For the idle few who read this column and for the brave ones who try to follow its recipes, I take pleasure in announcing that my food will, hopefully, become more inventive.
You see, I have moved south to Bangalore; where a day-long cooling wind (I call it the Bangalore breeze) blows through the remaining rain trees and gulmohars; where we wilt when the temperature breaches 30 degrees Celsius (yes, it’s still quite an air-conditioned city); where the crumbling infrastructure and uncleared garbage are salvaged somewhat by a smiling civility absent up north; where there is so much more to life than the overwhelming northern staples of roti, dal, chicken and paneer.
You get the picture—I am happy to be home. Yet, I have struggled for familiar markers, as I do each time in Bangalore (no, I will not write Bengaluru; I’ve always pronounced it that way when I speak Kannada but to say it in English sounds silly). The first time I lived in Bangalore was 1969. The last time was 1999. There is no Indian city that has changed so much so fast. In 1971, I remember my father taking me to the fine, bougainvillea-clad promenade of MG Road (commonly called South Parade by old-timers who grew up with its colonial name). Today as I watch the MG Road Metro station take form, I am struck by horror—the trees have been decimated, and the promenade is consigned to nostalgia.
Also Read | Samar’s previous columns
The horror is short-lived. After years of hand-wringing and despair, I have made my peace (or so I hope) with the newest version of Bangalore. Slowly, I find familiar anchors, none more important than food.
Within the first 10 days, I have pork curry at Koshy’s; biryani from the kindly Sait family on MM Road, Frazer Town; liver and kidney masala and brain curry at Bangalore Club as the singer belts out Stand by Me; Kane Fry from Mangalore Pearl on Coles Road junction; Syrian Christian beef fry from a new Kerala restaurant, and mango curry supplied by an old family friend.
I’m clearly not in Delhi any more.
Driven to gastronomic distraction, I have found it hard to start cooking. Also, we have not found a home. Last week, with my mother’s cook out of commission, I had no choice but to restart, sharing kitchen duties with the wife. Trying to balance work in a new city (professionally, it’s like I am starting over), baby and kitchen usually calls for some ingenuity, which has come to us from the one-pot meal.
The wife has a traditional Sindhi favourite to fall back on—sai bhaji, a nutritious, versatile curry that is a mix of many vegetables and can be had with chapatis or rice. I am not so good with one-pot meals, so when it’s my turn to cook, I mix and match ingredients and spices, a trifle wildly sometimes.
It helps that Bangalore’s markets and stores have a diversity of offerings from across the south. I have fun trying them out. I am surprised and pleased to see so much culinary tradition modernized and repackaged for the time-starved techie, the consumer of choice in these parts.
My one-pot attempts presently centre on rice. Obviously, eating a whole lot of white rice is not something the doctor recommends. I’ve solved that by using a high-nutrition, high-fibre unpolished black rice called Navadarshanam, sold by a village self-help group from Gumalapuram, Tamil Nadu. If you’re wondering how I found it, just look closely on supermarket shelves. You can also get traditional rice varieties in Delhi, from either the Navdanya stores or even online at the Altitude stores. When in Mumbai, I love the red rice of the Konkan.
Pot luck: Follow instructions carefully when cooking black, brown or red rice, as these tend to be tricky. Samar Halarnkar
Cooking black, brown or red rice is trickier than white rice (follow instructions closely before you get a feel for it), but once you master it, your one-pot options widen greatly. As the recipe below indicates, nothing is hard and fast in a one-pot meal. Use your imagination and whatever local ingredients you can find. There is no better way to adapt to a new city.
Black Rice and Tandoori Chicken (or Chorizo, or Cocktail Sausages)
1 mug black rice
2 cups water
2 carrots, peeled, cut into thin, round slices
2 mugs spinach, cleaned and chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1/2 star anise
2 green cardamoms
15 black peppercorns
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
Salt to taste
In a pressure cooker, heat oil. Add star anise, cardamom and peppercorns. When they start to pop, add the onions and sauté till lightly browned. Add 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste. Sauté, sprinkling with soy sauce and chilli powder when the paste starts to stick. Add carrots, spinach, rice, water and salt to taste. Close the lid and pressure-cook on high till the first whistle. Lower the flame to minimum and cook for 20 minutes. Let the pressure subside after switching off.
Spread out in a dish and add non-vegetarian toppings if you wish. I certainly do. Leftover tandoori chicken worked like a charm, so did chorizo or leftover cocktail sausages.
Bear in mind that since spinach releases water of its own, it is prudent to reduce water. The instructions for black and brown rice usually call for three times as much water as white rice. I use less, even without spinach. If your rice becomes a bit watery, never mind, just think of it like a stew.
Sindhi Sai Bhaji
1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
1 each of potato, onion, tomato, small brinjal, carrot—chopped fine or grated
2 tbsp chana dal, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
3/4 tsp red chilli powder
2 green chillies, sliced
2 green cardamoms
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup dill (optional)
Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Splutter cumin seeds and cardamom. Add onion, sauté till light pink. Add chana dal and tomato. Sauté for a minute. In a glass, mix the powdered spices with ginger-garlic paste and a large peg-measure of water. Pour into the cooker. Keep covered for 2 minutes. Add all the vegetables except spinach and sauté for a minute. Then add spinach. Close the cooker and allow one whistle on high flame. Cook for 10 minutes on low flame. Let the pressure subside on its own. Open and add salt to taste. Roughly churn with a mandira, or wooden churner.
Bear in mind that the traditional Sindhi sai bhaji is finer; ours is rougher because the wife likes the vegetable pieces to show. Also, many families add chopped dill, which we do not.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Mint and Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at email@example.com