Gharge

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Navratri has always been kind of a big deal in our family. Our kulswamini, or the patron deity of our clan, is Kolhapurchi Amba Bai – the goddess Mahalaxmi who resides in the city of Kolhapur of Maharashtra. Every year, for 10 days and 9 nights, she visits us and our home is filled with a different kind of energy. She is our goddess and she must be treated befittingly. So the 10 days are a whirl of poojas and lustily sung hymns and of course, feasts.
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We are not a very religious family (me least of all), but the navratri utsav is a tradition handed down through the generations and my parents carry the mantel with great pride and care. The preparations begin many days in advance – every nook and corner must be scrubbed clean, fresh curtains must be hung, the linen must be fresh, flowers must be arranged for the daily rituals and elaborate meals must be prepared everyday for this most important of all guests that comes but once a year.

It is this time of the year that makes me the most nostalgic. Oh how I long to drop everything else to be at home celebrating! How I miss the endless lists my mother makes – for menus and groceries and guests. How I miss the evening aarti – the full throated rendition of my most favourite hymn of all times, where everyone must sing the chorus even louder, so that even our neighbours will tell us the next day – we heard your evening aarti:

Udo Bola Udo Amba Bai Maaoolicha Ho

Udokare Garjati, Kaay Mahima Varnu Ticha Ho

(Hail the mother Amba Bai, Hail her as loudly as you can, for what words do we have to speak of Her greatness)

Oh and how can I not miss the food? Can you believe that in 10 days of feasting, not one item on the menu is repeated (That’s my mother for you, even though tradition doesn’t mandate it)?! Oh, there is one exception – Gharge, which must be made on the first and the last day. The funny thing about this dish is, it is never prepared at any other time of the year. But why, we always ask, and there never is a satisfactory answer. That’s just how it is, we are always told. What that translates into is – you won’t get any, unless you go home for the festival. (We did however convince mom to bend this rule the last time we visited India).

So the Gharge are synonymous with Navratri in my mind, and this year I decided to have a crack at them. They are my kind of sweet – not too sweet, just right to have more than one at a time. The recipe is deceptively simple, but many things can go wrong, so when you try to make them, be sure to read the notes below for the pitfalls to watch out for.

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Makes : 10
Prep Time : 1 Hour

WHAT YOU NEED

1 cup Dalia / Cracked Wheat (fine)
Gud / Jaggery – equal weight as the dalia
2 cups water plus more if needed
Oil to deep fry
Ghee to grease

WHAT YOU DO

  1. Measure out the dalia and then weigh it. Take an equal amount of jaggery by weight. Using a mortar and pestle, crush it so that no large pieces remain. In a mixing bowl, mix the water and jaggery and stir until fully dissolved.
  2. In a thick bottomed pot, heat the jaggery solution until it is about to break into a boil and then add the dalia, slowly, stirring continuously so that no lumps are formed.
  3. Cover and let cook until all the water is absorbed, stirring once or twice to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Check if the dalia is cooked, and if needed, add more hot water, until the dalia is fully cooked.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool. Once the dalia is cool enough to handle comfortably, remove it into a bowl greased with ghee.
  5. Apply ghee to your hands, and knead the dalia well, until pliant.
  6. Heat oil in a deep pan for frying. Make lemon sized balls of the dalia dough and flatten between your palms, making sure there are no cracks. Deep fry until a lovely caramel-brown colour is achieved.
  7. Cool to room temperature and serve.

MY NOTES

It is necessary to take a flat bottomed pot to cook the dalia, or it is certain to stick to the bottom. As an added measure, I always place the pot on a tava / flat griddle.

The amount of water required depends on the size of the dalia grain, so always keep extra hot water at hand.

Kneading well is the trick to make sure the gharge don’t develop cracks and break apart during frying, so make sure to knead well for a few minutes. No shortcuts! Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure the oil is nice and hot so that the outer layer gets sealed quickly or the gharge might still fall apart!

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Baked salmon with basil and cherry tomatoes

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After drinking gallons of soup in February, I decided March was not worth my while and went into hibernation to wait for the weather to beak a little. Cooking and thinking and typing, after all, require a brain and a body that isn’t frozen. Or flu-ridden.

Salmon baked with cherry tomatoes and basil, served with a fresh and crunchy salad

That’s right. I spent most of March in the company of various bacteria and viruses, feeling very sorry for myself and generally kicking up a great fuss whenever Tanmoy was within ear-shot. The poor man had no respite from my cold. I moaned and groaned and wheezed and coughed and sniffed and sneezed. He ran to comfort me every single time. To give us a glimpse of what the future might hold for the two of us, some of the bacteria made themselves at home in my ears and for a week, I was quite deaf. I think that was the part Tanmoy rather enjoyed. Continue reading

Carrot Apple Ginger Soup

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I have been in something of a soupy mood all this month. Food just doesn’t warm me up the way a nice steaming bowl of soup does. You will have noticed that most of the soups I have been making, including my older cream of broccoli or the latest spinach soup have been the very epitome of simplicity. And yet they all pack a punch and in some cases are so filling that we make a meal with a bowl of soup and some garlic bread. Or if there are leftovers from the previous day’s meal, but not quite enough for both of us, then a big bowl of soup added to the meal does the trick. So Yay! for soups, for helping me survive this winter!

Carrot Apple Ginger Soup

The clear chicken soup with lemongrass and veggies that I shared with you a while ago, as also today’s soup, both call for a vegetable stock. Well, it’s very easy to buy the stock of course (though even the low sodium varieties are still very high on sodium as far as I am concerned). I remember that my mother never used to buy stock but used to make it at home by chopping up vegetables and giving them a good boil and a long simmer. But that always left behind a bunch of soggy boiled vegetables, which we didn’t know what to do with. Continue reading

Spinach Soup: Soup for Zen

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No consensus was reached by the Groundhogs this year about how long this winter is going to be. For those not in the know, Groundhog day is a tradition in North America. On a certain day in February, called Groundhog Day, if it is cloudy when the groundhog (a furry rodent, also known as the woodchuck) emerges from its burrow, then spring will come early. If it is sunny, and the groundhog casts (and hence probably sees) a shadow, then it is taken as an indication that spring will stay on for at least 6 more weeks. So the emergence of the groundhogs is observed with great anticipation. Ontario’s own famous groundhog Wiarton Willie predicted this year that spring is about to… well, spring, but his fellow prognosticators from elsewhere in the country begged to differ and scurried inside their burrows as soon as they saw their shadows. So you see, spring might be here soon. Or not.

In the meanwhile, even as I published my previous post, Toronto received what the radio hosts were calling a ‘winter wallop’. Every time I hear the word ‘wallop’ I can’t help but think it must be a fun thing. Then I remember what it means. I really think they should change the meaning of this word! After all, a word that rhymes with gallop and dollop must be something fun, right? But I digress. Coming back to the point, a mountain of snow was dumped on us and I played hooky from work because I’m not nearly as adventurous (or foolhardy) as one needs to be, to drive out in the worst snowstorm in five years. It took us a few hours to dig our car out from under the snow and to shovel our driveway, but we did it.

Soup for Zen

Continue reading

Peas & Coriander Soup

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This is the heart of the long Canadian winter. Everything is frozen.

There are days when the wind howls outside like a crazy beast and blows the snow around in a tantrum. The world gets shrouded in an almost opaque, white curtain and everything’s a blur. It is difficult to see beyond a few feet and it is a comfort to be indoors with the fury of the season only visible through a window.

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There are days when it feels as if the fattest, fluffiest feather pillow you can imagine, the most gigantic one possible, tore open in the sky above. There’s not a breath of wind and fat, perfectly formed snow-flakes gently drift to the ground. They cover every surface with a pristine shawl and the world is in a hush. Sounds from a near-by road, which seem immediate on clear days, are far-away and muffled. Most of the world seems to pause to take in the peace and the rest the world tip-toes about, as if to keep the serenity intact. Continue reading

Singapore Curry Noodles

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I can not remember when I started reading or why. If it is true that children ape their parents, then it is natural that I did. My father was to be always found with a book – whether at lunch, or in the moments he had snatched from the day for himself. All he wanted on Sunday afternoons was to be stretched out on the comfortable arm-chair with a book, with no one talking to him. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for little girls to leave their father alone on a Sunday afternoon? We got unceremoniously shooed off if we persisted in bothering him.

Our old ancestral home where I grew up was overflowing with books – books amassed by generations of Pendharkars that had lived there, starting from my Great Grandfather. There have been ardent readers in my family for generations and they all seemed to have believed in buying a lot of books. In that era, it was common to send your kids to the big town for higher education and more often than not, if there were relatives in the big town, that’s where they stayed. A multitude of my Grandfather’s and father’s cousins have called the place their home at some time or another and have enriched it by leaving behind books that they could not carry away. And because the contributors were so varied and so many, the collection contains books of an astounding variety. Continue reading

Chicken Soup for the Soul – with Lemongrass & Veggies

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I am convinced it takes a touch of insanity to move apartments in the Canadian December. How did I reach that conclusion? By doing it twice in as many years. The apartment hunt I alluded to in my last post was fruitful. We found a delightful apartment with an adorable kitchen and we moved in there this Saturday.  Just this morning, as the sun’s rays came in through the wide living room window filtered through the tall bare tree in the front yard and illuminated the… um… the cartons strewn all about, I knew we had chosen the right place to call home for the foreseeable future. It has windows facing every direction, so it will be a bright, cheerful, sunny place with plenty of ventilation. In summer. And I am determined it should be a cozy little nest in the winter.

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The previous week was spent packing. Oh and what a miserable week it was, especially weather-wise – very cold and windy with snow and sleet. The Friday before we moved was so horrible, I stepped out of the car for barely a minute without a cap and the icy wind hit me so bad, it felt as if someone had kicked me in the head. We had already started to question the wisdom of moving the next morning, when Mr. Murphy decided to make his presence felt. Continue reading

Birthday Cake – Chocolate & Cranberry

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Let me risk being very cliched here and remark, “How time flies!” because I can’t help if it does, can I? Make It Yum is celebrating its 1st birthday this week and I feel like a seasoned cook now. Almost. At least, I don’t feel intimidated by recipes using more than 5 ingredients or involving more than 5 steps anymore – the realm of possibilities has greatly expanded and lot more yumminess seems within reach now than it did a year ago.

What a surprising year it has been! Things that I had never imagined possible, happened. I cooked complicated recipes with more success than not. A lot of my conversations revolved around cooking. I experimented with new and exotic ingredients. Cakes no longer remained solely my sister’s domain. When family and friends who have known me for years found out about Make It Yum, they were first skeptical, then surprised and now totally supportive of this blog (although my cousins do maintain a healthy skepticism yet and keep me grounded). Continue reading

Methi Bhaat

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My family will accept any excuse to get together and party. Festivals, birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated with gusto, but that’s not all. Someone got a promotion, lets party! Uncle got a new TV? Lets get together and watch TV and eat lots of good food! Aunt V is back from a visit to Aunt M, lets get together to hear all the gossip and eat lots of good food. Cousins are visiting for a week. Lets have dinner together… everyday. They love getting together so much, sometimes they have a potluck just because they haven’t had a chance to get together in a few weeks.

Needless to say, the highlight of each of these gatherings is food (no wonder I turned out like I did). Menus are discussed at length when there are going to be a series of dinner parties and a great deal of effort is taken to ensure that a wide variety of food is prepared. Menus are a subject of much anticipation and my mother for one goes to great lengths to keep hers a secret on special occasions. Continue reading

Quinoa Pilaf

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You know how sometimes you’re plodding along peacefully, taking the time to stare into space and smell the roses when some come along? Then life picks you up and flings you into a whirlwind and before you know, you’re running as fast as you can, just to stay in the same place. Well, life did that to me a few weeks ago and right now, I can fully empathise with a mouse running very fast in a wheel. Slowly, I’m at least beginning to to settle into a rhythm of some sort and it doesn’t seem as mad a scramble as last week.

What happened you ask? Well, I got me a job, and my summer vacation is over. Good thing too – summer’s long gone and the days are getting shorter and chillier and being cooped up all alone in the house all day long isn’t a very exciting prospect. To be working, however, has brought along a major lifestyle change. I’m rising with the sun, driving 50 km in the peak office rush hour along one of Canada’s busiest highways in the morning and back again in the evening rush hour. This means I am left without an ounce of energy by the time I get home in the evening and cooking has been taking a back seat. Left overs and take-out have been tiding us over. Continue reading