Tales from a grandmother’s kitchen

Anoothi Vishal with her book PHOTO: K. Pichumani  

“And they lived happily ever after.” For most of us, that’s how our bedtime stories ended. There was Cinderella, Rapunzel or characters from Enid Blyton that played on our minds as we drifted off to sleep.

Anoothi Vishal’s life was different. As a two-year-old, she remembers her grandmother narrating recipes to her. Those were here night-time stories.

“The first recipe I remember bari ma telling me about was gajar ka halwa,” says Anoothi. One kilo carrot in two litres of milk, she recalls, and confesses that she’s never really tried making that particular dessert.

As for the other recipes handed down by her grandmother, Anoothi has spent hours trying out and perfecting them. And, the result of those many experiments in the kitchen is her first book — Mrs. LC’s Table: Stories about Kayasth Food and Culture.

It’s a narrative of the rich legacy of the Kayasth community, its history and culinary tradition, peppered generously with anecdotes and 20 recipes.

In the city to launch the book at ITC Grand Chola, the journalist and author says, “I stayed with my grandparents for a few years and there was a lot of emphasis on food. My grandmother, Swaroop Rani Mathur, (fondly known as Mrs. LC, after her husband’s name Lakshmi Chandra Mathur) taught me table manners. Her table was always so wonderfully laid out. As a result, when I used to come back home from school, I would also want the table laid out well for me,” she laughs.

Anoothi remembers that on her 13th birthday, she cooked an entire meal for the family, under the guidance of her very regal grandmother. “She was a bureaucrat’s wife. She gave instructions and orchestrated the meals,” laughs the author.

The launch also had a menu curated by Anoothi, featuring Kayasth favourites such as bedmi, ajwaini arbi, sukhi urad dal, khade masale ka bhuna gosht...

The shami kebab is a delight. It’s so soft it could well be a galouti kebab. The trick is in the proportion. “According to bari ma’s recipe, it’s 125 gm of chana dal and 500 gm of mince mutton, and requires a lot of masala during cooking,” she adds. It’s interesting to note that despite the variety of non-vegetarian meals that Mrs. LC’s cooked, she was a vegetarian.

Her repertoire also included faux meat dishes created using raw banana, jackfruit; and, believe it or not, dal, to make kaliya and kebab. One such dish, the raw banana fish — the fruit cut like fish slices and cooked in kasuri methi and ajwain— was also part of the menu.

“Kayasth cuisine is unique and inventive. The food has Indo-Islamic influences. Bhuna and dum are the two main ways of cooking Kayasth cuisine. The most common ingredients are khada masala, amchur powder, fennel and dried methi. Yoghurt is used as the souring agent, and not tomatoes,” she adds. And, what are her favourites? “takey paise, yakhni pulao and pasande.”

The book took Anoothi two years to complete. Since her book is based on Kayasth food, she often gets asked ‘should food not bind instead of marking separate identities?’ To that, she says: “You can’t write on the history of food without going into sociology.”

(Published by Hachette India, the book is priced at Rs. 350)

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:08:44 AM |

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