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.



  1. How beautifully you weave words, Pia! So poetic and something that everyone can relate to. I will think of you and your words whenever I look out of the window this winter and see some birds pottering around in our garden, birds from Russia perhaps :)

    Have fun and safe trip. I can't wait to see Calcutta through your eyes and also Chotu Ma's curious eyes :)

    hugs and much love

    1. Your words always make me smile, Sia. Thank you for leaving them here :)
      I'll carry your comment home with me, and bring you back a bit of my city. Much love back xx

  2. I'm glad you shared this recipe. It looks delicious and pretty easy, too - just how I like it. Have fun in Calcutta! :D

  3. It IS easy, Leaf - let me know if you give it a go :)
    And Merry Christmas, and a happy new year to you!

  4. Pia, enjoy Kolkata. Last time when I walked the streets with my camera, I got some stares from the locals .. it felt funny, but thank god it didn't bother me after a while. Will be back when you are to read you ever so beautiful lines and to enjoy Kolkata through your lens. Have fun girl :)

    1. Yes, I can imagine that scene well, people staring at you with your big black camera :)) But what you captured, must be stunning - must go over to yours and check it out when I'm back.
      See you in the new year, Kankana! *hugs*

  5. Have a wonderful wonderful trip! Can't wait to see the photos! :) xxx

  6. Oh how beautifully you write Pia. Its just refreshing to read every single post of yours. I wish you happy holidays.I know what you mean by being suspended in air and floating all the time. I have lived an expat's life for a long, long time.
    The dal pakoda looks yummy and its entirely new to me when you say you can have it with gravy. Like you just mentioned - Perspective!

    1. Anita - thank you as always. I hope your holidays were happy, and your winter warm. We just returned from India, and are burrowing from the snow :)

  7. I've never heard of Dal-er Bora, but going by your ingredient list, it's quite tempting. And your pics, surely promising!

    1. Thanks MD :) You can't go wrong with Dal-er Bora.

  8. Replies
    1. Sia - yes, we're back! I think I'm hibernating a little, and flexing my fingers. Switching off from the internet for three weeks seem to do that to you :)


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