Dec 31, 2015

Happy New Year!!!!

Happy 2016 Bollywood Style!!!

Dec 30, 2015

'Tis the Season to Shell Peas In!

Fa la la la laaa la la la laa!

Yes, I know, Bibi gets way too excited about produce.
But look at these beauties! So festive & green & sumptuous & lovely. They're positively 'harilo'! (Harilo means lush, green & verdant in Nepali.)
The word for peas such as these in Hindi & Urdu is 'mattar' or 'muttar' depending on the regional accent. My maid tells me the word for green peas in Nepali is 'khola-channa'.  Interesting.  Khola means creek in Nepali and channa can mean any sort of round dal from pigeon peas to garbanzo beans.  They do sort of resemble pigeon peas & garbanzo beans in their shape in size. With peas preferring cool weather & winters being quite arid here you'd probably want to grow them near a creek too.
The "Ingredient of the Week" feature is on holiday until next week, so this will just have to do!

Dec 28, 2015


This was really only a wedding reception in Kathmandu a week after the Sangeet, Swayambhar, & wedding ceremony in Delhi. 

It was an international wedding as the bride is Indian from the region of Sikkim & the groom is Nepali. I was hoping we would see more of the traditional attire of the different ethnic groups of the Himalayas at this reception. Unfortunately it was so chilly nearly everyone kept their coats on over their gorgeous outfits. It was also a bit dark in the reception hall & smoke from the charcoal grills & tandoori ovens cooking the buffet on the adjoining terrace made for rather difficult photography conditions.

Here's the beautiful bride & groom. As you can see she is wearing a red sari which is traditional for Hindu brides. He has chosen to go with a western style tuxedo.

All I can say is that she was even more stunning in person. In this picture you can see the daub of red powder called 'sindoor' at the center of her hairline. Only married Hindu women can wear red sindoor.

This photo is a close up of the bride's 'tilhari.' The two gold cylinders on long bundled strands of red and green glass 'potey' beads make up the tilhari. The tilhari is unique to Nepal and is traditionally presented to the bride at the wedding. It symbolizes her married status. The cylinders are actually 7 beads of 2 different shapes and symbolize the wife's prayer for the long life of her husband.

This photo is an example of the different ethnicities of the Himalayas. The couple on the right are Tibetan. The lady's horizontally striped apron is called a 'pangden' which is worn over a robe called a 'chuba.' Unfortunately you can't see the intricate woven silk brocade of this lady's chuba because she's wearing a jacket over it. The Tibetan couple have just placed pale yellow 'khadas' over the newly wedded couple's necks. The khada is a ceremonial scarf into which are woven the 'ashtamangala' or 8 auspicious symbols. Khadas symbolize purity & compassion & are given at weddings, births, funerals, and to guests during arrivals & departures throughout Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
As you can see here red saris are the popular fashion for all ladies attending wedding functions, (just don't upstage the bride.)  Mr. Hipster poking his head in there had on the most fabulously Bollywood bejeweled Punjabi suit complete with curly toed jootis (shoes) & voluminous Patiala trousers. But he was too bashful stand in the light for me to get a good photo.  

A very western style, non traditional, modern & beautiful cake.

The groom popped open a bottle of champagne & shared it with his bride after they cut the cake.
(Yet another western tradition that's crept into Desi weddings.)

I'm guessing this lady is a relative of the bride as she is holding a tuberose garland.
She won Bibi's "Best Ensemble of the Evening" award. (I WANT THIS OUTFIT!!!!)

Then there was the food. Lots & lots of food. All kinds of food....

Of course Indian food is always the most popular. Here the chefs are preparing rumalli roti, a thin, Punjabi style flatbread that is prepared on an inverted kadhai with lots of ghee and folded into quarters like a handkerchief. 
Arabic food was on offer also, the chicken shwarma was my favorite.

That's a goat being roasted there. "Khasi" is Nepali for a castrated male goat. "Khasi ko masu" is Nepali for the meat of a castrated goat. Castrated male goats are said to be tastier and less gamey in flavor. ("Bokaa ko masu" is meat from an uncastrated goat, just in case you were wondering.) All parts of the animal are eaten In Nepal, from the brain to the blood. In Nepal the goat's hair is burned off either with boiling water, or even a blowtorch, and the skin and fat are eaten as a delicacy. Here they've been a bit fancy (but very traditional) and rubbed the goat's skin with turmeric. They never did take that goat off the spit while I was there. The chef was continually grilling what looked to be bits & bobs of goat on the grill though.

Continental is the general term for any European or American cuisine. I'm not sure what Chinese rice wine vinegar or tinned coconut milk and baby corn from Thailand have to do with anything 'continental'. There are some Spanish olives, Italian pasta, and Turkish canned tomatoes up there though. I recall the 'continental' dishes were baked potatoes in foil jackets, a double mushroom risotto, and fish filets in a lemon herb sauce.

Sweet treats were plentiful also-

Modern sweets like this white chocolate fountain...

and continental Italian tiramisu.
Traditional Desi desserts like rabri were offered...

and of course hot gulab jamun.
And everyone lived happily ever after!

Dec 24, 2015

Merry Xmas!!!

Look!  It's snowing at the Taj Mahal!

Okay, so it's just one of the kitschy souvenirs you can buy at the Taj Mahal.
A glitter globe with a dented, stained, plastic replica of the "teardrop on the face of eternity." It does have a conspicuously placed "best quality"sticker on the top,  I'll have you know.

Wishing you & yours a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Dec 23, 2015

In The Pink...

It's officially winter but blooms are still bustin' out all over up here-

The Bougainvillea over the carport develops a bit of a terracotta tinge on some of it's bracts when the weather turns cooler.

The hibiscus never gives up.

Even the roses are enjoying the mild weather.

I have no idea what the name of this flower is. The flowers are only about as big as a thumbnail. It puts out these gorgeous sprays of buds and blossoms that last for weeks all year long. It has a caning habit & prefers shade during the heat & humidity of monsoon summers.

Of course, the pinks (dianthus) are in the pink all winter long!!!

Dec 22, 2015

Ingredient of the Week: Dalchini, Cinnamon stick, or Cassia bark?

This is what is called dalchini or referred to as a "cinnamon stick" in South Asian cooking:

A bit thuggish & crude in appearance compared to the cinnamon sticks of the western world.
It's actually the dried bark of the Cinnamomum tamala tree. Yes, it is from the same tree as 'tej patta' or Indian bay leaf.
True cinnamon sticks, powder, and dried flowers of the Cinnamomum verum plant.
It is definitely not the same as those tightly rolled & thinly layered cinnamon sticks you see in western countries. Those delicate, rolled cinnamon sticks you see in western countries are 'true cinnamon' which comes from the Cinnamonun verum tree (also called Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon).
A small Cinnamomum tamala tree whose dried bark is called "dalchini."
Cassia bark (or dalchini as it is called in Desi-dom) has a stronger, almost peppery bite compared to its sweeter, subtler, & more aromatic Sri Lankan cousin.  Cassia bark/dalchini also stands up to the intense heat of the pressure cooker or kadhai better than the delicate Sri Lankan cinnamon quills. The spicier, peppery notes of cassia bark/dalchini suit savory dishes like curries & stews better than it's sweeter cousin also.

A mature specimen of the Cinnamomum tamala tree
Personally, I prefer to bake with ground cassia bark/dalchini rather than true cinnamon as I like a spicier punch to my cakes, cinnamon buns, cookies, and quick breads. If you are using cinnamon to enhance the natural sweetness of strawberries, cherries, or fruit pie fillings (as many Scandinavian, Swiss, Ukrainian, & German recipes do) then I'd choose to use the Sri Lankan or true cinnamon. My Swiss friend in Mumbai, Cyn, will attest to this. You can check out Cyn's blog at

Dec 16, 2015

Bollywood Banana Bread

An American classic done Desi! We like everything spicy here on the Indian Subcontinent. Even sweet treats! So good old banana bread gets a Bollywood makeover. This recipe makes a tasty, dense, moist loaf that tastes even better the next day! It freezes well, can be made eggless or "veg," and makes a great holiday gift or simple to make tea time treat.

1 C brown or white sugar
2 eggs (or 1/2 C yogurt/dahi for 'veg' option)
1/2 C ghee or butter, melted & cooled (or vegetable oil)
1 tsp ground cinnamon/dalchini
1/2 tsp ground mace/javatri or nutmeg/jaiphal (or allspice if you're going halal)
1/2 tsp ground cloves/laung
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS ginger preserves or orange marmalade (mango, raspberry, or apricot jam will work too)
3 very ripe bananas, pureed or mashed finely with fork
1&1/4 C flour/maida or whole wheat flour/chakki atta
1/4 C chopped walnuts (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Butter and flour an 8"x 4" loaf pan. Combine eggs (or yogurt/dahi), sugar, spices, oil (or ghee), baking powder, ginger preserves, & salt in large mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed.

2) Add bananas & beat until well mixed. Fold flour into mixture until just combined, do not over mix.

3) Pour batter into buttered & floured pan, top with chopped walnuts. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until tester stuck in the middle of bread comes out clean.

6) Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing bread from pan.

Helpful hints:

Don't have ginger preserves? Orange marmalade, apricot, pineapple, or mango jam or preserves work well in this recipe also.

Want to make this bread 'veg'? Use 1/2 cup full fat yogurt in place of eggs.

Don't have ghee or a suitable vegetable oil? Use butter instead, softened to room temperature.

Brown sugar will give this bread a more treacle-y flavor like jaggery. White sugar will work too, but the bread will be lighter in color.

Need some fiber in your diet? Whole meal flour (chakki atta) works well in this recipe in place of white flour (maida) too.

Well, maybe this banana bread won't be this glamorous - but it will be tasty!

I'm posting this a bit early as I'm going to be off on a whirlwind tour of BIG FAT DESI WEDDINGS until next week, hope you're having a happy holiday season too!

Dec 15, 2015

Anywhere you are is Shangri-La!

People always think Nepal is just glaciers & snow topped mountains. Well, it's not exactly bluebirds & fountains & "nothing to do" like the song says. These sheltered, little, subtropical Himalayan valleys are quite reminiscent of the mythical utopia described by British author, James Hilton. Except when we have 2 major earthquakes in one year. Or an ongoing border blockade creating fuel shortages & massive inflation. Or a landslide, avalanche, or flash flood that wipes out an entire village in minutes. Anyway, the weather's pretty darned nice here, so let's have a look at how my fall/winter garden's growing-

Winter wheat is coming along nicely. Looks like we have a volunteer pea in the lower right corner.
Collards are looking good, a little stinging nettle & oxalis in there too.
Potatoes are happy in their raised bed.
Baby papaya tree is doing well. The chenille bush with it's red catkins is still going in the upper left corner.
And the ginger patch is sulking a bit in the chilly weather.

"Is there not too much tension in the world at present, and might not it be better if more people were slackers?"
-James Hilton, Lost Horizon

I'm all for more slackers, how about you?

Dec 14, 2015

Ingredients: Kali Elaichi, Black or Brown Cardamom

This is the spice commonly referred to as black or brown cardamom. It is a seed pod with an intense, smoky, resinous, and almost anti-septic camphor-like flavor. Both the seeds and pods are traditionally used to flavor hearty, savory dishes of certain regional cuisines of India and Pakistan. It is often used in garam masala mixes. The spice is called badi elaichi or kali elaichi in Hindi and Urdu.

Amomum subulatum (also known as Nepal cardamom). 
The black or brown cardamom plant is a member of the ginger family like it's close relative the green cardamom.  It has rather inconspicuous blossoms and the seed pods form at the base. The seed pods are dried and supposedly smoked before being sold for consumption. Black cardamom is unusual in that the flavor actually improves with age. The harsh camphor flavor mellows to smooth smoky notes over time.

Look closely at the base of the plant to see its creamy yellow flowers.
Black and brown cardamoms are primarily grown in Nepal. I have been told the seed pods are picked when unripe and traditionally dried over an open flame in large iron pans intensifyin their smoky flavor. I've never actually seen this done. I've only seen the red, unripened pods lying on nanglo (Nepali basket trays) drying in the sun. Nepalis often chew the seeds of black/brown cardamoms to freshen the breath, calm an upset stomach, or after dinner as a palate cleanser.

I had never seen, heard of, nor tasted black/brown cardamom before moving to the Subcontinent. I would reckon most westerners are not familiar with this spice either. Black/brown cardamom has the same sort of camphor/citrus notes as green cardamom but has a smokiness that's almost like bacon. So if your vegan friends miss that bacon-y smokiness in their beans or pea soup you can use black/brown cardamom!

The perfume by i Profumo di Firenze called "Ambra di Nepal" is said to have notes of amber, vanilla, and cardamom. I wonder if the accord described as "deep, rich resinous, like incense smoke swirling over dusty cardamom" contains this native Nepali black/brown spice, not the green or white cardamom we westerners are more familiar with in Scandinavian treats?

Dec 8, 2015

Ingredient of the Week: Desi Onions Demystified- Pyaaz

This is the onion commonly used in most Desi recipes-

Here they are looking rather shabby in their natural, russet colored, papery jackets. The Hindi and Urdu name for this type of onion is "pyaaz," in Kashmiri they are called "ghanda.". As you can see the Desi onion comes in many sizes, from as small as a walnut to the size of a fist-

The Desi pyaaz 'au naturel'

Here they are all cleaned up and looking their pinkish lavender best-

One of my favorite colors..'pyaaz pink'!

The Desi onion or pyaaz has it's own unique zesty flavor, it is a little sweet and a bit sourly astringent. They caramelize to a lovely brown with their mellow flavor being the base of many Desi dishes.

Carmelized pyaaz, the traditional base of many Desi dishes.

Pyaaz can also be thinly sliced & slowly deep fried until delicately crisp creating what is called 'birista'-

Birista, pronounced "bah-REES-tah."
Birista is commonly used as a tasty garnish to top dals, ground to make a base for a quick sauce or gravy, and as an ingredient in pulaos or biryanis.

Helpful Hints:

If you live somewhere that you can't get Desi onions, the yellow onions found in most western markets are the best substitute. Despite the different color they tend to have similar flavor profile & level of  sweetness.  Do not use red onions, 'sweet' onions, Walla Walla onions, or Vidalia onions in place of pyaaz. They tend to be too sugary, scorching easily & often resulting in a burnt taste.

Different regions of the Asian subcontinent have their own local varieties of onions & shallots too. For instance, the Kashmiris have a shallot which they dry to preserve called 'praan' and some Nepalis use the dried leaves of a wild onion called 'jimbu' to flavor their dishes.

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