Monday, January 17, 2011

Barmer and Ker,Sangri ka achar

Well I have been blessed with such a fleet of excellent cooks through all the remote postings in Rajasthan that my food memories are intricately linked up with them. So they are more about my experiments and learning from them than really being a 'Memsaheb'. Of looking eagerly into the recipes of Dainik Bhaskar and RajasthanPatrika on wednesdays. The day they had a special supplement on women.Of keeping all recipe edition of Eve's weekly and Femina's. Even Health magazines.

Barmer the desert district bordering Pakistan! How exciting! Many thought I would turn up my nose and sulk; coming from Delhi leaving behind a cushy university job for a life of uncertainities. Married to a cop and you are young and adventurous it opens up limitless possibilities...

Bhanwarlal met us with a stern unsmiling visage as he looked over our meagre luggage. It would barely fit into one of the rooms of this huge sprawling bungalow. He was used to all kinds of officers and knew how to mold and train them for life!

He was the main cook and the major-domo of the SP's houshold a post he held for years. His dahi-vadas's were silken soft and famous in all the parties held for all visiting dignitaries that included the army and airforce officers as well. He told me the urad dal batter should be of such consistency that when applied under the eyebrows it should shimmer translucently!

He made perfect cakes and knew all about vanilla essences despite the fact that he was illiterate. Looking at him peering into the baking powder bottle and tapping out the exact quantity one could never have guessed it.

He would also regale me with the tales of the 'memsahebs' who had taught him and many who he would teach!

There was one such memsaheb who even insisted on weighing the three mandatory eggs before using it for her cake.

I would watch with open mouthed wonder when he made soft melt in the mouth 'teetar'for our friends. He wouldn't let me do too much just peer and listen to his tales. I think he realized I was too much of the bookish type to ever getting around to cooking! He spoilt us all particularly my son who was a toddler with his lovely khichdi swimming in ghee. The kheer made lovingly on slow fire liberally sprinkled with kishmish and kaju, just specially for him. No wonder my baby was like a roly-poly toy despite being so active.

I learnt how the 'ker' a very bitter berry found in the desert is cured by soaking them in 'çhhaach' (watery curd) till it becomes sour and then dried in the sun and mixed with spices and mustard oil for the famous pickle. So when I protested that I should be allowed to do it myself, otherwise how will I learn? We will do it for you always was the prompt answer.

We will not be in Barmer forever!

So what, just send us the message, we will make it and send it across.


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