Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lessons from India

Today marks our third to last day cooking Asian food for the entire time at the CIA. I thought it would be a sad thing to think about, but after three weeks or fish sauce, dried shrimp paste and cardamom (okay I know a lot of people LOVE it, but it's not my favorite spice) I can say I've had enough. It's not done yet, however, as I have one more day in the grand country of India as well as our "Iron Chef" cooking practical on Friday. I'm paired with a girl named Brittany in my class for that and our cuisine is Vietnamese. We choose out of a hat tomorrow what ingredients we will have to work with to make an appetizer, soup/salad and main dish. I think it will be a good challenge.
On to more of what you can learn from my wonderful mistakes in the kitchen of India. Today my group prepared Tandoori Cornish Hens, Basmati Rice Pilaf, Bondas and a cilantro-yogurt dipping sauce. A Bonda is a deep-fried potato ball that gets its bright yellow color from turmeric, as many Indian dishes do. My teammate Daniel boiled the potatoes for me and after they were drained and dried I went and mashed them with a whisk, not paying any attention to the fact they were unpeeled. Once they were completely mashed and ready to be added to the rest of the mixture Daniel looked into my bowl and said, "I think you were supposed to take the skins off first." I looked back and said, "HUH? Why wouldn't you have peeled them BEFORE you boiled them?" "Well, the recipe says to boil them first and then peel," he told me as I ran over to my recipe to find he was absolutely right. Awesome, way to read the fine print Vanessa. Daniel said to just roll with it and not tell the Chef, hoping she wouldn't notice and Georgina told me that we should probably boil some more potatoes. I thought, hey, why not just keep the skins and make it a rustic sort of Bonda. Why not? I love potato skins...don't they in India? I'm sure they're prepared both ways. I took my reasoning to the Chef and showed her my mashed potatoes with skins. She looked at me with HUGE eyes and told me that, "in India they NEVER leave the potato skin on in a dish like this!" I tried to reason a bit more playing the rustic card but she wouldn't have it. She said if Chef Ken (another Chef who teaches Asia who is in the kitchen during our class) saw those potato skins in there he would have a heart attack. Sooo... instead of boiling them all over again as I suggested she told me, "NO, I want you to pick out all the skins," as if that was an easy task as the potatoes steamed with heat and the skins were spread throughout 4 pounds of potato. This whole situation reminds me of elementary school when I told my principal the orange peels (orange peels relates to potato skins) I was throwing on the ground were compost when she reprimanded me for littering. She also caught me later calling her Mrs. Chatterbox. Gosh I was sassy back then.
Regardless, I did it, as you can see in my picture. I wasn't able to remove all the skins but enough so as Chef put it, "no one will choke on a skin." Who chokes on a potato skin the size of a quarter?
Despite the setback the Bondas turned out beautifully and we presented them cut open so we could serve three halves instead of two balls....two balls never looks good on a plate (that little piece of advice is free of charge). The recipe is kind of long so I don't really want to include it but if you're interested in making some email me and I'll shoot you the recipe. They're pretty easy to make and are delicious with the cilantro dipping sauce, which, I can also send if you wish.
One more India, when preparing Tandoori Chicken (pictured marinating above) they use Red Dye 40 to produce that incredible red color on the meat. It's crazy really. Someone came up to me during service today and asked what gave it such a vibrant color and I had to tell them the truth that yes, it's made with the same thing red candy is made with. It's authentic though, and that's all that matters!
...okay wait, I'm writing this the next day, after day two of India and I found out that though they may use red dye 40 in America for tandoori they use another coloring in India that is not exactly the same. Didn't want to mislead you.

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