Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kanda Pohe (Poha) - A Vegetarian Indian Snack Made of Flattened Rice

Pohe (in Marathi), or Poha (in Hindi) means flattened rice. It's prepared in many different ways. I am going to show you a simple preparation from the Indian state of Maharashtra, which is where my family comes from.

Though it's a really simple dish to make, growing up I always thought of pohe as a special treat. It brings back a lot of good memories to say the least because it was often eaten when the family got together.

A carbohydrate heavy dish, there aren't many people who won't like this one!

Kanda Pohe
Makes 4 snack sized servings, or serves 2 as a meal

300 grams of poha
2 medium sized potatoes, cut into cubes
1 small onion, choppped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or 1 green bird's eye chilli, finely chopped)
1-2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon of sugar
1 large handful of cilantro, washed, leaves removed from stalks and chopped
Optional - freshly grated coconut


1. Chop the onion and potato.
2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan.

3. Add the mustard seeds, and wait until they start talking (until they start popping).

4. Add the onion and fresh green chili if that's what is being used.
5. Cook on a medium heat for three to four minutes, until onion starts to soften.

6. Add potatoes and cover pan to help soften potatoes more quickly, stir occasionally.

7. In a strainer, add poha, and run water over until well soaked; allow to drain.

8. Place poha in a bowl. Add turmeric, chili (unless you used fresh green chili), sugar and salt.

9. Mix well, add lemon juice, and set aside.

10. Chop cilantro. Set aside. If you have fresh coconut, this would also be the time to grate it.

11. When potatoes are softened, remove lid and allow potatoes to brown until golden.

12. Add poha mixture to pan, and stir gently on a low heat until mixture becomes more yellow and slightly drier. This will take a few minutes.

13. Stir in cilantro, and remove pan from heat. Garnish with grated coconut.

14. Enjoy hot and fresh. The poha flakes become hard after some time if they become cold.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Easy Student Meal - Quick Stir-Fried Noodles

I recently wrote this recipe as a paper for class at my MBA program.

As I have learned over the past few months, time is of the essence as a First Year Student. We spend most of our time in class, preparing cases, attending briefings, getting ready for interviews, meeting with professors, participating in various clubs, and attending the occasional social event. For many of us, we struggle to find the few minutes where we can relax, turn on the TV, call friends and family, exercise, run errands and very importantly, eat.

While I realize that some first years do not cook, do not like to cook, and do not want to learn how to cook, I think there are a fair number of students who would enjoy learning a few easy meals to make. Though eating out is probably in many cases the fastest, it is often not as tasty, satisfying or healthy as making a meal at home, and besides, eating all meals out can get very repetitive, and the cost of eating out is usually more expensive too. There are only so many places to grab a quick bite on a school night.

As I was inventing this recipe, I was really trying to take the student lifestyle into account. Given our time constraints, I know we cannot be running to the grocery store very frequently, or be spending time searching around for an extensive and difficult to find set of ingredients. So, the list of ingredients needed to be short and simple. I also tried to take into account that the meal needed to be reasonably well -rounded in terms of the different food groups to give the student energy and nutrition. I tried to think about the shelf life and costs of the ingredients so that the student could have the ingredients around for a while should cooking plans not work out due to other unforeseen activities, and even then would not have to worry about the costs too much should there be spoilage. Finally, I made this a meal for one, knowing that many students live on their own. I hope you will find the following recipe user friendly and helpful.

Quick and Easy Stir-Fried Noodles – A Meal For One


1 packet of your favorite ramen type noodles (I used Sapporo Ichiban Chowmein Japanese Style Noodles)
4 ounces of chicken breast, or other type of meat (I usually keep a few frozen chicken breasts in the freezer at all times, and use one at a time at my convenience)
5 leaves of green or savoy cabbage
1 carrot
1 heaping teaspoon of cornflour or potato starch
2 tablespoons of reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of chopped garlic (fresh or jarred is fine)

Method – Approximately 15 minutes of preparation time, and 10 minutes of cooking time

1. Remove one chicken breast from the freezer. Slice immediately. It is easier to slice meat from frozen.

2. Chop the garlic finely.

3. Combine the chicken, cornstarch, garlic and one tablespoon of the soy sauce. Stir together well and allow to sit and marinate while preparing other ingredients. Cornstarch helps to seal in the moisture of the chicken.

4. Peel the carrot. This can either be done with a vegetable peeler, or by using a sharp knife to scrape away the outside layer of skin on the carrot. Using a grater, grate the entire carrot. Set aside in bowl.

5. Chiffonade the cabbage leaves. To do this, take one or two cabbage leaves, and roll them up. Then from one end, start running the knife through the leaves, cutting very close together. The end result will be very thinly sliced strips, and this is known as a chiffonade. Repeat until all the cabbage is in a chiffonade.

6. Now that the ingredients are prepped, it’s time to start cooking. Place half of the canola oil into a wok, or other large pan, and allow it to heat up until very hot.

7. Put the chicken into the wok, stir frequently until all of the pink is gone and the chicken has turned a whitish color, and remove to a bowl. This should take approximately two minutes.

8. In the same wok, put in the remaining canola oil. Heat thoroughly.

9. Add the cabbage and the carrot to the pan, as well as the remaining soy sauce. Make sure to add the vegetables before the soy sauce, or the soy sauce will splatter in the hot oil.

10. Stir occasionally until the vegetables become slightly tender. This should take approximately two to three minutes. If the vegetables start to stick or are getting browned, add a little bit of water to the pan.

11. As you are cooking the vegetables, simultaneously cook the ramen noodles in a separate pan, according to directions. If there is liquid left, drain the noodles so that they are completely dry, and then add the seasoning packet that came with the noodles.

12. Once the vegetables and noodles are cooked, add the noodles and chicken to the wok with the vegetables, and gently stir until well-combined.

13. Serve in a shallow bowl immediately!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eating/Food on Mount Everest and in the Khumbu

The one and only Mount Everest:

When I was young, adventure sports companies went through a phase where they thought, if you (as the climber) spent enough money, they could get you to the summit of the world's tallest mountain, Mount Everest (29,029ft). My Mom used to tease my Dad and say that she wanted to go. Unfortunately, in the late 90's, there were many deaths on Everest and the mountain returned to being a feat that only the most experienced and fit mountaineers could accomplish. Still, many climbers returned without standing on the top of the world due to altitude sickness, frostbite, or unforeseen circumstances such as weather.

After summiting Kilimanjaro in April of 2008, I added Everest Base Camp to my "bucket list." I actually wanted/still want to go to ABC (Advanced Base Camp) on the Tibet side of the mountain, but China closed Everest to climbers until the very last minute in 2009. So, after some encouragement on my behalf, I convinced my Mom to sign us both up for a Nepal Side Everest Base Camp Trek with the famous mountaineering company, International Mountain Guides (IMG).

Mount Everest Base Camp with the Khumbu Icefall in the background:

It was a long and strenuous 18 days to say the least. We faced everything from landing on the shortest runway in the world (thank you Agni Air who got us back and forth safely from Kathmandu to Lukla!) to diving off the trail to avoid killer Yaks. But those stories are all meant for a different kind of blog! I'm here to tell you about the food experiences I encountered during my trip.

The runway at Lukla (the end of the runway is a cliff!):

During the trek to Base Camp there are two options; camp in tents or stay in tea lodges. Our group of 10 took the tea lodge route, and this meant eating food prepared in the tea lodges. Food at the tea lodges is, well, very repetitive, and, almost all simple carbohydrates. Think pasta, rice and potatoes... and potatoes and more potatoes. Unfortunately, at the high altitude, potatoes are one of the only things that will grow well. Fruit is almost non existent, vegetables are scant, and the meat is scarce because of the superstitions of the Sherpa people and lack of refrigeration. The higher one climbs, the less variety there is. In hindsight, I would have brought plenty of dried fruit, canned fish and beef jerky to aid my diet on the trip. For protein, try some Nak cheese (a Nak is a female Yak, and the cheese is definitely not properly pasteurized), or try the traditional dahl bhat (lentils and rice). If you order dahl bhat and you like spicy food, you might want to ask for it spicy, because for some reason they make food unusually bland for the tourists.

The other thing I should mention about a trek through this region of the world is that water is not readily available, and a lot of the time you have to pay for it. Bring iodine tablets or a water purification system, and don't expect there to be extra water to brush your teeth or wash your face. It is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids each day at high altitude so don't skimp on the purchase of what you need to stay healthy. Finally, be wary of bottled water; it's better to treat everything and be safe rather than sorry in a place where there is not a doctor around every corner (or a toilet for that matter!).

On a very windy but sunny morning, I made it to base camp. I was thankful to see the IMG village of tents and meet Eric Simonson and Ang Jangbu Sherpa, the principals of the 2009 IMG Evesest Expedition, who quickly offered me some warm Tang and a nice warm tent to sit in. It was about 11am when I reached base camp, which meant lunch was being readied. I immediately asked if I could see the cook tent. The Sherpas in the cook tent welcomed me in and let me take some photos. They were making potatoes, simmering meat, heating up baked beans, making chapathis, and putting together fresh vegetables for a salsa and for salad! Fresh vegetables?! I was so excited, and was told that they were washed specially for us foreigners (I wouldn't have dared touched anything uncooked at a tea lodge or in Kathmandu).

Making salad... a very exciting site after two weeks sans vegetables:

Cooking potatoes:

At 12pm, I got to see the call to lunch, and was escorted into a tent with the Everest climbers (imagine me and a bunch of hunky guys in a tent eating lunch!). There were so many different kinds of condiments on the table, from all over the world. They served my plate, and I proceeded to dump about half a cup of Pace salsa onto my "taco" which consisted of meat and chopped veggies inside a chapathi. It tasted AMAZING. I had seconds. It was incredible food after what we had been eating for the previous two weeks. I truly enjoyed it. I guess when you pay for an Everest climb (somewhere around 70,000 US Dollars) they make the effort to get some really good food to you.

The call to lunch:

The fabulous lunch spread:

My lunch plate at Base Camp:

A sampling of the condiments available to the climbers:

While I was eating lunch with the climbers, I got to chat them up and ask them about their experiences. I'll tell you what they said about the food. Meals were served at 9,12, and 6 (afternoon tea at 3 too). If you were heading out of base camp and upwards through the Khumbu Icefall, they'd have your breakfast ready for you at the appropriate time (as early as 3am). While traveling up through Camps 1,2,3 and 4, the food availability varied. At the lower camps, IMG had rotating cooks who would make food for the climbers. When climbers were otherwise hungry or at the higher camps, they would bring many snacks and dehydrated meals with them. At base camp, thousands of eggs were consumed by IMG climbers (I think when I was there, which was before their summit bids, they had already consumed more than 5,000 eggs). And I found it amusing that the most common meat that they ate was SPAM in different forms.

Lunch with the climbers:

I also visited the IMG Stupa, where they have a big Puja before climbing starts, and give offerings to the mountain goddess. Many kinds of little offerings are given - little bits of food for example - all to ask the mountain goddess for safe passage. It was really very beautiful; prayer flags reached from the Stupa to all corners of IMG's camp.

The IMG Stupa:

Trekking in the Himalayas is really a unique experience. Trying to eat well is just as much of a job as putting one foot in front of the other on the way up a hill at high altitude. When trekkers and climbers get back from their trips, they acquire something called, "Climbers Amnesia." One acquires this amnesia when they realize what an awesome thing they accomplished and totally forget about all the hardships they faced. Mom and I definitely have "Climbers Amnesia," and will never forget about our adventure in the mountains of Nepal. The question for us is, what adventure is next?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eating in West Africa: Senegalese Style

A couple of years ago I went to Dakar, Senegal. I was fortunate enough to be able to learn about their food, how they cook some of their classic dishes, and the way they eat. The Senegalese people are very generous; if you are visiting someone at meal time, they will always share what they are having with you. Even walking past people on the street, you will often hear them exlaim, "Kaay leck!" which means "come and eat!" in the local language.

Under some expert supervision, I was able to help cook the Senegalese national dish, Thiéboudienne (pronounced Cheh Bu Jen). Thiéboudienne is a rice and vegetable dish, topped off with a delicately marinated grilled fish.

In Senegal, everyone gathers around a huge shallow-rimmed bowl to eat. The head of the house will break up the main item (in this case the fish), and place it in each person's section of the plate. Everyone eats out of this one plate, either with the right hand (never the left!) or with a spoon.

People typically eat quickly, with minimal conversation. They have a saying that translates roughly into "You only have one mouth, it cannot do two things at once." Conversation typically occurs both before and after the meal, often during an elaborate tea ceremony. This ceremony involves three cups of highly caffeinated tea, with each cup containing more sugar than the last. One Senegalese man prepares the tea by pouring it back and forth between two glasses to create a thick foam cover. This cover protects the tea from sand and dust. Each person drinks using one of these two glasses, refilling each time. Once everyone has had a taste, they begin brewing the next one!

I also went to a small ocean resort about an hour and a half south of Dakar. I was fortunate enough to observe the local village-men fishing. Their fishing method was simple; they take a boat out into the water, drop a net, and then pull it in from both sides.

They caught everything from sea snakes to a huge ray, as well as the average fish (of which I bought one and took it to the hotel for them to cook up for my dinner!).