Secrets from Aai's kitchen
Mothers and daughters work well as teams. Ask Usha Gupte and Swati Gupte Bhise, who wrote Aai's Recipes: A Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP) Cookbook. This title is an eye-opener into the culinary traditions and recipes of this Maharashtrian community. The daughter, Swati Gupte Bhise, takes us on a homely kitchen tour to tell us more about the CKP and their gastronomical journeys
How did this book take shape?
In the past two years, unknowingly, I had begun to formulate Aai’s Recipes. My mother was turning 80 this year, and I wanted to give her a meaningful gift. It began with Aai (Marathi: mother) writing out my favourite recipes, which she believed could be followed by my daughter Devika, who is 21, and born and bred in the US. When I asked my daughter to type out all her Aaji’s (Marathi: grandma’s) recipes, we discovered that she wasn’t able to understand some of the terminology. She re-wrote those to make it easily understandable to readers from the Western world. That’s how the the book emerged in its current form. Another factor that inspired the book was the stream of visitors — Asian-American and Indian — who would visit our home in Goa and savour this cuisine. Many were hoteliers or food and wine connoisseurs. They would remark about how they had never tasted this cuisine and and wanted to know if it was freely available, or if my mother or I could teach their chefs to include these dishes on their restaurant menus. I took it for granted all my life and assumed that everybody had access to this cuisine. This feedback made me turn this project from a private family book into one to be put into public domain, as a resource for future generations.
Could you give us a brief background about the CKPs?
Historically, the Kayasthas lived in the Indus Valley and are considered to be descendants of King Chandrasena. Hence, they are called Chandraseniya. According to legend, his progeny were spared only if they vowed to put down the sword in favour of the pen. So, throughout history, CKPs have traditionally been scribes and historians. They are a special scholarly caste bestowed with Brahmin status and reinforced by the addition of the word ‘Prabhu’, which means supreme or powerful.
Can you tell us about the culinary traditions?
Our culinary traditions include the use of spices like saffron and poppy seeds, which had its origins in Kashmir and before that, the Indus Valley plains. They continued to acquire additions to the spice bowl as the community migrated from North India to Madhya Pradesh, and to coastal Maharashtra.
From northern India, they included thick gravies and meats, from mutton (goat) to organ meats. From the Konkan, which they now call home, they used coastal crops like mango, coconut and red chilli and copious amounts of fresh fish and shellfish.
Do you believe that CKPs are moving away from traditional cooking ways?
As time goes by, there will always be changes in culture, heritage, arts and cuisine . What we call tradition today could have already been adapted and changed several generations ago. For example, the stone in many homes meant to grind spices has given way to the mixer. Fast food has replaced the aromas of Chimbhori Cha Kaalvan (Crab Curry / see recipe), which I remember, would waft through my grandmother’s home in Dadar’s Shivaji Park. Microwaves are used nowadays to reheat food that makes shrimp turn rubbery and the fish dry. Families eat out more and above all, women don’t get time or chose to not spend it in the kitchen. There were larger families earlier, with more hands to help and more mouths
What separates CKP cuisine from the rest of Maharashtrian cuisine? Why is it unique?
There are several Maharashtrian communities like Saraswat, Gaud Saraswat, Pathare Prabhu and Konkanast Brahman. They all have amazing cuisine, especially the Saraswat community. But the CKP cuisine cooks dishes like Brain Cutlets, Dry Liver (organ meats) and they even turn vegetarian dishes like Mehti and Shopu Dill into unique dishes by throwing in baby shrimps or dry shrimps like Soday. The community also cooks with Goda Masala, which is made from 24 spices blended into one. This is unique to CKP kitchens. The flavour of this spice comes from the way it is prepared. Each ingredient must be roasted, separately in very little oil and then ground together into a fine powder. As it is time-consuming, a large amount is made and stored at home (not for long periods as the taste diminishes) but is shared with other family members
Vaadhni (ceremony of serving)
The Thali or plate is a steel tray on which meals are presented. Each region has its own recipe that dictates where and in what order each of the foods should be placed on the thali. The vaadhni or ceremony of serving is a disappearing art but remains important to the vital tradition of meal preparation.
Cook it up, CKP style
Cooking in iron and copper pots is supposed to be more beneficial for health. Some ingredients used for CKP recipes include coconut, tamarind, jaggery, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg and amsul (dried outer covering of the fruit of the kokum tree, native to the West coast of India).
Recipe for Chimbhori cha Kaalvan (Crab curry)
4 large crabs
4 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup dried coconut
1 cup onion, cubed
1 one-inch cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
Green coriander for garnish
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons red chili powder
4 teaspoons black pepper powder
3 teaspoons coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste
Wash well and scrub with a toothbrush to remove dirt from the shell.
Separate the two large claws from the body. Separate the tiny legs and remove the nail-like ends from the legs. Remove the lower part of the shell and the tiny bag of dirt from inside the crab’s lower part.
In a pan, add a few drops of oil and roast 1/2 cup of grated coconut until pink or light brown. Remove from pan and keep aside. Again add a few drops of oil and 1/2 cup of the onion. Roast them until pink or light brown.
Remove and keep aside. Again add a few drops of oil and roast the cloves, cinnamon stick and 10 to 12 peppercorns for 10 to 20 seconds and remove. Mix all roasted ingredients together and make a paste in a blender. Keep aside.
1. Prepare the tadka by putting the oil in a pot on medium heat. After the oil smokes, add asafoetida and 8 to 10 crushed peppercorns. Add 1 cup onion. Stir onion until it turns light pink or light brown. Add crab and the masala (but not the roasted spice paste) and mix well. Add 4 cups of water. The water should just cover the crabs. Let boil, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes. Cover and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat.
2. Take the crab legs and grind in a blender with 1/2 cup of water. Let the pureed liquid stand for a minute. Strain the liquid carefully and add to the curry. Let it boil for 5 minutes.
3. Add the roasted spices paste to the curry and bring to boil uncovered. As soon as it boils it is ready to serve.
4. Garnish with green coriander and serve.