Food talk
Low on calories

There are not many ‘cold delights’ in the Indian repertoire. Khumb Shabnam is easy to prepare and helps you keep cool during the scorching summer, says Pushpesh Pant

Kalidas, the great Sanskrit poet, in his lyric poem Ritu samhara (Cycle of Seasons) devotes as much space to foods that help you keep your cool during scorching summer as he does to description of seductive maids, applying sandal paste to their buxom bosoms to beat the heat.

Among the ingredients that are time-tested coolants, he lists rays of the moon, a pearl, splash in the pool and drops of dew. Dew is called shabnam in Urdu and some gifted cook with poetic imagination seems to have suffixed the word to the name of this delectable dish.

There are not many ‘cold delights’ in the Indian repertoire excluding some raitas, pachadis and that South Indian lifesaver tayeer sadam. We were once treated to a daal shikora by the one and only Muhammad Farouk in his hometown Lucknow set intriguingly in a shallow clay pot akin to phirnee and who can deny that accompanied by a cold khameeri roti that spartan meal was sheer bliss.

But let all these reveries not distract us from more pressing business at hand. Not only is the appetite sluggish as the mercury shoots up but also the inclination to exert in the kitchen is missing. What the doctors prescribe is a repast not loaded with calories, appetising and easy to prepare.

If this were not enough, the vegetables of choice begin to disappear and those that manage to survive on the shelves are wilted and bruised by the sun. This is where the khumb comes to our rescue. The fungi is fantastic—cooks in a jiffy, most vegetarians relish its ‘flesh’, the waist watchers have nothing to fear and there are myriad ways in which it can be presented—curried with gravy or dry. This recipe is from an unusual collection that eschews onions and garlic totally and deliberately restricts itself to minimalist spicing scarcely straying beyond seasoning. Even a spoonful should suffice to explode the myth that great (natural) taste needs any crutches.

According to food lore, in past khumb shabnam was embellished with a stock infused with khus or sandal. We don’t think this could have been the case as both the ingredients have an overpowering presence and kill the subtle intrinsic flavour of khumb. A small pinch of crushed dried mint maybe if you must plough the lonely furrow!