Last month I went home for a slightly longish vacation and I came back with four kilos of excess baggage on my already expanding girth. Points to note 1. I did not go crazy eating out on the pretext of “I-am-on-holiday”. In fact, most of my meals were home cooked 2. I didn’t eat the forbidden stuff, the not so good stuff you know (Okay, I am lying I did cheat a bit but hey I was on a holiday).
Most Indian moms are obsessed with cooking and feeding their families, especially their children. We all have shared stories of how most of mum’s waking thoughts are about the next meal she will cook! Here’s our food editor reminiscing about her mum and her special, loving
touch to all that she cooks for her children!
I simply ate what my mum cooked. I need to mention that mum is very careful about what she makes and how she makes and I largely ate vegetarian because my parents are vegetarian. Even then, I had that unwanted excess baggage – because I just couldn’t get enough of it. I was a woman on a mission with a list in my hand. A list carrying the names of all the favourite dishes that I grew up eating, yet my heart was longing for because when we moved countries, we moved away from the source of all that goodness – Momma! For no one can cook like Momma. Period.
Isn’t this the story of all our lives? What is it with mums and what they get on the dinner table? How come when we try the very same recipe handed down by them we can never replicate the same taste? How come there are certain things that only mums can make right? The only logical explanation that I can come up with is that they put a little bit of their heart in each and every meal they make for us; their children. And that is what makes “our” mothers the best. We all have our favourites from our mum’s kitchen. A bowl of rajma, a plate of macher jhol, that handi containing biryani or that yakhni pulao, a dhokla for snack or makhane ki kheer for a sweet ending; some complicated, some easy, some taking hours behind the stove and some that she conjures up in a jiffy. And then there are some ubiquitous ones that are made across the breadth and length of our country that all the mums make but each one treats it very differently.
So here is our list of generic ones that we think we all heart and only “our” mum can make it perfect.
Peeli Dal: This “lentil stew” is what elevates the status of a bowl of plain steamed rice or a roti (Indian flatbread) straight from the tava (flat pan) from a simple dish to a meal fit for any occasion. It is strictly something we eat at home. No restaurant can ever come close to “my” mom’s tadka (tempering). For the tempering can either make or break a dal. It could be toor (yellow pigeon peas), chana (made from removing the outer skin of chickpeas), moong dhuli (split moong beans) or masoor malka (split red lentils). Each of these begins with boiling single or mix of lentils in water with turmeric and salt. Sometimes tomatoes/tamarind or an unripe mango is added as well. Then comes the tadka/chaunk/baghar that lends it that mother’s touch. Depending on the dal and mum’s mood the tadka differs. Cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida, dried red chillies, roasted coconut pieces, raisins, coriander powder, garam masala, (special spice mix) sliced onions, et al; it could be one or a combination of many. The ingredients of the tadka are fried for a few seconds and then poured over the dal. It is this special tadka which now makes its way into the lentil soup and lends uniqueness and taste to the dal.
Paranthas: From Punjab’s stuffed aaloo parantha (stuffed potato flatbread) accompanied by dollops of makhan (white butter) to the Malabar porotta (flaky and multilayered flatbread) used to wipe off all that exquisite crab curry: paranthas/paratha/porotta or paronthay are made in one form or another all over India. Call it by any name but this unleavened flatbread that is made by frying either with ghee or oil wins the palates of many. My childhood memories are of summers spent chowing down numerous tikone ajwain wale paranthe (triangular flatbread seasoned with carom seeds) with homemade chunda (Mango chutney) for company. The stuffing is the soul of the paratha, and only “your” mum knows the right combination of ingredients and the right quantity to put inside the peda (ball of kneaded flour) and make it just the way that her child likes. Please note the child can be anywhere between the ages of one to fifty. The stuffing could be vegetables like potato, radish, cauliflower, fenugreek or paneer commonly used in Punjab or non-vegetarian like the famous Mughlai paratha (a deep fried stuffed paratha filled with egg and minced meat) from Uttar Pradesh, or Sattu ka paratha (roasted gram flour) from Bihar to Keema paratha (stuffed with minced meat usually mutton) from Andhra Pradesh and more. These when had with right curry and yoghurt can be lip-smacking good. Only butter and cream works well too.
Khichdhi: That combination of rice and dal (lentils) and ghee (clarified butter) in its various avatars that only mums can get right. A comforting concoction that not only the baby in us appreciates (it is almost like a baby’s mashed up food and hence thought to provide child like comfort to the person eating it) but which also calms our hearts and souls when all in our little world seems to be coming to an end. It is widely popular across the country (especially Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Bengal) and had with a variety of pickles, papads popadums), or like the Gujaratis like it, with kadhi (yoghurt and chickpea flour soup) and is generously seasoned with ghee. Bissibelle Bhaath from Karnataka and Pongal from Tamil Nadu are two very similar and equally popular dishes. Whether you are feeling slightly ill or life is treating you badly or you simply need to warm your fingers on a cold and rainy day holding a bowl of khichdhi makes the silver lining on the clouds clearer.
Aam ka Achaar: Every Indian mum has at least one special “handed over through the generations” recipe of aam ka achaar (mango pickle) and just thinking about it makes us salivate. This is one recipe that you don’t want to share. You want to trade for it with another friend’s mum who can give a recipe in return; one that is at par with your mum’s. Yes I am talking about those special jars she packed for you when you left for the hostel just so that the mess food becomes bearable and you don’t miss home; or when that one time you left home for work and mum gave you a box saying even if you don’t have time to cook this will make the simple chapathi a complete meal. Aam ka achaar (with hing and mustard oil ) from Punjab, Maavadu (with castor oil) from Tamil Nadu, Jeerige midi (dehydrated mango and salt) from Karnataka or the Hyderabadi mango pickle (combination of mango, carrot and lime), Gol Keri (raw mangoes marinated in salt and cooked with jaggery and spices) from Gujarat, and more. Each mum puts her heritage, her magic and her own special masala into it.
Kheer: A creamy magic potion of milk, cream, sugar and steamed rice, served hot or cold, that makes our taste buds do a happy dance and makes ordinary days extraordinary. The one that a mum makes whether there is a birth in the family or a wedding, for guests expected and not expected, to celebrate a first rank or to give to her child going for an exam; kheer (rice pudding) is considered auspicious and is a must for feasts and festivals. Once again its “my” mother’s recipe that is the finest. Thin or thick, gur (jaggery) or khoya (condensed milk), almonds or pistachios, cow’s milk/coconut milk, basmati rice/ glutinous rice, saffron/cardamom powder cooked over low heat or short cut with evaporated milk; each payasaam/ payas/payoxh/rasiya/kheer tastes unique and it is easy to know which is the one made by “my” mum. For she has very own special way to do it and it is the only holy way (pun intended) to mark auspicious occasions and make “her” children content.
And on this sweet note, I shall head into my kitchen and try out some recipes I learned from mum!
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!