Thursday, October 09, 2014

How To Make A Mixed Gourd Salad




Someone always gets there first. Almost always. And I say this with a smile and a sigh rather than pique. I had been thinking of a gourd salad for a long time. However, I didn't search the Internet for it till I bought a variety of gourds a couple of days ago and was surprised to find several results for it. Most used one gourd, and those were mostly bitter gourd and snake gourd.I rather thought I'd be the inventor of the gourd salad but no, several people have beaten me to it, so let me call myself the inventor of this mixed gourd salad.

Most of the components of this dish are gourds, most of them are green and I'm quite pleased with myself at how I went about building and dressing the salad. The previous night, I had decided to bunk yoga class yesterday morning to spend more time in bed. I went to bed late, breaking my rather new rule of no-Internet-on-big-screens-at-night (my beginner-size, low-tech smartphone is the exception). I surfed and surfed - "yoga for weight loss", "yoga to prevent diabetes", Facebook (why had a schoolmate accepted the school rowdy as her friend, what had he made of himself - I couldn't find out) and several pages of results for gourd salads.

Despite all this, I couldn't sleep beyond my usual quota. (Why did I think yesterday would be any different from other days?) After spending a couple of wide-awake hours trying to solve the day's cryptic crossword, I found myself cutting and steaming vegetables for an hour. I whizzed a few ingredients to make a dressing and sprinkled it over the salad. Then I added - nay, squished into it - some bocconcini which was past its best-before date and immediately regretted it because I didn't think the flavours would go together and took out as much as I could. Live a little, Sra, my heart told me, so I added it back in. I did not add any salt because the cheese had some. Nor did I add any oil at this stage. I thought the fat in the cheese would coat it enough. (See notes below.)

For the salad
Snake gourd, peeled, chopped into strips: 1.5 cups
Ash gourd/white pumpkin/winter melon, peeled and diced
Tender ridge gourd: 1.5 cups
French beans: 6-8, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
Onion, sliced: 1

For the 'dressing'
Shredded coconut, fresh: A handful
Roasted peanuts: A handful
Green chilli: 1, chopped
A pinch of salt

 Lime juice: From two limes
Bocconcini: 5-6 balls

Cook the snake gourd and French beans in the microwave with a little water for two minutes on High. (I did not treat the other vegetables the same way as they were very tender and juicy.)

To make the dressing, pulse the coconut, peanuts, salt and green chilli just once to make a coarse mix that can be sprinkled over the vegetables.

Put the vegetables in a dish, mix the bocconcini into them, pour the lime juice over and sprinkle the mixture on top of the salad. Chill.

Notes: At lunchtime, I served myself some of the salad and decided it needed more salt. However, I added the salt to my portion of the salad and not to the entire dish lest it got all watery. It also seemed a bit dry so I added a spoon of plain oil to the salad on my plate, mixed it in gently, and then it came together. However, the Spouse had none of these complaints and liked it as it was.


I am sending this off to No Croutons Required, hosted this month by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sanwin Makin - A Little Bit Of Burma



Senwei mekei or senway mackay - that's how my friend's family, where I was introduced to a selection of food from Myanmar/Burma, used to pronounce it. Years later, when the Internet came to India I would type in those words and get nowhere. I don't remember how I finally found out - maybe I searched for 'Burmese dessert with coconut milk' or something like that, maybe my friend told me- but I realised it was spelt 'sanwin makin'. I think I tried it once before and failed, or maybe I haven't - I'm not remembering a lot of things right at the beginning of this post! But that aside, when my friend's mother made it, it would look so lovely. It was a translucent brown, and puddingy, rather like a China Grass dessert than like cake. Aunty would set it in a plate, cut it into diamonds and sprinkle poppy seed over it.

As a student of marketing strategy for the last 15 years, I have picked up some jargon from the field, including the words 'pull' and 'push'. They mean one thing in marketing but in this post, they mean quite something else! Sometimes the pull of a memory is so strong that it's almost a physical sensation, but this is not why I attempted this dessert. It was push - I needed to push out some brown semolina (brown sooji/godhuma rava - I had the fine variety) from my kitchen. A good way to exhaust it is to find things to make with it other than upma with vegetables, which seems to be the most common use for it. You can use ordinary white sooji/semolina.

Then I did something that marketers, especially retailers, are unhappy about. When I went to look for the coconut milk cartons that I usually buy, I saw that they were dated April. And this was September. I scrabbled further into the dark recesses of the shelf and found some packed in July. I took all half a dozen of them and paid for them. (One retailer actually protested when I said I always look for the most recently packed ones - he said I had a duty to pick up the oldest ones which were at the front because if everyone did what I did, the old ones wouldn't sell. Well, I'm not having any of that!)

I had been looking at various recipes for sanwin makin and finally followed this. It was like making a rawa porridge with coconut milk, adding the eggs after the mixture had cooled and then baking it. There were two differences from the original method: I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream and I did not manage to separate the eggs as the whites and yellows just plopped into the bowl one after the other. I ended up beating them and adding them to the pan after it had cooled, at Step 4. For about 25 minutes after I put it in the oven, it stayed flat. Then it rose gloriously.


Then it went back to normal after a while, and came out as a dense cake, moist, mildly sweet and even mildly coconutty - that was because I used coconut milk instead of coconut cream, I suppose. It was a hit at work, and someone who was on a strict diet and had lost 8 kg took it home because it was only mildly sweet.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Don't You Read Me Anymore? Some Questions on Turning Eight

This blog turned eight a few days ago, over the weekend. This is the first time I didn't put out an anniversary post on time. I did not feel like it. Given what my statistics tell me everyday, I did not think many of you would see it, let alone read it. I am more curious than sorrowful as to why so few of you visit here these days.

I'm not asking why you are not commenting. Oh no! I've gotten better at accepting that - but I am interested in knowing why my readership numbers are falling. I have never been wildly popular in numerical terms. If I were to borrow a leaf from a friend who worked in PR, I would call this a "niche blog", a "boutique blog". (But I won't borrow it - I confess that I do want to be wildly popular and wildly successful.) The readers are not many, but they were regular. They come/came for the stories, the discussion, the chat, not the photos, not even the recipes, I would guess. There would be a decent spike in readership as soon as I put out a new post and it would slow down to normal till the next post came up.

But this has changed over the past one year. Readership has plummeted, and the spike has lost its sharpness. And I am trying to understand why.

Is it because I do not blog as often as earlier? Are my posts less interesting? Is it me? Is it the death of Google Reader, because that's when I began to notice the drop in visitors. Had frequency of posts been the reason, the numbers should have started falling earlier as I had not been blogging frequently for a few months before that.

The one bright spot in recent times was this post - A Pox on Plagiarists - which took the first day's readership to an all-time high. And plummeted only on the third day, instead of the second. Of course, it touched a chord in the blogging world.

As I said, I am more curious than sorrowful, so let me know, will you, why my niche is shrinking. As much as I love blogging and want to continue it forever despite everything, I would be grateful for some cheering.

As always, thank you, dear readers, for helping sustain my blog all through these years.


Friday, September 12, 2014

How to Rehash an Old Post - and a Recipe for Lazy Potatoes


This earlier recipe of mine was a big hit. This was in the good old golden days of blogging, in 2008. Those potatoes attained glory by sheer accident - I was busy with all manner of things, most of all an animated conversation with my friend about whose city was better to live in, when I was cooking them so they just kept roasting on the fire and attained that look! In retrospect, I realise my earlier camera was very good too, it had a food setting, but my current camera, which was much more expensive, does not.

This photo, though, was taken with The Spouse's phone. This potato curry was put together a couple of days ago when I got back home from work at 9 30 pm and could not face another meal made up of leftovers. It's less involved than even the lazy potatoes of six-and-a-half years ago - it's simple to put together when you get someone else to boil and peel the baby potatoes, which The Spouse did with far greater success than I have done in a long time.

Baby potatoes: 500 gm
Turmeric: 1 tsp
Sambaar kaaram/special chilli powder: 2 tsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Black gram dal, split, hulled (urad dal): 1 tsp
Cumin: 1 tsp
Oil: 2 tbsp

Boil/pressure cook the potatoes until just tender. We let the pressure cooker whistle about 8-10 times. When the pressure drops, open the cooker, drain the potatoes, cool and then peel them.

In a pan, heat the oil. Pop the mustard seed, then add the cumin and black gram.

As the black gram turns brown add the peeled potatoes.

Now add the turmeric, the sambaar kaaram and salt to the pan, mix well. Let fry again for a while.

Serve with rice, pappucharu and curds. They make a nice snack by themselves too.

 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not So Bitter And Twisted



Finally! I invented a new dish which is not already on the Internet. I sometimes come up with something, like this potato raita or this beetroot chutney, thinking it would be unique, but somebody has already made it. But not this time. Well, something like it does, after the sixth or the seventh page of results, but not really.  It isn't cooked like mine, nor does it look anything like mine.

It started when I bought some ready-cut bitter gourd at the vegetable store. It was cut in strips, not in circles, as it is wont to be, and that's what attracted me to it. The next day, I stir-fried it so that it stayed fleshy and then added two tablespoons of thick curds to it. Once I tasted it, I couldn't stop thinking of it - and it's a long time since I felt that way about my own cooking.

My grandmother, who was diabetic, for some time used to drink a glass of raw bitter gourd juice in the hope that it would control the diabetes. It was not mixed with anything but water. I wonder if relieving the bitter gourd of its bitterness will still confer the health benefits it is supposed to. Not that I would not do it. I did. But let me tell you more about how I invented the dish and added flavour as I went along.

First, I put some salt on the strips of bitter gourd and left it alone for about 30 minutes. Then I squeezed all the water out of it, well, as much as I could, with my fist. Blithely, I assumed that most of the salt would have been discarded in the process. I was wrong, I should have washed it well in water after squeezing it, but I discovered that much later, when I tasted it as it was cooking.

I heated some oil (*the list of ingredients and proportions is at the bottom), tempered it with mustard, cumin, black gram, red chillies, curry leaves and garlic, then sauteed it constantly on a medium flame, never ignoring it. I do not use a lid as I do not want it going limp before I can control it.

After it had cooked for about eight minutes, I spiced it with some turmeric, salt and my special chilli powder, mixed it well and continued to saute it on low flame for another 2-3 minutes. At this point, I tasted it. It was still a little raw - I had not used any water till then - and it was quite salty.

I had soaked some tamarind in water for pappucharu so I sprinkled two handfuls of that water (not juice, I had not muddled it with the water yet to extract the juice, so you can call it tamarind-flavoured water) on the vegetable and finally put a lid on it as I was tiring of it not cooking. I kept an eye on it and when it tasted perfect - spicy, a wee bit tangy, less salty and not raw (but still firm), I took it off the fire.

After cooling it completely, I mixed thick curds, perhaps a day old, in gently. I am extremely gratified at how it turned out - the curds coated the bitter gourd just right, making it moist, not wet, and soaked up the spices marvellously. I even tried some plating because I was tired of my ordinary photos and I have to say I thought it looked like an alligator or a chameleon or a fish - I was not aiming for that effect, believe me!



 Here is the list of ingredients
 Bitter gourd, chopped: 2-3 cups (discard fibrous centre and seeds)
Gingelly/sesame oil: 4-5 tsp
 Mustard seed: 1/2 tsp
Cumin seed: 1/2 tsp
Black gram: 1 tsp
Red chillies: 2, broken into 4-5 pieces,
Curry leaves: 7-8
 Garlic: 5 cloves, bruised and peeled
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder, special or ordinary: 2 tsp, or less (If you're using ordinary chilli powder, use 1 tsp of coriander powder and 1/2 a tsp of cumin powder too)
Tamarind-flavoured water: 2 handfuls
Coriander leaves, to garnish
Thick curds/yoghurt: 2 tbsp (do not beat it)