Friday, June 5, 2009

Middle eastern

I love Middle-eastern food. I first discovered it on my first visit to the US. My friend took me on a tour of New York, walking around all the famous avenues and streets and we finally wound up in the Village that evening for dinner. She ordered food that sounded strange – Baba ghanoush, falafel and so on – but because I knew she was vegetarian, I was safe and so eager to try it out. I fell in love with the fresh, light and zingy flavours but there was at that time no chance of getting anything similar in India. Many years later, when A and I moved to France, any time I felt too tired to cook, we'd go to the nearby Lebanese and order a take-out meal that sort of replicated a typical Indian meal. There was Baba ghanoush – similar to our beloved Baingan ka Bhurta, Mujaddara – lentils cooked with rice, akin to our Masoor Dal, and Pita bread.

Somewhere during that year we also discovered many other lovely flavours of this region – the parsley and Bulghur wheat salad and of course Hummous. I loved the simplicity of the hummous and its contrast with almost anything I could dip into it – crunchy crudités, chips, bread, croissants…It was a rediscovery of the humble Chickpea. Once back in India, we found many more restaurants serving hummous and other middle-eastern food items, but rarely did I find one with Hummous to my liking.

So much so that I've started making my own hummous and freezing large quantities so we always have some stock handy. My elder son loves it too, and is happy to have hummous with toast for breakfast or with crackers for a snack. I recently made it for a dinner with old friends, and we just all curled up around the living room table, eagerly dipping our pita bread chunks into it, while music and conversation both flowed. Bliss!


1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked, or cooked using the quick soak method

1 tsp tahini paste ( or just use plain sesame seeds – 2 tsp)

Juice of 2 limes

4-5 cloves garlic

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ cup water

Salt to taste

Olive slices and paprika to garnish

Grind together the chickpeas, sesame seeds, garlic and lime juice along with the water in a blender until you have a smooth puree. Tip out and add salt to taste. Top with half the olive oil and stir to mix well. Store in a fridge until 15 minutes before serving.

To serve: serve out into the bowl you intend to use. Scatter the olive slices and add a decorative sprinkle of paprika. Top with the olive oil and serve with toasted pita slices.

This is my entry for MLLA 12, begun by Susan and now continued by Haalo, hosted this month by Apu.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Second Chance

There are some things one just doesn't get the first time around. Trigonometry (actually, I'm not sure I'd get that even a second time around!), statistics, economics…peanut butter…

Yup, peanut butter. I grew up in India, where you don't get it – either to buy or as a taste – until I was about 12 and then we headed out to first Bangkok for a few years and later, Singapore. I went to the International/ American schools there. I discovered a whole new world of reading – Beverly Cleary with Ramona and Henry, Maud Hart Lovelace with Betsy, Lastuff.ura Ingalls Wilder and so on. I also discovered some interesting things in the cafeteria, which included something many of the American children's books and sitcoms rhapsodized about – peanut butter. At first I wasn't very adventurous about food except for an unfortunate predilection for strawberry flavoured things (synthetic strawberry flavor sucks, I've discovered). Eventually I tried a peanut butter sandwich or two, coaxed on by American school friends but I never understood what exactly about it was a big deal. Eventually I was forced to the conclusion that it was cultural differences, a conclusion that helped me accept a lot of peculiar things that year.

A couple of years later, when we were in Singapore and I was ready to be more adventurous about vegetarian food, at least, we bought a couple packs of Skippy's Peanut butter. I tried the smooth, I tried the chunky. Hmm, not so much, I thought. Then I tried something called Chocolate strips – the peanut butter and chocolate paste were packed in alternating stripes, so when you spread it on a piece of bread or toast, you got a light and dark brown striped thing that finally – finally – tasted good. We came back to India a couple of years later and peanut butter became something one had vaguely tried at some point, kinda like cigarettes, and decided to live without, with no regrets.

Well, recently I was at the neighbourhood hypermarket and came across Ben and Jerry's icecream. I'm not someone who liked fruit-flavoured icecream ( for that I prefer gelato or sorbets) so eschewing the Chunky monkey which is banana flavoured, they only had Chubby Hubby so I picked up a tub. Ben and Jerry's is one of my favourite icecream brands so I hoped for the best after I realized it had peanut butter in it. That night, after all three kids were finally asleep, A and I decided to treat ourselves to a little CH. One spoonful later and I was hooked. This was a lovely mélange of flavours and textures, with the sweet, silken chocolate and vanilla rubbing up against the slightly salty, chunky peanut butter. Awesome, was our verdict.

Then, a little while later, I was flying out of SFO airport and spotted a Ghirardelli's stand so I made a beeline for it and bought a pack of assorted chocolates. Back home, I found a peanut-butter flavoured chocolate. One bite and I was hooked, with the tiny pebbly peanut butter contrasting against silken chocolate all over again. Hmm, peanut butter seems like a good thing, I thought and bought a jar of Skippy's smooth PB. I made myself toast for breakfast a few days later and with a smear of PB and J on it, I realized I had found a new food taste to get hooked on to.

Now the only problem is that Skippy's is quite expensive. There is an Indian brand, Sundrop, which has just launched PB but it's from the house of a tobacco giant, so A and I being conscientious objectors, I can't buy that. Gee, did anyone ever envisage the day that peanut butter would be classified as a 'luxury'?