Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lessons from a Spud

It’s funny how some pretty common dishes escape your notice. Even now, despite the blogs. You think you’ve invented, innovated, tweaked, customized but there always seems to be a post somewhere that’s beaten you to it. Not that it’s a race, but that oh so slight sense of the smug rapidly melts away as a search throws up at least 20 variations in the first few pages.

I did that with a beetroot chutney. I saw my friend’s grandmother make it and marveled at her inventiveness. A few years later, it emerged from my mixer and uploaded itself on to my computer. Waiting for its moment in the sun, it found itself among a rash … er … slew of beetroot chutneys that populated the blogs in close succession. As this blog has often told whomsoever it may concern, it will only carry recipes that the writer finds unusual or unprecedented – that doesn’t exclude those that are a discovery to her but routine to others – but it’s no fun when they abound.

So why is she posting this confessionist, self-deprecating piece? Obviously, she’s never been on Oprah, let alone a chat show, but could that be all? Or is it that she slaved over this photo as well, decorated it with borders and scripts and was pleased with the result. Bad enough that it didn’t have the mild, mellow taste she expected it would have. Worse that it tasted like some other chutney altogether. Then why?

For one, with her avowed intention of not wasting anymore, and in her perpetual quest for novelty, she put it to use which she thought was rather a first. That’s one reason – if you have too much mashed potato left over, this is one solution.

Second, though she didn’t like the texture, or the combination, others did. And let it sit in the fridge till they finished every soured blob of it.

Third, because this is a blog not just about the victoires and the histoires but about a slice of life as well.

And, of course, it’s been ages, or it feels like ages, since she’s posted something on her blog. So here’s to the humble, humbling, potato raita.

Potato, boiled and mashed: 1, big
Curds/yoghurt: 1-2 cups, beaten (go by the amount of mashed potato, and whether you want a runny raita or a thick one)
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Coriander, chopped: A little, to garnish
Savoury mint chutney, Indian style: 1 tsp (optional)
Oil: 1 tsp

Mix the mashed potato with the mint chutney.

Add it to the curds.

Season with the salt.

Heat the oil, pop the mustard and then the cumin. Add this to the curds.

Garnish with the coriander.

Another raita recipe here.

This goes to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Pille of Nami-Nami.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hitting the bottlegourd

For this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook, it was a toss-up between potato raita and this dish, bottlegourd with chick pea flour. No other reason, except a very shallow one – looks. In fact, I’d slaved over the potato raita photo more than I did for this but just as we all come across people who don’t seem to do anything extra to earn all the good luck they attract, this photo was a winner in just a few takes! The colours were clear and striking, each and every mustard seed was well-defined, and in the debate for precedence, good looks took over the simplicity and familiarity of the potato which went into a raita.

This vegetable is a bit like Plain Jane. One of those vegetables that reduces quite a bit as it cooks, it doesn’t have a taste all its own and eaters often pause to wonder what it is for a second before confirming that the vegetable in their stew is bottlegourd and not white pumpkin or chow chow (chayote/ “Benguluru vankaya”) or a similar vegetable that looks and tastes quite similar when cooked. Of late, I’ve come across people who swear it’s a good weight loss aid – grate it, puree it, season with a little salt and drink it in the morning. It’s also used to make halwa and payasam.

In Andhra homes, it’s often put into pappucharu (stewed lentils), pulusu (tamarind-based stew), cooked with a little milk, or stir-fried. Some homes even put a sprinkling of sesame powder on it. I rarely make the first few dishes, and my stir-fry always looks limp and forlon in the pan, and turns out less than tasty – the only reason I eat it is because I don’t want to waste it. And it’s a relatively calorie-less way of filling up. But this recipe I found in a Telugu cookbook made this vegetable quite interesting, and I would really try it again.

Bottlegourd/sorakaya/doodhi, peeled, diced, then sliced fine: 2 cups
Gram flour/Chickpea flour/Senagapindi/Besan: 3 tbsp
Green chillies: 2, chopped
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Hulled, split black gram: 1-2 tsp
Cumin seed/jeera: 1 tsp
Red Chillies: 1-2, broken into bits
Salt: to taste
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Oil: 2 tsp

Heat oil in a pan. Pop the mustard, add black gram and cumin. Then add the red chillies.

Now add the vegetable, salt, turmeric and green chillies.

Turn heat down to simmer, cover and cook till the vegetable is done – till it’s transparent. It shouldn’t go squishy, though. You can sprinkle a little water before covering the pan to hasten the process.

Now remove the cover, increase the heat just a bit, and add the flour. Mix it really well. Remove from fire.

As they say in the Telugu cookery shows on TV, your sorakaya senagapindi is ruddyyy!

See more gourds here

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vegetarian Rogan Josh & My Life in Fours

What do you call a situation when you look at a cookbook and discover you have every single ingredient the recipe calls for?

A miracle.

What do you do when you realize, after pledging to stay true to the recipe, that it calls for deep frying?

A. Chicken out
B. Compromise: Don’t fry at all – use the vegetable directly/ bake it and then proceed with the recipe
C. Stick to the recipe in the interests of authenticity.

From the above multiple choices, I chose C.

The recipe is from The Pleasures of Kashmiri Cookery by Anu Wakhlu (Hind Pocket Books, 1995). The dish is called Parim Al Roganjosh (Red Pumpkin in Roganjosh Style). I didn’t change a thing. The introduction to the book says the oil traditionally used is mustard but that refined oil is also used now – I used one which was a mix of sunflower and rice bran.

Red Pumpkin – 500 gm
Oil - for deep frying + 2 tbsp
Beaten curd/yoghurt – 1 tbsp
Aniseed/Saunf powder – 1 tbsp
Ginger Powder (Sonthi) – ½ tbsp
Salt to taste
Red Chilli Powder – 1 tbsp
Cloves – 2
Asafoetida water – 3-4 drops
Water – 1 cup
Oil – 2 tbsp

Peel the pumpkin and cut into pieces.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and deep fry the pumpkin to golden brown (actually, mine stayed a golden yellow).

In another pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil.

Add the asafetida water and let it fry. (Careful, it splutters and sizzles like crazy.)

Add the pumpkin pieces and fry well.

Add the chilli powder and 1 tbsp of beaten curd and mix well till a red colour appears.

Add the other spices and mix well.

Add 1 cup of water and cover the pan.

Simmer for about 20 minutes till the vegetable is cooked and the gravy thick.

This resulted in a mild curry.

Sig of Live to Eat has tagged me for this meme. I wish my life was as full of travel as hers, or my meme as delightful, but here goes:

4 Places I’ve lived


4 jobs I’ve (NEVER) had

Food & travel writer
Award-winning novelist
Fat-advance-bagging novelist
Gazillionaire rich witch

4 favorite places I’ve holidayed

Matheran, Maharashtra – For the memories, the serenity in our resort, and the reservoir nearby
The UK - For its countryside
The US – for New York, for Las Vegas
Goa - For many of its quiet, isolated forts and churches

4 favorite foods

Now this is tough!

The ‘stir-fried bean sheet with vegetables/shrimp’ that I get at a Chinese restaurant down the road
Semiya payasam (Vermicelli in sweetened milk)
Jeedipappu paakam (Cashew-jaggery brittle)
Chikkudukaya koora (Hyacinth beans stir-fried), the way grandmothers/cook at home make it

4 places I’d rather be

In a home office
In a more ergonomic chair than the one I’m sitting in now
In a serene country cottage with vistas of rolling meadows
Travelling all over the world

4 bloggers I'd like to tag

Musical of Musical’s Kitchen
Sharmi of Neivedyam
Sunita of Sunita’s World
Jyotsna of Curry Bazaar

Monday, October 08, 2007

Herbal Hardsell

I had a couple of those rather desirable Old Mother Hubbard moments this past week when there weren’t too many veggies in the house (rare) and the ones I did have were beginning to rot (common). What I did have fresh were lots of potatoes so I told myself I would make a kofta (dumplings) curry with a tomato gravy (in whisper [rotting tomato gravy]) but come dawn and some fuzzy thinking, I ended up with mashed potato rather than koftas.

However, the surprise lay in the gravy, which I concocted solely to get rid of the tomatoes, coriander and celery I had at home – I expected it to be a mess both to look at and to taste but was pleasantly shocked to find that only one of those doubts turned into reality. This was not attractive to my eye, but think herbs (tres chic, gourmet), green leafy vegetables (healthy) and exotic (the combination), and I had a keeper. I’m also told it looked somewhat like the pav’s bhaji, a suspicion I harboured but couldn’t confirm till an observer told me.

It’s a fulfilling curry and you can even have it by itself if you want to keep away from rice or bread. It takes just one big potato, very little oil and is bursting with health and vitamins, to borrow a phrase.

Here’s how I made it:
One big potato, about 200 gm
Onions, chopped fine: Two
Tomatoes, medium-sized, minced/pureed: Five
Coriander, chopped: 1-1/2 cups, stalks and all
Celery: 2 stalks, with leaves, chopped
Savoury mint chutney, Indian style: 1 tsp (Substitute: 10-12 mint leaves and a spoon of lime juice)
Cumin seed: 1 tsp
Salt: to taste
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Chilli powder: 1-2 tsp
Oil: 2 tsp or less

Grind celery and coriander with a little water in the mixer to a fine paste. If you’re using fresh mint, add this to the mix. (I used the mint chutney because it was beginning to dry up.)

Peel potato, prick with fork all over, microwave for 3 minutes on either side, with a resting period of 3 minutes in between. Let cool, mash with a pinch of salt and mint chutney.

In a pan, heat the oil, pop the cumin and fry the onions till transparent.

Add the ground paste, fry well.

Add the tomatoes, salt and spices and let them cook to mush. Add a cup or two of water and let it boil down almost to the consistency you want.

So when it’s not quite thick enough, add the mashed potato-mint mixture bit by bit. Be mindful that the potatoes will do their bit to thicken the gravy.
Mix well, simmer till it’s as thick as you want. Remove from heat.

Strangely enough, without the usual additions of ginger and garlic, curry powder/garam masala or other whole spices, this was quite spicy. I wonder why. And the other revelation was the taste of celery – having never used it much before, and much less in curry, the only word I have to describe its taste is “interesting” – I would use it again.

I’m sending this off to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Kalyn herself – it’s the second anniversary round.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Midweek Rant: Puking Into Potted Plants

If you’re eating at this moment/squeamish, stop reading right here.

At first, it was the backyard, near the well. Then it slowly moved to the bushes and now has entered the house. The receptacle of choice is the potted plant. And I’m not exaggerating.

I would be hard put to identify the movie that actually shows a heroine or sister vomiting into a potted plant but they exist, and many of you from India would be familiar with this scene, or the others described above.

I’m talking about the way impending babies are announced in the Indian movies. Especially when they are born outside marriage, and three months into the pregnancy. (No, says a friend, even the inside-marriage kinds are announced that way. And why on earth do you want to write about this in a food blog, she asks, don’t you fear putting off your readers?) Forget the pregnancy bit, puke is shown when the character is unwell too – is it necessary to show it in such revolting detail?

I just happened to be channel-surfing and came across this all too familiar scene. In the latest movie I watched too. Please, movie-makers, can we be spared these graphic, repulsive scenes – of vomit cascading in white globs or jets? And don’t tell me all those who are expecting/ just plain unwell don’t have the time to run into the bathroom before it happens. The friend above also points out that she has seen movies where, if the pregnant/sick one is attired in Westernwear, she is seen rushing to the bathroom, but if she is sari-clad, she almost always throws up al fresco. I would make concessions for old movies – not too many bathrooms or wash basins or WCs, especially in rural households – but in this day and age? And into plants? Please don’t do this to us, especially when we’re settling down in front of the TV with a plate full of food!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cutlace, Somehow Or The Other!

This is a post inspired by one of the comments from my previous post. I had discussed some of the twists and turns English takes in India on menus across the country, to which some added their inputs. One of them was cut-lace
(aka cutlet, cutless, cutlite – on the train stops at stations, I’ve almost always heard it morph into cutlai…sse, and buttermilk becomes butt-raa-meel…).

As soon as I saw that comment, I knew what the fate of the fenugreek leaves (methi/menthikoora) in my fridge and the potatoes in my storeroom would be. (Oh yes, my potato-methi cutlets had to be a first. At least a third or a fourth – well, I don’t remember seeing such a recipe and don’t correct me if I’m wrong.)

Only, I hadn’t factored in my microwave failing me this time so when I was rewarded with potatoes lumpy in parts that refused to mash, I whizzed them in the mixie. Heh heh, of course, this was a brainwave that wasn’t one, so I was rewarded with a starchy, green paste that refused to cooperate with me in any way.

It wouldn’t form patties, nor would the moisture dry enough on the tawa and form some sort of cutlet. Trying to be innovative, I diluted it with some water and tried making a potato-methi-coriander dosa. No dice. I pressure-cooked another three potatoes and mashed them into it. Didn’t improve.

I refrigerated it and spent the rest of the day wondering how to salvage it – they probably would have made good, freehand, deep-fried treats but I didn’t want those. A friend suggested mixing them up with maida to make chapathis/parathas but we rejected the idea because of the ‘white’ flour.

Then I went in for white bread.

In my defence: It’s easily available, I used only three slices, and the larger, nobler purpose was to not let the potato paste go to waste nor did I want it to hang on in the fridge till the time another brainwave for its judicious use hit me, so here’s how I went about the whole thing, errors and all. This made about 13-14 cutlets.

Big-leaf fenugreek – 200 gm bunch, use only the leaves and tender stalks (sprinkle water on it, microwave this for 2 minutes)

Potatoes: 8 (5 microwaved, 3 pressure-cooked – sorry, can’t tell you the weight as I didn’t check but they were not very big ones)

Onion – 1, chopped

Coriander/cilantro, chopped – 1-1.5 cups

Bread, white – 3 slices (you can use other varieties too, am sure)

Salt – to taste

Chilli powder – 1 tsp

Curry powder/garam masala – 1 tsp

Oil – 2 tbsp

Whiz all these on the highest speed in the blender/mixer for just five seconds and you’ll be rewarded with a thick paste that I haven’t yet discovered an independent use for.

Now, tear three slices of white bread carelessly into the mix and mash as well as you can.

Now you’ll be able to form patties that can hold their shape.

Heat a pan with the oil, place the patties in it.

On medium heat, brown on both sides. (Mine look well-roasted, I know, I know.)

Thank God you were able to save the whole enterprise, put them in a halfway decent dish, start shooting.

Then consume with sauce of choice.

I'm sending this off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything At Least Once.