Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rustic Reverie

Choy Sum Masoor Dal

Every so often, I have these bouts of “back to the roots” behaviour.

A photo, an object, a custom, a memory or even food that I cook can trigger this trip to where I came from.

On such occasions, one can spy me sitting crouched in my favourite chair as if I were seated on a “paat”, one of those portable pallet-like wood seats that we used to sit on for a meal.

The circumstance and mood dictate that I eat rice with my hands and out of a “taat” or steel plate, which is a departure from the “firang” cutlery and crockery.

What do I eat with this rice?

Well, it could be methkoot, tup and bhaat, (methkoot, rice and ghee) or just a plain “tup, meeth, bhaat” (rice, salt and ghee) with some lemon pickle.

These are “back to the roots” combinations all right, but don’t really qualify, as they are fairly tame and urban.

For anything rustic, it has to be going back even further.

The basic rule is that this rice needs to be eaten dry, without the well meaning but dampening interference of the daal.

Well, an exception to this is the plain cooked dal, with a slight grain left in it.

I am not talking about the saadha varan, the bourgeoisie daal laced with hing, turmeric, salt and jaggery and anointed with ghee.

I am talking about cooked dal, straight out of the pressure cooker.

"How boring!"- one may say.

This sounds straight out of an “art film”. One can almost hear the sounds of drumbeats in the darkness, while the protagonist sits on his or her haunches eating dry rice while a hurricane lantern (kandeel) casts shadows over the forlorn figure...

The distant drumbeats are syncopated by the sounds of near empty pots being scraped by ladles. 

Why do these people scrape the pots despite knowing there’s nothing in them? A very cruel, insensitive, inappropriate and almost anti-social thought – but logical, nevertheless…

The above is a good description of me in my fanciful “humble roots” mood and pose.

But far from being humble, my rice actually gets quite rich.

It gets embellished with tadka made with oil and mustard. You mix the rice with the cooked daal and some salt. Then you pour as much tadka as you dare/are allowed/ can stomach.

You may choose to enhance this experience with a dry subji, but it’s better with some pickle, the older, the mustier, the better.

A word of advice, don’t pull a Lady Macbeth, worrying about the smell of the pickle from your fingers afterwards.

Live in the moment.

Mind you, one has to mash everything together, savouring the feel, enjoying the texture, deliberating over the proportions and anticipating the taste. Then, roll the rice mixture into a ball and pop it whole into your mouth.

The most bucolic type of dry rice is the one mixed with some stir-fried greens heavy with garlic and with a smattering of some dry daal.

You can even crush the diabolical juices from the cooked red chillies in the bhaji into the rice, a feat you can’t attempt with a spoon or a fork.

I don’t need to tell you that I get teased for this. My younger daughter calls this my "gavthi" or “villager’s fantasy”.

I beg to differ - this is my rustic reverie. 

What is your gavthi, er rustic fantasy? 

Choy Sum Masoor Dal

We get these Asian greens here – they have a distinct mustardy taste. You can use any greens for this dish.


3 cups of choy sum or mustard greens, washed and chopped (take most of the tender stalks and leaves)
2 tablespoons split red lentils / masoor dal, washed (not soaked)
2 tsps oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp garlic, chopped (or less)
1 small onion, chopped
1 dry red chilli, or more, broken into pieces
 Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. Once they start to crackle, add the red chillies, onion and garlic and sauté for a minute.  Then add the chopped greens and stir. Sprinkle the washed masoor dal neatly over the greens.

The idea here is to allow the masoor to cook in the moisture and steam let out by the cooking greens and onions. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for about 7-8 minutes till the masoor dal turns soft and the greens are cooked.

You may add just a spoonful of water a couple of times if you notice that the bhaji is sticking to the bottom, but not more than that. Try and keep the dal on top of the greens, so that the moisture and steam emanating out of the greens will cook the masoor dal.

Add salt to taste and mix well. Remove from heat.

Serve with hot rice and a teaspoon of tadka.

Needless to say, it goes very well with jowar/bajra bhakris or rotis as well.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Wisdom of the pearls

 Sabudanyachi Khichadi (Savoury Sago Peals)

Come Shrawan and the kitchen would oscillate between feasting and fasting. On days like Shrawan Somvaar, Shrawan Shukravaar and Gokulashtami women would fast during the day and prepare for a feast for the evening after a pooja or a trip to the temple.

Sabudanyachi khichadi virtually would become a staple, not only for the women folk, but also for all at home.

In one of my soliloquies on the sabudana khichadi, I had made an observation that whatever the quantity cooked, there never seems to be enough khichadi to go around at a family gathering or function.

Even in the ordinary course at home, I can’t really remember leftover sabudana khichadi. Certainly not, when family members stake claims on the “kharpood” or the crisp caked bottom layer stuck to the pan even before they have spooned up a mouthful of the luscious pearls.

The day this happens, meaning the day you have leftover khichadi lying around, could be the end of the good times. Or an ill omen signifying the loss of innocence, youth, and the ability to digest all kinds of stuff and yet evade acidity or a blood sugar spike. 

I also said in the piece that I haven’t yet come across a person who doesn’t like sabudana khichadi, except for those with a peanut allergy.

But it’s time to modify and qualify this statement to – it’s rare to find a person who has a passion for the pearly dish and yet eats without a worry.

Unfortunately, the pearls can’t even exonerate themselves with any additional nutritional benefits, for except for starch, there hardly seems to be any.

Then again, aspersions have been cast on the pearls’ antecedents, implying a gory past and a mixed-blood origin shared with “millions of slimy critters”.


I have actually tried to verify this slippery scam by watching, albeit with half-shut eyes, videos on how sabudana is made on Youtube. Luckily for me, there was no sign of the said creatures.

Only a vast pool of white starch, innocuous, innocent…

I wish to stay with this impression forever…

This pure, unaffected, unpretentious innocence, I deduce, is the beauty, utility and strength of the starchy pearls.

Starch, a carbohydrate of high natural abundance, is the most common constituent of human diet. Perhaps it was designed by nature as a reservoir of plant energy, contributing a major share of energy required for the sustenance of life – making it the quintessential "subsistence crop".

Sabudana is one such pure starch. When mixed with peanuts, boiled potato, ghee, lemon and coconut in a khichadi, this starch instantly gains valuable Omega supplements, protein, iron, vitamins C and D.

The wisdom lies in using less oil or ghee or trying good oils like olive oil, substituting sugar with sweeteners and most importantly, eating small portions.

The perfect pearls are vindicated. I rest my case.

Sabudanyachi Khichadi


2 cups sabudana, picked clean
2 potatoes medium sized potatoes, diced and parboiled
3-4 green chillies (or more)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 table spoon ghee (optional)
¾ cup roasted and coarsely ground peanuts
½ cup grated coconut
1 tea spoon sugar/sweetener
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or more)
2 tablespoons chopped coriander


Pick and wash the sabudana with plenty of water and drain completely. Keep covered for at least 3-4 hours. Overnight is the best. The sabudana absorbs the moisture and swells. Test a pearl by rolling it between your thumb and index finger. It should be soft, non-sticky and pliable. If it isn’t, sprinkle some more water and keep covered for some more time. I usually rehydrate the drained sabudana at least twice by sprinkling water and raking the caked moist sabudana with a fork.

When you are satisfied that the pearls are separate, soft and pliable, add the ground peanuts, salt, sugar and salt and mix well.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds to splutter. Add the chopped green chillies and the diced and parboiled potato and fry till almost done. Since we get good washed potatoes here in Melbourne, I don’t peel them.

Add the prepared sabudana mixture and mix thoroughly. Cook covered for a few minutes. Mix again and add the lemon juice, grated coconut and the tablespoon of ghee for the aroma. The sabudana will turn translucent when cooked and let out white steam. Keep stirring gently to avoid lumping.

Serve garnished with the coriander and with some yoghurt or a wedge of lemon!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A soupçon of fantasy

Vegan leek and potato soup

My girls tease me mercilessly for having this fantasy of eating only soups and salads for dinner. 

The truth is, we are too much of a gluttonous family and unless we have gorged ourselves over lunch, we can’t bear the thought of having just a ‘soup and salad’, leave aside skipping a meal at dinnertime.

Apparently, I committed myself for life when I said, rather pompously (this is exaggeration) to this friend that “we have soup and salads” for dinner. Amidst more leg pulling and wicked introspection, I manage to maintain that in all probability, we had gone through a phase at the time and I was merely stating what was indeed a recent truth…

This soup is testimony that we really have soups and salads for dinner. Well, at least sometimes. Like on this cold, windy and blustery Melbourne evening.

A soupçon of fantasy is nice and indulgent, I reckon.  


2 tbsp EVO
4 potatoes
2 medium leeks
1 tbsp chopped garlic
6-7 cups home made stock (I made mine with leftover hard stalks of cauliflower, outer leaves of cabbage, one potato, one onion, some garlic, a small piece of celery)
Some of the useable vegetables from the stockpot – I could salvage the potato, onion, garlic.
Salt to taste
Freshly grated pepper
A pinch of ground nutmeg


Trim the dark green ends, the roots off and any dry skin off the leeks. Slit the leeks lengthwise to make their insides visible. Take water in a large bowl and then place any sections with soil in it. You’re best rubbing the insidious soil off to ensure the sand is gone. Even then, you will surely see some sediment grains, so it’s a good idea to double wash the leek lengths under running water.

Drain and chop the leeks. Cube the potatoes (no need to peel them if the skins are clean) chop the garlic.

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil and add chopped leeks and cook for a few minutes till translucent. Add the chopped potatoes and mix well to get the vegetables coated with the oil. Cover and cook for about 10 more minutes on medium heat. Add some of the stock if the leeks or potatoes start burning.

Add the stock and the vegetables from the stock. Add salt and let the mixture simmer on low heat for about 15- 20 minutes, until the potatoes are have almost dissolved into the soup.

Using an stick/immersion blender to blend the soup till it is creamy in texture. Adjust the consistency by adding some more stock/water.

Check the salt and season with freshly ground pepper and a generous pinch of ground nutmeg.

Garnish with some finely sliced leek whites. Serve with toasted multigrain bread.

It was too cold to eat a salad. J