Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Salad With Some Summer In It - Bittergourd & Mango


If you know me, you wouldn't have come here for a beautiful picture of the bittergourd-mango salad that is the subject of this post. (The photo is way down, this time.) What you will get, instead, is a discussion on the methods of de-bittering the bittergourd, and some memories stoked by the taste of this salad.

What worked for the short, plump bittergourd didn't suit the long one. And what I hoped would be a Mauritian bittergourd salad turned into "let's try this Sri Lankan recipe" and then into my own.

On the de-bittering first: I stuffed the short, plump ones with 'senagakaram', what you might call a chutney powder, a mixture of chana dal powder and spices. I followed Internet instructions and steamed them for five minutes above a bowl of boiling water after scraping the skin thoroughly - I believe the bitterness is concentrated in the bumps covering the skin, and I follow it religiously, but it has also been my experience that they never ever lose the bitterness completely. With this set of gourds, though, I couldn't detect any after they had been steamed, which was truly surprising. (I didn' taste them before I steamed them.) The Spouse has a closed mind when it comes to bittergourds and I happily consumed all the 10 specimens myself over two meals.

Then, exchanging messages with a friend, I came to know about a Mauritian bittergourd salad. What attracted me was the mention of raw onions in the salad. They add such crispness to salads, don't you think? She spoke of how the recipe calls for soaking the gourds in vinegar and something something, she trailed off, she could never bring herself to eat it. So I set about looking for recipes for a Mauritian bittergourd salad but didn't find any that I wanted to make. In one picture, the bittergourd even looked bitter. (Don't ask me how I arrived at that conclusion. It's one of those I-know-it-all opinionated conclusions which are usually way off the mark.)

The next day, I saw three normal-sized bittergourds in the supermarket so I bought those. I had also seen, by this time, recipes for bittergourd or 'ampalaya' salad in blogs of Filipino heritage, and saw some preparation manual where the bittergourds were saturated with salt and soaked in water. I couldn't find the same blog post later but went ahead from memory - and was disappointed to find that they tasted bitter even after the scraping, salting, soaking and rinsing.

But I'm no wimp - in matters of bittergourd, that is - and went on to slice them. I chanced on a Sri Lankan recipe but didn't have any of the ingredients mentioned except the onion so I abandoned that too. I didn't even have limes. I applied salt, chilli powder and turmeric on the bittergourd pieces, fried them and rested them on kitchen paper, then mixed them with an onion and looked unhopefully inside the crisper of my refrigerator. Hurrah, I had a mango! I cut and peeled one side of it and mixed it with the rest of the preparation. I added a little more salt.

(That's the salad in the foreground, in the picture.)


It tasted exactly like the 'mixture' that used to be sold in 'bandis' (carts) on the roads in my town in Andhra Pradesh, when I was a child. I don't remember seeing them later. I am trying to recall what the main ingredient was - peas/ chickpeas, most likely the former - I'm not sure now, but what joy it is to discover a recipe for a long-forgotten and forbidden treat! (I don't know how I got to taste it.) Now I'm wondering if the vendor used mangoes in his mixture. It used to be heaped into a soft, starchy mountain of yellow and red in a big steel plate. Maybe they added some roughly chopped tomatoes too. It used to be decorated with tomato and onion slices, and green chillis stuck out of it. I've tried looking for pictures on the Internet but all of them seem to be modern, chaat-type versions, which this was most certainly not. There was no ' 'sev' in it, no chaat masala, just plain salt and green chillies and chilli powder. I've also seen it sold on the beach in Chennai, long ago. The funny thing is, I don't know where to find those peas! If they were yellow peas, I haven't seen them in the stores. They weren't green. If they were peas, that is.

I have asked a cousin, she does not remember either, but she will ask her mother and let me know. Meanwhile, here's the recipe.

Bittergourd, scraped and sliced: 2 cups
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Iodised salt: 3/4-1 tsp
Onion, sliced: 1/4 cup
Mango, peeled, chopped: 1/2 cup
Oil: 4 tbsp + a little more to top up

Apply the spices to the bittergourd slices and fry in the oil.

(I don't know if my theory is correct, but to save on oil and oiliness, I use a somewhat deep, curved vessel that allows these slices to get more or less immersed in just 4 tbsp of oil - I'm not sure it's deep-fried, but it's not too shallow either.)

Drain on kitchen paper towels.

Mix with the onion and mango, taste and add some more salt if you like.

Bon appetit!



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Keeping It Simple - Green Mango Curry


This post has been long overdue. Not this particular post, but the next post on this blog, I mean. I had plans to reveal my grandmother's recipes, which I found in fragile aerogrammes and a tattered pocket diary on my trip to the US but I haven't had the opportunity to make any of them yet. I have also been having a bounty of fruit and green mangoes as our Uncle has been touring and passing them on to us so that they don't rot in his fridge. That would usually fall to my lot - for them to rot in mine - but I distributed most and consumed just a few.

The mangoes, though, were really hardy. As hard and as sour as ever even after a week. We made dal a couple of times and then there were three. By this time I was tired of dal, I had already made chutney and have the pickle, so I looked for some other recipes to use them up.

I saw some which called for grated coconut or coconut milk, but I didn't want a heavy affair. In one of those weary moments, I also wanted something that reflected tastes native to me, and not acquired ones. Now that was a challenge. I had never come across a mango curry back home so I decided to come up with one myself, using a recipe that I used for a pumpkin pulusu (pumpkin stewed in tamarind) a few weeks ago.

At this point, let me tell you of a conversation I had with a colleague recently. I had been telling her of a cook I had employed briefly three years ago. I had her for six months, three times a week. She would cook only with one hand. The other would be clapped to her ear, holding the mobile phone, and she would be chattering away. Well, chattering is not quite the right word. This person always was discussing something or the other busily, furiously. This happened every day that she came to cook. At this point my colleague said, "But how could she do that, Sra? It's food, and you have to treat it well." She meant we had to treat it with respect.

This stuck in my mind. Soon after, I read something somewhere that said a dish cooked peacefully, in a peaceful frame of mind, that is, would taste much better than one cooked when the cook was stressed. It sounded plausible, and reminded me of yet another discussion with yet another colleague who had said something similar: "When you are not harried when you cook, if you are relaxed about it, it will turn out well, whatever time of day."

What do you think? I have now resolved to find some peace before I cook.

My green mango curry was thus made in a moment of peace, low expectations and yes, a spirit of adventure because I was curious to see how it would turn out without being too invested in it.

Here's the recipe. I didn't use any tamarind or tomato which I would use in a pulusu because the mangoes would be sour enough. I intended to use onions and curry leaves but found out I didn't have any.

Sour green mangoes: 500 gm, washed well, cut into strips with peel on, retain the seed
Gingelly oil: 1 tbsp
Mustard seed, cumin and hulled, split urad dal: about 1 tsp each
Red chillies: 2, broken
Garlic: 5 cloves, peeled, bruised
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Turmeric: 1 tsp
Salt: Iodised, 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 2 heaped tsp
Cumin powder: 1 heaped tsp
Jaggery: 1 heaped tsp
Water: Enough to cover the mangoes halfway

Heat the oil and temper with the mustard, cumin, urad dal and red chillies. Add the garlic, saute till it gives off an aroma.

Add the mangoes and saute well for a couple of minutes. Season with the turmeric, chilli powder, salt, coriander and cumin powders.

Add water to cover the mangoes halfway.

Cover the pan and let it boil on a medium flame till the mangoes are soft. You can even mash the flesh of a few pieces to give the gravy some body.

***I tasted it at this stage and it was sour enough to make my mouth pucker.

Reluctantly, I added some jaggery to it. It improved a bit and I left it at that because I wanted a tangy and hot curry, not a sweet one.

It was good with rice, now I am going to try it with dosas. Now, that, of course, is an acquired taste - and more honestly, an attempt to clear the fridge. Bon appetit!

Here's the recipe for another mango curry, with fish in it! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When I Made an Alsatian Pear-Prune Kugel



I wrote this post almost two years ago. I had wondered why I made things I wouldn't really eat when all I liked about them was the thought of 'achieving' them. I have to say this kugel fell into the same category. It's midnight as I write this and I'm not taxing my brain to check if I have made any such conquests since then and now but I sallied forth and made it anyway - a few midnights ago. Well, I would have waited for morning but my pears - purchased for a fortune less than two days earlier - had started rotting and I did not want to lose more of my money overnight.

I saw this recipe on a newspaper's Facebook page and it seemed so easy - bread is the main ingredient and there's no messing around with whisking and mixing and folding. The thought of a fruit cake/pastry made with little effort save some peeling and dicing was alluring. To add to that, there was the exotica of adding onion to the mix and still have the whole thing coming out sweet.



What was I thinking? That it would taste like the nice sweet noodle kugel I had in a Wegman's in New Jersey last year when I visited? That I would be sinking my teeth into a fruity, warm, East European dessert with so much fruit in it it would actually count for some nutrition? That I would amaze my colleagues in the Refuge of Failed Experiments with a Success? (The RFE is my workplace - most anything gets eaten there but it's nice to go bearing a legitimate success too. I didn't take it there though - most of them are vegetarians who eat eggs only as part of cakes and pastries but this is too much like an omelette - a standalone egg dish, if you get what I mean.)

I thought of many things, not the least of which was the thought of my fruit basket going from full to empty in a matter of minutes, a deal-breaker for clutter-obsessed me - the kugel used up four pears, you see - but then it is now sitting in my refrigerator, with the Spouse eating it for breakfast and as an evening snack. I have told him to give his folks some of it but he seems to have forgotten. In any case, he likes it and so I've decided it's blog-worthy.

It's sweet, of course, with all that sugar, but the onion is enough to add a strong savoury taste and I suppose I didn't expect that.

I tasted some just now, a couple of days later, and it tastes a little better cold and just out of the fridge, I have to say.



I followed this recipe with two or three changes - I added all four cups of diced pears (red ones, no idea what breed) to the mixture instead of reserving one pear for the compote. I added a grated apple to it instead. And as my springform pan has gone missing - I think it rusted and I threw it away - I used an ordinary cake tin.

And my colleagues have persuaded me to bring some anyway, so I will be taking a bit of it to the RFE tomorrow.

Have you ever made a sweet fruity omelette like this? That's what it tasted like!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Eating Out in the US - Part 2

I didn't eat all of the things in the photos - the vegetables from the store are included in this post because they are new to me or they looked pretty. I really should have done this post earlier because I've begun to forget what they were called, already.

We ate these rolls at a Thai restaurant in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Dragon beans at a supermarket in Columbus, Ohio

White asparagus


My Mexican bowl at a fast food restaurant - I really liked it.

Vegetarian pizza at a local restaurant in Columbus, OH

Veggie burger at this restaurant

Sticky bun bread pudding

This was at a French bakery in Columbus that my cousin took me to. Before I read the label, I thought this was some variation on red velvet cake, but it was a chocolate bombe. We passed. There were more exotic treats to try.

My cousin had this pear frangipane tart.

This was a cherry tart that I had. These pastries were extremely rich and filling. They looked small but we could finish them only with some difficulty. My cousin saved a piece of her tart for later.
Don't think I'll have kale chips again, never mind what the world says about them!

This was supposed to be a low-carb dish, but it felt like I had eaten 2,000 calories! It was nice, though. Must have been all that olive oil. There was very little spaghetti but lots of zucchini noodles. 

Most of the menu at this Delaware restaurant another cousin took me to was beef. There were no chicken or vegetarian options so I tried this crisp pork belly from the 'lite fare' on the menu. It was good - and heavy. I have never had this before.


This was a roasted beets & greens  salad with red and yellow beets, arugula, honey goat cheese mousse (that was so interesting), pickled baby carrots, celeriac and pear mustard vinaigrette.

Pumpkin Pappardelle with mushroom, ricotta salata, sage brown butter and kale pesto

I think this was spare rib.

This was at a Vietnamese restaurant in Delaware - this is their yucca dessert with coconut milk.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eating Out, and at Home, in the US - Part 1

I was away in the US for a month and ate many interesting things. Here are some of them.


"Broccoli? You took a picture of broccoli?" asked my cousin, with an incredulous smile on her face. "That's broccoli rabe, not broccoli," I replied. Eating that cluster of buds/flower was exactly like 'eating' mustard oil. I started on a second one but it proved too much for me - fumes entered my nose and I had to give up. 

That's my breakfast everyday. In the US, my aunt made it exotic by adding herbs from her garden - dill and chives.

We went to a cafe at Brooklyn, and I am glad I went for this berry strudel. 

Wall art at the Brooklyn cafe

Dinner one night at my aunt's place - ravioli, cauliflower saute and mushrooms and snow peas sauteed together

Dinner at a Boston food court - Macaroni and cheese

Wonder what's Ramayana about it - at a Thai restaurant in Boston's Newbury Street

Our starters at the restaurant. They weren't very different from the Thai restaurants here in India.

Prawn curry - I don't remember the style of gravy, it was in Thai

Chicken curry at the same restaurant

From Boston, we drove to Newport, Rhode Island before returning to New York. This was displayed at a small shopping/restaurant complex where we went for lunch. I'm pretty sure it was artificial but I didn't touch it, just in case.

Garlic toast and white bean hummus at the Newport bar where we ordered lunch - really tasty!

Clam chowder

BLT burrito with coleslaw - I hadn't imagined it would be so big. I ended up eating the filling and discarding the burrito!