Of Nameless Chicken And Star-Trek Brinjal

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By Antoine Lewis

The Married Man’s Guide to CreativeCooking and Other DubiousAdventuresSamar Harlarnkar; WestlandRs. 495 – PP 248Hermit D’costa is a rock star. He knowswhen to pick up fresh fish straight offthe boats at Sassoon Dock in Mumbaiand when it’s better to buy it fromwholesalers at Crawford Market. Hisdeep freezer is usually stocked up with acouple of kilos of meat; not only doeshe regularly cook for the family, but he’scompletely comfortable cooking for aparty of 40 or more. Sometimes, he followsrecipes, but he’s equally likely to gocompletely on a tangent and come upwith something innovative.Men like D’costa who cook, not as atreat for the wife and thefamily but almost daily, are ararity. Samar Halarnkar,author of The Married Man’sGuide to Creative Cookingand Other DubiousAdventures, believes that thisshould change. More Indianmen should get into thekitchen because contrary towhat they think — cooking isnot difficult, boss. Not only isit easy but it keeps his marriage exciting,helps him stay in touch with tradition,family and friends and, most importantly,makes him smile a lot. I can’t think ofa more persuasive reason to take upcooking.And Halarnkar cooks with wild abandon:he follows his grandmother’s andmother’s recipes with as much meticulousnessas he creates recipes on the fly.Many of his recipes are born out ofinnovation and their names bear testimonyto the circumstances of their creation:there’s The Chicken With No Name,Star-Trek Brinjal, Bandh Gobi andWelcome-Summer Fish curry. Most ofhis cooking is experimental; he adapts anew a spice here, a cooking techniquethere and adds Old Monk almost everywhere.There’s a line in his chapter TheNew Spice routes that captures theessence of the book for me. He writes ofhis version of Tenga, the Assamese fishcurry, “I suspect the recipe I am offeringyou is not entirely authentic, but it isquite delightful.” It’s a food book withplenty of recipes — some authentic,some traditional, many his own — that’squite delightful to read.And read it you should, because morethan a cookbook, it’s simply wonderfulfood writing. Much of it has appearedpreviously in his blog The Daily Breadfor Mint and Hindustan Times but it’sbeen neatly tied up into thematic chapters.Divinity and Dried Fish captures hispassion for dried Bombay duck andprawns in the face of stiff oppositionfrom his wife and most of his family. In1964: A Letter From My Grandmotherhe segues from his grandmother’s idiosyncraticstyle of writing measurementsbased on Marathi mathematical tables tokokum and his grandmother’s curriesand finally to the origins of theHalarnkars who came from theGabit caste of warriors-turnedpirates.Few food writers areable to so effortlessly weavestories that encompass history,personal experiences and thechallenges of fixing a brunchparty while suffering from ahangover.The proof of a recipe book isin the cooking and I decided toput Halarnkar’s audacious claim to be‘the omelette king’ to the test. The reasonI chose fluffy or ‘Posh’ omelettes asHalarnkar calls them and not anotherone of the 85 recipes is that fluffyomelettes are my Achilles heel. I’m confidentenough to battle the fearsomeGordon Ramsay when it comes tocreamy scrambled eggs, I make memorableSpanish omelettes but I’ve all butgiven up on fluffy omelettes. Halarnkar’sdirections (not so much recipe) turnedout to be spot on: my omelettes rise upwith a soufflé-like precision. I raise myfrying pans to the man, truly it is sangreal and Old Monk that flows throughHalarnkar’s veinsWhile I do hope more men start cookingafter reading the book, I’m absolutelyconvinced that readers are going to feelpangs of hunger and want to go out andeat kheema, bheja, guchchi pulao andbeef pickle after reading the book. I did.