Growing up, I have several, wonderful, memories of shopping with my paternal grandmother Aayi, at the crowded, and bustling vegetable market in Pune's, Deccan Gymkhana. First, a stop for white butter, which she later made into ghee; near, the butter-store, a narrow gully sold everything from roses, and fresh fenugreek to books, and trinkets; Sweet-smelling-tube-roses, a few rubicund roses, red Gladioli for my mother, Amar-chitra katha, fat tomatoes, and dewy cucumbers in basket later, we then set out to the fruit and vegetable market, across the gully.
Aayi would grab my hand, and walk quickly down a slim stairway, into a dingy, tiled-subway. Littered with newspaper, cellophane bags and hawkers selling cheap toys, balloons and flowers, where I always lingered on. Sometimes to watch the new-fangled, toy-boats whirling around hypnotically in a small tub of water. But, mostly at the woman who sold mogra and aboli gajras; Aayi as always complied to my demands of "just one." From there, it was on to the fruit and vegetable market, the way lit by bare and yellow bulbs, in the evenings. Seasonal fruit stacked high, greens interspersed with onion and potato carts; a special vendor who sold only curry leaves, chillies, ginger, and garlic. And a fruit-seller, who stocked the sweetest of grapes, around April.
Whenever I tagged along, my grandmother always bought plenty of two things -- okra and potatoes. My vegetables, of least resistance. But, what I remember most, is when she and I picked up purply-green colocassia or taro bunches, during the monsoons. These, were then transformed into either a peanut-dotted stew, which always made my nose crinkle all the way up to my forehead. Or each leaf would be slathered with a layer of bright, orange chick-pea paste, stacked one on top of the other, tightly-rolled, sliced into medallions, and steamed and shallow-fried, until they emerged beautiful and crispy-golden-brown. One bite, was all that was needed to get over yucky stews, or poor math scores.
Taro is more or less, widely available in Pune, throughout the year; but there would be times, when it was scarce. This was when my grandmother resorted to making cilantro (kothimbir) fritters or wadis. For this recipe, the cilantro was finely chopped, and mixed around with a generous helping of spices, chick-pea flour, some ginger-garlic-chili paste, chopped onion, and water for good measure, to form a thick batter. Served steamed, as a side to piping varan-bhaat topped with home-made ghee. Or fried to go with tea, Mawa cake, and Marie biscuits. I considered it as having hit the Bellagio jackpot, every which way.
A couple of days ago, while speaking to my mother, I happened to reminisce of our Deccan sojourns. As soon as I hung up, I suddenly had the most intense craving for my grandmother's wadis. Taro fritters were obviously out of question, but I was hopeful of discovering a hidden bunch of cilantro. Unfortunately, there was barely enough for garnishing a dal. As I peeked in, moving tomatoes, ginger, a head of cauliflower out of the way, I sighted upon the bunch of kale I'd bought for some chips. Hmmm ... sputter, sputter, said the brain.
... leafy, leafy. Green and leafy. Potential to shred or chop fine. Nah, I couldn't. Or could I? ... why not? why not? why not? shhhhhhhhh ... shooosh!! voice in head. Always so needy! Ok. Let's see. Far-fetched? No, not really. Besides, not like we are married to it. Done! Voice in head does the moon-walk.
Other than the minuscule amount of cilantro, there wasn't much by way of aromatics in the refrigerator drawer, either. But, I was determined to see this experiment, through:
Kale -- washed and dried. Individual leaves -- stripped of center veins. Stack and roll. stack and roll, a few leaves, at a time. Chop. Chop, (very fine). Sprinkle some salt. A quick rubba-dub-dub, turmeric, chili powder, a sprinkle of Bishop weed or ajwain, a few handfuls of besan (chickpea flour). Water (s-l-o-w-l-y) brings everything together. Pluck, pluck, pluck -- mini-sized-nuggety-balls. On to wax-paper spread over steamer, placed on a pot of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Or, lets just say until nuggets, no longer sticky. Into hot oil, until golden-y crisp. Wire-rack. Two minute resting period. Bad, bad burn, not worth during marathon week. Taste. Burst of flavors! Smoky taste of ajwain outshines everything else! Makes kale-wadi's seem like fried Amritsari wadi's. Love it. Love it.
Not my Aayi's. But, a wadi to make new memories with. Certainly.
♣ "Bubbly Squeaky"
What squeaks while eating, is bubbly squeaky. Or Kale, dah-lings. So, says three-morsel-eaters, favorite little pig, Toot.
From the illustrious Brassica family, Kale shares its lineage with popular vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower and the (not so popular) brussel sprouts. "A descendent of the wild cabbage, thought to have originated in Asia Minor and brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers; Curly kale played an important role in early European food-ways," as well. It was considered as "a significant crop during ancient Roman times and eaten by peasants in the Middle Ages. English settlers, are said to have brought kale to the United States in the 17th century."
1 bunch of kale, leaves washed and very thoroughly dried
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
Generous sprinkle of Bishops weed or ajwain
Salt to taste
Besan (enough to bring everything together)
Oil for frying/shallow-frying
Place leaves on top of each other, roll tightly and chop fine. Season with salt and mix around well. Spoon in the turmeric and chili powder, and sprinkle ajwain. Mix well with your hands, and introduce besan, mixing well every time. Now slowly add water, just enough that you can make nuggets out of the mixture.
Place wax paper over a steamer and carefully place the nuggets. Over a boiling pot of water, steam for about 10-15 minutes or until they are no longer sticky. While the nuggets steam, heat oil (if deep-frying). Let the nuggets cool briefly for five minutes.
Then, deep-fry until crisp and golden-brown. Pop in two (or four at a time) with sauce of your choice.
The kale wadis will be seen doing the Rumba at Nupur's marathon. Bring on your dancing shoes, everyone!
Cafe Lota, at the National Crafts Museum - As I was telling you, one of the most memorable meals I have partaken in the recent past has been at this, relatively new, cafe attached to the National Cr...