Simbly South!

Malpe Beach

Talk about signing up for more than your fair share!  I am an adjunct faculty for a Grad program at a college nearby but ended up with full-time teaching load this semester.  The work load in the office stayed unchanged which translates into ‘busy’ and is reflected in the woeful frequency of posts here the past two years.  Factor in the absence of any kitchen help and you get the picture.  But there must be a silver lining, surely?

I had made a case last time that I was better off without the ‘help’.  Well, I think the fact that I was able to handle the additional work load was in no small way because I did not have to supervise the cooking and cleaning downstairs. In the past four months we have eaten out no more than we normally do; perhaps, even less.  In fact, the folk at Andhra Bhavan might be wondering if all was well.  We have resorted to a meal of bread-and-butter on very few occasions.  The family has had to compromise on the freshness of their roties since I firmly believe they (roties, not the family) are not worth the trouble of the clean-up involved, twice a day.  I usually cook enough roties for two meals and sometimes, with the right accompanying dishes that are best with rice, the leftovers get stretched into a third meal.  Otherwise, I feel our meals have more variety, are fresher (except for the roties!), and there is less waste as I use up ingredients before they spoil.

Lest you think it has been all work and no play let me tell you that in 2012 we have already managed two holidays!  The last week of January found us in Rajasthan walking the gorgeous dunes of Jaisalmer.  Yes, it was the same group that did that arduous hike to the Valley of Flowers five years ago; a bit older, none the wiser.  It was a bit hectic and we have resolved that the next trip together will be to a spa – a luxurious spa, not one of those detox ones where they near-starve you – and just let our hair hang down.

That is precisely what TH and I did early this month when we visited the son, now in his third year at college.  This year he has opted out of the college hostel and is trying out apartment-living with two classmates.  It is gladdening to watch him deal with the mundane and the interesting aspects of living on one’s own and sharing space with others with different backgrounds.  While A is a carnivore, both his roommates are vegetarian; one will eat eggs while the other is a vegan and an animal-right activist to the extent that even roaches get protection!  I wonder what they think of A and his ways!

Kapi, fresh South Indian filter coffee

idli vada

Whatever preconceived plans I had dissipated in the Mangalore heat during the taxi ride from the airport.  There may not have been that luxurious spa but we got our do-nothing vacation alright.  I was surprised at how much we could sleep when we had nothing to do!  The sun was screened by the thick drapes and the air-conditioning ensured a sound sleep for the two of us usually past 8am, when I would call for two cups of filter coffee; both meant for me.  Then, depending on our moods, we would either read the morning paper or think about a shower.  Usually, after reading the paper for a bit, TH would just roll over and go back to sleep!  Breakfast was never before 10.  We tried all the local spots for breakfast: Anupam and Pangala, the cafes popular with students and locals alike, as well as the Cosmo Cafe of the university’s own Hotel Hill View; you can never go wrong with idli-vada-dosa-filter kapi anywhere in Manipal!  With the sun shining fierce and the high humidity, most mornings found us back in the hotel room.  We usually slept through lunch and stepped out only late in the afternoon.

Except for Good Friday and Sunday, we never met the son before six o’clock in the evening.  He was busy with his teammates piecing together their solar car.  It is a first attempt at MIT (yes, it is called that) at building a solar car and the college will not fund it till they can see it, and it can’t come to fruition without!  The boys are having to work not just at building their car but also at sweet-talking folk to open up their fortunes to an utterly no-profit venture.  We happily made a small contribution; what they really need is the Tatas and the Mahindras to step forward.

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On Good Friday we visited Mangalore starting with a relaxed lunch at Gajalee highly recommended for its seafood.  We weren’t disappointed with our prawn sukka but much to our surprise, Malabari parotta was not on the menu!  Following lunch, we hailed an autorickshaw to the thousand years old Kadri Manjunath temple in the neighbourhood.  It boggles the mind to think that for 10 centuries the faithful have been walking these (hot as coals!) granite slabs, and lighting that beautiful deepastambha!  This was followed by a visit to the charming St Aloysious Chapel, which is also over a century old.   The frescoes on the walls and ceilings have been recently restored with help from INTACH.  A notice in the verandah of the Chapel gives the phone number to be called in case the doors are closed.  It is such a pleasant gesture to the public and no one is disappointed.  The caretaker arrived within ten minuted of the call and guided us through the stories depicted in the paintings.  We would have like to visit Tipu Sultan’s Battery but by then it was getting towards four o’clock and we were quite beat.  We walked to the bus stand and hopped onto the air-conditioned local bus to Manipal.

Sunday morning, after the usual breakfast, we visited the son at his apartment.  He was already up and about (in his defense, it was 11:30 by then).  He brunched on rice and nani’s mutsch that I had carried for him.  Towards the evening we headed to Malpe beach in the hope that I would get to take the ferry to St Mary’s Island known for its unique geology.  No such luck, but we joined the crowds at the beach where the town was organising a festival of sorts.  Busloads were arriving to listen to loud music and enjoy water sports including para-sailing.  We were getting a little hungry and the fiery, greasy, salty “Schezwan” noodles and Gobhi Manchurian, the two dishes synonymous with Malpe beach, hit the spot.  I also tried some fried prawns and fish from the stalls but the masala was just chillies and did nothing for me.

schezwan noodles 2

gobhi manchurian

As the sun set we headed back to Manipal.  It was our last night in town and we had promised to take the boys out to dinner to Atill, a fine eating place in this university town.  The boys all wanted to eat North Indian food . . . I guess I will be going to Atill on my next visit as well – this time for their seafood.  The next morning we were off, back to Delhi.


You would think that after a week of eating South Indian food I would have had my fill for a while.  But, back in Delhi, I went back to my Southern side.  The kadi patta tree is looking happy now that we are into summer, and I have been making good use of its bounty.  Earlier this year I bought a bunch of cookbooks at the Delhi Book Fair and have been meaning to test out new recipes and cuisines.  One of the books I picked is Michael Swamy’s The East Indian Kitchen after reading about it on Manisha’s blog.  I sat down with it the other day to see if there was something drastic I could do to the pumpkin in the fridge.  I came across this Pumpkin Foogath recipe, though not drastically different in its list of ingredients, seemed worthy of a try.  Until I looked at the quantities.  For a mere 250gms of pumpkin (before peeling) I needed 5 tablespoons of oil!  If that was not enough fat, I would also be needing 100gms of fresh coconut!  And for all that quantity of coconut, making it appear a rather important ingredient, the accompanying photograph showed nary a trace of it in the dish.  The book has many such other irritating oversights – recipes direct you to look for other masala recipes on given page numbers, but you may have to try a couple of pages before or after the one specified.  There are other unfortunate errors; once and for all – Tejpatta is not the same as Bay Laurel leaf, and shah zeera and caraway seeds are two very different spices. Recipes don’t mention number of servings; you have to rely on your own experience and judgement.

So it fell on the South, again, to bail me out.  By now, giving company to the pumpkin, was a big bowl of cooked black-eyed beans which I had put away in the fridge because I couldn’t decide how to treat them.  Nags’ errisery from the Kerala coast combines both and was the simple quick dish I was looking for!

Since I was still in the Southern frame of mind (when am I not?), I picked up Chandra Padmanabhan’s Simply South – Traditional Vegetarian Cooking for inspiration.  In this, her third cookbook, she brings to us the lesser known regional dishes from Kongunadu (Tamil Nadu), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh), and the Hebbar Iyengar community of Karnataka.  The instructions are clear and the section on basic recipes will be very useful to a beginner cook or someone new to Southern Indian cuisine.  The book is from the same publishing house as Swamy’s The East Indian Kitchen and the errors of recipes for masalas/podis appearing on pages other than those mentioned in the text continue. Another minor irritant is the insertion of the some photographs at the wrong place such that the titles are orphaned on the following pages; something went amiss at the assembling stage.  But, for a book from a seasoned cookbook writer it is strange that the book is missing an index!

In any case, both the books are quite inexpensive (Rs395, and Rs295 respectively), and maybe we will just have to live with poor editing for now.

southern rices

gandhasale rice

gandhasale rice

From Simply South I tried the Keerai sambar to use up the blanched home grown organic spinach my mum brought me last weekend.  The sambar is simple to make yet different from those I have tried before.  It combines mung dal with arhar for the lentil base, and the use of fresh ginger in sambar is also less usual.  I have written out the list of ingredients as it appears in the book with my substitutions in parentheses.  The book is a good addition to my South Indian cookbook collection; I already have Padmanabha’s Dakshin, which also I recommend highly.

We enjoyed the sambar with Gandhasale rice that I purchased in Manipal.  The packet notes that it is a fragrant variety from Karnataka but I didn’t smell a thing.  The short grain rice does have a  nice feel and cooked to the perfect softness to soak up the sambar.

keerai (spinach) sambar

Keerai Sambar
(Spinach sambar)
serves 4-6

2 C packed spinach leaves, finely chopped (I chopped my blanched spinach as best I could, I might have used more than 2C)
1/2 t hing
1/2t +1 t salt
1/2 C arhar
1/4 C mung dal
1 tomato, quartered (err, I forgot, but I would definitely add!)
1/2 t turmeric
1 medium lemon sized ball of tamarind (soaked in warm water, pulp extracted)
1/2″ piece ginger (grated)
6 green chillies, slit lengthwise
1 capsicum, cut into 1″ sqaures
2 t sambar powder (recipe is given in the book, I used my own)

2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t methi seeds
2 dried red chillies, halved
1 sprig curry leaves (I used more than a couple – I have a tree in my front yard)

1 t ghee
1 t coconut oil (I skipped, but will add next time)
2 T finely chopped coriander leaves

Combine spinach, hing, 1/2 tsp salt and 2-3 tbsp of water in a pan and place over low heat. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
Wash the dals and place in a pressure cooker with tomato, turmeric powder and 2 cups of water. Cook under pressure for 5 minutes.
Heat oil for tempering. Add tempering ingredients to the hot oil in the given order. (Remember to cover or else the spluttering mustard seeds will be all over your kitchen!).
Add ginger, green chillies, and capsicum.
Stir in 1 tsp salt, tamarind juice, and sambar powder. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 10 mintues
Mix in spinach and simmer 2 minutes.
Add dal and simmer 5 minutes, stirring to blend.
Remove from heat and add the garnish ingredients.
Serve hot with plain rice. (I served a majjiga mirapa alongside.)

keerai (spinach) sambar

PS: While writing this post, I accidentally hit the ‘publish’ button before I was done. At the time, not only was the post incomplete, it had not even been proofread. While I changed the visibility to ‘private’ immediately, it was delivered, with all the mistakes, to those of you who subscribe through e-mail. I apologise sincerely for the error-filled post in your in-box yesterday.

21 thoughts on “Simbly South!

  1. Spammer!

    Sorry you were disappointed with your new cookbooks. Don’t ever buy Rasachandrika. It isn’t for you 😀 I generally don’t have high expectations of regional cookbooks, especially not editing. A few pages here and there is the norm, especially for Indian regional cookbooks and yes, The East Indian Kitchen is riddled with that. I never put aside my best judgment and always use my experience/knowledge to gauge serving sizes and/or adjust oil and level of heat. Michael Swamy’s vindaloo is v similar to the one in my mother’s blue diary, which she got from my friend’s mom. There are a lot of gems in that cookbook and for the price, it’s a steal.

    Your vacation sounds relaxing and the pictures are fabulous! I’m jealous of all those varieties of rice you have there! Why are the idlis square?

    Which hing did you use? The heavenly one you found for me or a mild one, like the ones we get here, with lots of wheat flour and other additives to “make it flow?” If you used the former, isn’t 1/2 tsp a lot of hing?! Don’t skip the final touch of coconut oil for a true southern Indian flavor!

    Just that when a lot is left to the reader/cook in a recipe, there are chances things will go wrong for a beginner or someone unfamiliar with that particular regional cuisine. I think my unfamiliarity with the East Indian cuisine added to my uncertainly and I left that book well alone. I will, of course, attempt something else from that. Perhaps, the vindaloo that you mention.

    The idlies appear square maybe from the batter overflowing the holes? Just as the pavs are square!

    For food south of the Vindhyas, I always use the mild hing! I am the purist, remember? So, for Maharashtrian, Gujju, and South Indian food I use the mild hing. [Why do you think I have so many bottles and jars?] The potent stuff is not just strong, it imparts a very different aroma in my opinion.

    1. No offense, but oh- I’d use caution when making such generalizations regarding north and south! No… I’ve never been to either, but…!

      The absolute best hing (powerfully-fragrant, pale chunks) I have ever received was had from Karnataka- no dispute. Compounded hing might be a popular convenience down yon the Vindhyas, but not everyone uses it; there are still some very-picky cooks who insist upon the best- especially for making pickles and papads- things that must be stored and retain their flavour.

      I am yet to come across (traditional) recipes from the south that use a ‘pinch’ of hing . . . Don’t you remember how offended TLO was when I first mentioned about the ‘pure’ hing used in the North: she didn’t beleive there was anything like that! I don’t think it is to do with being the best or not; the pure thing might have tasted too strong to them. As Manisha mentions, the best hing in the north always used to profess to be from Kabul, and from here it must have made its way down South. But I can see the logic of using the potent kind in things that need to retain their flavour for a long time.

      1. Karnataka? Aw, that’s just sad. Anita, the “best hing” you recommended didn’t measure up.

        The absolute best hing comes from Afghanistan (used to, anyway) and Iran.

        I use what I can get hold of. Or do without.

        Picky cooks. Picky eaters. Keyword: picky with ick in the middle. 😀

        Well, I don’t have the best sources anymore. I used to get it from Mom who would try to source from others. Now, both of us just get it from Khadi Gramodyog. I must look for the Bandhini brand; that used to be really good.

        I treat it like any other ingredient in my pantry; no judgement. The strong stuff in the Northy food and the milder kind for Maharashtrian and South Indian. They are just not interchangeable in my opinion. No matter how much of the milder kind I may use, I will never get nani’s dal right unless I use the other kind!

      2. Micky- I didn’t say it was harvested in Karnataka, now did I? That’s just where it was bought- which means there be a market down thataway for good hing! Anita’s recommendation was a very-close second… I hemmed and hawed over the final judgement call. (Any other contestants please contact me!), but I feel I must be honest and impartial when grading spicies from such lovely nicies.

        Not to worry. It was not like I made the hing!

      3. I know a lot of people who think they have pure hing but it’s just less adulterated. I recommend reading this thread on A-S. There’s a suggested “milk” test and a price point as well as pointers on physical characteristics to figure out whether what you have is pure hing. And it might well be. I didn’t quite have the honor of meeting it even though I had shown an interest in sourcing good quality hing. ;-D

        I was reminded of the saga of Resham patti chillies that dared to masquerade as Kashmiri chillies. At the end of the day, they’re both dried red chillies. True. So I’m happy. 😀

      4. Happy: re-do that link there, hey? ‘Snot working. One good turn might deserve another, you know?

  2. And I visit my beloved Manipal, MIT & Mangalore, my home town almost in real .. thanks to you!! 🙂
    I am guessing it must be ultra-hot looking at the time now..
    and yes.. I would definetely recommend Attil..for thier sea-food..
    Also, Dollops for thier steamed rice with chicken lollipops..
    Do go there the next time..

    I think Udupi is a really charming place.
    I will search Dollops next time!

  3. Enjoyed your holiday with you through your post. I have Chandra’s first book and use it liberally. Must try this sambar with my home grown spinach. Thanks for the great informative post.

    It was good to get back to a little writing after such a long gap. Thanks for reading, Poornima.

  4. One interesting thing after another here- where does one begin to exclaim! Beautiful sambar- I love dal-and-greens dishes- every one! And these unique varieties of rice…! Lucky you!

    Envious me.

    I didn’t notice the square idlies until quite-recently, but I would venture to guess that when making them in vast quantity, it would be easier… and we all know that 1/2 t hing refers to compounded type and to use 1/8 t of the pure stuff. Don’t waste your time on such questions! 😉

    Really, you’d think she knew me better than to ask such questions!

    1. Ah but you see she claims not to use the “compounded stuff” ;D

      Oh, but I do. How else am I going to use up all the kilos of hing ‘khadas’ in the pantry (Aai bought them 10yrs ago I suppose)! I think I am down to the final kilo.
      Specified ingredients for particular cuisines, unless I cannot easily find them locally. In which case, I do not hesitate to call on friends in different parts of the country/world . . .

    2. Oh, I see… How very interesting– wouldn’t you agree?

      She is wrong this time. That is what is interesting!

      1. It’s your turn to enlighten me and wear the crown, oh newly anointed / appointed TLO!

        Nah, you can keep the crown and the responsibilities that come with it.

  5. i would love to hear more about that gujarati recipe book. been meaning to try my hand at dishes from that region but i am terribly inexperienced with even eating them, let alone cook. need a good solid book i can depend on (editing errors aside). i have all three books from chandra padmanabhan and don’t find them novice-friendly at all. i made some chutney recently that didn’t mention something important, don’t remember what, and if i was someone who had no experience making chutney with some vegetable, i would have no clue how to proceed.

    The Gujarati cook book had a number of non-vegetarian dishes which are new to me, since I am familiar with primarily Gujarati vegetarian food. I too look forward to trying out some of those recipes.
    I guess I more familiar with South Indian cuisine than I think and therefore, am able to read between the lines there!

  6. just like every time, a very nice read, from being independent with domestic chores to how son is growing to happening less vacation to food! I love your south Indian frame of mind and how it churns out nice recipes ! Nice read!

    Even I come back to these posts later and am glad I have a diary of sorts!

  7. hi,Anita,
    Wonderful to see you active again….have loved reading your posts and your musings about your trip has prompted me to look up Mangalore and I am considering going by sometime next month with the kids have vacation.Keep up the good work…:-)

    Karnataka has so much to offer; I hope you are planning a looong vacation!

  8. Have missed your posts! Enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to more recipes. 🙂

    I plan to write more often than once a month!

  9. Welcome back Anita, we’ve missed you 🙂 I am thrilled that you did a post on my home town of Mangalore. I miss it so much, its a physical hurt sometimes, but your post brought back so many memories, especially of Manipal and MIT, where I used to hang out with all my friends who were engineering students. A lot of these guys have moved all over the world now, and we still fondly remember our student days. Did you go to End Point when you where there? Its such a beautiful place, and I have so many memories of it.

    If you’re ever back in Mangalore, may I also recommend the lovely ‘thuppa dosais’ at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and their sweets are to die for. Also another really local hotel is Costa’s hotel which does simple the most divine non-veg food (I am not sure if you are vegetarian though?) Not many people know Costa, but it really is an institution. The sannas and the chilly fries are so good.

    Thank you for this post, and bringing back memories 🙂

    I love, love Mangalore, Manipal and all these places! I think it is a great place to go to school.
    We walked to End Point on our last visit.

    Taj mahal Hotel on my next visit, which might be soon enough!

    Thank you for reading, Michelle.

  10. Wow – that was a good read. Have never been to Managalore but if I ever do, I will definitely read up this post as well as the various places that are mentioned in the comments! 🙂

    There is lots to see in Karnataka; make a plan!

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