Magic of aromas

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At my parents’ place, we sit on the floor and eat our meals (served in a thali). Nobody is allowed to walk inside the house with shoes on; so the floors are spotless and just perfect to sit and relax.

Funny as it may sound, as a child, one of my many fascinations was to eat at dining tables. My dad likes to eat sitting on the floor, so we never got one up until now. Which is why, whenever I went to my neighbour aunty’s place–who owned a fine dining table–I made sure that we had a chitchat at her table. If I got lucky, I got to enjoy a meal or snack too. But there was a bigger reason for me to wish to eat at her place: the earthy, aromatic food that she cooked for her family.

Kalpana aunty is an amazing cook, who can create magic with basic vegetables found in an Indian kitchen. Originally from Tinsukia, Assam, she has a talent to keep her recipes simple, without losing the essence of the grains and the veggies. This lady has been our neighbour for more than two decades now. And I could tell you what she’s cooked, just from the aromas that come from her kitchen to our common corridor. And, as you know, when you like someone’s style of cooking, it’s hard not to imitate them.

The picture shows one of her classic thali menu, Dal Bhat  that comprises dal (lentils), bhat (rice), patta-gobi ki sabzi (cabbage) and roasted papad. Roti, pickle and salad can be added according to your preference. The rice acts like a binding agent here. The dal’s aroma, the crunchiness of the sabzi and the papad, will force you to rethink before you call this typical Indian lunch menu boring.

To me, this thali evokes beautiful memories of the chatty afternoons I spent at her place as a kid. It reaches to my soul in no time, and I feel content right away. Not many things in life will really lend you such a feeling, people. I’d say, try it to believe it.

Recipe: Dal

  1. Soak a cup of yellow moong dal in water for about 15 minutes.
  2. Put the soaked dal in a cooker, add a teaspoon of ghee and a pinch of turmeric powder. Add water which shouldn’t be much; just an inch above the dal. We don’t want to overcook it. We can always add more water later. Close the lid and give it two whistles. Sometimes, I just give a single whistle and boil it later, if required.
  3. Whisk the cooked dal lightly and keep aside.
  4. For the tadka or chaunk: Take a small pan made only for seasoning. Add a teaspoon of ghee. Once it’s hot, add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, a few curry leaves, one finely-chopped green chilli and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder. These will splutter within seconds; make sure you switch-off the flame on time.
  5. Put the tadka in the dal with some salt. Mix well. Boil the dal for a minute or two before serving it (if required). Serve it with hot, boiled rice.

Recipe: Patta-Gobi

  1. Wash and chop some cabbage. I take half of a medium-sized cabbage for the two of us.
  2. Add some water in a pan. Once it starts to boil, add the chopped cabbage. After another boil, remove and strain the cabbage. This step will simply give you a batch of super-clean cabbage leaves.
  3. In a wok or kadai, add a teaspoon of ghee. Once hot, add 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder and a chopped green chilli.
  4. Once you notice that the seeds have spluttered, add the cabbage and sauté it for a few minutes.
  5. Now add a small tomato, chopped. Mix it well. Mash it a bit, so that it mixes with the cabbage properly.
  6. Add 1/4 teaspoon of red chilli powder, salt to taste, 1/2 teaspoon of coriander powder and a pinch of mango powder (amchur; optional).
  7. Remove from the heat and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Recipe: Mooli Salad

For this salad, all you need to do is to grate a radish. Add a teaspoon of roughly powdered mustard seeds, rock salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Include this wholesome thali to your weekly menu. Your family will thank you later.

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