Rajasthan: a Northern state of India that I am not too familar with. Rajasthan evokes images of dry dusty deserts, harsh living conditions, camels and oases, and rugged beautiful people whose colorful and vivid way of dressing belies the difficulty of their lives. I have never visited Rajasthan but my parents were there last year for a conference. My dad, an avid photographer, sent me some incredible pictures from their trip. Here is one of them...
Maharashtra is home to a number of migrants from Rajasthan- Marwaris who are traditionally recognized as being astute businessmen and tradespeople. For instance, the master carpenter who my parents relied on for every project big and small was from Rajasthan (but in addition to speaking his native language, he spoke Marathi perfectly...not just any Marathi but perfect Kolhapuri Marathi). But the only typical Rajasthani food I have tasted was at a Marwadi wedding. It was a sumptuous lunch, and I will never forget being served daal-baati-churma with an entire katori (bowl) of ghee on the thali for dipping the baati into.
The recipes for this meal came from a book that I found in our local library. It is called Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India written by a restauranteur from California named Lachu Moorjani. The book is organized into a dozen or so menus, feasts from different (predominantly the Northern) states of India. The Feast from Rajasthan features bharwan mirch pakora (stuffed pepper fritters) as the appetizer, sufed maas (white meat curry) as the entree, achari baingan (eggplant with pickling spices) as the side dish, Rajasthani pulav (pilaf) as the rice dish, batia roti (flatbread stuffed with salt, cilantro and spices) as the bread, and rasgulla (cheese balls in syrup) as the dessert. Quite an ambitious menu it is, and I chose just two dishes, the rice and the eggplant, for our little mini-feast.
The eggplant dish calls for a tomato-onion filling that is sauteed with a delicious medley of pickling spices. This tangy and spicy filling is stuffed into long Chinese eggplants and they are pan-fried to melting tenderness. The rice is pretty much a standard pulao, but is cooked in stock to make it more flavorful, and with aromatic whole spices. The spices used in the two dishes are completely different, complementing each other and in cooking both these dishes, I made use of almost all of the whole spices in my pantry! This meal perfumed my home with such a wonderful aroma, one that managed to pierce through even to me, with my current state of near-anosmia.
(Eggplant with pickling spices)
4 long slender (Chinese/Japanese) eggplants
2 T oil
2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 t nigella seeds
½ t fenugreek seeds
1 medium onion, diced fine
1 t ginger-garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine (I used canned whole tomatoes)
1 t turmeric
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 t coriander powder
salt to taste
1. Start by making the filling. Heat the oil and add the four seeds. Saute them for a few seconds to temper the oil.
2. Add the onion and fry it on medium heat until soft.
3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients for the filling. Cook uncovered on low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is almost dry. Let it cool a little.
4. Prepare the eggplant by cutting off the stem ends. Slice the eggplant lengthwise leaving it still attached at the stem end.
5. Divide the filling into equal portions and stuff the eggplants gently.
6. In a wide pan, heat the oil. Place the eggplants and cook them on low heat, turning every few minutes, until the eggplants are cooked through and are wonderfully tender. I covered the pan in the last 5 minutes of cooking to get them completely cooked.
(adapted from "Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India" by Lachu Moorjani; serves about 3)
1 C Basmati (or other long-grained) rice
2 C vegetable stock
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cardamon pods, crushed
1 t oil
salt to taste
1. Heat the oil. Saute the onion and the whole spices until the onion is slightly browned.
2. Add the rice and saute for a minute.
3. Stir in the stock, salt (if needed) and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer until the rice is tender.
5. Fluff with a fork and serve. Remove the whole spices before eating.
Verdict: What a wonderful meal this was! I love stuffed eggplants from all regions of India, but this dish was very different from the mostly Western and Southern style recipes that I normally use. I am thrilled to have another stuffed eggplant dish that I enjoy. It was my first time cooking with these long eggplants, and their sweetness was a wonderful contrast to the spicy pickled filling. This dish is finger-licking good in that irresistible way pickled vegetables are. As much as I loved the eggplant with the fragrant rice, I loved it even more with roti. Next time, I might make a complete Rajasthan-inspired meal with this eggplant, rotis, rice and Rajasthani kadhi.
So it turns out that these days I have a new obsession on my hands- I have been bitten by the knitting bug. Cathy taught me to knit last year and left me with a ton of knitting supplies, including yarn and a superb book. Now that summer is here and I have more time on my hands, I decided to give it a go. I am hooked (no pun intended)! Knitting is so therapeutic. At one point, I turned to V and said, "Isn't it magical and miraculous how two thin sticks can turn a ball of thread into all kinds of stuff?". He looked at me warily and I am sure he thought it was just the antihistamines talking :D
Here is my first complete project- a little paw print washcloth; I found a free pattern online here. I know this is the sort of thing that people make when they are eight and a half years old, when they just start to knit, but I am excited all the same. I couldn't stop saying "whee" as I completed each line without dropping a stitch.
Well, I have way more enthusiasm than talent when it comes to knitting, so there is no danger that this food blog will turn into a knitting blog, I assure you. But tell me, does anyone have ideas for a simple and fun beginner project?
Enjoy your Sunday, everyone.