Chutney for Children

The day after Code Red, I co-presented with my daughter on the subject of “India.” I had hoped for one hour twice weekly until the end of the school year to address the country fully and properly. I know about .00018 percent of the total story behind India, and hours would be needed to extract all that info for the younger generation. The teacher gave me 45 minutes.

I prepped a special batch of chutney for the children, using 1.5 chilies instead of the usual 3-4. I brought some chips. I brought “Tinkle,” which my kids devoured when they were abroad. Many copies came home in their carry-on.

The presentation began immediately after lunch, so one can imagine things were a little crazy. I quickly realized my Powerpoint “India: A small report on a giant culture,” would have to be shelved in favor of a Q&A-style format. NO, I would not be comparing literacy rates of boys and girls in India and reminding my daughter’s class how lucky they were to be receiving a free, high-quality public education that is mandatory and does not discriminate.

Despite a major improvement in literacy rates in India over the past decade, the number of children who are not in school remains high.  Gender disparities in education persist with far more girls than boys failing to complete primary school.

The national literacy rate of girls over seven years is 54% against 75% for boys.  In the Northern Hindi-speaking states of India, girls literacy rates are particularly low, ranging between 33 – 50%.

–UNICEF, Girl Star Project

Instead, my daughter and I began to share anecdotes about our time in India – sprinkled with a few random facts. The best question came in response to a story about monkey aggression on Elephanta Island. Within our first few moments there, just where you set off to mount the dozens of wide shallow steps to the caves, a monkey jumped down in my front of my astonished second son. She grazed his chest lightly with her paw as she landed in front of him. We all were stunned, him especially. He dropped his defenses. His muscles slackened. The monkey struck again, grabbing his lemonade and jumping back into her green canopy. She took greedy pulls of lemonade in the trees. She did not even look at us. This was strictly a business decision on her part.

After our classroom presentation was over, a little girl came up to me. She looked worried. “How did your son get his lemonade back?”

Since there’s no fooling smart young kids, especially the day after a Code Red, I took the honest approach: “When a monkey takes your lemonade, you don’t get it back. She drank it all.”

After that we began a taste test. Small steel dishes were places at every table. The teachers scooped out banana and pita chips onto sheets of paper towel. The kids looked wary of the pulpy emerald mixture. I heard some “what is that?” But they got down to business ASAP.

At a couple tables, the chutney went fast. Refills were requested. I was surprised. Then I wasn’t. “This is nasty!” pronounced one girl. I appreciated that she was able to tell me to my face, with a smile. No backstabbing about it.

“Mom-lecture mode” was activated.

“I can understand that you might not like how chutney tastes. It’s a very different taste, and some of my kids don’t like it, either. But a word like ‘nasty’ is not the nicest way to tell someone you don’t like their cooking. What’s another way to let me know what you think of the chutney?”

The student was unperturbed. This was a friendly conversation. We were all learners in that room.

“Um. I don’t like this?”

“Yes, that sounds a lot nicer than ‘nasty.'”

We parted as friends. She liked the pita chips and gave me a parting “thank you” hug.

I hoped to swipe a few calories of chutney myself, but by the end of our 45-minute whirlwind tour of India … the chips were gone. I vowed to make myself a grilled-cheese and chutney sandwich with Granny Smith apples just as soon as I could. I packed up the Tinkles and the chutney, stashed our roll-up map of India back in the brown paper bag. I walked out of the school, handing in my visitor’s badge on the way out. The door thudded shut behind me.

Happy Valentine’s Dal

In my husband’s family there are many cooks. My MIL is one of them. My aunt-in-law is another. She lives in suburban Columbus and if you ever are lucky enough to be invited there for a meal, please clear your calendar. Over the course of four to five hours so much food will be presented to you — from frothy hand-whipped coffees and gently fried, spiced chicken to vegetarian nachos and omelets. If you’re from Senegal, there might be lamb. If you’re my husband, you love her rotli dal bhath shaak. If your child is a picky eater, there will be fresh steamed green beans prepared instantly, instead of making that poor child eat shaak. Tins of cookies are in the house somewhere. Ice cream is in the freezer. Everything is made in real time, while you are there. Please clear your calendar.

I can’t even remember what Indian delicacies kaki makes because I always am overwhelmed by the multinational feasts she prepares. And usually I am so worn out by the 8-10 hour drive from Milwaukee to Columbus that I do not pay a damn bit of attention to how the food is made. Sorry. I said damn. It’ll happen again.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Those football lentils in my hand transform into a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin and protein-rich stew in just 30 minutes.

Meet My Cousin

Thank goodness for her daughter,  beloved cousin and blogger Foodie Brooklyn Mom. She is slowly going through her mom’s mental archive of recipes and translating them into written form for those of us who lack a certain ability to read minds and memorize forty years of cooking at this point in our brain’s slow deterioration toward middle age. You may recall an earlier conversation about chutney, how I was feeling unimpressed by the cilantro-dominant blends I was putting together in my kitchen. I wanted to add mint and see what this could do for the green. My cousin had posted a recipe that features a simple 2:1 cilantro to mint ratio and a few other ingredients. I have modified it slightly, and it’s working out great. Allergic friends reading this recipe, I don’t always use the tree nuts. Like when you come over.

Tonight I dashed out to the Best Foods with my daughter in crime to buy some lentils and try another of my cousin’s recipes: dal and rice. It’s a staple. In South Asia its popularity permeates borders. Sri Lanka, north and south India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal: everywhere they eat dal. “Dal” is the basic word for lentil, of which there are many kinds. What you eat with the lentil (vegetables, rice or roti?) is influenced by where in South Asia you’re eating. We’re Gujarati, so it’s rice and dal.

Lentils Red Football

I panicked for a moment in the aisle of lentils. The recipe said “red lentils,” but did that mean split or whole? After a few missteps with mustard seed, I now think that unless the recipe says “crushed,” you buy crushable ingredients in their whole form. Delightfully, this meant walking out of the store with a bag of masoor dal, discreetly parenthesized on the package as “LENTILS RED FOOTBALL.” From now on it’s Football Dal to me. Despite a lapse in planning that left me without any coriander seeds, the recipe turned out okay. Good, even, although I may bump up the spice from two chilies to three and amplify the ginger/garlic blend. But Valentine’s Dal was a bust for the rest of the family.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Mansoor is the lentil's proper name.

Football dal & rice with garnish. Masoor is the lentil’s proper name.

“Not all kids like Indian food,” said the Indian kid who had helped me pick out chilies just 90 minutes earlier.

“I don’t like dal, but it definitely smells like Indian food in here,” said my husband.

I expect little in the way of responsiveness-to-new-foods from my sons, and they delivered. They said: nothing.

I’m the best mom ever

We ended the evening with some marathon Valentine making. Glue, cue tips, posterboard, fiber paper, sharpies, regular and textured scissors. It was ON. Twenty-five valentines later my daughter said: “You’re the best mom ever.” I know she meant this barely and briefly. Tomorrow I will be the  ______ who won’t let her wear a striped rugby shirt on top of a striped polo shirt with Packer sweat pants. But at 8:41 p.m. I was the best mom ever. And I made Football Dal and rice.

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?

For dessert we made Valentines. Be mine?

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.


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