” Lauki ” or Opo squash summer stew!


We can all relate to Comfort Foods ! The need at times for cooking and tasting a bowl of memories that soothes the body and heart. I have many such moments especially when I am homesick. Lately , I have been satisfying myself with several comforting dishes. It is not just the taste of them but the entire process of cooking that is ” comforting”. While I have added many dishes to my comfort foods list, there are some that belong to the many moons ago times of growing up in India.

One such dish is a simple , rustic style squash stew.  The squash is ” lauki” in Punjabi language and best known as ” opo” squash in the American markets.

1 medium sized squash , washed, peeled, cut into medium dice( 5-7 cups approximately)

1 large yellow onion, sliced

2 -3 large tomatoes, cored and diced

1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped fine

2 tablespoons ghee or oil of choice

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 jalapeño , whole, ( optional)

Salt to taste

  • Heat a pan. Add ghee.
  • Add onions and sweat for 3-4 minutes, till translucent
  • Add the ginger and cook for a minute.
  • Add the squash, turmeric, coriander and jalapeño
  • Stir well to evenly coat all pieces with the dry spices
  • Add the tomatoes ,salt and a 1/4 cup water.
  • Bring to a boil. Then lower heat and let simmer, covered for about 15-20 minutes

Comforting when accompanied by stormed rice.

NOTE : I did not peel the squash as it was very fresh and tender at the Farmer’s market .

As I enjoy my bowl of ” lauki”, I also think of hot summer afternoons in Calcutta more than half a century ago!!!! A simple lunch of the stew over a bowl of hot rice , accompanied by lemon pickle and plain yogurt.

For those of us who moved far away from home and have become dual rooted in adopting another home, these comfort food memories are very special.

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Kitchen and Life intersect in my dirty Chai !!!

   
 
It was my day to set yogurt. The milk was set on the stove, fired up and the spatula ready for stirring. Milk needs to be first boiled and then cooled a bit. The starter culture added and then set in a warm place for this to transform into yogurt. Today, it’s a gallon of milk which means it will take about 15-18 minutes to come to a boil and all that stirring creates a beautiful froth. I love brewing a cup of tea so that I can savor it with a head of frothy milkiness! A treat , a ritual, a time to ponder on life and kitchen wisdom. Yogurt setting days usually mean focusing on Transformation……milk into yogurt! 

So, a lovely rhythm sets to the stirring of the milk in a stainless steel pot. This is an important step or the milk  solids will scorch at the bottom and that burnt taste  ruins both milk and yogurt. I am one with this process. I even notice that I tend to stir clockwise three times and anti clockwise twice. I just notice that I do that ..no analysis to why ? Life lesson : I’m practicing just witnessing! Ten minutes or so into this milk boiling a nutty, hot milky aroma begins to pervade my nose and kitchen . I grew up with this smell and it brings back memories. It also reminds me that my daughter dislikes this smell and gets nauseated . Life lesson: not everyone likes the same things and it is ok. 

There is a lovely foam about an inch thick that has formed on the top of the milk pot. I see the small bubbles that come through and pop. And finally the milk is bubbling and rushes up to the top of the pot and I turn off the heat at the perfect moment and no boiling over. A strong cup of tea has brewed too. 

I am ready for my treat.  I pour the tea into my mug and DARN it makes it to the two thirds mark. My husband made some extra coffee and so my mug is now full. A dash of sugar and  a couple of ladles of the milky froth and I have my Dirty Chai. Life lesson: be innovative .

The sipping of that mug of tea was priceless. 

Chaat from ” another mother ” !

   
 
This chaat was made strictly by taste, refrigerator and pantry items available.

1 cup moong dal sprouts

1 cup Denice’s homemade , delicious sauerkraut 

1/2 cup tomato, chopped

2  1/2 tablespoons Balsamic- tamarind reduction

2 tablespoons of Habanero- carrot salsa

3-4 leaves Romaine lettuce, torn into bite size

1/4 cup red onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup Indian snack mix ( Bombay, Madras, Bhel choice )

  • Tossed everything in a mixing bowl with half the snack mix.
  • Served up with the other half sprinkled over! 

Yummy! 

KITCHEN LESSON :

Intuitive cooking by taste works very well. 

LIFE LESSONS:

  • Be bold with your knowledge. Let it guide you. Knowing the taste and texture of chaat , it was seamless to use the balsamic reduction and salsa. The sauerkraut added the tart, tangy and some texture.
  • Use what you have available to the best of your creativity.
  • Take a moment to savor and imbibe the lesson.
  • Breaking tradition is not bad. Tradition works as a good foundation.
  • Don’t feel the need to label everything. This dish is just tasty food! Salad , snack, appetizer, Indian, street food ……..just tasty ! 

Momopause!!

  

 Roses, brunches, chocolates, gifts ! Yes, it is the day to honor and thank the mothers! Let us pause on this day to think about the women that brought us into this world! 

I owe everything to my mum for being who I am today ! She guided me onto the path of discovering who I was . I remember her being there for me in all my tears, fears , scrapes, hurts, insecurities and joys. She taught me to be a good friend, a wife, a sister, a daughter , a mother and a strong woman. She taught me all of that by her living example. There was so much that I did not understand in my younger days but as I enter the fall of my life, I feel blessed, grateful  and thankful for my grandmother , my mum, my sister and my daughter! They are all truly my mother ! 

Technology has made it easier to stay connected  but I miss the actual touch and the real communication .The sitting together and having tea. But again, thankful for the lovely special tea memories at Flury’s , Kolkata. The shopping trips at Dhangar Market, New Market  and Basak Stores . The very special shoe shopping memories at this Chinese shoe shop where my sister and I would get them custom made . Style, fashion, entertaining was all learnt by watching mom. 

A blog post will not do justice to all that I want to share about my mother but this is to remind all of us that we should go through ” Momopause” everyday. Happy Mothers Day and pause each day to thank mom!

Aaaaah! Valentine !!!

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Sad that so much of the real Valentine gets wrapped up in the hype of material ….the roses, the diamonds, the chocolate, dinners, and so much more.
For more than a decade , my husband who is a yoga teacher, shares these chocolate covered strawberries with his students. And yes , I make them.

The whole experience is one of love and the joyous results!
Blending the different chocolates to make a perfect balance of sweet and bitter ! Love !
The strawberries ….each one wiped down with a damp towel! Love!
Dipping them in the melted chocolate! Love !
Laying each one on the Silpat mat ! Love
Arranging them on plate when cooled ! Love !
Sharing ! Love !
The thanks and enjoyment of the strawberries by students ! Love !
Teacher student relationship ! Love !
Joy of doing for loved one ! Love !

Happy Valentine !
Just Love !

For the love of Spices !!!!!!

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Namaste !

Spices inspire my life !
We roast them and toast them
We pound them
We grind them
and selflessly they give their fragrance, taste and themselves to our food and our health!
A spoon of cumin seeds rubbed together between my palms is a connection to the beautiful women on the farm who have toiled hard to harvest the seeds.
Crack the peppercorns and you spike the dish with stories, travel and long forgotten history!
Spices keep me totally mindful when cooking a dish. It could be the simplicity of one spice or the complex layers of flavors of many, many spices. Jeera Aloo , a simple rustic dish of potatoes and cumin seeds. The complexity of food of the royal Courts of India ….more than 20 different spices in one dish.
Spices are wrapped around traditions . The Masala Dabba….. A common spice box in every Indian household. Picture the continuity of blessing when the mother packs the spice box for her daughter when she gets married.
I moved far away from home after marriage and everyday when I used the spices from my box, I was connected to family .
This deep connection to the spices for so many decades resulted in The Spice Whsiperer. Just recognizing the gift of people and connections on the path of self discovery.

Namaste all !

WTF !#*~

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World Through Food !!! WTF !
The turnips were cradled and peeled with a paring knife. The goal was not to not break the peel , but just to use peeling turnips as my MINDFUL EXERCISE !
I felt the hands hugging the turnip!
I saw the hand , the thumb and the fingers, move the knife to create a strip of peel, and turn and turn again!
I heard the slice and peel sound. A gentle whoosh whoosh whoosh !
The turnips lay together having shed their outer layer. They gave up their splashes of purple.
The peels curled in joy as though rejoicing in the knowledge of the karmic Wheel of action !
This MINDFULNESS resulted in unbroken peels of all the turnips.
This MINDFULNESS resulted in a heightened sense of awareness !
This MINDFULNESS resulted in a burst of creativity to combine saffron, mustard, smoked paprika and sherry vinegar to make Turnip Tapas !

East meets West !

Three decades ago, I replanted my roots in the Bay Area. Having become deeply dual rooted over the years, it is no surprise that my food reflects this .
These Poached Pears with Saffron Semolina ( Sooji ka halva ) are representing that dual rooted ness. Sooji ka Halva ( a sweet semolina polenta) is a very special dessert in North India. It is served on all auspicious occasions . I remember the way the house smelled when the semolina was being toasted in ghee. Many wonderful memories are attached to the halva.

So when the garden provided pears, pears and more pears, I decided to make these poached pears in raspberry, rose and hibiscus and pair it with saffron Sooji halva.

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