Monday, November 23, 2009

Creamy Chana Masala

I've been having some really interesting conversations with folks on returning to India. People's views and opinions are so varied. The older generation (who came here in the 60's and 70's) cannot seem to fathom why we'd want to go back while many of the younger generations do get it & many even think of returning back some day, though they may not have a timeframe in mind or even made the decision on whether or not they would actually do it. I think the newer generations are more deeply connected to India and and are more in touch with the extended families there (irrespective of whether they want to go back or not). I remember apart from one family, most of my US relatives used to visit India once in 3-4 years. We hardly were in touch with them when they went back. Technology was not so advanced then, of course. These days, we tend to visit India more often, have more relatives visiting us here and call/email/e-network more than ever.

The job market in India is so much better in the past few years than it has ever been. Salaries are at par with what you earn here. Being close to family and friends is the biggest draw. Food is another. Not just the various Indian cuisines but Bangalore, I've heard, has great international fare as well. Yeah, the traffic and the pollution have gotten worse over the years. And the red tape, corruption, tardiness and the difficulty in getting anything done is as bad as before. But as a person who grew up in India and who has been back almost every year, it will be relatively easier for me to adjust back versus someone who is less exposed to it.

I do miss our house here right now. It was pretty close to our dream house in terms of size and layout and the interiors reflected our tastes and personalities well. At the end of it all though, it's just a house, right? We had initially booked our one-way tickets for Dec end but after we sold our house and moved to a short term rental, we felt uprooted and so restless that we ended up moving the departure date up to early Dec. I just cannot wait to set up a home again in India, though that will take a few months.

Onto a recipe now. Here's a quick chole recipe with coconut milk (which these days, I seem to use in pretty much everything!), that is creamy and delicious.

Creamy Chana Masala

1 16oz can chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tsp ginger, grated
2 tbsp coconut cream (thick portion of the coconut milk can)
1/4 cup coconut milk (thin)
1 heaped tsp chana masala
1/2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp amchur/dried mango powder
1/2 tsp anardana/dried pomegranate powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oil

Creamy Chana Masala

Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds. Once it starts to sizzle, add in chopped onions and ginger and saute for a couple minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes and fry for another minute or so. Season with some salt, chana masala and chili powder.
Add chickpeas, coconut cream and the coconut milk. Add a little water or more coconut milk if required. Bring to a boil. Then add amchur and anardana powders. Simmer and cook on low for 5-6 minutes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Places to Eat

I've been meaning to write about my favorite restaurants in central NJ area for the longest time. Better late than never, right? PLus it was already in draft. Will add more of my recommendations later, as this was just the first cut.

Tapastre - a tapas bar and restaurant in Somerville. Their menu has not just Spanish tapas but includes foods and wines from other regions surrounding the Mediterranean sea. The baked brie in puff pastry is a must-try. The menu is quite heavy on seafood, which unfortunately is not for me. I would absolutely recommend this restaurant.

Delta's - a soul food restaurant in New Brunswick. Great atmosphere. Good food. The smothered chicken has always been good. Again lots of seafood dishes. I enjoy their sides more than the entrees sometimes! The fried okra, candies yams, sweet potato fries, grilled asparagus are all great!

Makeda's - Ethiopian restaurant in New Brunswick. It's the only Ethiopian place I've been to, so I've nothing to compare it with. But their food always has me coming back for more! Love the bread, injera (which actually reminds me of a well-fermented neer dosa!) with almost all their chicken dishes. N prefers their lamb fare. The decor is great, atmosphere lively with live bands performing over weekends and the communal eating is actually fun!

Thai - it's a toss-up between Thai Kitchen II in Bridgewater and House of Thai in Green Brook. Each time I've been to either, the food has always been great (not all Thai Kitchens are created equal, I've realized. I've had some not-so-good stuff at the other one in Bridgewater).

Da Filippo's - a family run Italian restaurant in Somerville. Warm, hospitable folks serving authentic Italian fare. Sometimes you have someone playing the piano and other times, the owner singing and taking requests. Great place serving delicious food. Must try. BYOB.

Fusion on Main - Asian fusion cuisine in Flemington. BYOB. Everything we've had there has been great. Basil ginger chicken, terang gorang, mango chicken, spring rolls and even cauliflower manchurian.

I have to mention Mediterra in Princeton and Spain 92 in Bridgewater. Been only once to both but the food was wonderful.

Amongst the Indian ones, Hoysala in Somerset is one of my favorites. This is probably the only restaurant where I prefer the lunch buffet over their a la carte menu. They have typical Kannadiga fare on their menu like bendekayi gojju, kadale saaru etc but I don't really care much for their way of making them. And they have odd combis for platters - pineapple gojju with biryani. Eeeww!! The buffet, on the other hand, has a wide variety of veg and non-veg dishes, appetizers and desserts. The dosas, a part of the buffet, are perfect - red and crisp on the outside and spongy on the inside. Andhra style chicken biryani, the pakodas, chicken curry and even their curd rice is excellent. N likes their lamb curry and shrimp biryani.

Punjabi Rasoi - a small hole-in-the-wall family run restaurant in Somerset, where you cannot expect great service but the food they serve is excellent Punjabi fare. They have daily specials and lunch platters.

Dosa Express - a nondescript restaurant in Iselin, which makes the best butter masala dosas I've had in NJ. Most restaurants serve thin, white things that pass off as dosa but here is where you go to find good dosas and upma. They have layered dosas too that are really great.

Ming and Nanking - One in Edison, the other in South Plainfield. Both serve Indian style Chinese food. Have enjoyed food in both places. Service is not great in either, though Nanking has improved greatly in the recent past.

Do you have any favorites in your city/state? I would love to hear about them.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Just an Update

A quick update on what's happening with me. We have been talking about moving back to India for a few years now but it had just been loud thinking for the most part. Now we finally made the decision and we will be moving by the end of this year! The first big step was to sell our house, which in this market we thought might be a problem. But a few things helped us get a quick sale. One was pricing it right - looking at other comparable listings, checking home sales in the area for the past six months, researching trends etc. Second, we de-cluttered the house and staged it to highlight all the pluses of the house, inside and out. Though I'm not a packrat, I was amazed at the number of things that were piled up in our storage area, which we hardly ever saw. Out of sight was out of mind, I guess. Third was finding the right listing agent. We interviewed a few and compared their marketing plans. Finally chose one that we vibed well with, who had a great marketing plan. We received our first offer within a week! So anyway, all's well that ends well. With the house, at least. We still have a long way to go before we completely wind down here. Fingers crossed for a smooth transition there as well.

I'm really excited about going back to India. Back to family and friends. No more missing cousins' weddings and other family occasions. It will be great for Malvika to grow up knowing her aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents really well and having a deeper connection with them. And the food- oh, the food!! I'm pretty sure the first few months will see us gaining a lot of pounds before guilt kicks in! :) I will miss the US too, though. I've enjoyed every minute of being here, experiencing a different culture or should I say cultures and interacting with people from various countries. Friends and family here. The past 10 years here have changed me. Into a better person, I'd like to believe. I do appreciate things and people more. I am more open minded and accepting of people and situations and less quick to judge. I have enjoyed an independence of sorts, where I was able to concentrate on my family. Away from well-meaning folks commenting on what we did/didn't do and offering unsolicited advice.

Well, there are many, many more things about moving back, India and US that I want to write about but perhaps at a later point. This was supposed to be a quick update and it's already gotten pretty big! I hope to be back with a food post soon. Ciao for now!