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.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Life is fragile ...

... and frivolous.

Now a happy, colourful bubble.
Now gone ... in a snap.

Now a shining droplet on a leaf.
Now nothing.

Today I am here to apologize to my readers, friends and followers, for staying quiet for so long.
With no explanation. Or reason.

But that is what this thing called life is.
Never gives a prelude to the coming days.
Nor a warning.

Just dumps whatever it has in its bag for us; on us.
With a bang.
Or a smile.
Your luck.

For me, it was luck too.
Just, bad luck.

But I have taken it with, if not a smile, a brave front.
I may have crumbled inside.
But the wall has not broken.
Not yet.

Dear friends, this is just to say that I will be away for some more time.
I am grappling with a loss in my life and am still to come to terms with it.
So, if you have been a good friend and reader, have come here and gone away disappointed, I am sorry for that.
I did not mean to stay quiet and away for so long .

But life has other plans for us.

Please do stay with Kichu Khonn.
While I go and learn how to take the loss of that strongest pillar in my life , with ease.
And hide my tears.

Thank you for all the love.
God bless you.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Stir fried Macaroni with vegetables and chicken sausage

The only thing that I do not make with macaroni is the very famous mac and cheese.
The reason? Well ... I do not have any reason.
Maybe because I do not like the white sauce.
Maybe because I do not like cheese.
Maybe. I don't know.
But then ... maybe that is not such a solid reason after all because B loves cheese. And I do cook a lot of things that B likes and I do not.
So there.

But what I do make with macaroni is a variety of other things.
Sometimes a cold salad.
Sometimes add some to a soup. And sometimes the stew.
Sometimes with roasted vegetables.
And at other times, this stir fry that can be eaten as a warm salad too.
It is quick to make and makes for a very filling meal.

It was one of those late evenings when I was dead tired and did not want to cook anything for dinner.
B suggested ordering out but I was not interested in that too.
Suggestions and options went to and fro .... from me stuck on the sofa with my knitting for most of the evening and B, stuck in the chair in front of the idiot box.
I was getting hungry and we were reaching nowhere.
And the noise from the juvenile movie on god-knows-what-kind-species-are-these was getting on my nerves already.

So decided to take matters to my hands ... which was exactly what B knew would come to.

 Walked into the kitchen and made this in 10 minutes flat ... because I had boiled macaroni in the fridge.
And sprouts ready on the counter.
Chopped up a few vegetables and stir fried everything together.
Chopped and fried myself some  chicken sausages too.
And dinner was ready even before those godzilla like creatures on the telly could burn a complete city down.

These photographs are from the phone .... again.
Impromptu meals like these are sometimes so good and flavourful that I am tempted to share it here.
So please do bear with the snaps.

Need :

Boiled Macaroni - 1 cup
Carrots - 1 medium, chopped into very small pieces
Cauliflower - 6 to 7 florets, chopped
Green peas - 5 tbsp
Capsicum - 1 medium, chopped
Moong dal sprouts - 8 tbsp
Onion - 1 medium, chopped
Garlic - 5 cloves, chopped
Mixed Italian herbs - 1 tsp
Red chilli flakes - 1 tsp
Lemon juice - 1 tsp
Black pepper powder - to taste
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a pinch
Cooking oil  - 1 tbsp
Chicken sausages - thawed and chopped 

You can use any vegetables of your choice.
You can use scrambles eggs too.
Or chicken cubes.

How to :

 Heat oil in an open kadahi or wok.

Add the garlic + onions.

Raise heat and add all the vegetables.

Stir fry for a while.

Add the sprouts.

Add the salt + lemon juice + sugar + Italian herbs(crushed) + chilli flakes + pepper powder.

Toss well.

In another pan fry the chopped sausages and add to the macaroni.

Remove from heat and serve hot. 

This was perfect for a rainy night dinner.
After the telly was switched off.

I love to douse this with some ketchup sometimes. Just sometimes.
Else it is good as is.
Do eat it hot ... just off the wok. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

Karela sabzi / Bitter gourd cooked with spices

This Karele ki sabzi is made very regularly in my kitchen.
Since I cook both types of food, Bengali as well as Rajasthani, almost all vegetables and dals are cooked in two ways or more.
One is the Bengali way that we eat when we have a Bengali menu .... read  bhaat  and dal.
The other is the Rajasthani way that we have with roti and dal.
When it comes to the Karela or the Ucche, as it known as in Bengali, I make the Ucche bhaja when eating with rice.
But make the Bharwa Karela or this dryish dish when eating rotis.
Bengalis eat a little bitter at the begining of every meal. I can eat the Ucche bhaja along with a little rice, but in a very small quantity. And can never eat it with rotis.
But B eats the Karela as a side dish. Along with rotis or parathas / porota.

The Ucche bhaja is slightly bland with no spices at all except a little red chilli powder that I add at the end. But this recipe does have some spices, as Rajasthani food is wont to, and transforms the simple Karela  completely.
And I confess that I love this recipe too. Especially with parathas. 

 A favourite combination at my in-laws' place is the Karela+Paratha+Aamras.
This summer, we were very busy with numerous things and travels, hence I could make this meal just once for B.
And decided to make a post too.
I know it is not the time for Aamras, but then maybe you can enjoy it the next summer.
Which I know will be soon.
Time doesn't stand still after all.

 Mummy ( Ma in law ) has a typical way of making this sabzi.
She grates the skin of the Karela and keeps the peels aside. Later, when cooking, she adds the washed peels too. It does give a body to the dish but I am not too keen on making it this way.
I prefer to keep the skin on and cook as it is.
I love bitterness of the Karela and so does B. Hence no problem there.

Need :

Karela / Ucche / Bitter gourd  - 3 medium sized
Jeera / Cumin seeds - ½ tsp
Dhaniya / Coriander powder - 4 tbsp
Saunf / Fennel powder - 3 tbsp
Amchur / Dried mango powder - 1 tsp
Haldi / Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Mirch / Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste
Cooking oil - 1 tbsp

How to :

Chop the karela in small sized cubes.
Apply some salt and keep aside for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, squeeze out the water released by the karela and wash it well under running water.

Heat oil in a kadahi / wok.

Add the jeera.
Once it starts to crackle , add the karela.

Raise heat and stir fry well.

Now add all the powder masalas, except the amchur.
Add salt.

Stir well, cover and lower heat.
Cook till done .... do remember to stir in between.

When done, add the amchur powder and give a final stir.

Remove from heat.

Serve hot with Aamras and parathas.
The recipe for Parathas is here.

To make the Aam ras :

Take out the pulp and juice of three medium sized, ripe mangoes and mash well.
Add sugar only if necessary.

Here is a look of our lunch one summer afternoon.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Tetul Dhyarosh / Ladies finger cooked with tamarind
Ma called this morning to give the news.
"The developers have started work. Amader bari ta bhanga shuru holo."
I had just picked the laptop up and settled down to make this post ... one of Thamma's recipes.
But suddenly feel disoriented.

I sit down for a while. Everything stops still. The cold wind that has been blowing all morning, the noises from the road, even the TV playing downstairs somewhere ... everything stops.
A huge silence engulfs me. 

I knew this was coming.
Ever since we cousins gathered together at Dadu's house a few months back, we knew we would get this news one day.
We knew we were getting the whole family together for the one last time.
Dadu's house was being sold.
And we had wanted to be together to relieve and hold on to old memories.
Of this house where we had grown up.
The house where Thamma ruled.
Where the whole family of five brothers and their brood stayed together for years ... long after Dadu or Thamma were no longer around.
The house that held huge orchards of mango trees, betel trees, banana and coconut and chikoo trees together ... cushioning us from the outside world. 
The house that has two huge ponds still ... one on the south and the on the east.
The house that had a khidki duaar / side door, on the pond on the east ... where Thamma would sit on quiet afternoons, letting the cool breeze from the jamun and jamrul trees dry her thick, long hair.
To build this palatial house of his dreams, Dadu had set up a brick kiln in the premises. The bricks held his initials.
I can still see him, very fair with shiny white hair,  sitting with his friends in the cane chairs, outdoors on the portico, every evening.
The breeze from the ponds ruffled his dhuti and kurta of cream silk,  as well as his hair, lightly. 
The shine from the golden buttons on his kurta would reflect in his open hearted laughs.

The mango orchards have seen us in our childhood ... playing hide and seek, climbing the low ones and hold picnics and choduibhaatis under the big ones. Ma and Jethimas would cook khichuri and mangsho in makeshift chulhas or stoves. Dadu would sit us down and make us sing by turns.
In the end, the mali / gardener would instruct his assistant to climb up the coconut trees and bring down tender coconuts for us.
While the elders drank the water, we children were more interested in the tender flesh inside.
What days they used to be!

Thamma was a lady.
All of four feet or a little less, she was the quiet strength that held the family together.
Head held high, thick black hair tied into a severe bun, crisp white sari with one single chain with a guinea as pendant and blue opal studs in her ears, Thamma looked a lady in every way.

Never have we heard her worry or think of anything negative.
Never have we seen her raise her voice as she commanded over a huge family and numerous househelps as well as the people working for the zamindari.
Huge amounts of food used to be cooked everyday for numerous people. There used to be an unending stream of relatives too. But everything ran like clockwork.
From the daily morning green grocery shopping to the dinner menu.
From entertaining Dadu's friends at tea to looking after the childrens' meals.
From keeping track of the helps and their families to keeping count of exactly how many mangoes or bananas or coconuts each tree of each variety produces every season.

But my favourite vision of Thamma was in the evenings.
Fresh starched white sari with a red border, hair just tied up, face clean and shining, she lit the evening lamp at the Tulsi plant in the uthon.
And then, in a big sized dhunuchi in which the helps would keep a few smouldering coals and some coconut husk, she would add the dhuno ( a resin like sap that creates fragrant smoke when burnt ).
Then she would walk all around the huge house with the fragrant smoke billowing out from the dhunuchi.
She would start from the Thakur ghor / puja room , upstairs, in the center of the house.
Then would complete the whole of the upstairs that included Jethu, Ranga kaku and Sejokaku's rooms and anterooms. Then the terrace.
Lastly downstairs ... the drawing rooms, the maajher ghor / ante rooms, Choto kaku's rooms, Dadu's room, the dining room.
Then the two kitchens, the bharar ghor and the goaal ghor / cow shed.
Moving lightly from room to another , she was a vision.
I loved to follow her and would often take the bowl of dhuno from the help and walk with Thamma.

The memories flow freely and wildly.
As do my tears. 
The house of my childhood is gone. Is this how things come to an end in this life?
Starting with your dearest ones? 
Does it always hurt this much when you lose things, memories or people close to your heart and life? 
Chokingly, I ask about the ponds. 
"They are still here. Since they are too deep, nobody is interested in them." 
I sigh in relief. 
They are safe. They are a part of my life too. I shall share their stories another day. 

Before coming back, Bapi had asked me if there was something I would like to keep from the house. 

"Just keep a couple of those bricks with Dadu's name on them, if possible."

Since I had started to make a post on Thamma's recipe, I will do so.
Thamma made two kinds of tauk or ambol. One with tamarind and the other with whole amchur or dried mango pieces. 
To the ones with amchur, she always used a little mustard paste too. 
With the tamarind, it was just mustard seeds and whole red chillies and jaggery. 
I did not have jaggery, so used sugar instead.


Bhindi / Dharosh / Ladies finger - around 10 pieces, washed and dried well
Tamarind pulp - 3 tbsp 
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp 
Whole red chillies - 1, broken 
Haldi / Turmeric powder - ¼ tsp 
Red chilli powder - ½ tsp 
Salt - to taste 
Sugar - 1 tbsp ( this is a slightly sweetish dish, so use the amount of sugar to balance with the tartness of your tamarind pulp )
Cooking oil - 1 tbsp ( I use mustard oil )
Water - around 2 cups

How to

Cut the dharosh / bhindi into medium sized pieces ( refer pictures ). 

Heat oil in a kadahi / wok. 

Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to crackle, add the red chilli and the bhindi. 

Give a good stir on high heat. 

Add the haldi powder + salt. Cover and lower heat. 

Cook till the bhindi is done. 

Remove cover, raise heat and add water + tamarind pulp + red chilli powder + sugar. 

Cover, lower heat and let it simmer till the water thickens slightly.

Serve cool or at room temperature.

This was lunch thala with the Bhaja Muger dal, Aloo dharosh bhaja, Potol bhaja and this Tetul dharosh or Bhindir tauk.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Aloo Baingan ki Sabzi
After contemplating for four long years, we finally took the plunge.
After months of planning and running around, we finally allowed ourselves the indulgence of a renovation.
Of nothing much ... not life; not soul.
But of our kitchen.

That one place that is most dear to me. To the both of us.
We like to spend most of our time in our kitchen. Many of our happy discussions and serious decisions take place there .... with B sitting with his plate on the little swivel chair that I use, and I rolling out rotis and flipping one hot roti after another from the stove into his plate. Then we would switch places.
At times it would be dosas. At  other times, the omelette.
Or a simple cup of tea.
At times it would be raining outside. Or it would be a cold, winter night.
For us, our little kitchen is our home.

I had been dreaming of a more streamlined, organised kitchen, for long.
Initially it was just a dream.
Later it became a necessity ... given my limited capabilities these days.
But unlike my real self, this was one project I was very afraid of taking up.  Questions loomed large.
What if it does not turn out the way I want it to be?
What if I do not get the colours I want?
Not like; want.
What if the planners do not like my designs? Or plans?
And so on.

And to an extent, it turned out I was right all along.
Sitting down with obnoxious people, who do not know the ABC s of design and are absolute zeroes when it came to practicality, was a pain we endured for months.
Then came the part when I was denied the colours I wanted. Worse, I was suggested what colours I should be going for.
Needless to say, those guys got struck off from my list faster than you could blink.
And the final straw was when I was denied anything that made my kitchen practical to use and easy for me to work in.
I did not want a lavish, 'good looking, modular' kitchen. I wanted an 'easy to work in', practical kitchen.
But all the guys could do was not see that.

So after an agonising few months, B one day announced that we are going the wrong way all along.
Read ... approaching the wrong people.
What we should be doing is approach the right people who knew both civil work,plumbing,electric work as well as a good carpenter.
To me this sounded like asking for all the good places to see in the world at one place, together.
But I was wrong. And I have never been gladder for that.
B sought out the guy who had worked with the builders of this housing society. The man knew every brick, every wall and every electric wire ways and every other detail inside the skeleton of this flat.
More importantly, he knows what needs to be done and what is unnecessary.
He understood what I wanted in the kitchen.
For example I wanted the counter top to be able to be scrubbed with soap and water ... yes, I am old fashioned. But that is the only way I believe I can clean after I have cooked Ilish.
Or any other fish, for that matter.
None of the kitchen designers was ready to allow me that.
But this guy understood the necessity of a clean kitchen.

Hence, we have smoothly crossed that part.
Got a clean and practical design too.
Hopefully, all will go well.
Right now, as I type this, the workers are hammering the kitchen down.
The exhaust is running ... trying its best to blow out the dust.
And I am looking forward to trying out new places to eat for the next few days.
Wish me luck guys!
I am finally posting the simple Aloo Baingan ki sukhi sabzi that I had made for lunch along with the Saabut Masoor ki dal. 
I make this sukhi sabzi very often ... mostly for dinner. I love dryish dishes slightly overdone ... a little on the mushier side. I find  that the flavours blend together very well this way.
The onions and the brinjals add moisture ... so there is no need to add any water.
 But if you still need to, you can sprinkle some.

And I almost always have a bottle of roasted and coarsely ground or crushed peanuts / groundnuts in my kitchen. While it comes handy whenever I am making the Sabudana Khichadi, I also use it to spike anything from a chutney to a simple, dry sabzi like this one.
Sprinkle a few teaspoonfuls and watch your sabzi going to another level altogether.

Need :

Aloo / Potatoes - 2, medium, peeled and cubed
Baingan / Brinjal - 1 medium, cubed
Pyaz / Onion - 1 medium, chopped into largish pieces
Moongfali / Peanuts - 5 tbsp, lightly roasted and crushed
Dhaniya / Coriander powder - 1 tbsp 
Haldi / Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Mirchi / Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Jeera / Cumin seeds - ¼ tsp
Cooking oil - 1 tbsp
Salt - to taste

How to :

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed kadahi / wok.

Add the jeera. When it starts to splutter, add the onions.

Lightly fry them.

When they start to turn pink, raise heat and add the potatoes.

Stir fry them for a while. Add haldi and salt.

Cover and lower heat. Cook till they are half done.

Remove cover and add the brinjals.
Add the dhaniya powder and mirchi powder.

Stir and toss them well, bringing everything together.

Cover again and cook till everything is done.

Remove cover and add the peanut powder.

Raise heat and lightly stir and toss well till the peanut powder coats everything well and the whole thing is cooked well.

Cover, switch off heat and let it stand for five minutes.
 Serve hot.
 We love it with hot rotis.
Here is a look of the lunch plate that day.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Ilish er Muri Ghonto / Hilsa head cooked with rice and spices

"There she goes again! She and her Ilish!"

I know, I know. I have a little too many Ilish recipes on my blog.
But then, I am sure you are not complaining. Or are you?
Come monsoons and I do buy at least one Hilsa fish to satiate my cravings for it. After all, I wait patiently the whole year through and never make do with the false ones, from the shores of Gujarat or Andhra, that make their way into the markets through out the year.
And my fishwala never disappoints me too.
"Aapke liye sirf Kalkatta Hilsa", he says.

And when I get that more than one kilo of divinely smelling fish home, I have to rustle up all the recipes I know with the Ilish.
The head, the tail, the petis, the gadas,  the roe ... all have different recipes to go into.
And I make full use of them.
Resulting in a happy me, with a zen like smile on my face, that you can get to see only on a cat after it leaves a kitchen that has just seen fish cooked.
And some good Ilish posts.
And a grumpy B, who has to suffer through these 2 months of monsoons when I get the Ilish home.
But this year, I haven't brought an Ilish home; not yet.
I had a couple of recipes lying around from last to last year and hence making some posts.
The last one and this. I don't think I have anymore.
And I don't think I will be cooking the Ilish this time.
Will go to my current favourite Assamese restaurant when I get the craving.

Of late, I have seen a number of people coming over here, browse through and then only too soon I see a post on their blogs.
Most of them think they are savvy enough to make changes to the recipe by adding a spoonful of an unnecessary ingredient just to make it look different. Like adding jeera to a recipe that has mustard seeds as tempering is so out and out foolish.
And sometimes a shoddy photograph along with one of mine.
I am assuming that they are new bloggers but at times there are older bloggers too.
All I say to them is dear ones, do be a little original.
I know these recipes are common but there can be a whole bunch of changes in them from family to family.
Like picking up my Thamma's recipe and saying it is your cook's recipe is just not done.

And as for plagiarism of ideas, I really have nothing to say.
Have long given up hope of seeing any light in these blokes' brains.
Coming to today's recipe,  I had made a light Ilish er jhol with cumin and ginger paste.
Remember?  If not, it is here.

So I had this masala left and wanted to use it with the Ilish head this time.
Did not want an ambol or tauk.
So decided on the muri ghonto.

I had never made muri ghonto with anything other than the Rui or the Katla head. So this was going to be new.  It does not have any onion or garlic and hence can be called a Niramish muri ghonto too. 

The fact that Ilish has a lot more and much finer bones in the head did not deter me at all.
My Dadu, Ma's father, was well known for his ability to chew and finish off all the bones of  the Ilish head. 
And as his grand daughter, the least I could do was to try it once.

 Need :

For the Jeera paste : -
Jeera / Cumin seeds - around 5 tbsp, soak for around 3 hours
Ginger - 1 and ½" piece
Whole red chillies - 4 (if you like spicy then use around 6 or 7)
Tomato - 2 medium sized

Other ingredients : -

Ilish head - 1 , cleaned and marinated with a little turmeric powder+salt
Tej pata / Bay leaves - 2
Rice - 1 cup, washed and soaked ( I used Basmati )
Cooking oil - 2 + 2 tbsp ( I use Mustard oil )
Ghee - 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Whole red chillies - 2, broken
Lemon juice - 4 tbsp
Bhaja moshla - 1 tbsp
The jeera paste - 3 tbsp 
Salt - to taste
Water - 2 cups

How to :

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy kadahi / wok.
Lightly fry the fish head, break into pieces and keep aside.

In another kadahi / wok, heat 2 tbsp oil + ghee.

Add the bay leaves + whole red chillies + the jeera paste.

Stir well and keep frying till oil starts to leave the sides.

Add the rice and lightly fry.

Raise heat, add the fish head pieces + turmeric powder + lemon juice + salt + water.

Cover and cook till rice is just done.

Remove cover, sprinkle the bhaja moshla all over, give a light toss and cover.

Switch off heat after 5 minutes and let it stand for another 5 minutes.


I like to keep the rice grains fluffy and separated though traditionally the muri ghonto is slightly sticky.
You can add chopped potatoes to it too.

I love it just as it is.
As a whole meal, if I do not have guests.

Rustle up a salad or a raita and you are good to go.

Here is a list of my Ilish / Hilsa recipes to enjoy in this monsoon. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Doi Shorshe Ilish / Hilsa in yoghurt and mustard sauce - the stove top way
The monsoons and the Hilsa come to us together. Hand in hand.
Both make their way into our hearts with ease.
One drenches us with sweet, life giving rain ... washing away the dust and the heat and all things painful ... leaving behind a cleaner, fresher new time.
The other makes its way to our plates and satiates us after months of waiting for its arrival.
Both, in their own ways soothes a Bengali's soul.

I have been away from the blog and my routine daily life for a while now. There are times when family takes precedence and you have to give it its due.
There have been mornings, of late,  when instead of thinking of my morning tea, I have had to think of breakfast that will suit every palate.
And then lunches and dinners.
And guests and relatives.
At times it is overwhelming.
At others, boisterous and happy.
Seeing everybody stick around at times of crisis can be a hugely heart warming experience.

I do not think I will have much Ilish this time ... both to cook as well as eat.
After returning, I went through my drafts to see if there was anything that I could make a quick post on, before rushing off for another trip.
And found these photographs languishing from last year.

I usually always bake whenever I make the shorshe Ilish.
But this time, I had made it on the open stove top.
And found there was a definite change in the flavours.
For example, the Kalo jeere / Nigella seeds do not lend that strong flavour when used in the baking version as they do here .... when released into the hot mustard oil.
Even there is a difference in the flavour of the green chillies.
Also the gravy here misses that distinct smoky flavour that we get when cooking it in the oven.
The baked version is here.

Need :

Ilish / Hilsa  - 4 pieces, marinated with salt + turmeric powder and lightly fried in mustard oil
White mustard seeds  - 6 tbsp
Black mustard seeds - 4 tbsp 
Kalo jeere / Nigella seeds - ½ tsp
Halsi / Turmeric powder - ½ tsp
Curd - 8 tbsp
Mustard oil - 4 tbsp
Green chillies - 3 pieces
Salt - to taste
How to :

Soak  the mustard seeds in water for 3 hours.
Add enough water to grind  into a smooth paste. I never add salt or green chillies when grinding mustard seeds.
Do remember that the grinder should not turn hot while grinding the mustard. Else your mustard paste will turn bitter. Use short pulses when grinding.
I keep the soaked seeds in the fridge for around 15 minutes before grinding.
Strain it through a sieve.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a kadahi / wok.

Make a smooth paste of 6 tbsp mustard seeds paste and  the curd.

Add the nigella seeds and green chillies.

Add the paste and stir well for a minute.

Add water, salt and turmeric powder.

Cover and cook till it starts to simmer.

Add the fish pieces and cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove cover, pour in the rest of the mustard oil all over it.

Switch off heat and cover and let it stand for a while.

Serve hot with steamed rice.


Check out my other Ilish recipes here. 

Ilish recipes on Kichu Khonn