Fiery fiesta

The Statesman, 19 November 2010

Any meal sprinkled with humour tastes great. Mita Kapur’s The F-Word makes for a delightful read. Review by Mathures Paul

A seven-course meal can be made palatable either by an extravagant price tag (A weeping wallet makes the worst of cooking delicious!) or by a liberal sprinkle of humour. Mita Kapur’s The F-Word lives up to its title and the short sweet nothing on the cover: “Fiery, fresh, fragrant, family, famished, fun, fried food, fiesta, flavours.” Instead of pushing down Nawabi dishes with a cheap shovel, Kapur focuses on the only element that makes any meal memorable ~ togetherness, “shared laughter” and, to quote her, “a final contented hand on the stomach: ‘Oh, I’ve overeaten yet again.’”. The “eclectic mix” of Indian, Thai, European and other cuisines” carry a stamp of innovativeness  that has been dealt by her travels to various cities. 
The focus is on trial-and-error method rather than asinine ramblings of renowned chefs. “Perhaps the world will end at the dining table, with us laughing and crying and polishing off that last sweet bite.”
For Mita Kapur, cooking has “always been a very emotional exercise”. Her introduction states, “I’ve found euphoria staring at me from the orange zest curling delicately on a chocolate velvet mousse. I’ve faced anger when a burnt cake looked at me defiantly from the oven. I’ve squared my shoulders at the gelatine rebelling against swining temperatures, carving layers into my caramel soufflé. I have had cricket-ball sized gulab jamuns cheekily chuckling at me. Even after so many years, it is a moment of triumph when I rustle up a dish perfectly…. These recipes are only themes for the reader to improvise upon as mood and appetite demand.”
The book is amusingly personal to the point of reflecting the reader’s life and tastes. Starting from Delhi’s Panchkuiyan Road to travelling down Calcutta’s Park Street, Kapur’s mom’s voice rings with “gentle authority” through the book, making it a good read. Can it get more personal than describing herself a part of the “kele amrud ki chaat, aloo pakoda, bread pakoda generation”? Only by reading The F-Word can some of the dishes in the book be made more enjoyable. Here’s a small selection of Kapur’s recipes…

Spinach Soup
Requires: 250 gm spinach, 25 gm onion chopped, 3 cloves garlic chopped, one tsp ginger paste, 2 tomatoes chopped, 25 gm butter, ½ cup fresh cream, one tsp black pepper, two tsp lemon juice, salt.
Method: Wash spinach thoroughly. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes in butter. Add the spinach, five-six cups water, and pressure cook for 10 minutes. Cool the soup, blend and sieve. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and swirl in the cream.

Galaavat Ke Kebab
Ingredients: 500 gm keema, 2 tbsp raw papaya paste, one tsp ground giner, one tsp ground garlic, 2 tbsp sliced onions fried brown, 2 tbsp roasted chana powder, 4 green chillies finely chopped, 2 tbsp green coriander finely chopped, one tbsp kewra water, one tbsp ghee, salt to taste.
Garam masala mix: Five cloves, 5 green cardamoms, one blade of javitri, 2 cinnamon sticks, one tbsp khus khus, ½ tsp saunth, 15 black peppers, 3 red chillies, one bayleaf, one tsp cumin.
Method: Roast all the garam masala ingredients on a tawa and grind together. Add one tsp kewra water, cover for two minutes. Mix papaya, salt, ginger, garlic in the keema, leave for an hour. Mix all the remaining ingredients into the keema, leave for another hour. Pat the mixture into small balls and shallow-fry in ghee till done.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
Requires: 500 gm boneless chicken breast or thigh cut into thin three-inch strips, one small onion chopped fine, one tbsp ginger grated, 2 tbsp garlic chopped, 2 tbsp soya sauce, 2 tsp red chilli powder, one tsp coriander powder, 2 tbsp oil, one tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp lemon juice.
Peanut sauce: 300 ml coconut milk, 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, 4 dried red chillies ground, one tbsp fish sauce, one tsp lemon juice, one tsp brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow dish and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and coat evenly. Leave for two hours, or overnight, for best results. Thread the pieces onto bamboo satay sticks. Grill the chicken for eight-10 minutes in a preheated oven at about 180 degree Celsius, turning and brushing occasionally with the marinade, till cooked through. To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients and bring to a boil ~ serve with satays.

Stuffed Mushrooms
Requires: 180 gm button mushrooms, one tsp oil, one tbsp chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped salami, ¼ cup cheese spread, fine soft breadcrumbs.
Method: remove the stalks of the mushrooms and hollow out the caps. Chop the scooped out portions finely. Cook the chopped mushrooms with the onion, salami and cheese spread. Stuff the mushroom crowns with this filling and sprinkle over with bread crumbs. Bake at 250 degree Celsius for six-eight minutes.

Gaeng Ped Gai
Requires: 800 gm boneless chicken, 12 dry red chillies softened in water, 3 onions chopped, 2 tsp ginger chopped, 2 tsp garlic crushed, ¼ tsp nutmeg powder, ¼ tsp mace powder, one tsp coriander seeds, one stalk lemon grass chopped, 2 tsp fresh coriander chopped, ½ tsp lemon peel, 2 tbsp shrimp paste, one tbsp oil, 700 ml coconut milk, salt, pepper to taste.
Method: Pound all the ingredients, except coconut milk, in a mortar till smooth. Heat oil, stir-fry the spice paste for four-five minutes, add the chicken, pour in the coconut milk and cook on medium heat till chicken is tender.

Mita Kapur runs Siyahi, a literary agency based in Jaipur. The book is available from Harper Collins. Price: Rs 599

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