Anita and Me, the Indian immigrant story by Meera Syal, is book of the month at "This Book Makes Me Cook". Meera Syal's picture of an Indian family that immigrated to Britain in early 70s is meant to convey the struggles of childhood, the difficulties of being the only brown face in a very British small town. Curiously enough, I found her Meena to be just any teenager anywhere.
The people who intrigued me were her parents. And all other parents who migrated to a strange land to make fortunes for their families. But who also left their hearts and souls behind in India. The book's real enough in its character's attempts to forget, yet relive partition. In their mehfils, in their attempt to get together and sing, to keep their memories alive.
What this book wanted me to cook was something the family would serve when guests came over for these mehfils. Not the British curry that passes as Indian food. But something truly desi like samosas, the omnipresent Indian snack. Or Lahori Chhole that would bridge the divide in their hearts. I ended up making rajma-chawal (red kidney beans curry with rice), a dish served at numerous Indian lunches. It's also the first "Indian" dish I ate in London so nothing could have been more apt.
To make rajma, soak 1/2 cup kidney beans overnight. Boil until soft. Retain the water in which the rajma was boiled. Grate a large onion. Also grate/puree 2 tomatoes. Heat ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Add onion and stir fry until it's lightly browned. Now add tomato puree and cook, stirring constantly, until the mix is fairly dry. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/4 cup water. Simmer for a few minutes until everything is mixed in and the water is almost dry. Now add the rajma (without the water) and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add enough of the water retained from boiling rajma to cover the beans completely. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Take out a tbsp of rajma and mash them. Add them back to the pan to thicken the curry. Simmer for a few minutes until the curry is thick enough for your liking and serve topped with coriander and a sprinkle of garam masala. Plain rice goes best with rajma, but by all means have a parantha instead if you like.
If you want to see what else "Anita and Me" inspired, check out Dee's fabulous Gobi and Paneer Bhurji.
And now for a magical announcement. Next month is Harry Potter Special. We are going to pick any of the Harry Potter books we like and create a recipe inspired from it. If you would like to be a part of "This Book Makes me Cook", do leave a comment here and I will get back with more details.