Living abroad is a bit like being suspended in air. Between latitudes and longitudes; time-zoning in and out. There are more than one place you call home, and you float somewhere in between. And most days, it’s not a bad place to be in: afloat above. It gives you a bird’s-eye view of things. Clears a few things up. Gives you a little big thing called perspective.
The birds left England a while back. Most of them, anyway. I wonder about the ones twittering outside my window now. Their nests look a little sad against the grey winter sky, stuck in the forks of bare branches. Black twiggy blobs, like upside-down porcupines. Maybe, they haven’t left because this is all they know. Or maybe, they’ve flown in from Russia, and England’s winter feels like summer. It’s always about perspective. Everything constantly changes definition; what’s foreign to one is home to another.
We’re flying next week. We’re flying to 20°C, and to trees with leaves, and to bare-brown arms and hatless heads. It’s all good; we’re flying home.
I promise to bring back pictures, so meet me here in three weeks. It’ll feel strange, though, taking photographs of Calcutta – I’ve never seen it through a lens. Never thought of it as something to be photographed. And if I didn’t have this space, and all of you, I wouldn’t have taken the camera out. I wouldn’t have gotten a different perspective.
Nor would I have thought of sharing the recipe I’ve shared today. Dal-er bora is food from back home; so familiar that photography doesn’t come to mind. They’re fried lentil balls, which are eaten on their own, or soaked in a light, spiced gravy (jhol). It tastes like home to me, but it might be wonderfully exotic and new to you.
Perspective, then. A beautiful thing.
Dal-er Bora, or fried balls of lentils
For the Dal-er Bora:
2 cups yellow lentils, or red (moong dal or masoor dal)
1 inch ginger, roughly sliced
2 green chillies
A bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Oil for frying
Soak the lentils overnight in cold water. Discard the water, and put lentils into a mixer/blender along with the ginger and green chillies. Blitz.
Add salt to the mix, and half of the chopped coriander.
Heat oil in a deep pan. Lower the heat to medium when it’s hot.
Make little, balls between your fingers, and drop them into the hot oil. Fry till golden brown, and transfer onto a sheet of kitchen paper.
Enjoy half of the Dal-er Bora, or fried lentil balls, on its own. And keep half of them aside for the gravy, which only takes a few minutes to make.
If you’d like some of them to be soaking in light gravy, or jhol, here’s how:
1 largish tomato, cubed
Whole garam masala (a stick of cinnamon, 2 cloves, 2 cardamoms)
1 tsp whole cumin (jeera)
1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
1/2 cup green peas (I used frozen)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder or paprika
2 1/2 cups water
1 tbs oil
A couple of green chillies, slightly slit
Heat oil in a pan. When it’s hot, but not too hot, add the garam masala and bayleaves. Then sprinkle in the whole cumin, and asafoetida.
When a lovely smell lifts off the pan, add tomatoes, turmeric and chilli powder/paprika. Stir on medium heat for a few minutes. When the tomatoes are a little mushy, add frozen peas and salt. Stir for a few minutes.
In two-and-a-half cups of water, mix cumin and coriander powder. Add the spiced water to the tomatoes and peas, add more salt to taste, and bring it all to a boil.
Then lower the heat, and drop in the fried lentil balls and the green chillies. Lift it off the heat and sprinkle the remaining coriander.
Let it stand for 5-10 minutes; the lentil balls will soak up some of the gravy. Serve with steamed rice.