I like to role-play in my kitchen. When I am not playing Nigella, I play more realistic characters, like Motka Halwai, the neighbourhood sweet-maker from my life in Patna.
No one knew his name. Perhaps he had a sexy name like Raj, or Rohan, or Shahrukh. But somehow those names do not quite go with his personality or the way he looked like. Hence, we shall call him Motka Halwai (Hindi for Fat Sweet-maker).
Motka Halwai was 300 kilos of pure adipose. Dripping sweat in his shabby dhoti and ganji-vest, which probably had seen whiter days. Sitting cross-legged on a wooden platform, which did not quite look like it could withstand the beast of burden any longer. Rolling out hundreds of kachoris every morning, ladling piping hot alu-ka-tarkari in tiny sal-leaf bowls. Dextrously making crispy, spiralled jalebis, dripping with sugar syrup. That is a picture I have lived with for the last three decades. And it has been a torture of sorts.
I can say that I have been successfully been able to replicate his alu-ka-tarkari taste here in TO, with some long-distance help from the Mother.
8-10 medium size potatoes, halved and cut into quarters, retain the skin
2-3 tablespoons chana dal/Bengal gram, soaked in water for a couple of hours and sieved
One tablespoon coriander powder
Half teaspoon red chilli powder
One teaspoon turmeric powder
One teaspoon panch phoron (five whole spices mixed together in equal quantities – celery seeds, fennel seeds, cumin, Nigella seeds and fenugreek seeds)
5-6 dry whole red chillies
2-3 tablespoons mustard oil
One and a half cups water
Add the quartered potatoes and the chana dal and mix well. Cook these ingredients for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Now add the coriander powder, red chilli powder and turmeric and mix everything up. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Serve Motka Halwai’s runny potato curry with kachoris or luchi. You can also fantasize about his absolutely indomitable waist circumference. It is pretty exciting if you mix it with the idea of a man cooking for you.