Monday, July 27, 2009
There are books where, as you turn the pages, you form a mental picture of the characters in the story; every page you read adds to that picture.
And then, there are books where the protagonists and the situations seem so real that you don't need to form any mental picture - right from the first page of the book, you feel as if you know them or that you've met them before.
The Space between Us by Thrity Umrigar falls in the second category. The novel revolves around the two main characters in the story, Sera Dubash and her domestic help, Bhima who has worked in the Dubash household for more than 20 years. And over the passage of so many years, the two women have been witness to each other's travails and triumphs in life's ups and downs.
The novel opens to a time where Sera is a widowed upper middle class Parsi woman living with her pregnant daughter and son - in - law. Even as Sera leads now leads a contented life, the memories of emotional and domestic abuse at the hands of her mother-in-law and husband occasionally cloud her happiness.
Bhima, on the other hand, lives in a slum with her orphaned grand-daughter Maya. She is a precocious girl and Bhima's hopes for a better future out of the slums are all pinned on Maya's education which Sera has financed.
However, Maya gets pregnant out of a wedlock and to make matters worse, refuses to divulge the name of the father. Bhima has faced many a difficult situations in her life, but has always managed to overcome those situations in her fight for survival.
How will she fight this crushing blow? And what role will Sera, who has never hesitated in coming to Bhima's help, play?
Admittedly, it is a plot that, at times, sounds very predictable. However, Thrity Umrigar is a very engaging story teller. The plot flits effortlessly between the present lives of Sera and Bhima and their reminisces of the days gone by. It is this narrative and the finely crafted characters and the nuances of their very complex relationship that made The Space Between Us a very compelling read for me.
Let's come to food part, shall we? So, we have Sera shedding tears over onions that she has to chop for making omelets, Bhima tucking into batata wadas at the market, Sera and Bhima's families accidentally meeting at Chowpaty where they've gone for having some bhelpuri, a very cholesterol laden meal at a bethrotal etc.
But, that was not enough for me.....problem was, I had already blogged about bhelpuri and batata wada. No, actually the problem was that I had already decided that I was going to make Dhansak before I had even read the book. After all, the book had Parsi characters in it, there just had to be Dhansak!
But all I got was this:
"Threw it with such force, Sera, it bounced off the table and into Feroz's dhansak".
That would do for me!!
Lentils - 3/4 cup (I use 1/4 cup each of Tur, Masoor and Moong)
Pumpkin/Squash - 1 1/2 cups
Eggplant - 1 cup
Fresh methi leaves - 1 1/4 cup, loosely packed
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Hing - a pinch
Onion - 1 cup, sliced
Tomato - 1 1/2 cup, chopped
Ginger and Garlic paste - 2 tsps each
Dhansak Masala - 2-3 tbsps
Cumin powder - 1 tsp
Coriander seed powder - 3/4 tsp
Curry leaves - 12-15 (mine were very small)
Tamarind juice - as per the tartness you desire; I used 1/4 cup of very dilute tamarind juice
Amchur powder - 1/4 tsp
Ghee - 2 tbsps (don't substitute with oil/butter, ghee gives it an amazing flavour)
chicken/mutton - 250 gms
potatoes - 1/2 cup
(this makes enough for about 4-6 people, so adjust your quantities accordingly)
Pressure cook the lentils and the vegetables with tumeric and hing. Once cooked, you may puree this in a blender - I don't. Firstly, I like my dhansak chunky. Moreover, as you stir and cook the dhansak, the vegetables do tend to get mashed.
(If using chicken/mutton, marinate it with some ginger - garlic paste and red chilli powder. Pressure cook alongwith the lentils. Set aside if pureeing the dals, then add the meat back.
And though I love my meats, believe me vegetarian dhansak tastes as good as the non -veg version. In fact, I don't add any meat any more to my dhansak).
Heat ghee and stir fry the ginger garlic paste till fragrant. Add the sliced onions and fry for a further 3-4 mins.
Next, add in the tomatoes and saute till soft and mushy, mashing the tomatoes with the back of the spoon as you stir.
Add in all the dry masalas and the curry leaves, followed by the pressure cooked lentils and the tamarind juice.
Simmer for about 15 mins.
Easy isn't it?!!
Serve it with rotis or pulao; I served it with this Berry Pulao.
Oh and here's what the other members of the book club made:
Dee made the very Parsi Akuri , Curry Leaf made Akuri with Tofu and Simran headed to Chowpatty to enjoy a plate of Bhelpuri!!
Next month, we are reading Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Join us, won't you?? To join the book club, just drop a line to Simran, her e-mail is: bombayfoodie(at)gmail(dot)com
It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!