Update for week ended 16 September 2011
The Neelkantheswar sisters were ready to roll in their kitchens. Though the younger sister, Apeksha, was more adept at cooking – perhaps driven by her zodiac sign, Virgo, her Libran elder sister, Komala, who seldom cooked, would turn out those lip smacking goodies. Apeksha waltzed into the kitchen humming an English tune and her velvet voice was very malleable. She had an amazing range in her voice and could easily slip in and out of ragas, abhangs, bhajans, thumris, tappas while still being able to belt out a nautanki number or croon a satiny smooth jazzy pop. The hum grew loud, as Komala walked in and in her almost baby voice called out, “Apeksha, what are you going to make today?” Apeksha had soaked some Bengal gram and was now draining it in a colander before dropping handfuls of it into a wok full of boiling water. She also dropped in some cloves and green cardamoms. She topped it with a lid, lightly closed, to let out the steam, as the gram cooked. She turned to Komala – who though elder to her, was slightly shorter, but always wore her white or off-white sarees that would hide her age and her height. Her long hair tied into 2 braids also helped conceal the ageing diva with a nightingale like voice. Komala had a weak timbre, even as a child, and when she cried as an infant, her mother would think that the milk boiler had gone off – so shrill was the voice, that the delicate baby got her name – Komala. Komala too was a trained singer like her sister, but preferred to stay on the staid side of music focusing on her strengths – her high pitched voice that was suited for softer singing and her go-get-it Libran attitude allowed her to be choosy as well. Despite this, she was the favorite at any singing session or mehfil. But today, she was in her sister’s kitchen and was happy to play second fiddle here. Seeing Apeksha boil the gram, she went over to the pantry and scooped out mounds of wheat flour into a steel basin. She knew where to find the clarified butter and quickly got down to kneading the dough into a soft satiny smooth dough, as her sister raised her singing volume to include recognizable words – “shout out to me, whither have you hidden – you are where?” Komala tried to sing along, but could not get down to those low octaves which Apeksha easily sunk to. Komala tried to medley into a chorus – and the effect was hauntingly nice. But it was also time to get on with the cooking – they had guests today and lots of food to be made. The Neelkantheswars were very fond of their kitchen and culinary art and never ever tired of spending time in the kitchen. They still fondly used the utensils that were used in their ancestral home in Portuguese Goa. Komala had once used the rolling pin to down a rodent in the kitchen, and her mother had admonished her for that act – Komala atoned for it by abstaining from eating the next day; whilst spending time singing Ganesh Bhajans. Komala dreamily shut her eyes, smiled and then opened them to get back to the present – as she saw her sister already ahead of the game, making a firm paste of the crushed, boiled gram, the spices and powdered jaggery. She also sprinkled in some grated coconut and rolled it into a smooth ball. Now was Komala’s turn to roll out those wafer thin pancakes into which would be stuffed the sweet jaggery gram balls, and re-rolled, ready to be cooked. Apeksha poured some grease onto the griddle and let it heat into a sizzle. And into it, slid the stuffed flat bread. And as the dough touched the griddle, the grease sizzled and hissed loudly letting off grey steam, carrying alongwith it the smells of dairy fat, southern spices and northern wheat. Apeksha used a steel spatula to press the bread down so that it cooked evenly, and turned tossed it over, adding some more ghee around the edges. This was the moment that defined the bread – the moment when the bread swelled up into a flying saucer shaped ball – nice and firm with golden brown spots. Perfect to be taken off the griddle onto the serving plate.
The D Boyz heard the songs of the Neelkanteshwar sisters as they strode into their regular haunt – the D Street, this week. And they got ready to make their own food. So if on Monday, they bent down to pick up the pulses from the store area beneath the kitchen platform (pushing down the SENSEX 367 points), on Tuesday started the boiling of the pulses routine – but they tried matching up with the low octaves of the “shout out to me” song and had to bend low taking the SENSEX down some 50 points. Wednesday was the day when they got going with the dough making and used enough Greece, sorry, grease, to make their dough pliable and flaky, taking the SENSEX up 200 odd points. And Thursday was the day when they rolled out the flat bread bring the SENSEX back to where it was left last weekend – near 16867. And finally Friday was the day that they waited for when the sizzle on the griddle got the bread to puff up and turn golden brown – though at mid-day, it did see some dip, as the Boyz tried the flip-over maneouvre of their bread on the griddle. And they ended the week lower than its peak, and not too far away from last week’s level at 16933 (50 points up – thanks to the Greece, sorry grease effect).
The Neelkanteshwars had such a medley going on in the kitchen, and yet when they walked to the dinner table with their hands laden with food goodies, their hair was very much in place, their sarees neatly tucked in, and their facial make-up made up of eye-kohl, talcum powder and the unmissable maroon bindi, all in place. These sisters had quite a reputation of being perfectionists and quite accomplished ones at that. Their guests tucked into the stuffed sweet breads smeared with hot ghee, followed by the spicy cooked rice with aubergine and coccinea and finished off the meal with traditional creamy, sweet-sour cream cheese pudding.
So what are you going to cook this weekend? Whatever it is, do let me know. And if anyone knows how to get invited to the Neelkanteshwars, please tell me. I would love to be at their dining table – maybe even help out at their kitchen table. I love their songs and am not too bad a singer myself.
Cheers and Have a nice weekend…