Wednesday 19 December 2012

Suspended in air

Living abroad is a bit like being suspended in air. Between latitudes and longitudes; time-zoning in and out. There are more than one place you call home, and you float somewhere in between. And most days, it's not a bad place to be in: afloat above. It gives you a bird's-eye view of things. Clears a few things up. Gives you a little big thing called perspective.

The birds left England a while back. Most of them, anyway. I wonder about the ones twittering outside my window now. Their nests look a little sad against the grey winter sky, stuck in the forks of bare branches. Black twiggy blobs, like upside-down porcupines. Maybe, they haven't left because this is all they know. Or maybe, they've flown in from Russia, and England's winter feels like summer. It's always about perspective. Everything constantly changes definition; what's foreign to one is home to another.

We're flying next week. We're flying to 20°C, and to trees with leaves, and to bare-brown arms and hatless heads. It's all good; we're flying home.

I promise to bring back pictures, so meet me here in three weeks. It'll feel strange, though, taking photographs of Calcutta - I've never seen it through a lens. Never thought of it as something to be photographed. And if I didn't have this space, and all of you, I wouldn't have taken the camera out. I wouldn't have gotten a different perspective.

Nor would I have thought of sharing the recipe I've shared today. Dal-er bora is food from back home; so familiar that photography doesn't come to mind. They're fried lentil balls, which are eaten on their own, or soaked in a light, spiced gravy (jhol). It tastes like home to me, but it might be wonderfully exotic and new to you.

Perspective, then. A beautiful thing.

Dal-er Bora, or fried balls of lentils

For the Dal-er Bora:

2 cups yellow lentils, or red (moong dal or masoor dal)
1 inch ginger, roughly sliced
2 green chillies
A bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Oil for frying

Soak the lentils overnight in cold water. Discard the water, and put lentils into a mixer/blender along with the ginger and green chillies. Blitz.
Add salt to the mix, and half of the chopped coriander.
Heat oil in a deep pan. Lower the heat to medium when it's hot.
Make little,  balls between your fingers, and drop them into the hot oil. Fry till golden brown, and transfer onto a sheet of kitchen paper.
Enjoy half of the Dal-er Bora, or fried lentil balls, on its own. And keep half of them aside for the gravy, which only takes a few minutes to make.

If you'd like some of them to be soaking in light gravy, or jhol, here's how:

1 largish tomato, cubed
Whole garam masala (a stick of cinnamon, 2 cloves, 2 cardamoms)
2 bayleaves
1 tsp whole cumin (jeera)
1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
1/2 cup green peas (I used frozen)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder or paprika
2 1/2 cups water
1 tbs oil
A couple of green chillies, slightly slit

Heat oil in a pan. When it's hot, but not too hot, add the garam masala and bayleaves. Then sprinkle in the whole cumin, and asafoetida.
When a lovely smell lifts off the pan, add tomatoes, turmeric and chilli powder/paprika. Stir on medium heat for a few minutes. When the tomatoes are a little mushy, add frozen peas and salt. Stir for a few minutes.
In two-and-a-half cups of water, mix cumin and coriander powder. Add the spiced water to the tomatoes and peas, add more salt to taste, and bring it all to a boil.
Then lower the heat, and drop in the fried lentil balls and the green chillies. Lift it off the heat and sprinkle the remaining coriander.
Let it stand for 5-10 minutes; the lentil balls will soak up some of the gravy. Serve with steamed rice.


Monday 3 December 2012

I'll walk you around the house

Every time we move house, we swear never to do it again. But in the 12 years that we've been married, we've lived in 12 houses. Now that the brown boxes are all gone, and the floors and walls filled up with cushions, canvas and clutter, I thought I'll walk you around the house. The photographs are from my Instagram, so some of you might have seen them. This Instagram series was inspired by this post by the lovely Jess at Sweet Amandine.

I love what Instagram can do (if its filters are used with caution). I love that it often gives the photos a medium-formatish-feel. That's what I want from Santa - a medium format camera. Meanwhile, here are the fakers. If you'd like to find me on Instagram, I'm @piaghoshroy

And this is home.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

She lives in an Altoids box

Did you all have lots of toys when you were little? I didn't. It was a different time, wasn't it? At least from where I was standing. Parents didn't go out and buy a doll along with their weekend grocery or a stuffed bunny when a child did all her chores. Money was very thoughtfully spent and children less, well, indulged. I'm grateful now for the spareness of that time; it gave my early childhood a sense of adventure that it would not have otherwise had. When you don't have a lot of toys, you learn to be more ingenious with your time, learn to become scavengers and foragers, learn to create worlds out of nothing. Which reminds me of a line I saw on this poster recently - Creativity is subtraction. It really is.

Till I was about nine years old, we lived in a joint family, in a large old house in Central Calcutta. I remember sitting on the terrace with my friends and making clay utensils, and dolls from scraps of cloth. We would bake the little clay dishes in the sun, and have lavish weddings for the dolls. With real food. The food was always real. And usually stolen from our respective kitchens.

D and I try to give Chotto-Ma a sense of that...lessness. She still has more than we did, but less than most. And one of her favourite toys is a little cloth girl that I made for her some time ago. Like the little cloth girls I used to make in the old terrace in the old days.

This is Zaza. She lives in an Altoids box.

To me Zaza, and her curiously strong bed, stands for the sparseness of another time. A time when I made do with what I had. And made memories that stuck in my head like multicoloured Post-its.

It's also the way I cook best: making do with what I have. Foraging through my cupboards without a plan. Throwing things together as I jigsaw tastes in my head. Do you do that?

Butter beans & pistachio tikki

You can soak the butter beans overnight and boil them, but I had canned butter beans sitting in my cupboard. (Because sometimes you just need cans.) And then my eyes landed on a jar of pistachios.
Tikkis came about, and they were very good, so I had to share them with you.


These tikkis have a very interesting combination of spices, but don't hold yourself to them. Make do with what you have. Swap butter beans with black-eyed beans, pistachios with cashew, basil with parsley. Let your cupboards take the call.

3 cups boiled/canned butter beans
1/2 cup pistachios
A handful of basil
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp sumac (if you don't have this, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a slight tartness)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (dry roasted in a pan)
A sprinkle of coarse black pepper
1 tbs flour (if needed)
Olive oil

In a blender, or with a mortar and pestle, coarsely ground together the pistachios, basil, roasted coriander seeds and chilli along with 2 tbs of olive oil
In a bowl, add the soft butter beans, the oil-herb-spice mix, sprinkle in the sumac/lemon juice, pepper and salt. Mix well with your hands, coarsely mashing the butter beans. Sprinkle in a tbs of flour if you need to tighten the mix a little. With your hands, form flat, round tikkis.
Heat a flat pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Pan fry the tikkis till they're nicely browned on both sides. Enjoy!