A Weekend in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh

A fresh haul of ber fruit

My intense feelings for India have definitely been born out of an intense relationship with the food – whether it’s eating  the incredible street food, developing new India-inspired recipes  for Mint readers, or simply experimenting in the kitchen with the extraordinary variety of ingredients available here.

But I definitely feel the closest connection with the country which has been our home for over 5 years when someone invites me into the family kitchen. To have access to recipes passed down through generations, prepared with love and confidence is a great privilege.  This is the food people crave when they’re away from home, made to comfort and reassure – food that is rarely found in restaurants or cookbooks.  These recipes are among my most treasured – the culinary equivalent of making off with the family silver.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a wonderful long weekend in a town called Sagar, or Saugor, in Madhya Pradesh –  the true heartland of India.  I was visiting the family of my friend Nita, staying in the beautiful  sixties house where she grew up (complete with Enid Blyton bedside reading). We were there for the annual memorial lecture in honour of Nita’s father but we also found plenty of time for sightseeing, eating and cooking.

I’m enormously grateful to Nita’s mum Meena, who, along with cooks Ram Naresh, Rajesh and Suman,  put up with me clicking away and asking all sorts of daft questions.

Meena and Suman

milk from the dairy

vegetables fresh from the garden

Meena’s kitchen is a traditional vegetarian one where the flavours of the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat all come together.  It was a joy  to watch the timeless rituals –  pails of milk are brought in from the family’s dairy every morning, butter churning and yogurt making –  to taste so many new dishes and learn enough to fill about 20 posts here.

Sagar itself was also a wonderful discovery  – three hours drive south of Bhopal, it’s well and truly off the tourist track.  A major university and army cantonment town, Sagar also was the exact centre of undivided India. The town now sprawls prettily around a lake fringed with temples. Some of the old town is so beautiful I wanted to rush around with a preservation order to stop the inevitable blight of new concrete monstrosities.

But, as always for me, the food was the main attraction.  I met  new ingredients (like chiraunji which tastes a little like pine nuts), learned new techniques  and scribbled down so much I don’t really know when I’ll find the time to blog it all. I learned how to make two types of  Laddoos, Besan and Semolina/Coconut, for which  ordinary sugar has to have some of the moisture removed.

I ate sensational namkeen (fried snacks) made from sago as well as learning how to make Khasta Namkeen.  I watched Meena make shrikhand and sampled some Gujarati delicacies brought by some other house guests, including a wonderfully addictive mango chutney and an unusual bread called Debra


There was a snack called Bakarwadi


But today I’m going to give you a dish that I’m already totally addicted to – Poha. This is a simple, soothing  rice and pea dish softly spiced with green chillies and fresh coriander, then sent soaring with lemon and chutney

Poha is eaten (devoured in my case) with namkeen (as if I really needed any more opportunities to eat deep fried snacks!). As with most Indian home cooking, recipes for poha vary from family to family.  This is Nita’s family recipe as made by  Rajesh – many thanks to him for taking the time to explain everything so patiently.


Serves 2


1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

pinch hing (asafoetida)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 small green chillies

1 onion, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

1 katori (small metal bowl used for measuring – you could also use a cup measurement) of pressed rice (poha), rinsed

2 handfuls of fresh peas

juice of 1 small lemon (nimbu)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan then add mustard seeds, hing, turmeric and whole green chillies.  Stir for a moment or two. Add the onion and peas with a tablespoon of water then fry till the onions are starting to brown.

Add the red chilli and salt and give it a good stir.

Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes until the rice is cooked and starting to catch and brown on the bottom of the pan – the slight crustiness is delicious.  Stir in the lemon juice and coriander, adding more of the flavourings to taste.

Serve with namkeen and frothy coffee, some Gugarati Chunda chutney too if you can find it – heavenly.

I have a feeling  Poha is well on its way to becoming one of my family favourites.








Food ‘moments’ and why I can never leave India

A few months ago, Dean and I spent some lovely times in Old Delhi introducing American food writer Joe Ray to the wonders of Delhi street food.  Joe was a charming companion and enthusiastic devourer of  everything we put his way.

We worked our way through chaat, jalebis, japani samose, fruit sandwiches and a vegetarian thali at Adarsh Bhojanalaya.  But it was while we were polishing off korma at Ashok and Ashok in Sadar Bazaar that Joe confessed  he was ‘having a moment’. Dean, too, looked distinctly emotional as he savoured the melting meat curry. We all agreed it was one of the finest meals we’d eaten for some time.

Joe’s  lovely article  about his time in Old Delhi appeared in the Boston Globe yesterday and while I was reading it I started thinking about  the moment when my eating life was transformed by Indian street food.

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Monsoon Breakfast in Sitaram Bazaar

Breakfast time at Ram Swaroop

Well folks it’s been a while! I seem to have been so busy since we got back from the mountains that I just haven’t been able to apply myself to the serious business of street food.

Good to see that some things never change, though – like my fondness for the Hipstamatic app on my iphone (as per above photo).  Is it just me or is it really cool?

Something else that never changes is the Eating Out in Delhi gang’s dedication to gorging in the gullies. And certainly no-one could ever call us  fair weather foodies.  This was the scene when when 15 of us stepped out of Chawri Bazaar metro station last Sunday.  By the way, as of last Friday I now have a metro station on my doorstep with a direct line into Old Delhi. Top Kebabs and Kheer now minutes away at all times!

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Leaving Kullu Valley

Well, I’m being a very lazy blogger these days.  And although, it might look as if I’m on an  extended holiday,  basking in the sweet cool air of Kullu Valley, I’m actually very busy reflecting, mulling and cogitating – honest!

Every July we leave sweaty old Delhi behind and retreat to  a little cottage in an orchard   –  we stay for a month and wish it could be longer.  Our fried brains cool down and start to think clearly again; we cook, read, walk and play games.

We venture into Manali a couple of times a week to stock up or eat out but mostly just let village rhythms take over.

We do a lot of daydreaming and one of tour most frequent fantasies involves escaping the city permanently for a far-flung  Himalayan village – you know the kind of thing…

Wouldn’t it be nice to live the simple country life ?

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Happy New Year From Tamil Nadu

Happy New Year to everyone!

We’ve just spent a week on the Coramandel Coast in southern India. I had intended  to be blogging  madly about South Indian dishes but we just couldn’t stop eating the fabulous beef – most notably at Nautilus Restaurant in Mamalapurram where we all ate Steak Frites for 4 nights running (their calamari was also excellent), but also at Le Club in Pondicherry.  We also loved the authentic baguettes and pastries at Baker Street in Pondicherry – close your eyes and you’re in Place Vendome!

I snapped these candy floss vendors on the beach front at Pondicherry – the pink looked so dramatic over the last of the monsoon skies.

Floating Vegetable Market on Dal Lake

Flower Stall

No-one seemed to know why the floating market on Srinagar’s Dal Lake starts before dawn, the proverbial darkest hour, a time of  uneasy minds and bleak thoughts. My own first thought when the boatman came hammering at the door of our houseboat the other morning was “this is madness, leave me alone, no way! and wondered how many other potential customers regularly decided to give it a miss.

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Blowout Sundays: Himalayan Sports Club

At the flour mill - the door to hell

At the flour mill - the door to hell

I’m living with a caveman and although I’ve yet to be dragged back to the cave by my hair, for the past few months my husband has been avoiding carbs, eating huge quantities of meat and exercising in furious bursts as if being pursued by wild animals.  It looks more like New-Man Yoga to me, but he insists he’s remaining true to his primitive man credo and in the process turning his body into a temple as he eschews sugar in all forms.

Perhaps I’m a bit unreconstructed myself, but personally I think it’s no bad thing for a man to look plumped up on his wife’s pies and cakes, but the Caveman has other ideas.  He’s been on a mission to get back to his pre-marriage sylph-like self and convince the rest of us that mashed potato is the devil’s work.
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Good Morning Batahar: Photos From Kullu Valley

Today, a snap of our Ambassador, with Caveman at the wheel, squeezing over the tiny bridge that connects us to the rest of the world.

Amby on the Bridge