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.
Well, here I am at 100 posts! The subject of this one has never been in doubt.
While I have shared some thoughts in the past few years about how my maternal grandmother indulged and encouraged my love of cooking, I think this is the perfect time to reflect on some memories of her, away from her busy kitchen.
By the time I really became aware of my grandmother, Balia Mama, (Big Mama, as a cheeky older cousin had decided to address her, and we all followed suit) years of ill health had taken a toll on her physically. For all that delicious food she cooked to feed the hearty appetites of the extended family, she hardly seemed to eat anything herself at all. A piece of unbuttered toast and a cup of a nutritional drink like Sanatogen or Horlick’s. A cup of milky coffee with a Marie biscuit or two. The smallest portion of soup in the evenings. That seemed to be her diet.
It always made me a little sad to see her eating so frugally, while around her, the vast quantities of food she had prepared so lovingly, were polished off with great gusto. And yet, she was up the earliest in the household, on her feet all morning, with brief breaks to sit down and read the papers, or to sip some tea. She refused to sleep in the afternoons, sitting, instead, in a straight backed chair near the kitchen, catnapping a little before setting about preparing something for tea.