Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fathers and Daughters: Potatoes

Dekha Ek Khwaab To Yeh Silsile Hue

Door Tak Nigahon Mein Hain Gul Khile Hue Yeh Gila Hai Aapki Nigahon Se Phool Bhi Ho Darmiyaan To Faasle Hue

" a little tiffin box of alu bhujia"

Chandni looked at her watch and then picked up the book that lay beside her. She opened it to page twenty three, like she had already done a hundred times since yesterday afternoon, when she had purchased it at the airport after seeing off Anand, her husband of twenty nine years. A drop of sweat fell off her eyebrows onto the open page. Chandni wished the book signing was in the evening so she didn’t have to venture out in the midday Delhi summer heat. Even through the tinted glass of her air-conditioned car, the sun was beating down on her and the salmon silk saree she had foolishly chosen to wear was now sticking to her clammy legs.

She cast a furtive glance at the little canvas bag beside her, inside which she knew lay a small tiffin box of alu bhujia, a potato dish that years back Amit used to cook for her when she would visit his bachelor pad near North campus. Then she was his, his to love, his to write about. He used to call her his muse, his dream, his veneration. But that was when they were young, footloose and fancy-free. Even after all these years, when she cut potatoes, she felt a stirring in her heart, in that part of her heart which she had stopped the day she had watched Amit pull out Anand from a burning plane.

"thodi si haldi, thodi si mirchi"

That morning, when she was cutting potatoes to boil for her breakfast, her heart stung again. Before long, she poured oil in the frying pan. Then she remembered reading in the papers sometime back that Amit suffered from some stomach ailment and could no longer eat spicy or fried food. She quickly took the skillet off the stove and tilted it over the sink to let the oil drain, keeping just a little in the pan. Amit loved food hot enough to make his tongue curl in shock and his nostrils flare in distress. The first time he had cooked alu bhujia for her, she had ran around his house, hands up in the air, tongue sticking out, ranting and panting. Amit rather bemused had calmly stood in a corner; arms folded at his chest and watched her. Finally when she had calmed down a bit, he had offered her a glass of water and some salt. A few days later, he had shown her his new poem based on her histrionics and they both had had a good laugh.

Chandni stared at the rows of neatly labeled jars in her spice cabinet, her sparse eyebrows lowered furrowing her forehead further, her right index finger drumming her chin, searching to add flavor to the potatoes that were smoking on the stove. As she was about to pull out the jar of fenugreek, Amit’s words rang in her ears. The one time she had tried to add tomatoes to his bhujia, he had vehemently refused, explaining “Chandni, beauty lies in simplicity; thodi si haldi, thodi si mirchi.” (some turmeric, some chili)

The car came to an abrupt stop lurching Chandni forward. Steadying herself against the back of the passenger seat she glared at the driver, meaning to give him a piece of her mind. She would have to talk to Anand about this new driver; he was too reckless.

“Madam, aapka phone kab se baj raha hai.”(Madam your phone is ringing for a while)

Oh yes, indeed her phone was ringing. Scrambling through her purse, she found it before the call could get disconnected. Shikha, her daughter hollered from the other end, “Mummy where are you? I have been calling for so long." Without giving Chandni a chance to reply, Shikha continued, "Can you please pick up Diya from day care? They called to say she has a slight fever. Sameer is in Noida and I have an important meeting. I’ll get out of here as soon as the meeting’s done.”

Stifling another sigh, Chandni instructed the driver to go to her granddaughter’s daycare instead of the bookstore. She made a mental note to buy green chilies on the way home. Now that Amit would not be eating the alu bhujia, she planned to serve it with puris, when Shikha would come famished from work to pick up Diya and her daughter liked food that was hot enough to make her tongue curl in shock and her nostrils flare in distress.

This is my food fiction for "Of Chalks and Chopsticks" hosted by Aquadaze this month.

Alu Bhujia


Potatoes – 2 medium-large, cubed

Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Turmeric – ½ tsp

Red Chili powder – 1 ½ tbsp ( if you don’t like your food very hot reduce to ¾ tbsp)

Salt – 1tsp

Oil – 4tbsp (alt. use 1tbsp of oil and a non-stick skillet)


  • Heat oil in a skillet. Add cumin seeds to the hot oil.
  • When the seeds sputter, add potatoes and sauté for two minutes on high heat.
  • Reduce heat to medium-high and add salt, turmeric powder and chili powder.
  • Stir to coat potatoes with spices. Cook till potatoes are browned and done.
  • Remove from heat and serve with rice or Indian breads along with daal.



Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday morning and Idly

When my sister reached that stage in her education, where parents outdo each other in finding a private tutor, who refuses to come home to teach and lives miles away from your house, my parents outscored all their peers and found her a biology teacher a good ten kilometers away. That may not sound much if you didn’t live in Kolkata in the early nineties. Of course the tutor could fit her only in the 7am Sunday class! Some further unsuccessful tutor hunting later, my parents resigned to their collective fate, so every Sunday morning for two years, my sister was escorted by my parents to dissect frogs, rats and whatever else MBBS aspirants are supposed to do.

Why both parents accompanied her was as much a mystery to the accompanied as her little sister and old grandmother, though they all suspected with varying degrees of hurt that it was to escape them. Since they left home early and weren’t back long after breakfast, Mamai, my grandmother and I avenged the betrayal by refusing home cooked breakfast and sending the cook instead to fetch hot idlis and vadas from the local South Indian eatery. All this was done behind my parents’ back since Mamai was a heart patient and I was looking for Secret Sevenish adventure in my nine year old life. Sitting cross legged on her bed, watching Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh shake their ample booties on Rangoli, we would enjoy the feast from an assortment of banana leaf bundles laid out in front of us. Since then, no Sunday has been as exciting or beautiful until few weeks back N decided to give them some competition.

Idly and Kaaram podi

After a hectic week at work I spent a greater part of Saturday being pampered at a Spa with no inkling of all that N was soaking and fermenting in our kitchen. Sunday morning I woke up to a breakfast of piping hot homemade buttery soft idlis served with ghee, fried green plantain, salsa and freshly squeezed orange juice. I devoured and N has been reaping his reward since.

We never make idlis at home though I have an idly maker because N abhors them. We make uttapams or dosas instead. Since I wanted to share N’s culinary skills on this blog, after much coaxing he gave in and shared the recipe, which in fact came right off Indira’s Mahanandi. His advice – “follow the instructions to the tee!”


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicken 56

In my first year of college, I used to live in a vegetarian hostel which was a huge dietary shock for moi, who was raised primarily on fish and meat. Following my animal craving dormies, every evening I dutifully stood in queue with my little stainless steel tiffin box for a ladle of red and crispy Chicken 65 at the roadside cart eatery with foul mouthed auto drivers and stinky lechers high on country liquor. Every elbow and groping attempt was worth that ten rupees worth garlicky, extremely doubtful poultry spicy enough to make my nose run and eyes water. Of course for that money, I mostly got rice flour, curry leaves and red food color that bled onto my fingers and wouldn’t go after repeated hand washings.

Then I used to think my love for Chicken 65 was solely based on the unavailability of the bird on my student budget until I had the dish at Nandini’s for much more. As I bit into my first piece of chicken, crunchy on the outside, juicy inside I reached my first food O.

It didn’t take me long after moving to the US, to realize I cooked better Indian food than the grease dripping chole and chewy Tandoori chicken most restaurants served in the name of authentic desi khaana and when they managed to dish out good stuff all the villages belles and Hindu gods on the walls made me rather nervous to eat. In all my trials and tribulations, Chicken 65 had completely abandoned me and vice versa in what I saw as an ego tussle. Finally yesterday afternoon, overcome by motherland nostalgia I succumbed and scoured the net for her recipe.

Unfortunately most recipes called for food color and some kind of home ground South Indian masala, neither of which I had in hand. All I had was Kaaram podi and that had to do. Then when it came to actual cooking, my oil stinginess took over and the chicken started sticking to the pan despite constant stirring. Reluctantly I had to add water and cover cook. This resulted in a fantastic chicken curry but not Chicken 65. Since I no longer eat Chicken, I halfheartedly judged my creation based on N’s facial expressions – he sniffed, then bit, held back tears and finally grinned like a Cheshire cat. I took a bow. Here’s Chicken 65 56 for you.

Chicken 65 56


Chicken – 1lb (pref. with bone)

Garlic – 5tbsp minced

Red chili powder – 1tbsp

Turmeric powder– 1/4 tbsp

Salt – to taste

Soya sauce – 1tsp

Corn flour – 1tbsp

Kaaram podi – 1tbsp

Mustard seeds – 1tsp

Green chilies – 6 finely chopped

Curry leaves – 3 sprigs

Oil – 1tbsp

Water – 1/2 cup or as needed

Peanuts – 2 tbsp crushed (optional)


  • Marinate chicken with garlic, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, soya sauce, corn flour and kaaram podi for half hour.
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan and add mustard seeds, green chilies and curry leaves.
  • Once the spices sputter add the marinated chicken pieces and sauté for 2-3minutes on medium heat.
  • When the chicken starts sticking to the pan, add water and cover cook for 15minutes or until chicken is done. The gravy shouldn’t be runny but just enough to coat the chicken pieces.
  • Garnish with crushed peanuts. Serve with noodles or any Indian bread.

Serves – 2/3

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