Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Taste of Terroir

I had blogged about terroir over a year ago, when Anna first came up with this event. Since then, life has intervened in a pretty major way to keep me from finding the time to participate yet again. But Anna's email finally prompted me to stop procrastinating and write in on the theme yet again.
Indian food has a very sound and interesting theory behind it. Most of the prescriptions about what to eat and in which season and how are based on seasonality - what the weather will be like, what the harvest of the season will be like and what the body needs to stay healthy in that weather. This is much more heightened in the north of India, where you actually have 4 distinct seasons in the year as opposed to any other region of India.

Winter in the North brings forth a bounty of delicious vegetables and I go crazy each time I visit the local vegetable market, greedily trying to cram lots of them into my shopping basket, yet bound by the finite number of meals in a day! Green vegetables really come into their own and one can pick out several kinds of greens which are only available in the winter.

One of the major specialities to eat in Punjab in the winter is Makai ki Roti and Sarson ka Saag.
Makai is maize, so this is an unleavened bread made with maize flour and topped with dollops of home made unsalted white butter. With it, you have a mashed vegetable made of mustard leaves blended with onions, ginger, garlic and daikon, again topped with lashings of home made butter. On the side, you have jaggery, the brown sugar made from sugar cane.

These are typical dishes eaten in village homes in this season. By October, you can see mustard plants with bright yellow flowers on their stems as you drive by villages in the North. In villages, the dish is prepared with freshly harvested mustard greens. The Makai is locally grown as well, dehusked and made into flour. The jaggery is made from the sugar cane grown in the villages and is used to sweeten almost everything in the villages, and the taste of the jaggery actually changes with the soil of the area in which the sugar cane is grown.

This meal is particularly designed for the winter, to provide more heat to the body. Makai has a lower sugar content than wheat and thus is slower to be absorbed, keeping one full for longer. At the same time it is easy to digest, a must for cold weather. Mustard leaves are known to be 'heating agents' as per ayurveda even though mustard oil is a coolant. They also make sure the meal is high in fibre which is needed for good digestion in winter. Jaggery too is supposed to have a heating effect on the body. And the dishes are all topped with butter which helps the body to stay well-lubricated in the cold, dry winters of North India.

Of course, quite apart from the health benefits of this meal is the delicious taste. The Sarson ka Saag has a rich, slightly bitter taste, offset by the sweet and salty rotis.

Sarson ka Saag
1 bunch sarson ( mustard) greens
1/2 bunch spinach leaves
1 daikon
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 green chillies
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Wash and clean the greens thoroughly and chop off the bottom two inches of stem. Peel the daikon and chop into 1 inch pieces. Pressure cook for one whistle or boil the greens together with the daikon until soft. In a large wok, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and green chillies and cook for one minute. Then add the greens and the daikon and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Let cool and then puree until you get a fine paste.
Serve topped with white, unsalted butter and a large piece of jaggery, some slices of onion and a green chilli.
(I prefer not to add turmeric as that gives the dish a brownish colour instead of the bright green it otherwise looks.)
Makai Ki Roti
Maize flour - 2 cups
Water - 1 cup
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
Mix the flour, salt, oil and then slowly add the water while mixing, until the flour becomes easy to knead.
Make the dough into 12 small balls. Roll them into rounds and then flatten them with the palm of the hand. Roll them out into flat disks about 5 inches in diameter and cook on a hot skillet, turning to cook on both sides. Serve hot, topped with butter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lentil Dessert for My Legume Love Affair

My entry for My legume love affair, started by Susan about a year ago.

My mom loves experimenting in the kitchen. One of the delights of her life is to play detective in the kitchen - basically figure out how a particular dish she liked was made and try and do it on her own. I guess that's something I inherited from her.

Recently, she went to a lunch hosted by a friend and had a really interesting lentil dessert and the next day couldn't resist trying to create it on her own. It turned out to be really simple, delicious and healthy!


Tapioca pearls - 1 handful

1 cup yellow moong dhal

Jaggery - about 2 tablespoons, grated

1.5 cups milk

Handful raisins

7-8 pieces cardamom, peeled and powdered

Handful cashews, roasted in ghee

Cook the moong dhal with approximately twice as much water until very soft and almost pasty. Wash the tapioca pearls several times in water until they turn soft and fluff up.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, add the moong dhal, milk, jaggery, tapioca pearls and raisins and cook until the pearls are translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add the powdered cardamom and stir to mix. Top with cashews and serve. This dessert can be served either cold or hot - when cold it will be somewhat stiff, while when hot it is runny like a thick milkshake.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ching Chong salad

This is my entry for The Heart Of The Matter.
I love salads, as any of you who've frequented this blog would know. And in winter in Delhi, it's impossible for anyone to remain untempted by the variety of lovely, fresh vegetables spilling over in the markets. But I also constantly need variety and for some time now have been wondering how to impart a Chinese flavour to a salad without necessarily using Chinese vegetables like Pak Choy and bean sprouts. Then I was watching Kylie Kwong's China tour on Discovery Travel and Living and later, Jamie Oliver, and but naturally, got inspired.

I decided to make the dressing very Chinese in flavour while retaining the salad vegetables I love. It's easy and a refreshing new variation on the same old olive oil vinaigrette. Awesome! The name of the salad comes from popular Indian cinema nods to China, in which 'Chinese' characters say something that sounds vaguely Chinese but isn't.
Salad vegetables. I used lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces - and I mean bite-sized. I hate when restaurants ( or people) use whole leaves in salad - they don't absorb the dressing very well and it's very hard to fork them into your mouth! Red radish cut into quarters. Halved cherry tomatoes. The white part of spring onions, diced. Julienned red and yellow bell pepper. Cucumber, peeled and diced. Peas. Green beans, cut into 2 inch batons and parboiled. Broccoli florets, steamed lightly. You can chill the prepared vegetables until just before you want to serve the salad.
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, dry-roasted
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch coriander leaves
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine batons
The green part of spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon of jaggery, grated
Soy sauce to taste
Juice of 1 lime
1 green chilli, grated ( yes, I mean grated, so the seeds stay on the outside and only the fragrant chilli goes in the salad)

Pound the garlic, coriander and green spring onions together in a mortar. Put the paste into a bowl and add the oil, soy sauce, chilli, jaggery, lime juice and ginger. Keep aside to marinate for about half an hour.
To assemble: Put all the vegetables into a large salad bowl. Pour the dressing on top and then add the sesame seeds. Mix with your hands ( might sound icky but I find the ingredients get mised more evenly by hand than with salad spoons) and serve.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pea Fog

This is my entry for No Croutons Required.
I always wondered what the phrase pea-soup fog meant. I've lived in Delhi which gets pretty thick fog in winters but why the pea soup part was a mystery until I actually got doen to making some. We get fabulously fresh peas here in winter - sweet, juicy and flavourful - and it's one of the big pleasures of a winter afternoon to sit in the watery afternoon sunshine and unpeel the pale green jewels, popping more than a few into one's mouth along the way.

I hate the way most cooks end up over-cooking peas so that they become hard little pellets with no taste or savour. I like to cook them so their flavour remains either intact or becomes enhanced. We had pea soup for dinner last night and just had enough so A and I could warn our insides on this cold evening with the rest. It's green, deliciously sweet and spicy, and yes, thick enough to qualify as a fog. try it - it's easy and a guaranteed child pleaser.

2 kilos of peas ( makes about a kilo and quarter when podded, enough for 6 people)
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1.2 litres of veg stock
Teaspoon of sage, rosemary, thyme and marjoram
Salt and crushed pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar
Tablespoon of butter
One tablespoon of olive oil
Half a bunch of spinach leaves ( around 20 of them), shredded finely
In a deep pan, put in the butter and half the olive oil. Wait till the butter melts and put in the chopped onions and garlic. Wait till the onions turn transparent and add the peas into the pan. Add a cup of the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are really soft and melty. Add the herbs and take off the stove.
After the mixture is cool, blend it in the mixer until it becomes a fine paste. Put the paste back into the pan and add the rest of the water, salt, sugar and pepper and heat it until it comes to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat the other half tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Put in the spinach shreds and cook on high until the shreds wilt. Put them into the hot soup and serve, with croutons on the side.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Food it is...

Having spent most of last year being allergic to food and hungry at the same time ( a condition otherwise known as pregnancy), I was really not that into this blog. But now the baby's out, though you may not be able to tell by looking at me, and I'm back to my passion. We rang in New Year's Eve with an interesting menu:
Potage de Broccoli avec amandes
Salade Jardiniere
Petit Pois a la Francaise
Pommes de terre a la Maya ( from my friend Maya's recipe)
Pasta a la Russe ( Pasta with vodka)
and the grand finale:
Gateau Chocolate a la Nigella ( Molten chocolate babycakes from Nigella Lawson's book)
The Pommes de terre are really easy, and taste fab while looking complicated - a must for appreciation hounds like me. Here's what you do:
Slice up some potatoes really thin. Try and keep them evenly thick. Parboil in salted water and drain, to make the cooking process easier. In a transparent glass dish with 3 inch sides, layer like this: One layer of potato slices, drizzle over with cream beaten with salt and pepper till the potato layer is covered and repeat until all the potatoes are gone. Make sure the top layer is cream. Pop into a 200 degrees C pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes until the potatoes are done. Top with parmesan gratings about 10 minutes before you take the dish out of the oven, if you want. Budget for about 1 large potatoe per person and add 2-3 to the pot so you can have nice leftovers.

The Petit Pois were lovely - fresh peas cooked with scallions and 1 head of lettuce until cooked, juicy but still tender and bright green, in butter, with a little salt, pepper and water and a pinch of sugar added. made them taste even more pea-ey, if you know what I mean.

Since New Year's Eve, here's what I have cooked:
Tomato soup with basil
Salad with chinese dressing ( awesome)
Black carrot halwa.

Recipes shall follow soon...