i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!
It’s Friday the 13th.
I am in Nagpur and it is a very important and memorable day for me personally.
This is the day, 14 years ago, my son Aniruddh was born.
This is also the day, in 2012, I was extremely lucky to watch a real master chef cook for my son’s 14th birthday.
But before we talk about the menu, let’s check this chef’s CV.
This chef has never worked in a restaurant, let alone a 3-, 4-, 5-star hotel.
This chef has been cooking for nearly 65 years and has never been to a catering school, or been through an apprenticeship, and has never been paid to perform this ‘wonderful act‘, ever.
This chef has cooked with only two basic ingredients: fursat and mohabbat (leisure and love), even when there hasn’t been much of either in the kitchen, or the pantry. (They call it ‘passion’!)
It was not about the raw material or the ingredients as much as it was about the affordability that made this chef cook for year after year and do a blo..dy good job that would make any executive chef of a 5-star hotel proud. (They call it ‘food cost’!)
This chef can even create dishes from leftovers that are to die for. (The French call it rechaufe.)
This chef has never appeared on the TV though mind you, if given a chance would have given both Heston and Rhodes a run for their money for the knowledge and skill that this chef has! (I’m mentioning these two chefs as they’re my favourite TV chefs. See, I’m not totally against TV chefs!)
This chef will pack a meal for school or work every single day of the week without ever protesting. . . (They call it ‘commitment’!)
This chef is always smiling, even if the circumstances around do not permit it. (They call it ‘love’!)
This chef never complains about anything, and when I say that, I mean anything. (They call it ‘dedication’!)
This chef has mastered the art of cooking real Indian food, no not the butter chickens, beef vindaloos, chicken tikka masalas, lamb kormas . . . you know the kinds of dishes I mean (and no, not the the damn’d Cu–y in a Hu–y stuff either), but I mean ‘real’ as in the kind of food that is eaten at home, in an Indian home, like dal chawal, varan bhat, roti aur subzi, dhokla, puran poli, aamti, cholay bhaturay and etc. . .! (They call it ‘in-depth knowledge’!)
This chef has never taken a sickie, let alone arrived late at the kitchen and has never left a job half finished. (They call it ‘punctuality’!)
This chef is a great believer in the process of cooking food as much as in the quantities of each ingredient in the dish (as you will notice below). (They call it SOP ‘standard operating procedure’!)
This chef is very well organised, meticulous, extremely clean and a treat to watch!! (They call it ‘experience’!)
This chef does not eat any meat, has never ever eaten meat, but can make most ustaads (masters) look like bachchas (kids) when cooking meat dishes, especially mutton and chicken. And amazingly, this chef does all of this without any tasting. (They call it ‘memory’!)
According to this chef, if the process is right and the ingredients are perfectly measured, how in the world can you go wrong (i.e. why bother with a taste test?)! This is the simple philosophy of this chef!
This chef is still cooking eight years after having lost their life partner.
They say, if you want to see real India go to the villages.
I say, if you want to eat real Indian food, go to the home of this master chef.
I call her Aai, my mother!! She is 85.
Aai, my mother, at work
There is a ‘master chef’ in every home in India!!
And now the menu for the 13th of April.
Aai, my mother made: matki chi usal (mung beans sprouted at home, steamed and tossed with whole spices, ground chillies and garam masala).
Pooris (puffed wholemeal breads).
Kakdi chi koshimbir (grated cucumber with ground nuts and beaten yoghurt).
To make matki chi usal, follow the step-by-step recipe below. To see the recipe and quantities, please click matki chi usal recipe.
Clockwise: oil, in the tray: black cumin seeds, bay leaf, black cardamoms, cloves, cassia bark, peppercorns, green cardamoms, ground fenugreek, asafoetida around the plate: chopped onions, ground ginger and garlic (mixed together), turmeric, chilli powder, roughly chopped cooked tomatoes, salt, garam masala, sprouted mung beans, steamed
heat oil in pan and when smoking, add black cumin seeds and let crackle
add each spice individually, folding mixture as you add each one
add chopped onions and fold
keep folding as the onions caramelise, then add ground ginger and garlic, fold again
cook till mixture caramelises and oil comes to surface
add turmeric and fold
add chilli powder and fold, followed by ground fenugreek and asafoetida
drain steamed mung beans (set pot liquid aside)
add mung beans and fold
add chopped tomatoes and pot liquid, as required, and fold
bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, serve hot with pooris
To make pooris, follow the step-by-step recipe below:
to make dough, mix wholemeal flour, salt, water and a little oil to form a hard dough and set aside
knead dough till it leaves the palm easily
divide dough into equal dumplings, flatten each dumpling into a flat round disc. Heat oil and fry each disc (the pooris will inflate)
press lightly with a slotted spoon to make the poori rise
turn over poori when the underside is golden brown
Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!