Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New babies!

These are a recent addition to the family. They came home with us on a recent trip to India.

They are a joy to behold, but need a lot of TLC. They have to be handled gently and you have be careful not to break their hearts or use any harshness with them. They are like little sponges and will soak everything in. Work with them and treat them well and gradually their rough edges will smoothen out and they will acquire a smooth polished sheen.

They are very old-fashioned and charming and people are very enamoured when they see them. Lavish love and care on them and you will be gratified by their performance.

Pay attention to them, take pride in them, coax the best out of them - and they will be with you forever.

These little beauties are the latest addition to our cookware family! Yes, I love them almost as much as my other babies!


kalchatti_closeup

stone cooking pots: Kalchatti


This is my collection of "Kalchatti"s or soapstone pots. The darker colored ones are inherited and the gray ones are new that I bought from a street-side vendor in Chennai.

I believe they are made out of soapstone, which is very soft stone. The art of making Kalchattis is a dying artform and these chattis are not available in stores that I checked out in Chennai. Perhaps they are available in other parts of Tamilnadu/Kerala.

When they are new, they are a pale gray in color and are very porous. They have to be seasoned with salt or repeatedly rinsed in starchy water - such as the water from washing rice - to close the pores. When they are seasoned, they turn dark in color and also become denser. The pores get sealed and they become less absorbent.

The flavor of cooking in these stone vessels in unbelievable. Vathral Kolumbu, Avial, Molagootal, Mor Kozhambu - all traditional south indian staples, are all elevated to a sublime experience when they are cooked in this vessel.

kalchatti

Kalchattis - another view




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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fond Memories - Masaal

poori masal

Poori with Masaal



Have you ever tried to recreate a dish based on memory? Perhaps a dish that you ate when you were a child; when the foodie in you was still nascent and you liked a dish simply because it tasted good and and didn't care about how it was made; a dim memory from the past where you remember only vaguely what the dish tasted like but do remember vividly that you absolutely loved the dish.

Perhaps it was the way the dish was presented, perhaps it was the taste or the texture, maybe it was the ambiance of the place where you ate. Maybe it was the love with which the food was prepared or a combination of all of the above.

Whatever the reason, some dishes etch a permanent place in our memory and time and again we reminisce about these dishes with a nostalgic sigh. We fondly try to recollect the tastes of these dishes, the textures on our palate, try to guess the ingredients, try to figure out the recipe and make futile attempts to reproduce them in our kitchen.

We remember, we toil, we taste, add some spices, taste some more, stir, fry, mix and finally pronounce it done. But no, the elusive taste eludes us. The dish looks and smells just like it did in our memory, but the taste is just not the same.

Now, imagine this situation when the memory you are dealing with is not even your own!! Sounds like a plot from Arnold Schwarzenegger sci fi movie? Well, a few years into our marriage that is exactly the position I found myself in. My husband had this memory of eating what he claimed to be "the best" Poori-Masaal at a restaurant in Coimbatore when he was growing up. Since then, he had been longing to eat this dish and recreate those fond memories.

He described to me this "Masaal" that is served with pooris. It is not Masala...that is the stuff they serve with dosas. This is Masaal, and as any staunch coffee-drinking, idli-loving south-indian will tell you- Masaal is the accompaniment to pooris.

I tried to make this dish as described by him. It was not a success. I persisted. With every attempt it got a bit closer, but it was always a step short - missing something, too sour, not tangy enough, wrong flavor, etc...until one day, he finally pronounced it "Just perfect...just the way I remember it! "

For many years since then, I have made this recipe to the utter satisfaction and joy of my hubby. I too love the combination of flavors in this dish and like it better than the usual poori-masala...er masaal that I used to make.

Several years later, we found ourselves sitting at a table at that famous restaurant in Coimbatore awaiting our order of Poori Masaal. The suspense was killing me. I would finally get to taste this "Masaal" that I had labored so many years to mimic.

When the dish finally came, it looked nothing like my version does. We took a bite....it tasted nothing like my version either. My husband could not hide the look of disappointment on his face. The memory he had of the dish did not stand up to the real version. All those years of anticipation, all those memories of that wonderful taste, and the final product was nothing like it.

Maybe what he had reminisced about was his carefree youth - content with today, expectant of tomorrow. Memorable meals are often those where the food is savored more because of that particular moment in time, the emotion of the hour and the company at hand.

This story has a happy ending however... hubby pronounced that he liked my version more than the version in the restaurant and I have since stuck to my recipe! So, here it is:

Ingredients:

4 medium-sized potatoes
3 small red onions
3 ripe tomatoes
1 inch pieces of ginger
2 green chilli (or 1)
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp sambhar powder
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
salt to taste

Method:

  1. Boil the potatoes. Peel and chop into small cubes.
  2. Slice the onions lengthwise into thin slivers.
  3. Chop the tomatoes and green chillies. Grate the ginger or chop very finely.
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan
  5. When it gets hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds.
  6. When the seeds begin to pop, add the curry leaves and the green chillies and ginger.
  7. Add the onions and saute well.
  8. Add the turmeric powder, the sambhar powder and salt. Add the chilli powder if using.
  9. Add the tomatoes and fry well. Cover the pan and let the tomatoes stew.
  10. Add 1/2 cup of water and when the water comes to a boil, add the potato pieces.
  11. Simmer till the potatoes are heated through and incorporated.
  12. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with piping hot pooris, a wedge of lime and some slices of raw onions.



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