Monday, February 22, 2016

The Chili history

            One of the many stories that Indians refuse to believe is the one of the chili and its origins. Its unfathomable as a layman to believe that Chilies are not Indian and are less than 300 years old! Well, true story and here it goes... India being their trading partner, the Europeans had used black pepper as a medicinal aid and to spice up their cooking since Greek and Roman times. 

              By the Middle Ages, black pepper had become a luxury item, sold by the corn and used to pay taxes. Traders looked for new ways to India and the lands beyond — not just for pepper but for other lucrative spices, and for silks and opium. Columbus did not find India and black pepper, but he found a fiery pod that would, within years, not only infuse Southern European cooking with bold new flavors but also revolutionize cooking in India. 
            The remarkable spread of the chili is a glorious chapter in the story of globalization. Few other foods have been taken up by so many people in so many places so quickly. Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum, family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. Only five of Capsicum's 25 species have been cultivated, and in South America, where most of the world's wild chilies are still found. The Europeans didn't immediately fall for the chili, they did become its greatest propagator. Portuguese traders carried it to settlements and nascent colonies in West Africa, in India and around East Asia. 
             Within 30 years of Columbus' first journey, at least three different types of chili plants were growing in the Portuguese enclave of Goa, on India's west coast. The chilies, which probably came from Brazil via Lisbon, quickly spread through the subcontinent, where they were used instead of black pepper. Yet its amazing how India took to Chilies and used them for all possible aspects, colour, texture flavor and spice. Today if there is one common thread other than cricket and Bollywood that binds the country together it's the "Mirch". The often taken for granted chilly is here and here to stay, a perfect example of globalization even before the word made it to the modern day lingo....

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Khichdi and other stories…

                 When one thinks of khichdi, grains and millets invariably come to mind. India has always had an amazing array of grains; thanks to the varied climatic conditions and soil types. The variety of millets available in the interiors of the country is enough data for a book. 
                 The unfortunate part however is that millet is an unstated grain grown by people who cannot market and sale. The green revolution undoubtedly did a lot of good for the Indian farmer, however the millets lost their charm in this era. I remember eating a porridge made from jhangoora, a millet amazingly sweet and creamy, so much so that a drizzle of honey is enough. 
                    Madhya Pradesh alone has more than 50 strains of millets and other strains of grains outside of rice and wheat. For me the foxtail millet stand out as the grain of MP. Collecting my thoughts back towards khichdi and the raj contribution towards Indian food, the British did a lot towards influencing Indian cuisine knowingly and unknowingly. The term curry word given by British as early as their arrival in Madras after having the local kari at fort George William. In fact the British sahabs and memsahabs who stayed in India were well-adapted to the romances of Indian cooking. 
                   Grain, porridge was made all across India from the Vedic times. Khichdi was known as kshirika and was consumed across the country. There are mentions of Khichdi in the Mughal literature especially during Akbar's times. Hence the common misconception that this term comes from kedgeree is not true. In fact it is the other way around. The British sahab and memsahab culture had its effect on exchange of home food. Similarly, in a recent conversation with Pushpesh Pant, a friend and food historian, he established that the ishtoo of Delhi, Lucknow and Benaras is indeed a mildly spiced do pyaaza called by a name the British understood better. More so, the British can also be credited with the revival of Delhi khandani food of Delhi as most old families dug out and cooked recipes from their kitchen repertoire to please the Sahabs for grant and titles. 
                  Hence the British era saw a fair exchange of cooking styles and dish nomenclature. If we give khichdi to them we got the ishtoo back. Now let’s get some Indian millet back in our life to give the well marketed ‘imported super grains’ a run for their money.

Bajra Khichdi

Ingredients :
1/2 cup bajra , soaked or 8 hours and drained
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
A few sprigs of coriander leaves
2 tbsps green peas, cooked
2 tbsp carrot, small diced, cooked
1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
Salt to taste

Method :
1. Combine the bajra, salt and 2 cups of water in a pressure cooker, mix well and pressure cook for for whistles. Allow the steam to escape before opening the lid. Keep aside. 

2. Heat the ghee in a deep pan and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds crackle, add the asafoetida, turmeric powder and sauté for a few seconds. 
3. Add the cooked bajra, boiled green peas, cooked carrots and salt mix well and cook on a medium flame for two to three minutes, while stirring occasionally. 
Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve immediately.