How have you been? I must tell you that your letter on Iftar was hugely enjoyed and enthused over…next time around you may find two extra gluttons on your hand! It reminded us both of the five hour food walk we took with you and Rinki, eating our way through the by-lanes of the historical Chandni Chowk, one winter evening some years back. This letter too may take you down another memory lane. Last Week a friend of Prasanta, from his Vadodara (or Baroda as it still remains in our minds) Art College days, came for a visit. This friend, a Gujarati, was visiting Bengal and wherever he went all he got was black Darjeeling tea, which wasn’t really his cup of tea…literally. So when he came here I made some flavored masala chai for him and a strong case of nostalgia gripped us. Stories about the good old days flowed effortlessly into the night.( By that time obviously, it wasn’t chai that was keeping our spirits up!) I recall almost a decade and a half ago, on a visit there, I found that Prasanta and his artist friends would spend hours drinking copious amounts of the thick milky sweet masala chai…what was it called…Ah yes, Golden Chai. A half glass of the chai aptly named “cutting” was all that these perennially broke students could afford! Most of the “studying” was being accomplished at these road side tea stalls. Hot cups of spicy tea and heated discussions on art and aesthetics are synonymous with what Prasanta fondly terms his “Baroda Days”. You too spent a few years around the same time in Vadodara, and surprisingly our friend remembers you. It seems your enthusiasm for food is not easily forgotten.You would also remember the road opposite Kamati Baug in the evenings, lined by the “Lari” or food stalls on wheels that sold mouth watering snacks, pakoda or fritters and even fruit custard. It was the melting point of cheap gastronomic experience. How far back it seems…an era, before Facebook, when friendship still meant meeting up face to face and back slapping over greasy Chowmein or Pav Bhaji. When love affairs were conducted long distance, from vertical glass coffin like telephone booths and one didn’t break up with a line over Whatsapp and, ‘Moving On’ hadn’t become a youth anthem. Was life really less complicated or is this how every generation feels about their best years. And look at me talking like an old fogey….but I blame it on Food and its ability to turn even the best amongst us into sentimental mush. On an afterthought,the pace of the times change, but food, friends and fun remain same. So here is raising a toast of masala chai to carefree days and old friends!
For The Chai Masala
25 gm Green Cardamom Pods
50gm Black Peppercorn
Dry Grind all the ingredients together to a fine powder. In this masala the spices are not dry roasted before grinding. Once ground this can be stored in an air tight container for up to six months. Use to flavor tea. A Tisane made by boiling a teaspoon of this spice mix in a large cup of plain water, piece of ginger and a few basil leaves and sweetened by adding a teaspoon of honey,is an excellent throat soother in case of cold and cough. There are numerous recipes of Chai Masala. In some dry ginger powder is added. You may also do so, but I feel that the fresh Ginger root adds a punch to the tea.
To Make the Chai (2 Cups)
2 tsp Assam Tea Leaves/1 tea bag (CTC/ground tea leaves NOT long leaf tea)
1 ½ Cups of full cream Milk
Sugar to taste
1 Inch Piece of fresh Ginger crushed
1/2 tsp Chai Masala
½ cup of water
Bring the milk and water to boil, add the crushed ginger piece, the tea leaves and the sugar and boil till the liquid turns a beautiful brown color. Add the chai masala and boil till aroma fills your senses. Tulsi or Indian Holy Basil may also be added for taste and its therapeutic qualities.
Enjoy a hot cuppa with my own recipe of savory cookies with an Indian twist.
Chili, Cumin and Basil Savory Cookies (Makes about 25-30 bite sized cookies)
100gm plain Flour + little extra for rolling
100gm Butter/Margarine (at room temperature)
1-2 Dry Red Chili Deseeded and snipped into thin strips
Handful of Basil Leaves (oregano/Chives will also do)
1 tsp Cumin seeds
100gm Grated Cheese
3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup
Salt to taste
Mix the flour and the butter to a fine crumb. Add all other ingredients and knead softly. Everything will come together; there is no need to add any liquid like water/milk or egg. If using a food processor, just pulse the mixture. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Remove from fridge, lightly flour work surface and roll out to about 2 to 3mm thickness and cut into shapes. I use a peg measure to cut the rounds ! You can simply cut out squares in case you don’t have cutters. Prick each cookie with a fork to prevent puffing up. Lay them out on a greased baking tray about half an inch apart – it may take two lots of baking to use up the entire mixture. Bake in a pre heated oven at 200 degree centigrade for fifteen minutes or till a delicious aroma permeates your entire house. Remove and let cool on wire rack. Store in an air tight container. These cookies with their hot and tangy taste are a perfect foil to the sweet rich one of the masala chai.
Happy Tea Time