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The Coral Jasmine Honey Mood Cocktail

2016 October 15

After I’d done blue and red, my younger one said: do yellow–and the bar was once again set.

paticheri honey mood cocktail (3)

The challenge was the find or grow something in the garden, and use that to extract a natural yellow tint that could be used to make a drink. Turmeric would have been a natural choice, especially given that “turmeric lattes” are all the rage. But I wanted a clear drink to match the others, not a milky one,and turmeric seemed the wrong taste for a cocktail (or mocktail) anyway. We considered others: marigolds, calendulas.. but none seemed possible or safe to drink or interesting enough.

Until a dawn of garden wandering brought me to my suddenly-so-large coral jasmine or parijat tree–which in Bengal is the beloved shiuli or shefali of worship and poetry alike, and in the North is harsingar. Tamilians also call it pavazha malli, or pearl jasmine. The ground beneath my tree was strewn with the night’s fallen blossoms ..

paticheri parijat shiuli (3) read more…

Patra [Spicy tangy taro leaf and gram flour roll-ups]

2016 October 10

I’m not at all sure that this lovely little Gujarati-Maharashtrian snack called “patra” (or patraveliya, or aḷuvaḍi–अळूवडी, or patrode) is to be made as an offering to the victorious Goddess of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami — who is worshiped so much more fervently in the Eastern states than the Western. But when ingredients present themselves, I follow their leads — and hope humbly that She will not mind. For those fasting or otherwise observing strictures during this festival season, this is after all an entirely sattvic food as understood by Ayurveda: no-onion-no-garlic; “pure, essential, natural, vital, energy-containing, clean, conscious, true, honest, wise.”


So, I’ll get to it. The “patra” of patra are the leaves of the taro or colocasia plant (the root of which is known locally as arbi, in Tamil cheppankizhangu). They are large, and almost elephant-eared (not to be confused with garden elephant ears which are inedible!). Smeared with a spicy chick-pea flour paste, they are rolled, steamed, and then lightly fried and seasoned. The result is a crisp, hearty little snack: perfect as a starter or with a steaming cup of afternoon tea. read more…

The Best Balsamic Vinaigrette Ever

2016 September 28

Adapted from Chinese Grandma, this classic tangy balsamic vinaigrette with just the right touch of honey-sweetness takes less than 10 minutes to assemble, and stores well for a long while. We use it on everything that looks like a salad, feels like a salad, or might just become a salad, and to give any combinations of steamed or grilled veggies a little zip-zap. No more intro needed now, just the illustrated recipe. Thank you, Chinese Grandma!

paticheri illustrated best balsamic vinaigrette ever 2016

Manjula and the Goddess: A Story about Sulking, Sharing, and the Love of Good Brinjals

2016 September 23

This is a story my mother used to tell, of a village woman and a village goddess and of the unexpected friendships that can develop over a good brinjal curry. Here it is, along with the vivid and lively watercolor illustrations by my dear friend, colleague, and fellow-discoverer-of-children’s-worlds, Khushboo Biyani.

Frame 1_Manjula's brinjals_paticheri_khushboobiyani (1)

This is the story of a woman who loved to eat brinjals. Her name was Manjula, or Manju for short. She lived in a time when daughters were married into the homes of their husbands, and lived with mothers and fathers-in-law, brothers-in-law and a whole mess of an extended family. And at a time when young daughters-in-law would feed everyone in the household first, before eating themselves.

Now Manju’s brinjal curries were delectable. So much was her love for the vegetable, it poured itself into what she made. So much so, that the dish was gone almost as soon as it was made–and there was never much left for the cook herself.
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The Pondicherry Fling Cocktail

2016 September 11

Make no mistake, this is a story of a most passionate love affair–but not the sort you’d expect. It’s a love story of a woman and a place and all the things in the place she finds, and of earthy enjoyments so sublime.

paticheri_pondicherryfling gin sling (5)

Now the woman lives in a place where things grow, almost against the odds. It is hot here and salty. It’s a fishing village and can be filthy. Visitors come in droves for cheap booze and the seaside, a little heritage by the wayside. They make this place in their own image, with shacks and bars and resorts aplenty, and all things the same but the air seasoned salty. Not so for those who stay. Those who stay simply know that this is a town where things can grow.

So they planted Auroville full of trees, reforested a world of scorching breeze. They cultured strange cheeses, they yeasted unusual breads, seeded cold kombuchas, found strange new sheens in the polished wood of fallen trees, and buried themselves in the red, hot soil. They sought no assurance that anything would ever taste the same, ever again. read more…

Gaund Ki Laddoo [Roasted Wheat, Almond, and Edible Gum Balls]

2016 September 5

There ought to be a book somewhere about the culinary uses of gums and resins–think xanthan gum or gum arabica, which you’ve likely seen on a food label here or there, for instance–but I confess I’ve not searched hard enough to find one. But where xanthan and gum arabica are hidden ingredients, for us Indians, gums are widely known and commonly used. Think “hing” or “asafoetida,” which is a daily-use seasoning ingredient, the somewhat stinky (but oh!-so-redolent when it’s fried) gum of the ferula communis, a carrot family plant. Tamilians will recognize the “badam pisini” as the gum of the almond tree, used to make a rather outrageous drink called the jil-jil-jigarthanda. But more on that later.


For now, I’m concerned with the gum of the axlewood tree, known particularly to Rajasthanis as gaund and used to make lots of sweets and snacks–of which my favorite, and the one I’m falling over myself to offer in honor of Vinayaka Chaturthi to the Lord who we’re told loves all things laddu, is gaund ki laddu or sweet balls made with crackly gaund as star ingredient. read more…

A Beginner’s Guide to Tamil Greens: Wild Amaranths [Arakeerai] in Pasta and Rice

2016 August 14

This post has two inspirations: my first and truer one is just to explore what amaranths can do when taken out of the ambit of Indian cookery, while the second snarkier one is to poke fun at the hyper-trendy naming conventions that glorify all these purported latest super-foods (that the rest of the world has been eating routinely for decades before they became superfoods–bit like Columbus “discovering” the Americas).

paticheri_pasta with mushrooms and wild amaranth

Take-home point: Just eat lots of greens, ok? They’re good for you. But if you’re using arakeerais, bear in mind they’re warming foods, so better consumed in cooler months than in hot summers. In the summer months, substitute mulaikeerai or sirukeerai, instead. They’re all wild enough, and can be micro-enough. So that way you can have your trending superfood and eat it, too. read more…

A Beginner’s Guide to Tamil Greens: Dal with Amaranth [Sirukeerai kootu]

2016 August 14

There is a road just past the toll booth that provides access to the Tindivanam highway and the turn-off to Auroville that all the people here would call the “Koot” road. So many non-Indians living around here, the road name always sounded a little oddly foreign–until I realized its Tamil origins: kuudu means to join or combine, so koottam [கூட்டம்] is a crowd or a joining together of people, and indeed the Koot road is one that joins the Tindivanam road. With the Auroville turning at the other end, the intersection feels like a spot where four roads come together. 

So now you’ll understand the use of kootu [கூட்டு] to describe a dal preparation in which lentils are combined with usually just one vegetable and some ground spices and coconut. Kootus are a bringing together of disparate elements, and a recombination of them all into something that makes beautiful sense–and yet retains a sense of the distinctness of each ingredient. 

paticheri_mulaikeerai dal (2)

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A Beginner’s Guide to Tamil Greens: Stir-fried Amaranth [Mulaikeerai poriyal]

2016 August 14

Understanding greens, or keerais as they’re called in Tamil, means also understanding the poṟiyal [பொரியல்]–which is a category of Tamil cookery as much as it is a dish, usually dry, made of steamed-and-seasoned or gently stir-fried vegetables. Equivalents and variants of the poṟiyal exist in all regional Indian cuisines, but for us an essential ingredient is a handful of fresh coconut. And no turmeric!

paticheri_mulaikeerai (4)

Poriyals are fast to prepare, very lightly seasoned, and very gently cooked–in essence, antithesis to the idea of “curry,” as Westerners understand Indian cuisine, and answer to every common outside critique of Indian food: “It’s always so yellow!”–“They overcook their vegetables!”–“Everything has a sauce..”–“It’s too spicy!” read more…

Understanding Amaranth Greens: Arakeerai, Mulaikeerai, and Sirukeerai

2016 August 14

I know Noila’s voice long before I know her. I’ve heard her in the early mornings as she walks house-to-house in the fisher locality I call home, calling the names of the greens and garden vegetables she carries: arakeerai, sorakaya, vazhappuu, keeraaaaai! ‘mma, keeraaai! “Keerai” is the Tamil word for greens.

paticheri_greensvendor_noila (3)

I have to teach myself to listen for her, child of the modern grocery store that I am: well-schooled in thinking of agency and control in terms of choices I make, instead of parameters drawn circumstantially for me. Noila belongs to an era which feels more bygone than it really is, one in which so many people walk neighborhood streets and bring so many more daily needs and small services home. read more…

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