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Julia Child in Delhi – Santosh Rani Makes Karhi Pakoda, DLF Park Place

The great chef’s life in Delhi.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Meet the Julia Child of Gurgaon’s DLF Park Place, an address so exclusive that it has its own helipad. Fortunately Santosh Rani has no respect for her neighborhood’s expat-friendly coldness. Loving and welcoming, the quiet-mannered matriarch presides over her family in a 30th floor apartment. Her balcony looks to a panoramic view of the Aravalis, her drawing-room walls are decked with photographs of Venice and her kitchen is unconsciously Punjabi.

Born a few months before the independence, Ms Rani grew up in Amritsar, Punjab. Her most abiding memory of that town is of her mother Swarajvati and her kitchen. “It is very difficult to pinpoint Chaiji’s best dish,” she says, referring to her mother. “She was excellent with everything but I especially loved her namak-ajwain paratha.”

Ms Rani has inherited some of her mother’s skills. Assisted in the kitchen by her maid Savita Naik, she is famous for her stuffed parathas and carrot halwa. Her South Indian daughter-in-law Divya, who is from Kerala, says, “In my head, Punjabi cooking was just butter chicken and rajma. I had no idea that it could also be uncomplicated. I love mom’s simple karhi and mutter paneer. My only grouse is the liberal usage of ghee and oil which I often chide her about. We all often tease her saying she should start her own dhaba or at least write a cookbook but I doubt her touch can be replicated. There’s a phrase in Malayalam, “Kai-punyam”, which roughly translates to “talent in the hands”, and that makes all the difference.”

Here is the recipe of Ms Rani’s karhi pakoda.

Karhi should be as khatti (sour) as possible. Apart from relying on my home-made khatti curd, I also resort to a little bit of lemon juice. While I don’t usually cook in mustard oil, I nevertheless use it for frying pakodis (dumplings). My karhi then always tastes better.

Karhi Pakoda (for four)

For karhi
2 cups plain curd
2 serving spoons chickpea flour (besan)
1 lemon
¼ tbsp mustard seed
¼ tbsp heeng (asafoetida)
1 tbsp turmeric powder
Red chili powder to taste
Garam masala to taste
Salt to taste
2 curry leaves
10 fenugreek seeds
1-2 whole dried red chillies

For pakodis (dumplings)
2 serving spoons chickpea flour (besan)
1 sliced onion
salt to taste
Mustard oil (for frying)
2 tbsp garlic-ginger water
Meetha soda (baking soda)

Put 2 cups of curd in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth.

Slowly add some water and mix.

Pour 2 serving spoons of chickpea floor in another large bowl. Slowly add the curd mixture, mixing well as you do.

Squeeze lemon into the mixture.

Heat oil in a large pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the whole spices, adding whole red chilies in the last.

When the chilies darken, put in the turmeric followed by the chickpea flour and the curd mixture.

Add the salt and bring to boil.

Turn heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

While karhi is cooking, make the pakodis.

Put 2 serving spoons of chickpea flour for the pakodis in a bowl. Add spices, sliced onion and the meetha soda. Mix. Add water, mix well and beat until it becomes light and airy.

Pour mustard oil into a frying pan. Heat the oil over a medium flame. When hot, lift up a blob of paste and release it into the oil. Make all the pakodis in this way, dropping them into the oil in quick successions. Turn the pakodis around and fry them until they are redish in color and cooked through. Remove the pakodis with a slotted spoon and add them into the simmering karhi.

Serve with steamed rice.

The making of karhi pakoda





5. (with Savita Naik)




9. (the scene from the kitchen window)






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