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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mauti, Dhania & Geera - Trifecta of the Apiaceae Family

Spices are central to Nepalese cooking. The three most prevalent at our dinner were Fennel (Mauti), Coriander (Dhania) and Cumin (Geera). All of them, at some point or another were toasted or heated in oil. They were involved in nearly every recipe we collected. Lets look a little closer. . .

Fennel: Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum (treated as the sole species in the genus by most botanists). It is a member of the family Apiaceae. It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.

Fennel is widely cultivated, both in its native range and elsewhere, for its edible, strongly-flavoured leaves and seeds. Its aniseed flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong.Also, it was from the giant fennel, Ferula communis, that the Bacchanalian wands of the god Dionysus and his followers were said to have come.

It is one of the plants which is said to be disliked by fleas, and powdered fennel has the effect of driving away fleas from kennels and stables.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is also known as cilantro, particularly in the USA. Coriander is native to southwestern Asia west to north Africa. It is a soft, hairless plant. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the most commonly used in cooking.

Coriander is commonly used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, South Asian, Latin American, Chinese, African and Southeast Asian cuisine. The leaves have a very different taste from the seeds, with citrus-like overtones.

Coriander has been used as a folk medicine for the relief of anxiety and insomnia.

Cumin: Cumin is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native from the east Mediterranean to East India. The flavour of cumin plays a major role in the Latin American, especially in the Northern Mexican, Cuban but also in Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish, Moroccan, Afghan, Indian cuisines.

Cumin is a critical ingredient of chili powder, and is found in achiote blends, adobos, sofrito, garam masala, curry powder, and bahaarat. Cumin seeds are often ground up before being added to dishes.

Cumin seeds are also often toasted by being heated in an ungreased frying pan to help release their essential oils.

Superstition during the Middle Ages cited that cumin kept chickens and lovers from wandering.


Ghal Bheda Jo Achar (Tomato Relish)

In a frying pan, heat several tablespoons of vegetable or mustard oil. Add a pinch of fennel seed and cumin seed to the pan.

After heating, add half a diced yellow or white onion, several cloves diced garlic, several pinches of fresh grated ginger and let them all saute to a warm brown color. Add 3/4 cup of green peas and continue to lightly fry.

Finally add two large diced tomatoes and add a pinch of chili powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and salt. Allow the tomato to cook down to a thick chutney consistency (4-6 minutes).

Set aside and let cool.

This is the standard Nepali condiment for many dishes including Daal, Masu, Saag and Dira.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mehendra and Swikriti - Newark, CA

Whenever you walk into someone's home, it's always interesting and necessary to familiarize yourself with their art, their presence, their vibe, their scent, their layout.

This house was warm and inviting. There were signs of life everywhere and the enveloping wafts of garlic and spice floating around. It was like walking into my own mothers kitchen - someone handed me a glass of wine and offered me a hug before I'd even sat down.

There were trays and dishes of beautifully crafted Nepalese foods on the counter. Mehendra, has been in the United States for 10 years and Swikriti has been in the U.S. on her newly acquired visa for less than a month. Between the two of them, they were able to convey the story of Nepal and what life is like in Kathmandu. The tales unfolded while the pressure cooker steamed and the spices melded.

The altitude in Nepal varies widely, ranging from 60 feet to 21,000 feet - which creates a diverse landscape of culinary culture, climate patterns and produces a wide range of fresh produce. The two most prevalent crops are corn and marijuana followed by tomatoes, peppers, okra, beans, legumes, gourds and rice.

Mehendra was quick to say that corn is the poor mans food. You never serve corn, to a guest, in your home.
(no corn in sight...!)

High in the mountains, you have to use a pressure cooker to cook your meat. And to demonstrate, Swikriti had goat meat from a local chinese market happily simmering away on the stovetop. Mealtimes in Nepal are quite different from those in the U.S. Around 9 or 10 AM there is lunch (but it was what I would call brunch). Sometime in the afternoon around 3 or 4pm there is a snack consisting of biscuits and tea. Dinner is served late around 9 or 10PM.

This eating schedule accompanies a much more tranquil and relaxed work schedule. Most work weeks are 10-5PM Sunday (Most people in Nepal are Hindu) through Thursday with a half day on Fridays from 10-3PM. Saturdays are free days.

(Cauliflower Achar Sadheko** recipe below)

After we ate dinner together and transcribed recipes from one language to another. It was time for the entertainment to begin. The house pet, age 9, Jinee, came and danced for us. She sang. She danced. She re-enacted talent show performances. She showed us one-armed cartwheels and demonstrated how many somersaults she could do in a row.

It really was just like being at home.

1. Cut Cabbage into small pieces, put into clean dish, set aside
2. Heat 2 TBLSP Oil (Vegetable or Mustard Oil) in a pan
3. Once heated, add several pinches of black sesame seeds
4. After toasting/frying seeds for 60 seconds pour the mixture over the cut cabbage
5. Add Salt & Pepper to taste

This is a very refreshing dish that helps balance the other warmer, hotter, spicier, richer foods.

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