Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Pound Spices and Make a Salad for Dinner

You need to have had soaked some sort of lentils or pulses the night before. You need to have taken them out of the packet, poured into a bowl and added water. The next morning they will have become fat, drinking in all the water. So add good water, not tap. Keep the bowl covered till dinner time. The pulses may or not may sprout a tiny bit.

Say half an hour before you think you want to eat dinner, add some water into the bowl and put it in the pressure cooker. Put in some asafetida powder. While that is being cooked, while the water is running for your bath in the bathroom, while you are finishing a phone call, you also ought to be chopping salad onions. Something about women being good multi-taskers. Or some theory like that. Salad onions are smaller than regular onions. Mother gave you a bunch last time. They don’t make you cry as much as the other onions. So you like them. You don’t also mind chopping a whole lot of them. Also, bunched up and hung from a nail, they look good and very…oh well something…on your kitchen wall.

You have another excuse to use your small new white marble mortar and tiny pestle. It is not entirely white. There are lines that look like cinnamon and cloves bits bled into its veins and spread their tentacles all over. It is not perfect. That was what you were looking for, character. Perfection never ought to be something to aspire for. So you get to use this again to make tonight’s dinner.

Peel some big fat pods of garlic. Cut a few rings of fresh ginger. Take a small handful of whole black pepper, then decide that is too much, put some back in the pretty little glass bottle of which you have a set of six. Add the pepper in. Decide against adding cardamom, despite how much you crave for the heady smell of cardamom to permeate through the layers of skin on your fingers when after you have peeled them. Cinnamon sticks, the real cinnamon sticks you brought back from a trip to the North East, you don’t add those either. For no special reason. You have decided not to use store bought garlic and ginger paste and powdered pepper any longer, as far as possible. Your fingers might be a little sticky from peeling the garlic. Before you wash your hand in the trickle of cold water under the old plastic tap, bring them up to your nose and breathe in the warm scent of Indian kitchens you have eaten in and of pasta sauce made in Italian villages you have read about. Wash.

The garlic, pepper and rings of ginger with the peel on them, because you like them on, are in the small mortar. Take the pestle and start pounding. Careful with the pepper. Those fellows are tricky and one or two will attempt to fly under places you can’t reach to bring them back. You will have to stop after a bit, the garlic pods will be flattened by now, but conniving with the ginger rings they will have slipped to the edges of the mortar. A few pepper pieces will have escaped the pounding. You have to bring them together at the centre.  Start pounding again.

Slowly the garlic gives up the fight first and wrings out from itself a warm breathe of scent that smells like a wintery Saturday afternoon when you would be back from half a day at school and mother would surprise you with steaming hot biryani. Next the ginger bleeds out a wisp of juice. You do not give up on the pepper till each bursts into differently sized smithereens. They smell harsh, sharp, angry, echoing the thuds you made when you pounded them. The three allow themselves to become a mash of smells and textures. By themselves, they are each heady. Together, they intoxicate.

By now the pulses are cooked and you will have taken the bowl out from the cooker. You now have got to scoop the pounded spices out from the mortar and add them to the pulses. Just that brief moment is enough for those smells to leave their trace firmly upon your fingertips. The smell of those fingertips will colour someone’s new memory perhaps. Then you add the chopped salad onions, the ones that didn’t make you cry. Then you take the bottle of turmeric powder and shake some out. You like a lot of turmeric in your food, not just for its colour. Then some salt. Then you mix with a shiny big steel spoon. That’s done.

Now you take down a ceramic bowl in cream and blue and serve some pulses into it, along with the stock it boiled in. That is because the water has all the nutrients now. Squeeze in the juice of one tiny bit of lemon. Then you add three to four dollops of good curd, because you like curd, you love curd. Then you step out of your front door and pick out a few leaves of mint, fresh from the pot. That is your favourite part, picking out fresh ingredients. You wash and add the mint leaves and stir it all one more time.

Dinner’s ready.

You can now sit down to eat with the new author you have discovered earlier in the evening.

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