I’m in the enviable position of having been invited by friends to go and join them in Kozhikode and Mumbai for the last few days of the month of Ramzan. Fasting from dawn to dusk is one part of it; however, the holy book gives no strictures on how one can disport oneself for the other half of the day. As a result, many cultures have developed a riotous night-long feast, which reaches a crescendo during the last 10 days.
Break fast: A Mumbai street during Ramzan. Hindustan Times
The actual breaking of the fast always happens with a handful of dates. The reason cited is the example of the Prophet, but food technologists tell us that dates contain fructose in a highly digestible form and provide a burst of energy to the body after a fast that typically lasts some 14 hours. After that, there’s the immediate requirement of slaking one’s thirst, and that is where local cultures kick in. Abida, my friend from Kozhikode, tells me about a drink that contains roasted semolina, water, milk, sugar, black cardamom and shallots fried in ghee.
Milk and water sweetened with sugar and thickened with tukmalanga, those little black seeds that swell up white when soaked in warm water, is a recurrent theme across the country. It’s after the evening prayer that the feasting begins.
Marketplaces in the Muslim quarters of all towns and cities return to life after sunset. The first one to do brisk business is the army of samosa fryers. Any fried morsel has become, ipso facto, the leitmotif of this month. There’s a scientific reason behind it: Fried foods make us feel thirsty, so we drink lots more water than we usually would, vital when you’ve not drunk water for more than half the day.
Abida describes to me the lamb or beef samosas that she’ll serve me in Kozhikode. Made of an ultra-thin disc of dough that has been semi-cooked on the tawa (a flat pan) before being shaped and fried, it is extra crisp, so that you’ll feel extra thirsty. Mumbai’s Muhammad Ali Road has several versions of crunchies, catering to every pocket. The top of the ladder eats beef or lamb samosas and the lowest rung makes do with dal vadas.
Everybody I’ve ever come across who fasts during Ramzan works up an appetite for red meat, and Abida and her husband Rashid have promised to hold a party during my visit. Each fasting family in Kozhikode holds an iftaar (the meal that breaks the fast) party once during the month, the most significant ones being in the last few days, for some reason that I haven’t been able to figure out. Kozhikode’s bhandaris (professional cooks) are associated with a network of families and cook for their own lifelong customers.
On the menu are snacks such as banana fritters stuffed with—hold your breath—sweetened scrambled eggs and a whole chicken stuffed with eggs. Mutton ishtew, raan, fish curry (meen mullagatadda) and ghee rice bring up the rear. Quite unique among the various communities of India, it promises to be high on the exotica scale.
Abida’s Beef Samosas
Makes around 30 samosas
250g maida (refined flour) + rice flour, for dusting (makes the samosa crispier)
250g beef or lamb botis (bite-sized pieces)
1/2 tsp turmeric
5 green chillies
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 level tsp coriander seeds, powdered
Salt to taste
Make a soft dough of the maida and rice flour. Divide the dough into 30 balls. Roll them out into discs as thin as you can manage. Heat a tawa and place the discs, one at a time, on it for a few seconds so that the heat firms them up a bit. Take off the heat, cut into semicircles, and leave them aside.
Boil the meat with turmeric and salt, using as little water as you can, till the meat is cooked and the water has evaporated. Sauté the onion, ginger, garlic and chillies in minimal oil. Add the coriander powder and then cook the meat till all trace of moisture disappears. The filling has to be as dry as possible for the samosas to be a success. Either chop the meat with a cleaver or put it through a food processor at this stage. In Kozhikode, it is chopped into tiny pieces, but not minced. Check seasoning.
Fold about 1 tbsp of meat into the semicircles. Form into triangular samosa cones, close the end of the cone by wetting the overlapping edges and pinching firmly. Deep fry till the samosas are crisp.
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