Yes He Can!

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The elections are upon us – the elections back home in India, that is. And the people have spoken…or are in the process of speaking. Speaking up against the corruption and the utter lassitude that has engulfed us over the last 8 years. Corruption and inaction are steadily eroding away the gains of the last 2 decades, corroding away the shine of the India story.

It’s a shame – especially when I meet smart, hard working and talented young men and women, people with big dreams and a fire in the belly, a determination to succeed…often stopped in their tracks by the very system that should be facilitating their success.

But there is hope  – one hopes. And there are stories that give me joy…even the smallest simplest story sometimes offers a heartening glimpse into what could be the future of our country, a set of attitudes that could take us to where we want to go.

So here’s a little story then….

Last month I was back home in India, attending a close family wedding. Now a Punjabi wedding is an all out 360 degree experience with non stop revelry for almost a week preceding and following the main event. The bride and groom are only an excuse for the clan to get together and catch up on the happenings in the lives of those bound by blood or marriage.

My family and I stayed at a nice hotel close to the groom’s house – we’d party till 5 am everyday, roll out of bed at noon, eat brunch (because we slept through the buffet breakfast), get dressed, and  step out again for the next round of festivities.  One `morning’ I called room service and asked for pancakes. They arrived in due course, on a nice trolley with beautifully starched napkins..but when I looked at the plates I was aghast! They had the look and texture of discs of raw dough! There’s no way we could have eaten them. Oh dear – I had to call room service again and re-order…and when they arrived…horror of horrors! The dough discs were a shade more cooked than the previous batch, but still inedible. Sigh…if that’s the best they can do, well that’s the best they can do…I don’t like to make a fuss, and we were pretty much starving by then, so we just had some tea and biscuits  from the in-room hospitality tray and decided to forget about breakfast/brunch/whatever.

Phone rings;

SS (me): Hello

CS – Madam this is Chef Sumit. I’m told there was a problem with the pancakes. What was the problem ? Are they okay now?

SS (thinking..oh no. This is embarrassing) – Um yes. They were completely raw, and cold, like they were uncooked.  Even now these are only a shade better but we can’t eat them.  No worries – but tell me as a matter of interest, do you cook them from frozen or from a batter?

CS – We absolutely make these from fresh batter. Please – let me send you another batch.

SS – No no. We’re okay. We’re going out now. No problem.

CS – Are you here tomorrow? I’ll see you at the buffet breakfast – please, please do come. And I’ll make you the best pancakes you have ever eaten in your life. Please let me prove it you. I have to show you I can make pancakes.

Well, wow! I’m usually grouchy when I haven’t eaten breakfast but this guy’s enthusiasm made me smile.

Next morning, 9 am, phone rings.

SS (sleepy and hung over) – Hello

CS (bright and cheerful) – Good morning Madam. This is Chef Sumit. Just to let you know I’m in the breakfast room and will be waiting, so whenever you are ready. And believe me, these will be the best pancakes you have ever eaten.

Oh dear. Have to get dressed quickly and go down. Now I’m stuck.

And there he was  – caught my eye the minute I walked into the breakfast room. A personable young man who quickly took charge of the pancake station and whipped up a batch for the family. And wow – they were good. And yes, almost the best I have ever eaten. The man kept his promise. And we had a lovely chat. And I came away with a great tip for my home pancakes.

The pancakes were super, no doubt – but what really impressed me and stayed with me was Chef Sumit’s dedication to his craft, his desire to get it right, his quest for perfection…these are the the hallmarks of a person destined to go places. And guys like him are the `aam aadmi’ who keep the wheels of the country moving…the men and women who do good work and take pride in what they do. And they deserve better. Better leadership, better opportunities, and hope for a better future.

Almost forgot – this blog always ends with a recipe or a foodie thing right? So here we are, with a wholewheat pancake recipe. You’ll find they’re a bit denser than those made with plain flour, but that’s the way  it is for wholewheat anything, and it’s a compromise I’m willing to make. And  a breakfast food that used to be a sinful treat has actually become a weekend staple!

HEALTHY WHOLEWHEAT PANCAKES

* 2 cups whole wheat flour (I’m guessing this would work with atta also). I often use self raising wholewheat flour, in which, you’ll need to eliminate the next ingredient which is baking powder.

* 4 1/2 tsp baking powder

* 1/2 tsp salt

* 2 tsp cinnamon

* 2 tsp sugar (Don’t be tempted to add more. I’ve done it, and the pancakes caramelize too quickly, even before they are fully cooked).

* 2 egg whites, whipped until soft peaks form. This was Chef Sumit’s special tip. And it really makes a difference in the fluffiness of the end product. What to do with the 2 leftover yolks? Why, make mayonnaise of course!

* 2 cups + 2 Tbsp skimmed milk

* 2 tsp vanilla essence

* A good quality non stick or cast iron griddle/tava

* Butter – if your griddle/tava is good (as in non stick or well seasoned iron) you don’t need more than a small pat per pancake.

* Lots of lovely toppings  your family can choose from – marmalade, jam, maple syrup, Nutella, condensed milk, cinnamon+brown sugar…

Not the prettiest picture, but I had to show you this. If you use more butter, you get a characteristic traditional `lacy’ pattern on the pancakes as on the left and top. Less butter and you get a more even brown surface, as in the one on the right. You choose.

- Using a whisk, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.

- Add in the wet ingredients and gently mix. Needless to say the egg whites are prepared right before you  actually need them. Let them sit around and you’ll lose all the lovely air bubbles you’ve incorporated into them.

Just whisk the batter a few times until it comes together and you can’t really see the lumps. Over-whisk, and your pancakes will be hard and tough. I still need to figure out the science behind that, but yes, it does. I know. I’ve done it.

- Heat griddle to medium-high. Pop a bit of butter on it and grease the sections you are going to drop the batter onto.

- Ladle out 1 (or multiple) dollops of batter onto the pan. No need to spread – the batter will spread as much as it needs to.

- In half a minute or so, you should see holes on the surface of the pancakes, and the edges drying out. This is the time to flip them over. I don’t try any fancy chef’s tricks here and flip the pan- I just use a spatula. With my h-e-a-v-y iron griddle, I might crack some wrist bones if I tried flipping it.

- In about 15 seconds, the pancakes are ready. Take them off the pan, pop them onto a plate.

They’re really versatile – if you’re pampering someone, serve it right onto the plate, nice and hot. If everyone wants to eat together, put them onto a serving dish, cover with a lid  to keep them warm while you prepare all the rest. If you have too many leftovers, freeze them – thaw and microwave for a delicious encore.

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I like my pancakes quite brown. I think it’s a cultural thing – if it’s white it’s probably raw…not necessarily correct, but there you are

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3 responses »

  1. Totally delightful the way you have woven the story of pancakes, indian political scenario, the wedding story, warm fuzzy feeling of being looked after and the aam admi trying to make today better than yesterday. Loved it and love you!

    Pancakes have never done it for me. There always seems to be a better breakfast option and a better dessert option vs. the homey pancakes. but the kids love it, and i will try your whole wheat twist to it.

  2. The story is as engaging and delicious as the pancakes…the tips lovely and handy…I HAVE TO TRY THIS RECIPE – it’s simple and my kids LUUURVE pancakes…
    By the Way : Do you mind sharing Chef Sumit’s details…he sounds interesting ;)

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