Friday, January 13, 2006

From India, with love

These are trying times, dear readers. Due to some, uh, technical issues that ended in a a complete computer system restore I've been off the grid for a few days. Suffice to say I learn, once again the hard way, that I'm not really that techno-savvy.

I just finished reading a great memoir, Monsoon Diary, written by a woman named Shoba Narayan. She's a South Indian who writes about the experience of growing up in a food-focused culture, coming to America for school (like me, she's a Mount Holyoke alum) and then returning to India and feeling caught between two cultures. I have almost no experience with India or Indian cuisine so the book was an exciting education. Now I'm looking to head to the nearest Indian grocer to pick up dal and curry leaves and get cooking.

Wednesday's New York Times food section featured an article by Mark Bittman about "stuck-pot rice" which uses the Indian technique of first par-boiling the basmati then tossing in in a saucepan with oil and other spices, covering the pot first with a cloth towel and then with the lid, and cooking it over low heat until the bottom crisps and the rice takes on that perfect pilaf quality, redolent with the spices and with addictive crispy bits. Once, convinced that I could replicate the rice biriyani I usually ordered from the take-out joint, I followed Julie Sahni's explicit directions in her seminal book, Classic Indian Cooking. It involved soaking the rice for thirty minutes, then rinsing it until the starch had washed off (in no fewer than 8 changes of water) then proceeding with the par-boiling, etc. described above. I loaded mine up with toasted pistachios and raisins and a host of spices and it was the main event, accompanied by a salad of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes tossed with thick yogurt, salt and pepper. It was a wonderful meal, but for some reason I only made it that once time. Now, emboldened by the recipes in Monsoon Diary, I'm dreaming of udli and dosas, fragrant dals and spicy rasam. I'll let you know about my adventures.

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