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It seems everytime I travel to some new place I always get back something that is food related. Check out my tea cup from China and Pallanguzhi from India. This time on my return from Peru I got back salt that I picked off of terraced salt pans located in the town of Maras and these tiny dots of yellow peppers. The Peruvians love their peppers or Aji as they call it. Condiments of Aji kept me company at every meal during my visit to Peru.

The terraced salt pans are a fascinating sight.  Extremely salty water from a subterranean stream spouts through a small opening in the mountain side which is then channeled into little small pits/pans.

As the water evaporates, the sediment which is the salt gets left behind. This is harvested every 23-25 days. This harvesting of salt has been going on for at least about 600 hundred years or so. Ironically enough, as my tour guide informed me this salt is deficient in iodine and tests done on bones of the Incas in whose time these salt pans originated bear this fact out. Today iodine is added to the salt for local consumption. It is currently rainy season in Peru, hence the water in the pans is muddy and much of the salt has been washed away. It is still quite a breathtaking site. The latticed valley apparently looks spectacular draped in white when the rains subside.

We were not so lucky to see this. I still managed to pick a few chunks of salt that remained on the sides of the terraces. I washed the mud off with the salt laden water from the stream. I carried them very gingerly during the rest of our trek through Peru and then through stringent airport security [sniffing dogs and snooping airport security personnel from both countries]. I even had to taste it to prove it is not some other funny stuff!

So this here is my very special memento from Peru, especially considering all the troubles I had to go through from harvesting it, to getting it home.
Now to my other favorite import, the Aji. Aji sauce is a big part of Peruvian dining. If it is not served at every meal it is certainly available when you ask for it. The most common pepper used for this purpose is the Aji Amarillo, a long yellow/orange pepper. Sometimes the sauce is served in its most basic form, a paste of Aji and salt blended with water or vinegar. Other times the Aji Amarillo is chopped really fine and mixed with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper and served in small bowls. I wanted to bring home some of these peppers, but my fickle self, instead got distracted by these tiny yellow peppers  that I chanced upon at the market on the banks of the Amazon River.

I don’t know what they are called but they too have a distinct fruity flavor like the Amarillo Peppers but pack more heat. I was not sure if it would make it through customs. But I have them with me after full disclosure in my custom declaration form and passing  through a special channel for agricultural inspection, right after passing the sniffing test by an extremely cute Beagle that gave every bag a sniff over!

So there you go, my two favorite things from this trip, Salt and Peppers!

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.


I start off every New Year not by making resolutions or re-evaluating the year gone by but by getting into the kitchen and making something sweet . This is the first thing everyone in the family will taste on a brand new year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Growing up my parents always took us to the temple on New Year’s Day to ask for blessings from the person upstairs. Which is a wonderful way to start off anything and everything for that matter, if you are into that sort of thing. Me, I make something sweet.

As I headed down to the kitchen I opened all the blinds and curtains, to let the rays of this New Year’s sun fill my home with brightness and warmth. It is a beautiful winter day.

Today I am making ‘Semiya Payasam’ or you may know it as ‘vermicelli pudding’ or ‘Seviyan Kheer’. Whatever name it goes by, I promise you, it will taste just as good and is perfect for new beginnings.

Just 4 star ingredients, butter, milk, sugar and vermicelli. Or condensed milk instead of sugar and some of the milk. Cardamom and saffron for flavor. Finally a garnish of ghee coated raisins and cashew . That simple. If you are someone who finds this recipe not challenging enough, I’ll let you sweat over whether to use golden raisins or dark. How about that?

Semiya Payasam


2 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons cashew halves

3 tablespoons raisins[I used golden]

1/2 cup vermicelli

2 1/2 cups milk, preferably full fat +extra if needed

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

A couple of pinches of saffron threads

1/2 cup condensed milk


Melt butter over a flow flame. Add the cashew halves and stir continuously till it is nutty brown. Make sure there are no burnt spots. This will add a bitter taste. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same butter which has by now turned into ghee add the raisins and stir continuously for less than a minute. The raisins will start swelling up. Remove right away at this stage with a slotted spoon and set aside. Any longer in the ghee, they’ll get tough and taste burnt.









Next add the vermicelli and toast till every strand is coated with ghee and browns evenly.









                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Now add the milk in half cup increments to the pan and stir as the vermicelli cooks while absorbing the milk. As and when the milk is absorbed replenish with another half cup.This is similar to cooking a risotto. Remember to keep the heat on low and stir often. Add the cardamom and saffron threads. The vermicelli is done when it is cooked through but still firm. You do not want it cooked to a mush.

Add the condensed milk and when it comes to a boil, turn off the stove.

Pour into a serving dish and garnish with raisins and cashew.









The wonderful thing about this dish is it can be served hot, warm or cold. Add some milk to thin it out as it tends to thicken  due to the starch in the vermicelli.

Wishing all of you a wonderful 2012.

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