Cooking with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onions and Thai Chilies from my garden. 

I asked my dear friend Saroj while we were both living in London, to teach me a dish from her native Orissa. She rummaged through my vegetable crisper, pulled out an eggplant and a tomato, handed it to me and asked me to boil it while she looked for other ingredients. How about you teach me something else I said with trepidation at the thought of a soggy, collapsed eggplant. I was already planning a backup lunch if things didn’t work out. Boy was I wrong! This eggplant dish is one of my faves and I have become its ambassador, recommending it to anyone who asks me for a simple healthy suggestion for a side.


You simply boil or steam the eggplant, tomato and potato. Peel the potatoes, then mash everybody else together skin and all. Finely chop a medium onion, a chili pepper or two and a handful of cilantro leaves. Chop this garnish really fine as you don’t want to bite into chunky pieces of raw onion or chili. Mix the garnish into the mash. Add salt to taste and squeeze the juice of ½ a small lemon.

Please take note, even though this is not a sophisticated dish, follow the proportions indicated in the picture. Too many tomatoes will make it runny and too many eggplants will make it very earthy.

The eggplant in this dish is normally grilled whole over a flame, but in London neither of us had a gas stove so she adapted the recipe to include steamed/ boiled eggplant. Why bother with all the bits of flying eggplant skin while grilling or messing with an oven to roast the eggplant when it works so well this way.

It doesn’t take much effort to make this, it is fat free and tastes great. Hope you will try this and not be skeptical like I was at first. 

Saroj, thank you so much for this recipe.

Food Notes

I boil and steam the veggies simultaneously in an Indian style pressure cooker. I put the potatoes in water in a stainless steel bowl and set it in the the cooker. Then I put a steam rack on top of this bowl with the eggplant and tomatoes on it. This way the eggplant and tomatoes hold their juices inside while the potato cooks perfectly in water.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.


A long trip to India had kept me from my home, my garden and blogging for most of this summer. I am happy to be back and blogging again.

My garden was waiting for me in all its lush greenery, well-tended to by the family I left behind to enjoy my vacation! However, I had sadly missed the peak summertime bounty. Now in September with a waning harvest of fruit and vegetables I realize I have to be very creative in using my garden produce. I don’t have pounds of veggies, just but a couple of eggplants here, a handful of mottled, misshapen ripe tomatoes there, three onions, a lone melon, plenty of unripe, green tomatoes, well you get the drift.

Maybe some of you gardeners who live in colder climates are in the same predicament as I am, how to creatively use these odd lots of veggies. In the next week to 10 days, I’ll be posting recipes made primarily from my garden, with occasional supplements from the grocery store.

This season saw my first success with onions; I harvested a grand total of three!!

Look out for the first in my series of “My Garden To Table Recipes” tomorrow.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.


I imagine my paternal grandmother’s kitchen to be very utilitarian, with just a few shelves holding spices and some utensils. A counter-high mud stove with two large openings. A robust fire peeking through, cooking the many meals served in her multigenerational home. On the floor, two cast iron stoves ready to take over cooking duties during the afternoon shift.

Today I am the proud owner of one of the cast iron stoves called the ‘Kummati Aduppu’. My mother tells me it is at least 70 years old if not more. She remembers cooking on it as a young bride at her in law’s house. I spotted this stove among the things that were set aside by my parents as they were preparing to sell their home. I did not have the privilege of meeting my grandparents so this will be a cherished connection to them and my past. I imagine my grandmother waking up from her afternoon nap, heading to the kitchen and sitting on the floor in front of the stove. One leg stretched out and the other folded, stoking and fanning the charcoal embers, while preparing the afternoon’s coffee, tea and tiffin.

Back in the day, strict rules governing food preparation dictated separate stoves for morning and evening cooking. The fixed mud stove which was fuelled by firewood was the one in which the [Prasadam] offerings for the deities during the morning puja [prayers] were prepared. The lady of the house had to follow strict guidelines of cleanliness in order to prepare the offerings and the day’s lunch for the family. After lunch, the stove was cleaned and smeared with a thin cowdung paste to disinfect it, which sounds rather contradictory but widely accepted as effective. The stove was then usually retired for the day and revisited the next morning. On occasion, if a large dinner was to be prepared, the mud stove was used and the firewood was started again. The process of starting the firewood and cleaning up followed by the anointing with cowdung paste after every session necessitated a smaller second stove for lighter cooking. The free standing Kummati Aduppu  was much more user friendly and just right for the afternoon’s simpler fare. In some homes this second stove was housed in a room adjoining the main kitchen and all the afternoon’s activities centered around this room.

The stove was loaded with charcoal over a grate on the top and ignited with burning paper from the bottom. A hand held fan made of palm leaves was used to fan the flames to light the charcoal. Someimes a long hollow cylindrical metal rod called “ommakuzhal’ was also used to blow air onto the charcoal to help ignite it. The cooking vessel or pan was set directly over the embers. The slow and steady heat from the charcoal was sufficient enough to cook for and feed the large households of that time. The grate helped with air circulation that kept the charcoal supplied with oxygen and simultaneously allowed the spent ash to fall through. From time to time the charcoal had to be stoked and fanned. Sometimes chunks of dried coconut husk were added as an additional source of fuel.  One or two of these stoves were enough to take care of the simpler needs of the families of that time.

At the end of the day the ash from the stove was collected and used as a scourer to wash pots and pans. The left over charcoal was washed [so my mother remembers] and dried to be used again. Every night the Kummati Aduppu was scrubbed clean and put away till the next afternoon. Every night kolam, little designs made with rice flour, were hand drawn on the big mud stove, so that a clean stove with auspicious symbols greeted the person coming in to the kitchen the following morning. And so it went till both stoves faded into history. Now one of them is getting a new lease of life….

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

I’ve taken a long hiatus from blogging without even meaning to. I was all set to tell you about my  grandmother’s iron stove, a treasured relic, that I got back from my recent trip to India.

So I should have just got down to business and blogged about it, right? Well I needed a suitable background board to showcase the beautiful sculptural stove. And-I-was- going-to-make-it. Fighting words not matched by a fighting spirit unfortunately.  

Finally an opportunity. For mother’s day, I was forbidden from doing my usual kitchen chores, while a wonderful lunch of pierogies was being prepared by my babies. So some free time on hand motivated me to get going on that backdrop. Absolutely no planning went into this. What makes me really happy about this project is using leftover materials and a simple foam board. I love how it turned out and better yet, it cost me nothing.

Here’s what I used

1 black foam board

Minwax wood stain [walnut]

American Tradition satin finish multipurpose spray paint [java brown]

Valspar sealer, satin finish, not pictured here. 

An old tooth brush

A sponge brush

With a toothbrush, I applied the wood stain randomly on the board to create some texture and variation.

Then I went over the streaks with a sponge brush to soften it.

Next with my spray can, I went over the entire surface with the brown paint[satin finish] and in some places I sprayed heavily to create  blotches of paint to give the surface more character. Then I went over these blotches with the sponge brush to blend them in.  

As I was literally watching paint dry, I had this idea to throw some sand onto the wet board hoping to create some texture.

When the paint was completely dry I dusted off the excess sand. It was now time to seal my twenty minute masterpiece. I would have preferred a matte finish sealer to the satin finish that I had but didn’t fancy a trip to the hardware store. As I was spraying to seal the finish I accidentally sprayed a heavy streak across the board. I knew it was too stong to blend in so I used the same heavy handed strokes to create a wood grain type of effect. This was so not intended but turned out great. So here is the backdrop I made with just an used foam board and leftover paint, stain and sealer.              

And here is our Mother’s day lunch. In case you are wondering, what happened to the kitchen, it was cleaned immaculately. 

And here is my paternal grandmother’s stove that I got back from India. More about it in my next post. I have to get hold of some coal to show you how it works.  

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

I am so excited to be attending my first Food themed getaway aptly named “Eat Write Retreat to be held in Washington DC, in early May, 2012. I am looking forward to meeting other bloggers and peeps involved in the food and photography field. Lots of fun thing are in store for us even before we set foot at the retreat. Several sponsors have already challenged the attendees and those interested in attending to create and submit recipes and photographs. Apparently there is going to be a battle amongst participants split into teams, to work with a ‘secret ingredient’ a la Iron Chef. Strategizing and planning to create a dish out of the secret ingredient should begin soon, even before the conference is underway so we can plan ahead to execute it in front of a Judges Panel at the retreat. What a fun concept! Please check out the website for details and hope some of you reading this will come to DC to attend.

I developed this recipe as part of a sponsor’s challenge, which was to create a main dish using Lindsay Olives. When I begin to develop a recipe I think of creating a dish with simple, easily identifiable ingredients, so the dish is relatable to the consumer. This way they are more likely to make it. Olives, the theme ingredient for this challenge, immediately brought to mind these cast of characters; wine, cheese, pasta, olive oil, grapes, you get the drift. So I put those very same ingredients together to create this Mediterranean salad lasagna rolls. Another caveat to developing a good usable recipe is to keep the cooking process simple and not too intimidating. Hopefully I have achieved both and the fun part, my family was in pasta heaven two days in a row while I was testing out the recipe.

Stovetop Mediterranean Olive Salad Lasagna Rolls

8 uncooked lasagna noodles

Salt as per taste

3 tablespoons olive oil divided, plus some extra for boiling the noodles to keep it from sticking together.

1 can Lindsay’s Large Pitted California Ripe Olives

1 can of Lindsay’s Sliced California Ripe Olives, divided

5 ounces of crumbled Feta cheese, regular, divided

Green part only, from 5 spring onions, chopped finely, divided

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup of finely diced white onions

4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon of crushed dried thyme

20 seedlees grapes, red or green or a combination of the two

1 cup good drinking quality white wine, dry or sweet per your preference. I used a 2009 Riesling.


Add a little oil to a large pot of salted water. Boil the lasagna noodles per package directions.

For the filling

While the noodles are getting ready, make the olive salad filling. Drain both cans of olives separately. Tap several times to drain all the liquid. When the olives are drained, set aside one half of the sliced olives for garnish for later and chop the rest, making sure not to mince them too fine.

Use four ounces of feta, setting aside 1 ounce of crumbled feta for later to be used in the garnish.

Chop the green part of the spring onions using everything except the portion from one spring onion to be used later for the garnish.

In a bowl put a tablespoon of olive oil, the chopped olives, the feta, spring onions, oregano and pepper. Mix well to incorporate the flavors. Add salt if necessary though the feta is quite salty. Set aside.

For the garnish

In a bowl put a tablespoon of olive oil, the sliced olives, feta and the spring onions that was set aside. Add the parsley, combine and set aside.

Putting it all together

Drain the lasagna noodles [don’t rinse in water] and spread on a lightly oiled flat surface or drape over your pasta pot.

Working quickly on each noodle put about three tablespoons of olive salad filling and spread, leaving about one inch of the noodle without any filing. Roll the noodle from the end with the filling, like a jelly roll and when you come to the end, press the roll on the end of the noodle. This will help seal it.

Next cook the onions in the butter and remaining oil in a stainless steel pan or a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, set over low-medium heat. Add the garlic and thyme, salt to taste and cook for a couple of minutes till the onions get translucent.

Add the lasagna rolls seam side down and close with the lid. Wait for two minutes, remove the lid and flip the rolls. The rolls would have sealed nicely.

Now add the grapes and wine, press the rolls gently to get maximum contact with the pan and put the lid back on. Turn the heat to medium and cook for about 5 -7 minutes till the alcohol has evaporated and you have glazed and candied onions sticking to the bottom. YUM!

Remove lid and top each roll with the feta, olive garnish and spoon a little bit of the glaze over the garnish, remove the garlic if you wish and put the lid back on and turn the stove of.

Let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

This Valentine, my love goes to, besides my family and friends and cats and dogs, to all my readers. Couldn’t have imagined a few clicks of the mouse could so dramatically add a new dimension to my blogging experience. I posted a picture in foodgawker more than a week ago, at the insistence of Numero Uno [my first born] and my site visits have spiked dramatically. The first day of the posting, I had almost 2000 more visits. Like the gift that keeps on giving, this single picture still brings in an average of 500 sites visits everyday.  

I have seen picture gallery badges in many blogs, but had never clicked on any of them. Just reading my favorite blogs and working on mine, even though it is very intermittent and keeping up with life and my cooking classes has kept me too busy to spend any time on photo sharing sites. All I can say is Wow! My picture was also consistently featured on the first page of the most favorited on foodgawker for a whole week since the posting! I might even venture to say it has gone viral at least by my standards!                                 

The posting also brought tons of interest from Pintrest and tumblr. It was stumled upon and even tweeted a few times! Oh, the power of social media. I have made it very hard for anyone to know that my blog exists, though not intentionally. My blog is very basic, no Facebook page, no postings on any other site, I am not on twitter nor on Pintrest, certainly no picture gallery of my photos exist, nor do I comment much on other blogs even though I love visiting them. This past week and a half has been like a shot in the arm, making me reevaluate things. May be I should be more active in the social media front, because frankly it does wonders to your vanity! So thanks to all of you who have visited from Foodgawker, Pintrest, tumblr [thanks to the charming witandelight site which directed about a 100 visitsors so far] and to all those who have posted and pinned and repined. Special thanks to all my regulars for being so loyal and most of all thanks to you my love, for harassing me for the longest time ever to post in foodgawker.                               

Keeping with the Valentine’s Day color scheme of chocolate brown and pink, I make these chocolate cups with strawberry/raspberry mousse especially for all of you. Literally from my heart to yours. There is no cooking or baking involved. No chickens were prevented from hatching! Just four ingredients, three of them primary. Simple, fun, delicious and good for you too, though who cares about that on Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate cups with Strawberry / Raspberry Mousse.

Makes about 12-14 small cups


6, 1 ounce squares of semi-sweet baking squares [chocolate chips will also work]

1 1/4 cups of strained yogurt [homemade or Chobani / Fage, any fat content OK]

Either 10 medium size strawberries or 15 raspberries, depending on which fruit you prefer to flavor your mousse with

5 tablespoons of icing sugar

Some strawberries / raspberries for decoration.


Mini muffin pan

12-14 mini cupcake liners

1 pastry brush or a sponge brush


For the chocolate cups

Line a 12 cup mini muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Take 4 oz of chocolate and chop into smaller bits with a knife or grate it, whichever is convenient.

Set up a double broiler. If you don’t have one, improvise. Place a shallow and wide pan on the stove. Fill with water. Set a narrow and tall dish in the pan in which the grated chocolate will go. This is to prevent water condensation mixing into the melting chocolate.

Heat the water in the double broiler or the improvised pan. Let the chocolate melt in the indirect heat. When most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat off. [ You can also melt chocolate in the microwave]

Work with 4 cupcake liners at a time. Spoon 1/2 a tablespoon of melted chocolate into each liner. Coat the bottom of the liner thickly and evenly with the melted chocolate. Then with a brush, drag the rest of the chocolate and paint the liners making sure the sides are coated evenly. Touch up any gaps.

Then work on the next 4 cup cake liners. The chocolate is still of melting consistency in the double broiler as it is sitting in the hot water. Once you have used up all the chocolate, refrigerate the pan for about 10-20 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.

Now for the second round. This can be optional.

Take out the muffin pan with the liners from the fridge. Melt the remaining 2 oz of chocolate in the same dish as before. With the same pastry brush go over the cups especially the sides of the liners to get a thick coating. Refrigerate for another 10-20 minutes.

Remove the filled liners from the fridge and gently peel the paper off the chocolate cups. Voila you have perfectly ridged solid chocolate cups.                                


For the strawberry /raspberry mousse filling,                                                                      

Take the 10 strawberries or the 15 raspberries, which ever you are using and put in a small blender like Majic Bullet and pulse till it liquefies.

Add the five tablespoons of icing sugar.

Then add 1 1/4 cups of strained yogurt. Mix thoroughly. Check and adjust for sweetness. This is your mousse.                                                                                                                                                        

Bet you didn’t think it would be this easy. You won’t miss the cream or the eggs or the gelatin. This mousse sets perfectly to a thick creamy consistency. Divide the filling amongst the chocolate cups. Decorate with rasperries /slices of strawberry.

Set it in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.

I adapted this recipe from my “No Cook’ themed cooking class that I taught a while ago. The participants ranged from 10 years of age to 60 +. Everyone enjoyed the simplicity of the process and the ensuing results and if people of all ages and all diets [except vegans of course] can enjoy this I thought it would be the best way to send my blog love to my readers.                        

  • Food Notes
  • The mousse cups hold up for a day or two in the fridge.
  • You can make the chocolate cups ahead of time and store in the fridge. For a week, why not?
  • I would recommend that you put the store bought strained yogurt in a cheese cloth for a couple of hours to remove some more of the moisture content as the fruit juices will thin it out a little bit. While not much whey will drain, the cheese cloth will absorb enough moisture. You can skip this step, but I think you will like the creamier consistency of the mousse.
  • I filled the raspberries with melted chocolate scraped from the sides of the pan it was melting in. A last minute idea that occurred to me while I was cleaning up, an idea I am sure to use in the future. You can see it in the picture.
  • I also made chocolate coins and glued starawberry slices to it, again another idea that just came to me. Drop some melted chocolate on the liner and spread it out with the back of the spoon. Set it in the fridge. Remove and brush some melted chocolate onto the chocolate coins and place slices of fruit. The melted chocolate acts as a glue and holds the fruit slice in place. Isn’t that cool?

Thanks for dropping by,

Happy Valentine’s Day, S.




Peru is still on my mind even though it has been almost a month since our return. How can I forget the majestic misty mountains, the terraced landscapes, my visit to Machu Picchu on a spectacularly bright and beautiful day. The mighty Amazon River and its verdant jungle and the sightings of Pink Dolphins, yes Pink Dolphins. I had not known about their existence until then. I loved Lima, the very modern capital city accented with colonial churches and Spanish architecture, old world charm blending in with a hip cityscape. Not to mention the wonderful people of Peru, so warm and easy going and so very helpful. Peru, I truly heart you!       

Not even the food was a problem as it can be in many countries if you are a vegetarian. Most of what we ate were simple meals, heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables. On the lodge on the banks of the Amazon River, at every meal we had a different variety of beans cooked to a creamy consistency in just water and seasoned only with salt. Then there was salad steamed to a perfect crunch, a raw salad and fresh fruits from the jungle. Once we were served shaved heart of palm which was beyond delicious and so fresh tasting, it had me seriously thinking about a simpler way of preparing food. But who am I kidding, I have already gone back to my old ways since my return. But it is good to punctuate once in a while what we eat, with fresh, simple and not too doctored food just to remind us of the taste of purely grown produce.          

I can’t say I made any serious observations about non vegetarian alternatives but I got the sense that even with these options they kept it simple and fresh. There was plenty of ceviche which is raw seafood marinated in citrus juices and tossed wih raw vegetables, corn and fruit.

I think the simplicity of the Peruvian food comes from the geography. Most of the country is either jungle or mountains and such people generally live in a close symbiotic relationship with nature. They most probably eat seasonally and regionally as it would be difficult to procure stuff from other parts due to the terrain. Even though times have changed and with easier access to food from other parts, I think philosophically they respect nature and live and eat in sync with what is around them.

Like the Avocado Salad or Palta a la Jardinera, a very typical Peruvian dish. Avocado which grows in abundance is split open, the seed removed and served with a mound of vegetables with a minimal amount of dressing. When I had it for the first time, a salad of red peppers with steamed carrots, green beans and peas was piled high onto an Avocado half and served with Rocotto, a red pepper sauce .

The standard dressing for the salad is mayonnaise and I’ve used sour cream instead. You can add any dressing or seasonings you want but I kept it simple in honor of the tradition of how it is served in Peru

Of course you don’t need a recipe but here is how I made it.

Palta a la Jardinera or Avocado Salad

For the dressing

2 tablespoon sour cream

1/2 tablespoon light olive oil

A good squeeze of lime juice

A few dashes of hot sauce [I used habanero sauce]

Salt to taste

The salad

1/2 cup mixed, diced peppers

1/4 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/4 cup cooked black beans

2 scallions [only the green part] chopped

I ripe Avocado

Salt to taste

Lime wedges

Some cilantro for garnish

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing well. Season with salt.

Mix the peppers, corn, beans and scallions. Add the dressing to the salad and adjust for seasoning. Set aside till serving time.

Just before serving split open the Avocado into two. Remove the seed. Remove each half of the Avocado from its skin. Cut a small slice off at the curved bottom of the Avocado to stabilize it. Squeeze some lime juice on the cut up side to prevent discoloration. Sprinkle with salt. Pile with the salad and garnish with cilantro.     

Here is a tip for prepping the Avocado that I picked up at this vegetarian restaurant called Govinda in Cusco, Peru. It makes a lot of sense to cut up the Avocado this way and pile it with the salad so it is much easier to serve yourself small portions of it. I served the salad with corn tortillas and quinoa. Corn tortillas however are not a part of Peruvian cuisine which I found surprising considering so many varieties of corn have been grown in Peru for thousands of years.


Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

Just back from my recent trip to Peru, I can whole heartedly certify that it is a very vegetarian friendly country. Potatoes, quinoa, rice, corn and avocados are everyday staples in Peru. There is also an abundance of exotic  fruits that will bowl you over and keep you happy. One of my favorite Peruvian dishes was ‘Sopa de Quinua’ or Quinoa Soup. Though I love Quinoa and make it quite often, I never thought to make a soup out of it till I visited Peru.  

In the Andean region of South America where Quinoa has been grown for thousands of years, this soup is a staple in every household. When we were visiting Cusco which is at an elevation of almost 3400 m above sea level, we were encouraged to have Quinoa soup. While the body is getting used to rarified oxygen levels due to higher elevation, quinoa soup was recommended for its nutritive value and easy digestibility.

Quinoa, a grain like seed is a complete protein, unlike rice or beans. It is also gluten free. It is the best source for a plant based protein and being high in fiber and iron it should have a place in every vegetarian kitchen. In Peru, in the most basic form of the soup, Quinoa is cooked with potatoes, onions and garlic in lard or oil and flavored with native oregano and annatto seeds. Whatever vegetables or greens are at hand are added to the soup. The soups I had ranged from a clear pale yellow soup to a thick creamy one, chock full of vegetables and greens. It was served with a local chili sauce, Aji Amarillo, made with a fruity yellow pepper native to this region.  

Recreating it at home, the vegetable I added were potatoes carrots and peas, for the greens I added rainbow chard and beet greens. I skipped the garlic because I don’t like it. This soup is rustic and hearty and very mild tasting in keeping with the simple way they make it in Peru. I stirred in my new favorite Peruvian discovery, the Aji sauce, for a more robust taste.

Sopa de Quinoa or Quinoa Soup

1 tablespoon light olive oil and some extra for the greens

1 cup finely chopped white onions

1 cup peeled and diced potatoes

1/ 4 cup diced carrots, both carrots and potatoes diced into 1/4 inch cubes

1/4 cup washed and rinsed quinoa

1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano  [or any herb of your choice]

Salt and pepper to taste

2- 2 and 1/2  cups water

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 cup of chopped swiss chard + beet greens

1 tablespoon Aji Amariilo sauce [or any  hot sauce of you choice]

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Optional accompaniments. Avocado slices, freshly prepared pepper condiment and Queso Fresco or similar type of crumbled fresh cheese.


Warm oil in a soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes. If using garlic add it now.

Add the potatoes and carrots and stir till well coated with oil. Cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the un cooked quinoa, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.

Add the water and let it come to a boil. Add the peas.

Reduce the soup to a simmer put a lid on the pot and cook for about ten-twelve minutes till the vegetables are cooked al dente. The quinoa will be done as well.

Meanwhile stir fry the greens for a minute and add to the finished soup.

Add the Aji sauce or the hot sauce of your choice and chopped cilantro. Check for seasoning.

Serve with accompaniments of avocado, fresh pepper condiment and crumbled cheese.

To make a fresh pepper condiment; Chop yellow or orange pepper very finely [as the Peruvian pepper is not available here] add a glug of oil and vinegar and season with salt, pepper and some dried oregano.

Hope you enjoy this nourishing soup which is probably also well balanced in terms of protein and carb values.

  • Food Notes
  • Jars of Aji Amarillo sauce are available in Latin stores or Latin sections of some grocery stores. In the Washington Metro Area it is available at Shoppers Food Warehouse.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

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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