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!

Tiddely-om-pom-pom!

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside

I do like to be beside the sea!

I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!

Where the brass bands play
Tiddely-om-pom-pom!

While you’re singing that, go grab a bucket and spade. We’re going to the beach. You really have no choice. The sun’s out, so beach you must. (I know, I completely verbed my noun there. And some day, I’ll tell you why that doesn’t bother me.)
So here’s Chotto-ma at the railway station, with some goslings who we assumed were waiting for the fast train to visit cousins up north.

And here we are, an hour-and-a-bit later, at the beach. And that’s all I’m going to say about it, really. I’ll leave you to feel the sand between your toes, and hear the seagulls squawk, and smell the fish and chips.

And while we sat with our fish-and-chips, we talked about what we usually talk about. Other food. We do that a lot, D and I. We talk about what we’re not eating, when we’re eating something which isn’t as good as it could be. We talk about the could-haves. We also talk about food while walking hand-in-hand under the stars – but that just makes us gluttons, so we won’t go there.

Anyway, so there we were, eating fried fish and fried potato, and imagining the very British beach filled with Indian street stalls selling fried Indian food. Alu-r Chop (fried potato cakes), Beguni (batter-dipped fried aubergine), Shingara (samosas, but not the flat trianlgles you find here; these are triangles that have fat bottoms to sit on). And Nimki (the gorgeous things you will see below)

I made Nimki today. Suddenly, and on a whim. Just before tea-time. That’s how it is with Nimki – fried without a plan. And served with a cup of tea, in Kolkata. Very far from the prom-prom-prom were Dickens strolled.

Nimki – or, fried little diamonds of dough

(there’s not a single thing wrong with them, nor a single thing healthy)
Ingredients
1 1/2 cup plain white flour (for the dough)
1/2 tsp kalo jeere/kalonji (known as nigella seeds)
5 tbs oil (for kneading the dough)
Water (about 1/2 cup for kneading the dough)
1 tsp sugar (flattened, not heaped)
Salt
Oil (for deep frying)

Take the flour in a large, round bowl. Sprinkle in the kalo jeere, sugar, salt and oil. Get your hands in, and mix well till the flour starts looking like crumbs. Add water, a little at a time, and knead it into a tight dough. Knead for another 2-3 minutes (It’s good for the dough, and relaxing too.)
Divide the dough into 4 balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out the balls to circles. Now, the circles should not be too thin, nor too thick. About the thickness of the average dinner plate, if that helps.
Now, take a sharp knife and do what you see me do in the photographs – cut criss-cross lines to make doughy diamonds.
Heat oil in wok/pan.
Add the Nimki to the oil and fry them on low heat.
Your Nimki is done when they’re golden brown in colour. Fish them out of the oil, and drain on a paper towel.
Make yourself a cup of tea.