These are unbelievable times for sure – unprecedented and replete with problems. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on hapless victims – both the young and old, alike. We are all in a jail while the animals are out enjoying nature, without any human interference. Never before have we had such forced holidays! Yes, we would have been happy if the lockdown wasn’t there and we were free to enjoy. But life has its own plans.

If you look at the positive side, though, this is a wonderful chance for us to accomplish things in a creative manner –  to do something out of the box. And that is exactly what my Jal Pari chef is doing these days – using this time to embark on some more culinary adventures. She is busy inventing a few unique recipes and cooking processes. With much more time in her hands presently, she has been churning out some delectable recipes.

The Jal Pari way of boiling milk

A unique innovation indeed by Chef Jalpari – even the time-tested pasteurisation takes a back seat, here. In Jalpari’s version, you need to add 750 ML of RO water to one litre of fresh milk – whole milk lacks water you see, so you need to add in 75 per cent more to replenish and strengthen the poor milk! You need to then place it on simmer and let it to boil, for a long time.

So, I anxiously wait for my morning cuppa milk with honey and cinnamon, topped with chia seeds. After an hour and a half, I throw my now-familiar sad look at the beautiful Jalpari chef. “Anna, what’s the big hurry, let the milk come to a boil through my unique sim – sim cooking. Let those horrible Coronas die a slow and painful death. They deserve it. If I boil it on high flame, they just die in a flash. I want them to feel the torture and agony of slow death, much like how they are causing innocent humans.” She said with a vengeance.

I could only let out a meek sigh, longing for that cuppa. I did agree with the logic, but not at the extent of slow simmering the milk to the boiling point. Anyway, the watered down milk would cool down, by the time it finally reached me.

Last Sunday, she made a speciality biryani in her unique sim-sim technique. The slow flame took its own sweet time – just a couple of hours to cook the well-watered biryani rice with tender, fresh chicken. Voila. After eons, the nice bisibele bath-style Hyderabad biryani was ready. It was quite appetizing with watery chicken florets floating gamely along with clumps of rice. Grin and eat is my new mantra. I happen to have perfected it with my solid experience of handling Jal paris.

Green Cucumber Curry (Not in a hurry)

“Anna, dosakaya kurry chala bavuntundhi. (Cucumber curry would be so yummy, trust me). You see, cucumber by nature is full of the goodness of water. We should add some more water for the pieces to soak in and let them float up. Then simmer it for some time and add some exotic spices to the masala paste after grinding them,” she declared.

The smells wafted. Star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. A dash of desiccated coconut was thrown in. “Sharada, can I suggest that you add a pinch of saffron to give it an Aussie angle?” My classmate, chef Ajoy from our hotel management days had gifted me the amazing condiment recently. “He runs several successful Nilgiris restaurants in Sydney,” I added.

“He seems to be a talented chef like me. I am sure that he is very generous with water in all his recipes. Yes, we can add the saffron to our dish, it will flavour the water instantly and bring out the aromas.” She agreed, wisely,” Just a wee bit of saffron to be added, never anything in excess. It will spoil the taste. Of course – the only exception is aqua. Water is universal, all pervasive in our cooking.” Amen.

When the dish was presented in her typical signature style, I could see roundels of green cucumber with a reddish tinge, the only noticeable difference was the absence of the famous Corona spores – which have become a house hold antihero, of late.

Karela Dal

During my Welcome group days, Chef Imtiaz Quershi was well known for his Dal Bukhara. It was expertly made with the help of a secret recipe – slow cooking overnight. The guests used to eat out of his hands, making him an overnight millionaire chef. The texture was so smooth and the taste to die for.

Now decades later, he has serious competition from our Chef – the Jal Pari.  Karela dal is her new weapon against the dal Bukhara. Who can beat a Jal Pari at her own swimming and aqua cooking techniques? Her bitter gourd dal is unique; all the bitterness goes in the slow cooking in gallons of water, process.

The bitter gourd soon turns into jelly and jujubes. The dal is soft and supple; the bitter gourd takes the flavour from the dal. A khichdi kind of texture is left. Light on the tongue and mellow on the teeth.

In Telugu, we call it kandi mudda pappu – a mixture that is used in so many ways – as filling in puran poli (Holige), for instance. In the dal, it bonds so well with the bitter gourd, relieving it of its bitter nature. While the goodness of nutrition is preserved, the dal acts as great camouflage agent.

“As a child, I hated bitter gourd, now I love it,” she says, triumphantly. Well, I dare not give my humble feedback on this karela delicacy. Who knows, I may not get my next dinner. So, I just venture to say, “I don’t want any other heaven, its right here in the karela dal and cucumber curry. “

Veggies wash – uptight and tight

Jal Pari is an expert when it comes to washing food, especially grains and vegetables. She gives them a thorough shower scrub, each of their molecules getting rinsed, inside out. Thank God, rice grains are too many to wash individually.  However, if time had permitted she would have done that as well, washing and talking to each grain as though they had a life.

Her technique is morsel by morsel cleaning. She takes each fist of rice which is already swimming in a deep tub, smiles at them and reverently squeezes them, slowly massaging the clumps of rice and gently dropping them into a clean bowl. “See Anna, they need to have a complete bath just like us. I take my own sweet time for bathing, at least an hour. See my skin, you would agree that’s its glowing. The same treatment needs to be given to our food.” I shake my head in that familiar manner and she is happy with my certificate. Lord Indra, the rain God smiles in heaven and all is well.

The veggies have a different story to tell before they jump into the cook pot, though. “We see more water at your home, than in our entire life spent on plants. You can call us aqua fresh, rather than garden fresh! We are left to swim in plastic tubs, courtesy corona fear. Next is the famous Turkish Hamam bath with loads of sanitiser. We then go through a second rinse with the ethnic shikakai suds. Our skin glistens with each energetic rub and one can even see our delicate veins surfacing. We are then plunged into a warm water bowl with a saline solution. Finally, we see the sharp knife raised, ready to plunge into our tender guts. Chop, chop she goes.” The veggies seem to be talking to me thus.

With a great relish, Jal Pari now places the cubes into a clean vessel, simmering away. The erstwhile tough veggies turn into jellies as our Jal Pari continues her cooking…

Cooking for Kronus and Kresida

I invited my architect friend Gomati from our Singapore project, for dinner recently. She has two kids and was planning to visit the city to meet her elder sister. From the time I mentioned it, Jal Pari was excited about the visit. I tried calming her down, but her excitement knew no bounds. “I really want to offer her such fascinating food that she will never forget the taste of my food for life!” She said, all excitedly.

This sentence, though, is very familiar – she means it for every single guest and goes overboard with her love and affection. “Don’t you worry about the menu and the arrangements, it’s still over a week away from now,” I told her calmly. She reeled off a few sets of classical menus – Tamil, Telugu, Mangalorean. To finalise from the long list would a mammoth effort. We decided on Tamil cuisine three days prior to Gomati’s arrival. She was coming from Cuddalore, her maternal home.

The D-day arrived. The elegant chef made some mouth-watering delicacies for the evening – needlessly to mention they were well hydrated. Mutton varuval, Karaikudi khozhi (with a tinge of Andhra spices as a special effect), keerai kootu, Chennai paruppu rasam and many more. She expertly made the karuvadu kuzhambu with mochakottai, Gomati’s all time fav dish. There were only smiles, oohs and ahhs. Jal Pari enjoyed the praises she was getting for her culinary skills.

Sharada stood next to the new aquarium just gifted by Gomati. The cute aquarium had lively plants, snails and volcanic rocks giving it a very special ambience. “Anna, these glow fish are so cute, but look so famished, shall I feed them with our keerai kootu?” she asked. “Oh no, don’t you worry, they eat only small fish food, not our food, especially your generous food… there is already enough water in the aquarium.”

Sharadha then took the aquarium inside and retuned after few minutes, happily. All the plants, snails and rocks were gone. “See, I cleaned all the katchra (dirt) and kept only the water, those poor fish were suffocating! Now they are swimming in more water than before.” Oh God! I could see a tsunami emerging on Gomati’s face!

The delightful payasam served was a blessing in disguise, though the kids were still giggling over the fish tank episode. They demanded butterscotch ice cream on the dish! I have never heard of such a request, but I guess odd things happen to taste buds, courtesy our Pari’s techniques. Promptly she served them, and paused to ask them their names.

“My name is Kronus and I am studying in class four.” The little boy with curls replied. She then looked at the cute six-year-old girl and enquired sweetly. “My name is Kresida and I am studying in class 1. I love putting on makeup any time of the day!” she declared. We all had a hearty laugh – beauty queen in the making.

I then noticed a bewildered look flash across Sharada’s face. This vanished in a couple of seconds and she got her normal look again. I knew that some strange thought had crossed her mind and hoped that she would not blurt out something atrocious. Thankfully she didn’t. But I knew it would come later for sure.

After some more laughter and fun, it was time for fond good byes. Jal Pari kissed the kids and waved goodbye. I was relaxing over a Lonely Planet coffee table book. “See Anna,” she started, scratching her delicate head. I smiled and said. Shoot. “That Gomati madam, why couldn’t she name her lovely children something else, rather than Coronus and Cresinus. After those horrible wire-less devils. There are so many beautiful names, I would not even mind if she had named them, Tommy, Timmy or Jimmy like we call our pets…”

My expression would have told her a million stories, but she quickly went away still confused, muttering …. “Hmm Coranas it seems.”


Venu Rao

Peacock Hospitality

17th April 20.

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  1. Dharmendra Vats says:

    Good one Sir

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