It’s Your Day, MLK

In the post below, I shared a video. It’s four minutes of your time. It’s from nearly 45 years ago. What is said in those four minutes remains pressingly real and relevant today. Below a sampling, all quotes belonging to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In November 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a “sold out” address at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I graduated from this university twice, I work there today and I live in its hometown.

“The problem of economic depravation is a serious problem, it may be the most serious problem that the Negro confronts. We know that there must be basic economic reforms and we know that there must be political actions or political reforms to bring about this economic reform. We do need a lifting of the minimum wage to at least $1.75 an hour … and also legislation to develop massive public works programs to deal with the problem of unemployment …”

Milwaukee’s central city has a jobless rate of 50 percent. Milwaukee Public Schools finds that 80 percent of its 80,000 students live at or below the federal poverty line. Two years ago, the State of Wisconsin sent an $810 million high-speed rail project packing. To other states. The potential for more than 4,700 family-supporting jobs across the state went with it. An international transportation company that relocated in Milwaukee’s central city to manufacture and service the high-speed trains we contracted to build shut down nearly its entire north-side Milwaukee operation in late 2012.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, America. Happy Inauguration Day, too. We have so much work to do. Recipes return tomorrow. Forward.

Dr. King in Milwaukee 1965


“India Is”

So maybe I lured you here under false pretenses. Maybe I’m no kind of cook, just a mom with a dayjob and a desktop folder stuffed with navel-gazing meditations on life and death and what consumes all the time in between: parenthood.

Does it matter, so long as I make you a tasty meal now and again?

Without further ado, I introduce a poem I wrote for you.


When you drink chai for a week like it’s water.

One day your mami tells you: “Buffalo Milk. Buffalo milk. No cow.”

Every syllable is a proclamation. She needs you to know this.

How many calories of chai? You wonder.

India is a hotel room where they don’t change the sheets.

Two towels more, you smile your best American smile. Please?

When the toilet paper is gone, and room service: They won’t give you more.

Moments like this – and art projects – reveal the versatility of cardboard tubes.

India is your Dadi Ma. Old enough to be married at 14,

but too old to remember her mother; passed in her third childbirth, aged 19.

You are just beginning to become old.

When grandchildren come to visit in between trips to Trivandrum and Muderai, Kodaikanal and Bangalore, Dadi Ma is:

  • a stop between hill stations.
  • A hello and goodbye.
  • A swirl of hair that can hardly hold itself together. Knotted low on a brown neck still straight and proud.
  • A language your children can’t understand.

India is language. Dozens of them,

When the Gujarati clan from Dubai won’t believe you speak none of them.

“Just a little they ask?” coming closer in the pool, drawn to broken Gujarati

like moviegoers at the multiplex.

When you’re shy for reasons that are not the blue bathing suit,

the closing semi-circle of women and men in water, the sunburned shoulders popping freckles as you stammer.

“Pani, upara, beta, came cho, eka minata, dudha,” you break down in a string of baby talk.

It sounds like: “Water up darling, how are you? One minute milk.”

In retrospect, that’s a sentence.

India is mosque, temple, church, mosque, mosque, church, Virgin Mary, Ganesh on every dashboard. Diamonds for sale next to the cool bar selling pepsi and potato chips that is next to the ladies on the corner. They sell fishes wrapped in newspaper.

India is so rich, except when it is so poor.

When you are at your worst is when the children find you. Draw to skin that burns and freckles, clothes cut low, T-shirts that hug. Americans, they will find you.

Tell them “no.” Walk away. No rupees for you today.

Your daughter sees them better.

“Why do so many moms ask you for money, but you won’t even look at them?”

India is where she sees you more clearly, too.

Under the smog of Mumbai and in the sea of Trivandrum.

Over the wall of languages waiting to be climbed every hour. Dog fight at midnight!

A chorus of frogs for when it gets quiet.

India is a place to see past the noise. Listen.


Angry Cat in a Glitter Collar

Tonight Chutney Challenged hosted a somewhat impromptu viewing party, focused around Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s State of the State address. I fantasized, briefly, about making ragda patties. Then I realized that would be a crazy-making amount of work on one night’s notice. I decided on bhel puri. I decided on this over pizza because while my record-low blog readership hasn’t generated much buzz about my trial run as America’s Next Chaat Chef, my big mouth has. Once a few friends know you make “Indian food” no Pizza Hut kajillion calorie $12.99 special will do.

So I made bhel puri with a new mix, pictured below. I whipped up some green chutney, chopped the cilantro, onion, tomato, diluted the tamarind chutney with lime juice and a bit of water. Then it was showtime.

Let me tell you, the speech was a bunch of warmed-over talking points about tools, mining jobs, budget cuts and cheap digs at Washington D.C. and “the federal level.” If you want a more detailed analysis of the address please give me a day or so but, really, I can’t promise you anything.

But the bhel puri was a winnah!!! I think it was the new mix and my total commitment to super-saucing the bhel. I added lots of chutney. That bowl of puffed rice and chaana glistened and hissed at me like a mildly angry cat in a glitter collar. Bhel puri has never spoken to me like that before.

The gals on the couch were ready for a second bowl of bhel before Scott Walker could even say “our reforms are working.” Also, those reforms are not working. Actually, they are not reforms. More like taking money from school kids, or taking tamarind chutney from bhel puri.

Jasmine and Jennifer, thanks for your insight, friendship, expertise and late-night edits these last two years. To Maria, who came late, I commend you for line-of-the-evening, delivered as you politely declined a bowl of bhel: “No thanks. People think because I’m Mexican I eat cilantro and salsa and all that, but I don’t.”

That’s the best “no” I’ve heard in a while.


This is the bhel mix I’ve been waiting for.

America’s Chaat Chef

Well, it’s over. The Packer’s season, the sev puri, the illusion that everyone everywhere is delighted to have freshly made chaat in abundant supply in their kitchen. Sometimes chaat is too much: onion, spice, chutney, crunchy things you can’t pronounce. As America’s Chhat Chef, you also don’t do yourself any favors arriving after kickoff and serving sev puri after everyone has eaten dinner. Lessons learned, universe!

Chutney Challenged commendations do go out to my onion-averse friend for trying a bite of sev puri and to her sister, who went all-in on a full piece (that’s one “biscuit,” with all the toppings) of dahi puri (that’s sev puri, topped with a dollop of yoghurt). Thank you for being there for Chutney Challenged, Anne and Ellen.


Dahi puri on a platter. I think maybe I used too much dahi and not enough sev.

Soon enough I will post a recipe. It will be located in a clearly marked blogpost titled something like:




Which one do you like?

After Saturday’s sev-puri situation, I sevved face (good time to be reminded, sev sounds like “save”) by inviting over two other friends. Together we ate 5-6 biscuits, each.

And that’s how sev puri should go down.

Chit chaat

I admit it. I have been lazy, American, uninterested these last ten years. 

Hindi and Gujarati words have driven dialogue and dining menus in my home for the last ten years. “Puri” “pani” “chaat” “mehti” “asafoetida””ghatia” “dahi” have been part and parcel of family conversations, but I am only just now trying to appreciate these words, understand how they fit together, meld them into menus through my own two hands.

This is the kind of revelation that belongs at the beginning of a blog, but here we go, better late than never. We are making chaat. This just dawned on meMumbai street food is not a bad, slangy shorthand for these street-corner delicacies. But when you’re googling recipes, buying groceries and talking up your kitchen endeavors, it’s good to know that this is chaat, many things are chaat, and the vocabulary, texture and flavors of chaat are to some degree interchangeable.


Chaat. It has its own masala, its own vocabulary. Its own blogs! Here it’s seen with chutney, raw vatana, sev, red chili powder and banana chips.


So you’ve had bhel puri. It’s a chaat. You’ll recognize the mint and tamarind chutneys of bhel puri and ragda patties in subsequent chaat recipes. In a few hours, I’ll be boiling potatoes and dicing tomatoes for  sev puri. It’s primary difference from other puri-based chaats? Sev, and lots and lots of it. The potatoes can be dressed on their own, or joined with chickpeas as the sev puri base. From what I can tell, top the concoction with “curd” (that’s plain yoghurt) and it becomes dahi puri. 

But no need to take my word for it! Here’s some chaat chat from the experts at wikipedia:

I will leave you for now. My dad is here. He says he won’t read my blog. He’s not much of an “internet reader,” so I understand. So I’m going to make him sample the new mint-coriander chutney recipe I blended up last night. Chutney recipes. I need to post those. After trying to make it on my own with a coriander-only recipe, I have got to say it: use the mint. Recipes to follow. Sooner. Maybe later.

Ragda: The Final Chapter

Mealtime in Madurai

My last time eating ragda patties was a delicious and miserable affair. It was a Friday night in November 2012 and Tamil Nadu state was in the grip of its worst mosquito season in decades. Dengue Fever was setting new fatality records. I had just been denied bowling and alcohol privileges at Vishal de Mall, a shopping mall in Madurai. I am from Milwaukee, where bowling and beer are birthright. To be denied either at the age of 34 is a shock, a wound. A minor identity crisis. To say nothing of the fact that I was not served an irish coffee because, as the clerk explained, “we don’t serve ladies.” Now I am a lot of things, but ladylike has never been one of them.


Vishal de Mall, where things started to get weird.

With these defeats and 63 mosquito bites fresh on the mind and body, I arrived for family dinner at 8 p.m. Ragda Patties were on the menu and the scheduled blackout would dim the lights by 9. No time to waste.

At this point, I knew that India had invaded my GI tract, but not before I had enjoyed dietary riches beyond anything you’ve read about here at Chutney Challenged: meen pollichathu and lobster curry in Kerala; veggie sandwiches with paper-thin cucumbers, shaved tomatoes and deep-emerald chutney at Cafe Mysore on King’s Circle; steaming steel cups of strong sweet coffee at Cafe Madras.


Veggie sandwich at Cafe Mysore.

I knew that the 48-hour flu was coming for me whether I ate the ragda patties or I did not. So I went for it. Reluctantly, I ate the ragda, savoring its thick potato patties. I could still appreciate how the thin crispy sev perched atop the pea curry crackles in your mouth gently, like paper. The zip of tamarind chutney! I suffered through every bite of this deliciousness, and vowed I would soon experience a ragda re-do.

Two hours later I was in the depths of 48-hour illness. If that’s the kind of thing you want to read about, head over to Al Roker’s blog. Immediately. And do not come back to Chutney Challenged.

Mealtime in Milwaukee

Do-over time began Dec. 30, 2012. I headed to Best Foods on 13th St. for vatana, whole mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilies. There were no chilies. The fresh produce is stocked in plastic tupperware bins and baskets, like what you keep stage makeup in for the big fall musical. I combed through the dregs of chiles with another woman – our nails scratching the plastic. No chili was too small, but many were too moldy. I grabbed two bottles of tamarind chutney and put them both in my reusable tote bag, except for the one that landed all over the floor. Silently a gentleman who had tired of me on my first visit to the store began mopping the sweet brown slop-pile. I remember our first interaction. I asked him, “Where are the spices located?” He responded: “So many spices. Everywhere.” We would need to work on our relationship. In the meantime, Ragda do-over day was off to an inauspicious start.

At Target I bought the last remaining pressure cooker, one that had been ripped open and its pieces exposed. Everything seemed to be there. I brusquely negotiated a thirty percent discount for the inconvenience, then lost the essential tiny metal valve trekking back to my minivan. There were three pressure cookers left at the Target in Waukesha but none in Milwaukee. Time was running out. I desperately googled and recipe-checked “making vatana” and “no pressure cooker.” No way; not even possible. My husband called Best Foods and confirmed, in his most proper Gujarati, that several pressure cookers were on their shelves. I stopped the weeping and futile googling. Ragda do-over 2012 was back on, bitches.

The Reviews

The ragda got made, just in time for a 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve party. Folks seemed to like it, but here’s the thing: no one requested seconds.No matter how many good friends tell you they like your culinary offerings, nothing proves their approval like a second serving. Perhaps it wasn’t served hot enough. Maybe the red-hot chilies I used to fill in for the missing greenies were too hot. Did they all have the stomach flu, now? I was having fun, I was proud of my radga patties, but I was confused.


Ragda patties om corningware, an aerial view.

The next day I texted a neighbor and old friend of the family from university. He is a middle-school principal, so if anyone was going to break it to me straight about my ragda, it was Principal M. Also, he had been part of my December bhel puri party. He had perspective.

Hours later my husband and Principal M. were seated on my couch watching the Rose Bowl. Our kids were crunching legos in the playroom. I was anxiously reheating left over patties on the waffle griddle. More onions were diced, more cilantro was chopped. I made sure the ragda and patties were piping hot. Cold corona was served. Then out came the ragda.

They liked it. They had seconds. Photos were taken and comparisons were made. Principal M. said I am now on his list of “Top Three Friends Who Can Cook,” just on the strength of my ragda do-over. And the guy in his first place can make dinner for 200 bikers at 7 a.m. of a 24-hour urban bike race. I’ll take it.


Mr. Chutney Challenged, man of the hour.

Oh, and my husband liked it. He said it’s as good as his mom’s ragda patties, or maybe he said mine were better? Really mom, I can’t remember what he exactly said. So he’s the star of this blog post for 1. Getting me a new, functional pressure cooker just hours before show time 2. Giving me my best compliment yet as the blogstress of Chutney Challenged.

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