Coconut palms line the sea shore, the countless lagoons and backwaters and populate the landscape of Kerala like a mammoth standing army. Is it any wonder then that the bounty they yield complements the delicious gifts that the sea bestows on this rich land. Seafood and coconuts – a match made in foodie heaven – inspired me to develop a pulao recipe that is as easy as it is delicious.
Sara Kayser and I must have exchanged more than 20 emails and a bunch of likes on Instagram and now she feels like an old friend. She has been generous enough to share her recipe for a Mexican-style lasagna that’s sure to feed friends and family. She blogs at theravenoushousewife.com, a blog that focuses on family-style and budget-friendly recipes. She’s partial to cooking pasta and baking cookies and is into all things food, bike riding, and trashy reality TV.
Have you ever successfully made authentic enchiladas? I’ve tried it before, and my tortillas always ended up breaking. I tried to prevent it by rolling them ahead of time and storing them with a damp paper towel, but that didn’t work. I even tried laying a few tortillas flat on top of the enchiladas before adding the sauce because I didn’t like the idea of pouring sauce directly on the filling. But even that did not keep the corn tortillas from breaking? The key, I learnt, is to fry the tortillas, soak them in the sauce before adding the filling. But that to me is just too much work.
Mom makes a mean mutton keema pulao. She’s fast, unfussy and does not follow recipes. Her repertoire of pulaos (pilafs) and biryanis is extensive yet each every single one is cooked from memory backed-up by instinct. On my last visit, as I watched her put together her mutton keema pulao, I felt a strong urge to share the recipe. Busy moms everywhere could use this tried and tested rice cooker recipe to whip up a special meal without spending hours in the kitchen.
My husband was never interested in cooking. In food, yes but not in how it got on his plate. But he would compensate by making countless cups of tea, an occasional fried egg, doing the dishes and trips to the grocery store, on demand, sometimes for just one or two things. For many years, it continued like this, till he had to live for close to a year in a foreign country where meat and potatoes ruled the roost. Being a meat lover, he was confident that his diet was taken care of, no problem. But, before he knew it, he was craving his daily dal, rice and vegetables. Despite being meat lovers, like most Indian families, our diet is primarily composed of vegetables, lentils and beans and rice or rotis and fresh yoghurt. Freezing winter days and one too many meals of bread, sausages and cheese finally pushed him into the kitchen to try his hand at cooking a simple Indian meal. I remember writing a flurry of emails full of extra detailed recipes with highlighted lines reminding him to, “Wash the dal, rice and vegetables before you cook them” and “ Make sure you don’t drain the rice along with the water!”. But by far, the most challenging part was getting him to identify the dals (lentils) by their names. Arhar, masoor, moong, urad… Every time I mentioned one, he would say, “the yellow one or the pink one?” Now, Indians eat a variety of lentils that are pink, green, white and black, not to mention at least 3 yellow ones. Most of us know the names but yes, there are people who still say yellow dal. We put turmeric in our pink(masoor) lentils and they appear yellow when cooked, so let me just clarify that that ‘yellow dal’ is not helpful when trying to shop for lentils. My hungry husband did finally manage to get the names right and has since then taken his culinary abilities to a higher level.
I wanted a bowl of calm. A spoonful of a Zen garden with limpid, darkly-soothing pools of elegantly standing lily pads and gracefully gliding, vermilion-flashing koi. If only I could partake of that invisible yet fluid harmony between the visual, the smell and the taste that I had experienced in many Asian meals. I felt I had been unable to achieve that beautiful balance in similar home-cooked dishes. This time I was determined to get my recipe for homemade harmony, right.
Remember cheese cubes? They were all the rage in the eighties – little creamy rectangles neatly encased in shiny foil wrapping. Growing up in India meant that there were only two or three brands of cheese available in markets. The most popular brand was of Amul – a processed cheese whose taste is an unforgettable part of my childhood memories (in soft focus!). Only later in life, when I sampled other cheeses did I realise how one dimensional Amul was and yet like baked beans; we love to dis it but secretly love it. The other cheese I ate was Kraft, which was ‘special’ because it was imported and therefore expensive. Kraft was bought from special stores stocking imported (read smuggled) goodies like KitKat and Toblerone since the Indian economy shut its doors to capitalist brands such as Coke, Nestle, Craft etc. See how a narrative on cheese can double up as a history lesson?
So, determined to end this tug-of-war, I decided to give a little to get a little (in simple terms, a healthy compromise). From my side I broke my meatless meal rule – but I did opt for very lean meat. And for his part he agreed to a ‘more veggies with a little meat’ dish (which was great!) The peace having been brokered, I made a Thai-style meatball and rice noodle soup, which all parties were more than happy with.
I like to keep things simple. But it’s not easy in a world that wants to complicate life with more. Going out for ice cream can be a nightmare – choosing between Haagen Dazs and Baskin Robbins; maybe consider frozen yoghurt, sorbet or gelato as well. Next step, flavours – fruity, cheesecakey, with chocolate chips, swirly…nuts? Do I want it in a cup (regular or large), normal or waffle cone? Moving on to toppings – syrups or sprinkles…it’s endless.
Garish weddings, cakes groaning under sugar sculptures, pancake and blue eye shadow, bling and blow-dried beehives, melodramatic soaps and mushy greeting cards crammed with pink hearts, gilt and glass drawing rooms,red and oily overcooked curries…are just some of the things that make me scream OTT (over the top). I’m more of a less is more kind of person.
Spring has begun behaving like summer now, with the mercury regularly hitting the mid 30s (but I’m not complaining). After putting up with two bone-aching winters in a row (I moved hemispheres at the end of the Indian winter and at the beginning of the SA one), I’m absolutely over the moon (or sun) re-discovering my predominantly summer wardrobe of shorts, skirts and flipflops. And I’m in the mood for food that feels like fluttery butterfly kisses rather than warm bear hugs. The warm weather has brought with it goodies galore – I spotted loads more strawberries, oranges, nectarines, peaches,pineapples, artichokes and fennel at the vegetable store.