Its the fourth morning of the lockdown.
The tension in the air is palpable.
S and I are in the kitchen.
I am fussing over the bottlegourd peels, that at Maa’s behest I didn’t trash yesterday.
S sips his coffee. A smile of contentment on his face.
In my grandmother’s kitchen, S wallows in sweet nostalgia, nothing ever went waste. Peels. Stalks. Leaves. Nothing was discarded. Decades before nose to tail cooking became hip.
Same here, I admit, I sometimes wonder though how and why the tradition so prevalent in Bengali households even a couple of decades back faded into oblivion. When’s the last time we, for example, cooked with peels ?
That’s so very true. Has this got something to do, S reflects, with the indiscriminate spraying of crops with pesticides to pump up produce ? Communities just became paranoid cooking with peels and eventually discarded cooking with them altogether.
May be, I nod my head.
And what’s your favourite peel dish ? I ask S, digressing from the last topic.
Stir-fried potato peels with kalonji and green chillies. He answers in a blink. Don’t recollect when I last savoured that though. And yours ?
Lauer khosha bhaja. Sir-fried bottlegourd peels with loads of green chillies. I reply without so much as a thought.
Not surprised, S smiles.
And then almost as an afterthought, I continue, I even adored raw banana peels, boiled, mashed and served with a luxuriant drizzle of mustard oil and some wicked chillies.
And why just peels ?
Stalks of cauliflower inevitably made their way into ghonto, a medley of seasonal vegetables topped with a handful of crushed bori (sun-dried dumplings), did they not ?
And greens too.
A cauliflower greens chechki, the greens stir-fried with green peas, a hint of ginger and loads of love.
Or, a Sylhet-style mash of cauliflower greens, perfumed with ginger and finished with an abundance of chopped coriander leaves.
And who didn’t cherish the divine duo of radish greens and shrimps, S chips in.
The lauer khosha bhaja was wicked, brought back a flood of childhood memories and smiles on our faces.
I made a promise to myself to cook with peels more often.
And so the lockdown continues to impart invaluable life lessons, the most significant definitely being to respect Mother Nature and Her bountiful produce. And never take Her for granted ever again.
But did it really need such abject adversity for us to get it right ? I muse.
Lauer Khosha Bhaja (Stir-Fried Bottlegourd Peels)
- 1.5 cups of peels from 2 bottlegourds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- 2 dry red chilies
- 2 green chilies slit
- 1/2 tbsp mustard oil
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Julienne the bottlegourd peels.
- Heat mustard oil in a pan. When smoking hot, throw in the kalonji and red chillies, allow to splutter.
- Add the peels, sprinkle in the salt and turmeric powder, give it a hearty stir. Cook over a medium flame till the peels are tender. Splash a little water if it is getting a wee bit too dry.
- Throw in the green chillies, add the sugar. Cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.