Anna Ek Plate Pav Bhaji Dena

Sanjeev had finished his shift. It was back-breaking work. The construction-site saw a steady stream of workers coming and going ever since the project began five years ago. But Sanjeev was a constant. He had been among the first batch of construction workers hired to work on the site. He was proud of the work of his team. They had toiled to give shape to the plans in the blueprint prepared by the architect. About 60% of the integrated township was completed and more than 50% of the housing units were already occupied. Sanjeev and his team lived in shelters created with asbestos sheets and concrete flooring in a section of the vast land. There were some couples living and working on the site and they had been given separate tenements by the contractor. The other men who were living on their own here shared a dormitory-like accommodation. There were separate bathrooms and toilets and there were no complaints from the workers. Though the work was extremely tiring the contractor always paid on time and was courteous and respectful to all the workers. This was something of a rarity in this industry.

Sanjeev thought he will have two vadas and a glass of tea before he returned to the workers’ dormitory. In the five years, that he had lived in Chennai he had picked up fragments of the language. He had taken a liking to the food. There were times when he was home-sick. Then he would take out his flute and play a tune. Someone else would start singing. Living away from the lands of their birth – these people had all become a team. Sanjeev came from Maharashtra’s Vidharba region. The two years before he had migrated had been severe in terms of the drought. There was no longer any scope for a small-time farmer. His two younger sisters were married and they lived in Bombay with their husbands. One of them was a taxi-driver and the other worked in a pav-bhaji center. Once when he had visited them in Bombay, his brother-in-law had treated him to a plate of pav-bhaji. It was simmering with rich Amul butter and the taste still remained on his tongue. In all the years of toiling and saving money for his sisters; Sanjeev had not thought about his own marriage. Now he was nearing 40. He was like an elderly figure to the other workers who were all young in the age-group of 20 to 30.

On Sundays, he had a rest-day, he would take his JioPhone and make a call to his sisters. One sister had a son and the other sister had a girl. It made him happy to see the little ones. The plague called Corona changed everything. Life became a big struggle as work got stopped. Travel was impossible and it was difficult for the contractor to support everyone without any work. Somehow Sanjeev grit his teeth and stayed back. He turned into a watchman for sometime taking care of the godown where the construction material was stored. He was thankful to the contractor for the opportunity and he lived there. Back in Mumbai his brothers-in-law were hit badly as well. At a point taxis resumed service but the pav-bhaji stall was closed for a long time. Somehow they all managed to cope up with the struggles and life resumed after the PM announced the opening up of services.

When the second wave hit the country again. The contractor was better prepared. He had received adequate funds from the property developer and ensured that all workers were fully taken care of – additionally, work did not come to a complete halt. For a majority of the time workers worked at 50% strength in shifts. This gave people adequate time to rest and no one was unpaid or hungry. The big benefit was the vaccination camp that was arranged by the developer. Sanjeev had a tough time convincing several young labourers that it was important to get jabbed. Rumours of infertility and impotency were rampant and Sanjeev had a tough time coaxing the young men and few women who lived there.

The commercial establishments were part of the latest block of apartments that were constructed. The ground floors were leased out to different businesses. There were mini-restaurants, a barber shop, a pharmacy, a couple of grocery and vegetable shops; the township was now almost like a self-contained living space. Sanjeev had a lot of thoughts in his mind as he walked towards the tea-stall. Then he stopped in his tracks. There was a familiar fragrance. Butter melting in vegetables and buns sizzling on a tava. The new quick service restaurant had added pav-bhaji to their menu. “No tea or vada today. Perhaps no dinner tonight as well,” he thought. He walked up to the shop. He was conscious about his soiled clothes covered with cement and sweat. He asked the shop-keeper – “Anna ek plate kitna?” The shopkeeper said “Sau rupyae” (Rs 100). Sanjeev did some quick calculations. Biriyani was ruled out this weekend. He was completely enamoured and tempted by the aroma of the spices in the bhaji and the pav that was sizzling on the tava. He smiled, took out a hundred rupees note and said “Anna, ek plate pav-bhaji dena?”.

Pav-Bhaji

Footnote:

In our township, there have been a succession of quick service restaurants or rather hole-in-the-wall type restaurants that have come and gone in the last couple of years. Covid has hit them really bad. Of the shop-keepers only one Muslim man from Calcutta has been able to sustain as he diversified into chats, rotis, meat preparations and biriyani as well. All other businesses kept changing hands and someone or the other would operate a tiffin stall and provide meals during lunch. Recently, a new shop opened. It is managed by a Brahmin family. An elderly uncle and his wife and their daughter and son-in-law run the show. They sell dairy products, bakery items, and accompaniments for lunch – sambhar, rasam, kootu, poriyal all neatly packed in food-grade plastic covers. Mornings at 9:30 AM sharp these accompaniments would be ready for sale. In the evenings, there is one snack every evening that is prepared freshly and sold. They have a WhatsApp group where they share the menu details. Today it was pav-bhaji. People who know me know my love for pav-bhaji and it is one of my favourite snacks. So that’s the photo above of the pav-bhaji and a short story to just break the shackles of the idle mind by typing something other than lessons for American kids and technical posts on learning strategies.

Do you like pav-bhaji?

Z for Zest for Life and Z for Zucchini and Sweet Corn Fritters – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

How does one come to terms with grief and the loss of a loved one?

Kannan tried to come to terms with the absence of his mother. Immersing himself in work, or books, or music, or cinema; things that he loved before; no longer gave him peace or happiness. A sense of fulfillment always seemed to evade him in anything that he did.

His experience in the hospital when he got operated was life-changing of sorts. The duration when he was in sedated sleep; there were lots of vivid dreams. Snow-capped mountains, flowing streams, green meadows, sandy shores by the blue seas; these were some images that played in his mind. Then there was a dark tunnel through which he was travelling and he could hear the voices of his mother, his grandmother, and several others whose deaths he had witnessed. At one point the tunnel ended and there was a bright flash of light. When he opened his eyes he was in the room assigned to him and no longer in the operation theatre. After the discharge, it took a fairly long time for him to recover and during this time he thought a lot about the vivid dreams or visions in the operation theatre. He could not define them or interpret them.

Was he expected to travel to the mountains? Or to seashore? What did the voices of the departed souls signify? He could not get any answers. What he understood was that once again; Life had given him another chance to live; and now it was up to him to figure out how to lead it. He could either wallow in grief and self-pity and make life miserable for himself? Or, he could lead life with a purpose and try to help others in any way that he could.

Kannan decided something. He knew that he had no control over what hand destiny would deal him? He thought as long as he was alive he would lead life with zest. Happiness or Joy was not something that could be purchased for a price in a shop or an online shopping portal. It was a quality or emotion that would come from within. Happiness is what he would seek and happiness is what he would make the purpose of his life. If the book of Kannan’s life was filled with pain and struggles so far; from now on; he would attempt to fill those pages with happiness and a zest for life. If someone was destined to join him in this journey; so be it. If he was destined to travel alone; then so be it. Kannan smiled at his mother’s photograph. The red rose that he kept atop the photo fell down. It was a sign, a blessing; that he was on the right track.

Z for Zucchini and Sweet Corn Fritters

Zucchini is quite fascinating. Though it resembles the cucumber it does not belong to the same family of fruits/vegetables. The local vegetable vendors used to call it as “organic cucumber” and price it at roughly double the cost of regular cucumbers. Amma used to love zucchinis a lot and when in season, I used to regularly buy it from Mambalam vegetable market. Amma loved to eat it as a fresh salad with onions and tomatoes and also used to pickle it in brine along with carrots, beetroots, ginger, pepper, and green chilies. To culminate this series, I would like to share with you a recipe of zucchini and sweet corn fritters.

Ingredients:

Four medium sized zucchinis.

100 grams of boiled sweet corn kernels.

A mixture of all-purpose flour (maida), rice flour, and besan or chickpea flour in equal proportions.

Spice-mix powder – turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder, and chat masala.

Cooking oil of your choice. We will use olive oil for this recipe.

Process:

Peel the zucchinis and use a grater to grate them finely. Now take the finely grated zucchinis in a white muslin cloth and squeeze the cloth to drain out the water content in the zucchinis.

Now in a mixing bowl, mix the zucchinis, sweet corn kernel, the three-flour mix, spice-mix, and salt add a small quantity of water and ensure that you have a batter mix that is not heavily diluted. Shape tikkis out of the batter and cook on a tava with olive oil. Turn the tikkis/fritters over with a spatula and ensure that it is properly cooked.

Serve with a chutney/sauce/dip of your choice. Note you can also add mashed potatoes to add additional flavour to tikkis. You can also experiment with the flours and use millet flours for the batter-mix.

To everyone who read the posts in this series, left a comment, liked the posts; thank you for your valuable time. I wish you a pleasant day ahead and I hope that we all find the happiness that we seek.

Thank you and God bless us all.

Y for Yatra (Journey) and Y for Yam Cutlets/Tikkis – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

Y for Yatra (Journey)

The loss of his mother broke Kannan in more ways than one. He was a compulsive loner and hardly had a handful of people whom he could count as friends. Work became monotonous, in tandem he fell ill. It started with some spots of blood when brushing his teeth. Slowly it turned into a recurring complaint with him spitting blood multiple times every day. Visits to the pulmonologist proved inconclusive. Even the chest CT scan seemed fine. The next step would be to meet an ENT and then an oncologist to rule out cancer. Kannan quit his job and visited his sister who lived in another city. They met an ENT specialist there who conducted a laryngoscopy, again this turned inconclusive and no one was able to diagnose the actual issue.

Kannan returned to Chennai. There seemed to be no end to his health problems and seeing spots of red blood in the white wash basin every day added to his growing psychological trauma that perhaps his time had come and that very soon he would be reunited with his mother.

Kannan consulted with a doctor who was a friend through a Facebook group of book-lovers and she guided him to visit a senior ENT specialist. Kannan made an appointment and visited the doctor. The doctor was an elderly gentleman who studied his existing reports and then recommended an endoscopy to find the issue. Finally the problem was discovered – “nasal polyps” that were causing bleeding at regular intervals. The polyps had grown in size and would have to be surgically removed. The tryst with hospitals and doctors started all over again. But this time Kannan was the patient. Kannan’s friend Jagadeesh accompanied him to the hospital and the surgery was performed successfully. It would take a substantial period of time for Kannan to recover. This yatra or journey called Life still had some destinations and pages left to be filled before the book of life would come to an end. Kannan’s journey continued.

Y for Yam Cutlets

Yam is a fascinating root vegetable. Known as sooran in Hindi and sennai kizhangu in Tamil; it is packed with nutrients. But cooking it involves a lot of time and effort; hence it is not something that is cooked in houses on a regular basis. Plus sometimes the yam creates an itching sensation in the throat after consumption and this deters a lot of people from buying and cooking the vegetable. It is quite popular in Kerala along with other tubers like tapioca. We all love cutlets right? Deep-fried goodies stuffed with a filling of potatoes, beetroot, green peas, onions, and spices. Cutlets are quite popular in Calcutta and also known as chops and served with a special spicy mustard sauce in roadside eateries.

Today, we will look at a recipe that substitutes potatoes and beetroots with yam and make a cutlet/chop with it.

Ingredients:

Cleaned, peeled, and sliced yam.

A batter of besan (chickpea flour), salt, rice flour, maida (all-purpose flour), and red chili powder.

Marie biscuits

Oil or ghee for cooking the chops/cutlets/tikkis.

Process:

What we will attempt is something that is closer to a tikki rather than a deep-fried cutlet.

Clean the yam well and slice it into one-inch cubes. Use a bit of oil and coat your hands with the oil to avoid the itching sensation.

Once the yam slices are ready, soak them well in a mixture of luke-warm water and salt. While slicing the yam you will be able to figure out if it is likely to induce itching of the throat. One trick is to use diluted buttermilk and some turmeric powder and soak the yam cubes in them for about 30 minutes to ensure that there is not itching of the throat after consumption.

Now take the yam cubes and pressure cook them to ensure that you get a soft and mushy consistency. Once the pressure cooked yam cools down. Take the batter mix that you have prepared. Ensure that it is thick and not watery. You are not making bajjis but tikkis so the batter should be proportionately thick. The pressure cooked yam should be mixed with the batter and squished by hand and kneaded along with the batter. The end result will be a mixture that is similar in consistency with poornam that is used to make kozhkattais or modaks.

Now take the Marie biscuits (arrowroot biscuits) and powder them by hand or run once in a mixer to make a fine powder. Mix this powder into the mixture of yam and batter that you have and prepare tikkis by gently layering them in your hands.

On a tava add ghee or cooking oil and gently cook the tikkis by flipping them with a spatula. As the tikkis turn golden brown in colour and you get the fragrance of cooked yam and besan, please transfer them to a plate or container.

Note you can combine yam with some potatoes as well and other vegetables of your choice if you do not like the flavour of just yam alone. Please try this recipe and let me know how it turned out. Serve with a dip/sauce/chutney of your liking.

X for X-Ray Reports and X for Xavier Soup (Vegetarian) – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

X for X-Ray Reports

The ceremonies associated with the death of a loved one last for fourteen days in orthodox Hindu families. This is followed by monthly ceremonies for one year after the original date of demise. Kannan’s sister, younger maternal uncle and aunt were present for some time. Then they left for their respective cities. The agonizing long periods of silence and solitude gave Kannan a lot of time to reflect. He tried to immerse himself in his work. His passion for reading and writing took a huge beating and he would often find himself staring at his mother’s framed photograph in the living room.

Kannan had taken a brave decision when he had signed the discharge forms and collected the reports. At that point it was the sensible thing to do. But in the back of his mind there was always the thought that in some way he had let his mother down and he had not been able to save her. This tinge of guilt would pain him. Perhaps, this is the way one feels when one’s loved one leaves us.

The medical reports of the last five or six years ran into many pages and files from different hospitals. There were the reports from the ENT, the cardiologist, the nephrologist, the orthopaedic; all neatly arranged in their respective colour-coded files. The X-Ray reports and the CT-scan reports were kept separately in a large cover. Kannan took them all out one day. He just spread them out on the floor and looked at them. He could not hold back the tears. That day something snapped within. He allowed himself the luxury of crying peacefully, clutching all the X-Ray reports close to his heart. Once the tears stopped, he comforted himself. Then he just took all the files and reports and put them in two large garbage bags and threw them into the dustbin at the bottom of the stairs. In a way, he had found a portion of a closure by this act.

Life would have to go on…

X for Xavier Soup ( Vegetarian)

The Xavier Soup is a beautiful Italian soup that is traditionally prepared to honour Saint Francis Xavier and usually prepared on December 3rd. I was quite surprised by reading about this soup and wondered how we could make a vegetarian version of the same. The original recipes involve the use of parmesan cheese dumplings, eggs, and chicken broth. Let us see what we can make for a vegetarian version of this soup.

Ingredients:

Parmesan Cheese – Or any other variant of cheese that you can obtain.

All Purpose Flour or Maida.

Broccoli florets – Washed and cleaned.

Carrots – Washed and sliced neatly into juliennes / thin slices

Fresh green peas

Butter

Cooking oil of your choice.

Salt

Spice Mix

Pepper Powder

Water

Corn flour

Process:

To prepare the dumplings, mix maida, water, butter, salt, and the spice mix. Mix the ingredients carefully and knead the dough. Knead it as if you were preparing dough for pooris. Set aside the dough for some time in a covered container.

In another large pan, boil required quantity of water. Proportionately add corn flour to the water and mix gently to ensure that there are no lumps. As you keep stirring the liquid, please add the vegetables. The vegetables should be steamed first and you can actually use the water used to steam / boil the vegetables as your base/stock for the soup. Add salt and pepper and fresh herbs mix of basil, thyme, and parsley. If you feel that it is too ostentatious and you have difficulty finding these herbs, a generous sprig of fresh coriander will do the trick. Switch off the stove and keep this mixture aside.

The original kneaded dough can now be cut into small balls of dough. Roll out each ball of dough into small pooris or rotis. Now take these rotis/pooris and fill them with grated cheese, wet your hands with a bot of water and seal these rotis in the form of a small dumpling. Once you have an adequate number of dumplings, please fry them in oil. Ensure that the filling of cheese does not burst out.

Drain away the excess oil from the dumplings and now add them to pan with the soup and let the dumplings cook well in the soup. Add pepper powder or a spice-mix of your choice before you serve the soup. It is immensely filling and jolly good to taste as well. Try the recipe and share your thoughts.

W for Wounds Never Heal and W for Water Chestnuts Stir Fried in Cheese Sauce – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

W for Wounds Never Heal

Kannan was distraught. The last words that Saradha had said when she had regained consciousness for one brief moment were – “Take me home.” The doctors were honest in their assessment that she would never survive and at best could be placed on intubated support, which would then lead to a situation where her organs would shut down one-by-one. Already the multiple rounds of dialysis had put a huge strain on her body and in just over a week’s time she had reduced to a pale skeleton. Life was just hanging by a slender thread. Kannan knew that it was time to set his mother free. He said a prayer and then requested the doctor to discharge Saradha. The doctors followed their protocol and gave a document which said that the patient was being discharged against the medical advisory and that the hospital would take no responsibility.

There are moments when we just have to accept reality. No amount of wishful thinking, positive attitude, or prayers will help change the inevitable. The ride in the ambulance took about 45 minutes. Kannan just looked at his mother’s face that had taken on the pale pallor of death. There was a nasal food tube provided to ensure that nutrition could go in in a liquid form.

Kannan brought his mother home, one last time. The following afternoon she left this mortal world. Kannan did not even cry. There was a feeling of empty desolation and a deep wound had been created in his heart that would never heal. All his life he had lived for his mother. Now she was no more. He remembered the note that he had made in his diary. He had tried his best to be true to his words. Now all that was left was a big empty space in his heart.

The cremation ceremony took place in the electric crematorium. The next morning Kannan received his mother’s ashes in a mud pot. It was tied with a yellow cloth. Kannan then went to the seashore by a cab. Far away from the crowds that thronged the regular beach stretches, this was a quiet stretch. The sea was choppy and frothing. After saying a prayer and lighting camphor, Kannan deposited the pot of ashes to the sea and in one giant wave the sea took the ashes away.

Kannan stood for some time looking at the sea. So many memories this ocean and long beach had given him. He remembered the time when he had come to the seashore as a child with his uncle, mother, and sister. Then he remembered the time he had visited the beach with his mother, sister, and nephew. Their last visit had been a few months earlier when he had brought his mother and sister to a temple near the sea. The astrologer had advised a visit to the temple and making an offering the the all powerful Sarveshwaran. The priest at the temple had seen several elderly people over the years. Perhaps he knew her time was nearing and he had beckoned them for a darshan as close to the Lord as possible. So many memories, all wiped away in one moment.

Another chapter closed in Kannan’s Book of Life. He was now alone. Left to fend off for himself. Relatives could only offer comfort, guidance, love, and financial support. But the emptiness and the pain that the wound of the death of a loved one brings is something that can never heal.

W for Water Chestnuts Stir-Fried in Cheese Sauce

Water Chestnuts known locally as paani-phal are quite popular in Northern and Eastern India. Growing in freshwater bodies, the external shell is dark greenish brown and has a layer of thorns. The fruit inside is creamy white and has a wonderful texture and taste. This is pounded and made into a flour which is used during fasts and ceremonies to make rotis/flatbreads in Northern and Western India. I once had a chance to taste a remarkable dish in an upscale restaurant that featured stir-fried water chestnuts in a honey and spice sauce. It was really light on the palate and the concept fascinated me a lot. What I am listing below is a recipe that one can try if one is able to procure water chestnuts. Amazon shows tinned/canned water chestnuts that are preserved in brine.

Ingredients:

Water chestnuts.

Oil

Spice mix

Salt

Cheese Sauce

Garlic

Mix of fresh herbs – oregano, thyme, and basil.

Process:

Assuming that you are using canned water chestnuts, take the chestnuts from the can, drain out the excess brine, wash in lukewarm water and set aside. In a pan, add a generous amount of oil or if you prefer using butter, melt butter and cook the water chestnuts in them along with the spices and peeled garlic. Keep stirring the contents of the pan and allow the water chestnuts to be evenly cooked/fried. Please ensure that the chestnuts are adequately fried and that they are not over-cooked or burnt.

Cheese sauce is available ready made nowadays and it simplifies things. To the fried water chestnuts add the cheese sauce so that they are immersed and evenly coated by the sauce. Add a fresh mix of herbs like thyme, basil, and oregano to give a nice flavour to the dish.

Serve this dish as a starter. It can also be paired with naan or phulkas. Do try it out and let me know.

V for Veedu (House) and V for Venthiyam Poondu Vathal Kuzhambu – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

V for Veedu

The years moved on, the challenges of old age and a long life of toiling endlessly began to take their toll on Saradha. The visits to the doctor started increasing in frequency. Amidst all this news of a property being developed in the village near the Hanuman Temple reached her ears. She asked Kannan to go and inspect the site one Sunday. He visited and collected all the details and shared it with his mother. The following week both mother and son inspected the site. Things fell in place, one thing led to another, and a bank loan was quickly approved and granted based on Kannan’s salary slip. The property was developed and in some months Saradha’s dream of a “sondha veedu” or “own house” was fulfilled.

Kannan was happy that he managed to fulfill his mother’s long-pending desire. After all the trouble that she underwent with her husband squandering the property in Pune many years ago, this was a fresh start. Kannan’s commute-time to work increased. He too fell in the classic trap of the home-loan and monthly EMIs. He felt it was a small price to pay for his mother’s happiness and accepted it. The house also saw him seeing his mother becoming frailer and tired. The double-trouble of Diabetes and Cardiac complaints began to plague Saradha and Kannan turned care-giver and caretaker balancing his work and caring for his ill mother.

V for Venthiya Poondu Vathal Kuzhambu

Venthiyam – Fenugreek or Methi seeds.

Poondu – Garlic

Vathal – Any edible condiment that can be fried in oil. Usually prepared using rice flour and vegetables ranging from tomatoes and onions and banana stem and tapioca or potatoes.

Kuzhambu – Gravy

In the context of this recipe, “vathal” refers to fried well and does not indicate the use of any additional fried dumpling.

Ingredients:

100 grams of fenugreek washed and cleaned and soaked in water.

Garlic peeled, cleaned and washed well about 200 grams.

5 large onions, peeled and sliced fine.

Tamarind paste.

Ginger paste.

6 to 7 large tomatoes that have been washed and sliced well.

Gingelly Oil

Mustard seeds.

Red chili powder and turmeric powder.

Salt to taste

Hing / Peringayam / Asafotedia

300 ml of water.

Process:

In a deep bottomed pan, add a generous amount of gingelly oil and as it heats add the fenugreek and mustard seeds. As they splutter, add the onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger paste, and tamarind paste and cook well. The fragrance of the elements getting cooked in the oil will produce a beautiful aroma. As the tomatoes release the juice in them, add the red chili powder and yellow turmeric powder and stir well. Now add salt and hing as per taste and as the mixture simmers; add water slowly and keep stirring. Ensure that the kuzhambu does not become too watery. The gravy should have a thick consistency and not turn too watery like rasam or sambhar. The consistency should be somewhere between a kootu and aviyal. There are variations to the kuzhambu with people substituting the large onoion with shallots/sambhar vengayam and the addition of vegetables like brinjal or sundakkai vathal (sun-dried salted berry).

Do try this kuzhambu with hot white rice and a spoon of ghee. It will be fantastic.

U for Understanding People and U for Urulaikizhangu Roast – A to Z Blogging Challenge – 2021

U for Understanding People

Kannan completed his undergraduate studies with a decent academic score and by God’s grace and blessings secured a job via a campus interview in a leading IT and technology firm. Kannan’s mother was overjoyed when he showed her the offer-letter. She placed it in the pooja shelf and prayed for a while. The struggle of so many years would finally bear fruit as Kannan would start earning a living on a regular basis.

On the first day of work Kannan was nervous but he did not show it. Seeking his mother’s blessings he set upon a journey that would uplift them from all their miseries. There was so much to unlearn, irrespective of age or designation, people were to be addressed by their first name. Lot of forms were filled on the first day. Sessions with different department heads, introduction to the company’s rules, internal processes; there was a lot that had to be learnt. Kannan met different people as part of his work and learnt that it was important to keep one’s thoughts to one-self and not speak a lot. Being prudent, focusing on one’s job and not mixing too much with others was a trait that he would develop. People were jealous. There would be back-biting, gossip and rumour-mongering and very few people genuinely cared about others and their growth.

Life would go on as Kannan would slowly become a part of the large system. A system of professionals travelling from one end of the city to another to make a living. The first few years were focused on saving money carefully and getting household appliances to simplify Saradha’s life. First it would be a refrigerator, then a high-power mixer-grinder, a good colour TV set, a washing machine; Saradha began to slow down and started to relax. No more of cooking food for bachelors in the neighbourhood or supplying sweetmeats and savouries for Diwali; she was earning a well-deserved rest from chasing avenues to make money. During this period Ramani’s increasing alcohol-addiction began to cause problems. Kannan tried to admit Ramani in a deaddiction center, but Ramani left the center and slowly he just chose to walk away from their lives. His pension money ensured that he had ample money to drink; he would never again be a part of their lives. In his pursuit of understanding different people, Kannan’s biggest regret was not understanding his father properly. He tried his best but it was not meant to be. Everyone enters our life for a reason and with a purpose. Some are meant to be with us till the very end, either our end or their end; others are just meant to leave us once their needs are fulfilled.

U for Urulaikizhangu Roast

Potato is not a native Indian vegetable but it is a staple part of our diet in India now. Potato is known as urulaikizhangu in Tamil. Essentially translated as round-tuber. I am a big fan of potatoes. Growing up in Calcutta, one had access to some of the best varieties and qualities of potatoes or aloo as it was locally called. Comfort food was sambar-rice with spicy potato-curry, potato-curry was also a great combination with curd rice or chappathis. Today am sharing a simple recipe for urulaikizhangu roast or spicy potato curry. This version only features potatoes, variations exist that include onions, tomatoes, capsicum, etc., as well.

Ingredients:

Potatoes that have been washed clean and the outer skin peeled away.

Mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and oil for frying.

Process:

Take the cleaned and skinned potatoes and slice them fine in finger form or slice them in rounds based on your preference and the size of the actual potatoes. Once you have sliced them cook them in boiling water in an open pan. Remember to add a pinch of salt and turmeric powder in the water. Allow the potatoes to cook well for about five to 10 minutes based on the quantity of potatoes that you are cooking. They should be half-cooked and not turn completely mashed or soggy. Use a fork to check the consistency of the cooked/boiled potatoes and switch off the flame or induction stove when required.

Drain out the excess water and take the half-cooked potatoes and keep them on a plate.

Now take a pan and add a sufficient amount cooking oil to it. Sunflower oil works best for this as it has a neutral flavour and allows you to relish the juiciness and flavours of the potatoes.

As the oil turns warm, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and fenugreek seeds and stir them well as they sputter, add the potatoes and cook well and keep stirring so that the oil coats all the potato slices evenly. At this juncture add salt as per taste, the turmeric powder and the red chili powder and mix the potatoes well so that the red coating of the chili powder is evenly distributed. You should be able to get the fragrance of the fried potatoes and observe the colour changing as the potatoes turn crisp. Switch off the flame or induction stove once the potatoes are fried well.

Do try this recipe and share your thoughts.

T for Trains and T for Theratti Pal – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

T for Trains

Kannan secured admission in a leading college in Chennai. Yes, the city was no longer Madras it had been renamed as Chennai. There was no doubt in terms of what Kannan wanted to study. His fascination for the written word and stories all through his childhood all pointed towards a degree in English Literature and this is what Kannan wanted to study. He was not prepared to take a risk of taking up a Science degree that would again bring him face to face with Mathematics in some form or the other.

College was an eye-opener and a massive shift. He was astounded at the brilliance of the city-school students. Four years of school in a small town had made him forget how competitive school was in a big city. Especially the students who had come from ICSE and CBSE schools seemed as if they were all foreigners and spoke in a weird accent that was neither American or Australian. College started at 9 AM and ended at 3 PM. To reach college sharp at 9 AM; Kannan would have to leave his village by 6:30 AM, cycle to the railway station that was a few kilometres away and board the train that left to Chennai Central at 6:50 AM. He would reach college by 8:45 AM based on how late the train was running. The suburban or local train would continue to be an integral part of his life. He especially loved the stretch from Park Town to Mylapore by the MRTS or the “Flying Train” as it was popularly known. The stretch adjoining the Marina Beach was a feast for eyes the sea, the sand, the breeze, it would be a pleasant refresher for the eyes as well as the mind.

The professors were good, some were lazy, and some frankly unfit for their roles coming in through some odd quota. The professors who were really good and dedicated to their profession taught with a lot of passion and energy. Eventually what happened was everyone realized that only a dozen students among the total strength of about 40 students were interested. The professors knew this, the management knew this, the students knew this. There was a whole set of students whose only aim was to secure attendance till the scholarship provided by the government was credited to their respective accounts. In the final year of studies only about 20 students remained in class.

Kannan secured good marks in the periodic examinations conducted by the college and he was also visiting other colleges to participate in competitions conducted by Literature departments of other colleges. Loyola, MCC, Stella Maris, Ethiraj – the sheer brilliance of some of the students organizing and participating in these competitions really inspired him. He won a prize of Rs 1000 in a debating competition and handed over the money to Saradha. This was the first major cash award that he had won and would be one among the many that he would go on to win in the three years of college. His mother made theratti pal to celebrate this win and first offered a portion to the divine in the pooja shelf in the kitchen and then gave some in a bowl to Kannan.

T for Theratti Pal

Theratti pal is a fascinating sweet made of just milk and sugar. It involves a fair amount of stirring and ensuring that the milk does not burn or boil over.

With just two ingredients – full cream milk and sugar – one can make a lip-smacking dessert.

Boil 1.5 litres of full cream milk in a deep bottomed pan. Keep stirring the milk ensuring that it does not boil over or burn. After a while the milk will reduce in content as it keeps getting warm and the stirring process continues. Once the milk reduces to roughly a third of the original volume and thickens add the sugar slowly and keep stirring. Roughly 125 to 150 grams of sugar should be fine for 1.5 litres of milk. Keep the flame low and contine to stir till the milk and sugar mixture thickens and you get a pale golden to brownish yellow shade of the mixture. Switch off the flame and transfer the theratti pal to a bowl. If you wish to garnish this with dry fruits please do to enhance the taste. Traditionally, it is just served without any extra additions.

Nowadays one can make theratti pal very quickly in a microwave oven but the taste of the one made in the regular way is unmatched. Do try it out.

S for School Days End and S for Soya Chunks Curry

S for School Days End

Kannan did not make many friends in school. For one, he was considered as a complete outcast in the multiple gangs in the class and secondly, half the time he did not understand the Telugu-mixed Tamil that most of the boys spoke. Slowly, he began making friends, it started with a district-level inter-school quiz where Kannan got the first prize. He was encouraged by his English teacher Mr. Shiva and Kannan signed up for debates, essay-writing contests, and poetry recitation competitions. Slowly he became recognized in the school as the principal would hand out awards and make announcements once the prayers and national anthem were sung in the assembly hall.

Kannan’s hatred for Mathematics knew no bounds. The first trigger was Trigonometry. He somehow got through with marks in Algebra, Set Theory, and Geometry. In Class XI the introduction of Calculus and several other theorems in both Maths and Physics completely shook his confidence. With great difficulty he passed by the skin of his teeth in Maths and the allied Science papers. It was a farewell to school and a new chapter would begin in his life as he would join college.

S for Soya Chunks Curry

Soya chunks popularized in India by the Nutrela brand as “Mealmaker” is a great way to great protein in one’s diet and a great boon for vegetarians. Today we will see how we can make a simple, tasty, and nutritious curry or sabzi with soya chunks.

Ingredients:

A cup of washed and soaked soya chunks.

Two tomatoes, one large capsicum, two medium size onions, fresh curry leaves and coriander leaves, finely chopped green chilies and ginger.

Salt as per taste.

Mustard seeds, spice mix – turmeric powder, garam masala and chaat masala.

Oil

Process:

The water soaked soya chunks would have grown in size with the water that they would have absorbed. Drain out any excess water and keep the chunks aside.

Heat oil in a pan and once the oil warms up add the mustard seeds, green chilies, and ginger. Stir well and as the mustard sputters or crackles add the chopped onions, tomatoes, capsicum, and cook well. As the vegetables are partially cooked add the soya chunks and stir well. Now add the masalas/spice-mix and salt and cook well. The texture can be either soft and gooey or you can fry the chunks to be crisp as per your taste. This sabzi/curry goes very well with chappathis and dosais.

Do try this recipe and share your thoughts.

R for Ration Shop Queues and R for Ragi Murukku

R for Ration Shop Queues

The village was unique in a sense of its own. On one side there were paddy fields, houses, and areas marked for residential plots. On the other side of the highway that intersected the village was a massive industrial estate that had been set up by the state government. It was in one such private company located within the estate where Kannan’s father had found employment. Admission was arranged in a school in the town that was about six kilometres away from the village. It took a fair bit of time for Kannan to get used to students and teachers conversing in Tamil rather than in English. The small buildings were a big change from the schools he had studied earlier and there was no big basketball court or football ground.

With great difficulty a ration card was obtained after multiple visits to the Collectorate and the task of getting ration every month was assigned to Kannan. Rice, sugar, and on some rare occasions wheat was available in the ration shop. Waiting in the queue and listening to the elderly men and women talking about politics and cinema became a strange hobby of sorts for Kannan. There would hardly ever be a child of his age in the queue. Pongal time would be fun as the government would offer a dhoti, a saree, and a mix of raisins, nuts, jaggery, and special rice for preparing sweet pongal. This ration card would serve them well for a long time. The subsidised cost of ration offerings was a big boost and support for lower income families and Saradha and Kannan were quite thankful that they had managed to get the ration card.

R for Ragi Murukku

Ragi is a fascinating grain that has a long history of being cultivated in South India. Flour milled from ragi has a wide variety of uses. Mix the powder with milk and some jaggery for a health drink. Combine the flour with rice flour to make ragi idlies. Use ragi flour, cashew nuts, jaggery, and ghee to make laddus. Ragi flour is also used to make a dish called kuzhu which can be described as something of a cross between a soup and a stew and relished with buttermilk, pickles, and raw onions. Today we will look at a simple recipe for a tasty snack – ragi murukku. You need to have a murukku-maker or chakli-maker to help you make the murukku. Makers are available in both wood and metal, please do not go for the plastic ones that are available in shops.

Ingredients:

Ragi flour

Rice flour

Water

White unsalted butter

Salt

Pepper powder

Caraway seeds (ajwain)

Asafotedia (Hing)

Oil to fry – preferably groundnut oil

Process:

Dry roast the ragi flour and rice flour. For one portion of ragi flour, use half a portion of rice flour.

Spread the flour in a bowl, add water little by little and knead the flour after you add butter to it. As you keep kneading the dough, add salt, hing, peeper powder, and ajwain. The dough should be kneaded well till it is soft to touch and there should be no cracks in the dough.

Now make small balls of the dough and put into the chakli-maker. Remember to take a deep-bottomed pan, add oil, and heat it. Once the oil is boiling, add the raw chaklis or murukkus in the oil and fry them till they are deep brown in colour. Drain out the excess oil using a strainer and serve piping hot with tea or coffee.

Have you eaten ragi murukku? Do try the recipe and let me know if you liked it.

Q for Quiet Little Village and Q for Quinoa Khichdi – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

Q for Quiet Little Village

The train hurtled into the darkness Saradha was tired and asleep. Little Kannan had woken up when the train had halted at an interim unscheduled station. It was in the early hours just a little after midnight. Kannan had the side-upper berth while his mother was deep asleep in the lower berth below. Kannan carried a small pocket torch a gift from his Raman uncle that he treasured a lot. It was black and white in colour and despite its small size offered a strong beam of light. He took out a diary from his bag and a ball-point pen. He wrote some lines in the notebook.

I promise to take care of Amma.

I know Appa will let us down again.

But I will always protect my Amma.

I will become a successful man.

I will make a lot of money.

I will keep Amma happy.

God – Please give me strength to always be truthful.

There was a loud whistle and the train began the journey again. Kannan put the notebook back into his bag. He looked at the lights from the window on the other side of the train. He drank some water from his water bottle and lay down again. In some time he was deep asleep as the train’s gentle swaying and the rattle of the tracks lulled him to sleep.

At around 7 A.M. he was woken up by his mother – “Kanna, get up it is 7 o’ clock. Go to the bathroom and return, then we can have some tea and biscuits.” Kannan woke up, finished his morning ablutions, and returned to his seat. A vendor was selling tea, the dip-tea variety, they already had biscuits in their food-hamper. Morning gave way to day as the intensity of the Southern Summer hit them. After a while breakfast came. The options were limited, bread and omelette and idly-vada with sambar and chutney. Saradha got two sets of idly-vada and they ate the food slowly. The sambar was dull and lifeless in colour but the vada was piping hot and the peanut chutney quite pungent, strong, and spicy. Saradha then took out a copy of the “Kalki” magazine and began reading it. Kannan had a copy of “Gokulam” both of them were lost in the worlds of their respective magazines.

A strong smell of jasmine flowers, sweat, and piss hit Kannan’s nostrils as the train made its way slowly into Madras Central Station. Kannan’s father was waiting for them on the platform. When the train stopped and the crowds got down, he boarded the train and got all the luggage out. A porter was not required as the other belongings would be shipped to their address by a packaging service. There was no hugging or crying involved. Just a family trying to pick up the pieces and move on in life – both literally and metaphorically.

Saradha made a trunk call from an STD/PCO booth and informed Sundaram that they had reached Madras safely. From the main terminal they moved to the suburban train complex and boarded a local train headed to Thiruvallur. There was an awkward silence. The local train would stop every few minutes as it stopped at different railway stations. Little Kannan was writing down the names of the stations judiciously in his notebook. After about 80 minutes the train reached their final destination and they got out of the train. Ramani beckoned an auto-rickshaw and they got into it. After about half an hour’s ride they reached a building in a village. They got out and Ramani guided them to the first floor. It was a simple no-frills accommodation. One bed-room, one kitchen and one toilet and bathroom that was away from the main enclosure. From living in the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis, life began again in a quiet little village in a house surrounded by neem and coconut trees.

Q for Quinoa Khichdi

Khichdi is a traditional Indian dish that is distinctly different in North India and South India. In North India, khichdi is made by cooking together rice, moong dal, vegetables in generous amounts of ghee and typically served to someone who is weak or feverish. Each household has its own variation bys substitutiong the vegetables or the type of lentil used. Some cook it fine enough to turn it into a porridge-like dish others make it like a pulav.

In South India, the word khichdi is typically associated with rava/sooji/semolina and is somewhat like a cross between an uppuma and a pongal and has its own fan following. Today, let us look at a healthy and protein-packed recipe for a khichdi made from quinoa. Quinoa is a South American grain and in the last decade has been gaining prominence for its health benefits. It is not a native Indian grain like millets or amaranth that are popular in India.

Ingredients:

One cup of cleaned and washed quinoa (drain out the water completely).

Two cups of cleaned and washed moong dal ( drain out the water completely).

Finely chopped carrots, beans, one tomato, some fresh coriander leaves.

Turmeric powder, salt, ghee.

Process:

Take a pressure cooker and fill it with water to the appropriate level.

In an inner vessel, layer the quinoa, moong dal, and chopped vegetables, and add two full spoons of ghee. Half a spoon of turmeric powder and salt as per taste. Fill in the inner vessel with water as well. Close the cooker, light the stove and place the pressure-weight on top of the cooker lid. As the mixture cooks within and the fragrance of ghee, vegetables, and dal permeates in the kitchen, the whistles will start blowing. Usually four the five whistles are sufficient for the quinoa to be cooked well. Adjust the water levels accordingly, sometimes a specific brand of quinoa needs more water and cooking time (seven or eight whistles).

Let the heat subside, open the cooker and garnish the khichdi with fresh coriander leaves. If you love tadka, a tadka of ghee, mustard seeds, and green chilies can be added before you serve the khichdi. Goes really well with a raitha of curd, onion, and cucumber. Or eat along with potato chips or roasted masala pappad.

Have you tried quinoa khichdi before? Do try it out and let me know.