Take the mountains’ word for it

We took a weekend trip to Darjeeling. A work thing. Mixed with tons of sleep. And food.

Well, I mean, look. Just look.

Fish Au Gratin, Glenary's - The Subjectivist

The last Friday night was spent swaying in a train, as we made our way to Darjeeling. At one point, the time when my folks honeymooned there, Darjeeling was quaint, cold and romantic. It is still cold. It is no more quaint. And the romance is stale and fragrant-less.

Now it smells of horse-shit, from the ponies that carry children around the market square. It also smells of smoke from the Continue reading Take the mountains’ word for it

Biryani and Other Love Stories

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.― Nora Ephron

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Lovers on a bench, Dominique Amendola

When you grow up in the sweltering heat of India, sitting in a brick-clad classroom stewing in your own sweat, listening to your professors drone on about Structural Design, there is very little motivation for you to even like summer, let alone love it.

After your nineteenth birthday, you decide that it is time to fall in love. And the right candidate comes along very soon. A senior at the University and although his arms are a little thinner and danglier than you would have liked, he seems perfect. Tall, dark, almost handsome with a carved beard that makes him look like one of the Bee Gees. He also likes to dress in black from head to toe.

But the clincher? He owns a motorcycle — a ratty Yamaha RX-100 that champions at sputtering. That machine splits through the silent night air, every night and wakes up everyone at the girls’ hostel. He has the faultless makings of a “bad boy”.

It starts with phone calls that last through the night while your classmates Continue reading Biryani and Other Love Stories

A chicken roll that won’t let you forget

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“Isn’t it to die for?” My friend gushed breathlessly between bites of Kati Roll.

I was meeting her after 10 long years smack dab in the middle of rain-infested New York City, and she’d dragged me to Greenwich Village to taste a popular Bengali import (or export? Import, if you’re anywhere out of West Bengal).

The chicken roll.

Except that the Kati Roll Company is calling it the Kati Roll.

Versions — diluted, exaggerated and almost always awful — of the quintessential roll in various parts of India, do actually go by that name, so I can’t blame them.

Gujarat (and the Indian West Coast in general) has a version, inexplicably known as a Frankie, where the chicken is tomato red in color and amount of spice will produce a hole in your chest. Delhi’s back alleys produce “rolls” that are made of succulent kebabs wrapped in flimsy rumaali roti. Note how the word “roll” is within quotes.

I once also had a Bengali cook at an Indian food stall on Portobello Street make me chicken roll that had a white yogurt-based sauce that brought forth the same kind of emotions that underwear stuck in your butt-crack brings.

“Isn’t this the best chicken roll you’ve had outside of Kolkata?” She gushed again, this time looking directly at me. I nodded vigorously, making sure my mouth was too full to speak and hoped she couldn’t make out how much I wanted to dump that roll on her head.

Continue reading A chicken roll that won’t let you forget

not your normal everyday snack

Two words. Lamb fritters.

They’re new to me but I can assure you that I will be keeping them around for a long time.

I have so far been slavishly devoted, as much as one can be, to lamb. Especially lamb curry. They conjure up memories of my childhood and of my grandmother who could easily make your toes curl with her version of lamb curry. And after a spell in the kitchen she used to smell of talcum powder, books and turmeric. She was a bespectacled professor of Organic Chemistry, a lover of all things chocolate and she used to cook lamb curry for me.

I never really learnt to regret anything. Blame it on my laziness. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother passed away only a couple of years before I even wanted to learn how to cook. I would have liked to learn about lamb curry from her. I think she would have liked that too.

But far from despair, I’m pleased to tell you that she taught it to my mother sometime after my parents got married. And that curry has shown up on my mother’s dining table every holiday and special occasion since. I feel silly saying this, but along with a priceless gold neck-piece and  a silver powder case, the recipe is almost an heirloom. It would be brutal of me not to share it would you.

Not today though. Don’t look at me like that…I promise to do so very soon in the near future. But I have here with me these fritters, which with a little effort could easily give lamb curry a run for its money.

I’m writing to you after recovering from a colour-soaked Holi, one of India’s many festivals in which the goal is to end up looking like the entire PANTONE colour library threw up on you. But it always ends with a feast, which, I don’t think you’d deny, is the best part. We showered and tried to scrub ourselves back to normal. And then we sat down to peas pilaf, a South Indian egg curry and crispy golden-on-the-outside-meaty-on-the-inside lamb fritters. They’re like nuggets really, that are shallow fried till golden. And they do very well when dunked in a sweet mint sauce.

Ideally they make fantastic starters, just something your friends can nibble on over swigs of beer and I discovered yesterday that they never actually last on the platter for more than 15 minutes. But these fritters are not normal everyday snacks. They display special powers one day later when you can just add them to a dal or a chana masala and they quickly turn into a gorgeous lunch. Their crispy coats soak up all the gravy and gives away under your teeth to reveal soft moist centres. It’s the kind of lunch you want to have after an especially tedious morning of chores that leave you hot and bothered. Be warned though, when mixed with curried lentils in gravy and an ever-rising humidity, the fritters can become potent sleep-inducers. You might just want to spent the rest of the afternoon lying spread-eagle on your back.

And while I was doing exactly that on the floor of my bedroom, I had visions of my grandmother – of both of us – pottering about in the kitchen exchanging notes on perfect lamb curry and shallow-frying skills. I’m pretty sure she would have downed a large portion of these nuggets and asked for more.

Lamb Fritters

You might be tempted, but I would strongly advise you against using cooked/canned chickpeas for this one. Using cooked chickpeas would only make the fritters soggy. Sunflower, canola, peanut/groundnut oil have higher smoking points than olive oil, and hence ideal for shallow or deep-frying. When heating the oil make sure it doesn’t start smoking though. If it does, then turn off the heat, wait till the smoke clears from the top of the skillet and turn the heat on again. Start frying immediately.

300 gm of chickpeas (about 10 oz), soaked in water overnight
500 gm of minced lamb or mutton (about 1/2 lb)
2 medium-sized green chilies
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 onion, chopped finely
Sunflower oil, to fry
Salt, to taste

Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Blitz the chickpeas along with the lamb and chilies in a food processor till you have a coarse mixture that clumps together. You don’t want the chickpeas to turn into a paste. Put the ginger paste in a strainer and squeeze the juices out into the chickpea-lamb mixture. Discard the ginger pulp. Add garlic, onion and salt to the mixture. Use your hands to knead the mixture till everything is well-combined. Form into balls or nuggets. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. The oil should come 2-inches up the walls of the skillet. To check if the oil is hot enough drop a pinch of the lamb mixture in and if it sizzles with a lot of noise then the oil is ready. Drop in the patties in batches and fry till golden brown. This takes about 6-8 minutes. Fish them out of the oil and onto a plate lined with paper napkins. Serve piping hot with dip. Dips with coriander or mint in them would go well with these fritters.