I first discovered I enjoyed cooking when we went to France. Before that, for years mom had tried to teach me how to cook, considering it an essential lifeskill, but I was too busy being a feminist and wondering why only girls needed to learn how to cook. The fact that my dad and all my uncles are ace cooks didn't once enter my mind. So I learnt to cook a couple of things ( you have to, if you want to impress a guy, regardless of how 'liberated' he is. For some reason, they consider cooking only slightly less impressive than nuclear fission.) Cakes and cookies, Hyderabadi dahi wadas, rajma and chole...things which couldn't have counted as a meal but worked nicely as accents and took the spotlight.
In France, it was a case of necessity. Vegetarian me was not too impressed at being confronted by an array of 'ghaas-phoos' ( green leaves) for lunch at the college canteen every day. And the health freak and weight-watcher in me wanted to be careful around the spread of cheeses, breads and desserts. So I had no choice. I had gone armed with a bunch of Tarla Dalal books, some recipes of mom's that my sister had written down and I got photocopied, a Hawkins pressure cooker, a Sumeet mixie and a few spices. Mom had even gone to the trouble of drying out curry leaves in the microwave and packing them for me, as well as a year's supply of saaru and huli pudi. I also learnt to surf the net ( google wasn't around yet) and download or print out recipes of dishes I particularly loved, like Bisi bele bhaath. During the course of the year, while whipping out an array of dishes, from khatte baingan and haak to vangi bhaath and even trying my hand at kodbale, I realised what a wonderfully cathartic and yet creative experience cooking can be. The entire chain of work - from the physical - chopping the vegetables into precisely sized pieces - to multitasking - setting the rice on one hob and stirring the sabzi on another to creativity - figuring out which spices to use or substitute - had the simultaneous effect of stimulating and calming me down. I soon found myself indulging in a cooking orgy before every set of exams, while A would lie on our bed and observe the ceiling.
We got back to India in time for Eid, and I volunteered to make the veg kebabs. My Inlaws have always had an open house on Eid, welcoming all their friends regardless of religion. Naturally therefore, the menu has to be a mix of veg and non-veg items to fulfil tradition as well as fill all their guests. Typically my MIL would make dry chholey and aloo tikkis for the vegetarians, while mutton kebabs would be made for the non-veggers. Biryani and plain rice would be available for anyone who stayed to lunch, along with her yummy Seviyan, which I have still not mastered.
MIL was a little uncertain of my cooking ability so she whipped up the tikki mix and kept it in reserve just in case. I had come across an intriguing recipe for kebabs made out of Chholia - green chickpeas - which always abound in the winter and decided to try that. It took a bit of work, but the kebabs were so delicious that even the non-veg guests gulped down as many of these as the non-veg kebabs. Thanks to Jiggs Kalra, if I remember correctly, the veg kebabs were the surprise hit of the day. Now we often have them in the winter since I love chholias and want to use them as much as possible in their all-too-brief season.
2 cups green chickpeas
1 grated red onion
1 inch finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch stick cinnamon
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped, or red chilli powder to taste
1/2 cup hung plain yoghurt
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
Put a little bit of oil ( 1/2 tbsp) on to heat in a wok. Add the coriander and cumin powder and cinnamon stick and then the chholia. Cook until the chholia is partially cooked and turn off the heat.
Remove the chholia from the pan, and cook the onion, ginger, garlic until well browned.
Mash these along with the chholia until finely blitzed.
Mix with the hung curd, salt, chillies/ chilli powder and bread crumbs, checking to see if the mixture holds its shape when moulded into a ball. If not, add more breadcrumbs.
Form the mixture into ping-pong sized balls and pat them flat.
Heat oil in a frying pan.
Shallow fry the kebabs on low heat until well-browned and crisp on the outside. They will remain soft and moist on the inside.
Serve hot with sweet tomato or mango chutney and green coriander chutneys, or as a side-dish with rotis and dal.