Experiences with Experiments!!
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!!