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

Friday, December 01, 2006

cooking can be god: nashs farmshare dec 1st

I would first like to apologize if something about these recipes sounds distant -- I am far from the snow and suffering winter lows of 60 degrees here in India. My official arrival was last Friday and I'm still settling into the biorhythyms and digestive troubles of the land where, at last, the climate suits my clothes.

Cooking in India, for a young man, is a difficult proposition, but after repeated attempts the hordes of beautiful, adept Aunties have let me through. They won't eat anything I make though but this is progress, paso a paso, a slow dialectic trickle.

Yesterday for lunch I made a curry with eggplant, karela (bitter gourd), and methi-baji (fenugreek leaves). Due to low demand and temperature on the farm, you won't find those in your box this week. So I'll do my best to translate.

A Gujarati Curry

It was made in Gujarat. With bitter melon which is stronger than it's name could imply. People grow up with here, enjoy, and treasure it. Ancient and modern science both confirm it's health benefits, especially for diabetes, intenstinal worms, and the dreaded Fever. You're going to be using potatoes or (and?) golden turnips. So this might not be your opportunity to wake up to the glories of that fourth taste. But it'll still be good.

Potatoes or Turnips, cut into small triangles.

The cutting itself is an important ritual -- cooking here is generally done on the floor, by a gaggle of women (cooking for three gaggles of men and children) squating with feet flat and perfect balance, vegetable in one hand, knife in the other, sending pieces flying into a communal vat. In the postmodern (read: co-ed) world, everyone is welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (read: kitchen), and I highly advise trying it Indian style. You must, however, mop the floor before you start, and practice your balance before picking up a knife. Trust me.

Set the roots to steam on the back burner and get out your Mustard Oil.

Before the green revolution and the industrialization of agriculture, people used cooking oils suited to their season and climate. It's winter in India and you would be using mustard oil, which is hot to the taste, touch, smell, and digestion. These days it's all GMO peanut oil and cottonseed oil, which is cheap. For you/us in Sequim, the natives probably used fish oil more than anything. So, you know, buy some mustard oil.

Heat your mustard oil on medium-high heat. It will slide all over the pan. Throw in a handful of black (or brown) (or yellow) mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. When they start popping, decapitate, halve, and viscerate one small green chile (serrano) for each pair of diners. Fry until blistered and pockmarked, remove, and add some asofetida if you have it (asofetida, or hingu, is a tree resin used to enhance both flavor and digestion).

Add the steamed roots and stir well, keeping the flame up.

If you've cut them small, it won't be long (pace The Beatles) till they're tender. If they finish before you do, rinse them in cold water to stop the shining. Undercooked is fine (we could have fried them from the raw) but overcooked means you have to rename the dish. With such heat you will have to focus and to stir. In the lacunae between forceful forearm agitation, wash and chop either the collards or the kale. Just a couple of leaves, but chopped very small. If they're sufficiently dry you could even pulse them in the robot -- going for the size you would cut cilantro for your salsa. Not a paste.

Add the greens when the roots have browned.

They should be crispy and threaten to burn. Turn the heat down and add 1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric mixed into a little war, for color and good omens. Add salt. In India they would continue cooking for another twenty minutes and three tablespoons of godless cottonseed oil, but in the interested of time, nutrition, and not killing the love out of Nash's amazing kale, I'd cook it for three minutes or less, until the kale brightens into green.

Add the juice of half a lemon, check the salt, and serve.

A large Salad

Last night at my aunt's house they gave me a little metal dish of salad (finely chopped tomato and cucumber with cilantro and black salt) alongside my plate. I ate the whole thing in less time than took to realize that tiny metal dish was for all seven of us.

With that in mind, get out a large bowl. Do this before the curry. Chop up your lovely red cabbage in gratitude to those who have worked so hard to bring you such color. Throw in a generous (exorbitant?) 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and a little cottonseed oil (you know, it's cheap, i mean, hey?, why not) and let the cabbage soak in the love.

Grate your jchokes and chioggas, and toss them with the juice of the other half of that lemon you smuggled in. At this point, when you're ready to combine, you've got sweet (the beets), crunchy (the chokes), sour (the vinegar), and spicy (the cabbage) taken care of. You'll add salt and something soft -- rehydrated raisins, figs, or dates perhaps? -- to balance. You can massage the cabbage, as well, to help with The Process.

Note that if you cut the cabbage fine enough (think robot, once again), this would be a super (just super!) filling for sushi.