Come August and September, there is a chain of festivals that get triggered and that sets off a series of memories that transport me to a different world and era indeed.
I really really miss the smell of new clothes on festivals, dabbing some turmeric to something new before wearing it while your parents check and double (and triple) check on whether you have done it or not, what a celebration new clothes were because they signified a special day or event. Oh that hustle in a market that smelt of fresh jasmine and marigolds and kanakambri, camphor, agarbattis and banana leaves that heralded a festival! Or when it inevitably rained on your day out but nothing mattered, not even the fact that you parked roads and roads away from the shopping street because you could look at all the new dresses on display, the happy smiles on people out for shopping, wondering what their shopping bags contained. And finally that moment when you found something you liked and your parents remarked it looks good on you, the pride with which you watch your parents pay for it and clutch it tight all the way home only to do a dress rehearsal again. I do feel happy when I buy something new, but these shopping trips that happened before festivals and birthdays, occasionally will always remind me of gentler lighter times, of unbearable happiness and rich pride. So when I do wear something ethnic especially on a festive day, it takes me to those times even if it is for a brief moment and I feel ridiculously happy to have those memories to relive until we recreate them again, someday soon.
Being exposed to Odia cuisine through K opened up a new world of ingredients and methods to me. There were vegetables I didn’t know of, spices and pastes I had never tried, methods especially the diaspora of steamed dishes I took to really happily. It was also the first time I tasted and slowly developed an appreciation for mustard oil in cooking.
One ingredient that fascinated me most and still does is the use of pumpkin flowers/ blossoms. I now know that squash flowers are used in different cuisines but somehow the prospect of making a savoury snack with a flower and such a wonderful simple dish at that quite blew me away. I eat these fritters made with pumpkin blossoms called khakharu phula bhaja, every time I visit K’s place in Bhubaneswar. But this time, looking at all the zucchini blossoms I wanted to have a go at making it. We have a lot of squash blossoms coming up too and I must tell you that the success and ease of making them will only see us trying more.
On seeing the burgeoning blossoms on our row of zucchini plants, one of our friends who was visiting us commented how Italians make fritters from them. Off-late, I have also seen it being used in salads and pastas. It is amazing how flowers have found their way to our dining tables and feature in such an array of dishes and share similarities across continents.
One of my key hesitations with picking these flowers was if they would be interfering with the pollination and affect the plant’s productivity itself. After all, I was looking forward to pulling the zucchinis off with gay abandon. And then I did some reading and realised that the male flowers are produced in much higher numbers than needed so plucking a few should be okay. This was really all I needed and you know the rest of the story. I am so glad I made these because I love them – the batter coating that turns so crispy and the subtle flower encased in it as you blow your way through eating it hot off the pan. The joy of fried food is never lost on me, I really enjoy it – especially when I am frying them at home, when there is the goodness of all that fat without it being excessively drippy to the point of churning your stomach. I eat them to my heart’s and stomach’s content but I am quite particular that it is fried in good oil, and not re-fried if I can avoid it.
Here is how I made it (I have some videos of the process of this up on my Instagram):
Zucchini blossoms – say 6. Rice flour – About 3 table spoons (depends if you want to have a thick batter coating, I like mine just coated and not too much. If you like a dense coating, increase the flour keeping a 3:1 ratio of rice to chickpea flour) Chickpea flour – About 1 tablespoon Red chilli powder – 1 tsp/ to preference Cumin powder – 1 tsp Turmeric – a pinch Salt – to taste Neutral oil like sunflower to shallow fry – I use a spoon of oil for each blossom.
1. Clean the blossoms in water. Gently pat them dry with a paper towel. 2. Make a slurry of rice flour, chickpea flour, chilli powder, cumin powder, turmeric and salt. This should not be too thick or too runny. You want a consistency that you can immerse the flower in and when you take it out to fry, it should hold the batter. If you want a thick batter coating, make the slurry thicker so it hangs on to the blossom. 3. Take a small pan, bring to heat and add a table spoon of oil and bring to heat 4. Dip the zucchini blossom in the slurry (from 2) and fry it in the pan, flipping it and making sure it is done all through. I added some slurry as mine was thin. The extra slurry I added took the shape of the pan and cooked to a nice golden crisp around the edges. 5. That’s it really.
We enjoyed ours with some zucchini pasta 🙂
Some other ideas to try: You can add garlic paste to the slurry. I don’t do it. You can add finely chopped green chillies or make a paste of green chillies and garlic and add it to the slurry too. That would taste really nice and as I type this, I am tempted to try it myself. You could make this with blossoms of pumpkins, zucchinis and quite a few squashes. I have only had pumpkin and zucchini ones.
I did not eat a Bombay sandwich when I was in Bombay years ago. Is it just called a sandwich there? (laughs at own “joke”). I am not surprised though – I have not eaten a lot of *obviously-you-should-have-tried-that-when-you-were-at-X* dishes. I took my time appreciating regional cuisines and food in general. Now, it is the top web search I run when we travel. Travel? Okay, I hear you laugh – it has been a while since we travelled, but you know what I mean.
Having eaten this first time last year, I have often asked myself “How could I have not made a Bombay sandwich before?” I think it is my general disdain towards potatoes on most days (except in fries, of course). Now I have a deep love for bread in all its variety and it forms part of at least one meal almost everyday. Use white or brown, wholemeal or seeded, but do make this. Add beets if you fancy, or don’t, but make this. Make it yours.
This is K’s recipe and my execution and even though I assume you don’t need another recipe for a sandwich, I will go ahead and tell you anyway because I really liked it.
All you need to do:
Take a slice of bread with the crust/ borders removed (keep them aside to make crumbs or fry them and use in soups)
Make a chutney of corriander- mint – green chillies- tamarind – black salt
Slather a nice layer of that coriander mint chutney on one side of each bread slice.
Delicately layer some boiled and sliced potatoes, slices of tomato, onion + sprinkle a bit of black salt + a slice of cheese if you like and cover with another slice of bread with chutney on the inside.
Now slather (there is a lot of slathering, I know) the top of the bread slice with butter and heat some butter on a pan and toast this to a nice golden with butter on both sides.
I can understand if you feel an uncontrollable urge to eat this right off the pan, hot, gooey and fragrant. In fact, I would highly recommend you to. Unbeknownst to you, it may be just what you need.
Normalcy or normality is anything but that. It is truly something that I most strongly enjoy, crave for and pray for. Perfectly normal, routine days made of exceptionally special mundane acts. It is what I miss most when something abrupt strikes. It is what I am most nostalgic about. Sure, that thrilling day trip on that vacation 4 years ago is a grand memory to revisit and maybe even long for once in a while. But most often what my heart truly wants is all those everyday acts I do and did, that I no longer can. In these moments, I have found my way of making life feel grand. It is a tricky circle of realization – being or the fear of being deprived of something or someone tells you exactly what you love most. And a seemingly ordinary today is the grand memory trip of a further tomorrow.