Making Sidu in Kullu Valley


Sidu-a speciality of Kullu Valley

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.

Uma and Poonam making Sidu

Uma and Poonam making Sidu

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! Continue reading


Fergus’s Kullu Valley Summer of 2009 Peach, Lemon and Vanilla Muffins

Peach, Lemon and Vanilla Muffins

The kids are coming on leaps and bounds on the cooking front.  I’m not sure whether it’s the cool mountain air (that certainly does it for me) or the lack of X-Box and Wii, but for the past month in Kullu Valley they’ve been  knocking up everything from Spagetti Carbonara to Shahi Paneer and a whole range of salads, including ‘Carottes a la Georgia’ which our daughter has modestly named after herself.

Fergus SplashingOur youngest, Fergus, is starting to look like a mini Jamie Oliver – yesterday he wrote out a full breakfast menu, including four types of egg and six varieties of pancake and took everyone’s orders. By the time he’d catered to Caveman Dad and teenage brother and sister he was darting about like a short-order chef rustling up milkshakes, egg and bacon, crepes and beans on toast to a surprised and delighted family
Continue reading

Eat and A Lot Less Dust

A Basket of Plums

A Basket of Plums

Every July, when the Delhi heat has rendered us senseless and my kitchen a no-go area, we pack up and head for the hills.  With the promise of a month’s sweat-free cooking in Himachal Pradesh, our old Ambassador is stuffed to the gills with everything from cherry-stoners and muffin trays to pasta machine and oven.  Our convoy (one car for us, one for the contents of the kitchen) left Delhi at dawn last  Sunday:  16 hours, 3 dhaba stops, 25 podcasts and one puncture later, we arrived at our summer home, a tiny cottage nestling in an apple orchard in the village of Batahar.

A Traditional Kathkuni House

A Traditional Kathkuni House

Life in Batahar and most of the surrounding villages goes on pretty much as it has for hundreds of years. Despite the arrival of electricity and satellite TV in the traditional Kathkuni houses, villagers with chiselled, weather-beaten features dressed in tweed pinafores and headscarves still trudge up and down the lane with baskets of animal feed strapped to their backs,  wheat is ground at the water mill,  and clothes  scrubbed in mountain streams. One of my favourite sights when we walk our dogs in the morning is village women settling down to a few hours’ quality knitting while their cows graze in the mountain pastures.

We’ll be here for the next month, counting our blessings every day as we wake up to birdsong, blue skies and distant snow-capped peaks. And yes, from our verandah, we can reach out and pick apples and pears.  When we leave in August, the apple harvest will be in full swing but right now it’s peak soft fruit season, the orchards groaning with  luscious peaches, apricots and plums. These are the fruits of imagination – they taste, gloriously, of themselves, not that watery approximation we get in supermarkets at home.

Roadside Fruit Stall

Roadside Fruit Stall

On Monday morning our first stop was the local village of Patlikul, reached by means of a perilous bridge,

Green Plums

Greengages, Mirabelles.........or Raspberries?

on which our Amby has about one millimetre to spare on each side, to stock up on essentials. Stopping at a roadside fruit stall on the way, a man rushed out and urged us to try his ‘raspberries’.  These turned out to be small green plums, a type of greengage or Mirabelle perhaps, but with a sweetness verging on, well, raspberry-ness.  We took away a box each of red plums, pears and the disputed green fruit at assuredly ‘no-tourist prices’.  I wasn’t even paying attention to the price, I was already mentally flicking through Jane Grigson’s ‘Fruit Book’ trying to decide on how best to use my bounty.

No sooner had we got back  to the house than Chaman, our endlessly resourceful landlord (the other day he found an Ambassador inner tube in a Hindustan Motors-free state) popped in with a huge basket of plums  and pounds of peaches from his own orchard.  Suddenly I’m starting to panic about using  up this  abundance before it turns to compost.

Apples in the Morning

Apples in the Morning

But where to look for inspiration? Surely there must be hundreds of local recipes to track down?  Jane Austen once said ‘Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness’.  Not in Himachal Pradesh though – here, the only place you find pies is in the Hippy hangouts in Old Manali – and I’m not recommending that as a culinary treat.  Elsewhere, in local restaurants and homes,  I’ve yet to find a single other use for the local summer bounty apart from the (admittedly fabulous) juice. My guess is that the reason for this is two-fold: firstly, the fruit is not native to India, it was brought here by the British.   Secondly, there is no local tradition of home baking.

In Europe, apples are put into pies, puddings, jams, soups and sauces;they accompany pork and pheasant and are laid down for the winter as pickles and preserves.  And so it is to  Jane Grigson’s master work that I turn(I always bring it to Kullu, along with the companion  vegetable volume, partly because much of the book was written during Grigson family holidays at their similarly  local produce-abundant summer home in France).  To my delight there are 22 pages and 21 recipes devoted to plums alone.

So far, I’ve made a wonderfully tart Plum Crumble, which disappeared before I could take a picture;  I’m planning Grigson’s ‘Mirabelle and Almond Tart’ and I’’m stockpiling  sugar and jars for a jam-making spree.  Any other suggestions gratefully received.

Plum Crumble Recipe

750g plum, halved and stoned

90g butter

110g flour

3tbs caster sugar (preferably vanilla)

3tbs light muscovado sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees

Place plum halves, cut side up in an oven proof dish.  Sprinkle with butter and sugar according to the sourness of the fruit.  Pop into the oven for about 15 minutes until the jiuce starts to run from the plums.

In a bowl rub the butter into the flour until mixture resembles  breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar then sprinkle over the plums.  Return to the oven for about 25 minutes until the topping is light brown with bright red  juices bursting through.  Serve with fridge-cold cream.

Close up Plums