Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cooking Chicken :

Spent a week poring over 500 odd chicken recipes. Most of them fall under the Marinate- cook category. The rich variety of marinades and the different cooking methods ( Deep frying/sauteeing, steaming, simmering/Broiling/Poaching/Spit or pot roasting/Grilling/Barbecueing/Stewing) etc makes each dish unique.

A few general comments

1. Chicken flesh can be flattened, and treated like a wrap, with other goodies stuffed into it and cooked.
2. Chicken can be made crunchier by dipping it in flour/batter/ egg/bread crumbs/cornflakes/rava and then deep fried.
3. In an oven chicken is cooked for around 30 mins at around 180 degrees.
4. Chicken can be boiled, shredded and treated like any other vegetable.
5. Simmering in a small amount of liquid makes chicken juicy and tender
6. A combination of cooking methods can add complexity. For example chicken can be first sauteed and then poached. Or chicken can be half fried, marinated and then baked or dry tandoori chicken can be further cooked in a gravy.
7. Chicken can be encased in a variety of batter/dough and then cooked in a variety of ways.
8. While grilling/baking under high heat, chicken dries out and so regular basting with butter/oil/marinade liquid is necessary.
9. Set oven at highest temperature to recreate the dry intense heat of a tandoor. Chicken with high fat content cooks well in a tandoor. Live coals inside a oven also recreates a tandoor.
10. One interesting cooking method is to put marinated chicken in an earthern pot, arranged so that it sits on a bead of sticks, never touching the pot. The pot is covered, sealed with dough and surrounded by lit cowdung/coals for 2 hours.
11. Chicken liver soaked in milk and cooked with roast sesame seeds/Onions/Ginger loses its strong odour.

A variety of chicken recipes follow in the next post...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Demystifying Tamilian Cuisine

Traditional south Indian cooking is built around rice, tamarind and tuvar dal. The cuisine of a region always reflects what is abundantly available in that region. Tamilnadu is rich in paddy fields and the sides of the roads are dotted with tamarind trees. Cheap protein is consumed in the form of Tuvar dal.

The basic meal
The basic meal consists of cooked rice eaten with a variety of gravies built from tamarind/ tuvar dal. Vegetables / meat may be cooked alongwith gravies or served seperately. Unlike pasta/noodles which is premised and served, a part of the cooking takes place on the plate with rice is mixed with various gravies. The meal starts with rice and boiled tuvar dal, then a chunky thick stew (sambar) is served followed by a thin watery sour soup ( rasam). The meal usually ends with cooked rice being eaten with plain yoghurt and a spicy pickle. Dal and rice is accompanied by a spicy pickle or a sour pachadi. Sambar and rice is accompanied by vegetable curries. Rasam and rice is eaten with a crunchy papad.

Flavoring agents
The chief flavoring agents of all gravies are asafoetida, turmeric powder, roast and powdered coriander seeds. Fresh Green Chillies or dried red chillies spice up the dishes. Black mustard seeds shallow fried in sesame oil along with curry leaves is used as a garnish for all gravies and curries.

The gravies are easy to make once we get the basics straight.

The gravy shopping list
With the following stuff ready, you can make dozens of gravies in under an hour.

1. cooked and mashed tuvar dhal,
2. tamarind water ,
3. cury powder/Sambhar powder ( a mixture of roast and ground coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chillies, curry leaves, tuvar dhal )
4. Green chillies,
5. GratedCoconut
6. Some fresh vegetables
7. Some dried vegetables

All gravies can be thickened by adding rice flour dissolved in water. All the gravies can be garnished with shallow fried mustard seeds and curry leaves.You can add a pinch of turmeric powder and asafoetida to all these gravies below. Add salt as desired to all these gravies before adding vegetables, so that the vegetables do not taste bland.

In the recipes below, whereever tamarind water is mentioned, it is made from a lemon sized tamarind ball dissolved in water. Mashed tuvar dal is made from a handful of boiled tuvar dal.

All the gravies below are normally served with rice. However, Rasam makes an excellent soup and can be drank as one. All thick gravies can be served with a variety of pasta or noodles.

The basic gravies

Sambar - A thick chunky lentil sour stew
Tamarind water + mashed tuvar dhal + curry powder >> Boil well, add cut vegetables. Garnish
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant

Vatral Kulambu - A thick sour tamarind stew
Shallow fry some fenugreek seeds. Add Tamarind water + curry powder >> Boil well, add some jaggery if the sour taste is overpowering and add some sun dried vegetables. Thicken with rice flour.

Vegetables normally used : Sun dried vegetables, sauteed shallots, garlic.

Rasam - A thin watery lentil soup
tamarind water + mashed tuvar dal + curry powder >> boil well. Garnish. Traditionally the only vegetable which can be used in a Rasam is tomato.

Kootu Kulambu- A thick chunky tamarind stew.
Tamarind water +curry powder >> Boil well, add fresh vegetables and boil till they are cooked.
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant

Arai puli kulambu- A mildly sour tamarind stew.
Same as sambar except that it uses half the tamarind what you use in sambar.
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant

Poritha Kulambu - A thick and chunky lentil stew
Dissolve Mashed Tuvar dal in water, add roast and ground coconut flakes, cumin, dry red chillies, boil well and add fresh vegetables. Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant

Pitlai A thick chunky sour stew with coconut flakes.
Tamarind water + mashed tuvar dal >> Boil well. Add roast and ground coriander seeds, channa dal (kadalai paruppu), dried red chillies, urad dal, coconut flakes. Add fresh vegetables. Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant, bitter gourd

Pachadi- A Sour thin soup.
Boil tamarind water. Add jaggery. Add rice flour to thicken. Add fresh vegetables.Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Mango

Masiyal/Kotsu - Sour mashed vegetables.
Boil tamarind water. Add curry powder. Add boiled and mashed vegetables. Mix to get a semi solid consistency. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Spinach, tomatoes, eggplant.

Rasavangi - Sour chunky rich tamarind stew with coconut flakes
Boil tamarind water. Add roast and ground chana dal, urad dal, coriander seeds, dried red chillies, coconut flakes. Add fresh vegetables and raw ground nuts.Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Eggplant

Kootu - A sour yoghurt based chunky stew
Yoghurt + ground raw coconut + cumin + fresh green chillies paste . Boil well. Add vegetables. You can add boiled chana dal too. Add rice flour paste to thicken. Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Snake gourd,Bottle gourd,

Yoghurt Sambar A thick chunky yoghurt based lentil stew
Sambar which gets its sour taste from yoghurt, not tamarind.
Prepare sambar as above, but use yoghurt instead of tamarind water.
vegetables normally used : Shallots, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, drumstick, ladies finger, eggplant

More kulambu A sour yoghurt based thin soup
Yoghurt + ground raw coconut + cumin + fresh green chillies mashed in a food proccer to a smooth paste . Add turmeric powder. Add water. Boil well. Add vegetables. Boil till they are cooked. Garnish.
vegetables normally used : Tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, drumstick, ladies finger

Thayir pachadi- Yoghurt based semisolid salad.
Finely chop ready to eat vegetables like cucumber, onion, carrot etc. Mix with yoghurt. Garnish.

Aviyal- A rich , thick, chunky yoghurt and coconut based mixed vegetable stew.

Yoghurt + ground paste of Fresh coconut+ raw cumin + fresh green chillies. Add a mixture of fresh vegetable juliennes. Boil well. Garnish with raw coconut oil and cumin seeds+ curry leaves fried in coconut oil.
vegetables normally used : Tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, yam, drumstick, carrot, beans, cluster beans.

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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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