Sunday, February 22, 2009

Everything Is Just Ducky

My thunder has been stolen.

Journalistic thunder that is. After I was about half finished writing up a post about the notorious "Poop" milk, Laurel announced that her new blog post was finished. "Can I have the picture you downloaded from the camera that has the Poop on it?", she asked. I vehemently protested. "But I'm almost done writing about it!". With irrefutable logic, she replied "Well, I took the picture, and my post is finished". Grudgingly, I looked over her post, searching in vain for obvious flaws that would render mine the superior candidate for publication. To my profound chagrin, I had to admit that hers was better than mine. I had to let it go. I logged onto her laptop from mine and copied the picture over. "It's yours", I said. "Go. Be free...". I will console myself with another observation of questionable signage. The store at the top of our street specializes in toilet fixtures of the seating variety. The company name proudly proclaimed on the front of the building? "Hindware".

Recently we started to film a series of kitchen escapades with our friend Chitra. She generously had us into her home with all our camera and audio gear for nearly four hours while she demonstrated a wee bit of Keralan kitchen magic for us. Chitra showed us how to extract coconut milk from freshly shredded coconut (from their own farm, no less), make the wonderful pidi dumplings from rice flour and cumin, and lastly, how to make her amazing duck dish, which is a variation on a traditional Kerala chicken roast. She's a great cook, and is imbued with a ton of traditional knowledge. She is highly unusual in that she herself only eats pure vegetarian cuisine, but cooks all manner of meat and fish dishes for her family. This she accomplishes without tasting the dishes that she is making, which is quite a feat. She's developed an intuitive way of working in the kitchen that's quite astonishing. Imagine Stevie Wonder making a living as a photographer, and you begin to get an idea of the degree of difficulty....

First off there was the coconut milk. A lot of Keralan dishes have coconut milk, because we're in "the land of coconuts" after all. We had heard vague rumblings in some of the more authentic cookbooks about "first", "second", and "third" extractions of milk, but had never actually been walked through the procedure. She started off by cracking a coconut, and using the manual shredder to extract all the meat. The shredded coconut goes into a special blender called a "mixie". This is worth talking about a bit. A mixie is absolutely integral if you're going seriously pursue Indian cooking. It's a hybrid of a blender, food processor, and coffee grinder, and it allows you to grind both wet or dry things with ease. It's essential for making coconut milk, chutneys, masala spice mixes, gravies, and so on. Chitra added some water to the coconut, spun it for a bit in the mixie, and then strained it to get the thick and rich "first" extraction. This is usually added to dishes later in the cooking. Then back into the mixie with more water for the second extraction, and so on. The last extraction is very watery compared to the first. You could do this at home with a blender, but the mixie rules! We have a small mixie at home in Vancouver, but it was at this point that we resolved to go out and get one for the duration of our stay in India. Having one dramatically increases your options when it comes to food prep!

Next came the making of the pidi, which were rolled from a simple dough made with coconut milk, rice flour, cumin and salt. While the dough is still warm, you just pinch of a little bit, and roll it between your palms to yield a small football shaped dumpling. These are then gently simmered for a time in the thin coconut milk. Then it was on to the duck! Marinated overnight in coriander and red chili (amongst other things), the duck is then sauteed until it is browned. Onions and shallots are fried, and then blended in the mixie to make a fabulously rich and spicy gravy with the coconut milk. I'm leaving out a few things here, because it is Chitra's secret recipe after all! A short time of pressure cooking to tenderize the duck to a state of falling off the bone, and there it is. Chitra served it with the pidi in its own bowl, and the duck and gravy in another, so you can mix and match as you like. She also served up a fabulous fresh green mango pickle that was just green mangoes, salt, and that funky smelling but essential seasoning, asafoetida. After three hours of holding a camera, and checking sound and light levels, I was really ready to tuck in and eat . How do I put this across in mere words? It was really, really good! Thanks for a great day, Chitra! Hopefully the first of many.

And as for my wife.... all is forgiven.

1 comment:

Murray A said...

Nice to know the POOP-wars have ended!