It was not unusual for us to be waking up to the smell of something simmering, boiling or cooking in mummy’s kitchen. Or the sound of rice, wheat or dal being sifted and sorted outside in the angan, mummy’s backyard. Or the sound of doodhwala, the milkman knocking on the door to deliver some fresh milk straight from the cow to his canister and then to mummy’s milk pan. We were used to it growing up. So much so that we never stopped and noticed how special it was to wake up to a home where food was given the importance it deserved.
On the mornings when we woke up to the smell of something frying and the aroma of fresh flowers being sorted, chances were it was a festival. In India we have people from more than ten major religions. And if you pick just Hindu religion they say there are 330 million gods. So every other day someone would be celebrating some festival. And more festivals meant more mornings waking up to the aroma of something delicious frying in the kitchen. And it happening in mummy’s kitchen wasn’t a rare event. You see, we Indians love frying our food. Fried food says we are happy and celebrating. Probably that’s the reason it’s a custom to not put a wok or deep fryer on fire when mourning?
Festivals were always special growing up. Especially the big ones and especially in a country like India where all these religions grow and nourish together. All I remember as a kid growing in India are the mornings of Eid, my brother and I would shower, as advised, first thing in the morning and run to uncle Shabbir’s house to ask for our Eidi, a gift like money, presents or even flowers to small children by the other elders of the family. Or my friends and I sneaking into the gurudwara (a sikh temple) when the priest wasn’t looking, to steal some extra halwa, a sweet semolina pudding made in rich ghee, filled with gems of raisins and almonds. The head would itself bow if a group of Jain priests marched on the street in front of us and Santa never forgot to sneak in through the back door even in a hindu family like ours and even though we did not have a chimney. We always thought people in the West always exaggerated the chimney part!
Holi, one such special special day, would usually come around Eid. So the moment Eid passed, the anticipation of Holi would begin, or vice versa. Opening your eyes to the smell of all the goodness, mummy would be frying away in her kitchen. Plunge out of the bed, pulling half asleep little brother with his hand and rushing out on the street in hopes that the friends are already playing colors. Mostly to be disappointed to find the streets empty. With our heads hung down, we would drag our feet back in and then straight to the kitchen finding mummy cooking, whisking and frying away. Completely ignoring her sweating away in that stuffy, hot kitchen, for she still had that smile on her face and lots of goodies to offer. That’s how holi started for us every year. Slow and calm followed by madness, music, laughter and color. Lots of color and lots of food through out the day.
Masala Besan Papdi was one snack mummy made very year. A few simple spices, ground to chickpea flour, knead into a tight dough, rolled into thin discs and fried until crispy. Usually served with pickled chili peppers but I liked mine better with cold thick yogurt as a dip. Here’s the recipe-
1 1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 pinch asafetida
1 teaspoon ajwain (caraway) seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (powder)
1/2 teaspoon rock salt (kala namak as we call in hindi)
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup water (approx.)
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together (except for the oil) and knead into a tight dough. The amount of water needed here can vary depending on the quality of chickpea flour. But be sure that the dough should be tough and if you are able to knead it easily without applying much pressure then its not right. Dough is tougher than a roti or poori dough. Can use about 1/2 teaspoon of oil in the end to bring everything together, if the dough is too sticky.
Divide the dough in equal parts, into 1 teaspoon size balls.
Lightly grease your rolling pin and board as you go and roll the dough balls into paper thin disks. Just a tad thicker than wonton sheets.
Lay the rolled disks flat on a clean sheet or cloth, and let it air dry at a clean spot for 2-3 hours.
Deep fry the disks into crispy crackers. Let it cool down and then store in air tight containers for upto a month. Enjoy with a dip or as it is.