Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Shadows and Profiles: Pears

A mask tells us more than a face.
Oscar Wilde
So does silence at times.
And so do shadows and profiles.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Railway Mutton Curry

There were trains of all kinds:

Some haughty and proud, enshrouded with the majestic air of cities they had passed through;
Some with the debonair air of those who have travelled much and take everything in their stride;
Some dark and mysterious, as though they held a myriad of tales they would never let go of;
Some with a withered look, as though the kaleidoscope of everyday views has stagnated;
Some impersonal, seeing no one, hearing no thing, talking to no one; they would just strut across;
And some that looked exceedingly commonplace, but with a friendly air that said ‘Step in’;

Neither day nor night halted them:

Some came disrupting the dark, monotonous stillness of night; waking the gentle of sleepers,
drowning the singsong of crickets and prodding the gentle rustle of leaves to a vigorous dance;
Some went agonizingly slow, as if they beheld no destination; no halt, no promise of a change -
they would plod on, as though they have been on this wearisome pace from when time began;
Some had no time for anyone; they roared and sped across, as if their very life depended on it;
The jovial ones would merrily pass, honking a glad horn or two, passengers waving hands.

But come what may,
They would traverse the lines,
Every day and one by one.
Trains were an integral part of our lives when we were young. We used to spend nearly every one of our vacations with our maternal grandparents and almost always travelled by trains to visit them. The journeys that took us to their warm, welcoming hands were always so eagerly awaited. Everything, from the early morning wake up call, to the crowded station and every passing scene that shuttled past the small windows of the train would be met with joyous approval, for each one of them was a step nearer to ‘Pappa and Ammachi’. 

Pappa and Ammachi had their beautiful home near the rail lines and trains were sort of always in the air. For us, this provided bountiful merriment - it was fun to count the number of bogies of the seemingly never ending goods trains, watch the express trains rush by, sending tremors to the ground and occasionally catch the waving hands of some cordial people from slower trains.
Despite this proximity to trains, we were never allowed to have food from trains or train stations – my grandfather was a stickler for hygiene and had brought up my mother along the same lines. A snack, let alone a meal would have been unthinkable – so the most we could expect in terms of food were the customary chocolates and biscuits that my Dad would buy for us from the station (One has to buy chocolates and biscuits from the station. And specifically, ‘Crackle’ and ‘Little Hearts’. Don't you think so?) It was much later in life, when I used to travel with friends or alone that I got to eat from trains. It was a bit of an adventure for me, specked with a touch of rebellion as I was almost always specifically reminded not to have anything from stations or trains. 

The only exception was My Dad’s sister KA, who is not the kind to dwell too much on the possible aftermaths of how the food is prepared in train or station kitchens and have occasionally bought me breakfasts and other stuff when we travelling together. (As for now, I’m married to a guy who has no wish to enter trains of any kind altogether. Talk about luck.)
Even with all this ‘No food allowed from trains’ regime that I was brought up in, the 'Railway Mutton Curry' still struck a chord when I saw it the first time in Sandeepa's blog. Not because I ever had it, but because it brought forth that spirit of train journeys – the happy journeys that took us to the people who we loved more than anyone, the moody,  tear struck ones that took us back home and to the rigorous school life, the merry ones that had my friends to keep company, the lonely ones that used to take me to the dreaded hostel, and finally, the one with my heart in a flutter that took me back home after The Techie and I decided to spend the rest of our lives together.
And so here is a recipe for you – one that holds the charm of a train journey, something you will relate to, if trains are or were once part of your life.

Railway Mutton Curry

I have adapted this recipe from how it appeared on Sandeepa’s Bong Mom’s Cookbook. The recipe was given to her by Pritha Sen and was originally penned by Basav Mukharjee. This is obviously Bengali in roots – and will be different from those that are prepared the Southern way. I have adapted the recipe (mostly reduced the chillies) to our tolerance level. You can find the original version at Sandeepa’s blog. Please go through the notes to see where I have changed quantities/ingredients. The recipe is slightly long. But you can do some things ahead like marinating the meat a day before. (You can even marinate the meat and keep in the freezer for later usage.) You can also make the spice paste ahead and refrigerate or freeze as will be appropriate.
Serves 4


To Marinate Overnight:
  1. Mutton on the bone. Cut into cubes – 500 gm.
  2. Vinegar – 1 tsp.
  3. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder – 1/2 tsp.
  4. Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Ginger Paste – 1/2 tsp.
  6. Garlic Paste – 1/2 tsp.
  7. Mustard Oil – 1/2 tsp. (Optional. Avoid if you do not like the taste of Mustard Oil.)
  8. Salt
For the Masala Paste: (See Notes.)
  1. Coriander Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  2. Fennel Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  3. Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  4. Black Pepper Corns – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 to 3/4 tbsp. (See Notes.)
  6. Ginger, chopped finely – 1/2 tbsp.
  7. Garlic, chopped finely – 1/2 tbsp.
  8. Mustard Oil – 1/4 tbsp. (Optional.)
  9. Sugar – 1/2 tsp.
To Season the Oil:
  1. Black cardamom – 1 small
  2. Green Cardamom – 2
  3. Cinnamon – 1/2 inch stick
  4. Cloves – 2
  5. Bay Leaves – 1
  6. Mace – 1 strand (Not the whole mace from one nutmeg – just one strand of that.) 
For the Gravy:
  1. Onions, sliced thinly – 1 cup, packed
  2. Tomatoes, pureed – 1/4 cup (I just grated them.)
  3. Potatoes, cut into cubes – 1 cup.
  4. Ginger Paste – 1/4 tbsp.
  5. Garlic Paste – 1/4 tbsp.
  6. Green Chillies, slit or broken – 1
  7. Bengali Garam Masala – 1/4 tsp.
  8. Water – 1 cup or more.
  9. Salt – To Taste
  10. Mustard/Vegetable Oil

Heat up a heavy bottomed pan. (I use a ceramic lined cast iron stew pot. You can use a pressure cooker as well.) Add about a tablespoon of oil and when it gets hot (heat till the oil is smoking if you are using mustard oil), add the potatoes. Stir them occasionally and fry till they are specked with a few brown spots. Keep them aside.

To the same pan, add the whole spices and allow them to sizzle a bit. (Add more oil if needed.). Now add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté till their raw smell is gone.

Add the sliced onions along with a pinch of salt and sauté till they turn brown. Now add the tomatoes and fry till they get blended well into the masala and are no longer raw.

Add the marinated pieces of mutton to the pan. Increase the heat to a high and sear the meat, stirring well and taking care not to burn the masala. Now reduce the heat to a medium and continue cooking the meat without the lid. The meat will release juices and later you will see a thin film of oil glistening on top of the pieces. This will smell incredibly good at this point!

Once it gets to this point, add the ground masala to the meat and mix well. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the water and some salt. Depending on how tender the meat is and how fast your potatoes generally cook, you can add the fried potatoes either at this point or once the meat is about three quarters done. (I do the latter.) Bring the gravy back to a boil and cook covered on a low flame till the meat and potatoes are done. (Check in between and add more water if needed.) Once done, switch the heat off, add the green chilli as well as the Garam Masala and stir to combine. Check for salt and then close the lid. Allow the curry to rest for at least an hour.
Serve with Rice. 

  1. I used the original measures for 4 pounds of meat and then used a quarter of that for this curry. So I took 2 tsp. each of coriander, fennel and cumin seeds, 1 tsp. of Black Peppercorns, 3 tbsp. of Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder, 2 tbsp. each of Ginger and Garlic, 1 tsbp. of Mustard oil and 1 tsp. of sugar. I kept the rest of the marinade in the freezer and used it for other meat dishes.
  2. Going by the original recipe, I used two Dried Red Chillies (One of which was substituted with a very mild chilly) and 1/2 tsp. of Kashmiri Chilli Powder in the Masala paste and it was still too hot for us when I made it the first time. So the second time around, I just used 3/4 tbsp of Kashmiri Chilli Powder and it was fine for us. Talking about Kashmiri Chilli Powder, I found that the store bought brands are slightly hotter than my Mother in Law’s home dried, small mill ground ones. So use only 1/2 tbsp. if what you have is store bought and you can’t stand spicy curries. Alternatively, you can try grinding the masala with the seeds removed from the dried red chillies.
  3. I hand pounded the masala paste which is why it has come out very thick. (Not recommended unless you are using gloves of some sort. My hands were on fire afterwards,) If you are using a grinder, you will get a smoother paste.
  4. The original recipe uses two dried red chillies in the seasoning also, which I have avoided.
  5. I get good lamb here and always slow cook it. You can use a pressure cooker if the meat that you get is very tough and takes a very long time to cook.
  6. I think this curry is better off with a ‘thin gravy consistency’; but that is just a personal preference.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Rusted Wheel

The old valve might have rusted, 
but it still decides whether water can flow down from the reservoir above. 

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