Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jeera Biscuits (Cumin Pastries)

I am remembering last year when Dewa and I arrived in Nimboli and we were wondering how we would make food at Fire Mountain after the groups left and we were on our own with our cook, Vanita, who spoke no English, and we spoke no Marathi. How would we be able to buy food at the market ourselves. I guess we just cooked for ourselves those first few months, and bought food ourselves in Ganeshpuri and in Vasai, pointing to the things we wanted and allowing the vendors to take the money out of our hands appropriate to what they were asking.

Here I am with Vanita in the Fire Mountain Kithcen. ( I am always having a "bad hair day" so I have taken to wearing a scarf. "Look Ma, no hair!")

I began to study Indian food and vegetarian cooking, but sincerely wondered how we would get the nutrition we needed from only vegetables. I began to realize that the predominance of Indians are vegetarian. And the ones in our village are looking very trim and healthy.

Since we came back from our Ayurvedic treatment in Shivpuri last August, we began to embrace Indian food more easily. (See their website: and read Dewa's blog post titled "Akkalkot Adventures on October 18, 2009).

In fact, I started to really understand the power of eating mung beans and learned some interesting ways to cook mung, as well. Once I knew this, I could begin to ask Vanita to make these things, too.

Sunil was kind enough to let us borrow his oven, which his wife rarely used. So over the past few months I have baked a few Ayurvedic cakes and at Christmas time made some of my family's favorite Christmas cookies. Vanita told Sunil she wanted to learn to bake. So today I decided to bake Jeera biscuits with her, which is a little cookie without any sugar and flavored with cumin seeds. Really quite nice with the traditional Indian chai (tea with milk). Our Marathi teacher, Gita introduced us to Jeera biscuits, along with many other delicious Indian foods. She is an excellent cook and fortunately for me, can describe to me in English what ingredients she uses and how she combines them. Twice now, she has spent the day here at FM teaching me about four recipes all at once. What a whirl wind those events were.

Back to the Jeera biscuits: When baking with Vanita, I knew I was going to have to translate the recipe from English to Marathi. We could use the pointing out method. No problem. But I had not realized that we would then have to figure out how to write it in Marathi. Unfortunately, Vanita has had little schooling, and isn't fluent in writing Marathi. Dewa believes she is the type of student to be in the back of the classroom enjoying jokes with the little rascals. She is that kind of delightful. Dewa and I have spent five months learning the Marathi alphabet, which has 56 letters, and 412 conjugations. A little bit more complicated than English. Our learning has been slow. Fun at times when we are on the road and trying to figure out an advertisement, or a restaurant and trying to read a Marathi only menu.

Today we had to enlist some of the other workers to help us write the Marathi words. Since she said she wanted to learn to bake, I wanted her to have some record of how we bake the different items I envision us making in the future. So together, with my five Marathi primers spread out behind the cooking ingredients, we figured out how to write the Marathi word for each ingredient. We each wrote out our recipe in Marathi.
My Marathi teacher, Gita, will be proud of me. She has taught us well over the past five months, although we were not such good students, at times. Here is Gita's photo. You can see why we had a good time with her learning Marathi.

As Vanita and I actually made the recipe I had her refer back to her copy of the recipe so that she would read her own writing. What might have been a little cooking class turned out to include a mutual Marathi lesson: She taught me the Marathi words for ingredients, and then together we learned how to write it.

I can imagine that Vanita had to go to work early in life and didn't have time to study in school, which is how it is for most village women. Also, most women don't have access to bathrooms when they go to school, and so they eventually give up on school after being uncomfortable from either from "holding it" or walking into the woods to "do their business." This is a big problem all over rural India.

But here, under the auspices of Nityanandsa Education Trust, we are enjoying the companionship of one another and learning together. I imagine that this is what SNET is about: empowering women, one at a time if need be, to evolve, be more. What a sweet time we had.

Oh by the way, the Jeera Biscuits were tasty too. The recipe follows.

Jeera Biscuits

Sift together:

1 cup all purpose flour. (next time I will use Nachini or chia seed flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

In separate bowl, mix:
1/3 cup ghee
2-4 tsp buttermilk or yogurt thinned out
1/2 tsp sugar

Grind small:
5-6 curry leaves
1-2 fresh green chili

Mix all the above together slowly.
1 tsp jeera or cumin seeds
Make a soft dough that you can be rolled into balls.
Arrange on greased cookie sheet.
Using fork, flatten like a peanut butter cookie leaving fork
prong marks, or not.

Bake 350 deg. F for 15 mins.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jeanette, I'm so glad you visited me! This is a nice story about baking with a friend. I do hope you get the chance to try out my candy cane ice cream, because it is just wonderful. On another run, you might want to put some of your chocolate, shaved, of course, into my vanilla ice cream; that is also heavenly! Please come back and visit soon, and I would so like to know how you like the Candy Cane Ice Cream!

    Marjie a.k.a. Harriet!