Like a Virgin

your chariot awaits...:

I’m catching Virgin Flight DJ 519 to Australia’s ‘Sunny Gold Coast‘ (read ‘wet and windy’) today. There’s a vegan cooking class a’brewin’.

kurma cooking renaissance:

Here’s our menu:

The Global Vegan

Fragrant South Indian Hot & Sour Toor Dal Soup (Rasam)

Orange and Pecan-studded Canadian Wild Rice and Basmati Pilaff

BBQ Asparagus with Semi-dried Tomato & Macadamia Chutney

Mild Karnataka-style Poriyal of Cauliflower, Potato and Peas

Succulent Mixed Vegetable Balls in Herbed Tomato Sauce (Kofta)

Dubai-style Salad of Dates, Turkish Bread, Almonds, Bitter Greens, Roasted Tofu & Fresh Herbs

Smoky Lebanese Eggplant Dip (Babagannouj)

Epiphany Doughnuts in Lemon-scented Rose & Orange-Blossom Syrup

Stay tuned…

'A' is for….

If you know all this off by heart, you can skip today’s blog. But there are still some people left on earth that don’t know the answer to this much-asked question.
Plus I’ve dug up some more tidbits of interest about my favourite spice.

Toni from Brisbane writes:

“Could you please explain what is asafoetida powder?”


Asafetida (also spelled asafoetida) is the aromatic resin from the root of the giant fennel, Ferula asafoetida. It is also known as hing, and is extracted from the stems of the giant perennial plants that grow wild in Central Asia, especially Northern Iran and Afghanistan. Thus it is known as an oleo-resin exudate.

In the spring, when the plant is about to bloom, the stems and roots are cut. Milky resin exudes from the cut surface and is scraped off. The gummy resin is sun-dried into a solid mass that is then sold in solid, wax-like pieces. Most raw asafetida is sent to India for further processing and sale, mostly in the convenient powdered form.

flowering asafetida:

Asafetida has been held in great esteem among indigenous medicines from the earliest times in India. It is highly reputed as a drug to expel wind from the stomach, and to counteract spasmodic disorders. Asafetida is also a digestive agent and is used, among other things, for alleviating toothache and as an antidote for opium.

In Thailand it is used to aid babies’ digestion and is smeared on the child’s stomach in an alcohol tincture known as “mahahing”.

John C Duval reported in 1936 that the odor of asafetida is attractive to the wolf, a matter of common knowledge, he says, along the Texas/Mexico border.

Haitian black-magic rituals often would include asafetida to keep the evil spirits at bay.

It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran, and was popular in any self-respecting Classical kitchen. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India (commonly known there as hing).

Some sources say that it emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who after returning from a trip to north-eastern Persia (modern Afghanistan), thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed silphium of Cyrene in north Africa. Nevertheless, it could be substituted for silphium in cooking, which was fortunate, because a few decades after Dioscorides time, the true silphium of Cyrene went extinct, and Asafoetida gained in popularity, by physicians as well as cooks.

After the Roman Empire fell, until the 16th century, asafoetida was rare in Europe, and if ever encountered, is was viewed as a medicine.

If used in cookery, it would ruin every dish because of its dreadful smell,” asserted García de Orta‘s European guest.

Nonsense“, García replies, “nothing is more widely used in every part of India, both in medicine and in cookery. All the Hindus who can afford it buy it to add to their food. The rich Brahmins, and all the Hindus who are vegetarian, eat a lot of it. They add it to their vegetables and herbs, and first rubbing the cooking pot with it: it is seasoning, sauce, and condiment in every dish they eat“.

In the days of Moghul aristocracy in India, the court singers of Agra and Delhi would wake before dawn and eat a spoonful of asafetida with butter to enhance their singing voice before practicing on the banks of the Yamuna river.

gimme more:

Asafetida is also excellent for settling flatulence and is prescribed by Indian herbalists for respiratory problems like whooping cough and asthma.

Due to the presence of sulphur compounds, raw asafetida has a distinctive pungent aroma. To cook with asafetida, small quantities of the powdered form are sauteed in a little slightly-hot oil or ghee, before adding to a variety of savoury dishes, adding a delicious flavour reminiscent of a mixture of shallots and garlic.

da yellow stuff:

I always uses the mild yellow asafetida powder and not the grey variety. All my recipes calling for asafetida were tested using this yellow variety. If using other types, reduce the quantity to between a quarter and a half of the suggested amount. Asafetida is available at Indian grocers and specialty stores.

Spekky for Brekky

Speculation in the kitchen can be a disaster or it can be a pleasurable event, depending on one’s level of competency. While you salivate over the picture below, let me explain by way of an example:

If you want to learn piano, you need to practice the authorised lessons of an highly qualified teacher. If you think you can start composing piano concertos in your first few months, you will fail.

kurma 1:

Similarly, if you want to become a competent cook, you must follow recipes, constantly, regularly, until you become very experienced. When you reach a steady level of competence, then, and only then, should you make up recipes. If you do, those made-up recipes will be based on sound kitchen principles.

I know that some of you will not agree with this perspective. I meet many such persons at my cookery classes who admit to never following recipes. Okay, they may pull it off sometimes, but sometimes they will fail. And their cookery may never be extra-special.

Ok, I guess you are not surprised in hearing this viewpoint, since I write cookbooks. Some people are incorrigible speculators, and you can’t teach an old kitchen dog new tricks. But I sincerely offer this advice to any beginner who really wants to become an expert cook.

Yesterday I whipped up a quickie for breakfast with what immediately was in arms reach in the kitchen. There are no exact amounts, but as explained above, if you understand the principles of cookery, you can (as I did) write a recipe on the spot.

a breakfast of champions:

I toasted a couple of slices of my homemade sourdough bread.

Then I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a wok, and dropped in a couple handfuls of cubed organic tofu.

After the tofu turned a little golden on it’s edges, I sliced up a couple of Bequinho chilis (see yesterday’s blog) and tossed them in. Then a sprinkle of yellow asafetida, followed by a generous grinding of mixed peppercorns (freeze-dried green, pink, and black Malabar). On top of that I threw in two very ripe, chopped organic trellis tomatoes, and allowed them to break down a bit.

Finally, I chopped some fine stalks of fresh coriander (I had used the leaves the day before), a smidge of raw sugar, a trace of ground black salt and some ground rock salt. Onto the toast, some chanting of Vedic hymns and the famed Maha Mantra to sanctify the offering, and it was ready.

Very simple, of course, but very nice. You could replace the tofu with panir, or baked ricotta, or haloumi.

Cooking breakfast can be a great pleasure, especially if you can get yourself in a joyous, appreciative frame of mind. Then the eating part can be all the more rich and rewarding. Yum!!

Chilis Galore

One of the highlights of last week’s travels was some on-the-spot training in chili identification.

While at Mangrove Mountain I met up with John Leone, a ‘chili head’ extraordinaire. He gave me a beautiful collection of chilies, all picked fresh from his extensive collection.

I took down the names and some interesting information, as well as photographing them.

Every chili in these photos is different. John has a website, and he sells seeds. If you are a serious chili aficionado, I suggest you check it out.

chili collection #1:

Just in case you cannot read my writing, here are their names.

For the photo above, all names left to right.

Top Row: Rocoto Peron, Manzano Orange, Manzano Red.

Second Row: Naga Morich, Aussie Black, Royal Black.

Third Row: Burkina, Scotch Bonnet, Peruvian Chinense.

Fourth Row: Aji Cristal, Aji Amarillo.

Fifth Row: Aji Habañero, tiny Bolivian Chacoense.

Bottom Row: Siam #1 and #2, Eximium, Bishop’s Crown

The chili heat identification scale is called the Scoville Scale. It is abbreviated as SHU (Scoville Heat Units). However chili heat is more commonly identified on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being blisteringly hot. I guess 1 Scoville is so many tens or hundreds of SHU sub-units. I forgot to ask John.

The chilies above range from searingly hot to mild. The hottest one above is the Naga Morich, an astonishing 1,000,000 SHU! It is one of the hottest on the planet.

Wikipedia has this to say:

“The Bhut Jolokia (also known as Naga Jolokia, Ghost Chili, Ghost Pepper, Naga Morich) is a chili pepper that grows in northeastern India (Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur), Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. In 2006, it was confirmed by Guinness World Records to be the hottest chili in the world, displacing the Red Savina.”

I first tasted Aji and Rocoto in Peru. While in Cusco I was served a vegetarian pizza with what appeared to be red capsicum on top; it was fresh unseeded Rocoto. My mouth was burning for half an hour. And I used to grow the Peruvian Chinense in my garden in Perth.

chili collection #2:

The chilis above are described as follows, clockwise from top left: Bequinho (Brazil), Brazil, Peruvian Orange, Maraba Yellow (Peru). And that’s John’s business card in the centre.


The Habañeros above fascinated me. I had no idea there were so many varieties. Here’s their description:

Top Row: Chocolate, Yellow, Paper Lantern

Second Row: Lava Drop, New Mexican Suave Yellow, Peruvian White, White Bullet.

Third Row: Caribbean Red, Red Savina, Tasmanian Red.

Fourth Row: Costa Rica, Barbados, Standard Orange.

Out of all the Habañeros above, the Chocolate is the hottest, coming in at 450,000 SHU. The rest vary in heat down to 200,000 SHU. The New Mexico Suave is a mild 800.

I now have all these chilis spread out on trays, drying in my bedroom. I keep a respectful distance away from the Naga Morich.

Thus ends today’s chili lesson. Visit John’s website for some more information.

The Warrandyte Wave

It’s a crisp Sydney morning, and I’m recovering from a week of ecstatic teaching.
I headed off a week ago for Satyananda Ashram in the forests of Mangrove mountain. The karma yogis and Sanyasis there were a pleasure to work with – disciplined, hard-working and kind. My photo report of that event is lower down this page.

After a day back in Sydney to re-pack, I flew off to Melbourne, spending the night in my all-time favourite abode, the beautiful Melbourne Hare Krishna Temple in Albert Park. It was an icy 2 degrees as the taxi came to pick me up for my drive to Warrandyte and the home of Alison (below, centre) for an ebullient all-girl cookery event organised by the incorrigible Narelle (below, to Alison’s left)

doing the warrandye wave:

This is what we cooked, and ate.

The South Asian Shared Table

Classic Basmati Rice Pulao

Hearty Split Mung Dal with Seasonal Vegetables

Served with Grilled Turkish Bread

Seared Chili Panir Cheese Steaks on a Bed of Sweet Potato Mash

Served with Balsamic-drenched Fresh Rocket Salad

Mild Karnataka-style Poriyal of Cauliflower, Potato and Peas

Served with Flame-toasted Pappadams, Lemon Wedges & Yogurt

Malaysian Curry Puffs

Served with Hot and Sweet Tomato Chutney

Creamy Cardamom-infused Condensed Yogurt Dessert

With Pistachios & Saffron Syrup (Shrikhand)

proud panir:

Our spicy chili-seared fresh panir steaks made from rich unpasteurised milk
was one of many delights. Served on a bed of buttery sweet-potato mash and balsamic-drenched peppery wild rocket leaves, it was a taste sensation.

But wait – there’s more. This was only one of 5 days of kitchen bliss…

Kurma Returns to Canberra

Teaching in Australia’s National Capital Canberra has been a regular adventure for many years. This visit marked the 30th birthday of my host Korinne (below, with baby Archer). She had invited guests from as far away as Papua-New Guinea, so it was an eagerly awaited event.

A day at Korinne's:

A generous sprinkling of men in the class changed the dynamics from my usual all-female extravaganzas. Here Jason pounds the Thai red curry paste.

Jason pounds the paste:

Fennel-scented doughnuts in berry-laced Greek yogurt was the grand finale, rendering us all prostrate for a good few hours.

Luscious berry malpoura:

I managed to get to the bus depot in time for my express bus trip back to Sydney.

Three Days at Mangrove Mountain

The kitchens of the peaceful Satyananda Ashram were a’flurry with all sounds culinary for my three-day cooking workshops. Here’s our crew for day one.

Day #1 at Satyananda Yoga:

We were cooking for an evening meal of 60 hungry karma-yogis, hence our generous salad leaf quantities.

Gyanmurti and Leela's Giant Rocket:

Our Syrian pomegranate and walnut dip required roasted red peppers, here expertly blackened over a naked flame by Govinda and Leela.

Leela and Govinda roast peppers:

Peeling oven-roasted peanuts for the North-Indian Cabbage Salad is fun when there’s a few of you doing it at once.

peanut duty:

Julie (second from left) brought a group of friends from Berry, a small town in New South Wales, to help with cut-up duties.

The Berry Babes:

Jacqui baked some phenomenal loaves of bread.

Jacqui's bread:

The kitchen was a pleasure to cook in. This giant Brat Pan, here attended to by Veda, was the ideal vessel to prepare cashew and cardamom-laced carrot halava, which cooked to perfection in record time.

Veda stirs the Carrot Halava:

A splendid time was had by all!

Curry Leaf-scented Two-minute Blog Noodles

I’m back from teaching in Mangrove Mountain. I’ll publish a photo essay on that next week. I’m unpacking and then re-packing for a weekend of classes in Melbourne and Canberra.

No time to serve up a full-meal posting. So here’s a two-minute blog I had waiting in the cupboard for a quick snack.

beautiful curry leaves:

Pramod from South India writes:

“Hello Kurma. Regarding growing curry leaves: I live in the western coast of southern India. Typical to any humid tropical region we get plenty of rains during monsoon and bright Sun round the year. The
soil is mostly sublaterate which is not very good for gowing anything except
Coconuts and Banana.

And the humus does not develop very well leading to the
leaching of manure or any other input. In spite of this adverse condition we
have a lot of Curry leaf plants (you call them trees!). In my parents’ backyard
they used to come up on their own (I mean wherever the roots of other curry
leaf plants are exposed above the mud). In my front yard there are a few
plants. They need a lot of Sun and moist soil.

As you have mentioned it is
better to snip off the berries so that the plant does not dry up. In my case I
start snipping the flowers themselves (take caution – do not cut all the flowers
in the plant at the same time. I did that once and the plant went into “coma”;
then it took quite sometime for the plant to recuperate).

As one of your readers mentioned, it
is useful to give rice water to the plants; along with it, my mother says,
feeding very thin buttermilk to enhances the aroma in the leaves. In my
observation, the plant becomes bare during our winter, then with the onset of
summer it turn lush again.

Also, during winter the plant is attacked by a mite
that leaves tiny cottony deposits on the leaves. Which is again harmful for the
growth of the plant (we don’t do anything, it disappears after sometime on its
own). For the trunk to gain bulk and leaves/branches to increase in number –
break the tip of the branch now and then; breaking the branch just at the point
where leaves start growing also helps.

The plant can also be grown in pots or
polythene bags (As Bangaloreans do, due to lack of good soil or land). But when the
root gets suffocated you may have to repot or transplant in a moist piece of

We have two varieties of Curry Leaf plants. One is wild variety with
thick, darkish green leaves available in markets; but these lack in fragrance.
The ones which we grow at home gardens have thin, light green leaves and these
are really fragrant. Kurma, the picture of a single frond of leaves in your
page looks like that of a wild variety.”

Buckwheat Chapatis

roll em':

I’m just about to turn off my computer and pack it into my suitcase. I’m heading off to Mangrove Mountain to teach a couple of cookery seminars at the Satyananda Ashram. The kitchen staff there are eager to learn a few things culinary.

Before I head to Sydney’s Central Station for the ride to Gosford, I thought I’d share this latest correspondence.

K from Australia writes:

Hi Kurma, Great site. Do you have recipe available for Buckwheat flatbreads? Chapattis? Rotis, please? I can’t have gluten. I want to make some for my elderly parents, how long would they store? Can you freeze if necessary? Buckwheat, oil, salt and water? Would that turn out ok?

My reply:

Hello K, I do have a recipe for buckwheat chapatis. They are gluten-free. As far as freezing and storing: Well, fresh is best, but I guess they will last in the fridge if stored properly, and they may freeze.

Here’s the recipe. By the way, they are very hard to roll out, having no gluten. Patience and a deft hand is required.

And no, oil is not required in the dough. The secret is mashed potato. Here we go:

Buckwheat Chapatis

Buckwheat is not technically a grain, but it lends itself to breads and pancakes as it behaves like a grain. In India and elsewhere, on the grain-free Vaisnava fasting day of Ekadasi, buckwheat, as well as other pseudo-grains, like chestnut flour and tapioca flour, are used in a variety of versatile ways. If you like the taste of buckwheat, you’ll love these tender versions of India’s most popular flatbread, the chapati.

Buckwheat contains no gluten, so those of you who can’t eat wheat will find this recipe appealing. As far as equipment is concerned, you’ll need at least one non-stick frypan, (two or three are better), a rolling pin, a smooth surface for rolling, and some kitchen tongs. Makes 10 large chapatis.

2 cups buckwheat flour, about 250g

½ teaspoon salt

300g peeled potatoes, about 3 medium-sized potatoes, cut into large pieces

3 tablespoons water

a good quantity of extra buckwheat flour for dusting and rolling

melted butter or ghee (optional, for spreading over the chapatis after they’ve been cooked)

roll em': Combine the buckwheat flour and salt in a large bowl.

roll em': Boil the potatoes in sufficient water until they are very soft. Remove, drain and mash them. Measure the quantity of mashed potatoes. You will need 1 cup. Place the measured quantity of mashed potatoes in a large metal sieve over a large kitchen bowl. Push and rub the potato through the sieve and collect it in the bowl.

roll em': Pre-heat the large non-stick frying pan, or pans over moderate heat. Combine the warm mashed potato with the buckwheat flour. Add the water a little at a time to form a soft, but not sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a clean, smooth working surface, sprinkled with buckwheat flour. Turn and knead the dough for one or two minutes.

roll em': Pinch off 10 even-sized lumps of dough and form them into smooth balls, pressing and kneading them gently into thick patties. Dredge a patty of dough in flour and place it on the flour-strewn surface. Carefully roll it with a dry, flour-sprinkled rolling pin to a fairly thin, even, smooth disc about 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter. If it sticks to the pin, re-roll it and apply more flour. A little care needs to be taken here since the dough contains no gluten and is very delicate.

roll em': Very carefully pick up the disc of dough and quickly transfer it to the frying pan. Slip it onto the hot pan, taking care to avoid wrinkling it. Cook it for about 1 minute on the first side. The top of the bread should start to show small bubbles, or it may even fully puff up in the pan – even better!

roll em': Turn it over, being careful not to tear it, and cook it on the reverse side. When a few dark spots appear on the underside, lift the chapati with kitchen tongs to about 5cm over a full flame, if you are using gas. If using an electric stove, you’ll need to sit a cake cooling rack above, but not touching, the element. The chapati should swell into a puffy balloon.

roll em': Cook it until it shows a few more darker spots, then place it in a bowl or basket covered with a clean cloth, and continue cooking the rest of the chapatis. When they are cooked and stacked, you may like to butter them. Serve buckwheat chapatis hot, or keep them warm, well covered, in a pre-heated warm oven for up to half an hour.

Lord Krishna's Cuisine

Lord Krishna's Cuisine:

Naresh Pote wrote from India.

“Its the Lord Krishna who really have sent you from heaven to teach the man-kind
about divine food. I am however very much dissatisfied by the fact that most
of the foods and recipes which are mentioned in your site contains the
ingredients which could not be found in India. I wish you write one book which
is specially devoted to India and which takes all the materials availiable in
India. I wish you live long and fulfill the desire of Lord Krishna.”

My reply:

“Hello Naresh. Thanks for your letter, replete with your sweet and diplomatic choice of words, and your thoughtful benediction.

Many of my recipes require ingredients that are readily available on the Great Subcontinent. That is especially true of my first cookbook ‘Great Vegetarian Dishes’. But you are correct in your observation that a number of food items from my later cookbooks are harder to track down in India, especially outside of the big cities. I think many of my Indian readers would agree, yes?

The renowned and acclaimed author, Yamuna Devi, has written a number of classic Indian cookbooks that would appeal to Indian readers keen to be able to find all the ingredients.

Here’s one of my favourites:

And here’s another.