Growing up I always wanted to have a pet of some kind. I loved animals and just like any kid wanted a dog, a cat or a hamster to call my own. However, the fact that we were like gypsies moving from country to country and that my mum was finicky about having animal hair in her apartment I never actually got to own a pet.
Our vacations to India were a bit like the animal paradise I had always imagined. My grandparents’ house in Delhi was not far from a thick deep park like woods, where monkeys dangled from tree to tree and the really cheeky ones sometimes came down as far as the walls of the house. Then there were goats or cows that roamed the streets freely and shared the pavement with stray dogs or cats.
While this was paradise to us kids, it was a nightmare for my mother and aunts who were constantly paranoid we’d get some crazy animal disease. My grandmother on the other hand was always calm and telling her daughters to stop overacting. She would shake her head – after all her children were all brought up in much the same fashion and probably the same cows and goats roamed the streets back then.
“Moving to your fancy foreign countries you have all turned to wimps!” she would joke. “My grandchildren will not be wimps!”
We’d run out squealing with delight and my mother and aunts would look helplessly at each other.
It was summer and we were carefree and liberated from worry like only children can be. We ran the streets barefooted and looking for adventure. Back home we never experienced the same adventures India offered us. And my grandmother was our heroine. She would give us day old chapattis, milk, fruit and vegetables to feed our animal farm. We would carry the goodies a little bit away from the eyes of our mothers and create a foodie paradise for the stray animals.
However, one day I think even I managed to rattle my grandmother’s nerves.
“Nani! look I think these poor animals need a home!” I said coming into the kitchen where my nani was giving the cook instructions for dinner.
She did not look up but just told me to take the animals out on the veranda and she’ll be there in a bit.
So I did. I waited. But my mum came out on the veranda, turned pale and let out a scream. Soon the family were gathered around all talking at the same time giving me the feeling I was going to get into a lot of trouble. Finally my nani came out.
“What’s the ruckus about?” Then she saw me holding two white rats by their tails – two very dead rats. I was feeling uncomfortable right about then with the whole clan looking at me and I think my nani realized that.
“My God you people, have you not seen big mice in your lives?” she said coming towards me. “Don’t you have big mice in your fancy foreign countries?”
She winked at me and with the end of her sari wrapped the rats (because that is what they really were) inside.
“Come let’s see if we can find them a home!” And the two of us did. In a box that she buried later that evening, when I was asleep, in the garden along with her sari!
That was my nani. My heroine!
I love my legumes, especially chickpeas. Only Indians have such a large repertoire of incredible tasting legumes dishes. The variety seems never ending. One of my all time favorites is a simple and comforting dish of chickpeas and spinach spiced with mustard seeds. Fancy it is not – but it is darned good and a perfect dish if you are still acquainting yourself with Indian cuisine.
Chickpeas with Spinach – Channa Palak
Printable version of recipe here
450g chickpeas, soaked overnight then cooked till tender. Alternatively you can use canned chickpeas
500g spinach leaves, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil – or ghee (clarified butter)
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
150g red onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 green chili, finely chopped
Salt to taste
- Heat canola oil (or ghee) in a medium sized pan over a medium to high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover and cook until the seeds have stopped popping – approx. 30 seconds.
- Lower the heat and add the ginger, stir-frying for about 30 seconds until light brown.
- Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until onions are slightly caramelized and brown. Then add chopped tomato, tomato paste, green chili and salt. Finally tip in the chickpeas and coat with the sauce.
- Add about 2 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. The lower heat and add the spinach in two to three batches, stirring until each batch has wilted.
- Once all the spinach has been added allow the curry to simmer for 10-12 minutes on a medium low heat, until the sauce has thickened.
- Serve hot with naans and chutney.
Food Guide Tips:
Tart and tangy with a hint of rustic tasting mustard seeds, this is a beautifully balanced vegetarian dish. Not overly spicing it, the spinach and and chickpea flavors come through perfectly. The dish relies on the quality of the ingredients so try and get the freshest spinach and ripest tomatoes.
More Bollywood Cooking from WFLH:
|Channa Masala||Paneer Do Piaza||Spicy Okra with Onions|
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