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


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.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The colour of sunshine

I woke up late this morning. (Incidentally, in these places, late is 7 am, and if you stay in bed past eight, amma will come in and check your temperature.) The dog of course woke me up at 5:30, but that doesn't count as waking up any more. I blearily shuffle him out while he nips at my ankles. I let him out and head back to bed again for another blissful hour, or on rare days like today, an hour and a half. By the time I woke, amma and appa were back from their morning walk and on their second cups of coffee. The dog lay quietly panting on the floor, with the air of someone who wasn't going to move till called for breakfast. I had the kitchen all to myself, and instead of making myself coffee, I set about slicing mangoes.

One advantage of living in the north is that even though summer comes late, the mangoes stick around longer. The mangoes ripen as the sun travels up the length of the country, and here in Delhi, I get to try them all. The monsoons have come, bringing worryingly little rain,  but the markets of Delhi are still full of mangoes and will be for a few more weeks yet. I've waxed embarrassingly lyrical on this blog before on my love for mangoes. Suffice to say, it only grows stronger each year. This time around, I've mostly been eating them whole, tearing off their skins and feasting on their flesh. Sometimes though, I can be a little more civilised. 

The mangoes I had in the fruit basket were a little past their prime. They still smelled floral, but with a hint of astringent. They tasted sweet but with a somewhat insipid sweetness. I decided it didn't matter and puréed them with honey. The honey turned the colour of the purée -already very bright- into shocking orange. Then I turned on the ice cream maker and swirled in my puree with yoghurt. Appa came wandering in and we discussed the news over the noise of the machine. 

Fifteen minutes later, I was scraping out great gobs of sunshine-coloured frozen yoghurt, to set and then serve after a satisfying Sunday lunch. 

Summertime mango frozen yoghurt
As for the recipe, I'm afraid I can't give you exact proportions here. It was seven in the morning and I hadn't had any coffee. Still, here's what I remember:

Take three mangoes of the small and fibrous variety. It's good if they have a couple of spots here and there that make you disdain eating them as they are, because I still hold that the best way to eat a perfect mango is raw, with your hands, juice running down to your elbows. Peel off their skins. If they're the small, fibrous variety that I recommend, the skins should come off easy. If they're not, you're on your own, you maverick. Cut the flesh off the seeds and scrape as much as you can off, using a blunt knife. Purée this flesh in a blender with a pour of honey. Err on the side of too much honey; freezing dulls the sweetness. Then turn on your ice cream maker and pour two cupfuls of low-fat yoghurt into it. I suppose high-fat would be better, but we seem to have made 'fat' an evil word these days and I'm as susceptible to social conditioning as anyone else. Pour in your purée and watch in fascination as the yellow swirls into and eventually blends in with the white. After about twenty minutes that you'll spend discussing politics over the noise of the ice cream maker, scrape out the contents of the bowl into a tupperware container and place it in the freezer to set up firmly. Shamelessly lick the bowl ice cream maker's bowl, refusing to share even with the dog. 

Serve after a hearty lunch, preferably on a Sunday when you can go sleep it all off later. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Date nut bars

I was sitting in a rather boring science class when I dreamed these bars up. The air conditioning was set to Arctic and I was hungry. I started thinking of roasted almonds, lightly dusted with salt. They didn't do it for me, so I switched to caramelised almonds in sugar. Somehow by the end of class that mutated to almonds and dates in a sticky chocolatey goo (incidentally, if you must have goo, it might as well be chocolatey, no?) stuck firmly atop a buttery biscuit.

That was in the last week of summer, when the temperatures rose to 46 degrees Celsius and at three in the afternoon, after slipping on melted butter and cussing a blue streak, I had my bars. I gave up eggs a while ago and it's a constant challenge to find other ingredients to substitute for them in my baking. For standard-issue date and nut tartelettes, a mixture of egg and sugar is used to bind everything together. I could've simply used sugar, but then I ran the risk of it getting too sweet or too hard. I thought about what it was in the egg that was so perfect for holding reluctant nuts together and realised it was the protein. Now, malt has protein too, of the wheat gluten sort. Malted drink mixes also contain sugar and chocolate flavouring. All it took was a little water and butter mixed with Bournvita and I had a substance as thick and goopy as my heart could desire. I chopped up some roasted almonds, peanuts and dates, mixed them with the Bournvita and spread it all on a disk of shortbread. This went into the oven until the top was scorched slightly and had settled into a decided crust.

After waiting for it to cool, I cut my disk into slices and shared one with the dog. He licked my hand in search of crumbs afterwards and hung around me chummily for the rest of the day.