Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Someday I'll wish upon a star...

Today, I'm thinking of the kurma avatara myth in the Dasavataras, in which the devas and the asuras churned an ocean of milk to raise the nectar of life from its depths. I imagine it was glistening and viscous. When it caught the light just so, it would shimmer. When you dipped a spoon in it, it would ripple, then settle in its pristine goldenness. When you drizzled it on ice cream... but it seems sacrilegious to think of drizzling the nectar of immortality on ice cream.

As you grow older, you learn things about yourself. I now know that I will never be tall and thin and that dressing like I am will only make me look ridiculous. I know that no matter how reluctant I am to start exercising, I will get into it after the first ten shitty minutes. I know that I cannot walk too long in high heels without wanting to cut off my toes. And I know that when I start browsing Foodgawker, it's not because I want to find something to cook, it's because I'm hungry and had better fix myself a snack before I get hangry. None of this self-knowledge is of much use: I still buy skirts for amazons, put off working out, wear high heels and limp and am too lazy to leave my desk to get a snack. So I browse through Foodgawker for page after page, looking at gorgeously lit photos of beautiful food. Incidentally, I am so over the word beautiful to describe food and produce. I think chefs on TV shows have used it to death. The word has ceased to have meaning. Octopus tentacles might be delicious, I don't know, but they are not and never will be beautiful. So I'm going to cast about for other adjectives to describe food, as I tell you about all the things I've been snacking on of late.

A took me to a fancypants Italian restaurant, the sort that sold tomato and red pepper broth for 300 rupees and convinced us at the time that 400 was a reasonable price to pay for bits of toast with mayo on them. Still, the one dish we really went for was also the simplest, a bruschetta with finely diced tomatoes and a few slivers of basil. The basil plants at home are getting out of hand and badly need pruning. I did my bit by pinching at them here and there till I had a tidy pile of leaves. I've made bruschetta before, but I think the thing that made this place's the best I'd ever tasted, besides the fact that it compared favourably with toast smeared with mayo, was that the tomato was very finely diced. The toast was dry and rubbed with garlic. Then the tomato was piled on and its juices allowed to seep down. The whole thing was topped with only chiffonaded basil and a glug of olive oil. It was pulchritudinous. My toasts were thinner and lacked structural integrity. I rubbed them too energetically with garlic wearing out holes in their middles. Luckily, my tomatoes were too roughly chopped to fall through the holes, because my knives aren't sharp. The basil tasted nice. I ate three, then went back to Foodgawker, only breaking to snack some more on chocolate.

On the rare days that I do plan ahead, I've been making a salad. Amma's big on saving on food waste, so she collects the rinds of the limes I squeeze and pickles them in salt. I dig these preserved rinds out of their jar and whir them in the blender with mustard, green chillies, fresh basil, olive oil, salt and sugar. The resultant sauce is acid green and tart tasting. It dresses a salad of poorly chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers very well. I keep the salad in the fridge and pick at it all day long. It's foxy.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cooking for one

I notice a distinct difference between how I cook for myself and how I cook for others. When A is around, I plan ahead and shop for fancy ingredients. I soak, ferment and stew. I make multiple component dishes and plate up on fabulous pottery. Not always, but often enough. I even take photos of the food in natural light, and post them on Instagram. 
When I eat alone, my food is brown. That is the colour it turns, no matter how it begins. On Tuesday, I spent an hour boiling dal into submission, first in the microwave, then in a pan on the stove. It turned brown. I added some stewed cabbage to it, and as much garlic as I could be bothered to peel. Then I left it to cool on the hob and went to bed without dinner. In the morning, I checked on it, half hoping it was spoiled enough to throw out, but it smelled alright and looked as unappetisingly brown as it had, despite the natural light. I couldn't justify throwing out perfectly good food, so I boiled it again, mostly out of spite, and then cooled it and shoved it into the fridge. It has lain in there ever since, judging me, every time I reach into the fridge for another ear of corn. That's what I've been eating mostly, microwaved ears of sweet corn, with salt rubbed into them. Except, the salt in my spice box has gotten into the turmeric and cumin sections, so it's become a spice rub all by itself. I remind myself of the anti inflammatory properties of turmeric as I gnaw on my corn and watch reruns of Master Chef. I even pop a vitamin pill every morning. 

Today, I felt fancier. I sauteed onions and mushrooms in a pan, and then cooked them up with Ching's Secret two minute noodles. I even scattered leftover pizza seasoning from a sachet over the top and congratulated myself over my thriftiness. The whole thing turned brown. I left it in the pan to cool and boiled up another ear of corn. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stuck-bottom rice


Onions and butter. So much butter. So much guilt over the quantity of butter. You know what? Screw the guilt. "Screw you," I said, prodding angrily at the onions. They shrivelled and turned brown.

A dainty sprinkle of chilli flakes. "Restraint," I muttered to myself, suppressing the urge to sprinkle turmeric. We don't want garish yellow rice.

One clove of garlic. I peered at the bulb, looking for the smallest clove. They all seemed unrestrainedly large. I peeled the smallest one, smashed it between my fingers and cast it in. The smell from the pot changed from oniony to garlicky. I took a deep sniff and coughed from the noseful of chilli.

Finally, the rice. It was partially cooked and drained, then thrown into the pot with the onions and garlic, water and salt, to cook some more. Then I covered it with a lid and fidgeted. It had to cook in its own steam, undisturbed.

I cursed and opened the pot to throw in a single pod of cardamom. The rice must be perfumed. I noticed the onions were rehydrating, plumping. Lid closed.

Ten minutes later, I was back at the pot, listening. The sounds inside had gone from bubbling to hissing. The starch from the rice was finally coming in contact with metal, the buffer of water evaporated. I chuckled to myself and turned off the heat.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bread



It is finally spring in Delhi. The winter was long and cold, but not quite as miserable as I had expected. I suppose that goes to show that if you keep your expectations low enough, you can always be pleasantly surprised. We haven't quite cast off our sweaters yet, and Panda still longingly eyes my bed every night. But there's sunshine, and very little fog, and even flowers blooming in the garden.

I noticed a spray of poppies this morning, blooming wildly under a tree. I sniffed at them hopefully but I don't think they were opium poppies. Panda tried to eat one (he's rather jealous of anything that distracts my attention from him) and now, an hour later, he only seems as giddy as usual.

The warmer weather has me stirring from my winter hibernation and I've been venturing more and more into the kitchen lately. I find I'm going through a phase when I'm bored of baking sweets. With K gone off to the US, there's no one here to eat them. But then I'm fickle and the next post here might just be of chocolate cupcakes with cloudy frosting. Today though, I'm here to announce that I baked bread! And it was soft and crusty with an impeccable hole structure! And yes, I think that warrants a few exclamation points. You see, every few months, I decide to master bread making, only to retire, beaten, after making a rock-like loaf that even the dog turns his nose up at (and he regularly goes through the garbage pail. He thinks I don't know).



Recently though, I cracked the code for the perfect dough, and it was a revelation. You see, flour has these proteins in it called glutens, that when wet, swell, and when kneaded, form long elastic chains. The yeast in the dough breathes and it's like they're blowing bubbles into the dough. Because the gluten is in these long chains, the bubbles stretch the dough like in bubblegum, and don't burst. Then, when you bake the bread, you dry the water out, but the bubble holds, giving it that elusive airy structure. Silly that I was, I bashed on with my bread making without understanding this, and would keep adding flour to my dough willy nilly, to make it easier to knead. What I didn't realise was that by doing so I wasn't allowing sufficient water for the glutens to expand, so they wouldn't form long chains, and so when the yeast breathed, the bubbles would quickly collapse. Hence: dense, brick-like bread.



So then I tried hydrating the crap out of my dough and suddenly the stuff was expanding and bubbling like a witch's cauldron. I couldn't resist lifting the tea towel it was resting under every half-hour to see how much it had risen, and each time it was a little more. When it finally baked up it was light and crusty, albeit decidedly homely in appearance. Then I waited impatiently till it cooled, sliced and toasted it, and served it rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes and basil. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Rainy-day-at-home cake



For the first time in a while, I'm spending a whole day at home. I had classes today, but when I weighed the dubious joy of listening to a five-hour lecture on Indian history against a rainy day spent cosily at home with a bright-eyed dog and a cosseting mother, it was an easy choice. This cake might also have had something to do with swaying me.

I baked it yesterday afternoon, in between a conversation. It took all of ten minutes to put together and about thirty more to bake. This is one of my favourite recipes and I've baked this cake, oh, at least a dozen times this year. It is from Amanda Hesser's "The Essential New York Times Cook Book", and of course with a pedigree like that it's guaranteed to turn out splendid. Sometimes, I bake it into cupcakes slathered with this ethereally light frosting and once, I covered it in a brown butter and chocolate glaze. This is the cake I'd fantasised about drowning in caramel, but when it came out of the oven all cracked and crumbly, I decided to save the caramel for another day. All things said and done, this cake really needs no ornamentation beyond a dusting of powdered sugar. Even that disappears by the next morning, melting into the surface like it was never there. I like eating it with my fingers, sitting by the window, looking out at the rain. 



Recipe here


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inspiration chickpea salad



I went into the kitchen to bake a cake and emerged instead with a salad. I'd been thinking of the cake for a while. It was to be deeply chocolatey and crumbly, and as soon as it was done, I'd stab it viciously with a fork and pour bubbling caramel sauce all over it. It was late evening though, and I was tired, and while descriptions of butter and chocolate were all very well and stabbing cakes is always fun, I found that what I really craved was garlic.

Amma'd gone off blithely for her evening walk and I was left to fend for myself in the kitchen. A rummage through the fridge revealed only a handful of boiled chickpeas that looked rather sorry for themselves. So there was nothing left to do but to play U2 loudly, sing along, and start chopping. I began with the garlic that I started off in cold oil so it would infuse without burning. While that began to bubble, I chopped up a tomato finely and upended that into my wok. It hissed with a fury that only abated when I followed the tomato with chunks of eggplant. Everything got salted and sugared (I'm a big believer in adding a pinch of sugar to everything salty and a pinch of salt to everything sweet. Amma says this practice makes everything I make taste the same. What does she know?) and was then left alone to cook. I chopped up some capsicum and half an onion, then rescued the chickpeas from the fridge and skipped out to the garden for some fresh basil.

By the time I returned, the eggplant chunks were soft and the tomato had lost its integrity and was clinging onto them fiercely. Everything else went in and a few stirs later, it was ready. Now, I don't like to toot my own horn, but man was this slap-your-thigh bang-your-fork good. Even the dog, who hates vegetables like they're made up of postmen, queued up for a taste. He then watched, bright-eyed, as I photographed my cooling bowl, and spent the rest of the evening curled up ingratiatingly under my feet.