Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Two amazing blogs and a life lesson from the kitchen

I have become more adventurous in the kitchen recently and just tried out a chili recipe with beer this week, inspired by this amazing food blogger on  This has been one of my best blog discoveries of 2011 and I've shared it with friends and family.
I tweaked the recipe, as I had only black-eyed peas instead of kidney and pinto beans and a large squash instead of the prescribed sugar pumpkin and no paprika in my spice cabinet. I also ended up using whole cumin instead of ground cumin as it was already late for dinner and plain old laziness kicked in a bit but found the enthusiasm to add some chopped cilantro for garnishing and my staple Indian spice - turmeric powder.
The result was absolutely delightful both for the eyes and the tastebuds. The flavor was something very unique yet tangy and delicious.

The other blog that is on my list of great blogs discovered in 2011 is Do check out her recent post on life lessons from a surfboard.

The kitchen offered me a life lesson - serendipity. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries were the product of serendipity. How many times does one go looking for something in the house and ends up finding a long lost item?

A little less than two years ago (gosh, has it been that long?), I started preparing 'paayaasam' (note, the 'aa' is pronounced as in 'arm'), also commonly spelled as 'payasam', which is a sweet South Indian dish made of milk, jaggery and cooked rice.
Here is some background information on this dish for those of you who do not hail from India and have probably never heard of it.
Jaggery is the raw, unprocessed form of sugar usually sold in lumps at Indian stores. It has some nutrients and is much better than refined sugar though diabetics should still be careful. 'Paayaasam' is also made using other ingredients such as vermicelli, semolina or 'daal' (pulses, similar to lentils) and refined sugar with some nuts and raisins roasted in ghee (clarified butter). 
The occasion was Tamil New Year on April 13. Most Indian states have their own traditional calendars and New Year occasions as they speak different languages. Of course, in daily life, India does follow the international Gregorian calendar and we do celebrate the 1st of January just like other denizens of this planet.
However, the milk that I used had already either crossed its expiry date or had started to curdle and I did not notice before pouring it in. As it started to break apart instead of mixing in nicely with the other ingredients, I was struck by remorse as to why I hadn't bothered to check the state of the milk.
After some time, I decided to taste it anyway before tossing it into the sink if it was truly horrible. Lo and behold/taste, it was yummy! It had a flavor and consistency similar to that of condensed milk. My roommate loved it, too.
My father later told me that such 'paayaasam' dishes with curdled milk are pretty tasty. Why hadn't I thought of the famous Bengali sweets, 'rosgolla' and 'rasmalaai' both made from milk cheese before berating myself?
Sometimes, when things do not turn out the way you planned, you may be in for a pleasant surprise and have a new experience that will enrich and reward you which you would perhaps have never sought out deliberately.

The second experience was more recent, just a few days or weeks ago. I was about to plug in my rice cooker to make a nice pot of 'basmati' rice. A tiny spider suddenly crawled out from the crevice of the rice cooker under the heating plate. Although I cleaned the area, I did not feel like loading the cooker for fear of incinerating the tiny creature. [Note: This may not sound very logical to many of you.]

I started cooking it in a pressure cooker open-pot style and knowing that it would probably be a little mushy, changed my plans and started to prepare cilantro 'pongal'. This is because the key to cooking rice with a certain consistency is the amount of water and I usually add a little more water in the case of a pressure cooker just to be safe.
A common form of 'pongal' is a mushy dish made of rice and 'moong daal' (split mung bean lentils), seasoned with ghee, turmeric, curry leaves, salt and lots of black pepper. It is commonly served as 'prasaad' (the 'd' is pronounced as the 'th' in 'they') in the Vishnu (Perumaal) temples of Tamil Nadu in southern India and is one of the most comforting nutritious foods on a cold winter morning or evening. 'Prasaad' is an offering made to God which is later distributed to devotees.
My version of the 'pongal' had chopped cilantro leaves and black pepper and if I remember correctly, sesame oil instead of ghee and no daal, turmeric or curry leaves. It was a resounding hit and a suitable accompaniment to my other dishes of the day, much better than plain rice cooked in a rice cooker.

In this instance, too, I was inspired to take a different route than what I had initially planned and the outcome was better than the one envisioned originally.

The most mundane experiences of every day life have the potential to teach us some profound life lessons.

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