While most of us run a rat race to catch the fast train to nowhere, try to get a seat next to the latest hotshot, and keep up with the Joneses, Ruskin Bond is perfectly content to have Friends In Small Places (the name of one of his books). And, so charming is his world in the hills of small town Dehradun that he has us all bowled over.
Are they true or just a figment of an immensely fertile imagination, these stories that enchant and capture the imagination of his audience, both young and old? He keeps us guessing. No guns and violence for this Bond though. For one thing’s for sure, he is the James Bond of tender feelings. His stories treat us to the fresh, cool air, simple ways of life, quirks, and delights of the people of his home in the hills. Ordinary folks, sometimes with extraordinary hearts filled with kindness. Or does Ruskin Bond spread wonderful vibes around him wherever he goes?
He must be a keen observer of human nature because he has so many stories to tell of everyday people around him. His dad who he adores, his wayward uncle Ken, murderer uncle Bill, the Lafanga tongawalla who is actually delightfully sweet to him, his aayaah, not to forget the maharani who lives on the very top of a palace and is in love with the humble gardener.
Bond has written more than five hundred books, beautifully bringing to life the spirit of life in the hills. He still writes at the grand old age of 85. He’s written his autobiography which is a must read. It’s called Lone Fox Dancing.
One of Ruskin Bond’s favorite dishes is kofta curry. Most probably he eats a non vegetarian kofta curry. Most probably too, he downs a beer or two with his kofta curry meal. Since I’m vegetarian I’m posting a recipe here of a vegetarian bottle gourd kofta curry adapted from a recipe by Tarla Dalal. It’s heart healthy and tasty too.
Bottle gourd Kofta Curry
This delightfully tasty kofta curry, is heart friendly too, with the koftas dunked in the curry with only shallow frying them. Eat them with hot parathas or plain rice.
For the koftas
1 1/2 cups grated bottle gourd
1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes
1/2 cup bengal gram flour
1 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped green chillies
1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
1 teaspoon chaat masala
Salt to taste
Oil to shallow fry
For the curry
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon roughly chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon chilly powder
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon cornflour dissolved in 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Some finely chopped fresh coriander
Squeeze the grated bottle gourd of all its water. Keep aside the bottle gourd water to add when making the curry.
Put a pan on the fire. Put all the ingredients for the koftas into the pan and mix well and stir till the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and a cooked aroma emanates.
Remove the bottlegourd mixture from the pan and let it cool for a few minutes. Then divide the mixture into 14 to 15 oval shaped koftas.
Heat oil in a flat pan for shallow frying. Put in the koftas and shallow fry on all sides. Keep aside.
Put the teaspoon of oil in the pan and put on the stove. Add onions and fry till golden brown. Now add the tomatoes, turmeric powder, coriander cumin powder and chilly powder and stir till the tomatoes are mushy. Let cool.
Now make a paste of the onion-tomato mixture in the food processor.
Put the two tablespoons of oil in a pan and put on medium heat. Put the cumin seeds into the oil. When they begin to sputter put the onion-tomato paste into the pan. Add the bottle gourd water and 1 1/2 cups more water and let the curry come to a boil. Now add salt and cornflour-milk mixture and cook for one minute. Add garam masala.
Gently put in the koftas into the curry one at a time. Heat for not more than a minute. Sprinkle finely chopped fresh coriander. Serve hot.
This curry or kadhi as it is called in Hindi and Punjabi is a delightful yellow in color. The color being fabulous besides, it tastes great too. It is much sought after in Punjabi food restaurants and is made a lot in Punjabi homes. I’ve eaten it very often in my North Indian friends’ homes when we were in the Air Force.
I can’t help but think, that those times in the Air Force were so different. We lived in Air Force camps, all of us united as one family, no difference whether we were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians or Jews. We never gave a thought to our neighbour’s religion. We shared our food, books, games, school, our feelings and our friendships. Our mothers were our backbones while our dads were out flying. Our parents were our strength and taught us never to discriminate. I’ve kept alive many friendships from those days, some forty years later. These are sad times when people fight over the most petty of matters and violence is the rule of the day. I hope my blog serves as a path to love and peace through cooking and food.
This recipe is inspired by one from Nita Mehta’s Vegetarian Curries, a small book which packs a delightful punch of vegetarian curries and other vegetarian recipes. It’s also reasonably priced. So you can get it from your favorite bookstore or online.
If you have elderly people in your home you can make the pakoras with grated onions and potatoes instead of finely chopped ones. The pakoras will literally melt in the mouth.
Punjabi Pakora Kadhi
Make this mouthwatering Punjabi style curry for your loved ones.
3/4 cup gram flour
2 cups sour curd or yoghurt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
chilly powder to taste
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
3-4 dry red chillies
4-5 curry leaves
For Pakoras or Dumplings
1 big onion, finely chopped
1 big potato, finely chopped
1/2 piece ginger, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chilly powder
A pinch of soda bicarbonate
Salt to taste
1 cup gram flour
1/3 cup water
Oil for frying
For Tempering or Tadka
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp red chilly powder
Mix curd, gram flour, salt, turmeric, red chilly powder and 5 1/2 cups water. Beat well till smooth and no lumps remain.
In a heavy bottomed pan heat the oil and put in the cumin and fenugreek seeds.
When the cumin seeds begin to turn brownish, add the dry red chillies and curry leaves. Fry for one minute.
Add curd-water mixture and stir till it begins to boil. Then lower the flame and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring in between. Keep aside.
Now to prepare the pakoras, mix the gram flour with water to make a paste like consistency. Add the rest of the ingredients for the pakoras except the oil which you must keep for frying them. Mix well.
Heat the oil for frying and drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil and fry, gently turning the pakoras around, till they’re golden brown all over.
Add pakoras to the curry a few minutes before serving.
To temper the curry, heat the oil in a small pan, reduce the flame and add cumin seeds, when they turn golden brown, add the red chilly powder and quickly remove the pan from the fire and overturn it onto the hot curry. Serve hot.
If you don’t have a love for chillies, like my dad, then add just the green chillies and no chilly powder anywhere else, like I have done.
Taste the curry when it is cooking and adjust for seasoning.
You may also sprinkle some finely chopped fresh coriander leaves as garnish before laying the curry on the table.