Monday, March 11, 2013

Of Failures, Going Back to My Roots and All That

Over the last one week, I had a spate of culinary misadventures that took me back to ordinary, everyday stuff. As I'm always trying out something new, and I cook only every other day or once in three days, I don't make too many dishes traditional to where I grew up, except dal with some vegetable or greens in it. The nice part about that is that they always remain special that way.

Last Sunday, I plonked myself down in front of the TV and patiently cut up half a cabbage and two onions for "Zunaka", from a cookbook of the West Coast. The Indian West Coast, that is. I tended to it patiently, trying not to shudder when it turned a sludgy green-brown after 2 tsp of chilli powder and 'jaggery to taste'  went into it. Then I added the asafoetida.

Now, I have some 'pure' asafoetida from my trips to Delhi and Dubai which I powdered - I stumbled on to a blog post for that and it was useful, though my house stank for the better part of the day and my eyes burned  - and The Spouse swore that it wasn't him but the hing (asafoetida) that turned the sambar bitter. I was determined to prove it wasn't the hing so I used it in the cabbage. I can be cussed sometimes, so I used a large pinch as the recipe dictated knowing rather well I should have used just a smidgen because this was 'pure' (not cut with wheat and turmeric).

Bitter defeat.

That's not the end of the recipe or the cabbage dish. The recipe also said to add about 1.5 or two cups of gram flour/besan in small lots and keep frying it till it turned dry. By the time I finished adding about a cup, I knew the dish was going into the bin. Neither had the besan masked the bitter taste of the dish nor had the besan itself cooked. The Spouse smirked, I scowled and we dumped it after it cooled down.

Only as I write, it strikes me that my next set of misadventures too involved besan. Half a kilo of it was consigned to the flames in two days. I set about making something called paat vadi, a Maharashtrian dish which seemed easy enough. The first time, I got the instructions wrong, involving nothing less than an entire cup of oil, so the recipe went wrong. I tried persevering but it didn't taste right. The next time, which was just a few minutes later, it just didn't work out  - is it supposed to remain slightly under-cooked, or how should I test for doneness? I don't know because in both attempts the finished product tasted raw. I don't see how I could have cooked it further. I dumped all that too.

My friend V berated me in both instances that I should not follow any recipe to the T. I should use my brain, instead, she said. You should read through it and then decide, she said. I told you so, she said. Well, I don't know about brain but  I'm a much humbler person now. My confidence in even simple things such as cooking has taken a beating and I decided any culinary effort for the next few days must be tame, ordinary.

So I ended up making this


At the back is dal with greens, a cabbage and peas stir-fry and on the left is the dosakaya (lemon cucumber) chutney.


I have made dosakaya chutney only rarely and decided to refresh my memory about the method before I launched into it. So I Googled and my search led me to this recipe which was most interesting because it had a tip which I hadn't known of earlier: grind the 'seed jelly' along with the chillies and toss the raw pieces of cucumber in it.


In a nutshell, how you make it is: Peel and dice two cucumbers into thin pieces. Test seeds and pieces for bitterness. Scoop out the seeds and reserve them. In some oil, fry urad dal, mustard seed, a little bit of fenugreek, salt and many green chillies and a few red chillies. Add some tamarind to this, the seed jelly and grind it. I stayed away from the asafoetida and used garlic instead. Mix this with the cucumbers. Fry some more urad dal and top the chutney with this for some crunch.

It was great, and very much like what I am used to at home.

Then I made a dondakaya (tindora/ivy gourd/coccinea) chutney. Fry some jeera/cumin, tamarind, green chillies and lots of garlic in about 4 tsp of oil. Add sliced tindora to this (about 350 gm) and saute until brown spots appear. (I wouldn't cook it completely as it needs to be slightly resistant even after it's ground, for texture - traditionally, the entire mix is tossed into a grinding stone, given a few thumps with a heavy pestle and that's it - the chutney is thus ready.) Grind it all. Temper with some red chillies and urad dal.


And then, there's the tomato chutney we make.


Fry lots of tomatoes and garlic and green chillies in oil, grind with salt, and tamarind if the tomatoes aren't sour enough, and temper with mustard, curry leaf, cumin and urad dal in a teaspoon or two of oil. That's it!

We eat these chutneys with rice. The tomato chutney has other applications too - idli, dosa, and such absorbent snacks.

Truly, these past few days I've been feasting on the chutneys, like never before, well, at least in a long time. And if you're mulling over this post, will you please tell me what went wrong with my zunaka and my paat vadi?

26 comments:

  1. Both the chutney look delicious

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  2. So wer eis th epic of the cabbage dish with hing , i have made things from cooking books from some known chefs and it has ended up in disaster, i am always pissed of when it happens but i agree to your friend one should read the recipe fully before one starts, but then i oftne also don't do that.

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    1. I didn't think of taking a picture. I am guilty of both, not reading the recipe fully and not applying my mind even when I read it fully!

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  3. follow the cookbook, be guided by your instincts - lessons learned!It happens to most of us, only you have thought of making an interesting post out of disaster, I would dump and curse myself.

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  4. I have one or two other disaster posts, Lata! Once my ceramic container broke as soon as I poured hot gravy in it, I took pictures too.

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  5. Pure hing is a tricky sort of creature. Just a whiff is more than enough for any dish. Here's what I do - grind it and save a steel box with a very small masala spoon. Use tip of spoon to pick the tiniest amount and drop in warm ghee. No bitterness:)

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    1. Apu, yes. That's a useful suggestion. My rational side was telling me the hing was most likely the culprit but I decided to give it another chance.

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  6. Ha ha, I love a good kitchen chaos post! The chutneys look tremendous though.

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  7. Ha ha, love a good kitchen chaos story! Chutneys look tremendous though. Good recovery ;-)

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    1. I wish I'd been able to salvage the disasters, Mallika!

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  8. Sra, agree sometimes just the confidence that something from a cook book got to work right goes against your better instincts.

    The tomato chutney that you have is a staple in our house for idlis or dosais just that I use a pressure cooker instead.

    From your comment a while ago, the split val dal can be used to make the arisim paruppu saatham and it is very tasty. So if you have some around.

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    1. Indo, I have to buy the next lot. This is one of the things in my kitchen I actually finished!

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  9. When I try new recipes, I keep it as guidance. The Zunaka is it a usili version? A pinch of hing goes a long way! I am in love with ur dondakaya pachadi :)

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    1. Cham, this is not as complicated as the usili - in that there's no soaking and grinding and steaming. The usili's another thing I never seem to get right, by the way!

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    2. For all these dishes to be really dry and powdery and crunchy, lots of oil is necessary, I think.

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  10. Sra! :-D!
    I like the era of the cookbooks that throw us off track of what is true and what is false and when one can barely distinguish between the two!
    The soul-stabbing dumping process has bitten me several times!
    Well, when you can't make sambhar you can cook out a well written funny blogpost!Cheers!

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    1. You like it, Shri? Why? I, for one, simply do not believe recipes that say 2 tbsp of oil and the final outcome looks like it needed 2 cups!!! But yes, henceforth, I'll try to be a little more sensible and not go blindly by something.

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  11. That's a whole lot of chutneys, Sra. Btw, a lot of dishes are 'special' to me too and I prefer that they stay that way.

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    1. Jay, :-D I'm going to be making the first two chutneys more often.

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  12. Hear you. And it is not even cookbooks. Sometimes things I have made before, go totally wrong if I am not paying attention and skipping steps. And that besan stuff needs some oil or else you need to dry roast the besan and then use it. Also non-stick works well for that kind of dish.I make bell peppers with besan and have learned the hard way.

    Love that tomato chutney, is that the one they serve with idli etc. ?

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    1. The chutney - in restaurants it's usually more onion and less tomato. I've not seen this in restaurants.

      Today I made pindi channa, improvising with tea dust and a muslin cloth. I feared another disaster, mercifully it didn't happen.

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  13. I read the post on roasting hing that you had put on FB. From the pictures, the hing used still looked like compounded hing to me. A lot like the 'rocks' sold in grocery stores in Pune. My MIL used to procure that kind and simply pound it down to a powder - it is hard work but might be the correct method for using that type of hing.

    For the pure hing you have procured from Delhi, I recommend you either pound it and use just a couple of specks, or dissolve a small piece in water (keep it in a bottle) and use a little bit of that (a tsp) for a recipe.

    Poorly written recipes are also a reason for the kitchen disasters especially when we are trying cuisines we are not too familiar with - some writers leave a lot between lines!

    Just yesterday I tried the elaborate oondhyo and was not too happy with the final result. Maybe I should still write about it!

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    1. Anita, yes, that was compounded hing, I just applied the technique to the pure hing. In fact, the hing from Delhi was recommended by Arundhati who heard about it from you, if I'm not mistaken. It was pink, originally, or am I imagining things? A lump.

      The one in Dubai was in several crystals, but over one year, they adhered and became bigger lumps.

      I think the flaw in these recipes were that they were translated. From my experience of Telugu cookbooks, the writing and editing of recipes is a train wreck.

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  14. Just when I was thinking of following recipes to a T from the cookbooks you give me another reason not to do it. :-) Hey, and at least you didn't salt your tea like I did.

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