More soul food for the monsoon

Monsoons are supposed to end with the Ganapati puja. You still expect a few showers till October, but not a 150 mm of rain in a day. And if that comes down right when the tide is high, Mumbai is flooded. Soul food takes particularly simple forms on such days, scrounged from the staples which you always had a supply of. An aromatic khichri perhaps, but not today. What hits the spot is an egg curry, redolent of green elaichi (cardamom) and garam masala, with a fresh pav from The Family’s favourite bakery, the dough sour, as it is meant to be. No egg curry is quite right without the potatoes. And this one was perfect.

A lazy way to cook kidney

Street food in Mumbai is really diverse. One thing I enjoy a lot but get only infrequently is bhuna gurda, spicy kidney fried rapidly at high temperature. I’ve missed this for a year, so I eventually ordered some from our butcher. Reading about how to cook it, I quickly realized that prepping kidney may require more patience than I can muster. The kidney contains a network of channels draining into the ureter. These are the white portions in one half of the kidney in the photo below. Part of the ureter tube can be seen in the other half. Both look like lumps of fat, but they are not. When cooked rapidly, this tissue turns into an unpleasantly chewy mass. So most cooks will ask you to snip out this tissue. After some reading I realized what you need to do instead is to break down the drainage tissue before cooking. One way would be to use a kitchen acid such as lime juice or vinegar. I opted to use vinegar. It worked well. So here is my lazy person’s recipe for bhuna gurda.

Soak the kidneys in white rice vinegar overnight. I added chili flakes at this stage of marination (you can see a few seeds in the photo above). Let it stand for 8 to 10 hours in the fridge. Take them out and let them come to room temperature before you start cooking. They will have lost all smell of ammonia after the marination. While it is warming up, liberally coat in a paste of ginger and garlic. Add in chopped onion and let the kidneys stand for at least fifteen minutes. You’ll need to fry them in a small amount of an oil which has a high smoking temperature. I used mustard oil, not just for the temperature but also the aroma. Rice bran, avocado or safflower oil are quite serviceable too (but not olive, sunflower, til, that is sesame, or coconut oil; nor ghee or butter). Just before the oil begins to smoke, put the kidneys on the hot skillet, making sure that there is enough space between them for the onions to begin cooking. After a minute and a half turn the pieces over, and cook the other side for about a minute. Then stir to use the partly cooked onions to deglaze the pan. The result is what you see in the featured photo. I loved the earthy sweetness of the kidneys, almost like a meaty version of roasted beetroot. It went well with pav.

Starting again

I wandered out to do a few overdue chores, protected by a mask and face shield. Afterwards I decided to pay a visit to my usual pre-pandemic haunts. Downtown, between Flora Fountain and the stock exchange, crowds were thin. The bakery I like has been open for a while, and I got all the little things I missed for months; a few pavs, a brun, and a loaf of German bread. The pav is a Mumbai special, fluffy sourdough buns, with a hard crust, probably adapted from a Portuguese ancestral bread. Someone must have written a thesis on its origin, and I would love to read it. The other typically Mumbai bread, the brun, is even more crusty, and is slowly becoming extinct. I love it the old fashioned way: sliced open, slathered with butter, then cut into smaller pieces to savour with tea. I walked into a chain cafe (featured photo). They had removed their tables; everything was to go only. I got my double shot of espresso, and came out on the deserted road to have it.

Life has to start again. But for the first time in five months the disease seemed much closer to us; a couple we know well have tested positive. A dependable survey in Mumbai found that the epidemic has not yet touched more than half the population. That means if we drop all safeguards, the disease will begin to burn through the city again. As yet there is no clear way of managing the disease if it turns critical, and no vaccine. Even after you recover, it may require months of rehabilitation. We don’t even know whether immunity lasts a full year. I guess The Family and I, like most of us, will grope and search for a safe way to socialize in the coming months.