Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Onerous Task Of Consuming My Own

This evening, when I came home at the end of the day, I found The Spouse had retired for the day early but had left the food out on the table for me, along with a samosa from somewhere. These little bits on the side are making their way to our table with alarming frequency. I ate, dipping the samosa in the mango-drumstick dal I'd made yesterday, enjoying my first experience ever of samosa soaking up thin and tangy dal. But then, not only is it disheartening to have three different kinds of home-made dishes go virtually uneaten, it's worse to have to eat it steadily every day and night till it finishes so that you can make something more interesting the next time you have to cook. Especially when your own cooking has begun to bore you with the unfailing regularity of a ... {clever comparison to be added later, whenever it occurs}

I could give it off to S, the lady who helps me at home, but she also doesn't seem very enthused by my cooking. Moreover, she laughs at my having a cookbook constantly by my side.
I could give it to an uncle but he either doesn't like "squishy vegetables" or has already got an invitation for the day.
I could employ a cook, but that's an experiment I've tried with mixed success - The Spouse enjoyed the food, I didn't really care, and we had loads and loads of leftovers. I was relieved when she quit for her own reasons.
I wouldn't cook at all but get a dabba delivered instead, which would make our meals infinitely interesting, and this blog very, very finitely appealing.

Sometimes I can't bring myself to eat the things I've made (and even put up on this blog - but that was because somebody or the other liked it). A lot of people I know would love to have someone else cook for them. "Doesn't matter if it isn't tasty, it's enough that it's not mine," is how we feel. How do all of you retain interest in your own cooking?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Date With A Broken Heart

In my previous post, I mentioned how we ran away from home two Sundays ago and finished off the day in a restaurant where the service was very slow. For that meal, I had ordered a 'health salad' - fruits in a citrus-honey dressing topped with dates, a tender coconut drink with lime and mint and Dil Ke Tukde, the restaurant's fancy name for Shahi Tukda, the Hyderabadi dessert of fried bread topped with cream and nuts.

Dil Ke Tukde is a curious name for something that should give you joy, but it turned out to be rather apt because it broke my heart into several pieces. On the rare occasion that I eat dessert, did I have to be confronted with stale, fried bread fried in rancid, re-used oil, most of it so toughened I couldn't cut it with a spoon? And whatever substituted the cream on top, did it have to be so warm? The entire dish was neither cool nor cold nor hot, and only my maturity stood in the way of my pronouncing the entire day a failure because of the failed dessert.

I was determined to right the wrong, however, and this past Friday evening, bought some bread and condensed milk to make my own Shahi Tukda. However, when Saturday morning rolled around, the thought of frying bread, pounding nuts and such tasks made me weary. The Net had some recipes for a quick paneer burfi so I added to all that and came up with my own stuff. At the end of it all, there was more condensed milk than paneer in that recipe. It was extremely sweet and that kept me from eating more than one piece at a time.

Condensed milk, sweetened: 400 gm (1 tin)/ 19 tbsp
Paneer: 200 gm
Dates, seedless: A fistful
Bread: 4-5 slices, crusts removed
Ghee - to grease the baking dish

Whiz all the above in a blender. Pour into a greased baking dish, cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C for 30-40 minutes or till a toothpick/knife inserted into centre comes out clean. Let cool completely and cut into pieces. It gets much harder after you put it in the fridge, and it's tougher to cut, but it is more burfi-like.

I'm sending this off to Valli's Mithai Mela.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Story of My Mango Fish Curry

On Sunday we ran away from home.

The voltage fluctuations got the better of our air-conditioner, stabiliser notwithstanding, and just the thought of spending most of the day at home had us hot and bothered. Our flight took us to various destinations, all of which had air-conditioning - a visit to The Spouse's colleague and then his office, a good one hour away, to finish a pending job; lunch at a new restaurant on the way back; vegetable shopping and then, back home, by which time it was late afternoon. Two hours later, we showered for what seemed like the third or fourth time in the day, and went fish shopping, followed by aimless wandering in various air-conditioned stores in the vicinity and finally to a restaurant where the inordinate delay in service did not bother us much as we were enjoying the cool interiors.

I had bought a green mango to cook with dal. However, I used only a little of it for the dal. Most of it was left over, and the memory of a rich red and green fish-and-mango curry supplied by some friendly neighbours many years ago floated into my mind. I did not have a recipe, however, and surfing the Net or my numerous cookery books did not yield a satisfactory recipe, so I came up with a hotch-potch of several.

Where's the mango in the picture? The thin, curved sliver in the centre, which looks like it could be anything else, is it. I had peeled the mango for the dal, but there's no need to peel it for this recipe.

Here's how it goes:

Fish (I used barracuda): 10 small pieces, cleaned
Green mango: 200 gm, sliced, discard the seed (Need not be peeled)
Onions: 2, chopped
Tomato: 1, chopped
Salt: To taste
Turmeric: A pinch
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp

I had this ground masala (below) ready, I used two spoons of it
Fennel seeds: 3tsp
Black peppercorns: 8-10
Cinnamon: 1 inch stick
Cloves: 4
Cardamom: 4
Bay Leaves: 3

Amchur/Dried mango powder: 1 tbsp

Water: Some

Curry leaves: 1/2 a cup
Mustard, black gram, fenugreek, fennel: 1/4 tsp each
Oil: 1 tbsp

Heat the oil and temper with the mustard, black gram, fenugreek and fennel.

Add the onions, tomatoes and curry leaves. Fry for a while and add the masala powder.

Fry this on low heat for 15 minutes, then add the mango slices, amchur, chilli powder, salt and turmeric along with less than one cup of water. Boil for about 10 minutes.

Add the fish and let it boil again till the fish is cooked and the gravy is thick.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Delights, But No Longer

The other day, a sapota tree caught my eye. Not only was it full of fruit, it was the small fruit of the old kind, not the smooth, round, plump and rather tasteless sapota we see everywhere nowadays. It reminded me of how our fruit seller, a couple of years ago, rang my doorbell and said "Sapota, paala sapota" before I could shake my head and send him away. These fruit literally ooze sweetness.

I was tempted to pluck a few from the tree but the branches were a bit too high for me. I regretfully continued walking away, thinking of the sapota tree we had had in one of my childhood homes. Then I read Cynthia's column which triggered off memories. Since then I have been compiling a mental list of things I no longer see or do not easily get nowadays.

I never liked it much, but one fruit that I hardly see nowadays is Seema Chintakaya. You can see a picture here. I think it was on my recent Goa trip that I saw one fruit lying on the ground. And no, I wasn't tempted to pick it up and consume it. This is the kind of fruit that you down from trees with the help of rocks or sticks, if you don't climb yourself, the kind that you find heaped on carts in small towns.

I'm not sure if it's living in a city outside the native place that deprives you of such delights or that such foods have more or less gone out of circulation and existence nowadays, but it's been more than 10 years since I've seen tender tamarind tree leaves (chinta chiguru) which are used in dal, both here and at home (maybe I just haven't been there at the right time); a rarely-made-even-then vegetable called tammakaya, of which I can find no trace, even on the Net; pommelo, which makes a half-hearted appearance in my city only around Vinayaka Chaturthi; vakkaya, which was used to make a really sour and tart dal; snaky, twisty, mile-long snakegourds which are just coming back into fashion; and isn't it a pity that until I called an uncle I could hardly remember what could bring back the memory of 'vagaru', one of the six tastes? (Zest and pith of citrus fruit, pomegranate membrane, seema chintakaya - anything that's bitter but not quite so and disturbs the peace in your throat and even in your nose.)

What are the foods that you don't see/find anymore? Tell me all about the fruits, vegetables, snacks and even processed foods that you miss. Hopefully, they're alive and kicking in some corner of the world.