Summer vacations spent in India at my grandparents’ home in Delhi are forever etched in my memories. Their imposing house, at the end of the street, was nestled next to big open fields and further beyond those fields, small woodlands, that my brother, cousins and I called the “jungle.” Often, as we played out on the fields we would hear the howls of monkeys and the high pitched mewing of peacocks and other animals vibrating through the trees, drifting over the fields, sending us darting back to the house out of breath and petrified.
On the nights when the mist rose from the fields and the silvery moonlight irradiated the trees in the woods, the sinister shadows would sway in a ghost-like dance, we would all bundle up around my grandfather (nana) on the charpai (Indian woven bed) out on the veranda. The scene was perfect for one of his elaborate tales. No one could tell a story quite like nana. Whether they were stories of our Sikh gurus, or narratives about British India and the partition of India and Pakistan or fables he heard from his parents during his childhood, he captivated and bewitched us for hours. The scary stories about haunted houses, terrifying giants and ghosts would have us shivering with fright, we were often hypnotized and as five pairs of eyes widened with horror he would swerve the story in a totally unexpected direction and take our fear from us bringing almost comical relief to our quaking bodies.
Tall, lean and imposing, my nana commanded an imperial aura around him.“ His presence is felt in the room when he walks in!” is what I have often heard being said about him. Strict and stern with his daughters, with his grandchildren there was an abundance of passion and generosity - he still lights up my heart when I see him smile in my memories.
As I entered the teenage years my interest was drawn towards the kitchen. My grandmother’s (nani) kitchen to be precise. Not so much for the cooking and the preparing of the dishes, at that time I was far from interested in actually learning to cook much to my nani’s dismay. But when all my aunts, uncles and cousins got together for the summer the kitchen always became the hub of interesting happenings, exciting news and gossip. Curiously, the kitchen was situated in the very back, almost separated from the rest of the house. One had to cross a small back veranda to get to it. The veranda and the kitchen were surrounded by a tall strong wall that sheltered the entire property. A small inconspicuous wooden door served the purpose of a back entrance. This entrance was the doorway for all daily deliveries from the vendors bringing their wares directly to the homes. Produce was always seasonal and local – nani only bought from local farmers and artisan producers. My nani had a jovial and vivacious disposition, kind and always ready to help people in need. She was determined and stubborn too and when she set her mind on something she usually did not stop till she got it.
As I began to spend more time in and around the kitchen, nani noticed my interest to be a part of the adult gatherings instantly. Cleverly, she included me into the chores of preparing meals with the rest of the family members. We would sit on the back veranda warmed by the sun listening to the chorus of peacocks and parrots sing, while we shelled peas, ground spices in a large stone mortar with a heavy pestle, picking over lentils, rice and beans, kneading dough for rotis and naans or preserving fruit and vegetables for spicy achaars (pickles). Nani would tell us her extravagant stories. Food always played a pivotal role in these stories of moguls, rajputs, maharajas and maharanis. She told me about the Goan traditions, Kashmiri customs, Rajasthani heritage and Bengali culture. She too shared her version of the British rule over India and the partition that caused her and her family to flee her home in Lahore and to settle down in Chandigarh.
During these rich and poignant summers I grew up learning so much about my culture, tradition and religion that coming back home to Kuwait, Doha or where ever we were based at the time, often felt empty and pale in comparison. My nani stubborn as she was always insisted on speaking to all her grandchildren in Hindi knowing that most of us lived outside of the country would never actually learn it, and as clever as she was, she created the first food memories and planted the first seeds of food passion in me by heightening my curiosity and laying out crumbs that eventually led me into the kitchen and towards the path of the hospitality industry and finally brought me to what I’d like to think has been my calling – food styling, food photography and of course developing and creating recipes.
This dish today portrays what my kitchen is often all about. Fusion food: that brings together the flavors, aromas and memories from a life of traveling and growing up with infusions of various cultures and traditions. Primarily Indian and Levantine, my influence in the kitchen is governed by the incredible range of spices, fresh produce and legumes available in both cuisines.
For those who are not familiar with moghrabieh - it is a staple in the Levantine kitchen often also known as giant couscous, pearl couscous or Lebanese couscous. Like couscous it is a form of rolled semolina just a lot larger in size. The word moghrabieh in Arabic translates to “dish from the Maghreb” which mainly are the countries Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and refers to not only the grain but also the traditional dish moghrabieh, which includes lamb or chicken and chickpeas. Texture-wise it is more like pasta made of semolina and can be bought at good sorted grocery stores or Middle Eastern specialty stores in dried or frozen form.
Slow roasted vegetables coated in a spice mix of turmeric, highlighted with sprinklings of garam masala and cumin seeds served with a moghrabieh pilaf dotted with plump raisins and scatterings of toasted almonds and mint – fusion food for the senses.
Venice Food Photography & Styling Workshop
In case you missed the announcement last week, I released the dates for the first workshop in 2014. I'm collaborating with Jeanne Horak-Druiff again and together we want to take you away with us to the gorgeous prosecco region just outside of Venice. You will find all the details of the Venice Food Photography and Styling Workshop on the announcement page with a preliminary programme and what the workshop includes. We've put together a pretty fantastic schedule. Registrations have been rolling in since we announced and as we are limited to 12 participants the slots are tight. Furthermore, Jeanne and I have been working behind the scenes with the team at the Nino France estate, who will be hosting us, and we are putting together a particularly special surprise for participants of this workshop. Stay tuned for that announcement.
Dates for the workshop: 2-3 May 2014
Registrations can be made via the registration form here.
The simplicity of preparing this dish is unbeatable and it can be prepared on any night of the week. Yet the complexity of the flavors and aromas this dish provides will satisfy to the core. I have made it purely vegetarian here but if you want to up it a notch and make it a non-vegetarian meal, rub a few chicken breasts with the mixture too, pan-fry until browned then place on top of the vegetables allowing to roast in the oven. Or try rubbing tiger prawns with the mixture and sizzling in a hot pan just a few minutes before the vegetables come out. Makes an extravagant dinner for special occasions. I do wish nana and nani could be regular guests to my table - I would have loved to share meals like this with them and create more memorable stories with them. But I hope they are watching from above smiling and enjoying the stories I have to recount to my son.
My word for 2014 is Connect and I have started consciously doing this in many ways and on many levels. Here on the blog one of the things I 'd like to do is share bits and pieces, finds and interesting things I come across as I surf the web. It might be a quote, a picture a moving post, interesting news and announcements. What ever makes me connect with you. Hope you enjoy this section of my weekly posts and I urge you to share your favorite finds and thoughts in the comments section too.
- The food photography and styling challenge has started again and Simone of Simone's Kitchen has picked a fantastic theme for this:
RAW Ingredients. I am one of the three judges and am really looking forward to your entries. I hope my images of raw ingredients in this post inspire you. Don't miss it!
- Make sure you check out the all new The Foodie Bugle Shop which opened its doors last week. The lovely Silvana de Soissons is the founder of The Foodie Bugle a magnificent online magazine focusing on food, cooking, gourmet travel and so much more. The Foodie Bugle Shop is a paradise for all bloggers, food photographers and stylists. The vintage section is magnificent and I've already ordered several items. Silvana, always so very forthcoming, packed them up snuggly and delivered them within a matter of 2 days. If you are unsure about shipping and shipping prices please do not hesitate to drop Silvana a line. I cannot wait to get shooting with my vintage props.
- Have you heard about Keepy? This is for the parents amongst you ... it's such a brilliant app. It allows us to photograph, document, organize, share and save all the art masterpieces, lego creations, paintings, poems, stories and so much more our kids create and make. Organize all this easily and if you want to share with grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. you can invite special loved ones to view and leave video comments on each item. My favorite part is that both Soeren & I can record messages on each masterpiece describing what it is so that when family members view them they have their own personalized video. Check it out!
- Of course Happiness is (sharing) a slice of chocolate cake generously shared by Giulia of Juls' Kitchen
- These illustrations of a Scandinavian Garden party makes me happy and I am already dreaming of long summer parties here!
- More vegetable deliciousness in the form of braised baby turnips and radishes cooked up by Jeanne of Cooksister
- A thought evoking post and some carrot butternut squash soup with caraway seeds to chase away the blues by my friend Ilva Beretta. Don't miss this!
- I was in Hamburg last week. While it was a rather dull and grey day I found my silver lining there. It made me literally jump for joy!
More vegetable inspiration from What's for Lunch, Honey?
|South Indian Inspired Sambar Vegetable Curry||Heirloom Tomato Goat Cheese Galette with Anchovies, Olives and Capers||Buckwheat Linguine with Aubergine and Mango|
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2013 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First