Ami and Nani Ami in Murree, Pakistan
It’s dreadfully difficult to find ice in Rome. It’s considered an American thing- ‘ma, tu sei Americana?‘, the server joked with my sister when she requested ice in her coca-cola. It was May, and my dear friend A and I were hosting a party on her terrace and we needed ice for making those sweet, tart mojitos. We were in a crisis- we had no idea where to get it from in Rome- and we needed lots of it.
A and I got together at her place two nights before our party to organise the ice- after all, that was the most important element for the party. When you have mojitos, who needs food? And that’s when my Ami called from Lahore- to tell me that my Nani Ami’s condition was not improving; it was merely a matter of a few days.
A and I canceled the party.
I walked back home that night, along the pine tree-lined avenue of Terme di Caracalla, thinking of the candy-coloured bangles my grandmother sent me every Eid throughout my childhood, with a matching gota kinari kurta shalwar and dupatta. And the tiny packets of mithi saunf, sugar-coated aniseed with a treat inside each of them, either a ring with a “ruby” or a watch made from an elastic band. But the biggest treat were the packets of Rafhan’s strawberry flavoured jelly she used to send, which she knew I loved and made for me every night when I was in Lahore on holiday. And let’s not forget the volumes of Cassette Kahanis, those cassettes every child loved, relaying stories about ethereal beings and dragons and serpents.
Eid was complete with a gold trim outfit, matching bangles and sugar. All a child needs, really.
Nani Ami passed away the morning after. It was that 6 am phonecall which everyone dreads. The time when the phone really shouldn’t ring- unless your best friend has woken up with a stranger after a drunken night of clubbing. Or, if someone you love has died.
I go back to Lahore every year and though my Uncles and their families live in my grandparents’ home, it’s not the same for me. I miss waking up in the air-conditioned room with the smell of motia, the night blooming jasmine on my side table, which Nani Ami used to bring in for me from the garden after her 6am walk. And I miss being asked again and again, ‘aur sunao.’ Smelling of Diorissimo, she would sit at the foot of my bed, asking me to tell her more, even when my eyes would be closing from jetlag.
I dedicate this post to her, to Nani Ami, a wonderful mother and grandmother.
This is her recipe for aloo tiki; potato cutlets.
Serves 4 during teatime or as an appetiser.
*500 g white potatoes
*Cumin seeds (zeera), roasted.
*2 tbsp minced white onion
*salt to taste
*red pepper chili flakes to taste
*small handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
*1 egg, beaten
*neutral oil (such as sunflower or corn) for shallow frying
*Wash, scrub and quarter the potatoes.
*Bring a large pot of water to boil.
*Cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
*In the meantime, place a small non stick frying pan on high heat, add cumin seeds and swirl the pan gently, in order to make sure the seeds are roasted uniformly. When you can smell the aroma and the seeds begin to darken, immediately remove the pan from the burner. Transfer to a plate to stop the cumin from cooking further.
*When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them, and when cool, remove the skin, (which will come off very easily).
*Mash potatoes with a masher and then with a fork, some lumps may remain, but don’t worry, as this will give a nice texture to the end product.
*Add roasted cumin seeds, minced onion, salt, chili flakes and coriander leaves.
*Shape into small patties as in photo above. (You may want to wet your palms a little bit to prevent the potato mash from sticking to them).
*Place a large non stick frying pan on medium high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil for shallow frying.
*Dip each patty into egg mixture (see photo above) and carefully transfer to frying pan. Fry about 40 seconds on each side, (be careful when flipping patty), till golden.
*Serve hot with a mint chutney or Thai sweet chili sauce.