Cooking

Bring on the green stuff!

2:11 PM

One of the thing I grew up being used to as a kid and in adulthood was the amount of green stuff on my plate. In Switzerland we are serious salad addicts, and in Summer we even pretty much just eat that, in Winter that’s a copious amount of it that lands in a bowl on the side of our main course. Not content to just eat the stuff raw we usually add lots of herbs in our cooking, comes the early Summer days and the basil is sold in pots in the vegetable section of any given supermarket, often along with rosemary which does very well in pots on the kitchen counter or the balcony.
Continental cuisine is often referred as bland to cultures accustomed to more heat on the plate, because the only actual spice we use while cooking is pepper, all the seasoning in continental dishes (the real home cooked stuff…not the junk food crap that got exported by major franchises) is done with herbs: thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, tarragon, sage, mint and to lesser extent, coriander leaves (cilantro in the US). No Garden patch is really complete without at least half of these herbs growing in it.
When I first arrived in India, this is one of the first thing I noticed as a culinary difference. While Swiss rely on green herbs to season dishes, Indians use spices, and no spice box can be complete without the following in India: red chilli powder, turmeric, coriander powder, cumin seeds, mustard seed and garam masala, some add hing and cumin powder to the box too, and keep a few other essentials such as cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, fennel, pepper and store bought masala mixes used in specific dishes in a spice cupboard.
In the herb department coriander leaves are the most liberally used, mint, some dishes will call for bay leaves and South Indian dishes curry leaves…and that is pretty much it. Of course there is spinach and fenugreek sold everywhere, but those count more as leafy green vegetables than a seasoning item.  
And let me tell you I am ok with coriander, but that herb doesn’t really rock my world, it does great in some dal dishes, in poha, and as a garnishing on some chicken dish when I feel like adding a splash of colour to a dish, but I don’t over use it, ditto with mint, des great in raitas and chutneys, but not one I buy and use liberally. Bay leaves,  I use them in some continental dishes, but rarely in Indian dishes. However I totally fell in love with curry leaves, I LOVE them, they have that fresh green smell that immediately seem to boost the flavour of any dish, these I use in big amount when cooking, and it usually end up in the kadai by the handful…if not 2-3 handfuls. When I cook poha the finally dish is a riot of green and yellow, I just can’t bear the idea of using just 4-5 leaves, same with toor dal, and coconut chutney, but what is even better is that I found a continental fusion use for the green leaf as well, and one of the dish that does stunningly well with it is chicken legs roasted in a Dutch oven with slices of onion, curry leaves and orange peels. While the orange and chicken is a very good combination anytime, the curry leaves just add an extra dimension to it.

DH is not a fan of the curry leaf, being North Indian he isn’t used to it, or the use of greens in the seasoning of dishes. My maid who cooks his tiffin fare usually use one or two leaves in her cooking, it end up amusing me a little to see her not take advantage of the big bunches I usually buy and limit it to such a tiny amount in a dish, because while it is a leaf that has a potent aroma, you need more than just one in a sea of dal to flavour it, she however uses a lot of coriander to top the dishes sometimes to the point of bitterness.
My South Indian friends usually use a full sprig of curry leaves in preparations like sambar, many telling me what I found out on my own: it bids the flavour in dish in a way that is both subtle and strong at the same time, not to mention that all those in favour of curry leaves sing the healthy praise of it.

If I were to be away from India I can honestly say that I would miss fresh curry leaves a LOT, probably as much as I miss potted sweet italian basil here (the cut fresh stuff in stores never really cut it).
To the Swiss in me, curry leaves came as a comfort catapulted in a culinary world that has more yellow and red than green as a colour theme. It can sound a bit silly but the first few years in India I could have at time killed for a lettuce leaf salad, they were rare, pricey, and not very good looking until about 5 years back. I remember the elation at finding a lettuce in the early days, not to mention the day oregano became available as a dried herb instead of being that stuff mixed with salt and condiments delivered with a franchise outlet pizza.

What are the things you miss from home when abroad? Or what was your biggest culinary adjustment when living in another culture?

3 comments

  1. Sharmishtha10:52 PM

    Please do be careful about eating raw greens or vegetables. I know someone in my wider circle who got tape worm from salad. My mother usually washes the veggies in a potassium permanganate solution but I always feel a little insecure about eating anything raw.

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  2. True there is always a risk with raw stuff, what matters though is to remember to wash everything you plan to consume raw, it usually minimalise the risk, tapeworm eggs find their way on vegtables because some stool material or water contaminated with fecal waste came in control with the vegetables, but like most worms that affect the human body, the egg will only hatch in a warm cozy organic environement, so proper handling of your food with clean hands and proper washing does the trick, I use clean drinking water to wash my raw veggies, nothing more and have been safe.
    Keeping the fridge and kitchen surface clean at all time also help keeping food stuff much safer, the kitchen is said to have even more bacteria breeding than in the toilet, so totally pays to change sponges and mopes once a week, and use a good surface cleaner to wash the sink and counters, and more importantly keep the areas dry, a never ending battle with my maid who simply don't get why water splatter is a problem.

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  3. ohhh nectarines! I miss them too, peaches are available in India when in season, they weren't until a few years back or at least not as easily. Apricots seem to have made an entrance in some select stores this year but looked a bit sad and way too overpriced, so I still miss these too. I miss berries a LOT, Strawberries have become very common now thankfully so the instant the season starts in November I hog them down until the season reach an end in March, they are getting much better in taste too. But blackberries, and raspberries are things I miss a lot, apparently they are grown in the State, but so far the reach must be limited to these cultivating areas exclusively. This year I also started seeing mulberries for the first time, whcih is funny considering mulberry is a tree that is quite common in India.
    But then the idea of treating fruits as part of a daily diet is a very new idea in India too, people are just really warming up to the idea of including more variety of fruits in their diet.
    I remember finding artichokes a few years ago in bangalore, but after steaming them like my mom used to prepare them I found that the leaves were far more leathery and with less soft edible flesh in them, the heart was good, but tiny.

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