I find that most of my quests around food date back to something I dreamt of or tasted in my childhood. Infact don’t we spend much of our adult life recreating or searching for themes from our childhood? This dish for me, quintessential UP fare, is my way of bringing back all those afternoons and holidays I spent at Sharma aunty’s house.
As I made this dish, I remembered the smell of the soft cotton sari that swathed her plump figure, her gentle smile, the lingering fragrance of talc she liberally dusted over her neck and back, the twinkle in her eye when there weren’t any men around, the wheel shaped gold nose pin that glinted against her fair skin and fascinated me no end, the faint clanking of her red glass bangles, the bright red sindoor in her parting, her deft hands as she knitted for winter and the way she would coax my parents to spare me for the latest mischief (often related to how i embarrassed my parents with my food fixations). Her pooja room with the many gods and goddesses, gleaming miniature vessels and fragrant agarbatti so fascinated me that it became a secret ritual in my bathroom – playing hindu-hindu. The evenings I spend there while my mom was yet to come back from school, or summer vacation days keeping aunty company (and didi and me out of mischief) are vivid in my mind as if they were yesterday and not more than 25 years ago. We were fixtures at many a kanchak (naari pooja) and would come away with special treats reserved for us – bangles, sparkly red chunni and freshly made kohl for our eyes. No matter what the occasion or time of day, there was always food. Amazing, phenomenal, lip smacking but simple food. Every meal was magic. With a flash she would be up and away in the kitchen deftly chopping, stirring, mixing and spicing her way into food so flavourful that the taste still haunt me. Ghar ka khana has never been that special again. That perfect. In minutes the house would be redolent with the most amazing fragrances of UP ka khana. Sookhe chawal, roti, kadhi pakode, kaddu ki sabzi, poori, arhar ki dal, dahi vade, sooji ka halwa, boondi ka raita, neembu ka achar.. The most banal vegetables from karela to tinda, shalgam or mooli transformed into pinnacles of flavour in her kitchen. Even more exciting would be the nashta’s or snacks she would prepare for visitors and relatives. As I trailed around behind her, she would create everything from chaat to kachori to medu vada for evening snack and all the while I would watch out for the little bits she would sneak out to me as I ‘helped’ her.
Today when I look back, I am awestruck at the simplicity of those times, humbled by the memory of her generosity with time, food and affection. Shocked to realise how vital a part of my childhood she really was even though I never learnt her first name. Ashamed that over all these years that now separate us, I haven’t taken out the time to go back and meet her for so very long. Lost in my own misery of having moved away from my cherished childhood home, I rejected all else that was attached to those days. Never realising that it’s the people who actually created time.
It’s perhaps providence that I married someone whose mom is from UP. The food from Sharma aunty’s home is the same food Atul describes his naani (maternal grandmother) to have made. For him these flavours are laced with a heavy dose of memories of his own. And so emerges another tradition in our household. Of arhar ki dal, aam ki launji, khatta meetha kaddu at our everyday table. Dal ki kachori and mangori wale aalu that are now fixtures at holi.. Traditions that taste lingeringly of a time gone by. Of nostalgia. Of home. Of the forgotten, soft, cool nameless hands that shaped our childhood.
Khatta Meetha Kaddu
(Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Curry. Served 2 greedy people)
Adapted from one of my favourite Indian Food blogs, Maayeka, this is the pumkpin curry recipe I have been looking for, since forever. Hot with the chillies, flavoured with the unique blend of spices that is so UP, sweet with the notes of pumpkin, sour in the way only delicious pucker inducing raw mangoes can be and fragrant with mint; this is probably my most favourite way to eat pumpkin. It was fantastic with the poori and I know it will be even better with dal kachori and equally good with chapati or parantha. Pressure cooking makes preparation a breeze.
- Yellow Pumpkin – 500gm
- Raw (sour)mango (Chopped very fine or grated) – 3-4 tbls
- Sugar – 2 tbsp
- Turmeric – ½ tsp
- Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
- Green Chillies- 1
- Ginger, grated – 1 tsp
- Mint leaves – 12
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Fresh coriander leaves minced – 3T
- Cloves -2
- Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
- Fenugreek – ½ tsp
- Fennel seeds – ½ tsp
- Asafoetida – ¼ tsp
- Whole red chilies-2
- Oil – 3 tblsp
1. Wash, peel and and chop the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes
2. Heat oil in a pressure cooker, add mustard seeds, fenugreek, cloves and fennel seeds, and when they start crackling add asafoetida,whole red chilies and chopped green chillies.
3. Now add chopped pumpkin, ginger, raw mango and all the spices EXCEPT sugar.
4. Mix well and add ¾ cup water and pressure cook on high till you hear a whistle. Turn the heat to medium and cook for another 2 whistles.
5. Once the cooker has cooled a bit and lost its steam, open it, add sugar and mint and cook for another 5 minutes on low heat.
6. Garnish with fresh coriander. and serve
Palak Poori (Makes about 10)
I am partial to pooris of all types. Whats not to love about fried dough? This one is green with spinach paste, convincing me about its health quotient
- Wheat flour-1.5 cup
- Semolina-1/3 cup
- Rice flour – 1/3 cup
- Spinach -1 bunch(150gms)
- Mint leaves-10
- Green chilli-3
- Boiled potato, mashed -1 (optional)
- Grated ginger-1/2 t.s
- Cumin seeds-1/2 t.s
- Asafotida-1/4 t.s
- Salt-1/2 t.s
- Refined oil-2 tsp
- Wash spinach,mint and green chillies.
- Steam in a pan till the greens wilt. Let cool.
- Grind/blend the spinach, chilli, ginger and mint to a smooth paste.
- Mix the flours in a bowl, add in the potato, salt and oil. Add the green puree and knead into a hard, stiff dough. (You may need to adjust the texture by adding more flour or water)
- Set aside and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Make balls the size of small eggs. Dust with flour and roll to make discs about 4 to 5 inches in diameter
- Heat oil in a deep pan till smoking hot, reduce heat to medium and deep fry poori’s. Flip the poori over in the oil and use your slotted spoon to ladle oil over the pooris till it fluffs up into a balloon.
- Drain on a tissue paper and serve hot
There is so much more I have to say but I keep telling myself it’s unfair to cram too much into one post just because I have suddenly gotten all chatty. But I have to tell you all about our fabulous trip to Japan. I must. It’s only fair to you, to Japan, my tastebuds and the incredible time we had there. And even more, I have to tell you all about the one we are planning to Cannes next month with Titli! (A labour of love and learning directed by Kanu and a film that has featured large in all our lives for the past 2 years). YAY we are going to be at Cannes, trying to be fabulous, crossing our fingers and watching the years best films. And gorging on what I am hoping will be the yummiest food ever. And picnicking in the banks of the Seine. And breathing the same air as Pierre Herme. And ambling awestruck through the Louvre. Sigh!
As you can see, daydreaming is now my primary occupation but I must break out of my reverie to beg you guys for any tips you may have on what to eat, where to go, what to see, what to do, where to stay and again, what to eat. I learnt in Japan that best way to experience a culture is through hospitality exchange so as much as possible, I am looking to stay with someone local. So if you know of anyone willing to open up their home in exchange for my cooking, do spread the word. Meanwhile, I will be back with more…soon.