Monthly Archives: February 2012

Patterns patterns all around…

Standard

Hello again! C&K has been on vacation, mostly because of the kids being home. You know how THAT is, if you want to get any work done…They have had a vacation called Settimana Bianca, which translates as White Week – a beautiful way of defining a mid-term break, isn’t it? Set out ! Enjoy the snow! Go skiing!

We did not ski, but we did accomplish something really important – clearing out the kids’ room! We do this every 6 months or so, and every time we do so, we mysteriously have more stuff to get rid of than we did the previous time…did we really collect so much in 6 months? Ah. Each clean up is accompanied by a lot of debate, wheedling and sometimes tears. That half-bitten eraser is just the best! That car with 3 wheels is such fun! And oh mom you’ll never guess the things I can do with a broken watering can and spade left over from when I was 2! I have to be a combination of wicked witch and unctuous slave to get the negotiations over, and my black garbage bag filled.

This time I dug out (literally) a CD that had escaped my notice previously – an `educational’ one for toddlers. My boys are way much beyond being toddlers now so of course I was in a rush to bin it. On an impulse, I decided to play it, just to check it out. And out came a flood of memories…it was so hard to throw it away…so I ended up doing what I often complain my kids do…I put it in a box called `My Treasures’…if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So much for stern-mom-in-clean-up-mode.

How I enjoyed that CD. All day long I was humming a babyish song `patterns patterns all around, patterns all around…’ from a shape matching game on the CD. And of course you all know from my previous blog on fractals `What’s Math Got to do with it’ that I’m a total sucker for patterns.

So when it came to dinner time, of course I had to pander to the mood. Grilled leeks it had to be. The sweet, mild oniony taste, and the swirls, the stripes, the crunchy texture…it is one of my family’s favourite side dishes / salads and I’ve got to share it with you. And oh – this is another SS original.

For this dish I always use my dear stripey grill pan – that’s what creates the pattern. But it will taste great and look nice  even if you don’t have one and use a regular heavy skillet.

SHRUTI’S STRIPEY LEEKS (Prep time 10 mins, cooking time 20 mins)

* Leeks – white and light green parts of 3 leeks (washed and carefully inspected for grit between the layers, sliced medium thick, slanting)

* Olive oil (or any other if you prefer) – 2 tbsps

* Lemon juice – a healthy squeeze

* Salt or fleur de sel

* Extra virgin olive oil (optional) – 2 tsps

– Heat up the pan / grill pan, add 1 tbsp oil and heat until smoking. OK this is not the most beautiful  photo, but I did have to show you the pan ; )

– Arrange the leek slices on the pan in a single layer, and cook on medium heat for about 4 mins until  brown grill marks appear on the underside. At this stage I’m usually tempted to constantly flip up the leeks to check if they are done, but patience is a better idea, it gets the job done.

– Once the underside is done, use 2 spatulas to flip over each of the slices, and grill the other side. This side will usually cook bit faster than the first, so keep an eye out for them getting burned!

– Once they are done, remove them carefully, and arrange them on a serving plate. There’s a bit of dexterity involved here – the look of the final dish comes from the leek slices remaining intact!

– You’ll probably need to do this in batches, which is where the 2nd tablespoon of oil might come in handy.

– This is the kind of time-flexible dish I love. Either serve it immediately with a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkling of salt/fleur de sel and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or keep it plain until ready to serve, then microwave slightly, add on the dressing, and present it to your diners.

Enjoy this visual treat!

Before there was rice…

Standard

…there was millet. Millet, along with maize, was one of the earliest food grains cultivated by humans. About 10,000 years ago, millet was cultivated in the neolithic societies of China, India and Africa, from where it spread to Europe. It is a crop wonderfully suited to the harsher, more `natural’ world of that time – it is hardy and withstands droughts and pests, it needs very little water and can grow in arid land. Best, it does not spoil quickly, which made it wonderful `famine insurance’.

Grainy goodness

Nutritionally, it has the same protein content as wheat, and is also a great source of magnesium. The ancient Romans cooked it up  into a porridge called puls, which was eaten with eggs and vegetables. I am told it is still eaten that way in North Italy but of course it’s not the kind of thing you might find on a restaurant menu…too homey for that?

In my part of India, it is called bajra, and it is ground up into flour which is made into thick  tortilla-style flatbreads which are cooked over a coal or wood fire. It’s called bajre ki roti and  it is typically served with oodles of butter/ghee. It was pretty regular food in the old days, I am told. Proof of which is an old Punjabi wedding/folk  song called called Bajre da sitta (A Stalk of Millet). As a child I remember my late aunt singing it in her husky rustic voice, as earthy and authentically Punjabi as the roti itself. For a more zippy version, dripping with Bollywood glamour, click here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n60bfFS_hk

So why has poor millet fallen out of favor? It’s now mainly used for birdseed and cattle feed and also used to make alcohol (hmm??!!). Many of us have probably never eaten it in our lives…I only have the vaguest memory of having eaten a bajre ki roti. Where and when, I cannot recall.

Wealth and modern agriculture – those are the reasons millet is not seen on the supermarket shelves a lot. It is an inconvenient grain in the sense that it needs a lot of milling before it becomes edible (it has a tough external husk) and more importantly, it is gluten-free. Great for those with allergies, but inconvenient for any kind of bread. Gluten is what makes flour pliable – it allows kneading, rolling and stretching (for roti and bread) and rising (for bread with yeast). So typically, only the poor will eat bread that is heavy, and hard to roll out. Easy to understand.

Time to peer into ancient cooking pots then, and see what out ancestors might have eaten. I discovered millet in my neighborhood supermarket in the `speciality foods’ section, and decided to experiment with it. Making rotis of any kind (and heaven forbid…bajra!) is just too much hard work, so, I chose the easy way out. I cooked millet like I would cook any other grain – boiled and dressed and served with a stew. Here’s what I did:

ANCIENT MILLETS IN COOK POT

* Millet (dehusked!) – 200 gms

* Water – approx 5 times the quantity of millets

* Salt

* Cumin powder – a large pinch

* Paprika powder – a large pinch

* Parsley – small bunch, chopped

* Lemon juice – 1 tbsp approx.

* Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp

* Raisins – a few

* Pine nuts  (chilgoze) – a few

up close...pearl-like

– In a heavy pan, dry roast the millet over medium heat for 5-7 mins until slightly fragrant…but not brown!

– Add the water and salt, bring to the boil.

– Lower the heat to medium, and cook uncovered for 20-25 mins until the grains are soft but still have some `bite’.

– Strain out the water and let the millets cool and `dry out’

– Once the grains have cooled, add in the olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, raisins, pine nuts, parsley and cumin powder.

– I served it with meatballs in tomato sauce…

The verdict? Delicious, and versatile. Like cous cous, but with a stronger texture. Will I cook it again? Yes. As an addition to the repertoire of grains that I cook. One more interesting thing in the store cupboard.

I’m know there are other, equally delicious ways of cooking and serving millet. I have been told it makes a great breakfast cereal, with milk and sugar, like oatmeal/daliya. Perhaps that is an experiment for another day.