Spice Box

Corn Bhel

When I get lazy and want to a quick, healthy, delicious and oh-so-simple snack, the corn bhel  rules the list as an all time favorite.

Preparation Time : 15 mins.
Cooking Time : 5 mins.

Serves 4.

1½ cups boiled tender corn kernels
2 medium potatoes, boiled and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
½ cup chopped onions
1 to 2 green chillies, chopped
½ cup chopped tomatoes
juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon oil
salt to taste

To garnish
2 tablespoons chopped coriander

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan, add the cumin seeds and allow them to crackle.
  2. Add the onions, green chillies and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, till the onions are translucent.
  3. Add the tomatoes, corn, potatoes, lemon juice, coriander, sugar and salt and mix well.
  4. Garnish with the coriander and serve immediately.


Quite often I use this as a base for a salad.  Fresh greens, raspberry vinaigrette, cayenne pepper and the corn bhel all tossed together.  Enjoy.

Paneer & Vegetable Kebabs


Paneer Vegetable Kebabs

I love Paneer (Indian cheese). It’s a great source of protein and makes a change from the usual beef or chicken kebabs. The recipe below is one of my favorites, it’s one my mother passed my way. As always, I made some minor changes to make it easier for the home. I love to serve it as an appetizer, but it’s great main in the summer. I suggest cooking in the oven, but even a toaster oven or a BBQ works.


For the marinade
125ml yoghurt
2 tsp garlic ginger paste
salt, to taste
½ tsp chilli powder (this will make it medium, adjust to taste)
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil (I like to use grape-seed oil)
1 tbsp gram flour (also called chickpea flour)
1 tsp cumin powder
seeds of 6 green cardamom, ground (optional, I love it, but my kids hate it)

For the skewers
300g paneer, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 green and 1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1 inch
oil, for greasing
6 wooden skewers, soaked for an hour
2 tbsp butter, melted, for drizzling
chaat masala (a dried spice mixture available from Asian grocers), to sprinkle

Preparation method
For the marinade, blend together all the marinade ingredients, place in a bowl and add the paneer, onion and peppers. Cover and allow to marinate for 30-40 minutes, in the fridge. If in a hurry leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F and oil a baking sheet.
Thread the vegetables and paneer alternately onto the skewers. Bake in the oven for seven minutes, drizzle over the melted butter, turn and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until charred at the edges.
Sprinkle with chaat masala and serve. They are also great served with a mint chutney.


Curried Roti Roll

Makes 8 Roti Wraps

Summer is a time for light meals. I usually find that the heat always reduces my appetite. This recipe is a simple twenty minute process so we can enjoy the long summer evenings. Personally I enjoy this with some shredded cheese and hot garlic chili sauce.


1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 small onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
1 small onion sliced
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, julienned

In a blender jug, blend oil, lime juice, salt, cumin, onion, oregano, chili pepper & garlic.

In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add blended mixture and saute chicken mixture until chicken is no longer pink. Add peppers and onions and cook for 3 minutes or until all the liquid has coated the chicken and peppers.

Serve with wholewheat rotis (or tortillas).

At lunch, tiffin multi-tiered containers stack up

Popular in India, the tiered metal containers can pack curry takeout or a big picnic

By Tara Lee (published May 20, 2010)

Shaffeen Jamal serving a tiffin
Curry 2 U’s Shaffeen Jamal sells customers tiffins in which he layers fragrant Indian eats. The trusty containers can then be reused. Photo by: Tracey Kusiewicz

Naresh Shukla is the king of the tiffin in Vancouver’s vibrant Punjabi Market. Shukla, president of Mother India (6632 Main Street), a wholesale, distribution, and retail company, smiles broadly at the mere mention of the multi-tiered lunch containers that are used throughout India to transport the midday meal they’re named after. Surrounded by boxes of incense sticks and figurines of gods, Shukla extols the virtues of the stainless-steel containers, which are catching on as a convenient, environmentally friendly way to pack lunch here.

When Shukla was a kid, virtually all of the 1,500 students and 50 teachers at his school in Aur, India, used tiffins, with not a brown bag in sight. A different item would be packed in each layer, the layers would be stacked, and then the metal rods on either side would be joined at the top to keep it all together. Once he and his classmates got to school, they’d swap tiers if they wanted to sample another mom’s cooking, or, if they were territorial, they’d put a padlock on the top to prevent others from getting at their food.

These fond memories inspired Shukla to start importing stainless-steel tiffins from India. He sells up to 300 a month at his store and distributes 2,000 a month across North America. He runs around the store holding up the many options, from a simple two-layer tiffin ($14.98) to a four-layer one housed in an insulated case ($22.95). The mother of all tiffins is a gargantuan five-tiered one ($98) that Shukla says is great for picnics and can carry enough food to feed 25 hungry people.

Outside of the Main and 49th area, you can find tiffins at Granville Island Public Market. Shaffeen Jamal, owner of Curry 2 U (281–1689 Johnston Street), offers a two-tiered tiffin for $12, which includes your first meal at his food-court stand. After that, customers can bring them back to be refilled for $5.95, or $5 on Thursdays. Curry 2 U has 80 rotating menu items, with eight available at any given time.

Jamal explains that customers get basmati rice in both layers of their tiffin. Each is topped with a curry, such as spicy ground beef and mushrooms in a coconut, red chili, garlic, ginger, tamarind, and tomato sauce; or chickpeas in a curry fragrant with garlic, ginger, cumin, tomatoes, coriander, and turmeric. One piece of smart thinking: naan bread is placed on top of the curry in the lower layer so that the underside of the tier above doesn’t get wet.

Interviewed by phone, Jamal estimates that since he started offering tiffins seven years ago, he’s sold a whopping 40,000 boxes and that he refills about 200 a day. He’s even had hungry Emily Carr University students pool their pennies to buy one to share. And based on personal experience, he claims that tiffins last a lifetime: “I have one that I bought from an antique shop. It’s made from brass, and it’s over 62 years old.”

As takeout containers, tiffins kick styrofoam to the curb. Anjali Potdar, manager at Saravanaa Bhavan (955 West Broadway), opens a menu and points to the mini tiffin lunch option ($8.50), which requires you to bring in your own four-tier tiffin if you want to avoid disposable takeout containers: a savoury cream of wheat pudding (rava kichadi) in one layer; five button-sized steamed rice cakes (idlies) soaked in lentil soup (sambar) in the next; a thin rice and lentil crepe stuffed with potatoes (masala dosa) in another; and finally, a sweet, cardamom-infused cream of wheat pudding with raisins and nuts (rava kesari) for the dessert tier. If that’s mini, I’d like to see their large!

Even restaurants that don’t serve Indian food may be amenable to filling up your tiffin for takeout—but you might have to introduce them to the concept first. During a phone chat, Rami Zibat, sous chef at Tomato Fresh Food Café (2486 Bayswater Street), envisions stocking a three-tier tiffin with a customized lunch of spinach and watercress salad with zippy orange-ginger dressing; crab cakes with lemon, caper, and dill aioli; and a mini sandwich of carved turkey breast on sourdough with cranberry sauce and mayo.

Eugene Lee, manager of Irashai Grill (1368 West Pender Street), feels that a stackable configuration would be especially handy for their bento box selections ($9.50 to $15). He sits in Irashai’s sleek space and walks through four possible tiers: romaine, carrot, and daikon salad in a citrus-y vinaigrette; salmon, prawn, and scallop sashimi; a prawn tempura roll topped with spicy tuna, spicy mayo, and unagi (eel) sauce; and chicken, beef, or tofu teriyaki.

With such creative potential, it’s no wonder we’re discovering what Indians have known for years: tiffins are unbeatable lunch carriers.

Street Food Glossary

Aloo Tikki: mashed potato patties

Bhaji: vegetables such as eggplant, potato, okra or peas that are steamed then mashed and sauteed in ghee

Bhelpuri: a dry mix of potatoes, chickpeas, nuts and tamarind chutney eaten with a puri

Chaat: snack food

Chapatti: also called roti, unleavened bread cooked on a tawa

Chole: spiced chickpeas

Dhahi: spiced curds, similar to yoghurt,

Dhal: generic term for cooked and uncooked lentils and pulses

Dhokla: spongy squares of steamed rice-flour flavoured with any number of savoury/spicy toppings

Dosa: crepe of fermented rice-flour and dhal

Frankie: Mumbai version of a frankfurter, soft chapattti rolled around fillings of spiced meat or vegetables

Ghee: clarified butter

Gulab jamun: Indian sweet of deep fried milk dough soaked in rose-flavoured syrup

Idli: fermented rice-flour and lentil cakes that are served with various fillings. The batter is similar to that used for dosas.

Kachori: savoury lentil puff served with a sour tamarind sauce flavoured with fenugreek seeds

Kadhai: large wok-shaped cooking vessel

Lassi: blended yoghurt drink flavoured with salt and sugar as well as additions such as various fruits, rosewater, ground almonds and or cardamom.

Masala: a mixture of spices used in cooking. Each cook creates their own for each dish.

Paan: mixture of betel nut, lime paste and spices wrapped in a betel leaf, eaten as a digestive and breath freshener. There are two types: plain and sweet.

Pani Puri: puffed flour dough crisp filled with spicy tamarind, chutney and gram sprouts

Pau Bhaji: spiced vegetables served on western-style white bread

Puri: a soft-fried bread made from whole wheat

Samosa: deep-fried triangular-shaped pastries filled with either spiced vegetables (potato and peas) or meat, served with chutney

Tawa: flat hotplate or iron griddle used to cook bread

Tiffin: light meals served throughout the day, also the multi-tiered stainless steel carrier that can be used to transport lunch

Wada: balls of mashed lentils that are fried and frequently served with dahi

Wallah: vendor or delivery man as in the phrase tiffin wallah or chai wallah

Mind Your Manners

Styles of eating differ between Hindus and Muslims.  Hindus usually take their meals individually, a feature that may have developed as a result of rules regulating eating practices across castes.  The Muslim stress on brotherhood spilled into custom as communal eating is the norm.  A dastur khan, a form of tablecloth, is spread on the floor, over which is placed the various dishes of the meal.

In most Indian households, meals are eaten without the use of utensils other than the hands.  It was the British, with their western sensibilities that introduced the use of fork and large spoon.  No one ever dines without first washing their hands.  Even the humblest of roadside stalls in India would not consider offering food without first offering a lota (water vessel) for hand washing.

Only the right hand is used for eating, the left being considered ‘unclean’ (too bad if you are left-handed!).  With the right hand, break off pieces of bread – chapati, naan or roti (try it, it’s not as easy as it sounds with one hand) and scoop up some of a dish, fold over the bread to form a neat morsel and transport it to your mouth.  In the northern states this is done very delicately using just the tips of the fingers of the right hand while in the south, almost the entire hand, up to the wrist, may be used.

Depending on religion and/or caste as well as education, women frequently eat separately and after the men have been served.

In southern India, banana leaves are often used as plates, but more universal throughout the country is thali service – the thali being a circular metal tray on which are placed a number of small bowls called katori, also made of metal.  Rice and chapati are placed directly on the tray while curries and other dishes are served in the katori.

Contrary to western belief, not all Indian dishes are curries.  In fact there is no such thing as a spice called ‘curry.’  Each Indian chef, cook and housewife mixes her own blend of spices for each dish. This spice blend is called a masala. Spices are kept at hand in a circular ‘spice box’ and are ground fresh for each masala. Curry 2 U’s logo features a stylized spice box.

Indian food boxes stacking up

A traditional Indian method of storing and serving food is finding new currency as an eco-friendly alternative in Vancouver.

By Vancouver Courier, originally published March 25, 2009

A traditional Indian method of storing and serving food is finding new currency as an eco-friendly alternative in Vancouver.

Chindi Varadarajulu has sold 300 tiffin boxes from her restaurant, Chutney Villa, in the last few months.

“What really draws people that don’t know about it, other than the cool factor, is the fact that it’s so eco-friendly and convenient,” she said.

Tiffins are stackable, cylindrical metal containers with lids and a handle, used to transport meals in India. They’re also called dabbas.

Shaffeen Jamal, who owns Curry 2 U in the Granville Island Public Market, started selling tiffins six years ago at the behest of his teenage daughter, Saniya, who worked for him over the summer. She hated the restaurant’s use of Styrofoam containers and urged her father to try something new.

After a few false starts, Jamal went old school, first sourcing tiffins locally. As more customers bought them, he began importing them from India.

His sales have soared.

Jamal reckons he’s sold 50,000 tiffins over the last half dozen years, charging $12 for a two-level tiffin complete with a meal, and $5.99 each time to refill it with rice and curry.

But his daughter remained unsatisfied.

“Last year, in the middle of summer, she was still bitching at the fact that we’re still using too many Styrofoam plates,” Jamal said.

He removed a steaming oven from the business’s 350-square-foot space and replaced it with a $4,500 eco-friendly industrial dishwasher that uses less water and soap, and gave diners the option of paying a $1 deposit to eat off thalis, which are traditional metal platters with small bowls and trays that hold individual dishes.

Seventy per cent of his customers bring a tiffin they’ve cleaned to be refilled or opt to pay a deposit to eat off a thali, and the other 30 per cent choose plastic or Styrofoam. For $2, customers can take away a reusable plastic plate with a lid and receive 10 per cent off their meal every time they get it refilled.

Jamal has tried but rejected biodegradable containers.

“Our foods tend to be so hot that because these things are made from sugar cane fibre, the fibres start to break down very quickly, so the guy’s on his way home, but his curry’s already made it out of the container,” he said.

Jamal, whose business is a charter members of Vancouver’s Green Table Network of restaurants that operate in an environmentally responsible manner, had hoped thalis would catch on in the Granville Island food court.

“They haven’t,” he said. “However, a lot of them do refill my tiffins.”

Jamal figures he loses two or three thalis a day. Some people throw them away.

But Jamal’s not only saving waste from the landfill, he’s also saving money.

Before he would use an estimated 100,000 Styrofoam plates, which cost 21 cents apiece, each year. Thalis cost five times that, but he figures he uses them up to 300 times. Even with the money spent on a dishwasher and thalis, he’s ahead of the game.

In September, Varadarajulu started corporate catering with tiffins from her South Indian restaurant near Main and Broadway.

“I know how a lot of offices do a lot of lunches in the office for meetings and stuff and how much garbage they have left over in the end,” she said.

Chutney Villa has fed groups of 13 to 75 as far away as B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby. Most clients return the dirty tiffins to her at the end of a day, but she picks them up if need be.

Varadarajulu sells three-level tiffins at Chutney Villa for $25. She said they won’t spill soup, the lids double as plates and a little indent can hold salad dressing apart from the rest.

“A lady actually bought it for her dog,” Varadarajulu said. “She’s like OK, food in the bottom, treats in the middle and water on the top.”

It’s tiffin time!

The Asian Pacific Post

Originally published Wed, February 18 2009

Shaffeen Jamal_Curry2GoOn the heads and bicycle racks of an army of delivery men, more than 200,000 shiny tiffin boxes course like quicksilver through the grotty streets of Mumbai each day.

Like clockwork, these stackable metal pots arrive at the desks of the city’s hungry office workers at 12:45 pm precisely.

Considered the world’s most ingenious meal distribution system – a recent Forbes magazine survey found that only one in six million deliveries is misplaced – the century-old tiffin lunch delivery network is integral to the cultural life of Mumbai.

And now, from Boston to Burnaby and from Calgary to Cambridge, the tiffin is taking off across North America, with Metro Vancouver leading the way.

On Granville Island, Curry 2 U proprietor Shaffeen Jamal says the tiffin trend is going gangbusters.

“When I first started I was maybe doing 50 a week,” he says. “Now I’m doing 1,250.”

At the popular South India restaurant Chutney Villa on Broadway at Main, Vancouver restaurateur Chindi Varadarajulu says she’s just ordered in another shipment of tiffin carriers to keep up with demand.

“You’re sick of the finger food, you’re sick of the pizzas and the sandwiches, this is a healthy – and tasty – option,” says Varadarajulu, who now offers lunchtime delivery and corporate catering a la tiffin.

“A lot of customers will buy a tiffin for their leftovers. Others will come in just to buy the empty containers,” she adds. “I’ve had to order another 250 from India they’re so popular.”

In Calgary, Aly Ramji has named his restaurant after the cylindrical aluminum containers. Tiffin Curry and Roti House has just doubled its presence in the city on the strength of its lunchtime Tiffin Club, with a food court outlet at Mount Royal College expanding on the original restaurant on 28 Street SE.

“It’s picked up incredibly,” says Ramji, originally from Vancouver. “Our tiffins are pretty unique too, they come in a thermos container – being from Calgary, the winters are cold here and we want your food to be hot!”

Chindi_tiffinThe tiffin is a remarkably simple concept. Originating with the British Raj in 19th Century India – the word ‘tiffing’ in antique English means to eat between meals – the tiffin typically comprises three or four separate hot and cold insulated compartments.

In India, they are also called dabbas, and are delivered every lunch hour by some 5,000 dabbawallahs (literally, box carriers) in Mumbai alone.

Typically, they contain rice in one compartment, Dal or curry in another, and other items in the third or fourth tiers such as naan, vegetables or a dessert.

Just this month, the tiffin arrived in the U.S., with a leading restaurant chain specialising in Indian cuisine launching ‘Tiffin Meals,’ a new home and office meal delivery service in Boston and Cambridge.

With a click of a mouse, patrons now can order quality, home-style Indian food every day for lunch, the Boston based One World Cuisine restaurant chain said while launching the service patterned on Mumbai’s dabbawallah carriers.

“The launch of Tiffin Meals allows us to better serve our customers, whether in our restaurants, their homes or their offices,” said Amrik Pabla, president of the One World Cuisine group.

But unlike his counterparts in Metro Vancouver, who refill their customers cleaned tiffins at a considerable discount, Pabla serves up his Indian food in disposable, microwavable plastic containers.

Varadarajulu firmly believes that it is the “green factor” of the reusable aluminum tiffin carriers that will firmly entrench the tiffin trend here.

tiffin_facts“The biggest reason it will take off is the enviromental reason, especially in Vancouver,” she says. “We recently catered to a group of 75 at a government office. Can you imagine, if they weren’t ordering the tiffins, these people would have had three plastic containers each – that’s a lot of plastic.”

Both Ramji and Jamal concur.

“We draw a lot of people who want to be environmentally friendly and are aware of the waste that’s involved in plastic lunch containers,” says Ramji, who has a degree in environmental sciences and has “always been conscious of the problems we’re facing.”

Adds Jamal: “I used to put 100,000 foam plates into the landfill every year. Now, I’ve put in a dishwasher than cost me 3,000 bucks and that is it.

“The idea is I want you to think green, be more responsible, and also buy your loyalty by asking you to come back to refill your tiffin.”

Varadarajulu says she is not surprised the time-honoured tiffin is making a mighty comeback.

“India is the cool thing,” she explains. “People are looking to India for the next thing, whether it’s movies, travel, music, spirituality, or food.”