Cricketer Mithali Raj shares memories of the food she grew up on

Mithali Raj recently became the first female cricketer to receive the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award. This is an excerpt from Recipes for Life by Pune-based writer Sudha Menon. The book is part memory and part celebration of food and mothers.

I was in New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup in 2002 when I was diagnosed with typhoid and hospitalized. I was only nineteen at the time. I still remember how traumatic it was to be isolated in a foreign country, without my family around. I was alone and lost, because even my coach and manager were not there and it was terrifying.

I remember waves of homesickness overwhelming me, especially at night, and I cried thinking about my family and how good it would be to come home. One night I went to bed miserable and dreamed that I was home and mom was making my favorite fried fish. The dream was so real I could smell the fish frying and smell it in my mouth, but like all good things that too ended. I woke up and found I was still in the hospital and the fried fish meal was just a dream!

I have never liked the food too much. Since I was a child my attitude has been to eat for good health and it is a task that you have to do every day. But over the past two decades, as I traveled the world to play cricket tournaments and spend long periods of time outdoors, I’ve found that the familiar food you eat at home is synonymous with comfort and love with which it is made. When traveling to other countries, I often find myself craving the spicy food that I eat at home, but it’s not readily available there.

The first thing I do when the team is packing is call mum and tell her to have my fried fish or mutton curry ready before I get home! What is amazing is that mom is a vegetarian who has never eaten meat but makes the tastiest non-vegetarian dishes. In fact, she learned to cook non-vegetarian food when I started playing cricket when I was little and the coach told her I had to eat fish and chicken to get protein and strengthen my muscle. endurance.

Little by little, my brother and father also started to enjoy non-vegetarian dishes, but my brother has recently gone back to being a vegetarian. The joke in the family is that now my dad has to wait until I come back for a non-vegetarian meal; Mom just won’t cook it for him alone.

One of my favorites from her extensive list of dishes is a red chilli and coconut chutney that she makes to accompany the dosa and idli. I have tried the same chutney in a number of South Indian Tiffin places, but nothing compares to the taste of what mom makes. My friends and teammates love him and ask him to prepare it when they visit. In fact, some of them who live in Delhi and Lucknow took mum’s recipe. Mom herself learned the recipe from my paternal grandmother.

Before getting married, Mum belonged to a family where women didn’t spend too much time in the kitchen but focused on their education and other interests. Later she
became part of my father’s common Mudaliar family where everyone helped cook, and so she never really learned to cook. It wasn’t until my parents moved to set up our house that she learned to cook. It was difficult for her, especially the part where she had to cook non-vegetarian dishes for me. Being a vegetarian, she couldn’t even taste the food herself. But she mastered it and quickly became adept at making three to four variations of each vegetarian and non-vegetarian dish so that her children would not get bored of the food.

When it comes to great food, there are two festivals that I particularly look forward to – Ganesh Chaturthi and Krishna Janmashtami – because mum makes sweets that I really enjoy, even though she cuts down on the amount of sugar to keep my diet. do not deviate. I actually chat with her about it, saying that a sweet dish is not a sweet dish if there is no sugar.
inside. Mommy’s Polished Puran is something I can overdose on anytime. These are not the kind of polishes available in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but much thicker and stuffed with a jaggery mix. Mom always packs her polish puran for me when I have to travel by train for tournaments. I eat polis for dinner while I’m away, I miss the house and its food. In fact, I consider her polis puran to be my lucky charm and I never leave the house without a hiding place in my bag. I also love the sweet puris she makes for us – she fry the puris and dust them with powdered sugar as soon as they come out of the kadhai. Celestial!

For Krishna Janmashtami, she prepares five to six dishes, some sweet and some savory, and after the pooja is over in the evening, we can all enjoy them. my favorite is her
semiya payasam.

When it comes to everyday food, my favorite is his dal palak, which is tasty and nutritious. I like that the palak is not mashed and pasty like in restaurants. I like his palak paneer mix because I like the crunchiness in my food. My idea of ​​a good meal is a serving of rice, dal palak and ghee on top.

I now look forward to the familiarity of mom’s food. When we visited the West Indies last year, I found the food very bland, even when we ordered from an Indian restaurant. I would be really depressed seeing the food; this is normal because we are away from home for long periods of time and miss the familiar taste of home-cooked meals. On the way home, I called mum from the UK, where we stopped over, and asked her to make something soothing to the eyes as well as the taste buds. She understood exactly what I meant and when I walked into my house I was greeted by the aromas of my favorite fish fries and mutton curry.

Thank God for mothers and the food they prepare for us.

Fried fish

Ingredients
1 kg of fish (muraille), cut into approximately 16 pieces
3 teaspoons of chilli powder
3 teaspoons of ginger-garlic paste
1 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
Oil for frying fish, as needed
Ingredients for the marinade (ground into a paste)
2 small tomatoes, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 bunch of coriander leaves

A few sprigs of curry leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 green peppers
2 teaspoons of tamarind pulp / white vinegar

Method
Wash the fish pieces thoroughly in salted water and turmeric.
Grind the marinade ingredients into a fine paste.
To this paste add chili powder, ginger and garlic paste, salt and turmeric powder.
Mix well and marinate the fish in it, making sure the pieces of fish are well coated with the marinade. Set aside for an hour.
Now fry the slices in batches of 2-3 pieces in a pan, adding oil as needed.

Coconut Chutney

Ingredients
200 g pieces of fresh coconut
9 red peppers
9 garlic cloves
3 teaspoons of oil of your choice to pour over the chutney
Salt to taste

Method
Grind all the ingredients into a coarse paste in a blender. Take it out in a small bowl and pour in the oil. Mix well before serving.

Sea crab curry

Ingredients
6 crabs, halved and legs separated
1 inch of ginger
6 to 8 cloves of garlic
half a lemon
Coriander leaves for garnish
50 to 60 ml of oil of your choice to sauté the masala
Coconut milk, extract

Ingredients for roasting and grinding into a paste
1 small onion
12 green peppers
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
Salt to taste

Method
Wash the crab pieces and legs in salted water and keep them aside.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion slices and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic paste and sauté for 3 minutes until browned.
Now add the crab pieces and thighs and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the prepared masala paste with salt to taste and a cup of water.
Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and cook over low heat for a few more minutes.
Turn off the heat when the curry becomes aromatic.
Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and garnish with coriander leaves.

Also read: Mothers and memories of the food we grew up with

Recipes for Life: by Sudha Menon, Penguin Random House India, 256 pages, Rs399.
Excerpt from Recipes For Life, courtesy Penguin Random House India.

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