This is the second column on a trot that I will write about food and illness. I can’t help it. While recovering from the operation I wrote about last time, I was struck by covid-19 after escaping it these past couple of years.
I suppose complacency got to me. One of my first days out after said operation was a small college reunion at a friend’s house, followed by another little party at my flat. There was much raucous laughter, many old stories told for the 1,001st time and lots of food and drink. They turned into mini-spreader parties and four of us, including the wife, were grabbed by nasty old corona.
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Our 12-year-old was quite delighted because she could move in with her grandmother, hang out with visiting cousins she had not met in nearly three years, and generally lead a dissolute life unhindered by parental supervision. My mother appeared to be delighted her grandchild shared her bed, and both tussled over her daily school tiffin. The child takes very little rice and an accompaniment, while my mother is only satisfied when she packs four times that quantity.
It took us a week to recover—and we are blessed we did, relatively unscathed, we think—but I did not have any of the symptoms that once characterised covid-19. No loss of smell or taste. Quite the contrary, every time I felt weak or debilitated, I reached for the fridge. Not for me this nonsense of starving a fever. My fevers, I was reminded, need to be fed. I had forgotten because I was getting a fever after more than three years.
The first thing my mother did was to send chicken soup—the Halarnkar remedy for just about any kind of illness. But soup, to me, is sick people’s food and not something I am particularly enamoured of. I scoured the fridge on Day 3 and addressed the delirium of fever with the pork roast I had made for the mini-spreader party.
In the days that followed, I kept the body fuelled with chicken curry and beef cutlets. Recovery was relatively quick, and I was out walking and running—albeit for no more than five minutes, I am not that foolish—after a week. A cough has remained; the wife’s is a pretty nasty one.
Normally, I sleep soon after my head hits the pillow, especially if I have had a drink or two. Since we were tempted to but not brave enough to have a post-covid drink, we did the next best thing. We had a swig of Benadryl. I am being facetious, of course, but only just. I had a bit of India’s favourite cough syrup for a couple of days, and it gave me the best sleep. I can see why addicts take a shine to it.
If I could not have a drink, I could at least, I mused, do the next best thing—merge it into dinner. The opportunity came when Eid came along, just when our week of recovery was winding down. One of our kind neighbours sent us qurbani, the sacrificial meat, as she always does.
Eid in our neighbourhood is a time of generosity and neighbourliness. The WhatsApp groups are full of Eid messages from Hindu and Christian neighbours, who dress in their finery as they delightedly accept lunch invitations, and there is a glow that is increasingly hard to find in many parts of India, given the parlous state of inter-community relations.
The timing for the qurbani could not have been better. After being cooped up at home for the greater part of a month (the operation and covid-19 recovery combined), I knew I would really feel liberated if I made something that prompted me to sigh in satisfaction and reach for a toothpick to stick between my teeth after I was done.
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Meat in wine sauce is something I have always liked on the rare occasion I got it, but while I use alcohol often while cooking, a wine sauce was not familiar territory. There was half a bottle of nice Argentinian wine left over from the day of my mini-spreader party, but it had lain on the table after the fever struck us and was now mostly vinegar.
There was an Indian La Reserva, and given the improving quality of Indian wine—it’s best not to get carried away, though, most are still well below par—I had no hesitation in putting it to use. But wine sauce involves some patience and reduction, and I was not particularly inclined to either. I ended up using the wine and making a wine sauce, but not perhaps as the great chefs intended. Regardless, the 12-year-old loved it, and when it was done, I did stick a toothpick between my teeth.
GOAT IN RED-WINE SAUCE
500g goat, cut in large chunks
2 tbsp garlic, chopped fine
2 medium onions, sliced
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Half tsp turmeric powder
1 cup wine
2-3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
Salt to taste
In a non-stick pan, gently heat butter and sauté onion until light brown. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the spices and sauté, drizzling in red-wine vinegar if things stick. Add meat and salt and sear well. Reduce heat and simmer. Add wine, cover and cook for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add some water if the meat starts to dry. Strain the liquid, removing the onion and garlic. Transfer the meat and strained sauce to an oven-proof dish, cover lightly with foil and bake for 120 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius. Uncover for the last 20 minutes, basting if needed. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
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.