India, part one, The Brave Hearted Will Take The Bride, Then We Spoke of Andhra, Punjab and Bengal Cuisines


THE BRAVE HEARTED WILL TAKE THE BRIDE,

THEN WE SPOKE OF ANDHRA, PUNJAB AND BENGAL CUISINES

Food is one of the many things where if you cannot go to the birthplace you can at least find it in books, restaurants and friends. When I told a friend of mine that I was exploring the cuisines of the India by studying several cookbooks (seven so far) and dining out she suggested that I go to India. I do not have the money. “You can go there on the cheap.” I was hungry to learn now, so to the books I traveled and found the world of Indian Cuisines. It would be great to travel the world in an endless feast of cuisines, sights and love of the people.

Cookbooks, poetry and history open doors that would otherwise remain closed. India is an open book of secrets, sometimes easy and sometimes daunting. How fun is that? Lots, lots of fun. So if you lived or traveled there feel free to judge or take pleasure in this presentation. My Mother lived in and traveled a good bit throughout India. She tells great stories . I love retelling them. Her impressions and those of my friends led to this fascination.

After my Mother, I happily dedicate this to a romantic and idealized couple, Richard  and Sujauta Winfield, Professor of Philosophy and Attorney. Here is a couple who met, fell in love and married in spite of the protests from her family about marrying an American intellectual. He is brave and philosophical to her beauty and brilliance, and that equals Romantic! They are as in love today as when they first met. They are an inspiration. Hers was the first home style Hindustan Andhra vegetarian appetizers I had experienced. Over the years I have eaten in many Indian style restaurants but hers remains the memory. Whenever I have served them I present a treat at the start of the meal as a way to show my continued love and admiration. Usually it is mango in some form or another. A king of fruits, the mango adapts to all cuisines and preparations. I’ve made mango BBQ sauces, salads, grilled with fresh cheese, ceviche and pickles. Always remember that fruit and cheese reach across thousands of years of world cuisines. There is never anything odd about the pairing of a fruit (from melon, tomato, grapes to mango) with cheese. Mango with a bit of fresh cheese is amazing. So, Mother, Richard and Sujauta, this is for you. I hope that here and in future explorations I represent y’all well.

 

The first challenge was one of choosing regions. India is Asian and that there are things that carry across cultures from the sub continent to Korea. The cuisines of India includes: Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and western Myanmar. Hindu India has a history of Muslim and British influence and occupation so the foods reflect this part of their history. We seek at all times to make the unfamiliar familiar. The foods of the South are spicy hot so that you perspire or cool off and the foods of the North so that the heat is warming, the same as for our Hemisphere. There are 33 regional Indian Cuisines. Yes, 33.

The following are distinct cuisines: Gujarat, Punjab (includes western Pakistan and is called “Land of Five Rivers. Mostly vegetarian but it is where tandoori cooking originated so some meats), Bengal (rice and fish), Kerala (Syrian Christian & Muslim immigrants includes meats), Parsis (Zoroastrian immigrants includes meats, small population in Mumbai), Andhra and Dakshin both Hindu of  southern India, Assam (Northeast includes fish and fowl), Goa (below Mumbai and is influenced by Arabian sea, Portuguese and Hindu), most of the distinctions between cuisines are religion based as in Hindu: Vegetarian and Muslim to Christian: non vegetarian and vegetarian. The lack of refrigeration means that fresh and local are not marketing terms, they are the way of existence. Practically every herb is a culinary herb so explore the options. It is with great pleasure that we all read, cook and admire cuisines for what they are and what they represent.

Bengal, Andhra and a touch of Punjab styles today. This is the first of a set of columns on Indian cuisines adapted to Georgia and Carolina kitchens. It is a venture of intellect, body and passion. Worcestershire, chutney, samosas (stuffed and fried breads), Basmati rice, rice pudding, curry and cinnamon are all from India.

Condiments are part of every meal, this includes pickles, chutneys, nuts, oils and clarified butter (ghee), breads and basmati rice or sweet potatoes. The parantha bread is in the family of pliable flat breads found in China, Ethiopia and Mediterranean Turkey, Lebanon and Israel; chapati is similar to puffy, toasted tortillas. The meals are generally not in stages, they are presented on trays at once with all of the necessary condiments. Chutney is not exactly always the Major Greys jam–like preparation. I was happy to find that they do relate in ways to pesto and spreads as well as chopped fruit style.

Legumes (pulses and grams) such as lentils, chick peas, pigeon peas, soy beans, mung beans and yellow lentils comprise a large part of the diet. Basmati rice is long and light starch. A lot of flour is made with these legumes and rice instead of the wheat flour style of our culture. We will be using brown rice and soy flour.

Eggplant with yogurt; basmati rice; cilantro chutney; mango pickles, red salt and cucumber shrimp cakes; pistachios in pepper oil; rose water lassi is our meal today. It is much easier than it seems. Organization is the key, the rest falls into place. All but two things can be made ahead of time. These recipes serve four.

MUSTARD OIL

This is a general purpose cooking and seasoning oil.

6 ounces Corn oil

15 black peppercorns

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

1 bay leaf

5 Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

Heat but do not cook over 150 degrees for ten minutes. Strain through cheesecloth and set aside. After it cools, cover and keep in refrigerator till use.

PISTACHIO

Shell 12 pistachios per person. Toast in one ounce mustard oil until the color of the nuts begins to tan. Strain. Reserve oil to use as condiment.

 

GARAM MASALA

‘Garam masala’ means hot spice blend. Like curry, there are many combinations of ingredients. The ingredients, along with ground red pepper make up the common spice wheel used in many regions. They are stored in small round metal containers in a round serving tray. No pantry storage, just the wheel and when they are emptied it is time to replenish. I make my own garam masala this way, but it can be purchased. In addition to the following spices I will sometimes add a bit of fenugreek and turmeric to give it a more curry style flavor. Combine and lightly toast.

1/3rd teaspoon Coriander

½ teaspoon Ginger

1/3rd teaspoon Black pepper

1/4th  teaspoon each: Cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves

GHEE

1 pound unsalted butter

Cut butter in 4 ounce pieces. Melt on medium heat in high sided pan. Once it has melted take off of the heat and let cool. Refrigerate in plastic container. After it has hardened lift solid out of container and pour off the water. Scrape off the top milky layer and discard. The yellow solid is the clarified butter or ghee. It can be heated completely on the stove top until the water evaporates. Do not use this method unless you are with someone who has clarified butter before.

BASMATI RICE

Basmati has a scent of roasting almonds. Great cooked in any style from pilaf to boiled. Cook rice in the water only. After it has cooked mix the butter and spice together and serve in small bowls at each plate for the diner to add as they wish.

½ cup basmati rice

1 cup cold water

½ teaspoon garam masala

1 ounce ghee (clarified butter, can substitute corn oil or olive oil)

CHUTNEY

Chutneys of Hindustan are different from what we use in the West. It was a treat to find their similarity to western pesto.

Make the cilantro chutney in a mortar and pestle in order to keep the integrity of the cilantro intact and to release just the right amount of oils from the crema without it separating. Mexican crema, a kind of crème fraiche, instead of making fresh cheese.

½ cup cilantro

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon roasted red chili peppers in corn oil

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon Mexican crema

¼ teaspoon fine red sea salt

½ teaspoon lime juice

Combine and press together in a mortar and pestle until it is not quite smooth. Serve in small bowl or large spoon next to fish cakes.

EGGPLANT

Either the Japanese long style or ball shaped Indian eggplant is perfect for this dish. Peel the eggplant.

16 slices eggplant, thin slices

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon pink sea salt

2 tablespoons soy flour

1 ounce corn oil

4 thick slices tomato

Combine spices and sprinkle both sides of eggplant. After you sprinkle the seasoning on it let the slices sit for 15 minutes, then gently press with paper towel. Flour and sauté. Serve on top of tomato.

SHRIMP CAKES

This is our Bengal representative. The Bangladesh/Bengal and Coastal areas use shrimp quite a bit so I am using shrimp for this recipe. Whenever possible use Georgia Coastal shrimp.

16 ounces shrimp, chopped

2 ounces brown rice flour or mung bean flour

½ teaspoon granulated red sea salt

½ teaspoon serrano pepper, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ginger, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon lemon, juice

2 ounces cucumber, chopped

2 ounces corn oil or ghee

1 ounce brown rice flour, for dusting

Combine ingredients and pat into 8 small cakes. Dust with rice flour. Sauté on medium heat, turn four times until almost crisp. Internal Temperature will be 160 degrees. Serve on top of crisp lettuce leaves.

MANGO PICKLES

16 slices mango, peeled, thick sliced

2 ounces sweet pickle juice from the jar

2 ounces Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

1 bay leaf, crushed

Combine and store in jar in refrigerator overnight.

LASSI

2 cups greek yogurt

2 cups almond milk

1 tablespoon rose or orange blossom water

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

10 ice cubes

Puree smooth. Serve immediately in cold glasses.

ROASTED PEPPERS

Make your own or buy a jar of roasted red peppers to serve as a condiment. If making your own combine, red bell pepper and banana chili pepper with 1 ounce corn oil and 1 ounce ghee. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Set up your serving trays for each person. Keep items separate. Serve flat bread of your choice.  Talk and eat. Share the love.

Sitting on the front porch,

Holding hands watching the sun set,

Over our herb and flower garden:

The scent of roses, tomatoes,

rosemary and geraniums,

Alone and together they rise,

The smell of the South in August.

Sort of like washing up

On a steamy beach and finding

New worlds waiting,

New worlds free of greed and prejudice,

No slander, war and lies,

This banquet of life,

This humanity,

This place we call our own,

All things can be fresh, pure,

Beauty is always around us,

Beauty is always near.

I am glad you here,

Here in our own perfumed garden.

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