Cooking With Manjula

Manjula Jain, Master Chef and YouTube Luminary

During this hyperextended coronavirus quarantine period, I have picked up a few good habits. Perhaps the best of them is taking authenticity more seriously in my cooking. I have been making Indian vegetarian dishes for over thirty years, but now, thanks to YouTube, I am more serious about trying to cook them approximately the way a resident of India would.

For one thing, that involves a more serious attention to the spices used in Indian cooking. Fortunately, there are a number of Indian groceries in Culver City along Venice Boulevard, my favorite being India Sweets & Spices. Just to give you an example, here is a list of spices for Chickpea Pulav, which I will be preparing later this week:

  • Cumin seeds (jeera)
  • Asafetida (hing)
  • Bay leaves (tajpat)
  • Ginger (I use a bottled ginger/garlic paste from Laxmi)
  • Turmeric (haldi)
  • Mango powder (amchoor)
  • Garam Masala (which is mostly cardamom)

In addition, I will also be adding a few additional spices not called for in the recipe, including powdered red chile, cumin powder, cilantro, and coriander powder.

If you are interested in Indian vegetarian cooking, I highly recommend Manjula Jain’s Cooking with Manjula, 2nd Edition, which can be obtained for $5.00 in a downloadable format. (In my case, it turned out to be Microsoft Edge PDF, which took me a little while to learn how to print so that it doesn’t stretch off the page.) There are approximately 150 pages of recipes, which make it a good deal for the cost involved.

I highly recommend you try the Chickpea Pulav first, which Manjula calls a “Spicy Rice with Chickpeas.” I am going to be busy trying her other recipes, which you can also find on the web and YouTube. Here’s the YouTube recipe for the Chickpea Pulav: Click here.

 

Escaping the Heat

Deep Shade, Ocean Breezes, and Boats

Burton W. Chace Park in Marina Del Rey is no longer a secret. Many people have discovered that, even when the rest of Los Angeles is searingly hot, there is always a cool breeze blowing on the peninsula that sticks out into the Marina. So I took the #16 Santa Monica bus (to avoid the stiff parking fees) to Lincoln and Mindanao Way and walked the half mile from the bus stop to the park. On the way is a handy Trader Joe store where I buy a healthy picnic lunch to take with me.

While there, I read Kaouther Adimi’s delightful book about an Algerian Bookshop that also served as Albert Camus’s first publisher. In the sun, the temperature easily reached the 90s, but in the shade I was comfortable. Martine stayed home resting.

One of the Massive Shade Trees at the Park

The park is so excellent that I am surprised that Donald Trump has not tried to bulldoze it and turn it into a tasteless high rise hotel with gold plumbing fixtures.

Curiously, the predominant language of the park visitors is Russian. They seem to know how to enjoy themselves. Good!

At home, I prepared another vegetarian curry for myself made with potatoes, tomatoes, and peas with rice—and a combination of Serrano and Hatch chiles that challenged this chile-head. All the while, Martine, who is suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome looked on ruefully while I ate something that would have exploded her intestines. All she could eat was a banana and a can of Progresso Chicken and Wild Rice soup. She has been suffering with this condition for two weeks now. Tomorrow, I’ll drive her to see the doctor.

 

 

 

Plague Diary 29: Corona Cooking

The Mafia Cooking Hour

During my months-long quarantine, I have been sustained by five things:

  1. My relationship with Martine
  2. Playing chess with the computer
  3. Reading
  4. Watching movies on TV and my computer
  5. Cooking

That last item deserves some explanation. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I never was able to give it the attention it deserved. When I was working, I cooked good food, but I shied away from recipes that required some sophistication and a lot of time. Now that I am retired and quarantined, I am able to take the time to make some really good meals.

Mostly for Martine’s benefit, I got my hands on a cookbook by a convicted mafioso, Henry Hill, featuring the Italian cooking of the New York/New Jersey area: The Wiseguy Cookbook. Although Martine was born in France, she was mostly raised in Northern New Jersey (in Oceanport). As a child, it was New Jersey Italian food that she loved most. That was before she came out to Los Angeles and fell for Hungarian food.

For myself, I have become more interested in the vegetarian cuisine of India. Fortunately, Youtube has some excellent and very authentic recipes by Indians, Pakistanis, and others featuring Indian cuisine. This week, I made the following:

Manjula presents us here with a recipe for Chick Pea Pulav (aka Chole Biryani). The followed the recipe exactly, except that I added half a chopped onion and some extra hot Indian red chile powder. The only change I would suggest is to use one cup of water rather than a cup and a half. The dish is superb.

Fortunately, there is a nearby Indian foods store in Culver City called Indian Sweets and Spices. In better times, there is a little café on the premises with vegetarian-only curries; but there is also an excellent selection of teas and such hard-to-find items as mango powder, foenugreek leaves, garlic/ginger paste, and asafoetida.

American Cuisine? No Thanks!

Burger and Fries … and Fries and Burgers

As I grow older, I realize more and more how different I am from most Americans. Politically, I have re-defined myself as independent of the two major political parties, and totally uninterested in the minor ones. Racially, I no longer consider myself to be white—ever since I have become so disgusted with misbehaving whites in the Trumpf era. (As a Hungarian, I consider myself to be of Other Race, namely Finno-Ugric, the language family to which the Hungarian language belongs, originating in the borderlands between Europe and Asia.) Now I find myself disliking most American food. At those times I am forced to eat at an American restaurant, I am usually lucky if I can finish 30% of my meal.

I make an exception in the case of the foods of the American South and Southwest. And I like Italian, Latin American, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern foods. And I still love Hungarian food, if I can find any! But don’t offer me a burger and fries. Been there. Done that. Am finished with it once and for all.

That has led to some problems with Martine. Most of the time, she likes to eat stuff I don’t like, such as burgers, pot roast, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes. I will indulge her on weekends when we go out to eat, but I don’t make much of a dent in what is served to me. And no Cokes or Pepsis, please, just iced black tea without chemical additives. In the end, I make sure she gets what she wants, but she is frightened that I am becoming a vegetarian of the Indian Subcontinent variety.

During the last six weeks, Martine has had major digestive issues, so that I have concentrated on improving my vegetarian curries. And I have done so substantially, to an extent that alarms my little French girl. I suspect that we shall come to some sort of agreement in the end, even if I have to cook some foods I am not interested in tasting.

My Flirtation with India

Mumbai Street Scene

For years, I have been fascinated with India in a way I have not been with any other Asian locale. Is it possible that I would ever go there on a vacation? There are a number of factors pro and con:

PRO

  • I have a good friend—Mohan—in Chennai (formerly known as Madras).
  • I love reading about India. One of my favorite authors is the Tamil R. K. Narayan who wrotre a series of novels about a mythical town called Malgudi. Also, I have just finished Paul Theroux’s The Elephanta Suite, which I enjoyed.
  • English would probably take me further in India than in any other Asian destination.
  • Indian curries, especially vegetarian curries, are one of my favorite cuisines.

CON

  • What frightens me about India is the same thing I hate in Los Angeles: Unrelenting heat. I would have to time my visit carefully so I’m not stuck there just before the monsoons arrive.
  • I would probably not enjoy spending much time in India’s large, crowded cities, such as Mumbai, Kolkata, or Chennai.
  • One of my friends from Dartmouth College, also, like me, from Cleveland, died in India a few years after graduation of some gastric disturbance. Because of the state of my health, I would be afraid of contracting food poisoning.

There you have it: A few random observations of what goes through my mind when I consider going to India.

Kale and Turnips—Not!

The Bombay Frankie Company’s Aloo Gobi Matar Wrap

Last week, I ran into a rabid vegetarian at the Ralph’s Supermarket in Santa Monica. She had her groceries in two piles, momentarily confusing the checker, who asked me if her second pile was mine.

I answered him: “Hmm, kale and turnips. Nope, that doesn’t look like what I’d eat.”

This angered the customer, who turned to me and started critiquing the groceries I was purchasing, much of which was for Martine, who has been ill with a bad cold. I stayed silent until she slunk away with a sour look on her face—a look that could only be the result of eating a diet of kale and turnips.

Actually, I consider myself a part-time vegetarian. The one difference between me and the other customer is that I refuse to eat bland, tasteless food, regarding it as an insult. I was raised on Hungarian food, some of which was vegetarian, especially when times were bad and we couldn’t afford meat. But it was good food and tasted great!

I cannot for the life of me stomach American vegetarian cuisine, which I find objectionable in the extreme. Hungarians have good vegetarian dishes, as do Italians and Persians. The best vegetarian chow, in my opinion, is from the Indian subcontinent. Indian curries are the epitome of a great vegetarian cuisine, such that I prefer to cook vegetarian when I make curry.

In preparation, I visit an Indian specialty food store, such as India Sweets & Spices in Culver City, where I can buy curry leaves, black mustard seeds, good turmeric, cumin, and coriander—and where the owner usually gives me a cup of chai masala for free. In fact, if Martine were not still hitting the soup trail for her cold, I would cook a potato and spinach curry this week.

One of the oldest books I own is Monica Dutt’s The Art of Indian Cooking, which has been my guide to learning how to cook curries. Today I had an Aloo Gobi Matar wrap (as illustrated above) at the Bombay Frankie Company in West L.A., which is located at one end of a Chevron Station at the Santa Monica Boulevard exit on the I-405.