I received a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's newly published memoir of her childhood in India, Climbing the Mango Trees, just before I left for a long weekend visit to New York City. Perfect timing! Getting lost in a good book is my favorite way to pass the time on a cross-country flight. I started the book on my flight to New York, and finished it before we landed in San Francisco on my return flight.
Jaffrey is the author of several cookbooks, including An Invitation to Indian Cooking and World Vegetarian, as well as an award-winning actress. Her memoir is an enchanting story of growing up in India living amongst her extended family of 40, and embracing the multiculturalism of her family -- Hindu, Muslim, and British and at a time and place when this was most uncommon.
Of course, my favorite parts of the book revolve around Jaffrey's memories and descriptions of the food of her childhood. Her story about the Lady in White and daulat ki chaat is probably my favorite food memory of hers:
Yes, balanced there, on a round brass tray, were dozens of mutkainas, terra-cotta cups, filled with daulat ki chaat, which could be translated as “a snack of wealth.” Some cynic who assumed that all wealth was ephemeral must have named it. It was, indeed, the most ephemeral of fairy dishes, a frothy evanescence that disappeared as soon it touched the tongue, a winter specialty requiring dew as an ingredient. Whenever I asked the Lady in White how it was made, she would sigh a mysterious sigh and say, “Oh, child, I am one of the few women left in the whole city of Delhi who can make this. I am so old, and it is such hard work. What shall I tell you? I only go to all this trouble because I have served your grandmother from the time she lived in the Old City. First I take rich milk and add dried seafoam to it. Then I pour the mixture into nicely washed terra-cotta cups that I get directly from the potter. I have to climb up the stairs to the roof and leave the cups in the chill night air. Now, the most important element is the dew. If there is no dew, the froth will not form. If there is too much dew, that is also bad. The dew you have to leave to the gods. In the early morning, if the froth is good, I sprinkle the cups with a little sugar, a little khurchan [milk boiled down into thin, sweet, flaky sheets], and fine shavings of pistachios. That, I suppose, is it.” [read the rest of the excerpt]
I have to admit that I'd never heard of daulat ki chaat before this, and Jaffrey's magical description left me wondering if it actually exists and is prepared as described. A little googling confirms that this is indeeed a magical, legendary and rare treat: "Legend has it that the dish is perfect only when the moon is out and beaming its silver light on the world." Aside from this story, I was not able to find any more detailed instructions or recipes that'd allow me to attempt to create this sweet treat at home. Searching through my cookbook collection didn't turn up anything either. Anyone have any suggestions for tracking down a recipe, or better yet, know if it's served anywhere in the Bay area or NYC?
Madhur Jaffrey will be appearing this Saturday, October 14th at 2pm at Book Passage (Ferry Terminal Building, San Francisco). View a complete list of her upcoming appearances and events.