She lives in an Altoids box

Did you all have lots of toys when you were little? I didn’t. It was a different time, wasn’t it? At least where I was standing. Parents didn’t just go out and buy a talking doll along with their weekend grocery, nor a hopping bunny when a child did all her chores. Money was far more thoughtfully spent, and children far less, well, indulged.

I have to admit, I liked that time. I liked it even when I was in it. When you don’t have a lot of toys, you become a little more ingenious with your time. Which reminds me of a line I saw on this poster recently – Creativity is subtraction. It really is.

Till I was about nine years old, we lived in a joint family, in a large old house in Central Calcutta. I remember sitting on the terrace with my friends and making clay utensils, and dolls from scraps of cloth. We would bake the little clay dishes in the sun, and have lavish weddings for the dolls. With real food. The food was always real. And usually stolen from our respective kitchens.

D and I try to give Chotto-Ma a sense of that…lessness. She still has more than we did, but less than most. And one of her favourite toys is a little cloth girl that I made for her some time ago. Like the little cloth girls I used to make in the old terrace in the old days.

This is Zaza. She lives in an Altoids box.

To me Zaza, and her curiously strong bed, stands for the sparseness of another time. A time when I made do with what I had. And made memories that stuck in my head like multicoloured Post-its.

It’s also the way I cook best: making do with what I have. Foraging through my cupboards without a plan. Throwing things together as I jigsaw tastes in my head. Do you do that?

Butter beans & pistachio tikki

You can soak the butter beans overnight and boil them, but I had canned butter beans sitting in my cupboard. (Because sometimes you just need cans.) And then my eyes landed on a jar of pistachios.
Tikkis came about, and they were very good, so I had to share them with you.

Ingredients

These tikkis have a very interesting combination of spices, but don’t hold yourself to them. Make do with what you have. Swap butter beans with black-eyed beans, pistachios with cashew, basil with parsley. Let your cupboards take the call.

3 cups boiled/canned butter beans
1/2 cup pistachios
A handful of basil
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp sumac (if you don’t have this, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a slight tartness)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (dry roasted in a pan)
A sprinkle of coarse black pepper
1 tbs flour (if needed)
Salt
Olive oil

In a blender, or with a mortar and pestle, coarsely ground together the pistachios, basil, roasted coriander seeds and chilli along with 2 tbs of olive oil
In a bowl, add the soft butter beans, the oil-herb-spice mix, sprinkle in the sumac/lemon juice, pepper and salt. Mix well with your hands, coarsely mashing the butter beans. Sprinkle in a tbs of flour if you need to tighten the mix a little. With your hands, form flat, round tikkis.
Heat a flat pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Pan fry the tikkis till they’re nicely browned on both sides. Enjoy!

Perfect Shmerfect

“I’m a perfectionist”. 
That should be your opening line if you want me to run a mile. And then, you’ll never have to see me again.
To be perfectly honest, perfection makes me yawn. I try to do it as surreptitiously as possible, so as not to appear too common. But between you and me, perfect is tedious. Even the word seems stuck-up, wearing a stiff suit and black tie. I like my adjectives a little more loose-limbed.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never done anything that comes close to being perfect. Never could, never tried. My shoes never matched my bags. My cakes are often born with bad posture. And my table manners need tweaking. (An elbow on the table is so convenient!)
I love cities that are a little rough around the edges. And faces that don’t follow symmetry. I like my daughter in socks that don’t match. I hate books arranged by height. And I won’t have identical lamps on either side of the bed.
Things are beautiful when they’re just a little bit out of place. When they’re not quite right. Without that, Pisa would be just another little city.
Now, for broad beans.
Broad beans?
Yes, it was all boiling down to broad beans. Sorry.

As its season progresses, broad beans become a little too big, and a little bit bitter. So, the ones I bought from the farm shop this week were not as tender as they could have been. Not quite perfect.  
But again, they were. Perfect for my Broad Bean & Pistachio Hummus. The slight bitterness of the beans gave the hummus a little sharpness, and the pistachios balanced it with its blunt, sweet hint.
It was my kind of perfect.

Broad Bean & Pistachio Hummus, with roasted coriander seeds

Ingredients

2 cups shelled broad beans
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and crushed
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
Sea salt

Boil the broad beans in water for 4-5 minutes till tender. Let it cool, then slip the beans out of the skins.
Mix the beans with the rest of the ingredients, and put in in a blender. Blitz to a coarse puree.
Add a little more olive oil if it seems too dry.
Taste, then tweak seasoning, ading more salt, pepper and lemon juice if needed.

Serve 3-4