An old melody

20171113_130232

I’m at my mum’s place these days, as mum wants to buy my outfits for my brother’s wedding that’s coming up next month. But I have decided to stay back for more as we need to take care of the Sangeet (one of the most important wedding functions for us). From selecting the songs to convincing the family members that things would be all right at the Sangeet, there is a lot that needs to be looked into.

Today, however, the best part came when I got to know that the ladies of the family (who are in the same city) need to make badis to mark the start of the wedding festivities in the house. When my mum announced this to me in the morning, I was delighted as making badis in the morning or noon sunlight on the terrace is something I could recollect from my childhood. I absolutely loved it as a kid when mum used an old cotton saree to make badis. Never did I care about its recipe, but it was just her and one of my aunts drying the badis in the sun and the whole thing never ever looked tedious to me.

20171113_124103

Mum soaked 1.25 (an auspicious number for such important events) kg of yellow moong dal for a few hours, and made its paste with a dash of turmeric powder. We took the paste in a white tub, a big spoon, a small copper jug (with water and mango leaves), and a copper plate (with kumkum powder and rice) for a little pooja (prayer) that was supposed to be done before making the badis. Now, not always do we perform the little pooja, but because this activity was only a signal of the start of the wedding preparations, the pooja had to be done. Each lady got a tikka on her forehead (with soaked kumkum powder and rice grains). There were a few plastic covers that we spread at one of the corners of the terrace that had some shadow. Then, there were those plastic airtight bags, a pair of scissor, a small piece of jaggery and a bottle of oil that neighbour aunty suggested to spread on the red plastic sheet before making badis.

Soon, the ladies started singing songs for lord Ganesha and drawing the badis. Some ladies drew broken lines and some of them created dots with the dal paste that was filled in the zip-lock plastic bags. The scissor was used to create a small hole before adding the paste though. These badis were supposed to be kept in the sun for the entire day. In the end of little activity, one of my aunts gave little jaggery blocks (decorated with gota lace) as a token to thank them.

20171113_232445

Later in the evening, mum, dad and I went to the terrace and brought all the badis home. The badis had sticked well on the plastic, so we had to use a knife to remove them quickly.

In Jaiselmer, we use badis in sabzis like Papad ki sabzi, Gawar fali badi kachari ki sabzi, etc. All ladies of my family have a bottle of badi in their kitchens. And somehow, it’s always considered auspicious. I’m assuming one of the reasons could be the many health benefits of moong dal.

Whatever the case might be, I’m always curious to know what happened in the kitchen when my mum and beloved aunts were growing up as kids. How tough their life must be and but, yet so beautiful. “Oh, we had no money. We never had the luxury of unlimited and family food. But we were still happy. Not like these days where people are always dissatisfied with whatever they get to eat,” says my aunt, whom we call Bhua (my dad’s sister). These days, there are endless kitchen products available in the stores that we fascinate for. I wonder who fascinates homemade things like badis.

The little things in life

20171026_094311 - Copy

In Surat, almost every snack stall, general store and even some of the chemists, sell packets of Thepla. When hunger strikes, Thepla is the ultimate go-to food item for us, especially when one is at office or is travelling. Packed with a small pouch of pickle, a Thepla pack makes for a complete meal. When I was studying in Bengaluru, I totally missed the snack items that are sold in every nook of Surat. That’s when I decided to learn Gujarati snack items including Theplas, as craving for them sucked.

So, there I was, attending one of Niru’s Cooking Classes. I was serious like hell. I had to learn Gujarati farsan items. If you’re living in Surat, you might not take the load of learning these snacks; but my experience changed that completely. The thought of making my own farsan excited me. From now on, I would be able to make them in my own kitchen, wherever I go, I thought. And, truly, it helps me even today. I live in Gurugram and no place sells Theplas. Mumbai still had it. Also, in North India, greens are available mostly in winters only. So, these days, I try to make the most of fenugreek leaves; given its good nutrient factor.

I remember my neighbour aunty’s daughter used to live in France once upon a time. She used to knead the dough with a lot of curd, and it lasted her for days together; her daughter could enjoy these even in France!

Initially, it took me a hell lot of time in preparing the dough. The ingredient list didn’t seem to end. With practice, however, I now know it by heart, and it takes me only a few minutes to add all of them at one go!

cropped

Garlic is the hero when it comes to Theplas. One of my brothers always wants the garlic flakes to be seen on his Theplas. You can, however, skip it if you’re a Jain. If you like crispy Theplas, have it fresh, right after you’ve cooked it. And, if you like your Theplas to be soft, make a pile of them, keep them in the Roti dabba (box) for half an hour or more, and they will turn soft. Also, you need to roll a Thepla into a very thin round sheet. That’s one of the secrets of making it well. You can’t be making it thick like a Paratha. Unless you don’t care of its resemblance to the original Thepla.

Today, my husband said he will have a long day at work. So I packed about six to eight Theplas extra for the evening.

If you are planning to hit the road, don’t forget this snack goodie. It’s not only delicious to eat, but is healthy as well. Also, if you have lots of guests staying over, and the breakfast menu is freaking you out, just prepare this dough and serve them hot and crispy Theplas. Make sure you have some mango pickle or curd to go with it, and you’re set.

Recipe: Thepla (the original fenugreek version)

According to Niranjana (my cooking teacher back in Surat), it’s best to knead the dough and make the Theplas right away. Don’t keep the dough aside; prepare it right when you will use it. No point in keeping the dough for long, as you might as well keep the Theplas on your kitchen counter for later.

Also, a lot of people in Gujarat and Maharashtra prefer sesame seeds to be added in their Theplas. I don’t see it in Niranjana’s recipe, and I would like to stick with it.

There are two secret ingredients that can be used to make your Theplas soft like clay dough that are mentioned here.

Lastly, if you like this recipe, secretly thank Niranjana Joshi for it, as the recipe is inspired by what she taught us. She’s my star! I still save the recipe booklet she gave me from the world, wrapped in a printed cotton bag somewhere in one of my bookracks. Holy stuff, this.

Ingredients

Wheat flour (around 4 to 5 cups)
fenugreek leaves (washed, dried and chopped)
salt to taste
sugar – 2 tbsp
chilli powder – at least 1 tsp
turmeric powder – ½ tsp
fresh curd – 2 to 4 tbsp (I use what I have in hand)
oil – 2 to 3 tbsp
a pinch of asafoetida
coriander leaves – chopped (optional)
rice and bajra flour – 2 tbsp each (I always forget to add these)
ginger garlic paste – at least 2 tsp 
green chilli paste – ½ tsp (optional)
oil to roast the Theplas on the griddle

Tools

1. Tawa griddle (I use a round cast iron one)
2. Wooden Roti press to press the Theplas while roasting (if you can manage without it, no need to buy it)
3. Rolling pin

Method

1. Mix all the ingredients. If you’re planning to go on a long trip, add more curd. This will act as a preservative and will keep your Theplas fresh for long.
2. Roll out a thin Thepla, and roast it like a Roti with a little oil.
3. Serve with a cup of fresh curd or pickle.

 

Collecting hope

DSC_0540 - Copy

I never got to spend time with my in-laws in my six years of marriage, as I’m getting to do so these days. My mother-in-law is suffering from brain aneurysm, and she had to admitted again in the ICU for a couple of days, as her present medicine is really strong. As I write this, I’m thinking to make her some masala tea, that she’s craving inside the ICU. The hospital is a strict one, so I will hide the tea flask in my purse and hand it over to the nurse. Hopefully, she will allow my MIL to have it.

So, I’m cooking a lot for my father-in-law (my MIL can only eat the food served at the hospital) these days, though I have to make sure that the food simple, whatsoever. I really don’t want to goof up with the dishes I serve to him. You see, my quest for cooking good food will never end. As I’m growing older (turning 30 this month), my likings are changing too. And rarely do I crave for a royal spread as it is. And, hey! It’s not a beautiful thali that we have at home on daily basis. Just the basic items. A green chutney, raita (yogurt) and a salad (for lunches) are enough. And may be a sweet dish, every once in a while (for dinners). You will never three curries/sabzis in my thali or 10 bowls of goodies on the platter at one go (hate Instagram for that, as the food pictures make me question the simple food I have at home). Just saying.

Mostly, a dish made at home turns out to be a winner when its ingredient list is small and its flavour intact. My in-laws, especially, are into simple food, and this is the one rule they go by. When I try to act like a wannabe chef and serve dishes that are complicated, it doesn’t go well at the dining table. For them, it has to be a no-nonsense vegetarian fare. I have seen cases of constipation and gas taking place after such foolish attempts, when I try to fool around in the kitchen. Actually, I’m still trying to learn which foods trigger such issues for them. And, with time, I’m learning to go with whatever that can be cooked simply, without any overload of the so-called fancy ingredients and dishes.

It was only two days back, when my mother-in-law came home after spending couple of days at the hospital. She slept really well that night, and loved being at home. It was Dussehra morning, when I asked her about the special dish to be made. She said Kheer. However, around 9AM in the morning, we noticed that she was looking lost for a few minutes, and we rushed to the hospital, fearing a clot in her brain. And the angiography report showed just that. After about a couple of hours in the hospital, she was transferred into the ICU. We three (my father-in-law, my husband and I) had spent 12 hours strolling around the hospital, and at 11PM, we came back home. She said she missed the watching the Dussehra festivities. And, there was no Kheer in the kitchen.

Recipe: Kheer

My father in law cooks occasionally, but whenever he does, it’s always a precise procedure. His Kheer (rice and milk pudding) is liked by us all, and we always try to copy what he does. From the measurement to the stirring, everything matters when it comes to preparing Kheer. During winters, he always asks us to prepare this Kheer often at home, over phone calls. Here’s his recipe.

Ingredients

2 litre milk
2 fist rice
150 to 200 gm sugar
saffron threads, cardamoms and its powder, raisins, coarsely crushed nuts (all optional)

Method

1. You need to wash the rice properly, and soak it for at least 15 minutes.
2. In a deep vessel, add the milk, and once it boils, add in the soaked rice (remove its water).
3. Once you add the rice, make sure the flame is in its lowest speed. And you should be able to see little bubbles in the sides, which means that the Kheer is getting cooked.
4. You need to stir the milk and rice mixture, every couple of minutes. Make sure the vessel’s bottom is clean; if you don’t stir from time to time, the Kheer will stick on the bottom.
5. After 20 minutes, check if the rice has been cooked. Also, now, you will see that the milk has turned a little yellow in colour. We don’t want a runny, water-like consistency. The milk should get a bit thick and creamy.
6. Add in the sugar, as the final step. After about five minutes, shut the flame. Add the seasonings, according to your choice. My father-in-law likes to keep it simple.

Now, as I write this, I’m waiting for my mother-in-law to return home soon, with good health. I keep thinking of all the simple dishes that she cooked for us, these days in the kitchen. In my next few posts, I will be uploading a few of the things that she made in the kitchen. And, I hope, this Diwali would be a really special one, with her at our side. A smile on her face, and her heart content as it always is.

What’s your special wish for this Diwali?

 

Words

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverised bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.”

– Haruki Murakami in Kakfa on the Shore 

Daily inspiration

IMG_20170904_203540_587 - CopyMonotony. We certainly need to strive hard to break it, constantly. There are so many things that can stress you out. Sometimes, you can’t stop thinking about how things could be better. But, then, you have to let go of your worries, and start breathing; once again.

As a homemaker, and, now, as a freelance writer, I have to find joy in every household chore. Cooking, however, is something that takes a lot of my mental work. ‘What should I cook today?’ is the question that kills my mind every morning. I do enjoy cooking; and when I don’t, I feel that something is missing; but, cooking, as a daily chore can be extremely monotonous. And, many a time, I fail to live up to it.

And, come on, I can’t be making pasta, hot and sour soup, Japanese-style salad or a chia seed drink daily to feel better. I have to face the veggies! Before preparing every meal, I see the veggies in the fridge and find none of which I feel like eating. Creativity and veggies hardly go hand in hand during the week, for me, at least.

Nonetheless, when you play with textures and flavours, you can, I believe, break the monotony. We never got new items to eat every week in my mum’s kitchen. But, still, almost all the dishes that she made, had us kids drool them. Like this Mirchi ki sabzi.

It looks hot, but it isn’t. It is tangy in taste and soft in texture (can be mashed easily) and goes perfectly with my roti or rice. What I really like about it is that it doesn’t go stale easily. So, I always end up enjoying it the following day also. I can imagine, in a climate like that of Jaiselmer’s, this dish fits aptly.

Till date, I haven’t been able to crack my mum’s exact recipe, but, that said, I’m not afraid of trying it again an again. So, the next time you see these green chillies in your vegetable market, add some in your cart/basket as well. I hope you try this recipe, and feel a little better about the ‘daily cooking’ process. Remember, we have to constantly break the monotony, or else. Well, or else, you might end up picking up the phone and making the food orders ever so often. What do you think?

Recipe: Mirchi ki sabzi (green chilly sabzi)

Ingredients

7 to 10 green chillies (these are thick and long green chillies that are milder than the small ones; don’t mix them with fat green chillies that we use for mirchi pakodas)
1 tsp black sesame seed powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
½ tsp mango powder (optional; I didn’t use it in my recipe)
2 tsp peanut oil or any oil
salt to taste
2 tbsp cream (I used homemade malai); you could use milk if you don’t have fresh cream
½ tsp cumin seeds (optional)
2 pinches of asafoetida
¾ tsp turmeric power
Method

1. When you buy your green chillies, wash them and make sure all the water has dried up before you make this sabzi. Now, chop them and throw them inside a strainer. Make sure there is a plate below. You basically have to remove the white seeds inside the green chillies; so, you can keep moving these chillies lightly in the strainer, so that the seeds separate.
2. Now, heat oil in a small skillet. Add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, turmeric powder; stir for 2 seconds and add the chopped green chillies. Make sure the heat of the stove is not on high. If I don’t pay attention, I end up coughing.
3. Stir it for a few times till you see the chillies more than half cooked. Now, add the spices and salt. The coriander and sesame seed powders are the winners of the dish.
4. Once you stir in the spices and let them cook for about 3 minutes, add a tsp of malai or cream. Now, add as your dish requires. This will soften the texture and reduce the heat of the chillies as well.
5. After about 3 more minutes of stirring, switch off the flame. I usually have this with hot whole wheat or sorghum rotis.

Life is what you make it

IMG_20170826_141114_016

I wish, life was as simple as this recipe. Hibernate for a few hours, strain all the negative energies out, and come out shining. But the fact is, it’s not. Hell, it’s worse. Even if you live life on your own terms, it’s still tough. And you constantly have to fight crazy situations you never dreamt of. When I see winners around me; people who can’t stop celebrating, people who are too busy in raising kids; people who are living the lives of their dreams, I wonder, why it isn’t so with me? How I wish I came out battling every fear, every negative energy I get from a few people and every regret with ease.

August-September is officially the worst months of the year for me. And the current record has a similar pattern like the past times. So, how do you think I will cope now? It makes me feel even worse when I think of October, as I will be turning 30, and believe me, I have achieved nothing at all in life. Yes, I have the best support system in terms of family, but on my ‘own’ grounds I have reached nowhere. But, here’s how I think I can save my boat from sinking. I’m joining an art class from tomorrow for which I was waiting for years. I’m extremely thrilled to pick up the paint brush–instead of a phone or a keypad–and draw something beautiful. I hope, I learn a technique or two and can pat my back for doing something.

How I truly wish, life could be as simple as this recipe. Hibernate for a few hours, strain all the negative energies out, and come out shining.

Recipe: Shrikhand (Sweetened Greek yogurt)

If you come home at 7PM and you want to have dessert at 10PM, you can make this Gujarati dish. All you need is fresh curd. But, my experience says that it tastes better after 12 hours when kept in the fridge. Sorry for the dreadful timeline. Life is tough, buddy. But this wait would be rewarding, I can promise.

Ingredients

600 ml homemade yogurt (shouldn’t be sour)
3-4 spoons of sugar
½ tsp cardamom powder
a few threads of saffron
powdered, unsalted pistachio nuts (fresh and crunchy)
1 tsp cold milk

Things/tools you would need

White muslin cloth (don’t take the stained one with which you strained your beetroot juice; no, actually, you can)
Steel strainer (I use a round, medium-sized strainer that looks like a small wok)
3 shot glasses (why? it’s the best size you can go for with this much curd)

Method

1. Cover the strainer with a damp muslin cloth (make sure you clean it properly; I wash it five times to remove all the detergent or dust from it). Now, slowly, put the curd in this; spoon by spoon. Make sure you have a deep container resting well below the strainer in which all the water can be collected.
2. Pull the four corners of the muslin cloth slowly and tie roll it till it’s tight. Don’t go ahead and press the curd with your fingers; it will strain from the cloth and come out. I have done this mistake twice. All you want to do is remove all the water from the curd, and this can happen slowly, and on its own. Just leave it to rest. Some people tie a knot and keep this curd muslin bag hanging on the kitchen tap, where all the water can dip in the sink. But, I find it a bit risky. Can’t see my curd falling down the sink. Anyhow.
3. Leave this for almost three hours. Yes, the yogurt will take this much time to completely thicken up.
4. After about three hours, you will be surprised to see the water. Mind you, this is whey protein. So, if you’re a health junkie, you can drink it to build muscles. Sorry. I was trying to be funny. Don’t ever get this thought going in your mind like me.
5. Now, remove the thick yogurt in another round vessel. Add the sugar and cardamom powder. And all you have to do now is whisk them with a ladle, whisker, spoon or whatever you have in hand. I usually whisk it for 3 to 4 minutes, till I taste the yogurt for sugar and it comes out fine. Also, you might find the yogurt a tad bit tangy, but, don’t worry. The poor thing was out of the fridge for three hours.
6. Take the tsp of milk in a tiny bowl and add the saffron threads in it. Give it a mix and throw in the yogurt mixture.
7. With the help of a tsp, add this mixture in your shot glasses. Once done, add a single thread of saffron on it. Store these glasses in the fridge (not freezer) for a few hours or say, 12 hours. Do add a thread of saffron on top, as it will leave a beautiful yellow colour the next day. And when keeping the glasses in the fridge, you will have to cover them. I just put a round plate on my glasses. You could use the fancy cling film.
8. Before serving, garnish the glasses with roughly pounded pistachio nuts. If the nuts are salted, ignore this step altogether.

IMG_20170826_143649_536

After eating my Shrikhand, I almost end up eating up my spoon too. Hope you don’t. Until next time…

PS. There’s an epic joke attached with Shrikhand. Back in the days when we used to live in Mumbai, my husband usually went to Matunga to buy our veggies and kitchen items. So, one day, he saw Shrikhand in one of the shelves. He was about to pick it up, and I stopped him abruptly. “Don’t you dare buy this Shrikhand! I will make it for you in five minutes at home! That will be the best,” I answered him coldly. “All you have to do is whisk the yogurt,” I added. “I can do that like a pro,” and I went on. And, I never, ever made any Shrikhand at home. I never made any.

It’s only now and the first time, that I made Shrikhand at home (in my six years of marriage). And, now I can’t stop making it. Dear husband loves it so much!

When it rains, it pours!

DSC_0431

I grew up in an apartment or condominium as you’d like to say. And my father’s house is still the same, since almost 29 years. Now, in our building, we’ve had many people coming in and going out. But a few of them have been living there since the start, including us and a Jain family. Almost a decade ago, when I was in my teens, a new member joined this Jain family. The woman happens to be one of the most inspiring people I have met in life till now, and we connected the moment we sat to chat.

When I first met Pooja, whom I call Pooja bhabhi, I got to sense what simplicity is all about. Pooja likes to live her life extremely simple, though she herself is a strong-headed woman. There are no frills or nothing fake about her. Her reactions are almost straightforward, and she is one of those women who will advise what’s right, and not what you want to hear all the time. So, when she smiles, you know she means it. What I also like about her is that she is a spiritual person, and believes in karma. In spite of being married to an affluent family, she never shows that every human being should have so much money, unlike most of the people like her, with whom I only feel suffocating.

Pooja came to Surat from Jaisingpur, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra. And I love her cooking. What was common between us was the hobbies we had, be it singing, seeking inspiration from the common people around us, cooking, and not to forget dancing in the rains. Pooja had to manage a huge kitchen as a newlywed daughter-in-law, but when she glanced the first pour of the season, she couldn’t control her feet. She had to rush to the terrace and enjoy the rains like a child. And I liked it too. So, I used to be back from school, and we happened to eat lunch or an evening snack together, and suddenly, we saw rains. Or, it would be a lazy Sunday morning, when we finished our breakfast together, and we saw the rains. And we knew, we had to dance in the rains at least once in the entire season.

After enjoying our singing and dancing session in the beautiful rains, we came back, changed, and met again to enjoy a sweet dish called Dudhi ka halwa (bottle gourd pudding). Now, I didn’t know that such a simple vegetable could be turned into a yum sweet dish. But, Pooja bhabhi did a brilliant job at it. She used to grate some bottle gourd, and make a quick halwa, and believe me, its satiny texture blew my mind with every morsel that I took from the hot bowl in which she served me this freshly prepared dish.

Dudhi ka halwa is very different from other halwas that are made of almond or wheat flour or semolina. Its texture is the winner for me, and the other thing that I love about it is the fact that it has minimal sugar. Yes, it still does taste sweet, but it hardly has any sugar in it.

So, the next time you see rains pouring, do go out, drench in the beautiful showers, and come back home and prepare this sweet dish. It’s only then will you be able to enjoy the smallest yet the most beautiful things about life. And just like me, you will find hope. Just don’t burn your tongue. 

Happy rains!

Recipe: Dudhi ka halwa (lauki/bottle gourd pudding)

Ingredients:

1 small- or medium-sized fresh bottle gourd
4 tbsp clarified butter
½ cup malai or fresh cream (I take the first layer of the fresh milk that I boil and keep in the fridge)
3 tbsp sugar or less
1 or 2 cups milk (depending on the quantity of the grated bottle gourd)
2 pinch of cardamom powder, completely optional

Method

  1. Peel the bottle gourd and grate it.
    2. Heat the ghee in a steel skillet on low flame. Meanwhile, press the grated bottle gourd between your palms and remove all the water from it. Remember, you don’t want to make this grated vegetable go dark brown. So, always be on your toes, and rush a bit faster. This way, you will always find the grated veggie white and fresh-looking.
    3. Once the ghee is hot, add the grated bottle gourd in it. Now, stir it continuously.
    4. The deal here is to get rid of the raw taste of the bottle gourd. I usually turn the heat to medium at this stage; me being impatient. After about 12 minutes of stirring, you will see that the quantity will go down slightly, and the veggie will throw out its natural aromas. This is when you know that the cooking process has begun.
    5. Now, add the fresh malai. I break all the rules here and add as much as I like.
    6. Stir the malai in, and now, you will have to solidify this malai into a khoya-style texture. So, keep stirring, and after about 15 minutes you’ll see that the malai has turned into tiny solid cream-coloured pieces.
    7. Add in the milk. I usually add milk till it covers the content in the skillet nicely. Let the boiling process begin. Also, you don’t need to cover it with a lid. It’s better to stir every minute then to let it burn under a closed lid.
    8. Once, all the milk evaporates, the halwa will leave out all the ghee from the corners. This is when I add my sugar. I take about 2 or 3 spoon sugar. You could add more if you want to.
    9. Let the sugar melt, and you can shut the flame.

Note: When you taste the halwa when it’s still in the skillet, you might find it a tad bit feeka or sugarless. This is because when it cools down, it gets its sweetness. In short, less is more, when it comes to sugar in Dudhi ka halwa.