Kia ora from Auckland

I started drafting this post a day after I landed in Auckland and it has already been 3 weeks now and that includes a week away in Singapore for some exams – time flies when you are having fun but more so when you have a crazy life. Who knew I would say this about my life – a geeky teenager, a nerdy post teenager, mostly the kinds who attended every class and never wanted to get into any sort of trouble, someone whose every minute was taken care of by her parents, never having to dirty my hands with anything. How things change – I am proud of every minute of it, of how long I have come and yet how much of the old times still seem so beautiful. I feel like I can never pinpoint to one single episode that turned my life into the crazy plane ride it is. And the chain continues.

So back to Auckland. Well, the flights were booked in less than 12 hours and I brought my *long packed – waiting to travel* luggage with me. It was far from an unplanned trip and yet when it happened, it caught me by surprise and had me running all around the house. We had just celebrated Gokulashtami, our first one in the UK home and I had whipped up quite a fare (yes, am modest that way). And before I could feast on all those koDubaLes, nippaTs and barfis, I had to leave. Just like that. I had waited for 2 months and now when I had a plateful of good stuff, I had to travel to a place I had been wanting to.

Auckland has been a blur. I landed at a time when I most needed to be here for a deadline – just when that was done, I had to fly to Singapore for my pre-defence and just when I thought it was done, I had some unexpected work in Singapore and now am back in Auckland again. It is getting beautiful here with the winter transitioning into spring and cherry blossoms appearing on random corners and lining the streets making every walk a treat. I am happy.

This year has been a a year of 4 continents across both the hemispheres, all of 7 countries and counting, none of which were for leisure and yet turned out to have pockets of them. When you travel for long or travel a lot, you start learning to find time and make it a home, even if for a fortnight or 4 months. I have learnt a lot in this time, about myself and about how I have come to learn about myself through others. There are sides to me I dislike but have come to accept without being defensive. I have a long way to go but this year has been a start. I am not a very reflective person (most often just going with the flow and not being too serious about things that sometimes demand attention) sometimes so this side to me has been surprising, tiring and yet rewarding. When I made my first solo trip to Australia 4 years ago, I was thrilled – I loved it. I was super goofy, grinning ear-to-ear while stopping at cafes for a coffee and eating when hungry, sleeping when sleepy. And this year has been full of it – I do miss my family a lot but I have learnt to not let either of these emotions get in the way of the other. I have come to acknowledge and accept that things are where they are because I chose them to be so. And that sort of going back to why I brought myself here has helped me – to visualise the big picture, to give my best and never ever take anyone or anything for granted.

This year has seen me become a minimalist – NOT someone who possesses less stuff but one who holds on to those that mean a lot to her. There is no number on this – I let myself indulge in everything I think will make me happy and add value. Once it ceases to do so, I let it go – things, events, people. Memories, well, those are hard but then it works both ways. I have learnt to not harbour feelings that get me nowhere. I am learning to say no though I suck at it big time. I have come far. I have learnt to laugh at challenges and recollect all those instances when challenges seemed only big in my head.

Life has a funny way of giving you things you never thought you needed. 2018 is my most travelled year yet and not because of the number of places I visited but more because it has been a personal journey that spans far over the 4 continents across the 2 hemispheres and all of the 7 countries.

Haryana Dal Maharani – India through dal

Last year, I splurged on a new genre of books – books on food! Not just the ones that share a recipe but rather food memoirs. I absolutely adore stories of childhood that takes the reader through the food and memories around them, of mango trees climbed, that secret recipe for that kheer, that festive meal with loved ones, of favourites dishes at cousin’s place and bottled pickles that you hoarded back from a visit to grandma. I could go on. A dish means more when I know a story behind it, the person who made it or some memory associated with it. While food stories and food history has always been fascinating, I am now in a phase where I am really enjoying cooking and learning little tips and tricks from different people and creating my own memories and evoking a bit of my own childhood. This also helps me appreciate food outside and I feel inspired to come back and try to recreate a dish or add my own twist to it. And trust me, this is not who I was a few years ago. And I am loving this side to myself where I cook to evoke memories and to create some.

And that is why, I think it is time, time to start the dal series. I have been sharing a couple on my instagram already but I do want to document them here, ofcourse.  First on the list is this adaptation of Haryana Dal Maharani by Krishna Dutta. This is one of the books from my stash which is not really a food memoir but an account where the author talks of dal from different parts of India. This book has also been a big inspiration behind my series. There are definitely some overlaps between the regions but it is super interesting to see how dal as a dish has undergone so much influence and personalisation over the years and across India so much that, we are unaware of how many varieties of the humble toor or masoor dal are made everyday. This book may have just scratched the surface and I do plan to write about it in detail once I have tried a fair share of recipes so I will keep this short for now.

When I came across this recipe, I was quite tickled because I have not found any recipe on the internet that shares a recipe similar to this as a Haryanvi recipe. I decided to give it a go on one of the weekends. I did make a make a couple of minor twists to the original recipe. Even though the recipe uses exact proportions, I’d like to believe that cooking is  intuitive and one that really reflects what the cook fancies in that instant so I will keep the ingredient portions pretty open but rather just share the technique/ procedure.Feel free to tweak and play with it as your heart desires. After all, what is cooking if not impulsive?

Dal/ lentil type:  Toor dal, masoor dal (whole).

I used:

Toor dal + masoor dal (about 2 cups); ginger and garlic finely minced or pound (you can use a paste), tomatoes, onions, asafoetida/hing, chilli powder, turmeric powder, about 2 tbsp yoghurt mixed with a pinch of brown sugar/ jaggery (you can skip it if sweetness isn’t your thing), slit green and/or whole dried red chillies, cumin, butter/ghee and salt to taste.

I did:

  • Cooked the dal in a deep saucepan, removed the froth/ scum that rose to the surface.
  • Reduced the heat, covered and simmered until it cooked.
  • Meanwhile I melted some butter/ghee, spluttered cumin, sautéed half of minced ginger-garlic, a couple of slit green chillies, added onions and fried until light brown. I then added asafoetida and gave it a mix.
  • Added the rest of ginger-garlic mince and mixed for a minute.
  • Added tomatoes, chilli powder, turmeric powder and fried until aromatic.
  • Tipped the cooked lentils into this, mixed well and simmered for 8-10 minutes. Turned the stove off, added yoghurt blended with sugar/ just yoghurt and gave it a good whisk (I really just added a teeny pinch as we are not fond of sweetness in our otherwise savoury dishes). Garnish with sauteed chopped green chillies and a bit of garlic.

IMG_5559

We enjoyed this dal with  rice and some tortilla wraps and it paired well with both. I felt like the addition of the yoghurt with some sugar was something unique to this recipe and one that I had not done before. Also, I usually pressure cook the dal and to cook this in a saucepan and removing the froth was a first timer for me. I see so many explanations for this on the internet some of which look pretty dubious to me so I will refrain from adding my own explanation until I get some clear answer (please do share your thoughts if you know more about this). But it looks like it does not affect the taste much so pressure-cooking should be fine too.

Have you tried this version yet? Is there a different way of making a Haryanvi dal? I’d love to know. Isn’t it wonderful how your kitchen can take you places and bring to you some of those joys that you seek on your travels?

Lunch and a story at The Eagle, Cambridge

A week ago, we drove to Cambridge with a friend who was visiting us from Singapore. It was such a wonderful trip (more pictures and snippets on that soon). I want to quickly share a little accidental discovery that we realised later and the irony of it.

It was one of the hottest days in UK and after being toasted and roasted and crinkled from the sun (it is a thing here too, people), we decided to walk into a restaurant that catches our fancy; after all, our intuitions with food have been good in general. As we walked along Benet street, we came across “The Eagle” and we absolutely loved how dated it was and how much of a character it had. It is a traditional 16th century English pub with wooden flooring and just a very lovely rustic feel to it that I love.

They only have a couple of vegetarian options and I chose the mushroom ragout with pasta and a fantastic garlic bread to boot and some lentils. The meal was very good with the only shortcoming being the low spice and flavour in the lentils.

IMG_5200.JPG

So here is the juicy part – apparently, this was the place where Watson and Crick announced that they had discovered the “secret of life”. I was just reading more about this pub while posting it on my instagram and then saw that it has such a juicy piece of history. I do not know for sure how true this is, but isn’t it fantastic when something like this happens to you? To have been in the place where the discovery of DNA was talked about – the secret of life, indeed! To imagine the kind of curiosity, condescension, wonder and hesitation that may have greeted such news!

We all strive to become someone, to do something significant with our lives, to make a discovery, a change that touches one life or a few, that leaves us immortal, makes us proud and gives our short time here some greater meaning – and to have shared one such space for a brief moment albeit years later, is a happy reminder to prod on.