Shrikhand and choosing your poison

Recently I have been struggling to lose some weight. Maybe someday have that perfectly flat tummy which TV, movies and ads have seared into my brain as being the ideal female form. I eat ‘healthy’, I exercise – but I still gain weight. May be the air is bad. Who knows? While trying to lose weight, the first food group which we consider BAD is always the good old carbs. Everyone I talk to says “Oh no, you are eating half a cup of white rice with dinner? No way can you lose weight. Is that white sugar? OMG, God help you”.

I can do many things to lose weight but I cannot live without white rice for dinner. I need it at least three to four days a week. And if eating half a cup of cooked rice makes me fat, I am ready to be fat. At least, I do not consume processed sugar every day. Although I add sugar to my tea only twice a week, my husband adds sugar to his tea everyday (but is still managing to lose weight). Being the person who decides mostly what is to be consumed every day, I decided to replace the good old bad white sugar with “raw cane sugar which happens to be brown”. As we know, everything brown should be good, right? Brown rice, brown bread, brown grains, brown sugar syrup, brown skin? Looks like I was wrong. Here is why.



To my surprise, when I did my research to find out which sugar is less evil than the other, I found that as with the world around me, there are a lot of grey zones in the world of sugar. Turns out that white sugar is mostly glucose which is the simplest form of sugar and is readily/quickly absorbed by the body. It also has a high glycemic index and is unquestionably bad for diabetic people. So, okay, granted: white sugar is not so good for you. But what about the ‘natural sweeteners’? Looks like they are not as good as I thought. After much reading and comparing them upto three decimal points in terms of calorie and nutrition, my conclusion is, none of them is more superior than the other. Maple syrup might be the best bet but the better grades are very cost prohibitive (and my husband, being a horrible food snob, will not touch anything other than Grade A Light Amber). Agave might seem like a good choice as it has very low glycemic index but on the other hand it has a very high fructose index and can be worse for you in the long term. Brown sugar and honey are very flavorful but not much in terms of nutrition. You have to take gallons of them to get the nutritional value.


Long story short: If you are NOT eating a huge amount of sugar every day, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. I keep a bottle of honey and maple syrup at home to flavor my tea and yogurt, but they give me the same calories. I like the complex flavor of honey and maple syrup. I like agave but stay away from it due to its high fructose content. If you really want the “best” sugar, try date molasses (khejur gur in Bengali) – it’s loaded with nutrients!

Recently, I am hooked on Srikhand, which is a very traditional Indian dessert made with yogurt and flavored with saffron and cardamom. I flavor the yogurt with honey as I like the flavor of honey and yogurt together. You are more than welcome to use any sugar of your choice. This is very kid-friendly but do not use raw honey for kids under one as there is a threat of infant botulism.



Whole milk yogurt (please): 2-3 cups
One cardamom, seeds removed and crushed finely. You can toss the shell or use it in your tea.
A pinch of saffron
One-two table spoon of milk
Honey/maple syrup to taste (you can add sugar too)
Fruit of your choice
Nuts of your choice
• Place cheesecloth or a fine cotton/muslin on a strainer over a bowl. Put the yogurt in the cloth and cover it. Keep it in the refrigerator and let it drain for at least overnight or couple of days.
• After a day or two, the day you want to eat it, heat up the milk a little bit. Toast the saffron a little bit, crush it with a mortar pestle or with you finger and add it to the warm milk. Cover for 15-30 minutes.
•  Add the cardamom powder and the saffron to the yogurt and mix nicely. I whip it a little bit with a spoon to give it a fluffy texture.
• Keep it in the refrigerator or serve it with a drizzle of your sweetener and chopped fruits.
• Add the chopped nuts while serving (optional)
• You can add powdered sugar to your yogurt too instead of honey or maple syrup.
Sometimes I skip the saffron/cardamom part and zest some lemon and orange to it. Sometimes just honey or maple syrup and nuts. It’s a very flexible recipe and you can tweak it to your convenience.

Here is another recipe from my favorite blogger Lakshmi. She can make anything look beautiful. I loved the saffron hue in the yogurt.






Arooq/Minced chicken fritters from the Bohra communtiy


Every so often I learn about a “new” community in the melting pot that is India. My newest fascination is with the Bohra Muslims. The Bohra community is something of an outlier, not fitting any of the standard uneducated Indian’s stereotypes of Muslims being underprivileged, poor, sexist and uneducated. I’ll elaborate on other aspects that make them unique further into the article. At least at first sight, they appear to be liberal and progressive compared to many other Muslim sects. Significantly, in the face of widespread resentment against “regular” Muslims, they have managed to maintain an amicable relationship with the Hindu majority in Gujarat. From wearing colorful rida rather than the austere black burkha to educating their kids in secular institutions, the Bohras of India have subtly but firmly managed to keep themselves separate from other Muslim sects.

The Bohra community also has a unique ancestry, being a sub-sect of Ismaili Shias who emigrated from Yemen. The Muslim communities in Gujarat have different origins, histories, dialects, cultures and even religious beliefs. Some came for trade; some accompanied invading armies, some sought employment. Even others, like the Bohra Muslims came to India fleeing religious persecution in their native land for their acceptance of At-Tayyeb Abul-Qasim as Imam instead of his uncle Al-Hafiz. Supporters of Tayyeb came to be known as Tayyibi Ismailis. Later, Tayyibi Muslims came to be known as Bohras which is believed to originate from the Gujarati word for ‘trader’.

The original Ismailis Bohras went through several splits forming smaller sub-groups. The Dawoodi Bohras are the largest of these, composed of those who supported Dawood Burhanuddin ibn Qutb Shah during a power struggle in the sixteenth century. They are a tightly knit community and are governed solely by their Dai, who is the absolute supreme leader of the community. Indeed, each and every action from a marriage to owning a business is subject to his personal permission. Bohras believe that this strict enforcement keeps them united, helps them to live a ‘pure Bohra life’ and helps the community to thrive even under the threatened circumstances of being a minority Muslim community in a predominantly Hindu nation.

Anyway, like some other minority communities in India (such as the Jews, Persians, African and Armenians), Bohras too have an invisible fence drawn around them. They have acquired some intermixed cultural traits, yet retain their strong community structure. There cuisine is very unique with Persian, Middle Eastern and Guajarati influences. Although there is no restriction on its consumption, beef is not a popular meat; instead they prefer chicken and lamb. Arooq is a specialty of the Dawoodi Bohras. These can be eaten as a snack with a cilantro and mint chutney/ketchup/hot n sour tomato sauce or with plain rice and daal. Or they can be tucked into a roti with some greens (just like the traditional falafel wraps).


Arooq recipe (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)


Minced/ground chicken breast, boneless: 1 lb.

Turmeric: 1/8 tsp.

Red chili powder/cayenne powder: ¼ tsp (add more if you like)

Hot green chili/habanero: ½ tsp. (again, if you like more, feel free to add it)

Black pepper, freshly ground:

All purpose flour: 2 tbsp.

Eggs: 2 beaten

Ginger: one inch sized, very finely minced.

Cilantro: as per your taste (finely chopped)

Scallion/green onion: 2 sprigs, finely chopped (only the green part)

Salt to taste

Vegetable oil for deep frying


  • Add everything together except the oil and the eggs. Mix well.
  • Add the eggs and mix again.
  • Refrigerate the mix covered for at least an hour (more will not hurt).
  • Take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
  • Heat up the oil in a deep bottom wok/kadai.
  • Bring the heat to medium and add around 1 tbsp. of the mixture to the oil. Add more and let them get cooked and turn into golden brown in color.
  • Keep stirring while they are sizzling in the oil for even cooking and browning.
  • Rain them on an absorbent paper and serve immediately.


Falafels/Chickpea fritters


A thought has been bugging me for a while, are we losing the balance? Losing balance to live a healthy yet happy life? Probably yes. As I write about food, I’ll keep it food related. After I came to this country (USA), it took me a while to adjust to the abundance and wastage and also the culture of fried chicken and humongous portions at restaurants. I wasn’t used to it. I have seen my Maa saving every last grain, not because we were poor, but because she thought it’s wrong to waste food. She didn’t pour a gallon of oil in her pot to cook something. She knew how to make food taste good without soaking it in oil. I couldn’t be like her. Rather to put in another way, I am not there yet. We Indians eat a lot of fried food, but when I was growing up, we were taught to live in moderation. It’s called ‘Bengali middle class culture’, rather ‘Indian middle class culture’. People were not super thin like the malnourished fashion models who have unfortunately become the stereotype of female beauty. Bengalis were proud of their ‘bhNuri’/potbellies and didn’t mind at all being a little on the heavier side of the weighing scale. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, may be neither right, nor wrong.


Now things are rapidly changing. I can see two distinct mentalities, both being far from the reality. One section of society is willing to accept anorexia to achieve the Victoria’s Secret look while another is breaking the weighing scale. Some people freak out even if they hear the sound “deep frying”; others indulging with saturated fat almost in every bite they eat. I suppose both extremes have always existed but the number of people at either end seems to be increasing. I am seeing people going to such an extreme that they see everything unhealthy. They lose the fun of eating good food. Being suspicious of every grain they consume, or do not consume. On the other hand some people seem to have lost all semblance of self-control and are completely comfortable with their extreme obesity.


Although I am nowhere close to my “ideal weight” (read model like), I do try to maintain a middle path. I don’t want stick thin legs and skinny arms. I also do not want to go XXXL. I believe in moderation. It’s ok to indulge yourself with deep fried food like these super delicious falafels if you crave them occasionally. Eating ice cream and skipping the gym once in a while is not going to kill you. The perfectly flat tummy you are trying to achieve is going to rob half of the happiness from your life. So, people, find the happy medium. Whole grains and bacon, gluten-free and artificially flavored, GMO and organic, fast food lovers and locavores, farm-raised or Wal-Mart bought can all be on the same plate…but just in the right amounts.


As I didn’t grow up eating falafel, I have no secret family recipe. I have adapted (rather followed it religiously) the recipe from here. I am copy-pasting the original recipe only with one or two minor changes. Go to the link if you want to see step by step pictures. It’s a no-fail recipe if you follow it carefully. It’s also a crowd pleaser and very easy to make.


  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 green chili peppers
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)


  • Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
  • Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, ginger, green chilies, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.
  • Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that… but don’t overprocess, you don’t want it turning into hummus!
  • Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  • Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
  • Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.


Note: if the balls won’t hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won’t hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won’t hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.

  • Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.
  • Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.
  • Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.


Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons– 1) you didn’t process the mixture enough– return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.

“Almost a mother”? It’s a myth


Recently life is tough, pretty tough with many challenges to overcome, many hurdles to jump and many sleepless nights to go through. But I am hopeful that things will change soon and that the bright light at the end of the tunnel will soon come into view.


It was bhaiphnota/bhai dooj. I called him to shower all my blessings on him and wish him a beautiful, healthy and prosperous life. He sounded sick. I asked him if he was ok? He said he has fever, high fever. I didn’t worry, may be a typical season-change sort of fever, it will go away in a couple of days. Unfortunately it didn’t. On the contrary it went from bad to worse over the next few days. I felt helpless. After all, he is still my little brother and I cannot see him suffering. I frantically looked for someone who could take care of him till I got the situation under control. I didn’t tell Maa because I didn’t want her to worry and spend sleepless nights (in any case, she is visiting me in the US and could not go to Delhi even if she wanted to). It was my struggle: I fought it alone. Everyday when I called him, he asked “Maa ke bolechhis? (Did you tell mother yet?). Helpless, I would reply “No, not yet, maybe tomorrow”. He kept on insisting me and I kept on resisting. After a few days, he said helplessly “Maa pray korlei shob thik hoye jabey” (if Maa prays for me, I’ll be fine) and that brought tears to my eyes. That single word “Maa/mother” brings so much comfort and trust to him in his hout of dire need. I decided not to hide it from Maa anymore. May be if Maa calls him he will get the strength, maybe he will get better faster.


Many people have told me that I am ‘almost like a mother to my brother’ and I sort of believed it. But, at that very moment I realized that no one can be ‘almost a mother’. Either you are my mother or you are not. Period. No one can replace that relationship, that very special comfort zone. It’s an irreplaceable bridge connecting two human beings.

Anyhow, now that Maa is with us, I am being immensely spoilt and pampered. I have given her my list of favorite things to cook and it will be done. I am trying to learn several things from her as well. One of my favorite things that she makes is Nimki, a tiny diamond-shaped savory fried dough eaten as a snack in Bengal especially during special occasions like Kali Puja or Bijoya Dashami. After many failed attempts of my own, I asked Maa to make them and I closely watched her during the entire time, noting down every tiny step. It’s an addictive snack. The best part is, you can make a large batch and store it for months in an airtight container.




Moida/maida/all-purpose flour: 1 cup+1/4 cup for rolling

Kalonji/nigella seeds: ½ tsp.

Baking powder: ½ tsp.

Room temperature/cold water: ½ cup

Salt: ½ tsp.

Oil: 2 tbsp.+ enough to deep fry the nimkis

Rolling pin, board and knife


  • Add the salt and the kalonji seeds to the flour and mix them well.
  • Add the oil and mix the oil with the dough. Break any clump and keep on mixing. The oil should be uniformly distributed.
  • Gradually add the water and knead the flour to a tight dough. If you decide to use it a little later, then add less water. The dough will get soft and sticky if kept for a while.
  • Pinch balls out of the dough (4-5 nos.). The number of balls will depend on you and the size of the rolling board. Don’t make the dough either very thick or very thin (may be around 1/8”). I didn’t measure the rolled dough so cannot give you the exact measurement.
  • Heat up enough oil in a pan. Don’t make it too hot. Medium high flame should be fine.
  • Slice the dough diagonally and then to diamond shapes (as shown in the picture). I like mine really tiny but the shape will not affect the end result.
  • Once you are done with one set, drop them in the hot oil and constantly move them with a spoon. That way they will get evenly cooked and browned.
  • Cook them until they reach a visible brown color. Do not wait until the deep brown shade as they will become a shade darker once you pull them out of the oil.
  • Once cooked, drain them on an absorbent paper.
  • Fry all of them and let them cool down.
  • Store them in an airtight container.
  • You can sprinkle a little bit of black salt/bit noon/kala namak while eating.


Vegetable chop-ped, the Bengali way or may be Bhejittebil chop

DSC_0315I almost forgot about the glorious Bengali evening snacking ritual of chop-muri (deep-fried croquettes and puffed rice) until my parents came to the US last month. My evening snack is pretty much limited to the yogurt-fruits-fruits-yogurt routine. In West Bengal, my home state in India, it was a completely different story, at least when I lived there. I would love to believe that this is still true, so the rapid change in snacking style from chop-muri at the local choper dokan (roadside tea stall) to falafel at the latest Western-style coffee shop is very upsetting for me. I know societies change and I should accept it, but it still upsets me. In my heart of hearts, I still hope that for many years to come, as the sun sets on my native Chandernagore, chop-muri finds its way into many home and the saucepan sits on the stove ready for the daily ritual of watching horrendously trashy, ill-produced and overdramatized Bengali serials before dinner.

The chop in West Bengal can come in a hundred different flavors, a few of which will be sold by every roadside choper dokan (chop shop).). There is a specific way of eating chop muri…you take a handful of muri, throw it in upwards into your mouth from a distance, bite into a green chili and then eat a small portion of your chop. Then, with your cheeks swollen with all of these, you start chewing with a vengeance. At first you can barely move your mouth. Then quickly the airy puffed rice vanishes and you are ready for your second portion. It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it’s not a dainty affair either.

The vendor sells the chops in a thonga (packets made out of old newspaper) and by the time they reach home, the packets have a typical oil-soaked look. The oil (actually dalda or vegetable shortening, pure saturated fat in case you were wondering) used to fry the chops is at least a couple of days old and almost black but still the chops came out super tasty. You can try cutting down on the carbs and fats some other time…but not while eating chop muri.


My favorite chopper dokan food was singara (Bengali samosas) and then a few others tied closely for second. These were machher chop, bhejitebil chop and deemer chop (chop made with fish, vegetables and eggs, respectively). Although samosas have gained a prominent spot in Western culture, other chops didn’t quite make it. I really wish they did. Vegetable chops are best in winter when beets (or beet root, as Bengalis call it), carrots and peas are in season. Peanuts are mixed in to add a little bit of bite to the vegetables. This chop is supposed to be slightly sweet in taste with a crispy shell outside. Below is my mother’s vegetable chop recipe which is pretty close to the one from the roadside shops. Muri and green chillies can be found in your local Indian store.



Here I am again with my Maa’s recipe and without any measurement. If I ask Maa for proportion, she will say “Oshab janina…chhobi tobi tolar dorkar nei…khaa toh” (I don’t know all these, you don’t need to take a picture, just eat it). So, no table spoon or tea spoon here…just eye ball it. J All she could say is, she used 2 large beet roots, two smallish potato and four small carrots. Peas are optional.


Vegetables: Beet root, carrots and potato.

Spices: Roasted and ground together: Cumin, coriander, red chili, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

To make a paste or grated: Ginger

Turmeric powder


Green chilies

Raw peanuts

Cilantro (optional)

To fry:

Bread crumbs


Baking powder

Oil for deep frying


  • Peel and boil the vegetables. Do not over-boil them…they will be super mushy.
  • Drain and let them cool. Mash them together and try to make a smooth dough sort of thing.
  • Add everything above ‘to fry’ list. Mix well. My mother cooks the mixture on the stove top for a while just to make sure there is no extra moisture left (but this is optional).
  • Form balls or any other shape you like.
  • Make a batter with the cornstarch. Add a pinch of baking powder to it.
  • Dip the vegetable balls into it, coat nicely and roll them over the breadcrumbs.
  • Finish making all the balls.
  • Start heating up enough oil to deep fry the balls. You can start the oil while making the balls.
  • Deep fry them. Do not over crowd the pan while frying.
  • Once they are medium-darkish brown color, take them out and drain them on absorbent paper.
  • Enjoy them with puffed rice/mamra or Muri or just itself.DSC_0317

Please let me know if you do not understand anything in the recipe. Again, the whole thing happened on my absence, so no first hand knowledge. If you need any other information, I’ll try to get it from my Mother.