Thursday, July 28, 2011

Indian Home Cooking!!!!

I posted a blog the other day about my Indian shopping adventures - now you have a chance to see how my cooking turned out!!!

My mom is a huge fan of Manjula Jain's recipe website - Manjula's Kitchen.  Sweet Manjula has created loads of videos to help demystify Indian cooking.  Earlier, I looked at a few cookbook recipes with about thirty ingredients and 24 hours+ cooking time and figured I'd just give up on making Indian food this month, but I could actually follow Manjula's simple and straightforward recipes!

Manjula's husband films her in her Rancho Bernardo kitchen and they upload a few new videos every month - she has over a hundred on her website since starting about 4 years ago.  Here's a great article from "Voice of San Diego" about Manjula.

For my first attempt at Indian home cooking, I decided to make Aloo Gobi - a main dish made of potatoes, cauliflower and of my favorites at Indian buffets! Check out the video above to hear Manjula's recipe.  Here's how mine turned out:

So, here's my Aloo Gobi with mango and cilantro chutneys (store bought- I cheated!) as well as some whole wheat paratha bread I picked up at Bombay Bazaar, and I had a bit of Khatta Meetha snack mix on the side. Turned out really good!!!!!

Yesterday, I decided to try out even more recipes! What you see here is some rice I made kinda in line with her  zucchini rice recipe (minus the zucchini because I didn't have any!), Sambar (spicy lentil soup) and cauliflower pickle. It tasted good last night, but even better as leftovers for lunch today!!!

You should check out Manjula's website!!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Indian Culinary Adventures

Mmmmmm Indian food! I've had more this month than I've had in a year and that is a good thing (well, maybe not for my waistline, but man has it been delicious!!!).  Here's some of my recent culinary adventures.

Spice Court
I looked up Indian grocery stores in San Diego and came across a bunch on Black Mountain Road. I know from my time living in Indiana and visiting friends in New Jersey that some of the best Indian food comes from hole-in-the wall restaurants in the midst of strip malls dominated by Indian stores, so I figured it was a good place to check out (note - any Indian strip mall of repute in New Jersey also has a Dunkin Donuts).  Spice Court was a small market, with a fair selection of Indian spices and packaged goods as well as a small produce section and a rather plain dining area (the Copper Chimney Restaurant) with a few tables. I checked out the handwritten poster menus on the wall and decided to get one of my favorite Indian foods for lunch - Masala Dosa. 
Masala Dosa from the Copper Chimney 

I hate to use this expression on my blog, but OMG. It was good. Real good. I loooooove Masala Dosas!!!! Basically it is a thin crepe (made from fermented rice crazily enough!) filled, in this case, with a spiced potato mixture and accompanied with various chutneys - cilantro chutney and a few others I didn't recognize (not my favorite part of the meal - the dosa could stand on it's own) and a cup of dal. Altogether a phenomenal lunch, under $7.

Bombay Bazaar
Next, I headed across to the larger Indian grocery store, Bombay Bazaar. This place got some bad reviews on Yelp that I don't quite think are fair. It was well stocked, had lots of specialty items, and was fairly well organized, especially compared to some of the other markets I have been to for my armchair traveling food adventures. I found absolutely EVERYTHING on my list and didn't even need to ask for help! 

I was totally amused by the Pillsbury brand naan bread!!!!

my haul!!!!!!
Oh man, I bought SOOOOO much at the market! I came with a few recipes in mind, and stocked up on a bunch of spices and specialty ingredients. I got a couple types of bread (whole wheat roti and parathas), mango chutney, cilantro chutney, tamarind paste, curry leaves, a cheapo frozen meal of onion uttapam, toor dal, a snack mix (khatta meetha - a sweet and spicy blend of gram flour noodles, puffed rice, grean peas and peanuts), asafoetida powder (which I refer to only as ASSafoetida powder because it smells so gross), and mustard, fennel, carrow and fenugreek seeds. I also picked up some Nag Champa incense because it reminds me of my friends in PA who always burn it during their band practices:)

Cooking blog to follow!!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

India's famed Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of the most famous structures in the world, even being considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and is something I absolutely would LOVE to see in person one day!

When I see pictures of the Taj Mahal I marvel at how beautiful and elegant the structure is, and it seems like something straight out of a fairy tale, but the story of its origin is actually quite sad.  The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum dedicated to his beloved wife who died just minutes after giving birth to her fourteenth child in 1631.  

Born Ajumand Banu Begum, the empress was given the name  Mumtaz Mahal, "chosen one of the palace," and was the Shah's third and most beloved wife. 
According to legend, Mumtaz Mahal's final request was for the Shah to not marry again and to prove their endless love by building her a beautiful mausoleum.  The emperor mourned his wife for over a year, wearing simple clothes, and being so emotionally broken that his hair turned white.

The construction of the Taj Mahal took 22 years  and the work of 20,000 workers to complete.  Asian and Persian architecture influenced this Mughal structure, and its most notable feature is the enormous central dome, which rises 240 feet and weighs approximately twelve thousand tons. The Taj Mahal complex is surrounded on three sides by red sandstone walls, however the river-facing left side is left open. There are several additional mausoleums outside the walls, including ones for Mumtaz's favorite servant, and the Shah's other wives (bet they felt pretty insignificant after seeing all the work he put into Mumtaz's mausoleum!). The main structure is made of brick, red sandstone, and white marble finished with polished plaster.

As representational figures are not allowed in Muslim art, much of the decoration are calligraphic or floral motifs. 

entry gate to the Taj Mahal
Columned arcades face the garden and are typical of Hindu temples,  and were later incorporated into Mughal mosques
I had heard the story before of the Shah cutting off the hands of the sculptors and architects so they would never be able to build a monument as magnificent again, however most scholars agree that the story is a myth. Despite the workers surviving intact, the structure is unparalleled in its dreamlike and fantasy-filled style. The Shah's monument to his beloved late wife is a structure that while firmly rooted to the earth, seems almost to be a vision of a beautiful palace where he dreamed to be reunited with his love.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Indian feasting in Atlanta with my parents:)

I just got back from a fantastic trip home with my parents (who also happen to be my most dedicated readers) and they were excited to take me to a couple Indian restaurants to help with my armchair travels this month! Mom and I have been Indian food fans for a few years now, so I already know many dishes I'm a fan of, but mom managed to find a new style of Indian food to introduce me to - thali from Indian state of Gujarat.

We drove to Marietta, GA (about an hour from where my parents live) to visit Vatica Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, which drew my mom's attention while reading reviews online. The restaurant has a lot of fans of not only the food , but also the gregarious owner. When we walked in he greeted us and asked how many of us there were and when we said three, he responded "Three...? Where's four???" and since my sister is in England my mom responded right away, "she's in England visiting her boyfriend", to which the owner replied "I thought I was her boyfriend!!!" followed by a burst of laughter.....oh man, I think the best part of talking him was how he cracked himself up every time we talked - really jolly, lots of fun. He dropped by the table a few times and was very sociable and welcoming without being obtrusive or awkward.

When we sat down, the owner said "We have no menu, we will feed you" - typical of Thali style dining. Thalis are meals consisting of small dishes, usually arranged in small metal bowls on a metal tray:

Gujarati Thali

Thalis generally consist of two or three shaak (curries made with different vegetables), pulses (made of beans) dal (soup often made with lentils), aloo (potato curry),  raita (spiced yoghurt condiment), chapati bread and papadam crackers, and chutneys.  In looking at my thali above, you can plainly see the rice, folded chapati bread, and papadam, and spiraling left to right you see a small bowl of delicately sweet mixed fruit chutney (including fresh strawberries & grapes), creamy raita - perfect to temper the heat of other meal components,  a savory veggie curry,  flavorful potato curry that was my favorite component,  a kidney bean curry (not my fave, but my parents liked it), and some dal.

Mom and Dad enjoying their thalis
We munched away for a while, and then a waiter came around with a push tray and began serving us second helpings of whatever we wanted. I had lots of the potato aloo and papadams...mmmmmmm.  Despite how the serving sizes may appear small at first, with subsequent additional helpings we all got quite full. After we ate, the owner offered us some masala chai. When he asked us if we wanted ours with milk and cream, my mom asked him how he liked his, he joked that he sticks to moonshine:) My chai was yummy, but rather rich for me - I'm usually a black coffee and tea type of girl! 

mmmmm, Masala Chai Tea....

Overall, our experience was quite pleasant. The food was tasty and we enjoyed thali-style dining. The restaurant had a "hole-in-the-wall" type appeal, and the owner's friendliness and welcoming spirit made our meal quite enjoyable.

Mom and I are huge Indian food fans, and we actually ended up getting a second Indian meal during my visit, this time going to the lunch buffet at The Cloves Indian Restaurant.

Mom and Dad at The Cloves lunch buffet
The Cloves has a nice lunch buffet, with fairly typical offerings that were nicely executed. They brought a bunch of delicious fresh-made naan to the table, and we loaded our plates up with rice, curries, pakoras and salad, and were pleased to have a nice assortment of chutneys. They had a couple soups in the buffet, including one with really tasty corn and veggies in a seasoned coconut milk broth. yummmm. I got so full I could barely try any of the desserts....I have little willpower at Indian buffets:)

I had a great time visiting my parents and indulging in some of Georgia's finest Indian cuisine!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peru wrap-up & my next port of call

Perhaps more than anywhere else I have learned about so far in my armchair travels, I feel like Peru is the place I most need to actually visit to really get a sense of its true nature. Although I found photographs of Machu Picchu to be stunning, they have to pale in comparison to the experience of standing on that mountaintop, leaning against perfectly joined rockwork that has stood for centuries, gazing down at the terraces, and reveling in the mystery of what happened to the people that so suddenly fled their magnificent mountain abode. I really enjoyed learning about the floating islands in Lake Titicaca, however, without stepping foot on one, I have no idea what it feels like to "bounce" as one walks on the islands, being reminded at every step of their man-made construction.  In several travelers accounts (and through Anthony Bourdain's Peruvian episode on No Reservations) I heard about the physical experience with altitude sickness, and although I don't particularly look forward to feeling sick, it does seem like my "armchair travels" are quite sanitized and lacking a visceral connection this month. And, of course, I especially feel a need to actually go to Peru since I want to try lots more of their food! I've read that there is a lot of Asian influence (particularly in "Chifa" specialties) due to immigration, and I'm anxious to try that hybrid of flavors!

However...we are well into July, and it is high time for me to start the next leg of my armchair travels! We are headed to India next....mmmmmmm - yes, of course, I am initially inspired to learn about India because it is home to my favorite food, but I know there is much much more to explore! I already know of a few musicians and artists to look into, I plan on learning about Gandhi and Mother Teresa, I'll profile the author Jhumpa Lahiri, and of course, I have to check out a Bollywood film! Here's some pix to get you excited!!!!

Golden Temple, primary sacred shrine of Sikhs

Mughul era Indian miniature painting

Hindi adherents carrying a statue of the elephant god, Ganesh, in Mumbai on the final day of "Ganesh Chaturthi"

Taj Majal

Busy street life passing by a cow in the Sardar Bazaar in Jodhpur

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recent reader comments - thanks everyone!!!

This month has brought a bunch of comments from readers around the globe! Thanks so much to everyone who commented! In case you didn't see these, here's a quick run-down of recent comments:

Pink Soju commented on the post Korean Fashion - Couple Tees!!, mentioning that they are in style in the Philippines as well, mentioning "most of us here are K-Pop fan-addicts ^_^ ". If you want to know more about Korean movies, you should check out Pink Soju's blog, which features lots of reviews.

My post about uncontacted Amazonian natives in Peru drew Ethnonomad's attention, commenting:
Great article! Anthropologists believe that there are about 70 different isolated groups living in the Brazilian Amazon. There are probably more than 100 untouched groups living in Latin America.We have a lot to learn from these people. The Amazon has the largest diversity of plants in the planet. More than 50% of prescription drugs are derived from chemicals identified in plants. Shamans that live in the rainforest know a wide variety of herbs that can be used to cure diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer. When a shaman dies he/she carries to the grave a body of knowledge that could be transmitted to our modern world. Future generations depend on us acting to protect indigenous people and their culture.
I appreciated Ethnonomad's comment and agree that there is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from those who have lived amongst such diversity for generations. However, I understand Guy's response to Ethnonomad in stating that it is difficult to gain such insight from indigenous peoples without threatening their way of life, especially since our modern, fast-paced culture doesn't allow for cautious consideration regarding how to interact with the Amazonian peoples.  Ethnonomad's blog shares "nonmainstream media devoted to defend the environment and promote cultural diversity in Latin America" and I found a recent video he posted quite interesting - check it out!

Maggie wrote some comments on a few of my Congolese posts, sharing some of her favorite musicians and artists. Maggie's love of Congolese music is evident from her many many suggestions!!! I absolutely love the music of Tabu Ley Rochereau - one of the "grandaddies" of Congolese music. Here's a video I found:

I couldn't figure out how to embed more than one video per post (if anyone knows, please let me know!!!) so here are some links to some more modern Congolese music that I enjoyed from Maggie's list of suggestions:

Aurlus Mabele with the group Loketo
Zaiko Langa Langa
Papa Wendo & Pepe Kalle & Empire Bakuba
Soukous Stars

Maggie also shared a great Congolese artist with me - Cheri Samba. His works have gained great international acclaim, with some of his pieces in renown collections such as the Pompidou (Paris) and MoMA (NYC). He was also featured in the 2007 Venice Bienalle.  Growing up the eldest of 10 children in a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he and his family moved to Kinshasha when he was in his teens. There he began to work as a sign painter, which has noticeably impacted his work that frequently features text along with bold, bright colors, and representational imagery. His work centers around themes of African customs, sexuality, social inequalities, corruption and political themes. Cheri is a major promoter of contemporary African artists to the international contemporary art community. Here are some of his works:

 An anonymous reader checked out my post Crossing the Alps - Hannibal's Famous Journey - with Elephants!!! and drew my attention to the book "The Elephant's Journey" by Jose Saramago, which details the story of another elephant that crossed the Alps. In 1551, King Joao III of Portugal gave an elephant, Solomon, to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Transporting the massive animal proved a challenge, which is elaborated upon in this book. If you are interested, check out this NY Times review.

Thanks to everyone for the interesting and informative comments this month! It's great to see that people are reading and interested in my posts, and I hope to keep sparking conversations!!!