Julia Child in Delhi – Professional Cook Archana Das Cooks the Bengali Panchmishali Subzi in Her Home Kitchen, Chilla Village
The great chef’s life in Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Here is a brief account of a day in the life of Archana Das, a 26-year-old working woman.
5.30 am. Alarm rings on the mobile phone. Ms Das wakes up in her one-room flat in East Delhi’s Chilla village. She immediately enters the kitchen to prepare a meal for the family. Husband, Shuchitro, and sons, Shubroto and Shudipto, are still sleeping.
Not long after, she wakes up the kids.
7 am. Ms Das escorts the boys to the bus stand outside the village and waits for the school bus to arrive. She then hurries back home and gets ready herself. Her husband, a paint-mixer, will leave for his work a little later. Last year, he got seriously ill and the doctors had almost given up on him. But Ms Das nursed Shuchitro back to health. The family survived that critical period through her earnings alone.
7.30 am. Ms Das leaves home. She is a cook in six households, and walks the short way to work. The middle-class apartments where she is obliged to daily rustle out lunch-hour meals are close to her village. It takes her about 15 minutes to reach the first house.
2 pm. Ms Das returns home. No time to rest. She prepares lunch.
3 pm. She goes out again to the bus stand to pick up her sons. The next three hours are devoted to her role as a full-time mother.
6 pm. Ms Das leaves again for her second shift. The sons are taken care of by her parents who live in the same building — her mother too worked as a cook. In the evening, Ms Das is responsible for cooking in three houses.
8.30 pm. Ms Das is back. Her husband will return from his work an hour later. She again enters the kitchen, now to make dinner for her family.
10 pm. She is watching Rakhi Bandhan, her favroite Bengali TV series.
11 pm. Ms Das and family are fast asleep.
This evening, hosting The Delhi Walla in her home, the Bengali-speaking Ms Das says, “I don’t only work in Bengali households but also in Punjabi and Bihari homes… so I can cook many kinds of dishes.”
Today, however, she plans to cook something from her part of the world, which is Raigunj town in West Bengal. “I’ll make panch mishali, a subzi… it’s a very light summer dish… we make it with five or more seasonal vegetables…”
Suddenly the power goes off. Ms Das shows no frustration. Keeping her small handbag upon the spice boxes in a kitchen shelf (her instinctive habit after returning from work, we learn later), she lights a candle and begins to cut the vegetables. “Usually batti doesn’t go off at this time… ” she says.
As soon as the subzi is done, in about half hour, the power comes back. The older son instantly turns on the TV to watch a cartoon show while Ms Das rolls out a newspaper on her double bed, briefly turning it into a dining table for her guest.
Eggplant 1 small
Potato 2 small
Cauliflower 1 small
Cabbage 1 small
Dal badi 10 pieces, fried
Radish 1 semi-boiled
Green chillies, a few, slit
Roasted cumin powder 1 tea spoon
Coriander powder 1 tea spoon
Turmeric 1 tea spoon
Ginger paste 1 tea spoon
Red chilli powder to taste
Panch phoron 1 tea spoon
Salt to taste
Sugar 1 spoon
Tej patta 1
Sookhi mirchi 1
Oil 2 large spoons
Heat oil in a wok.
When light brown, add radish, and stir for a while.
When the radish gets a little crispy, add pumpkin, cabbage and cauliflower.
Cover with a lid for some time.
Check when the mixture is boiled, more or less. Now add spinach, green chilies, parwal and eggplant. Stir until properly cooked. Remove from fire.
Take another pan. Add a little oil. Throw in tej patta, sookhi mirchi and ginger paste. Stir it until oil starts to leave. Now add the vegetables. Add the rest of the spices. Add sugar. Add dal badis. Stir well.
Serve with rice or roti.
A working woman’s treat