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Inspired by Samdaria, her granddaughter Labdhi also enjoys the art of cooking

Heart to hearth

Author: admin

A series by Pratibha Jain about silvers who believe nurturing the body and mind is the key to joy.

Featuring Susheela Samdaria from Chennai
 
Living in a full house with family members spanning four generations is a woman completely immersed in her roles as daughter-in-law, wife, mother and grandmother. The youngest member of the family is her two month-old grandson Samyak, and the oldest her 89 year-old mother-in-law. Meet Susheelaji Samdaria, 55, a Rajasthani residing for many years in Chennai, and an embodiment of serenity and contentment. Beautifully composed in her starched yellow cotton sari, Susheelaji first attended to her family’s needs and constant demands before she turned to give me her undivided attention and answer all the questions I had prepared with utter simplicity and cheer.

IN HER OWN WORDS

My childhood was spent in Jodhpur and soon after, I moved to Chennai. I was married to Shri Vijaychand Samdaria while still young. We have two sons and a daughter, and three grandchildren. Hospitality has always been an integral part of our lives. It is ingrained in Rajasthani culture. We grow up learning to share whatever we have, because taking care of one’s family and loved ones is a reward in itself. My husband worked hard to provide us with every possible comfort. Alongside his business, he also nurtures his passion for music. I admire his dedication, sincerity and generosity; he joyously offers music lessons to students during the evenings, highlighting the intricacies of old Bollywood melodies, without expecting anything in return. Even though I do not sing myself, I feel blessed to live in a house where music is truly loved and respected.

CULINARY INSPIRATION

Our inspiration comes from experiencing life itself. We grow up watching our mothers and grandmothers cook in the kitchen. We try to emulate them and pass on the same values and skills to our children. My daughter Nisha is a wonderful cook, as is her daughter Labdhi. She may only be 11 years old, but Labdhi already bakes cakes and cooks independently.

LEFTOVER RECIPE

As practising Jains, we avoid eating leftovers as much as possible. Usually, surplus food is distributed to household and building staff. However, if there is one dish we like to make with leftovers, it is chawal ka gatta. We add grated bottle gourd to leftover steamed rice. Make sure to squeeze out the excess water from the bottle gourd before use. Now, add wheat flour, a little oil, and any spices of your choice. Knead well and roll into thin, long pieces. Steam the rolls. Once done, carefully remove from steamer and chop into small rounds. Sauté in oil and baghaar and your delicious chawal ka gatta is ready!

A MOTHER’S MAGIC

Nisha (daughter): Everyone loves mummy’s cooking. Even though I learnt how to make her recipes years ago, I cannot replicate her flavours. I remember once, when my father-in-law came here, mummy had made her special aloo parathas. But as my father-in-law does not usually eat spicy food, and avoids chillies altogether, I was sure he would not eat the parathas. To my utter surprise, when mummy served him a paratha, he ate it without complaint, and even asked for more! It was the first time I realised the true power of balanced cooking. Her flavours blend together so well that the food becomes nurturing.

SECRET MANTRA

There is no hidden secret to the taste of food. When you love the people around you with a pure heart, you will cook with your heart and soul. I, for one, really enjoy seeing people relish my food. That is my inspiration.

QUICK & EASY

One recipe that can be made in no time is corn bhel. This is quite a favourite snack at home and has always received much praise from our guests. It’s made with fresh corn that is easily available in the market. Remove the kernels from the cob. Steam and allow to cool. Add chopped onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves and spike with salt, chilli powder and chat masala. The bhel is ready!

ROLE MODEL

Labdhi and I form a real team. She is young, enthusiastic, bright and always ready to learn. She observes everything I do with keen interest, and is eager to gain more knowledge. We all wonder how she remembers the recipes of so many dishes.

Labdhi (granddaughter): If you ask me, Naani is the best cook in the whole world. I love so many of her dishes—her aloo paratha, paneer tikka and milagai podi are my absolute favourites. Whenever I see her cooking, I like to stand in the kitchen and watch her. Today, I baked a vanilla cake, a red velvet cake, and made turai ki sabzi for lunch. I want to be a good cook like Naani when I grow up.

SPICY GREEN PLANTA IN CURRY

(Kele ki sabzi)

A family favourite, here is a recipe that is quick and easy to prepare. Green plantains are available aplenty in every season and the other ingredients are absoloute essentials in any Rajasthani home.

Ingredients

  • Green unripe plantains: 2
  • Tamarind pulp: 2 tbsp
  • Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
  • Chilli powder: 1 heaped tsp
  • Turmeric powder: 1 pinch
  • Coriander and mint leaves: for garnishing
  • Salt to taste

For tempering

  • Oil: 1½ tbsp
  • Urad dal (husked and broken): 1 heaped tsp
  • Mustard seeds: ½ tsp
  • Asafoetida powder: 1 pinch
  • Green chillies: 2-3; slit
  • Curry leaves: 6-8

Method

Peel the plantains and chop into 1-inch rounds. Wash well and steam with salt and turmeric powder in a pressure cooker, adding enough water to soak the plantains. When plantains are cooked, discard the water and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan for tempering. Add the urad dal; as it turns golden, add the mustard. As the mustard begins to pop, add the asafoetida powder, slit chillies and curry leaves. Add the steamed plantains and sauté for a minute. Now add the tamarind pulp, coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt. Add a cup of water and allow to cook. When the gravy has thickened in 5-7 minutes, switch off the flame. Garnish with chopped mint and coriander leaves.

The consistency of this dish is like a thick curry. Serve hot with rotis and as an accompaniment to a meal. The simple yet rich flavours make it ideal even for special occasions.

Pratibha Jain, an author and translator from Chennai, is the co-author of two award-winning books Cooking at Home with Pedatha and Sukham Ayu. Her area of specialisation is documenting Indian traditions through research, translation and writing

Photos: D Kalaiarasan
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
November 2017