Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 9, Tuesday March 06 , 2007



Tangy & Healthy

Falgun is here once again and its blooming colours soothe our tired eyes. This month of March has special significance for me, both sweet and sad. This was the month in which I was born some years ago, perhaps too many years ago for it goes by hardly noticed by anyone. This benign neglect aside, the month of March brings me joy as it reminds me of my mother, as I cling to my deeply held belief that I was her favourite daughter. My five sisters would of course strongly dispute such conviction on my part. Sadly, my mother is not with us to settle the argument for she left us for the other world. Thus for me the month of March is a poignantly happy month, a month of life and death, a month of beginning and ending - a month of happiness and sadness.

My mother was a great cook. I have heard this from a number of sources including my older sisters. My deceased father always reminded us about our mother's culinary skills and my father's friends have never tired of recalling the many delicious meals that my mother served. Listening to these reminisces, and knowing that she truly deserved every compliment, my heart is filled with joy and pride.

Amongst the wide potpourri of recipes that my mother had mastered during her tragically brief life, pickles and chutneys had a special place. Passed on by my sisters, old family cooks, my father's retelling of stories and tales told by his friends, I have reconstructed a few of these recipes. Winter vegetables and fruits are the main ingredients that are still available but not for long, so you need to hurry.

Sharing these recipes with you is my tribute and homage to this extraordinary woman, my mother, who brought me into this world in March and yet left us all in the same month just a few years later. For me, March is a month of mixed emotions.

March is also the month that sets aside a day to celebrate women and with that in mind, I have included recipes that make use of essential nutrients that women often tend to ignore. I hope you will enjoy these recipes and thus share my conflicting joys and sorrows.

Vegetable pickle in vinegar

Vinegar 2 cups or more to cover the vegetables
Cauliflower 6 florets
Carrot 1 (cut length wise into six pieces, about 2½ inches)
Bitter Gourd 2 (cut length wise into four pieces, about 2½ inches)
Beans (sheem) 4
Onions 6 small (peeled)
Garlic 8 cloves
Salt to taste
Sugar (optional) 2 tbsp
Nigella seed 2 tbsp

Wash all vegetables and mix with salt. Spread on a tray and leave it in the sun for one day (bitter gourd for two days). Turn them once or twice.

Boil vinegar, salt and sugar for 34 minutes and cool. Put the vegetables, onion, garlic and nigella seeds in the glass jar and pour the vinegar.
Leave in sun for few days.

Vegetable pickle in oil

Cauliflower (large) 1 cut into florets
Carrots (large) 3, sliced into circular pieces and cut again lengthwise
Radish 2, thickly sliced
Ginger 1 cup, thinly sliced
Fresh red chilli 20
Cumin powder 2½ tbsp
Coriander powder 2 tbsp
Mustard seed 1 tbsp, slightly roasted and crushed
Fenugreek powder 1 tsp
Chilli powder 1½ tbsp
White vinegar 1½ cups
Sugar 3 tbsp
Salt to taste
Mustard oil 4 cups (heat very well and cool)

Wash cauliflower, carrots, radish, ginger and chili. Put into separate trays and put in the sun. Turn them over twice.

Marinate the vegetables with spices, sugar, salt and vinegar. Keep covered for 24 hours.

On the third day, put the vegetables in a sterilised glass jar with the spices and pour oil over them. Pickle should be immersed in oil.
Adjust to taste with vinegar, sugar and salt.

Tomato chutney

Tomatoes 2 kg
Mustard oil 1 cup
Ginger, Garlic, Chili 2 tbsp each (make paste with vinegar)
Fenugreek 1 tsp, roasted
Aniseed 1 tsp
Vinegar 2 cups (red)
Sugar 2 cups
Salt to taste

Wash tomatoes and strain water.
Cut tomatoes into quarters and leave aside.

In a wok, put oil, ginger, garlic, chilli, fenugreek and aniseed and stir for about 23 minutes.

Add tomatoes, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add vinegar.
Cook on slow fire until all the water evaporates.

Now add sugar. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until oil settles on the surface.
Cool and put it in a glass jar.

Green chilli sauce

Green chilli 250 g
Cooking oil ¼ cup
Garlic 1 tbsp
Vinegar 1 cup
Tomato ketchup ½ cup
Corn flour 1 tsp diluted in 1 tbsp water

Sugar and salt according to taste
Mince the chillies. Heat oil in a wok and fry garlic.
Put chilli, vinegar and tomato ketchup. Cook for 12 minutes.

Add sugar, salt and corn flour and mix well.
Cool and put in glass jar.

Vegetable macaroni

Onion (large) 1
Mixed vegetables 500g (peas, green beans, carrots, fava beans, corn, leeks, broccoli, etc.)
Garlic 1 clove (crushed)
Red pepper 1 (chopped)
Tomato 6
Black pepper for seasoning
Whole wheat macaroni or other pasta 150g
Home made tomato sauce 1 cup
Low fat cheese 2 tbsp

Tomato Sauce: 1 onion chopped, 1 tsp olive oil, ¼ tsp honey, 4 ripe tomatoes chopped, 1 tsp dried oregano and 2tsp fresh mint . Cook onion in oil for 7 minutes, add honey and tomatoes. Mash roughly and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add herbs and a pinch each of salt and black pepper.

Boil the vegetables and keep aside.

In a saucepan, put oil and soften the onion. Add garlic and red pepper, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and seasoning. Simmer another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vegetables.

Boil pasta, drain well and combine with the vegetable mixture.

In a casserole, put the vegetable and pasta mixture. Top with tomato sauce and sprinkle cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted.
Makes 4 servings
Each serving 240 calories
Suitable for diabetics
High fiber
Very low fat and salt

Fruit chicken with yellow split peas

Yellow split peas 100g
Whole wheat flour 3 tbsp
Chicken 2 kg cut into pieces
Oil for frying
Onion 2 chopped
Garlic 4 cloves sliced
Apple 250g chopped
Lemon juice (fresh) 2 tbsp
Orange juice (fresh) 3 tbsp

Freshly ground black pepper, grated nutmeg and salt (optional) for flavouring

Boil split peas very soft. Stir in onion, garlic, apple, lemon and orange juice. Keep aside.

Lightly coat the chicken pieces with flour and fry with very thin layer of oil until the pieces are brown. Put on the kitchen tissue to soak excess oil.

Put split peas in a casserole, lay the fried chicken pieces on top. Flavour with black pepper, nutmeg and salt. Add enough water to enable the split peas to become a thick gravy during the rest of cooking time. If it seems to be drying up, add more water.

Place the lid on and cook slowly in a preheated oven 325 F for 1-1 ½ hours.

Makes 6 servings
Each serving is 20g carbohydrate, 310 calories
Suitable for health conscious people.

Serving suggestion: serve with whole wheat bread and fresh green peas.


Women of a different world

Imagine a path two feet wide and 20 feet long. That could be quite a narrow corridor except here it is an actual path between different houses. As for the houses they are nothing more than single rooms each. In these jam-packed units live families of 7-8 people. Cardboards are often used to divide the living spaces. The inmates have little respite stepping outside into the open air because what little air is there is not worth breathing in. The surroundings are squalid, and the tenants living in such close proximity create a daylong din that never ceases.

This is Geneva Camp placed in the centre of Lalmatia where displaced war refugees have been living in oppressive conditions for the past 36 years. These are people who could neither go to Pakistan nor be accepted as people of this nation. Almost 25,000 people live in this small area with half the population comprising of women.

Education stigma

Boys in the camp are generally less educated than the girls. This is not a gender bias in favour of the girls but a rather weird way that preference works here. Boys are made to work from a very young age starting as apprentices in various jobs. Girls on the other hand are provided basic education in the school developed by the camp community and situated within the premises. They use government certified textbooks on English, Bangla and Math and Urdu.

But the girls face discrimination for being residents of Geneva Camp. Their non-Bengali status of being 'bihari' creates an obstacle in gaining admission to schools and colleges. As a result they have to use fake identification or the reference of a Bengali relative. Tasneem, giving her HSC exams this year and Shabnam, a class six student have faced this stigma. Many girls in the camp are continuing their studies in this covert manner.

Queuing up

Everyday activities that most people take for granted such as sleeping, eating and cooking are considered to be luxuries. There are just a few tube wells and water taps scattered over the place where all washing, cleaning and even bathing duties have to be completed. Moreover, people have to stand in queues to avail these facilities. Altercations are a regular occurrence.

Making a living

The girls in the camp are very industrious. In many cases they are the prime if not the only bread earners of a family. Many find work in tailoring by taking in orders form boutiques across the city. Some of them work for pharmaceutical factories, labeling and packaging medicines. Still others gain a little by tutoring young school children and providing Quran lessons. Many older women also perform the task of teaching the Quran to children throughout the neighbourhood earning a meager stipend each month. But despite all this financial hardship, none of the women of the camp would consider working as maids or in a garments factory. These are jobs that conflict with the status quo because they came from relatively well off families.

Marriages of inconvenience

The camp people have very few means of entertainment. Generally, they watch TV whenever they have free time or at best go to a cinema hall as a group to watch a Bangla movie. Dancing is catered for by the camp residents.

Marriages take place between residents of the same place although these days many are getting married outside their community. It is more prevalent for girls who are relatively educated and end up marrying in families outside the Geneva camp. Similarly many men bring in partners from outside.

70-year-old Johra Begum used to live in Mymensingh with her family of 3 children. She was quite happy there but had to follow her husband to the city, who had a business of supplying goods. It is a constricted lifestyle here what with the dirty environment, contaminated water, lack of proper toilet facilities and the cultural divide between folk in and outside the camp.

Same yet different

Johra has heard of so many NGOs working for the challenged and destitute in the country but no one has yet offered their hand in support to the women in Geneva Camp.

But this is not just one Geneva Camp. Similar camps exist throughout Bangladesh in 13 localities with close to 70 camps for Biharis. About 42,000 families are living in these camps in such deplorable conditions; living an alternate life despite being basically the same people as everyone else.

By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny


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