Sunday, July 10, 2016

In the land of royalty - Of Queens, Kings, Palaces, Guards, unparalleled history and ofcourse Brextit

I pulled another disappearing act on everyone, didn't I? Although I knew I would be away from the blog for a little while, didn't realize it would actually take me this long to get back. Life I guess is after all about the kinetic and potential energy, you keep moving and you make progress, you rest and you stagnate. So, first of all, apologies especially to those lovely people who are ever patient with me and my blog. I feel humbled that some of you think my tiny blog is worth your time. For all your love, here I am with a bowl of super delicious stoup(soup + Stew) made typical South Indian style with south indian spices..

But before we go off to the easy, delicious comfort food recipe, I thought I would do my general chitchat. As always, if you are here just for the recipe, scroll down all the way until it says "What do you need..", otherwise stay and read on.Since it has been a while, obviously many things have happened, some I am eager to share, some I am ok to leave alone.. had a totally unexpected visit from a grade school friend (Whatsapp zindabad), had cousins visit me in my remote neck of woods, went on a quick and wonderful holiday to a place I had never been to before in life. Knowing how talkative I can be, I will choose one of the events for the post today, hopefully you will find the information useful and the writing engaging :-)

As I already titled the post, I think I know which one I am going to talk about today :-). We made a trip to the land of royalty recently and oh boy I liked it, everything from the historical palaces to the beautiful sights to wonderful cosmopolitan that London is, I enjoyed every minute of the week we spent there. But then, I was equally happy to come back to the place I have grown to fondly call home in the last decade and half.
It was the week before Brexit happened and I lost many pounds (Oh yes, you have heard that joke more than you want to by now, this is what happens when I take my sweet time to get back to life). While there was undercurrents of what might happen, the surface was all calm and for my 'touristy' pair of eyes, there was nothing to burst my holiday bubble and so we had a gala time.
My experiences in London, these are strictly built on a week long experience of a traveler and should be taken as such, I don't claim by any means to have understood London or its ways .., here are some traveler tips I thought might be useful -
  • Very easy and convenient Tube (underground train) system that will let you travel from one part of London to the other as you wish. Buy an Oyster card when you land and load it with anything between 20 & 30 pounds, you can easily travel for a couple of days before you need to reload which again is very easy and available at the entrance of every tube station. If you don't use up all the money you put in, just claim cash back when you leave.
  • London is like Bengaluru where it is hard to find locals but is full of people from all over, we met folks that spoke many different languages and from varied background. It was a little confusing to decide which side of the sidewalk you should be on when there is traffic coming from the opposite direction :-) since there were people that were used to left hand and right hand traffic. It was fun though just walking.
  • If you are a short term visitor, go ahead and invest in the London Pass. There are many places and sights to visit that come bundled into it and saves a lot of time and energy in figuring out things individually. 
  • If you are a theater fan, do not (I repeat 'do not') miss an opportunity to catch a show, the tickets are not cheap by any means but live theater is an experience you can't beat easily. 
  • Every public place offers you some amount of walking since elevators and escalators are not everywhere, be prepared to walk. Not all tube stations are hands free (another term for stairs instead of escalators), so you invariably have to walk. I certainly did more than my daily goal of steps that week. 
  • Public Toilets (Rest rooms) are hard to come by, I have grown used to this idea of rest rooms accessibility in the US over the years and chuckled when you had to push in a coin to get entry into a rest room (provided you found one) when we were out. If you are travelling with young children, plan ahead. 
  • Drinking water - again a rare commodity when it comes to drinking water faucets and fountains. It may be because not many people drink water but our family is like a camel when it comes to water, we drink a lot and store a lot. After the first day, we made sure we carried bottles of water from home to last us the entire day. 
  • Weather was great, temperature was in very pleasant 70s splashed with occasional showers but nothing to burst the holiday bubble. Oh, carry an umbrella always, so you are covered if need be. 
  • Food portions are smaller than what you are used to if you are travelling from the US and the bill is heavier than what you would expect here. People expect you to order more than one dish when you are at a restaurant and if you are hungry which you will be after all the walking and sight seeing, you will need more :-). London city seemed to be definitely catering to a vast group of health aficionados, it is easy to find healthy food everywhere.  
  • Smoking is rampant through out the city, I must have inhaled atleast a few cigarettes worth of smoke myself just by secondary smoking. I didn't notice any marked 'no smoking' zones which could be a deterrent.
  • For all the hype we had heard about getting the best Indian food in London (every friend and acquaintance I had mentioned about this trip would tell me how good Indian food is in London), we didn't find any that lived up to the great promise we had. There was a Woodlands we went to that was pretty decent. My guess is we didn't search enough as we were happy eating other food and were satisfied too :-), So no food/restaurant reviews from me :-)
  • All brand name stores were pretty much from the US, since we weren't planning to shop much at all except for the souvenirs, we mostly stuck to the small, local gift shops in the area we were visiting. I didn't do much shopping, got loads of British Tea (from Assam ofcourse :-)) and little souvenirs for friends and family. Then there was delicious Swiss chocolates too :-)
Windsor castle and it was one of those cars the Queen stepped into !
We did get to see the queen (from afar though :-)) as she stepped out of the castle and into a car at the head of a motorcade in Windsor, DD has a better version of how there were more than one person dressed as the queen just to act as decoys but then she was thinking Harry Potter :-), We did go and stand in the lines and crowd to watch the Buckingham palace 'change of guards' ceremony but I thought it wasn't a big deal given the crowd, wait times and the visibility to the ceremony, let me not discourage any of you if you are planning to go. I loved the outings where the air was a little more easy to breathe in and outdoors that were not packed as much. If you get a chance to visit the city, go ahead and I guarantee you will have a great time. For me personally, it was visiting all the historical land marks I had read long time back in grade school and also a chance to see upclose a country and its people that influenced and changed India in both good and not-so-good ways. 

If you held a hope all along that there was a recipe worth all this chatter, you won't be disappointed at all. On to simple, every day, common man summer pleasures  ..
I came back home, a little tired to do much and this is what greets me in the backyard :-),
And yes, taht is Flora's face in the corner, she was helping me pick the greens :-)
A beautiful bouquet of tender green Amaranth (Dantina soppu) leaves. There are two varieties of the greens, one has green color all over the leaf and the other has tender red veins on the leaves. I love both and mine is the green one. Since we had travel planned in the summer, this year we decided not to do our annual summer kitchen garden, just didn't feel like orphaning the plants to the Sun when we went traipsing around the world. But nature really cannot be curbed or subdued by human plans and these amaranth plants sprouted up out of the seeds I had thrown in 2 years back. They are very hardy and can keep their sensible heads well under ground during the chilly months and then rise from the soil as soon as it warms up. Last year, we controlled them in the patch to make way for the other vegetables we planted but this year they were on their own, pretty much unruly children in the absence of parents and thrived well as the weather hasn't gotten too hot at all.

I saw the promise of the greens just before we left for the holiday but was too busy to think about them for long. And when we came back, here they were, fully mature to be picked and yet very tender and fresh. We had stopped on the way from the airport to pick up some groceries and I found these fresh, green garbanzo (called soppina kadale in kannada) in the store. Picked a pound of it and when I saw the greens at home, all I wanted was a bowl of comforting, homely, hearty soup made South Indian style. Well, we call it soppina huli (soppu=greens, huli=stew made with vegetables and tamarind with a mixture of ground spices). It was a perfect home coming meal loaded with greens and proteins. Didn't need anything else but used some rotis as props for the picture :-).
Some of you have asked me for the recipe of huli pudi (also known as sambar powder, the signature dish from the south of India) and I haven't got to it yet. I will write a post on it soon, I promise. But in the mean time, this recipe will teach you how to make one kind of sambar and the spice mixture that goes into it. For this particular one, I didn't use any lentils, so it may not qualify as Huli/sambar for some of you who are used to having cooked lentils in them, coconut and the dals in the spice mix provide the needed base. Nammamma made the soppina huli without lentils some times and a slightly thicker consistency so it was a great dip for raagi mudde or chapatis. A break from toor dal once in a while is acceptable :-) but if you are a real hard core sambar with lentils fan, go ahead and add a cup of cooked, mashed toor dal into it. You can replace the greens and beans combo with any vegetable of choice.

What do you need to make soppina huli? 
3-4 packed cups of amaranth leaves (dantina soppu, thotakura)
1 cup shelled green garbanzo (or peas) - skip it if you don't have it
1 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1 small tomato chopped
key lime size tamarind soaked in 1/2 cup water for 30 minutes
Salt to taste
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery or brown sugar
Spice (masala) mix: 
2 Tbsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 inch piece cinnamon
2 cloves
1/2 Tsp black pepper
3-4 dry red chilies
5-7 curry leaves
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds (optional but increases flavor)
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make Soppina Huli? 
  • Wash the greens in 2-3 washes of water, let the water drain and chop them into small pieces. 
  • Shell the garbanzo if you are using and thaw frozen peas.
  • Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup warm water to get the extract. 
  • Heat a pan, add 1 Tbsp oil and add all the ingredients listed under spice mix and roast on low heat for about 2-3 minutes until you get a nice aroma from the spices and the dals turn golden pink.
  • Add chopped tomato and stir in for a minute or two until tomato breaks down and loses the raw smell. 
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Heat a wide bottom pan with 2 cups of water, add the chopped greens and garbanzo and salt. 
  • Let it cook for about 10-12 minutes until the greens wilt and the beans become soft to taste. 
  • Squeeze the tamarind, extract the juice, discard all the pith and seeds. 
  • Add the tamarind extract to cooked greens and let it boil for about 5 mins to lose the raw smell. 
  • Take all the roasted ingredients along with chopped onion and coconut to a blender, add 1/2 cup of water and grind to a smooth paste. 
  • Add the ground masala to the greens mixture. If you are using cooked toor dal, mash it and add it at this stage. 
  • Add jaggery. 
  • Let everything come together and boil for a good 5-7 minutes. 
  • Prepare the seasoning by heating oil in a small pan, add mustard, fenugreek (if using) and asafoetida. When mustard pops, switch off and pour it on the greens mixture. 
  • Cover and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. 
  • Greens is the star of this recipe, use packed cups to measure and use tender greens instead of the mature, dry ones. 
  • If you plan to add toor dal, reduce the chana dal in the spice mix to half unless you like a really thick consistency. 
  • I add tomato to give body to the gravy and also for the taste, you can avoid it and get the sour taste from just the tamarind.
  • I added the fresh garbanzo as I had them on hand, don't fret if you don't have them. Use fresh peas if in season, they taste good too. The huli with just the greens tastes awesome as well.

1 comment:

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wonderful recipe with beautiful pictures of London.nice and healthy dish.