Monday 30 May 2011

No patience in the pantry

The moment I wailed my way into the world, and was handed to Ma wrinkled and swathed, the first thing she did was check for ten toes, ten fingers, a couple of eyes, a nose - you get the picture. Well, those were all there, in the right place and in the right numbers. But there was one thing I wasn't born with.


Nah, wasn't there.

Over the years, I've managed to collect bits of it, but it's still a paltry reserve and needs to be used as judiciously as threads of saffron. Most of it is, of course, spent on my two-year old. Try walking with her through a park, where all dogs must be petted and conversed with. Often stray cats too. And things that peck.

Halfway through said park, and there goes half the reserve! By the time I get to the kitchen, there's none left at all.

Without patience in the pantry, you become a careless cook. (Or is it a carefree cook? Yes, I like that better.) Without patience in the pantry, you try to fry six fritters in a pan where four fits better. It's also why I like to cook food that is all flavour, and no fuss. Sometimes, a few beautiful ingredients can cook themselves into the most ummm-mmm mouthful, just like this little bit of heaven:
Chicken & lemongrass rice, served with green coriander fritters and sugar snap peas in a coconut & sesame dressing.

The rice is a burst of fragrant flavour, gently stewed with chicken, in coconut milk. One might use jasmine rice for a recipe that uses lemongrass, but for this, I wanted to do away with the floral hint, and chose basmati instead. 'Basmati' in sanskrit means "the fragrant one", and its earthy, exotic notes shared space beautifully with the lemongrass. Here's how you do it, without doing much at all.

Ingredients for the rice:

1 cup of basmati rice
2 fillets of chicken breast, each cut into generous cubes
1/2 cup of coconut milk, or 2 tbs of coconut milk powder
A stalk of lemongrass
1 white onion, chopped
2-inch ginger, cut into long strips
2 tbs of Thai fish sauce
2 cups of water
Salt to taste (be careful with the salt as fish sauce is salty too)
Chopped red chillies (if you can)
Fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Put all the ingredients, except the chillies and coriander, in a large pot or pan that you can cover. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and put the lid on. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.
(This dish cooks itself without any oil.)
After 15 minutes, take the lid off and give it all a good stir. Put in another 1/2 cup water. Stir and simmer (almost like a risotto) for a few minutes till the rice looks creamy and the chicken is cooked.
Serve, garnished with a few pieces of chopped red chillies and a sprig of fresh coriander.

The fritters give this soft, creamy rice a definition that can only come when your meal is a combination of textures. Here the crispy crunchiness of fried coriander leaves dances perfectly with the milky fragrance of the rice.The coriander fritters is another name for 'dhonepatar bora' - a crispy treat from my childhood, which we would have with dal (lentils) and bhath (rice). With a tiny tweak, it made the perfect partner for Chicken & Lemongrass Rice.

Ingredients for the fritters:

2 cups of coarsely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbs of chopped ginger
2 heaped tbs of rice flour
3 heaped tbs of plain white flour
1 tsp of oil
A sprinkle of pepper
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients together with your fingers. Now, add water, a little at a time, till it forms a thick, coarse, leafy batter. Heat oil is a pan. Pick up some of the mix between your fingers, flatten it into a small round and slip it into hot oil. Deep fry till golden brown and drain on kitchen towel.

Complete the play of textures in this meal with a salad of fresh, juicy sugar snap peas.


Sugar snap peas
A drizzle of chilli oil (you can also use sesame or sunflower oil)
2 tbs of fresh grated coconut, or dessicated coconut
A sprinkle of sesame seeds
A squeeze of lime

Mix all ingredients together, and serve with a bowl of the fragrant rice and crispy fried fritters on the side.

Serves 2 - 3

Thursday 26 May 2011

The first bite

This is a bit like watching my daughter take her first wobbly steps. Quite sure of her need to walk, not quite sure of much else. I'm the wobbly blogger. And though I've written for a living, writing the personal is infinitely more challenging than writing for a paycheck.

So, here's me, raising my glass of Tempranillo to all ye brave bloggers. I just got here.


Suddenly, and quite strongly, I felt the need to record. Record the recipes I've created, and forgotten. The wonderful little kitchens we've discovered in little lost villages. Delicious farmers' markets with houmous that makes you happy. And my life with D and our daughter, better than anything I could ever cook up.

Amidst all the 'fooding' - talking about food, writing about food, scouring for food or slaving for food - I would like this to be a record of things that will make me smile, many years on.

My two-year old is already two years old! And I can hardly remember her as the tiny blob she must have been. I will need the help of my ramblings to give me back this funny little girl, when she's a teenager driving me up the walls.

I love peppercorns. I like them pink, and crushed in dark chocolate. Green, and crusted on a halibut. Black, and coarsely milled over a golden, buttery toast. They travel with me, they sneak into my stews, they make things interesting. Like my peppercorns, I want this blog to be sprinkled with all the things I find interesting.

My family and friends, of course, will be bound by contract, to read my rants. But if there's anybody else out there, unbelievably, reading what I write, please leave me a line. It'll be nice to know that I'm not talking to myself. Again.