I am here today with a home-made rose syrup recipe, one that is rather close to my heart, an inextricable part of my summer-time memories.
Like I have said many times on my blog before, the hot days of summer bring back lots of foodie memories for me. Holidays spent at my maternal grandparents’ place in Hyderabad. Sitting amidst a circle of cousins, eating the cool curd rice that my grandmother would place in our mehendi-decked hands. Grandma’s wonderful, wonderful home-made grape squash. Grandpa holding huge, ripe Banganapally mangoes in one hand and expertly cutting them into cubes with his other hand. Eating ice lollies from the streetside carts. Visiting the market to buy the choicest of raw mangoes. Getting raw mangoes cut by the kilos, seed and all, for the neighbourhood Telugu Aunty to turn into a fiery pickle. Small newspaper parcels of chips and the most delicious of onion pakoras that my grandfather would sneak in for me. The gorgeous vattalkozhambu and more kozhambu that grandmom would expertly make for me, with loads and loads of love. Munching on honey loops. Rice flour painstakingly cooked and passed through a press to make sevai for breakfast, for a truckload of people. Rose-scented jangris that my grandmom would have specially prepared for me, by a halwai in the neighbourhood. Bottles and bottles of my aunt’s chilled rose milk that she prepared using her special home-made rose syrup. … the list is endless.
Over the course of several hot afternoons, I learnt from my aunt the technique of making her fragrant rose syrup. Made from sweet-smelling roses, called Panneer Roja in Tamil, this syrup is free of any artificial colours or preservatives. I do add a bit of rose essence to the syrup I make, as the roses available these days don’t seem to have as strong a fragrance as I remember them having, all those years ago. It keeps for a good while, but is best used in a week to 10 days’ time. This home-made rose syrup makes for some awesome, awesome rose milk, of course, and also goes beautifully in lassi, juices, mocktails, falooda, rose milk, cakes, ice creams and other desserts.
Come, now, let’s check out the summer-special home-made rose syrup recipe!
Ingredients(makes about 2 cups):
25-30 edible roses (panneer roja)
2 cups + 1 cup water
2 tablespoons grated beetroot
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose essence
1. Separate the rose petals from the stem. Discard the stems and transfer the petals to a colander. You should get about 2 tightly-packed cups of rose petals.
2. Wash the rose petals thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the water.
3. Meanwhile, in a pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Switch off the gas when the water comes to a rolling boil. Add the washed and drained rose petals to the boiled water. Cover the pan and let the petals rest in the water for 8-10 hours or overnight.
4. After 8-10 hours, the rose petals would have released their colour and scent into the water. The petals would have become white. Filter out the rose petals and retain the rose water.
5. Take 1 cup of water in a pan and add the sugar to it. Place the pan on high flame. Add in the grated beetroot. Cook on high heat till the sugar is completely dissolved in the water. Then, reduce flame to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring intermittently.
6. Add the rose water we prepared earlier to the pan. Cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes or till the syrup comes to a rolling boil. Switch off the gas and allow to cool completely.
7. Filter the rose syrup and discard the beetroot. Mix in the rose essence to the syrup.
7. Transfer the rose syrup to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. Store refrigerated. Use as needed.
1. Use only roses that are meant for culinary purposes.
2. Grow your own roses, buy organic ones or source them from reliable sources, so you are sure they have been grown hygienically and that they haven’t been given generous sprays of pesticide. Make sure they haven’t been sprayed with perfume too – that’s quite a common occurrence!
3. Make sure you wash the rose petals thoroughly before using them to make this syrup.
4. Adjust the quantity of sugar depending upon personal taste preferences.
5. Red food colour can be used in place of the grated beetroot. I prefer not doing so, though.
6. Often, the scent from organically grown or home-grown roses just isn’t strong enough. I therefore add a bit of rose essence to the syrup to balance out the fragrance. You may skip the essence if the roses you are using are fragrant enough.
7. Store the rose syrup in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle after it has fully cooled down. Keep refrigerated when not in use.
8. Make sure you use the syrup in a week to 10 days’ time, for best results. Refrigerated and used hygienically, it stays well for 15-20 days, though.
9. Some people add cloves, cardamom and/or lemon juice to the rose syrup. I haven’t.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!
Those beautiful big, fat, purple grapes that I so love are in season right now. I couldn’t help picking up a few bunches when I went veggie shopping recently, and used them in a Home-Made Grape Squash Recipe that happens to be rather close to my heart. So, so refreshing and lovely!
When I was in school, summer holidays inevitably meant two whole months spent at our maternal grandparents’ place. They were in Hyderabad then, and Amma and I would travel the huge distance between Ahmedabad to their place by train, an excruciating journey of over 24 hours. It would be hot, hot, hot, and there was nothing to beat the heat other than distracting oneself by reading, gazing out the window and gulping down the one ice cream that Amma would allow me per day. I remember getting down at the Hyderabad railway station, my body still shaking from all that rattling around in the train. 🙂 All of that hustle would be worth it in the end, though – it meant two months of being pampered silly by grandmomma, gorging on her gorgeous home-cooked food (I swear I haven’t ever had food that tasty after she stopped cooking!), endless playing around on the streets with the cousins, no following of timetables or alarm clock routines, afternoon naps to the soothing hum of the air cooler, dinners of cooling curd rice handed over to us on our mehendi-coloured hands, sleeping on mats laid out under the starlit sky on the terrace. Summer holidays also translated into being treated to tall bottles of grandmomma’s awesome, awesome home-made purple grape squash.
The Home-Made Grape Squash Recipe I present to you today is the one passed on to me by grandmomma, Master Squash Maker of our family. She knew exactly how much all her grandchildren loved her grape squash, and made sure there were bottles and bottles of it waiting for us in the refrigerator when we landed at her home for our holidays. Days before we arrived, she would get to work. A basket slung over her wrist, she would head out to the market, to choose the best of ripened purple grapes (nothing less than that would do!). After much haggling, she would return home with loads of bunches of juicy grapes, which she would then proceed to meticulously clean, cook, convert to squash, bottle up and refrigerate. A couple of bottles at a time, she would build up her stock of squash – all of which we grandchildren would definitely empty by the time our holidays would come to a close.
This Home-Made Grape Squash Recipe is quite simple, but a no-fail thing, tried and tested by grandmomma several times over. I make it the same way, always, every time purple grapes are in season, and every sip of it brings back tonnes of memories! Sweet and sour, fruity and delicious, this is just the perfect drink for summer-parched throats.
Let us now check out the recipe, shall we?
Ingredients (makes one 500 ml bottle):
4 heaped cups of seedless black grapes
4 cups of water
About 1/2 cup of sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
Chilled water, as needed for serving the grape juice
Place the grapes in a colander, and wash them thoroughly under running water. Let all the water drain out.
Transfer the washed and drained grapes to a thick-bottomed pan, and add in the 4 cups of water. Place the pan on high flame.
Stirring intermittently, allow the grapes to cook in the water till they shrivel well and the water changes colour. This can take 5-7 minutes. Switch off gas, and allow this grape syrup to cool down fully.
When the grape syrup is cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the syrup from the grapes. Transfer the residue to another bowl, add a little water and squeeze out more juice. Add this juice to the syrup you extracted earlier. Repeat this process a couple more times – adding a little water, squeezing out the juice from the grapes, and transferring it to the syrup you prepared earlier (similar to extracting juice from tamarind). Discard the grapes when there is no more juice left in them to squeeze out.
Place the grape syrup you just extracted in the same pan, and place it on medium heat. Add the sugar to the pan. Allow the sugar to melt fully.
Stirring intermittently, allow the mixture to cook for a couple more minutes on medium flame. Switch off the gas.
Add the lemon juice to the grape syrup and mix well. Transfer the grape syrup (squash) to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle and store refrigerated.
At the time of serving, add as much of the grape squash as needed into serving glasses. Add in chilled water as required. Mix well and serve immediately.
1. Seedless grapes make the process of making the squash hassle-free. However, you may use grapes with seeds too.
2. You can use either black (purple) or green grapes to make this squash. I typically use black grapes because I love the deep purple colour they impart to the squash.
3. For best results, use plump grapes that are fat and juicy and in season.Don’t use old or wilted grapes.
4. In-season grapes are typically quite sweet, so you can cut down on the amount of sugar you use in the squash. The above quantity works just perfectly for us.
5. Make sure you wash the grapes thoroughly before embarking on the preparation of the squash.
6. Stored in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle, refrigerated and handled hygienically, the grape squash stays for up to a week.
7. You may omit the lemon juice altogether if the grapes you are using are a bit sour.
8. The flavour of grapes in this Home-Made Grape Squash Recipe is moderate. If you want a stronger, more pronounced flavour like that of store-bought grape drinks, you could add a bit of grape essence to the syrup before refrigerating it. I usually don’t. My aunt swears by the Tonovin brand of grape essence.
9. While preparing the grape juice, you may add ice cubes and/or soda to the serving glasses, along with the chilled water and the grape squash. Grape squash + Tonovin grape essence + chilled water + a splash of soda will give you a drink quite similar to Bovonto, the famous and very delicious grape drink from Tamil Nadu.
10. Make sure you use only very little quantities of water to squeeze out the juice from the grapes. Using too much water will dilute the syrup and cause it to lose its flavour.
11. You can filter the grape squash before you bottle it, too, if you desire – I don’t.
Did you like this Home-Made Grape Squash Recipe? Do try it out, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
It was September 2008. A ‘boy’ had come from Bangalore to our place in Ahmedabad, with his mom and his brother, to ‘see’ me. Well, it wasn’t the first time the boy, his family and I were meeting – a year before their visit, courtesy of my Bangalore aunt, I had already met them. The boy and I had kind of approved of each other but, for one reason or the other of the boy’s making, official talks of our wedding never happened. However, we kept in off-and-on touch on chat. Then, one fine day, a year after we met, this boy pings me saying he’s had enough and that he’s serious about getting married to me! We started chatting regularly, a lot of doubts clearing, new respect and love building. His family and mine were thrilled that the cogs were finally turning and some progress was happening in our relationship. So, when this boy and his family came over to Ahmedabad to visit, deep, official talks were conducted, as was an unofficial engagement ceremony. And then, in January 2009, this boy became my wedded partner in life. He became my husband, and I his wife. 10 years since, today, together we stand.
Why am I talking about this today? Because I am about to share with you guys the recipe for the first-ever dish I cooked for the husband and his family – Pressure Cooker Jeera Rice or One-Pot Indian Cumin Rice – at my place. From what I knew of the husband’s family, they were a typical non-foodie bunch, used to typical South Indian home-cooked meals. This Pressure Cooker Jeera Rice was my way of indicating that a change in the household’s culinary scene was in order, shortly, yet nothing too jarring or disruptive or disrespectful. 😀 I served the jeera rice with a simple DalTadka, and the combination was quite liked by them.
This is an easy one-pot recipe that gets ready in a jiffy. In just about 10 minutes, it yields supremely flavourful, fluffy cumin rice that makes for just the perfect accompaniment to dal or a gravy-based curry.
Try this out, will you?
Ingredients (serves 4):
1-1/2 cups rice
Salt to taste
2 green chillies
2 teaspoons jeera aka cumin
2 tablespoons ghee
3-3/4 cups of water
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander, to garnish
Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep them ready.
Wash the rice a couple of times in running water, draining out the excess water each time. Keep the washed and drained rice ready.
Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker bottom. Add in the cumin seeds, and let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
Add in the slit green chillies and the washed and drained rice. Saute on medium flame for a minute, ensuring that the rice does not burn.
Now, turn the flame to high. Add in the water and salt to taste. Mix well.
Allow the water to come to a boil. At this stage, close the pressure cooker and put the whistle on.
Cook on high flame for 3 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
When the pressure has entirely gone down, open the cooker. Gently fluff up the rice. Mix in the finely chopped coriander.
Serve hot with a gravy-based curry or dal of your choice.
I have used Sona Masoori rice to make this One-Pot Indian Cumin Rice.
It is imperative that you use good-quality cumin, rice and ghee in this recipe, since these are the ingredients that will impart maximum flavour to the Pressure Cooker Jeera Rice.
I used a 5-litre pressure cooker to make this One-Pot Indian Cumin Rice.
Some people add in whole spices like bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and/or cloves, as well as caramelised onions and shelled green peas to the One-Pot Indian Cumin Rice. I have skipped all of these ingredients, and used just the most basic ones.
You can use basmati rice in place of Sona Masoori rice, too. In that case, adjust the quantity of water you use accordingly.
To cook plain steamed rice in a pressure cooker, I use 3-1/2 cups of water per 1 cup of Sona Masoori rice. For this Pressure Cooker Jeera Rice, however, since I wanted it to be grainy but well-cooked, I have used 2-1/2 cups of water per 1 cup of rice. So, for 1-1/2 cups of Sona Masoori rice, I have used 3-3/4 cups of water in total. Adjust the quantity of water you use depending upon the type of rice used and how grainy you want the One-Pot Indian Cumin Rice to be.
Pressure cooking for 3 whistles gives just the perfect output for us. You may want to increase or decrease the number of whistles depending upon the make of your cooker, the quantity of rice you are cooking, and the texture of rice that you are aiming at.
After adding salt to the water in the pressure cooker, taste it. It should be a bit salty. When the rice is added to it, the salt content turns out to be just perfect.
This recipe is for Foodie Monday Blog Hop, a Facebook group that I am part of. Every Monday, the participants of this group cook and share recipes for a pre-determined theme.
The theme for this week, suggested by Swaty Malik of Food Trails, is #DownMemoryLane. As the name of the theme suggests, each of us participants have to share a recipe that means something to us, which has memories attached to it. I chose to write about this simple Pressure Cooker Jeera Rice recipe for the theme, as it brings back a rush of several fond memories.
I would have been around 12 years of age when my first real spark of interest in cooking ignited. I don’t remember precisely which grade I was studying in then, but I do remember the particular day when it happened very, very clearly.
We were living in Ahmedabad then – Amma, Appa, me, and my paternal grandparents. I was a studious girl, hugely focused on getting good grades and making a good career for myself. A good career = a good life, to the 12-year-old me. I was never required to cook or even help out around the house. I lived a highly protected life, which some would call privileged. We weren’t uber rich or anything – we were just an ordinary, middle-class family – but I had the freedom to spend my days as I chose, not having to be encumbered by things like grocery shopping, paying electricity bills, taking care of the elderly or cooking. That said, I would help out Amma and my grandmother in the kitchen sometimes of my own free will, small tasks like shelling peas, chopping vegetables, rolling out rotis or making glasses of lemon juice on hot summer days. Never had I cooked a meal entirely on my own, though, till then.
Then, one fine day, my young self found herself face-to-face with temptation. There was no one at home that day; I was alone. Amma had gone out with Appa, to attend to some urgent errands. The grandparents were off to a religious discourse, I think. The dosa batter was thawing on the kitchen counter, and a batch of potatoes had been boiled and were cooling, ready for Amma to get back home and make piping hot Masala Dosas for everyone. I saw this and felt – Why not? Why can’t I make that Masala Dosa myself? Why can’t I give Amma a surprise when she gets back? And that is just what I did. I got busy in the kitchen, wishing fervently that the doorbell wouldn’t ring before I was done with my job. It didn’t.
Making Masala Dosa isn’t a big deal for me today, but back then, it was. It was a huge thing, an achievement! There was no Google at our place then, to turn to for ideas or queries, so I had only myself to rely on. Beginner’s luck or whatever, the potato filling turned out finger-lickingly delicious. I was in the kitchen all of that evening, making Masala Dosas for everyone, in the midst of which I realised that I was quite enjoying myself. I invited a couple of friends over too, to relish my beginner Masala Dosas. Much praising and patting of the back ensued, along with quips like ‘Beti badi go gayi hai!’ (‘The little girl has grown up.’)
This incident set me off. I began suggesting to Amma to mix this flavour and that, to cook this vegetable that way, to make this dish that way. Soon, I was making little dishes on my own in the kitchen. I think the Masala Dosa incident was the catalyst that made me the huge foodie I am today. Here I am today, not in a proper ‘career’ per se, but doing something around food, and loving every bit of it!
The Foodie Monday Blog Hop group that I am part of has ‘#MyBeginnerRecipe’ as the theme this week, wherein we are required to share the recipe for the very first dish we cooked on our own. This has got all of us delving deep into our foodie memories, with more than one skeleton tumbling out of the closet. 🙂 This here is my skeleton, my beginner foodie memory, my tale.
Let’s now hop over to the Masala Dosa recipe, shall we? This is how I made the Masala Dosa when I was 12, and this is how I still make it.
Ingredients (makes about 10 masala dosas):
For the filling:
6-7 medium-sized potatoes
1 big onion
3-4 green chillies
A 1-inch piece of ginger
About 1/4 cup shelled green peas
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 generous pinches of asafoetida
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Red chilli powder to taste (optional)
About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh coriander
Juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
For the dosas:
About 10 ladles of dosa batter
Oil, as needed to make the dosas
We will first get the filling for the Masala Dosas ready.
Wash the potatoes thoroughly, and cut each one into half. Transfer to a wide vessel and add in just enough water to cover the potato halves. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Allow the pressure to release naturally.
Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
Chop the onion finely. Keep aside.
Peel the ginger and grate finely. Keep aside.
When the pressure in the cooker has come down entirely, get the potatoes out and discard the water they were cooked in. Add in some fresh, cold water and allow them to cool down a bit.
When the cooked potatoes are cool enough to handle, discard the water they were cooling in. Peel the potatoes and mash them. Keep aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add in the asafoetida and let it stay in for a couple of minutes.
Add the chopped onion, grated ginger, slit green chillies and shelled green peas to the pan. Cook on medium heat till the peas begin to shrivel and the onion begins to turn brown. Stir intermittently to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add the mashed potatoes to the pan, along with salt to taste, red chilli powder (if using) and turmeric powder. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for about 2 minutes, or till everything is well integrated together. You may add a little water at this stage, if you feel the potato filling is too dry. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
Switch off gas. Mix in the finely chopped coriander and lemon juice. Your potato filling is ready to use in the Masala Dosas! Keep aside.
Now, we will make the Masala Dosas.
Place a heavy dosa pan on high flame, and allow it to get nice and hot.
When the pan is hot enough, turn the flame down to medium. Place a ladleful of dosa batter in the centre of the pan. Spread it out quickly, using the back of the ladle. Spread some oil evenly all around the dosa.
Let the dosa cook on medium flame till it turns brown on the bottom.
Now, flip the dosa over to the other side using a spatula. Let it cook on the other side as well.
Transfer the cooked dosa to a serving plate. Place a little of the potato filling in the centre of the dosa and close it. Serve hot, with sambar and/or chutney.
Prepare all the Masala Dosas in a similar manner.
1. You can even add finely chopped/grated carrots to the potato filling. I usually don’t.
2. Using the red chilli powder is purely optional. If you think the heat from the green chillies is enough, you can skip the red chilli powder entirely.
3. A dash of sugar can be added to the filling, for enhanced flavour. I sometimes add it in, I don’t at other times.
4. We like the dash of lemon juice in our Masala Dosa filling, and so, I add it in. You can skip it, as well.
5. You may use butter instead of oil, to make the dosas.
6. Some people add curry leaves to the potato filling. We don’t. You may, if you want to.
7. When you are entertaining, you can make the potato filling in advance and keep it ready. When your guests arrive, you need to heat up the filling, prepare the dosas, add in the stuffing and serve!
In other news, we just got back from a week-long holiday in and around Srinagar, Kashmir. We had been considering a few destinations to go to before the bub’s summer holidays ended, which wouldn’t kill us with sunstroke, where the bub could enjoy herself and so could we. We finally zeroed in on Srinagar, and hooked up with a travel agent in the city. Working with them, I built a slightly off-beat itinerary than the done-to-death Srinagar sightseeing-Gulmarg-Pahalgam-Sonamarg plan that most tourists undertake. We have already done that in the past.
This time around, we wanted to venture deeper into Srinagar, dig into local food and experiences, and explore a couple of lesser-known destinations around the city. While I wouldn’t say we got exactly the kind of holiday we wanted, it was still a beautiful trip – we did visit some gorgeous places and made memories that will last a long, long, long time to come.
Here I am, with the first installment of travel stories from Kashmir – about our visit to a spot called Doodhpatri.
When the husband, the bub and I embarked on our drive to Doodhpatri, some 40-odd kilometers away from Srinagar (where we were staying), little did we know that we would absolutely fall in love with the place. Neither did we know that Doodhpatri would force us to think deep and hard about human nature.
Located in the district of Budgam, Doodhpatri is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous place. Think meandering meadows full of cows, sheep and goats. Think truckloads of soft green grass with very few people around. Think snow-clad mountains and freezing cold. Think natural springs and pine trees. Think nomadic shepherds tending their flocks and their squat mud huts. Exactly, that kind of place. Doodhpatri is not as well-known to travellers as, say, Gulmarg or Pahalgam, and has only recently started seeing tourist influx. As a result, the place still remains largely untouched, pristine, uncommercial – this also means that there are no restaurants of note or tourist activities of note here. There is a lot of virgin natural beauty, though, much to explore for the non-touristy traveller.
Locally called Dodh-e-Pather, the name of the place literally translates to ‘Valley of Milk’. The cattle here are renowned for the plentiful, rich milk (doodh) they yield, which is what gives the place its name.
It is an almost 2-hour drive from Srinagar to Doodhpatri, the road not in the best of condition at places, but decent enough. As you near Doodhpatri, signs of city life grow lesser and lesser, the vistas grow wider and greener, and the views become more and more stunning. When the snow-capped mountains come closer, they almost take your breath away.
A few sharp curves and turns later, you come to a point beyond which no vehicles can go. Walk for a few minutes, and you reach a gurgling spring, the water milky white, humming along over rocks that have turned smooth with wear.
We spent a couple of hours at this point, just winding down, talking, eating, taking pictures and gazing at all the beauty around us. This is a hot spot for selfie lovers and photographers alike. You may even choose to don the Kashmiri costumes available for hire at the couple of make-shift stalls here, and get a photoshoot done.
The rustic wooden bridge across the spring stole my heart away. It surely was something straight out of a dream!
You can cross the bridge and walk along the plains beyond, soaking in the pure air and the prettiness of nature around you, or you could let a pony take you there. There is no dearth of horsemen here, who will plead and haggle with you to hire them for a look-around Doodhpatri on pony-back.
Considering that the bub wasn’t too well when we visited Doodhpatri and the terrain looked quite rough too, we decided to skip the pony ride. We contented ourselves with just gazing out at the spring, snapping pictures of this and that. That, in itself, is quite an experience, let me tell you.
There isn’t a single proper restaurant in Doodhpatri, like I was saying earlier, thanks to it not really being on the tourist grid. There are just a couple of shops here selling tea, coffee, chips, Maggi and the likes.
In fact, I hear the road we drove on did not extend till the stream, two years ago or so. One would have to get down at a certain point and hike a few kilometres to reach the stream! Now, considering increasing tourist interest in Doodhpatri, the road has been laid out further.
There is a sharp drop in temperatures at Doodhpatri when it rains or when the mountain winds blow. In winters, the snow makes the place practically unlivable. The place, therefore, remains open only about 8-9 months a year. For 2 or 3 months every year – in the winters – the winding roads to Doodhpatri become inaccessible due to all the ice on them, and the place is therefore shut off. No one comes here then, not even the semi-nomadic Gujjar shepherds. There is no permanent structure here which is in use throughout the year – neither a home nor a shop nor a tourist activity.
You will find the small, squat mud huts of the Gujjars – the famous wandering shepherds of Kashmir – at Doodhpatri. These shepherds wander the mountains and plains of Kashmir with their flocks of sheep, horses, goats and cows in the winters, trying to find grass for them. They perform odd jobs – building construction and the likes – to earn some money.
In the summers, they build houses on the mountains and stay put for a few months with their families.
When we visited, some of these Gujjars were selling snacks and refreshments for the tourists out of their huts. We walked along, fascinated by the structures, fascinated by the typical Kashmiri snacks some of them were offering.
Neither the husband nor I had ever tried out the halwa-poori combination before, and we went on to do just that at Doodhpatri. My, it was mind-blowing – bites of the Khajla filled with the halwa!
We were snacking on some beautiful Maggi noodles cooked with vegetables at one such home when we noticed a sudden drop in the temperature. All too quickly, the wind started howling (that eerie way the wind has of howling in the mountains!) and the plastic chairs around us began to crash to the ground (I am not exaggerating!). It began to turn finger-numbingly cold, and the jackets and caps we were carrying with us offered no protection at all. The bub began to shiver. The Gujjar shepherd whose shop we were eating at was quick to invite us inside his house. We gratefully accepted.
Inside, the hut was warm as toast. The man’s wife was busy cooking lunch for their family, and the wood fire was working wonders. I don’t know what did it – the thick, hand-made mud walls or the structure of the hut or the wood fire – but it was gorgeous inside. It was a cocoon, a separate world in its own. The howling winds outside did not even touch the inside of the house. The lack of electricity and the bare minimum of possessions inside the house kind of stunned us – it was a stark reminder of just how much we urbane folk cling to our worldly possessions day in and day out.
The family invited us to stay for lunch or at least for some tea, but we refused as we had already eaten. We did spend quite a bit of time sitting with them, chatting, warming our hands on the kangri (Kashmiri coal brazier) they were generous enough to share with us.
The husband and I had so many questions for the family and their way of life, and they were happy to respond to every single one of them. Snippets of the conversation still refuse to go out of my mind.
‘Hum 6 mahine yahan rehte hain, is ghar mein. Sardi mein 6 mahine hum parbat ke niche rehte hain.. majdoori karte hain..gay bakri charate hain.. kaam karte hain..,” the man told us. (‘We stay here, in this house, for 6 months. For the 6 months around winter, we stay in the foothills. We undertake labour and other odd jobs, tend to our cows and goats.’)
‘Yahan pe kuch nahi milta. Paani, aata, sabzi.. sab kuch neeche se le ke aate hain.. yahan par bahut zyaada thand padti hai na?,’ his wife said. (‘There is nothing available here. Water, flour, vegetables.. we get all of it from the foothills.. It’s too cold here, no?’)
‘Raat ko hamari gay aur bakri ghar ke andar rehte hain.. subah hote hi bahar chhod dete hain… woh chalte rehte hain, aur hum bhi saath chalte hain..,’ the man said. (‘We keep our cows and goats inside the house in the nights. As soon as morning dawns, we set them free. They walk around everywhere, and we walk around after them.’)
‘Chalna humare liye badi baat nahi hai. Humein aadat hai. Gulmarg se Doodhpatri ho ya Pahalgam se Sonamarg, hum chaltein hain..,’ the man stated. (‘Walking is not a big thing for us. We are used to it. From Gulmarg to Doodhpatri or fro Pahalgam to Sonamarg, we can walk.’)
The conversation was nothing short of enlightening. It set us thinking.
How hard would a life like this be, where you need to walk for kilometres on end just to fetch clean drinking water?
How many of the little things in my life I take for granted? Can I live a simple life like this, or am I too addicted to the complexities of my life?
How did these people cope up with so much hardship? Every single day? Did they even feel it was hard?
What makes these people stick to their roots? Do they ever wonder about the world beyond these hills?
Do they ever think about moving to an easier place, an easier way of living? Or does that thought never even cross their minds?
How different these people’s lives are from mine! And yet, we are all the same at the core of us – humans.
I don’t have the answers yet.
Notes for travellers:
Doodhpatri is a drive of about 2 hours from Srinagar. There are okay-ish roads some part of the way, while the roads in other parts are decent.
It would be a good idea to carry some snacks/food while you visit Doodhpatri.
Private cabs are the best way to reach Doodhpatri. You can hire one from Srinagar, where the nearest airport is located.
The weather gets quite chilly at Doodhpatri at times, especially while it rains. You might want to carry a change of clothes, warm clothes, umbrellas and/or raincoats when you visit Doodhpatri.
Pony riding is quite common among tourists, to see the sights in and around Doodhpatri. Walking everywhere might not always be possible. I would suggest going ahead with pony riding only if you are comfortable with the idea – there’s no fun in it if you do it half-heartedly or when you are scared.
If you do decide to undertake a pony ride for sight-seeing, please do decide on the rates with the horsemen beforehand. Bargain if necessary, to fix a decent rate.
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Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak is an utterly delectable Gujarati-style black chickpea curry, a beautiful medley of flavours. It is sweet, it is spicy, it is salty, it is tangy. It makes for just the perfect accompaniment to rotis and parathas, and goes well with dosas and steamed rice as well. When Shantaben, a Gujarati neighbour of ours, taught me how to make this Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak, I was amazed by its simplicity. How can a curry be so simple, yet so delicious, I wondered. But it was just that – beautifully simple, elegant and absolutely scrumptious.
My memories of Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak and Shantaben are inextricably tied to Thatha, my paternal grandfather.
My grandfather lost both his parents when he was around 3 years of age. His father died first, and then, his mother followed, in about a week’s time. It was Thatha‘s elder sister who took care of him, who brought him up, made sure he was educated and settled in a job. ‘We were living in hard times then. A bowl of day-old curd rice would feel heavenly to us, like a God-sent gift,’ he would always tell me. ‘You kids have too much. Too much choice, too much more stuff than you really need,’ he would say. As I grew up, I began to understand what he meant.
Thatha was in his 20s when he moved from the little village in Tamilnadu where he grew up to Gujarat, to pursue higher education. By then, he was already married to my grandmother, Paati. In Baroda, Gujarat, Thatha found himself a job in a textile mill (mills were big in Gujarat then!), and began to study Textile Technology. He began to send money back home to Paati and, slowly and gradually, started carving out a life for himself.
In the course of his career, Thatha moved to Ahmedabad (that explains my connection with the city!), and took on a better job in a better textile mill. Once he had saved enough for a down payment on an apartment in the city, he bought it. This house was palatial compared to the one he grew up in! When he thought he was making enough to comfortably manage a family in a city, Paati came to Ahmedabad to live with her husband. Three children came into the picture – all sons – and one of them was my dad. It was in this house that Thatha bought in Ahmedabad where I grew up and lived for a considerable chunk of my life.
Shantaben, an elderly Gujarati lady, lived in the apartment above us, in Ahmedabad. She had lost her husband when she was young, and had no children of her own. Thatha began seeing in Shantaben the sister who had lovingly raised him after their parents’ passing away. Shantaben began seeing our family as her own. It was at a meal at Shantaben‘s home – I don’t remember for what occasion – that this Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak was served to us. I was a teenager then, I guess. It was our first tryst with this beauty, and all of us loved, loved, loved it. When we told Shantaben about this, a few days later, she laughed. ‘This is something we make regularly, in Gujarati households. It is nothing special!,’ she said. ‘Come, I’ll teach you how to make it!,’ and whisked Amma and me away to her kitchen. We saw, we learnt, and the rest is history, as they say.
Here is how to make the Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak, Shantaben‘s way.
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
1-1/4 cup black chickpeas aka kala chana
2 tablespoons oil
2 pinches of asafoetida aka hing
1 teaspoon mustard aka rai
1 teaspoon cumin aka jeera
1 sprig fresh curry leaves
Salt, to taste
A small lemon-sized ball of tamarind
1/2 teaspoon tamarind powder
Red chilli powder, to taste
1 tablespoon garam masala, or to taste
2-3 tablespoons powdered jaggery, or to taste
8-10 sprigs of fresh coriander leaves
About 1-1/2 tablespoon gram flour aka besan
1. Wash the kala chana thoroughly under running water. Soak them overnight, in just enough water to cover them.
2. In the morning, drain off the water from the kala chana, and add just enough fresh water to cover them. Pressure cook the kala chana for 4 whistles. Let the pressure come down naturally, and keep the kala chana aside. Do not discard the water in which the kala chana was pressure cooked – reserve it for use later in making the Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak.
3. Soak the tamarind in boiling water, for about 10 minutes. When the tamarind is cool enough to handle, extract a thick paste out of it, adding water little by little. Keep aside.
4. Chop the coriander finely. Keep aside.
5. Heat the oil in a pan. Add in the mustard, and allow it to splutter. Add the cumin, asafoetida and the curry leaves. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
6. Now, turn the flame to medium. Add the cooked kala chana and the reserved water (which they were cooked in).
7. Add in salt to taste, jaggery and tamarind paste. Mix well.
8. Cook uncovered on medium flame for 4-5 minutes, or till 75% of the water has evaporated. Taste and adjust seasonings as required.
9. Meanwhile, make a paste of the gram flour in a little water, in a small bowl. Keep handy.
9. When the gravy has cooked for 4-5 minutes, add in the garam masala and the gram flour paste. Mix well. Cook uncovered on medium flame for about 2 minutes more. Switch off the gas when the gravy begins to thicken, but is still a tad watery. If you feel the gravy has become too thick at this stage, add a bit of water. Remember that the curry will become even thicker on cooling.
10. Mix in finely chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with rotis, parathas, pooris, steamed rice.
I have always had this Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak as a no onion-no garlic preparation, and so make it the same way. We like it this way as well. If you want to, you may add some finely chopped garlic, ginger and onions after the tempering is done.
Sugar can be used in place of jaggery powder.
Remember to pressure cook the kala chana in just enough water to cover them. The water in which they are cooked is full of protein and, hence, it is a good idea to retain it and use it in making the curry.
If you want to, you can add in some cumin powder and coriander powder, along with the garam masala. I usually skip this, as I like keeping this curry as simple as I can.
Amma adds in sambar masala instead of the garam masala, in making this Rasawala Kala Chana Nu Shaak. The result, although not strictly Gujarati, still tastes awesome.
Tomato puree can be used in making this curry, in place of the tamarind paste. Alternatively, you could use a mix of tomato puree and tamarind paste. Squeeze in a dash of lemon juice at the end, if you feel the tanginess from the tomatoes and/or tamarind is not enough.
So, so, so, that long-pending trip to Ahmedabad finally happened! On New Year’s day, the husband got confirmation for a work trip to Ahmedabad, and he asked if the bub and I would accompany us. We did just that, flight tickets were booked, and we were off the very next day – as simple as that. After 6 long years, I finally visited the place where I grew up, and it happened Just.Like.That!
Did I find traces of the city I loved so much or has it changed drastically?