Celebrating Holi Through Food

Khabar Magazine. March 2023 print.

Besides being a festival of colors, this is also a festival of flavors. Here are some classic food customs associated with this joyous thewaar.

Holi is all about play, laughter, celebration, vibrant colors, and… food! This joyous Hindu festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and a day to forgive and forget. Merrymakers drown each other in a kaleidoscope of colors, blow off steam, and dance like Bollywood stars. Rangoli decorations, dhol beats, water pichkaris, and dry powders in green, orange, yellow, red, and pink make the lively backdrop of Holi celebrations.

Here in Atlanta, you have a few options for celebrating Holi. You can join an event at a temple,  organization, or university, go out to a restaurant, or celebrate with friends and family at home. Holi parties typically involve drinking, eating snacks and sweets, and singing and dancing all day. If you have attended any Holi party or thrown one yourself, you know that the food preparations have to begin a few days in advance.

If you decide to cook at home, here are a few things to keep in mind. Meals served at Holi involve finger foods, not a sit-down or a full-course lunch. You want to present intense flavors that are spicy, salty, and rich, indicative of a fun colorful party enjoyed by all ages.

Let’s start with drinks. The most popular drink served during Holi is thandai which literally translates to “cooling off.” Lord Shiva’s favorite cold milk beverage is topped with fennel seeds, pepper, cardamom, almond, rose water, and saffron, and in some cases bhaang (cannabis) to make it boozier. You can use oat or almond milk to make the drink dairy-free and serve it in small earthen cups for an authentic presentation.


If you are looking to serve non-alcoholic beverages, traditional lassi, jaljeera, and fresh lime soda with kala namak (black salt), cumin seeds, and soda water are also light and refreshing choices.​

There are many foods that are specifically served to celebrate the festival of colors. Make sure to offer a variety of namkeen (store-bought savory snacks), vegetable pakora, and mathri. Start with a chaat, such as dahi vada or dahi bhalla. The fried, soft urad and moong dal lentil dumplings, served with yogurt, mint, and tamarind chutney with sev on top, offer a sweet and tangy burst of flavors. You can make the vada a day before and have guests assemble their concoction using the toppings and sauces. Another popular favorite treat served on Holi is moong dal kachori which can be served on its own or with a side of spicy aloo curry, mint chutney, and yogurt.


You definitely want to prepare some traditional Holi sweets such as puran poli, a Maharashtrian sweet thick roti (flatbread) made with chana dal and gud (jaggery) stuffing, as well as gujiya, a Bhudelkhandi royal delicacy of crisp and flaky semolina pastry filled with sweet dried fruits, coconut, and khoya (mild solids). Indian fried pancakes called malpua are also delectable on a chilly afternoon and kids love them. To make the batter, mix barley or flour, milk, and sugar, and then soak the cooked pancakes in sugar syrup, before topping them off with cardamom and sliced almonds. These can be prepared in advance as well but make sure to serve them warm.


If you want to spread the workload, ask your attendees to bring their favorite mithai to share at the table. You can also make it an interactive cooking challenge where the audience votes on their favorite barfi or laddoo and the winner takes home a prize (think a creative Holi gift hamper)!

You may plan to serve food before or after playing with the colors. If you decide to serve food after, just make sure to provide guests with wet wipes and washing stations, so they can freshen up before eating.


And if you don’t feel like slaving over the stove and cooking your own sweet and savory snacks, stop by at one of the local mithai and snack shops such as Gokul Sweets, Royal Sweets, or BAPS Shayona that offer a good variety of fresh prepared desighee fare. Some also offer sugar-free options. Most Indian grocery stores also carry a variety of branded mithai, and many even offer their own creations that are prepared on site or sourced from specialized local vendors.

You can, of course, skip the entire hosting, buying, and cooking process altogether and celebrate Holi at one of the restaurants instead. Atlanta-based Naan- Stop and Chai Pani usually host Holy festivities that include specialty drinks, complimentary snacks, Holi powder, and live music.

~ Written for and published by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.

Here’s How Christmas Eve Dinner Looks All Around The World

HuffPost. December 2022.

While many familiar Christmas traditions originated in Western countries, people from all around the world and from different cultural backgrounds celebrate the holiday with the same spirit of gratitude and togetherness. No matter where, recipes passed on through generations are central to family gatherings. From callaloo to chicken tikka masala, find out what renowned chefs and food influencers around the world are cooking on Christmas Eve.


Martha Ortiz Chapa is the head chef at Tuch de Luna at La Casa de la Playa in Riviera Maya. She was the chef-owner of Dulce Patria, which had been named one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America and the best restaurant in Mexico City before closing earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also served as a judge on “Top Chef Mexico,” and in 2020 was named one of the 40 best chefs in the world.

Our December traditions begin with the Posadas (a religious festival held from Dec. 16-24), which lead the way to the grand celebration of Christmas Eve. During this time, Mexicans hang seven-point-star piñatas (the peaks representing a different capital sin, including gluttony) made with contrasting colored tissue paper and filled with pieces of sugar cane, tejocotes (a fruit), orange wedges, peanuts, candies and sugar-coated almonds. We blindfold the guests, who take turns hitting the piñata until someone breaks it, in celebration of the predominance of virtue and abundance.

On Noche Buena (the night that is good)aka Christmas Eve, I elegantly present these crafts to my guests. I usually use a dark tablecloth as a canvas and decorate it with wooden kitchen utensils, such as grinders, spoons and saucepans, surrounded by colorful flowers. I personalize each guest’s place on their plate with a small piñata, which holds inside a traditional sweet or piece of candy and a message of friendship and love, in the hope that they will take it home with them and, when they break it, the abundance of affection, bonds and the celebration of life will grow.

As a proud Mexican, I begin with traditional dishes such as romeritos (tender sprigs of seepweed) with cactus strips, and mole (made with at least 50 ingredients) seasoned with dried shrimp. I serve a salad called Noche Buena, which is prepared with diced jicama, apple, beet, orange wedges and crunchy peanuts. For main, we have pork leg in spicy pulque marinade. I wash it down with my personal favorite, a punch of tejocotes, tamarind, jicama pieces, piloncillo (a raw form of pure cane sugar), guavas and spices and a touch of hard liquor.

Continue reading on HuffPost

Cooking with compassion

Georgia Trend. December 2022.

The first thing that you think about during the holidays? Food. Parties, family gathering and baking together are integral to the festive season. A new book shows us how to approach our food with kindness, respect and dignity. If you are inclined to eat well and give back not only this month, but throughout the year, incorporate these tips in your kitchen.

Published in October 2022, “The Humane Table – Cooking With Compassion” is a cookbook that acts as a guide to sourcing and cooking with high quality products that nourish our bodies as well as the planet. The book includes delicious recipes using dairy, meat, poultry, seafood and egg ingredients sourced from producers and chefs. A sampling includes delicate ricotta sweet potato beignets, beef satay with peanut butter dip, Fire Island blueberry duck with port wine, crisp zucchini corn fritters and refreshing key lime pie.

The author, Robin Ganzert, is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization founded in 1877. Its iconic programs include Humane Hollywood (you may recognize the “No Animals Were Harmed®” end credit on the movies you watch), Pups4Patriots™ (which trains dogs to be lifesaving service dogs for veterans with PTSD or brain injuries), American Humane Certification in agriculture, as well as global conservation for animals in zoos and aquariums.

Proceeds from Ganzert’s book benefit the nonprofit organization to further its work to protect animals around the world, including saving, sheltering and improving the lives of some 1 million animals in 2020-2021.

Georgia-based Springer Mountain Farms, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Baldwin, was the first major poultry producer in the country to become American Humane-certified. The family-run farm offers well-treated and better-tasting chickens that are guaranteed to elevate your Southern fried chicken. Just ask chef Robert Butts of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Poursrestaurant in Atlanta – or better yet, try his recipe for fried chicken with Thai chili cilantro glaze, one of the humane recipes he developed for Springer Mountain that’s included in Ganzert’s cookbook. Butts builds relationships with local producers to deliver the highest quality farm-to-table ingredients on his menu and also hosted the book launch event. “The food tastes more clean and delicious. When cooking with beef, you can see the natural red color and marbling and the chicken doesn’t taste tough,” says Butts.

Or check out nearly 100-year-old Rose Acre Farms in Canon which uses an efficient and sustainable egg production model, The Good Egg Coop, to produce humane and high-quality eggs, perfect for a hearty country picnic potato salad.

Get humane for the holidays by consuming healthier, happier and drug-free animal products. And, if you are looking to set up a humane table year-round, get to know where your food comes from. Butts advises shopping for ingredients from farmers markets, local butchers (like Midtown Butcher Shoppe on Monroe Drive) and accessible organic grocery stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods). Avoid freezing meats as they lose nutrition and can get freezer burn.

Glossary of producers can be found in the back of the book.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend Magazine. All rights reserved.

Desi Entrepreneurs in the Gourmet Food Market

Khabar Magazine. December 2022 print.

During the holiday season in India, I remember shopping at the local halwai shops for colorful boxes of freshly made sweets and gold foil-wrapped hampers filled with dried fruits. We would purchase dozens of these to give to colleagues, friends, and hosts. Over the years, these gift baskets became more and more elaborate, incorporating imported chocolates, premium spices, and gourmet teas. Many India-based websites such as The Gourmet Box, Provenance, and Angroos now offer luxurious gift baskets incorporating curated epicurean products and small-batch artisanal foods.


In the U.S., a handful of South Asian entrepreneurs have also started brands of Indian-inspired gourmet foods for sale online and in retail stores; and are catering to a wide variety of palates. Backed by inspirational stories, these small businesses have received much-deserved awards and accolades, as well as inclusions in must-gift lists for the holidays.

Meet some of the founders and learn about their unique offerings.

Elevated small-batch condiments

Chitra Agrawal is the author of the cookbook, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn. In 2014, she founded Brooklyn Delhi focusing on the Indian pantry staple—achaar. She discovered that the only achaar available for sale in the grocery stores in New York was heavily salted, oily, and full of preservatives.​

Agrawal shares fun creative recipes of how to incorporate these Indian-inspired flavors to any dish on her Instagram page. I tried a penne pasta sautéed in Roasted Garlic Achaar sauce and a turkey burger topped with cheddar, avocado, and Tomato Achaar. They hit the spot, satisfying my need for a little spice with everyday American meals.


When Agrawal heard that the socially impactful spice supply chain company, Burlap and Barrel, had sourced a single-origin, heirloom Kashmiri chili from a family farm in Pampore, Kashmir, she approached them for a collaboration. Using a North Indian recipe inspired by her grandmother, she created Brooklyn Delhi’s Mango Chutney. The chutney is different from others I have seen at Indian grocery stores. Made with tangy, juicy, ripe mangoes, sweet brown sugar, golden raisins, fresh ginger, lemon juice, and fiery spices, it has layers of flavors and the freshness of a homemade condiment. Served with fried papad, samosa, or crackers on a cheese board, it makes for a palatable starter before any meal.

After receiving positive feedback for her pickles, she added an array of new products—Curry Ketchup, Curry Mustard, and Golden Coconut Curry—to the roster.​

Homemade chai anytime

Atlanta-native Farah Jesani founded One Stripe Chai Co. to bring attention to the South Asian beverage at par with the beloved coffee. She realized that the craft of chai-making isn’t possible to execute at mainstream coffee shops as they don’t have kitchen stovetops. So, she created chai blends and pre-mixed haldi doodh based on her mother’s recipes, sourcing tea leaves from ethnic and biodynamic farms like Chota Tingrai in Assam.


During the pandemic, Jesani expanded the company beyond the concentrates to introduce at-home do-it-yourself blends that retain the robust flavors of spiced chai with the added benefits of customization.

I enjoyed the smooth and nutty flavor of Chai After Five which has lower caffeine as it is made with Indian ho¯ jicha instead of black tea. It gives you a pick-me-up after the workday with organic masala spices and pairs well with the chai-spiced stroopwafels. During cooler weather, you can use the chai concentrate to infuse granola and serve it with Greek yogurt or incorporate it into a spiced apple pie.

Warming Indian soups

On winter nights, there is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of homemade soup. But you may not have all the ingredients at hand or the time to stew and simmer. New York-based Maya Kaimal recently introduced a new line of ready-to-eat Indian-inspired soups that simply need to be heated on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe container. The Tomato & Warm Spices Inspired Soup is thick and comforting, seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and a hint of coconut milk. The Creamy Spiced Butternut Inspired Soup reminds me of the pumpkin curries of Kerala, brightened by curry leaves and coconut cream.

Kaimal grew up in a multicultural household in New York; and as a teenager, she learned to cook South Indian specialties from her Indian father and aunt. It wasn’t until she was laid off from her dream job as a photo editor for Saveur magazine that she launched the food company, Maya Kaimal Foods, out of her Brooklyn apartment. She wanted to offer quality, homemade Indian foods such as Everyday Dal, Everyday Chana, Basmati, and Surekha Rice that could be bought at grocery stores. Kaimal won the Julia Child Award for her cookbook, Curried Favors, and her third cookbook, Indian Flavor Every Day, is releasing in the spring of 2023.

Fair trade spices

At 23 years of age, Sana Javeri Kadri founded Diaspora Co. to build a radically new and truly equitable spice trade, championing climate resilience and more delicious food systems. The Mumbai-immigrant had come to California for college but returned home for seven months of market research and founded the company in 2017 with just Pragati Turmeric.

Diaspora Co. pays farmers six times more than the average commodity prices, zero-interest loans, as well as healthcare to farm laborers. Now, at 27, the young queer Kadri works with around 200 farmers in India. She recently closed a financial round-up of $2.1 million to fuel growth and has been named in the “Forbes 30 under 30 – Food and Drink” twice.


 Besides working towards the betterment of the community, Diaspora Co.’s masalas are fresh and flavorful. And the new blends elevate every dish from chaat to tandoori. Kadri and her partner, Asha, also offer virtual cooking classes each month, proceeds of which are donated to worthy causes.

Curated “Flower” boxes

Indian immigrant husband and wife duo, Lavanya Krishnan and Sandeep Bethanabhotla, founded Boxwalla in 2015 as a way to share their own discoveries. It was a one-stop shop for the best things that the sensory, creative, and intellectual world had to offer. Both were working professionals in the fields of neuroscience and academia, but were drawn to plant-based and indie brands. They wanted consumers to understand the context in order to enjoy a product fully.

Boxwalla offers unique subscription boxes with beauty, books, film, and food-themed artisanal products from all over the world, delivered to the door every two months.

The new food box is themed “Flowers – to eat, drink, and even smoke.” Exquisite, pressed flower cookies from Loria Stern in LA, Aesthete Love Potion’s Assam looseleaf black tea, Brooklyn- made Raaka unroasted rose and cardamom dark chocolate bar, smokable herbs and flowers from Anima Mundi, Grist & Toll’s Sonora Flour from indigenouslyowned Ramona Farm, are a few of the items that are inside. It is the perfect gift for curious minds wanting to explore extraordinary brands that are otherwise not easy to find at big-box retailers.

~ Written for and published by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.

What This Restauranteur Wants You To Know About Indigenous Food

HuffPost. Nov 2022.

Inez Cook is a member of Bella Coola’s Nuxalk Nation who was forcibly taken from her parents by the Canadian government at the age of 1. Today, Cook operates the only Indigenous restaurant in Vancouver, Canada. Through her food, she tells the stories of First Nations people and businesses and fosters dialogue for positive change. 

Cook helped add the land acknowledgment on Air Canada’s safety video, appeared in its video on truth and reconciliation, and served on the board of directors for Indigenous Tourism British Columbia. She wrote a children’s book based on her childhood and is opening her second restaurant, Salmon n’ Bannock On The Fly, at Vancouver International Airport later this year. In this Voices in Food story, Cook shares why we need to take conscientious steps toward honoring the original occupants of our place. 

As a flight attendant for 33 years, I lived in different cities all over the world and tasted diverse meals, discovered cooking methods, observed food trends and realized that food brings every culture together. When I travel, I want to try food from that land. Food tells a story and creates memories. I saw how important of a tool food can be in uniting people. I, too, wanted to help build bridges through food and dreamt of opening a restaurant someday. 

Continue reading on HuffPost

Wine Tips For The Holidays

Georgia Trend. Nov 2022.

How many times have you wandered the wine aisle at the grocery store and been overwhelmed with the selection of countless bottles? When you are scrambling to make your Thanksgiving dinner or to buy Christmas presents, the last thing you want to do is read every label and figure out which wine your guests would prefer to drink.

Thankfully, educational stores like Vino Venue in Dunwoody make it easier. Co-founded by Lelia Bryan and her late husband, Michael (who started the Atlanta Wine School in early 2000s), Vino Venue is a wine shop, tasting room, restaurant and school – all in one place. The couple wanted to create a space for those who wanted to learn about wines and taste them before committing to buying. Over the past 10 years, they expanded to offering wine and cooking classes, a wine club, and wine-themed trips to places like Piedmont, Bordeaux and California.

What makes this neighborhood wine shop different from big-box sellers is the unique collection of wines and personalized recommendations. Each week, beverage director and partner Rob Van Leer tastes more than 100 types of wines from all over the world to carefully select what goes on the shelves and in the wine club. He gets to know customers’ profiles by asking them a series of questions. An informal wine-shopping interview can last between 10 seconds to a half hour, depending on the interest of the buyer.

For this holiday season, first think about what are you cooking, who you are hosting and what is your budget, Leer advises. He says you can get quality wines at every price point, and can follow certain pairing guidelines. For example, dry, tart or sweet lambrusco from Emilia Romagna goes well with a charcuterie board. Easy-drinking sauvignon blanc, gamay and delicate pinot noir are also good with hors d’oeuvres. Champagne, Beaujolais, Burgundy and many Tuscan and Oregon wines pair with practically everything and are good to keep on hand.

A German gewürztraminer, French gamay and merlot, or Oregon pinot noir will also fare well at a turkey dinner. If you are serving a brunch of, say, cornmeal-crusted oysters, frittata, fruit and biscuits, serve something that’s cold, sparkling and has low alcohol content, like a fruity pear cider from Normandy.

Wines can also star at your cocktail party. Add a sprig of rosemary and a sliver of fresh orange to Chandon Garden Spritz. Top vibrant and sweet cognac-like Pineau des Charentes with inexpensive apple cider and cinnamon stick. Serve red or white vermouth on the rocks, with a splash of OJ or soda water, or make a classic negroni.

As the meal progresses, you can go bolder and richer, pairing French pinot noir with lamb and steak, Spanish Rioja with salmon, and fruit-forward California wine with burgers. Get a dessert wine to round off the meal or serve a glass of grande cuvée to reset everyone’s taste buds. Plan for an average of a bottle per person for a dinner party, and remember you can always drink what’s left next day!

To taste before you buy, check out Vino Venue’s 32 wines “on tap,” or attend its high- end wine tasting class on Dec 4th.

~ Written for and published by Georgia Trend. All rights reserved.

Instant Ready-To-Eat Indian Meals

Khabar Magazine. Nov 2022 print.

With Indian cuisine becoming mainstream in the U.S., kitchens, grocery markets, and online stores are stocking up on new varieties of instant frozen, canned, and boxed Indian dishes. Over the years, I have tried many of these and have been disappointed with the cardboard stale aromas and chalky flavors. Also, they often contain high amounts of sodium and preservatives, necessary for the shelf life of packaged foods.

But recently, I came across The Cumin Club, a Chicago- based company that offers ready-to-eat Indian food meal plans that arrive at the doorstep in lightweight, room-temperature stored packages. The meals are inspired by different regions and the recipes created by home chefs in India. You can choose to order a quantity of five, 10, or 20 meals to be delivered weekly, every fortnightly, or monthly.

The meals arrive in separate packages that contain liquid, vegetables, and cheese, and require about five minutes of preparation time. You don’t need to chop, grind, or do anything else other than boil water in a microwave, kettle, Instant Pot, or on the stovetop. Simply empty the dehydrated vegetables and curry contents, stir it, and serve.

Like most self-proclaimed chefs, I am always skeptical of Indian fare that is not prepared from scratch after using two dozen ingredients and spending hours laboring in the kitchen. But the dishes I tried from The Cumin Club did not compromise on taste. The paneer butter masala had a nice flavor of tangy tomatoes with the appropriate ratio of sweetness and spice, and the sauce was not too creamy. The paneer pieces were packed separately and tasted soft and fresh once I put the meal together. Malabar veg kurma from Kerala was also a light and appetizing vegetarian dish. The masala poha, with flattened rice, lentils, roasted peanuts, and spices, took only eight inactive minutes to prepare, which is very convenient for a quick and nutritious breakfast before a busy workday. Even a dish I would otherwise consider perishable, the yogurt-based Punjabi kadhi, was available through the meal program and tasted just like homemade.

All the meals came with dehydrated coconut chutney, microwavable papad, as well as fresh leavened rotis that needed to be warmed for only 30 seconds.

I rarely cook Indian sweets at home because they require considerable time and effort. But the moong dal sheera took less than ten minutes to prepare and tasted like I had ground the soaked lentils and simmered them in milk for hours. With chopped cashews and almonds, it made for a delicious and impromptu dessert.


Though the flavors were just like homemade, I thought the portion sizes were small, even for one person. In order to make it a filling meal, you may need two entrées, along with a side of roti or puttu. The best part about the meals was they were protein-rich, preservative- free, and pure vegetarian. Some of them were also labeled vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free to accommodate most diets.

The Cumin Club offers over 40 dishes to choose from including dal chawal, pongal, kichdi, pav bhaji, bisibelebath, bhindi masala, dal makhni, and halwa. Each meal costs less than $5, takes 5-10 minutes to prepare, and has a shelf life of 5-20 weeks (except the rotis that last up to 15 days).

When Coimbatore resident, Ragoth Bala, was studying at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, he got tired of eating American fast food and wanted flavorful, fresh, and comforting Indian dishes. He co-founded the startup, The Cumin Club, in 2019 along with Harish Visweswaran and Kirubhanandan Rajagopal. The idea was to bring the convenience of meal plans to busy Indian-American households and vegetarians. Unlike other pre-packaged Indian foods in the market, his scientific formula incorporates extracting moisture from high-quality ingredients using a unique food dehydration method, perfecting the proportions and preparations, and packaging in a vacuum seal for freshness. All the dishes have cumin, the ubiquitous spice across Indian cuisines, which was the inspiration behind the name, The Cumin Club.

Now the idea of dehydrating gourmet dishes is not novel. Colorado-based Backpacker’s Pantry offers chana masala packets and Kathmandu curry (with a 10-year shelf life), and Maine-based Good To-Go (created by American chef Jennifer Scism) sells Indian korma packets along with several other international cuisines.

Though most Indian immigrants, who are purist cooks like me, may not turn to packaged foods for their weeknight dinners, the affordability and convenience offered by The Cumin Club and other such ready-to-go meal plans is often utilized by students, singles, and busy professionals. As an avid traveler, I would also prefer to pack a few of these when I go hiking or camping in remote areas where I need to cook my own meal with limited ingredients and utensils. And there have been a few times during my travels, such as when I was on an African safari in Kenya or was quarantined due to the pandemic at a hotel room in Curacao, when I could have used the instant homestyle Indian food.

The parent company of The Cumin Club has also started a chain of virtual restaurants called The Cumin Bowl which offers soulful and healthy Indian street foods delivered through apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats, and Seamless. They are located in Chicago, New York, Texas, and closer home at UPop, the upscale convenience store by Savi Provisions in Atlanta.

~ Written for and printed by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.

How a Kashmiri Tea Warmed My Cup and Soul

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler. Oct 2022

I wake up at 4 a.m. to the sound of an imam chanting the Muslim call to prayer from the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque in Srinagar, India. At this early hour, darkness still envelops the city, the largest in India’s northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Normally, I am not an early riser, but today I hurry to dress in my salwar kameez and meet my driver, Mohd Shafi, who brings me to the shore of Dal Lake. With its traditional houseboats and floating gardens, Dal plays an integral role in the city’s commerce and culture.

At this early hour, my plan is to visit the town’s floating market, held each day before dawn breaks. A lone boatsman meets us at the lake’s docks and rows his red-carpet-draped shikara, a traditional wooden boat, onto the cool and misty lake. There is no one nearby as far as I can see, but then, with not a single light around us, I can’t really see anything.

Suddenly, from the foggy gray mist, another boatsman emerges with vegetables stacked on his long narrow boat, then another with fresh flowers, and yet another selling tea. It’s as if an entire city has awakened from the peripheries of the calm waters. Slowly, the fog lifts. Beyond the lake, the towering Himalaya mountains appear, and around me, lotus flowers bloom in the wetlands. It is a magical sight.

It’s here that I meet the kahwa shikara, or the floating tea vendor. He enthusiastically rattles in his broken English, “I am selling Kashmiri saffron kahwa — 16 varieties mix!” trying to attract the attention of those who may need a pick-me-up.

While balancing barefoot on his delicate, low-slung boat, he inserts hot coals into a brass kettle, or samovar, and serves small cups of tea to other vendors, mainly fruit, flower and vegetable sellers.

Wholesalers come to this part of the lake long before sunrise mainly to sell the produce they’ve grown along the banks of the lake. Retailers buy their goods, taking them back to be sold at shops and markets once the rest of the world awakens.

Without much delay, Shafi orders two cups of kahwa for us. The tea vendor flawlessly transacts the piping-hot paper cups and rupees across boats without anyone needing to move from their seats.

~ Continue reading on Marriott Bonvoy Traveler

Festival Food Favorites

Khabar Magazine. Oct 2022 print cover story.

This collection of cherished memories and recipes from food enthusiasts is sure to put you in the mood for the holidays.

Kheer: Nothing beats my late Grandma’s Punjabi recipe!

Growing up in northern India in a multi-religious household meant that I had the rare opportunity to celebrate many festivals with equal enthusiasm.

Each year, during Christmas, I dressed up in my finest and attended midnight mass with my grandma at the Catholic church where we ate decadent rum-flavored fruit cake and sipped on hot chai on freezing evenings in Chandigarh. On Shivratri, I offered milk at the Hindu temple and took home bright orange drops of boondi prasad. On Gurupurab, we gathered with friends at a community langar at our neighborhood Gurudwara for a simple yet heartwarming meal of puffed thin pooris, spice-smothered chana masala, and moist-rich sooji halwa. On Eid, our Muslim friends would gift us a portion of their sacrificed goat which my grandma would turn into flavorful mutton shami kebabs that made me hover around the kitchen for several hours in anticipation.

Food is an integral part of our memories, especially the ones that center around family, friends, and celebrations. The family matriarchs often hold the responsibility to carry on traditions and pass down recipes. It is no surprise then that each one of the contributors below credits a mother or a grandmother for their recipes.

However, with time and place, rituals and traditions often go through transformations. When I moved to the U.S., I no longer welcomed unannounced guests with a tray of hot and cold beverages, and homemade sweet and savory snacks. For Diwali, potluck dinners became necessary to share cooking responsibilities. We postponed celebrations to weekends and modified recipes for faster cooking times.

Still, there are some dishes that most of us feel nostalgic about—so much so that we are willing to exert the time and labor for them. For me, it is kheer, a dessert that my grandmother always made at birthdays and festivals. It is a simple dish with only a few ingredients, but my grandma purchased each of them in the highest quality, especially for the occasion.

“The family matriarchs often hold the responsibility to follow rituals, carry on traditions, and pass down recipes. It is no surprise that each one of the contributors below credits a mother or a grandmother for their recipes,” says Sucheta Rawal, seen here with her late grandmother.

Over the years, I have traveled around the world and discovered that the versatility of rice and milk makes for a universal dessert. It may be known as kheer in India, arroz con leche in Central and South America, rizogalo in Greece, and rice pudding in the U.S., but the essential idea is the same—to use leftover rice and turn it into something luscious. Some recipes include cinnamon, others leave out the raisins, and the consistency may vary.

But the best version, for me, is this—my late grandma’s Punjabi recipe modified with Italian arborio rice. My kheer thickens within an hour, offering a rich smooth texture without having to add any cream or condensed milk. The updated version reflects my own universal palate.

Kheer with Arborio Rice

(Serves 8–10)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1.5 hours


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup arborio risotto rice
  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 5-6 pods of cardamom
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds


  1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, add the rice and water. Cover with plastic cling wrap and poke holes with a knife so the steam can evaporate. Microwave on high for 6-8 minutes until the liquid is completely absorbed. Remove the cover and let it cool to room temperature before proceeding.
  2. In a heavy-bottom large pot, bring the milk to a boil. Add the cardamom. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently using a rubber spatula. Add the cooked rice and continue to simmer for another 45 to 50 minutes, stirring frequently and mixing in the cream that collects on the top.
  3. Add the sugar and continue to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the consistency is thick.
  4. Add the raisins and mix again.
  5. Chill the kheer for at least 4 hours or overnight, and garnish with almonds before serving.

~ Continue reading on Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.

Hoecakes, Johnny Cakes, And Pancakes: What’s The Difference?

Southern Living. Oct 2022.

It was a crisp fall morning. I woke up on the couch of my host, a charming older couple, as I had recently arrived from India. The aroma of Folgers coffee, homemade blueberry pancakes, fried bacon, and eggs filled the air in the small townhouse.

I instantly gravitated to the pancakes. Never before had I seen such soft delicate cakes with dollops of whipped butter and sweet maple syrup. Dessert for breakfast? Where had I been all these years?

Later, I assimilated in my new Southern lifestyle and started trying different versions of pancakes at themed restaurants, late-night diners serving “early breakfast,” as well as the pre-made mixes and microwavable frozen kinds. As I began to immerse myself in the culinary history of the South and travel across the world, I discovered there was more to the pan-baked round treat that is a quintessential part of an American breakfast.

~ Continue reading on Southern Living‘s website.