Month: January 2021

My newly found love for Earthenware by Titas Mazumdar

 Earthen Pots- The true organic pot for cooking Indian food.  My new passion in cooking section is terracotta Pots. I have heard so much about ancient healthy and hygienic cooking in them that I finally got attracted to it and started trying my hands on it.

Assorted eartherware from my collection

Thinking of these pots, take me back to those childhood days in Krishnanagar at my Grany’s place, where once in a while, we used to lit a fire outside the house and cook in those earthen handis. It used to be fun-filled cooking noontime, full of excitement with my Dadu and Dida. But that too was a rarity in my growing days.

My Dad has fond memories of his childhood days cooking in those earthen pots. I have heard these stories several times and every single time he narrates them with a sparkle in his eyes. In his growing days chicken was not a popular Hindu meat so was not allowed in the regular kitchen. Cooking Chicken in the household used to be a big deal and rarely it was allowed to be cooked at homes. My Dad describes how he along with the other siblings would gather together and the elder one would take the lead to cook chicken in the courtyard during a bright sunny winter morning. The custom was to destroy the pot every single time after cooking chicken as chicken was considered as untouchable meat and the pots used to cook them went back to the soil where it came from.

In 2018 we went for a vacation to Hartola in Uttarakhand and there we stayed in a home stay assisted by a local cook. First time I saw how easily Rajma can be boiled in those beautiful earthen pots and from there my inner desire kicked in for these earthen beauties. I started collecting few from local Banjara market and few from Surajkund Mela.

There are lot of benefits of cooking in earthen pots, primarily the taste. As these pots are porous they retain heat and moisture and  ensure an even distribution of heat throughout the entire cooking process. The food cooked in these earthen pots are no doubt more aromatic, tasty and it retains the nutrition of the food and on top of that adds required minerals that include calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. Isn’t it magic cooking?

Champaran Mutton

This pandemic time gave me a lot of opportunities to explore new things, and one among them is cooking in these earthen pots.  My best one is cooking Champaran Mutton (a speciality from Bihar) in terracotta handis.  You can feel the spices in the tender meat which melts into your mouth. I also make Kerala fish curry in these pots. The spices enter in fish uniformly making it soft and tasty even more. Daal is a must-try in these pots, it will the best Daal which you have ever tasted. Stir-frying vegetables in a terracotta pan is also a tried and tested option.

In Olden days, Bengal’s Sara pithe a popular sweet dish of the Harvest festival (Poush Shankranti) used to be prepared in earthen pots. The misti doi & rosogolla in Bengal comes in clay pots and outside every offices and corner of the road, you can still see bharer cha (earthen cups) for tea. The simple rule is to drink it and crush it, no use of paper or plastic cups till date.

Having said all these, one thing for sure, these earthen beauties need lot of care and pampering. We cannot wash it in a similar way with other utensils. Washing tips I got from the Banjaras from whom I purchased the pots. Never use soap in these posts, porous body will absorb the soap water and might be injurious to health. I can’t put them in dishwasher too along with other dishes. After using the pots I just wash with hot water to remove the food particle, after that I boil water in the pot for 5 to 10 mins so that the oil and smell goes away and the pots become sterile. This has helped to keep them clean and odour free. These darlings are no wonder high maintenance babies which needs care during washing and also from mishandling.  I call them the delicate darlings of my Kitchen and the most pampered ones, but trust me they are worth the pamper considering the tasty food they help me to serve.

No wonder that earthen pots have magic but honestly I don’t use it daily, though I am trying to introduce terracotta wares in my daily cooking and not just the fancy one

A quick recipe of my style of Kerala fish curry- A simple one.

  1. Wash king fish (Surmai) pieces, put salt and turmeric
  2. Original recipe don’t tell you to deep fry it but I do to get rid of its fishy smell. But one caution don’t over fry it, otherwise, it will become tough. A quick shallow fry will also do.
  3. Take an earthen pot , heat it with little oil- fry ginger pieces, whole garlic cloves, Onion cubes, red chillies, tomatoes, black pepper, curry leaves, whole jeera for 5 to 10 mins, switch off and let it cool down. Make a paste of it.
  4. Now in the same terracotta pot put oil, let it heat and then put curry leaves, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds- once it splutters, put chopped onions and fry till its light brown.
  5. Add the paste made to it and keep frying in the same oil.
  6. Once cooked add coconut milk and pot the fish in the creamy gravy.
  7. Serve it with LOVE, along with Dosa or rice .

The earthy sweetness of Poush Sankranti

Malpoa & dudh puli from Swadhinata’a kitchen

There’s a price that we pay for city living, losing out on our traditional festivals being one. I remember Poush Sankranti as an important occasion growing up. Mom and my grandmother would get up early, take bath and pay homage to the sun. We were pulled out of bed asked to bathe and wear fresh clothes before eating anything. The temptation of yummy khichuri, labra (mixed veggie) and bhaja would make us hurry.

Sankrati or Makar Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals that is observed according to the solar cycles, thus falling on the same date as per the English calendar every year (it’s usually on Jan 14th except in some years it shifts by a day to Jan 15th). It is said that the Sun enters the Capricorn (Makar) zodiac on that day, marking the end of the winter solstice as per the Hindu calendar. While most Hindu festivals are set by lunar cycle, Sankranti celebrates Sun and the solar cycle.

It could be because Sun or the right amount of sunlight is so important for a good harvest. Hailed as the harvest festival Sankranti is celebrated across India in different names – Magh Bihu in Assam; Maghi (preceded by Lohri) in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, popular amongst both the Hindus and Sikhs. It’s Sukarat in central India; Pongal in Tamil Nadu; Uttarayan in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; Ghughuti in Uttarakhand; Makara Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal; or as Sankranthi in Andhra and Telangana. Irrespective of the many names feasting is an integral part of this festival, preparing a lavish meal with fresh yields from the field. We urban souls off course depend on the yield transported to our markets and mandis.

Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti is also called Pithe Porbon in Bengal as we prepare a range of Pithe (sweet savouries made out of rice flour, gur, coconut or khoya) on that day. However, in my family there would be no Pithe made on Sankranti as a little child once (generations back) accidentally choked on rice flour while his mother was making Pithe. Since then, the family decided not to make Pithe on Sankranti day. We would stick to khichuri and its accompaniments. My mother would make Pithe and payesh a day prior to Sankranti so we could have Pithe on that day, yet the tradition would not be broken.

Chitoi Pithe with jhola gur (liquid jaggery), pathishapta, dudh puli, malpoa and off course nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with rice and date jaggery) are made in most household. Sharing an image from my friend Swadhinata’a Instagram account who keeps the tradition alive even in Grenoble. “My childhood used to be closely associated with this day when my mother used to make varieties of pithe, and we all used to have fun eating them. To commemorate this festival, I made 3 varieties of pithe namely dudh puli pithe with narkel and nolen gurer pur (semolina/rice dumplings with coconut and jaggery filling), narkeler gujiya/bhaja puli (fried rice flour/wheat flour dumplings with coconut and sugar filling); and shukno sujir malpoa/poa pithe (fried semolina pancakes). It was awesome to see them come out so well and I got nostalgic,” says Swadhinata. (Swadhinata delights us with her culinary posts on her Instagram page bobbysaha).

Back home my sister Miki too made a range of pithes. The pictures that she shared on WhatsApp did make me very nostalgic. And thank God for Roy Meshomoshai and Mashima who live in my society I could savour the flavours of Poush Sankranti. I just hopped over to their place and had my fill of khichuri, labra, pathishapta and payesh. Their children who happen to be my very close friends were also there. Good food, great company and Old Monk was the flavour of Poush Sankranti this year.

The thing about Nothing

Have you ever felt the urge to do absolutely nothing? Just lie on the bed for as long as you please or sit idly with a cup of coffee. No emails that need your attention, no phone calls, no meetings, no deadlines that beckon you. Do what you please with your time or do nothing at all.

Podering upon Nothing

The thing about nothing is it takes us years to realize that it’s perhaps the greatest luxury, the one precious thing that we are all running after. Having to do nothing or rather having our days at our beck and call, idling away, or doing what we please. It’s the joy of being a ‘Superannuated Man’, were Charles Lamb revels in his new-found freedom, of having done away with the routine of a job. It’s on the one hand about doing away with the mundane and tending to tasks that have long been left unattended, things that give us joy. To write, read, paint, cook, travel, or maybe teach the not so fortunate children. But then, nothing doesn’t pay. While the tasks that we choose when we bid goodbye to the mundane may sustain our soul, our bodies demand more, so back we go to the mundane.

But a routine job may not always be that mundane. We do enjoy our jobs and it’s not fair to term them as dull – the short deadlines, the challenges, rushing through the days juggling between different tasks does give us an adrenaline rush. And trying to steal a few moments from our busy days to do the things that are close to our hearts, or just, do nothing. I have often wondered if it’s the elusive nature of ‘nothing’ that makes it so precious. Once I decide to give up the mundane, will nothing come back to bite me? I will read and write, translate all my crazy ideas to beautiful pieces, I will travel as much as I please, such tempting pictures my imagination paints. But is it the mundane routine that prompts my muse? What if nothing or the freedom to do anything I please is not as inspiring?

As 2021 walks in with many hopes, a few questions and uncertainties still hanging in the air, I ponder upon nothing. And these rainy, gloomy January days that the year opened with in Gurgaon seem perfect for lazing and doing nothing. But the new year brought newer challenges. So, every morning while my heart desires to do nothing, my mind restlessly scans through the to-do list pushing me out of my warm winter bed. A long winter break is all my heart desires as I rush through my daily chores and phone calls and zoom meetings, I yearn for a day to do nothing.

When 20 turns 21!

It’s 2021 finally! You are not yet another New Year, so much rests on your shoulders – our hopes, our dreams, our wishes for a better tomorrow. As if with a magic wand you will shoo away all our woes that 2020 brought along. We are no fools, our optimism keeps was going…

Ah, 2020. What can we say about you that has already not been said so many times over? We complained bitterly and then we just accepted you. Now we are glad that you are gone, for you were one harsh teacher. You took so much from us, you locked us indoors, tried to discipline. You showed us we have so much that we may never need and care so little about things that really matter. You taught us the value of life, of love, of relationships.

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Sipping into the intoxicating warmth of mulled wine

So when I stepped out gingerly on the last day of the year, I decided to savour the little things that I so missed – walking through the lanes of Khan Market, basking in the winter sun, window shopping and of course sipping hot coffee and mulled wine and hot toddy. I spent the whole day there, starting with coffee and the walks and then the hot drinks and good food. Masked of course for that is a legacy you left behind. When we finally called it a day my friend wished me a happier 2021. ‘At least 2020 is over,’ he said.

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Cheering 2021 with Sanchita & Sanjay

We welcomed 2021 with open arms. With a few close friends who made 2020 bearable. And delightful it was!

I don’t think 2021 will take all our worries away with so ‘may be’s’ still hanging in the year. But I do hope we remember the lessons that 2020 taught us as we walk into 2021!