My dad’s sitting across from me as I type out this post, fashioning crosses out of the palms he collected at church yesterday. Palm Sunday signals the start of Holy Week and I try and make it to the services at the parish I grew up in. One of the most beautiful churches in the suburb of Bandra in Mumbai, St. Peter’s Church still conducts the best Holy Week services in this part of the city dotted with Catholic Churches in an otherwise predominantly Hindu country with a growing but relatively smaller Muslim population.
Bandra used to be a quaint little suburb when I was growing up, with tiny cottages and a few 3 storey buildings. Where weekends meant friends, games, parties and deserted streets. Where everyone knew everyone, at least on a head-nodding basis, and where it was safe to stay out late. But now the streets are lined with hawkers selling knock-offs of branded goods and imitation jewellery, and cheap Chinese imports, making an evening walk down the street impossible and a drive down to the seafront a nightmare. With the patronage of persons in high political office these hawkers have multiplied over the years and any attempt to relocate them to a designated hawking zone are met with threats. For most of the old timers with their children scattered around the globe this is a terrible situation, and it’s often easier for them to just turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the goings-on. They prefer to live in peace, or just live, even if it’s no longer that peaceful anymore.
So I’ve come to visit my parents. God and home were how we were raised. Morning prayers and night prayers and grace before and after meals and the rosary prayed together as a family during the months of May and October. And the Lenten Season with the Stations of the Cross leading up to Holy Week with its church services which culminated in Easter with all its glory.
I wanted to bake something for Mum and Dad since I’m visiting, and because breaking bread with the family is specially significant at this time of year, it was my first choice. My dad had just picked up a vibrant lot of red chillies from the market. Available only around this time, these chillies are plump and have a strange combination of sweet and hot spiciness trapped in every fibre. Not wanting to take a chance with the chillies since my mum cannot handle too much heat, I made sure I removed all the seeds and the membranes and sliced them thin, sprinkling over some granulated brown sugar and a good squeeze of lime and refrigerating the lot till it was time to use.
2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
11 – 12gms fresh yeast (I didn’t measure… just used the good ol’ eye measuring method)
2 teaspoons granulated brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced red chillies
1 large or 2 small onions
3 tablespoons EVOO
3/4 to a cup of warm water
After the chillies have been prepared and are chilling out in the fridge, chop/mince the onions and caramelise them with a tablespoon of olive oil and a heaped teaspoon of granulated brown sugar.
Sprinkle over the onions and the sliced chillies (do not add the water that has leached out of the chillies as it contains all the heat from the chillies) and knead well. Add extra water as required and a tablespoon or so of the oil.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, punch it back and knead for a couple of minutes before transferring the dough into a loaf pan for its 2nd prove (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours). I worked the loaf with my fingertips after transferring it into the pan to give it that uneven, bumpy, rustic, artisan bread look (which it is!)
Delicious even on its own, this loaf is best eaten warm with a liberal helping of butter.
Time for a trip to Yeastspotting I suppose.
Wishing you all a reflective and peace-filled Holy Week.