India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Mother’s Day has been celebrated in Western civilization since Greek and Roman times as the festival dedicated to the Mother Goddess. In Hindu culture, Kali Ma, Durga Ma, and Santoshi Ma have been worshipped on special days of the year. In England, early Christians celebrated the fourth Sunday of Lent first by worshipping the Virgin Mary, and then by buying flowers to pay tribute to their own mothers.
The idea of Mother’s Day in the United States was first mooted in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe, an anti-war activist who urged all mothers to rise up against war. She suggested the second Sunday of June as Mother’s Peace Observance Day. Anna Jarvis, another American activist, campaigned to reserve a special Sunday annually to honor all mothers whose anonymous contributions to our society are often overlooked. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill to observe the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, a national holiday. Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated in many parts of the world including the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Mexico, Japan, India, Denmark, Finland, and Canada.
Ironically, Anna Jarvis later wished she had never fought for Mother’s Day because it became a holiday of commercialized gift-giving and eating out. Truly, in the United States, the second Sunday of May has become a day of busy telephone lines and overbooked restaurants. Therefore, this year let us not worry about gifts or dining at a restaurant. Instead, make your mom a delicious, hearty, home-cooked meal.
Feeding and nurturing have become synonymous with motherhood. Even moms who work seldom get nurtured or fed, although mothers are often worshipped, feared, and praised. This year let your mom know you love her by making a nice desi meal. Moms also like family togetherness, so if you have siblings, invite them to get involved with the celebration. The central theme must be that Mom does not have to do anything. No cooking, no cleaning, and no planning. Give her this day off!
Here are four recipes to warm your mother’s heart. This menu is suitable for lunch, brunch, or for taking on a picnic: peanut chutney, a condiment made with fresh cilantro; ola, a roasted eggplant dish cooked with yogurt; theplas, Gujarati flat breads made with spicy leaves; and of course masala chai, black tea brewed with milk and spices. I picked theplas for this menu because bread making is such a labor of love! Most of us are too busy to make rotis nowadays, even though it was a daily ritual back home. You can buy frozen rotis in Indian specialty stores and warm or fry them as needed. But freshly made thepla is such a treat that it will certainly delight your mom. The rest of the menu is simple, but I advise you to practice making theplas at least once before the Mother’s Day meal.
1 cup roasted shelled peanuts
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves, twigs and stems removed
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed, finely chopped
½ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
a few tablespoons water
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until a slightly coarse mixture forms, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed. The final product should look like crunchy peanut butter. Transfer the chutney into a glass jar. This chutney can be stored in the refrigerator and kept for several days, or left at room temperature if you are serving it the same day.
1 pound Japanese eggplant (about four or five)
1 cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon each turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder, or to taste
1 tablespoon cooking oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
First, roast the eggplant one of two ways. If you have a gas burner or an outdoor grill, roast the eggplant directly on the flame, two at a time, turning frequently. While roasting, the skin will char, blister, and crack. Remove eggplant when softened, after a few minutes. If you don’t have a gas burner, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place eggplant directly onto the wire rack. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn to cook on the other side. After 30 minutes, the eggplant should be limp and soft. Turning the oven to broil, roast the eggplant for five minutes until the skin is charred and cracked.
Place the hot eggplants on a cutting board, and allow them to cool. Remove the charred skin by peeling with your fingertips, and then mash them using a knife and fork. (Do not use a blender or food processor.) Set the eggplant pulp aside. Combine the spice powders and salt with the yogurt in a separate bowl, blend well, and set aside.
Heat the cooking oil on medium heat and fry the garlic for one minute. Add the eggplant pulp and stir-fry for five minutes. Lower the heat and add the spicy yogurt mixture. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a serving dish and top with cilantro. Ola can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
This interesting unleavened bread, a specialty of Gujarat, is traditionally made with wheat flour, spices, and fenugreek leaves. Sometimes fenugreek leaves are difficult to find, even in India. So theplas are often prepared with mustard greens or spinach. I invented this recipe using watercress, which makes a successful substitution.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup firmly packed chopped watercress leaves (or fenugreek leaves) without stems, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon each turmeric powder, coriander powder, and salt
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
approximately ½ cup water
3-4 tablespoons corn, safflower, or peanut oil
In a large mixing bowl or in a jar of the food processor, combine all ingredients except the water and oil. If you are kneading the dough by hand, add a few tablespoons of water at a time until it holds together in one mass. Then add one tablespoon of oil and knead until the surface is smooth. If you are using a food processor, mix all ingredients for a few minutes, then add the water a few tablespoons at a time until a solid mass of dough forms. Add one tablespoon of oil and pulse for another minute until the surface of the dough is smooth. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead until well integrated. Cover the ball of dough with a moist piece of cloth or napkin until ready to roll.
To roll theplas, divide the ball of dough into 10 or 12 equal portions (gornas). First press each individual piece of dough into a compact, smooth, flattened circle with the palm of your hand. Lay the circle of dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the circle out into a disc, approximately 5-6 inches in diameter. Once you have rolled out four disks you can begin frying. Save the remaining unrolled dough under a moist towel. (At this point, if you have a brother, sister, or dad helping you, one person can roll out the gornas and the other can fry them.)
To fry the theplas, heat a heavy griddle or skillet over medium heat and place a rolled out disk of dough. Cook for one minute, then flip using a spatula. Spread half-a-teaspoon of oil over the surface of the thepla with the back of a spoon. Turn after one minute and spread the same amount of oil on the other side. Turn the thepla a few more times in order to cook on all sides, while pressing its surface with a towel to absorb excess oil. When the thepla is light brown and speckled on both sides, transfer to a serving plate. The total time for frying one thepla is only two to three minutes. Finish rolling out the next batch of three to four theplas and fry as directed. When all theplas are rolled and fried, keep warm by covering with a cloth napkin. However, unlike other Indian breads, theplas do not need to be served piping hot. Theplas taste great served hot, at room temperature, or even cold.
No Mother’s Day is complete without warm, satisfying chai. Here is my favorite chai recipe.
4 cups water
2 cups milk or soymilk
a combination of two cloves, one cinnamon stick, and a few cardamom pods, coarsely ground together; or several pinches of ground cardamom and cinnamon, plus a pinch of clove
2 to 4 heaping teaspoons of good quality, loose black tea, such as a India Black Mumari combined with flavorful Darjeeling leaves
1 tablespoon sugar or honey, or to taste
Heat the water and soy milk together in a saucepan. Add the spices. Allow the mixture to come to a full boil, then turn heat off when liquid begins to rise. Add the tea leaves, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow the tea to steep for five minutes. Strain and serve with your choice of sweetener.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Her daughter Serena Sacharoff is an illustrator and art student.