While I was forced to gulp down some vegetables floating in an oily gravy and rice in a never ending train journey from Delhi to Kolkata, my travel companions and I craved for a taste of forbidden fruit – Kul (Indian Variety of Jujube) that is served in the lunch platter as part of Saraswati Puja. Saraswati Puja is celebrated in honour of Goddess of Learning.
In Bengal, children are initiated into learning and students across age groups and faith celebrate this festival as this is a day of ritually sanctioned abstinence from books. Reason: books are offered to Goddess so that she can bless. As a kid, I used to place my Maths Book hoping for a highest mark which never happened. Besides, that since the festival happens in February- March, when we bid adieu to our “winter” wardrobe, we also embrace the new season in new colour. Doing complete justice to the name “Basanta”(Spring), there is a tradition across Bengal to wear clothes of yellow colour. So, you would find shops across the streets selling yellow sarees with bright red border, blouses and petticoats for even 3 year olds. Considering it is a state holiday, and most of the schools celebrate Saraswati Puja, children get a chance to be in full fare. It is equivalent to the celebration of Valentine’s day across Bengal. In fact, to this date I remember how love letters exchanged hands on this day. While I have stopped wearing yellow sarees, or gearing up for this special day one ritual I have obediently followed and never questioned is staying away from the forbidden fruit till Saraswati Puja – Kul.
Kul is the Indian variety of Jujube commonly found in this season. Pickled Kul is one of the food items sold by pickle vendors outside schools. This is one fruit I can eat without being reminded. This takes me back to an incident when I had given into the temptation of forbidden fruit and savoured a good amount of pickled kul. I was in Standard V. While eating, I stained my white skirt. When I reached home, I neatly folded the skirt and kept in the laundry bag. Nevertheless, this was not enough to save from my mother’s prying eyes who found out that I had eaten Kul. While serving me dinner she told me that she is confident I might not score well in my Unit test as I eaten the fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati.
I don’t remember what had happened in my Unit Test but as I recounted this story years later to my fellow co-passengers they remembered how they were warned not to have this fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati. Three of us in our different side of 20’s laughed that how we have continued to abstain from consuming this forbidden fruit before Saraswati Puja? While lamenting over the delay in train timings and missing out on the fun of “local” Valentine’s day we watched with pleasure the sight of a shy school girl and boy holding hands and sitting in the railway station. They were not spared from the three pairs of inquisitive eyes as who were ready to attack the pickled kul that the boy lovingly held in his hand while the girl nibbled daintily on one of the forbidden fruits. I decided to draw the curtains so that they could enjoy their possibly first date over forbidden fruit from our childhood days.
To beat the chill of Delhi I was craving for some ginger tea. The very thought of the number of utensils that had to be washed after the tea gave me a cold feet. After staring at utensil shelf for fifteen minutes I decided to settle for Rong Cha (just the way it is served in Madhu da’s Canteen). Madhu da’s canteen is familiar to people from Dhaka University, Bangladesh. Lined with benches and tables it is the most vibrant place with students debating, singing and even sharing romantic glances. In my recent visit to University of Dhaka for a conference I decided to stay away from Conference Lunch and instead opted for the culinary delights of Madhu da’s canteen. And our favourite was Rong Cha.
Across Bangladesh, Black tea is referred as Rong Cha. Rong means Colour in Bengali. Cha is the Bengali word for Tea. Considering, milk served without tea retains the original colour, hence Rong Cha Usually the tea in Bangladesh (Dhaka and Barishal) use tea bags unlike their Indian Counterparts where tea is added to boiling water and left to rest till the last batch of tea is sold out. Even roadside tea stalls usually use small glasses or cups to serve Rong Cha.
So how do you make your cup of Ginger flavoured Rong Cha? Skip the act of adding ginger slices or crushed ginger to boiling water. Instead boil the water and store it in the flask. Chop some ginger. When you want to take a tea break, pour the water, add sugar followed by your favourite brand of tea bag. Take off the tea bag and finish it off with the ginger slices. So when you sip your tea, the finely chopped ginger slices help you to warm up to beat the winter chill and keep up with your deadlines.
My mom loves giving me surprises. One such surprise was a fresh bunch of lettuce leaves. And the test was I had to use this surprise ingredient for my Sunday dinner menu. Like all expert judges she decided to make a decent exit while I was left wondering what kind of salad would go well with Shepherd’s Pie.
I decided not to google because this surprise gift reached me at that time of the day when I felt terribly lazy to go looking up for salad ingredients. I decided to make do with ingredients that was easily available in the kitchen. Saving grace was the chicken mince which I decided to marinate in my newly acquired chilli garlic sauce, some salt and some freshly ground pepper. After that I heated oil in a pan and added two garlic cloves and fried the chicken mince and kept it aside to cool. The only ingredients that seemed available were a range of sauces, vinegar, and a bottle of kasundi (mustard sauce).
So, I decided to experiment a little and grated a cheese cube (amul processed cheese) and added mustard sauce. I added the cooked chicken mince to this cheesy mustard paste and kept it aside.
I washed the lettuce leaves and created a bed of lettuce leaves in the serving bowl. I added a bunch of shredded lettuce leaves to the chicken mince and kept it aside.
When I was about to serve the dinner, I added the chicken mince and shredded lettuce mix on the bed of greens.
Time had arrived to prepare a quick dressing. I went for a quick tangy dressing. I added one spoon of vegetable oil (better use olive oil), vinegar and a dash of pepper in the bowl where I had mixed the chicken mince, and mustard-cheese paste. The dressing tasted divine and I poured it confidently over the mix and my bed of greens was ready to serve.
Photo Courtesy © aritree dey
While cleaning the kitchen storeroom I discovered my Mom’s good old oven with a glass lid which she once used to bake cakes for us. The oven is 15 years old so I was quite sceptical if everything was fine but did a test run on 31 December by cooking a successful Moussaka ( a chicken one ) for my mother’s birthday. After the successful experiment, my mother and my cousin requested me to prepare a chicken version of Greek Shepherd’s Pie for a family dinner on Sunday night. After a good run of the recipes available online I decided to stick to the recipe posted by Angeldrawers in Nigella Lawson’s website.
( For details see http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/greek-shepherds-pie-3981) .
It was no joke to feed 7 people who has a penchant to offer you critical feedback though their facial gestures moment they bite into your dish. Instead of lamb / beef mince, I went for chicken mince( because my mother is allergic to red meat) and to give it a red colour I marinated it in red pepper sauce, a pinch of pepper, generous squeeze of lemon and salt as required. After giving it a resting time for three to four hours for the flavours to seal I went on to chop two medium-sized onions, and two medium-sized tomatoes. I fried the onions in butter (a good generous helping and no cheating on that), let the onions turn golden before adding the minced meat. Though the main recipe tells us to add the chopped tomatoes before adding the mince; in my desperate attempt to have a red colour I consciously chose to add the chopped tomatoes so that the mince would cook nicely in the juicy liquid of the tomatoes. After that it was time to check the seasoning and keep it aside. Once the meat was ready, it was time to boil the thinly sliced potatoes and simultaneously prepare the white sauce in a saucepan with a generous spoonful of butter. Once the butter started melting I added two cloves so that my white sauce has a lovely aroma. To that, I added milk(room temperature) and flour. Now comes the fun part of stirring it continuously to avoid lumps. Once it attained a creamy texture I added an egg (a light deviation from the recipe).
It was time to assemble the three components into a pie dish. For this, I strictly followed step no 5 in the recipe. I added layers of potato and mince before finishing the last layer with potato, white sauce and of course grated cheese.
After that it was time to bake. I baked the dish for around 30 min. Once the potatoes turned golden brown it was time to switch off the oven, get ready for my salad ( see next post).
While I have found joys of baking I still have a long way to go and hopefully by end of winter I will have a successful list of bakes to share with you.
Photo Courtesy: ©Aritree Dey
For a long time I have been wondering to write a post on food blogs. The plethora of blogs in a way reinstates how the virtual medium is being used to make the private public. The kitchen which has been otherwise the domain of everyday life now has to be the site of production where cooking methods, photographs and copyrights will be claimed, contested, produced and reproduced. In other words, the otherwise chaotic kitchen space has been turned into the subject of “gaze”.
The virtual world has brought our kitchen activities to the forefront where we flex our muscles to dish out authentic dishes, “cheat” on some ingredients ( like me) to give authentic dishes a personal touch or wonder at the sheer magnanimity and opulence of some of the photographs and writings from our fellow bloggers. In a nutshell the blogosphere is bustling with the joys of cooking. We monitor, organise this gaze as the anchor in our kitchen who decides on the menu, chalks out the things to be bought and also decides on what is to be sent to the waste box.
For instance when I started blogging I wanted to find ways to communicate and learn from people who write on food. Apart from that, I wanted to share my food trails, the mishaps and adventures of cooking, exploring new joints and of course showcase the history of sweets in Bengal. Though my blog is not a year old, one has made new friends in this virtual space. Spice and Curry (link given below) for instance has this beautiful initiative to have a list of food blogs and has attempted to get the cooking fraternity cooking together. Visit her page http://spiceandcurry.blogspot.com/p/food-blog-list.html for the list of food blogs that will help you explore more.
Food Blogging reinstates that despite all odds food creates its own avenues to celebrate joys of cooking, eating and craving for more.
Happy blogging, happy cooking and happy eating.
Fish ball Soup
Are you a morning person? Are you willing to explore a breakfast destination which winds up by 9.00 am? Are you looking for good food and have no hang ups about standing in a street corner and enjoying your Saturday breakfast? These were the few exchanges we had among a group of food fanatics who braved a morning shower and ended up meeting for a Chinese breakfast in Kolkata sharp at 7.30 am.
City of Joy, i.e., Kolkata is a migrant’s city and the culinary journey of Kolkata as all travel guides would direct you to Tangra a bustling settlement dotted with closed tanneries and new age Chinese eating houses, sauce factory, a Chinese temple and in fact a Chinese Kalibari. While restaurants like Kafulok, Kimling and Beijing have attracted Chinese food lovers during lunch and dinners in Tangra it is worthwhile to note and remember that the oldest Chinese settlement was actually in Tiretta Bazaar popularly referred to as Tiretti Bazaar ( Tiretti marketplace) in central Kolkata. The street beside the Poddar Court is lined with stalls selling breakfast straight from the oven. Unlike Kolkata’s breakfast joint here the breakfast is really early. So if you fail to reach by 8.00 am you might end up being served cold food.
We decided to do a survey of the street before ordering our fare. To our surprise we found it was a combination of sorts, for instance next to a stall of dumplings, was a vegetable seller who were calling out to the Chinese Memsahibs as he had stalked fresh Chinese Cabbage followed by an old woman who was selling fish. We were amazed by the variety that was on offer and I for once regretted that I had to go for library work; else one could have stalked up fresh vegetables.
Greens on offer
We decided to begin our Chinese breakfast with a bowl of piping hot fish ball soup. While our hungry eyes could not wait as the lady poured our portions to the bowl; the silent wait was worth it. The fish ball made out of Chitol fish was a delight. We could not resist the fish dumpling which melted in the mouth as soon as we bit into them. We followed the tips penned by Joydip Sur in a piece “Chinese Breakfast :A tradition in Calcutta” ( Kolkata on Wheels, Vol 4, Issue No 2 , November 2011) and went ahead to try out the Steamed pao – a soft steamed bread stuffed with Pork, eggs and Chicken), followed by the most wonderful Pork Roll I have had. Even though we missed out on the Pork Pancake and Pork chop we decided to keep it for our next trip.
While our respective schedules did not allow us to stock up fresh vegetables we could not resist the temptation of venturing into the Sing Cheung Co. Pvt. Ltd. Shop where I bought three bottles of Sweet Chilli Sauce, Garlic Chilli Sauce, Black Bean Sauce for my kitchen. The shop’s supplies come out of its own factory in South Tangra Road. While we waited at the shop counter for the cashier to finish his breakfast we realised it was only 9am and we had not only treated ourselves to a most amazing breakfast but also gifted ourselves with some lovely sauces. Though we wanted to buy the entire shop we realised that between our respective work schedules the sauces might sit pretty on the table top before they hit the expiry dates and realised to choose a few. The prices are reasonable and I would recommend any shop (Pou Chong sauce manufacturers) in this vicinity for anyone who wants to indulge in Chinese delicacies.
So in case you are a morning person and craving for an early morning breakfast gear up for the breakfast gourmet in Tiretta Bazaar.
After writing down the post on spices, I was wondering how to spice up my lunch on a rainy afternoon as I had some left-over chicken breast tucked away in my fridge. Rains in winter make you feel sad and lonely. After sailing through some toasts and tea on a rainy morning I thought it’s time to spice up my lunch spread before it gets too gloomy in kitchen.
Suddenly I remembered that my good old friend Debalina, a free lance script writer based in Mumbai, a food fanatic had recently posted a recipe – Pepper crusted chicken on an e-magazine. It’s less time consuming and hoping it will spice up my mood. Before I head back to the kitchen to scout for the ingredients I will share with you the link where you will find the details of the recipe-
A simple salad of papaya, pomegranates and a simple salad dressing of some lime juice, vegetable oil, salt and pepper would go lovely with this. While I rush to my kitchen if you want to spice up your food crust your food with Pepper.
As I added a dash of cinnamon powder to my last meal of 2011 – Moussaka I was wondering how the spice primarily found in Ceylon ended up being used in a Greek Dish. As I grounded pepper I wondered how these were responsible for the rise and fall of three great cities which crossed many a seas to take back clove, pepper and a lot of spices from Malabar coast, and islands of South East Asia.
Michael Krondl documents the fascinating tale of how spices travelled across shores, how spices were protected, how spice- economy controlled and managed state economy through the rise and fall of the three great cities of spices in his book The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and fall of the three Great Cities of Spice (Ballantine Books: New York). Michael’s spice trail begins at Venice which prospered till “Vasco Da Gama’s arrival in India rechanneled the flow of Asian seasoning” (pp20). Spices that were loaded on Italian ships included black pepper and long pepper, five kinds of ginger, galingale, zedoary, nutmeg, maces, clove stalks, cloves, three types of cinnamon and cardamom. Michael draws up this list from a list of purchases made by the Venetians in Damascus in early fourteen century. Spices were critical to the state economy of Venice and spices travelled in an army convoy referred to as mudas. Since 1330s Mudas had a control over the spice trade. Specially designed armed galley guarded the ships loaded with spices. One of the most sought after spices was pepper- particularly so because it was “dry”, “sufficiently non-perishable” and could “endure transportation by ship, camel, and mule… without a noticeable decline of quality”. (pp49) Pepper originated in Western Ghats, India, was transplanted to Sumatra as early as two thousand years ago. Currently, pepper is grown in Brazil and China. Presently, Vietnam has overtaken India as the world’s largest exporter of pepper. Then he moves on to the spice trade of Lisbon where Michael travels back in time to tell us how pepper travelled from Malabar to Lisbon and how cinnamon from Ceylon made its way into the Lisbon. Michael takes us back to the medieval times of King Joao I and King Joao II and the wars they fought to initially conquer “Gold that flowed down West African rivers. But other goods were picked along with precious cargo, too- most notably, enslaved African ivory and the “pepper” collected in the blackwoods” (pp118). During King Joao II’s rule “who really made reaching Asia by sea a national priority” (pp119). Michael weaves the spice trail against the naval route that the ships took. He gives you an account of the spice routes through the travelogues of the sailors, cookbooks and lost recipes and ends his spice trail in Amsterdam.
This tale of the three great cities of spice is gripping as it conquers many a shores for the search of the “spices”. The book ends with an account of the secret fourth floor of the multi-national conglomerate McCormick which is the spice chamber of the contemporary world. In a nutshell the book is engaging and provides an interesting account of not only how spices travelled but how spices were used and how cuisines emerged with the changing imports of spices. In other words, how it changed the fate of the three great cities which played a key role in the spice trade. The book will be of interest to any foodie like you and me who know how to add spice to your food and life.