Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Roulette: A Family Experience in International Gastronomic Delights Randomly Chosen: स्वादिष्ट भोजन svaadisht bhojan

svaadisht bhojan. This is Hindi for “delicious food.” At least, phonetically. The Sanskrit looks like: 

स्वादिष्ट भोजन

To hear how it sounds, click here: svaadisht bhojan

It’s a beautiful language and a beautiful gastronomic tradition. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of blogs about our home experiments in international cuisine. You are invited to come along on this journey.

How It Happened

It all started when my husband and I took a drive to try out a food establishment in Chandler, Arizona that he wanted me to try. Joe’s Farm Grille is a very American establishment – a hamburger joint, but with a twist. The Grille sits on a working farm. It has both indoor and outdoor seating (only for the strong and heat-resistant patron during August). We sat inside, with a view of the huge, 150 year old Tamarisk tree.

The view over a scrumptious Joe's Grille Fontina Burger
and Strawberry Lemonade
As we enjoyed an excellent meal, our conversation turned to international foods. That’s when he got the idea.

A few days before, my husband had downloaded a pretty cool app to his phone called Indian Recipes Offline. It has a list of recipes for various Indian dishes listed alphabetically. My husband took out his phone and we began scrolling through recipes. So many things sounded delicious based on the ingredients alone.

What if, he suggested, we each chose a recipe and we went to Lee Lee International Foods, got the ingredients, and next week we’d make the recipes as a family?

And so we did. We sat at the counter with our burgers and strawberry lemonade, making a list of ingredients for four different dishes, including dessert.

At Lee Lee, we wandered the aisles, quickly choosing the items we recognized and laboring over small print packages and “Googling” item names we didn’t understand.

In the Indian Foods aisle, we stopped more than one friendly man or sari-donned woman and asked for help. “Oh? capsicum? Well, that ‘s just bell peppers, especially the green ones,” explained one young woman shopping with a small child.

We had two recipes that called for capsicum.

A lovely older woman in a beautiful white and gold sari overheard me read a label. “Jaggery? I love jaggery!” She exclaimed, rather gushingly.

“What is it?” I asked just before I caught the English on the label. “I saw a lot of recipes that called for it on our list.”

She looked at me a little oddly when just as she said it was sugar, I noticed the label “pure cane sugar,” and read it aloud. “Oh!” I said, “I should have known.” I meant I should have known by the look of it. It was basically raw, unbleached sugar. Some was granulated and some was in a sort of block inside the packaging. We bought one of those. If we didn’t need it now, we might want it later.

That night when I picked up our young adult son, I invited him to join us. He could choose the course he wanted to make.

We were all very excited when Saturday rolled around, but we started cooking a little late. In the end, we ate our dinner in the late evening, and I have to say, it was worth both the effort and the wait.

Our kitchen is fairly large, but we don’t have much in the way of food prep space, so we decided to cook in turns.

I took my turn first. I had chosen to make the dessert and an appetizer. I thought I’d knock the dessert out quickly then move into the appetizer. I’d forgotten how long it took to make a one string sugar syrup! I hadn’t made one since the rose petal candies I made for Thanksgiving in the mid-nineties.

Once I realized how long it was going to take, I started the appetizer and worked on both at the same time.

My Dishes
 

Here’s what I made:

Almond Burfi

Ingredients: 2 cups ground almonds, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, ½ - 1 cup ghee, 2 cups milk powder

Instructions:
  • Make sugar syrup of one string consistency (There is definitely an assumption by the creators of the app that the cooks already have some knowledge of cooking. So, for those who don’t know: a one-string sugar syrup is made by adding equal amounts of sugar and water, then bringing them to a boil on a medium/low heat. Continue the boil for a few minutes then check consistency. The way I checked was to take a little of the syrup out with a wooden spoon and with my thumb and forefinger take a little off the spoon. Placing thumb and forefinger together, bring them slowly apart and watch what happens to the syrup. If nothing happens, continue boiling on low heat. It is “one string” when a thin line forms between the thumb and forefinger.)
  • When the syrup is ready, add the almonds and milk powder (I used plain old powdered milk like we used to hate as children. I don’t know if this is exactly what the recipe intended, but I had some on hand).
  • Once the powder and almonds are mixed into the syrup, add ghee a little at a time while stirring.
  • Continue to cook over the low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mix begins to come away from the sides of the pan when you stir.
  • Pour onto a greased cookie sheet or plate (with sides).
  • Let it sit awhile in to set before cutting into shapes. I refrigerated mine for a little while then just cut it into squares like fudge.
Almond Burfi, cut like fudge (I can't cut straight for the life of me, apparently!)
Notes: I only found whole shelled almonds at the store, so I ground the almonds in my blender. It worked perfectly. Because the recipe didn’t specify what type of sugar to use, I started with white sugar, but added some jaggery later when I realized that was probably what was meant. I think it did add a little different flavor that it would have had otherwise. Be careful not to burn your fingers!

Capsicum Prawns Canapes

Ingredients: 4 good size prawns, 1 chopped onion, 2 capsicum (green bell peppers) cleaned and quartered, 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 Tbsp butter, a few fresh parsley, chopped, salt & pepper to taste
  • Instructions:
  • Melt butter in a skillet.
  • Add prawns, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cook until prawns are done (they should be pink all the way through), then set them aside in a bowl.
  • Fry the bell peppers (capsicum), and place on a plate like little cups.
  • Mix onion, tomato, and mayonnaise in a bowl
  • Spoon mayo mix into the bell peppers, then place a prawn on top of each one


Capsicum Prawns Canapés
 
Note: This is absolutely delicious! I actually wish I had doubled the recipe. I could have made this into a main dish with a few more.

When my two dishes were done, I set the canapés in the oven at 200 degrees F to keep them warm while the guys made their courses. My son Ian was next in the kitchen. I helped him a little with food prep, but he did the cooking. I was working so much when my kids were small, we didn’t have a lot of time for me to take them in hand and teach cooking skills. It’s a little regret, but not one that can’t be fixed. If you can read and tell time (or set a timer), it’s possible to learn to cook all by yourself.

Ian's Dish

Ian made a main dish called Capsicum Curry with Potato.

Ingredients: 2 tbsp oil, 2 – 3 sliced capsicum (green bell pepper), 1 potato, chopped, 1 onion chopped, onion paste (in addition to chopped onion), 2 tomatoes, paste, 3 green chilies, chopped, 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 3 whole cloves, 1 bay leave, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp turmeric powder, 2 tbsp cashew paste, a few chopped coriander leaves (cilantro), 2 cups water, salt to taste

Instructions:

  • Heat oil in pan
  • Fry green peppers (capsicum), then drain and set aside
  • Add a little more oil if necessary, then fry cumin seeds, cloves, bay leaf, onion, and green chilies
  • Add onion paste, ginger-garlic paste, and tomato paste. Add potato and fry well
  • Add coriander, cumin, chili powder, and turmeric.
  • Add salt and water, cover and simmer about 20 minutes
  • Add cashew paste, bring to a boil.
  • Add capsicum (bell pepper) and coriander leaves
  • Serve hot with chappathi or other flat bread

    Frying ingredients for Capsicum Curry with Potato
    Capsicum Curry with Potato ready to serve
Notes: because we could not find onion paste, we made it by chopping the onion and placing in the blender, then hitting “puree” for a few moments. We did the same with the tomatoes. We also could not find cashew paste or even chopped or whole cashews in the stores (we searched Lee Lee and Fry’s), so we used peanut butter as a substitute. For the chopped green chilies, we used some hatch chilies that had already been cleaned, blanched, frozen, and thawed for this purpose. Finally, the original recipe called for using a pressure cooker. It seems that pressure cookers are staple appliances in India. I don’t have one, so we improvised by using a large frying pan with a tight fitting lid. This seemed to work fine, and the meal was fabulous. I don’t know if the pressure cooker would have created a different consistency or not. If you have a pressure cooker, then where I have “simmer for 20 minutes,” the pressure cooker instructions say “for two whistles.” In today’s newer pressure cookers, that would mean about 10 minutes.

We put this dish into an oven safe bowl and set it in the oven to stay warm while my husband Bill made his dish.

Bill's Dish

Bill’s dish was called Beetroot Lentils Curry

Ingredients: 1 cup beetroot chopped and cooked in salt water, ½ cup yellow lentils cooked in salt water, 3 cloves garlic, ½ cup grated coconut, ½ tsp chili powder, ½ tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp mustard seeds, ½ tsp split Bengal gram (chana dal), 3 dry red chilies, 2 sprigs of curry leaves, water, oil, salt as required

Instructions:

  • Grind coconut and garlic to a fine paste with a little water, set aside.
  • Heat oil in a pan and sprinkle in the mustard seeds.
  • Add split Bengal gram, dry red chilies, and curry leaves.
  • Toss in cooked lentils and cooked beetroot, mix well.
  • Pour in the coconut paste and a little water. Cover and cook on low for 10 minutes.
  • Serve hot with chappathi or other flat bread.

 
Chopping the coconut for Beetroot Lentils and Curry


Spices gathered for Beetroot Lentils and Curry

Isn't this pretty? The spices and Bengal gram all ready
to be added to the Beetroot Lentils

The final product! Beetroot Lentils and Curry

Notes: fresh whole beets were a little pricey in the produce section, so we bought a can of chopped Harvard beets, which worked just fine. The dry red chilies were Serrano peppers from our own garden.

Eating It Was the Best Part

Once all the courses were ready, we set them out on the counter, and we each took personal portions of everything. This meal was really good, and the Almond Burfi was a perfect ending. This fudge-like candy is not too sweet in spite of having sugar syrup as a base. The recipe would be easy to modify, to use different nuts or even some other flavor for those who are allergic to nuts – or just for variety.

It’s possible that if we had researched a little more and found out what capsicum was before deciding, we might have shifted one of the green bell pepper recipes to something else. However, we had decided we would just pick something and go with it.

The experiment of group cooking went well. While we didn’t all occupy the kitchen at once, it was satisfying to know that we were still working cooperatively. The meal had a special atmosphere because of it.

As I said earlier, we ate late – almost 10 p.m. For Americans, that’s a pretty late supper --


It was worth it! The next day, Ian and I took some of everything over to my dad, who thought it was all tasty. Coming from a retired chef, I'm taking that as a compliment!

Here's our meal, all set out for serving buffet style.
We added Korean Salted Duck Eggs and used Naan as our flatbread.

What's Next?

For next time, we have each chosen a course. I will be making two side dishes, Ian a main course, and Bill is doing dessert. Instead of a specific cuisine, though, we are each going to find a recipe from a country our own choice. None of us know what we’re doing yet, but we shop in a couple days.

This is going to be fun!

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