Not so bitter Bitter Gourd

Strange how it is that the foods that are really good for you, never rate very high on taste. They are either too boring, too slimy, too rubbery or in the case of the bitter gourd…too bitter! By the way, did you know that bitter gourd is actually a fruit? Or that this bitter beauty is a close cousin of zucchini and cucumber? The bitter gourd is packed with health benefits; it reduces blood sugar, its good for your cholesterol, it is rich in fibre and it may aid in weight loss.

But how does one get past its bitterness? One way, is frying it but then you tend to lose out on the nutrients and say goodbye to any weight loss dreams. Or you may stuff it with something yummy, tie it with a thread and again…fry it. Too time consuming? Then try the following simple, quick and delicious karela subzi recipe and I promise, if you do not overnight turn into a bitter gourd fan, you will be able to easily incorporate this healthy fruit in your menu.

Ingredients:

3 medium sized bitter gourd, cut into small rectangular pieces ( discard the pith and seeds)

1 big onion, chopped roughly

1 big tomato, thinly chopped

1 slit green chilli

1 and a half tablespoon jaggery

½ tablespoon tamarind

1 teaspoon coriander powder

½ teaspoon cumin powder

Pinch of turmeric

Salt to taste

Oil as required

Method:

Rinse the bitter gourd a few times with water then cut vertically, removing the pith and seeds. Cut it into thin small rectangles. If you wish, you can add some salt to the bitter gourd at this stage and set aside for a couple of minutes. Be sure to throw away the resultant juice and wash the bitter gourd well before cooking it. Also, if using salt here, taste the dish when it is just about done and only add salt, if required. In a glass bowl, soak the jaggery and tamarind in water. You can adjust the proportion of jaggery and tamarind, depending on how tangy you want your bitter gourd.

In a pan, heat some oil. Add onions and saute for a few minutes till they turn pink. Next, add the bitter gourd, giving it a good stir and then cover and cook on low flame for 7-10 minutes. Once the bitter gourd lose their distinctive green colour, add in the tomatoes and all the spices. Check for salt and add accordingly, cover and cook on low flame. Open and stir after 5 minutes; add a 2 tablespoons of water then cover and cook again till the oil oozes out from the sides and the bitter gourd and tomatoes are soft and cooked. Then add the tamarind pulp and jaggery (discarding the used tamarind pulp and sees) to the sabzi. Give it a quick stir, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. Switch off the flame, sneak a taste and wonder why you always gave such a wide berth to the lovely bitter gourd!

Aurora Teagarden Mysteries by Charlaine Harris

I love mystery novels and if its a mystery series… so much the better. You get attached to the characters by the time you read the last chapter and the knowledge that your association with them is going to last for a couple of books more, is vastly reassuring. I devoured Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series a long time ago. When I began the Aurora Teagarden series, I had no idea it was penned by Charlaine Harris. When I had finished the first book Real Murders in the series, I was intrigued but mildly nauseated with the ending. I decided I won’t read any more. But the next day, I started the next book in the series. And I was hooked. The protagonist of this series is a tiny, bespectacled single librarian with the charming name of Aurora Teagarden, who has a penchant for reading about famous murders and murderers. And in each book, a murdered body turns up somewhere in her vicinity and she finds the murderer with her trademark blend of snoopiness and spunk.

Apart from the superbly handled mystery aspect of the books, what I like the most about this series, is how the heroine Aurora blossoms as the series progresses. She becomes more self possessed, more outspoken, comes to possess an outstanding array of spectacles and becomes increasingly more lovable. I love the way Harris has handled the part where Aurora grieves for her first husband, Martin Bartell and how she emerges a stronger and more mature woman from her misery. I like how the mysteries sound at the outset, as if the perpetrator is a person unknown but how slowly one small thing fits into the other and the killer is revealed to be very much a resident of Lawrenceton, the fictional town where the book is based. The supporting characters are also well sketched out and Harris gently draws the reader into their world, so that you really feel for the characters and find their everyday doings interesting, as if they are people living in your own street. As I write this post, I am down to my last book in the series, the tenth! Need I say more… go and read this book!

What if Fairy Tales came true?

You know that one dream you have? The one which you want to come true, over all others? The one which will turn your humdrum, boring life into something akin to a fairy tale. The dream you wish every time you blow out your birthday candles or on every fallen eyelash? Yeah, that dream. What if it came true? I have a dream like that. When I have a spare moment or when I am feeling low, I envisage what my life will be like if that one dream came true. The one which I have been wishing for since almost a decade.

But still, it remains as far away as ever… just like a fairy tale! And what really burns me up is that there are other people for whom that dream is actually a reality and they do not appreciate it! Talk about morons! I see other people with such lives and wonder how can they be so blase about it. If they could only glance within my heart, peep within my soul, they would know what a priceless treasure they possess. Sometimes, I feel as if I will spontaneously combust if that dream, really really became a reality. I would be like a real princess in a fairy tale. Wow!

But then again, is my fairy tale life really going to fulfill me? Yes, this unattainable dream has given me endless sorrow and heartache. But…it has also given me so many opportunities. Opportunities which I would never have grabbed had my fairy tale life been handed to me on a platter. This dream has made me better, stronger, wiser. And I think, what will its fulfillment do for me? What will I work for? What will I dream about? Won’t my life become empty at some deep, unfathomable level, if I attained the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow. Hmm… The closest analogy which I can think of is getting to eat the most sinful, delicious, moist, heavenly slice of chocolate cake! My all time, favorite, go to food. What if I got to eat such a chocolate cake at every meal, every single day of my life. Just the thought makes me shudder. Talk about saccharine!

And I think that is how my life would be, if I really attained my fairy tale dream. Isn’t it ironical? When I finally get to live my fairy tale life, I won’t really be a princess, in any way that really matters. I would be complacent, lazy and lethargic. Far better that I utilise my fairy tale dream to push myself ever higher in life. And when the one above thinks the time is right, that dream would come true. If it has to! Till then, I will keep in mind that, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!”

Life is Beeyootiful!

I have this thing… when I read an uplifting book or watch a movie in which the characters go through the most awful trials courageously, cracking witty jokes and with a smile on their face, I can’t help but think that had I been in their shoes, I would have done just as well or fine, may be just a little worse than them. I would have been brave and beautiful… an inspiration. Come on life, give me my moment of glory! I am sure we all have such thoughts now and then, right?

One of my favourite movies of all time is Life is Beautiful. I smile, I laugh, I cry, the movie ends but the characters stay with me for many a day. I wish I could meet Guido, I wish I could reassure Dora that her husband and son are ok, I wish I could hug Giosue tight. And I wish I could have been with them and been just as brave. But we are not in a movie, right?

But the current Covid climate is just like being stuck in a detention centre, with no way out. The enemy is everywhere, there is no way out. In Mumbai, where I stay, the number of cases seem never ending, each day ushers in higher number of cases and casualties. There are no malls where we can go relax on a weekend, no coffee shops to unwind with friends. Heck, one can’t even go to the neighbourhood park. And the worst part is the uncertainty, not knowing when it will end. People you know, friends and relatives, are succumbing to the dreaded virus. They did everything right but it was not enough. Nothing is enough. There is no hope.

See, how easy it is to sink into depression? You don’t have to do anything, just give up. But great books and great movies never get made on such depressed people. For one thing, there are just too many of them. And for other, who wants to peep into their lives? What good will it do? No, it is heroes who people want to know… people who are brave and beautiful. People who make you feel good just by smiling at you. People who smile and laugh and make your day brighter. People who are heroes. Now is your chance… grab it! Be the hero of your very own movie. Who knows you might just be the inspiration for the next great book or movie?

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Had been meaning to read this book since quite a while and am glad I finally picked it up. And what a story it is! It is a story of Theo, a psychotherapist and his patient, Alicia Berenson. Alicia has supposedly killed her husband six years ago. And since then she has been living in a mental care facility where she has not spoken a single word Why? That is what Theo desperately wants to find out


Theo is not without his own demons that hound him round the clock. A terrifying, hot tempered father whom he still carries around with him, even though he fled from the family home in his teens. His own “fucked up life” is what drew Theo towards psychotherapy. He can still remember Ruth, the lady who listened to him and cried for him when he thought his tears were frozen over. That is what he is determined to do for Alicia. Save her, just as Ruth saved him.


But how can he do that when Alicia refuses to talk? Undeterred, he seeks out her lawyer, Max, who is also her husband’s brother. Max is hiding something but what? He also pays a visit to Jean Pierre, Alicia’s art dealer and supposed best friend who has not visited Alicia once since the time of her husband’s death. Theo finds out about Alicia’s troubled childhood and a meeting with her cousin brother suddenly provides him with the key to the mystery.

So, mystery solved then, right? Nu..uh. This is the part where I sat with my nose touching the page till I had turned the last page of the book. Now, that’s a mystery. If you haven’t already, read this book right now.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Read Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone yesterday. Started it in the evening and I couldn’t put it down till I had finished it. Then I couldn’t sleep because the story kept buzzing around in my head. I completely forgot that we were in the middle of the Corona pandemic. It is that kind of book… completely absorbing.

The story revolves around Laurel, a middle-aged mother whose teenage daughter Ellie, simply disappeared from the face of the earth ten years ago. Ellie was pretty, smart, charming and her mother’s darling. Police investigation revealed nothing and it was assumed that Ellie was just another teenage runaway. But Laurel refused to believe it. She becomes obsessed with finding out something, anything about Ellie to the point of the ruin of her marriage and alienation of her other two children. Her husband Paul and she part ways. Her other two elder children move out. She exists, just filling in her days, waiting…

Suddenly, ten years later she meets Floyd, a charming mathematician who makes her come alive again. Things which had meant nothing to her for so long suddenly become important…cooking, looking good, reaching out to her family. Her life has meaning again. Then she meets Poppy, Floyd’s nine year old daughter who bears an uncanny resemblance to her Ellie. The book is told from different POVs… Laurel, Floyd and Ellie. Dear reader, I pity you because I have already read the book and you haven’t! Sorry, got carried away 🙂 The author cleverly switches between POVs, keeping you gripping your seat. It was Ellie’s POV that kept me sleepless for a long time. Then there is a fourth POV. Whose that? Hey…that would be telling! READ THE BOOK!!!

The Miracle called the Parental Heart

Sometimes, I feel the parental heart is not one of the organs of the human body at all, it is something stupendous, something ethereal. It is the sum of all the virtues which the world can boast of. There is nothing it is not equal to where the child is concerned. From simple things like saying no to the last piece cake so that your little daughter can have it to convincing your grown up son over and over again that you are happy living alone and there is no need for him to disrupt his busy schedule and come down for a visit. And the funny thing is… we all do it. You might think you will never be that kind of person who gives somebody else’s life so much precedence over your own. But just wait till you become a mommy or a daddy; when you hold your new-born baby in your hands for the first time, when you look into its lovely, innocent face, all your declarations will just vanish along with your heart. There will only be place for your baby inside. It is like magic, the best kind of magic.

It makes us something better than what we ever were, something closer to perfect angels than just ordinary human beings. It is something so beautiful that witnessing it makes your heart ache. I recently lost a relative to the Covid pandemic. He was a father. His son was stuck in another country, unable to come see his father. And the father assured him while he was on his dying bed, his son was to not even think of coming back and that he will pray that his son becomes a great and successful man. All this before he died! I can say no more…

Finger-licking Vegetable Biriyani

Sundays are always good food days at my house. And what dish can beat biriyani? Chicken and mutton biriyani are always scrumptious but I thought of making a vegetable biriyani today. (Also because owing to the Covid, have bid goodbye to non-vegetarian fare) This was the mood in which I began making my preparations but in a little while as I put some potatoes to fry and grilled my cottage cheese, I began to feel excited about how this biriyani will turn out. And let me tell you, it turned out absolutely delicious. We enjoyed it for itself, not as a poor substitute for a non-vegetarian biriyani. Agreed, it took almost as much time to make as a chicken biriyani. But with the lockdown in effect, time is one thing which I have in plenty 🙂 So, do try out this recipe. I can bet you will love it.

Ingredients:

2 big potatoes, cut long and thin (to make french fries)

3 onions, chopped

1 small cauliflower, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 capsicum, cut into cubes

A handful of french beans, chopped

100 gms paneer

1 tablespoon processed cheese spread or 1 cube processed cheese

1 tablespoon curd

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 1/2 cups basmati rice

8-10, cloves

10-14, peppercorns

3 cardamoms

2-3 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon clarified butter

1/2 tablespoon butter

1 cup fried onion or birista

1 cup coriander, chopped

1 cup mint leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste 

1 teaspoon red chilli powder, adjust as per taste

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

2 teaspoon butter chicken masala or biriyani masala

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

Handful of raisins

Oil

Yellow and green food color mixed with milk

Salt, as per taste

Method:

To start, put water to boil in a deep bottomed pan. To this add, the whol cardamoms, cardamom powder, oil, bay leaves and half of the cloves and peppercorn and salt. Once the water starts to boil, add the rice. Boil till almost cooked. Drain and set aside. Add the yellow color to part of the rice and mix gently. Add the green color to the balance rice, mix and keep aside. Add black pepper and salt to your potatoes. Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan and make your french fries. Once cooked, in the same pan, grill your cottage cheese in a little oil.

Heat oil in a separate pan and add your remaining whole spices. Stir for two minutes and add the onions. Once the onions turn pinkish brown about ten minutes, add your tomatoes. Cover and cook for about 7-8 minutes, then add all your vegetables. Cover and cook for 5 minutes then add half a cup of water, salt and all the remaining spices. Cover and cook till vegetables are almost done. Then add the curd and tomato puree. Let everything simmer for a couple of minutes then add your cottage cheese, butter, cheese and about a quarter of your fried onions. Cook for five minutes and switch of the flame. Garnish with coriander and add half of the clarified butter.

Now, time to assemble your biriyani. In a big deep bottomed pan, pour some oil and spread it out to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Add a thin layer of rice. Top the rice with some french fries. Then add half of your vegetables mixture and a little fried onion. Add another layer of rice. Then all of your chopped capsicum and the remaining vegetables mixture. Cover with remaining rice. Drizzle the remaining clarified butter. Garnish with raisins, remaining fried onion, french fries, mint and coriander leaves. Cover with a lid and place a flat plate on top. Weigh it down with something heavy. You can also seal the plate and pan together with some kneaded flour if you have the energy left. I just went with the weight! Cook on slow flame for 10-12 minutes. Make some raita while this is getting done. Then open the lid, give yourself a pat on the back and dig in!

Egg Curry

The good old egg is really good to have in the current climate. Eggs are a good source of protein and also rich in vitamins. There is no end of different recipes which the egg lends itself to. Today I am sharing my recipe of egg curry. Its easy to make and tastes absolutely delicious. It goes best with rice tempered with cumin.

Ingredients:

5 eggs, hard boiled

2 onions, fried till golden brown

2 tablespoon curd

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 teaspoon red chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

2 teaspoon ginger garlic paste

1 1/2 cups water

Oil

Salt, as per taste

Method:

In a bowl, use your hands to crumble the fried onion. Add the curd and mix the two together. In a pan, heat oil. Add the fried onion and curd, tomato puree and some water. Stir everything together and cook on low flame for five minutes. Then add all the spices, salt and remaining water. Let it simmer on low flame for about ten-twelve minutes, till the oil separates from the gravy. Make a small slit on your boiled eggs and then add them to your gravy. Coat the eggs with the gravy and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Garnish with coriander and serve with a bowl of rice!

The Lockdown Soup

Yeah, you read it right. Hot, nourishing soups are supposed to be good for safeguarding oneself from the dreaded Covid. But the thing is, with the lockdown in effect, what is one supposed to make a soup with? If you are facing this problem then this soup is your answer. It goes easy on the ingredients, is hot and tangy and is absolutely yum. I have used veggies in small quantities and a couple of sauce sachets sitting in our fridge from the pre-Covid takeout days! So, here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 small carrot, chopped

4-5 florets of cauliflower

A small handful of corn

1 tablespoon, chopped spring onion

1 tiny onion, chopped

1 sachet soya sauce

1 sachet chilli sauce

1 sachet tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon schezwan sauce or ginger garlic paste

1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce or you can use 1 teaspoon chili powder and sugar

Pinch of black pepper powder

Salt, as per taste

Whole wheat flour mixed with water for thickening

Method:

In a deep pan, bring the carrot, cauliflower and corn to boil. Drizzle some oil in another pan. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add all your sauces and salt. Let it all simmer for 5-7 minutes and turn off the heat. Pour this mixture to your boiled vegetables pan and add the whole wheat flour mixed with water for thickening. Let the soup simmer for about ten minutes and then add the spring onions. You can use coriander or mint or even some chopped capsicum if you do not have any spring onions. Cover and simmer for some five minutes and you are through! Pour out a big bowlful for yourself and enjoy!