Today is Priya’s birthday, so my mother asked Mishri Lal the Cook to make a feast to celebrate the happy day.
Significant days in the calendar- birthdays, anniversaries, special prayer days- are marked by specially delicious and calorific dishes: potatoes curried with tomatoes, sweet and sour chickpeas, puffy fried puris and a sticky semolina halvah cooked in ghee.There was an exquisite raita of home made yogurt mixed with pomegranate seeds, fried kari leaves and black nigella (kalonji) seeds with a hint of green chili.
Sweet and sour chickpeas
Soak a cupful or two of chickpeas overnight. Cover with water, add a teaspoonful of bicarb of soda and bring to the boil.
Cover tightly and cook for at least 45 minutes until tender.
The sauce is made by sauteeing a chopped onion, some garlic and a small piece of chopped ginger, adding a couple of dessertspoons of tamarind paste mixed with hot water to make up to a cupful, some skinned chopped tomatoes, salt pepper and a small amount of green chilis. Mix into the chickpeas until it’s the consistency of thick porridge.
Parboil four or five medium potatoes and smash them roughly. Fry some chopped onion and garlic in a little ghee or butter with a generous teaspoon of black cumin and add the potatoes until they are thoroughly cooked. Add a few skinned tomatoes to make a creamy consistency.
A couple of cups of atta flour kneaded with warm water and a tablespoon of oil to make a soft dough. Pick up a small ball, roll in flour and flatten to a thin disc with a rolling pin. Drop into sizzling oil (use a wok) and let it puff up. Drain on kitchen paper. Make these quickly as they are rather sad when they cool down.
A cupful of wholewheat semolina browned in a little ghee or butter is set aside while you make a sugar syrup with two tablespoons of sugar and half a cup of water. Cook to a rolling boil with few crushed cardamoms and add to the semolina in a saucepan. Let it cook until the semolina is soft, add a little saffron dissolved in milk and some golden sultanas and a few almonds- and that’s it.
First extract your pomegranate seeds and mix them with a carton of wholemilk yogurt. Fry a few Kari leaves with a teaspoon of nigella seeds and a quarter green chili finely sliced. Add to the yogurt while it’s still hot.
My mother and I ate daintily, and the rest was shared with Mishri Lal (Cook), Pamma (his wife who sleeps in my mother’s room at night), Milan the incredibly active and clever general help, Rajni (engaged to be my mother’s day-time help, but who is only allowed to knit scarves and do some light “dusting” by the matriarch). I think the man who stands “guard” outside the gates was also included.
All this in honour of Priya, who is playing in Kazan, Russia, on her birthday in sub-zero temperatures (the concert hall of course is heated).
My mother always has this menu for the anniversary of my father’s birth and his death. It is quite a bland meal and best eaten soon after it’s cooked. Comfort food. On those occasions a priest comes to the house and a prayer ceremony is performed.