I will always remember the magic of Sunday mornings in our little cottage by the tracks in suburban Mumbai, in the early seventies. Achhan, a railway employee who had a touring job, worked for the Indian Railways but he made sure he was home on Saturday night so that he got to spend time with his family-wife and four children.
He was our Atticus Finch, a serious, well- read man who inculcated a great love for books and for truth and fairness in his children but equally, he was also a fun-loving human with a great love for good food.
On Sunday mornings, when amma was tired from a week of single parenting, he would enter the kitchen with his children in tow and rustle up a meal that has me salivating five decades later.
The food was simple, healthy and absolutely a feast for us: freshly laid eggs picked from the chicken coop in our garden, washed and cracked open onto a hot tawa. I can still hear the hiss of the egg whites hitting the greased tawa and see the sunny yolk, runny at first but firming up into a brilliant, happy orb. A sprinkle salt and pepper over it, a blob of freshly churned butter and our Sunday was made. A sunny side up has never tasted as good as it did back then. Maybe it is just the love he garnished it with.
Then there was the other Sunday treat: bread slices soaked in sweetened milk, sprinkled with some more sugar and left on a hot tawa till both sides caramelized into a beautiful golden brown. I remember scraping off the burnt bits off the tawa till the last crumb was devoured.
I prepare this sometimes for my daughter when she visits and the delight on her face reminds us of the four of us siblings waiting for achchan to prepare this treat for us.
Acchan’s (C.Radhakrishnan) recipe for sweetened, caramelized toast
Take a large cup of sweetened milk and pour it on a flat plate. Gently places a few slices of bread on the milk till it absorbs the milk. Gently squeeze the slices on the palms of your hand and place on a hot tawa. Acchan would sprinkle some more sugar on the slices and with a spatula he would turn the slices over so that the sugar would caramelize and turn the slices almost brown.
Carefully take out the slices and serve with some fresh malai skimmed from the top of the milk at home.
Vidya Balan’s memories of appa and his signature pazham norukku
Actor Vidya Balan talks about the pull of the childhood treats that her father, P.R.Balan, would pamper his two daughters with.
“Everybody in our family has a sweet tooth and this inevitably meant that when we wanted to celebrate anything special at home, the first thing we thought of was the dessert we would have. On a Sunday that amma did not make her trade mark Vella Payar, (a red beans based dessert), appa would step in with his signature pazham norukku, steamed yellow Kerala bananas cooked in jaggery syrup, a dish with which he could have my sister and I eating out of his hands. Appa recently went to the United States to visit his nephews and was most thrilled when he prepared this dish for them and had everyone licking their fingers in delight.
“I am no cook and knew nothing more than making a cup of coffee but when the girls grew up with a sweet tooth I experimented with the typical Kerala banana and jaggery and ended up making a dessert that they love to this day,” says Balan, amused that his simple experimental dessert is still a favorite with his daughters, decades later.
Adds Vidya, “Palakkad Iyers have a weakness for everything ‘puli’ or tart and for vellam or jaggery. We use jaggery in everything from Kozhikattai-steamed rice balls filled with a mixture of jaggery and grated coconut- payasam and avil or sweetened beaten rice. I remember, back in my childhood, when there was nothing sweet to eat after lunch, appa would break a coconut and we would enjoy having it sliced with bits of jaggery.”
Balan’s recipe for Nendra-pazha Norukku
In a pan/kadhai add three measures of water and heat on the gas. This should suffice for 3 normal-sized Kerala Nendra Pazhams.
Now add one measure of jaggery chopped into tiny pieces and add to the water. You can adjust the proportion of jaggery depending on how sweet you want your dessert to be.
Now cut banana into 2- inch roundels and add to the water and jaggery in the pan. Though some people prefer to cook the bananas along with the skin, I prefer to discard the skin before making the Norukku.
Let the mixture boil in the pan till well cooked and the banana absorbs all the jaggery syrup. While most people add ghee generously to the mixture towards the end, I prefer to cook it without ghee to retain the intense flavour of the banana. To check if the bananas are cooked well, simply press with the ladle and ensure it is soft.
The Nendra-pazha Norukku is ready to serve.
Sandip Soparrkar’s dad & son specials
Award-winning choreographer Sandip Soparrkar has some of the biggest names of Bollywood dancing to his tunes but when it comes to his son, the doting father finds himself making some deft moves of a different kind – in the kitchen.
Sandip, a hands- on father who raised his son by himself, remembers the initial years when he would sit his little boy on a high chair in the kitchen while he cooked meals for the two of them. His degree in hotel management helped ensure the toddler got nutritious and interesting things to eat.
Fifteen years later, Soparrkar still cooks for his teenager but now it their bonding time together with his son too joining in their culinary adventures. “I have prepared everything from dosas, idlis, appams to exotic Latin American dishes for him but now that he has newly discovered gymming, he wants to eat steamed fish, oil-free chicken and protein rich foods. Holidays he cooks for me and he makes the best brownies I have eaten. But he still waits for me to make something special for our days together and this includes some innovative salads that I toss up for him. But his eternal favorites are the mutton dishes that I cook.”
Soparrkar’s recipes for Caldereta de Cordero or Lamb Stew
I had learnt this during my hotel management days and is one of my favourite international lamb dishes, originating in Spain and eaten in Portugal as well, but at home I make it less spicy.
· 1 kg of lamb meat in chunks
· 4 medium potatoes
· 4 cloves of garlic
· 1 red pepper
· 1 green pepper
· 2 carrots
· 1 onion
· 200 gm of crushed tomato
· 250 ml of white wine
· 1 sprig of thyme
· 1 sprig of rosemary
· ½ teaspoon of ground cumin
· 2 bay leaves
· 1 chilli
· 1 teaspoon paprika
· Extra virgin olive oil
· Water, salt and pepper
For the Majado
· 2 slices of bread
· 1 handful of almonds
· 4 chicken livers
· 1 dried pepper
· 1 chilli pepper
To prepare the Majado add a splash of oil to a large casserole dish. Add the slices of bread and the almonds. Fry until golden brown, remove and set aside. Add the garlic, the dried pepper and the chicken livers. Fry everything very well and remove when ready.
Now put all the ingredients in a blender with a little water to make it easier to blend to a smooth consistency and set aside.
In the same casserole add a little more oil if necessary. Once hot over medium-high heat, add the lamb and fry it well all over. When well browned, add all the chopped vegetables (peppers, onion, carrots and the crushed tomato). Leave to fry with the lamb for at least 20 minutes.
Then add the paprika just a few seconds before pouring the wine into the casserole and enough water to cover the meat. Add the chilli, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and cumin to give an intense flavour to the stew.
Lower the heat to medium and finally add the Majado. Add a little salt and pepper and leave to cook slowly for at least 2 hours (or cook it in the pressure cooker till it’s done). 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces.
Your dish is ready to be relished.
All images courtesy the respective interviewees