In this column I once wrote a recipe for “hindi tandır,” which is turkey tandoori. It was a piece on Thanksgiving inevitably tackling with the etymology of turkey and how as a country we got doomed with being forever associated with that American bird. Of course the recipe was not a typical traditional one as the use of turkey in Turkish kitchens can be considered a rather later entry when compared to that of tandır, both a cooking method and a name given to dishes ranging from breads to slow-cooked meats, which can easily be dated a few millennia back.
The reason I remembered my turkey tandoori recipe was because of a symposium in Delhi titled Tasting India. When one of the organizers Sourish Bhattaccharyya suggested that I should present a talk in the symposium, the first thing that popped to my mind was the tandır-tandoori connection, a cooking technique that might be one of the first great inventions of gastronomy. I was always a fan of Indian food, and one of the first foods that I encountered in Indian cuisine was naturally, tandoori. We have tandır instead, not as a freestanding furnace, but fixed in a pit dug in the ground or as a fixed built-in-oven working in a raised platform. In both countries the cooking method is almost identical, so are the breads. The similarity had always hit me, and I instantly thought that it would be a good idea to explore the shared culinary culture of India and Turkey starting from the ages old tandır-tandoori oven. Turkey (the bird), on the other hand, does not exist in traditional Indian cuisine, but in Turkey, it is named “hindi” meaning Indian or from India. In the Ottoman times most food items coming from the exotic east were tagged Indian, as the Indian Ocean was the starting point of trade. However, the origin of the bird was not wrongly thought as from India; but it was New India, the Americas. The confusion was obvious but just as we got stuck with the bird’s name, for Turkish speakers India had such a fate.
Sharing such a strange misunderstanding, the culinary connections between two countries need to be scrutinized more, as it may contain many other gastronomic mysteries yet to be explored. When in Delhi, I quickly realized that the culinary links that tie the two countries were stronger than I thought. In various occasions I could read the menu without much difficulty. Food words that appear frequently in menus such as kofta/köfte (meatballs), keema/kıyma (mincemeat), yakhni/yahni (stew), sabzi/sebze (vegetable), sharab/şarap (wine), paneer/peynir (cheese), badam/badem (almond), şakkar/şeker (sugar), firni/fırın (oven), baklaa/bakla (fava beans), anar/nar (pomegranate), kabab/kebap, pilau/pilav, sherbet/sherbet, (I guess these need no translation to English!) were exactly the same. With a quick check, my list food-related words extended to almost 65, I’m sure an in-depth study will extend it further, as some suggest there are as much as 9000 words common in Hindustani and Turkish languages. Some originate from Sanskrit, some are of Turkic origin, and many others borrowed from Persian, Arabic and other languages.
The first edition of the Tasting India Symposium, organized by the dedicated efforts of Sanjoo Malhotra and Sourish Bhattaccharyya, offered an insight into Indian food culture. After an amazing immersion to Indian food for three days, listening to in-depth discussions and panels, meeting with talented chefs and prolific food writers, I now realize that there is no such thing as Indian food! It is like calling foods of innumerous countries in Africa like African cuisine. Indian kitchen is a culinary continent to be explored, like in the case of Chinese cuisine, what we see is only the tip of the iceberg, the greater chunk is still lying out there to be cherished surrounded by the Indian ocean.
This recipe of Green Beans Poriyal does not require difficult-to-find ingredients; it is fresh and almost instant, a delightful recipe. During the symposium we had the chance to taste it prepared by Sumeet Nair, author of the book The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad. You can find the recipe at yummefy on Facebook. Chop 225g green beans in half cm slices; blanch in 4 cups of salted water briefly and drain. For tempering, heat 2½ tablespoons vegetable oil in a pan (kadhai or wok), add 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds, 3 dried red chilies. Once the mustard seeds start popping, add 2 teaspoons split urad dal, 1 fresh green chili, 10 curry leaves and about 25 g chopped onion. Fry slightly and add ¼ cup grated coconut. Sauté for a minute or so, and add the drained beans. Poriyal can be prepared with many different vegetables as a light complement to spicy curries.
When in Delhi a culinary walk by Anubhav Sapra is a must! He knows all the right places in Old Delhi. He also knows all the homeless children around, as he offers a helping hand to them to find shelter and food. He is the kindest person ever; just meeting him was one of the peaks of the symposium. Forget about the misleading prejudices of Delhi Belly and deep dive into street food with Delhi Food Walks. A truly challenging experience!
Spice-laden Indian food goes well with the refreshing beers of the country like the ubiquitous King Fisher, but there are other options in India. A rather new local winery Sula produces a range that pairs with various Indian dishes; they also launched a whisky named Eclipse only last week. Of course another favorite remains the good old friend Old Monk, the unmatched local rum.