Postcards From Meghalaya: Pineapples In The Wild

I don’t think you can go to Meghalaya and not fall in love with the pineapples. We did too, when we were holidaying in the state, earlier this year.

The fruits are everywhere, on flat ground, on hilly slopes, in people’s backyards, even out in the wild, in the middle of nowhere.

The pineapples simply love the soil and the weather here, and grow, grow, grow. They are food for the local people here, as well as a means of earning a livelihood.

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A home in Mawlynnong, touted as the cleanest village in Asia. Don’t miss the pineapples stacked up at the entrance!

The husband and I had never before seen pineapples growing on a plant. The first-ever glimpse we caught of one was at Mawylnnong, growing in someone’s bountiful garden.

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A pineapple growing in someone’s home garden, in Mawlynnong

The pineapples of Meghalaya are so not your regular fruits that you buy off a shelf in a store. They are ambrosial, beauties to look at, so sweet that you wonder if they have been dipped in sugar syrup – which they haven’t, of course, because they were cut right then and there, in front of you. One bite into them, and the juice gushes out of them, runs down your cheeks and elbows. You don’t mind the messiness one bit, of course.

While we were in Meghalaya, we ate pineapples whenever and wherever we could. We gorged on them to our heart’s content. They weren’t exactly cheap, but not over-the-moon pricey as well. On the drive from Mawlynnong to the Indo-Bangladesh border at Tamabil, we had the luxury of eating a wild pineapple, sitting by a waterfall, listening to it croon beautiful music in our ears. At how many places in India can you do *that*?

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The gushing waterfall that provided us music as we gorged on wild pineapples, en route to the Tamabil border from Mawlynnong

So, we were driving down when we came upon this pretty little place – almost forest-like, full of green, a place where you can hear water gushing and birds chirping, with no vehicles passing by. A lone armyman patrolled the area, looking out for infiltrators from the nearby Bangladesh and, of course, for anyone creating a nuisance, generally. There appeared to be no one else there, but then we spotted this little boy, a local, selling pineapples that he had plucked from plants out there in the wild. We had to have one, of course.

Our cab driver haggled with the boy in the local dialect, and they agreed upon a price. A gorgeous, sun-ripened pineapple was chosen.

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Isn’t that a beauty?!

The boy went on to expertly shave off the thorns from the fruit.

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The pineapple being readied for us

The pineapple was then cut into slices of just the right thickness, under the careful eye of our driver. We were handed the slices wrapped in a couple of banana leaves, and we pounced on them. Meanwhile, the waterfall nearby gushed on, the birds continued chirping, and insects twittered in the trees. The army man on patrol gave us a warm smile.

It was an experience we will cherish for ever, being one with nature at a place where it abounds.

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The pineapple being chopped under the expert tutelage of our cab driver

When we left, one pineapple down, drunk on nature, stomachs and hearts sated, the boy offered us a peek into the lunch he had been having when we arrived there. It was a stunningly simple meal that I absolutely had to click – and, of course, there was pineapple in it too!

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The boy’s stunningly simple meal that had a certain beauty to it

As we drove off, we waved to the little boy and the army man.

They waved us off with smiles.

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I hope you have read and enjoyed my other posts about our trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you:

 

 

Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba| Manipuri Grape Relish 

Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba is a Manipuri sweet-and-sour relish made with sour grapes. It is amazing, how beautiful this relish tastes and, yet, how very simple it is to prepare.

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This dish is apparently served at the end of a Manipuri meal, just before dessert. I think it would go really well as part of a South Indian banana-leaf meal as well. We have been thoroughly enjoying this relish with rotis, dosas and various rice preparations, as an accompaniment.

Here’s how the Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba is prepared.

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup):

  1. 300 grams seedless grapes
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. 1 bay leaf
  4. 1 tablespoon oil
  5. 1/2 teaspoon kalonji (onion seeds)
  6. 1/2 teaspoon jeera (cumin seeds)
  7. 1/3 cup sugar
  8. Red chilli powder, to taste

Method:

1. Wash the grapes and pat them dry, using a cotton cloth. Cut each grape into half. Keep aside.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the cumin seeds, onion seeds and bay leaf. Let the seeds sputter.

3. Add in the chopped grapes, salt, red chilli powder and sugar. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till the sugar melts, stirring gently intermittently.

4. Add in about 100 ml water. Mix well. Let simmer on low-medium flame till the grapes get cooked. Switch off gas and allow the relish to cool down completely before transferring to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle.

Notes:

1. Jaggery powder can be used in place of refined sugar. I have used the latter here.

2. Use seedless sour grapes for best results. I have used purple grapes here.

3. Use any odourless oil to make this dish. I used refined oil.

4. Adding a 1-inch cinnamon stick would also add a lot of flavour to the relish, I think.

5. Increase or decrease the quantity of sugar/jaggery you use, depending upon your taste preferences.

You like? I hope you will try out this sweet-and-sour grape relish too, and that you will love it as much as we did!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This dish is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. This week, all of us are cooking dishes from Pushpita’s Chakhum, authored by fellow food blogger Pushpita. Her blog is a repository of traditional Manipuri recipes, something so exotic to me. The above recipe is from her blog, too, with a few minor variations of my own.

Massor Dailor Boror Tenga| Assamese Sour Curry With Potatoes And Lentil Dumplings

When the Shhhhh Cooking Challenge group that I am part of finalised ‘Assamese cuisine’ as the theme for this month, I couldn’t help being all excited. I would be getting the opportunity to cook the simple yet hearty food that I enjoyed at Guwahati, during our trip to North-East India earlier this year!

For the challenge, I was paired with the talented Veena, who blogs at Veena’s Veg Nation. She assigned me one secret ingredient – potatoes – and asked me to use any other ingredients that I wanted to. After a bit of reading up, I decided to make Massor Dailor Boror Tenga, an Assamese sour-tasting curry with potatoes and lentil (masoor daal) dumplings. This sweet girl helped me with an authentic recipe for the tenga, which I customised a bit to suit my family’s taste buds, also keeping in mind locally available ingredients. And, everyone at home loved it to bits too! This is a recipe for keeps, for sure, and I’m sure I’ll be making this again in the times to come. The curry isn’t very tough to make and is, yet, so very flavourful!

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For the uninitiated, ‘tenga‘ refers to any sour-tasting curry served as part of an Assamese thali. Garcinia indica (kokum) or thekera (the Assamese name for mangosteen) are the most commonly used souring agents, while some people are also known to use tomatoes, tamarind and lemon juice instead. The tenga is seasoned with ‘pas phoron‘ (the Assamese name for panch phoron, a pungent mix of five spices that is commonly used in Bengali, Oriya and North-Eastern cooking).

Here’s how I made the massor dailor borar tenga.

Ingredients (serves 4):

For the masoor bora:

  1. 1/2 cup split masoor daal
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  4. 2 dry red chillies
  5. Red chilli powder, to taste
  6. Oil, as needed for deep frying the bora

For the tadka:

  1. 1 tablespoon mustard oil
  2. 2 dry red chillies
  3. 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)
  4. 1/4 teaspoon mustard (rai)
  5. 1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
  6. 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
  7. 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
  8. 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)

Other ingredients:

  1. 6 medium-sized potatoes
  2. 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  3. 1 medium-sized onion
  4. Lemon juice, to taste
  5. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  6. Red chilli powder, to taste
  7. Salt, to taste
  8. 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon gram flour (besan)
  10. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

First, we will make preparations for the bora.

  1. Wash the masoor daal well under running water.
  2. Soak it in just enough water to cover it, for about 1/2 hour.

Now, we will prep the veggies that will be needed.

  1. Chop the potatoes into halves. Pressure cook them for 5 whistles. When the pressure has released completely, let the potatoes cool down and then peel them. Mash roughly. Keep aside.
  2. Chop onions finely. Keep aside.
  3. Chop coriander finely. Keep aside.
  4. Keep the lemon juice handy.

Now, get the bora ready.

  1. After soaking, discard all the excess water from the masoor daal. Add salt and red chilli powder to taste, turmeric powder and dried red chillies. Grind coarsely in a mixer, without adding any water.
  2. Heat oil in a pan till it smokes. Then, lower the flame and drop little balls of the masoor daal mixture into the hot oil, a few at a time. Deep fry evenly, and transfer the balls onto a plate. Keep aside.

Now, we will prepare the masoor borar tenga.

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds, cumin, fenugreek, nigella seeds, fennel, dried red chillies and the asafoetida. Let the mustard pop.
  2. Add the chopped onions. Fry on medium flame till they turn brownish. Take care to ensure that they do not burn.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, along with a little salt and water. Cook on medium flame till the tomatoes turn mushy.
  4. Now, add the mashed potatoes, along with about 1 cup of water. Add salt and red chilli powder to taste, turmeric powder and sugar. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till everything is well incorporated together – 3-4 minutes.
  5. Mix the gram flour in about 2 tablespoons water, ensuring that there are no lumps. Add this mixture to the pan.
  6. Now, add the masoor bora. Mix well. Let everything cook together for 1-2 minutes more, on medium flame. Switch off gas.
  7. Mix in lemon juice to taste and finely chopped coriander leaves. Serve immediately with rotis.

Notes:

  1. I used refined oil to fry the bora and mustard oil to make the gravy.
  2. I used orange split masoor daal to make the bora.
  3. If you have panch phoron ready, use it in the garnish. I didn’t have any, so I used mustard, nigella seeds, cumin, fenugreek and fennel separately.
  4. Traditionally, this dish is made with a mix of bottle gourd (lauki) and mashed potatoes. I did not use bottle gourd, keeping my family’s taste preferences in mind.
  5. Kokum (garcinia indica) or thekera (mangosteen) is traditionally used in this curry, for sourness. Some people, however, also use tomatoes and lemon juice for the purpose. I didn’t have any kokum and, hence, used tomatoes and lemon juice as the souring agents.
  6. Using sugar is purely optional. Omit it if you want to, but I personally think it adds a nice depth of flavour to the curry. You can use jaggery powder instead, too.
  7. Add more water to the curry while cooking, if you think it is getting too thick.
  8. The masoor bora soak up all the liquid from the curry, making it quite thick. Hence, it is crucial that you serve the curry immediately after making it.
  9. The gram flour mixed in water acts as a thickening agent for the curry. If you feel the curry is thick enough as is, you can skip adding the gram flour.
  10. Traditionally, this curry is kept quite watery, with just one mashed potato mixed into the gravy for thickness. I kept the curry slightly thick because I was planning to serve this with rotis. My curry is also on the thicker side considering the addition of besan and the fact that I made this curry entirely with potatoes.

I’m loving how this challenge is taking me places, quite literally!

Did you like the sound of this dish? I hope you will try this out too, and that you will love it as much as we did!

 

 

 

 

Thoughts At Tamabil, The Indo-Bangladesh Border

Panchhi, nadiyaan, pawan ke jhonke, koi sarhad na inhe roke…
Sarhad insaanon ke liye hain, socho tumne aur maine kya paya insaan hoke

This song from Refugee plays in a loop in my head as we reach the land border that separates India and Bangladesh at Tamabil, during the course of our trip to North-East India.

Roughly translated, this is what the above lines mean: No borders stop birds, rivers and gusts of wind. Borders are for humans. Think – what did you and I gain by being born as humans?

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Signboards at the border

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A little stretch of land – the ‘no man’s land’ – lies between the boundaries of India and Bangladesh, at Tamabil. We walk up to the last point on the India side, Indian and Bangladeshi soldiers standing guard protectively on either side of the border.

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Left: A signboard near the border, proclaiming the point beyond which tourist vehicles are not allowed; Right: The no man’s land between the Indian and Bangladeshi borders

Just beyond the border, we can spot some Bangladeshi shops, a vendor selling Bangladeshi ber (sour plums, which are very famous, apparently), and some men and women lounging around. A goat walks over – unencumbered – from the Bangladeshi side to the Indian side. Ducks swim through from India to the Bangladeshi side, in the little stream that flows around the border.

We watch on as an Indian lady tourist, busy looking around, is mistakenly about to step into Bangladesh. The jawans immediately stop her, telling her that the Indian boundary ends right where she is standing.

An Indian jawan on duty at the Tamabil border

We spot the ‘First Line Of Defence’ or the camp of Indian soldiers that would be the first to deal with any infiltrators or attackers crossing over from the other side. We take pictures with some of the jawans, that typical touristy thing, alongside a signboard that proclaimed ‘Welcome to India’.

‘There is not much fanfare here, just a matter-of-fact posting,’ our cab driver tells us as we board, ready to drive back to our hotel. ‘We have friendly relations with Bangladesh, and that is why tourists are even allowed near the border,’ he adds.

Emotional fool that I am, the experience leaves me saddened. It leaves me thinking about various ‘what ifs’ – What if we lived in a world with no borders? Would it work? What if we could freely walk into any country, without being questioned or feeling threatened? Boundaries weren’t really nature’s way, were they? Surely, there were no boundaries when the earth first came into existence? I have no answers.

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I hope you have read and enjoyed my other posts about our trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you:

 

 

 

Vegetarian Thukpa| Tibetan/North Eastern Vegetarian Noodle Soup 

This month, the theme for the Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Facebook group that I am part of is ‘cuisine from Arunachal Pradesh’. I was teamed up with Sharanya Palanisshamy, who blogs at Sara’s Tasty Buds,  for the challenge. My partner gave me two ingredients to build a recipe on – chilli sauce and ginger – which I decided to use to make Vegetarian Thukpa, a kind of noodle soup.

The thukpa is actually a dish of Tibetan origin, but some research on the Internet told me that it is quite popular in Arunachal Pradesh, too. I found several variations to the recipe on the Internet and, in the end, went ahead with making it the way I have seen it being done at street food stalls here in Bangalore.

Whether the recipe is authentic or not, I’m not sure (I’d love some validation on that!). What I can say for sure is that the thukpa turned out absolutely delish, and we loved it to bits. It made for a hearty lunch for the husband and me, a lovely change from the usual. It’s the perfect thing to make right now, considering the chilly weather in Bangalore presently. All in all, I’m glad I’m a little closer to the cuisine of Arunachal Pradesh today than I used to be earlier.

Here’s how I made the thukpa.
Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

  1. 75 grams flat rice noodles
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. Sweet red chilli sauce, to taste (I use Thai Herirage)
  4. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  5. Soya sauce, to taste (I use Thai Heritage)
  6. A small piece of cabbage
  7. A small carrot
  8. 1 small capsicum
  9. 1/4 cup shelled green peas
  10. 1 small onion
  11. 1/4 cup sweet corn, shelled
  12. A few stalks of fresh coriander
  13. 4 cloves of garlic
  14. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  15. 2 cups vegetable stock, or as needed
  16. Juice of 1/2 lemon, or as per taste
  17. 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon of oil

Method:

1. Take the noodles in a heavy-bottomed vessel, and add just enough water to cover them. Add a bit of salt and 1 teaspoon oil. Let cook on high flame till the noodles are done, but not overly mushy. Transfer to a colander, and run cold water over the noodles immediately. Keep aside, and let all the excess water drain out.

2. Peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Crush coarsely, using a mortar and pestle. Keep aside.

3. Prep the veggies you will need for the thukpa. Finely chop the carrot, cabbage, capsicum and onion. Steam the sweet corn for a minute and drain out the excess water. Keep aside.

4. Finely chop the coriander, and keep aside. We will be using it for garnishing.

5. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the chopped onion, cabbage, capsicum and carrot, as well as the shelled green peas and steamed corn. Add the crushed ginger and garlic. Add salt to taste. Cook on medium flame till the veggies are cooked, but still retain a bit of a crunch.

6. Add vegetable stock as needed, as well as red chilli sauce and soya sauce as needed. Add the cooked noodles. Mix well.

7. Cook on low-medium flame for a couple of minutes. Switch off gas.

8. Add lemon juice to taste and finely chopped coriander. Mix well. Serve immediately.

Notes:

1. Plain water can be used in place of vegetable stock. In that case, if you want to thicken the soup, add in a little corn flour or wheat flour mixed with a bit of water, and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

2. For a spicier version, use green chilli sauce to taste, in place of sweet chilli sauce.

3. You can add in any vegetables of your choice – beans, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. I used the veggies that I had in stock, to make the thukpa.

4. You can use any kind of noodles of your choice. I have used flat Thai-style rice noodles here.

5. Daal water can be used in place of vegetable stock. You may even add a dash of tomato puree for flavour.

You like? I hope you will try out this recipe for vegetarian thukpa too, and that you will love it as much as we did!