Tag: food mood

Food, memories & more…

Masoor dal and jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) that Didun (maternal grandmother) used to make, yummy veg curry with sheem bichi, aloo, begun or kathal bichi bhaja that Dida (paternal grandmother) would cook so often. Mom does make these occasionally, but they just don’t taste the same. She’s a great cook otherwise but no matter how hard she tries she can’t replicate those recipes. Something is lost. The signature dishes that Didun and Dida would make don’t taste the same, as I remember them. Those were pre mobile days, I don’t even have pictures of those dishes .

For food is so much more than ingredients and spices. Our memories of a certain dish, the love and the affection that enveloped them add to the flavour.  That could be the reason why some recipes are lost with a generation or with a person.

With Dida when I was little

The image of Dida sitting before the cooking stove in a white sari in the vegetarian kitchen, chopping veggies and cooking. She would remember what each one of us liked. She usually garnished dal and vegetables with coriander leaves, a flavour that she loved. Since I didn’t like coriander leaves as a girl, a bowl without garnishing would be kept aside for me (much to my dad’s annoyance). We would sit outside the kitchen and watch her as she peeled kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds) or chopped saag. She would dip slices of pumpkin or yam in besan and make them into yummy fries, to be served with dal. If we happened to be around, we would get to sample these fries or daler bora fresh out of the kadai. Often, she would make a fine paste of certain veggies or seeds in the stone mortar (pata pota) – kachu bata, kathal bichi bata, kacha kolar khosha bata. Just kachu bata with hot steamed rice was such a treat. We could finish our meal with her lau moong or sheem bichi sabzi and yummy fries, but she would have none of that. As far as Dida was concerned a meal wasn’t complete without fish. Though I was’t fond of fish them, especially the regular macher jhol, she would sulk if I didn’t have fish.

Dida once loved fish; she couldn’t have a single meal without fish. She was windowed even before my parents got married and as was the practice in those days’ she never touched fish since. Though she would never enter the non-veg kitchen or the dining area she would often stand outside to see if her grandchildren were eating properly. Once while we were being served fish, I asked her how she could watch us eat and not touch something she once loved. “We get used to it didibhai,” she said with a sigh.   

Dadu & Didun

Sundays were meant for weekly visit to Dadur bari (my maternal grandparents place). On our request Didun would make masoor dal and crispy aloo fry. She would often make dhokar dalna or kachur saag. Aloor khosha bhaja and a simple cabbage curry were some of her other signature dishes.  Of course, she would make fish too for her damad that we would rarely eat. The meal would end with amshir chatni (dry mango chutney) that we so relished. Desserts were always homemade – payesh, patishapta or ras bara. When we were little, she even made fuchka (bong gol gappa) and chop for us at home. Her grandkids should not be given unhygienically prepared food from the shops, she would say. She would stuff containers with moorir moya, chirer moya and mishti & nonta nimki for us to snack in the evening.

These are all simple things made from easily available ingredients that somehow don’t taste the same anymore. What mom makes is quite close, but something’s missing, maybe it’s Dida and Didun or my memory of their signature dishes!!

Culinary magic of Lovina Gujral

Recently I have come across numerous articles on food that can beat lockdown blues, how food can keep depression at bay and many more. Research claims that food immensely benefits our mind, helps lift our mood and cheer us up.  So, eating well and eating right is important not just for our health but happiness as well. But we knew that already!

No wonder, the lockdown has seen emergence of so many home chefs. My Facebook, Insta pages and WhatsApp groups are flooded with images of delicacies that people are making at home. From innovatively made Maggi or sandwiches to Indian delicacies to continental dishes, you can find them all.

One such home chef who has been tempting me with mouth-watering images is my friend and colleague, Lovina Gujral. While I struggle with household chores and work from home, Lovina makes time to treat her family with delectable dishes almost every evening. It could be anything from roast duck leg with veggies to pork belly to burgers or pizzas. And it’s not just the food, it’s the presentation too. Lovina could give any speciality chef run for his/her money!

“We are foodies,” says Lovina. “We would eat out quite often before the lockdown. Since it’s not possible now, I make something special almost every day for dinner.”

“I just love watching people enjoy the food, the happiness and the satisfaction in their faces, and that’s enough for me,” adds Lovina.

Stir fried bok choi with garlic & dried red chilli

Surprisingly, Lovina was not much into cooking in her younger days. “I was a tomboy. I would happily do outdoor work like standing in the queue for a gas connection, paying the bills etc., but never enter the kitchen. My sister, Nagina, was the experimental cook in our family. Even after I got married, we would mostly order in or eat out.”

Lovina developed an interest in cooking after moving to Bangkok. “We became friends with a lovely couple, Gavin and Neetinder, who would organize dinner parties quite often. Those were elaborate dinners starting with a palate cleanser and appetiser and ending with desserts. All kinds of dishes from continental, Italian to Asian to Thai were served in those dinners. That’s when I became curious about cooking and started experimenting.”

Her kitchen in Bangkok had all kinds of gadgets, ingredients were easily available there. Lovina would call up her friend for the recipe or try something innovative. “Even now I don’t follow a particular recipe. I google and read 3 to 4 different recipes of the same dish, even the likes of Jamie Oliver. I mull over them for a few days and then when I enter the kitchen, I just know what to do.”

When asked to share a few of her favourite recipes, Lovina pauses for a while and then smiles. “The problem is I never repeat the same recipe twice. I would never use the same sauces and condiments for roasting a duck leg or lamb or pork ribs. I sometimes don’t even remember what I do. I once made a vegetable casserole by emptying a few almost finished bottles of sauces in the veggies. My non-veg family polished the vegetables in no time. My daughter has been asking me to make the same casserole again since, but I can’t. I don’t remember the sauces that I used.”

“One reason why I try making so many varied dishes at home is my daughter Rhea. She has been exposed to a variety of cuisines since she was a little girl. Three-year-old Rhea would enjoy sushi when most Indian parents wouldn’t serve such food to their kids. Somehow Rhea never developed a taste for Indian food, so I keep making continental and oriental dishes at home.”

Noodle & dimsum soup

“Frankly, even I am not very enthused about Indian cooking. Sometimes I instruct the cook at home.  I tweak the recipe a little when I do that. Instead of onion tomato gravy, I encourage the cook to use curd or mustard. Maybe it’s because of east Indian friends like you who forever mock Punjabi’s for using onion tomato base in every recipe,” laughs Lovina.

“One thing I never felt like making is anything sweet, be it Indian desserts or cakes or puddings. I have never made anything sweet in my entire life. My daughter Rhea enjoys baking cakes and muffins though.”

But cooking every day, after a fairly busy work schedule. “I enjoy it,” says Lovina. “I get into the kitchen every evening around 7 without any plan. I check out the ingredients available and then decide what to make.”

As Lovina gets into the kitchen to surprise her family with another delightful dinner, I am waiting for the lockdown to end so that I can join her dinner table!

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.