Nov 22, 2011

Day 42/180: A bit of this and that

Saturday was a busy day. I drove to the South Shore to help my mother with some stuff in her new apartment. I got a large collection of storage jars (glass, with metal bails and rubber gaskets) as a prize for my work. I'll dump much of the contents, wash them well inside and out and use them as airtight containers for my staple food bases and spices. I also got copies of "The Book of Miso" and "The Book of Tofu" both by Shurtleff and Aoyagi..

By the time I got back I was too tired to do anything extravagant, and still had some roasting vegetables that needed to be used up, so dinner was roasted veggies again. This time, instead of tahini, I used tamarind chutney mixed with oil for the baste. It worked well.

I'm starting to think of certain foods as bases. To borrow a concept from my younger son's medium, these foods are the prepared and gessoed canvases or "grounds" on which I lay the colors (flavors) of the vegetables and spices that I have on my palette (cupboards and refrigerator).

That's not to say that these bases don't have flavors of their own, They have to be there to provide the unifying factors that hold the brighter colors of the spices and added vegetables in a comprehensible position.

The most common bases are: grains, lentils (by which I mean not just the red and green types, but all of the various dhals), tofu, tempeh, gluten (for seitan), vegetable stock and even water.

It's useful and cost effective to buy lentils and grains in bulk. For example, I can get four pounds of chickpea flour at the Indian grocery in Cambridge for the same price that I'd pay for one pound in a local supermarket (if they even had it). Sometimes it makes sense to buy in bulk. When you do, you need a good way to store it, so the jars are a major score for me.

A word of caution though. Don't buy in bulk unless you're sure that you're going to use it. Buy small amounts of unfamiliar foods until you are sure that this is something that you're going to add to your cooking routine. Let me give you an example from personal experience.

There is a cookbook that I like a lot, so much so that one of these days I'm going to buy a copy instead of taking it out of the library and copying recipes. (I've been saying that since 1987!) It's called "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking" by Yamuna Devi. My first attempt at something beyond generic curry, was her recipe for Mutter Panir". The thing about the recipes in LKC is that Devi, for religious (Vedic?) reasons, uses asafoetida (hing) as a substitute for onion, garlic and other lily bulbs.

Wanting to be as true to the recipe as possible, I bought some hing. I think that I've used it three times in the last 24 years. About, 2 months ago I found the container lurking behind a stack of old cookbooks and threw it out. I have nothing against the stuff, it just doesn't fit into my cooking style. Since I use recipes as suggestions rather than rules, all I need to do is tweak the recipe a bit, adding in the lilies and substituting extra firm tofu for the panir (since I don't eat dairy).

I seem to be drifting a bit. My point was, that I had bought a tiny container of hing instead of the large economy-size. I still wasted most of it, but I felt less guilty throwing out a container that cost one dollar than one that cost five bucks.

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