As a family, we like our food and we both love and hate our carbs. So we cooperate with any attempt to reduce their presence in our lives. Elimination, in case you’re wondering, is both impractical and not really healthy unless you know what you’re doing.
This stew is a mixture of a number of vegetables and one grain – bajra. I soaked the stuff for 3 whole days, trying to see if it would grow in size and when it would soft enough to eat by itself. The water was changed every 12 hours or so and it lay on the kitchen platform, it being cool enough these days to do so. It never grew in size, though it did get soft enough to eat by itself, though with a slight bite.
Lauki, 1 small-medium, diced
Radish, 2 medium, diced (root and leaves)
Carrots, 1 small, diced
Spinach, one bundle, washed, trimmed and chopped
Mushrooms, 1 packet, diced
Parval, 2 pieces, trimmed, cleaned and sliced (no seeds)
We visited Cherie’s school to pick up books for her 12th standard and found ourselves at the end of a very long line. I did what any caring parent would have done – asked her to stand in line and headed to the snacks counter while she probably glared ineffectually.
This school likely has the unhealthiest food I’ve ever seen in any place that serves food, and prepares it with the full knowledge that students don’t have any other place to buy from. This translates into shoddily prepared and stored food. Thankfully, I can count on my fingers the number of times she’s gone without a packed lunch and has been handed lunch money instead.
On the other hand, since we’re so careful at home, I do enjoy a few bites of this sort of food every now and then. It also helps somewhat in drowning out the trauma of PTMs. On this day, I bought a potato burger, the buns deep fried and literally (I mean, literally) saturated with oil. Each bite caused little spurts of oil to flood my palate and the deep fried potato patty in the centre was an oasis of health and wellness in comparison.
Afterwards, we headed home and I thought of making it up to her with a nice meal. On the way home, we stopped and picked up a lauki (bottle gourd), a bundle of pudina (mint), a few tomatoes and some spring onions.
When home, Cherie washed some rice and lobia (black eyed beans), and put it into a pressure cooker on the gas. I chopped the lauki and put it to boil in a pan with some water, prepared the dressing and sliced some tomatoes. When the rice was done, we fried a couple of eggs, grilled a few chunks of paneer (cottage cheese), plated the lot and it all came together beautifully.
The dressing of course was key, but so were the different textures from the ingredients. Admittedly the non-dressing ingredients don’t have a lot of flavour, but the dressing more than makes up for it.
Serves 2 – 3
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10-12 minutes
Half a medium lauki, sliced thick (2 slices per portion)
1 Tomato, sliced thick (2 slices per portion)
1 cup Rice, washed
1/2 cup Lobia, washed
2 Eggs, fried sunny side up (3 if you want to make a third portion)
2/3 of a 200 gm packet of Paneer, grilled
Fresh ground peppercorns, for the egg
3 Spring onions, chopped
10 Mint leaves, chopped
3 tbsp Soy sauce (light)
1 tsp Fish sauce
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 Lemon, juice
1/2 tsp Sesame oil
2 tsp Sesame seeds
1/2 tsp Sugar
Cook the rice and lobia together.
Boil the lauki.
Grill the paneer
Fry the eggs
Assemble all the ingredients for the dressing
Buy some good soy sauce – it makes all the difference.
Light soy sauce for flavour, dark soy sauce for colour
I didn’t add salt to anything. There’s enough in the dressing.
The eggs were ‘fried’ with a brushing of oil in a non-stick kadhai, covered.
For round fried eggs, consider frying them in a kadhai.
I don’t like lobia much and find it boring, except in such applications.
Experiment with the proportions in the dressing.
Fish sauce has a strong flavour that is an acquired taste.
Cherie had a friend coming over and I so like feeding people in addition to trying to expose kids to flavours they may not have tasted before. This was Holi and we were confined to our quarters all day; a good opportunity to cook, not that I really need one.
Given how much I adore bowl meals, and how great they taste, and how great they look … I went with making a rice bowl for our early dinner.
These bowls have different components and can be as simple or complex as you want them to be. At it’s simplest, your rice bowl could be just rice, broth and one topping. Me? I like ’em grand.
One point of caution: the more the toppings, the bigger the bowl.
As with quite a few, perhaps most of my food, concepts keep forming and are continually considered, discarded and adopted, until the final picture makes complete sense.
The first thing I needed was rice, which Indu took over. I suck at cooking rice. I asked her to please make it sticky. The next ingredient was broth. Now that’s usually tricky, since broths need to taste really good. Something like with Dal-Roti, the dal needs to be delicious or the whole meal is a goner.
Whenever I buy pork, I save the skin for stocks, soups and broths. It’s full of gelatin and is a great use for pork skin, which many tend to discard. So, into the pot of water it went, followed by Tibetan chilli paste, whole onions (with skin, chopped in half), tomatoes (whole, chopped in half), garlic (whole pod, chopped in half), dried basil, aniseed (saunf), peppercorns, green chillies (whole), fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. It cooked on low heat for about 3 hours, was then strained and further reduced until the consistency and intensity of flavours were how I wanted them.
I take quite a bit of pride in being able to rustle up a variety of dishes using only what’s in my kitchen at that point, and this day was no exception. Rummaging through the freezer, vegetable basket and other locations was a fruitful exercise and threw up stuff enough to complete the meal.
A few shrimp turned up in the freezer, which I blanched and tossed with sliced cucumber, sliced carrots, pork bits (trimmed from the pork skin) in a room temperature mixture of soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice, sesame oil, sugar and sesame seeds.
On one hand there are meals we can literally eat without looking at our plates. That’s one of the reasons we overeat – there’s virtually no interaction with the food. Then there are meals like these that demand interaction and simply cannot be eaten without paying attention to what’s on our plates. I try to make most of my food such.
Cherie took over making Ramen eggs, which have solid whites and liquid yolks. If you like your fried eggs sunny side up and dislike solid, dry, cooked-through, boring yolks as we do, you’ll love Ramen eggs. The rule of thumb is room temperature eggs, perhaps soaked for a bit in warm water to raise their temperature so they don’t crack, cooked for 6 minutes in boiling water and then placed in an ice bath for 3 minutes. The initial 6 minutes cooks the whites and the ice bath stops the cooking process so the yolks remain liquid. Given we don’t really have eggs graded by size in India, you may need to experiment. I find this timing works best with brown eggs that have thicker shells than white broiler eggs. The yolks have vivid orange/yellow hues too and look lovely. They taste better as well.
I found these beautiful soup bowls in Majnu ka Tila (Delhi) that are larger than average, which we usually use for bowl meals. You also want to think about how the food will be eaten. If with chopsticks or forks, ,then the ingredients need to be somewhat chunky so they can be picked up easily and the rice should be sticky or clumpy. If spoons are preferred, then the ingredients must be chopped smaller.
A bottle on the window sill turned up some raw peanuts that were then pan roasted with oil and salt. Cucumber and carrots were cut into sticks and drizzled with sugary vinegar. Spring onion greens were chopped.
For meals to be interactive, the diner must be rewarded for paying attention to the food. Different combinations of flavours and textures are what we need to do so. Think of crisp, crunchy, soft, sour, sweet, chilli and so on that the diner can combine in different ways so as to deliver different experiences with every bite.
Finally, I found a bottle gourd and some kohlrabi greens. The bottle gourd was finely sliced, steamed and soaked in soy sauce. The greens were trimmed, blanched, squeezed (really hard) into a ball, chopped finely (or into bite sized pieces) and then mixed with finely sliced raw garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Finally, our meal was ready. What remained was how to plate it. Sure, it’ll be mostly mixed together when eating, but it must still look pleasing at first glance. For example, if the rice were placed on the side with the rest of the ingredients on the other side then the broth would drown half the ingredients and they wouldn’t be seen. After considering a couple of scenarios, I went with rice at the bottom, the toppings on the side and the broth poured into the middle, allowing the broth to be unseen, in favour of the rest being visible.
This meal tasted wonderful, was satisfying to cook and to eat. This format is great for enjoying food and conversation together and makes for a lively table. I hope you cook and like it. :)