I made a memorable trip to South Korea a few years ago to experience the beautiful cherry blossom season and ofcourse to enjoy delicious Korean cuisine.

Among the culinary classes and food walks I managed to squeeze in between visits to beautiful temples and parks I learned to make Japchae or Chapchae as Koreans like to call it. The word means mixed vegetables in Sino Korean. One of Korea’s signature dishes, it originates in royal cuisine with versions in their Temple cuisine repertoire but has become so popular that it is eaten all over the country and is always served at Korean restaurants abroad.

My culinary instructor Ome, a native of Seoul explained to me that there are numerous reasons for its popularity; it’s a colourful and elegant preparation, easy to make and filling for large groups. Its also made to celebrate longevity; a must have at a birth or wedding ceremony. The dish has strict parameters- all its ingredients must be sliced long to symobolise a long life. Like India the concept of Panch Tatva is also celebrated in Korean culture albeit in a different way. To balance the palate, this dish influenced by Buddhist teachings, must have five colours, every one represents a direction, north, south east and west but the South Koreans recognize a fifth direction, the center, where all of us hope to get to one day. Chapchae is also a mellow dish that helps to balance a meal when served as a side (Banchan) with spicier dishes like Buldak or Nakji Bokkeum.

You will find the video demo of this dish, where to buy the ingredients on my Insta IGTV feed @deshpandetara 



Ingredients for the noodles: 100 grams sweet potato noodle (dangmyeon) 2 scallions or green onions, 1 small carrot julienned  (a 3 inch piece), 1 large wood ear mushroom soaked in warm water, drained and then sliced long, 35 grams oyster mushrooms, 20 grams Chinese chives or regular chives sliced in half, 1 red or yellow bell pepper finely sliced

4 tbsp cooking oil
For the Sauce : 4 tablespoons light soy sauc, 2 tsp brown sugar, 2 tsp ground garlic, 3 tablespoons regular or hot sesame oil, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 


1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds and 3 cm pieces of scallion tops


Slice all the vegetables lengthwise 4-6 cm long. The green onion bulbs can be quartered along with part of the green stem. The top part of the stem can be reserved as a garnish.Tear the oyster mushrooms into long strips. 

Soak the noodles in boiling hot water for 3-4 minutes. Do not cook the noodles actively, just soak them in extremely hot water. Drain just before mixing.  

Heat vegetable oil in a small wok or a skillet on high heat, Add bell pepper first and toss well. Then add remaining vegetables and herbs and saute all the vegetables for just under 1.5 minutes until glistening and tender but still crisp and holding their shape. Toss them as they cook to ensure even cooing. Reserve the vegetables on a side plate.

Moving quickly in the same hot skillet add the sesame oil and a tablespoon of vegetable oil and toss the drained noodles in them. Add the sauce and toss again.

Taste for salt, sugar and spice and adjust. Top with the vegetables and sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions. Drizzle some more sesame oil on the top if desired.

Mix just before serving.


Green Papaya Mulakushyam

Green Papaya Mulakushyam

This is home cooking from Kerala at its best. Simple ingredients, nourishing and full of flavour. Serve this thick, delicious raw papaya and lentil curry with steamed rice.

Ingredients serves 4-5 with rice

Green papaya/kapplanga peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces (remove any small seeds)
1/2 cup Yellow Moong dal or Toor dal
2 small plum Tomatoes chopped
2 Green chillies, stalks removed broken into 2-3 pieces
1/4 tsp red chilli powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 Black Pepper powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp Ghee (optional)
Jaggery and salt to taste


2 tbsp Coconut or veg oil and ghee

2-3 red kashmiri chilli broken into pieces

6 green curry leaves torn

1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds

1/2 tsp whole mustard seeds


Cook open in a Dutch oven or pressure cook lentil or parippu with the tomatoes, turmeric powder, chilli powder green chillies and excess water. When the dal is soft and falling apart, mash it with the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to a coarse consistency with tomatoes.
Add raw papaya with more water if required, 1 tsp salt, ghee, powdered jaggery, black pepper powder and cook until papaya is edible but holds its shape. Pour into a serving dish.

In a tempering spoon heat ghee or coconut oil on a high flame and temper the spices until they crackle and become aromatic. Pour over the lentils. Mix well just before serving. Serve with plain boiled rice.



Matanga Erriserry


For cooking Pumpkin

  • 250 grams yellow pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 100 grams black eyed peas also called cow peas soaked in excess water overnight
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

For the coconut masala

  • 2 tablespoon fresh shredded coconut
  • 2-3 green chillies
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

For the top tempering

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 dried red chillies (Kashmiri or Bedgi) stalks and seeds removed
  • 10 fresh green curry leaves on a stalk
  • 2 tablespoon fresh shredded coconut or defrosted


  • Drain and wash the cow peas. Cook them with turmeric, red chilli powder and 4 cups of water until tender on a high flame. Add more water as required. When pressed between your fingers the bean should collapse. You could use a pressure cooker but this can result in the skins separating from the peas. Now add the pumpkin with 1 cup water and cook again 5 minutes. Reserve.
  • Grind the coconut, green chilli and cumin seeds along with a 1-2 tablespoons of the residual pumpkin water to a coarse paste. Combine pumpkin pieces, remaining water, coconut masala in a large saucepan and cook on medium heat until the pumpkin is very tender and the water has dried up. The pumpkin should fall apart if pressed down with a spoon.Gently mash the pumpkin with the ladle for a coarse consistency. Add salt to taste. Scoop into a serving dish.
  • Heat coconut oil and veg oil or ghee in a kadai and add mustard and cumin seeds, fresh green curry leaves, dried red chillies when the oil is hot. Let the seeds and chilli sizzle. Add in the fresh shredded coconut and fry till the coconut is golden brown. Pour the tempering over the warm pumpkin. Stir just before you serve the dish.


A popular Indo Chinese dish in India this can also be prepared with paneer or halloumi. The Chilli in Chilli Chicken refers to both green chillies and green bell peppers. My version has a slightly lighter sauce that leaves the vegetables bright and crisp.

Ingredients for 4 served with rice

For the crispy chicken

500 grams chilli chicken cut or boneless skinless thighs in 1 inch pieces ‍‍

1 egg white

4 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine or rice wine vinegar

1 tsp garlic ginger paste

½ tsp pepper

1/4 cup cornflour

1/4 cup all purpose or maida

1/2 tsp salt

Vegetable or canola oil for frying


1 tsp vegetable oil

2 green chillies slit

1 teaspoon garlic and ginger paste

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

3-4 tbsp red chilli sauce or to taste

water about 1.5 cups

1 tsp ground pepper

2 tsp brown sugar salt to taste


Stir chicken and egg white in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

Combine ingredients for the sauce and stir well to make a slurry. Taste for salt, spiciness and sweetness and adjust to your taste. Reserve.

Heat 1.5 tbsp vegetable oil in a medium size skillet over medium flame. Add green onions and sauté well. Add garlic and ginger and cook till soft and just golden. Raise heat to high. Add green chillies, bell peppers and capsicum and toss in the pan till just tender about 1 minute. The vegetables should be crisp but edible. Reserve on a plate.

Combine dry ingredients for the crispy chicken in a mixing bowl to make a smooth thick batter. Set the same skillet on high heat and add two inches of frying oil. When hot but not smoking reduce the flame to medium heat. Add chicken to the batter and coat each piece completely. Deep fry in hot oil till golden brown and cooked through. Drain over paper towels. Heat sauce in a skillet until bubbly and reduces in volume by half. Add chicken and toss well. Switch off the flame. Add vegetables and toss well. Adjust for seasoning. Garnish with thinly sliced green onion stalks. Serve hot with steamed plain white rice or egg noodles




This sweet, tart and spicy Parsi style Kheema is served with potato sali and gutli or ladi pao. A fried egg on the side works very well too. I recommend a Parsi garam masala because it is sweeter than the regular garam masala. If you use mutton mince it takes longer to cook than chicken mince. if you use a plant meat substitute cook your peas first before you add the meat substitute. Ask for a medium mince. Portuguese or potato buns are good substitute if ladi pao is not available.

Ingredients for 4-5

500 grams chicken or mutton mince (kheema)

120 grams cooking potatoes peeled and diced into half inch pieces

3 small to medium red onions peeled and finely chopped

1 inch cinnamon stick

5 whole black peppercorns

2 cups finely chopped plum tomatoes

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder or cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste

1.5 tsp Parsi garam masala

2 tablespoon green chilli, ginger and cumin paste

1 cup water mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1.5 tsp white vinegar

1/2 cup shelled peas

3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander and mint leaves (optional)


Potato sali (matchstick potatoes) 1 cup

Ladi pao 8-10 Individual buns


Grind together 1 inch fresh peeled ginger root with 1 teaspoon cumin powder and 2-3 green chillies until smooth. Reserve.

Deep fry diced potatoes until golden. Drain and reserve.

Heat 3 tbsp oil (you can use the oil from the fried potatoes) in a wide skillet. When hot add the onions, peppercorns and cinnamon and sauce until onions soften and begin to brown a little. Now add tomatoes and stir until pulped 4-5 minutes. Add turmeric and chilli powder. Add a tsp of salt.

Add water to facilitate the cooking 1/4 cup at a time. Add tomato paste and stir well. Add Parsi garam masala, ginger, cumin chilli paste and cook another 2 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.

Add garlic ginger paste and cook 1 minute, stirring to prevent burning.

Add mincemeat and stir well about 3-4 minutes. Lower the flame then add water with sugar and vinegar and peas and cook until mincemeat and peas are tender. Add fried potatoes and add your chopped coriander and mint leaves if using while the minced meat is hot and stir into it several times so as to wilt and cook the herbs.

Adjust for salt, sugar and vinegar.

Serve kheema hot with a side of salli (matchstick) potatoes and buns. A fried egg, sliced onions and green chillies is also commonly provided as sides.

Sweet and Spicy Parsi style Kheema

SPICY THAI BASIL CHICKEN Pad Kra Pao Gai (ผัดกระเพราไก่) 


  • 500 grams finely chopped boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 6 cloves of garlic peeled
  • 6-10 red Thai chilies, stalks removed (to taste)
  • 1-2 tablespoon vegetable, peanut or soy oil for cooking
  • 2 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark sweet soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar, palm sugar or honey
  • salt to taste if required
  • 15-20 Thai holy basil leaves or Thai sweet basil (stalks removed)
  • 3-4 crispy fried eggs (1 per person)
  • Boiled Jasmine rice to serve
  1. Combine all the sauces in a small bowl, stir and reserve.
  2. Bash the garlic and chilies using a mortar and pestle until coarsely ground.
  3. Heat your wok on high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan.
  4. When the oil is hot, add the smashed chilies and garlic. Sauté them for about 20 seconds until aromatic but don’t brown them.
  5. Add the diced chicken. Lower flame to medium, Keep stirring using a spatula or moving the wok up and down to ensure the food does not burn and cooks evenly.
  6. Add sauces and cook another 60 seconds or until chicken is cooked.
  7. Add the holy or sweet basil leaves. Incorporate the basil flavours by flipping the chicken and leaves about for 60 seconds then switch off the flame. Basil gets stringy if overcooked.
  8. Serve the chicken with plain boiled jasmine rice and a crispy fried egg.

Jamun Salad Dressing with sesame and ginger

If your Jamuns are sour you will need honey for the dressing.

  • 2  ripe Jamuns sliced, hulled and chopped
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup  extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp hot sesame oil
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 tbsp fresh ginger root juice
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • Golden Honey if required


Process the jamun, lemon zest, soy sauce and ginger juice to a smooth paste in a bullet mixer or food processor. Add the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and slowly drizzle in the olive oil in 3 parts as you continue to process the dressing. Strain into a bottle using a small strainer if you want a smooth dressing.

Stir in sesame seeds and add salt to taste. Adjust for sweet and sour flavours. Keep refrigerated for 2-3 days.

Great over a Chinese Chicken salad, a baby spinach and pecan salad, even a noodle salad with edamame and carrots.

Easy Jamun Cake


16 Jamuns pitted and halved

1/2 cup granulated or caster sugar

juice of half a lime

zest of half a lime

2 tsp baking powder

110 grams maida or all purpose flour

50 grams unsalted butter

50 grams brown sugar

50 grams almond flour

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1 tablespoon plain yogurt or dahi

Mint leaves for decoration


Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Dust lightly with maida or all purpose flour. Use a tea strainer and a tablespoon of maida to achieve this.

Cook half the jamuns and castor sugar with lime and zest in a saucepan on medium heat until jammy and thick.

Beat butter, vanilla and brown sugar until fluffy. Add yogurt and beat again. Add both flours and baking powder and beat until just combined.

Pour into the greased pan. Smoothen the top of the batter. Using a tablespoon make 8 depressions in the batter and spoon in the jamun compote. Top each depression with a half jamun. Press down gently so it sits in the batter.

Bang the cake pan on the counter to ensure there are no air pockets.

Bake 40 minutes until golden brown and sides of the cake pull away from the cake pan. Remove from oven. Cool 15 minutes and gently turn the cake over on a cooling rack then flip the cake again. Serve warm with whipped cream and any leftover Jamun compote. Garnish with a few mint leaves if desired.


An English version of a grilled cheese this is vegetarian and can be made eggless as well.


  • 150g yellow or white Cheddar, grated (you can do a mix of plain and Sharp, aged cheddar also)
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten or use 1 tsp cornflour for vegetarians
  • 1 tbsp beer (preferably stout) or plain whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian HP or non vegetarian Lea Perrins))
  • 1 tsp English mustard (Kasundi is amazing)
  • pinch red chilli powder or cayenne pepper
  • 4 thick slices country white bread, rye bread or use regular plain sourdough
  • 2 tsp butter unsalted


Butter the bread on both sides (1/4 tsp on each side of the bread) and set to toast in an OTG or regular oven at about 350F until golden brown. Remove from the oven and raise temperature to broil.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in a bowl. For an eggless version use 2 tbsp hot milk and make a slurry with the cornstarch first. Once it has cooled down add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Spread the cheese mixture on one side of every one of the 4 slices of bread. Broil until golden brown and melted. Serve immediately.


It seems appropriate that Nankhatai is a word of Persian origin; its decadent luxury and enduring elegance is an ode to it’s buttery past. In India the name evokes joy, serenity even sheer delight.

You sip your tea and in the mist of rising steam, your world becomes a soft and dreamy bubble, albeit for a fleeting moment. You may dip the biscuit, you may not but you linger over your tea, holding that knob of promised satisfaction between your fingers. When the tender crumb gives in between your teeth like a hesitant lover, the aroma  of burnished flour envelops your senses.

This is a biscuit for gardens, for cool fountains, for swans, for rainy days, for giggling ladies and happy youth gathered over a table of hope but it is also for the meditative, for those of us who have been down life’s rocky road before. 

Nankhatai is as much at home in the company of gilded china on a well set table as it is with clinking chai glasses on a street corner.

There are many recipes for this vegetarian cookie, you may call it biscuit too but most of them contain either chickpea flour, rice flour, all purpose flour and in some cases like mine almond flour. They are often made with ghee though I prefer mine with homemade clarified butter.

But I also like to have fun with the soft and pillowy dough so I used a cookie press. I made sandwich cookies with dulce de leche, Jim jam Nankhatai with chocolate filled centres and some traditional ones crowned with pistachio crumble.


Here is the recipe-


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 tbsp chick pea flour 
  • 2 tbsp fine semolina 
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter (method below)
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp Powdered cardamom or nutmeg or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract mixed with the milk
  • 2 tbsp plain cold wholemilk

To garnish

Roasted pistachio crumble

Dulce de Leche or thick caramel sauce

Melted semi sweet chocolate and dark chocolate chips


To clarify butter melt 450 grams of butter in the microwave in a heatproof freezer proof bowl. It should be just a little foamy.

When melted remove, cool, cover tightly and freeze for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the freezer. You will find a layer of water above the butter. Drain it out. Now cut the  clarified butter into pieces and use what you need by weight for the recipe.



In a bowl sift the baking powder, chick pea and all purpose flour with salt. Add the semolina, almond flour, spices if using and confectioner’s sugar. Stir together. Dice cold but softened clarified butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Using only your fingertips crumble them into a soft mealy dough. Add milk and bring the dough together. Knead lightly only until well incorporated. Now divided into 3 small balls if you intend to make only traditional round biscuits or into narrow logs that can fit into your cookie press tube. Cover tightly and refrigerate 20 minutes.

Preheat oven 350F. Prepare baking trays with parchment or silicon mats.

Press one dough log into cookie press using a disc of your choice and squeeze them out onto a sheet of parchment, an inch apart.

Repeat with the remaining logs using discs to change the shapes of the cookies. If you are doing the chocolate Jim jams ones you need to show a disc with a hole in the centre.

For the traditional button shapes rolls the dough into inch size balls and lay them on the sheet with an inch between them. Press down with your thumb to make a light impression. Garnish with pista crumble or finely chopped nuts of your choice.

Bake in the middle run for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Remove and let cool completely. place a teaspoon of dulche de leche on one cookie and press another one down on it. Spoon chocolate over another one and sandwich it with a second cookie. Place a dark chocolate chip in the centre.

Put in an airtight box and in very humid climate keep refrigerated.

Unbaked Nankhatai using a cookie press