Friday, March 27, 2009

This Ugadi, Full of Beans

There's not much of a story to this dish, except that I saw these beans shelled and packed in my store and they looked so nice and green and convenient that I had to buy them.

Naturally, I had no clue what to do with them as I often don't after buying something which I usually don't.

Are your eyes glazing over after that sentence? I don't blame you, I would be confused myself if I hadn't been the one writing it. But anyway, the clutter-free, waste-free side of my conscience kicked in and I asked the woman who helps me at home what could be done with them. She said we could make a curry of them with tomatoes, onions/shallots and brinjal/eggplant. And that's what I did though I didn't really think it would be a good bet. But it was, we enjoyed it thoroughly. And you can bet that me being me, I will look for a completely new recipe next time I see shelled and convenient beans and forget all about this!

Before I get to the recipe, however, Happy Ugadi! Here's an article I want you to read on the occasion:

We eat neem flowers mixed with jaggery on New Year’s day to remind us of the bitter and sweet flavours that co-exist in life,” declared Gundu Rao, one of my favourite ‘uncles’, as he tugged affectionately at my plait. “Come tomorrow and taste some!” Never having ever eaten neem flowers, I screwed up my face at the thought, quite relieved that in my family we had no such custom. The next day, I hid from him. His words, however, made a deep impact on me as a 10-year-old, and I never forgot them.

Tender flowers, jaggery freshly obtained from the harvest of sugarcane, nascent green mangoes, young tamarind pods, the very things that make up the Ugadi pachadi burst into existence in this season and herald the coming of spring. These ingredients, perishable, short-lived, combine year after year to create something eternal and deeply symbolic, the readiness of human beings to accept and ride out the ups and downs of life. It is also true that most events, even those of a terrible nature, do not recur in our lives and these flowers and fruit, newly come into existence, serve as a visual reminder that the crises and joys of yesteryears are transient too.

... the important truth that we cannot talk about food without stumbling against the harsh realities of the world. Hunger and thirst exist, people die of famine, starvation. The question of hunger is a very disturbing one. Why is it that there are some endowed with plenty to the point of disregard and waste while there are others who have to beg food everyday in order to survive?

Now here's the recipe:

Broad beans, shelled: 1-1.5 cups
Shallots: A handful, peeled
Tomatoes: 2-3
Round Brinjal/Eggplant: 2, cut into 4-5 pieces each
Oil: 1 tsp
Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin/Jeera: 1/4 tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder: 1/2-1 tsp
Water: A cup
Salt: To taste

Cook or pressure cook the beans till just done.

In a pan, heat the oil, temper with the mustard and the cumin.

Now saute the shallots and once that's done, add the tomatoes. Add the turmeric and chilli powder and let the tomatoes cook for a while. Add some water to help them along.

Now add the brinjal and salt. Add the cooked beans. You could add more water here if you like. Let it stew until everything is cooked and thick. You can eat it with rice.

This is my entry to MLLA-9 being hosted this month by Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska for Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goan Interlude

This past week, I was in Goa, mostly on work. For the most part, I was confined to the hotel and its surroundings so there aren't too many photos. The real treat came at the end of the week when I spent a day with Aparna and she treated me to some delicious food from her diverse kitchen. Too bad there aren't any pictures of that - I was too busy wolfing it all down and revelling in really homely cooking that wasn't my own!

This was in the shop outside my hotel! Who would you trust - God or (Wo)Man? :-)

The road as it progressed outside my hotel. I went for a long, long walk and took these pictures.

Lanes on the road kept turning off and ending at points from where I could see the Fishermen's Wharf. This is one of those.

A jackfruit tree in one of the hotels on that road - there were so many trees all over the place with tonnes of jackfruit.

The Fishermen's Wharf, from another point off that road. It was a hot and humid evening but that was only to be expected. That didn't spoil my enjoyment.

En route to Margao in lazy bus on lazy morning. Not for these schoolchildren, though!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Attaining My Sugar High

I'm due to go to the land of feni and other freely available alcoholic delights shortly, and I've had a couple of requests to ferry some goodies back to this land of not-so-much variety. I'm not worried about fulfilling at least one of the requests, because a small sample from an earlier trip to the same land is still in my pantry. Two years later. Which I had a niggling suspicion of once the request was made. And confirmed happily a few hours later.

The friend for whom I'd originally brought it is rarely in touch now and I would hate to disappoint the current friend who made this request so it shall go to her. I was relating this whole episode to another friend and she said, "I like the way you keep finding things in your pantry from two years ago! It must be a veritable treasure trove." Well, I often think it's more a liability and a sign of management failure but this item is going to have a happy ending for sure!

The flip side of Treasure Trove is Bottomless Pit, and despite some periodic and concerted cleaning, I still end up with a lot of stuff. Anyway, I've said all this before on this blog, and found out that I have a lot in common with many among you, dear readers, but there was one item that I intended using up soon.

Soon came after a couple of years.

It was a packet of couscous that I had forked out a lot for at an organic store so I didn't really mind the couple of insects that revealed themselves by rising to the top once I finished boiling it; I just skimmed them away telling myself that they were too flimsy for me to feel any disgust. There was much more left over than I had estimated, and it was much more than we could reasonably eat without feeling we'd never want to eat couscous again. Not with two more fresher, recent packs of it in the fridge.

Finally, the lion's share of the remnants went into this dessert. It really was a brainwave, even if I may say so myself, and we just have half a cup of cooked couscous to use up - maybe I'll just toss it into some rice or gravy tomorrow but for now, I've come up with a strange but tasty mixture of that hoary old dessert: pudding/payasam.

This is going off to Scrumptious who's hosting Sugar High Friday this month. The theme is The Test of Time which endeavours to display ancient recipes.

Kheer (Sanskrit: क्षीर/ksheera, Hindi :खीर, Urdu: کھیر/kheer) a traditional dessert in the Indian subcontinent, usually a rice pudding made by boiling rice with milk and sugar. It is often flavored with cardamoms, saffron, pistachios or almonds that have been soaked overnight and made into fine paste. Kheers are also made with grains other than rice, and barley kheer is a common variant in Northern India and Pakistan.

It is an essential dish in many Hindu and Muslim feasts and celebrations. While the dish is most often made with rice, it can also be made with other ingredients such as vermicelli (sayviah). The recipe for the popular English rice pudding is alleged to be descended from kheer, but this would be hard to prove, since similar rice recipes (originally called potages) go back to some of the earliest written recipes in English history (when there was practically no contact between England and South Asia).

For more information, go here.

The traditional payasam in India is commonly made with milk, sugar/jaggery and rice, vermicelli or sago. I used couscous instead. Also, instead of flavouring it with cardamom powder, I used a spoon of vanilla essence and a big stick of cinnamon, partly for a Western taste and also as I suspected that the couscous would absorb the milk rapidly and solidify into a puddingy mass, but that didn't happen.

Here's how you do this:

Cooked couscous, not small: 3-4 fistfuls
Milk: 750 ml - 1 litre
Sugar: 3-4 fistfuls
Cinnamon: 2-inch piece
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp
Ghee: 2 tsp
Cashews/raisins: A fistful of each

Boil the milk and turn off the heat.

Add sugar, stir until dissolved. Add the cinnamon too now.

Now add the couscous and heat on simmer till the milk reduces. (I must say I used too much milk and even reducing it wouldn't bring it even close to pudding consistency.)

While this is going on, fry the nuts and raisins in the ghee and keep them aside.

Once you give up on the consistency, turn the pudding off heat, remove the cinnamon, cool a while and add the nuts and raisins.

You can eat it warm and liquidy or you can chill it for a day and eat a slightly thickened version the next day. I, of course, ate both!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eggs, Forgotten & Recreated + Keyword Humour

I know I promised to make my search terms a regular feature and I'm going to stick by it. But before I list the most hilarious search times since the last such post, I have a "peculiar egg curry" for you (yeah, that was a search term I just saw in my stats.)

I keep talking of how I always ignore recipes that are very familiar and traditional family favourites in quest of the unfamiliar and the exotic. Sometimes the presence of the former on someone else's table really jolts your memory, and this recipe is one such. It's a very Indian, very my-home style recipe that I've quite forgotten - I saw this at an aunt's a few months ago and recreated it at home from imagination - not that there was much to imagine or take credit for, but it was very much like what my grandmom made.

Eggs: 4
Onions: Chopped, 1/2 cup
Cinnamon: A finger-sized piece
Cloves: 2-3
Curry leaves: 1/2 a fistful
Coriander leaves: 1/4 cup
Garam masala/curry powder: 1/2 a tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Salt: To taste
Red chilli powder: 1/2-1 tsp
Oil: 1-2 tsp

Break the eggs into a deep bowl. Beat them well with the turmeric, salt and chilli powder.

In a pan, heat the oil and add the whole spices.

As soon as they sizzle, add the onion and curry leaves and saute.

On low heat, add the beaten eggs and as soon as they show signs of setting, scramble them well.

When they are cooked, add the garam masala powder and scramble them again to make sure it's evenly distributed.

Garnish with coriander leaves or mix them into the scrambled egg. Tastes especially nice with spicy pepper charu/rasam. I like to eat it with curds/yoghurt, as gag-inducing as that sounds.

Now for the search terms; the 'fingering' and 'Malayali chechi' are old hat, they always pop up so I won't highlight any unless there's something really strange, but have a look at the rest!

"What happened to the guy who ate ten pounds of powdered food for dinner?"

"Puke babes" (like there's a variety!!!! It also sounds like the name of a particularly rebellious girl band!)

"Inscribings on mementos"

"What does it mean when your cabbage is turning purple?"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Singapore: Sights & Smells

We went to Singapore two weeks ago. We checked in and promptly fell asleep. When we woke up, it was 2 pm, and by the time we freshened up and went out looking for lunch, it was 3 pm. We discovered a small food court near our hotel. One counter was managed by two friendly women. They had various dishes and rice, and a heaping of five curries with rice cost us S$ 5. There was fish cake, fried tofu, greens, fried fish and several others, including a vegetarian gravy that had cauliflower in it. The rice was flavoursome too. An extra helping of the accompaniments a few minutes later cost us S$2. I really enjoyed that meal, though The Spouse said he could not take the smell anymore.

One of the vegetable stalls we saw at a local market.

We went on a bum boat ride and took some pictures of Singapore by night.

My S$20 salad of shrimp satay, mangoes, glass noodles and pommelo with tender ginger dressing at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. The stated price was S$17 but the taxes added up.

S$5 Lunch at an Indonesian restaurant somewhere in a mall on Orchard Road. This was a dish of crispy fried prawns, rice, a fiery sambal with tiny dry fish, basil and what I thought was fried roe.

There were several restaurants offering froggy delicacies. I had just had lunch so I didn't have to contend with the thought of whether I would have tried them or not.

We found this Grass Jelly Drink in another food court. It's one of the classic drinks of South-East Asia, we couldn't get through this, and this was supposed to be the smaller serving which came for 0.80 cents. We found it somewhat smelly though I enjoyed targeting the jelly with my straw and slurping it in.

We were walking to Chinatown and I noticed these on the pavement, pineapple and durian.

Our first tour when we landed in Singapore was a Singapore by Night Tour. Our first destination, at 6 pm, turned out to be dinner!!! Having eaten at 3 pm earlier, we weren't very hungry, and that was true of most other tourists in our bus. So we nibbled at most of the offerings. The dinner, representative of the various ethnic cuisines of Singapore, served up a single claw of Singapore Chilli Crab and Roti Prata.

Paper-wrapped chicken, at our dinner

Paper-wrapped chicken unwrapped. That's a bit of chicken and a mushroom

Pork spare rib soup, flavoured with what I thought was star anise. Nice.

Fried rice, with crab meat. I don't know what the cripsy, thread-y stuff on top is.

A vegetarian dish of cabbage. I could even taste saffron in that dish, but I could be wrong. It was very tasty.

The mango pudding that ended our dinner. The waitress asked us if we liked it and when we nodded, she excitedly said she had made it herself.