Anoothi Vishal gives us a tour of her grandma’s Kayasth kitchen with a new book .
ANOOTHI VISHAL was earnestly describing a chikankari bikini when we were first introduced, more than 12 years ago. We were at a fashion communicators workshop at The British Council in Delhi and Vishal, a young reporter at Business Standard, was exploring an alternative spin on this holiday staple. She laughs when I bring up the bikini, insisting that her life revolves around food now – food columns and travelogues, and the pop-ups she curates for star hotels. Which turns the conversation to her new book with Hachette, Mrs LC’s Table. That Mrs LC or Barima, Vishal’s charismatic and social grandmother (her full name was Swaroop Rani Mathur), made a huge impact on both extended family and friends goes without saying. In the book, which is a biography of Mrs LC and a history of the Kayasth community, there are a fair number of recipes featuring meat, mock meat, lentils and seasonal vegetables. But what charms is the story of Barima, a woman who never ate meat but whose mutton dishes were incomparably superior; who turned her gajar ka halwa recipe into a bedtime story for her two-year-old granddaughter; and who sang beautifully and treasured her diary of over 1,000 songs. More from Vishal:
Who are Kayasths and why are they the ‘great adapters’?
This was an educated community from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh that included courtiers to the Mughal king. Employed in the revenue and legal services, they had a natural affinity for languages, and imbibed the cultural traditions of the time, a blend of Hindu and Muslim influences. Later, when the colonisers took over, they developed a taste for British etiquette and Scotch! Unlike the Mughals, who used expensive ingredients like saffron, Kayasth cooking was home-style and used whole spices, like black cardamom.
What do you recall making with Barima that involved lentils?
Mangori or sundried lentil dumplings that looked like pearl drops. And the faux shami kebab, with soaked moong dal, cumin, lime juice, spices, mint, onion and green chillies. Barima made it just as well as the meat version.
The standout dish in her kitchen?
Mrs LC was the Yakhni pulao champion (goat meat pulao cooked in stock), with each grain of rice getting its burst of flavour from the yakhni. Note that there is no vegetable pulao for Kayasths, only the tahiri!
There is the lasoda (loooks like a small olive and used to make pickles) that is available only 20 days in a year, the kachnar or a sour flower, bathua or winter greens, and jackfruit for mock meat dishes. Among the common items you will find besan, lentils, amchur powder and saunf.
Published by Hachette; Rs 350.
— Rosella Stephen