This Bhindi Masala is my copy of the one my Nanis cook makes. True Story. Nani, incidentally, is the word for maternal grandmother. My Nani has been Nanna to all of us and Nonni H (H for Hussain) to me. We are coming up on the 9th of Muharram, a poignant day for Shia Muslims, but when I think of the 9th of Muharram I inevitably think of my Nonni. In her prime my Nonni was feisty with a sense of humour and a naughty contained laugh that radiated from the centre of her grey green eyes to the gentle crinkles around the corners. The 9th of Muharram is a solemn night, one where people would stream in and out, soberly praying. The last time Nonni was well enough to be there for the night she mischievously regaled my sister and I with stories from her youth. Of a little girl who would break into the achar (pickles) when her mother wasn’t looking, of the summertime antics of women we knew as grandmothers. My sister and I would burst into giggles at inopportune moments causing our mother to sternly admonish us with her silent glare. It would take all of a second for Nanna to resume her storytelling. Suffice is to say my sister and I did not end the night in my mothers good books.
There are certain Urdu words that I really enjoy saying, those that sound exactly like what they mean. Kurkuri, that delightful word for crunchy and crispy is one of them. The first time my daughter had this Kurkuri Bhindi she was 3 years old and we were visiting my parents in Karachi. Her Nano had made this bhindi and Zara upon trying them said “these sticks are yummy!” It then occurred to me that my daughter had never had Okra except for its cornmeal battered deep fried incarnation. As yummy as the Deep Fried Okra was that way it was far too much work (and oil) for my liking.
I often think about what it means to blog about food, about Pakistani food specifically. A part of me feels that I should keep recipes alive, carrying them forth in their unaltered state, preserving them for generations to come. The reality is that I cannot do that even if I wanted to. My culinary journey is very much shaped by my mother who if you ever meet her you would know is an immensely practical person. I cannot recall her ever saying she would spend hours slaving over a stove to get the onions browned just the way her grandmother did or that any recipe was sacrosanct because of who gave it to her. Adapt, make it easy, and make it work. That seems to be her approach to cooking and it is that philosophy that makes up my culinary DNA.
There are these moments you have when you move to a new country; the little slips that embarrass you, that shatter your sense of confident cool. It is hunting for Coriander leaves only to be pointed to the powder or looking for Capsicum only to finally locate them next to the “Green Peppers” sign. Over time you retrain yourself to look for Cilantro and to put Green Peppers on your shopping list. In my head though I still call them Capsicum or think of them as ‘Shimla Mirch’. The word Mirch means chilli or in this case pepper, and the Shimla is a reference to where this imported vegetable first began to grow in India under the British. Since then Capsicum or Shimla Mirch or Green Peppers grow all over Pakistan and India, but the name has stuck.
Kaali or Sabut Masoor ki Daal is made from brown lentils and is one of my favourites despite its misnomer of a name. You see kaali means black, but this daal is decidedly brown. Black or brown I love it’s bold heartiness, it’s comforting warmth and it certainly does not hurt that it is so nutritious.
The flavour of kaali daal alone isn’t what makes it one of my favourites. It is also the associated memories. It is that first meal back from a year away at college and the simple meal that I associate with the breaking of the fast on the tenth of Muharram. We are Shia Muslims and for us the Battle of Karbala is a defining moment in the history of Islam. I have made several attempts to write about what that means to us, but find that words fail me. Tamania of Super Urdu Mom and one of my favourite bloggers does a far better job and you can read her piece over here.
Aaloo Gajar reminds me of my father because I associate it with the large events we had at my house when I was growing up. The ‘niazes’ where people would stream in and out of the house, sampling the spread my mother orchestrated. More often than not, about an hour before the event was supposed to end it would become clear to my father that we were running out of food, an unforgivable sin for a Pakistani host. Us siblings would handle it the only way we knew how – by avoiding him (Sorry Abu). When the night would finally end my mother would hold up the two spoonfuls of chicken and two spoonfuls of aaloo gajar that someone left out of politeness as proof positive that we did not actually run out of food. My father, a committed husband, would pretend to agree.
This is a simple sabzi (veggie) to make and I adore the contrast between the sweetness of the carrots and the heat of the green chillies. My tolerance for raw green chillies is pretty low so I add them earlier in the cooking process than some which allows their sharp fragrance to really flavor the dish and allows me to eat it without drinking a pitcher of milk.
I like to make a small amount because I find that next day leftovers are not as good – maybe my mother was on to something there 😉
You guys, I think I am doing that aging South Asian woman thing where I desi-fy everything.
(desi-fy= put a desi/south asian spin on)
The other day I pulled out brussel sprouts to do one of my usual oven favorites. but instead of the parmesan I reached for the tandoori masala powder (premade readily available in many stores) and decided anything is worth trying once. They were awesome. Then I did the only reasonable thing I could under the circumstances; bought more brussel sprouts and made them again. This time I had two additional family members test them to double check. I have never seen brussel sprouts, especially ones cold from their photo-op fly off the plate so fast.
So here it is – an easy to do spicy vegetable side dish that would go well with a simple pilaf, daal chawal (lentils and rice) or even a tandoori turkey if you are so inclined. I swear I have seen ads for those.
Peppery arugula. Melty mozzarella. Meaty garlicky Portobello mushrooms. Savory creamy Boursin. A Scattering of chilli flakes.
I think I may have made my very favourite white pizza of all time. Now I have a big soft spot for all pizza, but white pizza was a revelation for me. A pizza without tomato sauce? Now that’s just crazy. Crazy good that is.
The other day I opened my fridge and was looking around for inspiration when some beautiful portobellos caught my eye and I knew what was coming next. I used half the pizza dough from my favourite dough recipe of all time and went to work. It was fun. It also didn’t hurt that my wonderful niece kneaded the dough for me and my nephew who usually doesn’t like this whole spinach and mushrooms thing really enjoyed it. Family makes things better. True story.
Between you and me I may make it again sometime soon and eat the whole thing – by myself. Shhhh.
School was a hop skip and jump away from Boat Basin, an iconic strip of food joints that had some of the best food Karachi has to offer. Most people will sit in their cars and order food from the servers who will come up to the window. You could get a burger from Chips, a slush from Mr. Burger, Chicken Tikkas from Tandoori Hut, Caramel Crunch Ice Cream from Rajoos and a Cold Coffee from Baloch all without moving an inch. Just thinking about it is making me happy and hungry.
My favorite Boat Basin memories are the early morning ones – the times where close friends and soon to be friends would show up long before the city was awake to sit on damp plastic chairs, huddling in to ourselves as we held our cups of chai tight and anxiously awaited our halwa puri breakfast. Now we call it halwa puri, but most of the times it was a ‘hold the halwa, bring me puris and aloo chholay” breakfast. I have blogged about this breakfast before and didn’t anticipate doing so again. But then I made a variation of this awesome recipe and I decided that with it’s extra everything it was just too good to keep to myself.
So much of Pakistani food is hot and spicy and as discussed before we are not big on salads per se, so what do we use then for a fresh counterpunch to our food? Raita. Raita is essentially plain yogurt whipped smoothed and seasoned a myriad of ways with varying veggies or none at all.
This version of raita which is dip like in it’s consistency is new to me. A few years ago, we were visiting friends in London and our friend, who was almost 9 months pregnant then, had a biryani dinner ready for us when we got in. The biryani was very good, but this raita, now this raita blew my mind. Spinach, yogurt, garlic? sold, sold, sold.
So here I present to you a simple, humble side dish, that you can put together in minutes for a lovely side to a desi meal or dunk some crispy pita chips into for a little snack. My girls had it over rice for dinner, I would say the same for me, but an Aunt of mine once pointed out that I have rice with my raita not raita with my rice 😉