Healthy dinners

With the festival season over, we went off to the newly reopened farmers’ market yesterday. So many fresh veggies! Memories of our healthy dinners from the lockdown months flooded back. I bought karela, beetroot, bhindi, guava, small potato, fresh spinach and kale. Roasted vegetables for dinner! Shouldn’t forget to get some amchur from the farmers for the seasoning. And of course I have that Himalayan salt I picked up from Nainital last week.

It is hard to recall the strict diet and portion control forced on us by the breakdown of the supply chain during the lockdown. A stall at the corner of the market had ragi papad, and our favourite baker had fresh multigrain bread. And there was a wonderful Nashik Chardonnay in the fridge, and a part of a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo which had to be finished. Dinner was an indulgence rather than a healthy minimal meal. It was all rounded off with mixed fruit cookies sourced from the farmers’ market. It wasn’t even vegan: I roasted the potatoes in ghee, and did not skimp on the butter on the multigrain bread. But it was really cold outside, in the Icelandic murder mystery we watched afterwards.

A cosy dinner

Saturday night, we stayed at home for dinner again. A bottle of lager was chilling in our fridge; a new flavour, made from rice. I’d bought it on a whim on Friday. It had a crisp and light lager taste. Nice and bitter. We had a simple dinner planned out. Toasted sandwiches with cream cheese and roasted vegetables. I’d brushed a mixture of rice vinegar and sesame oil on the veggies. Then, before bunging them into the oven I’d sprinkled some sesame seeds over them. Now it was time to sit back with full glasses and plates, switch on the screen, and watch Yesterday. That’s Danny Boyle’s most recent movie, and definitely not a Trainspotting. It was a cosy Saturday night, with a monsoon storm blowing outside the windows. On a night like that it was good to see John Lennon live to be 78, and turn into the person you always wanted him to be.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

We’ve had liquid dinners since last March. Stop smiling. It’s not that. A large bowl of soup has been our dinner on most nights for a year. But a couple of days ago I asked The Family, “Why not some roasted veggies instead?” I’d not done something like this for a few decades. So, like the newbie that I now was, I looked up cooking times. If you set the oven at the usual 200 Celsius, then there is a group of veggies that takes 30 to 45 minutes: squash, carrots, onions and potatoes. Probably all roots. (Also corn. I don’t consider corn a vegetable; I think of it as a grain.) Then there is the other group that takes 20 to 30 minutes: Shimla mirch (bell peppers), cauliflower and broccoli, pumpkins and squashes, green beans and tomato. Basically most other things. I suppose the reasonable thing would have been to put the first group in the oven, and then after ten minutes bung in the rest. But I refuse to be reasonable in the kitchen. I decided that the roots will be cut smaller than the rest, and everything will go in and come out together.

While in uffish thought I stood, The Family with eyes of flame had found the herbs. “Not that song again”, I muttered. “No peas” she ordered. I fussed with the oven as she tossed the veggies with rice bran oil (her current favourite) and the herbs. I arranged them in the baking tray with the stipulated care to keep the pieces separate from each other. In twenty minutes everything was done. The Family had exhumed two pavs from the fridge, and heated them on a tava; nice to have some bread with roasted veggies. The onions and carrots were nicely caramelised. The beetroot and tomatoes were passable, but could have improved in another five minutes. The beans and bell peppers were wonderful. We have to do something different with the baingan; it was a little bitter. “Not bad for a first attempt”, The Family told me patronisingly. “Just you wait,” I thought, “I’ll have my response ready when you do the fish next week.”

But the thought of a liquid with dinner wouldn’t leave me. So I dug up a bottle of Smirnoff vodka so old that if it had been a wine it would have soured by now. There was about one shot remaining. Chill a beer mug. Drop a spoonful of honey from mustard flowers (same vintage as the vodka) into the glass. Watch as if hypnotized by the sight of the honey oozing to the bottom. Recover. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Add the vodka, give it a good stir. There was no ice in the fridge, so fill the mug with chilled water. Bung in a bag of Earl Grey. Nice aromatic drink, which gets more flavourful as you slowly sip it and the water warms. The Family said that some crushed mint leaves would be a good addition. I agreed, but was too lazy to pick them from the balcony, and clean and crush them. Still, a nice pairing with the roasted veggies.