There are times when those few moments just flash past me, at the oddest time of the day, maybe just when I am taking a walk or even doing my dishes. The winter night would soon engulf the day. The crisp breeze brushed across my face as my forehead pressed against the iron bar of the train window.
I would lean on it, tired after the long day at school. It was a time consuming commute and at the end of the day I could not wait to get back home. The green fields passed by in a blur, like a photograph that has lost its focus, as the train rushed passed in a hurry, dropping each one of us to our destination.
Some days we would buy Jhal Muri, to abate our hunger. Other days I just waited to get home. It was those cool winter days that suddenly would have me wanting that steaming bowl of red light soupy carrot and beet, tender but with a bite – mild in flavors, wholesomely good and fulfilling.
It is strange indeed how a little bowl of something so simple can create a wave to sweep up the moments of a significant part of my school life…
Comfort food is always tied with beautiful memories for me. Times that I treasure and will hold on to forever. Sometimes these memories go beyond food, picking up a hundred other drops of nostalgia around it…I want to collect them all and wrap them around me like a knitted old shawl, with every thread speaking of something I knew…
I have travelled that same way many many times. All those school years, two times a day on the same route, but the scenery never ceased to refresh me. That flamboyant Krishnochura with bent down branches adding a sudden burst of red to one station, one green bench that brightened up another station, the golden yellow flowers of the Gul Mohor that flamed up the next… and then there was the most serene green fields spread out in peace and calm between each train station. There was a pond in one, surrounded by trees and we all waited to see the trees reflect so beautifully in the water. I really wish I could go back and travel that way all over again!
Those years were probably the best years of my life. I absolutely loved the traveling. The same friends, same route, same train never lost the charm. Instead we waited for all of it. Well most days. Except when the trains ran late on exam days! We studied together, shared our food, we could tell what station the train stopped at even if we were not looking, or who would get up or when the train would slow down before a junction. It had all become a part of our system.
Each nostalgia holds a different meaning, reminds me of a different feeling, a different day. Yet they are so connected, intertwined and weaved through my childhood that I cannot seem to get past. It has followed me here, and even after so many years has remained fresh enough to make it seem like just yesterday. I can see and feel each moment when I stop to think about it. Every giggle, every smile, the way we would cross our arms over our chest so the wind through the open doors of the local trains could not blow our white tucked shirts into a balloon, whipping the navy blue tie to our face, how we stood with the huge sack of books and balanced ourselves as the train lurched and started after every stop, the jhalmuri wala’s annoyance as we all begged for one extra coconut slice on our muri. They fervent studying in groups before the tests, quite oblivious of the crowd around us as we quizzed and discussed over voices and heads. The trains used to be packed with every day passengers having us struggle to find space to make eye contact with each other so we could study. So many days filled with many memories. How could I ever forget!
The days would be long. We had at least an hour and a half of commute each way. Some days all I could think of was food while we got back, empty stomach growling in hunger. Maggi on rainy days (just that didn’t happen too often), light dal, posto bata and macher jhol on hot summer days, and stews and steaming bowls during winter, with flecks of everything in between. I would wonder what ma would have made that day…
To dip the hot phulkas in a bowl of red, to see the rotis soak up and steep in the beet red was a beautiful sight. This was one of those rare occasions when I wanted a roti, not being too fond of them otherwise. The beets and carrots have a good bite and it seemed like the winter bliss with the slight hint of ginger warming up my inside.
The art of getting lost…
That is what it is for me when I start thinking of the past. A big wave hits the shore as I crave the flavors of a dish, so suddenly, out of no where and then there follows the ripples that makes me completely lose my train of thoughts. I like to remember. I like going back and relishing those beautiful times back home.
Back to my roots!
I have grown the “roots” a few times in my home. There is joy in pulling out a carrot from our own yard and washing the dirt off it. Stubby and gnarled they might look, they still will be the best carrots ever.
The farmers market sells beets straight from the soil. Mud smeared bulbs with the leaves ready to be stir fried all for 98 cents a bunch. What a bargain!
This dish is one of the simplest examples of Bengali (or any Indian cooking). There are not really any exact proportions of the vegetables. Neither are the spices mandatory. Cumin or jeera adds a very earthy flavor and the ginger seemed just perfect for that warm feeling during winter. The recipe adheres to the “sattvic” (no onion, garlic or any non vegetarian ingredients included) food. Clean, nourishing and using only seasonal vegetables, the winter time meals would be filled with colors like this!
Beet Gajor- er Torkari: Beet & Carrot Curry
Ingredients:(serves 2-4 as a side)
- 1 large beet, partially or fully boiled
- 2 medium size carrots
- 1 teaspoon oil
- a pinch of hing/asafoetida
- 1 teaspoon jeera/cumin seeds
- 1 or 2 red dry chili pepper, or some red crushed pepper (The whole chilli peppers add flavor without making it too spicy)
- 1-2 inch ginger, grated or made to a paste
- 1/4 cup toasted peanuts, crushed
- Salt to taste
- about 1.5 cups of water (more if you want soupy)
- fresh cilantro, chopped
- Peanuts are optional but they do add a crunch and part of the protein. However it can be done without the nuts or substituted with any other nuts or even peas. Green peas taste really good in this dish.
- Potatoes and fresh tomatoes can be added to this dish too. If you are using any of these (or both), add them when you add the beets and carrots
Boil or par boil the beet. It just makes life easier and the final dish to be cooked quicker. I usually pressure cook the beet/steam in the pressure cooker. Peel the skin after it is boiled, and dice the beet.
Dice carrots and set aside. Grate ginger and set aside. Coarsely crush peanuts and set aside.
Heat oil in a pan. Add the hing/asafoetida, dry red chilli pepper and the cumin seeds. When the seeds sizzle and the pepper turns a darker shade, add the diced carrots and beet and add to the pan. Add salt and grated ginger and cook in high heat for a couple of minutes while tossing very frequently.
Add water (and peas if you want) and simmer uncovered or partially covered until carrots are tender. Adjust salt. If you want this to be soupy, you might need to add more water and simmer some more. Gently crush a few pieces of carrots with the back of the spoon to add some texture to the liquid. Finish off with crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro.
Serve with flatbreads or just by itself.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty Level: Very Easy
Serves: 2- 4 as a side
- Aloo Palak/Spinach with Potatoes
- Beetroot Raita – Lightly Seasoned Beetroot and Yogurt Salad
- Begun Posto: Eggplants with Poppy Seeds Paste
- Begun-er Tok: Bengali Style Sweet and Sour Eggplant Chutney
- Carrots and Beans with Caraway, Harissa and Pistachios
- Dal Chenchki: Red Lentils with Pearl Onion
- Harissa Stuffed Eggplants