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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
We had moved to a new place in Gurgaon, and I had a brief introduction with my neighbour. Although we often bumped into each other and she would sweetly invite me for tea but I hardly gave any attention to it. Back in Mumbai, nobody ever called me for tea, in fact, my neighbours used to happily shut their doors on my face. And as it is, I used to be too busy sulking in the bed when the clock ticked noon, and it usually were hours full of anxiety or restlessness or just boredom.
One day, Shesh, my neighbour, called me to have tea at her place. In my mind, I was like, no way! Have I turned into an aunty that I would go to her place for a cup of tea? I don’t even want to have tea (too lazy to walk into the kitchen for myself). The idea seemed way too weird to me.
In Gurgaon, I have had neighbours asking me what do I do, and when I blurt out that I’m a freelance writer or that I work from home, they quickly nod with disinterest and disappear. Mostly, I only found housewives or women who worked from home smiling at me after a line. Anyhow. I knew I had little scope of making friends, and having no kid didn’t help me either. Why would any mother at the park indulge in a talk with a fragile, pale-looking woman like me? I had no stroller to take around, and no smiles or hellos. But it was fine. I struggled with my writing career, and was mostly stuck at home. And that was life for me in Gurgaon.
Soon came the day when I did give in to idea of knocking at the neighbour’s door for tea. A few cookies would be good, too. But, yes, that was the sole idea. I was a little conscious in my Kurti-legging look that I layered with a mismatched pair of socks and a loose cardigan. Winters ruined my home looks to an extent. Shesh happily opened the door and I shyly went in. Still too nervous. “Will she like my fierce, strong and wild thoughts about life? I really hope not to reveal too much of my opinions about my life. Look at her lovely kids; she seems to be blessed,” I had too many things running in my head, and I didn’t seem to care too. We will see, I thought, and took a breath.
While I was sitting on the sofa, Shesh went into the kitchen to make the tea. I followed her, and for once, felt really good to see a woman making tea for me. Her kitchen was spick and span, in spite of the three kids running around the house. “What kind of tea would you like?” she asked me. I loved the question. “Just. Normal,” I replied. She was pounding some ginger in her steel mortar pestle, and I didn’t feel like telling anymore. Ginger tea would be perfect for a cold afternoon like this one. She then added in some cardamom too. Even better, I thought. Shesh made sure that the tea boils properly before pouring it into two colourful cups. She placed some biscuits in a plate, and then we walked back into the living room. Why didn’t no woman make tea like this for me before? It already felt good.
And then, started our usual talks and question-answer rounds. This woman didn’t seem like others. She had kept that judgement button behind for sure. I felt at ease while talking to her, explaining my almost non-existent writing career, and a bit about my family. She was much elder to me, but there was a connection, and I loved how she dealt with her kids in a composed manner. Shesh told me that she never had a neighbour so close before. “This building has been empty for years,” she said. The tea that she made was good; although I did ask for some namkeen (savoury dry snack) like bhujia later on. And our time went by. That cold afternoon didn’t feel bitter that day in some way.
That was how a beautiful friendship started off in a faraway land, my dear readers. I felt almost alone in the city, with hardly any friends. And it was humbling to see this woman whom I could trust for life. We loved sharing food, and talks that we couldn’t share with our husbands or mums. It’s wonderful how during our tea-time we used to lighten our heavy hearts to each other, and felt alive again. Sometimes our talks were plain silly, but the positive vibes bruised our souls for sure. You start your day in any manner, but when the noon hits, there can be days when you realise what’s wrong with your life. But with Shesh beside me, those empty hours filled up with happy cheers, and sometimes roars of laughter. Yes, there were days when one of us would tear apart with little hope, but by the end of our meet, both of us would be fine enough to face the remaining of the day with a big smile.
This is why I say the glory of an afternoon tea can be immense, my dear readers. It’s almost hard to define. Somehow, it was Shesh and her pure heart that took care of a messy me. And when I found her lost, I immediately tried to fuel her up with positive thoughts. Our friendship was like therapy for the soul. And, today, there are so many beautiful afternoon teas to look back and cherish. In our last days in Gurgaon, Shesh took care of me like a mother; yes, there is a huge age gap between us. I might find it difficult to explain to people how we spent our time together. But who cares? I got a friend whom I can keep for life.
Next year, I plan to visit that city for a day and knock at her door for a hot cup of tea. I would, as usual, be folding my legs on her sofa before we start pouring our hearts out to each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
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.
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?