Today’s story joins hands with Lakshmi’s request (made sometime in October last year!) to narrate how alert, attentive, observant and aware I am of my activites in the kitchen when
burning cooking food and maybe you could learn a few tricks of the trade from a true professional by the end of this saga. When I first started cooking as a student, I could count the number of times I had cooked during the month by just looking at my hands….by the number of burn marks or cuts. It was inevitable and I had one everytime I cooked.
For the absent-minded person that I am, it amazes me that I have not encountered any major kitchen disaster like hot oil spills or pressure cooker bursting (this happened to my mother once and she escaped without a scratch) Yet! Small ones do keep happening every now and then.
Back in school days, one episode stands out. My roommates and I had invited a bunch of seniors for dinner that day. I came up with the idea of making masala dosa with chutney and sambhar. Sounded great, but dosa was an unknown territory for all of us. I picked up the samaithu paar book(the only cookbook in the cabinet) and hurriedly looked for dosai. Rice and Udad dal…how difficult can that be? We also had a blender now. The soaking time said ‘overnight’ and we had just about 4-5 hours. We could soak the rice and dal, go grocery shopping, make the chutney and sambhar and then grind the dosa batter. That should be enough time I thought. Then a brilliant idea struck yours truly. I boiled water in a huge pot, switched off the flame, added 18 cups of raw rice into it and covered it with a lid. Ah there! That ought to speed up the soaking process. Off we went to the store to buy huge bags of potatoes and onions for the masala filling. At the back of my mind, I could not help feeling pleased and proud of myself. ‘Next time,’ I said to myself ‘when I talk to amma, I have give her this handy tip!’.
2 hours later. My roomies had their hands full preparing the accompaniments and I opened the lid to see how well the rice was soaked. Horror of horrors! Half cooked rice had filled up to the brim, looking for space to grow even more! Now what? N was quick to recover. She ran to the Indian store to get Dosa mix and saved the day. I learnt my lesson that day. I stick to what the elders and cookbooks say with traditional recipes and never try anything new when I have guests over. BTW, we managed to finish the rice over the next week and also successfully made dosais the following week.
To go with the dosais I usually make Maheshwari’s Hotel sambhar and my SIL, Priya’s Chettinadu chutney. Here’s her recipe copy pasted right out of the email she sent me:
Onions-2 (medium sized)
Tomato-2 (if sour or 3 if not sour)
chana dal-2 teaspoons
red and green chillies taken in equal quantities according to taste
salt to taste
Take 2 teaspoons of oil and fry the chana dal to golden brown and then add the onions once the onions become transparent add the tomatoes and the chillies and fry them all till soft and done. Then cool them and add salt and grind them into a fine paste in the mixie and season with mustard seeds and curry leaves.
My friend Ranjini gave a quick and easy recipe for this chutney that I make quite often too. It has a few extra ingredients, but just as simple and delicious:
Onions – 1 medium
Tomato – 2 medium
Ginger – ½ cm piece
Chana dal – 3 tsp
Udad dal – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1/ 2tsp
Turmeric – a pinch
Coriander/cilantro – 1 tbsp chopped
Mint leaves – 1 tbsp chopped (optional)
Red chillies – 1
Green chilli – 1
Heat up 2 tsp of oil and add mustard seeds, red chilli, udad and chana dal. Once the dals brown add onion and cook. Then add rest of the ingredients and cook until the tomatoes are soft and cooked. Grind everything with little water with required amount of salt. YUM!