Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tahiri (Rice with Peas)

This month, the book club read Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.

What a lovely, powerful title it is! To me, it instantly conjured images of kids running amok in the hot summer months. And sure enough, the memoir is about Madhur Jaffrey's growing up years.

A fun filled childhood, one spent in a family bustling with relatives, of picnics and annual family migrations to the hills to escape the hot Delhi summers, of daily family dinners and festivals celebrated with aplomb; Madhur's description of her early years leaves the reader enthralled. By any measure, this was a very privileged life she led, spent in the lap of luxury. I mean, imagine staying in a sprawling house on a street that has been named after your grand-father!!

"During my childhood, it didn't occur to me that families came in sizes smaller than 30 people."

"What was becoming clearer to me as I was getting older was that there were two distinct types of Indians. There was my kind of Indian, a privileged product of British colonial India who spoke English fluently but also spoke Hindi. We ate at a table with napkins, knives and forks, but would eat with our hands when we wished. We were avid cinema-goers who watched both Western and Indian films, and we could talk about Tudor England just as easily as about Moghul India. One part of us was completely Indian but there was this sophisticated Western overlay, a familiarity and ease with the West that set us apart."

Neatly inter-laced with her own family's history, Jaffrey even shows the reader brief glimpses into India's history, starting with the Moghul rule right up to the partition of the country.

Jaffrey is recognised world over as an authority on Indian cooking and not surprisingly, food forms the leitmotif of her memoir. There is so much food in the book that it made me very very hungry! From kebabs and pakoras, to dahi baras and pooris and parathas, mangoes and litchis and guavas, she makes food sound very delectable. Reading about how the food in Delhi evolved to its present day form was eye-opening. But it was her description of daulat ki chaat that made me go absolutely weak in the knees!

"Yes, balanced there, on a round brass tray, were dozens of mutkainas, terra-cotta cups, filled with daulat ki chaat, which could be translated as “a snack of wealth.” Some cynic who assumed that all wealth was ephemeral must have named it. It was, indeed, the most ephemeral of fairy dishes, a frothy evanescence that disappeared as soon it touched the tongue, a winter specialty requiring dew as an ingredient. "

However, much as the memoir is evocative, the narrative does need some getting used to. At times, it is riveting, at other times, it seemed quite a haphazard. Somehow, it comes across as if pages and paragraphs were pulled in from here n there.

Her prose is rather matter-of-fact, bereft of too much emotion and I was very thankful for that. But on the flip side, at no point did I ever get a sense of what Madhur Jaffrey was feeling. Where that really comes across as strange is when she describes her sister's illness and the ensuing treatment. The sense of anguish that Jaffrey obviously must have felt does not reach the reader.
And I felt very frustrated at the way the memoir ended. Abrupt, to say the least. In fact, I didn't quite believe that the book had ended. Since I borrowed the book from the library, initially, I thought that some pages in between were probably missing - and so I looked up the page nos. The pages were in sequence and it was indeed the ending that was very abrupt!

But then, the inclusion of authentic family recipes- 32 of them - more than made up for any disappointment I had with the end!

There was a time when I couldn't make soft and fluffy rice - It would always end up sticky and lumpy. Try as I did, I never got it right. Then, a friend gave me this recipe. "It is a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, just follow the instructions and you'll be OK."

And this recipe worked like magic - no lumpy rice any longer!

When I checked out the recipes in the book, there was no doubt on what I'd be making! Over time, I've made a few itsy bitsy changes to the recipe, those are in italics.


Basmati Rice - 400gms
Bay leaves - 3
Black cardamom - 2
Black pepper - 8
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Onion - 1, thinly sliced
Frozen green peas - 140 gms
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp (I omitted this)
Oil - 2 tbsps ( I used ghee)
Water - 650 ml

Sugar - 1.5 tsp
Saffron - a pinch
Fried onion - a fistful


Wash the rice and then soak it in water for about 30 mins. Drain the rice and leave it in a strainer for about 5 mins.
At the same time, soak the saffron in a tbsp of water.

Set the water to boil and at the same time, in another pan, heat the ghee and put in the bay leaves, black cardamom and peppercorns and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds crackle, add the onions and a dash of sugar. Fry till the onions turn reddish.

Turn down the heat and add the drain rice. Ever so gently, stir it around so that the ghee coats the grains - about 2 minutes. (If you are using the turmeric, add it along with the rice).

Then add the boiling water and the salt to the rice. Let it come to a boil again, the cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, turn down the heat to the lowest setting and cook the rice - about 25 mins (it takes me a lot less time, so keep an eye on the rice).

Meanwhile, cook the peas - I boil mine with a tsp of sugar till the peas become soft in the centre and then drain the water.

Add the peas to the cooked rice and mix it up a bit.

Then add the saffron to the rice - do this a tsp at a time - and mix it with a fork as you add it in. Sprinkle the fried onions on top, cover the lid and let the rice rest for about 5 mins on very very low heat.

(Madhur adds the peas and covers the pan and lets the rice rest for 10 mins, but she turns the heat off).

Looks like this time we have a full meal from the book club....here's what the others have made:

Simran made Phirni, Curry Leaf made Roz Ki Gobi, Sheba made Cauliflower with cheese, Janaki made Palak Gosht and Jaya made Potatoes with Tomatoes.

Next month, we are reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances mayes. Want to join us? Write in to Simran - bombayfoodie (at) gmail (dot) com.

This is my entry to Silpa's event , APS - Rice.


  1. Lovely review Aqua and for an accomplished cook like you, it is hard to believe that at one time you could not get rice right!

  2. You know, I wanted to write something in my review but restrained myself. But I will throw it out here. Was it just me who thought her sister's relationship with the Uncle who took her to New York and London had a hint of incestuous to it? Not so much from what she wrote, though she does says at one point how Bhaiyadad took to her sister who was more delicate and soft spoken then the rest of them. But also the photos of them on the ship and sitting on the sofa, seemed to suggest some odd body chemistry. But then I am a bit of a doubter when it comes to too much of a good thing. :)

  3. Hi A, good looking Tahiri.

    I used to like Madhur Jaffrey's books until I read in one of her old cookbooks that one of her relatives( her mom or nani, can't remember) used to make fun of South Indian way of eating with food clinging up to our wrists(saying "chee chee") and she was advised to eat using only the tips of her fingers. That did it for me. Nice forum to tell the World how her family is above rest of us, make fun of some of us, her own people, whether we are from the south or North!!

    I agree with Jaya, little creepy to read that about her uncle and the sister. Again nice forum to tell the World! :P

    Saw that movie "Under the Tuscan Sun", loved it. Don't have the book.

  4. Oh wow it was great reading, anyways much being spoken about that already by our other friends... I was so much affixed by the tahiri was so much indulged in that looks very delectable!!!

  5. Oh I love this....Jaya, I did write something to that effect in my review, but then went backspace, backspace, backspace.

    Wonder whether that was the reason she kind of hinted at but then glossed over her anger towards the uncle. And you are absolutely right, they are too close for comfort in those pictures!

    Asha, this is something that happens pretty often, doesn't it? So many novelists do that - milk the not so palatable side of India to pander to western audiences. I routinely avoid such books, no matter how "critically acclaimed" they might be.

    Ramya, thanks :)

    Thanks Sadhana, Muskaan. BTW, I can't somehow access your blog, the post doesn't get displayed at all!

  6. Your reviews are always nice to read. But tahiri is a very fancy name for the good old peas pulav.

  7. After going through the review i feel like having kebab, mango or phirni! Excellent review- the rice came out perfect!

  8. This is new version of Tahari to me....looks yum...review on book is itching me to grab one to read....

  9. I have not read the book, but now after reading few coment si don't think i want to read it. Rice looks so good though. Hi hi my rice was like pudding when i cooked them first, so you are far better than me :-)

  10. anonymous, thanks for liking my reviews.

    Lubna, actually, I 've heard of tahiri for the first time. What are the other versions?

    HC, the book does have its moments, quite an OK read. And glad to know that I am not the only one who could not cook rice :)

    Meera, thanks babes for checking up my comment section.

    If any of you have a problem leaving a comment here, could you pls drop me a line on

  11. Lovely review... And a wonderful rice too.. Thanks for those little tips!! :)

  12. Simple and quick!!The title does take you down your childhood memories!

  13. Lovely review & yummy looking rice :)


  14. The rice looks yummy... Have some awards waiting for you at my blog... Please accept those..

  15. Hey, Go ahead and send your recipes across. i can add them to the Show Me Your Cake Roundup! Also do check out the other events going on in my blog.

  16. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on Climbing the Mango Trees here. If not for the writing, then at least for the recipes. Your Tahiri is a good indication that it will be worth it.

    Ooh, I love Under the Tuscan Sky. I keep rereading it, and have cooked from it several times. So tempting...

  17. My mother introduced me to peas and rice (it was a Japanese spring delicacy when she was growing up) and I LOVED it. Now I think I would also like your version with the gorgeous spices you have used. Oooh, sounds so good!


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