Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Week That Was + Of Chalks and Chopsticks

A month ago, I did my eyebrows for only the second time in my life, painted my toenails a metallic, stamp-pad-ink purple, saw to it that my party clothes still fit me and prepared to go on vacation.

Sadly, it didn't happen.

About three days ago, I wiped off the nail paint, threw some clothes into a suitcase, went to work and much later, got out in a tizzy and clapped hand to mouth so that my heart wouldn't spill out as the cab I took to the airport to more work in another city jostled others to ensure the flight wasn't lighter by several tens of kilos.

I reached the destination a few hours later and couldn't sleep for another hour - until I had yielded to the temptation of one of a pair of Fuji apples provided by the hotel.

The next day was spent cooped up in a grey meeting room, getting facts and figures right, and ignoring some newer speakers to ensure I had got the previous speakers' facts and figures down right. Then there was dinner, with some of the same speakers, but mercifully, no facts and figures.

The day was also interspersed with some texting and calls, this time about getting the logistics right of my visiting friends or the friends visiting me the next day. I'm glad to say that the logistics worked out well - I caught up with friends old and newer, a wonderful spread at lunch and much laughter and companionship, ignoring the calls of the cabbie to hurry up as my flight back home was looming closer.

I finally left in a haze of euphoria, and even the late, late realisation that I had been booked on a low-cost flight where no dinner would be served unless I paid through my nose didn't affect me as I feasted on the memories of the day.

With so much on my plate, I haven't been my usual prompt blogger self these days. Nor the strict event hostess I have a reputation for being, that is, I haven't even announced the event (not that I am lowering my standards, oh no!).

Well here it is now - I am hosting the third edition of Of Chops and Chalksticks ... er ... no, Of Chalks and Chopsticks, so please send in all those stories that you've got playing out in your head - come on, make it a wild success, you can be the hero/heroine as long as there is some food also playing a prominent role in the story. It needn't be a recipe, so what are you waiting for?

Send in your entries to srablogATgmailDOTcom by July 28, 2010.

The subject line should say: Of Chalks and Chopsticks - 3

The e-mail should provide the

Blogger's name

Title and URL of the post

Some information, borrowed from earlier editions

The writing should be original, i.e, yours.

There is no word limit or theme - you can write on anything so long as the story stars food. It has to be written in a single post.

Old posts posted again are accepted (but a new one's always more exciting.

These posts CAN be shared with other events.

Link your post to this post and Aqua's post (mentioned earlier).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Operation Jackfruit

We got this bounty today. Some of it is not yet ripe and is hopefully, ripening in the heat of this summer's night.

How did it come about? K, who works with us, harvested this on his farm and brought us one, and cut it up for us. Cut it up doesn't describe it adequately enough. Neither does the word procedure. It is an operation, out and out.

The way he did it: Several sheets of newspaper, a small bowl of oil, sharp knives, one big, another small ...

... lots of strength and more patience. The round, white core at the centre is tough and need to be prised apart.

The oil helps mitigate the gummy stickiness that will adhere to your hands when you are cutting through the fruit. Notice the knife on the left, covered with it, all grey-white.

He cut it in half first ...

Then quartered it

... and cut it into eighths if it is a large fruit. Ours was not large.

Then, steadily, and with much concentration (throughout the operation), he cut off the sections of the central core.

Now the individual segments are easy to separate - they were earlier attached to the core. You can see it in the section on the right, where the core has been removed. It's almost like carving them out. He separated what looked like strips of jackfruit to get at the segments - it seemed to me that you need quite a bit of experience, else, you could cut through a segment and waste a lot of the bounty. K seemed to know exactly where one segment began and another ended. I guess I would have known too, had I also participated instead of taking photographs.

K also had this interesting technique where he scored the core's length and width.

He said doing so helped him minimise the damage to the segment's tops, and prevented some of the flesh from thus being wasted.

It makes for a more precise method, he said.

The exposed segments ...

... after the strips have been separated ...

... completely - a clearer picture

I read on the Internet that the strips are used to make jackfruit chips. They were tastier than the segments, which weren't as ripe.

Bon appetit!

Disclaimer: This is only a pictorial report, not intended as instruction. This post is the result of my being carried away with the golden opportunity I got, pun fully intended. I do not recommend any method, this or any other, as I
1. have not tried it myself
2. don't intend to
3. don't trust myself to do it well
4. believe one needs a fair amount of practice before I go recommending it to others.

Hence, I am not/do not hold me responsible for any blood that you may shed or any injury, whether to body, pride or other aspects, that you may suffer if you attempt this.

Having said that, I will proffer one serving suggestion: Stick a toothpick in each segment, put them on a nice platter and pass them around as appetizers. I was really wowed when I saw that done somewhere.

This is going to Jaya's Back to Basics event.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Dressing Up 'Food That's Good For You'

Did you have to be bribed with idli and sandwich smileys when you were younger so that some nutrition could be forced into you? What are those, you ask? Oh, you know, that's when you put pea eyes, tomato mouth and carrot nose on a nice, white dumpling to get the tiresome kid to eat a sensible breakfast, never mind that YOU're losing all YOUR nutrients in the process!

I often have this problem with The Spouse who is rather opposed to "food that's good for you". However much I dress them up, most vegetables stay firmly away from his plate, unless they're served to him in other people's houses - I recently saw him gush over yam, chunks of it, in tamarind gravy at his aunt's place, something I'm willing to bet he wouldn't even recognise at ours. And there's no point talking about brown rice, he will simply "perish the thought!" The only reason he tasted my tomato upma, I suspect, was because it was on his aunt's table and that huge plank of wood must have added to its appeal. I have almost given up making him give up on ghee supplied by some fond and rustic relatives, rice and ghee added to senaga karam (chana dal powder) supplied on request by his fond and urban mother-in-law, rice and ghee added to red chilli pickle supplied by loving aunts and cousins and sundry goodies supplied by ourselves. But the thought of being defeated - and the amount of waste all those leftover supplies make for - make me keep trying.

A while ago, I bought a small packet of something called 'low-carb' rice. It looked normal enough but when I finally cut it open, I realised I'd been looking at the wrong side of the pack - there WAS a transparent patch at the back and it was very distinctly light brown.

Now, had he not seen me open it and pour it out into the pressure cooker, he may have eaten it - but I think the sequence of events was that he did, made a face several times and sulked but ungraciously conceded he would try it because "it doesn't seem to be like the usual brown rice I know you don't like" (said in a loud and earnest tone). Unfortunately, the pack instructions failed me - and it was hard and remained brown. He may well have gone to bed angry and hungry, I really don't remember.

I couldn't eat it either. (I was never very good at self-flagellation.)

It stayed in the fridge for a few days till I began to suspect something was wrong with it because it wasn't going bad. So I dumped it.

Then came about some circumstances where, for over a week, we were eating at someone's place everyday and I too began to contribute to those meals. As it was a hectic and difficult phase, I could not even shop for supplies but had to make do with what was available at home. For once, I had had potatoes, some carrots were withering in the fridge as usual and I had just exhausted my supply of peas. I didn't know if I had run out of Basmati and I didn't want to find out. Some black chickpeas were turning to speckly white dust in their container.

Some of our meal companions wouldn't eat onion and garlic, it had to be quite a big amount (to serve about a dozen people) and it needed to be something I could make swiftly so that once I woke up the next day and finished with it, I could try to snooze again, find time for Yoga, social networking and lunch before I set off for work. Not to mention having a bath, of course!

One of the cookbooks I love is Tarla Dalal's Gujarati cookbook. I haven't made all that much from it but I love to flip through it and look at the pictures. It's seen me through many a sleepless night. So I chose the Vagharelo Bhaat which seemed pretty swift and straightforward.

I doubled the quantities and made my substitutions: Brown rice for Basmati, kala channa for green peas, and some oil added to the ghee. (Mine is organic, again bought to lure The Spouse away from what could be some hormone-ridden one.)

If he reads this, he will find out it was the brown rice he once so violently rejected, rendered so palatable by soaking, oodles of ghee, the potatoes, other bits and pieces, and, of course, the communal (as in 'community', not 'religion', lest you wonder) nature of the occasion.

Brown rice: 3 cups (soaked for at least 30 minutes, then washed delicately several times, and drained)
Potatoes, diced: 3 cups
Kala channa/black chickpeas: 1 cup, soaked overnite, cooked till soft
Carrots, diced: 1/2 cup
Cloves: 4
Cinnamon: 1-inch blade
Cumin seed/jeera: 1 tsp
Asafoetida/Hing: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
Chilli powder: 2 tsp
Garam masala: 1 tsp
Ghee: 5 tbsp
Oil: 1 tbsp
Hot water: 6 cups
In a large pot/pressure cooker, heat the ghee, add the cloves, cinnamon, cumin, asafoetida and fry for half a minute.

Add the vegetables and salt and stir for about four minutes.

Add the turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala and rice and stir again for five minutes till well and evenly mixed.

Add six cups of hot water, cover and simmer till the rice is cooked. If you're using a pressure cooker (like I did), put it on simmer for about five minutes after three whistles. It was perfect.

I did not hesitate to use so much ghee and oil because this meal was spread across many people and I'm hoping none of them ate more than their recommended allowance of fat and starch. A happy consequence was that I didn't have any charred and crusty residue at the bottom of the pressure cooker.