Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Falafel, Vada and Beyond…

Soak the raw chickpeas (with or without baking soda) overnight. Ground them with parsley, scallions, garlic as batter and add spices coriander or cumin, if needed. Instead of chickpeas, dried fava beans can be used similarly. They are stone ground and mixed with leek, parsley, coriander, cumin and dry coriander. Shape the mixture into balls or patties. Serve deep fried or oven baked. Falafel from the original Levantine cuisine is ready. Have them alone, wrapped (within lafa) or stuffed (into a hollow pita) with tahini and garnishes of tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce or even pickles.

One of the basic things of life, that brings together different cultures, places, and origins to a common area of interest is “food”. As one explores the different resources and basic ingredients; varieties are made, experienced and experimented with subtle differences across the cultures and cuisines. With International Falafel Day being held tomorrow (June 12th), it would be quite interesting to learn of similar recipes and try a few in the home kitchens or experiment with local ingredients making subtle changes.

Soak the legumes in water. Ground them for the batter. Season the batter with cumin seeds, onions, curry leaves ( sauteed or plain), salt, chillies, black pepper with or without minced or sauteed vegetables for more taste or nutrition. Add ginger or baking soda for large batch fermentation or more fluffiness respectively. Shape the mixture and deep fry. The Indian “Vada” is ready. Alternatives to legumes (pigeon pea, chickpea, black or green gram) are sago or potatoes. Serve hot or crunchy with or without dip.

Served as savoury fried snacks or even for breakfast; “Vada” also known as wada, vade, vadai, wadeh or bara have been a staple of South Indian cuisine as early as 12th century. There are varied types of vadas described as fritters, cutlets, doughnuts or dumplings. Popular ones include the medu vada of South India, batata vada of West India or mixed as food preparations like dahi vada or vada pav.

Season cooked and mashed black eyed peas with salt and chopped onions. Mould the mix as a large scone and deep fry in palm oil. Serve split in half and stuff with spicy pastes of vatapa, caruru made of shrimps, ground cashew, palm oil, okra, coconut milk and more. For vegans, serve with paste of hot peppers and green tomatoes. Acarje of West African and Brazilian cuisine are ready. Boil the basic ingredients (instead of frying) and abara is ready.

Derived from the Yoruba language, Àkàrà is a generic word meaning “bread” or “pastry” or the dish itself. “Acarajé” (brazilian) is derived from either the Yoruba word combinations “àkàrà” (bread) and “onje” (food) or “àkará” (a round pastry) and “je” (to eat). Popular in West Africa and a part of their culture; akara (rice flour, mashed banana, baking powder, sugar) was often fried and prepared for major occasions like childbirth, weddings, parties or funerals. When sold on the street with addition of ingredients like fried beef, mutton, dried shrimp, coconut among others; acarje was created and struck mass popularity since then on. Various similar combinations like acaca (steamed corn mush) have also coexisted.

Thus for a break from the “known dishes”, it would be fun to attempt newer simple recipes for a little different, spicy and healthy combination to keep the palate as well as “the kitchen experimentation spirit” going. With varied and subtle variations of familiar ingredients, it would be interesting to create a new family or home masterpiece or tradition to carry over to the next generations.

Posted in Daily, Food

Origin, Evolution and Art of “Tarte”

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!” – Lewis Carroll

As echoed by the words of Lewis Carroll, the association of “tarts” to the upper ranks of pastries has been there since the medieval ages. Fast forward to the present, their popularity hasn’t diminished by any means with more than three food holidays for tarts like the raspberry tart day (May 3rd), Cherry Tart Day (June 18th), Butter Tart Day (June 1st) and even National Milk Tart Day (February 27th) as declared and celebrated by “foodimentarians” around the world.

Tart is basically a baked dish with filling over a pastry base with the top left open. While the pastry is usually of shortcrust, the filling can vary from sweet to savoury; although modern tarts are fruit-based with or without custard. Miniature tarts known as tartlets like egg tarts are also gaining widespread popularity as they can essentially substitute for a complete breakfast for the “busy fast paced” world out there.

Originating from the Old French “tarte” or Medieval Latin “tarta”; the distinction of tart with flan, quiche and pie are often blurred with differentiation on the basis of the covering over the pastry or the filling type being sweet, savoury or meat and vegetable based. the categories of “tart”, “flan”, “quiche”, and “pie” overlap, with no sharp distinctions.

“Unless you are a professional, you will find the tart to be a high-maintenance, unforgiving whistle-blower of a pastry.” Sloane Crosley

On tracing the origins of tart, most food historians believe that they came about from the tradition of layering food or “putting things on top of other things” especially over notably round, flat pieces of bread or bread based crusts. Over time, the base was pastry type and then tarts had come about. Another line of thought maintains that tarts spring from the Medieval pie-making tradition, as a kind of flat, open-faced pie. Dating to at least mid 15th century, one of the earliest tarts was “the Italian crostata”, described as a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart” or “an open-faced sandwich or canape” due to its’ crusted appearance.

With the arrival of enriched dough around the 1550s, pies took a setback of being a common man’s way of recycling offal and table scraps, while tarts were made with fillings of “high cuisine” often made artistic and pleasing to the eye as well as palate. Often custard-based, a large, open tart presented a broad canvas upon which an artistic chef might compose a work of edible art with brightly-colored fruits, vegetables and spices added onto or into them, mostly being sweet than savoury, or a little of both.

Typically free-standing with firm pastry base of dough, itself made of flour, thick filling, and perpendicular sides; tarts have been made with varied fillings including jam, Treacle tart, meringue tart, tarte Tatin and Bakewell tart.

In fact, the “tarte Tatin”, named after the hotel (originated in France) serving it as its signature dish, is an upside-down pastry in which the fruit (usually apples) are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. Over the years, this version as spread to other countries over the years with the filling upside-down being of not just apples or other fruit but also onions, tomatoes and other vegetables.

With savoury tarts getting their own special niche of “quiches”, German Zwiebelkuchen ‘onion tart’ or Swiss cheese tart (Gruyere); tarts and their related varieties are here to stay, especially for quick, comfortable, fun and artistic cooking. With June being the month of outdoors and picnics, tarts and pies are very much here to stay.

“I’m really a scientist. I follow recipes exactly – until I decide not to. And then I’ll follow something else exactly. I may decide I could turn this peach tart into a plum tart, but if I’m following a recipe, I follow it exactly.” Ina Garten

Posted in Daily, Food

“Quiche” on the Menu

Fill the pastry crust with cheese, tomatoes, egg custard and smoked meat or mushrooms or any ingredient by choice, bake it without covering the pastry and viola’ the “homemade quiche’ ” is ready for the get-together with the extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or for a quiet light meal for two.

This savoury open flan consisting of pastry crust filled with eggs, milk or cream with cheese, meat, seafood or vegetables, quiche is one of the popular dishes of the French cuisine which has reached over to various parts and countries of the world albeit with or without modifications.

While the word “quiche” was first attested in French (1805) and the first English usage as “quiche Lorraine” was recorded in the Indiana Evening Gazette in 1925; the origins of this dish may be traced to the German roots. For the word “quiche” may originate from the German “Kuchen” meaning “cake” or “tart”. Food historians have traced the roots of “quiche” to the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, which the French later renamed as Lorraine.

Although this may be debatable as using eggs and cream in pastry was practiced in most cuisines as early as the 13th century. In fact the ” Forme of Cury” and the “Italian Libro de arte coquinaria” of the 13th and 14th century cookbooks have references of recipes known as ” Crustardes of flesh” or ” Crustade” which spell out steps for eggs and cream baked in pastry containing meat, fish and fruit. Since then, these recipes have caught on.

“I do not like a quiche with wet, undercooked pastry underneath, and that is that.” Mary Berry

Quiche can be made with a variety of ingredients with the variants often named descriptively in French like the quiche au fromage ( with cheese), quiche aux champignons (with mushrooms) or conventionally like florentine (spinach) and provençale (tomatoes) to list a few. Although there are many variants of quiche, one of the most popular and famous one is the ” Quiche Lorraine”, which has its’ own National Day as per the foodimentarians ( May 20th).

The authentic Quiche Lorraine originated from the German culture in which the “quiche” was an egg custard pie baked in a brioche pastry (and not in the typical French pie dough). Over the years this recipe had evolved into its’ classical form containing heavy cream, eggs and bacon or chopped ham, but no cheese. This mouth-watering wintry dish is baked until the pastry crust is browning. It can be served as a starter with a dressed crisp salad or as a brunch dish, often enjoyed at room temperature or little warm to keep the pie still crunchy. While the most popular Quiche recipe, includes French soft cheese (emmenthal or gruyere); many modern variations like the Alsatian-style including onions to modern versions with goat cheese, salmon, leek or even broccoli are made today.

So for a quick change from the regular, trying this simple recipe after a busy day may be fun. For the lack of ovens, this dish works fine on cooking with “instant pot” or ” by double boiling” techniques too . As often said, cooking is all about ” experimentation, cuisine mixing with modifications keeping it simple, tasty and artsy as well as fun”.

Posted in Daily, Food

Evolution of the “Salad”

“A salad is not a meal, it is a style.” Fran Lebowitz

Originating from the Latin sal (means salt) to the Provençal “salada”, later as the Old French salade to finally the late Middle English “sallet” of 14th century or the modern day “salad” which it is now known by, salads have gradually evolved over the years. From simply starting a meal to being the main meal by itself, salads have been redefined both in content, style and flavours. With summer in full swing, fresh produce available and kids at home, salads can be both fun, entertaining and creative.

“Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.” Marcus Samuelsson

Salads were favored since the early Babylonian Era, where the greens were dressed with oil and vinegar. Likewise Egyptians made salad dressed with oil, vinegar and Asian. Even the Romans and ancient Greek Era saw mixed greens with dressing, a type of mixed salad. With imperial expansions, these layered and dressed salads were favourites in the menus of the European courts. Royal chefs often combined many ingredients in one enormous salad bowl including exotic greens as well as flower petals. The favourite salad of King Henry IV was a tossed mixture of new potatoes (boiled and diced), sardines and herb dressing, where as Mary, Queen of Scots, preferred boiled celery root diced and tossed with lettuce, creamy mustard dressing, truffles, chervil and hard-cooked egg slices.

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one’s vinegar.” Oscar Wilde

Today salads are made in two classical manners of being artfully arranged or “composed” to ingredients being mixed with dressings or “tossed”. At any point of time on the meal salads may be served; as appetizers or side salads, as well as main course salads with high protein foods (like meat, eggs or fish), or as dessert salads. The latter version is one of the most popular with these sweet versions containing fruit, gelatin, sweeteners or whipped cream.

“It takes four men to dress a salad: a wise man for the salt, a madman for the pepper, a miser for the vinegar, and a spendthrift for the oil.” Anonymous

Technically there are five types of salads. Starting with the green salad or garden salad, consisting mostly of leafy greens with a healthy mix of coloured vegetables. If the latter are more, it is termed as a “vegetable salad”. From olives, artichokes as well as beans, celery or nuts, berries and seeds; these salads can be made in a colourful array. When made on a lettuce leaf, the “wedge salad” is created. When thick sauces are added to salads, they become “bound salads”, the second category of salads. Most types include those with mayonnaise like tuna salad, chicken salads, potato salad or egg salad, which can be served as “scoops” or sandwich fillers, making it a popular necessity for picnics and barbecues.

“As long as mixed grills and combination salads are popular, anthologies will undoubtedly continue in favor.” Elizabeth Janeway

The remaining three types include the “dinner salads” or main course salads, fruit and dessert salads. The former is made with meat, seafood or even eggs like the Cobb salad, Caesar salad and the Chinese chicken salad. With culinary fruits, a quick “fruit salad” can be made to complete the meal or a more elaborate “dessert salad” like jello salad, pistachio salad or ambrosia can answer the sweet cravings. Fancier creations like cookie salads, rice crispies salad, snickers salad or glorified rice salad. Finally topping the salads are the dressings which can be vinaigrette, creamy dressings as well as honey mustard or Italian dressing to mention a few. Dressing a salad depends on the final flavour that one wants to have.

Either for fun or for hunger, salad making can be an entertaining as well creative art, giving ample pleasure for both the taste buds, hunger pangs and health goals. With June being the foodimentarian ” National Month of Salads”, it would be fun to give few fancy salads a try.

“Kids in aprons appeared, putting tureens of vegetable soup on the tables and plates of boiled eggs, potatoes and lentils, bowls of endive-and-radish salad, small rounds of cheese and loaves of brown bread, all looking quite delicious, in Zoe’s opinion.” Christine Brodien-Jones, The Glass Puzzle

Posted in Food, Life, Quotes, Reflections

Slices of “Strawberry” Summer

“Happiness, I have grasped, is a destination, like strawberry fields. Once you find the way in, there you are, and you’ll never feel low again.” Rachel Simon

With the scent of summer still in the air, one wouldn’t miss the scent of wild strawberries in the fields. With lazy weekends beckoning a walk, it would be a perfect time for some family bonding as well as strawberry picking.

“You can pick wild strawberries with your eyes closed, locating them by smell, for they are two parts perfume to one part taste. An hour of searching might yield a handful if you’re lucky. Wild strawberries can’t be encouraged, nor can they be discouraged: They come to you unbidden and unearned. They appear, or do not, by the grace of the sun.” Hope Jahren

During this impromptu excursion, certain moments get engraved silently in the mind. The rapid passing of time, children growing up fast as well as hectic weeks leaving very less time to unwind, converse as well as simply relax; all highlight the significance in shutting down the media and heading back to nature.

“Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” Pema Chodron

With plenty of fresh strawberries to go around, it would be fun to go artsy, creative and add some sweetness to the regular meals as well as desserts. Browsing through the old recipes and brushing them with some “taste of summer” would make the strawberries as well as moments and memories to capture for the later years.

“As our lives speed up more and more, so do our children’s. We forget and thus they forget that there is nothing more important than the present moment. We forget and thus they forget to relax, to find spiritual solitude, to let go of the past, to quiet ambition, to fully enjoy the eating of a strawberry, the scent of a rose, the touch of a hand on a cheek…” Michael Gurian

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

“Hoagie” from Scratch

“I love a sandwich that you can barely fit in your mouth because there’s so much stuff on it. The bread should not be the main thing on a sandwich.” Adrianne Palicki

Little did John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-92) realize that his “sandwich” invention would become even bigger, longer and filled up with more varieties than before. Known popularly by the name of sub, hoagie, hero, grinder or Italian sandwich, the “submarine sandwich” has become one of the fastest growing sandwiches, adapted by many into a complete meal for the busy days or a healthier diet. Consisting of a length of bread or roll split lengthwise, filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and condiments, this sandwich has no standardized name and has a dozen varieties and combinations globally. In fact those submarine sandwiches longer in length or filled with greater quantities of ingredients than usual, are known as battleship, flattop or destroyer sandwiches.

This sandwich is believed to have originated in the various Italian American communities from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. The most widespread term of term “submarine” or “sub” is believed to have been after the resemblance of the roll to the shape of a submarine. Various theories have been put forward to the origin of the name. While one theory states that “the submarine” was brought by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York (1900s) named it after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called Fenian Ram in the Paterson Museum of New Jersey in 1928.

As per his granddaughter had accounted : “My grandfather came to this country circa 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy, which consisted of a long crust roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer of cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy).”

Eventually while the “submarine” had caught on; it would seem that the “hoagie” was already in vogue. Originating in the World War I era shipyard in Philadelphia known as Hog Island, where emergency shipping was produced for the war effort; Italians working there introduced the sandwich by putting various meats, cheeses, and lettuce between two slices of bread. This later was known as the “Hog Island” sandwich; shortened to “Hoggies”, then the “hoagie”.

“It’s like making a sandwich. I start with the bread and the meat. That’s the architecture. Add some cheese, lettuce and tomato. That’s character development and polishing. Then, the fun part. All the little historical details and the slang and the humor is the mayonnaise. I go back and slather that shit everywhere. The mayo is the best part. I’m a bit messy with the mayo.” Laini Giles

However, the Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual states attributed this creation to the early-twentieth-century street vendors called “hokey-pokey men”. They had sold antipasto salad, meats, cookies and buns with a cut in them. When bakeries produced a long loaf called the pinafore(1879); Entrepreneurial “hokey-pokey men” sliced the loaf in half, stuffed it with antipasto salad, and sold the world’s first “hoagie”. Whereas another explanation is that the word “hoagie” arose in the late 19th to early 20th century, among the Italian immigrant community in South Philadelphia. Deli owners would give away scraps of cheeses and meats in an Italian bread-roll known as a “hokie”, but pronounced by the Italian immigrants as “hoagie”. After the WWII, the term “hoagie” had caught on and stayed.

There are numerous variants of these “submarine sandwiches” which have been named so based on the mix of ingredients or bread type like the New York “Hero”, New England “grinder” (a hot submarine sandwich (meatball; sausage; etc.) or a oven toasted hoagie) or Gatsby of Cape Town, South Africa. Come by whichever name, “submarine” or “hoagies” are here to stay. With National Hoagie Day (May 5th), it would be a time for some food fun.

Posted in Daily, Food

Of Pretzels, Origin and Evolution

When facing an unexpected situation, the first emotion that one comes across is the “feeling of something happening, of being twisted and knotted” or the most popular feeling of “butterflies in the stomach”. With the month of April drawing to a close, it would be remiss if one would miss this month of “poetry, jazz, soft pretzels and humour” without experiencing the feeling of being in “pretzels”.

Originating in Europe, possible among the monks of the Middle Ages, “pretzel” were baked bread products made from dough, commonly shaped twisted into a knot. With the traditional pretzel in distinctive non-symmetrical loops; the modern pretzels comes in a varied range of shapes with exotic and common seasonings like chocolate, glazed, with nuts, seeds or with the flavours of several varieties of cheese. Today pretzels can be had “soft”, eaten shortly after preparation or “hard-baked” with a long shelf life.

“My mother always said, ‘When you’re eating pretzels, chew before you swallow’. Always listen to your mother.” George W. Bush

The true origin of pretzels have been traced to numerous accounts, though not verified. From the very early Italian monks making pretzels as rewards to children who learn their prayers or as a derivation of communion bread. In Germany, legends state that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local dignitaries whereas, other legends elsewhere believe that pretzels were substitute for the heathen baking traditions of “sun cross” and the like.

Either way, the popularity of pretzels in the early years where evidenced as their use as an emblem by the various baker guilds. With the “knot of the pretzel” believed to be hands folded in prayer, pretzels had a religious significance in the Church based on their ingredients and shape. Additionally the three holes of the pretzels signified the Holy Trinity. As pretzels could be made by simply using flour and water (no eggs or lard were permitted during Lent); they provided a proper substitute during the Lent. Over the years, no Lent or Easter would be complete without pretzels, with them being sometimes substituted as Easter eggs. (

“Between evening and bedtime, Night is on the prowl for pretzels….” Rajat Kanti Chakrabarty

Despite the insignificant size and knotted shape, pretzels have an extensive influence on landscape architecture and sculpture (Pretzel Park, Philadelphia), in culture (pretzel dance move in swing dancing), furniture design inspired pretzel chairs and adoption of “pretzel logo” by Municipal government of City of Freeport, Illinois. Fashion, photography and the entertainment industry too have adapted the “pretzel” in a variety of styles, ranging from clothing to ecosystem techniques as well being a part of the literature, poetry and music. Although pretzels are no longer in fashion like the initial days, looks like they will still be around.