Mumbai Kitchen

by Joan Greenblatt

ujju_origFor one week in June, 1999, we hosted Sri Ranjit Maharaj, a brother disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj, in our home. We had never met him, but knew it would be a very special visit. He arrived with three dedicated people to assist him. Naleen, Laurence, and Ujjwala. Each had their specific duties. Naleen was Ranjit’s personal assistant, Laurence made garlands for the three daily bhajans and served him meals and Ujjwala cooked for everyone! This skilled team graciously allowed some of us to join in for the week.

Ranjit’s presence was very light and filled with the peace of one who lives every moment in tune with the Infinite. He hardly slept, and when meeting him in the hall or his room, he greeted us with the gentlest of smiles. His message was simple and direct; “You are the Self. Awake from the illusion of separation; understand this!” He never swerved from this teaching and answered every question by bringing the questioner back to this essential point.

As Ranjit Maharaj sat in the corner chair of an upstairs bedroom, much was going on downstairs. The kitchen crew chopped cilantro, grated ginger, and stirred pots of vegetables, all under the watchful eyes of Ujjwala. She (Ujju for short) is a mother of three and worked as a teacher in a school for the deaf in Mumbai (Bombay). Each morning, before going off to work, she cooked Maharaja’s food for the day, and sent a messenger off through the crowded Mumbai streets to deliver it in a stainless steel tiffin carrier. Always smiling, Ujjwala was a model of selfless service. There was much to learn by being in the kitchen with her, from various ways to utilize spices in dry and wet combinations to balancing the delicate blend of condiments with vegetables and legumes, but the main lesson of the week was to laugh and be free. If we must cook, let it be a joy, for those who eat it are infused with this love, also.

There were so many recipes to include that I pared them down to the few listed below. So, put on your apron (when you’re in Ujju’s kitchen you should wear an apron; turmeric is a natural dye) and try something new. I have indicated items which may need to be purchased in special Asian markets.

Stir Fry Gourd or Zucchini
3 T canola oil
1 t black mustard seeds
¼ t asafetida*
7 C zucchini or Indian gourd, cut into cubes
1 t turmeric
1 T salt
1 t sugar

Blend together with a small amount of water:
3 T ginger, freshly chopped
2-4 green chilies
3 T coriander leaves, chopped small

1. Heat oil in large fry pan.
2. Add mustard seeds, let them pop, then add asafetida.
3. Stir in cut vegetables and top with turmeric and salt.
4. Fry on a medium heat, stirring often.
5. Grind ginger and chilies and blend, adding a small amount of water to make a paste.
6. Add ground ginger/chili mixture and fry until tender.
7. Add sugar at the end of cooking.
8. Top with chopped coriander leaves.

*asafetida—also known as hing, is available in Asian specialty markets

Tomato Soup
This is a heavenly soup that can top the eggplant rice recipe below or plain rice or can be served in a cup to be sipped by itself.

2 T canola oil
3-4 onions, chopped small
1 t turmeric
1 t coriander powder
1 t cumin powder
1 ½ t salt
1 t sugar
8-10 tomatoes, chopped
1 can coconut milk

Blend together with a small amount of water:
1 ½” piece of ginger, cut into small pieces
2-3 green chilies (add more to make it as hot as you wish)

1. Saute onions in oil until translucent.
2. Add spices, salt, sugar and tomatoes. Cook covered on medium heat until tomatoes are soft.
3. Add blended ginger, chilies and coconut milk, then cook another five minutes.
4. Transfer to blender in batches and blend until smooth.
5. Top with coriander leaves, chopped small.

Here are two distinctive eggplant dishes:

Baigan Bharta (Eggplant Curry)
3 T canola oil
¼ t asafetida*
1-2 green chilies
6-7 curry leaves (optional; available in specialty store)
4 onions, chopped small
2 tomatoes, chopped small
¼ t turmeric
½ t red chili powder
2 t coriander powder
2 t cumin powder
1 ½ t salt
1 t garam masala powder (available in specialty stores)
2 eggplant, charred on top of gas range or broiled in oven
1 T sugar or jaggary

Blend together with a small amount of water:
8-10 garlic cloves
1 ½” piece of ginger
½ C coriander leaves, chopped small

Optional:
Add 1 C cashew nuts or peas when frying onions

1. Char eggplant by placing directly onto gas range and rotating until completely soft inside and black outside. You can also broil them; turn them often to ensure evenly cooking. Remove skin and chop eggplant into pieces. Remove eggplant threads.
2. Fry asafetida, and curry leaves in oil for a few minutes, add onions.
3. Saute onions until translucent, then add tomatoes.
4. Cook tomatoes on medium heat until all liquid is removed.
5. Mix powdered spices, salt and blended spices with the eggplant. Using your hands is the most efficient way to blend them together.
6. Add eggplant/spice mixture to cooked onions and fry on medium heat, with lid on, for about ten minutes.
7. Add sugar at the end and top with coriander leaves.

 Eggplant Masala (Spice) Rice
Wet masala; grind in blender
2 C coriander leaves
2-3 green chilies
5 garlic cloves
1 ½” piece of ginger
½ C water

1 eggplant chopped, cooked and drained, add wet masala to it.

Dry grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle:
20 cardamom seeds
1 t peppercorn
2 cinnamon sticks
2 T cumin seeds and 1 T coriander seeds, dry roasted

¼ C canola oil
2 bay leaves
9 bay leaves
6-7 curry leaves (optional; available in specialty store)
½ C cashews, chopped
2 onions, chopped small

3 C basmati white rice (organic is available)
6 C water
2 T salt
½ C coriander leaves, chopped small

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy bottom pot.
2. Add bay leaves, cumin, curry leaves, cashews and onions. Cook onions until translucent.
3. Add rice and stir fry a few moments.
4. Add dry masala, eggplant/spice mixture, water and salt to rice. Mix well, then bring to a boil. Lower flame and simmer about 15-20 minutes until rice is completely cooked. Watch carefully since it can easily burn on the bottom of the pot.
5. Top with coriander leaves.