Gujju khana, Fiji style

Cookbook author Bhanu Hajratawala's food straddles many countries -- India, since her parents belong to Gujarat, Fiji, where she was born, and the United States, where she migrated to as a young bride. From Surat, she learnt the ingredients of delicious non-vegetarian preparations, from Fiji, the joys of community cooking, and the US taught her to improvise in times of scarcity. Sunday MiD DAY turns a few pages of Gujarati Kitchen for you to read

Surat nu jaman ane Kashi nu maran: The food of Surat is like dying in the holy city of Kashi," is the opening line of Gujarati Kitchen, a cook book by US-resident Bhanu Hajratwala that recently hit the shelves. What caught our eye, as we thumbed through our review copy, was the presence of mouth-watering non-vegetarian preparations in a Gujarati cuisine book. Yes mother, you're right. Our education is lacking in gastronomical proportions.

We speak to Hajratwala over a cracking line from California. Excerpts of the interview:

One of the things I found startling was the existence of non vegetarian dishes in a Gujarati cook book. Clearly, Gujarati cuisine isn't all vegetarian. Where do your non vegetarian dishes originate from, and what are the main ingredients?
A majority of Fijians are non-vegetarian, including my family. Also, I belong to the Kshatriya clan, which eats non vegetarian dishes. We made sure that the girls in our family knew how to cook these dishes, as they'd marry into other Kshatriya families. In fact, if I invited another Kshatriya family and served them vegetarian food, they wouldn't be very happy. Having said that, non vegetarianism isn't restricted to the clan. As Gujaratis shift abroad, many have begun to eat non vegetarian dishes.

In which ways have these dishes been affected by the places you've lived at?
My family hails from Malsar in Gujarat. They migrated to Fiji, where I was born and brought up. So when I was growing up, and later, when I lived with my mother-in-law, I learnt to cook all the masalas and dishes in the style of my mother, aunt, sister and in-laws. But in Fiji, we had the basics, not the speciality items. For instance, one time, after having migrated to the States, I mistook the edible silver sheet or varak, on a barfi to be aluminum foil, and spent a good while trying to remove it!

After my wedding, I spent four weeks at my in-law's home. There, I wrote down all the family recipes for chai masala, garam masala and so on, which I use to this day. However, on reaching the US -- where my husband was still a student -- expenses were tight, and ingredients were scarce. On my first morning in Iowa City, I wanted a cup of masala chai, but there was no masala! Gradually, I began adding crushed pepper and cardamom to simulate the taste of home tea. Now, of course, there are so many Indian restaurants and stores in the States that procuring ingredients is no longer a problem.

Mamna (Barbecued Cocktail Kabab)
Preparation time: 1 hour
Makes: 40 kababs

Mamna masala
(makes 6 tbsp)
*6" fresh ginger, peeled, sliced
*10 cloves garlic, peeled
*10-15 fresh green chillies, de-capped
*3 tsp turmeric powder
*Up to 2-3 tbsp water for grinding and blending (if required)
In a blender, grind ginger, garlic, fresh chillies and turmeric powder. Add water, if required, to make a smooth mamna masala. Set aside.

*900 g / 2 lbs finely ground lamb
*31/2 tsp salt
*4 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
*4 tbsp finely chopped fresh garlic greens (if available)
*1 tbsp finely chopped onion (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix ground lamb and mamna masala well. Use water on your hands to prevent the meat from sticking. You can also use latex or plastic food gloves. If preparing in advance, refrigerate for up to 6 hours till ready to cook.

Start the barbecue (remove grill or rack) and heat charcoal to 200 C-230 C / 400 F-450 F. Just before barbecuing, mix in salt, coriander leaves, garlic greens and onion (if you wish). Mix well by hand. Form 1 1/4"to 1 1/2" meatballs (mamna), using water on your hands to prevent the meat from sticking.

Put 10 meatballs on to each skewer, leaving enough room at the ends for placement on the rim of the barbeque (no grill is used). Press meatballs on to the skewer and press firmly at each end so that the meat does not fall off while cooking.

Place skewers on barbeque and cook for about 8 minutes, turning every 2 minutes or so, till light brown on all sides. Carefully lift each skewer off the grill.
Alternatively, cook mamna in a tray in an oven preheated to 200 C / 400 F for about 10 minutes.

Slide mamna off the skewers into a serving dish using a piece of rotli or bread. Serve hot with a wedge of lemon and dhanani or coriander chutney.

Serving Suggestions
Serve as a main dish -- simply add rotli and a salad or kachoomar. Roll chutney, salad and/or kachoomar and mamna in a rotli and serve as a wrap. Lightly pan-fry a sliced onion in oil, add leftover mamna and heat through. Serve with rotli or naan.

Note: Cooked mamna freeze well for up to a week. Defrost and heat in a microwave oven before serving.

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