Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Accidental Recipe

This is an accidental recipe full of familiar flavors: too much salt, too much grease, un-soft rice, brinjal/eggplant, lime juice.

Funnily enough, some discussion on BT brinjal had me buying two packets of the vegetable, the brinjal part of it, that is, not the BT. They didn’t look oversized or particularly beautiful, which meant that they probably weren’t extra-chemically treated than the other vegetables around them, so I brought them home. I made a simple stir-fry with one packet, but it was so salty that even the juice of one big lime couldn’t redeem it. I refrigerated it in despair, trying to put my fears in cold storage along with it, but come dinner tonight, I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

There was also some plain rice that went wrong very badly - I cannot cook rice to expert softness but I’m not this bad either - and by the time I scraped it out of the pressure cooker and into a container for the fridge and then brought it out again today, it was hard and dry.

At dinner a couple of hours ago, the rice was brought out and microwaved with some water, upon which it achieved its my-usual level of softness. It was then mixed with the eggplant curry in traditional style - full hand on, palm pressed, literally, into action - to ensure that the spices were well distributed and blended. Then it was tasted.

Voila! You know what it turned into? It turned into pulihora (lime rice) with the brinjals providing a - ahem - a wonderful accent. In one shot, I had it all - instant lime rice and a magically redeemed brinjal curry. The microwaving had turned the old, odd rice into rice of the perfect consistency for pulihora.

So here’s the method for the stir-fry, which is all that you need to know:

Depending on the size of the brinjal/eggplant, halve or cube 250 gm of the vegetable into salted water.

In a pan, heat 4 tsp of sesame/gingelly oil. Temper it with ½ a tsp of mustard seed, ¼ tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of urad dal (split, hulled black gram), a few curry leaves, 2 tsp of red chilli flakes (or 1-3 split, dry red chilli). The urad should turn pleasantly brown.

Add the brinjal and saute for about half a minute.

Add salt and turmeric.

Mix well and saute some more.

Turn the heat down to simmer and cook till the brinjals are at the almost-beginning-to-turn into-mush stage.

Douse liberally with lime juice.

Of course, if you want it exactly the way I came about the instant rice, you should oversalt it deliberately - that involves much overconfidence in one’s abilities to shake out the exact amount of salt that one deems right (or exactly too much) directly from the salt box into the pan. Then you can experiment with the amount of cooked rice that you need to add for the perfect mix I chanced upon.

If that sounds incoherent, you've got it - no, you've got ME - right. That's how I cook(ed).

Psst: Turns out I’m not the only bold one to put brinjal and lime/lemon rice together. Check out this and this.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When My Soup Didn't Come Alive

Recently, I failed at making chaaru.

Like I had failed with this staple many times in the past, even with ready-to-cook packets and powders that ensured I didn't have to do anything much.

I don't even attempt the varieties made back home, except for tomato chaaru (rasam), and that's mostly only when the several shrivelling tomatoes inside the fridge loudly call out to be pressure-cooked into rasam. Now, tomato chaaru, that sure gets me drooling - it was what I ate as a nine-year-old recovering from jaundice, mixed with rice and some minced lamb on the side, and if I remember right now, that was my staple diet for the next few days. But more on that later, perhaps.

I am fond of the rasam that has some daal in it - the black-brown, plain rasam of the tamarind alone doesn't enthuse me. So when we recently had guests for two days and I had to churn out some decent and tried-and-tested stuff to eat, I attempted chaaru because I thought they would expect it. To satisfy my own self, I decided to add some daal to it.

I asked the lady who helps me at home to instruct me and first off, she told me that the tamarind extract I had was just too much.

What I needed, she said, was to soak a lime-sized ball of tamarind in about half a cup of water, and dilute that with a litre of water.

Then, she said, coarsely grind some pepper, cumin and a couple of red chillis and add it to the mix.

Add a few curry leaves and some coriander.

Squash a tomato, throw it in.

Add about a ladle of cooked-to-a-mush toor daal (split pigeon peas).

Set to boil and turn off the fire the moment it comes to a rolling boil, she said.
Oh, and some salt and turmeric.

So I did (but not without taking pictures of it for this. I never imagined it would make it to this blog, much less to an event.) Switched it off, and it tasted raw. It's not all right, I said. No, switch it off and cover it, she said, threatening bitterness. I did so, thinking that probably it would cook some more in its own heat and the flavours would meld.

Come lunchtime and I had every single eater reassuring me that the rasam was fine.

All I needed to do was add some more salt.

All I needed to do was boil it a little more.

All I needed to do was add some more daal.

But it's nice, they said.

Come dinnertime, I rescued it by adding two more ladles of daal and some more salt.

It was much improved, good, even.

Much better now, the diners said.

All I had needed to do was add some more salt.

All I had needed to do was boil it a little more.

All I had needed to do was add some more daal.

But it had been nice, they said.


But wasn't a tempering needed? I didn't remember that until now, when I wrote this post, so considering it was so nice, finally, probably it wasn't.

I fail at making quite a few staples - rice cooked to such softness that you can't discern the grains, so good with rasam and pickle and curds; sambar, idlis and chapatis(I do not know how nor will I learn to grind or knead) and rasam (well, hopefully I've got it right now).

What are the ordinary, everyday dishes that defy you?

This post is off to EC who is hosting MLLA for Susan this month.

Friday, January 15, 2010

As Nutty As Ever

My first ever blog post was about breakfast which could double up as dessert. It was a mixture of several nuts and dry fruits. I was inspired by something I saw in a boutique that positions itself as selling healthy food. All for a very high price tag, of course. Apart from the vegetarian protein that it offered, there would be the odd creepy-crawly in the pack, which I did not care for; neither did I care for the odd wheat pop and jaggery that was added to it.

One fine day, I bought all the ingredients necessary for this and made my own breakfast mix. I dry-roasted everything I bought (including the fruit), put it in a tin and then in the fridge. There were toasted sesame seeds, walnuts, raisins, dates, almonds. It was a very satisfying breakfast and used to satisfy my need for a non-oily beginning to the day. I would even have this for dessert if I couldn't ignore the call of the sweet tooth. It left me feeling very virtuous, if not thin. (With all that concentrated sugar in the dry fruit, it's a wonder I didn't gain weight.) The sesame seed would add a nice, nutty feel and the curds the right amount of tang.

This post went ignored for a long, long time (about a week, actually) - My parents tried to comment on it but they couldn't get through, and my father said make sure the curds aren't sour. My first ever comment was on the second post. "Bring on more crazies," it said, and that's exactly what I've been doing these last few years.

Thanks to Jaya's repost event, I get a chance to resurrect that post, and redeem the picture with a better one. The breakfast (I had it for lunch, actually) in this picture is a many-layered affair of cashews, flaked almond and pistachio, raisins and a couple of apricots and curds. I haven't had this in a while, but thanks to this post, might make a batch again.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hosting, Feasting

When was the first time you cooked a meal for someone? What were the reactions? Humour, encouragement, sarcasm, mute acceptance?

Probably the first time I invited someone formally was in the summer holidays during college. In those days, I would only bake though I don't remember why I made a meal too. Maybe it was to make recipes other than the traditional dal and gravies we ate routinely at home, maybe it was to impress my friend - I don't remember. My grandmother kept saying why do you have to bother with it, let the cook do it, but I told her the cook could do the meat, and I would do the vegetable, and I made stew. There was other stuff too, and I must have baked or made some dessert, because I don't believe in putting my guests on a diet, I just don't remember the details after all these years.

My friend came and we sat at the table. I must have told her only then that I had cooked most of the meal, and I received one of the most incredulous looks I've ever come across. (My friend is good at looking outraged.) "Nuvvu chesava?"("YOU made it?"), she asked me, one eyebrow rising rapidly, but she seemed to like the food and we had a good and uneventful time, gossiping over the meal.

At around the same time, perhaps, I made something completely my own, something I conjured up myself - stuffed ridge gourd (beerakaya). I think it was also the time I was experimenting with some make-up, because I remember Kid Brother making the usual aggravating cracks, the rest of the family ignoring him (and me) and my father piping up, amidst the mild clatter of ladles and steel plates, "What is this Beerakaya Horrible?"

The name had such a comical ring to it that I probably took it in good humour though I remember explaining what it was, and of course, Kid Bro latched on to this for the rest of the meal. As I write this, I find many recipes for stuffed ridge gourd on the Net but most of them involve peeling the gourd. Mine didn't, and I must have chanced upon particularly tough-skinned specimens for my venture, which, as my dad's reaction reveals, must have added to the horror. Or caused it.

Last night at dinner in a restaurant, we asked what 'Special Sindhi Chapati' entailed, and the waiter, who seemed to be in an unholy hurry, smiled extremely tolerantly and thin-lipped, and said, "It's phulka." The Spouse wanted paneer so we ordered Seyal Paneer from the list of 'special Sindhi dishes' and I waved off The Spouse when he began to ask what it was, saying it must be just as special as the Sindhi chapati. It was - what else - an oily mix of tomato and onion, but the real surprise was the Hariyali Naan from the Tandoor section. I imagined from the name that it would come flecked with coriander and mint and fenugreek; the waiter said there was spinach in it, but we didn't bargain for this:

Now would you go for this, my stew or even my Beerakaya Horrible? In any case, don't forget to answer the question I asked at the beginning of the post!

I didn't make any lofty resolutions for the New Year, but I did set myself a goal and a mission. Wish me luck! There's a link at the top of the sidebar too!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Going Back To The Tubers

The potato is a stem tuber, and 'roots and tubers' is a phrase. With this dish, I suppose I'm 'going back to the roots', now a much-used and often abused cliche, so there it is! When my grandmother still cooked for our family, this dish made a frequent appearance on our dining table at night.

Three days into the new year and I cooked only today. Some of the potatoes I had from ten days ago had put out monstrous sprouts, so much so there was too much sprout and very little potato. Off they went into the bin - the rest, peeled and chopped, made up about 1.5 cups. Then there were some tomatoes too that were going soft and squishy, five of those went into this curry.

I didn't add anything more, not even onion, because I didn't want to eat this curry for the next five days. I wanted something that would last me no longer than two days.

In my book, as well as yours, I'm sure, a recipe has to fulfill at least one of these two conditions to be deemed a success: It has to taste and look like your grandmothers' food, or it has to look like it came out of a restaurant!

Mine, I'm happy to say, looked very much like my grandmother's. And it lasted no longer than a day.

Potatoes, peeled, chopped/diced: 1.5 cups
Tomatoes: 5, chopped (about 2 cups)
Curry leaves: A few
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Dry ginger powder: 1 tsp (you can use fresh ginger)
Salt: to taste
Water: 1 cup + 1/4 cup
Oil: 1 tsp
Mustard seed: 1/2-1 tsp
Cumin:1/4-1/2 tsp

Microwave (or boil till soft) the potatoes with a quarter cup of water for four minutes - in two 2-minute spells.

Heat the oil in a pan, pop the mustard and add the cumin.

Once the cumin sizzles, add the tomatoes, saute for 2 minutes and then add the salt, chilli powder and ginger powder. Add some of the water. Cover and let the mix get mushy on medium flame.

Now add the potatoes and give them a good stir. Simmer.

Let the tomato gravy cover the potatoes (but not quite drown them).

Add the curry leaves, simmer for another minute or two and remove from the fire.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Choicest Four-Letter Words

May this year and the years to come be full of





Here's a charming recipe I found:

Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time. Cut these months into thirty or thirty-one equal parts. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time (so many persons spoil the entire lot this way) but prepare one day at a time.

Into each day put equal parts of faith, patience, courage, work (some people omit this ingredient and so spoil the flavor of the rest), hope, fidelity, liberality, kindness, rest (leaving this out is like leaving the oil out of the salad dressing— don’t do it), prayer, meditation, and one well-selected resolution. Put in about one teaspoonful of good spirits, a dash of fun, a pinch of folly, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor. _