It’s a mellow spring morning. Winter has retired, the early morning melancholy mists over the grey-green Kushiara have given way to gorgeous honey sunshine. The plaintive strains of the cuckoo are back.
One weekend morning, Manikkaka offers to take Dada and me to his village. He has some work, shall return by mid morning at the latest, he assures Grandma. It’s a brisk half an hour by walk, he then turns towards us and warns, are you sure you can walk that far ?
Any outing is a welcome adventure for us. Of course we can, we respond in exuberant enthusiasm.
So off we head for Manikkaka’s village. Soon leave the still sleepy town center and the lazy river behind.
Past verdant mango orchards in glorious blossom.
Gnarled guava trees drilled by industrious woodpeckers.
Disciplined rows of banana plantations. Laden with fruit. Wrapped in nondescript gunny sacks. Off the radar of mischievous monkeys looking for a feast.
Scarecrows dressed in scruffy trousers and sun-bleached unkempt shirts.
Beehives abuzz with manic activity.
Mazes of cobweb. Flirting unabashedly with streaks of the truant sun.
Bubbling streams eager to meet the lazy river. Look at that, Manikkaka points to me and Dada, a kingfisher. Perched pretty on a transmission line.
Expanses of stark emptiness.
We reach the village.
Ancient ladies sit outside a temple weaving jasmine garlands. Lotus buds, yet to bloom, stand waist-deep in water in battered aluminum buckets. A small congregation of believers huddle round the sanctum.
The chai shop is brewing the first pot of tea for the day, an ageless saucepan sits patiently on a kerosene stove long past its proud prime.
Village elders sit on two rickety benches outside the shop discussing politics and football. The newspaper gets passed around.
Whys the tea so late today ? I hear one grandfather grumble.
It doesn’t take too long for Manikkaka to get done with his commitments.
Have you ever been to a cabbage field ? He asks. No, we respond in unison.
A couple of minutes of walk, past houses adorned with intricate alpanas on their mud-washed walls, vines of bottlegourd and garrulous hen coops, and we are there.
As far as we can see, stretching to the distant horizons, where the pastel blue sky meets the gorgeous green earth, are disciplined rows of cabbage. In every shade of green we could ever visualize.
Dada attempts to count, gets confused mid-way, starts afresh, it again gets muddled up. Finally he gives up.
I stalk a pretty ladybird as she flits playfully from cabbage to cabbage.
The owner of the cabbage farm sees Manikkaka from a distance and walks over to exchange pleasantries. He’s been happy with the cabbage crop this season. And prays to the Almighty that the monsoons are bountiful.
Just as we are about to leave, he returns with a cabbage and hands it over to Dada. This is for you and my princess, he smiles.
We return home with the cabbage.
Such a beauty, Grandma remarks, it needs to be a Chal Bandhakopir Ghonto today to do justice to such fresh produce. God bless the man !!
So Maa cooks a delectable Chal Bandhakopir Ghonto with the cabbage we return with.
Decades before crass consumerism led to the irresponsible usage of toxics sprayed to our fruits and vegetables to boost produce. Going organic was hip. And Farm to Fork was lingo to flaunt.
Chal Bandhakopir Ghonto. Finely shredded cabbage. Fragrant gobindobhog rice. A throw of peas. The warmth of ginger. The perfume of spices. Yet another divine delicacy from the kitchen of the Tagores.
Chal Bandhakopir Ghonto (Cabbage with Fragrant Rice)
- 1 small cabbage finely chopped (thick outer leaves discarded)
- 1 cup gobindobhog rice
- 1 tomato finely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh green peas
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp ginger finely chopped
- 3-4 green chilies slit
- 1 tbsp raisins
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- a pinch of asafoetida or hing
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 1-2 cloves
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 11/2 tbsp mustard oil
- 11/2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Soak the chopped cabbage in boiling hot water with just a little salt for 10 odd minutes. Squeeze out the water, keep aside.
- Soak the raisins in water, keep aside.
- Heat 2 tsp oil in pan, add the hing and allow to splutter. Add the rice and saute till it turns light brown and starts to release its aroma. Remove from oil, keep aside.
- Add the remaining oil to the same pan, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, crushed cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, allow the spices to splutter.
- When the spices start to release their fragrance, throw in the chopped tomatoes, add the chopped ginger and a sprinkle of salt, saute for a 2-3 odd minutes.
- Now add the ginger paste, turmeric powder, cumin powder and red chili powder, cook for 5 odd minutes till the tomatoes are cooked and oil starts to release from the masala.
- Add the rice, 1/4 cup of warm water, mix well, cover and cook till the rice is about 50% cooked and the water has almost dried up.
- Now add the cabbage, peas and green chillies, sprinkle in the sugar, saute for a further 5 minutes. Splash a little water if it is getting a bit too dry.
- Continue to cook till the rice and cabbage are perfectly cooked. Take care that neither the rice nor the cabbage turn mushy.
- Throw in the soaked raisins, give it a hearty mix.
- Adjust seasonings. Finish with a hearty dollop of ghee and a generous pinch of garam masala powder.
- Serve hot.