My Kitchen Garden with the help of those tiny hands by Titas Mazumdar

Working Mom – isn’t it always a big challenge? The guilt of not able to give enough time to your little ones, and the fear of not creating enough childhood memories. I am no different and not free from those guilts. I keep on brainstorming and engaging my little time after work and weekend with my daughter with a lot of creative stuff like DIY projects, best out of waste, bottle painting, soap making and the list goes on and on. The best one which is also a stress buster for me is gardening with the help of those tiny hands.

I always dreamt of having my own vegetable garden but never had the luck of staying on the ground floor to grow my own, but as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Luckily, I am blessed with 4 big terraces that prompted me to take up terrace farming. I realized that’s the best way to keep my little one engaged and create some childhood memories for her.

YouTube is my best teacher; yes there ought to be couple of hits and misses but I never lose hope and faith, and always remember there are no gardening mistakes but only experiments. These video and tips help me a lot in my journey of building my terrace garden. I never buy seeds from market, I use vegetable seeds, shoots, cuttings to grow my veggies. Pumpkin, bitter gourd and watermelon are the easiest to grow, they have never failed me. I let my daughter pick the fat healthy seeds from these fruits and allow her to sprinkle them all around. The excitement in those tiny eyes to see the seeds sprouting is unfathomable. Within few weeks tender leaves comes out and within a month, if the soil is healthy enough, the plants start flowering. 

There is also another very interesting aspect when you are farming at home with your kids. I introduced her to the concept of photosynthesis, pollination, male and female flowers and fertilization. It’s very easy to identify male and female flowers in these melon category plants. Many a times male and female flowers are out of proportion in numbers and hence I use hand pollination (Remember those 80s Hindi movies 🙂 and hand pollination does help too, got quite a good result from it. Trust me growing a kitchen garden with my daughter has been so much fun!

Freshly grown tomatoes

After successful fertilization, the wait time is a little longer as the fruits grow slowly at their own pace. Bitter gourd can be harvested quickly within a couple of weeks but pumpkin and watermelon take more than three months to grow to full size. It’s a different kind of pleasure growing your own fruits and vegetables, though in a small quantity, the satisfaction is immense. Someone rightly said growing your own food is like printing your own Money 🙂

We bongs cook almost every part of the plant, say for example the leaves of bitter gourd are used with lentil paste for fritters, we eat flowers of Pumpkin plant dipped into gram flour paste and deep fried, the leaves and vegetables go with mixed vegetable curry in mustard and poppy seed paste.  I even wrap mustard coated fish in pumpkin leaves and steam it. It’s one of my family delicacies. Serving something on table from your kitchen garden is indeed tastier and healthier.

The most exciting part is when you use your vegetable waste/throw away to grow your garden. This year late winter I planted the throw away stem of a market bought cabbage, and guess what – I was gifted by nature with three medium size cabbages. One point I have noted in my last 2 years of terrace farming, you cannot expect market size from you own kitchen garden. I think one reason might be I grow in pot, ground produces a better size and secondly, I don’t use market fertilizers, it’s completely organic. I use my own fertilizers. I use fish water, egg shell, used tea leaves and coffee powder. I have two compost makers; all my kitchen waste goes there and after couple of months I get home made organic fertilizer. If you have plants you are sure to invite few pest guests too. Easy solution to keep unwanted guests out from your garden is spray diluted Neem oil with water and a spoon of Shampoo.

Pickle with home grown chillies

Garden has a tremendous healing power on a stressful and tiring day, it soothes me and relaxes my nerves. Last year I planted a Mango, Avocado, Guava tree. This year Guava plant blossomed with 25 beautiful hairy white flowers, almost 15 flowers turned into fruits but heavy wind and birds didn’t allow to grow into full size. I am just left with a few now. Lesson learnt for next year, I have to create some shade for my guava plant. I have a 6-year-old a different breed of a lemon plant (We call it Gandhoraj Lemon- King of fragrance in Bengal). This plant is yet to bear fruit but so what, I use its flavorful leaves in my Thai & Malaysian Curries and Bengali daal. It tastes heavenly.

Pasta is my daughter’s favorite and what can be tastier than making your pasta from hand-picked basils from your garden. Two varieties of basil Sweet Basil and Thai basil grows in my pot round the year for all my Southeast Asian and Italian dishes. 

Ajwain plant is another low maintenance herb and easy to grow from stems and has immense health benefit. I use thick green succulent Ajwain leaves for making Chai, Pakora, Paratha and Daal. Tomatoes and chilies will never upset you; these gorgeous sexy reds enhance the beauty of my kitchen garden.

Katha with cabbage 🙂

I also try my hands in microgreens, they are full of nutrition and gives results in just 3 to 4 days. Salad lovers will love microgreens of Moong, Methi (Fenugreek), Mustard and many more. That’s again another kind of gardening, can be very easily grown even in dark corners of your kitchen engaging your little ones. And the best part is, the kids cannot say “No” to what they have grown, even the pickiest eaters fall into the prey of their own kitchen garden and start eating veggies. Isn’t it a win-win situation for the mommies?

Titas is a banker, a mom, passionate about gardening and cooking. Look out for her next post on the many delicacies that she dishes with the yields from her kitchen garden.

Savouring Vintage Wine

The price that we are willing to pay for a bottle of old wine! Connoisseurs and collectors outbid each other in Sotheby’s or Christie’s to possess a bottle of fine vintage wine. They are preserved and stored with the utmost care and savoured only on Very special occasions. For a wine that has reached its plateau of maturity can be magical — offering nuances and textures unimaginable in a young wine.

Image courtesy winecottage.co.uk

Apparently, in 2015, Russian President, Vladamir Putin, and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi drank from a bottle of Jeres de la Frontera worth $90,000. Chateau Margaux 1787 is valued at $500,000 as it may have once belonged to the declaration of Independence writer, Thomas Jefferson. A bottle of the Massandra Sherry de la Frontera 1775 was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $43,500 in London in 2001, making it the most expensive bottle of Sherry in the world.

While the above wines are beyond ordinary mortals like us, we do occasionally enjoy a mature wine – 20-year-old Port or Madeira maybe. Those occasions are special. The bottle is uncorked and wine poured with much ado. We slowly sip in the valuable liquid, role it in our tongue before taking it in. Savouring the mature flavours of old wine! 

Image courtesy Royist

However, many don’t know that not all wines age well. Only fine wines with a high level of flavour compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins), are likely to age well. White wines with the longest ageing potential are those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity in white wines acts as a preservative like tannins in red wines. So only the likes of Pinot Noir, Port, Madeira, Claret, Bordeaux and Sherries are likely to become more valuable and flavourful with age.

Then again, it is not easy to age wine or handle vintage wine. A lot depends on the bottle, the cork and the storage. Most wood-aged ports and sherries are bottled after they have aged sufficiently in the winery, sometimes for decades. For the wine to age perfectly it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place, till all its flavours and nuances are released, and then, it can be enjoyed by someone who truly enjoys wine. Even after a bottle of vintage wine is delivered to a customer it needs to be handled with patience. Some wines need to sediment, while some need to breathe. Even decanting wine is an art to be perfected with experience. And a wine lover will always have a cool cellar for storing wines. For fine wines need to be stored in right temperature, even the angle must be right – 45 degrees.

We can fuss endlessly over old wines, and yet we go to ridiculous extent to look younger, even deny our age. Wouldn’t it be more fun to age like fine wine, becoming wiser, mature, and more enigmatic with age!  For with passing years and experience we do acquire those magical nuances to be savoured like vintage wine.

Food Mood: Cooking in times of Corona by Heema Roy Choudhury

It is well known that good food can play wonders with our mood. So, what better way to cheer us up in these gloomy days than to cook up a good meal. But resources and lack of time (managing both household chores and office work) can be a problem.

My very talented friend Heema Roy Choudhury shares her lockdown recipes that are delicious and easy to make. Locked at home in Bloomington Illinois, cooking and painting keeps Heema’s spirits high. You can check out her paintings at Hearts Work on Facebook.

As lockdown doesn’t allow us to eat out, I found easy ways to prepare few dishes at home. One of my favorite dishes is Chicken Biriyani that I cook in Instapot. It doesn’t take much time and tastes delicious.

First marinate chicken with yogurt, ginger garlic paste, salt to taste, biriyani masala (any brand). Set the instapot on saute and fry chopped onions in 2/3 tbsp oil and then add the marinated chicken and saute for 10 mins. Then set the instapot to manual at high for 10 mins. Use natural vent to release pressure.

Now for the rice, use 3 cups of basmati rice for 2/3 lbs of chicken. Wash and drain water from rice. Add salt and ghee. Take the lid off and put the layer of rice slowly over the cooked chicken. Sprinkle a handful of fried onions, chopped mint and coriander leaves and saffron.

Add 3 cups of water for 3 cups rice, 1:1 ratio. If there is gravy already from the chicken then I add less water— normally I measure it by dipping my fingertip, the water level should be 1 finger mark above the rice. Put lid of instapot and close it and set it to manual, high, for 8 mins. Let it cool on its own, do not vent the pressure. Open the instapot after about 10 minutes and biriyani is ready to serve.

I also make Bengali’s favorite Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt) with just 3 ingredients at home. Another easy recipe that can sweeten lockdown.

Take one cup of condensed milk, one cup of full fat milk and one cup of plain yogurt. Blend all of them using a hand mix or blender. In an oven proof vessel pour the mix and bake at 250F for an hour. Take it out and cool at room temperature and refrigerate it. Serve it chilled.

Food trails and many tales: Dishing wonders with waste

Zero Waste Cooking, the term is now in vogue. World has suddenly woken up to the fact that we waste a huge amount of food everyday and need to minimize it by changing our cooking style and eating habits. Average Americans waste 1 pound of food per person per day at the household level, according to USDA. I am sure we anglicized Indians with our penchant for western style fine dining are no better. But now suddenly the West has woken up to food waste and we Indians must toe the line and follow the trend! Therefore, we are bombarded with zero waste recipes, cooking styles and eating habits.

But, as a culture, didn’t we Indians always practice zero waste? Haven’t we laughed at our grandmothers and mothers for trying to squeeze the last bit from a toothpaste tube or pour the last drop of oil or ketchup from an almost empty bottle? And, when it comes to cooking with what many would toss out of the kitchen, we Bengali’s are the masters. We make yummy aloo ka chilka fry (aloor khosha bhaja), Chehki made with tender lauki chilka is a delicacy. We chop and put the stems of gobi in daal (khopir datar daal) that is both nutritious and delicious. The delicacies we make with the seed of ripe jackfruit and pumpkin seed are unparalleled. Kanchakolar khosha bata is a chutney that we make out of the chilka of green banana. There are so many more recipes where we use the so-called food waste and turn them into culinary delight!

Aloor Khosha Bhaja

Aloo is available in every Indian kitchen. Most of our dishes are incomplete without aloo. Use the potato peel or chilka for this quick recipe.

Image courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

1 cup potato peels, 1/2 tsp – poppy seeds, 1 tsp – vegetable oil, pinch of kalonji (nigella seeds), salt to taste

Method

  1. Wash the peels, bunch them together and roughly chop them.
  2. Heat oil in a wok and temper with nigella seeds. Add the chopped peel. Stir fry for 2 -3 mins on medium heat. Add salt and poppy seeds. Cook for another 2 mins, constantly stirring.
  3. Take it off fire and serve with steaming hot rice or with hot cup of tea.

Since a tiny virus has pushed the mighty human’s indoors, since we are forced to live with less and of many these ingredients may already be available in your kitchen, this is a good time to try out these recipes. Tea with aloor khosha bhaja should be quite a treat in the evening!

 Kanchakolar Khosha Bata 

Image Courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

  • 2 Raw Banana
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons Mustard oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kalonji (Onion Nigella Seeds)
  • 1 Dry Red Chillies

Steps

  1. Pressure cook the 2 raw bananas until soft. Once cooked, peel the skin. For this recipe we will be using the cooked and peeled skin and not the banana pulp (you can make a sabzi of your choice with raw banana).
  2. Blend the banana peel and the remaining ingredients into a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  3. In a small pan add the mustard oil. Once the oil is heated; add in the kalonji and the dry red chillies. Sauté on medium flame until the red chilies are roasted and browned then add in the peel paste and sauté on low heat for 2 to three minutes until the raw smell goes away.
  4. Serve the spicy and delicious Kanchakolar Khosha Bata with hot steamed rice or chapati.

Khichdi – the delicious mish mash

Moong daler khichuri

Waking up to a rainy morning would always bring a smile to my face. Rainy day at school, playing in the rain, paper boats and Ma would make khichdi or khichuri as we Bongs’ call it, for lunch. Khichuri, served with maach bhaja (fish fry), jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry), begun bhaja (fried brinjal) or fried fish egg (Bengali version of caviar), topped with a spoonful of desi ghee, has been my favourite meal since. Khichuri and kosha mangsho (dry mutton curry) is a much awaited delicacy in Bengali households. But no matter what the accompaniments are, Khichuri has to be topped up with a spoonful of desi ghee, we Bongs prefer the flavourful cow ghee.

Khichuri or khichdi, a mish mash of rice, dal and sometimes veggies like aloo, matar and cauli flower, considered to be a humble meal in North India, is a feast for Bengalis. There are two popular variants of khichuri in Bengal – one with red masoor dal and the other made with roasted yellow moong dal. Masoor dal khichuri is usually made with onion, garlic, ginger and served hot on a rainy afternoon with all kinds of bhajas (fries).

Bhaja (roasted) moong dal khichuri is tempered with tej patta, jeera and other whole spices. We usually put aloo, matar, gobi and tamatar in moong dal khichuri. The same veggies along with beans or anything else that you fancy can be put in masoor dal khichuri as well. Moong dal khichuri is usually served as bhog during puja with a lavish accompaniment of labra (delicious and mild Bengali mixed veggie) or badhakopir torkari (cabbage curry), beguni (maida or corn flower coated brinjal fry), fried pumpkin and crispy aloo fry and chutney (made with tomato and dates). Relishing the cold moong dal khichuri with bhaja after pujo is an experience that I so look forward to.

Another variant of Khichuri is Neeler khichuri, cooked without haldi, that devotees of Lord Shiva in Bengal have every Monday of Sawan. I first had this khichuri at my masi’s place and enjoyed every bit of it. I also like the mildly flavoured North Indian khichdi, tempered with hing and jeera, served with dahi, achaar and papad. Though it is supposed to be a sick persons’ meal I can have it anytime. Be it healthy daliya ki khichdi that I often make or bland sabudana khichdi from Maharashtra, a staple when you are fasting in these parts, I love them all. Quite a khichdi fan I am!

Bisi bele bhaat

The South Indian variants of khichdi, Bisi bele bhaat in Karnataka and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, offer a different flavour. Though these are breakfast food in the South, Bisi bele bhaat and Pongal, served with dahi and papad make a tasty and nutritious meal anytime of the day. I am lucky to have a friend who often makes Bisi bele bhaat for me. It can be easily made with MTR’s Bisi bele bhaat masala. Though my friend usually gets the masala from Bangalore, you can check with the local MTR stores or you can try making your own masala.

Keema Khichdi is another awesome khichdi recipe that I plan to try some day. This aromatic Bohra delicacy is prepared with minced lamb, ginger-garlic paste, rice, moong dal and a melange of spices. Though its slightly time consuming this delectable khichdi is definitely worth a shot.

Food trails & many tales: Intriguing flavours of Bohra Thaal

Food does so much more than just satiating our hunger. From a basic need that nurtures life, what we eat and how we eat has become an integral part of our culture and tradition. As civilizations evolved, and looking for food was no longer an everyday struggle, meals, at least on occasions, transformed into an art reflecting the very essence of a community and a region. Every cuisine is blended with history, values that our forefathers held dear and our own memories. Bohra Thaal or Bohri Thaal that offers an aromatic journey through Arab, Yemen and Africa blended with the spices from India, especially Gujarat, is a case in point. A part of Shiitism of Islam called Dawoodi, Bohras or Bohris in India are an affluent community residing mostly in Gujarat and Mumbai. The community is said to have arrived at the port of Cambay in Gujarat, from Egypt via Yemen. Their cuisine, and way it’s presented, canvases their diverse cultural heritage.

Thaal: image courtesy The Bohri Kitchen

Firm believer in the maxim, “The family that eats together, stays together” Bohras eat out of a thaal – one big platter with several dishes spread out that typically accommodates 8 people. “At one time the whole family would share a meal from one thaal, now it’s only during weddings and special occasions,” says my colleague and friend Dinaz who hails from the community.

Thaal is put on a tarakti (an elevated stand) placed on a square piece of cloth called a safra, laid out on the floor. Thaal should not be left unattended, so during a community meal, food is not served till all eight diners are seated. The portions served are just right for eight. Each dish is placed in the centre of the thaal and every member pulls his or her share. “During weddings we sometimes share a thaal with a complete stranger,” says Dinaz.

Image courtesy Indpaedia

“For us it’s very important to have our heads covered and hands washed both before and after the meal. During any festivities or when guests are invited home, once everyone is seated, the host goes around with a chelamchi lota (basin and jug) and washes the guests’ hands,” adds Dinaz.

While researching about this unique style of sharing meals I came across an interesting blog post by Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom. Hailing thaal as the nucleus of Bohra community the post states that this style of eating traces back to the very origin of Islam, exemplifying human equality. The round shape of the thaal is significant as each person who sits around it, is equidistant from the food that is placed in the centre, that would be difficult to achieve in rectangular or square shape dining table.

Thaal is much more than a meal for the Dawoodi Bohra community. Dawoodi Bohras are believed to be an ethnic blend of Arabic, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, African Pakistani and Indian cultures and the cultural diversity is reflected in their exotic cuisines and flavours. “Our food will take you through the streets of Sana’a and Aden and give you an aroma of the Yemeni countryside. It will give you a glimpse of the indigenous rainbow cuisine that colours the streets of Africa, it will walk you through the fragrant Arabic, Persian and Egyptian suqs and snare your palette and back home it will capture the rich spices and tadkas that linger in every corner of India and Pakistan,” states the blog.

There’s something unique about the way Bohra’s serve the food. The meal begins with salt – a taste cleanser that activates all taste buds. “Salt is usually served by the youngest member of group,” says Dinaz. “Interestingly the first course that is served is a dessert, that we call mithaas.” Bohras consider it auspicious to begin their meal with a sweet dish. As they love ice cream it is served first, unless it’s celebration time, when the sodannu (cooked rice with ghee and sugar) comes first. Mithaas is followed by meat preparation called khaaraas or savoury dish.

In Bohra weddings, several courses of kharaas and mithaas are served alternately. On an ordinary day however, one round of starters and two desserts is the norm before the main course, or jaman is served. Jaman can include a meat dish, which is eaten with chapattis or parathas, and a rice dish that could be anything from a biriyani to kaari chaawal to dal chaawal palidu (lentil rice with curry). The usual accompaniment of a raita or soup could also be served with the rice. The jaman ends with another round of dessert. Dry fruits and paan (betel leaves) are a must. Salt is served again at the end of the meal to cleanse their tongues. Bohras believe salt can cure 72 diseases. “The last salt is served by the oldest member of the group,” says Dinaz.

Some signature mithaas are the malida, kharak halwa, thooli to name a few. While khaaraas comprises meat preparations which are fried or roasted rice dishes and more. A good thaal offers a combination of meat and rice.

Popularly served rice dishes are Bohra khichidi, kheema khichidi, Bohra biriyani, and of course dal chawal palidu, that draws on the Bohra’s exposure to Gujarati cuisine. Mughlai dishes like kebabs are also served at Dawoodi Bohra feast.

Bohra Khichda: Image courtesy Pinterest

Bohra khichda, another authentic dish, is a fusion of flavours from the Hyderabad-i halem in which the broken wheat is cooked with meat and lentils. 

Pehli Raat Thaal (New Years’ Eve Feast), served on the first day of Muharram, comes with 28 to 52 dishes. Bohra’s believe this distinctive tradition will ensure abundance in the following year.

Mumbai, home to many Bohras, has restaurants and food joints that have been developed around that concept of Thaal. The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is the most famous one I am told.  I plan to check out the place when I am in Mumbai next.

Chicken Malaikari for a flavourful meal

Nothing like good old chicken curry to bring warmth to your soul and add flavour to your table on a winter afternoon. Sharing the recipe of my very talented friend Heema Roy Choudhury. Though she sounds humble, she’s a great cook and a painter too. You can check out her paintings at Hearts Work on Facebook. And try this yummy chicken curry with coconut milk for Sunday lunch.

I’m not a foodie and I always want to spend very less time in kitchen but cook delicious meals at the same time using many tips to cook fast. I eat to live but my family lives to eat, let’s put it that way. Even though I can eat almost anything (avoiding few without complaints but if I’m a judge at a cooking contest it will be really difficult to pass my taste bud with a good score.

I love using coconut milk in my recipes and would love to share my favourite Chicken Malaikari.

Ingredients

1. Chicken: 1 kg

2. Onions:2 medium cut into small slices

3. Garlic and ginger paste: 2 tsp each

4. Green chilly paste: 2 nos, can be more or less according to tolerance level. You can also add 1tsp Kashmiri chilli powder for colour.

5. Garam masala (Green cardamom pods -2/3 crushed, cinnamon powder-1 tsp, cloves-2/3 nos, bay leaves -2)

6. Turmeric powder: 2tsp

7. Lemon juice:2 tsp

8. Mixture of mustard oil and refined oil: 4tbs

9. Coconut milk: 1 can (2 cups)

10.Coriander powder-2tsp

11.Cumin powder-2tsp

12.Salt according to taste

13.Sugar-2tsp

METHOD

1.Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, garlic & ginger paste and salt into chicken pieces and mix them well.

2.Now heat oil in a pan. Add garam masala in it and let the aroma come out of it.

3.Next add onions and sugar and fry in low flame for few minutes.

4. Add the chicken. Mix well . Cook for 10- 15 minutes. Then you can cover the pan with a lid and stir occasionally. Cook till checked pieces get softened.

5.After that open the lid and pour the coconut milk and mix well. If required water can be added. Salt is added to taste.

You can serve it with rice, roti, chapati or paratha.

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