Monday, 15 October 2018

Food in Madhya Pradesh

Here are a couple of recipes that I learnt while travelling in Madhya Pradesh plus some general thoughts on Indian food.
Everything is Indian in India. That's part of what is so great about travelling here. Unlike most of the world where high streets are identical, India is just so bloody Indian. Especially the food. 
Last night I had spaghetti for a change, somehow it had become Indian, with sliced green chillis and un-Italian spices. A cup of tea will be masala chai. A cup of coffee is thick with boiled milk and Nescafe. Breakfast is of course Indian. 
Virtually every meal follows the same routine and structure: 

1) Half moons of crispy poppadum are served with three small dishes: salt, pepper and pickle. 

2) Sometimes another dish of goat curd is added. Sometimes one is given a soup; lemon and coriander, mulligatawny or tomato soup. Tomato soup couldn't be more different from thick Western Heinz style that we are accustomed to, it's been clarified, and is a light transparent red. 

3) Then come the curries: it is important to note the difference between wet and dry curries. The dry curries have less gravy and are served directly onto the main plate, but the wet curries, dhal for instance, are poured into little bowls. 

4) The paneer cheese is wonderfully fresh, served in a variety of ways from the Chinese influenced 'chilli paneer', or coated with creamy cashew sauce. I must work out the recipe.

5) Spinach is creamed. When I make saag aloo I never cream the spinach. I'm very alert to texture, and I can't abide slimyness. This is why I don't like okra/bhindi, which is popular here. 

6) Sauteed vegetables, not in a curry sauce, are another option; simple enough you might think but somehow this plain dish becomes Indian - they are sautéed in ghee and slick with pepper.

7) Breads are so good. Slim and flexible flatbreads, fried puffed breads, stuffed parathas, are made with the skill of regular practice and habit. 

8) Rice often seems to be an afterthought, frequently served cold and lacking salt. Which is odd as Madhyar Pradesh is a rice producing state. In fact I've seen rice paddies and actual rice plants close-up for the first time ever. I remember a geography teacher explaining to me that Asians are intelligent because they are rice producing countries and it takes intelligence to grow rice and turn it into food. Certainly harder than potatoes.

8) For dessert I am mostly given some kind of rice pudding, a kheer, although it can have vermicelli instead, with sweet spiced whole milk, flavoured with cashews, pistachios and saffron. Kheer is also a popular breakfast item, along with milkshakes, buttermilk, sweet lassi. I have also been served gulab jamin, fudgy white balls  or chocolate kulfi, an unchurned ice cream.

9) Meals are breakfast (poha, or utthapam or masala omelette), lunch (curries), high tea (deep fried pakora fritters, or tea and biscuits)  and dinner (curries). After, say, five days of eating non-stop Asian food, I find I need a little break, a pasta, pizza, toast or something.

10) Service is attentive, almost ridiculously so. A man will stand next to your table watching you eat. If you nearly finish one pile of vegetables, you will be served another. To be honest I'd prefer to serve myself. But I suppose this is a relic of the memsahib British colonial style service. When I'm eating or cooking I go into a zen-like state which I don't like to be interrupted. It was a family joke as a child that I used to say 'Don't talk to me, I'm concentrating on my food'. 


This flattened rice is a local speciality in both Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states. It's generally eaten for breakfast. I asked the chef at the Riverwood Lodge in Pench to show me how to prepare this dish.

250g poha
2tbsp ghee
1tsp mustard seeds
Handful of fresh curry leaves
1 small brown onion, finely sliced
1tsp turmeric ground
1 potato, peeled, finely sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar or palm sugar
Handful of garden peas
Handful of peanuts
1 green chilli, finely sliced
Handful of coriander leaves
1 lime

Soak the poha in cold water for a few minutes until they easily squash between your fingers. Drain.
In a deep frying pan, heat the ghee until hot then add the mustard seeds, curry leaves then
cook the onion till soft. Add the turmeric and potato slices. 
Add the salt and sugar, the peas, peanuts, chilli.
Add the coriander leaves and juice of the lime.


This is a great snack to accompany a glass of beer. I do find it so creative how Indian use rice crispies or puffed rice as a savoury dish. People said it came from Calcutta, but locally it appears to be known as 'Ayush'.

At a sunset view spot in Pachmahri, I passed an Indian family who had laid out a clean thick newspaper and were making Jhaalmuri for a picnic snack.

300g unsweetened puffed rice
1/2 cucumber, peeled, diced
3 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
Handful of sev
Juice of 1 lime
1 small green chilli 
A sprinkle of black salt

Mix all the ingredients together. 

Masala Chai

Wet and Dry Curry

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Aberdeen and the Shire

Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/

I'm falling in love with Scotland. Over the last year I've visited Glasgow, Oban, and the World Porridge Championships in the Highlands. This summer I discovered Aberdeen and the surrounding area. In the past this town has had a mixed reputation (the writer Paul Theroux described it as 'a cold, stony-faced city, over-cautious, unwelcoming and smug'). During the 1980s Aberdeen was oil rich and booming. Now the oil money has subsided.
In the 21st century, Aberdeen has cleaned up the beautiful granite buildings, pitted with mica and giving rise to the moniker 'the silver city'. The city doesn't just depend on oil anymore, with a growing tourism sector, bars and restaurants.

I didn't spend long in Aberdeen itself on this occasion, just enough to visit the ice cream makers Mackies 19.2 and an award winning cocktail bar Orchid which distills gin using Buddha's hand citrus.
I ate a warming Cullen Skink soup, an Aberdonian speciality of smoked haddock (from nearby Finan) and potatoes, at the spectacular harbour side restaurant The Silver Darling. On the wall were all the fish market prices of the day, which you eat as ships parade past grandly.

Aberdeen was a fishing town before the oil, and the North Sea remains a strong presence. The village of Footdee, pronounced 'fittie', is a series of fishing cottages, designed by the Balmoral architect John Smith, where all the doors and windows face inwards, into a square. The backs of the houses face the sea, to protect against fierce storms.
Travelling further outside the city, into Aberdeenshire, I was reminded of one of my favourite books  'I capture the castle', about a romantic young girl who lived in a freezing castle. The romantically turreted, all stone staircases and tartan carpet, Craigevar castle is a vision in elastoplast pink and reputedly the original model for the Disney castle.

This area around Aberdeen is known as Royal Deeside: royal from the fact that the Queen (and her predecessor Victoria) love to spend time at Balmoral; Dee is the river running from the Cairngorms.
I visited Ballater station, now defunct as a working railway station. Currently being transformed into a restaurant and bar, Queen Victoria's glittering railway 'waiting room' is worth seeing. Ballater village has the most royal warrants per square mile in the country. Above the shops are large plaster gold embossed warrants; her Majesty seems keen on delicatessens.

Shopkeepers were friendly, speaking with the charming soft local dialect known as 'Doric'. Balmoral is only seven miles away and they tell me that you can see the Queen walking her dogs:
 'A little old woman with a stiff pelmet of steely hair. You are about her height.' purred one.
Next to Ballater station at Dee Valley Confectioners, in the back room, you can watch the mesmeric process of the 'boilings'; boiled sugar being stretched and wrenched into sweets and twists of candy.

I stayed at Douneside House, formerly a hotel for the forces. Although it is now open to the public, ex and current military can access incredible discounts for the luxury rooms. The dinner, cooked by Chef David Butters, was one of the best I've had in Scotland. Modern Scottish food, not overly fussy, but beautifully presented. Douneside really feels like that gorgeous countryside mansion you've always wanted, and the Royal Horticultural Society gardens are equally magnificent. 

I went to see Grace Noble and her cows at her Aberdeenshire Highland Beef farm. Although I don't eat or cook meat, I do support small businesses, especially those run by women. Grace set up this business after her divorce and is thriving. She works with a talented female butcher.

Brewdog is an Aberdeenshire business that has done incredibly well the last few years, expanding from a couple of beerheads and a dog in 2007 to an internationally traded company with over a thousand employees. I was part of a group that was shown around the trendy vast warehouses, no employee appeared to be over 35, by a violet-eyed woman with turquoise hair. Afterwards we drank sour beer and other styles at the company pub within. Brewdog are now making spirits and even plan to do their own whisky. They had a 'three bubble' copper still made especially for this purpose. 

Brewdog, beer bottle chandelier. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Brewdog,work place pub,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Brewdog,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Brewdog, beers,  Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Ol Meldrum House, Aberdeenshire pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
I stayed at the 13th century gothic looking Old Meldrum house hotel, where my stunning bedroom had a wall of windows facing onto a golf course.
Glen Garoich whisky  distillery, Aberdeenshire, pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Just down the road lies Glen Garioch Distillery. This tour was excellent, compared to my tour at Oban last year. Not all whisky tours are equal it seems. I was allowed to take pictures without the threat of burning the place down for instance. The tour guide was the most Scottish looking bloke, all ginger hair and moustache, but who turned out to be an English whisky enthusiast. Glen Garioch is the proud owner of a Porteus machine malt mill which was so efficient that they never ever broke down which meant the business went broke as nobody needed to buy a new one. (A second hand Porteus would cost around £60, 000 so precious are they). 
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Glen Garioch whisky distillery,. Aberdeen. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/

When you order food in Scotland, portions are huge. I had a fish n chip lunch, crispy ballooning batter duvet-like around spanking fresh fish, at The Boat Inn, a pub that uses excellent local produce. Amusingly it has a toy steam train that puffs around a narrow track affixed to the top of the walls of the room.
Last stop was a restaurant called Eat on the Green, in Udney Green, run by chef/patron Craig Wilson, also known as The Kilted Chef. I sat rapt listening to his stories over a lengthy gin tasting and lunch. Finally I tasted his sticky toffee pudding, which lived up to its name. It is claimed that this British classic was invented in Aberdeenshire.

eat on the green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
the gin bar at Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Scottish cheese board Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/
Eat on he green, Craig Wilson,. Aberdeenshire. pic:Kerstin Rodgers/

This visit was kindly hosted by Visit Aberdeenshire.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The British Organic Carrot supper club

carrot supper club menu pic: Kerstin Rodgers/aka msmarmitelover

This summer I've been working on a fantastic project-British Organic carrots. I've driven over two thousand miles, all over the UK, to visit organic carrot farmers from Inverness to Cambridgeshire, via Norfolk, Aberdeenshire and Shropshire.

I've learnt about the dedication and hard work it takes to be a farmer. I've met some great characters and enjoyed beautiful British countryside. I've also realised how bloody sexy farmers are. They all exude health and strength. Conventional farmers have an average age of 55, but organic farmers tend to be younger and more innovative. Farmers are the backbone of this country, they are custodians of the land.

Organic carrots are worth paying for, they simply taste better. All carrots are good for you, but in my experience, organic carrots are sweeter. Grown organically, each carrot has more space to grow in. Butterflies, ladybirds and other insects control diseases, rather than spraying with pesticides. Organic carrots are rotated, usually on a seven year schedule, to different fields, avoiding the need for synthetic fertilisers. Fields are hand weeded which is also a factor in pushing up the cost. But when we are talking about paying more, it's merely pennies: if conventional carrots cost 50p, then organic carrots will cost a quid. Organic carrots are a cheap luxury: gourmet produce for very little extra.

One of my favourite things is to take an ingredient and go wild with it, pushing it as far as I can take it.
Last week I held an organic carrot supper club at my home featuring an 11 course organic carrot menu for buyers, farmers, supermarkets and press. Food people can often be blasé about invitations to meals, they've been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the postcard. So it was a particular pleasure to have some of the growers attend. They brought their humour and their appetite!

I also got through 25 kilos of organic carrots, mostly orange, but also some purple and yellow. My eyesight is now Xray vision. The recipes I've created range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but are all very very tasty.


Carrot syrup with champagne

Carrot 'smoked salmon' with home made mini bagels, cream cheese, capers, dill.

Carrot 'coral' with sour salt in obulato cones

Quail eggs with carrot caviar

Shot glass of Carroty Bloody Mary, rimmed with carrot powder

Carrot falafel with carrot kimchi

Carrot and turmeric soup

Carrot sorbet

Halbit, carrots, girolles, yellow courgettes in a bag

Cheese board with Persian carrot jam and carrot cheesy biscuits

Carrot cake

Carrot and cardamom pate de fruits

Carrot iced biscuit

The menu. British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
carrot and sour salt rimmed glasses. British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
home made mini bagels using malted flour. British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
carrot falafel. British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Carrot 'coral' and sour salt in obulato cones. British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
carrot carpaccio British Organic Carrot supper club pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
carrot 'smoked salmon'  British Organic Carrot supper club pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
the room British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
carrot caviar British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
orange quail eggs filled with carrot caviar British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Carrot napkins and calligraphy British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Table settings British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Carrot cakes at British Organic Carrot supper club Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Farmer Joe Rolfe wearing my carrot fascinator. British Organic Carrot supper club. Pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Joe Rolfe, Organic carrot farmer from Norfolk.