5 food dishes that bring me joy
Bringing some Diwali cheer from the newsroom.
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Being a food writer, I have to keep eating at restaurants, food trials and competitions, which may be why the food that I get to eat at home brings me the greatest joy.
Diwali being the time to celebrate the gifts from God with the family, I am going to list five dishes that have been made with love and served to me by my dearest ones.
1) Potoler Dolma
My mother was a champion cook in her heyday, but the one dish that I never miss having from her kitchen is her Potoler Dolma.
Bengalis love their parwal, or pointed gourd, and I can spend a life eating it. When the parwal get bigger, my mother gets her cook to remove the seeds and then fill it up with a delicious filling of minced paneer (in place of spicy minced mutton or shrimps, which is usually the case).
The filled-up parwal are first half-fried in mustard oil and then cooked in a rather rich, garam masala-laden thick gravy, which adds a tang to the preparation. It's a complete meal in itself.
2) Mutton Yakhni
I am lucky to have a mother-in-law who makes the best Kashmiri Pandit food on our side of the Pir Panjal.
My favourite from her extensive repertoire is the Mutton Yakhni, which seems like a simple preparation (mutton cooked with yogurt in mustard oil), but it stands out like royalty because of the subtle interplay of the spices that go individually into the preparation - saunf (fennel) powder, zeera (cumin), tej patte (bay leaves), heeng (asafoetida), crushed badi elaichi (cardamom) and dalchini (cinnamon).
It's a umami bomb, especially if it has been cooked by my mother-in-law, whom I rarely meet but remember very fondly when I'm overcome by hunger pangs.
3) Mangsho Chaap
Mutton (or goat meat) is my favourite form of animal protein and there's no better interpreter of it than my sister (sorry for shamelessly waving my family crest!).
Bangla cuisine is famous for its sweet-and-tangy kosha mangsho, but my personal favourite is the Chaap (or chops, as the rest of the world calls it), a Mughlai preparation developed by Wajid Ali Shah's cooks, who had relocated with their master to Calcutta, as a riposte to the British lamp chops. It is a treat to have chaap straight off the tawa at the Royal, a restaurant with a 110-year history, on Kolkata's Rabindra Sarani.
Little did I know about the effort that goes into making Chaap till I asked my sister for the recipe and read through it. It's a 22-ingredient, two-step process that leaves the mutton chops as succulent and flavourful as our old colonial rulers could never have imagined. The mutton, incidentally, is from the khasi, or castrated goat, when ensures its succulence.
4) Lau Chingri
Another of my favourites from my sister's kitchen is a simple dish with uncomplicated flavours and it is called Lau Chingri, or shrimps cooked with bottle gourd (lauki). Vegetarians can replace shrimp with dal vadi (or what the Bengalis call bori).
The shrimp is marinated in turmeric (haldi) and salt - it can't get simpler than that - and is added to the lauki when it is half-cooked (the longer you cook shrimp, the more rubbery it gets).
What my sister does is to add freshly ground mustard to the combination and it just transforms the preparation. Bengalis like their lauki preparations to be slightly sweet, but the addition of the mustard paste gives this one a welcome bite.
5) Dhuli Masoor Dal with Ver
Having praised the cooking of my entire family and not mentioning the person who has suffered me for 23 years (actually, 26 years, if we take into account our extended courtship!), would be an act of injustice.
My better half is an occasional cook, but I wait for the day when she has time to spare after managing the boys, the dogs and her work, for she makes the most awesome Dhuli Masoor Dal with Ver.
A dal is a dal is a dal, but what gives it a personality is the tadka that's added at the end.
What we do at home is add ver (without shallots and garlic, for Kashmiri Pandits avoid both).
It's a flavour-loaded masala that comes in the form of circular bricks power-packed with laung (cloves), zeera (cumin), red chilli powder, saunf (fennel powder), sund (dried ginger powder), methi (fenugreek) seeds, haldi (turmeric), garam masala and heeng (asafoetida ).