Friday, 30 October 2015

Pork Ularthiyathu: Kerala Syle Pork Roast


The Spectator

"Why don't you go and talk to some of those who have come from other places? You are always so silent. You should talk to others!"

I had tried, though I didn't argue the point.
I was in the midst of a thousand people, and yet I could have been a thousand miles away from them. This aloofness of theirs is nothing new, though it frightens me every now and then. They flit past me as though I was not there, busy with their own things or searching for their friends. I can see their eyes, either hastily pulling away from me or just staring straight through, as if I was invisible.

It used to keep me on the edge, irritate and depress me. Happily, I have come out of that phase. The skip and the dance don’t really bother me now. I can even be amused by it all if I try. Or at least that is what I want to believe myself; for sometimes this staunch impassivity does worry me and makes me wonder whether there is something really repulsive about me or if it is just a general disinterest of others in a tongue tied person.

I am the spectator. Not even the curtain puller - just a plain spectator; one who has no part in the act. Solemn and Silent.

In a place where one wouldn't expect it to happen; where one would think everyone present is bound by a joyous spirit of oneness, I stand out. But then, I have always been bad at conversing with people.

I would rather listen than speak.
I would rather walk alongside and catch you when you stumble than make myself seen.
I would rather be the spectator than the lively performer.
The passages above verges on sounding cryptic, I know. It was advertent.

As for the recipe, Pork is not usually on the menu here. But we do love it and buy it at most once in a year and usually on an impulse. This time was no different. A couple of months ago, we had gone to a store, hoping to find fish fresher than what was being sold by our regular store. Alas! Their supply was even more pathetic than our regular place's; and that is saying a lot, considering the sickening sky dive in quality that the latter has taken in the last half year or so.

Sigh!
We should actually go to a local market. That's out best bet. Not that we don't know of it. But the 'getting up early' doesn't happen for us, except on Sundays for Church. By the time we will manage to drag our lazy selves to the markets, there won't be much left. An even greater factor is that vendors seem to sense our ingrained inability to argue and bid with them the moment they see us. Invariably, we get quoted obnoxiously high prices.

So we like to pretend that there is no choice left to us than to scour the stores for dead-not-long-ago fish; the 'not long ago' period being more stretched than we are happy about it on some days. (Sorry, that was gross. But I couldn't help it. Excuse the rant of someone who used to live near backwaters, with a husband whose home is a short drive from the beach.) So anyway, I didn't want to return home empty handed from the second store too and since they had pork, we thought it better to go for it.

My sister and I normally go for a Vindaloo like curry with pork, though this time around, I wanted to cook a Kerala version.

Pork Ularthiyathu: Kerala Syle Pork Roast

Ingredients:

To Marinate and then Pressure Cook:
  1. Pork - 1/2 kg
  2. Onions, sliced - A scant cup
  3. Garlic, crushed - 1/2 tbsp.
  4. Ginger, sliced and then crushed - 1/2 tbsp.
  5. Home made Meat Masala Powder - 1 tbsp.
  6. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1 tsp.
  7. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  8. Natural White Vinegar - 1/2 tbsp.
  9. Curry Leaves - 5 or 6
  10. Salt
  11. Water
To Roast the Meat:
  1. Shallots, sliced finely - 1/2 cup
  2. Sliced Coconut - 1/3 to 1/2 cup
  3. Ginger and Garlic, Freshly pounded together - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  4. Coriander Powder - 1 heaping tbsp.
  5. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tbsp.
  6. Home made Meat Masala Powder - 1 tsp. + More if needed. (See Notes.)
  7. Curry Leaves - 1 stalk
  8. Salt - To taste
  9. Sugar - A pinch
  10. Coconut Oil - If needed. (You most probably will be able to skim the fat off of the pressure cooked gravy. I use this separated fat alone in the making of the masala.)
Directions:

Marinate the pork with everything mentioned in the first section of ingredients except water and keep aside for half to one hour.

After that, add just enough water and pressure cook the pork till done. (You can use a heavy pot with a tight lid too. That would take you much longer than a pressure cooker though.)

Once the meat is done, heat up another pan. Skim the fat off the cooked pork and add it to the pan. Add the pounded ginger and garlic and sauté till the raw smell is gone. Add the shallots and cook till they turn a light brown. Now add all the powders, curry leaves and sliced coconut. (You can add the sliced coconut along with the shallots too.) Quickly stir around (sprinkle a bit of water if the heat is too much to prevent the spices from burning.)

Now add the cooked meat and a pinch of sugar. Bring everything to a boil and then allow to simmer till the gravy reaches a consistency that you prefer. I have allowed the gravy to almost dry up, though not quite so. Check for seasoning and add salt as well as meat masala if needed.
Serve warm with rice and other sides.

Notes:
  1. As with dishes of this kind, the pork roast tastes better the next day. So I would recommend preparing it a day ahead.
  2. If the meat masala is freshly ground, you might not need to add it along with the other spices when roasting the meat. In that case, taste and add if needed once the gravy gets thick.
  3. The way the final dish is going to look like depends a bit on your expertise with this style of cooking. It takes a bit of patience to bring everything together. A well roasted dish will not taste burnt or nearly burnt. (I like to leave a bit of gravy sticking on, rather than making it too dry for pork, unlike in the case of this Beef Roast that was posted some time ago.)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

HE who Bestows and Revokes



"   And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, 
     who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. 
     It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. 

     I, the Lord, have spoken, 
     and I will do what I said!   "

Ezekiel 17:24, From The Story of Two Eagles, NLT

Notes:
  1. A filtered late evening view of a Jack fruit tree that once graced the courtyard back home. This shot, though not perfect is dear to me as I didn't know that the tree was going to be cut down. Though sad, it was inevitable that we had to let go of the grandfather tree for it was beginning to lean towards the house. A familiar sight lost - yet again.  

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Semia Payasam: Indian Dessert with Vermicelli



"   There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage.
      In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, 
      one of which bore white and the other red roses. 
      She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, 
      and one was called Snow-white, and the other Rose- red.  
      They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful 
      as ever two children in the world were,  
      only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. 
      Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields 
      seeking flowers and catching butterflies; 
      but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her housework, 
      or read to her when there was nothing to do.   "


Snow White and Rose Red...

That's who we imagined ourselves to be when we were little children. My sister S was Rose-red and I was Snow-white. How fun it all was! Our dispositions more or less resembled (and still resemble!) them too, though that was not primarily why we chose our respective characters. I was always the quiet, book reading, home bound type (I'm not sure whether everyone will concede with the 'gentle' part ;)). My sister was of course of the chatty, outgoing, catching butterflies (and secretly closing the palms a bit, so that she can feel wings fluttering inside) nature.
You might be wondering what is common with a couple of fairy tale characters and the dessert that obviously is what this post should be about. I was frankly at a loss as to what to write for this post and had been toying with a couple of ideas. That was when I happened to remember our role plays with Snow-white and Rose-red years ago. And it sort of amused me that when it came to 'Payasams' (Indian puddings with a loose consistency), our preferences were reversed as far as the colour and depth in flavour of payasams were concerned. In fact at home, we were neatly divided in two over our tastes.

The comparatively delicate, easier to cook, off white shaded Semia (Vemicelli) Payasam was my Dad's and S's choice. My Mom and I on the other hand, preferred the more evolved flavours of the laborious to make and hard to get right 'Cherupayar Parippu Payasam' (Payasam made with husked green gram, jaggery, coconut milk etc.) That said, I'm more comfortable tasting the Semia Payasams that other people make. My Grandmother and Mom used to make Cherupayar Parippu Payasam so exquisitely that they have spoilt me for life. Most people don't get it right - mostly because they take some short cut or the other - and it stands out in the end. It is so difficult to come across a good one; or rather one that suits my tastes.
However, today is all about my Dad and S's 'White Payasam'. So my woes of imperfectly made 'Black Payasams' can wait. As was mentioned earlier, Semia Payasam is one of the easiest desserts that you can make. It doesn't take many ingredients or too much time and can easily be made ahead. (In fact you should make it ahead if possible to bring out the creaminess. See Notes.) Normally, all payasams are served warm (or worse, piping hot). However, I prefer to have them refrigerated and served slightly cold.

The photos for this post were shot a few months ago, back in May. My cousin A who stays in the same city as ours called me up one day during a power outage (At last, one good thing about the usually annoying power cuts - they connect people!). In the midst of the conversation he mentioned his love for Semia Payasam and that his wife had made it for him on his birthday. Since he reminded me of the dessert and it is a favourite of the Techie's too, I made the payasam that week and shot it. Somehow, the edited photos got pushed into a corner by newer ones and they never got posted. Better late than never though!

Semia Payasam: Indian Dessert with Vermicelli

Ingredients:
  1. Broken Vermicelli - 1/2 cup (I use a pre roasted one to save trouble. However, you can start with the roasted option too. It just takes an extra step to roast it.)
  2. Whole Milk - 3 cups
  3. Sweetened Condensed Milk - A scant 1/2 cup (Start with a third cup and then taste and adjust.)
  4. Cardamom Powder - A couple of pinches or to taste. (See Notes.)
  5. Ghee (Clarified Butter) - Generous 1/2 tbsp. or enough to shallow fry the cashews and raisins.
  6. Cashew Nuts, halved or broken - 1/8 cup
  7. Golden Raisins - 1/8 cup
Directions:

You will have to start with roasting the vermicelli if you have the non roasted kind with you. For that, you have to heat up a heavy bottomed pan and roast the vermicelli with some ghee till it turns a golden shade, stirring frequently. Once done, keep aside.

Now pour the milk into a heavy bottomed vessel and bring it to a boil. I like to reduce the milk just a little bit, especially if I will be serving the payasam right away - but that is optional.

Now while stirring the milk, add the vermicelli, in a slow drizzle. Cook till the vermicelli is almost done. Now add the condensed milk as well as cardamom powder. Bring it back to a gentle boil and then reduce the liquid if needed. Do remember that the payasam will thicken as it sits. (And frankly, it needs to sit for some time.) Taste and see if you need to make it sweeter or if it needs more cardamom flavour. Adjust accordingly.

Finally, heat up just enough ghee to fry the nuts in a pan. (You won't need much ghee.) Fry the nuts to a golden brown and add them to the payasam pot. In the same pan, fry the golden raisins till they turn plump, take off from the heat immediately and pour them along with all or part of the ghee on to the payasam pot.

Stir everything together and rest the payasam for atleast an hour for it to mellow.
I prefer to completely cool it down, refrigerate covered, and then serve cold or gently warmed up. (That way, you will have a creamier consistency and not the 'sweet milky water speckled with vermicelli strands' sort of consistency.) That said, you can serve the dessert right after it rests for a while too.

Notes:
  1. If your vermicelli is of the long, unbroken type, first break it into small pieces of about 2 cm. Note that the recipe uses normal vermicelli and not rice vermicelli.
  2. If I don't have powdered cardamom stocked, I just smash two or three pods (two if they are not too old.) on a mortar and pestle and add it to the milk while it is boiling. Do remember to take the pods out once the payasam gets ready.
  3. Take care that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan throughout the cooking time. It is impossible to salvage the payasam if milk gets scorched. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Spice Rack: Star Anise


Stars in the sky...

Star Anise is a favourite spice of mine; one that I love for its charming intensity.

Star shaped and rust coloured, with a flavour reminiscent of anise (though the two are botanically unrelated), it is the most beautiful of all spices (or so I think!).
Obviously, the spice gets its name from its shape. The number of points in the star can vary, though usually it is seven or eight. As you can see, each point of the star contains a lustrous seed.

Do note that the spice is used as a whole normally. So even if you are making ground Star Anise, you don't need to separate the seed and pods. (Unlike in the case of cardamom pods - where it is quite common for the seeds to be separated and used alone in the making of Cardamom Powder.)

I'm slightly obsessed with the spice and like to use it wherever I can. Apart from using in masala powders, I like to have the (whole) spice in soups, stews and rice based dishes.

Notes:
  1. Star Anise is the dried fruit of an evergreen tree (that is harvested just before the fruit ripens) native to South West China and is one of the ingredients of the Chinese Five Spice Powder (along with Cloves, Cinnamon, Fennel Seeds and Szechuan Peppercorns). 
  2. This is the sixth part of the Spice Series. (Only one more to go!)

Friday, 16 October 2015

Robert May's French Bread: A Recipe from the Seventeenth Century


I was hooked onto Robert May's French Bread ever since I had seen the recipe as part of a bread baking challenge on several blogs. More than anything else, it was the historic charm of a receipt straight from the 1600's that forced me into baking it. The Accomplisht Cook (Fully titled and tag-lined 'THE Accomplisht Cook, OR THE ART & MYSTERY OF COOKERY. Wherein the whole ART is revealed in a more easie and perfect Method, than hath been publisht in any language'could be considered as the first major recipe book published in England. Till then, most cooks liked to keep the finer details of their vocation heavily veiled. This is apparent from what May, himself a trained chef, writes in his preface 'To the Master Cooks, and to such young Practitioners of the Art of Cookery, to whom this Book may be useful':

"  To all honest well intending Men of our Profession, or others, this Book cannot but be acceptable, 
     as it plainly and profitably discovers the Mystery of the whole Art
     for which, though I may be envied by some 
     that only value their private Interests above Posterity, and the publick good
     yet God and my own Conscience would not permit me 
     to bury these my Experiences with my Silver Hairs in the Grave
     and that more especially, as the advantages of my Education hath raised me 
     above the Ambitions of others, 
     in the converse I have had with other Nations    
     who in this Art fall short of what I have known experimented by you my worthy Country men.   "

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (pg. A4v), 1685.

One has to cook at least once from a book written with such convictions, don’t you think?
The recipe for French Bread comes in The Acccomplisht Cook under the section on Baking. Here is how May describes the making of the bread. It is interesting that he recommends the crust to be 'chipped' (that is, to remove it), which I guess is in variance to the French preference at the time.

 To make French Bread the best way.

"   Take a gallon of fine flour, and a pint of good new ale barm or yeast, 
     and put it to the flour, with the whites of six new laid eggs well beaten in a dish, 
     and mixt with the barm in the middle of the flour, also three spoonfuls of fine salt; 
     then warm some milk and fair water, and put to it, and make it up pretty stiff, 
     being well wrought and worked up, cover it in a boul or tray with a warm cloth till your oven be hot; 
     then make it up either in rouls, or fashion it in little wooden dishes and bake it, 
     being baked in a quick oven, chip it hot.   "

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (pg.240), 1685.

Over the course of the past one year, I have surprised myself with my perseverance with this bread. My first attempt was soon after I saw the recipe. Except for making a few quick breads and even rarer simple yeast breads, I didn't have much experience with baking breads. Apart from the typical mistakes that an inexperienced bread baker is bound to make, the first two times, Ginger toppled the bread box on to the floor (a dexterous way to tackle what would otherwise have been a challenging task for her) and ate almost half of the boule. I'm astounded by the cat's tastes and tricks, to say the very least. The third time around, when everything including the colour on the loaves were passable, I couldn't shoot it; the weather was just incredibly moody and there hardly was any light. Shortly afterwards, my oven broke down and I couldn't use it for a long time. The fourth time, I decided to make some patterns on the bread and they turned hideous to look at. The fifth time is a charm and here it is! (Apart from a single trial, I halved the recipe in all other cases.)
Well, the whole experience certainly was a learning curve for me. One could undeniably say this is the loaf with which I learnt to bake bread. To knead the dough without tearing it, to not being heavy handed with flour, to shaping the dough without causing it to spread out, to finding a wash that will bring enough colour to the crust to compensate for the use of the fan forced mode of a convection microwave oven... It is also why the recipe didn't get posted before - I wanted to be sure of what I was doing before publishing it.

Robert May's French Bread

Adapted from Ilva Beretta's Lucullian Delights. (The recipe originally appears on Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 1977 as an adapted version of Robert May's French Bread. I had also referred to Aparna's My Diverse Kitchen for some of the details.)

Ingredients:
  1. Flour, preferably a mixture of all purpose and wheat flours in equal quantities - 4 cups 
  2. A mixture of Water and Milk, preferably in 3:1 ratio.) - 300 ml (See Notes.)
  3. Active Dry Yeast - 2 tsp., slightly heaping. (Or use 15 gm of fresh yeast)
  4. Egg Whites - 2
  5. Sugar - 2 scant tsp. (Not in the original recipe. You most probably won't need it. See Notes.)
  6. Salt - 2 scant tsp.
Directions:

Warm the water and milk mixture over a gentle heat. Take a portion of it in a small bowl and dissolve the yeast and sugar in it. Leave aside for about ten minutes for the yeast to proof. (Since the quantity of liquid is fixed, as opposed to the original recipe, you might as well proof the yeast in the entire water and milk mixture.)

In a small bowl beat the egg whites till they just begin to froth. Once the yeast has proofed, combine it with the beaten egg whites,  the rest of the liquid, salt and about three quarters of the flour mix in a large bowl.

Mix and add just enough flour to make a shaggy mass. Now place the dough onto the counter and knead as usual for a bread, taking care to add just enough flour. (For the type of flours that I used, there always has been a little flour left over.)

Leave the dough to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, by which time it should have turned soft, light and almost doubled up. Set apart a bit of dough, if you plan to make patterns on top of the bread. (I didn't, as my decorating skills are questionable, not to mention objectionable.) Now, divide the dough in two, shape each into a boule (or a long roll). Cover with a light cloth or round bowls and leave to regain volume. I leave the dough to rise on top of a parchment paper placed on a flat pan, covered with a large bowl. This should take half an hour to three quarters of an hour.

Depending on how long your oven takes to preheat, preheat it to 230°C at a suitable time. (I do mine to 220°C since my oven won't go higher than that.) 

Once the dough has risen, decorate it with the dough that was set apart or just make slashes. (The knife that I chose was not up to the mark and I had to sort of plunge it back and forth through the dough as is evident from the photos. Use a thin and very sharp blade for the job.) Apply a wash if needed immediately before the loaves are going into the oven. (I do a milk wash as it is otherwise impossible to brown the crust in my oven.) 

To mimic a progressively falling oven, I baked the bread at 220°C for the first ten minutes, 200°C for the next ten minutes and 180°C for the last eight to ten minutes. (The bread should be done by about that time. You might need to check at around 25 minutes. Also see notes.)
Slice the bread only once it has cooled completely. I like to finish it off on the same day as it is baked.

Notes:
  1. The original recipe calls for warming the flours along with salt in a very tepid oven. Except for one previous trial, I skipped this step.
  2. The original recipe calls for a varying amount of liquid (0.5 pint to 12 oz (1 to 1 and a 1/2 cups.)) . It doesn't work well for me to do it that way. I always work with a fixed liquid amount and variable flour quantity to keep myself sane. However, you can adapt it to suit your comfort.
  3. Traditional French breads are 'Flour, Yeast, Water, Salt' affairs. However, I add a bit of sugar (A scant two teaspoons) in the recipe so as to achieve a better crust in my oven. You won't need it if you are using a normal oven.
  4. The original recipe specifies a baking temperature of 230°C for the first fifteen minutes, after which the loaves are recommended to be covered with bowls to prevent the crust from getting too hard. (As mentioned above, I took a slightly different path.
  5. The recipe can be halved very easily and that is how I have made the bread most of the time.
  6. The post is part of the 10th Edition of 'World Bread Day - 2015(on October 16) event hosted by Zorra at 1x umrühren bitte aka kochtopf.

The Everlasting Word



"   The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
      but the word of our God endures for ever.   "

Isaiah 40:8 (NIVUK)

Notes:
  1. The shot is that of a Morning Glory Flower, taken a long time back on one of our vacations to home.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Bulgur, Lamb and Vegetable Soup


Someone asked me the other day why I do not think of taking up Physics once more. She was indeed quite surprised when I said I have forgotten most of what I had studied. The good lady insisted it will all come back to me; after all, a mere five years have passed. In my turn, I kept on protesting that it has all gone out of my head. It is true in fact. I loved the subject when I was in school and later in college. Then I lost interest - I was stuck up with a specialization that I loathed, a college that run mostly on its antecedents and barely on its present merits, and a department that was notorious for its tumultuous relationships between professors that more often than not infiltrated to academic activities and students. Above all however, there was a haunting foreboding that what I had a passion for would in all probability remain the unachievable dream of a geeky girl.

Catching lights in the great expanse above, was what I dreamed of;
And it soon became a wish that flitted away beyond my reach.
Also, somewhere along the way, I found it all quite meaningless. Not the subject; but the realization that all that you hold important, all your deeds and all your schemes could tumble down like a card house. Then, life took another direction.

But that is another tale for another time.
Or maybe I didn't fare that badly.

For catching lights is what I do even now...

I skip, I hop, and I waltz around,
To catch the lights before they fade away.
So that I can preserve those little things
That make us happy in their subtle ways.
Of course, it all becomes a chaotic drill when the skies are overcast.

This seems to be a never ending gripe of mine; but the weather is indeed cold and rainy and has been so on and off for a very long time. Moody skies and a sick-yet-never-say-no-to-work Techie called for soups of all sorts this weekend. I had a pack of bulgur wheat that my sister had given and some lamb meat that came with much aplomb. The vendors were insistent on calling it lamb (goat's meat is more common where we live, which by the way is called mutton here as opposed to a mature sheep's meat elsewhere.), poetically describing its tenderness and waxing eloquent on why it wasn't 'mutton'. Well, I wasn't blown away when I cooked it and my regular store sells goat's meat that’s tenderer. It wasn't bad either and went well with the bulgur in the soup.

Bulgur, Lamb and Vegetable Soup 

The combination of grain, meat and vegetables makes this a hearty soup and it tastes great when served warm. The recipe is adapted from the 'Lamb, Vegetable and Barley Soup' published on taste.com.au.

Ingredients:

For the Stew Pot:
  1. Lamb, boneless - 250 to 300 gms.
  2. Bay Leaf - 1
  3. Dried Thyme - 1/2 tsp. (Or use a stalk of fresh thyme.)
  4. Garlic, sliced - 1 tbsp.
  5. Onion, chopped - 1/3 cup
  6. Celery, chopped - 1/3 cup
  7. Carrots, cut into rounds and each round into quarters - 1/3 cup (I had mini carrots and so cut each rounds in two.)
  8. Red Wine Vinegar - 1 tsp. (Or use White Vinegar)
  9. A Stock of your choice - 3 to 4 cups (See Notes.)
  10. Salt
  11. Pepper
  12. Olive Oil
To Cook Separately: (See Notes.)
  1. Bulgur Wheat - 1/2 cup
  2. Water - 1 cup 
  3. Salt
To Finish Off:
  1. Flat Leaf Parsley - 2 tbsp.
Directions:

Heat up the stock pot and add some oil. Brown the meat (in batches if needed), transfer to a bowl and set aside.

To the same pot, add the bay leaf and garlic cloves. Saute for a few seconds and then add the three vegetables. Stir around for a few minutes and add thyme, vinegar, bit of pepper and stock (Start with three cups.) Bring to a boil and add the browned meat.

Cook covered on a low heat till the meat is done. (Skim the surface of the soup occasionally.) Add more stock if needed in between.

Meanwhile, rinse the bulgur and transfer it to a pan with a cup of water and a touch of salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer it covered till the bulgur is almost done. Drain off extra water and add it the soup pot if it is ready. Otherwise, drain, revive and set aside. (Keep the bulgur a bit undone.)
Once the meat is done, add the bulgur to it, bring back to a boil and switch off. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley.

Serve warm.

Notes:
  1. The original recipe uses beef stock. I had a few bone-in pieces of lamb that I added to the pot while cooking (which were removed at the end) along with a chicken stock and water mix (instead of using stock alone). Also, the amount of liquid that you will need will depend on how long the meat takes to cook. 
  2. The original recipe uses barley and cooks it along with the meat. Bulgur cooks faster. But you can add the rinsed bulgur once the meat is cooked and simmer it for some time in the same pot. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Spice Rack: Cinnamon


Silver threads had begun to weave through her wavy strands of hair. She never took it as a cue to slow down though. Her knees were definitely displeased and would occasionally send painful reminders that she was not young any more. Those were however, disdainfully neglected. Everything had to be done as they were done in the years that flitted by; invariably.

Summers were not as harsh then as they inevitably have become these days. Still, the days were bright and hot enough to dry and preserve all sorts of treasures for the rest of the year. And so every year when the weather seemed right, she would ask him to cut down a branch or two from the Cinnamon Tree that graced a corner of the courtyard.

The flourishing tree with its vibrant, forest green coloured foliage was perhaps the only one on the lot suited for a city house. Other trees that breathed life into the compound included a towering Tamarind Tree, two big Mango Trees and a younger Mango Tree that used to go berserk when fruiting. Needless to say, fallen leaves, some of which had no respect for dividing walls or the general nonchalance of a city life, crossed boundaries and irritated neighbours. The Tamarind tree was a special rogue and would invite requests to be cut off, the others being more contented to shed where they belonged. But then, even the comparatively innocuous and sprightly golden petals strewn by the 'Chempaka Maram' (Magnolia Champaca Tree) were met with disgruntled eyes...
He would of course, oblige. He loved doing little things around the house as much as he loved his research lab at the Chemical Company. Whether it was mixing up all sorts of concoctions to care for their impeccable Rose Garden or making a 'Thettali' (Slingshot) to scare the crows away when they turned a bit impertinent, everything was done with the same ferocious efficacy that distinguished him in his illustrious career.

A few branches would be cut down, the tree pruned so that it would be even more vivacious the next season. Once the branches were brought to the back of the house and chopped to pieces that can be easily handled by her, she would sit down with a sharp knife and start shaving them. The outer layer was usually discarded (unlike the store bought one pictured here) and the strips were made thin, or so I remember. A tedious process; but then, long, wearisome projects rarely deterred her.

Which reminds me - cinnamon sticks that we get in Kerala are usually of this kind and not the rolled ones like above. The rolled ones that I have here were given to me by my sister a long time ago and I mostly use them as props (Ahem!). So when I say, an inch or two of cinnamon in the recipes, what I am referring to is usually the unrolled kind (below).
The strips were collected in a 'Muram' (A sort of Bamboo Winnowing Basket) and would later be spread out on a mat under a soft sun to dry. The whole process was one of utter joy for the two grandchildren. Plenty of things to play with and make a mess of; unknowingly, they were also building memories that would last a life time.

Once the strips were dried to her exacting standards, they would be packed in air tight containers and some of them would be added to her already bountiful storeroom. Others would board the train, tucked inside her daughter's luggage on a journey to a distant kitchen…

Notes:
  1. The 'Him' and 'Her' above are my maternal grandparents, in case it was not apparent :)
  2. As much as I can ascertain, the cinnamon that we get here (in the second picture) is True Cinnamon (just that the way in which it is processed is different from that of the rolled cinnamon). The leaves of the tree look exactly the same as that given on Wiki and elsewhere under Cinnamomum Verum.
  3. This is the fifth post of the Spice Series.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Curried Chicken with Cashew Nuts


A few months have passed since I last posted; a long hiatus as usual. It is always hard for me to come back here after vacations for some reason. And this time, I have recipes that were shot even before we went home. I got a bit detached from the blog, but then that is nothing unusual if you have known me in the past few years.
Also, I had several distractions at hand. For starters, I fell again into the vicious circle of enthusiastically beginning cross stitch works and leaving them halfway done. I had vowed to myself not to take up any needle work for some time. It is incredibly tiring to the eyes and I never seem to like simple patterns. I am half blind as it is and at this rate would end up doubling the power of my spects. Sigh.

And then there were some things that needed to be sorted; or rather things that needed to sort out by themselves. Happily, things have fallen into place, at least temporarily.

A good thing is that during the break I came across several start ups that I just love. I will hopefully get to mention them over a few posts once I sort out my drafts, clogged with posts that should have been up earlier.
Looking back, this was the first trip to Kerala that I wanted to get over with somehow. I was not that enthusiastic about taking the trip in the first place. Quite strange, considering that I am the one who normally talks the 'I-should-be-perpetually-near-it-or-else-my-office-laptop-will-die-heartbroken' Techie into booking tickets. For now, we will just blame it on the hairdresser who cut my hair too short on the sides, making it impossible for me to tie it up in any decent manner. (Not really though, for I still don't want to go home!)
In any case, despite not touching the camera for weeks, I still ended up styling these shots with 'lines' as before. I have gotten over the look now, but I have enough to tire you out. May be I will just disperse them in between more normal shots.

The cashews make this curry slightly rich, though not gloatingly so. Also, it does not have much gravy. So you might need some dal curry or something similar on the side, especially if there are those who demand plenty of gravy at the table.

Ingredients:
  1. Chicken, cut into medium sized pieces - 1/2 kg
  2. Onions, thinly sliced - 1 and a 1/2 cups
  3. Ginger Garlic Paste, freshly pounded - 1 tbsp.
  4. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 tbsp.
  5. Homemade Meat Masala Powder - 1/4 tbsp.
  6. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  7. Cashew Nuts, whole or halved - 1/4 cup
  8. A mix of Coriander and Mint Leaves, chopped finely - 2 to 3 tbsp. (I normally add just a few leaves of mint as I don't like the way it overpowers every other flavour.)
  9. Lime Juice - of about 1/4 of a lime (Taste and adjust.)
  10. Salt
  11. A Neutral Tasting Oil
  12. Water
To Finish Off:
  1. Homemade Meat Masala Powder - A couple of pinches.
  2. Green Chilli, slit and fried - 1 (Optional) or a few Coriander Leaves 
Directions:

Heat up some oil and fry the cashews till they turn golden. Drain and keep aside both the oil and the nuts.

Heat up the pan in which you are going to cook the curry. If you are using the chilli, fry it in just a bit of oil till a few blister spots appear and take it out. (Please note that it is very important to slit the chilli before putting it in oil. Otherwise it will burst and cause the hot oil to splash out and burn your skin.) 

Add more oil to the pan, followed by the sliced onions. Saute till they turn a deep brown and then add the ginger garlic paste. Fry it till the raw smell is gone and add all the powders. (Add a touch of water if needed to prevent the powders from burning.) Saute well and add the chicken. Turn the heat to a high and stir so that the masala coats the chicken and the outside of the chicken pieces gets sealed. Now add some water, salt, and lime juice. Stir well and cook covered till the chicken is more than three quarters done.

Now add the leaves and the fried cashews. Allow the chicken to cook completely. Taste and adjust salt, lime juice and meat masala, and switch off.
Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a couple of pinches of meat masala powder and the fried chilli/cilantro.

Notes:
  1. As was mentioned earlier, it is important that you slit the chilli before putting it in oil. Otherwise it will burst and cause the hot oil to splash out and burn your skin.
  2. I use Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder in most of my curries for its milder and richer taste. You can use a spicier type or a combination of both if needed.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Vine and the Branches



The Vine and the Branches

"   
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

     He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, 
     while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes 
     so that it will be even more fruitful.
     
     You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
     Remain in me, and I will remain in you. 
     No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. 
     Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

     I am the vine; you are the branches. 

     If a man remains in me and I in him, 
     he will bear much fruit; 
     apart from me you can do nothing.

     If anyone does not remain in me, 

     he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; 
     such branches are picked up, 
     thrown into the fire and burned.
    
     If you remain in me and my words remain in you, 
     ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
     This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, 
     showing yourselves to be my disciples.   "

John 15:1-8 (NIV), As spoken by Jesus to His disciples.

Notes:
  1. This was shot more than a year ago. I thought these verses fitted the shot beautifully while I was editing it (although they don't really show the branching off of the vine, strictly speaking).
  2. The flower is that of a passion fruit.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Badanekayi Koddel: Aubergines in a Sweet, Spicy and Tangy Gravy


The pre monsoon weather is in the process of composing quite an impressive show here.

Mornings, even when they start out bright and cheery give way to moodier shades as the day marches on. If you are lucky, you will be able to get away with just a mellow drizzle at the end of it. If not, there will be a medley of heavy rains, lightning and thunders. Not to mention occasional power failures.
The weather has brought forth another issue. This here is Ginger's Kitten, whom I call Poke-Poke. (Because that is what he does all the time, or at the very least, in the few hours when he is awake. Frankly, Poke-Poke is well past the kitten stage though he seems strongly opposed to the idea of growing up for some reason or other.)

Poke-Poke is terribly afraid of growling skies. When the weather gets working on what it is supposed to be doing, Poke-Poke will scramble on top of something (like a dangerously narrow exterior protrusion of a window sill) and cry incessantly till the skies are calm once again or he will just sit under a sheltered nook somewhere with wide open eyes and then refuse to budge. Either way he gets scolded – by our Landlady, their House Help, The Techie and almost every one of our neighbours. (By everyone except me, in short. My sister now accuses me of being fond of the whole ‘beastly’ category of cats – we have always been a Dogs only sort of family.)
I guess it is time to tuck away Poke-Poke and talk about the recipe.

This is not an entirely new recipe; it is just an offshoot of the Basale Koddel (Curried Basalle Alba) recipe posted sometime ago. The 'Koddel Base' is something that goes well with quite a few vegetables like Raw Bananas, Drumsticks and Aubergines. So when the kitchen had an unusual abundance of aubergines (I wanted to try a few recipes and ended up buying more than I needed), I thought I will make Badanekayi Koddel. (Badanekayi is Aubergines in Kannada.)
I know I could have just given this as a variant in the 'notes' of the older post; but as I was fiddling with the camera anyway, I thought I will write it up as a separate post. (Besides, the colour scheme seemed to blend well with that of Poke-Poke's shot above. Not the best of reasons for writing up a recipe post, but still.)

I liked this version just like the other one. The Techie,who is not much of an Aubergine fan, contented himself with the gravy alone of the koddel.

PS: This post was written a few days ago - just that I didn't get time till now to give it a final read and publish it. (In case you are wondering about the disparity in the description of the weather :))

Ingredients:

 To Boil Together:
  1. Aubergines, chopped - 1 and a 1/2 to 2 cups. (I cut them into about half inch thick slices and then each slice into 6 'sectors'. 
  2. Onion, sliced - 1/2 cup
  3. Tamarind Paste - A scant tsp. 
  4. Jaggery, grated - About 1/2 tbsp. (Adjust to taste. You can start with a lower quantity and add more at the time of boiling the curry.)
  5. Salt
  6. Water - 1 cup
To Grind:
  1. Coconut, grated - 3/4 cup 
  2. Onion, sliced - 1/3 cup
  3. Garlic, chopped - 1 tsp.
  4. Coriander Seeds - 2 and a 1/2 tsp. 
  5. Dried Red Chillies - 3, chopped. (I have used Kashmiri Chillies, which are very mild. Koddel recipes normally use twice as many chillies and usually specify using spicier 'Byadgi/Bedgi' chillies (native to Karnataka).) 
  6. Cumin Seeds - 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (I used 1/4 tsp. as I don't like a prominent note of cumin in curries.)
  7. Fenugreek Seeds - 1/4 tsp.
  8. Mustard Seeds - A pinch
  9. Water - To grind 
To Season:
  1. Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp.
  2. Garlic, chopped - A scant tsp. 
  3. Curry Leaves - 1 stalk
  4. Oil - Enough to fry the ingredients to season.
Directions:

Cook the ingredients mentioned under 'To Boil Together'.

Grind the ingredients mentioned under 'To Grind' to a smooth paste and keep aside.

Once the aubergines are done, add the ground masala to it and allow it to come to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat up a small pan with some oil and add the mustard seeds. Once they sputter, add the garlic as well as the curry leaves and fry them.

Now tumble the whole contents of the small pan into the boiling curry. Increase the heat and bring the koddel to a rolling boil. Taste and adjust the flavours (jaggery, tamarind and salt). Also, add more water if required.

Allow the curry to boil vigorously for about five minutes before switching off.
Serve with rice and other sides.

Notes:
  1. The colour of the curry will vary slightly depending on the type and amount of chillies, tamarind and jaggery used. 
  2. You can use 2 to 2 and a 1/2 tsp. of powdered coriander (depending on the freshness of the powder) instead of whole coriander seeds in the masala.
  3. As the ground masala is 'raw' (that is, the ingredients are not roasted or sauteed before grinding), it is better to consume the curry within a couple of days.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The 'Lesser Granary' Door



"   Rice is a beautiful food. 
     It is beautiful when it grows, 
     precision rows of sparkling green stalks shooting up to reach the hot summer sun. 
     It is beautiful when harvested, 
     autumn gold sheaves piled on diked, patchwork paddies. 
     It is beautiful when, once threshed, 
     it enters granary bins like a (flood) of tiny seed-pearls. 
     It is beautiful when cooked by a practised hand, 
     pure white and sweetly fragrant.   "

Shizuo Tsuji

It would also be entwined in tales of reclaiming land from the backwaters by our ancestors for those of us in Kuttanad. 
This is the door to the second granary.

As you will notice, it is less ornate than the primary one. (The ends of the arc in the metal work have broken off.)

Notes:
  1. This is the second part of an earlier post titled 'Door to the Granary'. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Tomato Rice


Ten years ago, my Dad, sister and I found out the hard way that we had to assimilate quite a bunch of basic skills to survive. The first and foremost in that list was to learn to cook a few basic recipes that are actually palatable. The new house help who had replaced the one who used to work for us when my mother was there just didn't know the recipes that we were familiar with; worse still, we didn't have a clue either. We were just a bunch of people who just used to occasionally peep into the kitchen to see what smelt so good.

Sigh.
Amidst our numerous misadventures in the kitchen, my Dad thought it would be a good idea to get an Electric Rice Cooker. We soon realized that it was an unfortunate decision. The rice that was cooked in it never turned out well - I have a suspicion that it is primarily due to my Dad's obsession with cooking more rice than we (and the five dogs that we kept) would ever need in a day. The cooked rice, if one can call it that, rarely passed the 'pebble grade' and we soon got rid of the electric power gobbler.
The only good thing from the rice cooker episode was the free recipe book that came along with it. We cooked a few recipes from it and adapted some. Most dishes turned out decent enough. The tomato rice especially, which I don't remember my Mom cooking ever, came out well. I can no longer find the book at home and I have forgotten its exact recipe for tomato rice. But the basic technique of pureeing the tomato and then cooking the masala till it forms a thick paste is something that I never changed.

And here is how we cook it now.

Ingredients:

For The Rice:
  1. Basmati Rice - 1 cup, soaked, washed and drained.
  2. Tomatoes, chopped - 1 and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 cups. (Use tomatoes that are not too sour.)
  3. Onions, sliced - 1 cup
  4. Ginger Garlic Paste - 2 tsp.
  5. Coriander Powder - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  6. Chilli Powder - 1 tsp.
  7. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  8. Coriander Leaves, crushed using a mortar and pestle - 1 tbsp. 
  9. Cinnamon Stick - 1 inch piece 
  10. Cardamom Pods - 2, split opened.
  11. Cloves - 2 
  12. Salt - To taste.
  13. Water - 2 cups
  14. Oil
To Garnish:
  1. Fried Onions (Reserved from the initial frying of onions.)
  2. Raisins, chopped - 1 tbsp. (Optional. Use more of less to taste. Also I chop them as I like it more that way in this rice. Alternately, use cashew nuts.) 
  3. Coriander Leaves
Directions:

First, blend the tomatoes without any water and keep that aside.

Now, you need to fry the onions. Heat up some oil in a wok, add onions and fry them till they turn a golden brown. Drain off excess oil and keep them aside. 

In the remaining oil, fry the raisins or nuts if you are using them. Drain off excess oil and keep aside.

Into the same pan, add the whole spices and when they sputter, add the ginger garlic paste. I use freshly pounded paste with no water. If your paste contains water, add a third of the fried onions first and then saute the paste to reduce sputtering.

Once the raw smell of the ginger garlic paste is gone, add a third of the fried onions to the pan, followed by all the ground spices. Stir around for a minute and then add the blended tomatoes.

Cook the masala for a few minutes till the water content of the tomatoes is much reduced and the masala forms a thick paste. (Take care not to burn the masala.)

Once the masala comes together, add the minced coriander leaves followed by the drained rice and some salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add water and bring the contents to a boil. Check for salt. Cook covered over a medium low flame till the rice is done.
Garnish with the reserved fried onions, fried raisins (and/or nuts) and some coriander leaves.

Notes:
  1. You can cut down the amount of onions by about two thirds if you don't want to do the fried onion garnish. Just take one third cup of onions, add them as specified in the recipe and saute till they brown well.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Nutmeg on Tree


A glimpse of home, again!

Looking at it like this on the tree, one would hardly expect the burst of colour within a nutmeg; which is why I just love opening it.
I had a great time publishing a 'Who am I' post with a shot like this in the old blog. I didn't go that way this time as those who used to visit us there will anyway know the answer :)

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Basale Koddel: Mangalore Style Basella Alba (Malabar Spinach) Curry


Basella Alba is not a familiar ‘green’ in our house. In fact, the first that I ever heard about it was when I accidentally came across the leaves on my online store. (Wiki however tells me that the Malayalam for Basella Alba is ‘Vallicheera’. So I guess it’s just that I never happened to cross paths with the climber in Kerala, though the name sounds very familiar.)

Considering that I don’t really care much for green leafy things in general, it is surprising that the slightly weird looking, thick stemmed vine interested me at all. Except for my Mom's 'Cheera Thoran' (Stir Fried Amaranth Leaves with Ground Coconut) and a few other curries made with home grown leaves, I have always left all that is green and leafy quite alone. Now that I think about it, nothing even remotely resembling spinach has entered my kitchen in the last couple of years, but for a rare occasion or two (much to The Techie’s delight). It sounds quite bad, but it is the truth. I put the blame partly on the fact that the store bought greens taste quite different from the leaves that used to come from my mother's kitchen garden.
Basella Alba however was strangely alluring, probably because while reading up on it, I saw quite a few people describing it as a hideous looking vine. I just had to see what was so repulsive about it. Then again, I have made a pact with myself this year to try out a few local recipes. So I went ahead and ordered a couple of bunches of 'Basale Soppu' (as it is called in Kannada).
While I wouldn't really go as far as to call them an eye sore, they do hold your attention, with their stout stems and comparatively thick leaves.

(I apologise for the sad looking leaves. The grocery people, for ease of packing had zigzagged the lengths of vines and tied them up with a chord. Good for them in terms of packing, but bad for me as the leaves all got bruised by the time they reached me and it was impossible to do anything to make them all right.)
One of the recipes that I wanted to try out was this Mangalore/Uduppi Style Basale Koddel, where the leaves are cooked and then simmered in ground coconut gravy. It sounded quite good, and for a change did not have any sort of lentils that seemed to be a permanent fixture in almost all gravies made with Malabar Spinach Leaves. I’m delighted to say that the curry, with its sweet and tangy notes, has become a new favourite of ours.

Source: Slightly adapted from Sushma's Kadhyaa.

Ingredients:

 To Pressure Cook:
  1. Green stemmed Basalle Alba (Malabar Spinach), chopped - 3 cups (Use both stems and leaves.)
  2. Tamarind Paste - A scant tsp. (Or to taste.)
  3. Jaggery, grated - About 1/2 tbsp to 3/4 tbsp. (Start with slightly less than 1/2 tbsp. and add the rest if needed at the time of boiling the curry.)
  4. Salt
  5. Water - 1 cup
To Boil Separately:
  1. Onion, sliced - 3/4 cup
  2. Water - 1/2 cup
To Grind:
  1. Coconut, grated - 3/4 cup 
  2. Onion, sliced - 1/3 cup
  3. Garlic, chopped - 1 tsp.
  4. Coriander Seeds - 2 and a 1/2 tsp. (It is okay to substitute this with the same amount of ground coriander seeds. However, if your coriander powder is very fresh, reduce the amount to 2 tsp.)
  5. Dried Red Chillies - 3, chopped. (I have used 2 Kashmiri Chillies, which are very mild along with 1 of another mild variety. The original recipe uses 'Byadgi/Bedgi' chillies (native to Karnataka), which look somewhat similar to Kashmiri Chillies, but have less wrinkly skins, are lighter in colour and are spicier.  The original recipe calls for 7 to 8 Byadgi chillies. Also see Notes.)
  6. Cumin Seeds - 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (I used 1/4 tsp. as I don't like a prominent note of cumin in curries.)
  7. Fenugreek Seeds - 1/4 tsp.
  8. Mustard Seeds - A pinch
  9. Water - To grind 
To Season:
  1. Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp.
  2. Garlic, chopped - A scant tsp. (Optional.)
  3. Curry Leaves - 1 stalk
  4. Oil - Enough to fry the ingredients to season.
Directions:

Pressure cook the ingredients mentioned under 'To Pressure Cook'.

Grind the ingredients mentioned under 'To Grind' to a smooth paste and keep aside.

Boil the onions in water and once they get cooked, add the cooked leaves followed by the ground masala. Let the curry simmer on a low heat.

Meanwhile, heat up some oil and sputter mustard seeds. Add the garlic if using, followed by the curry leaves. Tip all the fried things along with the oil into the simmering curry.

Allow the curry to boil vigorously for five minutes, check for salt, jaggery and tamarind. Add more if required. Adjust the consistency if needed before switching off. (Boil the curry again for a few minutes if you add more water.)
Serve with rice and other sides.

Notes:
  1. The colour the curry will depend on the type and number of chillies as well as the type of tamarind and jaggery used. As long as it tastes fine, you shouldn't worry about the exact colour of the Koddel.
  2. Note that neither Kashmiri nor Byadgi Chillies are as spicy as the smoother and shinier skinned varieties like the 'Guntur Teja' or even the berry like 'Gundu Chillies'. So be careful if you are using a different variety of dried chilli.
  3. If you are not sure of the number of Red Chillies that you can tolerate, start with one or two, grind and do a taste test. Keep in mind that this will be added to the sweetened and cooked leaves. If you think more spice is needed, you can put more chillies and grind the mixture again (If your grinder is good and will grind the extra chillies well.). Alternatively, wait till the curry is cooked, taste and then if needed, add a small quantity of dry roasted Red Chilli Powder. (Dry roast by heating up a small heavy bottomed pan and adding the chilli powder after switching off the flame. Quickly stir the powder around - it can burn very quickly - and just add it to the curry. Mix, taste and bring to a boil again.)
  4. The curry is better consumed within two days as the ground masala is 'raw' (that is, the ingredients are not roasted before grinding) and it might not keep for long. (It is also the reason why it is important to boil the curry well as mentioned in the directions.)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Sapodilla (Manilkara Zapota)


A breather from all the 'staged' shots here and a bit of sunshine...

It is funny how I now long for things I never liked when I had them in plenty. 'Sappottakka' is one of them.

We had an old tree back at home, whose spreading branches would be laden with fruits when the season arrives. The fruit was never a favourite of mine, and even if everyone else liked to have a slice now and then, more fruits would go to waste than get eaten. Unless, someone who likes them visits and take a few batches off our hands.
The bounty back home is no longer near and ironically, I love Sapodillas now. We rarely get vacations in time to gorge on the fruits at home; so we buy them here occasionally. Nothing, however beats home grown.

Notes:
  1. This is a shot from our last vacation when the fruits on the tree were still young (which accounts for the small size of the fruit in the photo).  
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