Friday, October 7, 2011

Tea with Spiced Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tidbits & Thoughts on Marriage

The moment that set me on my journey to become an American occurred over tea, a cup of warm, sweet cha.

In our typical Bengali household in Bangladesh, once under British rule and forever haunted by colonial traditions, tea time was a precise ritual. At 4 p.m. in the afternoon I’d show up at my parents’ bedroom carrying a tray with a fat pot of tea, sugar, milk and a snack. My homework would be done, my mother would have had her afternoon nap, and my father would still be at work. Rain or shine, this was our together time.

I remember how grown-up I felt when I was eventually allowed to have a cup of tea instead of having my glass of milk. It was around my 13th birthday, sort of a nod from my mother that I wasn’t a child anymore. It was my duty to fix our cups of tea, arrange the plates and snacks in pretty presentation, because a young woman, a prospective bride, had to be a good hostess. Offering and serving tea was an essential skill on the road to a marriage.

The tea couldn’t be steeped too long, or it would be bitter. Too little, and it’d be flavorless. You had to add just the right amount of milk so that it would resemble a rich, bright dulce de leche. Not too dark, not too pale.

Once I poured too much milk and my mother sniffed at it. “I wanted tea, not milk with a touch of tea,” she said. “Fix me another cup.” So I did and took the cup she’d rejected. One sip and I realized she was right. The taste was insipid, a disappointment.

With this tea we would have a snack. The word “snack” suggests something quick or of little consequence. That would be misleading. The snack would depend on many factors, the weather, my mother’s whim and the cook’s whim.

On hot days, when the cook didn’t feel like cooking, it would be a fruit salad or platter of pretty store-bought cookies. On rainy days, it would be something hot from the stove and savory: freshly fried onion pakoras/fritters, or piping hot samosas. On cool winter afternoons we’d have some variety of traditional pithas –sweets- flavored with coconut, ja-ggery (dried sugarcane sugar), or date palm syrup.

I looked forward to being surprised at tea-time and relished whatever morsel that happened to accompany the tea. Not so my mother.

My mother usually had a late breakfast, and over her morning cup of tea, would talk with the cook about the day’s menu. On good days, when their ideas meshed, she’d receive nods of agreement. On other days, the cook would annouce what she thought would be better. At tea-time, the cook’s preference turned up.

At first, my mother would send the dish back and specify what she wanted. I got to be the messenger. She got her request. However, if the item had to be fried, it was almost burned to a crisp. Or it looked perfect, but somehow the cook forgot the salt. My mother learned to consult the cook on each day’s menu rather than give her a list.

I didn’t realize it then, but the cook taught me a lot, not only about food but also about how to deal with my mother. :)

To this day, I decide what to cook depending on the weather and my moods, the season and the taste. However, I also pay attention to presentation.

But I have my own ideas about what's needed for a marriage. :)

Spiced Chickpea & Sweet Potato Tidbits

2 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 a small onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes or chilli powder (or to taste)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons finely julienned ginger (divided)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed into paste
1 15.5oz-can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste diluted in 1/2 cup of water (keep more water on hand, to prevent sticking)

Garnish: reserved julienned ginger, chopped fresh cilantro, finely chopped red onion,a squeeze of lemon juice, slivers of Romaine lettuce.

Serve with: cocktail breads, pita wedges or crostini.


1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add the whole spices (all the seeds)cook for 1 or 2 minutes, they should start sputtering.
3. Add other spices, cook for about 1 or 2 minutes and add onions, cook until softening.
4. Now add the chili, sweet potatoes, half the ginger, and garlic. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes
5. When the sweet potatoes are half-cooked, add chickpeas and jalapeno. And the tomato water. Lower heat and cook 10 to 15 minutes.
6. When done, the sweet potatoes should be just done and the dish should be saucy...but not like a curry. Take off heat.
7. Top with garnishes (except for the lettuce).
8. Serve with bread, allow guests to build their own tidbits --bread + a bed of lettuce (for crunch)+ spiced chickpea & sweetpotato mix. Enjoy!

This post has been brought to you as part of October's #Letslunch twitterparty. Check out all the other yummy posts:

Hapamama's High tea with Taiwanese Sandwiches

Patrick's Welsh Rarebit

Cheryl‘s Cheese and Onion Sarnie at A Tiger In The Kitchen

Emma‘s Brown Sugar Shortbreads With Hawaiian Jam at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Linda‘s Singapore-Style Ginger Tea & Kaya (Coconut Jam) Toast at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Little Lemon Meringue Tarts at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Rebecca‘s Millionaire’s Shortbread at Grongar Blog

Steff‘s Lemon-Lime Shortbread Cookies at The Kitchen Trials


  1. I loved your peek into your Bengali tea traditions. The chickpea and sweet potatoes look delicious-- I think my kids might even like that!

  2. I swear, I'm going to get fat just READING this. LOL Thanks! :)

  3. I love that wedding photo! Thanks for sharing...and for letting us in on that great recipe, too!

  4. I love the story behind this - beautifully communicated too - thanks so much for sharing it! (oh and what is the secret of marriage?)

  5. What a beautiful post! Love it, and can't wait to try the recipe.

  6. I just love so much about this post, I can't even begin. The recipe sounds fragrant and so flavorful and the story is simply wonderful! Thank you for including the beautiful wedding picture, too. Just lovely.

  7. Loved seeing your wedding photo and reading about this story from your youth. The Spiced Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tidbits sound delightful. Would love to make this soon!

  8. Came back for the rarebit recipe. :D Also, I mentioned you on the blog again this week.

  9. I love tea from all cultures, so this post is extra fabulous! I'm with Vic--where's my scale?! Thanks so much for the recipe, too. We always buy sweet potatoes this time of year and I get so sick of the same bland recipe. I can't wait to try yours!!!