Saturday, August 16, 2014

Malai ma Kolmi (Prawns cooked in Clotted Cream)

Today I am writing about a dish which is perhaps one of my most favourite Parsi dishes of all time (second only to Dhan, Dar ne Tareli Machchhi). This dish is known as Malai ma Kolmi and once again is a dish from the small coastal farming villages of South Gujarat. It is a dish that had almost vanished from the Parsi repetoire. This recipe was one from my maternal great great grandmother's (Soonamai's) kitchen in Tadgam, a small village about 7km north of Nargol and 8-9km south of Daman. 

Tadgam was the village of my maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother. My mother, Katy, spent many a happy summer here in her school days as my granma, Piroja,  made her obligatory annual visit to see her maternal grandfather, Kanjibhai Patel.  

The Patel household was a farming household and numbered amongst its many denizens a few bullocks, a small herd of buffalos, a large numbers of chicken and random cows. Fresh milk and eggs were taken for granted as was the almost daily visit of the maachhan. The maachhan was the autochthonous fisher-folk lady belonging to the Maachhi community who carried her wares from farmstead to farmstead on a daily circuit. One rarely knew what she was bringing but one was assured that it would be incredibily fresh. Prawns, crab and lobster were invariably alive! 

The cows were milked by the household help and the male members of the family and skimming off fresh cream was a daily occurrence. The farm made its own butter, ghee and as a byproduct buttermilk. The food was simple but wholesome and Sooonamai was the Capo de tutti capi of the kitchen her weapons the ladle and spatula ably supported by various vicious looking knives. All food was cooked on wood and in earthenware or copper vessels.

Prawns were a regular staple and on days when there was an excess of fresh cream the table would be graced by one of her classic dishes, Malai ma Kolmi or Prawns cooked in clotted cream. Its a relatively simple dish. You peel and devein the prawns (approx 1kg) and set them aside to marinate in salt and pepper. In a thick bottomed pan you add two large finely chopped onions and fry them in ghee till brown, remove onions reserve ghee. Make a fine paste of the onions with 1/4 kg broken Cashews,  6 Kashmiri Chillies and 6 Green Chillies. Heat reserved ghee in same pan and fry 1/2 teaspoon of Shahjeera for two minutes on very low heat, add the paste, increase heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes stirring continuously.  Add prawns mix to coat well and cook on medium heat for not more than 5 minutes. Add half a cup of water and simmer for another 3-4 minutes or till prawns are cooked to desired consistency. Shut down the heat. Now add 200ml or 1/4 kg of clotted cream and fold it gently into the gravy till mixed well, close lid and let sit for 5 minutes, garnish with finely chopped corriander and serve with chapatis or rice.

Tips: Do not add cream when the heat is on it may split. In lieu of clotted cream one may substitute it with Amul or any other brand in a tetrapack. Best eaten with rice chapatis (not bhakris) but making them is an art I for one haven't mastered.

When my mother Katy first added this recipe to her bestseller Jamva Chaloji we were a bit sceptical about its reception. At the book release Manchi Cama couldnt stop talking about it whilst saying it was probably why Parsis had clogged arteries. But to our great surprise at Katy's Kitchen its a dish that has gone down very well with our clients and most of them come back for repeats. Its a simple dish and it gives me great pleasure to have been part of its revival. I think Soonamai will look down on me with favour.

P.S. This is a part of my posts on Gastronomic Heritage and is an Heirloom Recipe.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Masoor ma Jheebh (Goat's tongue in Lentils)

As part of my new found zeal to blog and my newly distilled direction i.e. Gastronomic Heritage, one of the things I am going to write about are little known traditional Parsi recipes most of which are staring oblivion in the eye.

The Parsis of India are the descendants of a group of religious refugees who left Persia somewhere between the 8th and 9th centuries AD and landed on the western coast of India at Sanjan. They came seeking asylum and according to their legends promised to blend in with the local populace in speech, dress, food and other habits as long as they got to practice their religion as they pleased. They prospered in India and their food is a very interesting marriage of Indian flavours with the meat heavy and dry fruit rich traditions of Persia. With the advent of the Portuguese and British they soon adapted various European recipes and assimilated European origin produce in their food.

This post is a Recipe Post and deals with an old favourite which has lost its lustre in modern India. I remember this becoming infrequent at the table even when I was a little boy. Today it has almost totally disappeared from the Parsi dining table. This dish goes by the simple name Masoor ma Jheebh which translates into English as Tongue in Lentils. This was classically a a winter favourite and held pride of place with its close cousin Chora ma Paya (more on that in a later post). The Parsis love their meat and their legumes and bringing the two together is a common thing in Parsi cuisine.

Masoor ma Jheebh is traditionally made using goat or sheep tongue though I am sure it could also be made with beef or buffalo tongue. We still get orders for this at Katy's Kitchen though almost exclusively from expats back in India on short holidays after 20-30-40 years. It was almost a year since my last order when Joana Lobo asked me to cook some for an article she did for the Mumbai Mirror on tongue recipes. I realised that it was something right up our street and the resultant was a photo shoot from which I have put the pictures in this post.

The tongue is traditionally cooked in the lentils but I have found its better to cook both separately. The tongue is kept intact. It is cleaned (you may or may not skin it), marinated in salt, pepper, turmeric and ginger garlic paste. Then it is steamed till soft and put aside, the resultant soup/stock is also reserved. The lentils are best cooked in a pressure cooker with salt and turmeric. They are washed and water, salt and turmeric is added to the cooker. Once cooked (15 mins on simmer after steam is fully built up) Parsis traditionally add a vaghaar. This consists of finely chopped onions, garlic, green chillies & tomatoes, curry leaves and spices fried in vegetable oil. The onions are first fried till pink, the tomatoes, garlic next. once cooked the green chillies are added with some red chillie powder and garam masala powder. The vaghaar is allowed to cook well at a moderate heat with constant stirring. When done (i.e. when the oil separates from the spice mix) the vagaar is poured hot into the lentils, the reserved soup is added and the whole mix brought to a boil. It is then simmered and a small amount of jaggery is scraped in (you can use sugar if you don't have jaggery) and finally a dash of red, sugarcane vinegar is added as you switch off the heat and let the masoor sit for a bit. The rested tongue is sliced into cubes and added to the masoor after 10-15 mins, mixed in and topped with corriander. Served with hot rotlis (Parsi unleavened bread), Brun Pau (Hard Bread buns) or Sukki Khichri (dry yellow rice).

I personally love tongue and find it one of the softest, tastiest cuts of meat in an animal. It isn't very strong a flavour and chopped into small cubes is often mixed with mutton in villages where no part of the animal is wasted. Masoor ma Jheebh is a beautiful union of the sweetish lentils cooked in a traditionally Parsi Khatti-Miththi-Tikhkh (Sour-Sweeet-Spricy) way and then gently married to the meaty soup and soft cubes of tongue.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In offence and defence of my last post OR what I am going to do.

Didn't think my last post would have raised the kind of responses it did. Made me happy that the fur flew a bit. Most people agreed with me, some shared similar experiences, but a few admonished me for complaining about a malaise but doing nothing to combat or cure it.

So here goes ...

I wrote because I felt I needed to. I also wrote because most people agree (and have agreed on social media whilst discussing what I wrote) that what I have said is the truth. Most of these people though did not think it necessary to write about this. Perhaps they felt washing their dirty linen in public was not done, or perhaps they just diddn't want to write about this, or perhaps they didn't think it was anything great. Their prerogative.

Some of my friends though were honest enough to voice their opinions that cribbing about it and using it as an excuse was a cop-out and that if one felt strongly one should do something and not just crib. 

In my defence ... I have been thinking, I am going to be doing but (perhaps due to my innate damn laziness) by not specifying it yesterday I left myself open to criticism. Fair criticism.

But - Crinbbing i.e. recognising the problem is the first step in doing something ... right?

So this is what I have decided to do ...

I have decided that I must be true to myself. When I started this blog I named it after three (of the four things) things that mean the world to me. Then, I wrote about eating, feeding and archaeology ... what I didn't quite realise was that I needed to write more often about how all three pleasures could be encompassed in a singular activity. I think this was always at the back of my mind but my unconcious perhaps didn't mangae to get through and manifest itself. Here's my next step or attempted solution to my complaint/crib/rant/etc.

I've decided to write a little more often and in a little more focussed manner on something I call Gastronomic Heritage - a happy marriage of Food with Culture and History/Archaeology. Its something that is the need of the hour. 

We are losing a large amount of gastronomic heritage due to fusion; lack of sustained interest; disappearance of traditional raw materials in a fast growing homogenised market; inability of people to cook the way they used to in modern nuclear families, i.e. educated women who haven't had the time or inclination to spend 10 years in the kitchen between the ages of 5 & 15 and educated indifferent men who still think 'coooking is a woman's job'; food stores which will source and stock exotic foreign foods but rarely ever exotic  or rare Indian/local ingredients; and general apathy.

I intend (intentions are noble let's see how this goes) to write about food history, traditional groups and their foods, lost foods, hidden  places and people that still serve such foods.  About experiencing, eating and cooking such food. I intend to write about dishes, communities, recipes, ingredients, regions, times and all such things. I also intend to write in greater detail about the the various reasons (and more) that I have listed above, as to why we are losing this heritage, what we can perhaps do about it, and, why its not necessarily a 'bad' thing.

opta ardua pennis astra sequi (Virgil's Aeneid XII: 892–3) ...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why I dont blog much about food anymore.

Surprisingly for someone who blogs so rarely and nowadays almost never, I have recieved a fair share of. 'Hey, why dont you blog about food more often?'. Well this here is a humble disclaimer of sorts. A) I'm very lazy, B) I need seriously strong motivation these days to overcome inertia, and C) My experiences with what has happened as of the last couple of years in the food blooging sphere in India (esp Mumbai) have left me bereft of any great desire to really hammer away at these keys.

The third of my reasons is perhaps the reason for this post. 

I've met some really awesome people through food blogging. Most of these have been friends and accquaintances of my wife who runs a fare more succesful blog than mine. But over the years many of these people have become very good friends of mine and I have very happily included them (and been included) in my circle of friends. I have been seriously influenced and have been amazed at the kind of things they have done and have traveled with them through their lives very vicariously via their blogs. Kalyan, Rushina, Saee, Manisha, Nikhil, Harini, Nandita and Megha - to name a few. They have let me into their homes, welcomed me into their families and have become an indelible part of my life.

But, for all of these great people, every single one of whom started their blog JLT (AFAIK) and more often than not made it an intrinsic part of their lives and identities, I have met seen and interacted with a new younger, hungrier, amoral breed of blogger. I have ended reading stuff by maybe ten times as many others of their ilk and what I have seen has fascinated, revolted and seriously put me off at the same time. 

The new breed of food blogger is hungry. Hungry to win brownie points and freebies. They'll do almost anything, attend almost any food related event and never ever say anything remotely negative about the food, place/company or owner(s). They will simper and say stuff that sounds pithy and sickeningly sweet. They have little if any objectivity, will lobby for invites and flaunt them like scalps tied to saddles. There are a few good ones here too I'm not painting the entire 'younger' food blogging set as bad or petty ... just most of them. They more often then not sanctimoniously write about food that they have no clue about and parrot the lines given to them. They dance to the PR tunes played by firms who realised roughly 3-4 years ago (in India) that blogposts were perhaps the cheapest way to win advertising brownie points for their clients. They are equally responsible if not more so for the creation of this nightmare.

Now, after having said the above, you'll probably think I am a major hypocrite for saying what I am about to. I have no problem with blogger reviews, blogger reccommendations and blogger advocacy thats been 'paid' for. Provided ... that the blogger is honest enough to say so and has some sense of impartiality. Some sense of honour which will not allow them to rave about every single facet irrespective of flaws. Some sense of self respect! Some basic honesty.

In todays dog eat dog world of social media, 2 minute nirvana and immediate gratification perhaps what I am saying here is dated ... but this is how I feel. I love food, I love reading about it, discussing it and talking about it. But if I dont know then I listen and learn as much as I can. I am not an expert on each and every cuisine, damn I'm not even an expert on all the types of food I love!

tamam shud