Monday, June 21, 2010

The rainbow re-creation, Bisi bela bath

When you are young and when it was raining and sunny, your parents would have showed you the rainbow. Every kid will ask about it and parents and picture book will give an enchanting reply. Marriage between the clouds and the earth, elves with pots of gold and the likes. Everything will make the rainbow more fascinating and make it a divine experience whenever you look at it. Then, when you grow up, your science book will reveal the truth about the rainbow's occurrence and the physics behind it. Though you now realize the blatant science behind it, it is always fascinating. 

For me, the Bisi bela bath presented something similar. The most popular food in Karnataka, in my house, it was my mothers rainbow. The aroma that filled the house when she was cooking it would increase your appetite several folds. On a chill rainy day, there can be nothing better than the hot Bisi bela bath, served with roasted potatoes or onion raita or fried applam. Initially it was my mothers secret recipe that made it mysterious. It was a secret at that time, because I would not understand it. The mystery surrounding the aroma and the taste made us look forward to devour it when presented at occasions. And then, after so many years of comfortably eating it, situations forced me to grow up and ask her the recipe for it.

Cinnamon, she said. The magic, the flavor, the key is good cinnamon. Cinnamon with the bark still on, not the processed glazed ones or the powder or the flavoring. It weaves the aromatic thread that links together the rice, lentils and the vegetables.

I cooked this following the instructions from my mother. The only improvisation I made was the method of cooking it. I cooked 2 measures of rice with a little more than half a measure of toor dhal in a pressure cooker and set it aside. Then I dry roasted mustard seeds, very little fenugreek seeds, red chili, jeera, channa dhal,  poppy seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon and scrapped coconut. I also few cloves and just one cardamom to this. Then I coarsely  grounded this. After heating oil in a pan, I added chopped green chili, onion cut not into very small pieces, small onions, diced carrots and potatoes, cut beans and lots of green peas. Turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder, hing and of course salt went into this. Adding water I cooked it until 70 % done and then added the coarsely grounded spices. This is the point when you will feel your feet are actually above the ground. I made this with extra water in it and cooked the spices along with the vegetables and finally transferred this into the pressure cooker, added ghee and thoroughly mixed it with the cooked rice and dhal. The rice and dhal mixture will absorb the water well, so it is okay to have extra water and even if water is a bit excess, the bisi bela bath will still be wonderful. Final garnishing was as usual with coriander leaves.

I felt I had just re created the rainbow myself!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fascinations one, Mutter Paneer

There are a few dishes that have fascinated me. Some for their simplicity and some for their exotic preparation style. Mutter Paneer is the one which fills in the former but with a taste in the latter. Many times I have ordered this in the restaurants, in various restaurants and even in various countries and as far as I can remember, the best one has been in a Dhabba in Mount road, Chennai. I have tried to make this at home in Germany and invariable, during my initial trials, the taste has not been up to my expectation and this was until on 4th June when I first mastered this preparation and the second time on 11th June with I repeated the performance for a bigger group of friends.
My initial attempts were catastrophic due to some misunderstandings in concepts and my stubbornness in not referring to any preparation method. But this time, I studied various methods and the chef in me guided me towards the fantastic final result. First of all, there are a few pointers. Using fresh green peas (Mutter) is the best. Frozen green peas are good, but tinned peas is a strict NO! Secondly and importantly, using premixed garam masala powder spoils the taste. Thirdly, adding cream will spoil the taste. It will kill the dish. Finally, forget frying the paneer. Use is fresh, use it raw. There was one improvisation which I saw, adding mint leaves to the preparation. I wouldn't recommend this at all, for according to me, it defiles the sanctity of the dish. You lose the color and the taste of peas is lost admist the strong mint.

"I soaked the peas in boiling water and allowed them to get cooked as much as it could on its own. Did not pressure cook or put it further in the heat. Whilst cooking onions and tomatoes together, turmeric was the only additive apart from salt which is required. Some people add cashew nuts to this to get a thick gravy, but trust me, do not do this. After blending this finely in a blender, I poured this over sauteed  whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves) and added to it cumin powder, coriander powder, chili powder and crushed dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) and immediately added the peas after straining the water off it. The peas now got completely cooked in this gravy. The most important thing is to cook this on slow heat until the oil separates from the gravy and at this point I added the paneer, cut in cubes. Mixed it slowly and cooked it just for a few minutes."

Mutter paneer can be made extra hot (more chili), but dont make it extra spicy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Inspirations and Introductions

My friends call me the part time scientist, for according to them, I do more cooking in the kitchen than working at the lab. Why not keep this as the title of my blog?! The truth about starting this blog is not that I dont get time to blog about other things and travel, but to dedicate one to my spiritual self, the chef in me. And to be honest, I am starting this blog only after watching Julie and Julia. But here I am taking up no challenge nor am I going to follow any particular cook book. These are just going to my cooking experiences, straight from the kitchen.

My first cooking dates back to home alone times with my sister. I was forbidden to cook in the kitchen when my parents were there, for it involved hot water, hot oil and fire. No risks and they were right. So, whenever we had a chance, I my sister would peel the garlic pods and I would melt ghee and then saute the whole garlic pods in them and roast them with a dash of pepper and salt. And after consuming this delicacy, I would spray room freshener in the kitchen to remove the garlic smell and also chew fennel seeds to freshen the mouth!
I still remember how mom used to say, "you are going to be a chef, why are you studying all these, go, dont show so much interest in food and cooking".

There cannot be a better cook than dear Mom. I remember the countless times I have pestered her for Malai Kofta. Every time my  mom would ask me what to cook, the reply would be Malai Kofta! Numerous pesterings have also been rewarded a few times! So, no complaints! And I love her imagination. When Pizza in those days meant spending hundreds of rupees in Pizza corner, she made the best pizza I have ever tasted till date just using dosa plate! The yet another euphoria that grew on on me was her enthusiasm whilst buying vegetables. The best outings we had together was to the markets, mornings and evenings. Sadly, dear old Thanni thurai market has been compromised for modern commercial buildings. I still pause whenever I cross a vegetable market here in Germany and my eyes brighten up when I see something special or fresh or on reduced price!

Cooking is like a spiritual practice, it is meditation, it is innovation, it is when you break the rules and create new flavors. Cooking alone is like a solo ballet or like a Karate kata performance. You control and you execute. There are no bad moves. Likewise, there are no bad recipes. Every thing depends on how you handle it. And, of course, any one can cook!

I have a feeling this blog is here to stay and grow, lets see, if I am able to write as much as I cook!

Oh, PS : Dont trust a lean cook!