I followed Sumina to her family's kitchen in Jodphur, Rajasthan. She invited me to come join her family for the Gangaur Festival. Many guests were expected for the multi-day festival so they hired help to feed the guests. In India, some type of grain was eaten with every meal and where people are largely vegetarian - this was an important aspect of the meal. There were really two questions every day: 1) Are we eating puri? Or roti? 2) And with what vegetable?
Everyday, I watched the kitchen staff make the roti or puri from scratch. Sometimes, I tried to participate. It was quite the endeavor for me to roll a perfectly circular shape. Sumina said you get five rolls to get the shape. And I agree with her. After that, it just gets too flat and too big. You have to get the pressure and the angle right to do this quickly and perfectly. Or face a bit of judgment from the ladies, but all in good fun.
On the day the guests came, the puri making migrated outdoors onto the Jodphur blue roof top deck. There, we had more space to sit on the floor and roll hundreds of puri for the guests that evening. Once the dough was made, we even divided the duties into portioning out the dough, shaping it into a ball, rolling it into a circle, passing it to the fryer, and frying it. We had quite the production line going. It was nearly a hundred degrees outside and we were all sitting next to a propane tank with a hot wok of boiling oil, but in India, somehow you ignore the same dangers that you would balk at in America.
I always think breakfast is such a personal thing. Everyone has a unique routine and a different idea of what breakfast means. My go-to routine was always the lack of one so sitting down for a prepared breakfast every day was such a treat. I learned the joy of not reaching for a granola bar in the pantry. One morning we had Upma, a savory semolina based dish mixed with veggies. Another morning, we got these roti sandwiches filled with a cauliflower and green onion medley. Sumina says you can easily get the latter at most Indian restaurants in the U.S. I have yet to sample outside of the Bhatti household.
What I thought was the most fun about Jodphur was how people shopped for groceries. And by that, I mean how they actually have groceries delivered to them! Every day a vegetable cart comes down the street between 11 am and 3 pm and people can buy what they need directly from this grocer on wheels!
Dinners were always various veggie dishes with different grains and spices. Several families hosted us for dinner and they all had stainless steel ware to serve their food. Many of them are passed down from generation to generation. Sumina's grandfather passed on some plates engraved with his name that her father (Uncle) still uses. In this case, stainless steel (although less attractive) is much more durable than vintage Pyrex.
And the sweets! Indians LOVE sugar. I thought that every time someone asked me if I wanted sugar in my tea or chai. At first, I said a little...and soon figured out it was much better to just go "naked" and sneak in the sugar myself at a later time.
Desserts in Rajasthan are often a combination of different types of flour, sugar and spices. Two that I really found notable were 1) bars that had nuts, raisins and spices 2) donuts filled with crystalized sugar and coated with a sugar icing. If you know their real names, please comment below!
Uncle introduced me to the "cheeku" fruit which I've never noticed before.
Now, back safely in the comforts of America, I still miss some of the food that was accessible to me all the time while in Rajasthan. I decided to make a kitchen sink style Upma for myself. I had farina, but didn't have semolina, mustard seed or dal. I think the spirit is still there!
1 cup roasted semolina/sooji/rava/farina (fine variety)
1 medium sized onion, chopped finely
1 can of mixed vegetables
½ inch ginger grated or chopped finely
2.5 cups water
½ tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 to 2 tsp sugar (optional) or add as required
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp oil or ghee
salt as required
Heat a pan and add 1 cup of the grains you chose. Begin to roast it, stirring often while roasting it. The grains should become fragrant and start to look dry, separate and crisp. Make sure not to brown it and remove it from the heat and transfer to a plate and keep aside.
In a pan, heat 2 tbsp ghee or oil. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds until fragrant, then add the finely chopped onions and saute the onions till they become translucent. Add ginger and saute for a minute. Add 2.5 cups water to this mixture. add salt as required. Then if using sugar, add it. Stir well. On a medium to high flame, heat the water and let it come to boil. Then, lower the flame to its lowest. Add the grain in 4 to 5 batches with a spoon. Once you add the grain, stir immediately. The grains will absorb the water. Add can of mixed vegetables. Cover and allow the grains to steam for 2 minutes. Switch flame and let it sit for a few more minutes.
Just before serving, sprinkle with parsley and serve it with a side of lime.
For the record, the Pyrex Space Saver is what I used to store leftovers! I can't seem to find a photo of it right now, but may edit the post to show you later.