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


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Modaks - Sweet and Savory

When you are a sweetaholic and you can’t eat dairy, life becomes bleaker than you’d ever known. There’s only a certain amount of bananas, dates and sweetened granola you can eat before you give in and gobble down your first soya tart and your palate is ruined forever. Even after brushing your teeth until you have no enamel left, finishing your year’s supply of Listerine and as last resort gurgling with neem juice, you’ll be unable to get rid of the greasy, putrid aftertaste. What shall you do then – sulk in a corner and contemplate whether the lone savior of your taste buds, a tiny piece of dark chocolate is worth the hives you’ll break into a hour after it valiantly fights off that nasty tang which has seized your mouth.

Yes my friend, that’s what I was doing when suddenly my usually underperforming memory stepped it up and images of Modaks flashed across my eyes. I had tasted them years back when Smitha aunty, my parents’ Maharashtrian neighbor had sent them after Ganesh Chaturthi. I couldn’t remember much except that they tasted of coconut. Some googling later I finally found my diary free sugar fix – coconut and jaggery dumplings at Aayi’s.

However, there was a tiny problem – there was no jaggery at home and I wasn’t sure of my dumpling cover rolling skills. Genius overtook; sugar substituted gur and the packet of dumpling skins came out of the refrigerator. I didn’t want to fry them so I steamed the dumplings like some internet recipes had suggested. Of course in my euphoria, I had forgotten the salt and spices in the processed dumpling skins but that only made the Modaks more interesting – an explosion of savory and sweet in the mouth. After polishing off a plate of these sinful dumplings, I had a preposterous desire to hug the Thackerays and shout “Jai Maharashtra!” I am also sending these sweet and savory Modaks to One Hot Stove.

Modaks – Sweet and Savory



Grated coconut – 3/4 cup

Sugar – 1/3 cup

Sesame seeds – 1 tsp, toasted and roughly crushed

Rice flour – 1tbsp

Raisins – 1/3 cup

Cashew nuts – 1/3 cup coarsely crushed

Cardamom powder – 1tsp

Rose water – 1/2 tsp

Dumpling skin - 20



  • Mix grated coconut and sugar in a microwave safe bowl and heat covered for 3 minutes on high or until the sugar melts and forms a homogenous mixture with coconut.
  • Add the other ingredients for filling and mix well. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  • Prepare your steamer. Since I don’t have a steamer I had to make one by placing a lightly greased sieve over a large pot filled to 1/8 capacity with water. While the water comes to a rolling boil fill the dumplings.
  • Place a dumpling skin flat on a clean surface and wet all around the edge.
  • Place 1 heaped tbsp of the filling in the centre and gather the edges to completely cover the filling. Seal the dumpling with a light twist.
  • Repeat for other dumplings.
  • Dip the dumplings in water and place on the greased sieve after water in the pot comes to a rolling boil. Cover the pot and let the dumplings steam on medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove the lid carefully avoiding steam burn and check for doneness. The dumpling skin should be glistening and translucent.
  • If done remove pot from heat.
  • Gently remove the modaks from the sieve and allow them cool to room temperature before serving.

    Serves – 4


    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Maacher Jhol - Everyday Fish Curry!

    It’s a well established fact on this blog that my sister hates fish or rather hated; she has miraculously developed a taste for it after child birth. It’s also been established that my mother is an amazing convincer – that woman has some serious story telling talent. Every afternoon, I would listen to the outlandish stories Ma would tell Didi to make her eat fish and rice, Bongs’ staple food. However they may have started, every conversation ended with Didi’s frustrated shriek, “Everyday fish curry!”

    The fish that we were fed most days of the week was cooked in light gravy with seasonal vegetables like eggplants and potatoes in summer and cauliflower and green peas in winter. If anyone in the family or had loosies she’s add green plantain. Ma still cooks this fish curry almost every day with a wide variety of fish though Rohu, an Indian carp is her preferred one. Here since in the Indian grocery store freezers, I usually find Rohu that has been frozen for at least a year; I usually make it with fresh Tilapia or Pomfret.

    Maacher Jhol


    Fish(Rohu/Tilapia/Pomfret/Surma/Chara pona or baby Rohu) – 1lb either cut in steaks or fillets (chara pona is cooked whole)

    Potatoes – 1large or two medium cut in wedges

    Cauliflower – 1/2 medium cut into large florets

    Green peas – 1/2 cup shelled

    Tomatoes – 1 cup chopped

    Ginger paste – 1tbsp

    Cumin seeds – 1tsp

    Asafetida – 1 large pinch

    Whole red chili - 2

    Green chili – 3-4 slit (or according to taste)

    Cumin powder – 1tbsp

    Coriander powder – ½ tbsp

    Red chili powder – 1 tbsp

    Turmeric powder – 1 tbsp to marinate fish + ¼ tbsp for curry

    Cilantro – ½ bunch chopped


    Oil – mustard oil would be the best but Canola/ Vegetable oil will do (Don’t use olive oil since the fish has to be fried and olive oil burns very easily)


    • Thaw fish pieces and pat dry with paper towel. Rub fish steaks/fillets with turmeric powder, salt and very little oil.
    • Shallow fry cauliflower and potatoes separately. Alternately, bake the vegetables with little oil to al dente. (I however steam cauliflower florets until tender and use boiled potatoes; Ma faints) Keep aside.
    • Deep fry the fish pieces in a heavy bottom pan in smoking hot oil. You have to fry them in a good amount of oil which you’ll have to throw away later but if you try to fry them in less oil the pieces will stick stubbornly to the pan. I use a small pan and fry a single fillet or two steaks at a time to waste less oil. Keep aside.
    • Make a paste with the ginger paste, cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and red chili powder.
    • Heat 1tbsp of oil in another heavy bottom pan. When the oil is ready add asafetida, cumin seeds and whole red chilis. Let the spices brown then add the spices and ginger paste. Sauté the masala for three minutes adding little water at a time whenever the masala starts sticking to the pan.
    • Add chopped tomatoes and sauté until the tomatoes turn mushy and oil starts seeping around the edges of the gravy.
    • Add the green peas and water and salt. Let the gravy come to a boil. Reduce heat and cook covered on medium heat until peas are tender.
    • Add potatoes, cauliflower and fish pieces and allow the gravy to come to a rolling boil. Turn off heat and garnish with chopped cilantro.
    • Enjoy with steamed rice.

    Serves - 4

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