Although my knowledge of the works(on TV or otherwise) of Madhur Jaffery are extremely limited(read zilch), I was extremely excited to read Climbing the Mango Tree, her childhood memoir.
If you look at the book you will know what I mean. It’s a good looking book, if I may say so. I also enjoyed reading this delicious book; full of history, culture,food and beautiful childhood memories.
Although this is not a ‘novel’ as in it has no real story to tell, Madhur keeps us ( well..me, anyway) captivated with her recollection of life in a joint family household( sometimes there were up to 40 members of her family for dinner; Oh the logistics of it all!).
Make that super wealthy joint-family.She invokes beautifully detailed images of the lavish parties they held, the gilded childhood in Delhi mansions and Himalayan hill stations, the family picnics with a retinue of servants ,the summer breaks when the entire household shifted to Shimla, her school life or even of the dry heat of the summer garden
“I loved history in school,” Jaffrey writes in one of the early chapters of Climbing the Mango Trees. And she definitely shows us her love. Early on she discovers the “Red Book,” chronicling the history of her family and so we are given detailed description of the history of her ancestors.
She also infuses history, in the form India’s transition from empire to independence when she recounts the partition, Gandhiji’s assassination, and the resulting violence, riots and massacres. Her family, while Hindu,was progressive enough to have ties with the Muslim culture of northern India, and even embraced many aspects of Muslim culture. Thus her viewpoint makes for interesting reading.
Her graceful prose is however best when she describes…YES , FOOD. Check this out…“venison kebabs laden with cardamom, tiny quails with hints of cinnamon, chickpea shoots stir-fried with green chilies and ginger, and tiny new potatoes browned with flecks of cumin and mango powder”…I mean, Boy!! She can make me hungry.
And as bonus Jaffrey also includes several family recipes for her favorite dishes in Indian cuisine….a treat for the mind and the stomach.
Especially for the stomach.
I have 2 recipes to share with you from this delicious book…one of these I will share today. ( I am still looking for the pics of the other:))
2 Tbsp. olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1½ lb. (8 cups) medium-sized cauliflower florets, cut so each floret has a stem
1¾ cups grated fresh tomatoes
1 piece of fresh ginger, one inch square, peeled and grated to a pulp on the finest part of a grater or Microplane
2 fresh hot green chiles, cut into slim rounds (see Note)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
¼ cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Pour the oil into a large, preferably nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 10 seconds. Add the cauliflower florets and stir them around for 2 minutes. Add the grated tomatoes, ginger, chiles, cayenne, turmeric, ground coriander, and salt. Stir to mix. Stir and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the tomatoes are almost absorbed and the cauliflower is almost done. Add the cilantro and mix it in.
3. Put the contents of the pan into an ovenproof dish about 8 inches square, add the cream, mix, and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Put in the top third of the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and developed a few light brown spots. Serve hot.
Do not use jalapeño or serrano chiles for Indian dishes; they have the wrong texture and flavor. Green bird’s-eye chiles or any long, slim, thin-skinned variety, such as cayenne, are ideal. If you can’t find them, use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper instead of 1/4 teaspoon.