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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Shopping and Shrikhand

The news paper is my husband’s shield and ally.
It is his armour against the torrents of words that are often directed at him and he gratefully hides behind it. He reads most of its contents with a cursory dispassionate interest, but an inexplicable agitation grips him when he reads reports of festivities in the farthest and most inaccessible parts of the city.
I sometimes think my determination to attend all these events as soon as I read about them, may have something to do with his strange behaviour - but I always dismiss this thought as soon as it occurs to me.
An exciting and agitating news report about a Diwali Bazaar once appeared at the beginning of the century, and it landed us in Pune’s Budhwar Peth.
After, we had bowed our heads in reverence at the Daghdusheth Halwai Ganpati temple there I launched myself on the scattered shops and their potential bargains.
Arrogant in my prowess at sniffing out the best bargains, I rapidly moved from the crowd of shops selling diyas, earthen ware toys and coloured animal shaped candy in an open area, to the shops in the surrounding alleys. Icy courtesy and reluctance met me there, but I put it down to the unwillingness of the shopkeepers to part with their wares at a bargain. Excitedly I persisted in dodging and ducking into the maze of shops there in a semi trance.
 As I waltzed down a certain lane, too busy to notice that courtesy had been replaced by curiosity and then by downright questioning gestures, my phone rang.
Annoyed at being interrupted in my dogged pursuit of bargains; especially since the caller was the man I imagined was just a few steps behind me –my husband, I turned around with a deadly frown.
And then my jaw dropped.
In my excitement I had failed to notice that I had walked into a lane populated exclusively by women. In their garish clothes and make up, they were standing around in suggestive postures and looking expectantly at my poor husband who stood awkwardly at the entrance of the lane stoically staring at his toes.
I beat a hasty retreat and asserted my claim on the distressed man.
The ladies were kind enough to refrain from laughing out aloud.
A mad frenzy usually grips me on Diwali. There is so much to do on that one day that I am left twirling on my toes. The house must be neat (impossible when the husband and daughter are around), the decorations have to be hung up, rangolis have to be made, diyas have to be lit, dishes that I never otherwise attempt have to turn out perfect and of course I have to wear my best outfit and ensure that it doesn’t catch fire.
A certain fail safe recipe then usually rescues me and here it is.
1.     Set a big bowl of curd.
2.     I usually use my biggest Borosil dish and set as much curd as it will hold. To set curd, take some readymade curd and spread about 2 to 3 tablespoons on all the walls of the bowl. Now pour in milk at room temperature and mix. Leave the bowl in a slightly warm area in the kitchen until it sets.
3.     Once the curd has set, take a large sieve and cover it on the inside with a muslin cloth (or a handkerchief).
4.     Place this over a bowl that can hold it and pour all the curd into the sieve.
5.     Cover the sieve with the curd in it with a plate and place the whole contraption in the fridge overnight or for a whole day. The water from the curd drips out of it into the bowl below and you get hung curd.
6.     On Diwali day, put the hung curd into another bowl. Mix in four or five tablespoons of Complan in the Kesar Badam flavour. Add some milk if the curd is too dry. Taste it and add more Complan if you like.
7.     If it is not sweet enough for you, add some powdered sugar and mix it in. Taste again.
8.     Chill the dish and garnish with a few strands of Kesar and a few slivers of almonds if you like.

Stand around and bask in the glory of your dish as it is devoured.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A sleepless husband and Baingan ka Bharta

My husband loves Saturday afternoons. Weeklong he dreams about that delicious half an hour of sleep on that half day.
I love sleeping too, but for me afternoons spent lazing in the winter sunshine of Assam always won hands down when pitted against slumbers on full stomachs at the forbidden hour.
I would have loved my husband's company in the garden, but I knew I had an invincible opponent in “Siesta”.
I had reluctantly resigned myself to spending the delightful afternoons in the garden alone, but Ramlal changed it all.
He was short, plump and dark. He had a sing-song nasal voice and wore a soiled kurta, and he had all the ladies on campus vying for his attention.
I never imagined that tall ENT surgeons, proud Officers of the Indian Air Force, would feel threatened by Ramlal – but that is just what happened.
A few weeks into our stay in Assam, I was curious and baffled when my husband started suggesting going out for lunch and doing a host of other things on his precious afternoons. Then, I realized with devilish delight that his sleepless afternoons were engendered by envy for Ramlal.
As Ramlal breezed in with his bicycle load of the fresh and juicy home grown vegetables – he was almost like the Pied Piper in his ability to attract the ladies. A scuffle inevitably ensued over his cauliflowers and radishes as he smiled complacently.
As ladies indulged in closely contested matches to place one of the ten cauliflowers from his garden that week on their tables, even cauliflower worshipping husbands (like mine) were jealous.
A sigh of relief always followed his receding form as he departed having peddled his produce, and contented burps always followed the Gobhi parathas the next day.
 Ramlal was then forgiven, forgotten and even reluctantly blessed until the next Saturday afternoon.
 The relinquished Saturday siestas led to football matches in the lawn and I had several reasons to thank Ramlal.
Baingan Ka Bharta
I hate to admit this but cooking vegetables flawlessly has always flummoxed me. I was delighted when I learnt to make Baingan ka Bharta because it was the one dish that uncomplainingly turned to pulp and still tasted good. Until then I had been turning everything else into pulp with my cooking endeavours as well but they were just silently making their way into the dustbin.
Anyway now the Baingan ka Bharta has made me the invincible queen of the kitchen. The best part of it is, that the baingan can be roasted in advance and converted to bharta in a few minutes at a later time, tasting as fresh as ever and making you look like a magician.
1.    Take a nice big fat baingan (brinjal).
2.    Take a handful of cloves (laung) and pierce the baingan with their pointed ends and leave the cloves there. In effect studding the entire surface of the baingan with cloves.
3.    Now turn on the gas and place the clove studded baingan on the hob on the naked flame. Go about other work as it roasts. Whenever you remember next, walk over and turn the baingan slightly so that by the end all the sides have been roasted.
4.    Check that the whole baingan has been done by inserting a knife into it from various angles (much like you’ve seen magicians piercing their wives at magic shows). If you find no resistance to your knife, you’re good to go.
5.    Let the baingan cool for a bit and then remove the skin by dipping your fingers into a bowl of water at frequent intervals.
6.    This peeled baingan can be left in the fridge for whenever you want to exhibit your skills as a magician in the kitchen.
7.    For the tadka. Peel and roughly chop an onion and wash and roughly chop a tomato. Also chop up some ginger.
8.    Heat oil 2 tablespoons of oil in a kadhai, add chopped ginger followed by the onion and tomato simultaneously.
9.    Sprinkle salt so that they cook really fast.
10.                       Add a chopped green chilli and then put the baingan in.
11.                       Break the baingan with the ladle and mix in the masala. Don’t mix too much.
12.                       Generously sprinkle as much fresh dhania (coriander) as you like into the baingan
And ta-daaaa your bharta is ready. Dig in!