Simply turmeric

So, these days, I’ve gone back to cooking. It’s been a month, and I had to revisit my memory though; refer notes, call my mum, and so on, for even the basic recipes. There’s a new cook to help me in the kitchen, who comes to make dinner for us every day. I had gotten some veggies the other day, early in the morning. Turmeric was one of them, although I hardly knew what to make with it. Had known a few recipes but nothing that I could make properly. That’s why it was a big relief when the cook suggested a side-dish that could be made with turmeric. 

Known as Pachak, it can be eaten like a pickle alongside your usual thali and aids in digestion. We had it with a sabzi, and at least I liked its fresh taste. The husband found it okay. See, we all know that with new dishes, one needs time to develop a liking for a particular taste. But with regularity, this can be achievable. I’m certainly going to make Pachak more because one, this is simple to make, and second, it is amazing for your gut. What say? 

Recipe: Pachak

Fresh turmeric – I took four pieces 
one piece of ginger
 
a pinch of mustard seeds
 
juice of half a lemon
 
salt to taste
 
coriander and curry leaves for garnish – optional
 
one teaspoon oil of your choice
a pinch of asafoetida  

Method 

Peel the ginger and turmeric; then grate them. In a small wok, heat up some oil. Add the mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, and stir for a few seconds. Switch off the flame. Add this to the grated turmeric and ginger mix. Now to this, add some salt and lemon juice. Give it a mix. 

PS. Don’t mind your yellow hands; the turmeric might leave a stain or two, so keep your favourite kitchen linen away. I do so! 
 

Reflections in my mother’s kitchen

I had entered the kitchen to make myself some tea, and that was a rare case at the time. Well, not so long ago, I was at my mum’s place for almost a year, and this was after almost seven years of marriage. Being home with her after so long, for so many months together did feel special. But, at the same time, it was weird. I had become this different person, having spent more than half a decade on my own, running a home at my pace. So, being around just felt a bit different. Not that I did much of work that I was afraid to be judged. Let me explain.

So, one fine day, I was making myself some tea. With my baby bump, I didn’t feel so comfortable bending down to pick up the saucepan from a shelf below the stove. For me, being pregnant for the third time did have its own effects. The severe complications that I had before didn’t allow me to do any kind of work, hence I decided to just rest at mum’s place for as much as I could. And cooking was out of question. But that day, everybody was a bit tied up, and I didn’t resist much.

It felt like I had come alone in her kitchen after so long. There was nobody to ask me, what do I need? I thought, I have been in this space before, where I have never had any great cooking memories. Yes, I did help mumma stir her curries or nuts/grains/flours that she prepped for sweet dishes. But, nevertheless, there were so many images popping up in my mind.

Meanwhile, I opened the shelf below the stove, and noticed almost everything was the same. She hasn’t cared to buy so much of stuff or changed old utensils for that matter. But, she has saved them all like an expert! There were definitely a few items that she needed to trash, but it seemed it didn’t bother her at all. After living at one place for more than two decades, you hardly feel like changing anything. It’s amazing that mum never felt like changing things, unlike me, who gets a new thing every month. Yes, for guests, she had stored a few sets of immaculate steel dinnerware separately. And that’s about it.

I held an old pan, and wondered, why haven’t you trashed this, mom? Her stove is as old as the house. She’s never cared to bring in the bigger stove panels where you can cook four dishes at one go. In spite of her large number of guest visits, and frequent cooking sessions, she seems to be efficiently managing this two-gas stove unit. There’s no chimney either. While I start pounding my ginger, I realise even the sugar and tea jars are the same as well. I then realised that cooking was one of the only things that made me a happy, content person, and that I have to refrain from it now. So this tea better me good!

People usually feel apologetic when using their loud, old grinding machine, but my mother loves it when hers make noise. “It still gets my work done, so why should I throw it?” she’d say. Sumeet was a brand I didn’t see at all in the market recently. Didn’t she ever cared for reviews? She should get more dinner plates, spoons and whisks, I thought. Doesn’t she feel the pressure to impress others with new kitchen equipment?

As a kid, I could hardly reach this counter, and look at me now, in my 30s, desperately waiting to deliver a healthy baby. Did I ever imagine this day as a kid?

When it was my turn to get my Doodh Chai to room temperature, I looked back at the floor, where mumma served us three kids hot dalia (boiled broken wheat) that she mixed with ghee and sugar. How we siblings cracked each other after our tuition classes and happily mocked each other. Those happy meal sessions are hardly there now.

To my right was the kitchen window, from where the sparrows came and ate the roti dough that she made in the mornings. Mum never really minded those beak marks on the dough. And whenever fire broke in the kitchen, she handled it really well, protecting us three like a saviour. We’ve seen so much in this kitchen!

When hungry in the evenings, the kid that I was used to enter the kitchen and relish the leftover Kadi and Bajri ki Roti (made with a type of millet) that mother made in the afternoons. And peeping inside the little pantry (which has expanded now) for biscuits, tamarind jars, pickles, and more, was like an endless activity.

My tea or Doodh Chai (a mix of tea and milk) was now ready. It was time for me to step out of the kitchen. This is not my space anymore, I thought. But I really like how my mother has maintained her cooking space. Yes, there was a new fridge, microwave, and a brand new pantry, but majorly, she’s maintained the years-old things really well. You only need so much. And with a constant fear of forgetting the art of cooking, I stepped out and went back to my relax mode.

 

Mal maas

Here’s some religious gyan. Once a year comes Mal maas (the month of Mal) according to Hindu calendar. This time it fell from December 14th to Jan 13th. And one of the charitable deeds that one can do is to distribute pakoras (the importance of frying oil basically). You just need to do it on any Saturday of this timeline.

These pakoras (gram flour batter made by mom and fried by dad) will go to the underprivileged people and animals. You can also distribute it to your neighbours. There were sweet pakoras (made with jaggery) and spicy ones (with onion and potato filling). May be our ancestors thought that these will keep you warm in the cold climate. Who can tell.

Raw beauty

Nothing beats the warmth of a flavourful chutney on a chilly winter morning. This one was an eye-opener for me for I skipped the baby fenugreek leaves from adding to my list. I always find it admirable when you can create something in the kitchen in minutes; especially when there is a use of the healthy ingredients. And hence this chutney scores high for me. A handful of items, a bit of hand-pounding (oh, I love using the mortar and pestle) and a great aroma to go with it too. Try it and you won’t get enough of it! Here’s its quick recipe: clean and wash the baby fenugreek leaves, dip them in hot water once to remove its bitter taste, pound it with cumin seeds, green chillies, salt and garlic and there you have a fresh and earthy chutney to relish with rotis!

PS. I’m sorry I haven’t been so active on this space lately. I was on bed rest for long and this November, I was blessed with a healthy baby boy. But I promise to be back with more writing soon. Anyhow. Have a blessed and thrilling holiday time, you guys!

Ivy Gourd, anyone?

I could never get creative with this veggie that is Tindora (Ivy Gourd). But this quick recipe is just what I needed. Just like that quick cabbage Gujarati dish, Sambharo, this version of ivy gourd offers a fresh flavour and a crunchy texture to your Indian thali.

Also, there is something else I would like to mention here. You know the issue with the trending smoothie bowls that are made with nut pastes and nut milk, garnished with seeds, etc is that they just don’t look appealing to my tummy. I need these local recipes and follow the traditional way of cooking. That’s what I call food, and which is why you will never find those on my blog.

So, anyway, here’s how you can make this:

Wash and cut some tindora (I really don’t know what to call this as I haven’t had it in my kitchen before) length-wise. In a skillet, add some oil, a pinch of asafoetida and turmeric powder, slit green chillies, curry leaves abs of course, cumin and mustard seeds. Stir this for five seconds then add the ivy gourd to it. Now add some salt and cook this for 30 to 45 seconds, and remove from flame. Lastly, add some lemon juice and chopped coriander leaves and you’re good to go!

I like to have this salad (yes, it’s a bit cooked, but it’s salad for anyway) with my usual fare of roti and sabzi.

Let me know how you like this.

The meaning of love

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The young version of my mom and dad 

I often think how life is an on-going struggle; there’s something or the other that keeps on cropping up. I learnt the meaning of love firsthand from my parents. But did I see it as an easy thing? Unlike most of the couples where one of the partners succumbs to the issues, keeps mum, likes to sit in the corner babbling away, my parents are different. Both are extremely opinionated, have egos (at least in front of each other), like to speak up their minds, and rarely do they boast each other in front of people (yes, I have seen couples doing that a lot, not in my house though). These are the exact reasons why I love them, not because I’m their daughter, but as a human being too. Love is showing each other the real mirror so that no outsider can point finger at you. Love is keeping hope and being strong at all the times. The climb up the stairs is easy, but if you suddenly fall, that’s when it gets tough. When you sacrifice something important for the sake of your family and hold each other’s back, tight. I have seen my mother doing it umpteen times and it’s laudable what she’s done. Life with or without money is still easy, especially when you move towards prosperity and success slowly, step by step. The real test, however, is when you start losing it all. When you see people change around you. When there’s a long distance, literally, between you as a couple, and one of you have to keep the house chores going fine with whatever is in hand. Alone. My parents have survived that, and that is what makes them what they are to me. It’s easy to enjoy a simple life without any blots on your image, when you have nothing much to sacrifice, when you hardly give anything away that has your name on it. But these guys have stood the test of time, and have earned a solid rapport for facing the storm like a mountain.

But love can be tough too. There are times when you realise that the other person is not ready to change. There’s a certain way your partner might bring you down, and you just can’t do anything about it. You only have to accept each other, and keep going. Love can be so harsh at times as well. Your expectations go on a stroll forever, and you still have to keep holding each other so that nothing goes out of balance. And when I look at my parents, day in and day out, I see how love can be a complex thing too. It’s never easy, especially when the two of you have strong personalities, aspirations, a solid belief system, and the will to always do what you think is right. It’s tough then not to put your feet down.

But, here’s what I love, that is, when both of my parents are working in the kitchen. The other day, they had a small religious thing happening in our apartment. Mum had to cook something on urgent basis, and as usual, dad was with her in the kitchen, keeping his head down, helping her with whatever she said. So on the menu was moongfali ki chakki (a sweet dish made with groundnuts).

Mum had roasted the groundnuts, peeled and coarsely ground them and kept them in a jar during the day time. In the evening, when she felt the rush to go downstairs for the prayers of lord Ganesha, dad just stepped in out of nowhere. A usual scene this one. So, she started by boiling some sugar in water. If you have one cup groundnut, take a cup of sugar. Then, when the crystals were all gone, she checked the texture and consistency by using a big spoon. When one drop of the sugar solution fell off nicely, it was done. “Kya ab chaashni tyaar ho gayi?” I asked mum. She said yes. Now was the time to mix the groundnut that had been churned roughly (sift it quickly with your fingers to avoid any lumps) with the sugar solution. All three of us sat down where the platter was kept. Dad took the spoon from mum and mixed it the groundnut and sugar syrup well, slowly, making sure that it’s all done efficiently. Then, mum took the spoon from dad and scrapped off the skillet; meanwhile, dad spread the mixture on a big steel platter that was a bit deep, and tapped the platter on the floor ever so slightly. And it was ready.

A few minutes later, mum drew a few cuts on the groundnut chakki which was a little stiff by now. This was then transferred into a steel box to be offered to God and to be distributed later as Prasad among our neighbours who were supposed to gather on the ground floor.

But, just when she asked dad to keep the skillet in the sink, he almost crashed it there. There was a loud noise. Boom! And then mum mumbled a line that how he hasn’t changed at all. “Try to be careful for heaven’s sake,” she said to him. Dad gave a grin. There are some things you cannot change, right?

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The second version was made with caramelising the sugar in a skillet. This time, there was no water added with the sugar. So dad stirred it continuously till it all melted. Once done, mum added the leftover groundnuts in it and quickly made a soft dough with a spoon. She had spread some melted ghee on the kitchen platform, on which she then spread the hot mixture and rolled it with a rolling pin. After a few minutes this turned stiff, and after some more time, when it was pretty stiff, she chopped it into bits. This was bonus to be enjoyed by the family only. The next day, mum made some chikki with whole groundnuts.

This is usually how last-minute savoury and sweet dishes are prepared in the kitchen, with a little rough moment in the end, when you just have to breathe deeply and get on with it.

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That day, I realised it all again that love is an ongoing thing. And that you can never take each other for granted. Talking about my parents, they might not show their love to each other, at all, but it’s these little moments when I see them together and I know what the meaning of true love is.

Beginner’s tips to make your kitchen eco-friendly

I know it could be better, but I’m working towards it!

I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, and it started slowly. My ways of making my kitchen eco-friendly, as much as I can. And still, there’s a long, long way to go. I haven’t had the courage to take the important steps yet, but yes, the thought can be clearly seen. Here, I talk about a few things that a beginner can follow. So, if you haven’t given all this a thought, here’s where you can start to do to make your kitchen environment-friendly.

Throw away the plastic
I was reading something for a health article on how one can treat PCOD. And I read a point that said don’t eat and store food in plastic. This was not one of the main points, but as I research a lot for my articles, I happened to see this point and it really made me wonder. How can storing food or eating food in plastic hamper our health? Soon, I went a bit stubborn and swapped all the plastic with steel and glass. Removed all the plastic jars, Tupperware boxes, plastic water bottles, my plastic chopping board, etc. and brought in typical Yera glass jars (from the old side of the city), steel lunch boxes and storage boxes, steel wire-mesh and bamboo baskets for storing veggies, and glass water bottles and steel ones for gym/travel purposes. Threw away those plastic bowls that I used to store freshly-cut veggies while preparing the meals and brought in the steel ones. My office mates did ask me, “What if you have to move abroad? What about all the glass then?” But that hardly bothered me. The electronics are mostly made with plastic, and my garbage bin has a biodegradable, recycled plastic bag. Plus, the food stuff, like the lentils and flours come in plastic packaging. And of course, some glass jars do have plastic lids on them. But, I will try and remove those plastic garbage bags and the lids as soon as possible, and will try to shop in bulk in cotton bags in future.

Dump the aluminium foil
I got in butter paper and white mulmul cloth pieces to store rotis, bread, etc. We don’t care if the food is no more hot when we open the lunch box in the office, as this foil is not good for health.

No microwave
I do have an oven to bake cakes and cookies, but no microwave to reheat food. I know there isn’t much reliable information on how a microwave can be bad for health, but I somehow never liked the idea of cooking or reheating stuff in the microwave. When friends come home to party, some ladies do point it out. But I don’t care. I can’t give a solid backup against microwaves here, but it just means that we have freshly cooked food in the kitchen, and I do think that food comes with an expiry date and can lose its nutrition when kept in the fridge or a packet for long. I always make sure that I cook food and have it in a few hours; of course, there are exceptions when a curry is too tasty, so I keep it in the fridge and reheat it in a pan the next day. But, you do get my point, right?

And no tissue-paper roll, please
This was pretty easy for me, and thank god I don’t live in the US as I have seen people returning from there who can’t do without tissue paper rolls (they can almost go paranoid about it). My mum uses clean cotton pieces (that may be made from a towel or bed sheet) in the kitchen and so do I. This also explains why I have to do so much of washing, as kitchen linen needs to be cleaned on a daily basis, but that can be sorted. Why do I do this? First, it saves paper, and second, it’s in your head that your tissue paper is bacteria-free. If you dry your squeaky clean kitchen linen in the sun, you might as well consider it safer to use. I do use paper towel when frying something to absorb the oil though.

Bring in the jute/cotton veggie bags
This one is simple. I buy my fruits, veggies and other grocery stuff in jute or cotton bags. Yes, there are times when I’m out and I need to buy something, but I can’t predict those shopping trips really. I do try to keep a spare bag in our car though. Secondly, I keep cotton drawstring bags in my shopper bags to keep the tiny veggies like peas and beans in it. Otherwise everything gets mixed up after the shopping trip. And finally, I don’t prefer to shop online when it comes to veggies. I always like to pick them up myself. This way, I also get to see other local/seasonal veggies around the veggie market. So, this also in a way doesn’t let those cardboard boxes or plastic wrappers in the kitchen. I haven’t tried frozen pre-cut veggies that are stored in plastic bags at the gourmet stores, so that’s another relief.

Use earthen, steel and cast-iron cookware
We all know this, but when we start cooking, we easily grab the non-stick/teflon pan, finish cooking, eat up the meal and then nod that one shouldn’t non-stick pans. Thanks to the beautiful exhibitions in Delhi NCR area, I was able to collect sturdy earthen skillets/pans for my Indian cooking. And I managed to get steel and cast-iron stuff during my travels to Rajasthan. These are healthier choices over aluminium/non-stick pans. And it can only happen if you are mindful in the kitchen. Knowing doesn’t help, practice does. Which is why, no fancy, colourful cookware in my kitchen. But I do sometimes dream of those Le Creuset cast iron skillets.

Limit your kitchen shopping needs
I remember when we bought our fridge as a newly married couple in Mumbai, I went berserk at the departmental store. I filled up my cart with all sorts of fancy sauce bottles, and whatnot. But now, it has come down vastly. What happens is, you spot beautiful bottles and packets at the gourmet/departmental store and keep buying stuff. Readymade food to god-knows-what. I get a weird feeling when I see both mothers and kids going crazy at the shopping alleys, filling up their carts with crazy food items. Try to limit this. First, always carry a list. Second, try to visit the food store when you need to, which can mean thrice a week. This will not allow extra stuff to come in, but only what you need. Because, really, you don’t need so much of stuff.

These are a few tips that I can give you as of now. Next, I want to work on my food waste management, as my kitchen bin is a mess. Want to start composting food that I can and recycle the waste as much as possible. Next, I want to start using natural cleaners. I did try that castile liquid soap, but for Indian cooking (oily steel vessels and plates), that soap really didn’t help me; need to explore. I still have a few plastic trays left in the kitchen that I use, but mostly, there are wooden trays that you can find. And, of course, I would love to make my own bread, jams, cookies, sauces, etc. which will in a way reduce my shopping list. Let me know if you can offer any more such tips. Because, if we don’t care for our future, who else will?