Growing up for years the role of my parents was always very clear cut and traditional. My dad worked in the hotel business and travelled a fair bit and my mum stayed at home, where ever it happened to be, looking after the two children.
My mother had diverse hobbies and honorary responsibilities, which kept her busy, while she was dedicated to her family, friends and diverse social engagements. My father worked hard and often kept long hours as is always the case in the hotel industry. However, when I look back I remember fairly clearly that when we sat down for dinner in the evenings we were almost always the complete family of four.
When we moved to Qatar things began taking a change. My mother in her early 40s started a freelance job and the more successful she was the more she was asked to join the team in a fixed position. My father was very supportive of her new role. He stopped travelling as much and got a more fixed designation at the hotel in Doha. I just entered the teenage era and was more interested to pass time outside of the house rather than spend time inside. Still, when we came together for dinner, we were always a party of four.
Both my brother and I graduated from High School, moving to different countries to study and work away from home. My parents moved to Dubai and my dad took on a large project in Cairo, increasing his travelling again. My mother continued to flourish in the same firm in the Dubai branch. When I reflect today, it often felt lonely – all four of us were having dinners separately away from each other.
A memory that I carry very close to my heart was visiting my parents in Dubai. It was the late nineties and my father had just wrapped up the project in Cairo. Over lunch I asked him what his next project and plan was. I hardly expected the answer I got.
“I’m taking a break and am going to write a book!”
I think I choked on my curry! “No stop kidding – where are you off to now?” My parents explained that it was not a joke. They had bought a larger apartment and once it was ready they would move there. In the meantime my dad was going to stay at home, writing his book and look after the household. My mum was going to continue to work. This was a totally new situation, but I do remember breaking into a grin. My dad was in his early 60s and wanted to take a 3 to 4-year break. I was proud of their bold decision. Once again my parents were teaching me a new lesson – not only follow your dreams but seriously you can make the dreams happen at any age!
That same day my brother arrived from California and we broke the news in much the same way. My brother posed a very important question that until now had not been addressed.
“Who is going to cook the meals?”
You see we are a family that when we all get together we discuss the next meal plan while enjoying a meal. Dinners were always a major and important part of our family ritual and even though we left home – coming back to the parents always meant being together and enjoying meals and conversation collectively as a family.
Both my parents were smiling at us and my dad explained that he had been looking over my mum’s shoulder in the kitchen and learning a few tricks of his own. That evening we gathered in the kitchen, my dad in the lead role while we assisted. We chopped and my dad explained many of the steps as he sautéed the onions and spiced the cauliflower. I don’t ever remember being in the kitchen together, the four of us cooking dinner. But it was a special memory to hold on to. I did catch my father glance at my mum once or twice when there seemed to be doubt. My mum just smiled and blinked allowing my dad total freedom in his role. My dad was enjoying all the attention and fuss.
That evening as we all sat down to dinner we tucked into a luxurious vegetable biryani based on my dad’s recipe and my mum’s signature Dal Fry! To this day it is one of the most memorable meal for both my brother and me. It epitomises how my parents evolved seemingly effortlessly and transcended into their different roles with ease.
My dad went on to write his book, which took him on adventure journeys from Italy to Palo Alto. Sometimes I was lucky enough to accompany him other times I heard about his tales when we all came together in Dubai. He learnt new cooking methods and dishes during his travels and has always been keen to share the new ideas with us. To this day however, my dad’s vegetable biryani and chicken pulao are the celebrated dishes in the family.
That is why today I share two recipes to honour that great memory of the day my parents took a bold step in their lives.
The vegetable biryani is based on my dad’s recipe and my 9-legumes fry is strongly based on my mum’s recipe for Dal fry. While the ingredient list and method for the biryani looks fairly long, there are no exotic foods or hard to find items. If you are a curry lover – most of the items will be in your pantry or you will find them in larger grocery stores or in Asian/Indian supermarkets.
By Meeta K. Wolff
- 220g basmati rice, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
- 1.5 liters warm water
- 3 + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 350g white onions, thinly sliced
- 2 + 2 tablespoons ghee
- 30 ml warm milk
- generous pinch of saffron
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
- 2 tablesppons finely chopped coriander leaves
- 1/2 green cardamom powder
- 1 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 1” cinnamon stick
- 6 green cardamom
- 250g onions, thinly sliced
- 2” ginger, coarsely grated
- 200g tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 450g cauliflower, cut to bitesized florets
- 220g mushrooms quartered
- 150g carrots, sliced
- 100g sweetcorn
- 50ml water
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil on medium heat in a frying pan. Add 350g sliced onions and sautè stirring every few minutes. The onions will go crisp and turn golden brown – this can take anywhere between 15 to 25 minutes. Take them off the heat and drain access oil on kitchen paper and set aside.
- Soak the saffron strands in the warm water and allow the milk to infuse. Keep aside.
- Heat a heavy bottom pot and bring the 1.5ml water to a boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Season generously with salt. Cook the rice for 7-8 minutes. The rice should only be half cooked as it will cook further in the oven. Drain the rice, keep warm and set aside.
- Set up a large metal bowl filled with cold water. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, reduce heat and blanch the cauliflower in for about 7-8 minutes. Drain and plunge in cold water and set aside.
- In a grinder add all the whole spices: cumin seeds, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Grind to a coarse mix and set aside.
- In a heavy bottom pan heat 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons ghee over medium heat. Add the 250g sliced onions and fry for roughly 10 to 15 minutes until fragrant and translucent. Add the coarsely ground spices, stir well and continue to fry for a minute. Add the grated ginger and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the chopped tomato and the tomato puree and continue to sauté until the tomatoes have soften – about 3 minutes. Lower the heat and sprinkle the chilli powder, turmeric and coriander powder. Stir well for 30 seconds. Add the vegetables, lower the heat, stiring well to make sure to coat the vegetables in the spices. Pour the 50 ml water, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower, garam masala and season to taste. Cover and cook for a further 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C degrees. In a heavy cast iron casserole or a Römertopf start to layer the biryani. Add a tablespoon of ghee to the bottom of the casserole then layer with some of the spiced vegetables and top with a layer of rice. Sprinkle with some of the saffron milk, chopped mint and coriander and a pinch of cardamom powder. Finally add some of the fried onions.
- Repeat the process with more spiced vegetables followed by an even layer of rice. Top with remaining ghee, saffron milk, mint, coriander and a pinch cardamom powder. Top with a little more of the fried onion, saving some to serve. Tightly seal with a layer of foil and put a tight fitting lid on. Put the casserole in the oven on a middle rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave to rest until ready to serve. Serve the vegetable biryani with the legumes fry.
My 9-legume fry is not only an ode to my mum’s classic recipe but I honour my dad’s teachings in cooking. Yes – he always has very valuable and useful tips from the kitchen. If there is anything that I learnt from my dad is to try everything at least once and keep your waste to a minimum. My dad collects everything. He freezes vegetable scraps and leftover sauces and gravies, using them for soups, stews and other dishes. He will save and freeze flatbread and parathas to make either a casserole á la bread pudding or frittatas. So when I had many different varieties of legumes leftover in my jar, none to make a complete dish individually, I decided to put all 9 varieties into the pot for a Indian style stew.
By Meeta K. Wolff
- 300g variety of legumes (I used chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, mung beans, black-eyed peas, yellow lentils, Puy lentils, green split peas, black beans)
- 1 + 2 tablespoons ghee
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tomato, finely chopped
- Pinch of Asafoetida
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- A small piece of ginger, grated
- ½ green chili, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek, dry roasted and ground to a powder
- small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
- Wash all the legumes well, then soak in a bowl for about 20 minutes. Place the legumes in a pressure cooker and fill it with enough water to just cover the dal. On medium heat allow to boil then place the lid of the pressure cooker and cook till the legumes mixture is soft but still retains it’s consistency. This process can also be done in a pot, it will just take a little longer for the legumes to cook.
- While the legumes are cooking place a large saucepan and heat on medium. Melt the 1 tablespoon of ghee. Add the turmeric powder once the ghee is hot. Then add the onions making sure not to brown but sauté until they turn translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes completely breakdown. Now add the other dry spices – cumin, coriander, garam masala and chili powder – to the pan and cook for about 10 seconds.
- Once the legumes have cooked transfer to the pan with the onions and spices, adding salt to taste. Check the desired consistency, adding water if it is too thick. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Heat a small skillet on medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add the mustard seeds and heat until they begin to pop.
- Add the cumin seeds, fenugreek, asafoetida, garlic, ginger and chilies cooking for a few minutes.
- Pour the mixture over the legumes, mix well, adjusting the seasoning. Top with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with the vegetable biryani.
Now that the family has grown to include my husband, son and my brother’s wife, every time we visit Dubai he still loves to cook for us when we are back home. After 4 years he went back to work and believe it or not still, in his early 70s, is working in the hotel business.
These two dishes are the typical kind of meals I always turn to when I am missing home. They are more than 2 dishes, they have memories attached to them that make them simply tastier. Even without my memories I am sure you will love them. The biryani is beautifully aromatic having cooked in the oven slowly keeping all the flavours sealed tightly. Each layer comes together so perfectly and provides an incredible array of textures. Paired with the rustic hearty legume stew both dishes were not only meant to be but the entire meal in nutritious and healthy.
ROME FOOD & LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHY RETREAT 2018
DATE: 10 & 11 May 2018
Pack your cameras and come with me to the Roman countryside! This Spring I will be back in beautiful Torri for a fantastic 2-day food photography and styling retreat. It is the place for you to gain motivation and renew your creative ability. I hope to see some of you in Italy this Spring! Tickets have already gone out to as far as the Middle East and as close to as Switzerland. Come and join me!
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