Saturday, January 15, 2011

Karachi Food Diaries Day 30 - 31 (Sauteed greens, saag)

January 5 2011 Wednesday, Day 30- My sister left to go back to London today and I am also heading back in two days. Feeling a little gloomy and sad to be at the end of this lovely trip, my mother and I stepped out for lunch. Koel is an eatery tucked away in the leafy, luminous garden of an art gallery. Languid frangipani trees lead into an oasis of south Asian regional food.

Appetizer was dhokla; a Gujrati snack made from fermented chickpea flour. Delicate and fluffy topped with a piquant chutney, it hit the spot. For lunch, I ordered a kulcha sandwich. This is a modern take on an old Punjabi specialty. The bread dough is traditionally flavored with onions and potatoes and various herbs and spices and then baked. Mine had a hint of tarragon. For the filling, I went simple and chose tomato, paneer (mild desi cheese) and basil. It came with spicy tomato chutney. Being greedy, I also asked for a side spinach chutney. It was lovely!
I spent my last night in Karachi with some friends. It seemed that I was generating some good culinary karma, my friend had ordered Captain Saleem's crabs!

When in high school or on vacation from college, crabbing used to be a wildly popular Karachi pasttime. We would be rowed out in a rental boat by fishermen, away from the Kaemari harbor and into the moonlit sea, drop line, catch crabs and eat onboard. The food was cooked over an open fire. I have not had more delicious crabs anywhere else. The spice rub recipe was deeply guarded. One of the pioneers in the industry was Captain Saleem. His crabs were the most delectable. As his fame grew, it assumed mythical proportions. Every fisherman would answer to his name when called and no-one really knew what he looked like. The only way you could distinguish the man from the impostors was the higher price he charged, not a very good method. Saleem, ever the smart entrepreneur, decided to distinguish his business and make his mark directly in the homes of his customers. He started a catering business where his team would come and cook in your kitchen. So, that is how I found myself enjoying this treasured delicacy from my childhood in a wonderful and comfortable setting and I can truly attest that the Captain has not lost his magic touch!

January 6 2011 Thursday, Day 31- My last day in Karachi. I am going to miss this precious city and my friends and family immensely. As a befitting farewell meal, I had the loveliest home-cooked lunch. It was simple as can be; khichri, saag (a sauteed spinach and mustard greens dish) and lots of shaljam ka achaar. Heavenly. Eaten in the veranda in the company of my loved ones, I could not have asked for more. Farewell my beautiful, sad city. Till the next time.

Saag is a quintessential and rustic Punjabi dish. It makes the most divine combination with makki ki roti (indian cornbread). Chop up 1 bunch of spinach and 1 bunch mustard greens. Combine with 2 chopped green chillies, 1 tbsp. ground ginger and 1 tbsp. ground garlic. Heat some salted water in a pot (about a cup as the vegetables will also release water), add the greens and cook till wilted. Remove and cool. Roughly mash. In a separate pan, heat oil and add 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds. As they sizzle, add one medium chopped onion and fry till golden. To this add, 1 tsp. coriander powder, 1 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. garam masala and 1 tbsp. chickpea flour. Keep frying till nicely mixed. When the oil starts to separate from the spices, add the greens and cook till all the liquid evaporates. Squeeze the juice on 1 lemon, mix and serve.

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