The ide(a)s of summer



Do some time in the kitchen, shed some sweat and get ready to romance the heat and dust.

So, the lazy, hazy days of summer will begin. The summer heat will ripple across the northern plains, and hold the peninsula in its thrall.

In Delhi, the flowers will die, people will wilt, and the great walks of winter will cease. In Mumbai, Marine Drive will lose its vitality, the trains will become communal saunas, and fish will become scarce. In Bangalore, they will complain how fans were never needed in what was once India’s garden city, water and electricity will lag far behind demand, but it won’t nearly be as trying as other metropolitan cities.

This is not a time one should be sweating it out in a kitchen, but invariably, that is what one does. Come summer, and I find myself stripped down to shorts and that inescapably Indian garment, the banian, toiling over breakfast and dinner (lunch? That’s too much—it’s in the refrigerator).

What is it about summer that drags me into the kitchen? Why am I more productive in the heat than I am in the cold? Why do I find a kitchen of heat and dust romantic?

Perhaps it is a sense of achievement that drives me, standing wild-eyed in the kitchen with those rivulets of sweat streaming down my face. Perhaps I revel in testing my limits, stretching my endurance—or perhaps I am just too much of a glutton. Hmm, it’s probably the last.

I know I am a glutton, and for some strange reason my appetite grows in the summer. Ergo, I have no choice but to put in extra kitchen time. But it’s true that despite the discomfort, I secretly enjoy it.

What I do avoid is spending long hours in the kitchen. My modus operandi is to blend some spices, do a quick marination and get it over with quickly. Over the years I have evolved some summer recipes that focus on drawing out flavours rather than sealing them in. A summer spice should waft out, float on the warm breeze and insinuate itself into your nose and your senses. I tend to use light, earthy spices, the kind of flavours that appear to blend with the loo, the hot, dusty winds that roll in from the deserts of Rajputana. Coriander seeds, cumin seeds, desiccated coconut, cardamom, cinnamon—to me all of these are the spices of summer.

When the product of my labours is ready, I find a singular pleasure in gulping down a cool glass of water and settling in for a good meal. Let the sweat flow, let your face glow.

There is indeed a romance to the Indian summer. Keep your senses tuned in, and you will find it.

Mushy chicken
Serves 3
Ingredients
1 kg chicken legs and thighs
1 packet mushroom, chopped
1 tomato, roughly chopped into large pieces
1 tsp ginger, chopped
3 big garlic pods
1 spring onion, stem and base, chopped
1 pack Thai red curry paste
A pinch of oregano
Salt to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
Method
Heat the olive oil. Fry the ginger and garlic till light brown. Add the Thai paste and fry on medium heat. To sauté, use water or white wine vinegar. After 2 minutes, add the chicken. Sear on high heat. Reduce to medium, add the mushrooms and base of spring onions. Sauté, add the chopped tomato, sprinkle a pinch of oregano (optional), add stalks of spring onions as garnish.

Wayanad chicken
Serves 3-4
Ingredients
750g chicken
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 black cardamoms
1 cup onions, chopped/grated
1 large tomato, grated
Salt to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
Roast the following, till flavours are released, then powder:
K desiccated coconut,
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
3 dried Kashmiri chillies (more if you want it spicier)
5 cloves
Method
Drop black cardamoms in hot but not smoking olive oil. Stir for a minute. Fry onions till brown. Before they brown, add ginger-garlic paste and sauté, using vinegar. Add roasted, powdered spices and continue sautéing. Add the grated tomato and fry till everything is blended. Add the chicken and mix well. Add salt and reduce heat till the chicken is done.
Option 1: Add 1 cup of whisked curd 5 minutes before taking off flame
Option 2: Add capers and sliced olives as garnish
Option 3: Brown chicken before adding to spices

Mullet masti
Serves 2-3
Ingredients
2 mullets, approx. 700g
2 tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of fenugreek seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
Scraping of nutmeg
Juice of 1 lemon
Method
Dry-roast all the spices except nutmeg, until the coriander seeds begin to pop. Grind into a coarse powder. Clean the mullet, make slashes, coat with masala, ensuring you rub into the slashes. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes) over fish, grate nutmeg. Add a dash of olive oil. Sear in heavy-bottomed pan, 3-4 minutes each side. Wrap in foil and cook in the oven at 175 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes or until done.

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Comments

13 Responses to “The ide(a)s of summer”
  1. Amitabh Varma says:

    Mr Halarnkar, I was missing your blogs and now it is here! I am definitely going to try the recipes.

    [Reply]

    Samar Halarnkar Reply:

    Amitabh,
    I have been tardy and for that I apologise. I will try to be much more regular

    [Reply]

  2. Atul Gupta says:

    Wow, how much I could relate to it and yes it is equally a surprise to me that how am I more productive during summers (Despite the cribbing that lasts all day) because all I can find myself doing in winters is cuddling and mushing under my quilt and while I crib and frown about the heat in Delhi, I finally get to try new recipes and visit new places during summers.

    I am in a dilemna these days because while I am getting jittery with the mere thought of mercury soaring 40+, I am desperately waiting for the summers to arrive because I have been procrastinating a lot of tasks for a long time and I am confident summers is the time when I’ll be able to do them all.
    Couldn’t have been more right , let the sweat flow, let your face glow..
    Keep up..Thanks for sharing those cool recipes..

    [Reply]

    Samar Halarnkar Reply:

    Atul, don’t fear summer, embrace it! And I am sure you’ll be able to do all those tasks

    [Reply]

  3. notyet100 says:

    luv the new lookof ur space,..-)

    [Reply]

    Samar Halarnkar Reply:

    I am not so sure I like its look

    [Reply]

  4. Ashish says:

    @Samar,
    I tried a “quickie” last night and since it came off well; thought would share.

    Neighbourhood fish-shop had huge (3.5kg) rohu. Got one, cut them in large portions. Cleaned.
    Turmeric powder, salt and thick curd (not too much, just enough to thinly cover all pieces- for marination.
    After 10 minutes, fry in a shallow skillet (non-stick) in minimal oil (sunflower)- enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet in one thin layer. Spread dry garlic grass powder (acquired from our recent Manali trip) liberally on one side of the fish. Fry one side for roughly 2 minutes and turn and fry the other side for another 2.
    The trick is not to fry overmuch- no, not like my fellow bongs would do it- not deep fried and crumbly.
    Just soft and melting into your mouth.
    Yumm!

    [Reply]

    Samar Halarnkar Reply:

    Ashish, this sounds delicious. But what is garlic grass powder? That’s a new one…

    [Reply]

    Ashish Reply:

    We picked up garlic grass from a shop in Manali during our recent visit- seriously- GARLIC grass, not the other kind that Manali is known for :)

    [Reply]

  5. Ujwala Samant says:

    Hello,
    I think I work the opposite way. I keep all those internally heaty spices (cardamom, cinnamon, etc) for the winter. for the summer, I tend to make batches of fresh pastes: the red dried chilli lemongrass one, a fragrant green coriander-ginger-garlic-green chilli one to marinate or float fish in, tamarind-fish sauce-soya auce-coconut milk-garlic-chilli, and the eternal favourite for barbecue/oven meats: hoisin-garlic-crushed red chillies-soya sauce-wine all thick and gleamy. That was my mum’s principle: make dishes that make you sweat in the summer, and those that seal in the warmth in winter. Seems to work as the dishes are a lot lighter in t he summer. And then we pore thru the frigo to see what the mood is for, and plop it’s marinated and cooked. Thai green curry paste mixed with wine, garlic, coconut milk to thin it slightly is a great marinade for fish or vegs wrapped in banana leaf.
    I’m going to make your mullet this evening.
    Cheers
    Ujwala

    [Reply]

    Samar Halarnkar Reply:

    Ujwala, what you say makes a lot of sense as well. I guess it’s just a question of approach. I will definitely try your oven marinade!

    [Reply]

  6. Ujwala Samant says:

    Hi,
    I made it with red snapper as I didn’t have mullet. It was very fragrant. Instead of the red chili powder, I used a mixture of chili flakes and powder. Very good!
    Thanks,
    Ujwala

    [Reply]

  7. Samar Halarnkar says:

    well, I am very glad to hear that!

    [Reply]

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