Friday, August 29, 2008

Stuffed! And Charred!

We once had a guest cook. She was with us only for a few weeks. She told me that in her community, known for some royal and other feudal entities, the use of copious amounts of oil proclaimed their status, and hence no one, rich or poor, would skimp on that.

The food made by cooks from that household (who would visit us on and off) was, for the most part, tasty, but literally dripping with oil or soaked in it. I would squeeze a fistful of food right in front of their eyes, make my point, take triumphant delight in their embarrassed smiles, and get on with the eating. The oil could have added to the taste, I don't really know, but their frying left a lot to be desired. Their stir fries of many vegetables would be charred black, beyond crisp, spices and other food matter coming off in black specks, and I would wonder what the point was.

Recently, I got hold of a recipe for stuffed brinjals (eggplant) from an aunt, and in a rare fit of unlaziness, decided to go the whole hog with the grinding of the paste, etc as I had all the ingredients. It called for grinding a handful of coriander and some spices, mixing them up with onions, stuffing the eggplants and frying them on a slow simmer - the result is a wonderfully stuffed and almost (but not quite) charred mixture that almost has me wanting to taste those stir fries to see if I had missed discovering something then.

Here's the recipe!

Small, round purple brinjals/eggplant: 1/4 kg or about 10-12
(Make a 'plus' (+) sign with the knife on the bald side of the brinjal and cut through, into four, but not so deep that the pieces separate. You should be able to hold them with the stalk. Drop into a bowl of salted water while you're doing the rest.)

Onion: 1, big, minced as fine as possible
Coriander leaves: 2 cups
Green chillies: 2, chopped
Red Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Garlic: 3-4 cloves
Ginger: 1/2-inch knob
Salt, to taste
Coriander powder: 1/2 - 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1/2-1 tsp
Oil: 3-4 tsp

Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin seed: 1/2 tsp
Urad dal/Split, hulled black gram: 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves: 6-8 (optional)

Without adding much water, grind the coriander, green chillies, garlic, ginger and other spices to a rough paste.

Mix this with the onion.

Stuff the brinjals with this mixture. Reserve the leftover paste.

In a pan (a non-stick works well for this), heat the oil, and once it's heated, turn the knob into 'Simmer' mode.

Season with mustard, cumin, curry leaf and black gram.

Place the brinjals. Pour any remaining mixture over them. Let sizzle for half a minute and cover.

Keep checking and turning the brinjals around, very, very gently. If you think it needs more oil, add a drop or two around each brinjal that seems to require it. Ensure they get cooked and soft on all sides - for signs of doneness, you can check the picture. It should be a bit squishy. And the mixture inside and outside the brinjals should be a crusty green-brown.

This is most delicious with soft, hot rice or fresh thick curds.

I'm sending this to Marta's event Fresh Produce of the Month being hosted by Simona of Briciole in September.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Egging You On

I've done a guest post for Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz. You can read it here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thaied & Tested

What is the main constituent of this dish? What does it look like to you?

Everything in it, except me, came out of a packet. What was supposed to be a quick meal turned out to be a rather gargantuan one, some of which is sitting in my fridge and has me wrestling with my conscience yet again - dustbin or digest?
As things turned out, this post is going to be a WHB special about how not to cook the main ingredient rather than how to. After three pages of Google results, I am no wiser, the deadline is closer and the host must be on her way from 'eager' to 'anxious' as she recalls my many promises about this entry. It's not as delicious as the Blossip (due credits to you and you for this term) we shared last week, but it's interesting, at least for the texture.

When I returned from my holiday in Thailand last December, I brought back three packets of dried mushrooms. Two rotted before I could use them, this held on. 'This' is silver ear mushroom, also known as tremella mushroom, snow fungus, white fungus, white jelly fungus or white tree fungus. I found it in a packaged soup that I had also brought from Thailand where it floated peacefully in the broth, light and hardly there.

Despite my blog being named for soup and the agonised weight watching that I talk about all the time, I am no soupie, so for me this had to go into something substantial. A packet of Pad Thai noodles that came with its own spice mix and some fresh tiger prawns seemed the apt companions for this packet.

I washed the mushrooms and soaked them in water, thinking I needed to do that - all the instructions, if any, on the packet were in Thai. That was my mistake - each mushroom, just a fistful in size, swelled to the size of a sunflower.

I tore them up into pieces and tossed them according to the instructions on the Pad Thai packet with the prawns and the noodles earlier softened in hot water, the spice mix. Then I garnished it with peanuts and coriander.

By evening, it had diminished in volume as the water ... uh ... evaporated. And lay there limp and unappetising in its dish. I ate it with gobs of chilli-tomato sauce to camouflage the bland and woody taste.

Now when I surfed the Net, I found out it's a great health and beauty aid, favoured by none less than "an imperial concubine" who used it for "facial and body maintenance". Read more about it here.

See more pictures here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Variety Is The Spice ...

Flavours of the desert, I thought romantically, wondering whether it would make a nice opening line for this post. And the desert came to me indeed, in the form of grit and sand that I found myself chewing mid-chapati-bite.
For a few weeks now, I'd been trying to visit a new shop near my place that promised "different foods", but managed to visit it only last week. It had the usual different foods but what set it apart were the ker (on the right) and sangri (on the left), both dry, desert vegetables that I've not seen sold anywhere else, and two or three different kinds of kokum. In a rare moment of self-control, I let go of the kokum and bought just the ker and sangri. And then scrabbled frantically among my many cookbooks for Tarla Dalal's Rajasthan Cookbook.

I didn't know if I had amchur with me - there was a hazy memory of it being somewhere in the cavernous pit that's my kitchen shelf but after a week of reluctance, convenience vs moral dilemma (why can't I just buy another pack of amchur, why should I look for it), I finally dragged the stool up to the shelf, got on to it and peered into the dark recesses, only to find the packet right in the front, in foil pouch nicely bound with rubber band.

Then I shot off a mail to the hostess, asking her whether amchur would be considered a spice and when she replied in the affirmative, I went ahead with this dish.


After two days of ker sangri-from-the-fridge, I've come to the conclusion that the spice in my preparation was more asafoetida than amchur. Well, this morning there was some amchur, but this evening, I could taste only the asafoetida. As I use neither that often, amchur even less than asafoetida, I've decided I will enter the Think Spice event with both. Well, there's a third spice - red chilli powder - that this dish celebrates (oh yes, it causes tears) but I'm going to recommend lesser.

You need:

1 tablespoon ker
1 cup sangri
1/2 tsp turmeric powder/haldi
3 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp coriander/dhania powder
1-1/2 tsp amchur/dry mango powder
1 tsp sultanas/kismis
salt to taste

For the tempering

2 Kashmiri chillies (I used 1 ordinary red chilli)
1/4 tsp ajwain/carom seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida/hing
3 tbsp oil

Pressure cook the ker, sangri and salt with 2-1/2 cups of water. Let the cooker hiss thrice.

Let cool, then drain the water and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well.

For the tempering, heat the oil in a pan and add all the ingredients in that list. When it crackles, pour it over the ker sangri mixture. Mix well and cook for a few minutes. Serve hot with puris, parathas or missi rotis.

I don't think my mushy ker sangri is the real McCoy so I have kindly linked to this.

Here's another recipe with sangri

I liked my ker sangri with a dollop of curds/yoghurt - I found it too intensely dry/dusty-flavoured otherwise - at present, I can't describe it any better.

It did mellow with age.

And for the authentic experience, please have it with homemade rotis, unlike me, whose rotis came from a plastic pack and were warmed in the MW!

This goes to Think Spice's anniversary event.

Valli and I have been in touch regarding some fund-raising for her helper's daughter, Lakshmi, who has a severe heart condition and needs surgery to correct it. You can find the details here, please do your mite.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rajmah, Reconsidered

Kinder weather, a day well spent in the gym and at work, a little girl enveloped and tangled up in strings of plastic Indian tricolours which made me wish I carried my camera everywhere, and rajma that turned out creamy and tasty - these are the memories I will carry of today's Independence Day.

I've made rajma in the past but hadn't liked it much. I also especially didn't like the sad tomato gravy that went as the base; I especially hate the tomato skins that separate and float in triangular, rolled up bits in the gravy, so I gave it up altogether. .Recently, however, I started eating rajma again, but only in the form of a bean salad. When I soaked a cup of rajma last night for today's salad, I had a sudden change of heart - I'd been looking up leguminous recipes and this seemed to be calling out. And why not? I had all the ingredients at hand, and was ready to take up the challenge of rajma gravy afresh. The recipe is from Vimla Patil's book Indian Cuisine Dal Roti. I made adjustments in the quantities, not the method.

Rajmah (kidney beans): 1 cup, soaked for 12 hours
Onions: 1 large and 1 small, minced
Garlic paste: 1/2 tsp
Ginger paste: 3/4 tsp
Coriander powder: 1/2 tsp
Oil: 2 tsp (the recipe recommended ghee)
Tomatoes: 3 small ones, chopped up after skins are removed by blanching, either on stovetop or in MW
Green chilli: 1, chopped
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste
Ghee: 1/2 tsp
Water: 1-2 cups

Drain the rajmah and wash it thoroughly. Place it in the pressure cooker and cover with water just a little above its level. Pressure cook rajmah for 30 minutes. After the first whistle, lower heat to 'simmer' and let it cook for 30 minutes. Do not remove from fire unless you are worried about it burning. After the 30 minutes, remove from the fire and let it cool down gradually.

In a pan, heat the oil and fry the minced onions.

Add the turmeric and coriander powders. Also the ginger, green chilli and garlic.

Keep stirring and add the chopped tomatoes and salt.

Add some water, cover and let it cook to a mush.

If it's drying out and not pulpy enough, add some more water.

When you think it's thick and mushy enough, add the kidney beans.

Cook till creamy and soft.

Add the half teaspoon of ghee to this and serve hot.

  • Notes: It is important to slow-cook the rajmah, and for that long - I don't remember cooking it this long earlier, no wonder I hadn't liked the results.
  • The tomatoes: It's a personal preference that I like them skinless in gravies - makes the gravies smoother.
  • And keep turning the gravy around - this mashes some of the beans and thickens the gravy further.
  • Adding that bit of ghee at the end made it all the more mellow. I hadn't ever done this before.

The South Indian that I am, I had assumed the traditional accompaniment to rajmah was rotis. As I found out just a couple of years ago, it's rice. I imagine it would taste great with a fine, scented variety such as Basmati but as I hadn't been particular and The Spouse had already made the rice, it was eaten with the everyday variety. It's going to frequent my table from now on!

This goes off to aid dear Susan's love affair with the legumes.

For a more comprehensive post on Rajmah (and instructions on how to cook it without a pressure cooker), go here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oranges 'n ...

Orange Tart: Not mine

Fabric accessory (fancy name for dupatta): Mine

Being sent to: Bee & Jai

Friday, August 08, 2008

Some Reading, and Some Drooling

When Jayashree tagged me to do this book meme, I decided to ignore the first rule - it requires me to pick up the nearest book. Well, the book nearest to me now has some pretty boring stuff in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth sentences on Pg 123 (methought it was a murder mystery; it turned out to be more of a romantic thriller - one pair of charismatic cops and one pair of charismatic suspects for nice balance), so I hunted for a book which I thought held more promise, but while the book is very interesting and funny, this extract doesn't say much about the book itself.

To recap, here are the rules for this meme:
Pick up the nearest book
Open to page 123
Find the 5th sentence
Post the next three sentences
Tag 5 people and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

Here's the extract:

The 5th sentence (which is a quote from another book): "If someone tell you an obviously untrue story, on the Continent you would remark, "You are a liar, Sir," and a dirty one at that."
"In England you just say "Oh, is that so?" Or "That's rather an unusual story, isn't it?"
Turned down for a job as a translator, for which he was completely unqualified, Mikes was told, "I am afraid your English is somewhat unorthodox." He found this hilarious.

The book: Talk to the Hand
Chapter: The Universal Eff-Off Reflex
Author: Lynne Truss, also known for the international bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Whom She's Quoting: George Mikes, How to be a Brit

I'm tagging Sig of Live to Eat
Jayashree of Spice and Curry
Pragyan of Sorisha
Sukanya of Hot and Sweet Bowl
Vidya of Tales Grandma Never Told and Hooked on Hobbies for this meme.

Till next week, here's some food for you to drool over - all very "homely items" made for my friend S who came over to spend a couple of hours, and who brought some really creamy and I think, vegan, Aloo Dum for us to eat. It's not visible but it's in the white plastic container at the back. The rest are pappu charu with bottlegourd, prawn curry, dosakaya pachadi and pumpkin curry with jaggery.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Of Cabbages & Things

The best thing about getting married, it seemed, was getting my own kitchen as the folks at home had never been happy about my cooking and baking pursuits.

Getting my own kitchen, however, did not mean anything fancy. We had a small, portable, one-burner stove and that was it. I had all my cookbooks, of course, and maybe it was during some festival or the other that I hit upon the idea of making something new and unusual to distribute to my kind neighbours.

Being the feminist that I was, I had prepared The Spouse to expect him to pull his weight in the house and that evening saw both of us kneading one kilo of maida (white flour) and some rawa (semolina), rolling it out, rolling it up, cutting it into bits and folding it all over again and pinning it with a clove, frying it in oil and dunking it in sugar syrup to make some confection called Lavang Latika (LL).

"No way, I'm not going through with this, you shouldn't have used so much flour," said The Spouse.

"I can only follow recipes, and recipes are not mathematics that you can just halve or quarter them," I retorted. Actually, I'd never kneaded anything before, so the whole process was new to me, but it was thrilling, because there was something exotic to look forward to. Huffing and puffing, we managed to tame the dough to the best of our ability and fried the whole thing, almost running out of containers to house the LLs. The smoke and the smell of oil lingered for days after that and my kneading experiments stopped as soon as they began.

It was only post matrimony that I learnt to cook ordinary, everyday food, often going off certain foods for weeks because I'd cooked them so badly and couldn't shake off those memories. Today's recipe is a simple one devised out of the need to use up some frozen sweet corn, coriander and some shredded cabbage I got from the store.

Cabbage, chopped: 2 cups
Sweet corn, fresh/frozen and thawed: 3/4 cup
Oil: 1-2 tsp
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin: 1 tsp
Chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: a pinch
Garam masala: 1/2 tsp
Coriander, chopped: 1/2 cup

In a pan, heat the oil. Pop the mustard and then the cumin.

On a low flame, add the cabbage and stir fry. Cover and let it cook for a while. Don't let it wilt too much.

Now add the salt. Add the corn, mix.

Cover and cook some more, till it softens just enough to your liking.

Add the chilli powder, mix well. Take it off the fire.

Sprinkle the garam masala, add the chopped coriander.

Bon appetit!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Grindless Gravy For Curry Mela

As my friend A and I were chatting yesterday, the conversation veered to how sleepy she was feeling. I wasn’t feeling sleepy, probably because my lunch had comprised an omelette made mostly of egg whites. I told her I’d added curry leaves, coriander and red chilli powder to the omelette and she was almost aghast. Almost as if I’d sullied the yellow beauty of the eggs with all that green and red. But if you’re vigilant and don’t let the omelette brown, it’s a pretty combination of yellow and green, I told her. It’s such an omelette that I put into this tomato gravy a few days ago - I’d intended to make the Parsi version where the eggs are broken into the gravy and cooked until set but as an omelette for lunch was on my mind I thought combining the two would make a nice variation. I quickly put together a thick omelette made from four eggs as the gravy was bubbling, tore it up and added it to the gravy and let it cook a while. I’d heard about this from my aunt and made this once earlier, long ago, and it makes for a nice, fulfilling meal either by itself or with rice or bread or chapattis.


Eggs, beaten: Four
Coriander: Chopped, as much as you want
Curry leaves: 20
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Or Green Chillies: 3, chopped
Garam masala: ½ tsp (optional)
Turmeric: A pinch (optional)
Salt, to taste
Oil: 1 tsp

Oil the griddle, heat it on ‘medium’.

Beat eggs well with the spices. Then add the coriander and curry leaves and green chillies, if using, and mix well. Beat it again a little.

Tip the mixture onto the griddle and let it set. Turn it over and cook on the other side too. Do not let it brown on either side.

Tomato Gravy

Tomatoes: 5-6, chopped
Green chillies: 3-4, slit
Or Red chilli powder: 1- 1-¼ tsp
Onion: 1, chopped
Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: 1 tsp
Oil: 1 tsp
Garam masala: 1 tsp
Salt, to taste
Turmeric: a pinch
Water: 1-2 cups

In a pan, heat the oil, add the cumin.

Once the cumin pops, add the onion and fry well, till soft and translucent.

Now add the ginger-garlic paste and fry till it mixes well.

Add the green chillies, fry for a minute.

Add the tomatoes and the salt, red chilli powder, turmeric and half of the garam masala. Let it cook till it starts getting pulpy.

Add some water, cover and let it cook well. If the gravy’s consistency and volume is to your liking and if there’s enough to hold the omelette, add the omelette pieces at this stage, otherwise add more water and cook for a little longer.

Once you add the omelette, let it simmer for five or six minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the garam masala.

This grindless gravy is my submission to Srivalli’s Curry Mela, which, I must say, has almost as many "should nots" as my event did. Eh, Valli?