“When mango is available, lemon is cancelled.” –Bhavani
I met plenty of awesome and amazing people this semester, but one of the most wonderful and kindhearted people I’ve known in my entire life is my Hindi teacher, Bhavani. She welcomed our Hindi class into her family and home, inviting us over several times for cooking lessons, which inevitably turned into fun social evenings.
Watching Bhavani cook is watching a master at work; she learned to cook from her mother and the amount of love she puts into her food is obvious. As she prepared lemon rice, she mixed the oil and seasonings into the rice with her hands and told us she grew up hearing the expression, “It tastes better with mother’s hands in it.” It’s why home-cooked food always tastes better than anything you could get in a restaurant, and I couldn’t agree more.
The recipes Bhavani chose to teach us show how much she cares. For our first lesson, we made chai with ginger because I had a cold at the time, and ginger is good for a sore throat. In April, when the weather was becoming unbearably hot, we made beet water, which helps you to stay hydrated. Before mango season, we made lemon rice, and when green mango finally became available, we made the long-anticipated—and absolutely delicious—mango rice. And for our final cooking lesson, Bhavani taught us to make her personal favorite, dill vada, a recipe she learned from her mother, which you never be able to find in any restaurant or cookbook.
I feel so grateful to have gotten to cook with Bhavani in her own kitchen, and to learn something from her which is so precious and meaningful. I truly believe that to prepare food for someone is one of the greatest and most loving gifts you can give. I am incredibly thankful to have received this wonderful gift, and I’m excited to have the chance to share this amazing food with my friends and family back home.
Adarak Chai (Tea with Ginger)
Combine an equal proportion of water and buffalo milk, and bring it to a boil (cow’s milk may separate when heated this way), about ¾ cup of liquid per serving. Add about two tsp of granulated dry tea leaves per serving. Add cinnamon to taste, about ¼ tsp per serving. Add sugar to taste, about 2 tsp per serving. Grind up fresh ginger (stored in honey), add to boiling mixture. Pour through a sieve into cups.
Heat oil in a wok. To a base of chickpea flour, add sliced red onions, chili powder, salt, fresh ground coriander, and black pepper, and mix. Add in chopped fresh spinach and mix. Add water until the mixture has the consistency of thick batter; a less moist batter makes crispier pakora. Add a small amount of garam masala. (You can also add cabbage, corn, green chilies, or cashews).
Drop in small clumps into the hot oil; pinch it between your fingers into “threads.” Stir it while frying, turning the pakora over regularly so that they cook evenly. They’re ready when they’re golden-brown. Remove from the oil, and allow the excess oil to drip off before serving.
Roti & Poori
You’ll need about 1 fistful of whole wheat flour per roti. Add a dash of salt to the bowl of flour, then make a well in the center. Pour water gradually into the well and begin kneading the flour and water together. Gather the wet flour onto one side of the bowl, and create a well in the dry flour to add more water. Continue kneading until the dough stops sticking to your hands and forms a single ball.
Rest the dough, covered, for about 10-15 minutes; it will get a little softer. Roll the dough into laddoos, balls of about 1-1.5 inch diameter. To roll the laddoos into rotis, first press it somewhat flat between your palms; add some flour to your work surface, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a circle. To keep the shape regular, roll only straight forwards and backwards, and turn and/or flip the roti between rolls. Roll it slightly thinner and larger for rotis, and slightly thicker and smaller for pooris.
To cook the rotis, heat a dry skillet very hot. Place the roti in the skillet, and flip it every 5-10 seconds; on the second flip, it will begin to puff up. Continue flipping until done.
To cook the pooris, heat oil in a wok. Get as much flour off the rolled pooris as possible. Slide the poori into the hot oil, and flip every couple of seconds until golden (it will be done quickly). Remove from the oil and tap firmly against the side of the wok several times to knock off the excess oil.
To serve 6 people, you need about 10 bunches of fresh spinach and 2 blocks of paneer. First, cut the paneer into cubes. Fry the paneer in hot oil in a wok, in batches as necessary, until golden/golden brown.
Blanch the spinach in a little bit of oil (Bhavani uses soy oil). Lightly roast green chilies in a little bit of oil. Add the blanched spinach, roasted chilies, 2 unroasted green chilies, and cumin seeds to a blender, and blend into a paste.
Heat a couple spoons of oil in a saucepan. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, a few cloves of roughly chopped garlic, and sliced onions; cook for a little while, then add dried curry leaves and fresh mint. Once the garlic and onions are a little brown, add the spinach paste. Use water to get the rest of the spinach paste out of the blender and into the saucepan; add more water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Add a small spoon of garam masala, a small spoon of coriander powder, and salt to taste. Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes before adding the paneer.
Cook short grain rice; for 6 people, you need about 3 cups uncooked rice.
Heat about 3 spoons of oil in a saucepan; add ~2 spoons of lentils and black lentils, ~1.5 spoons of mustard seeds, ~1.5 spoons cumin seeds, and dried red chilies, broken in half. If you’re not deathly allergic to nuts, add about 3 spoons of dry, unroasted peanuts. Add fresh curry leaves, then turn off the heat. About ~0.5 spoons of turmeric powder.
Squeeze about 4 tiny lemons’ worth of lemon juice into the prepared rice. Mix it in with your hands. Mix in a couple spoons of salt. Pour the oil/spice mixture into the rice; use a scoop of rice to get the rest of the oil out of the pan.
Grate 1.5 green mangos, including the peel. Heat ~4 spoons of oil in a wok, then add a couple small lid-fuls of black lentils (which are actually white inside). Add a spoon of mustard seeds and a spoon of cumin, then grind up some dried red chilies with your hands and add those; the mustard has to be added early because the seeds have 7 layers, so it takes time for them to open up. Add the grated mango—the oil will get very excited. Next, add ~1 tsp of turmeric and a few tsp of salt, to taste. Add some fresh curry leaves, and take the wok off the heat. Let it cool a bit, then mix in cooked rice.
Instead of rice, you can also use finely chopped stale bread or noodles.
Peel and then dice a cucumber. Dice tomatoes (we used three small and one large) and a large red onion. Mince fresh mint, coriander, and mung-bean sprouts. Mix all these into plain yogurt. Immediately before serving, add tikki boondi (spiced fried chickpea flour balls).
Peel and chop 2 beets. Add them to a blender with a couple spoons of sugar or jaggery, to taste; blend into a paste. You can also add mint, honey, almonds, lemon zest/juice, or sour mango to the blender. Stir a few spoons of the paste into a pitcher of ice water, to taste. Store the remaining paste in the fridge.
Soak halved chickpeas and horse-gram in water with fresh mint; drain, and then blend into a paste. Blend in some green chilies. Chop 2 bunches of dill leaves. Add dill, plus a couple tsp of salt, to the paste, and mix with your hands until evenly distributed.
Heat oil in a wok, at least an inch deep. Use your hands to form the paste into round patties, and carefully place them in the oil to avoid splashing. Fry for a few minutes, until golden brown.