Thursday, June 11, 2015

If chaai is your comfort drink, make it your way...

Although many people - including me - advocate having black, green, white or herbal teas without milk, the fact is that chaai, the indigenous brew of tea and milk, remains a comfort drink that many of us cannot do away with. So, if it really is a comfort drink for you, that is, if it makes you feel warm and good deep inside, then take some time out to make it the way you want, so you feel doubly good when you sit and sip a cuppa.

So, what can you add to your tea to make it extra special? Well, actually anything from milk to ginger and cardamom, or all of it for that matter. Each of these lends a special aroma and flavor to your tea. However, you need to know when to add each.

Source: Flickr; cormac70

The right ingredient at the right time

While some add all the ingredients together and boil, I feel that there is a time and place for each ingredient, in order to bring out its best flavor. Here are my suggestions:

1. If you're making ginger milk tea, first boil grated ginger in water for sometime to allow the acids to evaporate. Then, add milk and tea. When this boils, switch off the stove, filter, add sugar to taste and enjoy fresh.

2. To make mint tea, prepare milk tea as usual. As soon as you switch it off, add some sprigs of mint, roughly crushed with your hands, close the vessel with a lid for a minute or two. Then, filter and serve.

3. For cardamom tea, you can add the cardamom along with the tea leaves itself. In fact, whenever you use cardamom, you can put the peels into your tea container rather than throw them away. This will impart a nice aroma to the tea.

4. Lemongrass can be boiled for sometime with water and tea leaves, before adding the milk. This will help the essence to seep into the tea. But, don't overcook it either. Once the water comes to a boil, add lemongrass and tea leaves. Boil for a minute, then add milk, bring to a boil again, filter and serve.

Make your own combos...

You can add one or more of these ingredients to your tea. Some all-time favourite combos are ginger-cardamom, ginger-mint, lemongrass-cardamom-ginger, and of course, all of them together.

In such cases, add some of the ingredients when boiling the water, add others in the end, as required.

Or make your own chaai masala

While chaai masala is readily available in stores, you could make your own special blend using your favourite spices, in the proportions you like. As I said, earlier, if chaai is your comfort drink, you are the best judge of how to make your cuppa. But, when you feel adventurous try this chaai masala, which tastes somewhat like a mix of sukku-malli kaapi (a popular herbal tea of south India) and the north Indian chaai.

1. Take some or any of the following ingredients in the proportions you prefer - ajwain, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, pepper, clove, cardamom and cinnamon.

2. Dry roast them for half a minute in a hot kadhai, and powder them in the mixer-grinder. You can store this in an airtight container for close to a month. However, I would suggest making some every week, so that the aroma is fresh.

3. Boil water. Add grated ginger, lemongrass and this special tea masala. Boil for a few minutes.

4. Add tea granules/ leaves and milk.

5. Remove from the stove when it starts boiling. Add some sprigs of mint. Cover the kettle and let it infuse for a minute.

6. Filter, sweeten with sugar or palm sugar if required, and serve fresh.

My suggestion is to make this tea when you are free and savor it immediately. Can't we spare a few minutes to enjoy a heartwarming drink? Avoid reheating tea because it is bad for health - and is also a huge disappointment for your taste buds!


Friday, June 05, 2015

How to Make Super-Soft Idlis: Secrets Learnt from Here and There

Now, let us talk about something we eat at least two to three times every week. Did I hear somebody mention idli! Yes, precisely. Humble though it is, the idli holds a special place in most south Indian households. Although the batter is made at least once or twice a week, many people keep worrying about whether they got it right, till the first batch is out of the steamer – white, soft and fluffy. Indeed, making idlis perfectly is a matter of pride for most women.
Frankly, I hated idli – with all my heart – for more than two decades. I thought it was the most boring dish ever – I was prepared to even skip a meal or settle for curd rice rather than have idlis (sigh, hope my son doesn’t find out I threw tantrums too)! But after my son was born, the convenience of having a meal ready in minutes and the greater benefit of being able to serve the same food to the little one too, made me pro-idli! And since then, I have gleaned many an idli secret from many a friend and many a commercial cook.
So, here are some tips I learnt, which I am sure will help you in your daily idli adventure too…
  • The proportions I prefer are 4 cups rice (you can use a mix of millets, raw rice and idli rice), 1 cup of de-skinned whole urad, a tablespoon or two of fenugreek and a fistful of poha (aval/ beaten rice). Wash all the ingredients. Soak the rice and poha together, and the urad and fenugreek together for at least four hours. Drain and grind each set separately. Mix them together along with salt and allow fermenting for 8 – 10 hours. Then, stow it into the fridge, or make the idlis immediately. Well, this is what everybody knows. So, let’s get to the real stuff…
  • Drain and preserve the water in which you soaked the urad and fenugreek. Use this to grind the urad batter. This enzyme-rich water will help your batter rise well.
  • When grinding the urad, add water only little by little. You will find that experienced people never pour water into the urad. They take the water in their hand and sprinkle it slowly. Allow it to grind for some more time; then sprinkle a little more water. Keep doing this, gradually, till the batter is done. When is this? Here is a test to find out. When the batter is smooth and springy, take a spoonful of it and drop in a vessel of water. If the urad batter remains like a blob and floats up, the batter is perfect. If it sinks, you need to sprinkle a little more water and continue grinding. If it disintegrates – oops, you have added too much water – and your idlis might end up flat L
  • If you like nice, round idlis that retain their shape, use 2 cups of raw rice and 2 cups of idli rice to make your idlis. Add a little coconut water when grinding the batter.
  • If you are grinding your batter in a mixer-grinder, chances are that the motor will heat up – and eventually your batter will also become warm. This is not a good sign. As a way out, use cold water to grind your urad. A friend once told me that she lets the urad soak in the fridge itself, so that the urad and the soaking water are cold – perfect for grinding in the mixie.
  • Some people hesitate to let the rice and urad soak overnight thinking their batter will be watery. This is a misconception. You can comfortably soak these two overnight, and make the batter in the morning, so it will be fermented and ready to make fresh idlis for dinner!
  • Your idlis will have a wonderful texture if you grind the rice a little coarsely. But, take care not to make it too coarse. Almost fine, but just a little coarse.
  • While many of us grease the idli plates with a little oil and directly pour the batter into it, the best way to make idli is to line the idli plates with a wet, thin muslin cloth and pour the batter on this. The moistness in the cloth will make the idlis super soft. However, removing the idlis from the cloth requires a bit of practice. You need to turn the idli plates upside down so that the cloth with the idlis falls upside down into a shallow bowl. Now, spray a little water on the back of the cloth and try to remove it from the idlis. It will come off smoothly. If you have never done this before, do it leisurely on a Sunday, because chances are that the idli will stick to the cloth and you will find it a challenge to separate the two!
  • If you are coating the idli plate with oil, use sesame oil as it gives a good aroma to the idlis!
  • Fill each idli ‘hole’ only up to half with batter, giving enough space for it to rise.
  • When arranging the idli plates, make sure that you place each plate above the other diagonally, so that the cups of the plate are in between the cups of the previous plate. This will ensure enough space for the idlis to rise and ensure that the idlis do not stick to the plate above them.
  • Now for a traditional practice that many people have entirely forgotten today! Basically, when the batter is fermented, the fluffy urad-rich paste rises to the top, while the sticky rice-rich paste sinks to the bottom. What most people do these days is to mix the fermented batter thoroughly before making the idlis. Well, nothing wrong, but just try this method and you will see the difference. Don’t mix the fermented batter. Keep taking the fluffy batter from the top to make your idlis. Once you reach a watery layer, stop making idlis, give the remaining batter a mix and use the viscous batter that is at the bottom of the container to make wonderfully crisp dosas. You will find that the batter at the top is perfect for idlis and the batter below it is ideal for dosas!
If you have an idli secret to share, please do… so many of us will benefit from it too.


Monday, June 01, 2015

Get rid of a nagging headache, naturally...

Many people instantly reach out to allopathic medicines (aspirin, paracetamol, etc.) as soon as they get a headache. It is not that they are unaware of the side-effects; they are, but situations such as an important meeting ahead, a toddler nagging them, etc., increase the urgency to be rid of the headache!

Understandable! Nobody likes headaches. But, next time, please try one of these home remedies before you pop a pill.

1.      Boil water. Add a spoonful of coriander seeds. Let it boil for a while till you are able to smell the coriander strongly. Switch off the stove and add half a spoon of tea leaves to the concoction. Close the vessel, and let it stand for a few minutes. Filter and drink it as it is without adding any sweeteners. Sleep or sit down and relax for just ten minutes. If you are lucky, your headache will be gone by this time.

2.      Ginger is also a wonderful medicine for headache. If you don’t mind munching on a piece of peeled ginger as it is, perhaps with a dollop of honey, nothing like it. Else, add a spoonful of chopped ginger to 1 ½ cups of hot water, and let it boil for a few minutes. Then, filter, add some honey and drink it. What a tasty way to banish your headache!

3.      If your headache is due to tension, then chamomile tea works wonders for it! Nowadays, dried chamomile flower is available in most organic shops. You just need to add a spoonful of the flowers to a glass of freshly boiled water, allow it to infuse for a few minutes, filter and enjoy with a dash of honey. Else, you can buy pure chamomile tea bags (Korakundah is a good brand). This will come in handy when your head aches during office hours!

4.      I heard that herbal tea prepared with fresh mint can also help with headaches, but I also heard it aggravates the headache in some cases – so I’m wary of suggesting it to others!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Turmeric Milk - Truly A Golden Beverage

Much has been said about the benefits of drinking turmeric milk - or 'Golden Milk' as it is fondly called by the Orientals. It has been advocated by several schools of native medicine, including Ayurveda. A simple Web search on 'turmeric milk' will tell you about benefits ranging from decongestion to weight loss, so I am not going to delve into that much in this post.

Instead, I want to share with you an authentic method of preparing it, which I zeroed in on after trying several recipes advised by Ayurvedic doctors, and found in many books.

1. Take an inch-long stick of turmeric. Remember that turmeric powder is never as effective as crushed turmeric sticks, because the chances of contamination in the powder are high, plus its efficacy is also bound to reduce during the heat-generating grinding process. So, take a stick of turmeric (the variety used in cooking; varali manjal in Thamizh) and crush it coarsely using a mortar and pestle.

2. Crush a few peppercorns too. The white variety is better.

3. Mix a cup of water with a cup of milk, add the crushed turmeric and pepper and bring to a boil.

4. Simmer for 20 minutes. By this time, the milk will reduce to a cup. This is the reason why I suggest you begin with a mixture of milk and water; else you will end up with a very thick, kheer-like drink that won't be as soothing.

5. Remove from the stove, filter, add a spoonful of honey or palm sugar, and enjoy the drink warm.

6. If you are taking this to relieve a sore throat, add 1/2 teaspoon of ghee to the hot turmeric milk before drinking it. The ghee will melt and coat your throat, relieving you of cough as well.

Note: The most important part is to sit and relax with this cuppa for a few minutes, relishing its soothing flavour and rustic aroma! This will enhance the feel-good factor.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fresh homemade herbal teas beat costly 'dip' bags handsdown!

If you like black, green or basically no-milk teas, then you will like herbal decoctions as well. I have experimented with a lot of spices and herbs, ranging from cinnamon and fenugreek to tulsi and oregano and realized that all of them taste fab. On days when you are free, you can try mixing and matching the ingredients, else make these 'teas' with just one or two herbs or spices.

  1. Take a teaspoon of whatever spice reflects your mood on that day, say fenugreek, cumin, pepper, coriander seeds, dried chamomile flowers or liquorice (adhimadhuram), fresh mint, tulsi or oregano, crushed turmeric or ginger.
  2. Add it to a cup of water, bring to a boil, switch off the stove.
  3. Close the vessel and let it infuse for a few minutes.
  4. Filter the tea, dilute it if you like it light, or have it as such with a spoonful of honey, palm sugar or palm jaggery (karupatti).
Honey combines beautifully with most herbs and spices. A dash of lemon also goes well with most of these teas, so feel free to add half a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice per cup of tea.

I would suggest you keep changing the spice or herb everyday so that you get the balanced benefits of all these. Each of these ingredients has some medicinal value, which is good in moderation. But, as we know, too much of even a good thing might be harmful.

However, if you keep changing your herbal teas everyday, then you are sure to enjoy the variety not just in the flavour and aroma, but in the health benefits too!


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Millet(s) Idli

Millets are getting their much deserved attention - at last. Everybody is talking about them. Honestly, we have been using millets for a long time now, and I personally find a significant difference in energy levels, resistance and general well-being. Anyway, I realised that idlis and dosas are a great way to sneak these super grains into our diet - especially in a form acceptable to kids.

Basically, you make the batter much the same way as for normal idlis but use the following proportions:

1 cup urad (ulundu/ black gram)
4 cups millets (any of them - pearl millet, little millet, kodo millet, foxtail millets, or a mix of these)
1/4 cup poha (aval/ beaten rice flakes)
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds

1. Clean all the ingredients separately. Soak the urad and fenugreek together in a vessel. Soak the millets and poha together in another. Let them soak for at least four hours.

2. Drain the urad and retain the water for grinding.

3. Grind the urad adding water little by little till it is soft and fluffy. (Use the soaking water.) To check if the urad batter is done, drop a blob in a cup of water. If it floats up, the batter is ready.

4. Grind the millets and poha adding water slowly. You will find that this does not take as much water as rice would, when making traditional rice-based batter. So, be careful when adding water. Add little at a time.

5.  Mix the two batters well, adding a little salt too.

6. Allow to ferment till the batter rises well.

You will see that millet-based batters rise faster than the traditional batter. Mine usually rises within four hours. Use it as soon as it is done rising, or stow it into the fridge. Don't let it sit outside for too long, as it might get sour. Perhaps because millets are less processed than rice, and are therefore richer in nutrients and enzymes, the fermentation activity is very fast in them. If the batter gets sour, your idlis won't turn out well, but your dosas will be crispy and great. But, if you use the batter at just the right time, you will end up with amazing idlis that are even softer than the traditional ones. Don't mind the colour though - they won't be as white as traditional idlis.

Let me tell you another traditional trade secret, which most people don't follow these days when making idlis. Whether you make traditional batter or a millet-based one, never mix the fermented batter. Keep using the fluffy portions from the top to make idlis. And once you reach a layer of water, mix well and use the remaining batter to make dosas, uttapams or appam. The idlis made with the light and fluffy top batter will be super-duper soft! Try it to believe it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Read to your kids!

My 3-yr old son, Tejas, is getting more and more fascinated with books - he loves to hear me read out stories from children's magazines and books. He can listen as long as I can read - and it is probably the only activity that can engage him for longer than, ahem, five minutes!

As he listens to more and more stories, it is amazing how his mind starts to bubble - perhaps with imaginary visuals of all that he hears. (I wish there was a monitor that could show how a child pictures the many scenes he listens about.) He asks questions aplenty, and gets into moods suiting the story. Eventually, within hours, the characters in the story come to life!

Tejas often comes and tells me things like:

"Amma, Santa Claus is sitting and playing with my toys in the room; I didn't disturb him as I want him to believe I'm a good boy!"

"Amma, the dog on the streets is troubling people a lot." Then, he picks up the phone and talks, "Little Krishna, please come and help us - a dog is troubling everybody. Dance on his head and throw him out!"

"Amma, I just saw a giant in the terrace; I am going to bundle him in a sack and throw him into the sky!"

While it evokes peals of laughter in me, after a while it registers as to what a great impact these stories are having on the kid - it is such a wonderful medium to teach life lessons - small and large. No wonder the moral tales such as Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Aesop's Fables have remained popular since time immemorial.

Incidentally, a parent raised this point during the monthly meeting with Tejas' kindergarten teacher who said it is a common characteristic of KG children. She also mentioned that while narrating stories, we should try not to put a full-stop to it. Instead, narrate the story as just one incident in the life of the characters, so that the child is free to imagine what might have happened to them later and build on the plot.

However, she also warned that sometimes this imagination can be hard to swallow. For example, when a child gets hurt and you ask how it happened, she might give a dozen imaginary explanations: "A giant came behind me. I ran, he followed, I tripped on a stone and fell" or "I was climbing a mountain, and I slipped and fell down" or something like that, so much so that it is very difficult to get anywhere close to the real reason!

All said, if we can kindle a child's imagination with stories and other methods, it is probably the best give we can give him/her for the future!