Monthly Archives: November 2012

Curried Pierce Brosnan aka Potato Cauliflower

I had so much fun writing the last post that I thought I’d write another one since I already had the ingredients for it. I made aloo gobhi or potato cauliflower last night and even remembered to take pictures, so the timing worked out well. Gobhi or cauliflower is a misunderstood vegetable, I find, in the western hemisphere. People either dismiss it outright or feel the need to hide its goodness in puree form in kids’ pasta or some such. Granted, it is bland if you attempt to take it at face value, but eastern spices have a way of making even the dullest vegetables sparkle on the plate. A head of steamed cauli sprinkled with S&P is barely meh, but saute it with some cumin, paprika and garam masala and, voila, you have a dish worth praise.

Pierce Brosnan may be the closest thing to Hollywood royalty. He’s a stunner, always top-notch groomed, suave etc. BUT, and don’t give me flack for it, he’s also a tad bland as far as impossibly handsome men go. To me, he always seems to be holding something back on screen. Some may call it a restrained, subtle performance, but I find I never get as involved with him as I do with, say, Anthony Hopkins or Susan Sarandon. And for me, that’s not a good thing. But anyway, he’s a Bond and hobnobs with the rich and famous. So does cauliflower. In northern India, it is the most common vegetable to be served on festivals or other auspicious days. When I was growing up, aloo gobhi was a standard feature on wedding menus, Diwali dinners or any other occasion when special, non-everyday food needed to be served. It seemed to pair well with chana masala (chickpea curry) or rajma (kidney bean stew) or any kind of kofta (veggie meatball) — dishes that most homes did not cook on a regular basis. So, even though the cauli is merely bland to begin with, it dresses up nicely to hold its own among VIPs. Much like Mr. Brosnan.

Curried Potato-Cauliflower (Aloo Gobhi)

1 head cauliflower, separated into small florets or roughly chopped
1 medium-large potato, cubed
1 small red onion, minced
1 tbsp ginger-garlic mix, grated or finely minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
spice mixture: 1 tsp each turmeric, coriander powder, paprika, dried fenugreek (optional)
1 dried red chilli, whole
salt and lemon juice, to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • Heat oil in a wok or saucepan. Add cumin seeds and as soon as they splutter add red chilli, followed by onions and ginger garlic mix. Saute on medium heat until onions turn translucent.

  • Add potatoes and spice mixture and saute for 2 mins, covered.
My spice box
  • Add cauliflower, lower heat, cover, and let cook for 20 mins, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft. Do not add water. (Water dilutes the essence of a curry compromising taste and contributing to a mushy texture.)
No worries about appearance at this point
  • Remove from heat and mix lemon juice. Garnish with minced cilantro, if desired. I’ve heard of people garnishing with shredded coconut but I’ve never developed a taste for it.
  • Serve hot with naan or rice.
Voila!

As with most Indian curries, this is even more delicious the next day. Be careful, however, about packing leftovers for lunch or even when opening the lid of the container it’s stored in. The first whiff of stored cooked cauliflower can put a skunk to shame. Once you get past that, though, it’s all deliciousness in yummy paradise. After all, being close to royalty must exact a toll on its bland subjects as well!

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Danny DeVito Fry Recipe aka Eggplant-Potato Fry

I spend so much time in the kitchen that sometimes I like to liken vegetables to celebrities. It helps me engage my mind fruitfully (unintended pun) while going through the largely mechanical motions of everyday cooking. *Mincing onions*: is okra more Jeff Goldblum or Sylvester Stallone (I find him incredibly slimy, don’t ask why)? *Grinding tomatoes*: oooh, fuzzy squash reminds me of Thandie Newton (I don’t dig either). I’ve decided, then, that eggplant is Danny DeVito. It’s a perfect match; if DeVito was a veggie or vice versa, there would be no other comparison. I love them both! The eggplant is a versatile veggie that works well as an entree or a side much like DeVito, who can carry a movie all by himself or shine as the partner cop. You can serve either with a side of rice and I’d gobble it up! Wouldn’t you?

I’ve long been a fan of baingan bharta, which is basically eggplant mush that tastes like heaven. Many restaurants serve it but there seems to be a universal consensus on not roasting the eggplant enough. Most places (and people) serve the dish more reddish than brownish, which means that it hasn’t been given enough time to roast to brownness. I like my vegetables charred if I can help it. Not only does charring or extended roasting improve the flavor of a curry but also gives it a more put-together, less watery appearance. I prepare my eggplant-potato fry (aloo baingan) the same way. A dose of the oven and then slow, extended roasting yields a dish whose velvety, charred taste is beyond compare. I also use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes for the color and texture I enjoy. Try it, and you won’t go back to the light, watery version ever again.

You’ll need:

1 eggplant, cubed (choose one that is firm and seems heavy for its size)
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 red onion, minced or julienned
2 tbsp tomato paste
1″ piece of ginger, shredded
1 clove garlic, grated or minced finely
1 green chilli (optional)
Spice mixture: 1 tsp each turmeric, coriander powder, paprika, fennel powder (optional, but good to have), water
Salt to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • Preheat oven at 400. Toss potato and eggplant with a tbsp of oil to coat and bake on a cookie sheet until the rest of the steps are done (about 10 mins).
  • In a small bowl, mix the spices and water to create the spice mixture. Set aside.
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or saucepan. Add ginger, garlic, chilli and onions and cook until translucent. Add tomato paste and a tbsp water. Lower heat and roast for 2 mins. Add spice mixture. Cover and cook 2-3 mins. (Add a tbsp of water if it’s too dry but lowering heat and covering should take care of that.)

    Cover and roast
  • Remove eggplant from the oven. Let rest for 10 seconds before adding to the wok. Sprinkle salt and toss gently to coat in the tomato mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 mins. Stir gently and sparingly if you don’t want to end up with a mushy dish. (Even if you do, don’t panic; it’ll be equally delish.)

 

Toss gently

At the end of 10 mins, I usually uncover my curries and give it a final toss on high heat to get that slightly burnt, smoky taste. If you’re not a fan of burnt food, simply uncover and switch off heat. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve.

Serve hot

I serve this dish hot and fresh with roti or rice. If there are leftovers, this is yummy on toast, wrapped in a tortilla or topped over brown rice. Danny, if you ever happen to read this, know that every time I cook with eggplant, I will think of you. 🙂

Turned? Screwed? It’s Classic!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: my ramblings

The alleged masterpiece

Some books are brilliant. Other books are considered brilliant based on their reputation. Still others are like the emperor who wore no clothes: Everyone said he looked dashing in clothes they couldn’t see because they did not want to appear fools in the eyes of others. Only one child honestly spoke his mind and called the emperor on his folly. After reading the Penguin Classics edition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, I’m not sure which I am–the child or the fool.

I did not like the book. Truth be told, I’m not really sure I understood it. Oscar Wilde apparently hailed this story as a “…most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale”. The back cover blurb of the book itself sets you up for a chilling ride through the pages haunted by malignant ghosts and threatening spectres. That there are children involved only serves to heighten a reader’s tension before even opening the first page. Admittedly, the writing is tense and frantic, the suspense is intense. But it kind of all fizzles out at the end.

Of course, I’m no literature major and I wasn’t reading this novel to analyse it from that point of view. I’m a modern-day layperson reader who is reading the book for fun (I do have other reasons, albeit none professional or educational). As that person, I was disappointed to reach 125 pages to end only to think, “What? It’s done?” I wanted more. I wanted some sort of a resolution to all that tension. I know, after reading the introduction and other extra material, that the supposed strength of the book is in its ambiguity, in its inability to dissociate narration from perspective, in its capacity to insinuate but never direct. I suppose in a way the book reaches that goal summarily. I was left ambiguous not only about what really did transpire between the characters but also about the story itself. If the narrator is insane and/or obsessive, can I suspend my disbelief enough to believe what she’s telling me? Is there a sexual thread in her relationship to Miles that I’m feeling but not reading? Why does she not contact her employer, for damnsel’s sake?! These questions may have been answered covertly within the story but I couldn’t grasp them.

What was impressive, definitely, was that despite some inanely long introspective passages (that my mind couldn’t help glossing over) I didn’t put the book on hold for some other more interesting read. I couldn’t. It drew me to it, quite possibly in the hope of a dramatic ending. When that didn’t come I was disappointed.

All said, give this classic a try if you don’t like someone else making up your mind for you. Or if, like me, you are driven by your promise to self to broaden your classical English repertoire. If you’re looking for a spine tingling ghost story or a light read on a rainy afternoon, find something else.