Last month I received a beautiful gift from my sister.
A recipe book.
We never knew Aunty Acca as Leila…..only ever as Acca.
Acca was the eldest Aunt-in-Law of my sister ML.
At the time of my sisters wedding, a host of relatives had flown down from Colombo Sri Lanka, armed with the most gorgeous orchids which were to serve as the wedding bouquets, buttonholes and head pieces.
Acca, was one of them, her effervescent personality endeared all the younger ones to her.
Her deeply religious side, endeared the older ones. Especially her devotion to St. Anthony, whom all of us true blue Bandraites pray to whenever we’ve lost something, always miraculously recovering the item, and offering up 13 loaves of bread on Tuesday, St. Antony’s Day.
All her family referred to her as Acca. All of us in Bandra thought that was her name, not realising that in Tamil it meant elder sister.
Acca, never corrected us, and to this day she still remains our Aunty Acca.
That was over 20 years ago. Her reputation as an unsurpassable cook had preceded her arrival in India.
After dining at her house, my sister had requested Acca for the recipe of a particularly delicious fried fish that had been prepared that evening. We tried the recipe out at our home and it was soon our family favourite too! So much so, that at my sisters wedding reception, we served “Fillet of Fish Leila”……which proved to be as much a hit with the guests as it was with us. It soon became a standard on the menus of Majora…..my parents catering business. The recipe for this is also included in her book.
Much later, our family moved to Colombo for a few years. Acca welcomed us to her home with open arms. It was where we spent our first Christmas in SL, with D our baby only 2 weeks old.
She was one of the best cooks I ever met. Her recipes were great but there was so much of the elusive ingredients of love and generosity in her food that it reflected this in the intensity of its flavour.
Yesterday I tried out the Biriyani recipe from her book.
What I loved about the recipe was that it was perfectly balanced between easiness of preparation and flavour. It was a tasty ‘Buriyani’ as the Lankans call it, just the perfect recipe for a lazy weekend, when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen but would like to make something ‘special’. It does not pretend to be an authentic Indian preparation but rather a tasty meal. One that leaves you oh so satisfied, that all you need after it is a good siesta. Thats exactly what I did.
Aunty Acca’s Biriyani
1 1/2 lb chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chilly powder
1/2 tsp saffron (by this I think she meant turmeric)
Cut the Chicken into 10-12 pieces. Wash, wipe and mix with the above ingredients and set aside.
4 medium tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/2 inch ginger
2 small green peppers( I used green chillies)
2 tsp Corriander powder
1 tsp cummin powder
1 tsp black pepper powder
1/4 cup corriander leaves
( I also added 2 roughly chopped onions)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Puree all the above ingredients in a food processor except the oil. Set aside.
Sautee the marinated chicken in oil till it changes colour and then add the mixture from the food processor. Simmer till the gravy begins to thicken. Remove from heat.
1 medium onion
1 small cinnamon
2 cups Basmathi or other long grain rice
Fry the sliced onions in oil along with the whole spices till golden brown.
Add washed and drained rice. Add a cup of gravy from the chicken and enough of water to cover the rice and cook till done.
Serve the rice with the chicken arranged around it.
( I only partially cooked the chicken and mixed the chicken gravy and rice together with water and cooked it in a rice cooker)
I served the rice with boondi raita ( a staple from home), appalam and boiled eggs.( something I’ve picked up in Chennai.)
Acca says at the end of the preface to her book: ….” I hope you enjoy your time trying out these recipes and your guests relish the results of your efforts. You will realize that as you continue to try out the recipes you will begin to make modifications to suit your taste, adding your favorite ingredients, flavors etc. You will then have your own personalized version of some of these dishes. If you derive as much pleasure trying out these recipes as I have had compiling them, I will feel amply rewarded.”
This to me sums up Acca’s unique and special personality.
Thank you Acca for the gift of your recipes, wherever you are, watch over and guide my humble efforts.