14
Mar
2014

Curry for recovery

Soothing Sheddo Bhaat

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Sheddo Bhaat 550

No trip to Kolkata for me is complete without the dreaded stomach infection. This has little to do with the environment there. More a result of the abject torture I put my system through cramming the food in before the inevitable return to Blighty. (I am a camel, I will fill my hump, etc etc etc.)

The first week flew by. By the middle of the second week, the familiar tummy cramps set in. The fever was yet to descend so off we went to India’s premier North Indian restaurant. With a cup of chamomile tea, and a stern warning from the manager, I deep dived into Maa Ki Dal, a ghee laced bread basket and soft, spicy kebabs. The stuff of heaven.

Hell was soon to follow. Bundled into the car afterwards, I told driverji to find me the nearest pharmacy. It was late at night, the options were limited. I soon found myself ducking stray dogs in a local fruit and vegetable mart, which handily housed a shiny pharmacy.

I flung myself inside. Hello, I have come from London. And then launched into a sordid recount of the painful symptoms.

The object of my self diagnosis was directed at a smiling man, sat presidentially behind a desk. He waited patiently for my tirade to end, and then said in Bengali: “Acha, tell me something.”

I was all ears.

“Who told you to eat food outside your mother’s house?”

Was this man telling me off?

“Can your mother not cook? Ok, never mind. Filter water.”

Was this a question?

“Why did you drink filter water? What is wrong with mineral water? Available everywhere, tsk tsk.”

Now, I know Bengalis have a particular affinity with medicine. But it was late, and I was being given a dressing down by the owner of the only open pharmacy in the locality. I started blubbering a response. Translating feebly to my man. Who by this time had started taking portraits of the quasi medicine man.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, he declared his remedy: “Quickly, go quickly, to the shop next door and buy some chire [flattened rice]. Cook it gently and eat it with yoghurt tomorrow morning.”

This was quite enough. Are you a doctor?

I am a homeopath,” he proudly declared, breaking into the widest grin. His assistant finally handed over the stash of the OTC drugs I was really after.

There are a few things Bengalis eat to settle the stomach. But Sheddo Bhaat has to top the list. This is basically rice, lentils, vegetables and eggs, boiled, subtly flavoured, and then eaten with bits of broken green chillies. You can cook it all together, or at least cook the rice together with the veg and eggs, and the lentils separately. Vegetables that can be used here include pumpkin, potol (pointed gourd) and karela (bitter melon).

So this is what I ate on my return. And sooth it did. My bruised pride and burning insides. Until next time, my dear friends…
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    27
    Jan
    2014

    Paleo-friendly curry

    Andhra-style Methi chicken

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    Methi chicken 2 550

    Forget New Year’s day, my resolutions usually follow my birthday. Take all that unconditional love, unfettered attention, add increasing age, propensity for senility and voila, you get a stupid New Year’s resolution that will last a day. If lucky.

    This year was all about the possibility of middle age spread. No matter that I am nowhere near middle age yet. Prevention is better than cure. So when a local mother declared she was doing the Autoimmune Paleo, I immediately paid attention.

    If you haven’t heard about the Paleo, you must be living in the dark ages or something. This, people, is the diet du jour. Basically, you eat what your cavemen ancestors did, pre-agriculture. (Paleo is short for Paleolithic – geddit?) If it wasn’t available through hunting, fishing and gathering back in the old days, it’s not worth eating.

    So far, so fascinating.

    Except, I should have known this would never work for me. For a start, hunting, fishing and gathering already sounds like more hard work than I have done in my entire life. Then there is the brain power needed to work out what entered our diets through agriculture. So sweet potato okay, not white potato? Hello migraine.

    And finally, I am Indian. I live on rice and lentils. It is the stuff my dreams are made of. Life without both? You cavemen have no idea what you were missing.

    Nonetheless, I embarked on the ancestral dietary pattern. Kale Omelette for breakfast. No drama. Mackerel and Avocado salad for office lunch. No big deal. Chocolates winking at me at tea time. Tempting. Then I came home to find a tall stack of warm Methi Theplas, freshly made by nanny K, on the kitchen worktop. End of.

    I have on good record that no one trusts a skinny cook. If evolution has taught me one thing, it’s to be sensible with portions. Dinner time meals, in particular, tend to be a one pot dish with protein and vegetables, served with a reasonable portion of carbs. Usually a fistful of steaming hot Basmati rice. Chicken curry, tends to feature a lot.

    This Andhra-style Methi Chicken curry, combines sweet tangy tomatoes with the bitterness of healthy fenugreek, a match made in heaven. Fenugreek is available in abundance in Indian winters, and a staple ingredient when the temperatures dip. Imagine my delight when I found a frozen bag of chopped fenugreek in my local supermarket?

    That’ll be a last time I’m a Dodo about a diet.
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      13
      Jan
      2014

      Winter warmer

      Spicy Punjabi Dal

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      Maa Chole ki Daal 550

      Happy New Year to you all!

      Festive fever has well and truly ended. Not before we had 9 adults, 2 toddlers, 1 baby and 2 dogs for Christmas. And a dog splattered bodily fluids on mini Basu’s glitter party shoes.

      Fittingly, this turn of the year’s celebrations have been low key. Where else to end the shenanigans of the year but a cottage on a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere? The kids were not convinced. I want to go in an earoplane, was followed quickly by, I want to go in a swimming pool.

      The promise of a tractor did the trick. We hardened city dwellers would now embrace mud, yuck and woodlands with zeal. We bundled the kids, a nifty selection of toys, a bottle of Rose Taittinger, and my best country wear into the boot. If we were going to enjoy the delights of the country, we would do it well. A staycation in style.

      Style is not what came to mind as we drove towards our destination. Tucked away at the top of a winding mud path was our cottage on a farm featuring not just sheep, but horses, chickens and trout. Through gritted teeth I agreed on  a walk through the woods. Who cares that the path was knee deep in mud, and a biting wind was about to deep freeze my bones.

      At least we were dressed for the occasion. Or so I thought. The farmer came running towards us as I prepared to leap over a fence. I like your wellies, she said, pointing squarely at their wedge heels. [You think Wedge Wellies would be commonplace in these parts.] Before I could jump to my defence, she added, you won’t need your handbag in the woods dear.

      A little more sheepish than we had started, we braved the fine outdoors getting cosy later with a warming, thick and vegan Spicy Punjabi Dal that caught my eye from Monica’s Spice Diary. This is the perfect dal for the Arctic blast, and ideal used as a dunking base for chunks of bread, ripped up pitta or warm rotis of course. And what better way to start a year of eating than a clear head and a warm heart?

      Here’s to a fantastic year ahead.
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        02
        Dec
        2013

        Out of comfort zone

        Aloo Tikki Chole for festive fun

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        Aloo Tikki Chole 550

        As far as I am concerned, Durga Puja kicks off the festive season. The first big celebration before Diwali, Kali Puja and then the grand finale of Christmas.

        As a self-respecting NRI mother, I dust the cobwebs off my sarees, kit the kids out and make way to the nearest pujo pandal. But not before I have seized the moment to teach my errant toddlers the story of Ma Durga.

        I sit them down in their fake Shah Rukh Khan / Karisma Kapoor outfits and start the search. Thank mercy for YouTube, I smile. If there is one place for a suitable animation of the story of Goddess Durga and all her incarnations, this is it.

        YouTube, as it turns out, is not the go to place for suitable. I watched as the Goddess of Strength in my animation of choice partook in a blood bath, where splodges of tomato ketchup landed here, there and everywhere. With every raised spear and splodge of colour on the screen, I watched the bundles turn a paler shade of brown.

        When the asuras heads ended up in her grips along with the blood stained weaponry, I spotted that ominous “see you at night time look”. I finally dived forward and switched to a furry oversize puppet singing the ABC song. Next time I’ll just tell the story without the quasi horror visual gags.

        There is no better excuse to try something a little out of the comfort zone than during the festive season. For Durga Puja, I didn’t venture much further than the special Bhoger Khichuri of course. But for Diwali, I turned my attention to a slightly more tricky Aloo Tikki Chole, a spicy, tangy snack of potato cakes on a bed of chickpea curry doused with sweet and sour chutneys, topped with crunchy onions and crunchy gram flour noodles.

        I say tricky, because it involves the preparation of four different things, not forgetting the need for a number of specialist ingredients that require a focused trolley dash. This, in my life, is the almighty faff that only festivity can justify. Only just.

        The key here, as with most Indian cooking, is in timing. Cook the aloo tikkis under a hot grill, so that you can be getting on with preparing the other bits and bobs. And make the chutneys the day before, so that’s one less thing to think about.
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          07
          Oct
          2013

          A big dill

          Seven years of surprises

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          Baingan dill bhaji 550

          Seven years since this blog was born. Since then, I’ve created two children, a book and enough grey hairs to make a toddler’s Halloween wig. Readers have come, gone and then come back again. Comments have dried up, but the drivel I write shows no sign of abating. Let’s hope the visitor numbers aren’t being generated on a click farm in Dhaka.

          I was gearing up to write a sentimental post. You know, the sort that would give away my ripe old age. About how times have changed, it’s all about short, sharp and snappy. Blogging is just not how it used to be… yada yada yada.

          Just then, a vegan walked through my door. This, is a rare occurrence. (I liked to joke that I do not feed vegetarians, vegans and teetotalers. Until I used said joke on one, and it crash landed like a heavy bottomed tawa on my small toe.)

          This vegan just happened to be staying the night at our friend’s place, who was coming over for dinner with his wife to learn to make dal. As if the combination of a vegan and dal virgin home cook could not get worse, I also had Boobie over: strict meatarian, white wine and fag fiend and general giver of much opinion.

          It didn’t take long for the interrogation to start. So, why don’t you eat meat.

          Unfazed by the two meat loving, Indian fishwives, he explained his fine stance against cruelty to animals.

          So how about cruelty to mankind?

          Again, a fairly robust defence. He was a University lecturer after all.

          What about leather shoes/coats?

          He doesn’t wear leather.

          Conceding defeat, I topped up his Vegan wine while Boobie threw him a fag. Then we both declared Indian food would be our cuisine of choice if we ever decided to go vegan or vegetarian. So much variety, who would miss meat?

          Like this recipe: Dill Baingan Bhaji. Nothing more than aubergines/brinjal sauteed with spices and dill leaves (sowa/soya/suva saag). I adore dill recipes, but something about its pungent grassy taste alongside the silky aubergines makes this recipe sublime.

          Here’s to learning something new every day. Dodging the seven year itch and blogging my way through life’s every lesson. Wishing Sia, Sra, Jayashree and Mandira happy big seven. No mean feat ladies. And to Ganga, a proud vegetarian, for celebrating 17 years of blogging! Something to aspire to.
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            24
            Sep
            2013

            Bengali Tin Kona Porotha

            Bong Moms Banter

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            Paratha 550

            Mother arrived here three weeks ago. This year’s most unnecessary-kitchen-things-to-lug-all-the-way-to-England included a microwave idli maker and a sprout maker. I was saved by a stroke of luck. Namely, the miserly baggage allowance of Qatar Airways.

            This year’s trip is in honour of Mini Basu’s school start. The time my mother has in between school drop off and pick up, she spends dutifully cooking for her sprogs and grand sprogs. She has taken a brief respite from her life on set to do what come most naturally. After all, as a dear friend’s mother declared, Bengali (Bong) mothers are only truly interested in three things: education, food and their children. I can’t say I am escaping this fate either.

            What better time than now to transport my latest cookbook from the bedside table to the kitchen? I have been chuckling in bed reading this fantastic cookbook by Sandeepa of the very popular Bong Moms cookbook blog. A dear friend, her eponymous cookbook captures the food, spirit and innate humour of the culture we share in a very funny and seminal, contemporary Bengali cookbook.

            I set my sights on the Bengali Tin Kona Porotha recipe, the triangular paratha, of our childhood breakfasts and Sunday lunches that I pine for in London. Not one to attempt on a regular work day, it was now or never. Mother had already cooked Mangshor Jhol, a sublime slow cooked goat meat curry. Now I would pair it with a single minded focus on the step-by-step instructions of another Bong Mom.

            Except, mine doesn’t do silences.

            Back at home, we only make it with plain flour.”

            Don’t add too much ghee, the porotha will become crisp. Like papad.

            Keep kneading the dough. The secret is in the kneading. Knead more. Knead more.”

            At which point, I decided to give her a job: “Mother can you pour us some gin and tonic?” She was up in a flash.

            Aided by Bong Mom’s Cookbook, a gin (or two) and mother’s watchful eye, I made a stash of moreish parathas that we ate dipped in Mangshor Jhol. From one Bong Mom to another,  there’s always room for new exciting adventures. Bong Mom’s Cookbook will certainly keep me going on mine.
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