Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cabbage, Chalks And Chopsticks

The jaundice had whittled her down by half or more, and everyone was exclaiming over the transformation. She was just nine, too young to hope the loss of appetite would be permanent in the interests of her figure. Her grandparents fussed over her, making sure she took the Liv 52 and other medicines on time, pleading with her to eat “something at least”. She just couldn’t, she had no hunger and the oil-less food that was served, lovingly and carefully made by Ammamma, did nothing to titillate her numb taste buds.

She welcomed the break from school, though she wondered what it would do to her rank. After three weeks, would she still be able to come first in the monthly exam? Or would she be somewhere in the middle of the list? Dad always said, “If you’re not in the first five, then …” and would trail off ominously.

When she wasn’t lying down and reading books, she would be receiving visitors, mostly her other set of grandparents who lived close by. That grandfather was a doctor, and he would often tweak the skin under her eyes to see if the yellow had faded.

“How are you feeling today?”, he would ask, and she would tell him she was alright. One day, the skin on her lower lip began to chap, and when she pulled at it, it peeled off, just like that. That day, when he came to see her, she peeled off some and showed it to him. “Tatayya, what is this, is this normal?”, she asked, holding out a scrap of skin. “Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about that. Are you feeling hungry today?”, he asked.

“I want to eat tamata chaaru. Can I?” she said. “Go ahead and eat it, absolutely no harm in it,” said Tatayya.

Ammamma was amazed, even a little hurt, she guessed. “Papa, if you had wanted it you could have told me, I‘d have made it for you for lunch,” she said.

“No Ammamma, I felt it only now, will you please make it for dinner?”

“I will, darling, is there anything else you want?”

“Umm … no, just tamata chaaru.”

That night, at dinner, she ate rice and tamata chaaru to her heart’s content, the grains floating in a thin, red river. There was some spicy cabbage-channa dal to keep it company. The cabbage was a mixture of fiery red and yellow, the channa dal undistinguishable from it at first glance. Had Ammamma got it wrong? It was usually a pale green, why did it look almost orange today?

Hesitantly, she asked Ammamma to serve her some cabbage. She put some in her mouth. It didn’t taste of anything. She had a little more rice mixed with chaaru. Then she had some more of the cabbage. She did this two more times, alternating between the rice and the cabbage. Some taste began to come through - slightly spicy cabbage steamed with dal cooked a little earlier, a little bit of resistance when a grain of dal asserted itself amidst the soft shreds. The tang of the tomato and the heat of the cabbage tickled her palate, and she was on the road to recovery - both of good health and every single lost kilo.

Here’s the recipe for the cabbage:

Cabbage, chopped: 1 medium-sized (3-3.5 cups)
Channa dal/Split chickpea: ¾ cup, soaked for a while and cooked until soft but not mushy
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Urad dal/Split & skinned black gram: 1 tsp
Broken red chilli: 4-5 pieces
Curry leaves: 3-4
Salt, to taste
Chilli powder: 1-1.5 tsp
Turmeric: 1 tsp (or less)
Oil: 1-1.5 tbsp (actually you may not even need that much; definitely not if you’re jaundiced)
Some water, optional

Heat the oil and pop the mustard, cumin and urad dal. Add the curry leaves and red chillies.

Before the chillies and urad dal turn black, add the cabbage and saute well.

Lower the flame and add the salt, chilli powder and turmeric. Mix well, cover the pan and let it cook in its own steam. If you’re not confident of that, add one or two tablespoons of water before you cover it.

Once the cabbage is cooked, add the channa dal and mix well with the cabbage. Cover again and simmer till the dal absorbs the flavors.

Tomato chaaru: Put two small pieces of tamarind, 3 sour tomatoes, rasam powder and salt in about a litre or more of water and pressure cook for a while (or boil for a very long time till it looks all well blended and mushy.)

Temper with ½ a tsp of mustard and cumin and 3-4 curry leaves in ½ a tsp of oil.

This post goes off to Aquadaze's event, Of Chalks And Chopsticks. Spun a yarn yet? Hurry, you have another 10 days left.


  1. I had jaundice when i was little and nobody knew, only whenI came here whenthey checked my blood they remarked hmmmm you had jaundice when you were little.
    Shyama had them few years back when we were travelling all around India, thangod it ws just almost by the end of the holiday, we re booked out ticket to get home early panicking :-)
    Actually i love cabbages made like this.

  2. This was one lovely story, the food was beautifully described

  3. These stories interspersed with food is very interesting. The dal definitely makes the cabbage more appealing.

  4. You have a way with words Sra! Loved reading this, thanks for the entry.

  5. wow that was so wonderful!..though I remember reading the title, never knew this is the story behind!..let me see if I can..but it is tough to beat you in this Sra..I felt sitting next to that lil girl..

  6. Your writing is captivating Sra.. :) I want tomato chaaru now!

  7. Nice read,Sra!Brought back vivid memories of chilhood days when falling sick would mean an impromptu vacation albeit not too cherished beyond the first couple of days;)The cabbage curry looks yummy too!

  8. Loved ur write-up,very true, no words to describe the unconditional love of granparents. Nice dish.

  9. What a lovely story to go along with your recipe. Jaundice can be so scary due to the fact that it usually implies some kind of liver function problems. That dish looks like it would revive someone back to health with its deliciousness, though.

  10. I like reading these story posts of yours. Do more of this, will you???

  11. Sra,
    A very captive story,you have well blended the flavour of cabbage stir/fry with this lovely story.
    Lovely description of the recipe.
    hugs and smiles

  12. wonderful story. i'm also hungry now. ;-)


  13. I had fun reading that story! And as for the food, it sounds delicious.
    dining tables

  14. I too enjoyed the story :)

  15. Having jaundice couldn't have been much fun at that age, not that's its fun at any age! :)

    Guess the tomato and the cabbage made it bearable. I actually like cabbage!

  16. Nothing like tomato rasam is there :)

    Great entry

  17. great narration.. interesting.. and lovely blog.. do drop at my site whenever.. following you


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