Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I've too much on my plate...

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has introduced a bill to ban New York restaurants from using salt in their cooking.  The New York Daily News claims, "If State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has his way, the only salt added to your meal will come from the chef's tears."

"It's time for us to take a giant step," Ortiz said on March 10, 2010. "We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths."
It is Ortiz's intention to increase awareness of the harmful effects of excess salt in our foods.  The campaign's goal is to reduce the intake of salt by 50% in the next ten years.

If this bill is passed, a fine of upto $1,000 could be imposed on violators.

Chefs are not happy.  Tom Colicchio of the show Top Chef, says, "Anybody who wants to taste food with no salt, go to a hospital and taste that."

It is exactly what Assemblyman Ortiz fears might happen if they did eat salt.

On the other hand, practically speaking, salt plays a specific role in cooking.

Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist, writes in “CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking,” that even the minimum amount of salt plays four important roles in the development of dough: "It enhances flavor, controls bacteria, slows yeast activity and strengthens dough by tightening gluten."
Katherine Mangu-Ward of, a free-market themed blog, says:
Pasta water must be salted, for instance, to flavor the noodles themselves. Salting onions at the right moment is key to successfully caramelizing them. Salting eggplant before cooking reduces bitterness in the final dish. And then there's brining and pickling, not to mention the vital importance of salt in the science of baking.
New York is no stranger to such bans.  A ban on the use of trans-fat was imposed in 2008. 
A tax on soda is in the works.  Ortiz will take care of his people, whether they like it or not. 
Well, salt or no salt?

Hypertensive that I am, I must selfishly agree with Ortiz, but I do feel the pain of those for whom cooking is an art form.

 Read more:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Egypt's Pride: Doctor Peseshet

The first woman doctor ever belonged to Egypt. Her name was  Peseshet; she was not only a swnwt (woman doctor) but also a imyt-r hm(wt)-ka (woman director of the soul-priestesses) and lived around 2500 B.C.  Nothing much is known about her except that she was the mother of Akhethetep in whose tomb her stela (carved or inscribed stone slab) was found.

Women of Ancient Egypt could enter any profession they liked, unlike in modern times.

The picture on the left shows some of the instruments she may have used.  Most of these tools were used for embalming as well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grilled Eggplant Egyptian Recipe

picture courtesy of: TheBon

In Egypt, eggplant is roasted over hot coals until the skin is charred. One can char the eggplant directly over the gas flame, turning frequently with tongs until the juices begin to ooze out or bake it in a 425°F oven for 30 minutes.

  • 2 large eggplants
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Char eggplants over gas flames until soft, then allow them to cool. Peel the eggplants and let them drain in a sieve. Purée the eggplant in a food processor with the lemon juice, ground cumin, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tahini (sesame) cream.

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame) paste.
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin.
  • 1/2 cup yogurt.
  • Juice of 2 1/2 lemons, or more to taste.
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
  • Salt to taste.
Mix tahini paste, cumin and salt. Add the yogurt and lemon juice gradually, beating vigorously to make a smooth thick cream. This can all be done in a blender, which makes a smooth tahini cream. Garnish with parsley, and serve with babaghanoug.

Recipes modified from the Egyptian Daily News

Monday, March 15, 2010



Ugadi is the first day of a new Hindu lunar calendar. It is believed that Lord Brahma started the Creation of the Universe on this day, the first day of the month of Chaitra. It is spring time, time of new beginnings, fresh life, new hope and gladness in our hearts.  Who can say it better than Robert Browning in "Pippa's Song"?

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

People wash and clean their houses for Ugadi, decorate them with mango leaf streamers and "muggu" which are geometric patterns drawn on stoeps (Dutch spelling) with rice flour paste. They wear new clothes and visit temples for the "panchangasravanam" or the reading of the annual calendar. They make Ugadi pachchadi, a concoction that consists of six flavors (sweet, salty, sour, spicy, tangy and bitter) symbolizing the ups and downs of life.

The lunar calendar follows a sixty year cycle, divided into three groups of twenty each. The first twenty are attributed to Brahma (srishti or creation), the next twenty to Vishnu (sthiti or continuation) and the last twenty to Shiva (laya or dissolution). We are now in the 24th year of this cycle and are moving from Virodhi to Vikruti samvatsara.

May we all have a happy new year.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


...and a song about King Tut

8.6 million people visited Egypt last year. All these people caused major scuffing of walls and wearing away of paintings. Try not to breathe or sweat while you are there, because the humidity and perspiration are ruining the buildings. Tourism brings in many many piastres, so it is imperative something be done to preserve these treasures.  Egypt is looking into rotational or limited opening of key sites. I am glad I am able to go before all these changes take place.

In an unrelated story, the boy King Tut, it is now believed, died of a broken leg. What an anticlimax...the leg wound became infected and that is what killed him. Stories of murder are just not true. He was not attacked for reverting to polytheism--all the theories about conspiracy, tunnels, asps, high priests with dangerous daggers are all figments of someone's imagination.   A shard of bone was found in his skull but researchers now believe that was caused by the embalmers accidentally dropping the body. It is so hard to find good help!!
This video of Steve Martin in Saturday Night Live is a homage to the boy king...

If you are not able to view this, try this link:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A review of "Midaq Alley" by Naguib Mahfouz. My Egypt Tour begins.

I start my tour of Egypt with a study of its best writer, Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1988.  Midaq Alley was one of his early novels set during the Second World War.  The novel is about the residents in Midaq Alley, an impoverished part of Cairo city. The World War has wrought changes in the city: It  brought electricity (the new radio in Kirsha's cafe), it brought money (mercenary soldiers) and it brought a collapse of the traditional value systems.  And no one in Midaq Alley escapes these influences. There is no single protagonist in this novel, but one dominant theme--self-indulgence at any cost. It is no wonder then that these people face the tragic consequences of their desire for money and sensual pleasures.  Critics claim that the novel is about the conflict between the past and the present and the ever changing value system.  But I disagree.  It is about human failings, and about overreach.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

2 States -- Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat's "2 States" is about true love's not-so-smooth course.  It's about the problems Krish, a Punjabi, and Ananya a Tamilian Brahmin, face when they want to get married and the families are opposed to it.  However, the two seek their parents' approval and choose not to elope. 

They meet in IIM Ahmedabad.   Krish is an  IIT graduate and Ananya is a graduate in economics. They live together for 2 yrs there. Story shifts from  IIM Ahmedabad to Chennai where Ananya parents are and then to Delhi, home to Krish's parents.  Krish finds a job in Chennai and ingratiates himself with A's family by doing the parents and her brother several favors.  Takes Ananya to meet his mother -- father is discounted.  Father is a military man with an evil temper, beats his wife.  Some childhood trauma is described which accounts for the strained relationship between the father and the son.  (When Krish was a teenager, he struck his father.)  Mother is important  to him, so he won't have her upset.  Ananya has quite a formidable task ahead of her when she visits Delhi with Krish.  They attend a wedding -- last minute complications regarding dowry threaten to stop it.   Ananya rounds up the youth including the groom and gives them a talking to. Lo! the wedding is on again.
It was a feel good novel, an Indian Mills and Boon.  I liked Chetan Bhagat's easy flowing style.  There was no awkwardness in dialogue.  He even got a few chuckles out of me.