You could mistake it for a witch’s cauldron the way it burbled through the day, as smoke rose lazily into the air causing most of us to drool. This was a Sunday endeavour – every weekend my mum would at lunchtime dole out ladles full of kadhi, a thick savoury mix that combined the tartness of yoghurt with the sweetness imbued by a rolling boil that lasted a few hours. There was another subtle flavour too, of chickpea flour.
Kadhi – not curry, which is the ubiquitous term used to define any gravy dish that comes out of India – is a staple in most homes but the method and ingredients of cookery vary across the nation. For us, the sun-hued soup was eaten with hot rice and khatta aloo (sour potatoes), another family recipe taught by my grandmother to my mother then to me though lessons of touch, taste and grand debacles in the kitchen. (Fortunately, we were all so fond of the combination that the tries never went to waste.)
The first time I tried to replicate the flavour was on a trip to India, where we had been told our water wasn’t safe to use to drink; we had gallon upon gallon stacked in the corner – one of which was emptied in the cooking of the khadi. Each bite was a bittersweet morsel; the water was precious – and expensive – but the kadhi was beautiful.
Still, for a professional taste, I continued to call ‘The Mother’, who often surprises me with her alacrity and ease with supervision in the kitchen in spite of hating that particular area in the house. Under her watchful eye and commanding presence, the chickpea flour would be mixed with the yoghurt and water and churned until no lumps dared remain. Then it would be slowly stirred in one direction while it came to a boil. It often meant taking turns with the ladle, for this would be done over a slow flame and would take between 30 to 45 minutes. Once the boiling had begun, you could sit back and enjoy the gentle bubbling.
Hours later as the water would evaporate, the flavours would condense into the familiar melody, igniting old neural connections, causing involuntary pangs of hunger.
Finally, as the tempering sizzled on a heated girdle and the ghee, or clarified butter, swallowed the dried red chillies, the mustard seeds, the cumin, the curry leaves, the family would gather at the table. Drizzled noisily into the hot liquid, the red chilli oil floating atop the kadhi would give the impression of a setting sun. We were too busy then to notice of course – it was just another regular Sunday lunch.
Often we found ourselves bickering about the predictability of the meal. Why couldn’t we eat the spicy treats other families would nosh on – what about the chola, the rajma, the aloo paratha even? It was only when mum decided to stop the tradition that we truly realised what it was that she was sharing – love. For kadhi aloo, in our home, is about more than that ‘family flavour’, it is about lunchtimes filled with laughter and the four of us – mother, father and two kids - together.
Recipe for kadhi
1 cup chickpea flour
1 litre yoghurt, full fat
4 litres water
Salt, to taste
4 tbsp ghee
4 dried red chillies
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin
10 to 12 curry leaves
1. Mix the chickpea flour and yoghurt together in a big flat bottomed pot.
2. Add water and whisk together until you get a uniform mix.
3. Slowly heat the pot on low heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Use a ladle to stir clockwise or counter-clockwise until this happens. Mix in only one direction so that the mixture doesn’t curdle.
4. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, you can stop stirring. Continue to boil on the stove and allow the water to evaporate.
5. Boil until it condenses to about 1/3rd the quantity. Use the ladle to stir the pot, remove it and look at the back of the ladle – a medium viscus layer should have formed on the spoon. Season and set aside.
6. In a frying pan add the ghee and red chillies and after a few seconds everything else except the curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the curry leaves and allow them to curl up and get crisp. Add this mix to the kadhi.
7. Serve hot with rice.
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