Saturday, July 24, 2010

Olan : A Dish to Remember

For lunch today, my daughter Gowri requested me to make to make Olan -- a Kerala side-dish to go with Mor-kootan. Mor-kootan was subsequently dropped from the menu and Gowri made her special “short way” sambar instead. (The way she makes it is so tasty and well-flavoured; we all enjoy it to the last drop.) Gowri also prepared a side-dish for Mohan since he had no liking for Olan. Having Olan for lunch brought back several memories, memories which led me to write this blog.

I suddenly remembered that day in Lakshmi Nivas in 1944. There was a Solar Eclipse on that day, the eclipse starting at 8am and ending at 11. My mother, who adhered to each and every rule prescribed in the sastras, was wondering how and what to cook well before the start of the eclipse. The sastras said that cooked food should not be exposed to daylight during the eclipse period. My father, after his retirement from service, had his lunch at 11 in the morning everyday, come rain, come shine. Well, my mother with suggestions from my father (which she never took seriously) got up much earlier than her usual time, had her bath (one never cooked a meal in those days without having taken a bath and changed into fresh clothes) and cooked the simplest of meals – but my father’s favourite one, Arachu kalaki and Olan.

The Olan I prepared today tasted exactly the same as the one my mother made that day for I have never forgotten that day or the taste of that Olan.

This also reminded me of certain food fads of my father, his likes and dislikes. He never had any liking for sambar -- or any curry with tamarind (pulli or imli), which he always referred as chappu-chavaru (mere junk). At the same time, he could not resist the temptation of tasting the sambar with his curd rice and later on putting the blame on my mother if the sambar upset his stomach even minutely. Even Prathamans, a sweet dish prepared with daliya (broken wheat or lentils such channa-dal or moongdal), he liked them with only jaggery and coconut milk, no chappu- chavaru like channa dal or daliya. He was a choosy eater but was willing to try any ideas which his fellow-Masons put into his head.

During my college days, when my mother visited her mother or my two elder sisters in town, it was my turn to prepare the sweet dish my father had for dessert, after having two light crispy dosais with chutney. This sweet, prepared with green gram jaggery and coconut, was also recommended by his friends in the ‘Lodge’.

The first time I visited my parents after my marriage, my father used to have two Masala-dosais and chutney for dinner. Every evening, without fail, my mother just peeled and cooked two potatoes and made the masala with onion, green chilies and ginger. When my parents visited us while we were in Pondicherry, my mother simply followed her routine to give my father his special dinner.

Watching her doing all this, even after she was past 65, my eyes used to fill with tears; such devotion and such loving care. Those were the days when there were no electrical kitchen gadgets and all the work was done manually. Grinding for dosai and idlis in a grinding stone was no easy task. Wherever they were, my mother always prepared my father’s dinner herself.

My mother pampered my father by indulging in fulfilling all his whims and fancies. Her home-made Appalams were appreciated and enjoyed by all in the family as well as our near and dear ones. But my father preferred the Pappadams sold in the grocery stored. He never liked them fried but roasted on a charcoal fire.

Coming back to Olan and our lunch today, Gowri served a spoonful to Mohan and asked him to taste it. Very reluctantly, he did so. He liked it and said that it was very different from what he had tasted before. What really surprised both Gowri and me was that Mohan asked for more Olan to eat with his curd rice. I was in fact gratified and my face broke out in smiles.

My recipe for Olan (for 4 people)

Pumpkin – green or red, ½ kg
Long Beans – 6-8
Potatoes – 2 medium-size ones
Green Chili – 4-5, cut lengthwise into four
Curry Leaves – 2 stalks
Milk extracted from half-a-coconut

Cut the pumpkin into one-inch square, about 1/8 inch thickness
Cut the long beans into one-inch long pieces
Peel and cut the potatoes into thin rounds
Cook the long beans in one cup of water. When they are half-cooked, add the pumpkin and potato pieces. Add salt when the vegetables are cooked. Then add the green chili and curry leaves. Allow it to boil once and remove from the fire. Add the coconut milk and serve.