Month: January 2010

Fortuitous Fusion – A Recipe

No, this is not about the sun and why we are all alive today, it’s more about writing down a cooking experience for me to not forget 🙂

Anyway, we were having a couple of people over for dinner, and I was in the mood for either an aviyal, or a Chettinad Fish concoction of some kind. But one of our guests was vegan, so no fish and no yogurt, what to do?

Note, this may already be a well known dish, but it is new to me!

A Chettinad style Aviyal

Spices for Seasoning

  • 1-2 tsp of mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp of fenugreek (methi) seeds – these are bitter and add texture and body
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns – Same, texture and surprise pockets of spice
  • Curry leaves

Spices for Grinding

  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera) – Always be mindful of the magic ratio, 3:1 for coriander:cumin)
  • 2 tsp aniseed – the magic ingredient, aromatic and fresh breath smelling, but interesting flavour as well
  • 1-2 tsp of chilli powder. You know how hot your chilli powder is, you know how hot you want your dish to be, careful to begin with. It is also okay to add chilli powder towards the end, it is a prefried and ready to use spice.
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

Vegetables for Steaming
A mix of what you would consider “avial” vegetables, so plantain, pumpkin, are nice. I also add carrots, peas, beans, broccoli, does not matter. Whatever you use, think of the colour, and the mix of using a starchy vegetable (potato, plantain, etc), a squashy vegetable (pumpkin, zucchini, etc), some fibrous ones (carrots, beans) and peas are always nice. How much? Well, as much as can fit in about 3-4 cups of stew and you know whether you like it all vegetabley or mostly liquid!

The Base

  • One large onion
  • 2-3 medium size tomatoes – juicy, not beefy
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, more if you want to repel vampires (and other people)
  • A can of coconut milk, look for one without preservative, no idea why they have to add preservative to something that is already in a can. If you have time, make it yourself

Why does cooking need strategy? Because parallel processing is fun and you’ll be done sooner, so you can get on with the more important things in life!

  • Chop the veggies for steaming – Medium size pieces so you can bite into them. Coin all cylindrical veggies and cube all others (not the peas, floret broccoli, etc). Once done, steam them, I use a pressure cooker without pressure, but you can just put in a pot with a bit of water and cover. You can also do them Italian style as well, sauté in oil, but it will take longer and won’t really work too well for the squash
  • While the veggies are steaming, use your favourite pot for making the base. Add some oil (use coconut oil to be 100% authentic, or just use your favourite high temperature cooking oil).
  • While the oil is heating up, chop the onions fine and locate your spices for seasoning. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. How do you know it’s hot? Why, the mustard seeds will start popping right away, chicken, meet egg! Once you hear the first seed or two popping, add the peppercorns and the fenugreek seeds. As the mustard seeds continue to pop, add the curry leaves. Of course, you’re stirring well to maximize heat transfer and hurting a bit as hot oil splatters on your arms (wait, that’s only me, nm).
  • If the oil temperature was just right, the peppercorns would pop before the fenugreek seeds turn to tar, but it’s all right if that does not happen! I presume the perfect way to do this would be to add the peppercorns before the fenugreek, because the fenugreek takes very little time to fry, good tip for next time:-) The minute you smell the fenugreek seeds getting seasoned, add the onions and stir well. Adding a wet ingredient to the dry mix has the effect of stopping the frying of the dry ingredients in their tracks
  • The onions should take 10 minutes or so on medium heat. Use this time to dry grind your spices to a fine powder. I have an Indian super machine now, but I’ve used a coffee grinder before (you’ll never get the vague aftertaste of anise out of your coffee ever again, so I’d buy a dedicated spice grinder). Also, chop your garlic into thin slivers and your tomatoes fine.
  • Once the onions are mostly done, meaning translucent and beautiful, add the garlic and fry for a bit more after increasing the heat a little bit. Don’t caramelize, just sauté to translucent
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and add your fine ground spice mix. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and saute/fry under medium low until you’re getting a nice base going, meaning the tomatoes are cooked and becoming part of the liquid. It is okay to have a little bit of texture (my personal preference). Mash and stir constantly for this to happen.
  • At some point in time, you should have checked on your veggies to confirm they got steamed. Drain any excess water, but keep it, you may get to use it later 🙂
  • Add the veggies and mix around, let the sauce coat the veggies well.
  • Add the coconut milk, and salt (okay, I did not list salt, but did you expect a saltless dish?). Add to taste, of course.
  • Add some water (how much depends on how thick you like it, and it will thicken over time) and bring to a boil. Of course, if you had your veggie water saved, all the better
  • Season with cilantro, or my new seasoning favourite, the green tips of green onions.

Serve with rice, or chapatis, or naans, or your favourite carb. And remember to invite your friends over to share the meal, most important tip of all.

PS: No food photograph, sorry, didn’t see the point. It will look like a off white stew with vegetables floating around in it, and bits of green seasoning…

FAQ: Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation

Environmentalists are more openly at odds over two goals: the preservation of wide open spaces vs. the use of public lands for renewable energy projects.

via Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation – Room for Debate Blog –

This is a question that gets asked a lot, so it is refreshing to see different perspectives on how to manage needs for more clean energy with the desire to preserve pristine land. Of course, given the diversity of opinions offered, some are better than others. I, for one, don’t see this as a dichotomy, so I prefer ideas that avoid the binary choice frame of the question and suggest real solutions that will try to optimize both “choices”.

I liked David Roberts’ and Ileene Anderson’s opinions quite a bit, plugging for getting away from the large scale, utility centric model to a distributed paradigm. Daniel Kammen pitches for aggressive efficiency measures. Vaclav Smil says “Use less”, amen! Randy Udall deals mostly in cliches and says nothing very meaningful other than “we should optimize” and “some people will always complain”. Winona LaDuke makes a very important point that this is a good opportunity for Native Americans shut out of the conventional energy process to be involved in the wise stewardship of wind and solar energy. She does not provide any policy suggestions to make it happen.

Anyway, it looks like most of the panelists chosen avoided the binarification of the problem, good job! Will preserve this for a link every time someone asks me about this.

Fluent English – Racism in Mainstream Reporting

From Canada’s paper of record…

Speaking fluent English, he described the gruelling 42-day high-seas journey and talked of the deteriorating living conditions in his homeland. He also described his dismay at arriving in Canada only to be branded a potential terrorist and jailed for nearly three months.

Ah, the old “compliment”, “you speak such good English”, code for “I am so culturally and racially ignorant that the act of any non-white non Anglo-Saxon speaking English surprises and amazes me, and I am clueless enough to think of this statement as a compliment”. If the statement is made by a lay-person, I view it as an opportunity to educate. This represents the culmination of a long journey growing up in privileged middle class India and slowly accepting myself as a person of colour (different and yet to be written blog post). But, for a reporter specifically assigned to write about immigration and refugee claims, this is inexcusable, especially because the language of his testimony has no relevance to his story. It’s almost as if the reporter thinks that this person would be more deserving of Canadian sympathy if she lets us know that he speaks “fluent English” just like us!

The rest of the story is not too bad, it uses neutral language to chronicle the story of a heroic person’s struggle to first help the people around him, then finally make a risky journey across the world in search of a better life.

But wait, there’s more! The headline writer seems to have his or her own agenda as well (not captured in the website article, but see the Page One headline (captured on cellphone camera!):

Not bad, ” Tamil Migrant Sought Relief from Homeland Threats” – neutral, descriptive and to the point.

Now see the headline for the continuation:

Wow, “Militant Claims No Ties to Tamil Tigers”. Hello, what happened? When did migrant become militant, when did his statement become a “claim”, and what relevance do the Tamil Tigers have to this man’s refugee status? Is every Tamil a Tiger? (true story, playing pickup at the gym the other day, this guy asked me what my ethnicity was, then called me a Tiger, then got very defensive when I yelled at him!).

A writer’s bias becomes very evident in the choice of words used to frame statements. I always look for “said”, “asserted”, “claimed” as short forms for “we are reporting this statement, but here’s what we really think”.

This is not the first time headlines have made me scratch my head. This happens especially often in the world of science, as this blog post very ably documents. I once got into a brief email discussion with a reporter at the Raleigh News and Observer who was writing articles about undocumented workers. She would use “undocumented immigrant” (Good), “illegal immigrant” (Bad) and occasionally, “illegal alien” (Alien??) interchangeably. However, the headline would always contain the very pejorative one word “Illegals”. I asked her about it and her one line dismissal was that “she did not write the headlines”, which is a nice and casual shirking of responsibility! Since most people only see headlines anyway, the words stick. So, Tamil = Tiger, immigrant = illegal, etc.

It made me a little sad to see the story of good things (he survived and will have his refugee claim heard) happening to a good man reduced to a disgusting innuendo filled headline. For more on the Tamil refugee story, see this article. The Canadian government is using secret evidence to decide who gets to go free and who is detained. While some of the people on board this ship could possibly be linked to violence, secret trials and innuendo do not help anyone involved. The Canadian government should know this, given that its dealings with immigrants using the security certificate program have been criticized before. I understand and fully sympathize with the Canadian government’s position that this is a complex situation and each person needs to be dealt with carefully on a case by case basis, but secrecy is not necessary here.