My middle name is Lucica, an expansion on my mum's mum's name, Lucia. She’s in the middle, between my Aunty Ruth on the left, and my mum (Rose) on the right. She died when my mum was young. Mum inherited the heavy mantle of surrogate motherhood: cooking, cleaning and taking care of her 4 younger siblings and her dad. My grandpa never remarried, spending the rest of his life pining for his wife. He died almost 2 years ago, so I like to think that they’re reunited and making up for all those lost years.
I don't think you ever get over losing your mum or your dad, no matter how much time has passed between then and now. Mum always talks about her with so much sadness in her voice -- and as I'm writing this, I realise that we, her grandchildren, don't even know what to call her. We call our Dad's mum, "Mamma". I wonder what she would have wanted us to call her.
Anyway. Mum’s mum was a fantastic cook. She made delicious meals out of the measly rations they received during the Indo-China war, even making deals with the neighbors to make sure her family was fed right (I’ll tell you about that tomorrow). She didn’t let a small hurdle like not having an oven keep her from baking a cake – she just made it on her stove-top, with nary a recipe in sight.
Thankfully (for my hungry tummy!), my mum inherited that understanding of kitchen alchemy, an impressive feat in Indian cooking where jar upon jar of delicious, pungent spices sit before you. And she’s had years to practice her dark arts (!), so now, unlike a lot of Indian food I’ve sampled, her dishes are spiced with a sure hand, subtle but precise, soothing not overwhelming, with a gentle burn not a third-degree one… prompting meals that are eaten in relative silence, except for the occasional “mmmmmm”.
Every now and then, Mum would make this “jiffy pulao” for us, using leftover rice, peanuts and my favorite bouquet of spices: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and turmeric.
Here’s how mum remembers this pulao:
“My Mum's Jiffy pulao was made out of necessity in the days when for most Indians having a refrigerator at home was a luxury. For us it was an impossibility because right until I left India for Doha, we did not have electricity in our part of Mumbai!! Can you believe that??
Anyway, my Mum's way of using the leftover rice was making a quick pulao for us, which was precious to us as it was very rare that she would cook us something like this. And the day she gave it away to a poor beggar woman who was hungry and begging for food, it was a sacrilege for us children!”
The other day, with a number of cups of leftover rice in the fridge, I remembered my gran’s pulao and decided that I would try to make my own version. And I must say that for the first time, I think I may have located that little touch of alchemy in my own blood. This pulao is the best thing I’ve made in a long time. In my gran’s honour, I’m calling this:
Lucia & Lucica Pulao: Indian Fried Rice with soy chorizo, peanuts and curry leaves.
A quick note:
“Pulao” is the Indian version of pilaf, and pronounced pu-LLOW (rhymes with allow). Curry leaves do not make curry powder as I’ve heard some people say. The leaves are a spice/herb unto themselves, and you can get them from Indian grocery stores. Just ask quietly because the last I heard, they were banned in the US. I want to buy a curry leaf tree!
Hunt down the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves from your Indian market; it is really worth it. Don’t worry that you’ll be wasting money on spices you’ll never use again. You can use that combo again and again to spice most anything you want: vegetables, soups, eggs. It’s an authentic South Indian flavour combination that you won’t find in most Indian restaurants.
Soy chorizo: Bren found some awesome soy chorizo at Trader Joe’s, but you could use regular chorizo. Just make sure you cook it separately first, and drain off all that oil. You don’t need it.
I leave the skins on the garlic – they’re aren’t edible but they keep the garlic from burning, and at the end, the clove slips out of the skin and is deliciously soft and sweet.
I took 10 minutes assembling this bevy of ingredient into a photographer’s dream, only to realize at the end that I didn’t use any ginger. So disregard the ginger, as gorgeous as it looks there!
3-4 cups COLD cooked medium-long grain white rice (basmati is my fav)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bell pepper, diced small
½ pkg Trader Joe’s soy chorizo, casing removed
(or ½ pkg of regular chorizo, casing removed)
Handful frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, skins on, very slightly crushed
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves, stem discarded
Small handful peanuts
Juice of half a lemon
1) Heat a little oil (about a tsp or so) in a wok or nonstick skillet, over medium heat. Once warmed, add the beaten egg and cook into scrambles. Remove from wok and set aside.
2) If you’re using regular chorizo, throw that in now and cook until slightly crispy and glistening. Remove from the wok, draining the oil, and setting the meat aside.
3) Swirl a little oil in the work (2 tsp) and once hot, add the bell peppers. Cook 30 seconds, and then add the soy chorizo if that’s what you’re using. Cook until bell peppers have softened and taken on a little colour. Add peas, cook until warmed through. Remove from wok and set aside.
4) Swirl 1 tbsp oil in wok, and once warm, add the garlic cloves (they should sizzle upon contact). Cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. If the skins are starting to burn, turn the heat down, or take the wok off the heat before you add the mustard and cumin seeds. You don’t want them to burn.
5) Add the mustard and cumin seeds. Cover. When the seeds begin to splutter, pick up the lid, but hold onto it; throw the curry leaves in, they will splutter rather furiously, so immediately cover. Allow to cook about 10 seconds, until you hear the sizzling die down.
6) Add turmeric. Allow to bloom; the powder will sizzle gently and release its aroma. This takes anywhere from 10-30 secs. If you don’t see the turmeric blooming, add a touch more oil.
7) Add the peanuts and toss, allowing the peanuts to toast a little in the spices.
8) Add the rice and toss, covering the rice in the spices.
9) Add chorizo mixture and egg. Toss gently. Add a little water if it’s too sticky.
10) Season with salt and pepper. Off heat, sprinkle lemon juice over the rice. Toss and serve!
Seriously. This is the best thing I’ve ever come up with. So so so good. Let me know how you like it!