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Basics Featured

#1 Heat: Your Friend and Foe

This is a part of the Basics series, intended to help novice cooks with what I consider to be the building blocks of food and cooking. It would be nice if you started from the top and worked your way to the bottom.

This started with trying to help novice cooks in my Facebook group, Chef at Large and I thought of copying the same content here too.

Your best friend and worst enemy while cooking, is usually heat. Too little and your food is raw, too much and it’s burnt. Other unwanted effects include being cooked just right on the outside and raw/chilled on the inside.

Heat also removes harmful bacteria from food, may increase or reduce nutritional elements within different foods and so on.

Understanding how heat works, how it’s conducted and how it effects different foods is one of the keys to making your time in the kitchen a little easier and more productive.

There are three types of heat transfer:

  • Conduction: via direct
  • Convection: via a medium like air or
  • Radiation: via direct heat/MW waves from a source

I’m not a trainer in this subject, and might skip steps that are important for a structured lesson. If you think I’m doing so, please ask for more details.

These methods of heat transfer translate into different types of cooking techniques, such as grilling, roasting, boiling, stewing etc. Even within the context of a pot, one can have different methods such as stewing, braising, jugging, boiling etc.

At the end of the day, you’ll find it’s all about the heat and how it’s transferred, using what medium and for how long.

The easiest way to understand heat better, is eggs. I’m sorry, but I don’t know of any vegetarian food that behaves in the same manner.

Eggs can be cooked with many different kinds of heat and heat transmission, and they’re so sensitive to heat that they become the ideal foods to begin with, and end with.

Why do I say ‘end with’? Because trained chefs also need quite a bit of practice before they’re able to master eggs. If I were to use one ingredient to test how good a cook is, that would be eggs.

Would you like to try answering these? Your answers will help others.

  • How many ways do you think eggs can be cooked
  • How many types of heat conduction have you used in your
  • Can you share a method of cooking that doesn’t use heat? (excluding salads and fruit)
  • What do you think happens when we introduce too much heat too fast?
Categories
Culture

Mooli Memories

Every now and then I change the cover image of the Chef at Large group and write a small description – usually whatever immediately comes to mind. Here’s what I wrote earlier this morning. Do visit this post to see what others shared about their trysts with mooli. Some are quite interesting and our culinary cultural diversity continues to amaze me.

My earliest and fondest memories of radish / mooli is from the redi / cart outside school where this chap would have a stack of mooli on one side and a big jar of green chutney. During break or at the end of school, he’d peel them, cut them in half lengthwise, and smear a spoonful of that piquant, spicy and delicious chutney on the flat side with a spoon. We’d buy it for, maybe 50p.

That first bite of mooli would be a shock to the senses, usually somewhat cold, the flavours of the chutney shocking the palate, and God help us if the mooli was ‘strong’, sending a shock up the nostrils, sometimes leaving us gasping for breath. Every so often today, I break my fasts with a platter full of mooli and a katori of chutney. Quite a few nutrients in there, plus one of the few dishes in my list that are from childhood, low carb and satisfying too.

Then there are parathas stuffed with shredded / kaddu-kassed mooli, drenched in white butter, again with some dahi and green chutney on the side. Indu makes these parathas as two separate rotis with the stuffing in between. One side will first be lifted up causing a pillow of hot steam to escape, exposing the shreds of white mooli, speckled with red chili and dotted with bright green coriander. while butter is diligently applied all over the paratha while it cools down a bit. We rarely eat stuffed parathas these days, so each such occasion is a memorable indulgence.

Categories
Culture

The Role of a Chef Outside the Kitchen

I was asked to be part of a discussion panel at IICA’s graduation day about a month ago, and the title of this post was the topic of discussion. Here’s what my perspective was.

Food Production

Imparting knowledge of food production in a cost effective manner, to maximise both quantity and quality of output to organisations such as those involved in social welfare and reform, thus helping them make the most of usually scarce resources. Quite a few people know how to cook. You however, are training in the production of food. Your skills when applied to such situations could make all the difference to quite a few children for example, who may not otherwise have been affordable to that organisation.

Just as we have ‘Doctors without Borders’, we can also have ‘Chefs without Borders’; chefs travelling the world to regions affected by all manner of calamity, using their knowledge and skills to optimise available resources and create food production capabilities for those effected.

With an addition skill – a basic knowledge of nutrition, properties of different nutrients such as sensitivity to heat, cooking techniques for maximum retention of various nutrients, and the nutrition content of different foods, the food production systems you design in the above two scenarios would become nutrition delivery systems, making your work and role even more valuable.

We live in busy times, with barely any time for ourselves and our families and it is usually our bodies that suffer due to misinformation or lack of knowledge about food and nutrition. Armed with knowledge of both, food production and nutrition, a chef is also ideally placed to teach the principles of both, food production and nutrition to the masses, giving them a fresh lease on life, avoiding the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease we’re looking at, as a species, worldwide.

During times of economic crisis, when not only are prices of essential kitchen commodities high, but there’s also a cash crunch in most households, a chef can help the general populace cope by teaching techniques that allow a home cook to not only cook with a minimum of the basics, such as onions, but also how to stretch a rupee to the max, from a food quality and quantity point of view. At a time when families may not be able to afford to eat out, but still crave restaurant style food, your knowledge will go a long way in keeping families happier than they otherwise would, having found comfort in foods of their choice as well as having saved a few rupees.

Cultural Preservation

The preservation of the cultural aspects of food can be done in two ways primarily – via academia through theoretical conservation and via the population through practice and exposure. Chefs can play a key role in the preservation of such historical knowledge by first acquiring this knowledge and then exposing it via the establishments they’re associated with, not just via time limited promotions, but as full blown menus, with the kitchens too adapted to historical styles of cooking.

One might say this isn’t really stepping out of the kitchen. I would argue that the outcome of such an effort, when carried out in a sustained and consistent manner would result in greater cultural security of the people, resulting in lesser inter community strife given the comfort one gains from knowing one’s culture and history is safe, in addition to the numerous benefits gained from historical knowledge, which is being re-discovered by modern medical and nutritional science. In effect, this would enhance and retain the mental and corporeal health of our population in addition to keeping our multi-cultural society healthy, vibrant and happy as a whole. That, certainly is outside the kitchen.

Categories
Recipes Travel Trending

Choriz, Anda, Bread

The family and I were in Goa a couple of weeks ago and during this time, I was constantly trolled by a friend, because I wasn’t eating a dish called Choriz Poee, basically spicy Goan sausages / chorizo with a local bread called poee. In my defence, not a single restaurant served the stuff!

Poee have pockets and are dusted with wheat bran. These above were served with chilli fried pork that Cherie ate one afternoon for lunch.

On our way to the airport for the return flight home, I found a shop selling locally made rosary sausages, which are so much nicer than those in packets. Ranging in price from INR 2.50 to INR 25 per link, the fillings in these include pork skin, fat and meat, depending on the price. We also stopped by a small bakery, trying to find some pav, and found these two cats with gorgeous eyes and permanently fluffy tails. We didn’t find any pav though. A storm had caused power issues, and that prevented them from kneading and baking. Woe is me.

Both pals had really fluffy tails and lovely eyes. You can see the leaves and branches among a great deal of destruction elsewhere, due to the storm. We were lucky our flight was only delayed by an hour or so.

Once home, fearing more merciless poking by said friend, an Andhra boy BTW, we quickly cooked them.

We bought three types of these rosary sausages/choriz. What you see is about two hundred rupees worth and was enough for our dinner plus leftovers.
  • Boiled the lot
  • Removed the meat from the casings.
  • Boiled the casings in the residual water to get every bit of fat and spice in there.
  • Reduced the residual water
  • Fried onions separately
  • Added all the sausage filling plus some potatoes to the reduced residual water. Then added the onions fried separately.
The vinegary taste reduced a bit due to boiling, and I was thankful for that. It’s the one thing I don’t like about Goan choriz. The rest of the flavours were retained and so was all the water used for boiling the stuff.

The poee I made wasn’t really poee. More like leavened (yeast), thick, whole wheat phulkas. Made it on the gas and puffed them on the naked flame. All they had in common with poees, were the pockets.

Choriz, Anda, Bread. Poor plating, I know. But we were hungry!

The lot was then put on a plate along with a chopped up omelette, sent photo to abovementioned troll/friend. Phew. :D

Categories
Culture

Five Foods for Divine Consumption

Hinduism and related works are a veritable treasure trove of information on many aspects of our existence, including life, death, food, medicine, the physical, metaphysical and more.

The following pointers come from Anushasana Parva, which is book #13 of 18 that comprise the entire Mahabharatha. Known as the “Book of Instructions” or “Book of Precepts”, this book discusses the duties of a ruler among other related aspects. [2] The version I have with me is a translation by Pratap Chandra Roy (1842 – 1895) [3], and book XI of the series.

As per this sub-section of the undeniably epic Mahabharatha, the following five foods must never be cooked for oneself, but always offered to the deities. [1]

  1. Samyava
  2. Krisara
  3. Meat
  4. Sashkuli
  5. Payasa

Samyava is described as following by different sources as being

  1. Patties made of wheat flour, mixed with milk, and fried in ghee. [5]
  2. A thin cake of unleavened bread, fried with ghee, pounded and again made up into an oblong form with fresh bread, sugar and spices, and again fried with ghee [2]

Two, slightly more elaborate explanation, almost recipes, are as follows [4]:

Refined wheat flour, fried with ghee, then mixed with sugar and marica followed by infusion with the powders of ela, lavanga and karpura, stored in a crucible of kneaded, refined wheat flour and again fried in ghee. Finally this fried food should be soaked in sugar syrup, at which point it is called Samyava.

Refined wheat flour, kneaded with honey and milk, fried in ghee, soaked in sugar syrup, sprinkled over with powders of marica, ela, subhra and karpura. This is called Samyava, which is like ambrosia.

Krisara, described in the book as a “liquid food made of milk, sesame, rice, sugar and spices” [1], sounding quite like what we know as kheer, though in the context of Ayurveda, it’s also described as a “thick paste gruel” [6].

Meat, here I assume refers to any fish, meat or poultry dish.

Sashkuly, is described in the Srimad Bhagwatam as a large, ear-shaped cake made of rice flour, sugar and sesame, and fried in ghee [7] and as “a kind of pie” in the Mahabharatha [1].

Finally, Payasa, apparently the simplest of the lot, appears to be the closest to a simple kheer, being “rice boiled in sugar and milk.

My Interpretation

We live in an age of self-indulgence, plying ourselves with all manner of treats and indulgences, both culinary and otherwise sensory. My constant takeaway with all manner of ancient books is the depth to which the authors were acquainted with the human psyche, which doesn’t appear to have changed very much in the last few thousand years.

Given our propensity towards self destruction through self indulgence, and the authors’ certainty of that probability, I believe the purpose of these foods being accorded special status was to keep them away from regular use by regular people, thus keeping said people healthier through a religious system of regulated self-denial.

In the case of meat, especially with the same book saying that “One should never eat the flesh of animals not slain in sacrifices” [1], I believe the intent was to promote conservation in addition to moderation.

What do you think?

References:

  1. The Mahabharatha in 12 Volumes
  2. Anushasana Parva
  3. Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Pratap Chandra Roy
  4. Materia Medica of Ayurveda: Based on: Madanapala’s Nighantu By Vaidya Bhagwan Dash
  5. Student Britannica India
  6. Role of Pathya Aahara Kalpana (Diet) In Maintenance of Healthy Lifestyle
  7. ?B 11.27.34
Categories
Columns

The Top 10 Foods We Stress Eat

A couple of days ago, I asked folks on Chef at Large what they ate when emotionally stressed. That post received over 750 responses of all sorts, though a pattern was more or less apparent on going through the responses.

Our stress eating usually based on childhood conditioning and remnants of our evolutionary past. Childhood conditioning is usually about repeating patterns inculcated during our childhoods, when we were given foods to placate our childhood selves, and we continue eating the same foods when stressed, as adults. Evolutionary remnants are about our heading for sweet, salty or fatty foods, behaviour that used to be a part of our survival instincts aeons ago, and still survives within us.

Interestingly, the second most quoted response was ‘Nothing’, which was quite nice to see, as in some of us beating the urge (or not experiencing it at all) to stuff ourselves when upset, which is always a nice thing to see.

The Bottom Five

10 Butter – At the very bottom, we have butter, a food this country loves and reveres. Thankfully, in this context, it wasn’t as a food, but as part of a dish. This includes butter chicken, peanut butter, toast and butter and aloo ka paratha with butter among others.

Butter is closely followed by:

  • Pizza
  • Cheese
  • Chicken and
  • Cake

The Next Three

The usual instinct I’ve seen is to eat something, but quite a few folks prefer drinking (#4) something after an argument or other stress inducing activity. It could be a hot drink, such as tea (#3) or coffee (#5), or it could be alcoholic. Regardless, drinking as opposed to eating definitely seems to be a preference amongst a significant number of us.

The Top Two!

The second most popular refuge for the emotional eaters amongst us is… you’re right, ice cream! This could also be a social outcome of the dozens of movies where a tub of ice cream is shown as the ideal refuge for a bad mood.

The #1 food eaten in an emotional state is, and you’re right again, chocolate! But then, you already knew that, yes?

So, that’s the list. If any of you are curious about the original comments that led me to this conclusion, here it is. What’s your stress-eating go-to? Leave a comment, okay?

If you’re facing a weight problem that stress eating is partially responsible for, click here.

Categories
Reviews

Awesome Korean Food in Greater NOIDA

Greater NOIDA has this very mixed bunch of residents, of which Koreans constitute a small part. A few restaurants have sprung up in the area to cater to their culinary needs, such as Shimter restaurant.

Located in Ansal’s Golf Link 1 in Greater NOIDA, Shimter exists in a three story residential house. Staffed by Koreans and folks from north Eastern India, service is friendly, prompt and informed, though language can be a bit of a barrier.

Indu, Cherie and I were shown to a bare room, with a table seating four and an attached bathroom – as private as it gets, and since the walls are solid brick, being a bit loud is fine too.

As with every Korean meal, a complimentary variety of little dishes, collectively called Banchan, are placed on the table. These are refilled without added cost and usually quite tasty and a nice way to start the evening without ordering additional snacks.

We ordered one of my favourites, Budae Jigae, a Korean dish with a history, which I’m sure you’ll find quite interesting. The recipe varies from cook to cook and restaurant to restaurant, though the elements remain quite similar. This one contained chicken, smoked pork sausages, sliced pork spam, noodles, kimchi, spring onions, sliced tofu and vegetables, the lot immersed in a spicy broth. It was placed in a large pan on our table, atop a portable stove, and the noodles cooked in front of us. Each of us was also served with a portion of hot, steaming sticky rice.

We also asked for a large portion of fried chicken, which even though an ordinary dish otherwise, was quite a bit more delicious than other versions I’ve tasted. These were accompanied by beer and Soju.

If you’re in Greater NOIDA, where there is a severe dearth of quality restaurants, Shimter is a great option.

Categories
Reviews

PappaRoti: Quite Avoidable

We visited PappaRoti in DLF Mall of India in Sector 18, NOIDA. The restaurant was empty at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon in a mall though the interiors were well done, clean and comfortable. We started with coffee and light eats, proceeding to a light lunch after our meeting was done.

The Classic Bun (INR 195++) is excellent.

The staff are warm, friendly, untrained, ineffective and do not understand hygiene. The manager doesn’t appear to prioritise hygiene either.

Our waiter sneezed into his hands, in front of us and the manager, rubbed them against each other, then proceeded to handle food, cutlery and credit card machine. I’m afraid that makes it my last visit. Rule of thumb is, it’s probably much worse in a private area, that which is being done in a public area. For instance, if the restrooms are unclean, the kitchen is likely worse.

Our waiter also cleared our table, including unfinished beverages. Denied doing so on being informed.

The inside of the Classic Bun (INR 195++) is mostly hollow and is a treat.

The classic bun (INR 195++) is awesome and must be tried once. It’s buttery, crisp, soft, warm, comforting and ridiculously delicious all at once, not to mention the flavours of coffee and caramel lurking in the background.

It’s uniqueness lies in its excellent crust and the very hollow insides, much like a Pizza Express dough ball. Our coffee (Black, INR 145++) was average.

The Chicken Keema Chow (INR 525) was disappointing.

We tried the Chicken Keema Chow (INR 525++). It was essentially half a loaf of bread, 4-5 tablespoons of chicken keema and perhaps 6 potato wedges. The chicken keema was peppery, I could discern some salt and that was it for most part. The bread wasn’t too fresh either, and had begun drying around the edges and the insides – none of the joy that one would expect from the crust of a recently baked loaf of bread.

The rest of the menu comprised the usual suspects of dal makhani, butter chicken and biryanis among others, none of which we tried.

The interiors at PappaRoti are well done and inviting.

I spoke to a couple seated at an adjoining table, who had ordered two portions of Chili Chicken Gravy with Veg Hakka Noodles (INR 399++). Surprisingly, their identical orders were delivered separately, with perhaps a 10 minute gap between each. They didn’t like their food much, nor the service. What I saw of the portions were quite small – barely a few mouthfuls of chicken and noodles.

PappaRoti is unreasonably expensive, fails to properly deliver food, hygiene and service (they levy a 10% service charge) and is best avoided until they’re able to figure things out.

(PL::12m)

Categories
Culture

Seven Chillies and a Lemon

I saw some shrivelled chillies and some lemons lying about this morning, reminding me of the very common sight, especially in north India, of a lemon strung up with seven green chillies, usually at the doorway or entrance to a building or home. Sometimes, they’re even seen hanging on street food carts and vehicle bumpers. You’ll also find decorative pieces on Amazon in metal and ceramic depicting the same objects.

That they were for good luck, or to ward off back luck, I knew, but that was all. That decided the topic of today’s post – seven chillies and a lemon.

A little digging found me reading about the sister of a revered Hindu goddess, Alakshmi, the elder sister of Lakshmi, who most of us know of. Elder, because Vishnu created her before creating Padma, or Lakshmi. At the time, Vishnu was engaged in creating a dual aspect to the universe – good and evil. Due to her being elder, Alakshmi is also known as Jyestha (the elder). [1]

As the story goes, she married a sage named Duhsaha, who after seeing his wife’s distressed behaviour around all that was good and virtuous, happened to meet with the great sage, Markandeya, who narrated his problem and was given a specific list of the types of places he could visit with his wife and the types of places he mustn’t visit with her. As expected one list is all those deemed pious and holy, and the second, all else. [1]

Also known as Nirrti [2], Alakshmi has mention in Hymn 10-059 of the Rigveda, where she is implored to depart. [3]

Per folklore, the two sisters once asked a merchant which of them was more beautiful. The merchant, not wanting to anger either, said Lakshmi was beautiful when she enters a home and Alakshmi, when she leaves it. Consequently, both are respected and acknowledged, though only Lakshmi, is welcomed. [4]

The sweets that Lakshmi is said to like, are placed within a house so she enters. The sour and pungent flavours that Alakshmi is said to favour are placed outside the house, so she is satiated and has no desire to enter. [4]

The correct number of each, is apparently seven chillies and one lemon, though I have no reference for this.

Did you know this? If you know more, please do share in the comments below.

References:

  1. Linga Purana, J.L. Shastri, Chapter 6
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nir%E1%B9%9Bti
  3. Rig Veda, Ralph T.H. Griffith (translation)
  4. Myth = Mithya: Decoding Hindu Mythology, Devdutt Pattanaik