Culinary Mistakes….

Nearly 18 years back, when I was working in Madurai and was a happy go lucky bachelor, I used to frequent all the nice eateries that Madurai offered, and I was a regular in some of the good hotels (both veg and non veg) I once had an occasion to order “Onion Rava Dosai” and was waiting for the crisp dosa when I was given a dour looking “Onion Uttapam” – “Excuse me, but I ordered for Onion Rava Dosa, not Uttapam” I told the waiter, who took back the plate, and holding it in his hand, yelled out, “Has anyone else ordered for Onion Uttapam?” and seeing no one evince interest, he disappeared into the kitchen, and after sometime, came with my Onion Rava Dosa.

Being an inquisitive chap, I enquired of him as to what became of the “Onion Uttapam” – “Oh, that! I ate it” – he replied and explained that if any waiter makes a mistake in their orders, they would have to “eat their mistakes” – Seeing the portly fellow, I assumed that he must be making a lot of such “mistakes”

When I got married 11 years back, I was given a taste of this philosophy when I was made to eat all the “culinary mistakes” of my wife. Thanks to her expertise in making culinary mistakes, I learnt a lot of foods that can be made without much strain, especially when I had to “redo” old excess food (a nice name for leftovers) with tips from my mother. Here are some of them:-

Leftover Idli Upma/Puttu: This is made when lots of idlis from the previous day’s breakfast are left over. The left over idlis are broken into very small pieces, and kept aside for sometime (Some people add a little bit of curd into the waiting idli pieces, although I prefer it straight) – The tawa is heated with a little oil, mustard seeds are put along with some karipatha (Karuveapilai) leaves and cut onion – when the onion is slightly brown, put a pinch of haldi and a little salt (remember, the idli already HAS salt) and mix it with the idli pieces nicely – if needed, sprinkle some water so that the your idli upma or idli puttu is ready.

Left over Roti Bhujia : In the same way, if a number of rotis/chappatis are left over from the previous night, break them into very small pieces (Some even mash them by giving a twirl in the mixer) Just as we make idli upma, the same procedure is followed : in a tawa, heat a little oil, put mustard seeds, karipatha (Karuveapilai) leaves are put along with cut onion, haldi and a little bit of salt and fried – Break one or two eggs (depending on the amount of chapattis/rotis – for two or three rotis, one egg would be fine) and scramble the eggs along with the roti/chappati pieces – your left over roti egg bhujia is ready.

Left over rice gruel: This is one of my favourite foods, although it is not recognized as a grand food, because of its poverty tag. In Tamil, we call it “Pazhayathu” meaning “old food”. If rice is left over, pour water on the rice and keep it soaked for the night (such a nice way of preserving food in the old days, when refrigerators were not there) – the water should be just enough to submerge the rice (If too much water is poured, sometimes it will spoil the taste) – In the morning, take the soaked rice after squeezing the water out, mix curd or buttermilk with cut raw onions, coriander leaves(optional) and cut green chillis (must), add salt and serve – Those who like it solid can make it solid, and those who want it more like a gruel can mix the water taken from the soaked rice (in Tamil, it is known as Kazhani thanni) and make it more liquidish and serve – This is one of the best foods for summer, my mother used to tell me.

Sweet Paniyarams: When very ripe bananas and fruits are left over, they can be mashed along with some gaggery or sugar, and mixed with wheat flour and a pinch of salt – it will be semi-solid pulp – which can then be fried as “Paniyarams” – This is a sweet dish mostly made for evening tea and such occasions. This is a dish that was made by my mother when I was very small, and it continued to be a tradition between me and my mother….

Set Dosai & Vada curry: There is a slight difference between the flours for making Idli, and Dosa. For Dosa, the ratio of rice: urad dhal is slightly different from that of Idli, and for Dosa, a little bit of Fenugreek seeds are added (For what this is added, I don’t know) – When the Idli/Dosa mix is left over and has become quite sour, then, thick dosas of small sizes are made, known as “set dosa” – why it is called so, I know not, but these dosas are normally served with vada curry. Again, the vada curry is a preparation made from left over dhal vadas. The dhal vadas are broken into small pieces and made into a fine curry. Many hotels serve this as a speciality!

Vada Curry: The left over dhal vadas are broken into small pieces and kept. In a tawa, a little oil, mustard seeds, cut onion, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, chilli and dhania powder, tomato, (some add curd also) and salt to taste is added and the broken vada pieces added with a little water. Some add minced coconut and tamarind paste in the end, whereas some do not add. Vada curry is one of the easiest things to make if you have left over dhal vadas.

Dahi Vada/Rasa Vada: If you have made a lot of Urid Dhal Vadas for any occasion and they are left over, then take the vadas, soak them in hot water for some time, and then squeeze the water out of them (We must be careful or else it can become dissolved in the hot water – so duration of soaking should be very minimal) then, if you want to make Dahi Vada, put the vadas in thick dahi, and add some chat masala on top. If you want Rasa Vada, then, put the vadas into hot Rasam cups. This dish makes for good evening snack.

So far, I have been telling only about left over foods. How to cook foods which don’t get left over? That is something my spouse is yet to learn. However, I shall share recipes which have been taught to me by my mother. She’s not alive today, but by sharing her recipes, I am fulfilling one of her long held desires to write a book on recipes…….

Mutton Chops: When you buy the mutton chops, make sure that the pieces are flattened. Once the pieces are washed, keep them aside, and proceed to make the marinating mix. Take a very small bunch of Pudhina leaves, a large bunch of coriander leaves, two/three spoons of pepper (for half kg mutton) salt to taste and a cup of curd – grind this paste in the mixie. Now, mix the washed mutton pieces in this paste and marinate for at least half an hour. After it has been marinated enough, pour oil in the tawa, put in cut onion, a little bit of chilli powder (mainly for the colour, remember, you have already used pepper) put in a spoon of ginger garlic paste, and then put in the mutton pieces along with the mix (or whatever is left of the mix) and close the lid. After 25 minutes, your mutton chops is ready to eat.

Coconut Rice: This is one of the tastiest foods, but very cholestrocentric. To make this, we need a good coconut – Make sure that the coconut is neither tender nor ripe – to get good milk. The coconut is scraped well, and the scraped coconut is soaked in hot water. After 15 minutes, the scraped coconut is squeezed and taken out of the water – Now, you have good coconut milk. Keep it aside. Take one or two measures of basmati rice (according to your need) and soak it. Take the pressure cooker and pour a little bit of ghee (oil is also used, if not ghee) and put in one or two leaves of TEJ PATHA, two pealed Elaichis, cardamom, and cut onions. When the onion is slightly brown, put in the rice, and pour the coconut milk. For those who want it spicy, or two green chillies can be put in the oil along with the TEJ PATHA. The ratio of rice: coconut milk is normally like that of water, i.e., 1:2 – i.e., if we put in one measure of rice, then two measures of coconut milk has to be put. Add Salt to taste, and close the lid. After the required number of whistles, (three, four, or five, according to various cooker types) and after the steam has settled, then the cooker can be opened, and good hot coconut rice can be served.

Onion Raitha: Take large onions, and cut them into small, thin slices. Take adequate salt, and mix it with the onion, and let it marinate for a few minutes. After a few minutes, take the onion pieces, and squeeze them and keep – all the bitter juice will go away. Then, mix it with thick curd, and add cut tomato pieces and garnish with green chilli pieces and coriander leaves and serve. This Raitha will not have the usual taste of onion. In fact, it will be a little bit sweet!

My wife normally cooks in a very organized fashion, as do all housewives, I guess. I normally cook as if the kitchen is a battleground with all the ingredients strewn around, on Sundays, since I want to give her a day off. Because of our varying approaches to cooking, she does not allow me to cook often, unless we have visitors, in which case, she does not mind the mess.