Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mangshor patla jhol / A light, soupy mutton curry
To be honest, I had wanted this post to be a happy post. Some thoughts, some writings.
And lots of happy thoughts.
When I had cooked this light mutton curry, I had some friends staying over.
There was much banter and an easy air all over in the house.  Light food and close friends always make for a cosy, homely feel.
So I had thought I would write about all the fun we had and about all the food we took turns to cook.
But the months passed, not to mention the dark ones, and the photos languished in my folder.

In fact, when I started to post again, I kept skipping this recipe, waiting for better days that will echo in my post.
Which is why, right now, I have a recipe of the Chole tikki in my drafts.

But a few days back, I wrote on my Facebook page as to which recipe would my readers like to see in my next post.
And Monalisa wrote in to say " Light mangshor jhol sounds yummylicious!! Light golden jhol is apt for the gloomy lazy days of winter"

 My friends have been a huge support the last few months.
Always with me when I needed them. A warm word here. A strong encouragement there.
Asking about my absence. Inquiring after my health.
So I will let the Chole tikki sleep in the drafts for a little while longer.
My friends will get what they want. So decided to make this post on the light mutton curry right away.

The sun has set on 2015 a few hours back.
Now comes the waiting part. Waiting for a new day. A whole new year.
New hopes. New fears.
New aspirations. New achievements.
2015 has taken much from me. I just hope 2016 will, if not give anything, not take anymore.

This jhol is light, runny and is light on spices.
It does have garam masala but in much less quantity than usual.
I have used chilli flakes, that I ground at home, for a little heat; you can skip that in case you want a plain jhol.

This is very different from the rich Mangshor jhol, that I make when I have guests.
Ma used to make this when she ran short of time.
Or in winters ... but that would have carrots, green peas, cabbage, etc.
I just added the much loved aloo or the potato ... a must in a mutton curry for Bengalis.
Need :

Mutton - ½ kilo, cleaned and washed
Potatoes - 2, halved
Onion - 1 medium, sliced
Curd - 1 teacup
Cooking oil - 1 tbsp ( I use mustard oil )
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a little
Black cardamom - 2. crushed
Black cardamom powder - just little pinch or maybe half a teaspoon (grind them fresh if possible)
Cinnamon - 1 small piece, crushed
Chilli flakes - 1 tbsp ( I dry roast red chillies and give them a short burst in the mixie )
Grated ginger - 1 tbsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1 tbsp

How to :

Marinate the mutton with the curd + ginger + garlic + turmeric + chilli flakes.
I do not add salt in the marination.

Keep aside for at least half an hour.
Of course, you can keep it for a longer time or make it immediately if you are pressed for time ... but then, as everybody knows ... the longer the marination time, the better the flavours.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker.
Add the sliced onions and fry on low heat till well browned.

Add the crushed cardamom + cinnamon.
When you start to get the aroma, add the mutton and stir well for a while ... till everything is mixed properly. No need to fry for a very long time ... as in 'koshao'ing.

Raise heat, add the potatoes and enough water to make a gravy.
( I do not fry the potatoes first ).
Add salt and sugar.
Sprinkle the cardamom powder all over it.

Close lid and cook for 4 whistles on low heat.
The cooking time depends on the quality of the mutton ... so if needed you may cook for a few more whistles.

Remove from heat and cool.

Remove cover and check for the consistency of the gravy. If needed add water to make it thinner, but do check the salt accordingly.
Serve hot with rotis or rice.
Some chunky mutton pieces, some robust flavours in a spoonful of this light jhol, some winter sun, some chill in the air  ... all make for a great lunch ... holiday or otherwise.

Revel in health, love, sunshine and food, dear friends.
Wish you much happiness in the coming new year.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Begun pora / Roasted and mashed Eggplant ... a spicy, rustic winter favourite
Begun pora. Or fire roasted brinjal or eggplant.
Just the word pora or poda brings along with it the whiff of fire, smoke and roasting.
Along with the smell of winter nights.
Crisp, cold air. Smoke from the unoon or the chulha.
Thamma's warm, sooty, smoky kitchen.
Wood fire burning with all its might in the two big sized open unoons ... where two huge handis cook rice during the day.

Thamma would throw in sweet potatoes, potatoes into the mouth of the unoons to roast.
And winter nights would definitely see some big sized brinjals with their skins shining with a coat of mustard oil, getting roasted too.
Thamma had a small sized chulha too ... made from a steel bucket, that had three mounds made from wet earth, to sit a vessel on. On that she made rotis.

We children loved to cross the open kitchen veranda on the courtyard, shivering in the cold, push open the lightly closed door  just to soak in the warmth of her kitchen with two roaring fires and watch the sparkling splinters jump and dance around the fires.

Sometimes Thamma would call us in and hand us a piece of very hot roti, just off the chulha and torn into small parts for us.
Chewing on that small piece of roti, we would again barge out and go back into the house, crossing Dadu on the way, who would always be on the swing on the veranda ... for as long as Thamma would be in the kitchen.
Every time we crossed him, he would turn his head and smile at us and the ruckus we made. And then he would go back to gazing at the stars on the bright winter sky again.

On some days, when there would be brinjals roasting in the fire and Begun pora on the menu, if we barged into the kitchen, Thamma would sit us down and ask the help to quickly cut up onions and skin some roasted brinjals.
She would then mash them up with mustard oil, fresh coriander leaves ... a must in every winter dish ... and onions, skipping the green chillies.
And then she would feed us from that one plate of begun pora while the help flipped rotis one by one into the second plate.
There, of course, would be a story to keep us still, too.
Quietly she would send the help to inform our mothers that they are free for the evening.
Their children have had dinner ... a huge task otherwise.

These days, all that I bank on, is memories.
Dadu and Thamma are no longer around.
The house has been demolished recently.
Dad left us three months back.
And what struck me most was Didi's sudden demise last month.
She was the leader of the pack; the head of all plans of our childhood.
All adventures, picnics, plans for movies, gatherings , were started by her.
Not one to hear a no. The eldest child of the family.
My sister, friend, confidante,guide.
This year has taken so much from me that I dread facing the coming year.

I planned to make the Begun pora last weekend for lunch and not for dinner. 
I wanted to click some photos and make a post.

As anyone would know, this is an easy, fuss free dish.
All you need is some fresh, big sized brinjals /eggplants, some onions and green chillies and the all important mustard oil.
The smoky flavour of the roasted  eggplant mixed with the zing of raw mustard oil give the dish its rustic charm.

This is also known as Bengena pitika in Assamese.
Need :

Brinjals / Eggplants
Mustard oil
Chopped onions
Chopped green chillies
Fresh coriander leaves

How to :

Smear the eggplants with mustard oil and roast slowly on an open fire.

The skin should be completely charred for the insides to be cooked well.
I make sure it becomes flaky ... almost no moisture on the skin.
That not only ensures that the eggplant is well done, it also gives a distinct brown colour to the flesh  just below the skin.
(Check out the steam.)

Cool and skin it.
Mash it well with the rest of the ingredients.
Don't forget to be generous with that drizzle of raw mustard oil all over it.

Serve hot with rotis.

On another note, my hand and shoulders are acting up again.
I have been knitting a little too much recently I guess. And assume that is the culprit.
I have no idea when I'll be able to complete this sweater for B. 
Neither do I have any idea as to when I will be able to make another post next.

Till then take care dear friends.
Stay well and enjoy your holidays.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Tomato and Carrot Soup

A couple of weeks back, both B and I were down with the sniffles, a bad throat and fever.
While the whole world was blaming global warming, in between long hyaaccchoooos and much coughing, I ignored all that and dragged myself to the kitchen.
I did have a couple of ready made soup packets on the kitchen shelf.
But these days I get these little bursts of impulsive cooking. And so went ahead and made a good amount of soup.
It lasted us three days ... evenings, to be precise.

I do not feel like writing much today.
Hence, straight to the recipe.

Need :

Ripe tomatoes - 2 big sized
Baby carrots - 5
Garlic - 6 cloves
Ginger - sliced, around 1 tsp
Onion - 1 medium sized, sliced
Whole black peppercorns - 5
Salt - to taste
Sugar - to taste
Water - to cook in

How to :

Cook everything together in a pressure cooker for 5 whistles on low heat.

Cool and blend.

Strain into a pan and adjust seasoning.

Boil for 5 minutes or more if you desire it to be thick .... but be careful as the taste will change.
So adjust salt accordingly.

I did not add any thickening agent like cornflour or maida.
Just boiled it till a little extra liquid has evaporated.

Serve hot with black pepper powder and croutons.

You can add a lump of butter, if you wish to.

This has no oil or extra fat ... yet is very flavourful.
Making this soup did not take much time.
Considering I had fever and could hardly keep my head up, it took all of 20 minutes, I guess.
Make it in bulk and you are done for around three or four days at least.
I made some Spinach soup the next day and alternated the two for the next few days.

When evening sets in and the shadows turn long near the window, we sit down with a cupful each.
Paired with some bread croutons and a dash of freshly ground black pepper, this soup gives the perfect warmth to a painful throat as lovingly as it soothes a battered heart.

Will be seeing you around, friends.

Here are some more soups and stews for you to try this winter 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Oven baked Bread Croutons .... and the stars don't shine down anymore

"Don't sweat the small stuff.
... and it is all small stuff."

I had picked up this book when B had forcefully taken me to Crossword one weekend, a few weeks after we had returned from my home.
I had given up talking to anyone, not even on the phone, going out, eating, sleeping.
Walked around or just sat for long hours in a daze.
It was difficult on B too. He was with me throughout the ordeal that had stretched into several months.
It was  one of his endeavours to bring me out of my shell and reintroduce to normal days again.
So, inspite of being surprised, he had kept quiet when I had wandered to the self help section of the book store and picked this book up.

Never, in my life, had I imagined that I would need to read self help books.
I am the one people came to when they needed something to share ... more of grievances than happiness.
I am the one who used to leave one shoulder free for my friends, even strangers, to cry on.
Now I needed self help books, assurances from anyone or anything, that this was all a nightmare and I will wake up again to my old, comforting world.

The family was there ... the whole, huge one,  complete with near, far and extended relatives.
Friends were there ... both from the real as well as the virtual world.
But I did not want anybody.
I did not want to hear anything; from anybody.
I needed assurance. But I kept pushing everyone away.
Those who genuinely cared stuck around. Never left me for a moment.
Subtly, but surely, they were around ... without intruding. Gave me my space.
Yet kept sending messages, mails.
I am grateful for them.

Progna, who is more of  a soul sister and a tremendous positive personality herself, warned me, along with other warm words .... "It's okay to be sad. Just don't let your sadness push away ppl who care."

That line struck sense into me. 
I took her advice seriously and slowly started to take interest in moments again.
It is not easy.
But I have started taking small steps ... watching the rice boil, feel the water running through my fingers under the tap, listen to B speaking and listening to it too, open the door to the bell and talk to whoever it was ....
I have called three people so far ... on my own. And spoke to them for a while too.
Earlier, all I did was hold the phone and keep staring at Bapi's number, afraid of calling and not getting to hear his voice.

I could not bear to hear someone else's voice on his number.

I am trying hard to come out of my daze. 
To look, hear,feel and search for my old world again.

Aparna, who I idolise,  wrote  .... "Time heals Sharmila. Just doing the normal regular things helps. Start writing again. Even if they are fb posts."

Preeti, the sweetest person ever, has been in constant touch with me through messages on fb.
Encouraging me to chat, to rant.

And then there are others, all gems of people with loving hearts, who have come over and written on my posts and have sent messages on fb, noticed my absence and wrote on my timeline that they have missed me, been with me always.
I am trying to write again.  
And just writing this post has already helped me. I feel I am talking to you, my friends, who have always been there for me.

I have started to cook again.
Slowly, surely, cooking and all the paraphernalia that comes with it, seeped into me.
Deciding on what vegetable to buy, the menu, when to cook what.
My mind is coming back from numbness.

Of course, there are break downs still.
There are times when I just leave everything and go back into the darkness.
Evenings are difficult.
Every evening I look up to the sky, searching among the stars that smiling face of love.
All I see, through my tears, is a blurred sky. The stars do not shine any more.

But I am trying.
I, honestly, am.

Today, I will not leave without a recipe ... that is what my blog is all about after all.
I had made some croutons a few days ago, when both B and I were down with the sniffles and fever, to go with some tomato soup.
Baked them with a dash of olive oil and some dry herbs.

They are  very crisp, crunchy, full of your favourite flavours and absolutely guilt free.
Ma used to deep fry them ... but these turned out great.

I make these often and store them ... they make great snacks with a cup of tea or coffee too.
This time I wanted to click some photos, and so here goes the recipe.
Not much actually, but is a great help when it comes to munching on something and not having to worry about what you are snacking on.

Need :

Bread slices, preferably those that have been sitting in the fridge for a few days
Olive oil
Mixed Italian herbs
Freshly crushed black pepper corns
Garlic cloves (optional)

How to :

Cut the bread slices into small cubes.

Mix the herbs and the black pepper into the oil.
You can use butter too.
Toss the bread cubes in the mixture.

Spread them on a baking tray and set them in the oven at 100 degrees C for 10 minutes
and then 150 till they turn golden brown.
I threw in some garlic cloves that turned beautifully crisp and brown too.

Remove and cool.
Store in an airtight bottle.
Serve with your favourite soup.
Or just munch on as a snack.

I had made a light, oil free, fuss free, tangy Tomato and Carrot soup.
Both were perfect together.

Hope to see you all around soon. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Time out but .... time please

Three months since my last, real post, I am sitting down with the laptop again.
To write a post.
Or, to try to write a post.
Wondering just how far will I be able to go.
I haven't done much for the blog in the past few months.
No recipes; no photographs.
Nothing to write in.
No ... I do have a lot to write. But that will not interest any of you, I know.
It will be just an emotional catharsis for me.

Dealing with two deaths in the family, over a span of two months, that last one barely a little over a fortnight  ago, I am on an emotional roller coaster ride.

Dealing with the deaths of two of my most favourite and dearest people on this earth, I am a nervous wreck right now. My emotions swing dangerously from subdued and quiet to suddenly angry and then collapse into tears.
I feel helpless; very helpless.

The whole world I can take on. But death?
How do I deal with death?
That one omnipresent and very real thing the whole world knows of but has no idea how absolutely life changing it actually is.

I am still trying.
To cope; to accept;  to be practical.
To go through the days as if nothing has changed in this world.

Well, nothing has.
The sun still rises. We got rain for a few days last week.
People are discussing the absence of winter this year .... and global warming.
Everybody celebrated Durga puja. And Diwali.

Only time has stood still for me.
I am still at the hospital, looking down at my father's calm face, with disbelief.
He was sleeping; only to never wake up again.

The days before that day, and those that followed were tremendously painful.
Too many people around; too much of noise; too much of sympathy. And too many rituals.
I went through them in a daze .... turning from hopefulness to helplessness to anger to disbelief.
And sometimes completely calmly.

After three difficult months, I return.
And try to get on with life and the mundane.
But that was not to be.

Just a fortnight later, I wake up one Sunday morning to a phone call that bore the news that my eldest cousin sister, who stayed in the same city, is no more.
"Passed away in her sleep last evening."
Just like that. She wasn't even fifty.
We had grown up together in a joint family, with a big brood of brothers and sisters.
She had always protected me and looked out for me all the life.

So it was a rerun of the same story for me .... again.

Right now, I am just trying to go with this flow called life.
It is futile fighting.
Whatever it deals out to us, we have to take.
Doesn't matter how much it hurts.
Today, when I look around me, every single thing seems frivolous.
Ill will, jealousy, ego fights, clamouring to reach to the the end of future .... everything seems so unreal.
So unnecessary.

I want to thank all of you who left lines in my last post, giving me courage and sharing my pain.
And all those who remembered me, missed me and wrote to me on FB and mail, thank you.
All your warm lines have given me a lot of strength.

My blog has been riddled with so many breaks that it is really a wonder to see you all come back to check on me every now and again.
And a relief too.
Thank you so much for being there.

Just give me some more time, please.
Thank you.
God bless.