Sunday, 26 June 2011

Versatile Bean Soup

What with the rain, floods and the sudden chill, I decided to shelve the momos in sweet-and-sour sauce. Wait. I decided to shelve them... in favour of this thick, hearty, garlicky meat-and-bean soup that is just purr-fect for this weather.

Not that spicy fried dumplings aren't wonderful for the wet chill, but what with wobbly health and other pesky things, I'm trying to walk the gastronomic straight and narrow. Temporarily. And you can't marry flavour, heartiness and health better than in this soup, especially when the cold has seeped into your bones. Especially, if the blasted rain has cut off supplies to the local market, leaving you with bits and pieces from last week's shopping. And particularly especially, if you're a vegetarian and have had enough with the meat-monopoly on savoury goodness.

If none of those sell this soup to you, try this for garnish: It's easy. Sample the summary: sauté rajma (and chicken) with chopped onions, garlic, chilies and root vegetables. Add stock and water. Season with salt, sugar, cumin and chopped cilantro. Simmer. Done!

Wash about two handfuls of rajma thoroughly. Then soak them in room-temp. water for at least a day. People and cookbooks will tell you eight hours, but take it from me: eight hours is nowhere close for softening these rock-hard beans. You might change the water in between if you like, giving the beans another quick scrub in the process. If you're cooking the vegetarian version, skip right ahead to the actual cooking.

If you're open to meaty goodness, thaw a chicken leg (or any other meat-on-bone piece, but legs are best) about an hour or so before cooking. Rub it with lemon or lime juice and a little salt, and keep it aside. My father helpfully intervened to crack the juicy bone a little, because "More juices, more flavour". The soup did taste remarkably delicious, so he was probably right.

Chop quite a bit of garlic, one large red onion, and a couple of green chilies for flavour. Feel free to substitute local varieties of chilies for our kNachalonka. In the US I used to add chopped jalapeños, which gives the dish a distinctly different taste. Also, feel free to add carrots, broccoli florets, beet, and whatever else you like in your steaming pot of cold-weather soup.

Armed with everything you need, put your choice of kitchenware on a low flame. Heat half a tablespoon of oil. Take your pick from olive, sunflower, or canola. Of course, I use mustard, because I'm nothing if not predictable. Add the chopped vegetables, stir, and generally let cook over a low flame till the onions turn translucent and the garlic smells toasted. Then, for the meaty soup, toss in the chicken and let it brown.

Meaty version.

Add the rajma. Fold it in and keep stirring for a couple of minutes, then let it toast for another five. It's going to ooze juices and stain your pot. This is a good thing. Encourage it with gentle stirring.

The vegetarian version.

 Proof of the cooking (also the vegetarian version).

Give it a few final stirs, then pour in a tin of chicken or vegetable broth, or plain water.You'll need water even if you're using broth, because rajma needs a LOT of water to cook in. Skimping will probably char your pot. I speak from experience.

Now for the final touches: add salt, half a teaspoon of sugar (yes, I insist), and less than half a teaspoon of ground or powdered jeera/cumin. Mix it thoroughly with gentle stirs. When it's all mixed, add a handful of chopped coriander leaves and stalks, put the lid on, and let it simmer for about forty minutes.

Then turn up the flame so the whistle releases the steam inside, open the lid, and fish out the chicken. Most of the meat will have melted off the bone by now, but pick whatever is left, add it back to the pot, and throw the bone away.

Now reduce the soup to your preferred consistency. Some people like it quite thick, but I prefer it a little thinner during the monsoons (for me, the only heavy-soup season is a snowy winter). Had I been making this in winter, however, I would certainly have considered adding a dollop of soup cream to thicken it up :-) And the best part? This is fabulous with bread, rice, flatbreads, and by itself. You can big a big pot of it, and eat it in different ways over the week. A perfect dish for grad students, in other words.

Try it before the wet spell is over, folks!


Monday, 13 June 2011

Veg Momo

Given a choice, I'd never eat vegetarian dumplings if I could have ones with meat in it, but as it happened, I wasn't given a choice. We were having a few people over and they were vegetarian. Of course, I need not have made momos at all, but I've been itching to try them at home in Calcutta -- my first attempt here -- and this was a perfect opp. to test my skills on a captive audience. No, captive tasters. An actual employed food taster might quit and thus escape, but guests, once served, have little choice but to stuff their faces.

And if you catch their expression during the narrow window between tasting and expressing polite delight, you'll know what they really think of your cooking.

Our guests thought really highly of my cooking, or their shelves are missing a few well-deserved Oscars.


Flour shell -- make a stretchy, soft, well-kneaded dough with flour, a touch of salt, and warm water.
4 or 5 scallions/pNeyaajkoli -- chopped tiny.
Half a red or white onion -- minced or diced miniscule.
Half a large carrot -- grated or minced. Or diced really small.
Half a cup of shredded cabbage.
3 or 4 green beans, 'cause what the heck. 8 or 9 soya bean/nuggets, for the same reason.
Garlic, ginger -- minced.
Soya sauce, salt, sugar, sunflower/canola oil.
An egg.

Shobhadi, bless her, saw the carrots and beans I had set aside and helpfully chopped them for me, because I think she imagined I'd be making fried rice or some such. I could take a knife to these and dice them, but you know hard it is cut already chopped veggies? So I just put everything in the mixie -- including a few dry soya nuggets -- and gave it a whirl.

Whirled veggies :-)

Splashed with a couple of tablespoons of soya sauce, some salt, a little sugar, and the pieces of water-soaked, softened soya nuggets

Added eggs. All right, so I added two instead of one.

The filling was ready. Then, I made small balls from the dough, rolled them out, didn't care enough to make them perfect circles. Then...

Scooped a little filling in the centre of the imperfect disc.

Cabbage because I like cabbage in momos.

Tied them up like a putuli. What is a good English word for a putuli?

A whole set of putulis.

Then, I bough a wokful of water to boil. A proper rolling boil. The momos were dropped in with minimum splash, because splashing boiling water is not fun. The boiling continued till the momos grew plump and slightly translucent, and the water reduced considerably. More water was promptly added, keeping the flame on high.

Each batch of momos (say, eight each) needs three boilings, and the whole process should take between half hour to forty minutes. After half an hour, they were lifted off with a slotted spoon, draining the extra water off them.

At this stage, the momos were delicious, and I ate about three just standing there next to the stove, but my father insisted that "just boiled" food could not be served with tea. So I fried them lightly in sunflower oil, but had my revenge by not making the red-chillies-in-vinegar dipping sauce. Hah! Take that!

Then again, this deprived ME of the slightly sour-edged chilli sauce too, so perhaps this wasn't the right revenge after all. But, Pou Chong brothers' chilli sauce saved the day. Thank you, sirs.

Presenting, first ever made-in-Cal vegetarian momos by Rimi. Ta daaa!

Up next: veg momos in sweet-and-sour sauce, inspired by Blue Poppy :-)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Cheese Toast

Although this blog is written primarily for people who lack the skills, talent or inclination to be ecstatic in the kitchen, I sometimes forget just how alien cooking is to some of them. Forget, that is, till they pop up in my inbox demanding 'recipes' that, in my opinion, cannot even remotely be called 'recipes'.

The word conjures, for me, a sense of the exotic, the mysterious, the tantalising 'secret ingredient' The orange peel softened in fish-blood, the pasted nuts marinated in grape juice, the liver chopped with a knife made by blind virgins in the Appalachians. "Boil potatoes and mash with butter" is NOT my idea of a 'recipe'.

Cheese toast is a non-recipe. It's bread, butter, cheese, melted together like meeting souls, on an old, scratchy griddle. Or saucepan. Or tawa. Or skillet. It really doesn't matter which. What matters is that the cheese, butter and bread meld together like meeting souls. And that is easy to do.

Liberally butter toasts hot off the griddle. The crusts are off because they bruise my mouth. I'm delicate like that.

Topped with mild cheddar sliced from a 3-inch-sqaure cube.

Topped with another piece of liberally buttered toast. And put back on the griddle at medium-low, three minutes each side.

One sandwich cleverly made into TWO sandwiches by slicing through the centre. I'm pure genius.

And shown off. Melty, chewy, and warm inside, with an oozing, golden, creamy, semi-liquid butter.

Served with a steaming cup of Assam strong. Keep your wispy Darjeelings for the afternoon. I like my morning cuppa to knock sleepiness into the next galaxy :-)