Friday, August 22, 2014

Not So Bitter And Twisted

Finally! I invented a new dish which is not already on the Internet. I sometimes come up with something, like this potato raita or this beetroot chutney, thinking it would be unique, but somebody has already made it. But not this time. Well, something like it does, after the sixth or the seventh page of results, but not really.  It isn't cooked like mine, nor does it look anything like mine.

It started when I bought some ready-cut bitter gourd at the vegetable store. It was cut in strips, not in circles, as it is wont to be, and that's what attracted me to it. The next day, I stir-fried it so that it stayed fleshy and then added two tablespoons of thick curds to it. Once I tasted it, I couldn't stop thinking of it - and it's a long time since I felt that way about my own cooking.

My grandmother, who was diabetic, for some time used to drink a glass of raw bitter gourd juice in the hope that it would control the diabetes. It was not mixed with anything but water. I wonder if relieving the bitter gourd of its bitterness will still confer the health benefits it is supposed to. Not that I would not do it. I did. But let me tell you more about how I invented the dish and added flavour as I went along.

First, I put some salt on the strips of bitter gourd and left it alone for about 30 minutes. Then I squeezed all the water out of it, well, as much as I could, with my fist. Blithely, I assumed that most of the salt would have been discarded in the process. I was wrong, I should have washed it well in water after squeezing it, but I discovered that much later, when I tasted it as it was cooking.

I heated some oil (*the list of ingredients and proportions is at the bottom), tempered it with mustard, cumin, black gram, red chillies, curry leaves and garlic, then sauteed it constantly on a medium flame, never ignoring it. I do not use a lid as I do not want it going limp before I can control it.

After it had cooked for about eight minutes, I spiced it with some turmeric, salt and my special chilli powder, mixed it well and continued to saute it on low flame for another 2-3 minutes. At this point, I tasted it. It was still a little raw - I had not used any water till then - and it was quite salty.

I had soaked some tamarind in water for pappucharu so I sprinkled two handfuls of that water (not juice, I had not muddled it with the water yet to extract the juice, so you can call it tamarind-flavoured water) on the vegetable and finally put a lid on it as I was tiring of it not cooking. I kept an eye on it and when it tasted perfect - spicy, a wee bit tangy, less salty and not raw (but still firm), I took it off the fire.

After cooling it completely, I mixed thick curds, perhaps a day old, in gently. I am extremely gratified at how it turned out - the curds coated the bitter gourd just right, making it moist, not wet, and soaked up the spices marvellously. I even tried some plating because I was tired of my ordinary photos and I have to say I thought it looked like an alligator or a chameleon or a fish - I was not aiming for that effect, believe me!

 Here is the list of ingredients
 Bitter gourd, chopped: 2-3 cups (discard fibrous centre and seeds)
Gingelly/sesame oil: 4-5 tsp
 Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin seed: 1/2 tsp
Black gram: 1 tsp
Red chillies: 2, broken into 4-5 pieces,
Curry leaves: 7-8
 Garlic: 5 cloves, bruised and peeled
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder, special or ordinary: 2 tsp, or less (If you're using ordinary chilli powder, use 1 tsp of coriander powder and 1/2 a tsp of cumin powder too)
Tamarind-flavoured water: 2 handfuls
Coriander leaves, to garnish
Thick curds/yoghurt: 2 tbsp (do not beat it)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Currying Favour With Mushrooms, Simply

A few months ago, when I was at home with my parents, I took some lessons from my cook. One of them was for pappucharu, and I am glad to report that I now make a good version of it. So much so that I have given sambar the go-by, and am I relieved! I tolerated it for various reasons, like many wives/husbands grow to tolerate their spouses or resign themselves to them. The other dish I observed our cook make was a mushroom curry.

 Taking notes helped. Even though our cook cannot speak in tablespoons and teaspoons, I got a fair measure of his proportions once I parked myself in the kitchen next to him with pen and a piece of paper. This mushroom curry fulfilled my criteria of a successful dish: it tasted like it had been made by my grandmother, it looked like a thick, brown gravy from a hotel, and most wonderfully, it achieved that consistency and that look without any grinding. I attribute it to the long soaking the onion gets in the mushroom juices.

Button mushrooms: 400 gm, quartered
Onion, chopped/minced: 1 cup
Coriander powder: 1.5 tsp
Cumin powder: 0.75 tsp
Chilli powder: 1/2-1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tsp
Salt, to taste
Oil: 1 tsp
Coriander leaves, chopped: To garnish

Heat the oil and saute the onion.

Then, add the ginger-garlic paste and mix it well with the onion, let it cook on low flame for a while till the aroma mellows.

Now add the mushrooms and saute till the onion and paste coat them well. The mushrooms will start yielding water. A lot.

Add the spices and keep stirring on medium flame till the water evaporates, leaving a thin, clingy gravy. Yes, yes, I know I said it looked like a thick gravy earlier but it looks like that - it is actually thin and flavourful and rice is a great vehicle for it. I've made this quite a few times now.

Note: You can add some green peas too, when the mushrooms start boiling.