Friday, 31 August 2012

Naan- pareil !

Butter Naan


Rubbery, leathery, too thick. Charred, uncooked, cold. Bitter after taste, too much soda, dough gone sour. The adjectives flow easily and the fate of the meal is sealed with the first bite of the naan.


Although it is considered an accompaniment, why do we lay so much store by a naan in an Indian restaurant and rate it by the naans it serves? Why do we drive more than 20 kms all the way to Templestowe for the naans that Saini of Rajbhog Indian restaurant makes?


It’s all in the naan!


Light, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside naan! Translucent, golden spotted naans glistening with butter! Naans that don’t lose their “break with the pincer” quality by the time they get to the table!  

In search of that perfect naan, I decide to take things in our hands and make naans at home. I haven’t ventured so far to make naans at home as we don’t have a tandoor oven. Can I really make them?  

Generations of coded information about making flat breads of various sorts come to my aid.

And lo behold! The family sit at the breakfast bar to enjoy eating the naans straight from the stove.

Although not cooked in a tandoor, these tava baked naans turn out as good as they can get...

Butter naan


4 cups plain flour

1 cup yoghurt

Milk as required to knead (approx 1 cup)

2 tbsp +1 tsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Salt to taste

Butter as required


Sieve the plain flour with the salt and baking powder in a bowl. Rub the olive oil
into the flour. Add the yoghurt and mix. Now gradually add milk to knead it into a soft dough. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil and knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover with a wet muslin cloth and keep aside for about 4 hours.

Heat a tava. Divide the dough into equal sized balls and then roll out one balinto a disc. Pick up the disc in your hands and then elongate it into a tear drop shape.
Place the naan on the hot tava. When the side facing you bubbles up, flip the naan. When that side is almost done, slide the naan on to the flame and cook like you would with phulkas, finishing the naan on the flame. Remove it from the flame, butter each side generously. Serve hot with any curry.
You can make garlic naans as well, by rubbing crushed garlic along with the butter.



Thursday, 30 August 2012

Substitution on the table!

Choysum (Sarson) saag and Makki ki Roti
 I am teaching the simple present tense to my beginner level Omani students.
Drawing a substitution table with columns for the subject, verb and object onthe whiteboard, I invite class to insert a suitable item in each column. We havefun selecting and substituting items and making a range of sentences






ice cream.




And so on...

“Miss, I don’t hate chocolates, I hate vegetables.” says one bright student, happy he was able to offer a new word and chuffed at the instant guffawing in the class!
The simple souls have more fun making sentences like “I hate spinach.” And “I love spiders”.  The list goes on until I think we have had a good drill. Then, I ask the students to arrive inductively at the rules of the verb in simple present tense and the subject-verb agreement...

At home that evening, I am picking greens to make a bhaji, with the vehement and almost unanimous choice of “I hate vegetables” echoing in my ears.
Is it their nomadic roots in the arid land, depending on livestock for food? Is it the imposition of the red meat, mainly beef eating culture of the western world?

Why has packaged and cheap meat substituted many of the ethnic foods in these countries? A neo-imperialism of sorts, or just is it just the generation?
I am lost in thought and don’t realise how I finish cooking the ‘takatli bhaji’ - spinach in a yoghurt tart sauce that my first born loves and my younger one is beginning to enjoy with her soft mashed rice.

Two decades later, in another hemisphere a new kind of substitution occurs all the time. Disappointed by tinned sarson ka saag as well as the apology of a dish presented by the “open till late” taxi drivers dhabas in Melbourne, I long to make the mustard greens in a dish that lives up to the expectations we have of this iconic dish.
Experimenting with new vegetables, I have discovered the Chinese Choy Sum, a kind of mustard greens and Silver Beet or Swiss Chard, a generic and therefore versatile green vegetable that can substitute greens ranging from spinach to colocasia leaves!

Sarson  greens replaced with Chinese choy sum, spinach with Swiss Chard , butter with extra virgin olive oil, chatti ki lassi with buttermilk from a carton, Punjabi makki ki roti made with maize flour made in US, sourced from an Italian gourmet store in Melbourne ...

I now have new items in my substitution for the table.

I love choysumsaag.

I love maizeki roti.

Choy Sum Saag

2 cups choy sum (Chinese mustard greens) washed and chopped

2 cups Swiss Chard (silver beet) deveined, washed and chopped

½ tsp or more lemon juice

½ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maize flour

1 small onion, cut into quarters

2 green chillies

2 large garlic cloves

¾ inch piece ginger

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp ghee

Salt to taste

Ginger juliennes to garnish

Heat a pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add ginger, garlic and onion and sauté for a minute or two.  Add the choy sum and spinach and stir. Add some water and the green chillies. When almost done, remove from heat and cool and grind the mixture into a textured paste. Pour the saag back into the same pan and add salt to taste, lemon juice and the garam masala. Dissolve the maize flour in a little water and introduce into the bubbling mixture. Take care not to let it splutter onto you. Stir and check again to adjust all the tastes.  Simmer for another two to three minutes.

Garnish with ginger juliennes and serve hot with makki ki roti.

Makki ki roti

2 cups maize flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (atta)
Salt to taste

Warm water

Oil for frying

Mix the flours and salt and mix a smooth stiff dough with warm water. Knead well for a few minutes. Roll out small discs and cook them on a hot griddle(tava) like chapatis, with a little oil on each side.
Serve hot with the saag.

This post has prompted my facebook friend and blogger Suranga Date  to quip poetically, in two languages in her blog post Home is where the saag is!



Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In God's own country...


It had rained earlier in the afternoon, but now the sky looks clean. The ground is still steaming from the shower. As we make our way through the shop lined streets, the heady fragrance of the yards and yards of jasmine strings in the market is pushed aside brusquely by the musky middle notes of the golden ripe fleshy jackfruit seeds lying almost lasciviously on the hand carts. 

When the senses recover from this olfactory assault, the base note that triggers hunger pangs afresh is the lovely aroma of yummy things frying in fresh smelling coconut coil! Mounds of golden cashews fried in fragrant coconut oil, seasoned with spicy freshly ground pepper, crisp yellow banana chips, brown jackfruit chips and crisp tapioca wafers, plump pozhampori or banana fritters!

We are amused by the ubiquitous bunches of bananas of every description and colour (from petite finger sized to obscene foot long ones, and from golden yellow to green to red) hanging in almost every kiosk and shop, even from the ‘paan’ kiosks!

Continuing to make our way through the milling hoardes of women in beautiful off-white gold-bordered cotton mundus and myriad coloured blouses and men in lungis hitched up to their knees, we are reminded tersely that we are late, there is no time to look around...

We finally reach the beautiful colonial Victoria Jubilee Town Hall, where we are staging a play titled ‘Aatishbaaz’. It is a Hindi adaptation of the ‘The Fire Raisers’, which itself was the English translation of Max Frisch’ German play ‘Biedermann und die Brandstifter’. The occasion is the Indo-German Cultural Week, September 1979.

Some people have already started gathering in the lobby. Oh dear! 

We are late- we shouldn’t have made that dawn trip to Kanyakumari! But what a divine sunrise we had witnessed! Then maybe we shouldn’t have lingered on to shop for those beautiful and dirt cheap artifacts made of sea shells, coir fibre, coconut shells... or perhaps we shouldn’t have indulged so in the heavenly sadhya spread on a banana leaf... 

Egged on by the director of the play, we rush towards the back of the theatre, only to stop dead in our tracks- what a serendipitous discovery of the beautiful floral carpet with a shiny tall brass lamp in the centre – we learn it’s called a pookalam.

What a beautiful concept! Geometry ensconces art!  The riot of colours and textures contained in stencilled discipline. Delicate white thumba flowers outlining and enhancing sections of colourful flowers, leaves, rice flour and wait a minute- what is that all pervading base tone of this mixture of fragrances – coconut? Of course, desiccated coconut! Is it any surprise?

We are after all in Kerala, the land of the Kera- or coconut.

The play our troupe was enacting, Beiderman und die Brandstifter, is a dark comedy about the self –deluding arrogance of the bourgeoisie who don’t believe they will fall prey to the evil. 

What better timing to stage this play in Kerala during Onam – a festival that marks the annual homecoming of the arrogant but generous King Mahabali after being humbled by Lord Vishnu in his Vaman avatar...


Avial is a dish that is a mainstay in the Onam feast, the Onam Sadhya. Made of mixed vegetables, much like other favourites of mine in this genre, such as oondhiyu, eshtew, lekurvaali bhaaji or the Konkani khatkhata, to name a few.


4 cups evenly cut mixed vegetables (raw banana, carrot, flat beans, potato, snake gourd (parwal) ivy gourd (tindli) drumsticks, yam, small brinjal)
1-2 green chillies - slit
½ cup raw mango
½ tsp turmeric
A pinch of hing
Salt to taste

Grind into a coarse paste
1 cup fresh/frozen grated coconut
1-2 green chillies
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 sambar onions, peeled
4-5 curry leaves

2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds


Place all the vegetables in a pan and add water to cover the vegetables. Add the chillies, salt to taste and turmeric.  Switch on the heat under the pan. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat and cover the pan. Stir from time to time. When the vegetables are half cooked, add the chopped mango. 

In a few minutes, add the ground coconut-onion paste. When the vegetables are all done and the water has reduced, check and adjust all the tastes. Turn off the heat. 

In a small pan, heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Pour this hot oil tempering on to the avial and serve.

The avial goes very well with rice as well as rotis or pooris. 

Some of us, including myself, can eat this dish in a bowl just by itself.

I also make avial with yoghurt. 

As I said earlier in the piece, I love these mixed vegetables from different communities. There can’t be a better way to express thanks giving for the bounty!

For an extrpolated poetic experience, do visit my friend and fellow blogger Suranga Date's Blog

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The summer of our content !

Kanda-Kairi Chutney (Raw Mango and Onion Relish)

and do visit my blogger friend and collaborator Suranga Date on her blog Strewn Ashes for an extrapolation!  

With the pre-final exams well and truly behind us, we settle down into study mode. Exams are just round the corner and like every year we have made confessions about hiding comics and novels behind text books (this year, for the first time it was Mills and Boon romances slyly scoring on the classics and hitherto favourite Enid Blyton). We acknowledge this and remorsefully vow not to do this ever, ever again (but how on earth were we going to READ!)

Summer school has started, much to my delight! Early start- it’s funny going to school when the baldiya (municipality) sweepers  are still at work, when some late straggler milk delivery fellas are rushing around their beat before the milk goes bad and when the  familiar rich timbered voice  on Vividh Bharati is announcing “Sangeet (rising tone- pause) Sarita!”  (The program showcased a raag, its aaroh and avaroh, a sample classical rendition and a Hindi film song based on the same raag). Usually, by now mother and I would be still be grappling with my long hair, me refusing to let her oil it, she sternly explaining the benefits of oiling, the firmness of her belief influencing her progressively tight braiding of my thick hair into two tight plaits, ribboned till the very end and knotted up again at the top , halving it into handle loops!  In between jabs with the comb to stop slouching (yes, that year I had started slouching because it was fashionable for girls of my age to bow to our self-conscious awkwardness about growing up) and my screaming at her pulling my hair, mother would say, “Tell me what is the difference between Rageshree and Bageshree!”

As I set out, looking around to see which of the galli kids I could walk with, I see mother buying some kairis from the bhajiwala, the veggie vendor. What is she going to make, ohhhh! I can’t wait to come home for lunch!

In just a few hours, as school gives over, the landscape has changed considerably. The sun has straddled the already baked earth.  The green-red tightly wrapped buds of gulmohor have warmed up to the sun and unfurled their petals, setting the sky on fire from beneath with their orange vermillion hues!  To this day, I landmark the day I see the season’s first gulmohor! But stomach realities bring me back to victuals! So what is mother going to make for lunch?

Kanda Kairi chutney, sadha varan, gawarichi bhaji (cluster beans or gowar) mattha (lightly spiced and herbed butter milk) and bhakri with a dollop of white butter.  A cold lunch laid out- no fancy or indulgent warming up of the food... yet...

Our study timetable is consulted and we are reminded of what we had committed on paper! But the warmth of the delicious (and heavier than the usual tiffinbox lunch on routine school days) meal has created a warmth within. Testing the waters, we blame mother for the delicious meal and guilt her into allowing one short nap. She relents.

The fan whirs on incessantly, the mogra garland perched around the long necked surahi lets out an occasional whiff of the sweet fragrance, the lassitude of the afternoon is broken only by the occasional overenthusiastic crowing of hyperactive crows, but we are too dreamy and doze away tracing rhythm patterns in the soothing  drone of the pigeon partridge...

Wasn’t this what morning school was meant for?

Life moves across hemispheres , the changing times enabling perennial  and universal availability of fruit and vegetables don’t allow the same  associative attribution to seasons, times, tastes and smells. And we enjoy kandakairi in Australia throughout the year, not just in the December to February summer season!

 Kanda Kairi Chutney

1 cup chopped raw mango (check for sourness, if required add more)

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup roasted and skinned peanuts

1 tbsp grated jaggery or brown sugar (again, depending on the sourness of the mango)

½ tsp cumin seeds

2 -3 tsp (or more) red chilli powder (I used the kashmiri variety)

Salt to taste

1 tbsp oil tadka made with ½ tsp mustard seeds (hot)

Whiz all the ingredients except the tadka in a mixer to get a grainy textured chutney. Add  a little water only if necessary.  Temper with hot tadka and serve with bhakri, chapati or rice. Good with idlys and dosas, too!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Your Akshaypatra brimmeth over!

Rajgira (Amaranthus/ Chaurai) and Moong Dal

This dish is privileged to be the impetus behind  two very interesting poems -one funny, cute and lighthearted and the other very sombre and thought provoking -  by my blogger and Facebook friend Suranga Date on her blog

And in two languages! The Akshaypatra truly brimmeth over!

...Draupadi was worried, she had had dinner and cleaned up. The Akshayapatra had been washed up and had lost its prowess and bounty per Surya Dev’s boon!

(So was the Akshayapatra a solar cooker that allowed the banished family to be fed without the need to light a fire? How nifty!

Did they eat before sundown? How healthy!

Or was it because the Akshaypatra didn’t have rechargeable built-in Lithium Polymer batteries?)

She prayed to Lord Krishna, her brother, her saviour!

(Did she sent him an SMS ? Telepathy... telephony... teleporty...)

Lord Krishna came to her rescue, yet again! He asked to see the Akhsaypatra and found a piece of vegetable stuck to the sides. He ate it and burped in satisfaction and appreciation!

(Yuck! How inefficiently was the dish washed! She only had that one pot to wash! And how could Krishna eat an encrusted morsel... remember your food hygiene! Where was HACCP!)

Sage Durvasa and his men emerged from their dip in the river, strangely full and sated. Embarrassed and fearing Draupadi’s wrath, they left without returning to the ashram for dinner...

(Why on earth was a sage in such a rage- anger management classes, rewuired much?)

Didn’t they have cottages with ensuite bathrooms?

If they decided to take a rain check, they should have had the grace to let their hostess know...)

Draupadi heaved a sigh of relief, her reputation saved, the second time over!

(This time not by the endless supply of sarees- LOL! that was another Akshaypatra! LOL! what is this with the endless supply of sarees, food, hubbies...some people are indeed blessed!)

(What green/saag do you think it was? Was it amaranthus- essentially a weed, but very nutritious and tasty?! Can you imagine your delicate darling spinach and methi growing in the forests?)

Was it Druapadi’s culinary skills, the magic of the Akshaypatra, or simply the flavourful green veggie that filled Krishna? Surely he was God enough to teach the sage brat pack a lesson?

Hmmm... that’s it! The vegetable was so tasty that the Lord was tempted to pick the encrusted leaf!

So, the leafy and unsuspecting protagonist of this tale comes to the forefront.

Amaranthus, rajgira, Chinese spinach... an Akshaypatra of flavour, nutrition, dietary fiber, and sustainability!

Rajgira (Amaranthus/ Chaurai) and Moong Dal

This is a simple bhaji or saag - almost a stir fry in a style that is very typically Marathi. My mother made a whole lot of combinations with moong dal, so I know the Rajgira leaves can be substituted with any greens, or even mooli and all gourds –I especially love it with snake gourd with some coconut and cumin ground together!

The stir frying / quick cooking retains the nutritional values of the greens and dal and the dish can go well with rice, chapattis, phulkas or jowar/bajra rotis. Tastes great as an accompaniment to dahi chawal, kadhi chawal or rasam-rice and also is a nutritional complement to these combinations of meals.


2 cups rajgira leaves and tender stalks, picked, washed and chopped
¾ cup chopped onion
½ cup split yellow moong dal soaked for at least an hour (will yield a larger volume after soaking)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (or more)
2 dry red chillies (or more)
½ teaspoon rai seeds
½ teaspoon jeera
¼ teaspoon haldi
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon oil


Heat oil in a kadhai and add the rai to splutter and jeera a few seconds later. Add the red chillies and fry for a few seconds. Add the onions, garlic and haldi and sauté just a bit. Add the chopped rajgira and stir for a few seconds. Drain the moong dal and sprinkle it evenly on top of the rajgira. The moisture from the chopped leaves will allow the dal to cook without burning or sticking to the bottom. Sprinkle some of the water in which the dal was soaked if required. Cover and cook on low heat for a few minutes until you see white steam escaping from under the lid. Remove the lid and stir the bhaji till most of the moisture is absorbed. Add salt to taste and the pinch of sugar (optional). Stir for a minute and remove from fire.

Serve hot or cold. You could even use sprouted moong beans- it’ll make the dish even more nutritious!


Saturday, 18 August 2012

The ordinality of pudding and prasad!

Kaneek Gulacha Shira (whole wheat flour and jaggery pudding)

We are sitting around on the steps of the Krishna temple complex, chatting peacefully or just looking at the scores of people milling around in the yard, greeting each other, or just enjoying a quiet reflective time with their eyes closed.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple, devotees stand, hands folded and as if in a trance in front of the altar. One has to be very careful while balancing the act of queuing up and grabbing that moment of union with their higher power. And even more careful turning away after the moment of communion. If one is not surprised at finding a fellow believer stealing upon them from behind and lying prostrate in utter humility, one might stumble on them. Some God-fearing devotees, self castigating sinners, inflict symbolic punishment on themselves. The common punitive measures are boxing their own ears or slapping themselves hands crossed- while chanting a prayer and simultaneously doing “uthakbaithak” or sit-ups. Startled by this caveat, some other timorous souls emulate them, to be on the safe side-  “just in case”!
A young couple accompanied by a middle-aged mother bring in a new born and reverently place the infant at the feet of Ganapati the God of knowledge to seek His blessings. Inside the temple of Goddess Durga, a young couple come in accompanied by a bunch of bachelor friends. The glowing wife is carrying an offering of a packed saree and a blouse piece, a coconut, a box of sweets and places it in front of the altar. She looks expectantly at the husband, who shyly but with shining eyes, slips a brand new car key on top of the offering. 
Cut back to the main temple. A group in a corner, its membership waxing and waning as people join and leave, chant bhajans to the accompaniment of a dholak, harmonium and little cymbals. Faith and childlike pleasure makes everyone take turns in ringing the shiny brass bells hanging overhead, their varied sizes and gauges producing sounds at different pitches.
The “raat ki raani” tree in the temple yard is in full bloom and the fragrance of those starry flowers compliments the sterile beauty of the carnations stockily woven into garlands inside the temple. A lovely aroma of cardamom rises from the tables where priests and volunteers line up to distribute delicious prasad. What is the prasad of the day? Mohanthal, beads of sweet boondi, beasn laddoos, pedha, shira, lapsi, squares of coconut and pieces of apples and other fruit or handfuls of dry fruit?
On this warm Friday evening, everyone in the holy premises is at peace, despite the noises of shrieking children, singing, chanting and bell ringing.
The temple is a great leveller. That is other than the “bataka”, Arabic for a “labour or ID card”that every expatriate employee must have,. The community is so clearly stratified that everyone is classified by the type of visa they are granted, the vehicle they drive or dwelling type they are allotted by their employer. Yet, on this Friday evening construction workers and chartered accountants, housemaids and housewives, clerks and engineers, teachers and car salesmen and topgun bigwigs surrender themselves to the almighty. No first or second class status here...
Peals of laughter and high pitched chatter- the children run and prance around in excitement barefoot, savouring the coolness of the clean marble floor and the freedom after being cooped up in air-conditioned homes all day. In their play they must have completed the quota of “pradkashina” for the entire family. Every time I catch a glimpse of them, they seem to be munching on something all the time.
“What have you been eating all this time?” I ask.
“Prasad!” comes the reply.
“But you had your share a while ago!”
“I asked poojari uncle for a second helping!”
“ You aren’t supposed to have second helpings of prasad, it’s meant to last for all.  And this is not just your second helping!”
“But the shira is so delicious! Why don’t you make such shira at home... then I will eat it at home!”
“Enough now, child! Let’s go! You have homework to do - don't forget you need to practice your ordinal numbers for the test tomorrow!”
By the way, I do make this shira at home, see proof below. But there is something about blessed about prasad that lifts the ordinary shira to such great heights...
Kanakecha Shira (Whole wheat flour and jaggery pudding)
1 cup atta (whole wheat flour)
1 cup grated Kolhapur gur/jaggery
1 tbsp ghee (for the fragrance and taste)
1 tbsp olive oil or more
½ tsp poppy seed
¼ cardamom powder
A large pinch powdered nutmeg
2 cups or more boiling water (depends on the quality of flour)
In a heavy bottomed kadhai or wok, heat the ghee and olive oil and roast the wheat flour. Keep on moving the flour in the medium so that it is uniformly roasted. Add the pinch of salt and poppy seeds halfway through. Continue to roast the flour till it turns golden brown. The best way to check if the flour is roasted enough is to post a runner in another room. If they can smell the aroma of the flour roasting, it is done. Add the cardamom and nutmeg.
Meanwhile, boil water in a small sauce pan and add the grated gur/jaggery and keep stirring until the gur dissolves completely. The mixture should not become a syrup, just a solution.  Remove from heat when the gur melts and pour it into the roasted flour carefully and mix well. Be aware of the spitting of the mixture. Cook covered for a minute or two, making sure all lumps have been broken and the mixture is smooth.
Serve hot in a bowl. You can serve it cold as well, but then, it is best served shaped into cakes. For this, pat the warm mixture in a plate and when cooled, cut into shapes.
In Marathi, this is called a khantoli!
Phew, made it! I was in a hurry to write this post as I wanted to meet the deadline of thr 18th of August- to submit my entry to Sangeeta and Jagruti's  event "Celebrate the month of Shravan!"

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Habit forming memories...and mango dal!

Kairi  Chey  Varan (Raw Mango Dal)

Come summer and all the provident housewives on the street would get busy with their annual ritual of making pickles, papads, sabudana papdis, wheat kurdis, sandages, haldi, chilli powder, masalas... the street would buzz like a beehive with their industrious and cooperative activities. They would take turns in going to each other’s homes to help out.

Each household would have bolstered their workforce with the relatives who had come to stay for the summer. Kids would be on holidays and in their elements in cool cotton summer clothes and hair cropped short for the summer- economies of scale in more ways than one- for example, the barber who came home to do our hair would give mother a discount for doing two heads in one housecall and mother would ask him shear us well so as not to worry until June when school started!

The scorcher days were far from lazy, especially during that period between the summer rains and the monsoon. The women probably had a timetable and workflow and someone probably event managed it with skill. Gathering in a different home each day after packing their husbands off to work, the ladies made huge amounts of pickles , preserves and papads. These were also occasions for them to catch up with the goings on in the small Marathi community in Hyderabad and of course, have lunch together.

As a gang, we kids would also know exactly in which house the mothers' group was going to meet that day and would turn up without second bidding at the pot luck lunch of generally cold foods like thalipeeth, dhapata, aamras poli, sakharamba poli, bhakari and kanda kari chutney, ambyachi dal, methamba... the list used to grow and how- as the women secretly vied with each other in their culinary one-up-womanship! 

By evening we would be full – from lunch and from grazing on summer treats like raw mangoes dusted with salt and chilli powder, ripe juicy mangoes, cool and salty munjals (palm fruit) and juicy phalsas. Noisy sentinels shooing bold and raucous crows and smart sparrows away from the stuff sun-drying on roof-top terraces, we would secretly collect our dues of the rubbery and spicy papad dough, the gooey and glutinous sour kurdai batter and the partly crunchy/partly chewy semi-dried papadis throughout the day and wash it down with gallons of sweet drinks like amba panha, spiced buttermilk called mattha or fresh lime! Although as all kids we thought we liked the sweet drinks the best, looking back, we now agree the best thirst quencher of those times was the cool and soul satisfying "khus and wet earth" scented water from the new earthenware surahis or pots! 

Among the many attractions and benefits of this communal activity was the sampling of wares when the mother came back at the end of the day carrying a share of the stuff that the neighbouring auntie had made with the help of all the ladies.  Although not very hungry, we would be excited at the prospect of trying out that little something in a small bowl or katori, and knowing this, mother would prepare a simple meal of rice and sweet and sour dal made with raw mango, to buffer up all the spicy accompaniments.

The special feature of this kairi (raw mango) dal was that it was made with the seeds or stones of raw mangoes. After the firm and crisp raw mangoes were cut (around the stone and not guillotined) for pickles and cut or grated for relishes, jams, crushes, etc. the stones were reserved  for throwing into the dal to extract the last bit of fleshy goodness and sourness!  On the days pickles were made, the large mixing bowls would be rinsed and the water rich with the methi powder, hing, chilli powder and turmeric would be used up wisely in the dal, or in a one dish khichadi or varan phal!

This was not the end of the mango seeds. They would still be cut open for the soft kernel, which would be eaten in its boiled state or sun-dried. In my grandmothers country home, the empty shells would go into an old rusty tin bath tub which stored kindle wood for the large samovar shaped wood -fire water heater!  What more, the clean and pure ash from this samovar was used to scour the huge brass and copper pots and pans!
It wasn’t parsimony, but the sensible and prudent thrift encoded into the genes of successive generations! Fortunately this gift has been handed down as an heirloom- and stands us in good stead even today!
I still throw in the mango stones into dal and rinse spice encrusted mixing bowls and blender jars into some dish or the other- old habits die hard!

Kairi chey varan (Raw Mango Dal)

1 cup well cooked tuvar dal

2 tbsp raw mango (chopped, grated or even a stone with some flesh on it will do- just check for sourness and adjust to liking!)

½ tsp roasted and powdered methi seeds

A large pinch of hing

½ tsp turmeric powder

7-8 curry leaves

2-3 green chillies (or red chillies) or more

2 tbsp oil

½ tsp mustard seeds

A teaspoon grated jaggery/Gur or more or less

Salt to taste

Chopped coriander


Heat the oil in a pot and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add the methi powder, the hing, curry leaves and green chillies. Sauté these for a few seconds and add the raw mango. Allow the mango bits to soften and then add the cooked dal. Adjust the consistency by adding water. Allow the dal to boil for about 10 minutes until well cooked. Add the jaggery and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped coriander. 

Serve hot with rice, ghee and the pickle of the day-  and don’t forget to fry some of those freshly made crispies!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Oh! Nooo! mother just said, "Let's see"!

Paneer coconut burfi

Late Sixties…Hyderabad...

The bright fluorescent orange colosseum like structure made of stacked nariyal burfi (coconut rough) perches on the little glass shelf on the hand cart. The shelf helps prop up the round coconuts piled up neatly against it on a bright red rexine sheet. At the far end where the vendor pushes the cart, shelled coconut halves are piled up very artistically, with their dark backs and white cups contrasting sharply. The vendor takes pride in his cart and keeps everything spick and span and looking fresh all the time. He even sprinkles water from a little pail on the coconuts every now and then.

How come his burfis are so nice and well formed? What a lovely colour they are- why don’t you make such colourful burfis? Why can’t I have a piece of the coconut? The cart looks so clean, why don’t you let me have just a piece? Why are you dragging me! Wait! Will you make coconut burfi at home today? I want coconut burfi!

The barrage of questions I had asked mother still rings loud clear in my mind.

So do her answers.

Because they use too much sugar.  These colours are harmful, they cause allergies. The coconut has been washed in water that I am not sure is clean, Let’s go now, don’t stand here and stare. Let’s see… Let’s see…

Over the years... in various countries...

I think all children hate this phrase- “let’s see”. It’s a sure shot indication that you are NOT going to get whatever is being contested or coveted…

But over the years, watching mother making all these sweets and learning from her I know she not only kept her promise, but exceeded her commitment… she taught me how to make and love these sweets, so I could make them for my children and loved ones!

And foster another generation of foodies…

Present day ... Melbourne...

“What shall I make for you on Rakhi Poornima?” asks the indulgent sister!

“Coconut burfi!” says the loving brother.

“Why not add paneer to the coconut burfi? Suggests his niece with the incurable sweet tooth and a wild imagination.

“Great idea!” says her adventurous mother.

And a nice new sweet dish with rich flavours and textures is born!

Like this Coconut Paneer Burfi

1 ½ cups grated coconut( keep the grates as white as possible)

1 cup grated paneer

2 cups sugar

½ cup water

¾ cup milk powder

2 tbsp or more powdered sugar (as reserve)

6-7 green cardamoms, powdered

A pinch of saffron

Grease a high rimmed 12 inch stainless steel thali liberally with ghee and keep aside.

Mix the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed stainless steel sauce pan and heat it. Stir the solution and let it come to a rolling boil until it looks thick and syrupy.

Add the coconut to the syrup and mix it well. After a few minutes add the grated paneer and mix well. Keep on stirring. The mixture will start thickening after about 10 minutes but will still look sticky. Add the cardamom powder and saffron and mix well.

As the mixture thickens, you will need to concentrate on it and keep on stirring it constantly. The mixture should reach a stage where the syrup has dried up, but the moisture can be seen on the bottom of the pan. Add the milk powder while continuously stirring. The mixture will dry up instantly and leave the sides of the pan and start gathering and sticking together.

At this stage, a tell tale sign to look out for is the drying up of the mixture on the sides of the pan. If it looks opaque and candy like, it’s time to pour the mixture into the thali. If it is not ready and starts to brown at the bottom of the pan, remove from heat and add the powdered sugar and mix quickly but thoroughly. Quickly pour the ball into the greased thali and compact it firmly and uniformly with a silicon or rubber spatula. You can use a flat bottomed bowl to pat the surface as well. Cut into squares after the burfi cools down, but before it hardens. When completely cool, it will be easier to separate the squares.

Store all the squares or burfis in an airtight container. Store the box in the fridge if you want to keep the burfis fresh for a few days. In my house the burfi does not need to be stored in the fridge, for obvious reasons.

You have to make this a few times before getting it right, but don’t worry, the mixture NEVER goes waste! You can eat it at any stage, like a jam out of a bowl, scraping semisolid mixture off the plate with a spoon or like coconut brittle- popping handfuls in your mouth! And if by chance the mixture sets and you are able to cut squares, they will not have a fighting chance of being stored in a box- they get gobbled up right away!

I am happy to post this as my entry to Sangeeta's Celebrate the month of shravan! and on the original event on Jagruti's blog!

And I must share this with you- something that makes me very happy and proud! 

Eminent blogger and my friend Suranga Date is a phenomenal poet writer! Minutes after I posted this - she composed a poem in Marathi - our common mother tongue - and then minutes later translated her own thoughts into English!

Oh! I am so honoured! So happy! Thank you Suranga Tai!

Kavitalihi- Suranga Date's take on Paneer coconut burfi! 

बघायला आलेल्या पनीरला
आग्रहाने बोलावतात ,
इलायची इलायची खूप खेळल्यावर ,
ओलसर उबेत चिंब भिजल्यावर,
दुधाच्या कोरड्या पंचाने
पिठी साखरेच्यासह पुसून
एका मउ गुळगुळीत ठिकाणी
सगळे आरामात पहुडतात .....

आणि कधीतरी
सोनेरी क्षणात ,
निरांजानासाम्वेत ,
ताम्हनात बसून
कोणा एका हसर्या चेहर्या समोर
शेवटची गिरकी मारून
आत्मसमर्पण .......

तसे क्षणभंगुर ,
पण किती परोपकारी हे
बर्फीचे आयुष्य !