“Recipes garnished with love,” says The Hindu in an article about the recent cookbook “Cooking at Home with Pedatha” by Jigyasa & Pratibha. She cooks with flair and serves with lots of love. That’s what makes Pedatha special, says Shonali Muthalaly. She does a fabulous review of the book mentioning the book launch at Hotel Savera. Some handy cooking tips at the end of the article are not to be missed.
HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE ARTICLE:
You could have knocked me down with a soufflé. I was at 601, The Park’s chic coffee shop. Around me elegant diners in suits discussed stocks and scams over tabbouleh and asparagus fingers. As I picked up my fork, a waiter suddenly appeared, holding out a plate bearing ‘muddhas’ or rice balls, in front of my nose. “She’s making them for you,” he smiled.
At a neighboring table, 85-year-old Pedatha was vigorously mashing together steaming basmati rice, hot ghee and spicy podis with her fingers and palm, constructing little rice balls speckled with crunchy bits of vadam. “Because that’s how you feed people”, she smiles, “force them to eat…with lots and lots of love.”
Mrs. Subhadra Rau Parigi is so enchanting that she’s rapidly becoming `Pedatha’ (short for pedda atthaya, which means father’s sister in Telugu) to the entire country as she travels to promote her “darling little girls” book on her recipes, warmly hugging queues of people at book-signings and asking random journalists home for lunch. (“You come to my home in Bangalore,” she says seriously, holding my hand sympathetically when she hears I can’t cook. “I’ll make my podis and pack them for you in jars.”)
So it’s not surprising her ‘little’ girls – Kathak dancer, choreographer and teacher Jigyasa Giri, and writer and translator Pratibha Jain – have worked so hard to make Cooking At Home With Pedatha: Vegetarian Recipes from a Traditional Andhra Kitchen as true to her as possible. Even if it meant turning their kitchens into laboratories, working on each recipe repeatedly, and then travelling from Chennai to Bangalore with jars of pachadis, podis and pappus so that Pedatha could approve them. “Because, even in our family, Pedatha is the pinnacle. No matter what you make, it’s compared to her cooking,” says Jigyasa, a North Indian who has now totally converted to the Andhra way of cooking and eating thanks to Pedatha, her husband’s aunt.
The eldest daughter of India’s former President Dr. V.V. Giri, Pedatha’s culinary skills are legendary among family, acquaintances and the many people she has played hostess to over the decades. “My sisters would say `Why were you born first? Now everyone expects us to be able to cook too’,” she giggles, adding, “They can’t cook at all!”
In fact, in the book, her sister Sarala Rao admits she tricked her son into eating vegetables by packing them in containers from Pedatha’s house and watching “with a mixture of jealousy and satisfaction as he polished them up.”
“I had no academic qualifications. But I loved to feed people,” says Pedatha, adding, “I’ve been cooking since I was nine. Whenever the kitchen was free I would sneak in and start mixing food for my brothers and sisters. And they would look up to me.”
Discussing how the power of food is greatly underestimated by this generation at the book launch at the Duchess Club, in Savera hotel, educationist Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy stated, “Food is the most basic part of a relationship between man and wife. If they can eat together they can live together.”
Preserving a heritage
Saying that girls today are “now finally taking an interest in learning how to cook, because they want to go abroad as the wife of an NRI, or as NRIs themselves,” Mrs. Parthasarathy chuckled, “we’ve instilled a taste for this food in our children, so now they have to have it.” And while their methods might be slightly different, (“They cook and freeze it for a week!”) she says books like Pedatha’s are important because they clearly spell out methods, enabling home cooks to recreate them, thus preserving a heritage – the decades-old recipes of an illustrious Andhra family in this case.
“It started as just a printout for the family,” says Jigyasa, talking about how she and Pratibha began writing down Pedatha’s recipes after ‘another soul satisfying meal’ at her house. When they asked her how to make the Vaangi bath they had just eaten, she said, “Oh, that’s easy”, and reeled out the recipe. They took it down and tried it out when they returned to Chennai. “We were excited about the accuracy of her recipes,” says Prathiba, explaining why they started recording her ingredients, measures and methods every time they visited after that.
Much to Pedatha’s amusement. “What is there? It’s so simple. Anyone can do it,” she’d laugh.
That is precisely what’s making the book sell like hot vadams. It’s detailed, but simple, with pictures for the culinary challenged. But you do need patience.
“When you ask her, ‘How long will a dish take to get ready?’, she’ll say, ‘As long as the dish takes to get ready. Don’t look at the time. Look at the pan’,” smiles Jigyasa. So, adds Pratibha, they’ve tried to ensure that the book sounds like her by putting a ‘Pedatha says’ with every recipe (Add a dollop of cream to thayir sadam for a tastier flavour/ Tamarind rice is a perfect `travel time’ dish/ Use sesame oil for pachadi).
“It really is nothing very extraordinary,” insists Pedatha, still bemused by the fuss, “Cooking can be done in a jiffy.” She snaps her fingers, ‘like that.’ The thing is to make and serve it with “plenty of affection.” She resumes lavishly pouring ghee into a mound of fragrant rice, adding, with a gleam in her eye, “There’s no refusing me!”
You just don’t get the same flavours from super-market shelves. Always keep a stock of homemade podis. They are simple to make and add incredible flavour.
Cooks on the run, remember, well made podis stay fresh for years. Most pachadis or chutneys can be preserved for a week or more. Some even go well with toast.
Never cook on a high flame. Food is tastier when it’s cooked slowly, with patience. No. That doesn’t include snip and microwave cuisine.
When you eat, pour ghee into steaming rice and then mix in podi and pachadis with your fingers, shaping them into plump spheres or ‘muddhas.’
Take the time to write down and try out the recipes of your grandmothers and great grandmothers. They are valuable family traditions that need to be preserved.
(As featured in The Hindu, Metro Plus, January 21, 2006)
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