Memories on a plate: Five recipes
Editor’s note: The beloved culture newsletter The Alipore Post and curators of family recipes Nivaala have put together a wonderful anthology that brings together the joys of cooking and the nostalgia of food. It is brimming with personal anecdotes, memories, recipes, art, poetry and photo essays from Indian kitchens around the globe. Here are five recipes from the collection—accompanied by charming illustrations:) Excerpted with permission from ‘Memories on a Plate’ curated by The Alipore Post and Nivaala.
A chutney: Tomato Pickle (aka Tomato cha loncha)
Words & recipe by Tanvi Kulkarni
Years ago, when I came back from school one day, I found Aai making tomato pickle. It was the first time I had ever seen a pickle made out of tomatoes, and despite my initial apprehension, I dipped my first piece of roti into it and placed it in my mouth. What followed immediately was a burst of joy (and flavour), a feeling of fullness, a kind of delight that has stayed with me all these years. This tomato pickle recipe courtesy of my mother’s aunt, is now my favourite condiment of all time. It goes well with everything—roti, dal chawal, parathas, masala rice, biryani, poha, and even khichdi. All these years, it has remained my comfort food and stands as a memory of my Aaji and her mother-in-law too. All the little ways in which this recipe has been passed down delicately to bring me the kind of endless comfort it does.
- 1⁄2 kg tomatoes
- 1 head/ 9-10 cloves peeled garlic—depending on taste and liking
- 5 tbsp oil
- 1⁄2 tsp mustard seeds (mohri)
- A pinch of fenugreek seeds
- 1⁄4 tsp Asafoetida
- 1⁄2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp chilli powder—can add a little bit more depending on spice tolerance
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp jaggery
- Wash 1⁄2 kg of fresh and red tomatoes before chopping them. The chopped pieces can be of medium size.
- Crush the peeled garlic cloves under a knife or in a steel mortar (if available) to make it thin. Alternatively, slice the cloves into thin slices.
- Keep a steel pan or pot to heat on the stove. Add 4 tbsp of oil. (Pickles generally last longer and taste better with a little more oil than we generally use. Remember not to worry about fat consumption and such in the face of all the delicious goodness that the pickle will bring into your life.)
- Once the oil is heated, lower the flame to a minimum and add 1⁄2 tsp of mustard seeds. The trick (my mother says) is to look for the sound and let each one pop. If raw, they don’t taste nice.
- Add a pinch of fenugreek seeds and let them redden. (Pay attention not to burn them!)
- Add the sliced/crushed garlic. Let it mildly caramelise (look for slightly brown edges.)
- Add 1⁄4 tsp of asafoetida (hing), 1⁄2 tsp of turmeric powder, and a tsp of chilli powder. (You may choose to add an extra half a tsp of chilli powder depending on how spicy you like your pickles and food.)
- Stir all the masalas together.
- Add the chopped tomatoes all at once. Mix everything well and make sure each piece of tomato is coated with the masala.
- Take the lid off, stir well every couple of minutes, and once the water content is reduced, add a tsp of salt and 2 tbsp of jaggery.
- Mix well and keep stirring lightly until the oil is separated from the pickle.
- Turn on the stove, let the pickle sit for a while, and your delicious pickle is ready!
- The tomato pickle (loncha) must be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated (especially during summer). It is enjoyed best on warm afternoons inside rolled rotis.
A curry: Reena’s Chicken Stew
Words and illustration by Sreedevi Gopinathan
One morning, exactly a week after we got married and moved into our home in Rustumbagh, Bangalore, I was pleasantly surprised to see a young woman at our doorstep, with a big smile and full of energy, who said that she could cook North Indian, South Indian and continental food. She spoke in English, with a heavy Bengali accent. We decided to give her a try. After all, that smile is not something you can say no to! I invited her in and she went through what I had in my kitchen and decided to make snake guard Poshto for us. This was the first time I ever tasted Bengali food and I loved it.
She is Reena. Our first cook. She walks in one weekend with that big wide smile of hers and a tinge of extra excitement in her loud “good morning mam”. She told me about this recipe, which she had cooked up in her head while riding to my place on her bicycle. She gave me a list of ingredients to buy and I promptly got them for her. There was one ingredient she left out, on purpose, from the list. At the end of her cooking, she called me to the kitchen and whispered in my ears, if I could get her 2 capfuls of “the thing that Bhaiya drinks!” I still remember how shy she was to utter the word “daaru” (alcohol). Reena’s chicken stew was an instant hit among friends who came over that evening. And she left for home with her very own chicken stew, eager to give it to her husband to taste. Soon after, she was cooking for all of my friends in their homes. All of us became her friends. She would invite us to her home during Durga puja and we would all sit on the ground in a circle and binge on some tasty, homely Bengali food she made with so much love, along with her family.
- 500 gms chicken with skin cut into medium-sized pieces
- 1 cup milk
- 1⁄2 cup cream
- Fistful of grated coconut
- 5-6 cashews
- 100ml fresh apple juice
- 100ml fresh orange juice
- 1-inch ginger, julienned
- 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 2-3 star anise
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 2 bay leaves
- Curry leaves
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1-2 capful Old Monk Rum
- Salt to taste
- Boil chicken with 1 cup water, salt and peppercorns till it is half-cooked.
- Separate the stock from the cooked chicken and keep it aside.
- Grind the grated coconut with milk, cream and cashews to a paste and keep aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp of ghee add all the whole spices and julienned ginger and lightly fry them.
- Add the half-cooked chicken and fry them until golden brown.
- Add the saved stock and curry leaves and let it boil on medium heat till the chicken is cooked.
- Turn down the heat to low, add the ground paste and stir. Add water if required for the desired consistency and let it simmer for 3 mins on low heat.
- Add fresh apple and orange juice and top it with 2 capfuls of Old Monk Rum. Simmer for a minute.
Enjoy it with appams or rotis.
One more curry: Paati’s Kaimanam
Words, illustration & recipe by Samyuktha Kvs
The distinct love and aroma that one’s cooking lends to the food Morkozhambu, a Tamil household delicacy. As I write this on a lazy Sunday morning far away from home, I find myself longing to tuck into the saapad that could have followed suit; if only! Every grandchild sings (or rather, burps) laurels about their grandmother’s cooking, and I am no exception. Paati’s kaimanam reminds me of all the love, care and generosity that goes into every extra ladle of sambhar, that gigantic jar of thokku or hidden box of barfis that she’d set aside, especially for me. While grandmothers are exceptional at almost anything under the sun, there’s one thing that just doesn’t come naturally to them—passing on their decades-old heirloom recipes in a way 20-something-year-olds understand.
I mean, what is “Rendu kallu uppu” (um.... 2 salts?), or “Thoraayama” (instinctively)? Somehow, after deciphering her voice notes painstakingly, I decided to document my ultimate comfort food that she’d wholeheartedly whip up in a jiy for me every time I’d yank her pallu and request. Here’s my Paati’s recipe for Morkozhambu, a curd-based gravy, rich with coconut, lentils and spices.
- 1⁄2 litre curd
- Spices—1⁄2 tsp turmeric, salt to taste
- Pair veggies that go well—boiled white pumpkin or fried ladies finger are my personal favourites!
- 2 tsp rice
- 2 tsp Toor dal
- 1 tsp jeera
- 1 tsp dhaniya
- 2-3 green chillies
- 1 dried roasted red chilli
- Ginger—a small piece
- 1⁄2 cup grated coconut
For the tadka: Coconut oil, curry leaves, mustard seeds and roasted chillies.
- Soak the above ingredients for 30 minutes, and grind until it forms a coarse paste.
- Mix the paste with the curd, along with half a cup of water and spices. Stir well.
- In a hot kadai, add your cooked vegetables along with the curd mixture and bring it to a low simmer.
- Once it begins to boil, switch off and add your Tadka. And we’re done! Comes together in the blink of an eye, according to my Paati’s claims.
- Now comes the most important part—the indulgence. Take it from me, this is best relished, or devoured on a decades old steel plate with steamed rice, paruppu usili, homemade ghee and a side of vadam/papadam.
A main dish: Kali Urad ki Khichri—a Bareilly Kayastha speciality
Words & recipe by Anubhuti Krishna
While the world, at least our part of it, thinks of khichri as a gooey mish-mash of dal (often yellow), rice (often broken), and sometimes vegetables (ever tried the Bong khichuri?), for us Uttar Pradeshis, khichri is a delicacy that is celebrated. Especially the kali urad ki dal ki khichri, made and eaten in the winter months when the fresh crops of both urad dal and basmati rice are in the market (seasonal eating, anyone?). The khichri is not just tastier because of the fresh produce, but also keeps the body warm since urad is hard to digest and the body has to produce more heat to digest it. Made by simply putting together the most basic ingredients, the recipe may seem simple to the eye. The trick, however, is to get the proportions and textures right, something even I miss after all these years.
As far as khichris go, kali urad ki khichri is perhaps the least known. In all of my friend circles, or even the neighbourhood, no other family has made it. On my mother’s side of the family, it was almost forbidden due to the heaviness of the dal and its gastric after-effects. But us Srivastavas of W-Block, Kidwai Nagar, Kanpur, didn’t care about any of that. We still do not. The roots of kali urad ki khichri can be traced back to the region of Rohilkhand, an area in western Uttar Pradesh that comprises current-day Rampur and Bareilly, where our family originally comes from. It is so popular there that people host khichri parties (move over, biryani!) throughout winter, showcasing their cook’s skills and the special condiments that go with it. Ever heard of khichri ke chaar yaar dahi, papad, chutney, achaar? (The khichri has four allies: curd, papad, chutney, pickle).
Every home has an appointed treasurer of this guarded recipe, who also has the skill to get it right. In our family, it was my Dadi, and after her passing, it is my youngest uncle. I hope to be the next in line even though my skill level is still basic. But my recipe is flawless. It has to be. It comes from the Nawabs of Rampur, who apparently were the first ones to make it. It has been tweaked by my grandmother to add green chilli instead of yellow chilli since it was hard to find yellow chillies everywhere. And it has remained unchanged since.
I hope you will make this khichri and tell me if you like it.
- 1 cup long grain Basmati rice
- 1⁄4 cup split black urad dal
- 1⁄2 inch ginger, chopped or julienned
- 1 green chilli, chopped or julienned
- Salt, to taste
- Wash the dal and rice together, drain and leave for ten minutes. If you leave it in water, the skin of the daal will start coming out, which you do not want.
- Place a pressure cooker on fire and put all the ingredients together. Yes, it may be hard to do that but trust me.
- Add two cups of water, and stir.
- Season with salt. Close the pressure cooker and wait for one whistle.
- Turn off the flame and let it sit until all the pressure is released.
- Open the cooker, and stir very gently so as to not break the rice.
- Serve hot with thick homemade curd, some fresh green chutney, flame-roasted papads and copious amounts of ghee.
A fish dish: Kalojeere aloo diye chepachela maccher jhol*
Words by Tanushree Bhowmik and illustration by Swarnova Datta
Baba’s ancestral home was in Srimangal; now in the Moulavibazar district of Sylhet sub-division in Bangladesh. Though some of the family, including Baba had already scattered around, they could never go back after the Sylhet plebiscite. There was a finality to the loss, but never a closure to the heartbreak. He would speak a lot of his childhood; maybe it was his last-ditch effort to revisit home; maybe it was his way of passing on some of that legacy, an important part of his life now lost, to us. He would speak of the green mountains, rolling tea gardens, and its waterways—large and small. The khaal, beel and the hawors, especially the hawors. He spoke of the Hail hawor, the Baikka beel and the larger Tangaur hawor a little farther away from home. His description of these large wetlands was so vivid that I could see them through his eyes. Expansive. The blue sky reflected on their waters. With tiny islands and tall grasses. Flocks of migratory birds in winter. Strong waves in the monsoons. Boatsmen and fishermen. And fish—the sweetest, the freshest, the the widest variety of them.
One of his favourites was the chepa chela. Slender, finger length, silver, scaleless sweet fish. So delicate that it is sacrilege to mask it with too many spices. Thankfully, his love for chepa chela didn’t remain just a memory. The wetlands of Assam yielded these beauties too. Ma cooked those with the reverence of an artist—fish lovers, that they both were. Born on two sides of the same catchment of waterways that has shown complete and rightful disregard of political boundaries.
- Chepa chela fish: 500 gms (whole, cleaned and gutted)
- Potatoes: 2, large (peeled and cut into slender wedges)
- Mustard oil: 3-4 tbsp
- Nigella seeds/kalojeere: 1/2 tsp
- Garlic: 1 big clove (coarsely pound)
- Whole dry red chillies: 3-4
- Turmeric powder: 1 1/2 tsp
- Chilli powder: 1 tsp or to taste
- Salt: to taste
- Marinate the fish with 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and salt.
Heat the mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed wok. Lightly fry the potatoes with 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and some salt. Drain and set aside.
- In the same oil add the nigella seeds and garlic. Saute till the seeds are fragrant and the garlic stops smelling raw. Do not burn the garlic.
Dissolve the remaining turmeric powder, and chilli powder in a little water. Lower the heat and add it to the wok. Fry till the water almost evaporates
- Add the potatoes back to the wok, and the dry red chillies. Coat these lightly with the spices.
- Add a cup and half of water, bring to a boil, cover and cook till potatoes are cooked.
- Keep the jhol on a rolling boil, drain the marinade and add the fish to the wok. This fish takes just a few minutes to cook.
- Adjust salt. Add an additional half tsp of mustard oil, bring to a quick boil and turn off the heat.
- Serve with steaming plain rice.
- Chepa chela is an extremely delicate fish. Do not keep it marinated for long. Remove carefully from the wok else the fish will break.
- Keep all the spices ready before you start cooking, or else the spices might burn, lending a bitter taste to the jhol.
- The recipe can be recreated with any freshwater fish.
*Translation of the recipe name: Silver razorbelly minnow fish in a light curry of nigella seeds and potatoes