A Delhi Street Food Feature For Feast Magazine

Here’s a link to a feature I wrote for the Australian food magazine ‘Feast’. Photographer  Alan Benson and I did this in May when it was boiling, boiling hot and even I was finding it hard to eat huge amounts of deep-fried food!  At Dilli Haat craft market we were literally the only people at the food court.

Alan’s  photos are gorgeous though – Old Delhi never looked better and happily, there are no shots of my red, sweaty face in there!

Feast Feature

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Our Son Leaves Home and Official: I’m Writing a Book

Suddenly and devastatingly, our big boy, Charlie, has  become big enough to leave home.  How does that happen?  One minute we’re changing nappies and hanging out in the ball pool, the next he’s got himself a bank account and a place at university in Scotland.

After a long summer of goodbyes as his friends here in Delhi left for various corners of the globe, last week it was his turn.  Lots of tears, yes, but also lots of ‘last’ meals. Like the wonderfully comforting garlic pepper chicken prawns at Swagath in Defence Colony – Charlie’s favourite and one of Delhi’s most devour-able dishes. For lunch on his last day Dean and I took him for Delhi’s best sandwiches and cold coffee at Novelty Stores  in Jangpura where he loved the old fashioned stool-at-the-counter vibe.

But his last dinner had to be at home and he asked for his favourite: chicken pie.  I made them in individual tins with everyone’s names on – a bit of a fiddle but it kept my mind off the the very imminent departure.

I packed him off with a recipe notebook  containing  family favourites,  and like a good Indian mummy I padded out his case with  chaat masala ( I actually found myself saying “you might need it for the bland food”), garam masala and enough Five Stars and All Bar Ones to last him till Christmas.

The days since Charlie left have been the saddest we’ve gone through as a family; knowing that our boy is out there on his own and until December we’ll only set 4 places for dinner.

We’re all dealing with it in different ways.  His brother and sister message him constantly, his Dad makes sure the Nelson menfolk are all watching their beloved Tottenham Hotspur at the same time, and I’m sending recipes and reminding him to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

The day after he left  I went to Old Delhi.  This increasingly seems to be my cure-all – there’s something about the overwhelming chaos of the place that calms me down and eclipses other concerns, at least for a little while.

Old Delhi will have to work overtime in the next few weeks as I try to get used to Charlie leaving home.

And, as  luck would have it, I will be spending a huge amount of time there over the next year as I’ve just signed a contract with Aleph to write a book. The working title is ‘A Year in Old Delhi’, a portrait of (a love letter to?) a world that has transformed my life over the last few years.  I’ll be exploring the food and  the people who make the food;  peeking into homes and restaurants; collecting stories and recipes.    I’ll be watching the changes in the seasons and the way the food reflects the rhythms of the year.  I’ll be there for all the high days and holidays and plenty of others in between.   And of course, I’ll be blogging as I go.

I’m incredibly excited about the book –  without question, the highlight of my writing life – and to have the opportunity to spend the next few months in what is fast becoming my spiritual home is a huge thrill.  To be working with publisher David Davidar, and agent David Godwin is an enormous,  privileged bonus.

The publishing contract arrived yesterday – probably the most wonderful  letter I’ve ever received but also the scariest.  Apart from all the  daunting ‘hereafters’ and ‘witnesseths’ there are  phrases like ‘in the event of the death of the Author’.

But perhaps the most terrifying of all  is ‘The Author shall deliver the typescript of the Work (of approx 100,000 words) to the Publisher by 31st January 2012 (“Submission Date “).

Yikes! That’s a LOT of words. That’s really SOON.  Better crack on.  Wish me luck.

Indian Shortbread Three Ways and Grapefruit Soda

I wrote recently about the delights of “locavorism” (http://www.livemint.com/locavore.htm), and the benefits, both health- and planet-wise, of eating locally sourced ingredients as opposed to those flown halfway round the world.

What I failed to mention is that while it’s no hardship to go local with Indian mangoes instead of Scottish raspberries and coconuts over parsnips, there are other items which require a little more fortitude. I haven’t, for example, managed to make the switch from olive to mustard oil and the chocolate in my baking is stubbornly Belgian. I have also failed completely to find a local butter which is good to bake with—Amul is too salty and white butter too watery—and have been a slave to the expensive French unsalted variety. Until now.

I recently went to stay at a friend’s family home in Madhya Pradesh and spent four days watching a traditional Hindu vegetarian kitchen at work, returning to Delhi with a notebook crammed with new recipes and techniques. My friend’s family still keeps a small organic dairy herd and it was wonderful to watch all the daily rituals that revolve around milk and the forgotten (in the West) skills of yogurt, butter and cheese-making.

When it was time to leave reluctantly, my friend’s mother gave me a large tub of home-made ghee to bring back and I knew my precious golden gift had to be put to some divine purpose, that is, baking.

I decided to make nan khatai biscuits, one of my favourite Old Delhi treats. Because they taste so like our own shortbread, I had always assumed Scottish roots for nan khatai, but they are, in fact, thought to be a legacy of Dutch colonizers in Surat who left behind their ovens when they shipped out.

I made two batches, one with fancy French butter and one with my Sagar ghee, giving them three chic modern toppings: pistachio and lemon, fennel sugar and grapefruit. I think it might be the start of something big in my kitchen. I can’t stress enough how much better the ghee version was—lighter, richer, crumblier—than the one made with imported unsalted butter. It may even be the best biscuit I’ve ever made or eaten.

I recommend eating these nan khatai warm, immediately after a sneaky siesta, with a glass of iced grapefruit soda—guaranteed to nudge you zestily back towards productivity.

Nan Khatai 3 Ways

Makes 18-24

Ingredients

100g of your finest ghee— preferably from cows you can see from your kitchen window

30g icing sugar

60g plain flour (maida)

50g chickpea flour (besan)

25g semolina (sooji)

1 tsp baking powder

A pinch of salt

Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed

Toppings

Grapefruit: grated zest of 1 grapefruit, blitzed in a grinder with 2 tbsp of granulated (not fine, caster) sugar until a sandy texture

Pistachio and lemon: grated zest of 2 lemons (nimbu) blitzed briefly with 2 tbsp sugar—try to keep some of the bigger pieces of pistachio

Fennel sugar: 1 tsp of fennel seeds blitzed with 2 tbsp sugar, ground to a powder

Method

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a baking sheet.

First make your toppings and set aside.

Tip the ghee into a large mixing bowl with the icing sugar and whisk until light and creamy. Sift in the flour, besan, semolina, baking powder, salt and fold into theghee/sugar until you have a soft mixture.

Take teaspoonfuls (small enough so there’s no guilt at eating one of each flavour) of the mixture and roll them between your palms into a ball, using icing sugar on your hands to stop them sticking. Place them, well spaced, on the baking sheet and sprinkle on generous amounts of the toppings. For the fennel variety, decorate the top with whole fennel seeds after sprinkling with the fennel powder.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until baked but not brown. Eat while still warm (although they keep well in a jar for a few days), with tea or grapefruit soda made from the fruit you have zested.

Grapefruit Soda

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1 grapefruit

Juice of one lemon

Soda water, as required

Method

Put sugar and juices in a pan with one cup of sugar and bring to boil. Let it bubble for a minute or two until syrupy, then leave to cool. Strain into a jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. To serve, add ice cubes and top up with soda water.

Goodbye Sachin, Hello Haleem

A WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS NO PICTURES.  IT DOES CONTAIN SOME SADNESS

A little over two years ago I met the wonderful Eating Out In Delhi gang and it is no exaggeration to say that they altered my food horizons forever. Through them came my life-changing introduction to Indian street food and a lifelong addiction to Chhole Bhature.

At  EOID’s helm was Hemanshu Kumar who organised regular jaunts to obscure eateries – we even had a couple of out of town gorging sessions – our trips to Amritsar and Lucknow will stay with me forever.  Eating street food became less of a priority  for Hemanshu, though, when he got married recently. Several other founder members  have also moved onto pastures new. We meet sporadically now but it’s always the highlight of my week – eating and laughing, laughing and eating, then a bit more eating.

Last night we met to say goodbye to our friends Sachin and Prajakta who, sadly for us, are moving back to their beloved Bombay.  So that’s the sadness. Happily the food was exceptionally good and Prajakta kept us all entertained with hilarious impersonations of Kiran Rao.

Sachin had chosen Purani Dilli in  Zakir Nagar for his last supper and what a treat it turned out to be. Zakir Nagar is a Muslim area  near New Friends Colony positively overflowing with good things to eat.  The main street of Zakir Nagar has the party feel of  Matia Mahal in Old Delhi, with the added chaos of people trying to drive 4x4s down it. Purani Dilli is at the far end of the street so it can take a while to get there and for me it was an anxious rickshaw ride as Sachin had warned us that the Haleem for which the restaurant is famous would be finished by 8.15.  By the time we arrived there was only a spoonful of Haleem left and it looked a little forlorn  – hence no pictures.

The taste, though, was divine.  I don’t exactly know how haleem is made (and I’ve spent way too much time on Twitter this morning trying to find out!)  but I do know it’s a dish that originates in Hyderabad, a divine marriage of mutton, ghee, wheat, lentils and spices.

Bizarrely, the thing it most reminds me of is French ‘rillettes’ – meat, usually pork, slow cooked in fat then shredded and served as an extremely rich paté. When I lived in Paris rillettes were my passion (and  downfall in the dress size department) and I think Haleem might be about to become my Indian equivalent. Both dishes have a soft, soothing yet incredibly rich texture (that’s the beauty of ghee and pork fat!), set off perfectly by good bread.  In Paris that meant baguette, at Purani Dilli a perfect naan.

The Haleem was so good I couldn’t focus on anything else although the mutton stew alone would be worth a return trip.  And there will be a return trip – but next time I’ll be setting out earlier.

Thank you to Sachin for choosing Purani Dilli and thank you to both he and Prajakta for sharing some of my best times in India – eating!  All the best to them and their gorgeous little girl Aanya – we’ll be down to sample some Bombay street food very soon.

 

 

A Welcome South Indian Breakfast

Yesterday morning I was extremely weary and famished after a hectic few days of baking  and not eating properly in the run up to Sunday’s Uparwali Chai pop-up  tea party.  I actually woke up longing for South Indian breakfast so as soon as our dogs had had their turn round Lodhi Gardens, I dragged Dean off to Sagar Ratna in Defence Colony.

I don’t seem to have mentioned it  before but South Indian breakfast fare is one of the great treats of living here and  if you get the urge for idlis, dosas and uttapams, which I frequently do, no-one does it better than Sagar Ratna.

The hardest thing is deciding which you want most.  I made it easier on myself yesterday by opting for two breakfasts – idlis, (steamed rice cakes)  followed by tomato and coconut uttapam (a cross between a pancake and a pizza made from soaked and ground urad dal and rice then fried with various toppings), both served with  coconut chutney and a sinus-clearing sambar soup.

The breakfast-time atmosphere at Sagar is extremely mellow – we lingered over the papers and a couple of cups of South Indian Coffee and were just about ready to face the week.

Sagar Ratna, Defence Colony Market, Delhi

Pictures from our Sanskriti tea party

Here are a few quick pictures I took with my phone ( did I mention I got a lovely new iPhone from The Caveman for my birthday?) while Laura and I were getting ready for our lovely tea party at Sanskriti Kendra last Sunday.

The clicking had to stop when the 40 or so guests arrived as things got a bit frantic.  But there should be some lovely pictures in Mint and Hindustan Times on Saturday as both newspapers covered the event.

By the end, Laura and I were the most exhausted we’ve ever been but thoroughly chuffed to see so many people happily tucking into pukka afternoon tea in such gorgeous surroundings!

Uparwali Chai* at Sanskriti Kendra

Photo by Tom Pietrasik

Well, Laura and I are practically hyperventilating with excitement about our next Uparwali Chai* event.  On the 28th March, we’re hosting an afternoon tea-party in the gorgeous grounds of Sanskriti Kendra, one of Delhi’s best kept secrets.

It promises to be a really special afternoon: as well as the stunning garden setting, Sanskriti staff will be on hand to give guided tours of the Foundation’s lovingly-curated collection of terracotta, textiles and ‘everyday art’.

Photo by Tom Pietrasik

We’re already hard at work planning the menu – as before, it’ll be a feast (probably best to skip lunch!), ranging from curry puffs, smoked trout pate, cucumber sandwiches, tomato and basil tart and cheese pastries to rich coconut chocolate cake, macaroons, florentines, strawberry cupcakes and dropped scones.  All loving home-baked and served with the finest leaf and iced teas. We’ll be serving tea from 4pm but come earlier to enjoy the Sanskriti museums and grounds.

Tables are already going fast so book early! Either email me: uparwalichai@gmail.com or phone 9871927320.  Look forward to seeing you there.

The price will be  Rs 800 per person (Rs 400 for children)

Photo by Tom Pietrasik


*Uparwali Chai:  tea-time treats served with no restraint whatsoever

New Year, New Look, New Challenge

Tea-Time in Kinari Bazaar

A bit slow out of the blogging blocks this year – I blame the weather – this cold snap has almost brought me to a standstill. I’m spending way too much time under the covers wearing umpteen unflattering layers and clutching a hot water bottle. I may not have been tapping away furiously yet – maybe I should try, it might warm me up a bit – but I have been tinkering and mulling.

First, I decided we needed a new, 2010-friendly look – what do you think so far? Also, I realised things were getting a little tame around here and a new adrenalin-fuelled direction was required! Something to get the pulse-rate up a notch, a kind of culinary triathlon.

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Season’s Greetings from INA Market

The bakery in INA Market was feeling festive yesterday – I couldn’t have put it better myself. Marry Christmax from me too!

The First Ever Upar Wali Chai

So this is Laura and I at the start of our first ever  ‘Upar Wali Chai’ (def: n. tea, high – decadent tea-time treats served with no restraint whatsoever) which was held at Gunpowder Restaurant in Hauz Khas Village last weekend. Thirty guests, a mountain of cakes and the sun setting over the lake made for a winter afternoon to remember.

Here’s a selection of pictures taken by the lovely and super-talented Tom Pietrasik

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