Wednesday, September 29, 2010
If you are not familiar with wheat berries, trust me when I tell you -- in as understated a fashion as possible-- that they are these incandescent, golden pearls crammed germ-to-hull with more goodness and flavor than you can possibly imagine.
In India, we get our exposure to wheat berries early-- or at least I did. Back when I was growing up, my mom would buy wheat berries by the kilo from the grocer's. She would sort through them for any impurities, put them into a large, round aluminum tin, slap on a large, round aluminum lid, and then dispatch me, tin in tow, to the neighborhood flour mill.
The flour mill, usually housed in a small store, was an interesting sight: a mammoth contraption of clunking metal wheels, shafts and levers all connected by speeding rubber belts. For a few rupees, the miller -- his face hair, face, eyelashes and clothes smothered in fine wheat dust -- would grind up the wheat berries into a powdery flour, or atta, that would make the most perfect chapatis, puris, parathas, and what have you.
I hated going to the flour mill because my mom always had a million specifications that Easygoing Me couldn't care to remember: Be sure to tell the miller not to grind the flour just after he has ground rice or another grain for someone else (so the flavors don't mix). Be sure to watch with an eagle eye so he does not substitute our better-quality wheat for a cheaper variety. Be sure to watch carefully when he weighs it once he's done, so you know he's giving you back exactly what you brought in, and no less.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Food, for those of us who love eating and making it, has to be gorgeously delicious, ravishingly beautiful, and, well, easy enough to prepare. And while French food definitely fits into the first two categories, those not used to making it day in day out often see it as being an intimidating test of patience and skill. All that marinading, julienning, chiffonading, friseeing, sauteing, flambeing...mais non!
But then again, we cooks do love a challenge.
Thanks to other wonderful Foodbuzz bloggers who voted for me and the support and prayers of my incredible readers, I advanced last week into the second round of Project Food Blog, Foodbuzz's contest to select the next online food blog star. This week, Foodbuzz wants contestants to cook something that's out of their comfort level, and from a cuisine they don't usually cook from.
As a vegan, stepping out of my comfort zone is something I am used to. Over many years as a cook and as a blogger I've experimented, substituted and tested eggless, dairyless and meatless versions of dishes I used to love when I did eat meat and other animal products. A lot of these recipes have been family favorites, like my Dad's Not-Mutton Mushroom Curry, or my husband Desi's favorites like biryanis that are rich and packed with flavor without any meat or animal fat. At other times I've created vegan versions of breads seemingly impossible to imagine without eggs and butter fat, like my Vegan Whole-Wheat Challah and my Avocado Brioche.
Labels: French recipes
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I grew up in a bursting-at-the-seams apartment building in Bombay and at any time of the day we were enveloped in the delicious scents and sounds and flavors of foods from around the country. The spicy-pungent perfume of the ajwain from Mrs. Sinha's North Indian chana masala bubbling away on the stove. The popping of tiny black mustard seeds in oil which Mrs. Raval would then pour over her slippery-delicious, bright yellow rolls of Gujarati khandvi. The sizzle that rose from the red-hot griddle the instant Mrs. Iyer, a Tamilian, poured a ladleful of white dosa batter right in the center.
Bombay is not a very green city, but in our little housing society we had a few, precious trees, including a handful of fruit trees. There was a gooseberry tree that carpeted the ground with thousands of acrid-sour, translucent-green fruit for a few weeks each year. A guava tree that attracted beautiful parrots flying free in the wind-- a treat for eyes used only to seeing caged parrots with their wings clipped and taught to spout inane human words.
There were a couple of coconut trees with their tall, ringed, brown trunks that shot all the way up into the sky and then burst into a cap of wide, dark green leaves with spiky fronds. And the crowning jewel: an ancient mango tree that each summer began to birth a profusion of green fruit: nothing ever stayed long enough on the tree to actually ripen, thanks to all the neighborhood kids who could aim beautifully with a pebble.
As a child, of course, I just knew to enjoy all this diversity and richness but not really appreciate it. Looking back I can see how it shaped me into the cook I am today.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
I have a real weakness for crispy sweets. And at the top of my list is an exquisite, lacy, sesame-seed-and-cardamom-sprinkled delicacy that's perhaps not very well-known outside Maharashtrian and Konkani homes: Chavde, or Mande.
In my childhood home, sweet-making was a joint endeavor between my parents and I can still see them as they made Chavde together. Mom rolled out the wafer-thin discs of dough and dunked them in frothing oil, Dad sprinkled them with a scented, sugary mixture, then folded them rapidly before they had a chance to cool down-- a job that required asbestos fingers.
As the chavde cooled, they would -- like magic-- set into a crackling, crispy, delicious but not cloyingly sweet snack.
Chavde are popular eats at Ganesh Chaturthi, India's celebration of the elephant-headed god's birthday which falls-- today! Chaturthi is always celebrated with plenty of food, a lot of it sweet, including the wonderful Modak. I have written before about my love for this colorful, raucously vibrant festival that sometimes lasts as long as 20 days, so I'll spare you a repetition.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Even if the nationwide salmonella outbreak from contaminated eggs hasn't actually made you sick, the horror stories that have emerged from the farms that produced these eggs have surely made you want to throw up your omelet?
The ongoing, nationwide recall of more than half-billion eggs has given us more evidence than we should possibly need that eggs hurt-- both the humans who consume them and the hens who are forced to produce them like machines while living in conditions no sentient creature should ever have to endure. Federal investigators this week found the henhouses in the two farms where the salmonella-tainted eggs originated, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, were stacked with eight-feet-high piles of manure, and crawling with rats and flies and maggots that "crunched under foot."
It's a pretty safe bet that conditions at egg farms around the world are no different. Worse, hens at these farms go through immense suffering that has been observed and chronicled by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States:
Like birds raised for meat, chickens in the egg industry suffer immensely—beginning right after birth. Male chicks are considered byproducts, as they're unable to lay eggs and aren't bred for meat production. Millions each year are gassed, crushed, or thrown into garbage bins to die from dehydration or asphyxiation. Most female chicks are painfully mutilated without any anesthesia. The tips of their sensitive beaks are sliced off with a hot blade, making it difficult for them to grasp food...