Bringing Indian Cooking Home

When I was 8 years old my mom’s brother married a woman from Bangladesh.  Feryall was outgoing and chatty and so friendly – she dove right in to our big family and fit in seamlessly.  Growing up, I remember that she never spoke down to the kids in the family – she made a real effort to treat us as the young adults we wanted to be.  In sixth grade I was given a school assignment to write a report and prepare a presentation about Bangladesh, so Feryall invited me to spend an afternoon at her apartment talking about her country.  She lent me a beautiful green sari to wear, and she taught me how to make keema, a Benglai ground meat dish.  I think I was one of the only students in my class with a family member from his or her assigned country!

Although Feryall is no longer married to my uncle, she’s remained close with the family, and through Facebook we’ve been fortunate to reconnect.  I invited her over to my place this weekend to share her extensive knowledge of Indian and Bengali cooking.  Along with my sister Meghan and my Aunt Sheila, the four of us put together a truly delicious meal that reminded me of my travels to India.

Feryall’s menu included Green Beans and Carrots with Whole Cumin and Mustard Seed, Khichuri (a comforting rice and mung lentil dish), Karahi Chicken and a dessert called Farina Firnee (see recipe below).  Most of Feryall’s culinary inspiration comes from her mother, lovingly referred to as Kumkum.  I am so honored to have a few of these precious recipes in my files now.

Feryall taught us several basics about Indian/Bengali cooking – making a spice base, adding main ingredients in proper order, layering in fresh herbs and spices.  She also reminded us about the importance of rinsing rice and lentils prior to cooking, and she showed us how to do it without a colander (one less dish to clean!):

I was particularly inspired by the long list of fresh vegetables required to put together the dishes on our menu for the day.  So much color and flavor – quite a wake up call in the dead of winter!

And, because fresh ginger is my absolute favorite flavor, I was thrilled to see Feryall grate up a heaping pile of it! Yum!!

Perhaps the best part of the day, however, was spending some quality time with a few of the lovely ladies in my family.  After a delightfully mild winter, this weekend’s weather was a bit colder so it was nice to keep busy inside with such special people.  Fortunately, my fun-loving Aunt Sheila kept the stir-crazy kids occupied whenever Meghan and I took a turn watching Feryall in the kitchen!

The meal was wonderful – full of flavor and spice and texture.  But, for me the best part might have been the leftovers – everything tasted even better the next day!

“Sujir Firnee” Farina Firnee

Firnee is a sweet treat usually made in North Indian Muslim households for festivals such as Eid or on special occasions such as large family gatherings.  It is served with tea for drop-in guests or after a special meal.

2 tablespoons farina (cream of wheat)

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup milk

3 cardamoms

1/3 – 1/2 C sugar

Rose water or essence, few dashes

“Tabak” edible silver or gold foil (optional)

Slivered almonds and raisins

Melt butter over medium heat and add in farina.  Lightly toast farnina, but do not allow it to acquire color. Stir in milk and cardamoms.  Stir over low heat until thickened.  Add sugar and continue stirring until sugar melts.  Remove from flame.

Pour into shallow, single serving ramekins or deep saucers.  Remove cardamoms.  Chill till set.  (May be made in advance up to this point and refrigerated overnight, lightly covered).

Ten or fifteen minutes before serving, sprinkle rosewater on top.  Allow rosewater to be absorbed for a short time.  Garnish with tabak.  Add slivered almonds and/or pistachios and raisins.  Makes about 4 servings

Feryall’s Notes: Unglazed clay saucers are traditionally used.  Nowadays we know not to use clay unless it is food grade, as there is danger of lead or heavy metals in the clay.  For the same reason, do not use glazed earthenware if they are not specifically for food use, as some of the glazes may contain lead or other harmful metallic paints.  The firnee can be poured into a larger shallow dish if desired, and serving portions spooned out on dessert plates.

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2 Comments for this entry

  1. sheila says:

    Great synopsis of the day! Beautiful pictures and best of all, the dessert recipe! I’m making it today! I loved this day too!

  2. Christina says:

    It is wonderful to find this recipie! I worked with a woman for ten years who made Firniee for my birthday. When she passed away, it broke my heart to lose a kind woman with so many stories. Thank You for sharing.
    I love the beautiful photos you include with your articles.

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