For a week before the event Ram’s siblings and their families camped with us. It was a fun week with lots of work to do, things to get ready, stuff to be bought AND kids to be taken care of. There were 5 boys at home, ages ranging from 3 to 17. While Ram’s sisters, my co-sis and I took the easy way out by opting to take care of all the purchases (wink, wink) and arrangements at the hall, my mother-in-law was given the tough task of managing the kids as well as the kitchen.
One of those days, the maid did not turn up and we were faced with a sink overflowing with unwashed plates and a whole lot of hungry impatient kids. My MIL suddenly had a brainwave. She slyly went to the balcony armed with a knife and chopped off two large banana leaves from the tree in our doctor neighbour’s compound that were swaying royally in our balcony.
I was flabbergasted. “Enna ma! What if Dr Bala had seen!” I complained, but internally happy at not having to rush to washing stinking plates. “It is okay. I’ve never seen them use the leaves anyway!” she chuckled.
This morning though, I turned thief myself, with hubby as co-conspirator. Armed with the same knife, which by now had gotten used to de-throning banana leaves from the tree, we walked to our balcony. Hubby precariously climbed on to the ledge of the balcony railing and reached for a leaf that was least torn. Phew! Job done, no Dr Bala in sight! The reason for the day’s theft: a recipe that called for rice steamed with a curry paste in banana leaves! After all, the doctor hardly ever uses the leaves from the tree and they need to be pruned every once in a while, don’t they?
After yesterday’s mega culinary adventure, I didn’t think I’d have the drive to cook up another adventure today. But I really did not know of the vice grip that cooking madness has over me right now! After all the lecture yesterday about yoga and lovely Madras mornings at 5, we woke up today only at noon! You read right, noon!! We went for a night show yesterday (movie Ko, which, by the way, is quite a decent watch) and got into bed only at 2.30 am. I guess, it still doesn’t justify waking up at noon. But, what the heck! It is Sunday after all, like an ad proclaims these days!
I picked up the Tarla Dalal cookbook (a 1989 edition by the way and nearly in tatters) given by my friend Viji, who also gave me the awesome beetroot rasam recipe that I prepared yesterday. Went through the book and settled for a ‘Rice and curry steamed in banana leaf recipe’ that looked not too difficult to accomplish and quite tempting .
Ram decided to end his not-cooked-in-a-long-time vratham and joined me in the kitchen. While I started off on a variation of Tarla Dalal’s recipe, Ram decided to come up with his own curry creation with pudina, onions and baby potatoes. Read on for the recipes.
Rice and curry steamed in banana leaf
(The original mentions quantities to serve 10, I’ve reduced them to serve 2)
For the rice:
Uncooked rice – 1 cup
Shah jeera – ½ tsp (I used plain jeera as I did not have this variety)
Ghee – 1 tsp
For the curry:
Tomato puree – 2 tbsp
Fresh cream – 1 tbsp (I substituted this with a tbsp of milk, I always use milk instead of cream)
Ghee -2 tsp
To be ground into paste for curry:
Onion – 1 small
Grated coconut – 1 tsp
Red chillies – 1-2 depending on how hot you want it (I used 1 big)
Coriander seeds – ½ tsp
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Cardamom – ½ (I used a big pinch of cardamom powder that I had on hand)
Ginger – ¼ inch piece
Garlic – 1 clove (I left this out as I did not have any. But I’m sure it would have added to the taste in this dish)
Cook rice with less water than you would usually. The grains must be separate. I added one bay leaf to give it a mild flavour
Heat ghee, add jeera
(Since I love colourful looking dishes, I added 1 tbsp each of finely chopped beans and carrots at this stage, which the original recipe doesn’t call for. You could also add this which cooking rice along with bay leaf. I was tempted to add capsicum too but restrained myself from doing so as I did not want it to overpower the flavour of the curry)
Then add the cooked rice and salt.
Sauté for a couple of minutes and switch off flame. Keep aside
Heat ghee and add fry paste for a few minutes
Add the tomato puree, the cream/milk and salt (Since I did not have tomato puree, I ground a small tomato along with the curry paste)
Take off flame when the paste starts leaving the sides of the wok
Now for the most interesting part:
Cut banana leaf into squares big enough to hold serving for one person
Place one serving of rice topped with a little curry in the centre of each square
Fold leave individually and fasten with toothpick
Steam these banana packets for about 15 minutes
You can pack rice and curry in aluminum foil if banana leaf isn’t available. But I sincerely appeal to everyone to take the effort to get banana leaf. It gives a delicious subtle aroma that’s unbeatable. Of course, I’m not encouraging you to do the little stealing act like me!
Baby potatoes roasted in thick onion-pudina paste
Baby potatoes – 200 gms
Pudina chopped – 1 loosely packed cup
Onion – ½ cup
Oil – 2 tsp
Oil – 1 tsp
Red chillies – 2
Chana Dal – 2 tsp
Urad dal – 2 tsp
Boil and peel baby potatoes. Keep aside
Heat I tsp oil and add the dals and the chillies
Add onions when chillies turn bright red and dals start to turn golden
Take off heat and cool
Grind this with pudina into a rough paste
Heat 2 tsp oil and add the ground paste.
Add ¼ cup water. Add salt
Add baby potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes.
I have made baby potatoes in a thick onion-tomato paste before, but it tasted really great with the pudina-onion paste. In a way, it was a north-south fusion food. Because, although it calls for spluttering chana and urad dals (the way it is done for south-Indian thogayals and chutneys, it was prepared in the manner that north-Indian gravy dishes are. And it was awesome in combination with the banana-steamed rice.
You could even serve this as finger snacks or as starters.