Royal Orchid – Striking Strong Flavours with Finesse! Workshop on Thai Green Papaya Salad – 3 ways (VIDEO)

Food Industry is huge, with a capital H. To sustain in a society of varied culinary interests, plus to sail across the ever rising wave of competition is a volcanic task. The hard work and struggle to bring up a restaurant and also, remain popular in the food industry, for several years is certainly a huge victory.

The Royal Orchid Group of Restaurants, is a Hugely successful Chain of Restaurants in Abu Dhabi. After coming to Abu Dhabi, I have seen the flavours of the restaurants under the group, spread aroma in several of the social occasions. 

We have been mesmerised by the enthusiasm and zeal of the Founder and Owner of the Royal Orchid Group, the Septogenarian Mr. Vinay Varma and his Dynamic Lady Mrs. Nira Varma.

So, when the Captain of the Chain Mr. Varma, accepted my request for a learning session of some of their speciality foods, I was elated. When he left it to me, to choose from any of their restaurants, my greed to make the best use of the opportunity knew no limits.

Below are the speciality restaurants under the big roof of Royal Orchid Group.

https://www.theroyalorchidgroup.com

I chose, one of my favourites- Thai. A very big Thanks to their open-mindedness..


Thai cuisine might be one amongst the most popular cuisines around the world, next only to anybody’s own native food. The freshness of ingredients and aromatic flavours of the spices, would rule your palate for several hours.

Having lived in Cambodia, we have been fortunate to have savoured several dishes of South East Asian cuisine. As a blogger, I have certainly been lucky to have learnt a few distinctive dishes and sweets of Cambodia.. like-

  1. Num Plae Ai – Sticky Rice Sweet Balls
  2. Num Ansom Chek – Banana filled Steamed Rice Cake
  3. Trey Chamhoi – Cambodian Steamed Fish
  4. Num Kom – Sticky Rice Cakes with coconut filling

Neighbourhood Thailand, it’s history and flavourful food are always a big thumps up for me. I wrote three travel posts on Bangkok- its historical places and food, way back in August 2013 (The Charming Capital of Thailand). When I read that post now, I see that I’ve written about tasting Brown Rice, Crispy Fried Mushroom and Spicy Vegetable Curry/ Yellow Rice, Chicken in Spicy Curry and not to miss the desserts – Sticky Rice and Mango and Coconut Ice cream.

So, here I am, in Abu Dhabi, ready to learn a few more Thai dishes. Life has been very kind to me…isn’t it?

Royal Orchid is a Chinese and Thai restaurant, which has the logo- Inspired by the Far East. That truly suits me too! With elegant interiors and comfortable seating arrangements, it boasts of authentic Chinese and Thai flavours – straight from wok to your plates.

I requested for a workshop/demonstration on a full course Thai Meal with- a salad, a soup, a curry, a stir fry and a dessert, which I chose from few of my favourite dishes.

Chef Vituk of Royal Orchid, who hails from Thailand, was a very patient, grounded personality. After meeting a few chefs recently, I think, patience is a virtue of Chefs. And, they are more than that. They are specialists in the art of combining traditional and contemporary flavours that surprises customers. They present the simplest of dishes in exceptional ways that enthrals food connnaisseurs. Above all, they are blessed with the culinary art that embraces our appetite.

Let me share the dishes I learnt one by one.


I. Thai Green Papaya Salad – three ways

  1. Som Tum Kai Kem – Green Papaya Salad with Salted Eggs
  2. Som Tum Sua – Green Papaya Salad with Rice Noodles
  3. Som Tum Phoo Plara – Green Papaya Salad with Salted Crab

I have also uploaded videos that show the making of Thai Green Papaya salad, demonstrated by Chef.

The Quintessentials

mortar and pestle

green papaya

and the grating technique

The basic ingredients for the different versions of papaya salad, remain pretty much the same. Slight differences in the choice of sauces and spice level make the variations taste better.

Ingredients

  • garlic pods
  • long red chillies
  • green papaya
  • carrots
  • corn
  • long bean
  • cherry tomatoes

seasoning

  • fish sauce
  • salad dressing
  • lemon juice
  • tamarind juice
  • palm sugar
  • coconut sugar

Note:

  1. Normally, fish sauce is added. But here, if one wishes to prepare a vegetarian papaya salad, omit the eggs and fish sauce. Instead use a salad dressing, which might be a combination of light soya sauce and palm sugar.
  2. The spice level of this salad is on the higher side. I would suggest reducing the garlic and chillies, if one prefers a medium spiced salad.

Getting ready

The art of grating papaya for the salad

Keep the grated papaya in ice cold water, for at least 10 minutes. This helps keeping the vegetable crunchy.

1. SOM TUM KAI KEM – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH SALTED EGGS

making of the salad

2. SOM TUM SUA – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH RICE NOODLES

making of the salad

3. SOM TUM PHOO PLARA – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH SALTED CRAB

making of the salad

Thanks Chef. That was an amazing experience. But, plenty more to come. Come along with me..

Khazana – Grain of Salt – Fusion Dining at its Casual Best!

Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor, in Nation Towers is already one of the most sort after restaurants, for a fine dining experience with beautiful view, overlooking the Corniche, Abu Dhabi.

With New Year 2020, Abu Dhabi welcomed another elite restaurant, Khazana – Grain of Salt,that provides the ever popular Speciality Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s exclusive signature dishes. Now, the aroma of flavours, from the culinary creations of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor can be enjoyed at WTC Mall.

The Non-alcoholic Bar Area and a comfortable mocktail/coffee corner

They say Food unites Boundaries. Looking at the menu at Khazana, one is bowled over by the representation of different regional and ethnical cuisines, across the world. This doesn’t stop with representation, but the food here actually symbolizes multi-cultural Fusion. Take for example – the Mushroom Bakhlava or Falafel Chaat.

Catchy combinations like Nalli Rogan Josh Tagine, Kappa Pot Roast, Uppukkari Pot Pie are distinct.

There is also Mishti Doi Brulee – that unites Bengal and France.

Fascinated by such mix and matches, I tried to explore some South Indian combinations that might work out- a Filter Kaapi Fondue or Chutney Cheese Cake? Why not!!

Here are a few of the delectable dishes, that we savoured at Khazana.

Few of the starters-

Strip Samosa

Khumb Palak and Corn ki Tikki

Quinoa Methi ke Tikki with Pumpkin Sauce

Beetroot Peanut ki Tikki

Malai Tikka

Chicken Tikka

Tandoori Pomfret

For the Mains-

Choice of Breads

Prawn Biriyani

Kadai Paneer

Chicken Lababdar

Somehow, missed to click the Nimbu Dhaniya Kukkad.

To end with sumptuous desserts-

Blueberry Ghevar

Chocolate Crush Pile

Chocolate Samosa

24K Dal

Slow cooked black gram, which is popularly called Dal Makhani or Maa Ki Dal is named 24K Dal. While I was amazed by the name, Chef tells me with a smile of pride- “Ma’m, Pure Gold is also known by 24K”.

Khazana, Grain of Salt has its recipes, moulded to perfection and hence, shines as Pure Gold, in the intention to provide age old recipes, with contemporary twist.

The Exclusive Bahraini Halwa – A Workshop at the Showaiter’s

Would my Bahrain trip be a satisfied and complete one, without visiting one of those very popular Halwa Shops of the country? Certainly not.

Bahraini Halwa, is one of the most sort after sweets, during festivals and social gatherings, not only in Bahrain, but around the whole of Gulf region.

The strong resemblance the Bahraini Halwa has with the Bombay Halwa, that we savour back home, is a matter of cullinary research. I remember, when sweet boxes were brought by friends and relatives, while visiting our home, the Bombay Halwa wrapped in a transparent wrapper, orange or yellow in colour, would be the most sort after. It was always reserved for relaxed chewing. The highly glutenous texture of the delicacy, was the most attractive feature, I think. Chewing it slowly, enjoying the flavour it spread inside the mouth, still lingers in my mind.

Bahraini halwa is a direct descendant of the Omani version, introduced to the local cuisine more than 90 years ago following visits by Bahraini pearl divers and fishermen to Muscat.

The family modified the recipe to create a delicious local variety and then went on to establish a halwa dynasty which earned recognition beyond the Gulf. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/sweet-dynasty-plans-uae-invasion-1.546296

The Halwa Showaiter – the Pioneer Sweet Shop of Bahrain, has been in the business of making sweets since 1850. When you travel, in and around Manama, as we did, one would come across a number of Showaiter Halwa Shops, which belong to the several cousins of the Showaiter family.

The factory of the Hussain Mohammed Showaiter Sweets, is located in an area called Muharaq, about 5-6 kms (around 15 minutes drive time) from capital Bahrain. A visit there, was a -‘ must do’ one, since they offer a gastronomic tour to their factory. Yes, the Showaiters are kind enough to allow tourists and connoisseurs, visit their kitchen, view, click pictures and take videos of the making of their speciality Bahraini Halwa.

I certainly didn’t want to miss the chance. It was not a dream come true, but a treat come true.

So, this was going to be my Halwa Workshop – to know about the making of the very famous Halwa of Bahrain.

Come along….it’s going to be an interesting, sweet journey..

First, the ingredients..

The basic ingredients that go in the making of the basic Halwa are,

  • corn starch
  • sugar
  • cardamom powder
  • corn oil
  • rose water
  • nuts

And, depending upon the variety of Halwa, for example pomegranate halwa, apricot halwa, fig or milk halwa – the speciality ingredients are added.

The two most popular Halwas are the Saffron Halwa which has cashew nuts, which is orange/red in colour, and the King of Halwa – which is green in colour loaded with almonds.

The Halwa is made with two to three members, taking turns to stir the mixture in the huge copper vessel, filled with ingredients.

  1. First, water is poured into the vessel, and sugar is added.
  2. After a boil, the other ingredients – corn starch, oil, rose water, cardamom powder, food colour and nuts – are added, one after the other.
  3. The initial thin liquid, becomes thicker and stickier with time. This process requires non-stop stirring and hence, is a tedious one.
  4. Once, the required consistency of the halwa is achieved, the halwa is poured in large containers and taken for packaging.

The videos below, show the making of the Halwa – the stirring and the continuous process of making several batches.

This video below, shows the packaging of the two special types of Halwa – saffron and almond halwa.

the packed boxes, ready to be transported…

and the super delicious gooey halwa…

The packed halwa, sets well inside the box..

when cut…

On the way to the entrance of the office of the Showaiter’s in Muharraq, there is a shop which displays the century year old tradition of halwa making, that is exclusive to the family.

They have preserved the utensils used during the initial years, in the making of Bahraini Halwa.

Halwas to taste and the different types they make-

This Halwa workshop, indeed made my Bahrain trip a complete one- opening new windows to my primary interests -history, culture and cuisine.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

Exploring Culture of Bahrain – Pottery Demonstration at Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre

After visiting places of historic interest in and around Manama, it was time to delve into some cultural aspects.

Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage can be seen through various lenses. Though history and cuisine too fall under Culture in a broader sense, I chose to visit the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which displays the country’s indigenous art forms and creations. It was established in 1990. The best artists of the country are brought under one institution, to display their skills and pass theirs to the next generation.

The centre’s website explains its focus and goals.

The center embraces many traditional handicrafts, in order to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Maintaining traditional crafts and industries from extinction, in light of the steady growth in the world of automated industries.
  2. Educating Bahraini youth, and giving them the opportunity to explore industries and crafts that were practiced by their ancestors.
  3. Highlighting the traditional industries and handicrafts as an interface of the country, where foreigners visitors can learn more about our great past.
  4. Encouraging the craftsman and artisans, urging them to continue working in this distinctive field which requires major effort, and precise skills, by providing  support  to ensure the development of this industry  while maintaining the original characteristics of the Bahraini products.

http://www.btea.bh/aljasra-handcrafts

To me, this is the need of the hour for any society, especially societies where modern life style has become synonymous to neglecting the traditional past.

Additionally, what I learn from their website is-

Each village or town in the island has become known for a particular crafts such as the textile industry in Bani Jamrah village, basket weaving in Karbabad village, pottery in Ali village and AlSaffah in  Jassrah village, while Manama and Muharraq cities are famous for vessel industry and related tools.  http://www.btea.bh/bah-handcrafts

Al Jasra Handicraft Centre has different rooms for different crafts. It is not only a display or an exhibition house, but also a place where workshops are conducted. Tourists and visitors are given patient explanations on the specific art work. When we went there, we could find young students learning the beautiful craft forms, from experts.

Here are a few hand made wonders by specialist artists of Bahrain…

Traditional Chests

The metal chests with intricate carvings were beautiful.

Basket weaving

Basket weaving is a traditional handcraft, with the abundantly available native palm leaves. Apart from baskets, there were more innovative pieces made too.

Ship Building

Ship building is like a life-line expertise, as far as Bahrain is concerned. Fishing and Pearl Fishery, being two of the foremost occupations, Ship building is an integral part of Bahrain’s traditional livelihood.

Textile Weaving

The textile village Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain, is known for its traditional cloth weaving.

Gypsum Craft

This place was mesmerising. The artisan Mr. Ali Abdulhusain, a very patient personality, explained his art. Though, we didn’t follow each other’s language, art didn’t need communication through language. His craft revives Bahrain’s medieval heritage. Now, we know that, the patience that he exhibits, is transformed into such fascinating pieces.

Pieces of gypsum art pieces, ready to be given colour

the artist and his art

finished piece

transformation from paper to gypsum

tools …

and the piece of art

Pottery

The video below shows, how much hard work and muscle power goes into making the clay pliable for different articles.

Incredible Artistry in those hands – the making of a pot

Such delicate craftsmanship – Removing the pot from the place of making

The great respect and adoration that I always had, for those craftsmen and their craft, seems to have grown multi-fold in my heart. The ingenuity and expertise that dwell in their humble personalities, deserve a higher and bigger adulation in this world of worldly pleasures.

A trip to Bahrain – Dilmun Civilisation and the First Oil Well in the Gulf Region!

Everyone loves to travel. The choice of things to explore is enormous, but, it is the traveller who selects the best preferred way of exploration. When I travel, first, I like to explore historical places. Since I am amazed by the unique cultures of different countries, next, I hunt for places where the culture of the place of travel is displayed. Then, I like to know about the culinary specialities of that place.

So, these are the main aspects that I concentrate while I plan…

  • travel extensively
  • explore thoroughly
  • know the history of the place
  • understand their culture
  • learn about the cuisine

Well, I tried to squeeze my above mentioned priorities in the best possible pattern, in our recent trip to Bahrain.

While we were getting ready for the journey, I started exploring Bahrain through the eyes of google.

When we landed in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and came out of the airport towards our place of stay, it was past sunset time. The city seemed like a relaxed holiday spot. Why did it seem so? Manama was noticeably calm. No heavy traffic, there were no vehicles trying to breeze past each other on roads. The air was pleasant and cool, since it was November. There were high rise buildings, but with enough breathing space between the sky scrapers. This was the initial feeling, travelling to the Hotel. But, this didn’t change much, even after the busy scheduled stay. Bahrain is a relaxed city.

We set out to explore Bahrain’s ancient, medieval and modern history, within the short stay, through these places…

1. The first Oil Well of the Middle East

The first trace of oil in the Gulf region, was discovered in Bahrain. The area, below Jebel Dukhan, is about 40kms from the capital Manama. There is a well and a stone pillar, where the detail is carved. The carving says, Oil first spurted from the well on 16 October 1931, and started striking oil from June 1, 1932.The Oil museum, which is a building close to the well, was closed. So, had to give it a miss.

2. Ancient Burial Mounds

The Dilmun Burial Mounds, were built between 2200 and 1750 BCE. The burial mounds are evidence of the Early Dilmun civilization, around the 2nd millennium BCE, during which Bahrain became a trade hub whose prosperity enabled the inhabitants to develop an elaborate burial tradition applicable to the entire population. These tombs illustrate globally unique characteristics, not only in terms of their number, density and scale, but also in terms of details such as burial chambers equipped with alcoves. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1542/

3. Barbar Temple

4. Bahrain National Museum

National Museum of Bahrain in capital Manama, is a store house that exhibits the country’s ancient, medieval and modern history. A normal tourist would be awe struck by the exhibits that open doors to the very ancient Dilmun Civilisation. Dilmun Civilisation dates back to 3rd millennium BC.

Here are a pictures of a few exhibits, from the national museum, Bahrain…

Dilmun Seals

5. Al Khamis Mosque

6. Bahrain Fort/Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1192/

These were the few places that we visited, among the numerous venues of historic interest in Bahrain. Our next journey would be a cultural trip to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, with a varied display of rich artistic heritage. I can’t wait to share the Pottery Demonstration!

Thiruvathirai – the festival of Adavallan/Nataraja – the Dancing Shiva

Thiruvathirai, is an auspicious day for Hindus, especially Shaivites. January 10, 2020 was the Day of Thiruvathirai. It is the day to celebrate Lord Shiva, in the form of Adavallan – the Cosmic Dancer. It is celebrated on the full moon night of the Tamil month of Margazhi, which falls between mid December and mid January of the Gregorian Calendar. What I know, is Tiruvathirai is celebrated in Tamilnadu and Kerala, the southern states of India.

Society has always found new philosophies and concepts to make Religion, an indispensable part of an individual’s life. Stories and Narratives of different eras, that are documented in various forms of literature and also those which are not documented, yet transferred through word of mouth, may form the basis of value based religious education.

To me, language and culture are synonymous to one’s roots, but religion is not. Not getting too much into this, I stay put here, as a Food Blogger alone.

That is why, we will not discuss about the religious aspects of Thiruvathirai, but the literary and culinary aspects of the special day.

Tamil Bhakti Literature consists of thousands of hymns, composed by several Saiva Saints, in praise of Lord Shiva, between 6th century ACE and 12th century ACE. Thirunavukkarasar, the Saint who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries ACE and Thirugnanasambandar, who lived in the 7th century ACE, have sung about the auspicious day of Thiruvathirai.

“ஊர்திரை வேலை யுலாவும் உயர்மலைக் 
கூர்தரு வேல்வல்லார் கோற்றங் கோள் சேரிதனில் 
கார்தரு சோலைக் கபாலீச்சரம் அமர்ந்தான் 
ஆதிரைநாள் காணாதே போதியார் பூம்பாவாய்”

‘Athirai naal kaanathe….’ says the last verse by Sambandar.

“முத்து விதான மணிப்பொற் கவரி முறையாலே 
பக்தர்க ளோடு பாவையர் சூழப் பலிப்பின்னே 
வித்தகக் கோல வெண்டலை மாலை விரதிகள் 
அத்தனாரூ ராதிரை நாளா லதுவண்ணம்”

‘Athan Aarur Athirai naal…’ says the last verse above, by Thirunavukkarasar

These are literary evidences, that mention about the special day of Thiruvathirai, in praise of Lord Shiva, that go back almost 1500 years from today.

As a food blogger, who wishes to transfer the culinary legacies to the next generation, what is important to me, is the Gastronomy involved in the celebration of festivals. Celebrating cultural legacies and honouring heritage through these legacies, are key aspects in passing on the essence of one’s roots to our offsprings.

The festival of Thiruvathirai, is celebrated with Thiruvathirai Kali– a delicacy made with rice, split green gram and jaggery- that is cooked to a Pudding/Halwa like consistency. Kali might be Tamil word for Halwa… (I have already posted another Kali – Ulundhankali – which is made with black gram and palm jaggery).

This is how I made it, the day before yesterday.

Thiruvathirai Kali

Ingredients

  • pacharisi/raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/skinned, split green gram – 1/4 cup
  • vellam/jaggery – 1 1/4 cup (can use 1 cup if less sweet preferred)
  • water (to cook the kali) – 2 cups
  • elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1 tsp
  • chukku podi/dry ginger powder – 1 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter – 2 tbsp
  • cashew nuts – 10 no.s, halved
  • grated coconut – 1/2 cup (optional- I didn’t add this)

Method of Preparation

  1. Dry roast rice and lentils separately, till they turn golden

2. Grate 1 1/4 cups of jaggery and add 2 cups water and let the jaggery dissolve

3. Once dissolved, strain for impurities and place in a hard bottomed vessel. This is the pan, in which kali would be stirred.

4. Dry grind the roasted rice and lentil. Keep on a plate or bowl.

5. Place the hard bottomed pan with Jaggery water on stove. Add cardamom and dry ginger powder. Bring to boil.

6. Once the jaggery water starts to boil, add the rice-lentil powder slowly. Keep stirring before lumps form.

7. Very quickly, the flour will start to thicken – almost like Upma.

8. Since the rice is roast and ground, it will thicken fast; An additional informative tip from Amma, unroasted raw rice powder will be sticky, but this roasted flour will have a coarse and dry consistency.. and is easier and quicker to get cooked.

9. Now, the Kali is almost done; keep stove in sim or if you fear it might burn a bit, switch off stove.

10. In another pan, deep fry cashew nuts in clarified butter till golden.

11. Add the clarified butter and cashew nuts into the Kali and mix well.

12. Switch on stove. Let the flame be in sim position, and keep stirring with the ladle. When the Kali doesn’t stick to the pan, remove and serve.

13. Feel free to add more nei/clarified butter. it only enhances the flavour.

14. If using freshly grated coconut, add before switching off the stove. Mix well and serve hot.

Easy Home made Grape Jam

When a big bunch of store bought black grapes, was getting softer…. sooner than we could finish, my immediate thought was to make Jam. An easy home made jam again, with minimal ingredients – the fruit and unrefined sugar. The tangy grapes didn’t need lemon, either to balance the sweetness, or as a preservative. We swore to finish the bottle at the earliest. Since no preservative is added in the recipe, as usual, we stored it in the refrigerator.

Easy Grape Jam

Ingredients

  • Black grapes
  • Unrefined cane sugar

Since my aim was to utilise the grapes, before they were wasted…no measurements/quantities here. But, go by ratio – 1 cup sugar to 4 cups of juice (no water added while blending)

Getting ready

Part I

  • Cautiously remove grapes that are spoiled or with grey fungus
  • Thoroughly clean and wash the good ones
  • To disinfect the grapes, immerse in turmeric powder for 1/2 an hour
  • Wash well in running water
  • The fruit is ready to get a make over.

Part II

Place a plate in the freezer and a few spoons- we need to check for consistency later by placing the jam in the chilled plate.

Part III

Sterilize bottles with lid

  1. Wash the bottles and lids to store jam very well with no food particles sticking to it.
  2. Take a big bowl and place the washed bottles and lids on sides.
  3. Fill water in the bowl immersing the bottles.
  4. Let the water come to a full boil.
  5. Close with lid and let it stay till the jam is done.

Method of Preparation

  1. Blend the grapes into fresh puree without water, and strain. No need to cook grapes before blending.
  2. Take a heavy bottomed pan on stove; measure and pour the puree
  3. Add 1 cup of sugar for every 4 cups of puree
  4. Let the puree and sugar cook in full flame initially
  5. You can find a foamy layer settle on top of the boiling liquid. Gently remove foam and let it simmer.
  6. Adjust burner of stove to medium and back to sim position till the liquid starts thickening
  7. At this stage, check with the plate in the freezer- swipe a spoon of jam on the plate and cut into two halves. If it sets well and isn’t flowing on the plate when tilted, jam is done. Else, cook for some more time.
  8. Pour into sterilized hot bottles directly from stove and close lid tightly.
  9. Once cooled, enjoy the goodness of grape jam, sans preservatives. Don’t forget to place in the refrigerator.

Vegan Chocolate Fudge

Chocolate Fudge can be a quick and easy dessert, when you know what to combine with the melted chocolate – and in what proportion. The main ingredient in a Chocolate Fudge being chocolate- one that accepts countless innovative combinations, makes the dessert a flexible delicacy. The ultimate success is visible only after the Fudge sets in the refrigerator, and one cuts it to cubes.

I can gladly say now, after a few years of attempting to make different combinations of Fudges, it has been one of my most satisfying cooking projects. Digestive cookie Fudge, Oreo Fudge, Coconut Fudge, Two-layered dark and white chocolate fudge, are a few that I have been trying out. I didn’t think I should be posting them, as many of my blogger friends are experts in the above mentioned varieties. I didn’t want to replicate those recipes, though my combinations would be a bit different. If I am satisfied that my Fudge is absolutely exclusive, I shall post them in future.

The latest Fudge, that I’ve been making, is this simple VEGAN FUDGE. It seems to be a hassle free recipe, quick to accomplish and above all, it is tasty too. Especially, when there are more desserts on the table with high sugar content, this dark chocolate fudge, which is a bit bitter, gives a balance to the over sweetened taste buds.

Now, straight to the recipe.

VEGAN CHOCOLATE FUDGE

Ingredients

  • combination of 70% and 85% Dark Chocolate – 200 gms each (I used Lindt)
  • almond flour – 2 cups – 1 cup equivalent to 50 gms; so, 100 gms of almond flour
  • almond and coconut milk blend – 2 cups – each cup was 130 ml; so, 260 ml of milk
  • almond flakes – approximately 3/4 to 1 cup
  • chopped pistachios – approximately 3/4 to 1 cup
  • unrefined cane sugar – 4 tbsp
  • additional pistachios or any other nuts of preference – for garnish

Method of Preparation

  1. Melt both chocolates (70% and 85% bars) in a double boiler

2. Mix two cups of almond flour to two cups of almond/coconut milk blend in a separate bowl

3. Place baking sheet inside a rectangular serving dish and grease it with very little extra virgin coconut oil. Keep this ready. Once the ingredients for Fudge are combined together, the mixture needs to be poured immediately into this sheeted serving dish

4. When the chocolate is melted smooth, remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the double boiler

5. Add unrefined sugar to the melted chocolate

6. Mix the almond flour-milk to the melted chocolate

7. The consistency of the liquid chocolate would be paste like now

8. Fold in, almond flakes and chopped pistachios

9. Without wasting much time, pour the mixture inside the already greased sheet and spread evenly

10. Place the dish in refrigerator.Let it set overnight or place in freezer for about three hours

11. Once completely set, cut into squares using a sharp knife.

12. Garnish with preferred nuts or anything of your choice.

13. Feel free to alter sugar – more or less

14. Also, one can try different chocolate combinations.

Are all my Ingredients VEGAN?

While I believed my recipe was 100% VEGAN, I thought it was my responsibility to check, whether each and every ingredient that went into making the Fudge, fell into the Vegan category.

  1. Lindt 70% and 85% dark chocolate

Are Lindt chocolate products suitable for vegans? 
Some of our products are made without any animal products, such as our Lindt EXCELLENCE range with 70%, 85%, 90% and 99% Cocoa dark chocolate bars. Please always refer to the packaging for a definitive ingredient listing. 

https://www.lindt.co.uk/help/lindt-frequently-asked-questions/

…As available in their website.

2. Alpro Coconut Almond Milk

BENEFITS

100% plant-based

Refreshing anytime & anywhere

A source of calcium and vitamins B2, B12, D and E.

Naturally low in fat

Free from colours and preservatives

https://www.alpro.com/aren/products/drinks/blends/coconut-almond

…As available in their website.

3. Almond Flour/Almond Flakes/ Pistachios – Nuts are Vegan

4. Unrefined Cane Sugar

Now, this is ambiguous. Not all unrefined sugars can be Vegan. So, check out.

The process used to filter cane sugar may use bone char. So, it is not that sugar itself has animal products in it, but that some sugar from sugar cane is not vegan because it uses bone char in its processing.

Just because sugar is brown does not mean it did not use bone char either. Brown sugar is produced by refining sugar and then adding molasses back into it, so unless it is labeled, it is unclear if the sugar is vegan or not. However, sugar that is brown because it is unrefined or raw is vegan, even if it is from sugar cane. There are a couple key words to look for if you want to know if sugar is vegan. BeetUnrefinedUSDA Organic and Raw are all phrases that let you know bone char was not used in your sugar.  The labels cane, brown, granulated, or just plain sugar don’t clarify, and so you can not know without contacting the company.

https://www.vivalavegan.net/articles/293-the-sour-side-of-sugar.html

Here, I have used unrefined cane sugar.

This is yet again an eye opener, on how today’s commercial market dictates our culinary routine.

Vegan or not, I found this combination of ingredients – very light and devoid of the usual milky/creamy texture; less sugary; less troublesome to make and yet tasty.

‘SIGNATURE’ by Sanjeev Kapoor – The Biriyani Workshop

Recently, I had this wonderful opportunity, to visit the Kitchen of the fine dining restaurant – ‘Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor’ in Abu Dhabi. A very big Thanks to friends, who made this happen.

The restaurant stands in a prime location, in Nation Towers, overlooking the Corniche. The restaurant prominently showcases modern and contemporary interiors. Yet, the elegance of Indian cultural elements are not to be missed. The menu here, boasts of traditional dishes served with a twist.

Disclaimer: This post is not a review on the restaurant. I was not invited to write about the cuisine or the restaurant.

It is my own personal interest, to learn new things, from speciality chefs that has led to this post. It is hard to find restauranteurs, who are open-minded to share their recipes and kitchen. Especially, allowing a blogger like me, who doesn’t even have an account in any social networking arena, certainly isn’t a normal trend in either today’s restaurant business or blogging field . That is why, I need to extend my warmest gratitude to the owners of the restaurant, to have given me the opportunity to learn the dishes and also share them with my readers.

Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor, is a well known chain of restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. The restaurant serves signature dishes of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, well acclaimed Celebrity Chef of the Indian Subcontinent. He can easily be hailed as, one of the first very few Chefs in India, to have popularised the Job of a Culinary Artist, if I can say so, to the most respectful status it enjoys today. Due to such devoted as well as media friendly/articulate Chefs like Mr. Kapoor, the profession has acquired a Cult Status today. This in turn, has motivated a big chunk of the younger generation, to join the crew of Chefs, in a dream to become Sanjeev Kapoors of their Restaurants. And millions of home cooks like me, also feel the aura of a Chef’s Cap, when a dish is cooked to perfection.

All said and done, the struggle of a chef to reach the desired heights is enormous. Especially, to reach the Pinnacle of one’s career, is not a mean feat. And Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, continues to be the Super Speciality Chef, even after years of attaining the Apex status of the most popular Chef of Modern India.

One of the few first cookery books, I bought to keep on the coffee table at home, were three books of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor. While we live away from our homeland, I feel authentic culinary experts like Mr. Kapoor are the Best Brand Ambassadors, who represent Indian Cuisine abroad.

I thoroughly made use of the opportunity, to learn two of everyone’s favourite dishes, Biriyani and Kabab. The recipe of these two, among many more, makes me feel truly inquisitive about the several processes of preparation.

Among the Biriyanis, the Chef demonstrated –

  1. Chicken Biriyani
  2. Easy Mutton Biriyani, with left over Mutton curry

The Executive Chef at ‘Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor’, was very patient, to explain the step by step processes of the making of Biriyani . After his demonstration, the recipe now looks very simple. A very big Thanks to him.

First to grab on, is the Chicken Biriyani.

Now, to the recipe-

Chicken Biriyani (serves 3-4)

Since it was a demonstration, the right quantities of chicken and rice are only given. Other quantities are approximate values. As told by Chef, It is a usual norm to use 1/2 kg chicken for 1/2 kg of rice.

Marinating the Chicken

  1. Half a kilo of cleaned chicken pieces

2. Add 4 slit green chillies and 3 tsp ginger garlic paste

3. Add turmeric, chilli, cardamom, pepper powders and salt to the chicken

powders

4. Add ginger juliennes, ghee, crispy fried (browned) onions and coriander leaves

5. Add yoghurt and mix well

6. Let this chicken and added ingredients marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Making Biriyani

  1. Wash and soak rice in water, atleast half an hour prior to boiling water.

2. Boil water in a wide pot or pan, that is big enough to cook rice and throw away excess water. Add dry spices and other ingredients listed below. Let the water boil with the spices for about 8-10 minutes.

  1. cardamom
  2. cinnamon
  3. bay leaves
  4. cloves
  5. black pepper
  6. fennel seeds
  7. ginger julienne
  8. mint leaves
  9. coriander leaves
  10. green chillies
  11. oil
  12. salt

3. Remove the spices from water.

4. Drop the soaked rice in the boiling water and let it cook.

5. Choose a good hard bottomed pan. The quality of the pan would facilitate in making a successful final product, which doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel.

6. Add the marinated chicken to the pan.

7. Two pans, one with rice and the other with marinated chicken, are kept alongside each other, both getting cooked simultaneously .

8. After a while, they look like this…

9. The chicken now, is half cooked. And the rice is also half cooked. It is time to give the first layer to the chicken curry. The stove is always kept in medium to sim position. Once we start keeping the layers, the flame should be in sim position only.

10. With half cooked chicken at the bottom, first layer of rice on top- add crispy fried golden brown onions.

11. Now, the second layer of rice; then golden brown onions and coriander leaves.

12. Add saffron water and khewra water (extract from distilled pandanus flowers)

13. Moving on to the third and the last layer…rice, golden brown onions, coriander leaves, saffron water and khewra water. This time, add ginger juliennes and garam masala on top

14. Remember, all this while, the stove is kept in sim position.

15. The next step, is to seal the vessel and allow the chicken and rice to blend well with the spices added. Take kneaded wheat flour and press it on the edges of the pan.

16. Close tightly with a lid, and let the combination of multiple ingredients bring out the best of each other. This might take approximately 20 minutes. Keep the flame in full for the first 2-3 minutes and then simmer and cook for another 18 minutes.

in full flame for the first 2-3 minutes

17. A better way to cook 100% unburnt Dum Biriyani, is to place the pan on a hot cast iron pan, which is kept on medium flame. This way, direct heat doesn’t affect the bottom layer of the biriyani, that is the chicken.

18. We are almost done. Hold your breath tight and open the pan to see the beautifully cooked delicacy. Enjoy the wonderful aroma of the slow cooked Dum Biriyani.

A truly inspiring and delightful experience over all.