On turning 95, one of India's most prolific writers and journalists, Khushwant Singh wrote on happiness and what one has to do in order to achieve it. As expected of anyone who reaches that age he had something substantial to say on the topic. And besides, his irreverence and honesty made it a refreshing read in today's politically correct world.
That article I talk about was a while back and among all the maxims that he had written, many of which one had read or heard elsewhere in some form or substance, one of them stayed with me. It said, "Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, and cultivate a sense of kinship with them."
I would be reminded of his words when I read Timothy Egan's article, "The Eight-Second Attention Span" in the New York Times. He writes how in the age of the ubiquitous smart phone and our need to always be connected and for instant validation, our attention span has been the biggest victim. And no amount of digital detox will help. What will help is to consciously engage and make time for activities on a daily basis that will work as an antidote to what he calls our 'shrinking attention span'. He recommends deep reading and gardening. He reckons there is no instant gratification in gardening. Sow the seeds and nature forces you to wait while it takes its course and decides whether to reward you or not for your efforts.
I don't know about you but I am some time away from owning my own piece of land or home where my gardening aspirations can come to fruition. So, instead I improvised this winter and grew my own herbs in little pots. We grew coriander, celery, mint, spinach, methi (fenugreek), rosemary and thyme.
The celery, mint and spinach were outright successes. The coriander and fenugreek did well but somewhere along the line, the lack of experience showed up and both the plants got a bit messy and we reasoned that it was better buying them from the market where they are fresh and easily available. As for the thyme and rosemary, it was as if we hadn't even planted them. Not even a teeny green shoot to boot!!
And I'll admit, the whole process was not only gratifying but it brought along a certain childlike fascination and excitement with it. Try it, and see how many times you check on those little pots looking for some sign of life and growth. In its own way, it creates an empathy and understanding about the entire food cycle and the challenges it faces. And see if you can resist showing off your homegrown produce at every instance!
Fresh herbs are best used to enhance the flavour profile of any dish but when it comes to spinach and fenugreek, they are best made the hero of the dish. So, for a meal over the weekend, I made a spinach and walnut salad that I paired with some roast potato and spring onion tartlets.
The tartlets are from my all-time favourite 'Popina Book of Baking' to which I added some chopped celery for added flavour. While I adore roast potatoes, I did find them a bit too starchy and creamy in these tartlets. I recommend and would do so the next time I make them, to replace the roast potatoes with either some roast chicken or even mushrooms.
Luckily, in this case, the spinach salad came to the rescue. Tossed with the walnuts in the orange-honey vinaigrette, it cut all through all that creaminess. It was light, fresh and zesty and lightened up the palate. And the walnuts are always a welcome textural and nutty contast.
And to end it all, we had strawberries and cream. I am not a huge fan of cream but then the other day, I whipped up some cream with a wee bit of orange liqueur and I think I might have created a monster. Because from now on, that's the only thing I want to pair my strawberries with. For something different, I did macerate the strawberries with some ahem(!) homegrown mint. Such a small and simple twist, but a huge payback on the flavour front. I recommend you give it a try before the strawberries leave the market!
I know there are a lot of urban farmers out there. Any tips or suggestions that you have, I'd love to hear from you. The weekend's already upon us.. Have a lovely one!!
Roast Potato And Spring Onion Tartlets / Spinach And Walnut Salad With Orange Vinaigrette
Roast Potato And Spring Onion Tartlets
Makes three 4.5-inch tarts. Recipe adapted from 'Popina Book of Baking'
For the Pizza Dough Pastry
- 110 gms plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon dried quick yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 egg (beat one egg and use only half of it)
- 40 mls warm water
For the Roast Potato and Spring Onion Filling
- 200 gms baby new potatoes, halved
- 20 mls olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 50 gms spring onions, sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons celery, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 35 gms Cheddar, grated or any cheese of your liking
- 80 mls double cream
- 1 small egg
For the Roast Potato filling
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.
- Put the potatoes, oil, salt and pepper in a roasting tray and toss until evenly coated. Cover the tray with aluminium foil and roast in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 170 deg C.
- Proceed to make the pizza dough pastry.
- Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil, egg and water. Draw everything together with your hands until you get a soft dough.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be soft but not sticky. If it is sticky, add a little flour and knead again. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until 3mm thick.
- Line the tartlet tins with the dough but do trim the edges yet.
- Stir in the spring onions, garlic and cheese into the roasted potatoes and mix well.
- Mix together the cream and egg in a bowl, then divide half between the tartlet shells.
- Spread the vegetables over the tartlets, then pour in the remaining cream mixture.
- Now trim the excess pizza dough neatly around the edges.
- Bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes or until the filling looks golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes and serve.
Spinach And Walnut Salad With Orange Vinaigrette
- 150 gms baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Place the walnuts in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a chopping board and coarsely chop.
- Combine all ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Blend with a wire whisk.
- Place the baby spinach and walnut in a serving bowl. Drizzle over the dressing and toss to combine. Serve.
Strawberries and Cream
- 200 gms strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 2-3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur (optional)
- 200 mls double cream
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Macerate the strawberries with sugar, liqueur, mint and keep aside in the refrigerator for atleast 1-2 hours.
- When ready to serve, whip the double cream with sugar and liqueur until it holds soft peaks.
- Serve the cream with the chilled strawberries and drizzle some of the syrup from the macerated strawberries on top.