My Workshops are but an excuse for me to cook up new recipes for an unsuspecting crowd. Somehow I have never been afraid to try a new, untested recipe for a crowd of complete strangers who are yet to make up their minds about my cooking prowess. In fact, more often than not, I pick new recipes for grand meals where my reputation is at stake. Most of the time I sail through reputation unscathed.
As was with these slow-simmered tomatoes I selected to cook from an old Bon-Appetit cookbook bought a very long time ago. It was one of the few photographed recipes, duly captioned, yet missing from the index. I had to scan the book, page by page, to find the recipe which was simplification itself. Other than the oodles of olive oil and a really long simmer it asked for little else.
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. Kashmiris 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.
That time when deciding what to cook is a difficult task, is back. Cauliflowers have lost their spunk and cabbages are looking blanched. [Another winter has gone by without an attempt at making kimchi. Sigh.] Now that bottle-gourd juice has become the new diet-fad they can be found on the shelves the whole year round but the season when they, and other gourds, are at their best is still around the bend. Zucchini, surprisingly, is looking beautiful; must be an early season squash. Last week I brought home a good-looking specimen but I was not in the mood to cook it a-la-tori.
I picked out my Italian cookbook from the bookshelf and checked it for zucchini recipes. As is my habit, I looked at the colour pictures first to see if I could spot something quick. There was a picture, almost part of the background, of a bowl piled high with zucchini rounds and labelled, quite simply, Sauteed Zucchini Rounds. That was going to be dinner, along with Herb Pasta (wholewheat spaghetti) with Double Tomato Sauce (to which was added a generous handful of fresh fennel fronds).
I grew up at IITD and and the campus Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School) was my high school. KVIIT was also the campus-school for the two other neighbouring educational campuses – the NCERT and JNU. That was a time when the middle class still sent their children to public schools. My mother was a teacher in the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan but by the time she managed a transfer to KVIIT, I had already graduated. Mr Bhujangarao, from Andhra Pradesh, was our Principal in my last two years at school. He and his family lived on-campus, close to our house, and over the years our families became close friends. As with all good neighbours, there was much exchange of food and recipes. We would visit each other often for dinners; Mrs Bhujanga Rao feeding our need for dosai, idly, and upma, and my mom trying to satisfy her two boys with chhole and rajma. I still remember how I loved the spicy upma, with lots of tomatoes, that she brought for me when I was recovering from some minor illness. Nothing like Guntur chillies to awaken taste buds flatened by sickness.
Our visits continued even after Mr B was promoted and moved a little further in South Delhi, then to Chennai, and even after he retired and moved to Hyderabad. His older son, also a friend, moved to Delhi a few years ago and we call on him when his parents come visiting. Krishna auntie still insists we leave after a meal, lunch or dinner – as the case may be, and it is very hard for me to turn down her cooking. When she was getting ready to leave Delhi many decades back, I requested her mango pickle recipe. We knew we would miss her gentle ways and her cooking, but, at least, we didn’t have to live the rest of our lives without her mango pickle! Continue reading “Green Mango Pickle, Andhra-style”→