Saturday, January 21, 2017

Quick Gun Murugan



Sometime last week, I flew into Chennai, spent a day doing meetings and made a long trek to reach my hotel at 7 pm. At this point, most people would order room service and crawl into their beds. But I had friends who were heading out to dinner to Murugan Idli. I'd never heard the name before but it came highly recommended and I am easily persuaded. Thus came a one hour cab ride in Chennai traffic and a bit of a wait outside the T Nagar branch of this famous chain. Then we sat down and the world turned a whole lot brighter.

The moment you sit down, they spread a banana leaf in front of you and spoon in 4 kinds of chutneys. These are your usual coconut and tomato relishes though I was particularly taken in by the tamarind one. From here on, I left it to my friend to order. The folks at Murugan don't linger so just a few minutes after we ordered, we had food coming onto our banana leaf plates.

The plain idli is super soft but just you wait until you taste idli-podi. It's the same idli; just completely covered with a layer of ghee and gunpowder. We also had crisp medhu vadas and delicious paniyarams. I was pretty full at this point so I just tasted a bit off my friend's onion uttapam. And that brings me to my unfinished business in Chennai and Murugan.

I count my life by 'aha' food moments and Murugan Idli certainly qualifies to make my top ten. That onion uttapam, my friends, is really what's right with the world. Perfectly crisp and topped with podi and deeply caramalised onions, it has to be the best uttapam I've ever eaten. So if you see me making another trip to Chennai, it's likely because I want to polish off an uttapam, or five, and top it up with Jigarthanda.

What's jigarthanda you ask! I wondered too, on how you would name a drink cold heart. Apparently this one is a milkshake-ice cream hybrid and a pretty popular one too, if the queues are anything to go by. We finished our meal with filter coffee so Jigarthanda is on the calendar for my next trip to Chennai. This is one trip you should take too, and soon!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Have a Healthy 2017



It's almost the end of first week of January which means that most new year resolutions to eat healthy and lose weight have already been broken. But if you are still going strong or will like to get back on the wagon, this is the right time to talk about a fun way to eat healthy - grain bowls. Filling and full of flavour, grain bowls offer so many possibilities that you will never be bored. Plus, unlike salads, these can be warm or cold depending on your liking, the mood and the weather.

So what's a grain bowl. It's half a bowl of cooked grains, combined with an equal quantity of some combination of proteins, vegetables and other toppings, plus a dressing that brings the whole thing together. The possibilities, as I said, are endless so let's put together a template for what a good, hearty grain bowl should look like for your lunch.

Start with a healthy grain: Millets, quinoa and wheatberries are my favourites but you could also go for brown rice or couscous. Cooking times vary and if you are going for something hardy like the millet above, you need to plan ahead. I soak millet the night before, then pressure cook it until it's cooked through.

Add a protein: Even as a vegetarian, there are many options to pick from. You could add slices of tofu or paneer (Indian cottage cheese). Lentils work well too. If all else fails, just top off the whole thing with a poached egg.

Now for the veggies: Preferably, add some greens to add color and flavour. Spray or brush a nonstick pan with olive oil, then stir fry spinach or swiss chard or kale until wilted.

Something fresh: So far, everything's cooked or stir fried in your bowl so add some sparkle with tomatoes. Orange and grapefruit segments work well too. And if neither of these complement the flavours you already have in the bowl, add a handful of fresh herbs.

Something crunchy, something fun: Now that you have the key elements of the bowl in place, go crazy with the toppings that add another layer of texture. Nuts, toasted seeds, crispy seaweed, olives, capers, sundried tomatoes - these are elements that pack a punch even though you will add them in tiny quantities.

Finally, dress your bowl: The goal is to eat healthy so the dressing has to match. Depending on what you have in your bowl, even a dash of balsamic vinegar or lime juice may suffice. Or you could go for a vinaigrette. My bowl was looking fairly oriental with millet, kale, tomatoes, nori and toasted sesame seeds so I concocted my dressing by mixing up soy sauce, sriracha and rice wine vinegar.

Happy eating, everyone! May all your goals for 2017 come true.