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Indian Cooking with Leftovers: Green Mango Sandwiches
In a changing economy and environment, it helps to have always been creative with very little.
Every day at lunch break at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Delhi, India, hordes of ink-stained white-uniformed schoolgirls would surround me, salivating for a taste of my home-made lunch: aam ke achaar ke sandwiches.
What, you’ve never heard of green mango pickle sandwiches? Well, then you didn’t know my mother who was the queen of improvised meals. No cheese or tomatoes in the house – then how about raiding the tall earthen jar of homemade mango pickle marinated in mustard oil, redolent with anise and spice? The hard core of the mango pickle was discarded and the plump slices were placed on buttered bread, and turned into succulent sandwiches which left you weeping with spice-induced joy. Not something you’d find in your neighborhood deli!
I had never eaten this gourmet concoction before nor have I eaten it since – it was a creation of my mother who was both frugal and innovative in wasting nothing and conjuring up meals out of unlikely ingredients.
Sindhi Spinach Tikkis
Leftover cooked white rice was turned into nasi goring – Indonesian fried rice (mom had a sister in Djakarta who had taught her this) or crunchy rice croquettes. Left over Sindhi spinach (cooked with veggies and chana dal) was transformed into pan-fried flat cakes with the addition of a magical binding agent like besan or chickpea flour. A leftover chapatti would be heated, then torn up and mixed with sugar to become Kutti – a sweet treat for a crabby, tearful child.
Any leftover cooked vegetables like cauliflower or peas and potato curry were always pushed into new and unlikely roles. Aloo tikis or potato croquettes would have interesting mixtures of reserved dal or veggies; sometimes these were pan-fried, and sometimes dipped in egg and breadcrumbs to be transformed into crispy vegetable cutlets.
Another reborn treat was sayal mani, a Sindhi delicacy, which was always concocted out of leftover chapattis. Dipped and cooked in a rich mint and coriander sauce or in a tomato sauce fired with garlic and black mustard seeds, it was like getting a star crowd pleaser out of nothing. Who would have thought a day-old chapatti could be a treat?
But the one snack we loved the most was ‘jaffals’ or toasted sandwiches cooked in a jaffal maker over an open fire – the result was a crisp golden grilled sandwich which when cut into 2 triangles revealed the spicy filling of minced keema or the paneer-peas sabzi left over from last night’s dinner.
Indian Leftovers Cake
My mother’s showpiece, however, was made out of things which by themselves would have been regarded as quite boring and blah: leftover dal, a few spoonfuls of chutney, leftover vegetables and some mashed potatoes. Each was smeared on a slice of bread and the slices were carefully tied together with thread – the makeshift cake was covered with spiced mashed potato and then deep fried. When cut into slices, the golden cake had many colors and flavors and tasted great with ketchup.
I guess I inherited my mother’s frugal way of saving the earth (and moolah!) long before it became fashionable and even now take pleasure in fashioning cutlets, pullaos and sandwiches out of whatever I have left over from the last meal.
Whether it was due to her Hindu belief in ‘andata’, her experiences surviving the hardships of the Partition or just her frugal nature, food as a sustainer of life always received a lot of respect from my mother. Before we ate, she always said a silent prayer and took out a portion for the birds and the cows; and of course, the leftovers from a meal were never discarded. The next day they were always reincarnated and reborn as a fabulous new meal!