Sunday, July 24, 2011

When The Drumsticks Came Home To Curry

My mother is the kind of person who, as a busy doctor without household help, would make a meal of salt, chilli powder and leftover rice. So it comes as a surprise whenever she expresses an interest in a recipe or proffers one herself. Which is why this recipe is very special and unusual, because she told me about this recently when I was stressing out about how to cook a full meal for someone I'd invited home for lunch.

Now invitations from me are rare because I too, though not a busy doctor, have a hectic life, what with my insomnia and harried rising, gym-and-back-from-gym routine, and work and after-work routine, my insomnia and harried rising gym ... you see how it goes.

I have a two-hour window in the morning with which to turn out some stuff to eat and I managed to make this rather swiftly along with some payasam and two other vegetables. Now that's not a spread by any stretch of the imagination but that's what you can expect if I invited you on a weekday and you accepted my invitation. I had tomatoes and with my mother who arrived the previous day, came from my grandmother's garden fresh drumsticks (or saragwa - always reminds me of Sarajevo and Archduke Ferdinand ever since I heard the name not too long ago).

Known as mulagakaya in Telugu, drumsticks are a household vegetable in South India - not only are they popular, many houses have a tree. It's notorious for harbouring furry and itchy caterpillars, but the benefits outweigh that risk, with the leaves being considered extremely nutritious as they are sources of beta carotene, Vitamin C, iron and protein.

They have a taste that I can only describe as delicately pungent, an oxymoron, I know, but really, you have to taste it to know it. They're the kind of vegetable that you appreciate better as a grown-up. Like brinjal/eggplant, for instance. In my house, we've never had the leaves, only the fruit. And now I don't find any in my locality though there are a few saplings struggling to grow in my apartment building. I've even seen recipes using the tree's flowers. Here is more information.

It's pretty much an as-you-like-it curry and it was almost two months ago that I made it so I'll give you the general guidelines about how to make it.

You will need

2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 drumsticks, cut into 2-inch pieces
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Cumin seed - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4-1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder and salt to taste
Oil - 1-2 tsp

In a pan, heat 1-2 tsp of oil.

Pop the mustard and then the cumin.

Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat till pulpy.

Now add the spices and cook a little more.

Ensure the tomato isn't drying up - if need be, add some water.

Then add the drumstick pieces, mix well, add just 1/4 cup water if there isn't any already in the pan, cover and cook till insides are soft.

Chew to your heart's content once it's done. My mother's grandfather is supposed to have chewed them so long and hard, with such relish, that they were bleached white!

One more way to cook them.

This goes off to Chriesi at Almond Corner who's hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, now run by Haalo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Muddapappu For MLLA - A Guest Post

Friend, shoulder and guide. Literally, she's all three of them - never fails to listen when I rant and whine and took me on a day-long walking tour of New York city in 2009. When Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook invited me to write for her special anniversary event to commemorate MLLA which is entering Year 4 this month, I was only too happy to say yes.

I'd initially thought of posting this for various events but it somehow seems fitting that I never got around to doing it all these years - maybe it deserved a better effort and a bigger showcase and I'm glad to say it's finally here!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Breakfast & The Battle Of The Wills And The Won'ts

In my ideal world, my ideal breakfast would be waiting for me at my table at 7 a.m., but since little about my world is ideal, next best will have to do. I wake up at around 7.30 and get out of bed an hour later - the hour between is spent willing myself to go to sleep; willing the doorbell not to ring; willing work chores to not crowd my mind; willing The Spouse not to make even the slightest noise as he moves around the house on his way to work; and sometimes even willing S, who helps me with the work around the house, to not turn up on time so I could sleep a little longer, and willing the world not to crowd into my consciousness during the extra time I hope to sleep after 8.30.

Naturally, all this willing needs an extraordinary amount of will power which won't happen if I sleep, so needless to say, I rarely go back to sleep, and am groggy, tired and unhappy when I finally open the door for S. Then we load the washing machine if The Spouse hasn't already done so and I set about the cooking. So you see, amidst the vegetables to be peeled, chopped and diced, the dal to be soaked and all this to be done before S leaves in the next couple of hours, there's very little time for breakfast.

One of the breakfasts I've come up with is a cheese slice melting over a fried egg. It's that simple. Spray some oil onto a griddle. Heat it and crack an egg on it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn it over - I don't like runny yolk. Then put a slice of cheese on top and add a wee bit of salt and red chilli powder.

You can add an egg to this too. I haven't tried frying an egg atop a piece of bread - it will probably cook due to the heat on the bread and the heat underneath the bread if the stove is still turned on. Or you could take the less adventurous way out and simply top the bread with the egg and cheese assemblage.

Friday, July 01, 2011

My Mug Shot & Masala Chai - Of Chalks & Chopsticks

Really, she didn’t deserve these mugs. Such pretty, sunny possessions they were, too, and how she abused them!

She had a philosophy - something she had evolved to curb reckless spending. It went like this, and she never tired of hearing her own voice dispensing this exquisite piece of advice: If you like something you see, move away from it. Only if it haunts you, go back and buy it. If it’s not there, well, it was never meant to be yours.

How often had she said this to people, with such conviction that no one dared find it funny. She couldn’t control her impulse, however, when she noticed these at the crafts festival, and justified the expensive buys telling herself she needed it, otherwise she wouldn’t want them so much. (Now, had she just hit upon the converse of the other philosophy? And that reminded her, how long had it been since she had thought of that word - converse - now where had she come across it last, in school, Maths? Physics? …)

Both were hand-crafted. The one with the lattice pattern on the rim was an antique too! How many years had she dreamed of taking a day off from work and sitting by that quiet, sunny corner with a fine cup of tea and a book? She would sip her tea, savour every swallow, pause to read a few paragraphs, sip some more. Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper would all meld with sugar, milk and tea leaves to form a harmonious whole that yet retained the individual flavours. (Now had she picked up that line from somewhere or was it her own? Didn’t she sound like an advertisement, or worse, like a food blog which made everything sound exotic?)

Hadn’t she wanted each sip to remind her of her home in a dusty town in North India, which she had at first been so glad to leave behind but missed desperately later? And hadn’t she found a less tasty but acceptable version outside her office in another city further South - ginger was the more predominant taste; after all, one couldn’t expect a poor South Indian hawker to realise the importance of the right proportions of spices or to buy good amounts of those costly commodities!

Anil Chai, or so she thought of the masala tea vendor, shared space with a sugarcane juicer and she’d watch, appalled yet fascinated, as the flies milled around the machine, which snapped up the sugarcane stalks and threw them out in a smooth movement as quickly. “Ganne ka ras, with essence of fly,” she had remarked to herself often, even as the machine operator filled the green extract into dirty and dull glasses, added some lime juice and chopped ginger and served it to waiting customers. She wouldn’t ever drink that juice off the streets, nor ever in these mugs, no, the very memory would sully them!

But she had besmirched them. The mugs had held fond fancies, but she had squashed them with her penchant for practicality. Didn’t find a glass to mix her smelly Ayurvedic medicines in? Resort to the mugs. Didn’t find another mug to bake her one-minute microwave chocolate cake in? Use these. Didn’t feel like extricating a soup plate from the crockery cupboard? Pick one of these off the kitchen counter, fill it and heat it up in the microwave, never mind that she hadn’t enquired whether 200-year old mugs could be heated so! No wonder the antique one was acquiring a yellow cast - must be all that turmeric from the curries and Indian soups she was heating up all the time. In her case, a one-pot meal involved putting a few tablespoons of rice into dal or curry heated in the mug and eaten with a long-stemmed spoon in front of the TV. Constipated? Drink mugs and mugs of hot water, alternating between the two.

Enough! She’d had enough! She’d wallowed enough. Practical she was and what she had done with the mugs all along was extract value for the money she paid for them. It was time for romance.

She rose from the bed and made her way to the kitchen. Out came a new scrubber. She wet it and washed the mugs vigorously with liquid detergent till they were odorless to satisfaction. Henceforth this scrubber would be dedicated to these two mugs.

She moved towards a shelf and reached for some jars - whole spices, some of the finest Assam, sugar. Milk came from the refrigerator. Her stone mortar and pestle were waiting - she ground the spices as fine as she could, not minding her aching arms. She boiled the water and the milk, added the rest of the ingredients and boiled some more. She turned off the heat. Now she would strain the tea into not one but both mugs, take herself over to her window and live her fantasy!


There, I've done it, met the deadline when I thought I would fail badly. This story is going off to the food fiction event Of Chalks & Chopsticks, hosted by Bong Mom and created by Aqua.