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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Caught In The Light - Black & White Wednesday


When something shimmered as I was coming out of the kitchen, I went back in and watched. They were these lines reflected in the vessel. It is lying on top of other vessels in my draining basket, a circular construction of stainless steel rods. I use this vessel very often but I only noticed how its shape caught the light a couple of days ago. This goes off to B&W Wednesday hosted by its creator Susan this week and managed by Cinzia.

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Pox On Plagiarists

I haven’t been plagiarized from often. My camera skills are middling, but I guess the best of the lot have appealed to a few. I used to think I would feel a tiny bit, at least, of pride when someone stole my pictures. It would mean my pictures were good. But no, the immediate and continuing reaction is one of anger. Any pride that may hazard a presence is burnt to a frizz by the flames of fury.

It’s like how I got called a ‘chick’ once by some guy in my aerobics class – the first time ever in my life, well into my late twenties or early thirties – and felt uncomfortable, not thrilled. (The guy has since grown a paunch, another chin, looks unshaven, unrested and greets me conservatively on the odd occasion we run into each other, typical of the average middle-aged man he has turned into - just saying, in case you were curious.)

First, a newspaper used my picture. I complained, and they took it down from the online version. Even as that correspondence was going on, I got a snarky comment on that post – I am sure it was the content supplier who got scolded for their misdemeanor. I told them to chill.

The second is a restaurant in this city that stole my picture of red chillies in a sieve. I happened to eat there and that’s when I noticed it. I complained, I yelled, made a big fuss, followed up for a while and as life took over, prioritized other things.

Now I find that a picture of my meatless, wheatless haleem shows up on Google attributed to some restaurant in some other country. I am going to file a DMCA complaint but meanwhile I want to curse all plagiarists and content scrapers to my heart’s content. You can join in too.

But first, a little classical inspiration: “There is a very pretty Eastern tale, of which the fate of plagiarists often reminds us. The slave of a magician saw his master wave his wand, and heard him give orders to the spirits who arose at the summons. The slave stole the wand, and waved it himself in the air; but he had not observed that his master used the left hand for that purpose. The spirits thus irregularly summoned, tore the thief to pieces instead of obeying his orders.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

  • Yes, may your business/blog/website be torn into pieces! 
  • May you flail in a vat of meatless, wheatless haleem and be discarded like some unloved vegetable!
  • May the heat of a hundred ripe, red chillies burn your bottom before you think of plagiarising again!
  • May your apricots rot before you steal another picture!
  • May your computer self-combust every time you think of stealing! Better still, may your computer bite you in your sensitive parts every time you attempt to steal! 
  • May visitors to your website get an Error 404 every time they try, and stop visiting!
  • May you be shown up for the lazy and dishonorable bum that you are!

How would you curse a plagiarist?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As You Like It 'West Asian' Potatoes



Where I work, we have always been encouraged to refer to the Middle East as West Asia. The reason is explained here. My own exposure to West Asia is limited - I have friends who grew up there, I have been there for just half a day en route to Ireland, and I have several spices and condiments from there. I have had these for several years, the most recent ones are several months old.

I made these without any Internet consultation, just to use up the spices, but just now, before writing this post, when I searched for West Asian Potatoes, I did not find any direct hits, just a lot of scholarly discussions on potato farming. I did find several recipes for Middle Eastern ones, though, but mine look very different. I have many times roasted potatoes in the oven with zatar but this is the first time I am pan-frying them.

For me, this recipe is  a keeper. It has the spice mix zatar, sumac and pul biber, a chilli powder, spices from more than one West Asian region, and mellowed in intensity a few hours after cooking. It was quite tangy initially, even though I used only a pinch of sumac. It was not as salty as it might have been because when I added salt, I forgot that zatar has salt in it. Pul biber does too. I have called it As You Like It because I used as much spice as I deemed fit, did not use any calculations for it.

Peeled potatoes, cut into wedges - 3 large (or about 600 gm)
Zatar: 2 tbsp
Pul Biber: 1-2 tsp
Sumac: A pinch
Salt: A pinch
Extra virgin olive oil: 2 tbsp

Heat the oilve oil gently in a skillet and swirl it around.
Put the wedges in and saute for a couple of minutes.
Then add the zatar and toss them gently so that they are all coated.
Now add the pul biber, the sumac and the salt and mix well but gently.
Cover with a lid and let them cook through on simmer. Check to ensure they are not burning. When they yield to pressure, they are done. This takes about 10-15 minutes.