Saturday, March 21, 2009

1001 Simple Indian Pickles

Pickles are food preserved in an edible liquid. Microorganisms / enzymes in food cause it to spoil fast. The goal of all pickling is to retard the microbial / enzyme actions.

Dry Pickles : Foodstuff is mixed with pickling powder. Salt in pickling powder draws out moisture from food stuffs, reducing spoilage. Anti bacterial and antifungal mustard, fenugreek and chili powders are often added, which retard the spoilage even further. Often, foodstuffs are sun dried for a few days before being pickled, which makes them last longer.

Pickling with salt / sugar Foodstuff is mixed with salt, which draws water from the inside of food. The increased salt concentration also inhibits microorganism activity.( E.g. Tamil Vadumanga Jap Shio-zuke ). Sugar acts in the same way.( E.g. Gujarati Chundo, Relish).

Pickling with acids. Foodstuffs are steeped in acids like soy sauce/ wine/ vinegar / lemon juice / tamarind/ miso , which slow down the action of microbial / enzyme actions ( E.g. Most western pickles, Japanese shouy-zuke , Shouy : Soy ; Zuke : Pickle).

Pickling by fermentation. Foodstuffs are mixed with salt, which draws out the liquids. This liquid is allowed to ferment under controlled conditions, which acts as a preservative. (E.g. Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Japanese Nuka-zuke).

Pickling in oil. Oil seals out air and prevents the entry of micro organisms. But, there is a class of microorganisms which thrive in the absence of air. So, anti microbial powders like mustard / fenugreek / turmeric are usually mixed in. (E.g. Most Indian Pickles). Honey / alcohol also serve as preservatives.( E.g Gulhkand : Rose petals pickled in honey)
Various combinations of these five methods are used across the world for pickling.

By following a few simple rules listed below, you can easily prepare fool-proof pickles.

1. Use fresh, unblemished vegetables.
2. Wash and completely dry vegetables, bottles and spoons.
3. Never use a wet spoon or your bare hands to touch the pickle. Even a tiny bit of water can spoil it. The goal of all pickling is to reduce the water content as microorganisms can thrive in the presence of water.
4. Aluminum, plastic or brass vessels react with the acid in pickles and should be avoided. Use glass / stainless steel / porcelain jars.
5. Sun drying the vegetables for a day / stir frying them removes moisture and makes them last longer.
6. Salt always has moisture in it. So dry roast it / dry it in sun for a day before adding it to the pickle.
7. Prefer sea salt as iodized table salt can make the pickle cloudy.
8. Sterilize the bottles before filling them with pickles. ( See below)
9. Fill the bottles almost to the top to reduce the amount of air sealed in.
10. Ensure there is always a layer of oil on top of pickle.
11. Once pickles are ready, refrigerate them to make them last much longer.

The more rules you break, the less time your pickles will last. Following all of them would result in a pickle which stores well.

 Sterilising bottles:  Fill a pan with cold water. Immerse the bottles and bring water to a boil. Boil for five minutes, remove bottles and keep them inverted in the sun till they are completely dry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

10 Simple Salted South Indian Pickles

This cookbook lists 10 salted pickles, greatly simplified, so that a first time cook can easily prepare them. These are the simplest pickles of them all. Just mix in salt, turmeric powder with vegetables, sun them and your pickle is ready! 

Salting is the simplest way to preserve food. It has been used from time immemorial for preserving all kinds of food. Adding salt draws out the vegetable’s natural juices. This increased salt content prevents the growth of micro organisms. In vegetables which are not juicy enough, we add lemon juice to create an acidic environment which inhibits bacterial growth.

 Salted Pickles : Vegetables pickled in their own juices.

1.:    Manga Inji Pickle

2.:    Lemon Pickle

3.:    Narthangai Pickle   

4.:   Baby Mango Pickle


Salted – Lemon Pickles: Vegetables pickled in lemon juice

5.:   Carrot  Pickle 

6.:   Garlic Pickle 

7.:   Green Chili Pickle 

8.:     Peppercorn Pickle    

9.:    Sundakkai Pickle

10.:  Cluster Bean Pickle

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

1001 Simple Chaats ( North Indian Street food)

This cookbook lists 1000 simple chaats from 000 to 999. Ten different bases are paired with ten different dressings and ten different additives to create a thousand different chaats. Use your imagination – chaats are so versatile that any combination would work! 

It took me a long time to realise that Chaat is actually a mini meal. It perfectly mimics a full meal, with bite sized portions. All chaats have a carbohydrate base, a ‘curry’ ( normally a chutney / yogurt) and additives. The base can be fried bread ( papdi, puffed poori, samosa, kachori, vada, ) , boiled carbohydrates ( potato, beans) or puffed / flaked cereals ( rice). The base, dressings and the additives are kept ready by the chaatwala ( vendor) and mixed together on order. 

The base also serves as an additive. For example, boiled potatoes can serve as a base in aloo tikki and as an additive in pani poori / papdi chat. Papdi serves as a base in papdi chat and is curshed and used as an additive in bhel poori. Curried beans is a base in Ragda ( mashed) patties & Misal pav and is used as an additive in Bhel poori & Masala Poori.

 Chaats are usually eaten in the evening and long queues form in front of popular Chaatwallahs.

 The most popular chaats are detailed below :

 Puffed Poori based Chaats

Pani Poori (Pani: water Poori : deep fried, puffed bread):
Take 4-6 golf ball sized puffed pooris. Punch holes and fill with mashed potato / curried beans / mung sprouts. Top with pani poori water. The whole poori is popped in the mouth.

Sev Poori ( Sev: fried gram flour stringlets) 
Take 4-6 golf ball sized puffed pooris. Punch holes and fill with mashed potato / curried beans / mung sprouts and sev ( fried gram flour strings). Add some chopped onions, a pinch each of red chili powder and chat masala. Drizzle with a chutney from column 2. Sprinkle half a handful of sev on top as garnish.

 Dahi Poori ( Dahi : Yogurt)
Take 4-6 golf ball sized puffed pooris. Punch holes and fill with mashed potato / curried beans / mung sprouts. Add some chopped onions, a pinch each of red chili powder and chat masala. Add 3-4 spoons of yogurt. Sprinkle with sev on as garnish. 

Puffed Rice based Chaats
Bhel Poori ( Bhel : Puffed rice)
Take a handful of puffed rice. Mix with chopped onions, tomato, grated carrots , grated mango, curried beans, crushed papdi, sev etc., Add a couple of spoons of  pani poori water and a chutney ( or two or three) from column 3. Mix all well with the juice of half a lemon till the puffed rice becomes a bit soggy.

Jhal Muri ( Jhal : Spicy, Muri : Puffed rice) : Bengali Specialty
In contrast to Bhel poori where puffed rice is soggy, Jhal muri maintains the crispness of rice by not mixing in any liquid. Take a handful of puffed rice. Mix with half a handful of chana chur ( readymade mixture) or sev, a finely chopped green chili, half a spoon of mustard oil, a pinch each of cumin powder and salt. Boiled and cubed potatoes can also be added. Usually puffed rice is toasted for a few minutes so that it becomes extra crispy.

Potato based Chaat
Aloo Tikki ( Aloo: Potato, tikki: Shallow fried patties)
Take a handful of boiled and mashed potato. Mix in two pinches each of  chili powder, salt and garam masala. Form into small patties. Shallow fry on both sides in oil till golden. Spread a chutney from column 2 on top, add half a handful of chopped onions and additives from column 3.

Mashed Bean based Chaats
Chole Tikki ( Chole : Beans)
Replace mashed potatoes in a Aloo tikki with mashed beans and you have the chole tikki.

Ragda Patties ( Ragda : Churned).
Add mashed, curried beans to Aloo tikki and you have Ragda patties.

Misal Pav
a scoop of curried beans ( usually green peas or matki( a lentil) in the center of a plate. Spread sev all around it in a circle. Over the beans sprinkle finely chopped onions, two pinches of grated mango, a spoon of chutney from column 2, a pinch of chat masala and chili powder. Add a couple of spoons of yogurt and a pinch of chopped cilantro. Usually served with toasted pav.

 Vada / Bhalla based chaats
Dahi Bhalla ( Bhalla : deep fried urad dal batter)
Soak white urad dal overnight. Drain water and grind to a foamy batter. Add a spoon of batter to hot oil and deep fry into bite sized, small dumplings. Drain, let cool. Soaked in hot water for 2 minutes and squeeze. Add three spoons of yogurt, add a pinch each of chili powder, black salt and sev.

Dahi Vada ( Vada : deep fried spiced urad dal batter)
Replace bhalla with vada and you get dahi vada. ( Vada is made by adding chopped onions & green chilies to the bhalla batter).

 Papdi based Chaats
Papdi Chat ( Papdi : fried flat bread)
Take 4-6 medallion sized flat pooris. Spread some half a handful of mashed potato / curried beans / mung sprouts. Add half a handful of chopped onions, a pinch each of red chili powder and chat masala. Add a spoon of chutney from column 2. Sprinkle sev on top.

Dahi Papdi
Replace chutney with yogurt in the recipe above and you have dahi papdi.

Feel free to experiment - you can't go wrong with chaat !

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Simple Salad Dressings

This cookbook lists 1000 no-cook salad dressings by combining 10 bases with 10 flavouring techniques and 10 additives. 

Salad Dressing – A Primer : Salad dressings are Salad Sauces, which make a salad taste extra delicious. Oil / lemon juice / vinegar / Soya sauce & Salt were some of the earliest salad dressings.  Later, a variety of spices were mixed into these basic dressings. Sesame seed paste ( tahini) is used as a dressing and dip across the Middle east,  Soy sauce is used across the far east and soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise is popular in Japan. Lemon Juice is India’s favourite salad dressing.    Emulsions (like Mayo, vinaigrette) were perfected in France and have become the most popular dressings in the western world. Buttermilk based Ranch dressings, Vinaigrette based Italian and French dressings, & Mayonnaise based Thousand Island dressing, are some of the most popular salad dressings. Salad dressings need not be limited to vegetables, but can also be used as dips or spreads.   

Emulsion is a mixture of liquids, which normally do not mix - like oil and vinegar. They can be temporarily mixed by whisking them together - but they soon separate. If whisked together using a 'glue' like egg yolk, mustard powder, agar gum etc, they remain 'stuck' as a creamy emulsion. Mayonnaise and vinaigrette are emulsions.   

Mayonnaise Variations :
Local oils / vinegars / additives are used across the world to produce variations of mayonnaise. Rice vinegar & soy sauce is added to mayo in Japan, safflower oil in Russia, sugar in Australia, ketchup in Argentina, garlic and olive oil in Europe etc., See 1001 Mayo cookbook for more.

Tips :
1. Mix in dressing just before serving as most dressings make salads wilt .
2. If you plan to store the salad, do so without dressing.

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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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