Monday, December 17, 2007

In which Tacbell supplements cheese with pieces of surgical glove

Date: 12/10/2007

Where at: Taco Bell drive-by.

What: One order of crunchy taco, no meat.

Why gripe: The employee probably took pity on my no meat diet and in, am sure, an act of sympathy, added a little scrap of glove-the top portion of the index finger in a surgical, plastic glove to be precise.

And now: The very thought of cheap, tasty (however dubious) fast food is now repulsive.
So, in hind sight, may be it was a good thing that I found glove in my grub-I have now sworn off all fast food.

( least when am not traveling, or in airports,or rushing to school, or not eating at home...but under all other circumstances, I will never eat fastfood).

Friday, December 14, 2007

In which I owe it to curd rice

Growing up in a regular, south Indian middle class family, I never paid much attention to food.

It was something to be had before you left for school, and something to be had after school. Well, it couldn't have been that dour an experience. After all, I did look forward to opening my sambar rice laden lunch box at school everyday to much applause, acclaims, and praise from friends. My mother's sambar rice was a hit with everybody.

Sambar rice and beans curry to be precise-a deadly combination. Then there were the curd rice days, which to be honest, I enjoyed more than the sambar chaadam. To me curd rice spelt bliss. What could be more comforting than cool, seasoned curd rice with mango pickle or whatever curry it was the graced the surface of the curd rice in the lunch box.

My curd rice affliction also owes to the fact that most of my childhood was spent in the hot and sultry south-Madurai and later Madras. It would have been harakiri to pack say milagai podi laden dosais, or spicy vegetable rice or the more delectable yet still spicy paneer preparations that my friend Sumegha would bring to school everyday. Curd rice suited the climes. It also suited the often ventilation less, ceiling fan deprived classrooms that we were often prey to at school.

So, when you're just about done with another half hour of Sasikala's stentorian ramblings about the difference between convex and concave surfaces (I still wouldn't know, one bulges out and the other bulges in?), when the sun is beating down outside and the only other sound is the nervous snicker exchanged between the 2 girls sitting behind you (who knows why, may be they heard the plump kid fart or may be they discovered a hastily written, abandoned love letter from that boy to this girl), about the only thing your half drowsy, sweat stained self can look forward to is curd rice.

So, to cut the long story short, I was never much of a foodie. This is not to say that the food that I got at home was uninspiring. Quite the opposite. But you don't quite realize the rarity of good home cooked food until you get away from home and consider a cuppa coffee a wholesome breakfast.

So, it wasn't until 4 years back that I truly began to appreciate food, because I knew how bad it could taste when I made it myself.

The other day, I was on the phone with my mother and was expressing my guilt at not having helped around in the kitchen or appreciating what she did for us everyday. My mother of course, had to point out that I did in fact help her out by cleaning the stove and the kitchen top every night. I then pointed out that I never did like doing that.

The point being that I have now stumbled upon what could be a great hobby, perhaps a career too, if I don't graduate from grad school, (which might be imminent, given am sweating more over this blog than my dissertation).

So, dear curd rice, may you live forever. May you grace the grease stained innards of all overweight humankind, may your curd never curdle, may your rice never get sticky, and may your pristine whiteness adorn the hollow insides of many a leaky nose, pig tailed lass's tiffin box.

(Aside:The term curd rice (more precisely its tamil variant, thayir sadam) these days is also a reference to wet behind the ears, studious, yet socially awkward, tamil brahmin 20-30 somethings. When in college, my friends and I wore it on our sleeves. We were proud to be thayir sadams. I believe it was a self-esteeming boosting move on our part, because we soon came to realize that we were neither the extremely industrious kind that wouldn't part from their books, nor the extremely insouciant kind that would skip classes to watch movies in theaters nearby. So we were the thayir sadams. We knew the theory behind things, but were never brave enough to do it. We would skip classes to catch a bite of samosa at the cafeteria but never to hitch a ride with boyfriends to the beach. We would be loud and obnoxious but never enough to be sent home.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Food porn

In which I burnt the eggplant

So, I had half an eggplant (asian) left over from a previous meal.
What do I do? Do I use the rest of it in another sambar? No, had to thrive almost exclusively on sambar all of last week.
Do, I make a marinate it in some spices and shallow fry? Fry? Now we're talking.
I looked up some recipes for grilled eggplants, realised the eggplant they have in mind is the gargantuan kind and almost abandoned the idea. Then figured, nothing grilled or shallow fried can taste bad and went ahead with it.
So, I cut the eggplant into thin slices and dipped, dunked, marinated them in this concoction: some olive oil (little more than a tablespoon. This time around I used the a a tablespoon measure), less than a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, a dash of italian seasoning (or the more haute thyme, rosemary etc if you stock them), a dash of salt and pepper and finally some finely chopped garlic, may be 2 cloves.

I whisk the mixture, but really the nature of the ingredients do not lend itself to whisking, so I shook 'em around hoping they would blend.

I then dunk the slices of eggplant into the concoction. Let them sit may be for 5 minutes.

I heat the skillet, spray some Pam and when the skillet is hot, add a few slices.
Let them sit for a minute or two and then flip 'em.

Now I have may 15 scrawny pieces of grilled/shallow fried eggplant. No amount of geometric arrangement will make 'em pretty.

And then it hits me. Why not make a hot-cold salad, by adding some cheese and tomatoes.

So I reach for the half cut tomato and some mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini, I think) from the murky depths of my fridge and chop them up-the tomatoes into round slices and the cheese balls into halves.

I then arrange the eggplant slices around the edges of the plate followed by tomatoes and then finally the cheese scattered haphazardly on the tomatoes.

I drizzle some olive oil, balsamic,add some salt, pepper and italian seasoning to the tomatoes and cheese, and hey presto, I have my very own salad!

Might proud to say the least.

I'd like to say the final product looked like this (courtesy, Jupiter images):

But, it looked more like this.

But for all I know it tasted even better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In which I attempted my first flog

Ventured out of my comfort zone yesterday and made my own dhaal,without frantic googling, or referencing Gemini Mahadevan or Samaithu paar, although I doubt if either Gemini or Samaithu would sport the essentially north Indian recipe.

Here goes:

Cooking dhaal would be a lot easier if you boil and freeze a bunch for later use.
Pre-cooked tuvaram parrupu for sambar and rasam, and pre-cooked moong and masoor for the myriad dhaal combos. (Note the switch between the tamil and hindi.Smart.)

So, here goes again;

Caveat: I jot this recipe down like am thinking aloud. Despite most recipes exhorting us to measure teaspoonsful or tablespoonsful or cupfuls, one usually never gets around to it, except when the proportions really really matter, like when making a cake or payasam or the likes. So, when I say, "add water, then add some more, then add some more" speaks directly to the way I actually executed the dish. So, you need to take it with a pinch of salt. That's figurative of course.

Heat desired amount of oil.

Tadka/Taalichify with mustard, jeera, hing; then add a couple of sliced chillies, and some garlic,if desired. (I'd add garlic to anything I can lay my hands on. It has a lot going for it.)

Add some curry leaves too if desired. IMHO, Curry leaves can only enhance the flavor of a dish. Curry leaves in dhaal may be an unlikely pairing, but hey, when you have tons of it languishing in the fridge and you really don't have Indian food lined up for the rest of the week, what do you do? Right.

Now add some finely chopped onion. I used half an onion yesterday. This after innumerable attempts at making the right amount of dhaal. Onions add to the quantity,so if you don't want to eat dhaal for the rest of your life, I'd suggest half an onion for dhaal that might last 4 portions.

Saute onions, add finely chopped tomatoes. Again, I used one.

Once the raw smell goes, add some water, may be 3 of those measuring cupsful.

Once water starts to boil, add 2 cubes of thawed methi leaves. The frozen and then thawed kind. The methi cubes, I chanced upon when rummaging the freezer for shredded cheese. Rest assured, I had no plans of adding the cheese to the dhaal. Even I knew that would be a disaster. No, the cheese was for some other preparation.

So, when I chanced upon the methi leaves, I figured I'd throw a couple cubes into the dhaal. And I did. And so will you, if you've faithfully read until here.

Let the methi cook in the water for a little bit. May be 5-7 minutes.

Now add 5-6 teaspoons of the cooked moong dhaal. The measures may be a bit awkward, but I report what I executed.
Or at least enough so that the dhaal has the right kind of consistency, not too liquidy, but not too thick.

Add desired pinches of salt.

Let this simmer and then boil.

Once the concoction boils, taste. Coz, that's what I did. Better still, have somebody else taste it for you. If its somebody near and dear,their reactions will not lie. If you notice eyes bulging, ears turning red, gag reflex, that should tell you something. Turn the insinkerator on and sing a final paean to the dhaal that never was.

Fortunately I had no use for the insinkerator yesterday. After some initial tasting, I added more salt.

Finally,garnish the dhaal with finely chopped cilantro and add a few drops of lemon juice, if lemon rocks your boat.