From my cookbook

Geetha Durairajan

Hello folks, nutritious greetings to all of you! I’m Geetha, and I live alone, cook for myself, and very rarely throw ‘official’ or ‘planned’ parties. I live on the campus of the English and Foreign Languages University, and am known to stay up late, often burning the midnight candle. If my students are also on campus, we have discussions late into the night. Even otherwise, kids are in and out of my house, and more often than not, hungry. After a couple of hours of heated discussion, I’m quite used to hearing “Ma’am, we’re hungry! Do you have anything to eat?” I usually make them sandwiches – easy, quick, and satiating. There are two ways to do this – one healthy, and one, not so.

The healthy option
Cut two capsicums into fine strips, and mix them in a cup of curd that it is nice and thick and not watery. Add salt and a wee bit of pepper (if you need a bit more spice) and your mixture for the sandwich is ready. Spread this on bread (you don’t even need to butter it), add a wee bit of ghee on your tava, and toast on both sides. If you have a sandwich toaster, then just butter the outsides of the sandwich a little bit so that the bread doesn’t stick to the toaster, and pop it in. There you are – a piping hot, healthy, capsicum-curd sandwich is ready.

Note of caution: When I make these, they disappear faster than I can make them, so if you are going to try it out for your family or for your students, make sure you have a few extra capsicums, and a spare bowl of curd.

Now, for the non-healthy option which is even easier!

Take a couple of slices of bread, spread the gravy from any one of your traditional pickles {lime, mango (aavakkai is fantastic for this), etc.}, add half a slice of cheese (a whole becomes too heavy, and the cheese melts and makes a mess), add the same bit of ghee or butter on the outside, and toast. That is it! And believe me, this too will disappear. (I am told that there is even a Geetha’s pickle sandwiches rave on facebook! At least that is what my former student told me).

While I resort to sandwiches when the meal is unplanned, when I know that students are coming over for a potluck, or when I invite them for a meal, I fix dishes like mixed rice, which are simple, easy, and nutritious.

Here are some variations to the traditional lime rice that have always worked.

Lime rice with veggies: Instead of just adding seasoning and lime and then rice, you can use one or more of the following vegetables – carrot, capsicum, caulifl ower, brinjal, etc., – and add some peas as well. After the seasoning is done (hing, mustard, urad and channa dhal, curry leaves, green chillies, ginger, some pudina if you have it), add the vegetables and let them fry in the oil used for seasoning, for some time. When the veggies are done, add turmeric powder, salt, and lime. Let this cool and then add to the cooked rice for a nutritious and filling veggie-lime-rice!

A variation: Follow the same recipe, but instead of the mint or pudina leaves in the seasoning, chop some betel nut leaves into the mixture and then mix with rice. This adds a different and more pungent flavour to the dish. And, we all know that betel nut leaves are good for digestion! I call this ‘Vetrilai Saadam’ (vetrilai in tamil is betel nut leaf).

So there’s the rice. Now, what about healthy veggies? Here is my version of a Chinese stir fry (try it with purple or blue cabbage, if possible). Dice a couple of onions and fry them in sesame oil till they turn pink, or even red. Add a few pods of crushed garlic, fry for a minute, then add finely cut cabbage. Stir fry on high heat, add a dash of chilli powder and some salt and that is it – done!

Let me end with recipes of a pickle and a raita so that the meal is complete! This is a basic tomato raita but with a difference! In a teaspoon of oil, add a pinch of hing, some mustard seeds, one green chilli, a few mint leaves, some finely-cut tomatoes, and a bit of salt. All this will cook in minutes. Let it cool and then add curd! It becomes a ‘proper’ side dish to something and not just a plain-old raita!

Now for the pickle! Believe it or not, this is made from bitter gourd. Wash, wipe, and cut bitter gourd into thin, inch-long slices without peeling. Put the slices into a dry vessel, add salt and chilli powder and add the juice of some big sized limes (for a quarter kilo of gourd, I add juice from three limes). In a pan, take a little sesame oil, add some hing, and a little mustard. When they splutter, add turmeric powder and then take the pan off the flame. When this has cooled, add it to the gourd and let it marinate for a couple of hours! Your pickle is ready – healthy, a wee bit bitter, but very good for the system! Remember to store it in the fridge and it will stay for up to ten days in winter and a week in summer.

Happy eating!

The author is Professor, Department of Testing and Evaluation, EFL University, Hyderabad. She can be reached at gdurairajan@gmail.com.