Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Paratha & Pachadi -- a match made in heaven . . .

I've come down to the good ole 'no this weekend to spend some quality time with my mom, who is a pachadi queen. For those of you who aren't in the know (bad pun on words, really), pachadis are like chutneys but less watery. To me they're a bit like a spread, often combining a fresh or cooked vegetable with peppers and spice. They're loaded with flavor and are served with rice or breads. This weekend, my mom showed off her most recent concoction. A yam pachadi! She even gave me a quick-and-easy cauliflower paratha recipe to boot. Thanks, Mom!

Cauliflower Paratha

1 cup grated cauliflower
1/8 tsp cayenne or ground red pepper
2 kari leaves
1 tsp chopped cilantro
1/2 c. durum flour or regular whole wheat flour
3-4 tbsp water
1 tsp thirugamatha*
vegetable oil

the thirugamatha:
I'm using the Telugu word for this, but there's different words in various languages for this flavorful oil, which is added to many South Indian dishes. To make this, you need:

2 tbsp vegetable oil (preferably canola)
1/4 black mustard seeds
1/4 cumin seeds
1-2 dried red peppers, broken in half

Heat oil on high. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the oil and cover to keep from splattering. Cook until the mustard seeds and cumin pop. Remove from heat and add pepper pieces.

making the bread dough:
Combine the cauliflower, pepper, kari leaves, cilantro, thirugamatha and salt. Add the flour and mix in the water 1 tablespoon at a time until all the ingredients of the dough are well-incorporated. Dough should hold together but should still be moist. Divide the dough and form into balls.

putting it together:
Spread out a piece of waxed paper on a work surface and sprinkle with oil. Using oiled fingers, flatten the dough balls into circles. The circles should be 1/4 inch thick. Coat a griddle pan with one tsp of oil and heat. Cook one paratha at a time on low, flipping the paratha to make sure it has cooked through and the paratha is a golden brown color. Each side takes about 2 minutes to brown.

Yam Pachadi

1 cup cubed red-skinned yam
1 serrano pepper
1 tsp tamarind pulp juice
1/8 tsp cumin seeds
1/8 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp thirugamatha
1/4 salt or to taste
vegetable oil

Blend cumin and coriander seeds in a spice mill until smooth powder. Lightly coat a small pan with vegetable oil and heat to medium. Saute pepper until browned on the outside. Add the spice mix, tamarind, cilantro, thirugamatha, and salt to the pepper and saute together for one more minute. Remove from heat and put the mixture into a small food processor. Add the yams and process until well-incorporated but still slightly chunky.

Serve the Cauliflower Paratha with the Yam Pachadi and a bit of plain yogurt on the side. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spain & Morocco, Part 1

E & I have just returned from a 2 week-long journey through the south of Spain and parts of northern Morocco, where we moved as if whirling dervishes through many landscapes in such a short period of time. Madrid to Sevilla to Cordoba to Granada to Algeciras (the ferry across) to Tanger to Chefchaouen to Fes to Rabat to Tanger (the ferry back) to Tarifa to Ronda to Madrid. Phew!

Then, of course, we spent a harrowing 26 hours in flight time getting back to our sweet home in the Bay Area. After such an anxiety-provoking trip home, it only seemed fair to bypass the torrential downpours and flooded streets to be greeted by sunny, 60-something-degree weather. After weeks of wandering through gorgeous sanctuaries of several religious persuasions, I reasoned that the weather was an illustration that there was, infact, a God.

All of our friends and families are naturally asking: Was it amazing? And telling: You're so lucky. I'm sure it was beautiful. Truth is, we're still digesting the contents of the trip. Definitively, I can say that I came back about 2 to 3 pounds lighter, even after imbibing a good amount of wine daily, which may testify to the difficulties we had in finding solid gastronomy. Partly, there is no one to blame but ourselves. After a disappointing experience in a restaurant in Mexico City, which fell far short of our expectations of haute cuisine, E and I have become more wary of plopping down the Benjamins for a mediocre meal. In other words, we were overcautious and didn't dare set foot in anything that had too pricey a menu, despite the recommendations that I had diligently printed from searches on the message board.

Not only has the world become smaller, allowing us to taste better versions of those things found in abroad, but we're also privy to a vast variety of ethnic cuisines, most of which exist within a radius of 10 miles. And our produce -- well, that's another boon altogether. Biases aside, people's eating habits as well as their expectations for restaurant food still differ greatly. I can't help but be ethnographic in saying this, purporting ostensibly objective facts but knowing that I'm still a person with tastes and subjective experiences that color my reporting.

In Spain, bar food (commonly known as tapas) is a standard way of getting in an evening meal and few glasses of wine with friends. It's not myth or lore that their eating habits vary greatly from our own, a more northern European style of dining with a big breakfast, a mid-day lunch, and an early dinner. Restaurants in Spain open their doors before 8pm but might not serve anything but a little bit of tortilla espanola (a potato omelette) and a few other, sitting-around-all-day-in-mounds-of-olive-oil snacks. For naive travelers like me, the late meal and day-old snacks can get stale quickly. But if you're accustomed to this and dine at 10pm like the Spanish do, you won't stupidly crave things that are certain not to be available until much later in the evening. And you'll know how to suss good bar food from bad, fresh items on the menu from the questionable.

As it was, however, E & I came away with a Spanish-food-ain't-so-great attitude, which in retrospect, I'm sure is not very fair. The cheeses and cured meats were delicious everywhere we went, but one can only eat so much manchego and jamon iberico for dinner. On the other hand, the breads were really quite awful. Often day old, white-flour loafs, not even toasted to mask their mediocrity. Okay, what I'm going to say next is probably might be very myopic. I understand this and am willing to receive criticism! E & I have always been of the opinion that Mexican pastries always look much better than they taste. When glancing through the window of a panaderia, what you imagine to have a delicious flaky texture or be moist when popped in the mouth often falls very short of the expectation, predicated on French pasties, which are both flaky and moist. Well, for what it's worth, in my mind, the Mexicans have been exonerated from simply being bad bakers. They've got the colonizer's wisdom to thank for their not-always-the-best baked goods.

Though only a few miles across the Mediterranean, sharing the same climate and so much of the same history as witnessed in the Moorish architecture and aesthetics, Spain and Morocco are worlds apart in their cultural habits. Wine and ham are central components to the Spain way-of-life, but Moroccans, who are predominantly Muslim, don't drink nor do they consume pork. A lifestyle without alcohol strongly affects how Moroccans eat and socialize. Unlike the Spanish, who drag entire families (grandparents and toddlers included) into the bar (the very of idea of a bar as a site for family, not just the American twentysomething fun) for an evening bite, Moroccans are home-centric. There's street fare, Mexican taco-bar style, with breads and kebabs brewing in little kiosks around towns, but Moroccans don't really do the "restaurant" thing. Without a strong middle class, few can afford this kind of experience of dining out. Thus, the best and freshest meals are to be found in the homes, and the best way to be given the opportunity to have one of these stellar meals is to befriend, like crazy, the locals.

More tastes, smells, visuals, observations from the trip to come . . .

I promised myself to stop blogging and get to work on writing dialogue for a live performance next week. For those of you in the area, the Poets' Theater Jamboree begins this Friday, January 13 at California College of the Arts in SF. I'll be a part of the Neo-benshi lineup on January 20. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

It's Raining Curry! Hallelujah! It's Raining Curry!

I know I've been reticent, but I've got a blog in the works about my recent travels abroad. Bear with me! In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to write in to thank Courtney at Naughty Curry for posting a snippet of one of my blogs! And, I wanted to oblige my best-est friend, known as the famous letter n, by giving the world a little bit o' curry. As a word of caution, the idea of egg plus curry seems a bit strange, I know. But trust me, it's so goooood!

"It's Raining Curry" Egg Curry

the dry spices:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp shredded (unsweetened) coconut
3 whole peanuts
2 whole almonds
2 whole cashews
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
1/2 stick of cinnamon (1/3 if the stick is really big)
1 clove

the wet spices:
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper, coarsely chopped (remove seeds if you'd like a milder taste or add more peppers if you crave the hot-hot!)
1/2 cup water

4 large eggs
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt to taste

Hardboil eggs. Peel and cut in half length-wise.

Toast dry ingredients over medium heat until the coconut begins to lightly brown. Transfer to a spice mill and blend until smooth powder. (Note: I use a coffee grinder, which I have specifically set aside for spices. It's not optimal to use it for both coffee and spices as even the mild flavor of coriander in one's java ain't so great.) Add the dry spice powder and all the wet spice ingredients in a food processor and blend until a smooth, watery paste.

Heat vegetable oil in a sauce pan. Add onions and saute on medium heat until translucent. Add tomato. Continue to saute until the tomato becomes soft and begins to lose its shape. Add the spice paste and stir well well. Simmer until the sauce begins to thicken a bit, about 2 minutes. Stir in the yogurt and salt to taste. Arrange the eggs with the yolk side up in the sauce, spooning the sauce over the eggs to incorporate the flavors. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with rice. Yum!