Thukpa – of mountains, yaks, wilderness and Leh

Leh day 1

We wake up early …very early, but that is no sweat for a couple of in-their-fifties-we-shall-refrain-from-mentioning-exactly- where-in-the-fifties…purely out of security concerns…what if someone figures out our passwords kind of concern, you see….now this sentence has gotten a little lost, rather like the roads in Leh..so let’s try and get back to where we were…in our fifties..WHO (the caps are in case I get lost again and have to find my way back!), are used to rising at unearthly hours like 3 and 4 in the morning, you see…

Very excited, because we’ve been dreaming about this trip for so long, planning and planning away…particularly the older part of the couple, who’s force fed information on Leh and army operations to the younger one till she feels like the goose that is being fattened for the foie gras!

We’re ready quickly and breeze through Delhi airport regulations…it’s amazingly efficient…the flight, where I have to catch a little nap, ( we are really sounding older and older, but I have loved little naps all my life!) but wake up well in time to catch the first glimpse of the Himalayan ranges in the distance, closer and closer, dissolving into white and black peaks …then we are flying over them…the tightness of excitement turns to awe and wonder as I click away trying to capture some of their majesty…impossible!

We land on a tiny airstrip and enter a toy airport! A couple with a little baby, the lady is already feeling altitude sickness, or maybe it was Delhi belly, are struggling with baggage and baby and stroller…and our great Indian masses do not bother to offer help but just try to get into the earliest buses off the tarmac….not nice, India! I would have loved to have given the whole bunch detention!

The couple is absurdly grateful for what little we offer…carry their bags.

The weather is bracing, to say the least, after sweltering Madras and blistering Delhi…on goes my Laplandish jacket ( courtesy a kind friend who’s just been to those parts of the world that I cannot think of as anything except Lapland after Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen…..yep, is it likely I’ll have one in Chennai?

We get to the hotel, barely 5 minutes from the airport…many friendly faces greet us. Something about these hills – apples, apricots, human beings…all are rosy cheeked! Our room, is cozy and rather small…guessing it’s easier to heat up small spaces. The bathroom, on the contrary, is rather large…hmm…more about this later!

We have been warned, by everybody from the disembodied airline announcer to the guide who greets us to the receptionist at the hotel to random passing strangers to please, please do nothing but rest in our rooms on the first day and maybe more. That the altitude takes some time to acclimatise to and altitude sickness is a real thing! Now since I have every kind of travel sickness known to man, and maybe a few not yet known to man, ranging from car, sea, bus, flight, climbing down steep stairs, enclosed spaces ( I thought I’d died, would maybe rather have died, climbing down to King Tut’s tomb a few years ago!), combined with a deep desire to travel, we have lived through some interesting situations! I therefore, retire to my bed, pull many covers over myself (the heater is centrally controlled and not switched on till 6 pm!) and proceed to sleep through the day, waking up for lunch, gobbling down the usual hills fare – phulkas, aloo mutter, dal, rice and thankfully, curd before going back to bed. Feel great by evening, wake up and decide to go for a short stroll. Shoot some lovely local pics, am quite amazed at the wattle and daub houses which must have stayed the same for centuries. The very plain houses are decorated with the most amazing carved woodwork! Also see many yaks and am a bit wary, keeping a good distance away in case they decide my pink shirt is close enough to red to not make a difference!

We also realise that we haven’t packed bathroom slippers – it’s far too cold to imagine going without and the driver says the market is barely a 5 minute drive away and we can pick them up there. We go. The marketplace is pretty, and closed to vehicles, which pleases me rather! We walk about 5 minutes, at a slow pace, before I realise I’m feeling a bit out of breath. Try pulling in more air and figure I am getting a little oxygen deprived. We pick up the first slippers which fit our feet and get back to the hotel. The next couple of hours are spent huddled over in abject misery, splitting head and pukiness from the lack of air, combined with the need to go the loo! If any of you has ever sat in a large bathroom at freezing temperatures, clad as far as possible in the warmest of clothes, but… you will know know what it means to freeze your b… off! The water is freezing too! The paper is moist from the air, for some reason! Life is not looking particularly good! There is a power cut so the heater doesn’t come on till half past seven by which time, I have given up caring!

Take some pills, skip dinner and sleep through the night…wake up with josh enough to demolish poori chana, toast and apricot jam, the last locally made and simply delicious! Off today to do some local sightseeing…

And sample one of my favourite dishes from this region…

 

 

THUKPA

 

Mustard oil – 1/2 tsp
Spring onions – chopped – 2 tbsp
Garlic flakes – chopped  – 2
Ginger – 1 cm – julienned
Chives – if available – a couple of sprigs – to garnish
Tomato puree 1 tbsp or chopped tomato – 2
Mixed shredded vegetables – cabbage, carrots, capsicum – 1 cup
Spinach – shredded – 1/2 cup
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Garam masala powder – 1/4 tsp
Pepper – 1/2 tsp
Soya sauce – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 1 tsp or more – to taste
Salt to taste
Cooked noodles – 1/4 cup – I used Top Ramen instant

 

Heat the oil. Flash fry the sprig onions, garlic and ginger for a minute. Add all the other vegetables and fry, stirring continuously, on high heat.

Add the cumin, pepper, salt, garam masala, soya sauce and two cups hot water. Bring to boil. Add the noodles and bring back to boil. Switch off, add lemon juice and snip chives over or garnish with chopped coriander. The vegetables should still stay a little crunchy, the noodles al dente and and the whole aromatic and just what the doctor ordered – in Leh!

 

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The Duck family goes to Bali! : Bubur Ayam or Indonesian porridge

“Quack?” inquires the Papa Duck, inquiring solicitously if all is well with the family of three ducks he is in charge of!

“Quack, quack”, go the two bigger ones – the Mama Duck and Big Sister Duck, nodding acqiescence – all is well, bags are counted, tags on hand baggage in place, we are in the queue!

But…the third quack is missing!

“K?” sighs the long-suffering Papa Duck – the third – little sister  duck is present, but only just, staring at an interesting scene at the other end of the long, very long queue…if the Papa Duck doesn’t keep an eye, she will trail slowly across, almost without volition – to the other side and go missing in a matter of seconds! He knows – it has happened earlier!

K”, is repeated a little louder this time, the exasperation in the voice very evident!

Huh? What? What? I am right here! I was only….looking at my bag…i mean my shoe…i mean looking for a hairbrush…i forgot to brush my hair”!!! sqawks the squeaky littlest duck – who’s already fallen three places behind in the queue as people shuffle past her – without her even noticing! She then proceeds to make her way back to the rest of the family, smiling her way disarmingly past the other people who’ve overtaken the absentminded creature – no one can resist that sheepish grin!

Oh yes, this is a family of human ducks! Our Papa Duck loves being in charge – of passports, visas, boarding passes – any kind of official documentation that passes him excites the glint of curiosity and an “i gotta be in charge of that” look in his eyes! The Mama Duck has long since decided that the situation has its points – I don’t have to be in charge of papers and scramble madly when I’m asked to produce something! Scramble through dozens of papers, realize I cannot do this without my reading glasses, scramble madly for reading glasses and then figure out that the papers have all along been in the other bag! Nah, who wants all that bother?!

The Big Sister Duck, on the other hand, is used to traveling on her own and taking care of her own stuff in airports everywhere…. and unwilling to relinquish control to Papa Duck! At the boarding gate, when Papa D has to hand out passports and boarding passes reluctantly to his family, promptly swooping down on us hapless creatures and collecting them as soon as we are through the gate, the Big Sister has it all planned out. She is first through the gate and as Papa D gets his boarding pass checked, she scoots away with the precious documents in her hand! Papa Duck is horrified and gathering our passes, chases after her, squawking loudly in protest at this blatant disobedience!

The Big sis duck, however, is younger and faster and not weighed down with three sets of boarding passes and with a merry quack thrown cheekily at the father, scoots through the gate!

The other two hapless ones, meanwhile, bereft of all official documentation, scramble behind the Appa Duck….bumping into things and people on the way, dropping stuff, picking up stuff and dropping other stuff as you bend over to pick up the stuff you droppped first, tripping over shoelaces which chose that moment to come undone….we are NOT used to being abandoned! We finally catch up – inside the aircraft – and a veritable storm of indignant quacks bursts out – much to the amusement of fellow passengers! Quack, quack, quack, quack, QUACK!

The Papa Duck smiles loftily, secure in the knowledge that he has taken care of his family! Comforting thought…just like this…

Balinese comfort food – an amazing porridge we ordered for every breakfast – Bubuh….even the name is comforting!

 

BALINESE BUBUR OR BUBUH AYAM a vegetarian version of conjee or porridge

Base:

Very soft cooked rice – I find left over rice with some water (1 cup cooked rice added to 2 cups boiling water or stock) and recooked in the morning works great.

Vegetable topping

Long beans / karamani/ snake or cluster beans
200 gm – chopped finely and boiled
Raw papaa – shredded and boiled – 400 gm
Chopped, fried shallot – 40 gm
Chopped, fried garlic – 10 gm
Shredded, fried red Thai chili – this is super spicy! – 1
Grated coconut – about a tbsp per plate
Salt and pepper – to taste
Spicy, crisp topping
Crisp fried ginger juliennes – 10 gm
Crisp fried fresh turmeric juliennes – 5 gm
Galangal crisped – 20 gm
Fresh, chopped shallots – 80 gm
Crisp fried garlic slivers – 15 gm
Slivered red chili- 1
Very crisply roasted peanuts – pulsed to smaller pieces – 50 gm
Salt and pepper – to taste

The serving is simple. Ladle out about two large soup ladles-full of conjee in a bowl. Top with the vegetable topping – about 2-3 tbsp per bowl. Top that with the crisp elements – 1 to 2 tbsp per bowl. Dig in… and QUACK!

 

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Polenta with mushroom and vegetable sauce: Of things that go ssuurr… ssurr at dawn!

“Surr… sssurrr… surrr… ssssuuur… ” and a surreptitious rustling sound awakens our man…

Being “THE MAN” of the house, he decides to investigate (much against his actual inclination to burrow under the covers and hide!)

Crawls out of bed and arms himself with the nearest heavy implement (the lampshade which comes out of its socket with a sound that causes him to freeze but makes no difference to the sur-surr sound outside!) Steps stealthily out of the room (thank goodness the door is open and makes no squeaky give-away sounds!), doing his best imitation of Inspector Clouseau – thanks to too many Pink Panther movies – and steps into the hall… to see his wife sitting on the floor in her pyjamas, legs in front of her, making her way on her bottom across the floor, shifting her weight from one – ahem, butt to the other!

Normally a man with a stentorian voice, you wouldn’t think he’d make a good spook, but today he doesn’t need any lessons in silent detecting… he is too stunned by the sight to even breathe! She reaches the far wall, turns right around on the butt again and makes her way back again… and again. By now, his lower jaw has re-discovered the upper jaw and he watches with interest, wondering if this is some new game she’s inventing for the kids she teaches or has she suddenly reverted to some childhood fantasy!

Surr… sssuurr… ssuurrr…

Being the married-for-over-thirty-years kind of couple that they are, she senses, rather than hears his presence and turning around, tells him in no uncertain terms that he is to go right back in the bedroom and not breathe a word of what he has seen to anyone (unfortunately for her, he meets me slighty later in the day and the beans come spilling out like coins out of a slot machine when you’ve hit the jackpot – and no, sorry, I did NOT hit the jackpot, was just an interested bystander to some lucky sod in Reno who did!). He, being the obedient but curiosity-will-always-get-the-better-of-me kind of husband, pleads… “But what were you doing?”

Finally, she agrees to tell him – provided the secret goes with him to the grave! Now there is absolutely no excuse for  her getting a long-standing spouse to promise something like this and believing that he will actually stick to it!

“Hush”, she says, looking around conspiratorially. “Remember that wedding in the family coming up next month?” As if he’s going to forget his own son’s wedding! But anything for the secret – so he nods vigorously!

“Well, someone told me that doing this – floor-butt-sliding – will reduce the size of the – ahem-butt! And I really need to lose some there!” Sigh, which of us doesn’t?!!

Now, if it had been anything less momentous, she might have stood a better chance but our pal is not about to let an opportunity like this go!

I, however, am a better friend to her and refuse to divulge the name of the friend. The story, of course, is grist to anyone’s mill… !

But, good sport that she is, she laughs along with the rest of us!

And so, to celebrate a good sport, here’s one of my favourite Italian dishes…

 

POLENTA WITH MUSHROOM AND VEGETABLE SAUCE

 

FOR POLENTA

 

Polenta flour – 1.5 cups
Milk – 2 cups
Water – 1.5 cups, plus a little more if needed
Cream – 1/2 cup
Salt – 3/4 tsp
Turmeric – 1/4 tsp

 

Heat the milk and water together along with the salt and turmeric. Add cream and bring it to a boil. Reduce flame and pour in the polenta flour in a steady stream as you stir continuously. I use a whisk. Also please wear gloves as this thing spits at you!

After about 25-30 minutes, the polenta should have thickened a bit and be dropping off your spoon. Feel the grains (put a few in your mouth after cooling!) – it shouldn’t be grainy. Done!

 

FOR MUSHROOM AND VEGETABLE SAUCE

 

Mushrooms – 2 cups – sliced
Onion – sliced – 1/2 cup
Garlic – 2 cloves – minced
Green chili – 1 – minced
Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup – halved
Tomatoes – 1 cup – chopped
Tomato puree – 1 tbsp
Sliced carrots – 2 – microwave for 2 minutes
Broccoli florets – 1 cup – microwave for 2 minutes
Capsicum red, green and yellow- sliced – 1.5 cups
Oil – 1 tbsp
Butter – 1 tsp
Cointreau – 1/4 cup
Any good cooking wine – 1/4 cup
Thyme – 1/4 tsp
Basil – 1/2 tsp
Rosemary – 1/2 tsp
Bay leaf – 1
Salt and pepper

 

Saute the capsicums in the butter and remove.

Add oil to the same pan and sweat the green chili, onions and garlic till pale yellow. Add the bay leaf.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the liquors. Turn up the heat and stir till mushy. Add the rest of the vegetables incl the cherry tomatoes.

Add the herbs and 2 cups water and cover and simmer till vegetables are tender. Add more water if needed to make a medium thick soup.

 

TO SERVE

 

Mould the polenta (it should now be warm and moist) into a soup plate. Make a well in the centre with a cup. Fill the sauce into the well.

Serve immediately.

 

If you want to keep it and serve later, add a little milk or water and microwave, stirring once in the middle.

Watch the table go slurp, slurp, not surr… surrr!

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Madeover thalipeeth: On why we ‘became’ late!

“Why are you late?” I ask the girl who comes in to wash dishes.

“It became late,” she says, under the impression she’s giving me an answer!

“I know!. THAT is why I’m asking you” – I am exasperated!

She stares at me – she’s just told me so what on earth does this akka want???!

We move on – to the vegetable vendor. I meet my neighbour there.

“Oh, you’ve come to buy vegetables, is it?” he queries.

“No, not at all. Actually the onion seller is my best friend and I came here to give her a good morning hug”! – naah, I don’t actually say it…

Then I go to the doctor’s clinic. Bump into yet another neighbour! Don’t mistake me – I love my neighbours but they are rather  ubiquitous this morning!

“Oh, you’ve come to see the doc, is it?”

I am used to it by now… resignedly, I make all the right noises… the inside noises are singing a different tune though…

“Actually, I’ve been well for a while now so I thought I’d get myself a little MRSA (hospital- acquired infection), just for a change, you know!”

And it’s not just my neighbours (in case you’re wondering if the common factor in all these is me!) but companies and governments who do it too!

Like this sign in an American diner (well, in a sense America is our neigbour. Look at the little bit of land that connects America with Russia – there, right at the very top of the globe. Yes, yes, the same one that Asians walked across during the last Ice Age and became Red Indians!). Russia is in Asia and so are we – so we are neighbours! But I was getting away from our diner which lists…

“Freshly squeezed orange juice… and below… made from freshly squeezed oranges.” Really, who would have guessed??!

How about that classic one ALL of us across the globe say when we meet a kid we used to know after a gap of a few years…”OOOh, look at you, you’ve grown so BIG!” The correct response (from the kid) to that is not to look down and shuffle your feet, trying to look twelve inches shorter… rather, look from left to right at the person saying it to you and retort, “Well you haven’t exactly shrunk either!”

But then we are like that only – we get by without answering but also by not being impolite – thus – “I got late!”

Jugaad – the art of making do/getting by – all people with Indian genes in them have a built-in PhD degree in it!

Like this answer to… “What’s for breakfast?”

My breakfast today – a makeover of the Marathi thalipeeth… made primarily from leftovers and better than the original!

 

MADE-OVER THALIPEETH akin to Sarvapindi

 

Left over bhutte ka khees (recipe given earlier – basically sweet corn cooked in milk with ginger and cumin) – 1 cup
Left over whole moong dal (green gram) cooked – 1 cup
Atta – whole wheat flour – 1 cup
Jowar flour/bajra flour/red rice flour (any multigrain flour will do!) – 1 cup
Kasooti methi (dried methi leaves) – 1 tbsp
Green chilies – 2
Red chili powder – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 1 pinch
Coriander leaves – chopped – 2 tbsp
Salt
Chopped onions – 2 – very finely chopped
Sesame seeds – white – 2 tbsp
Oil – 3-4 tbsp

 

Grind the corn and the dal along with the green chilies, kasooti methi, red chili powder, salt and  asafoetida to a rough dough.

Mix in all the dry flours, chopped onions and coriander and knead to a soft dough consistency – adding water if needed. Mix in coriander and onion.

Set aside for half an hour.

Divide into large balls – see pic for size.

Take a plate-sized sheet of foil and grease it. Place the ball of dough on it and flatten with your palm. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and flatten – either with your hand or a rolling pin – using very little pressure – into a chapathi.

Invert carefully on a heated, greased pan (tava) and remove foil carefully. Reuse for the next roti.

Drizzle a few drops of oil all around the thalipeeth. Poke holes in it using a ladle – this is great fun!

Cook for 3-4 minutes on a medium flame. Turn over and cook again for 3-4 minutes. Remove and serve with a mint-coriander-mango chutney.

 

MINT-CORIANDER-MANGO CHUTNEY

 

Mint – 2 cups
Coriander – 1 cup
Raw mango – 1 cup
Green chilies – 3
Sugar – 2 tsp
Salt

 

Grind everything together. Lasts for 3-4 days in the frig and can be eaten with abso anything!

 

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Multigrain cheddar and pesto buns: Of Amreekan Indians and American Indians!

Well, well, well… it’s been  just over a week that I wrote my last post! Last post – sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? Like something out of Kipling or Louis L’Amour, if you’re inclined to Westerns! Or something that the boy who stood on the burning deck would have played as he went down with his ship or maybe the bandmaster on the Titanic.

Feels a bit strange to not have a writing deadline every day. But then, I’ve been able to cook whatever I want everyday without worrying about whether I have already featured it in my blog (and after the hundredth or so dish, let me assure you, it can become pretty tough to remember what you’ve written about and what hasn’t featured yet!) and therefore will I have to make yet another dish for the blog (this is Madras where the degrees on the thermometer, if we had thermometers in Fahrenheit that is –  are always over hundred!) and I have earned the right to grumble!

And that reminds me, can anyone in the world, barring the Sheldon Coopers and Stephen Hawkings-es (Hawkingi?), figured out how to do, in their heads, the conversion from F to C? When I’m baking, for instance, I have a shot at it – in the dark – because by the time I come around to the bit in the recipe (here is an earnest prayer to Amreeka, Amreekans and Barack Obama, – please, pretty please, for the sake of the rest of the world, would you shift to metric???!) where I need to preheat the oven to something-something Fahrenheit, my hands are full of floury goop and I have to try and operate the keypad with my elbows – NOT! Sometimes I’m right, at other times, we eat overdone/underdone/don’t know if over or under but we just know something is wrong – baked goodies!

And so, not having a deadline, I have been bingeing on the stuff I like – four days in a row – same dish! Making do with podi annam (a spiced dal powder mixed with cooked rice and ghee – kitchen staple and the next thing to heaven in the south of India for the times when you don’t want to cook). You see, the problem is that, Maggi having disappeared quite off the scene with its tail stuck firmly between its legs, for a generation for which Friday night dinner meant either eating out or eating Maggi in your nightclothes after an early bath and watching Antakshari on the telly, the loss of Maggi has been like losing a beloved member of the family – the guy (yes Maggi is male, I insist! Wanna slug it out??!!) who gave serious starchy comfort in times of tiredness and need, life is just not the same!

But… but we shall take comfort in the cheesy arms of this…

 

MULTIGRAIN CHEDDAR -PESTO BUNS

 

FOR DOUGH

 

Plain flour – 1 cup
Wholewheat flour/atta – 1 cup
Bajre ka atta (bajra flour – bajra is a native Indian – Indiawala Indian, yaar, not American Indian but oh dear, there are so many of those Amreekan Indians, it can get very confusing. So we shall define them thus:American Indian – the guy who was formerly called a Red Indian and wore feathers and scalped the palefaces (you don’t have to be politically correct here, I assure you!) with a tomahawk – NOT a kind of hawk, but I think, an axe kind of thing, but can no longer be called that because it is politically incorrect.Amreekan Indian – the guy who went from India and held on tight to his Indian-ness (excepting my California cujjin bunch!), sambar and bhajans and Vedanta classes (excuse plizzzz, I love you guys, I do and you bring a smile to face… well, to be honest, it’s more of a belly laugh but what’s a laugh or smile between friends, right? Right?!)

And now somehow, these guys have all crept into my recipe and I don’t know how to take them out so please don’t knead them into the bread!

Yeast – 1 sachet – proved in 2 tbsp warm water
Milk powder – 2 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Sugar – 2 tsp
Butter / oil mixture – 2 tbsp

 

FILLING

 

Cheddar cheese – chunks – 1 cup
Pesto (see earlier posts for the recipe) – 2 -3 tsbp

 

Knead the ingredients for the dough adding enough water to make a soft dough, till elastic, leaving out Indians of various hues – red to brown, and set aside in a covered bowl to prove for an hour.

Knock back, divide into 7 -8 balls.

Flatten the balls a bit and smear with 1 tsp pesto. Add 3-4 chunks of cheddar and bring the edges together to form a parcel.

Roll lightly between your palms to shape into buns.

Place on a greased tray, leaving about 2 cm between each to allow for the second rising.

Cover and let it rise for another 30 minutes.

Make cuts across the top (optional), brush with milk.

Bake at 180 C for 25 minutes and at 200 C for a further 15- minutes till done  and golden brown on top.

Serve with any soup.

 

And now, My Obama, shall we look at why you don’t want to go metric??

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