No such thing as thandi roti

One of the things that I should learn from my Nani ma (mum’s mother) is her simple way of eating. She’s extremely disciplined in almost everything, and especially when it comes to food. You can spread a luxurious buffet in front of her and she would still choose her simple food, and her native grains. That’s the kind of self-control and discipline that she has.

Nani ma would add only a tablespoon or two of milk in her tea; she would make her food and eat it right away. There’s no system of refrigerators in her world. She would hardly use it. Her food is that fresh.

You know in the world where people have full-time jobs, a refrigerator plays a vital role. And why not. They believe that no food can go stale in the fridge. They are meant to keep food fresh and nutritious. But, somehow, my 70-something Nani ma doesn’t seem to be impressed with this technology. I would like to mention here that Nani lost her husband (my Nana ji) almost 40 years ago and has raised five kids alone; struggling her way to settle each one of them. So you’d rather not talk about money issues, work pressure and a tough life. Nani has seen it all. And yet, simple and fresh food has been her mantra.

When I got to spend a few days with Nani in her kitchen, the last time I was in Jaisalmer, I was amazed. I had to note down a few things that she followed. You see, I was no more a kid but a 30-year-old grown up woman who is still trying to find her way to work in the kitchen. There are these two worlds in front of me: the modern and American-inspired one and the traditional world of my mum and her mum. So, what did I manage to learn from my Nani in that cold month of December? I secretly noticed her with a corner of my eye.

First, keep the stove, the kitchen floor, counter and the sink neat. She would constantly wipe it clean, even if it ticked 12 in the night, to make sure that the place where she cooks is spick and span. There’s no quick setting that she does. Second, stick to the local grains. In her case, bajra (pearl millet) scores the highest. Nothing comes out of a plastic packet but fabric bags and tin/steel boxes. Yes, the choices can be rather limited, but she’s too busy to look at the food trends to change her kitchen staples.

She loves ginger and black pepper in her tea and believes in keeping herself hydrated with loads of water. She would always eat on time, and get on with work. If given a chance, she would never sit in a bed corner, gossip or only make speaking ill about others her job. But, she would keep moving. Climb up the stairs. Sit on the floor and eat. Take on those heavy bags on her shoulders instead of looking at someone to help her with puppy eyes. That’s not my Nani. She’s someone who gets up early and watches CNBC to check the status of the stock market and the prices of gold, fuel, grains, etc. Yes, that’s the woman I’m talking about.

Here’s the highlight, the one thing I want to share with you guys. She would finish making her rotis, and never keep the dough for later. According to her, a roti kept for a few hours on the kitchen counter is better than the dough kept in the fridge. No wonder my mum has followed the same thing in her entire life (though she does store it during the daytime and uses it by dinnertime), and this habit has come to me as well.

Why it works for me, you may ask. Well, I cannot eat a heavy meal and stay outside the kitchen the entire day. Which is why, I keep reaching out for that roti ka dabba (roti box). My mum used to make a batch of rotis (about six whole-wheat rotis and two bajra/pearl millet rotis) and store it for later. It’s the best thing because when you have those little hunger pangs, you can just grab this box. It’s either some homemade mango pickle rolled in a roti or bajra roti with kadi (recipe in one of my previous posts). Which reminds me, have you tasted thandi (dry) bajra roti with homemade butter (makhan) spread and tiny crystals of sugar lightly sprinkled on it? Boy! I could die for it!

Nani ma prefers making her rotis when winding up the kitchen in the night, and having them with tea in the morning. These leftover rotis (I have seen people only giving these away to street dogs) are nutritious for you, but not that dough that you might keep for two-three days or even a week, in the fridge.

Back in Bangalore, when I used to live a student’s life, there was a local guardian of mine (Deepa Kaki) whom I frequently visited. She would ask me the special home dish that I would want to eat, and all I would say is leftover roti (thandi roti as we call it in our language) with kadi (spiced and cooked buttermilk). I used to crave for my mum’s roti ka dabba, and to see those thandi rotis covered inside a white mulmul fabric. My heart literally poured for them. Burgers and fries? No, thanks. Thandi roti is my quick go-to meal any given day.

Before I end this post, I would like to mention that one thing Nani ma would always reheat: her homemade ghee (clarified butter). She would want me to do the same when I was there inside her kitchen. “Heat up the ghee up on the hot griddle (roti tawa) that we’ve just taken off the flame and then use it,” she would say. Which went like, “Ghee tapaye le,” in our local Marwari language.

What do you love about your Nani’s food habits?

An uncommon feast

Yesterday, on the occasion of Nirjala Ekadashi, we didn’t cook any of the common grains like wheat and rice in the kitchen for it’s considered the biggest Ekadashi of the year.

Apart from fruits and Dudh Chai, today’s menu comprised homemade potato chips, Rajgira ki roti (amaranth), potato curry, Sabudana ke khichdi (tapioca sago), Samak ke chawal ki khichdi (barnyard millet), chaas or buttermilk, lassi (sweetened buttermilk), aam ras (hand-pressed mango juice), Singoda ke pakode (water chestnut flour fritters) with grated potato filling that was served with coriander chutney. Mind you, all this was seasoned with rock salt.

The sweet dish of the day, however, was Aloo ka halwa (potato porridge). Dear dad was given the duty to make this (only he has the patience to stir the large slotted spoon continuously) and of course that was accomplished with some finishing touches given by my mum.

Here’s how he made it: Roast the boiled and mashed potato in ghee (until you can see the ghee on the sides). This may sound easy but it’s not, as you don’t want to brown the potato. Next, add a cup of hot water and sugar with saffron threads and cardamom powder to it. Keep stirring till the water and sugar gets absorbed well. And there you have it; it’s that simple!

So, yesterday, every member of the family observed a fast and rather enjoyed the scrumptious fare of food items that was prepared in the kitchen. What are your favourite potato dishes?

Goa in the rains

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It was my first Goa trip back in the year 2012, and a much anticipated one all because of the rains. We boarded the train and then soon I was greeted by lush green fields and hills as my window view while I read my Ruskin Bond book. There were lots of waterfalls, streams and tunnels that made my ride a dreamy one. Although I did start to feel a bit uncomfortable in my chair but the views didn’t let me care more.

We had booked a room at the beautiful Turiya – a boutique villa in South Goa. And when we made an entry, I was already getting into a calm zone, thanks to the fragrant incense sticks and candles everywhere. I was a bit disappointed to know that the bathroom was not attached to our room. But as it was an off-season, and there were no guests, I knew the space was all ours! I was pleasantly surprised to see the bath area and could see the designer touch that the owner Sandesh Prabhu had given to it. The open-air corner with a huge stone tub-like structure looked stunning, if not less. We had four days to be spent here and now I was thrilled!

The food came next and Sandesh’s sister and the caretaker, Tukaram, made us a delicious yet homely meal. I was already in heaven. The reading area or the patio with the drizzling rain in the open garden looked inviting, and we were already in a zen-like mood. The afternoon tea and snacks that we had made me totally forget about the long train ride.

I and my husband next hired a two-wheeler and I took the plunge to drive it. We visited the nearby beach, which was big enough, but as it was rainy season, we couldn’t really walk on the beach for long. It was getting a bit windy, and the tides were getting a bit high, which is why people didn’t allow us to go near the waves. But I have no regrets because what waited for us next was breathtaking!

We started driving around the area and discovered tiny yet clean beach corners with no one around. We parked our two-wheeler on the road many a time and kept walking in the bushes; and after getting welcomed by a secluded beach corner with a few wooden logs kept near the shore, it felt like a reward. Stopping on one of those tiny river bridges and laughing away without reason made me forget all the frustrations that the city life gave me.

One of the days, we drove a lot, so much so that there came a peak point where it was getting difficult to drive the two-wheeler, given the hilly road. We were heading to North Goa, I suppose. Luckily, I happened to look back and there we saw the coastal curve adorned with coconut palms and rocks. My metallic digital camera couldn’t capture the entire coastal range; it was that huge, the view. We just stopped the wheels and adored the view for as long as we could.

Sometimes, we used to park our vehicle to see young boys play football in lush fields in the rains. Those little pauses here and there were filled with empty noise but I totally loved the experience as I was busy soaking the greenery. And you know what, there were no irritating bikers around us that one usually finds during peak season. South Goa was lazy and tranquil at the same time. Soon came our last evening at the villa and I decided to go for a spa session at Turiya’s in-house spa. And that was like a cherry on the cake!

During the nights, we had the old Goan villa for us alone, with Tukaram somewhere in the kitchen area. And that was another experience altogether. While during the days, it was lovely to curl up with a book on a rocking chair in one of the balconies and watching people walk up the road or cats cross walls. And the yum and homely meals made it even better for us.

The neighbourhood seemed to be in sync with the weather with laziness in the air. We didn’t party with loud music or soaked the sun on the beach. But, what’s a relaxing holiday anyway? This was it.

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While going back to the station, we hired a cab and visited a beautiful church; I was almost out of words to see the grey sky in the backdrop. There was another secluded church that we found around the place; after climbing up the stairs, we could see the river Mandovi from afar. Ah, those early marriage days of mine when I giggled away looking at secret corners; after seven years now, I don’t think I would have been the same me. Just a thought.

A good thing about us as a couple is that we don’t take those mobile apps seriously. I mean, we don’t let five-star reviews run our trip. We can easily slow down and spend our holiday days simply without any to-do list. That’s something I have got from my husband; because only then you can face little adventures and your trip becomes even more memorable. I went to South Goa in July 2012; and I definitely want to relive those tranquil days if given a chance.

A hint of bitterness

Fenugreek seed is one of the superfoods in an Indian pantry. As a kid, however, and even today as a grown up 30-year-old, I haven’t developed much liking for it. And so, most of the times, I just remove it aside in my plate when I see it in my curry or Kadi (made with buttermilk). The elders in my family, however, love fenugreek seeds (methi or मेठी as we call). My dad used to try feeding me Methi ki Kadi–that my mum makes especially for him–ever since my childhood days, but I always ran away when he brought a big morsel towards my face.

With age, however, I have started liking the flavour it gives to the Kadi or any other dish, but there’s still a long way to go. Yesterday, my mum made Methi ki Kadi with a side dish called Methi ki Launji (or loon-jee). It’s extremely healthy as it keeps digestion in check and controls inflammation. But there’s more to it. Methi ki Launji is both sweet and tangy in taste, and has a hint of bitterness to it; at least I feel so, unlike my dad. The raisins in it add a soft element to the dish, and it surely gives you a break from the regular vegetable recipes.

Recipe: Methi ki Launji

Ingredients:

3/4 cup – fenugreek seeds, salt to taste, oil for tempering, 1/4 cup – raisins (soaked for half an hour), 1.5 tsp coriander powder, 3/4 tsp red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp mango powder, a pinch of cumin seeds and asafoetida.

Method:

Boil the fenugreek seeds (my mum simply boiled it for 20 minutes); once done, strain it and keep it aside. Now take a kadai (skillet), add oil (according to your preference), and let it heat up a bit. Add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and quickly add the boiled fenugreek seeds and the raisins. Now add all the other spices, salt and sugar. Let the fenugreek seeds soak in the spices for about five minutes and switch off the flame. Serve it with a parantha or roti.

I think when I start eating Methi ki Kadi and Methi ki Launji wholeheartedly, my dad would surely be proud of me. For this, according to him, is the good stuff! Make this and tell me how you like it.

Khoka, one of the wonders of Khejri tree

During our summer vacations in Jaiselmer, we kids munched on these Khokha pods and spit its seeds aside. It was something that was done while playing or talking to the cousins. It requires no cooking or washing. Khoka is mostly sweet in taste but not overtly sweet. When the Leeli Sangri (the green pods) grow up on the Khejri tree, they become stiff in texture (when not plucked from the tree) and are called Khoka.

When a bag of Khoka is kept in a room, its sweet fragrance takes over so much so that you can almost find it difficult to bear; but not me! I love it! My Nani got this bag full of Khoka for her eldest son, Deenu (one of my dear Mamas).

The nearby deserts of Jaiselmer enjoy the goodness of Khejri tree; each stage of the tree gives back to its caring keepers. No wonder people worshipped trees back then. And for someone living in the desert, each tree mattered so much!

It’s her day

My blog is all about my mother; it’s my personal journal where I save my mother’s recipes. When I got married into a different community and in a different state, I started to notice the difference and valued Marwari food, especially my mum’s hand-cooked food even more. She never gave us stale or leftover food; she knows how to cook a meal in 15 mins and we have always had freshly made food on our plates. Food trends never mattered for her, but native grains did. In spite of having three kids, mum managed the kitchen extremely well. Abundance, that’s what her kitchen is all about. Abundance of food to feed the family, nearby animals and birds and the underprivileged. Even when we did face a financial crunch, mum never let us feel that we have less; our platter was always full with healthy and flavourful food. One thing I have inherited from her is her love to feed the family and friends without praising herself. Good food is meant to feed souls not your ego; and she is the one who taught me this. For my mother and I, it’s not about how perfect the food is but how we can share with more people around us. I hope I succeed in my endeavour to save all her recipes through my blog; it might take years, but I hope I do my best. Can I cook like her? Not in this lifetime, but I will keep trying till I breathe my last. And so, today, I want to wish all the mothers of the universe, on earth and in heaven, a happy Mother’s Day! A mother’s magic never ends even if she is far away amidst the stars or just a feet away.

Eat like a local in Indore

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Welcome to Indore, the city that is often rated as one of the happiest cities of the country in newspapers. And why not? The city’s light-hearted people, vibrant food culture and slow life makes it a fun place to live and enjoy life. But for me, the highlight has always been its historic yet constantly evolving food scene. Local food here will not just win your heart, but please your taste buds, enrich your soul (hell, yes!) and leave a mark on your mind.

I wanted to revisit the busy lanes and tiny food stalls that I explored as a teenager, when I visited the city a few months ago. After attending a family function,  I had three days on my own. In spite of wasting a day visiting the loo (I surely had an upset tummy), I was geared up to hit the local food bazaars with my cousins.

First up, we had Poha and Jalebi from a nearby food stall that we have in Gumasta nagar. Later, we reserved our morning routine for the spiritual deities. We went to Khajrana Ganesh temple; fresh flowers, coconut and a box of sweets in my hand. It is said that people often come here to fulfil their wishes. And I had a small list to be taken care of, too.

My cousin had a little fight with a tempo wallah while driving on the road, and the way they were exchanging words angrily! Sweet! Indoris are too sweet to make a fight look ugly. Whereas in our Gurugram, even a gaze from another car driver gives me shivers. Okay, I didn’t say it.

So, it was me and the chilling weather of February and a lot of leg-pulling and giggles coming from my cousins when we went out to enjoy the food of Indore. I was their guest, and my cousins did a fairly great job as food guides.

Also, I would like to mention that Indore has come to be a pretty clean city. They have their segregated trash system in place, and you will hardly see any plastic trash in the city. In fact, no store is allowed to sell stuff in plastic bags. Even the most crowded of the food bazaars had big dustbins kept in front of their food stalls. The city has actually gone a lot cleaner, and that’s commendable.

And, so, here I bring to you, a round-up of the places I went to eat (it’s a serious business, I tell you!). Try not to let the hunger pangs hit you. My good wishes are with you! Also, I might have missed many, many places… but probably that’s why I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Indore in the beautiful state of Madhya Pradesh!

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Shreemaya Celebrity

Who doesn’t like to have lunch at a cosy bakery that serves delicious food and freshly baked goodies? We had a South-Indian meal, and it matched our expectations! This bakery (we went to the one at RNT Marg) has an old-world charm, and it was so good to see people selling cookies with a humble smile. I loved the vibe of this place. Before stepping out, however, I bought a few boxes of cookies for my husband. In my bag were Jeera cookies, Nan Khatai, Butter Atta, and Honey Oats cookies. The honey and oats cookies sold on the counter was the best. I was especially surprised to see the prices; coming from Gurugram had its advantages.

Joshi Dahi Bada House

This old food stall in Sarafa market offers a quick respite for people who’re busy shopping for real/artificial jewellery and silver items in this busy lane. I got to taste Bhutte ka kees, which almost melted in my mouth. And then came up the Kachoris; yum! Mind you, these busy food stalls are not meant to be fancy, so don’t expect immaculate and perfumed tables, if you know what I mean.

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Khopra Pattie

Vijay Chat

After shopping in Rajwada, we were too hungry to catch an auto and head home. My cousin quickly took me to a place nearby. I could read a huge board of Vijay Chat. My cousin Sonu and aunt Shobha (whom I call badi ma) promised me that I will love the Khopra Patties, and surely I did! The hot patties laden with spices, grated coconut and crumbly potato was a win-win! Ignore the crowd when here. Frankly, it was too good to be back in these busy lanes; I didn’t miss my swanky food hubs of Gurugram! I promise!

Rasgulla House

All right. So after visiting temples and spending hours shopping at Rajwada, we finally went to the Rasgulla House (at Gita Bhawan Square) before heading home. At first, I really didn’t understand the fuss about it. I mean, I like Rasgullas, but I can hardly eat more than one. What would be so great about this place, I questioned myself. It was almost evening, and there was hardly any rush at this shop. I could only see old people work here (it’s their family business, said my cousin), and was dumbstruck by the calm I felt here. The magic happened when the old uncle simply served some Rasgullas in a steel dish, and I took a bite into the utterly soft Rasgullas and couldn’t control myself from eating too much! I had 4 to 5 Rasgullas at one go, and oh boy! I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, come what may! You see, this is the charm of the oldest food stalls here that believe in serving good, authentic food, nothing more. These Rasgullas top my list of my favourite food items of Indore, and my aunt gave me a big box back to Gurugram as well. My cousin had a few Rasgullas almost every day when she was pregnant, and I was just not surprised. Have it and you’ll experience heaven on earth. Enough said.

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Chappan

As a teenager, I remember coming to the Chappan Dukan (where they say originally stood 56 food shops), late in the night, and during our busy afternoon outings, relishing various kinds of Maggi noodles, Sabudana Tikkis, Flavoured milk shakes, and much more! This time around, I had Cheese Dabeli, Twisted Potato Rings and a few other things (seriously, I don’t remember the names!). Before going back, I made sure to have some Cholia or Hoole (young green chickpeas) that were roasted and flavoured with hot charcoal and salt. Food hawkers like this become a part of your food memories. My brother has spent seven wonderful years in Indore, and he loves Johnny’s hot dogs (you cannot eat just one!), Dal Bafla (Shree Prathvilok’s), FYI’s awesome Maggi noodles (it has a creative menu that will get in a laughing riot), etc.

Sarafa

It was my last night here in Indore, and we cousins had to include Sarafa to make my trip all the more fun! Where should I even begin? We parked our cars, and it was almost midnight. And we started with Fafda chat. Next up was Sabudana Khichdi. Then, Garadu (fried yam; a winter food speciality). Next, it was Biryani. And we couldn’t stop eating whatever the vibrant bazaar had to offer us! You know, this bazaar is actually a jewellery market that converts into a food bazaar in the night. People of all ages come here and enjoy the food to the fullest! And for us, the winter chill added all the more fun!

Om Sweets

My aunt was too sweet to leave me without any food items in my luggage bag; she took me to Om Sweets, and it was almost the last food shop I went to. There were hundreds of snack/namkeen samplers kept on its counters, and I being indecisive, it was tough to select what I like. I anyhow managed to pick up a few snacks that included Fariyali snacks too (for those fasting days).

I missed out on a hell lot of things, but thanks to my upset tummy, my cousins had to spare me from going overboard. Can’t wait for my next trip! Also, try not to rate every item that you taste here. When the food critic gets in you, can hardly let the flavours do its trick.

Indore is all about its street food that is historic in its own way, and the people here surely value them too, along with the new restaurants that have come up. For instance, tiny sweet shops like Sawariya Sweets that sell pure ghee sweets like the Kesariya Peda (has natural food colour in it) that may be highly priced but is totally worth it. My cousin Khushbu loves it because of its natural ingredients like milk and saffron. These are a few of the things that you can take home, and also Jeeravan powder for that matter. Sprinkle this masala on poha or khichdi, and enjoy the flavour of Indore!

PS. While flying back to Delhi, I had two jute/cotton bags full of food items. You can understand my plight.