Siddhartha!

By Hermann Hesse.  This book is about the spiritual journey of a man named Siddhartha not the great Siddhartha, Buddha.  Set in the times of Buddha, this story follows Siddhartha from a young age to his spiritual enlightenment.  Born into a brahmin family, Siddhartha is well loved and well respected.  He is a great student and learns quickly.  Discontent with the teachings of brahmins from whom he feels that he has learned all that he can he decides to follow samanas – yogis – that are traveling through the forest.  Getting permission from his father in his own stubborn way he leaves home with his good friend Govinda and follows the samanas into the forest and their way of life.  After years of ascetic living Siddhartha is still restless, still searching for meaning when hears about the great one – Gotama.  Meeting Gotama fills Siddhartha with awe but he quickly realizes that he cannot learn from the great one.  He realizes that path to self-realization and spiritual enlightenment is unique to every person and that cannot be taught or learnt…it has to be experienced.  After a brief encounter with Buddha he parts with his friend Govinda and leaves to find his own salvation.

Siddhartha realizes that while seeking Brahman he ignored his ‘self’ and that he cannot run away from himself if he truly wanted peace and enlightenment.  He needs to know the secret of Siddhartha if he were to rid himself of the ‘self’. This awakening is the beginning of an arduous journey of self-discovery that finally leads him to true peace.

Hermann Hesse’s writing is simple yet beautiful.  Although the story didn’t exactly capture me – being a Hindu the concepts of spiritual enlightenment and transcendence are not new to me and salvation through suffering is a way of life that is all too familiar with Hindus – I enjoyed the book.  If spiritual quest is not your cup of tea then this book is not for you.  It’s slow pace will make the reading difficult.  It is, however, thought provoking and every one will get a different piece of wisdom out of this.  My favorite take aways from this book are:

  • You cannot be true by distancing yourself from your ‘self’…you need to embrace your ‘self’ to be true.
  • Knowledge can be taught but wisdom cannot be – wisdom has to be experienced

 

Bangaladumpa vepudu!

Dumpa in Telugu (a South Indian language…yes, we have many languages) means root vegetable.  I was curious about Bangala (which refers to Bengal…the eastern part of India) and poked around on the web.  Potato originated in Peru and according to Wikipedia, British introduced potato in Bengal as a root crop.  That explains the name in Telugu: Bangala-dumpa is hence a root vegetable that came from Bengal.  Potato is also known as urlagadda in some parts of AP (a southern state in India) and gadda means a hard lump or root and ‘urla’, apparently, means having a mealy texture or surface.  Potato is not indigenous to our region but if one sees the many many ways this vegetable is used and how integrated into the cuisine it is one would think it is.  A simple potato fry (vepudu) is such a comfort food and is eaten with rice or rotis.  The combination of rice, dal, and potato fry or rice, sambar, and potato fry is a gastronomical bliss!

This recipe is extremely simple and versatile.  Different variations of the same recipe can be made by simply adding or omitting ingredients.  A simple meal of rice, potato fry and spinach dal for dinner last night.

IMG_5700

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium potatoes – any kind.  I used white potatoes from Wegmans
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tsp chana dal
  • 1 tsp urad dal
  • 15-20 curry leaves
  • 2 tbsp coconut powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp red chilli powder (adjust to your level of spice tolerance)
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of coriander powder
  • A pinch of turmeric powder

Method:

  1. Peel and dice potatoes.  The smaller the faster they cook.  To make the potatoes cook faster, put them in a bowl, add enough water to just cover them, add a pinch of salt and microwave until they are half done
  2. Heat oil and add mustard seeds.  When the mustard seeds splatter add the rest of the seasoning ingredients: cumin, chana dal, urad dal, red chillies and crushed garlic
  3. Saute for a few seconds – this seasoning has a very nice aroma – and add potatoes, curry leaves, a pinch of turmeric and mix well
  4. Cook the potatoes, on medium heat, for some time stirring often
  5. Grind coconut powder, chill powder and salt (if you cooked potatoes in salted water be careful with salt here).  This step is optional if you are omitting coconut powder
  6. When the potatoes are almost done add the coconut powder (if you are using ) or chill powder, increase the heat, add coriander powder and keep stirring until the potatoes are nicely roasted
  7. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice or rotis

Variations:

  • You can also add onions to this recipe.  Brown onions before adding potatoes.
  • Methi (fenugreek) leaves can be added too.  Either add dried methi (about a tsp) towards the end or add fresh methi leaves when you add potatoes.  Methi leaves have a very strong taste so don’t add too much.  For 6 potatoes about 1/2 cup of loosely packed leaves should be good

Chicken Korma!

Korma is a gravy dish – of vegetables or meat – prepared with yogurt and nuts, usually almonds or cashews.  It is a moghul dish that is quite popular where I come from.  Hyderabad, a city near where I grew up, was under Nizam rule – with roots in Moghul Empire – and hence has many influences of moghul culture…especially cuisine (  Hyderabad biryani is the most popular dish).  Potato korma and chicken korma were made quite often at our home and my mom’s potato korma with sorghum roti was my favorite. Poori (a deep-fried bread) and chicken korma, kids’ favorite, for dinner tonight to celebrate end of school year.

chickencurry

Ingredients:

  • 1  whole chicken cut up in small pieces (around 3 lbs)
  • 3 tbsp yogurt
  • 6 tbsp oil
  • 2 medium onion diced
  • 2 tomatoes (optional) diced
  • 3 green chillies slit
  • 3 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp chilli powder (or less if you want it less spicy)
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/3 cup fresh shredded coconut
  • 20-25 almonds or cashews
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Method:

  1. Wash chicken and marinate in yogurt, salt, chilli powder and coriander powder.  Chicken can be marinated over night or for about half hour.
  2. Heat oil and when it’s hot add diced onion and green chillies
  3. Cook until onions are nicely browned.  Add ginger-garlic paste and saute until the raw smell goes away … around 30 seconds
  4. If you are using tomatoes add them now and cook until tomatoes soften
  5. Add the marinated chicken and cook on high heat until chicken is browned on all sides…around 5 minutes
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot and let the chicken cook for another 10 minutes
  7. Grind coconut and nuts to a smooth paste; add the paste to the chicken and mix well; add 1 cup of water and bring to boil (add more water if the sauce seems too thick)
  8. Add garam masala, cover and cook in low heat for a few minutes
  9. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with rice or roti
  10. For avocado rotis that you can serve with this please click here

Pan Roasted Fish!

Another recipe from NY Times.  I came across this recipe in Morning Briefing emails that NY Times sends to subscribers and I think it is really thoughtful of NY Times to include recipes in there – gives readers ideas for dinner…or gets them thinking about dinner.  Since salmon was on the menu for dinner at our house I thought I will try the pan roasted recipe in the briefing…it looked simple enough and I was itching to use my newly planted herbs.  After going through the comments I, however, made a few changes to the recipe:

  • Used less oil
  • Cooked flesh side down first and then flipped to the skin side
  • Heated butter in a small pan with herbs and poured over the filets
  • Increased cooking time

The fish did come out nicely roasted.  I served it on a bed of pasta tossed with vodka sauce (store bought and heated with chopped kale and red pepper flakes; I used the same pan I heated the butter in to infuse the herb flavor as well) and basil.

The original recipe is here.

roastedfish