Sunday, April 14, 2013

Yellow and Green

I remember summer vacations in  my maternal grandparents' home at Sripuram, in the Madras of yore.  Early mornings were quiet, interrupted by bird calls at the mango tree and around the coconut palms. The women in the house bustled around, cooking the first full course  meal of the day. By nine am we all sat down to a splendid repast, that even the gods had partaken of. There was abundant hot rice, a little paruppu( thick cooked dal) and ghee,  followed by sambaar, rasam and two kinds of vegetables.   This would be enhanced by pickles and appalams(papads) and  followed by curd  . Some mornings we would have buttermilk and  vadaams(fryums) and fresh  thayir pachdis, (vegetables grated or ground into curd) but invariably there would be a dry vegetable; potatoes or finely chopped beans garnished with coconut. However,  greens were mandatory consumption in the daily routine.

Somedays it was ara-keerai or spinach leaves cooked alone into a thoran, or with  moong and arhar lentils. Other days it could be amaranth, red or green. There was also the paruppu-keerai that is called kulfa in North India that paati made, often with moong dal. One of us would be handed a small bowl of steamed kulfa and moong that we quickly ground on the stone-grinder in the backyard, while she tempered a hot oil garnish of  whole red chilly, mustard seeds , urad and asafoetida. The kulfa had a gooey texture and the raw leaves had a slight sour taste, " Remember to eat a portion of greens everyday," Paati would instruct us, while we hurried in and out of the kitchen carrying out the odd chore.

 This was an instruction that we took seriously, since she was a culinary expert extraordinary. It is over fourteen years since she died and well over twenty-five since she dispensed with daily cooking, but  I can never pass a line-up of greens without  stopping to gaze at the fresh green leaves tied into compact bundles. I also end up buying them, experimenting with  varieties like arugula and bok-choy which were outside of Paati's repertoire.

 Last week at the local friday bazaar I stopped in front of a large pile of greens and found kulfa, which comes in quietly and leaves with out much fanfare and bought some. I tried to recreate the version my grandmother used to make, and also experimented with a new tamarind version, Both versions were consumed by the family with varying degrees of acceptance.  In the middle of my reminiscence about the  smells and flavours emanating from my grandmother's kitchen, my next door neighbor telephoned. She turns out great food and in the early years she made her own ketchup and jams, bottles and bottles of them, to say nothing of endless pickles, kanji and cake.

She had called however to discuss kulfa, which she too had picked up from the local market. She confided that this was something her mother used to  make with bengal gram dal all through her childhood and she had  wanted to run the idea by me before recreating it after many years. Her mother had died a few years ago, and  she  too was cooking up a storm of memories. We have shared the odd culinary experience and encouraged each other through the odd  cooking experiment for over a decade now. I egged her on to make the chana dal  kulfa version and she promised to bring me some later in the day, when she was done.

The moong dal version  is very light with the coconut and toasted black gram garnish adding  to the subtle  summer-is-in-the-air flavour. It would please  Shikha Sharma both  for freshness and lightness of taste while it would be therapeutic for all those with weak stomachs. The tamarind version is a great pick-me-up and goes rather well with both rice and dosas. It can be easily  modified into  kulfa sambaar if pigeon pea lentils (arhar dal)  and whole little onions were added to it.  Chopped kulfa leaves and stems  added  to adais(thick lentil dosas) make them delectable.  I tried out  the chana-kulfa that Rita brought me with both rice and chapppatis. This is a dish, worthy of a permanent  seat at any wedding repast. It is rich, creamy and aromatic and could even double up as a  winter broth.


  1. Now that is a breakfast! Mouth-watering, and so healthy. The kulfa sounds amazing--must try a version of it with whatever greens are available here. Your opening description of the early morning routine at your grandmother's made me feel so peaceful. That household calm is predicated on the centered busy-ness of women, working together with a purpose. I must cultivate that same spirit, for my own sake and for the sake of all my loved ones. Lovely post, Ratna.

  2. Ratna- great post. The chana dal kulfa version has made my mouth water. Slurp!