Well, we’re back in Delhi – school has started (although probably only a matter of time before Swine Flu closes it down again) and work is piling up, but my food brain, which is pretty much the lion’s share, is still in Kullu Valley.
I really meant to be fiendishly blogging throughout our month in the hills but there just wasn’t enough Broadband to go round. So you’ll just have to bear with me while I catch up with myself.
Today I’m remembering a wonderful afternoon a couple of weeks ago when our landlord Chaman’s wife Uma and daughter-in-law Poonam showed me how to make a local speciality called Sidu. One of the joys of being invited into the Thakurs’ cosy wood-panelled kitchen was seeing a traditional extended family up close. As Uma and Poonam worked away companionably, Chaman’s elderly mother cooed over Poonam’s young baby in another room – a world away from the histrionics of the ‘Saas-Bahu’ TV soaps! It made me think back to when I was a new mum and a long way from any family help – most days, getting dinner on the table used to be my own personal tipping point – the idea of conducting a two-hour masterclass in yeast cookery……well, it doesn’t bear thinking about!
This is a recipe that requires a few simple ingredients, a fair bit of time and patience – I imagine many family problems are set to rights during sidu-making afternoons – and, according to Chaman, a whopping great ‘Shil’ stone to grind the spices. Electric grinders just don’t cut it apparently.
I’m sure Sidu is one of those dishes that’s different in every family but in the Thakur household in the village of Batahar, it’s a steamed Cornish Pasty-shaped dumpling stuffed with a spicy poppy seed paste. It reminds me of the dumplings we make for stews in the long winter months back home. It was delicious piping hot, drenched in ghee and dipped in the homemade apple chutney but really came into its own later in the evening when we used it to mop up the sauce from the Rara Chicken and Paneer.
This is the type of cooking (my favourite) which is passed down through families and is made instinctively so it really isn’t in the spirit of things to provide very precise quantities, but it goes something like this:
Because the Sidu dough is yeast-based, it has to be prepared a couple of hours before you need it. To 2kg of plain flour add 2 teaspoons of dried yeast and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead well for about 10 minutes then leave, covered, to double in size for a couple of hours in a warm place.
The stuffing ingredients are all given a good workout on the ‘Shil’: Chaman estimated one half kg of poppy seeds, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 10-20 green chillies, salt, fresh coriander and mint to taste.
Uma and poonam made the next bit look easy, rolling, stuffing and shaping each sidu in seconds. For the rest of us,it might take a bit of practice. When the dough is ready, break off small balls, dip them in flour and roll out to the thickness of a 5 rupee coin. Then spread 1 tablespoon of the poppy seed paste over the centre of the dough circle, leaving about 1 cm at the edge. Fold the dough in half fold the edge back over on itself then pinch the edges to firmly seal. The Sidu are then placed in a steamer and cooked for 10-15 minutes.
Sidu can be eaten in the place of bread or on it’s own with Kullu Valley apple chutney – I haven’t yet tried this at home but the Thakur version is made up of tomato, onion, apple, mint, fresh coriander and green chillies. And for this Chaman does allow an electric grinder to be used!