Sunday, July 16, 2006

Beet Root Greens

I recently bought a copy of Bengali Cooking by Chitrita Banerjee. Part cook book, part autobiography and part of social commentary, I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to enhance his/her knowledge of Bengali cuisine. However, this book is not for the average cooking enthusiast (though there is a detailed glossary of terms and a few suggested menus at the end) as without a fleeting familiarity with the land and its people, the feelings of nostalgia which this book so easily evokes and which is so integral to the whole culinary experience, will be lost. Besides most of the recipes are not exact in nature and assume the reader is familiar with the kitchen and its many ways. On the other hand folks who are in touch with their roots might find this book too simplistic. As I belong to neither one nor the other group I thoroughy enjoyed reading the Chritrita Banerjee's descriptions of rural Bengal and her explanations of the various customs (some of which I carry with me till this day). For me it was like listening to one's favourite grandparent...something I missed out on while growing up.

As I walked by the greens section of the grocery section this weekend, I kept thinking about the "luxuriant greens" found along the waterways of East Bengal and about kalmi, kachu, koloi and other lyrical sounding greens she mentions in the book. Nah, shen-choy, bok choy and the choy words just don't have the same ring. And in between all this the Boy pointed out beet greens to me...yeah, beet that is a sign you don't ignore. So I grabbed two bunches of fresh beet greens with baby beets still attached and headed home and cooked it according to one of the many ways, Chitrita Banerjee lists in her book for cooking greens. Please note that mustard oil is essential to the dish and gives it a characteristic pungency. You may substitute it with peanut oil, in whihc case season the beets with a teaspoon of dry mustard.

Beet Greens - 2 bunches, chopped without the tough stem part
Beet - 1 medium, chopped into small cubes
Garlic - 1 large clove, minced
Panch Phoron -1 tbsp
Dry Red Chillies - 2, broken
Mustard Oil - 1 tbsp

1. Heat oil, add the panch phoron and red chillies.

2. Once the seasoning has started to sputter and aromatic, add the chopped beet and stir for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the the garlic and let the beet cook.
4. After the beet is half cooked, add the beet greens and season with salt.
5. Cover and cook till done. Check for seasoning one last time and serve with dal and rice.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Spicy Carrot Salad

Grad School is usually one huge juggling act involving classes, research deadlines, unforgiving advisors, TA work and internet surfing. Add to this a lean, mean paycheck and it's no wonder that the average grad student pantry is like this:

Fortunately my two years in Grad School had very few Ramen days, thanks to my roommate. She was not only an awesome cook but also a dietician by proffesion so lets just say I floated around in a culinary heaven of the healthy type. Cooking together in the evenings after school was a de-stressing experience. She cooked while I did the dishes and regaled her with my nonsensical stories, latest gossip etc. and yes, that was my idea of cooking together three years ago. The weekends were the big cooking days devoted to the preparation of atleast two vegetables and two lentils which would last us till the Thursday of the coming week. Friday was the official pizza or soup with garlic bread day depending on the prevalent Friday night state of mind. So during the week, we just came home and made ourselves some roti, rice and a salad in the evenings - the cooking together part, remember. This salad was one of the many quick and easy salads that we would rustle up for dinner during the week and came from V's vast repertoire of Marathi recipes. V would usually make me grate the carrots with a grater but since I am lazy and don't live with V anymore I use the food processor now. V's method did produce a much more juicier end product, but the food processor does a might fine job too and in less time.

Carrots- 4, peeled
Ginger - 1/2 inch piece minced
Green Chillies - 3, deseeded and minced
Curry Leaves - 6 to 7, torn
Mustard Seeds - 1.5 tbsps
Asfoetida- a pinch
Vegetable Oil - 1 tbsps
Lemon Juice - 1/2 a lemon's worth
Salt - to taste
Sugar - to taste

For garnish:
Cilantro - 4 to 5 stalks, chopped fine
Peanuts - 3 tbsps, roasted and crushed

1. Chop the carrots into big chunks and process in food processor till minced, usually takes a few pulses. Take care not to mince them really fine, use the picture as a guide. Season with salt, sugar and lemon juice and set aside.
2. Heat the vegetable oil in your largish ladle and sigh fondly while doing so. What?? No largish ladle thingie...sigh!! Well, do what you can with a small pan but don't blame me if the results are not good enough.
3. Once the oil is sufficiently hot, add all the ingredients (except the garnish) quickly and cover. Then on second thoughts run for cover yourself. The mustard seeds are quite a riotous bunch. Once the curry leaves are crisp, pour this mixture onto the seasoned carrots and mix well.
4. Check for seasoning one last time and garnish with the cilantro and crushed peanuts before serving.