Monday, June 04, 2012
Sudhir and I both grew up eating varied kind of Food---in his case it was a mix of our staple Food cooked at home a la Mumbaikari Style with Kolhapuri overtones thanks to his mother's roots.Not just that he also was initiated into the taste of a variety of locally available Indian Cuisine at a very young age---his father Baba was a Foodie----and thus the Gujarati and ofcourse the Parsi Cuisine---one of the most finger licking Indian Cuisines and the scrumptious Muslim Food also was a regular part of their Diet as well as Continental Food----thanks to the overtones left over from The Raj these too were readily available everywhere---though of course there were many favourite places to eat these!!!In my case I ate heavy North Indian Food throughout the week and on the Weekends I'd get re-acquainted with Konkani or Kolhapuri Foods---for Mummy would cook on these days and thus these were Weekly Specials in our home.Both Atya (Sudhir's mother) and Mummy were great Cooks---and both were extremely proficient in baking luscious Cakes,Pastries and Biscuits as well as Savoury Pies along with various Breads---the only difference being that Atya would send these to be baked in the local Baker's Brick lined Oven while Mummy baked these in the Iron Ovens placed under the Coal stoves!!
Atya's cooking had overtones of various other local styles---she learnt to make "Patti Samosas" a favourite Parsi and Muslim Snack---thin,flat Samosas wrapped in a triangular shape.The real skill however was rolling out the thin Pastry covers and winding these into the Triangular shape----for these had to be perfectly done or the Stuffing could leak out from the tiny openings in any one of the 3 corners---spoiling the taste and messing up the hot Oil while these were deep fried.She was an expert in making these---stuffed sometimes with spicy minced Goat Meat but mostly tiny Shrimp called "Karandi" which was a favourite of Baba's. She also made really great Shepherd's Pie with a twist---she'd stuff it with Shrimp or spicy,flaked Fish or Egg Salad since Baba had learnt to eat Eggs but didn't eat any Chicken or Meat.Then she was an expert too at making Patties---these would be made in the form of round, mashed Potato Covers stuffed with tiny Shrimp,minced Goat Meat or even a spicy Egg Salad.The Vegetarian options included Green Pea "Ussal" or Brown Lentil cooked in a dry,spicy dish or even just plain Green Coconut Chutney.These would then be dipped in a smooth,thickish mixture of Corn Starch or Arrowroot and Milk,rolled in Breadcrumbs and fried till crisp,crunchy and golden on the outside. She gave her Savoury Pies a distinctly Indian flavour---She'd cook the traditional Shrimp Dish and boil a few extra Potatoes which would be seasoned and mashed smoothly before being added to it. This would be carefully blended to mix well together by hand taking care to keep the Shrimp whole in the process.There would be a rectangular Baking Tin greased and sprinkled with Bread Crumbs kept ready.This prepared Mixture would be set in the Tin evenly,the top dotted with a little Butter and sprinkled with Bread Crumbs.This would then be baked to a crisp,Golden perfection----supplying one of the perfect Tea Time Treats!!! There were also certain Fish Preparations that Baba liked---cooked in the Patharey Prabhu or Bhandari styles---thanks to him having numerous friends at the Bar from those Communities.Atya mastered all those and these got incorporated into their daily Menus on a regular basis.Baba was very fond of eating out and Bombay always has been blessed with some wonderful Hotels.
Baba relished the excellent Fish and Chips served at the "Sea Lounge" in the Taj and at "The Wayside Inn" at Kaalaa Ghoda near the Bombay High Court.He also relished the Soups and Russian Salad served at both these places as well as "The Bistro" and "Bombelli's" at Church Gate and Breach Candy---both Restaurants long since having been closed down.His favourite however was eating the Egg Biryani at "Coronation"--a Muslim Eatery at Grant Road situated right next to The Novelty Theatre.This Eatery too closed down in the 80s----and the exquisite taste of it's delicious Biryanis and Chicken Masala accompanied by soft,wafer thin "Roomaali Roti" or Handkerchief Bread still lingers on my taste buds!!!The only Restaurant that still survives is "The Cafe Brittania" at Ballard Pier owned by a Zoroastrian Irani family---which serves exquisite and authentic "Sauce nee Machhi" or Fish in a spicy Sauce,Berri Pulao,lip smacking Dhan--Shaak --cooked with Vegetables/Chicken/ Mutton in the Traditional manner---and great Lacy Mutton/Chicken Cutlets!!!All the Food is cooked following the basic Parsi/Irani Tradition since it first opened it's doors more than 80 years back!!!
While Atya was a whiz at learning to cook new and various Recipes her Traditional Food too would be so delicious that even though the stomach would be stuffed to bursting point the urge to gorge would still remain!!!I know for I've been a victim of such Gluttony since very early childhood---she had the capacity to transform even the simplest dishes into Gastronomical delights!!!Not just that she'd personally cook Baba's Food herself despite the presence of a very proficient Cook being there---Baba would eat a full Lunch before he left home at 9 a.m. each morning.Those days the Day began at 4 a.m. for that Generation so everyone followed this practice.Atya would personally cook Baba's 6-7 course Meal and also serve him herself---not moving from his side till he was replete and full.She was in fact a very busy lady---being on the Board of 2-3 Women's Committies,performing in Radio Plays and Musicals at the Studio Offices of All India Radio as well as being a member of a Literary Club where she hob nobbed with famous Marathi Literary Giants like "Pu.La" or P.L. Deshpande, V.V. Shirwadkar,playwright Vasant Kanetkar to name a few.She also was a member of the Music Club and yet she always had plenty of time for the Family----both her own and extended ones.She never neglected any of her Duties---and was so full of Energy throughout the day that she would still be able to spring up and open the Door each time the Door Bell rang faster than any of her grand children could---that too at age 75+ years!!Not just that she was always on hand to help if any of her children fell sick and needed nursing---she'd rush to the spot as quickly as she could---only delay caused be due to the Traffic!!!She lived for 28 years after Baba and was very much in demand till the very end---each of her four children squabbling to keep her with them----she however loved to stay put in the old Flat with Milind---for that was the home in which she'd spent her years with Baba---and that was where her Memories lay!!She was the role model I tried to follow but couldn't succeed----for she was an excellent wife and mother---while I turned out to be an excellent wife but a very so-so mother!!!
Sunday, June 03, 2012
Today I'm thinking of last year's "Vat Pournima" Fast.This Fast is kept by women for their husband's long life and continued health---and for me this was the most important day of the year!!!Sudhir hated my doing this---specially because of my Diabetes and after my Heart Attack---for this meant that I'd be eating only Fruits and drinking Water,Buttermilk and Milk throughout the day---and no cooked Food.This year I'm still fasting----but he is not there to worry about whether I'm eating sufficient Calories or not!!!It is a sad Day for me but I also feel that perhaps whatever number of Fasts I kept for him did work in the end---for he lived an extremely healthy,active and fruitful Life---exiting the Stage with enviable Grace and Dignity when it ended!!!Thus my Fasts for him did account for something!!!So I gratefully thank The Almighty with all my heart for the Bounty bestowed on Sudhir.
Religion has always played a very active part in my Life---and while I'm not a fanatic or even a typical traditional practicing Hindu I still believe in sticking to the Rituals whenever I Fast or participate in Poojas---for I have a healthy respect for Tradition and believe in maintaining the sanctity of Religious Rituals whenever I choose to perform or participate in these.A large part of these Rituals is the Food that is cooked during the course of the Poojas. There are certain Foods that are a must for certain Poojas---e.g. the Whole Wheat Semolina Pudding cooked for Shri Satya Nararayana Pooja.The equal quantities of Semolina,Sugar and Ghee taken in proportion of 1 1/4 of whichever measure one is using cannot be compromised.The Recipe needs ripe Bananas in the quantity of 6/12 or in multiples of 6 depending upon the quantities it is being cooked in as well as Milk for cooking this-----being used in double the quantity.Flavoured with Nutmeg--Cardamom Powder as well as Saffron Threads it is garnished generously with liberal quantities of slivered Almonds and Pistachioes,Cashew Nuts and Raisins.For any Devi or Goddess Pooja a thick "Kheer or Paayas" is a must and is always cooked with great care---it can be made with Rice,Vermicelli or even Semolina.In the case of Rice "Kheer " called "Doodh Paak" in our family is made by first washing the Rice then drying it overnight between layers of thin Muslin cloth the night before the Pooja.The next morning the washed and dried raw Rice is roasted in a little Ghee till fragrant and golden in colour.It is then ground coarsely and then cooked in Milk till soft.Sugar in a 3/4 proportion is added to this along with a little Milk that has been thickened by reducing it to half the original quantity.Flavoured with Cardamom-Nutmeg Powder and Saffron Threads this too is garnished liberally with Dry Fruits to make it rich and appealing to the Gods.Also a must is "Puran".Made with cooked Split Chick Peas first boiled till tender and then cooked with shredded Jaggery till dry.It is then ground and flavoured with Saffron Threads,Cardamom--Nutmeg Powders and served at the extreme right side of the Banana Leaf plate.
The other Menus cooked for the Gods have extensive Lists of various Curries,Vegetable Gravies and dry Vegetable Curries---and different permutations and combinations produce a wide variety of ethnic Dishes for each Pooja---thus keeping the the Menus appetising and varied.Rice Dishes like Pulaos called "Masaaley Bhaath" made with Vegetables like Aubergines/Brinjals,Ivy Gourds or Green Peas too are very popular and the entire elaborate Meal is served on freshly cut Banana Leaves on which the Dishes are served from the left to the right side.While serving, it must begin with a pinch of Salt,followed by a wedge of Lime then a fresh made Chutney---usually Green Coriander,Green Chillies,Cumin and raw shredded Coconut ground fine together with a squeeze of Lime Juice and a pinch of Sugar as well as Salt.This is followed by a freshly made Pickle---could be made from green Raw Mangoes when in Season or Cauliflowers/Carrots or Ivy gourds,then a dish called "Panchamrut"---a speciality of our Community so called because it combines the 5 basic tastes of salty,sweet,sour,spicy and tart.This is made by seasoning roasted Peanuts,Dried Dates pitted and cut into pieces,Raisins,slivers of fresh raw Coconut,lots of hot Green Chillies cut into halves horizontally and Cashew Nuts split down the centre in hot Sesame Oil with dried Fenugreek and Black Mustard Seeds along with Asafoetida and Turmeric Powders. The Spice mix used to spice this dish is made by dry roasting shredded Dry Coconut,Dry whole Red Chillies,Coriander and Sesame Seeds individually,one by one till aromatic and fragrant.This Mixture is then cooled and ground to a slightly coarse Powder and added to the dish last---Tamarind Pulp and Salt are added first.When all the Ingredients are cooked ,finely shredded Jaggery is added to this and after it dissolves,finally the Spice Powder is added.This is then cooked for a few minutes till it turns thick.Next to the "Panchamrut" is served fresh a "Koshimbir" or Vegetable Salad made from finely shredded Cabbage or finely chopped Cucumbers or Tomatoes,followed by a Yoghurt Salad called a "Raita" flavoured with fresh ground Mustard Powder,Salt,Green Chillies and Fresh Coriander Leaves finely minced along with a pinch of Sugar----here too the one made with ripe Bananas is very popular.Now the line up of the Vegetable Curries begins.First comes a Vegetable Gravy dish,followed by a dry Vegetable Curry which in turn is followed by a Fresh or Dry Legume "Ussal".This is followed by a Lentil or Coconut Curry for the hot ,steamed Rice formed into rounds called "Mood" is served in the centre of the Banana Leaf.Another bowl of any other Sweet like "Shrikhand" or "Baasundi" or any other Sweet follows accompanied by deep fried Puffed Indian Bread called "Poories".The fried Papadums,and Vegetable Fritters called Bhajiyas are a must as is a plain split Pigeon Pea Concoction called "Varan".This is just thick pureed Pigeon Peas seasoned with Salt, pinch or 2 of Asafoetida Powder and a lump of Jaggery.Ladlefuls of this along with tablespoons of Fresh home made Ghee are poured over the Rice "Moodis" .The main "Prasadam" or main Sweet Dish is served last immediately after the teaspoonful of "Puran".A prayer is recited and then the Meal begins---the main "Prasadam" is eaten first followed by the "Varan" and Rice.The Meal ends with Glasses of Fresh "Kokum/Sol Kadhi" or a thin Buttermilk called "Taak" to wash down the heavy Food and aid digestion.
The best part of this Meal is it's fantastic taste---one can actually taste the Blessings of The Almighty in the Food---for nothing tastes this good even if it is cooked in exactly the same manner with the same proportions but for say a non religious Event.Besides both Onion or Garlic are taboo and not used in the preparations.Of all the Legumes Brown Lentils and Brown Gram called "Matki/Mutt"are taboo.Also "Varan" made with Split Chick Peas is a must---as is "Puran" for it signifies the successful completion of the Pooja Ritual.This known as the "Purna-Varna chaa Swayampaak" in Marathi.Also a must is the inclusion of Potato in atleast one Vegetable that is cooked.There are also the strict codes of Conduct to be followed by the person cooking the food---the lady must bathe and wash her hair before dressing in clean washed Clothes before entering the Kitchen.Once there the cooking starts in earnest for only minor things like getting the Vegetables ready and all the stuff required for is allowed on the previous day---actual chopping and cutting must be done on the day itself!!!
When I do this my Day begins at 4 a.m.----and I finish cooking everything by 9 a.m.---after which the Priest shows up perform the Religious Rituals.Only the hot Puries and Fritters are cooked fresh by Chhaya Bai and Vanita for these don't taste very nice cold.On such occasions my Day is very tiring and filled with nervousness---for I cannot taste the Food I cook before it is presented to the Deity.However God Himself/Herself provides the correct proportions each time I season the Food---which always turns out beautifully cooked and mouth wateringly tasty with His/Her Blessings!!!It is a very hard job---but infinitely rewarding and satisfying---for it pleases The Almighty!!
Friday, June 01, 2012
Sudhir and I belong to the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin or GSB Community so named because our ancient Ancestors lived on the banks of the gigantic Saraswati River which dried up more than 2000 years ago.The Indus Valley Civilization is now being re-identified as the original Vedic Civilization that actually flourished on the banks of the Saraswati and is often mentioned in the oldest Veda---the Rig Veda.When the Saraswati dried up this community dispersed in batches to Kashmir,Bengal and the Konkan Region.During the Portuguese Occupation of Goa many were forcibly converted to Christianity from Hinduism after being forced to do so due to the religious zeal of the Missionaries and the Inquisition.This caused many of this Community to migrate into neighbouring States of Maharashtra and Karnataka---some travelling as far as the ancient Port of Mumbai or Bombay.It was this branch that settled there and developed into the Mumbaikari GSBs.
My maternal Grandma Aaji and Sudhir's father---Baba--- were siblings---she being his older sister.They belonged to this Mumbaikari GSB Community.This Community after living in Bombay had evolved their own Cuisine--different and distinct from the other Konkani Cuisines of Goa,Karnataka and Maharashtra.This Community was basically a Fish eating one and their Recipes had imbibed the influences of the Communities living alongside them----as well as their language to had developed into a mix of a dialect flavoured with Marathi,Gujarati and Parsi overtones had infiltrated into the basic Konkani.Now Konkani is a beautifully lilting Language---it's soft tonal cadences rise and fall in a very musical and rhythmic manner.However the Karnataka Konkani differs from the Goan as does the Konkani spoken in the Maharashtrian Konkan.All however are very ear pleasing---except when the voices are raised in arguments---for then this Language sounds like a gun spitting out Bullets at a terrific Speed!!!
The Mumbaikar GSBs was a highly progressive Community---their Society was very open to changing with the times.The girls in this Community were educated and I have many women ancestors who could not only read and write but also actually wrote down short stories and plays---my own Great Grandmother was one such lady.As a result my Aaji and her older sisters as well as her cousins had all studied till their Matriculation---I can still remember the incredulity on my daughters' faces when at past the age of 80 years she burst into a full throated rendition of Lord Alfred Tennyson's rendition of "Home they brought her Warrior dead" after which she went on to recite Sir Walter Scott's "Lochinvar" verbatim!!!She also was a trained Nurse and volunteered often in Hospitals that needed trained help.Besides that she was an awesome Cook---learning to cook very late in Life--at ages25- 26 years after she married my Grandpa!!!The Mumbaikari style of cooking is very simple---the Mumbaikars love all sorts of Fresh Legumes like Green Peas,Pigeon Peas,Lima Beans,Adzuki Beans,Field Beans---even going to the extent of getting fresh tender raw Cashewnuts,raw Almonds and Pistachioes in those days and cooking these too!!Today I still buy fresh Green tender Cashewnuts during late February and early March.After soaking these in warm Water and peeling them--these go into making a delicious "Ussal"These are cooked very simply in this manner----Peanut Oil is used to which Black Mustard Seeds,Asafoetida Powder and Turmeric Powders are added.When these sputter a cupfull of warm Water is added first and then the Green Legumes or Beans.After the Water begins to boil the heat is turned low and Red Chilli Powder and Salt to taste are added.Then the dish is covered with a lid and left to simmer.A few Pepper Corns along with a hot Green Chilli or two is the ground fine on the Grinding Stone. A fistfull of Fresh Raw shredded Coconut is added and these 3 things are ground together till the Coconut turns into coarsely ground granules.This Chutney is added to the almost cooked Dish with a small lump of Jaggery and allowed to simmer further till fully cooked.The characteristics of this dish called "Green Ussal" is the dollops of Oil it contains---for that Oil imbibes all the taste and it truly does taste heavenly with though not very healthy in today's World!!!Sudhir loved these but after becoming aware of the hazards after he turned 50 I'd started using very little Oil and no Coconut---altering the original taste a little but not much!!!
Their Bottle Masala is pretty simple but spicy and hot.Based on the omnipresent Dry Red Chillies this also incorporates dried Turmeric Roots,Coriander Seeds,Sesame Seeds,Cumin Seeds,Carraway Seeds,Cinnamon,Star Anise,small Green Cardamoms,Black Pepper, Cloves,a hint of Nutmeg and a Lime sized lump of Asafoetida.Dry roasted individually till fragrant and aromatic this Spice Mixture is used for everything---Dals,Vegetable Gravies and Shell Fish and Dry Fish preparations too!!!Fresh Spices are dry roasted ,along with shredded Dry Coconut and then ground to add the flavour to any spicy Curries.In the case of Shell Fish thinly sliced Shallots are roasted till crisp and brown and ground with the Spice Mixture to add greater flavour.This Community also cooks a Fish called "Bombay Duck" found in the Arabian Sea.This Fish contains a gelatinous single bone and a lot of Water and therefore needs special remedy before it is cooked.The method I learnt was to gut and wash this Fish then season it with a pinch of Salt and Turmeric Powder and then place it in a metal plate with another one covering it.I would place this below my Grinding Stone using it as a weight to help the Water to run out from the Fish.After 30 minutes of this,these would then be placed on Blotting Paper and turned over before adding the Red Chilli Powder and coating these Fish with Rice Flour,dusting off the excess and frying these in Coconut Oil in an Iron Skillet.Eating these as a crisp accompaniment to hot Dal and Rice can transport one to Foodie Heaven in a trice!!!
This Bombay Duck or "Bombill" as it is locally called also would be cooked into a beautiful baked dish called a "Bhuzaney".A Chutney would be ground using Turmeric Powder,Coriander Seeds,5-7 Green Chillies,a knob of Ginger Root ,Fresh Coriander Leaves,a lime sized ball of Tamarind and a cup of fresh shredded Coconut to a medium coarse texture.Salt to taste would be added and the Bombay Ducks after processing would be cut into 1.5" pieces.These would then be marinated in this Chutney while finely minced Shallots would be sauteed in Coconut Oil in a flat Casserole type Vessel called a "Langree" till crisp,brown and crunchy.These would first be cooled to room temperature and the Fish and Shallots would be mixed well together.Mangosteen Shells would be tucked in evenly in the layer of raw Fish and the the "Langree" would be sealed with a lid and baked in the Iron Ovens under the Coal Stoves till well browned on all sides.Today I use an Electric Oven---but the dish though very delicious doesn't taste the same as back then!!!The same process can be repeated with Fresh Mackerel or sardines---it really does taste heavenly!!Also if new Potatoes are crushed a little and cooked like this they too taste great with a very rich aromatic flavour!!
The Green Almonds and Pistachioes along with a Gravy Dish called "Kordi Vadi" was a must have in the GSB Mumbaikar Weddings of the past.I never really understood the hysteria that my sisters-in-law---Kunda and Suhas have for this Chick Pea Flour dish---very difficult to make and if it goes wrong--then it becomes inedible!!!For myself I prefer the Rice based Pulao we call Shrimp "Khichri" which packs in a punch of flavour and taste as well as a heavenly aroma to tease the nostrils!!The Coconut Curries ,the Tiger Shrimp Pickle,the dried Bombay Duck Chutney,the spicy Clam and Crab Masala and crisply Fried Pomfret,Mackerel or Bombay Duck with hot Dal and Rice for Dinner in the Monsoons---one just couldn't ask for more!!!
This was a very wealthy Community and many tracts of Mumbai as well key Temples are still owned by the GSB Trust.Unfortunately many things have changed today---and old ways are dying out.There are still a few homes like ours where people still cook the old traditional Menus during the Poojas and other religious Activities----traditional Food cooked using modern innovations!!!
Friday, June 01, 2012
This part of my Journey into the Past takes my readers into the narrow strip of Land attached almost like an after thought to the Map of India---the coastal Belt stretching from the States of Maharashtra,Goa,Karnataka to Kerala---loosely called "The Konkan".This narrow strip is an extremely fertile land---thickly interspersed with abundant and lush Rice Fields and Plantations of Coconuts,Betel Nuts,Cashew Nuts,Mangoes,Mangosteens ,Pineapples, Jackfruits and fragrant Spices like Black Peppers,Cloves,Cinnamon,Cardamoms,Nutmeg,M
ace and Cassia Buds.Blessed with sweet Water Rivers irrigating the fields on one hand and the Sea on the other---it is truly as the Keralites call it---"God's own Country"!!!
One had to traverse through steep rocky Mountains of Basalt and through the narrow,dangerous passes to drive down to this area---usually in State Transport Buses driven recklessly fast by their Speed fiend drivers---most of the Journey was done with the passengers with palpitating hearts perching on the edge of their seats---completely petrified!!!Today thanks to the marvel of modern Indian Engineers Trains connect these places to the rest of India---passing through long Tunnels carved out of solid Rock--and over huge, high Railway Bridges built over the deep Ravines and Gorges of the Region---a very beautiful and scenic journey!!! My maternal Grandpa hailed from the Principality of Sawant Wadi--situated midway in the towering Western Ghats as these Mountains are called.My great-Grandma his mother was called Ba-Aaji and she lived to a ripe old age---dying in 1969---five years after he passed away.This Region and specially the Gowd Saraswat Community we hail from has distinctive Cuisine---cooked using all the Fruits that Nature has bestowed upon them. Rich thick Coconut Curries made with fresh Fish or Vegetables,"Kokum or Sol Kadhi 'made with dried Mangosteen Shells soaked in raw Coconut Milk and Rice are staples as are thin,crisp "Bhakris" made from Rice Flour.The "Kokum or Sol Kadhi" too had different versions.Fresh shredded Coconut would be ground with Green Chillies,Carrom Seeds or Cumin Seeds,a touch of Fresh Coriander Leaves and sometimes with Black Pepper Corns and Shallots or Garlic on the grinding Stone.The thick first Juice would be extracted and carefully strained over the Sun dried Mangosteen Shells soaked in Coconut Water with a little Sea Salt.This would then be kept aside to be served only to the children and the men in the family.Water would be added and thinner Juice extracted from the Coconut into another Vessel which contained Mangosteen Shells soaked in plain Water with a pinch of Sea Salt ----for the Women to eat with their Rice---for they were the secondary Sex!!
All the Rice was homegrown as were some Lentils like Mung Beans and Pigeon Peas.These however are usually cooked for Dinner---the mid-day meal consisting of rich Fish Curries in Coconut Gravy for the most part---the shredded fresh raw Coconut ground fine between two Stones----a flat, heavy Stone base on which a cylindrical Stone is used to grind the various Spices and Coconut Curry Pastes.The consistency has to be so fine that it should be like a smooth,wet powder so that it dissolves instantly without leaving any residue!!There were different Spice Mixtures that would be freshly ground by my Aunts each day---for Ba'Aaji refused to let hired help into the sacrosanct sanctity of the Kitchen.Mummy was an expert at grinding the various Spices--there were more than 20 different varieties of Spices Mixtures-each distinct from the other--for various types of Fish,Chicken,Goat and Organ Meats as well as Wild Boar----for the thick Jungles in the vicinity provided Hares, Venison and Wild Boar each time someone or the other from the Family went hunting.Vegetables were mostly cooked very simply---seasoned with Black Mustard Seeds,Asafoetida and Turmeric Powder these would be cooked in very little fresh Coconut Oil and flavoured with Salt,spicy Green Chillies slit lengthwise and a dash of Black Pepper Powder.Shredded fresh raw Coconut and finely minced Green Coriander Leaves were used liberally to garnish these dishes.Till today this remains an extremely favourite way of mine to cook tender French Beans,Long Beans,Green Cabbage,Ivy Gourds and Squash--- mouthwateringly tasty,healthy and simple if one does away with the excessive use of the Coconut Garnish!!!
Ba-Aaji too used to make her own Spice Mixtures and Pickles till the very end.By then she had shifted to Poona to live with her oldest son--Aazobaa--- but here too the pattern remained unchanged.She had begun going blind some time before Aazoba's death but she used my Aunt---Vidya Maushi as her assistant in all these jobs.She had her Formulae down pat---by feeling the various quantities with her fingers she would take the exact amount needed for that particular Spice Mixture and she taught Vidya Maushi all the secrets of her style of Cooking---and till Vidya Maushi passed away in May 2011 one could still taste and relive the magic of Ba-Aaji's cooking in Vidya Maushi's home.Ba-Aaji was extremely meticulous and precise.There are as many as 25 Spices among the Ingredients in her Bottle Masala along with the Spicy Dried Red Chillies and Coriander Seeds,around 18 Spices along with Coriander Seeds in her "Kaalaa Masala" and almost as many would roasted and added fresh along with the preserved ones while cooking various dried Bean preparations or Meat dishes.Of course I too have inherited her Recipes and passed these on to my daughters and nieces---for I sincerely feel that such Traditions need to be preserved.One of the Dishes that she cooked for Aaji my maternal Grandma was made with the Meat of Tender Coconuts.Aaji did not eat Eggs,Meat or Chicken---for she was a Fishaterian only.Therefore each time Ba-Aaji cooked Meat or Chicken she'd cook this Dish for Aaji.There was an abundance of Fresh Coconuts in the Platations adjoining the old "Waadaa" as the Family Mansion was called.2-3 of these medium ripe Coconuts would be plucked,shelled and the Meat would be scooped out in strips.This would then be cooked in a dry Gravy with Shallots,Ginger,Garlic,roasted Fresh Coconut and Spices---Coriander Seeds,Red Chillies,Turmeric Root,White Poppy Seeds as well as the usual Black Peppercorns,Cloves,Cinnamon etc. dry roasted individually till crisp and ground fine.The Fresh Coconut Water extracted would be used for cooking the Dish---adding to the deliciously exotic taste!!!This would then be served with a deep fried Konkani Bread called "Vadey" made from Black Gram and Rice Flour ground together with a few Spices to spike the taste.These "Vadey" are one of the most popular features of Konkani Cuisine---absolutely fabulous with the hot and fragrantly spiced Meat,Chicken or Dried Bean Curries---adding the perfectly crisp foil to the taste!!!Only drawback?These have to be eaten hot and fresh out of the Wok--otherwise these turn stringy and chewy when cold!!
The old Mansion had beautifully carved Wooden Pillars and Windows made from Shisham Wood----and an extensive Garden filled with Fruit Trees like White and Pink "Jaams",Java Plums(Jaamun),Guavas,Figs,Papayas and Custard Apple Trees.There was also a "Papanus" Tree---a fruit Mummy simply loved---and for the life of me I cannot figure out why!!!This Fruit is like a huge Grapefruit but shaped like an Orange.It's interior consists of a pithy,thick Skin and White segments tinged with Pink Streaks----these can be of an appalling taste mostly--dry,bitter and tart--only in rare cases are these sweet and juicy!!Mummy however adored this Fruit---buying a large number for us to eat---but poor woman--more than 75% would have to be discarded for it would turn out to be inedible---then she'd sit and reminisce about the sweet ,juicy "Papanus" fruits she'd eaten from the Trees growing in the Gardens at Sawant Wadi!!!
For me visiting "Sawant Waadi" was a dream!!Picture acres of lush Green Coconut and Betel Groves---the fronds interlinked with dappling patches of Sunlight glinting on the Red Soil below!!The Breeze would softly sigh in the rustling branches and the huge sprawling Mansion would always be full of people---for it was a very large extended Family that Aazobaa was the head of!!Today the old Mansion still stands but with little of it's former glory---for when everyone shifted to Bombay,certain of it's wings were rented out to Tenants and getting rid of these would today cost a Fortune as well as years of Litigation---and neither of my maternal Uncles has either the Time or the inclination to do that!!!The lush Rice fields were claimed by the Tillers under the new Law that came out about 35 years back and the Coconut,Betelnut and Cashew Nut Groves have gone to seed with no one to look after them.My Uncles and Aunts visit during the Summer Vacations and during the "Ganesh Festival" during the Monsoon---for Tradition dictates that the Idol of Lord Ganesha has to made and coloured on the premises.Certain Rituals have to be followed and strict Religious taboos have to be maintained during that entire period.My Aunts have to cook the enormously lengthy lists for Meals needed to be served to the Diety.For this they have to observe a very strict code of Conduct with many restrictions.That is why my Uncles worship the Diety in rotation---for one of the taboos is not eating any Non-Vegetarian Food or even Onion and Garlic throughout the 4 months called "Chaatur Maas" extending from late June or early July till the end of October or early November as per the Hindu Lunar Calender.Not just this---there are separate quarters for menstruating Women which are still adhered to---for if this taboo is broken the entire Mansion gets over run with King Cobras in various shapes and sizes---and that is one nightmare nobody even wants to contemplate---so even today this is one tradition that is strictly adhered to!!
Thursday, May 31, 2012
My father hails from the Principality of Kolhapur----a place famous for three things---the still worshipped over 2000 years old Temple of Goddess Mahalaxmi,the Sugar Factories and the tiny Chilli called "Lavangi Mirchi" or Clove Chilli which has a venomously hot and spicy bite!!!The Food here is so hot that it can literally burn the mouth of even a person who loves hot and spicy Food---all this is thanks to the large quantities of both Chillies and Spices like Black Peppers,Cloves and Cassia Buds--which are used in large proportions.There were 3 separate Spice Mixtures made here in our ancestral home in a proportionate blend of two types of Chillies,Shallots,Ginger,Garlic as well as a host of other Spices,dried roasted shredded Coconut and Fresh Coriander.These were made in huge quantities--and divided between 3 households--my oldest Uncle's in Bombay,ours in Chandigarh and the ancestral home in Kolhapur.
For me it used to be fascinating to watch my paternal Grandma Akka prepare this every Summer.The Back Yard would turn into a Spice Factory---Red Chillies with their stems removed and rubbed with a little Sesame Oil,Coriander Seeds and other Spices would be laid out in proportions to toast in the hot Summer Sun.This process would be followed for 2-3 weeks till they'd become rustlingly dry and then these along with shredded Dry Coconut would be dry roasted one by one in an old heavy Iron Wok----one by one till aromatic and fragrant.In another heavy Iron Wok Akka would deep fry finely sliced Shallots,Ginger and Garlic, till crisp,brown and aromatic---and lay these out on old Newspapers to drain the excess Oil.When cooled these would be pounded in a Pestle and Mortar made of Stone and heavy Shisham Wood-----the 3 different solid Stone Pestles were fixed in the ground in a corner of the Back Verandah running the length of the entire house.Women would be hired to pound these to a medium coarse consistency---and we'd all wrap our noses and mouths in large thin Muslin Cloths--called "Panchaas" to prevent choking!!!The eyes however would burn with the Spicy Dust that kept flying up as long as the pounding lasted---which was agonisingly long enough!!!
There was her Bottled Masala---made of just Red Chillies,Turmeric and other aromatic Spices---used for everything from simple Dal to Meat Dishes.Then there was her "Kaalaa Masala" made only with the Coriander Seeds and other aromatic Spices---to be used sparingly as a "Garam Masala Mix" and finally the famous Kolhapuri Chutney--made with Shallots,Ginger,Garlic,Dry Coconut and Fresh Coriander along with Red Chillies,Turmeric,Coriander Seeds and other aromatic Spices used in making the typically pungent and spicy dishes of that particular Cuisine!!All of these would be stored in Cream and Yellow Ochre coloured glazed Ceramic Jars which had been washed,dried in the Sun and finally smoked inside upturned over hot Coals sprinkled with Asafoetida Powder to sterilise them. Finally the Spice Powders would be packed in tightly till the brim and lumps of Asafoetida would be placed on top before screwing on the tops of the Jars---which would then be covered with prepared Muslin Cloths tied securely over them to prevent any moisture creeping in!!!By this process Akka ensured that these Spice Mixtures lasted well over a year on the shelf in the Larder.
Akka too cooked over Coal fires in our sprawling ancestral Kitchen.It was a high ceilinged,wooden raftered room with windows deep set high up in the Walls and two Sky lights ---ensuring plenty of Light but no heat.Surprisingly this Room remained cool even in Summer except for the spot near the knee high Coal Stoves--set in a Brick and Clay Platform.There were 4 stoves in all and on these were cooked all our Meals---a heavy Breakfast,5-6 course Lunch and the lighter "Paaley Bhaaji" or Green Leafy Vegetables eaten with thick,huge "Bhaakris" made from Sorghum or Millet Flour---- one was enough to fill even me up---followed by Seasoned Curd Rice to keep us cool!!! This Flour would ground fresh each afternoon by two women---Savitri Bai and Sumati Bai--employed specifically for such jobs.They also would grind the Wheat Grains for Chappaties the next day Lunch as well as winnow,pick and clean huge quantities of Rice.The cleaned Rice would be stored in huge Brass Drums called "Pimpa"s and would have to be regularly placed in the Sun during Summer and Winter to keep the insects at bay!!One tip that I picked up early in life was to keep lightly oiled,Sun roasted Red Chillies--about a handfull of these along with the Rice---keeps those pesky Insects away!!!Lunch used to be the main Meal of the day with 3 different varieties of Vegetable Curries,one Lentil or Coconut Curry for eating with steamed Rice,fried Papadums or crisp deep fried Vegetable "Bhajias" or Fritters with a fresh "Koshimbir" or Salad and Green Coconut or Red Garlic Coconut Chutney--freshly ground with fresh,raw Coconut on the huge Grinding Stone by Parvati Bai---Akka's one eyed but highly efficient and capable daily help.Both had been together for so long that Parvati Bai too had turned into Akka's clone--imbibing her most idiosyncratic mannerisms---much to the dismay of her 3 daughters-in-law!!Wednesdays,Fridays and Sundays used to be special--for there would be Fresh Sea Fish transported from the Konkani Port of Ratnagiri 5 hours away---so that meant Fish Curries,Fried Fish and Shrimp cooked with Vegetables----a full on only Fish Day!!!Even today I can still taste the spicy taste of the fresh Stone ground Curry Paste made with a large handfull of Dried red Chillies,Turmeric Root,Coriander Seeds and a marble sized ball of Tamarind all ground to a very fine paste together with a little Water.Then these would be cooked along with a fine paste of Fresh Coconut,Shallots and Peppercorns ground to such a fine paste that it would dissolve instantly like powder into the thin Coconut Milk extracted after the first extraction of the thick one.Adding the Coconut Paste and thin Coconut Milk was done first and then lastly was added the thick Coconut Milk---after which the Concoction was not allowed to come to a boil--nor was it stirred with a metal spoon---for that could separate the Water from the Coconut Paste to make an inedible Curry!! At times these Curries would be seasoned with Ginger and fresh Green Chillies and fresh Coriander sometimes instead of the Red Chillies--thus getting a beautiful Greenish tinged Curry with an awesome flavour!!Even today the aroma of the home grown tiny reddish sweet Rice called "Jirgaa" Rice still fill my nostrils--but unfortunately is very rare to find today--for it is no longer grown commercially!!Friday would be dried Fish Day--dried Shrimp,Mackerels,King Fish,Sardines---Akka was a wizard at cooking those with Aubergines/Brinjals and in various Coconut Curries---using her famous Bottle Masala to flavour the Food.Sundays was Meat Day---and Akka would slave for at least 4 hours before putting up an awesome array of Mutton Curry,Liver Curry,a spicy minced Meat Curry---each with a distinct taste and flavour along with an Onion Salad,Chappaties or deep fried Puries washed down by Mangosteen Skins soaked in raw,spiced Coconut Milk---called "Kokum or Sol Kadhi" which helps digest the heavy Meal easily.Sunday was the only day of the Week when all of us Cousins slept during Siesta time---for the food partaken like Gluttons would make all of us sluggish!!
Another memory connected to the aroma of hot Coals is our old fashioned Water Heaters--called "Bumbas".These were fashioned out of Copper or Bronze and were an ingenious way of heating Water for our Baths.These were actually huge cylindrical Urns with a Copper or Bronze Pipe running down their centres.This pipe had a grate at the bottom and the Cylinders usually would fashioned out of single sheets of the Metal.These also had Brass Taps in front and a detachable lid on top.The central Pipe would be stoked with Wood, Coal and Cow Dung which would be lit very early each morning--latest by 4.30 a.m. each morning.The Lid would be detached and the capacious interior would be filled by Buckets with Water.The lid would then be replaced and when the Water boiled,the Tap would allow the needed amount of Water to be drawn for our Baths.After each withdrawal of Water,fresh Buckets would be added till all14-15 of us had bathed!!Akka was the first to bathe,followed by my Aunts and mother---for they couldn't enter the Kitchen unbathed.
Today Akka is long gone and so are my parents,Uncles and oldest Aunt.My youngest Aunt is the only one of that generation who is still alive.Besides the old home is no longer ours but the various Memories and the taste of my Grandma's cooking still lingers in my mind---as fresh as if I'd tasted it yesterday.I still follow her recipes to the letter---and I'm considered a very good Cook.While the taste of every thing I make is great independently but it is still not the same as the Food she cooked!!!
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