If you have ever wondered what the true definition of a ‘Foodie’ is, read Madhur Jaffrey’s Climbing the Mango Trees. A childhood memoir of growing up in a privileged, upper middle class family surrounded by uncles and aunts and numerous cousins, not to mention a retinue of servants who cooked for the extended joint family, tended trees and vegetable gardens surrounding the house and in general fetched and ran errands.
When every sad, happy, angry or joyful memory is associated with food, a foodie of the first order is formed. And there in a nutshell is Jaffrey’s ‘Climbing the Mango Trees’.
Is it then sacrilegious to admit that till now, I had never cooked from any of her cookbooks, or to say that I found most of her recipes, especially the meat ones, a bit complex to prepare? Or was it that I was just too lazy to make boondi (which my mom made on a regular basis) from scratch when it was readily available in the store? Whatever the reason, I steered clear of Jaffrey till our book club choose ‘Climbing the Mango Trees’.
I added turmeric out of force of habit and ended up with a yellow curry instead of red!
Reading the book was like eating through a culinary feast of simple Indian greens and hearty meat curries cooked to perfection and served with phulkas, “chapati’s more refined, upper class cousin.” Some 32 odd recipes at the end of the book, from kheema samosas, to green chutney and fenugreek greens with carrots cover maybe 10% of the feast served in the book.
The recipes are to keep, especially if you are a vegetarian looking to make non-vegetarian dishes or vice-versa. I decided to stick to my mostly vegetarian meal and made Potatoes with Tomatoes (Bazar Jaisay Aloo), the go-to-meal for Jaffery family’s picnics and Sunday breakfast. The meal cooks in a jiffy if the potatoes are boiled and ready. I served them with ‘Phulka’s’ for a change instead of its ‘coarse, lower-class cousin’ and our standard bread, Chapati.
Potatoes with Tomatoes
6 medium sized potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of asafetida
1 ½ tsps whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds (I used a tsp and crushed it coarse)
1/4 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
3 whole dried red chilies
3 medium tomatoes, grated on the largest hole of the grater
1 ½ tsp finely grated fresh ginger
Salt to taste
Boil the potatoes in their jackets until tender and allow them to cool. Peel.
Pour the oil into a wide, medium sized pan, and set it over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in first the asafetida, then the cumin, and finally the fennel, fenugreek and chilies.
Two seconds later, add the grated tomatoes and ginger. Stir-fry until the tomatoes turn a deep red and the oil begins to show, turning down the heat as the cooking progresses so nothing burns. Add 1 ½ cups of water.
Now, break the potatoes by hand into pieces that are, very roughly, ½ inch cubes. They will be different shapes, but that is the charm of the dish. Add the potato cubes to the pan together with salt, then stir and bring to a boil.
Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and cook gently for 12-15 minutes, stirring now and again.
Other members of our book club reviewed and were inspired to make:
Simran made Phirni
Curry Leaf made Roz Ki Gobi
Sheba made Cauliflower with cheese
Janaki made Palak Gosht
Aqua made Tahiri