Saturday, 22 June 2013

Come to eat!

Borlotti Bean Soup

No wonder Melbourne is reeling under a cold wave – yesterday’s Google doodle told us solstice is upon us. I wake up to discover I haven’t kicked off my bed socks, and know it’s going to be a cold day. My early morning cuppa loses its heat so fast that I have to reheat it in the microwave by the time I switch the news on and settle down in front of the TV.

Hot meals are the mandate. Breakfast moves from cereal in cold milk to warm  porridge -  or better still raisin toast with peanut butter. Dinners are mostly hotpot type one-dish meals like hearty- creamy - buttery or tomatoey pastas, piping hot soups, stews, varanphal, bisi bele bhaat, khichadi saar…Even lunch needs to be hot – especially a work lunch - to warm the cockles of our hearts and to thaw our brains.

Working from home yesterday gave me a day of dalliance with the pretty pink borlotti beans - my first time with these most spectacular beans I had only seen on supermarket aisles so far.

I wondered if the pods were edible for they looked too good to be true. Google  showed me many recipes and photos – but the pink skins weren’t anywhere to be seen.

I gathered cooking tips on the Internet just like I shelled the seeds, delighting as each pod parted to reveal a surprise configuration - speckled pink on cream or cream on pink.

I mulled the myriad recipes just like I casseroled the stew, adding spice here and herb there until I came up with the most perfect soup.

The girls were somewhere in the vicinity of our downtown home and had said they might come home for lunch. But when lunch was ready I tried to call and SMS them without any luck.  Then I did what I should’ve done to begin with, what most of us Facebook junkies do these days… posted on FB – mentioning their names and exhorting them to- “Come home for lunch - piping hot beroltti beans soup and sourdough toast on the menu!”

I was teleported instantly to the busy, noisy, gully playtime of my childhood – in the cold dusks made dusty by our barefoot play. We would try to take in as much of the shivashivi (Catch’N Cook) tokkudu billa (Hopscotch) or lapachhapi (Hide’N’ Seek), beating the lengthening shadows to being “it”. 

Amidst our yells and screams, matched only by the chirping and crowing of birds landing on trees to roost for the night, would come mother’s call – loud and clear – Munna, Babi – jevayala chala! 

Our rumbling tummies would decisively overrule the hesitant hearts still at play - dinner was ready and we would drop everything we were doing – quick goodbyes to friends were flung over our retreating shoulders as we rushed home.

In retrospect, I think this was one cry we would respond to very obediently, at first call. And I seriously- I mean really seriously and almost guiltily - wonder why we couldn’t really hear her calls to come home to study or help her with chores or any other perfectly valid reason – until we finally heard the non-negotiable stern “Come home – NOW!”

Chala has been a pet word even with our dogs and cats. Our cat Ginger used to be the first one to jump onto “his” chair at the dining table the minute he heard me call everyone for dinner. Rajah our dog wagged his tail till it almost fell off his behind, for this was the word that signaled time for the leash free park. His chow time signal was a whistled tune, which Shadow the cat also learnt by association. To this day, 11 years later Shadow comes running from wherever he is, in response to this tune.

Jevayala chala जेवायला चला – come to eat (in our Hinglish) are words that are music to our ears – like mother’s description of jimana padharo, the booming call of the town crier extending a very warm and cordial invitation to a wedding feast to the entire Marwadi community in the neighbourhood of her childhood home.

Those simple folks wouldn’t stand on ceremony and accepted the invite on face value, without waiting for a 10-page gilt wedding invitation card decadently reposed on a salver of expensive dry fruit and lavish and lush “advance return gifts”.

And what a feast these simple folks would be treated to - sitting down on stretches of satranji rugs and eating out of patravals or pattals of Sal leaves - hot ghivar, jalebis, dal moth, spicy dal lapped up with ash-encrusted baatis dripping ghee, churma laddus… mother was as skillful at describing these foods as she was at cooking and so many things she excelled at…

Words have such affective power! A vicarious memory of a wedding feast more than seventy years ago, described to me some forty years ago. It is still ringing in my ears, just as my call out to the girls resonated with twenty of my FB friends, sending them off on their own wistful trips…

Borlotti Beans Soup

These beans are a new discovery for the family. The pretty pink beans don’t retain their colour, though. As if to compensate- they are so buttery and soft when cooked well. They absorb the flavours of the soup while retaining a distinct acerbic undernote similar to the hyacinth or papdi beans or lilva.

And that makes me think this soup can be made with any bean you can lay your hands on!


¼ cup + 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, diced
1 large red onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilli powder/flakes
2-3 cups vegetable stock (if available) water will do too
200 gms canned chopped tomatoes/ fresh tomatoes/ passata
200g fresh borlotti beans in the pod, shelled (you can use any lentil/bean- really!)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped coriander to garnish
Crusty sourdough bread, to serve


Heat oil in a large pan over moderate heat, add the bay leaves and after a few seconds, add the potatoes, carrots and onion and cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and the spices and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.

Pour in stock and bring to a simmer. Add beans and season well with salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until beans are tender. Throughout this process, adjust the consistency by adding water. 

Remove from heat.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil and garnish with chopped coriander.

Serve with crusty bread on the side.

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