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Suvir Saran

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  1. Steven, I am still thinking of how to answer your last post on that thread. Comparing Coca Cola and its need to keep their formula secret is not at all what we refer to in the Indian board in regards to Indian food. In fact, Coca Cola and the American need for dominance and control in some ways, has insulted and changes the lives of many in the world. Many times for better... and just as everything has two sides, just as often for the worse. Thus, we all need to tread with care and attention and respect, when we work in understanding and debating that which thrives in another world. Steven, you and many others that are making references to Indian cooking, are making them with a very myopic eye on Indian food and culture. I would do the same if I start using my sensibilities do define French or American or even Japanese or Chinese cooking. While I can debate it with my desire to make intelligent conversation and use as a tool to challenge my horizons, I would fail in making it meaningful until the time that I have given as much respect and time to that foreign culture as I have given my own. My life and its baggage, give me an ease with which I fall deep into the ocean where spices, languages, thoughts and provocation of my Indian world happen. I seem to not have that with the other cultures that I love and want to know more about. It is just natural. It is human and it is this feeling of being reduced at times to being far less intelligent and in control as we often want to be, that makes us realize how this world is not all about ourselves and our own biases. There is so much more out there that needs to be lived and experienced. And often with little if any contribution from us. Oftern our hands are tied, our eyes can see but our gift is only of enjoyment. Not to steer. We can sit back and enjoy the ride, but drive we cannot. How many of those that chat on these boards have really been to India, other than those that come from the sub-continent? How many have lived in homes and worked alongside home chefs? When we have determined that, we would also realize how few of us really have the very lasting influence that a strong culture can have on something as pivotal to it as its food. Indians of all communities, castes and wealth, assign a great deal of importance to food. Whatever their means, a great meal is prepared. Each, within the boundaries of their wealth's and resources. And having said that, I will again bring to you the reason why; Indian food has such distinct mutability within its realm. Unlike a perfect puff pastry which all chefs in the west can agree upon for its perfection for some few salient reasons, there can never be a debate such as that when dealing with even an Indian bread, as simple and mainstream as a Naan. Since within the realm of a Naan... each community, each caste, each religious sub-text and community can have their own unique ways of making that classic dish. And then, within these sub groups, each household will have their own way of changing those recipes that are common to their own community. In the world of Indian food, there is very little if any need to stipulate rules and identify winning recipes. The culture like its religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and also Indian version of Islam, thrive in the love and romance of the unknown and the moment and how best to capture things and adapt them into changing form with the beauty and details of a given moment. Whereas a lot of the world finds comfort in the black and white world of structure and norm and stability, Indians find stability in knowing they have freedom of expression at every breath they breathe. No priests, no star chefs and no one housewife has the place in this world to feel they alone know something better. The unique expression of each life in its many ways of sharing its brilliance with another, is where life is recognized as having been lived fully and with respect for a tradition that has little if any biblical text used as a cannon for life and society. Each temple, each God, each caste, each sub-caste and each community thrives to preserve and yet live harmoniously with the others. As seen in any other part of the world, life is not perfect, but it is what it is. While a good writer and a film maker can strive to document something that is a small part of such a vast land, it remains minuscule and infant when weighed against the gargantuan task of defining the every so fluid base of a culture that has within a very small geographical land mass more languages than Europe and as many dialects as most of the world combined. That in itself has led to so much more confusion and grays to deal with. While there is so much difference already, the freedom with which people who are very different from one another by religious sub groups, language barriers and ethnic differences mingle so freely, they create even more interesting and complex social and cultural perplexities. These have not been spared in the realm of the food industry either. So, with that said, each family and each cook within a family, brings the myriad subtleties they gathered through travels and assimilation with things foreign into their own cuisine. This further complicates that which defines the cuisine. So, at any given time, while a basic recipe may be very similar from one home to another, the exacting need of thinkers to find one perfect recipe or a perfect way of making one dish, will never find hope in the Indian world of home cooking. It will be odd, misplaced and also sad. For that culture, thrives in the multiplicity of its people's social patterns and behavior. This is also true about its music. Indian classical music that is considered to be as old as that form of art gets, is just as complex. And for that reason alone, many musicologists believe, over centuries, we have been unable to document it. And yet, even after centuries of having been nothing more than an oral tradition, it has maintained its very unique base. So, while people can try to find a way of uncovering certain small parts of a great and large culture, it is amusing to find a need to uncover something that has taken thousands of years to form, be uncovered by the fragile sensibility of a human brain, clearly very separated from the culture but in need to define it for their own curiosity. While critical thinking and curiosity enrich us. And certainly are the best gifts we have in our human grasp, it is also unnecessary to fit everything into a tangible world, where we can each find solace. That is where curiosity can falter the one and only time in my book. I hope I have made some sense. I did not want to share with all what I feel very strongly. This is not the first time I have seen someone try and find great need to see something foreign find an easy fit in the world as we see living in the comfort of our western set ways. While I will do everything I can in my own cookbook to uncover the secrets in my mind and hands, I will never be able to unmask every detail that I unmasked at every session where I cooked alongside another chef. It is physically and humanly impossible. And also not my goal in life. I have succeeded as a teacher of Indian cooking for one main reason, not my personal brilliance as a chef, but for my ability to train the non-Indian student to learn about the spices, the grains and the ingredients that form Indian cooking and share with them my limited repertoire. But after making them comfortable with my own ways and my approach, I also have shown them how I would vary my own classic recipe for the next moment, often in the same class, when in prepare that dish again. In seeing that, these students have understood the secret behind Indian cooking. The secret of letting the moment, the mood around you and the passion you are lost in dictate how you work with your ingredients. While a lot of this may sound like BS coming from someone who is ethnic, I certainly am very aware of that. And can only say to you, I am by no ways a leftover of the hippy generation. While food is my passion and consumes most of my life, I am as precise and organized in my other chores as anyone can be. In fact, those that know me, often wonder if I would have been better off being a Swiss Watch, for my need to be very structured in all other parts of life. But when it comes to cooking that I have indulged in since the age of 5 to Indian Classical Vocal Music, that I have studied ever since I was 6, I lose myself completely to the romancing of the moment and creating with deep respect for a tradition that thrives in the play of the unknown. In my grasp to find and explore is an expression that is at once pure, classic and yet full of hope for the unknown.
  2. In India there are very typical dishes that would be eaten over the weekend. Does anyone here have such favorites? What are they? Where do you find them? Why are these dishes appealing?
  3. Steven, Below, I am posting some text that was a part of my book proposal. It may help you understand the many layers of complexity that can take place in Indian cooking. You will realise then, why it would not be easy to simply create good food from just a precise recipe. A lot more is involved in the creating of Indian food as one finds in kitchens where food is treated as a pinnacle of perfection. " From his mentor Suvir learned the religion of cooking, Panditji’s particularly Indian love and respect for the sacredness of ingredients. To prepare ingredients in India is to “entertain” them – the way one entertains a new idea. To entertain novelty is to be alive in one’s senses as one touches, smells and sees. The cook “entertains” his own senses with the ingredients and so imbues the food with what he loves about it. Suvir learned to respect his ingredients as personalities that invited particular ways of relating. He was forced to learn to trust all of his senses, not just his sense of taste; because all food was prepared for the gods it was not permitted to be defiled by tasting while cooking. (This is undoubtedly why Suvir, a vegetarian who never eats meat at all, can cook delicious meat recipes without tasting them.) He learned how to sense the ripeness of produce in his hands and with his eyes and nose. Panditji also taught Suvir the culture of Indian cooking: why certain vegetables are cooked at certain times of the day and year and which foods are to be eaten when. " Then, below is what I do when I teach. Again, you will see how even as I teach, I teach also the very basic tool that makes Indian food both unique and also very hard to demytify. The stamp that is left by each cook. It is unique, cherished and encouraged. " Suvir is now himself a teacher like Panditji. He combines this especially Indian respect and love for food with an equally precious respect and love for his students’ learning. His goal as a teacher is to show his students how to become the artist of their own Indian cooking. The way he sees it, each student artist needs to be inspired by recipes like the ones he teaches but the food always needs to bear the mark of the student’s own spirit and personality. Towards this end Suvir walks the students through recipes, identifying each ingredient in terms of what impact it has on the food, how it should be cooked, why it is in the recipe (both in terms of taste and any traditional or cultural associations) as well as what other ingredients may be substituted for it. This builds a relationship between the student and the ingredients so that the student gains the necessary confidence to experiment in his own kitchen. " Now, the same writer, Stephanie Lyness that wrote the above pieces, said the following, about her own need to learn about Indian food. " I wrote an article on how to make Indian curries for Cook’s Illustrated magazine in 1997. That experience taught me that I needed to translate Indian cooking for myself before I could digest and understand it, or write about it. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Indian cooking is a 6,000 year old art. It stands to reason that it exists in a culture that thinks about everything – and certainly about food – in ways that are utterly different than Americans do. When I began researching the Cook’s article I had expected to be able to understand the mechanics of cooking curries by looking through cookbooks and talking to people on the phone. But I could not learn what I needed to from the written recipes. As a French-trained chef, I’m familiar with the way that French cooking structures dishes around technique; I learned to cook by learning the techniques of making stews, roasts and braises. It was clear to me as I read the Indian recipes, however, that cooking technique was not the organizing principal behind Indian food. But beyond that I couldn’t discern what made for the integrity of the recipe. What defined it? Why were some spices left whole while others were ground? Why so many spices? Could spices simply be varied at the whim of the cook or were the combinations driven by some tradition or technique? Then Steven it led Stephanie to question what differences and what similarities existed between Indian and French cooking. She was digging way deep into the reality of Indian cooking, using her experience as a French trained chef, and this is what happens next. " I found it useful to consider the cooking process I was studying both in terms of the ways in which it was different from and the same as French cooking. I pursued the cooks relentlessly about all of their cooking choices – why that spice, why so much oil, what were they tasting for? Their answers gave me a remarkable context in which to understand the cooking. I learned about the Indian palate, Indian consciousness, Indian historical and cultural traditions, the intertwining of Indian cooking, medicine and religious practices, and the daily life of that culture. The more comfortable I became with the cooking, the more its sheer difference excited me. This work has convinced me that the most effective and satisfying way to teach Americans to love Indian food is to guide them through a similar process of acculturation. This process will serve to demystify the food for Americans by teaching them how to approach the food without being alienated by its foreignness: 1) I want to show Americans how to appreciate the cuisine by way of the difference between American and Indian cultures. 2) I want to teach Americans to bring an American eye to Indian cooking but not to Americanize it. 3) I want Americans to learn to experiment with the food and make it their own. Then as Stephanie and I started cooking together.. we realised how many things we did in common and how much there was that could easily drive the other crazy. Below are the next set of conversations. " The difference in our perspectives means that we learn from one another. My desire as a French-trained cook is to “set” Indian cooking in the context of cooking technique because that is how I learned to cook French food. Suvir, however, wants to “set” the food as little as possible. Like Panditji, his cooking is driven by a love of “entertaining” the food. What is important to him is to be alive in his senses while he cooks, to honor the ingredients and the food. Although it oversimplifies things, I could describe the fundamental difference between us this way: as a westerner I ground myself in rules of cooking – that is, in the part of the experience that stays constant. Into the fabric of those rules I weave flexibility, variation and inspiration. Suvir grounds himself in the mutability of a moment. He doesn’t commit to an action until his hand is actually doing it: he measures spices by eye in the palm of his hand and adds just what feels right in the moment of seasoning, sometimes deciding right then to add nothing at all. So he weaves cooking technique into a medium of experimentation and inspiration. " And then there were the very similar basics in each of our ways... and here is what they are... " We find other more surprising connections in our work, too. For example: probably because of my training I hate compromise in cooking. As far as I’m concerned there often is a right way to cook something. (So, for example, if you are cooking a stew that depends for its flavor the meat being browned, the meat must be sauteed for as long as it takes in order that it get well caramelized all over; it probably needs to be cooked in several batches so that it truly browns rather than stewing in its juices. Shortcuts will rob the dish of its taste.) But I’m writing for an audience that doesn’t have time for long-winded recipes or preciousness. Home cooking is food that can be prepared relatively quickly and that also has an integrity to it. As I talked about this to Suvir he volunteered that simply made food is genuinely a tradition in India, too. In his country friends regularly drop by each others’ houses and no-one gives notice. Everybody expects food to be served. The food is always made to order and the cooking only begins when guests are announced at the gate. The food has to be quick and fresh, as Americans would like, too. So in this case Americans need for quick food is answered by Indian custom. (And we can steal a few cooking tips from Indian households as well: Indian pantries are well stocked, and spices are toasted and ground ahead to have on hand as are spice mixtures such as garam masala.) " Steven, this should answer your questions on what makes recipes so difficult to duplicate without having a very thorough understanding of the cooking process. While giving a recipe is easy, it is making it just as the chef who gave it to you, becomes the difficult process. Unless of course, you have trained at that chefs feet. What Simon had said of his own mother. Learning at the feet of his grandmother I believe. Once you have done that ..... you have studied how that particular person deals with those last minute subtle changes that are considered correct in a culture that thrives and lives in the moment and is steeped in the romance of the unknown and the unexpected. So, no one gives incomplete recipes or hides them. Secrets remain, as they are hard to be shared unless one can find time to learn one on one. It goes back to the very roots of a tradition, where the religion was also called simply a way of life an "Ism". While the semetic religions found comfort in having strict codes of functioning, Hinduism never had any one text like the Bible or Koran that people could look at for answers. We had many texts, and like with our food, each text had its own relevance for one special moment of time and for a particular mood. This is the very basic difference between the Indian psyche and that of the western mindset. I do hope, this gives you somewhat of a better understanding about where I am coming from in terms of my understanding of Indian cuisine.
  4. I think we have demystified the mystery behind cooking have we not? But as Anil said, only spending time in a kitchen would reveal all secrets. Cooks Indian or western, will have plenty of secrets till one can see them make the same dish day in and day out.. it is easy to give a recipe.. or detect ingredients. The mastering of that particular dish in a particular style will not happen till you study every step a particular chef or cook does. And Anil correctly points out the very many steps whereby even after knowing a recipe, secrets can remain because of other issues. Like where the spice was ground. To what fine gradation, in what proportion. Then what utensils are used. How much water is added, when it is added and when salt is added etc... Thus secrets will be endless and never exposed till we can document every move of a chef. And in these secrets also lies the pleasure that we get from food. For if it were not for the endless unknown possibilities where a cook can play with his muse, the ingredients, a true celebration of taste would not happen. And this discussion would be a non issue. The mysteries around food and life, make us feel the urge to debate, uncover, unmask or demystify.
  5. Yes Ceylon could be considered a part of the larger Indian sub-continent.
  6. And in Punjab.. they even add jaggery to vegetable pickles with oil and vinegar. Example the khatta meetha gobhi shalgam kaa achaar ( the sweet and sour cauliflower and radish pickle ). And then from UP, you have the mango pickle with no oil.. cured with salt and spices alone. I have a 40 plus year bottle in my NYC kitchen. It is heaven in each bite. It comes out only for very few guests. Those t hat have reached the level of enjoyment that these old pickles can give. I also love lasore kaa achaar from rajasthan. Not sure what those berries are called in English... does anyone know? In my refrigerator I also have Chicken Pickle, Pork Pickle and Shrimp Pickle. These run out very quickly. And Anil.. you always seem to be very detailed in your posts. What a treat for all of us. Thanks.
  7. Thanks for giving us sustenance.
  8. Simon, Go read the spice post you started.. you may already have begun reading. Just want to make sure I need to work now.. more later. Have a good weekend.
  9. She is coming to eat what I am testing.. so ususally my co-writer and I cook 6-8 dishes when we meet.. so she will get those... and I will make something for her the night before. We will have close to 15 dishes...and a dozen pickles and chutneys and maybe two variations of pooris. The meal may be all vegetarian I think.. I have not decided yet.. Since we have still not started testing the meat chapters. But for her it is more about seeing us cook and partake in the making of this book she will publish. I am sure she will be rather kind and humble and enjoy my more humble greenwich village lifestyle. The desserts may or may not have gold leaf. I am not sure what I will make.. Kulfi for sure... maybe a Sheer Khurma as one would eat at the end of Ramadan. That perhaps the French may not like but billions across India and also the middle east crave for all year long. It is divine. Every hour of cooking is well worth it at the end. And I may make one of my pound cakes.. American home style cakes that have caught the attention of some foodies in NYC. I will have 3-5 desserts. And yes some drinks. Lassis, maybe a palate cleanser to be had between courses and as a digestif. I make it with a mix of tropical fruits with black salt, toasted cumin and red chili added to the juices. Also a fruit punch with a secret ingredient that makes t he classic western fruit punch that much better. It will be revealed in the cook book. It is not Indian but goes perfectly with Indian food.
  10. Chili Peppers come from the Americas as also Potatoes and Tomatoes. All three are critical to Indian cooking today. But were not used till very recently in Indias history. Steven I would ask you to be ready to feel upset. I await more responses before writing more about the spices... I want to see what the others have to say.. we have a great set of people here.. it is thrilling to be a part of this.
  11. You are so good with words Simon. So would she know you as Simon Majumdar? May I mention our web chatting?
  12. And the lime chutney with eggs and parathas sound YUMMY!
  13. Simon, My editor is the person you mention. And she is the best. In fact in a week, I will be cooking my first meal for her. I am very excited to be working with her. I love her passion and brutal honesty and her amazing business savvy. She thinks like a consumer and I love that.
  14. Simon I agree with all you said. And you could not have said it better. IN the summer vacations from school in Delhi, I would wake up at 5 AM, only foolish child I knew who did that. I did so, as I wanted to watch every detail of what happened when my grandmother worshipped and how the statues were bathed, massaged, rubbed with oil, decorated with flowers, their clothes pressed and then the foods these gods were fed and then the birds getting the food to make us believe the gods had eaten them. At 7 AM a complex and multi-dish and multi-course breakfast would be ready. Something for everyone's taste and for those with broad tastes.. It would be a feast at 7 AM. At the feast at 7:00 AM, we were discussing what each child and adult craved for this summer morning. At 11:00 AM, a summer cocktail was served to quench our thirst and prepare our appetite for lunch. Panna ( the sour unripe mango punch) or Mango Phool or simply a Rooh Afza and soda. At 2:00 PM lunch was served... a feast for our young eyes and for our vacationing mind set. A feast that would be light and yet tasty, as my mother wanted us to get homework done. But the conversations revolved around food and what we wanted for dinner. At 4:00 PM, all the children came up with a snack or two that they wanted at 6:00 PM. Panditji would start preparing those. And the battalion of neighborhood kids would be ready for a next hour or two of eating. At 8:00 PM we would be given another appetite awakener or drink. Most often just chilled milk or lassi. At 9:00 PM we would sit for dinner and talk about the days meals. What we each liked and what we did not. Tell my father what he had missed. And then he would make suggestions for the next day's meals. From his memories of his own summer holidays. And then, in the summer we stayed up way after midnight, and we would often end up going to stalls around the streets to grad a small bite of an Anda Paratha. A paratha topped with eggs. A light and simple snack at midnight for those that wanted to chat and be up and enjoy a late night meeting of the minds and feast for the not so hungry stomach. So, yes, food is an obsession and one that is loved for more than just its ability to feed hunger. We entertain food. We study it, debate it and crave it.
  15. Steven my co-writer for my cookbook has worked with several well-respected and revered French chefs and American chefs. She was an editor with Cooks magazine. One of the better food magazines in my eye. She is a French trained chef and has worked with famous and not so famous French chefs. Lived in France and speaks French. She has translated the works of some famous French chefs including Alain Ducasse. She also believes that secrets exist and are often not revealed. In France, in India and in Egypt or wherever food is cooked and enjoyed. There are ingredients that are absent in recipe books as we see them. And those pinches of this and that.. can make all the difference. And yes that happens in all cooking. Well any chef can guess what ingredients go into a dish. It is in their proportion that lies the secret. Also, there is more meat and produce bias in western cooking. In Indian cooking, we thrive and live for playing and entertaining spices. Read, Entertain. Since, it is in the mastering of the spices full power, that a good chef can make a simple dish seem so much better than just any other chefs rendering of the same old dish. When I see entertain, I mean, to understand a spice, one has to understand at what temperature in oil, or ghee or what kind of oil, does a spice give out most of its essential oil. At what time of the frying should the other spice be added and what in one batch of spice is different from another to change your recipe just slightly. These are things one cannot share very easily in a cookbook as we see them written today. And certainly, it takes much experience, learning and entertaining of your ingredients before you get to that learning point. So, when I say secret recipes, or recipes passed down generationally, I mean, just that. Those little tricks done by the trained chef, that make a huge difference to the end product. Not guarding of an entire ingredient list. Indians will give you every recipe you want willingly. What you may never get is how they mastered the spices and how they used the spices differently in one home and differently in another. In my own cooking, as my co-writer watches me like a hawk, she sees me often do things that I pass off as trivial. But she makes me stop and documents those little silly details. As in... Example, a chef trained in the Mughal style of Indian cooking will grind garlic into a paste with the help of a few cumin seeds. This makes the raw flavor of garlic a little softer and yet leaves the sauce with the savory flavor you need from garlic. I have not read one Indian cookbook sharing that fact. And actually, not many Indian chefs know that subtle trick. There are many others that are common in kitchens. And I would love to have chefs you all can find, Indian and non-Indian, come to my home for dinner, and re-create the meal exactly as I made it. I will give the ingredient list as well. Believe me..... No one could duplicate the dish. Nor could I do that with someone else's. It is plain and simple ego wish-wash to believe our trained minds can create by taste what another creates. We cannot. We can make similar results happen. Will they be close to the one we tasted? Possible. Would every subtle nuance be the same? No. So, yes... secrets exist and make food interesting and lead us on that journey of discovery. If all foods could be so easy to prepare, that clean and precise recipes would make things happen, why would we glorify chefs and give them the ego ride they are on and we support? It is precisely in our knowledge of knowing that some have a way with food better than others that makes us rely on the prior. If it was as easy as duplicating another's work, we would have clones of each chef existing already. In India there is a saying called "Haath Kee Safayee". Which is close to saying that someone has a green thumb and some have a hand made for cooking. Maybe someone reading this that knows Hindi can do a better job translating it. Our romance with food, our indulgence in boards and chats and forums also relies on the food for thought brought out by these secrets and mysteries that prevail all food and cultures. In those mysteries is the romance of life and living. What is black and white is easy, but gets to be boring very quickly. And at least Indian food is based on the moment, inspiration, seasonality, mutability of a moment and personal prejudice. While one chef may like more cumin in one dish, another great chef would want much less cumin in the same dish. Another chef tasting the dish would detect cumin for sure, but would not know how much was added. Since, in toasting, grinding, coarsely or finely, or putting some at the end, in the beginning or raw will change the ultimate cumin experience in a dish. I hope I made some sense.
  16. Not all spices come from India. In fact.. there are some spices that today, seem like they must have always been Indian that do not come from India. The temprate zone also gave spices. Caraway is one. Bay laurel another. So would you guess as to what spices are Indian and what are non Indian spices? Anyone? Would be fun to see what we come up with.
  17. And about the cilantro-mint chutney This is a common condiment made across India. Indian restaurants do a very poor job at best of making it correct in texture. They do make it taste right though. I have had trouble with the chutneys being very watery and very runny. The color varies from a very bright green to almost too dark an emerald green. I dip the chutney in yogurt and detect food coloring 9.5 out of 10 times. And the same is true for the tamarind date chutney. For some reason, the owners and chefs feel the need to use coloring to finish the chutney. I know that many NYC chefs, across restaurants, use stems of scallion as a base for the mint cilantro chutney as it is cheaper than mint or cilantro and also available year round. In NYC it is a common condiment.
  18. Simon, Many thanks for your kind words. Clarkson Potter is my publisher. They do great cook books. Do you know of them? They are an imprint of Random House I believe. I should know this... sorry.
  19. I love Aloo Parathas... so where do you eat good ones? We Indians or those I know, prefer home made ones. They are overstuffed with the potato filling, tend to be crispier and more greasy and more flavorful. These are made in a skiller rather than the tandoor. But today, many restaurants are serving skillet made versions to replicate what home made stuffed parathas are meant to be. This is a refreshing change. But again, there are some restaurants, where you can find stuffed parathas made in the tandoor that are well stuffed and really amazing. But I understand very well, how difficult it is to make stuffed breads in the tandoor. Their weight can break the bread very easily.
  20. Simon thanks for the names of the companies. I had not heard of the first one. Pataks is being sold all over the US now. They are good. In the US, we are able to find Ahmeds pickles from Pakistan that are more home style ( to northern India ) and also Priya Pickles that are more authentic to southern style pickles. Pataks is a very consistent and attractive and clean alternative. Steven where I grew up, mostly in Delhi, it was considered rude to ask for pickles. They came out for parties and on rare afternoon and evening, my mother would let Panditji bring them out at our family meals. Like the French, in the larger family and friend circuit in Delhi, these were reserved for parties... large ones. But for intimate dinners, asking and feasting on pickles meant that the cook had not made you an inspired meal. Or that the salting was not to your taste. But then, there were those family dinners, made after a week of over indulgence in party foods, when simple khichree was prepared and for that meal, pickles of many different kinds were made. Mind you, I am speaking of my household, where pickles to this day, are taken very seriously. Like in most communities, it is left to an aunt with the most capable hands to make pickles for the larger family and friend unit. That one person makes in bulk and shares with all. It was my mother and Panditji our chef who were this point people for our extended family and friend circle. While us kids would get away eating pickles at any time and with any meals, the elders would follow the French decorum for the most part. There was a revolving set of jars in which at any given time 3-5 different kinds of pickles were being bathed in the sun. These were jars that had been filled with fresh seasonal pickles and were being cooked in the sun before being put away in dark places so they would preserve for at least a year. Pickling to Indians is as scientific a culinary tradition as one gets. It is one of the few times that you will see spices being measured. Ingredients being weighed and every detail being meticulously planned. Proportions are written in journals and have been passed down generationally through grandmothers and it is with their blessing that they are made. In fact, even though my grandmother never cooked, she would sit in her chair and instruct my mother and Panditji on what they already knew and had done for several years. But they indulged in her since it was felt her blessings would keep the preserved safe from mould. We have in India sweet, sour, hot, salty and sweet & sour pickles. In my cookbook (manuscript due to publisher in October), I will share many recipes. And certainly some of the lore. I remember one year, as an 8 year old I lived with my family in Nagpur, a city in Maharashtra, in western India. My mother was making eggplant pickle and my siblings and I made it our goal to fetch her tamarind from our own tree. So, we climbed the tree that was as old as time and as tall as we had seen in that area. In the summer sun, with blazing heat and against my mother wishes, we spent our days hanging and playing on the sturdy branches of this tree. Finding little ripe fruit but eating the unripe fruit since it was very sour and tasty. We each got sunstroke, almost died and were revived by good doctors and a caring mother who drenched us in ice. But what came a few weeks later, were little saplings of tamarind all over our yard. From the seeds we had been spitting as we ate the unripened fruit. All across the green and in beds were small little tamarind trees. It took months to get them weeded. But, the pickle was made with store bought tamarind. It was the tastiest eggplant pickle I have ever eaten. And for some reason, it was destined to be a one-time treat, as in our move back to Delhi, my mother who has never lost anything, was unable to find the diary she had started for these pickles she was learning from friends. They could not be mixed with the family recipes, so she had started a new diary. She is now trying to find the neighbor who had taught her this variation, and I hope we can find the recipe before my first book gets written. Coming back to Stevens eating of naan with the condiments, Steven, you can do whatever you want to with Indian food. We are very loose about rules. And then, some times we have many rules. I eat the condiments with Papadum. The crispy rice and lentil wafers. So, whatever meets you fancy, enjoy it. Indian restaurants in India often do not serve you papadum as they are served in NYC. It is more of a recent phenomenon. Maybe Anil can tell us about his experiences with restaurants in Bengal. In Bombay and Delhi, two places I have lived and spent time studying in detail, this is not the case. Breads are eaten with food and yes, if you have condiments on your plate, you can certainly enjoy t hem with the bread as well. IN my own kitchen in NYC, I always have jars of pickles that are being cured before they get put away in a dark corner, other jars that have not been put away cause I want to have another serving ... I often buy Pita bread and eat pickles and pita as a meal. This summer, I pickled over 30 pounds of habanero peppers alone. The hot pepper vendor in the Union Square farmers market asked me what made me buy so much hot pepper, and I said I pickle them. Week after week, I would come by and buy all their habaneros. These get stuffed with a mélange of spices and then get cured in oil. I made Mathris ( Indian style crackers made with semolina ) and stacked 2 dozens of these in plastic wrap and these were given as gifts for the holidays alongside jars of home made pickles. I found very nice "ugly tomatoes" in New Haven and so, I bought a huge amount, and today, I will make Andhra Style Tomato Chutney. I bought two dozen canning jars. And I am hoping I can fill them all. Pickling is a great tradition. And it is interesting how many pickling spices are common across cultures and continents. What changes though is how one cures them. In oil, water, oil, with salt alone or in a spice induced oil.
  21. Steven, I will work on the links.. by doing a search.. and will write something myself if I cannot succeed in findiing a good link. Water changes everything, as does the flour and certainly t he humidity. Breads change a lot very easily from kitchen to kitchen in nyc even made by the same person. At least the Indian breads.
  22. anil, You have lived in very diverse places. No wonder you find it easy to speak with such clarity and passion about this food. Do you work in the food industry?
  23. Naans are made rather poorly in most of the better restaurants in NYC. I will eat on 6th Street since I respect your opinion. The best Naan I have eaten outside of India, was at Bukhara Grill in NYC. I was amazed at how good it was and also how authentic it was in shape, size and texture to what is served in similar restaurants in New Delhi. The Naan there the other night took me back to Moti Mahal, a neighborhood restaurant in New Delhi that was one of the first restaurants our city had and has served great meaks for over 50 years to Delhites. What about the other breads? The three little condiments are not always served at all Indian restaurants in India. IN fact, they are served depending on what you order. The onions are not typical of the North Indian food that one normally sees on the menus. In the north, onions cured in vinegar are served. These are small pearl onions and they are delicious. Again, the best version comes from Moti Mahal. And they are credited across the board for having given that to the northerners.
  24. What do you all think of Chapatis, Naans, Parathas, Kulchas, Bhaturas, Rotis and other Indian breads? Which ones seem more special than the others? Where do you find your favorite Indian bread? And what has made it better than other places? Which lend themselves better to restaurant menus? What shortcomings do you experience? How would you like to see them change, if at all? Do you crave for them?
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