Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Like my friend Cheri while I too love Madhur Jaffrey's Recipes (they are simply AWESOME) our Cuisine is different because I belong to a a very individualistic Community of Hindus called The Goud Saraswat Brahmins---and we are the only Brahmins who ate Fish in Ancient times.We are so called because we are the descendants of a community of Brahmins that lived along the banks of the legendary Saraswati River now extinct.We worshipped the Dieties Shiva,Vishnu,Devi,Surya and Ganesha.After the River dried up,following instructions of our patron Sage Saraswati Muni we panned out--some migrating further North in The Punjab and Kashmir but a large segment moved West to the coastal belt called the Konkan and settled in the Konkan belt of the States of Maharashra,Goa,Karnataka and Kerala--all speaking different dialects of a basic language Konkani.
We also retained our individuality in our form of cooking--besides the other Aromatic Spices the main base for our Spice or Masala Powders is the liberal use of Coriander and Sesame Seeds as well as Dry Red Chillies.This sets our cuisine apart from the other South Western Cuisines and makes for a really spicy,pungent and hot cuisine which can at times set one's taste buds scorching due to the heat involved.The Food cooked by our Northern cousins--the Kashmiri Pandits---- too has a deliciously unique taste but the Western one has a robustness of texture and flavour thanks to the liberal use of Spices.We use stuff like Nag Kesar or tiny Cassia Buds,an edible Lichen dried to produce Dagad Phool or Stone Flower as well as the round brownish Tirphal or Tepal--a form of Chinese Szechuan Peppers found in the coastal belt of the Indian West Coast.Thus the large number of Spices that we use in varying proportions can be pretty bewildering till one gets the hang of it!!
Besides in our home we cook according to 3 different styles--Mumbaikari,Kolhapuri and Konkani.Sudhir's family settled generations back in Mumbai--hence that branch belonged to the "Mumbaikari" Saraswats. These people were very fond of Food and used the traditional base of Coriander and Sesame Seeds along with 4-5 other Spices to enhance their cooking.They even cooked green Cashews, Green Almonds and Green Pistachioes as dry Vegetables or Curries specially during their Weddings. Basically Fish eaters very few of them ate Meat,Chicken and Eggs--and this included Sudhir's father and my maternal Grandma.My father hailed from Kolhapur and as a result the Food had Spices but also a lot of Red Chillies in the preparations--so again the Spice Quotient differed!!Finally the Konkanis--Mummy hailed from Saawant Waadi in the Konkan and therefore this form of cooking is a paradox--the simplest as well as the most complex!!It is the Konkani Fish Curries and certain Vegetable Curries that are the best cooked in that style I must also mention the delicious mixed Grain deep fried Puri like "VadeY eaten with a spicy Chicken Curry.This dish is called "Kombdi Vadey.While I love Konkani Food I simply adore the Mumbaikari way of cooking Shell Fish--specially Crabs which always turn out so delectably delicious and succulent--the Spices just enhancing their basic flavour!!For Meat and Chicken nothing can beat the fiery robustness of the Kolhapuri style--why just Meat and Chicken--- even the Vegetarian stuffed tiny Egg Plants taste simply divine when cooked according to this method!!
Making these 3 different type of Spice Powders or Masalas need precision for even a wee bit extra of any spice can alter the equation and throw it out of gear.Most of my recipes are cooked using the measures used by my Great Grandmas,Grandmas,MIL and my mother--I have inherited a very cherished Mantle from the Matriarchs in our family---hence mine not to alter anything but the amount of Ghee,Oil and Coconut content!!
P.S. If you need a particular Spice Powder recipe do ask me--it will be shared with you honestly--no Secrets shall be held back!!
Saturday, July 27, 2013
When I got married I had just the bare knowledge about cooking---gathered from our cooks and my mother--both of which did not take too kindly to teaching me the basics!! The cooks were at least deferential to their employer's daughter but Mummy was the worst--she never allowed for any mistakes and honestly believed in there being no gain without pain!!With her one had to begin at the bottom--and she trained me to begin at the lowest rung--grinding the Masalas or Spice Pastes using sheer muscle power to pulverise all the ingredients to an extremely fine paste.The next step was to measure out the Spices using my fingers--till today I need to do just that to correctly measure stuff out.Each Spice is measured out in the old age method and then remeasured using a Tea Spoon to find the correct corresponding measure---the precision is necessary when writing out my Recipes.
I always had an adventurous streak and would spend some time in the Kitchen cooking up some ideas that I had--and Daddy was my biggest fan--no matter how it turned out, he could swallow huge amounts with loads of vocal appreciation.Mummy though was a different kettle of Fish altogether--poking about,finding and enlarging the faults with ruthlessly brutal criticism--baring my mistakes and then telling exactly how and where I'd gone wrong!!I still remember Sudhir had not liked the Meat Curry I had cooked when he was visiting us just before our Wedding---Daddy was very hurt at his absolutely frank criticism regarding the dish!!After our marriage however he gradually became my staunchest supporter and biggest fan---and loved sampling the North Indian fare I'd cook sometimes.My biggest support however was his sister Suhas--who would travel from the distant suburb of Khar to our home in Cumballa Hill just to teach me how to cook our traditional Recipes--this is something I just cannot thank her enough for--so a huge part of the appreciation I get is thanks mainly to her selfless efforts!!
Later a few cooking classes taught me the finer points of Mughlai Food and some old Recipes gleaned from both my fiesty Grandmas--very perky and sharp even in their 70s and 80s--added to my repertoire making me bolder into venturing into new territory.In the 1970s Lebanese Cooking became exceedingly popular among Indians--particularly the Hummus,Baba Ghanoush and Falafal--as these were predominantly Vegetarian--and soon became apart of our Kitty Party fare--for we each tried to outdo the other!!However it was when I cooked some Mediterranean Dish that Sudhir was forced to protest--"No Experiments anymore" he declared.That was his initial reaction even after I tried out the Mughlai Recipes that I learnt to cook in the Cooking Classes.His protests unfortunately were drowned out by the rest of the family who clamoured for my Biryani and Murg Mussallam vociferously !!Besides by now Daddy had passed away and Mummy had returned home to Bombay from Mauritius and it was a matter of pride for her that I should turn into an excellent cook!!Now began gruelling training sessions---learning to fry the Onions to perfect crispness as well as the perfect way to cook Kashmiri Rogan Josh to Restaurant quality definitely was a challenge and for once even my husband would tuck in without a demur!!
It was much later the real challenge presented itself--when the free flow of the Ghee,Oil and Cream was reduced in use and the taste began altering alarmingly--somehow it was never the same!!Then began the usage of Non-Stick cookware--frightfully expensive but luckily it restored the earlier taste in much less Ghee and oil.Hung fresh Yogurt replaced the thick Cream and once more balance was restored.Those days Mummy would constantly watch the Cookery programs and each time she got excited about a Recipe she'd call me and discuss it at length.I would listen but then never could understand why it excited her so much--but today I do.Just recently a name of a Chicken dish called "Bori" Chicken piqued my curiosity."Bori" in Hindi means a Jute sack--how can a Recipe be named after a sack?I still do not have the answer but the dish I cooked turned out to be fabulous and so easy to make!!It is a rustic dish in which too much patience is not needed.Just chop the Onion,Ginger,Garlic,Green Chillies and a bunch of Coriander Leaves fine and roast these in a frying pan till a bit charred.Grind these to make a paste.Mix in Salt,Garam Masala Powder along with fresh Yogurt to the ground fresh Spice paste and marinate the raw Chicken in this for an hour.Heat Oil,add 5-6 Green cardamoms to it and when these turn aromatic add some Raisins(I don't) if desired and the marinated Chicken.Mix well and cook covered on a low flame till done.Tastes absolutely great with Rice or Bread--any kind!!Something like a dish to be transported in a sack and cooked in a Camp--hence maybe "Bori" Chicken!!
Another wonderful dish that I've become really fond of cooking is Junglee "Maas"."Maas" means Meat and this tastes equally good with any kind of Meat.In the old days this would be cooked over Royal Camp fires during the Hunting Season in Rajasthan or as it was called then--Rajputana and the Meat could range from Venison or Wild Boar to mundane Lamb,Goat,Rabbit or Chicken.The skinned Meat would be cut up into bite sized chunks,marinated with a little Salt and coarsely ground dry Red Chillies.A heavy bottomed Pan would be heated and Ghee would be added to it.The Meat would be added and cooked stirring constantly till it was roasted in it's own juices.This is supposed to be a very Ghee filled dish--for Rice would be eaten with the flavoured Ghee curry!!I have modified it a little.I marinate my Meat or Chicken in Salt,2-3 tablespoons Lemon Juice,coarsely ground dry Red Chillies and a little Olive Oil.I leave it to marinate overnight in my 'Fridge and the next morning cook it covered in a Cast Iron Casserole with either a little Ghee or Olive Oil on a low flame till cooked through.Guess one could even bake this in the Oven at 180 Degrees celcius for about 30-45 minutes depending on the thickness of the Meat.
As I age I find myself looking for the rich,robust tastes of my childhood--I long to eat the simple yet rich food we ate--replete as it was with Spices,Ghee and flavour--not to forget those deliciously yummy Desserts--thick,creamy and rich!!
Friday, July 26, 2013
As I grow older it's amusing to analyse myself and find certain Family traits that I have begun developing as I age--most of these are new additions!!There are a lot of traits in common with my Parents,Uncles and Aunts on both sides as well as my Grandmas too.According to my Sayali we belong to a truly mad cap Family or as our oldest grandchild Trisha puts it "totally Dysfunctional"!!The Gene pool I spring from is pretty confusing.My mother and my husband Sudhir were first cousins as are again Sudhir and I.my father loved quizzing our guests by asking them to solve this Riddle "My daughter and I share a Grandma-in Law--guess how?" or "my daughter and my grandchild share a common Great Grandma--guess how?"Daddy'd explain the relationship patiently but some how it was always too confusing for our Family friends to understand!!
Today I see so many of those amusing quirks becoming a part of me.For instance my paternal Grandma,Akka would love to sit in the Doorway of our ancestral home in Kolhapur each evening and watch the World pass by--replying to the greetings essayed by those whom she considered worthy of her attention and ignoring those whom she disliked.Her favourite manner to pass Time in Bombay was to sit in our Balconies and keep up a running commentary on everything that would take place outside.After we shifted here in 1975 she loved to sit in our Balcony.There was a beautiful "Waadi" of Coconut Palms just beyond our Boundary wall and this was dotted by single storey Cottages with Red tiled roofs populated by Mill hands.There used to be Marquees permanently set up--for there would be a steady flow of activity constantly taking place there---Weddings,Engagements,Naming Ceremonies and Religious Functions going on all through the year.Today there are no such activities any more and the Coconut "Waadi" too has been taken over by Progress.There is now a 10 floors high Match Box like structure built there to house the Tenants and another one rising as high as 30 floors coming up----but still the Trees bordering the small lane that divides the two properties are as thick and prolific as ever--and this is my favourite spot to spend my "me" time in the early morning and mid morning--I love to sit back and just soak in the Atmosphere----the passers by are too far away to hail--so a vigorous wave has to suffice!!
Akka as well as my maternal Grandma, Aaji hated to remain idle.They would spend their time Knitting and Sewing as well as Embroidering.I have always loved all these activities but after my Cancer operation the mobility in my right arm is somewhat diminished.I cannot work on any of these for a long time as I develope a crick in my right arm and shoulder---so I now do what both my mother and my Aunts did.I watch Cooking Shows on T.V.!!This is something that amused me about them--they'd discuss the Recipes they saw with such sprightly animation and would present it so well--for they not only sounded delicious but the descriptions were fit to make us drool!!Today much to my amusement I've taken over where Mummy left off--watching these carefully and writing stuff down then later experimenting with these Recipes--so far pretty successfully!!I've sort of evolved my own personal version of Shorthand to help take these Recipes down fast enough.Now I'm venturing way beyond my typical Marathi,Mughlai,Punjabi and Anglo Indian fare to dish out exotic new dishes!!I would never have tried the unfamiliar ones out while Sudhir was there--for he loved his curries to be rich in colour and robust in taste--but today I find that I'm now open to cooking a delicately flavoured White Meat Curry which gives instruction for the Meat to be cooked in Milk!!
Like those before me I've always been very particular and precise in whatever I do--those are the only times when I'm the epitome of Patience!!Otherwise I need things done yesterday and hate it when my body fails to respond fast enough---something that happens pretty often these days!!However like my Grandmas I'm prudent enough to change my routine a little now--I take an hour's Siesta every afternoon to rest my back and because I rarely can sleep in the afternoons I read--my History is much improved and so is my brain as it absorbs all those new Recipes that I get in the Magazines that i subscribe to!!Like Mummy i too will perhaps leave my daughters and grand daughter a wealth of Recipe Books cut out from these--various Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian recipes from each and every corner of India as well as Papads,Badiyaans,Pickles,Chutneys and Preserves---all gradually fading away into lost Arts as these become available easily in Store bought Bottles!! I make my own Spice Powders and supply these to my daughters and nieces but now will have to look out for certain Shops that can substitute for the Home made stuff as I grow older and in time become less inclined to make my own.I'm noticing that my stamina just cannot match the one of both my Grandmas or even my mother--the price one pays for ingesting everything poluted--including the very Air we breathe!!
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The Nature surrounding us is verdantly lush and Green--the Rains have washed away the dust and grime of the earlier year to put a shine back into the various shades of Green that abound around us.How Sudhir would have loved this Monsoon--for it does hark back to the old days---when it rained cats and dogs for about 4 months every year--cooling Mother Earth and covering her with mantle of beautiful lush Green!!Those days we would love to take long drives into the Sahyadris that are just outside Mumbai--the sight of those bare burnt Hillsides of Summer now carpeted thickly with tender,luscious Grass and those innumerable little Waterfalls cascading noisily down the steep slopes was a veritable feast for the eyes--soothing yet exhiliarating!!We had a fascination for Nature and trips to the nearby Hill Stations of Lonavla---Khandala was always on the cards during the Monsoon--except when the visibility was bad due to heavy downpours and Landslides were imminent.This year my friends and I decided to visit Lonavla again in the Monsoon and all going well have a day out planned this Saturday--the 20th.July.This Weather reminds me of the old days and folks that I miss sorely in such circumstances.
Lotta was born in July--amidst a lot of spectacular show of Nature---and it was raining cats and dogs then too!!Those days things were still done in the old fashioned way--and I still remember Mummy turning one Bedroom into a Drying Room with lots of Heaters helping to dry out the volumnious numbers of the Nappies,Wrappers and Bed Sheets---- which would never have dried otherwise!!We had a fat Siamese Tom cat those days--an extremely beloved member of our family whom Ritu had named "Tibby" as it's technical owner but that was where it all ended for he was partial to Daddy most of all!!Now Sudhir had no love for either cats or dogs--but factually Tibby was also very attached to me and hence accepted Sudhir as an extension of me. Tibby was well trained enough---and each morning before Breakfast Mummy would ask him to fetch Daddy to the table--which he'd do with alacrity--for all Meal times meant plentiful scraps for him from the table!! Whenever Sudhir was visiting ,he'd fetch the two men to the table with a lot of impatient meowing and once they were seated he'd plonk himself under Sudhir's chair as a form of a special favour he felt he was bestowing Sudhir!! As Sudhir never remembered to feed him scraps,he'd remind him by swatting his ankle with his soft,furry paw which would make Sudhir look down absent mindedly and swear ferociously!!"Komal ask that damn cat to stop tickling me--and please call him something else--sounds like T.B. to me!!" he'd complain while dropping down bits of an Omelette,Ham or Bacon for Tibby to devour!!Most of all Tibby loved crisp well buttered pieces of Toast---and the amount that he ate along with his Cat Food made him huge for a cat--and very heavy to carry!!
For me he was my personal hot water bottle in the cold Winters--for he would slide in under my quilt and curl up into a fat,furry ball right next to my feet.In fact he'd eat Dinner and then rub himself against my legs--alternately entreating or scolding me to bed each night!!It was when Lotta was born that he really forgot he was a cat--he'd sit watch over Lotta sleeping in her Crib--all fluffed up, keeping an Eagle eye on her well being!!Amma who had come down for a few days to be with us during her Vacation would try to shoo him away--but he'd bare his teeth like Terrier and holler back at her--complaining so long and loud that she'd just have to back off!!Though I must admit--he was perhaps the most loving feline that I've ever seen--he'd rush to greet Daddy every evening when he came home after Office--he'd even act as my Alarm clock during my exams by patting my face with his fat little paw--and then if I still failed to wake up--yowling loudly into my poor ears till I did!!How he sensed these things is beyond my ken--but he was very finely attuned to all of us and our needs. Lotta would try to cuddle him when we visited my parents--she was around 8 months old then--and he'd patiently allowed her to baby handle him very clumsily----pulling his tail while crawling after him to catch him and when he let her ,literally crushing him so tight that I'm sure he'd have trouble breathing--but he'd let her have her way.Later when she was almost 18 months old when we visited again,he would be her constant companion sounding the alarm whenever she got up to some mischief!! The way she would scold him for that in Baby talk and the way he'd answer her back in meows and yowls would really be hilarious to witness!!
Most of all I cannot thank Tibby enough for so many things--the companionship he provided when I was studying late into the nights for my Exams,the watch he kept everywhere for those deadly reptiles--Cobras and such--warning us in time to handle the situation.He would also sit next to Daddy offering silent consolation--patting him with a furry paw when Daddy would light the paper pyre under the dead Cobra with his Magnifying Glass--for we revere Snakes and believe they deserve their Ritualistic Dignity in both Life and Death.It was also a habit of Tibby's to investigate our Bathrooms before any of us entered it--ensuring that it was safe for us to use!!For me he was almost human--and very beloved.He died under mysterious circumstances in September 1972--I was visiting my parents with Lotta then--and Daddy found him in the Garden one evening.We buried him in his favourite corner of the Garden and as we rolled a stone onto his grave as a marker a pair of Owls that lived in the Gulmohar tree watched--bobbing up and down in a silent "Good Bye" as they took in the scene of their old respected adversary being laid to rest!!Till Sudhir passed away he always had one question to ask whenever the topic of Tibby came up---why he was named as he was and exactly what was he actually--a Cat or a Dog????
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