I have had enough! A story from ancient times and a lemony broccoli rice from yesterday

Before I tell you what I really think about certain things, let me start with a story. A short one from the longest epic poem in the world, The Mahabharata. At the center of this ancient story are brothers who went to war with their cousins over – yep – wealth and power. It is a story of human failing and about how good people can do wicked things and wicked people can do good things, so that in the end, you have to ask yourself – what is good and what is evil? The story drives home the fact that in a war, there are no winners. Everybody loses. Relevant to this day.

Anyway, the story I want to narrate is from the time when war is declared and the two opposing parties go around asking kingdoms to support them with manpower, funding, the usual. They probably gave campaign speeches too. Anyway, so these two sets of brothers go to the kingdom of Udupi/Udipi. Udupi is now a region in the southern state of Karnataka and still is very famous for its cuisine and the talented cooks that it produces. If you ever see a restaurant in the West which has the word “Udipi” or “Udupi” in its name, be sure that either the owner is a distant cousin of a guy from Udupi OR (and this is also likely to happen) he is trying to ride on the name. Because in southern India a restaurant that calls itself Udupi can be relied upon to serve very respectable and authentic South-Indian fare.

So the two parties are trying to win over the Udupi king to side with one of them.

He says, “I shall remain neutral.”

Krishna, yes the god who in this story is the philosopher mentor of one of the brothers, says, “Either you are with us or against us.”

Now where have I heard that before?

The Udupi king is in a quandary. But then he hits upon a brilliant idea.

He says, “No matter which side one is on, everybody needs to eat. My people shall provide all the meals for the course of this battle.”

So imagine this picture from two thousand years ago – a sprawling battlefield, on either side the tents of the enemy camps. Somewhere on neutral ground is the camp of the Udupi king. Every morning at the sound of the trumpet, conch or something like that, the troops from both sides congregate in the dining tents of the Udupi king and eat breakfast. Then at the gong, they go into battle, fight furiously till sun-down when the bugle/trumpet/conch signals the end of battle for the day. Then the two exhausted parties sit down shoulder to shoulder, eat dinner, and retire for the night in their own camps. I don’t remember if they took lunch breaks or drink breaks or whether it’s even mentioned. The story of Mahabharata is not about food, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that in the spirit of the Udupi king I shall not offer my opinion about the current state of affairs in the world. Because we don’t need to politicize food. But I shall speak my mind about the world of food.

I believe that food needs to be treated with respect.So it annoys me when I see someone ditching an entire pan of food in the trash-can because he or she didn’t like the taste or the look. Think of a way to salvage it. Ask the internet. Ask me!

I believe that every cuisine deserves to live in dignity and be allowed to speak for itself.There are no “bad” or “good” cuisines. Yes our taste buds might not dig a particular kind of flavour or item, but that’s no reason to insult an entire community. Yes some Chinese eat crocodile and dog meat but we eat spoiled milk, even covered with mold, so let’s all keep calm.

People who don’t know much about a cuisine, or culture or people should not be allowed to become the spokesperson for  it unless they can prove a real depth of knowledge or expertise. So when I see that recipe for dal in that glossy culinary magazine that has about as much similarity to the dish as I have to Harry Potter?  A recipe that included not just the kitchen sink but also the table and chairs. There is no reason for such abominations to exist.

I respect creativity. So if someone has come up with a bold twist on a classic, or even used a classic recipe as an inspiration for creating one’s own contemporary culinary art, say so. Name the dish in a way that people know what was  done to it. “X-inspired” where X is the original classic, if one can’t think of a more creative way to name the dish. Describe all the changes that were made to the original. Or if one doesn’t know, then it’s good to say something like, “I have no idea how to make the original thing, but here is what I did.” End of story. Otherwise ignorant people will be led into thinking that this dish is the authentic version. That’s kind of like fraud!

OK. Deep breath. On to my recipe. This is inspired by a brilliant dish called “lemon rice” that I first ate in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. In multi-tiered lunch boxes, my school friends in Madras/Chennai used to bring traditional Tamil food cooked by their mothers. Over the years I got to taste many delicacies but this is one of those that remains an evergreen favourite. Or should I say ever-yellow. Lemon rice has a nice, lemony yellow thanks to just the right amount of turmeric. I sometimes don’t manage to get that particular shade but I have recreated the taste many times. It’s so refreshing that you can even have it in the summer as a lukewarm salad. And it will be much more authentic AND tasty compared to what Mark Bittman presented in one of his videos. Normally, I like his recipes, but this one made me wonder if I need to re-evaluate things. It was named “Indian rice salad” and it featured cold rice, coconut milk and curry powder. Please don’t call it “Indian”. There is nothing in India that resembles such a tragic mess.

Alright, count to 10. Let’s look at this picture

IMAG1317.jpg

Now, back to my recipe. So I had a head of broccoli, a lot of lemons, and a mad craving for lemon rice AND broccoli. So I decided to combine all into a one-pot meal. The boys liked it and I have to say, I felt rather self-satisfied.

LEMONY BROCCOLI RICE

Ingredients

1 head of broccoli

2 cups of long grain rice like basmati

3.5 cups of water

1-2 large lemons

1-2 sprigs curry leaves (skip if you don’t have any) and/or fresh coriander

1 tsp black mustard seeds

handful of raw peanuts

1/2 to 1 tsp turmeric

dried chillies or fresh chillies to taste

1 tbsp oil

PROCESS

  1. Wash rice. Wash broccoli and cut into florets. Do not throw away the stem! Trim and peel it thickly and cut the centre into batons.
  2. Heat oil in a big heavy-bottomed pot and add the mustard seeds, peanuts, curry leaves and the dried chillies.
  3. Once the peanuts are nicely browned and fragrant, add the broccoli. Add fresh chillies at this point if using.
  4. Saute on medium high until the broccoli gets little brown spots
  5. Add the rice, stir carefully and fry for a minute
  6. Add water, salt to taste (the water should taste nicely seasoned), turmeric
  7. Simmer on very low heat with cover on for ten minutes.
  8. Give it a good stir carefully, to bring the rice from the bottom to the top. If the rice is still crunchy, leave on the stove for a couple of minutes with the heat on. If rice is almost done, but still has a bite to it, slam on the cover back and turn off the heat. Let it rest for five minutes. The rice should cook through by then.
  9. Juice your lemon.
  10. Once rice is done to your satisfaction, add half  the lemon juice and mix gently. Taste. If it is not tangy enough for your taste, add more juice. Repeat until satisfied. Mix very gently each time. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.
  11. Serve with accompaniments of your choice. Meat/fish lovers – I served it with pan-fried salmon that I had seasoned with turmeric and salt.