Tagged: Indian food: Maharashtrian

Stir-fried bhindi (okra) & potato

Up to about the age of six, I was a super picky eater. I’ve chronicled my hatred of fish before but that was just the tip of the food-berg. As far as I was concerned there was an embargo on radish, squash, pumpkin, any kind of gourd, string beans, even okra. Even back then, my little mind could not fathom my distaste for okra. I thought it was the cutest vegetable ever (in India we call them lady’s fingers how cute is that?). I loved the flavour of the vegetable my mother made. I mean it had potatoes. I’ll eat pretty much anything with potatoes. And yet, I couldn’t stand to eat it. I’d separate out the potatoes from the okra. My younger sister was easily distracted and excelled at slipping the pieces of okra into her plate when she wasn’t looking.

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Diwali faral: Shankarpali

The blue glow of the gas flame cast as eerie flickering glow on my kitchen walls. It was a bright, crisp November morning but my kitchen is at the back of my apartment. It has no windows and only enjoys borrowed light from my living room unless I turn on the lamp overhead. There was no need for that to heat a cup of water for tea.

Stirring the chai in my cup. I contemplated what sweet should be made for Diwali, which has approached much too fast this year. (Weren’t we just celebrating Holi?) I had the savoury portion covered with the poha chivda I made earlier this week. I just needed on sweet thing to complete the picture. I didn’t really want to step out to the shops today. Looking around, I saw my AP flour jar and immediately knew it was going to be shankarpali. It takes some doing but the ingredient list is three things: flour, sugar and ghee.
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Diwali faral: Mom’s Poha Chivda

The holiday season is approaching fast. Diwali, my favourite festival is fast approaching. In India, this means the thorough cleaning of houses and frantic preparation of sweets in time for the first day of the festival of lights. In households everywhere, there are sweets being readied for the annual Diwali exchange, when neighbours send each other the best of the season along with plates full of good things. These freshly home-made sweets and snacks are also the traditional way to greet friends and family that drop in to wish you.

Every year while my mom prepared the sweet stuff, she also made traditional Maharashtrian poha chivda. If I was to try to define chivda, I’d call it a savoury rice based trail mix-type snack. Its main component is poha or flattened rice. You can find thick and thin varieties of poha. What you are looking for here is the thin variety. You can find this easily at your friendly neighbourhood Indian store. You will also find copra or dried coconut slices there. This is responsible for the characteristic flavour of chivda. I start with raw peanuts because they get imbued with the flavour of the garlic, coconut and spice better through the cooking process. Daliya or roasted chana dal brings its own unique nuttiness to the mixture.

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Minty Coconut Burfi with pistachios

The erstwhile cutest kid on the planet turned 18 this month. The year that marks adulthood. But to me, he’ll always be the kid who gave hugs on demand, loved Speed Racer and Winnie the Pooh, and waited for the moment I stepped out of the room to climb on top of my drafting table and add orange smiley faces, blue flowers and purple grass on my architecture school work sheets. Got to love a kid who leaves you smiley faces with oblivious equanimity, but it was only because he was so cute and cuddly (and because his other aunt had me in a death grip) that he survived.

This kid had a sweet tooth the size of Kentucky. His love of all things sweet has not waned at all through his teenage years. I love when he comes to visit as it gives me license to have honeyed somethings in the house all the time. I made him brownies when he was last here. And now, as Diwali is nearing, when I miss my family more than ever, I’m thinking of him and how much he loved the festival and was frightened by it in equal measure.

Every year at Diwali, mom made the traditional faral. This made our little guy very happy. One of the first things he learned to do a year after he was walking was make his way to the kitchen and pull on my mom’s pallu while asking for a laddoo or pedha. He’d insist on a piece for each hand and then scamper away to his toys. He talked to the toy dog and little bear and you could see he was torn between eating the sweets himself and trying to feed them to his toy partners. The toys never got to them though because, after much cajoling, he ended up handing at least one piece over to a hungry aunt. Then the firecrackers would start going off all around the neighbourhood. The loud ones scared him, and made him cry. That’s when more sweets would be produced to calm the fright. Yes, he made those festivals memorable.
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Mom’s Sabudana Khichadi

As a transplant from another place, you reach a point in your life when you think you’ve gotten a handle on things, culinarily speaking. The cooking and consumption of foods from your original home strikes a somewhat fragile balance with foods you’ve grown to love in your adopted home. You’ve tried most of what is on offer here and have gathered together all the food you miss from there. Or you think you did.

Then out of the blue, the balance shifts. A word, an image, a smell…and something stirs in your memories.

It is not like I had forgotten all about this dish. I came across the straightforward recipe often in my precious file of mom’s recipes. Yet I passed it over because of its simplicity, engrossed in the pursuit of the more flamboyant and vibrant ones. While my mind was engaged in chicken curries and palak paneers, this one sort of got lost in plain sight. Now, I realize that it has been ten years since I last ate this dish. How did I go that long without craving it?

The last time I enjoyed it, I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen. It was a day before I was about to leave for the other side of the world. It was also the day my mom finally told me how much she was going to miss me. All this time, for over a year, she had been brave about the decision her erstwhile stay-at-home middle daughter had made to leave. Videoconferencing wasn’t yet the norm and she wouldn’t see me for a long time. For a whole month leading up to the day, she had been cooking all my favourite things. There were so many last meals I requested because I love practically everything my mom makes and knew I would miss it all. I’d already made my way over the culinary map, home food and restaurants, as I knew it then. My bags were packed to bursting with mom’s pickles and snacks, my uncle’s veggie patties and chicken cutlets (he’d dropped them off just earlier that morning as he stopped by to wish me luck). These would extend the old-home experience a bit more in the new place I was to call home. I was excited and scared and sorry to leave all at the same time.
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