Of food and conventions and how the world eats…

…she serves herself a mound of rice.

Then pours in a couple of teaspoons of ghee.

Sambar follows.

Rasam is next in the queue.

Then some vegetables on top.

Then a perugu pachadi (yogurt-based chutney/thayir pachadi).

Then another kind of chutney.

Then a cupful of yogurt on top of all this. I watch in fascinated horror as the yogurt trickles down what is fast beginning to resemble a landfill mountain!

But she’s not done yet – she plonks down a fiery red piece of avakai (mango pickle) where the crater of the volcano is beginning to form and balances an appadam (poppadum) delicately on top.

Then to add an almost impossible element, she puts a laddoo (a sweet, very sweet item) on top of the appadam.

She then plunges her fingers right down to the heart of the volcano and mixes up the whole thing and proceeds to eat every last bit – evidently with great enjoyment!

The creator of this rather innovative way of eating a full Indian thaali is a guest – a young Indian girl who’s grown up outside India and has no patience to sit through what a thaali meal really is all about – twelve or more courses! She’s found a solution – which would horrify all purists and small children (none more purist, I assure you!) but which seems to work for her!

This was way back in the seventies when young India was still being raised with a million strictures ranging from everything to everything else – what time you should get up (early, earlier and earliest being the formula!), what you should do immediately after that. DO NOT, under pain of things-worse-than-death open your mouth till you’ve brushed your teeth (I still can’t, btw – open my mouth to say hello to anyone without brushing!) How you should bathe, write, eat – thaali food being always served in a particular order in a particular direction and so on and so forth – you get it? Your life was regulated! And so, to see someone eating with such gay abandon and disregard of every rule in the gustatory book – was seriously liberating! I obviously tried it at the very next meal but being a purist even then – gagged on the mixture!

But that young girl, let’s call her G – taught me a thing or two about examining convention – I was never so willing to accept ‘things’ after that!

A couple of days ago, at a Mexican diner, I watched the buildup of a similar meal for our takeaway – a burrito bowl. Having lunched on a very forgettable bagel (see yesterday’s post on how to give it a makeover!) and blessed with genes which do not let me forget that they, along with the rest of the cells in my body, were formed by rice, I was pining for any rice based number! Arch suggests a Chipotle joint. Am quite fascinated by how things are piled one on top of the other and quite looking forward to eating it – hoping that it will not be a repeat of the disastrous Indian thaali scramble!

It is truly rather delicious. I can’t resist doing a bit of a makeover on it in my mind – add a bit of mint here, a wee teaspoon of minced green chili, half a teaspoon of jaggery to balance out the salt and so on – hey, I am a self-respecting cook and believe I can improve almost anything with maybe the exception of some of those Swiss chocolates! But will stick with the original here! I am leaving out the chapati wrap because I wanted only rice!

BURRITO BOWL

FOR THE RICE

  • Cooked white rice (any short-grained non-sticky rice like samba or ponni or Warangal mussoorie is good for this) – 2 cups
  • Chopped coriander – 2 tbsp
  • Zest of lime – 1 tbsp

Toss all together with a tsp of olive oil and set aside.

FOR THE BEANS

  • Black beans or pinto beans or rajma/red kidney beans -1 cup – cooked
  • Garlic – chopped – 1/2 tsp
  • Chili powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Green chili – minced – 1
  • Ground cumin/jeera – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Jaggery or sugar ( sorry, cannot resist!) – 1/2 tsp
  • Any souring agent – tamarind paste – 1/4 tsp or dried mango powder – 1/2 tsp

Add everything and bring to a boil.

FOR THE TOMATO AND CORN SALSA

  • Chopped tomato – 1/2 cup
  • Boiled sweet corn – 1/2 cup
  • Minced garlic – 1 flake
  • Salt
  • A generous pinch of sugar
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Chopped mint – 1 tbsp
  • Minced green chili – 1/2

Mix it all up.

FOR THE FAJITA VEGETABLES

  • Mixed coloured capsicum – 1 ┬ácup
  • Chopped onion – 1/2 cup
  • Eggplant – cubed – 1/4 cup
  • Tomato – chopped – 1/2 cup
  • Garlic – 1 flake – minced
  • Chili pwd – 1/4 tsp
  • Sugar – 1/4 tsp
  • Oil – 1 tsp

Heat oil, fry the onions a bit, add the rest of the vegetables and seasonings and cook till tender.

FOR THE GUACAMOLE

  • 1 cup avocado – chunked
  • Garlic – 1 flake
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Salt and pepper

Mash it up!

EXTRAS

Shredded lettuce, sour cream and shredded cheese – any mild-ish cheese – Monterey Jack.

So take a long dish (looks better!), layer rice at bottom and add beans, fajita veggies, salsa and guacamole. Top off with lettuce, cream and or cheese – I would prefer to leave the out – in the interests of taste!