The pandemic prompted two men, watched by bemused families, to make their first serious culinary forays. One chose baking bread and cake, the other chose a pork roast
One day, during a recent covid-linked lockdown, I received slices of wonderfully tender pork from our neighbour Deepak Pinto, who runs a factory making aeroplane parts and, lately, ventilators. A man imbued with an infectious happiness, his interests have encompassed camping and fishing but never cooking.
“Finally, I had time on my hands," he said as explanation for his recent forays into the kitchen. He has often made Sunday breakfast sandwiches for his children. But those did not really count because, as he accepted, anything flies with liberal amounts of mayo and bacon.
Deepak used the extra time to master his mother Claire’s pork roast, a process stretching over two nights and a day. The end product, as he put it, “was walloped", a fact I confirmed independently with his family.
In Delhi, my old college friend Sally (or Salil Kumar) also made his maiden foray into the kitchen. There he was—chartered accountant, consultant and former rafting guide—not just kneading dough for chapatis but moving smoothly into the role of baking maestro, turning out perfect banana and apricot bread and pumpkin cake.
Both Deepak and Sally are in their 50s and the pandemic was, of course, the trigger for these kitchen forays, through which I discovered rich material, rich family recipes, from a mother and grandmother, and some honest male confessions.
Sally, for instance, has worked from home for years and thought lockdowns and restricted movement would not be particularly different. But working from home and working at home, he admitted, were not the same. He was not prepared for a DIY lifestyle, so it helped that his calm wife, Sandra, is most adjustable. “The first thing to internalize was, who was management and who was support?" reasoned Sally. “Once that hurdle was crossed, life became enjoyable."
He was support, of course, a role he quickly acknowledged. “I had no clue how many places in the house I did not even know existed and even less how things worked," said Sally, who worked his way up from washing, cleaning to kitchen help—prep, kneading atta, chopping—to working alongside Sandra and enjoying the work. Happily, he is grateful for her quiet guidance.
“She started me with things that create excitement and photo-ops, and in my particular case, being a Virgo, she kept me away from andaazwala (estimation) cooking to something that was more precise," said Sally. “So, baking was a great initiation."
Sandra got her husband to take over morning chores and make home-baked bread or cake for the family’s morning tea sessions on their balcony. Progress was rapid.
“It was surprising at first," said his son (and my godson) Arvaan, a college student and a more-than-competent cook. “But now it’s a competition." Both son and mother testify to Sally’s rigorous, almost obsessive cleaning up after.
Deepak’s path to keeping the kitchen shipshape was more organic. “First time, main dish was left in sink, but second time, things were washed," said his wife, Anaheeta, a woman blessed with an understated, dry humour. “Daughter’s positive reinforcement and gentle, pleasant nudge to clear before the process started contributed to the final outcome."
Deepak’s daughter, Kavya, a medical student, cast a more baleful eye over not just the proceedings at home but at my efforts to chronicle them. “I am quite amused that the ONE time he has stepped into the kitchen has him featured in the newspaper!" she said to me.
“My experience with the whole ordeal—everyone knew dad was cooking when rock ‘n’ roll music came blaring from the kitchen with the added noise of clanging vessels (he loves to make noise in the kitchen)," said Kavya. “He had no idea where anything was or what it looked like. After describing where the ginger paste was in the fridge, he pulled out lemon zest and almost used that!"
But at the end of the day, she was “really happy he made the effort" and agreed “it turned out delicious".
Both men clearly brought their management experience to the kitchen. The activity lasted the whole day, said Anaheeta of the pork roast, from marination to frying, to slow cooking, to constant peeking as it simmered for nearly 4 hours, to boiling off excess liquid, the refrigeration to skim fat, slice it thin. “Ooofff!" she exclaimed.
After all that effort, the thin slices once broke up in the stock and Deepak was “all morose". But, said his wife, “it tasted great and we all praised him profusely to raise his spirits".
Rub marinade carefully into the pork and set aside for 4 hours or overnight.
In a large pan, heat oil and carmelize sugar. Fry onion until golden brown and remove. Fry pork in own fat, all exposed areas, until nicely seared. Add back onions, water, salt. Give it a stir to mix.
Lower heat to the lowest flame possible (“Simmer may be too high," says Deepak).
Cover and let cook for 3.5 hours, adding little dribs of water if it starts to dry. Cool in fridge overnight, so pork coheres. Separate gravy and remove fat when it solidifies. Slice pork and serve with gravy.
Mataji's Apricot Bread
10-12 apricots, deseed, chop finely, soak overnight in half cup water
One-and-a-quarter cup curd
Sieve the following
One cup maida (refined flour)
One cup atta
One tsp baking soda
Quarter tsp salt
Half tsp cinnamon powder
Grease a baking tray, preheat oven and keep ready.
Mix one-and-a-quarter cup curd and apricot mixture. Mix further with sieved material. Add raisins if you want. Add a bit of water or milk to get a thickish paste.
Once the ingredients are mixed, place in the tray and immediately place in the oven. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 40-50 minutes.