One Big Pakora

This morning I was  vigourously rubbed with besan (chickpea flour) for an hour; later on the day I had oil gently brushed across my forehead for another 45 minutes: I felt like a human pakora.

I also felt very relaxed and well after receiving the treatments described above as they have been carried out on me in an idyllic ‘auyvedic palace’ in Kerala called Kalari Kovilakom. I will write more about this in future blogs as I have eaten some great food here but in the meantime take a look at the website www.cghearth.com.

The pakora analogy really took shape for me when I stepped in the shower to wash off the oil and discovered that the potion I was given to scrub myself was made from green split peas. I often make fish pakoras and serve them with a green pea dip/relish… I can feel a recipe coming on….

To make good pakoras don’t be stingy with the oil when cooking them. These are deep fried so if you are going to make them just accept it. Actually if you deep fry properly the food doesn’t absorb very much oil and the fish is steamed within its casing.

To give these pakoras a fighting chance:

1. have enough oil to cover the food you are frying

2. have the oil at the right temperature – test by dropping a small amount of batter into the oil, if it sizzles and browns and crisps up quickly then it is ready to go. Unless you have a deep fryer with a thermometer you will to adjust the heat if the oil gets too hot or looses heat.

3. Don’t put too many pieces into the oil at once. This will lower the temperature of the oil.

Fish pakoras with green pea dip 

500g flathead fillets or other firm fish

Batter

2 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)

1 tbsp cornflour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp red chili powder or to taste

½ tsp ajwain seeds*

juice of one lemon

½ cup water

Oil for deep frying

Method

Mix all the ingredients for the batter together until smooth and thick. Leave the batter to sit for 30 minutes (in the meantime make the green pea dip – see recipe below).

Cut the fish into 10 cm pieces. Pat dry with paper towel.

Heat some oil in a deep fryer, wok or large, deep saucepan.

Dip the fish into the batter and fry for about 4-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve hot with the green pea dip.

Green pea dip 

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp mustard oil or other vegetable oil such as sunflower or peanut  (preferably not olive oil)

1 -2 tsp freshly grated ginger

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 tsp brown sugar

salt

1/2 tsp paprika

250 gms peas (fresh or frozen)

squeeze of lemon or lime juice

Method 

Dry roast the cumin and coriander seeds and grind in a mortar & pestle or spice grinder.

Heat the oil in a karhai, work or saucepan over a medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the ginger and stir for 3o seconds. Pour in a little of the stock (this will spit a little) and cook the ginger for another 30 seconds. Add salt to taste, sugar, the paprika and stir. Add a little more stock and allow to cook out until you have a loose paste. Stir in the ground spices and the paprika and then the peas. Mix the peas in and make sure they are well coated with the spices mix and then pour in the stock.

Allow the peas to cook in the stock at a reasonably rapid simmer until they are tender. Don’t cover the pot as you want to stock to reduce somewhat but not to dry out.

When the peas are cooked remove the pot from the stove, decant the mix into a bowl and allow to cool slightly. Blend the spiced peas to a rough paste with a bamix or in food processor or blender. Adjust the flavour with the lemon/lime juice and serve with the pakoras.

Choti Memsahib Muffet

The warm oil I have been having gently swished across my forehead each afternoon (as part of an auyvedic treatment program) has now been changed to cold buttermilk. When told I would be having this treatment I was less than enthusiastic about the concept but it is actually very relaxing.

Remember Little (choti)  Miss (memsahib) Muffet^ on her tuffet (whatever that is) eating her curds and whey? Well buttermilk is whey or what is left after the solids have been removed from milk to make butter. Buttermilk has a pleasant slightly sour taste, similar to that that of yogurt, and it is commonly used in Indian cookery; for example it might be used as the liquid in a wet dish much as western cooking uses stock. It is also popular as a chilled drink, either plain or infused with cumin seeds or black mustard seeds, curry leaves and a little salt: in this incarnation it is called chaas in northern India.

Buttermilk is not used all that often in western cookery; when it is it is usually added to pancake batters or other baked items such as muffins to which it imparts a lighter texture than if regular milk was used (try it sometime). As it has had all the solids removed it is low in kilojoules/calories (but please its taste recommends it more than this quality, I just mentioned it – the ‘energy count’ – as a matter of interest).

You can buy buttermilk in the supermarket – look for it on the higher shelves of the dairy case as it is not amongst the items that enjoy the glory of eye level shelving.  I hope this recipe for a lovely buttermilk soup might inspire you to give it a try. When I serve this I inevitably see wariness in people’s eyes, which quickly changes to surprise and delight when it hits their taste buds. You can serve it as hot/warm soup but I think it is much better as a summer soup that is served chilled.

Buttermilk soup

Serves 4 -6

Ingredients

1 tsp rice

1 tsp fried mong dal*

t tsp ginger paste

4 green chilies

750 ml buttermilk

salt

1 tbsp oil

½ tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp skinned urad dal *

1 dried red chili (optional if you prefer)

¼ cup finely chopped fresh coriander

Method

Soak the rice and fried mong dal for one hour.

Drain and grind to a paste, with the ginger and green chilies, in a mortar or pestle; electric spice grinder (that does a wet grind) or a blender (you may need to add a little water to achieve this).

Blend this paste with a little of the buttermilk to make a smooth paste. Mix this into the remaining  buttermilk along with 250 ml of water and salt to taste.

Heat the buttermilk over a medium high heat, stirring until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.

In a heavy based fry-pan heat the oil over a high heat. When hot drop in the mustard seeds and urad dal. When the mustard seeds ‘pop ‘drop the dried red chili (if using) into the pan. Stir until the chili changes colour. Empty the contents of the pan into buttermilk blending well along with the chopped coriander.

This can be served hot or cold. If serving hot gently reheat; do not boil it as it may curdle. If serving the soup cold place in the refrigerator and chill until ready to use.

^ It is possible that I have used the male gendered Hindi word for ‘little’ (choti). If you know better please excuse me if I have created Master Muffet!.

* These are both varieties of lentils/legumes that you will be able to procure from an Indian/Asian grocery store.

Celebrating the Bovine

This morning a cow with one horn festooned with bright tinsel wandered dazedly by. It reminded me of someone waking up with a hangover on a strange couch after a New Years Eve party still sporting a party hat and a garland of paper streamers. Actually this is not a bad analogy for today is the day that cows are worshipped as part of the Diwali festival. As the day wore on I saw more cows decorated in various ways: their hides patterned with coloured hand prints, circles or more elaborate patterns; bright ribbons swathed between horns; pretty garlands slung across their chests.

Diwali is India’s biggest festival – it is like Christmas and New year rolled into one – and it is celebrated across the country in varying degrees (most other festivals are regional and/or religious and are celebrated in some states/areas and not in others). It is traditional to give sweets on Diwali so as my festive offering I am giving you one of my original recipes for a lovely sweet treat.

I have called this a chocolate ‘samosa’ and while technically it shares some larger similarities with a true samosa, i.e., it is pastry stuffed with a filling, my use of  samosa as a descriptor for this dish is fairly liberal. I use filo pastry in this recipe whereas the real mccoy has a more substantial pastry and the filling is savoury not sweet. Now that I have confessed the differences (and hopefully pacified purists)  let me point out the Indian qualifications of this recipe.

  1. use of coconut – this is used extensively in the south of India and in coastal areas ( where I am currently located).
  1. use of ghee – the purifier of all food in Hindu culture making it fit for the gods.
  1. caramel sauce – ‘caramel custard’ (essentially crème caramel) was a very popular raj/colonial era dessert still commonly served in homes and restaurants, particularly if western style dishes are being served.

I chose to use ‘samosa’ as I wanted to create a dessert that was  Indian in spirit but more appealing to the western palate than most Indian sweets are (the erudite, intrepid and very funny American food writer Jeffery Steingarten includes Indian sweets on the very short list of things that he tried to eat but just cannot bear). It is a mix of my European knowledge/skills and Indian food knowledge/skill; I call it modern Indian but perhaps it should be Ausdian or Euridan!

Happy Diwali.

Chocolate Samosa with caramel sauce

4 tbsp ghee

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 small tin condensed milk

3 – 4 tbsp brown sugar

200gm dark chocolate

1 pkt filo pastry

¾ cup melted ghee

Melt the ghee in a heavy based saucepan. Add the coconut and stir until golden. Mix in the condensed milk and sugar and when well melded add the chocolate.

Stir until the chocolate had melted and the mixture comes away from the side of the pan (the mixture needs to be the consistency of soft putty). Remove from the heat and set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°c.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on a board and brush with melted ghee. Repeat the process with another two sheets of filo (so that you have a stack of three sheets).

Cut the layered filo sheets into three or four strips lengthwise (depending on how large you want the samosa; if you want ‘cocktail’ size ones then do four strips).

Place a generous dessertspoon (less if making smaller samosa) of the mixture on the end corner of the one of the strips and old it into a triangle and repeat (this is a ‘side to side process: one fold will bring a the triangle to one side the next fold to the other) until you get to the end of the strip.

Place the samosa on a tray and bake until golden approximately 8-10 minutes.

Caramel Cream

250 ml plain cream

1 cup white sugar

Slightly warm the cream (don’t overheat it just needs to have the cold taken off it to help it assimilate with the very hot sugar).

Put the sugar in a heavy based pan (essential – a lightweight vessel will cause the sugar to burn) over a medium high heat and leave it until it melts and turns a caramel colour (if you are not used to doing this you might like to add a little water to dissolve the sugar before you start to heat it). Do not stir the melting sugar as this can cause it to crystallize: rather agitate the pan to move the sugar around to assist it to melt.

Take the caramel off the heat and blend in the cream . Be very careful this will spit and splutter quite lot. Stir to blend well.

You can serve the sauce hot or chill it and serve cold.

Hare Semolina

If you are in heaven – and I am (check it out www.swasara.com) – it seems only right that you put in a little time praising the gods for the benefice they have shown you. So it was that I found myself in the weekly ‘community yoga’ session held here rocking along to the praises being sung to Ganesha, Paravati, Lakshmi, Shiva (major gods in the Hindu pantheon). Then came Krishna’s turn – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare. My mind immediately turned to Europeans dressed up in (shabby) Indian gear, foreheads decorated with coloured powder, shaking tambourines and chanting this same mantra on the streets of Melbourne. They slightly scared me as a child; as an adult they looked lost and now that I know that you cannot ‘convert’ to Hinduism (you have to be born into it) I wonder what they are trying to escape from.

Krishna’s not a bad choice for worship though. He was a fetching shade of blue (which works well with lotus pink and touch of leopard print), cohabited with his aunt (in the biblical sense); frolicked on the side with over 1000 milk maids (the aunt didn’t seem to mind this so no harm done) and generally had a jolly time.

Despite my aversion to Krishna’s chanting and swaying sidewalk disciples I have to admit that I have on occasion eaten at their restaurant in Melbourne (on Swanston Street) and I have to thank them for introducing me to sooji ka halwa (semolina sweet).

There are many variations of sooji ka halwa. A version that uses wheat flour, instead of the coarser semolina, does service as prasad (consecrated food/offering to the gods) at Sikh temples When you depart the Gurdwara on Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi you are always given a portion of it.

Sooji ka halwa is a very easy to make but make sure you have everything ready to go as it all happens pretty quickly. You can adjust the amount of syrup that you use to create different consistencies. If you add more syrup you can make it more like a porridge: wonderful for winter breakfast with a little milk drizzled over the top. I sometimes cook it out for little longer so that it is a little drier in consistency. I then press it into a rectangular tin to about 1 cm thickness; when it is cool I cut it into diamonds or use aspic/biscuit cutters to cut it into shapes. This recipe should result in the finished product having a consistency somewhere in between these two: serve it in this form as a dessert with custard or ice cream.  The figs and walnuts are my addition but you can leave these out if you prefer or add other types of dried fruit or nuts (slithers of roasted almonds are good) …no one will mind!

Sooji ka halva

Serves 8

Ingredients

6 green cardamoms

1 litre water

2½ cups sugar

1¼ cups ghee

1½ cups semolina

2 tbsp chopped dried figs

2 tbsp chopped walnuts

Method

Put the cardamoms, water and sugar into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Strain and keep aside

Heat the ghee in a cast-iron wok or heavy based pan over a medium high heat. When the ghee has melted add the semolina; cook and stir over moderate heat until the semolina is a pale gold colour. Stir in the figs and walnuts and cook for 1 minute.

Start to pour the sugar syrup onto the semolina (be careful as it may spit a little). Stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture starts to come away from the side of the pan.

Serve hot.

It is most delicious in its hot state but if you want to serve it cold make it a bit ‘wetter’ as it will firm up and get a bit ‘crumbly’ as it cools.

The Feasting Hour

There is a feasting frenzy taking place outside my Konkan villa at Swasara. Apart from being paradisiacal this resort is also genuinely eco-conscious. Nearly all the water used here is harvested rainwater (the rest is recycled through a natural water recycling system) and my room overlooks one of large storage pools. This sparkling expanse of water is the scene and cause of the aforementioned feasting as it attracts a plethora of insects.
For the past 20 minutes I have watched what looks to me like an oversized goldfish work the surface of the pool snapping up buggy tidbits. He disappeared back to depths when the sun began to sink and the sky filled with hundreds of black swallows that were swooping and catching their fill of the same creatures. I don’t think there was any chance of the swallows being able to catch the fish as he was too large for them but he was wise to hide as I saw a white-breasted kingfisher (whose breast is actually cream, which goes very well with his chocolate head and bright blue body – he is my favourite bird in part due to his sartorial splendor) flitting around in the bushes. This a bird who could have easily snatched a fish his size from the water if he had continued to hover near the surface.

While I was taking my fill of this scene the little black – almost human- face of a baby languor (grey monkey) popped out from the leaf line of one of the large trees nearby. His charming visage bobbed in and out of it as he set about making his dinner from the foliage.

I have also been doing some serious feasting of my own here.. Swasara specializes in serving local cuisine and as it is located on the Konkan coast in Karnataka that means seafood and coconut in abundance. I have eaten mackerel, baby snapper, Indian salmon (a white flesh fish with a finer drier flesh than the rich oily pink species we are more familiar with), sea bass, kingfish/sea bream, prawns, squid and plenty of crab; all bought from local fisherman. To achieve this I have had to eat seafood each day at lunch and dinner; a task I have undertaken with gusto ( all in the name of research of course).

Each morning the affable Chef Kathierson has demonstrated the day’s lunch dishes to me giving me an in-depth education in the use of fresh coconut in India’s coastal cuisine. There are few dishes that get by without the addition of coconut in some form be it: roughly grated; finely ground; ‘80%’ ground; 1st extract of the milk, or 2nd extract of the milk – each adding its own unique flavour and texture to a dish. The opaque coconut water found at the centre of this nut is not used in cooking but is taken as a drink.

I have many been given many recipes that I need to work up but in the meantime I am offering one of my own recipes featuring fish and coconut that was inspired by the cuisine of the neighboring Malabar coast (Kerala) for your own feasting pleasure.

Malabar Coast fish kofte with coconut sauce
Serves 6
Ingredients
500g white fish fillets
½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp white vinegar
3 shallots, grated or minced
2 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp dried coconut
the zest of one lime

Sauce
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
I red onion, grated
1 tsp white poppy seeds ground to a paste*
½ cup yoghurt
½ cup thick coconut milk
50g butter
fresh coriander leaves
vegetable oil for cooking

Method
To make the kofte
Cut the fish into chunks. Mix the turmeric and vinegar with a little salt. Marinate the fish in the vinegar mix for 30 minutes.
Drain the fish and process it in a food processor with all the remaining ingredients. Do this on the pulse setting as you want the fish to retain some texture; it should come away from the sides of the processor jug and form a large ball (just as dough does)
Shape into golf-ball size balls gently between the palms of your hands and then slightly flatten them so that are more disc like.
Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
You can choose to gently shallow fry or steam the kofte. Set aside when cooked.

To make the sauce
Mix the garlic and ginger pastes with a little water to make a paste.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok or a heavy based pan over a medium-high heat. When hot add the cumin seeds and allow them to ‘pop’ then mix in the onion and stir until it softens a little. Mix in the garlic and ginger and the poppy seed paste and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and then the yoghurt and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in the coconut milk. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the sauce for 10 minutes. Stir the butter into the sauce.
Just before serving slide the kofte into the sauce and allow to warm through. Serve garnished with fresh coriander leaves.

* White poppy seeds are available from some Indian grocery stores and can be difficult to find. If you can’t get any please do not substitute black poppy seeds – these are not the same thing and they make the sauce look like black sludge. The best substitute is raw cashews or blanched almonds.

Sweet Faith

You might think I am becoming religious with all my talk of gods and goddesses – and there is more to come in this post on that topic – but I can assure you there that there is no conversion going on. The reason for so much talk of immortals is that food in used extensively in daily worship and annual religious celebrations in India and much of it is of the sweet variety. And this is where my – purely visceral –  interest lays as I have a sweet tooth and I am always happy to celebrate – gods and humans alike – with sugary treats.

One of the most popular Hindu gods – amongst the thousands that are available to choose from – is the elephant headed god Ganesha: amongst his powers he can remove obstacles and bestow good fortune. The holy pachyderm is particularly loved in Maharashtra (the state I am currently visiting) where he is robustly celebrated each year with a festival devoted solely to him (Ganesh Chaturthi).

Ganesh’s favourite food is a confection called modak (images of Ganesha often have him balancing one of these sweets in the palm of his hand). I have just polished off a plate of these delicious sweets at the home I am staying at in the Sindhburg region of Maharastra (visit www.cultureaangan.com for details of the home stay options in this beautiful, ‘German bakery’ free destination).

I do not as yet have a tested recipe for modak so I will just explain how to make them as told to me by my host Amrutha.

Modak

Measure equal quantities of water and rice flour – a cup of each as a minimum.

Put the water in a saucepan with a pinch of salt and one teaspoon of ghee and bring to the boil.

Remove the water from the heat and stir in the rice flour to create a smooth paste/mix. Cover the pot and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes. The mix should become a smooth dough.

Mix equal quantities of roughly grated fresh coconut or shredded coconut (moisten with a little water or coconut milk if using this form) and gur/jaggery* to create the filling.

Take a small ball of the dough and pat out to form a circle (you might need to do this between banana leaves or foil if it sticks to your hands). In the centre of this place a teaspoon of the filling. Fold the dough around the filling to create a ‘tear drop’ shape and make a pattern with a fork around the tapered end.

Steam the modhka for 5 minutes and allow to cook before serving.

These sweets are truly delicious but I cannot guarantee this recipe to be fail proof as I have not yet tried my hand at it so proceed in a spirit of adventure if you try this at home.

Gur/jaggery is made by crushing sugar cane and boiling the juice in big open pots until it reduces to a fudge like consistency –in which state it is can be eaten like a sweet. The fudge like gur then dries out and hardens as it ‘ages’. It has a wonderful deep rich flavour and retains the minerals that modern sugar processing takes out. You should be able to buy gur/jaggery  at an Indian grocery stores but if it is not available you can substitute palm sugar or dark brown sugar – although the modkhas will not be anywhere nearly as delightful without it.

Eating for a cause

Is there no end to the purposes that food can be put to? This week I read about a clever grassroots/community campaign called Vindalooagainstviolence. Concerned about the violence against Indians in Melbourne a young couple have called upon Melburnians to show their support for immigrant communites – particularly the Indian community—by heading out to their favourite Indian restaurant for a meal on 24th February 2010.

Despite the campaign name there is no compulsion to order a vindaloo as part of the meal but me thinks that there will be a lot of vindaloo consumed all the same.  I thought I might be able to add to the campaign by offering up a recipe for an authentic vindalho (don’t get caught up with the spelling of the name both cases are acceptable).

Vindalho is a dish native to Goa and it is product of the Portuguese colonization of that part of India in the 16th century. The Portuguese that introduced chillies to India —after Columbus brought them back from the Americas — and the vinegar which features in this dish. Prior to arrival of the chilli Indians had added heat to their food with black pepper and ginger amongst other spices.

The vindaloo you get in an Indian restaurant in Melbourne is likely to be cooked by someone of Punjabi/northern Indian origin and is quite different to that which you would find in a Goan home. So go out and show your support and ‘vindaloo against’ racism and racism fuelled violence on Wednesday but I challenge you to take it further and cook this vindalho for some friends/family some time soon.

If nothing else read the recipe as it provides a couple of essential lessons in Indian cookery and  food culture and you can impress your friends with these insights on Wednesday.

The inspiration for my version of vindalho comes from  The Essential Goa Cookbook by Maria Teresa Menezes, Penguin Books India.

Chicken Vindalho

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 tsp salt or to taste

½ tsp brown sugar

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)

I tsp finely ground black pepper

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

I kg chicken pieces

5 -6 tablespoons vegetable oil or use coconut oil if you prefer

1 tsp cumin seeds

8 cloves

3 inch piece of cinnamon

2 medium red onions

10 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and ground/grated to paste

1 tablespoon garlic paste*

additional white wine vinegar

* I make a creamy sweet garlic paste by putting a whole head of garlic into the oven and roasting it until the garlic is soft. When it is cooled slice the top off the head and squeeze the garlic out into a bowl. It should be a paste in of itself but if not blend with a fork until it is smooth. You could also crush raw garlic to create a paste. Please don’t use garlic paste out of a jar or tube it tastes of the preservative that has been mixed with it to allow it to sit on the supermarket shelf for weeks or months.

Method

Blend ½  of the salt, sugar, ground turmeric, chilli powder and black pepper powder to a paste with the vinegar in a large bowl. Put the chicken pieces into the bowl and coat with the paste. Leave the chicken to marinate in this paste in the refrigerator preferably overnight or three hour at the least.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy based frypan over a medium high heat and brown the chicken pieces on both sides in the hot oil. This should only take a few minutes on each side. You do not need to cook the chicken through as it will be cooked in the sauce. What you want to do at this point is to seal and build up a bit of flavour by browning it. Drain the cooked chicken pieces on paper towel.

Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil into a deep sided casserole type dish or heavy based saucepan for which you have a lid (I use an round Le Cruset  cocotte). If you were me you would strain the oil that you cooked the chicken — and in doing do infused it with flavour — add that to pan. If you weren’t me and you have issues about continuing to use oil that you have just infused with a whole lot of flavour then you might need to add another tablespoon of plain oil (the finished dish won’t taste quite as good but that’s your call).

Heat the oil over a medium high heat. When the oil is hot drop in the cumin seeds, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 30 seconds then add the onion. Continue stirring the onion for two minute then add the ginger and the other ½ tsp of salt. Stir until the onion caramelises slightly. If this mixture is sticking to the pan add a little bit of water and stir. This is a common cooking technique in India and it allows food to be cooked using small amounts of oil (despite the rich heavy food typically served in Indian restaurants much of the food cooked in Indian homes is light and fresh thanks in part to this cookery practice). The water provides a medium for the food to cook in and it evaporates so the food does not become watery. Continue cooking stirring periodically until the onion is softened.

Mix the garlic paste with two tablespoons of vinegar and stir into the onion mix (adding the vinegar to the paste allows it to assimilate smoothly into the dish). Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat with the mix. What is going to happen now is that you are going to out a lid on the dish and turn it down low and continue to let it cook.  You will need to gauge whether you might need to add a little water. You want this to be ‘dry’ dish  so you don’t want a lot of liquid but it will need some liquid to cook in. I can’t give you an exact amount but it should be no more than enough to just barley cover the chicken pieces. If you are using a cast iron or heavy good quality stainless vessel this should be enough but if you are using bough from the supermarket type cookware —which generally doesn’t conduct heat as well —you will need to keep a close eye on this dish during the cooking time to ensure it doesn’t burn/stick to the bottom of the pot. You may need to add more water also particularly if the lid is a tight fit.

In an ideal world of lovely cookware what will happen is that the meat will steam and stew in the liquid. This will cause the meat to absorb some of the liquid and some of it will evaporate leaving you with a moist but dryish dish , i.e., its not meant to be wet like a stew although there are versions of vindalho/vindaloo that are.

Cooking time should be about 30-40 minutes again depending on your cookware. Low and slow (low heat over a longer time) is best. I like to cook this dish until the meat starts to come away from the bone and to do this I usually need to add a little more water so that is doesn’t dry out too much.

The traditional accompaniment to this vindalho is a fried bread called (recipe below). In India dry dishes are typically eaten with bread and wet dishes are eaten with rice

Oddé

The authentic Goan version of this recipe uses toddy, an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap collected from either various species of palm or coconut trees. Once taken the sap ferments quickly so it sold not far from where it was made in ‘toddy shops’. Left to ferment for too long and it turns into vinegar hence it is not often found too far from the tropical coastal regions of India. Given the limitations on obtaining toddy I have suggested a substitute of yeast, water and sugar. You might also like to try using ½ cup of a stout or another sweetish beer (toddy is 4% alcohol content so its not unlike beer in that respect). If you can obtain toddy then use ½ cup in place of the yeast/ water/sugar mix

2 cups whole wheat flour*

1 cup white flour

½ cp rice flour

a 7g sachet dry yeast or equivalent fresh

tepid water

a pinch of salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp melted ghee or  vegetable oil

oil for deep frying

* Use atta obtained from an Indian grocery store if possible. It is whole wheat flour but its lighter than the whole wheat flour used outside of India. If you can’t get atta then use 1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour and 1 ½ plain flour along with the rice flour  to achieve a comparable result.

Method

Mix the yeast with a pinch of sugar from the teaspoon specified and enough tepid water to create ½ cup if liquid. Cover and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until the mix starts to bubble.

Sift the flours, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. Rub the ghee or oil into the four mix Make a well in the centre and pour in the ghee or oil. Add the yeast mix/beer/toddy  and enough water to make a firm dough.

Leave to stand for one hour

Knead dough again and roll out to 1/8 thickness.

Heat oil in a deep frying pan. Cut out rounds of dough with a large cutter about  10 cm/3-4 inches in diameter and deep fry the rounds. Gently push the oddé around a little while frying and lift a little oil over the surface – they should puff up. odde while frying – they should puff out well.

Drain on paper towel and serve hot with the vindalho.

Chai remix: Delhi meets Rome

Even if your devotion to coffee is unwavering you can’t have failed to notice the suddenly ubiquitous presence of the chai latte on café menus, and the presence of numerous brands of chai on the shelves of retail stores (for the uninitiated a chai latte is a mixture of tea and spices infused in milk usually taken quite sweet; a purchased packet of chai contains black tea blended with various spices, typically cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and clove; it is also a flavour concept that has made its way out of the beverage category to be applied to food items: I have sampled chai flavoured almonds and I reckon chai ice-cream can’t be far off). So pervsasive has the chai latte become in modern café culture that it can now be found on the menu of up-market coffee shops frequented by India’s aspirant and monied classes. At this point I can imagine that you are probably thinking ‘ so what, chai comes from India, of course it is served there!’. And I would reply ‘well there is a lot more to it than that, why don’t you sit down, put up your feet and while I make you an excellent chai latte I will tell you a story about this beverage (the reader can take my making them a cup of tea figuratively in the form of the recipe I have given below). You will have to bear with me through the next paragraph while I indulge in a bit of nit picking but as a sophisticated consumer of food and drink I think you will value the educative outcome of my pedantry.

Chai means tea in Hindi (the major language of North India) so if you ask for ‘chai tea’ you are actually asking for ‘tea tea’ and committing the grammatical sin of tautology. Recently I was in a specialty tea store when the woman standing next to me waved a packet under her companions nose and said ‘ smell this, this is chai’. I was tempted to say ‘of course it is, you are in shop that sells nothing but tea’. Our use of the word chai to describe tea is not incorrect but it can be properly applied to any tea. Just as we use the word latte as shorthand for coffee (whereas a request for such in Italy would get you a glass of hot milk) we use chai to describe spiced tea but a request for chai in India will not necessarily get you that.

Many Indians, particularly the wealthy and those living in tea growing areas, take their chai ‘British style’; that is plain black tea infused with hot water in a pot or cup, to which milk and sugar may be added. If I was visiting my friend Kinny at her home north of Delhi and I asked for some chai, a tea tray would appear laid out in this style (also referred to as ‘tray tea’). If I wanted spiced tea I would ask for desi chai. This loosely translates as Punjabi tea and it is referred to as such because spiced tea is preferred in the Punjab region. In Kashmir asking for chai would likely get you a brew of green tea, almonds, cardamom, sugar and salt (properly called kahwa).

As a westerner a request for chai in a mid-level café, restaurant or hotel anywhere in India will result in a plain cup or pot of tea being served. In this situation you would have to ask for masala chai (spiced tea). It is at cheaper hole-in-the-wall or roadside type eateries that ordering ‘chai’ will automatically get you a drink akin to a chai latte.

Despite the association of India with tea it is not native to India. The British started growing tea there in the mid nineteenth century to satisfy the huge demand for it in the United Kingdom (and amongst the elite classes in India). It was not until the mid- twentieth century that tea began to be commonly drunk by Indians. Before then plain milk had been the most popular drink in India, particularly in the north (Southern Indians were already addicted to coffee, a habit they picked up from Arab traders centuries before the British arrived on the subcontinent). During World War II the Indian Tea Board, unable to ship their product to external markets, found themselves with a huge surplus of tea. To dispose of it they hit on the idea of promoting tea boiled in milk to make it appealing to the local population. An idea that was so successful that Indians now consume more than 630 million kilograms of tea per year and India has become inexorably linked with tea drinking.

I can number precisely the chai lattes that  I have drunk in cosmopolitan cafés in India — three —and all were awful

Two of these were produced by the type of sickly sweet ‘chai’ syrup commonly used in cafes in western The other was produced by a young man in a smart uniform flopping a cardamom flavoured teabag into a cup of not quite hot enough milk and slapping a handful of sugar sachets down next to it on the marble countertop. If the cup had been plastic instead of ceramic it could have mistaken for the lamentable tea that is now commonly purveyed at Indian railway stations (whereas it was not so many years ago that railway tea came sweet and hot in bio-degradable clay cups  -see previous posts ‘Tea and Trains’ and ‘Chai & Trains II’ for more details).

Recipe

Masala Chai

Chai (latte or otherwise) served in cafes is either made from a syrup (usually overly sweet); a commercial powder or mixture similar to that described above infused in milk.

It’s worth visiting an Indian grocery store and buying some genuine Indian tea to make up this recipe. While you are there pick up some brown cardamom (burra eliachi). You can use the more familiar green variety but the brown ones have a softer smoky flavour that adds depth to the tea. The amount of spice can be adjusted to suit your taste. You might also like to add a few star anise.

Ingredients

200g plain black tea

4-6 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp cardamom pods

1 tbsp cloves

1 -2 tbsp black peppercorns

1-2 tbsp ginger powder

Method

Put all the spices except the ginger in the bowl of a mortar and pestle or an electric spice grinder and roughly grind the spices. Mix the spices in with the tea along with the ginger powder. Store in an airtight container.

Chai latte (Indian style)

You can use any type of milk for this and a sweetener of your choice. You don’t have to sweeten it but it does enhance the flavour of the spices.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

500ml milk

3-4 heaped teaspoons masala chai

honey or sugar to taste

Put the milk into a saucepan. Add the masala chai along with sweetener. Heat over a medium high heat until the milk boils and froths up. Remove from the heat and let the milk settle*. Strain into cups or glasses.

This process may be repeated again depending on how strong you like your tea.

Peel Me An Apple

When was the last time someone peeled you an apple? When you were child?

Perhaps it was as a romantic gesture?

I arrived at Dr Rashid’s home in Chamba, in the far northwest corner of the state

of Himachal Pradesh, dusty and dehydrated after an 8 hour bus journey (I find

it prudent to not drink anything on long bus journeys in India: there are rarely

toilet facilities available for women where the buses pull in for refreshments,

and if there are they are often horrendous …but I will spare you the details as

they won’t gel well with a blog about food …let’s just say that dehydration is

preferable).

Dr Rashid immediately proffered a glass of ice cold water and offered me tea

(which I was hoping he would). He then opened the small refrigerator in the

corner of his room and took from it a large red delicious apple: the fruit of his own

orchard.

He sat cross legged on the bed cum sofa and set to removing the peel from the

apple with a small knife. Slowly and purposefully he drew the blade between the

skin and the flesh separating the peel. This caused it to bob gently up and down

as it grew in length and formed itself into a spiral, its cells retaining the memory

of the flesh they had enclosed only seconds before.

Once he had disengaged all of the peel he altered his grip on the knife in his

hand and began to carve the apple in crescent shaped pieces. Another change

of grip and he removed the seeds and core. In the space of 10 minutes watching

Dr Rashid perform this process had lulled me from my ‘just off a bone crunching

bus ride’ state of mild agitation to one of ‘all is well with the world’.

As is the custom in India the apple pieces were presented to me on plate placed

on a tray, imbuing the offering with a further graciousness. I could do nothing less

than bite into the crisp cool pieces with reverence.

This was not the only apple that has been offered to me in Chamba. Yesterday in

the home of Mohammed Hamid his wife Ayisha peeled and pared one for me and

served it sprinkled with salt: something that might sound like a counterintuitive

addition but it only served to heighten the sweetness of the fruit.

Apples are grown throughout Himachal Pradesh although they are not an

indigenous species. It was the British who recognized the potential to grow

orchard fruits here and introduced apples, pears, apricots and plums to the

region in the nineteenth century. Apples have become the most economically

valuable crop of Himachal (cannabis is the second most important).

Himachali’s enjoy eating apples as a snack but my investigations so far have not

uncovered any use of apples in cookery in Chamba (or elsewhere in Himachal

Pradesh). Perhaps this is because it is a relatively new food (in the Indian time

scale) and has not yet been assimilated into the local cuisine (cannabis on

the other hand is an ancient crop and its seeds are ground to make a —non-

intoxicating—chutney).

Therefore to give you an apple based recipe I have had to turn to the neighboring

valley of Kashmir where apples and other orchard fruits have been grown for

many centuries and are commonly used in cookery. I will claim two other —

admittedly tenuous —precepts for giving this recipe while I am in apple recipe

free Chamba. Firstly Mohammed Hamid (you will get to taste the food he made

for me in an upcoming post) lives in the Kashmiri Mohalla (neighbourhood) of

Chamba and both he and Dr Rashid are Muslim and the valley of Kashmir has a

majority Muslim population.

Apple Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients

¼ cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground

2 tablespoons lime juice

½ green chili, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

3 medium sized apples, diced

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Method

Blend the yogurt, mint, ground cardamom, lime juice, chili and salt in a bowl.

Fold in the apples and walnuts. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

The mysteries of India: No. 1 in a series

India  is often described as ‘mysterious’, typically in relation to some spiritual/esoteric/religious aspect. Personally I find some of the more mundane characteristics of life here far more mysterious than anything to do with gurus, sadhus or saints. So I thought I would write an occasional series on the ‘mysteries’ of secular life in India and in some way relate these to food.

Indians generally do not enjoy being by themselves; even if an individual’s natural inclination is towards solitude the societal pressure is to conform to communalism: being alone is seen and experienced by Indians as something undesirable (the visceral reality of the population also limits the possibility of being alone).

The mobile phone has been a boon to Indians for now one need never experience one minute of solitude: just keep talking; and talk they do*, under all noise conditions —and India is a extremely noisy place. I find it almost impossible to hear someone on the phone unless I am in a quiet room (I recently had my hearing tested and it is perfectly fine so it is not a physiological problem).

Here then is the mystery: despite the Indian ability to hear someone on the other end of a mobile phone, even under industrial strength noise conditions, many people here are oblivious to the sound of an approaching motor vehicle that is mere centimeters away from them and they will step out in front of it. Even if they deign to notice the moving vehicle that I am sitting in, that looks to me like it is about to run them down, they barely flinch. Despite some VERY close encounters with pedestrians I fortunately have never been in a vehicle that has hit someone but I never fail to feel anxious about the possibility, and after the danger has been averted I then seethe with indignation at this seemingly reckless conduct.

I originally thought that this behavior was due to a failure in hearing, hence my opening preamble about the mystery of the Indian hearing ability, but in pondering this conundrum I think I have solved it.  After years of observation I have concluded that anything to do with moving vehicles in India is related solely to sight. It works like this: if you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist; and the only thing you need to see is what is directly in front of you. So the noise of a taxi barreling down upon you is irrelevant to your safety: if you don’t look at it, it can’t hit you.

This led me to conclude that perhaps the Indian government should run a health campaign to improve its citizens eyesight such that the eyeball is able to move beyond the fixed forward position it habitually adapts when encountering anything to do with road usage. The following recipe is my contribution to that campaign should my suggestion ever be taken up (while this is a ‘tongue in cheek’ piece an alarming number of people die on Indian roads every day, not only because of the dreadful driving but also because the roads are in such terrible condition).

*1. Mobile phone companies LOVE India as a market. Most adults in India, regardless of socioeconomic status, now have a mobile phone —I have seen nomadic shepherds carrying them in remote parts of Himachal Pradesh —a conservative estimate would make that a market of 400-500 million phones: kerchin$, kerching$, kerching$.

2. I read a newspaper report recently that said more Indians have mobile phones than have access to a toilet. This fact says much about the appalling failure of government here but on the up side mobile phones can have significant benefits for less advantaged members of society.

Sardines are commonly eaten by coastal fisherfolk in India. They sell the larger fish as these earn them a better price in the market and keep the less financially lucrative small fry such as sardines for their own consumption. Yet it is the sardine that is really packed full of nutrients, such as omega oils which are reportedly beneficial for eyesight. In the traditional Indian Ayuvedic medicine system curry leaves are prescribed as a food that can be used to improve eyesight. Given the prolific use of curry leaves in South Indian cookery you would expect that the people of the south would have perfect vision but the incidents of pedestrian dare devilry are just as high as in the north where the curry leaf is not used so prolifically.  Never the less I am still going to put forward a recipe with curry leaves as it may just be that the it is the combination with sardines will activate the sight improving factor in these. A similar dish, more heavily mined with red chili, can also be found in toddy shops in Kerala: perhaps it helps men to better see their way home after a few rounds of toddy.

Sardine Curry

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

½ tsp turmeric

1 kg sardines

10 black peppercorns

2 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium sized red onion, finely chopped

2 tsp ginger paste

1-2 red chillies roughly chopped or 1 red capsicum finely diced

2 tbsp garlic paste

1 stalk curry leaves

salt to taste

Method

Clean the sardines and sprinkle with the turmeric and salt, mix and set aside.

Dry roast the peppercorns, coriander and fenugreek seeds and grind to a powder.

Heat the 1 tbsp of oil over a medium high heat and when hot add the curry leaves. When these have changed colour mix in the onion and ginger paste. Cook for two minutes and add the red chilli or red pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and the chilli softened.

Mix the garlic paste with the spice powder and a little water to make a paste. Add this to the onion mix, salt to taste and cook for two minutes.

Place a large shallow fry pan over a medium high heat with one tbsp of oil. Place a layer of sardines in the pan spread these with some of the onion mix, another layer of sardines and more of the onion mix. Pour over enough water (perhaps with a little white wine or lime/lemon juice mixed in as well) to cover and cook until the sardines are cooked through and the gravy has dried off a bit.

Serve hot with rice or bread.