Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shortcuts for the Old Ways

Guy: In the early 70's, my paternal grandmother, Ellen, left Britain and came to live with us in Perth, Western Australia. My father, her only child, was pleased to say the least to have his childhood chef back in the house. Gran was a reserved Anglo-Indian woman from the part of the Bengal now known as Bangladesh. She brought with her recipes and techniques unfamiliar to my mother. However, the master cook my mother is soon had these recipes adapted to the more modern, Western kitchen. In this installment we will examine some of my mother's labor saving attempts to recreate my Gran's arcane recipes. We'll also look at some little tricks I've learned along the way from friends and relatives. The corner piece will be a simple dish I must have eaten a thousands times in my youth. It's economy made it especially popular around my house after the death of Gran and the transition of my mother to a single mother parent. It's daal and rice.
In the original recipe taught to my mother, Gran's method was an old Bengal technique of straining the stewed lentils of the daal through a cheesecloth to make it smooth and creamy. There are obvious problems--the most obvious being creating sieve. Labor intensive, no? Anyway, my mum found a quick way around this: use a food processor. My more modern interpretation is to use a hand blender.

This recipe calls for a chopped onion (to be sauted in the pan)--as found in the base of any curry. My friend Nehru has enlightened me in the last year to the use of the pre-fried, packaged onion. These can be purchased for about $2 a bag at most Indian grocery stores. They're a great flavorsome, quick option. Use about 1/3 bag in this recipe.

I c. dried split lentils (any color)
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 small tomato chopped
1/2 Tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp garlic
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
1/4 c. butter or ghee
4-5 curry leaves
The essential element of the basmati rice is to make sure you heat the rice on high before adding the water--don't burn it! I got this technique from the Hari Krishnas. Many a free meal was consumed at the East Perth Temple by my punk friends and I back in those dole days of the early 80's.

Basmati Rice:
1 1/2 c. basmati rice
2 Tbsp butter or ghee
salt & pepper
2 3/4 c. water
1/4 tsp tumeric
Melt the butter/ghee. Add the rice and cook on high for 3 min. Add water and spices, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 40 min.

Here's a little tip about papadums. The traditional way to cook the "lentil chip" that is the papadum is to deep fry it very quickly in very hot oil. I remember watching with fascination in my mother's kitchen as the small chip explodes into life as a papadum (see picture of papadum below exploding into life). My mum recently told me that just popping the papadum in the microwave for about 30 seconds does the same thing. This tip has been confirmed by my Indian friends. Although the papadum does not have the benefit of the flavor of hot oil, it is still crisp and "benefits" from being less greasy.

I dedicate this entry to the memory of my Gran.

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