Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heritage Comes Cheap?

Whenever there’s a reference to Andhra food, mentions of ‘gongura’ or ‘vankai’ are inevitable. Gongura is a sour, leafy green vegetable and vankai (or vankaya) is eggplant/brinjal/aubergine. Gongura is considered typically Andhra, and many people from Andhra Pradesh consider the eggplant the State’s very own special vegetable and believe they can use it in a variety of ways that others cannot. A friend’s father says tongue-in-cheek that many people in Andhra were named Venkayya (no longer fashionable) after the eggplant! Both gongura and eggplant can be curried, added to dal, ground into chutneys, pickled and what have you, each mode in a variety of ways. I’ve even heard of an eggplant halwa, but let’s get on with what I have to say.

Very often, and more so in a generation which has now reached a certain age, if something had to be dismissed voice and expression dripping with ample scorn, “Aa, gongura! D’you really believe her?” or “Vankai! As if …!” would be the choice of words for many!

I don’t know which came first, the expression or the film song, but if you want to taunt someone saying “What do you know anyway? Squat!” ‘squat’ would translate into “nimmakaya pulusu*” or “vankai pulusu”.

Are there any such expressions in your language? What are they?

It just struck me that something we exalt and proclaim as our own, peculiar to our roots and our State is also the metaphor for something we choose to dismiss. Is it because vegetables like gongura, eggplant and even lime were kitchen garden staples, there for the asking? We didn’t have to shell out anything, or much, for them; we could get some from the neighbour and maybe not have to even give something in return; if we had to buy them, we probably had to spend only a few paise for a bunch as big as a bush. Or is it that they are exalted only now as we leave home and scatter far and wide, routine, everyday, garden-variety vegetables receding into the realms of the rare, prompting us to grow all mushy and patriotic and discuss them in our blogs using terms such as “rediscovery of my culinary heritage/roots/humble Andhra food/quintessentially Andhra” or … well, you get the drift.

I’m quite one of those who has been rediscovering the food I’ve grown up with so here’s a dish with the not-so-dismissable gongura – it’s a favourite accompaniment to mutton and chicken but I decided to try it with eggs. My new early morning gym routine promises to give me the opportunity to take a detour to the market and buy fresh greens regularly and I’m quite thrilled about it.

Here’s what you need for the gongura-egg curry:

Gongura – 1 bunch weighing ½ a kilo (500 gm)
Onion – 1, chopped
Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Green chillies – 2, slit
Red chilli powder – ½ tsp
Boiled, shelled and scored eggs – 4
Salt, to taste
Oil – 1-2 tsp
Garam masala/curry powder – 1 tsp

Pick the leaves off the bunch of gongura. Wash the leaves in several changes of water.

Put the gongura in a pan with the chillies, salt, turmeric and red chilli powder.

Boil with a little water till it wilts and becomes a rather unified mess – what I mean is that the leaves sort of meld with each other and it’s just a little short of a paste.

Mash it with the back of the ladle.

In a pan, heat the oil, fry the onion and then the ginger-garlic paste well.

Saute the eggs lightly.

Now add the cooked gongura and mix it well with the onion and ginger-garlic paste.

Let the whole thing cook together for a while.

Sprinkle garam masala on top.


I have to acknowledge three more awards. One is from Lakshmi of Yum Blog, who's given me the Witty Blogger Award and another is from Pratibha and Jigyasa of Pedatha.com who passed on the You Make My Day Award. Siri of Siri's Corner also gave me the Good Chat Blog award. Thank you!

*(The film song I refer to is “Neekemi telusu, nimmakaya pulusu …” – incidentally, 'nimmakaya' is Telugu for lime, and 'pulusu' can refer to the juice extracted or any gravy using lime).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Maximum Convexity of the Butt

Is this the maximum convexity of your butt?” she questioned, holding measuring tape around such named part.
“Eh?” was my response.
“Is this the maximum convexity of your butt?” she repeated.
I confessed I did not understand. (Physics (and Chem, and Maths) left me scarred and I gave up ‘convex’ and ‘concave’ soon as I left school, and hearing those words after all these years set off those familiar, unwelcome palpitations.)
“I mean, is this where your butt is the most … how to put it, standing out?” she said.
“Judge for yourself,” I said, turning away to give her a better view.

I didn’t make up that question – those were her exact words. I was in the gym, an agonised weightwatcher going back to those confines after a break of more than six months. Other than the fact that most of me is at its maximum convex now, what struck me was how a simple question was rendered rather baffling because it was put across so bookishly.

People seem to have forgotten simple English, methinks. The need to appear oh so smart and polished, business-like and tech-savvy, and Westernised, too, is what drives this painful turn of phrase.

The other day, I got an e-mail from someone from whom I needed information, saying, “Get in touch with so-and-so – he will give you a good download.” Really?
And then there was the person who called and asked if he could “have access” to so-and-so. As if so-and-so was a vault and you could turn a key in his back and open him up!
There are the publicists who urge you to meet so-and-so “just for a relationship meeting, Madam” – their way of saying that it’s just a preliminary meeting, and that there are no expectations lurking anywhere. And the newbie, fresh out of college, who obviously had not mastered how, when and where to say “Fair enough.” To everything I said, he kept saying “Fairly good” with a wise and understanding expression on his face and never was I more tempted to correct a total stranger!

Rant over, I now focus on a recipe that hasn’t got much to do with any maximum convexity, unless you drench it in ghee and bury it in a mound of rice to get rid of the sting.

But before that, some acknowledgements. The blog header you’re seeing is courtesy Sandeepa. Thank You, Sandeepa.

Then, Nirmala gave this blog the Yummy Blog Award and Kalai gave me the You Make My Day award. Thank you both.

Now the Yummy Blog Award mandates that I reveal the desserts I like the most. Here they are:

Angoori Rabdi (At a restaurant, as part of a Gujarati thali)

Bread pudding (my own, that’s right, no humility!)

Khubani ka Meetha with cream, in a Hyderabad restaurant

One grandma’s laddu, another’s palatalikalu

Panna cotta with vanilla bean

Then, Lavi tagged me for a meme – I told her I’d do a truncated version. Here goes:

Last movie you saw in a theatre
Taare Zameen Par

What book(s) are you reading?
A Prisoner of Birth

Favourite board game

Favourite smells
Lavender, vetiver, jasmine, herbal soap

Favourite sounds
Birds chirping in the morning

Worst feeling in the world

First thing I think of when I wake
Did I have to wake up already?

Storms – cool or scary?
A nuisance, at the very least

Favourite drink?

Finish the statement – If I had the time, I would …
Look for ways to spend it!

One nice thing about the person who sent it to you.
She has big, beautiful eyes.

Morning person or night owl?
Night owl.

Eggs over easy or sunny side up?
Over easy

Favourite pie?

Favourite ice-cream
Vanilla choco-chip

The recipe I have today is a fiery and simple one. I received a present of ripe red chillies and didn’t know what to do with them for two weeks. Finally, I used them for a chutney.

Ripe red chillies: 200-250 gm, chopped
White onions (or any colour): 3, quartered or cut into eight pieces each
Tamarind – lime-sized (Wet in a little water much ahead, no need to soak it in a lot of water)
Salt, to taste
Garlic – 5-6 cloves, skinned

Mustard seed – 1-1/2 tsp
Cumin seed – 1 tsp
Hulled, husked and split urad/black gram dal – 2 tsp
Curry leaves – a few
Oil – 2 tsp

Heat oil, temper with the black gram. As it begins to turn brown, add the mustard, cumin and curry leaves.

When they pop and the gram turns a nutty brown, add the chillies, garlic and onion. Fry them till they become glossy and onions become translucent.

Cool, add salt, tamarind and grind in a mixer. Beware, it’s really hot.

For a variation, you can mix a bit of this well with some curds/yoghurt, temper this again and eat it with rice or use it for idlis, dosas and the like.

I have since been enlightened about how chillis and raspberries belong to the same family, so this is my submission to Dee for AFAM-Raspberry.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reliving Rajasthan

A train journey of over two days, sights to remember for a lifetime: Brown earth, bright yellow fields of mustard; a tableau of camels placidly bobbing alongside turbaned masters; peacocks, tails sweeping and brilliant; women in the brightest clothes; spicy samosas and tea in earthen cups at stops along the way; a nip in the air; and then ker sangri for dinner at aunt’s place; bales of block-printed fabric; daal-baati churma in a busy part of town; peacocks freely wandering in and out of houses, even in the midst of a bustling neighbourhood; tourists gasping with amazement and delight as a guide lights a candle in a room full of tiny mirrors; the horror and tears shed over Roop Kanwar ...

When Padmaja announced RCI-Rajasthan, it was time for me to dig out Tarla Dalal’s Rajasthani cookbook from the innards of my bookshelves and look for an unusual recipe to highlight. The gravy base is a traditional Rajasthani one of curds and chickpea flour (Bengal gram flour/besan), but what struck me was the addition of red chana, which the author describes as whole red gram.

Now I’m not sure if this is the same as kala chana or black chana, having never seen anything labeled red chana before (but red gram is Bengal gram, I know), I used the black chana, which is actually a reddish brown, for this dish.

This dish is also called Chane Jaisalmer Ke (a city I did not visit, incidentally) and traditionally served with missi roti but goes well with rice or bajra rotis, the author recommends. A cupful or two sans either rice or roti makes for a filling meal, as I discovered.

Black chana/chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
Cumin seed – ½ tsp
Mustard seed – ¼ tsp
Bay leaves – 2
Red chillies, whole – 4
Asafoetida – 1/8 tsp
Dry ginger powder/sonth – ¾ tsp
Green chilli – 2, slit
(The author recommends 1 tsp of ginger-green chilli paste but I didn’t have fresh ginger on hand.)
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Turmeric – ¼ tsp
Curds/yoghurt, beaten – 1 cup
Bengal gram flour/besan – 2 tsp
Chopped coriander – 4 tbsp
Oil – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste

In a pressure cooker, heat the oil, temper with the cumin and mustard, bay leaves, red chillies and asafetida.

When the seeds pop, add the black chana, ginger powder, green chillies, red chilli powder, turmeric, salt and 2 cups of water. Pressure cook for about 2-3 whistles till the channa is cooked. Wait for the pressure to escape.

(The chana will take considerably longer if you’re not using a pressure cooker – you can follow the same sequence even with a pan or a wok.)

Whisk the curds and the flour together. Add it to the cooked chana and bring to a boil stirring continuously. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with coriander.

My observation – the gravy was rather watery, despite the flour, and despite my boiling it down for a while. I’m not sure what the consistency is meant to be. Tasty, anyhow!

Friday, May 02, 2008

When Reality Finally Bit!!!

It was, as parties are sometimes wont to be, quite civilised. Most of us were meeting for the first time, so there was a lot of good behaviour, much warmth and fuzzy, lots of compliments, no wild games, absolutely no gossip or nasty comments about the rest of you food bloggers. Zilch. (What a disappointment!) Even if you e-mail me or accost me on chat for the inside story, I won’t have any unless I manufacture some. We were a most unhealthily self-absorbed, egoistic, narrow-focus group who only discussed our food, our figures, our families, our work, our food, our figures …

Some of us were so polite or so timid we didn’t even want to guess who the others were. A couple of us could be heard shouting “No way! Don’t give up so fast! You have to guess!” and had to beat off others saying, “Hey, hold on, don’t tell her who you are!” before they could give themselves away.

And the ones who finally guessed didn’t have it easy, either. “Now, tell me, what made you think she was Lavi and I was Renuka? C’mon, tell me!” demanded some others.

As the bloggers trickled in and started giggling (like yours truly who had no clue Who’s Who as she got in the door), the guessing games began. “But you’re not the dead giveaway you said you were!” said one to another, while another revealed her name only to be chided for talking too soon. “I can’t, I can’t, please tell me who you are, I’m here only for five more minutes,” begged Bharathy, who was on a flying visit, only to be told, “Well, take three more minutes to guess, and we’ll put you out of your misery in the next two.” Some bloggers were guessed by the food they brought.

There was a profusion of food, and Lakshmi, our gracious host, got stuck with most of it. And this ungracious guest told her she wouldn’t mind throwing her home open for the next meet, as long as the leftovers weren’t given to her. Talk about seizing the moment! Ugh!

There was ethnic (Jayashree’s chakkavaratty or Chakravarthi, as Valli blithely kept calling it), artistic (a sprig of curry leaf oh so beautifully centred in Arundathi’s dish of mango curry), exotic (a Greek bread called Ladenia made by Rachel, our Darling Baker), sinful (Nirmala’s Florentines, great big round things of chocolates and nuts), time-honoured (Kamalika’s chakkara pongal) and rapidly disappearing (Kamini’s potato tikkis) and much more for which I don’t have the adjectives right now. And of course I have to be contrary and focus on the non-food part – my illustrious friends have discussed and published all that, many thanks to them.

A couple of us even went the extra mile and brought party favours of coconut burfi and banana bread, bless their loving, giving souls! And all of us have unanimously, wholeheartedly agreed that we should meet again in another three months, every three months, in fact. And no Dad, we won't have to close down our blogs - we handled it real carefully!

In the style of the tease that I have become in the last few weeks, here are a few photos from the potluck. We had fun, didn’t we? Eat your hearts out, you others! Or have one of your own soon and tell us all about it!

Naan-sense - making the naan. No, you don't have to guess whose hands those are!

Breaking bread, the first few moves

Are you being served? Rossogulla-time!

Backsides are allowed, they said, when I asked permission!

Sweet farewell! Arundathi's banana bread was one of the party favours. Valli's coconut burfi was the other.