A few weeks ago, my family celebrated the life of my late brother, Ashakant Nimbark, by performing the Shraaddha. Shraaddha is a ceremony carried out by the survivors in honor of an ancestor or a close relative who has passed away. This ritual is performed at intervals that depend on family traditions. In Gujarat, where I come from, it is done annually. The family shares the favorite foods of that relative after placing small amounts of each dish on the roof top. Belief has it that a crow carrying the soul of that ancestor will come and eat the food, thus satisfying the soul of the departed one.
My brother and I shared many interests; we cooked, went to restaurants, and attended music concerts together. To share his memory with others, I join with close friends and family members to perform the Shraaddha for him every year. I invite musicians to come and play live music, and I cook his favorite foods. I place them as offerings on the roof of our home, including his favorite California red wine (which would be frowned upon in “dry” Gujarat).
This year, I made a feast with eighteen dishes! Below are two of my brother’s favorites, and a chutney that my brother favored. These dishes are not easily found in restaurants in the United States, so I often used to make them for him.
(Spicy steamed appetizers)
Dhoklas are light, tasty appetizers that are somewhat time-consuming to prepare. They also require overnight planning. However, they are among the few Indian appetizers that are healthy and not deep-fried, and are therefore worth the trouble.
1 cup uncooked cream of rice cereal
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup garbanzo flour
¾ cup water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon each turmeric powder,
cumin powder, and coriander powder
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
½ cup of each grated carrots and
zucchini or yellow squash
¼ cup unsweetened, shredded dried
¼ to ½ cup water
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Mix the cream of rice, cornmeal, garbanzo flour, water, and lemon juice thoroughly. Cover this mixture and let stand overnight, or for at least for 4 hours. Then add the ½ cup water and the baking soda and mix well. Allow the batter to stand for 30 minutes to an hour. Then add the salt, spices, grated vegetables, and coconut and mix well, adding more water if necessary to make a batter that has a pancake batter-like consistency.
Grease three pie plates. Divide the batter into three parts and pour the batter into the pie plates.
Then arrange a steaming apparatus as follows: Fill a wok or a wide Dutch oven with two cups of water and place a vegetable steamer in it. Set the pie plate carefully on the vegetable steamer and cover the wok or the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Heat over a medium flame and steam for 30 minutes until the batter is settled. When tested with a fork, it should come out clean.
Remove the pie plate and set it aside. Then the next pie plate can go in.
After the dhoklas cool, cut them first into strips and then into small squares or diamonds. The warm dhoklas are ready to be served with chutney.
An optional next step is to pan-fry the dhoklas as follows: Place 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds start popping, place the dhokla pieces in the pan and stir-fry them gently for five to seven minutes, turning to cook on both sides until golden brown (people who wish to avoid the extra oil can skip this last step; they will still be delicious).
Serve dhoklas hot or at room temperature with the mint chutney (recipe below).
Mint chutney makes an especially good dipping sauce for any appetizer, as mint is a good digestive aid.
1 cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup chopped scallions, including
most of their greens
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
1 or 2 hot chillies, seeds and veins
removed and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unflavored yogurt, soy yogurt,
or soft tofu
3 tablespoons water
Puree all ingredients in a food processor or a blender. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
Ladoos (Sweet Balls)
This dessert can be prepared from various grain or nut-meal mixes, such as besan (garbanzo flour) and almond meal, or coconut and pistachio meal, or whole wheat flour and cream of wheat, which was my brother’s favorite version. 1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup uncooked cream of wheat cereal
¼ cup melted butter, ghee or
non-hydrogenated soy margarine
¾ cup oil for deep-frying
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ to ¾ cup brown sugar
to ½ cup melted butter, ghee, or
2 teaspoon khus khus (white poppy)
seeds, black poppy seeds, or sesame seeds
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cream of wheat and the melted butter, ghee, or margarine. Add water and knead the mixture into a stiff dough. Divide the dough into as many handfuls of egg-shaped pieces as you can by pressing them in your fist. Set these pieces (called muthias, or fistfuls) aside.
In a wok or a heavy bottomed pot, heat oil for frying the muthias. Deep fry the pieces a few at a time, turning them frequently so that they turn golden brown on all sides. Remove them with a slotted spoon, draining the excess oil, and set them on paper towels. Allow them to cool.
Break the fried pieces into a cornmeal-like consistency by mixing them in a food processor or a blender. Do not over-mix, as the mixture should remain somewhat coarse. Transfer the ladoo meal into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, cardamom, and melted butter, ghee, or margarine. Blend all the ingredients well.
To form the balls, press the wet ladoo meal, ½ cup at a time, to form a small compact ball, as though making a snow ball to throw. Make as many compact balls as you can from the meal and set them aside onto a platter. While the balls are still warm, sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds to garnish. Serve ladoos hot or cold.
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. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student.