“Neyyi urikitu konduvariya?” asks my mom-in-law a few days afer my wedding, as we were laying the table for lunch. My knowledge of Tamil extended to a few words like “vaadaa” and “poda” (rather impolite ways of telling someone to come or buzz off) and this string of words flummoxed me completely.
“Neyyi” i could figure out – it’s the same word in Telugu too – meaning ghee but what on earth was the rest of the mumbo-jumbo? Tried finding equivalents in the many lingos that I’d picked up thanks to a mixed parentage and the closest I could think of was the very Telangana “uriki” meaning “run” – was she asking me to run for the ghee? Why? Wasn’t it in a vessel? Was I supposed to carry it in my palms so it wouldn’t run? What, what, whaaat? I did run – but not to the kitchen – ran straight to the bedroom where hubby was working and asked him what on earth did his mom mean?
Much laughter ensued from the rest of the family – my initial Tamil learning struggles have been the source of much unholy glee (NOT ghee!) for the family – but I did have the last laugh – I now speak Tamil like a native and there are lots who never guess it’s not my mother tongue!
Neyyi – in any language – is one of my favourite accompaniments and the day I decided to stop eating ghee rice in the interests of health is a black-armband day in my reckoning – still sneak in a spoonful occasionally but it’s not the same unthinking relish as you get in childhood!
The one ghee-laden dish that I just cannot resist is Mysore Pak and the person who makes it the best is again – mother-in-law! My father-in-law was famous for the quantities of this dish he could put away. Once, when there was no time to make it, my m-i-l had asked him to go to a sweet shop to pick up half a kg of Mysore Pak. He came back with a large box but very little inside. “Are you sure this is all they packed? This looks like only a quarter kg to me,” asks sharp-eyed m-i-l. “Well, they gave me a box and I brought it home” he tries to wriggle out of an awkward situation. But being a poor liar – a la Billy Bunter – the best he can manage it is – ” I don’t know. I never opened it and I never ate any!!!” The dear man has opened it right outside the shop and polished off a good quarter kg of a very rich sweet!!
Here is a recipe for Mysore Pak that you just CANNOT eat less than a quarter kg of!
- Besan (chickpea flour / senagapindi/kadalemaavu) – 1 cup
- Sugar – 1.5 cups
- Ghee (melted) – 1.5 – 1.75 cups
Heat the sugar adding a little water till you get a one -string syrup – if you pick it up between two fingers and draw them apart, there should be a string between them). On a low flame, add the besan and stir furiously till you feel your arm dropping off and the besan is fully incorporated with no lumps. Start adding the ghee, a tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. The whole mass will froth up initially and then start to leave the sides of the vessel and adhere to the ladle. Keep adding more ghee and stirring till the mass stops absorbing ghee. Pour onto a greased loaf tin and wait for a few minutes. Cut into squares or rhombi. Let cool completely before removing the pieces and storing in a tin.