Wednesday 17 October 2012

Keeping quiet

When we were young, and seated around the dining table, there were a few rules that my brother and I had to follow.

Waste not. Finish what you take.
Try everything. Fuss is not an option.
'Gaal-e haath diye bosho na' - Don't sit with your cheek in your palm
Never eat in a hurry, nor standing up.
'Khete khete jol kheyo na' - don't break your meal with sips of water.
No, don't make balls of your rice to practice tossing into your mouth.
Say 'uthhi' before leaving the table.
Don't talk while you eat.

Now, the last rule goes against the very purpose of family meals in the West. Where conversations are things that all dining tables must be sturdy enough to withstand. That's where you agree, and disagree. That's where you tell your parents about your report card. Or a new boyfriend. That's where your parents tell you that a great-aunt has died leaving them enough money for a house in Lanzarote. Silence is swallowed up quickly. Because a family sitting in silence during mealtimes must surely be on the verge of falling apart. Divorce. Disease. Debt. Delinquency.

But in India, people like my dad grew up on 'Silence is golden'. More so during mealtimes. You can either talk, or you can taste. You use silence to decide if the fish is fresh enough, the mutton soft enough. You use silence to smell the spices. You use silence to feel the rice stick to your fingers. You make murmurs of appreciation, the occasional 'bah!', to praise the cook. But all other matters must wait. Only when the plates are clean, and hands washed, do you sit and talk late into the afternoon. And only then do you tell your parents about your report card. When there's no food for them to choke on.

Dhonepata-kancha-lonka diye mangshor jhol
Or, lamb stewed with coriander leaves and green chillies

Or, the lamb that you eat in silence. In fact, lamb so good, that I've never talked about it. It's all very hush-hush. I've cooked it for many years, though. And my closest friends know it well.

It's the simplest dish you'll ever cook. And one that ignores all the basic rules of cooking an Indian meat dish. It has no onions, no garlic, no ginger. And no cooking oil - it cooks in the meat's natural fat. Wide-eyed, already? Wait till you eat it.

The list of ingredients is very sparse, but very powerful:

500 gms boneless lamb (on-the-bone is even better, but boneless is what I had at home)
A very, very big bunch of coriander, chopped very coarsely
1 lime
A bowl of green chillies, stalk on.

Cut the lime in 4 pieces. Squeeze one of the pieces into the meat.
In a deep pan with a heavy lid, spread out the meat and sprinkle generously with salt.
Cover the meat with a thick layer of coriander.
Sprinkle the meat with a layer of green chillies. I used about 16, but make it 8 if you're quaking in your shoes, and 20 if you're smirking. Keep the stalks on to prevent the chillies from breaking. That keeps the heat in control, but infuses the gravy with the smell of green chillies.
Put the lid on the pan, and put it on the hob on high heat for a few minutes. Lower the heat as soon as the pan is hot. Leave the meat to cook in it own juices, on very low heat, for 45 minutes.
Open lid, pour in a cup of water, don't stir.
Cover again, and let it cook till the meat is very soft. Add some more water if you need - the gravy should be runny. Add more salt if you need.
Then, pick out most of the chillies and stalks, and just let a few chillies stay in.
Add a blob of butter.
You should now have a gorgeous, green runny gravy, that's very potent and smells like heaven.
Serve with 'norom bhaath' - soft, overcooked rice. Overcooked rice helps to keep the gravy in, and balances the heat. Add a squeeze of lime if you like.


  1. So true the "Khabar shomoy kotha bolo na" and "Khabar shomoy boi porbe na"

    Love that stew. A similar recipe with lots of DhonePata is my husband's standard recipe, but he also does a phoron of red chili and paanchphoron.Doesn't the home smell wonderful when this is cooking ?

    Tomader shobaike Pujor onek shubhechcha

    1. I've never tried panchphoron with mangsho, sandeepa. Will have to try it the next time I make this.
      Tomaderkeo pujo-r onek shubhechha :)

  2. I love lamb in all its expressions. Your recipe looks wonderful and your photography is beautiful!

  3. Table Manners... So very important! I have to remind my two sometimes about eating with mouths closed, and cutlery in the right hands. They hate being reminded, but I tell them it's for their own good or they will never be invited anywhere at dinner time! They are so small, there's plenty of time for them to learn!

    I love the look of the lamb, and the bit about telling your parents about your report card when there's no food for them to choke on made me laugh! :D

    1. Emma, yes, I must get around to teaching chotto-ma cutlery etiquette, but like you say, there's time yet :) Right now, she's busy perfecting the art of eating Indian food with her fingers like they do in India.

  4. Ajj ja thanda poreche and this stew .. this stew is all I wish for and yes gorom gorom bhaat!

    1. Ekhaane-o thanda. Winter ta aar postpone kora jaabe na mone hochhe :(

  5. same rules while I was growing up. and i dared to waste something on my plate , i was promptly reminded of how many children were dying of starvation in Somalia ( that got me wondering, how my not wasting food would feed them)!!

    1. :) sounds very familiar, Anita! But no matter what I thought about the rules when I was young, I'm definitely repeating them as a mom :D

  6. Pia: I'm not sure if you remember me...Debiprakash (Debi) is my dada. I just found your blog from his FB page. You have an absolutely beautiful blog! I love your writing and your recipes. Not sure which I love more! I've been reading your posts and loving every one of them.
    This recipe has everything I love. This weekend it'll get made! And yes, I shall be eating this in silence...probably by myself to avoid other distractions!

    1. Debjani, I do remember you - and I was telling debi just the other day about how gorgeous your blog is! Thanks for leaving such a lovely comment. Isn't it nice to find someone you know who also writes a food blog? :)

    2. Thank you so very much! How did you know about my blog? Dada nishchoi boleni, boddo beroshik manush, he hardly tells me anything.
      And yes, it is absolutely fun to know another blogger who you know, who is also such a brilliant writer as you. Your blog is an absolute treat. Your writing has soul. Someday, perhaps you'll write a book.

  7. That stew looks so good. And you have all the right flavors in there too. I am going to try this soon.

    We had rules too, at the dinner table. Matha'e haath diye bosho na, khete khete jol kheo na...

    (Stumbled onto your Blog through someone on Facebook), quite like it.

    1. thanks pree - glad you stumbled in. yes, those old table manners stay with for life, don't they? :)
      hope you love the stew if you try it.

    2. You can see that I've been regularly stalking your blog now for past few days ...told my husband too about my new blog find and how this has turned into my favorite reads :)...well I used to make rice balls (they were absolute no no for us too ) but me being a very fussy eater ..these(making balls) made my goal to eat and get done with it much easier reflecting back on those days I realize how much I've changed..

    3. This stalking - I like. You notes, I like even better. Makes you sound a little bit more familiar every time.
      Balls of rice, like many other things, are so much a part of childhood meals, especially in India. One of the things most of us have in common, and most of us grow out of :)

  8. yes ...remember the ways how our ma, dida and thammis used to feed us as toddlers "aeii golla ta hasher dim...") and the ball of rice landed in our mouth just in a blink :)


Your comments make this blog worth writing. Thank you.