Toto’s Kitchen

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Eating was never my passion till I went to boarding
school. I never recognised hunger pangs for what they were – except of course
for chocolates, sweets, Coca Cola and biscuits. The subtle flavours that my mother
used to churn out with unending variety went right beyond my taste buds, making meal times a dreadful chore. I would sit at the table pushing a mouthful
of rice from one corner to the other till it seemed to double in volume and
then become absolutely impossible to swallow. When slightly older and I’d
learnt the art of deception, I began throwing away my food. Initially it was
straight into the dustbin, so I got caught. Then I started storing it away in
tins and cans in my study room without realising that food rots and creates a
stink. After two weeks of this blissful way of despatching the food, again I
was caught. And punished. The fight with food carried on till we went to
Indonesia. There I discovered that plain boiled stock with vegetables and
noodles floating around in it appealed to my taste buds, but I couldn’t eat
that all the time. I still had to eat the dal and subzi and fish and meat, and
this I learnt to swallow quickly so that it wouldn’t coagulate in my mouth.

Boarding School was the ultimate teacher. Not that the
food there was so bad – in fact it was quite good, according to my taste buds.
Though my mother cried when she came up to visit me and tasted the meat curry
with the stringy bhindi (okra) floating around in it and the unending supply of
sambar and rice. But I ate. I ate as if it was going out of fashion. Semanti
Sinha Ray the egg hater was now consuming four fried and congealed eggs every
morning – cleaning out the bowls of semolina porridge – devouring every crumb
of bread and even eating the meats. The first
school holiday my mother couldn’t believe what hit her – I was actually asking
for food and cleaning out the refrigerator every day. And I, without realising
it, had discovered my ultimate passion in life. So much so that today,
apart from eating – feeding people is my greatest joy.

What I try and do is think of what taste would appeal
to me and how a particular dish could be interesting – or even combinations for
that matter. My best experiments were with my daughter. At the age of five
months I gave her prawn soup – I probably shouldn’t have without checking for
allergies but she lapped it up so lovingly that I couldn’t resist.  She loved her meals – whether that was
an inherent quality in her, or inspired by my concoctions I do not know, but by
the time she was 8 months old she was feeding herself. I would place a plate of
various things that looked interesting – carrot sticks, finger sandwiches,
mashed potatoes and beans and she would attack them with great gusto. Lunchtime
would also be equally colourful with fish, vegetables and dal in little bowls. Moral of the story – never take the
consumer for granted. My daughter and I never looked back at Cerelac or any
such mish mashes – we were on to the greater things or should I say foods in
life. The only problem was her vocabulary – so at age 4 when she went for her
first 5 Star Chinese restaurant meal at le Meridien, she ordered Maggi noodles
with great aplomb.

This is not a formal recipe. This is a record of some of
my favourite foods, the stories behind them, the flavours – old and new that
have gone into them. And they’ve been tried and tested on my families and
friends and been great successes. The recipes are not original – a lot of them
are hand me downs from the grandmothers, mother, aunts, friends, restaurants
and dhabas – actually even servants. (As a child I was always running off to
eat those thick chapatis in the servants quarters) Some of them are my short
cut versions – a necessity in today’s day and age when a person has little if
any household help and much more to do than just housekeeping.  So go ahead – try some of them and if the
measures don’t work for you, try out your own. Remember – eating should be a
pleasure – therefore cooking should also be a pleasure. The more inspired you
are to create something the more love and care you’ll put into it. Right?

So here goes – Recipe number 1 (I got a coconut request – hence this Bengali favourite)

Prawn Malai Curry

Prawns always taste best if you cook it with
the head. All the yummy stuff is in the head. But it needs to be cleaned
properly. There is a sac right at the top where the eyes are (inside
the shell) with some black stuff – this needs to be discarded. But if
one isn’t confident of doing that, one can still do this with beheaded
prawns.

Medium size Prawns/Scampi    – 1/2 Kg
Onion            – 1 large sliced
Ginger            – 1 inch piece
Garlic            – 6, 7 cloves
Coconut Milk      – 2 cups
Garam Masala      – 1 tsp
Sugar            – 1/2 tsp
Dry Red Chillies  – 3
Salt              – to taste
Oil (groundnut/Sunflower) – 2 tbl spoons
Ghee              – 1 tbl spoon

Devein prawns – marinate in salt and keep aside
Grind together (mixie it) ginger, garlic, garam masala, red chillies

Heat
the oil – when it’s smoking add the ghee – add the onion slices and
cook till the onions are mildly brown. Add the prawns and fry till they
start changing colour. Add the ground masalas and cook on a slow fire till the
oil separates. Add sprinkles of water if it starts sticking to the pan.
When the masala is cooked (please also use sense of smell to figure out
if it is done) add the coconut milk and sugar. This prep is supposed to
be slightly sweetish – hence the sugar. Bring to a boil once and then
cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Garnish with green chillies and serve with hot steaming rice!!

 

Recipe number 2 (This one is a Sinha Ray family favourite. My Grandmother hailed from Agartala, and the tribal food she used to cook up was finger licking “awesome”)

Pork Bharta

Boneless Pork in large chunks – 1/2 Kg

Garlic      – 10 cloves
Ginger      – 1 inch piece (thin juliennes)
Onion        – 1 large (thinly Sliced)
Green Chilli – 6 (roasted on an open fire)
Red Chilli  – 4 (broken into bits)
Salt        – to taste

Boil the chunks of meat in the pressure cooker (10 minutes) with the garlic
(just gently smash the garlic with a pestle) salt and red chillies. Use very
little water so that there isn’t any left after the meat is cooked. Do
not over cook meat. When you open the pressure cooker if there is any
water left – cook it on a high flame to dry it up.

When the meal has cooled a bit cut it into bite size pieces so that they have the fat
on them also (chuck the rind if you feel like or keep it).

In a bowl mash the green chillies with your fingers with some salt. Add the
onion slices and mix. Then add the pork with the red chillies and garlic
and mix well. Check for salt – add a bit more if needed. Garnish with
coriander and serve with yellow masoor dal and rice. Or stick some toothpicks in it and serve it as a snack with the drinks!!!

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