September 24, 2014

Hot'n'Sour Ash Gourd Soup

There are some vegetables that you take for granted as you get it in abundance, but then when you are in a place where you don't get it at all, that is when you really miss those simple pleasures in life. The ash-gourd, or the Kumbalanga as we call it in Malayalam (Poosanika in Tamil) is one such vegetable. Back home you use it almost every other day in a variety of ways. 

This time we decided to talk to our local farmer to grow some Indian vegetables that we really miss, especially eating them fresh from the farm. The list included okra, ash-gourd, long beans, bottle-gourd and ribbed-gourd.., and boy they did grow them really well. So back to the ash-gourds, they came up so well and we are having a wonderful time eating them, while also helping out our local farmer by consuming his produce. 

In Ayurveda and other traditional eastern medicine practices, ash-gourd is known to be used as a general tonic for its restorative properties. It is rich in many vitamins and minerals. It contains 96% water, making it a diabetic friendly and weight-loss friendly vegetable. (hint: make some fresh raw juice..) Ash-gourd is alkaline in nature and hence has a cooling and neutralizing effect on stomach acids, and as such used effectively for treating digestive ailments. Want any more reasons to include this simple vegetable in your diet :) ?

The ash-gourds grow really big and some of my friends were asking how they can cook it. There are endless ways you can cook ash gourd in Kerala cuisine. Pulissery (a yogurt and coconut based gravy), pachady (a semi cooked yogurt based salad), olan (ash gourd cooked in coconut milk), avial (a mix of veggies with spiced crushed coconut) and the list does not end here :). Today's recipe though is not a traditional recipe. It is a simple hot'n'sour soup which is really refreshing for a fall evening, and very suited to this simple vegetable. 

  • Ash gourd - 3 cups (cubes)
  • Tomato - 1 large
  • Black pepper - 1 tsp
  • Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Sea salt -as pepper 
  • Ghee - optional for drizzling
  • Lemon juice - optional for seasoning
  • Chopped cilantro - for garnishing

  • Peel the ash gourd, remove the seeds, and cut into cubes. Quarter the tomato.
  • Add the ash gourd cubes, tomato, 3 cups of water, pepper, cumin and turmeric powder to a soup pot (or pressure cooker). Cook till ash gourd is cooked well. 
  • Let it cool down, mash the veggies well with a wooden spoon or hand mixer. Strain thru a coarse strainer (idea is to get a semi clear soup).
  • Bring the clear soup back to the soup pot. Add salt and extra pepper if needed. Garnish with chopped cilantro and optionally drizzle drops of ghee.
  • Serve with freshly squeezed lemon juice. 
  • Enjoy!!

September 15, 2014

Unniaffins a.k.a Baked Unniyappams

I know what you are thinking now, unniyappams are at its best when they are deep fried in pure homemade ghee. I agree, but it is always good to have another quick version or even better, a quick'n'healthy version.

Unniappams are a delicacy in Kerala and is a key sweet dish for any special occasion. This is even more true if the occasion  is related to Lord Krishna. Today being Ashtamirohini (or Janmashtami - Lord Krishna's Birthday), we have to make the Unniappam. 

I always make the regular version, and the recipe was well sought after by most of my non-malayali friends. This time though I wanted to try something different, and in-line with the quick'n'healthy philosophy. The inspiration was from an unexpected source, a classmate of ours had mentioned that he had tried this for Onam. I knew that we'd like it because with the ingredients involved there is not much that can go wrong :), so decided to give it a try.

I am calling them quick because you don't need to stand near the fire and fry those tiny little cuties one by one, you can spoon them into mini muffin tins and get it over in one go. I am calling them healthy because of the ingredients, all wholesome and organic ingredients, red rice, banana, coconut, pure homemade ghee, and sweetened with just enough coconut palm sugar and a few dates. A gluten-free and vegetarian version to replace your banana bread muffins. To go vegan, just replace the ghee with organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil.

You cannot replace Unniappam with the Unniaffins, but it is quite close and you'd love this if you are an Unniappam fan like us, else it is still worth a try and it is a close (and tastier) relative of the banana bread.


  • Raw rice - 1/2 cup (soaked overnight or for a few hours) (I used Sri Lankan red rice)
  • Pink himalayan salt - a pinch
  • Coconut palm sugar - 3-4 Tbs
  • Dates - 6 -8 
  • Cardamom - 3-4 (skin removed)
  • Very ripe banana - 1
  • Shredded coconut - 1/2 cup
  • Sesame seeds - 1 Tbs (lightly toasted)
  • Golden flax meal - 1 Tbs (just powdered flax)
  • Pure homemade organic ghee - 2 Tbs
  • Baking soda - 1/2 tsp


  • Grind the soaked rice along with salt, sugar, dates and cardamom along with 1/4 cup of water to a thick fine batter.
  • Mash the banana with fork and fold into the batter.
  • Add the coconut, sesame, flax meal and ghee and mix well. 
  • Keep this batter aside for a couple of hours - This step is optional, but it is worth the wait for a more flavorful end product :) 
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degree F. Line 24 mini muffin cups with paper liners.
  • Add baking soda to the batter and mix well. 
  • Add about a tablespoon each into each mini muffin cups. Drizzle drops of ghee on top and bake for about 20 minutes or till golden brown. 
  • Enjoy !!

September 13, 2014

(Not) Eating On Long Haul Flights

Hello friends, I am back from a long break. I was on a long 5 week vacation to India. Had a wonderful time visiting family, friends and places. And of course trying out a lot of regional/local food as well, including some mouth watering street food. Will do a separate post on how you can eat well while traveling, without compromising much on your healthy habits. Today's post though is on eating and feeling well during a long haul flight.

Have you been enjoying eating on long flights? I have never liked eating on flights for a couple of reasons. One being that food on the flight is not healthy, hygienic or tasty, and two being that you are sitting for a long time doing nothing and your body does not need so much of food. If you happen to have a 24 hr journey with a break in between, the airlines over feed you between 5-6 meals. Eating too much on a long flight wreaks havoc on your digestive system as you feel too full, especially since you don't do any work to help with the digestion. We travel at least one long trip every year, and every time at the end of the flight I feel miserable. So this time we decided that we are not going to eat anything from the flight.

Here is what we did, and why we did it. We packed some high energy food while being light on the stomach. It included home made nut balls, good arabian dates, raw cashews and some good chocolate. So you just had to eat a little as the food was high energy, and it did not make you full or heavy, and no urges to rush to the toilet. We did drink a lot of fluids (water and juices) though which is very essential on a flight to keep you hydrated. We also took time to stand-up and walk around to stretch our legs 2-3 times during every leg.

So what was the result? We have never felt so good about a long flight, had a lot of energy all through the journey, felt light, slept well, and no signs of headaches/nausea/bloating/vomiting that I have had on every other journey. This is going to be our mantra for every flight trip going forward. Try this on your next flight and you will surely feel the difference. 

Suggestions on food to take:
-Nuts: Any nut that u like to munch on, don't go for unhealthy trail-mixes though. We prefer raw cashews and almonds, and roasted peanuts if we can get hold of organic peanuts
-Energy bars: Home made is best, else u can get from a good health store like Wholefoods
-Dry fruits: Raisins, Dates, Dried Figs or Apricots
-Chocolates: Take good quality chocolates in moderation, sugar will be on the higher side, but a little indulgence when you travel is OK I guess :)

You can be innovative too with your own preferences for the above items. It provides for good energy, good fat and protein, and needed sugar as well, while keeping you light and energetic. This is not a diet for a long period, would recommend it while you are on a flight. Try this on your next long haul flight and your body will thank you :-)

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