[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Friday, September 08, 2006

cooking can be god through Nash's Farmshare Recipes, September 8th 2006

In South India and Sri Lanka, there's usually one item on the menu: Rice. Luckily for world culinary heritage, eating rice actually means sitting down to a wide spread of curries, chutneys, and lentil dishes, all meant to be eaten alongside the main event. In Kerala, India's southwestern state, these curries are known not by the vegetables they contain but rather by their technique of preparation. Which means that, stretching slightly past yesterday's news, we can prepare all manner of hypercontinental delicacies with our local fare. Thinking out of the box, so to speak. Below I'll provide the original recipe for pyar uperi, and a translation more appropriate to our dialect.

- pyar uperi -

1 small coconut's flesh, shredded
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. whole black pepper
5 shallots
3 green chile peppers

1 burgeoning handful of pyar (green beans)

coconut oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tbsp. urad dal (split black gram)
half a dozen curry leaves

Uperi is a light and spicy green-bean stirfry that can liberate this much-maligned vegetable from the soggy memories of middle-school lunchrooms it has long endured. First, thinly chop the green beans until they are bigger in diameter than they are wide. Steam or boil until a tender, bright green. While you watch and wait, grind together -- in a mortar or robot -- the first five ingredients. Sniff judiciously with your eyes closed until you're ready to proceed, purified of congestion and stress.

The sexy part of the cooking process is typically brief -- heat the oil and throw in the mustard, dal and curry leaves to sizzle. When they stop popping add the ground mixture and fry well for one minute, spreading the mixture quickly so it browns evenly. Throw in the chopped beans as the fragrance matures and continue stirring, cooking only long enough to unite the flavors, add salt, and taste (about three minutes at sea level and a calm mind).

- our homegrown uperi -

Using the same delicious idea and digging through the box for the right shapes, colors, tastes, and textures, I came up with a cup of walnuts instead of the coconut and white radishes instead of shallots. Use half of the pointy cabbage (Early Jersey Wakefield) if your greens beans (or hankerings for them) have run out. Rosemary instead of the mustard seeds, urad dal, and curry leaves cinches the deal, eliminating all but the most subtle currents of eastern cuisine in the process; Hold on to those last three for a more fused experience.

If using cabbage instead of green beans, remember to keep it small. Often I'll grate the cabbage first, then chop the long strands into submission. Steam or boil in a small amout of water as before, just until tender.

As the vegetables cook, face your spice paste. The most important newcomers are your walnuts. In order to provide the same coating goodness, toast them until the first black spot appears, then soak them in wine (or juice, or water) for a few hours. Drain and grind the nuts slowly, taking care they don't form a uniform paste but rather a crumbly wet mixture that will spread texture throughout your dish. Then mix together gently with finely chopped radishes (a different sort of spice), freshly ground black pepper, the turmeric, and (if you have 'em) a couple of mashed chile peppers. A clove or two of garlic would be great.

Fry the rosemary or spices in oil (They say olive and coconut are best), brown your spice paste, and add the cabbage or beans. Remember to stir and flip rapidly, cooking away the excess water and thoroughly spreading the love.


A quick and cool soup for the long summer afternoons, before the sun and white wine bottles have been tucked away for the evening.

- between borsht and gazpacho -

carrots, chioga beets, patty pan squash
broccoli, bok choi

Cut your carrots, beets, and squash into thin, handsome, slices. Rub them gently with olive oil and black pepper and roast them any way you know how. Don't forget about them. Save the pale interior pieces of the squash for the stock, dicing and setting them to boil in a pot of salted water. Add broccoli florets and observe: when they turn a bright green, remove and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Cut thin strips of bok choi for the stock, with a little wild sage if you can find it. Test the salt, add some olive oil, and your stock is ready. Chill together with the exiled broccoli and roasted vegetables until ready to serve.

For the garnish, I mince twice as much parsley as spinach and mix them together with a couple tablespoons of vinegear. Let the bowl sit on the counter until the masses are arrayed and stir into the mix before serving.