These are a few of my favorite things-Winter love

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 .

Romancing the Bombay Duck….Bombill for your taste buds.

Sea fishes do not top the favourite list of fish lovers in the Eastern part of India, unlike Western coasts where sea fishes are much valued, tasted and experimented with.During the last couple of decades or more sea fishes like Pomfret,Sardines,Mackarels and what we call Loitta in Bengali is seen in the Kolkata markets with regularity as well has gained in popularity. Loitta in particular has been an delicacy with the Bangals for ages. Loitta jhuri (scrambled Loitta) and dried Loitta has been a favourite with the Bangals (people who migrated from modern Bangladesh during Partition of India in 1947) and in the north eastern part of India.What we call Loitta is known as Bombay Duck or Bombil in the western coast of our country.They are much loved along the entire Konkan coast.

With an ancestry from East Bengal and married into a rigid Bangal family, Loitta is one of my favourites. Spiced up,dry with oil oozing out and with a generous addition of vegetables Loitta jhuri continues to be a delicacy in my house.My recent trip to Bombay where I saw the love for loitta, known as Bombay Duck or Bombill made me realize that distinctions of language,culture can be easily transcended by taste.Tastes are often similar across various distinctions.Labelled as ‘lizardfish’ on Wikipedia, Bombill has a special place in the hearts of the Bombayites.

This soft fish has a mythological story associated with its evolution.. Legends say that when Lord Rama was building a bridge to Lanka, he sought the help of all the fishes in the sea. With the exception of Bombill all of them obliged. Lord Rama was angered at such an errant behavior and he threw them into the seas near Bombay but not before crushing it in his palms. This physical torture crushed all its bones and it lives devoid of a backbone for ever. Govind Narayan in his autobiography,- ‘Govind Narayan’s Mumbai: An Urban Biography from 1863’ narrated the story.

Etymologically Bombill is also linked to the Indian Railways during the colonial period. When the rail links started connecting Bombay to Calcutta, Bombill was transported to the Eastern part by the railways. Since the smell of the dried fish was overpowering,the Bombay Mail (or Bombay Daak) smelled fishy.”You smell like the Bombay Daak” became common in use in the days of the British Raj. Bombay Daak eventually was spelled as “Bombay Duck”. However the Oxford English Dictionary dates “Bombay Duck” to 1850, two years before the first railroad in Bombay was constructed.The word could also have been an anglicisation of the local Marathi name for the fish, bombil, used by the Maharashtrians that the British couldn’t spell correctly. Or perhaps the name is born from the Marathi bazaar cry, “bomiltak” (“here is bombil”). British-Parsi writer, Farrukh Dhondy, in his book “Bombay Duck “ wrote that the name came from the British mail trains that delivered orders of dried fish from the city to the interior of India. These wagon loads of fish became known as “Bombay Dak”.(The word dak means “mail”.)

According to some historians,the term Bombay duck was first coined by Robert Clive, after he tasted it during his conquest of Bengal. He is said to have associated the pungent smell with that of the newspapers and mail which would come into the cantonments from Bombay. In his 1829, “Book of poems and Indian reminiscences”, Sir Toby Rendrag notes the use of a fish nicknamed ‘Bombay Duck’ and the phrase was used in texts as early as 1815.

The following definition is from Hobson-Johnson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words first published in 1886, by Henry Yule (1820-89) and Arthur Coke Burnell (1840-82):

(1903 edition)
Bummelo. A small fish, abounding on all the coasts of India and the Archipelago; Harpodon nehereus of Buch. Hamilton; the specific name being taken from the Bengali name nehare. The fish is a great delicacy when fresh caught and fried. When dried it becomes the famous Bombay duck […], which is now imported into England.

The first known mention of this fish is found in A new account of East-India and Persia, in eight letters being nine years travels begun 1672 and finished 1681 (London, 1698), by the English travel writer and doctor John Fryer (circa 1650-1733); when describing Bombay, he wrote the following:

On the backside of the Towns of Bombaim and Maijm, are Woods of Cocoes (under which inhabit the Banderines, those that prune and cultivate them), these Hortoes being the greatest Purchase and Estates on the Island, for some Miles together, till the Sea break in between them: Overagainst which, up the Bay a Mile, lies Massegoung, a great Fishing-Town, peculiarly notable for a Fish called Bumbelo, the Sustenance of the Poorer sort, who live on them and Batty, a course sort of Rice, and the Wine of the Cocoe, called Toddy.

The name Bombay duck is first recorded in Paddy Hew; A Poem, from the Brain of Timothy Tarpaulin (London, 1815), by A. Clark and William Combe:

To live there always on the rack
[…]
My carcase there did hourly waste,
Like Bombay duck and quite as fast,
When native strings him up by gills
And reeking fat runs down in rills,
Until it be reduc’d by sun
To shrivelled muscle, skin and bone.

Reverend Abram Smythe Palmer (1844-1917) explained in Folk Etymology: A dictionary of verbal corruptions or words perverted in form or meaning, by false derivation or mistaken analogy (London, 1882), that Bombay duck

is one of a numerous class of slang expressions—the mock-heroic of the eating-house—in which some common dish or product for which any place or people has a special reputation is called by the name of some more dainty article of food which it is supposed humorously to supersede or equal. Thus a sheep’s head stewed with onions, a dish much affected by the German sugar-bakers in the East End of London, is called a German duck.

Bombil also is irrevocably bound with caste preferences in food. According to Shailaja Paik’s Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination, “While some elite Dalits found the pungent smell of Bombil nauseating, others experienced a waft of Bombil and Sukat (small dry fish) as particularly appetising. In other words, bombil-bhaakri was a delicacy for lower-class Dalits…”.

Bombill or Bombay Duck is considered to be a delicacy across many communities. Bombay has eternally romanced the Bombay Duck, and it is a favourite of almost all the ethnic communities like Malvanis.Konkanis and the Parsis.An early morning visit to Saason Dock gave me an idea of the popularity of the fish both for domestic consumption as well as export. Bombill is commonly found in stores across Canada and England and is known as Bomello.Koli fishermen in the dock have been salting and sun-scorching them on bamboo stilts called valandis for hundreds of years.These dried variety is eaten during monsoons and stewed into curries or dry-fried as an acompaniment to dal and rice. Koli fishermen smear them with Koli masala, and cook them in a coconut gravy.The Konkanis rub the fish into a vinegary chutney and grill it,sometimes stuffing it with small prawns. Some Maharashtrian communities fry it into a bhaji (fritter) while others add tamarind to the Bombill curry.

In 1795, a Parsi businessperson, Seth Cawasji,presented half a ton of dusty Bombay Duck and 30 dusty Pomfret fishes to a administrator of Bombay. Navroji Framji’s 1883 recipe book, Indian Cookery for Young Housekeepers, calls the fish “bombloes” and offers two recipes: one, a dried fish stew with tamarind, ginger-garlic, chilli and fried onion; and the second, a chilli-fry of dried bombloes cooked with turmeric, coriander, pulped tamarind and green chillies. In 1975, Parsi musician-composer Mina Kava gave musical shape to the community’s love for the fish by writing a song called Bombay Duck, which begins:”Here’s a story simple / of a duck with a little dimple / he’s the strangest little duck / this little ducky never clucks.”

Parsi cuisine has a large repertoire of dishes using Bombill like Sookhi Boomla Ni Akoori,Sookhi Boomla Ni Cutlets,Sookha Boomla ni Chutney and Tareka Boomla.Had a taste of Tarapori Patio while I was in Bombay last month. Loved the sweet sour tangy taste of the soft fish.

Managed to get an authentic recipe of Tarapori Patio from Daren Hansotia in Kolkata.Tarapori Patio is best had with khicdi,pav or bhakri. Sweet and sour in taste ,the dish originated from a village called Tarapore in Gujrat. For making the Patio one needs Bombay Duck cut into pieces. One has to grind garlic,cumin seeds and red chilli powder in a paste. In a pan in hot oil,the chopped onions are fried till golden brown. The paste is added and stir fried till oil separates. The fish pieces are added. After sauteing for a while salt and vinegar is added to the gravy. After cooking for about five minutes some vinegar soaked jaggery and water is when the gravy thickens and becomes coated to the fish it can be garnished with corriander leaves and remember to keep the flame low after the fish has been added.

Malvani and Konkani communities too have their signature dishes using Bombill. The most popular one is Bombil Fry in a crust of rava and rice flour.The crispiness can be best achieved by taking the water out of the fish perfectly.Some fry the fish whole and some prefer fillets.Other popular dishes include Bombill Kalvan which uses kokum and curry leaves apart from garlic and coconut. Bombill in Green Curry too is a popular dish.A complete Bombill meal will include crisp Bombill fries.Rasa,Sol kadi and Bhakri.

Tasting authentic Malvani and Konkani cuisine was a highpoint of my Bombay visit last month. Bombill fry at Soul Fry in Bandra stole my heart.Fillets of Bombay Duck were crisp in the rava crust.A relaxed lunch at Sadiccha next day with whole Bombill fries along with a rasa and a Sol Kadi will be remembered for long. The Bhakris were soft and when dipped in the typical Malvani gravy, they soaked in the flavours perfectly. My bucket list includes several other restaurants which I would definitely visit in my next trip. Gajaale, Highway Gomantak,Mahesh Lunch Home has to be ticked off soon enough.

Be it the Loitta Jhuri or the Shutki Loitta or the Bombill crisp Fry or the Tarela Boomla,food unites layers of diversities.Whats in a name,it may be different, but what is important is the unity of taste across the country. Bombay Duck unites disparate communities and cultures. Be it the shores of the Arabian Sea or the shores of the Bay of Bengal the Bombay Duck makes its way across regions.

The story of Pancham Puriwala….an eatery with the longest history in Bombay.

Bombay is a city of contrasts in all spheres of life. Food is no exception.While there are posh,curated restaurants of the like of The Table at one end, the other end of the spectrum has eateries like Pancham Puriwala which believes in good food sans the decor and the frills.It was past 8 PM on a weekend and all I could see was a queue in front of the oldest operating restaurant in Bombay. The queue was fast moving,the eatery was an open one,it had no glass doors,no airconditioning and no plush seating.Yet the people who came out after their meal had a smile on their lips and looked satiated.The buzz at the restaurant was overwhelming. This is Pancham Puriwala,established in 1848 ,even before the Sepoy Mutiny and the Church Gate station was built. Pancham Puriwala is undoubtedly heritage both in terms of age and in taste.The yearning for a crisp puri any time of the day among the Indians live on. Puri can be had for all the three meals as well as a quick snack.The charm of a puri in various forms though remains unscathed.

Puri or Poori is a traditional breakfast served in most parts of India both in homes as well as a street food. The name Puri is derived from the Sanskrit word Purika meaning filled. Puris are known by different names and differ in taste in various regions and are served primarily with a potato sabji which too differs in taste and texture. Khamiri green peas Puri, Bhedawi Puri,Khus khus Puri,Farsi Puri, Thunka puri are some of the various varieties of puris across India. Puris are also served with non vegetarian Naharis for breakfast as well as dishes like Keema matar. While Puris are rolled out of whole wheat flour in the northern regions,in the eastern part of the country Puris known as Luchi use refined flour. Puris have stuffed variety too like Matar stuffed kachori and Lentil stuffed Radhaballavi or Karai shutir kachuri(green peas) in Bengal. Gur stuffed puris are also a regional speciality. Innovation has entered the world of puris too as they are now being stuffed with beetroot,spinach or palak, cheese and even chocolate. Puris are also served with Halwas of various kinds and Kheer too.

Puris have traversed countries too. Puris went to Mauritus with the indentured labourers and came to be known as Dholl puri. The Dholl puri is however not deep fried ,it is cooked on a tawa or griddle and has some lentil stuffed in the refined flour dough with salt,turmeric and roasted cumin powder as seasoning. Dholl Puri is also eaten in Trinidad but is known as Buss-up-shirt as the texture resembles rags. Europe too has its varieties of deep fried flat breads.In Hungary it is known as Langos made from flour,milk,yeast and salt.Deep fried,the Langos are stuffed withsour cream,mashed potato and yoghurt. It is eaten fresh and warm ,topped with cheese,sour cream or with garlic butter.

The eatery located on a busy corner of Perin Nariman Street,not far from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus has a fare of only different kinds of Puris.The variety however is unlimited- Chole puri,Alu Palak puri,Alu mutter puri,Alu Methi puri, Ali Gobi puri,Alu Bhindi puri,Masala puri and so on.One can choose from a Saada thali ,a Jain thali and the bestseller Pancham thali. While the flour doughs are constantly being rolled and deep fried in oil ,stocks of fried puri hardly builds up.They vanish as soon as they are drained out of the oil.After waiting patiently at the queue with tastebuds going for a toss as I sniffed the aroma and was practically salivating .Chatting up with the fifth generation owner I was amazed to know that he had not taken a break in the last two decades,to the extent he did not have time to get married.

Pancham Das Sharma who started with a nondescript stall selling ordinary breakfast fare hailed from a village called Adhet,in Tundla near Agra. The details of his journey are hazy but he definitely carried his art of puri making and the technique of rustling up a dry alu sabji to go with the puri. There are stories that he travelled to Bombay on a bullock cart ,as it was the age before the Railways.When Pancham Sharma first came to the city, Perin Nariman street was known as Bazar Gate Street or simply ‘Bazar Gate’ and had no street lights.

According to old city maps of Bombay there was a pond called Gibbet’s pond–locally known as Fasi Talao–facing Pancham Puriwala which was a popular spot for public executions. Popular stories in the Sharma household narrate that large crowds would gather to witness executions and afterwards they would drop in to eat poori-bhaji.The eatery today serves a social purpose too…food truly is a class equalizer. At Pancham Puriwala a white collared corporate honcho shares the table with a migrant labour picking up the pickled green chillies from the same bowl.You cannot book your table and therefore you are at liberty sharing food as well as stories.Pancham Puriwala in a sense erased class distinctions and reiterates food creates no distinctions…a gulp of the Palak puri dipped in the Kaddu sabji or the runny potato gravy tastes as heavenly as to a person residing in an apartment in Peddar Road as to the one who sleeps by the Churchgate station after a grueling work day.

We got a seat upstairs and shared the table with a group of migrant labourers from Bihar who were a regular there for dinner.We ordered a Pancham Thali. The thali was huge- an array of five kinds of puri including a plain one,a Palak stuffed, a masala stuffed spicy puri, a Beetroot puri and a Paneer puri. Went overboard with the variety and rustic authentic taste of the accompaniments. A dry potato sabji with generous spluttering of cumin and hing,a runny potato sabji which reminded of childhood Sunday breakfasts,a pumpkin sabji which tasted sweet as well as fragrant with the five spices,a traditional kadhi pakora,a matar paneer sabji. A chaas to finish it off and offcourse the hot Gulab Jamun.The mixed Pulao was also good with each grain of rice separate and fragrant of fresh vegetables and garam masala. We also ordered a glass of a Kesar Lassi on the recommendation of the owner. The kesar syrup was home made and the lassi thick.

We finished the thali in about 15 minutes and heard the owner who managed the crowd and the tables with a great finesse announcing as the last two orders.We quickly vacated to make space for the next lot. No finger bowls, we made ourselves happy with a basin for washing our hands and bunch of paper napkins.No frills but full on taste and comfort.For the countless people making Bombay their home ,the puris at Pancham were a dollop of home and love of their mother or grandmother.People keep coming back for the runny potato and kaddu sabji so much home,so much own.

Migrating from the north of India the family made Bombay their home for over a century and more,satiating thousands with the every day food of puri and sabji. The oldest eatery in the foodscape of Bombay ,still flourishing and charting new courses.Good food, unabated quality, service and love for their work permeates every corner of Panchsm Puriwala. The next morning demanded an extra couple of kilometers walk but was worth every morsel I had at Pancham Puriwala. At once I was transported to the days of train journeys to Delhi where Tundla was a junction station and my father would always jump down at the station and come back with some puris and a potato sabji in a sal leaf tokri where the puris went mushy in the potato gravy.The aroma of the hing flavoured aloo sabji which was a childhood memory came back that evening at Pancham Puriwala. Food is undoubtedly emotion,nostalgia,memory and offcourse acculturation.

Chai by the sea…The story of the Irani tea houses in Bombay

Irani_chai

It was a trip to Bombay I made after twenty years though I am a Bombayite by birth.It was many many autumns before I was born in Bombay in a nursing home beside the Chowpatty Beach.My parents relocated and I left the Arabian shores without much of a memory. Many years later in high school Bombay became my summer vacation escapade as my Baba had again relocated to Bombay.Bombay now seemed lovable and beautiful.Memories were built around Wilson College,Campion School,Napean Sea Road, Haji Ali.Began loving the Footlongs,the custard by the sea at Haji Ali,the seascapes of the city of Bombay. The last trip I made there was also my Baba’s last trip to his favourite city,the city which gave him professional excellence as well as the city which told him in an autumn in 2000 that maybe his days were numbered.I did not feel like going back to the city all these years. A sudden professional engagement and a need to re see the city where my parents began their life and career got me back to the city and a new affair has definitely began with the city of contrasts.The city is not a city of high-rises or high lives alone, it is also sometimes a city emanating the fragrance of old times,the stone buildings whispering stories,the shaded lanes of Colaba standing mute spectators of rolling times.The city clings on to its rich culture-its multiculturalism, respect for communities and belonging for their city continues unabated.Bombay has blended in beautifully the archaic,the old an the priceless with the new and with a price tag.Bombay is not always hurried ,it is also laid back ,enjoying its cup of chai and bun maskas with little worries about the world.

Bombay does not have winters,but a coolness overpowers the city in January and there I was in the city after a long hiatus,the breeze from the sea seemed comforting as I strolled around the lanes and bylanes of Colaba soaking in the pulse of the financial capital of the country.However businesslike it may seem,the city is also emotional,clinging on to it’s very own old run down but precious Irani restaurants in the Colaba and the Fort area which began its journey serving chai to the myriad people of colonial Bombay.

Established by the Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran in the 19th century, they served as some of the earliest public places for people to gather and eat outside home in a growing metropolis. It is said that the Irani cafés were also places where freedom fighters met to discuss plans of activism and movements.

The Zoroastrian community left Iran in two waves. The first group left in the early 8th century to escape religious persecution and are called Parsis. The second wave of migration occurred in the 19th century over fear of persecution during the Islamic revolution of Iran. These immigrants are called Iranis. Though both the Parsi and Irani communities share the same faith, they diverge culturally. The Irani community speaks Farsi , while the Parsis mostly speak Gujarati. It was this second set of immigrants, the Iranis, who met over hot cups of chai to fondly remember their family and friends. Haji Mohammed Showghi Yezdi travelled following the route from Kerman province down to Nav kondi then Quetta and Karachi, to reach the shores of a city then known as Bombay after a eight-month journey. Stories say that he carried a large sigdi– a tumbler with flaming coals at the bottom to maintain heat as he sat at Apollo Bunder, by the Gateway of India and sold Irani chai (tea) to the busy port. The popularity of chai among Bombay’s migrant labour and the working classes led to the mushrooming of tea stalls around every street corner of the Appollo Bunder area. Hindu merchants considered corner premises inauspicious and hence let them out to the enterprising Iranis at a cheap rate and thus the Irani shops began their journey.

The later immigrants, both Zoroastrian and Shia,from the drought-hit provinces of Yazd were part of the caravan network of the southern Silk Route. Its residents were mostly horticulturists but were also known for their coffee houses which however sold black tea.It is said that the Irani cafes in Bombay built on the coffee houses of their homeland.The large influx of Iranians into Bombay and the opening of Irani tea shops and restaurants in the late 19th  and early 20th centuries changed the way citizens ate, socialised and shopped. Items such as toiletries, over-the-counter medicines, detergent and other knick-knacks, were available at the Irani shops initially.

With a very minimalist decor of marble topped tables and comfortable chairs these shops began selling– crusty brun, sweet buns or soft pao, served  buttered, with milky, sweet tea.Thus the iconic Bun Maska was born.The salty taste of the butter and the sweetness of the tea gave the metropolis a new taste.However buns and milky tea were not specialities in Iran, where it was customary to drink reddish-black tea without milk. Traditional Iranian bread too is actually a flatbread, the oblong-shaped naan, made from barley flour, which hardly resembles the city’s Irani bakery breads.The adaptations, such as brun and pao, evolved from the locality where the first Irani restaurants opened. This was Dhobi Talao, where Kayani & Co, possibly the oldest existing Irani café in the city was located. Dhobi Talao was home also to a large number of Goan Christians, the bakery experts.The pao or pav of the Goans who were hired at the Irani shops evolved into the buns or bruns.

The oldest cafe Kyani & Co founded by Khodram Marezaban in 1904 shifted to it’s current premises at Jer Mahal building near Metro cinema.The cafe retains its old world no frills charm with red chequered table cloths, large wood and glass cabinets,glass covered tables,a large central mahogany counter and a grandfather’s clock. At one corner there is a portrait of Aflatoon Shokri who took over the eatery in 1957. The portrait was done by the legendary M F Husain, who was a regular visitor at the cafe. Kyani Cafe still has a wholesome breakfast within Rs100/- of their delicious Akuri  – a traditional Parsi dish of scrambled eggs on toast — with a cup of cardamom flavoured Irani Chai.

Once I got an invitation to attend a seminar at the city which breathed life at every go,I was sure to explore its heritage eateries.I decided to stay very near to Gateway of India .In my free time I walked about,sometimes getting lost in the maze of lanes of Colaba.Getting lost amidst such iconic buildings and paved roads was an experience in itself.To loose yourself in the unknown is like the moon suddenly losing it’s way behind an assemblage of clouds in a dark night.Google map became my constant reference point as I typed in Kyani&Co one morning after my daily walks around the Gateway and Radio Club. Took an Uber which went past the Mumbai University,the iconic Bombay High Court building ,past the Fashion Street and Bombay Gymkhana to the Free Reading room of Cowasjee Jehangir Building.Kyani is just opposite to the statue of Cowasjee Jehangir,the philanthropist who built Bombay in its splendor.

The hall at first sight was busy and had a din of people.I saw waiters moving about the tables briskly and taking orders for breakfast.Being a Sunday it had a family crowd chatting over wooden tables with glass top and Bentwood Chairs.The walls had pictures of famous people as well as iconic landmarks.The counter was made of mahogany wood and had a board saying ” Cash Only”.The old grandfather clock ticking away was evocative of the days of past colonial Bombay.The writing on the pillar that “Singles and Doubles be considerate and learn to share to share a table” was quite innovative.

The menu was on the table itself with a glass covering. I knew what I wanted to have,the aroma of the mutton left me salivating.My order was of a Kheema Ghotala ,a Bun Maska and an Irani Chai.While I could imagine the look of a Kheema Ghotola but could never in my wildest dream knew about the bun maska. The buns were cut into halves across the middle,smeared with butter and looked dainty on my table.The soft buns with the salty taste of the butter were dipped inside the plate of Kheema Ghotala and my senses were transformed in a flicker. The mutton minced into fine cuts was melt in mouth,the egg were soft and blended effortlessly.As I went about finishing the kheema,kept a portion of the bun for the chai. Looked around the place and from the take away counter I ordered a packet of Shrewsbury,the famous Mawa cake, the Glass Mawa cake,my favourite Date and Walnut loaf too.The counter had an assortment of cakes ,pies and savourites including brain cutlets, patties and biscuits like Shrewsbury, Coconut,Almond,Butterscotch,Mango and a host of jam biscuits.The jam biscuits with a dollop of mixed fruit jam in the middle got back childhood memories.

The popular items of Kyani include Mutton Salli Boti,Chicken Leg Farcha,Masoor Ghost apart from Dhansak and Pulao Dal. Do end your meal with the biggest portion of Caramel Pudding that I was ever served in any restaurant and offcourse their chocolate mousse.

The Irani chai intrigued me.It was rich,creamy and the generous sprinkling of cardamom was perfect for the mild winter of Bombay. It left me energized and fresh.The salty butter of the Bun Maska acted as a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the chai. Managed to learn a recipe of Irani chai from one of the Parsi women I met at the seminar.

For the chai you will need- 4 cups water,2 Tbsp of Black tea, 4 cups of whole milk,3 Tbsp of mawa,sugar to taste and sone Cinnamon powder.Prepare the chai in the manner mentioned below-

  1. Bring the water to a boil . Add the tea leaves and reduce heat, then continue to boil for about 20 minutes until the volume reduces by half. Remove from heat and strain.
  2. In a separate large saucepan, heat the milk on medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir constantly until the milk is reduced to 1½ cups. Whisk in the mawa, khoya, or dry milk powder until smooth and continue to cook until it thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Mix the filtered tea and the reduced milk mixture. Sweeten if desired, divide between two cups, and serve hot.
  4. Add ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the tea when brewing,or before serving.

Once you are in Bombay do visit B Merwan at Grant Road for its freshly baked Mawa cakes,Yazdani Bakery for its Apple pies in the afternoon, Jimmy Boy near Kala Ghoda for a complete Parsi feast (Lagan nu Bhonu),Brittania at Ballard Estate for its famed Berry Pulao,Fresh lime soda and the Raspberry Soda.

Fell in love with the Irani eateries as I thought that at the end of it all quality,taste and service matters not the decor.The run down eateries with peeled off plaster is overlooked as people across strata and age makes a beeline for either the Chai with a glass Mawa Cake or the Berry Pulao or the Dhansak or the Salli Boti anytime of the day.

With people, food too travels across rugged terrains,food migrates too but retains most of their tastes and adapts to some extent to the new homeland.An interesting story of amalgamation and synthesis…..food continues to bind people,nations and makes space for love amidst diversities.

Sangria – The Pitcher of Happiness.

There are few things more soothing to the eye and the mind than to see a pitcher of sangria being readied with care and precision. Red wine, orange juice and a medley of fruits,infused for over eight hours, some and lots of passion. The Sangria will spread cheer for sure.

While Americans first tasted this red wine punch at the 1964 World Fair in New York, the history of Sangria can be traced back to 200 BC in Spain. The historical sources however has contradictory opinions on the origin country of Sangria.

Spain began planting vineyards for wine making and trade with the Romans. Wine became the most popular drink across age.The popularity of wine drinking however had its origins in medical science.Water was thought to be full of bacteria and unfit for consumption.Any liquid with some alcohol infused in it killed the bacteria making it the beverage of choice. People who lived near the vine yards added other fruits and spices to the wine, giving it a different flavor. These ingredients together paved the way for the traditional Spanish red wine punch- Sangria.Sangria had another twist during the 1700’s and 1800’s when the British and French got a taste of it. The new base of the punch became Claret (the British term for the French Bordeaux).Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot were often added to the mix to be finished off with a mix of fruits.A jar of Sangria began to be found at every party from Cadiz to London.

While America does not have a legal standard for the drink, European Union does. It is defined as,“a drink obtained from wine, aromatized with the addition of natural citrus-fruit extracts or essences, with or without the juice of such fruit and with the possible addition of spices, sweetened and with CO2 added, having an acquired alcoholic strength by volume of less than 12 % vol. The drink may contain solid particles of citrus-fruit pulp or peel and its colour must come exclusively from the raw materials used.” While Sangria is more often a red wine drink, white can be used too. A variety of fruits like oranges, apples, pomegranates, peaches are used. The most obvious component of Sangria remains the wine. While there is definitely some room for variation on all of the other ingredients, there is no Sangria without wine. While one could make a Sangria with a different sweetener and a plethora of fruits, wine must be an ingredient, so the history of wine is forever tied to the history of Sangria.

Historically Sangria was preceded by Hippocras which was a spiced and sweetened wine that could have been served warm or cold. Any sort of spice or flavorful stuff was added to it. It was filtered through a filter named “the sleeve of Hippocrates”, hence the name. The name of this drink thus comes from the bag that the drink was filtered through. Some historians point out that the origin of Sangria dates back to the 14th century and can be traced to Ecuador or the Caribbean Antilles Islands. The European Union passed a decree that the name Sangria is under exclusive rights to Spain and Portugal only, similar to what the French have done with Champagne in Spain; one cannot call it Champagne in Spain, instead it is called Cava. Legends say that some Spanish sailors started calling it Sangria, which means bloodshed, because wine is the body of Christ, and must not be altered or tampered with, initially they would have been up-hauled watching Caribbean locals mixing fruit juice with wine, but it eventually became popular.  Although one associates sangria with warm weather months, it is equally as delicious in winter.The first day of winter in America is celebrated on December 21 as the National Sangria Day.  Till 2008 it was illegal to serve Sangria in Virginia because of an antiquated law that prohibited mixing wine or beer with spirits.The law was written in 1934 just after Prohibition ended and was repealed in 2008 by the Virginia General Assembly.

For me Sangria is refreshing any time of the evening. A tall pitcher with colors and friends with laughter.My tips for assembling the sangria. One will need decent red table-Wine,Cointreau Orange Liquor or Rum or both, Orange juice and the juice of one lemon, Sugar, but not too much, fruit slices of your choice such as lemon, orange,apple.Using a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon, muddle the fruits with the wine. Stir to combine all ingredients. Stir the sangria then cover the top of the pitcher with plastic wrap. Place pitcher in refrigerator and chill several hours or overnight.  Serve in festive glasses with a lime slice garnish. Choose a wine that is fruity but dry. Make sangria a day ahead of when you are going to serve it so that the flavors in the sangria can infuse.

Sit around a table with friends, help yourself out of the Sangria pitcher and share the happiness and warmth. The flavor lives on in the cheer the Sangria spreads.

This was a picture taken at a gathering of the Historical Society. The medley of fruits in the Sangria after the wine was finished off.

The Romance of a Rum Ball

the romance of a rum ball…childhood innocence and happiness

Rum balls have been pure intoxication over years. Gooey, chocolaty, boozy Rum Balls are beautiful memories of childhood. Though I do not like the sweetness of Rum Balls anymore, yet I dream of a box of Rum Ball from Jalajoga, the once famous bakery of Kolkata. I still close my eyes and can name all those who used to bring Rum Balls to our house in Jodhpur Park in the 1980’s. Jalajoga gave way to Kathleens, Monginis and then to outlets of Flurys at malls and once again Rum Balls made its frequent appearance. Rum balls at Nahoums over time remained ever gooey and flavoured. The rum ball triggers an avalanche of memories—of childhood afternoons and evenings after my playtime. Often rum balls awaited me for a snack after school. And if I could convince my Ma to tuck in a rum ball in the school tiffin box for the next day, I knew my maths class would not seem so boring. The fragrance of the tiffin box and the looks of my friends made me feel like a queen.The very word Rum in the entire story made it special for a kid with a lot of inquisitiveness for things forbidden.

It was few days back when I was reading a part of the seven-volume novel, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust that memories of Rum Balls became vivid. And with it I remembered the white paper boxes with Jalajoga written in blue which were either packed with Rum Balls or flaky patties and often brought home by Baba.

The rum ball, is a common British name of a ‘rum truffle’. It is a small cake that is akin more towards a chocolate. They are a truffle-like confection made from leftover cake, sometimes with a few biscuits thrown into the mix, which is crumbled up with melted dark chocolate and rum, rolled into balls, and coated with sprinkles or cocoa.Some recipes include dried fruit, glace cherries or ground nuts. Some give the rum a miss to make a suitable-for-children adaptation. Although to my mind, a rum ball without the rum is—well, not a rum ball at all. Because they aren’t baked, the alcoholic kick remains. To my young self, rum balls were part of the grown-up taste sphere,that I suppose was its overriding appeal.

Rum balls are popular in Britain, and are also a tradition in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Rum balls are quick and easy to make and have the ‘no cooking’ advantage as they often appeared in those ‘How to Hostess a Party’ articles of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Traditionally Danish Rum Balls are also known as Romkugler. Romkugler is found in every bakery in Denmark are very dense, have a rich chocolate taste and a twist of rum.Rum balls were originally invented by the Danish bakers who were worried at the end of each day when they found unsold cakes at the counter. Even though they did their best to make the right amount of bread, buns, Danish pastry and cakes so that all of it would be sold during the day; they always had leftovers which would not be fresh enough to be sold the day after.The bakers came up with a clever plan where they assembled all the Danish pastry and cakes, which were not sold during the day; they then mixed it all together with cocoa powder and some rum. The sticky dough was then rolled into balls, decorated with coconut flakes or chocolate sprinkle and then sold the next day for a low price.

Over the years when I started baking, Rum balls became a regular at my kitchen. In my recipe for homemade rum balls, you would need some cake leftovers, raspberry jam, rum,cocoa powder and some coconut flakes for decoration. I always save my cake leftovers in the freezer and when I have enough, I thaw it and make rum balls. Cake leftovers after Christmas make it the best time to rustle up Rum Balls. For the Rum Balls I mix all the cake leftovers in a food processor and run until they all crumble.Then I add jam, rum and cocoa powder and run the food processor until the dough has a uniform consistency.If I am in a mood to overdo, I drizzle some condensed milk too at this stage. Sometimes I add semi crushed raisins and cashews soaked in rum. Remember not to add the rum which was used to soak the dry fruits. I roll the dough into about eight balls and then roll them balls in coconut flakes or chocolate flakes.You may choose to roll over the balls in melted chocolate at this point which would soon harden and give a glaze. Leave the rum ball in the fridge until they are to be served.

Have seen both grown ups and children eating a Rum Ball in myriad ways. Some gulp it straight, others cut them into halves and scoop the cakey part and leave the chocolate part to be had later. After I wrote this on Rum balls and made a batch, I am tempted enough to try one after ages, yes halving it and enjoying the rummy aroma. Heady feeling I suppose. Cheers to a gulp of the chocolate and rum…. Memories and happy ones always.

The story of Cheese – Melting Moments and Gooey Times.

Cheese often saves my day when there are sudden guests or an impromptu party at my home.It is one of the best comfort foods too. A late night bite into a cheese cube is often bliss. Cheese is as versatile as the eggs- varieties of cheeses abounds so does avenues to make the cheese interesting.A sudden late evening party and my search for a cocktail snack ends with rice and cheese balls,a sudden afternoon with friends calls for some Spaghetti and some Parmesan,a lazy Sunday morning breakfast often combines egg and cheese in my multigrain slice.

Cheese has several childhood memories.Those were the days of Amul cheese cubes which my Ma used to store in the fridge for a cheese omelette or a cheese sandwich.But I loved eating them by itself and often earned the wrath of my Ma when she discovered that the cheese had just vanished.Then came the age of cheese spreads and my good times .Just dip your finger in the gooey pack and bliss is all yours.Simple cucumber sandwiches became tastier.Centuries of experimentation and innovation have resulted in varieties of cheese each with it’s own texture,taste and stink factor.These days I feel overwhelmed and lost by the exhaustive array of cheese at hyper stores.

Cheese can be classified by different parameters-texture,flavor,age,preparation method,type of milk used,color,country,region.Popular cheese blogger Marcella the Cheesemonger classified cheese into eight major families.Fresh cheese as Mascarpone,Cottage Cheese,Ricotta;Pasta Filata as Mozarella, Burrata;Soft Ripened Cheese as Brie,Camembert;Semi Soft Cheese as Havarti,Jarlsberg ;Washed Rind Cheese as Limburger; Blue Cheese as Roquefort;Semi Hard Cheese as Cheddar, Gouda;Hard Cheese as Parmigiano, Pecorino and the entire range of Processed Cheeses.

The evolution of cheese began around 5000 years ago,when people in warm Central Asia and the Middle East learned that they could preserve naturally soured,curdled milk by draining off the watery whey and salting the concentrated curd.The texture of the curd became cohesive as the curdling took place in an animal stomach.The first cheeses resembled modern day brine cured feta,still common in Balkans.The earliest evidence of cheesemaking known to date,a residue found in an Egyptian pot,dates from around 2300 BC.The birth of modern cheese was well before Roman times. Columella in his book Rei Rusticae described standard cheese making practice.Pliny mentioned that Rome got its cheeses from Nimes in southern France and the Dalmatian Alps.

Cheese as Artifacts- ” Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky,meadows encrusted with salt that the tides of Normandy deposit every evening…there are different herds,with their shelters and their movements across the countryside,there are secret methods handed down over centuries.This shop is a museum ,Mr Palomar visiting it,feels as he does in Louvre,behind every cheese is the presence of the civilization that gave it form and takes form from it.” Italo Calvino,Palomar,1983.

The art of cheesemaking by late medieval times inspired connoisseur ship as the French court received shipments from Brie,Comte,Maroilles. In England, Chesire cheese became famous by Elizabethan times and Cheddar and Stiltoon by the 18th century.For the poor it became a staple,and for the rich aged cheese became a one course of their multi course feasts. Brillat Savarin wrote,”a desert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who is missing an eye.” The golden age of cheese was probably the late 19th and early 20th century as local styles developed and matured, and the railroads got the country products to the city. With the establishment of cheese factories in United States the modern decline of cheesemaking began.Cheese became an industrial product an expression, not of diverse natural and human particulars but of monolithic standard.

It is always a challenge to choose a good cheese. A late medieval compendium of recipes known as Le Menagier de Paris,included this formula to recognize a good cheese.” Not at all white like Helen,Nor weeping like Magdalene,Not Argus,but completely blind,And heavy like a buffalo…..Without eyes,without tears, not at all white,Moth eaten ,rebellious, of good weight.”

To cook with cheese is both a challenge as well as a bliss. Cheese can add both flavor and texture ,it can either melt or be crisp.Stringy cheeses are enjoyable on pizzas.The pleasure of melted cheese is beyond words.A cheese dish which always intrigues me is a Cheese Fondue.In the Swiss Alps,cheese has been melted in a communal pot at the table and kept hot over a flame for dipping bread.The ingredients for a classic fondue are alpine cheese,a tart white wine,some kitsch and sometimes starch.The combination of cheese and wine steals the show.France and Greece leads the world in per capita cheese consumption.

Last year my trip to Conoor was made memorable by a visit to a cheese farm Acres Wild .The fresh Gouda cheese which I sourced from there will be always be on my tastebuds. The entire range is hand made and includes an array of soft and hard cheese-Feta,Ricotta,Parmesan and even Blue Cheese.Hand crafted artisanal cheeses have become a niche in India and there are several homegrown cheese makers making crumb fried Camembert,salty Ricotta,cheese infused with herbs etc.My favourite cheese dishes which I love to cook apart from a cheese stuffed omelette is a simple cheesy sauce Penne pasta.It can never go wrong on warmth as well as taste.My recipe for a simple herb infused cheesy pasta is short and simple.

For cooking any pasta I prefer whole wheat ones,and for this I boiled whole wheat penne in lots of water infused with some olive oil,salt and some dried mixed herbs.I don’t like my pasta soft,so keep a close vigil on the texture.After draining out the starch filled water, I let the boiled pasta to cool for a while.For the sauce butter and minced garlic is a must.Once the butter melts in the pan,o I add a lot of minced garlic,some dried mixed herbs and when the butter is infused with the garlic, I put in a teaspoon of flour and roast it well.One should be however be careful not to brown the flour.I lower the flame,add the lukewarm milk and stir it well and avoid lumps.To this sauce I add the boiled pasta,some red chilli flakes and let it soak in the flavor. Once I add salt if necessary ,I transfer this to a baking dish and add a lot of grated Parmesan cheese and bake for a brownish soft crust .Once done I add a handful of fresh parsley.This has never failed me and love seeing happy faces of the kids of my friends slurping the melted cheese.