Snap, snap…blink, blink… Okay, I am really trying hard to snap out of it. The blog-lethargy that I have slumped into. Maybe it really is the cold (it was a freezing 2 degrees Celsius here in Delhi yesterday) and my brain has frozen over, in addition to my hands and feet. I have been sipping endless cups of tea everyday, hugging the cup in my hands to warm them briefly.
And it isn’t just cups of tea that I have been downing. Winter makes it hard to control calories. This is the time when peanuts (and all nuts and fruits that make up dry fruits) are consumed in large quantities in North India. The most popular way to consume peanuts is to throw a lot of woolens on and around yourself, huddle in a familial group, shelling and stuffing yourself while watching TV. They are the preferred snack at most Delhi bus stops where the peanut seller sits with his pile of peanuts-in-their-shells. He picks the nuts from just under the small earthen pot that has a gently smoldering piece of cow-chip in it, to weighs out hot peanuts that give sustenance and warmth, and also pass time while you wait for your ride to arrive.
Soups do that too – warm us up from the inside out. Winter is also particularly bountiful where vegetables are concerned. There is an abundance of greens: spinach, mustard greens, dill, methi, bathua, kohl rabi, and of course, haak and soutchal, two wonderful Kashmiri greens. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, beetroot, corn, carrots, and tomatoes, add to this bounty, and make this a great season for soup.
In an effort to eat leaner still, I have been turning to soups. Here is one that I have had for lunch a number of times this month. The main ingredient in this soup is the wonderful quinoa, an ancient grain of south America. I loved the bite of the grain – similar to cooked cracked wheat but without the chewy texture. The first time I made this soup I wanted to reach out for a sprinkle of habanero peppers but then let myself enjoy the inherent goodness. But it is getting a generous sprinkle this time. What with all the talk about “a girl’s gotta have her chillies.”
The original recipe uses chicken stock, which I replace with plain water in all my recipes since I never have it. I almost added the fish stock when I made it again today, but sanity prevailed… (Anyone have a good recipe with fish stock? I do need to make room in my small freezer…for peas.) Generous amounts of browned onion provides plenty of flavour for me (and all you vegans out there).
Based on Julie’s Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped (about 3/4-1 C)
a few cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 C Quinoa (use cracked wheat, if you don’t have access to this grain)
1 C pumpkin, small dice
1 C fresh (or frozen) sweet corn
2 C shredded fresh spinach
1 green pepper, small dice
salt and pepper
4-5 C water
2 t soy sauce
dash of ground habanero chilli (optional)
Heat oil in a heavy pan and add the chopped onion. Stir, season with salt and pepper, and brown on medium heat (about 8-10 minutes). Add the sliced garlic and stir another two minutes. Add the pumpkin (or any other squash of your choice), and stir for a minute. Add 3 cups of water (or chicken stock) and bring to boil. Add quinoa, bring to boil again. Simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes. Add corn and cook 5 minutes, adding more water. Now add the spinach in handfuls and cook a further 5 minutes. Add soy sauce and simmer a couple of minute to blend flavours. You can add more pepper, or any chilli powder of your choice, if you wish to spice it up a bit.
A very filling soup that comes together very quick. This week I added some bruised ginger root, the outer dark green leaves of a cabbage to the soup. Potatoes are also traditional in this soup. The addition of tejpatta or a bayleaf, would be good too even if less authentic. I got to taste this wonderful grain thanks to a (blog) friend! (Thank you! All you guys are so generous!) Here’s Manisha’s spicy version of quinoa.
That’s not all for tonight… A little bit about the pictures on this post from my recent visit to Attari village, near the Punjab-Lahore border. I was there for work, of course 😀 .
We arrived in Amritsar to a sunny day after a particularly cold spell. But it was rural Punjab where my project is. So on we went. The fields were verdant with paddy, and there were patches ablaze with mustard flowers. Bright yellow, that reminds us that spring is not far away, and that we’ll make it through the winter. We had some time on our hands the day we were headed back to Delhi, and chose to drive around the area. There is history all around. Punjab’s prosperity has meant that the locals in the hinterland have the money and the time to think about finer things such as cultural heritage. On way to the recently restored Sarai Amanat Khan, we caught a glimpse of colourful tile work on what looked like a ruined mosque. We got off the car and were escorted by a tall and handsome Sikh, through the brick-paved village streets, to the pretty mosque. Before we knew it, the village sarpanch (elected chief of the village) was in touch on our cellphone and inquiring about who to contact to initiate conservation measures!
There was a school in the village – nothing fancy, but right there within the village; children playing cricket (naturally); and buffaloes chewing cud lazily. I was happy for happy Punjab. Now all they need to remember is to grow more wheat (than rice) and watch that depleting water table (and the missing girls… but there were symbolic lohri celebrations for new-born girls in many parts of Punjab this year).
By the side of the mosque, we found this lady making popcorn by the basket loads. She had a dug-in straw-burning oven over which she was popping the corn in a wrought iron pan. The corn kernels are roasted in coarse sand (which helps distribute heat?) which is sieved out in the end. Don’t miss the Sikh gentleman hunk. Needless to add, the sight of city-folk taking pictures of popcorn making were mighty amusing to all, young and older. They could only smile in a humoring sort of way (when they really wanted to roll their eyes ). And I did it all for you, dear reader (especially those of you not from North India).