Wednesday 16 June 2010

Food rambling ......Pasta Furious in a fruitless week

Going off gallivanting for the weekend is very nice but it was does have its disadvantages in Rayagada, namely no Sunday morning market trip, and therefore no fruit, no fish and with vegetables limited to those of the traveling sabzi-walla. So meals wise the weekend following a trip away tends to be a store cupboard week. I thought I would post some of my standby meals for these occasions which need very little in the way of ingredients but still sustain a body.

(1) Tomato pastaTomata pasta

I can't find decent pasta in Rayagada. But my local grocery store does sell "Maggi" noodles, a 2 min boil and they are done. I'm not quite sinking to the low of pot noodles here but not far of. However, the secret is not to fling out the ground spices that come in a sealed foil square. These make a quite passable stock for a number of dishes. For this one, it is so simple,

Ingredients for 1 portion

2 tomatoes
1 small onion
green chilli
a pinch of fennel seeds
salt and pepper
half teaspoonful sugar - all according too your own taste levels
1 cup of water along with one teaspoonful of the aforementioned silver foiled spices.

Put all these in a blender for a minute or so then transfer to a pan, add the noodles. I use one half of one cake of Maggi noodles for one person. As the sauce heats up, the noodles cook, and the sauce reduces. Result is one very tasty tomato pasta!

Variations on this theme

Well they are endless really...

other veg if you have them
if you are so lucky fresh herbs such as coriander leaves
a few nuts eg cashew, walnut or peanuts, pieces of cooked chicken, fish, flakes of tuna etc etc
Also, forget the noodles, use rice. Cook the rice in the sauce and it is almost a tomato risotto!

What I would do if the supply of tomatoes ever dried up here doesn't bear thinking about!

(2) Pumpkin risotto Pumpkin Risotto

I've never been a great eater of squashes at home except butternut, which is nice roasted or as soup - but no butternut squashes here. When I lived in the USA I was introduced to pumpkin, mainly as pumpkin pie, which I can easily leave. But here one can, in season, buy whole pumpkins. The advantage is that they keep well. I've been told 2-3 months, although I have not ever had one that long. The market traders usually sell them by the slice, but they will happily negotiate a price for a whole one, usually by weight, I've paid around 20 rupees a kilo here. A 3 kg one does 6 portions so best if you can freeze some, else you'll be eating pumpkin all week. Once open be wary of it drying out in the fridge. This is a really simple recipe.

Ingredients for 2 portions

1/4 of 3-4Kg pumpkin
1 onion finely chopped
salt and pepper
small amount of butter
1/2 cup of rice

Slice and dice the pumpkin. Boil the pumpkin until soft. Mash with a little butter, Add finely chopped onion, Season to taste. Don't over mash it, leave some texture. At the same time cook the rice. I add the spices from the noodles to the water to cook the rice in a stock. Drain any excess liquid from the rice and add the mashed pumpkin over a low heat until well mixed.

Now I know this isn't true risotto, no arborio rice, but it makes a passable attempt, especially if you are getting fed up with Indian spices and are curried out. Even the thought of parmesan cheese at this point makes me envious of those of you living in cities or with access to Delhi delis! Just add whatever cheese you have, grated or chopped, into the mix as you stir in the pumpkin mash.

(3) Tomato khajura

Basically a similar approach to the tomato sauce in (1) above but change the spices to cinnamon, ginger and garlic for the sauce and add chopped dates. This sauce needs to cook a bit longer until the dates are softened and their flavour imparted to the sauce. I make it quite a bit thicker than the tomato sauce and I like it with butter mashed potatoes - have you ever noticed just how nice Indian potatoes are? Very tasty. Don't just use them in curries or aloo ghobi like they do locally, boil and puree/mash with butter/milk or mayonaisse, if you have it,  or make stovies for a very satisfying meal. I usually serve this tomato khajura with mashed potatoes and chicken stew for a real feast.

And speaking of chicken......

 (4) Chicken soup Chicken Noodle Soup

Not really a store cupboard recipe but since I have recently found a good chicken seller only 15 minutes walk from my house I have been experimenting with chicken dishes.

First a bit about Indian butchers, their shops/ stalls don't look much at all. Usually a tin roof held up by wooden pole supports, and a corrugated iron wall to keep the wind out. There is a table/stall of metal and a old fashioned wooden butchers block. If there is no one there you'd never think it was a shop never mind a butchers. After weeks of looking I spotted a man locally walking with a large bag full of very fresh looking chicken carcasses. I tracked him to eventually find his shop of one of the side roads of the main road onto town.

Now typically Indian butchers chop up chicken into bite size pieces, innards and all. First I am glad to my chicken seller has already killed and plucked the chicken. So I don't have to do that:) Phew! Chicken currently costs 110 rupees per kilo. My chicken seller will also skin the chicken for the grand amount of 20 rupees more per kilo - fast money for him and cheap enough for me to pay up. Here at least the chicken is weighed almost whole, usually one bird is chopped in two then weighed - I'm normally buying about a kilo for me which means I get about a half a chicken or the breast and a bit of leg, all depending on how well fed the chicken was when alive. From this I can get 2 portions of soup and 2-3 portions of chicken stew depending on what you eat with it and how big your appetite is. Good value.

I hear lots of folk complain about the bite size pieces having bones in them, and that puts them off cooking or eating it. Well here is what I do. First, although I am happy my chicken seller is OK, and fingers crossed I've had no gastric upsets, I make sure I come straight home with my bag of chicken. I make time immediately to wash it and to separate out the truly bony bits from the unboned or not so bony bits. The not so bony bits I set aside for curries, stews etc. The bony bits I put into a pan with water, some onion and some seasoning and bring to the boil and simmer until all the meat has fallen of the bones. I then strain the bones away. What is left is a nice, strong chicken stock usually with quite a bit of chicken meat in it. Add the aforementioned Maggi noodles and reheat, et viola chicken noodle soup.


Instead of using noodles, thicken the soup up with potatoes or barley, varying the cooking time according to the ingredient used. The potatoes should be soft but not mushy, the barley should be full, bulbous grains.

With all of these dishes, if you have some fresh herbs these will transform the taste of every dish, but if not good old salt and freshly ground black peppercorns work wonders.

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