Jun 28, 2010

Back to basics

Yesterday, Sra announced the 3rd edition of Chalks and Chopsticks, an event I myself have hopes of  hosting in the future. On the heels of Sra’s announcement came Srivalli’s post on a basic technique of cooking toor dal which I used to follow too, before I discovered the joy of one pot dal.

However, Valli’s post made me think of some of the basic techniques I had posted in my early days of blogging, namely how to make ghee (name one Indie blog which hasn’t posted it?), my masala dabba and my MIL’s secret. The failure to browse as many blogs as possible in search of basic cooking techniques prompted the idea of back to basics event.

What am I looking for:

1. How to and tips on how you make your life easier in the kitchen, by grinding pastes or freezing seasonal fruits and vegetables.

2. Recipes for rubs, marinades and masalas: garam masala, goda masala, dhana jeera powder (corrainder cumin), etc.

3. Posts like the above mentioned 'cooking toor dal for the week and storing in the fridge'.

4. Recipes for concentrates like this lemon concentrate used to make lemonade.

5. A food recipe that goes with the above is totally optional but welcome.

If you got the drift, start posting the kitchen secrets. Here are the rules:

Rule No. 1: The entrees must be original. If inspired or copied from another source, please give credit or Madhuri, our desi Nancy Drew will not only catch you but shut you down.

Rule No. 2: Follow the general guideline listed under: In what I am looking for.

Rule No. 3: Link your post to this post.

Rule No. 4: Older entrees are fine as long as you link them here.

Rule No. 5: Keep the usage of exclamation points (!) to the minimum and totally avoid them in the title, if you can. (This is an original rule from here and I respect it).

No need to send a picture. I am going to follow Nupur and Manisha’s lead and do the roundup without the clicks.

Send it to me at this address or leave a link in the comment section below.

The last date is July 31st plus a grace period of five more days (my summer school gets over on Aug 5th).

And just like my last event, here are the rules that apply to me:

Rule No. 1: I will post the roundup in a timely fashion, before second week of August, barring any unfortunate circumstances.

Rule No. 2: I will not solicit anyone’s blog for participation in my event.

Rule No. 3: I will not insist that you “must” be a follower of my blog in order to participate. In fact I urge you not to follow unless you intend to visit regularly.

Rule No. 4: I will not brag/ sulk about the no. of entrees I receive or don't receive.

The ball is in your kitchens foodies.

Jun 24, 2010

One pot Masoor-toor dal (lentil soup)

If you are a dal/ sambhar purist click away from this post.
If you soak your lentils everyday and cook it in the big 5 ltr pressure cooker with rice in the bottom pan, click away.
If you chop your tomatoes, veggies and cook them in a separate pan before adding the cooked lentils to it, click away.

If you want to cook your lentils in 30 minutes and eat them too, stay and read on.

I grew up watching my mom soak the toor dal and rice every morning in the cooker inserts. The whistle of the five liter cooker meant it was eight in the morning. As a teenager, it was my job to set the cooker and then the whistle didn’t always go off at eight.
Flash forward a decade and some years: I was in a new country with a three liter cooker, no inserts and a husband who insisted I cook the food for the whole week over the weekend. That didn’t sit too well with me but as a compromise I would cook about 3 cups of lentils and keep it in the fridge for the week. I never got used to the gelatinous layer that forms on top of the cooked, refrigerated dal but I learnt to live with it.

Last year, I watched fascinated as a friend chopped some tomatoes, cooked them in her small cooker, added the soaked toor dal and turned on the lid. Lo and behold, the dal was ready in 30 minutes, steaming hot and ready to go from the cooker to the table.

It revolutionized my whole approach to making dal. Since that fateful day, I have made toor, masoor, moong (spilt and whole) and a combination of these in the cooker and the result has never disappointed me.

1/4 cup masoor
1/4 cup toor dal
2 medium tomatoes, chopped

A pinch of sugar
Cilantro for garnishing

For Tadka:
1/2 tsp asafetida powder
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 curry leaves, optional
1 green chili, chopped
1 tsp sambhar/ garam masal powder

Wash the two dals together in plenty of water and soak them in some water.

Heat the small pressure cooker and add half a tablespoon of oil. On medium heat add the asafetida, turmeric and the mustard seeds. As the mustard begins to pop, add the cumin, green chili, curry leaves and red chili powder.

Let the spices cook for half a minute, taking care not to burn them.

Add the tomatoes, sugar and sambhar powder. Cover and let cook till the tomatoes are mushy.

Add the soaked dals with the water, adjust salt and water, cover and cook on medium heat for three whistles.

Once the cooker cools down, open the lid and whisk the dal to a smooth consistency. Add more water if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Serve with rotis/ rice.

This of course goes off to MLLA 24 hosted by A little bit of Spain in Iowa.

Jun 17, 2010

Coming clean

A peek into my pantry

Much has been said and commented about my pantry space, so here’s the proof that I do occasionally clean it, well every three months or so.

All clean and shiny 

Canned goods and some libation

 Notice the uniform containers (dollar store) and the neatly stacked snacks.

Mustard, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, red chili...

The seving platters on the top rack.

Another close up.

The final look.

Do you have a kitchen/ pantry nook you are proud off? Send me a click by June 30 and I will post a link here. Don't forget, the caption contest.

Some of these pics are off to Nupur's What's Lurking in your pantry? 

Jun 10, 2010

Another piece of fiction and a contest

Caution: The Following is a piece of fiction based on real events and real people, whose names have been changed for Chalks and Chopsticks, hosted by Bong Mom and started by Aqua. For the contest, go to the bottom of the post. For the first piece of fiction, click here.

Archana boarded the local bus and looked around for an empty seat. There was one in the middle, next to an old woman. She sat down and tried to relax. It had been another hectic day at the factory and the floor manager had made them work overtime to finish the order. Her palms had new calluses she rubbed on absent mindedly.

Beti (daughter), are you ok?” the old woman next to her asked with concern in her voice and curiosity in her eyes.

“I am ok Maaji (mother),” she said with a quick smile. “Yes, I am ok now,” she thought.

“I asked because it is unusual to see calluses on a young girl like you,” the old lady said as she opened her palms wide to show her the bumps.

“I work in a packaging factory,” Archana replied. She did not talk to strangers anymore and was surprised at herself for doing so.

She had tried to live a quite life since that fateful day, hoping to blend in with the crowd, trying hard to not draw attention to herself. Being friendly with total strangers was what had got her in trouble. Her mother had always cautioned her not to trust people so easily.

“Archu, be careful in college. I can’t be there to protect you all the time,” her mother would admonish her every day.

“Yes Ma, I know. Boys are not to be trusted and men never,” she would repeat the litany and then get on her cycle and peddle away to college. She was ten when her father had died in a road accident. Her mother had been overprotective of her only child since then.

Archana knew her mother worried about her. It irritated her that she had to bring home her friends to meet Ma so she could approve of them. She was 19 years old. She knew how to take care of herself. But no, Ma had to be a part of every decision of her life, what clothes to wear, how to tie her hair, who her friends were.

Was that the reason she had not told her mother about Sameer? She had met him when she was standing by the side of the road with a flat tire, almost in tears.

“Do you need some help?” Sameer’s friendly voice had penetrated through the blur of tears.

“I have an exam in 20 minutes and I have a flat tire,” she said, barely managing to hold back her tears.

“Don’t worry. I know a place nearby that can fix your bicycle,” he had assured her. He guided her to the repair shop and then gave her a ride on his motorbike so she could reach in time for her exam.

They kept meeting for a few months after that. He would come to her college canteen and they would talk for hours over cups of ginger chai and samosas. Her friends had encouraged her to keep seeing him and even helped her go out on dates. She was surprised at how clever they were at covering for her.

“Don’t worry yaar, I will tell your mom you were with me,” her friend Anju would reassure her.

How she wished now they hadn’t. Not that it was their fault. She was enjoying the subterfuge with her mother. If she felt any guilt pangs, Sameer’s sweet gestures would wash them away.

When he had proposed Archana had been ecstatic. She had thought her mother would be happy for her and give her blessings. Instead, Ma was shocked.

“How long have you known each other?” she had asked in a steely voice.

“Six months, Ma,” she had answered meekly.

“Sameer, I am sure you are a very nice boy but till Archu completes her education, I can’t allow her to get married,” her mother had said in a voice that Archana knew was her final decision. There would be no further discussion.

“Aunty, my family is pressuring me to get married soon and I love your daughter. I will ask them to come formally as soon as you give your consent,” Sameer had pleaded.

“I have made my decision. If you love Archu and want to marry her, you will have to wait two more years till she graduates,” Ma had said.

Archana was so angry with her mother. She did not want to listen to reason. She can see now Ma had been right all along. Her mother had tried to raise her on her father’s meager pension. Ma had soon realized that without a proper education the only way for her to supplement their income was by cooking in other people’s homes.

Jun 8, 2010

A Red Bird Christmas and Peter Reinhardt’s Cornbread

Confession: I had never read Fannie Flagg till Simran picked her up for our book club’s second anniversary. I had seen the movie Fried Green Tomatoes based on her book by the same name but had no idea at the time that it was based on Flagg’s book. The movie won an academy award nomination for best screenplay in 1991, so I can imagine how good the book must be.

Flagg is an accomplished writer who sets her book in the small Southern town of Lost River, population: 80. Think RK Narayan's Malgudi, except set in a small southern town along a meandering river with fabulous sunsets. Instead of the dusty roads of Malgudi, imagine pretty little bungalows with neatly tended lawns and streets lined with trees so old they form a canopy overhead. The weather is pleasant even in the peak of winter and the flora and fauna are bountiful.

The residents are friendly and welcome the arrival of an elderly bachelor, as an opportunity to get one of the seven unhitched (three single, four widows) women hitched. Oswald T Campbell, named after a can of soup he was found with on the steps of the orphanage, is a retired army man with emphysema, a limited pension and an even limited time left to live. He comes to the little town to recuperate and falls in love with the slow pace of the town, its residents and by the end of it not only gets a new lease on life but a new bride.

Flagg weaves a beautiful tapestry of friendship between Campbell, an abandoned six year old girl Patsy, a flightless redbird named Jack who lives in the town’s only store, owned by Roy. She embroiders the details of the town’s secret society that goes by the name the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and weaves in the history of Roy’s broken love affair with his childhood sweetheart with the skill and artistry of one of Oswald’s nature paintings.

Jun 2, 2010

Homemade double chocolate ice cream and pantry check

When Nupur of One Hot Stove asks you to check what is lurking in your pantry, you don’t dally. You head straight for the pantry, throw open the door and stare at the mess that greets you. The pantry along with the rest of the house had been neglected for the last three months due to someone’s studies. There were packets of lentils, flour, some sprouting onions, a funky smell from some potatoes that got left at the bottom of the basket.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t judge me. I am not always like this and I usually clean my pantry every couple of months. I was running a month behind, no big deal. Besides, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it, no less on a public blog.

Keep in mind all my kitchen essentials, except my masala dabba, are stored in the twenty square foot space which my dad calls a small kirana store (corner grocery store). Ok, my plates and bowls and glasses and kitchen utensils are also not in there.

Coming back to the sprouting onions and rotting potatoes, which promptly went on a date with the waste basket, the pantry was not as much a mess as it looked at first glance. The big cereal box from Costco was put on the top shelf, dwindling grains and lentils were transferred to cleaned, washed and saved up jam and salsa jars. The larger packets got their due space in bigger containers and canned goods were arranged with smaller ones on top of the larger ones.

Before you think I try to arrange my pantry like Ms. Martha Stewart, let me clarify. I grew up in a house where my mom cooked in a tiny kitchen. The first apartment I lived in after marriage had a galley kitchen so small I could touch the sink and stove with my arms extended. Six years later, when we bought our house, I was excited to have a pantry big enough to keep everything within easy reach.

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