Tuesday, June 05, 2012
My father thanks to his British Sojourn ate everything---Mummy however drew the line at Beef---a result of her Hindu upbringing.However she did not impose this taboo on us and all 3 of us grew up enjoying tins of imported British Corned Beef----for she would NOT cook it in her Kitchen!!!Not just that we also grew up eating Quails and Partridges---results of Daddy's Shooting sprees with his many Oxford friends like Ramesh Divecha who visited us often.Our first Cook named Narayan Das was an expert at cooking Continental,Mughlai and North Indian Food and till today I still carry delicious memories of the mindblowing taste and mouthwatering aromas that his cooking sessions produced!!!Mummy was an awesome Cook herself---specially in Baking Cakes,Pastries,Biscuits and Bread that she'd learnt from her mother--Aaji and for the native Konkani style of Sawant Wadi food---having learnt this under the tutelage of her paternal Grandma---Ba-Aaji---a legendary Cook in our family!!After marrying Daddy she also learnt to cook Kolhapuri food from her MIL---Akka and taught herself to cook Continental,Chinese and North Indian Food as well.
Those days Chandigarh was literally the back of beyond----it had just the one Hotel called Aroma in the first Sector that came up---Sector 22.This was a very expensive place and hence not very well frequented---surviving on the numerous Wedding and Reception Catering that they supplied.For us eating home cooked Food all the time was the norm---and this is what made our visits to Bombay all the more special-----for here we could really enjoy a great variety of Cuisines!!!My early years were spent mostly in the company of our domestic Staff and because of that I often accompanied my Nanny--Amma---to her "Phoophi's" or paternal Aunt's home.Since she cooked wonderful Food I loved eating at her home.Her way of cooking Black Gram Dal and Mustard Greens is some of the best that I've ever tasted.However it was her "Aloo-Palak" or Spinach and Potato preparation with the thick Whole Wheat Bread that she made between her palms that was my ultimate favourite. The result of this was that she taught Narayan Das and Mummy how to cook these---and even today I make these often for Sudhir loved "Aloo-Palak a la Phoophi style" too!!!
Daddy's love for gathering his Friends in our home every opportunity he got meant that our home was always overflowing with people.His treks in the Hills and the fertile fields of the erstwhile Punjab and his friendly and easygoing nature helped him build lasting friendships---not bound by any Social taboos like Status etc.As a result we'd get huge,overflowing Tiffins from our Chauffeur Inder Singh's mother whenever she cooked anything special like "Maa di Dal" or Black Gram Curry and "Saron daa Saag tey Makki di Roti" or Mustard Greens with Corn Bread---for "Saahab" loved it!!!Not just that Daddy's Peon---Harbans Singh too would carry special Food for us.His wife was a whiz at making wonderful Stuffed Parathas----Whole Wheat Indian Bread stuffed with various Vegetables and these two ladies came over to our Kitchen to teach Mummy how to cook these Delicacies!!!While Mummy elevated cooking to an Art it was making Meat Pickle that was her speciality!!
On one of our earlier Treks into the Hills we stopped at this tiny hole in the Hillside Shop---a counter was placed at the entrance of a shallow Cave!!This Shop sold great Meat Pickles made with Goat,Pork,Venison and Wild Boar Meat as well as Chicken.Duck,Partridge and Quail.Daddy bought some Pork and Venison Pickle to carry home and that did it----Mummy just had to make it!!!This resulted in 3-4 lbs. of both Pork and Goat Meat being pickled each Week till she honed her skills at making this in the perfect proportions!!!Mummy had one weakness----she could never eat in any popular Eatery without trying to figure out the Ingredients that went into the making of the Dish and since she prided herself on her discriminatory taste buds---very rarely did she need to be given the exact Recipes!!As a result we ate like Kings for Cooking and cooking well was the ultimate Goal of her very existence!!!
Mummy taught herself to cook Chinese Food from Cookery Books---since there was no Chinese Restaurant in Chandigarh then---and wheedled the correct proportions for cooking authentic South Indian Food like Idlis,Vadais,Dosais,Rasam , Sambar and the wonderful Chutneys like the fresh White Coconut Chutney,Mulaga Podi and Gunpowder Chutney from the Cook cum Owner of a "Madraasi" Restaurant as these were then named with whom Daddy had struck up a great friendship!!!Despite this we still would eat our Sunday Brunches here---returning home replete with Food to sleep it off!!There was another drawback to Mummy's experimenting---she ended up cooking huge quantities and we'd literally end up eating the Stuff for a minimum of 3-4 days after that!!Luckily her pride in her ability was justified and she very rarely messed up----but eating the same stuff everyday does become boring!!Once she read about making a popular Snack called "Dahi Bhalley" or "Dahi Vadey" with a twist.These are fermented deep fried Balls of dehusked,fermented Black Gram Dal called "Urad/Urid" Dal.These Balls are first deep fried in Oil,then soaked in Asafoetida Powder flavoured Water till completey soggy,then squeezed to remove the Water and finally dipped in flavoured Yoghurt.These are then garnished with Cumin and Chillie Powders and served with a spicy Fresh Coriander-Mint Chutney and a sweet and sour Tamarind Chutney called "Soanth" liberally drizzled on it in the North.The Southern version is garnished with a Tempering of Fenugreek, Black Mustard Seeds and a sprinkling of de husked "Urad Dal"
fried crisp in Sesame Oil along with Curry Leaves and whole Dry Red Chillies, seasoned with a dash of Asafoetida Powder and poured over the flavoured Yoghurt.This Dish is very popular all over India and perhaps like the crisp,golden "Jalebi/Jilebi" made with very few alterations through out the Indian Sub Continent!!!Mummy decided to stuff these fermented Black Gram balls with a rich variety of Dry Fruit---and this resulted in an extremely delicious version but in such a huge quantity that we had to send Containers full of the stuff to our friends as well as our neighbours by evening to finish the Stuff---for it was the height of Summer and the heat would have spoiled and wasted these within a few hours!!
When I was 13 years old Mummy got rid of our male Staff----both the Cook and the Bearer and since Amma's father fell sick almost simultaneously she had to leave too to nurse him back to health. This meant that our diet became more varied on a daily basis---we ate a mix of different Cuisines daily and all of it would be cooked entirely by Mummy.One of my favourite memories of my parents is of both Daddy and Mummy in the Kitchen---he peeling and chopping the Potatoes and other Vegetables while she kneaded the Dough,readied the Pressure Cooker and minced the Onions finely before beginning to cook the Meal----both working in Tandem together!!Like Atya, Mummy too led a pretty hectic Social life.She was an active member of the Red Cross Committee,The Women's Club as well as being a regular of her Kitty Party Circle.Thanks to the Women's Forum she was mostly busy in organising different Classes---ranging from Exotic Cooking, Knitting,Dress Making,Embroidery,Art and Craft making---all of which she was very good at. By now Daddy too had reverted to being an Indian gentleman and a lot of Rules around the house relaxed---like for instance dressing for Dinner---which was a boon to us---my sisters and to me specially--since all I needed to do was just wash my hands before Dinner--instead of running the entire gamut of bathing and dressing up for a short while every evening!!!Mummy too started training me to cook---the first step being making Tea or Coffee.I learnt to cream the Coffee Powder with Sugar to make frothy "Espresso" style Coffee so well that I made it each time we had people over---Komal and Coffee became synonymous!!!After this the next lesson was on using the flat "Paataa-Varvantaa"in Marathi or "Sil-Batta" in Hindi as the Grinding Stone was called---- to grind the Spices and Chutneys to the desired consistencies.Next came learning to knead the Dough for Indian Breads first and that accomplished, to roll out perfect rounds and cook them on the Griddle came next.Also chopping Vegetables,cooking Rice as well as readying the Pressure Cooker for cooking the Lentils for the Curries too became one of my daily chores. Slowly I graduated to cooking the simpler Vegetarian Stuff first till I found the correct balance of using the Condiments needed to season each in proper proportions.Finally came cooking the serious Stuff---however thanks to my getting married at an early age I left large chunks in my Culinary Progress incomplete!!!How I learnt to really become a good Cook is another Story-----and that is fodder for another Blog----which may follow soon!!
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!!
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