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Chocolate Nutella and Hazel Nut Brownie Cake

We haven’t spent much time together. You see, I’ve been busy and she is confused. Before, my world revolved around her. She would be the first thing I set my eyes on when I woke. Or rather, when she woke me up. And the last thing I checked on before I went to bed. Just to make sure she was still tucked under her blanket.

But recently her world has been turned topsy turvy, she is in a midst of a hurricane. She doesn’t quite understand why. Why I’m always in a hurry? Why we don’t go to the park EVERY day? Why I don’t feed her EVERY meal time? Why I don’t drop her to nursery anymore?

Why do we never mange to finish the story at bed time? Why don’t we have play dates anymore? Why don’t we spend hours playing in the bath nowadays? Why do I have to share my toys? ‘Why’ has been a prominent question in our home lately. Sometimes I have an answer, a lot of the times, I evade the question.

Whilst Maryam is loving being the big sister and having a young brother to cuddle, play with and experiment on (!), she hasn’t been liking the fact that I cannot spend all my time with her. There just aren’t that many hours in the day anymore. But I had a plan. A surprise to make it all better again, to make ir right, to make her happy. Like old times.

The first thing she asked when I had gotten back from hospital was, ‘Mummy, can we make ‘loodles’ and carrot cupcakes?’ So I knew baking had to be involved. I told her the night before that we would make a brownie cake for Valentine’s. And a card for Papa. She was excited with a twinkle in her eye. ‘I’ll chop the nuts. And mix.’

And that’s exactly what we did for Valentine’s. I measured. She chopped, whisked and mixed. And tasted of course. That is always part of the plan.  Together, we baked and for a little while, there was a pause in the WHY. That is how we spent our Valentine’s. Simple. But with a decadent treat. A chocolate brownie cake with hazel nuts and Nutella. It was gooey, fudgy and the perfect end to our dinner.

Chocolate Nutella and Hazel Nut Brownie Cake

Brownie Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbs dark chocolate, roughly chopped
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup hazel nut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa

Nutella Layer
1/2 cup Nutella spread
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped hazel nuts

Ganache Layer
1 cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup milk chocolate, roughly chopped
2 tbs cream
1/8 cup butter, room temperature

Chopped hazel nuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade and line a rectangular pan with baking paper. In a bowl set over a a pot of boiling water, melt the butter and chcolate until smooth (can use a microwave). In whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Add dry ingredients into the liquid mixture until just incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs. Refrigerate brownie cake after it has cooled.

In the mean time, mix all the ingredients of the Nutella layer. Spread over cooled brownie cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or so or until it has set.

In the mean time, prepeare the ganache by melting all the ingredients in a bowl set over boiling water. Pour ganache over the set Nutella layer and immediately garnish with chopped hazel nuts. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or so to set the ganache layer.

Serve cold. Makes 18 pieces depending on pan size. Leave to cool out of the fridge for 5 minutes before slicing

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Carrot Pudding

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Last week, I wrote about a cultural and religious custom where we shaved Hassan’s birth hair. I had quite a few comments and curious emails asking about this practice as well as the recipe for the carrot pudding I made to celebrate and remember this day.

Both my children were born with a full mop of velvety luscious locks. Everyone from the midwife to the cashier to strangers have remarked about how much hair they have. I could never get enough of stroking their silky heads.

But alas, this never lasted long. It is a customary to shave the birth hair on the seventh day of a baby’s life. Since Hassan was in hospital with jaundice, we managed to get this done only last week. In a way, it worked out perfectly to coincide with my Mom being present as well.

The ceremony is done to gather friends and family around and share the joyous occassion of a new arrival. This moment is taken as an announcement of a child’s birth and a sweet treat is always made to mark an even sweeter occassion.

I decided to make this carrot pudding after my wonderful neighbor Simi sent me some. Incidentally, she had a baby boy just a few hours after me. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day with lots of laughter, photos, memories made with family around the dinner table and and sweet endings.

Click recipe card to print
Carrot Pudding

200 gms butter
12 large carrots- finely shredded
1 cup whole milk
150 ml sweet condensed milk
3 tbs sugar
1 packed cup khoya (dried milk)
2 tbs cardamom powder
sliced pistachios to garnish

In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter and saute the carrots until all the water from the carrots has evaporated and the oil from the butter splits and forms a layer on top. Add whole milk, condensed milk, sugar, and khoya. Simmer on medium heat until the carrots have cooked and the mixture has become dry. Add cardamom powder and serve hot sprinkled with pistachios.

Note- You need to stir the mixture every so often so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Amount of condensed milk can vary depending on how sweet the carrots are. Start with 100ml and slowly add the rest until desired sweetness is achieved.
Serves 8

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Roasted Tomato and Garlic Crouton Spaghetti

It has been nearly three weeks now since Hassan graced our lives and changed our family dynamics forever. We have been busy getting to know one another and I haven’t spent as much time in the kitchen as I would have liked to. Instead, I have been busy eating whoesome meals prepared by my Mom and Mother in law.

Yesterday was the first time I prepared a three course meal to celebrate shaving his hair. It is customary to shave the birth hair on the seventh day of a baby’s life but since he was still in hospital recovering from jaundice, we decided to do so yesterday. I was quite sad to see his beautiful locks disappear and Maryam was quite alarmed to see his ‘curlies chopped off.’

To celebrate the occassion, we ate together with close family and shared a simple meal. My Mom prepared a fragrant cumin scented pilaf with a spiced version of this mung soup. And for dessert- we had a cardamom infused carrot pudding. Lots of butter, lots of pistachios and lots of love. A complete meal with loved ones.

It felt good to be back in the kitchen and even better to be sharing it with my Mom. The best part was getting back to photographing. Doing what I love and enjoy the most- creating and eating good food and photographing it.

Today though, I want to share with you a simple pasta dish I created a few weeks ago for the third issue of House of Fifty. I’ve been making this version of spaghetti for about two years now, since Maryam started eating pasta actually.

It has evolved as Maryam’s palate has become more sophisticated. What started off as mere spaghetti tossed in olive oil has now seen the addition herbs, roasted tomatoes and garlic croutons. When Maryam is going through her picky phases, this is one meal I know she’ll relish. Who knows what it will transform into as she gets older.

Head over to House of Fifty for more images as well as a recipe for focaccia. Also, I would like to thank all of you for the lovely comments and messages you left on my last post. Me and Akber really enjoyed reading through each and every single one of them. Thank you!

Click above for printable recipe card

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Crouton Spaghetti

2 bunches tomatoes on the vine (approx. 15)
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp pepper
few sprigs thyme
salt to taste

5 slices French baguette
3 tbs olive oil
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tbs parsley, finely chopped
salt to taste

2 cups cooked spaghetti
4 tbs olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
salt to taste
chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. Place tomatoes in a baking tray. In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, chili flakes, pepper, thyme and salt. Drizzle over tomatoes and bake for 15 minutes.

To make the croutons, mix together olive oil, pressed garlic, parsley and salt. Spread this paste over each slice of the baguette. Bake the baguettes in the oven until crispy. Let it cool slightly before chopping into 1cm croutons.

Toss the cooked spaghetti in olive oil, chili flakes and season with salt. Sprinkle with croutons and extra parsley. Serve with roasted tomatoes.

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A New Life- Hassan Akber Rajabali

Life has completely changed for us in the last two weeks or so. We have been overwhelmed, overjoyed and deliriously happy by the arrival of a brother for Maryam- Hassan Akber Rajabali. Thank you so much for all your Facebook messages, emails and tweets.

So many of you have asked to see photos of our sweet little man. The first few weeks are always difficult and I have found it hard to find much time to do much else but look after our little man, let alone take many photos. Many sleepless nights, midnight snack cravings, constant nursing- I had forgotten how much time newborns take up.

Maryam is naturally smitten with her little brother. On her first day back at nursery, she innocently asked if she could take Hassan to school in her bag. When I said the bag was too small she brought a larger plastic bag! She is relishing the role of big sister and taking it very seriously. On the other hand, it has been hard to be able to give equal attention to her as well but I hope to find a balance…..Soon I hope.

In the mean time, we have been spending all our time and energy around Hassan- spending hours just staring at his little face, his funny newborn expressions, his smiles when he sleeps, the way he completely shuts his mouth when he is full. Such a little guy and so much personality already.

I am so grateful to have my Mom and Mother in law cooking for us in the last few weeks. Although I have felt the urge to get straight back into the kitchen (Maryam requested carrot cupcakes and noodles as soon I got home from the hospital), I have taken this time to bond with the family. I realise with how fast Maryam has grown that these times won’t come back.

And so I’m loving each moment, saving each memory, making the most of each day….

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Cinnamon Infused Clementine Custard

When I was pregnant with Maryam, I had many cravings. But healthy ones. Cravings for foods that would nourish my body and that of my growing baby. I went through phases where I would eat boxes and boxes of strawberries. Then came watermelons- I couldn’t get enough. I preferred eating them as is but would relish them in salads, smoothies as well as granitas.

This time has been different though. The cravings have been rather unhealthy. Every night after dinner, I seem to gravitate towards dessert. Anything will do really- a cheesecake, coffee ice cream, brownies. Sometimes when there is no sweet treat in sight, even a few small squares of dark chocolate will suffice.

As the arrival of baby number two looms close, I thought I’d treat myself to one more dessert, one more indulgence, one more craving before I start to eat healthy again. And this clementine custard certainly hit the spot. A pinch cinnamon for warmth, citrus for some freshness and zing.

I have been eating these beautiful French clementines for a couple of months now. Perfectly formed, sweet but not overly so and the most scintillating orange red hue you will ever see. They usually don’t last long in our house. Either Maryam will eat them as is or I will have juicy slicy with some vanilla infused yoghurt for breakfast.

But I saved a few aside for these clementine custards. The fragrance of clementine and cinnamon simmering in a pot made the whole house warm. A small dose of sunshine in our day for what has been a chilly start to the year in Dubai. There was also a citrus tabbouleh we had which I look forward to sharing with you soon. Perhaps after baby comes along?

Click above for printable recipe

Cinnamon Infused Clementine Custards

3 cups milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
5 tsp cornstarch
5 tsp water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sieved clementine juice
1 tbs clementine zest
6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
clementine wedges to garnish

In a bowl, mix together 2 cups milk, sugar, clemntine juice, zest and egg yolks. In a separate bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water until there are no lumps. Add this to the milk mixture.

In a saucepan over medium heat, boil 1 cup milk with cinnamon. Remove from the heat and whilst constantly whisking, add your cold milk mixture to the saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture coats the back of the spoon (can take up to 10 mins).

Pour custard into individual ramekins and refrigerate until set for at least a couple of hours. Serve cold with clementine slices.

Makes 4- 6 ramekins depending on size. Please note the texture will not set as a mousse but will be like a creme anglaise.

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2011: A Year of Discovery

Didn’t 2011 just fly by for you? It certainly did for me. For us- me, Akber and Maryam. When I look back at these pictures, I see a trail of how far I’ve come in terms writing, photography and just life in general.

I started the year off by sharing with you a very private part of my lfe, one I hadn’t spoken about before and not even my closest friends knew about. Then there were happier times as we celebrated Maryam’s second birthday– the day was full of sunshine, joy and lots of cake and laughter.

2011 was also the year my little lamb started nursery, was potty trained, learnt to count, dance, paint and much much more. She became independent, wanting to ‘choose’ everything herself from her clothes to her food to what doll she wanted to play with. Two is such an independent age.

May saw the start of my foray into editorial work as I started writing and photographing recipes for various magazines. I can say that I had truly found something I love doing, something I take such pride and joy in, something that excites me and teaches me new things…..everyday.

This also coincided with a new look for the blog. That was such a turning point for me. I love the new sublime design. More muted, cool and relaxed. Not long after, I spent the summer back home in Tanzania.

A blissful summer where I was pampered and looked after in my first trimester. As I recovered, Maryam was introduced to the joys of drinking fresh coconut juice, eating steaming cassavas straight off the grill and rice and coconut fritters.

We spent the peak of summer and Ramadhan back here in Dubai and Maryam started nursery full time. After a wonderful, relaxing weekend in Ras al Khaimah in October, it was back to work and I had the pleasure of working for various online magazines. With a 2 year old, baby number 2 on the way I didn’t think I would manage to cook and photograph much. But I’m happy to say that our kitchen has been busier than ever.

Especially when my parents visited in October. Sharing kitchen space with my Mom is always such a joy. She is such a natural in the kitchen I can’t wait ot have her back in January.

And so that was our year- the year of discovery. Maryam discovered her independence and I, my true vocation. 2012 will begin with a new life Inshallah. I don’t know what else it will hold for us but I look forward to whatever it is. I wish you a wonderful year ahead- full of health, laughter, family and of course, food. Thank you for being a part of my journey this year. Will you stay around for 2012?

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Cappuccino Truffles

I have always wanted to celebrate Christmas. I yearned for all things festive- glittering decorations, sparkling trees, a frosty winterland when I peek outside my window, intricately decorated cookies. In fact, one of the highlights of living in London was getting caught up in the spirit of Christmas.

The beautiful lights that lined Oxford Street, the food hall at Harrods adorned with exquisite delicacies, even the romantic adverts on TV. I was especially keen on the Marks and Spencer adverts which came out every Christmas.

However, my mum was never keen on the idea. We never celebrated Christmas as she always wanted to hold on to our culture, traditions and religion. And now that I am a mother, I understand that. However, I do want Maryam to enjoy the holiday period. The festive Christmas nursery rhymes, the magical aura of Santa. A winter wonderland full of snow, elves and reindeers.

Living in the middle of a desert means some elements need to be left to the imagination. However, we did celebrate in our own little way by attending a lovely gingerbread decorating session at Sally’s house. Later that week, Maryam helped me wrap a present for a round of Secret Santa at nursery. She had a wonderful party there with lots of cookies, mince pies and learnt some new Christmas nursery rhymes which all the children sang in front of the parents. Besides devouring cookies, her favorite part of the day was sitting in Santa’s lap and receiving her present.

That glow of excitement and amazement in her eyes at the sight of Santa appearing from behind the Christmas tree was priceless. I’m really glad we have found a great balance of being able to celebrate and embrace different holidays, festivals and cultures whilst still holding onto our own identity.

This is the perfect time to share these truffles with you that I made for Mowie’s Christmas Issue. Perfect bite sized treats with a kick of coffee and a crunch from the pecans. I also made some pear tarts with a chocolate crumble, some hazelnuts and coffee. You can get the recipe for the pear tarts here (page 142 onwards).

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas with their loved ones with plenty of snow, laughter, cookies and presents. And of course plenty of family time.

Click on recipe to print

Cappuccino Truffles:

150 gms white or dark chocolate (I used white)
80 ml double cream
2 tsp coffee powder
30 gms pecans, finely chopped
1 tbs butter, room temperature
Mixture of Dutch processed cocoa powder and coffee powder for rolling

Chop the chocolate finely and place in a bowl. In a pan, bring the cream and coffee powder to a boil and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir in the chopped pecans and butter. Use a wooden spatula to whisk the mixture until a homogeneous ganache is formed. Cover the bowl with a cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until the ganache is set.

Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and using a teaspoon or a melon scooper, scoop small balls into the palms of your hand and roll into balls. Place on wax paper and back into the fridge for another 30 minutes.

Sift a mixture of cocoa powder and coffee powder into a bowl. Roll each truffle into the mixture and shake off any excess powder with your hands or in a sieve. Serve the truffles at room temperature or store in an air tight container for up to a few weeks.

Makes approximately 16-20 truffles depending on size.  

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Arabic Shawarma

As the cool winters begin to show their true colors, I crave food that is wholesome, fillng and…..just plain comfortable. The kind that you can eat sprawled on your sofa, your feet covered with a warm fuzzy blanket. Food that nourishes you physically and mentally, food that nourishes memories, nourishes the soul.

Comfort food makes me feel relaxed and happy. It’s food that jogs memories, fond memories. Food that gives me a feeling of warmth and satisfaction. And that is exactly what a Shawarma does for me. Shawarma is an Arabic pita wrap overflowing with shaved chicken or lamb. A crunchy tabooleh or fattoush salad accompanied by either tahini or hummus complete this Middle Eastern street food.

Here in Dubai, it is a common sight at every souk corner to see layers of meat and fat slowly being cooked on a spit. A juicy tomato and onion sit like a crown on top of the spit, lending its own special flavors. The meat usually cooks for a whole day before a chef expertly runs a sharp knife in a rhythmic fashion, up and down the spit, shaving thin slices of meat.

This is quickly collected into a hot pita bread and tossed around with various crunchy vegetables. French fries or pickled gherkins can also make an appearance in a shawarma. Lastly, a generous serving of garlic dip and Tabasco sauce finish of this popular street food.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Dubai’s National Day. Forty days of festivities included a  delightful invite to Arwa’s home for a demonstartion on authentic Emirati cuision which I can’t wait to tell you more about including some very special recipes and ingredients. Maryam also had a fun cultural day at school where she went dressed as a Tanzanian ‘dada.’

She had such a great time that every morning since, for a few days at least, she thought there would party! We ate food from around the world, sang songs in many languages and even had a fashion show. Mine and Maryam’s favorite snack of the day was Muhalla- a sweet crepe made of dates and cardamom. I look forward to sharing the recipe with you soon.

Today though, I’m going to share my version of shawarma with you. It is a special recipe purely because it comes from a special culture, one that I have embraced as mine. It may not have originated in Dubai but is still very Middle Eastern. I hope the warmth and comfort of Dubai’s street food and culture will emanate from this recipe, from my country to yours, from my home to your kitchen.

This recipe was also contributed to Foodiecrush Magazine’s first issue. It features many of my favorite bloggers. You must take a look.

Click on recipe card to print
Arabic Shawarma

500 gms boneless chicken, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tbs canola oil
½ cup yoghurt
1 egg, beaten lightly
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
Salt to taste
½ tsp red chilli flakes
½ tsp garam masala
2 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
For the salad:
1 cup finely sliced lettuce
1 cucumber chopped
1 tomato chopped
3 tbs chopped coriander
3 tbs pomegranates
For the dressing:
½ cup yoghurt
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbs chopped coriander
2 tbs chopped mint
Salt to taste
To serve:
6 Arabic pita breads
Tabasco sauce
Baking paper

Marinate the chicken in all the ingredients and set aside for an hour or so. Heat a non stick pan on medium to high heat and add the marinated chicken. Stir fry the chicken until it has cooked through and is dry- less than 10 minutes. Make sure you break up the chicken with a wooden spoon and keep stirring as it cooks.
Assemble the salad by mixing all the ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients.
To assemble the shawarma, heat the pita bread on a skillet to warm it. Divide the salad amongst the six pita breads. Top the salad with the chicken. Drizzle the yoghurt dip over the chicken and add a dash of Tabasco sauce. Roll the pita bread tightly and wrap in baking paper. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 large shawarmas.

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Apple Cardamom Cake

Something has been on my mind for a few weeks now. I’ve been pondering over it for some time. Should I, should I not? Will I succeed? What will Akber and Maryam think? Are they going to be open minded and accepting? Or will they scoff at me and turn up their noses? 

You see, the reason I’ve been so hesitant is because I’ve been thinking of breaking a marriage, a union, a relationship. A longstanding one that has stood the test of time. A marriage with no fights and arguments. A marriage that is an example, one that everyone looks up to. One that is ideal and perfect but also boring and ordinary.

But the urge was too great and so I did it. It felt good…. I was relieved and at the same time apprehensive but when I got the nod of approval from Maryam and Akber, I knew I had done the right thing. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the harmonious alliance that once existed between apples and cinnamon.

The two have always gone hand in hand. But I have found a better partner for the apple. A match that may be unconventional but still comfortable- apples and cardamom. They form a happy family in this cake that I adapted from this Pear and Almond Cake I have made numerous times. Out with the old and in with the new and everyone who ate a slice agreed. Apples and cardamom are very content with one another, they compliment each other. 


Click recipe card to print.

What more could you want from a relationship? Roasted almonds and custard played happy friends with this delicate cake. Try this new combination and you won’t be disappointed.

Have you broken a longstanding (food) relationship? Were you happy with the results?

Apple Cardamom Cake:
2 Fuji apples
3 tbs butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 cup roasted almond flakes plus extra for serving
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Centigrade. Grease and flour an 8 inch pan. Core apples and cut thin slices. Place apple slices in water and squeeze half a lemon into the bowl to avoid discoloration.
Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer and at medium speed, beat the sugar and butter until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl when needed. Reduce the speed to low and add the rest of the ingredients except roasted almonds. Gently stir in the roasted almonds and pour batter into cake pan. Arrange sliced apples in a circular fashion and press gently into the batter. bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out nearly clean.
Let the cake stand for 5- 10 minutes on a rack before turning it out. Serve with a drizzle of custard and sprinkle roasted almonds on top. This recipe will serve 12 people.

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Mung Bean Soup

As I sit here typing this post, the clouds outside are swelling up again. Whether they will rumble and pour rain is a different matter. Even though I mentioned in my last post that I probably wouldn’t be seein stormy skies for a while again, it surprised me with another unexpected visit.

I do enjoy the cooler weather- it gives me a small time frame within which me and Maryam can do our outdoor activities. But with this change in weather also comes the abundance of bugs, viruses, nasty colds and poor health. Maryam came down with a fever which then passed on to the rest of the family like falling dominoes. There was no stopping it. What started off as mild quickly escalated into one of the highest temperatures she has ever had. That was followed by a runny nose and sore throat.

And of course I was next in line. I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy but I find it much harder to recover from any minor coughs or colds at the moment. Being pregnant and sick with a toddler who is also ill is never fun and during times like these, I love a hearty soup that will mend everything.

I have mentioned plenty of times that soup doesn’t grace our tables often enough but slowly and surely, I am trying to change that trend. I learnt this particluar soup my my mom BUT my love of mung beans started at my mother in laws house.

She always says ‘mug ne pug che’ which is a Gujarati saying that literally translates into ‘mung beans have legs.’ What it means is that mung beans have the necessary nutrients to give you strength, health and vitality. Put you back on your feet, nurse you to health.

And so we’ve been making this often. Actually, beans are Maryam’s favorite meal, always have been. Especially now that she’s going through a vegetarian phase. I’m not sure how long it will last, the vegetarian phase as well as the sore throat! I’m hoping both vanish as abruptly as they put in an appearance.

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