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Friday, 13 May 2011

Deepa's Chutney

My friend Deepa and I go back a long way. See, we keep following each other in turns. We first met at Sophia High School in Bangalore. She then followed me, slightly further, to Aditi's, in Yelahanka, New Town, for pre-university (the school is posher than it sounds, honestly). I then followed her out of India, to the United States for university (she was the brain, I was the drain). Then, several years later, she followed me to Harvard, to get her Law degree, while I was getting my Business degree (yeah, yeah, we all know which one is harder: she passed the Bar, I was passed out at the Bar...)

Which would now make it my turn to follow her. Where to next, D? Can I suggest Tahiti? We could become cocktail waitresses...?
How about if I name a recipe after you? Let's give it a try, shall we?

So, this goes back to the years in-between graduating from university and starting with our respective Masters programs. For me, it was that decidedly unproductive time in my life where I would sit for 16 straight hours, from 9am to 3am (and they say a baby makes you sleep deprived. Try investment banking.) manipulating excel spreadsheets in some frigid cubicle in the corner, artificial air, artificial light, cold take-out Chinese on my desk - canya think of anything more dull??

The only silver lining in that great, big, black, bursting-with-rain cloud was that I got to travel to San Francisco on business about once in two months. Now, I absolutely love San Francisco. Liberal, cosmopolitan, bohemian and utterly beautiful, the City by the Bay is an easy place to leave your heart in. And, at the time, it also happened to be home to some dear friends of mine from school, including Deepa.

On one such visit, D invited me to her beautiful apartment in a charming restored Victorian in the heart of the trendy Haight-Ashbury.  Her kitchen was lovely, big and homey with brightly coloured flowers trailing down hanging pots, and we sat there for hours – cooking, eating and talking.

It was one of those perfect afternoons, sun streaming through the windows, bright but not hot, no sign of the trademark fog that usually blankets the city in chilly folds. And I spent it in the best possible way, with a person I have always loved talking to, who I can risk not keeping in regular touch with because I know we can pick up exactly where we left off.  Because D is that person who you always learn something new from, who takes you to an intellectually higher place than where you first started, who can engage you, quite effortlessly, for hours.

So, we sipped lemon-water with ice and I helped her make lunch. She had already cooked some rice and dal, she told me, and with it, she said, she was going to try a red capsicum chutney that she’d never made before. By the way, I love when people cook for me. I only cook for people I love, so I know how much it means. There is a value to the thought and the effort behind the gesture that cannot be measured in numbers or words – and D, I hope you know how touched I was. And so, we cut and chopped and she cooked and I watched and we chatted and before I knew it, we had created this yummy, tangy-spicy-sweet relish that served as a perfect accompaniment to our lunch of rice and lentils.

And it is the culmination of all that – the city, the person, the conversation and the cooking – that makes this recipe special.

Try it, this is Deepa’s Chutney:

- 2 large red capsicums, de-seeded and cut into chunks
- 2 dry red chillies (use more if you'd like more fire in the chutney)
- 1 fistful of channa dal (split Bengal gram)
- 1 tspn mustard seeds
- Zest of lemon, to taste

Making it took us a few minutes! Heat the mustard seeds in a teaspoon of oil until they begin to sputter. Now add the channa dal, capsicum and red chillies, and fry until the capsicum becomes soft. Take the pan off the heat and keep aside until cool. Add the cooled ingredients to a blender and blend until you get a smooth paste. Add lemon juice to taste. And Voila!

Incidentally, as I was researching the bell pepper for this post, (yes, I do research the material in my posts for factual accuracy, especially ones that involve recipes from my lawyer friends...) I was amazed to see the whole host of ailments it is antidote to - from heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis to lung health and better eyesight, the bell pepper and its fiery cousin, the red chilli, both of which we use in this chutney, are packed full of nutrients. Both varieties contain vitamins B and C, thiamine, beta carotene, folic acid and lycopene.  And thanks to capsaicin, the stuff that gives the chillies their characteristic pungency, they also contain significant amounts of phytochemicals, which in turn have exceptional antioxidant properties. So by polishing off all the chutney in one (albeit long) sitting, we were actually doing wonderful things to our bodies without even knowing it. (Please tell me you didn’t already know this, D!)

Closer to my heart – on taste – this chutney checks all the boxes - the red chillies provide the heat, the bell peppers - the sweetness, (the red bell pepper has a tangibly different flavour to the green one in that it is much sweeter, almost fruity), the channa dal provides the characteristic grainy chutney-texture, and the lemon juice rounds it off with a tangy hurrah!

What do you think, D?  To Tahiti then?

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