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September 2011

Surmai Orientally speaking


Marinating surmai

The most popular cuisine in India other than our own is Chinese . Now Thai comes a close second. It is amazing to see how even the most conservative of consumers has taken to Oriental food , like a fish to water.Thai restaurants abound and are doing well especially those serving sea food.

In our own Shivaji market there are a couple of stalls dedicated to Thai ingredients, galangal, lemon grass bulbs, small red chillies

Now that so many ingredients for Thai, Chinese and Japanese food are available locally it is so easy to make this oriental style surmai / king fish.You can also use red snapper cut into four fillets or filleted pomfret.


3/4 kg surmai steaks about 6 x 5" medium sized

2" ginger grated

Juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp dark soya sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

5  tbsp sesame oil

Mix all the ingredients including 3 tbsp of the oil, and marinate the fish steaks in it for as long as possible in the fridge.

Heat the rest of the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and sear the fish on both sides.Cook for about 7 minutes in all, turning over once in between.

Remove and serve on a bed of thinly shredded green papaya, shredded cabbage and grated beetroot.



Express Khichadi with Vegetables- A Meal in 20 minutes



Fast food need not mean the greasy ,synthetic, barely edible stuff available at a variety of food chains with fancy names of Scottish clans and Italian famiglias.

Fast food can mean healthy, fresh and filling meals made in a jiffy. You just need to know the recipes.

Here's one, whipped together with what you usually have in any Indian kitchen and the indispensable pressure cooker.


1 1/3 cup rice

2/3 cup toor dal

1/4 cup frozen peas

2 tbsp oil or ghee

1 onion, finely chopped

1 large potato cubed

2 tbsp peanuts, roasted

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 " ginger sliced

1 green chilli, chopped fine

1 tsp cumin, powdered

1/2 tsp black pepper ground

4 cloves ground

1 " piece of cinnamon

Pinch of asafoetida

2 tbsp chopped coriander

600 ml water

1 tsp salt


 Wash the rice and lentils well till water runs clear. Soak in water while getting the other ingredients ready.

Heat the oil or ghee in a 3-5 litre pressure cooker. When hot saute the garlic and onions in the oil. Add the ginger and green chilli and fry some more. Now add the cumin, the peas and poattoes. Fry for a minute or two then add the pepper,cinnamon ,cloves and asafoetida.Give it a good stir and add the drained rice and lentils. Now add the water and salt. Cover with the lid and put on the weight of the cooker.

Cook on high heat till the cooker gives one whistle. Turn the heat off and leave to cool and reduce to normal pressure. Now open lid and serve hot with yogurt and pickle.

Absolutely yum and incredibly fast to produce!



Mumbai's Dabbawala- Preserving values


Dabbawala                                                  Photo by Steve Evans

Anybody who is appalled at the proliferation of processed foods in our country and the attendant deterioration in the health of our middle class, with diabetes and heart disease topping the list of ailments, would be interested in this book. The Mumbai Dabbawala upholds the tradition of home cooked food and makes it possible for 200,000 city dwellers, who work far from their homes , to eat a hot home cooked meal for lunch every working day.

This slim volume  tell a big story. Originally written in Marathi by the author Shobha Dongre it has been translated into English and published by Omo books, a venture of Gouri Dange, the well known author and journalist.

The language is simple, almost rustic in tone, to convey the character of the protagonists.

Beginning with the fairy tale like story of the dabbawalas who attended Prince Charles' wedding with hilarious details of eating their tiffin of bhakri and peanut chutney in the Taj Hotel in London this is a book that touches your heart.

The "Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association" was started in 1890 by an enterprising young man Mahadu Bacche, who recruited young men from his village in Maval to meet the increasing demand for tiffin delivery. These men were descendants of Shivaji's soldiers and were well equipped to find their way through the new and bewildering  terrain of Bombay even though they were illiterate.

Today many of the dabbawalas are educated but  generally only up to middle school level.This has not prevented them from forming a legendary organisation lauded by Forbes and Time magazine, and taken up for study by many management schools.

Bondre traces the history of the Dabbawalas with many interesting details gathered through innumerable interviews and long observation of their working methods .

I found this an absorbing read and charming in the description of the simplicity, perseverance and honesty of the dabbawalas among whom hard work is its own reward, a belief not readily expressed or heard today.



 Ebook available