I have vivid childhood memories of my Daddyma’s house. My Daddyma is my dad’s mother, my Asian grandmother; a Gujarati powerhouse of a woman who spends her entire day either cooking or praying. In fact, I’m sure she prays whilst she cooks and that’s why her food tastes so damn good.
Daddyma’s kitchen is her kingdom. It is impeccably clean. I’m talking Dexter style clean-up routines, scrubbing away all signs of previous activity. For a lady who spends her entire day toasting and grinding spices, rolling bread, frying delicacies and simmering curries, there is never any evidence of it on her clothes or worktops. Put my Daddyma in charge of a troop of Michelin starred line chefs and she would have them trembling at the knees with her military standards. To this day, my dad (who has inherited her CSI grade cleaning) still gets a bollocking each time he does the dishes as nothing can compete with her expectations.
My kitchen gives the elusion of having it’s shit together. On the surface, it’s well sanitised and orderly but open the cupboards and you’ll hear them hiss, “welcome to the hellmouth”. I work fast and like to have my worktops clear as I cook, which means that things get shoved back into cupboards quickly…out of sight, out of mind. Marie Kondo would open my kitchen cupboards and cry perfectly neat, organised tears. Daddyma’s cupboards on the other hand are just like her long, oiled silver plait – beautiful with not a single hair out of line. There was however, one cupboard in her kitchen that I hated with a vengeance as a child. The cupboard that housed the Quality Street tin. If you grew up in an Asian household, then you’ll know that the Quality Street tin was built on lies and the beginning of your lifelong distrust for things that looked, too good to be true. The Quality Street tin in an Asian household is a container for things far less enticing than naff chocolate; it’s the sewing tin, the receipt tin or in Daddyma’s case – the Methi Biscuit tin.
Methi is the Urdu word for Fenugreek, which is the Latin word for “curry-scented body odour”…Ok, that isn’t true but that’s what eating Fenugreek gives you. Fenugreek contains an aromatic compound called solotone which makes your sweat smell something like curry flavoured maple syrup; it is somehow both sweet smelling and pungent. I used to hatethat smell as a child. To a mixed-raced kid with identity confusion, smelling of Fenugreek was my idea of a nightmare. To smell of Fenugreek would be to smell of curry, and to smell of curry made you bully bait – open to the laziest forms of school playground racism. Now, with the wisdom of hindsight and finding complete comfort in my brown skin, I can see that I would choose to smell of Methi over Heinz Salad Cream any day of the week.
The Quality Street tin just about managed to contain the pervasive smell of “Methi Biscuits”, which was another lie because they weren’t biscuits. They were dusty, savoury bricks that had the texture of fine gravel. I was not a fan. I did however, adore Thepla; a quintessential Gujarati snack which, just like those terrifying Methi biscuits that my Daddyma so lovingly stored in her repurposed Quality Street tin, boasts Fenugreek as is it’s superstar ingredient.
Thepla is a Roti-style bread which is heavily flavoured with fenugreek leaves, fresh ginger and other spices. They are made with curd which gives them a super light texture and fortified with Gram flour which make them slightly healthier than flatbread made with strong white flour and colour them a gorgeous saffron hue. Thepla are full of flavour and a staple on any Gujarati table, or more aptly – any Gujarati “dusterkhan”, which is the eating mat for the floor.
Here is my own recipe for Thepla which is an amalgamation of what I think I saw my Daddyma use and my own intuition. I think she’d be proud.