my blog, you’ve served me well, but i’ve moved to another space.
my blog, you’ve served me well, but i’ve moved to another space.
feeling inspired this morning, i rose early and cleaned, did my laundry, got groceries, and went to the gym. after such an unusually productive few hours, i felt that i deserved something awesome to eat. however, after being so unusually productive, i didn’t really feel like cooking. i did a little experimenting and enjoyed the results immensely and so, i figured i would share.
i liked eating the whites of the eggs with the tomatoes and mushrooms while leaving the runny yolks for my baguette. take liberal sips of orange juice in between bites and reflect on the productiveness of your saturday thus far. i meant to include an excellent picture, but i ate it all before i remembered. the remains:
I’ve been longing for the fall, so I made a carrot cake, the color of fall leaves.
It is soft and spiced with ginger and orange, cinnamon and the sweetness of carrot. It has equal amounts of whole wheat flour and white flour. Shredded coconut and ground almonds make an appearance. Its cream cheese frosting, flecked with orange rind and flavored with rum, is rich and festive.
I learned that butter, honey, sugar, vanilla and milk, heated, browned and condensed into a glaze, is magnificent. After I made it, I kept thinking of excuses to eat the remainder. It’d taste good on yogurt. Or toast. Or, just off my finger. Finally I poured all of it onto the cakes.
Yes, the cake has both a glaze and a frosting. It’s opulent. It’s spirited. It’s three layers of fall, frosted. If I don’t look outside while I’m eating it, I can pretend that although the sky is blue it’s chilly outside, that trees are bright with color, that the smell of fallen leaves is in the air. I think about wearing scarves, and stepping on pine cones, and all the varieties of apples, and of course I think of pumpkins. I think of hot apple cider, and apple orchards, and warm pies. I think of that stretch on my parents’ street which looks like a painting when the trees turn orange and yellow and red. I think of how September always feels fresh, like the beginning, although I know it’s the first step towards winter. But I can’t shake it. I love the fall and I miss it so.
I miss seasons like I miss people. Is that horrible? Next year, I’m coming to America in the fall.
This is a three layer cake. I took one layer to my writing group dinner and stacked the other two. If you want to make only one cake, divide the recipe into thirds. Don’t be intimidated by the lengthy ingredient list; the cake is very much worth it.
Last weekend, we drove to Hypercity in Malad. Hypercity is set up like an American grocery store, with fresh produce, grains, lentils, and packaged goods all under one roof, along with an electronics area, a book store, and a kitchen store. This is a novel concept in India.
I buy vegetables from the bhaji-wallas, who set up shop on the sidewalks. I know that the bhaji-walla near WIA club, carries “exotic” vegetables like broccoli, basil, cherry tomatoes and rocket lettuce, and that his corn is sweet. Once in a rare while, the bhaji-walla near Chandralok has excellent good avocados, but he’s also sold me awful ones before, so now I make him cut them right there, on the sidewalk, to show me that they really are a creamy green inside. Beets, tomatoes, onions, garlic, eggs- these are readily available at most corners in my area. But we have discovered that the “village eggs” (as opposed to the city eggs?) sold a bit far from us, have yolks the color of the setting sun. On Grant Road, vendors set up Bhaji Gully every day (except Sunday) – a large outdoor produce market- much like a farmers market in America.
We get grains, nuts, oils, imported goods like soy sauce or rice vinegar, and snacks, each from different stores. If I had no ingredients at home and wanted to make spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, I’d have to visit three places. Or Crawford Market, which is a collection of wholesale stalls carrying both imported goods and local produce under one roof.
Or, if I lived close to Malad, perhaps I’d go to Hypercity. Produce, cheeses, imported and Indian cereals, wine, beer, liquor, dals, aachars, every variety of rice imaginable, Indian and imported spices, eggs, food coloring, Pepperidge Farm cookies and Britannia cumin crackers, meat, sauces, frozen dinners, packaged dinners- it’s all there. We pushed our shopping cart through wide, well-lit aisles and picked up a pumpkin, Maraschino liquor, and a sweet-lime pickle. There’s also a section devoted to Waitrose products. Imported pastas, bread flour, tapenades, coffees, cookies, biscuits, canned beans, canned fish, sun-dried tomato spreads, and fancy olive oils and balsamic vinegars are what I remember seeing.
On the ground floor, they also sell pans and kitchen utensils; upstairs, though we didn’t visit, is a Crossword bookstore and electronics department. Oh, on the ground floor there’s even a counter selling diamond jewelry.
It was amazing to see this kind of grocery store in India, but also disorienting, because the system here is so different. On one hand, how convenient, especially for people who work long hours and might not have help at home (like much of America).
Yet, I realize I’ve gotten used to the fact that there are specific stores, or sidewalk stalls, where I’ll find my goods. I like knowing who’s selling the best corn and cherry tomatoes. At Hypercity we bought a bagful of tomatoes because we had planned to make a sauce later, and since it was a Sunday, bhaji-wallas weren’t working. Picking through the glossy pyramid, we noticed many yellow tomatoes, and bruised tomatoes, and it was with difficulty that we filled our bag with unblemished produce. That’s not a problem I have at a vegetable stall, where the produce is generally fresh. Later, we found that the beets and pumpkin we bought at Hypercity had no flavor, at all.
(I just spoke to BombayFoodie, who said that Hypercity’s produce is of much lower quality than what one can find elsewhere but they have priced out all the street side vendors in her area. In her area, there’s no other option of a place to buy vegetables, so now she makes a special trip to a market further away to get her produce.)
This sounds like the beginnings of the convenience versus quality problem- what organizations and people in America are trying to reverse by encouraging people to eat locally, shop at farmers markets, etc. instead of at chain grocery stores. America also has to contend with industrialized farms and genetically modified produce. In India, the logistics between farmers and consumers is a larger problem- Hrishikesh said that at a logistics seminar he attended some time ago, he learned that half of what is produced by farmers in India spoils before it reaches a consumer. Perhaps larger grocery stores (like Hypercity, Reliance Fresh and Nature’s Basket) are attempting to streamline the process and cut down on the middle men and also on wastage, but that doesn’t explain the poor quality of produce.
In a sense, Bombay already has a “farmers market” system- comprised of the vendors on the sidewalks, Crawford Market, and Bhaji Gully. These might not be as welcoming and easy to navigate as the Union Square Greenmarket, and they are not organized in the American sense- there are no pretty labels identifying the farms from which produce comes. But, these vendors are a system that has been working well.
Hypercity is not the only grocery store in Bombay; Reliance Fresh and Godrej Nature’s Basket are also there, but on a much, much smaller scale. I think Reliance Fresh is pretty awful but Nature’s Basket, although the regular produce doesn’t look that fresh, often has a good selection of packaged Trikaya Agriculture produce- like Brussels sprouts, pea shoots and thyme.
People here are starting to become aware of eating locally and sustainably. The Mumbai Organic Farmers and Consumers Association has started a plan called Hari Bhari Tokri, that seems to be following the model of a C.S.A., pairing consumers with farmers to cut out middlemen, encourage consumers to eat locally, and encourage farmers to grow what consumers will buy. Hrishikesh and I signed up for the winter season, which begins in early November. I think it will be interesting to cook seasonally with mostly Indian vegetables, like snake gourd (padval), and flat beans (papdi).
Lately we’ve been in town quite often on the weekends, and our days loom ahead of us, giant, empty spaces to fill. Sunday morning at 7, we went on a nature walk with the Bombay Natural History Society in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The park was so green, and since we were walking on BNHS private property, free from litter. However, the group on the walk was large and unwieldy and therefore took a while to mobilize.
But we walked through streams, which, after I resigned myself to it, was refreshing and fun, and got caught in a shower.
Sam Sifton’s creamy scrambled eggs are a revelation. After trying them, I truly have difficulty imagining how I ate regular, tougher scrambled eggs. These eggs are satiny and bright with lemon and the mildest bite of silky scallion.
We make these fairly often, mostly on lazy mornings in Alibaug, when the sun is too strong to do much besides recline and read, or submerge in the pool. These eggs take minimal exertion but to get them right, it’s still important to pay close attention. We pour the egg mixture into the pan and with our wooden spatula, make pretty swirls by pushing them all over the pan while they cook on low heat, but as soon as the first curds form, we add the lemon-cilantro mixture, swirl for another minute, and turn off the heat. The eggs continue cooking in their own heat, you see, so over cooking them in the pan will lead to the type of torn, rubbery eggs I can’t believe I ever ate. A little vigilance on a weekend morning produces such rewards.
We pair these with Sifton’s hash browns; Hrishikesh loves the idea of cooking in ghee (clarified butter). He wants to cook everything in ghee- literally, everything. I try to prevent him from doing this. Sam Sifton was having trouble making hash browns without burning his potatoes and asked the chef at Henrietta’s Tavern, Peter Davis, the secret behind that establishment’s “thick and crusted, brown and nutty” hash browns. He replied: ghee. Hrishikesh did a victory dance when he heard this. A victory dance for ghee lovers everywhere.
“Butter is a fat: a stick of milk solids bound with emulsified oil, suspending some water,” says Sifton, who explains that when you heat butter in a pan, it first foams, then browns, then finally, burns. He learns from Davis that by clarifying the butter- (removing the milk solids)- you can “heat the butter to a higher temperature without burning, make it hot enough to crisp your potatoes and allow the sugars within them to caramelize, to turn into crust.
These hash browns in ghee are buttery and crispy. (Recipe for clarifying butter is below. Or, you can probably find ghee at a specialty store like Whole Foods or an Indian or Pakistani grocery).
Scrambled Eggs with Lemon and Green Onions (or scallions)
adapted (liberally) from The New York Times
2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
4 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon (or Indian lime) juice
6 large eggs
4 tablespoons milk
1. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee or butter in a nonstick pan until hot and foaming. Add the green onion, lower the heat, and cook gently for two minutes, then add the garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper, stir carefully to combine and cook for another minute. Add the lemon juice and cook for 30 seconds more, then remove the contents of the pan into a small bowl, and do not wipe off the pan.
2. Break the eggs into a small bowl, pour in the milk and mix together. Heat the pan on high for a minute, pour in the egg mixture, reduce the heat to low and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook slowly, until the eggs begin to form into curds. Add the lemon-scallion mixture and continue to cook for an additional minute or so, until the eggs are pillowy. Season to taste. Serves 2.
Hash Browns cooked in Ghee (Clarified Butter)
from the New York Times
4 medium potatoes
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. Peel the potatoes and place them in a large pot of cold water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high and cook until you can poke a bamboo skewer through a potato, 40 to 50 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Drain and set aside to cool and dry completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Meanwhile, clarify the butter by melting it in a small saucepan over medium heat. When foam forms, use a spoon to remove and discard it. Cook, skimming, until the butter stops bubbling. Take care not to brown it. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and reserve. You should have about 5 tablespoons.
3. Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Grate the potatoes on the large side of a box grater into a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix lightly. Add 3 tablespoons butter to pan, swirl until it begins to melt and add the shredded potatoes. Cook until golden brown and crusted on the bottom, almost (but not quite) burned in parts, about 15 minutes.
4. Use a wide spatula to flip the potatoes, or quickly invert the pan onto a dinner plate and gently slide them back into the pan. Add remaining butter around the sides of the potatoes and cook the second side until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges or spoon onto plates. Serve with eggs, grilled meats, toast and plenty of jam.
Serves 6. Adapted from Peter Davis at Henrietta’s Table, Cambridge, Mass.
Soup. Especially blended soup. Is there anything more boring? A bunch of vegetables, boiled to death and pureed. Soup takes the joy out of eating. Non-soup meals have distinct flavors and smells and smooth, creamy, and crunchy textures, whereas soup, for the most part, is one temperature, one texture, and an amalgamation of flavors that generally taste a better when not beaten into each other.
(That said, I do like beet and celery soup.)
Non-blended soups have a bit more promise. I like tom-yum soup, and other, similar herby, brothy soups. I like thick curries with vegetables bobbing around. I dislike minestrone soup, where both the pasta and vegetables are generally mushy and/or chalky (peas in minestrone soup? chalky).
I’m talking so long about soup because I joined an online cooking-book club, called This Book Makes Me Cook, where every month we read a book and make a dish inspired by it. This month’s book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and it inspired me to make soup. Gazpacho soup. A soup that some (my husband) may argue is more of a salad.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is an epistolary novel set in 1946 about an author, Juliet, who starts communicating with a group of people from The Channel Islands, a British Territory occupied by Germany during World War II. The members of this group write to her about how their book club inspired hope and joy and friendship and learning under the bleak period of German occupation. Juliet writes back with questions and they talk about various shared loves.
I didn’t enjoy the book because I found the characters’ voices irritating. Every letter was a bit too charming or touching or sad or sweet. I wanted to like the book but I just ended up annoyed, and then annoyed that I was annoyed.
However, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society did inspire me to make soup…sort of. The book hadn’t mentioned much food, except a hidden, roasted pig, and a pie made from potato peels. Basically, food was extremely difficult to come by due to the German Occupation on the Island. Hrishikesh mentioned that the book he’s reading, M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, is about cooking during World War II; I decided to look through that for other recipes the Gurensey society “might” have cooked, and in addition to enjoying Fisher’s prose, I found a recipe for wartime Gazpacho. Simply: mashed tomatoes, herbs, garlic, lemon and oil, pounded together, a sprinkling of bread crumbs to thicken the soup into a meal, and the addition of chopped bell pepper, onion, and cucumber.
I tinkered with it a bit, consulting Alice Water’s recipe also, and in the end settled on a soup that was more of, as Alice says, a “liquid salad.” That is, a bouquet of fresh flavors and textures, bright and pretty, resting in a puddle of tomato juice. In this gazpacho, it’s possible to taste the fine, fruity olive oil, the additions of sweet yellow corn and bursts of cherry tomatoes, and a tangle of herbs, in each heaping spoonful.
Gazpacho is obviously perfect for summer, and versatile- I omitted cucumber and added corn. It’s delicious, and I’d love to make it again, even though it is soup.
1 pound tomatoes, halved horizontally
4 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 cup slivered basil
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Indian limes)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Over a bowl, grate the cut sides of the tomatoes on the medium holes of a grater until only the skin is left. Discard the skin. If you would like the remove the seeds, pass the pulp through a strainer (I didn’t remove the seeds).
2. In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, lemon juice, a tablespoon each of parsley and basil, salt, and a dribble of olive oil.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix together the tomato pulp and breadcrumbs. Then mix in the pounded garlic/herb/lemon juice, and the rest of the olive oil. Finally, add the bell peppers, green onions, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, basil and parsley to the tomato pulp, mix well, and taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.