**Preeti Deo is an Angat Pangat Admin member and a storehouse of talent–cooking, special needs education, Kathak–she can do it all with equal ease. She is best known for her project, Ruchira & Videshini (a la Julie & Julia).**
Ruchira. An iconic Marathi cookbook with vegetarian recipes ranging from the basic rice preparations, traditional breads, sides, and even quick and complicated desserts. This book, authored by the Late Kamalabai Ogale, caters to the needs of the beginners in the kitchen to the experienced cooks. Kamalabai Ogale is the most revered sasubai (mother-in-law) of many-a-sunbai (daughter-in-law). The popularity of her cookbook Ruchira, made her a household name.
There are numerous traditional Marathi recipes and a few others from the states of India namely, Gujarat and Bengal, which are also included in the book. If you haven’t got a copy of Ruchira please do grab one.
The book begins with a very inspirational quote, “ Samaandhanache janma swaypaakgharaat hoto,” which literally stresses the simplest pleasure of cooking and enjoying food with family and friends. As I read this book and started cooking through it, I realised how the author was correct in every aspect. A meal cooked at home with love and joy is a pure source of nourishment and satisfaction to all. The analysis of the quote was put to practical experience very soon as I took the challenge of cooking all the traditional Marathi recipes from the book–my own Julie & Julia project!
Kamalabai even urges to her readers (just not the women folk as she tips her scales to inclusion of the men as well) to love her book. She asks the reader to use it as a guide while experimenting in the kitchen. All her readers thus can convey their love and successes to her.
Ruchira has very limited photographs; yet, that does not pose to be a barrier for any cook whether a newbie or experienced. The recipes are presented in an uncomplicated language. The book is humble and unpretentious yet serves the purpose of an effective guide advising the nuances of Marathi cuisines.
I have had such beautiful experiences cooking each of the recipes in the book’s Marathi section. The most memorable one is when I spoke to Late Kamalabai Ogale’s daughter Ushatai (who sadly, is also no more now). I was very upset to know that she was not around to grade me on the ghewar challenge she gave me. I recall our short Skype chat in April 2015. Ushatai began the conversation with,” अग, तुला सांगायचं म्हणजे….” (a very casual chat one would begin with someone you know for ages). I found myself relaxing with every topic we discussed.
Ushatai talked about how Kamalabai Ogale gave her daughters the best she could. She wanted her daughters to learn and educate themselves in the footsteps of their mavshi (maternal aunt). Just because Kamalabai Ogale did not get the opportunity, she thought her daughters needed to learn and rise to the best standards. Cooking will come to them when needed, she thought, hence kept her daughters away from the kitchen and allowed them the time to focus on education. Ushatai said, we owe everything to her and Baba. They were our biggest blessings. The careful nurturing and the countless sacrifices made by the Ogale couple provided their children with the necessities of life.
Kamalabai spent most of her time cooking for the family. The best of meals was provided in her family. Ushatai described Kamalabai as such an adaptive lady who would find solutions to all issues arising in the situations. Be it the new kitchen she moved in when she travelled to Mumbai or the kitchen when she visited her daughter in Australia. One of the experiences she mentioned was when a few ladies in Australia wished to know how Mande were made. Mande are a Marathi specialty made in North Maharashtra; essentially like a puran poli, but stretched delicately like a roomali roti and roasted on a heated clay pot turned over the flame. There was no access to such equipment in Ushatai’s Australian kitchen. Interestingly, Kamalabai got hold of a Chinese wok and made use of the same by turning it over the flame to cook her Mande.
Ushatai further mentioned that Kamalabai never thought of having a book of her own. However, when Kamalabai went to Australia to stay with her daughter, who was expecting, they decided to write the recipes by hand, perhaps for posterity. Ushatai started enjoying cooking during her mother’s presence. As Kamalabai cooked with her judgment, with no standard measures in her mind, Ushatai stepped in to measure the ingredients using the vaati/pela (cup measures) to help her remember. This is how the hasta-likhit (hand written) was took its form. Shri Mukundrao Kirloskar supported the publication of the book. The first publication was priced at Rs. 15 a copy. The family was slightly apprehensive about this being a prohibitive price, so they reduced the price to Rs. 12! To their surprise, the first edition was sold out in a week and the second edition was printed the very next week!
My cooking journey became even more joyful after having the conversation with Ushatai. I now have an even greater respect for Kamalabai Ogale. The whole experience is serendipitous. Ruchira has connected me to a woman who was creative, smart, persistent (her daughter’s chat revealed so) and determined. Understanding the original recipes, procurement of the ingredients in the Asian stores in the county we stay in the UK and finding the time and of course, awaiting the right weather (especially for the pickles and paapad), has been challenging yet rewarding in many aspects!
I received this book as a wedding gift. However, with my mother and aunt living in the same city and mother-in-law visiting us occasionally I rarely needed to think anything beyond the daily cooking. These lovely ladies made sure that they passed on the stash of goodies, pickles and other condiments to last us until we met next. My domestic help was around to help me with the regular cooking. I could do away with cooking many times with the take-aways from the nearest restaurant. Thus, the book remained ignored in my book collection for 10 years or so.
We moved to Britain later with our 7-year old. It was then that I realised how cooking is an essential life skill. I missed the titbits from my lovely ladies back home; the restaurants and the fish-n-chip shops in the neighbourhood weren’t enough to satisfy the hunger pangs we all had! Ruchira was but an epiphany just when I was looking for strategies to improve my basic cooking skills.
I began cooking through Ruchira. There were times when I referred to the book to check out the list of ingredients that went in a certain dish and at times, I went through the recipe method to rule out any kitchen mishap. Cooking through this book, I managed to hone my culinary skills and got back to my job every day with a greater zeal than the previous day. Very soon, Ruchira became an essential for my cooking just like the spices in my pantry.
What began as an experiment essentially, became a habit in a very short while. In no time, I was hooked on to the range of recipes the book had to offer. With my full-time job, cooking regularly through this book was slightly tricky. However, I tried to cook during my school breaks and holidays. I have always been naturally inclined to create stuff be it crafts, painting, dancing and anything which challenges me. Cooking somehow clicked only when I opened Ruchira!
I began writing about my cooking experience on my blog and facebook page called Ruchira Videshini. Gradually, as I cooked through each of the categories namely Bhaatache prakaar, Polya-Dashmya, Phal Bhaajya, Paale Bhaajya, Usali, Goadache padaartha, Upasache padaarth and a few more, it gained momentum when my readers began appreciating the efforts and the consistency put in. Even though I was attempting to cook just the traditional Marathi recipes from this book and not the other regional cuisines, it was still a humongous task. It had 300 odd mother recipes that I had to work on!
The cooking journey took me to the past. Many a time, I felt I should have been born at the same time as her. I would have so loved tending to the fire, constantly putting the wood in the chul (clay stove) and blowing using the phunkni. Quite a few recipes the book mentions are in a colloquial language which is tricky for someone bred outside Maharashtra. Yet, having an experience of aai, ajji, mavshi, atya and later my mother-in-law, speaking in the kitchen and using the terms mooth bhar, avdi pramaane and nehmi pramaane, the experiment was even more interesting. I had to decode these terms too, in terms of taste. Gradually, I could figure out that simple and minimal ingredients bring out the best of flavours.
I focused on cooking my food with the right ingredients, cutting the vegetables just right, cooking them the right way and presenting the preparation in a pleasant way. Inspired by Kamalabai’s recipes and adapting them in a few ways or coupling them with other techniques I was introduced to the whole new world of creation.
I had to chase Ruchira for: best flavours-best ingredients-best creations! Hence procuring and upskilling came into focus. I recall my drive to the Asian store for the sugarcane pieces and bhokra when the shopkeeper mentioned its availability around Sankranti. I recall an exciting journey to the Asian store to another town. A foodie friend called up to confirm Mainmula was in stock at the shop. It was a good 30 mins drive at 7.30 pm in the evening while it snowed out there. I quickly wrapped myself in my heavy winter coat and hat, literally whisked Rajesh (my husband) to the car to be driven to the stores for a bunch of Mainmula to make a pickle!!
My tiny English kitchen is equipped with the regular labour saving devices but very soon, I realised that the taste differed from what my mother or ajji churned for us. The added heat in the grinder changes the taste of food, whilst the same food had a dynamic taste and texture while grinding on paata varvanta or even khalbatta. Hence, I decided to stick to the roots. I have a set of traditional devices and tools in my UK kitchen. It has everything from vili, khal batta, sup, pata varvanta, jaate, puran yantra, chakli sorya and even a tiny shegdi which I like using as a chul. What I have learned in the whole journey, is the fact that there is no fast way to good creations. Slow and patient allows the ingredients to speak out which further leads to beautiful flavours and textures in our food. Food thus became a medium to express, in more ways than one!
This culinary journey saw me learning many more skills. I met a bunch of bloggers in the UK. The group helped me learn about food photography. Rather than just point and shoot, I worked on manual shooting with my camera. I could understand my camera finally. Photographing food made me love my food even more. I had never ever thought I would fall so head-over-heals with cooking, food photography and styling. I am honing my skills with constant practice. It is a long journey I know and so much needs doing in terms of Marathi cuisine, which is one of the lesser known Indian cuisines in the West.
The photographs in this article are the manifestation of my journey through the book and how it has shaped my thought process. Nachni (Fingermillet) ambil panna cotta with roasted pumpkin, potatoes, onions in garlic-sesame bhurka with a sprinkling of pud chutney, surely gave it an ingenious taste and look. But it is still the same… good old ambil with daangar-batata bhaaji.
Even a humble kulith pithle and bhaat in a kulith soup and rice noodles form gave me immense happiness.
Every meal served in my kitchen is idolised and enjoyed to the most. Personally, I feel it is a symbiotic effect. Treat and respect your food well, you will receive the same. I now agree one hundred percent with Kamalabai as she says in her book, “समाधानाचा जन्म स्वयंपाक घरातून होतो”. True satisfaction is born in the kitchen.
I finished cooking through Ruchira in April 2017. The journey culminated with a meal I prepared for 70 odd people in my UK kitchen. The multicourse meal was prepared following Ruchira and the funds raised is being used to support a charity Maya Care. I feel so blessed today. The cookbook has connected me to the generation who recall Ogale bai. They shared their beautiful experiences with the grand lady. Some had joined her cookery workshops before tying their nuptial bonds while a few who knew her through Ushatai learned how to create the complicated Maande or Sutarfeni in their Australian kitchen. There were ladies who mentioned their ajji’s , mother’s or mavshi’s Ruchira copy. I feel blessed even more when I receive messages from the readers mentioning the new copy they managed to purchase. Even if I have managed to inspire a few to pause and ponder on our traditional ways of cooking, I feel I have made a wee bit of a contribution, in bringing the cuisine to the forefront. There is a significant change in terms of how Indian food is being presented and perceived. This, possibly, is the right time to showcase the rich, regionally-focused cuisine of India.