In the chaotic world of Mumbai where everyone is rushing off to work and dabbawallahs work meticulously to pick up and deliver lunches for the working folk, there is a calm reprieve in Ila’s kitchen as she, with the help of the upstairs Auntie, prepares food for an inattentive husband. With each recipe that she packs into the traditional tiffins, she hopes to impress and gain some meager recognition from her spouse.
The February Food ‘n Flix feature is The Lunchbox, an Indian film beautifully written and directed by Ritesh Batra. The plot revolves around the neglected and lonely Ila and an older, widowed government worker. In the exact world of the Mumbai lunch delivery service, there is never a glitch. As we are reminded by a dedicated dabbawallah, the deliverymen make no mistakes (as proven by Harvard).
But, a mistake is made when Ila’s tiffins are delivered to Fernandes, a widowed and lonely man that is nearing retirement. Ila is amazed that the pans are licked clean upon their return and Fernandes is amazed as to the increased quality of his lunch service. Soon, the two start a cautious correspondence by letters in the lunchboxes. What casually starts with Fernandes pointing out that the food was a bit salty the second day, morphs into the two lonely people sharing their thoughts, observances, and feelings for each other.
Obviously, the film is full of food from the opening creamy orange curry that Ila is cautiously seasoning to the bhaingan (eggplant stirfry). Ila begins a courtship of food and letters with Fernandes. We are also exposed to stuffed karela (bitter gourd), chapattis (a simple flatbread), and dal. (I believe dal was the dish that Ila over-spices with red chiles as pay-backs for Fernandes “salt” insult.)
I decided to challenge myself for this month’s round and to tackle paneer kofta. This was the dish that Ila sent with her first note to her then unknown lunch recipient. She wrote that this was her husband’s favorite meal.
slightly adapted from foodviva
1 c. fine curd cottage cheese
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, boiled and grated
2 T. from 1 (4 oz.) can green chili (reserve the rest for the sauce)
½ t. grated ginger
1/2 t. fresh lemon juice
1 T. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 ½ T. corn starch, plus more for coating Kofta
6-8 Cashew nuts, chopped
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying
For the sauce:
1 (28 oz.) can tomato puree
2 T. cashews, soaked in water for 20 minutes
1 t. ginger paste
1 t. garlic paste
Remaining can of green chili
1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 t. red chilli powder
1/4 t. Garam Masala powder
1½ t. ground coriander
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. fenugreek seeds, ground
2 T. oil
3/4 c. water
Salt to taste
Drain the cottage cheese in a sieve. Combine cheese, grated potatoes, corn starch, green chilli, ginger, lemon juice, cilantro and salt in a large bowl. Mix with clean hands until smooth.
Grease your palms with oil and divide mixture into 6-8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball. Take one ball and press a little between your palms and flatten it like pattie; put 2-3 pieces of cashew nuts in the center as a stuffing. Fold the patty over the nuts and form back into a ball.
Prepare remaining stuffed kofta balls in similar way. Roll in enough cornstarch that each kofta is covered in an even coat.
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When it is medium hot, slide in 3-4 stuffed balls from the edge of frying pan and deep-fry over medium flame until golden brown and crisp. Make sure that oil is hot enough otherwise it may break and split open in the oil. Drain them and transfer them to a plate.
Deep fry remaining stuffed balls.
Make the sauce. Heat oil in a large sauce pan or large sauté pan over medium heat. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the cumin seeds, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Add ground spices to the oil. Sauté for approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic and ginger pastes and sauté for 10-20 seconds.
Add remaining chopped green chili and onion; sauté until onion turns light brown (approximately 2-3 minutes).
Add tomato puree.
Sauté until oil starts to separate, 3-4 minutes. Grind soaked cashew nuts with 2 tablespoons water and make a paste. Add cashew paste to tomato mixture. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder, ground coriander, Garam Masala, sugar and salt.
Stir and cook for a minute.
Add ground fenugreek seeds and 1/2 cup water. Cook the sauce for 4-5 minutes.
Add prepared stuffed balls, mix well and turn off heat.
Transfer paneer kofta to a serving bowl and garnish with cilantro.
I will not give away the ending to the film, but I will leave you with a teaser: “Sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right station.”
Thanks to Culinary Adventures with Camilla for suggesting this film and hosting this round. Thanks, Camilla, for introducing me to this film.
Join our little film-foodie group for March when the feature film will be A Walk in the Clouds hosted by Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm.