Tender pieces of chicken preferably legs embalmed in a marinade of freshly roasted spices, fresh coriander leaves paste, a touch of vinegar with some tamarind and a dash of rum, each bite into the chicken sends a message of an intense complexity of flavours which goes beyond our known indigenous flavors. The ginger,cumin, garlic, rum and tamarind flavoured …the charcoal or pan roasted or grilled wonder is Chicken Cafreal .
Chicken Cafreal is a symbol of a recipe travelling and imbibing flavors. It made India its home crossing continents and imbibing flavours. Mozambique is the original homeland of Chicken Cafreal known as GalinhaPiri Piri there.In her food memoir, The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship,Nandita Haksar highlights the Portuguese-influence on the Goan dish and its historical connection to Africa.The Portuguese had colonized Mozambique from 1505 for nearly four centuries.
The story behind
The story behind “Chicken Cafreal” is indeed interesting. It is said that African slaves were once recruited in Portuguese army during their colonial rule in Goa.In one such army camp the slaves cooked some chicken using local spices and coriander leaves. The Portuguese officer liked the chicken and named it ‘Chicken Cafreal’. It was called Cafreal probably because the blacks were called ‘Kafirs’.
Chicken Cafreal’ has become the most popular dish of Goa over years with every household, every shack having its own recipe.A Chicken Cafreal is often known by its color- a vibrant green and the taste not so fiery as it once was with the use of Piri Piri chillies. Goans differ over many things about the authentic recipe-the type of vinegar used, the use of tamarind, addition of rum, did the original recipe use poppy seeds? Every rendition of Cafreal is nevertheless pure melody. Harmonious blending in of tunes with an array of cooking techniques…dry or a floating in the green gravy, served with potato wedges or a Goan yellow pulao.
The Peri Peri chillies also known as African Bird Chilli were used in the traditional Galinha .This chilli travelled to Goa with the Portuguese.The original dish Frangoa Cafreal is still cooked in Mozambique.In Goa Peri Peri chilli is known as Taroti Mirsangi which is more pungent than the common chillies found in India. Interestingly this chicken is cooked in Macao still .Fusion at its best- showcasing elements of African spices along with Portuguese traditions in use of vinegar and rum and cooked in Indian style- pan sauted, Chicken Cafreal has truly travelled the world. Feni or the local Goan liquor too is sometimes added.
A sculpture on the lines of Chicken Cafreal
A sculpture by Goa-based artist Subodh Kerkar, inspired by the popular Chicken Cafreal which made India its home during the erstwhile Portuguese rule in the state, was selected for an exhibition in Australia.The work was titled Chicken Cafreal and was a part of a series on Portuguese influences on Goan culture and cuisine.
Chicken Cafreal – The know how
Ingredients 1 bunch or 2 cups of coriander leaves including some stems. 1 to 1 1/2 inch ginger 10 to 12 garlic pods 2-inch cinnamon stick 1 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp cloves 1 tsp peppercorn 6 to 8 green chillies 1 to 2 caps vinegar 1 to 2 pods tamarind one inch jaggery 3/4 tsp turmeric powder Salt, as per taste Rum or feni, as required (optional), Chicken – 1kg
Marinate the chicken in salt and turmeric for ten minutes.
Make a paste of corriander leaves, ginger,garlic,cinnamon,cloves,peppercorn,cumin seeds,green chilies and vinegar.
Marinate the chicken with this paste for four hours.
In pan over oil roast the chicken till brown.Add salt .
Once browned add the marinade, tamarind paste, jaggery and a little water.Cover tight.Add rum or feni .(optional). One may add a dash of lime juice.
Meanwhile make roundels of potato and onion.Sprinkle salt and sugar.Over pan brushed with little oil brown the potatoes and onion.
Plate the chicken with the sauce, serve with the browned potato and onion roundels.
The chicken cafreal if cooked over grill and made dry can be served as a starter, if pan sauted with a sauce can be served with bread or pao.A simple yellow pulao can be the best pal . Alternate bites into the spicy yet balanced chicken with the caramelized potatoes and onions….a glass of Feni or Rum…some rains or a windy winter.
I have never been to Kashmir. And maybe never will. Yet Kashmir is alive through imageries seen since childhood in textbooks, then in movie screens and now in news snippets. I know a couple of people from Kashmir and I know them over decades.Kolkata is second home to a large number of Kashmiri shawl traders over years.And just as one has a designated hairdresser and a dhobi, most households in the city have a Kashmiri shawl seller who visits every year be in rain or shine.Past Durga Puja and by mid November Kolkata witnesses these Kashmiris peddling cycles across the city with their warm goodies.
A shawl seller was a regular in our house when I was a kid.I used to call this middle aged man from Kashmir-Jethu and thus began a saga of a relationship continued even by his son today. The son, Ismail comes to my house every year, infact every Wednesday in the months of November through March.He has two kids now, whom he is keen to give a good education.Every time he comes back around November I feel a joy not due to the stuff I would buy, but a joy of seeing a loved one after a while. Ismail brings in saffron, walnuts in kernels and real Kashmiri chilli powder for me.He does it every year and I dont even have to remind him.He loves our Luchi and Aloor Tarkari, Payesh and Narkel Naru.He will hand out atleast two new recipes every year which he takes pain to request a school teacher there in the valley to write in English for me. His wife is brilliant in her embroidery. Every year Ismail will take back a plain silk saree from me and get it back that winter with delicate embroideries. He knows my taste…the flowers on the borders are beautiful and the colors soothing. Last November when he came and heard of my losses he was dumbstruck. He sold nothing and infact never asked me once about whether I wanted anything .He gently slipped in the saffron box and the walnuts. He continued coming every Wednesday but only to ask about my well being.Inspite of his repeated requests have not been able to visit his village a little far from Srinagar.Relationships are all that is true…hope to visit a brother’s house sometime soon in the land of Paradise.Every time I cook something from the valley I remember him and his family.
One of the earliest written history of Kashmir, Rajtarangini by Kalhana eulogised Kashmir being imbued with the beauty of Godesss Parvati.Mughal emperor Jahangir made Kashmir famous in his immortal words – “Agar firdaus bar ruhe zamin ast, Hamin asto, Hamin asto, hamin asto”. Kashmir has always been an utopia for poets, artists, dreamers and travellers. Bernier and later FrancisYoung Husband visited Kashmir and wrote extensively about it.Kashmir in short is panaromic, it is idyllic, it is majestic with fragrance, colors and mellow beauty.
According to legends the valley of Kashmir was once upon a time a lake with a demon living in it who was killed by Kashyap and Parvati by dropping a mountain on him.This mountain called the Takht – I- Sulaiman forms the backdrop to the city of Kashmir.Kashmir with its multi faceted cultural forms, rites and rituals, cuisine and language with roots embedded in antiquity is cohesive in what is called kashmiriyat.
Kashmiri Cuisine is one of its kind, unique and elaborate, delicate and aromatic. Influenced by the Mughal style of cooking , yet it has several other strands of synthesis. While the Muslims take pride in their Wazwan, the Hindu pandits excel in their Butta.Both share a love for lamb but the Pandits eschew onions and garlic while the Wazwan uses it liberally. Food is always encapsulated either with a legend or history…a tale is a must.It is said that when Timur invaded India he had in his retinue a few hundred woodcarvers, weavers, architects and cooks from Samarkhand who continued living in Kashmir. The descendants of these cooks were called wazas.
Wazwan…a royal feast
The word Wazwan is derived from two words – waz and waan which means shop. Wazwan thus meant a cook shop.However in everyday life Wazwan is an elaborate and sumptuous ritual – a feast served to a guest. Tables are laid for for groups of four as the guests sit on floor as they share a meal served on a large plate called trami. Each trami is heaped with rice accompanied by four Seekh Kabab, four pieces of Methi Maaz, one Tabakh Maaz, one Safed Murg, one Zafrani Murg as the first course.Of the 36 dishes served, between 15 and 30 are meat preparations cooked overnight. Tabakh Maaz, Rista, Roghanjosh, Dhaniwal Korma, Aab gosht, Marchwagan korma and Goshtaba are a must. The desert is followed by Kahwa – a green tea flavored with saffron, cardamoms and almonds.
Kashmiri Cuisine uses a variety of spices and condiments. Use of dry mint leaves, cloves, black cardamom, saffron, coriander, fennel powder, cinammon, cumin seeds, dry Fenugreek leaves, dry cockscomb flower, dry ginger powder and red chilli powder are common. Kashmiri cuisine uses cooking techniques which are unique. It uses a lot of cooked yoghurt, garlic water, ver paste and ghustaba. Cooked yoghurt is nothing but whisked yoghurt and water cooked on high heat till it comes to a boil and then it is reduced to half and becomes off white in color over low heat. Garlic water is minced garlic and water mixed together and then strained over muslin cloth. Ver paste is quite interesting whereby garlic and shallots are ground to a coarse paste with which Kashmiri red chilli powder, black cardamoms, black cumin seeds, green Coriander seeds, cinammon powder and dry ginger powder are mixed. These are made into cakes, dried, strung together and kept for use in harsh winters.The weight of each goshtoba and rista too is specified.
I have cooked a lot of Kashmiri food both vegetarian and non vegetarian.Kashmiri Dum Aloo and Roghanjosh are quite common in restaurant menus as well as in marriage receptions and other feasts. Sadly what is passed off as Kashmiri Aloor Dum and Roghanjosh in the rest of the country is far from authentic. Kashmiri Chilli powder and saffron are one of the most costly spices and the ones we get packed are far from original. Over years as I cooked Kashmiri cuisine I remembered the techniques and tips given by my Kashmiri brother Ismail.
Lockdown days reinforced my love for cooking Kashmiri cuisine. Getting hold of good quality mutton was a challenge and often impossible.On such days I used chicken with the same recipes.These days I cooked Dhaniwal Korma, Kishmish Korma,Aab Gosht and Kashmiri Dum Aloo.
Dhaniwal Korma is a yoghurt based gravy garnished with green coriander leaves.The things which went inside cooking the korma are – 500 gms of mutton, half cup of desi ghee, two onions pureed, four garlic cloves ground, two cloves, four green cardamom,one cup cooked yoghurt, one tsp of turmeric powder,one tsp of coriander powder, pinch of black pepper powder and fresh coriander leaves.Salt and water as required.
To make the Korma I put the mutton in boiling water and blanch it for 5 min.I drained the water and cooled the meat washing it under running water.I then put the blanched meat in a pan, pure ghee, onion puree, garlic cloves, green cardamom,salt, saffron,cooked yoghurt,turmeric, coriander powder.Mixed everything well and cooked it until the ghee separated. I added enough water to cook the meat til tender.The meat was cooked covered over low heat.Once done added black pepper powder and fresh coriander leaves.
Kishmish Korma ( Raisins Korma)
Another very interesting and different dish is the Kishmish Korma – meat cooked with raisins and saffron.For this one needs 500 gms of bite sized boneless mutton pieces, 10 green cardamom,6 cinammon sticks of 1inch,3 cloves, 3 tbsp garlic water, 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsp tamarind extract, pinch of saffron, 1 cup kishmish.
I love making this dish and sometimes I use mutton keema too for this. I blanch the meat and keep the water aside.In a pan with the meat I add cardamom, cinammon, cloves and pure ghee.After frying for a while add water and salt till it is boiling. then I put in the garlic water, sugar and tamarind paste.Once the meat is cooked covered over low flame I add in the saffron and the ghee fried raisins.I serve it with a pulao and sometimes with a naan.
One of my favourites is the Aab Gosht. This comes out real good with chicken too. This is a meat cooked in a thick milk gravy. For this we need 1l of milk reduced to 250 ml, 500 gms of mutton, one tsp garlic paste, one tsp of saunf or fennel seed powder, four tbsp pure ghee, six each of cloves and green cardamom, one tsp of fried onion paste.
To begin with we need to reduce the milk to 1/4 of the original.In boiling water I put the meat, remove the scum , add garlic, fennel powder and salt.The meat has to cooked till half done.The stock jas to strained and reserved. In hot ghee in a pan I add the cloves, saute for a while till they crackle, put 1tbsp of water and cover the pan with a lid.The ghee will be infused with the aroma of the clove.In a cooking pot I add the half cooked meat, the stock, the clove flavored ghee and the onion paste. I cook it covered till done. Then I add in the reduced milk and mix well.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo
Now for my all time favourite Kashmiri Dum Aloo known as Dum Olav. For this we boil baby potatoes, peel them and pierce through them with a toothpick.We have to fry the potatoes very well and evenly over hot mustard oil.I make a paste of cooked yoghurt, cloves, cardamom, cinammon sticks, dry ginger powder, bay leaves and salt. Over oil I add this paste, water, the potatoes and bring to a boil. Then I reduce the heat to a low and cook it covered till the sauce thickens.
Visiting Kashmir remains a distant dream.Every three months Ismail gives me a call to know if all is well.I too wish him and his fabulous valley all well, peace and prosperity. Till the day I see the lake and the snow….Kashmir remain happy and look ahead.I in the meantime cook some of the dishes the way they do and often take a look at my black saree with dainty pink embroidery done to perfection by my brother’s wife…my sister from paradise on earth.
Getting married is undoubtedly a sudden exposure to new things ….food, culture,lifestyle.This is universal across gender, communities and regions. It also means a lot of efforts to get acquainted and in course of time to start loving the host of new things in life.It is not that one does all of it spontaneously, not even that you are forced into it…with time you get used to it, some you learn to brush away with a smile and some you adapt that too with a smile.To get to love the new food, new tastes is always an uphill task. It might be a dish that you never ever had in life is a favourite one in your in law’s house.Either your mom in law cooks it with a pride or tries to teach you with precision. That is how heirloom recipes are preserved and passed on. Humans are by nature flexible and adaptable and often we begin recreating such dishes which were once new to our taste buds with minor changes to suit tastes.
My story like so many others followed on similar lines. Though I had an ancestry from what is now Bangladesh, quite similar to my husband’s house, yet we were quite apart in the food we had. My grandfather on my father’s side had long settled in Ranchi. My father was a probashi ( one who lived away from motherland) in that sense. My paternal aunts or pishis loved making a Bihari fish curry and perfected the art of Thekua making. My father himself had cosmopolitan tastes and loved his Chopsueys and Meat Loaf more than a typical shukto. My mother hailed from that area of Bangladesh which had tastes similar to those of West Bengal. They loved their Doi Maach with some sugar added into it. Years spent in Bombay made my parents more open to tastes and they loved their Vada Pao and Shrikhand more than the Mishti Doi. We did have fish but mostly Bhetki, Rohu, Katla, Koi, Prawns, Parshe and Papda. Kochu Saag was seldom cooked with Hilsa head, it was mostly done with Prawns and Hilsa was never done in a runny gravy with green bananas and pumpkin, it was mostly steamed in mustard and coconut paste.
My husband had lost his mom long before we got married.So I thought that with my father in law around, things would be a cakewalk at least in the kitchen. But within a couple of days I was in for a surprise. My father in law – Baba was a foodie and had such interesting anecdotes about food during his childhood in Dacca and then in Sylhet where his father worked for years. Baba was a true blue Bangal in food tastes. It was from him I came to know of a Shukto with fish head called Bhangachora Shukto. He wanted his Pui Saag perfect with the head of an Hilsa. Bhorta was a very common dish which was cooked during my mom in law’s time.The only bhorta I knew was Begun Bharta or Begun Pora. Aar and Boyal were delicacies in fish. Baba at one sitting could name a hundred species of fish…so many extinct now. Mustard was a favourite flavoring agent and so was mustard oil a near compulsory in cooking.
The love blossoms
With time my taste buds started changing. Shutki became my favourite though I still did not know how to cook it.The first shutki I had was cooked by my husband and the taste still lingers on after years. I learned to steam fresh Aar fish in a mustard paste with raw mustard oil smeared on it and cook Boyal fish in a light gravy with fresh coriander leaves. My learning seemed fun now as I began taking a liking for all things Bangal. My father encouraged me and infact loved the bowl of shutki my husband took for him.He remembered the Bombay Duck or Bombill fry which was his favourite in his days in Bombay. Over the years I learnt to choose the best Shutki. Trips to Digha were always special as I could source an array of shutki …freshly salted and dried from the shores. Infact I began loving the smell of shutki. A turnaround it was and definitely an epic one.
The story of the Shidol
I love cooking dried shrimp and ripe pumpkin cooked together with a lot of garlic — the perfect balance of sweet and hot. My love for more fiery creations met it’s climax in the Shidol chutney which I was served with. Both Shidol and Shutki in Sylhet families are cooked with seasonal vegetables such as brinjal — either as a dry pickle or a spicy saucy dish. It could also be had on its own, just roasted with onions, garlic and chilli and mashed.Whenever I salivate at the thought of Shutki, my first encounter with Shedol Shutki cannot go undocumented.It was a trip to Shillong and we had a lunch invitation at the house of a relative from my in laws ancestral village in Syhlet. We were welcomed by smiles no doubt but the aroma wafting in the house was more endearing. Settled in Shillong for years they still spoke in the dialect of Syhlet and I hoped they still had preserved the cooking heritage of the region.As my aunt called us over to the dining table I eyed the reddish oily stuff lying gracefully at the side. With the rice what a beautiful melange of soft and hot colors.It was indeed Shidol chutney…one which I always wanted to taste.
I realized I was making rather uncivilized sounds and my eyes were watering yet I wanted more of it. Had to have sips of water in between but I wanted more.The smile on my aunts face was very suggestive.I had heard of Shidol Bora and I kept praying that I might be able to taste it. It would be my only chance.The Shidoler Bora (fritters) did come . As I was biting into the crispy exteriors to navigate to the fish my aunt in her dialect went about describing the way she made the Sidoler Bora .The Shidol was pounded and cooked with plenty of garlic, onion and chillies. The paste was placed in a pumpkin leaf, wrapped,folded and dipped in a batter of gram flour and deep-fried. It was an experience of a lifetime.The texture, the heat, the garlic all fused in to create a bliss which I cannot put into words.
The saga of the Shidol
Shidol is a traditional fermented fish, popular in North Eastern India which uses freshwater Punti fish, the scientific name for which is Puntius sophore. Shidol is prepared by stuffing earthen pots with the sundried fish. The earthen pots are then sealed airtight for fermentation and stored at room temperature for 3-4 months. Shidol is also popular among the communities of Khasis, Tripuris, Kacharis and Manipuris. Ngari is a popular fermented fish product of Manipur which is prepared by using sundried salt-free punti fish locally known as phoubu usually from Brahmaputra valley and Bangladesh. Hentaak is an indigenous fermented fish paste product (small ball shaped) prepared from fermented fish Punti along with vegetables like colocasia. In Tripura Shidol is known as Berma and is often added to flavor curries. It is also used in a vegetable mash dish known as Gudok. Dried fish is also popular in Kashmir during the harsh winters. Hoggard a local fish is wrapped in muslin cloth and dried in the terrace to be consumed during the winters.It is fried in mustard oil with some Kashmiri red chilies and served with rice.
Shutki or dried and salted fish can be made out of different varieties of fish…most common in India are Loitta or Bombay Duck, Prawns,Hilsa and Punti fish.Dried and salted fish are used in Konkani, Malvani, Goan, Oriya, Keralian and even in Kashmiri cuisines.The saga of salted fish however did not begin in India.
The history of dried fish worldwide
Salt cod, also known as Bacalao, can be traced all the way back to the 15th century. During the 17th century, salting became economically feasible when cheap salt from southern Europe became available to the maritime nations of northern Europe. It was an essential part of international commerce between the New World and the Old and eventually became a popular ingredient in Northern European cuisine, as well as Mediterranean, West African, Caribbean and Brazilian cuisines.
The sea has sustained Norwegians for thousands of years. With one of thelargest cod stocks in the world, the fish played a significant role in Norway’s culture and economy. Before modern food preservation, Norwegians used air and salt to preserve the wild cod stocks. Since the early Middle Ages, Norwegians have relied on stockfish, salt cod and clipfish for nourishment during long winters and ocean voyages. Stockfish is a dried cod, provided Vikings with sustenance during their sea voyages. Even Leiv Eiriksson was said to have had supplies of the dried fish with him when he discovered America. With temperatures of around 0°C, Northern Norway’s cold winter climate provides the perfect conditions for creating dried fish. Stockfish is Norway’s longest-sustained export commodity and one of the nation’s most famous dishes.Norway has become the world’s largest supplier of stockfish, salt cod and clipfish. However, the salted and dried cod has become popular throughout the world and is most widely consumed in Portugal, Spain and Italy. Preserved cod is incredibly versatile with a unique taste and texture.
Salt fish has been a part of Caribbean cuisine dating back to the days of colonial rule. Salt fish was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century. Vessels from North America—mainly Canada—would come bringing lumber and pickled and salted cod. They would then return to their homeland with Caribbean molasses, rum, sugar, and salt.The most popular way of preparing salt fish in the Caribbean is by sauteing it with thyme, lots of onions, tomatoes and hot pepper. Salted fish is also popular in southern China and in Southeast Asian countries, where it is often used as an accompaniment to other dishes or rice. Although the amount consumed at any one time is small, the dish is a must at every meal. Salted fish mixed with rice has also been used as a traditional food for infants.
From the large repertoire of salted and dried fish recipes across the world my pick is limited to our country though spread across regions.I include some from the neighbouring country of Bangladesh too as my forefathers hail from that area.
My favorite recipes
My favorite way of doing Shutki is simple. I use Loitta or Bombay Duck Shutki but one can substitute dried shrimps as well. I clean the fish well and keep it soaked in hot water for a out 15 min. In mustard oil I fry the Shutki till soft over low heat. In another pan I add a whole lot of crushed garlic, red chilli paste and chopped onions. Once soft I add diced pumpkins,potatoes, turmeric, coriander powder and fry them covered till soft. Do not add salt at this point. Once the veggies are soft I add the fish and give it a good stir.I cover it and let the veggies soak in the flavour of the Shutki over time. The oil separates, the fish remains soft but whole. Add salt if needed. Take care not to mash the fish or the veggies, the crunch remains important. Also be liberal with mustard oil. Well, you do not need any other dish for your lunch.You prepare for a siesta.
From Bangladesh with love
The next recipe is a heirloom one from my in laws. It’s a Loitta Shutki with coconut. After soaking the fish in hot water for a while I fry the fish in mustard oil. After draining the fish, in that same oil I fry the garlic, sliced onion, chopped green chilies and grated coconut. I fry it till well browned. I add red chilli powder, turmeric and salt. After adding the fried fish and a good stir, I let it simmer covered for ten minutes. No water is added to the dish.
From the Konkan coast
This one is from the Konkan. One can use any dried fish except prawns for this. I make a paste of tomato,oil, tomato puree, red chilies,coriander powder,garlic and salt.I add water to it and make a slurry out if it. Over hot oil I add this slurry, the fish, raw mangoes, spring onion, whole green chilies and coriander leaves.I cover it over low flame and when all is fused together I add a little sugar.To be served with rice.
From the land of sea and sand-Orissa
One from Orissa too known as Sukha Macher Besara. For this I make a paste of mustard, fennel seeds, garlic, red chilli and coriander leaves. I keep the dried fish fried in mustard oil. in oil I add a tempering of mustard seeds,the mustard paste, chopped tomatoes, salt and turmeric. Once the masala is done I add bamboo shoots and cover.The fried fish is added too,mixed well and some water is added. It has a near dry consistency.
Some Prawns from Malvani cuisine
One of my favorites from Malvani cuisine. Called Sukha Jawela, this is a dried prawn preparation. I dry roast the prawns and then wash them well. In oil I add chopped garlic,chopped onion and brown it well. Then goes in chopped tomatoes and a kokum. Some Malwani masala,turmeric and salt. When the oil separates I put in the prawns, cover and cook over low heat. Once done I add some scrapped coconut.
Pick your pack of Shutki and you need a bit of courage …. Cook it up in any of the above style….make it on a Sunday for you will eat more and sleep tight that afternoon.
“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.” Anonymous
Life is full of unplanned detours. Some small. Some big.Some on the surface and some deep within. This is a story about a small detour apparently on the surface but which touched the cores. It was a trip to Kurseong and Darjeeling.With a sudden strike at the plains I had to postpone my flight back to Kolkata.Time came as a sudden blessing and I decided to explore a bit more on the extra day that came as a gift. As I began searching over for some quaint place where I could spend the morning my eyes got fixed to this place called Chimney. Chimney – a small village near Kurseong , very colonial in its name and I thought the place had stories which were untold.
My driver was not too happy with the sudden detour and he went about saying that it was a roundabout.I convinced the young guy who looked rather tired that this roundabout may be good to both of us.Straight paths which are known can be boring as well as tiring for him.I thought he was thinking at my words and he did, with a smile he said – Let’s Go. As my car turned back I googled the Merriam-Webster Dictionary which defined a roundabout as “a circuitous route, not simple, clear, or plain: long and confusing.” Wikipedia describes a roundabout as, “a type of circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. These definitions of “long and confusing” added to my thrill .
As I began thinking about roundabouts and detours in life while I sat to write this, my hands reached out to a leather bound Bible gifted to me by a friend.Though I am not religious but some experiences in life convinced me of destiny and destined.Things which you never imagined in your most wild dream has happened to me and infact led to little transformations within me .
As I turned the pages of the Bible I stopped at a line in Genesis 12:1 when God says to Abraham, “Go … to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 ESV). Not only does it poke at my need for control, but I get lost … a lot. The Bible preaches that God determines the time and place that each of us is born. Irrespective of religious and philosophical convictions this is universal. Nevertheless, there are times when a detour is also actually a part of predestination I suppose.I remembered the story of Abraham and Sarah. When God asked Abraham to leave his homeland, Abraham and Sarah packed up their little family and began the journey. However, just as they were starting to make some headway, a famine struck and the couple suddenly found themselves detouring into Egypt. But the curious thing is that when they left, Scripture says that they traveled right back to where they started.…”to the place where his tent had been at the beginning…” (Genesis 13:3 ESV).This story convinced me that everything has a purpose – even the detours. Even the difficulties. Even the desert roads and the mountain bends.
As I turned a bend from Kurseong towards Dowhill and again a diversion the road became unfamiliar to my driver.We reached a shaded village called Bagora. Chimney is located 8 km uphill from the heart of Kurseong. The road from Bagora was accompanied by lush beautiful trees called Japanese Cedar locally known as Dhupi Sallaa which further intensified the joy of a detour on the stunning hilly slopes.The embalming silence was only broken by some chirping of birds.In listening to the strange sounds I realised with every chirp the birds had a different tune , maybe it was like human conversation with voice modulations.
Chimney, gets its name from a 23-foot high chimney that was probably built during World War I and used by British officers.The quiet hamlet of Chimney at 6,800 ft and the neighbouring villages of Mazua, Seemkharka, Kochegaon, Khundruke, Simantar and Chaitepani are nestled in the midst of thick forests.The Old Military Road on which we travelled was one of the cleanest and most smooth road I travelled in the hills.The solitary 23-feet Chimney is the only evidence of the Dak-Bangalow which existed in this area in the former times. Erected around 1839 by British, the Dak Bungalow got entirely divested over time. It got worn away leaving behind its only central fireplace in the form of Chimney. Eventually, the Chimney rightfully shared it’s title to the Village.Chimney is not merely a nature lovers’ paradise, for those who love basking in the melodious silence of nature Chimney won’t disappoint. Overlooking the Teesta and Mahananda Chimney was a beautiful escape.
My quest for silence and peace found its destination , the gentle breeze over time loved planting occasional kisses on my cheeks , my frizzy hair got ruffled as it covered my eyes . I took no effort to flick off the hair, sitting on the elevated grassland with some warm thupka which my driver got for me as well as for him I thought life as well might come to a stop.
This detour was happiness no doubt but it also made me question several things in life in general. Is purpose and direction important in life , do we chart it out or direction itself finds a way in our life. I was convinced detours are important in travel as well as life …uncharted detours.They do not come announced but when it knocks do open your heart. This is not to say that detours won’t be sad or frustrating or challenging. There will be detours that are and when we are ready to experience a richer and more abundant life enfolds.Even if it doesn’t feel like that “in the moment”, there is abundance waiting only to be allowed in.
A detour is an opportunity to see things anew. Not always the way we probably look at road construction.And such is life. Just as my driver was in two minds over the roundabout, I thought, what if we looked at life detours through a different lens? What if we looked at life’s detours as something to embrace?
Taking a detour is the only way to keep moving forward in life I guess.We always have a choice as to what that detour will be. And that’s a choice of our attitude and the path we choose to take. When we can see the positive, the good that’s out there – those detours in life can be very life-fulfilling. Taking a few detours along the way – and really experiencing them. Meet new people. Build new relationships. Develop new ideas. The list is endless. Especially if we’re open to seeing the possibilities that exist on these “detours” life often throws at us.
By the time we were getting back to Siliguri via the Pankhabari Road with a wealth of sharp turns, Ashok, my driver had a bright smile on his eyes.Looking through the glass he asked me about my flight time. With no idea what was on his mind I told him it was at 5 pm, he looked at his watch it was just past 1 pm and we were already approaching the plains. With a shy smile Ashok asked whether we could go for another detour. Another detour in a day ….did not want to disappoint him, for I thought the joy of knowing the unknown was being enjoyed by him now.I agreed within a minute and off we took another detour at Pannihata to go to Dudhia. I googled and saw that it was a little village besides the Balasaon River.
Driving past a beautiful road lined with tea bushes we hit a check post dotted with shops selling basic momos and wai wai. We had reached the banks of the river.Overlooking the checkpost was the most beautiful bridge I ever saw in life which supposedly went towards Mirik. It was a May afternoon with overcast skies and could not spot another tourist.Yet to see the Balason river, I was dazed at the sight of the shining bridge to nowhere,I began descending towards the banks.The other end of the bridge seemed to vanish in the darkness of the forests.I crossed big and small boulders and reached the river.In a word it was mystically beautiful. Balason is the kind of the picturesque river shown in Bollywood movies where the lady romances his man dancing over boulders and the man bathing her in the mountain waters.
I had to be bare footed when I was in the middle of such a gurgling river. I put my feet into the cold water and I felt like getting drenched in the first rains of April.The freshness not only touched my exteriors, it percolated deep inside, trickled into my senses as I began to feel at peace with all my doubts in life.I lost count of time as I sensed every little wave touching and receding. It was akin to intervals of being hugged by your mom. Ashok was back spotting that shy smile which was now a bit jubilant as he was happy that his suggestion of detour was as beautiful as mine.
It was time to leave for the airport and as if the finale was waiting, grey clouds collecting overhead burst and as I walked towards the car over the boulders I was drenched with little droplets over my hands, eyes and forehead. It felt like I was returning after a pilgrimage.For a pilgrimage of the soul I don’t need Pushkar or Haridwar , a quaint mountain stream did that to me.It purified, it strengthened and it embalmed.
Most of us are taught the importance of planning, the necessity of being highly structured and organized in life.Known for being unorganized, spontaneity has been part of my life, away from mindlessly existing within the confines of predictability. Chimney and Dudhia these sudden detours taught me to embrace things as they come, we can hardly write our routes of life, they are pre written, we can only force a roundabout.
It was April 2019, precisely a year back that I went on a holiday to Kurseong. People were surprised at my choice for Kurseong,for it has often been neglected as the less beautiful sibling of the Queen of the Hills -Darjeeling. Kurseong is at best a stop over for a hot plate of momo en route Darjeeling or a one day sightseeing trip squeezed in. I wanted leisure and I wanted a respite from schedules, itineraries and time lines. Just a couple of days before the trip I realized that my trip had clashed with the dates of the Lok Sabha elections there. I remained undettered and looked forward to soak in the election fever of the sleepy town.I did not choose any luxurious resorts or tea garden home stays.I planned to put up at the wooden bungalow of Kurseong Tourist Lodge which had lot of memories of a second flush tea and soft chicken sandwiches on way to Darjeeling with my parents.The skylights, the tall pines and firs had remained etched in my thoughts for long and wanted to experience it all in silence and happiness.About 60 km from the airport at Bagdogra, Kurseong nestles among undulating valleys, mountain flowers and the winding DHR railway track. The route to Kurseong is picturesque as the road trudges along the old tracks of the DHR. I was lucky enough to go past a steam engine of the heritage toy train.The whistles,the smoke, the colors of the engine added to the sculptured beauty of the road.
The original inhabitants, named their home “Kurseong”, because every spring it was alive and bright with Kurson-Rip orchids. Kurseong is a Lepcha word (the original inhabitants of this area) and it means the white orchid of the eastern Himalayas. The name was apparently given by a European researcher who was researching on an exotic variety of white orchid that could only be found at the height of Kurseong i.e. 4500 feet from sea level. Kurseong was a part of the Sikkim kingdom, before the British came to India. However around 1780 the Nepalese conquered and annexed Kurseong and its surrounding areas. After loosing the Gurkha War, the Nepalese ceded Kurseong to do of the British. Although a road was built from Kurseong to Darjeeling from Titalia in the 1770s and 1780s, its irregular maintenance soon made the new route, the Military Road, almost useless. The new route Hill Cart Road opened in 1861 and fared better . Kurseong is one of the oldest municipalities in the state of West Bengal. Established as an independent Municipality in 1879, it did not become a Sub-Division until 1890, when the District of Darjeeling was formed. Kurseong was added to the Rajshahi Division by the British Raj . In 1908, it was transferred to the Bhagalpur Division in the same Presidency. In 1939, when Bengal became a province of British India, Kurseong was allowed to elect its own member as the chairman, but the British Raj continued to send ward commissioners until India gained independence.
It was a morning flight that I took from Kolkata and reached the idyllic sleepy town of Kurseong in time for a brunch at the tourist lodge.The tourist lodge at Kurseong has an old world charm,a wooden bungalow with screeching stairs,huge skylights,large windows which open into the undulating valley.My favourite window seat at the dining hall was empty and as I opened the panes and a flash of cold air swept by my cheeks . I opened my eyes and heart to the world,the mist,the green and the blue mountains far far away.The mountains across the valley from Kurseong looks like a distant dream,dreams which can be fulfilled but can also flow away.As I sat with the golden brew-a cup of first flush I wanted to dream wild and as I looked out of the skylight the red spiral of the church and the pines and firs whispered happiness to my ears.
The smiling elderly employee took me to Room 201,and as I entered the room I was happy-wooden walls,a cosy bed ,an ornate mirror, glass windows and a huge balcony.One of the best rooms of the property, it was a room with a view. Wide glass windows, overlooking the peak and the undulating slopes and a balcony which was hanging delicately on the slopes.It was cloudy with a haze, a haze which often overcrowds my vision ,my life goals I thought. Took a quick shower and curled up to the bed with another cup of second flush from Makaibari and waited for my car to arrive.Since it was a day of hectic election campaigning, the young smiling manager of the tourist Lodge took pains to get me a car for some places I wanted to go to.Mountains have always a calming influence on me and as I had dozed off for a nap my phone rang and It was time to get dressed.
A stop at the beautiful Margaret’s Deck tea lounge, a cup of Castleton second flush and a slice of a carrot cake,beautiful views of the valley and I was on an uphill ride towards Downhill.Seeing the wild flowers in myriad colors I wished to be one such nameless flower on a hill slope next life. The mauves,pinks and yellows perching, peeping across walls and across the slopes were at peace with their lives…privileged to watch life and grow as they wished…no deadlines,no expectations, no roles to be emulated to perfection.The road to Dowhill was one of the most splendid roads that I have travelled. It reminded me of poems about wooded forests and the long unwinding roads of life that poets often wrote about.The dark misty road appeared to me just out of the Scottish highlands as dark clouds came down embracing me in its soft cuddles.I could almost feel the moistness of their embrace.As my car stopped at one of the dark woods I looked up the sky and could remember all the geography lessons where I was taught about the types of clouds-the cumulonimbus etc.
Boarding schools had always an illusive charm to me.Whenever I played truant when I was a kid my Ma would often reprimand me by threatening that I would be put in a boarding school.Not that it intimidated me much,infact I pined for it,the Enid Blyton stories of midnight feasts and life at boarding schools drew a very rosy picture of a life of a boarder.Perhaps I never disobeyed my parents to the extent that I was really sent off with my suitcase.The trip to Dowhill made me excited.It was my dream school of childhood.Nestled among the blue sky,overlooking dark woods with pines and firs, the facade of the school itself evokes a liking for the place.The altars,the classrooms,the church,the dining hall wore a deserted look as the school was closed for the summer recess. I left my car at the corner and walked up the winding road till Victoria Boys School.The road had a strange feeling of loneliness…stories about the ghosts crowded my mind. Dowhill and Victoria Boys School keeps on the legacy of a boarding school culture,excellence in sports ,debates.A look back into the history of the school which I wish could be my school in next life.
The general belief is that Dowhill was named after a lovely little bird called “Dow” (in a local tribal dialect) which used to frequent the place. In 1879, Sir Ashley Eden, the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, wanted to start a Government School for boys and girls of Government servants belonging to the middle and low income group. A house called ‘Constantia’ was bought and repaired for the purpose of a residential school. In August 1879 the first batch of 16 children arrived at the school. Soon ‘Constantia’ was found to be too small for the growing school. It was shifted to Dow Hill, where the Railway Offices were vacated and the Railway Quarters at Dow Hill were handed over to the Education Department. Dow Hill site was considered more suitable because the air was very pleasant and there was abundance of water. Mr. Edward Pegler was the first Headmaster of the school; he was assisted by his wife. The Peglers worked alone till 1885. The school then had 103 students. However, in 1887, the coeducation system was discontinued in the best interest of the school. The school was run entirely for the boys for a decade. The boys’ school was shifted to its new building in the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria and it was renamed as Victoria Boys’ School. Sir Charles Elliot, who had provided funds for the new building wished to reopen the girls’ school in Dow Hill where it had been before. In 1898 the girls’ school was started again in the old building of the school.. Mr. Edward Pegler, the Headmaster, was transferred to Alipur in 1901. Mrs. E. Pegler became the first Headmistress of Dow Hill Girls’ School in 1898.Till the 1950’s the Headmistresses of Dow Hill School were Europeans or Anglo-Indians. Miss Latika Ray was the first Indian Headmistress of Dow Hill School. The last Anglo-Indian Headmistress was Miss R. E. Ballantine, who retired in 1970.
I moved uphill to visit the Kurseong Deer Park.Quite high in altitude ,the place was damp,there were no deers around,but dense forests around made the cold unbearable.The silence of the place was eerie,the lone Nepali lady selling vegetarian momos,Nepali Alu Dum and Titora was the only person in sight.Sat in the wooded area for a while but as I saw dark clouds descending I decided to warm myself up with the freshly made alur dum. The alur dum was deliciously spicy,as the frail lady garnished it with some alu bhujia. I finished two bowls of it with a slurping sound quite audible to my ears.The frail lady slipped a packet of titora in my hands as she talked about her house,her spouse,her village,the cinchona plantations and her very difficult life.Yet her warm reassuring smile attempted to tell me that there is always a silver lining to all dark clouds.Little did I realise that I would be able to see the silver lining soon enough.
The next stop was the Forest School of the state government, a training institute for freshly recruited forest officials.The museum at the premises is worth your time.The keeper of the museum was hesitant about letting me in as there was a power failure.I reassured that I would be fine with the natural lights.The old wooden building with near dilapidated stairs,the greyish darkness with little streams of sunlight streaming in,the caracas of wild animals,remnants of flora and fauna well preserved.At one time I felt a little eerie too.But the visit to the museum will remain an experience to savor.The Central Academy of Forest Education college was established in 1927, the only Rangers’ College in the country under the direct control of the Government of India.The College Building was said to be constructed during late 19th Century. It along with its landed property was once a property of St Mary’s Seminary .
As my car took a sharp turn downhill I saw the new campus of Presidency College being built. Kurseong would soon get another institute of higher learning.As we descended downhill across one of the most artistic roads had ever seen,I thought that the best artist had played with his brush at leisure.
The next destination was the museum at Giddapahar housing precious memorablia about Netaji Subhas Chandra Basu. It was a beautiful house with a rush of colors around and as I entered the museum it was like a flight back to history.Handwritten presidential address of the Haripura Session of the Congress,numerous correspondence between Netaji and his wife presented Netaji in his various facets.The family photographs are well treasured.Sarat Chandra Bose purchased the house in 1922 from Rowley Lascelles Ward. Between 1933 and 1935, Sarat Chandra was interned for 2 years in this house. Netaji, who was placed in this house for 7 months under house arrest by the British Government in India. Netaji again visited this house in October 1937. It is said that Netaji wrote his address for the Haripura Congress from this house.The museum also has in its collection several letters written by Netaji to his wife , Emily.A couple of weeks before his death in Darjeeling on 16 June 1925, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das too visited this house.
As I entered the sleepy town which was not so sleepy on the eve of the Lok Sabha Election thought of making a stop at the iconic Kurseong Railway Station.It is not a broad gauge railway station with level crossings, overhead bridges, it is an idyllic station of the heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- the toy train in common parlance.It looks straight out of British countryside, people relaxing with newspapers, senior citizens in groups, the red letter box with a lock that probably has not been opened hor long, a small but tasteful station masters room and a forlorn ticket counter.The station houses a museum of the DHR and as I was keen to see the artifacts and documents of the DHR, I met the stationmaster.An young man from Bihar quite unhappy with his posting at this little station he was quite warm.He asked me to come back the next day, though it was the day of the election.Since it was late afternoon and dusk descends on hill slopes suddenly, it would be ideal if I could visit tomorrow, he said. As I was walking away from the station, I saw a sudden stream of activity and the thrilling whistle of the toy train. It was one of the few steam engines still functioning and with a chain of smoke making circles in the air it entered Kurseong Station.Remembered a toy train ride with a friend a decade back where we had purchased tickets from an agent, at a premium price.Actually we had got the tickets from black market and since we were two women frantically looking around for the queue, a women in her late 40’s approached us with the ticket. It was peak season time and we had no other option but to accept the offer.
Driving past the TV Centre and after a climb of a few steep stairs I reached Eagles Craig.Once you make your way up the spiral staircase to this steel-caged observatory – the viewpoint, you are in for an unparalleled visual treat. Revel in stunning panoramic views of the mighty mountains as well as lush green slopes around the small town of Kurseong with the river Teesta snaking its way through the valley.I witnessed the sky change colours from yellow to orange and then to a bright red, as the sun sets behind the mountains. Breathing in the fresh mountain air, the views took my breath away nearly. The orange dusk with the grey clouds will be remembered for ever.With a memorial for the Gorkha warriors, the place abounds with the white orchids after which Kurseong is named.As the sun was sliding across the horizon ,the little town became ablaze as on fire, not a untamed one but one resembling the dying flames of a barbecue.
Back to the tourist lodge under the comforting blanket and a fragrant cup of the golden liquor,I sat through seeing the photos.As the night got darker and little lights fluttered like a diamond from the mountains across I could not resist sitting in the balcony..The balcony does not have walls in between and form a continuous line with the other balconies. There was an openness about it.Began chatting with this elderly couple who seemed to enjoy their vintage togetherness.With a peg of single Malt down the couple whom I called uncle and aunt now began humming Tagore songs.They chose the most sensitive ones which overflow with emotions of love and longing. I could feel the wetness on my cheeks which I enjoyed to the brim.A dinner of khichuri and fried chicken served in the balcony itself , the night seemed soulful.I popped on two rum filled chocolates and shared some with the elderly couple…a perfect desert with the tum oozing out as if life was oozing out with everything good and beautiful. The night was one of my most memorable ones till date,every little sound of the hills were audible, the distant car passing by occassionally, the snoring sound of the elderly couple from the next room, I lay awake most of the night tucked into the mellow warmth of the soft blanket as I thought that charting new emotions and crossing self laid boundaries is not always bad.It might be laden with possibilities of happiness.Maybe my world changes after that night.With such thoughts and fleeting dreams , woke up late and over several cups of tea made my days plan.
The day should not have plans.The tourist lodge was abuzz with activities with central observers, police personnel and election officials.Most of the staff were away on leave , the dining room was open to the boarders alone.After a rather late breakfast of minced egg and mustard sandwich in soft white bread , a cup of strong Americano I thought of venturing out.The young manager of the tourist lodge was not happy with my intent to walk on empty roads. On my insistence he relented but tucked in a paper with his mobile number written on it in case I needed it.
Walking directionless on unknown streets on an Election Day is novel,never have I done it,or never will I ever get to do it in near future.Walked the winding streets to get to the railway museum of the DHR.The station master had kept the keys ready but could not find the ticket booklet given by UNESCO for heritage museum.After a wait for about half an hour signed in the register and realized the museum was having a visitor after nearly a year.From the earliest road map of the DHR, the naming of the stations,to the first signaling systems,to the couches,to the cutlery, to the medicine box it had all of it nicely preserved.Loved to see the instruction manuals,the appraisal reports of the train drivers, the old tickets,the clocks, the cloak room mirrors.The station was deserted than usual days.Crossed the track to the other side and peeped into the now defunct NF Railway Printing Press,the Priyo Gupta Cottage.A walking distance from there past some crowded hotel area I then visited the Loco Shed.On display was one of the oldest steam engines with chimneys which probably wants to get back to work again.The pains of being static to once mobile life can best be felt in days of the Lockdown now.
As it was nearing afternoon and had to back in time for lunch, I began walking way back past police patrols, an occasional voter going back after casting his vote , a dog lazing in the afternoon sun, wild flowers looking more beautiful in empty roads.I picked up some yak churpi and two packets of Titora from the only shop which had its shutters open. The car of the central observer went past and the officer from Telengana who you was staying at the Toutist Lodge waved back.Lunch with an old style chicken roast served with baby potatoes and carrots was sorted ,the dining room was empty and with the sky clearing up could see the pristine Kanchanjungha looking across.
An afternoon nap and some quick chat with friends followed by a walk uphill to the church opposite. The Good Friday service was in progress ,sat in the church for some time and tried understanding the service conducted in the local language.The church with white orchid offerings, beautiful glass panes, heritage oil paintings, and the last rays of the sinking sun gleaming through made it look holy and peaceful. Taking a sharp turn from the church walked up to see the Elysia Place which was the DHR headquarters location,a beautiful wooden creaking bungalow, it was sadly closed for the day. On my way down saw a signage of the building Churchgate which was the halt for DHR officials .The Kurseong Station was located here till 1896 before it moved to the present location.
The best moment of the trip was when I stood their at the forlorn tracks strewn with dried leaves of some unnamed trees looking ahead.The track turned in the next bend and could not see much beyond,only imagined the track moving up to the next station at Sonada. This is also life, we try to look beyond the present, predict, plan but everything is destined for it’s own history. Can’t see life beyond the next turn.
Back to the hotel the setting sun from my balcony looked as if it was on fire.Yet it was not that kind of a fire which devastated or ruined,it was those pleasant orange hues which sent the word of hope,of renewal of life and love not lost.The sun even being tired after it’s long journey through the day made efforts to lookthrough the dark clouds over and over again .This again is akin to our daily struggle of life- joys and sorrows and efforts to overcome that sorrow.. a perennial duel with the self.
The danger of Corona virus lurking around-unknown,unfathomable has made our lives different.Different,difficult but not bad in totality.The lockdown is sure a breather for busy lives, an opportunity to rebond, spend some quality time with family,engage in long forgotten hobbies and in short reboot our lives lost in alleys of conflict and competition.The lockdown has a rather grave impact on the teeming millions who earn their livelihood by means of a daily wage. One such sector was the dairy industry where it was impossible to stop production and there was a possibility of wastage of milk in context of absence of transport and logistics.Within a week of the lockdown,the West Bengal government announced the lifting of restrictions on sweet shops across Bengal,though they were allowed to function between 12 noon to 4 pm.
The need to restock led me to the local market and seeing the queue in front of the local sweet shop or mishtir dokan I thought that Bengali’s indulge in passion and they do it with all seriousness of purpose. Bengali’s indeed have a sweet tooth and has a never dying passion for sweets which surpasses the fear of the unknown virus.People of all ages came smiling out of the shop with several packets in their hand. The smile on their face was akin to the satisfaction when one is able to crack a difficult interview or when one gets a long awaited nod from their fiance.Sweets play an important role in the everyday life of a Bengali—almost an inseparable part of the population’s cuisine and culture.No life cycle ritual is complete without an exchange of sweets.Ancient Hindu texts over two thousand years ago mention of sweet offerings to God. The Indian gods are renowned for their sweet tooth,so are their people.
The liking for sweets is hardwired among Indians irrespective of region,age and gender. Sweetness, as Sidney Mintz shows, is intrinsically linked to Britain’s colonial history. The history of sugar is closely tied to the two other global commodities that was responsible for transatlantic trade and forced labour—tea and coffee. Interestingly, sugar can be added to both tea and coffee. Mintz shows that if it were not for industrial Britain’s fetish for sweetened tea, the increase in consumption of sugar would not have achieved its peak. While on one hand sugar became synonymous with sweetness, another product that has been used across sweet dishes throughout the world is milk. Milk figure in the Old Testament as symbols of abundance and creation. Bipradas Mukhopadhyay in his book Mishtanna Pak lists different kinds of milk starting from milk of cows, goats, ewes, water buffaloes to camels. Apart from being tasty and energizing it was also the common man’s food.In Bengal milk and rice became synonymous with a prosperous comfortable life.Milk is often an analogy used in myths and folktales like rivers of milk to denote prosperity and happiness.
Much of the milk used in the kitchen disappears into a mixture-a batter, a custard mix or a pudding.India has a large number of variations on the theme of cooked down milk many of them dating back a thousand years. “For sheer inventiveness with milk as the primary ingredient, no country on earth can match India.”– Harold McGee. The warm climate and the necessity to keep the milk from souring led to two ways-either boiling it repeatedly till it cooked down to a brown ,solid paste with little moisture or by curdling them with heat and lime juice.The drained curd forms a soft moist mass known as channa which is often used as a base of sweets when mixed with a sweetening agent.
Milk is the pan-Indian intermediate base of sweet preparation.Medieval poems refer to deserts where milk was the basis. Paramanno – a concoction of rice and milk was offered to gods and became a feature of festive meals and rituals.Milk is one of the basic base to which grains of various kinds can be added to cook a pudding – a payesh or kheer. The first reference to payasam can be traced to a Jain Buddhist text from around 400BC. In the text Manasollasa ,King Someshwara mentions of payasam to be had in the middle of the meal before proceeding to other savory preparations.
In Bengal known as payesh and prepared from a special variety of short-grained sundried rice, milk and sweetening agent (sugar or molasses), this dish has many versions across Asia. There are many varieties of rice or cereals that can be used for this dish. Historian K.T. Achaya describes Kheer as the ritual food and argues that the term is derived ‘from the Sanskrit word Ksheer for milk and Kshīrika for any dish prepared with milk’ . This dish acquires a new name with each topographical region.A similar dish like payesh was used by Romans as a stomach coolant and as a detox diet.
Payesh is mostly cooked in Bengal with short grained aromatic rice and with date palm jaggery or nolengur. Variations of payesh like chhana-r payesh is also common. In the last quarter of the 19th-century, the first recipe book dedicated to sweets was Mistannapak written by Bipradas Mukherjee. This book has 26 varieties of payesh. They include Nalen gur-er payesh (made with jaggery), Luchi-r payesh (made with shredded pieces of fried discs of bread from flour called luchi), Chira r-payesh (with flattened or beaten rice), Alu-r payesh (with boiled cubes of potato), Bonde-r payesh (made with small droplets of sweet prepared from gramflour), Kancha aam-er payesh ( with raw mango), Kochi lau-er payesh (unripened bottle gourd), Suji-r payesh (payesh made with semolina), Komolalebu-r payesh (with oranges), Kanthal bichi-r payesh (the jackfruit seed) and even Piyanj-er payesh(a payesh made with onions).
Eating within available resources has been a necessity in the days of lockdown. Though the neighborhood mishti shops were doing brisk business but I preferred making some of my own from available ingredients. A morning routine for me has been to inspect the refrigerator looking for vegetables which were drying up or were lone in their existence.One afternoon, a day before the Bengali New Year came across a couple of sweet potatoes.The craving for sweets was at its maximum as well as the necessity and tradition of making a payesh for Bengali New Year made me think of a payesh made from the sweet potatoes.For this I grated the sweet potatoes and soaked it in water for an hour.I rinsed it well to get rid of the starch.In the meantime I boiled the milk and reduced it a bit.Added a few cardamoms while reducing the milk. Over ghee I sauted the rinsed and dried sweet potatoes till they were light brown in color.Added this sauted potatoes to the milk and let it boil till the potatoes were down.I had half a can of condensed milk and added this for sweetness.You can add plain sugar or jaggery according to the sweetness desired.Added some raisins and cashews.If you want you can fry the raisins and cashews in ghee before adding it to the milk.At the end I added a drop of rose water. You can add saffron too.
The fun part of doing this payesh is that it is fast,the potatoes take little time to cook and thickens the milk quick.The best part is that you will keep your guests guessing as to what went in for the payesh. My experience says that of all the times I made this payesh only once did a guest guessed it right. Do try it during these hard pressed days of lockdown and even after we have been successful in fighting this virus as part of your dinner spread.
Seeing people queuing up for hours outside hyper markets for essential foodstuffs overlooking health hazards and norms of social distancing and also suffering from pangs of anxiety on how to keep the kitchen fire on, I remembered the 80’s when most middle and upper class households had ration cards and weekly visits to the ration shops yielded sugar,whole wheat flour, the Bangalipi copies in specific quantities allotted to every member of the household. With the 90’s we were flooded with choices and with mushrooming of departmental stores, the rationing system went out of popularity among middle class households in the cities. Open racks displaying a variety in consum inables, prospect of credit card payments etc made us forget the possibility of being able to live on limited supplies.We began buying indiscriminately, stocking up and often wasting stuff.We became addicted to high sugar,high calorie and preserved foods thereby increasing our sugar and cholesterol levels nationwide as well as worldwide.
The advent and rage of novel Corona virus changed all such consumption patterns worldwide and in a sense changed people across nations. Anxiety about the unknown, an explainable fear,social distancing,separation from loved ones in cities across nations and continents,jumbled emotions and a high incidence of stress are common worldwide irrespective of social or economic status. Anxiety about aging parents living in a different city, complaining kids and sulking friends is making things worse.The challenge is two fold – to build up stores during the days of the lock down,to maintain the supplies and then to cook two meals for the family using as little of the fresh vegetables,chicken,fish, dry provisions so painstakingly stocked up. With the entire family around and helping each other it is always good to see a smile in their face at the end of the day and a smile is best got from a hearty meal.The meal I am cooking is following a general rule that it should not be elaborate using exotic ingredients, it can be a one pot meal providing the daily dose of calories from carbohydrate,proteins and minerals and the lunch can be doubled up as dinner throwing in certain variations. Someday a brunch is ideal saving up on one meal.To use up left overs,to think rationally when planning a meal,to use oil,butter and eggs judiciously, to innovate and be creative is all that we need in the kitchen now.
Yesterday when my milk and bread stores were nearing depletion, I thought of nations subsisting on rationed provisions for years during World War I and particularly during World War II.Living on less is difficult but not impossible.If we survive the Corona ,the world will be no doubt a bit different.We will be better individuals learning to respect little pleasures,little boons and small blessings. We will probably start counting our blessings.History has taught that nations do survive on less and come out stronger out of it.
Reports in the social media about supermarts like TESCO in UK rationing goods like antibacterial gels, wipes and sprays, dry pasta, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables made me study the history of food rationing. The rules of rationing are applicable in stores as well as online.While Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Iceland and Lidl have not made changes to their opening times, several of the supermarket chains have introduced dedicated shopping hours for the elderly, vulnerable customers, NHS and social care workers. Sainsbury’s is allowing customers to buy a maximum of three of any single item, while Morrisons said it is limiting purchases across 1,250 lines. Asda also announced that it is restricting shoppers to three items on all food and Aldi has already introduced limits of four items per shopper across all products. In essence all such measures amounts to rationing and probably soon in India too we will toe such rules of limited buying.
A look back in times
During the beginning of the Second World War, Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries. The Germans used battleships and submarines to hunt down and sink British merchant vessels on sea. With imports of food declining, the British government decided to introduce a system of rationing. This involved every householder registering with their local shops. The shopkeeper was then provided with enough food for his or her registered customers.In January 1940 bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. This was followed by meat, fish, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit. In the summer of 1940 the government established a committee of nutritional experts to advise the War Cabinet on food policy. The committee issued a report claiming that each citizen could survive on twelve ounces of bread, a pound of potatoes, two ounces of oatmeal, an ounce of fat, six ounces of vegetables and six-tenths of a pint of milk per day, supplemented either by small amounts of cheese, pulses, meat, fish, sugar, eggs and dried fruit. Allowances fluctuated throughout the war, but on average one adult’s weekly ration was 113 gm bacon and ham (about 4 thin slices), one shilling and ten pence worth of meat (about 227 gm minced beef), 57 gm butter, 57 gm cheese, 113 gm margarine, 113 gm cooking fat, 3 pints of milk, 227 gm sugar, 57 gm tea and 1 egg. Other foods such as canned meat, fish, rice, condensed milk, breakfast cereals, biscuits and vegetables were available but in limited quantities on a points system.The food rationing system gave people the opportunity to obtain a balanced diet and as a result the health of the nation improved during this period.People were encouraged to provide their own food. The government’s campaign called for every man and woman to keep an allotment. Lawns and flower-beds were turned into vegetable gardens. Chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs were reared in town gardens.
Clothing too was rationed from June, 1941. A points system allowed people to buy one completely new outfit a year. To save fabric, men’s trousers were made without turn ups, while women’s skirts were short and straight. Frills on women’s underwear were banned.Women’s magazines were packed with handy hints on how, for example, old curtains might be cut up to make a dress. Stockings were in short supply so girls coloured their legs with gravy browning .In May 1943, the annual clothing coupon allowance was cut from 48 to 36 per adult.
Second World War, America and food rationing
The situation was same in America too.As the 1940s dawned, Americans faced the looming threat of World War II with warfare and food shortages spreading throughout the European continent. During World War II Americans responded quickly to the government’s calls for soldiers and adherence to a host of home front programs established to support the war effort. Food rationing, as one of the first civilian programs established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, became a central component of the American home-front experience. Women made conscious and sometimes difficult choices to support elements of the government’s food rationing program. Yet, women rationed their family’s food on their own terms and for their own reasons.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous maxim “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” hints at the connection between food and identity. Identity emerges as a result of both the types of foods one consumes and the thought behind the action of consumption. Beyond mere personal tastes and preferences, food choices disclose an individual’s station in society; food is given significance by how it is narratively framed and by its significance within the community or nation. Sugar and Red Meat served as linchpins of American identity and held distinct meanings for consumers in the 1940s. Amy Bentley’s Eating for Victory succinctly argues that wartime Americans held engendered views of these two items. The rationing of culturally feminized sugar meant limits on purchase amounts, and home front baking and preserving, challenged housewives’ ability to maintain the prewar standard of a full cookie jar. In a modern sense, cutting sugar intake seems prudent. However, in the 1940s sugar was regarded as an important energy-giving substance and even nutrition experts agreed with widespread consumption. Likewise red meat, considered the bible in healthy eating during the 1940s, also held strong connotations. Red meat conjured masculine discourse which meant many felt it vital for those actively fighting or producing for the war.
Food Rationing, Frugal meals and American Women
As American women sought to negotiate the strictures of the OPA food rationing program while remaining true to their commitment as preservers of American culture, some inventive efforts aimed at redefining cultural meanings so as to make unappealing items more acceptable occurred. Perhaps the best example of the transmutation of food meanings on the home front comes from the journey of ethnic foods into the mainstream diet. Many cookbooks and women’s magazines pushed the housewife to attempt feeding the family with exotic ethnic cuisine during the war because these ingredients were often more available and ration friendly. While these newly discovered foods didn’t necessarily appeal to the American palate in their most authentic forms, recipes underwent some alteration with respect to taste and meaning. Foods once considered true expressions of immigrant culture that carried negative connotations were reborn as patriotic experiments from the kitchen. Eating broccoli , mustard greens gained value. Molasses became fodder for patriotic cooking. Molasses gained widespread acceptance and even started a craze over spice and molasses cookies during the war became popular. Many Americans saw molasses as an ethnic food from the American South, but embraced it’s strangeness as it allowed women to bake without the use of sugar. Propaganda messages regarding directed at influencing housewives to ration food in accordance with the OPA program became state directed.The general goal of this propaganda remained the same throughout the war: convince housewives to cheerfully adhere to the food rationing program by using patriotic and democratic imagery. In 1943 the Office of War Information published a propaganda poster aimed at convincing housewives to democratically share available foods, especially the much hoarded coffee. A poster depicted a young white serviceman wearing a combat helmet, smiling and holding a large tin coffee mug. The taglines on the poster read “Do with less- so they’ll have enough!” and proclaims “Rationing gives you your fair share”. Within weeks of American entry into World War II coffee became the first commodity to disappear from grocers’ shelves and tempted many women to hoard coffee as they remembered the drastic shortages endemic to the First World War. The final, and perhaps most revealing series of OWI food-rationing posters, which met with housewife support, addressed the issue of canning foods and vegetables.
Propaganda pushed housewives to can foods instead of buying canned food at the grocery store .Many Americans living in rural areas, and the working poor already planted gardens and preserved foods for future kitchen use. Gardening a portion of one’s food supply, either as a part of traditional lifestyles or as a necessity began during the Great Depression and remained popular throughout the war years. By 1944 Americans tended over twenty-million individual gardens which produced 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. Secondly, canning and preserving foods remained an almost entirely female pursuit. By canning, women demonstrated their mastery over the domestic sphere and simultaneously insured food stability for the family. The message on the poster “Can All You Can” is emblazoned across the label of an empty quart canning jar sitting atop a variety of luscious fresh vegetables.
Recipes for Frugal Meals
Women’s publications encouraged a communal relationship with food. Just as the OPA’s announcements, radio shows, and posters worked to inspire adherence to food rationing programs, cookbooks and magazines also served a basic purpose. Cookbooks have long been a vehicle for women to express their beliefs, culture, and build authority on domestic affairs. While many larger national publications, such as the American classic The Joy of Cooking, could not totally rearrange and restructure their books to discuss rationing, they did make sizeable efforts to touch upon the issue. These national publications created wartime supplements with advice and supposedly ration-friendly recipes, alongside new introductions which acknowledged both the role of women in the war and the uniquely female understanding of patriotic action popular among housewives. The largest publications, such as the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, tended to marginalize their response to food rationing by building war sections or special addendum to their normal cookbook content instead of integrating their advice throughout the cookbook. Some cookbook authors chose to highlight the war and food rationing through the recipes they published during the war years. these authors shared basic meal planning and points planning advice. They echoed varying levels of support for the OPA’s food rationing program, mimicking propaganda from the first two years of the war that emphasized the democratic nature of rationing. Marjory Mills’ Cooking on a Ration brightly proclaims “food is still fun” in the face of rationing and fears of food shortages. Mills begins her cookbook by admonishing her readers to have faith in food rationing and reminding them to stick with the childhood lesson of sharing. She tells her readers, “we’re relearning that lesson now where food is concerned, only it’s global sharing of the chocolate bar, the juicy steak, the can of soup.”
Sugar rationing and shortages caused stress for housewives. Corn syrup became the most common sugar substitute in most cookbooks, although author’s disagreed upon the exact amount needed for an equal exchange in recipes. The Gardeners’ Cook Book argued a proper substitution called for two cups of corn syrup for every single cup of sugar. Conversely, the cookbook Cook’s Away, which targeted those learning culinary arts for the first time or those going without a cook due to labor shifts caused by the war, called for substituting half the sugar in a recipe with corn syrup. Another author advocated an equal swap of syrup for sugar, but cautions “this will not be as sweet”. Gertrude Voellmig’s Wartime Cooking Guide advises housewives “baking and cooking of other sweets can be managed if sugar substitutes are made to help stretch rations.” Cookbook authors also suggested alternative methods for producing desserts without the use of any sugar at all. Harriet Hester’s book devoted to saving sugar reminded housewives to use fruit juices from canned fruit as a sweetener for gelatin and to cook with dried fruits in order to add sweetness without sugar.
With the OPA order to ration meats under the rather complicated red point scheme, housewives found another mealtime and cultural staple threatened. Meat held great cultural currency for wartime families, who had just survived the economic rigors of the Great Depression. Sitting down to a meal built around a juicy steak, pot roast, or baked chicken symbolized a return to normalcy and affluence for the middle class. Even Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “freedom from want” depicted the ideal of a roasted turkey on every American table. Nonetheless, when meat became rationed, housewives responded positively and searched out methods for maintaining family standards while contributing to military needs by reserving the abundance of American produced meat for servicemen. When Saidee Leach’s son wrote her from his Navy ship in the Pacific and expressed his happiness with eating steak in the military mess hall, she optimistically replied “No, I am not envious of your eating steak, for we want you men to have the best.” She then continued in her letter to describe her success in wrangling a piece of utility grade meat into an edible dish with the assistance of ketchup. Cookbooks offered recipes and ideas for extending meat such as adding vegetables, sauces, cereals, noodles, or biscuits and dumplings to complete a main dish. Ground beef became perhaps the thriftiest, and yet still acceptable meat choice to emerge during the war. In one recipe for beef loaf, Gertrude Veollmig included four variations using different flavorings and meat stretchers. These sort of recipes remained popular as they required only a pound and a quarter or so of ground meat and promised to yield six to eight servings. Voellmig’s Beef Loaf included suggestions for the addition of bread crumbs or oatmeal or cornmeal to the ground meat in order to provide taste and texture variations and allow the housewife to serve this meal repeatedly. Some cookbook authors harkened back to the shortages and slogans from World War I for ration recipe inspiration in the 1940’s. Meatless Mondays reentered the American lexicon during World War II as a solution for housewives unable to restrict family consumption. Ruth Berolzheimer, the director of the Culinary Arts Institute, edited The American Woman’s Meals Without Meat Cook Book. This cookbook offered suggestions for main courses which featured mostly fish, pasta, or eggs.The cookbook then suggested these central dishes be supplemented with vegetables and savory sauces to create well rounded nutritional meals. The Settlement Cook Book offered five variations on a vegetable plate and a cheese blintz dinner menu for “meatless days.”
Oils and fats became perhaps the most unexpected food item to join the wartime ranks of rationed foods. In the spring of 1943, about a year after most staple foods came under the supervision of the OPA’s food rationing programs, butter and some other cooking oils became scarce. The Good Housekeeping Institute counseled women that they had the same two main options when dealing with butter shortages as they did with meat: substitution and stretching. Cooking fats such as bacon grease or vegetable shortening could be used for sauteing, margarine or vegetable shortening replaced butter in baking, and both still provided the nutrition . Nancy Hawkins’s book Let’s Cook even told women to use lard or suet as acceptable butter substitutes in cooking, The Settlement Cook Book suggests women end a meatless vegetable plate dinner with an artfully served frozen can of peaches.
Lockdown Food Management at home
All of us experiencing this lockdown has been dong it for the first time.The only thing which can give solace to our frayed nerves is a hope and a trust.A hope for brighter world free of disease and a faith on our health care professionals and government to bail us through this utmost crisis. History has seen pandemics like the Plague, man made as well as natural famines where humanity at large has been able to adapt, change and survive.So the next time we feel stressed about the empty egg tray think of potatoes substituting, when we feel tempted to visit the market for a fresh supply of chicken think of the jar of mixed legumes and the soyabean lying unused for months.Cheese can be done away with, start doing your own curd for the dip, instead of the noodles use the pack of instant noodles and throw away the water in which it is boiled and do it noodle style.If you are less stocked up on your masoor dal and wonder about the proportions for the khicdi, use the less consumed lentils lying sadly on kitchen closets….you will have the most tasty khicdi eaten for a while.Cook once a day for the brunch or lunch and extend it to dinner with certain variations.Use the peels and greens of the vegetable in tasty soups and other dishes. Enjoy the time as leisure, rediscover your hobbies of school years, converse with your spouse and children over issues we hardly talk call up friends as well as foes. After all we will not die of hunger , we need to survive the virus.Emerge stronger and united as a family,nation and world at large.
The waves of a sea cutting across the sands are always heterogenous. Different in size, volume, height, texture waves in many ways are also illusive. They look beautiful from a distance. Once you try to touch them it breaks, it even splashes against you, it may hurt you but it will definitely wrap you around its embrace.Sitting on the beach at Puri a fleeting thought came to my mind that only if the harmony in the heterogeneity of the sea waves could be replicated in human lives. The sea at Puri – tumultuous yet beautiful, does all these to us. A trip to Puri for Bengalis is the quick fix to an extended weekend relaxation. Sometimes you loose count of the number of times you have been to this beach town. For most of us the first experience of the sea is at Puri, for many of us Puri featured in the first few trips after marriage, for many of our parents Puri figured in the list of to go to places before they became too old and infirm. Me and my friend planned a trip to Puri last summer, looking for some relaxation and some fresh sea breeze to rejuvenate our frayed nerves.
Customary visit to the temple, gazing at the waves sitting on the beach at daybreak and dusk and attempting to reorient thoughts and perspectives, walking through the narrow lanes of the old city, experiencing visuals of death and the rituals of last rites at Swargadwar, watching life and the mix of people at the beach, the lazy camels looking for children and their parents for a ride and livelihood,the faux pearl seller, the green coconuts quenching thirst, the sweet sellers with can fulls of Madanmohan,Channa Pora,typical delicacies of the state. We did it all at Puri. Early morning barefoot walk along the beach, the wet sand sticking lovingly on our feet, the tornado stricken dead trees, roofless houses, the occasional sea shells, the sand mounds built only to be washed away, the fishing boats at the mohona (river mouth)….. All that was Puri to us.
It was a lazy morning laced by unending Earl Greys and sharing life stories of both of us and one which was lashed by the combination of the rising sea waves and a torrential downpour, we decided to explore the surroundings. It was too wet for Konark, our choice zeroed on to Raghurajpur, the artists village barely 18 km from Puri. The drive past Puri was agonizing as we saw hundreds of coconut trees destroyed, houses broken… ravages of nature at work. The river Bhargavi was picturesque where the faithful had come for the holy dip for the first Monday of the month of Shravan for paying obeisance to Lord Shiva. I was overwhelmed by the crowd, the colors, the faith and above all the fervour of faith.
It was a rain soaked afternoon, the tress looked coy and green, the sky was azure, maybe it had a sad song on its mind when we reached a sleepy village adorned with coconut trees. It was Raghurajpur, now known as the artist’s village made famous by the tag of Heritage by INTACH. A sleepy village in its outside facade with lines of coconut trees and little ponds, Raghurajpur is a place where creative talent flourishes.With 150 houses,each family nourishes talent,there is one or more artists weaving magic on indigenous bases with organic colors.
Walking around I saw an old man sitting on the front porch of his house bending over a sketch while his kittens lay snuggily besides him. Several artists were eager to take us to their homes and I visited quite a few.Narrow houses located on either side of narrow lanes, a temple on each lane, a sit out area in front of each house, wooden interiors (beams, pillars, doors and the likes) is how Raghurajpur looks at first glance. But once I stepped in one of their homes,I realized there was a deeper and a sadder story behind the creative excellence.I saw pictures of the artist being awarded by the President of India, and a Padma Bhushan award gathering dust on the walls of their home.They were not well off but they looked happy and content.The satisfaction of creativity is so clearly manifest in their faces. Women too are excellent artists and balance their creativity with their daily chores.Their humility struck a chord in me.While I was walking by the lane saw a little boy learning the art from his grandfather.Creative genius honed by experts I thought.
Pata refers to cloth and chitra means painting.As I visited the houses I felt like I had stepped into an art gallery. Every house was a veritable museum and every household member was an artist.The village was quiet and the silence echoed in the air, the rain soaked temples and courtyards had so many untold tales.Identical row houses stood next to each other and I was fascinated by the walls that come alive with murals and paintings.Most of them were tribal art fused with paintings of deities and demons. The folk motif runs as a constant thread in all the walls.Some houses specialize in patachitra-a style of painting on cloth,some engrave folklore on palm leaves,some has expertise on stone carvings,some make paper mache masks and toys.Some draw on bottles and kitchen utensils.
Raghurajpur Patachitra as the craft is known had its origins in the traditional murals of Orissa that dates back to the 4th century. The craft has been passed from generations and every family has its own signature style of designing a patachitra. From drawing on tusser cloth to palm leaf engravings,to stone murals, every piece was distinct in its style and content. To make a patachitra a strip of cotton cloth becomes a canvas as it is soaked in water filled with tamarind seeds. The artist then adds a coat of chalk and gum and then pastes the same with another layer of cotton cloth. He then rubs the canvas with stones so that it has a glossy finish and has a smooth surface. No pencil or charcoal is however.A lacquer coating is added to the painting at the end to give it a lustre.
The colors come from natural products, like rocks from a neighboring hill and kajal from the burnt thread of the lamp. White is prepared from conch shells,yellow from Haritala stone, blue from indigo, green from leaves.red from geru (red oxide stone)and Hingula or black from burning lamp and coconut shell and other natural products for various colors. The natural gum of a fruit called ‘kaitha’ is mixed with the colors along with water in coconut shells to ensure that the colors remain fast.The chitrakaras uses buffalo hair to make brushes for the thick lines while rat or squirrel hair is used for making brushes meant for finer line work. According to the text, ‘Manasaullasa’, the crayon for initial sketches or ‘vartika’ is to be made by mixing lamp black with boiled rice paste and rolled into sticks. According to another text,‘Shilparatna’ ‘kitta lekhani’ or the writing/drawing instrument was a wick made out of the dust of bricks and dried cowdung made into a paste.In the typical style of Pattachitra, the faces of characters have long beak like noses, prominent chins and elongated eyes. They are distinguished from each other by facial features, hairstyles, clothingetc. Central focus of the painting is the expression of the figures and the emotion they portray, the strong colors only reinforce them.
Another important art practiced in Raghurajpur are palm-leaf paintings. Fine line drawings in black, sometimes with daubs of colours, are made on inter-locked strips of palm leaves. Usually each drawing is like a tapestry narrating a story. Ganjifa playing cards or the Dashavatar playing cards of Odisha are also part of the pattachitra genre. These unique paintings, especially the playing cards, are on display in museums across the world.Apart from traditional paintings, the artists also produce souvenirs, such as painted palm leaf bookmarks.
Raghurajpur presented itself as an idyllic village practising a dying craft with love and discipline. The younger generation refuses to be lured away to the cities, they learn the beautiful craft with commitment and love.Most buyers are foreigners, only a few are Indians who visit this village. The village is also the home of Kelucharan Mahapatra, the noted Odissi dancer and the place from where Gotipua dance originated. As I got a few paintings, bookmarks, paintings on bottles as souvenirs for my friends I promised myself to be back again whenever I visit Puri again. Next time I am there made plans to carry a plain silk saree which I would leave to be drawn upon by some woman artist who promised to courier it to me wthin three months. Raghurajpur, it’s beauty, it’s creative talent and above all its humility endeared me to this sleepy hamlet, quite forgotten by mainstream tourism and their marketing blitzkrieg.
Some useful travel tips for Raghurajpur-
Take an auto or a car for a half day trip to Raghurajpur. The enire trip would take about four hours .
Carry cash if you want to buy the art pieces .
Respect the artist families and don’t bargain much.
Raghurajpur awaits us with all its artistic brilliance and simplicity of life.
My love affair with Pumpkins began when I was about ten years old.The passion for pumpkins was not however spontaneous,it was out of compulsion.The compulsion was rather funny.Constant headaches and inability to see the blackboard at class made my mother to take me to an eye specialist.By the end of the visit I was rewarded with a spectacle and my protests against the spectacles led the doctor to suggest that if I would have boiled carrots and pumpkins for the next year everyday I might not need the spectacle.Not a day went after that for the next two years that I did not have carrots and pumpkins and till date at mid 40’s I do not use spectacles. Boiled and mashed pumpkin with a dash of mustard oil or a blob of butter on steaming rice with a green chili was my staple plate before I went to school.Still today when I am on my dieting sprees mashed pumpkin is my best pal.Love for pumpkins is also in my blood I suppose.Heard stories from my mother that my grandmother would never have her lunch without boiled pumpkins even if it meant going to the market and getting it and lunch getting delayed till late afternoon. So here is my little tribute to the gorgeous yet underrated vegetable which has been so important in my life.The orange colour of the vegetables spreads a cheer in the cart of the vegetable seller.It makes easy forays into the Indian as well as the international kitchen.
Etymologically the name pumpkin can be traced back to the the Greek word “pepon”which means large melon. “Pepon” was changed by the French to “pompon”. The English termed it as “pumpion” or “pompion”. American colonists are credited with spelling “pumpion” as “pumpkin”, the name by which this vegetable is known in modern times. Archaeological evidence suggest that pumpkins and winter squash were native to the Americas from the southwestern part of what is now the United States through Mexico and Central America and south into Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Pumpkins have been cultivated since about 3500 B.C. rivaling it with maize (corn) as one of the oldest known crops in the western hemisphere. Native Americans are said to have roasted long strips of pumpkin on an open fire and then consumed them. They also dried pumpkin strips and wove them into mats. Archaeologists working in Central America found remains of pumpkin rinds and seeds in human settlements dating back to 7,000BC . They also discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. The first pumpkins however had very little resemblance to the sweet, bright orange variety we are familiar with now. The original pumpkins were small and hard with a bitter flavor. Rather than using their nutritional and readily available seeds, pre-Columbian natives grew pumpkins for their flesh. They were among the first crops grown for human consumption in North America. Pumpkins proved ideal for storing during cold weather and in times of scarcity as well.But early modern Europeans didn’t see, grow, or taste pumpkins until they came into contact with the “new worlds” of the North, Central, and South Americas at the end of the fifteenth century.
When early modern Britons first encountered the Cucurbita pepo, they named it “pumpion”. The orange squashes were first mentioned in the English language in a plant book printed by Peter Treveris, called The Grete Herball, published in London in 1526.In metropolitan Britain, pumpkins were seen as a special food, expensive and exotic. But in the British Atlantic colonies pumpkins, pumpkin leaves, and pumpkin seeds appeared in the bowls and on the tables of many different kinds of people. They continued to hold a valued role in the diets of indigenous Americans, and they were consumed by rich as well as poor, white women and men. Enslaved women and men ate pumpkins too, growing them in their gardens.Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins and roasted or boiled them for eating. Settlers were impressed by the squash or pumpkins when they had to survive their first harsh winter and about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure. The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers, and taught them the many ways they used the pumpkin. The pumpkin pie was cooked about 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in America.Both the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe ate pumpkins and other squashes indigenous to New England—possibly even during the harvest festival—but the fledgling colony lacked the butter and wheat flour necessary for making pie crust. Moreover, settlers hadn’t yet discovered an oven for baking.According to some accounts, early English settlers in North America improvised by hollowing out pumpkins, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard, then roasting the gourds whole in hot ashes.
Pumpkin is one of the most versatile vegetables and is eaten as both savory and sweet dishes, but arguably the most popular use for it in the Anglo-American tradition is by cooking it in a pumpkin pie. Creamy, sweet, and custardy, pumpkin pie appears on most Thanksgiving tables across America over time. One of the earliest recipes for pumpkin pie can be found in the Folger Vaults: “To make a Pumpion Pie”, which appears in a seventeenth-century cookbook written by Hannah Woolley. American colonists relied heavily on pumpkin as a food source as early as 1630. Colonists prepared pumpkins as they sliced off their tops, removed the seeds and refilled the inside with a mixture of milk, spices and honey. The resultant concoction was baked in hot ashes and is said to be the origin of our modern Pumpkin Pie.Columbus took pumpkin seeds back to Europe. However pumpkins are warm season vegetables that require a relative long growing season. Thus they never gained popularity in northern Europe and the British Isles where the summer temperatures were not conducive to their growth.
Food historian K.T. Achaya points out that pumpkins were a part of Indian food tradition from ancient times, and were grown on the banks of rivers in village outskirts.“Long before the intervention of man, the ability of gourds to float in sea water while retaining seed viability must have carried them across the seas from continent to continent. The so-called winter squash or red pumpkin of America is called urubuka in Sanskrit; today it is known as lal kumra, kaddhu or kumbalakayi”. Chinese traveller Xuan Zang, who visited 110 of the 138 kingdoms in every part of India between 629 and 645 AD, mentioned pumpkin, ginger, mustard and melon. Ibn Battuta noted that pumpkins grew in the dry river beds adjacent to the Sindh desert.
Francois Pierre la Varenne, the famous French chef and author of one of the most important French cookbooks of the 17th century, wrote a cookbook called Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois (The True French Cook). It was translated and published in England as The French Cook in 1653. It had a recipe for a pumpkin pie that included the pastry: Tourte of pumpkin – Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.By the 1670’s, recipes for a sort of “pumpion pie” appeared in English cookbooks as the The Queen-like Closet. To make a Pumpion-Pie – Take a Pumpion, pare it, and cut it in thin slices, dip it in beaten Eggs and Herbs shred small, and fry it till it be enough, then lay it into a Pie with Butter, Raisins, Currans, Sugar and Sack, and in the bottom some sharp Apples, when it is baked, butter it and serve it in. In 1672, John Josselyn included a pumpkin recipe in his book New-England RaritiesDiscovered.This was one of the first recipes to come out of the United States. The side dish called for dicing ripe pumpkin and cooking it in a pot over the course of a day. Once finished, butter and spices were added. This early recipe sounds a bit like our modern preparation of mashed sweet potatoes. It was in 1796 that an American cookbook American Cookery by Amelia Simmons was published. It was the first American cookbook written and published in America, and the first cook book that developed recipes for foods native to America.Her pumpkin puddings were baked in a crust and similar to present day pumpkin pies: Pompkin Pudding No. 1. One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour. During the 17th century,cooks challenged themselves in the kitchen by developing unique and tasty new ways to serve pumpkin.Today, the most popular way to prepare pumpkins is undoubtedly pumpkin pie. This trend first began during the 1800’s when it became stylish to serve sweetened pumpkin dishes during the holiday meal. The earliest sweet pumpkin recipes were made from pumpkin shells that had been scooped out and filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire.
Pumpkins can be carved, painted as well as cooked in myriad ways across the world. A roast Pumpkin Soup with some croutons could give you that instant warmth.A Pumpkin Spinach Pie could well be a comfort main course. A baked Pumpkin Fondue, a Pumpkin Cheesecake and a Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookie adds variety to the pumpkin repertoire. Pumpkin pies are perhaps the most popular and most eaten pumpkin dish across the world.Few of the festival foods can claim deeper American roots than pumpkins. Pumpkins also feature in Southern European cooking.In Spain pumpkin is used both sweet and savory – Alboronia ( a pumpkin and chickpea stew),Bunuelos de Calabaza (a fritter and a cross between Churos and Donuts).Pumpkin in Italy is known as Zuca and Risotto de Zucca ,Pumpkin Ravioli and Gnocchi are popular.Mexico is known for its candied pumpkins known as Calabaza en Tacha as well as Pumpkin Empanadas.
In 1903 Circleville mayor George Haswell started an autumn produce festival, and pumpkins became the centerpiece of the event. The canning company shut down during the Great Depression, but the festival continues till date.Known as the Pumpkin Show, this event celebrates pumpkins in many forms. One can expect a variety of pumpkin-flavored treats including pumpkin donuts, burgers, taffy and ice cream. The festival also holds a contest for largest pumpkin, largest pumpkin pie and a Miss Pumpkin Show pageant.
When the Pilgrims sailed for America on the Mayflower in 1620, it’s likely some of them were as familiar with pumpkins as the Wampanoag, who helped them survive their first year at Plymouth Colony, were. A year later, when the 50 surviving colonists were joined by a group of 90 Wampanoag for a three-day harvest celebration, it’s likely that pumpkin was on the table in some form. In 1654, Massachusetts ship captain Edward Johnson wrote that as New England prospered, people prepared “apples, pears, and quince tarts instead of their former Pumpkin Pies.”A 1653 French cookbook instructed chefs to boil the pumpkin in milk and strain it before putting it in a crust. English writer Hannah Woolley’s 1670 “Gentlewoman’s Companion” advocated a pie filled with alternating layers of pumpkin and apple, spiced rosemary, sweet marjoram and handful of thyme. By the early 18th century pumpkin pie earned a place at the table, as Thanksgiving became an important New England regional holiday. Amelia Simmons’ 1796 “American Cookery” contained a pair of pumpkin pie recipes.
It was in the mid-19th century that pumpkin pie rose to political significance in the United States as it got linked into the country’s tumultuous debate over slavery. Many of the staunchest abolitionists were from New England, and their favorite dessert soon found mention in novels, poems and broadsides. Sarah Josepha Hale, an abolitionist who worked for decades to have Thanksgiving proclaimed a national holiday, featured the pie in her 1827 anti-slavery novel “Northwood”, describing a Thanksgiving table laden with desserts of every name and description—“yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche.” In 1842 another abolitionist, Lydia Maria Child, wrote her famous poem about a New England Thanksgiving that began, “Over the river, and through the wood” and ended with a shout, “Hurra for the pumpkin pie!”After the Civil War, Thanksgiving—and with it, pumpkin pie—extended its national reach, bolstered by write-ups . In 1929 Libby’s meat-canning company of Chicago introduced a line of canned pumpkin that soon became a Thanksgiving fixture in its own right.
Over the course of the next two centuries, pumpkin pie and its fame grew with the rising popularity of Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t until the release of Amelia Simmons’ cookbook American Cookery (the first real ‘American’ cookbook) in 1796 that the pie became nationally recognized as an American Thanksgiving hallmark – the book contained two recipes for pumpkin pie, one of which closely resembles recipes widely used today. Legend has it that in the early 18th century, a small town postponed its Thanksgiving for a week because ‘there wasn’t enough molasses available to make pumpkin pie.’
Pumpkin pie even found its way into the workings of the Civil War. By the time Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, Southerners were already in dispute, stating that ‘this is an annual custom of that people, heretofore celebrated with devout oblations to themselves of pumpkin pie and roast turkey.’But this didn’t have an effect on the spread of Thanksgiving (and pumpkin pie) across the nation. Many women’s magazines featured recipes for pumpkin pie, and shortly after, Libby’s meat-canning company developed the first line of canned pumpkin – releasing it in 1929.Putting pumpkin pie on the table at Thanksgiving became that much easier, sealing its fate as an all-American tradition.
Pumpkin has been used across India in almost all regional cuisines sometimes spiced up and many a times made into a desert.For Bengalis Pumpkin or Kumro is used both in vegetarian as well as non vegetarian dishes. The sweetness of the pumpkin blends it well with several vegetables and greens.Be it the Kumror Chokka – pumpkins cooked with a tempering of Bengali five spices,bay leaf,spiced up with ginger paste and finished off with grated coconut and some boiled Bengal gram or the Pumpkin cooked with potatoes and gourd or a simple Pumpkin stir fry tempered with nigella seeds and fried onions.All of these are great sides and are served with Luchi or Paratha. Pumpkins are also part of mish mash of vegetables and greens like Palak or Pui. For Bengalis from East Bengal pumpkins are used in several non-vegetarian dishes.Pumpkin,brinjal potatoes are cooked with fish head.Pumpkins are also cooked with Hilsa in a typical Dacca household. One of my favourite way of incorporating the sweet taste of the pumpkin is by using it in a spicy dish made with dried fish like prawns or Bombay Duck.
In North India Pumpkin or Kaddu is used in a pumpkin curry as well as cooked with chickpeas.Pumpkin is also used in a Raita. Pumpkin is also made into a halwa as well as made into a kheer during festivals as Navratri. Most of the southern states have their own sambars but most of them use pumpkin. Pumpkin Sambar known as Mukkala Sambar is offered in temples and is popular in Andhra Pradesh. Pumpkin Oambal from north east cooks boiled pumpkin with tamarind, jaggery and is tempered with red chilies and mustard.Pumpkin Erissery from Kerala is a dish of pumpkin,red beans,grated coconut ,curry leaves and is served with Kerala red rice and Kanji. Avial another popular dish in Kerala and Tamil Nadu uses pumpkin among other vegetables .
Pumpkin one of the most common everyday vegetable is as versatile as it can be to a cook.Dried pumpkin seeds are now regarded as super food,the pumpkin leaves can be used in a vegetable pish pash or chorchorri what the Bengalis call it and can even be stuffed and steamed.The pumpkin pies remain inextricably linked with the American life and culture.Carve your pumpkin,paint your pumpkin or cook your pumpkin but do love the commonplace pumpkin.Remembered a childhood rhyme about pumpkins-
“Pumpkins by the barn. Pumpkins by the house. Pumpkins by the wagon. Pumpkins by the mouse.
Pumpkins by the fence. Pumpkins by the cat. Pumpkins by the scarecrow. Pumpkins by the hat.,
Pumpkins by the table. Pumpkins by the chair. Pumpkins by the door. Pumpkins everywhere!”
Winter,the mellow ones, experienced in Kolkata is warming to both the mind and heart. It is not only about colorful, fashionable trench coats,mufflers and ponchos, it is also not only about chapped lips and cracked heels, it is also of a palette full of colors encompassing our life. Colors in food, colors in the fair grounds,colors in life in essence.The foodscape and landscape of Kolkata is drenched in colors and gaiety.
The list of my favourites in cooking in winter is never-ending. When the vegetables look inviting,the prawns look fuller,the apples look flawless I thought of listing the simpler of them. My list would include a Carrot and Peas pot,Cauliflower and green peas Tehri, an Apple cake,Palak paneer,Dhania gosht,Chicken roast,Crepes with Nolen Gur or liquid Date palm Jaggery and coconut filling what is known as Patishapta and a Bread butter Pudding with some drizzle of brandy. This favourite list is not however static,it changes every winter.
Winters are also intrinsically linked with childhood…winter holidays,end of examinations,picnics and picnic hampers,oranges and it’s freshness,winter holidays by the sea, nolen gur payesh,pickle making by mom and grandma, fairs across the city and balls of colorful wools and images of my Pishi’s fingers moving swiftly with knitting needles.Lot of such nostalgia still remains,some muted,some in new avatars and some lost permanently with the loss of the persons associated with it.Winter holidays are still there but much rationed, examinations do end for kids but that does not anymore mean a month without books,picnics also happen but now they are catered by caterers,no chopping vegetables, no running around and no serving.Oranges are seen for a fortnight but the small oranges from Darjeeling hardly appear,fairs happen but has shifted to the new city,winter holidays are destination holidays,not a simple Puri or Digha. Nolen Gur payesh is now available at sweet shops,they are still made at home but the Nolen Gur is hardly pure.Pickles are hardly made at home now,images of glass and porcelain jars on window panes with pickles to be sun dried are lost.It is very difficult to find shops selling yarns of pure wool and handful of grand moms and moms knitting delicate paisleys on the cardigan.
Cooking is very pleasant during this time of the year.There are also a lot of options laid out by nature.Winter is synonymous with vegetables and among the wide spread available my favourites are carrots and tender peas in pods.Both are versatile and can be dishes in themselves.A thick carrot soup with croutons would be an ideal appetizer on a winter evening.And the ever popular Gajar ka Halwa is a perennial favourite winter desert. Carrots can be made into pickles too and for this choose the local orange variety and just dip them in brine.Tender peas in pods are my crush. Love everything associated with peas. Peas have an association with childhood afternoons. My Dida used to sit peeling the peas. And I never waited it to finish,picked up and popped the peeled peas straight amidst protests by my mom and dida. Karaishutir Kachuri,Karaishutier Ghugni has been my favourites over decades.Now I love the pea soup too.I also love carving out a simple peas and potato cutlet and sometimes simply saute peas with soft fried onions paired with a bowl of puffed rice is a must in winter evenings with a cup of full-body Assam brew with milk and sugar. But my list of favourites will feature a dish which will have both the carrot and thè peas together.
What entices me to the Carrot and peas curry is the symmetry of colors,its simplicity and the freshness.Its quite simple to go about it,one needs fresh carrots and peas.The carrots has to be diced in small cubes.If its winter comfort food desi ghee is a must.Add whole cumin or jeera into the hot ghee,wait to splutter,but be careful not to burn it.Add to it a paste of ginger,tomato and onion.Keep onion to a minimum.When the masala leaves the ghee, do add corriander powder,turmeric,red chilli powder, asfoetida or hing and salt.Once the masala is done,add the carrots and peas.Stir well to coat the vegetables and splash water as required. The pan has to be covered,let the steam do the magic. Once the vegetables become soft,do away with the lid, add fresh corriander leaves and some lime juice at the end.Enjoy the winter dinner with a roti of your choice.It even pairs well with a crisp slice of toasted bread.
One pot meals are sheer love. They are best when you feel lazy,they are your rescuers when you have sudden guests with whom you would love to share dinner but you have nothing much to offer. My mind races in those times and just about when my smile is on the verge of a frown the saviors are one pot meals. In winter it has to be a Cauliflower and peas Tehri cooked the simple way. Tehri a staple in Eastern Uttar Pradesh has many varieties in the region itself.There are also contradictory histories about its origin.Love cooking the Tehri in my own way though I do not deviate much from recipes of regional cuisines-the storehouses of authenticity.Forthe Tehri I soak long grained Basmati for half an hour,cut potatoes in small cubes and fry them light brown in mustard oil. For Tehri,there is no substitute for mustard oil,more pungent it is,the Tehri will be more tasty. I add bay leaves, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, cloves along with black and green cardamoms.Once the fragrance of the garam masala fills the air, chopped onion is added to it and I cook for a while.Slide in some ginger, garlic and green chillies and stir for about 2-3 minutes for the flavour to come out.To this masala paste I add cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and red chilli powder, followed by hing water and salt.Vegetables like carrot, cauliflower, beans, peas and fried potatoes are added and stirred till the masala coats the vegetables. To this I add whisked curd, coriander leaves and the soaked rice.After frying the rice for a while I add double the amount of vegetable stock and let it cook till rice is done and the grain retains its shape. Some fresh coriander leaves for garnishing.Pair the Tehri with a bowl of Raita or a Coriander-mint Dum Aloo.
Kitchens are often are a reflection of the person who owns it,who makes the kitchen an intrinsic part of the home. Some kitchens are quite cosy,some has an air of unattachment. When I redid my kitchen I did it in warm shades of yellow and blue,for me the kitchen is an extension of my self.My kitchen becomes most happy during the winters for it gets me for a much longer duration than any other season.If its winter then my kitchen will witness an apple cake being baked besides the normal orange and rum filled ones.For my apple cake , I choose good apples which I peel and grate them soft and smooth.To the apple puree I mix some lime juice to retain the color as well as to give a tangy taste to the puree. For the standard pound cake I take 200 gm of refined flour, sugar and butter.After creaming the butter and sugar using the cut and fold to incorporate air, I add the flour and the baking powder.Then I add four whisked eggs and continue the cut and fold till the batter becomes light and bubbly. To this I add the grated apple and mix well. The flavor of cinnamon and winter afternoon warmth is synonymous to me.I add a generous spoonful of ground cinnamon. The apple cake needs to be baked for 30 min approximately at 190 degree centigrade in a preheated oven.I often bake my apple cake in the afternoons to be served warm with the evening cup of tea.
The very name Dhaniya Gosht is laced with memories about my Baba. It was during the 90’s when my Baba heading the marketing wing in India of a multinational pharmaceutical company had to travel around the country.He was a foodie and loved to cook as well. Both my Baba and Ma had very separate cooking favourites.Babas niche was Chinese,North Indian and roasts. Ma’s were a typical Bengali fare,cakes and continental. In every star hotel Baba used to put up, he used to befriend the chef and learn some new dish. He used to try them out at the kitchen without fail. One such dish was the Dhaniya Gosht which he replicated with finesse at the kitchen.And then it became his signature dish. Whenever guests were at home, be his Australian and British colleagues and my Russian students, apart from family and friends,Dhaniya Gosht was a regular at the table. Dhaniya Gosht is one of my favourite ones to cook. Both because it smells of my Baba and I visualise Baba in the kitchen marinating the boneless mutton and grinding the fresh coriander leaves every time I get to do Dhaniya Gosht at my kitchen. I marinate boneless mutton in curd,green chiili paste,coriander powder,ginger garlic paste overnight or for six hours. I use desi ghee. To it I add whole garam masala, garlic chopped. When browned I add tomatoes and when mushy, slide in the marinated mutton and required salt. When the ghee separates and the mutton acquires a brownish colour,I add the coriander leaf and green chilli paste. After sauteing for a while till the oil comes out,the mutton is transferred to a pressure cooker till done. Once done I mix in garam masala powder,fried onion slices and a dash of lime juice just before serving. Remember not to reheat after adding in the lime juice. Every winter cooking Dhania Gosht is an express ride to the best of times of my life.
Paneer is not on my favourite list, however if its Palak Paneer I do not compromise. Palak Paneer made an appearance at my home a decade ago when my house help who was from Bihar used to make it often.During my days at Amritsar, Palak Paneer and Baingan Bharta became a favorite. Palak or Spinach is quite versatile,it can be used with ease in regional as well as international cuisines.Spinach is said to have originated in ancient Persia and came to Europe in the 11th century when the Moors introduced it in Spain.Spinach in England was known as Spanish vegetable .A favourite of Catherine de Medici , she took spinach to France when she married the King Of France.Dishes prepared and served on a bed of spinach puree began to be called “a la Florentine”.Spinach or Palak blends beautifully with all kinds of cheese.Be it a Palak wala Daal or a Palak Poori or a Spinach Poriyal or a Bengali home style Palong Saager Ghonto or a creamy Palak Soup or a Baked Spinach with Mushroom and White Sauce or a Spinach stuffing in a Chicken breast roast or the authentic Spinach pie called Spanakopita or a Spinach Cannelloni or a Ravioli or the Chinese Crispy Spinach.The list of what one can do with Spinach is never ending with a space for innovations,fusion and blending.Winters are replete with fresh spinach – baby leaves with a vibrant green color.Spinach is a regular during my biweekly market routines. Love making spinach and paneer kebabs and a spinach mish mash with carrots,green peas and pumpkin.
Palak Paneer is a favourite for dinners when I want something out of the ordinary fare.For Palak Paneer I blanch the palak leaves and when at room temperature make a puree out of it. I cut the paneer in long fat slices and season it with salt and red chilli powder and let it sit for some time.My recipe for this is very simple and often I do it without onions.Winters and desi ghee is synonymous,and since garlic does best with ghee,I use ghee as the cooking medium.To it I add whole garam masala,lots of crushed garlic and wait till it gets a brownish tinge.Add crushed green chillies as well to it. Some cumin,coriander powder ,salt and let it saute for a while.To it I add chunks of tomato sliced ,let it just sweat,I do not want the tomatoes mushy. Once the skin gets done, I add the palak puree and let it be for a few minutes.Once the raw smell is done away with I add the paneer ,which I do not fry before.The paneer should be soft enough to soak the flavour .Add salt and a bit of sugar. To retain the green color,I cover the pan and let it cook in slow flame.Once done I add garam masala powder,some ghee and a generous amount of lime juice at the end.Sometimes I garnish it with fried onions.Serve your palak paneer on a wintry night with plain paratha spiced with a bit of ajwain or a missi roti made healthy by the addition of some methi or fenugreek leaves.
What is Christmas without a Chicken Roast and some home made Mulled Wine.Over the years I prefer a quiet Christmas eve dinner where while marinating the whole chicken I thank the superpower above for all that he allowed me to do the year around. Chicken roast has had a long culinary history and tradition.Chicken roast has a diverse significance across disparate cultures and religious traditions.While there are very traditional Chicken roast recipes across Europe, the Middle Eastern world makes chicken roast using a different set of spices.The recipe for my chicken roast as well as the accompanying sauce are as diverse as possible. Sometimes I roast the chicken in the most simplest way using pink salt,lime juice, some paprika and mixed herbs stuffing it with boiled eggs and bacon rashes.For the sauce it is often a barbecue sauce mixed with some apple cider.Sometimes I marinate the chicken in orange juice and port wine and some garlic chives.For the sauce I use a caramelized orange sauce.If its winter and I want an Indian style roast chicken I marinate the chicken with mint and coriander leaves paste, crushed garlic and some olive oil.For the stuffing too there can be as many as variations as one may think.If I do boiled eggs sometimes, at times I pair pineapples with shreds of bacon,sometimes I put in cranberries and if I want it simple some whole onions do the trick.Whatever style I roast the chicken in, there are a few rules I always adhere to.I take a smaller chicken and always with skin.The fat in the skin melts making it crisper at the outside. I always marinate the chicken for over three hours and slash the chicken with fine gashes.I make it a point to roast the chicken in a grill over low temperature for the first thirty minutes.For the color and crispiness I put the chicken over high temperature at the end.
For the chicken roast I would like to point out that pre heating the oven is a necessity. I rinse and pat dry the whole chicken with skin. I combine olive oil, melted butter, white wine and lemon juice,salt and white pepper together, rubbing all over the chicken, under the skin and inside the cavity. The chicken is seasoned outside and inside with salt, pepper and parsley. The minced garlic is rubbed over the chicken and under the skin. I do this separately as the last step to maximise the garlic taste. I stuff the garlic head into the chicken cavity along with the rosemary sprigs and the squeezed lemon halve. You can also use sprigs of Thyme or any other herb. I put the chicken into marination for three hours and roast the chicken while I baste the chicken half way through cooking time, until cooked through.Adjust the oven temperature to the size of the chicken.I serve the chicken with sauted whole onions,baby potatoes sauted in butter and parsley and some lemon sauce broiled in white wine.
The mellow winters in Kolkata are made special by the availability of jaggery or gur in various forms – be it nolen gur (liquid form with a transparent golden hue) or Patali gur (the solidified date palm jaggery).Though it is mandatory to make a pitha or rice crepes during the Sankranti in the month of January in Bengali households as in other parts of the country,I often make patishapta (a thin crepe made of various kinds of flour ,stuffed with coconut and jaggery filling) the entire winter and make it a point to serve it with a bowlful of nolen gur.My love for nolen gur started when I joined a government college located in an area which was famous for its jaggery.Most of my students knew to collect and make the nolen gur to the right consistency. They taught me to source the gur on the second day of several sunny days and never to buy it after a foggy day.Now I have a discerning eye for nolen gur and can easily grade its quality by seeing and smelling it.The key to good nolen gur is that the consistency should be translucent and nothing should sit at the base of the jar of nolen gur.It stays well over a month if refrigerated.For my patishapta I use refined flour and some semolina which I soak in water for a while.I make the batter with the soaked semolina( the proportion of semolina should be 1/3 to the refined flour or maida),the refined flour and lukewarm milk.To it I add liquid date palm jaggery to give it a sweet hint.The nolen gur should be used for just a tinge of sweetness.For the filling I add Patali gur pieces and let it melt in a pan over slow flame.Then I add the desiccated coconut to the jaggery, some khoya and stir till its sticky and thick.I let it cool before I start the actual making of the Patishapta.For the crepes, I add a ladleful of batter which is not either thick or runny on a hot oiled pan,The batter should be of consistency which can spread by itself in an even round.The gas flame should be medium and once you see little pores on the crepe ,you can add the filling on one side and roll it like an omelette. After making every crepe, clean the pan with a wet tissue and brush some oil every time. You can also cover the pan for a while after sliding in the batter to get it well done. The crepes are done on one side only.Do not turn the crepes on the pan like a paratha.Serve the patishapta either with nolen gur or a bowl of kheer by the side.You can substitute the coconut jaggery filling with a khoya filling alone or make a savoury one by adding a mashed green peas filling or a fish filling to the rice crepe.If you do that don’t add the nolen gur to the batter, instead just add a pinch of salt.
Of all the deserts I cook during winter my favourite is a simple Bread and Butter Pudding.If I suddenly have a sweet craving and want something fancy, a bread and butter pudding is the easy fix.Bread pudding is all childhood and conjures up in my mind something brown and moist with mom’s love. I remember school tiffin bread pudding that tasted of nutmeg and dried fruits with a sprinkling of demerara on top. As a greedy child, I liked these bread puddings to the extent they made my heart sing.Childhood puddings were made from sliced bread, overlapping in a dish. Taking stale bread and turning it into something comforting and new was a skill my mom knew.Just because bread puddings were a product of thrift does not mean that they were made carelessly. The simplest of all bread puddings is also known as eggy bread: bread dipped in egg, fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar. The name comes from the French ‘pain perdue’, meaning lost bread. A 15th century recipe tells the reader to start with “fair bread” and “fair yolks” and to “fry him up” in “fair butter” before laying on sugar. And “serve it forth”.
Bread pudding has the most plebeian of origins, While bread pudding is still a way to use up leftover bread, it has gained a reputation as a comfort food and is a featured dessert item in fancy restaurants having shed its humble origins.Since very early times it was common practice to use stale bread in many different ways…including edible serving containers (Medieval sops, foccacia), stuffings (forcemeat), special dishes (French toast) and thickeners (puddings). In the 19th century, recipes for bread pudding were often included in cookbooks under the heading “Invalid cookery.”
” The likely history of the pudding can be traced to the medieval practice of using a hollowed-out loaf as the container for a sweet dish…variants of bread pudding could be eaten hot as pudding or cold as a cake…an Egyptian dessert which bears a marked similarity to bread and butter pudding, and which was originally a simple dish in rural areas…is called Om Ali and is made with bread…milk or cream, raisins, and almonds…Another Middle Eastern bread sweet, Eish es serny (palace bread), is made by drying large round slices cut horizontally through a big loaf to make enormous rusks, which are then simmered in sugar and honey syrup flavoured with rosewater and coloured with caramel. Traveling further east, an Indian dessert in the Moghul style, Shahi tukra, is made with bread fried in ghee, dipped in a syrup flavoured with saffron and rosewater, and covered with a creamy sauce in which decorative slices of almond are embedded.” —The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 103)
One of the oldest available Bread and Butter Pudding recipe is by Eliza Acton in 1845. “Give a good flavour of lemon-rind and bitter almonds, or of cinnamon, ir preferred to a pinto of new milk, and when it has simmered a sufficient time for this, strain and mix it with a quarter of a pint of rich cream; sweeten it with four ounces of sugar in lumps, and stir it while still hot to five well-beaten eggs; throw in a few grains of salt, and move the mixture briskly with a spoon as a glass of brandy is added to it. Have ready a thickly-buttered dish three layers of think bread and butter cut from a half-quartern loaf, with four ounces of currants, and one and a half of finely shred candied peel, strewed between and over them; pour the eggs and milk on them by degrees, letting the bread absorb one portion before another is added; it should soak for a couple of hours before the pudding is taken to the oven, which should be a moderate one. Half an hour will bake it. It is very good when made with new milk only; and some persons use no more than a pint of liquid in all, but part of the whites of the eggs my then be omitted. Cream my be substituted for the entire quantity of milk at pleasure”.
—Modern Cookery for Private Families, Eliza Acton, 1845 facsimile reprint with an introduction by Elizabeth Ray [Southover Press:East Sussex] 1993 (p. 359)
I do the bread and butter pudding the simplest way.For one pound of bread cut into halves after removing the crusts I use 250 ml of milk and 200 ml of thick cream and 3 whole eggs and one egg yolks.I butter the bread slices both ways and arrange them in a greased pie dish.The arrangement has to be in layers but you can be as creative as you want.After each layer I add raisins and black currants.Once the breads are arranged, I warm the milk,cream,whisked egg and sugar mixture. Be careful not to boil it.The amount of sugar depends on your taste.I add vsnilla essence or vanilla from pods.I pour this mixture into the pie dish and allow the bread to soak for at least 30 min,For the brownish crust I add some brown sugar and dollop of butter at the top.In a preheated oven I bake it at 190 degree centigrade for 30 min.Serve it with a drizzle of brandy.Refrigerate it for a while and it tasted divine. Spoonfuls shared actually seals friendships for life.
You tend to love something more which is short lived,something which you crave for yet you get it for a while.Winters in Kolkata are that whiff of fleeting romance for me every year.Keep awaiting it in bated breath, enjoy its warmth while its there and when its gone be nostalgic about it. Just when the winters bade goodbye and it was time to put away the woolen clothes I thought of recollecting the favourites which I cooked this winter to keep the season etched in memory.Only this winter I did not have my Ma to pack boxes for her whatever I cooked .