My husband and I work at two ends of the snaking city of Mumbai. I work in the town side of the city while he works closer to the suburbs. It so happened that last month he had to make trips to my part of the city.
Now, you know how couples with children tend to lose time as a couple, after children come along? We have been in that phase a long time and we try to make as much as possible of any little time of ‘peaceful interventions’ that come our way. His coming to town was one such.
When he called me and said, “Free?”.
I’m like, “Not really, I’m in the middle of a report.”
I, “I work here, you know!”
He, “Free for lunch?”
I immediately shut the file and questioningly look at my colleague who is nodding vigorously. “Done.”
He, “Meet me outside Gaylord’s in five minutes. I must get back soon.”
I, “Hey! I am a lady. Give me 15mins.”
I left my ‘dabba’ [lunch box] with my lunch mates, pushed stuff into my sack and rushed out in the rain, singing under my breath, “Koi roko naa……” (but with an umbrella, for I had to get back to work).
Gaylord is an old landmark and a well known restaurant in South Mumbai. It’s been there since quite some time, next to Asiatic Stores. P and I have many good memories attached to this place, of our brief courtship period. I always make it a point to take my kids there and recount all this if we visit town, and they are tired of the repetitive stories. I however persist.
I am happy that I will have something new to tell them next time. I mean – it would certainly be more romantic to start off with “Last year, Daddy and I …….” instead of “In —-, Daddy and I…..” Wouldn’t it?
Gaylord has a nice bakery attached to the restaurant that sells sinfully delightful confectioneries, none of which are vegan. They don’t beckon me any more but I always pick up chocolates and cakes for the children if I venture that way. The restaurant has not made any noticeable changes in terms of serving or decor. They earlier provided silver cutlery. It used to make me feel royal despite knowing that it was coated silver. Melamine has replaced the silver soup bowls and spoons. I felt sad. I would not have minded all white ceramic bowls but white and maroon melamine crockery?
We ordered minestrone soup and I specifically mentioned I am vegan but got a soup generously garnished with shredded cheese. I cannot fathom this love for cheese where it is not traditionally used! After I pointed out, the bowl was replaced with a tasty hot bowl of actual minestrone soup. Since we were both heading back to work we could not afford a large meal so we settled for garlic naan sans butter/ghee and picked a kumbh harabhara from the menu as it was something I haven’t seen on any other menu.
The food at Gaylord has always been very good and it was no different this time. The kumbh harabhara did not look alluring, in fact. Anything but that. As a mushroom lover I knew this ought to be good. Loads of green gravy and mushrooms dunked in it has to be heaven, and it was. The mushrooms were juicy, oozing out spicy minty taste with each bite. We did full justice by wiping the dish clean.
I could not get the taste off my mind so while we were driving back home that evening we kept deconstructing the dish. The sea-food lover too loved the mushrooms enough to think back.
Two days later on Saturday, almost an hour after P had left to buy veggies, I thought of replicating the dish from taste and memory, but none of the ingredients were available. I knew P would get irritated if I called so I just let it go. Call it serendipity because a few minutes later P arrived with spinach, coriander, mint and two packets of fresh button mushrooms. He said, “I saw these mushrooms and thought you might want to try out that dish we ate.” I beamed.
I made a spinach gravy spiced with ginger, chillies and garlic. Dunked halved mushrooms but something was missing. Was it mint? I added some mint and it was perfect. But while eating I felt that the gravy was thick and heavy whereas what we had at the restaurant was thinner and much lighter. We had eaten so much and yet had not felt heavy at all.
A few days later I made it again, this time reducing the spinach, adding lots of coriander and a few mint leaves. It was perfect. Same as what we ate. And, it looked anything but alluring. Exactly as it was meant to be. But not good enough to be photographed and not capable of being styled.
Last week I made it again. This time I omitted the spinach, reduced the coriander and cooked the mushrooms till they were just done. I removed them coated with some of the gravy and let the rest of the thin gravy simmer and reduce. Added back the drained mushrooms and it was perfect – on the palate and the plate! Could I share something less then perfect with you, my dears? Nah! Tell me what you think of this version.
The green masala is a staple in Sindhi cuisine according to my one of dearest Sindhi colleague and friend, Bina. I guess Alkawould know more.
Recipe: Kumbh hara bhara ~ Mushrooms in greens
Yield: Serves 3
Button mushrooms, washed well to remove dirt and halved if big in size – 2 packets (About 25-30 small sized)
Fresh, cleaned and picked coriander leaves, packed – 1 cup
Mint leaves, picked, washed and patted dry – 2 sprigs
Green chillies, finely chopped (as per taste) – 2
Garlic, chopped fine – 6 cloves
Ginger, julienne and place at 90 degrees and chop fine – 1″
Red chilli powder (optional) – 1/8th tsp.
Sunflower or olive oil or mustard oil for those who like it – 2 tbsp.
Using a mortar and pestle crush the ginger, garlic and green chillies together lightly. We want the juice but some character retained. Remove the mixture and wash the mortar with a quarter cup of water and set the juice aside to use it in the gravy.
Grind the coriander and mint leaves together till almost coarsely blended. We do not want a fine paste. Do not add much water. 1/4 cup should be enough. Remember that mushrooms sweat a lot of water.
Heat oil. Add the ginger-garlic-green chillies and fry till brown.
Add the coriander-mint blend and residual water from washing the mortar and cook with salt till aromatic and bubbling. At this stage, taste and adjust heat if needed. 1/8th tsp. of red chilli powder makes it perfect for me.
Add the mushrooms and a little more salt. Stir to coat. Cover and cook till the mushrooms are done, about 4 minutes. Do not over cook the mushrooms. Excessive cooking renders mushroooms chewy. Keep taking off the lid and checking in between to see whether the mushrooms are done. They should still have a shine, reduce a little in size but not by half and have some juice left in them.
When they are done you will find that there is still a lot of thin gravy in the vessel. If this happens, remove the mushrooms with a slotted ladle onto a clean vessel. Let the gravy simmer till left with just a quarter cup of green, maddeningly aromatic, liquid.
Pour the green liquid over the mushrooms. Serve with hot Indian flatbreads or with pulav.
The taste of the dish comes from the way mushrooms tend to take in the flavours of the gravy. You could substitute oven baked, pierced baby potatoes or soya nuggets instead of the mushrooms. Anything that is porous enough to absorb the flavours of the gravy will taste good.
Add a pinch of dry mango powder and a pinch of cumin powder if you need some tang. I not much of a masala person so I am pretty happy without any spices.