Last month, I wrote my first Marathi food article for a leading Marathi daily, Loksatta. For those of you who wrote in and called with such encouraging feedback, thank you! Here’s the translated article for those of you who don’t read Marathi. (And here’s the link to the original article.)
On a bored evening in 2008, when I was newly married to a financial analyst who kept late hours at work, I discovered the magical world of food blogging. It soon became an addiction–once I was back from work, I would spend hours browsing through these web pages of gorgeous recipes and jaw-droppingly beautiful pictures, dreaming up recipes to cook. I was cooking since I was 12 and already had a reputation of buying cookbooks and reading them in bed like most people read novels. But it took this enchanting forest of food blogs to tell me to have a go at writing about food as well. I was suddenly in a wonderland of adjectives that I had used so often but was now discovering the true meaning of. Who would have known then that I would eventually switch to food writing as a full-time profession!
It is cliché to say that we eat with our eyes first. People who take the pains to make their food look appetizing deserve those extra marks. As I read more about food and looked a little closer at the beautiful food styling and photography on blogs and in cookbooks, I realized there was much more than one could do than just sprinkling coconut and coriander on a dish. As time passed by, I learnt more about the variety of colors and textures in food and began “styling” my dishes or cooking them with the intention of achieving a particular visual result. Colors, textures, seasons and time of day began dictating my cooking, and I would spend hours planning the entire process of cooking, taking pictures, and writing about the dish on the blog. My husband, always the encouraging factor in my life, soon bought me a camera—a point and shoot, which I used to take pictures of anything and everything that I cooked or bought at the market. Today, I use a DSLR and spend relatively lesser time fussing about the composition but am always just as excited to take pictures and write about something I made.
I believe everything we eat has a story behind it—you just have to spend a moment to acknowledge it. Whenever I cook something, my mind is always flooded by memories associated with it—every time I cut open a raw mango, I am always, always reminded of how cool the flooring of my aunt’s Belgaum house felt after a hot morning of picking the raw mangoes that fell off the tree. Sometimes, a passing aroma makes me want to jump up and buy juicy, smooth-skinned Indian lemons to make lemonade of. The point, however, remains that food is not just about gluttony; it is about a life experience and so, food writing cannot simply be about the food itself—it has to have a story and it has to be so visually evocative that it takes the reader to a new place and puts such flavors on his/her tongue that even if they are reading your piece in the bus on the way back home from work, they can taste the dish exactly the way you do.
As I sat thinking about all this on a quiet, sunny morning, I saw a couple of women putting out freshly rolled papads to dry on wicker baskets. Such an everyday thing for us Indians—summer brings with it the making of sundried pickles, papads, curd chilies, Punjabi badis, Gujarati styled dried tender cluster beans, etc. And yet, when we hear of the western sundried tomatoes, we think of something expensive and exotic. For the past two years, I have been making my own, and they are ridiculously easy and extremely fulfilling to make at home. They just need a little patience and a lot of sunlight—once they’re ready, they can add immense value to anything from salads, pizzas, and pastas to breads, hummus, and dips. Friends I have gifted jarfuls of these to have even popped them as a snack and loved their sweet and sour chewiness. Today, I tossed them in some bread with a little bit of garlic and thyme, and am eating it warm slathered with butter as I write this!
To make the sundried tomatoes, you will need:
- 2 cups of cherry tomatoes (or regular tomatoes, cut into small pieces)
- 1 and ½ tbsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. olive oil
- Halve the cherry tomatoes and rub them with the salt and 2 tbsp. of olive oil.
- Place on a tray, cut side up. Leave out in strong sunlight for 3-4 days until they are completely dry.
- Store in a jar with the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil.
Tip: Just to make sure the tomatoes are completely dry, leave them in a cool oven (about 120 degrees centigrade) for an hour on the last day. This also works if you live in a place with little sunlight.
To make the sundried tomato bread, you will need:
- 250 gms. flour
- 1 tbsp. fresh yeast (or 1 and ½ tbsp. dried yeast)
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 handful sundried tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. thyme, chopped
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- Place the yeast and sugar in a bowl and pour over the lukewarm water. Leave in a warm place (next to the stove or on top of a preheating oven) for about 10 minutes and allow to ferment.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the flour and add the yeast mixture. Knead to a soft dough.
- Mix the olive oil and salt together and work into the dough until it feels silky.
- Roll into a ball, cover with a damp cloth or plastic and keep in a warm place for 15-20 minutes until it doubles in size.
- When it doubles in size, punch it and knead the dough again. Flatten the dough slightly and sprinkle the tomatoes, garlic, and thyme on it. Roll up lightly and form into one large or two small balls/loaves.
- Place the dough on a greased and dusted baking sheet. Make 2-3 cuts on the top of the loaf using a very sharp knife. Allow to rise again for about 15-20 minutes.
- Sprinkle the loaf with some water and bake for 25-30 minutes in a preheated oven at 200 degrees centigrade.
- When done, the bread should be golden brown on top sand should sound hollow when tapped.
- As soon as you pull it out of the oven, brush with a little olive oil. This makes the crust soft and shiny.
- Slice when cooled and eat with pasta or on its own, slathered with butter or dipped in good quality olive oil!