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May 2008

Mango Festival at the Bal Gandharva


This is the season of mangoes and mellow fruitfulness. Lychees, apricots, peaches….all those fruits are seen on the market for a very short time in summer. Mangoes dominate the scene, in the retail stores, at the market, on the pavements. We even have festivals to celebrate this  increasingly expensive fruit.


One was recently held at the Bal Gandharva on Jungli Maharaj road. If people had not picked up a dozen of their favourite fruit till then, this was the place they finally gave in and coughed up the dough for twelve of the best.  Old and young were seen leaving with their precious load in peshwis, having sniffed out the finest of the lot.  I mean what is a Maharashtrian without a mango. A cloud without rain, a book without words, a…a.. pain without paracetemol ?

The number of orchards represented were not as many as in earlier years and the hapus and kesari ruled the show which, personally, I find a bit boring. Considering that India boasts of having such diversity it is a pity not more of the others make their way to this celebration of our most lauded fruit.Where were the Totapuri's, the Dasehri, the Alampur Baneshan,the Chausa,the Sundri,the Mulgoa, the Langra, the Safeda or Banganapalli, the Rumani?  The Alphonso is considered the most tasty but  its promotion is a bit like ignoring all the other rice varieties because the basmati has gained universal acceptance. Tastes differ. It would be nice to have a bit of choice.

The College of Agriculture in Pune put up a small exhibit here of varieties grown , pictures of which might be helpful in identifying  the type of mango you are about to invest in.

Aamrapaali_2 Aamrapalli

\Hapus_green Alphonso/ Hapus

Goa_mankur_greenGoa Mankur




Ratna_greenRatna ( a hybrid between Hapus and Sindhu)



How to make Ginger Paste

It has taken me years to organise myself in the kitchen. It was a place I faffed around in, as they say here. A place to relax and produce something of note in a leisurely way, once in a while.
Organisation was for my work. There every detail was worked out in the mind ahead of time. No computer needed thank you. My training in film was more like disaster management and it came in handy for daily work where nothing could be taken for granted.
Then, on the home front, it became necessary to come up with something edible twice a day. What had changed ? Additions to the family, whose hungry cries brooked no delay in coming up with the goods.
Suddenly I needed to make something that was quick, simple and tasty. Or we could be sitting there at the table till kingdom come, waiting for a couple of morsels to be swallowed. Have you encountered mutiny of this kind? Gandhian in a way.  Very non-violent but  oh so silent and stubborn. Small jaws clenched and stuck out in defiance. No food would enter that mouth !
New strategies had to be thought of immediately. I had to regroup my forces. My house needed to be put in order.
This required some of the lengthy processes of Indian cooking to be cut down. Obligatory ingredients had to be at hand and prepared for use.  Ginger, Garlic, Chillies and Coriander.  Essential and impossible to stock fresh every day.  Their keeping qualities were limited and preparation required the patience of an elephant.
I was not willing to give up taste and quality in the need for speed. So- no ready made bottled ginger garlic paste. Uncompromising you might say.
As a result the following shorthand measures, taught to me by more practical friends , came to my rescue.  You can cut at least five minutes of preparation time by having this in your freezer.
Buy ginger by the pound. Peel it roughly, chop into large bits and pop it in the blender. Blend till it becomes a rough paste.


Now spoon it into ice cube trays, with a lid if possible, and freeze. You are now set -to add  a cube of ginger to dal instantly or to any other dish that requires it and you'd have saved  yourself much washing up as well. Even if its hairy ginger, like this lot, it will still taste good and definitely better than the  ginger paste you get bottled which tastes of....nothing.

Spain and the World Table

The food section in most bookshops is growing larger and larger. On a recent visit to the biggest book shop in Pune I was delighted to see 5 sections allotted to the subject with several shelves devoted to international cooking as well. Plus a respectable assortment of renowned books on food and wine. This is quite a change from the ubiquitous regional cooking booklets sold in most shops till a year or two ago. A peremptory nod in the direction of "World Cooking" in the form of an old tome of Larousse Gastronomique and one Chinese cookbook by Kenneth Lo just about defines it.

While Chinese food still tops the list of international cook books available here, Italian and Thai tie for place at a close second and Mediterranean food comes in at a respectably placed third.

As Indians travel further it becomes clear that some cuisines find particular favour with us. Spain is a popular holiday destination after Thailand and I am sure it is because, at least in part, we are partial to the flavours of the country’s cuisine.

It is no surprise then to find a substantial stack of cook books on Spanish Cooking in our favourite bookshop here.

Worth looking at is a new book “Spain and The World Table”. As always with a Dorling Kindersley publication, it is well illustrated and designed. Although it is a sort of commemorative volume on the occasion of the Culinary Institute of America’s Worlds of Flavour International Conference and Festival, which starred Spain in 2006, it works just as well as an introduction to Spanish cuisine.

We have all heard of the visionary Spanish chefs both in America and the country of their birth. Several of them attended the festival and many of their favourite recipes have been adapted for this book. These form a nice introduction to the regions of Spain, each with its characteristic ingredients. So we have a Hot Garlic Soup from Manolo De la Osa the owner of Las Regas in Las Pedroneras, in the Castile-La Mancha region which is the garlic capital of the country,  as well as Pigs Trotters stuffed with veal and wild mushrooms from Nando Jubany a Catalan chef from Vic, Catalonia. One recipe I particularly liked was the Seafood Rice typical of Valencia contributed by Maria Muria Lloret who’s restaurant Ca’Sento in Valencia makes inspired use of the seafood the region is famous for. 

The book includes interesting short segments on typical Spanish Ingredients- Cheese, Salt cod, Saffron, Rice, Olives, and Chocolate and so on. Concise descriptions of the cuisine of different regions like Asturias, the Galician Coast, Murcia and Andalusia, give an insight into the history and traditions of each area, something noteworthy for anyone who plans to visit the country and explore it through its food.

The fabulous photographs are inspiration enough to try cooking up some of the dishes most of which are fairly simple.


I made the typical Basque Piperada as the ingredients were easily available. It turned out beautifully and tasted brilliant served as a sauce on filleted steamed pomfret dusted with freshly ground pepper. It is so much like the beginning of a curry...onions, garlic, tomatoes.I didnt bother to peel the bell peppers after roasting them and added chilli flakes for some bite. If you are serving this as an entrée you could prepare the sauce ahead of time your dinner will be totally stress free.

I cannot wait to try many of the other recipes. Since it is written by Martha Rose Shulman, the author of many award winning cookbooks, one is pretty sure of the outcome.

The layout of the book makes it easy to use and attractive to browse through. Spain and the World Table is a significant addition to cookbooks making international cuisine more accessible to the average cook.