet corn soup chicken and veg

Anyways, when I began to cook early 2014, I realized the world was my oyster (heh!), and I could cook (almost) everything I wanted at home. When the Mumbai monsoon arrived few months later, I began seeking out soups again (no fried pakoras for me, please!). And when I stumbled across a can of cream-style corn in the supermarket one day, I knew it was time to cook myself sweet corn soup just the way I liked it.

So one rainy Saturday S and I set out to cook sweet corn soup for the first time. The ingredients were all gathered, the preps were done (chopped veggies for me, chicken pieces for him), and the kitchen set-up all ready (separate dishes for cooking my vegetarian and his chicken version). Time to begin. S was tasked with opening the can of cream-style corn. We didn’t have a can opener at the time, so he used a knife to prise it open. BIG MISTAKE. A tiny slip led to a nasty cut, and soon S’s hand turned red, and his gushing blood was making tiny puddles on the kitchen counter.

First, I tried not to throw up (luckily I didn’t), then I panicked. Finally I called S’s dad (he’s a doctor) and we were on our way to his clinic, both in our chappals and wrinkled shorts, my uncombed hair tied up in an ugly knot, and just enough money in hand for the rickshaw ride. Meanwhile, it continued to rain, and the cut continued to ooze, and I continued to feel sick, but managed to hold on to my breakfast.

After a thorough cleaning, a roll of bandage and a tetanus shot, we were finally done. We got hold of a can opener on the way home. With so much loss of time (and S’s blood), neither of us were in the mood for sweet corn soup anymore. And neither of us wanted to cook. But lunch had to be had, even if it was terribly late. And so we used the can opener, poured out the cream-style corn, and began to cook. While I insisted S not bother with the cooking, he hovered around, and our first attempt at homemade sweet corn soup was delicious.

Sweet corn soup chicken and veg

The first sip transported me back to Chinese Room, an Indian Chinese restaurant we loved. The only things missing were a light brown tablecloth, fading upholstery and kindly waiters. Ah, sheer nostalgia!

Sweet Corn Soup (Vegetarian and chicken versions)

Ingredients:

1 tin sweet corn (cream style)

Vegetable or chicken stock (400 ml)

A large handful of chopped veggies of your choice (I used carrots, french beans, spring onions)

OR 200 grams boneless chicken, chopped into pieces

1 egg (optional)

1 tablespoon white vinegar*

1 teaspoon light soy sauce*

3 tablespoon corn flour

1 tablespoon of cooking oil (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Serves 4-6

Method:

Pour out the contents of the sweet corn tin, add two glasses of water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 5 minutes, then add your vegetable or chicken stock with chopped chicken or vegetables (except spring onions) and let it cook.

Chicken will take at least 15-20 minutes to cook, while the vegetables will be done quicker (they should still have a bite and not be completely soft).

Ten minutes after adding the chicken, break an egg over the pot and quickly stir it through the soup.

Add vinegar and soy sauce, and add oil gradually.

Meanwhile, mix cornflour with a small bowl of water. When the chicken and vegetables are almost cooked (put a fork through them to determine), add the cornflour-water mixture and let the soup cook for another five minutes. The soup will then thicken. (You can add water or the cornflour mixture to thin or thicken the soup to your liking.)

Add salt and pepper to taste, along with spring onions. Serve hot.

Notes and Tips:

  1. Add vinegar and soy sauce according to your taste- some folks like it sour, some like it more umami.
  2. Be careful with the amount of salt you use, since soy sauce already has a salty flavour (umami).
  3. Those who like it spicy can add a dash of Chinese chilli or schezuan sauce.
  4. You can make this without cream-style corn, if it’s not available or you prefer using fresh ingredients. Replace the cream-style corn with 1.5 cups of fresh corn kernels (aka American corn).

Sweet corn soup chicken recipe

How to be a fit foodie

You’ve posted those food pictures on Instagram with cool filters, you’ve tweeted your 160-character restaurant review, and you’ve written a longer opinion on Facebook, tagging the friends you dined with, and all those you missed. And oh, you’ve used a dozen hashtags with all your updates.

Lettuce salad with dressing

Congrats, you’re a foodie! (And yes, I’m guilty of all of the above).

But alas, being a foodie comes with a great burden. What to eat, what not to eat. Watching the waistline expand is not anyone’s favourite activity but with dozens of amazing restaurants to visit, hundreds of appetizing dishes to try and so many big fat weddings to attend, what is a foodie to do to never gain weight? Or avoid clogged arteries and spiked sugar levels?

Simple. First, you get fit: jog, run, dance, swim, do pilates or yoga or whatever you fancy. Next, you continue being fit while enjoying your food. Here’s how.

Stop counting calories.

Think in terms of nutrition instead. Is this deep-fried gobi pakora nutritious, or is it too heavily loaded with transfats to cancel out the nutrients of the humble cauliflower? Will this lamb burger help me get my daily dose of much-needed protein?

Figure out what doesn’t work for you. And avoid it.

I’m not lactose intolerant but I know my body doesn’t like too much of it- it makes me bloat and builds up congestion. So I skip cheese-laden dishes. While I do enjoy a good pizza once in a while, it’s not high up on my list of preferred foods.

Pizza L'Opera

Skip sugar.

No excuses on this one. S and I have been following this mantra for a few months now, and it’s working wonders for us. It’s not just the crazy amount of calories that sugar adds, but the spike in glucose levels and the addiction that comes with it (you can never have just one bite of cake no matter how much you try to resist). So yep, skip it completely. And if you can, skip the hidden sugars too (ketchup, mayo, processed and packaged foods… you get the drift).

Desserts at Masala Library

Order less.

When you’re in a restaurant where you’re not sure about portion sizes or how much you can eat, order just a dish or two to start with. If you’re still hungry, you can always order more food.

Don’t fall for tempting promotions.

Happy meals don’t make happy waistlines, but bulging bellies. Unlimited platters may give you bountiful joy today, bad stomach tomorrow. And free flow of booze may give you a nasty hangover the next day. So all those crazy food offers are just going to mess with your digestion, your focus at work and your arm fat.

Food promotions - high tea

Cook cool stuff at home. Even if you don’t cook.

If you or your cook (read: mom, spouse, sibling, roomie) already prepare delicious food at home, great. If you don’t, learn. Once you realize how much fun it is to make your own scrumptious kebab or burger or lasagna, you won’t want to eat them outside. And you can control the amount of refined flour, bread, and other ingredients that go into your food. And oh, your own food makes an excellent photo op for Instagram too. The compliments will soon come trickling in.

Baked Spaghetti in tomato pesto

Go seasonal.

If someone offers you mango-based dessert in December, you know the fruit’s been frozen or preserved, right? You’ll skip the mango dessert and opt for the strawberry instead. Anywhere in the world, choose the dish that uses seasonal or fresh or easily available local ingredients.

Desserts at Sassy Spoon

It’s okay to waste.

When you just can’t eat anymore, STOP. It’s your body telling you that enough is enough. Eat anymore and you’re at risk of adding unnecessary pounds, getting a stomach ache, getting sick right there at the party, unable to drive comfortably back home, or having a terrible bathroom emergency. My rule is: Better waste than to the waist.

Sunday Street Stories: Chocolate sandwich, anyone?

Mumbai’s food vendors are an innovative lot. Their street-side inventions and adaptations of local dishes would perhaps put MasterChef contestants to shame. The latest surprise they’ve sprung is the chocolate sandwich.

image

This vendor at Nariman Point tried hard to sell me a chocolate sandwich. Besides putting the chocolate-y condiments on display, he tried to entice me by rattling off the ingredients in the sandwich- Nutella spread, chocolate flakes and Hershey’s syrup. Very, very tempting but I had to give this one a skip. Too sinful for me!

Location: Nariman Point, Mumbai
Date: November 16, 2015
Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Chiang Mai’s arty district

Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand, may not be a beach destination like Phuket or Krabi, but it’s developing into quite a cultural hotspot. Nimmanhemin Road is the city’s chic quarter, with art galleries, decor stores, indie boutiques and, of course, a vibrant night life. This building had an attractive facade.

image

And another building round the corner that housed a cafe (Mango Tango) had a very creative form of advertising their location.

image

If you’re in Chiang Mai, don’t forget to visit Nimmanhemin Road and explore the sois (lanes) that lead to spas, cafes and restaurants. There’s so much to see!

Pictures taken on: December 11, 2015
Location: Nimmanhemin Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Device: Google Nexus 5

Three magical meals from Vietnam

It was on the second day of our Vietnam trip last month when S and I admitted that we didn’t like Vietnamese food. After having heard so much about Vietnamese cuisine, our expectations from the food were high. But the meals we’d had were disappointing, mostly due to lack of flavour and finesse (except the breakfast we had at our Hanoi hotel- Essence Palace).

We finally resigned ourselves to the fact that perhaps Vietnamese cuisine wasn’t right for us. Or was overrated.

But on the third day of our trip, we took a flight to Dong Hoi and headed to Phong Nha, home to the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. That’s when our luck with Vietnamese food turned.

Magical Meal One: DIY Vietnamese spring rolls in Phong Nha

In Phong Nha, we spent the morning at Paradise Cave (stunning!) and then headed with our group to the Dark Cave restaurant for lunch. The meal there consisted of spring rolls. Yep, just spring rolls. Simple meal, yet strangely satisfying. We were served a giant platter with spring roll stuffings and the paper, and we had to build and roll our own spring rolls.

This is what the non-vegetarian and vegetarian platters looked like:

Vietnam food DIY spring rolls

Vietnam food DIY spring rolls

And my vegetarian spring roll with tofu:

Vietnam food DIY spring rolls

I shared the vegetarian platter of tofu, vegetables, dip and sticky rice with a French girl, and we ate several rolls before wrapping up (pun intended) and heading to the Dark Cave for a fun-filled afternoon.

Magical Meal Two: Traditional dishes at Sapa

Sapa Town is a hillside town, teeming with hundreds of tourists who come for trekking in the valley and beyond. And because its economy is largely tourist-driven, there are dozens of restaurants serving all possible cuisines. But like any capitalist will tell you, the more the market players, the merrier. The customers usually wins with so many options. So after wandering about town and debating where to eat, S and I finally headed to Sapa Village restaurant. Great staff, but our food took a while to come. But when our dishes arrived, we knew the wait was totally worth it.

These are the curries we had (vegetables and chicken):

Vietnamese coconut curry

Vietnamese coconut curry

The curries had been cooked in tender coconut, and the warm aroma of spices with the rustic texture and delicious curry had us reaching for our spoons already. This delightful meal, cooked with excellent flavours, fresh ingredients and the chef’s love (we hope!) was just what we needed after a long day.

Magical Meal Three: Modern Vietnamese in Hanoi

We didn’t know that Gia Ngu restaurant in our hotel served such excellent food till we found raving reviews online. The small and chic restaurant serves a Vietnamese cuisine with a modern touch, with equal focus on taste, presentation, service and concept. S reported that their breakfast pho was excellent, and so we gave it a go for dinner one evening.

The food was so good we ended up having two meals there, and we enjoyed both times. But the hands-down winner was the steamed fish.

Vietnamese food Gia Ngu restaurant

The chefs have stuck to local seasonings and flavours for their dishes, but the concepts are western. For instance the grilled chicken may seem to be cooked and served the “western” way, but the flavours were definitely Vietnamese.

Vietnamese food Gia Ngu restaurant

Vietnam is a beautiful country with a cuisine and both must be explored, whether you’re a meat eater or a vegetarian like me. Despite our rocky start with local food, we flew back home with excellent food memories. And no, Vietnamese food isn’t overrated.

Debutante Smoked Paprika Risotto (chicken + vegan)

Here in Yangon, I follow a simple shopping rule: if you spot something you may possibly need, just grab it. Yyou never know if you will see it on supermarket shelves again. So when I spotted risotto rice (“ideale per risotti” on the box label) at the neighbourhood CityMart last month, I couldn’t let it go. Now I have never cooked risotto before. In fact, S and I aren’t even really risotto fans. But since I like to fiddle around a bit in the kitchen, I thought, “Why not give it a try?”

I rushed home and looked around the kitchen shelf for what herbs and spices I had. A small bottle of smoked paprika! I had pounced on that a while ago because I can never seem to find it in Mumbai and a lot of interesting Italian and Mediterranean recipes feature this intriguing ingredient (wow, an unavoidable alliteration). Anyways I googled smoked paprika + risotto and came across a couple of delightful recipes (such as this one). Some had wine, some didn’t. Some had additional seasonings… it was all very confusing so I made a mishmash of the “best” recipes and set about making risotto the next afternoon. For the first time ever.

At the risk of sounding immodest, it turned out to be a great risotto debut. Even as non-fans, S and I enjoyed the dish. It tasted great, was extremely filling and was a wholesome meal. So S put it on the “repeat foods” list. Yes, such a list exists in our household. Anyways, now that I can make risotto, I believe anyone can. Here’s the recipe. Remember that you can tweak some of the seasonings to your taste, but you can’t skip the smoked paprika. It’s the ingredient that brings this wonderful risotto together. The smoky fragrance and flavor of the paprika is what made it a magical dish for us.

 

Roasted corn and smoked paprika risotto

Roasted corn and smoked paprika risotto

PS—I made two variations of risotto in separate pots: one vegetarian, the other with chicken. You can use whichever variant you like!

Debutante Smoked Paprika Risotto (with chicken and vegan versions)

Ingredients:

1 cup corn kernels (1 de-cobbed corn should be fine)

Half tablespoon butter (lesser the better- use oil if you want a vegan version)

Pinch of black pepper powder

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 finely chopped onion

1 to 2 tbsp smoked paprika (based on your taste)

1 to 2 tsp red chilli flakes

A pinch of mustard powder (see recipe notes)

1 cup risotto rice

4 to 5 cups (approximate 1 litre) chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe notes below)

A large handful of fresh basil leaves

1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Salt to taste

1 tbsp cheddar or parmesan cheese (optional, skip for vegan)

For chicken version: 300 grams chopped boneless chicken breast

Serves 3-4 people

Method:

  1. In a bowl, toss the corn kernels with butter, salt and pepper. Then spread the kernels on an oven tray and bake at 200 degrees C for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn and stir the corn halfway through so they are cooked evenly. The kernels should be a lovely golden brown when they’re roasted.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your stock (see recipe notes below), prep the vegetables and herbs, and wash the rice thoroughly.
  3. Time to begin the risotto! Heat some oil in a pan, and add onion and garlic. Stir on low flame for a couple of minutes, then add the smoked paprika, mustard, red chilli flakes, salt and half of the basil leaves.
  4. Mix well and cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the washed rice, and cook for another couple of minutes.
  6. Now it’s time to add the stock. You need to pour just 100 ml at a time while allowing the rice to cook. As the rice cooks off and absorbs the liquid you will need to add more stock, so keep the bottle or bowl handy by your stove.
  7. If you’re making the chicken version of the risotto, add it now.
  8. Keep the rice on low heat and stir often, keeping an eye out for the rice and the stock. Pour in the stock as required, a little at a time. Continue till the rice is cooked. This may take around 20-30 minutes.
  9. When the rice is almost done, add the remaining basil leaves, coriander and corn. Adjust the seasoning if you like. Then cook for couple more minutes and take off the flame. The risotto is ready!
  10. Garnish with grated cheese if you like. Dig in as soon as possible.

Accompaniments for serving:

Olive oil, red chilli flakes.

The risotto is a great one-pot dish, and a meal by itself. But if you’d like a dish to go with this, choose something light and not as rich, so pasta is ruled out. You could toss a salad or serve baguette pieces with an olive dip.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Tbsp: tablespoon; Tsp: teaspoon
  2. For the stock, you can use chicken or vegetable stock made at home or with store-bought cubes. Boil up to 1.5 – 2 litres of water in a large pot with assorted vegetables or chicken. I made vegetable stock at home with roughly chopped garlic, onion, carrot, cabbage and celery along with salt. Cook for a good 20-25 minutes. As the water evaporates, you will be left with 1 to 1.5 litres of water. You can throw away the veggies as they will be limp and mostly stripped of the nutrients. It’s all in the stock, baby!
  3. There are usually two things said about risotto preparation. First, it has to be prepared with wine. Secondly, you have to eat it immediately. I broke both the rules. 😛 If you want to use wine, choose a dry white option and add it while cooking the rice. And yes, it’s better if you have the risotto immediately. But if you are keeping it for later, you could keep aside some of the stock and add it to the risotto when re-heating it in the microwave or on the stove.
  4. If you don’t have mustard powder at home, you can dry roast mustard seeds then grind in your spice blender or with a mortar and pestle.

Crazy Craving: Chocolate Modak

This is the first time ever that I’m not in Mumbai during the Ganpati festival. And while the noise, pollution and traffic jams are quite a pain, I enjoy checking out the Ganpati idols in my neighbourhood.

It’s also the only time in the year I get a chance to indulge in modak, and I always eat a couple of them (or more) without guilt. 😀 Unfortunately the few Indian mithai shops in Yangon have laddoo and gulab jamun, but no modak. So I’ve been trying not to think of modak the past few days, till this picture popped into my inbox today.

Hazelnut Fudge Modaks by COO

This image of handcrafted hazelnut fudge modaks from Mumbai bakery Country of Origin has intensified my modak craving by a gazillion times. Chocolate and modak?! Sigh…

Hazelnut Fudge Modaks by COO

Those lucky enough to be in Mumbai right now, don’t miss this chance to try this awesome combo of chocolate (everyone’s favourite) and modak (almost everyone’s favourite).

Country of Origin is located at Nepean Sea Road (23642221), Bandra West (65635222) and Juhu (26244422).

Parsi Dairy Farm: Still fresh or no future?

Earlier this week, The Times of India reported that Mumbai’s iconic Parsi Dairy Farm may shut shop. A day later, the claims are being (unofficially) refuted. Shoddy journalism or the truth, we don’t know yet. But what I do know is that Parsi Dairy Farm needs to keep up with the times. Having been a Parsi Dairy customer for years, here’s my take.

First taste

My cousins’ maid plonked down four mugs of hot milk before us at 4 pm sharp. I cringed. The milk at my cousins’ place had a certain smell and tasted a bit funny too. Milk was absolutely compulsory twice a day, so I had no choice but to hold my nose awkwardly and hope it would go down my throat.

It was buffalo’s milk from the iconic Parsi Dairy Farm and nothing like the cow’s milk I had at home. As a kid, taste mattered to me, not how “iconic” the supplier was (this rule continues to hold true today for me). Despite having had hundreds of mugs of PD milk shoved down my throat, I never developed a taste for it.

parsi dairy farm mumbaii

The water problem

With a fan following and catchment area limited mostly to South Mumbai, Parsi Dairy needed to maintain its topnotch quality to hold on to their customers. Unfortunately for them, when my mom also began with Parsi Dairy milk at home (sad, sad days), the milk seemed to be more watery than cow’s milk.

I don’t know when or how the milk was watered-down, but this universal-in-India vice affected PD milk too. I’m not sure if the PD management ever corrected that, because we soon switched back to cow’s milk. The “packet-wala” doodh was good enough for me. My extended family took several more years to make the switch.

When Parsi Dairy came home

This is how it went every morning: The doodhwala in his blue shirt and khaki shorts rang the doorbell at an unearthly hour (you had a choice between 5 am and 1 pm). You opened the door all groggy, carrying a pateela and pink coupon. The doodhwala poured from his large metal container into your pateela, then you handed him the coupon which he took back to HQ. Those coupons had to be purchased from Parsi Dairy at Marine Lines. My mom often sent me there to buy those booklets and I had to cover my nose and mouth before I entered, so strong was the dairy smell.

It was all a big inconvenience.

Which working woman wants to wake up at 5 am for the milkman? She’d rather head to the supermarket or general store after office and buy her milk and curd in tetra packs. And now that you can order online, why run to buy coupons? I mean, we don’t even queue up for movie tickets anymore.

All businesses, whether dairy farms or social farming games, need to keep up with evolving technology and customer preferences if they want to succeed. Stick to old patterns, and sooner or later your bottomline will take a hit. Parsi Dairy may be a victim of its own old school charm, though they have tried to expand by supplying to a couple of supermarket chains locally.

Not so sweet anymore

Fresh grass-fed cow’s milk was introduced in Mumbai a few years ago and a lot of quality-conscious customers opted for it. Parsi Dairy lost quite a few customers to these new brands which were convenient, delicious and hygienic.

Parsi Dairy’s milk-based desserts were popular too. But good mithai shops are ubiquitous in Mumbai and western desserts are giving strong competition to traditional Indian sweets. For instance, I’d rather have frozen yoghurt than kulfi.

Yes, we all get nostalgic about Parsi Dairy Farms when we pass Princess Street at Marine Lines. Will we miss it if it shuts down? I’m not so sure. I know I won’t.

I prefer soy milk with my muesli and almond chocolate for all muh-meetha festive occasions.

(Image source: TheQuint.com)