Sunday has always been one of my favourite days, where I can set its pace to either slow, relaxed, bound to the couch, or to a complete roller coaster ride with family, friends, and experiences. The most anticipated and significant part of it all, being our Sunday luncheon. I don’t like a lavish Sunday breakfast as I am too fond of sleeping in and I prefer dinners to be light, easy, or a takeaway. So I always love a good sumptuous lunch. During the lockdown, people carried out Dalgona challenge, made a sourdough starter, and even experimented with drool-worthy new recipes. I too indulged in a lot of cooking, channelling my memories. When in the mood for homemade and Indian, I kept referring to these three dishes. As I yearned to recreate the comfort, love, fun that I once felt, here let me take you through a nostalgic trip.
Ma’s “Bhoger Khichuri”
During childhood every Sunday around noon, I would call out….. What’s for lunch, mummy?
Only to hear the same answer “Khichri“.
I would then sigh and sulk. Of course, the food palate of a juvenile craved to discover something new. It so happened, in our home, it was my dad who had the responsibility of dishing out Sunday afternoon meals and the only thing he could make was “India’s very own dal risotto“. I realised it much later in life how it used to taste delish and immerse me in a warm pillowy hug.
However, I was struck by the glamour in the form of “Bhoger Khichuri“. Hundreds of people would queue up in the warm humid afternoons of October to receive the prasad in our local Durga Pujo pandal. I used to wonder, being one of them, standing amidst the heady aroma of sweat, talcum and incense, “what’s so special about this Khichuri?” For the uninitiated, “Bhoger Khichuri“ is the one which is offered to the goddess and then distributed among the devotees in the Puja, particularly Saraswati Pujo and Saptami (seventh day) of Durga Pujo. Served with Labra (a typically mushy Bengali style mixed vegetable containing pumpkin, potato, spinach, aubergine, cauliflower), papad or Beguni (aubergine fritter) and Chaatney (tomato chutney) and had among friends, neighbours and strangers.
Was it the sense of being a part of the community, exchanging harmless titbits, reverence for the goddess, the love and simplicity with which it is cooked and the ethereal flavour or maybe a bit of everything that made it unique? The vibe is difficult to replicate at home but, I could definitely try to recreate its physical form, taste and fill our home with the same fragrance. I did, following the recipe from Bong-eats (a YouTube channel and blog about the food of Kolkata).
To my pleasant surprise, it transported me back to my Pujo pandal, as I savoured this healthy concoction made of rice, dry roasted moong dal and also the coveted moment. Do try the recipe on a rainy day for some extra warmth.
Love in the time of “Rajma Chawal”
Jas Arora put “Rajma Chawal” on my Sunday meal map. He, of “Gur naal ishq mitha, oye hoye” fame, a 90’s remix song by Bally Sagoo, sung by Malkit Singh and featuring Malaika Arora dancing in a black leather ensemble (faux?) and red heels and later a lilac lehenga-choli (fashion inspiration definitely!). Jas Arora adorned with his dimpled smile and nonchalant hair once mentioned in a Delhi Times interview, his favourite Sunday lunch to be Rajma Chawal. And though, I was very much aware of this Punjabi Sunday favourite, having lived in Delhi all my life, somehow after reading about his inclination, my heart too plonked itself forever on the dimples of our Red kidney beans.
And that is how making Rajma Masala takes me back to my teen years. They were a simpler time with no mobile phones or the internet for us. Outdoor games and television being the biggest sources of entertainment. The late 90s was the era of independent pop music artists and remix video albums featuring models and fresh faces. The music was new, different, and felt very indigenous albeit marked with pronounced western influences.
Even though our Rajma beans (red kidney beans), are derived from a common bean ancestor originating in Peru, and introduced to Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders, they are the heart and soul of Punjab and North India in the form of Rajma Masala. And as it came quite practical to cook this during the lockdown period, with just store cupboard and basic ingredients, I was also reminded of the famous “Shankar market के Rajma Chawal (Parashar foods, Delhi) and how office goers would huddle to relish it during their lunchtime.
Food memories are interesting in a way that sometimes they are not about the actual dish. But mark the era, surroundings, occasions in which it was had, people who lovingly and tirelessly made it or friends with whom you enjoyed it. It becomes a reminder of your grandmother’s soft hands, the long drive with friends to a highway Dhaba, and even the petrichor that you enjoy with hot pakoras (fritters) and ginger chai. One such memory was formed when I had lived in my matrimonial home.
Married to “Mangshor Jhol”
One drill that I was so happy to adapt to, embrace and continue is having “Mangshor Jhol/Meat curry” for lunch on a Sunday. Most Bengali households have “Mangshor Jhol” on their Sunday lunch menu. It could be either mutton or chicken and this is almost like their circadian rhythm, only it happens every Sunday. Ours is a simple chicken and potato curry, but it is the memory of going shopping for the fresh chicken in the morning, making a ginger-garlic paste on “Shil-nora” (grinding stone), cubing the potatoes and the bite of the mustard oil when it touches the hot pan, that puts me on an endorphin rush. And later, the sprinkled comfort of garam masala and sugar on the dish, to be enjoyed with steamed rice readies me for the well-deserved Sunday siesta.
Here is our recipe for 1 kg chicken, cut into small to medium pieces:
Turmeric powder – 2 tsp, Coriander powder – 2 tsp, Cumin powder – 2 tsp, black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp, ginger garlic paste – 3 Tbsp, dried red chillies – 2, slit green chillies – 5, chopped onion -1, chopped tomato – 1, Mustard oil – 1 Tbsp, salt to taste
Wash and clean chicken pieces. Marinate with the above mentioned ingredients for at least an hour
Wash, peel and cube two potatoes, fry lightly in mustard oil for 2-3 minutes. Keep it aside.
Chop two large sized onions for the gravy
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat mustard oil (4-5 Tbsps), once hot put chopped onions to fry
Once the onions appear soft and slightly browned at the edges, add the marinated chicken pieces
Cook the chicken with frequent stirring (can also cover and cook but do keep an eye and stir frequently) till it is done, takes at least 20-25 minutes.
Add the lightly fried potatoes and 1 cup hot water into the pan
Let the potatoes cook in the gravy till they are done (keep adding hot water if the gravy becomes dry and is sticking to the bottom of the pan), also the gravy should be a bit runny
Towards the end of the cooking add a pinch of freshly ground garam masala and 1 tsp sugar
Taste and adjust for salt and seasonings
Do try this recipe and make it your own, whether you are a recipe-focused cook or a laidback one. You can even tweak it to your own liking. The experience of cooking is to engage all your senses, de-stress, and be experimental, it is as I said earlier to relive memories and also make new ones.
As Anthony Bourdain once said, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life”. You would also have your moments where having mangoes will remind you of that well-spent summer holiday in your hometown or cooking पुलाव on an open fire with family and friends of that picnic in winters.
If reading about my food escapades tempted your taste buds or nudged your hippocampus, then do share your most cherished food memories with us.
Cover Image Credit: Freepik, Wikimedia Commons