Julia Child in Delhi – Longtime Family Cook, Amma, Makes Her Narangi Rice, South Delhi
The great chef’s life in Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Old-time family cooks don’t fuss about their employer’s guests — The Delhi Walla‘s experience. They are so prized by the family, so entwined into its affairs, that they know very well that friends would sooner stop receiving invitations to the house than they getting sacked. Therefore, they have no urge to show any special attention to outsiders.
M Meena is also greatly valued by her employers but she is always so excessively considerate towards me, a lunchtime guest. It’s as if her life depends on my satisfaction.
The elderly woman has been working as a cook in this south Delhi household for 40 years. Everybody calls her Amma, or mother. Her connections with the family have grown so intimate that she lives with them in one of the rooms in the big bungalow — although her two sons live elsewhere with their families in the same city. “I go to meet them once a week,” she says.
At 70, Amma has reached a point in life where people consider giving up work but she rules out retirement plans. “I’ll die if I don’t cook,”she says, looking amused at the unthinkable idea of not pottering around the kitchen.
Amma was born in Tamil Nadu and had arrived in Delhi not long after with her parents. As a young woman, she worked in quite a few households in the city before planting roots in the present home. Thanks to an early exposure to a variety of ethnicities, she speaks fluent Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, and, of course, Tamil. Can’t say the same about her English, though. “I always get confused between sorry and thank you,” she says half-mournfully (in Hindi), adding that she often utters ‘thank you’ in place of ‘sorry’ and vice-versa.
“Amma doesn’t do fancy cooking like baking cakes and pastries but she excels in everything else,” her Punjabi employers tell me. Every Sunday, she makes excellent rajma-rice for lunch. When I enquired about her skills with south Indian cuisines, everyone simply swooned. Amma’s rasam, especially, is widely cherished by the employers’ wide friend circle. Every time someone in the house is suffering from cold, Amma rustles up her famous broth, serving it with home-made papad.
Today, however, she is making a dish I’ve never heard of before. “I invented Narangi Rice five years ago. We use fresh narangis from our plant on the terrace!” says Amma as she settles down to work, with the kitchen’s stereo playing bhajan singer Anoop Jalota’s rendition of Sunder Kand.
For six people
1.5 kg boiled rice
Half pao narangi fruit
2 ladles oil
2 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp fenugreek seeds
½ tbsp methi seeds
3 chopped onions 1 sprig ginger
2 tbsp urad dal
2 tbsp chana dal
1/2 spoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
6 Green chillies 5 Curry leaves 2 Whole red chillies
A fistful of raisins and cashew nuts
Note: No red chilly powder to be used
* Wash, peel and mash the narangis with your hands
* Pour oil in a large karahi. Turn the burner on a low flame.
* Toss in mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, whole red chillies, curry leaves and all the dals together into the hot oil.
* When the mustard seeds start to “chilbil” (crackle), add onions, green chillies and mashed narangi into the karahi.
* Stir the mixture for a while but lightly. Add turmeric powder. Let the mixture simmer on a low flame until it turns light brown in colour.
* Add cashew nuts and raisins
* Add boiled rice
* Stir the mixture for 10 minutes
* Add salt to taste
* Serve the meal with freshly made coconut chutney, cucumber and onion raita, papad and sukha (dry) mango pickle