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A Herb-ivore’s love affair

2014 February 24

We had no plans. We had only what we had: two blessed zucchinis, an abundance of green peas (which are in season), a half-bagful of cherry tomatoes (from Auroville), a withering yellow pepper (provenance unknown); a couple of sad old cucumbers, and a handful each of wilting basil and dying dill–the latter of which especially could not be wasted, no matter its condition, having arrived from far-off Bangalore, being a precious ingredient in these parts, and having to make recompense for an already too-large carbon footprint. Of course, it must be said that there is always cilantro (coriander) in an Indian kitchen, and usually a few sprigs of mint.

Sunday greens

What was to be done with so many wilting herbs and so little else? When we’d travel by air as children, my very vegetarian parents and uncle would remark sarcastically that vegetarian airline food was pretty much just “grass” for all us folks in cattle class. They weren’t wrong, really. What passed as “vegetarian” in most menus in the air or on the ground until “vegetarian” became this trending environmental lifestyle thing was tofu, chick peas, potatoes, and salad–unimaginative, tasteless, fixated on “protein sources,” and in a word, boring.

Thank goodness times have changed and a real love-affair with vegetables is possible–the kind that isn’t premised on freshness or abundance or these or those specific things, but just makes do with what is, playfully, carelessly, because what is is plenty.

Sunday greens

So, the dill got cleaned and chopped, and separated into two heaps: one for a rice salad (we call this a “pulao”), one for a yogurt salad (we call this a “raita”). Can a yogurt salad be had with a rice salad? If you call one a pulao and another a raita, yes-indeedy, it sure can. Call it–and it is.

Sunday veggies

How? Rice Salad with Dill and Peas/ Simple pulao

1. Cook a cup your long-grain rice–basmati, preferably, and none of that faux-fragranced “Texmati” stuff please. Use 2 cups of water to each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, turn the heat way down and cover tightly till all the water is absorbed and the rice is nice and fluffy.
2. In a tablespoon of oil, fry quickly and in quick succession:

  • 2-3 chopped green onions, including the green shoots;
  • a minced clove of garlic;
  • 1 cup boiled fresh peas (or the equivalent from your freezer, zapped in a microwave);
  • a handful of chopped dill;
  • salt to taste;
  • a handful of grated parmesan (which makes this more of a salad than a pulao, but who’s judging really?)

3. Add your cooked rice and mix gently with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a grating of lemon zest.

Next, the yogurt salad.. er, raita.

Sunday veggies

How? Yogurt Salad with cucumber and dill/ Cucumber Dill Raita


  • 1 thinly sliced onion;
  • 2 grated cucumbers, with their water pressed out (don’t waste that either, drink it!) so the raita doesn’t get too watery–it’s ok if they’re old and sad, they’ll get happy in a moment;
  • 1 handful of chopped dill
  • 2-3 cupfuls of plain unflavored yogurt, whipped with a whisk until smooth (OR 2 cups plain yogurt and 1 cup sour cream for a rich indulgence that stops being precisely salad-like).
  • Season with salt.

See how happy everything looks now?

Ready to chutney? Or, if you prefer, salsa?

Sunday veggies

How? Coriander Basil Chutney
Combine, in a blender:
  • A large, roughly chopped bunch of coriander leaves (lower stems trimmed);
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • A few tablespoons cup olive oil (just enough to get the blender blades working smoothly)
  • a few basil leaves
  • a few mint leaves
  • juice of one half lime
  • salt

Note: This is a truly marvelous condiment which can be used on anything: toasted bread, eggs, or really any veggies that need a bit of extra zing.

Now for those squashes.

Sunday veggies

How? Pan Roasted Zucchini with Basil, Mint, and Walnuts

1. Slice your zucchini in thickish rounds, and spread out onto a hot griddle that has been brushed with olive oil.
2. Allow to brown on one side, and then on the other–on medium-low heat, without covering. [You may need to repeat for the second squash, depending on the size of your griddle.]
3. Collect into a serving dish.
4. Toss with:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 heaping spoon capers
  • a small bunch of basil leaves, minced
  • a few mint leaves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
  • a handful or more of toasted, cooled walnuts
  • salt and pepper to taste

5. Drizzle a bit of the coriander chutney (or “sauce” if you go fancy) on top, and set some more out as a condiment.

Sunday veggies

We threw everything else we had (yellow pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes) into a salad that was not dressed but served up naked, sprinkled only with dukkah–that incredible Egyptian spice powder that deserves a post all its own.

Sunday veggies

And we finished up with these truly amazing Gaund ke laddus (laddus or sweet balls made with roasted wheat flour and “gaund” or the gum of the axle wood tree) which our lovely neighbors brought over–traditionally fed to nursing mothers for their nutritive value and high fiber content. No nursing mothers here any more, and it’s a good thing, too, because we weren’t sharing. No way in H***.

Love affairs can be terribly possessive, too, in the end.

[Recipes adapted from Deborah Madison's spectacularly beautiful Vegetable Literacy]


Usili Fusilli

2014 February 17

Usili fusilli beans and dill
If I cook it up will you eat it still?

Borne along by the swell and fall of life at 40+ with two kids and at least two jobs (but thankfully only one Verne), I’m often quite late to parties–even the Chennai ones happening around the corner from where I live.


read more…

Beautiful being green: edamame and tomatillos

2014 January 6

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy, being green.”

Especially if you’re a kid, and deal oh-so-much-better with white (chicken, bread, cheese, rice). Or, if you’re a tired mom, who doesn’t want to face the wince on that baby’s face when presented with spinach. Green has had such a bad name, Popeye had to be recruited to reaffirm its value. Really? Spinach that flowed from a can like green goop was going to help? Well, what do I know. Whether that worked for kids or inspired their parents, I’m not sure, though it apparently did help to boost spinach sales in those canned times. read more…

Rose Apple Dreams

2013 December 28

A package arrived from Bangalore this morning, sent by my lovely mother-in-law, who knows that a secret chamber of each of our hearts is reserved for the inimitably delicate little rose apple.


We had discovered these fruits last year at about this time, most peculiarly named “paneer pandu” (paneer or fresh cheese fruit, in Telugu). We decided that must be a misnomer. But the name was nonetheless a clue: there is no way to describe this fruit except by analogy. Paneer just wasn’t the right one. read more…

A cooking class in Bali

2013 December 22

“…non-art is more Art than art.”–Allan Kaprow, The Education of the Un-Artist Part I, 1971

paticheri_paonbali_coooking performance (13)

Everything about food is performance. We know this, intuitively and otherwise. We know it from restaurant experiences, where we have complained about service or praised presentation. We know it from Teppanyaki to such feminist statements as Janine Antoni’s 1992 “Gnaw” and Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party.” [Martha Rosler's 1975 "Semiotics of the Kitchen" deserves a post all its own.] We know it because Rirkrit Tiravanija served up rice and Thai curries in the MoMA, using cookery as an installation that connected artist and audience. We know it from every hostess who has been shamed because a meal lacked something or praised because she pulled it off perfectly. We know it from statistics about hunger, nutrition, starvation, mid-day meals, school lunches, and more–used to dance political dances of one sort or another. We know it from maps of food deserts and food swamps–more data to enact more arguments. We know it especially from the current food styling food gawking food blogging craze that has seized us in a peculiarly intense virtual engagement with this most non-virtual of our human needs. read more…

Tellspec and the Quest to know your food

2013 December 18

What is with the Tellspec hype this season?

Tellspec Truffle

Tellspec is a little handheld device that looks like a mouse (that’d be a computer mouse, not a real one), which you wave over your food–

Wait, wait for the beep of recognition–

And information about pesticides, gluten, allergens, nutrients, and more appear magically on your smartphone (which you’d also have to have, of course). read more…

A Study in Jackfruit

2013 December 16

Jackfruit made more than a cameo appearance on our journeys this year, and I (being, genealogically at least, a botanist at heart) finally got a chance to spend some good time with a fruiting tree which had been allowed to just grow into a gorgeously dark green canopy–rather than being trained ramrod straight, so that the trunk can bear the weight of its fruit.

Paticheri jackfruit study

read more…

How to walk through a Hong Kong Grocery (straight into a theory of Taste)

2013 December 10

“[O]ne cannot fully understand cultural practices … unless the elaborated taste for the most refined objects is reconnected with the elementary taste for the flavours of food.”—Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

You would come to Taste a tourist-pilgrim, moved, satiated, wanting for nothing more.

paticheri_lantau_bigbuddha (1)

Your heart would be still at the feet of the Tian Tan “Big” Buddha where the six Devas offer flowers for generosity, incense for ethics, lamps for the clarity of patience, perfume for persevering joyous effort, food as ambrosia to feed the mind, and musical instruments for the clear sounds of wisdom.  read more…

Android Confections

2013 October 21

It’s true that I’ve not paid much attention at all to Android–or Tamil cinema, for that matter, but that’s another story–being, after all, a native iPhone user. But this week, I so-belatedly realized two things. First, that I share a celebrated birthday with Android: the first product of the Open Handset Alliance was launched on November 5, 2007, the very day I turned 37. Second, that new releases of the Android mobile operating system have since 2009 been code-named after confections and sweet treats in alphabetical order: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Honeycomb, Jellybean, and now KitKat.

A birthdate and a love of sweet treats? Suddenly my connection to Android was not just personal, it was primal.

KitKat pack promo

read more…

The Perfect Avocado

2013 September 15

It all began with the perfect avocado. One for each hand, plucked from a tree on a school biology walk one fresh-from-rain Pondicherry morning, by a boy who wanted to bring them home to his mother.


His mother was, admittedly, surprised. When the boy asked for gifts himself, it was always about gadgets or gears. His parents did not want him to grow up a Luddite, but it was a struggle to keep him away from the tablets and the phones and the screens that were like nodal points in their home. So when the boy came home with an avocado for each hand, his mother looked up, wondering if it was just that she’d been figured out. He had said it himself, once when they planned the outcomes of a reading contest, “I know what prizes Amma will ask for. She’ll ask for a meal or something, that’s all.” So she couldn’t help but wonder if that was all. read more…

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