Dances and details

Of all the framed art on our walls, there’s one that I love the most. It’s a black and white photograph of a couple dancing on the streets of Paris, next to the Seine. Paul Almasy’s Rock ‘n Roll sur les Quais de Paris is a happy twirl, frozen in time. I never tire of looking at it.

It reminds me of my first dance with D, fifteen years ago. (Fifteen?!) Just as we gingerly, awkwardly stepped on to the dance floor, the song changed, and we were stuck with Elton John singing Sacrifice. Now we’re stuck with it for posterity. Thankfully, the song faded quickly as other details became sharper. The checks on his shirt, the faint smell of aftershave, our hands unsure about where to rest, a sweet nervousness.

The photograph also reminds me of the time I was pregnant with Chotto-ma. Every afternoon, I would put on some music, and dance. I would hold my tummy tight, and sway, and feel her move and flip inside me. We would dance together for hours, just the two of us. It was a quiet, intense kind of happiness.

There are times when the rhythm of a moment is just right. It’s details, irreplaceable.

Every time I look at the photograph, I notice something new. A detail I hadn’t seen before. The first time our neighbour’s little girl walked into the house, she looked at the print and said, I love the old bricks on that bridge. She didn’t mention the dance, not even the flick of the pretty skirt. But the quiet bricks in the back.

Details.

To me, they make all the difference. In life. In art. In food. In a pot of rice, some adzuki beans can be that detail. In a tuna kebab, a handful of freshly chopped coriander can be that detail.

Adzuki-Bean Rice with Tuna Kebabs

The Adzuki-Bean Rice

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup adzuki beans
4 cups cooked rice that have been in the fridge overnight
1 large tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
A handful of chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp garam masala
1 bay leaf
1 tbs olive oil, or a blob of butter.
Salt

Soak the adzuki beans in water, overnight. Next morning, discard the water and wash the beans.
Boil 4 cups of water. To the water, add the beans and all other ingredients, except the rice.
Cook on medium heat till beans are done, adding more water if needed. Once the beans are cooked, dry up any remaining water by increasing the heat.
Now mix in the cold rice, with the olive oil or butter. Adjust seasoning.
Heat once before serving.

The Tuna Kebabs

Ingredients

2 cans tuna, drained dry
1 green chilli, chopped
2 tbs crushed roasted peanuts
1 cup chopped coriander
1 tbs grated lemon zest
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs

Mix all the ingredients. Form flat, round dics. Pan fry till golden brown.
Serve immediately with the rice.

We’ll barbecue up some summer!

This is June. June.

Summer.    Summer.    Summer.

If I repeat it a few more times, I might even believe it. Or I could do what everyone else is doing. I could pretend. Just like my daughter pretends to cook chicken for her toy duck, I could pretend that it’s summer. For all we’ve really had are a few ‘sunny spells’, and in the past week – dreary drizzles and jaw-locking winds.

So, you pretend. You decide to defy the weather.

You commit your first act of defiance as soon as you smell spring. You vacuum-pack those winter clothes. Pack up your furry boots. Go on a low-carb diet.

So what if the weather is still the opposite of warm.

Soon, the shop windows change. Out with the coats, and in with the cottons. It’s nautical stripes,  yellow and duck-egg blue this year.

Then the restaurants join in. Light, summery salads. Sorbets. Some even throw in a picnic hamper.

The weather is still not taking the hint.

So, yesterday, on my walk around town, I see people in their lovely, crisp cottons and pastel flip flops, but with shoulders shrugged against the cold wind, arms crossed over their chests. Eating ice-cream, but eyeing soup.

Some even check out John Lewis’ table top fans.

Everyone seemed to be willing the weather to change. Willing June to be as June should. So, this weekend, we decide to do our bit to shake up summer.

We barbecue.

We had a full house, with friends who had driven many miles to spend the weekend with us. Now, there are friends for whom you cook, and their are friends with whom you cook. You can only cook with your closest. There is something  very intimate about sharing a kitchen, chopping, stirring and slicing together. Or standing around a barbecue, one fanning the coal, another skewering the meat. It’s reserved for those you are most comfortable with.

We could not have had better company.

As we nudged and aired the hot coals to life, everyone cast furtive glances at the sky. It was slowly changing from a fairly healthy blue to an ominous shade of grey. But we couldn’t give up now! We had summer riding on it.

Just as the kebabs began to cook, it began to rain. And that’s putting it mildly. Within minutes, the rain became a downpour, the downpour became a hailstorm. (And I do not exaggerate for the sake of a story.) There we were, gathered around the tenderest meat, with umbrellas, attacked by tiny pebbles of ice.

Summer.     Summer.     Summer.

The food cooked itself under an improvised canopy of umbrellas and raincoats, with us scampering indoors, every now and again, for respite. The children splashed in puddles with shrieks of “ooh, cold!”

Finally, the skies did behave. Lunch was served late, very late. But there was plenty of good food, and nothing damp about the humour.

Today, we woke up to a spotless, blue sky and sunshine, and I thought to myself, we might have just cooked up a summer!

Menu for the Barbecue – everything is very easy to marinate, and simple to put together

. Lamb Boti Kebab
. Galouti Kebab
. Mushrooms with Fennel Seeds
. A fresh green salad with a simple olive oil and balsamic dressing  (balsamic vinegar pairs really well with spiced, grilled meat)
. Bowls of chopped sweet vine tomatoes
. Potatoes fried in round slivers and sprinkled with grated parmesan and pepper

The Marinade – a base used for both the Boti and the Galouti Kebab
A kebab completely depends on how well the meat is marinated. Once that is done, and for long enough, all you need to do is put them on the grill and leave them alone. Lamb kebabs in India are always marinated in raw papaya. And it really is a magic ingredient! Raw, green papaya has an enzyme called Papain, which breaks down the tough fabric structure of meat, just like a mallet would.

Ingredients

1 small raw, green papaya (if it’s not available fresh, you can order papaya powder online)
2-inch piece of ginger
5-6 cloves of garlic
1-2 green chillies (optional)

Put everything into a mixer, and blitz. Divide the mix into two portions.

My version of the Boti Kebab

Ingredients

1 kg diced lamb, preferably from the shoulder (lean meat does not barbecue well)
1/2 of the prepared marinade
3 tbs strained yogurt
1 heaped tsp cumin powder
1 heaped tsp coriander powder
1 heaped tsp paprika
A sprinkle of turmeric
1 tsp pepper
Salt to taste

Massage all the ingredients into the meat for 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the day before the barbecue.
When you’re ready to barbecue the following day, skewer the meat, smeared in marinade, and put on the grill. Turn skewers occasionally.

Serves 6 or more

My version of the Galouti Kebab

This kebab was first prepared in Lucknow, India, for an aged Nawab whose teeth were too weak to chew meat. Hence a kebab so soft, it melts in the mouth.

Ingredients

500 gms minced lamb
1/2 of the prepared marinade
250 gms ricotta cheese
1/2 cup chopped coriander (cilantro)
1 tsp pepper
Salt to taste

Mix everything together, and refrigerate the day before.
Next day, shape the mix into small balls, and then flatten them. You can then put the flat, round cakes on the grill, occasionally basting with oil/butter, or shallow fry them in a pan.

Serves 6 or more

Mushroom with Fennel Seeds

500 gms mushrooms, closed cup or button
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
2 tsp pepper powder, black and coarse
Salt

Mix everything together, and place mushrooms on the grill. Depending on the heat, they should be done in 5-10 minutes.

Serves 6, but finishes incredibly fast.