Monday, August 15, 2005

To the Market, To the Market, To Buy a....

I come from one of the most industrialized cities of India located in the heart of the Chotanagpur Plateau – known for its rich natural resources, vibrant tribal life, lush forests and yes, the mildly musical, wildly exotic names. Being a steel town, life revolves around the mammoth blast furnaces for most people. There is a certain discipline to life there, almost bordering on boredom during the weekdays. But come Sunday morning, the town market comes alive. This is the only day the “Engineer Babus” have time to indulge in some “bajar kora” or shopping for the household. Tribal women with loads of vegetables balanced precariously on their heads head for the market as do truckloads of fish from Haldipukur (it literally means “Yellow Pond”.....who would want to eat fish that came from a jaundiced pond...Ewwww!). I remember going to the market with my father on Sundays and looking on with amusement as he haggled with every vegetable seller before making a purchase. He had his favorites among them – Kesto (I always thought he looked a little drunk like the guy from the movies) sold good “kancha kola”, “thor”, “mocha” and other exotic vegetables while the Mota Aluwallah (that is what we called him) sold potatoes, onions and chicken!! Then there was some Mashi or the other who would sell stuff for making sweet chutneys like “kool”, “amra” “kamranga” etc. Families would be enquired about and stories of births, deaths and marriages exchanged as one picked through the produce. A regular customer would always get a bunch of cilantro or a handful of green chillies for free with his purchase.

After retirement my parents moved from company housing to their own place very near the banks of the Subarnarekha river (which translates to “Golden Line” - legend has it that the river carries gold from mines far, far away); where on early mornings they could waylay villagers crossing the river to sell their produce and gloat about the freshness of vegetables and fish acquired this way. Soon, the villagers stopped going all the way to the market and now setup stalls every morning and evening outside our place instead!!! It has been ages since I stepped into one of those hustling, bustling market places. I am not particularly fond of the chain grocery stores but I am quite satisfied with the produce at my local Korean store and the occasional trip to the Farmer’s Market (read once a year maybe!!). My parents on the other hand found the ultra hygienic confines of the local supermarket stifling and the produce insipid. The Korean store with its fishy smells felt a little more homely but still…. The Farmer’s Market on the other hand …aha!!…now we were talking fresh vegetables for the first time. We came back from the Farmer’s Market with loads of vegetables on Saturday morning. Amongst which were three beautifully glistening, greenish black peppers which were promptly cooked when we returned home. We picked them from this box of other colorful peppers.

The recipe is an old one which was taken from some cook book or the other (the details escape me at the moment). The try-it-with-tofu-if-you-are-a health-food-nut-like-me advice comes free of charge as usual. On the other hand if you have recently discovered feelings of ummm…the not so friendly kind…towards any fellow human/s, call them over for a meal and cook this with loads of ghee instead (and for added taste deep fry the paneer in ghee). And then after a meal, sit back and let that warm glow of a job well done spread within as you mentally picture his/her arteries clogging up!!!!

Paneer with Peppers

Paneer– 400 gms
Peppers– 2 medium sized
Plum Tomatoes – 4 medium sized
Ginger paste – 2 tbsps
Garlic Paste – 2 tbsps
Coriander seeds – 2 tbsps
Dried Red Chilly or Cayenne Pepper – 3 (add more if you like it spicy)
Seranno Pepper/Tai Peppers – 2 (add more if you like it spicy)
Salt – to taste

1. Slice the paneer and the peppers and keep aside. Finely chop the tomatoes. Crush the coriander and dried red chillies in a mortar. The spice mix should be coarsely ground. Remove seeds and spine from the Serrano peppers and finely slice them.
2. In a heated work, add two turns of oil. Add the garlic paste and cook till fragrant. Now add the sliced peppers. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the ginger paste and the Serrano peppers to the wok and cook for two minutes.
4. Now add the coarsely ground spice mix and stir. Once the spice blend is mixed in well, add the tomatoes and cook, till the oil separates from the vegetables.
5. Finally add the paneer slices and the salt to taste. Let the paneer heat through, don’t overcook.
Remove from heat and serve garnished with chopped cilantro. This is turns out a little on the dry side and goes very well with naans, paranthas or any other Indian bread.

3 comments: said...

sounds yummy! lovely blog btw. Food and nostalgia warms the heart of a bong I guess.Khub bhaalo!

Anyesha said...

Thanks..glad you liked it!!!

Amlan said...

Thats a really nice description of Halipukur and Subarnarekha, the exchange of stories, bajaar kora and of course the free cilantro!!

My sympathies with you parents. I abide by the farmers' market too.