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Sarson, Rice, Dal

I received a bunch of ingredient suggestions from the Safal Team this month, with one caveat; there should be at least one khichdi recipe amongst the lot. I confess, that while khichdi, is one of my favourite dishes, and I’ll take some care to ensure there’s pickle, raw onions and desi ghee when eating it, I’ve never, ever thought of cooking it, let alone actually cooked it.

safal

This recipe was created for The Right Side of Life, a Safal community on Facebook. If you’re interested in eating healthier and involving food in different aspects of wellness, this is a group for you. We’re planning lots of activities and content for this group that I’m sure you’ll love!

So, this is my first time making any sort of khichdi, let alone some of the more elaborate one’s you’ve probably done. Be kind please. The haldi is missing from this recipe on purpose, so the colour ends up a nice, bright green.

Ideally, I must have pickle, ghee and raw onions with my khichdi.

Ingredients:

  • Step 1
    • Masoor Dal, 1/2 cup, washed and drained (about 100gm)
    • Rice, 1 cup, washed, pre-soaked for 30 minutes and drained (about 200 gm)
    • Salt to taste
    • Green chillies x3 pieces, slit
    • Garam masala x1 tbsp
  • Step 2
    • Sarson/Mustard leaves, 1 bunch, washed and trimmed.
    • Ginger, 1″ piece, finely chopped
    • Garlic, 6 cloves, finely chopped
  • Peanuts, crushed
  • Garnish
    • Chilli Pickle (I used Safal)
    • Raw onions
    • Ghee (I used Mother Dairy)
    • Peanuts, whole

Method:

  1. Put all the ingredients from ‘Step 1’ into a cooker, mix well, and cook until the rice is done, but not too mashed.
  2. Put all the ingredients from ‘Step 2’ into a cooker, mix well and cook for 1 whistle. Remove, drain and puree finely.
  3. Mix the outcomes from ‘Step 1’ and ‘Step 2’ with the crushed peanuts, pour into a plate, garnish with the ingredients from ‘Garnish’, and serve.

Notes:

  • Adjust garam masala and chillies to your liking.
  • Sarson ka saag sometimes has thick stalks. Peel these stalks of the fibrous outer casing, coarsely chop and add to the ingredients of step 2. I would also consider blanching these and adding them to the garnish or whole, like the peanuts, for crunch.
  • The role of the peanuts is for added crunch. I forgot to add the peanut garnish.
  • Given the number of pickles we have in this country, it is easy to vary flavour profiles simply by changing the pickle used.

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Rice Bowl #2: Back to School

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

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Dressing
    • 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

Method

  • Cook the rice and lobia together.
  • Boil the lauki.
  • Grill the paneer
  • Fry the eggs
  • Assemble all the ingredients for the dressing
  • Plate.

Notes

  • 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.
  • I used a grill pan for the paneer.
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Recipes

Rice Bowl #1: A Surprise Visit

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.

This combination is great by itself and maybe some noodles for a delicious cold salad

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.

See how the two eggs on top are squished against each other? That’s because the yolks are liquid inside. This is how you can tell you’ve done a good job without cutting them open.

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. :)

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The Diplomat’s Table

And there I was, holding a fork bearing a clump of steaming risotto, trying to pay equal attention to the textures in the rice, the points of view wafting between the seated nine and being careful not to forget the wine. The risotto was perfectly done, not too mushy nor too hard, neither too cheesy or at all greasy and it went perfectly with the glass of white at my side.

I had walked into my host, Alessandro’s home, 20 minutes late, hoping he hadn’t started cooking, looking forward as I was to observing an Italian cook a quintessentially Italian dish in an Italian home. Commercial food at the end of the day is mass produced and cannot hold a candle to good home cooking, as much as they might dim the lights and glorify the chef. Fortunately, Alessandro hadn’t started on the risotto and a few minutes later, invited me into his kitchen.

A steel stockpot lay bubbling on the stove, a pile of frizzy, grated parmesan in a bowl alongside a little chopping board with sliced porcini mushrooms and another bowlful of soaked, drained and chopped mushrooms, just below a shelf with a glass container full of amber liquid – soaking saffron. The oven was cold and atop it was an aluminium roasting tray containing a thick tenderloin, tied with string, sprigs of rosemary jutting forth, the bottom of the tray covered with a roiling mixture of juices, wine and olive oil.

Under Italian law, only cheese produced in certain provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, references to which can be found as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio.

Beside it was a stack of plates with what looked like east European design, which I couldn’t help but fondle. “That Czechoslovakian dinner set was a present from my mother when I entered the diplomatic services”, said my host, noticing my interest.

Zwiebelmuster or Blue Onion is a fine porcelain tableware pattern for dishware that first started production in the 18th century in Germany, and was modelled after a pattern first created by Chinese porcelain painters.

In another corner was a kitchen scale laden with half a pack of Carnaroli rice. “I’m cooking for 10 people, so it’s 700 grams of rice”, said Alessandro, as he removed his jacket and stood in the middle of the kitchen rolling up white shirtsleeves. Preparing to make the first course of the evening, he quickly made the transition from diplomat to cook.

Carnaroli is the most commonly used rice in Italy, has a longer grain and keeps its shape better than the more commonly known, Arborio rice. Available on Amazon.

“You have to treat your risotto like your wife”, said the cook, “never leaving its side as it cooks and giving it all your attention until it is done”, and true to his words, he never left that pot for a single moment. “The rice must be touched as little as possible”, he added, in a somewhat contrasting addition to the ‘wife’ analogy.

There are very few sights as satisfying as watching a knob of butter melt in a hot pan and that’s what we started with. Moving on, the rice was toasted until the pot exuded the telltale aroma of roasting grain, at which point a few generous glugs of white wine were added. Some moments after, the cook shifted his attention to the bubbling stock pot. “The rice and the stock must be at the same temperature”, he murmured, as he ladled stock onto the rice, gently stirring around the edges until the stock was gone, leaving in its place a gentle creaminess that would be the high point of the dish later.

“I don’t like using too much butter in the house”, said the cook as he continued feeding ladle after ladle of stock to the rice, “but with risotto, there is no choice”. Simple words that highlight the importance of food, culture and tradition all at once. “Get yourself a spoon from that drawer there”, he instructed, “and taste some of this”, which I did. The rice wasn’t done yet, still bearing a bit of crunch, though it was getting creamier and I could taste the mild flavours of mushrooms, toasted grain and butter. I was looking forward to his definition of ‘al dente’. About 25 minutes after starting, the rice was pronounced done, saffron and mushrooms having been mixed in and word was sent from the kitchen to the guests, asking them to please be seated.

Then came the final and perhaps the most important step – the addition of large amounts of grated parmesan cheese and butter, the whole lot coming together to create a pot full of creamy, flavourful risotto. Turning his attention to the stack of plates, Alessandro ladled a portion of rice into each, smartly slapping the bottom until the rice spread out flat over the plate and passed it to Gloria, their cook, who garnished each platter with slices of porcini mushrooms and a few strands of saffron before sending it out to the dining room. A few minutes later, back in a jacket, the cook returned to being a host and we seated ourselves at the dining table.

The ideal risotto will be subtly flavoured, with different elements (such as cheese and butter) in harmony, a bit of bite in every grain and the whole bound with creamy notes.

So, there I was, eating fork fulls of that delicious, steaming risotto – creamy and buttery and cheesy and mushroomy, sipping a perfectly paired wine and quite content to sit back and listen to the conversation at the table.

Conversation is an underrated part of our meals, and judging by most couples I see dining out, a dying art too. Seated at our table were a historian, a hotelier, a bureaucrat and a food writer, mingled with a legation of diplomats, with perhaps three generations between the lot of us. The resultant waves of conversation were nuggets of experience, perception and opinion that one would be otherwise hardpressed to find – thoughts that were expressed with all the eloquence one gathers over a lifetime of living; every one at the table clearly had.

These slices of roast tenderloin were medium-well done, flavoured with pan gravy and accompanied by buttery mashed potatoes.

Our meal continued with slices of roast tenderloin, dollops of mashed potatoes, flavourful gravy, more wines and finished with a pie stuffed with delicately flavoured ricotta cheese and an assortment of chocolate truffles and bon bons.

This lattice-top pie was stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese, delicately flavoured with orange essential oils, and accompanied by Marsala, a Sicilian wine.

I have no doubt there is finer food in my future, nor am I likely to find myself bereft of interesting company. Superlative versions of both however, at the right time, in the right place are unlikely to be found quite so quickly, making this an evening to remember.