Talk about signing up for more than your fair share! I am an adjunct faculty for a Grad program at a college nearby but ended up with full-time teaching load this semester. The work load in the office stayed unchanged which translates into ‘busy’ and is reflected in the woeful frequency of posts here the past two years. Factor in the absence of any kitchen help and you get the picture. But there must be a silver lining, surely?
I had made a case last time that I was better off without the ‘help’. Well, I think the fact that I was able to handle the additional work load was in no small way because I did not have to supervise the cooking and cleaning downstairs. In the past four months we have eaten out no more than we normally do; perhaps, even less. In fact, the folk at Andhra Bhavan might be wondering if all was well. We have resorted to a meal of bread-and-butter on very few occasions. The family has had to compromise on the freshness of their roties since I firmly believe they (roties, not the family) are not worth the trouble of the clean-up involved, twice a day. I usually cook enough roties for two meals and sometimes, with the right accompanying dishes that are best with rice, the leftovers get stretched into a third meal. Otherwise, I feel our meals have more variety, are fresher (except for the roties!), and there is less waste as I use up ingredients before they spoil.
Lest you think it has been all work and no play let me tell you that in 2012 we have already managed two holidays! The last week of January found us in Rajasthan walking the gorgeous dunes of Jaisalmer. Yes, it was the same group that did that arduous hike to the Valley of Flowers five years ago; a bit older, none the wiser. It was a bit hectic and we have resolved that the next trip together will be to a spa – a luxurious spa, not one of those detox ones where they near-starve you – and just let our hair hang down.
That is precisely what TH and I did early this month when we visited the son, now in his third year at college. This year he has opted out of the college hostel and is trying out apartment-living with two classmates. It is gladdening to watch him deal with the mundane and the interesting aspects of living on one’s own and sharing space with others with different backgrounds. While A is a carnivore, both his roommates are vegetarian; one will eat eggs while the other is a vegan and an animal-right activist to the extent that even roaches get protection! I wonder what they think of A and his ways!
Whatever preconceived plans I had dissipated in the Mangalore heat during the taxi ride from the airport. There may not have been that luxurious spa but we got our do-nothing vacation alright. I was surprised at how much we could sleep when we had nothing to do! The sun was screened by the thick drapes and the air-conditioning ensured a sound sleep for the two of us usually past 8am, when I would call for two cups of filter coffee; both meant for me. Then, depending on our moods, we would either read the morning paper or think about a shower. Usually, after reading the paper for a bit, TH would just roll over and go back to sleep! Breakfast was never before 10. We tried all the local spots for breakfast: Anupam and Pangala, the cafes popular with students and locals alike, as well as the Cosmo Cafe of the university’s own Hotel Hill View; you can never go wrong with idli-vada-dosa-filter kapi anywhere in Manipal! With the sun shining fierce and the high humidity, most mornings found us back in the hotel room. We usually slept through lunch and stepped out only late in the afternoon.
Except for Good Friday and Sunday, we never met the son before six o’clock in the evening. He was busy with his teammates piecing together their solar car. It is a first attempt at MIT (yes, it is called that) at building a solar car and the college will not fund it till they can see it, and it can’t come to fruition without! The boys are having to work not just at building their car but also at sweet-talking folk to open up their fortunes to an utterly no-profit venture. We happily made a small contribution; what they really need is the Tatas and the Mahindras to step forward.
On Good Friday we visited Mangalore starting with a relaxed lunch at Gajalee highly recommended for its seafood. We weren’t disappointed with our prawn sukka but much to our surprise, Malabari parotta was not on the menu! Following lunch, we hailed an autorickshaw to the thousand years old Kadri Manjunath temple in the neighbourhood. It boggles the mind to think that for 10 centuries the faithful have been walking these (hot as coals!) granite slabs, and lighting that beautiful deepastambha! This was followed by a visit to the charming St Aloysious Chapel, which is also over a century old. The frescoes on the walls and ceilings have been recently restored with help from INTACH. A notice in the verandah of the Chapel gives the phone number to be called in case the doors are closed. It is such a pleasant gesture to the public and no one is disappointed. The caretaker arrived within ten minuted of the call and guided us through the stories depicted in the paintings. We would have like to visit Tipu Sultan’s Battery but by then it was getting towards four o’clock and we were quite beat. We walked to the bus stand and hopped onto the air-conditioned local bus to Manipal.
Sunday morning, after the usual breakfast, we visited the son at his apartment. He was already up and about (in his defense, it was 11:30 by then). He brunched on rice and nani’s mutsch that I had carried for him. Towards the evening we headed to Malpe beach in the hope that I would get to take the ferry to St Mary’s Island known for its unique geology. No such luck, but we joined the crowds at the beach where the town was organising a festival of sorts. Busloads were arriving to listen to loud music and enjoy water sports including para-sailing. We were getting a little hungry and the fiery, greasy, salty “Schezwan” noodles and Gobhi Manchurian, the two dishes synonymous with Malpe beach, hit the spot. I also tried some fried prawns and fish from the stalls but the masala was just chillies and did nothing for me.
As the sun set we headed back to Manipal. It was our last night in town and we had promised to take the boys out to dinner to Atill, a fine eating place in this university town. The boys all wanted to eat North Indian food . . . I guess I will be going to Atill on my next visit as well – this time for their seafood. The next morning we were off, back to Delhi.
You would think that after a week of eating South Indian food I would have had my fill for a while. But, back in Delhi, I went back to my Southern side. The kadi patta tree is looking happy now that we are into summer, and I have been making good use of its bounty. Earlier this year I bought a bunch of cookbooks at the Delhi Book Fair and have been meaning to test out new recipes and cuisines. One of the books I picked is Michael Swamy’s The East Indian Kitchen after reading about it on Manisha’s blog. I sat down with it the other day to see if there was something drastic I could do to the pumpkin in the fridge. I came across this Pumpkin Foogath recipe, though not drastically different in its list of ingredients, seemed worthy of a try. Until I looked at the quantities. For a mere 250gms of pumpkin (before peeling) I needed 5 tablespoons of oil! If that was not enough fat, I would also be needing 100gms of fresh coconut! And for all that quantity of coconut, making it appear a rather important ingredient, the accompanying photograph showed nary a trace of it in the dish. The book has many such other irritating oversights – recipes direct you to look for other masala recipes on given page numbers, but you may have to try a couple of pages before or after the one specified. There are other unfortunate errors; once and for all – Tejpatta is not the same as Bay Laurel leaf, and shah zeera and caraway seeds are two very different spices. Recipes don’t mention number of servings; you have to rely on your own experience and judgement.
So it fell on the South, again, to bail me out. By now, giving company to the pumpkin, was a big bowl of cooked black-eyed beans which I had put away in the fridge because I couldn’t decide how to treat them. Nags’ errisery from the Kerala coast combines both and was the simple quick dish I was looking for!
Since I was still in the Southern frame of mind (when am I not?), I picked up Chandra Padmanabhan’s Simply South – Traditional Vegetarian Cooking for inspiration. In this, her third cookbook, she brings to us the lesser known regional dishes from Kongunadu (Tamil Nadu), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh), and the Hebbar Iyengar community of Karnataka. The instructions are clear and the section on basic recipes will be very useful to a beginner cook or someone new to Southern Indian cuisine. The book is from the same publishing house as Swamy’s The East Indian Kitchen and the errors of recipes for masalas/podis appearing on pages other than those mentioned in the text continue. Another minor irritant is the insertion of the some photographs at the wrong place such that the titles are orphaned on the following pages; something went amiss at the assembling stage. But, for a book from a seasoned cookbook writer it is strange that the book is missing an index!
In any case, both the books are quite inexpensive (Rs395, and Rs295 respectively), and maybe we will just have to live with poor editing for now.
From Simply South I tried the Keerai sambar to use up the blanched home grown organic spinach my mum brought me last weekend. The sambar is simple to make yet different from those I have tried before. It combines mung dal with arhar for the lentil base, and the use of fresh ginger in sambar is also less usual. I have written out the list of ingredients as it appears in the book with my substitutions in parentheses. The book is a good addition to my South Indian cookbook collection; I already have Padmanabha’s Dakshin, which also I recommend highly.
We enjoyed the sambar with Gandhasale rice that I purchased in Manipal. The packet notes that it is a fragrant variety from Karnataka but I didn’t smell a thing. The short grain rice does have a nice feel and cooked to the perfect softness to soak up the sambar.
2 C packed spinach leaves, finely chopped (I chopped my blanched spinach as best I could, I might have used more than 2C)
1/2 t hing
1/2t +1 t salt
1/2 C arhar
1/4 C mung dal
1 tomato, quartered (err, I forgot, but I would definitely add!)
1/2 t turmeric
1 medium lemon sized ball of tamarind (soaked in warm water, pulp extracted)
1/2″ piece ginger (grated)
6 green chillies, slit lengthwise
1 capsicum, cut into 1″ sqaures
2 t sambar powder (recipe is given in the book, I used my own)
2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t methi seeds
2 dried red chillies, halved
1 sprig curry leaves (I used more than a couple – I have a tree in my front yard)
1 t ghee
1 t coconut oil (I skipped, but will add next time)
2 T finely chopped coriander leaves
Combine spinach, hing, 1/2 tsp salt and 2-3 tbsp of water in a pan and place over low heat. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
Wash the dals and place in a pressure cooker with tomato, turmeric powder and 2 cups of water. Cook under pressure for 5 minutes.
Heat oil for tempering. Add tempering ingredients to the hot oil in the given order. (Remember to cover or else the spluttering mustard seeds will be all over your kitchen!).
Add ginger, green chillies, and capsicum.
Stir in 1 tsp salt, tamarind juice, and sambar powder. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 10 mintues
Mix in spinach and simmer 2 minutes.
Add dal and simmer 5 minutes, stirring to blend.
Remove from heat and add the garnish ingredients.
Serve hot with plain rice. (I served a majjiga mirapa alongside.)
PS: While writing this post, I accidentally hit the ‘publish’ button before I was done. At the time, not only was the post incomplete, it had not even been proofread. While I changed the visibility to ‘private’ immediately, it was delivered, with all the mistakes, to those of you who subscribe through e-mail. I apologise sincerely for the error-filled post in your in-box yesterday.