Monday, April 14, 2014

Dee-Day (1): Buttermilk - a guest post by Sharmila

Sharmila is a better story-teller than I am; and you will get a glimpse of that from her own blog  that she recently started. Several years ago, I heard her name through mutual friends. I knew she was an accomplished dancer along with being a full-time scientist and mom. I had even tried to recruit her as my older daughter's dance teacher through the mutual-friend-grapevine ....without success. So when this said friend asked if Anya would like to participate in a Bharatnatyam-based performance that Sharmila was tutoring; I jumped at the invite. That is how I met this incredibly graceful young mom balancing her multi-faceted life in a very competitive manner.  Recently, I reacquainted with her through our Hindi school. Here, I got to know that she's broken some  big boundaries by marrying a North Indian - an act, that I am sure, comes with a rich, aromatic, north-south amalgamation that keeps her on her toes. I found it commendable that she was bringing her son to Hindi school, so he could get a sense of where his father comes from; all the while enriching her kids' lives with traditional ways from her part of South India (both her kids speak fluent Tamil).  That is what prompted me to ask her to write a little piece for MLS...Sharmila's vision and strength are very forthcoming in what she has to say about herself before we go on to her recipe:

On Family Traditions: 
I grew up in a place far from the bustles of a city. I like my family's traditional way of doing things. For example, blenders were there, but my mom used only stone grinders. My parents were very particular about giving pure, natural and organic food to all of us. Regarding life's aspects, they were like most other Indian parents who believed in marks, ranks and grades, but first came discipline. They did not teach us to stoop and touch the feet of elders, but taught us to respect and treat everyone fairly, irrespective of age, status and caste. They taught us to be righteous, confident and warm. 

I impart the same in my children, but with revision and improvement that are apt to the changing world. My agenda is to keep myself disciplined, which involves organized way of living, good food habits, determination and hard work to pursue a dream, and a warm smile. I want my lifestyle and approach to be so appealing to my kids that they both consciously and subconsciously feel and believe in disciplined life. I don't want their lives to be filled with advices, but with love and guidance. I try my best to impart the importance of festivals of India by actively involving them in decorating the house on various occasions, arranging dolls for Navarathri, making footprints of little Krishna on Janmashtami, etc. I have one expectation: I want them to be positive problem solvers.

On Favorite moments: 
Pongal, the harvest festival, is my favorite one. Both sweet and savory dishes made of rice, spices and jaggery are prepared and presented to the Sun god. The whole family gathers in the front yard for Pooja and Pongal making and presentation. Later, we go to the farm house to pay respect to cattle and feed them their favorite food. My favorite part is that all of us, including cousins, set out to bring many wild flowers. We made a small pit by digging the mud and placed all flowers in water in the pit. This attracted many butterflies, and chasing the butterflies was very entertaining. Later, we had many competitions such as running races, musical chair, kabadi, kho-kho, dance and song, elocution and fancy dress competition. All these happened in a span of three days. So, Pongal was fun!

Over to her post cum dhaba review :-) .

Where there is food, there is bliss
Sharmila Natarajan

I happened to run into the famous Kundan Dhaba at Amritsar during my tour in Punjab few years ago. I am a pure South-Indian who only relished curd rice. I was apprehensive of spicy food items such as Rajma, Chhola, Daal-makhani, Mutter-Paneer etc. But, I loved Parathas! The rule was that I liked any vegetarian food without cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, bay leaf, etc., during those days. I am much better now in handling those masala foods. I would say that the Kundan dhaba experience was a starter experience to devour the real taste of Punjabi food. They placed a huge exorbitant Thaali into which I felt can literally sit comfortably at one end to reach the umpteen dishes at the other end. There were Tandoori rotis smeared with ghee, GENEROUSLY! Then there was Chhola, Daal Makhani, the pink onion dipped in vinegar, Paneer ki subzi, and thick yogurt. It appeared to be a normal North-Indian feast, but the taste of each food item brought a difference. How could I ever leave Punjab without tasting Lassi? In hindsight, I am not too excited about it, as I like the South-Indian buttermilk with aromatic herbs better.

Buttermilk! Traditionally, buttermilk is the liquid left behind after separating out the butter from Yogurt. This liquid is garnished with aromatic herbs and stored in earthen pots to retain the coolness. In South-India, this is considered an unbeatable treat for those whose are outdoors on summer afternoons. I remember my aunt churning huge volumes of yogurt by pulling the ropes that are tied to huge wooden pillars in one of those ancestral homes in my village. Later, my mother innovated a cool method by which she introduced turbulence in tightly closed glass bottles filled with thick yogurt. She would shake them continuously until the butter tops up. Then she adds fresh, chopped cilantro leaves, crushed ginger, curry leaves and a pinch of salt to the buttermilk. However, commercially sold buttermilk is diluted yogurt with herbs. I would like to touch a metabolic aspect associated with churning off the butter. Any fat when consumed and assimilated emits lots of heat, and hence warms up the body. So, plain buttermilk without butter is believed to cool up the system.


Whole milk yogurt – 2 cups
Chopped Cilantro – two tbsps
Curry leaves – one spring, finely chopped
Ginger – One inch, crushed
Salt to taste
  • You can use a food processer or an Indian blender that comes with tools to churn out the butter.
  • Or, either you can use the traditional wooden churner or follow my mother’s turbulence method to churn out the butter.
  • Once done, add salt and other ingredients and give it a mix.
  • Allow it to sit for sometime for the essence of the herbs to seep into the liquid.
  • Toss few ice cubes in, when needed.
Store-bought buttermilk can also be substituted for instant use.

I have lots of memories associated with the traditional churning method. I loved pulling the ropes left and right, and would bring some dance movements while doing that. Those days, the villages were so quiet that even a ring of a bell few miles away can be heard sharply. So, wherever I was, the sound of the liquid splashing around in the pot would invite me to take up the job. The buttermilk was served to any passer-by. Later, when urbanization started, coffee, tea, colored waters in name of sharbat, rasna were served. I had the luxury of growing up in a village where I had only the natural and organic food. Many may disagree to having grown up in a village to be a luxury!! But for me, I am one lucky soul who enjoyed the nature, breathed whiffs of fresh air, chased butterflies and floated in 100 feet deep wells (Still can’t swim, I only royally drown!!).

My two cents: I found Sharmila's reference to "rock hard yogurt" hilarious! It is true that we Northies like our yogurt drained of greek yogurt. I've actually made fun of "the watery dahi" served everywhere else in the joke's mutual! Sharmila's version of buttermilk is refreshingly different from the one I am used to. Be sure to test out her recipe, as well as the Punjabi Kundan Dhaba!

Hope you enjoyed meeting Sharmila. If you would like to contribute your piece here, please email me at mylifeandspice at gmail dot com. More details can be found here.