I was watching a documentary on L’ecole des chefs on ‘Des Racines et des ail’ on TF3 when I had this idea: The idea of keeping an electronic or manual (plain paper and ink journal) “Cooking and Living in France”.
Though the idea of keeping a journal on this topic is a brand new one, it has its roots in something which I had first thought about a while back: to try a new recipe each week, instead of the unbridled, roaring passion leading me to a new recipe, often two everyday, with good, bad and ugly results and frightening A, in the process. Really concentrate on one new recipe per week, using new ingredients, spices, planning for it, taking into account my logistical limitations – no pressure cooker, 2 electric plaques which are rarely used simultaneously because only a very tiny pan can fit onto the 2nd one should I be using the first plaque.
Obviously my scribbling about my simplistic cooking experiments, failures and success are meant only for those who knew me from before:- me in my pre-France, pre-marriage days: Tomboy, well actually “Mahila Mastaan” – (thankyou Jayanta), office person, with nil idea of kitchen / cooking and who went along with the idea propagated by others : Cooking and S? Ha! Ha!
My classic quotes:
“Too many cooks spoil the broth” : ma, K and R being the cooks.
“dorkar naa porley, I never do anything”
And the most silliest of them all, one that comes back to haunt me, not at being proven false but at the sheer silliness of it. How could I have been so urgh : “Porashuno koraychi khunti narbar jonno naki?”.
And all the things I told A before our marriage and not only to him, to the wives of his friends how I hated cooking. I made a virtue of not knowing my hatas from my khuntis. Eeeeks. I am embarrassed. Whatever must they have thought about me…
Infact, the very idea was such an impossibility that even now, my friends who see or learn about my culinary skills can’t believe it. Infact the feeling I get is that they don’t like it:
Swati - "Tui kemon hoye gechis. I will call you domestic bliss".
Shaikat – "Shunlam you have become a boudi"?
Shane – "Heard you have become a BaWdi"?
My cooking inability is well known among relatives. Mama would usually introduce us to his friends as: My two nieces. One cooks and the other eats. The only exception being Mamima who for a very long time sighed about not being able to taste the German spice cake I had once baked which mama tasted. This was one of the rare things I cooked and usually it turned out pretty well. I loved it and had ¾ of it(and was constipated for the whole week). Baba would have a slice – always a staunch supporter of my culinary efforts and Rupa would have the rest. Ma claimed she did not like the cinnamon flavoured sugar I used to dust the cake. This time however, it flopped. Wasn’t inedible but it was far from a German spice cake. More like a Jatin Bagchi Road Cake (where we were staying during this baking session). Mama had popped in that morning and tried a slice.
Anyhow, the point is that only they will understand my experiments with the kitchen, the house and domesticity in general and marvel about my transition. My ecstacy at discovering a good de-greaser for the electric range, my delight (a bit confused that) at finding shooji ( 3 or 4 varieties infact) and my tears of joy at finding paneer in a French supermarket!!
I tried two new things today, which I will not take into account. I made shuji kaa halwa and kanchkola and aloo’r chop, both in the evening instead of preparing a straightforward dinner. [This prompted A to raise an eyebrow and ask : Eto kichu? I replied “Kanch Kola kharap hoye jabey boley”].
So, then the recipe of the week 24 – 30 November will be Beans in Olive Oil. It’s a Turkish recipe, I got from this really nice site. The recipes are interesting, not too difficult and are explained well.
(By beans I mean one can use what we in India call French beans and here are known as mangetout or the really thin green beans called haricot fin).
This one calls for beans to be used in 2 different ways in the same dish! Half of them kept whole and the other half, divided into 3 pieces each. All arranged around a central tomato in a pan, sprinkled with garlic and salt and sugar and topped by thin slices of onions and tomatoes, hot water and Olive oil and cooked covered till done!
The methodology of using hot water and oil is very similar to the recipe for begun from Iran “Mollah gash kardeh or swooned priest”. The priest swoons on tasting this dish – so good it is!! [This one calls for layers of begun, onion and tomatoes with salt, pepper and coriander minced sprinkled in between the layers].
This is not my first bean recipe however. My staple bean recipe is one of my own (YES!!). Mustard and methi phoron, thinly sliced onions and beans stirred over high heat and then sprinkled with couple of teaspoons of this amazing southindian curry powder (I have picked up from the Indian store at Gard Du Nord), tomato, amchoor powder, salt and sugar, a little bit of water and then covered and cooked till done. Just before it’s nearly done, I grab a bunch of dhania pata and cut it using my scissors, very closely so that they patas are chopped really fine, all over the beans in the pan. Cover and keep for a few minutes more and viola! The beans should be soft. Dhania is added in the pen-ultimate stage to avoid overcooking and to preserve the delicate typical flavour of dhania. The beans when cooked take an olive green hue.
The 1st time I made it, I ate it hot, right off the plaque with dal and bhat. It tasted so good to me – I nearly wept!! I kept asking A to try some which he wouldn’t since he prefers his food cool if not cold. This I thought was a pity since it doesn’t taste the same when cool.
I remember shooting off an email to R about my fantastic beans…and she must have thought: So what’s the big deal?? Its only Beans. True its only beans, but its more than that. It’s the soft beans with their own flavour combined with the flavour of the dhoney pata and the slight bite of the dried red chillie I used in the phoron and most of all…the fact that I made it with my own two hands, all by myself so far away from ma or K or R (the usual people around whom I dared to venture into the kitchen)!! Such a perfect torkari!!
So then, this recipe has served me well. But the same thing can get tiresome (diminishing returns to scale from a long forgotton eco class) especially since A says that the grocers at our mardi marché (et samedi marché aussi) refuse to sell anything less than un demi-kilo! This is a bit too much for the two of us. Un peu trop. And despite my various safeguards, a whitish fungus develops if left unused after 3 days or so. (Once in the early days ie..last year…how raw a cook I was back then….we both were very ill one night after having (I suspect) fungus sprayed beans). THIS REMINDS ME OF ANOTHER STORY…ONE I SHALL LEAVE FOR THE END.
Luckily, I found another do-able recipe for beans – a southindian one: Bean thoran which turned out pretty well on the first try itself and was greatly appreciated by both of us (gives you an idea how much over used my old recipe was). But thereafter, somehow, I haven’t managed to get it 100% correct and it has surfaced (despite his liking the beans thoran the first time), that A doesn’t care for coconuts – an integral part of Beans thoran or any thoran for that matter!! Infact he doesn’t like it all except in chingri macher malai curry – the only type of prawns I can cook reasonably well. Well actually I do have another recipe – one I tried with disastrous results in the early days of our marriage and my cooking in 36 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, Paris V. (But my experiments with the garlic prawns, a recipe by Rupa the great, I will leave for another episode).
And so onto another recipe - My third one. Beans in Olive Oil. I got it on the Turgut Homestead site – each page has a border of bright floral (Turkish I presume) patterns in bright colours blue, red, yellow.
A relief really not only because a new recipe is refreshing but more importantly since this mardi dernière, j’ai acheté un kilo de haricot fin pour 2E50/kilo. The vendeur was infact forcing down 2kilos (at a bargain at 4E). This gave me an opportunity (Yipppeeeee) to make some small talk and thereby practice my French. [I am forever looking out for such chances and mostly my courage fails me at the last minute and I donot make small talk or squeak out a bonjour at best. Not this time however!]
‘2 kilos? C’est un peu trop pour nous. Parçe que on est juste deux, chez nous’.
Although I sort of murmered it, the vendor heard it and clucked
‘juste deux ?! Bon, peut être les endives? Non?
I have no idea what to do with these pale cream veggies with yellow tips which look like giant flower buds.
So, its Turkish beans in Olive Oil tomorrow.
Turkey happens to be the flavour of the week. Am reading Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red (a coincidence). I had first learnt about it on some one’s top 10 lists on the guardian website. I happened to come across it on the New Fiction shelves in the American Library in Paris. Of the 93 pages I have read – it’s everything the reviewers and critics have said it is.
And now, to end: THE OTHER STORY
I was addicted to roasted (senka) papod with dal and bhat, in Calcutta. And despite my pretty regular habits, ma would often wait for me to sit at the lunch or dinner table and then yell “papod” before giving me one. And ofcourse she frequently forgot to replenish her stock.
One day she served me with papod which I thought tasted funny. I asked her about it but she didn’t reply. Buy the funny tasting papods were served the next day and the day after as well. On close questioning, ma gave a guilty sort of a giggle. I ran to the side board where the papods are usually kept in the top drawer and found to my horror the entire set of them were covered with this whitish powder – FUNGUS. Ma was brushing it off with her hands and then smoking it over fire – her justification – the fire would take care of it.
I was indignant with a capital I. I was speechless with mixed emotions of anger, amazement and fear and incredulity at ma!! But she [as she is wont to, gave me her ‘oof ki baara baari’ look]. I wanted to fall ill just to prove a point, but ofcourse I didn’t. But nevertheless, what ma feeds her 1st born fungus papod? Mine did!!
Glossary french words:l’ecole des chefs - School for chefs
‘Des Racines et des ail' – The Roots and the wings
mardi marché (et samedi marché aussi – Tuesday market (haat) and Saturday market
demi-kilo – Half a kilo
Un peu trop – A bit too much
mardi dernière, j’ai acheté un kilo de haricot fin pour 2E50/kilo – Last Tuesday I bought one kilo of beans.
‘2 kilos? C’est un peu trop pour nous. Parçe que on est juste deux, chez nous’. – 2 Kilos ? Thats a bit too much for us since we are just two, at home.
‘juste deux ?! Bon, peut être les endives? Non? – Just two? Well then the endives?
‘Concombre’? - cucumber
‘Pas aujourd’hui’. – Not today.
Glossary bengali words
Mahila Mastaan – Lady Thug
dorkar naa porley - If not required
Porashuno koraychi khunti narbar jonno naki? - Did I study only to stir the ladles?
Hatas, khuntis – two types of ladles
Boudi – literally brother’s wife, here it means homely.
Shunlam U have become a boudi – Heard you have become a hausfrau.
tui kemon hoye gechis – You have become a bit strange
shooji – semolina, semoule
paneer – cottage cheese
kanchkola and aloo’r chop – green bananas and potato cutlet
Eto kichu – so many
Kanch Kola kharap hoye jabey boley. – the bananas will spoil
dhania pata – coriander leaves
methi - fenugreek
phoron – tempering with spices
papod - poppadums
dal and bhat - lentil curry and rice