The day I first had dhansak is vividly clear in my mind. I was over at my best friend’s house to work on a project and her mother invited me to stay for lunch. I remember sitting down at the table with her mom deftly filling two plates and putting them in front of us. It looked like rice and dal which made me happy. Varan bhat is pretty much a perennial favourite of mine. But the dal was more the colour of sambar and the rice seemed to be brown rice. I took a bite. I remember my taste buds being going into overload with all sorts of flavour.
I took another bite and just couldn’t stop smiling. My friend’s mom asked me if anything was wrong and I told her this was one of the most wonderful things I had eaten. I remember this thoroughly amused her because dhansak is also considered funeral food. I asked my friend in a low voice that if this was Parsi funeral food, was their celebration food so good that people died in ecstasy eating it. My poor friend laughed so hard she almost choked.
I’ve eaten dhansak many times since then, each time with just as much enthusiasm. I knew the dish well-enough that I was quite surprised when Amey told me he was sure he had eaten it but had no memory of it. It’s one of the big reasons I bought My Bombay Kitchen. I felt as a lover of all things dal, it was essential that Amey taste this gem of its kind.
Bombay is a vibrant, exciting city but I’m certain that even its most ardent supporters would agree that it isn’t the prettiest one out there. Yet, it had these particular settings, these spots which were serene and sublime. Most of these were by the sea – Worli Seaface, or Marine Drive. One of my favourites was the view from the Mahalaxmi temple. Situated on top of a cliff, the view of the Arabian sea behind the temple is a beautiful one.
One of the other things I loved about that temple was that it was the only one at the time that offered lotus flowers for worship. These lovely pastel-hued blossoms are some of the most graceful flowers there are. I thought of them as a thing of beauty. It was when I got invited to dinner one time at Amey’s house that I learnt that the lotus plant is also delicious.
One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.
That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.
It’s been a strange year weather-wise in this city. Summers in San Francisco are cold as a rule – the fog cools everything off – but this year was freezing. And here we are now, well on our way to winter. Until today most days have been warm and sunny. 70° just before Thanksgiving? What is up with that?
Because of this phenomenon, I haven’t felt the need to switch my oven on. That is generally my favourite mode of warming up our home. The double punch of the warmth of the oven and the warm aromas of baking wafting up and through the apartment is more than enough to keep us toasty most weekends. But lacking continuous cold weather, this hasn’t happened much. A pity really, because this time of year is ideal for baking and these scones I’m going to tell you about are great day after Thanksgiving brunch or tea time eats.
I first made these scones last year when I was craving something buttery and flaky. Back home, we had these amazing chicken pattices that one could get pretty much anywhere. My favourite version was the one at a store called Candies in Bandra. The filling was chicken perfection, but the crust, oh what crust! This was not your usual khari biscuit type crust, the kind that shattered with your first bite. Oh no, this was different. Buttery and lightly flaky with a good dose of pepper, I loved how it was the perfect foil for the almost paté-like chicken inside.
Today’s Thursday which means it’s time for the next installment of Thursday Three. Since spice has been a big part of this week’s focus, what with my first foray into making my own masalas, I thought I’d share my favourite three sources for spices with you today.
Your local Indian store is a powerhouse of a spice source. The usage of spices in Indian cooking is wide and varied. We’re talking about a country that boasts hundreds of different sorts of blends. This is logically the first place you should look. Your local Indian grocery store is where you can get reasonable amounts of spices without paying an arm and a leg for them. Since we love our spices and use them liberally, you can also be sure that they will be fresh on the shelf. There is however, a caveat. They will be fresh only if there is a flourishing Indian community where you live. It matters. I remember the local stores around my grad school. There were a lot of Indians around. They were all students. Everyone’s moms sent spice care packages. The spices in the shop? Can you say dust packets covered in dust bunnies? Trust me, you do not want two-year old cumin powder in your dal. I learned this the hard, miserable way.
The San Francisco Bay area is home to one of the largest Indian communities in the United States and pretty much anything Indian can be found here. It has been available outside the city of San Francisco for a long time. When I moved here ten years ago, this was useful but wasn’t helpful on a daily basis. We lived then, as we do now, in the city but most others lived in Silicon valley. As a result, there were only a couple of dusty shops up here which looked like they’d materialized straight out of a 60s movie, complete with grumpy men behind the counter with scary large mustaches.