Fried bread with pea filling
There is the black dress and there is the PJ. It is customary to have two names in India. The one from the birth certificate, is the official name. There is one more name, which is used only at home, by close friends and family, kind of the “PJ” of names, if you will. One cannot address elders by either of the two names though! A generic uncle leaves so many questions unanswered. So kaku is dad’s brother, mamu is mum’s brother. Bawro, Mejo, Shejo if it is eldest, second or third. If that option runs out, we can use some special attribute of the person, Bhalo mamu; good uncle. It can be his work like, Daktar kaku; physician uncle. It can even be the place where he or she lives. Londoner Pishi, Kolkatar Dida. Dad’s sister who is from London or granma who lives in Kolkata.
I had a Kolkatar Dida. My Kolkatar Dida. She was my Dida and not. She wasn’t my mum’s mother. She was her Mamima, her mum’s brother’s wife to be exact. ‘ Dekho, bhitore jeno hawa na thake’, make sure there is no air left inside. She used to remind me, while stuffing the Kochuri. Her deft fingers moving swiftly, measuring the exact amount of filling everytime and stuffing them, all the while, her gaze fixed on my novice hand. The winter in Kolkata would see fresh peas in the grocery stores. There were many fond memories made, helping Dida make Kochuris.
Proud to be the first Bengali women trained Librarian, she treated the spice cabinet of her kitchen or the credenza in the dining room the same as the books in her library at work. The turmeric jar could always be found on the third rack, second place from left. You could pick the tea cozy from the top right drawer of the credenza blindfolded.
She seemed to have solutions to everything. Moving to the big Metropolis of Kolkata from a little town with only a single traffic light, I was always scared that I couldn’t find my way around. “Keep your eyes on the store signboards along the way, they have the adresses clearly written”, she said. Trivial as it may sound today, it used to be a challenge back then. The daily commute to University from Dida’s house used to take a good three quarters of an hour by the city bus, in rush hour. “Office time” as they called it. I learnt that Gariahat road turned into Rashbihari Avenue, Southern Avenue joined the Aushutosh Mukherjee road.
Weekends would be spent enjoying good food or movie. If that meant we had to travel all the way to the north side of the city to ‘Putiram’s’, to enjoy their famous sweets, so be it. An Uttam-Suchitra movie, ( romantic Bengali star duo ), had to be seen. A Bengali woman should be perfectly adept to discuss the the latest live theatre production of Tripti Mitra, to learning the subtleties of a Bengali kitchen. It didn’t matter if your course work was due the next week. Being a well rounded person was far more important to her than a geek.
I was in Kolkata last year about this time, after a few years. It was the same familiar place.
The boxy yellow cabs, the new bridge over the river ‘Ganga’, the neon pink Bougainvellias draping the whitewashed walls of my Dida’s house, the canopy of green leaves every which way your eyes could see.
The unfamiliarity inside the house was striking. While I sat in the drawing room , it felt like Dida was busy in the kitchen, when I walked in the bedroom , it felt Dida would emerge from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her long hair. She didn’t. My Kolkatar Dida is no more.
Recipe: Makes ten kochuris
For the filling,
Frozen peas One cup measure. Thawed.
Ginger Three quarter inch.
Green chillies Two, use your discretion
Asafoetida One quarter of a tsp
Salt to taste
For the bread ( dough or shell ):
All purpose flour or Maida One and half cup
Canola oil One Tbsp for the dough. More for frying.
Salt One quarter tsp.
Grind the peas , ginger and chillies together using very little water. Put a nonstick pan on medium high heat. Add two tsps canola oil. When hot, throw in the Asafoetida. Stir for half a minute, there’ll be a nutty aroma. Add the ground filling mixture . Saute till there is no water left behind and the colour has changed to a hint of brown. Put the gas off, and keep it aside to cool. Make small balls when you can handle them.
For the shell,
Combine the flour, salt and oil in a bowl and mix with fingers untill it feels crumbly, like making a pastry dough. Mix water a bit at a time to make a firm dough. Divide into small balls. Cover with a wet towel, let it rest for half hour.
To assemble, take a dough flatten it between the palm of your hands to about an inch and a half in diameter. With the first finger and thumb of your right hand, pinch the edge all the way, to make it thinner. Cup the left hand with the flattened dough in it and seat the filller in. Seal the edges of the pastry, start with right hand side using the first finger and thumb again slowly moving to the left, making sure there is no air trapped in. Give a good round shape and let it rest for a few minutes. Sprinkle a few drops of oil on the countertop, to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Flatten the filled dough using both hands so that you have to roll less. Now carefully roll it into a round shape about two and a half inch in diameter. Deep fry both sides, till very light yellow colour. Collect them on paper towels to get rid of the extra oil.
Serve them with any light vegetable. Aloor dawm, (recipe coming later), is the dish of choice. In my household, we prefer with pickles or with no side at all.
It does need some practise, to roll them into perfect circles, just like anything else. Please do not get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time.
There are many variations to the filling, we like with minimum spices to get the sweet taste of peas as is.
I used frozen peas for convenience. In Dida’s house we shelled the fresh peas then steamed them.
I usually keep it for my cheat days. Can’t avoid deep fried stuff altogether, can we?