Saffron Trail in the news and more...

A bit of publicity never hurts.

When Gaurav of Gauravnomics chose Saffron Trail as Desi blog of the day, it was a first for me. And then, Chandana of Cooking Goddess did a sweet little interview.

And yesterday, Mumbai's popular tabloid Mid-day selected ST as the food-blog to check out, I thought it's high time I shared my happiness with you. Appreciation for one's work makes one want to work so much harder.

Thanks Gaurav, Chandana and Mid-day for liking my work and saying these lovely things that have made me feel so good!

Kovakkai Paruppu Usili - Ivy Gourd with steamed lentils

Usili is a popular Tamil Brahmin vegetable preparation where soaked, ground and steamed lentils are mixed with vegetables like cluster beans, French beans, Capsicum, Carrots and even Ivy Gourd. The first two are made regularly in my family, but until I saw Sheela write about this one with Kovakkai (ivy gourd) I hadn't know about this possibility. When I asked mum whether we make this kind in our family, she confirmed that they do and it is delicious.

Ivy Gourd is an interesting vegetable, mainly used in dry curries in Tam Bram cuisine - it is either sauteed in tempered oil and garnished with a bit of fresh coconut shavings or a spicier version is made with potatoes. For both these recipes, kovakkai can be cut into slender strips or into roundels. This is low carb, high in fibre and fast to cook. It is an excellent vegetable choice for diabetics too. Read this report for more details on Ivy Gourd and Diabetes.


1/2 cup toor dal
2 tbsp chana dal
2 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder / hing
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tbsp oil

2 cups length-wise slit kovakkai
1 tsp oil
2 dried red chillis and 1/2 tsp mustard seeds for tempering
Salt to taste

Preparation for Usuli:

Soak 1/2 cup toor dal with 2 tbsp chana dal, either overnight or for 3 hours in warm water. Grind this to a coarse paste with 2 broken dried red chillies, 1/4 tsp of asafoetida powder, pinch of turmeric powder, 1 tsp salt and a few curry leaves without adding any water.
Steam this paste in an idli-steamer or a regular steamer for 10-15 minutes until the lentil paste is cooked. Remove to a bowl once cooled and crumble into small pea-sized pieces. Keep aside.


Place the slit pieces of kovakkai in microwave safe bowl, sprinkle some water and cook them on high for 5 minutes. Keep aside.

In a non stick pan, heat 1 tbsp oil, and put in the crumbled usili. Stir them around on medium flame till golden and slightly crispy. This will take around 5-7 minutes. Keep this aside.

In the same pan, take 1 tsp oil, put in the mustard seeds and broken red chilli pieces. Once they crackle, put it the cooked kovakkai, salt to taste, stir around for 2 minutes.

Add the stir fried usili and stir together for 2 minutes until they have come together.
Serve hot with Mor Kozhambu and rice along with some appalams (Tamilian Papads)

  • You could make double the batch, and freeze the lentil 'idlis' for the next time you are making this. Making the Usili is the only time consuming part of this recipe.
  • You can also pressure cook the ivy gourd pieces in a cooker-vessel, after sprinkling some water for one whistle to cook them for this recipe.
  • Mor kozhambu is the best combination with Usuli as this dish is already heavy with lentils. Combining this with sambhar, which is again made with lentils, makes it a very tough to digest combination. Mor Kozhambu is a Tamil style Kadi made with sour buttermilk and a paste of raw rice, coconut, cumin seeds and red chillies, boiled together with the buttermilk, and a tempering of curry leaves & red chillies.

A Maharashtrian style Ivy Gourd recipe - Tondlichi bhaji with Goda masala
Sheela's Mor Kozhambu with Opo Squash

This goes out to Nupur's A-Z of Indian Vegetables for the letter U (Usili)

14 ways to reduce your Kitchen's Carbon Footprint...

.....and such similar thoughts post World Environment Day

Bamboo trees at Kaveri Nisarga Dama near Coorg

Earth, in which lie the sea, river and other waters, in which food and cornfields have come to be, in which lives all that breathes and moves, may she confer on us the finest of her yield.

Earth, in which the waters, common to all, moving on all sides, flow unfailingly, day and night, may she pour on us milk in many streams, and endow us with lustre, May those born of thee, O Earth, be of our welfare, free from sickness and waste, wakeful through a long life, we shall become bearers of tribute to thee.

Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss in full accord with heaven, O wise one, uphold me in grace and splendour.

Atharva Veda

June 5 is 'celebrated' as World Environment Day and here I was mourning over it. Reading about the global warming and how the environment in the big cities is slowly becoming irrepairable is reason enough to mourn. But it is also a reason enough to put our act together to bettering the environment, in our own small way.

What is Carbon Footprint?
A Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

Small changes in the way we work in the kitchen, can make a huge difference to the environment. Here are some of them.

  1. Use natural light whenever available. No point keeping your curtains / blinds shut and then using lights indoors in the day time.

  2. If you are using bulbs to light up your place, switch to CFL bulbs right now. CFL bulbs waste less energy, heat up the place less and last longer. Check

  3. Heating up water? If you need two cups water for tea, fill your kettle with only two cups. A lot of energy will be wasted heating up a kettle full of water and then throwing out the unused water.

  4. Solar heaters are very popular in the South of India, with new constructions having their own solar heating devices. India has an abundance of sunlight and we must use it to our advantage, so must other sun rich places.

  5. Do you keep the microwave, the blender/mixer, the laptop on standby mode? What is the cooling level in your refrigerator? I am guilty of not having paid attention to this until a few months ago.Keeping appliances on standby does consume a lot of electricity over time. If you are in the kitchen, don't let fans, lights and TV be running in other rooms.

  6. If you are using the oven, plan in such a way that you bake 2-3 dishes together, or for a smaller over, keep the next batch ready so that the oven doesn't need to be preheated for the second cycle.

  7. Please learn to use a pressure cooker if you don't use it already. Cooking rice, vegetables, lentils gets done in almost 1/10 th of the time it takes to cook them by boiling. This means you would have consumed 5-10 times the energy by not using a pressure cooker.

  8. If your city certifies that the tap water is potable, then go ahead and use tap water. Bottled water just increases the plastic load in the environment.

  9. Use your public market as against super markets whenever possible. The stuff there is local, they haven't be flown in (air travel increases carbon load in environment tremendously), besides all open air markets, especially in India, use natural air and lighting.

  10. When you go shopping in outdoor markets, take your own cloth / jute bag. Say no to bringing in any extra plastic at home. I carry a huge canvas bag to bring in my veggies and fruits from the outdoor market.

  11. Do a planned kitchen supplies & grocery shopping so that you get things done in one trip. Carpool and go shopping with friends, you can enjoy, save fuel and also reduce emissions.

  12. Use steel or glass crockery, avoid plastic plates and glasses at all costs. For picnics, carry paper cups and plates, these can be recyled into paper once again. The plastic will stay on for a million years if thrown around. When we were kids, there was hardly any kid in the class who would get a plastic lunch box, it was steel all the way and today I think even kids have been programmed to think of plastic as fashionable and steel as downmarket!

  13. Please don't run dishwashers and washing machines with a less-than-full load. This wastes a lot of power. If your kitchen sink has a hot water funtion, use the hot water judiciously.

  14. Grow as much greenery as your house will permit. Use small earthern pots, plastic food containers that you'd throw away otherwise, broken tea cups to grow small herbs and plants. It will liven up your kitchen incredibly, give you a steady supply of herbs and not to mention all the extra oxygen supply - and all you need is a corner or a window sill.

The biggest problem we in India today face is the "Ek mere se kya hoga?" (in Hindi for -What difference will one person make?) mentality. But imagine, if everyone started thinking like this, then we would have successfully managed to sully our environment by several notches and imagine the vice versa would be true too. If each one just managed their house and its immediate surroundings, the day wont be far when we can boast of a clean, environmentally sound city.

If you have any tips on how we can better the environment, in our own little way, please add it on! We can all do with learning from other's experiences.

More reading - Carbon Footprint , Bulb fiction

(Written for foodblogging community at Dining Hall)

Mango Coconut Icecream

Here's to two of my best friends from the blogosphere -
Meeta who celebrated her Birthday on 2nd June and Sig who is celebrating her anniversary today !!

This is my first ever attempt at making ice cream at home. With Natural Ice Cream's main outlet a stone's throw away from home, I really can't be blamed right? Musk melon, Fresh strawberry and Papaya-Pineapple have been my season's favourites and Custard Apple & Tender coconut are my all time favourites.

Their natural fruity ice creams have only 3 ingredients - Milk, Sugar and Fruit pulp / chunks. It can't get fresher and simpler than this. A half kilo box costs around Rs.150 ( under $4.00 ). I wont be wrong if I say this is Mumbai's favourite icecream brand. While I like trying out the gelatos that are taking the city by the storm, nothing can beat Naturals!!

Anita's Roasted Banana icecream truly inspired me to try my own, especially because she made with without any fancy schmancy gadgets. Meeta's dark chocolate raspberry icecream made me feel like hiding my own simple creation right at the back of the freezer LOL!! And there's Priya's Mango icecream giving company to my own...

Mango Coconut Icecream
Category: Dessert, Icecream, Fruits
Serves 6
Recipe source:


500 ml cold milk (3% or higher fat content)
200 ml tetrapack of coconut milk
1 cup skimmed milk powder
3/4 cup sugar or equivalent Splenda for those who avoid sugar
1 tsp mango essence or vanilla extract or cardamom powder
1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped into small pieces


1. Turn your freezer control to 'quick chill' or lowest temperature one hour before you start with the ingredients.

2. Take all of the ingredients except chopped mango in a large deep bowl and churn with a handblender for 10 minutes till frothy. It's good to take some breaks of a few seconds each so as not to overheat the blender's motor.

3. Put in the mango pieces and blend for another 2 minutes.

4. You may either turn this mixture into your ice cream maker and follow instructions or pour it into an airtight plastic jar / aluminium tin and freeze for 4-5 hours.

5. Remove the contents back into the bowl and churn with hand blender for 5 minutes or so, until all the frozen chunks are broken and frothy.

6. Repeat as in 4.

7. Icecream should be set and ready. Scoop out into chilled bowls and garnish with mint leaves or cardamom powder or mango slices.


The coconut flavour happened as a result of laziness. I didn't have the cream on hand to use in the recipe, and since coconut milk is as thick as cream, I decided to give it a try. Coconut and mango both being tropical flavours, blend quite well. If you are a person who loves pinacolada type flavours, you are sure to love this one.

If you do not have a hand blender, by all means use your regular food processor / mixer to beat the frozen icecream.

This is my entry to Meeta's BIG BIRTHDAY BANG!

Spicy yogurt dip starring in a Sunday brunch

Update: A new brand of yogurt available in the market is so creamy, mild (not sour at all) and delicious that I can say that the inspiration for this dip is wholly from the yogurt. When something tastes so delicious, I always wonder if it is high in fat content and therefore calories, but at 79 calories per 100 g, it is not bad at all. Are you curious to know which one? You'll find it inside somewhere!

It's the typical Sunday morning scene. After sleeping in late, picking up the morning papers, reading them (in bed ofcourse) and then lazily stumbling into the kitchen to make a pot of tea is a delightful ritual, aint it?

Ah, forgot to mention another thing about Sunday mornings, a bottle of wine is opened and starts flowing a while after the late tea, making Sunday brunches more creative than any other meal of the week. Haven't you realised how wine is so important for creativity? It makes me use ingredients, do combinations that my saner self would question....but hey it's Sunday and stuff like yellow pepper, a 'ripish' raw mango, chilli flakes and onions don't seem too bad for a combination to go into the creamy yogurt!

I had made a spicy, fiery Chettinad style vegetable curry last afternoon for a Saturay night dinner. We ended up heading out to meet some friends last night and the pot of curry was put into the fridge. The curry knew fully well that justice would be done to it, the next morning. This bit of info is not very unrelated to the what's going to happen with a bunch of unlikely ingredients, a leftover Chettinad curry? Read on to find out....

Spicy Yogurt dip with yellow peppers and raw mango
Category: Spreads and dips
Time taken: Under 10 minutes
Makes 1 generous cup

200g thick creamy yogurt ( I used Mother's Dairy brand - small tub )
2 tbsp grated raw mango
2 tbsp very finely chopped yellow peppers (or any other colour)
2 tbsp very finely chopped red onions
2 tbsp very finely milled coriander leaves
1 green chilli, finely chopped
Pinch of red chilli flakes
1/4 tsp of oregano
1/2 tsp salt

If the yogurt you are using has a higher water content, then drain it in a muslin cloth for an hour keeping it in the refrigerator, then remove and proceed with instructions.

In a bowl, mix all ingredients, except salt. Beat the yogurt with a fork, blending in all the ingredients at the same time.

Add salt, beat again and check the seasoning before putting it in refrigerator.

What to do with this?
  • Serve it with crackers as a party starter.
  • Serve with with celery sticks or other crudites for a snack.
  • Spread it on slices of bread, make a sandwich with slices of cucumber for a cool, beat-the-heat lunch.
  • Lick it off the bowl as it is!
  • Or see below.....
A great brunch idea - Whole wheat rolls with yogurt spread and spicy Chettinad curry

Laying the curry over the spread smothered roti

Rolled and cut up

Make a few oversized rotis or you are one of the lucky girls who has tortillas in her fridge, then skip this step too.
Spread the yogurt dip all over the roti.
Place any leftover curry (or roasted veggies) , draining any excess gravy in the roti along the length of the center (as shown in the picture above). Roll it up tightly and cut it into two with a diagonal cut in the center.

This is my entry for the 'Spice it up' edition of WBB # 12 hosted by Trupti at The Spice Who Loved Me.

The Chettinad style curry was made from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for Chicken Chettinad. For those of you making this with veggies, please remember the quantities of spices specified are for 1 kg chicken, so adjust according to the quantity of veggies used. Anyway, even for 1 kilo of vegetables, you will need lesser masala than 1 kilo of chicken. I used 1/4th of the ground masala paste for 4 cups of mixed veggies.

Mushroom Tikkis flavoured with Nigella Seeds

Mushroom tikki sitting pretty on a whole wheat bun

Just as I am writing this, there are gusty winds blowing and it's starting to pour and instantly there is the unmistakable mitti ki khushboo or the sweet smell of the freshly drenched soil. The weather feels suddenly quite bearable and I am craving for a large masala chai. It rained like this the evening of the day before and wow this feels deliciously good, even if our dish TV antenna is failing to catch signals due to the crazy winds!

An ex-collegue and me had made afternoon plans to catch up but am I glad we cancelled it. There nothing as good as enjoying the rains from your balcony, even jutting your head out to catch the downpour & nothing as bad as getting stuck in the middle of the road , when every autowala worth his salt will refuse to take to anywhere. Can I see other Mumbaikars nodding their heads??

And hey, what a conincidence that I'm sharing with you perfect rainy season food, something chatpata and fun to have with spicy chai! This one is totally inspired by one of the recent episodes of Sanjeev Kapoor's Khana Khazana. My addition was mainly the Nigella seeds or Kalonji which imparted a strong fragrance to the tikkis.

That's the way aha aha I like it!

Mushroom tikki flavoured with Nigella seeds
Category: Finger food, quick dinner
Time taken: Under 30 minutes
Makes: 4 large tikkis


1 tsp oil
1/4 tsp kalonji or Nigella Seeds
4 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 pack mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (to make 2 heaped cups or so)
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and smashed
1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1/2 cup rava
1 tbsp oil or more for browning tikkis


Boil the mushrooms in1/4 cup water or microwave on high for 4 minutes, till soft. Drain and cool. Grind this in a small jar into a coarse paste. You could also use a ricer to mash this. Keep aside.

In a non stick pan, heat 1 tsp oil. Sizzle the Nigella seeds in oil for a few seconds, add the chopped garlic. Saute for a brief while. Do not brown. Put it in the chopped onions with a pinch of salt and saute until soft and lightly browned. This will take around 3-4 minutes.

Next, add the coarsely ground mushrooms and stir for 3-4 minutes on high heat, till the mixture is dry. Remove into a bowl and cool for 5 minutes or so.

In the same bowl, add the smashed potatoes, remaining ingredients and season with salt to taste. Taste the mixture for salt and spices.

Spread the rava/semolina on a flat dish. Shape the mixture for the tikkis into thick rounds. I made 4 large tikkis from the above mentioned quantities. Handling them gently, coat on both sides with rava and shallow fry on a greased non-stick pan or grill for 3 minutes on each side till brown and crisp.

Serve in a burger bun or as it is with ketchup or chutney.


Boiling and grinding the mushrooms brings out a lot of flavour from them and the nigella seeds are a powerhouse of taste. Less is more in this case and just 1/4 tsp keeps the oniony taste going throughout.

If you find the tikkis somewhat fragile to handle, then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before shaping and browning. If that doesn't help either, add in some bread crumbs to the mixture.

Between starting this post and ending it, the rains have ceased and the sun is trying to come out once again to terrorise us :)

Since Tikkis are so Indian and there are two hearty vegetables in this one, I shall submit this for the T of Indian Vegetables at Nupur's!

Blogs of Interest

This is an updated list of blogs I like to visit from time to time. While most are food blogs, there are some on other topics too. The pink marks after some blogs indicate that new content has been posted on them in the last 24 hours.

Facing the camera....with food ofcourse

When a friend from Nautanki TV asked me if I could do cookery videos for an internet TV channel, I thought "No Way!!!" but told him "Why not??".

One thing led to the other and I started doing short cookery videos on simple recipes that viewers could try out at home, with some health tips thrown in. The first 3 episodes had me learning how to look into the camera and not all over the place and finally I have some guts to share with you the latest video where I have demonstrated how to make Indianised French Toast...readers will remember this was the same post that ran into some controversies :)

Hopefully, this video should be pretty non-controversial (winks) but I welcome the feedback of my dear fellow foodbloggers. I had already mailed the earlier video to some friends and am keeping in mind their valuable pointers.

I must thank my family and friends who have kept me encouraged through out, while i was getting into this unfamiliar territory!

Pudalankaai Kootu - Snake Gourd with Lentils

Slit open snake gourds

Kootu is a lesser known part of TamBram cuisine. While the Sambhars and Rasams have been immortalised by the flourishing Udipi restaurants, kootu is something you will only find in a household and rarely ever in a restaurant.

From Wikipedia: Kootu is a Tamil dish, common in both Tamil Nadu and South India. Kootus are essentially vegetable and lentil dishes which are semi-solid, i.e., less aqueous than sambhar, but more so than dry curries. Rice and kootu is a common and simple Tamil meal. In Tamil cuisine kootus are considered substitutes for both curries and sambhar.

All kootus by default have some vegetables and lentils, but many variations of kootu exist:

* Puli Kootu: Puli is the Tamil word for tamarind and puli kootu refers to a kootu made with tamarind.

* Poricha Kootu: A kootu made with moong beans and cocunut.

* Araichivita Kootu: A kootu which has a ground (freshly powdered) masala in it, where the word araichivita in tamil literally translates to 'the one which has been ground and poured'.

Many other regional variations exist.
By the above definitions, this Snake Gourd Kootu would fall under category 2 and 3 as it has moong dal, coconut and the masala is freshly ground.

While Tamilians have a fondness for all gourds, even some of those that other cuisines wont touch, snake gourd is one of the popular ones. In addition to this preparation, it is also made in dry curry form, where udad dal, dried red chilli pieces and mustard seeds are tempered in oil, the slices of gourd are cooked till tender by sprinkling some water, seasoned with salt and garnished with fresh shavings of coconut.

Steaming hot kootu ready!

Snake Gourd Kootu
Category: TamBram Cuisine, Rice accompaniment, Low-fat
Time taken: Under 30 minutes, if dal is cooked, then under 15 minutes
Serves 2

2 cups sliced snake gourd
Pinch of turmeric powder
1 cup water
1/2 cup cooked moong dal, beaten
Salt to taste
To grind to a fine paste: 1/4 cup fresh coconut pieces or shavings + 1 tsp cumin seeds + 2 green chillies
For tempering: 1 tsp oil, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp udad dal, 1 sprig curry leaves

Cut open the snake gourds along the length and run your fingers along the pith to clear off the insides. Place the gourds bunched together and slice them into pieces of 1 cm thickness or so.

In a deep pan, place the gourd slices, water with pinch of turmeric. Bring the water to a boil and let it simmer until the gourd is tender (for about 5 minutes). Keep a watch so that gourd slices are not mashed.

Once the vegetable is cooked, add the finely ground coconut-spice paste, 3/4 tsp of salt and let the gravy simmer for 2 minutes. Add a little water if the gravy gets too thick while simmering.

In a small pan, heat a tsp of oil, and put in the mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the udad dal, saute till golden and lastly throw in the curry leaves. Transfer the tempered oil to the gourd in coconut gravy.


Honestly speaking, I have never found kootu to be a good accompaniment for chapatis, but mix it into steaming hot rice, with a lime pickle on the side, a fresh yogurt raita and I can guarantee that it'll be your gateway to heaven.

You can make a variety of kootu using any other vegetable like bottle gourd (dudhi), ridge gourd, pumpkins, a mixture of vegetables (Poricha kootu) and even spinach.

Timesaver tip: To make kootu in a jiffy, I grind a chutney grinder full of the coconut masala, pour it into an ice tray, and remove the cubes into a ziploc bag which is stored in the freezer. Just throw 2-3 cubes of the masala into the veggie-lentil mix and all you have to do is the tempering.

This is an on-time submission for Nupur's A-Z of Indian Vegetables - S , to make up for all the events I have missed when my internet was down for almost 2 weeks, including my own baby WBB at Padmaja's.

Padmaja at Spicy Andhra has done a beautiful round up of WBB-Summer Fruits and now it's over to Trupti's where you have to crank up the heat on breakfast.

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