Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tadi No Batervo ... Mutton cooked in Palm Toddy

Every year on Khordad Sal (the birthday of the prophet Zarathushtra) we try to make something a bit left of centre for our clients be they traditional Parsi recipes from rural Gujarat, Continental favourites or long lost classics. This year Rhea decided she was tired of Continental and she wanted us at Katy's Kitchen to give the Parsis (and food lovers) of Mumbai a chance to take a journey deep into the Parsi kitchens of rural Gujarat 50 or more years ago. So with serious determination writ on our faces we went to the cupboard and yanked out the two volumes of Katy Dalal's  Jamva Chaloji. I chose the Tadi no Batervo and she chose the Murghi no Khurmo (more on this in some other post). 

I was completely enamoured by the prospect of cooking mutton in a reducing base of Palm Toddy  and we decided to bring this heirloom recipe to our patrons and friends. I remember my mum speaking about this dish and how it was made in her great-granpa Kanjibhai's house in Tadgam (near Nargol in Gujarat). He would ensure that one of his Warli boys got down a pot of sweet morning toddy at 5 or 6 am before the sun got to accelerating the fermentation process. He would also chose a tree that had been recently tapped as this would make a difference she said. There is a huge history to this dish Katy in Jamva Chaloji 2 tells us that Valsara Fooa made this (at Mamakwara) for Lady Navajbai Tata when she visited Nargol to review the Tata-Wadia School and even many years later she said it was the best meal she ever had.

It's a very simple dish, mutton is marinated in a green masala made with chillies, corriander, mint, ginger, garlic, pepper and cloves. It is braised in hot oil and then submerged in sweet toddy and brought to a boil.It is cooked on a low flame and toddy is topped up as and when required till the mutton is finally cooked. It takes at least an hour and a half to cook, the slower the tastier...if you can cook on a wood fire in a terracotta chattie it will taste even better. The gravy should be sticky and have a mildly caramelised feel to it. 

Tadi no Batervo is best eaten with hot white rice or rice rotlis. It is a very simple dish but with complex flavours. There is a mild sourness coupled with sweetness yet both sour and sweet are unlike the usual such tastes and the green masala adds a subtle underlying note of spice. 

The Mutton and the Marinade

The Marinated mutton and the Sweet Toddy


Adding the Sweet Toddy

The finished Tadi no Batervo

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Usmanbhai - Last Engineer of the Rim World

Day before yesterday me and Lara (my Bullet Thunderbird 325) decided to make the most of a rainfree day and chug down to the University. It was cloudy, cool and perfect driving weather. Chugging down NH4 - cool wind in my hair, warm smell of diesel dust wafting through the air ... I was almost unhorsed by the sudden appearance of an unholy pothole. It was small, sharp edged, deep and almost perfectly rounded. We bounced through it and I knew instantly that something was amiss. We rolled off the Vashi flyover and lo behold! there was a huge dent in the front rim. If I had been driving any other bike we would have come to a nasty stop at the pothole itself and as Vinodbhai, Bullet specialist at Kalina told me, if I had opted for magwheels the front rim would have snapped clean through. Truly they build these bikes to last.

The tube was sound and after a wait of a few minutes when I saw that the air pressure was holding I decided to risk it and make a run for the Univ. We rumbled all the way. At the Kalina petrol pump I asked for a Bullet mechanic and was told to meet Vinodbhai in the adjacent lane. I did so. he turned out to be a very amiable middle aged fellow who took one look at the bike and said, "samajh gaya bhai kuch bolne ki zaroroorat nahin (I've understood it no need to say anything)". He then told me that I had two options - replace the rim or have it straightened out by an expert. I asked him if he would undertake to do it? He said he could but preferably I should go over to Usmanbhai at Bandra reclamation since all he (Vinod) would do was take the wheel over there anyways. He gave me directions and a cell number and I agreed to take Lara there after work.

We slowly rumbled over at 6 pm and I found Usmanbhai in a tiny little shack off the main road at the foot of the fancy roundabout flyover at Bandra. To find Usmanbhai's you need to take the loop to SV Rd but at the end you take the arm that goes to reclamation and not the one that descends in front of Bandra masjid.

Usman why was a jovial gent with salt and pepper hair and a matching stubble. He took one look at the rim and put me at ease by telling me not to worry, and that I was in safe hands. They (he and his man Friday) popped off the wheel in five minutes flat (not a mean feat considering this was the front wheel of a Bullet) and a few minutes later Usmanbhai was expertly removing the tube, tyre and the disk-brake disk.

That he was a master was apparent from the first move he made. His skill at taking of the bolts on the disk whilst telling me not to worry (as there was a silca compound added whilst putting them on the first time and that this made things difficult but not impossible) while he was slowly loosening the bolts put me at ease. Here was a man who obviously knew what he was doing. He then took off all the spokes whilst giving me a running commentary on the 'good luck' that I wasn't running Lara on magwheels and that I obviously was an old timer at riding since I hadn't even taken the slightest fall after doing this kind of damage to the wheel. After taking a wooden mallet to the wheel rim to 'starighten it out he proceded to add the spokes. Usmanbhaithen placed the wheel on a special jig and proceeded to gently 'true' the wheel by adjusting the spokes (ie tightening them). He further informed me that all Bullets needed spoke tightening after the first 4 to 6 months and that I should get the rear wheel seen to later.

I could see the rapt concentration as he heard and felt his way around the rim. It was slightly uncanny, he'd use sight, sound and feel to check repeatedly on the rim. After almost half an hour and a few gentle taps to get rid of the last bumps on the rim he spun the tyre in the jig and lo it spun with no wobble whatsoever! I was truly impressed.

We  got to talking and he told me that this was his forte and that he had been doing this all his life. He reminisced about the early days in Bandra when Parsis and Christains brought their cycles to him esp the ones with gears and brakes in the rear drum and that there was no one else for miles who knew how to 'trough' a cyle wheel like that, Usmanbhai went on to work art the Rajdoot factory and there he was in charge of wheel assembly, he then decided to go it on his own and came back to Bandra and set up shop. Today he is the No. 1 man for Bullet rims, spokes, drums and he also extends his expertise to other bikes. He fondly told me that he was the man in Mumbai for double spoking and for straigtening out rims for Bullets. Double spoking is doubling the number of spokes on the wheel with thinner spokes, the drum needs to have new holes expertly drilled and then it needs to be re-spoked. Usmanbhai not only does the spoke fitting but also drills his own holes, no mean feat considering the precision required. He very quietly said that all the Bullet ustaads (experts) and mechanics of Mumbai know him and if they want quality work they come only to him.

I was so happy to have been a part of his world even if it was for a couple of hours. To see a man of his skill and experience, doing something that in any other country would have been done by  a bevy of machines or most probably where the damaged part would simply have been replaced without a thought.  It is people like Usmanbhai who keep alive the traditional karigiri something so essential in lifting a craft to an art. I salute these men and women who toil on doing their thing with expertise and quiet dignity.

Lara and I drove of from Usmanbhai's with no wobble at all and a smile on our faces.

P.S. due apologies to Larry Niven for the pun in the title :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Raanachya Bhajya - The Forest Greens

I have heard a lot of complaining these days about the monotony of Indian vegetables and the variety of foreign veggies ... I have heard cribbing and complaining with no real action. Have even 10% of urban Indians bothered to find out what vegetables are available? No. There are tonnes of Indian vegetables and we just need to go out there and make a little effort.

Added to this in the last few years have been my discoveries of what are called raanachya bhajya or forest greens eaten all over Maharashtra in the Monsoons. Traditionally summer is a time for stored, dried beans and dals and the monsoons, before the longer growing vegetables are ready, are the time for foraging and eating fast growing and freshly sprouting vegetables from the forests, field boundaries and the charai (grazing) lands.

My fascination for these took off with the 'shevaal'  (Amorphophallus commutatus) that I saw sprouting at my excavation site in 2012. These would be quickly appropriated by the first labourer to see one. Shevaal is a great favourite along the Konkan and is cooked with mutton mince or with dried prawns ... Kunda Maushi makes it amazingly well and she showed me how the stamen is to be removed and discarded and how the shoot/flower needs to be soaked in salt water otherwise it leads to a very itchy throat. My friend Soumitra Velkar also posted a shevaal recipe  which reminded me that I must keep an eye out for the shoots this monsoon. 

Image Credit:

A few days later my friend and colleague Dr Suraj Pandit came over to the University for a meeting and his lunchbox had a vegetable I had never seen or heard of before ... gentle probing led to the interesting story of a vegetable to be eaten at least once a year in the monsoons (supposedly for its therapeutic values according to Ayurveda) called  Shatavari. It was slimy, chewy and faintly oniony till you got a grip on the leaves which, when crushed tasted quite unique. You won't have me clamouring for it but I wouldn't turn it down either.

When I asked our senior resident botanist Dr Lattoo he laughed and told me I was eating wild asparagus - Asparagus racemosus . I realised when I googled it that the damn thing used to grow wild in a pot on my balcony for years!

The third wild veggie I ate this month was a real surprise I hadn't eaten it in years and had only heard my friend Rushina say they were sometimes seen in Grant Rd Bhaji Galli - fiddlehead ferns. They are a great treat in Canada and Canadian friends regularly post pictures on Facebook ... but I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they are a rage in Bengal, Assam, Nepal and parts of the Northeast. The Bengalis call it dhenki shaak and the Assamese call it dhekia xaak.

We'd gone over to Gitika's for an amazing Assamese tribal meal last week and lo behold! She had made Pork with Fiddleheads! Needless to say much happiness was derived.

Image Credit: The Sassy Fork

As I was driving to work yesterday AIR FM 100.7 had a lovely programme in Marathi in the afternoon around 1pm which was discussing these veggies ... there were at least 25 different veggies they named and they advised new cooks to ask the old 'maushis' selling them for cooking tips. What a lovely yet simple way of keeping tradition alive.

So if you think there isn't enough variety in vegetables just visit the smaller neighbourhood markets and look around for things you don't recognise. And take the plunge!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Father's Day post- a tale of about friends, family, jams & marmalades and memories

This is a bit of an offbeat post ... esp considering I blog so infrequently these days! I was sitting at my dining table yesterday a bit wistful about Dad no longer being around and staring fondly at my collection of Jams ... yes you read that right my Jam collection. Some people are into wine and have a wine collection, others do cigars, me I do Jams.

It comes from the fact that - 
1. I have a sweet tooth and so did my Dad!
2. My mum and my gran made some kickass jams (and my sister pulls no punches in this contest), 
3. I was fed two eggs with jam and bread for brekker almost everyday in my early years
4. I went to boarding school in Panchganai (home of Mapro, Madhuban, VXL, Century, Manama and sundry Jam factories)
5. I love Jam
6. I now have a lot of friends who make jam and others who buy jam and send it to me!

PS there's also a lot of interest in small batch and artisanal jam making these days.

So now that thats clear let me tell you about my family and friends (a few bloggers and a few non-bloggers) whom 'I be Jammin wid' these last few years and who have contributed to my collection.

My tryst with Blogger Jammin started thanks to my wife Rhea who took to blogging way before me. It was her friends who became my friends and today I am proud to say that some of them are very very dear friends not just online but offline too. Top of the list is my friend (and sister from another mother) Saee who runs a really aesthetic blog and youtube channel. She cooks from the heart and her Jams and Marmalades are a a sheer delight, she knows just what I like and her Thick-cut Oxford style Orang Marmalade is concentrated Summer sunshine packed in glass bottles.

Here's a pic of brekker with her amazing marmalade

And this is how it darkens and softens with age ..

She Also makes the awesome Gooseberry and Ginger Jam seen in the pic below.

The other great Jammer that I have met thanks to blogging is my friend Harini, she's a Custom's Officer by day and a Vegan blogger and chutney and jam maker by night. She makes one of the most awesome ... correction the most awesome... non-commercial strawberry (SB) jam I have ever eaten. She should call it 'Essence of Strawberries'. I've eaten many a commercial wholefruit SB jam that doesnt even come close. I usually mature her Jam in a dark cupboard for a year and it darkens and ages and the taste concentrates so beautifully that I can smell the cold winter fog of Panchgani as I eat it.

SB jam requires two other honourable mentions the first is technically commercial ... my old schoolfriend Mehernosh runs one of Mumbai's finest bakeries and his confectionery is second to none Every year for the last two years he's been making SB jam and I must say its lipsmackingly good.

The second is a 'newer' friend Garima who lives in Nasik and is shifting to Mumbai as I write this. last year she made her first SB Jam and after much begging and wheedling she sent me a bottle ... needless to say it was fantastic.

Here's a pic of Mehernosh's SB Jam

Here's a pic of warm buttered toast slathered with Garima's SB jam

Saee also makes some really gorgeous SB jam but the Berry Jam from her kitchen that truly blew me away was an experimental Raspberry-Strawberry Jam she made two years ago. This jam was so special that I have never before or after eaten any mixed-berry jam with such complex yet perfectly synched flavours.

The below brekker pic is the only evidence of that heavenly Raspberry-Strawberry Jam

Many other's have contributed in the most amazing ways to fuel my ongoing passion for collecting and eating Jam. On the top of the list is my multi-talented wife (blogger, copywriter, content writer, copyeditor, ceramic artist and phenomenal cook) and her Bacon and Whiskey Jam is a jam which has no parallel! Another stellar one is the most intriguingly complex marmalade I have ever eaten. It came via Calcuttan friend and blogger Kaniska. Its a Lime marmalade and is tart, bitter and and so unlike anything one would find in India ... it reminds me of the original WITS Extra Bitter Grapefruit but without the heaviness.

Here's the Bacon Whiskey Jam by Rhea

Since I've started eating these homemade beauties most of the very ordinary high sugar jams have quite paled with some exceptions like the Noble Mixfruit (available only in 1 and 5kg sizes when I was a kid) and the Druk's Orange Marmalade (purely for the nostalgia it evokes). Interestingly Rhea's friend Amita from Pune sent down an amazing commercial Alphonso Mango Jam last year and the Banana Jam that we picked up from Cochin last year was also truly sublime.

Here are two pics the top one with Amita's Mango Jam and the lower one of the Banana Jam from Cochin

Most handcrafted (small batch) Jams and Marmalades fall into two categories. Those that can be stored without refrigeration and those that need to be refrigerated. The ones that don't, improve greatly, if allowed to sit quietly and mature slowly, preferably in a dark and dry cupboard. The one's that need refrigeration (usually low sugar and/or extremely macerated fruit without enough pectin) also mature in the fridge much to Rhea's dismay. She doesn't eat jam and an entire shelf in the fridge consists of my bottles ... eeeps!

Amazing jams roll in from the strangest places. Here's a picture of the exotic hand made Peach and Saffron Jam my friend Niv sent me all the way from the US of A! I matured it for 16 months it was sublime!

Many of my friends have seen this craze of mine (I usually have 30 odd Jams in storage) and have added to my collection and greatly enriched my palate and expanded my repertoire. My sister Freny has taken over where mum left off and her Fig and Rum Jam is absolutely amazing and her Apricot Jam (that she tried out for the first time this year) has left me yearning for apricot season!

My friends Lester and Dia need to be mentioned here for lugging exotic jams all the way from USA (some of which were collected elsewhere on their travels) just to add some variety to my otherwise mostly Indian collection. My friend Imtiaz needs an honourable mention for introducing me to Red Wine Jelly, something I wouldnt have believed till I ate it. Thank you Imtiaz!

To add more variety my crazy friend Appu from UK sent me a Red Chilli Jam, weirdly nice, along with some excellent whiskey marmalades.

I definitely need to thank my friend Tabrez (who has the most amazing shop in Crawford Market) for keeping really odd and exotic jams and jellies for me - especially notable was the Rose's Lime Jelly, not only was it tart and sweet with the occaisional bitter (thin) strip of peel but the bottle was so pretty that R forgave me the purchase!

Two final mentions without which I would be doing this post an injustice. Firstly, my dear friend Rushina (blogger/writer/author and Food Professional) was one of the first peoiple to send me Jams along with Chutneys, Pastes and Preserves more often savoury than sweet. All of which have been done full justice to and Shireen Sequeira a FB friend who was the first person I met through social media but never met in person who sent me some jam ... it was a Fig Jam and it came with a small bottle of homemade wine for company. She has a beautiful blog with some really awesome recipes.

Here's a pic of brekker with Rushina's Sakharamba ... had it with toast, bacon bit scrambled eggs and goats cheese!

That's Shireen's Fig Jam in the pic below.

This amazing journey through preserved fruit started thanks really to my parents and my maternal gran. She was a big one for pickles and chutneys and murabbas (Indian Jams) and she made these things seasonally. My mother picked up where she left off and made even more varieties. I still rmember a chutney/jam made up of cubed watermelon rind (the white bit only) and whenever we had a large catering order for Hawaiian Salad (which was served in hollow pineapple shells) she turned the insides of the semi ripe pinapples into the finest Pineapple Jam I have ever eaten. Her Apple Jam with Cinnamon and Raisins (sometimes the raisins were pre-soaked in rum) was a treat for the senses. She also made some mad murabbas of raw and  semi-ripe mangoes and I still have, in the bottom of a bottle, the final spoonful of a Murabba made from the last batch of Mangoes she lived to see growing behind our house in Lonavala. She'd planted that tree. Mum also made a Fig and Rum Jam and it was something I have never seen anyone else make before, my sister Freny is very ably carrying on this tradition.

My dad though was the man who really introduced me to marmalade thanks to his being a shippy and having a very open mind and a palate that was often so gourmet it wasn't funny! He liked his toast with butter, Jam/Marmalade and clotted cream and I emulated his every move as a child. At first I didnt really care for marmalade but it grew on me bit by bit. One of the finest marmalades he ever made me taste was a beautiful Orange Marmalade made with Isle of Arran whiskey, he bought it as much for the marmalade as the beautiful porcelain jar that it came in. My mum kept that jar for years after we had licked every iota of marmalade from it. He also routinely brought down Jam with him from his sojourns across the seas and this made my mum regularly stock up with the same brands if she saw them in Mumbai ... one of my fondest brand memories is of the Australian Jam makers IXL. Their Plum Jams were legendary. Dad ate Jam/Marmalade with almost every breakfast and some of his combos are best left unmentioned. Needless to say brekker never seems really complete for me with some of the stuff on the table.

IXL Plum Jam. This one's from the web though ...

Dad was one of the few people I shared my Jams with after Mum left us. It was something that that we bonded over and we often remenisced about how mum would have liked this one or that one. She was big on Bhuira's Dark Cherry Jams and so am I. It's the only 'company' made Jam that I will buy without thinking twice about. Dad liked their marmalades and we often took over a bottle or two to Lonavala for him. Now that he's gone I have to often remember not to buy that extra bottle. Luckily for me my siblings, Freny and Daraius, and their brats have all been added to the jam and marmalade loving fold (thanks mainly to dad) and I can still look forward to sharing a unique, one off, small batch, jam with them.

Here's dad with the youngest jammer in the family.

So long Dad and thanks for all the Jam.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Guwahati and Shillong - A lecture, a field visit, a wedding and a holiday. Days 1 and 2

I have been very blessed in my friends and students and time after time they prove this to me.

Thanks to the girls from my BHM days at KC College I have been invited to weddings at many a exotic cities and locales. A few years back I was in Jaipur for a wedding, last year (2014) I was in Cochin and this year I was invited to Guwahati!

We (Rhea and I) got in touch with a dear old friend, Sukanya Sharma, who teaches Archaeology at IIT Guwahati and let her know we were going to be in her neck of the woods for a wedding in late Jan early Feb. She immediately laid down the law that we would be putting up with her and no one else. She then very hesitantly asked if I would speak to her students about my excavations. I promptly agreed.

We flew in to Guwahati on the 28th of Jan and went to IIT where Sukanya had set us up in the Guest House. I went off at 3pm to lecture to the students and staff of IIT and Rhea went off with Polly Bora (an FB friend) to tour the markets of Guwahati. I had a great time speaking about my work and then Sukanya dropped me back at the guest house, I was knackered and crashed early.

We woke up to the sound of ducks quacking on a lake in front of our room and it was a nice crisp Assam winter morn.

The view of the lake from our room at the Guest House


Good morning Guwahati!

  Sukanya cam and grabbed us soon after breakfast and took us on a whirlwind tour of Guwahati. Enroute we stopped at the IIT gate to cach up with another FB friend Poorna who was here with her sisiter for the local IIT Fest! Small world what?


Rhea and Poorna

We went off to see the Brahmaputra from the Annexe of one of the great Vaishnava Ashramas of Assam. The original is situated on Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, but is endangered by erosion so over a hundred years ago the Vaishnava monks shifted some of their greatest relics here and constructed a backup location. It was a beautiful and tranquil place.

A stray medieval temple member unearthed whilst making the Ashrama and now lying about casually.

The dormitory for the student monks

Rhea and Sukanya looking out at the Brahmaputra


 Sukanya then proceeded to haul us to a fantastic local lunch at Bor Luit.We ate Local Chicken in Black Sesame, Duck in Fresh Bamboo shoot,a Fish Tenga all of this with Joha Rice and lovely local condiments.


Olive pickle, Kagzi Limes, Green Chillies, Mustard Paste

The food was served in beautiful high tin bronze (Kansha) plates

Joha rice ... a local variety of fragrant rice

 From Left to Right ... Fish (Carp/Rohu) Tenga (a sour preparation), Duck in fresh Bamboo Shoots (delicious bamboo shoot indifferent duck) and Local Chicken in Black Sesame, an Assamese classic (absolutely delicious!).

After lunch we went off do do some archaeology at a local site. The site of Madan-Kamdev consists of a small site museum (started by Manmohan Singh from his MP funds) and a lovely Medieval temple with small adjacent temples. The site is in dire need of intervention especially since a local group has started worship at the site.

Image in the local museum

Mustard fields ablaze with flowers near Madan-Kamdev.

Amongst the many wonderful insights my journey through archaeology, food and teaching has revealed one of the most interesting has been the spread of the Jain Marwari community.

This is best exemplified in my student Lata whose wedding I was invited to in Guwahati. Though all Jain Marwaris are from the Marwar region of Rajasthan they have spread to every nook and corner of India in the pursuit of commerce. Lata's father (and immediate family) are based in Phuentsoling, Bhutan and her husband's family is based in Guwahati ... both places a far cry and distance from Rajasthan. This enterprising community has spread all over the world and has yet managed to keepits roots firmly in place. The wedding in Guwahati was a grand two day affair very much in keeping with Jain Marwari traditions.

Day 1 (29th evening) was a Sangeet and both sides of the wedding party had practiced dances, skits, poetry and singing ... a gala performance was put forth and there were some really lovely moments especially Lata's mother singing a beautiful song about their impending separation.

Rhea and I were treated like royalty and Lata's bothers and parents looked after us extremely well. I was very moved by what they said.

Lata's sister in law was the MC of the Sangeet

Lata and Dilip surrounded by family