The author’s fam­i­ly pho­to with her great-grand­fa­ther, great-grand­moth­er, grand­fa­ther, grand­moth­er, and oth­ers. Cour­tesy of the author.

As the year ends I light can­dles to cel­e­brate Hanukkah and feast upon fried samosas and pota­to cut­lets at the Magen Abra­ham Syn­a­gogue of Ahmed­abad. I look back and won­der how my large joint fam­i­ly slow­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed, though we used to live togeth­er in an old house in the walled city of Ahmed­abad, India. Through­out the years many elders left for their heav­en­ly abode, while oth­ers immi­grat­ed to Israel, Cana­da, Eng­land, Aus­tralia, and the US. In a sim­i­lar man­ner, I left Ahmed­abad many times but kept return­ing and became a part of the com­mu­ni­ty of the last few Jews of Ahmed­abad, meet­ing often and break­ing bread togeth­er at the synagogue.There are one-hun­dred-forty Jews in Ahmed­abad and we cel­e­brate fes­ti­vals togeth­er. We are like one big family.

My ances­tors lived in Ahmed­abad for almost five gen­er­a­tions. Lat­er in my life, I had the respon­si­bil­i­ty of dis­pos­ing of their belong­ings. In this process, I have min­i­mized my own pos­ses­sions. It pains me to write that when I gave away the last object from my kitchen, it was one of the hard­est moments of my life. I had to, as there was no place for it.

It was pre­cious, even if it was a slab of stone. It had the touch of all the women of my fam­i­ly inscribed on it. It was a grind­ing stone with a pes­tle, which was always kept on the floor or on the large kitchen plat­form. All masalas and chut­neys were ground on it. The pres­sure of the human hand on the ingre­di­ents was essen­tial to get­ting the right tex­ture for the paste; gin­ger, gar­lic, green chilis or dry red chilis, grat­ed coconut, corian­der, cumin seeds, and corian­der leaves were ground togeth­er so that they could be sauteed with sliced onions and put in a casse­role. When black pep­per cur­ry was made the ingre­di­ents var­ied and one need­ed the spe­cial skill of grind­ing roast­ed and peeled onions, gin­ger, gar­lic, and pep­per­corns together.

This elab­o­rate process of grind­ing masala need­ed hands of steel and a con­tin­u­ous semi-cir­cu­lar move­ment to pre­pare a smooth paste. It was an intri­cate part of cook­ing cur­ries and mak­ing chut­neys. This chore was assigned to the cook, or her help, and if the women were not sat­is­fied with the end-result, often they hitched up their saris, sat down on a wood­en stool, and ground the paste them­selves. As lunch and din­ner prepa­ra­tions start­ed mid-morn­ing, it was not uncom­mon to see the women stand­ing over the maid to check the paste, as she sat hunched on the floor grind­ing masala.

Our grind­ing stone was more than a hun­dred years old and had chis­el marks on the sur­face, so that the ingre­di­ents could be ground into a smooth paste. But it was no longer rough, as stone arti­sans were not eas­i­ly avail­able to rough­en the surface.

I become nos­tal­gic about grind­ing stones, as they remind me of the women of my fam­i­ly, as they made green or red masala paste for a curry.

The stone was a pre­cious memen­to of the past, but I could no longer accom­mo­date it in my apart­ment. I even tried to use it as a pedestal to keep some of my pot­ted plants on. I was heart­bro­ken and gave it to our old dri­ver, as he said his wife need­ed a grind­ing stone. So, it went to their home. Soon after, I bought an elec­tric mix­er-grinder to process masalas in a few min­utes, but I was nev­er sat­is­fied. I was sure the masala nev­er released the fla­vors, which it used to from the grind­ing stone

I have a fas­ci­na­tion with grind­ing stones, which remind me of the Stone Age or an Egypt­ian sculp­ture of a woman grind­ing grain. Grind­ing stones come in all shapes and sizes. Ours was about four­teen inch­es by ten inch­es in length and breadth, and the pes­tle was a piece of cylin­dri­cal stone. This size was just right to hold it in both hands and grind the paste.

I become nos­tal­gic about grind­ing stones, as they remind me of the women of my fam­i­ly, as they made green or red masala paste for a cur­ry; they checked its con­sis­ten­cy by rub­bing a lit­tle paste between their fin­gers before it was cooked in coconut milk. Some­times it was mixed with Tamarind extract, or strands of fra­grant saf­fron dis­solved in a tiny bowl of water. It had to have the right con­sis­ten­cy with­out a speck of the ele­ments used to make it.

Once, the casse­role of cur­ry was put on the stove pieces of chick­en, fish, or meat were added and cooked in, as the house was filled with a deli­cious aroma.

Some­times, even if I did not cook green, red, or black pep­per cur­ry, which were almost always served with coconut rice, their nos­tal­gic fra­grances waft­ed towards me. These smells touched the inner chords of my being and stayed with me.

Below find a recipe for veg­etable pat­ties and green corian­der chut­ney. This chut­ney is often served with pat­ties and can be made on a grind­ing stone. Check out Esther David’s lat­est book, Bene Appétit: The Cui­sine of Indi­an Jews.

Hanukkah

Can­dles are lit to cel­e­brate Hanukkah as pat­ties, cut­lets, pota­to pako­ras, pota­to rolls, or samosas are served along with a vari­ety of fried snacks.

Veg­etable Patties

Ingre­di­ents

6 pota­toes

½ cup green peas

1/4 tea­spoon red chilli powder

½ tea­spoon cumin powder

1 table­spoon chopped corian­der leaves

Salt to taste

Eggs

Bread­crumbs

Refined flour

Oil

Method

Peel pota­toes and shell green peas, steam-cook till done; drain, trans­fer into a bowl, mash; add red chilli pow­der, cumin pow­der, fine­ly chopped corian­der leaves, salt to taste and mix with oiled palms. Divide this mix­ture into equal por­tions and shape into round pat­ties. Take anoth­er bowl, break eggs, whisk till frothy, dip each pat­ty in egg mix­ture, then roll in a plat­ter of bread­crumbs and refined flour and cov­er on both sides.

Heat oil in a pan; add pat­ties, fry till both sides are gold­en brown, drain and serve hot.

Option­al – Add 1 small grat­ed car­rot to the mix­ture of mashed pota­toes and peas.

Green Corian­der Chutney

Ingre­di­ents

1 small bou­quet fresh coriander

10 leaves fresh mint

1 (medi­um) green chilli

½ cup coconut (grat­ed)

¼ tea­spoon sugar

Salt

Method

Corian­der and mint leaves with green chilis are cleaned, washed, fine­ly chopped, and mixed with grat­ed coconut, a lit­tle sug­ar, and salt to taste.

Make a chut­ney with these ingre­di­ents on a grind­ing stone with very lit­tle water. (Or process in a mixer.)

Vari­a­tion – Add a slice of green man­go or a squeeze of lime.

Esther David received the Sahitya Akade­mi award in 2010 for her nov­el Book of Rachel. She is also the author of The Walled City, By the Sabar­mati, Book of Esther, My Father’s Zoo, Shalom India Hous­ing Soci­ety and The Man with Enor­mous Wings. Her nov­els are based on the Jew­ish ethos in India, stud­ied by schol­ars, and some of them have been trans­lat­ed into French, Gujarati and Marathi. She is an art crit­ic and colum­nist for the Ahmed­abad edi­tion of the Times of India and has writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the city of her birth.