Some amount of left over rice is a given in most south Indian households even today. Few decades back when the average size of the family was large, the quantity of left overs also tended to be higher. Back then, eating rice morning, noon and night was pretty common. We did not have oats or pasta to tempt our palates and keep our diets “healthy”. Only the very literate and well read knew what it meant to sow wild oats. Pasta was never even heard of in the hinter lands of the Deccan Plateau in the eighties and nineties.
Left over rice from the afternoon was consumed with the dal and vegetables with dinner. The magic was the rice from the night. At least twice a week there was enough to transform into a break fast dish for the kids. Into a tempering of mustard, cumin seeds went in a generous dose of channa dal for the crunch. Sauteed to golden brown the crackling kadai was ready for a generous handful of curry leaves. Diced onions and chillies followed next .Turmeric powder was added or omitted depending on the mood of the person who is cooking. Once the onions turned pale pink, the cool rice which was already mashed, was added. In went the salt and the rice was turned around mixing with the onions and the seasoning. The warm rice was served with a pickle or as is with a dash of lemon juice. This transformation of the plain Jane white rice into the delectable onion rice or “talimpu annam” as we called in Telugu, was a regular breakfast fare.
One eventful day, my parents had left early in the morning to a nearby town, with instructions to eat the leftover rice mixed with pickle. I had just learnt how to make tea, cook rice, in short had my initiation of cooking with fire. So I decide that I will add the bells and whistles myself and transform the rice. Everything goes off fine, and with the aid of memory, out comes the dish. It looks good, exactly the same as we were used to eating. The mustard seeds sputtered right, onions looked pink, the dal was fried properly, curry leaves and the chilli added to the green factor. Turmeric powder added the color and the healthy factor.
Anyway, I was all excited and served the rice to the siblings, waiting for the ooh’s and aah’s. One bite and they spit out the rice. They did not reveal anything and was asked to taste myself. I took one bite and knew what was the culprit. In my excitement, I have added one tea spoon of fenugreek seeds in addition to the mustard and cumin seeds.
A little background about the talimpu dabba or spice box is warranted here. Most Indian kitchens have a spice box, that is usually round, with compartments for different kinds of spices. They are filled in innumerable combination of spices as there are stars in the sky. The most usual ones being cumin, mustard and methi. Till then, I did not know that methi seeds were bitter and thought it was added to all the dishes and hence the mistake.
The rice turned bitter because of the methi seeds. There was no way of salvaging it and it had to be thrown out. My first try failed miserably, bitterly but then I turned vary of the methi seeds from then on. Once bitter twice never.
We did not have apps like Tiny Owl which work on android and iOS, to order food. We did not even have phones and no home delivery. We just ate a few banana’s and biscuits and quenched the hunger till the parents returned. Till this day, whenever, I enter the kitchen, I am reminded of the methi seeds by my siblings and cousins. I made my peace with the bitter but healthy seeds and use them generously when appropriate in my cooking now.
Let us see if my bitter experience of methi seeds will turn sweeter now by winning the TinyOwl food tales contest.