Monday, April 20, 2009

Mixed Vegetable Kurma and Volunteering

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When I first came to America there were a lot of things that dazed me, a few that set my teeth on edge and still does. Among all the myriad stuff that was going on one thing that struck me most was the volunteer spirit of the people. The President urges people to do volunteer and community service, the schools gear students from Middle School on to participate in social service activities and making it a requirement for graduation. From a young age kids see very closely the value of volunteering and giving back to the community.

From the Peace Corps and Habitat For Humanity to the local food banks providing food for the homeless and poor volunteering runs the gamut. The first time I registered DD for a team sport I was surprised that the coach of the team was a volunteer. I start to compare the sorry state of sports in some countries and the nearly flawless system that has been devised to train a large pool of young kids in various sports disciplines here. The use of parents volunteers in schools to augment the effort of the teacher is another aspect that never ceases to amaze.

A couple of colleagues at one of the companies I worked for were volunteer fire fighters who set aside time every week to attend training beside being on call during the weekends. All I could do was admire their selfless commitment.

The local gazette(our local newspapers which is free) has a page devoted to volunteering activities that are in need of volunteers. It was through these pages a few years ago that I came across a volunteer opportunity which fit in with my schedule and expertise! It was reading to elementary aged school kids reading below grade level. Having children in that age group and with experience of reading to them everyday I decided I would be able to handle it. In more ways than one the opportunity gave me back more than I ever expected. The pleasure in the kid's face when she saw me those two days a week and the progress she made during that year was very gratifying. She slowly opened up to her desire to own a puppy and how some days her stomach growled during the day because her mom dropped her late and she could not get breakfast at school. It was hard to hear a kid tell me that she was hungry at school. When given a book to take home and read and she did without fail and from interactions with her she was very bright kid. I thought to myself that all she needed was someone to sit with her and be there for her. I volunteered for a year before my job situation changed where in my team which was part of a non-profit organization got bought by a big giant of a company and my schedule changed drastically and could not accommodate the volunteering activity.

It took couple more years before I could get back into volunteering. The one I am involved with now is teaching basic literacy to an adult student. Before becoming a volunteer tutor, training was mandatory for which you had to pay out of pocket. Though not a huge amount, the number of people who willingly paid to get trained to volunteer their time was one I did not expect.

Cauvery River

I will be getting back to the topic in a minute so bear with me.

Cauvery river has always been a big part of my childhood. Besides being a major source of water for irrigation for the farmers in the Kongu Nadu region it was intertwined with the regions prospects and bringing joy and sorrow in no small amount. As children we splashed and dipped to our heart's content in its glorious waters and admired it meandearing through the country side. This was about 25 years ago(Note to self: has it been really that long?) to now where kids are advised not to get into the water because it has become so polluted to the extent where numerous skin ailments are common from coming in contact with the water. I have always wondered if there was something that could be done.

Potomac River

So on hearing about the Alice Ferguson Foundation that organizes a Potomac watershed cleanup every year was excited and thought of it as an opportunity to do something about another river in a place I now call home. The tons of trash they collect is truly staggering. I marked my calendar to participate in the cleanup this year but something even closer to home beckoned

The pond and creek near my neighborhood whose runoff eventually reaches the Potomac river, desperately needed a cleanup. Every time we walked past the pond and creek I was struck with a feeling of guilt seeing the trash floating around near the ducks, crane and turtles that lived there. It seemed a big task for just a couple of people but not that big if the whole neighborhood participated. So set a date to do the cleanup and sent an email to the neighborhood list. The response though not overwhelming was not meagre either.


Many of you had asked how we happened to have the camera when the fire broke out in the park land. As we were walking up to take the pictures of the pond before cleanup was when we saw the fire. We cleaned for a little over 2 hours and collected 15 big trash bags. The time allotted was 1 1/2 hours but many of us kept going till it was well past that time. We have a followup set for another day. Here again was an volunteering opportunity that gave immense satisfaction for all who participated.

Here is a the link to the Slide Show.

Do you Volunteer? Would you like to share your experience?


I made this Kurma for a pot luck gathering and it turned out good. When made in large quantities even the well practised recipe sometimes disappoints but this one was an exception. The trick is to make 2 pastes instead of the 1 mixed paste I usually make

Serves : 4
Mixed Vegetable Kurma
1. 2 Cups Chopped Vegetables (Green Beans, Carrots, Potatoes, Peas)
2. 1/2 Red onion chopped
3. 2 Tomatoes chopped
4. seasonings: cumin, fennel seeds and curry leaves
5. a few coriander leaves for garnish

Paste 1
1. 1/2 medium red onion or 15 small onions
2. 3-4 garlic cloves
3. 2 tsp fennel seeds, 4 cloves, a small cinnamon stick
4. 6 green chilies
5. 2 handful coriander leaves

In a drop of oil saute the dry spices, set aside. Add the onion,garlic and saute till translucent. saute the chilies and coriander leaves for half a minute.
Blend to a paste

Paste 2
1. 1/2 tbsp of poppy seeds soaked in water
2. 2 tbsp coconut

Blend the above to a paste and set aside

1. In a pan heat oil and add the seasonings and saute the onion till translucent
2. Now add the vegetables and saute for a few seconds
3. Add the chopped tomatoes about half a cup of water and cover the lid and let it
cook till the vegetables are almost cooked.
4. Now add Paste 1 mix well and cook for about 5-6 minutes, add salt and let it boil for a couple of minutes more.
5. Now lower the heat add Paste 2, mix well and let it be in the heat for a couple of minutes.
6. You will see bubbles on the surface. Now turn off the heat and let it rest for about 1/2 hour. Mix well garish with coriander leaves

Tastes even better the next day.


  1. this is such a yummy dish :)
    I make a similar version but only use 1 paste :)
    and yeah... the volunteering spirit here in U.S is something that awes me :)

  2. I used to volunteer when my kids were in elementary school, sometimes in middle school but not anymore. Trisha had to do min of 100hrs to graduate the Early college HS and she did 102 hrs in local hospital. Now a days, they don't want teenagers because there are too many old people volunteer there which is a loss to kids. I will have to send Tushar into Habitat for humanity or something from next year.

    Love the Kurma. For me coconut and poppy seeds paste always say "home"!!:D

  3. I've volunteered with the fund raising efforts of the in bay area while I lived there and later, at sunshine - the NPO for the pediatric ward at Sassoon hospital in Pune. The latter was not much, but it helped me in some ways. It gave a tug in my heart every time I saw a child suffer.

    Gotta do more. Thanks for making me think about volunteering again.

    That kurma looks fantastic. I bet it was devoured real quick.

  4. It really feels good to be able to be a part of something right? When i first came to this country, i did not have work permit,& no money to go to school either, so that time was well spent volunteering..I used to work for a Battered Womens Project in YWCA. Quite & eye opener, & also disturbing.. But i still worked. Also did some work withe the Indian community'shelter programs.
    now it is just limited to dd's school sometimes.. our dream is to work with special children abused children.. probably when the kids are little grown & when we get some time to ourselves.

    that korma looks good.I just adore the use of fennel after using it once.

  5. I love the idea of 2 posts and I know what you mean by volunteering.

    I volunteer at a local reading group too and it is immensely satisfying.

  6. Thats great! Cleaning up a pond is such a nice thing! Ungalukku neraya punniyam kidaikum :) This kurma is more like my paati's recipe. But after her we stopped adding poppy seed pastes to kurma. Amma does it once in a bluemoon. I love to eat poppyseeds on it own in spoon fulls err mouth fulls. I like their creamy, milky taste. Kurma looks delicious!

  7. kurma looks tempting and inviting isg. can i join u for dinner?

  8. Kurma looks so yumm.
    Like asha said, when my daughter was younger did lot of volunteering job, now i don't do anymmore.

  9. Can i join the potluck too?... just to taste this kurma :P Looks lovely!
    This sounds interesting and delicious with two paste... yumm! I too posted a kurma recipe yesterday.. same pinch! :)
    Never volunteered here! Would love to start doing that when my kid goes to the K...
    Nice write-up!

  10. Lovely work Indo. You are right the volunteering spirit here in US is very inspiring

    I have somehow never volunteered except for the occasional flings at S's pre-school

    I want to do something but now I am too pressed for time

  11. Yeah, the volunteering spirit is so inspiring. It must have been so gratifying to see your vounteer work pay off. I volunteered at the Red Cross when I could not work. It gives immense satisfactin that you're making a difference.
    The other thing I noticed here was also the love & pride for their country, which I think is why soldiers are given the respect & gratitude that I never saw in India.

  12. Kurma looks great, btw. When I cook for 2-5 people, I'm fine. it's when the numbers get bigger that somehow the end result is never quite what I want it to be.

  13. I have been looking for a good Kurma recipe and glad to find this one.

    I have not volunteered much, but try to do a little bit at my son's school.

  14. Love the Mix vegiie kurma. You have a wonderful blog.

  15. A very thought (& action) provoking post indeed. One of my close friends introduced me to the concept of doing small, unexpected acts of kindness for pple we know/don't... like paying the next person's toll, mowing the neighbour's lawn - for more ideas check out -

    Since they are small, doable things and don't really require a big commitment, i think it's a good way to put a smile on someone's face.

    Love your kurma, looks delicious and the coconut + poppy paste always does wonders.

  16. Oh Indo.. i wanted to reply to your qn on the porichakootu.. i think cabbage should work but i've not tried with beans.. other veggies would be drumsticks, ashgourd, chow chow, snake gourd etc.

  17. I volunteer at my daughters school and in our community. I gives me immense pleasure and I learn a lot too. I have always wondered about the people giving back to the society and how I could incorporate this culture in India.

  18. i volunteered in Ca with some public television producing, and now i've signed up to volunteer with the idaho food bank. enjoy your stint.

  19. I love kurma with any combination of veggies - its just something so lip smacking and comforting!

  20. Kurma is my favourite - i find it tasty as well as so comforting for some reason! Yours looks positively delicious!

  21. I used to Volunteer at the Red Cross for a year and also at Lupus foundation. I now volunteer as a big sister. It is the best feeling!

  22. I've never left a comment here before this. I volunteer as a gardener at wildflower center near home. What inspires me the most is seeing people who are older than my own grandparents volunteering in the gardens. Its been lot of fun too.


  23. Volunteering has helped all those who have done it more ways than one. It has truly been great for me.

    Thanks everyone for commenting here and letting me know how you volunteer.

  24. wow! really yummy dish ...u have very nice blog .


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