A humble feast! Meals that take me back to my nana and nani’s veranda on hot summer days in their Delhi home. As we arrived to spend several weeks of our vacation with the rest of the family I was always sure that the forthcoming days were going to be filled with lots of food where the hub of the house was the kitchen.
My nani was a spectacular cook. The table at meal times was covered with dishes for everyone to pass around and share while the boisterous chatter on either side of the table provided for a lot of stories and laughter. Nani would present dishes like perfumed basmati rice dotted with cloves and black cardamom and laced with caramelized onions, there would be meaty saffron scented aubergine stewed in a hearty thick tomato sauce, lentils with roasted cumin seeds with a trail of melted ghee, koftas bathing in a rich sauce cooked till they are soft, tender and velvety paneer hidden beneath a creamy spinach sauce and my nani’s refreshing raita – strained homemade yogurt with grated cucumber, torn leaves of fresh mint, a touch of Kashmiri chili and black pepper.
Memories created and cherished that seem like a life time ago yet so dear and near that I can almost reach out and grab them.
Waking up with the rise of the sun to accompany my nana on his early morning round to the milk depot. Still with sleep in my eyes I would grab hold of my nana’s strong and sturdy hand to walk the short path and stand in line with our metal canisters waiting for our turn. Nana, a respected figure in the neighborhood was always greeted with reverence. Once back home nani would warm two glasses of milk, in one she mixed some cocoa powder and grated a pinch of nutmeg and in the other she added honey. By this time my nana would be sitting on the veranda reading the papers, me on his side coloring or dozing. Carrying the glasses of milk each covered with a metal bowl to keep flies away she would discuss with Nana the days programme. I would wait patiently looking at my nana – finally when nani went back into the house he would lift the bowls from the glasses and scoop out the creamy milk skin with his fingers and gulp it down. He would look at me and smile and when I shuddered he would laugh his hearty laugh.
Running through the back alleys of the neighborhood with our summer friends, my cousins, brother and I found our freedom liberating. It was unlike anything we experienced in Qatar or the US. Feeling like a grown-up we would walk into the small side store and spend our money on sweets and bags of saunf – sugar coated fennel seeds. Sometimes we ventured as far as the market where trancelike we trailed the fragrance of deep fried spicy samosas and syrupy jalebis. The oil or syrup soaking through the newspaper and dripping on our bare knees we would sit cross legged in the park devouring our snack.
Evening walks to the market with my aunts and mum where the colorful lights, noisy commotion and bustle brought the neighborhood to life. I would spend hours flipping through boxes filled with Archie Comics at the small book store, while my aunts chatting lively to neighbors and friends, binging on cashew burfi or warm spiced peanuts. Armed with a stack of comics we would walk back home stopping in the tiny jewellery shop. My aunts would buy me those delicate glass bangles in all the vibrant colors of the rainbow and my mum would treat me to mango falooda .
Looking deep into the fire pit feeling the heat light up my face, hypnotized by the crackling flames I would wait with an insulated thermo box. It was dark but the heat was still relentless. I would sit on the large stone just like all the others around me waiting for the “roti man” to give me a signal. This was take-away Delhi style. On some evenings nani would send a family member out to one of the several fire pits that appeared around the free fields at dusk. Nani had already prepared the dough and the balls for the roti. The “roti man” would then skilfully roll them and flip them into flat disks and slap them to the sides of the clay fire pit. Within seconds he produced crisp and piping hot tandoori rotis signalling with a spoon and a small meat bowl if I wanted them drizzled in ghee. I wanted! Holding the box of fresh rotis I would then race back home just in time as everyone began taking their place at the dinner table.
My mind is ablaze with these and so many other memories from my childhood. Then I grew up and wanted to discover the world on my own – thinking India would always be there for me to visit soon. That soon never came. Nana and nani departed, the house sold and any reason to go back soon also took leave of me. I got married and had a child of my own and life took over.
Twenty six years later our plans to visit India are currently taking shape. In just a little less than 3 weeks I will be landing in Bombay, my birth city. This time as an adult and with my own family. I look forward to seeing my cousins, aunts and uncles, my mum and dad all together again. While nana and nani will be there in spirit and in memory we will welcome the new members to our circle – with lots of food and loud banter.
My emotions are all over the place. The last time I was in India was in 1989! Both my grandparents were alive and these memories I have shared were very much vivid and spirited. I am looking forward to taking my son and husband to the old neighborhood where my grandparents’ stately house stood, where we roamed the alleys and flaunted in the market. I want to buy golden swirls of hot jalebi and sit in the park again and let all those thousands of mental images I have framed in my mind loose. Tremendously thrilled but at the same time I find it daunting to face all those emotions in me.
In honor of all those thrilling memories and to sooth the trepidations I cooked a humble feast. Just like nani did this meal is to be shared in bowls spread across the table with family and friends. The dal recipe is a simple recipe inspired by a recipe my friend Nandita Iyer shared per email with me. There were a lot of interesting components to the dal and I liked the way the flavors came together with the added additional vegetables. I adapted it slightly adding garlic and ginger and a few other spices. With it I served a cauliflower and pumpkin curry, a twist from the famous Punjabi aloo ghobi dish so well known across India. Instead of the potatoes I added pumpkin, using a Hokkaido pumpkin and cooking it with its skin for added texture. We Indians always need pickles and chutney with our meals as we like to exercise all the sensors of our taste buds in one meal. The kumquat chili and ginger chutney provides an exciting condiment to the two bolder dishes.
Recipe: Vegetable Split Pea Dal, Spiced Cauliflower Pumpkin and a Kumquat ChutneyMeeta K. Wolff
For the Dal
Total Time: + 1 hour soaking time
- 300g yellow split pea lentils (soaked for 1 hour)
- 4 small dried chilies
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 thumb-sized ginger, 1 left whole and 1 very finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large carrots, cut into batons
- 150g French green beans
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 15 curry leaves
- 2-3 tablespoons Ghee
- 2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 100g cashew nuts, chopped
- To make the dal cook lentils in plenty of water approx.. 3-4 cups with the turmeric powder, quartered onion, the whole piece of ginger, 2 garlic cloves. Simmer until the lentils are really tender.
- In a wok or pot, heat 1 tablespoon ghee and slow roast coriander, cumin, fenugreek seeds and chilies until the spices begin to sizzle and become fragrant - this will take about 30 to 35 seconds. Then finely grind and set aside.
- Heat another tablespoon of ghee in the wok, add the finely chopped ginger, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and sauté. Add 10 curry leaves and the roasted masala mix and continue to sauté until the mixture comes together and is fragrant. Add the vegetables: carrots, beans and sliced onion and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Add about half a cup and up to one cup of water, cover and allow to simmer till vegetables are almost tender.
- Add the cooked dal to the vegetable mixture and stir well. Season to taste.
- To temper the dal: just before serving heat the remaining ghee, add the mustard seeds, remaining curry leaves and cashews and stir until everything turns brown and the seed start to pop. Pour this to the hot dal. Serve with steaming rice
- 600g cauliflower florets
- 400g pumpkin, cut into cubes
- 2 small green chilies, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
- 1 thumb-sized ginger, very finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoons Ghee
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- small bunch coriander leaves, chopped
- To make the spiced cauliflower and pumpkin place a clean karhai, wok or heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Melt the ghee and as it heats, add the onion.
- Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the cumin seeds. Stir for 3 minutes, or until the onion has colored light brown. Stir for 2 minutes, adding a splash of hot water if the mixture starts to stick. Add the tomato and cook for 5 minutes until completely melted and integrated.
- Sprinkle in the chilies and season with salt. Stir for approx. 1 minute then add the fenugreek and turmeric and mix well.
- Finally transfer the cauliflower florets and pumpkin into the pan, add a few splashes of water. Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape. Make sure you check in between if the mixture needs some more moisture, if it does add some more water - a splash at a time.
- Serve sprinkled with the coriander leaves.
Yields: about two average sized jars
- 700g kumquats
- 375ml water
- 105ml white wine vinegar
- 375ml light brown sugar
- 3 dried red chilies, de-seeded and finely shredded
- a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, sliced in three pieces
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) whole black peppercorns
- Rinse the kumquats but don't cut them up. Put the water, vinegar, sugar, chilies, ginger, peppercorns and salt into a heavy-based pan and bring gently up to the boil, stirring now and then to dissolve the sugar.
- Cook at a brisk bubble for 5 minutes. Now tip in the kumquats, turn down the heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes or so, or until the fruit is very soft and glassy, and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup. Watch the pan carefully, as there isn't much liquid, and it can turn to caramel in an instant.
- If you're going to keep this in the fridge for immediate use, let the chutney cool for a few minutes, then ladle it into clean jars. If you want to keep this in the cupboard for future use, sterilize your jars and plastic-lined lids (here's how) and fill them to the brim with piping-hot chutney. Press down gently with the back of a spoon to eliminate any air bubbles, screw on the lids and tighten. Let the jars cool for 30 minutes, and then tighten the lids again.
This meal is vibrant and full of flavor yet humble and without pretence. It soothes and it satisfies and … it is perfect to create food memories with you family.
Look what happened earlier this week … according to Sarah Sifton Food Editor of The New York Times "Photography is hugely important in the recipe game ... Food styling truly has become an integral part of any food-related operation."
Really quite thrilled that I was selected as one of 10 top Food Stylists with the most droolworthy Instagram accounts that "show just how beautiful food can look when styled accordingly"
Happy dance! I am truly enjoying the moment folks!
September 2015: Sintra, Portugal Food Photography and Styling Workshop
Registrations are running and we still have a few slots free. This two day workshop takes place in the stunning and tranquil town of Sintra - 30-minutes from Lisbon. You will learn all the aspects of food photography to help you hone your skills and find your way through the jungle of food styling. You will also learn how to harness natural light for perfect images, shoot in low-light and post-process efficiently.
Furthermore, we will take you on a magical tour of a stunning Sintra landmark and treat you to a picnic in the park. With expert tuition, hands-on exercises and assignments this workshop offers an intensive yet fun-filled experience.
Date: 11th - 12th September 2015
Details, registrations and preliminary programme here.
Indian cuisine is rich and flavorful and so very vibrant. If you liked my recipes I am sure you will love some of the dishes my friends have cooked up:
- Rosana’s The Hundred Foot Journey, Hassan's dry chicken
- Jeanne’s husband Nick cooks a mean Chicken Jalfrezi
- Aparna’s street food Bombay Green Chutney sandwich
- Kay’s beautiful Pineapple & Fish Curry
- Sanjana’s Stuffed and Baked Baby Kolhapuri Aubergines
- Simone's Chana Chaat Salad
You might like these curry ideas from What's for lunch, Honey?:
|Egg Curry in a Creamy Coconut Gravy||Kaali Maa Di Dal - Mum's Creamy Black Lentils||Mutter Paneer – Indian Cheese with Peas in a Creamy Tomato Sauce|
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2015 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First