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September 2006

August 2006

A Time of Gifts


This week has been full of presents. Mostly food related goodies.


My daughter actually carried 2 kilos of Hyderabadi Biryani for us from ...where else but Hyderabad. Also Khubani ka Meetha from Paradise Restaurant , Kalakand from Pula Reddy and Ariselu from Abhiruchi.

Fish Roe Pickle

Sue, inhabitant of another subcontinent came to visit with all kinds of Gujerati delicacies including Mava Cake and then went out wandering in Pune to find a variety of tasty treats and got back some pungent Fish Roe Pickle found on Bootee Street, Pune but originally from Adi. K. Kolah in Tarota Bazar, Navsari. Made with fish roe pieces in vinegar, sugar, ground red chillies, mustard and turmeric it is very good. Kolahs also sell a lovely Brewed Vinegar, a Kerda pickle, Lemon Khajur Chutney, Mango Murabbo, Mango Chutney with raisins, a Pineapple Murabbo, an out of this world Gwod-Keri/ Sweet Mango Pickle and a delicious Prawn Pickle.

Rushina, of the cook books, (see previous post) came laden with Loomi, Lebanese dried limes which are absolutely aromatic and which she suggests using in a sabzi / vegetable made of mixed greens. I know it is used in a Kebsa Baharat , a kind of garam masala made in the Gulf. Kebsa is made of equal amounts of cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardomom, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper with a pinch of saffron threads and one and a half times the amount of loomi. I am going to use the loomi in a Murabyan, a Kuwaiti dish made with prawns and a fantastic spice mix.

The Hing

Finally-- wait for this....Hing/ asafoetida from Dehradun. This hing I have been waiting for, refusing to buy any of the local powdered, and often adulterated, variety. Those three pea sized lumps kept in an airtight plastic dabba are going to last an age with the kind of intense and heady tang they have.
The first thing I am going to cook with it is a plain old moong dal which is going to be elevated to sheer gourmetdom by the addition of this hing.

Thank you all!!

Usha's Pickle Digest-Pickles and Pickling




For three days now I have been dipping into a fabulous book. Rushina, my foodie friend , journalist and author of the blogs A Perfect Bite and Cook it up with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal gave me an early birthday/anniversary/Christmas/new year/ present...a handful of cook books. I was overwhelmed with her generosity and now, am even more overwhelmed by all the recipes I am dying to try out.

Out of the cornucopia , "Usha's Pickle Digest" , caught my eye immediately. Subtitled "The Perfect Pickle Recipe Book"  it is one of the most comprehensive books that I have ever come across , written on the subject of pickling . It has 1000 recipes.! Any imaginable vegetable, fruit or leaf has been pickled.

And what recipes....yum-mm... from Ripe Olives in a Fenugreek and Onion Seed pickle to Lotus Stem Achaar, to Green Walnuts in Spiced Vinegar. It is an unusually good book. With an easy to read index, a large glossary, a pickling glossary, and a clear contents page , there are all sorts of extra special features that make this a very special book. Pickling techniques are explained. There is a buying guide, a nutrient saver guide and even a microwave oven guide. One chart I found really helpful is the Sprouts Chart !

The recipes sound marvellous- I cannot wait to begin. They read well, with all ingredients detailed, exact measurements and a point by point method of preparation. Written by Usha R Prabhakaran, and published in 1998, it is invaluable, if only as a record of the kind of pickles that have been made and continue to be made by housewives all over India. And for all professional and amateur picklers everywhere ... freak out, this is the ultimate pickle tome.

I really wish I'd found this book years ago, when my mother in law still had her star fruit tree in the garden in Bangalore, or when we had the the drumstick tree in the back of our bungalow in Delhi.

Sadly the only way of getting this book is by contacting the author.

Hurda, Sweet Sorghum kernels and Bhimsen Joshi



Whenever I listen to Raga Megh Malhar I am reminded of two wonderful occasions. One, when I was introduced to the Raga, during a monsoon many years ago, with the sound of heavy rain on corrugated tin, since this sheet of metal served as the roof of our music room at the Film Institute. The other was a summer evening at Nishat Gardens in Srinagar. We had driven down from Gulmarg especially to hear Bhimsen Joshi sing in this lovely outdoor setting . He began the alaap in a leisurely way , slowly and easily impressing the notes of the raag on our minds. As he progressed into the raga, slight rain clouds seem to gather out of the blue. A gentle breeze stirred the brilliantly coloured cloth of the pandal under which he sat.We all sat still, crosslegged on dhurries placed on the grass of the lovely Mughal garden, mesmerised as he began to weave the tapestry of his song. As he sang, the skies became grey and tiny drops of rain began to fall. He continued undisturbed, gathering pace . Soon the cloth of the pandal lost its moorings to the bamboo poles and flew wildly about in the strong winds that spun about. The rain came thundering down. Nobody moved for cover. Bhimsen sang undisturbed. It was as if the heavens had taken inspiration from his wonderful voice and played a jugalbandhi with the sound of the wind in the tall walnut trees and the drum of the rain drenching the earth.

It was a hair raising experience . Nature and art had come together in front of our grateful eyes.We were all aware of something transcendental in that moment.

The onset of the rains has always been greeted with joy by earth and animals and humans. It stuns the awful dry heat into a bearable temper. It brings the vision of a full harvest to the farmer everywhere and the joy of greenery to a brown land.
Not so in the last two years though. Some days I lift up mine eyes with something approaching dread when the rivers are already in spate and the land satiated. Every evening the news brings more stories of floods and damage to crops, loss of life and pictures of vast areas under water. Then I cannot hear Megh Malhar. A tiny ditty runs over and over in my head like a broken record..Rain rain go away, Come again another day.

Yet we don't have enough water, at least not in the right places. An article by Sonu Jain in The Indian Express today gave a clear picture of those parts of India which have an excess of rainfall right now and those which are still deficient. Policies till now have been inadequate in addressing the needs of farmers across the country. Irrigation methods are wasteful and make too much use of ground water without clear means of replenishment. Obviously something has to change. Capturing rainwater in environmentally friendly ways is part of the answer. The government struggles to set up various authorities and bodies to cope with the problem while coming up with feasible ideas for the future...quickly.
Central Maharashtra has had too much rain. Now we hope for a continuation which is closer to the norm in September and October.

This decides the future of the jowar crop which is sown in October as a rabi crop in western India. By November the planting is generally over. With a growing period of approximately 100-110 days, in January, around Republic Day , we can expect one of the delights of the mild winter we have here...hurda.That is the local name for young green jowar kernels.

Hurda / Young Sorghum kernels

Cut from the plant and roasted over a coal fire it is sheer succulent sweetness . If removed from the cob I often make a delicate flavoured snack very simply. Saute some ginger garlic paste in a teaspoon of butter or ghee, add the hurda and a pinch of salt. Mix well and cook for a minute or two. Eat immediately.

My mouth is watering as I think of the good things to come.