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Lessons from lasoon November 27, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food, Humor.

It might keep teenage vampires away but when you use it well in the kitchen, the unassuming garlic can unite the most diverse people 


SMITH AND JONES GRIND GARLIC AT NASHIK. In case you think this is one of those phrases administered to suspected drunks to check their sobriety, it is not. Smith & Jones happened to be a brand of readymade garlic paste, one of latest products of ravenous, emerging giant India. I spied it on the mixes and spices shelf of one of the new breed of US-style self-service supermarkets in Mumbai.

Picked it up at once, of course, attracted by the Victorian-style graphics, the words ‘Traditional English Style’ written below in a pennant. Was this one of the newest Indian-made Foreign Imports coming out of a collaboration  between a spirited desi entrepreneur and some expansive expatriate? Would Smith & Jones together wipe out Bedekar and Parampara? Was this the future of garlic, to be smashed and bottled and sold in disguise? Did Englishmen, by the way, eat garlic? Did Britannia rule with waves of garlicky breath? Hmmm.

I checked the fine print and discovered that Messrs. Smith and Jones operate out of a Nashik address, and instantly all was clear. Smith and Jones are probably the working names of some Sawant and Joglekar who have cannily realized that the future lies in garlic.

Made me start thinking about CYG and garlic. Allium sativa had not been a part of my strictly Dravidian childhood. Encountering it in Calcutta and Delhi, where I was shaped from boy to proud manhood, I felt formal towards garlic, like a Japanese towards a Gujarati. Gainda Singh, cook at my college , was a romancer of garlic, but since he shone in all other respects, I, as head of the Canteen Committee, tolerated this aberration.

When the corporate world tamed the garlic and bottled it as pearls, promising there would be no odour and yet the heart would glow with health, I checked that out. This is how garlic ought to be, I thought, unrecognizable, odourless, untastable, unseen. In brief, I was a garlic hater. I thought it behaved like the opposition in the lower House of Parliament, always disrupting proceedings.

I was wrong on all counts and today I stand ready to face the music.

The unforgettable Ishtiyaque Qureshi, ex-chef of the erstwhile Searock Hotel and later the Leela Kempinski, once fed me a kheer in which, I learnt later, the floating almond-like pods were really garlic. Garlic pudding! Aaaaargh. But it tasted somehow like a mild Lebanese paradise. “The trick is to subjugate the garlic by cooking it in milk long enough at the right temperature,” said Qureshi.

In Cairo, a taxi-driver’s wife ground raw garlic and green chillies together with salt and lemon juice, sandiwched it in the mouth of a small fried aubergine and fed it to me with whole fried Cornish chicken and a pasta salad. The one hero of this warrior-like meal was, believe it or not, the garlic.

Though my conviction that garlic was garlic was on the wane, for many years I maintained that it was best consumed in pearl form. Lest your social life take a plunge, you know.

But as of  October 17, I have changed forever the way I perceive garlic. In large measure, this is because of a simple soup that was created by my wife Shilpa one sunset when no one felt like cooking and the evening stretched like eternity ahead of us. She threw a dart, it hit a Mexican cookbook, and another dart found page 72, Toasted Garlic Soup, serves 4 to 6.

“Don’t” I said, alarmed. “This marriage will be on the rocks!”

She ignored me. A woman who loves garlic knows what she wants.

I watched as she took a fistful of more garlic than I would have eaten in a month of Sundays, and toasted them. The aroma, forbidden and strong, filled the house. The child began to wheeze. The domestic help began muttering about paid leave. Then the vapours settled and more disciplined, suddenly more exciting, grew out of it. More things happened. I watched, face buried in my hands, nose twitching.

An hour later, I was tasting one of the most rogueish, ill-mannered and utterly charismatic soups I have eaten in a long time.

To get the entire recipe free of charge, all you have to do is click on the Bloggers Choice Award website link on top of this page and, only if you believe with all your heart that Gopium deserves one more vote, go and cast your vote.

On second thoughts, vote anyway. Who cares what you really believe in your heart?

On third thoughts, I’m not that kind of person. Here’s the full recipe:


¼ cup cooking oil

1 large or even huge head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and coarsely chopped

½ a baguette bread, cut diagonally into ¼” thick slices

4 medium-sized red tomatoes, peeled and seeded and coarsely chopped into chunks

7 cups stock (chicken, preferably, but Maggi vegetable cubes if you insist)

Salt to taste

½ cup thick cream



1. Heat the oil in a large skillet until it is smoking. Add the garlic and stir over medium-high heat for a minute or so until the garlic cloves are lightly toasted. Transfer the garlic to a large soup pot.

2. Add as many slices of  the bread to the skillet as will fit in one uncrowded layer. Fry over medium heat for a minute, turning once, until they are lightly golden on each side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Continue until all the bread has been fried, and set aside.

3. Place the chilli peppers and tomatoes in the skillet and stir over medium high heat for a minute until they wilt. Transfer to the soup pot with the garlic. Add the stock and the salt, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the garlic has softened.

4. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish each bowl with fried bread and a dollop of cream. Serve right away, piping hot.

Muri Blues November 27, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

There is a connection between young love and Calcutta’s jhalmuri


FROM THE DARKNESS OF KOLKATA’S LAKE GARDENS come the sounds of lovers holding hands.

Bet you’ve never heard the sound of lovers holding hands before, but I have. It’s not the usual slurps and slobs and chwoops and fevered whisperings, but more a steady chomp-chomp-chomp. Occasionally you might hear an intense burp.

It is the sound of two people deeply in love eating Calcutta’s jhalmuri together. No other city serves up this amazing snack based on puffed rice, or muri. The jhal refers to the fiery trail it blazes as it enters your system. Calcuttans buy their jhalmuri from numerous itinerant vendors who emerge towards twilight, with wicker baskets full of muri hanging from their waists. Arrayed around the basket like bullets in a carabinier’s magazine are old tins of ingredients such as rock salt, onions, green chillies and so on. If you took a closer look, you would find at hand a large Dalda tin as well, defaced and blackened, almost tired, in which he will combine the ingredients; and the small wooden baton with which he will give the mixture a twirl before serving it in paper cones rolled from old copies of Ananda Bazar Patrika.

Bengalis will swear that there is something almost magical about the old tin which imparts a fire-tinged magic to the jhalmuri and explains why home-made version can never match what lovers munch at Lake Gardens.

In the lane that runs by The Statesman building in Chowringhee, a gloomy hole-in-the-wall dispenses jhalmuri and nothing else. We used to despatch the office boy on late-work evenings to pick up jhalmuri. Putting aside crowquill and Rotring, we would shovel fistfuls of the stuff into our mouths, cursing at the fieriness of it and wiping the tears from our eyes. Work would be impossible later anyway, so we’d retire to some nearby beer bar and discuss the future of communism in Bengal.

Because it is based on puffed rice, you might mistakenly conclude that jhalmuri is probably a cousin of Bombay’s bhelpuri, but the truth couldn’t be further. If puffed rice is the gene pool, then jhalmuri is the warrior and bhelpuri the poet. The biggest mistake you could make would be to try and adapt jhalmuri to local taste, for that would not be murder, it would be assassination.

I spoke to several people, some of them Bengali, others with Bengal in their blood, to piece together the recipe for jhalmuri. Everyone remembered different ingredients, and I conclude that jhalmuri’s recipe itself must be variable. Accordingly, the recipe I give below lists the basic ingredients, and separately, a couple of add-ons.

[Do note, won’t you, that I could have insisted that you click on the Bloggers Choice Awards website link on top of this page and forced you to vote for this blog if you really wanted the recipe, but I didn’t, having too much character and integrity.] 



250 gms puffed rice (muri)

1 or 2 onions, finely chopped

2 or 3 spicy green chillies, sliced into fine ringlets

Half a cup of peanuts

1/4 coconut, sliced into slivers

50 gms dried peas (chana)

Boiled potato sliced into flakes

1/2 cucumber finely chopped

Rock salt

1-2 tsps freshly pressed mustard oil

Half a lemon



Raw mango cut into little slivers

Red chilly powder


My only caution to anyone experimenting with other add-ons is to remember that a fine line divides jhalmuri from other puffed rice preparations. On no account should you try to sweeten it, using tamarind water and the like, for that would bring it too close to the Maharashtrian counterpart. Similarly, do not add any ground spices such as aamchoor (dried mango powder) or garam masala — you might get interesting tastes but none of them will be the real thing. 

Also, do note the casually used phrase ‘freshly pressed mustard oil’. Not only is this darker and more aromatic than the refined and packaged version, but it gives teeth to the jhalmuri plus it is what Calcutta’s muriwallas use. Whatever you do, do not, repeat, do not substitute mustard oil with any other oil except at your own peril.

You’re ready now. Bung the ingredients into an old magic tin and give it a good twirl with a wooden spoon. Squeeze some lime juice over it. Walk into a cosy dark spot with someone you love deeply, and start eating jhalmuri, occasionally holding hands or burping.