Monday, June 29, 2009

Mango makes summer mellow and fruitful

Earlier I wrote about the bounty of summer in India. In spite of the sweltering weather that summer brings, it is worth living because of the several juicy fruits that nourish, sate, and delight us during the season.

One of those fruits, mango, deserves special mention; it’s definitely worth a blog post. Mango is the king of fruits. Mango brings memories of a boyhood spent in the heart of India, where my father bought different varieties – langra, dussehri, himsagar, etc.

In my present life, in Mumbai, I have access to another, the alphonso. In Mumbai, alphonso is king, considered the choicest variety for flavor and juiciness. But, it’s also the most expensive (a dozen cost, on an average, about Rs. 350.) So, I have few alphonsos and a lot of other varieties, some of which are cheaper but equally delicious, e.g., himsagar and badami.

(Now, that could be a bone (or pit) of contention. Those who swear by the alphonso or export it for business may draw their daggers on reading this. But the business focus on alphonsos is good for us lesser folks: the humble himsagar lets us indulge our love of mangoes without burning a hole in our pockets.)

Anyway, expensive or affordable, mangoes are a delight of the summer. If there is one thing that makes summers bearable, it’s the mango's magnetic charm.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Luchi and puree: Close cousins, but still different

I grew up eating luchi, a round, deep-fried pastry, eaten as bread in Bengali homes. Its cousin, puree, is more common in India. The difference between the two is luchi is made with refined (all-purpose) flour, while puree is made with whole-wheat flour. So luchi is white, while puree is brown. Furthermore, luchi is generally rolled out thinner.

I prefer luchi, even though puree is healthier. How about you? Have you eaten either?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Shrimp in mustard sauce: An explosion of flavor

Yesterday, I had a taste of a quintessentially Bengali preparation after a long while -- sorshe chingri bhape, or steamed shrimp in mustard sauce. During this period of deprivation, I had survived on ready-to-eat packets of rajma masala (curried red beans), spicy vegetable curry, and tadka dal (tempered, or spiced, lentil). All this while, my family was away in Kolkata and I was busy with several things that I wanted to accomplish during my demanding 3-year-old daughter's absence.

On Sunday I got a jolt of the strong mustard sauce, an explosion of flavor I was dying for. My wife's preparation was intense. I had it for lunch as well as dinner. This experience was the one bright spot of my day.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Stewing or braising versus baking or serving with a sauce

One thing I noticed when I worked in restaurants or cafeterias in America was that chefs would often sauté a boneless breast of chicken and pour different kinds of sauces over it for a variety of dishes, e.g., chicken piccata. And, of course, I found baking and roasting as two of the most common cooking methods. As opposed to these methods, the Indian way of cooking mostly involves braising or stewing. In other words, the main ingredient (e.g., fish) would be first fried and set aside. Then spices would be sautéed and water added. Once the liquid starts boiling, the fish or vegetables would be added for a simmer. The cooking is done when the meat or vegetables have become tender and the liquid (or gravy) has thickened a bit.

Does anyone think otherwise? Comments welcome.