Raji’s bhajis

Or, one good turn and all that.

There we were, happily doing nothing the other day, when there was an irritating knock on the door.

All knocks on the door are irritating because they interrupt me doing nothing.

It was one of our neighbours. He’d been going out and shut the door on himself and then – of course – realised the keys were inside.

Could Partner help? See, we have turned into the concierge service since taking over running the block.

Luckily as he’d just latched himself out and not locked the deadlock, the Concierge Partner got our neighbour back in to retrieve his keys.

‘How much?’ asks the neighbour. ‘It’s OK,’ said the Concierge. ‘Happy to help. Saves the fire service breaking down your door.’ (Which is what happened last time).

‘I’ll make you some onion bhajis,’ he said, because he knows we are vegetarian – and so is he.

But they never arrived. Although we did hear him coughing and thought he didn’t sound too good. He must be on at least 20 pills a day.

Yesterday when Maintenance Partner was coating up the staircase walls in the block with alkali-resisting primer, our neighbour said, ‘I will bring the bhajis down tonight, around 5-6pm.’

Well in Gibbo terms, that could mean anywhere between 4.30 and 8pm, so I just got on with life, scrubbed down the shower, and put some food together anyway.

Note, if you live in a damp humid sub-tropical climate, do NOT EVER put those crappy fake mosaic tiles in a bathroom. Not only does the grout get covered with mould, so do the pretend gaps between the pretend mosaicy tiles.

Mosaics are for churches in Ravenna (Italy) or Roman villas in Britain. Not for small flats in a humid climate.

Meanwhile, it goes without saying that when I was reaping the rewards of my hard day’s graft in the shower, and finally enjoying cleaning off my dirty little self, there was a knock on the door. Which I hasten to add, I didn’t answer in an extremely wet and unclothed state, but Partner did.

Rajish and his bhajis. And some mint sauce of some type or other. He apologised for not bringing more. I looked at the neatly wrapped pile and sadly figured there were two.

But when I opened them up, there were six. Not two of those thick, somewhat stodgy ones that you get out, but six delightful light spicy ones. I’m thinking he made them a bit like I do Indian breads, so I need to get me a recipe from him. And for the delicious salsa.

Anyway, served with the potatoes and broccoli I had prepared, and an Indian type rice salad which got more of the minty salsa.

Onion bhajis, potatoes, broc and cauli, with salad and mint dressing
Onion bhajis, potatoes, broc and cauli, with salad and mint dressing

They were excellent. We could have eaten dozens of them, they were so light, tasty and delicious. There certainly weren’t any leftovers for breakfast.

Moving from India to her next-door neighbour Pakistan.

I’ve just finished reading Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography: Daughter of the East. Also published as Daughter of Destiny.

Cover of the Daughter of the East
Cover of the Daughter of the East

It was printed in 1988, before the military dictator General Zia was killed in a ‘plane crash and before Benazir came to power as prime minister of Pakistan later that year.

Benazir had always fascinated me, glamorous, beautiful, intelligent, well-educated (Harvard, Oxford, President of the Oxford Union), and a big player in politics in a country that was something like 95% Muslim. And in the late 70s/early 80s, a powerful woman in politics was someone to be admired just for even getting there. (Still is, but that is another issue).

So, although not a fan of autobiogs, I picked up this one.

The style is quite dry, it is however, very well written. But when you are writing about being incarcerated in cells running with sewage, full of cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants, any other nasty insect you can poke a stick at, eating one watery cup of lentil soup a day with a bit of stale bread, you don’t need to exaggerate or write fancy prose.

Then there are the descriptions of torture. Photographs of the police brutality. The refusal to allow Benazir, or her mother Nusrat, to be taken out of the country for treatment for their health (Nusrat had lung cancer and Benazir had a dangerous perforated eardrum). Both, were eventually allowed to leave.

This was not an easy read, but totally un-put-down-able.

It starts off with her father’s death/execution/murder by the Zia dictatorship, and then gradually takes us through her childhood, to her privileged university days, and then back home to Pakistan and the military coup and her incarceration. After swanning around Harvard and Oxford, she must have had a rude awakening.

Her father, who became Prime Minister of Pakistan (1973-1977) is portrayed as an exemplar of human rights, nationalising many industries, doing away with feudal land rights (easy to do when you are hellish rich), investing in health and education, and improving women’s rights.

He also wanted to develop an atom bomb to be able to defend Pakistan against India. This wasn’t popular with America, as well as his socialist policies, and he also moved into developing alliances with other Asian and Islamic countries.

While he was waiting in jail to be killed, Benazir, her mother Nusrat (also in jail), and her two brothers in exile, were trying to activate world leaders to support a plea for clemency. Didn’t happen and Papa Bhutto was killed. Don’t mess with the Americans?

More about Zulfikar. A mixed review, but some outstanding plaudits as well as the dubious reviews of his leadership of Pakistan.

When Benazir finally leaves to get an operation on her dodgy ear, she visits mummy in exile in Geneva (nice to have a little pad there eh?), and then goes off to London and gets a flat in the Barbican. Wonder if Arthur Scargill was there at the time?

From there she works as an activist, and as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) founded by her father, to try and overthrow the military dictatorship of General Zia, and get execution decisions for political prisoners reversed – in which she was rarely successful. Sadly.

Meanwhile her two brothers had got involved in some rather more militant tactics to try and overthrow the dictatorship, and trained Pakistani rebels at an Afghanistan base. Where they met a couple of royal Afghani sisters and married them.

Not a good idea. On a family holiday in Cannes, the youngest brother, Shah, was found dead in their holiday home. Poisoned. But by who? Suicide? Or …? His Afghani wife was originally arrested by French police regarding the mysterious death but later released, whereupon she cleared off to America, receiving an American visa extremely quickly.

The other brother, Mir, subsequently divorced the other regal Afghani sister. Bizarre. I mean, this reads far better than some of the trashy novels I have read.

Anyway, Benazir decides to go back to Pakistan, on the announcement that Martial Law has allegedly been lifted, so she can rally the people behind her.

There is a promise of elections from the military dictatorship, although naturally the parameters keep changing. The book ends with a strong hope that democracy will return to Pakistan.

But then, there is an epilogue, about how Bhutto decides in her 30s to accept an arranged marriage, on the grounds that she can’t be taken seriously as a single woman and that she doesn’t meet any nice men. (I paraphrase).

Although she had grown up believing she would choose her own partner (her younger sister was the first woman Bhutto to do so), and she wasn’t a proponent of arranged marriages, her political career made it impossible to do otherwise. Yeah.

So she married Asif Zardari. He was from a land-owning family in her province of Sindh. Heir to the chiefdom of a 100,000 strong tribe.

‘Asif, I knew, was not interested in party politics,’ she wrote.

Really? (See below).

Anyway, happily married and awaiting the elections, the book has a sort of happy but optimistic ending espousing and promoting democracy.

But what happened later?

Benazir’s younger brother Mir was killed/assassinated/murdered in a shooting incident in 1996. Six other people were killed. Benazir and the unpolitical Asif were implicated in the kilings as they had had arguments with Mir about politics. Mir thought Asif had too much influence in the PPP and corruption allegations were already widespread about Asif and Benazir.

In 2007, Benazir was killed after leaving a political rally. What is the point of having a bullet-proof vehicle if you stand up through the roof to wave to people – and get shot? She was 54, and despite being dismissed from power previously, charges made against her, even more years in exile, she was determined to fight another election so had returned to Pakistan.

The only surviving child of the Bhutto family is Sunny (Sanam), who has apparently said she was not interested in politics. Well, given the life expectancy of her siblings, I wouldn’t be interested in politics either. Now divorced from her husband, who was implicated in the corruption deals.

And what about the unpolitical Asif? Current president of Pakistan and allegedly the second wealthiest man in Pakistan.

With a few nice little houses dotted around:

estates in Surrey, West End of London, Normandy, Manhattan, and Dubai, as well as a 16th century chateau in Normandy, and homes in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

[wiki]

Apparently he had always wanted to marry Bhutto:

“When we were teenagers, he’d watched me enter and leave the cinema his father owned. Two decades later, it had been his idea to marry me, not his parents’. ‘If you want me to marry, then propose for Benazir,’ he’d told his father five years before. He had waited patiently ever since.”

[Bhutto’s autobiography]

Obviously. Family name, power, politics, influence. Why would any ambitious person not want to marry her?

It’s interesting reading an autobio and then reading – what happened next…

Would I recommend this? Absolutely. It was a great read and absolutely fascinating regarding international politics, military dictatorship in Pakistan, and the insight into a rich and privileged Pakistani family.

Was it a PR exercise or a true story? Who knows. Got to admire their spirit and resilience though as family. Just amazing.

More about Benazir.

And a Gibraltar link (!):

Operation Gibraltar was the codename given to the strategy of Pakistan to infiltrate Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, and start a rebellion against Indian rule. Launched in August 1965.

[wiki]

Wonder what was the significance of that codename?

Meanwhile, having finished one book, and being too idle to go to the library (scrubbing the shower does take it out of one), I picked up a freebie from the neighbour.

Five hundred pages of, what? Jane Harris’s acclaimed novel, The Observations, shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize for 2007 and a Waterstone’s Author for the Future.

The ‘heroine’ Bessy something is compared on the blurb with Moll Flanders and Becky Sharpe. Possibly, but the writing and plot aren’t quite the same.

Plot = Servant girl gets new post in odd place, strange goings on, boils down to an old story of some previous servant got pregnant by a preacher, and chucked herself under a train. The master of the house had refused to bring up the kid as his own, and the mistress went mad.

Criticisms? Well, one woman, Bessy actually a girl, coming out through it all right doesn’t negate the bad themes in there. Her mother had sold her into prostitution at aged not very much. The mistress of the house has a loopy obsession with controlling servants and wanting obedience. The preacher obviously has a roving eye, wandering hands and more. The master of the house is more interested in his political career, and when his wife is committed to an asylum, he is soooo remorseful, and even visits her a couple of times before he decides to resume his legal practice and is never heard from again. Bessy’s mother is killed by loopy mistress of the house, when she pushes her over a railway bridge.

So we have a mad murdering woman, a drunken prostitute who sells her daughter (and has lesbian sex with her in front of someone for money), and a feeble woman who can’t avoid some lecherous old religious bastard.

Meanwhile the men get away with everything. Now, while I accept that may well portray real life, I don’t need to read 500 pages of a non-existent plot to tell me something I already know.

Recommended read? I think you have guessed the answer – no.

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33 comments on “Raji’s bhajis

  1. Now you’re just taunting me – not only do you have an all-selling Morrison’s but you even have a neighbour who makes you bhajis! Do please share the recipe when you get it.
    And thanks for the rundown on the Bhutto auto-biog – I’d love to read it some day but right now I never seem to get enough time to read meaty tomes :/ Sounds fascinating, especially with the ‘what happened next’ addendum.

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    • The bhajis beat Morries all the time. We are still raving about them nearly 24 hours later. Hopefully will see him soon, have washed out the sauce container anyway to give back to him. Otherwise I may see him on Saturday at the Moroccan veg van. ‘Twill be posted when I get my sticky hands on the recipe. I’m guessing at chick pea/cram flour, onions, maybe garlic or asafoetida, and whatever the spices are, maybe a drop of water, made into a dough mix, chilled, and then flattened out and fried. I could be completely wrong!!

      I’d got some easy reads from the library that I’d polished off first (shoot the shit out of them SAS type books, allegedly for partner, but I love them too). So I left the Bhutto one until the end. She’s done a couple of others, which I think would be interesting. We’re opposite ends of the 50s babes, but near enough to be interested in her life. Reading it after her death, and with internet available to look up more info, made it even more fascinating. Whatever their faults, whether power hungry, corruption, or whatever, I still admire them for facing adversity with strength, and in her father’s case for implementing reforms that benefited poor people. I could write a tome on this myself now.

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  2. I have made quite a few trips to Pakistan in the last 5 years and opinions of the Bhutto family vary enormously. One thing most people agree on though is that her husband / widower is spectacularly corrupt and she probably also was albeit on a lesser scale. But that is par for the course. Pakistan has a low tax collection rate – most people don’t like the concept of taxes – but one of the world’s highest levels of philanthropy / charitable giving. This apparent contradiction was explained to me thus: if we give the money to the government they will pocket it for themselves. It won’t get spent on the people who need it, infrastructure, education etc. So we bypass the government and spend it directly. I spent a day working in a hospital funded exclusively by a charitable trust. I was so impressed I also made a decent donation. I also went to a school run my a benevolent bushy-bearded man called Majid. He runs the entire school from his own pocket and volunteers. My firm allows staff to spend time there educating children. They are from the poorest of the poor but they get a uniform and they had impeccable manners. When I walked into the classroom they all stood up and said good morning. In Britain I suspect I would have been pelted with missiles and subjected to heckling. GCSE Advanced Abuse is on the curriculum I believe. Always a candidate for the next failed state Pakistan survives despite itself. A country of spectacular beauty, history and culture plagued by paranoia and politicians who know no shame. I have many friends there but I have no idea if any of them pays tax!!

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    • Don’t think I have ever visited Pakistan apart from all the enclaves in Yorkshire. Did stop off at the airport in Eastern one ie Bangla Desh when I flew Biman from New Delhi to Bangkok.

      What I found difficult to handle was the sheer idealism in her Daughter of the East autobiog that really espoused radical changes, and reading about her later, after the book, was the total change in views. She didn’t even revoke the anti-women law FFS, now for a woman who had all the privileges in life that was seriously bad. But maybe couldn’t afford to do it? OK for a man to promote women’s rights (ie her father) but not for her to do that?

      Not sure her marriage was that much of a political success, let alone a personal one, but who can guess?

      I quite like that practical aspect about taxes. In Catholic countries people do give to beggars. We have given to homeless people, usually when they had dogs though it has to be said, so not sure whether we were giving to the people or the dogs. But hey, so easy to end up in that position. No need to judge.

      We used to have to stand up in school and say, good morning/afternoon Miss/Mrs/Mr Whatever at the beginning of every lesson. I daresay GCSE rates will improve significantly with the Advanced Abuse subject. 100% rate no doubt?

      As for Pakistan, Britain meddled in its imperial designs and of course, come independence and partition, old countries had to start all over again.

      When my parents had their market stalls we knew a lot of Pakistani stallholders. My racist father (chair of the market traders’ association – see a pattern there? :D) stood up for one of them because he thought he was being victimised. Being Pakistani (and actually probably British born) didn’t mean he had any less rights. And he was a nice lad too.

      The problems, are (she says simplistically), politics, power, money, greed, racism and lack of respect.

      If only everyone would be willing to help their neighbour and accept a simple (but extremely delicious gift) as a thank you gesture in return. People could possibly get along, but not to be in the scheme of world politics.

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  3. Nice resumé – saves me the trouble of reading the book. The trouble with the human race is that it seems to me to be naturally nasty, intolerant and corrupt. On the other hand the Bhaji’s look and sound especially good.

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    • It’s worth a read if you use your local library. She met Thatcher, Gandhi, Sadat, when she was just a kid. Amazing. It was really 70s/80s and so put a different perspective on everything to me. And she did travel around a lot so you might like that!

      I want more bhajis. We are both on duty to collar him whenever we hear his door go, without obviously intruding :)

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  4. You devour books as quick as most folk eat…..I’m quite envious, I seem to have a mental block where they are concerned.
    I am also very envious of your bhaji gift, now those I could devour :-)

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      • Stupid WP, I ciicked for new par and it cleared my text.
        Anyway, went to the library this evening and A has already stolen a book out of my sticky book-reading hands (Andy McNab).
        We’ve often wondered whether he was dyslexic or just had crap teachers. He reads more slowly than Ms SpeedyPants, but actually remembers more :D
        Those bhajis were so delish that I am doing Bombay (Mumbai?) potatoes now, with a dal and some salad with the rest of Raji’s mint dressing. Yum!

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  5. You must get that recipe – looks delicious.(new possibility: will provide concierge services for food?…Uh, mention no tile work done?)
    Tale of two books – what a contrast. Benazir Bhutto is a fascinating person ( but never understood her standing up in that car). Not sure I could hang in there with that book if the writing style is dry.

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    • I could hazard a guess how to make them, but it’s the right mix of spices that will make the difference, so I’ll wait till one of us sees him. Concierge services for food? Nice idea. Or maybe even provide my own take-away service for block residents? In-house catering?
      Yeah, for someone with so much classy education, been in prison so many times and attempts on her life, you would have thought she had enough sense to realise not much point in having a bullet proof car if you are going to stick your head about the parapet. My suspicious mind wondered if her husband had something to do with it.
      I don’t know if dry is the right word, analytical, precise? If you look at her degrees – politics, government – it’s not exactly the background for writing a best-seller. But the subject matter was so surreal that it told its own story in a way.

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        • I think the whole idea of the family dynasty maintaining political power in democracies is fascinating – next door in India you just had to look at the Gandhi family too. And a few more assassinations/suspicious deaths of course. But yes, what a period of history – from a British colonial power, to democracy, to martial law, back to democracy etc etc

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  6. I’m pleased that the neighbour was able to return Partner’s kindness by offering to pay in $$$’s, and then paying in kind of the sort you could appreciate. I’m fond of onion bhaji’s so am impressed with your description of them and also the accompanying meal.
    I like mosaic tiles as a decorative effect but I’ve never understood the trend for putting them in wet areas. Cleaning them must have been a hell of a job. I hate mould. It makes me ill.
    The extensive book reviews are effective. I know I wouldn’t mind reading Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography in particular since you’ve provided a synopsis and background info. I doubt I’d bother with The Observations given your’s.

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    • He doesn’t have much money, he’s a pensioner and living in a rented flat. Partner is also a bit of a softy and doesn’t like to see people stuck. If he had charged, it wouldn’t have been much. He got someone else into their house back in the UK (climbed through a window that time) but ripped his sweat shirt, so she bought him a new one. Still cheaper than calling out a locksmith though – especially on a Saturday evening.
      I love real mosaics, but these fake tiles just look silly to me. And totally impractical. I don’t think you could live in a small flat in central Gib then!
      I like reading other people’s book reviews, everyone approaches it differently. In the Bhutto case, there was just so much packed in there it was amazing. I learned a lot so it was a good read and educational as well. Some good photos too.
      Observations just wasn’t really my taste. It was overly long eg Bhutto’s autobiog was 300 pages, although the pages were bigger, compared with 500 for Obs. But I read Obs over a couple of days, and Bhutto’s took me longer because I wanted to absorb it and there was something to think about while I was reading.
      What griped me was the comparison on the cover with Moll Flanders and Becky Sharp. There is no way Harris is a Defoe or a Thackerey.

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      • Your reach is long… our dinner plans to try the new Eat Art Truck (http://www.sydneyfoodtrucks.com.au/trucks/eat-art-truck/) SIngapore Siok went awry when they sold out early, so Plan B, indian takeway and of course I could only choose indian bhajis as I’ve been thinking about them constantly since your post. They were pretty good but not home cooked standard.
        I’m a terrible book reviewer. All I can manage is terrible, ok, loved it, couldn’t put it down. Possibly because I’m only thinking about getting started on the next book from the pile.

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        • I think my reach was long because I would have sent you to The Veggie Patch rather than the Arty Truck. Great idea, and it must be working if they had sold out early. I’ve never had home-cooked bhajis before which is why I raved about them.

          Since then, I’ve read one book twice, a second one and am halfway through a third. When I read book reviews, I want to know something about style, content, plot (if any), and overall impression, which is what I wanted to give. I don’t even think they need to be long, the Bhutto one had to be because there was so much to say. The Observations one didn’t need a long review (IMO) :D

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  7. Bit of a parallel there. I’m currently reading this one: http://www.amazon.com/Uranium-Energy-Rock-Shaped-World/dp/014311672X and it touches a bit on the events that left India and Pakistan armed with some nasty nuclear weapons. The dealings that got them that way were equally nasty, as it turns out. Makes me all the more grateful for my little space here on the Northwest Atlantic where the worst we have to worry about is how our next hydro project will affect energy costs. Pales by comparison, to say the least.

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    • Can you slow down with your blog posts? :D I’ve got a load now to back-read, and I’m short of internet time right now!

      As for the nuclear capacity of India and Pakistan, I found it illuminating to read about the Pakistani perspective, which, to put it simplistically was about always feeling threatened by India, so if India had nukes, Pakistan wanted them too.

      So while there was the American-led nuclear arms race against Communism, primarily Russia, meanwhile the sideline that was going on was the Asian one for the own reasons, but they were sucked into the American world view anyway.

      I’ll check the link. I’ve reverted back to a few action easy-reads again for now, but think I might browse the autobiog shelves again, they have some interesting looking reads on there.

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      • Hah–the blogs will slow down soon. I have up to 12 posted and the next 3 are actually pretty much done–just picking through what images to use. You’ll notice I have been consciously trying to go with more summer ones :>) I do have to put in 4 winter ones from Black Tickle though at some point so dress warmly. Once I get the next 3 or so done the bee will leave my bonnet and things will settle back to one every week or ten days as they should be. What’s going on is that I’m nearing retirement from public service and just want to get that stuff down as a way of shedding that skin…
        Now, back to India and Pakistan. I have to say that the situation there is so deeply troubling that I fear that anything can happen. But I dearly hope that in the end peoples’ better natures might hold the upper hand. …against the odds.

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        • I think I got half way through, had some time off and before I knew it there was a an avalanche, or at least a snowstorm of them (just thought I would keep up the wintry metaphor).

          That uranium book did look interesting, I scanned (ie read) a few pages of it, although I found the style difficult. But does anyone even know about or is interested in world politics any more? So much easier to read riveting and important news like who won the Oscars.

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  8. Its nice when neighbours cook for you. My Indian neighbour (who was born and brought up in Malaysia) from a couple of houses down and her sister are very good cooks, she cooks for me a lot but never makes me curries.

    Her prawn and chicken noodle dishes are excellent, but nothing I couldn’t do myself with garlic, ginger, lime, chilli and soy sauce.

    One of things I’d like to do is go round India and learn about the spices used in the various regions so I could make really good Indian dishes myself. I told them I’d bought some ‘rendang paste’ a few weeks ago and several days later a proper ‘beef rendang’ appeared on my doorstep, nearest thing to a curry they’ve ever made me.

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    • I’ve really come to appreciate it. I thought it was bizarre when my Spanish neighbours initially did it, it’s not really a British thing. Either you invite someone round to dinner, or you don’t. But now, I’ve really come to appreciate it. Apart from anything else it saves me time – you can’t buy time. Or generosity either. I think the idea of food as a gift (whether raw or cooked) is so very pragmatic and sensible. At least you don’t have to put it on a shelf (or whatever) dust it, and consider it totally useless.

      My veg cookery book is good in that respect. Julia Sahni talks about what is used in which region and by which religion, eg substituting asafoetida for garlic/onions, coconut in the south, etc. I need to top up my spice cupboard as I am a bit low on some. The only problem with her quantities is that she has toned them down for her American readership, so I tend to double up on the spices.

      I really love the panch phoron mix (it’s in the channa dal recipe on my recipe pages), so often use that rather than a basic garam masala.

      A culinary trip around India would be wonderful indeed, when I went I mostly ate thali and eggs curried. In Newcastle we had a good south Indian restaurant (somewhat posher than your average high st Indian) and we ate there quite a few times – until it closed.

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    • They’re a bit like an onion based fritter. When I say fritter I mean basically a fried savoury dish, not necessarily with any egg. For example my Spanish neighbour makes something similar out of flour and water and just fries them. Or sometimes puts cauliflower in them. Bhajis are similar, ie flour, onions, presumably water to bind, and whatever spices. Then fry them, sometimes served as little balls, sometimes flat as above. The key is getting the spices right and the consistency correct.

      The Bhutto book is worth it. Family dynasty type best-selling novel meets true life with a dash of politics and extremely harsh reality.

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  9. Not getting notification of your posts anymore, so thought i would stop by and take a look. That meal looks wonderful. This post was both food for the eyes (drool) and food for though. Bhutto’s autobiography sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks for sharing. Think I’ll pass on your second book :)

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    • Tell me about it. I went through a whole list of ‘blogs I visit’ the other day to see what I was missing. WordPress is like a little imp. It puts some blogs on the reader to lull you into thinking it is working and either posts others up much later (eg yours) or not at all just for the fun of it.

      Since we ate those bhajis we must have had three or four curried meals. And it will eggs curried today too!

      I nearly started browsing the autobiog shelves again yesterday but went for some nasty action men books instead.

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    • It was a good book. A strange mix of personal and yet analytical and political too. It would be interesting to see if I could find a biography of her (including of to her death) to see how someone else would write about her life.

      Like

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