Comfort food: varan-bhat

sada varan bhat

For many of us dal-chaval constitutes the ultimate comfort food.  It is hard to come up with food that is simpler or more satiating.  One such version of dal-chaval is the Maharashrian sada varan-bhat.

Many Sundays during our courting days I would visit V at his home for lunch.  Varan-bhat was frequently on the menu – it was a Sunday favorite with the family.  Sunday used to be the day of the weekly veggie shopping from the Shahadra mandi in the days before Mother’s Dairy Fruit and Vegetable Shops and Big Apple marts appeared in every neighbourhood.  Often I would arrive to find V and his father still not back from the market.  With fresh vegetables yet to arrive for re-stocking the fridge, varan-bhat must have been not only the logical meal but also one that would allow time needed for the sorting of the soon-to-arrive green-groceries.  I remember my MIL following a regimen of washing and drip-drying all the vegetables before stocking them for the week.  Bundles of greens (spinach, coriander, and methi) were  untied, picked over to remove damp or rotting stems, and then packed into bags; other vegetables were trimmed and washed and spread on a cloth to dry off for a while.  If I got there before it was all done, I too would lend a helping hand.  That is when I learnt to do a quick job of picking methi (hold a fistful of the leafy-stems in one hand and pull  at the stem-ends with the other!), and that stems could be left in while using green coriander!

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Goan Sausage

My interest in food and cooking is known to most of my friends, family, and colleagues, and even students.  Towards the end of the term I bring some food, usually home-cooked, to the class on  a day when informal interactions are scheduled.  It is a pleasant way to conclude the semester.

Some students stay in touch after they graduate.  Some come and visit and we exchange notes as colleagues.  A special mention here is Ryan, who remembers to bring me foodie-things from his travels around the country; many times these are ingredients sourced from where they are grown (or brewed!).  Amongst the many gifts I have received from him are coffee from a Chikmagalur plantation, his aunt’s home-brewed plum wine, his mom’s fruitcake, Shrewsbury biscuits and ginger cookies from the famous Kayani bakery in Pune, toddy from Kerala, and Mahuwa (the drink!) from Madhya Pradesh.  Recently he brought me dried kokum and kokum syrup on his return from a visit to the Konkan.  He seems to be partial to the western coast; perhaps because of his ethnic roots.  Back from one such visit to the coast last year, he brought me a packet of Goan pork sausage.  Until then I had only read about it.

Remember I asked all of you to suggest recipes?  Raji had suggested I use it in a pulao, and Ryan shared a recipe for a curry cooked with the sausage and potatoes.  The Goan Chouriço, also known as linguica, is an important element in the Portuguese-influenced Goan Catholic cuisine.  Though often identified as a sausage, it is made with chopped pork instead of ground meat and cannot be consumed uncooked.  The prepared pork is combined with spices and vinegar, stuffed into cleaned cattle gut, and usually dried in the sun.  The resulting aged meat imparts a unique taste and aroma to whatever it is cooked with.

goan sausage

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Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

I know, I know – I have been neglecting the blog.  I think i might have writer’s block.  The thing with writing is that you must just keep at it; that’s the only way to get past it.  You cut yourself some slack, waiting for inspiration to strike, and before you know it you have arrived at Writer’s Block!  Sticky place, that.

the vine

Yet it’s not as if it has been an uneventful month.  The Big News is that the son has graduated from highschool. Pappu pass ho gaya!! 😀 Not just that, he has also managed a place at a good college down South to study the subject he wishes to.  Yes, if all goes as per plan, he is slated to become an engineer in four years.

This is also a month of birthdays in the family, and everyone is a year older.  The son can vote now.  As for me, well… I don’t think 44 is any kind of a milestone…  After 40, they seem to whiz by.

Yet, this birthday ended up special in many ways.  The day began with the usual phone calls from my Mom and sis.  Then my neighbour T walked in to wish me and reminded me about our lunch appointment – yes, T took me out to lunch!  It was after a very long time that I actually liked everything I had ordered at a restaurant.  Thank you, T, for a wonderful afternoon!

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Ver – the opposite of Kheer

veri masala

As I said earlier, there is much Kashmiris make with rice. Besides being the staple on our plate it is also our preferred ingredient when it comes to celebrations of all kinds. All auspicious occasions begin with rice in some avatar or the other. Barring one sweet made with dry fruits all Kashmiri desserts have rice as the main ingredient. [Therein lies a lesson for all of us to look at statistics with a sharp eye – Kashmiri cuisine has 3.5 desserts in all!]

Kheer is the offering of choice for most Goddesses.  When a sweet offering will not fit the bill, taher is cooked to mark the happy occasion. Similarly, cooking and eating ver marks the beginning of important celebrations such as weddings and yagnopavit ceremonies.

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