Gongura pulusu: Of Life Lessons, Tea and Things Learnt at Mother-in-law’s Hearth

I have my second guest blogger today – my cousin Minnie – who’s written a lovely story about her mom-in-law and a fantastic dish – gongura pappu. I can never get enough of this!
Over to Minnie:
My mother-in-law was a formidable lady with her penchant for crisp Bengal cotton saris in pastel hues and perfection in all things. Her elegant and neat appearance (a string of pearls or corals at her throat when she had to step out) reflected in her gleaming kitchen – no messes on the counter, no piled-up dirty dishes in the sink, methodical and meticulous in all that she did.
No room for slatterns and shirkers! Her repertoire of recipes was limited but eclectic, having lived in many parts of India with her railway man husband. Her cooking did not entertain deviations, shortcuts or substitutions. When she made tea, it was an elaborate and unhurried process, much like the Japanese tea ceremony, enough to set the modern day – languishing in the living room- guest’s teeth on edge!
Up early, there was no sitting down or resting till lunch was eaten and cleared. No morning coffee, no lounging on the couch, no breakfast till the tulsi plant was watered and no snacking between breakfast and lunch. Afternoon time was relaxing in the easy chair, with her feet up on the ancient swing occupying pride of place in the centre of the hallway and the day’s newspaper on her lap.
What I took away from her and reconstruct every time, as close to the original as possible, is her Gongura Pulusu. A quintessential Andhra dish liberally sprinkled with garlic pods (a normally unlikely condiment in a Brahmin kitchen), it is an interesting twist to the regular greens and dhal, the sourness of the gongura and the sweetness of the jaggery giving it a piquant taste.
This dish was originally adapted from the famed Gongura Mamsam  to suit vegetarian palates. Alum pachadi (long-lasting ginger chutney) which my mother-in-law made in huge quantities and distributed generously to family and friends was a great favourite and a perfect accompaniment to a myriad things, be it rice, chappathis, idlis, dosas, sandwiches and even as a topping for chats. My sister-in-law is the holder of this recipe and I will get it from her the next time round.
Gongura Pulusu
Gongura (Roselle) leaves : 1 medium bunch
Bengal Gram (Channa) Dhal : 1 cup cooked, with the dhal appearing separate.
Red Gram (Toovar) Dhal : ½ cup cooked and mashed
Garlic  – 8 pods
Green chillies – 3
Turmeric – ½ tps
Jaggery : according to taste
Salt : according to taste
Gingelly oil : 3 tsps
Mustard : 1 tsp
Fenugreek  : 1 tsp
Asafoetida : a pinch or more
Red Chillies : 4
Heat oil in pan and add the seasoning and sauté. Add chopped gongura leaves and sauté lightly. Add green chillies, garlic, turmeric and salt and cook till the leaves are soft. Mash lightly and add the cooked dhals. Add jaggery and if required chilli powder, adjusting according to the sourness of the leaf. The consistency should be of that of a thick dhal. Best eaten with rice.
Gongura – to the non-Telugu – only refers to the pickle which is made out of it but this is a great alternate use of the iron-rich leaf. Come to think of it, I have put in lots of posts about dishes which make your hair go black or prevent it from greying… by now you should have stopped reaching for that bottle of hair dye!