After meeting Taranjeet and Raman Samra for the third time, I have decided that I need a “title” for them! When people ask where I have been or who they are there is no easy way to explain our connection (the brother of the owner of the Indian restaurant in Oregon that my aunt and uncle go to and his wife). Usually I just say “my friends in Hyderabad” even though they have become to feel like family. But after today, I have come to the conclusion that they have become sort of like godparents in India. You have heard me rant and rave about their hospitality over and over and you are going to hear it one more time! They have made me feel welcome in their home to share wonderful conversation and food. Is this not what good friends and family represent?
Emily joined me today. We were amazed to find the morning cool and breezy, a nice break from the heat. Catching an early train, we practiced our Kuchipudi hand gestures on the hour long ride into the city. From there the Samra’s picked us up and took us to their humble abode at the Public School. Breakfast consisted of paratha, scrambled eggs, curd, mango pickle, and chai—a traditional north Indian breakfast. Since Emily had never been to the campus, we took a short walk around the grounds, again, relieved that the sun was holding some of the heat back today.
For lunch, Raman taught us how to cook some Punjabi fare. Our main dish was kadhi—a gravy, of sorts, with pakora. The gravy is started with hot oil, garlic, and onions (of course!), along with curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds.
In another bowl, curd (or yogurt) is blended with besan (graham) flour and turmeric. This liquid mixture is then added to the pot with water. The mixture must simmer on the stove for around an hour. I was very curious about this process because normally you wouldn’t cook yogurt on the stove with other ingredients!
Then we made the pakoras. As I have mentioned before, pakoras can be made hundreds of ways, but the one aspect that stays consistent is the batter made of chickpea flour. Our mixture consisted of chickpea flour, finely chopped onions, garlic, cilantro, turmeric, chili powder, salt, and water. Then we dropped spoonfuls of the batter into the oil to create small, fried dumplings.
In serving, the pakoras are added to the gravy and served over rice. Upon completion of the dish, I realized that we have eaten something similar at Tagore, but this version was amazing!! The gravy had a light, richness. You could pick out the tang of the yogurt yet it balances well with the spices. Yum! Tarangeet mentioned that there are not many times of the year when fresh vegetables are not available, but during that short time, this is a common dish that they make.
For dessert, Raman showed us how to make basic northern halwa. The halwa that we have eaten at Tagore is like a sweet relish, made with shredded carrots or bottle gourd, but this version was simply ghee, flour, and sugar. Raman cooked the flour and ghee like a rue until it was light brown in color. In another pot she simmered sugar, water, and cardamom. Upon adding the sugar syrup to the rue the mixture thickened up and Raman stirred hard. Finally she took it off the stove and we ate some right then and there! It was warm and caramely, a perfect amount of sweet. We ate some more later as well. The mixture hardened up just slightly to the consistency of a soft caramel. Needless to say, I left very full, once again!
I felt a little sad leaving Taranjeet and Raman, knowing that I may not ever see them again. However, I do trust that our paths will cross again someday. Currently their son is in Canada, their daughter is in New Jersey, and Taranjeet’s brother is in Oregon! There could definitely be an opportunity. Plus, who knows how soon I could be back in India 🙂
Until then, their warming hospitality and knowledge will live in my heart!