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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pesticide-free plates

A fresh new year.

A day to give thanks for all the lovely things that have hopped into our larders, our ovens, our pots and thence on to our plates... and also those popped into our inboxes! A
nd oh, dear me, yes! A lot of lovely people too!
To begin with, thanks for all the enthusiastic eaters who have been kicking my procrastinating butt these many months to 'Get the blog up and going, already!' And thanks for the adventurous amigos who've helped me test-drive what's been gathering steam in the kitchen all last year. Oh, but thanks, above all, to good friendships found and cemented over plates of produce!

Foremost among those produce pals has to be Kanu Soman
y. This enterprising young lady sits on her family farm just outside Delhi, trailing her green fingers through the earth and coming up with handfuls of the most beautiful vegetable babies you ever saw.
Or never saw, for that matter. Because Kanu also loves a challenge — such as coaxing exotics out of our rich Indian soil. Little red currant tomatoes that bead on the vine as though waiting to be threaded into some ancient earth goddess' garland. Giant striped heirloom beefsteak tomatoes. Handfuls of spicy-sharp mizuna and tatsoi, red giant and green wave mustard, wild arugula and bull's blood, crisp chicory and flushed lollo rosso — for a salad bowl that plays prima donna at any dinner party.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, take a dekko at this blossom-studded bagful (below) that she sent me for Christmas. My guests begged seconds, despite the heat shimmer rising from old favourites fish pie and roast pepper tart in the oven, despite the citrusy polenta cake waiting on the sideboard. Yes, those leaves were that delectable!

Kanu likes to have expatriate friends think of her farm as their kitchen garden once-removed. Though it was husband Sharad who first got her digging deeper among the seed sacks, when he deplored the absence of anything more exciting than limp 'saalaad pattaa' (aka, limp, browning iceberg lettuce) at Indian farmer's markets. (Which is not to badmouth the old-fashioned sabzi mandi — more about the virtues of which another day...)

And that's not to say she neglects the homegrown goodness. An earlier autumnal harvest got my doorbell ringing for — and my appreciative family ooh-ing and aah-ing over — the most delicate drumstick leaves (Moringa) and moonlight-pale mooli (white radish, or daikon). Note bene that their sprightly tops were lopped off my the pater for a stir-fry so quickly that my camera durst not follow. The roots were befriended, however, by these shy fronds of fenugreek (methi) so soft that a friend washing them for the pan remarked it was like having her fingers gently caressed. Just look at them (at the top of this post)!

I have to confess that while my Bengali culinary legacy is big on the boon of drumsticks — the mastication of the juicy, fleshy pods is elevated to an art in the gourmand's adda — I had never heretofore been tempted to throw the leaves into the pot after them. But how can you say nay to something that looks so fresh, so friendly, so utterly adorable?

We bestowed the blessing of methi on some fish, cooked to a recipe from my Andhra friend Renuka, whose home no one ever leaves without a full belly (and a shiny, licked-clean thali left in their wake).

The drumstick leaves partnered the humble split pea in a soupy sambar inspired by Paati over at en veetu samayal.

The radish themselves were grated and simply stir-fried with a tempering of a dried red chilli and a teaspoon of nigella seeds (kalonji) in mustard oil, with just a pinch of salt for seasoning.

And this tasty trio got served with rice for a satisfying, fingerlicking silence at the table.

As for Kanu, long and lush may her garden grow. Those living in the capital city can ask to be put on her mailing list for weekly updates on what's ripe for the picking.

Write to her at kanu_somany@yahoo.com and grow in good health all year round.


Nupur said...

What a lovely post. That plate of freshly cooked subzis looks like the best food in the whole wide world.

Rodosee said...

Nupur: Thank you. Means a lot, coming from you!

That was another thing to thank Kanu for -- showing me just HOW much of a difference it makes when your veggies have been harvested less than 24 hours before they jump into the kadhai! Very difficult to shop at the supermarket after that.

Srivalli said...

this is such a lovely post...the way you have explained each thing...takes us there...nice...thanks for sharing your wonderful plate!..I like that phrase on andhra..:D..me being one!

Rodosee said...

Thanks, Srivalli. And congratulations on your Andhra heritage... the culinary tradition alone of your home state is mind-boggling! Such a delicious country we have, it never ceases to amaze me...