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?

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.

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.

P for Platform Stories and P for Pineapple Rasam

P for Platform Stories

The arrival of Thangam and Lakshmanan completely changed the dynamics of the family. Old arguments re-surfaced, ego clashes resumed; in short life became exceedingly difficult for all people in the house at Behala. At this juncture, a letter came from Ramani from a remote village in Tamil Nadu. He wanted one more chance to be a good husband and a father. He had sent train tickets for Saradha and Kannan to join him in Tamil Nadu and begin a new life. It was decided that Sundaram and his wife and son would move to Kerala. Saradha and Kannan were to join Ramani. Thus multiple problems would be solved and everyone would be happy.

The Howrah Railway Station was again witness to a journey that Saradha and Kannan would embark upon. Sundaram and Raman accompanied Saradha and Kannan to the station. The train was to depart in the afternoon. It was a normal sleeper coach and peak summer. A vendor was selling sliced pineapples smeared with a bit of rock salt and red chilly powder. Raman got some slices and everyone ate them silently. No one wanted to cry. Everyone wanted a happy and comfortable life for the other. Sundaram handed some money in an envelope to Kannan; so did Raman. Both of them had one message for him – “Be strong, take care of your mother”. It would be a long life ahead and for another 21 years Kannan and Amma would look out for each other. The guard blew a whistle, the signal turned from red to green. Kannan waved goodbye to his uncles as the train gently moved out of the station. Another chapter, another journey, another departure. Life would go on.

P for Pineapple Rasam

Ingredients:

Pineapple slices chopped fine.

Water

Turmeric powder

Ghee

Red chillies

Salt

Mustard

A spoon of gram dal or kadalai paruppu

Pinch of hing (asafotedia)

Fresh coriander leaves

Process:

This rasam avoids the use of tamarind or tomatoes and retains the sweet and sour taste of the pineapple.

Light the stove and place a deep bottomed pan on it. Add the pineapple slices and a cup of water. Allow the pineapple to cook and the juice from the chunks to mix with the water. Add salt and turmeric powder to the mixture and keep stirring the liquid. You will observe the change in colour as the chunks dissolve and cook in the boiling water.

In another small pan prepare a tempering / tadka of mustard seeds, red chillies and kadalai paruppu in ghee. Once the mixture sputters add it to the liquid mixture cooking in the larger pan and stir well. End by adding a bit of hing and freshly chopped coriander to the rasam. Delicious pineapple rasam is ready to be eaten with hot white rice. While serving along with the rice add a spoon of ghee to the hot rice. Pour the rasam on top of the rice, mix well, and eat.

O for One Afternoon and O for Orange Peel Pulikachal – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

O for One Afternoon

Sundaram had taken voluntary retirement. With some wise investments and fixed deposits in the public and private sector he was living peacefully. Kannan had to be on medication but he was normal now. After a gap of two years, he had resumed schooling at another school. A much smaller school, further away in the city and with a substantially lesser fees. Kannan and the neighbour’s son Vinay used to travel together. Vinay was a couple of years younger to Kannan and they had been playmates ever since Kannan had returned to Calcutta. This school functioned in an early morning shift with classes from 7 AM to 12:30 PM. Kannan would return home by about 1:45 PM to 2 PM and have lunch at home.

One afternoon, when Kannan was back from school; he was surprised to see three new people at the house in Behala. There was a middle-aged man, a lady in her forties, and a young man in his early twenties. Saradha beckoned Kannan to go freshen up and sit down for lunch. After lunch, Kannan was called to the living room by Sundaram and introduced to the newcomers. Mr. Rangan a professor from Kerala, Thangam – Sundaram’s wife, and Lakshmanan – Sundaram and Thangam’s son. It was at that juncture that Kannan realized that his uncle had a family of his own. Mr. Rangan was a well-wisher who had decided to help Thangam patch up with Sundaram for the sake of the future of Lakshmanan. All was well – it was good for everyone to be united again.

O for Orange Peel Pulikachal

The pulikachal is a unique chutney-like accompaniment that can be prepared with any souring agent and specific fruits or vegetables. The key element being it is something that is incredibly spicy and packs a sour and spicy punch with ample use of chillies and mustard. Tomato, onion, mango-ginger (maanga-inji) pulikachals are quite popular. Today we will learn to make a unique and different pulikachal made from orange peels.

Ingredients:

Orange peels of the kamala orange variety. The hybrid oranges or the kinnou oranges won’t actually be suited for this as the peels tend to turn bitter very quickly.

Water

Salt to taste.

Red and green chillies

Kadalai Paruppu a handful

Mustard, hing (asafotedia), and curry leaves for tempering

Sesame Oil

Process:

Clean the orange peels thoroughly and remove the white fibres on the insides of the peel. Wash them thoroughly and slice them into fine pieces. The smaller the better. Ensure that the orange peel is cut evenly.

Light up the stove and in a deep-bottomed pan add sesame oil, followed by mustard seeds, kadalai paruppu, red and green chillies that have been chopped fine and temper it well as they ingredients splutter in the pan please add the sliced orange peels. Now mix all the ingredients well on a low flame and allow the orange peel to secrete the water/juice stored in it. Add a bit of water as well and keep stirring the ingredients in the pan. Please ensure that they do not get burnt. Add salt and hing and stir well and keep the pan closed. Switch off the flame and after it cools down a bit eat along with rice or chappathis as an accompaniment.

M for Marriage and M for Manoharam

M for Marriage

There was an energetic buzz in the house. Chitra’s wedding had been fixed and the arrangements were happening at a feverish pitch. The groom was from Nagpur. The alliance had come through from the groom’s uncle who was settled in Calcutta. There was a meeting arranged wherein the bride and groom met each other and the families had a conversation over juice, snacks, and coffee. Both sides were happy, a date for the engagement was fixed and a date few months down the line was decided upon for the marriage. The groom looked like a younger version of Nana Patekar and little Kannan was left wondering how he would bid goodbye to his elder sister who was his closest friend.

October arrived, with a couple of days left for the wedding; relatives from different parts of the country reached Calcutta. The wedding was supposed to be a two-day event as per the traditional customs and started with prayers offered to God and the departed elders – thatha and ammammai. Vans were arranged to reach the hall that had been booked and by God’s grace everything went like clockwork. The incredible amount of planning that had gone into organising the wedding helped. The women in the family shed happy tears and there was some sorrow as well as the girl was moving on to a new family. In a week’s time she would leave for Nagpur bidding good bye to Calcutta and her family.

M for Manoharam

The manoharam is an integral part of the Tamil-Brahmin wedding sweet-list. As per tradition, the “seer-bhakshanam” snacks and savouries to celebrate the wedding hold a key place in the wedding. The practice of paruppu-thengai in a decorated cone is quite unique. It is essentially a mixture of jaggery, coconut, and peanuts that are mixed and poured into the cone and kept. For all auspicious functions the paruppu thengai plays a key role. Today, we will look at how manoharam is made. Manoharam can be defined as a simple murukku/thenkuzhal/chakli that is immersed in jaggery syrup. Traditionally the fried murukku/thenkuzhal is broken into smaller pieces and soaked in the jaggery syrup. Then it is moulded into small ball-line rounds like a laddu.

Ingredients:

Rice flour

Urad dal flour

Butter

Jaggery Syrup

Dry ginger powder

Cardamom powder

Oil for deep frying

You also need a machine / instrument that lets you prepare the murukku/thenkuzhal in its proper shape.

Process:

Dry roast urad dal and raw rice separately and grind them into a fine powder. Mix the two flours along with some water and white butter and prepare a nice soft dough. Allow the dough to rest a bit in a sealed container and then put the dough into a chakli/murukku press. Keep the oil ready for frying the murukku. Once the oil is warm enough in the same way that you would prepare jalebis and fry them in oil, add the murrukkus in the proper shape to the oil. Take that the oil does not splash upon you. Get the required number of murukkus ready and transfer to another container after draining out excess oil.

In another deep-bottomed pan add water and boil the water. As the water boils add grated jaggery and keep stirring it till you get a nice consistent liquid mixture. Add some cardamom and dry ginger powder to the mixture. Now switch off the flame. Break the murrukkus/thenkuzhals into smaller pieces and put them in the jaggery mixture. Use a spoon and coat all the murukku pieces evenly with the jaggery mixture. When it is still slightly warm, wet your hands with some ghee and rice flour and mould the pieces into small ball-like rounds akin to shaping a laddu.

Manoharam is ready to be relished.

L for Lakshmanan Thatha and L for Ladoo – A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021

L for Lakshmanan Thatha

Little Kannan was meeting Lakshmanan Thatha and Rajeshwari Paati whom he addressed as Ammamai for the first time. He had spent time as an infant with them; but it was now that he was meeting them as a grown child. Kannan would enjoy talking with thatha. On Sunday afternoons sometimes everyone would assemble in the hall and play daayam (a version of ludo). It would be good fun as the family members would strategise and move their pieces based on the roll of the dice.

Lakshmanan thatha was a famous cook and a maker of sweets. He worked in a hotel in Dharaapuram in Tamil Nadu. His wife Rajeshwari would look after the children at the ancestral home in Thiruvilvamala as Lakshmanan made a living in Dhaarapuram. He would visit Kerala twice a year. Once during Vishu and the other time during Deepavali. When visiting Kerala, he would bring lots of sweets, new clothes, special rose-scented talcum powder, and toys for his children. Once Sundaram and Raman had settled down in Calcutta; the ancestral property in Kerala was sold and Rajeshwari and Lakshmanan settled with Sundaram in the rented house in Behala. Sometimes Lakshmanan would get really bored and he would make mysore-pak – one of his signature sweets. The whole house would be infused with the aroma of ghee as he made the sweet. Lakshmanan would use snuff – perhaps his only vice. Sundaram used to get the snuff for his father from a shop in Lake Market. In his later years, Lakshmanan suffered from diabetes. One night he fell down in the bathroom and hurt his head badly. By the time he was brought to the bed and made to lie down and the doctor called in a hurry; he had left this world.

This would be Kannan’s first exposure to death from close quarters. He could not fathom what was happening. Thatha seemed to be in deep sleep. Ammamai was crying, so was his Amma, Akka was looking sad as well. After an hour Raman came with his family as well. A priest/vaadhiyar arrived and some basic rituals were performed and thatha’s lifeless body was taken in a mini-van of sorts to the crematorium. In the next couple of days, relatives from different parts of the country arrived and on the 13th and 14th days detailed rituals were performed followed by a feast honouring the departed soul. Within a couple of years Rajeshwari paati also passed away to join her husband in heaven.

L for Laddu or Ladoo

The laddu is a fascinating round-ball like sweet that has many variations and is also known as laadu and ladoo. Up north, the moti-choor laddu, the gond laddu, and besan laddu are quite popular. Maharashtra is famous for its til-gud ladoo, made with sesame and jaggery. Down south the boondi ladoo is an integral part of all wedding feasts. The prasadam offered in Tirupathi is the famous Tirupathi laddu that has its own fan-following. Over the years, the quality has dipped but it still continues to be sold by the Devaswom board.

Let us look at a simple whole wheat flour or atta laddu today.

Ingredients:

Whole wheat flour

Jaggery powder

Ghee

Cardamom

Raisins and cashew nuts (optional)

Process:

Dry roast the whole wheat flour till the raw smell goes away. Now add the melted ghee to the mixture and add the raisins and cashew nuts to the mixture and stir it well. Add the cardamom powder as well to the mixture. Once the temperature reduces pour the mixture into a greased bowl and add the jaggery powder to the mixture now. Wet your hands with some ghee and roll small ball-shaped rounds when the mixture is slightly warm. If you let the mixture cool down fully it would become difficult to roll it into the shape of a laddu and it will then become a solid mass out of which you would have to cut out barfis.

Have you tried this laddu before?