लॉक डाउन डायरी 1- कुछ धुआं कुछ बादल


कई दिनों से ये व्यथा थी की हिंदी रोमन में लिखी जाये या देवनागरी में| लगभग सभी ने कहा देवनागरी ही उचित है सो मैंने ब्लॉग के स्वरूप इत्यादि की भी कुछ जाँच की| शायद मुझे हिंदी का एक नया ब्लॉग चलना पड़े जो मैं पहले भी सोच रही थी| ब्लॉग के हिंदी पाठको से अनुरोध है की वो कृपया बायें उन्हें कैसे पढ़ना सुविधाजनक है |

जब अपने बार में कुछ न हो तो अपने को शब्दों के सुपुर्द कर दो | आजकल अंग्रेजी में केवल वही लिखने का मन करता है जिसको हिंदी में लिख गुज़ारा नहीं होगा | हिंदी मेरे मन की भाषा है केवल इसलिए कि यही भाषा मैंने बचपन से बोली, लिखी, पढ़ी। इसमें कोई गौरव, कोई हीनता या कोई श्रेष्ठता का बोध नहीं है। ये मेरे रोज़मर्रा के जीवन की भाषा है इसलिए सहज है| मैं अक्सर हिंदुस्तानी या बोलचाल की भाषा में लिखते हूँ| साहित्यिक हिंदी का उपयोग बहुत सीमित है क्यूंकि अक्सर पढ़ने वालों को दिक्कत होती है| मैं अपने लेखन को सहज रखना चाह्ती हूँ| शुद्ध हिंदी का दायरा मुझे सीमित लगता है पर आम सरल बोलचाल की हिंदी उर्दू मिश्रित भाषा सबको समझ आ जाती है | ये शायद देहलवी या हिंदवी है या यूँ कहिये दिल्ली की भाषा है |

मूलतः अंग्रेजी में लिखने वालों को हिंदी लेखन के क्षेत्र में अपनी जगह बना कठिन हैं पर कोशिश रहेगी कि लिखती रहूं और साथ बना रहे |

सनद रहे कि बलपूर्वक थोपी गयी भाषा अपनी मिठास खो देती है | ये सभी भाषाओँ पे लागु होता हैं| इसे मात्र संवाद और अभिव्यक्ति का माध्यम समझें तो बेहतर होगा | भाषा की विविधता हमारी सांझी विरासत है और इसे क़ायम रखना हमारा फ़र्ज़ है |मेरा मक़सद यहाँ भाषा पे ज्ञान बांटना क़तई नहीं है पर आदतन रहा नहीं जाता क्यूंकि कुछ माहौल ही ऐसा है। आने वाले दिनों में कुछ छुटपुट कवितायेँ और कहानियां साँझा करने का विचार है। आज कल यूँही छोटामोटा लिख रही हूँ यहाँ वहां। हिंदी में लिखी दिल्ली शहर की कविताओं की किताब पर काम चल रहा है। सब कछुआ चाल हो गया है पर मैं इसे यूँही अपनी गति से चलने देना चाहती हूँ।

फरवरी के अंत से ही इस साल पर स्याही पुत गयी थी| बिगड़ी तबियत जब तक संभली लॉक डाउन पूरे ज़ोर पर था| अस्पताल से निकली तो हौज़ खास में फंस गयी| वो तीन महीने मेरे लिए आउटिंग थी | मानसिक तनाव और शारीरिक परेशानियों से उबरने का मौका| लॉक डाउन के उन दिनों ने बहुत कुछ सीखा दिया| ज़िन्दगी की वो घुटन जो मुझे छोड़े नहीं छोड़ती कुछ समय के लिए कहीं लज़ारबन्द हो गयी | तन मन में जैसे बसंत छ गया पर सुख अस्थायी होता है जबकि दुःख आपका एक छोर हमेशा पकडे रहता है | छुट्टी ख़तम हुई और फिर उसी उदासीन घुटन भरी ज़िन्दगी में वापस आ गयी |न जाने इस मकड़जाल से कब मुक्ति मिलेगी या नहीं मिलेगी | पर जब तक कला के रंग हैं, कविता है, ज़िन्दगी की गाड़ी जैसे तैसे चलती रहेगी |

इस त्रासदी के लगभग दो सौ दिन हो गए हैं । एक अजीब सा खालीपन है। किसी को मैंने कहा कि सब खोखला लगता है। मिथ्या। उसने पूछा, एक अंतहीन लॉक डाउन में जीने वाली को कैसा लगता है ये जबरन थोपा हुआ लॉक डाउन? तुम्हें तो कोई फर्क नहीं लगता होगा?

ड्रीम विदिन अ ड्रीम, मैंने कहा।

जो दिखता है वो है नहीं

जो है वो दिखता नहीं

आन्तरिक द्वंद और एक नीम शब

जो दिन की उजास भी खा गई है

लोगों ने मास्क क्या पहने उनके बाकी सभी नक़ाब उतर गए। दिन और तारीख़ धुंधलाने से लगे हैं। ज़िन्दगी का सारा हिसाब ही उलझ गया है। डार्क- ह्युमर में मुझे दिलचस्पी है पर ये कुछ ज़्यादा ही हो गया है। उदासी की भाषा अंग्रेज़ी हो या हिन्दी दोनों में शब्दों का अभाव हो रहा है। भाषा के इस सन्नाटे से भय लगता है। कहते हैं लिखो क्यूंकि लिखने से बहाव बना रहेगा। ये जीवन के लिए ज़रूरी है। आने वाली खुशियों और आशाओं के बारे में लिखो। आपदा में यही हिम्मत देगा। कैसे लिखूं। मैं अंधेरे से बनी हूं। कोई और रंग नहीं जानती।

Recipe – Turkish Börülce Pilaki | Black Eyed Pea Pilaki


Turkish Food is such a joy; light, healthy, colorful it is something I relish a lot. I love to make a few of the dishes which are very similar to ours but with a distinct flavor that is synonymous with the place it comes from. 

Many years ago I had eaten Börülce Pilaki at a food fest, a wholesome and flavorful Turkish dish made with black eyed beans \ cowpea \ lobia cooked in Olive oil with tomato sauce and many other vegetables and spices like onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots, red bell pepper, freshly ground black pepper, sugar, salt, cumin, bay leaf, fresh parsley leaves and spices lots of lemon juice. I had asked the lady how to make it and made once but it wasn’t appreciated in the masala loving Punjabi household. A few months ago I decided to make it again and to refresh the process correctly I referred to Almost Turkish blog by Burcu. I adapted the recipe to make it the way I saw the lady do it.  It’s one preparation everyone must try at least once.

Lobia or Black Eyed Peas is loaded with nutrition and is a good source of folate, vitamin B1, or thiamine, vitamin A, soluble fibre, potassium to name a few. It is extremely versatile too. I love its buttery texture more than other beans.

Pilaki is a fresh and light bean stew eaten as part of the Turkish Meze. It is one of the popular dishes grouped as zeytinyağlı yemekler (olive oil dishes). They can be served hot or cold as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken. I absolutely love this particular one made with black eyed beans or Lobia as know it in India. It is healthy and light to digest so do give it a try.

Ingredients :

Lobia or Black Eyed Peas – 400 gm ( soaked overnight or for a few hours till they swell up)
Onion, roughly chopped – 1 Large
Garlic, chopped- 4-5 cloves
Green chilies, finely chopped – 2
Carrot, thinly sliced or cut in discs – 2
Potatoes, peeled and cubed chopped – 2 medium
Tomatoes, finely chopped – 3-4 large + 4 tbsp tomato paste or 1/2 can of tomatoes
Olive oil – 3-4 tbsp
juice of 1/2 lemon
Bay leaves -2
Cumin Powder – 1/2 tsp
Chopped parsley – 1/2 cup ( I used a mix or Parsley & coriander greens)
Salt – to taste
Sugar – 1/2 tsp
Ground peppercorns – to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes – to taste

Note – Keep in mind to chop all veggies in approximately equal sizes so that they cook evenly.

Method : 

Drain the soaking water of the beans, rinse and put in a pressure cooker with enough water and cook till they are tender but not soft or mushy. They Must retain the bite. Once done, strain them and keep the water aside. Usually it is thrown but I use it later in the dish as it has all the nutrients.

In a heavy bottom pan warm the Olive oil then turn the heat to medium low.

Add onion and let them sizzle as they cook. Add the chopped garlic, stir and sprinkle the sugar. Add salt and pepper and let it all cook for 2-3 minutes.  Make sure the onions don’t brown too much. Just a translucent brown is good.

Add the green chilies and all the vegetables and then give it a good stir. Cover and cook till they are soft but make sure they retain their shape.

Stir in the tomato paste and chopped tomatoes and cook till you get a nicely incorporated saucy texture.

Add the drained cooked beans and stir so everything is incorporated properly. Add the reserved water from beans and boil it nicely. As it boils add in bay leaves, chili flakes, cumin powder and juice of half lemon.

Cook this on a low medium heat for 30-35 minutes or till the beans are soft.

Once the Pilaki is ready turn off the heat and add chopped parsley and / or coriander. Traditionally Dill is an essential part of the Pilaki but I didn’t have it so its not in the recipe. You must add 1 tablespoon full of chopped Dill if available. It gives Pilaki a very nice flavor. Cover the pot and let the steam cook the greens and fill the Pilaki with their aroma. 

Garnish the Pikali and take it out in a serving dish with a wooden spoon and enjoy the melange of beautiful flavours and textures. 

 

Recipe – Classic Kesar Shrikhand


 

Shrikhand is a traditional dessert made from full fat hung yogurt known in Maharashtra as Malai Chakka. These days chakka is easily available at halwais and dairies so people don’t spend hours straining the water from the yogurt. In many cities I have seen the use of Greek Yogurt too which is okay in case you’re in a rush or don’t  have access to Chakka. I, on the other hand, prefer to make it the traditional way.

It is one of the sweets offered in Prasadam to the Gods and a must preparation for all auspicious and festive occasions. These days we find a lot of variations to the classic Shrikhand with addition of fruits etc but while I was growing up only Aamrakhand or mango flavored Shrikhand was the other variation. Alphonso mangoes were used to make this flavorful sweet. I like Aamrakhand but I absolutely love the classic Kesar Shrikhand.

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For me Shrikhand brings memories of a lost love, a city that’s become meaningless for me now and yet there is that pull which I can’t let go of. It also reminds me of someone very special I’ve lost. Kalindi maushi did my elder son’s Annaparashan with the delicious Shrikhand she used to make among other things. It was specially made for Adi and the  boy literally put his whole face in the pot after that first lick. He still loves it to the heart. I cherish the time we all spent with her. Sometimes we need to keep both the love and the loss alive for the strength it gives.

I have grown up eating Shrikhand and made it several times. Never liked the store bought ones. They are too sweet for my taste. We don’t get chakka (Hung curd) in Delhi so it is always a labor of love to prepare the sweet. The best full fat yogurt ( usually home cultured), hours of hanging it in a muslin cloth till the last drop of water leaves it or if in a hurry then layers n layers of newspapers topped by layers of muslin cloth (changed in between) with yogurt on top so that all the water gets absorbed quickly. I use this method v rarely though. Don’t like shortcuts. The thick creamy hung curd is rubbed through the sieve ( a puran yantra was used in aaji’s home), whipped and then into the silky smoothness, boora cheeni and saffron (warmed, crushed and diluted in milk) is mixed into it. The sugar is just right so the slight tartness of yogurt remains. That’s essential for a good shrikhand. Usually I don’t prefer to add nuts ( pista, charoli etc) but I indulged today and added some. Had this sinful creamy shrikhand with crisp pooris and dubkiwale aloo. The best way to eat it is by licking it off with a finger. That’s the only way I know and love.  I will post the potato curry recipe soon.

Hot crisp Poori and smooth chilled Shrikhand are a perfect match just like Poori and Aamras. Another of my favorites.

To make the Srikhand you’ll need :

Ingredients : 

Malai Chakka – 1 kg ( homemade hung curd proportion – 1 kg full fat yogurt gives approximately 250 gram hung curd)

Boora cheeni or Powdered Sugar – 700 -750 grams

Salt – 1 pinch

Finely grated Nutneg – 1/4th tsp ( optional as I did’t use it)

Milk – 1/4 cup

Saffron strands ( warmed, bruised and soaked in milk ) – a few ( 8-10)

Pistachio and Charoli ( chironji)  ( soaked and finely chopped) – 1 tsp

Green cardamom powder – 1/4 tsp ( if using nutmeg then avoid this)

Method : 

If using store bought chakka or Greek yogurt just it in a muslin cloth for an hour or so to remove all traces of water.

If making Hung Curd at home then put the curd in a muslin or cheese cloth, gather its edges and tie into a knot. ( I use old cotton dupatta or saree cloth too) Hang from the knot end over a large container so that the water drips into it. Let it remain for at least 6-7 hours. I sometimes put the cloth on a sieve and place the container in fridge overnight so that the curd doesn’t get sour. Another way is to place layers of old newspapers topped with double layered muslin cloth and placing the yogurt on the cloth. In a few hours the newpapers will absorb all the liquid. You may change them ones in between.

Once you have hung curd with zero traces of water take it out in a large bowl and gently fold and stir Boora chini into it along with saffron milk, nutmeg or cardamom powder. Once everything is incorporated well cover and keep it for half an hour. Remember not to whisk or stir it briskly or it will tend to become watery and runny. You need to be patient and kind. The sugar will release some water in this time.

Now gently rub this mixture through the sieve so that all the ingredients mix into a homogenized smooth mixture. Spoon the Shrikhand into a serving bowl and garnish with a little saffron milk and chopped nuts if using.

 

The sign of a good Shrikhand is that it should hold a place on a plate when served and not need a bowl.

You can freeze this Shrikhand in airtight containers for a few days but usually it is licked off sooner that you can imagine.

If you make it from my recipe do tag me and share your experience.

 

 

How to Dry And Preserve Neem/ Indian Lilac Flowers For Culinary Use


A major part of my lockdown period was spent at my son’s previous home. Surrounded by old trees, some more than hundred years old. Among them were the Neem or Indian Lilac trees. Delhi has a fair share of ancient aging Neem trees so full of life even now.

Azadirachta indica L is not just a scared and medicinal tree but a shelter for birds, bees, squirrels, butterflies and insects of various kinds. It is a very effective air purifier too and its root bark, stem bark, gum, flower, leaves, seeds and seed oil are used for various medicinal purposes but today we will focus on how to dry and preserve the Neem Flowers or Vepampoo as it is known in Southern India for the unique culinary uses.

While I was recovering in the Hauz Khas home of my elder son the Neem trees lining the streets were flowering gregariously. The flower laden branches from the closest tree leaned on the terrace bringing in a star shower with even a gentle breeze. I was fortunate to see the transformation of little buds to flowers and then to fruits that were devoured by hungry parakeets which descend in such large numbers that sometimes the tree becomes them. In the midst of chaos I fond the solace in quietly sitting and witnessing the life nestled between the labyrinth of dark rough ancient branches and a “sea of foliage” as Lutyens wanted Delhi to be.

Throughout Southern India these flowers are used in various food preparations. I’ve savored some but not made all of them. I’ve prepared roasted flowers crumbled on hot plain steamed rice, tossed in ghee with hing and added to rice, eaten with jaggery, Ugadi Pachadi (Bevu Bella in kannada), dry podi, raita, raw mango Neem flower pachdi, rasam, tea and neer moru /  Masale majjige / Buttermilk infused with the blossoms whose recipe I will share. Then there is kozambu and yummy sadam with Mor Milagai / Dried Green chilies and dried Neem Blossoms that’s out of the world.

If you aren’t adverse to light bitterness then you’ll find Neem blossoms very delicious. The blossoms are known to cleanse the system among other medicinal benefits.

Here is a step by step method of drying and preserving Neem blossoms. The process is pretty simple. In the flowering season which is Jan – May you may gather these fresh flowers to sun dry and if there is a scarcity of sunny secure place they can be dried under a fan too.

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  1. Collect the fresh tenderly fragrant blossoms in a clean bowl or sheet of cloth.
  2. Separate the Neem flowers from the leaf axil by holding the stem in the left hand and pulling the flowers by dragging your fingers from bottom upwards to separate the blossoms.
  3. Once you have all the tiny blossoms separated take a large clean utensil and fill it with drinking water. Dip these flowers gently in it so that all the dust and dirt gets washed. Leave them there for 1-2 minutes and then slowly scoop them into a plate.
  4. Spread kitchen towels or a clean cloth on a flat surface and spread the flowers on it. You may use a large tray if the quantity of blossoms is less.
  5. Let them dry under the sun from morning till evening and bring them in at night. Keep then under sun till they’re completely dry and there is no trace of moisture. Drying under the fan takes more time. I did that as the house cat and her new kittens were all over the terrace. It will take tat least 2-3 days minimum for them to dry completely.
  6. The sign that they are ready for storage and use is to lightly crush them. If they are crisp and crush easily then it’s ready.
  7. Bring in the dried browned flowers to the kitchen counter and let them rest for a while so that they come to the room temperature. Store them in clean and dry airtight jars and use as and when required.
  8. You can use fresh flowers too after washing them as some recipes require the use of fresh ones.

Here is a recipe for  Vepampoo Neer Moru / Spiced Buttermilk tempered with fresh Neem blossoms 

 

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Ingredients : 

Fresh Neem or Vepampoo Blossoms – 2-3 tsp full

Ghee or Clarified butter – 1 tbsp

Dry Whole Red Chili – 1 small

Green chili – 1 broken in 2-3 pieces

Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp

Grated ginger – 1 tbsp

Fresh Yogurt  (Preferably Home cultured) – 1 cup

Water – 2 cups

Salt to taste

Asafoetida – 1 pinch

( You can use fresh buttermilk too instead of making one)

Method : 

Heat an iron seasoning ladle or a small seasoning wok and add ghee to it. Once the ghee warms add cumin seeds. When they crackle add whole broken red chili, green chili pieces, asafoetida (Hing) and fresh Neem blossoms. The moment you get an aromatic fragrance remove from heat and keep on counter to cool. Remove the red chili if your heat threshold is less. You may use just one variety of chili too. Make sure

Add it to the fresh buttermilk and stir. Add salt and grated ginger and stir well.

Or

Blend the curd with water, salt, grated ginger properly and then add the prepared Vepampoo tempering.  Mix everything well and serve. You can have this Vepampoo infused neer moru at room temperature or chilled. It is extremely cooling in the heat of summer and the addition of Neem blossoms give it a beautiful aroma and taste.

 

 

 

 

Recipe – Punjabi Dum Aloo


 

Since the time I came back from my son’s home I had been craving for the scrumptious food he was feeding me. I am also constant thinking of all the dishes learned from various people during my travel or visit to friends’ homes. It’s been tough lately and cooking has been therapeutic just as painting and writing has been. I am trying to keep myself gainfully occupied and eat healthy too. Many times nostalgia makes me prepare dishes I haven’t made in years. I miss my boys and our time together. I miss normal life and the time I lost struggling to find myself while making peace with others at the same time.  Often this is how I feel :

So many roads.
So many detours.
So many choices.
So many mistakes.
So many crossroads.
So many endings.
So many beginnings.
I have truly “lived”
But Now
I have a feeling my soul is spent
and I have nothing more to give to the world.

Then, when the moment passes I think of the food I love, the people who so generously fed it to me and taught me the process and I count my privilege and my blessings.

Dum Aloo is love in whichever way it is cooked from Kashmiri, Bengali to Banarasi but there is something about this Punjabi Aloo Dum that I find hard to resist. It is a favorite. Again, I would never eat this in a restaurant. I find it very heavy to digest and avoid bI have had extremely delicious aloo dum while visiting a few Punjabi friends. Here is a recipe learned from someone long ago. The texture is beautiful, it has a medley of flavors and my favorite kasoori methi. Like garlic this is one of my go to ingredients for many dishes. Baby potatoes deep or shallow fried and added to a rich creamy gravy is love at first sight. Kasoori methi gives takes its taste to another level. Pair it with hot naans, tandoori roti or just plain phulka and you’ve got a winner. 

Here’s how I make it

Ingredients : 

10-15 – Baby potatoes or big potatoes cut evenly in equal size cubes

1- Large Onion Pureed

1-2 – Large Tomatoes Pureed

4 tablespoon- Whisked Thick Yogurt

1 Pinch – Asafoetida

1 tbsp – Ginger Garlic Paste

1 tsp – Coriander Powder

1 tsp – Red Chili Powder

1 tsp – Cumin Seeds

1 tsp – coriander Seeds

1 Black Cardamom Pod

3-4 – cloves

1/4 tsp – Turmeric Powder

1 tsp – Kashmiri Chili Powder

1/2 tsp – Kasuri Methi or dry fenugreek leaves ( toasted and crushed)

1/2 tsp – Garam Masala

Salt to taste

Sugar – 1/2 tsp

Mustard Oil for shallow frying

6-8 – Cashew Nuts ( Optional. I seldom use them)

Chopped fresh coriander green greens for garnish

Method : 

Wash, pat dry and par boil the baby potatoes in water in which a little salt is added.

Peel, prick them with a fork and shallow fry them in hot mustard oil that’s been already smoked. Set these aside.

Grind the whole spices into a dry mix and set aside.

In the same pan add heat a few teaspoons of oil and add a pinch of asafoetida and cumin seeds. When they crackle add onion puree and saute it till light brown then add ginger, garlic paste and stir again. Once the rawness goes away add the powdered masalas ( except garam masala ) and roast for a minute keeping the flame low so that they don’t burn.

Add tomato puree and saute till the water evaporates ans the masala cooks properly. Add salt and beaten yogurt stirring continuously so that the yogurt doesn’t curdle.

Cook this wet masala on low heat till oil begins to separate then add the fried baby potatoes and mix well so that the potatoes get evenly covered with the masala.

Some people add cashew nut paste to this one I don’t.

Let the potatoes simmer in the masala for two minutes or so. Sprinkle kasoori methi and garam amsala evenly and mix. Keep a little to drizzle over the dish later if you wish.

Add chopped coriander greens. I prefer to add them while the dish is cooking as it imparts a flavor to the dish. Adding at the last stage or as a garnish doesn’t achieve its purpose. I also use the tender stems with leaves.

Add 3/4 cups of warm water to the dish and stir nicely to bring it to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for another few minutes till you achieve the desired consistency of the gravy. I prefer it thick enough to be scooped up with a piece of naan or kulcha. You can serve it with good steamed basmati rice too.

Let the Dum Aloo stay in the covered pan for ten minutes and then spoon it in the serving dish. Sprinkle a pinch or two of kasuri methi as garnish if you wish. Have it hot with the Indian breads of your choice.

Recipe – Simple Paneer Makhani With Kasoori Methi


I love Paneer or Indian cottage cheese but somehow don’t like the creamy paneer butter masala sold in the restaurants and the paneer makhani is always too sweet for my taste. This dish however has the perfect Dhaba style taste of Paneer Makhni. I learned it from an elderly sardarji who owned a Dhaba in Rudrapur on way to Ranikhet. The dhaba is closed now and ‘darji is no more but the taste of his food and the memories of his tenderheartedness and love still linger in my thoughts.

So if you are looking for a lighter version of Paneer makhani try this recipe. This may not be the authentic or traditional way to cook it but it certainly is delicious. Always use soft fresh Paneer as that’s the star ingredient here. I use either almonds or cashew nuts or a mix of both in this recipe. Usually canned tomato puree is preferred as it has an intense taste but for everyday consumption I use the described method. I absolutely love how the gravy coats the tender paneer cubes turning it into a spectacular lip smacking dish. Did I say Paneer is the star ingredient? No, it is the fresh kasoori methi or dried fenugreek leaves that spin the magic in this dish. I like the earthy flavor of Kasoori methi and have been using Just Organik’ Kasoori Methi in almost everything. Trust me it is as good as homemade.

Ingredients :

Fresh Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese – 250 gm

Medium size Onion ( chopped)- 1

Minced Ginger+Garlic+green chili – 1 tbsp

Red ripe tomatoes ( chopped)- 3

Bay leaf- 1

Black cardamom – 2

Dry red chili -1 small

Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp

Kasoori Methi – 1 tsp ( lightly roasted, crushed)

Butter + Oil – 1 tbsp each

Garam Masala – 1 tsp

Coriander Powder – 1 tsp

Red Chili Powder – 1 tsp

Turmeric Powder  – 1 tsp

Salt – to taste

sugar – 1/4th tsp

Soaked almonds or cashew nut or a mix – 5-6

Fresh cream (Malai) – 2 tbsp (beaten) (optional)

 

Method :

In a heavy bottom pan add the oil and butter together. Doing this will ensure that the butter doesn’t burn.

Once the oil warms up, add bay leaf,  cardamom ( lightly pounded) and cumin seeds.

Once the cumin seeds start to crackle, add the ginger, garlic, green chili mix and stir. I added little extra pods of garlic ( 3-4) as I love the garlicky taste in this dish.

Add the chopped onion and saute it till translucent then add the almonds and or cashew. Stir and add the chopped tomato. Stir nicely and cook till they soften then turn off the heat.

Let this cool and once at room temperature take this mixture in a blender and pulse it till it is a smooth paste.

Now, in the same pan add a little more butter and add this paste. Give it a good stir and when it starts to bubble add garam masala, chili powder, coriander powder, little sugar and salt to taste. Keep the flame on medium and cook it till the rawness of the masala goes and oil separates. If the masala seems too dry add a little warm warm. it should be a thick gravy. Cook it for 10 minutes stirring continuously. once the gravy is smooth and nice add the toasted crushed Kasoori methi and stir it in. Let the gravy cook for another five minutes.

Now add the paneer cubes and gently stir so that every cube is covered in the masala. Let it simmer for another five minutes then turn off the heat.  Add the freshly beaten malai and it is ready to serve. You may garnish it with fresh coriander leaves and a little more smooth beaten malai.

Serve with kulchas, naans or steamed rice or any other breads of your choice.

If you try this recipe please let me know.

Check out another equally delicious Paneer dish Here 

 

Recipe – Himachali Chana Madra


A few friends have been asking me for the recipes of the dishes I had been cooking during the lockdown. I am wondering if a separate food blog is needed to catalog all the recipes but till I decided that I will use this space to share them. Excuse me for the photos. I hadn’t thought of blog post while clicking. Will add more later. 

I have been thinking of the hills and our road trips, my trekking years and the local food eaten in homes or local eateries of Himachal and Uttarakhand.

Light and aromatic yogurt based gravies are summer’s soul food. Desi khana or traditional meal made with locally sourced ingredients is something I root for even though I love to explore other cuisines. Summer is also season for nostalgic eating.

I first had madra at the home of a local in kangra during a road trip. A family from the village had a small tea stall and provided meals if possible. Though not as part of the menu. It all depended on what’s available and we were lucky to get madra, kale chane ka khatta and rice.

The slow cooked scrumptious Chana Madra is not just quintessential part of authentic Himachali Dham but also of the wedding menu. The whole and ground spices, creamy tangy curd and the buttery chickpeas fill the dish with melange of flavours. Madra is made with Rajma too. The Chamba rajmah tastes delicious in madra but I love the Kangra version with chickpeas.

Today’s thali had one dish each from a few parts of india to which I belong in some way. Aamras from Maharashtra (Mother’s side), old vintage nimbu pickle from Uttarpradesh ( father’s side), madra from Himachal ( In-law’s side) and kelya upkari from Konkan ( nani’s maternal side). Comfort and love in every bite. I’m thinking of making a few more dishes that are close to my heart in the coming days.

Ingredients :

Kabuli Chana / Chickpeas ( Soaked overnight and boiled) – 2 Cup ( can use canned chickpeas too)

Asafoetida – 2 pinch

Cloves – 3-4

Cinnamon – 1/2 inch stick

Black Cardamom – 2-3

Green Cardamom Powder – 1/4 tsp

Sugar – 1/4 tsp

Black Peppercorn – 3-4

Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp

Coriander Powder – 2 tsp

Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp

Salt – as required

Raisins – 3 tsp ( soaked and drained)

Thick whipped curd – 2 cups

Ghee/ clarified butter or Mustard Oil – 2 tbs

For the Rice Paste –

¼ cup raw white rice

1 cup water

1-2 pods of green cardamom

Soak  ¼ cup rice in 1 cup of water and cardamom. Grind this mixture and set aside.

Method –

In a heavy bottom pan heat mustard oil to the smoking point and then reduce the heat. ( For ghee you just need to warm it)

Add asafoetida, black cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick

Stir and add cumin seeds. When they crackle add coriander and turmeric powder and stir. Make sure the masala doesn’t burn.

Add boiled chickpeas and stir properly.

Add the whisked yogurt and keep stirring continuously. Keep the lame low or the yogurt will curdle. Add salt and green cardamom powder.

Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minute. Stir occasionally.

Once the mixture comes to a boil add he rice paste water and mix well.

Continue to stir and cook for another 20-25 minutes.

I usually add a tablespoon or two of hot homemade ghee on top, stir and let it simmer for another ten minutes thicken the gravy.

Turn off the heat, add chopped fresh coriander greens and mix.

Serve with plain boiled / steamed rice or roti.

Recipe – Jamun / Wild Indian Java Plum Compote


As children we used to forage Jamuns. We climbed trees, grazed our knees to shake the fruit laden branches. Greedily picking the fruit off the ground and savored them with utmost delight. It feel like some other time and space. Back then they tasted sweeter, left our fingers, tongues and clothes, streets, pavements painted purple. On summer afternoons a vendor would roam around singing in a melodious tone, “Jamun kale kale mujhse bhi zyada kaale” and we would rush to surround him with 20-30 Paisa to buy the treat. Fleshy fruits right from the trees sprinkled with salt or masala. Who cared about washing them. They went straight into the mouth. We weren’t so paranoid about hygiene then I guess. The fruit has immense health benefits but that you can Google.

There are few jamun trees left to forage now. Monsoon is the time to devour the fresh juicy fruits. I got a large quantity and made some compote. The vendors sell it for a high price. I bought these for 200/- kg but they are absolutely delicious. Ripe, fleshy with the perfect sweet astringent taste.

Jamun or java plum is a drupe not a berry as some think. Rai Jamun or the ashadiya variety is Syzigium nervosum and the other round bhadainya variety is Syzigium cumini. Both belong to Myrtaceae family.

Homemade compote, jams, jelly, conserves or preserves are something you can so easily make at home. No artificial preservatives, chemicals and the sugar can be added keeping in mind the sweetness of the fruit. I prefer to use sweeter fruits so less sugar is used. Here I used organic brown sugar. There’s also little ginger for that zingy kick. I love adding it to some of the spreads. You can serve this with panacota, use it in cake toppings, with yogurt, mousse, cheese cake or as a spread on bread.

Note – Always choose unblemished, ripe, juicy, pulpy dark fruit. Those with hard texture are semi or under ripe.


To make the compote you need –

Ingredients :

250 gm – Jamun / Java Plum

3 tablespoon – Sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)

1/2 tsp – Finely Grated Ginger plus juice (optional)

1/2 tsp – Lemon Juice

Method –

Wash and wipe the fruit properly.

In a glass bowl place the fruit and add sugar to it. Mix thoroughly so that the fruits are coated with sugar properly. Leave them to macerate for about 30-40 minutes. I use less sugar so that the sweetness of fruit remains intact. I don’t like very sugary spreads.

With clean hands gently rub and mash the fruit to separate the pulp and pits. Discard pits. The fruit will release juices and the process makes it easier to remove pits with minimum to none pulp wastage. Maceration changes the texture of fruit and absorption of flavors is more.

In a heavy bottom pan add the juice, sugary fruit pulp, ginger & juice and cook it on medium heat stirring continuously. Let it simmer for a while and then add lemon juice. I prefer the fruit to remain chunky. Bring the mixture to boil.

Remove froth from top if any and turn off the heat.

Bring it room temperature and it is ready to serve. You can store in in clean glass jar for up to 7-10 days at room temperature or in fridge.

Do let me know if you make the compote. Say no commercial sugar and chemical laden preserves etc. It really takes very little to make your things and they are delicious and healthy.

Teen Chhatris | Hazire, Makanpur Village, Indrapuram


Last year I finally got a chance to explore the ancient pavilions in Makanpur village inside the posh Indirapuram locality. A slight diversion from my exploration of Delhi monuments. This was as part of discovering lesser known heritage buildings in and around Delhi. I had a few locations marked but could visit only this one before falling sick and then the pandemic ruined my plans.

It took me a lot of effort to locate the place as many of the access points were dug out. The street shop owners, vendors and local residents had little clue about it and were amused as to why a gray haired jeans clad woman with camera is looking for some dilapidated old ruins and that too in blistering summer noon. I kept showing photographs from a national daily to them and finally an old auto driver guiding me to an approximate location. I landed up near the Masjid and again started the search. Finally a shop keeper pointed me to the caretaker of the graveyard, the only one who could guide me. I couldn’t find the old gentleman but someone children got curious and tagged along as I made my way through narrow lanes. One of them asked what I was looking for and seeing the photos exclaimed, ” ye to kabristan mein hain. wahan tala laga hai. andar jana mana hai. sab toota phoota hai. wahan kya kaam hai aapko?” ( these are in the graveyard and the gate is locked. no one is allowed inside. Everything is falling apart. What do want from there?)

I explained I needed to take photos to write about it. Thinking I was a journalist they demanded a picture and in exchanged of that agreed to take me there. We finally reached the place but the man who had the key couldn’t be found. By then I was tired and late for another appointment at my son’s home. I had finally found the gorgeous structures shrouded from all around by tall buildings.

Orphaned and decaying pavilion tombs or chhatris or hazire as called by the local Muslim community are looked after by them. The gate is mostly locked and displays a board claiming it to be a local graveyard. Perhaps this is the only reason why these structures have remained standing even now.

Earlier the structures were visible from NH24 but rampant construction and high rise buildings around it have obscured the view. The pavilions are in a dilapidated state; uncared and forgotten. A mute testimony of a time now gone.

One of the three Chhatris is almost completely gone as you can see. One of the other two is also breaking apart. The blue plaster-work or tile-work on a band around the Dome’s neck is only visible in a few places on the middle structure. Rest has vanished. I didn’t get enough time to study so will go again.

The inverted lotus finial is very prominent in one of the domes.

The chhatris or hazire come under the state archaeological department. ASI has washed its hands off these and they find no place in the list of monuments protected and maintained by them. GDA doesn’t give a care either.

The tombs have a striking resemblance to Yusuf Qattal’s tomb and style of masonry is similar to Jahaz Mahal. The delicate red sandstone pillars, lotus finial and blue tiles suggest it to be either Lodi period or Mughal. I’m no expert so just thinking aloud here. I may be wrong. The motifs are ornate and carved in the maroon tinge of Bharatpur sandstone. Lot of lattice screens were laying around here and there. You can view a few in the picture of the graves below.

The pavilions are often claimed to be from 16th century Mughal period. The local lore about this being the grave of sakka, the bhishti who saved Humayun’s life during the battle of Chausa, doesn’t seem probable to me. There are more than three graves inside the pavilions.

I’m still gathering information about these by discussing with various people who may know the right facts. Will update once something that pin points to the precise date and historical facts is found.

I wasn’t allowed in to inspect the pavilions closely as women aren’t allowed in kabristan ( graveyard) so the photos were taken from right near the gate. There were a very more that one of the young men had taken from my phone but I seem to have lost them. Will update if they’re found.

If you have any authentic documented information about these pavilions then please share.

Delhi Monuments – The Three Domed Mosque, Safdarjung Tomb


There is something about this Garden Tomb of Safdarjung that draws you in.  This was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi and is perhaps one of the most underrated monuments too, mainly because of the constant comparison with much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Here is a blog I wrote about why You should go with an open mind to really enjoy its beauty. Safdarjung Tomb Complex  

Safdarjung’s full name was Wazir-ul-Hindustaan Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan Safdarjung. He was also known as Nawab-Wazir, Nawab Wazir al-Mamalik, Subedar of Kashmir Agra & Oudh, Khan Bhadur, Meer-e-Atash and Firdaus Aaramgah. He was the most powerful governor and the state of Awadh or oudh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdar Jung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857.

The tomb complex is also known as Mansur ka Maqbara and like most monuments of Delhi this too holds interesting nooks and corners which usually visitors tend to ignore.

This post isn’t really about the tomb but about the beautiful little double storey mosque, with its three gorgeous onion shapes domes, built to the right of the exquisite main entrance of the tomb complex. The mosque was supposedly made by Safdarjung’s wife. if true then it is one of the few mosques commissioned by women, another one is Khair ul Manazil mosque.

You get the best view of mosque from the high platform of the tomb.  It is fascinating to watch the lingering shadows, the filtering sunlight and the tree branches making patterns on its wall.  The onion shaped striped domes, the slender cuboidal minarets and the pointy finials emerging from floral base atop the domes are exquisite to look at all times of the day. Interestingly the floral base isn’t Lotus as was the norm in those days. The place is full of intrigue and surprises. The placement of the mosque is unusual but it was built as part of the mausoleum.  The exterior of the domes has distinct stripes of red sandstone and marble veneer. Haven’t seen anything so beautiful in Delhi at least.

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Visitors are allowed entry to the mosque’s square only on Friday for the prayers and an iron grill blocks the entry on rest of the days. It isn’t possible to click the mosque from the small courtyard since most of it is veiled by the awnings that stretch from side to side to provide shade to the devotees. Also, the walls of the numerous chambers that flank the gateway and span the space around obscure much of the mosque.

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These chambers were meant for the students of a madrasa (Islamic seminary) that was commissioned and supported by Safdarjung’s descendants, but now these too are inaccessible. Locked and closed gates aren’t a new feature for those who wander around Delhi monuments. Delhi has enough phenomenal architectural hidden treasures not accessible to public . No one tells why access is denied. The other functional mosques don’t have access issues so it is sort of baffling about this one. Perhaps someone can explain the reason.

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Last year,  I was fortunate to get access to the beautiful but neglected wuzu khana or the ablution tank chamber located on the lower level. There is a small gate on the right (usually latched) inside the grand eastern entrance to the tomb complex that leads to the corridor leading to the wuzu khana and the mosque . The wuzu tank has a fountain in it. The place has lost most of its engravings which were perhaps similar to those on the main gateway. Just imagine how gorgeous this would have looked when it was used for ablution before going upstairs for prayers. The central arch of the mehrab has a floral engraving.

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Most mosques do not have a fountain.  Only three mosques in Delhi, including this one, have a fountain in wuzu khana. The Kalan Masjid at Turkman Gate has a fountain in the tank that is used for wuzu, but it is made of Marble. The entire mosque is built with The Delhi Quartz Stone and was built in the time of Feroz Tugalaq when the use of Sand Stone and Marble wasn’t common and because these stones had to be brought from Rajasthan so the fountain could be a later addition.

Fatehpuri Mosque too has a fountain. This was built in the 17th century and so the marble fountain could be an original.

So, this is a unique feature of this particular mosque and I seriously hope that the waterworks are revived here and the structure is restored properly without making it garish eyesore like a few other restored ones.

Interestingly, a drawing of Safdarjung Tomb scene by Willaim Daniell dated late 18th century shows a water body in the foreground. According to historian and Convener of the Delhi chapter of INTAC Swpana Liddle old maps reveal that this was in fact a stream, which rose in the Ridge, the part of it adjacent to present day Vasant Vihar, it flowed in a north-easterly direction, past Safdarjung’s tomb, through today’s Lodi Garden, and finally merged with the Barapulla nala.  No trace of this stream survives today. I wonder if that water-body fed the water to the Wuju khana. I lot of questions need answers and I will update as I come to know.

Unfortunately both the mosque and the Mansur (Safdarjung) ka madarsa don’t get enough footfall for the authorities to look after these structures. This mosque was opened for Friday prayers in the 1980s and  like monuments used for prayers such as Jama Masjid, the Puri temple and many other old temples, mosques and Churches is not under ASI protection. Since the authorities responsible for these structures do not spend money on maintenance the heritage buildings are generally neglected. The ASI, perpetually short of funds, does not care too much for monuments which are not totally under their care. Allowing prayers in protected monuments is a clear violation of law but laws are often violated in our country. Call them religeous or political whims and a setback to our collective heritage.

I could spend only a short time inside the mosque corridor leading towards wuzu khana and mosque so couldn’t examine it minutely. Neither could I see the entire mosque with the guard breathing down my neck. I could manage only a few photographs but hopefully one day I will get another chance to explore it in greater detail.

This is a quick post just to share some of the photographs and details. Will notify as and when I update it.

I hope this goddamn virus curls under some stone and goes into indefinite hibernation so that the lockdown is lifted and I can visit my favorite haunt. Meanwhile don’t forget the beauty that Delhi is with all its shortcomings.