When the lockdown started, I moved back to my parents' house in Aligarh, some 130km from Delhi. While work from home felt like purgatory in the beginning to most of us, I was not complaining; for I was enjoying the endless perks of being home, worrying about nothing except work and gorging on the tasty food prepared by my mother. During the earlier months of the pandemic, she got busy cooking new dishes learnt on the internet almost every other day. Never a big fan of cooking, I too eventually got interested and tried my hand at baking. But I was more interested in learning few of my mother’s star recipes, simple dishes that she could lift by little touches.
Maa ke haath ka khaana holds a special place in everybody’s heart, and often it is the dishes that you associate with your growing up years, that remain your favourites. My mother’s aloo-gobhi ki sabzi has been an all-weather delight ever since I can remember, lapped up with anything from pooris, rotis, to parathas or used as filling in a sandwich. Other delights, that I only love made by my mother include gatte ki sabzi and lauki kofta, which no restaurant version can ever match. No wonder then that these were on the top of my list of recipes that I wanted to learn. But an interesting addition to my list of favorites in recent years has been the achaars (pickles) that never go out of stock at our home. My mother makes seasonal pickles, with mango, and hing (mango pickle made with asafoetida) in summers and mirch (chili) and mooli (radish) achaar in winters being the constants. And enjoying them with leftover mathris from Holi in April and now with crispy parathas in winters got me interested in learning their recipes as well.
Interestingly, during school, I would often get annoyed when my mother would pack parathas and hing achar every other day (how boring it was, I thought, compared to my friend Palak's bread poha or Farheen’s grilled sandwiches). It was only when I started staying away from home for work, when cooking became a chore I despised, that I realised how this pickle was a savior. I had a newfound respect for this tangy pickle, made with zero oil, that added zing to my bland dishes. Soon I was addicted to it, coaxing my mother to make a fresh batch every summer to enjoy with mathris and parathas.
Another pickle that I have come to love is the mooli (radish) achaar that my mother makes in winters from our home-grown radishes. Now winters is a time to gorge on parathas of all kinds—aloo, mooli, gobhi, paneer and mixed vegetable. And while nothing beats pairing them with butter (homemade or Amul), mooli achaar is an absolute crunchy delight with flaky parathas. You will end up eating twice the amount you intended. Pair it with makai roti, paalak saag and some jaggery, and wait for the burst of flavours in your mouth.
The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise, allowing many of us to learn something new. I have learnt a few dishes from my mother, in the hope that once I move back to Delhi, I will be well armed to survive my own cooking. Here are two seasonal pickle recipes from my mother's kitchen:
(Makes one kg)
2 kg raw mangoes (make sure they haven’t started to turn yellow)
200 g salt
25 g red chilli powder
5-10 g hing (asafoetida), powdered
Wash and peel the mangoes. Separate the seed and cut the pulp into small pieces. Add around 10g salt and mix well. Keep overnight. Strain the water that the mangoes have released and keep it aside. Put the mangoes under the sun for 2-3 hours till they become dry. Now add the remaining salt, chilli powder and hing and mix well. Shift to a glass or ceramic jar and put it in the sun for 2-3 days. Pickle is ready when mangoes turn soggy.
Makes 1 kg
25g rai (black mustard seeds), powdered
25g saunf (fennel seeds), powdered
100g mustard oil
15g red chilli powder
30g turmeric powder
1-1.5 liter Water
Wash and clean the radishes. Peel and cut into julienne strips or into round discs. Heat the water in a large pan. Turn the heat off and add the radishes to the water and keep for 5 minutes. Strain and place the radishes under the sun for 1-2 hours till they are dry. Collect in a large pan and mix all the spices and oil. Store in a glass jar for 2-3 days, and shake the ingredients well once every day. Pickle should be ready in 3 days.