Jigyasa and myself were at the London Book Fair, held at Earl’s Court from April 14-16 this year. It was spectacular, well organized and a treat to the eyes as you see rows and rows of books from across the globe.
Gourmand was in partnership with LBF this year, and there was a fabulous, well designed spacious setting for Gourmand at LBF. A compact, efficient and buzzing kitchen had been set up to assist demonstrations by many popular culinary authors / chefs.
What you can see in the pic above was the demo space called LBF Gourmand Cookbook Corner. Don’t miss the huge mirror on the top where you can see everything arranged on the counter below. On the left was the door that lead to the kitchen. We both were invited to make a presentation about ‘Cooking at Home with Pedatha’ and Indian cuisine.
We recorded our speech and here are some extracts from it:
Good afternoon. Lovely weather here in London! In India this is the hottest time of day…Mittha majiyaanam…one is already getting exhausted & lethargic with the heat. But of course, that depends on which region of India one is talking about & what time of the year. April? Definitely hot & humid in all coastal areas and hot & dry in the interiors, pleasant – almost cold – with a cool nip in the hills! Such is the vastness of India’s geographical boundaries that when we travel from one place to another, it is quite often that we have to pack our bags keeping weather conditions of the next state in mind! And vaster still is India’s rich cultural & culinary heritage.
Today, we bring to you one important aspect of Indian cooking – TEMPERING. Most of our veggies, dals & rice dishes, and many salads, as well as buttermilk, are tempered with spices. This is an art best learnt by watching elders. Done in a jiffy, it requires patience as well as alertness. A few seconds more or less are crucial, and can elevate or spoil the dish. This is what we are here for today, to share with you the rules of perfect tempering of spices, seeds & lentils that we learnt from Pedatha.
Now we shall demonstrate a few temperings for you, Pedatha style!
Carrot – Lentil Salad
We first demonstrate a healthy & delicious salad made with yellow lentil & carrots. On one side we have the wok & oil ready for tempering. And on the other side we have:
- 1 cup yellow split lentil, washed and soaked in water for 3-4 hrs, strained and ready to be tossed up.
- ½ cup grated carrots (peeled, washed & grated…actually, washed, peeled & grated. When you wash a vegetable, you take away some of the nutrients, so it is better to wash before peeling. )
- 1-2 tsp finely chopped green chillies
- 1-2 tsp finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
- Salt to taste
- Now all we have to do is mix these ingredients together, add a dash of fresh lemon juice to it and toss it up. This salad, known as Kosumbari is for all practical purposes, ready to eat. But, let’s just see how a little tempering can magically enhance its taste.
- WOK: The wok used for tempering should not be too small because when the mustard splutters it’ll be all over the place & if not careful, could give you a few small burns as well!
- OIL: Allow the oil to warm up, but not start smoking. Let’s pour approximately 2 tsp oil in this wok. Keep the flame high. Note that the oil is just hot enough.
- BLACK GRAM: First we put in a tbsp of split black gram…it is creamish in colour because it is husked. Otherwise it is black & therefore the name. I’m sure many of you must have relished the famous black dal or kali dal of North India. It’s the same gram. Pedatha taught us that the black gram should turn ‘rose red’ in the tempering. Since this gram does not splutter, we must stir to avoid them turning black on the under side. So we stir.
- MUSTARD: As the gram turns golden, we add in a tsp of mustard seeds. The important thing about mustard while tempering is that it splutters rather vigorously in the wok! There we go! And it also tends to burn easily if the flame is too high. So halfway through the spluttering, we reduce the flame. It’s almost like popcorn popping away.
- RED CHILLIES: As the spluttering reduces, lets add in a red chilli. Pedatha said, don’t allow it to turn brown…let it become crisp & bright red.
- ASAFOETIDA: So we shut off the flame, add a dash of asafoetida powder…ummm…not one day in an Indian household goes by without this aroma of tempering, except when a family is in mourning, at which time no food is cooked at all.
- Now we pour this tempering into the salad…toss it up a bit…or if serving right away, you could also leave the crunchy tempering on top…somewhat like a garnish.
It is only the human mind that has the power to convert a basic need like food into an aesthetic experience…a creative expression…into a forum where ideas can be expressed & exchanged. And it is for precisely this exchange of ideas that we are gathered here today. To share with you that which we think makes Indian cuisine unique. We also have with us, Dr. Prakash Kalmadi, whose reputed Ayurvedic institute in India is the resource point of our next book on vegetarian recipes enriched with Ayurvedic wisdom.
Our journey with food continues into our next book dealing with Ayurvedic recipes. According to Ayurveda, every spice, every ingredient of food has something called Rasa or taste. There are six Rasas, i.e. the six tastes of sweet, sour, pungent, astringent, bitter, hot. So every ingredient has all the six Rasas in different proportion, but whatever is predominant becomes its defining feature. Chillies for instance have predominance of spiciness, bittergourds of bitterness, but chillies as well as bittergourds have all the other 5 Rasas also. This ancient Indian science subscribes to this theory of Rasas rather than the categories such as proteins, carbs, fats etc.
Now, among these, sweetness is the heaviest to digest, hence should be eaten at beginning of a meal. As Dr Kalmadi of Kare says, a meal should end with astringent taste, which aids in digestion, for instance, buttermilk or fennel seeds or betel nuts.