Khasta Dal Puris

June 3, 2014

Dal PuriDal Puri 2Took a leaf out of one of Sunil Mehra‘s amazing cooking posts and interpreted it with what I had here. Mixed leftover moong dal (cooked with kadi pata etc.) with flour and kasuri methi, crushed red pepper, jeera and ajwain to make puri dough. Kept it air-tightly covered in the fridge over night. Next morning rolled out and fried some really khastha puris, lots of them. Placed them on reams of paper towels to absorb extra oil. Took them to an International Potluck and came back with an empty basket. Sunil, I think your post said urad, but I sure most dals would work just as well. This is the first time I have used kadi patta and kasuri methi together and it was pretty good.

Tomatoes again, I’m afraid, have provoked me to blog! This time it’s not New Mexico (see earlier post), but the other side of the world, New Delhi. Unlike the euphoria I felt from the proliferation of the nightshade fruit/vegetable in the Southwestern American sun, I was overcome by despondency at the preponderance of red plum tomatoes in the produce stalls in groceries here in India, variants of the Roma hybrid that were created in the States. This was done precisely with Italianate sauces, canned and fresh, in mind: less water, more flesh, ergo more thick sauces. Nothing wrong with that, besides the tougher skin also makes the variety more warehousable and transportable and presumably packable. But like all foods manipulated for convenience, flavor and indeed fragrance have fallen by the wayside on the journey to success. My eggplant and tomato ratatouille that I used to make Kashmiri style with oh! so rotund tomatoes that smelled like tomatoes, is definitely not the same dish when prepared with oval Roma Replacement.

After looking long and hard for the old tomatoes in the stores here I succeeded! I found them, looking reassuringly familiar, beautifully misshapen, no one fellow looking like the other, in shape or color, delightfully unruly and unregimented, and when I cooked them, as deliciously authentic as ever.

It made no difference that they cost twice as much as the new kid on the block.

I began to see why real tomatoes in the US are called Heirloom. As well as, and incorrectly I must say, Ugly!

Sudha Koul,  Author of “Curries without Worries”

Sudha Koul, author of the classic Indian cooking text, “Curries Without Worries”, recently in Fort Myers, was kind enough to invite a few friends over as she cooked, from scratch, natch, an eclectic Indian meal. In no time, she created dishes (recipes in her current, as well as soon to be revised book) that were amazing in the richness of tastes created from fresh vegetables and spices. These dishes are simple, and amazingly tasty.A Practiced Hand
Farmer’s Market’s Best
Beet Root Raita (Before)
Beet Root Raita
Gobi Matar (Caulifower and peas)Dhaanival (Fresh Coriander) Korma or Fragrant Lamb Curry
Everyday Bhindi (Okra)
Cachumber (Cucumber) Ka SaladThe Eclectic Indian Meal (Served with Tangerine Rice)
Delicious Tastes, Textures and Colors
Kishen Koul, Chief Taster!
Sudha Relaxes after a Wonderful Meal

Visit Sudha Koul’s Website/Blog:
Purchase a copy of the 1996 updated edition of “Curries Without Worries” at, (ISBN-10: 0446670782) , and taste why it has been recognized as one of the best Indian cookbooks.

Kashmiri Wedding Redux

October 3, 2007


Daikon Radish Raita


Shamiana Lamb Pullao

Indulge in a Kashmiri wedding banquet

The delectable Hindu cuisine, born in a lost paradise, overflows with luscious lamb.

By Sudha Koul, Special to The Times
May 23, 2007

A heavenly Himalayan valley, a beautiful couple, the perfect hour as augured by the horoscopes, mesmerizing mystical music, a sublimely delicious banquet — and voilà! It’s a Hindu wedding in Kashmir.Or, rather, it used to be.Sadly, Hindus in Kashmir (called Kashmiri Pandits or Brahmins, for uncertain reasons the only caste of Hindus in the valley) fled their homeland after militant violence in the region; by the 1990s they were scattered all over the globe.For centuries before, the lives of the majority Muslims and the tiny community of Pandits were intertwined in coexistence under an overarching peaceful ethos of Sufism. We were so close — we spoke the same language, sang the same songs, went on some of the same pilgrimages, and most of all adored our unique cuisine.But Kashmir’s history is punctuated by oppression, floods, famines and fires. As a result, though the valley is extremely lush and fertile, life could go from feast to famine overnight. No wonder, then, that food has always been an integral part of all Kashmiri rites of passage and that such great care was taken in its preparation.Pandits fleeing the violence of the ’80s may not have been able to carry their incomparable lakes, flowers and mountains with them, but they certainly are still in possession of their delectable recipes. Kashmir’s cuisine reflects its lush green paddy fields; golden mustard blossoms; lotus lakes brimming with fish; fruit and nut orchards; and yielding soil. An everyday meal in the valley would include rice, greens (leafy, collard-like haak or kohlrabi) and lamb, fish or chicken in a stew, often with vegetables. Yogurt is indispensable in the region; symbolizing longevity, it is sent as a birthday gift to breadwinners.The combination of rice, greens and yogurt is at the heart of every Kashmiri meal. The Himalayan snow line surrounds Kashmir and this rules out vegetarianism, but even for avid carnivores, meat is never the mainstay of a meal.At a wedding, on the other hand, there would be an endless stream of lamb dishes with different flavorings.

Celebrations began when vast shamianas (colorful canopies designed in Mogul times) were put up for the hordes of relatives.

A makeshift outdoor kitchen of mud and brick stoves went up in the backyard, leaving the chef and his minions ample space to chop, fry, boil and stir for hundreds of guests. Occasionally the crew settled down for a quiet puff at a hookah or a cup of tea prepared on the magnificent log fires.

The beauty of Kashmiri wedding dishes often lies in the tenderness and flavor acquired through slow cooking in heavy ancestral pots and pans over well-regulated fires. Some cooking pots are sealed with putty and placed on hot wood coals to acquire final touches. This sort of cooking did not happen every day, particularly for those who had settled outside Kashmir, as I had. So when my brother got married (before the diaspora) I could not wait to fly back to be part of this rare and lavish event.

I was not disappointed.

My grandmother supervised the wedding lunch. Walking by on her rounds she stopped and looking me straight in the eye said, “So, how is it? We may not live in America, but we know how to eat!”


Lavishly orchestrated a Kashmiri wedding is a performance and we know the choreography by heart. Wedding feasts have a lengthy and inviolable menu that every self-respecting host adheres to: lamb pullao (lamb and rice, delicately seasoned); kaliya (lamb with turmeric and yogurt); machh (meatballs in spicy red gravy); rogan josh (the classic Kashmiri lamb dish in peppery red curry); chopped lamb liver in a sour sauce; tamarind eggplant or puréed spinach with bits of lotus root; daikon radish raita; and last but never ever the least, a plate of tender haak.The high-protein wedding meal would finish with a sweet counterpoint: phirni, a sublime incarnation of rice pudding, decorated with hand-beaten silver leaf and served in tiny terracotta bowls. It is a strange juxtaposition, silver and terracotta — but that is Kashmir for you, a valley of extreme contrasts.***

Shamiana lamb pullao

Total time: About 2½ hours

Servings: 6

Note: Ghee, or clarified butter, is available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, well-stocked supermarkets and Indian grocery stores. Or you can clarify the butter yourself: Melt it in a small saucepan over low heat, skim the milk solids off the top and ladle the butter carefully out of the pan without disturbing the remaining milk solids and water at the bottom of the pan. You will want to clarify about 1 1/2 sticks to get the 6 tablespoons needed below.

2 pounds lean shoulder of lamb, bone in and sliced about ¾-inch thick (4 to 5 slices)

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger 2 tablespoons ground fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

5 cloves

5 crushed cardamom pods, divided

Salt to taste

6 tablespoons ghee, or clarified butter

1 large bay leaf

1 stick cinnamon

8 whole peppercorns

1 cup basmati rice, washed and drained

Good pinch saffron soaked in a quarter cup of very hot water

Canola oil to deep-fry onions

1 large red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly

3/4 cup blanched almonds

6 to 9 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (for garnish)

1. Place the meat in a 6-quart saucepan. Add 3 cups water. In a medium bowl, mix the ginger, fennel and cumin with the yogurt and add to saucepan. Stir well. Add the cloves and 3 cardamom pods. Bring to a rolling boil, add salt, stir, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook at a good simmer until the meat is tender, about an hour.

2. When done, remove the meat from the gravy with a slotted spoon, and set aside in a bowl. Measure the gravy (you should have about 4 cups) and set aside.

3. Heat the ghee on high heat in a 6-quart saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, the remaining 2 cardamom pods and the peppercorns. Stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the meat and sauté until a little crisp and golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Be careful, the pan contents may splatter while cooking.

4. Add the rice to the meat. Stir-fry briskly until the rice is well fried, about 2 minutes.

5. Take 2 cups of liquid from the meat gravy, and add to the rice along with 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well.

6. Add the saffron with its water to the rice. Stir well. Bring the rice to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. (After the rice, or pullao, is cooked, do not stir or you will break the grains and make it lumpy.)

7. Meanwhile, prepare the onions and nuts. Pour enough canola oil into a wok or deep-sided skillet to come up the sides a few inches. Heat the oil on medium-high until it shimmers (about 225 to 230 degrees with a thermometer). Deep-fry the sliced onion slowly, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes. The onion should fry slowly until all the moisture has evaporated and it turns reddish and crisp without burning; turn the heat down if the onions are frying too quickly. Remove the crisped onions with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain excess oil. Do not cover, as this will make the onions soggy.

8. Fry the nuts in the same oil at the same heat for a few minutes until they just start to color with a slight golden hue. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.

9. With a large slotted spoon, heap the pullao onto a large platter. Sprinkle onions on top of the pullao and decorate the edge with sliced eggs and nuts. Serve hot.

Each serving (with 1 hard-boiled egg): 757 calories; 41 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 50 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 341 mg. cholesterol; 181 mg. sodium.**

Haak (greens)

Total time: About 30 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Asafetida is available at Surfas in Culver City, Le Sanctuaire in Santa Monica and many Indian markets. Chinese broccoli is available at Whole Foods and 99 Ranch stores and some farmers markets. The greens should retain their color; this is accomplished with by adding a pinch of baking soda and by not covering the saucepan while cooking.

2 pounds Chinese broccoli (gai lan)

2 tablespoons canola oil 1/2 teaspoon asafetida

6 dried red chiles (such as chiles de arbol, chiles japones or Thai red chiles)

Salt to taste

Pinch baking soda

1. Rinse and drain the Chinese broccoli. Remove the flowers. Keep the leaves whole and remove the tough part of the stalk. Wash the leaves, then drain and set aside.

2. In a heavy 6- or 8-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the asafetida and sizzle for just a minute, until aromatic.

3. Add the dried chiles, one-half teaspoon salt, the baking soda and 3 cups of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the greens, stir well and cook over medium-high heat until done, about 10 minutes. Season again to taste if desired, drain excess liquid (through a colander or strainer) and discard. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 103 calories; 3 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 336 mg. sodium.**

Muji chetin (radish raita)

Total time: About 15 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1/2 daikon radish

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt 1 to 2 serrano chiles, seeded and minced

Tiny pinch cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

1. Using a box grater, grate the daikon radish and set aside. In a small pan over medium heat, lightly toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, about 5 minutes. With a mortar and pestle, coarsely crush the seeds.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the radish, crushed cumin seeds, yogurt, minced chiles, cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Set aside for at least 1 hour before serving.

Each quarter cup: 20 calories; 1 gram protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 1 gram fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 4 mg. cholesterol; 256 mg. sodium.

The most common myth about Indian food is that it is tooooo hot. I think this is changing, the signs are everywhere. The other day I was asked if chillies (aka chiles) are added to Indian food to make them hot, or tasty, or both. Great question, the answer has always been in my subliminal cuisine consciousness, but never considered openly. So, here goes!

OK, I am from Kashmir, where the best chillies come from, or so they say. When someone is looking for superior chillies, up north to the Himalayas you go. When my mother made roghanjosh she only used chilli powder from the valley, the others just dont have the color she said. And she was right, the other chilli powders were pale to begin with and when you kept adding more hoping they would turn bright red as roghanjosh is supposed to be, all you got was heat, and no taste. It had something to with the Kashmir plant species (originally all from The New World, as they tell us now), the altitude and hot dry summer sun, and something about adding oil when the peppers were ground.

In retrospect, it was not only color, but also the taste, the aroma. We thought the world was divided into Kashmiri and Non-Kashmiri chillies. I did not know then what I know now. It was only when American supermarkets fell in love with chillies of every kind and my local grocery went from just one basket of capsized capsicum of a pathetic nature to a plethora of perky chillies from several continents, Asian, South and Central American, and so on that I realised that this is not my mother’s produce vendor.

Every kind of hot pepper has its own personality, Serrano, Jalapeno, Thai, Italian, you name it. I have to confess though that as much as I prefer Thai or Thai like hot green chillies for Indian cuisine,  I have on occasion substituted whichever hot pepper happened to be in the fridge at the time.

Back to the question of chillies in Indian food. Its both, chillies are used in Indian cuisine for heat and flavor. The heat depends on individual preferences, and that differs not only from region to region but from person to person. Surely in a country of a billion people you dont expect everyone to want the same kind of anything! There are ways of regulating the heat when you use chillies. My mother in law always said you cannot cook any vegtable without adding a couple of green chillies whole, the heat is subtle, but the flavor adds an unimaginably delicious dimension to the vegetables. If you are a die hard, you could slit the chillies and have lots of yogurt or water ready. She was averse to using dried hot red chillies (my personal general cooking favorite actually) in vegetables becasue she felt it sucked up the oil, but in my grandma’s kitchen dry red chillies could be seen drying hanging in garlands come summer time, the air was suffused with the aroma. If you went close enough you had a sense of the heat right after you spent fifteen minutes sneezing your head off.

If you chop green unseeded chillies and  add them to any dish it will be hot, seeded much less so. For Raita I must always have some chillies, minced so you just get a touch of occasional surprise heat and taste, great juxtaposition to yogurt and whatever else is in the raita.

But as I said, chillies are used in Indian cuisine for flavor and heat,  and color, and the rest is up to you.


Cuisines of two Indian cities

‘The Calcutta Kitchen’ and ‘My Bombay Kitchen’ demystify the richly varied Parsi and Bengali cuisines for home cooks everywhere.

By Sudha Koul, Special to The Times
July 11, 2007

'My Bombay Kitchen'

‘My Bombay Kitchen’

click to enlarge

Buttery delight

Buttery delight

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'The Calcutta Kitchen'

‘The Calcutta Kitchen’

click to enlarge

Related Stories

On the Indian restaurant circuit, it’s mainly generic Indian fare on the menu, with a heavy northern bias. To experience the diversity of India’s culinary landscape, your best bet is to be invited to someone’s home. Happily, recent cookbooks such as “The Calcutta Kitchen,” by London-based writer Simon Parkes and restaurateur-chef Udit Sarkhel, and “My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking,” by anthropologist-chef Niloufer Ichaporia King of San Francisco, are now bringing regional Indian cuisines home for all of us.

“Calcutta Kitchen” rounds up recipes for dishes bequeathed to Calcutta (now Kolkata) by its many rulers. Despite forays into the city’s British Raj (Anglo Indian), Muslim and Sino-Tibetan kitchens, the book works best as an introduction to Bengali cuisine. The authentic, inviting and unintimidating recipes, excellent commentary and photography reminiscent of movie stills helped me finally get my hands around what hitherto seemed an enigmatic and formal cuisine.

The title of “My Bombay Kitchen” also refers to a city, but the book is an in-depth plunge into the tiny community of Persian Zoroastrians who fled Arab invaders and settled in and around Bombay (now Mumbai). Nonvegetarian Persian ancestry and Raj influences marry deliciously under a vegetarian Gujarati regional canopy to form Parsi cuisine. “My Bombay Kitchen” has a foreword by Alice Waters, at whose Chez Panisse the author oversees an annual Parsi New Year feast. King, a ceaseless raconteur, offers an encyclopedic cookbook with detailed recipes.

I invited unsuspecting friends to a dinner culled from both books.

The recipe for the first course, a tomato ginger infusion from “Bombay Kitchen,” called for 3 pounds of ripe tomatoes infused with half a cup of grated ginger, which, even when strained, was a bit harsh. But with the addition of tangerine juice and a dollop of crème fraîche topped with a basil leaf, it proved to be just right as a summer soup, soothing even.

From “Calcutta Kitchen,” I selected a quintessential Bengali fish dish, maacher jhol: fish curry with eggplant, cauliflower and potato. Bengal, situated in the fertile Ganges Delta, had a prosperous past and the leisure to perfect its cuisine. “Calcutta Kitchen” brings out the hallmarks of Bengali dining — the use of mustard, a thorough preoccupation with freshness, a course-by-course approach to the meal (alone among Indian cuisines) and, most of all, a love of fish.

Romancing the fish

Bengalis passionately romance fish: They prepare it steamed, fried, stewed, any way they can have it, each and every part of it. The recipe suggests catfish as a substitute for the fish called grass carp. It calls for nigella seeds, available at the Indian market, but also mustard oil, the main cooking medium in Bengali dishes, which is imported into the U.S. for external use only; apparently it does not meet federal requirements for internal consumption. A Bengali friend advised me to substitute canola oil and add a teaspoon of mustard powder as a final garnish in dishes requiring a strong mustardy edge. Canola it was, and it was fine.

A loose approach to adapting English weights and measures has resulted in some odd amounts in this book’s ingredient lists: 14 ounces of fish for the jhol, for example, though even the pound or so I used was a bit lost among the vegetables and spices. And six slit chiles imparted a stronger kick than I liked; three would have been more than enough. But on steamed rice, the jhol was delicious. The same book’s recipe for khashundi, a preserve made of ground seeds, spices and green mangos (prototype for Anglo Indian mango chutneys) made for a great condiment.

Turning seeds into paste is virtually impossible in a blender, which just grinds. Consider the difference between the texture of meatball and hot dog, and you will know what I mean. In “My Bombay Kitchen,” King recommends an Indian kitchen tool available in the U.S. through specialty stores, the Sumeet Multigrinder, but her delightful Kenya masala butter for corn is easily made with a mortar and pestle. It took some doing to get the butter to acknowledge the other ingredients, but finally it whipped up tastily.

That good kitchen staff was available during King’s formative years in Mumbai is obvious from such recipes as one for a chicken dish requiring 101 blanched almonds, or one deconstructing 1 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, leaf by single leaf.

Deliciously aromatic

If Bengalis want fish in everything, Parsis want eggs on everything, but King’s endless repertoire includes not only eggs but also unusual ingredients such as borage blossoms, hyacinth beans and Hunza apricots. I went for something traditional, though, the fabled Parsi lentil potage, dhansak ni dar, in its vegetarian version.

Once I readied the two spice mixes (sambhar and dhansak) — confusing information there — the recipe, though famously time-consuming, was easy. An extremely rich purée of three lentils, vegetables, herbs and spices, the dhansak ni dar turned out deliciously aromatic with fenugreek overtones. Parsi burgers, a shortcut version of traditional kebabs, came together without a hitch; they’re flavorsome with cilantro, green chiles and ginger.

For bread I returned to “My Calcutta Kitchen” and a recipe for a biscuit-y Bengali incarnation of the soft bread called sheermal. I had to add more water and roll out the dough much thinner than the 2 inches called for in the recipe for the dough to hold together and then bake properly. But, in the end, barely touched with fennel and cardamom seed powder, kneaded with milk and cream, the sheermal, straight from the oven, was a great juxtaposition to the rich repast.

My dessert was also from Kolkata, a city obsessed with sweets. The ingredients list for malpoa, pancakes dipped in saffron-flavored syrup, included items available in the United Kingdom but not easily in the U.S: clotted cream (I used crème fraîche) and reduced nonhomogenized milk (I used evaporated milk).

Bringing a new cuisine to cooks who may never have sampled it requires user-friendly instructions. Both “The Calcutta Kitchen” and “My Bombay Kitchen,” though full of coveted recipes, could have used better editorial input. The editor of the former seems to have been somewhat somnambulant, leaving us with some doozies, such as an unfinished introduction to a chapter on Muslim cuisine — the text stops mid-sentence — while the latter begs for an editor to stem the tidal wave of instructions imparted by the author.


Indian cuisine is SUCH a misnomer!

For a country that has arid deserts on the one hand, lush reclaimed watery deltas on the other, an alpine north and coconut groves in the south, the range of ingredients available is enough to make you pray for several re-in carnations.No wonder then, that Indian Cuisine is a convenient single blanket used to cover a multitude of tastes and flavors, cooking styles, spice quotients and disparate eating styles that could qualify as entire cuisines in their own right.And neophytes to the subcontinent assume that the blanket oozes spice, hot spice, and that nothing is Indian unless you are rendered lachrymose while consuming it.NOT SO,AS WE KNOW!  It is virtually impossible, from my personal experience, of achieving an optimal level of spiciness when you serve Indian cuisine. It all depends on what your guests have experienced in their initiation into Indian food. Some diners are looking to having their tongues singed, and some shrivel at the mere sight of a peppercorn. Somewhere along the way, one finds that Golden Mean, believe me.  I have learned to always have a small glass bowl of chopped or whole green chillies on the table for insatiable hot and spicy lovers. In Los Angeles, for the first time I saw ground Cayenne pepper at an Indian grocery in grades of hot, hotter hottest. And, I said to myself, Bah! Humbug. This must be for Americans, not for us Indians. And I took the hottest bottle home, to my detriment, of course. I ruined a couple of roghanjosh attempts before I realized the labels were serious. Just a pinch of cayenne pepper was enough where a tablespoon of the regular variety was required. But something was lost in the translation. The roghanjosh was hot without personality and we have all met enough people like that to know that that is not what we want. So, next time I went back to buy a venerable cayenne pepper that added taste as well as heat. I am traveling now but shall start sharing recipes with you ASAP.

Just finished an article for the Food Section of the Los Angeles Times.

Once again I realized how cooking procedures that I take for granted, only I take for granted and they may not be that self-evident to others. I had some sense of that when writing Curries without Worries. In an effort to help my readers relax I said dont worry,  just imagine if you had never fried an egg, and had to follow a recipe, the instructions would look very complicated indeed!

When the kitchen testers at the Times called me to ask how thick the sliced lamb shoulder should be, or should the onion be sliced in circles, or if the water for the stew should cover the meat, it brought to mind all the questions I was asked when my cookbook was first published. Since the whole idea of the book was to make Indian cuisine accessible, I was grateful for all the queries from my readers and hastened to address most of them in subsequent editions of the book. The experience was an eye opener. Now I try to strike an optimal note whenever I write cookery articles and it seems to work.

But, the wonderful truth about cooking a new cuisine is that you are not just putting together three dishes from major food groups to make a balanced meal. When you cook a cuisine other than your own, you are experiencing a culture, expressing a sentiment that is new and different. You are chopping, frying, blending, combining in ways that you did not grow up with, you will deal with ingredients in ways that you do not usually. The grocery shopping, the kitchen, and of course the food, everything will be different, but that is what it is all about. 

The fact is that no recipe can cover the rampant imagination of the nervous first time cook. And there is no point in anticipating every possible confusion in the mind of the cook, it would only result in a lengthy detailed recipe, and dissuade the most ardent cuisine enthusiast. Some part of the recipe has to rely on the previous experience and common sense of the cook, surely there is some thrill in the uncertainty of the outcome. A Swiss friend of mine, a great cook by the way, with a library of cookbooks, says she uses recipes as a guideline and then creates a dish that may or may not turn out exactly as prescribed. It gives her the creative freedom she wants.

When she invited me to a meal for the first time, not being sure which animals were taboo for me and which were not, she asked what would I like to eat. I had been intrigued by a photograph of a concoction in a cookbook by Marguerite Patten, that Grand Dame of British Cuisine. Yes, I know, I can see eyebrows go up at that, and I think I heard someone say it was an oxymoron. But Patten was my guide to western cuisine and her simple and effective recipes saved many a day for me in the US.

Anyway, the dish in question looked luscious and hearty and intricate and was none other than that favorite of the Alsace region called Choucroute Garni. And that is what J served us, it was a robust meal of sausages and sauerkraut, and other meats, but it was the first time I ate juniper berries and THAT was a revelation. The aroma and flavor took me right back to Kashmir, which like Shiva, for that lunch, I held in my mouth.