It’s that time of the year in Bengaluru when the Tabebuia rosea discard their iridescent blooms, which lit up our avenues much like the cherry blossoms do in Japan. The purple jacaranda will soon follow suit; the last flowers still linger. The gulmohars are taking over, their bright orange canopies like bursts of flame in a city otherwise made murky by traffic and construction.
It’s that time of the year when we also complain about how hot Bengaluru now is, how old Bangalore did not need even fans in 1970—a litany of grievances that soon degenerates into how people were so much more cultured and gracious, how we all cycled or walked on tree-clad avenues and around flower-decked roundabouts and alack and alas.
Me, I focus on the flowers, and feel immensely satisfied that I can go for a run at 4 in the afternoon when Delhi is broiling at 42 degrees Celsius—get a life, my fellow Bengalureans—and rejoice in the new fruits and vegetables flooding the market as the seasons change.
My great regret is that lettuce, which is now a staple in our daily salads, is off the market with the coming of the first rains. The days in Bengaluru are bright and warm but most April evenings are marked by showers or storms. April, however, also brings the first mangoes and Ramzan. Both are focal points for much of our food these days.
The days are calm because many in our neighbourhood are keeping their rozas, fasting. Come evening and the streets light up as the faithful pour out after maghrib prayers for iftar. The roadside grills are fired up much earlier because the first serving caters to Christian and Hindu clients who flock to Madhavaraya Mudaliar and Mosque roads, the two streets near us that host iftar stalls.
The evening showers are a bit of a dampener, but only just. The 11-year-old and I were returning from her tennis and my run one evening when a storm hit. At her urging, we parked—dangerously—under a rain tree. These giants are given to dropping branches that can crush cars and people. We were drenched as we raced to a little eatery opposite our local Hajee Sir Ismail Sait mosque. We wolfed down three roomali roti rolls, keeping ourselves warm by the fire of the roomali maker, who flipped roti after roti expertly every 20 seconds.
It was the first iftar outside home during Ramzan because the goodies normally keep coming from generous neighbours and friends. Flaky chicken samosas from the folks upstairs were the best we had this week.
With so much meat on offer, I reckoned we could do with some fish and fresh produce. That is how I noticed the raw mangoes and celery. My daughter, who was with me, grabbed a packet of large, light-green chillies, the type used to make chilli bajjis in Karnataka. Our fruit-eating has almost exclusively become mango-eating but it has been a while since I infused raw mangoes in my cooking. I was unclear about how to marry the raw mango and celery but I grabbed them for no reason other than that they were conveniently placed near each other, looked good together and appeared to complement one another.
I was—fortunately—right. It was a marriage of convenience but it worked out very well indeed.
There are very few recipes that use celery and raw mango but I was struck by a recipe for a celery-raw mango chutney on a blog run by Ujwala Chintala, a software engineer and mother of two. My interpretation is below but I figured the tartness of the raw mango, the earthy flavour of the celery and the sting of the chilli would go well. I added basil from my balcony and some cherry tomatoes of three colours.
Grab, go and cook—sometimes, cooking is all about falling in step with what’s around you and what’s convenient.
FISH BAKED IN MANGO-CELERY PASTE & MANGO-CELERY CHUTNEY
5 medium pieces of any firm fish (I used betki)
3 tbsp celery, washed, roughly chopped
6 tbsp raw mango (I do not peel but you can)
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 large green chilli, roughly chopped with seeds
8-9 basil leaves, washed, dried, roughly torn
3-4 cherry tomatoes, sliced
For the chutney tempering
Half tsp mustard seeds
Half tsp cumin seeds
5-6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
3 tsp vegetable oil
For the fish: Take half the mango, garlic, green chilli and celery. Sauté in a pan in 2 tsp of oil until the celery is soft. Remove from pan and pound with a little salt in a mortar pestle to form a rough paste. Marinate the fish in this paste—taste for salt if required. After one hour, bake the fish in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. Remove when done. Serve hot, garnished with basil leaves and cherry tomatoes.
For the chutney (serves 2-3): Grind the other half of the mango, garlic, green chilli and celery with a little salt in a food processor into a chutney consistency. Warm 1 tsp oil in a tempering pan. Add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add cumin and sauté until it begins to change colour. Drop in curry leaves and immediately remove from fire and pour over the chutney. Use some chutney to swirl around the tempering pan to clean up what’s left and pour it back into the chutney. The chutney and fish go well with dosa, chapati or bread.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11