A dose of Dosa …

img_20161016_174245It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in India, not to mention the rest of the world. As a functional food, it has no equal. Its health benefits far outweigh the small price you pay for it. It is breakfast, lunch, dinner, evening snack, fast food and health food, all in one. The dosa is, well, the dosa.

Unlike the idli (which isn’t really Indian in origin), the dosa is totally desi. It dates all the way back to 600 AD, and was invented in Tamil Nadu (and not Udupi, as many people believe).

The masala dosa on the other hand, was invented in the 1960’s, at Woodlands Hotel, Udupi, by one Kadandale Krishna Bhat. Potato curry was usually served separately with plain dosas. During a potato crisis in the 1960’s, Krishna Bhat served dosas with a layer of pureed potato curry applied inside the dosa, to save on potatoes. Thus was born the masala dosa.

In its classical form, the dosa is made with parboiled rice and urad dal, ground together in a ratio of 3:1, fermented overnight. As with the idli, the process of fermentation greatly increases the dosa’s nutritive value, making it a super-food. There are several dosa versions without rice, like the ragi dosa, adai, pessaratu (made from moong dal), wheat dosa, cabbage dosa, and what not.

The traditional dosa is a powerhouse of nutrition. The normal dosa has only 80 calories. It has significant amounts of vitamin B, vitamin C, carbohydrates, protein and almost no fat (provided it is not fried in ghee). Instant dosa mixes are simply not as good. And hotel dosas are generally not safe. Instead, make them at home, with parboiled rice and urad dal. Add some home-made potato curry, or better yet, add a lightly spiced paneer or soya curry, and you have one terrific low-cal, high-protein meal.

There are almost as many dosa variants as there are cooks in India. Onion dosa, banana uttappa, pineapple uttappam, set dosa, benne dosa, neer dosa, and some weird ones like Amitabh dosa (six feet long. I’ve eaten one such), Punjabi dosa, and Schezuan dosa and chop suey dosa (of all the things!). They’re all great, of course.

My personal favorite: Kheema dosa – traditional dosa stuffed with chicken kheema. Superb stuff. (My mom would be scandalised!).

Cheers … Srini.

The Paowallahs of Mumbai

What is Mumbai without its pav? Vada-pav, pav-bhaji, maska-pav, bhajiya-pav and just plain old chai with pav. The humble pav is Mumbai’s icon, it is uniquely and typically Bombay, it exemplifies the bindaas attitude that defines the City of Dreams.

The word ‘pav’ does not come from the alleged practice of bakers using their feet to knead the dough! No bakery in Bombay is known to do this (at least I hope not). The word ‘pav’ actually comes from the Portugese ‘pao’, which means bread. The technology for pao-making was brought to India by the Portugese in the late 15th century.

After the Portugese took over Goa, that state fell into economic ruin. Many Goans migrated to Bombay, and settled in a place called Cavel, near Dhobi Talao in South Bombay. One such Goan was Vitorino Mudot, an enterprising young man from the village of Assagao. In 1819, he set up the first bakery in Cavel, and started making Portugese-style pao.  Vitorino encouraged his fellow Goans by giving them jobs in his bakery and by helping them set up their own bakeries. Vitorino Mudot became a rich man in the process.

In 1843, one of his own assistants, Salvador Patricio de Souza, forcibly took over the business. He in turn grew rich and powerful, and diversified into banking, real-estate and cotton. Under his reign, Goans monopolised the bread-making business in Bombay. After he died in the late 1890’s, the Goans were undermined by the aggressive Iranis. The pav business in Bombay is now dominated by north Indian muslims, most of whom are in the Grant Road area.

The golden age of the Goan pao-makers is long gone, but the nickname given to them still remains – makapao. It’s not a polite nickname, but the easy-going Goans take it sportingly (usually, but not always!)

So the next time you bite into a spicy vada-pav, don’t forget to pay your respects to Vitorino Mudot, the young baker from Assagao.

Cheers … Srini.

Moongphali timepass …

Research has shown that nuts are good for you. And the best nut for you is our good old moongphali or shengdana- the humble little groundnut.

Shengdana is not native to India. This ancient nut was first cultivated in South America almost 8000 years ago. It was introduced to India by the Portugese, possibly during the 17th century.

Technically, the groundnut is not a nut, it’s actually a bean. And what’s the difference? A nut is a dried fruit. A bean is a seed. Unless you’re a botanist, the details are unimportant. What is important is the fact that shengdana packs a whole lot of nutrients in one cheap, compact package. It is truly a remarkable super-food.

Groundnuts are the richest source of antioxidants. Until recently, expensive strawberries and blueberries were considered prime sources of antioxidants. But, our desi shengdana has been shown to be far superior to these exotic berries. Groundnuts are also a rich source of resveratrol. This phytochemical is a hot item in nutraceuticals research. Resveratrol is directly linked to increased life-span and reduction in cardiovascular disease.

Moongphali is also rich in many other life-saving nutrients like niacin (good for your brain), vitamin E (good for your heart), co-enzyme Q10 (potent antioxidant), magnesium (good for your bones) and high-quality protein. Groundnuts, in fact, have the highest protein content compared to costly almonds, cashews and pistachios.

Groundnuts are high in fat, but they are free from trans-fats that are linked to cholesterol problems. The fat in groundnuts is actually composed of useful fats that the body needs. Groundnut oil is a healthier cooking medium than Saffola and rice-bran oil.

There are many ways to enjoy shengdana – roasted, boiled in salt water, as a chutney, as a curry, in the form of peanut butter, and my favorite, as chikki. Traditional chikki, that is chikki made with molasses, is much better for you than videshi chocolates and candies.

Roasting groundnuts increases their nutrient value. But avoid branded roasted peanuts. They are all high in salt and contain preservatives. Best thing to do is to roast them at home, and add a pinch of salt or chat masala. Or better yet, add chopped onions, coriander leaves, green chillies, and really enjoy. Same applies to branded chikki. Usually they contain glucose syrup and that’s not good for you. Make them at home in the traditional way – and send me some!

Cheers … Srini.

Going Ga-ga over Garlic

The spices and condiments that form the basis of Indian cuisine have their origins in the world’s oldest medical system, Ayurveda. You use them every day in your food without a thought about the real reason why they’re there. They’re there because your body needs them and because, in many cases, Ayurveda says so. Our traditional recipes are so old that their real origins are completely unknown to today’s homemakers.

Stinker in your kitchen

Meet this pungent little bulb, lovingly known in the West as the Stinking Rose. It’s not called that for nothing. The distinctive smell of Allium sativum will assail your nostrils anywhere you go in India. Love it or hate it, you just can’t ignore it.

It’s a spice, herb, vegetable, medicine, patentable cash-cow, and it stinks, depending on your point of view – and which side of the table you’re on. Garlic is one odoriferous package of surprises.

Garlic has been in our kitchens since five thousand years. From its origins in China around 3000 BC, garlic has spread its tantalizing odor all across the planet. From the Med to the Atlantic, from one Pole to the other, you’ll find garlic bulbs adorning the kitchens of every country on earth. In India too, this potent member of the Lily family can be found in virtually every kitchen.

There are two sound reasons for this. Ayurveda prescribes garlic for multiple ailments. Traditional Indian tribal medicine has been using garlic since generations and many of these recipes have found their way into our kitchens today.

According to Ayurveda, garlic is a promoter of agni, the body’s digestive fire, and is used as a carminative (appetite stimulant) and for gastric distress in general. Ayurveda recommends garlic for respiratory ailments in particular, like tuberculosis, pneumonia and asthma. That it is a rejuvenator and body tonic is a fact long known to Ayurveda. Regular consumption of garlic is believed to improve circulation and revitalize the body. For the same reason, garlic is believed to be a potent aphrodisiac. That’s why since Vedic times, the scriptures forbid its use by students, Brahmins and anyone engaged in spiritual pursuits, lest they get aroused by base passions and naughty ideas.

The French, on the other hand, take large amounts of it, for exactly the same reason. No wonder they also make the world’s best perfumes. The Russians use it a lot in their cuisine, mainly for rheumatism and joint pains. Garlic’s ability to increase blood circulation is another useful reason to consume it in cold countries.

Believe it or not, garlic makes a good face pack. It is effective against skin disorders like acne and pimples. That’s because garlic is a fairly strong antibacterial agent. Raw garlic paste directly applied on to the affected area will drive acne and worms away – and have the same effect on the general public.

The science behind the stink.

Garlic’s health benefits and its smell are both caused by a group of sulfur-containing chemicals. Chief among them is allicin. This sulfurous phytochemical is responsible for many of garlic’s effects. There are so many scientific studies on garlic and allicin that confirm Ayurveda’s claims that one can merely mention a handful of them here.

Blood pressure:  Garlic is a vasodilator, that is, it dilates small blood vessels, and increases blood circulation. It brings down blood pressure as a result, and both Ayurveda and modern medicine recommend the moderate consumption of garlic by hypertension patients.

Cholesterol:  The latest clinical studies on garlic show that it can potentially reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of a sudden heart attack in patients with atherosclerosis.

Antioxidant:  Allicin has been studied as an antioxidant and for its effects on tumors. The results are encouraging indeed. Allicin has been shown to inhibit a process called apoptosis or cell death. It can inhibit aging, in other words. So, an allium a day, keeps old age at bay, and everyone else away.

Statutory Warning

Garlic is known to interact with several drugs. Eating large amounts of garlic when you’re on blood pressure medication can be a genuine health risk. Garlic can decrease blood pressure by itself. In combination with anti-hypertensives, it can have a nasty synergistic effect and reduce blood pressure to alarming levels.

Garlic can increase blood clotting time and cause bleeding when used in combination with blood thinning drugs that are commonly prescribed to heart patients today. Garlic can react adversely with herbal formulations and other nutritional supplements, so be careful if you’re the type who falls for nutraceutical TV ads hosted by nubile nymphets.

If you want to use garlic for its health benefits, the golden rule is: First ask your doctor. More so if you want to take garlic capsules for their claimed benefits. No matter how you use garlic, please do so in moderation, under medical advice, and reap its benefits without any worries.


Size does matter. Large bulbs stink less. The extra-large variety has a mild, nutty flavor and can be cooked as a vegetable by itself. Slice the cloves fine and lightly sauté in butter to bring out the delicate flavor, before you use  it in your dish. The tiny variety, on the other hand, will definitely make its presence felt on your palate and in your breath, so use it as a spice. Peel and lightly crush two or three cloves, fry gently along with a few slices of onion. Garlic cloves can get charred quickly, so always fry them on a gentle flame, along with onion or ginger, never alone.

There’s no point in gargling desperately with mouthwash after a garlicky meal. Garlic breath happens because garlic’s breakdown products are partly eliminated by the lungs. Even if you swallow a garlic bulb whole without chewing it or gulp a garlic capsule, you’ll still get garlic breath an hour later. Try chewing a few coriander leaves and keep one clove (lavang) in your mouth for a  few minutes, and hope for the best. If you’re a heavy eater of garlic, one would strongly recommend a regular sauna to flush your skin of garlic by-products. Or else, your body will exude garlicky fumes all day long.

A recipe for you – Belluli Rasam (garlic rasam)

Blanch and peel ten medium-size garlic cloves. Gently heat two tablespoons of pure ghee or butter, sauté a diced onion till light brown, add the garlic cloves, and sauté gently, very gently. Add a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a dash of cinnamon powder, one finely chopped green chilli and one thinly sliced finger-size piece of ginger. Fry for a minute and add a roughly chopped, blanched medium-size tomato, sauté till the tomato turns dry. Then add a teaspoon of commercial rasam powder, sauté for a minute more or until the aroma fills the entire building, add four cups of warm water, bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for ten minutes.

At the end, add half a teaspoon of salt, simmer for one minute. Then drive out your salivating neighbours, lock the door, and, as we say in Bengaluru, enjoy like anything only. Serves three, but who cares?

Cheers … Srini.

Memories of Bombay: Madrasi Samosas

Those of you who are from SIES College, Sion, will not forget apna GK, i.e. Gurukripa Restaurant. A daily visit to GK was mandatory during our SIES days. It’s been twenty five years since I’ve last visited GK, but my friends there tell me that  the samosas and chole bhature have not changed at all.  Still the same heavenly taste and still reasonably priced.

Did you know that GK supplies 75% of the samosas that are sold at theaters across Bombay? GK makes 30,000 of these ‘interval samosas’ every day. The present-day Gurukripa was set up in 1975, by the Wadhwa family, who came to Bombay during the Partition. The recipe for the samosa and chole is 65 years old, and is a family secret. The food in GK is still cooked over coal fires, to give it that unique flavor. Each day, leftovers are donated to Sion Gurudwara.

The chefs in GK are all Tamilians. Each has been trained as a specialist in one particular item. Punjabi samosas and chole bhature made by Madrasis. Only in Bombay!

Really miss GK. Massive bhaturas, heavenly samosas, exquisite falooda, and …ummm… that chole.  Nowhere else on Earth will you get that chole.