Garam Masala, Indian Rice Pudding, Chapatis
This is the Texas Star hibiscus, with deeply serrated leaves and big rosy blooms, each having a star in the middle. The flower petals make a mildly tart, pink hot tea. It's growing in the upper bed of the garden.
Random thoughts for today...
1 - I was at dinner one night with friends and one of the guests asked the late Adelma Simmons, Grande Dame of herbs and owner of Caprilands Herb Farm, if she was a vegetarian. (She was 80+ years at the time); she said, "I don't really like vegetarians. When someone comes up to me at Caprilands and asks me if I'm a vegetarian, I pretend like I'm asleep. I'm old; I can get away with it." She was a feisty but quite wonderful lady.
2 - In the July issue of Southern Living magazine there's an article on Big Cedar Lodge, an upscale wilderness resort near us on the lake. In the article the owner, Johnny Morris (owner of Bass Pro shops nationwide) said of his lake cottages..."When it's hot in July here, I encourage our guests to crank up the air conditioning all the way, then build a fire in the fireplace to set the mood." (I'm paraphrasing the quote; I'd heard the rumor from guests many times and just didn't believe anyone would be that wasteful, or to encourage such waste).
3 - In a restaurant outside of Miller, MO, on the 100 mile yard sale where we had breakfast, I spotted this item on the menu: "Granny's Eggs Benedict. We take a big ole' buttermilk biscuit, split it in half, cover it with sausage gravy, put the top on and add a fried egg." (So you trade the English muffin for a biscuit, the gravy stands in for the Hollandaise sauce, the sausage for the Canadian bacon and the fried egg on top stands in for the poached egg. Gotta love down home cookin'!
The big event in the garden this week was a visit from our two friends from Washington, DC. Puneet is a long time friend and former penpal who we visited in India in 2001, and his friend, Robert, who's family was from the Philippines. They meditated in the vine covered gazebo in the garden and gathered things from the herb beds for several of our meals.
Puneet threw out my 8 year old container of garam masala, which his mother had made for me when we visited his home in New Delhi. You can't buy authentic garam masala here, and it is the only seasoning I like in black beans and rice in the winter. So I've been stingy with it, and even though it's lost its flavor and smell, I would not throw it out. (Spices, as you likely know, last 9-12 months; beyond that, their flavoring demise is rapid). Garam masala is a highly individualized and variable blend of 8-15 spices and seeds and varies from family to family in India. It's used in cooking many kinds of dishes. It's not hot, but has a robust flavor; the English tried to duplicate and standardize it, and what we know of as, "curry powder" here in the West, was the result. Indians don't use curry powder, most don't even know what it is.
The spice seeds are roasted separately. Fennel, fenugreek, peppercorns, black cumin and several others are dry roasted first. Then a substantial amount of whole coriander is added after the other spices have nearly finished roasting. Coriander roasts quickly; then other spices, included asophedita, are added at the very last. Once the mixture has cooled, the whole batch is ground to a fine powder and stored in an airtight container.
So Puneet cooked up a new batch then went right to cooking. Our Friday night dinner group came over for dinner on Sunday so Puneet and Robert cooked all day. I've not had homemade chapatis in years and Puneet whipped up a batch for us. (Chapatis are a flour & water dough, dry-fried in a particular way, not unlike parathas, tortillas or other similar flat breads around the world. However, chapatis are finished right on the flame of the gas grill and puff up with air like baloons).
Robert made pork adobo, a typically Filipino dish from his parents' country, and fried bananas wrapped in phyllo dough and baked. Puneet made grilled, curried chicken, a spinach dish which included queso fresca (fresh cheese that melts quickly), a rice and carrot dish with cinnamon and a big batch of kheer, also known as Indian rice pudding. Kheer is made by slowly boiling rice in milk for several hours, with a small amount of sugar and green cardamom pods, along with slivered almonds. There are no eggs, like rice puddings we make here, but it is rich, creamy and thick like American rice pudding when cooled. And it tastes incredible.
The meal was a big hit and even with 14 people, we had enough leftovers for lunch the next day.