In Maharashtrian, Traditions and Customs, Vegetarian on March 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm
Have you heard of Champa Shashthi? In my Maharashtrian side of the family it is associated with a ceremonial pooja the beginnings of which are somewhat obscure. This winter I was visiting friends who celebrate this day with special prayers. In their family, the day of the pooja marks the end of a period of abstaining from certain foods such as eggs and meat, and brinjals (eggplant). Minor ceremonies are observed on the two days preceding Shashthi as well.
The celebration of this festival in our family has an interesting story. This festival is not traditional to the Konkanasth Brahmin community to which my husband’s family belongs. A long time ago, and I mean a really long time ago, traveling was an activity associated with uncertainty, hardship, and unknown risks, undertaken only for essential business or pilgrimage. At such a time, a family embarking on one such pilgrimage handed over the Champa Shashthi Puja to their neighbour and friend in the village, V’s ancestor, like a precious thing for safekeeping. They never returned to claim it back, and that is how we have this untraditional ritual as our heritage. Our family continues to fulfill a promise made a very long time ago. I remember my mother-in-law asking me if she should perform the udyapan, a special puja to mark the end, but I assured her I wanted it to continue. How could I not want to be part of this beautiful legend, our very own legend!
We, my husband, son, and I, are hardly religious people but I do believe that without religion, you may end up distancing yourself from what is your culture. Food is very strongly tied to culture and religion. One day, several years back, I realised we had not cooked sabudana khichdi in a very long time (years!). Since my mother-in-law’s passing no one in the family was observing any fasts anymore! We brought back the Janmashtami fast and now observe it as a family. The much loved sabudana khichdi is on the menu at least once a year. Read the rest of this entry »
In Under 30 min!, Vegetarian on March 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm
Summer is here and the days of soup are almost behind us. But summer also means an urge to eat lighter and spend less time in the kitchen cooking that meal. That is when a soup is just what you need.
My father is a good gardener but he is no cook. He is fastidious when it comes to brewing his cuppa (and he needs many through the day) and always prefers to have it in a clear glass – something he must have picked up either from his Punjabi neighbours when he arrived in Delhi in the 60s, or from the way chai is served at any construction site in India. My Dad has spent a lifetime out in the sun, always preferring his time on a site to the time behind the desk.
He has never had to cook but seems to harbour an impression that he is a good one. His forays into the world of food are primarily limited to growing and consuming it. Lucky for him, his wife is a great cook. As mom has grown older I have noticed that my Dad feels a tad guilty about not helping in the kitchen. Which is why, I think, after his retirement he started to make his tea himself so that he could at least contribute less to the extra work he was creating. Read the rest of this entry »
In Maharashtrian, Traditions and Customs, Under 30 min!, Vegetarian on March 10, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Haerath mubarak to my Kashmiri readers, and a very happy Shivratri to the rest of you! There was much feasting at my mom’s last night where we gathered for Mahashivratri puja. Shivratri is the most important festivals for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The festival marks the end of winter in Kashmir. The preparations start weeks in advance and culminate in the final three days ending with doon pooza (walnut puja!) on Phalgun amavasya, which is tomorrow. [Read more about it here and here] For us, today is Salam, the day after Shivratri, the day the youngsters receive Shivratri kharcha (spending money!) from the elders in the family. We got it last night itself from my father!
The rituals are quite elaborate and food and cooking is an integral part. Every family has their traditions and the ceremonies are not complete without the cooking of certain dishes. In the puja last night we had vatuks (vessels for water) that symbolised Lord Shiva and his wife-to-be, Parvati, who were married in the presence of other gods and invitees (represented, in their turn, by smaller vatuks). Only the eldest family member observes a fast while the rest feast. Walnuts are soaked in another vessel, to which are offered tiny bits of fresh food from the meals cooked everyday. Meat and fish are traditional and are part of the puja offerings. In the last 25 years, since their relocation from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits, on finding themselves amongst Vaishnavites, have started observing vegetarianism during this festival. In deference to tradition, my mother cooked fish the day before Shivratri. Last night’s menu for the Shiv-Parvati wedding: rajma, paneer kaliya, mujj chetin, dum-olu, palak-matar, steamed rice, roti (for the non-Kashmiris!), and modur polav.
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In Maharashtrian, Rice, Under 30 min!, Vegetarian on February 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm
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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In Baking, on the side, Tea Party, Vegetarian on September 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm
This weekend, I finally snapped out of my laziness and decided, after a long gap, to fire up the oven. The extended rains have brought lowered the temperature enough to consider outside of subsistence food and I thought I might bake some tarts.
The pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are replete with mentions and tales of much food. Just as there is purpose to every word of fantasy and nonsense in Alice, it is there to the bits about food as well. It is as much a tale of wonder for children as it a reflection of the times. The frequent discussions about food in the story are but a contrast to the scarcity of food in Victorian times. And, like most of us today, Alice too seems to rely on something to eat or drink to alter her size all the time!
In modern times we are equally obsessed with food but for different reasons. We are constantly trying to put food in some category or another and then assigning a value to the food as well as to the diets they fit into. Some foods, and some diets then get to be regarded as inferior/superior. Whether a people are vegetarian or eat meat, has all come out of pragmatism and to put values on these seems ridiculous. I have the same view of raw-food and similar such other diets. A good diet for anyone is surely one they can stick to without harming themselves or others? If you are going to eat the shark to extinction, then there is a problem. For me, a good diet is also one that does not require me to analyse food excessively before I can decide if it fits into the way I ought to eat. That would make shopping for food such a chore! Read the rest of this entry »
In on the side, Pickles, Punjabi, Vegetarian on July 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm
I know you have had enough with green mangoes. But, it is mango time here in Delhi: all kinds of ripe mangoes to eat – Chausa and Lungda varieties have arrived, and green ones to pickle and make into chutney. This season I have made a sweet-sour mango chutney and three kinds of mango pickle: Maharashtrian-style amba lonche, Andhra-style fiery pickle with garlic, and also a batch of Punjabi-style mango pickle. I have attempted the Punjabi pickle after a gap of many years since the husband’s loyalties had shifted to the famous Pachranga brand. There was no point competing with this well-known brand and if he preferred it to the home-made recipe, that much less pickle making for me.
The Punjabi-style mango pickle though, is the pickle I grew up on. As kids we would rinse out the pieces and eat just the pickled mango, sucking on the stone-skin for a long-long time till there was no saltiness left. That was the only mango pickle we had known until one day, mom bought home a bottle of Bedekar’s amba lonche (a lot like this one, except that the mangoes are chopped fine instead of being shredded). It was nothing like our mango pickle! And because it was so different, it became a favourite immediately. Read the rest of this entry »
In on the side, Preserves, Under 30 min!, Uttar Pradesh, Vegetarian on June 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm
Mangoes are definitely the silver lining of the Northern Indian summers. Unlike in some southern Indian states (and further east of India) where mangoes are available year round, in Delhi we have access to both green and ripe mangoes only through the summer. Or, maybe, I should say that we have seasons other than summer and therefore, our fruits and vegetables change as the seasons roll! Another silver lining of living in the heat and dust bowl that is the North India Plain!
The superior pickling mangoes, such as Ramkela, arrive after the first monsoon showers. Evey year I make batches of mango pickles though the quantities I now make are more proportionate to the moderate amounts we consume. Amongst the mango pickles I make is the Punjabi kind to which I sometimes add karonde and chickpeas. The Andhra-style mango pickle with garlic and loads of chillies is a favourite of ours, especially the son and I; it makes a great combination with besan-paranthas. Since the last few years I have also started making Shilpa’s (actualy, Varada’s!) konkani-style shredded mango pickle. At the start of mango season, I also make a quick pickle from the fallen Amrapali mangoes in my mom’s backyard using my own pickling spice mix, or, sometimes, the K-Pra brand amba lonche spice mix from Maharashtra. Read the rest of this entry »
In Desserts, Low Fat, Vegetarian on June 20, 2012 at 11:33 am
Hell couldn’t be hotter than Delhi in June. This summer seems to be particularly hot. Many of my less heat-hardy plants have just dessicated. Even the Temple Tree is showing signs of heat stress! I can only pray the monsoon will keep its date with Delhi; if all stays well with the wind systems, it should hit Delhi on June 29.
The week has started off well with a sharp shower on Monday morning that brought a seven degree drop in the day temperature, from a scorching 44 degrees Celsius the previous day to a ‘balmy’ 37. We take our silver linings as they come. Monday was also my birthday and I was supposed to hit the streets, albeit of the air-conditioned neighbourhood mall, with my sister, mom, and niecelet, who herself turned all of six years last week. No, I wasn’t planning to shop till I dropped; it was Mom who needed company to shop. We spent a pleasant couple of hours telling her what to splurge on. Nothing beats shopping therapy when it is not even your own money.
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In Bengali, Vegetables, Vegetarian on May 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm
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.
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In Low Fat, south Indian, Travel, Vegetarian on April 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm
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!
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