Monday, 19 February 2007

WFF 3 - Bean there, Dhansak

How often does a novel with no real relation to food inspire the reader to the extent of cooking a patently time-consuming dish that only gets a cursory mention in said novel? From the moment I first heard about dhansak, a Parsi classic, while reading "Such a Long Journey" by Rohinton Mistry, it intrigued me so much I knew I had to make it someday. Strangely, none of the random recipes I came across seemed to have much in common with each other apart from the lentils, so I'm still wondering how proper dhansak should taste. For this trial (was it an error?) I picked the recipe from a source I expected to be an authority, and even better, which required ingredients that I could find in my pantry and freezer! Ah, probably not a foolproof strategy.

I'll be frank here. For all the time spent stirring it to ensure it didn't stick to the base of my pan and burn, I wasn't impressed, and I'm not even sure if chicken dhansak is supposed to be this green and fenugreeky! I won't go so far as to complain about the taste, but I think I'll have to experiment with The Curry House's recipe the next time, mainly for the fact that its list of ingredients is half the length of the one I had. ;-)

How to
: Wait for the "successful" version!

: Like a curry, I believe dhansak also exists in lamb, beef, seafood and vegetarian.

Body Count: 3 chicken breasts.

I digress, but have I been in the dark all these years, or did everyone else know that Freddie Mercury was a Parsi and who counted Lata Mangeshkar as one of his inspirations? I hadn't the faintest clue until a few months ago!

It's a good thing I'm an effective multitasker, and
so had Chicken Balti simmering alongside on another cooking range. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I just wanted to eat and not think, so this recipe is basically the same as the one from The Curry House, but with my own addition of 2 teaspoons of amchoor (dried mango powder). As for the "basic curry sauce" they mentioned, I ran out of it and used a different generic homemade one loitering in the depths of my freezer, and it still turned out quite good. Whew. I don't know about you, but when making curries, occasionally I get so distracted by the long list of spices that I forget the salt! :)

I had to soak some tamarind for my dhansak and pairing what was left with my mustard seed needs gave me more than an excuse to make Rasam, a sour South Indian soup usually poured over white rice to moisten it (thus facilitating the formation of rice parcels when eating with your hands), or just served on the side to be drunk alone. Rasam is supposed to aid digestion at the end of a meal, or if consumed at the beginning of the meal, to "open" the appetite. In any case, it doesn't allow room for indifference in your stomach! An infinite variety exists, so this is just how I made mine yesterday.

How to: For 1 litre of soup, soak about 2 tbsp of tamarind paste in some hot water, chop 1 large onion, crush 6 cloves of garlic and slice 3 green chillis. Slice 2 medium tomatoes or pierce the skins of 8 - 10 cherry tomatoes, then boil them along with the garlic and chilli in 1 litre of water. Add 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander seeds and black pepper. Remove seeds from tamarind and add it to soup. Simmer for 10 minutes.

In another pan, heat some oil or ghee and temper 1 tsp of mustard seeds. When they stop popping, add the chopped onion and 10 or so curry leaves and fry until onion is soft. Add these to the soup and it is ready to serve!

Variations: Lentils or toor dal (pigeon peas) can be added to thicken the soup, and for a different flavour, pineapple, lemon or tomato purée. Most vegetables can be added, too, to make a heartier soup.

Body Count: 0

The mister has a low spice tolerance, so I omitted most of the chilli I normally would have added in all the above dishes (I'm not intending to share the rasam, though). Nonetheless, I made a stack of these fajita-pizzas just so he has something else to eat for the week. I can't even say this was any work!

How to: I grated 200g of cheddar, sliced 200g of chorizo and 1 green bell pepper (capsicum), then spread ready-made fajita sauce on 8 small tortillas, added the chorizo, cheddar and capsicum in that order and baked them for about 10 mins at 200°C.

Variations: You must be kidding if you need pointers for this. :)

Body Count: 1 chorizo

To top it off, I also made these Raspberry-Ginger crumbles just because. Except that I forgot to use fresh ginger instead of dried, so it just wasn't the same.

How to: (I didn't weigh anything, so these are just approximations) Mix 500g of raspberries with 150g of sugar and 2 - 3 teaspoons of very finely chopped ginger. Spoon into individual mini baking dishes or a big one and bake for 15 - 20 mins until some of the raspberry juice evaporates. Let it cool completely.

Crumble pastry: 2 parts flour to one part chilled butter and one part brown sugar, plus a few teaspoons of milk. Rub butter into flour, and when there are no more lumps of butter, add the sugar and continue rubbing until you obtain what looks like fine sand. Add milk 2 teaspoons at a time to create lumps in the pastry, but don't overdo it, or you'll end up with cookie dough!

Distribute pastry over the portions of raspberry-ginger mixture and bake at 180°C until golden.

Variations: I've done this with ripe pineapple and fresh ginger before, and it was awesome. In that case, prepare a caramel and cook finely-sliced pineapple in it. In the pastry, add desiccated coconut to complete the whole "tropical" get-up. Otherwise, I can't think of any fruit that won't be good in a crumble (whatever can be made into a jam should work in a crumble). Ginger can be replaced or complemented by all sorts of spices - cinnamon, cardamom, clove, Sichuan pepper, nutmeg, vanilla - you name it... If you're adventurous, replace half of the butter with an oil that can withstand high heat - hazelnut (I used some here), olive, walnut, sesame.

You don't necessarily have to cool the fruit mixture before adding the pastry. I just prefer to do it this way instead of having my pastry sink into the fruit juices and become an indistinguishable glob!

Body Count: 0


Sandeepa said...

You have such a wide range of recipes on a weekend that I am impressed !!!
I had Dhansak once, and it was green and tasted very good, but it' been a while so I don't remmember the taste :(
Do you like Rohinton Mistry ? I read "The Fine Balance" but wasn't much impressed except that got to know more about the Parsi culture

tigerfish said...

Wow, you cooked lotsa food again! and going' international from Indian to Western/Italian. :D

Melting Wok said...

shipa, you've been cooking a lot lately, any spares left for me ? *grins* wow, I never heard of mango powder hmm..didn't know you can use it like that, thanks for sharing :) ooh..I want those fajita pizzas !! I had dominos cheesy garlic pizza tonight, after all those vegetarian CNY foods y'day, I need something heavy !! hahaha, cheers ! :)

Shilpa said...

Hi girls!

Sandeepa, thanks but other than the dhansak, the other recipes were really simple and quick, so no need to be impressed.. :) Yes, I'm currently reading A Fine Balance, and once I'm done, I would have read ALL of Rohinton Mistry's books. I thoroughly enjoy his writing style and me too, I learned a lot about Parsis from him! :)

Tiger, think variety!! Without it, eating would no longer be a pastime for me! :)

Shilpa said...

Dear Melting Wok (your name's Shirley, right?), I know what you mean about wanting something heavy! :) You can tell from my recent posts that there are fewer "0 Body Counts" than before. Yikes!

Mango powder is light brown and doesn't smell like ripe mangoes, it's made from green mangoes and is added to give the dish a slightly sour, fruity taste, much in the same way as tamarind. You can use it for other cuisines, not necessarily Indian. :)

jacob said...

i did know that freddie was parsi:) but i've never tried making dhansak. and yeah, that's a lotta cooking. lucky hubby you've got there.

Shilpa said...

Hi Jacob, haha not so sure how lucky the hubby is, since all that cooking has conditions attached! Who do you think cleans up? ;-)

Surely Parsis must eat more than just dhansak, need to go do some research now!

cheese with a spoon said...

Hi Shilpa,

I haven't commented here before but I've been reading for a few weeks now. Your blog's great! And we have a few things in common: I'm of Indian descent, grew up in S.E. Asia (Malaysia, though, not Singapore) and now live in France. Much much further south than you, though. Still, perhaps one day we will meet and eat together :-) . I love to cook but have no blog.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is:

1) Amchur (this is for Melting Wok too, hello M.W.!) is fantastic with sautéed/pan-fried okra dishes, as you probably know;
2) As far as I'm concerned, Rohinton Mistry rocks; sorry you didn't care for _A Fine Balance_, Sandeepa;
3) Freddie Mercury aside (yes, I did know that he was Parsee, but many people don't!), another lovely -- and very easy -- Parsee dish is Akoori. I'm guessing you've already tried that, Shilpa, what with your abiding love for eggs!
4) Your rasam contains no lentils, like mine. My family (entire extended family, both paternal and maternal sides!) never makes it with lentils. Yet am I wrong or is it *always* lentilled in India? So is this a Southeast Asian/diaspora variant? An East African Indian cookbook I own also includes a lentil-free recipe, so I wonder....

Forgive the long and scattered comment; congrats again on your fine work here.

Shilpa said...

Dear cheese with a sppon, OMG, please write to me at the address in my profile! I'd like to write you, except that I don't see any address on your blog. We definitely have lots to talk about and I'd prefer to write to you privately than have the world at large read our conversations! :) I have so many questions - how long have you been in France, why, do you like it, etc, you know, the whole works! We could even exchange numbers!

But to reply to your comments, thanks for "de-lurking", as they say in the blogosphere, haha! I really appreciate you taking all that time to write! It's strange, but for all the years I've been here, I hardly got to know any S'poreans or Malaysians living in France, but in the past 12 months alone, I suddenly got to know 3 S'poreans, and you're the second Malaysian I'm getting to know since the year began! :)

I haven't tried making Akoori yet, but after I replied to Jacob, I went in search of Parsi recipes and heard of it for the first time :) Re lentils, I don't know, have never been to India but hope to in the near future!

Thanks again for your very very kind comments, and I hope you see this and write to me! Can't wait to hear from you!

Nite-nite for now!

BuddingCook said...

wow you are such the cook. i want to try some curry. thanks for the link :)

Shilpa said...

Hi Budding Cook, don't thank me, it was a no-brainer adding you to my favourites! :)

just for fun said...

First time here. You have a nice blog with wonderful collections.

just for fun said...

It looks like a parade. lots of food. Very nice Shilpa.

Shilpa said...

Hi just for fun, thanks! :) It was indeed intended to be a parade! And I do happen to cook "just for fun" too, heh heh, ie, I sometimes make stuff even if I'm not in the mood for it

Keropok Man said...

chicken balti looks absolutely yummy! i like stuff like that!

i love to eat curry, but not cook them. hehe...