Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Of Dubai, Barberries and Vegetarian Food Without Vegetaybles

In January this year, I flew to Dubai en route to Ireland. I had half-a-day there before I caught the flight to Dublin. After a late lunch, I hired a taxi and set about exploring the place. The photo above is the Burj al Arab hotel photographed from the beach.

I loved the beach. There were hardly any people there even though it was a Sunday. It was almost deserted, except for a family, a couple and a solitary man who kept making sand tunnels and playing with them.

This is the Dubai skyline as seen from my taxi en route to the spice souk.

This was a friendly guy at the first shop I saw in the spice souk. Notice the little sheikh in the picture, behind the preserved limes?

Inside a store at the spice souk. I could identify most of the spices.

Another store at the souk.

Baby corn chips, that's what they're called.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

And a thousand more.

This was where I met the old man mentioned in the previous post. He kept extending his arms and contracting them with a smile. I couldn't understand what he was saying. And then he got off his seat and came up to me and started pointing at me and the shelf and back and forth, keeping up the chatter and the arm movement. By this time, something about his widening smile and the brightening glint in his eye had started to bother me. He must have seen several of them but he wasn't about to dismiss me as an involved tourist photographing all the strange and amusing things that caught her eye. Oh no, he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity of a sale. He thought I had potential as his customer. He was mistaken. I left.

A variety of dates, stuffed and processed in various ways.

Barberries/Zereshk (soaked, above, and below), from Iran, which I bought in the spice souk. I also bought some asafoetida and saffron, those too were claimed to be from Iran.

Dal/Lentil and barberry stew - vegetarian food without vegetaybles (vegetables, of course - just spelling it the way it's pronounced in certain parts of the country, it rhymes with vegetarian, you see).

How to make it:

In a spoon of oil,

fry two cloves and a piece of cinnamon.

Then, add a handful of onions.

Add 1 green chilli, slit

and 1 tsp of ginger-garlic paste.

Add 3/4 cup of boiled but not mushy chana dal/gram dal to the  pan

with 1/2 cup of water.

Simmer. Add some salt.

Add a fistful of soaked barberries and continue simmering for a couple more minutes - don't let the barberries turn brown though.

Remove from fire.

I found out about this stew when looking for barberry recipes on the Internet. The search threw up zereshk polow from a lot of Persian cooking blogs. The stew seemed to be the next most popular recipe, usually one with meat, lots of slivered nuts, lentils and the barberries.

The barberries are a delight - whenever I discover something new, I tend to use a lot of that in the recipe. But I am glad I didn't this time. The sour berries are quite unobtrusive once they are inside your mouth - they are small and you can't feel them unless you try hard - so when you bite into them, it's a tiny and refreshing spurt of sourness.

Notice the picture of the barberries in the sieve above - that's a tip that I picked up from the Persian cooking blogs which was really useful: The berries are very dusty, with mud and stems and such stuff. So put them in a sieve and immerse that in another vessel full of water. Pour some water into the sieve to soak the barberries. (I soaked them for an hour.) This ensures that the dirt sinks into the vessel below the sieve. It yields quite a bit of dirt, believe me. Wash the barberries a few times and use them.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Currying Flavour, A Month Later

I've always wondered how it would be to begin a post by saying 'I'm back'. This blog has been around for five years so I may well have done it, but I don't think so. Not in such precise terms. I mean, what if I made this announcement, and you (and millions of my other readers) said to yourselves 'But when did you ever go away?' or worse, 'So what?' or worst of all 'Okay, now who are you?'

Consequently, I won't tell you why I've been posting just once a month for the last few months, barring one early reason: Internet problems. And after that, I guess I have to say I was the problem. Let's leave it at that.

I had visualised another post about my travels to strange and foreign lands, one of which made for last month's post. I thought I would write a rib-tickling piece about how a seemingly benign but rather dirty old man tried selling me his non-spice wares in Dubai's spice souk. I visualised bringing to you a barberry-flecked pilaf (zereshk polow) at the end of a photo feature on the spice souk. I imagined you rolling on the floor laughing your butts off (ROFL LMAO) over The Adventures of Sra and The Dirty Old Shopkeeper. I imagined posting stunning pictures of the pilaf, one of them black and white with just the barberries in vibrant ruby red, thanks to the Colour Accent feature on my camera. But alas, it was not to be!

Here's one picture, for now. The barberries are the maroon ones in the front row, between the green slivers of pista and the black raisins.

This time, I'm bringing to you a rather quotidian curry that I made on Monday. Actually it isn't quotidian for me, but it's not as exotic as pilaf. It did meet one condition: It had to have some gravy, and the gravy had to be achieved without grinding. Remember Grindless Gravies?

The not-so-quotidian-for-me curry was hastened by the discovery of some nice mushrooms found on Sunday evening at the store. Evening find spells bad mushrooms, but these were good. I also bought some green and red capsicum (peppers) to add crunch and vibrance. A generous hand led to much oil splashing into the pan. It was good. Is good. I still have some left over, though I may go off it by the time I finish with this post.

Here's how you make it:

Capsicum/peppers, chopped: 4-5 cups
Mushrooms, chopped: 2 cups
Onions, chopped: 1.5 cups
Oil: Ahem! (I must have used at least 6 tsp)
Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tsp
Green chillies, halved: 3
Salt, to taste
Garam masala: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: 1 tsp
Water: A few splashes

Heat the oil in a pan, pop the cumin.

Fry the onion till pink, then add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry well for 3-4 minutes, as mushy as you can let it get. If you need to add some water to prevent burning, add a splash or two now.

Now add the capsicum, saute on medium heat but make sure they don't lose their succulence.

Add the mushrooms, mix well and saute. There will be much water as the mushrooms cook - keep an eye on that.

When you've had enough of the watching-over-the-curry experience, and too much water still, turn up the heat and let it evaporate till the gravy reaches the consistency you desire. Stirring it vigorously will speed things up a bit.

When it's looking nice and unctuous, add the salt and stir.

Now add the garam masala stir it once more. Turn off the fire.