south indian food notes

Having settled down a bit from my trip to Bangalore, I have some notes, things I wanted to remember.  It wasn't a food adventure, but I did get to taste enough to get a good sense of southern Indian food.  And, it was amazing.  I had one chicken dish and one merguez appetizer and that's it for meat for two weeks.  I never yearned for meat though, too satisfying.  Given that I was there with a specific purpose that was not pleasure, I was dedicated, above all else, to staying healthy, so very little produce either.  Still, not disappointed at all.

1. Dal.  Pretty much any bean and sauce dish eaten with flatbread.  I was astounded at the diversity of legumes used for dal preparations: moong, urad/black gram, lentil, etc.  My favorite was dal mahkani which I actually made as my first dish to my family once home (made from urad dal and kidney beans).  I was pretty proud of it and it wasn't hard.  I used Sanjeev Kapoor's prep.

2. Authoritative sources of Indian cooking.  YouTube is a bitch.  So much good information, so much noise.  While in India, many of my acquaintances spoke highly of Sanjeev Kapoor, they think he's a god.  So, I've used a few of his recipes and have not been disappointed yet.  This is no small finding.  He has a chain of restaurants in the south called The Yellow Chilli.  I went once and it was decadent, simple food but extraordinary buffet. So check out Sanjeev Kapoor's YouTube channel and a website, equally good, is Vah Reh Vah for recipes/vids, etc. 

3. Texture.  Some time back, I fell in love with a pressure cooker for cooking beans.  Soaked or not, a pressure cooker cooks beans to a doneness I've never experienced.  Canned legumes are ok, but they are still al dente.  The legume consistency in a dal is, in pressure cooker time, a few minutes beyond the can.  In order for the bean to bean to become one with the sauce, it has to be beyond al dente but not disintegrating.  It takes a little practice, every bean is different, but getting it right is the difference between eating a firm legume in a rich sauce/soup versus a silky smooth legume perfectly incorporated into the surroundings.  I now strive to cook my beans perfectly before they go into the final preparation.

4. Breads.  Holy shit is there no consensus!  Paratha, kulcha, roti, chapathi, naan, puri, poori, etc.  It was shocking to hear how few people were able to describe the differences in the broad classes of these breads.  Paratha and kulcha were my favorite of the trip, layered essentially, something like a croissant lamination but unleavened with a leaner dough and cooked on a stovetop.  I've been able to parlay discussions with the locals into improved chapathi skills and I'm hunting down authoritative sources for an Indian bread book.  For the record, I prefer my chapathi super thin but perfectly separated into two layers on cooking on the stove top, an ideal I'm approaching with greater consistency by the day.

5. King Fisher.  India - move along, there's more to life than King Fisher beer!  If I didn't have @ArborBrewIndia on occasion 10 min walk from my hotel - I'd never have had a good beer during my visit.

6. Dosa.  The pancake made from a batter derived from finely ground and fermented rice and lentils was a centerpiece of my breakfasts.  Sometimes I'd have masala dosa, seasoned potatoes wrapped in the dosa or sometimes I'd have it plain and used it to dip in my sambhar.  The non-sweet breakfasts were wonderful and satisfying.  The sambhar, a soup of tamarind, vegetables and toor dal was unique every morning.  It was perfect for dipping the dosa.  

7. My plans? 2015 will have me searching YouTube for dals, breads, sambhar recipes, chutney preps and lassi recipes.  We're lucky in Columbus, all the ingredients, markets and resources are here to make great authentic Indian cuisine.

 Dal mahkani made a few nights after I got back from urad dal and kidney beans.

Chapathi for the meal. 

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