Posted in Recipes

Vatha Kuzhambu (A Tangy Spicy Gravy)


When I think of Vatha Kuzambu I remember my aunt-in-law. We visited my husband’s uncle and aunt every alternate year in Coimbatore. She made Vathakuzambu every single time. It was mouthwateringly scrumptious, the tanginess of the sauce with the spiciness of the chillis and a mildly sweet flavor from the jaggery served on hot rice with a dollop of ghee. Heavenly!

I have been trying to make it and it has not been half as good. Recently my friend Angie’s cook, Mary, made this dish and it brought back memories. This is an adaptation of her recipe as she did not give me the exact measurements, I had to taste and add ingredients to get the taste I was looking for. Thanks to Mary, I made a pretty good Vatha Kuzambu.

I made an onion (shallot) kuzambu but you could add eggplant, sundakkai or manathangali vathal (these are berries which are soaked in buttermilk, sundried and then fried). My father who could have become a food critic, enjoyed the dish!


1 cup shallots (sambar onions)

3 tsp sambar powder (I  used MTR)

1/2 tsp red chili powder

tamarind large sized lime size

2 cups water

1 tsp jaggery (brown sugar) – optional

turmeric powder 1/2 tsp

salt to taste

To Temper:

curry leaves a few

mustard seeds  1/2 tsp

methi seeds 1/4 Tsp

channa dal 1 Tsp

asafoetida 1 pinch

gingelly oil (sesame oil) 2 1/2 tbsp + 1 Tsp


Peel shallots (onions)

Soak tamarind in 2 cups of hot water and extract juice. Strain and keep aside the tamarind juice

Heat 2 tbsp oil, add ingredients for tempering. Once mustard splutters add the onions and saute.

Add the sambar powder and chili powder and fry for a minute. Add the tamarind juice, turmeric, jaggery, and salt. Cover and cook on medium heat. Keep checking, until it reduces to half. It should be a thick saucy consistency. Add 1 tsp oil to the gravy.

Serve hot on rice with a dollop of ghee.







Posted in Recipes

Vegetarian Fajitas


One of our favorite food to eat in Mexican restaurants have always been fajitas. Last week my son was making a batch of chicken fajitas for the week and sent me a picture. This inspired me to make fajitas for dinner. This recipe has been modified from the Vegetarian Times (one of my favorite magazine and website). The marinade recipe adds a depth of flavor to the dish. The orange juice also helps the veggies caramelize and it has a sour, spicy and slightly sweet flavor. You can easily incorporate chicken in this by adding chicken with the veggies or adding grilled chicken at the end.

Mojo Chilli Marinade Recipe


1 tbsp chopped garlic (7-8 cloves)

2 tbsp chopped shallots or onions

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp pepper powder

salt to taste


In a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients to a smooth paste.


Ingredients for Fajita

green, red and yellow peppers – 3 medium sliced

button or portabella mushroom – 200 g, sliced

onions -2, sliced

1 tsp oil

tortilla (roti)

cooked rice


grated cheese (optional)

olives 1 tsp (optional)

jalapeno (optional)

sour cream (optional)

guacamole (optional)


To the marinade, add vegetables and mix.

Let it marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

In a heavy skillet, add oil and then add vegetables and cook. Stirfry in small batches.

Heat tortilla in a hot pan. Place on a plate, add veggies, salsa, and the other toppings. It can also be served on rice as a rice bowl.



Posted in Recipes

Keerai Poduthuval ( Stir-fried Greens garnished with coconut)


keerai poduthuval

We all grew up learning about Popeye the Sailor Man and how eating spinach gave him muscles and that it is high in iron. Interestingly it does not have as much iron as was thought. It is a case of a misplaced decimal point. A German chemist in 1870 accidentally recorded that spinach has 35 mg of iron per 100g instead of 3.5 mg. Spinach’s nutritional value became well known. The error was corrected in 1937 but even though the British Medical Council tried to debunk the myth, people still think of spinach and Popeye and iron. Spinach and other greens like amaranth are nutritious and rich in vitamins and minerals.

In India, we get an abundant variety of greens. I prefer amaranth to spinach as it has more flavor compared to spinach. Recently I had posted a recipe called keerai molagootal, here is another simple recipe.


2 bunches amaranth or spinach greens – washed and chopped

1/4 grated coconut

salt to taste

To temper:

2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

a pinch of asafoetida powder

1 tsp urad dal

2 dried red chilies


Heat oil in a saute pan. Add ingredients for tempering. When the mustard splutters, add the greens and stir-fry. Add salt. The greens wilt so be careful about the amount of salt you add. Once the greens are cooked, add the coconut and mix.

Serve with rice or roti.



Posted in Recipes

Chocolate and Nut Fingers

This recipe is from the Swedish recipe book, Sju Sorters Kakor.


3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup walnuts – ground

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour (I used whole wheat)

2 tbsp milk (if required) – I did not need it


50 g semi-sweet chocolate – melted


Heat oven to 180ºC.

Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Stir in flour and nuts. Add milk if required.

Roll into finger-thick ropes and cut into 2-inch pieces.

Place on a greased parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Dip one end of cooled cookies into melted chocolate.




Posted in Education

The Tenth Rasa – An Anthology of Indian Nonsense


Many many years ago, as part of a language class, we introduced gibberish and nonsense to shatter inhibitions in learning a new language. We used the navarasas (the nine emotions – laughter, compassion, anger, courage, surprise, love etc) and a line of gibberish to act out and play different ‘nonsense’ games. Students loved it and as we used different second languages they became more comfortable with the language.

Eight years later, I picked up ‘The Tenth Rasa – An anthology of Indian Nonsense”, edited by Michael Heyman. Since it was a selection of stories and poems, I first started reading poems which caught my attention and then read the rest. The tenth rasa (coined by Sukumar Ray) is whimsy.

So, what is ‘Nonsense’? According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it is ‘words or language having no meaning or conveying no intelligible ideas’. Heyman, however, writes that nonsense usually emerges from an excess of sense, not lack of it. We have all read ‘The Mad Tea Party’ in Alice in Wonderland and the ‘Jabberwocky’ from the Looking Glass and Dr. Suess who uses ‘nonsensical’ words. One of the most famous is Edward Lear’s, ‘Owl and the Pussy Cat’ which we have read as kids is an example of literary nonsense.

In the book, there is a chapter, Nonsense in Hindi Films. One of it was the famous scene in Namak Halaal where Amitabh Bachan and his ‘I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English….’ Another interesting poem isUncle Tetra Hedran in a Pyramid, Egypt playing with the idea of a tetrahedron being a triangular pyramid.

The book has a section called Folk nonsense which includes nursery rhymes and children’s games. An interesting Tamil poem is Mister Rat (translated by V Geetha)

Mister Rat, Mister Rat

Where are you going?

I’m going off to London

To see Elizabeth Queen

You will get hungry on the way

Pray, what will you eat?

I’ll buy bajjis and vadas, hot

and give myself a treat.

Thought the poem seems similar to ‘Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where have you been?’ In the Tamil poem, the poet is making fun of the Indian expats, eating their bajjis and vadas even in London, holding on to their roots from across the ocean. Some poems are anti-colonial and some ridiculing the caste system. A lot of nonsense poems play with words which make them interesting.

When we were kids we played a lot of games. Avallaki pavalkki kanchina mina mina dam dum das bus qui qotar was one of them. The hide and seek song we played as kids was kanna muche kade goode, udinna moote…

Another one was

Achachu Belagachu

Alli Nodu (look there)

Illi Nodu (look here)

Sampangimaradalli gumpu nodu (see the group in the margosa tree)

yaava gumpu (which group)

kaage gumpu (a group of crows)

Yaava kaage (what crow)

Kappu kaage (black crow)

Yaava kappu (What black)

and it goes on..

The book has examples of many chain verses and game rhymes from many Indian languages. I enjoyed reading the book but it would have been nice if the original text in the given language was also there. I would have loved to read the Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam texts.


Posted in Recipes

Comfort Food – Molagootal


A usual question asked is – What is your favorite food? I always have trouble answering that as my favorite food changes depending on the day, the weather, the moods and so does my comfort food. There are days when a simple dish of pasta sauteed in olive oil with some garlic and vegetables hits the spot and sometimes it could be noodles or sushi and sometimes just plain curd rice (yogurt rice).

One of my favorite food, growing up was molagootal with rice. This is a very typical and traditional Palghat dish; popular and well-liked especially by kids as it is not spicy. It is a very versatile and easy dish to prepare. You can use different vegetables like cabbage, beans, potato, cauliflower, drumsticks, white pumpkin etc. You can also make it with spinach or amaranth leaves and it is then called keerai molagootal. This is served with rice and a side dish like a spicy sour pachadi to balance the palate.


1/2 cup tur dal

2 cups diced vegetables (1-3 vegetables of your choice – beans, potato, pumpkin, cabbage, cauliflower, drumstick, Kerala cucumber)

1 tsp turmeric powder

(For Keerai molagootal use 2-3 cups firmly packed greens. Using frozen spinach works very well for this dish.)

To Grind:

1/2 cup fresh coconut grated or chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1-2 tsp black pepper

1 red chilli (optional)

To Temper:

1 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard

1 tsp urad dal

a few curry leaves


Wash and pressure cook the tur dal in one cup water or cook in a pan till soft. Keep aside.

In a pan cook vegetables in 2 cups water. Add salt and turmeric while cooking.

If using spinach, mash well after cooking.

Grind the coconut, pepper, and cumin to a fine paste.

To the cooked vegetables add the dal and ground coconut mixture and cook for a few minutes. Add water if required. The consistency should be like a curry.

Heat the oil, add the tempering ingredients, when the mustard splutters, add to the molagootal. Serve hot with rice. A dollop of ghee on the rice, though optional, makes it even more delectable.









Posted in Recipes

Tigerkaka (Tiger Cake – Chocolate Marble Cake)

Tiger kaka – backdrop Dalahästar (Dala horse)

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”
― Anthony Bourdain

From the time I remember, my mother always baked a cake for me for my birthday. It was a no fuss cake with a hole in the middle (not the fancy bundt cake of today), no frosting; just a cake. Those days she had a round oven and a round cake pan. You had to place a glass in the middle (which came with the pan) and hold it while the batter is poured in. The glass was placed as the oven would not heat properly and the center would be undercooked. Gradually, I started helping my mother and we would bake a plum cake for Christmas. After my 10th grade, I attended a baking class where I learned a few more.

When I moved to Sweden I was fascinated by the pastries there. We used to frequent Ofvandahls Hovkonditori and enjoy the princess cake, fruktkaka, kanelbullar and semlor during Easter. I bought a Swedish recipe book – Sju Sorters Kakor (7 types of cookies/cakes) where I learned to make a lot of pastries. My kid’s birthday cakes for the first few years were from this book. Almost 20 years later, a friend gifted me the English version of the book and I now own both. I still read the Swedish version, maybe nostalgia. One of the first cakes I baked was the Tigerkaka or Tiger Cake also called the Marble Cake. This is a perfect coffee cake, lightly sweet and buttery. This recipe is adapted from Sju Sorters Kaka. This is where my baking repertoire started.




200 g butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (maida)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup coconut milk or milk (I used coconut milk)

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

a pinch of salt


Heat oven to 175º C (350º F). Grease a loaf pan (9X5 inch)

Beat sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat.

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Combine the flour mixture with the egg- butter mixture. Add milk and mix well.

Set aside 1/3rd of the batter and add cocoa powder and mix. To the rest add vanilla.

(Since I like chocolate, I added cocoa to the 2/3rd mixture)

Pour half the vanilla mixture into the pan. Add the chocolate mixture on top and then top with the vanilla mixture. Using a fork swirl around the mixture for a marbled effect.

Bake for around an hour or a skewer comes clean.

Cool and the slice.