November 27th, 2015
When it comes to food, I have, without a doubt, been influenced by the women in my family. And my grand aunt Sharada, was one amongst these women.
I visited my mother’s ancestral village quite often in my early childhood. This was the place she and her siblings spent many eventful days and holidays, playing in the fields, eating mangoes and other fruits right off the trees and interacting with other village folk. I got to hear many stories and live a part of this life until my maternal grandfather passed away at my age of eight, after which my visits to this place drastically reduced.
It was in the ancestral home in this village that my grand aunt Sharada lived. She was the wife of my maternal grandfather’s 2nd brother. She belonged to the generation of women who spent a major part of their life cooking to feed family and friends. These women cooked daily meals, ritual meals and festive meals with enthusiasm, carefully selecting the best ingredients and served food to whoever came their way, with much love and dedication.
Fast forward to the year 2009, when I spent a few months in my mother’s home after Hari’s birth. Amidst the stream of visitors that came to see the new born, friends, well wishers and relatives, what lingers in my memory is the food that some got along. My grand aunt Sharada whom I used to lovingly call kaku ajji, came too alongwith her husband. And she brought with her the best antina undi, (known in Marathi as dinkacha ladoo, a laddu made with jaggery, coconut, edible gum and dry fruits) that I had ever tasted. Traditionally this laddu is prepared and given to the new mother and is a very important part of the first few months of post natal diet.
Kaku ajji’s visit reminded my mother about the delicacies she used to make for Diwali and she asked me to take down the recipes of kari gadubu (a fried delicacy also known as kadabu) and this chivda.
Legend has it that this chivda used to be stored in big containers in the kitchen and served to all guests and visitors along with other homemade delicacies. And family members used to help themselves to helping of this chivda topped with fresh homemade curd made from the milk of cows in the backyard.
This Diwali, I made my much loved Besan Laddus and this chivda and served it with other sweetmeats and hot samosas to the guests who visited the studio for the Lakshmi pooja.
Circa July 2015, my last meeting with kaku ajji. She lay on the hospital bed and everyone around knew that death was lurking around the corner. But her face still radiated positivity and hope. And her eyes shined with the innocence of a new born child. When I told her that the laddus she had prepared for me during my post natal period was the best I have ever had, she smiled and replied that the taste was due to homegrown jaggery and coconut and homemade pure ghee. To which I replied saying, top quality ingredients are crucial for a great dish, but only a good cook knows how to transform those ingredients into something delightful.
Although she was in severe pain, she spoke about my work, remembered the name of my website and bits of my childhood. She wished me all the best and told me in chaste English “Just like the eyes are the windows of the soul, the face is the mirror of the heart”. Whatever you feel is reflected on your face. Those words had profound meaning for me as I do a lot of work in front of the camera these days. And then she switched back to our mother tongue and told me how uncomfortable she was and that she couldn’t wait to get back on her feet.
Exactly after a week of my meeting with her, I got the news that she is no more. I do regret not having been able to capture her simple beauty and innocence on my frame. Life and death are a part of life, but I feel grateful that I was able to capture a piece of my grand aunt Sharada’s culinary history and legacy through this post.
500 gm flattened rice or poha
1 ½ tsp salt
3 tbsp ghee
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander seed powder
1 tsp cumin seed powder
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp gram, split and roasted (dalia or phutana)
3 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp sesame seeds or til
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp yellow asafetida powder
¾ tsp turmeric powder
Dry roast the poha for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer it on to a large plate and after it cools down mix in the salt, ghee, chili powder and coriander and cumin seed powders.
Make the seasoning- Put in the oil and after the oil is warm enough, pop in the mustard seeds, the roasted dal and peanuts. After the mustard splatters and the dal and the peanuts turn golden brown, put in the sesame seeds and the curry leaves. Once the curry leaves are crisp, stir in the asafetida powder and the turmeric powder.
Stir in the spiced poha and roast on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the poha is crisp.
Turn off the heat, allow to cool and store in an air tight container.
Enjoy as it is.
Tastes great with chopped cucumber or tomatoes or both.
You can also eat this mixed with some yogurt.
Store in an air tight container for upto a month