Bengalis have a saying that we have thirteen festivals for twelve months of the year (“Baro Mase Tero Parbon”) – implying that we barely need an excuse to celebrate. That probably also explains our healthy levels of food obsession and productivity! And festivals clearly meant , which invariably involves eating way more than we ought to.
One of my personal favourite festivals used to be Poush Sankranti that celebrates the harvest and the beginning of winter, and like all traditions around the world that celebrate food in sync with the seasons, it is celebrated with rice – since it is harvested then – and palm jaggery – that is produced only in that season. My grandmothers would then bring out the big guns to make the wonderful desserts with rice and jaggery, and the excellent vegetables in season in winter. My favourite dessert of these, was patishapta, or rice flour pancakes – with a filling of either coconut and jaggery, or sweet milk solid. The pancakes themselves are made with a combination of rice flour, wheat flour and semolina in a thin milk slurry, lightly pan fried and then rolled with the filling, almost like a soft, golden white cannoli.
I got my mother to teach me the pancakes with two kinds of filling – spiced coconut and jaggery,and sweetened milk solids. The pancakes like all such dishes I guess are a function of practice and my tenth pancake was better and smoother than the first, and the twentieth better than the tenth….and so on, you get the drift. Guess that’s why my grand mothers, who were easily a thousand plus pancakes down in their lives, were so effortless and consistent.
I also made the jaggery filling version at our dinner party, that we served with a lovely raspberry coulis that Priya prepared. I also took down the semolina content in the pancake batter….the semolina is there to give the pancake structure, but makes it a bit heavy, so I preferred the lighter version, though I needed to be a bit gentler with the pancakes. All in, a good effort, and a version I made at home got a final brush of cointreau. The orange notes were great and when has the right use of alcohol ever hurt a dessert??
We all have fond recollections of our mom’s cooking. Of coming home from school to be greeted with something comforting and hot. Of waking up on sunday morning and looking forward to a delicious breakfast. The unexpected home-made cake as a treat.
My recollections are no different. But the one thing I remember most fondly is my mom’s hirvi (green) chutney. A simple chutney made by grinding fresh coconut, coriander leaves, garlic, lemon juice, green chilli, salt and sugar.
This chutney went into sandwiches on school picnics or when friends came home to celebrate my birthday. It went into mom’s stuffed Pomfret preparation accompanied by a red chutney on the other side of the Pomfret. It appeared on the thali during Diwali lunch. Sometimes I ate it with homemade idli and sambhar. And if I got hungry and didn’t know what to eat, I would spread it on some bread with some cheese and toast it.
The years went by…but the green chutney is still in the fridge. It has moved from its white bowl with red flowers to my chini mati (clay) bottle. And from mom’s fridge to mine.
There is no dearth of chicken curries in Indian cuisine and while they may all look and taste the same for those not familiar with the cuisine, I can guarantee that this is not the case. I could go into the variations in spice mixtures, the marination, cooking techniques, etc. But let me focus on what I consider to be one of the better, if not best, of that vast pool of chicken curries. Kombdi Cha Rassa or Chicken curry is a Marathi preparation that is characterized by it’s fragrant smell and taste. It brings together a wonderful combination of dried red chillies, fresh coconut, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander seeds, green chillies and curry leaves in a thick tomato, onion and yoghurt gravy. You can have this with rice or chapatis but make sure to have a glass of mattha on hand to cool you down, as the gravy is also a bit spicy.
The best version I have tasted was at a restaurant in Mumbai called Sol Kadi, which shut down many years ago. They would serve the curry with vade (deep fried wheat and semolina bread) and koshimbir (vegetable and yoghurt salad). The version that I make at home is a result of trying out a couple of recipes and spice combinations to create what is now my favourite chicken curry. Priya