Wednesday, 21 September 2016

My love for cooking - Assembly Jobs

I have been unsuccessful at cooking as a kid, and young adult and only after getting married did I manage to launch into making food that usually resulted in some edible success.

But for me the joy is in the journey, the process where I visualize how I am gonna go about the dish (as much as a vegetarian can make) and then start doing it. The result is usually very far from what I had initially planned to do but all the sweat, elbow grease and passion result in making it far far more tastier than it actually is.

I like mostly making North Indian curries - the Chhole, Rajma, Dal makhni etc. but what I absolutely love making are the dishes that involve “assembly jobs”.

These are dishes where you prepare individual ingredients and then put them together and do a final flourish or present them assembled.  Examples of the ones which I like to do are the Biryani, the lasagna, the Bhel Puri,  Trifle Pudding etc.

Yes you can begin with the jokes on the biryani for vegetarians being an oxymoron and an apology. But I actually quite like it.

I stayed as a paying guest at the home of one of the best cooks I have ever known, who when she cooked would produce some of the best finger licking, lip smacking dishes. Even though I was a vegetarian and her speciality was non-veg she would make some fabulous dishes in veg too. Mrs. PR was blessed in that she could do any dish, and it would come out with far higher levels of taste, flavour and sophistication than any luxury hotel or michelin chef could produce.  Her assembly jobs were the best.

Even though she was a catholic she knew how to make a biryani as well as those done by the experts. On one occasion she had to host a lot of people and she decided to make a biryani and I know the elaborate process had been done the day before. The next evening she served the Biryani in a large serving tray where the pieces of meat and other accompaniments were laid out along with the steaming layers of rice and other garnishing spread around it. She sprinkled more fried onions and fried dry fruits and it was ready to be eaten. Just a glimpse of it was enough to suggest this was a triumph, as the folks who ate this attested to when they sighed in deep delight. She had made a veg curry for me, and asked me to try only the rice from the Biryani. And its not an overclaim, but even the rice by itself was so fragrant it didn't need any accompaniment.  She also used to make veg lasagna (and baked veg) for me - and her triumph was the trifle pudding.

I also fell in love with assembly jobs when I watched them on television. My favorite being the trifle puddings done by Nigella Lawson - she’s shown different versions including a chocolate one, and they are very inspiring.

In Mangalore and Udipi they prepare versions of sundaes that resemble an assembly job done - and this needs a separate post by itself. 

Anyways my wife banned me from preparing the trifles as they are super - super super fattening and creamy and just too sugary.  I prepared this once and she threw a fit. It was super delicious but she thought even merely tasting one spoon could result in a sugar shock. 

Anyways, I like to do this in the simplest manner possible. I usually do not prepare the Jelly and instead use Jam or Marmalade depending on what flavor I am going for.  Sponge cake is best sourced from your local baker and don't go for the packaged ones they are terrible. I spread generous helpings of jam on the slices of cake, and then lay them as the foundation. I realized trifle is better done in glasses or individual portion bowls if you have them at home. On this cake-jam base I pour a few spoons of the juice that goes best with the flavor (e.g orange if you’d used marmalade).  Then spread the fresh fruits, dry fruits and any other garnishing like cherries. You can pour custard and in India you get the flavored custard powders (usually corn flour with color and flavor) and make a flavored custard based on this. I realized that the best way to do this was sometimes to just add the ice cream on top of this and then put this in the fridge till you serve it. (or add this before you serve it).  I don't add whipping cream to this.

Trifle should be done casually and conveniently and there’s no need to be a stickler to the formula.  One of the best ones I had eaten ages ago was at the Centaur hotel (before the bombing) where they had done a fab version of this. 

The veg biryani is a really simple affair, and you essentially can do this with any left over curries and pour over cooked rice and some garnishings. This is the simplest formula.  In Dubai one of the best-selling dishes the regular restaurant we used to order food from was the biryani, where he would simply ladle the tin foil container with the curry and pour rice over it and then cover this, placing them on a hot corner or under the lamp. By the time it reached us the rice had absorbed all the flavor.  Malaika Arora on the Farah Khan show had mentioned that sometimes she would put all the leftovers in one bowl, throw in a bit of ghee and heat this and it would taste great.

I sometimes go the full hog and prepare the curry myself, along with the rice. The fun comes in organizing the garnishing where I like putting in potato wedges, deep fried onions or sometimes lightly fried vegetables, mint leaves, or even blanched spinach leaves finely chopped etc. etc. The possibilities and combinations are amazing, and at the end as people bite into this they should get various flavors and textures.

Lasagna is my favorite dish and very very very far from what is done in Italy. I liked Nigella’s version of this where she’d prepared this from Mexican tortillas and done a good assembly job. So I do something similar with chapatis and put in the veg curry, and once this is assembled (can be rolls or simple layers), then do one round of heating with the tomato sauce, and for variety also with a green pesto sauce, and then top this up with the white sauce and optionally cheese and bread crumbs topping.  its bloody rich and enough calories for the entire week in one sitting. But since we do this using all wholegrain and no refined flour etc. we think its healthier.

The Undhiyo is another fabulous FABULOUS assembly job DISH - and I consider it the queen of assembly dishes, its lipsmackingly great and a tasty meal in itself.

The thing about assembly jobs - the ones I described above, is the sheer effort that goes into it and this can be frustratingly long, especially if there folks hungrily waiting for it.  But once its prepared it gets demolished so fast - the result is worth it.

And while I like the end goal, its the journey that I also like the most… :-))