Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mouthpiece #63

For the clinking-clanking love...
(Alert: it is a long one, please bear with me)
I don’t know how it came to me but it did one day. I think I can even remember the precise moment when it happened. While I have been at the receiving end of the joy it was bringing to me every single time but this was the moment when I acknowledged it and decided to write about it. I think now I know how it feels to be deeply in love. I wonder why did not I think about it earlier, but I guess, nature has its own plan of sending things one’s way. I very humbly accept it and thank the cosmos (the kaaynaat) for letting me bask in this fuzzy feeling which, I think, is definitely a little more than just love.

Without further ado, let me just plunge into divulging the mysterious ‘it’ - it is my adoration and fondness for the unsung heroes in any kitchen - the pots and pans, the friers and cookers, the scoopers and servers, the spatulas and turners, the griddles and skillets, the cutters and knives, the blenders and mixers… oh, the list is just so long.

Why, unsung heroes because we talk, hear and make a lot of fuss about what to cook, how to cook, which ingredients to choose, how to ensure quality and taste all along, but never give the ones who actually make cooking possible, their due.
So my dear companions in kitchen, I am feeling extremely happy to be expressing my gratitude for you today through this platform.

Well it began with the basic stainless-steel kitchen set that I began my journey in kitchen with. It had all the basic components from cooking utensils to serving dishes, plates, spoons and forks. Looking back at that time from now, I can say that working with familiar sonorous sound of steel utensils in the foreign land did play some role in making me feel comfortable in the new kitchen. Inaugurating the brand new metallic utensils with some sweet dish to mark beginning of their life with me, was a small ritual that I liked following at that time. Though the set had very limited number of pieces but it was quite sufficient to cook a decent meal and to even serve some guests.

My mother played a significant role in increasing my kitchen possessions. On every visit back home, she would have kept something to grace my kitchen even further. From new stylish stainless steel glasses, big thalis with raised edges, futura anodized cooker, sets of dibbas for pinnis/snacks to spatulas of different sizes, shapes and styles - she would keep one thing or the other ready along with innumerable other gifts to be packed with me while going back. My kitchen kept getting richer and richer and I enjoyed working with new utensils experimenting to my heart’s content. I think it was in Banaglore that I started developing a soft corner for tea cups and the sight of bright coloured, fancy, quirky tea cups started alluring me into buying some of them. Well, this softness did not remain restricted to tea cups only, it swelled and gradually engulfed many other items too.

Just the other day I was going through my prized possessions and realised that I actually have 9 kadaahis (pans). Dear readers, before you question my sanity, I can explain. There is one big iron one which I take out to make methi-aloo, kala-chana for the ashtami puja and for that lip smacking ajwain-waale-small-potatoes. How can I cook these three in any other kadaahi because that richness of colour can only be lent by an iron utensil. Moving on to three aluminium kadaahis of three different sizes. These were gifted by mummy from time to time and come very handy for all kinds of tadkas, dry sabzis, halwas, panjiris, and in fact, almost anything that needs steam cooking but not pressure cooking. There is one specific kadaahi for deep frying and using any other kadaahi for this purpose is almost sacrilegious. So I have already explained the reason behind the existence of 5. There are two small ones, one with lid and other without. The lidded one is typically used for keeping the leftover liquid-subzis because I prefer to reheat them on the gas-top. The other small one is to fit in where nothing else works like making ghee out of butter, small quantity of tadka for dal or for making manchurian etc. There is one super big kadaahi which sees the light of the day when besan-ki-pinni, gajar-ka-halwa or gobhi-gajar-shalgum pickle is to be made or even for cooking hakka noodles. It is wide mouthed and allows more surface area to work on. Okay, now for the last one which is my recent prized possession. This one is the latest addition in my kitchen which I purchased two years back and it is non-stick kadaahi. I like to handle it very gently for the sabzis which need just tender steam and not too much frying and scraping of the surface.

Coming to spatulas and turners, I would not bore you with the number of them that I have but there is good enough reason for each one of them to be present inside my kitchen cabinet. One cannot just work in a big kadaahi or pan with a small serving spoon, or serve with long handle-spatulas. There needs to be a specific one for a specific task - big scooper kinds for cooking gravy-sabzis, flatter ones for lifting and turning dry-sabzis, turners of different kinds for tawas and griddles, specific ones for deep frying, wooden spatulas for non-stick pans and pots - you get the point, right?

And cookers, let me just tell you that I have five of them and no, no one can replace any other. They are there because they are very much needed and used. The latest being the new Prestige cooker which is a delight to work with. I think I did mention it a few times at home how I have fallen in love with this cooker. I like the safety valve of it which actually starts dancing when the steam is building up inside. The cute podgy whistle sits prettily on the top. Another good part is that this cooker comes with a glass lid too, so the cooker can be used as serving bowl when the cooking is done. I think I have blessed that soul many times who came up with design. May God increase your tribe :)

I think I do get a certain pleasure in taking the right utensil and spatula out once I decide what is to be cooked and this combination is almost fixed for different dishes. It is fixed to such an extent that there is a designated pan for my peels and pips too. No, no, I did not buy it purposely. It came with my OTG, it was actually an iron baking dish but after many years of use, it started showing some signs of wear and tear but I did not want to part with it. So I employed it at another designation. I am sure, it doesn’t feel bad because it has no replacement in this new position. It is the first thing that gets picked up when I start my work in the kitchen every single day with raw ingredients. I think if we just go by the companionship, I think I have the maximum with this pan.

Since last Diwali I have started a new tradition, and to tell you frankly, I have complimented myself many times for coming up with this. I have decided to gift my kitchenmates a new companion every Diwali. It began with a set of microwavable casseroles and last Diwali it was, of course, my Prestige 2l cooker.

My dear kitchen comrades, thank you for being there and for being you. Each one of you is valued and appreciated for adding your unique 'clink’ and 'clank’ to my cooking.

What's new in the kitchen? Crispy Halwa
I was introduced to this dish by my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful cook herself. She knows how to bring out the best flavours with just some very basic ingredients. There are many dishes that I have learnt to cook from her but I think she makes the best crispy halwa. Crispy halwa? It sounds pretty strange isn’t it? The texture and the smart twist that it gives to the regular sooji halwa is just amazing. Since I had never seen her making it, I did not have the confidence of doing justice to it for a very long time. But as I got more comfortable in the kitchen, many things started feeling/appearing more logical. There is a feel that one begins to develop around various ingredients and their unique flavours. One fine day, I just attempted making it and it turned out to be a grand success.

After having made it many times now, I feel making this halwa is even simpler than the regular Suji halwa. Crispy halwa is one-pot dish which does not even require preparation of separate sugar solution. I would say, this is a jazzy and stylish version of the good old halwa and when you have guests over, it surely will earn you some brownie points as a chef.

Suji: 1 cup
Sugar: 1 cup
Milk: 1 cup
Cardamom: 2 (coarsely ground seeds)
Raisins and almonds: 1 cup
Ghee: ¾ cup

Take suji, sugar and milk in a bowl, mix well and let them rest for 1-2 hours. In a heavy bottomed pan, pour ghee and warm it up. Pour the suji-sugar-milk mixture in the hot ghee and immediately start scarping the bottom of the pan as the mixture tends to stick to the pan. Reduce the flame and keep frying while continuously stirring for partly crispy partly soft feel of the content. It will start leaving the pan gradually. At this time add the cardamom powder and nuts. Serve it hot for that mmm… experience. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mouthpiece #62

Happy Birthday to you...
Dear Mummy,

It is your 76th birthday today, of which 72 summers you spent in this mortal world. Though you have concluded your worldly journey already, but for us, this day is significant and will remain so till we breathe our last. This message is to update you on what all occurred and happened in our lives since the time you bade us goodbye. Yes, it still feels like a scripted goodbye when we all got just enough time to be together for that one last time - the five of us, who held the fort together when we found ourselves at the receiving end of a visit of death God in our house. It took away with it our big umbrella who was supposed to be protecting and guiding us through all ups and downs of life which had just started to unfold for us. The path was never hurdle free post that but borrowing from your seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of fortitude, we managed to walk continuously - sometimes sprinting while at others just barely dragging our feet. We became your identity and you ours although our individual paths took us all in different directions and to different destinations. We were rather unware of this strong coupling and reliance, nor perhaps was there any reason to register it consciously. Sometimes the absence of something makes one realise the indispensability of the same much more clearly. It is almost like air, we don’t see it but it nurtures us with its life giving nature. Your going away felt like a huge jolt to all of us, so much so that we were almost stunned into complete silence for many months that followed. Disbelief that this could happen to us, extreme grief of the ultimate separation, sad sinking in of the new reality of losing both the parents and unappealing future of walking without you - all of this was too overwhelming, much beyond our capacity to handle. During that unprecedented difficult time, what eventually gave us direction and some semblance of normalcy was your way of handling things - seek refuge from none other than the supreme power and continue dispensing the duties that are expected of us.

God’s benevolent grace was at play once again, as we started experiencing peace in the state of immersing ourselves in more and more work in whichever capacity we could do. This was the period when we all practically got detached from the outer world as a big churning was happening in our insides. I being the youngest can confidently say this on behalf of all my elder siblings because I know and to tell you the truth, I feel, this is an outcome of what all you worked for all your life. Our four different hearts still beat to the same rhythm that you had so lovingly composed and compiled.

We have moved on. We have moved on from the time when we cried our hearts out for losing the unconditional love, care and support to the current times when we are trying to be the one for someone in our lives. If not for many, at least for a few. You have made even this goal seemingly achievable for us because we have seen a live example in our lives in you. You truly epitomised the meaning of unequivocal devotion in your life.

With each passing day, month and year, we admire you even more, for - your divine grace in equally unmatched simplicity, your strength of character in front of formidable hurdles, your wisdom in weeding out complexity from the thoughts, your immense ability to forgive, forget and smile, your poise in choosing to be insignificant while working as a fulcrum, and your unflinching faith that we all are always well taken care of by the divine hand.

You went away with a deep sense of satisfaction that you did what all you could in every phase of life and in every role that you were entrusted with. We wish and hope that we all achieve that state when it is time for us to conclude our journeys. Deep in our hearts we know we have your benign hand on our heads always.

So long.

Hostel Evenings and Break Pakora...
Often some foods get associated with places and people and just the mention of one reminds the other. For me, bread pakora is one classic example which brings back the memories of hostel days. After attending long day of lectures and after having endured non-palatable lunch, evening tea and the accompanying snack were the most sought after and the most delicious offerings of the hostel mess. The snack was either two small cutlets, a bread roll or a bread pakora with potato stuffing. If one was lucky enough to reach there on time, one could even have it right out of the frying pan. By default each person got one helping of the snack but the bonus used to be the extra one which landed up amongst us thanks to those who could not have ‘such an oily’ food. I think bread pakora rose to being one of my favourites only during that time and since then it has retained its position among the most loved snacks.

These days I purposely prepare a little extra aloo parantha filling and save some for the evening bread pakoras.
Here is how to prepare the filling:

Potatoes : 2 (boiled and peeled)
Onions : ½ medium size (finely chopped)
Green chillies : 1 (finely chopped)
Coriander leaves : 2 tbsp (finely chopped)
Ajwain : ¼ tsp
Anardana powder : ¼ tsp (optional)
Garam Masala : ¼ tsp
Red chilli powder : a pinch
Salt : to taste
Mash the potatoes in a big bowl and add all the ingredients to it . Mix the whole thing really nicely so that it forms a smooth and consistent lump of mixture.
Ingredients for the batter
Besan : 1 cup
Water :
MDH chana masala : ½ tsp
Cumin seeds : ½ tsp
Baking soda : a pinch
Salt : to taste
Mustard oil : 4 cups (for deep frying)

Mix all the ingredients really well and keep it aside for 10-15 minutes so that there are no lumps left. The batter should be as thick/thin as idli batter. It should not be runny as it will spread when put in the oil. Now once the batter and the filling are ready, cut the bread slices in half (preferably diagonally because bread pakoras look good in that shape). Spread potato mixture on one slice, cover it with another, press it gently, dip it in the batter and drop it in hot oil. Fry it from both the sides and serve it hot with tamarind and mint chutneys. 

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