Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Food for thought: Part One

Spring rolls are awesome aren’t they? Whether crispy or simply soaked in water, they tingle your tastebuds, making you want more. Hell, I’m salivating as I write!

Now, you could order them in whenever you want, but they taste the best when made at home. Trust me on this. I’ve tried numerous restaurants and takeaways. Yet, when I make them at home, my family goes crazy, fighting for the last piece on the plate. And with your choice of serving sauce (personal favourite is sweet chilly), they are ready to be relished. 

Looking back, it’s funny how I took to cooking really. Spending the first 24 years of my life at home, I grew up on my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. Coming from a Bengali household, my family was surprisingly very un-Bong if I could use that term. Sure, we would have the regular slightly-sweetened dals or lentils, the gorgeously tender mutton curries, but rice was never a staple. In fact, from a young age my sister and I were encouraged to broaden our tastebuds. To try all sorts of cuisines available. While one day the dining table had traditional food, chicken au gratin and meatloaf would replace them the next night. Or if one was craving frankfurters from Cold Storage, just a simple soup and mash accompanied the slightly-browned sausages.

Now, sure I would try my hand at baking a few odd cakes here and there or make a prawn linguine once in a while. It was only when I left home that I realised the potential of having my own kitchen. Sure the Anthony Bourdains and Nigella Lawsons molded my thoughts but once I began cooking on a regular basis I realised how important it was not to get stuck in a routine. How to learn to experiment with different herbs, spices and even cuts of meat.

Like the spring rolls I mentioned earlier. I knew the concept of creating them, but until I actually made them I could never truly say home-made ones are the best.

Let me take this opportunity to say I’m terrible with measurements. Like really. I always go by as Bengalis call it ‘Andaaj’. That is when cooking, going by the feel. I’ve heard Italians cook the same way. Hell, unless you bake, cooking should have a variety. One day the salt might be less but the next day, you’ll get it just right.

The first ingredient for homemade spring rolls is rice paper (Let’s face it, unless you know the technique of making it with beaten eggs on an unnaturally high flame, rice paper serves the purpose just fine) Now the fun bit. The filling can be anything! You can try prawns, chicken, pork, beef, eggs. Whatever you fancy.

What I did two days ago was use prawns, eggs, carrots and onions.

I first put a tablespoon of shrimp paste into the wok which was on high heat. Let me warn you, it gives off a strong smell and it would be wiser to keep your kitchen windows shut to deter determined cats sniffing the air, but the depth of flavour it gives to what you cook in them is fabulous. Then tumble in the raw medium-sized prawns (de-veined of course. Who wants to eat poo?) Roughly, a tablespoon of paste to 250 grams of prawns. Sautee them till they are cooked and then keep them in a separate bowl.

Then in the same pan I added a dash of vegetable oil, threw in two spring onions and three cloves of garlic both finely chopped. Once they had become soft, I added one small carrot (peeled and finely chopped). Just for flavour, I added a hint of oyster sauce and voila, my filling was complete! Unless you like your food very salty, you don’t need to add salt while cooking the filling. Of course you must tumble the prawns back in for about half a minute at the end when you feel the vegetables have cooked, just so the delicious flavours get integrated.

Now the second bit. Take a bowl of water and in it, dip each rice paper individually till you feel them go soft. Then you take one out, dry it with a napkin, stuff in your filling and roll into a home-made spring roll! Advice, do not soak all the papers together because once they go soft, it will be difficult to take them apart. For the amount of stuffing I cooked, I can easily make 12-14 rolls.

I had earlier made an omelet which I simply cut into thin strips, adding one to each roll before rolling. (Tongue twister? Ok not really good with the jokes!)

I do apologise for the photograph because the rice paper I had used this time let me down rather badly. So much so that my young sister, who is brilliant at taking photographs, had to admit defeat at being unable to crop, edit whatever she does with her computer, to make food look beautiful.

Anyway, I serve my spring rolls with sweet chilly sauce and they taste absolutely delicious.  It can be lunch, dinner or even party snacks. But do try it. Image

The important why

I’ve often been asked why don’t I blog? Am I lazy? Don’t I want to share my travels, interests, life online? Well, to be honest, I created this account last year with an aim to blog every opportunity I get. And going by the dates from the first post, I can definitely say it hasn’t happened as per my wishful thinking. 

However, it’s never too late is it? I started out with a goal but unfortunately, took a bit of time to actually make the effort.

I have a question though. Why do people blog? There are friends and colleagues who blog almost everyday, talking about their interests and passions, sharing stories with the world which has become so interconnected thanks to the internet. But then, have blogs replaced diaries? The leather-bound or even out-dated calendar ones, with ruled or white sheets,  carefully filled with memories and incidents jotted down by young hands. I shared a very personal relationship with my diary. 

It was my mother who told me, “Write what you feel. But write. It will be your journey, your words. And you’ll look back years later and smile.” I religiously wrote in my dairy till I was 18. Anne Frank’s dairy motivated me too, I think. A young girl hiding in Amsterdam during a dreadful period, all she had was a dairy to pen down her feelings and thoughts. However, once school ended, so did my diary ritual. Looking back, all seven of them held my inner most thoughts, from the first crush to the first kiss, the break up to new friendships, feelings on days my self esteem was low to when I felt I could conquer the world. Now, would I want to share them with the everyone? No, most definitely no. 

But then, why should I blog?

To be clear, I want to share things which I find fascinating. I love to travel. I can’t live without food. Music and books play an integral part of my life. And I can’t not watch sports. So, I’ve decided on certain parts of my life which I would love to share. Call it compartmentalization if you want. And I shall try not to be lazy to leave another year go by.

So, here goes nothing…

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