Showing posts with label tool. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tool. Show all posts

Mar 22, 2016

Tips & Tools: Getting Handy with a Handi

Introducing the magnificent pot of Mughal fame: the handi!

Originally made of clay the handi is a round pot with no handles, a narrow neck, curved sides, and is usually thicker on the bottom to distribute heat evenly. The handi is the piece of cookware essential to the "dum" or "dumpukht" style of cooking so beloved by the Mughals. "Dum" means steam or breath and "puhkt" means to choke. In dumpukht cooking food would be partially cooked then placed in the handi with it's lid sealed airtight with a paste of flour and water. The sealed handi would then be placed on the dying embers of the cooking fire to slowly simmer overnight. Steam would form inside the handi which would then condense and drip down the curved sides. Thus the food contained within would basted in it's own juices. Dumpuhkt is the culinary method used in making such famed Mughal style dishes such as biryanis, tahari, and Mutton Lazeez. One of the most popular dishes of Kashmir called "Dum Aloo" consists of baby potatoes slow cooked dumpukht style with a spicy sauce.

This is a decorative clay handi available for sale at a tourist site in Agra. You can see the saucer-like lid on the narrow necked round pot that is typical of early handis.

Here is a modern day replication of dumpukht style cooking.  A biryani is being cooked in a clay handi atop a gas burner. The saucer-like lid has been sealed with a paste of water and flour to keep steam from escaping. As this sealed handi is not upon dying embers but rather a direct gas flame a metal tawa or plate has been placed under it to disperse the heat.

Nowadays you can even buy decorative handis to serve your meal in like this piece of gorgeous tableware. A small handi is called a "handiya."

You can also get pressure cookers in the shape of a handi. I doubt whether a pressure cooker could truly replicate slow cooking in an earthenware pot over coals, but there you go.

Now let's stroll on over to Delhi near the Jama Masjid mosque to see the handi in action. This is Karim's restaurant, it lies on one of the winding, narrow, and dimly lit paths in the souk-like markets around the Jama Masjid mosque. Karim's is quite famous and has been in business for over 100 years. Karim's owners are direct descendants of chefs of the Mughal court. The original Mughal cooking techniques and recipes have been passed down through the family here. At some point handis ceased being made in clay and nickel plated beaten copper became the preferred material of choice for manufacture.

This is how a Mughal chef would cook, sitting cross legged upon a flat platform surrounded by braziers topped with handis. The handis can be tilted to keep steam in and allow easy access to  the seated chef or servers. Typically foods would be first partially cooked like this in the handis, the lid would be then sealed with a flour and water paste, and the handi would be placed over low heat to simmer for hours.

Here you can see the delicious contents of the handis. There's a biryani on the right and some sort of mutton dish in the left. See how tilting the handis keeps allows the steam to condense and roll back down the side rather than just escaping.

Your meal at Karim's will be simply served on 1950's looking stoneware in a charmingly unpretentious manner. A complimentary relish plate of sliced raw onions, limes, and sliced raw daikon radish will always accompany your dining experience. A choice of different naan or rice areon offer too, in this case we've chosen those gorgeous fluffy naans. It's quite inexpensive and geared toward the working class despite the royal cuisine being served. I like that, the food is what the focus is on here. Surprisingly to me, the Mughal food served at the little restaurants owned by descendants of Mughal chefs isn't that highly spiced. The emphasis is on the meat- be it mutton cooked in it's own juices or a biryani cooked with meat stock. One dish we ordered once was quite unusual, I believe it was called "Shahi Tamur" which means "Royal Dates." It consisted of dates stewed in a creamy white savory sauce with a lot of ground coriander, a bit of cumin, and green chilis. Mixing sweet with savory would be typical of the early Mughal era.

Here is a gentleman in typical Islamic attire enjoying the view of the Jama Masjid mosque from a nearby restaurant. The mosque was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan of rosy red sandstone with carved white marble inlays and was completed in 1656. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, has two 130 foot high minarets, and three white marble domes. The inside is even more spectacularly ornamented with more inlaid marble and carved semi precious stones throughout.

I think the closest thing to a handi that would be practical for modern cooks would be an electric slow cooker or crock pot. You could certainly seal the lid with a flour and water paste to get the same dumpukht effect. If I lived someplace where I had twenty four hour electricity I'd certainly have one. I've never seen a slow cooker or crock pot in India or Nepal, but then twenty four electricity is a rarity in Nepal and India also.

That concludes my discussion of the handi and dumpukht cooking.
Calmly currying on,

Jan 25, 2016

Tips & Tools: The Great Indian Pressure Cooker

Indian pressure cooking
The Hawkins "Classic" 5 liter pressure cooker.
Minus an original side handle where that screw is sticking out.


You can hear the terrifying hiss of this basic brute of a pressure cooker releasing steam in kitchens all across South Asia.  It it used to cook goat (mutton), beans, lentils, peas, curries, halwas, sabzi (vegetables), biryanis, pulaos - just about everything. I've even seen cakes baked in pressure cookers.  It is a great time & fuel saver as it allows cooking time to be reduced to about a third of how long it would take to cook food in an open pot. Various claims are made that pressure cooking food reduces loss of nutrients, but I'm not sure there's any proof of that.

It is a very simple design with a lid secured by a latch on the handle, a single steam vent with a pressure regulator over it, & a rubber gasket creating the seal between the lid & internal rim of the pot-

Indian cooking pressue
The latched lid with rubber gasket & pressure regulator over vent assembled.

aluminum pressure cooker
The latched lid, the rubber gasket seal, & the pressure regulator that fits over the steam vent dissembled. As you can see it comes apart for cleaning & that rubber gasket does need to be replaced over time.

The inside is just like a regular pot, the aluminum does become pitted with use-

Indian aluminum pressure cooker
This pressure cooker is 8 years old & is quite pitted from daily use.

The simple latch & rubber gasket that holds the lid in place-

Indian pressure cooker aluminum
Unlatched, lid unsealed. 

Indian pressure cooker aluminum
Latched, lid sealed, & ready to go.
The lid is secured under the internal rim & sealed with the rubber gasket. 

The only pressure cookers I had ever seen or used before moving to South Asia were the huge sort used for canning with gauges, pressure settings, racks, & screw down seals. This thing looked terrifying. Unsafe. Even when it wasn't making it's fearsome hissing noise. How do you know what the pressure or temperature is inside this thing without a gauge?  Just a rubber gasket under the rim & a simple latch hold the lid of this thing on? Are you kidding me?

Well, the answer is- 
No you don't know what the temperature or pressure is inside this thing. 
You just have to learn as you go with an Indian pressure cooker.
How hot does an Indian pressure get inside?
Well, lets just say I've seen these used in rural hospital settings as autoclaves for sterilizing instruments all over South Asia. 

 Quick Tips On Using An Indian Pressure Cooker-

1) The pressure cooker needs liquid to make the steam & pressure that cooks the food. Make sure before you seal the pressure cooker up there's at least an inch of liquid with what you're cooking or you'll end up with a scorched disaster.

2) If you don't put the lid on properly, steam will leak out & you'll never get enough pressure to cook food in a shortened amount of time. If you see steam leaking out around the edges of the lid, remove the pressure cooker from the heat & adjust lid until it seals properly. Sometimes running the lid under cold water before replacing helps to create the tight seal necessary for pressure cooking. There's a bit of a trick to tilting the lid just right to get it to seal- practice makes perfect!

3) The only way to stop the cooking process once this thing gets cooking is to remove it from the heat, run it under cold water in the sink until you hear the seal go "SHLURP"! Only then can you safely remove the lid to see what's going on in there.

4) Be sure not to fill the pressure cooker more than 2/3's full or whatever you're cooking will overflow through the top vent. What you're cooking will expand when heated & room is necessary for the steam to form & build pressure.

Quick Tips On Choosing An Indian Pressure Cooker-

Materials- Indian style pressure cookers are available in aluminum, stainless steel, hard anodized aluminum, & even plastic pressure cookers are available for use in microwaves.  Aluminum is the cheapest, the lightest, & the material that cooks the most even. Stainless steel is easier to clean & does not pit or corrode, but despite an aluminum core bottom they're prone to 'hot spots' & uneven heating which cause foods to burn & stick. Hard anodized aluminum pressure cookers are nice, but you will have to hide it from your maid or anyone else who may unwittingly damage the finish by scrubbing it with steel wool. 

Style- Simplest is best. I chose the Hawkins Classic in aluminum because it is the least complicated. I had a Prestige stainless steel deluxe model with their 'exclusive double locking system' that quickly met a tragic end.  The lid was destroyed in a week by a well intentioned maid & the assistance of a teenaged male relative who couldn't understand how to properly open the Prestige's 'exclusive double locking system'. The stainless steel Prestige cooker also had the dreaded 'hot spots' & would scorch dals & sauces quite easily.

Size- The 5 liter size is perfectly adequate if you're cooking for 3-5 people daily. The 2 liter size is so small it's useless. Anything larger than 5 liters takes so long to cook things it kind of defeats the purpose of pressure cooking in the first place, & they tend to cook a bit unevenly. I have three of the 5 liter Hawkins Classics. I cook 2 meals daily for 5 people. I have also cooked for dinner parties as large as 16 people in my home using just these three 5 liter pressure cookers & 2 kadhais with no problems. 

If you live in a western country-

You probably aren't cooking any meats that are as tough & fibrous as the 'mutton' (goat) that is favored in South Asia so you probably don't need a pressure cooker. You can probably buy canned beans, chickpeas, or lentils quite inexpensively also, so you really don't need a pressure cooker for those either. You probably don't care for your vegetables cooked to mush as they do on the Subcontinent, so once again, you don't need a pressure cooker. A large, deep, heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven will do just fine for most South Asian dishes you wish to cook. A slow cooker like a 'crock pot' might be a better choice if you wish to cook goat/mutton or even water buffalo.

Any questions?
Feel free to ask them in the comments section down below.
Keep calm & curry on!

Dec 7, 2015

Tips & Tools: The Mixie With The Moxie

Introducing the thoroughly modern mixie:

mixie panasonic
Taa Daaaa!!

This is the mixie, the marvel of the modern south Asian kitchen that Bibi keeps banging on about in the recipes on this blog.  Glorious, is it not?  This fantastic machine is also commonly known as a "mixer grinder" on the Subcontinent. Your poncy western food processors & old fashioned blenders can't compete with the adroit engineering of this kitchen beast. As you can see the "jars" are of sturdy stainless steel & the rubber flanged lids are some sort of clear "scratch resistant" unbreakable polycarbonate. The electric mixie has largely replaced the drudgery of using a good old mortar & pestle or traditional "sil batta" in most kitchens of the Subcontinent. (The "sil batta" is a vertical version of the mortar & pestle with the "sil" being a large, flat, ridged stone tablet upon which spices are ground with a heavy stone rolling pin called a "batta.")

Clearly this polycarbonate lid is neither unscratched nor unstained after 6 yrs of use.

The interior looks like a blender on both large & small jars. Those blades are Panasonic's patented "Samurai Blades" & those jars are patented "Flow Breaker Jars."  Wow, huh?

Both jars are better at "wet grinding" rather than dry.
Supposedly the smaller jar is for grinding spices. Unfortunately the small jar only partially & rather unevenly grinds spices. This sort of 'coffee grounds' texture is actually fine for most Desi dishes. Mostly I use the small jar for pureeing garlic & ginger or grinding small amounts of almonds, cashews, or walnuts to a 'whole meal' texture or paste. If I wish to grind spices to powder I use an electric coffee grinder.

The large jar is great for grinding chutneys, yogurt based marinades, making lassis & raitas, or pureeing things like onions, bananas, pumpkins, chicken livers, & persimmons. In a pinch, I've even ground small amounts of wheat to flour & granulated sugar to powdered sugar in the large jar also.

Stainless steel is preferred for most food related appliances & dish ware in south Asia as it is unbreakable, does not absorb food odors, easy to clean, & does not stain (DUH). The cuisines of the Subcontinent often require the use of strongly pungent spices which often stain & imbue their odors in plastics- (turmeric & saffron stains are near impossible to get out & the smell of fenugreek/methi, garlic, & hing/asafoetida is also). You can see by the pale yellow staining of the polycarbonate lids this mixie has seen it all.

Some helpful tips when choosing a mixie-

1) Be sure it has at least 550 watts voltage. You will need it.

2) Choose a mixie with a "double safety locking system" like my Panasonic SUPER MIXER GRINDER pictured here.  This mixie will not run unless the cap & the base are locked & secured.  I had a previous mixie that had lids that didn't lock but were simply secured by the tenuous grip of the rubber flange.  This would result in a 3-4 foot geyser of whatever was being mixed or ground spewing everywhere. You would have to press down on the lid FIRMLY the entire time you used the mixie to prevent this mess.

3) Just buy the basic model with 2 stainless steel jars. You can now buy mixies with juicers, gallon sized jars, food processing jars with various blades, see through polycarbonate jars, & a lot of other crap you'll never use & don't have room to store. 

4) Buy a black mixie.  Between the heat, the dust, the humidity, the spices that stain, & the near constant frying that goes on in a Desi kitchen - a white mixie will not be white for very long. I have to take a toothbrush & a mixture of dishwashing soap & vinegar to my white mixie weekly to keep it looking decent.

And remember,
Keep Calm & Curry On!

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