Years ago, when my children were little, we went on a camping trip to the Shimla hills with my father. We camped at Kufri and it started sleeting. "Camp" was a camper - or caravan - with a metal body that amplified the din of falling rain and hail. The "utility" tent, pitched with enthusiastic help from my mountain goat of a son, was awash and unusable. So we were confined to the insides of the vehicle, our only entertainment watching the surroundings become white with a carpet of fat hailstones. Until it was time for lunch, which was exciting, because we were in the hills, it was early summer, and we had bought phool gobhi, cauliflower, on our way up the previous day.
I don't know whether today there would be the same excitement over the menu, now that we have phool gobhi twelve months of the year. But then it was a rarity. The first phool gobhi of the season was usually cooked around Dussehra (autumn), and its tender green stalks and loose, not-so-white florets had a flavour that today's dense whiter-than-white ones don't. And there's an unpleasant smell from it now that is reminiscent of methane gas, but maybe that comes from boredom after eating it around the year. In the hills you could get it from the early summer, though.
That day we had gobhi alu, urad-chane ki dal and parathas for lunch and we still talk of how delicious that meal was. The kitchen, more a galley, was tiny. There was just one gas burner, everything was cooked serially; and I had to keep the children occupied. So they helped. My daughter, who could barely see over the countertop, washed dishes and kneaded atta. My son, although otherwise unable to sit still for even a minute, was always a diligent and careful cutter and chopper; he sat at the collapsible dining bench and made a quick pickle of slit green chillies and young ginger slivers which turned pink the instant lemon juice was added. The ginger was so new that it could be cut across the grain, and its fragrance suffused the cabin. Usually I leap up and switch on exhaust fans as soon as cooking starts, but that day, despite the closeness, lunch preparations - including frying parathas - smelt so good it became difficult to wait for it to be served.
The other vegetable we could get only in the hills during summer were fresh green peas. Which again have lost all value, thanks to efficient packaging and a year-round cold chain. I remember summers in sundry Himachal cottages when I was sat down by my mother with a basket of peas in the pod and a bowl for the shelled peas. Then I thought the schlep wasn't worth it, eggs-and-toast would have been fine. But now... is there anything that compares with the sweetness and freshness of new peas, the first kilo you buy at the beginning of winter? Tempered with the lightest of spices, they go best with other seasonal aromatics.
Which brings me to another pet peeve: the canard against Punjabis that they cook everything with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, garam masala, coriander and cumin (is anything left?). The truth is that all agrarian people cook with local, seasonal vegetables. So gobhi (cauliflower), gaanthgobhi (knol-khol or rutabaga), matar (peas), shalgam (turnips), and new potatoes in winter, usually tempered with, if anything, ginger - all winter produce. And all summer vegetables, bhindi (okra), karela (bitter gourd) tinda, tori, lauki (all cucurbits, gourds), cooked with onions - all summer produce. In addition, there's the traditional Ayurvedic and Yunnani belief in the taseer of foods: ginger is heating, and onions cooling - and so, eaten in winter or summer, not both. Dhania (green coriander), freshly chopped with stems, is sprinkled on top of hot winter vegetables, fresh out of the pan. Not on bhindi, karela, or lauki. Again probably because dhania isn't available in summer, or, if it is, it costs about a million rupees a kilo.
In summer, when the first of the bhindi comes, a traditional Punjabi home sautés it with an almost equal volume of sliced or diced onions. Nothing else - no zeera, dhania, nothing. And, like the first phool gobhi, does the joy of eating it compare with the blaséness inspired by year-round availability? Which is why my heart breaks for a grand-aunt, who had just been served a tiny portion of emerald green bhindi, glistening with oil and newness. The mali had brought in the daily hamper from the kitchen garden that morning, and it had all the usual vegetables, but only a half kilo of bhindi. Which was promptly cooked and served.
The grand aunt finished all the regular boring dal-sabzi-gosht on her plate, saving the precious emeralds for the last. When along came her brother, my grandfather, bent over her plate with his roti, and scooped up the entire portion in one fell swoop. She was inconsolable and talked about the beauty and fragrance of the purloined pehli bhindi for so many years that, three generations down the line, the story resonates with me still.
GREEN PEA SOUP
- 2 cups peas (from shelling 1 kg peas in pods)
- 3 spring onions
- 3-4 lettuce leaves
- 1 cup spinach leaves
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 tbsp hung curd
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Shell peas, chop spring onions small, including green parts. Tear up lettuce roughly. Chop up spinach. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat butter just until melted. Sauté spring onions, lettuce and spinach for a few minutes, until slightly softened. Stir in peas. Add 4 cups boiling water and salt. Cover and simmer on medium heat until peas are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add sugar and stir till combined. Cool soup, then purée in blender until smooth. Reheat just before serving, adding pepper and more salt if necessary. Stir in chopped mint leaves. Top with a spoonful of hung curd and a pinch of grated nutmeg.
Traditional Punjab and Uttar Pradesh recipe
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp whole zeera (cumin) optional)
- 2 green chillies, slit and seeded
- 1 tsp ginger juliennes
- 2 cups peas, shelled and blanched
- 1/2 tsp butter (optional)
- Pinch of sugar
Heat oil. Sauté cumin, if using. Lightly fry green chillies and ginger for a few seconds, quickly followed by peas. Stir over medium heat until peas are heated through. Add salt and pepper and a knob of butter, if using. Add sugar just before serving.
Vasundhara Chauhan is a food writer based in New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
By Mehtab Haider
ISLAMABAD: Planning Commission's top panel of economists, led by Adviser to the .....more
Page 161 of 175
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw