Friday, February 23, 2007

Cooking... sometimes happy, sometimes sad...

I've often wondered if I could survive in Hyderabad using only the Hindi I've picked up from Karan Johar film titles.

For example:

"How are you doing?"
"Oh, you know, kabhi kushi kabhie gham..."


"When would you like to go see the Char Minar?"
"As soon as possible. After all, kal ho naa ho!"

Anyway. I was thinking of that, when I was thinking of how to describe my recent cooking experiments. I've been storing up Tupperwares full of dal or saag paneer or what-have-you on the weekends, and trying to make them last through the week (although I do enjoy the gyro shop, I'm not interested in eating there every day).

And since today was our "dark" day (our one-day-a-week off from rehearsal), I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen and tried to cook up enough food to keep me happy for the rest of the week.

I started off last weekend with urad dal (using Ms. Jaffrey's "Punjabi-style" recipe from Climbing the Mango Trees), hoping that the sheer heaviness of the dal would provide enough punch to keep me going. I also cooked up some chickpeas and yogurt(from World-Of-The-East Vegetarian Cooking) and found it to be the only dish of Ms. Jaffrey's I've cooked thus far that does not in fact improve with age. Probably because it's meant to be eaten in a sort of combination hot-and-cold, with the warmth of the chickpeas spreading into the cool softness of the yogurt. But in my office at school, it was flat and inedible -- especially after I tried to solve the problem by sticking the whole thing in the microwave.

Blue's lesson for the day: don't microwave yogurt.

Anyway, after a week of heavy, heavy dal and curdled chickpeas (and gyros -- the shop has just introduced a "vegetarian gyro" which is essentially "everything minus beef," which I do enjoy), I had the day to cook. So right now my little refrigerator is stacked with tubs of moong dal (which may be my new favorite dal -- it's certainly the only one I've ever made which turns creamy, like the kind I get at restaurants; the urad and masoor dals both stay chunky and lentily no matter how many hours I boil them), saag paneer, and a variant on a variant of Ms. Jaffrey's "chickpeas and okra in a tamarind sauce" recipe. (Since the only okra available in my area is not intended for human consumption, I substitute green beans in this recipe -- only today I didn't have any, so I used peas... not as good a choice, since they turned to mush and didn't provide any kind of contrasting texture to the chickpeas.)

But the tragedy of the evening (the "kabhie gham" half) was the alan ka saag. I don't know what I did that was different than the first time I made it, but the thing just wouldn't thicken. Even after adding chickpea flour. It ended up being an entire stew pot filled with spinach and lentils floating around in a bitter, bitter water. I've put the contents into the refrigerator in the hope that it will magically change overnight into something worth eating, but I fear... well... okay, I probably shouldn't have tried to cook four dishes at once.

The interesting thing is -- well, there are two interesting things. The first is that I've got to figure out how to make lassi, because whenever I sit and eat dal I find myself with the strongest craving afterwards for something sweet. I sit there, finish the meal, and think "I want a milkshake." Which makes me wonder if there isn't something to the dal/lassi combination -- something either chemical and/or biological. But is it possible to make lassi without a blender? (It must be -- India's been making lassi long before blenders were invented. But I can't find a recipe that doesn't call for one.)

The other thing is that I need a stronger spice. Cayenne doesn't taste "hot" anymore, and even the Flaming Lime Pickle I wrote about a few weeks ago now tastes... pungent, but not burning. What else should I use? Ground chilies? Whole ones?

Anyway. Hadn't written a cooking post in a while, so... thought I would. Hope you enjoyed it!


Ash said...

Blue, a couple of tips for you :

If you want authentic Indian spice, buy dried red chili peppers. While cooking, you can remove the stalk and break the peppers in half before putting them in. Or you could grind the peppers in a grinder/mortar & pestle - but remember that the ground pepper is way more spicier than the whole ones, so if the recipe calls for 4 red peppers, use two instead.

Also, for toor and masoor dal. The best way to make them mushy is to put the dal with double the amount of water in the microwave on high for about 15 mins. You may need to add water and put it in the microwave again until the dal feels squishy. After the dal gets soft, use a spatula or something to mash the dal, so basically you get a watery paste of dal. Then add this to your tadka/baghaar

Ennis said...

I use a slow cooker for my dal, and it comes out very soft. The same would be true of a pressure cooker (which is what they do at a restaurant). Even as a grad student, slow cookers are pretty cheap. Plus, then you can come home to an apartment smelling of dal :)

Blue said...

Ash -- thanks! I want a spice box like the one you linked to! Right now all my spices are in generic "ziploc" plastic bags (because I buy the Deep brand spices which come in non-resealable packaging).

I neither have a grinder nor a mortar and pestle... looks like I'll be using whole peppers.

Ennis -- I don't have a slow cooker either. ^__^ It's been on my list of things to get for a while, but... well, you know how it goes sometimes. Does that mean though that I have to start cooking in the morning??? Mornings are meant for hitting snooze and then rushing out the door! I suppose -- for the sake of a good dal -- I could try it. ^__^

ennis said...

Actually, I do it at night before I go to sleep, and then in the morning just put it in the fridge. Luckily, slow cookers are pretty cheap now, down to $10-$15 for a small one (you don't need more than that) without a timer. But yeah, you have to go out to target or walmart to buy one. I've never used a pressure cooker, and they are more expensive, but they also solve the fast and mushy dal problem.