Thai Prawn Salad at The Purobeach Conrad and Icelollies refreshing summer dessert without added sugar

Thai Prawn Salad ©

Thai Prawn Salad ©

A Blog is like a fantasy lover- like the one you read about in fairy tales and that is why I love to have it in my life….however long I stay away from it, it waits for me to come back and then when I finally do, it looks back at me, as if to ask – so where have you been, love? I just look to the left and then to the  right, too vain to deliver an apology but all ready to pick the pieces, to start afresh and keep this love affair going  – I love you blog, all I need to do is write you and you will stay mine. So let me tell you bits of what all transpired since…Here goes-

I actually grew up  very nonathletic, my natural tendency had been to hit the couch and do whatever required the least physicality, but past few months have been the most active that I have ever been, with regular training from September 2013 to Jan 2014 with two fabulous running clubs here – The Dubai Striders and Dubai Road Runners, I ran my first half marathon at the Yas Island in AbuDhabi followed by my first full marathon in Dubai this January. I have been swimming regularly and have recently joined stroke improvement lessons with Hamilton Aquatics. So I am doubly certain now of the fact that what you eat, determines how you feel and how active your body and brain want and allow you to be. I have also been playing tennis so you can see why this couch potato is so happy and not so apologetic.

I am also proud to say, that what started off as a diet in November 2012 has transformed the way I view food and the way I eat, eating real, healthy, natural food  is now more of a lifestyle rather than a time bound diet. What this does – is that it helps me to maintain a healthy weight so that I can focus on building core strength, endurance and muscle rather than only thinking about losing weight.

Eating out has become tougher though, it is odd how the food in general has become so dependent on the three ingredients that make most restaurant food unpalatable because of being loaded with more harmful type of both carbs and fats, the three ingredients being- sugar (in all various aliases and avatars- sucrose, fructose, hi fructose corn syrup, dextrose etc etc) wheat (both whole and refined) and unhealthy fats (alias hydrogenated vegetable oils and unsaturated refined oils like soybean, sunflower, corn, canola etc. etc.)
But being rigid and pedantic is not how I wish to be, I do not wish to write off the pleasure of eating out from my life…so when I go out to eat instead of writing off everything as I don’t eat this and I don’t eat that, I talk to my servers and try to focus on relatively carb free recipes and ingredients that describe the dish and pick out those that minimize my three villains. I recently had a great experience tasting an amazing such dish- which the menu described as the ‘Thai Prawn salad’. Before I write more about this dish, let me tell you the story…

I work with Unilever and just last week we had a launch conference at the Conrad Hotel in Dubai, the starting time was in the middle of the afternoon and I got there totally famished as I hadn’t had lunch. The usual conference fare of cookies, croissants and pastries with tea and coffee were all lined up so I had to go get some ‘real’ lunch in one of the places there so me and two of my other colleagues headed to this poolside bar and restaurant called The Purobeach rightly subtitled as the Urban Oasis, despite being located in a buzzing Dubai business hotel, Purobeach has a tranquil tropical feel with overgrown plants, trees, small waterfalls in the pool and friendly tattooed waiters wearing wraparound pyjamas.

Scanning through the menu, my eyes rested on- ‘Thai Prawn Salad- Mixed Lettuce, sautéed prawns with curry, slices of coconut, spring onions, avocado, cherry tomatoes and mango chutney’. The ingredients sounded like heaven, so sipping on a Corona, soon I was waiting for my Thai Prawn salad that I must say was every bite delightful. The prawns were chargrilled (not sautéed) to perfection with flavors of creamy curried marinade and smoky chargrilling bringing out the happiness inside that can only come in the middle of such a workday afternoon, the salad was fresh and crunchy with a vinaigrette, mustard twang. The mango chutney was also lovely with a spicy sweetness. So Before leaving, I left a note for the chef thanking him for the delicious lunch and a request to teach me the art of crafting that very salad. I left my number on the note and guess what one afternoon I had a chance to cook the Thai Prawn Salad with the amazing Chef Ravi. Chef Ravi is from Chennai, he completed his Hotel management degree from India. He cooks a variety of different cuisines at the Conrad and likes to create fusion food. If you are in Dubai and are looking for a motivating beautiful lunch in the middle of a hectic work day stop by at The PuroBeach in Conrad and try the Thai Prawn Salad with a bottle of Corona!

A meal thoroughly enjoyed ©

A meal thoroughly enjoyed ©

I would have shared the lovely recipe, but I am sorry I cannot as this is a recipe from the restaurant, instead I am sharing my lip smacking slurpy ice lolly recipe from my book Accessory Recipes for Magical Mealtimes. My kids absolutely love it and I don’t mind it because it is without added synthetic sugars and bursting with Vitamin C and antioxidants so try it!

Strawberry and Blueberry Ice Lollies- Refreshing summer dessert

Ice lollies  devoid of synthetic sugars ©

Ice lollies devoid of synthetic sugars ©


for 14 servings of 32g each

250g Strawberries

1/2 cup frozen Blueberries

1/2 cup Pineapple juice

Wooden Ice Cream Stick and Ice Trays

Put the berries and the juice in a blender and blend till you get a smooth liquid. Pour the berry syrup in a clean ice tray. Let the trays rest in the freezer for half an hour. Take the trays out and stick the wooden sticks upright  in the center of each slush compartment. Freeze again.

Bring out icy slurps out whenever you the summer is overwhelming you.

Play with various ice shapes.

added fun without added sugars ©

added fun without added sugars ©


Lauki-Pistachio Caramel Barfi- Grain free, refined sugar free Diwali sweets/In conversation with Sanjeev Kapoor/ A few bits about health and vertical kebab iskanders

Lauki Pistachio Caramel Barfi

Lauki Pistachio Caramel Barfi

Ask for a name of a  chef in India,  I would be surprised if there are many answers other than the name of Sanjeev Kapoor, the face that a lot of us in India grew up watching on mom’s pet TV channel stirring-up yet another recipe. I had a chance to meet this timeless Indian chef just last week in Dubai. He was here to launch the new menu of his restaurant called Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor. My reasons for meeting him were actually led by a perception.

IMG_5757 IMG_5756

While growing up, when  I saw him on his TV show called Khana Khazana, he always seemed to have a few extra pounds on him however lately my perception of him was of that of a leaner and relatively fitter person.

vs. Sanjeev Kapoor

Sanjeev Kapoor

and so I thought it would be a good idea to meet him and find out what was his mantra to keep his energy levels and improve fitness levels  despite ageing and all the delicacies that he cooked. Was he also counting calories or did he have a secret card up his sleeve?

So I gushed at my chance- “We have seen you change, you have lost a lot of weight and you did stuff that was outside your comfort zone, I remember this dance show that you participated in on TV (yes, he did one). I personally believe that not just physical health but the will and the courage to try new things is somewhere related to how and what you eat. How do you translate your healthy eating habits in your recipes and what are your top tips to those food lovers who would like to stay lean and strong?” ( I have even written about this connection of food with improved will to move before).

My enthusiasm tanked when he said that he had not lost any weight! But what he said later was interesting… he said that your body is yours so the important thing is to know your body and listen to it. What suits you and what doesn’t, you need to know it, remember it and heed to it.

I agree with him wholeheartedly on this one. I think, all of us can name that one person, who seems to be able to eat anything that can be referred to as food, without gaining as much as an inch, while the others claim to count their breaths as they put anything in their mouths and still have bursting waistlines.

Why some people have a tendency to gain more weight, even if they eat the same food?

The difference in individual response to food stems from the difference in people’s Insulin resistance, a condition when our body becomes less responsive to the effects of insulin and starts to ask for more insulin to get the same job done (I.e. utilization of same amount of blood glucose). More insulin leads to increased hunger pangs and it also favors conversion of any excess sugar to body fat. Read more about this here.

However, I quickly steered the discussion away from health to ask him three culinary questions- two that I wanted to ask and the third that my sister wanted to ask.

My first question was – how to consistently get soft and juicy kebabs every single time even when cooked in an oven rather than on a charcoal grill or a tandoor? Those that are not hard and bland but always soft and juicy- what were his top tips?

My sister’s question was – How to turn egg recipes into vegetarian by substituting eggs?

My third question was about ideas for making some super healthy Diwali treats.

Some tenacious readers will find the answers quite helpful so here they go –

Continue reading

Calories- To Count or not to count- whatever you do Enjoy this hearty Butter Chicken recipe

By losing the inches (and more so by keeping them off me over the course of last year) I also lost two long held popular myths about food-

1. Counting Calories and consuming less of them is ‘the’ way to get ‘thin’

2. Eating fat makes you fatter.

Both the statements are actually pretty closely related but to put in highly simplistic terms. Let’s take this one at a time.

Firstly the bit about calories, by definition it is nothing but a unit of energy, so when the food is digested calories are released- Carbohydrates and proteins release less energy (about 3-4 kcal per gram) while fats release more (i.e. 9kcal per gram).

Thus the simple prevailing logic :

Increase in our fat mass = Energy consumed through food (calories) – Energy spent/used (also in calories)

and because of this above popular hypothesis we know that when we eat more we gain weight, also the belief that since burning more fat gives more calories, eating fat makes us fat.

I too used to believe every word of this popular belief till I chanced upon the Alternative Hypothesis which suggests that abnormal weight gain is actually a hormonal response to food that makes us store fat rather than burn it – abnormal weight gain is not just a function of the number of calories consumed. If we understand a bit more of this view, what it is essentially saying is that not just the calories but also where these calories come from is an important aspect of getting to a  healthier weight and body composition… The good news is that because it DOES matter what you eat, you can actually eat a lot more of some things without worrying about the calories therein.  You can read more about Alternative Hypothesis here on Dr Peter Attia’s super blog that I am an ardent reader and follower of.

In a nutshell, Body does not treat all calories consumed as equal, different nutrients go through different metabolic pathways and so are different in how the body responds to them (i.e. how we spend and store energy). Also what we eat has an impact on how much energy is burnt and our craving for  food later on. While overeating will cause you to gain weight, the fact is that certain foods make us want to overeat, more than what is required for a healthy metabolism and weight. If we avoid these foods we will not overeat and automatically begin to eat foods which prevent tendency to overeat and also foster fat burn rather than storage,

Coming to point #2 about fat. First of all dietary fat is not equal to body fat- we need to make this distinction. Secondly fat is a superior source of energy for the body that also helps in various important body functions; vitamin assimilation, normal hormone function, immunity, heat insulation, cell membrane integrity and survival are just a few of them. So neither body fat not dietary fat are bad, they have been demonized beyond reason and this has led to fat free/low fat boom that is coupled with the sugar boom. These two trends have what created the biggest malady of our times and surge of situations like

Effect of Sugars/Grains

Effect of Sugars/Grains

Eating proportionally higher amounts of fat and proteins and restricting carbohydrates such as grains and sugars to a bare minimum reduces the level of insulin required to be produced in the body to remove the excess glucose circulating in the blood stream. Insulin is the key hormone that makes the body store fat rather than utilize it. Eating excessive grains and sugars leads to our bodies producing increasing amounts of insulin which in turn makes the body more insulin resistant and needing more of it…Keeping us in the trap

Insulin-Fat Storage Trap

Insulin-Fat Storage Trap

Consuming Proteins and fats does not initiate the exaggerated insulin response and as a result lead to better satiety, we consume what we eat and do not tend to overeat, moreover the body which was at one point prioritizing burning blood sugar for energy needs start to use fat (both dietary and body) to fuel the energy needs leading us to lose the fat mass and improve the overall body composition. Fat also makes the food more palatable removing the need to add sugar to cover up for taste.

The no grain/sugar diet benefits even those with lifestyle related diabetes and blood sugar disorders against the popularly held myth that those with high blood sugar issues, need to eat (wholegrains) intermittently.

Our favorite Butter Chicken Recipe

Butter Chicken Recipe

Butter Chicken Recipe


Chicken Breast x 4- butterflied and flattened evenly

Cheddar cheese and butter  – both cut into 4 small batons

2 tbs chopped parsley and spring onion

Almond powder- 2 tbs seasoned with salt and pepper

1 Whisked egg

Salt and pepper to season.

For gravy

Ghee – 2 Tbs

Cumin powder- 1 tsp

Grated ginger- 1/2 tbs

200ml tomato puree

Fresh cream- 3/4 cup

Red chilli powder

Kasuri Methi leaves

Salt, black pepper, Garam masala and coriander leaves.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, sprinkle 1 tsp of spring onion and parsley mixture on top, put a baton of cheese and a baton of butter and fold the breast around to make little parcels, Dip the parcel into the egg mixture followed by the almond meal- repeat this one more time and then shallow fry in ghee in a small pan on high till browned on all sides. Wrap the parcels in a foil and bake on 200 degrees till the chicken is just tender on the inside. Remove and let cool on a wire rack (you could do this step in advance and store in the fridge for a quick curry later on) When cooled- cut the parcels into long strips.

For the gravy- Heat the ghee in a deep pan, add cumin powder, freshly grated ginger followed by the cooled chicken strips, coat and stir on high heat. Add the tomato puree followed by cream and let simmer. Add red chilli powder. Finally season with salt, black pepper, garam masala and kasuri methi. Sprinkle freshly chopped coriander (cilatro). Serve hot with rice for kids…and for yourself – go get a big spoon and ditch the rice.

Shakshuka and Sabih – Breakfast at Baker N Spice/ Shakshuka- My indian version


Shakshouka – an innovation on poached eggs

Usually I am unable to appreciate restaurant food from my heart, even if it is awesome to taste. Dubai offers delicious food options in almost every cuisine you could think of, the bit I stay dubious about is the quality of the ingredients that go into making this food, where do the ingredients come from and which oil did they use? Is it the hormone laden, pesticide showered, colorful plump stuff flown in from half way across the world because it looks good, tastes indistinguishable and the margins are great. However when I got an invite for a breakfast at Baker and Spice I heartily accepted. The  place is picky and known to source locally/regionally. Their philosophy is local, organic, fresh and homemade. What was delightful about the breakfast was that it was attended by the local Emirati farmers that supplied the vegetables and eggs that the breakfast was cooked with.

The food was set on a long table in the middle of the restaurant- buffet style and what I ate was, their version of popular Israeli street food that go by the name of Shakshuka and Sabih. The dishes were cooked just right, with fresh ingredients shining through and served the way they are supposed to be- i.e. the cooking pan straight onto the table. I could taste it with both my tongue and heart, I left promising myself to return sometime for other delights and meanwhile give the Shakshuka and Sabih a try at home with my own Indian touch.

You see delicious dips of labneh, olive oil, granola and apricot yogurt and pita breads (that I did not eat)

Sabih: Sweet chilies, eggs, tomatoes and aubergine in a delicious nutty tahini base

Sabih-Made with Sweet chilies, soft boiled eggs, tomatoes and aubergine in a delicious nutty tahini base usually filled inside freshly baked pita bread to eat

Eggs and particularly egg whites are a fabulous protein source infact as Dr Pierre Dukan says, in practice, other than egg whites, no food is pure protein. It is a great start to the day for everyone and today we cooked Indianised Shakshouka recipe for breakfast at home, this is how we made it.


Shakshouka-  The Indian Way

Shakshouka- The Indian Way

4 eggs
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp green chilies deseeded and chopped
1/2 tsp each on cumin powder, coriander powder, red chili powder, turmeric and garam masala
1/4 cup coconut milk- diluted with 1/4 cup water
1 table spoon tamarind paste
1 table spoon fresh green coriander chopped
salt to taste

Heat the oil and add to this the onions, as they start to glisten add the ginger, garlic and green chilies. Saute and add all spices except garam masala. Add the diluted coconut milk and the tamarind paste, mix in well and let simmer for 10 minutes. Blend in a blender to get a smooth gravy and return to fire. As it starts to simmer make wells inside gravy as it thickens and slide one egg each of these wells with whole yolks. Let the eggs poach in the gravy till the egg whites appear, while the yolks are still runny. Season with salt and fresh green coriander and take the pan straight to the breakfast table.

Homemade Thai Red Curry Paste- grain free diet and healthy fats- some more experiences

Thai Galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and red chillies

Thai Galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and red chillies

I took my elder son to a pediatrician the other morning, for a minor corn in his foot that had been bothering him, I also needed to check on his other growth parameters- his weight and height- as I wanted to know the effect of massive reduction in wheat consumption in kid’s diets. Throughout his growing years so far he has usually been:  average on the weight and just below average on the height when compared to the standard American growth charts for children- although below average kid’s heights have always been a concern for us, they were never a surprise  as both me and my husband are short  like our respective parents on both maternal and paternal sides.But surprise, surprise this time what we figured was that he had actually broken into the club of above average height children- he is 2 cm above the average height for his age at the moment. I am happy happy…and doubly charged. When it comes to weight- he does need to catch up on some good calories to make up to the average. And I still need to check how the younger one is faring

In my earlier post The mighty revered grains I talked about one of the changes in my diet, in the context of above, I now add the roll of fats in it. When it comes to effects of my dietary changes, I will not emphasize the 7 kilos I lost as that’s not as big a deal, a lot of people lose that in the first week on dukan.  What’s amazing to me is that not one day has passed in the past one month when someone has not asked me on how I did it or complimented me. The other day I went to a tailor an Iranian lady near my house, who though I was 23 and was shocked when I told her that I was more than a decade and a half over that. and had two kids. Losing weight makes you look younger, period. It does, no doubt but you need to make sure that you do not get wrinkles or look fatigued. While in dukan, fats are a complete no no and I now understand why- as put in layman terms when both carbohydrates and fats are absent in the diet, the body turns to its own stores of fats and utilizes them for its energy needs. Blood composition during dukan is as if you are eating a diet that is entirely made up of fats as the body uses stored fats as the main energy source and in turn makes you shed the flab.  Healthy fats are a superior energy source than carbohydrates from grains and this, I would imagine is what keeps away the adverse beauty effects that happen when you are on either a carb laden diet or on a low calorie diet devoid of fat and generally low on essential nutrients, the result is a feeling of constant fatigue, hunger and some short term weight loss that rebounds the moment you go off track. In the specific case of Dukan, because the diet is entirely made up of proteins and vegetables, it definitely gives you fantastic clear skin, nails and hair while you do not ever feel low or fatigued as you eat to your heart’s fill and never ever count calories. This post however is not meant to talk about dukan and beauty diets as I have been off dukan now for over a month, my weight has been stable to slightly lower than when I began eating normally again- by normal I now mean grain free and full fat (except for dairy- I still have skimmed dairy). Anyone looking to lose flab and extra body fat should stay away from dietary fat along with grain and tuberous carbs but once you’ve achieved the right body proportions and are in a happy space, there is no need to keep the healthy fats away as healthy fats have a great roll to play in our well being, taut beautiful skin and satiety. As I now understand, fats are as misunderstood a food group as are the grains. There are many posts, more posts and articles, that you can see, if you wish to get more juice on this. For now do check out a homemade Thai red curry paste I made using a combination of posts, a Thai cookbook I have at home and the ingredient list off a  grocery store brand that I had in my fridge. Upon tasting, we found that the homemade one was a clear winner with it’s fresh fragrant flavors instead of a bland sweetness that was there in the grocery store bought bottle.

To use the paste, once it’s made, fry two table spoons of it  in two tablespoons of coconut oil made fragrant with garlic slivers, and red bird eye chilly, throw in sliced lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and lastly the coconut milk to make a delicious gravy. What you choose to put in this gravy is totally up to you and your dietary preferences, I usually choose a good quality meat to add protein to the delicious healthy fats in the curry, kids love it with with brown rice made after overnight soaking and rinsing with added butter or with ghee appams/dosas.

Homemade Thai Red Curry Paste

Homemade Thai Red curry paste

Homemade Thai Red curry paste


8 dried red chillies

3 kaffir lime leaves

1 lemon grass stock sliced (white part only)

1 cm piece of galangal

8 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon chopped red onion

1 teaspoon dry shrimp paste

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon brown muscavado sugar or jaggery

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander roots and stems

1 teaspoon white pepper powder

1 inch fresh turmeric or a teaspoon of turmeric powder

Boil 1/4 cup water and soak red chillies, kaffir lime leaves and chopped lemon grass and galangal for an hour. Strain the water and blitz in a blender with garlic, onion and coriander roots. Add the sugar/jaggery crumble, the shrimp paste, fish sauce, and white pepper powder. Blend well and store in an airtight bottle in the refrigerator.

Chocolate chip & Coconut grain free cookies

Chocolate chip coconut grain free cookies

Chocolate chip coconut grain free cookies

The discovery of benefits of grain free eating was nothing short of serendipity for me. It all started as I’ve said before with the decision to go on the dukan diet early in November 2012, dukan is a tough road but i think i chugged along quite well and in the process discovered the benefits of not eating what I had eaten practically for my entire life so far.
There are numerous studies, personal blogs, even experiments that talk about various nutrition subjects-honestly as my friend Anja said, it would be virtually impossible to eat anything if you followed and trusted each one of them. But the effects of grain on health are such that I personally could not ignore pressing the delete button on them. In a nutshell, grains store phosphorous in the form of phytic acid in the bran part of the seed, the enzyme phytase, that is required to digest the grain is absent in humans and so the phosphorous or the nutrients as touted in whole grains, are actually biologically unavailable to humans (well unless part of your gene pool comes from a family of ruminants such as cows and camels), further the phytic acid molecules have unstable hydrogen linkages, that once inside human body latch on to other vital minerals (even those from other food sources) preventing them from being absorbed in our bodies. A wholegrain laden diet therefore is full of anti nutrients that lead to deficiencies and also general ill health and systemic inflammation. Refined Grains on the other are quickly broken down to sugar leading to insulin spikes and sugar/insulin overload of our system…wholegrain or refined – which one is lesser of an evil- is a topic that I am still trying to understand much better but one thing is clear to me- grains eaten in excess for kids spell shorter statures and not realizing their full physical development potential and for adults who can not utilize the sugar overload, it’s bloating, fullness, general malaise and faster ageing.
So the result of this, has been that as a mother and as a wife, I want to extend the grain free eating habit to my entire family. There comes the tough part, it is far tougher to eat low grain/grain free diet with kids than going on a pilgrimage in India. The onus is on me to come up with a menu that’s palatable, visually appealing and healthfully satisfactory.
I have a day job so time is always of essence, I have limited time to plan, shop for groceries, create recipes and wait for the ‘aha’ moment from especially my 7 year old elder son who is a chocolate loving, vegetable averse, sugar craving sweetheart.

Today is a friday, weekend here in the middle east so we experimented with couple of rounds of grain free baking, and this one recipe which I created finally got me my ‘aha moment’. I also replaced the white sugars with honey and organic jaggery or गुड़ that I buy from a local specialty Indian store here called ‘Al Adil Supermarket’, their jaggery is delicious and extremely soft and crumbly.


130g coconut powder
20g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 level teaspoon Bi carbonate of soda
60g butter
50g coconut oil
120g organic jaggery
1 free range beaten egg
3 tablespoons honey
60g dark chocolate chips
freshly grated coconut to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200 deg and place the baking sheet on the oven tray.
Meanwhile, sieve together the coconut powder, cocoa powder and the bi carb of soda and set aside.
Cream the butter, coconut oil and jaggery using a handheld blender so that the jaggery crumbles and mixes well.
Add the honey. Scrape down the walls of the bowl and slowly add in the whisked egg as you continue using the hand whisk. The mixture gets a beautiful caramel color.
Now fold in dry ingredients with the wet using a large metal spoon, keeping air in the mix. Mix just enough to get an even batter.
Now stir in the chocolate chips.
Spoon 4 cm high 1 tablespoon dollops on the baking sheet, keeping at least 3 inches of distance between them as the cookies tend to expand while baking.

You would bake for a maximum of 5-6 minutes keeping a watch as the base of the cookies can burn really fast, take out as soon as you see the base turning a darker brown and leave to cool on a wire mesh. Garnish with freshly grated coconut while the cookies are hot. The cookies will harden as they cool down.

Let me know if you too get an ‘aha moment’!

Homemade Appams from scratch and about the mighty revered grains!

Past 5 months have been quite a life changing experience for me. I find it incredible too but I can say without a doubt that I have never felt better-not only has the flab, the tires and even the indestructible orange peel aka cellulite melted away to reveal the real smooth taut underneath that my mum brought me in this world with but the energy, stamina and core strength are higher than when I was 19. Not only just physical, as if some biochemical changes happened internally- I am eager to overcome my fears and try new stuff. After 39 years of meekly and reluctantly waddling in the shallow, our swimming instructor yesterday adjudged my strokes as the best in my family of swimmers, My mile running times have been  scoring personal bests, my serve and backhand in tennis has finally fallen in place and I can now read Arabic! – I wanted to and did stuff that I never did before and I would start by saying that the only thing I did was that I changed the way I ate in the past 39 years of my life. Before I say what I did let me warn the die hard fans of long quoted balanced diets and FDA studies, Food pyramids and nutritionists that this is my experience and not based on any study done on thousands of subjects so don’t badger me there. Make up your own mind, my life is mine and yours is yours… If you’d still read on- Here’s one of the things that I did (there are several others but we’ll address those another time)-

1. Knocked off ‘revered grains’- I have been for years falling prey to the wholegrain mantra prescribed by FDA, nutritionists, eager food marketers, every text book taught in my school and most researches that you can probably google. The wheat, the rice, the corn- whole, milled, refined, all types except one that I continue to eat once in a while (and this post will cover that too)

I’ll not deny that I did not eat the vegetable oil soaked pooris and samosas on Diwali and the staple phulkas on our holiday to India and the buckwheat noodles on some meals out of home but largely knocked the grains out of my diet. Grains become fillers in our diet, so to overcome that initial mental desire,  i did eat Shirataki quite often – but I am not a great fan of these and have managed to stop these as well. Other than this for about first four of the 5 months I ate oat bran every morning- however personally I find them irritating to my gut so have stopped them now.

The only grain I continue to eat is rice-but only once it is soaked and fermented- studies say that soaking and fermentation improves the nutrient quality and drastically reduces the anti nutritional factors to safe levels however the reason I continued to eat them is I love fresh and hot appams we make at home-

Here’s how to make appams- crisp and brown on the outside and soft and yummy on the other…


For the batter

1 cup white kerala rice- soaked overnight

3/4 cup cooked white rice

1/4 cup coconut milk

1 tsp yeast mixed in 1/4th cup warm water and a pinch of sugar

1/2 cup laban (buttermilk)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp soda bi carbonate

To make appams-

You need the appam pan or a small shallow wok/round bottom non stick pan with a lid


To make the batter

Mix cooked rice to the rice soaked overnight and blend in a blender till smooth adding the coconut milk.

Mix the yeast mixture in this blend and leave to ferment for 5-6 hours.

Once fermented, add the laban and salt and just before making add the soda bi carb. Mix with a wooden spoon and ensure a smooth batter

To make appams

Heat the pan and rub the whole pan with a few drops of ghee, wipe dry with a cloth- wiping dry is very important otherwise the batter will not hold onto the pan. Pour a ladle ful of batter in the center of the pan- lift up the pan using a gloves or a cloth and rotate in circles so the batter coats the sides of the pan- a little extra liquid settles at the base of the pan.

Reduce the flame to lowest and cover the pan, leave untouched for a full 4 minutes to the clock. Open the lid and slide out hot crunchy appams on the plate. Serve these with any curry made with coconut cream- boiled eggs, chicken, fish or prawns- all of them go amazingly well.

My experiments with Oat Bran

I would start this post by saying- I lost 5 kilos in last 4 months- the Dubai stone of more than 13 years is finally off me – no more than a pebble now!! How did I do it? It’s no secret I just followed the very well know Dukan Diet and honestly I cheated a lot and at a lot of other times I just had no option like on our holiday to India. But in the end the diet has totally changed the way I understood food and its metabolism. The fact that I can eat how much I need to and still lose that hanging flab was totally liberating, for I have always been unhappy with controlling portions. And with food if it doesn’t make you happy then what good is it anyways?

Talking of Dukan I want to mention Oat bran- the cornerstone of the diet- I met oat bran only after embarking on Dukan and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wince at as much as a mention of it in the past. However the image of the svelte figure of a fellow mum in my kid’s school strengthened my resolve to banish any prejudices of any sort and follow the diet to the last word and i finally shoved the first spoon of the gooey innocent grain in my mouth and never looked back.

I agree the grain can be bland and gooey so I decided to experiment with it and come up with ways to make it palatable. Here’s one, Dukan or not, if you’d like to give a try.

Oat Upma


1 tsp canola oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

4 curry leaves

1/2 dry red chilly

1 clove of garlic thinly sliced

1/2 red onion (medium sized) -chopped

2 tablespoons oats

1/2 a lime

chopped coriander leaves

salt to taste

Heat the oil, throw in the dry red chilly, mustard and curry leaves followed by chopped onions and garlic. Saute till onions glisten, add in the oat bran followed by 1/2 a cup of water. Simmer on low heat till soft. Season with salt, lime juice and chopped coriander.


Oat bran is a fibrous husk that surrounds and protects the oat grain. It can absorb upto 25 times on average its volume of water, so as soon as it reaches the stomach, it swells and takes up enough space to make you feel full. It reduces cholesterol and diabetes.

My tête-à-tête with The Gary Rhodes @Taste of Dubai 2012

I sat in my car and turned to my usual 103.8 Dubai eye and there he was ‘The Gary Rhodes‘ in the studios talking to the the breakfast show hosts. It isn’t too often that you have the best in the culinary world right there next to you to offer their best culinary offerings, so naturally the foodie in me was all ears.

The show hosts asked him so which is the one dish from you that we must try at the Taste this time and Gary said it has to be the White Tomato soup- A soup made from red plum tomatoes yet absolutely stark white in color. Umm….fascinating I thought, and so on the very first day when I got to the Taste of Dubai, I headed straight to Garry Rhodes restaurants- the Rhodes Mezannine and  Rhodes Twenty10. Gary was right there and I said to him-“I would love to try your white tomato soup that I heard you talk about on the radio show the other day”. And Gary said- “You know it is made from absolutely red plum tomotoes and it is white in color”.

“So do you put cheese or cream in it”- I asked, ‘No cheese, just a dash of cream just a dash- but I am not telling you anything else’! 🙂 ‘How sweet’- I thought!

His sous chef brought a glass of frothy white tomoto soup out and Gary said- ‘With my compliments’. I was delighted. I took a careful sip of the white frothy warm liquid in the glass trying to savor every hint flavor in there- pure white and warm distinctly tomato, yet a soft gentle creaminess – not heavy on the palate at all. It did not even have an overiding dash of the usual black pepper or even the salt. Very gently, warm and delicious…I loved it and decided I was going to unravel this recipe.

White Tomato Soup with Gary Rhodes

White Tomato Soup with Gary Rhodes @Taste Of Dubai 2012

The next day morning was a friday, I decided to give the soup a shot in my kitchen, I plucked a few red plum tomatoes from my garden and tried to achieve the same and did not quite get there. So in the evening when I returned to Taste, I went to Gary’s again. Look at my luck he was there again- I said to him-‘ I tried making your white tomato soup, and it had a hint of pale reddish tinge’, ‘Aaha’, he said, ‘you see I get it absolutely white, I have this technique of liquidizing, but I am not telling you anything’. (I smile, smile)

I had to buy his book- ‘Gary Rhodes 365/ one year’ and he said-‘I will sign it as I found you, ‘Simply delicious!’

Gary Rhodes 365/ one year

Gary Rhodes 365/ one year

More smiles, smiles…And I said- ‘Thank You, but I would like to give you a gift as well, I hope you would accept’, That’s when I gave him a copy of ‘Accessory Recipes’ that he so graciously accepted and said to me- “I cannot wait to see what’s inside it!!!”

I hope he did get a chance to see what’s inside it. I am just honored that he accepted it with so much love. I loved Gary Rhodes and I am going to make his very white tomato soup in my kitchen soon.

Sweet and spicy raw mango chutney- memories from my childhood

It has been a long time since the time, I saw my grandmother sit on her kitchen’s floor stirring her bubbling karahi (wok) of mango chutney on top of her prized coal angeethi. Speaking of ‘the angeethi’, a regular feature of every indian kitchen a few decades ago, which is so lost today that an image search on Google gave me hundreds of pictures of restaurants called ‘Angeethi’ but none of the angeethi itself!

The Angeethi is nothing but a little bucket of clay with a wire mesh on top where the red hot coal sits for the main cooking. The wire mesh allows hot ash from the burnt coal to collect below in the bucket. At the base it has a little window to clean out the ash, this creates a little barbecue on top and a baking chamber at the bottom. We as kids would put guavas in the hot ash of the base of the angeethi while patiently circling the wok of chutney to be unloaded. If you have not had, the ash baked guavas, you must, next time try throwing them in the dying embers at the end of a bar be cue.

Coming back to my grandmother’s chutney. I was barely 10 when she passed away, I do not have her recipe but here is how I made it if you’d want to try.

Homecooked Sweet and spicy Indian Mango Chutney

Homecooked Sweet and spicy Indian Mango Chutney


4 raw mangoes-washed, peeled and grated

4 inch piece of ginger- washed peeled and grated

2 tbs canola oil

2 dried whole red chillies

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 cardamom pods crushed

1 garlic clove- finely sliced

1-1/2 tablespoon turmeric

1 tsp red chilli powder

2 tbs white vinegar

8 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon fennel seeds dry roasted and lightly crushed

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed karahi (wok). Add whole dried chillied and splutter cumin and fennel seeds; add crushed cardamom pods, add the garlic, as it turns golden, stir in the turmeric and red chilli powder. Add grated mangoes and grated ginger. Saute and coat on medium heat for about 2 minutes and add 500ml water, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to let simmer till the mangoes are mushy. Add the granulated sugar and vinegar, let the sugar melt and dissolve in the chutney. Season with salt and taste to adjust salt and sugar. Add ground cardamom powder and the roasted ground fennel for aroma, simmer for a minute and then remove from heat. Let it cool. Store in a clean and dry glass jar.

Serve as accompaniment with papads, chapattis or on bread in sandwiches.