It’s a bright and sunny late winter’s day in Delhi. But I don’t feel so sunny.
The baby demanded milk at 11.30pm and 3.30am, before deciding the night was over at 5.45am. She smiled and chortled brightly from her crib while I groaned, muttered unfatherly abuses and hoisted the burbling tyke out, her little legs cycling furiously in delight.
So, this is what Sunday looks like.
The baby’s breakfast has to be made, ragi and yellow of egg. We are taking her grandparents to have idlis and dosas. After that, her parents just realized there’s a little bit of work ahead: People are coming for a brunch in their sunny garden.
I find there is nothing better to get a holiday morning kickstarted than the prospect of having people over. There are four advantages to this. One, you eat better—much better— on a Sunday if you are forced to crack open the fridge and drag out the pots and pans. Two, you sleep much better if you trot out that brunch. Three, the great sleep might tempt you to run, walk, whatever, as the day winds down. Four, chances are you will drift into a slumber so deep and luxurious that Monday morning will dawn bright and sunny—unless, of course, the baby decides otherwise.
The baby, as it turns out, is having a happy day, frolicking on the grass, watching the birds and meeting the neigh- bours. I believe she will be too exhausted by day’s end to be too much of a nuisance on Sunday night.
Also Read | Read Samar’s previous columns
These predictions are all very well and optimistic (and, perhaps, somewhat dubious). But, hey, what exactly are we eating for brunch? The freezer is empty! So, either I rush to the market and get some, or we fork out extra to have it delivered to our doorstep. We opt for the smug fish-delivery man, who always tends to be smug because he knows we may gripe and complain at his exorbitant price, but the chaotic Halarnkar household will order it anyway.
Keep it simple: Some creative licence with an old recipe yields the highly satisfying fish with bourbon and saunf ; and (right) the mint and yogurt dip. Convert a bleary Sunday morning into a bright, beamy day without rice or ‘rotis’. Photographs by Samar Halarnkar
There’s no coconut milk, and anyway, let’s give that old Goan recipe a break. This, after all, is a brunch that’s supposedly based on creative cooking. So, I bring out a book I haven’t looked at since 2006, when Roshan Chagla—daughter-in- law of the late, great Bombay jurist and former chief justice and cabinet minister, Mahommedali Currim Chagla—presented it to me. Recipes from My Kitchen, a compendium of 20 years of entertaining, isn’t exactly last-minute Sunday cooking. But as I flip through the rich, often cream-heavy recipes, I find one that I can derive inspiration from. I’m dropping the cream, I don’t have fennel bulbs or whisky, but I never stick to recipes. Let’s just use what I have and see what emerges.
Make the mint and curd dip, the wife suggests, knowing it isn’t a suggestion. And why not make my old favourite, the oven-roasted veggies, she says.
Oh, all right.
Our neighbours are bringing some pasta, and we have three varieties of bread, so we’ll have a bread platter. The wife is making a beetroot salad. No chapattis. No rice.
Well, a menu seems to have emerged, however last-minute and seemingly disjointed.
You know, blundering towards brunch is not a bad way to go. I find it rarely fails. Is this luck? I like to believe this is the luck of the brave.
Brunch works out just fine. My bleary self is gradually banished, I return the daughter’s toothless smiles, and after a grand afternoon sleep, I find enough reserves of energy to dawdle down to the park and run around enough to get me home weary, wonderfully so, and fall into a deep, satisfied sleep that—I’m hoping—even the daughter cannot break.
This, eventually, was our Sunday menu:
1. Selection of breads—wholewheat, ciabatta, whatever’s available
2. Mint and yogurt dip
400g yogurt (we used Nestlé Slim)
A fist-sized bunch of mint
3-4 garlic flakes
Olive oil, extra virgin
Hang the yogurt till the water drains out. Smoothen the yogurt with a fork. Add chopped mint and crushed garlic. Mix well, then blend in the olive oil. Add a pinch of salt. Serve with crackers, chips or, as we do, with brunch.
3. Fish with bourbon and ‘saunf’
500g fish (I used surmai—kingfish—fillets)
Juice of 1 lemon (or lime)
1/2 tsp butter
7-8 flakes of garlic, crushed
7-8 tbsp bourbon (I used Jack Daniel’s)
2-3 tsp of saunf (fennel) seeds, freshly roasted and pounded into powder
2 large tomatoes, deskinned, deseeded and chopped
2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp sugar
Optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
Mix in lemon/lime juice with fish, sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper and set aside. Fry the fish gently in olive oil in a non-stick pan, do not brown. Set aside. In the same pan, lower the heat, melt the butter, add a little olive oil and fry the garlic and saunf powder for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the bourbon and reduce a bit. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar. Add the red chilli powder and fry for 1-2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Arrange the fish in a warmed serving platter. Spoon the sauce over and serve immediately.
Note: I didn’t use the cinnamon powder, but something tells me it might be nice.
4. Oven-roasted vegetables (see previous column www.livemint.com/ roastedveggies.htm)
5. Our friend brought hummus and pasta, to which we added a store-bought pesto.
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, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org