Cooking for Mr. Okra

Written by Meena Agarwal on February 5th, 2007 | 24 Comments

Dahi Bhindi (Okra in Yoghurt)
Dahi Bhindi (Okra in Yoghurt)

Growing up in a household where vegetables were always given high preference over it’s non-vegetarian counterparts, I wasn’t too happy. Like any rebellious 12 year old, I despised anything green and considered “healthy” in my Mom’s dictionary. As a spunky 17 year old starting fresh at college and living in a hostel miles away from the caring tender fingers that caressed Mom’s cooking, I had grudgingly succumbed myself to the meals catered at the campus. To my added disappointment, not only did the food lack in flavour and eye appeal, it also somehow failed in providing me with the limited array of greens that I actually thought were edible, to say the least.

Somehow, between the humdrum of a busy schedule and an even busier college life, one could easily manage chugging down meals without a moments notice. That is, until one gets the same dish – mind you, same tasteless flavour and all, for five consecutive meals. Yes, five! And that was where I decided to draw the line and gift myself with a pan or two, and some basic starters to a home cooked meal. The dreaded dish if you wish to know, was okra.

It’s not hard to believe that I graduated through cooking for myself for the next few years without so much as a slight glance at the okra. Never was there a shopping spree through the fresh produce section where I stopped and smelt the darned vegetable. And never had it, for as long as I can remember, ever taken a place in my cart. That is, of course, until I met the then would-be Hubby Dear. Like a sudden twist of fate in any classic crime story (the crime here was of course committed against the okra, damn you okra!), on one of our first food conversations, Hubby Dear had candidly confessed to having a secret love affair with the dreaded pod.

Now what was a poor little girl like me supposed to do! I’d heard endless tales of how a man’s heart could easily be won through the deeds done for his stomach. Seeing that I had promised to cook him his favourite meal didn’t make my case any easier. So there I was trudging through the fresh produce section, not only smelling, but also picking my first pound of okra, and giving it a place in my cart. And like anyone gifted with an unwanted pet that’s impossible to give away, you accept your kismet and just get used to it. And hopefully eventually, but surely, you’ll learn to love it.

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Looking back…

Written by Meena Agarwal on December 29th, 2006 | 48 Comments

Chilli Paneer
Chilli Paneer

Christmas came and went, but not without filling us up to the brim with good food and great company. The cookie jars have been emptied, and the Christmas tree stands in all it’s glory waiting to be taken down by some lazy people (read: Hubby Dear!) who’d rather postpone the daunting task till the next Christmas.

While we’ve gorged on feasts of rich sinful food the past couple of days, it’s now time to loosen down a little before the biggest feast of the season – the New Year’s Dinner that I plan and carry out with much elegance. The menu has been tried and tested, the serving dishes have been laid out and friends and loved ones have been duly warned to come with ready and growing appetites.

The year end always brings me to a point where I can’t help but take a stroll down memory lane and acquaint myself once more with all the good, and some not-so-good memories that passed me by. This blog has been a wonderful outlet for me in times of joy and contemplation. My food speaks of my various moods and my write-ups brought me closer to my inner thoughts.

When I woke up this morning, I knew I just had to put in a final post for 2006, and it just had to be done today. Why? Well, because I’m a complusive hostess, and throwing a party means that I’m preparing for it well in advance. Hubby Dear can vouch for that! So, anyways, as I was saying, I wanted to write in a last post for this year, and what better than to follow it up with a recipe so dear and near to my palate. Being a sucker for spicy food, this dish brings together the best of the East and West. It’s a perfect blend of spice and all that’s nice, and quick run-to option on cold deary days when the heart wants some warmth!

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And so it begins…

Written by Meena Agarwal on December 19th, 2006 | 17 Comments

… my christmas Baking marathon!

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of baking, nor have I ever attempted to turn my kitchen into a cookie workshop during Christmas time. But this time it’s going to be different. When Hubby Dear suggested that we (or rather, I!) bake cookies fresh at home this year, instead of taking a trip down the lane to our favourite Italian bakery, I was intrigued. The thought did cross my mind, several times. But the succeeding thought of being covered in flour and my oven going up in flames always scared me just a little bit. But then again, one look at his puppy face, and I couldn’t help but become compelled to at least give it one try.

Mango-Coconut Cookies

With my school finally over, I am currently enjoying the benefits of being at home. That is ofcourse, before I get into the grind of looking for a full-time job – but let’s not think about that right now and try and enjoy the moment, shall we! So, with a new found energy I decided this was goin gto be the day that would either make or break a tradition in my home. I was about to enter the realm where the aroma of freshly baked goods could be smelled in the air during the Holiday season. Mind you, if this by some grace of God turned out to be a success, I knew it would be stuck as a tradition in our home, where I would be expected to bake every Christmas!

As I sat down with a cookie bible I picked up about the same time last year, deciding on which one of the classic favourites I wanted to play with, my mind began to circle around some not-so-traditonal ideas. Another couple of minutes later, I was convinced on what I wanted. One problem was, I had no idea how to go about it. Neither had I ever eaten such a cookie, not had I heard of one. But wonder of wonders, that didn’t stop me. And boy am I glad! Needless to say, the smell of something baking in the oven was only one of it’s perks!

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That time of year…

Written by Meena Agarwal on December 6th, 2006 | 11 Comments

With the hustle-bustle of the holiday season all around you, one can’t help but feel the joy. There is, definitely, something good in the air. And of course, all the sugar being consumed does play a good part in keeping spirits high! While I haven’t even begun to wonder what my holiday baking would comprise of, I have started to however, work my way through to richly comforting meals. Yes, the cold winds do make me find comfort in my foods most times.

Alu (Potato) Korma

I remember a time not so long ago, when all I would eat on cold wintry nights were bowlfuls of hot chicken-noodle soup. Now, times have changed, and with it, so have my moods evolved. I do still enjoy the occasional soup, but I find myself on most days craving something else. These cravings almost always vary depending on what I envision myself eating that night.

When I went to my kitchen today to make a quick fix for dinner, little had I known what would come out of it. A look into the fridge told me that I was missing anaything and evrything that could create something festive. But as always, the culinary instincts refused to back down. A bag of cute red baby potatoes called out to me, and I found my myself picking out flavours to go with it. Had I known that these cute little guys could make me swing a few minutes later, I would’ve atleast played some holiday music!

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Resolving Resolutions…

Written by Meena Agarwal on December 4th, 2006 | 10 Comments

With December finally having dawned on us, one can’t help but reflect the year soon to pass us by. I automatically begin with the setting and tackling of my annual resolutions. The most daunting for me ofcourse, is knowing that skipped out on a few of the resolutions I made with gusto at the stroke of midnight eleven months ago.

Macaroni with Peas and Carrots

I frown ever so mildly at the slightly chubbier version of me since a year ago. Needless to say, managing and catering a food blog to ever-indulgent foodies did not play a good part in keeping word to “weight” issue. I twitch my nose and curl my lips at the thought of the next weeks finding me drowned in flour over my over-ambitious Christmas baking plan. The list is being made as we speak, a perfect blend of the sweet, savoury, melt-in-your-mouths, and of course, chocolate choices of the best cookies ever to grace the human palate.

For those who are familiar with my culinary skills, can vouch for my lack of interest to baking. I celebrated my last Christmas with a huge bill of delicous confectionaries, much to Hubby Dear’s dismay. This year, to begin the glorious month with a new resolution, I decided to finally tackle the baking fairy. This I’m guessing, will be no small feat, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Getting back to the topic of concern, I decided to tackle it as best as I could on short notice. With the weather Gods warning us of a cold wintry week ahead, I decided to bring in a little comfort to my very lazy Sunday evening. And I tried my absolute best to make this as healthy as per my earlier resolution demanded. I promise.

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Coming Full Circle

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 17th, 2006 | 27 Comments

My Mom is a Malaysian. My Dad, an Indian. Theirs is ofcourse, a love marriage. My Dad, being a simple man when it comes to meals, refused to forsake his Dal-Roti routine when he married my Mom. She on the other hand, could never accept that cooking a traditional Indian meal was out of her reach. So she toiled, and she toiled, and today she makes the best curries and the meanest biryanis than any born-Indian I know.

Masala Alu Parathas

When they first got married, as my Mom once very fondly narrated this story to me, she was unaccustomed to the roti. Not knowing the perfect recipe himself, all she could get out of my Dad was that the dough was made from whole wheat and water, and rolled out into thin, soft and fluffy mouthfuls of delight. She tried her various combinations of water and flour for many days to come, until one fine day Dad had a smile on his face after the very first bite, and announced it PERFECT! Since then, she has rolled bagfuls of flour into the most delicate rotis and parathas.

One thing I learnt for Mom, was that making rotis is an art in it’s truest form. I agree. Who ever has tried to roll them into the perfect circle with only the aide of a rolling pin, will know exactly what I mean. I started out with no-so-soft-irregular-shaped ones myself. But as they say, practice makes perfect. Though mine are still not as round as the moon, they do taste good.

The other day when I decided to make one of Hubby Dear’s finest favourites, I had a slight inclination to tamper with things a little. Who ever said never to play with tradition, certainly never tasted my version of it!

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Meeting in the Middle…

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 8th, 2006 | 11 Comments

We don’t bicker much, Hubby Dear and I, when it comes to food, except of course when the topic of concern is Dal. Dal, or lentils, is a common staple in Indian cuisine. Be it the North, South, West or East, this is one item you can find on the menu. True, it comes in its variations, but it’s a staple nonetheless. And there’s certainly no denying that on a cold rainy day like today, it is the ultimate comfort food.

Chana Dal Tadka

Hubby Dear and me love our dals, and most importantly, we have our favourites. He loves his Yellow Arhar/Toor dal, and I’m passionate about my Red Masoor. To give tem their due importance, I alternate between the two each week. One may think it might be hard to keep track of whose turn is up next, but since I’m the sole incharge when it comes to all things culinary, I demand the benefit of doubt.

There have been numerous days when Hubby Dear thinks, no, he actually believes, that I’ve been partial to my own needs infront of his wishes. Well, maybe i have. But then again, when you rule the kitchen, there’s not much that can be done about it! So, to avoid matters taking a toll for the worst, I turn to the only intermidiary I know. The Chana dal. Or more explicitly, the Split Pea. This lentil is one that we both happliy agree on. It may take it’s own sweet time to soften down, but the end result never fails to bring a smile to our faces that had been just recently wiped off due to the “episode”.

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When the Burger met the Babu…

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 28th, 2006 | 17 Comments

The day I heard McDonald’s came to India, I wanted to instantly take a trip downtown. Not because I can’t live without the dreaded Mc Mac, but because I knew what happens to international food chains in India. They automatically take on the Desi avatar on landing! One look at the menu on the wall, and I knew why the place was filled not with just college-going-trying-to-ape-the-west-as-best-as-possible youngsters, but also the timid looking grandma prying open her sandwich.

Alu (Potato) Burger

Hubby Dear and me have made a Friday-night ritual of sorts that we try to follow as close as possible. It has to do with a lot of lounging on the couch in front of the big screen TV, gorging on the best of junk food. Before you go on to tell me how bad (read: comforting!!) a weekly intake of junk food can be for me, let me clarify.

Our menus certainly include the usual burgers, pizza and wings, as well as the much adored quesadillas, tacos, shawarma, and spanokopitas, to name a few. The only difference though, is that nothing is as it sounds. Our pizzas are loaded with the trendiest of toppings ranging from panner tikka, grilled veggies and the occasional tandoori chicken slices. Our quesadillas and tacos lack in cheesiness, but gear up in heat. And our burgers, well, let’s just say it would make that saree-clad grannie and her denim-donned teenage grandson, very happy campers!

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One-bite Wonders…

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 19th, 2006 | 17 Comments

With Diwali just around the corner, it’s no surprise that my little kitchen has been bursting with activity. Though I shy away from entertaining on a large scale on this occasion, I still look forward to the crowding of family and friends around my dinner table. I guess the old saying does hold true in my case that nothing pleases a cook more, than to see the happy faces of those enjoying the food.


Diwali in my home, has always been centered around food. In fact, any occasion I can think of, revolves around us hovering over the stove while Mom dishes out treat after treat. Now that I have my own household to care for, the tradition still continues. Hubby Dear has already declared an open house to his tummy. Friends and family have invited themselves over and requests have been made and duly considered. And I’ve done my part as well, by promising each of them their favourites on the table.

As I while away my time in the kitchen churning up one request to another, I can’t help but take a time out to snuggle in a treat for myself. After all, festivals are for indulging, and who am I to defy tradition. So before I head back to cooking up a storm for this weekend, how about joining me for a cup of coffee and some tasty bites?

Here’s wishing all my readers a Very Happy and Prosperous Diwali!

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Back to the Basics…

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 16th, 2006 | 13 Comments

Good food is nice. Delicious exotic food is even better. But when you’ve overfed yourself with a variety of scrumptiously rich delicacies, the mind begins to move to a more subtle and simple option. The past few weeks saw us gorging on the best of Indian festive delicacies, and what with Diwali Just around the corner, this trend is sure to continue for the next few days as well. But last night, as we came home after a long day of running errands, just in time for a quick hearty meal, our palates began to repulse at the slightest thought of anything even remotely extravagant.

Alu Fry (Sauteed Potatoes)

In most North Indian households, the availability of the three basics – onions, tomatoes and potatoes, along with the most basic of spices cannot be missed. Truly, just with these three, one can can create a pretty hearty meal to feed the whole family. And the choices are never limited. By altering and changing the flavourings and spices, a variety of dishes can be concocted from these basics.

So it’s no surprise that when I look for simplicity, I undoubtedly turn to the basics.

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