Apple Soup

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It got nippy and there it stayed, just nippy. Kashmiri people divide winter into three sub-seasons associated with the intensity of the cold. Right now, we are in the middle of the 40-day period of Chillai Kalan, the harshest part of winter that starts on the night of the winter solstice. It is followed by a 20-day long Chillai Khurd, and then it peters out into a brief 10-day Chillai Baccha, before the herald of Spring in March. Many of our festivals and rituals, as seen in our winter celebrations, are closely tied to a shared history with Persian Zoroastrian traditions.

In Punjab Lohri celebrations, with the ceremonial communal bonfire, mark the coldest night of Winter. Lohri, which was two days ago, on the 13th, came and went with nary a shiver. We were still walking around in the lightest of sweaters here in Delhi. It was far from the coldest night of the winter it is expected to be.

But, the morning after, the clouds rolled in. It hasn’t rained but the Western Disturbances, as they are called, have brought in some chill and the resultant cheer, to Delhi-winters. There should be snow in the mountains too!

Chilli

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Gavar (Cluster Beans) with Peanuts

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It’s great when you discover a new way with regular ingredients.  It’s even better when the ingredients involved are few and the recipe is effortless.  My friend SK, who knows my love for Southern Indian food, is often my guide and shares new ideas or leads me to lesser known food-blogs that highlight the kind of food I like to cook.  She is a writer and is constantly engaging the characters, such as you and me, around her.  These ‘encounters’ make her a treasure trove of traditional recipes as well.  During one such chat with me, she sketched the dish the maid had put together for her lunch that day.  A basic, peasant-style approach to food, it involved the ubiquitous red chilli as the only spice.  The addition of roasted peanuts, of course, adds to the nutritional content while providing a hint of refinement to what is otherwise a truly minimalistic dish.  It is almost as if you were deconstructing the Maharashtrian-style gavar-bhaji, and trying to retain what is absolutely essential.  The two dishes are similar, yet it is clear that the peasant-style one has been pared down to its essence. Frugal, but, full of flavour.

The finished dish can work as a side to any Indian meal, or even as a salad.  You could replace cluster beans with another vegetable – french beans, peas, cabbage – endless combinations.  Or mix it into cooked rice, as Sangeeta said she did, with some additional oil or ghee, and you have a one-dish pulav/stir-fried rice that is perfect for a packed lunch.  It has won gavar-haters over to this side! Continue reading “Gavar (Cluster Beans) with Peanuts”

Pickled Grapes

grapes BW

Hot, hot. It’s a dry sauna in here! You could actually fry an egg on the sidewalk. And yet some things, native plants and creatures, thrive in this heat. At the moment, I am functioning with hardly any house-help. Kumari is away (for more than a month now) to her village in Bihar; Babloo, the presswala (for those who may not know, the chap who wields the “press” or iron, to iron our clothes!), also from Bihar, went away for a few weeks to make the most of his children’s summer vacations (he got back this morning!). He was also filling in for Chandu, who comes weekday mornings to wipe down the cars. So, I have had my hands more than full. The gardener, though in town, was a bit down in spirits, and there I was, watering the plants every other scorching evening. Yes, it doesn’t cool down even in the evenings. It become less hot, but never cool, till the monsoons arrive. No wonder we make so much song and dance about the Monsoon Season; yes, it is its own season – Saavan – in these parts, and much celebrated in Indian literature, paintings, and music.

On that first evening when I picked up the hose, I also decided to turn the pots to get even light on the less exposed sides. And, there was this tiny nest in the Ficus in the corner! The mystery of the chirpy sunbirds tailorbirds every morning explained! I rotated the plant back, so that the nest continued to stay hidden. A few days later, I became the anxious “carer” not having spotted the parents birds all afternoon and believing the nest to have been abandoned. I took a peek, and there they were, four tiny hatchlings in the nest! Google came to the rescue as always and I researched on how many hours hatchlings can survive without parent attention. I learned, with a heavy heart, that it is best to leave them alone and not care for them even if they have been abandoned. Ah, but come evening, there she was, the mother tailorbird! All was well after all. I resolved to take no more peeks lest I scare the parents to abandon their babies.

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A Summer Tomato Salad and the Winners of Bong Mom’s Cookbook

tomatoes

Hot and Humid.

But the early onset of Monsoons this year brought relief to some and tragedy to many.  Engineers (and politicians) will have us believe we can control Nature, twist, throttle, and contort it every which way, without any consequence.  Nature, then, has no choice but to show us what she is capable of.  Last week, just two days of incessant rains laid waste to much of Uttarakhand, the new state that was carved out of the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh in 2000.  The rivers Mandakini and Ganga reclaimed their banks with incredible force.  My parents were also amongst the many stranded in the state.  They were lucky to not have ventured further up beyond Uttarkashi, though Uttarkashi itself witnessed hundreds of buildings being swept away into the Ganga.  Sensibly, they decided to stay put in the safety of the ashram they were at, and waited for the rush of people to clear.  I was myself scheduled to be in the upper reaches (Bhimtal-Pithoragarh) at that very time for work but the unavailability of train tickets for our team meant we must reschedule the visit.  The official meeting at Dehradoon on Monday happened as scheduled while the magnitude of the disaster was still being uncovered. Continue reading “A Summer Tomato Salad and the Winners of Bong Mom’s Cookbook”