Easter Five Ways: Stories from Indian Home Kitchens
Get, Set, Goa
As a newly-married Goan in the 90s, Sandra Sequeira started the routine of rustling up rootsy Easter spreads for her family of four. Sorpotel, made with Goan masala, pork blood, and little-not-too-much vinegar to distinguish it from its East Indian version; chicken cafreal, earthy green and aromatic; Portuguese-style pork sausages; Goan peas pulao, and crumbling white sannas (ground-rice cake) secured safe stations at the table. All family recipes from Assagao but for the wildcard—stuffed chicken. The chicken, dangerously packed and sewn up with trussing needles, owed its somewhat Western flavour to cookbooks come home from husband Richard’s voyages with the merchant navy. While the stuffing of ham, salami, liver, gizzard, peas, carrot, and deep-fried bread crumbs—dunked nice and spicy in a green chilli paste—can be linked with the dish’s annual success, Sandra maintains the trick is to “baste repeatedly, so the skin doesn’t dry up”. Throw in the sweetness of marzipan moulded into chicks, bunnies and flowery bonnets, and the lunch acquired an immovable character over the years, predictable and reassuring. Never mind then, the beef assad (roast) or fish caldine, community favourites that rarely made the menu. “I like to start early, with dough for the Easter eggs,” Sandra circles back. There’s a lot to do, and no room for surprises.
Memories of Mangalore
“I was only 17 when I left Mangalore,” laughs Leena Pereira, hinting that good recall is a great friend, especially in a kitchen without one’s mother. The pork masala/bafat, and chicken roce curry—slow-cooked to decadence with a surfeit of coconut milk—were inherited recipes. Invented, for all purposes, along India’s Carnatic coast, who-knows-how-many years ago. But with at least 30 springtime feasts to her credit, Leena can vouch that they were perfected in her kitchen, assisted by ballpark measurements and memories of Easters past. For the present, there is the added comfort of sannas made from scratch, pork masala and vindaloo, channa masala, jeera rice, and a beetroot-onion-cucumber salad tossed in vinaigrette. As with the roce curry, cooked using one whole coconut and individually roasted spices, patience is essential to acing the Easter eggs, preparations for which starts a week in advance. “Ground cashew and almonds, mixed in rose water, sugar, and vanilla essence, stirred and sweetened over low flame,” Leena sums up. Tip: Use quality cashew and leave the crazy flavouring for the “commercial kind”. What good is an Easter treat that doesn’t taste like home?
A Syrian Christian Spread
What Siby Vincent does, he does well. And what the 39-year-old does every Easter morning is cook up a big breakfast. “You are ending the Lenten fast, so breakfast is important”. Breakfast means appams, with spongey-white middles and crisp, goldened edges, broken and dipped into XL mouthfuls of chicken stew. It also means springing the family special—Kerala egg roast. The recipe has traversed landscapes with the father of two, starting from his hometown Chengannur in Kerala’s lush Alappuzah district. Made with duck eggs and cooked in coconut oil for best results, the dish hinges on the glory of its dry-gravy flavoured with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, black pepper, chilli powder, coriander powder, and garam masala. “It is on the spicier side, and complements the subtlety of the stew,” Siby explains. Breakfast out of the way, all eyes are on lunch, usually a potluck cooked up between his wife, mother-in-law, and him. Siby’s contribution, the roast chicken, is relatively new to the game. But it’s a winner as far as the kids are concerned, who “have a lot of fun carving the bird”. And if you’re wondering what excites him, Kerala-style mutton gravy and Malabar porotta by his mother-in-law, or banana and chocolate-walnut cakes from his wife’s baking station, Siby is admittedly partial. “I’m a big fan of the crispy skin of the chicken.”
East Indian Aroma, Bottled
“The East Indian bottle masala has 32 spices, and there’s a bottle masala for everything,” says Mercia Almeida, of her coastal culinary heritage. The Almeida household, in Mumbai’s Western suburbs of Bandra, sees relatives gather from as far as Hyderabad, so naturally Easter is big and busy. The typical menu showcases the East Indian sarpatel, darker, sharper, tangier than its Goan rendition for an abundance of vinegar, bottle masala, ginger-garlic and green chilli. The crackling taste pairs marvellously with slightly-sweet deep-fried dough called fugia. Now fugia is to the East Indians what sannas is to their Goan or Mangalorean friends—the George Michael number to an 80’s Catholic party, if you will. Besides the sarpatel, fugias are also essential to accentuate the intense meat flavours of the pork tamriad, chicken khudi, and the sweeter, coconut-milk flavoured beef lonvas. “All kinds of meats must be represented at the table,” jokes daughter Nerissa, who is in charge of decorating Easter eggs. While an East Indian green masala called purish yields aromatic curries, some white pumpkin, radish and potatoes thrown into the lonvas makes all the difference. “There was a time when some women from the community went door-to-door pounding whole masalas dried in the hot sun, but now we mostly buy it,” recalls Mercia, adding that a bottle can last anywhere between a year and two.
Growing up in the Railway Colony of Tiruchirappalli, in Tamil Nadu, Harry MacLure was always aware of his Anglo-Indian roots. “We are a small, stateless community, so be it Easter menu or something else, the highlights remain largely the same,” reasons Harry. Some might call it yellow rice and some coconut rice, and the meatball gravy, made with beef and a staple on the Easter menu, might be nicknamed kofta curry in Calcutta. The fiery red Anglo-Indian chutney, another Easter suspect, comes with some misleading monikers. “It’s called hell’s flame, and/or devil chutney, but really it is not that spicy,” says the 60-year-old currently based in Chennai. Vinegar and sugar react with red chilli and onion to give the chutney its considerable colour and reputation. If you’re still burning up, there’s always the eggy-sweetness of caramel custard or cool swigs of homemade ginger wine. The ginger wine, code-named O.T. (for ‘Other Thing’), is a time-tested measure of how much people are enjoying themselves. “In the 70s, we could go to a colony hall and dance till the morning,” reminisces Harry, “but Easter is certainly more about the food and the fellowship”. It’s what puts the bang in the ‘jingbang’—community parlance for a whole lot of people making merry.
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