Vasundhara Chauhan on cooks and pressure cookers, and a recipe to top it off with
The cook left, ignoring my most eloquent, humble entreaties. It's another matter that within exactly a week he came back, moaning about how much he hated the new job, the hard work, the lack of rest, the cooking for hordes, and the indifference of the new sahib log. I've always found the saying, revenge is a dish best eaten cold, not comforting at all; and in this case the dish was still quite hot and so that much more satisfying. But the satisfaction doesn't take away from the derangement I've been through.
This is how it goes. I spread the word that a cook is wanted. I hand out my mobile number to all and sundry. Then I start receiving calls from unknown numbers which I take, even in the middle of crucial meetings. Many phone, make an appointment, I schedule my life around it, and they don't land up. When I call their phones are switched off. But some do arrive and interview me.
One came for a trial, looked at the kitchen and said contemptuously, "Aap ke paas oven bhi nahin hai!" I pointed nervously to my pride and joy, my Neff, and he said he meant the counter top oven -toaster-grill. Sorry, I said silently to myself, even if I'm desperate I'm not going to trade in my Neff for an OTG. Then he said he could cook "Chinee". In other words, "Manchurian" anything: chicken, gobhi, "mixed veg". But not in my kitchen. Because, as he pointed out, the larder had no cornflour starch, no Ajinomoto, and no vinegar. I showed him the rice wine vinegar, the home made jamun malt from my father, the balsamic -of different vintages and viscosity - the cider, the regular malt. But he wanted the one that looked "paani jaisa", synthetic. So that was the end of Chinee and that candidate. The other thing I discovered was that "chinese" is an umbrella concept for exotic, or all that is not desi. One who said he could cook "Chinese" listed "tamatar-cheese sandwich", and many kinds of pasta.
Then another came. He said he cooked "normal khana". Normal? Did he mean food for healthy people? Could he make a soup, was he familiar with dosas, idlis, salads, had he ever made mutton curry without onions, could he make any kind of Bengali fish curry... what? He kept saying "normal" khana. Now I feel guilty for grilling him, because I realise he meant dal, sabzi, roti and a basic north Indian meat curry. But in my own defence, in a country with the culinary diversity of a continent, what I had meant to find out was whether he could put some variety on our table. He clearly didn't but he had neatly parted hair, a sweet smile as white as his shirt, and he was hired.
That's when my learning began. What I think of as basics, like the operation of a pressure cooker, are unknown. The number of cooks I've had to train in this, making a pot of tea and setting perfect dahi at home, is legion: enough for me to have established and run a cooking school. I learnt that they might know how to close a pressure cooker and cook something till tender, but not the principle. So there is no economy of time and fuel, no efficient use of the machine. And a big loss of flavour and texture.
In a sealed pressure cooker, the boiling point of water rises. In a pressure cooker, food gets hotter and the higher temperature causes the food to cook faster; cooking times can be reduced to one third of the time for normal cooking methods. But once full pressure is achieved, keeping the heat high doesn't take the temperature any higher, and so has no effect on the time taken to cook something through. All one does achieve is a loss of water (and vitamins and flavour) through escaping steam.
So when the new cook says he cooks sabut urad for "chaar seeti" (four whistles), I have to start over: keep the heat high till pressure is built up fully and a "whistle" escapes, then lower the heat and time the rest of the cooking. I have to explain that the number of seetis can vary, depending on how much water is in the pressure cooker, whether there's a draft or if someone jostled the pan; so he must time it after the first seeti and let it simmer for as long as that particular food needs. I find pressure-cooking most useful for soup stock and chana, rajma and sabut dal. For flavour some tempering before or after is necessary, but for the sheer swiftness of cooking-till-done, nothing to beat the hey presto! of a pressure cooker.
n 1 cup kabuli chana/chick peas n Salt n 2 cloves n 2 tbsp tamarind n 2 tbsp vegetable oil n 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns n 2 large onions, grated n 1/2 tsp haldi n 1 tsp ground dhania/coriander n 1-2 tsp red chilli powder n 1 tbsp ginger juliennes n 1/2 tsp kala namak (black salt) n 1 tsp dry roasted cumin, ground Wash and soak chana overnight in a large pot of water. In the morning, drain away all the water and pressure cook chana with about 11/2 cups water, salt and cloves. Reduce heat after full pressure is reached (one whistle) and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile soak tamarind in a cup of water. In a large pan, heat oil and add peppercorns. Stir in grated onions, add haldi and saute
for a few minutes, till lightly browned. Add ground dhania/coriander powder and red chilli powder.
Stir in ginger and simmer for a couple of minutes. When steam in the pressure cooker subsides take out chana and the water it was cooked in and add to cooking onion mixture. Pour in strained tamarind water and bring everything to a boil. The dish should have a gravy and will thicken when cool, so add hot water if desired. Reduce heat and add black salt and roast cumin. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve warm with kulcha or poori.
The writer is a food writer based in New Delhi, India.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
JATTI UMRA: As Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) emerged as the largest
party in the recently held elections in Pak .....more
Imagine the heavenly smell of stable peace
"Pakistan and India must focus on culture exchange initiatives, especially for the youth, who play an instrumen .....more
A peace museum celebrating divided Punjab's shared architectural, cultural and culinary heritage is coming up at Attari near the India-Pakis .....more
The murderous attacks on an Indian prisoner in Pakistan and a Pakistani prisoner in India highlight the urgency of developing long term, humane policies to protect th .....more
On April 20, peace activist and educationist Ashfaq Fateh, 41, passed away in hospital after doctors unsuccessfully operated on a liver tumo .....more
On a first-time to India for a South Asian fellowship in Arts and Cultural
Management, a Pakistani participant finds herself at home
By Alina Choudhry
Page 2 of 175
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw