Come to think of it, I’m not very adventurous.
Yes, I’ve had my fair share of all-headlights-off motorcycle rides on the hills of Pavagadh at 1 a.m. in the morning, sitting behind college guys with questionable intentions. I wouldn’t say no to bungee jumping or tasting shrivelled up grasshoppers dipped in snake blood in some remote part of Vietnam either. I have sharpened my dangerously sharp tongue on unsuspecting subjects who had the misfortune of crossing me. I have been to Paris and back, alone, with absolutely no knowledge of French (the people or language) or a map for that matter.
But a long harsh look at my life of twenty-six years would tell me that I’ve gotten drunk only twice. I don’t have a tattoo and doubt whether I’ll ever get one. I haven’t stripped for any artist or photographer, and doubt I ever will. I haven’t ever smoked pot and neither have I unabashedly taken off my top at a topless beach. I have never experienced the thrill of a secret affair, something almost all my friends have. And for that I thank my habit of being a romantic blabbermouth (I’m usually the first one to shout from the rooftops if I have even a remote crush on a guy).
Somehow, people who know me would disagree with everything I’ve just written above. I have friends back in Kolkata, who have gulped down my stories of late night road trips and skinnydipping in the waters of Mahisagar in winter. I have cousins who wince and squirm at one particular story: the one in which a couple of my friends and I went rambling through the old historic streets of Vadodara to find a quaint, old and grease-lined shop owned by a Muslim family, that served the most gorgeous monkey-brain curry with soft handmade flatbreads. And then I have friends from college who would give you an evil smile before telling you about a certain video clip of me doing things that are best left to the imagination.
But after all that, I would still categorize myself as unadventurous and boring. How would you categorize a woman sitting at home watching old reruns of Frasier, with a bag of peanuts lying next to her pillow and eating bowlfuls of grapes for weeks?
Lately, all I’ve been cooking is chicken. At least it seems that way. Barring a particularly scrumptious lamb curry in the distant past, I have been surviving on chicken, potatoes and peppers; roasted beautifully in thyme and butter rub, or a soy-mirin and minced garlic marinade and there was also a very interesting peri-peri paste.
I don’t usually become comfortable in eating the same thing everyday. Comfort, routine and known perimeters do not really sit well me. They never have. However, I was ironically one of those girls who ate the same breakfast before going to school everyday: a very glutinous and a very bland rice porridge, studded with knobs of butter and an ominous looking boiled potato, with an ocassional hard-boiled egg alongside. I ate the same breakfast for seven whole years before finally cracking under the pressure of routine. I revolted when I was in the fourth standard and I have turned up my nose at every rice porridge that crossed my table since.
The other thing I revolted against once when I was smack in the middle of high-school, was spinach. Bengalis have a way of braising spinach in a spicy base of fenugreek and nigella seeds fried in hot mustard oil. And even though my granmother’s version was always perfectly seasoned and slurped up immediately by the rest of my family, I have always been pushing the bowl away, ever since I discovered that braised spinach (or braised anything dark leafy green) leaves a weird green liquid swirling at the bottom of the bowl when kept sitting for too long. It was the same for palak-paneer. Pureed spinach and cubes of Indian cheese in a mild and to be fair, gorgeously balanced curry (when cooked right). And yet, I have been pushing it away, even when my best friend in college cooked up a super-fab version of it, topped with creamy potatoes and a generous handful of grated cheddar.
But, I’m willing to change. Baby steps. With a warmed spinach and feta salad.
I didn’t have a recipe and I had no idea what kind of vinaigrette would go with spinach. So I made a simple one out of olive oil, lemon juice and mirin. The first time was OK, not great. The acid was a few notes too high and you couldn’t taste the mirin. Also I was missing another texture. So the second time for breakfast, I adjusted the vinaigrette and added chopped crisped up bacon.
Spinach, I don’t love you yet, but you tasted rather good for breakfast today.
Spinach, feta and bacon salad
- 100gms of baby spinach (or 2 cupfuls)
- 60gms of Greek feta cheese
- 2 strips of smoked back bacon
- 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice
- Mirin to taste
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Wash the baby spinach leaves and leave to dry (or you pat them dry with a cloth towel). Crisp up the bacon in a cast iron skillet and roughly chop into strips. Take the pan the bacon was cooking in and throw in the spinach. take the pan off heat and toss the leaves in the juices remaining in the pan for a minute till the leaves start to wilt. Immediately combine the leaves in a separate bowl with crumbled feta and chopped bacon and toss in a mixture made out of olive oil, lemon juice and mirin (the mirin only adds a sweetness to balance out the acidity of lemon and saltiness of feta and bacon, so taste the dressing after you add it and adjust accordingly). Add salt and pepper to taste. I find it helpful to put the dressing in a bowl and then add the salad ingredients, instead of pouring it over the leaves. That way there are no “crushed” leaves. Using your hands to combine is way better than using tongs or spatulas. Also, bear in mind that the feta and the bacon are already quite salty; you may not need to add salt at all. For a kick, add finely sliced red chillies with their seeds still in. This salad works well for vegetarians too, if you replace the bacon with walnuts. Paneer, in place of feta is also a good option, just make sure to saute the paneer in a splash of oil before using it.