Not enough food, so children learn to eat mud
Hindustan Times, April 5
Many of us, dawdling over pate de foie gras or listlessly toying with a kakori kabab, are so bored with our food we are willing to go to any length for a fresh new way of tickling our jaded palates. But have you considered sampling some of our traditional delights? Not your boring rajma chawal or tarka dal, but something truly rural, an honest repast eaten by authentic poor village folk out in the countryside, in the midst of sylvan surroundings, with the vast open sky as your canopy? Here are some of these wonderful recipes.
Mud a la Mode
This delectable dish is the perfect mood-setter for a day in the countryside. The quality and consistency of the mud are very important. Too much mud and you have a queasy blob. Too much silica and you could end up dead. Needless to say, the danger adds spice to the meal.
Take a large lump of mud laced with silica. Chop some firewood, light it and fire up the clay oven. Bake mud slowly in oven. Please note that a wood fire imparts an intriguing smoky flavour — using a microwave won’t do that, apart from being completely inauthentic.
Presentation is very important and you should carefully cut the mud pie into cubes, spheres, tetrahedrons and other such shapes. The geometry makes the spirit soar, while the mud brings it down to earth. At its best, the combination will be Yin and Yang, zero and infinity, thesis and antithesis. Decorate with crisp shredded tree bark. As you enjoy the meal, contemplate the thousands of years of Indian civilisation that have gone into producing this masterpiece.
It’s important to get up at dawn to collect the ingredients for this meal. The grass must be fresh, in mint condition and green to bring out its subtle flavours. A hint of dew is welcome, adding to the taste.
Next, boil some ditchwater in a pan, once again using firewood as fuel. This time, add a bit of cow-dung to the wood — a restrained whiff of dung in the aroma will add body to the dish. Add grass and let it simmer slowly. Garnish with tamarind seeds.
Serve hot in little round bowls with chopsticks for the grass. There are few such healthy low-calorie meals. Have this soup for a couple of weeks and I guarantee you’ll be thinner than a fashion model.
Roasted Mango Kernel
This is a traditional dish from tribal country. The mango kernel contains the most important part of the mango, its very heart. Strip away the inessential outer covering and you have, lo and behold, the innermost being of the mango, its soul.
To make this cholesterol-free pièce de résistance, choose several mango kernels, the older the better, the ones with fungus on them are the best. Grind the kernels, using a traditional mortar and pestle. Take the paste and sauté in adulterated oil, to give it that genuine feel of tribal cooking. Make sure you choose the right sauté pan. Then roast the whole thing in a clay oven.
You could lightly dust the dish with red ants, which will give it a slightly acidic flavour, leaving a tangy aftertaste. The crunchy red ants will act as a counterpoint to the crispy mango kernel. Serve with a shot of mahua poured over it to hit the high note of your rural dining experience.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal