Posts Tagged With: india

Mango and Ginger Lassi – Goodbye to Goa

Mangoes, mangoes, everywhere and I can eat them all! I have tried this though and can’t recommend it! Mangoes are literally falling from the trees across the state which is actually hazardous. Some are quite hefty and unripe. Every time I step outside my little place there’s a new pile greeting me which is the perfect morning pick me up. Many however are split and covered in ants or other bizarre insects. I really want to catch each mango as it falls and give it a good home. How about a lassi? I’m in India, as you may know, and this is one of the best ways to enjoy the local glut of mg’s. Creamy, smooth and packed with fragrant fruitiness and that little twist of slightly sour yoghurt. Let’s lassi!!

Now that is what I’m talking about. Look at the colour. It screams “MANGO!”

I am living under several huge mango trees, in between we have coconut and banana trees. Tropical fruit salads rain on our doorstep. It’s a lovely patch of countryside with wild buffalo roaming around and a great view, the cicadas (those buzzing little insect critters) are on the go all the time, like some exotic, pulsating soundtrack.

I was wandering around the other day and was a bit startled to see a basket being lowered down from a tree, laden with mangoes. I looked up to see one of the mango men (a group of local superheroes) about 30 ft up wearing only a big smile and pair of Liverpool AFC shorts. He was nimble and fearless. I was filled with admiration, he climbed way up, maybe 50 ft, just to bring me and the family I live with our daily mango fix. How many people have you met who risk their life for fruit?!! A rare breed.

Mango Man

Breakfast! Mankurad mangoes

So, mangoes everywhere. What to do with them all. Helen, the Mum of the family I’m staying with, pops them all in a massive cauldron-like pan and simmers until jammy. Jam! Mango jam, thick and naturally sweet. If your mangoes are super sweet, this is a great idea. There are many varieties of mango and in India, people are mango mad! In the cities they sell for big bucks, there are many sought after varieties but ‘Alphonso’ is top of the, ahem, tree.

Goan’s are ever laid back about things. When I ask around excitedly, “what variety of mango is this?”, they look at me curiously, shake there head slowly and shrug, “it’s a mango Lee.” Basically, just chill out and eat it. I think they have pity for the way I complicated things. It’s a mango. Enjoy. Ok. (Actually, I managed to find out that one of the trees is the highly prized Mankurad variety, which explains why the family are so popular with the neighbours.)

Patrick, Helen’s husband, just knocked on the door asking if I liked brinjal (aubergine). We’re having a leaving dinner tonight. The family have a very Portugese surname, most Goan’s I meet have an affinity with their Portuguese past. They only left in the 60’s and the Euro/ Christian feel lingers. Goan’s can even get a passport for Portugal if they like and many do. Goa is like the rest of India in some ways but generally it has the feel of a different country. That’s one of the things I most love about India, the diversity on every level.

Goan mango eating technique. Just tear it apart with your hands.

The brothers who I’m staying with (Andrew’s one of them) actually make their living from selling massive ex-petrol tanks filled with cashew feni (think moonshine but nicer) to local bars, some like little pirate speakeasy’s right on the coast. I love them. Not much bigger than a cupboard and many actually looking like driftwood cupboards.  They’re packed full of rough fishermen and cheery characters and well proportioned police men (off duty I think). I like the Antique Bar (I can’t tell you where it is, it’s like buried treasure) where you expect Long John Silver to walk in at any minute with a parrot on his shoulder. They also play great blues and flamenco.

GOAN CUISINE

I’ve been regularly inspired and occasionally blown off my stool by the intensity of Goan cuisine and tonight will be my last taste of the real deal for a while. I love the coconut and the unique spice mixes, the dish Xacuti stands out, many locals I’ve spoken to make their own spice mixes and even use garam masala style blends more common up north. Vinegar (toddy, made from coconut trees) is used in a lot of cooking, gives a twang, mirroring many Portugese dishes.  That’s what I love about Goa its a mixed up place in a good way, it’s a cocktail of cultures and influences. Of course, the hippies had a big say and many locals who live near the beaches see the inner hippy still in the Westerners they meet. Like we’re all open hearted, free seekers of something else. The reality is of course now a bit different.

It’s hard to imagine, but the Portugese were the first to introduce potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, guavas and cashews to Goa and India.  This trend can be seen all over the world, the early Spanish and Portugese explorers/ conquistadors were responsible for introducing us to many of our staples that may now seem indigenous to our countries.  Vindaloo is also a Portugese dish, a name derived from the Portugese for garlic and wine.  Although Goan food is heavy on the seafood and now meat, I found loads of plant-based options and the delicious masalas and sauces can easily be used in vegan cooking.

Jane taking a closer look

One of my favourite things about riding around Goa is the generally fading Portugese architecture, so many beautiful houses, many like mini-castles.  Even the towns, with their central squares and large ex-government buildings still have a whiff of the wealthy imperial gang.  They were here for nearly 500 years after all and the coast line is dotted with their crumbling hill top forts.  Each village has at least one imposing, brilliantly white Catholic church. Most are locked but I like wandering around the graveyards.

Elsewhere in Goa there are still big dance parties a plenty but things have quitened down quite a bit and become commercialised.  You’ll find the occasional hippy playing didgeridoos and sitars, plenty of packaged tourists (mainly Russian) and people from all over India settled and taking it easy here. At weekend, Goa fills with tourists from the big cities of India looking for a little Kingfisher soaked debauchery. They find it then set fireworks off.

Patrick just said to not worry, ‘we’re all coming and going’, meaning to wait for a few minutes. I feel like that, it’s been a very Goan day. Everything has been coming and going very nicely. The sunset perfectly and the ocean was calm. Patrick also says ‘take it easy, you never know when time comes.’ as a goodbye. I think we know what that means and its true. Wherever coconut trees sway I’ve found this attitude. Take it easy before it’s too late and let things flow. So I am. You see, that’s it for me, I’m off to the Himalayas tomorrow so it’s goodbye to these…..

Goodbye Goa!

But back to the sweet onslaught of mangos that I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. I heard that in India it is said that someone with a mango tree on their land is wealthy indeed. I agree. I had three 60 footers keeping me company. I’ve felt rich beyond imagination. But things move on, I think apples are coming into season in the Himalayas……

This lassi uses a creamy coconut base and a kick of ginger to keep things lively, but also to balance a little of the overpowering sweetness from friend mango. In the UK and other non-mango growing countries, getting a supply of ripe, non-fibrous mangoes can be tough.  Try and wait until they’re nicely soft for best results.  Lassi is full of tang, some lovely sourness normally coming from the yoghurt. Try to use unsweetened yoghurt if you can get your mitts on it, then you’re in charge of the sweetness.

I’ve found you can eat mango three times a day quite happily. Here’s breakfast, proper Goan porridge (with tahini, coconut oil, cashews and pineapple)

Mango & Ginger Lassi

For 2 glasses

The Bits

250ml Coconut Yoghurt or Soya Yoghurt (unsweetened is best)

1 large, ripe mango (peel, cut all the fruit off the pip and chop up roughly)

75ml coconut milk or soya milk

1 big handful ice cubes or a splash of cold water

1/2 lime (juice)

1/2 inch fresh ginger (crushed)

Sweetener – as you like (depending on the sweetness of the mango)

Optional – large pinch ground cardamom

(I know all about the pink straw, but Helen insisted that we must have a straw.)

Mango and Ginger Lassi

Do It

Place all ingredients in a blender and blitz.  Add lime juice, blitz again, taste for sweetness and adjust how you fancy.  Served chilled in your nicest glasses.

Foodie Fact

Mangoes, super sweet and a little tart are really a ‘super fruit!’  They are very high in vitamin A and C and are also a good source of fibre.  They contain minerals like potassium and copper.

Anyoone tried a Chiku? One of the most amazing fruits, like a date meets a custard apple disguised as a small potato.

The jack fruits weren’t quite ready. Look at the size of them!! Next time;)

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Categories: Healthy Eating, Healthy Living, Recipes, Smoothies, Superfoods, Travel, Vegan, veganism | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Quick Carrot and Ginger Pickle plus Five Health Benefits of Ginger

Quick and easy - Carrot and Ginger Pickle

Quick and easy – Carrot and Ginger Pickle

This is the perfect accompaniment to your Saturday night curry feast!  Curry makes any weekend extra special.

I like shop bought pickles, it’s generally what you eat in restaurants in India. Although the very best pickles I’ve ever eaten have been home made (no surprises there then!) Mango, lime and mixed pickles are my favs but I had a few nice carrots in the kitchen, so I thought I’d give this a go. The spice combination and method can be used for most firm, sweet veggies, pumpkin or squash for example also work very well. This is very much a milder pickle don’t expect that eye-popping and taste bud tickling saltiness.  Its mellow like a mango pickle with spicy bells on with a nice sweet and sour chilli-ness.

The drawback of most shop bought pickles is the salt. In India I have noticed pickles are used sparingly, a couple of teaspoons per meal. In Britain, I think we can overdo it sometimes and all that salt is just not cool. The lovely thing about taking a wholefood approach, making an effort to cook much of your food at home, is that you know whats going into your dishes. We can moderate the sugar and salt levels here accordingly.

FIVE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GINGER
Really ginger is more like a medicine than a food!  It is just so good for us.  Some people get a little freaked out when I start talking about the health properties of food, but I can’t help myself!!  I love to know that the food I enjoy is actually doing me some good, not just tasting amazing, but filling me with nutrition and vitality.  Healthy food is not the worthy, boring grey slop of old, its the bright and very tasty future for us all!

  1. Anti-oxidant – Ginger contains a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory called gingerol.  It is one of the natural oils in ginger which gives it such a powerful aroma.  Ginger may also help to prevent cancer and helps to fight infections.
  2. Helps Nausea – Many people use ginger to treat nausea like morning sickness and sea sickness.
  3. Lowers Cholesterol – Ginger has been shown in many studies to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol and has even been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
  4. Helps the brain – Studies show that ginger can help to prevent age-related damage to the brain and improve brain function in elderly people.
  5.  Can help to treat chronic indigestion and pre-menstrual aches – Food containing ginger leave the stomach quicker, beneficial for people who suffer from indigestion.  It may also help reduce pre-menstrual pains if taken at the start of the menstrual cycle.  It has shown to be as effective as taking drugs like Ibuprofen.

Ginger is most certainly one of those foods worthy of the ‘superfood’ name!

Back to pickle.  Enjoy this tangy, spicy pickle with flat breads and of course, a curry or two for company. It also goes down well in sandwiches and I even like it on toast in the morning. Remember, I also eat chillies for breakfast on occasion. I understand that it’s a slightly more intense affair than strawberry jam.

 

The Bits – Makes 1 jar or serves 4-6

450g carrot (peeled and cut thin half moons – slice anyway you like really as long as its thin)

1 onion (finely sliced)

3 tbs ginger (finely sliced or grated)

3 tbsp oil

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teas cumin seeds

1 teas coriander seeds (the smaller ones are best)

5 whole dried red chillies (cut in half length ways – more if you love chilli)

1 ½ tsp turmeric

2 tsp salt

5 tbsp unrefined sugar

1/2 lemon (juice)

Very simple recipe:)

Very simple recipe with brilliant results:)

Do It

If you are jarring the pickle and looking to preserve it for a while, sterilise the jars by either boil the jar and lid in a pan of water or bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the oil to a large saucepan on medium heat and when hot pop in the fenugreek, cumin seeds and dried chillies. Fry until they pop, a minute or less, then add the carrot, onion and ginger, fry for five minutes.

Add the salt and turmeric, stir and lower heat, cover the pan and leave to cook until the carrot is soft, 20 minutes. Add the sugar and lemon juice stir, warm through for a minute and then leave to cool.

This pickle can be enjoyed once cooled or preserved for later tasty times. It will keep nicely in a sealed container for a week.

Quick Carrot and Ginger Pickle

Quick Carrot and Ginger Pickle

Serve

With your favourite curry or like I said, good on toast!

Foodie Fact 

See above – we’ve got ginger covered.

We've been loving the winter sunshine down on the beach.

We’ve been loving the winter sunshine down on the beach.

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Rock hoppin

Dinas Dinlle beach on a sunny day - fresh, fresh air

Dinas Dinlle beach on a sunny day – fresh, fresh air

Categories: Chutney, gluten-free, Healthy Eating, Nutrition, photography, Recipes, Side Dish, Superfoods, Vegan, Wales | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Krishna’s Christmas Ice Cream (Vegan & Sugar free) – A gift from Solitude Farm & Organic Kitchen, India

Peanut & Chocolate Ice Cream (Vegan & Sugar-free)

Peanut & Chocolate Ice Cream (Vegan & Sugar-free)

100% sugar free ice cream!  Yowzah!

I love Christmas for many reasons, it gets me thinking about all the shining, beautiful people I’ve met all around the world.  I sometimes wonder how they will be spending Christmas or are they celebrating at all.  In many cultures its just another day.  I have spent Christmas in Cambodia and that was blast!  I hung out with some tuk tuk drivers and we sang and played guitar until the sun made us have breakfast.  There is no such thing as a normal Christmas in my eyes and I like ice cream.  So I’m having ice cream this Christmas day.  What about you?

Here’s a purely vegan, super creamy and rich chocolate ice cream recipe all the way from Krishna and the gang at Solitude Farm & Organic Kitchen, Tamil Nadu, India.  I know if Krishna recommends it, it will be a tasty treat!  I have made ice creams in his kitchen; always vegan, always sugar free, always amazing!  Its a magical thing to be re-creating it back in the BHK, Wales.  A real Christmas treat!

I have played with the recipe just a tad, added some festive flava with the cinnamon, generally making it more Western friendly.  We are not so used to grinding our own peanuts or cacao beans and probably don’t have access to the delights of Basil Seeds!

If you like this recipe, there is a similar Chocolate & Maple Ice Cream recipe in Peace & Parsnips.  Its the type of thing you try and get the technique under your belt and then BOOM!  You’re off on a massive ice cream making odyssey and the random, bizarre and truly awe-inspiring thing is…….its healthy!  Good healthy.  Happy healthy.  Vibrant healthy.

Check out more from Krishna here, they have an amazing project going on PEOPLEFOODMUSIC at the minute to raise awareness about local food and sustainable farming practices, in fact its a multi-faceted thing of wonder and positivity, best checking it out below.

CONTRIBUTE, LEARN AND BE HAPPY:)

We’re going to be making gallons of this ice cream over the festive window.  I’ll be adding raisins and maybe dried cherries instead of dates (soaking them in a little brandy no doubt!) and some ground ginger.  Taking in the direction of a Christmas Pudding Ice Cream.  Finished with some ginger biscuits……YUM!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Bits – Makes 1 big tubful

90g cacao powder (or cocoa powder)

10 frozen bananas

3 tbs chunky peanut butter (or other nut butter)

1 tin coconut milk

1 tbs ground cinnamon

3 big handfuls dates (soaked in water for 2 hours to soften, add more if you have a sweet tooth)

1 tbs Basil seeds (Sabja) – optional

Brown Rice Syrup (sweetener of choice) – optional

Do It

Soak basil seeds in water (if ya got ’em!)

In a food processor, add the bananas, 1/2 the coco milk, peanut butter…..in fact, pop it all in there.  Press the blitz button, scrape the fp down and start again, repeat until its nice and smooooooooth.  Drizzle in the coco milk whilst blending until you get a good, thick texture.

Taste the ice cream and get the flavour just how you love it.  We are not that sweet of the tooth (well Jane is a little).  Sweeten as desired.

Freeze for around 2-3 hours, until its just frozen and then blend it again.  This may take slightly defrosting it first, and blitzing in the trusty fp or blender.  Put back into the freezer and it’s now ready and waiting to be enjoyed!

Foodie Fact

Cacao is one of the healthiest things that will touch your lips.  It is different from cocoa in the fact that it has not been processed, maintaining its amazing nutritional properties.

Cooking at Solitude Farm, India

Cooking at Solitude Farm, India — Old school style, wood fires in a hut

Lunch is legendary at Solitude - celebrating the produce from the farm

Lunch is legendary at Solitude – celebrating the fresh and organic produce from the farm

 

Categories: Dairy/ Lactose Free, Desserts, Healthy Eating, Recipes, Superfoods, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

People Food Music – Permaculture in rural India using community, food and music

LEARN AND CONTRIBUTE HERE

I spent time at Solitude Farm in Auroville, Tamil Nadu (India) a couple of years ago.  I was writing Peace & Parsnips at the time, something I did in six different countries whilst travelling around the world.  In a strange way, the more I travelled and spent time with local, proactive farmers, the more I realised my passion for ‘local’, ethically produced food.

Wherever you are in the world, local food plays a critical role in so many ways; it connects us with our local environment, it maintains our health and provides our bodies with all they need to thrive and it can help us build stronger communities, sharing knowledge and working together in positive projects based around an ethical approach to life and society.

Solitude Farm Thalis - All organic and from the land (even the rice and wheat)

Solitude Farm Thalis – All organic and from the land (even the rice and grains)

Krishna was always very kind, Solitude Farm is a place of action and energy, but I occasionally spent late afternoons in my little hut keeping up with the book submission deadlines.  Outside of my typing, I spent plenty of time harvesting papayas, watering and tilling the parched Tamil earth, learning from Krishna about the incredible flora and fauna and cooking.  I did loads of lovely cooking.

I cooked in the Solitude kitchen with local women, who after weeks still referred to me in Tamil as ‘the tall beardy man’.  We prepared the dishes over wood fired stoves with a whole host of exotic ingredients; radhas consciousness (a flower), varagu (like millet), green papaya, plantains, banana flowers, red amaranth leaves……so many wonderful ingredients that we picked freshly every morning.  The food was naturally and effortlessly vegan.  It was an awesome experience!

I have never seen such fecundity, in one small field we had a diverse range of fruits, leaves, nuts and roots to eat.  One small field could provide many, many people with a diverse and nutritious plant-based diet.  At Solitude Farm I saw a vibrant window of what farming could be, when we turn our attention away from the industrial and towards more sustainable, sensitive and enriching practices, namely permaculture and the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka.  The earth provides us with all that we need and nature is perfect!

Soltitude Farm was such a fertile place to write and be, a place of inspiration in so many ways, much of which hit the pages of Peace & Parsnips.  The sense that when we pull together, anything is achievable and that the future is bright when we turn to the earth and watch, learn and most importantly, act.  The answers to all of our problems are here; in people, food and music.

I hope you get the chance to read more about Krishna’s wonderful project and help to support it, allowing the people of Tamil Nadu access to invaluable training and knowledge that can transform lives and communities.

There are only 12 more days to go to contribute towards this important project and there are some inspiring ideas for last minute Christmas presents.  Really unique and precious.  Embracing and learning about local food is at the heart of a better tomorrow and I thank Krishna for his constant dedication to spreading the seeds of positive change, from the heart to the plate.

Learn more and contribute by clicking below:

PEOPLEFOODMUSIC

  

Categories: Environmentalism, Healthy Eating, Healthy Living, Inspiration, Local food, Music, Organic, Sustainability, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Mango and Coconut Lassi

Mango and Coconut Lassi - a taste of tropical India in rural, autumnal Wales

Mango and Coconut Lassi – a taste of tropical India in rural, autumnal Wales

A quick and delicious breakfast for us this morning.  The perfect antidote to a very grey day in Wales, some tropical flava!  We managed to pick up/ save some very ripe mangoes recently and have been trying out coconut water, which seems like a bit of a craze at the minute.  Mangoes and coconut, beaches and palm trees, a little escapism from the dark nights and storms of our little hillside retreat.

A lassi is something like an Indian milkshake that comes in many varieties, basically salty or sweet, but there are so many ways this yoghurt based drink can be enjoyed.  Salted lassi is lovely, normally flavoured with a little ground cumin.  Lassi’s are easily made vegan with the addition of non-dairy milk and vegan yoghurt, both are best used unsweetened we find.  You can then control which and how much sweetener you choose to use, if any.  The mango and coconut water are already sweet here and any sweetener is really only needed to give the sweet tooth a little treat.

TOP MANGOES

We’ve eaten mangoes all over the world, but have to say that the best are Indian.  I don’t think any other country reveres a fruit quite like Indians with their mangoes.  Maybe the French with grapes?!  Italians with tomatoes?!!  Brits with apples?!! Its out there for discussion.  Surely having a mango tree in your garden is a sign of very good karma though!  Especially in Wales!!

The sheer diversity of mangoes in India is bewildering and the season is anticipated like the festive season over here.  Mangoes are now very expensive in India, especially certain highly regarded varieties like Alphonso, Badami, Chausa, Dasheri…..there are loads.  Where are you favourite Mangoes from?  Thailand and the Philippines are closely behind India in the mango nirvana stakes for sure.  The ones we bought here were from Brazil(!)

Adding turmeric to lassi’s is an age old remedy for stomach complaints in the sub-continent and we like adding turmeric to anything, such is it’s vibrant health giving properties (not to mention the colour!  WHAM!!  YELLOW!!!)

We are drinking these in autumnal Wales and need no extra chilling.  If you happen to be in a nice hot part of the globe (well done!) you may like to add a few ice cubes to the lassi and decrease the coconut water a little.  You could also freeze your coconut water into ice cubes, this works brilliantly and adds a lovely coco twist to cold drinks.

Other lassi varieties you could try:

Strawberry, Pineapple and Mint, Avocado and Lime, Beetroot and Thyme, Chocolate and Pistachio,  Apple and Chai Spiced…….

You may also like to check out the brilliant Vegan Richa’s recipe for a spicy Thandai Lassi.

How to pick a ripe mango?  Well worth knowing.

Mangoes are such a treat in Wales, they don’t come our way very often.  We think a lassi is the perfect home for a nice ripe mango and a breath of bright tropical air in the early dark nights and rain clouds of beautiful Wales.

Recipe Notes

If are struggling to find coconut water, go for non-dairy milk (like soya or almond) and even straight water will make a good lassi.

If you can get ground cardamom, please do.  Just a sprinkle on the top transforms the lassi.  Cardamom and Indian sweets got together perfectly, but remember that too much can be overpowering.  Lightly sprinkle.

These lassi’s are made without turmeric, so the colour is a little lighter.

Mango and Coconut Lassi (Vegan)

Mango and Coconut Lassi (Vegan)

The Bits – Makes two small glasses

1 mango (peeled and de-stoned)

175ml coconut water

5 tbs dairy free yoghurt

1-2 teas sweetener (we used brown rice syrup)

1/2 teas turmeric (optional)

 

Pinch cardamom powder

Do It

Pop all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth and creamy.  Check the sweetness and you can even add more yoghurt for extra creaminess.

Creamy sweet fruity YUM!

Creamy sweet fruity YUM!

Serve

Pour into your finest glassware and sprinkle over a little cardamom and chopped almonds or pistachios for a real authentic India style.

Foodie Fact

Soya is packed full of protein and coconut has amazingly healthy fats.  Mangoes are very high in vitamin A and C……as far as breakfasts go, this is a smooth and tasty winner!

Categories: Breakfast, Dairy/ Lactose Free, Healthy Eating, Recipes, Smoothies, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chai! Spiced and Warming Indian Tea (plus some travel snaps of India)

One of my favourite spots for a chai.  Baba Cake, up in Kasar Devi, Himalayas, India

One of my favourite spots for a stonking chai!  Baba Cake, up in Kasar Devi, Himalayas, India

“Chaichaichaichaichaichai!”  A cry you will hear quite often when wandering around India.  In the streets, in the middle of the night on a train, it’s a bit of a theme tune to your day.  Jane has several versions recorded which we like to play and bring a little bit of India into the Beach House (along with some recordings of birds singing in the Himalayas).

This is a steaming beverage that will see you cruise through winter (or if you are heading into summer, makes a great iced tea!) The spices here add magical flavours, highly fragrant and invigorating, along with a whole load of vitamins and minerals that benefit our wintery parts.  Of course, if you are vegan, most street-side chai is off the menu.  We must settle for a black tea, which can be delicious, but all too often turns out to be a Lipton tea bag in some warm-ish water.  This means our homemade chai’s are even more special.

Jane enjoying a chai outside out little cottage up near Nanda Devi, Himalayas, India

Jane enjoying a chai outside out little cottage up near Nanda Devi, Himalayas, India

Chai is something that we dearly love over here in the BHK. We make it when we need a little pick me up and a spicy memory of our beloved sub-continent. Chai fuels India. Along with the occasional chapatti/ idli. Chai is normally drank at chai stalls, where chai wallahs work sometimes 24 hours, supplying tiny cups of very sweet, dark tea (‘chai’ is basically Hindi for ‘tea’). You average chai in India does vary, depending on the quality of the chai wallah. Generally the back bone is cardamom and ginger, but there are many additions like clove, black peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon……the list goes on. It really is more of an elixir of life than a simple beverage. I find this in so much of Indian cuisine, a holistic approach that takes into account many things, not just sensational flavours.

Jane and I at the Taj Mahal earlier in '15

Jane and I at the Taj Mahal earlier in ’15

Here we have a simple chai recipe that we can all make at home. There is also a rich and delicious Almond Rooibos Chai recipe in ‘Peace & Parsnips’. Something we make when we’re taking it easy on caffeine.

Stay warm and cosy this winter.  Drink more chai!

Recipe Note
For a more intense chai, crush the ginger and spices in a pestle and mortar or food processor before hand.

Experiment with the quantity of spices, everyone has their favourite chai and no two chai’s are ever equal!

You don’t need to measure the milk/ water exactly, just use the cups that you will be serving the chai in.

Loose leaf black tea can vary greatly in strength.  The best and most authentic tea to use for chai is from Assam in North East India.  The leaves are normally rolled, meaning they look like tiny black balls and have a rich, malty flavour.  If you are using a lighter tea like Darjeeling or Nilgiri, you may like to add another teaspoon or two for a decent brew.

Chai on the hob.  House filled with those gorgeous aromas.

Chai on the hob. House filled with those gorgeous aromas.

The Bits – For 2 mugs
2 mugs non-dairy milk

1 mug water

8 green cardamom pods (lightly crushed)

4 slices fresh ginger

8 black peppercorns

8 cloves

2 inch cinnamon stick (or 1 teas ground cinnamon)

1 star anise (optional)

1 teas fennel seeds (optional)

3-4 teas black loose-leaf tea (or 3 black tea bags, ripped and contents poured into pan)

 

Do It

In a large saucepan add the water along with the ginger and spices, bring gently to a boil and lower heat, simmer for 5 minutes.

Add your tea, simmer for 2 minutes.   Now for the milk and sweetener of choice, bring back to a gentle boil and serve when the tea has a nice deep colour, pouring through a small sieve.

Chai is a saviour in wintery Wales.

Chai is a one cup saviour in wintery Wales.

Serve

We tend to warm our cups with hot water before pouring in the chai.  Nice to it properly, it is chai after all!

Dad and I in the Imperial Hotel Delhi enjoying very posh chai and those very small sandwiches you tend to get with posh tea.

Dad and I in the Imperial Hotel, Delhi enjoying very posh chai and those very small crust-less sandwiches you tend to get with posh tea.

Foodie Fact

Some of you may have Peace & Parsnips and will be well aware of my love of spices.  A large chunk of the beginning of the book relates to spices and their healing properties.   Some of you may have also been reading this here blog for five years or so and be equally as familiar with my spice box and its contents.  I love ’em!

Cinnamon is anti-microbial (kills bad bacteria), lowers GI, excellent source of calcium and fibre plus even the aroma is said to enliven the brain.  Cinnamon is especially warming and when mixed with ginger in a chai becomes a remedy for the onset of colds and flu.

Seeking refreshment in Paharganj, Delhi with the big man (aka Dad)

When you stop for chai, you'll meet some interesting folk.  Bikaner, Rajhastan, India

When you stop for chai, you’ll meet some interesting folk. Bikaner, Rajhastan, India

Categories: Infusions, Recipes, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Aviyal – Keralan Coconut and Vegetable Curry with Watermelon and Pineapple Salad

Aviyal - Keralan Coconut and Vegetable Curry with Pineapple and Watermelon Salad

Aviyal – Keralan Coconut and Vegetable Curry with Pineapple and Watermelon Salad

A simple, light summer curry with all the joys and sparkling nutrition of coconut and seasonal vegetables.  This is a recipe straight outta Peace & Parsnips and was recently featured online here in Reveal Magazine.  Recipes like this are a wonderful reminder for me of special times spent travelling and cooking in India.  Kerala is surely one of the most beautiful corners of the planet and its food is surprisingly vegan friendly, diverse and really healthy.

This is a recipe I learnt from my friend Narendra on the patio of a wooden hut in a yoga retreat, rural Tamil Nadu.  Although this is (probably) a traditional Keralan style curry, they love it in neighbouring Tamil Nadu also.  I had been eating it regularly in India and was so pleased when Narendra took the time to sit down with me and finally get a recipe on paper.  He taught me his families traditional recipe, from the ancient temple town of Madurai, and it was pleasing simple.  Like many Indian family staples, the difference is in the freshness of the ingredients; the vegetables and the spices.  Most Indian households will have what I call a ‘Sabji’ (Vegetable) man.  Just like a milk man in the UK, he wanders the streets in the mornings selling his wares from a cart, shouting up to the windows of house wives what’s good , freshest and of course, on special offer!  Fresh vegetables are everywhere in India and veg markets are frequent and always interesting to wander around and pick up some funky looking spice or odd looking root (maybe a mooli or two?).

The beaches of North Kerala are stunning!

The beaches of North Kerala are stunning! Kannur

Although this is a simple recipe, cooked most days in Keralan homes, it adapts well to the changing seasons in most countries.  Any variety of vegetables can be used in its preparation and Aviyal lends itself perfectly to British/ European veg.  In fact, Narendra’s grandmother used to call things like carrots ‘British veg’ as they we only grown and popularised in the time of the Raj, when much of Indian cooking as we know it was altered and influenced by British tastes.

The ladies at Varnam Homestay, Wayanand, Kerala - Lunch prep in full swing

The women Varnam Homestay, Wayanand, Kerala – Lunch prep in full swing

I was lucky to cook in a beautiful kitchen near Wayanad National Park, Northern Kerala with some amazing ladies.  Here I learnt some proper Keralan classics and top tips that you can only learn by actually getting your hands on the pots and pans.  I loved the way that they used very roasted coconut to add depth and flavour to sauces, especially when used with piles of freshly grated ginger.  I also loved cooking with a wide range of local produce, all of their dishes contained only ingredients from their own land.  Spices and all!  They even grew their own coffee and we were inundated each day with fresh exotic fruits, many of which I’d never seen before.  Mangoes grew above the hammocks in the garden, guavas, green figs, coconuts, plantains……you can imagine, it was a bit like eden/ nirvana!

Cooking at Varnam Homestay, Kerala

Cooking at Varnam Homestay, Kerala

Aviyal is such a healthy, light dish, nothing like the rich and fiery curries of the much of North India.  Coconut is king in the south, making travelling around South India a foodie paradise for vegans.  Its up there with places like Thailand or parts of the Med for traditional vegan dishes.  Anywhere that the vegetable or coconut thrives, you find brilliant vegan dishes.  Vegan food is so creative and evolving all the time, but it is nice to find dishes on my travels that reflect a cultures heritage and history.  We’ve always eaten and enjoyed vegan dishes, we just don’t necessarily give them that name (which, for whatever reason, can put some people off).

Indian spices, down at the market

Indian spices, down at the market

The Bits – For 4
For the curry
•2-3 fresh green chillies
•2 big handfuls of freshly grated or desiccated coconut
•2tsp cumin seeds
•220ml coconut milk or unsweetened soya yogurt
•2 large carrots, scrubbed
•2 large potatoes, scrubbed
•1 large courgette
•6 fat asparagus spears
•2 green plantains, peeled
•200ml water
•1tsp ground turmeric
•1tsp of sea salt
•1 big handful of mangetout or green beans
•2tbsp coconut oil
•2tsp mustard seeds
•3tbsp curry leaves
For the pineapple & watermelon salad
•A small pineapple
•One third of a small watermelon (don’t bother deseeding)
•1 large cucumber
•1 small handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
•A pinch of sea salt
•A large pinch of chaat masala mix or black salt (optional)

Do It
In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, blend together the chillies, coconut and cumin seeds (if you’re using desiccated coconut, add 2tbsp of the coconut milk to make a thick paste). This is best done in advance and can be left overnight in the fridge to develop zing.

Cut the carrots, potatoes, courgette, asparagus and plantains into 2.5cm pieces. Heat the water in a large pan and add the turmeric, salt, carrots and potatoes. Bring to a steady boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and pop a lid on the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the courgettes and plantains and cook for 10 minutes more, keeping the lid on.

Add the coconut paste to the curry with the coconut milk or yogurt and stir carefully to combine. Cook uncovered for 8-10 mins on a gentle simmer. Check that the carrots and potatoes are tender, then add the asparagus and mangetout and remove the pan from the heat. Cover, set aside for a few minutes.

Jane and I in the Yoga Retreat, Tamil Nadu

Jane and I in the Yoga Retreat, Tamil Nadu

Serve

Really simply, with steamed rice.  Keralans love their rice!  A crunchy salad is great as a side, exotic fruits work well here with Aviyal.  This is how they served it in the Yoga Ashram (where the food was excellent).

Foodie Fact

Coconuts are wonderfully healthy, containing high levels of Lauric Acid which is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacteria.  They also have the highest level of electrolytes known to man, making them perfect when exercising or when dehydrated.  In some parts of the world it is even used intravenously for the purpose of re-hydration.  Coconut can boost our metabolism and make our skin shine.

Keralan sunset

A Keralan sunset, Kannur

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Peace and Parsnips, Recipes, Salads, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Baingan Bharta (Minced Aubergine Curry)

Baingan Bharta (Minced Aubergine Curry)

Baingan Bharta (Minced Aubergine Curry)

This curry is perfect for a Saturday curry festival.  I love BB, its surely one of my favourite Indian dishes and is always a delight.  This is one of those recipes that I will surely be cooking for the rest of my days.  When we look at Indian recipes, they can look a bit long, but most of the ingredients are spices and when you break it down, this is a very straightforward recipe and packed with gorgeous smoky flavours.

Baingan Bharta is eaten all over India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  Its like an Indian version of Babaganoush (or is Babaganoush a Mediterranean version of BB?).  There are many variations, they use plenty of mustard oil in West Bengal of course and it is eaten in many parts of the sub-continent at weddings.  Brinjals (Aubergine) in India normally come in quite a small size, but its alot easier and convenient in Europe to use the larger varieties of aubs for this dish, more delightful aubergine flesh and less skin to deal with.  You can imagine that traditionally, a warm flatbread is the best accompaniment to this dish.

IS IT A DIP?

Some would call BB a dip, but I cannot get to grips with the word dip.  Especially for something so majestically tasty as BB or Babaganoush.  I always think of a supermarket bought ’90’s style dip medley’ (those four shades of dodgy dips that come in plastic trays) and these dishes are light years away from that kind of fare.  BB has serious heritage and is a feast in puree form.

Because aubergine breaks down so much when cooked, this seems like one (only one I may add) of the finest ways of treating an aubergine.  In Turkey they do amazing things to aubergines and its known as the ‘Sultan’ of vegetables.  In Wales we’ll call it the ‘Tribe Leader’ of vegetables!  I made a version of Babaganoush a couple of days ago and will post it somewhere soon.  You can never have too much aubergine on one blog!  Impossible!!

COOKING TIPS

I like to caramelise the aubergine in the pan, making it stick to the bottom a little.  A crust will form, this is fine and adds to the richness and depth to the sauce.  Just make sure that it doesn’t burn too much!  As with so many recipes, the pan scrapings are the best bits for making sauces/ gravy, basically concentrated flavours.

Traditionally Baingan Bharta is made a little like Babaganoush in that the aubergines are cooked over open flames.  Unfortunately, in the Beach House Kitchen we have an electric hob.  No open flames, so this technique is a decent option and more straightforward.  It also means that you get the benefits of all the goodness found in aubergine skins.

If you are getting a BBQ going this summer, I cannot recommend smoking a load of aubergines highly enough.  The flavour is wonderful and you can always freeze any excess aubs.  This gives you the base ingredient to make either of these delicious vegan dishes.  I mentioned on twitter recently that there is nothing as decadent as a well roasted aubergine and a few of you commented that you can probably think of a few things slightly more decadent.  This is probably true!  But aubergines to me are a sensational veg, especially for a vegan.  They have so many qualities, a wonderful vegetal creaminess and when mixed with something rich like olive oil or tahini, for example, I’ve got one foot in Nirvana.

G.M. CROPS IN INDIA

Genetically Modified (G.M.) crops are becoming a huge problem in India as large multi-national agriculture businesses, with a myriad affiliates and branches, try to introduce GM crops to India.  There are many people fighting against this unnatural invasion, one of the main spokesperson in Vandana Shiva.  In 2011 to protest against the introduction of GM Brinjal (Aubergine) into India, the Meridien Hotel and Greenpeace volunteers in Delhi cooked a world record 342 kilograms of organic aubergine and presented a portion of the dish to the president at the time, Manmohan Singh.  A very tasty protest!

A RADIANT DAY ON THE HILL

Its a lovely day up here on Tiger Hill and Jane is facilitating a Feminine Workshop, so I am home alone.  Jane has been working really hard on her new website this week, Womans Wheel.  It looks beautiful!  I’m off for a walk up ‘Myndd Mawr‘ (Big Mountain, also called Elephant mountain because it looks like a massive sleeping Elephant or ‘Yr Eliffat’) and will then plant Percy, our new Snowdon Pear Tree in the garden.  We’ve picked a nice sunny spot for him.  I’m also making tofu today and am seeking a nice firm tofu texture.  I’m going for a different salt to coagulate the beans and hopefully this will help.  Homemade tofu is really easy and cost effective, I’ll post the recipe soon.  Anyone got any top tips for homemade tofu?

Jane at the base of Snowdon with Mynydd Mawr in the background

Jane at the base of Snowdon with Mynydd Mawr in the background

JO POTT SUPPER CLUB

We had a delicious meal at Jo Pott’s last night.  Each month Jo puts on a fantastic five course menu, served in a very cosy and stylish attic space above her cafe in the Kiffin area of Bangor.  Last night, the theme was South Asia and we enjoyed all kinds of traditional delicacies with a twist.  I loved the Aduki, rice and ginger balls and I think Jane was quite taken with the Watermelon and Vodka crush (which I ate half of because Jane was driving).  The Lentil Cakes in Citrus Broth was also really interesting.  Jo’s food is always creative and looks beautiful.  Jo does this every month and the fact that Jane and I could sit down to a 5 course vegan meal in a beautiful space was a real treat.  Nice one Jo!

 

The Bits  – For 2

2 large aubergines (cut into chunky batons)

3 medium tomatoes (roughly diced)

4 cloves garlic

3 cm ginger (finely chopped)

1 medium onion (finely sliced)

Spices

1 teas mustard seeds

2 teas ground cumin seeds (1 teas ground)

3 teas coriander seeds (1 ½ teas ground)

1 teas turmeric

1 teas sweet paprika

1 chilli (finely diced or 1/3 teas chilli powder)

1/2 teas asafoetida

 

1 -2 teas sea salt

3 tbs oil

125ml water

 

Garnish

Fresh coriander (or sprouted lentils as we used)

 

Do It

On a medium heat, add your coriander seeds to a pan, toast for two minutes and then add your cumin seeds and toast for one more minute, until fragrant and slightly brown.  Bash up well in pestle and mortar.  Use ground spices if you’re in a hurry.

In the same pan, add 2 tbs of cooking oil on a medium high heat and fry the aubergines.  Stir/ toss them regularly and add 1 teas salt.  Cook for 12-15 minutes, until nicely soft and well caramelised.  They will stick to the bottom a bit, but this is perfect.  That crust equals deep flavour.  Set the aubs aside and cover with a plate.

Now put the pan back on the heat and add your tomatoes to the remaining oil on a high heat, stir them well and try to scrape up the aubergine crust to combine with the tomatoes. Fry for around 5 minutes.  Set aside and cover.

Wipe out the pan and add 1 tbs of oil and on a medium heat, fry your mustard seeds for 30 seconds, they will pop a little, then add your onions and lower heat slightly.  Cook the onions until they are becoming golden, 8 minutes, then add your garlic, chilli and ginger, cook for three minutes, then your spices hit the pan, stir them well, not allowing the spices to stick to the bottom, add 1 tbs of water if this happens.  Saute for two minutes and then add your tomatoes, aubergine and 125 ml water and cover cook on a fast simmer for 5 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

Baingan Bharta

Baingan Bharta

Serve

We love it with fresh, homemade super simple chapattis (recipe here).  They are really easy once you get into a flow.  We also love Baingan Bharta with pulao and pickles, or with daal, why not go the whole shebang and get a Indian feast together, Beetroot Raita and all.  It is Saturday night almost after all!

One of our new neighbours - Trev

One of our new neighbours – Not sure what to call him yet?  Trev?!  

Foodie Fact

Aubergine is just one of those veggies that has it all, good lucks, charisma, tastiness, and dashing nutritional properties.  I love all veggies and when I learn about their nutritional benefits to body and mind, I get even more excited.

Aubergine has loads of dietary fibre, which is amazing for the digestive system and is one of the most important factors in detoxifying our body.  Vitamins are important, fibre equally so.

Aub is a nightshade, like tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.  Called ‘eggplant’ in many parts of the world, I think the coolest type of aubergine is surely the ‘graffiti’ aubergine, with its purple, speckled skin.

Aubergine is a good source of B1 and B6, potassium, copper and magnesium.

Categories: Curries, Dairy/ Lactose Free, Healthy Eating, Nutrition, photography, Recipes, Vegan, Wales | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creamy Peanut and Sweet Potato Curry

Creamy Peanut Curry with Sweet Potatoes (Vegan)

Creamy Peanut Curry with Sweet Potatoes (Vegan)

This is not a fussy thing!  Not a gram (or lentil) of stress, just lots of spicy and sweet creaminess……the perfect dish to end Vegetarian Week. Twitter takes up a lot of time! I’ve been tweeting like a nutter this morning but its great to come back to the BHK. Blog-ville!

Here is last nights dinner which worked out a treat. Creamy and sweet with a hint of nuttiness and plenty of spice this is pure plant and packed with things to make you shine and go MMmmmmmmm……. This is a chunky curry, all made in the one pan for ease of preparation. We like to keep things whole food and don’t think this means loads or extra prep or time over the hob. There is no separate masala sauce making here, we just dive straight in and get maximum flavour and richness from the soya milk and peanut butter.

Jane and I celebrated my birthday on the beach and in the garden yesterday. A little belated as I’ve been busy promoting ‘Peace and Parsnips’ down in London and working at the Trig.  We quaffed a nice bottle of Sancerre and watched the sun slowly set from a rug near our stone circle (quite a cool feature of our garden!)  Pretty idyllic behaviour!  Our garden is looking wild and verdant at the minute, alive with the hum of big busy bumble bees.  You have to wait ages for a sunset at this time of year, we gave up at 9:30pm and retreated into the Beach House. I mention in the recipe that we like our veggies with a little crunch and must say that the pictures of the curry were taken alot later in the evening when the curry had sat and carried on cooking. They were well cooked by that stage (a bottle of wine can have a bizarre effect on cooking).

The Beach House Garden - Waiting for sunset

The Beach House Garden – Waiting for sunset

NATURAL HEALING

Later we watched an interesting documentary ‘Sacred Science‘ about natural plant healing, straight from the shamans of the Amazon.  There is so much healing potential in the plant world, most of which we are unaware of.  This documentary opened our eyes to the potency of the natural world to heal even serious or terminal illness; cancer, parkinsons, diabetes etc.  The Amazon is tragically disappearing for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being deforestation for the growing of soya beans to fatten cattle for humans to consume.  Cutting out meat and dairy will have a hugely positive effect on the Amazon, safeguarding the plants that will one day, no doubt, be used more widely to cure illnesses that presently can only be treated with powerful chemical drugs with many side effects.

Shades view

Shades view

A WORD ON WELSH WEATHER

(Always an interesting conversation in North Wales.  We had hail stones the other day like ping pong balls.  It sounded like the world was being pummelled with marbles!) Its been chilly up here in North Wales and the plants are taking it slowly this year. Basically, not growing. We are about to put our crop of seedlings out into the veg patch, but if things don’t get alot drier and sunnier, we fear stunted beetroots and shy cabbages. Come on SUN! Trigonos (is our local organic/ biodynamic veggie farm) is growing a load of veggies this year and hopefully soon we’ll have some local seasonal veggies to play with. At the minute we are turning to things like sweet potato regularly, primarily because they are one of the most nutritious (see ‘Foodie Fact’ below) and delicious things that could ever pass your hungry lips.

Doing the not-so-famous 'Wine Crane' yoga pose

Doing the not-so-famous ‘Tipsy Crane’ yoga pose

ULTIMATE SPINACH!

Jane makes me a mix CD for my birthday every year, last year we had the magnificence of ‘Wild Honeypie’ which contained alot of tracks from the awesome snowboarding movie ‘Valhalla‘. This years offering is ‘Hazy Daze’ and I’ve popped a couple of the tunes at the bottom of this post. To give you an idea of what we’re grooving to when peeling our radiant orange spuds. Its fair to say that ‘Ultimate Spinach’ are our new favourite band for so many reasons.

So, a simple curry which we hope you make with big smiles and eat with loved ones and laughterXXXXxx

Jane getting out little birthday picnic ready

Jane getting our little birthday picnic ready – the Beach House Garden

The Bits – For 4

850g sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped into 2 inch chunks)

1 large onion (sliced)

1 large pepper (deseeded and cut into 2 inch chunks)

1 large courgette

2 large tomatoes (roughly diced)

1 chilli (finely diced) or 1/2 teas chilli flakes

2 inches ginger (roughly grated)

250ml soya milk

2-3 tbs smooth peanut butter

1 tbs vegetable oil

1 teas sea salt

 

Spices

2 teas cumin seeds

1 1/2 teas mustard seeds

1 teas fenugreek seeds

 

1 teas ground turmeric

2 teas ground coriander

1/2 teas ground cardamom or 4 cardamom pods

Just about ready - Curries up!

Just about ready – Curries up!

Do It

In a large frying pan, warm the vegetable oil and add the spice seeds (only).  Leave them to fry and pop for 30 seconds and then add the onion.  Stir well and add 1 tbs of water if the pan is getting too hot.  This helps to prevent the spices from sticking and potentially burning.  Fry and stir for 5 minutes, when the onions are golden, add the ginger, chilli and sweet potatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.  Making sure you stir regularly.

Now add the ground spices to the pan, stir well and add the tomatoes with 2 tbs water.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes.  Now add the soya milk, courgettes and pepper, turn the heat up a little and bring the curry to a boil. Lower the heat and cover and cook for roughly 5-7 minutes, until the courgettes are soft with some crunch still.  If you plan on serving the curry later, cook only for a few minutes, the veggies will cook through when you come to re-heating the curry.

Just before serving, stir in the peanut butter.  If you really like peanuts, go for 3 tbs, 2 tbs will give a light, nuttiness.

Serve

Would be lovely with some freshly chopped coriander, brown rice and all your favourite curry accompaniments. A spiced chutney of some sort will be magnificent!  To add even more nutrition by adding a few handfuls of spinach to the finished curry and stirring them in.

Creamy Peanut Curry with Sweet Potato (Vegan)

Creamy Peanut Curry with Sweet Potato (Vegan)

Foodie Fact

Sweet potato is one of our favourite ingredients.  Its such a treat in so many ways, just roasted in its jacket is something sublime.  Sweet potato (also called Yam) is grown all over the world, there are actually over 200 varieties.  The insides of these potatoes can be purple, cream, yellow, pink, white….  They are originally from Central and South America, one of the oldest foods known to man, nowadays the worlds largest producer is China. Sweet potato is one of the finest sources of beta-carotene, raising our Vitamin A levels.  Eating sweet potatoes with a little fat, i.e. the vegetable oil in this recipe, helps the body absorb the beta-carotene. These vivid tubers also contain lots of Vitamin C and Manganese.

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Music, Nutrition, photography, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Toasted Cashew and Green Pepper Pulao plus the healthy magic of Cinnamon

Toasty Cashews.  YUMAH!

Toasty Cashews. YUMAH!

Toasty cashews with sweet peppers and a raft of spices and fluffy rice.  Its all there.  Indians taking a staple dish way up there towards Nirvana and beyond!!!!!!

A simple rice dish (don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients) with some seriously tasty touches.  Toasted cashews are ever delicious.  Pulao is basically a side dish, but can really be a main course, something like a Biryani for example, with a few more veggies and a little more spice.  Pulao is like a toned down cousin of Biryani.  Just like all Indian food, flavours here are turned up to 11 and the possibility of spice combing are fully explored.  This may seem like alot spices to be putting into your rice, but they are worth it and if you are interested in cooking Indian food, you will find that all of these spices are used almost on a daily basis in your average Indian kitchen.

In India this March, above the Himalayan snowline in a family home.  Dinner time was a huge highlight (we could warm out hands over the rice)

In India this March, above the Himalayan snowline in a family home. Dinner time was a huge highlight (we could warm out hands over the rice)

A SPICY CONUNDRUM 

When you see the recipes for many Indian dishes you are immediately confronted with the sheer length and seemingly mind boggling array of spices in even a simple dish.  Do not fret, once you get them all together and start cooking more Indian food, your dhaba (spice rack) will become your best friend.  I always bang on about this, but keep your spices in sealed containers and preferably in the fridge (if you live in a hot place or your central heating is potent).  Don’t mix strong smelling spices with, like Hing (Asafoetida) with other spices, they’ll all be tinged with the funk of hing.  Get your spices ready, in one bowl if possible, before hand.  Then when the pan is hot and the spatula is flying, you can simply pour them in with no real fuss.  Bear  in mind however that some spices are better added earlier or later in the cooking process, depending on the dish/ spice.  Its a little complex really!  Being a bit organised with your spices beforehand saves you clambering around with slippy jars and unruly spice bags.

I’ve used brown rice and thrown some of my favourites, flax seeds in, but both are not exactly traditional.   If you use white rice, you could knock 10 minutes off the overall cooking time.

One of the main men in Nainital market.  Great onions.  India '15

One of the main men in Nainital market. Great onions. India ’15

The Bits

1 tbs cooking oil (vegetable/ sunflower etc)

400g brown rice

600ml light vegetable stock

1 green pepper (as finely diced as you can)

1 handful of cashews (chopped in half lengthways, like half moons)

2 cloves garlic (peeled and smashed up or finely diced)

1 large tomato (finely diced)

 

Spices

1-2 large red chilli (dried and cut lengthways, remove seeds for less heat)

6 green cardamom pods (split)

1 small cinnamon stick (2 inches long)

5 cloves

6 green cardamom pods (split)

1 teas cumin seeds

1 teas fennel seeds

½ teas nigella seeds

1 tbs flax/linseeds

 

Optional Topping

1 handful toasted cashews

1 handful fresh coriander leaves (roughly chopped) – we didn’t have any (soz)

Fried Pulao - Just add a few tomatoes

Fried Pulao – Just add a few tomatoes for a super simple lunch treat

Do It

In a large saucepan, with a good fitting lid, warm the oil on medium high heat and add the green peppers, fry them for a couple of minutes before adding the cumin and nigella seeds, stir for a minute and then add the rest of the spices and garlic, stirring all the time.  Cook these for a minute and then it’s time to pour in the rice and tomatoes.  Combine all the ingredients well and leave to warm through for yet another minute.

Pour over the stock and turn the heat up a little until the rice is vigorously boiling.  Now place a well fitting lid over the rice and turn the heat down to minimum.  Leave to steam away for 40-45 minutes (white rice, know off 10 minutes cooking time).

While the rice is cooking, grab a small frying pan and on medium heat, add the cashews and toast them gently.  Tossing them about, getting them nice and coloured.  Toasty.  Gorgeous.  Dark golden.

Once cooked, have a peak, the rice should be nice and fluffy.  With a fork, being careful not to scratch your nice, non-stick pan (if you are lucky enough to have one), gently tease and fluff the rice.  If you like added richness, you can add a drizzle of oil here and coat the rice.  It gives nice shine and richness and would be condone by most Indian cooks I know, although they would probably add a good knob of ghee.  Pop the lid on and leave to sit for a few minutes before serving.  The final, fragrant mingle……

Side/Main Dish (just add spoons)

Toasted Cashew and Green Pepper Pulao – Side/Main Dish (just add spoons)

Serve

Pulao is an occasion.  Mix in most of the cashews.  Warm a platter and pile it in the middle, this makes for a lovely centre piece for any Indian feast.  Or you can line some tea cups with cling film and spoon the pulao into them, packing it down quite well.  Turn the cups over, onto the plate you’re using for serving and gently lift off the cup.  This will leave you with a very neat and professional looking pile of rice.  Scatter with some freshly toasted cashews and a little fresh coriander.

Foodie Fact

All these spices are so very good for you.  At random let me pick cinnamon, a serious, serious anti-oxidants.  So much so, that it should be offered in all pharmacies across the country to treat and prevent things like colds.  Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help to stabilise insulin and hormones and can even help against heart disease.

Spices are our natural friends and the more spices you can add to your food, namely cook plenty of food from India or the Middle East, the healthier you will no doubt be.  Imagine the cumulative effects of eating decent amounts of cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves, cumin, coriander…………….you’ll live a healthy life until you’re 200 (with some decent karmic conditions along the way).

JUST ADD SPICEX

Jane in Norbulingka Palace, Dharamasala, India '15

Jane in Norbulingka Palace, Dharamasala, India ’15

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Recipes, Side Dish | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sweet Potato and Spinach Thoran (Keralan Stir Fry)

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Do not be put off by the long list of ingredients, this is Indian cooking in a flash! Thoran is like a South Indian stir fry, very quick to get together and whip up.  Its one of those dishes that easily slots into the ‘staples’ category of your recipe repertoire.   Small efforts are rewarded with massive and delightful flavours.  Definitely our way of doing things.

The ingredients for this have been adapted to Wales, a subtle change from steaming, tropical Kerala.  I’ve still gone for some non-native ingredients, pepper and sweet potato, but swede and parsnips just don’t seem to fit the bill (although I did use them for a soup – coming soon……)

Thoran is what the Indians would call a ‘dry’ side dish, normally served with a saucy curry (like Sambar) and rice, some coconut chutney would finish things off like a tropical Keralan dream.  Thoran is cooked especially well in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and this part of the world is a vegans heaven.  There are very few dishes which are reliant on ghee (clarified butter) that dominates the cooking of North India.  In the south its all about the coconut and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the odd cashew.  The food is lighter and seems fresher, without the reliance on uber rich, spicy sauces (which I might add are extremely delicious).

Thoran is an essential part of a Sadya, which is basically a very elaborate South Indian Thali, normally served on a banana leaf (if you’re in the right joint) at festival times.  Sadya showcases the depth and diversity of Indian cuisine, the way for centuries it has been designed and modified to tantalise all of the tastebuds and senses.  Sadya will have dry curries, saucy curries, fluffy rice, crispy papads (poppadoms), sour chutneys, creamy/ herb based chutneys, smokey chutneys, banana chips, spicy pickles and normally a tamarind based soup (Rasam) to aid digestion of all of this.  In fact, a full on Sadhya served at a big festival can consist of around 28 dishes (some even go up to 60!)  I would have to say that to get the most flavour from your Keralan food, it has to be eaten with (well washed) hands.  Roll up your sleeves and dive in.  A Sadya sounds like an elaborate feast but its actually quite a normal meal, inexpensive and versions of it are served in modest restaurants all over Kerala.  I think we normally paid around one pound for an all you can eat Sadya.  Yes ONE POUND for all that deliciousness!  Welcome to India!  The dishes all come out in a specific order and a nice gentleman will come over and just keep spooning things onto your welcoming leaf.  It is quite a complicated process, but when you’re the recipient, you just scoop away and smile.

Trying to help, learning loads.....

Trying to help, learning loads…..

I have just got back from the Mother land and while I was there stayed in some amazing homestays.  I spent the first six weeks travelling from Delhi to Kerala with my Dad (see out blog ‘The Jalebi Express‘) and then we met Jane in Delhi and Jane and I travelled the Himalayas and spent time with the Tibetans up in Mcleod Ganj. Homestays are not normal in India, they vary greatly, some are just like hotels although many hotels in India can soon become something like a homestay.  If you hang around for a while, you are bound to get to know all the people that work there.  More so than in other countries.  Even in the heart of Delhi, I now know all the people who work in my favourite hotels, restaurants, shops and chai stands.

Whilst travelling around the spectacular North of Kerala we stayed at Varnam Homestay, just outside Wayanad National Park.  There, I had the pleasure of cooking with Beena (our host) and her amazing team of lady helpers.  Wayanad is tucked away in the northern tip of Kerala and is a stunning area, the flora and fauna are dense and spectacular; wild elephants and tigers roam the land and the people are gentle and very hospitable.  The way of life hardly wavers above a gentle amble.  Beena and Varghese our gracious hosts were amazing and could not have made Dad and I more welcome.  When I mentioned my passion for food and cooking they immediately roped me in to helping out with the next days lunch and dinner prep.  I learnt so much and was amazed to see their chopping skills.  You pull a plastic sheath over your index finger and use it as a mid-air chopping board.  The knives are sharp and occasionally you end up cutting through the flimsy guard.  Once the blood is stemmed, you carry on with a new colourful finger guard.  This of course never happens to the ladies.

The Varnam ladies get busy

The Varnam ladies get busy

We prepared many dishes, but the Plantain Thoran was one of the highlights, cooked over a wood flame stove with minimal fuss.  We also made a Keralan classic sauce, with highly roasted coconut and ginger as a base.   A very unique flavour and something I will be cooking very soon (I forgot the name, it may be called Inchi Curry – see here for a recipe).  Once i find a good supply of coconuts up here, our kitchen is heading towards Kerala again.

Varnam Homestay was set in some impressive farmland and forests.  The little huts are raised on stilts to ensure the farmers have somewhere to go when a tiger wanders by

Varnam Homestay is set in some impressive farmland and forests. The little huts are raised on stilts to ensure the farmers have somewhere to go when a tiger wanders by

Varnam Homestay is set in acres of its own land and we were served only ingredients that grew on their land, that included the rice, coffee, all the sensational fruits and vegetables and even milk (they had a few cows roaming behind the kitchen).  The family were so friendly and warm, Dad and I stayed an extra two days, mainly exploring the locals hills and testing out the hammocks for comfort and durability.  They all seemed to work well.  We also saw a tigers footprint, which looked fresh, but I am no expert.  It sounds like I’m belittling the whole experience but the food was a highlight and to be served only homegrown, was a rare and highly tasty treat.  Another wonderful aspect was the other guests, not something you can say in every hotel. They were such a good bunch from all around the world, we ate together on a large table and during the delicious meals,  very quickly became friends.  I think eating is the best way to meet new people, we all relax over a good curry!

Varnam's Plantain Thoran

Varnam’s Plantain Thoran

Indian food is mind boggling at times and can be complex, but that’s why I like Thoran, its cheap and quick.  The other wonderful thing about a dish like Thoran is it is there to use up any seasonal produce.  In Kerala for example plantains are a regular ingredient, as well as bitter gourd, yucca, yardlong beans, giant arums, red cheera and several different types of flowers.  Even banana flowers make a mean Thoran.  In Britain, you can opt for potato, green beans, carrots, I’d even go for asparagus.

Thoran is quick to cook and so easy to get together

Thoran is quick to cook and so easy to get together

The Bits – For 4 (as a side dish)
2 tbs coconut oil
400g sweet potato – or 1 big one (peeled)
1 onion (peeled)
1 large red pepper (deseeded)
(all finely diced)
4 large handfuls spinach leaves
1 teas mustard seeds
1 teas cumin seeds
1 handful curry leaves
2 dried chillies (cut down the middle lengthways)
2 tbs grated ginger
1 tbs turmeric
75ml water

Finish with……
1 massive handful grated fresh coconut (or desiccated coconut will do)
1 large chilli (finely sliced)
1 handful fresh coriander (finely chopped)

Do It

Thoran cooks quickly, so best have all your ingredients to hand and prepared.  Stay with the pan for most of the cooking time, stirring gently with a non-metal spoon or spatula.  I love this kind of cooking, its exciting!

In a large, heavy frying pan, preferably with a chunky bottom, warm your coco oil on high heat.  Add the dried chillies, mustard seeds, when the seeds pop a little add the curry leaves.  Fry for a minute and then add your sweet potato, onion and peppers, stir.  After a couple of minutes, add the ginger and turmeric and a little water if things begin to stick to the bottom.  Fry for a couple of minutes and then scatter the spinach on top and cover the pan with a lid.  Lower the heat a touch, leave to cook for five minutes.

Check that the sweet potato is softened, then stir in the grated coconut, fresh coriander and chillies.  Reserving a little of these for a final flourish.

Serve 

Spoon into a preferably warm and striking serving dish and sprinkle on your ‘final flourish’ ingredients.  Munch with relish and dream  of swaying palms and endless rivers of mango juice.  Check out those vibrant flavours!!

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Thoran

Foodie Fact

Sweet potato is packed with beta-carotenes.  In fact it is one of natures best sources of Vitamin A.  They also boast plenty of vitamin C.  Although SP’s are a starchy root veg, they actually help to maintain and regulated our blood sugar levels, mainly due to their high levels of dietary fibre.

One of the local residents, who was friendlier than he looked

One of the local residents, who was friendlier than he looked

 

Categories: Curries, Healthy Eating, Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Pyramid Cafe Salad and Natural Healing

The Pyramid Salad - Rishikesh Classic

The Pyramid Salad – Rishikesh Classic

A crunchy Rishikesh classic, surely India’s first ever ‘superfood’ salad.  We love salads like this, no strong dressing, the glorious veggies do all the talking……..

This is a little like the Israeli Salad that we wrote about a few posts ago, but The Pyramid Salad has bells, whistles, trimmings and shavings.  This is the ultimate traveler salad in India.  You know that Jane and I love a bowl of crunchy veggie goodness and granted, in many parts of the world, salads may seem quite everyday.  But in India, when you’re on the bumpy, dusty road filled with spiced and deep fried delights, a bowl of salad becomes an sheer delight.  Especially when its sprinkled with gloriously green spirulina!  Indulge us…….

The Pyramid Cafe in Rishikesh is  traveler institution and has been for ages.  It’s one of the only places you used to be able to get a fresh and crisp salad, decent filter coffee and very good vibes (they play the Jungle Book theme tune sometimes at night, “It’s those bear necessities……!”)  It has changed alot recently, Lali and his family have been doing some building work, the pyramids are getting much higher, but the quality of the food remains awesome and fresh, fresh, fresh……  Also Lali and his family are still lovely hosts and their son Rahul, who I met six years ago and has changed from a young lad into a strapping fella, has taken over the running of the restaurant.

We always hike up the steep hill to the Pyramid Cafe, it has wonderful views of the turquoise Ganges and is a quiet little spot in the otherwise hectic Laxman Jhula area.  When this salad greets you, your body and palate become very excited.  You feel healthier just by being in its presence.  The Pyramid Cafe has always been a superbly healthy mecca for wellness, they sell; kombucha, organic spirulina, cacao beans, vanilla pods, silver collioidal and there menu used to double up as an alternative health bible.  Great reading when waiting for dinner.  Sleemy is the man behind the sparkling health approach.  Sleemy was born in Switzerland, but has been living in India for an age and rides around, from North to South, on his customised scooter, known as the ‘Chapatti Express’.  He is a living legend in the Indian travel scene and pops up when you least expect him in Gorkana, Goa or small villages in the high Himalayas.  He is full of wisdom like ‘The best medicine is the one that teaches you how not to need it’.

The bare necessities of life!

 

 

 

NATURAL HEALING

Sleemy has been a student of health for over 30 years and is an advocate of all forms of natural health; yoga, naturopathy, holistic medicines and ayurveda, check out his website here.  Sleemy is a font of information on acheiveing a state of sparkling well being and as he says, “I have built myself an iron cast immune system, and since 1975, I haven’t been ill at all, (not even a cold in winter), and I didn’t consult any doctor since then.”  Sleemy has even wrote an ace travelers health manual named “The Hitchhikers Guide to Medicine“.  It’s well worth a read.  

We also believe that getting ill is the final stages of a problem, not the beginning.  We must work at the roots of good health to prevent future illness, using a varied and radiant diet, healthy habits and regular exercise to prevent the growth and manifestation of illness both physical and mental.  Positive thinking is also a must, laughing alot is very important (as are hugs) along with a basic idea of nutrition.    We also believe that breathing is highly underrated.  Breathing well, deeply and slowly, is a sure fire way decreasing stress and enlivening our body with huge amounts of good energy.  Breathing is our number one way of absorbing pure energy, much more immediate than the food we consume.  Love is also imperative.  Self love and loving relations with relatives, friends, neighbours, work colleagues etcetc.  Wherever possible, love is the answer (and its always possible!x)

Jane and I overlooking the jade green Ganga

Jane and I overlooking the jade green Ganga

Until just a few years ago, salads in India were like playing digestive roulette. Now things are much better, many places wash raw veggies in filtered water, but a few can still lead to upsets. The Pyramid has always known the score and has always been a safe haven for going raw.  They also happen to whip up the finest falafels in the sub continent.

Bright red carrots!!!!!  Please do not be unduly alarmed, carrots in India are dark red, almost crimson in colour.  This is very normal.  Use your preferred/ local shade of carrot in this recipe.  Remember that organic, local carrots, will have loads more nutrition than anything industrially grown.  We have just read some shocking facts about the dearth of nutrition in most non-organic veggies.  Minerals and other nutrients can be as much as 2/3 lower in veggies grown using artificial fertilizer and in depleted soils.

I have guessed what goes into this mythical creation, to be fair, it was not that hard, but worthy.  This salad has enriched many an aspiring yogi and wayward wanderer, finding their way up into the free and liberating spaces of the beautiful Himalayan wilderness.

The Pyramid Cafe also for the best falafels in India

The Pyramid Cafe also for the best falafels in India, brilliantly served in edible bowls (cabbage leaves)

 

The Bits – For 4

2 good sized carrot (grated with a grater, also grate roughly six long slices per person with a potato peeler for presentation – see the photo)

1/2 small white cabbage (grated or very finely sliced)

1/2 small red onion (not a strong one, very finely sliced)

1 little gem lettuce (finely sliced)

3 radishes or 6 inches mooli (grated)

3 tomatoes (finely chopped)

2 big handfuls crunchy sprouts (brown lentils used here)

1 handful alfalfa sprouts

 

Serve

Small bowls of tamari (or good soya sauce), wedges of lime and unrefined oil of your choice

Topped with more sprouts, a hearty sprinkle of spirulina/ wheatgrass/ barley grass.

In India, it would not be unheard of to sprinkle over some dried chilli flakes to perk things up a bit.

Also pleasant with:

Slices of Brown Bread or Wholewheat Chapattis

 

Do It

Beautifully simple.  Combine all in a bowl, toss gently.  Pile up into the centre of  plate, pyramid style.  Lay a few of your carrot shavings over your pyramid of intense delight and sprinkle with sprouts and green powdered joy.

 

Serve

Warm the bread a little and enjoy.

The Pyramid Cafe Superfood Salad

The Pyramid Cafe ‘Superfood’ Salad – pure eye candy for the sabji weary traveller

Foodie Fact

Spirulina is a highly nutritious green/ blue algae that has been eaten by humans for millenia.  It is a great friend of the BHK and is something we eat regularly, especially when we are on the road.  It means that we are getting a concentrated health boost every morning and start the day in the most brilliant way.

Spirulina is made of 60-70% protein and is a great source of amino acids and also has good levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, folic acid, niacin, vitamin B, caroteniods and iron.  Of course, being so beautifully green, it also contains bags of chlorophyll which has many benefits, including aiding our chemical reactions creating protein, vitamins and sugars.

For more info, check out the post we wrote about Spirulina.

Our favoutire chai spot between Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula (closed unfortunately)

Our favoutire chai spot between Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula (closed unfortunately)

Categories: Healing foods, Healthy Living, Recipes, Salads, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happiness is the highest form of health – The Dalai Lama

No matter how many kale smoothies we drink, no matter how much we avoid processed sugar or potatoes, “happiness is the highest form of health.”  I found this little quote put much of our current eating habits into focus.  Enjoy your food, whatever you’re cooking or eating!  A healthy, content and happy mind inevitably leads to a healthier body.

Happy gardener, happy cook, happy food, happy eater.

Jane and I are up in Mcleod Ganj, India, at the moment, spending time with the Tibetan Community in exile.  Read more about our antics here.  If you like this quote, we post regular things like this on our Facebook page.

Chagpo Nang (take care)……

Long life to the Dalai Lama!

FREE TIBET

Categories: Friends of B.H.K, Healthy Living, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

Monkey Munch Porridge

Monkey Munch Porridge

Here we have our Himalayan retreat breakfast of choice; filling, warming and packed with monkey flavas!!!  There are monkeys galore up here in Kasar Devi (Uttarakand) and they bother our banana stash daily.  We are looking out towards Nanda Devi (India’s highest mountain) and the giant massif’s of the Great Himalayas.  Spring is just about settling in, meaning chilly nights and generally bright and warm days.  Clouds have obscured the mountains most days, but even the most occasional of glimpses, is more than enough.  We have hired small red brick cottage with a simple kitchen from a lovely local family. The cottage has quickly become a home away from home and we have been doing a little cooking and plenty of tea making.

Monkeys flock around our little garden, the mischievous macak variety, desperate to liberate you of any stray snacks that may be lurking around half opened windows and doors. There are also flocks of little and large birds, woodpeckers, small owls, vultures and eagles soar regularly overhead and a three local leopards pay regular visits to the village. They make a sound like sawing wood, an excited pant.  This makes the evening trip to the outdoor toilet a bracing affair.

Dawn raider, banana botherer, meddling Macak, monkey brotherx

Dawn raider, banana botherer, meddling Macak, monkey brotherx

We have found a slice of beauty, a place where many hippies used to flock; folk like Herman Hesse, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, to name a few, have graced this thin ridge in the 60’s and bar a few houses, not much has changed really.  There are a couple of restaurants (the Rainbow Restaurant especially is brilliant, Hari makes the best pasta in India!) and a little cafe known as ‘Baba Cake‘ which is set in a corrugated metal shed and serves awesome South Indian coffee, local organic herbal infusions and lip smacking Indian nibbles.

We have met many like minded folk in this secluded corner and the local people are all exceptionally warm and full of smiles.  Five days has just not been enough, but we have had time to do plenty of thinking and dreaming, way up here in the clouds and rare airs there is little else to occupy time.

It has been wonderful to take control over our diets again, and porridge, of course, plays a major role. We are British after all!  We picked up a 2kg bag in Delhi of these precious grains and carted them all the way up here to find that a small local shop sells crates of healthy muesli and porridge oats. Who knew? All the way up here, close to the wild expanses of Nepal there would be such good western breakfast options!

One morning, watching the monkeys reek havoc on the neighbours in their own immutably comical way, I thought I’d dedicate a dish to them and stick as many of their favourite foods in it. The ones they like to pinch anyway (a monkey once stole the banana out of my sandwich one morning in Rishikesh!)

Outside the legendary Baba Cake

Outside the legendary Baba Cake

We would add a handful of flax/linseeds to this at home, but they are hard to come by here. Roasted peanuts are better because the taste is more intense and you can finish is off with coconut flakes or desiccated coconuts if you have some handy. We used green raisins here, but any tasty raisin will do.  For richness and even greater nutritional pizazz, why not try a heaped teaspoon of coconut oil, stirred in just before serving.  This is India, the cardamom is essential!  Like many of the spices used in classic Indian cuisine, cardamom is not just a fragrant delight, but actually acts as medicine for the body; giving it a huge boost, especially needed in the morning.  People over here actually chew cardamom pods, they are an acquired taste to most, but act as a super charged breath freshener and have been known to help smokers quit.  Everytime you fancy a ciggy, pop in a pod instead.  We even like to pop the crushed, black seeds into a pot of tea to jazz things up a little.  So please chew your cardamom pods with gusto, don’t spit them out!

The Bits – For 2

Let’s keep it simple, handfuls only here

5 big handfuls porridge oats

2 big, ripe bananas (mashed with a fork)

1/2 tin coconut milk (or 200 ml non-dairy milk of choice)

4-6 green cardamom cloves (crushed a little, until cracked, in a pestle and mortar)

2 big handfuls roasted peanuts

1 big handful green raisins (or normal ones will do)

Sweetener of your choice (nothing white or processed please!)

 

Topping 

Roughly 1/2 handful of grated coconut, more bananas, raisins and peanuts

(sprinkled over both bowls for an extra special touch)

 

Do It

Check which porridge oats you’re using and cook accordingly, as per the packet.  It doesn’t really matter which ones you use, this monkey madness will be a delight.  Take it easy, rushing porridge leads to a stick pan bottom, a gentle simmer is good.

Add all the ingredients to the pan, cover the oats with around 1 1/2 inches of water and bring to a slow and gentle simmer, stirring regularly.  Add more hot water to get your desired consistency, we like it thick and yet pourable.  Not too gluey sticky.  In less than ten minutes, you’ll have a yummy breakfast.

Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

Our cottage it tucked away in there somewhere.  Behind the tree!!!!

Serve

Piping hot, straight from the pan (using a spatula or something like it, to scrape out all that porridge goodness).  Sprinkle over your toppings and munch way like happymonkeys!

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Himalayan Monkey Munch Porridge

 

Foodie Fact

Why Cardamom is a must! 

Cardamom (or Elaichi) is native to Southern India and is well regarded for its medicinal properties, especially in the Indian holistic system of Ayurveda.  There are such a huge list, I’ll summarise.  Cardamom has many anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.  They contain a long list of volatile essential oils and help greatly with digestion.  They are a good source of minerals like manganese, iron and potassium, as well as copper.  They are also high in vitamin C and riboflavin.  A true gift from nature.

Jane taking in some rays outside the cottage - Kasar Devi

Jane taking in some rays outside the cottage – Kasar Devi

 

Categories: Ayurveda, Breakfast, Dairy/ Lactose Free, Nutrition, Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Taste of Goan Cuisine and Papaya Paradise

 

Papaya Paradise - Papaya, cashews and a drop of coconut milk.  A fruity delight.

Papaya Paradise – Papaya, cashews and a drop of coconut milk. A tropical tickle.

Paradise for me involves papaya, cashews and coconut. Maybe a beach and a few palm trees lolling in the background. Put all those in a bowl (minus the salt water, sand and chewy leaves) you are approaching my idea of a fruit-based nirvana.  We are in Goa and all of these things are plentiful, there are stalls that enforce coconuts on you with each passing, men gifting papayas to you on a regular basis and cashews, the size of small curved chipolatas, are sold for peanuts.  Also, it is not mango season in India, so there is no fruity conflict for me, the papaya reigns supreme.

Peter (the wonderful man who looks after the apartment we are staying in) gifted us the largest and ripest papaya I have ever clapped eyes on yesterday. Carving it is something like hollowing out a canoe from a large orange tree trunk. Peter obviously has a secret local supplier, I’ve never seen a papaya like this is the stalls by the side of the road. It would take up half the stall!

I am not sure if you’re going to be able to get a decent papaya in Europe and beyond. Maybe try a Caribbean or Asian shop, you know the one, the Aladdin’s cave of interesting ingredients from all corners of the world. The little space that transports you to Africa, Jamaica, Thailand and Pakistan just by the power of the brands they stock, the occasional aroma and random, unknown, packet of semi-illicit looking spice that just has to be experimented with.

Se Cathedral - the largest cathedral in Asia (with the largest bell also)

Se Cathedral – dedicated to Saint Catherine, the largest cathedral in Asia (with the largest bell also)

Goa is a magical land, totally different from the rest of India, the cuisine is very interesting, a mixture of many things, Indian and Portugese especially. Each dish changes from region to region and this is not a huge state by Indian standards.
I have been reticent to cook much in the apartment, not wanting to stock up on loads of spices and ingredients, we are only here a short time and whenever I travel I always end up with kilos of half used packets and sachets lurking in the depths of my backpack. This time, I’m trying not to waste a thing.

Tonight I will try something like a Goan Curry, which normally has a good tang to it, created by adding toddy vinegar or tamarind. Adding vinegar to food was the main influence of the Portugese who were here for hundreds of years, in fact, Vasco de Gama landed in 1498 and they hung around until well into the 17th century.  Old Goa had population larger than Lisbon or London at that time. The Portugese also brought some other quite important staples across the waves; namely, chilies and potato, along with some very common spices, especially nutmeg, which the Goans love to use liberally in savoury dishes.  The Portugese also influenced the Goan desserts, many resemble the flans and tortas of the Iberian Peninsula.  Most of our local friends, living around the apartment have Portugese ancestory and could actually emigrate to Portugal if they wished. Interestingly, most of them have the last name ‘De Souza’, there are a few ‘Courtinho’s’, ‘Perrera’s’ and so on.

Dad does an Abbey Road Impression - in front of the Bom Jesus Cathedral, Old Goa

Dad does an Abbey Road Impression – in front of the Bom Jesus Cathedral, Old Goa (‘Bom’ means ‘good’ in Portugese.

Goa is mainly divided between Christian and Hindu (with a small population of Muslims), they have lived in harmony since the beginning and even share some festival days. Religious background affects the way that dishes are prepared, one Xacutti or Kodi will differ greatly depending on the faith involved. Goan cuisine is incredibly traditional and diverse, awe inspiring really. I have never tasted anything like the Vegetable Xacutti I had yesterday in the excellent ‘Viva Panjim!’. A restaurant tucked down a side alley in a sedate quarter of the capital city, Panjim. ‘Viva Panjim!’ is located in the old Fountainhas area of the city, with many colonial looking buildings forming small quiet alleyways and nooks. In this place you can really see what things would have looked like under Portugese rule. My Xacutti involved alot of roasted coconut and was heavy on the warming spices, especially cinnamon and clove, there was definitely some kind of nutmeg/ mace going on in there as well . Dad opted for a Kingfish Goan Curry (like a ‘Vindalau’ – as they call it here), which has a vibrantly red coloured sauce which contained; Kashmiri chillies, tamarind, lots of onions and garlic, cumin seeds and tomatoes. It looked sensational. All of this served in an old colonial home with slow fans and hand carved furniture. The owner Madam Linda D’Souza sat at a desk overseeing things and when we showed an interest in the cuisine, how it was prepared (I was digging for a recipe or two of course) she gifted us a beautiful cook book, packed with the history of Goan culture and very personalised recipes from local home cooks and chefs.  There are even diagrams of how to climb a coconut tree and work a rice paddy.

In 'Viva Pajim!' one of our finest dining experiences to date

In ‘Viva Pajim!’ one of our finest dining experiences to date

Goa has no end of old school hippy joints that sell homemade tofu or seitan, pancakes, vegan cakes etc which was fine for a couple of meals (Bean Me Up, Blue Tao, Whole Bean Cafe and the legendary German Bakery were particular favourites) but we are now definitely in the hunt for more Goan delicacies. The only problem is we’ll have to leave the beaches and head inland, to the small towns to find the real deal. It seems that travelers/ tourists are not really into the local wonders. Which is a real shame. We have been invited by two real old school gents, Patrick and Peter (who run a tiny bar beneath our place) to their home for a home cooked (vegan!) dinner on Sunday. Something we are both very excited about. Will keep you posted.

Vegetable Xacuti, Fried Aubergine Chips and Dad's Goan Fish Curry

Vegetable Xacuti, Fried Aubergine Chips and Dad’s Goan Fish Curry

Categories: Curries, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tribal Vegans of the Bishnoi Villages, Near Jodphur – 20th January 2015

I’ve been writing a travel blog about my Dad and I’s journey around India, ‘The Jalebi Express’.  We visited some tribal vegans recently, wonderful peace-loving people living in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan.  I hope you enjoy the article!

The Tribal Vegans of the Bishnoi Villages, Near Jodphur – 20th January 2015.

Grinding millet into flour

Categories: Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Sepen (Spicy Tibetan Dipping Sauce) and the Nightshade Fairy

Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Tibet in a bowl!  I have never been to Tibet as such, but I’ve been close on a number of occasions, visiting various Tibetan regions of Northern India.  Tibetan culture is alive and well in India (unfortunately the same cannot be said of Tibetan culture in Tibet, but thats a whole different blog. post.  See here for more details regarding the present state of affairs in Tibet).  Once, on a hike in Himachal Pradesh (North West India) I thought I’d made it across the border when a Indian army fella popped out from behind a boulder with an AK-47 and politely asked me to turn around and don’t look back.  Shame, it was the absolute middle of nowhere!  Tibet looked like a majestic place, all icy peaks and vistas to take the breath away and inspire sheer awe..

Tibetan Monks, Tawang Monastery - March '14

Tibetan Monks, Tawang Monastery – March ’14

VEGGIE TIBETAN DELICACIES 

The food in Tibet is designed to fuel some of the worlds most hardy folk, many of them nomads.  Living at very high altitudes, with extreme temperatures and very little water, most Tibetans are rock solid folk and they need alot of sustenance.  Salted yak butter tea is one way of getting fat and energy into the body, but we would definitely not recommend it as a tasty beverage.  I normally opt for soemthing like Jasmin tea and Green tea is also common.

Tsampa is normal fare for breakfast, basically roast barley gruel (which grows well up there in the rare airs and windswept plains), sweetened or salty and we like to add banana to it for a luxury version.  Tsampa is lovely and reminds me of a very nutritious and fortifying ‘Ready Brek’ (a British brand of thin porridge that most kids were rasied on in the ’80’s).  ‘Balep’ is a light, spongy and chewy bread that is excellent dipped in a cup of hot tea on a crisp mountain morn.  ‘Tingmo’ is a light, dimsun like bun that is popular as a snack and can sometimes be found by the side of village and town streets, served straight from the steamer.  A welcome sight on wet and chilly day (seemingly very common in most of the Tibetan areas in India).

Noodles are an ever present and are made into something resembling what we’d call ‘Chow Mein’, sometimes with a broth, sometimes with bags of oil.  Basically different sizes and styles of quite bland noodles.  They normally call it Chow Chow, or they did in Arunachal Pradesh anyway.  ‘Thentuk’ is like a soft tagiliatelle noodle in broth which I find the most appetising way of noodling in Tibetan parts.  ‘Thukpa’ is another shape of noodle.  Seasonal vegetables are an ever present in these dishes and you normally get a good amount of greens mixed in.  The humble cabbage is well loved and creeps into most dishes.  Fermented bamboo shoots are very popular and add a wonderful flavour contrast to meals with a very, very funky smell indeed.

Our handmade noodle dish in Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh.

Our handmade noodle dish in Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh.

We hand made noodles whilst up in Menchuka village, Arunachal Pradesh (the north east corner of India, sandwiched between Bangladesh, Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar).  We were staying with a lady named ‘Nana’ and she cooked us local specialities every night.  These noodles were made as a second course, eaten after momos.  The stock used was the water left after steaming the momos, she added some local vegetables (grown in the garden) and greens to the stock and let it simmer for a while and there it was, a gorgeous bowl of broth-y noodles, one of my favourite foods.  Definitely what we’d call a ‘bowlful of soul’.  I like the way Nana used the steaming water from the momo cooking, this type of cooking trick makes me very happy, it always seems that more traditional cooking techniques are far less wasteful than modern and the zero waste policy is something that we try and put into practice in the BHK.  The beloved family Mithun (a cross between a buffalo and a cow, only found in A.P.) ate the vegetable scraps and seemed very happy with them.

Wild Mithun

Mithun (when a cow merges with a buffalo)

Tibetans love cheese and make many varieties, normally using Yak milk.  Dried yak cheese looks alot like parmesan and certainly smells like it.  They also make fantastic little pastry parcels (like a British pasty) which I normally avoid as they’re stuffed with meat, like beef, or cheese. They do look delicious though.

Tibetans love a tipple and normally afterwards, a little boogie.  Chang (not the terrible Thai lager) is a barley beer drank in most households and distilled grain alcohol, called Ara, is something resembling rocket fuel that gets you there very quickly, especially when huddled around a blazing fire.  Falling over and dancing like a happy loon is quite common in Tibet (or maybe that’s just me!)

Being a vegan/ vegetarian couple, we find travelling around Tibetan regions quite easy, there are always plenty of vegetable based options to be had.  The ‘usual suspects’ on menu’s (mentioned above) can become a little repetitive, especially when compared to the fabulous diversity of food in the plains of India.

Probably the most ubiquitous of Tibetan foods is the mighty Momo (see here for our post on these bite size pockets of supreme tastiness) and Sepen, or something similar, is the sauce you will find on most Tibetan tables.  Momos are normally quite bland and need some jazzing up and this Sepen is the John Coltrane of condiments.

Menchuka high street, Arunachal Pradesh - March '14

Menchuka high street, Arunachal Pradesh – March ’14

This bowl of bright red wonderment is destined to accompany the MOMOS, but it also makes an awesome sauce to stir into noodles and can be used as a spicy little dip when canapes and nibbles are on the horizon.  You can use it like any Indian style sauce, stirring it into freshly roasted vegetables is a thing of extreme tastiness.  Its a good all rounder and one of our favourite things at the moment (even better than turmeric milk.  Yes, that good!)

This is pretty much the exact same sauce as you get in little momo shacks all the way across the Himalayas and to eat it in the Beach House Kitchen (North Wales) is quite a tastebud twister.  We have just recently been sorting our way through the local tomato bombardment, no not La Tomatina (that festival in Spain where they all lob tomatoes at each other), no, this is more like massive boxes of local tomatoes landing on our doorstep (twas the nightshade fairy we’re told!!)  We have been trying to figure out what on earth to do with the big old tom glut and sauces like this are perfect.  Ideal frozen (leave out the fresh coriander until you re-heat) we are amassing little red bags of sauces and chutneys all over our freezer.  Of course, Sepen is by far the finest, thats why we’re sharing it with you guys.

The work of the nightshade fairies (aka John and Pippa and their amazing farm in Bethel)

The work of the nightshade fairies (aka John and Pippa and their amazing farm in Bethel)

Make a big bowlful:

The Bits

1 tbsp oil
2 tsp 
crushed garlic
2 tsp
 crushed ginger
¼ tsp
 fenugreek seeds
1 
dried red chilli (finely chopped) or 1/8 teas chilli flakes – to taste
500g ripe tomatoes
½ cup
 fresh coriander (chopped)

Sepen in the pot

Sepen in the pot

Do It

Gently fry the garlic and ginger in the oil over a medium low heat, taking care not to burn. After a couple of minutes add the fenugreek seeds and the chilli and stir until the fenugreek starts to turn a darker shade of gold.  Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then blitz up in a food processer with the fresh coriander until smooth.

Serve

You can have this sauce warm or cold, both are very tasty.  Like most sauces/ stews, it does get better with age.  We’d recommend an evening of chilling in a fridge, to mingle and merge the beautiful flavours.

Couple of our mates from Arunachal

Couple of our mates from Arunachal

Foodie Fact

We love our tomatoes and we love our raw food, but the two don’t exactly mix.  Tomatoes are one of the only fruits/ vegetables that benefit nutritionally from a little warmth.  Cooking tomatoes stimulates the lycopene (a phtyo chemical found in the red pigment of tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables) content, but does reduce the vitamin C content.  For example, lycopene content in tomato paste is four times higher than that of raw tomatoes.  Its a balancing act, I imagine warm tomatoes are the way forward; not totally raw, not totally roasted.

Lycopene has been shown in tests to reduce the risk of cancer, but like most nutritional research, the evidence is debatable.   Tomatoes are good for you, eat them by the barrel-full (if you’re not allergic to nightshades that is!)  That’s the B.H.K’s advice.

Categories: Sauces, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tibetan ‘Magic Herb’ Momos

 

Momos a la GayBoo Homestay.  Made bt the magnicficent Nana and Gemma in Menchuka Village

Momos a la GayBoo Homestay. Made bt the magnicficent Nana and Gemma in Menchuka Village

Menchuka, or ‘healing-ice-water’, is a small village in a remote valley close to the Tibetan border of Arunachal Pradesh, Norteastern India.   Menchuka has a real outpost feel and is inhabited by the Memba, Ramo, Bokar and Libo tribes.  A.P. is one of the most stunningly beautiful, tribally diverse and ‘off the beaten track’ regions we’ve ever visited. Its a tough place to travel around, good old fashion slog with rickety jeeps and random time tables (most leave at 5am).  Arunachal Pradesh is very rich in culture, which normally means rich in food tradition and it didn’t let us down.  We ate alot of Momo’s stuffed with all sorts of wonderful bits (normally cabbage based) but this little recipe by Nana really blew our taste buds away.  We made Momo’s or noodles together most nights and it became the highlight of the day.

Because it’s a stone’s throw from Tibet, Menchuka is an expression of what India stands for, which is surely the most fabulous melting pot of humanity, religion and traditions.  Surrounded by endless ancient forests, where tigers roam freely and with a stunning backdrop of the high Himalayan snowy peaks, it is an untamed wild-land where we felt on top of the world (in more ways that one, its sits at over 6000 feet!).  The land is extremely verdant, with seemingly endless virgin landscapes stretching over countless valleys and breathtaking waterfalls.  Transport is tough, small jeeps playing terrible pop music cling to the craggy and pot-hole ridden roads/ trails and the pace of life slows right down, sometimes to a halt.

Some people say that Menchuka is the fabled ‘Shangri-La’ but it was normally raining and cloudy when we were there, this is picture is taken from Wikipedia (we’ve been to this exact spot, but couldn’t even see the village below due to cloud cover).

Menchuka is the end of the road and it took three days travel just to pass through Menchuka Valley from the nearest large town named, Along.  Each valley and turn seemed to unearth a totally different tribal culture; with differing techniques for hut construction, cultivating the land and keeping livestock, worshipping nature and dressing in a usually flamboyant and vibrant fashion.  Some of our best memories revolve around the nightly fire in Gayboo’s Homestay with all sorts of rosy cheeked local characters; hitching tractor lifts along muddy roads with friendly locals (crammed in with the lumber!), searching for isolated Tibetan Monasteries and Monks in the misty pine forests, navigating our way around the local army base with the massive runway construction project underway, slurping chow chow noodles (think a greasy chow mein) with mugs of restorative hot water in local eateries and crossing wide white rivers on long and creaking rope bridges… we had a ball!

Crossing creaky rope bridges......near Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh

Crossing creaky rope bridges……near Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh

What made it extra special was finding Gayboo’s homestay; a small group of log cabins in the middle of the village. The only warm place was beside the communal family fire, where we dried out with a mug of hot tea after yet another damp and chilly hike.  Gayboo, and his wife Nana, made us feel like we were wrapped up in a warm blanket in our little sanctuary home in the mountains.

Our sweet and very kind hosts welcomed us with open hearts and bright smiles. They told us the tales of their lives, showed us photographs of carpets of Spring time wild flowers blooming in secret places, and made us all sorts of Memba (their tribe) specialties.

They also taught us the art of making  Tibetan Momos, their speciality dish, served with a tasty chilli herb dip, made from a recipe passed down to them from generation to generation.  These momos are really special, the real deal. Of Nana’s three techniques to wrap them I liked the so called ‘pinch-pull’ method which gave the Momo a classic British Pastie look.  There was also the ‘twist’ and the ‘crimp’, favoured by Nana’s daughter Gemma, which admittedly sounds like something out of the Mighty Boosh, but all will be revealed….…

Jane and Nana gettign warm pre-momo 'fest.

Jane and Nana gettign warm pre-momo ‘fest.

The ‘Magic Herb’ mentioned in the title was intriguing at first, but turned out to be something very much like a whole Szchechuan peppercorn, which was bashed up and added to the mix.  A process we have repeated in Wales to a very nice effect.  The family gave Lee a whole peppercorn to chew on with comical, gurning results.  We would recommend going easy on them in their raw state!!!

The Bits – for 4 (makes about 16 momos – more if your dough rolling skills are good and thin)

Momo Filling
600g boiled potato (peeled and diced)
200g broccoli (grated)
1 medium onion (grated)
½ tsp chilli powder
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 inch ginger (crushed)
½ tsp salt
1 teaspoon oil
100g chard or kale (very finely chopped)
¼ teaspoon Szechuan pepper (to taste – you have been warned!!)

Momo Dough
2 cups white unbleached flour
½ – ¾ cup of water (depends on the type of flour)
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp oil

The Tibetan 'Cornish Pastie'

The Tibetan ‘Cornish Pastie’

Do It

Get the potatoes straight into a pan of salted boiling water and cook until they go soft and mashable.

While the potatoes are boiling, slowly and gently fry the rest of the filling ingredients in the oil over a low/medium heat so that they turn nice and soft. Take them off the heat before they go brown.

Mash up the potato when it is cooked, then add the fried ingredients. Give the mixture a good stir, seasoning it just as you like it.  Leave to cool for a good hour until at room temperature.

Whilst the mixture is cooling down, make the dough. For this, mix the flour, salt and oil in a bowl and add water gradually until the texture is smooth and the dough is stretchy. Knead the douhg for a minute and then stick it in the fridge to chill.

Then roll out the dough into a big circle and use a standard sized mug or scone cutter to cut it into smaller discs.  The size doesn’t really matter, just not too massive.  Then get creative with your folding styles!  The ‘crimp’ looks like a little semi-circle, the ‘push-pinch’ looks like a Cornish pasty and the ‘twist’ ends up looking like a little ‘dimsun’ style ball with a twisty top. Lee is the ‘crimp’ king, I’m partial to a ‘push-pinch’. See the pictures for a reasonable idea about what we are getting at.

There may be some filling left over at the end if the dough is a little too thickly rolled (they will still taste lovely though, so no worries!). This filling is so delicious you can just make leftovers into little patties the next day, or just snack on it while you are rolling.  If you are Tibetan and an expert then you’ll probably end up with too much dough!  Nana’s Momos were very thin, but we are just beginner Momo-makers.  We had a little filling left over at the end of our rolling session.

Momo's steaming on an open fire....

Momos steaming on an open fire…….Gayboo’s Homestay, Menchuka

Top Tip – if you try and put too much mixture in each momo it splurges out of the end…..!

These tasty little critters can steamed or shallow fried.  We steamed ours, so lightly oil both the steamer and the Momos so that they don’t stick to each other creating a giant inseparable momo blob. They take about 10-12 minutes to cook through on a decent steam and when they are done there is no stickiness to the dough any more, and the filling is piping hot through.

Serve

We quickly and simply pan fried bok choi, courgettes, tamari and ginger to make the perfect veggie accompaniment; eating our fresh Momos near a picture of the Dalai Lama with our minds all Himalayan.  We always serve Momo’s with ‘Senchen’, a Tibetan dipping sauce.  We’ll dig out the recipe and post it soon.

Traditional Menchuka Momos and a good read

Traditional Menchuka Momos and a good read

Foodie Fact

Fenugreek is a fascinating plant – even the ancient Egyptians understood the benefits of fenugreek – it’s seeds were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb!

The health benefits of fenugreek include relief from anemia, loss of taste, fever, dandruff, stomach disorders, biliousness, respiratory disorders, mouth ulcers, sore throat, diabetes, inflammations, wounds and insomnia. What a plant!

Slow moving traffic, waterfall meets road in Arunachal Pradesh.

Slow moving traffic, waterfall meets road in Arunachal Pradesh.

Wishing you all happy momo-rolling times. There are few things as satisfying as munching fresh Momos slowly as you’re rolling more of the delicious beasts!!!!!  It is a highly relaxing way to spend an evening away.

Om Mani Padme HumX

Categories: Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Jane’s Homemade Kefir (otherwise known as ‘Bob’)

 

 

The now legendary (and high maintenance spore), 'Kefir Bob'

The now legendary (and surely one of the highest maintenance bacteria/yeast), Mr ‘Kefir Bob’

The Beach House Kitchen has evolved into a vegan food corner, but Jane still loves the Kefir, read on to find out exactly why:

I didn’t know an awful lot about Kefir the wonder-culture, until the day I wandered into Solitude farm, Auroville, India, where a fantastically interesting woman, ecologist and shining light called Aline happened to be volunteering. Seldom found without a hose pipe in one hand (watering her lovely herb garden at the farm), and her jar of kefir yoghurt in the other, she always had a great big grin on her face.

Lovely Aline in her garden  at Solitude Farm, Auroville

Lovely Aline in her garden at Solitude Farm, Auroville

The Origins of ‘Bob’

Aline joyfully travels around the world volunteering at organic farming organisations with an abundance of enthusiasm and her yoghurty-culture in her bag. She is a self-taught kefir ambassador for the world, gladly (and with genuine enthusiasm) educating everyone with her big brain full of knowledge about the clever little bacteria/yeasties. Her particular kefir originated from her friend in Scotland, and since then it has probably become the most travelled bacterial-fungal culture ever. It has flown half the way round the world to several continents, on aeroplanes, trains, and buses, enjoying many a chilled nights’ rest from the tropical madness in numerous hotel fridges…. Most importantly it survived being thrown into the bin every single day (luckily in it’s jam jar and milk bath) by a well-meaning old man who’s daily routine included clearing out ‘off stuff’ from the communal fridge at Solitude farm. Believe it or not, Bob (the Kefir) was mistakenly confused with off-cheese. Poor Bob.

So you can imagine my delight when one day, over vegan chocolate ice cream to die for, Aline offered to give me some grains of Bob to take on my very own special kefir journey! Knowing nothing about how to look after my new friend, and with no time to get ‘kefir lessons’ from Aline before Lee and I departed Auroville, I was suddenly on the road with a fizzing gassing jar of little cottage cheesy looking lumps, demanding milk on a regular basis and semi exploding in 30 degree heat.

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Assamese New Year – Getting a ceremonial orchid woven into my hair live on local TV (as you do!)

Bob on tour

The first destination on our travels was Assam which happened to be boiling hot and we stayed at a place with no fridge and milk was in short supply. Feeling a little out of my depth and concerned that I was going to kill off my little lumps of Bob before the journey had even started, I went on a long and protracted hunt for dairy (milk is pronounced ‘dood’ in Assam), and a fine tea strainer which I found in Pondicherry for 8 rupees. Thankfully Bob was kept alive on UHT dood for most of the remainder of the trip, and as we travelled further North into the colder regions of Arunachal Pradesh, Bob relaxed and took it easy in his jar (more often than not carried around in my handbag in the back of bumpy jeeps and on crazy buses). He grew slowly in his ultra-heat-treated milky bath and we became good travel companions. Sometimes he went a bit cheesy though, but I drank most of the yoghurt that he produced and despite tasting sometimes pretty extreme it always settled in my stomach fine and I actually did feel the benefits of having a stomach supporting drink with the highly spicy diet.

Now we have been back in the beach house for a few months I am happy to say that Bob survived the Delhi heat and flight home. He is still with us, thriving fine and dandy. Kefir is pretty much the only non-vegan thing I eat now, and I am determined to start experimenting with it to see if I can make yoghurt out of soy, cashew milk and coconut milk too – yum!

How to make Kefir?

The culture prefers being in a glass jar rather than plastic. My mother-culture lives in the fridge in an old glass jam jars, because old jam jars clean out great with no smell. It’s really easy to make the yoghurt. Spoon a teaspoon of culture into a ramekin, and fill with milk, and stir. Leave out of the fridge in a warm place to ferment for a day, then put back in the fridge after straining the lumps out (re-use the lumps straight in the next batch). Eating a tablespoon of yoghurt with or after eating meals is enough to give the digestive system a boost. When the kefir ‘grains’ grow and multiply you can then give them away to friends and family to start their own culture…. I can’t think of a more fabulous pressie!

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Big question: ‘How do you make ‘Bob’ presentable for a photo?’ Answer: ‘You don’t’! He may be ugly, but he’s effective!!!

Why eat Kefir in the first place?

Originating from the Caucasus mountains in the former Soviet Union, it is a fermented drink, loaded with nutritional benefits. The yeast and bacteria kefir grains (they look a little like cauliflower) ferment the milk, using up most of the lactose making a slightly sour yoghurt filled with friendly bacteria – it is one of the most potent forms of probiotic. Regularly eaten it helps to clean the intestines, maintain a good balance of stomach bacteria, promotes a healthy immune system, as well as being an abundant source of vitamins (B12, B1 and Vitamin K and Biotin), minerals (calcium and magnesium) and essential amino acids. It even balances the nervous system (thanks to the tryptophan).

Kefir has also been used to help patients suffering from AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, and cancer, and has benefited many who suffer from sleep disorders, depression, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)! It reminds me of Spirulina in a way – these little critters are so good for us.

Thank you micro organisms!

Actually, now I am already off on a microbial tangent I just want to take this chance thank our microscopic friends all round the planet for doing what they do. Incredibly microbes make up around 60% of the world’s biomass, including a large proportion of our own body mass. They generate a staggering 50% of all the oxygen that we breathe! So this is a big and overdue thank you, dear fungi and bacteria. You who break down leaf matter in our forest floors and give us nutritional humus, you who live inside us and help us to digest our food, you who grow on tree trunks and help us in our research about pollution. Thank you for sustaining life on our planet!

Love and Smiles, Jane x x

Carol (Lee's Mum) and I half way up Mount Snowdon, Wales

Carol (Lee’s Mum) and I half way up Mount Snowdon (surrounded by microorganisms)

Categories: Healing foods | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Spiced Beach House Chai and the Awesome Power of Cinnamon

 

Beach House Chai in Tamil Nadu

Beach House Chai on Karuna Farm, Tamil Nadu

This is something we quaff every day; with some sitar int he background and little incense waft, we could be back in Tamil Nadu, in our cottage on the hills (we have a thing for cottages on hills!!!!)

The ceremony of chai, the aroma as it bubbles on the stove, makes us both feel so at home. Its up there with the smell of freshly baked bread or sweet peas in the depth of summer.

A simple everyday chai here that adds spice and warmth to your morning cuppa. You may like it milkier, adjust the water to milk ratio as you like.  Namastex

Happy Chai Man, Madurai '14

Happy Chai Man, Madurai ’14

The Bits – 4-6 cups

1.5 ltrs filtered water

500ml almond/ soya milk (unsweetened)

12 green cardamom pods
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick (3 inches, broken in two)
2 star anise

4 teas loose leaf tea (assam is best or 4 normal tea bags ripped open)
jaggery or unrefined brown sugar (to taste)

Do It
Grab a large saucepan. Boil the water in a kettle (quicker) or bring to a boil in the sauce pan.

In a pestle and mortar, bash up the cinnamon and star anise, add to the boiling water, then bash up the cardamom and cinnamon, add that to the boiling water. Lower heat to a simmer and cover, leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

Now, bring back to a rolling boil, spoon in the tea. Leave to bubble away for a couple of minutes and then add your milk. Bring back to a boil and sweeten as you prefer. Indians love it very sweet indeed.  Using a sieve (and a ladle is easiest), pour into your favoured receptacle.

Serve

In your finest cups. Smaller cups are better and more authentic, even a small glass will do (generally how its served in a proper Chai stall). Sip and slurp with relish.

 

Foodie Fact – Cinnamon

Surely one of the worlds coolest barks!  Cinnamon is medicine. Powerful agent for healing.  There are two main types of Cinnamon that we can buy, Chinese (known as Cassia) and Ceylon(which is harder to find and supposedly more refined), it is one of the oldest spices we know of and was used by the ancient Egyptians as medicine and also for embalming!  It was considered more precious than gold.  It was even mentioned in Chinese botanical medicine over 4700 years ago.

Containing some truly magical essential oils, cinnamon is a potent anti-inflammatory, anti microbial (cinnamon essential oil can be used as a powerful preservative), flavouring high carb food with cinnamon slows the release of sugars into the blood stream,  helps with type-2 diabetes, it is a very, very, very strong anti-oxidant.  Even smelling the scent of cinnamon has been shown to boost brain activity.   It is also an excellent source of fibre, calcium and manganese.

Cinnamon has long be regarded as a warming spice in Chinese and Indian energy based medicine systems.  This means that is you feel a cold coming on drink plenty of cinnamon, ginger and lemon tea and you’ll be fine!!!

Cinnamon is best bought in stick form, it stores well for an age.  You can then crush it or grind it up freshly ans savour that familiar aroma.  Once crushed, kept it in a sealed container out of natural sunlight.  A fridge is best (this goes for all spices).

Chai's off the menu for me, I hit the Jack Fruit stand instead.  Yum!

Chai’s off the menu for me in India, I hit the Jack Fruit stand instead. Yum!

Or

Or a banana....

 Banana!!!!!

Categories: Healing foods, Infusions, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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