Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Use Swadeshi

I wanted to make a mini cooking slideshow for you all about how ridiculously hard it is for me to cook for 20 people on a two-burner propane stove using only the three pots and one wok that we own. (An Indian wok is called a Kadai.) It is especially hard for me, since I don’t know how to cook Indian food and really, you kinda have to know that here. There are only a certain number of vegetables you can get and the meat is definitely not something you want to eat, since the animals eat sewage and the refrigeration goes out every day, sometimes for hours. So, here we go with Kadai Vegetable-Paneer!

I got a few recipes online for this dish, and I managed to mash them all together and hope to make something that sounded like it might be good. Jacob, my faithful scooter driver, drove me to the fruit stand first thing in the morning on my day to make lunch. Jacob likes to go to this fruit stand on Beach Road instead of the one that is closer to our house because they have more to choose from. On the way, we take the shortcut, which says on the wall in spray-painted graffiti, “Use Swadeshi.” Daisy, my Hindi-speaking friend tells me that the saying is from Gandhi’s time, and it means “Buy Indian-Made Products.” It’s the equivalent of a “Buy-American” bumper-sticker on a Chevy truck. Every time I turn onto the shortcut road I always read the sign and say “Use Swadeshi.” It’s the Swadeshi Shortcut.
The Swadeshi Shortcut
Once we get to the Beach Road, all the stall-owners are just opening up. The place that sells lanterns and sheets has a cow as its first customer. Not a good sign for people who are very superstitious about making sure their first customers buy something! There are lots of locals and animals walking around, I assume all the travelers are still asleep. Bozo the Breadman is up and honking and his bread basket is full.

We buy some kg of tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, green chilies, bell peppers (they call them capsicum), pomegranates, apples, chicu-fruits, oranges, and bananas. The green bananas taste better than the yellow ones, but the yellow ones you get to cut off the banana stalk yourself, which is fun. There are apples and plums from California here at this fruit stand---definitely not swadeshi-friendly items---but they are out of cauliflower; too bad since it’s supposed to be a main ingredient in this dish. Oh well, I’ll leave it out, no one will know. The total is like 300 rupees, about $6.
Then we drive down the road a bit to Om Ganesh, the local big supermarket. Don’t get too excited, the store is about 20 feet wide, and maybe 40 feet long, and stocked with old grains that have bugs. You have to take off your shoes when you go in and the floor is made of many different types of linoleum all pieced together. But they do have local-made paneer, which is why we are here. Paneer is like a cottage cheese, but it’s firmer and it comes in blocks, like tofu. I love paneer.  They are out. We have to stop by another market, it’s smaller and closer to home and called the Hop In. They have one block of paneer left over from yesterday. I’ll take it!

We get home, and the kids start doing their schoolwork and arguing, and we start chopping and dicing and mincing and peeling. This goes on for quite awhile. Then I realize that the fruit stand guy didn’t give me my green chiles. There’s only one mixed in with the green beans, and I bought at least 10. The recipe I am reading is for 2 people, so I am multiplying everything by 10, and the recipe calls for 2-3 green chiles for two people. Dang. I raid the tiny red fridge and find that my roommate Shlomy has a couple of old and withered ones left in there, which I steal. I chop them and scrape out the seeds with my fingernails, because I am invincible to spicy foods.

Saraya helps me by washing the rice. She washes all of the rice we own. We don’t have a pot big enough to cook all of this rice. So, I take some out and put it in one of the pots, and start to cook the rest. One less pot will have to be OK.

I ask Josiah to go out to the front yard and pick some curry leaves off of the curry plant. Which plant is that? The one by the Ford’s fence. Which one? Ask your sister. She, of course, tells him the wrong one, just to be a pain. Finally, after much ado, he picks me a nice handful.

I puree the onions and chiles in my lame little Bajaj blender and fry them in our kadai. I add the pretty Indian spices. I cook them awhile, then they burn, because this propane stove is like a jet engine when it’s on high. I scrape out the burned part and add the bell peppers, green beans, and carrots and cook them. Then I realize that I am really late and that lunch is supposed to start in a half an hour. I start trying to get things ready like crazy. I forgot to chop the potatoes! And they aren’t cooked! We don’t have any more burners! AHhhhh! And don’t forget the paneer!

Shlomy and Chinua decide to pop in and rescue me. Shlomy figures out how to cook the potatoes by borrowing some pots from Miriam, and Chinua decides to help me with my photojournalism for you all.

I taste the sauce. SPICY! What?!? I only added 3 chiles and I was supposed to have added at least 10. I start to realize that the first few fingers on my left hand are burning. Oh, those chiles were the real thing! So much for being invincible to pepper oil. Good thing that fruit stand guy held out on me!

Shlomy squeezes some limes in. I throw in some garam masala because one of the recipes listed it.

It’s 12:30. Time for lunch. I carry the pots one by one over the banisters and onto Cate’s roof, then down the stairs and back up to the meditation center. It’s much faster than walking around, but slightly more perilous. If I drop a pot onto our landlord’s porch, that would be bad. If I fall myself, that would be worse.

I and the pots all make it over. Whew! Tastes pretty good too. Spicy, but not too bad now that the potatoes and paneer are in there.

This happens every day here. Every day we eat a big lunch together and some poor soul has go through something like this to cook.

Dinner? That’s another story, and it’s not as pretty, so I’ll skip it.

My fingers are still on fire, but I have learned to Cook Swadeshi.

(There are more photos of my cooking experience posted on my facebook album Currylicious Cookery, if you want to see them!) 

And now, for you:
My Swadeshi Kadai Vegetable-Paneer Recipe, roughly
Serves 2 - 4

2 cups
 paneer, cubed
Half a capsicum (green bell pepper) sliced small
1 carrot, chopped
5 green beans, cut into bites
1 potato, chopped and cooked
2 large onion, chopped
2 green chillies, seeded and chopped
3-4 pods of garlic, crushed
1" piece of ginger, crushed (or 1tsp ginger garlic paste)
1 tomato, pureed
1 tbsp tomato paste (or another pureed tomato)
A few curry leaves
A generous pinch of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp jeera (cumin) seeds
1 tsp coriander powder (I accidentally used cumin powder instead. It’s good that way.)
Some Garam masala to taste
Lemon or lime to squeeze on top
2 tsp oil
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander leaves to garnish
1.    Blend the onion along with the green chillies. Heat oil and fry this paste for 2-3 mins.
2.   Then add the chilli powder, turmeric, jeera, coriander powder and crushed ginger and garlic (or ginger garlic paste) and mix well, frying for another minute.
3.       To this, add the tomato paste and pureed tomato. Fry for 4-5 minutes until the mixture comes together and the oil begins to separate.
4.       Next add the vegetables and kasuri methi, and curry leaves, with some salt. Fry for 2-3 mins, until the bell pepper is cooked but still crunchy.
5.       Throw in some Garam Masala to taste.
6.       Finally add the cubed paneer and mix gently until well combined. Simmer for 2 mins and remove from fire. (I didn’t fry the paneer in advance for this dish)
7.       Serve with rotis, chapattis, or rice.

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