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There are two things a guest notices upon arriving at Yves and Sifat’s home. The first is the enticing aroma. Persian food, Sifat’s native cuisine is on the menu, and I am sure pots have been simmering on the stove for hours. Even before the front door opens, the distinctive, spicy perfume of cardamom, cumin, and saffron wafts out in greeting. When you enter also striking is the relative quiet. Although world music plays softly, street noise from outside the Brussels apartment is conspicuously absent. The young couple’s loft is located in St Gilles, in the posh neighborhood of Louiza avenue. However cars and trams come and go and yet brick walls insulate the cozy interior, so the vehicles cannot be heard.
For Yves, a chocolate maker and Sifat a lawyer to be, settling into this Bruxelles apartment offered the chance to create a personalized living space. Like most urbanites, they longed for ample square footage and high ceilings. They also had the imagination and skill to realize the potential of spare, unpolished setting. Though they come from different backgrounds and have divergent tastes at times, Sifat and Yves share a love of design, Sifat was born and raised in Iran and came to Belgium to study international law. Yves was trained as a professional chocolate maker in Brugge. They met two years ago when Sifat ordered special chocolate cakes for a party, and their relationship had blossomed and they married last winter. Since that time Sifat and Yves have worked at blending not only their lives but their aesthetic sensibilities, too. The loft which is painted in calming shell colour, also features splashes of brilliant reds, reflecting that union. In Belgium, Yves is accustomed to restrained, neutral colour palettes-but Sifat brought red colour in his life. The apartment is still a work in progress:hardly a month passes without the introduction of a new colour scheme or furniture arrangement. The couple have learned to combine elements of their ethnic backgrounds regarding not only to their loft but also the food: dinner menus often feature clever, if unexpected, minglings of their cuisines. Happily, they have plenty of friends from all over the world.
Last week on a chilly October evening, we were invited to a party to their home. At this time Yves’s birthday was the cause of the celebration. The atmosphere was as always casual and fun: an assortment of Belgian beer awaited arriving visitors, along with a buffet of Belgian and Persian hors d’oeuvres the kuku. For dinner Sifat served a festive melange of flavours, including Belgian endive soup, (by Yves), baked saffron rice (a basmati rice dish infused with the spice and cooked until crunchy, nutty-tasting crust forms on the bottom)-along with fresh herb salad (sabzi) feta cheese, and blanced almonds, lamb stew and choco hazelnut cake! All the food was delicious, but the success of the party for Yves and Sifat comes from something less tangible, the creation of safa, in Persian, or gezelligheid in Flemish: a good conversation, beautiful surroundings and warmth among friends.
The climax of the evening was of course the birthday celebration. When the chorus was singing the Happy birthday to you, Sifat appeared with the luscious, chocolate hazelnut cake, coated with ganache (made from choco and cream). The cake was topped with mountain of bittersweet chocolate curls and was surrounded with hazelnut in tempered chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder. When we saw the cake our appetites somehow revived. In spite of the glorious cake Yves couldn’t resist to make some chocolate mousse with banana purée and grated coconut. And at the salon table among the handmade Belgian chocolates were displayed Sifat’s Persian chickpea cookies. Of course Persian tea was accompanied by the cake with dried mulberries and cardamom infused rock candy. For the alcoholic drink lovers champagne was served.
I got some of the recipes from Sifat and she allowed me to share:
every recipe was meant to 10 persons
Fresh herb kuku-Quishlike cake with yogurt
10 large eggs, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 ½ tea freshly ground pepper, 2 tbs flour, 4 gloves garlic, 2 cups chopped chives or scallions, 2 cups parsley, 2 cups cilantro, 2 cups fresh dill, 1 tbs fenugreek, 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, yogurt for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 combine eggs baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, salt pepper and flour in a medium bowl. Whisk until combined. Add garlic, chives, parsley, cilantro, dill, fenugreek, and 2 tbs olive oil. Mix thoroughly.
2. Brush 2 tbs olive oil onto bottom and slides of a 9 inch square nonstick metal baking pan. Place into the oven for 5 minutes to heat oil. Pour egg mixture into pan, bake for 30 minutes. 3. Remove pan from oven, and pour remaining 2 tbs of oil over the top. Return to oven, and bake until golden on top, about 10 minutes more. 4. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly before unmolding. Invert onto serving platter, and cut into pieces. Serve hot or at room temperature with yogurt.
2 large eggplants, pinch of salt, 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 large onion, 6 gloves garlic, 5 large eggs, parsley, saffron dissolved in 1 tbs hot water and lime, 1 tbs baking powder, 2 tbs flour, pepper to taste
1. Peel eggplants, reserving 4 long strips of peel to garnish top of kuku, and cut eggplants lenghtwise into 1 inch thick slices. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and pat dry. 2. Heat boiler, place eggplants on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil. Broil about 6 incches from heat until golden brown on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant to a bowl, and mash with a fork, set aside. 3. Heat 2 tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, cook stirring occasionally, until tender, 10-12 minutes. Add to bowl with mashed eggplants. 4. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, parsley. Saffron water, lime juice, baking powder, flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Add to eggplant mixture, and mix with a fork. 5. Brush 1 tablespoon oil into bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Place pan on baking sheet and place in the oven for 5 minutes to heat oil. Pour eggplant mixture into pan and place reserved eggplant peels across the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan, and drizzle remaining tablespoon oil over the top. Return to oven, and bake until golden on top, about 20 minutes more. 6. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly before unmolding. Cut in wedges, serve warm or room temperature.
Braised lamb stew-herb khoresh
6 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, 4 medium onions, 4 cloves garlic, salt, 2 tbs pepper, 2 tbs turmeric, 1 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in hot water and lime, 6 persian limes, 1 cup kidney beans, 4 cups water, 6 cups parsley, 2 cups garlic and chives, 2 cups fresh coriander, 4 tbs persian dried lime powder, squeezed lime juice
1. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Add lamb, onions, garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink and onions are softened, about 20 minutes. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron water, whole dried Persian limes and kidney beans, cook a few minutes more. Add the water, bring to boil, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. 2. Meanwhile, heat large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add choppedparsley, chives, coriander and fenugreek. Cook, stirring frequently, until they are wilted, about 10 minutes. Add remaning 2 tbs oil, and cook, until herbs are very fragrant, about 10 minutes more. 3. Add sautéed herbs and lime powder to lamb. Cover, simmer until meat, beans are tender, about 2 and half hours. Uncover stew, and cook until beans are very tender, and stew has thickened slighly. Serve it hot.
Baked saffron rice
3 cups basmati rice, 5-6 cups of water, salt, 4 tbs extra vergin olive oil, ¼ ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbs hot water
1. Rince the rice well, drain in colander. Place in a deep nonstick pot or rice cooker with water and salt. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer. Cook until all liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. 2. Drizzle oil over top of rice, stir gently with a wooden spoon. Gently press rice into an even layer. Reduce heat to medium-low. 3. Place a clean dish towel over top of pot, cover firmly, wrapping sides of towel around top of lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook over medium low heat for 50-60 minutes. 4. Gently pull rice away from side of pan with a spatula-there should be a nice golden crust. 5. Remove from heat, remove lid, drizzle saffron water over the rice. Cover immediately, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove lid, invert carefully onto a serving plate. Serve warm cut in wedges.
Cream of Belgian endive soup
2 medium leeks, 8 heads of Belgian endives, plus more for garnish, 2 medium potatoes, 3 tbs butter, ½ cup dry white wine, 5 cups homemade canned chicken or vegetable stock, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, pinch of nutmeg
1. Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse well under cold runnung water to remove any grit. Thinly slice crosswise, set aside. 2. Cut endives in half lenghtwise, and cut out and discard bitter cores. Thinly slice crosswise, set aside. 3. Peel potatoes, and cut into half inch pieces. Set aside in a bowl of cold water. 4. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, cook until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Drain potatoes well add to pot along with sliced endive. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. 10 minutes. Do not let brown. 5. Add wine stock, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender. 6. Transfer soup in batches to a blender or pass it through a food mill. Return to a clean saucepan, stir in cream. Bring to simmer, remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Garnish with fresh endive.
Belgian chocolate cake
Toast and peel the nuts for the cake and garnish at the same time. You can bake the cake up to 3 days ahead, wrap well and keep at room temperature. The candied hazelnuts and chocolate curls can also be made three days ahead and store in airtight containers. (2 cups hazelnuts, 1 cup sugar, 2 tbs water, 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped, ¼ cup sweetened cocoa)
4 ounces hazelnuts, 13 and half tbs butter softened, 2/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, 6 tbs granulated sugar, 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt, 2/3 cup boiling water, 1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract, ganache glaze, candied hazelnuts and chocolate curls
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and toasted, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, rub to loosen skins. Butter a 9-by-3 inch springform pan well, coat with cocoa, tapping out any excess. 2. In a food processor, grind nuts with granulated sugar until fine but not pasty, transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. 3. In a heat-proof bowl, whisk together cocoa and boiling water until smooth. 4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar on high until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. 5. Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cocoa mixture. Mixing on low, add half of dry ingredients to creamed mixture. When blended, pour in the cocoa mixture, and add remaining dry mixture, mix until incorporated. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes, remove from pan and cool completely. Place cooled cake on a 9 inch cardboard round. 6. Place half of the ganache in a bowl, place in a larger bowl of ice water, whip with a balloon whisk until lighter in colour and spreadable, removing bowl from ice bath and returning it as neessary. 7. Spread the whipped ganache smoothly on top and sides of cooled cake, and chill it. Gently stir remaining ganache every 5 minutes until thickened and cool. 8. Place cake on a wire rack over a sheet of waxed paper. Working with small ladle, pour ganache over top of cake, moving the ladle in a circular fashion while in contact with the cake, letting the ganache run down sides. Scrape up excess and reserve for another use. Let cake stand at room temperature until set. Garnish with nuts and chocolate curls.
Godh Bharai-alias baby shower is an interesting north Indian Hindu ceremony which is also performed in most other parts of India. In Bengal it is known as Shaad, in Kerala Seemandham and in Tamil Nadu the Valakappu is the equivalent of the Godh Bharai. In Hindi Godh bharai literally means to ‘fill the lap’ with abundance.
When a pregnant woman has completed seven months of gestation, the baby is assumed to be viable and in a safe phase. So, the Bharai celebration is usually at the end of the seventh month or in the beginning of the eighth month in order to welcome the little one to the family and bless her with the abundant joys of motherhood. While the rituals followed in various parts of the country on the occasion of God Bharai may differ, however the essence remains the same – to bless the pregnant woman. The ceremony may include adorning the woman with jewelry, making her wear bangles, filling her lap with gifts and laying out a feast before her. Such gifts may include clothing for the baby, auspicious charms such as silver bangles and cash. It is a wonderful way for the family to be together and celebrate the arrival of a new member whilst giving the mother-to-be support at such an important phase in her life. It is also common for the ceremony to celebrate with singing and dancing. Being an exclusive women’s ceremony, Godh bharai is also marked with a fair amount of teasing and fun. It may include some games such as guessing the sex of the baby by the size and shape of the pregnant woman’s belly.
In Hindi language the baby naming ceremony is called Naamkaran, in Marathi Baarsaa. But whatever the name is, the most essencial that the naming day is the first real ceremony held for the newborn child. The first ten days after birth are considered an ‘impure’ time for the mother and child. At the twelfth day when the child’s horoscope has formally drawn up the mother and child are given a ritual bath (though, according to one convention, it can be held on any day after the tenth day, and before the first birthday). The mother swathes the baby in a piece of new cloth, applies kajal to its eyes, and makes a little beauty mark on the cheek. Then the baby is placed in the father’s lap to be blessed. The priest offers prayers to all the gods and to Agni, the god of fire and the purifying factor, the elements, and the spirits of the forefathers, and entreats them to bless and protect the child. He also places the sheet on which the child’s horoscope is written, in front of the image of the deity, for its blessings. Then, the father leans towards the baby’s right ear, and whispers its chosen name. Usually, the father does not whisper directly into the child’s ear, but uses a betel leaf or its silver imprint, or a few leaves of kusa grass to direct the words to the child’s ear.
How to find the proper name for the baby
The Rig Veda prescribes the formula of giving a name with four components: the nakshatra name, the name of the deity of the month, the family deity’s name, and the popular name by which the child will generally be addressed.
This system, however, is rarely followed these days. The usual practice is to give one formal name and, if necessary, a short name by which the child will be called.
Some people coin a suitable name from a combination of the parents’ names. In certain communities, the first child is named after the paternal grandparent; in others, the first son is given the same name as the father. Sometimes, the baby is named after the nakshatra, or star of its birth. The child could also be named after the family deity or guru.
After the naming ritual is over, friends and relatives who have invited for the ceremony can bless the child and touch some honey or sugar to its lips. It is a moment of all-round happiness if the baby smacks its lips.
Other rituals: Shub Mahurat means etching the language Pandits ceremony. The name of the choice is the first letter, however, the so called Kundali is based on is just a date of birth, and the position of the star after examining the possible position of celestial bodies, and this is only possible when the woman is on labour. (Today, in many cases, the astrologer, enter the first letter of the name of the unborn child).
Lamia, the legendary queen of Lybia was the victim of Greek goddess Hera’s jealousy, who out of revenge changed her into a snake, and according to legend was forced to hunt for snakes in the guise infants.
On the pictures is my friend Bharti with her baby Shanaya, who was born on the 13th of August 2011, on Saturday morning at 7 hours 54 minutes, by Caesarian section, and weighed 3 kg 65 grams-8,03 pounds
To our great honor we were invited to the famous Diwali feast by our Indian friends in the beginning of November. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights and it is so important for Indian people such as for the Americans the Thanksgiving. We accepted happily the invitation partly because it was a great opportunity to participate in a “live” Indian feast, instead of only watching on the TV. When I rang the bell of the neat little house, Bharti and her husband had already stood at the entrance path, with their few Indian friends, all in festively dressed. A few invited non-Indian guests sat and listened to some music in the lounge. After admiring the apartment and their vitrine where for the main location was displayed the wedding pillow, I was offered a non-alcoholic drink with a sweet snack (sweetened grated carrot with a mixture of cashew nuts). We were just drinking our refresher when the men suddenly stood up and ran out. -Now a little presentation will come-explained Bharti, and put an Indian CD into their computer – “We may go out into the yard now,” she gave us the instruction. Rose petals were scattered away, the men lined up, and formed a circle according to the sounds of music, and began to dance. The story of the song could be something funny, as we puzzled from their gestures, probably about some fishing adventure because I guessed there was an imaginary net scooped into the sea ….or it could be any other funny hunting event, anyway they laughed through the whole thing, while we could only speculate what could the story be as we didn’t speak the Marathi language. After the dance show we returned to the dining room. Just captured our place at the table when Bharti had brought the dishes, appetizers, main dishes, desserts all at once, rice, with coriander yogurt sauce, decorated with a large green leaf, (to me it was unknown) then the famous pakora (fried flour breaded chickpeas), with hot sauce, and the orange juice and boiled milk, flavored with cashew and star anis. Alcohol, meat according to their religions were not allowed on the table, as Bharti came from the vegetarian region of India and her husband too. We rioted in the flavors, but we felt ourselves a bit like being in the tales of La Fontaine: in The Stork and the Fox story, to the effect that we were so illiterate about Indian cuisine. The coriander yogurt sauce, the rice were harmonized, I loved pakora very much so the dinner was very enjoyable. When we finished the dinner we adjourned to the parlor and then Vaihbao, as a good host asked us whether we liked the taste of Indian cuisine or not? It was very nice and I’d like to have all recipes of the saoji cuisine-because I want to enrich my vegetarian repertoir–I replied. In San Francisco in the Indian restaurants we ate dishes only with meat such as Tandori chicken, and some Hungarian stew-alike dish (do not remember of its name) with the famous idli so it was a very interesting new experience.
-Do you like idli? Then I will prepare it next time with some other woman stuff such as the poha, just for us -winked Bharti. And she did!
When we parted at London airport, we promised that we would look for each other when we return to Munich. And we kept our promising, which was even simpler than we thought, because it turned out that Bharti’s husband worked at the same university, where my husband, and on the top of that they even lived nearby from us in a leafy area in a beautiful detached house.
Our second encounter took place in the university buffet. It was a cold day in March so to my regret instead of her turqoise sari, Bharti showed up in a jeans and a T-shirt but looked radiant. After getting our hot chocolate, we sat in the bar’s black and white lounge into a comfortable rocking chair. „And what are your first impressions of München?”-I opened our chit-chat with that familiar question. -Well, compared to India the weather is of course colder, but at least not as much rain falls and the sky is really a “Bavarian” blue. In Munich everyone is friendly, helpful and speaks good English, so it helps to adapt easily. We love our home, with 6 rooms, and the landlady is very motherly, she invites me almost every day for a daily afternoon tea with a cake.- So, all well and good, and absolutely positive! I am sincerely happy for you.- And aren’t you bored at home? -Oh no, no, no- she shook her head -because now we are in our honemoon- she said and blushed.- My husband always comes home for lunch, then after eating we can take a nap. Do you mind if I spoke about this?- she asked me again.- Oh no, if you do not mind!- because I knew how hard it was to find a confidential friend when I moved to Belgium, far from the family and old friends. -And something has changed in your relationship since your wedding?- Oh, yes, yes, yes!- she repeated vigorously.- I feel I am in love with my husband,-she said pressing the world-. Well, then I’m so happy for you and I invited her and her „other half” to a dinner on Friday next week.
When I opened the door and saw behind Bharti’s shoulder her husband, I immediately recognized him of the picture of their wedding’s pillow. He was small, physiquely slim, had a little mustache under his nose, what made his boyish look older and was paler-skinned than his wife. -Meet Vaibhao-introduced us Bharti her husband and after some formal greeting phrases we led them to our living room.
As the husband was talkative on the nice way, as taciturn was Bharti in the presence of her husband, later I figured out that this is one of the important teachings of Hinduism. A woman should be silent in the presence of her husband! (How many Hungarian husband fancied that teaching, and broke his arms and legs to rush to India to pick up the Hindu religion or rather a Hindu wife!) Vaibhao talked about his work how he’s dealing with the neurological research (Alzheimer) in the institute, and then he diverted the converse into his root, so we had learned that that he had already been the second-middle-class generation from his family. Meanwhile he was talking I realized that we have no idea about people’s struggles in India where parents pay high price to educate their children for a better future and behind someone’s degree there is an the incredible self-sacrifice, but in Europe as people live better living condition children don’t appreciate the effort of their parents that much!
After dinner when we all sat comfortably in our living room the word turned on the marriage in Indian style. The rest of the guests were PHD students, about the age of late twenty or early thirty, (so it was an exciting topic ) but we, my husband and I also listened with great interest to his sayings about one of the oldest culture. He said that before he had met Bharti, he did not have much experience, because virginity is required not only for women but also applies to men. By the time Peter, a 28 years old Hungarian guy, interrupted him and proposed the next question: -and how do men repress their sexual desires, when they are excited?- Vaihbao replied that there are for the Kama Sutra and there are chapters for men to practice their temperance.
As I listened to that men and women’s lives are governed by the Hindu doctrines, I started not to agree what I heard. Does it make any good if Indian people live their lives among a lot of prohibitions, which are really required by Hinduism, Buddhism? Okay, do not eat cattle, do not drink alcohol, do not use drugs they are not at all bad things, I mean I have no difficulty to comply, but I had a feeling that women had to live in their houses to accept a non-stop family service, but the question is does it fill in their expectations of married life? But after a second thought I realized that maybe it does because firstly these are the principals of the Indian culture meaning that the Indian women are happy to bear their fates, (and also because of the limited work possibilities) secondly they are brought up being less assertive, less self-centered than the Europeans and they live not for making a career, but for a happy marriage.
-And is there prostitution?- asked curiously a German student. What will happen to one who breaks the rules prescribed by society? For my great surprise Bharti took the floor:-Well the society cast them, those women who are virgin going to get married, but if someone gets pregnant, better lose one’s fortune than one’s honor because of the exclusion is equal to the death. Without a man, family and friends a woman will starve.- Hearing that I added that it happened the same to a woman about 100 years ago in Europa-, when a woman got pregnant before tying a knot in the altar was condemned and casted out.
Then for a counter example Bharti brought on a popular English movie: A Tale of Love which was one of my favourite movie as well, a fine carefully told tragedy in the context of 16th century India. It portrays a woman’s plight in that time, the question is marry or be a courtesan in a harem. A bit ellaborate: the plot is the tale of two girls, Maya and Tara, one is a lowly servant, the other is a noble princess, both raised together as children. They are best friends but Tara forever reminds Maya of her subordinate position. Though her striking beauty and her skills of seduction learnt through the Kama Sutra, the Indian book of love, Maya exacts her revenge on Tara by seducing her husband, the maharaja the sole heir on her wedding day thus it is the beginning of a destructive struggle for power where revenge is the goal, but the outcome is a tragedy.
-Congratulation! You have won our “case” because Maya’s way of thinking and her deeds were indeed like a 21st century modern woman’s. -So I lost!-I repeated and she accepted that with a great laugh.
It was at the end of February in 2009 when I was about going home from Nagpur to Münich. My spirit was still on high because I had just left behind the Orange city, (Nagpur is located in central India and it is the largest orange-growing town) and my soul was still lingering somewhere there so that I didn’t perceive when my airplane landed at London Heathrow. But when I heard the announcement of my flight attendant ’s that unfortunatelly the Munich flight had been cancelled due to the not predictable lava ashes, I fell down immediately to the real world. I was busy dialling my husband’s in order to inform him about the changing of my arrival, when a pleasant-faced, young Indian woman approached me in a turquoise sari and in a sneakers with a short overcoat. -Is this seat taken?-she asked me in English politely. When I replied-no-she sat down. After a few formal phrasis such as -how terrible that we were captivated by the lava ashes and so on I had learned that she was supposed to fly to Munich as well in order to reunite her husband. What a coincident!- I exclaimed with a surprize- I am also heading for Munich. She cheered up hearing that. Then when word followed by word, it turned out that she had just married a month ago. The wedding took place in Nagpur, but because her husband had already been worked for three years in a neurological research institute in Munich, after the marriage he had to return immediately. Unfortunately she couldn’t fly with him because to obtain the visa and other papers it needed a longer time. Otherwise, she was full of anxiety, because it was her first flying experience ever. -I can not wait to see my husband but I am detained by the lava ashes-she whispered with a bleak smile on her face. -I am so sorry-I told her in order to express my sympathy- that’s right you are supposed to be in your honeymoon!- Then partly because I wanted to divert her attention of her self-pity and partly because I was really interested in the way of the Indian marriages I asked her to tell how she met her husband. Her face relighted immediately like a bulb in the socket. It was overly an interesting topic because before about Indian marriage I had only informations like ( I mean before the computer time) young couples contacted through a matchmaker who arranged their marriages. I have always found a bit bizarre when I read that matchmakers were even taken breath samples from the couples (after they licked her hand and she sniffed the smell then she could establish whether they become or meant to each other), in order to be sure on that that they will make a perfect match in every aspect. -„You know today the young Indian people find each other on the Internet”-enlightened Bharti (that was her name) to me, we have a special website where everyone can look for a partner. When someone finds a sympathetic man or woman, parents are asked to go to the chosen family. Then they discuss important issues such as financial situations of the families, compare the nubile’s school degrees, or which caste they belong to, mainly because the country still cling weddings belong to the same caste.
It was 28 of February, and Bharti met her husband first time in mid of January! Oh my God! You had a really ephemeral engagement!-I exclaimed.-It was!-replied Bharti with a smile and then continued her story-but you know inspite of the haste we were well aware of that that the marriage means tying the knot forever! Divorce doesn’t exist in India.- Going to get married before we met only three times, with our future husband? I don’t think so it would work in Europa! But there is no accounting for tastes! And Bharti continued – The first time we met was at my parental house, a second time at an expert’s whom she made our horoscopes, which convinced us that we would fit together (the husband of agricultural graduates, and she studied pharmacy and was a chemistry teacher in a high school). Then we had a nice talk of the significance of marriage-leaded by our parents who told us that the most important in a marriage to choose the right partner because marriage is for life. -And what if the love is gone in a few years? I interrupted Bharti. -I don’t think so- she replied, -because later, love becomes intimate relationship-. Then the marriage is rather a business than love!- I fully disagree- answered Bharti, -because I am absolutely positive on that that parents know what is good for us.- And then Bharti went on:- You know, before our marriage my husband and I had a face to face talk, about what would be our needs, on what way we would like to live. She also revealed that that according to the Hindu religion, sex before marriage is forbidden for men and women as well (Oh my God then the Kama Sutra is thoroughly misunderstood in Europe). Finally, the third meeting was the marriage.
By this time our conversation was interrupted by the loudspeaker, but when we heard that our flight likely won’t take off in the following few hours, we carried on our conversation in a little cafe nearby. Thus we had more time for getting known each other better and Bharti had the opportunity to show some photos of her wedding but what I was really fascinated by it was a cushion on which the image of the young couple was pressed. I had to admit that in her red sari Bharti was a gorgeous, beautiful bride, she really looked like a Bollywood star. Then she recalled her wedding day, when her mother and her girlfriends attired her, decorated her hair with flowers, put lots of jewelry on her arm, neck. They were motifs painted on her face, hands, feet with henna, which is according to the Hindi religion protects them from any adverse effect. Then on the next photo I recognized the veiled Bharti, who was walking- escorted by her parents up to a huge bonfire where his future husband-the groom was waiting for her. Then the father „gave” the bride to the husband, indicating that for that very moment he will be responsible for his daughter. Her mother took a bowl from which she threw some grain toward the flames.- It helps to become a good wife- added Bharti as an explanation. On the following picture I saw Bharti’s husband who painted a red line into his wife’s hair parting, this meant that finally Bharti became his. “This is the sindur. -said Bharti (when someone is engaged she has a Bindi on her forehead, a red painted dot, which means the girl has been taken. Sindur means the woman is married). (I guess there is no cheating and no divorce, because a women with sindur is considered taboo for every man!)
The next picture showed when the couple placed seeds and fruits on the sacrificial fire, to obtain the blessing of Krisna of the marriage and the spiritual life, being supportive of each other, avoid diseases, etc. -said Bharti. After the fire ceremony the feast had began. There were plenty of colourful plates, piles of spicy dishes typical samples of the Saoji kitchen, even though it is very spicy does not cause any health problems-assured me Bharti-. But I couldn’t go along with her because once I went through in an indigestion from a Tikka Massala and I was so sick almost ended up in a hospital and by the way at that moment I could not wait longer to eat European dishes again, it was same feeling when I returned from Japan.
-And what will you going to do in Munich?- I asked her curiously. -Certainly I would like to work but before-I will try to be a virtuous wife, I will not provoke my husband, I won’t use too much perfume, and if my behavior is correct, my husband’s mind will stay sharp and relaxed and I am sure the marriage will be as spiritual connection as sexual.- I was totally captivated by the purity of her vows, but before I had time to compare to the European principles of marriage, the loudspeaker called us and announced that, we could begin boarding. We quickly switched e-mail addresses and promised to meet again in Munich!
To be continued
Because Nagpur is located near to Cobra River and belongs to Vidharbha region where there is a particular cuisine called the saoji kitchen. The typical food spices are black pepper, coriander, bay, gray cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, poppy seeds, soy and coconut fillings. The non-vegetarian main dishes are made of chicken and lamb, but in order to get enough protein the vegetarians consume Paneer which is a kind of lactovegan cheese (milk boiled and eaten with a mixture of lemon juice).
When on the 1st of October I arrived at Lindau the Lake Constance was still summer warm in the cool October air, and the hot water bottle of the lake efficiently heated up the vineyards and fruit growing areas. At the first sight I was totally enchanted by the beauty of the lake so I decided to return again in order to discover more miracles around the 273 km lake.
There is so much history, art and nature concentrated along the lake Constance so it is no wonder that Unesco has proclaimed two places part of the world cultural heritage: St Gallen monastery and the island of Reichenau. But I don’t want to talk about the history and culture of the lake Constance because I think everyone can find the story of the cities in the internet or in a guide book. Just to draw your attention I’d like to tell: if someone gets bored with the nature (impossible but) can find many facilities to enjoy life along Lake Constance such as open air swimming pools and indoor hot springs, tennis or minigolf courses, surfing, sailing schools, in almost every locality and plenty of opportunities for fishing, playing boccia, riding, diving and waterskiing. The cycle path around the lake is legendary. Of course nowadays more consideration is also taken of nature, which has at times been badly treated by civilization. Solar ferries ply the lake and there are stretches of reed and wooded pastures in which bitterns nest and wild Iris flower. These are still there which is good to know.
My food adventure
Let’s start my food travelogue! It ‘s quite a melting pot around the lake Constance: Swabia, Baden, Bavaria, Voralberg, Thurgau and Appenzell, all contribute their culinary specialities to the big hill of fare. In case, however, the many cooks don’t spoil the broth, but are richly rewarded with stars and crowns, as they say in Austria. For sophisticated gourmets, the lake Constance region is just one enormous table of delights. That was already appreciated by the widely travelled French philosopher Michel de Montaigne back in the 16th century when he put up at Lindau in 1580, he found everything so deliciously prepared that the cuisine of the French nobility can scarcely compare with it. Today’s guests wouldn’t doubt be unable to find the quince soup and snipes praised by Montaigne, though that surely won’t mean he will have to go hungry as a consequence.
And you don’t always have to order fish-though fried Felchen with kolrabi (see photo) and carrots from Reichenau are an essential part of a visit to lake Constance. Its the regional specialities that add colour to the menu: in early summer, asparagus from Baden in dozens of varieties, in autumn, medaillons of venison, haunch of young deer and breast of duck. The Swiss fry Röschti (potatoes) to go with Zürcher geschnetzelten –chopped up meat. Or let their cheese melt into fondue, raclett or Kasewache. In Austria, after relishing boiled fillet of beer or onion roast of beef, you have to still have room for Apple strudel or a plate of Kaiserschmarren (made of pancake based dough with marmelade).
But there is also plain fare to savour-and no less tasty-you make a really good start to the day a roll with warm meat loaf, a hot sausage called Schübling straight out the pot, a tasty landjaeger. Or you go to the bakery to sample crisp salty Pretzels fresh from the oven, and Selen, loaves of white bread with coarse salt and caraway seeds, once poor people s food, made from a dough with less yeast and longer resting time than is usual for rolls. At noon, a plate of Fladlesuppe (noodle soup), a couple of Maultaschen (oversize ravioli with steamed cabbage) in dripping or a portion of Allgauer Kasespaetzle smothered in crisp onion rings. And if the restauranteur then still has dumplings in the oven well…it’s your responsability!
If you find your triple, that is to say paunch, or liver dumpling and spatzle on the menü, you really should summon up the courage to give them a try. Appenzeller and Bergkase cheese specialities, which comes to the lake from the Allgau or Bregenz forest, don’t need any special recommendation. Incidentally you don’t always have to drink wine with your meal or snack-even if a glass of cool Meersburger or Hagnauer is an incomparable delight particularly on a warm summer evening. According to my husband the beers are spicy and pleasant. And a locally produced Williams or Obstler (fruit liqueur) rounds off every meal in absolutely typical lake Constance style…
In September the possibilities of summer have gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and many people turn inward, both physically and mentally. Personally I find that autumn is pretty, I like to watch the autumn foliage, and how the leaves change their colors and not negligible that the vegetables and grains are ready to be harvested for this time. Not unintentional that any cultures feature autumnal harvest festivals, often as the most important on their calendars. Still extant echoes of these celebrations are found in the mid-autumn such as Thanksgiving holiday in USA and Canada, the North American Indian festivals tied to harvest of autumnally ripe foods gathered in the wild, the Chinese Moon festival, and many others. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is a complacence for the fruits of the earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminent arrival of harsh weather. While most foods are harvested during the autumn, foods particularly associated with the season include pumpkins (which are integral parts of both Thanksgiving and Halloween) apples, used to make the seasonal beverage the apple cider.
My grandparents had a grape vineyard so that each September or early October we harvested the grapes in order to make vine with the help of my uncle who was a pharmacist and at the same time a winemaker expert. Of course after the hard work we celebrated our small harvest with eating many heavenly dishes such kind of the quince cheese or quince jelly-candy was. I don’t know how many times I enjoyed when my grandma baked the fruits with sugar and lemon juice, and we loved to watch how they turned crimson after a long cooking time and became a relatively firm, quince tart, dense enough to hold its shape. The taste was sweet but slightly astringent.
When we finished our jobs in the garden, we children surrounded my grandmother, who spinned a yarn. What I liked the most among her fairies was when she talked about the origin of the spices and fruits. I think she was a kind of medicine-woman because she was well aware of the effect of many herbs. She told me about her quince recipe once that it came from the Roman time of the cookbook of Apicius, (not…a collection of Roman cookery recipes compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD gives recipes for stewing quince with honey) who named the quinces the golden apples.
All over the world there are 40-50 quince species, and only in Hungary 10-15 species exist, the most prevalents are from the village of Bereczk, then the pear shaped quince from Dunabogdány, the greenish-yellowish colored ones from Mezőtúr (the harvest is only in October) and finally the smallest, early ripened quinces come from Perbál and Gönc. In Hungary, quince cheese is called birsalma sajt, and it is prepared with small amounts of lemon zest, cinnamon or cloves. Péter Melius, the Hungarian botanist mentioned quince cheese as early as 1578 as a fruit preparation with medical benefits. The Hungarian word „birs” ‘s („the name of the hard-firm skinned apple shaped of fruits”) origin is unknown. In the 16th century it was called bis, biss apple.
In England historically marmalade was made from quinces. The English word “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word marmelada, meaning “quince preparation” (and used to describe quince cheese or quince jam; “marmelo” = “quince”), but nowadays in English it refers mainly to jams made from citrus fruits, especially oranges.
In French cuisine, quince paste or Pâte de coing is part of the Provence Christmas traditions and part of the thirteen desserts which are the traditional dessert foods used in celebrating Christmas in the French region of Provence. Quince cheese, an old New England specialty of the 18th century, required all-day boiling to achieve a solidified state, similar to the French cotignac.
In continental Croatia, quince cheese is an often prepared sweet and it is named kitnkes, derived from the German Quittenkäse.
In Pakistan, quinces are stewed together with sugar until they turn bright red. The resulting stewed quince, called Muraba, is then preserved in jars. In Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish jello-like blockor firm reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo.
Quince with whipped cream serves for 4
2 medium quince
⅔ c superfine (baker’s) sugar
⅔ c water
1½ T lemon juice
Preheat oven to 250˚F (120˚C).
Peel and halve the quince. Using a melon peeler and a paring knife, carefully core the quince halves. They are incredibly hard, so be careful when using the knife to remove any stray bits of stem. Reserve the peel and trimmings. Combine sugar, water, 1 clove and lemon juice in a shallow baking dish, such as a casserole (preferably one with a lid). Stir with a whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the reserved trimmings and the quince halves, cut side down. Peel the apple. Using the largest wholes on a box grater, coarsely grate the apple over the quince halves. This will prevent the quince from drying out while baking.
Cover and bake for 5 to 7 hours until over 160 degrees the fruit softens and turns pink or, if you’re lucky like I was, crimson. According to Paula Wolfert, who is an expert of how to cook quince, not all varieties of quince turn quite so red. She recommends serving the quince halves with clotted cream and toasted almonds. Although I tried it both I preferred my quinces with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Either way, strain and then spoon the sweet cooking juices over the fruit.
By the way leftover juices make a great spritzer mixed with water or, even better, a great version of a Bellini or Kir Royale mixed with Prosecco or Champagne!
Quince tart Tatin
- 4 quinces (about 2 pounds total), trimmed
- 5 1/2 cups sugar
- 5 cups water
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Bring quinces, 1/2 cup sugar, and the water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer gently until quinces are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer quinces to a plate to cool, reserve cooking liquid. Return coarsely chopped quinces to pot (including seeds, cores, skin). Bring to a boil. Slowly stir in remaining 5 cups sugar and the lemon juice. Cook with constantly stirring it until preserves are thick, orange, and register 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 25 minutes. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids. Let it cool.
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 piece star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 quince, peeled, cored, and seeded
- In a medium saucepan bring sugar, star anise, cinnamon, and 4 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, using a 1/2-inch melon peeler scoop out 12 balls of quince.
- Add quince to liquid and reduce to a simmer. Cook until quince is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool completely in liquid. Store quince in poaching liquid in an airtight container, refrigerated, until ready to use.