I’ve had too much time on my hands recently and I’ve been re-posting pictures from some old vacations I’d taken. Well, the truth is I was clearing out my iPad for my mum to start using and came across all of my photos from my holiday in Belgium, Austria and Germany in 2014. And that took me back to Paris, Barcelona, Bruges in 2012.
June 15th, I recently learnt, is World Tapas Day and while this post comes in late, in that sense, I’m still pretty sure it’s worth the while.
I was in Barcelona for only a weekend in 2012, with a cousin and her friend. We ended up not sight seeing very much,
but ate to our hearts’ content and made sure the sangrias and the wines never stopped.
Of course, since it’s nearly 5 years ago, I don’t remember very many details, but I do remember where we ate at that weekend and when I see pictures, I know exactly what we ate too.
It’s hard to forget walking into Cal Pep, not knowing there wouldn’t be a menu and devouring pan con tomate after pan con tomate, interspersed with batter fried fish, clams done Catalonian style, mashed potatoes and bacon and baked merlan, downed with carafes of wine. There were several pit stops around Mercado la Boqueria the following day when I went spice shopping – razor clams and mixed mushrooms at Kiosko Universal, grilled shrimp and fresh squid at Bar Central, cones filled with slices of serrano ham along the way and croquetas so hot you can see the steam when you bite into one.
There’s a lovely picture I took back then – at an alfresco cafe on La Rambla, that I posted to my Instagram recently. And earlier this week, I discovered this fun tool called ThingLink where you can tag a picture with links. So, I thought it would be a fun exercise to post Tapas recipes from the web, into this picture. To spread the joy.
Well, it’s mango season. Okay, nearly the end of it. So when Sahil suggested in April that we do a mango-themed potluck, it didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. The dinner was planned for almost a month and a half after our last one, and I wasn’t quite sure if people would be enthusiastic enough when it was time to cook.
It started off with 7 people signing up to attend and two backed out eventually, which makes me want to put some more rules in place, about attendance (among other things that I hope to get to later in this post).
Picking up from the numerous questions I’d asked at the end of our last potluck, I cannot stress enough on having enough dinner ware. We met at Raunaq’s home for dinner on May 27th, and as hosts or organizers, you will do what it takes to wash those extra dishes or spoons, when you run out. But a situation like that is best avoided, right? We ran out of quarter plates this time and had to do our dishes from dinner, to be able to serve dessert. As a host, I’d hate for that to happen.
Did we do a better job of serving our food differently/better and taking pictures well enough? Three cooks in, I’m not sure if we have a right answer to this. Our food went cold again, and we had only an induction plate and no microwave. Add to our woes, two of our dishes were pork and lamb. Even the slightest amount of overcooking could (and did) ruin what was cooked. Pranav, who was new to the ‘club’, made lamb chops. He came over to my place before we got to Raunaq’s, so that he could grill the lamb chops. They were perfect, hot off the grill. We were so paranoid they’d end up chewy when it was time to eat, that we took a shot at eating them at room temperature, instead of re-heating them on an induction stove. They weren’t bad at all, just not as awesome as they were hot! Raunaq’s pork went chewy because it was cooked twice (once when he made it and next we he re-heated it). And that was shame. The relish that went with the pork was so good, I imagine the finished dish would’ve been excellent had it not gotten chewy.
We started dinner fairly late this time around. We’d planned to meet by 9. But it was close to midnight by the time the last person got in. So we kept ourselves busy by drinking some kombucha that Raunaq’s been making. I’d also carried some Mango Mead from Moonshine Meadery, an upcoming meadery, here in Pune. We had only a sip of the mead and I’m not sure everyone liked it very much at all. I’ve enjoyed some of their other stuff and I quite liked how the mango mead tasted, but I guess it takes a little getting used to.
All of us ran into some prep-time issues, yet again.
I made three batches of pavlova and was happy only with one. I’ve baked pavlova before and the ones I made this time around seemed deflated and weren’t crunchy enough on the outside. Some of them didn’t crisp up at all. And that left *me* deflated. The one batch that did turn out marginally good was packed away in an airtight box and not opened until it was time for dessert because I was afraid it’d go soggy. The pavlova fared well, based on the feedback I got at the dinner table.
Pranav attempted cooking his lamb chops mid week and ruined them. He learnt his lesson and tenderised a fresh batch of chops with raw papaya the night before the final cook. He also thought the recipe didn’t quite work for an Indian palate, so he fixed the spice ratio on the rub he used for his chops. Both him and I LOVED the outcome. I wish everybody else had gotten to eat the chops hot off the grill and enjoy them the way we did. The chops were served with a mango and mint chutney, though most of us felt they tasted good even without a chutney at all.
Sahil was at a beer judging event for most part of the day and his fish and raw mango curry ended up being more of a dry dish. We’re not entirely sure what he did wrong, but I guess he fixed his dish the following day by adding some more raw mango and some coconut milk.
Jomy did a terrible job with timing how long his chicken might take him to cook. He started cooking at 7:30 pm and arrived at Raunaq’s close to midnight, by which time all of us were just plain hungry. The jus from the grilled bird was beautiful. The chicken itself, got mixed reactions. While the outside was great, the inside of the thigh I got was quite pink. Definitely not raw, but quite certainly not cooked all the way through either. The flavours hadn’t quite seeped all the way through and that made me a little sad.
Raunaq, who hosted us that evening, made a cold soup with cucumber and mangoes and also did pork tenderloin with a mango relish. The soup was refreshing and light. The pork, quite a downer. But I guess it’s all part of the game, as long as we learn not to make the same mistakes while cooking these meat(s) again.
We didn’t have very many leftovers – a handful of chops that Pranav took home, a small portion of the fish and some breast . meat from the chicken. So, I’d like to believe we did okay there.
All of us tweaked our recipes a little, mostly because we’re a bunch of Indians who enjoy cooking and are able to tell (to a small extent) that purely Western/American flavour profiles may not appeal to us. That said, we ended up questioning our choice of book. Indian authors writing for an American audience. We were hoping we’d have gotten an insight into the varieties of Indian mangoes and were also hoping we’d have gotten to use specific mangoes for specific recipes. All of the recipes just said “mango”, and not alphonso or totapuri or kesar.
We had a brief few minutes of pictures, when we laid the table out. But I really do want to do a better job of the pictures, I do. I’m just wary of coming across as obsessive in my attempts to do so.
I was quite pleased with how we went about the feedback for the food – asking questions, speculating why what went wrong and discussing how something was the right amount of sweet or why it was perhaps a little off.
And that brings us to the recipes:
All in all, dinner was fun – talking about what we’d cooked, making jokes and being terribly story tellers, discussing TV shows (where I just stared around blankly for the most part) and a helluva good time.
I’ll end this post with a couple of articles related to cookbooks, potlucks and cooking for people.
The second is something I read this morning. A Paella Cookout Competition (of sorts). I’m almost tempted to make the fourth cookbook potluck 5 or 6 of us cooking just 1 or 2 dishes. Not a competition, but an opportunity to see how different people cook the same recipe. Sounds fun?
[I didn’t plan on making this a series, but I think I have a handful of recipes now. So this is, what I’d like to believe, the second of a five part series on non-vegetarian Gujarati cuisine. In case you’ve missed the first part, it’s here.]
I was at Malaka Spice, in Pune, last week on a whim and got a taste of their summer menu. I was with a friend and we binge ate six different kinds of Yakitori:
Reba Gushi (レバー) – liver
Tebasaki (手羽先) – chicken wing
Negima (ねぎま) – chicken alternating with and spring onion/leek
Bonjiri (ぼんじり) – chicken tail
Tsukune (つくね) – chicken meatballs
Tori Kawa (とり)かわ) – chicken skin, grilled until crispy
Grilled cuts of chicken, marinated in spices and ginger-soy sauce.
So when I asked my mum for the recipe for Maamnaa later that week, a little light bulb went up, about how I could serve them – the way I’d been served Yakitori – on a stick.
Maamnaa are fried/grilled meatballs made with very fine lamb mince and spices, served with lots of fine sliced onions, lemon and green chutney.
My limited knowledge on Surati Khatri food comes from my mum’s conversations with the daughters-in-law of a certain Kadiwala family. The patriarch of the family, Ratibhai Kadiwala grew up with my grandfather in the bylanes of Surat in the 1930s. Over the years, the families grew apart, migrated to different cities and adopted new lifestyles altogether, but didn’t quite lose touch. Though Rati Kaka passed away over a decade ago and my grandfather’s mental health has deteriorated owing to dementia, there still are memories that come up in conversation every once in a while. And some recipes.
As if it were a coincidence, or some sort of sign, my mum gave me the news of Kanta Kaki’s passing the day I asked her for the maamnaa recipe. Kanta Kaki – Rati Kaka’s wife. Of late, my heart aches when I hear about the demise of people from my grandparents’ generation. I wonder if they’ve left behind notebooks in old trunks, scribbled with recipes… letters written to loved ones in an age when there was no internet or even an inexpensive phone call system… black and white photographs turned sepia and dog eared. I wonder if us grandchildren, or maybe generations after us might chance upon these some day, make sense of these little notes and preserve them for the future.
My great grandmother has left behind a notebook filled with recipes for mathiyas and nankhatais and other cookies and biscuits that I intend to digitize, sooner or later. While my grandmum was never much of an enthusiast in the kitchen, my mum’s gotten her hands dirty with recipes that have been passed down generations. She still makes mathiyas several times every year. And much to her displeasure, they make for some delicious chakhna – one of the countless varieties of nibbles that make cheap alcohol palatable.
And that’s where I pull the Khatris back into this story. As dry as state as Gujarat is, every other home I’ve visited in Gujarat has a full fledged bar cabinet. While alcohol consumption for most other communities might be a covert affair, the Khatris openly enjoy shating a batli (bottle) during social gatherings. And Surati Khatris are known to swear by the “Khaai, pee ne jalsa karo” (eat, drink and make merry) rule.
Men and women, alike, enjoy drinking alcohol, often out of steel glasses, with enough to grub going around – fried peanuts and cashews, deep fried daal mixed with onions, coriander, tomatoes & a dash of lime. And maamnaa.
Ingredients: Maamnaa Masala: (each ingredient roasted individually and all ingredients then ground to a fine powder)
10g stone flower (dagad phool) 10g black cumin (shahi jeera) 10 g cinnamon stick 10 g cinnamon leaves 10 g bay leaves (tamaal patra) 10g black cardamom (badi elaichi) 10 g cloves 10 g star anise 10g mace
A pinch of grated nutmeg
For the kebabs/meatballs: 1 lb meat keema 2 tbsp ginger, freshly grated 2 tbsp garlic, freshly crushed 2 tbsp green chilli paste, fresh 3 tbsp maamnaa masala 1 tbsp red chilli powder 1 tsp turmeric powder 1 egg 1 tbsp cornflour Salt, to taste
Wash & drain the meat keema properly. The meat should be a very fine mince. If you think it’s chunky, you can pulse it in a mixer-grinder for a couple of minutes.
To about a pound of the mince (450g or so), add ginger, garlic, chilli paste and masala and mix well. Let the meat marinate in the spices for 2-3 hours.
When you’re ready to cook the maamnaa, heat some oil to shallow fry the meatballs. Alternately, you can fire up a grill or heat up a grill frying pan.
Add an egg and some cornflour to the meat mixture, so that it binds easily and doesn’t fall apart in the oil (or off the skewers, when grilling).
Make fist sized balls. Lower into oil. Cook uniformly for 4-5 minutes.
For seekh kebabs, add a little more cornflour to bind, roll around skewers and grill over charcoal or on a grill pan.
[I’d written this several months ago, in an attempt to send it to some websites that publish content around food-writing. Mostly just to try my luck at this. Nobody wrote back. And that’s why I’m finally posting it on the blog.
The friends I sent this to, though, were all praises for the piece. Either I have a bunch of utterly nice (yet idiotic) friends. Or then, let’s face it, my writing skill suck (as do my photography skills).]
As a kid with roots in Surat, I grew up spending summers in the city, often tagging along with my mum on social visits to homes of extended family and their friends. Rati Kaka’s home was one such. My grandfather and Rati Kaka were what we’d call “chaddi buddies”. Even today, if you ask my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s and Dementia, where he grew up, he brightens up a little and quips “Sagrampara, Jundasheri”. My visits to Rati Kaka’s often meant I got utterly bored, but returned with Rs 51/- or Rs 101/- as token blessings. My mum, however, came back with lots of gossip, and the odd recipe.
She finally got around to making one such recipe when we were visiting her a few days ago. It’s called “tapelu” which literally means large pot – paatela in Marathi, pateelaa in Hindi, tapelu in Gujarati and is basically just chunks of lamb stewed with onions and spices. The Kadiwala family, from whom my mother got the recipe, has lived in Surat since the late 1900s and belong to the Khatri community that represents the ‘kha’ from the ka-kha-ga-gha social strata in Surat.
Ka for Kanbi – the farming community, Kha for Khatri – the working class, or the business community, Ga for Gola and Gha for Ghaanchi, who, I’m told, comprised folk from lower castes.
The Khatri community in Surat were a bunch of folk who worked under the Desais (the surname is derived from Sanskrit words deśa meaning ‘land’ and pati meaning ‘lord’) and eventually worked their way to being rich enough to purchase property across all of Surat, the Sagrampura area in particular. Sagrampura is an area cluttered with narrow parallel streets that house large homes. Almost all of these homes have a glorious living room entrance, a smaller seating arrangement and a backyard with the washrooms, kitchen and “chowk” (where you’d wash clothes, do the dishes and such). Bedrooms are usually up a flight of stairs on the first floor, often overlooking these chowks that neighbouring families sometimes even shared.
My grandfather grew up in one of the many lanes that make up all of Sagrampura, Surat – Jundasheri (pronounced june–da–shay–ree, there was a flag, jhanda, at the start of the street) and Rati Kaka’s forefathers had moved into the house next door, after ousting a lazy and broke Desai family, I would presume.
While Khatris in northern India belong to the warrior caste (Khatri being a variant of the word Kshatriya), most Khatris switched to mercantile (Vaishya) occupations during the British Raj. Surati Khatris enjoy eating meat and drinking, both men and women, unlike the vegetarian, non-drinking Gujarati stereotype we’re used to.
And the tapelu is a Khatri staple, made especially on good occasions. The name comes from the fact that it is always prepared by slow cooking lamb in large pots, in humongous quantities – 50 kilos or 80 kilos being fairly normal. My mum says that folk eat this in a communal fashion, at weddings, for instance – sitting in groups of 10 or 12, circled around a tapelu with several fried puris.
There are enough stores in and around Surat that sell “Tapelanomasalo”, the spice mix that is added to the lamb. The recipe below, however, gives you details on how you can make the masala yourself. The original recipe my mum had at hand used 10 kilos of lamb. I’ve scaled the recipe down to feed about 4-6 people.
½ kg lamb (we used a mix of rib and shoulder)
½ kg onions, roughly sliced
3-4 green chillies
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp gms ginger
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala powder (ingredients below)
2 tsp red chilly powder (more, if required)
Oil, as required
Salt, to taste
Whole garam masala (each ingredient roasted individually):
100 g Dhaniya (Coriander) Seeds
30g Black Peppercorn
30g Jeera (Cumin) Seeds
10g Bay Leaves
10g Black Cardamom
10g Green Cardamom
10g Dagad Phool (Stone Flower, shebat al ajooz or ishna in the Middle East, Parmotrema perlatum botanical name)
10g Khuskhus (poppy seeds)
10g Javitri (Mace)
10g Naagkesar(Ceylon Ironwood, naagsampige in Kannada, Mesua ferrea botanical name)
10g Shahi Jeera (Black Cumin)
10g Star Anise
10g Tirphal (Sichuan Pepper)
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Grind the green chillies, ginger, garlic & turmeric into a fine paste.
Slice onions into large chunks, so that the layers separate easily when cooking.
Heat some oil in a large, shallow bottomed vessel and sauté lamb for a 8-10 minutes, until tender.
Once the lamb is tender, layer the onions on top of it.
Add the paste to the lamb & onion, cover the vessel and let the meat cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, until the lamb has cooked all the way through and falls off the bone.
Grind all the spices that comprise the whole garam masala to a fine powder. This recipe needs only about a tablespoon or so, so you can save the masala for later. It is perfectly good to use as a substitute for regular garam masala in any other Indian recipe that calls for some.
Heat some oil in another vessel and add the garam masala powder and the red chilly powder to this.
Pour this into the mutton mix and give the meat a good stir.
Finally, add in some salt, to taste.
Note: The onions should have melted into a gravy at this point. There isn’t very much oil in the recipe, really, because the meat cooks in its own fat.
A good tapela/u should have the sweetness of the onions that have been slow cooked and caramelized, the warmth and heat of all the spices from the garam masala and, of course, juicy chunks of lamb.
Khatris usually eat the lamb with puris, the dough of which is fermented with yeast. It makes for a great combination with regular chapatis or rice all the same.
And for anybody who thought Gujarati food was fafdas and khakhras, theplas and undhiyu or khichdi kadhi, there’s a non-vegetarian’s paradise in some bylane of Surat or Ahmedabad, I’m sure. All you need to do is ask.
Up Next:Maamnaa (another Khatri favourite – meatballs made with lamb mince and grilled on skewers)
I’m surprised at how I’ve been cooking and generally been interested in all things food for so many years, and the thought of making fresh fruit popsicles never occurred to me all these years.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought some black grapes on the insistence of my fruit vendor. And five days in, I hadn’t so much as touched them. Now, it’s not quite grape season, so these grapes didn’t come cheap and my frugal side suddenly got the better of me. So I popped them all into a blender, in the hope of making some fresh fruit juice. I also threw in a few cubes of ice and blitzed the whole thing up. When I opened the blender, there was a lot of grape skin, the kind that’d keep getting in the way of drinking and a nice sludgy purple mixture. I went ahead and strained the whole thing into a container and realized that that purple looked so good, I wanted to savour it for a little longer. So, I drank half and popped the other half in the freezer.
A few hours later, I went back to the freezer, having forgotten about the grape juice altogether and walked in on some half-set ice lollies. And I thought about the musk melon + coconut milk + honey popsicles I’d seen on a friend’s Instagram profile just the previous week. AND that’s how it all happened. I let the sludge melt down again, thought of pairing the grape with fennel seeds and lime. Because, why not! That gave me another idea! I ran over to my bookshelf and picked out a book I hadn’t opened in months!
Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. I was overjoyed when she’d mentioned that grapes indeed do pair well with fennel. Let’s do this, then!
So, off I went to the neighbourhood department store and picked up some ice lolly moulds.
I also painstakingly sketched out ideas for pictures, because hey, I’m trying to up my photograph game. Do you know of any food styling books or food photography books that will help me get better at this? I’m quite pleased with the results. Taking pictures of ice candies in natural light is painful, in my opinion, because everything melts all too quickly. It just seemed to work better for me late evenings when it was cooler out. Con: I had to use white light and invited the wrath of a few girlfriends because WHO TAKES PICTURES IN WHITE LIGHT!!!
Then, I made some watermelon popsicles last weekend and pushed the idea further. The top of the popsicles was watermelon (so that’s what goes into the moulds first). And the bottom was a green base, basil and lemon, to resemble a watermelon, duh! I left bits of crushed leaves in the mix, so that when I poured it over the half-set watermelon ice, the leaves would float to the top, and the whole setup, turned upside down, would look like a watermelon slice. I also thought about adding chia seeds to the watermelon, to let it look like watermelon seeds on the popsicle, but then figured I’d be pushing it, and decided against it eventually.
Here’s the fun thing about fresh fruit popsicles (Fresh Fruit Paletas has a much nicer ring to it, doesn’t it?) –
There’s no added sugar, unless you want to add your own. For me, both times, the fruit was sweet enough and didn’t need any additives.
They’re ridiculously easy to make.
You can play around endlessly with flavours – we have three combinations that work right here:
muskmelon + coconut milk + honey
watermelon + basil + lemon
black grapes + fennel + lemon
They’re baby-nephew approved! Well, since they’re all natural and have no artificial colour, they’re a hit with the mommies (and the kids, of course)!
I’m tempted to do one with oranges as the base and some warm spice – cinnamon or cloves, perhaps. But I’m not entirely sure if it’ll work for this weather. We ARE trying to beat the heat with them paletas, non? Or then oranges with peaches or apricots!
I’ve also been thinking little chunks of kiwis and strawberries in coconut water (or perhaps some other variation of flavoured water). Hah, picking up a couple of flavoured vitamin water bottles from a store and adding some chopped fruit to it and freezing that into popsicles doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
Here’s a quick, generic recipes to make fresh fruit paletas:
2 cups of fresh fruit of your choice
2 tbsp of contrasting liquid flavour, optional (e.g.: 2 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tbsp water mixed steeped with cloves/cinnamon etc.)
2-4 tbsp water, as required
Blitz the fresh fruit and the complementing flavour in a blender. Add a few tablespoons of water, if required, to ensure the resulting mixture is of pourable consistency.
Strain the fruit mixture and pour into ice lolly moulds or into an ice tray.
Pro Tip: Have fun making cocktails by serving them up with fresh fruit ice cubes. Think Bloody Mary where the ice cubes are made with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Added to a glass of vodka and lime juice and garnished with a celery stick.
Margaritas – lots of fruit flavoured crushed ice, topped up with Cointreau and Tequila and with a dash of lime.