This morning, I woke up with my calf muscles hurting. Which is strange, because I spent all of yesterday finishing up a piece and it definitely did not involve getting off the couch. But then, I remembered that I'd walked up 6 flights of stairs with my friend when we were walking her dog in the evening. I texted her this morning to complain about it and she said 'Aysha, we walked down the stairs not up.' So that's that, and the mystery of the hurting calves remains. I'm telling you about it because it crossed my mind as I was getting into an elevator this morning, that there are a quite a few muscles that don't get used these days. The writing muscle for one. There are days now when I feel like I can't string a sentence together. The reading muscle is another. The reading without-being-distracted-by-an-electronic-device muscle, in particular. Oddly enough, the best way to combat this, I have discovered, is to read on yet another electronic device. I feel like I might get mobbed for saying this, but of late, I prefer reading on my phone or kindle to an actual book. I like curling up in bed with the kindle after a long day, even thought a piece of plastic isn’t nearly as romantic as a book. It isn't too heavy, it doesn't make you sneeze, you just have to flick a finger to turn the page, and, this might be the best part for me, you can look up words right then!!! No more making mental notes to google the word and then later not remembering what it was.
I just finished reading Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, which was as devastating as it was beautiful. And I’ve moved on to H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, a memoir about a woman who becomes obsessed with taming a goshawk as a way of dealing with grief after her father’s death. I’m only 10 pages in, but so far, it’s extremely fascinating and poetic. I love this line early on in the book where she writes, ‘Looking for goshawks is like looking for grace: it comes, but not often and you don’t get to say when or how.’
To balance out the heaviness, I have a stack of cookbooks that sit patiently by my bedside, as a talisman to remind me to perhaps, not take life so seriously. One of the books that sit in the pile is Heidi Swanson's Near & Far. Everything about this cookbook is achingly beautiful - from the typography, texture to the dignified and restrained photos taken from her travels all over the world. It makes me want to quit everything I'm doing and write a cookbook right here and now. Nothing in it, however, makes me want to get into the kitchen and actually cook; that is what the next book is for: Food52's Genius Recipes, which is basically a blueprint for how I'd like to feed myself, should I ever stop being the most disorganized person on the planet. The book features lots of ordinary ingredients that transform with a little bit of imagination and cleverness. This cauliflower soup is an example of the kind of recipes you can expect to find in there. I also keep Archana Pidathala's Five Morsels of Love at close reach - if you happen to read The Goya Journal you may already know of Archana's fabulous cookbook. A tribute to her grandmother, it is a treasure of family recipes from the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. I'm lucky to call Archana a friend now, and although sometimes the authors of your favourite books can be dissapointing, knowing Archana as I do now, I can see why Five Morsels is as beautiful as it is. I've had the book for a while, but I hadn't cooked from it until last weekend. I found a recipe for a mango curry when flipping through and as soon as I saw that the recipe called for 15 cloves of garlic, I knew I had to make it.
The first time I met Archana, she cooked a huge lunch for the Goya crew - there was a hyacinth bean curry, horse gram stew, tomato chutney, peanut podi, and home made ghee. It was, without a doubt, one of my favourite meals from 2016. Not just because it was well, delicious, but also because the flavours were just so new and unexpected. How could a cuisine from just two states away taste so completely different from anything I’ve ever tasted before? There is nothing more that delights me as a diner than being surprised by new flavours. Every single dish served that afternoon was a revelation.
The mango curry uses everyday ingredients that are staples in a South Indian kitchen. The recipe is easy to follow and leaves you with a dish that is so well balanced that it almost seems like a magic trick – where did those 15 cloves of garlic go? No garlic breath, no lingering aftertaste struggling to keep up with the rest of the flavours, just a symphony of sweet, sour and spicy. If you’ve been wondering what to do with all those mangoes that are flooding the market, I suggest you bring out the garlic and make this dish at once.
Raw Mango in a Sweet Tamarind Sauce (Pacchi Mamidikaya Pulusu)
Reprinted with permission from Five Morsels of Love
500 g Totapuri mangoes (or any other slightly tart mango)
½ tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
15-20 dried red chillies
500 g tamarind, soaked in I cup hot water for 15 minutes
4 tbsp powdered jaggery
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp de-hisked, split black gram
½ tsp dehusked, split Bengal gram
½ tsp cumin seeds
2 dried red chillies, broken in half
a pinch of asafoetida
3 onions, finely chopped
15 cloves of garlic, peeled
4-5 green chillies, slit halfway through
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp turmeric powder
10-15 fresh curry leaves
salt to taste
2-3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves to garnish
Wash the mangoes and pat dry. Cut each mango (with the peel) into 6 pieces and discard the seeds.
Heat ½ tsp of oil in a pan over high heat until very hot. Add the ingredients for the spice mix and fry for a few minutes until aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Once completely cool, grind to a fine powder in a mixer/food processor.
Mash the tamarind by hand or with a fork, and pour the liquid into a sieve placed over a bowl. Squeeze the tamarind to extract as much of the liquid and pulp as possible. Discard the fibre and seeds left behind in the sieve. To the tamarind extract, add 1 ½ cups of water, powdered jiggery and the freshly ground spice powder and mix well.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed vessel, over high heat until very hot. Add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the split black gram,, split Bengal gram, cumin seeds, dried red chillies, asafoetida, onions, garlic and green chillies and fry for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, turmeric powder, curry leaves and salt, and give it a good mix. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the masala-infused tamarind water and bring the mixture to a boil on high heat. Once it boils, turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes allowing the gravy to thicken and the flavours to develop. Add the mango pieces and cook on high heat for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook covered for about 15 minutes.
Serve warm with rice.