THE TREE OF LIFE

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A coconut tree is once such tree where each and every part of the tree is useful.

The roots were used to make dyes, tooth brush, mouthwash and it also has medicinal values.

The leaves are used to make thatched roofs. Also used in making containers for storage. We store rice

The coconut water, we all love to drink. The thick, crisp, inner flesh of the mature seed is a regular ingredient in a diet for people in the tropics and subtropics.And from the same flesh of the mature seed oil is extracted, which is used for cooking and frying. Coconut milk is also made from the same, which is used to flavor different curries.

The coir from the fibrous husk is used in making a variety of furnishing products.

The coconut also has a religious and cultural significance in certain societies particularly in India

On this note I want to share some memories of a trip that I took to my village.

The part of India that I hail from Karawar in Karnataka is rich and luscious with coconut trees. Whenever I visit my maternal ancestral home the first thing that is served is fresh coconut water.

I went to Aversa a village  few kilometers away from Karwar where my ancestral home is in the rains. It was a trip that was planned on the spur of the moment. At 8:00 am in the morning I got a call from my uncle Balu kaka, saying I should attend the Nopi festival, which was a day away. So by 9:00 am I packed my bag and headed to the airport. Surprisingly I managed to get a ticket for the next flight and landed in Goa at 1:30 pm.

Found a local taxi that would take me straight to Aversa. It was a beautiful mesmerizing two, hour drive. Driving through the small winding roads and passing through quaint villages was so nostalgic. Finally reached Aversa and on seeing my entire family the fatigued of the travel just vanished.

As always Balu Kaka (uncle) went and plucked a coconut and served me fresh coconut water while the rest of the family was surprised to see me. Balu kaka and I decided to make it a surprise after her had convinced me to come. My parent, cousins, aunts and uncles were really happy that I came.

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The evening was spent well with family, we went for a long walk to our fields nearby and then returned home to see a sumptuous spread that my aunts and mum had made of fried fish, batatya talasni (sauté potatoes), dalitoi (dal made with ginger and chilles and laced with coconut oil) and rice. Nothing to beat a simple home cooked meal.

The next morning was even more fun. We all cousins had left for a town called Ankola at 6:00 am to buy the vegetables, coconuts, fruits and the rest of the ingredients that were going to be needed for the pooja the next day, where after the pooja the entire village is given a feast and so we had to go to the town to procure all the goods. All the ingredients and us cousins were loaded on a small truck back to Aversa, where the truck driver dropped us off to the village temple. The bumpy ride back home was fun but our bones were creaking too at some point.

My uncle who was the chef and in charge sorted the vegetables, fruits, flowers and over 100 coconuts and kept in their respective places. He was going through his lists and checking the stock and scribbling on small chits of papers assigning jobs for the prep.

After a while it was announced that I will be chopping vegetables along with other ladies of the village and then if time permits and my job done, I was also instructed that I would have to assist in making the garlands for the gods. These are anyways a few of my favorite jobs to do.

The menu for the next days lunch was a very elaborate and a traditional one of gajbajya randoi (a vegetable curry using gourds), muga molya randoi (sprouted mung curry), bhendi ghosalya upkari (okra and ridge gourd vegetable), dalitoi, rice, ambaya nonche (hog plum pickle), payasam (Kheera), kesar bhaat (saffron and sugar rice). The number of people eating would be 600, so one can imagine the kilos of vegetables to be chopped and the number of coconuts to be scraped, sounds tough but I was sure it would be fun.

In the afternoon after we returned home, the rest at home were relaxing in the courtyard sipping wine and vodkas and relishing freshly fried crisp mackerel that Balu kaka was frying and having a gala time. We joined in as well and had a wonderful afternoon where lunch went on till 4 pm till we finally one by one crashed in our beds for an afternoon siesta.

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After a cup of hot tea in the evening at around 7:00 pm we all assembled in the temple courtyard where the vegetables were washed and kept. We were 8 women who were on the job of chopping vegetables. As we were about to start one of them started singing hymns and the rest followed. I don’t know how to speak kanada very well so I was a silent observer enjoying it completely. By about 10:00 pm all the veggies were chopped and the coconuts were scraped and everything was neatly kept in a small room and locked.

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The next morning my uncle Gundu who was the chef woke up at 4:00 am and after a cold water bath at the well and headed to the temple kitchen with his team. So for this festival the cooking is done only by the males of the family, while the women get dressed in their fineries and head to the temple for the pooja.

So I along with the rest of the ladies at home, got ready in my fineries and went off to the temple and sat down to make the garlands.

The next few hours were just totally divine and mesmerizing. The melodious sounds of the mantras, the fragrance of the flowers, camphor and the incense sticks and the rain had simply put me in trance.

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By the time the pooja was over it was 1:30 pm and all the villager were queued up with their little offering of flowers, bananas and coconuts. After which they all moved to a hall where the food was going to be served. I too went along with my family, but to serve the lunch that was cooked by my uncle.

It was a long hall with a smooth slurry flooring where the banana leaves were placed in rows. One by one all the villagers sat down and washed their banana leaves with the water that was served for drinking. After that we all started to serve. First the pickles and salt was served followed by the dry vegetables and then the curries. Finally the rice and dal was served. After the priest finished saying some mantras aloud the people started eating. The system of serving was so well organized that I just didn’t imagine we had serve more than 600 people that afternoon. At the end my family and I sat and relished the meal to our hearts content.

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I returned home really tired but totally satisfied. This was indeed one of the best trips ever for me.

CLITTER CLATTER OF PETER’S PANS AND POTS

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You are hungry and are sitting at the dinning table and a very hot earthern pot appears. The lid is removed and the steam rushes out. The room is filled with a mouth watering aroma.

The serving spoon showcase the tender meat and vegetables sitting in the still bubbling sauce

Isn’t that satisfying……

When I was a child Aai (my mother) would very often cook in one clay pot of hers that she had inherited from her mother.

Her favorite was the stew. She would simply dunk all the ingredients in her pot and cook them on a simmering flame for a few hours and then would serve us a delicious meal of stew and appams.

Just after I got married and I was in that phase to impress my new family with my culinary skills, I thought Aai’s recipe of stew would be just the perfect thing.

I quickly got down to making the stew. Followed the recipe to the “t”.

Once it was done and I took a spoonful of it to taste the aroma was just not the same. There was something missing after I tasted it.

Well the stew was very well appreciated and I gave a huge sigh of relief. But I was not satisfied.

Discussion time with mom was a must the next morning. Where she convinced me that cooking in the clay pot would make all the difference.

Till then I had never felt the need to ask her the reason for doing so but the person that she is explanation is a must. She informed me that a clay pot is porous so cooking in it on a slow flame allows the heat and moisture to circulate evenly and the meats and veggies to cook in their own juices and so the flavors and aroma gets trapped too.

Clay is alkaline so it will interact with the acidity in the food and neutralize the pH balance. Something that is naturally very acidic like a tomato sauce will take on some natural sweetness when cooked in a clay pot

She also suggested that the clay pots could be used as serving bowls, which would be absolutely authentic and stunning.

The following weekend she planned an outing to Kumbhar Wada and she gifted me a clay pot. Greedy that I am when it comes to, food, crockery and cutlery I demanded more from her.

After a few days I surprised my family cooking the same recipe of stew again and the difference was tasted by all.

Mission accomplished!!!!

But I never stopped at the stew, tried many more recipes in my very own clay pot of which the recipes I must share with you. I’m sure you will enjoy cooking them and relish them too

IMPORTANT NOTE:

This needs to be done one time before 1stuse

Rinse the pot / pan thoroughly in water and let it sit in water for 10 minutes

Take 3 tbsp of rice or wheat flour and add I cup of water and make a paste. Add 1 tbsp cooking oil and a pinch of turmeric. Fill the pot with water and add this paste and cook for 7 minutes on a low flame. Then cook with the lid on till it thickens to a broth. Remove from fire and keep it over night. Next morning throw away the broth rinse the pot and VOILA!! Its ready to be used.

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Masali ambat (fish curry)

INGREDIENTS:

7-8 pieces of Rawas or surmai or pomfret

1 medium onion finely chopped

1” ginger finely chopped

½ fresh coconut grated

1 tbsp dry coriander seeds

10-12 dry bedgi red chillies

¾ tsp haldi powder

5-6 kokums

1 tbsp coconut oil

Salt to taste

METHOD:

  1. Wash and clean the fish
  2. Grind the coconut, coriander seeds, haldi powder and the chillies to a fine paste adding 1 cup of water.
  • Heat a deep bottom mud pot and add coconut oil. When the aroma of the coconut oil fills the air add the onion and the ginger and sauté till the onion is light pink and soft.
  1. Then add the ground coconut masala, 2 cups of water to make the gravy, add the salt and kokum and bring to a boil.
  2. After you boil the gravy check the salt, spice and the sour taste, once you adjust these flavors to your liking, add the fish and let it cook on slow flame for 10 min or till the fish is done.
  3. Always adjust the flavor of the curry before you add the fish as it becomes difficult to correct the flavor after the fish is added as the fish meat is delicate and the pieces might break.
  • This delicious reddish orange curry can be served to 4 people.

VERY IMPORTANT TIP: Please do not stir the curry once the fish has been added. The pieces of fish will break.