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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

cooking can be god: nash's farmshare dec 8th 2006

Greetings from the anteroom of Ahmedabad Central Railway Station. There's a blazing tropical sun and countless countryhumans relieving themselves on the platform. India, like its Yoga, is all about the release. I've been served all my meals the last week by saintly monks and hermits, committed to codes of chastity and silence, to a lifetime of service instructing the wordly miscreants the subtle arts of meditation. In ever-thickening gratitude (like a good lentil soup, simmering over a lifetime of storied jiltings and seared fingertips) I'll deconstruct one of their recipes for us.

Dhokla [ aware! this will take some foresight ]

Dhokla is, apparently, yet another translation of "steamed fermented goodness". Rather than the idlis and dosas of the South, made using a mixture of rice flour and urad (black gram) split lentils, dhokla is cut into diamonds (key for the commercial Gujaratis) and usually made from besun (garbanzo bean flour). As usual, we're starting from scratch.

2 cups of dried garbanzo beans, soaked Over The Night, rinsed three times, and blended
A pinch of asofetida or ajwain
2 cloves of garlic
Some leftover greens

Now. When you blend the garbanzo beans, you can add the garlic. Or you can perform a separate chopping meditation, using each stroke of the knife to express your loving, nourishing intention to your family. You know it works. It may, in fact, be the only thing that does. When you blend the garbanzo beans, be careful about how much water you add -- we want a batter thicker than cake and thinner than muffins, if you know what I (wink, wink) mean. If you don't know what the spices are, it's no big deal -- their role is mainly digestive.

Having lived in the America (!) this long, you're probably able to stomach quite a lot.

The greens. The greens should have been cooked the night before, excellent and tasty, but just a little too much. We want to see green chunks in the final diamonds. We don't blend them because we don't want the diamonds to be green (oh, but if we did...). The greens I've been getting have been hand-picked, -washed, and -culled, then pressure cooked with entirely too much oil but doled in a such a manner that refusal is blasphemy. It's a pretty good trick for the cook when refusal is blasphemy. Work on it.

For a richer and tangier dhokla that India recommends ("it's not my fault") over the artful protests and noble sentiments of Vegan Radio (www.veganradio.com), blend the beans with yogurt, not water. Either way, leave the batter to ferment in a warming oven for the better part of a day, until it smells sour and has noticeably ("oh my, but hasn't it!") grown. I would say "outside" or "on the countertop" but I know that's not part of the scene, these days.

After it has fermented, salt the batter and set it to steam. Use a round metal tray or plate in a larger metal pot, perhaps with an inverted bowl on the bottom to allow some room for the water. There are special "dhokla pans" of course at your local (hah!) Indian superstore, but improvisation is at least as good for your blood pressure as a small dog, I would guess.

10-15 hard time in the steamer and your batter should come out reformed into a spongy cake. Fry mustard seeds and a chopped green chile in a tablespoon of sesame oil, add a tablespoon of water, and drizzle the mixture on top, sprinkling liberally then with chopped coriander (or parsley from your box) and lemon juice (smuggled from california).

Cut into diamond shapes (crucial) and serve. Note that these cakes are a perfect breakfast or snack (which is the same word here, "nasta"), with tea, or to placate uninvited guests and hungry schoolchildren. You can change the color by adding a puree of some vegetable or another (beets, carrots, parsley) or changing the bean (use black beans, soybeans, red lentils). Remember, these aren't dishes but rather WORLD VIEWS, and the entirety of the world can be seen through each one.


On the other hand, you have rutabaga. You've done your research and can impress your friends by calling it a "swede". You've read the nutritional information below. You know you can replace it (or any other potato-like creature) in your favorite mashed potato or french fry recipe. You had roasted root vegetables with carrot aioli last night (thank you very much). Your neighbor pretended it was cabbage and made an excellent coleslaw. You're bored. Well. I have two recommendations -- one from the raw foodies and one from the Finnish.
The ancient wisdom from the land of the "swede" (that is, typically, Finland) is to cook with nutmeg. Kind of imperialist, I know, but so is the rest of our lives. A little steamed rutabaga with freshly grated nutmeg and butter. A rutabaga consommé with a hint of honey and nutmeg (and ginger in the stock, I would add). Some nutmeg up in your seasoning salt for those rutabaga chips.
The modern wisdom from the neo-Essenes is the rutabaga pasta. Actually, it's the summersquash pasta but, as the man said, the seasons they are a changin'. Peel your rutabaga and instead of switching to the knife stick to your guns -- aim well and peel that swede to its stocky core, maximize the angle of the peeler-vegetable interaction to cut away even, thin strips of brassica. These are the new noodles. After the new economy exports all our foodgrain production to the fourth dimension and the oil barons sport a hiccup, they may be the only noodles we have, as in the days before Subcommandante Marcos, Polo shirts, and the Chinese threat.
As it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end. You can serve the pasta with any sauce you lovingly please. A parsley pesto would, of course, be most appropriate. Meche's version, most famous to my palate, comes from a Patagonian restaurant whose owners barely survived the Argentine economic collapse of 2001, though their assets did not. It involves a virtuous blend of fresh picked parsley, strong garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and salt. The key technique (alongside Mother Meche's indomitable warmth and Love) was the garlic was NOT to be chopped (and thus lose some of its virility to the cutting board) but rather blended with a hand mixer in a jar/bowl with the parsley and oil. There you have it: take the wisdom and run.