Sunday, 30 January 2011

Going back to my roots

When I first started this, the intention was to embark on a journey discovering the different foods of the world, the interrelation of different cultures and with that maybe find the journey food has made from culture to culture. The last few dinners were taken up with European cooking, mostly French so I guess I can call this year, “going back to my roots.”

Well, back to my journey then. With the next two dinners, the intention is take a tour of India, which so far in my search of recipes has proven to be both exciting and quite an eye opener. The food varies mainly due to religion and region but the common denominator is spice, be it vegetarian, fish or meat, spice is used to enhance whatever is cooked. One thing that got me really excited again is when I came across the use of Ghee, yet again it took me to my childhood. I remember as a little girl during my school holidays, churning a guard full of milk every evening after supper to achieve a by-product which was utterly delicious. Basically, we got our milk delivered from a nearby farm twice a week which we'd then boil every day to keep fresh. A film of cream forms on top of milk when boiled, mum would scoop this up and put it in a guard with milk which we would then churn on our laps every night for almost a month. The sour milk formed is what the West call yoghurt, we'd then cook the fermented cream on a low fire until it separated forming a cheesy substance which though not used for anything, us kids relished and devoured to our hearts content, the other was the most delicious oil you've ever tested, this is Ghee. We used the Ghee to cook rice mainly, what is amazing is that none of the sourness of the milk/cream is left in it, but a delicious buttery flavour. Imagine my delight when I was able to find this in a shop in London and so it will be a pleasure to share this childhood delight with you. There are of course other childhood delights like tamarind, my grandmother had a tree by her house but we never used it for cooking, we actually made a delicious juice from it which we drank and so imagine my amazement when I discovered it can actually make the most incredible sauce.

Indian food is about more than chilli heat. There is a huge array of spices to explore, not just for their heat, but also for other qualities, coriander for cooling, cloves for flavour and heat of a different kind, saffron for fragrance, mace and cardamom for their aroma. All these spices were not just used for their flavours but for preservation in the days before refrigeration and also for their health benefits. Indian cooking is challenging as one has to know their spices very well in order to marry them whereas in other cuisines, spices tend to be used in isolation. Well, I am hoping that I do it justice but I suppose since I have had a lot of practise with no complaints from friends so far, I think I shall pass with flying colours!

After my Indian journey I intend to do some Creole cooking. I'm absolutely excited by this as I feel this is very much like me. I remember once during a literature class the teacher reading us a story of a girl of two worlds, which was about a Masai girl who was fortunate enough to go to school where she didn't really fit as she was regarded backward and whenever she went back home, she didn't fit in either as her eyes had been opened by what she'd learnt at school, I guess my cooking can be described a bit like that and what better way for me to express myself than through Creole cooking. Creole cooking is a mixture of Indian, African and even Chinese cooking, basically the best of everything in my eyes, so look out for menus in March.