31 May 2005
I made a raita today, to eat with my lunchtime samosas. One of the advantages, one of the many advantages of living where I do, we have the nation’s finest Asian foodstore as my corner-shop; which means I get the world’s best samosas for lunch. Usually I eat them with pickles and straight yoghurt, but so happens I have half an organic cucumber, courtesy of my veg bag, so I thought I’d make a raita.
Now, I have been intimately familiar with raita for a quarter of a century: you chop up cucumber or mint, or sometimes both, and mix them with yoghurt. Maybe you add salt, but that’s it.
Not today. Today, I looked up a recipe (from Yamuna Devi, ‘Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: the art of Indian vegetarian cooking’), and it is a whole different animal. If that’s not an inappropriate metaphor, given the source. I grated the cucumber and sprinkled it with Maldon sea salt, left it half an hour then squeezed all the liquid out of it. I mixed yoghurt with sour cream and added cayenne and lemon zest and applemint from the back yard. I stirred in the cucumber. I heated sesame oil and sizzled black mustard seeds (‘rai’ - hence the name, apparently) in it until they popped, then added them. A little time in the fridge to let the flavours mingle, and behold: kheera raita, and a wonderful thing it is.
What else have I done today? Oh yes, I finished my book. Again. At least, I got to the end of this endless rewrite. ‘Finished’ is of course a bad word, the wrong word. Someone said that no poem is ever finished, it’s only abandoned, and the same is true of novels. Probably more true, because there are so many more words in them, so many constructions and images and ideas to grunt and sweat over and then at last to abandon.
And in fact I have not abandoned it yet. I got to the end in mid-afternoon, and then printed out the beginning and took it straight down to the pub to read through, because of course one must revise one’s revisions before anyone else can see it. But still, this really is the last lap now; and then I can send it off, and then - mirabile dictu! - I can think about something else for a while. Before, obviously, I have to start in on book two. But I’m not doing that until I hear back about this one. If they don’t like it this time - well, I have no way to finish that sentence, so I’m going to abandon it.
© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.