Showing posts with label method. Show all posts
Showing posts with label method. Show all posts

Dec 3, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to dry mint


Dried mint has a lovely fresh aroma and can be used as a seasoning, garnish, or in teas. This is my simple method to perfectly dry and store this versatile herb.


Mint is a hardy perennial herb available in many cultivars. The plant is easy to grow and found all over the world. Each culture has its own uses for this beautiful, fragrant herb. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is what I grow in my garden. Spearmint's name comes from “spiremint” referring to the tall purplish spires of its blooms in late summer. The refreshingly mellow and slightly lemony flavor of spearmint makes it the preferred mint in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines.

This method of drying mint was taught to me by an elderly Syrian neighbor long ago. Prior to learning this method I would tie the mint up in bundles and hang them to dry in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. This method is much easier and the mint dries faster. Bundling herbs to dry does not work well in most of South Asia. It is rather humid most of the year and herbs tend to get mold or mildew if bundled and hung to dry. I usually only dry mint in the Winter here in Nepal as that's when the arid and cold winds blow from the high Himalayas.

Here's what to do:

1) Harvest the mint:
  • Cut mint early in the morning as that is before the flavorful volatile oils have dissipated.
  • Cutting the mint just before it blooming if possible to ensure the highest concentration of flavors.
  • Cut 3-4 inch long sprigs oof the mint for easiest handling.
  • Gently shake the mint sprigs just after cutting to remove any lingering insects.
  • Use a colander or sieve to collect the mint sprigs while cutting, then rinse them under cold water gently. If you bruise them they will lose their volatile oils and flavor.
I picked this mint at 8 AM. I use our iron patio table to dry the mint after rinsing. It is shaded by an umbrella and the metal grate allows for best air circulation
 2) Allow cleaned mint sprigs to air-dry: 
  • Spread the washed mint sprigs out on a clean and dry surface out of direct sunlight. I use our metal patio table but a metal baking sheet or serving tray will work also.
  • Try not to overlap the mint sprigs so no water gets trapped on the leaves.
  • Allow to fully dry. The mint should look wilted when properly dried.

3) Place air-dried mint sprigs on a flat baking sheet or serving tray:
  • Place them as close as possible but try not to overlap.

4) Place the mint-filled trays on top of the refrigerator:
  • This is just genius! My Syrian neighbor taught me this. The air is warmer and dryer atop the fridge and the trays are completely out of the way. The mint stays out of direct light on top of the fridge too.

5) Allow mint to dry completely. Check mint daily to make sure no moisture or mold is present: 
  • Remove and discard any moldy or brown leaves.
This took only 3 days to dry!

6)  Transfer the dried mint into a clean, airtight container:
  • I like to store the mint as whole dried sprigs and crush it by rolling between my hands to use it. The flavor and aroma will keep longer if the leaves are kept whole.
  • Choose with tight lids and made of non-porous, non-absorbent material such as glass, plastic, or metal. Paper, cardboard, plastic, and wood containers absorb the volatile oils from the mint.
  • Label each container with the current date and contents. For best flavor, use the dried mint within a year.
  • Store in a cool, dry, and dark spot.  


So that's my method for drying mint!
I use dried mint in my Kashmiri Eggplant with Tomatoes (Tamatar Wangan), Cucumber and Mint Raita, Kashmiri Walnut Chutney (Doon Chetin) ,and Kashmiri Onion Chutney (Ganduh Chetin).
Do you have any favorite recipes that use dried mint?
Any tips for drying herbs you can share?

Jun 4, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make a Mughal-Style Shorba (Stock) in a Pressure Cooker

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A flavorful stock or shorba is the secret ingredient that will take your savory South Asian dishes from ordinary to exceptional! Get your biryanis bangin' and your pulaos poppin' with this easy recipe using a pressure cooker. 


A royal feast for the Uzbeks, Mughal, 18th century, National Museum of India
The cooking of the ancient Mughals was a veritable riot of flavors, fragrance, colors, experiments, protocol, table manners, traditions, techniques, and textures. At least one hundred different and exquisite dishes were served at each meal. Each dish was prepared by one cook fiercely seeking favor with the emperor. With techniques taken from the Persian and Ottoman empires, the finest of ingredients were combined in elaborate dishes. One such technique was the making of the shorba or stock to imbue savory dishes with umami-rich flavor. The word shorba comes from the Persian term شوربا with "shor" meaning salty and "ba" meaning stew. In today's modern vernacular a shorba has come to mean any sort of soup, gravy, or stew. But in the days of the Mughals, a shorba was a savory bone or meat-based broth.

The Waza!
The Mughals were prolific documenters but we have our own living historian of Mughal cuisine: the waza! The supreme chef of the Kashmiri Wazwan or traditional formal banquet is our living historian. When you taste the dishes of the Wazwan you are actually tasting history. For generations of wazas the dishes and methods of the royal Mughal court have been passed down. And this is whom I've learned this recipe for a classic shorba from. After the waza has chosen the animals and overseen their butchering one of the first things he does is make the shorba.

Gushtaba- famed dish of the Wazwan made of pounded mutton meatballs in a delicate yogurt sauce
This is because the shorba or bone-based stock is what gives so many Wazwan dishes their full, rich flavor. Yakhni, Rogan Josh, Gushtaba, Rishta, Aab Gosht, pulao, biryani, - just about all savory dishes benefit from the addition of a well-made shorba. I've rarely seen a waza add water to a dish. Mughal cooking isn't just grease and masala as some Delhi restaurants might lead you to believe.


The Waza begins to make the shorba by frying the bones he has chosen to make the stock. This gives the shorba a richer, slightly caramelized flavor and achieves the same effect that western chefs get when they roast bones for a stock. In the tradition of the Wazwan, every part of the animal is used. I save up the bony bits and joints from mutton and the necks and backs from chicken in a box in the freezer to make my shorba. The waza makes gallons of shorba in a huge deg over a fire for a Wazwan.  I find a pressure cooker more suited to my needs as I usually only make a little over a liter.



The Waza does not use any sort of fresh herbs or root vegetables except for possibly a few cloves of garlic in making the shorba.  No French mirepoix, German Suppengrün, Dutch soepgroente, Italian soffritt, or Polish włoszczyzna is used in the making of stocks, soups, sauces, and stews as in western cuisines. No bouquet garni of fresh herbs tied with string or placed in a cheesecloth bundle is used either.



Rather, the Waza uses sabut garam masala or the whole spices you'd find ground into garam masala to season his shorba. Black peppercorns, green cardamom, cumin, cloves, cassia bark, cassia leaves, fennel, coriander, black cardamoms, - the list can vary according to each waza. Sometimes even saffron is included for an especially lavish touch. Our waza also adds a few cloves of garlic to the mix, not all wazas do that though.







The whole spices or sabut garam masala are then tied into a cheesecloth sachet called a potli. The waza then places the potli full of spices into the deg or huge urn-shaped pot with the fried bones and some water.








The deg and its contents are then allowed to simmer over a woodfire for hours until reduced to the desired amount. The urn-shaped cooking vessels you see in the above photo are what is called a deg in Kashmiri cooking, they are made of beaten copper and are quite heavy. The shape and craftsmanship of the deg goes back before the time of the Mughals. I prefer to use a pressure cooker as woodfires and giant degs aren't very practical in my kitchen.


After the shorba is completely cooked the waza strains the liquid through cheesecloth to remove most of the solids and particulates. The spice-filled potli is then discarded. Above you can see the huge blue tub partially covered by cheesecloth that the waza's helper strained the newly-made shorba into. Now the shorba is ready to be ladled out for use in the many dishes of the Wazwan - 36 courses minimum!


Bibi's jugaadi or 'make-do' do straining method requires only a collander placed over a pot with a spout. Not quite as efficient as cheesecloth over a tub but it works, it is reusable, and it is using equipment I always have on hand in my kitchen!


Here is Bibi's shorba. I only make shorba for special occasions like Ramadan, Eid, or an Urs when I'll be cooking lots of savory dishes. Right now during Ramadan I make a special mutton or chicken dish every day to send to the mosque for iftar. About a month in advance of when I wish to make shorba I'll start saving mutton bones and or chicken necks and backs in the freezer. Then once a week I'll make a fresh batch of both mutton and chicken shorba and keep it in the refrigerator until needed. A shorba is a simple, healthy, and inexpensive way to give your curries, gravies, sauces, sooups, biryanis, and an amazingly authentic taste!

Ingredients:
5-7 raw mutton bones or 5-7 raw chicken necks and/or backs
5 liter or larger pressure cooker
2 TBS ghee or cooking oil of choice
2 tsp salt (optional but will help preserve the stock/shorba)
5 C water
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 tsp fennel seeds/saunf
3 green cardamoms/elaichi
2-inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini or cinnamon stick
2 cassia leaves/tej patta
5 cloves/laung
4 black cardamoms/kali elaichi, bruised in a mortar and pestle
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch
3 cloves garlic/lahsun (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) In a 5-liter pressure cooker heat ghee or cooking oil with salt over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add mutton bones or chicken pieces and fry for about 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.


2) Add 5 cups of water and whole spices to browned bones.


3) Seal pressure cooker and heat for 15 minutes or one whistle. Turn off heat but leave pressure cooker sealed on the burner for 10 minutes.


4) Unseal pressure-cooker you should have a nice, rich, brown stock/shorba! Allow to cool to slightly warmer than room temperature.


5) Strain or sieve finished stock/shorba to remove bones and spices.


6) Place the shorba in a sealed airtight container and keep refrigerated until ready to use. You will see the shorba separate with a layer of fat rising to the top. Keep stock/shorba in the refrigerator in a sealed, airtight container for up to two weeks if you leave the layer of fat or up to one week if fat is removed. (You can use the fat scooped off the top just as you would ghee or clarified butter- I use it to fry onions with.)

Ramadan Kareem!

Bibi ;)

Apr 16, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make Perfect Fluffy Rice

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We eat rice every day, twice a day. Before I moved to South Asia I had rarely cooked rice. I had never even used a rice cooker! Googling the subject of cooking rice only revealed numerous methods with less than perfect results. So I emailed my Chinese-American university pal Eileen as to how to properly cook rice. I quickly learned that western methods of cooking rice were overly complicated and prone to failure.

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The first thing my friend recommended was to buy a rice cooker. Well, we had a rice cooker but it had no instructions and we rarely had electricity to even run the thing back then. Now that we have 20 hours of electricity a day I can concur that a rice cooker is one of the most cost-effective gadgets ever. If you cook rice on a regular basis you definitely need a rice cooker. It is the easiest and most time-saving appliance ever, just set it and forget it!

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This is the kind of rice we eat every day!

The technique my friend Eileen taught me to cook rice is the absorption method. This is the most common way to cook rice in Asia. Rather than drowning the rice in water and hoping for the best, one adds only as much as the rice needs to cook, and waits for it to absorb while cooking. -It is the simplest way to cook rice and I have found it gives the most reliable results. The method you use to cook rice also depends on the variety of rice you are using. Indians tend to use long-grain rice and use techniques to create separate grains that remain perfectly intact. The Chinese use starchier medium-grain varieties so that the rice sticks together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks. I have cooked both a local short-grain pearl rice and long-grain Basmati rice with this absorption method with excellent results for the past 10 years!
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1/2 cup uncooked rice = 1&1/2 cups cooked rice

First, you'll want to determine how many servings of rice you wish to make. I usually estimate one and a half cups of cooked rice per adult for my Indian family then add an extra half cup just in case. Rice triples in volume when cooked so that's one-half cup per person of uncooked rice.
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ONE PART RICE TO TWO PARTS WATER
The second and most crucial part of this technique is the ratio of rice to water. All sorts of variables come into play here: the type of rice being cooked, the age of the rice, humidity levels, how well the lid fits on the pot you use, the temperature of the burner being used, altitude, what phase the moon is in (kidding) - the list goes on. Because of all these variables, this is the step that may require some trial and error. The best place to look for the proper ratio the rice is to be cooked at is the directions on the package the rice came in. (Amazingly enough, the instructions on the back of rice packages are usually correct.) If that is unavailable I usually estimate one part rice to two parts water. Sometimes we buy local rice that comes in a plain burlap sack from a village and sometimes we buy rice from the supermarket that's labeled. If the rice is really fresh (as in recently harvested) it may need a little less water to cook. Rice harvested more than a year previous generally requires more water than recently harvested rice due to decreased moisture content. Cooking rice is game of ratios, so be sure to measure carefully unless you want a bowl full of disappointment.

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This is how rice gets cleaned so there's bound to be twigs, pebbles, or bugs in it!
Third, unless you are using rice that is fortified or enriched you will have to wash it. Rinsing traditionally polished rice alters its texture when cooked. Rinsing removes the thin layer of starch from the surface of each grain and keeps the rice from sticking together thus ensuring perfectly separate grains. Long-grain rice, like Basmati, is always rinsed for this reason. This doesn't have to be an extremely thorough sort of a cleanse. I usually rinse the rice twice over the sink by submerging it in water, swirling the rice with my fingers, then pouring off the cloudy water. Submersion allows any debris like twigs, bran, or insects to float out of the rice also. I have seen recommendations on the internet to rinse rice until the drainage water runs clear- this will never happen no matter how many times you rinse the rice I assure you.
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2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline: the aromatic compound that gives bread, jasmine rice, basmati rice, pandan, popcorn, & bread flowers their characteristic scent
Fourth, you need to decide if you wish to soak the rice or not. Soaking the rice speeds up cooking which affects the flavor of the rice. By letting the rice soak for 15 to 30 minutes, you can decrease the cooking time of most rice varieties by about 20 percent.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is the flavor compound in aromatic rice varieties that is responsible for their characteristic popcorn-like aroma.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline dissipates while cooking. The longer the rice is exposed to heat, the less of an aromatic flavor it will have. By soaking the rice and shortening the cooking time, you will get more flavorful results. Some people rinse again after soaking the rice, I do not find it necessary.

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Fifth, add a little oil, ghee, or butter to the rice and water before cooking. This is optional but it will add flavor to the rice, help keep the grains separate, and prevent dryness if the rice is left standing for more than an hour after cooking. Restaurants usually do this to keep cooked rice tasting fresher and tender longer. I usually only add a little butter or ghee for special occasions such as if we are having dinner guests. Most Indians and Nepalis do not add salt to their rice when cooking so I don't add it either.

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Sixth, cook the rice over medium heat and with the lid on. If the temperature is too high you run the risk of scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot or unevenly cooked grains. If the temperature is too low you'll get a gloopy mess of undercooked rice. Put the lid on and keep it on throughout the cooking process. I recommend only lifting the lid to check the rice after 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as you risk breaking the grains, releasing more starch, and a mushy mess. You can tell that the rice is completely cooked when all the water has boiled away, there are "fish eyes" or holes in the rice, and you can hear a crackling noise rather than a bubbling noise signifying that the water has completely boiled away.

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The last and most important step: let it rest! Resting is an unskippable step. When the rice has finished cooking remove the pot from the burner and let it sit with the lid still on. Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes after it's done cooking to achieve optimum texture. This rule goes for all types of rice. Keep the rice covered until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. As the Indian proverb goes, grains of rice should be like brothers – close, but not stuck together.
 
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Perfection!
So there you have it: ratio, rinse, soak, flavor, cook, rest, and fluff! Follow these easy steps and you'll get perfect, fluffy, rice every time. This is it - the foolproof recipe to cook rice on the stovetop:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C long-grain white rice
3 C water
1 tsp cooking oil, butter, or ghee (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Measure out 1&1/2 cups rice and place into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cooked rice expands to three times its original size so be sure to choose an adequately sized pot. 
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2) Over the sink add room-temperature water to the rice until it is covered by about an inch. Use your fingers to swirl the rice and water around the pan. Drain the cloudy water off of the rice through your hand. Discard any debris that floats to the surface. Repeat this process one to two more times. 

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3) Add 3 cups water to the rinsed rice and a teaspoonful of oil, butter, or ghee if using. For fluffier rice, the rice should be soaked for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes prior to cooking.

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4) Cover and place the pot on a burner set on medium heat. Allow rice to cook for 15 to 20* minutes or until water has evaporated and the rice is tender. I usually check on the rice after 15 minutesYou may raise the lid occasionally to see if the water is boiling, see if the water has evaporated, or to listen for a crackling noise signifying that the last of the water has boiled away. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking.

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The little holes you see in the rice are called 'fisheyes' and signify that the rice has been cooked properly.



5) Remove pan from heat. Keep the lid on. Let rice stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes to firm up and absorb the last bit of water.

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6) Remove the lid just before serving and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Serve hot. This recipe makes 4&1/2 cups cooked rice.

Helpful Hints:
The same procedure can be used for a rice cooker. Instead of step 4 just place the pot in the rice cooker instead of on a stove burner.

*If cooking at altitudes over 3,000ft/1,000M increase cooking time by 5 minutes.

A special thanks to my dear friend Eileen!
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