Chocolate Idlis

Chocolate Idlis

Anyone who loves Indian food will know all about idli – the spongey steamed ‘cake’ made from fermented rice and lentils. In southern India it is usually served at breakfast time, along with a tangy yellow dahl and coconut chutney, and I personally have always found it a splendid start to the day.

But the idli itself, whilst ostensibly a savoury item, is plain enough to go with almost anything, which is why I was tempted by this packet of chocolate idli mix. Yes, I know that packet mixes are a total cheat, but making idli at home requires hours of laborious preparation and life really is too short.

Anyway, I did buy this from an Indian store, despite the fact that it is made under licence from giant US food company Pilsbury. At least it meant the instructions were in English, which always helps.

Compared to the labour that would have been involved in making this from scratch, opening the packet and whisking in milk was easy. There’s even a helpful line drawn on the packet of powder, to measure the amount of milk you need. Unfortunately, the instructions tell you to add a lot of vegetable oil as well at this point, which did not appeal very much. So I cut back on that a bit, which in retrospect may not have been the best idea (daughters #1 and #2 would tell you I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter…)

Not having the specialist equipment needed to steam idlis the Indian way, I resorted to silicone cupcake moulds inside my rice cooker and a brief spin in the microwave. This worked a treat, even taking a mere 5 minutes as opposed to the 30 recommended on the packet.

The idlis turned out to be pretty dense, which was probably because I failed to add the necessary amount of oil, but never mind because otherwise they were very definitely the genuine article – surprising for a packet mix.

The only downside was that, like regular idlis, they did not have a great deal of taste and could have done with a sweet alternative to spicy sambar as a sauce. But all was not lost, apparently there is nothing that homemade super-thick chocolate orange vodka cannot improve…


Himalayan Toner

This is from Biotique, which uses 5,000 year old Ayurvedic recipes combined with Swiss biotechnology to produce a range of organic skincare products to ‘support healthy well-being and spiritual bliss in your life’. Which, when I saw it in a Mumbai pharmacy, sounded irresistible!

The pore tightening toner is based on cucumber and pure Himalayan water, blended with coriander, berberry and nut extracts. It also contains peppermint oil, which gives it a bit of a sting, and is apparently formulated to bring perfect ph balance to the skin, keeping it in its ‘purest state’.

I liked the idea and also the fresh smell, but confess I found it was a bit harsh and drying. However, it is probably very good indeed for oilier, teenage, skin, or very sweaty moments, so I will be hanging on to it for now.

Facial Massage Cream

Facial massage is something most Western women only experience as a small part of a regular facial, tucked in between the cleansing, the treatment and the moisturising at the end. In India, however, it is a mainstay of the typical beauty regime, and usually involves natural plant-based products rather than high-tech chemical formulas.

I found this facial massage cream in Mumbai, ready prepared in a handy tube, and thought it well worth taking home to try. From Jovees Herbal Care, it contains lemon, orange, papaya enzymes, wheatgerm, sugar cane, avocado, pineapple extract and vitamin E, each ‘carefully chosen to help skin regenerate its natural defence’.

According to the packaging, the fruit enzymes help soften and heal the skin, the vitamins restore smooth radiance and collagen elasticity, and the whole product encourages lifting of dead skin cells to leave the complexion glowing.

Keen to give it all a go, I was stopped short by the instruction to use the cream with raw milk and massage for 20 minutes. Apparently plain water is an acceptable alternative, but still – 20 minutes is rather a long time… I did manage a few minutes though, and found the suggested circular movements very therapeutic and relaxing.

I was expecting this product to be rich and hydrating, but adding water actually turned it from cream into milk, and rather than being absorbed into the skin it needed wiping away with wet cotton pads. Washing your face at the end is recommended, which means you then have to apply yet more cream to moisturise your skin.

Never mind, I liked this quite a lot and will be using it again.

Indian Chocolate

Category : Food

silky 1 silky 3

Who knew they grew cocoa in India? It was a surprise to me, but I suppose the southern states are pretty much on a level with that part of South America where most of the world’s cocoa beans come from, so it does make some sort of sense.

I found home grown chocolate bars in Mumbai airport, whilst hunting down ways to spend my last remaining rupees, and was delighted at the chance to give them a try. The cute packaging was a nice bonus, too.

This was billed as ‘silky chocolate’ and there was nothing wrong with it, although it has a long way to go before coming anywhere close to the Swiss and Belgian versions which currently rule the chocolate world.

But this relatively new industry is well worth supporting, as it gives business opportunities to Tamil Nadu farmers, has introduced the concept of organic agriculture to a whole new area, and can only get better as time goes on. I wish them lots of luck and look forward to trying this again next time.

Absolut India

Category : Food

india vodka

Absolut has to be one of the world’s most popular and well recognised vodkas, with a wonderful range of different flavours from raspberry and mango to hibiscus, cilantro and wild tea. What I have only just realised, however, is that they also have a limited edition of country, state and city themed vodkas.

Some investigation reveals that special recipe vodkas with colourful and artistic labels are available for Chicago (olive and rosemary), Brooklyn (apple and ginger), Korea (coffee, almond, chili) and others, including Texas, Mexico and Buenos Aires.

I found the India version at Duty Free in Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and could not wait to try it out. Mango and black pepper flavour, fruity and spicy at the same time, which is a fair summation of India. The label is a riot of everything Indian, from elephants and tigers to auto rickshaws, dhol drums and landmark monuments.

It was designed by Mumbai artist Shaheen Baig, who won a crowd-sourced competition to produce a design representing India in a fresh and creative way. She says: “My design is synonymous with all things Indian; rich heritage, diversity, liveliness, warmth and colour.”

The only problem I foresee is… I might have to track down the rest of the collection!

Cow Dung Cakes

Category : Other

cow dung cakes 1 cow dung cakes 2

Cows are sacred in India. Especially in rural areas, where their milk, and the ghee made from it, is an essential food source, and their dung is used as fuel, fertiliser and – when burned to ash – a form of antiseptic, cows play a vital role in society. Even in the biggest cities they are a common sight, ambling down the road, scavenging for food from both the gutter and market stalls, and it is a rare Indian who will do more than just shoo them away. In fact, Hinduism forbids the eating of beef, and at many religious festivals cows are painted, garlanded with flowers and at the very centre of worship.

It is said there are around 300 million cows in India, which makes for a lot of dung, and no-one travels far in the sub-continent without noticing the hand-kneaded cakes of it plastered to walls and drying in the sun, or stacked in large piles under cover. For many modern Indians, quite apart from the traditional, religious aspects of their use, the smell of dung cakes burning brings back nostalgic memories of the old days in the village, and it has become fashionable for city dwellers to secure a quantity for burning in ritual fires during festivals like Diwali.

So after that first “you have to be kidding” moment when I spotted these on sale in a Mumbai supermarket, it all makes perfect sense. This bag of cow dung cakes, a snip at 70 rupees, was neatly arranged with incense, candles and other religious paraphernalia on a special shelf in the store. Inside, the half dozen or so cakes were surprisingly hard, light and virtually odour free.

You can also apparently order cow dung cakes online from the likes of amazon and ebay, which – should you want to try it – will at least spare you the sort of funny looks I got from the girl at the supermarket checkout…