Just as their cities begin to reopen cautiously, friends and family in Delhi complain of stifling heat, and those in Mumbai of humid, oppressive air. In salubrious Bengaluru, we have no such complaints. It is the pre-monsoon season of glorious weather.
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There is a light breeze all day, the sky is mostly overcast, it is pleasant all day and there is a nip in the air at night. In sum, there could not be a better time to start unlocking the city after a long, distressing lockdown of disease and death. The pandemic has not disappeared by any means but one can only take heart from the troughs when they come.
A peak in the form of a third wave may be inevitable. Since I wrote my last column, we have lost more people, and sometimes it feels odd to be writing about life and food at a time like this. But I have rationalised my predicament thus: We must do what we must, make the best of, and be grateful for, what we have.
To retreat into a shell and go over to the dark side is all too easy, and it is something we must all resist. From my experience of being locked down at home, there is no better diversion than cooking to keep your family distracted and satisfied. Keep your stove lit and bountiful.
During the shutdown, I refused to get my fresh vegetable and herb supplies from sundry online companies, preferring instead to leave home by 7am and frequent local stores and markets, duly double-masked.
Now, as the season of nature’s bounties is especially evident, I am delighted to scoop them up before the monsoon wipes the shelves clean, especially the best herbs.
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The only thing that has really changed now is that our market deadline has gone from 10am to 2pm, so there’s no longer a rush to get out and get back. Indeed, earlier this week, as the city partially unlocked, I made my first leisurely 5km trip to do some shopping at 11am, the longest and latest I have been out in more than a month.
It was exhilarating to simply witness the world beyond my neighbourhood but the joy soon turned into familiar despair as I ran into massive citywide road works, incomplete for a year and running late because of the shortage of workers.
Even though regular shopping and public transport had not yet restarted, I was quickly stuck in a traffic jam on an excavated road where asphalt had become a distant memory.
In the event, those temporary tribulations were swept aside when my bags were full of fresh produce; anticipation ran high. I told myself it was time to go beyond cooking with the basics. So I grabbed some bunches of fresh thyme and sage, both herbs rare during the lockdown.
With my curious cat, perched on the kitchen counter, observing me—he’s eight months old, not yet cynical and gets excited by boiling water and sizzling pans—I meditatively chopped and processed the vegetables.
The kitchen was redolent with the fragrance of the sage and thyme as I plucked them and added them to the two entrées I have written about here.
And, oh yes, these recipes—both dishes together serve five—demonstrate that I can and do cook vegetarian food. Many of you, dear readers, often write to me, much to my chagrin, saying this column is mildly entertaining and passably readable, but of course it is for meat eaters, is it not? Might I remind you that I have a vegetarian wife, and my oeuvre grows by the day? Stay tuned.
Carrots tossed with sage
250g carrot, julienned
1 tsp white sesame seeds
5-6 leaves of fresh sage, roughly torn
Half tsp pepper powder
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste
After chopping the carrots into juliennes, mix with 1 tsp olive oil, pepper and sage. Set aside for 10 minutes.
In a non-stick wok, heat 1 tsp of olive oil, add sesame seeds and heat until they start to pop. Sauté garlic for a minute, add the carrots and toss until cooked. Add a pinch of salt if needed.
Baked vegetables with thyme
1 medium-size brinjal, thinly sliced
2-3 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 tsp thyme leaves, plucked off stems
2 tsp sage, roughly torn
2 tsp black pepper
15 cloves of garlic
200g mozzarella, grated
2 tsp olive oil to coat oven-proof dish
Salt to taste
Grease the oven-proof dish, lay out the onion and grill in oven at 250 degrees Celsius until caramelised. Layer brinjal, then tomato. Sprinkle with salt, half the black pepper, half the thyme, sage and garlic. Layer with mozzarella. Repeat another layer of all ingredients. Bake for 35 minutes in an oven at 175 degrees, step up to 225 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes until mozzarella browns nicely.
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.