Happy Breakfast on a Diwali Morning (and a special recipe)
Deepawali-festivalDiwali is here! Indian households will light up with clay lamps, candles and electric decorations. Fireworks will fill up the streets, and the sky.   And we will eat sumptuous Indian food to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Diwali, or Deepavali. _____ Indian households, particularly Bengali homes, practically spend their days and nights thinking about eating. At least, that’s how it used to be when we grew up.   The day begins planning for food: breakfast around 7 A.M., followed by lunch (around 10 A.M. on weekdays, and 1 P.M. on weekends), followed by afternoon snacks (around 4 P.M. when kids return from school), followed by evening snacks (around 7 P.M., when kids return from playground and the head of the household returns from work), followed by dinner (around 10 P.M.).   There are some Indian families where dinner is really late: around midnight. Believe it or not! Not good for health, though.   Of course, today, with more health consciousness and less available time, life has become “less exciting,” when it comes to having many meals and munches throughout the day.   Let’s talk about breakfast.   Breakfast used to be fun. Not like today’s routine cereal and milk, or toast and eggs -- in affluent, Westernized families; or no breakfast in a very busy, nuclear family where everybody would go out to work at 8 A.M. sharp. Laid-back were those days when we grew up. Father would work in government office, with a stable and peaceful lifelong job, and mother would stay at home. Father would plan with mother the night before what next morning’s breakfast would be.   Weekdays and weekends, just for the simple reason that one has more time than the other, would have different sorts of breakfast.   On a regular weekday, father would go out to work at 10 A.M. (and in my case, my mother would also go out to work more or less at the same time, unless she had morning duties at the post office where she worked all her life). Therefore, breakfast would be made between 7 and 7.30 A.M. Weekday breakfast would include leftover roti (handmade wheat bread) from last night; but in order to make it delicious, mother would fry it with ghee on a flat skillet. The roti would turn dark brown, but father would take special supervisory role to make sure mother would not over-fry it, so that it turned black. Once it turned even remotely blackish, it’s no fun to munch on it anymore. It’s bitter.   This ghee-fried, crispy and crunchy, golden brown roti would be savored with some cane sugar, sugarcane or date-palm jaggery, or for the less-sweet-toothed, Indian style mango relish or achaar, or even leftover curry, warmed up on the clay oven.   For the more Westernized but less affluent, French toast, but not with pricy eggs, but with a batter made out of chickpea flour of besan. Equally delicious and nutritious, but less harmful to heart. Eat a few pieces of besan French toast with a dash of salt and pepper.  
Luchi, or Puri.

Luchi, or Puri.

Weekend breakfast would be elaborate. Luchi (deep-fried white-flour, puffy bread), Paratha (triangular bread fried on a flat skillet with ghee or oil), served with very thinly sliced potato fries. Especially, in summer, fried Patol (a delicate vegetable of the cucumber family), or in winter, fried cauliflower. In families where they have health restrictions on use of oil or ghee, they would make a spicy curry with all of the above vegetables, with minimal oil (not mustard or coconut oil, both of which are high in cholesterol).
Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

  No breakfast is complete without some sweets. In Bengal, Mohan Bhog (in Hindi, they call it Halva) would be a major treat for kids and adults alike. It is made out of semolina and ghee, with generous amount of cane sugar added to it. Once in a while, perhaps a few, mouth-watering Ras-Gollah, or Gulab Jamun.   Then, after breakfast, it’s time to ponder carefully about the lunch menu. Time for the family member who has time, to go to the local farmer’s market or bazaar, a very important, daily ritual for most Indian households, even today.   Here is a Mukti’s Kitchen recipe for you, a gift on Diwali.   Poha (Flattened Rice with cauliflower, cashews and raisins)   Poha is originally a Marathi-Gujarati dish (from the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), a popular vegetarian breakfast, with a fragrant nutty flavor. I made this in my in-laws house with the supervision of my father-in law. He travelled across India, and he introduced me to many vegetarian dishes. I still remember my First Poha making and getting nervous whether it would come out nice. Especially in your new home where people are watching over your cooking skills. You have to make sure your flattened rice is not sticky. It must be fluffy, and that is the trick.  
Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha (a Bengali modification)   Prep time – 15 minutes Cook time – 20 minutes Total time – 35 minutes Yield – 4-6 people   Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons of cauliflower (very small florets about 1”/1” cut)
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted cashew
  • 2 tablespoons of golden raisins
  • 2 cups of soaked flattened rice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of roasted cinnamon, cardamom and clove mixture (directions in procedure)
  • Chopped cilantro
  Procedure   How to soak the poha  
  1. Wash 2 cups of flattened rice in cold water and add 3 cups of warm water. Give it a good swirl. Soak in warm water for 3-5 minutes, then drain the extra water completely, and let it sit for 4-5 minutes. This part is tricky to make your poha fluffy.
Indian spice box

Indian spice box

How to roast spices  
  1. In a clean pan, add two inches of cinnamon, 5 green cardamoms, 7 cloves. Let them toast in a medium heat until you get a nice aroma (hold up the pot to look for the fumes coming from spices, it should only take 10-20 seconds, it is important not to burn your spices.)
  1. Transfer the whole spices, and grind them in a spice grinder until granular.
  Now, the actual cooking process  
  1. Heat the oil and ghee on a large skillet on medium flame, and add the finely diced onion.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and cauliflower, then fry together for 3-4 minutes.
  3.  Add the peas and stir well, and fry for 1 minute. Cook until the vegetables are soft; then add cashews and raisins.
  4. Add the flattened rice and softly fold it (gently, not to mash the cooked vegetables and rice).
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of cardamom, cinnamon and clove toasted powder and sugar; mix well, then salt to taste.
  6. Serve a on a flat plate garnished with ½ teaspoon of toasted powder (cinnamon, cardamom and cloves), ½ teaspoon of ghee and chopped cilantro.
  Serve hot.   Happy Diwali to All.   happy-diwali-greetings  
Authentic Diwali & Dusserah Festival Recipe
Durga Puja art 2October and November are two of the most festive months in the Hindu calendar. Dusserah is observed on the tenth day of the autumn lunar calendar when after a four-day celebration (or puja) of Goddess Durga, devotees bid her adieu. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and success, appears on the full moon immediately after. In Bengal, where we came from, Lakshmi is also known as one of the two daughters of Durga, the other daughter being Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Along with two sons Ganesh and Kartik and these two daughters, Durga descends from the Himalayas where her husband Shiva lives, to pay an annual visit to her parents’ home on mortal earth. Religion and scripture have taken various easy-to- understand forms in various parts of India. In Bengal and eastern provinces, Hinduism has taken on a least rigid shape. It has a long history with other religions, and two centuries of British colonization. Then, in a fortnight, on the new moon, Diwali happens, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. All across India, and in households of Indian origin across the globe, regardless of their religion, Indians celebrate this secular festival, which also is known as Kali Puja, or the invocation of Goddess Kali. Fireworks – big and small – light up the sky, all night long. More...
Wonderful India, As I See It Now :-)
Delicious lunch in Rajpur, West Bengal.

Delicious lunch in Rajpur, West Bengal.

Dear Friends: I am in India now, and enjoying every minute of it. Next week, I'm returning to New York, with new cooking recipes, new ideas, and new energy. 🙂 It is hard to describe India in one or two short articles. India is a very beautiful, but complex country. The geography is complex. The food habits are very different from place to place. The cultures and lifestyles and languages are also very different. It's an enormously diverse country. You travel one hundred or two hundred miles in any direction, and you feel like you've come to a different country. That's how complex it is. Yet, in spite of all the diversity, there is an underlying theme of unity, whether you are in Calcutta on the east (where I am now), Delhi on the north, Bombay on the West, or Chennai on the south. Then, there are so many big cities and small towns and big villages and tiny villages across India: Bangalore, Agra, Jaipur, Amritsar, Puri, Darjeeling... In all these places, however, regardless of the language, religion or food habits, people show some strong, bonding features that tie the country together. Care for the elderly parents at home is one such feature. The presence of a real society is another such feature. Cooking food at home and eating together at least once a day is perhaps a third feature. There are more. Recently, my husband and I had an opportunity to visit one of his surviving maternal aunts in a village-like small town called Rajpur. He went back there after four decades, and I went for the first time. A sister in-law and an uncle in-law took us there. It was such a wonderful experience that I cannot describe in words! Before going to her place, we visited a famous nearby Hindu temple of Goddess Chandi. Even though I went there for the first time every in my life, and my husband went back after so long, never we had the feeling that we were away from them. They embraced us so warmly that it felt as if we never left India. The love and affection were so real!
Her own artwork :-)

Her own artwork 🙂

The aunt, a widow for many years now, lives with her two sons, their wives and children. She has her own little room on the upper floor where she makes her own artwork, and writes her own poetry. She took me to her room, and displayed all her sewing, fabric work, and kantha (cloth) stitches. Incredible! I am sharing a photo here. She opened her iron trunk which was tucked away underneath the bed, and showed me the annual diaries she wrote for many, many years. All with a tender, affectionate smile for this daughter in-law she had heard of, but never seen! And then, she divulged some of her cooking secrets. Now she is very old and can't cook herself, but teaches her daughter in-laws how to cook her phenomenal dishes. The pulao (scented fried rice with raisins and garam masala), the fish curry, the lamb curry, the lentils with coconut, and a number of vegetarian dishes (Hindu widows are strictly vegetarian). Absolutely delicious! If I had the time, I would definitely go back to her at least once more, to ask some follow-up questions. But this time, it was not possible. I hope next time though, I return to Rajpur to sit down for some time with this wonderful woman, and learn from her secrets of Bengali and Indian cooking. Feel blessed. I shall tell you more when I come back. Sincerely, Mukti Mukti's Kitchen
Rajpur, a small town near Calcutta.

Rajpur, a small town near Calcutta.

Fight the Flu with Indian Food — Part 1

Indian food has some very special spices that are known for their health properties. And if you know how to use them in the best possible way, you can stay healthy, and fight off many seasonal illnesses.

Come this winter and come this flu season, you can try a couple of Indian dishes that will help you to fight against the flu. I'm NOT advising against taking the flu shot or any other precautions you may take, but these dishes are also very helpful in keeping healthy and strong especially during the coldest months of the year: December, January and February here in the U.S.

Indian spices

Indian spices


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