Drying is one of the oldest and easiest way to preserve food. In a country with plentiful sun it is only natural that we should have a tradition of using the sun’s energy to process food. You will find wadi varieties from all over the country. Bengalis put their bodi into many dishes including shukto, Southen India gives us vadams and appalams in addition to celebrating dried vegetables in, the most delicious of all ‘curries’, the vatahkuzhanmbu. In Uttarakhand mountain cucumbers are combined with urad-dal to make wadi. Punjab’s famous wadis which come in various flavours (with plums, with tomatoes, and regular – all spiced up with generous amounts of black pepper) can be combined with the blandest of vegetables to lift them out of the ordinary. From the state of UP we have mangodi, small wadis made with mung dal. Kashmirs make sun-dried spice-cakes and call them veri. Pickles that have been cooked in the sun for a while are found all over the country.
Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category
Sometime back there was a discussion amongst some food-blogger friends on cookbooks and their relevance in a world of food blogs and websites. The topic was triggered by the surprising admission of some food-bloggers (aspiring writers at that!) that they only look at and rarely cook from cookbooks. My bookshelf is lined with cookbooks I have been collecting since my teens; they are a weakness. They are my insights into a new cuisine or deeper explorations of a favourite one. I put a moratorium on further cookbook purchases because I am constrained where bookshelf-real-estate is concerned. That ended, as all fad diets do, in a binge. With e-shopping only a click away, I was on Flipkart, ordering away. I am no longer looking for cookbooks titled “All About Baking,” but seek out books that link food to a culture: “Gujarati Cooking”, or “Simply South.”
I have been searching for a recipe for the Goan Sambarachi Kodi ever since I tasted it at O’Coquero. On the Web, I came across only one recipe, the one on the charming Goan Food Recipes blog. While Googling for it yet again (I try to check multiple recipes before attempting a less-familiar dish), I came across a mention for it in Pushpesh Pant’s India: A Cookbook. Now, I am usually weary of cookbooks that want to cover all of India in one book. If you know anything about the diversity that is India, you cam imagine how daunting a task that is. In India, I assure you, we know nothing as “Indian Food.” But Pushpesh Pant is a respected scholar and reading some of the recommendations for the book, I thought, well, his might just be the definitive volume, the exception. To his credit, it has a 1000 recipes and weighs in at over a kilo! With those statistics I was expecting a tome of great research and insights. As usual, I started with the section on the cuisine I know better than any other – Kashmiri. That right there, is the cornerstone by which I judge a cookbook dishing out “Indian” Cuisine. Read the rest of this entry »
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! Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
As we move to bigger urban centers, and into smaller and smaller lots and apartments, we are removed more and more from the food we eat, from the act of growing our own food. Much of what was once common in every home garden is gradually getting lost, at least to us city folk. My parents maintain a small garden patch in their urban lot and even in that tiny space my mom forages for amaranth. Yes, forage; they don’t grow it from seed, it just volunteers! When we were younger and had a large kitchen garden inside the IITD campus, kulfa (purslane) was another green found growing wild.
My father and his brothers are avid gardeners. Even in the constraints of their urban homes, you will find them pottering around. My uncle, in Pune, gardens out of huge planters on his rooftop growing runner beans, and Kashmiri favourites haak, sotchal (common mallow), and monjji (kohl rabi). I have been very lucky, despite an urban upbringing, to have grown up in a home with a garden, and knowing a little about how food makes it to the table. In my own typical city house I grow herbs in pots, I have a curry leaf tree and a lime tree, and grape vines that climb up the pergola on my first floor terrace.
Many wild greens used to be part of a regular Kashmiri diet – abuj, vopal haak, vasta haak, hund, to name just a few. Today, I would be hard pressed to even identify them.
There is more shared between Kashmir and Bengal than a love for rice, fish, and mustard oil. There is a shared history. Eighth century Kashmiri emperor Lalitaditya’s empire is believed to have extended from Kabul right up to Bengal. But, that was centuries ago. Even in the last century there was a very strong connection between the two Indian states. West Bengal seems to have been the first choice for a majority of Kashmiri youth in my parents generation seeking scholarship outside of this remote state in the north. Nineteenth Century Calcutta was the bastion of contemporary western education. It was routine for teen Kashmiri boys to leave home for this faraway state to study medicine or engineering. Many generations owe a debt to this state of bhadrlok for their education: in my family my Dad studied at IITKgp, one uncle studied medicine at Calcutta Medical College (established by the British in 1835, it is our oldest medical college), two others studied engineering at Jadhavpur University. The Government Medical College, Srinagar, was established only in 1959, followed by the REC (Regional Engineering College) in 1960.
The first month of this year is history already. How time flies!
After some fumbling this season, old man winter got into his groove here in Delhi. The weather has been at its frigid best for the past 6 weeks even though we celebrated Basant Panchami (the fifth day of Spring) last Saturday. I even poured myself a glass of kanji while preparing dinner the other day. But, the thaw has certainly started and if you blink the short Spring will be over.
In the fast pace of 2011 many celebrations got left out. No one got a birthday cake :shock:. The blog anniversary was overlooked since there was no time to come up with a theme, announce a party, or be a proper host to all of you. But, it is always party-time at A Mad Tea Party where we celebrate food as just that – nourishment; food that satiates, the kind that engages all our senses. Mindful eating without dissecting what is on the plate.
One-dish-themed blog-events are now commonplace. The poori-party might have been one of the first of that kind but it was quite by accident. None of the subsequent celebrations were a patch on that first party. From that party on, I have made a concerted effort to fry poories more often. Every time the son visits for holidays, poori-bhaji features on the breakfast menu on one of the days. Just the once maybe, but it is sure to be there. Then, for Ram Navmi I indulge the little girl in me who misses doing rounds of the neighbouring homes to
gather loads of prasad be part of the ritual to revere the goddess in all girls, by cooking poori, halwa, and kala chana. That adds up to at least three poori-frying sessions a year! And if there are friends or family visiting (and it is cool enough to fry in the kitchen) then it is likely they will get some deep fried love!
Something strange is going on with the weather. We have had the wettest spring ever and the frequent showers have kept the temperatures down. I start my day wearing a vest by habit and then within an hour find myself going back down to change into a full-sleeved sweater. Climate change? Maybe that is too drastic but this is definitely not our usual Spring.
I did indulge myself in some typical spring activities anyway, such as drinking kanji and enjoying the sunshine; the spring did start out sunny. Mid-January found us traversing the city on a few occasions. One Sunday morning was spent at the IGNCA viewing Delhi: A Living Heritage exhibit. On our way back we decided to criss-cross a little and take in the city lights. We found ourselves joining the crowds watching the rehearsals for the Beating the Retreat ceremony. We stood there awhile, soaking in national pride and such emotions.
Another Sunday afternoon we first hopped on the Metro, took the city bus next, and then walked to the National Gallery of Modern Art where we heard the very articulate Anish Kapoor talk about his work (and even enjoyed a cup of tea with him!). Later we walked from the NGMA to the Chinmaya Mission auditorium for TH’s student’s Kuchipudi dance performance, and then took the Metro back home. Read the rest of this entry »
Winter has set in Delhi. We have had some rain this week which has further brought down the temperatures and I am beginning to regret not airing out the winter wardrobe ahead of time when the days were sunny and bright. The sun will be back in our winter soon enough and we will be found lazily shelling peanuts outside during breaks from work, or while waiting for transport. Oh, but there’s a change to that script. Those of us who have got used to Delhi’s awesome Metro may not be able to indulge in this litter-generating activity. Imagine, not-littering might become a habit with the denizens of Delhi! Hope floats!
I have been cooking a lot of express-Indian these past few months. In fact, my usual cooking is reasonably Express, and predominantly Indian. But this was additionally challenging because I was looking for 6 ingredients or less. I am going to take some creative license and add oil to the list of not-to-be-counted ingredients. There is just a tablespoon of it anyway.
Yes, really. And, no cream. Sorry to have been the harbinger of this disappointing information but it is true that in the ‘real’ palak-panir (pah-luk-pun-nir) there is no cream. The creamed-spinach is likely the contribution of some restaurant-cook to fulfill the expectations of Indian food (quasi-Punjabi-Mughlai in most restaurants abroad) shimmering in that layer of floating fat. You do serve sarson-ka-saag makhan mar ke (splattered-with-butter) but not palak panir. Or, maybe, the name-change that this dish underwent when it was exported to the Western shores might have had something to do with this. Palak-(ka-saag)-panir got mixed up with the aforementioned saag and somewhere along the way became saag panir. Saag is the generic word for ‘greens’ in Punjabi, but when used by itself usually refers to mustard greens. I believe I have come across recipes (on food blogs) for mustard greens cooked with panir. Inspired?
ConFusion? I will keep my counsel. Maybe Punjabi-kudi can shed more light on this subject… Read the rest of this entry »