Tag Archives: spices

Breakfast in Old Delhi

9 Nov

It has been said that  one of the best ways of getting to a culture’s heart  is through its stomach. Sweet words for travelers who go from meal to meal with at least as much joy as they have in going from sight to sight. What a treat to learn things about other cultures (and about ourselves), bite after bite. And so it was that during a recent work trip to New Delhi, India, I had the delightful opportunity to savor Old Delhi’s breakfast culture for a few hours, weaving through narrow streets, dodging people, cars, carts, bicycles, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, dogs, and the occasional cattle, to find culinary gems–both Hindu and Muslim (the walled city being home to Jama Masjid, the best-known mosque in India)–as the neighborhood awoke. An Indian friend, who knows me so well, arranged this gastronomic tour via Delhi Food Walks. We placed our stomachs in the capable hands of our guide, and dug in.

First, some scenes to set the stage (l-r, top-bottom): a food vendor carrying his wares to a special spot (#1), a renowned Old Delhi chef stirring one of his pots (#2), spices and tea for sale (#3), a dented pitcher atop one of the ubiquitous water containers found throughout the neighborhood (#4), and the very first things we tried for breakfast (#5)–a classic savory-sweet combination: Aloo sabzi (potato curry) in the foreground, eaten with  Bedmi poori (hot and fresh in photo #6 below), and Nagori halwa in the background (small crispy semolina poori served with sweet porridge).

  

  

After a stop at Karim’s for Nahari Mutton (morning mutton), we then went in search of a famous chickpea dish redolent of coriander, ginger, and tamarind: Lotan ke Chole Kulche (#7). The vendor of this rich specialty had set up shop in a protected nook down a narrow street, where he doled out the dish to throngs of hopefuls waiting with packets of butter in hand. The salty Amul brand butter–available for purchase just up the street from another vendor–added a perfect salty silkiness to the chickpeas, all the better to dip the accompanying bread into. After a brief pit stop to sample some biryani (#8), and then some parathas (#9) at Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan, it was all about the sweets, starting with sev pak, or sev burfi at Chaina Ram (#10)-a golden treat made with vermicelli, milk cheese, and lots of sugar. I was so inspired by this particular sweet, that I am experimenting with recreating it at home (update on that to follow).



  
At this stage, it was definitely time to start expanding our stomachs to make room for the other sugary confections on the menu, a task I was more than willing to undertake since I have the world’s worst (or best?) sweet tooth. And judging by their sweets, so do most Indians–except, amazingly, for my Indian friend and breakfast partner, which meant I had to step up for both of us. Below is a vendor dishing up some pudding-like rabri (#11) at Hazari Lal Jain, which also sells delicious khurchan (#12), creamy layers of  “leftover” boiled sweet milk, scraped together and decorated with pistachios and silver foil (varakh). It was very hard to walk away from that khurchan, but even more delights awaited, including warm jalebi (#13 -15), which after going from a hot frying pan into a sugar-syrup bath, are about as sweet as it is possible to imagine. After that, we swore we could not ingest even the smallest morsel more, but we were wrong. One last taste awaited us: Daulat ki Chaat, or sweet milk foam from a cart (#16). Our guide assured it was like a light and airy meringue that would not take up any stomach space at all, and he was right. But after that, even I was done. But, oh, what a morning, and what a glorious taste of India.

  
  

Recipe: Spicy Indian Eggplant with Tomatoes

27 Oct

I have always loved logic problems. You know–the kind where a man in a blue coat on a bus is sitting two seats away from a woman with red hair who is diagonally across from another woman using an iPhone and one seat away from a man with a green scarf reading the paper.  Eventually, given more clues, you’d have to say where everyone was sitting, what color hair they had, what they were wearing, and what they were doing.

Perhaps that is why I also greatly enjoy certain culinary challenges. For example, tonight we had friends over for dinner and had a lovely time with them. But having lived in Berkeley, we learned early on to ask if our guests had any dietary preferences or restrictions. This time around, several of our guests could not eat dairy, gluten, or meat (two friends are each avoiding one of those items, the other cannot have two of them–but no one friend is avoiding all three). Five people at the table tonight ate anything and everything. No one was vegan.

So, what to serve? In cases such as this, I find that Indian food is perfect. There are myriad vegetarian and non-dairy options, and rice does not contain gluten. So I decided to use this opportunity to experiment by making several dishes I haven’t tried before. This eggplant dish is one of them, and one of the reasons I chose it is that it can be served at room temperature. Anything that can be made ahead of time, I like. This recipe, which family members deemed a keeper, is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.

Spicy Indian Eggplant with Tomatoes
Serves 6

1 tsp. ground ginger
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1/8 c. water
1 3/4 lb. baby eggplant
about 1.5 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp. whole fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 (15-oz.) can petite diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. cayenne (or chili flakes)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Preparation

1. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into halves, then cut each half lengthwise into four strips; cut the strips in half crosswise.
2. Heat 1/2 c. of the oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add one layer of eggplant and cook until the eggplant is golden-brown, turning pieces over as they cook.
3. Remove eggplant and drain on a layer of paper towels.
4. Repeat until all eggplant slices have been cooked, adding additional oil to the pan each time as needed.
5. Once all the eggplant has been cooked, keep about 3 tbsp. of the oil in the pan, and discard the rest.
6. Add the fennel and cumin seeds to the hot oil in the pan. Stir for a few seconds, then add the tomato, ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt, and sugar
7. Stir and cook for 5-6 minutes, breaking up the tomato pieces with the back of a slotted spoon. Continue to cook until the mixture gets thick and paste-like.
8. Return the eggplant to the pan and gently mix in; add the lemon juice. Cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes, adding some of the reserved tomato liquid if the eggplant looks too dry.
9. Check the seasonings and adjust as needed (you may like to add more salt, or a pinch more sugar, or a bit more lemon juice).
10. Serve warm or at room temperature.