Sometimes, when a familiar (and yet, in some paradoxical way, almost obsolete in my memories) tune from the ‘Golden Age of Tamil Cinema’-the 50’s to the 70’s, perhaps; flits by, I can almost quite see her. Mum, that is, humming in her clear voice, while working magical wonders in the kitchen; just as she used to for as long as I can remember.
Illness took her a little over a year ago, and I can no longer twirl around in her kitchen, heady with all the aromas , in tune to her humming and then collapse into giggles with her, but the moments we shared there I shall hold dear to me for life.
Mum was an ace in the kitchen. She was versatile, remarkably efficient and never let anything go to waste. But above all that, perhaps, was her skill for preparing anything from a snack to a banquet in minutes; even with the minimum of ingredients should she ever find herself short of supply; all delectable and immensely satisfying.
We shared a love for all sorts of spices, and the fiery ones in particular. We both had an almost abnormal tolerance for the heat of chilies, and at times, even find Mor Milagai (green chilies marinated in yogurt and sun-dried), while it is still marinating, a nice little nibble. Neither of us was too fussy about how elaborate our meals needed to be, and I was more than happy with the simple snacks she’d serve me on my return from school.
One such was Mor Kali. One of the simplest dishes around, it was my favorite snack and a common enough filler for those odd hours when hunger pangs gnaw but it is still too early for a full meal.
Technically speaking, it is a dense Upma of sorts; savory and warm. The best part of it, however, isn’t just the salty and sharp smokiness of the sauteed Mor Milagai, but the Kandhal, or the bottom portion that’s adequately burnt to a crisp golden brown, as well.
The other day, after looking through some old snapshots, and reminiscing upon Mum and her culinary proclivities, I got up to go figure out what to make for a quick lunch when the memory of this gem of a dish came flooding in. I couldn’t believe I had almost forgotten all about it.
The recipe is simple and fast enough to not sweat over, and what better way to think of Mum at her best, than emulating her genius in my own little kitchen? She would be so proud:
2 c Rice flour
2 c Plain Yogurt/Buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
a pinch of Asafoetida
1/4 tsp bengal gram seeds
5 pieces of mor milagai/3 dried red chilies
2 tsp oil
Mix the rice flour, buttermilk and water with salt into a thin but not very watery batter. Then in a kadai (preferably non-stick), temper the mustard, cumin and bengal gram seeds in oil.Add the asafoetida and cook for 2 mins. Now add mor milagais/red chillies and saute for 3 mins. Pour the batter onto the kadai. Stir continuously, while it’s being cooked. Continue to cook, covered, for 2-3 minutes. Let a golden brown kandhal form, and remove from heat.