Last week, a worker painting some siding on our house told me, a little too late as it turned out, that he had spotted a cardinal’s nest with a little baby inside it, in the lilac bush outside my kitchen window.
Delighted, I climbed on to the kitchen platform and hung precariously out the window to get a closer look the nest. But the baby was gone, most likely old enough to have flown away on its own. The little nest he had left behind looked a little sad but still really cute.
I was disappointed, but not for long. Summer is the season of avian abundance here in the Washington area, and there are many such delightful surprises and moments these beautiful creatures offer all through the season, making our humid summers more bearable and even fun than they would otherwise be.
Imagine this. We live not far from a busy road, but in the summer it is not the sound of traffic that floats in through the windows each morning…it is the morning raaga sung by hundreds of birds, each singing, cackling, even making cat-like meowing sounds. What a melody to wake up to!
Woodpeckers beat a rhythmic tattoo on tree barks, hummingbirds pause magically in mid-air, wings whirring, to sip sweet water, pairs of cardinals fly around in scarlet arcs…it is almost impossible not to adore these little fellows while at the same time feeling just a little jealous of their boundless freedom.
Now I am no bird expert, and I barely know the names of most of the birds I see, with the exception of the most commonly found ones.
But that’s no reason why I can’t enjoy the gifts they offer.
I can sit for hours at my window, watching birds drink water from the bird dish, or peck at the food I just put out in a birdhouse Desi fashioned out of an old lampshade. I especially love to watch them carefully and judiciously pick out pieces of grass and twigs, presumably for a nest. In fact, these little fellows often rip out my new little seedlings in the vegetable garden right out, making me mad, but only for a minute.
Anyway, coming to today’s post, Makki di Roti and Sarson da Saag is exactly the kind of comfort food I crave after a great afternoon of bird-watching.
To understand just how quintessentially matched this duo of dishes from the North Indian state of Punjab is, think of cookies and (soy) milk, or biscuits and gravy.
Makki di Roti is basically a roti made with corn and wheat flour, not very unlike a tortilla. The best way to eat this delicious bread would be to tear it with your fingers and dunk it into Sarson da Saag, a vibrant green vegetable dish made with pureed mustard leaves and spinach. Add to the plate a sliver of lemon and a few chopped onions, and you’ve got a meal to die for.
So here you go, with my recipe for an Indian classic, so delicious it is guaranteed to make you feel like you just went to Punjabi heaven.
Makki di Roti
2 cups corn flour, like masa harina
1 cup whole-wheat durum flour (use regular whole-wheat if you can’t find this)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
Water to make dough
Place all ingredients except water into a large bowl or into the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead, adding a little water at a time, until the dough comes together. It should be soft and pliable but not sticky.
Set aside for at least half an hour.
Pull out a piece of the dough, enough to make a ball about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll into a smooth ball, then, using flour to prevent it from sticking, roll out to about 6 inches in diameter.
Sarson da Saag
1 10-oz package mustard greens
1 10-oz package spinach
Place the greens in a skillet with 1/2 cup of water and boil until the greens are quite tender, about 10-15 minutes.
Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Then grind to a puree in a blender.
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a skillet.
Add 1 onion, finely diced, and saute until it begins to turn golden-brown.
Add 1 tbsp grated ginger and 6 cloves of garlic, minced, and stir together for a minute.
Add 1/4 cup of corn flour (the same flour used for the rotis). Stir with the onions until the roux is fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the puree of leafy greens and 3 chopped jalapeno or serrano peppers. Stir well.
Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until the greens are thoroughly cooked. Add some water if necessary to keep the greens from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add 1 tbsp garam masala (recipe follows) and salt to taste. Mix well, then turn off the heat.
Serve hot with some chopped onions, some lemon, and Makki di Roti.
Garam Masala for Sarson da Saag:
3 pods of green cardamom
2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
Toast all ingredients on a low flame in a skillet for about 5 minutes or until fragrant. The coriander seeds should be reddish-brown. Cool and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.