“It was, indeed, the most ephemeral of fairy dishes, a frothy evanescence that disappeared as soon as it touched the tongue, a winter specialty requiring dew as an ingredient. Whenever I asked the Lady in White how it was made, she would sigh a mysterious sigh and say, “Oh, child, I am one of the few women left in the whole city of Dehli who can make this. I am so old and it is such hard work. What shall I tell you?”
This book is filled with cooking methods and recipes but does not go much further than that, which is fine because she does this well. I loved the descriptions of school lunches with her friends when they all unpacked their tiffin-carriers and she compared the different foods that they had brought. Their various religions played a dominant role in those differences.
“Sudha’s food was as Jain as Abida and Zahida’s was Muslim. It was completely vegetarian, devoid of onion and garlic, as those bulbs were thought to arouse base passions; devoid of tomatoes and beets, as their color was reminiscent of blood; and contained no real root vegetables, as pulling out roots killed the entire plant.”
I find it quite ironic that Madhur Jaffrey has made such a success out of cooking and did not learn to cook until she had left home. Her mother taught her to cook by “air mail” when she found herself longing for the tastes of home and had no kitchen or servants to order her food from. She had to do it herself if she wanted to eat in the manner which she was accustomed.
I tried to order some food from my “kitchen” but nobody listened so I had to do it myself. First of all, I had to do the shopping because I couldn’t find any servant to do it for me. As I enter the Indian grocery store, the sounds of a loud Indian voice ululating from the radio greets me, the rich, exotic aroma of Indian cooking fills the air and of course there are posters of Bollywood movie stars on the walls . It was like being transported, just for a moment, to another country. I had been there before but this time I noted my surroundings, carefully. As always, I walked in with a list in my hand and was immediately asked if I needed any help. Do you think I looked out of place? Probably. Here comes the white girl thinking she can cook like an Indian woman. I am sure they snickered behind their hands. Well, I showed them as I walked out of there with my spices and my twenty pound bag of Chapati flour. “How may Rotis do you think I will get from this bag of flour,” I jokingly asked. “Oh, you have no idea,” she said. She was right, I had no clue but I was ready for some serious roti making.
I gathered all the ingredients on my counter. It made a colourful display reminiscent of a foreign marketplace so I had to take a picture.
The quantities are generous, but leftovers are good cold as a basis for a rice salad with chopped tomatoes and fresh coriander.
2 cans (19 oz each) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
¼ cup vegetable oil
generous pinch ground asafetida, optional
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium-small onion (6 oz), peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup canned chopped tomatoes
2 tsp peeled, finely grated ginger
1¼ cups prepared tea (use a plain black tea; water may
1-2 fresh, hot green chilies, cut into very fine rounds (do
not remove seeds)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground toasted cumin seeds
1 tsp store-bought garam masala
3-4 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
at the edges. Put in the garlic and let it turn golden, stirring as this happens. Now put in the tomatoes.
Stir and cook them until they turn dark and thick.Add the ginger and give a few good stirs. Now put
in the chickpeas and all the remaining ingredients.Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and simmer,
uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring gently now and then. Taste for balance of flavours and make
From Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking
© 2007 Chronicle Books
For marinating the fish:
2lb/900g skinless salmon fillet (ideally cut from the thicker end of the fillet)
¹/3 tsp cayenne pepper
¹/3 tsp ground turmeric
For the sauce:
3 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1½ tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp curry powder (Jaffrey uses Bolst’s hot curry powder, available from www.indianfoodandspices.co.uk, but any curry powder will do)
½ tsp cayenne pepper
6oz/180g tomatoes, coarsely grated (messy, but possible – the skins will be left in your hand)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp whole fennel seeds
15-20 fresh curry leaves or 6 bay leaves or fresh coriander
Cut the salmon into matchbox-sized pieces.
Mix the cayenne and turmeric with ¹/3 tsp salt and rub the mixture into both sides of the fish. Put in a plastic bag or a covered dish and refrigerate for at least one, and up to six, hours.
Now make the sauce. In a clean coffee grinder or mini food processor, grind 2½ tsp of the mustard seeds. (You could also do this with a pestle and mortar and lots of elbow grease, or even use mustard powder.) Put the ground mustard in a bowl with the coriander, cumin, turmeric, curry powder, cayenne, tomatoes, ¾ tsp salt and 4floz/110ml water. Mix well.
Heat the oil in a wide, shallow pan (a deepish frying pan or sauté pan is ideal) over a medium-high heat. Add the remaining mustard seeds and as soon as they begin to pop add the fennel seeds. Stir and pour in the spice mixture and another 8floz/225ml water.
Add the curry leaves, if you have them, or bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 10 minutes. (At this point the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for several hours.)
To cook the fish, reheat the sauce (in the wide, shallow pan again) and lay the fish in it. It’s important the fish cooks in a single layer, so if you are doubling the quantities, use two pans.
Simmer for five minutes, then carefully turn the fish and cook for another 4-5 minutes until just about done.
Scatter with coriander (if you aren’t using curry or bay leaves) and serve with rice or naan.
From an article published at Telegraph.co.uk
Photo credits go to my good friend, Karen Dyck, who was happy to have her first paid photo gig. I paid her in food. It was a win/win, I think.