It’s the ubiquitous but arguably the most underrated of all ingredients in Indian cooking—water
There was an Indian tradition when the favoured mode of transport was walking, often barefoot. (I am happy to say that it still prevails in some places.) As you approached your destination, (especially if you were a guest) and took off your footwear at the threshold, someone would rush out with the big vessel of water for you to wash your feet – not just to slough off the dust but to cool you as well. And when you went inside and sat down and caught your breath, the host would welcome you with a glass of water and a few pieces of jaggery!
Water. Sacred in so many ways that no temple was built without a water body near it.
Water. Precious for so many reasons, the most important of which is that without it, life itself is an impossibility.
Nowhere is water given its rightful place of honour than in Indian cooking. Where it is not just used as a medium to cook food, not just drizzled around the thali as a benediction before a meal, but by the addition of a mere ingredient or two, it is transformed into the most delicious....well, I am hard pressed to categorise them. Appetizers? Drinks? Rasams? You judge for yourself from these simple recipes...
No-cook Tamarind Two-in-One.
It can’t get any simpler or quicker than this. In Masterchef, they’d call it a consommé. Whatever you call, it is a superb summer dish, especially since tamarind is also used therapeutically to cool the body.
One ball of tamarind, about the size of a small lemon, soaked in hot water for about 15 minutes.
3 green chilies, chopped (adjust to taste)
Salt to taste
2-3 tablespoons grated jaggery (adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, broken into bits
A pinch of asafoetida
8-10 curry leaves
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped.
1 medium onion chopped very fine
Extract the juice from the soaked tamarind ball by squeezing well and repeatedly. Dilute with about 3/4 litre of water. (Adjust the amount of water depending on how tart you like it.) Add the green chillies, salt and stir well so that the salt gets dissolved. (You can add a tad of jaggery to cut the sourness if you like)
To make into rasam
Heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and the red chilli. When the seeds begin to splutter, add the asafoetida. When they stop spluttering, add the curry leaves. Remove from the after a few seconds and add to the tamarind water. Add the fresh coriander, stir. Serve with plain steam rice, ghee and the chopped onions.
To make into appetizer
Temper the tamarind water as in the rasam. Then, add the grated jaggery (adjusting for your preferred sweetness). Chill and serve. And if you and your guests are brave and aren’t planning to kiss someone soon, sprinkle a little of the finely diced onion before serving!
As You Like It Nimbuda-Nimbuda
1 heaped teaspoon jeera (cumin), roasted and ground
8-10 peppercorns (adjust to taste), roasted and crushed
Juice of 1 lemon or half a citron
Salt to taste
15- 20 curry leaves (the more, the merrier!)
Boil the water, add lime juice (a little at a time, adjusting for desired sourness) and the rest of the ingredients and simmer for a minute. Serve hot by itself as a soup or appetizer laced with a little butter or ghee. Or with plain steamed rice, as part of a meal.
How to make water taste delicious
Quite simple actually. Drink it when you are really, really thirsty. Not chilled out of a fridge as is the common practice, but a just little cooler than room temperature. Actually, the one that really knows how to cool water the correct “delicious” temperature is ....the old-fashioned clay matka!