Thursday, January 17, 2013
As I began growing up--specially with Sohan Singh's exit from our Kitchen Mummy began reigning supreme in the Kitchen.A new phase in our childhood began--I began to get interested in cooking--and my imagination would run wild--My experiments were comme ci comme ca--a few hits and quite a few misses--but Daddy was my staunch supporter--he'd say that no one can learn anything without making a few mistakes!!Mummy on the other hand began training me in the manual labour involved--using the heavy Grinding Stone to grind a huge number of Masalas--in different consistencies.She'd say if I liked to eat it then I too should make an effort to add my contribution to the Dish--and grinding Fresh shredded raw Coconut to the consistency of a fine Paste was no mean task--not to forget thankless!!No matter how finely ground it was Mummy wanted it finer still!!
All my childhood Memories centre around Food.The Kitchen in Aaji's huge flat in Bombay (Mumbai) was fuelled by Coals.My earliest Memories are of sitting in the cosy warmth of the Coal stoves early in the morning--dunking my soft,warm freshly baked Bread in my Milk--another great comfort Food.My Grandpa maintained a large household.Mummy's Aunts,Uncles and Cousins were forever coming and going and I don't remember a single day when there were less than 20 people present for a Meal at any Mealtime!!Aaji was a fabulous cook--like "Annapurna" or the Goddess of Plenty--- she could whip up a Meal in an hour on her relatively primitive resources--and what a Meal!!There would be a fresh ground Chutney,a Salad,a Raita,two Vegetable Curries--one with gravy and one without ,besides an Usal made from different Legumes daily in rotation.Then there would be a Fish Curry and "Kokum" curry--made with Sun dried Mangosteen Shells soaked in freshly extracted,spiced Coconut Milk.The staple of both Rice and Chapati as well as the regular sides of home made Pickles,Papads and Fried Fish completed the "Thali".We'd sit on low oblong shaped stools called "Paatas" with Silver Flowers tacked on in the corners.A slightly taller square stool called a "Chaurang" served as a table.Each person ate in a polished Silver Plate called a "Thali" and different Silver Bowls held the various Curries and the Kokum Curry and each Meal would begin after Grace had been said and the Food blessed.
Early in the morning I'd accompany my Grand Uncle Dada Kaka to the nearby Grant Road Market to buy the fresh raw Ingredients for the Meal.He carried a huge Bag made of woven Grass--I carried a much smaller version of the same material and shape.We'd stroll from stall to stall looking at,approving and finally haggling over the fresh catch to reach a price acceptable to both--the seller and the buyer!!The larger Fish went into his Basket the smaller into mine as did the Vegetables--he took the heavier stuff while i carried home the bunches of fresh Spinach and Cilantro along with Curry Leaves and tiny, spicy and very hot Green Chillies named "Lavangi Mirchi" or Clove Chillies!!Being Konkanis all the food cooked in Aaji's home was Coconut based--it was cooked in home extracted Coconut Oil--all sourced from Aazoba's ancestral Property in erstwhile princely state of Saawant Waadi in the Konkan.All the men would eat a full Meal by 9 a.m.--for being early risers their day began at Dawn--4 a.m. each morning.My taste buds can still recall the taste of the sweet,fresh steamed Rice--steaming hot with it's ladlefuls of hot plain "Varan' and oodles of ghee splashed over it.This is one of the easiest and most nutritious dishes to cook--pressure cook 1 cup of split Pigeon Peas (Tur/Toovar/Arhar Dal) with an equal amount of Water for 3-4 whistles.Allow pressure to subside and then mash the Dal till well blended.Add a Lime sized piece of Jaggery,0.25 tsp.Asafoetida and 1 tsp.turmeric Powders along with salt to taste.Stir in 1 tbsp. of Ghee and simmer over low flame till well blended and slightly thick.Ladle it over hot steaming plain Rice and pour spoonfuls of Ghee or Clarified Butter over it.Mix well and serve with a crisp Papad and home made Pickle--simply yummy!!
Another thing that still lingers in my mouth is the remembered taste of Aaji's Coconut Kokum Kadhi.Those organically grown Coconuts had a very addictive taste--I could even at that young age drink down potfulls of the stuff!!The delicate blending of Black Pepper Corns,Garlic,a sprig or two of Fresh Cilantro along with a tiny Green Chilli for the bite mixed with freshly extracted raw Coconut Milk--all ground together and the extract mixed in with the Sun dried Kokum shells soaked in a little fresh Coconut Water,a pinch of Asafoetida Powder and Salt to taste.The huge Chappaties,the Crab,Clams and other Shell Fish as well as Sardines,Pomfret,Bombay Duck,Mackerel,King Fish and many other tasty varieties featured on my Grandma's Menus.There would be a balance of Pulses,Vegetables and Fish which were a regular part of our Diets--with Sundays reserved for Chicken and Kid.