It would inevitably be late in the afternoons; after wrapping up her daily household chores and completing Zuhr prayers, Nanu would sit down to have her lunch, which in itself was an art, almost like a ceremony of relishing heavenly manna.
The array of food in her small brass bowls, her hefty brass glass filled with water flavoured with lemon leaves and rinds to add that refreshing tartness, poured from a terracotta pitcher; were placed on the table in an artistic manner. Her style of mixing fried vegetables or the curry sauce with her piping hot steamed rice, and that exact amount of squeezed lemons- everything was a ritual, almost on an otherworldly level.
Being her favourite pet and pampered of them all, I would be her constant companion during school breaks.
I simply loved watching Nanu’s everyday rituals — from oiling her hair with homemade coconut oil scented with hibiscus petals and fenugreek, to washing her hair with soap nut, moisturising herself with aloe vera and rose water… everything she did was in sync with nature. In other words, our grand dames were the true crusaders of all things organic. And I was always by her side, learning life hacks first-hand and most importantly, discovering the art of cooking and loving food by sharing tricks and meals with her.
The fun of partaking in mealtimes or cooking times with her was almost theatrical, with each activity carefully scripted like a performance. Food, which she made, was indeed a mind-blowing treat for my ordinary palate.
The simple act of calling out to me before she sat down to eat was, “Go get a green chilli from the garden, and bring a spring onion sprig while you are there.”
This ordinary call left an extraordinary impression on my young mind, and thus began my love for herbs and kitchen gardens. The heady smell of coriander leaves, the proud green mint looking up to the sun, the aromatic basils, the dark green spring onions, the tangy lemon leaves, the tall branches of glistening bay leaves; all of them were used by my darling granny in various dishes she prepared lovingly for her family, and the freshness of her herbs was the touch of magic in her cooking.
And come any festival or Eid, herbs and condiments always took the centre stage in the kitchen as well as the dining table.
A lemon leaf in your sweet lemonade in the midst of games in her backyard on Eid days was a treat; the tamarind chutney with coriander and molasses was something I yearned for during midday kabab snacks at her place.
She made various ‘achars’ and chutneys for us cousins on a regular basis, half of which were devoured during the time it was laid down in the sun to cure and the leftovers were served during the grand Eid lunch at her place.
While reminiscing, I now find my memory blurred, but one thing I am sure of is my love for greens was sowed in my Nanu’s garden, especially that particular ‘run to the garden for a green chilli during lunchtimes’ left a lovely hangover, which I am still nursing.
I was ecstatic when, for the first time, I grew thyme, dill, and rosemary. Unfortunately, our harsh summers and monsoons were not ideal for their growth.
My Vietnamese basils, oregano, chives, bay leaves, and ginger flowers are thriving, although I am still waiting for my peppercorn shrub to bear its first pod.
Greens honestly add a different kind of colourful pleasure to life, for which you do not need to have a green thumb. Just put the fresh herbs and plants in ordinary jars or water jars and you can grow herbs that are great to have in the kitchen, and the entire experience — handy for life.
And Qurbani Eid is the perfect time to stock up on spices about which our celebrated recipe writer Selina Parveen has written in detail, and our special Qurbani food spread has hints of herbs all through the photoshoot. Flip our pages and find what you would like to try this EID.