I inherited my love for cooking from my grandmother. She was a remarkable lady who was not only an excellent cook but could also fix something on demand at any hour of the day with whatever resources available at home, and without complaining. She would neatly preserve the newspaper supplements and magazines that would have special, but feasible, recipes to be cooked on special days, mostly Sundays. She detested the recipes that were complicated, or required anything that was not likely to be available at home or in the small town we lived in.
In early nineties, when Zee TV came to our home along with the cable connection, and Sanjeev Kapoor launched his cookery show Khana Khazana, he made an ardent fan in Jhumri Telaiya — my grandmom. Despite being a five-star cook, he struck an instant chord because of the simplicity of his recipes. Not necessarily my grandmother tried all the recipes, but did not like to miss any episode. I was her constant companion when she would read, watch, discuss or try out the new recipes. She would have loved to see Food Food, the exclusive food channel launched by the master chef in 2010, the year she passed away.
As far as I am concerned, Sanjeev Kapoor wins hands down when it comes to Indian recipes that are simplistic and can be tried by all. My all-time favourite is his besan-bhindi (okra) dish that he shared a few years back, ‘baida roti’ (2002) and a number of snack items. I recently tried a dessert inspired by a dish showed by him on Food Food — inspired because I did not have all the original ingredients at home. For example, instead of vanilla flavoured yoghurt, I used hung curd and butterscotch essence. I did not have red current jam, so used mixed fruit. Also, I did not want it to be too sweet so used half the condensed milk than advised. I am sure the original recipe (http://sanjeevkapoor.com/baked-vanilla-yogurt-teenpatti-foodfood.aspx) would have tested way better, but wasn’t really disappointed with this one. Try this simple recipe and see it for yourself.
Food for thought: Baked curd
Hung curd: 400 g
Condensed milk: 200 g
Fresh cream: 100 g
Butterscotch essence: 2 tea spoons
Mixed fruit jam
Preparation: Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk hung curd and condensed milk with vanilla/butterscotch essence. Fold in fresh cream, mixing properly to give it more creamy texture. Pour into ramekins/short glasses and put a dollop of the jam on top. Place the ramekins on a baking tray one-fourth filled with water. Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve chilled.
Last words: You can use more condensed milk if you want the dish sweeter. It will also make the batter thicker, in which case it the baking time may differ. So, please keep checking. You can also add mango pulp or other real fruits instead of any essence.
On a trip to the market near my home last month, I had noticed this vendor selling egg/chicken rolls. I immediately wanted one, but since we were heading for dinner that night, I had to resist the temptation. But there was no such compulsion today, as I picked up a takeaway parcel for our evening snack at home.
I wish the rolls were as tasty as I had expected them to be. With the cabbage-dominant filling eating into the taste of eggs, I found them hardly different from the one they sell at my office canteen. The egg roll we get at the canteen always makes me regret having ordered it.
You may ask why do I need to order egg rolls from the canteen if I don’t like the way they make it in the first place? To answer this, I have to take a trip down memory lane – to my childhood when I would make those trips to erstwhile Calcutta, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal so famous for its street food. No visit to the eastern metropolis was complete without the mandatory stopover at one of those roadside stalls selling egg/chicken rolls. Not much used to outside food back then, at a time when fast food wasn’t a craze yet, I would eagerly wait for the juicy bites.
Over time, I was exposed to several fast foods – South Indian, Chinese, American — but nothing could beat the oil-dripping calorie bomb, the Calcutta-special egg rolls, something I cannot resist even now.
Maybe, that’s why I was so sad when I left the South Delhi locality to move into a bigger flat in East Delhi six years ago. The house we lived in earlier was so close to CR Park, the mini-Bengal in Delhi. And yes, you get all the street food goodies there — from mutton ghoogney, fish/mutton/chicken chops and cutlets, jhalmuri, churmur and fuchka to all special Bengali sweets, and, of course, the good old egg rolls that taste more authentic there than what you get in the present-day Kolkata, I am sure. By authentic, I mean the filling would only consist of a raw salad of sliced onions, fresh cucumber and shredded carrots soaked in vinegar and sprinkled with salt.
I had this major craving for these rolls one day when I was expecting last year, so much so that I got up early on a hot June morning only to fix one for my breakfast.
Before I create a bigger hype, let me stop explaining the dish and share my recipe for all to see and taste.
Food for thought: Calcutta-special egg rolls
Ingredients (4 pieces):
Onions: 2 medium, thin slices
Carrots: 1, thin shreds
Cucumber: 1, thin slices
Vinegar: 2 tablespoons
Atta: 1 cup
Maida: 1 cup
Oil: 2 tablespoons for the dough and as required for frying
Salt to taste
Preparation: Knead the dough well (for at least 10 minutes) by mixing the atta and maida with oil and water. For the filling, mix sliced onions, cucumber and carrots with vinegar and salt. Make balls out of the soft dough and roll out like chapattis/paranthas. Fry one by one on both sides with a little oil and keep aside. Put one egg (beaten or directly) on a tawa like you make an omelet, but don’t turn it over. Instead, on the raw side put one of the fired paranthas that will stick to the egg. Now take it off the fame and keep it on a plate. Spread some tomato sauce on the egged surface and put the salad filling in the middle, before rolling it up. Serve hot.
Last words: For the filling, you can also use shredded chicken cooked in with onions, tomatoes and spices. Just make sure it is juicy but dry. Instead of paranthas, you can use tortillas the same way, though the taste will be different.
The lady must have been at least 65 years old six years ago when we had shifted base to Delhi. Her wrinkled face did not give away much emotion, but always brought a smile to my face – all thanks to the stuff she sold standing in a corner opposite the Sheikh Sarai DDA Market. Her chicken/pork momos have been the best I have ever had.
I got hooked to momos after tasting them for the first time at a craft fair in Chandigarh almost a decade ago. That was long before vendors with the aluminium steamer started being spotted in markets and malls, on roadsides. A trip to Dilli Haat made things worse as I would be ready to come back to Delhi just for the momos, which tasted even better with fruit beer for company.
With momos now being sold in every nook and corner, albeit not all of them are edible, this healthy steamed snack is a regular at my home. And now, I can make them even at home. It’s quite easy. The recipe is as follows:
For the wrapper
2 cups of maida
1 tablespoon oil
1 pinch of salt
Chicken keema: 250 g
Onion: 2 medium, finely chopped
Green chilies: 4-5
Ginger: Chopped, 1 teaspoon
Garlic: Chopped, 1 teaspoon
Capsicum: 1 medium, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Preparation: Knead the dough well for 15 minutes and keep aside, covered with a damp cloth, or cling-wrapped. For the filling, cook the ground chicken keema with salt for 5 minutes and prepare a mixture adding chopped raw onions, capsicum, ginger, garlic and coriander leaves. Uncover the dough and knead again for good 10 minutes at least to give it a homogeneous texture. Now make balls and roll them into small thin rounds. Put a spoon of the chicken mixture on each of the wrappers and seal them well. Put them in the steamer for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot with sauce or momo chutney. For a quick chutney, bake tomatoes for 15-20 minutes in the oven, along with garlic and red chilies. Grind them together with salt when cool.
Last words: You can use any steamer, even idli stand, to cook momos. But remember to oil it well before lining the momo balls to prevent sticking. Some people even use ground raw chicken for the filling, which gets steamed any ways later. Ensure the uncooked stuffed momos are properly sealed and arranged in the steamer with some space left between them.
My love for South Indian food dates back to my childhood, though at that time my knowledge about the food, and choices too, were limited to idly, dosa, vada, utthapam and sambhar. I remember our first family holiday outside my hometown and Kolkata was a Kerala-Tamil Nadu-Andhra trip in 1986, and my sisters and I did not miss Bengali food even once. We would have idlis for breakfast, dosas for lunch and uttapams for dinner, even as my parents and grandmom would crave for a simple daal and plain vegetable curry cooked the Bengali way.
Though we did not know many South Indians back home, apart from the Malayali doctor’s family in the neighbourhood, my father’s Tamilian boss and the spinster Aiyar headmistress of my school, the “quintessential South Indian food” of dosa, idli, vada-sambhar was not really alien to us — all thanks to the group of young men who lived in an abandoned mica godown in front of our house and earned their livelihood selling these snacks.
In fact, the smell of sambhar always reminds me of my childhood.
The smell would start coming out of the open air godown around 11 am as the men prepared the food. After lunch, I would be all eyes and ears as their huge iron gates would open at dot 3 pm. The men would bring out their cart, with ‘idly, dosa, utthapam, sambhar vada’ written on it in Hindi, and proceed towards the main market. I would pester my grandmother every other day for a plate of idly/vada served with sambhar and coconut chutney that cost 50 paise. So irritated was she with me one day that she “warned” that I would be married off to a ‘dosa-wallah’ only.
Now, you call it clairvoyance or something else, around two decades later I married someone from Kerala. Eight years have since passed, and I am still not bored of dosa-idly-sambhar-chutney, even as the realisation had dawned on me much earlier that “South Indian food” was not limited to the stuff that originated from Udupi.
After being exposed to lemon rice, tamarind rice and the various other vegetarian fares, I got to satiate my tastebuds with other South Indian non-vegetarian range after I got married.
Come to Kerala, and you will know there is more to South Indian non-veg than Chicken Chettinad. The variety of sea food had me completely bowled over as I happily gorged on things never tasted before.
I call Kozhikode, my husband’s hometown, a foodie’s paradise. It’s here that I first tasted crab, squid, tiger prawns, and mussels. The mussel-fry that my mother-in-law cooks is just out of the world.
Apart from seafood, another taste I was exposed to in Kerala was of beef. Those from the state, including my husband, swear by the Kerala-special beef fry. Coming from a background where even pronouncing the word is blasphemous, I could not initially bring myself to eat it. But I did try the masala and simply loved it.
That inspired me to cook something similar to suit my taste. I make this often now, and am sharing the recipe with you all here. Do try and let me know.
Prawns: 1 kg, cleaned
Half a coconut, grated
Onion: 2 (medium), sliced (not very thin)
Tomato: 1, sliced
Green chillies: 4-5
Garlic: 5 cloves
Ginger juliennes: 1 spoon
Chicken/meat masala: 3 table spoons
Ground pepper: Half a tea spoon
Salt to taste
Vinegar: 2 tablespoons
Oil: 3 tablespoons
Black mustard seed: 1 teaspoon
Curry leaves: 2 strands
Marinate prawns in vinegar, salt and pepper powder for an hour. In a pan, heat oil and put the chicken/meat masala, along with black mustard seed. Add sliced onions, ginger and garlic before the masala gets burnt. Fry covered till tender but still crunchy. Add tomatoes, salt and cook for a couple of minutes before adding coconut. Set aside the masala and fry the prawns in the same pan, adding a little oil. Once the prawns are cooked, pour the coconut masala. Stir and serve after adding slit green chilies and curry leaves.
Last words: Don’t cook prawns for too long; it will get rubbery. If you don’t have chicken/meat masala at home, try curry powder or a mix of simple masalas such as coriander power, cumin powder, amchur powder, turmeric power, red chili powder and pepper powder.