Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pui Chingri -- Pohi Saag with Shrimp


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“On the subject of spinach: divide into little piles. Rearrange again into new piles. After five of six maneuvers, sit back and say you are full.”
Delia Ephron from How To Eat Like A Child

There was a phase last year when I was unable to cook. We outsourced to a local bengali caterer and between him and D managed to feed the family okay. This guy however was pretty monotonous with his menu, he had some 4-5 items which he would repeat over the weeks and after a month you would think that alu-posto, dhokar dalna and charchari were all there is to a bengali menu.

To satisfy my cravings for authentic vegetarian bangla food a friend came to the rescue and would send over a little of whatever she cooked each week. Now she is a damn good cook and has a vast repertoire of Bengali recipes, she also likes to cook and eat well and prepares a full 6 course meal for dinner almost every day. No doubt that food from her kitchen was much awaited while the caterer's supplies languished in the refrigerator.

She used to make this Pui Chingri (Pohi Greens with Shrimp) which I fell in love with. I am sure my Ma would make it the same way but I was a typical kid regarding food choices and so though my Ma would force greens down my throat I don't have fond memories of them. Now with age I am not scared of my greens any more and even the slimy Pui has joined my list of favorites.

I have also learned greens don't make you stronger, it takes much more to grow into a person of character and strength, the 5 serving of vegetables merely sustains you in that journey.


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"There was a Young Lady of Greenwich,
Whose garments were border'd with Spinach;
But a large spotty Calf,
bit her shawl quite in half,
Which alarmed that Young Lady of Greenwich."

Edward Lear, English artist, writer



Pui Shaak or Pohi Saag has the scientific name of basella alba and some other fancy names like Climbing Spinach, Malabar Spinach etc. Basella alba is a fast-growing, soft-stemmed vine, reaching 10 m in length. Its thick, semi-succulent, heart-shaped leaves have a mild flavour and mucilaginous texture.

Typical of leaf vegetables, it is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is low in calories by volume, and high in protein per calorie. The succulent mucilage is a particularly rich source of soluble fiber, thought to remove mucus and toxins from the body. The plant is also a rich source of chlorophyll. You can apparently grow this plant from the stems/stalks and with tips from Soma I have planted some of those stalks in my backyard

This dish goes to WHB # 185 hosted by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook

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Pui Chingri/Pohi Greens with Shrimp



This is a very simple and approximate recipe and serves about 3-4 people

Prep: Devein and clean shrimp if fresh. If frozen defrost shrimp and remove the tail. Toss about 8-10 shrimp with a little turmeric and salt and keep aside for 15-20 minutes

Wash and clean the pohi greens(I had about 1lb) and chop in small pieces. Chop the stems too.

Start Cooking

Heat Mustard Oil(or any white oil) in a Kadhai

Fry the shrimp till they are a light golden yellow. Don't fry them too much, they get tough. Remove shrimp and keep aside

Fry 1 small potato chopped in slices till it is light golden in color. Remove and keep aside

Temper/chaunce the oil with 1/2 tsp of Paanch Phoron and 4 slit green chili. If you cannot stand the heat of green chili ignore

Once you get the beautiful flavor of paanch phoron add the greens along with the stems

Saute and let it cook

You can cover and cook to make it cook faster, but frequently remove the cover and give a good stir. The greens will release a lot of water which you want to dry up. Slimy pohi doesn't taste good.

When the greens is almost done add the potatoes, salt and 1/4-1/2 tsp of Red Chili Powder. Mix well and cook till potatoes are done

Add the shrimp and mix well with the greens

Serve with hot rice

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Weekly Menu -- Week of May 17th


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Ok so I finally baked a cake succesfully. My baking attempts have always been a flop show even with the simplest of the cakes. So I always stick with a Betty Crocker mix or a Bisquik and try to end the story there.

I guess I am not good at sticking to instructions and my mind wanders off just where the recipe says sift flour and baking soda together. Improvising where baking is concerned is a strict no-no and I have learned it the hard way.

This time I was determined to make it work though and I chose a simple recipe from Sunita. Something that did not ask for any new fangled ingredients hitherto unknown to me, something that could be achieved with what I had at home and something that did not ask me to beat eggs and such for 5 whole minutes.

So Pear-Walnut Cake it was made with atta.

But trust to me goof up even with the simplest of all recipes. After following all her instructions I preheated the oven to 180, did you read it right,1 - 8- 0. Isn't that way too less, I told myself, maybe I should increase the temp. But then I had decided to stick, blindly stick with the recipe so with all my doubts I heated the oven to 180. And then I followed what the recipe said exactly. When the timer went "Ping" all excited I took out the bake tray to see nothing had turned "golden brown" and the batter was the same gooyey mess it was half an hour earlier.

And then my brain which had hit the dead end, 'coz it was 12:00 at night by then did a jolt and it struck me that Sunita was in the UK and so her recipe said 180 C, see the C, not F but C in capitals. I was in goddamn North America where they didn't believe in C (Celsius) and had F (Fahrenheit) !!! So after all the math conversions we finally raised the oven temp to 350 F and the cake turned golden brown and delicious after a glorious 17 minutes.

This week I tried to go carb-less on some days of the week and it was easier as we did a lot of grilling outside. This was the menu

Potato Capsicum Curry -- This was based on this dish, not exactly but kind of

Pepper Mushroom -- All time favorite from Cham and my recipe

Uchche Begun -- Bitter Gourd with brinjals. Shall post soon

Cabbage Fry -- This was M Didi (baby A's nanny) contribution. I finally asked her to cook one or two dishes for me each week.

Masoor Dal & Toor Dal with Dill -- Regular masoor dal. The toor dal with dill was a new flavor. Haven't tried dill too much and this was the first time had it in a dal. Reminded me of one of the paying guest Aunty in B'lore, this was the unknown taste I always found in her dals.

Grilled Chicken

Baked Tilapia

Grilled brocolli, carrots and long green peppers

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kadhai Paneer


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So these were my Mothers Day Gifts. Mission accomplished. But the "cheapo" that I am, I plan to trade half of the Pier 1 gift card for a HomeGoods one, that will get me a lot more with the same amount.


A sweet pea plant, hand made cards, hand made frames and...




I know, I know its the sentiment that counts and not the gift and I do apply that principle for all others except the parent and D. You see if someone close like my family is giving me an expensive present, I would rather see the money well spent. With others I am polite.

But sometimes the gift giving especially for Kid's birthdays goes a bit out of hand, both ways when you are the giver or the receiver. While giving the budget seems to constantly increase with the years and with Big Sis S's class of 15 kids, having a birthday party almost every month sure puts a strain on the purse strings. The receiving scene is not too happy either with lots of gifts which the kiddo exactly doesn't need, given that she is not the kind who plays extensively with toys.

Really what do you do with a gift especially kid's toys(which just grows and grows) that you don't think your kid will play with at all ?

I could be like my Mom who wrapped up the nth La Opala coffee mugs that I got for my wedding and gifted it to neighbor 2's niece's sister-in-law on her marriage. The relations were far flung and the gift was sure to submerge in a deluge of more such coffee cups.

Or I could be like this friend who presented us with a pretty gift with words as to why she thought this would be perfect for us. Later when we took out the gift from the box, tucked in its warmth was a card blessing a certain bride and groom on their marriage.Given that neither us nor the friend were recent new brides, I can only say the gift had a long lineage.

Truth be told I have done that at times but with a close network of friends it is a dangerous thing to do and so the gifts keep piling up in the basement. With the kid's toys I don't want to do it because I feel people do spend time and money and some thought buying them so you can't just give them away.
Seriously tell me what do you do ? Do you donate, recycle gifts, do what ?


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Since S has declared her love for paneer, we get a block for her almost every other week. We ate paneer in moderation before, maybe once in two weeks and that was it. Now with the deluge of paneer I thought of trying a Kadhai Paneer. I am not too fond of bell pepper with chicken or fish and Kadhai paneer is not exactly my favorite item on the menu. But this might be a good way to get those anti-oxidant loaded bell peppers into Big Sis S I thought.

So Kadhai Paneer it was and I followed the recipe from Fun'n'Food this time with certain changes to my taste. It is a very simple recipe with little time needed and simple ingredients. It tasted pretty good and looked pretty too.


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Kadhai Paneer



Prep: Cut almost 12 oz of Paneer in small cubes. There were about 2 cups of paneer cubes.

The Nanak brand of Paneer I usually buy is pretty soft by my standard and I don't fry them. If your paneer is hard sitting in the refrigerator microwave for a few seconds to make it soft or if your paneer is the tough variety, fry lightly and dunk in salted warm water

Chop 1 medium red onion in big chunks and also de-seed & chop 1 medium Bell pepper in big chunks

Start Cooking

In a Kadhai or Frying Pan heat Oil

Flavor the oil with 1 clove of garlic minced

When you get the flavor of garlic add the onion and saute till translucent. While frying the onion add little sugar about 1/4 tsp

Add the bell pepper and saute. Cover and saute till capsicum is soft

Add 1 tsp of ginger paste and then 2 tsp of garlic paste. With a sprinkle of water saute for a minute or half

Add little turmeric, 1/2 tsp of Cumin powder, 1 tsp of Red Chilli powder and 1/4-1/2 tsp of Garam masala powder

Fry the masala again with sprinkle of water for 2-3 minute or till the masala has coated the onions and pepper nicely

Add 1 cup of tomato puree and 1 & 1/2 tsp of Kasoori methi. Add salt to taste. You may need to add little water(I added 1/2 cup) depending on if you want gravy or not. Note: I made the puree with canned tomatoes and so mine wasn't super thick kind, you can use canned or fresh tomato puree

Add the paneer cubes and simmer at medium heat till the gravy thickens and the paneer and bell pepper is cooked. Check to see if the seasonings are correct and adjust accordingly

To enhance the taste add 1/2 tsp of ghee and mix well before taking of the heat



Trivia: Green capsicum is the least mature type and has a fresh ‘raw’ flavour. Red capsicum is basically a matured or ripened green capsicum and is distinctively sweeter. Yellow and orange capsicums are similar in taste to red capsicum, although not quite as sweet. All of them are excellent sources of vitamin C and vitamin A

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beet Gajor Chechki


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Before I tell you what I got and did for Mothers Day I need a little prelude, a flashback.

"It was my birthday some couple of months back(don't wish me it will be way belated). I no longer look forward to birthdays, not because of the cliched age factor but more pertinent issues at hand.

The foremost being "OMG what is the hubby going to get me this time". This phrase has changed from anticipation to foreboding over the years.I have known the husband for long and it seems to be getting worse. Not because he gets me bad presents but because he gets impulsive presents.
At the very beginning it was pretty nice and simple, he was a regular friend and got me nothing and demanded a treat. Then he got me books which was nicer except for the time he got a Stroustrup.

It seemed to go wrong after marriage though. I try to give him ideas come birthday time and since I am a sensible girl I ask him to get stuff which can be of household use but he has his own ideas and tries to spring a surprise every time which I have begun to grow afraid of. The poor guy is actually pretty good at heart and his gifts would be ideal for any female but me.

This time it was the worst of worse, he got me a gift card to a Spa. A Spa, a Spa, what was he thinking ? I am not even remotely the Spa kind and as much I know of him neither is he. In fact he had been attracted by my well oiled whiskers in the first place. Why would he want me to go to a Spa and get rid of them and other such stuff ? What would I do there or rather what would the Spa people do with me ? They would not even know where to start. And if I stripped and lay down on their massage tables that would be the end of it.

I was pretty depressed with this whole Spa thing, perfect good money wasted I felt. I could have blown that all out in Pier 1 and revamped the whole house and now I have to do pedicure every month to use up the gift card, I lamented. My feet who are used to such luxury maybe only twice a year are not going to be too happy and no way am I going to get a massage laying down all naked."

So its been a while now, I have not used the Gift card yet, it expires in two years, so I still have time to muster courage. And in the next post I will tell you about Mothers day and the GIFTs.



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Chechki in motion


Now to the Chechki. Ok, I don't even know if this dish is called a chechki. My Ma used to simply call it Beet Gajor er Bhaja(a stir fry of beet & carrots). But a friend said she does the same and calls it chechki. Given that I have no "chechki" in my repertoire I decided to call it that and now I have "charchari", "ghonto" and yes a "chechki" too in my blog, a one stop shop for all bong varieties. With this you can only guess what "hits" I am going to get, including a deluge of Phelps' fans who will be totally at sea, well but they better swim.


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Beet Gajor Chechki (Beet & Carrots stir fry)


Prep: Wash, peel and Chop two medium sized beet root and two decent sized carrots in thin slices and a length of 2" or so. The way you chop is important in this dish.

Start Cooking:

Heat Oil in a Kadhai or Wok or a wide mouthed frying pan. I used Olived Oil and it is fine but you can use Canola or Peanut or Sunflower oil. No mustard oil here.

Temper the Oil with 3/4 tsp of Kalonji/Nigella seeds. When the spices start popping add 1/3 cup of chopped red onion and 5-6 slit hot Indian green chili. Note: you can substitute the Kalonji with Paanch Phoron if you wish

Once the onion turns pink and translucent add the chopped beet root and carrots

Add salt, a little turmeric and fry for 2-3 minutes so that the veggies is nicely coated with what little spice you have there.

Cover and cook at medium heat. Every few minutes raise the cover and give the veggies a good stir.

You might need to sprinkle a little water but that would be very little just to create moisture to aid in the cooking.

Cook till the beet root is well done(carrot will cook quicker hopefully). Give one more good stir and taste-adjust for any seasoning. Enjoy with roti or by itself

Note: I do not add garlic or any other spices in this dish but you can add a little garlic along with the onion & green chilli, I think it might give a nice kick to the dish

Update: This time around I did add 1 clove of garlic finely minced along with the onion and also added little lime juice at the end as suggested by a reader. Both added a lovely new layer to the taste





Trivia: Borscht is an Eastern European soup made from beets that has been an important winter staple in countries like Russia and Poland since the 14th century. In 1975, during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, cosmonauts from the USSR's Soyuz 19 welcomed the Apollo 18 astronauts by preparing a banquet of borscht squeezed from tubes and other treats.

Also if you are in Belgium this dish would have certainly helped you today as Belgium has declared Thursday as a Vegetarian Day in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shuddh Videshi Ghee ar Alu Sheddo


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I made Ghee, at home, with my own hands. No I didn't milk the cow or anything and I used a shortcut, but if we put that aside, I made Ghee in bold letters.

With that I graduate from a regular Mom to the ubiquitous Aunty-ji. Pleez do consult me with all your gharelu(household) problems including mom-in-law , husband , bai and water shortage, and of course how to make ghee. That I can't make decent phulkas shall not be discussed in this post.

So I never made ghee @ home before. Never needed to. My ma and ma-in-law took it upon themselves to send home made shuddh desi ghee for Big Sis S till she turned 3. After that it was store bought which was used sparingly since we are not big time ghee eaters. Now Baby A has started on solids and it was time to introduce fat to her. There was no grandma around and Mom found out that making shuddh videshi ghee was not difficult at all, much easier than the cow's milk --> boil milk to gather the cream on top --> save the top cream from milk for days --> make desi ghee route


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So this is what Baby A's Mom did to make glorious golden ghee


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Making Ghee



In a heavy bottomed pot/vessel/pan place 4 sticks of organic unsalted butter. At medium heat let the butter melt. There will be foaming and bubbling while the butter melts but soon this will subside. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered. Stir intermittently. Gradually you will see milk-solids turning from beige to brown and settling down at the bottom while a clear transparent golden liquid remains at top. Once the milk solids turn a deep shade of brown turn off the heat. Note: The point at which you turn off the heat is critical, too little or too much is not desired. Keep watch and don't burn the milk-solid. Also keep the heat at low and don't try to hasten the process by turning heat to high.

Do not disturb the vessel/pot/pan and let the milk solids settle down at the bottom while only the clear liquid remains at the top.

Decant the liquid by tipping the vessel gently and collecting the liquid in a clean dry glass jar. You can also use a cheese cloth or any clean cotton cloth for this purpose

The golden liquid that you just collected is precious ghee. Smell. Heaven.

Let the ghee come to room temperature. Close the jar tight and store at room temperature. If ghee is not made correctly i.e. cooked too little it tends to spoil or sour, but if made correctly it stores well at room temperature



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Now we Bengalis do not throw away anything that is edible and the deep brown milk solids that remain at the end of the ghee making process are a delicacy for us. We call it cha(n)chi (ch as in chair and then a nasal sound for n) and eat it mixed with plain white rice, salt and mashed potatoes. Strangely while I do remember the smell of ghee from my childhood, more than the ghee I remember this rich brown "leftover" granules which we used to savor mixed with white rice.

So while the home was fragrant with the smell of ghee we enjoyed a rare dinner of rice, alu sheddo with finely chopped onions and green chillies and dollops of ghee & cha(n)chi.

To make alu sheddo(siddho), boil potatoes skin on till done. Hold under running water and peel the potato. Mash with back of a spatula. Add little mustard oil, finely chopped red onion, finely chopped green chilli and salt. Now with clean hands work all of this in the potato and make smooth rounds of mashed potato. Enjoy this with white rice and dollops of golden ghee.


According to Ayurveda, Ghee builds the aura, makes all the organs soft, builds up the internal juices of the body-Rasa, which are destroyed by aging and increases the most refined element of digestion-Shukra or Ojas, the underlying basis of all immunity and the “essence of all bodily tissues”. Ghee is known to increase intelligence--Dhi, refine the intellect-Buddhi and improve the memory-Smrti.

A little bit of ghee added to your food boosts the flavor and if that ghee is home made the taste triples. So like me if you do not use ghee as a cooking medium, occasionally add half a tsp of ghee just before finishing off your cooking and savor the goodness of ghee.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

My Spice -- Garam Masala, Bhaja Masla & more...


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Bengali Garam Masala is actually a very simple mix of 4 spices: Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Tej Patta. The Tej Patta as I have seen is abandoned many times in favor of the others. My Ma however loved it and used it whenever the recipe called for garam mashla as phoron (i.e. tempering the food by spicing the oil)


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Whole Garam masala


She would sun the above spices and in our stainless steel jarred Bajaj Mixer make a dry powder of them and store it as a guro Garam Mashla or as we say in English Garam Masala powder

I take a step ahead and put more stuff in my Garam Masala powder. I also dry roast the spices instead of just sunning them which is the norm. My version is NOT the standard bengali version. The Bengali version usually does not have Red Chilli or Mace


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Spices I use to make my Garam masala powder


My Garam Masala Powder



Dry Roast 20 Green Cardamom/Elaichi, 10 Clove/Laung, a 2" stick of cinnamon, 3-4 Dry Red Chilli for the slightest heat, 2-3 small barks of mace/javetri and a small Tej-Patta. Note: What I have here is a Bay Leaf but a small Tej Patta(Indian Bay Leaf) works better. Also you can substitute red chili with black peppercorns. You can dry roast either on the stove top or pop them in the oven at 250F for 5-8 minutes. The roasting is done only to warm the spices which have been lying around for a while. Instead you can sun them and then grind.

Grind to a fine powder in your coffee grinder.

Store in an air-tight container for future use




Lately I have been a sucker for home made spices. I cleared the pantry of all Shan masalas and barring the Kitchen King, Kasoori Methi and Amchoor I have no other store bought spice powder. Oh, wait I have a packet of Deggi Mirch which is used sparingly by us and and indulged on by the nanny.

So anyway without all the Shaan masala I was kind of stranded in no-spice land when I wanted to make a Kofta Pualo some time back. Luckily I remembered the Biryani Masala at Mallugirl's. I love that masala and use it for not only making Biryanis but in various other dishes.


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Here is how I make Biryani Masala based on this recipe. I reduce the carraways seeds and increase the fennel as I like the sweetness of fennel and find cararway seeds too spicy. Also I forgo the star anise and add nutmeg powder instead of the whole.

Biryani Masala Powder




Dry Roast 8-10 Green Cardamom/Elaichi, 8-10 Cloves/Laung, 2" stick of cinnamon, 1 small Bay leaf, 5-6 small bark of mace/javethri, 2 tsp of Fennel seeds, 1 tsp of Carraway seeds/Shah Jeera

Put all of the above in a coffee grinder jar along with 1 tsp of nutmeg powder

Grind to a smooth powder and store in an air tight jar




Use this masala for loads of stuff from adding a pinch to your pualo to spicing up the marinade for fish, from adding to biryani to your chicken curry. I use this masala alternately with Garam Masala but when using this, use a smaller quantity.


And then there is the Bhaja Mashla(Roasted Masala) my Ma makes for sprinkling over most chutneys and also in vegetable chops. I had blogged about it here in my Baked Beet Roll recipe. The Bhaja Masala is called so because the spices here are dry roasted and then ground. This spice mix has been blogged about in detail in my later post Bhaja Masla.

Bhaja Mashla




To make this Dry Roast 1 tbsp each of Jeera (Cumin Seeds), Dhania (Corriander seeds), Saunf (Fennel Seeds), 6/7 Laung (cloves) , 6/7 Elaichi (Cardamom), 3/4 TejPata(Bay leaves), an inch & half of cinnamon stick and peppercorns according to desired hotness.Then just dry grind it to a powder. Note: This was last made by my Ma and so measures are approximate



Punjabi Garam Masala

The recipe of Punjabi Garam Masala is from Anita of Mad Tea Party. Original recipe is here. I think her recipe asks for more of the black cardamom but I used about 15. Also I used the seeds and discarded the skin

I did it this way. To make this sun or gently warm on tawa 1 tbsp Cumin seeds, 1/2 tbsp Clove, 1/2 tbsp Peppercorn, a 1" stick of cinnamon, 1 tejpatta and around 15 black cardamom. Dry grind to a powder.



Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Check out other spices in this series in the left hand column

This weekend our kitchen floor is getting a makeover and so the kitchen will be closed for weekend. I am shacking up at a friend's place, kids in tow and the friend has promised to make a Patha'r Mangsho'r jhol for lunch tomorrow. She cooks delicious food and you know what I am looking forward to.


Wishing all Moms a Very Happy Mothers Day. There is a Mother Day event going on at Desi Momz Club. All moms, member or not please feel free to contribute.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Brown Rice -- Tomato Rice


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There was an interesting article in NatGeo(May '09) about the carbon foot print of wine. It seems it is more carbon efficient for a New Yorker to raise a glass of French Wine than a California one.

The wine journey from Napa Valley, Calif by less efficient and more carbon emitting trucks has a larger carbon foot print than the wine container shipped from France or even Sydney. So even though "distance" does matter, efficiencies in transportation might overcome that.

Though the article is not there on the net, the research findings which provided the numbers for NatGeo are here

All this makes me think it might not be all that environmentally prudent to buy local food always and shun food based on "food miles" alone

Who said "Going Green" would be easy ?

Green is back in my neighborhood though and so is Spring.


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Tulsi(Holy Basil) barely survived winter



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Hostas are back, overcrowded, need to space them out, didn't



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Annual azalea bloom in the garden



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Green is back




We used to be quiet afraid of Brown Rice when we first heard about it. We even made fun of it and like ignorant bumpkins made statement that rice which was available for free in Indian ration stores were packaged and sold in super market aisles here at a high price.

Truth be told we had tried neither, the ration rice or the brown rice. But like true browns we chased the white until we fell for the goodness of brown.

With great trepidation we tried our first brown rice and liked nothing much about it. The only way we could eat this stuff is as a Khichuri or a Fried Rice, proclaimed the other half. So that is how it was, Brown Rice Khichuri or Fried Rice occasionally, on days we felt our body should ingest some goodness. Eating it felt morally so good that we could chomp on a burger later without any guilt.

Slowly we ventured into making regular brown rice, flavoring the cooking liquid with cardamon, cloves and what not. We got hooked onto the nutty taste, it tasted best with a gravy thing or with dal. We even graduated to having fish curry with Brown Rice. Yes, we have come a long way on the Brown Rice Trail.

We still continue having white rice though and haven't switched completely but weekends are always brown and so are most of the one pot rice meals.


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Some weekends back D made a Tomato Rice. He used Brown Rice instead of the white rice that is normally used. He followed Sailaja's Recipe down to making the spice powder. It tasted beautiful.


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Next day I made some to pack for lunch. I skipped the spice powder as I wanted a non-South Indian Tomato Rice. Instead I added some fresh home made Garam masala powder. That tasted great too.

And we had one more Brown Rice recipe that worked great for us. Are you afraid to try Indian dishes with Brown Rice, give it a try, you just might love it.

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