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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