Roz ka Khana: Quotidian Indian Meals and Musings from My Kitchen
"Dinner is ready", I call my husband. The hot griddle is roasting rotis (flatbreads) as I roll the dough. "Are you coming?", I almost yell this time anticipating his nose buried in a book or the kindle and his sense of hearing being at a loss during this time. He arrives and looks at the counter, gleeful at the sight of the typical sookhe aloo (sautéed potatoes). "I'm setting the table then", and he gobbles a potato, nibbles the okra masala. I shake my head, sending him off to the table with the dish of yellow dal.
"Why don't you write about this food?", he probes, placing the plates on the mats. I hand him the roti basket. "The usual food?" I shrug. "You know, simple everyday meals", he tilts his head slightly, his way of persisting although not vehement. He meant the Indian meals I make at home (I make a lot of other cuisines at home too): assortments of veggies, dals, condiments and some carb. The ensemble varies on different days, motley like my food identity and a stark contrast from my husband's home food experience—homogenous and cognate.
On some days, I bring the rusticity and spice of Rajasthan or the brawny savoury flavours of Gujarat to our plates and on others I make the Punjabi home food I first learned to cook, understated and unpretentious. Sometimes the food of my childhood appears on our table, meals from eastern and southern Odisha while at other times, the secret Bong in me manifests itself in our dinners and lunches. There are days when I crave the seasonings of Karnataka and the sapid food of Andhra and dream of coconut sweetness of Kerala or one of the many facets of Tamil cuisine. When my palette travels all the way to Kashmir, I cook carefully spiced subtle dishes while I rustle up one of the many tangy lentils and beans of Himachal at other times. Some meals have the look of rugged realness of the food from parts of U.P., Bihar, Uttarakhand or Madhya Pradesh while some have the anglicized dishes developed under the British colonization, reminiscent of trailing imperial kitchens of olden India. I'm often nostalgic of the robust flavours of Maharashtra and Goa, and they are frequent on my Indian meal menus as well.
I take a bite of the rice, always my bowl of comfort on the table, and my husband ladles the dal on my plate. "My roz ka khana is from everywhere in India though", I fiddle with the spoon dipped in curd. "And, that's the best part", he retorted, more confident than me that I should document our wonted Indian meals on my blog. "They aren't typical recipes, you know. I eyeball everything, well usually, and most of the Indian home cooking is like that. Estimations are everything, mastered over time"— I had to clarify and see if he was still assertive. "Well, you'll have to teach me somehow." He chuckled and that was motivation enough.
With this section on my blog, I want to take you on a sojourn of ordinary meals that are cooked in the privacy of Indian homes—dishes that perhaps never appear in any restaurant's menu. You'd find them being made in local eateries often considered trivial, even nonexistent, or see them as part of food offered to the many gods in Indian temples or eaten during the hundreds of year round festivities. They also show up on the tables during family gatherings, packed in lunchboxes or exchanged during special occasions.
These dishes are easy to make, and I mean it. In Indian homes, it's common to cook thrice a day and use every bit of the fresh produce. Hot breakfasts are not just common but almost omnipresent throughout the country. Lunch and dinner plates have a fine balance of macro and micro nutrients, and usually favour the seasonal vegetables. While many families cook non-vegetarian food during some days in the week, vegetarian dishes mostly accompany the meat nevertheless. When there's so much variety in every meal, families with their domestic helps and cooks ingeniously use the ingredients, applying techniques in the kitchen to dish out meals fast and render them wholesome and flavour packed.
Since I grew up and lived in multiple places in India, my taste buds are heavily influenced by the regional cooking in India. The same vegetable, dal or meat is given a different treatment in each home in India. For instance, my mother makes eggplant in at least ten different ways, and I have seen a potato or cauliflower made in myriad ways across the length and breadth of the country. Grains are made into flatbreads (often stuffed with veggies or lentils), pulao and khichdi, and everything is made in ways that are quick to bring to the table and feed the entire family. The same lentils, legumes, yogurt are tempered and seasoned in diverse ways and condiments like chutneys and pickles are readied fresh or made ahead to provide texture and crunch to the meal. It's undeniable that some prep goes into making some of these meals, but not to an extent that cannot be done by someone who has never prepared Indian food.
Through Roz ka Khana, I want to present you these secrets of the multifarious Indian home kitchens, Indian food that I cooked when I lived by myself and what I cook now for the family of two that we are currently, food that I cook for my friends and extended family when they visit, recipes that I have learned watching people cook in their homes and assimilated in my kitchen, coupled with my personal twists and experiments.
There are few cookbooks that I admire as much as I love, Vegetarian India, A Journey through the Best of Indian Home Cooking by Madhur Jaffery. She says, "Over the years, I have developed my own system for collecting good recipes. I have learned that in India, these are always found in private homes, and that I cannot rely on generous offers of "written recipes", and I couldn't agree more with her. Indian food is most glorious in Indian homes, in its most organic and unadorned state. Most recipes, or rather the styles of cooking dishes, are passed on through the elders in the family—the many grandparents, aunts and uncles. Sometimes, recipes are shared between neighbours, not written but annotated in mundane conversations. Home cooking is never documented, it's a way of life, and that's perhaps true in other parts of the world also. Ingredients are never strictly measured unless it's explicitly the way in the family to do so, and even then, things can quickly change when you move from one home kitchen to another. Every home tells a different story of its food, and for me that's the beauty of it.
The government has observed that next to rice and water, stories are the most-demanded stuff in daily life...Every moment someone or the other is asking for a story. - R.K. Narayan, A Writer's Nightmare
Globalization and immigration of Indian families has brought another compelling dimension in Indian home cooking. As Krishnendu Ray's The Migrant's Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American households elucidates, "Children prefer fewer spices and less fish and rice, the distinguishing elements of Bengali cuisine for the first generation." What Indian migrant families cook in their foreign homes may not always be a replica of what they cook in their home back in India, and often customized to suit the preferences of the third generations or modified to adapt to the available produce. Bottle gourd may be replaced by chayote, yardlong beans may be switched with green beans, dried curry leaves may take centerstage over the fresh ones, mustard greens may be swapped with collards, an interchange of spices may not be uncommon. Salmon may float in the typical Bengali sorshe or Bhopali machli ka saalan instead of some indigenous Indian fish and chickpeas may be opted when there's a dearth of Bengal gram.
Vegetables like zucchini and broccoli which are rather new in modern Indian homes and still not popular in many traditional families' cooking in India are often cooked with Indian spices in migrant kitchens. A reverse anglicization of some sort perhaps. Irrespective of the change, there will always be an essence of the home where the dish originated, engulfing the nonnative ingredient in a far flung setting from India, evoking the aroma of something Indian. As simple as a cilantro, green chilies or lime or more complex like a spice blend, there's something conspicuously Indian in the homemade Indian meals of the migrants as well. Harbouring a bifurcated sense of home and belonging, these families often serve a slice of their memories on the plate. Many of the Indian dishes in this section are a ramification of my life in Canada, and I have provided a context for the reader to understand the dish and its variations. Whether westernized or traditional, recipes in Roz ka Khana are answers to the question I often get asked, "What do Indians cook at home?"
Andaaza, an Urdu word, which means approximation, rules a majority of Indian home kitchens. My Indian kitchen is no different in that realm. I often discern how much of an ingredient the dish calls for, some of it is experience and some is pure instinct. And, for this reason the dish even though made through a singular recipe can taste different when two people make it individually. My andaaza is my relationship with the food I create—it's a representation of a part of me and how I work in the kitchen. For different people, estimations can vary and I understand that for some, this method of cooking may not work best, just like my husband. I have tried to be as precise as I can in all the recipes posted so far, and I'll try to continue this method for future recipes for Roz ka Khana. Having said that, I also encourage you to trust your velleity and come closer to the food you cook in terms of its textures, layers and flavours. I encourage you to understand the technique used in a recipe — how a vegetable is chopped or how long it's cooked, whether a lentil is soaked ahead or ready to cook once washed — develop your own relationship with food you cook, whether Indian or not.
Roz ka Khana is a continuing journey, fueled by my incessant curiosity of what goes on within the billions of home kitchens in India. The recipes will continue to pile as I cook the usual and also learn new things, and I hope they motivate you to cook that version of Indian food which is often uncelebrated. Meant to be a journal for my husband, I wish it's your journal too, where you feel inspired and encouraged to create easy homemade Indian meals. Whether you have been wanting to cook Indian or looking for interesting ways to cook your regular Indian food or searching for quicker means to some recipes, I wish Roz ka Khana gives that to you, and more.
All Recipes >>
Chawal: Different types of rice preparations
Dal and Kadhi: Lentils and legumes cooked into soups and gravies, Slow cooked gravies and soups made of gram flour or yogurt
Sabzi: Vegetables cooked as stir fires and gravies
Saag: Greens cooked as simple stir fries and complex gravies
Roti and Paratha: Grains and millets based flatbreads
Dosa and Cheela: Pancakes and crepes
Poha and Upma: Flattened rice, vermicelli and semolina based preparations
Idli and Dhokla: Steamed preparations of rice and lentils
Khichdi: Mash-ups of grains, lentils, millets or tapioca
Chutney, Raita and Achaar: Spicy, sweet, sour or savoury condiments
Fish and Poultry: Gravies and fried preparations