For two years in a row now, I’ve transited through Hong Kong during the Chinese Lunar New year. With several hours to while away before catching a connecting flight to India, joining in the festivities seemed like a good plan.
Looking for something that would allow me to enjoy the natural beauty of Hong Kong, as well as the lively atmosphere of traditional celebrations, a cable car ride to Ngong Ping village on Lantau Island seemed just the ticket. It’s a stunning 5.7 km ride that swoops over Tung Chung Bay, forested mountains and park lands.
Well, that’s another year gone by! 2014 went out in a flurry of the usual year-end social activities, and the new year got off to a somewhat dull and dreary start, weather wise.
Vancouver spent the better part of the first two weeks of 2015 blanketed in layers of fog. At the end of January, the mists are still toying with the landscape, wrapping and unwrapping the winter-bare trees, hovering below the mountains and floating low over the waters. The sound of foghorns sounding off boats and ships on the waterways, lends a mournful gravitas to the winter-bleak landscape.
After indulging in rather too many good things over the December festive season, I’ve returned to the easy comfort of meals of rice and dal. Soft, fragrant steamed rice, savoury lentils, maybe a little ghee…the perfect formula, rain or shine.
And another year has raced by! Here we are at the end of December, 2014, looking back at the year that was. It’s been a mixed bag, but one with so much to be thankful for. Not travelling to India over the winter, as is most usual for us, December has been a time to really savour the joyful sights, sounds and flavours of the holiday season in Vancouver.
At the winter farmers market, there’s an abundance of apples, pears and pumpkins. About town, the sounds of jingling bells and Christmas carols mingle sweetly with the fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg. No other month brings so many temptations and opportunities to indulge in an excess of calories. From turkey dinners with all the trimmings, to fruitcakes, butter cookies, gingerbread, hot chocolate, and every kind of sweet treat imaginable, this is quite the time to throw caution to the icy winds, indulge yourself , and save the resolutions for the new year!
This holiday season, I’ve rediscovered an old, beloved recipe from my mother’s recipe file. It’s another of those desserts she learned to make through her Army wives’ club, and it was one she made very often for her lunch and dinner parties.
The frilly salads and pretty berries of summer are long gone. Slow simmering pots fog up the cold windowpanes and fill the kitchen with warm aromas. This has to be one of the best things about autumn and winter in my kitchen.
This is a time for hearty soups, stews, and brews to warm your toes! What better time, then, to cook up one of my all time slow cooked favourites – mudaré kanni, a savoury, deep reddish brown sauce made by boiling and reducing an extract of horse gram.
Mudaré, or horse gram is one of the unpolished gems in Indian cooking. As the name might suggest, this most humble of legumes was considered suitable food for horses as well as cattle feed. (Read more about this legume and its various health benefits in this excellent article by Ammini Ramachandran.)
Despite the name, it is most definitely food for humans too! The bone chilling cold and damp of the Coorg monsoon, and the cooler winter months, call for fortifying foods that nourish and heat the body. Few foods fit the bill better than mudaré.
“Borrow horse gram in bulk from cart driver or farmer.” Says Jaya Shenoy, in her wonderful cookbook “Dakshin Bharat Dishes”.
If there’s anything that comes close to the delights of a wedding feast, it has to be the thindi, savoury and sweet snacks, that are served as light refreshments between the main events at a wedding.
Nothing said “family wedding” like the arrival, at my grandparents’ home, of tins, trays, bags, baskets and boxes of thindi.
Typically, there would be the traditional sweet favourites like kodli kajjaya, also known as baduva or kann kajjaya, (deep fried doughnut shaped fritters made from rice flour, wheat flour and jaggery), chicle undé (balls of ground puffed rice, coconut, jaggery, and sesame, encased in a crisp batter), and chirotis.
To balance all that sweetness, would be chakkulis (deep fried savoury crisps made from a rice and lentil dough), spicy cashew nuts, potato and banana chips, and large quantities of chow-chow (a mixture made up of of crisp chickpea batter drops and threads, mixed with peanuts, curry leaves and split, fried chickpeas).
That was just the beginning. Then would come the homemade goodies from relatives and friends. Cousins, aunts, great- aunts and school friends churned up a sweet tsunami of cakes, biscuits, burfis, halvas, macaroons, chocolate truffles and peppermints. Pink and white coconut toffee and marshmallows, and jujubes in the prettiest shades of red, green and yellow.