Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dips / Spreads Cheatsheet

Monday, June 28, 2010

10 dip families from across the world

10 Simple Dips / Spreads

This cookbook lists 10 simple dips/ spreads eaten across the world.

1.: Mustard dips ( America / Europe) Take half a handful of white mustard seeds. Add two pinches of salt and a pinch of turmeric. Blend to a powder. Mix in water to a thick paste. Mix in the juice of a lemon. Let sit for 2-3 days (or more, if it is still bitter) before using.

Dip- A Primer A dip / spread (the thicker version of a dip) is used across the world to accompany breads / finger foods. The variations are infinite but the principle is simple – blend a variety of ingredients listed below to a thin or thick paste, mix in flavouring, additives and your dip / spread is ready.

Dip Families : The dips across the world can be grouped into several families depending on the major ingredient, as listed below :

Seeds: Mustard paste (Europe, America) & sesame paste ( Middle east) form the basis for a huge variety of dips.

Nuts: Roasted nuts are blended to a paste ( eg. peanut butter) or blended with chilies and salt into a spicy dip like the walnut based middle eastern Muhammara.

Coconut : Hugely popular in South India, coconut is blended with chilies and salt into innumerable chutneys

Oil based Emulsions: French cuisine discovered that oil and acid can be blended together into a creamy sauce using an emulsifier (usually egg yolks). This led to the creation of a variety of Mayonnaise and Vinaigrettes.

Lentils (boiled / roasted) and blended to a paste form the basis for another family of dips, the best known among them being Hummus, made from chickpea puree.

Herbs can be blended into fresh tasting dips, as in Pestos.

Yogurt forms the base for many dips across the world, Indian Raita being the most popular. Strained yogurt or yogurt cheese is a dip by itself, or can be mixed with other ingredients to become the Greek Tzatziki or the Indian Shrikhand.

Tomatoes chopped / crushed / blended become the base for Mexican salsas. Cooked tomatoes form the basis for Ketchup, Pizza sauce and Pasta sauces.

Sauces serve as dips across cuisines, soy sauce being the most widely used. It also forms the base for a large variety of Chinese dips.

Oil including butter and ghee ( clarified butter) can serve as a dip by itself - and also carry a range of flavouring and additives to enhance their taste.

Fruit / Vegetable puree (raw or cooked) can be turned into delicious dips like the Indian chutneys, Mexican guacamole ( using raw vegetables/ fruits) or Middle eastern Baba ghanoush (which used grilled eggplant).

Sour cream / soft cheeses can be served as a dip on their own or mixed with other ingredients. Melted cheese ( fondue) is also a popular dip.

Melted chocolate or sweet wine form the basis for a separate category of dessert dips.

A mix of these bases form new category of dips. Across the world, almost all combination of these bases are mixed together into delicious dips.

Mix in a variety of flavouring agents like garlic / ginger / spice powders and new dips emerge. Additives like chopped scallions / shallots / lemon juice, chilies etc can be mixed in to mix up more variants.

All these can be used as a dip, their thicker versions can be used as a spread and most dips can even double as salad dressing.

2.: Nut dips ( America/ Europe) Take half a handful of roasted peanuts / cashew nuts/ walnuts/ almonds. Blend to a powder. Blend in enough oil to get a thick paste.

3.: Coconut Dips ( South India) Take a handful of chopped coconut. Add a chopped green chili, two pinches of salt and blend to a thick paste.

4.: Egg- Oil dips ( French Mayonnaise) Crack an egg in a blender. Add two pinches of salt. Blend for 5 seconds. With the blender running, add your favourite oil in a very thin stream (preferably drop by drop at the beginning). Keep blending and adding oil till you have a thick, creamy sauce in your blender. (One egg would need roughly around 200 ml oil)

5.: Vinegar Dips ( French Vinaigrette) To a blender add two spoons of lemon juice / your favourite vinegar and six spoons of your favourite oil. Add two pinches of salt, pepper and blend for 5-10 seconds till the oil and vinegar / lemon juice are mixed up. This will separate on storage. So mix / shake / blend before using.

6.: Sesame Dips ( Middle Eastern Tahini) Take half a handful of toasted white sesame seeds and a pinch of salt. Blend for 5 seconds. With the blender running, add an oil in a very thin stream till you have a thick, creamy sauce in your blender.

7.: Herb Dips ( Italian Pesto) In a blender/ mortar, add a handful of chopped edible herbs ( rocket, sage/ spinach/ cilantro etc). Add a handful of young basil leaves, a spoon of pine nuts, two pinches of grated parmesan cheese and a garlic clove. Add two pinches of salt and black pepper (or to taste). Blend / pound everything together. Mix in a spoon of olive oil (or use your favourite oil).

8.: Yogurt Dips (Indian Raita) Take a cup of yogurt. Mix in two pinches of salt, cumin powder. Mix in a handful of chopped / grated salad vegetables ( onion / cucumber / daikon / carrot etc).

9.: Tomato dips (Mexican Salsa) Take a handful of finely chopped tomatoes., Add a chopped garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, half a handful of chopped onion, a chopped green chili and two pinches of salt. Serve straight, or coarsely blend to a chunky paste.

10.: Soy Dips ( Chinese) Take a handful of finely chopped spring onions. Mix in two pinches of chili powder, 3 spoons of soy sauce and a spoon of vinegar. Mix to a thick paste.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Theme : Paratha, Variations : Infinite

10 Paratha families

1.: Common Paratha Take a tomato sized ball of whole wheat flour dough ( see sidebar). Roll into a large circle, Brush surface with oil or ghee. Fold in half so that you have a semi circle. Brush surface with oil / ghee and fold in half to get a rough triangle. Roll gently to into a thick triangle. Cook both sides on a hot skillet ( tava) till brown spots appear all over.

Theme : Any edible dough can be layered or stuffed, rolled into a thick sheet and cooked into a Paratha.

Variations: Infinite combinations exist using a variety of stuffing, flavouring, flours and cooking techniques.

This cookbook lists major families most parathas belong to. The next few pages explore different stuffings, flours and flavouring

Parathas are layered, unleavened flatbreads. They are usually accompanied by butter, yogurt, raitas, pickles, curries or just tea. Originating from Punjab, parathas traveled with Indian traders and workers across the world, becoming Roti prata in Singapore, Roti canai in Malaysia, Farata in Mauritius, Palata in Burma and Bussup shut ( Bust up shirt - what a flaky, crumbly paratha resembles) in Trinidad.

Western cuisines use leavening to make thick breads. Indian cuisine evolved the unique technique of making thick unleavened breads edible by stuffing or layering them. This key breakthrough led to creation of a delicious range of parathas. Parathas can be thick or thin, small or large, round, square or triangular, stuffed or plain. They are normally cooked on a skillet (tava), but can also be baked in a tandoor. Some can even be deep fried. Most north Indian parathas are made from whole wheat flour (atta). The south Indian version, called parota is made from maida (refined wheat flour).

Essential skills :

Kneading: Take a cup of flour, four pinches of salt and half a cup of water. Mix in water very gradually with the flour using your fingertips. Once the flour starts holding together, start kneading and knead well till you get a non-sticky dough. Adjust the amount of flour / water as needed.

Stuffing: Pinch off a tomato sized ball of dough and roll out into a disc. Place a lemon sized ball of stuffing in the center. Gather the edges of the dough together, enclosing the stuffing. Flatten with palm and roll gently into a thick disc.

Rolling out: Flatten the ball of stuffed dough by hand. Roll gently into a disc, dusting with flour if it is sticky. Do not worry about the shape as long you get a sheet of uniform thickness.

Cooking: Heat a skillet over medium flame. Add half a spoon of ghee. Place the rolled dough sheet on the skillet and cook both sides till brown spots appear all over.

Shopping List: Atta, Maida - 1 kg
Oil/ Ghee - 500 ml, Egg - 4 nos

Salt/ pepper / garam masala/ chili flakes /chili powder/ cumin, Onion, tomato, ginger garlic paste, green chilies - 100 gms

Paneer / potatoes - 250 gms

2.: South Indian Parota Take a tomato sized ball of maida dough ( all purpose flour). Roll into a large circle, Smear liberally with oil and cut up the sheet with a pizza cutter into 10-12 pieces. Stack the pieces over one another. Flatten with hand and roll gently into a thick round. Cook both sides on a hot skillet generously drizzling with oil / ghee. Before serving, place the edges of your hands on either side of the paratha. Bring them sharply together, crushing the paratha. This separates it into layers. The traditional way to make this takes years of practice. The dough is stretched wafer thin by deft flicks of the wrist, as large as a newspaper sheet, rolled up like a Swiss roll, patted into a thick round and cooked.

3.: Muglai Paratha Roll out a common paratha ( see recipe #1) Cook one side on a hot skillet.. Beat an egg with two pinches each of salt and pepper. Flip the paratha and spread a spoon of beaten egg all over the cooked side. Repeat for the other side. Cook till the egg sets, flipping again if needed.

4.: Deep fried Parota Roll out a South Indian paratha ( see recipe #2) Heat 500 ml oil till it starts to smoke. Reduce flame to medium and slide in the dough sheet. Deep fry both sides till golden.

5.: Lachcha Paratha The traditional method takes practice to master. Instead, take a tomato sized ball of atta dough. Roll out and cook it using the technique described in recipe # 2.

6.: Tandoori Paratha Roll out a common paratha ( see recipe #1) . Line the tray of an electric Tandoor with silver foil. Place the dough sheet in the tray and cook for 2-4 minutes till it is done.

7.: Flavoured Paratha Take a tomato sized ball of atta dough. Roll out a common paratha ( see recipe #1). Sprinkle chopped mint leaves /chopped fenugreek leaves / cumin seeds / red chili flakes / crushed black pepper. Pat them so that they stick to the surface. Cook both sides on a hot skillet till done.

8.: Stuffed Paratha Take a handful of grated paneer or boiled and mashed potatoes. Mix in two pinches each of salt, chili powder and garam masala. Shape into tight lemon sized balls. Take a lemon sized ball of atta / maida dough. Roll into a disc. Place the ball of stuffing in the center. Gather the edges together to enclose the stuffing. Press with hand to flatten and roll gently into a thin disc. Cook both sides on a hot skillet, drizziling with ghee / oil. Anything edible, that can be shaped into a ball can be used as a stuffing.

9.: Unlayered Paratha While making a stuffed paratha, if the stuffing leaks or if the paratha sticks to the surface while rolling out, do not despair ! Just scoop the mess, shape again into a ball, dust with flour and roll / pat into a thick round. Cook both sides on a hot skillet, drizzling with ghee / oil. These blur the line between parathas and rotis, since they are not layered. In some versions, grated bottle gourd, or other stuffings are kneaded while making the dough.

10.: Kothu Parota Chop two south Indian parotas into tiny bits. Heat two spoons of oil. Add half a handful of chopped onion. Stir and cook for a minute. Add a chopped green chili, a chopped tomato, half a spoon of ginger garlic paste and two pinches of salt. Stir and cook for two minutes. Add the chopped parota. Stir and cook on high heat for two minutes & serve. Numerous versions are much loved in Tamilnadu. In Muttai Parota , an egg is cracked in before mixing in the chopped parota. In chicken or mutton kothu parota, chicken / mutton mince is cooked in the masala before adding in the chopped parota.

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Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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