Indian-spiced popcorn? Yes, please! At the Portland Indian Bridal Showcase, I had the opportunity to meet Neha Patel, the owner of Masala Pop. Neha grew up eating her mom’s savory blend of popcorn, spiced in the tradition found in her native India. She started experimenting with her own blend of spices and flavors to create a one-of-a-kind snack with a spicy kick. After 15 years as a sustainability professional, Neha decided to pursue her dream of starting a specialty food business. She quickly turned her “hobby” into a retail shop and manufacturing space for Masala Pop to supply farmers market, co-ops, movie theaters, specialty grocery and more. The enthusiasm from customers inspires her to continue to create new and exciting flavors and products.
With flavors like Chai Masala with Oregon Hazelnuts and Savory Masala with Papadams, Masala Pop’s products are hand blended. I recently interviewed Neha (after inquiring about the limited-edition Saffron Rose with Pistachios – yum!) to learn more about her venture and traditions:
What was the inspiration for Masala Pop?
The inspiration for Masala Pop began with my mom. When I was growing up, she spiced up popcorn similar to the way Popcorn Walahs did in her native India. Recently I began playing with her recipe as well as creating my own. Friends and family started placing orders, and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. The idea to start a popcorn company was born.
How did you select your flavors? Are any of them inspired by specific destinations/regions in India?
My mom’s original Savory Masala contains a blend of spices that are commonly used in the Indian state of Gujarat where my family is from. My mother’s style of Indian cooking definitely has inspired me in creating the other flavors, and I also like to experiment with spice blends and ingredients that unique to India such as Garam Masala, Tamarind, and traditional Chai spices and Papadums, a chip made out of lentils. I like to take the flavors from some of my favorite Indian dishes, and translate that into a popcorn flavor. The exotic flavors of Indian food seem almost limitless, and I think popcorn is the perfect vehicle for showcasing them! Our newest flavor is Saffron Rose, flavors commonly found in Indian sweets, and we are currently experimenting with Mint Chutney.
I understand you are going to be on the shelves of New Seasons very soon?
Yes, we will start in most stores at the beginning of April. We had a lot of dedicated fans requesting our product at their local stores and it finally paid off. We are really excited about this exposure to the entire Portland Metro area. Look for us to be doing a lot of in-store demos!
What have you found to be the biggest surprise during the launch and expansion of Masala Pop?
The biggest surprise is the difficulty involved in the balance between using quality products vs. keeping the cost of the product down. We are committed to using real and natural ingredients as well as using sustainable packaging that doesn’t compromise the freshness and quality of the popcorn. With all of this, is our desire to keep the price point accessible to every consumer. I have a new appreciation of all that goes into this delicate balance.
Besides being a delicious, organic, gluten-free, non-gmo snack, what else do you believe contributes to the success of your product?
First, I think it’s because it is so unique, it is unlike anything people have ever tasted before. Second, our team is really invested in the every step of the product; from packaging design to sourcing local and real ingredients, to recipe tweaking. I think the attention that goes into the small-batch production really shines through in our product.
The methodology of Indian cooking has influenced the cuisine of many cultures worldwide. Experiencing the local and regional spices is often a request from our clients when traveling to India, and what makes our Taste of India package so popular. The following guest post is written by Chandrika Nimmagadda, a Sodha Traveler who owned Curry Leaf restaurant in Portland, Oregon for eight years.
Indian cooking still uses techniques from ancient dynasties which have been combined with cooking processes from all over the world to create a liberal modern tradition. The ancient art of cooking included spices, which still factor heavily in modern Indian cuisine. The spices come in different colors – red, yellow, green, brown, black – and brighten up your food palette! They add taste and variety to the human existence. Now, even scientists are dipping into the kitchen cupboard and discovering the significant health benefits of some of the most common Indian spices that contribute towards a tastier and a healthier life.
Seldom do you realize the presence of cinnamon in your food. This spice does its job, covertly and effectively, and is much more beneficial than the taste it offers. Studies have shown that just a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol. Several other studies suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it beneficial for people with Type 2 Diabetes. Cinnamon reduced the proliferation
of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells. When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.
Known as the golden spice and spice of richness, saffron is exotic and often used during auspicious occasions. Its presence gives color to a dish and is used for the treatment of kidney, bladder and liver disorders. Saffron is known to lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides among heart patients and improves circulation to the organs. It is also used in many cosmetic preparations for enhancing and lightening skin tone.
Cloves are often found in biryanis and pulaos. More often than not, you find it a hindrance while chewing, and keep it in one corner of the plate. Have you ever wondered why this spice, which actually is not even consumed, is added in the first place? Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree and have been known to possess medicinal properties for centuries. Cloves are stimulating and have antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal and antiseptic properties. It is also a natural anesthetic and used for dental procedures to remedy toothaches. Clove oil can be used to treat acne, as the oil contains a compound that helps with blood circulation and can stimulate the skin. Cloves are well known for relieving flatulence and can actually help promote good digestion as well as metabolism. It can additionally relieve vomiting and diarrhea.
Black Pepper (Kali Mirch)
This is the spice that you see daily on your dining table. Besides consuming black pepper for taste, it improves your digestion by stimulating the taste buds to notify the stomach to increase its secretion of hydrochloric acid. Black pepper provides a natural solution to intestinal gas. It is an antioxidant, curtails oxidative stress, and reduces the damage caused by a diet full of saturated fats. Black pepper also prevents bacterial growth in the intestinal tract.
Turmeric gives curry powder and mustard their deep yellow color. Rich in antioxidants, researchers have discovered that it may help in the fight against cancer as well as containing inflammation fighting compounds called curcuminoids. Studies show that curcuminoids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and joint inflammation. Turmeric also helps in minimizing liver damage caused by excess alcohol consumption or pain-killers. Furthermore, it helps relieve wound inflammation, arthritic symptoms, and reduces cholesterol levels.
Cardamom helps in countering stomach acidity. It also acts as an aphrodisiac when the powder is sprinkled on coffee. It generates appetite, aids in nausea and relieves halitosis. The fragrant seeds of cardamom contain a certain oil that helps in stimulating digestion and relieving flatulence.
Ginger has long been regarded as an essential remedy in the East, but recently Western medicine has also embraced the health benefits of ginger. Ginger is used extensively in Indian cooking – almost all dishes include it in some form. It also helps with digestion, nausea, colds, cramps, and muscle aches.
Additional Spice Tips:
* Spices should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
* It is best to store spices in their whole form. They rapidly lose their freshness and flavor once ground.
* Spices should be prudently used as part of a healthy diet. Remember, spices are not medicines and are not intended to be consumed raw.
Chandrika Nimmagadda currently operates her own event coordination company, specializing in ethnic celebrations. To contact Chandrika, send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuing with our monthly theme of culinary delights, here is a recipe from a dear friend of Sodha Travel, Chandrika Nimmagadda. Chandrika was the owner of the original Curry Leaf in Portland, Oregon and is known throughout the community as a maestro of Indian cuisine. She generously offered to share this recipe for Mango Bread Pudding. (On a personal note, it is one of my favorites.) Enjoy!
Mango Bread Pudding
- 6 slices day-old bread
- 1/2 cup dry craisins
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp butter, melted
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Break bread into small pieces into an 8 inch square baking pan. Drizzle melted butter or margarine over bread. If desired, sprinkle with raisins.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tappeed.
For the Mango Sauce :
Mango Pulp – 1/2 cup
Heavy Cream – 2 Tablespoons
Milk – 1/2 Cup
Sugar to taste
Blend all of these together with a spoon.
Once the pudding is cooled down, cut into servings, pour two tablespoons of the sauce over the slices. Can be served with fresh strawberries or fresh mango slices.
As you may have read in the November issue of our Sodha Traveler newsletter, this month we are focusing on South Asian culinary delights. The following post is by guest blogger Nikhil Merchant, a food columnist and gourmet consultant based in Mumbai.
A proud nation indeed, India– the land of curries and dals, a melting pot of flavors which differ from the East to the West and the North to the South, I always had a close affinity to typical home cooked Indian food. Of course, being born and brought up in Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city, I was exposed to new age and differential cuisines which kept cropping up through my growing up years. But somehow or the other – there is no food like home cooked food. Even today, many cosmopolitan cities have what they call their ‘specialties’, Delhi has its spicy chaats and heavy butter laden curries; Mumbai is synonymous with its street foods ranging from Pani Puri’s to Kathi Rolls; Gujarat with its Sweets and Indian Thali’s leave people satiated; and Kolkata with its diverse sea food dishes (some of the best fisheries in the world) and flavors redolent with mustard and typical spices make up our country’s cuisine amongst many others diversities. Each city has its own tale and you would be surprised with the way the dishes are twisted to capture the essence of that particular place.
I, being a food enthusiast and an avid documenter of my experiments in the kitchen, am in the constant need of marrying flavors of India with exotic ingredients from around the world. Yes, fusion food is a little difficult to fathom and I would not call myself an expert fusionist, but I love to combine arbid flavors to come up with some exciting variations to Indian dishes.
Here is a recipe I created by using a common ingredient used in everyday Indian cooking and a part of a common Indian person’s diet – the Red Lentil. You would be surprised that the Middle Eastern countries take lentils very seriously too, and this recipe is a dish inspired by the lentil soup of the Middle East but localized to match the palates of our country. Try this simple recipe out with easy to locate ingredients, which I am sure your local grocery store would have in stock.
1 cup –Split, Dry Red Lentils (pre-soaked for half hour)
4 cups – Water
1 small Onion (finely chopped)
1 small Tomato (seeded & pureed)
1 lemon (juice)
1 tsp Brown Sugar
1 Vegetable Stock Cube
1 tablsp Garlic (grated)
1 tablsp Ginger (grated)
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chili Flakes
1 tablsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Black Pepper (ground)
Salt to taste
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 leaves Purple Basil
1 tablsp Apple Cider Vinegar
Sea Salt to taste
For the infusion oil: muddle sea salt and purple basil lightly, top with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and whisk in the apple cider vinegar, leave to steep for at least 12 hours before use.
For the Lentil Soup: Heat up Olive Oil in a large pot (large enough to hold four cups of water), and add the ginger, garlic and onions. Stir fry until the onions are soft and add the lentils, four cups water, tomatoes, vegetable stock cube and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes or till the lentil are cooked and the water has boiled down to about half its quantity. Add all the seasonings and turn down the heat to low. Continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes in the process crushing the lentils to thicken the soup. If you feel it’s too thick add a little more water.
To serve: pour out the soup in a serving pot or individual bowl, drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on top and a purple basil leaf and serve hot.
Nikhil Merchant is a food columnist and writes his own food & lifestyle blog – The Nonchalant Gourmand (www.nonchalantgourmand.com). He is also a food enthusiast and a Gourmet Consultant based in India (Mumbai) who loves to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Life inspires him to create dishes and he tends to reiterate the inspiration in the form of his signature dishes.
Back in 2009, Arjun Shaktawat had a vision. After studying at the prestigious Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland and working with Aspen Meadows Resort in Colorado, he returned to Udaipur and took on a 100-year old dilapidated haveli on lease from the Maharana of Udaipur. After a meticulous restoration, it became one of the city’s most complimented restaurant – bistro-lounge: 1559 AD. The name was easy for Arjun, as 1559 was the historical year that Udaipur was founded by Maharana Udai Singh.
If you are visiting Udaipur, be sure to check out this gem that blends contemporary and traditional Indian cuisine. The restaurant has received rave, mouth-watering reviews by critics and travelers. (It received a Certificate of Excellence on Trip Advisor in May of this year.) Also, be sure to check out Upre, Shaktawat’s newest Udaipur restaurant and bar on the rooftop of the Lake Pichola hotel. And coming soon in Jodhpur: Bijolai.
One of the most common questions we receive is regarding vaccinations and/or medications to the Indian Subcontinent. Immunizations are not required to visit India. (Exception: If you are traveling from an area infected with Yellow Fever, you must have a certificate.) We do encourage all travelers to be current on routine immunizations. Sodha Travel also strongly recommends the Hepatitis A vaccine, where exposure occurs through contaminated food and water in developing countries.
The vaccine decision is truly a personal one and the opinions vary among travel clinics, doctors, and travelers. The Center for Disease Control offers an updated list of outbreaks and recommended immunizations, based on the region of travel. Here is their current list of vaccine-preventable diseases in India:
|Vaccination or Disease||Recommendations or Requirements for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases|
|Routine||Recommended if you are not up-to-date with routine shots such as, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, etc.|
|Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG)||Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in countries with an intermediate or high level of hepatitis A virus infection (see map) where exposure might occur through food or water. Cases of travel-related hepatitis A can also occur in travelers to developing countries with “standard” tourist itineraries, accommodations, and food consumption behaviors.|
|Hepatitis B||Recommended for all unvaccinated persons traveling to or working in countries with intermediate to high levels of endemic HBV transmission (see map), especially those who might be exposed to blood or body fluids, have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment (e.g., for an accident).|
|Typhoid||Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in South Asia, especially if staying with friends or relatives or visiting smaller cities, villages, or rural areas where exposure might occur through food or water.|
|Polio||Recommended for adult travelers who have received a primary series with either inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) or oral polio vaccine (OPV). They should receive another dose of IPV before departure. For adults, available data do not indicate the need for more than a single lifetime booster dose with IPV.|
|Japanese encephalitis||Recommended if you plan to visit rural farming areas and under special circumstances, such as a known outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, see country-specific information.|
|Rabies||Recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas, involved in activities such as bicycling, camping, or hiking. Also recommended for travelers with significant occupational risks (such as veterinarians), for long-term travelers and expatriates living in areas with a significant risk of exposure, and for travelers involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats, carnivores, and other mammals. Children are considered at higher risk because they tend to play with animals, may receive more severe bites, or may not report bites.|
There is also the debate about malaria medications. Although it is recommended for certain regions, many people have an adverse reaction to malaria meds – myself included. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and hallucinations. There are antimalarial alternatives, including spraying repellent on exposed skin and taking vitamin A and zinc supplements. Adventure travelers are usually more at risk, due to the nature of their activities and the remote locations.
Depending on the season and region of travel, Sodha Travel will recommend preventative measures. Please consult with your health care professional to decide the best medical plan.
Janet and Nathan O’Brien recently returned from our Taste of India tour and they were kind enough to send along their (delicious) feedback:
We just returned from 10 days of eating our way through India on your Taste of India tour. It was a fantastic experience, sampling the spices and dishes indigenous to each region. Nathan and I enjoyed every demonstration and class, and we were so excited to receive the handmade recipe books from many of the chefs. The home cooking classes were a special touch and we appreciated meeting the families in Bangalore and Delhi. The Biryani in Hyderabad was so savory and delicious – we could eat it again and again. We have enjoyed culinary tours in Italy, Provence, Cambodia, and South Africa, but this tour was probably the highlight of our worldwide travels. Sodha Travel added so many thoughtful and personal elements. Our guides were great, and one of them invited Nathan to join an impromptu cricket game in a neighborhood in Kerala. With our gifted spice box, we look forward to making the recipes and remembering the fond memories of our time in India. It is truly a remarkable country. Thank you for offering a fabulous tour for foodies like us! I will send a few photos soon.
Well, Janet, you have inspired me to cook Indian tonight! Share your testimonials: email@example.com
Last week, one of our Sodha Traveler’s, Sandy, passed on a wonderful article about the affordable delights of Delhi dining. Sandy wrote, “This article is wonderful and sends me right back to Delhi in my mind, heart, and tummy!” Be sure to check out the article by Philip Reeves: New Delhi: A Princely Feast for a Paupers Price. Thank you for sharing, Sandy!
Here are a few other dining recommendations in Delhi:
Punjabi by Nature – Offering a mix of traditional and innovative cuisine, the food never fails to exceed my expectations. There are four locations in Delhi/Gurgaon – and I recommend eating at all of them.
Depauls – For those of you who love cold coffee, this is the best around. No ice, just chilled coffee and milk, thick and creamy with a hint of sugar and served in a simple glass bottle. Sometimes I order two. Located in Janpath Market near Connaught Place.
Spice by Nature – I have never personally visited this establishment, but I have received positive reviews by many travelers. Located near the Regent Continental Hotel in Karol Bagh, the simplicity in the food and atmosphere is what adds to its appeal.
What are your favorite places to dine and drink? Send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
During my recent stay at the Brunton Boatyard in Cochin, I was gifted a fabulous recipe of Ginger Wine. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Boatyard, I highly recommend it.) The hotel serves this non-alcoholic beverage in their restaurant before dinner as a palate cleanser. The ginger aids in digestion and the cinnamon and cloves add an earthy flavor.
Ginger Wine, Courtesy of Brunton Boatyard
¼ cup crushed ginger
3 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lime juice
4 cups water
Boil the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and water.
Reduce to 3/4 and strain.
Add the lime juice and honey.
Pour in a pitcher, refrigerate and serve cold.
Guest Blogger: Farhana Shaikh
Sodha Travel welcomes Farhana Shaikh, an Indian cooking enthusiast, as she discusses her roots and gluten-free Indian cuisine:
My name is Farhana and I have been cooking since I was nine years old. Many people might be shocked to hear this, but I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to me. I learned early on how to make many recipes that were handed down to my mother from my Nani Maa (Grandma). Even though my mother was the cook in the family, my father will always be the true chef. I wish he would have cooked more but we were a very traditional family when it came to roles. (I was raised in England, the daughter of Indian parents.) From my dad, I learned to be creative and to push the envelope, and from my mother I learned to be consistent and stable. With these influences, I cook in a very unique manner. There are dishes that come from “forever recipes” – unchanged and unaltered – since I feel it would be unforgivable to amend them. There are other recipes where I wonder, ”Why did my mother teach me to do that?” So, with my slight variations, I have perfected and improved upon longtime favorites.
My dishes are simple in their ingredients and method. I am very health conscious. The one tool that is a necessity in my kitchen is my pressure cooker. Some consider this as a way to cheat, but being a working mother I do not have the time to stand over the stove for hours. Many people have a desire to cook but are balancing work, family, and life. They are in awe when I tell them I cook most of my dishes in twenty minutes. Also, living in Denver, Colorado, the altitude affects cooking and boiling times so the pressure cooker is truly my best friend. Using a pressure cooker does not alter the quality or taste of the dishes I cook.
And, like any good story, there is a twist: I recently found out that I am gluten intolerant. Most people would be upset and unraveled by this news, but luckily Indian food is so adaptable it can be made gluten free. Here is one of my favorite recipes, simple and delicious:
- 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes
- 1 ½ tsp cilantro/coriander powder
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¾ tsp red chili powder
- ¼ tsp garam masala powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 small container of plain yogurt/sour cream
- 1 small can tomato sauce (8oz)
- 1 tsp ground fresh/frozen ginger
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- 1/8 cup oil (veg/olive etc)
- 2 tbsp butter
- Mix all ingredients except chicken, veg oil and butter in a bowl until it is blended well
- Add chicken and coat well
- In a pan heat up oil and butter on medium heat
- Once butter has melted add sauce and chicken into pan
- Cook for about 20 minutes with lid on
- Serve with rice (If not gluten intolerant, serve with roti/naan)
For more gluten-free recipes, visit Farhana at Cooking Reinvented.
Often, travelers in India experience gastrointestinal discomfort, commonly termed Delhi Belly. Some fault the food preparation while others blame the water source. The symptoms usually lessen after 24-48 hours without any medication. Here are a few suggestions for staying healthy during your trip:
1. To be safe, we recommend not eating at roadside stands. The food may not be cooked or cleaned properly. We have seen too many travelers become ill from a desire to eat “authentic” at these locations.
2. Pack a digestive relief: Tums, Pepto Bismol, etc.
3. Grapefruit seed extract is a natural defense to unfamiliar bacteria. The extract is available at most natural food stores and nutrition/vitamin shops.
4. As a precaution, some clients request an antibiotic from their doctor before travel. Please consult your physician.
5. Only eat fruits and vegetables that have a thick peel. Examples: bananas, mangoes, oranges, squash, eggplant, and peppers. Also, be cautious about salads. The lettuce is often washed in tap water.
1. Only drink bottled water during your trip. Be sure to check for sealed and untampered caps.
2. Many hotels have a water purification system. (Exception: Most hostels and guest houses do not have an independent system.) Therefore, it is generally safe to use tap water to brush your teeth. If you have concerns, please ask the property or use bottled water for all activities.
3. Iodine tables are usually not necessary, unless your itinerary includes trekking and/or remote destinations. We will let you know if iodine tablets are recommended for your particular package.
For specific suggestions pertaining to your itinerary, please ask a Sodha Travel representative.