The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate. He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past. The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank. Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.
Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.
Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one.
Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet). Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn. Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass.
In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to. They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day. Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes. There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.
He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars. The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen. There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.
Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home. Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning. It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment. And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.
Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry
2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped
For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces
Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes. Drain and reserve the water.
In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant. Remove from the saucepan and set aside.
Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender. Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked. Drain and reserve the water.
In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients. Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal. If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water. Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp. Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed. Cook, covered, until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).
Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving. Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.
Nourishing Spinach Broth:
The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste
For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins. Add salt only if needed after tasting. Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly. In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir. Add lemon juice to taste.
Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.