sharing a particularly yummy recipe
One of my most favourite places to visit - for hours - in Delhi is Dilli Haat, the unique urban open-air "market" place with the ambience of a mela. Not only is it luxuriously spread-out and pretty, with its cobblestones and young green trees, it has craftsmen and, more important to me, weavers and hand-block printers selling saris. They come from all over the country, and, particularly the ones from Orissa, Vidarbha and Rajasthan, are the craftsmen themselves, dealing directly with buyers and curious visitors. But more than saris, I like food. And Dilli Haat has it all - from North and South, East and West, and every region between.
The place is eater-friendly, with stone and brick tables and benches scattered near each state's "cottage" selling food. There are bawarchis from UP, selling pretty decent kakori kebabs and rumali roti, chicken korma and pulao; wazas from Kashmir, with huge deghs filled with green haak, red rishta, white rice and creamy golden gushtaba; the North East has several outlets, probably one from each state, because momos and chow mien seem to be what young people want again and again. There's a Kerala booth with appam and stew, fried fish, banana and jackfruit chips; Tamil Nadu offers the usual dosa and idli along with the rest; Bengal maachher jhol, malai prawns and Kobiraji cutlet, sandesh and mishti doi; maharajs from Rajasthan make lunch that is served in a thaali: bajre ki roti, gatta curry, dal, a green vegetable, gur and white butter and several kinds of chaat (gol gappa and kachori) are assembled just around the corner.
The service is smiling and attentive, by men in white dhotis and red tie-and-dye turbans. That's at one particular pavilion but, in sum, all of Dilli Haat is a festival of food and fresh air.
In the last few weeks I wasn't well enough to go out, or to stand in the kitchen. But my appetite wasn't diminished. So I had Dilli Haat at home. No fresh air and cobblestoned courtyards, but food from all parts of the country - cooked by friends in their kitchens and brought over to my home.
Just Dil-ki Haat.
Nirmala, a Syrian Christian from Kerala, cooks vegetables delicately and differently. Partly it's the difference in spices - coconut and mustard seeds are not customary in my home cooking - and largely she has a magical hand. She brought dozens of dishes that she had cooked, but I remember some more clearly. Once she made tomato pachadi, a golden raita of yoghurt, tomatoes and ground mustard, once French beans thoren, which had tender, thinly sliced French beans steamed with a coarse paste of coconut and green chillies, and another time, a buttery curry of boneless meat that she had simmered with vinegar, onions, garlic, ginger and whole spices, then tempered with curry patta and onions, fried till brown.
The unexpected arrival of this erachi coincided serendipitously with a hamper from Goa. Kavita, half Punjabi from Lahore and half East Indian from Mumbai, who happens to live in Goa, had sent a dozen poi - the hard, bagel-like bread - and another dozen sanas. The poi are perfect with paté or just good old-fashioned butter, but the sanas, idli-like and with a slight hint of sweetness and coconut, cry out for red, vinegary, spicy Goan sausage fried with onion masala. Nirmala's erachi was better. It had no gravy, just buttery fat, redolent of spices.
Another Malayali friend, Geeta, brought idlis, soft and still warm, and a rasam. It was thin, red, slightly sour, and aromatic. I could smell asafoetida (heeng) and fresh green coriander. We ate it as a soup. Vinita, who's from Rajasthan, sent across freshly cooked small new potatoes. These had been sautéed with a slight sprinkling of ground cumin and coriander and, despite the skin being intact, were infused with the smell of the spices.
Jyotsna, a Punjabi, makes the most impossible things at home and one evening she brought a huge tray of samosas. And they were the antithesis of the usual bazaar samosas you get in Delhi, which have a thick casing, too much black, cheap, garam masala and have soaked up cold re-used oil. These homemade ones had a thin, golden skin and the doubled edges were crisp and just beginning to brown. The filling had boiled potatoes cut small and very lightly tempered. All I could discern was fried whole cumin and some broken coriander seeds. And none of that commercial abomination, kaju-kishmish.
Viki, half-Bengali and half Goan, lives in Bangalore. He brought me a vast parcel that probably needed to be checked in separately. It contained banana chips and varieties of murukku that I'd never before encountered. Apart from the usual hard and crisp biscuit-coloured ones, of rice and urad dal, there were some white squiggly ones, made of just rice. In any case, murukku means just that, twisted.
Madhvi, another Punjabi, came for dinner one day and brought what I was craving, her home's parathas - layered, fried and then squashed gently in such a way that the lachchhas start separating and opening into flaky layers. Utpala is from Assam and she sent doi maachh, fish curried with dahi, yoghurt, which originates in Bengal. There was also a payesh, a milk and rice pudding, sweetened with the rarely available nolen gur and tinted faintly pink by the palm gur.
And one night Anita brought across shammi kebabs. She happens to be Bengali, but prabashi, brought up outside the home state. Her mother cooks Lucknawi food, and, as my son said, these were the best kebabs he'd ever eaten. They were soft and yet firm and holding together, despite the fact that they had been filled with a pinch of finely chopped onions and green chillies soaked in lemon juice. The flavours then were a combination of boiled and fried qeema, cloves and cardamom, refreshed with lemon, onion and chillies.
This is probably axiomatic, but I've been convinced afresh that home-cooked food, made by and for people one loves, is better than what the finest chefs can offer. Dil ki Haat rules.
In a covered saucepan, boil beans with water and turmeric powder till barely cooked.
Place the ground coconut mixture in the centre of the beans. Cover the coconut paste with the beans and cover the pan with a lid. The steam from the beans will cook the coconut paste. Add salt and mix the coconut with the beans. In a small frying pan, heat the oil. When it becomes very hot, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to splutter, add the red chillies and the dal. Stir once. Stir in shallots. When the shallots turn brown, add curry leaves and stir for two seconds. Pour the seasoning over the beans. Stir well to mix.
NOTE: Thorens can be made with a number of vegetables. A crisp cabbage or carrot thoren can be made by mixing grated cabbage or carrot, grated coconut and finely chopped green chillies and salt and giving it a seasoning of mustard seeds, curry leaves and Bengal gram.
The writer is a food writer based in New Delhi, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Traditional Kerala recipe,
courtesy Nirmala George)
Green Beans with Coconut
3 cups/ 400g French beans, cut into fine diagonals.
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp turmeric
To be coarsely ground together:
2 green chillies
3/4 cup coconut, grated
1/2 tsp cumin seed
3 tbsp oil
1tsp mustard seeds
2 dry red chillies, deseeded and cut in two
1 tsp kadala parippu (chana dal)
3 shallots, finely chopped
10 curry leaves
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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