Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Punjabi Corn Bread and Fake Mustard Greens

My dear mother, who was from the far North ( Abbottabad which is now in Pakistan), often waxed nostalgic about Punjabi dishes. Thus, we often heard of makki ki rotis or unleavened bread made with corn flour that is yellow and has a somewhat rough texture but it is only when I moved to Delhi that I first tasted a makki di roti (Ki is "of" in Hindi and di is the Punjabi word for it).

These breads are routinely eaten with a dish made of the green leaves of the Mustard (sarson) plant, a good tall glass of Lassi (although I have provided the Wikipedia link, the general idea of Lassi is Indian yogurt - we call it curds in India- churned until it is ever so frothy with a lot of water or ice cubes, if it is a blazing Delhi summer, with some sugar) and some sliced raw onion. Some feel it is de rigueur to add a couple of raw green chillies to bite on - one can dip their tip in a bit of salt to enhance the bite or subdue it as the case might be.


1. A small cup each of the makki ka atta (I would say one small cup per person)
2. A few cups of hot water
3. Any left over cooked spinach-roughly one bowl
4. A tbsp or so of Kasuri Methi
5. About a handful of any left over vegetable like cabbage - I used some celery sticks to enhance the pungency of the dish.
6. A few cloves of garlic, minced
7. A small piece of fresh ginger, minced.
8. Green chillies to taste, also minced
9. Some slices of raw onion and a couple of green chillies (whole)
10. Some dahi (yogurt)
11. Some butter


1. Pressure cooker (Optional in this case unless the vegetable is raw-if using the real sarson ka saag or mustard greens, a pressure cooker might be required to save time as they need a lot of cooking- you have to cook 'em to pulp!)

2. Tawa ( flat Indian griddle)

Preparing The Flour

Make a volcanic mountain out of most of the makki ka atta
- that is heap it up and make a depression in the centre. Keep aside about one good spoon of the flour for thickening the greens.

Pour some hot water into the depression and mix it well with a spoon.
Let it sit and ponder on its fate as you go about doing the rest of the cooking.

When the greens are ready, heat the tawa.

The flour would now be cool enough to knead a bit by hand. Make balls- about the size of an orange. Gently place a flattened ball on the griddle.
Reduce the flame and cover the roti

When the top looks cooked, prise it over with a flat sharp spoon- like a spatula of sorts. The side on the griddle should have now acquired a few brown freckles. Flip it over and let the other side cook.

Alas, you might have to have someone to toil at this while the other eats as these are best eaten hot off the fire.

Pressure cook the left over spinach, kasuri methi and vegetables -one hiss of the cooker will do. This is merely to blend them all together well into a nice green mish-mash.

When the cooker cools enough to be opened, add the spoonful of flour and mix well to avoid forming lumps. cook it gently for a little longer, stirring frequently to avoid its sticking to the bottom and burning.

Add salt to taste- go easy and taste frequently as you are using left-overs which might already contain some salt.

Gently heat the butter in a pan or any suitable vessel and add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic, green chillies. Saute them until the onions are nice and translucent.

Pour this over the greens and give a nice stir.

Serve with the hot rotis -gingerly make a few craters on the surface of the roti and dab some butter into the holes. Tear off a piece and use it to scoop some of the greens. Put it in your mouth leaving just enough space to bite off a slice of raw onion and a wee bit of the green chili (dipped in salt of course!). Put out the flames which are now shooting out of your mouth, ears and nose by managing to spoon in some cool dahi. If this will not douse the fire, then you will have to call for the fire engines!

Note: It is we modern wimps who whimper and slice our onions (that is why the tears flow down the cheeks at our cowardice). In the times of yore, the man of the house would smash the onion with his bare hairy fist. It is supposed to taste much better that way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Expect the Unexpected!

It is no exaggeration to say that the diversity of India is mind-boggling. Perhaps it was with great foresight then that this diversity has been classified into various kinds of castes and languages, not to mention genres of cuisine. The Indian abroad often reels with indignation when asked to speak "Indian" (India is a veritable Tower of Babel). Amongst ourselves, we navigate by politely asking the other's name. This will more or less reveal from which region the person "hails" as some put it in India and maybe even what this specimen ingests ("namoona"- a slightly mocking way of putting it. We Indians tend to be highly sarcastic as a result of our frequently pungent diets).

In my youth I would flinch at the question "Where are you from?" for I'm a typical example of a favourite Indian comfort food (Khicidi- a mixture of rice and lentils. The term is used to denote any hotch-potch of things). This sad state of affairs was all the fault of my dear parents who had to go and marry spouses from faraway States (India is divided into States and Union Territories). Thus, while my late father was from the Southern Indian State of Andhra and a Brahmin ( a priestly caste that is strictly vegetarian) to boot, my mom, also now busy configuring her next Avatar, "hailed" from what is now West Pakistan and was a Mona Sikh ( Sikhs whose males need not maintain beards and wear turbans, nor need carry any of the other five requisite k's as in kesh, kirpan, kangan, kada, kacchha- hair, sword, comb, metal bangle, boxer shorts-or some form of underwear-Sikhs are supposed to be fairly warrior-like and thus do occasionally indulge in the eating of flesh). I was born in Bangalore, now famous as a software capital of India- this is in the State of Karnataka whose cuisine is a whole new story. I grew up in the sea-side town of Pondicherry- an ex-French colony and now a Union Territory engulfed by the Sate of Tamil Nadu. How was I to answer the all important "From where do you hail?"

I got into a greater pickle ( No Indian will survive for long without a good bottle of pickles-several are known to get pickled at the drop of a hat) when I decided to fall in love with a man from the Southern Indian State of Kerala- famous for its matriarchs and coconut garnished dishes. We lived out most of the first twenty years of married bliss in and around India's bustling capital city and thus acquired addictions to the tangy street foods that floated down to the Moghul-monument bedecked Delhi, along with heaps of dust, form neighboring Rajesthan (Famous for camels, desserts and castles in the sand).

It will be no wonder then if the recipes presented here bear scant resemblance to their original models. Much is morphed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Madhu's Mean Curry

1. About 5 fishes of the kind shown-cleaned and cut as depicted.
2. Roughly quarter cup oil (any vegetable oil should do).
3. A small handful of Madras onions (shallots), finely sliced.
4. 6 green chillies slit.
5. 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped.
6. One piece of ginger cut in juliennes.
7. a small handful of curry leaves.
8. A quarter teaspoon of turmeric.
9. A tablespoon of red chilli powder.
10. A tablespoon of coriander powder.
11. A pinch of fenugreek seeds.
12. Salt to taste.
13. Some 4-5 pieces of cocum.

1. Heat the oil in the clay pot.
2. Add the onions, green chillies, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Saute for a couple of minutes.
3. Lower the fire. Add the fenugreek seeds and the moistened powders (add some water to the powders before putting them in the pot so that they do not burn).
4. Let it all fry well until there is a good smell-add a bit of water now and then to prevent burning.
5. Add the fish, cocum torn into pieces and enough water to cover the fishes.
6. Bring to a boil and cover and let it cook.