Sunday, February 28, 2016

My experiments with turning `desi'.

A few days ago, HRH the Queen of Kutch told me that I was too much of an `Angrez`. I assumed that the national – anti national – sedition debates were troubling her. So I asked what she meant by the fact that she thought I was too much of an `Angrez`? 

I was witheringly told that my likes and dislikes, such as, dislike for Bollywood movies, Bollywood music, Bhel Puri for dinner and so on and so forth and my likes for all things Western, all made me an `Angrez’.

I was hurt, I was stung. I did not consider myself an `Angrez’ at all. I am an Indian, I love my country, and I will never leave India. I wondered how I could correct this impression that she had. Then, one evening while watching debates on patriotism on TV, during an advertisement break, I had my answer.

Baba Elaichi. This was something that would make me a `Desi’ like all of us. Akshay Kumar endorses the product, and, I like Akshay Kumar. Obviously, products like Baba Elaichi such as Pan Parag, Rajnigandha et al are something that sort of really signify and indicate our Indianness, and these products have a huge market. People are forever launching spoonful’s into their mouths. I decided to buy a tin of Baba Elaichi. What could be better to prove my Indianness?

There was one minor problem. This being the first time in my 52 years that I was buying such a product, I had no idea as to what kind of store does one go to? A street side paanwalla, or a general store or a supermarket? I had no clue. HRH the Queen of Kutch to the rescue once again. Rescue or sheer determination to make me a `desi’ I do not know.

While buying some Samosa’s from the neighbourhood shop she asked the young Sardar at the counter where she could get Baba Elaichi? He beamed and said that he stocked Baba Elaichi. So along with the Samosa, a tin of Baba Elaichi was carried home.

I was overjoyed. I would be `desi’ again.

You may well be wondering what Baba Elaichi is. To answer this, I reproduce from their fascinating website. I offer no comments on the contents.

“BABA Elaichi is a refreshing, exotic and aromatic mouth freshener coated with silver. Blended with the finest seeds from the green cardamom pods, saffron and 999 grade silver, BABA Elaichi is both natural and refreshing mouth freshener whose effects lasts all day. The silver used to coat the cardamom is processed by using German machines making it pure and refined.

Elaichi has been used for generations in India. Every household in India uses cardamom is some manner throughout the day. BABA Elaichi has been at the forefront when it comes to providing the people with premium quality silver coated cardamom. Being a natural product, BABA Elaichi also improves blood circulation, improving digestion, releasing stomach cramps. Being a detoxifying agent, Elaichi also helps in cleaning the body and enhancing appetite.”

This was good. Not only would I become `desi’ but I would have the added advantage of improving my health in ways I could never imagine.
I looked at the little tin. It was certainly well packaged. The precious Elaichi was packed in an airtight little tin with a lid like a beer can. You got a plastic lid to fit onto the tin once the metal lid was removed. The tin itself was, shall we say, discrete; it would fit very snugly into a Safari Suit pocket.

It was time for the taste test. I opened the tin. I could see the promised cardamom seeds covered with silver, and, flecks of Saffron, which as you know is the most expensive spice in the world, more expensive than Gold. Wow, this was going to be really good.

Brimming with self-confidence I popped a few seeds into my mouth. Good grief! It was rather strange. Deeply, truly and insanely synthetic, with the strong taste of Saccharine mixed. It tasted like what I would imagine, drinking a spoon of perfume. It really was something, and something not really pleasant. This was certainly not my cup of tea. It was ghastly!

So, at the end of the day, I am Rs 120 poorer and I am not a `desi’. I hope that is not seditious

Monday, February 22, 2016

Spaghetti & Meatballs

It has been almost a year since the `Beef Ban’ for which we have to thank both President Pranab Mukherjee and Chief Minister Devendra Fa(t)dnavis.

Initially, there was no beef [or what is regarded as beef in India] available. Restaurants took it off their menus. There was plenty of turmoil, pro and anti-ban voices were strident. In other words, the same story – screaming, shouting, debates ad nauseam on TV every evening.

You may want to read an earlier blog I had written when the beef ban came into force.

Personally speaking, we did miss some of the beef dishes when we ate out. I did, on occasion, miss buying some tenderloin and making a Chinese stir fry. I suddenly developed pangs for the Tenderloin Burger they served at The Table; it was excellent, by far the best burger in Mumbai, as also the most expensive, by far. I did miss buying beef mince and making up a hearty Bolognaise.

As is almost always the case, things have settled down. Tenderloin is back in the stores (albeit from a Water Buffalo) as is beef mince. Many restaurants have reintroduced beef dishes. Life is not so bad after all.

A few weeks ago I was at our local `cold storage’ which is actually an Indian euphemism for a butchers shop when I saw that they were selling beef, veal, pork and chicken mince. I was most intrigued. Veal mince is certainly unusual. I am unsure if I was merely inobservant earlier and never noticed veal mince on sale, or, if this beef ban has in some way resulted in the greater availability of veal. I know many of you would be appalled at the fact that veal is being sold, and would be up in arms as veal has a terrible reputation as the animals are not treated humanely. Honestly speaking, if being treated humanely is of concern to you, you should not be in India. Forget animals, I am unsure if humans are treated humanely. Have you seen signs in elevators saying ‘servants not allowed’? But that is the subject of another blog.     

Seeing veal mince on sale got me thinking. I remembered seeing an article and accompanying recipe in the Bon Appetit magazine for the `Best Spaghetti & Meatballs’. I recalled that the recipe required veal mince. I set about looking thru the index of every Bon Appetit I had at home and after poring thru many back issues found what I was looking for. Before you ask, yes I did do an internet search on the Bon Appetit site, but could not find what I was looking for.

Spaghetti and meatballs – a classic of American Italian comfort food. If I recall, Archie comics, which we all read as kids, had a character – either Big Moose or Jughead – who devoured platefuls of the stuff. Suddenly, probably a good 40 to 45 years after I must have read Archie comics, seeing veal mince on sale at a butcher in Bandra, I wanted to make Spaghetti and Meatballs.  

Armed with the recipe from Bon Appetit, which promised the softest, moistest, tastiest meatballs we set about making them. We have made them twice. In the past 3 weeks. They are excellent. The recipe is good, it works and the results are everything the recipe promises.

It is a fairly straightforward recipe. 250 grams each of veal and pork mince, some grated Parmesan, a couple of eggs, some breadcrumbs and some flavouring by way of herbs and spice. The first time we used Parsley. The second time we used Garlic, Fennel [Sauf] and dried Italian Pepperoncino. Brilliant.  Once the meatballs were made you could have fried them and added them to the Tomato sauce, or, simmered them in the Tomato sauce or fried, baked the meatballs and poured the Tomato sauce on top. We decided to simmer the meatballs in a Tomato sauce. The result was far better than I expected.

We were both rather pleased with our handiwork. This dish is certainly going to be something we will make more often. The 45 year wait was well worth it. Big Moose or Jughead were spot on. This is a really good dish. 

Spaghetti & Meatballs