Indian Food: C is for… Chatpati Bharwaan Bhindi

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back, but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

Bhindi, or Okra as we all know it, is quite a tricky vegetable when it comes to cooking. Although it certainly is one of the most popular vegetables in an Indian vegetarian menu, there are a huge chunk of us who wring our noses on its slimy characteristics. Hubby Dear loves this dainty vegetable to death and can eat it at any meal, but serve it up even with the slightest of moisture in it and he’s off! I’m the same way. For me, the okra must always be cooked absolutely dry, with lots of spices added in. A quick way to cook bhindi is by stir-frying the chopped pieces with lots of onions and some spices. My tried and tested trick to get rid of any trace of slime while cooking is to add in a hefty pinch of amchoor powder.

Today’s recipe is another way to jazz up this humble vegetable and create a dish that’s perfect for entertaining. Chatpati simply means tangy and in this recipe, the addition of amchoor powder also known as dried mango, takes kicks it up a notch. In my book, this recipe is an absolute win since it’s simple to prep, easy to cook and a definite crowd pleaser. Because this is a pretty dry vegetable side dish, I would suggest pairing it up with a side of Curry or Dal served alongside some Rice and Rotis.

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What to Cook: Quick Dinner Ideas with Indian Food?

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Many of us grew up with daily Indian meals that consisted of a Dal, a Sabzi or two, some Rotis, Rice and a Salad on the side. Top this off with some yogurt and Indian pickle, and the standard Indian meal was complete. In todays busy lifestyle that a majority of us lead, a meal like this not only requires immense planning and prep work ahead of time, but also a lot of patience and dedication to clean up afterwords. I’ve always been a strong advocate of quick Indian food recipes and I truly believe that you DO NOT have spend an eternity in the kitchen to churn out tasty and comforting Indian food.

If you walk into our home at dinner time, you’ll notice that we enjoy Indian food at least 3-4 times a week. Our meals are simple, most often quick and rarely consist of more than two dishes at a time. There is always a protein and vegetables, and some form of carbs to balance if all. I love giving new twists to traditional recipes and enjoy the challenge of revamping slow-cooking recipes to adapt them for a quick fix meal. Here are some of the tricks I use to make cooking Indian food a breeze when time is short on hand:

Plan Ahead: Every morning, as I sit down with my cup of coffee, I take a quick look at my planner and jot out my to do list. This gives me a good idea of what I have in store for the day and also lets me plan my dinner accordingly. I love doing this early in the day since it allows me enough of time to do any prep work that may be required for the meal I’ve planned. This may include soaking beans or lentils, taking out anything that needs to defrost from the freezer, or even prepping a few vegetables like boiling potatoes, to cut down on my cooking time. If I decide to make rotis/parathas for dinner on a given night, then I also take this time to make the dough. This allows the dough to rest a few hours before rolling which always ensures soft rotis in the end.

Create and Use Shortcuts: My weeknight Indian cooking is always restricted to quick curries or stir-frys and I save the slow simmering delicacies for a Sunday afternoon when I can take my time and enjoy the process. That said, I use simple short cuts to quicken a lot of things even further. For example, I always have my freezer stocked with portion-sized bags of pre-boiled chickpeas, kidney beans and toor dal. Along with that, I also keep a steady stock of ready-to-use frozen vegetables like peas, corn, chopped carrots, beans and spinach. I portion out my meat and freeze them as soon as I’m back from to store, which allows me to quickly thaw out just enough that I need for a meal.

Use Time-Saving Appliances: No Indian kitchen in complete without a pressure cooker, and duly so. It’s my secret weapon to shorten the time it takes to cook beans and meat. I also use my blender/mini food processor a lot to blend ginger, garlic and onions instead of chopping them for starting quick curries.

Cook Extra and Appreciate Leftovers: Hubby Dear and I have always been in the habit of eating leftovers for lunch the next day. So, I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of cooking more than I need and packing up the rest in the fridge. If I know that we won’t be eating it in the next day or two, then I’ll freeze the leftovers for a day when we need a quick fix and I need a break. To me, it simply make no sense to cook a tasty dinner for just one meal when you can easily double up the recipe and enjoy it another time.

Give Yourself a Break: Nobody said that home cooked meals had to be 100% home cooked from scratch. Make it easy on yourself and pair up freshly made meals something from the frozen aisle in the store to make your like easier. Making rotis everyday is not possible for me, so I find no shame in warming up frozen parathas and naans and serving them alongside the delicious curry I just cooked with love.

Over the past 10 years since I’ve been cooking daily dinners, I’ve come to realize that there are a few recipes that find their way into my dinner rotation every few days. These recipes are great starting points to experiment with and can easily be jazzed up to create new tasty versions of themselves. My trick is to mix and match from the various categories to map out a well-balanced meal. I almost always multitask and cook them either at tandem, or start on one while I prep for the other. Then, if need be, I add in a salad and some yogurt on the side and call it a prefect desi meal.

Dal: Lentils are a staple in Indian meals and great way for vegetarians to up their protein intake. Dals are also a comfort food on cold nights, and paired with some warm, fragrant Basmati rice makes it a classic combination. I love to add a veggie or two to my Dals to increase in nutritional value. My favourites include spinach and fresh fenugreek leaves. I often change up the Dal I cook and serve up a variety during the week.

Curry: Curries are great way to combine more than one main ingredient and cut down on the number of sides you may need to complete a meal. I love adding in potatoes, carrots and beans to my already quick Chicken Curry. Rajma and Chana work well for quick cooking if you use pre-cooked or canned version of the beans. Paneer, Fish and Shrimp curries literally take minutes to cook and always a treat in the middle of the week. When all else fails, my go-to is always a lip-smacking Egg Curry.

Sabzi: Vegetable dishes for us generally take center stage on most nights. While many people see them as a side option, I sometimes like to skip the Dal and cook 2-3 Sabzis for my main meal. When doing so, I like to pair to curried vegetable dish like this Methi Matar with a much drier dish like Achari Mushroom.

Pulao: Pulaos are the perfect vehicle for one pot meals that can be laden with meat, veggies and beans. They are simple to cook and rarely need  to be paired with anything other than Raita to make a scrumptious meal. The Mushroom & Peas Pulao and Minty Paneer Pulao are some of my favourites to cook up on short notice and are always a huge crowd pleaser!

To help get you all started off on the right foot, here are a few ideas from the archives that might make dinner time a little easier this coming week:

  1. Kadhi, Baingan Patiala and Rice
  2. Chana Masala, Jeera Alu and store-bought Naans
  3. Palak Paneer, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  4. Chana Dal Masala, Dahi Bhindi and Rice
  5. Methi-Anda Curry, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  6. Coconut Chicken Curry, Jeera Pulao and a Salad
  7. Matar Paneer, Alu Palak and Rice

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Quick Dinner Ideas: Thai Basil Chicken

Recipe for Thai Basil Chicken taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the very first time I was introduced to Thai food. I was about 13 and on our family vacation in Bangkok. I have fond memories of those five days; most of which revolve around the culture and shopping in Thailand and none, unfortunately of its cuisine. You see, my Dad is not in the least adventurous when it comes to his food. The man wants his Dal-Roti-Sabzi no matter where he is, and will stop at nothing to find it! So needless to say, while in Thailand we religiously avoided all the street food and ate a lot of meals of our meals at Mrs. Balbir’s. The food there, from what I remember was absolutely delicious. Authentic north Indian cuisine in the heart of Bangkok.

It was on one such visit that my Mom decided she wanted to try something representative of the country we were visiting and opted for a bowl of Tom Yum Soup while the rest of us dug into our Chicken Curry and Dal Makhani. Now, for those of you who’ve followed my blog since the very beginning, know that my Mom is a Malaysian. And Malaysians are nothing if not known for their lip-smacking spicy food – for the most part at least. So my Mom, like a true-bred Malay took and big slurp of the piping hot soup and almost cried in pain! I couldn’t resist and HAD to see what the hoopla was all about. But I wanted to be careful, so only took about a third of the spoon. Boy, were my ears on fire! It was probably the spiciest thing I’ve eaten my entire life!! But that was years ago in Thailand. Thai food in other countries is much more tamed in spice level but just as authentic and delicious in flavour.

Hubby Dear and I have always been huge fans of Thai food and love to try out any new establishment that opens near to where we are. Over the years, we’ve settled on our favourites and are now quite critical on how the dishes we prefer taste. Baby Dear, being the budding food connoisseur that he is, is a die-hard fan of Pad Thai – the tangier, the better. I love my Green Curry with tons of gravy and veggies, and Hubby Dear often shuttles between Pad Thai loaded with peanuts (at times even more nuts than noodles!) or a spicy Cashew Chicken. But one dish that we MUST always order for the table is Basil Chicken. That is, of course, until I tried my hand at making it this week. I can now honestly say that we can cross out Basil Chicken from our future orders and substitute it with an extra plate of Papaya Salad.

This recipe is also a perfect candidate for a quick week-night meal served with some plain rice and sliced fresh cucumbers on the side.
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Spare the Spice: Nasi Goreng

Recipe for Nasi Goreng taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the first time I introduced Hubby Dear to Malaysian food. It was during our initial dating days and I’d read about this family-run Malaysian restaurant in Toronto which seemed to have great reviews. Now, the only Malaysian food I’ve ever been exposed to are the dishes that either came out of my Mom’s kitchen or that of her family’s back in Malaysia as well as the road side stalls over there. Needless to say, up until then, I’d only had the good fortune of eating authentic, homemade Malaysian cuisine. So like Hubby Dear, I was equally excited and intrigued to eat at this particular joint.

The menu looked promising – all the popular favourites that I had briefed Hubby Dear about were available, and I started to order us a scrumptious sounding meal. Then came the dreaded question from our server: “What spice level did we prefer?”

For those not in the know, typical Malay food tends to be on the spicier side – even more than the average Indian heat level. Most of the time it really depends on the dish itself, but if you’re a first timer to this delicious cuisine, I’d suggest going a milder route. I had already mentioned this to Hubby Dear prior that if in any case they were serving authentic versions of the dishes then it would be quite spicy. But he was to have none of it! As an Indian, he prided himself on the number of chillies he could muster in a meal. With a broad smile on his face, he proceeded to ask the server to make our food “spicy”.

The rest as they say, is history! The food was absolutely delicious, no doubt, and thanks to Hubby Dear we managed to put out the fire on our tongues after every spoonful with a glass of water. It was a lot of water we had that evening, but the flavours triggered a new found love for him like no other. Malay food is a favourite in our house – even Baby Dear is a fan, and the go-to cuisine whenever we go out to celebrate. So it’s only fitting that I tried and replicate a classic dish on the event of our 9th marriage anniversary. It’s by no means claimed as authentic, but it does come pretty close in flavour to real thang.

So here’s to you Hubby Dear – for 9 years, over a million laughs and countless acts of love. And also to many more to come. May the spice level never die down!

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Quick Dinner Ideas: Shrimp & Greens Curry

Recipe for Shrimp and Greens Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I recently had a long chat with a friend who confessed to me that she absolutely dreaded the hour before it was dinnertime. She hates cooking, and the mere thought of “Whats’s for dinner tonight?”  can really drive  her up the wall. What she faces everyday is nothing new to most of us. Me included! I’ve been known to stare into the fridge, almost willing it to pop out a completely tasty, well balanced meal straight onto my dining table.

I’ve never been one to meal plan on weekly basis. I know its advantages and have sincerely tried to follow through many times. But, unless and until I hit the stores and check out the fresh produce they have to offer, I’m not motivated. I love feeling the freshness of the bright coloured fruits and veggies, checking out the cheese display and rummaging through the aisles for new spices and flavours. All this, the dedication and time I put into grocery shopping each week, is what inspires me and helps me creative in the kitchen.

As much as I love to play around with the ingredients I have to create a wonderful meal, there are many nights where all I want is something no-fuss, quick and healthy, and call it a night! It’s for nights like these that I save some of my go-to family favourite recipes that come together in a snap and satisfy our hungry tummies. Most of these recipes are either one-pot meals, or a mish-mash of some protein and veggies that can be easily served with rice/rotis/bread to complete the meal. Add a side salad, and you’re good to go!

Today’s recipe is one that fits the bill. Infact, it’s going to be dinner for Baby Dear and me tonight. Hubby Dear has dinner plans at work and I’m knee deep in house chores, so dinner needs to be quick. I always have a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer and some form green leafy vegetable in the fridge. Be it bok choy, spinach or kale, they all work well in this recipe.

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I know the Muffin Man: Strawberry Banana Almond Muffin

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

As a kid, I loved sleeping in. Obviously, with school on weekdays, it was hard to keep my eyes shut with Mom screaming from the kitchen for me to get dressed. But not weekends. Aah… weekends were when I could get as much shut eye as I wanted – or rather, as much as my parents allowed me! There was a time when my Dad had to scan the markets to find an alarm loud enough to break my sweet slumber. Alas, even then Mom would come running to my room to shut it off before the neighbours heard the deafening shrill. But me, I did not even twitch a muscle. I truly believed that had I been Sleeping Beauty, the fairy tale would’ve ended very differently! But who am I kidding? That was eons ago, in a time when sleep for me was more of a sport than a luxury. I think all moms reading this can nod their heads in agreement that once the home has welcomed its first baby,  our sleep and life as we know it, takes a completely different turn!

Baby Dear is a morning person in every sense of the word. He wakes up bright-eyed and bushy tailed every weekend when the sun comes out and announces his rising through the baby monitor as loud as he possibly can. Either Hubby Dear or I will then, in our dazed half asleep state, bring him into our room and put him in the middle of our bed under the covers with the cartoons turned on. Then, we fall back to sleep. In the meanwhile, our Tarzan baby who has learned that no amount of coercing will wake up his sleep-deprived parents, will entertain himself with the TV, reading his books or playing – all the while nestled between the both of us. But this will only last a few minutes till he realizes that its no fun talking to yourself and not getting any responses back. And Baby Dear is nothing if he can’t talk and be talked back to.

So there we are, up and early on a Saturday morning at the kitchen table. And that’s exactly why I tend to always have a stash of some delicious baked goodies to tie us over till I’ve had my first sip of coffee and can actually start thinking of what to feed my family. This recipe is one of our favourites, and one that I’ve made upmteen number of times. It’s perfect to take with you on the go for a quick morning bite. Or, if you’re fortunate like us and have a happy early riser to shake you off your deep, sweet slumber, then it’ll feel like a godsend to have them at arm’s length!

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Indian Food: B is for… Bhuna Chicken

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received  a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back,  but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

Okay, so I’m back with the next episode in this series and today we’re on to the letter B. B for Bhuna Chicken. Bhuna is technique of cooking, which simply means to fry the flavour base or masala really well till it starts to caramelize and give out oil along the sides. This method of cooking ensures a robust burst of flavour in the dish and the end result is always a warm, comforting bite. It does take a bit of extra time and a watchful eye to make sure that the masala is cooking well without getting burnt. The secret to this, I believe, is low and slow. Keep the heat low and stir slowly every now and then.

This recipe is perfect for a weekend meal when you have the time and mood to putter about  in the kitchen with nothing much else to tug at your attention. It also tastes even better the next day since the spices and flavour and enough time to penetrate and mingle through. Because of this, I love to serve this dish at dinner parties when I know I can cook it either the previous night or early that morning. Other than the little bit of extra time it takes to bhuno the masala, this recipe is fairly simple and a treat to eat.

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What to Cook: Confused Cook

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Here is an email I received a few weeks ago that got me thinking, testing and dreaming recipes. Until last night, when I finally saw the table clearly laid out in mind waiting for hungry mouths to dig in, I was seeing ginger, garlic and onions everywhere! I tell you people, the things I do for the love of cooking!

Dear Meena,

I have a co-worker from India who is Jain. I’d like to invite him and his wife to dinner one of these days. Now the problem is I have no idea how to make anything without onion, ginger, potato etc! They are very strict about their food. Help! I want to serve at least three entrees and rice and/or roti. Can you give me suggestions and/or recipes?

- Confused Cook

Dear Confused Cook,

Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to cook Jain food, much less ever had a chance to eat it. So the scary thought of creating a menu for you without any ginger, garlic and onions, without which my kitchen would seem barren and in need of a desperate makeover, turned me into a mad woman that surprised even sweet little Hubby Dear. Ever little thing I cooked and ate over the past few days was scrutinized in hopes of finding a way to recreate it without the bare essentials of my cooking. But as they say, prespiration gives way to perfection (I can swear I heard that somewhere!), and I’m happy to note that your very first Jain dinner party will soon take shape.

- Meena

The menu I designed for this dinner includes the classic favourites like Pulao, Dal, and Rotis. The vegetable dishes I’ve picked for this menu are either traditionally cooked without onions and garlic, or can easily be made without them, without compromising much on flavour.

  • Dal: Cook your choice of Dal in the normal way, omitting the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
  • Kadhi-Pakodi: This wonderful dish, prepared from yoghurt and gram flour is a personal favourite of mine. While in most cases onions are used in the end as a tempering with dried chillies, it can easily be avoided to accommodate a Jain diet. Bring a mixture of 2 tbsp gram flour, I cup yoghurt and 2 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps. Season with salt, turmeric and chili powder. Add in pakodas made with vegetables of choice, and stir in a tempering of cumin seeds, dried red chillies and a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves for added flavour.
  • Paneer Tak-a-tak: recipe follows
  • Dahi Bhindi: Follow the recipe avoiding the addition of onions and ginger powder.
  • Fried Baingan
  • Peas Pulao: Again, omit the addition of onions.
  • Plain Rotis and/or Puris

Add in a Raita, salad and Papad, and there you have it CC, a wonderful, Jain accommodated hearty meal! For dessert I suggest the usual favourites, kheer, gulab jamun or halwa.

Do you have any trouble planning a menu or fixing a meal? I’m only a few lines away

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Go Green: Palak Paneer

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Being born and bred in the Arabian Gulf, everyone simply assumes I am the Guru when it comes to Mid-Eastern fare. But, in fact, I’ve only tasted hummus (and can now gulp down bowls of it!) a mere 10 years ago. In Canada. Yes, strange I know, but also true! You see, when we were growing up, hummus was almost a weekly guest at our table. My parents and siblings loved it, and relished every mouthful. I, on the other hand, thought it to be gooey (my husband would scorn with gooey not being a word!), and hence, never dared to give it a try.

But since being with Hubby Dear, the adventurous soul that he is, I’ve begun to mellow down a lot. It was with him that I took my first scoop of hummus, and decided, that though being gooey, I quite liked it. In fact, now it very easily makes it’s way into my kitchen every week!

Ever since I’ve started this blog, I’ve begun cooking things that I normally wouldn’t. I now see my weekly grocery trips as a chance for me to explore and learn. I pick up veggies that I would run away from and try and create new ways of enjoying it.

When we were growing up, spinach was one such vegetable that I would often hide from. I would cry and cry until my Mom got tired enough to allow me to leave it aside. Then I moved to India and was introduced to a dish I can now swear by. Till today, it’s one of the few ways I will eat spinach without a gun on my head.

So today, as I was scanning my fridge and freezer, thinking of what to make for dinner, my eyes set upon the block of frozen spinach lying there, bought only a few days ago. And what do you know, the rest as they say, is history!

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Sweet Beginnings: Rainbow Cupcakes

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

What can I say. I caved. I didn’t want to. But I did.

Growing up, I remember spending most of my vacation time in the summers pouring over mouth-wateringly tempting photographs of intricately designed cakes, cookies and other baked goodies. My mom had (or must I say, still does) this tendency to pick up wonderfully photographed cookbooks cramped with an even more delicious assortment of recipes. It’s no wonder where I’ve caught the bug from.

One look at the many overstocked shelves throughout my home will give you a slight idea of my fixation to them. Heck, who am I kidding! I have cookbooks peeping out from my pantry shelves, kitchen cabinets, on top of the fridge, and not to mention a few prized possessions that I deem only fit to snuggle on my bedside table. Yes, it’s shameful I know. I’m addicted. Hi, I’m Meena, and I’m a cookbook addict. There, I said it. Now hopefully, we can all get on with our very normal or some not-so-normal lives!

Coming back to my Mom. I must say her favourites to collect included books on baking. And unlike me, who mostly drool over pages and pages of food talk, she actually dons her apron and puts those words into action. It’s no surprise then to point out that she bakes some of the best cakes I know. And not one to let Mr. Opportunity walk past my door without so much as grabbing him with both arms and giving him a tight hug, I decided to learn a few tricks from her while she’s here visiting me.

It’s been good so far. The food comes out from the kitchen faster than I can request them, and I find myself ravishing every spoonful with such passion. But the baking, oh the baking! I always thought of myself as not-a-baker. But she’s adamant on making me one.

What can I say? I caved. And I’m adamant to succeed.

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