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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Phalaak Phaneir

One of my British colleagues is quite worried about what the sedentary lifestyle has done to her in Dubai. She swears pinching her bulges that she can’t find anything that helps her get back to her good old leaner days. She is always cribbing that her stomach is not in good form, it is rock hard and that she feels bloated all the time.

Today morning she fished out a lunch-size can from her lunch bag and yelled out, "Look what I found, 'phalaak phaneir'...its absolutely wonderful...good for my tummy". She held up a can of Palak Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese in mild Indian spices). In the eureka mode of her new healthy find from the supermarket's ready-to-eat section, she recommended to all of us patting her now-happy stomach, “Phalak phaneir’ is good for you. Must try it”. Palak Paneer is a household dish at North Indian homes and is served with chapattis.

I was reminded of this popular in Hindi saying 'ghar ki murgi daal barabar'...which means home-made chicken is equivalent to boiled lentils. When I was a small kid my mother tried hard to make me eat this not so glamorous palak paneer - a green curry that made me chuckle. She would lure me saying that palak (spinach) will get me bright red eyes like the rabbit and pink lips like our Punjabi neighbour Ashima. She even said that I will get a golden mane like Barbie’s. I don’t know if my mother was successful in getting me eat palak paneer then, but when I grew up and was living and cooking all by myself, I developed a taste for palak paneer, simply because it was easy-to-cook and was healthy.

I cooked it once for my in-laws. My husband cannot stand anything green in general. When I serve him vegetarian, he bleats and reminds me he is not a goat. This is a common joke at our dinner table when he breaks into bleating at the sight of some salad or broccoli or anything green or leafy. So I make vegetarian stuff only occasionally as I can’t convince him with stories to get started on eating healthy. Stories do not work after an age and especially with men who have an option to have their own mummy's food.

Surprisingly after joining a fitness club, my husband is close to one of his British trainers, who I assume, must have given him a crash course on healthy names in the Indian menu. Last night he asked me, "Do you know to make phalak phanier?" Instead of blurting out that, "I have made it but you don’t like it anyway."...I said, "I will try and make it for you from the Sanjeeve Kapoor's Khana Khazana collection that you bought me to learn good chicken recipes." He was happy to know that I will try it out and we struck a deal on having it this weekend.

Perhaps it is the colonial hangover, or is it just the thought that healthy must not be tasty. May be it is the many snap shots of brown-bran breads, no-sugar, no salt, no oil thoughts that reminds of a slow ballet while the fried chicken makes an entertaining rock-and-roll entry. Or perhaps mummy's cooking is the best. Whether mummy believes in frying less and steaming more is not applicable anyway. I don’t know the exact answer to all this, but it is sad that palak paneer has to come to us as phalak phaneir to actually get its true value seen.

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