Cookbook: Samaithu Par by Meenakshi Ammal

Nags is hosting her very first event called "Show me your Cookbook". As soon as I saw her post I knew I wanted to participate, but a good cookbook did not jump out at me right away. I rarely follow cookbook recipes, relying heavily on recipes from my Mom, Mother-in-law, and all the great Indian blogs I follow. Whenever I have a craving to cook something and need a recipe, I head straight to the internet and start searching.

My brother in law Gopi has a fairly good collection of cookbooks and is strict about following recipes. I have never had the discipline or interest in doing that, and tend to 'create' recipes by looking at what is in my pantry and merging a few recipes together to use up whatever is in the fridge.

When I got married I didn't really know how to cook, and my husband Shankar and my mother-law taught me how do the basics. But I did try a few recipes out of the classic South Indian recipebook trio, Samaithu Par - Cook and See. I bought these cookbooks long before marriage on a trip to India in the hopes that one day I would use them to master South Indian cooking.

The dishes I tried from here were OK, but to be very honest the results from cooking lessons with my family were far better. Some people swear by the author, Meenakshi Ammal (who is of the South Indian Patti variety).

Cook and See - any South Indian will tell you its a must for your collection of cookbooks. Nags, I don't think your virtual cookbook collection would be complete without this one!

Penne with Fennel and Spinach

The other day I put together this healthy working lunch. A few nights before I had made a baby spinach salad with fennel, and orange with a citrus dressing. I served it with a roasted vegetable pasta with feta cheese. With the left over cup of pasta, and salad I threw together this quick working lunch.

Pasta with Fennel and Spinach
1 cup of cooked penne pasta, 1 cup of baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup of sliced fennel, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp orange juice, 1 tsp of red wine vinegar, 1 tsp chopped garlic, cracked black pepper, salt, crushed red chili flakes to taste, Parmesan cheese to garnish

1. Dressing: Whisk the olive oil, orange juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, black pepper, crushed red chili flakes, and salt.
2. Add the dressing to a hot pan and slightly cook the garlic.
3. Add the spinach, and fennel until the leaves wilt.
4. Add the pasta and mix together.
5. Top with grated Parmesan.

Nutritional Information:

Fennel is packed with powerful antioxidants. Fennel is a good source of niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, potassium and manganese. Fennel seeds, known as Saunf, often help to overcome gas, cramps, acid indigestion, and many other digestive tract maladies. They are used in Indian Cooking, and are often served after dinner as a palate cleanser and to help digestion.

Verdict: I really enjoyed the taste of the fennel with spinach. I've been eating a lot of the standard 'english' vegetables, as Shankar's grandmother refers to them. So going beyond the cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, peas, cabbage, and potatoes is a big adventure for me. I find as an adult my palette has certainly matured, I am really enjoying more complex flavors and foods that are slightly bitter or sour. Some new favorites of mine include, fennel, arugula, mustard greens, and bottlegourd which you saw in my last post.

I'll leave you all with a funny joke told to us by one visiting uncle: He took his grandkids to the Field Museum in Chicago. Upon arriving at the museum CK Uncle proceeds to tell his grandkids how long it has been since he's been to that museum, and things may have changed since he last visited. His young 7 yr old grandson gently takes his hand and says
"Thatha, when you last came here it was a Zoo, and the dinosaurs were all playing around here!"

Sorrakai: Bottlegourd Subzi

This is a subzi that was taught to me by my mother-in-law. Delicious bottlegourd that is cooked in a simple sauce of jeera, onions and tomato. The gravy that is used in this subzi can be used with any vegetable, but the soft bottlegourd creates a comforting subzi that is healthy and tasty. My husband is not a huge fan of sorrakkai but I love it.

Shankar and I are pretty similar and we enjoy doing most things together. I think having separate interests is a good thing, and I enjoy activities that I do with my own friends apart from my husband just as much as I enjoy going to events and spending time with him. Our lives are pretty busy with both of us committing to various endeavours and jobs alike. It is only going to get busier in the future, with travel for work and children entering the picture.

I want to ask all of you how you deal with conflicting schedules and differing priorities in a marriage? Shankar and I have been talking about having a 'date night' forever, but somehow life takes over and we end up over committing to events with our friends and family and the first thing that gets sacrificed is time spent between husband and wife.

I think this can also be applied to eating habits, and it is definitely one of the reasons I appreciate being married to someone who enjoys eating vegetarian food. I have a few friends who are in relationships where one is veg and the other is non-veg. Even though we eat vegetarian food at home, there are still a lot of dishes that I enjoy that Shankar doesn't (mostly vegetable related!). Ultimately all of these conflicts come from each person wanting something different and coming to a compromise that is balanced for both parties is sometimes very difficult. It can be applied to food, spending time together, purchases, or lifestyle choices.

How do you all deal with this?

Sorrakkai: Bottlegourd Subzi
1 bottlegourd, 1 tbsp jeera, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 onion minced, 1 tomato diced, salt, 2 tsp garam masala

1. Peel the bottlegourd, and scoop the seeds out from inside with a spoon. Dice into 1/2" squares.
2. Splutter the jeera in some oil.
3. Add the onion, turmeric, and chili powder.
4. Add the tomato and fry it until it becomes soft.
5. Add the bottle gourd and mix it constantly on high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and steam until it becomes soft for approximately 20 minutes. Mix in the garam masala.

My friend Aparna makes this dish in the pressure cooker and she says it gives the bottlegourd a really soft, creamy texture.

VERDICT: I enjoyed the sorrakkai subzi, and I made up for my hubbies dislike of it by making him an alu subzi.

Other Bottlegourd Links:
Foodies Hope Bottlegourd Recipes
Happy Burps Moong Daal and Bottlegourd Curry
Mahanandi Bottlegroud in Sesame
Ahaar's Simple Pleasures of Bottlegourd

Badham Kheer

I learned to make Badham Kheer from my mother. Its an easy sweet drink to make that works for many occasions. Life has been so busy lately, my father in law is visiting me and Shankar and Gopi are in the thick of school already. Appa has taken a major demotion from senior executive to taxi driver, ferrying his sons back and forth from school!

I always have the most interesting conversations with my father-in-law, and one of our favorite subjects is that of the arranged marriage. People are always fascinated to know that my father-in-law and my father arranged the marriage between Shankar and myself. Growing up in Canada I expected to meet someone on my own, date them, and get married. The idea of arranged marriage was not nearly as accepted in the mainstream as it is today. It seemed archaic, 0ppressive, and wholly unromantic. My father would tell me that I would one day go from his home to my husband's home, which would frustrate me to no end as an independent career minded young woman. I felt that my opinion, or my expectations of equal partnership, romance, understanding and acceptance would never be fulfilled by the groom chosen by my parents. All of this for the simple reason that I felt my parents did not understand me, a typical thought of a young adult anywhere in the world. Add to this that my upbringing in Toronto was completely different from that of my parents who grew up in Madras. I was growing up in a society that I felt they didn't understand the pressures of. The stereotypical impression of arranged marriages is one where the bride and groom have very little say in the matter, but todays concept of arranged marriages has changed so much in North America it has become nothing more than an arranged 'blind' date by the boy and girls parents.

It is only now after marriage that I can understand every single one of my parents sentiments which infuriated me as I fought the arranged marriage process. I wanted fireworks. I hated being set up with family friends whom I had known since childhood and never felt anything for. Somehow the search for the perfect man was hindered with all the restrictions placed on potential matches; brahmin, iyer, brahacharanam, non-lohitha gothra, masters degree, tamil, etc etc etc. It began to feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Once my parents convinced me to set up my profile on the internet the alliances came flooding in. Amongst all my girlfriends going through the same process the question of the moment became, "How do you know he is the one?.

I see my friends who are still unmarried, and compare them to my friends who are married. I have a feeling in many cases the two groups can be described as those who have accepted that reality is not perfect, and those still searching for the illusion of perfection. Marriage is about accepting each others flaws and appreciating your life partner for who they are. I think it was ironic that while I was in the process, I was seeking perfection yet expecting the men I met to accept my flaws.

At the end of the day I am very happy I ended up choosing family, culture, and lifestyle as important factors to base a marriage on. My father in law appreciated the badham kheer I made for him, the recipe taught to me by my mother. Its a wonderful feeling that I never anticipated to be part of the equation of marriage. I probably knew Shankar was the one even before I met him, the moment of knowledge being when I met his family and felt comfortable amidst them.

I pose the question to you dear readers, how did you all know he was the one?

Badham Kheer - serves 4
1 cup of almonds, 2.5 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar, a pinch of saffron

1. Soak the almonds in hot water for 10 minutes. The skins should snap off easily, peel them.
2. Grind the almonds, with the milk.
3. Simmer the almond mixture for about 15 minutes, and then add the sugar mix until the sugar melts.
4. Garnish with a pinch of saffron.

Badham Kheer Recipes
Hare Krishna's

Karamani Sundal: Black Eyed Peas Salad

I'm trying to eat healthy these days, which is hard given my favorite food group is potato chip. Maintaining a steady weight has been a lifelong battle for me. Despite all the swimming, skating, and dance lessons, as a child I was always a little chubby. At the age of 14 I became very involved with performing Bharatha Natyam, and in a phase of intense dancing, exercise, and strict eating I reduced to about 100 pounds. Unfortunately as the exercise slowed, and the eating habits returned so did the pounds. Upon entering university the stress of school had me in a downward spiral of bad eating habits. 50 pounds later, I was truly miserable. Graduation brought on the pressure from my parents to get married to a desi, and heading into the superficial world of meeting prospective grooms while being overweight was the worst kind of nightmare. So I got motivated, hit the gym regularly, and went back on the strict diet. The weight came off and I realized I had never felt better in my life. Then it happened, marriage. The comfort of being in a great relationship compounded with the innumerable dinners out, cocktail parties, and weekends entertaining friends have now regressed me back another 15 pounds.

I have many friends who seem to be naturally skinny, those who have always been 'big boned', and those who can't seem to maintain a consistent weight. What makes us all so different? Is the world we live in a factor to our eating habits, or is it all ultimately about self control?

Writing this post just made me realize that every phase of my life has been marked with a drastic change in my weight. Having established that the successful formula is a regime of intense exercise accompanied by a strict diet, it would seem the recurring problem revolves around maintaining the routine and self control. In hopes of conquering this lifelong battle, I am posting a series of Healthy Eating Recipes, and hopefully I will be motivated to prepare delicious food that fits the low calorie requirement on a regular basis. I think I might hold a blogging event on this at some point, what do you guys think?

Karamani Sundal: Black Eyed Peas South Indian Style
serves 2 as a side dish
1 cup of dried black eyed peas soaked overnight, 1/2 cup of diced raw mango, 2 tsp mustard seeds, 2 dried red chillies, 3 curry leaves, 1/4 tsp asafoetida

*Soak the Karamani Black Eyed Peas overnight covered in water.

1. Boil the peas in salted water, until they are tender but not mushy.
2. Drain the peas.
3. Splutter the mustards seeds in olive oil, add the red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves.
4. Add the peas, mango and mix.

Nutritional Information per serving:
Black eyed peas are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are low in sodium. They are high in potassium, iron, and fiber.

per serving
Quantity 1/2 cup
Energy (Calories) 162
Carbohydrates (grams) 19.3
Protein (Grams) 6.5
Cholesterol (Milligrams) 0
Fat (Grams) 7.25
Saturated Fat (grams) 1