Aloft in India

2011.Feb.22 Tuesday · 0 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“Airmail (or air mail, in French Par avion) is mail that is transported by aircraft. It typically arrives more quickly than surface mail, and usually costs more to send. Airmail may be the only option for sending mail to some destinations, such as overseas, if the mail cannot wait the time it would take to arrive by ship, sometimes weeks. Specific instances of a letter being delivered by air long predate the introduction of Airmail as a regularly scheduled service available to the general public.”

The history of airmail is vague, or at least cluttered. Does one count balloons? In that case, the first instance was January 7, 1785, in France. Or perhaps carrier pigeons, whose delivery services were in use through recorded history. And what constitutes an official delivery – technically, the first delivery of any letters in an airplane was on January 17, 1911, 8 years after the introduction of planes, but there were people who carried letters unofficially prior to that. And even that date, a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California by Fred Wiseman, was more of a “I’m going to beat them” stunt, as the British Colonial Post Office had an “official experiment” scheduled for the next day, carrying 6500 letters between two towns in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. And as to whether or not Wiseman’s trio of letters were official has come into question more than once – they were indeed stamped and postmarked, but, if I understand the history correctly, it was his proposal to do the flight to a local postmaster, as opposed to something that the USPS had their hands in as a plan – though, years later they issued a stamp to commemorate the event. And the first scheduled, non-experimental airmail didn’t fly out until September 9th of that same year.

Still, the flight that caught my interest was the British one. It was clearly planned and sanctioned by a postal authority. It involved a substantial number of letters – I’m still a bit mystified as to how one of those early kite-style box planes got off the ground carrying pilot Henri Pequet and 6500 pieces of mail, which even if we assume about half an ounce apiece added over 200 pounds to the weight it was carrying – of course, that could partially account for the flight only being laid out for 13 kilometers…. So, that was the flight we chose to commemorate this last weekend at Casa S, with a bit of northern Indian inspirations….

I have to say, one of the things I’ve noted is that certain cuisines don’t lend themselves as well to our tasting menu style. If you stop to think about it, most Indian food is not presented all that prettily on a dish by dish basis. What makes it eye-appealing tends to be two-fold – first, the serviceware is often quite beautiful, and second and more importantly, the style of service, which in a real Indian feast tends to involve laying all the dishes out at once, in attractive (and often prescribed) patterns, and it is both the abundance and the mosaic of those dishes that creates “the look” of the meal. So, I have noticed that often our Indian inspired dishes here at the casa or out dining, don’t make for great photographs. But they do taste good!

Cauliflower Croquette - sookhi gobi

I started off with a dish called Sookhi Gobi, a “dry cauliflower” saute. And then I turned to Lukas Volger’s cauliflower burger from his Veggie Burgers book. I essentially made the veggie burgers but used the spicing from the Indian dish – so its a mix of pureed and chopped cauliflower, breadcrumbs and eggs, and then onion and garlic, cayenne, cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, amchoor (sour mango powder), and salt. Rolled that in panko crumbs and baked them. Served up with an apple yogurt – a mix of thick yogurt, cumin, cayenne, ginger, salt and grated apple. Sorry Lukas, but this blows your cauliflower and mustard burger (good as it is) out of the water….

Vegetarian Mulligatawny

A relatively traditional mulligatawny, or at least the vegetarian version, a soup that’s about as Anglo-Indian as dishes over there get. Sauteed onions, garlic and ginger in a little olive oil, then added mild curry powder, chickpeas, diced potato (skin on), rice and chopped apple. Simmered away until the potatoes and rice were cooked, then added coconut milk, lime juice and brown sugar. Adjusted the salt, garnished with green onions.

Fish and Spinach Ravioli

Fish and Spinach Pansoti

A mashup of a trio of things… or more. At first, I was going to make a relatively classic Bhopali Hare Masale Ki Macchli, or, Bhopali fish with green seasonings – essentially a fish kebab marinated in cilantro and green chilies and then grilled. I was going to serve it alongside Mughlai Spinach, basically spinach sauteed with onions, chilies and spices. Then I thought I’d turn it into a little tartlet. And then I thought, I really wanted a pasta dish, and I remembered the fish noodles from a past dinner. I’ve played with the formula over time because I found the lack of fish flavor noticeable. So the pasta that I use now uses a pound of ground fish, 3 cups of flour, 3 eggs and 3 teaspoons of salt – no need for water added.

First night I made ravioli, but there was too much of the dough in relation to filling and sauce, so the second two nights I made pansoti – much better. The filling, the Mughlai spinach – saute onions and ginger in a mix of oil and butter, add fennel seed, cardamom, salt, cayenne and garam masala and then spinach. Let cool, squeeze out and drain well, then fill the pasta. For the sauce, a puree of cilantro, green chilies, garlic, lemon juice, yogurt and salt, just warmed.

Shahi Chicken

One of my favorite northern Indian/Pakistani dishes is Shahi Chicken, recipe at the link. Instead of serving it over basmati rice, I served it with a simple chicken stock risotto with peas.

Filled crepes

All I was thinking about was coconut and maybe a milk caramel something or other for dessert. I went pretty non-Indian here after that. Rice flour crepes stuffed with dulce de leche, toasted coconut, chopped toasted pecans, and dried blueberries that I rehydrated in slivovitz. All warmed up in the oven until nice and gooey. Served over butter-bourbon sauce. Killer. Someone suggested we open a stand and just serve those.

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