Chaklis by Keerti Ramachandran

When I suggested that we order some dhoklas for evening snack my Gujju friend looked startled. “Dhoklas from a shop. I eat only the ones my mom makes,” he exclaimed. I would have probably reacted in the same manner if I was asked to buy Patishapta or Malpua from a shop. They are readily available in sweet shops across CR Park but can’t match the taste of Ma’s home-made Patishapta or Malpua. Though I yearn for these traditional Bengali sweets and request Ma to make them whenever she comes down, I never bothered with the recipes. Along with the time, are we going to lose these traditional recipes?

Enjoy reading how Keerti Ramachandran revives the Chakli recipe of her mother-in-law and try making some traditional food this festive season.

It was at dinner a few days ago that my daughter-in-law said, “Mummy, you must start a Keerti’s kitchen” now otherwise all these traditionally home-made dishes will be lost to the next generation. See how popular ….. has become!”

Taking a cue from that I decided I would revive some of my mother-in-law’s recipes for the benefit of my grandchildren at first then if viable, for other people’s too.

The festive season is round the corner so a good starting point would be to make chaklis at home. Of course chaklis are available everywhere, but we always felt they lacked something – they had no particular character, whereas Amma’s were still alive on our tongues.

So, one day when the sun came out after a particularly long and unseasonal cloudy wet spell, I hunted out my old recipe book, checked the recipe and did as instructed. Wash and put out to dry in the shade, 4 measures (any measure will do) of raw rice, gently roast 1 measure of urad dal (without the skins) till golden brown and fragrant, and keep aside till the rice is completely dry. Get the rice and dal ground into a fine flour, without any contamination of jowar, ragi, besan or wheat flour.

My local chakkiwala was obliging. He agreed to grind plain rice  and then my chakli flour, for a small fee of course! Mmmm…. Smelt good!

When no one was at home, I quickly measured out 1 cup of the flour, added salt to taste, 1 teaspoon of red chilli powder, ½ tsp hing, and 3heaped tablespoons of white til. One tight fistful of white unsalted butter (mine was homemade, yes!) was gently mixed into the flour and all of it then brought together with a little after at a time, soft enough to be easily pressed through the chakli press with the star shaped disc.  (Of course the chakli maker had not been used for years and had to be thoroughly scrubbed with tamarind and pitambari powder since it was made of brass). Ultimately it was the wooden one that worked!

 Oil in kadai, gas on medium high and the dough was ready to press out. Needless to say the hands were out of touch, they were too high above the foil sheet, so the chaklis came out in bits and pieces. Okay, the dough was too stiff. A dash of water to soften it and it pressed out easily, with the right amount of prickles. But oval chaklis? Try lowering the press I said to myself, took a deep breath, slowly moved hands clockwise and there it was! A perfect circle, with a slight gap between the rows. (Amma used to say don’t make the circles too tight!)  After pressing out about 10, the oil had become nice and hot, I remembered to put in only 6 chaklis at a time and then lower the flame. The one thing cooking teaches, or ought to teach you is patience… don’t keep disturbing the frying chaklis, wait until they are nicely golden, and start giving out the butter… you can tell when the oil stops bubbling.  Then take the chaklis out gently – use a piece of wire cut from an old aluminium hanger and pass it through the centre of the chaklis so you get them all in a row. Drain and set aside till cold.

Wah! An hour later they were all done and ready to serve.

“Hmm, too buttery” “no crunch”  “not enough salt,” “good, but …” “ummm something’s missing…”  “arrey just go and buy them when you feel like eating na! not worth the effort!”

“Go, get your chaklis from Malleswaram or wherever!” I snorted and put the dabba away, muttering under my breath, “Gadhe ko kya zafran ka maza” (where will a donkey appreciate the flavour of saffron!)

 A couple of days later I felt nibbly at tea time so I reached for the chakli dabba … and  felt like Mother Hubbard! Mother who?

Now that’s something else that will get lost too!

Keerti Ramachandra is by aptitude, inclination and training, a teacher. She has been a freelance editor of fiction and non-fiction for major publishing houses and a translator of fiction and nonfiction from Marathi, Kannada and Hindi into English.  Among her translated works are: From Marathi: Mahanayak, a fictionalised biography of Netaji Bose and A Dirge for the Dammed, both by Vishwas Patil, A Faceless Evening and Other Stories by Gangadhar Gadgil  Of Closures and New Beginnings short stories and a noella, by  Saniya.

The Dying Sun and other stories by Joginder Paul with Usha Nagpal, and HIndutva or Hind Swaraj  by U R Ananthamurty with Vivek Shanbhag.

Several of her translations have appeared in anthologies, magazines and journals in India and abroad. 

Beat the heat with vintage drinks!

Temperatures are soaring, and the soft drinks and cold drinks makers are making mullah, wooing millennial with fancy ad campaigns. Be it Coke, Pepsi, Limca, Fanta, Thumbs Up, Tang or Paper Boat they come with the promise to quench your thirst, beat the heat, add style to your swag and so much more. Some of them can even transform us into superheroes by helping us achieve the impossible. And then there are fruit juices from Tropicana and Real which are supposed to be healthy as well, if the ads are to be believed. Kids crave for Cola’s and Tang and synthetic juices. Teenagers hang out with cans of aerated drinks; these are in vogue you see!

Whatever happened to good old nimbu paani or lemonade. When we were young that was our only treat on hot summer afternoons, sweet and slightly tangy nimbu paani or lebur shorbot (as we Bengalis’ like to call it). In Bengal, we get a different variety of nimbu (lemon), mildly fragrant gandharaj lebu that add aromatic flavour to the nimbu paani. We had gandharaj lebu plant in our courtyard then and nimbus were in abundance. In summer, mom used to keep sugar syrup in a glass bottle in the fridge. As soon as we were back from school, we were given a cool glass of lebur shorbot with a spoon of sugar syrup and a pinch of black salt. Sometimes she added roasted jeera powder for variety. It was both refreshing and healthy. But there was something amazing about the lebur shorbot that Didun (my naani) used to make, I am yet to taste a drink so delicious!

We were occasionally allowed to have orange squash, orange concentrate that used to come in a 1-litre glass bottle. One-tenth orange squash mixed in cold water was a real treat for us. A few cubes of ice would make it even better. You would find a bottle of Kisan orange squash in every house in summers. Roof Afza was available too, but we Bengalis are not very fond of that drink.

Bel Pana – a drink from of the pulp of Bel or wood apple, is yet another summer drink I so crave for. It involves straining the pulp of Bel mixing it with curd or cold milk. My mother would also add jaggery to it. The process is slightly complicated, but Bel Pana is delicious and one of the most nutritious drinks that you can team with your breakfast on a hot day. When I was a little girl, fruit sellers from nearby villages would sometimes get Palm juice or Tal Ras in an earthen pot early morning. The giddy sweetness of the palm juice was a rare treat that we would look forward to on Sunday mornings. There was always homemade aam panna and lassi and cold coffee and fresh coconut water. We had a coconut tree in our courtyard with the sweetest tender coconut water. 

No matter how much Paper Boat tries, their aam panna or thandai will never match the homemade flavours of my mom and Didun! Nimbus is nowhere close to lebur shorbot and Homemade’s aam panna couldn’t be further away from it. The aerated soft drinks don’t even quench my thirst, forget about adding to my style quotient. Instead, I use my superpowers to recreate the magic of Didun’s lebur shorbot and mom’s aam panna. Couldn’t find Bel in Gurgaon or would love trying Bel Pana.

Lau Tales: from a Humble Boy to a Yummy Prince!

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, a migratory bird dropped a seed in the heart of Africa, that germinated into thick green vines with white flowers that open only at night. From those white flowers was born Lau. Wait, Lau was known by different names then – Calabash, Bottle Gourd (owing to its bottle like shape), Long Melon and so many more. People didn’t even know how to eat this vegetable in those days but made utensils out of it once mature, owing of its round shape.

Many years later, after travelling many continents when Bottle Gourd finally landed in a Bengali kitchen, the Bong Fairy Godmother with hands on her hip, looked ponderingly at this long green vegetable and lovingly named it Lau. She then touched it with her magical khunti (spatula), poured a concoction of mild spices and turned humble Lau into a yummy sought-after prince. With her imagination and culinary magic, she gave so many avatars to this vegetable, each one more delightful than the other. Lau became the beloved vegetable of Bengal, folk artists started singing its glory:

Lau

Shadher laau banailo more boiragi
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Aaga khailam go….
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Laau dia banailam dugdugi
O Ami laau dia banailam dugdugi

Loosely translated the lyrics mean, beloved Lau has turned me into a wandering ascetic. Having eaten every bit of this delicious vegetable, right from its skin to the stem, I have even made a dumroo out of it. I dare say lot is lost in my attempt of translation. In fact, these lyrics are impossible to translate. Inserting an audio link of this folk song, made popular by Bangladeshi folk singer Runa Laila, for you to have a feel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbgJI2h9wFs

Lau is indeed one hell of a versatile vegetable for Bongs. Right from its flowers (lau phool), to skin, to stem (lau data) and leaves (lau shaag), we transform every bit of this vegetable into a delicacy. The many preparations of ‘humble’ Lau, a vegetable that often does not find place in fancy meals in North India unless made into kofta, will surprise those unfamiliar with traditional Bengali cuisine. Be it everyday meal or special occasions, Lau is almost always part of the menu in Bengali households in summers.

Lau skin (chilka) can be made into chechki. Lau in moong dal with few pieces of karela thrown in, is probably the simplest and the healthiest way to have this vegetable and trust me it’s delicious. We make different kinds of shukto with Lao that are part of everyday menu in summer. Lao moong is a specialty from East Bengal. Lau ghonto with dal bari, Lau chingri and Lau with fish head are considered delicacies. Lau data or the stem of Lau vine and Lau saag can also be prepared in different ways.  We make Lau datar chorchori, Lau datar dal. Lau saager morich jhol is both tasty and healthy, we even make a delectable paste out of tender Lau leaves (Lau pata bata). You can make mouth-watering desserts with Lau (lauer payesh). There is so much more you can do with this amazing vegetable!

Since Lau is so easily available, often the vegetable we are stuck with in the summers, I will share below few of my favourite recipes that you can try this summer. These easy to make, nutritious and low-calorie recipes will add to your cool quotient in the hot months ahead!

Lau in kacha moong (unroasted) dal, my mom’s recipe that I make very often in summer, can be done in no time.

Lau in kacha moong (unroasted) dal

Directions:Cut the lau into square dice of 1inch size

  1. Cut the Karela into very thin round slices
  2. Boil moong dal in 1 & ½ cups of water, with lau, green chillies, salt, haldi and sugar. I boil in an open vessel since mong dal cooks easily, you can pressure cook as well
  3. In a kadai heat ghee, shallow fry karela & keep aside. Put bay leaf, mustard seeds and ginger paste in the same kadai (add more ghee if required)
  4. Pour the dal with lau once mustard seeds start sputtering, add shallow fried karela.
  5. Add more salt if required and bring it to boil
  6. Put a little ghee on the top and your healthy, aromatic kacha moong dal with lau is ready. Serve with hot rice or just a bowl of this delicious dal.

Lau Shukto

Lau Shukto, or shukta, is a mild, creamy, Bengali vegetable preparation served for lunch. Shukto can be made in different ways and usually has a bitter element. We add bitter vegetables like karela or bitter spices like methi or mustard for the slightly bitter flavour. But it is always mild and usually creamy, that comes from either milk, or posto (poppy seed) paste, or mustard paste. Sharing below the recipe for my favourite mild and creamy lau shukto.

Lau Shukto

Directions:

  1. First make a wet paste of posto in the grinder
  2. Chop lau in thin long slices
  3. In a kadai heat a little ghee, shallow fry dal bari and keep aside.
  4. In the same kadai (add more ghee if required) put sauf & mustard seeds. Once the seeds start sputtering add chopped lau, salt and sugar.
  5. Cooked covered in low flame till lau becomes tender, stirring occasionally (lau usually cooks in its own water).
  6. Once the lau is tender, add the shallow fried bari, posto paste and milk. Mix the paste well. Add more salt and sugar if needed. This mild shukto has a slightly sweetish taste.
  7. Serve hot with rice

Lau Chechki

Made from Lau skin, this is something you can make every time you cook Lau

Lau Chechki

Directions:

  1. Cut the Lau skin into very fine thin slices
  2. Heat mustard oil in a pan. Once hot put red chilli & kala jeera
  3. Add sliced lau skin, salt, haldi, green chilli. Cook covered in medium to low flame stirring frequently.
  4. Once lau skin in tender switch off the flame. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes for tender lau skin.
  5. Serve with hot rice

 

 

Food trails and many tales: Titillating flavours of Holi!

With inputs from Sanchita Singh Roy

Memory of my dida (dadi) brings back the taste of her signature dishes – toker daal, sheem bichir torkari, kochur shaag, nobody can make these dishes like her. When I visit my didun (nani) I am immediately reminded of her musurir daal, jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja and dhokar dalna. Didun is too old now and doesn’t cook anymore. Sadly, these dishes cooked by others, even my mom, don’t taste the same. There’s some flavour missing, that I can savour only in my memories.

Dadi nani’s signature dishes! They are either no more or too old cook, and we don’t have the time or patience to recreate their culinary magic. Also, our taste buds have evolved, we have been exposed to a whole lot of cuisines and we often choose international cuisine over our own desi khana. Not just food cooked by our grand moms at home, every region of India has a huge array of cuisine that we are unfortunately losing out on – food that is so rooted to our tradition and culture. Each region has so much variety, for instance every district of Bengal has its distinct cooking style and signature dishes. Some of these tastes and flavours are deep rooted in our memories.

We Indians are food lovers, no festival or celebration is complete without a few signature dishes. I will attempt a few posts trying to recreate the taste of our authentic cuisines, both the everyday food that dadi nani used to make and the special dishes cooked during festivals. Since Holi is around the corner, the traditional delicacies served during the festival of colour would be a good place to start.

Basant utsav

HoliHoli is a festival popular across India, especially North India. There are many dimensions to this beautiful festival of colours. It is the festival of spring that celebrates the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu legend, Holi is celebrated to mark the victory of Prahlada, an avatar of Vishnu, over the evil King Hiranyakashipu. Holika Dahan the night before Holi, commemorates this victory.  Festival of love, Holi symbolizes the divine love of Radha Krishna. Lord Krishna, the purna avatar of Vishnu, was known to play with colours with his lady love Radha and many Gopinis in Braj Bhumi (now known as Vrindavan) on this festival. It is this fun, frolic and playfulness associated with the many legends of Lord Krishna colouring his women in many hues of spring and love, that captures the popular imagination.

Food served during this intoxicating festival of colours naturally captures its spirit. Bhang is intrinsic to Holi, bhang wali thandai or bhang pakora add to the headiness. Gujiya, dahi vada and chaat add to the chatpata flavour of frolic. However, not many of us know, that each state has different signature dishes that are made during Holi. In Uttar Pradesh, Holi is incomplete without gujiya, kanji vada and kanji. Malpoya and dahi vada are essential to Holi in Bihar, while in Himachal they definitely make kadi on the day of the festival, besides gujiya and dahi vada.

“Before Holi, ladies from the entire community would get together to make gujiya,” says my friend Sanchita who originally hails from UP. “With my mom, chachi and aunties from the neighbourhood working in tandem, the tedious process of making gujiya seemed so much fun.” Sanchita still makes Gujiya, kanji vada and kanji at home during Holi. Kanji vadaurad or moong dal vadas immersed in tangy mustard flavoured liquid, is a delicacy from UP and Rajasthan. Kanji is a fermented drink served during Holi, made with water, black carrots, beetroot, mustard seeds and hing. They are both tasty and healthy, so you can ahead make them part of Holi or any other festival menu.

Holi foodSharing below Sanchita’s recipes:

Kanji Vada

For Kanji
1/4 cup split mustard seeds (rai na kuria)
1 tbsp black salt (sanchal)
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt to taste
For Vadas (makes 20 Vadas)
2 1/2 cups urad daal, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained (You can add a bit of moong daal if you want)
1 tsp ginger-green chilli paste
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1/4 tsp hing
salt to taste
oil for deep-frying

Method 
For kanji, combine all the ingredients and blend in a mixer to a smooth powder.

Transfer the powder into a deep bowl, add 5 cups of water and mix well. Cover it with a lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.

For vadas
1. Blend dal in a mixer to a coarse paste with ginger-green chilli paste, fennel seeds, asafoetida and salt and mix well. Keep it aside for an hour.

2.Wet your hands, take 1½ tbsp of the dal paste on your palm or on a sheet of wet muslin cloth spread over a bowl, shape into a 25 mm. (1″) diameter circle. Drop it in hot oil and deep-fry on a medium flame till it turns golden brown in colour from all the sides. 2 to 3 vadas can be deep-fried at a time in one batch.

3.Drain on an absorbent paper and soak the deep-fried vadas immediately in a bowlful of like warm salt water for at least 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out all the water by pressing each vada gently between your palms.

4.Place vadas in kanji and refrigerate it. Allow them to soak for at least 1 hour. Serve chilled.

Kanji (Drink)

Glass jars or jugs, Mortar & pestle or Spice grinder, Cheesecloths/muslin, Rubberbands

If you don’t have any of these, wrap the seeds in muslin cloth, place flat on a cutting board and crack them open carefully with a hammer or belan

Ingredients:
1 large beet
2–3 large carrots
1–3 tbsp mustard seeds, pinch of hing, 6–7 cups drinking water

(You can make kanji with just carrot or beet as well. Veggies like cauliflower, shalgum, raddish etc. can be added)

Method

  1. Crush mustard seeds with mortar and pestle
  2. Wash your beet and carrots and dice them into long pieces that will fit the height of your jars.
  3. Fill jars with veggies.
  4. Add crushed mustard seeds, hing and fill jars with water. Cover with cheesecloth/muslin and secure with a rubber band. Let the jar sit in a sunny spot on the counter for at least 2-5 days. Every day, with a dry wooden spoon (or the handle of that spoon), give the mixture a stir.

Once drink tastes zingy/tangy, it’s fermented and ready! Refrigerate it and enjoy the drink. You can add vodka if you want more zing! Enjoy the tangy vegetables as well