March 20, 2012

Colourful & Good

March 20, 2012
Many bloggers come from the tradition of cooks, especially those from the old cultures. They take pride in showcasing family or regional recipes that have been simmered by generations of food enthusiasts. Every dish has a name and a story. In some places the recipes are still learnt by watching mothers and grandmothers cooking. Until the modern times it was uncommon for a daughter to be inefficient in the kitchen. Welcome to my world!

Our society has needs and demands that replace skills like cooking, hosting and housekeeping. In fact, they are looked down as hindrances for equality and progress. In our era – ruled by economical gain, technological prowess and the entertainment industry – prosperity and auspiciousness are evaluated by pertinent ideals. Dining on fast food and takeaways, or eating out in the restaurants, serve the means. When growing up, I didn’t have the will, time or necessity to learn cooking. The priorities were elsewhere.

Like many of my peers disenchanted by the skin-deep pursuits of life, I’ve also taken a detour from the upbringing of superficial values. As unfashionable as it is, I enjoy being a humble and simple housewife. It is a fulfilling responsibility and gives plenty of freedom for self-development, meaningful relationships and other privileges of life. It also places me in the kitchen a lot!

I won’t be able to share culinary gems with concealed historical anecdotes, handed down by the ancestors, but remain an innovative apprentice. One of the things I would like to improve is recipe-writing. I would appreciate your advice. Most of you are organized bloggers and some of you are professional bloggers. How do you measure and document the ingredients while cooking? It becomes tricky with a spontaneous cooking style executed without pre-drafted notes. I usually end up with a generic idea of ingredients and no idea of amounts!

I don’t think I’ve made the same recipe twice. A week ago I fried eggplant and okra julienne in the oven and served them in tomato gravy. It was brilliant! Against my habit, I duly noted the ingredients in order to replicate the dish. On the second run I had freshly made cheese at stock and rolled cheese balls to go with the sauce. It was good but not as excellent as previously. It made me doubtful about following a recipe to a tee. It seems that something is lost – perhaps the magic of fingertips, intuition or intimacy – when measuring cups and spoons are introduced. There is a subtle difference, similar to that of eating with fingers versus utensils.

Cheese balls are mild and soft in texture and taste. Crunchy cucumber salad with roasted peanuts and grated coconut create a nice contrast. It matches well with a paperthin puff-bread, poori.
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Pooris are usually made of wholegrain wheat mixed with a dab of ghee. I use spelt flour instead. Sometimes I add rye flour, too. If possible, it makes them even more palatable! In Bengal refined wheat, maida, is used and the bread is called luchi.

Street vendors in India make pooris by hand, without the help of a rolling pin. They challenge the size of a football. The pastime of slapping, flipping and puffing pooris is fun entertainment. It is one of the endearing antics found only in India!
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As the name indicates, bitter melon or gourd, karela, is bitter. It is a common vegetable in Asia, Africa and Caribbean. It stimulates the appetite and is often served as a side dish or a starter of a meal.

Small bitter melons are less grumpy and don’t require seeding before cooking. Once again, oven roasting works well with karela.
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Serve everything with light and fluffy Basmati rice.
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Thank you.

48 comments:

  1. Lakshmi I am one of those girls who never learned cooking from mom or grand mom. Cooking was not really fun for me until very recently!
    I too have difficulty following recipes to the point unless I am baking .It's tough for me. I think a food tasting good or bad or just ok ok depends not only on the recipe but also on one's mood :) At least that's what I feel! I love malai or panner kofta and your's looking SO yummy. Bitter gourd .. not my fav at all but i like the way you fried it.. just like how mom would serve it!

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  2. Kankana, I'm happy to hear I'm not alone struggling with the recipes :-) I agree with you, measuring the ingredients is just a small part of cooking. I will write another post later about my take on it. However, I would like to come to a point of being able to use a measuring cup and spoon without getting frozen with insecurity - not for my sake, but it would help the readers. Most of the people I know are the opposite: they become bewildered if exact measurements are not given. I would like to facilitate them.
    Thanks for your input.

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  3. I totally agree with you. Such skills are looked down as hindrances...

    Your pictures always wow me! They are magnificent.

    When cooking, I rarely follow recipes to the letter and when I bake I also tend to make lots of changes.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  4. Love that curry..i guess its similar to malai kofta...and the pooris are perfect lakshmi!!Love it
    I make a similar moongfali/peanut salad but with raw onions,cucumber & tomatoes as well and lots of coriander

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  5. Thanks, Rosa.

    Debugcooking, fresh coriander would've been perfect! I didn't have or think about it at the moment. Thanks for the idea.

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  6. I agree with you so much on the measurements part! I've learnt cooking watching my mother, aunts and grandmother and have inherited their methodology of cooking by approximation or eyeballing, just like so many of us Indians do. I started keeping a mental note of ingredients only after I began to blog. Even now as I write this, I'd say, I'll be happy and free without the fuss of measuring spoons and cups...
    Sometimes, ratios are important though like for Dosa, idli, spice mixes etc or the outcome may go topsy turvy!

    Lakshmi, even without a heritage of passed on recipes, yours are so beautiful and delicious, I'm sure! I wonder what if you had! Sometimes, not having brings more inspiration to learn perhaps..

    BTW, karela is my all time favorite and I love it any which way it is prepared..

    Another gorgeous post.. I almost always look forward to them..

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  7. Your writing, photos and recipe ideas are always so inspiring! For your recipe writing, perhaps weight measurements may be less constrictive than the volume measurements of cups and spoons (and ultimately will also be more accurate). If you have a small kitchen scale it would be very quick and easy to weigh ingredients and record their weight before adding them to your dish.

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  8. You don't have favorites that you remake? Or is it that you remake them, but making small changes each time? I get nervous when not using a recipe. I like to use recipes but adapt them to my liking.

    Where I grew up, all of my friends' mothers were housewives. It was normal. Here in the former East Germany, it seems as if *almost* everyone thinks this is absolutely absurd and being a housewife "makes you stupid." I would be super thrilled to be a housewife and nobody understands how that is possible.

    Now that I'm done ranting, this looks incredibly interesting. I learn something almost every time I visit and I think I learn more about food from your blog than anywhere else. And at the same time I get a visual treat. :)

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  9. Lakshmi you create such beauty! May I ask which camera you use? Is it one from heaven with a special magic lens :) About not using recipes- my mom and grandmom hardly do and its so frustrating trying to recreate what they make. When I am making something for the first time I would really appreciate exact measurements or proportions, but if its something I make a lot like my mom and grandmom I too go with the flow -a pinch of this a dash of that..

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  10. My mom cooked a lot but I hardly paid attention, and now I regret it. Except for my garlic mashed potatoes and fried rice, I usually go strictly by the books when it comes to recipes... I don't have the confidence or intuition to change things up very much. It's a learning process for sure. So in other words, I have no useful advice for you :) Lovely writing and photos again, you're inspiring Lakshmi.

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  11. I have to make a sauce like you do. I love all the spices in it! But I might use it for something else than the koftas.. may be just simple paneer cubes.

    LOVE karela. I have stopped frying karela, aloo or anything. Always do them in the oven and not find much difference these days. May be I have got used to it. I love these with khichuri or simply dal rice.

    I never measure recipes when I cook for home and I bought measuring cups and spoons only after I started blogging started finding it difficult to prepare recipes with approximate amounts as I would get asked about it all the time ;).. It is still hard for me to use the exact measurements.. probably the reason I can never follow recipe to the T. When I used to ask the recipe from ma or my grandma, no one even thought of telling in exact amounts or measurements. It was always the basic ingredients and the process.

    delicious fried ginger.. i think I could munch on those even after my meal.

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  12. I am just drooling over the kofta curry. To me Indian cooking is all about eye balling the measurements. I started to measure out things only after I started with a blog. There is one famous phrase "A good cook is the peculiar gift of the gods. He must be a perfect creature from the brain to the palate, from the palate to the finger's end" and I am more than convinced that you are one such great gift from God.

    I love you work. Please keep it coming.

    And I stopped with frying long time back. i prefer to roast them in the oven and yesterday my lunch was lemon quinoa (same recipe as lemon rice) with bittergourd chips.

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  13. What a wonderful post Lakshmi! I so agree with you that when you start using measurements, something is missing from the dish. I love to create intuitively in the kitchen!

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  14. Hi there,everything looks so delicious,,for spices i never use measuring spoon,,,its based on my notion,,:) yeah for baking and dose idli I go for measurement,,,:)

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  15. I can relate to this post so much, cooking has to be felt rather than measured.....
    And awesome clicks as always....
    Those puris look gorgeous!!!

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  16. Lakshmi- being a housewife....is A JOB- Not pAid, and a full time one at that! With a boss who hardly throws compliments in my case! Oh and how can I forget my other job- being a Mommy! I also hated cooking growing up- there were much more interesting and COOL things to do at the time. Now, it is my creative outlet from the JOB!!! I'm sure you will find your groove for recipe meausring.....we all did once we started blogging!

    And I'm loving your puffed puris- they all puffed???!!! WOW!

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  17. Thank you for your feedback. I’m encouraged to hear about your experiences in using measuring cups and spoons. It takes practice to utilize them intuitively.

    I like Radhika’s idea on “keeping mental notes of ingredients”. It sounds sensible and abstract enough :-). The problem so far has been that my mental teaspoon is of a different size than the real one! They have to be synchronized in order to make sense in a recipe. Even a difference of a quarter is sensitive and makes delicate spicing risky.

    Regarding being with or without heritage, both situations can be turned into strengths.

    Regarding the favourites & remakes, they come out each time a little different, because the time and circumstance have changed. Maybe it is a different season, weather, mood, ingredient, company to eat with...there are so many factors that influence cooking.

    In daily life, my cooking is based on what is available in the pantry. It is spontaneous. I don’t consult a recipe, go shopping for particular ingredients, cook and blog about it. I mainly post on the blog what we happen to eat on a given day. If there is anything left to photograph, that is :-). Maybe that is the crucial difference. To make a plan and cook exclusively for posting is beyond my capacity at the moment. It would be interesting to hear how many of you cook especially for blogging?

    I had a good laugh about Erin’s note about being a housewife “makes you stupid”. I used to think like that as a teenager:-). Some time ago I discussed about the subject with a friend who is 20 years younger. Our experiences and opinions were polar opposites. It was fun to see. The remarks about someone’s status, age, gender, intellect, education, occupation, nationality, religion, philosophy... are usually based on shallow assumptions that have little to do with reality:-).

    Regarding the camera, I use Canon 40 D with 50 mm f/1.4 lens. Rose, it is not magical :-). I dropped it two years ago and, although fixed, it doesn’t work as it used to. Maybe that’s kick!

    Athena, your “no useful advice” is useful and appreciated:-).

    I love Soma’s “it was always the basic ingredients and the process”. That’s it. Om tat sat.

    Vijitha, the phrase you share is wonderful. Thank you. I have the good fortune to know cooks and persons like described in it, although not one of them myself. We are all gifts of God, though. The level of understanding and acting upon it – the perfection – may just differ:-).

    Agreed with Sukaina, being a housewife and a mother is a job. Every responsibility we take up is a part of our human duty. The payment may not come in money. The best rewards are more valuable than a piece of paper.

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  18. I am neither a professional cook nor an organized food blogger. But in my own kitchen and in my own right, I am an intuitive cook and can never repeat the same dish with exactness.
    But I do look up to a few bloggers for recipes.
    And I can say this: if you are a very new to a genre or cuisine ur not familiar with, it would take exact measurements for the recipe to turn out right. Have stopped following many food bloggers who dont give proper and exact measurements esp for baking, cause they never turn out right.

    Your presentation and photography is out of this world. Look forward to trying out a recipe soon!

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  19. I just want to make it clear that I'm not the one that thinks being a housewife makes you stupid! It's the people around me (from the former East Germany). I would really love to be a housewife and they just don't understand it. They think that I must want a career and live my life working 60 hours a week at this career. Of course, it's not *all* East Germans, but it is the opinion of practically all East Germans I've chatted about this topic with. Please don't think I would say something so ridiculous. It's not me... it's them!

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  20. Seemantini - you bring out an important point. To make sure the recipe works, it should be tested several times. It is done by professionals when they publish cookbooks. However, bloggers don't necessarily have the same moral obligation. Visiting a blog is like peeping into someone’s kitchen and lifestyle. It is a free visual meal.

    I've seen disclaimers that say the recipe may or may not work on a couple of blogs. When it comes to baking, for example, the flour we use in this part of the world may be much different from what you are using on the other end of the world; our ovens heat up differently; our milk-products are different...if the recipes are not tested with the local ingredients and conditions, there is no guarantee the results will be identical.

    Personally, I don't have either time or patience to test a recipe trice before posting it! Blogging is not that serious for me. I wonder if any of the bloggers do that.

    I would like the readers to know that my posts are inspirational: more about sharing ideas than giving direct instructions. Maybe I should add a disclaimer as such? Not to give exact measurements is one way of saying “I don’t take a responsibility of the outcome you may have if you try out the recipe”. It may save someone from a disappointment, but there is another one who will be disappointed of not getting a warranty of success. To facilitate everyone is impossible.

    Erin – oh, we know the statement wasn’t yours! Please, don’t worry. Sorry if my inadequate English gave out an impression I took it coming from you. Even if it was your opinion, I wouldn’t mind. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. People don’t have to –and can’t – agree on everything. We can still be friends, even when we see things differently :-).

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  21. Beautiful!!

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  22. OK so I am reading all these comments here and I can totally relate to every word.
    Growing up I was never too keen about learning to cook but yes I did spend lot of time in the kitchen seeing our wonderful Bui Ma(Housekeeper) work her magic in the kitchen...
    Her food was nothing less than phenomenal, her passion and love for cooking sparkled in her food. She never ever measured anything, I don't remember seeing any measuring spoons or scales in the kitchen for that matter. She cooked with her instincts, a little bit of this a pinch of that, a stir on this and a knead on that.... everything was like a perfect orchestra...
    She never ever tasted the food while cooking it, she always said that the first serving of the meal is for God and it has to be pure and scared.... But what always amazed me was how perfect her each and every dish came out....
    Somehow when I started cooking I found myself doing the same, cooking with my instinct and senses. Enjoying and dancing to the tune of my heart and senses.
    I never measure anything unless I am trying the recipe for blog because I don't want anyone to feel disappointed after trying my recipe just because my measurements were little off. When publishing a recipe I feel obligated and responsible to do this...
    Trust me for me Cooking is a Passion and Passion can never be Tamed....LOL

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  23. This looks like such a wonderful meal! I am going to try all of this out for my boyfriend who is in love with Indian cuisine. Thank you so much for all the recipes!

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  24. Now why didn't I think of roasting karela!!! Thank you....so much to learn...xx

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  25. Thank you, Anonymous, Reem, Willa and Madhu!

    Reem - your Bui Ma sounds like a blessing! We never taste food while cooking, for the same reason she didn't. It's beyond me how fortunate chilhood you've had in her care.

    I'm impressed you try out the recipes before blogging and feel responsible about it. It is something to think about. How often do you post? Do you blog full-time? It must take a lot of effort.

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  26. I won't be able to leave your home if ever I come visiting......beautiful food with great company!

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  27. Well Lakshmi, I started blogging as a hobby but now I think it is becoming my passion.. I try to post atleast twice a week, trust me it is more than 16 hrs a day job with kids home and blogging...
    Yes I too feel really blessed to have been grown under such pure soul....
    Can I ask a question, have you designed ur blog urself, I am trying to redesign mine but I am going crazy with no knowledge of design what so ever....

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  28. Reem - my respect to your dedication! Two small boys and posting twice a week... You are energetic!

    Yes, I designed the blog. It is a Blogger template. I learnt HTML and CSS, as much as needed, online (thanks, Google :-). I have no prior knowledge about graphic/web design. However, if there is a will, there is a way. We can learn anything we want. Let me know if I can help you with anything.

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  29. WOW!!
    You know Lakshmi, right now your words have just put a big smile on my face and a big I can do it in my heart....
    If you can lemme know sites which you found helpful to learn Html and CSS That will be so helpful...
    Thanks my dear and yes at this very point I am so scared that I might kill everything on my site but totally determine to give it a new breath of freshness....
    Also is your blog on wordpress? Coz so many poeple are telling me wordpress can be little tacky...

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  30. Reem, I will send you an e-mail.

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  31. Thank you so much for replying Lakshmi. Maybe I should try dropping my lens lol!
    Also regarding measuring I keep a small 1/4 tsp measuring spoon in my masala box. That way whenever I add the amount of masala I am "feeling" that day -I know how much exactly went into the dish.I make notes in a blog post draft that day itself as a reference for when I am actually writing the post days later, by when I would have otherwise forgotten!

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  32. I could totally relate to your style my friend -- i too love not measuring each and everything when i am cooking. Although that backfires whenever I develop recipes ;)

    Beautiful photos as always!!

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  33. Only looking at your pictures is a feast. That bread is really fantastic.
    Hugs, Pauline

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  34. Hi Lakshmi
    I enjoy your pictures, recipe ideas and your frank thoughts that you express so freely and fearlessly.
    As most people coming from an older tradition and culture like India I am an intuitive cook. I never measure anything in my day to day cooking. Infact my kids have accepted the fact that when they want something replicated, sadly it will never be like the last time I made it. In fact with the wisdom that can only come from the pure innocence of a child one of my children said, "I guess it is O K if I can never have the same thing again, at least every time you make something it is the best!"
    For my blog I do have to give measurements, I know this because my western friends have said that they are too anxious and nervous to ever try anything without measurements, which is also why they all bake because everything is precise.
    I agree with you the majic is lost when I try to quantify my intuitive measurements. This is how I translate my home style cooking to precise measurements.
    I usually throw things into the pot, like salt spices etc. So for measurement purposes I "throw ' it onto a plate, which would be what my intuitive self would use. Then I measure what is in the plate and yes, sometimes I have to round it up or remove a tad to get quantifiable measure like a tespoon or a quater tsp. Then I redo the recipe atleast 2 more times tweaking it a bit.
    This might not be fun, but I have accepted that I have to do this because there is a demand for precise recipes and instructions and I have to be able to reach anyone who is willing to try.

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  35. Thanks for visiting Rose, Kiran, Pauline and Sandhya.

    Sandhya - thank you for the tip! Your method is what I was looking for. I used it today and it worked perfectly. Of course it slows down the process a bit, but the results are good. I believe that in time one is able to learn to use a spoon intuitively, too. It is a matter of practice.

    I admire your dedication and responsibility towards your readers. It is something I will have to work on. Having given it a bit more thought for the past few days, it doesn’t sound impossible to test a recipe another time before blogging it.

    It is true that when I read a recipe, I want it to be accurate, too. In the case of cookbooks, I trust the recipes. However, if I see an interesting recipe on Internet, I usually note the ingredients or the general idea only.

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  36. I love what you had to say about honoring your role. Beautiful and the food too.

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  37. Totally agree! I never learnt cooking but time and circumstances taught it to me. It all started small and now it has become my passions and hence my blog to showcase it! For me it does get difficult when I pen down a recipe for my blog as i do not really go by measurements but I try to convey to my readers to try and experiment with the quantities based on their taste.

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  38. I love reading your site. I learn a lot and I get to experience unique recipes. Thanks! Beautiful pictures!

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  39. I love the bitter melon chips. Your photo brought back childhood memories. My mum used to make those and I adored them. We used to have them with rotis! :-)

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  40. I started cooking only after marriage :-) Though I used to watch my grand mother cooking whenever I was home,during my college days. I always eye ball the ingredients except when I'm baking ;-)But I do make a mental note of the ingredients if I'm planning to blog about it.And I type it down on the same day
    As always awesome photography ! Would love to try spelt flour for making poori

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  41. I love your photos! I'll stay hours to look them!
    Compliments!

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  42. Oh, Lakshmi, you stroke a chord! I am a 'spontanous cook' myself, and I know what you mean about spontaneity vs measuring cups!!I've learnt how to cook by a series of mistakes and culinary failures, but that's the funny part of it...

    Love your recipes, I'll try out the pooris, they look awesome in your photos, must have a try!

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  43. Thank you, Lakshmi. I feel better knowing that you never thought I said that. And that's very open-minded of you to say that we can all have differing opinions, but sometimes I feel that some opinions are just so ridiculous and just so amazingly wrong that they're not okay. But then again, nobody can define "right" and "wrong" so your line of thought (everyone has the right to their opinion) has to be the way to go.

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  44. I completely agree with you Lakshmi. I am really bad at replicating my own recipes. My two curries are never the same! Before starting the blog, i would never write down recipes so many time when people asked me for 'that salad i made in the last party' i would be clueless. My of my friends and family tell me that they are grateful for my blog! I now refer my own blog for recipes.
    Now while blogging it's very hard for me to write down quantities. WHile baking, as soon as i place the cake in the oven i run to my comp to write down the measurements or i'll forget everything after eating the cake. With my Indian recipes everything is approximate. I can close my eyes and remember the approximate measurements of everything.
    Though most indian cooks are like this, my own mom is just the opposite. She measures everything while cooking. Even the sambar that she makes 5 times a week, every time the jeera, the coriander remeasured by spoons! Not everybody can cook without recipes.
    Great post and stunning photography as always!

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  45. Thank you for sharing your experiences and tips. It has helped and encouraged to change my attitude towards recipe-writing. After reading your comments I became interested in measuring the ingredients. I will take it more seriously and practice it in the future.

    Erin, there is a standard of right and wrong in every culture, line of thought and level of consciousness. To accept that we have different opinions is not to say everyone or everything is right. One of the greatest human tragedies is that we think we are always right. We see in terms on me and mine. In itself, it is a limited vision and a form of blindness. It is ignorance. My point is that because we are “in” ignorance and arrogance, it doesn’t mean, we ought to hate each others. There is a Christian saying “hate the sin, not the sinner”. Ignorance is a spiritual disease. When we see it flourish, it is better to show compassion than hatred to the diseased. At the same time, we don’t have to like or agree with the illness. Only if the situation allows us to correct the mistake, we should do it. In the same way, we should hope to be corrected. Often times it doesn't work so ideally :-).

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  46. Lakshmi - What a beautiful post! Love the pictures and the recipe.

    What stands out for me is the love and dedication you add to your work. You make the simplest of things like 'basmati rice' stand out.

    I guess we can all use a million measures, a ton of traditional recipes that with each attempt turn out a certain different...but something tastes good and is fulfilling only when its cooked with the 'secret' ingredient - LOVE. The more of this ingredient, the merrier. Add a dash of this to any recipe - self invented or hand me-downs - it turns into something magical. And this is exactly what your recipes and pictures convey. Absolutely love your blog. Way to go!

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  47. Gosh, that looks delicious! Can't wait to make it!

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