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.

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


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.)

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.

  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

  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

  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

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.

  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.

  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.)

  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.

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.

  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)

  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


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.

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.

  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. 
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