Saturday, October 31, 2015

Punjabi Joe's Ancient Lentil Tofu Soup With Saag Dregs

Last week, I cooked sarson ka saag (spicy puree of greens) and makki di roti (Punjabi cornbread). The next night, I perked up the leftovers by making Chicken Saag With Makki di Roti. Then, as the makki di roti were drying out, I made Tofu Saag With Corny Crackers.

And now, down to dregs, I heated a few tablespoons of Trader Joe's Lentil Soup With Ancient Grains (which is great on its own, but I also like to treat it as an ingredient), dumped in the saag dregs, along with some frozen mixed vegetables and artichoke hearts, a whole bunch of leftover watercress, and, once again, some tofu for protein:




Other postings in this series:
Part 1 (previous)
Part 2 (previous)
Part 3 (previous)


Friday, October 30, 2015

Tofu Saag With Corny Crackers

Earlier this week, I cooked sarson ka saag (spicy puree of greens) and makki di roti (Punjabi cornbread). The next night, I perked up the leftovers by making Chicken Saag With Makki di Roti.

Today, I'd eaten chicken for lunch and didn't want to repeat, but I always try to eat a protein of some sort. So I cubed some tofu, braised it with cumin and jalapeño, then added it to the leftover saag. The makki di roti had dried out, so I made a virtue of it by grilling it (greaselessly) until quite dry, then I tore it up into pieces and floated it atop, ala corny crackers:




Other postings in this series:
Part 1 (previous)
Part 2 (previous)
Part 4


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chicken Saag With Makki di Roti

I previously explained how I'd cooked sarson ka saag (a spicy, garlicky dish of pureed greens) and makki di roti (corn roti).

And then there were leftovers! Here was my first variation:

I marinated (see my primer on marination) a couple pounds of chicken breast tenders in milk (sorry, ancestors), onion, saffron, cumin, and jalapeño for 45 minutes, then broiled until just barely brown on both sides. I chopped the chicken into bite sized chunks, added them to rewarmed sarson ka saag, and immediately served with leftover makki di roti, which I'd heated gently on the same cast iron griddle (no oil, just heat and a very watchful eye).

Using my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods on a scale of 1 to 10, the previous night's efforts had rated a "7": Soulless but good (hey, it was my first time; I never expected to nail "good"!). Adding chicken (plus refrigeration's salubrious effect on the stew) bumped it up to an 8 ("Elicits vocal expression of pleasure. Appreciated with gusto").

As the French say, walla:



Since I'd used very little ghee, it was even healthy!


A note about chicken cutting. While I like vegetables cut professionally and evenly, I prefer bite-sized meat chunks cut more raggedly. I dislike the fibrous face of smoothly-cut cooked meats...there's a reason "pulled pork" (pulled everything these days) is so popular. Many creative triumphs stem from a willingness to try the wrong way!

Have a close look at the frontmost poultry in that photo, and I think you'll understand why I opted to hack it haphazardly with a dull butter knife. Same goes for the chicken in my very proud 5 minute taco recipe. You get better texture, mouthfeel diversity, and sauce-clingability with rough cutting.



Other postings in this series:
Part 1 (previous)
Part 3
Part 4


Monday, October 26, 2015

Cooking Punjabi Soul Food


(click images for close-ups)


Last night I made one of my favorite Indian dishes, the widely beloved Punjabi soul food dish of sarson ka saag and makki di roti. The former is a spicy, garlicky dish of pureed greens (similar to the various palak dishes you've had), and the latter is roti made with corn meal, which sounds strange until you realize how much corn Indians actually eat over there (if not over here).

Good luck getting Indians to agree on which green "saag" actually is; credible authorities say mustard greens, spinach, or chopped broccoli. But I went to Patel Brothers (the essential Indian grocery chain in the NY tristate region), and they've hung their "saag" sign over a bin of broccoli rabe. So I went with that.

This was the first time I've cooked Indian food in 25 years (long story), and I learned stuff. Notice that this is all work in progress; I've only made this once, so I'll surely refine everything in future attempts.

Have you ever embarked on a new recipe and realized, midway through, that far more work was involved than you'd expected? This was the opposite. I'd briefly read through a number of sarson ka saag recipes (this one, this one, this one, and this one) and makki di roti ones (this one and this one), and they all seemed rather vague. Now I understand why. These dishes are almost crazily error tolerant. These are the Toyota Camrys of recipes.

And even though I was mostly working from this recipe, itself so stripped down that the author felt obliged to defend herself ("You can add onion, tomatoes and different other spices if you like it. Try this one and i am sure you’ll forget all the other seasonings"), it could be stripped down further still. A lot of pains I took in cooking this stuff were unnecessary. So I've distilled it to its essentials. Just read these straight through; you can truly learn/grasp/internalize both recipes from a light read:

Sarson Ka Saag

Clean and stem a bunch or two each of mustard greens, broccoli rabe, spinach, and, if you can find them, "bathua leaves" (aka amaranth, lamb's quarters, pigweed). Boil a couple cups of water in a dutch oven, and toss in the leaves. Cook for a while (doesn't matter how long) at medium heat, then use an immersion blender on them.

Reduce heat to low, and add plenty of finely-chopped garlic and three or four finely-sliced small green chilis, 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (available at any Indian market), plenty of salt, and a couple tablespoons of corn flour (for thickening). Add the corn flour gradually or else it'll lump up. Cook at low heat. Check for thickness, and add more corn flour if it's very runny.

In a pan, fry crushed garlic and a whole lot of freshly-grated ginger in as much ghee as you can stomach. Add to the pot and stir (you can also dole out the cooked ginger/garlic atop individual portions at serving time). Done!





Makki di Roti

Mix fine corn flour (Mexican masa mix is easiest to find) and corn meal (proportion doesn't matter) to total 3 cups. Throw in a bowl with some salt, a handful of finely chopped cilantro leaves, a few finely sliced small green chilis, and 1/2 tsp ajwain/carom seeds (again, available at Indian markets, and these are essential). Mix thoroughly. Add very hot water, mixing lightly with a spoon or spatula, until it's wet enough to hand-knead. Let cool until you can handle without burning hands, then knead until texture is even.

Grease the insides of a sealable bag. Form a small dough ball, place in bag, and flatten - with a roller if the dough is tough, or with your hand if it's moist. Remove very carefully*, and cook over medium heat in a cast iron skillet lightly (or not so lightly) greased with ghee. Be careful to cook both sides thoroughly. Clean pan between batches, or you'll wind up with burnt bits on your roti (per my bottom photo).

That's the whole thing. There are very intricate recipes out there, but this was the easiest cooking imaginable, and turned out great and authentic!

* - Removing the roti from the greased bag is the tricky part. One alternative is to place the dough ball directly in the pan, and smash it down with your (wet) hand - being careful not to burn yourself. Don't let the dough dry out so much that you can't make it reasonably thin and flat. One tip is to aim for thinner centers and thicker circumferences.



Other postings in this series:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hillary's Week

Everyone's been commenting on Hillary Clinton's two big boosts this week: her very fine performance at the Benghazi hearings, and Biden's decision not to run. It's strange (and symptomatic of the quality of political punditry) that no one's thought to note the third - and greatest - boost: Jeb Bush's fade. He's laid off of 40% of his staff due to lack of hard money (the sort of funds that pay payrolls, as opposed to his hundreds of millions in soft money - i.e. super PAC funds usable for blitzing ads).

A Clinton vs Bush showdown would bore the bejesus out of both sides of the equation, especially in an election where extreme political boredom has boosted out-of-the-mold candidates like Trump, Carson, and Sanders. Clinton vs Bush apathy would have disproportionally affected Democrats and independents (re the old chestnut: "Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line"), but there's nothing boring about Clinton vs Rubio. So Bush's fade was the best news for Hillary Clinton all week.

Speaking of the Benghazi hearings, I watched the last couple hours and was impressed. For two decades, Mrs. Clinton has been mostly an enormous Thanksgiving parade balloon head to me. Like Oprah Winfrey, she's seemed to have been celebrated mostly for her indefatigable omnipresence; I never quite understood what either of them was actually good at, aside from an unshakable core of preternatural self-satisfaction. Merely "being a strong, successful woman", at this late date (when there are lots of them out there) seems like an awfully sparse trigger for mass adulation.

But at those hearings (for which she was, obviously, prepped within an inch of her life, but still), she seemed solid. Not just calculating, but highly competent, controlled, level-headed, and steady. I hadn't seen this side before, and these are very good qualities for a president. I can't even look at Clinton when she's campaigning (where she projects nothing so much as smug neediness and vapidity), but she struck me as exactly the kind of steady decision-maker who'd make a good president*.

But I am (depending on his eventual running mate) still for Lessig.


There's something Obama keeps repeating which has finally sunk in for me: no easy decisions reach the president, so he's constantly choosing between distasteful options. This explains why so many decisions inevitably disappoint a president's supporters; the latitude simply isn't as wide as we'd imagine. Obama, whatever you think of him, has been brilliant at the long game of choosing moderately distasteful solutions which, in the aggregate, push his principles forward long run.

I think this is really pretty much the whole gig; the ability to cooly, nimbly take the two steps backward that will, in time, spur situations three steps forward. George W Bush and Ronald Reagan profoundly lacked this ability; they operated from conviction in blunt gestures, never letting prickly details confuse their "clarity". After watching Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearings, I'm above all convinced she has a deep facility (which I can't imagine to be matched by any current candidate; certainly not Bernie Sanders) for the sort of detail-informed pragmatic decision-making which, again, is pretty much the whole gig.

Maybe it's not that she's a cold-blooded calculator/triangulator, after all. Maybe she's just highly deliberate and thoughtful.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Involuntarily Blurting Out Random Stuff After Flashing Recollections of Embarrassment

Thank god for the Internet.

This is something which has embarrassed me all my life, and made me suspect I'm neurologically miswired (perhaps Tourettes?). But according to this discussion on wonderful Ask Metafilter , it turns out that a great many people do the same thing...and feel the same way about it. Surprisingly, most people do it in strikingly similar fashion. They even blurt out the same exact random phrases!

Further googling reveals more and more and more overgrown discussions where multitudes confess they do the same. Perhaps everyone does?

I'd assumed this was anxiety-related behavior, but after a decade of very rigorous meditation, that could hardly be a factor...yet the behavior remains. Perhaps it's a side-effect of a particularly vivid imagination. Another downside, like depression, for those gifted/cursed with creativity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Leff's Law of Explanations

If you build something which you think might confuse people, and try to compensate via explanation, most people won’t notice the explanation...and of those who do notice, most will misunderstand it...and of those who do understand, most won’t remember it.


Fwiw, here are my other laws

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gun Safety Laws, Mass Shootings, and the Iraq Invasion

I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the right to the left (I'm myself near the center - a pox on both their houses, etc. - which gives me some perspective). Here are my previous efforts at right-whispering (this one is a good start).

I hate guns. All they've ever done is maim my loved ones. But I've lived in urban and suburban areas, where they're not part of a legitimate culture. If it were up to me, we'd melt them all down, but I recognize (and am apparently rare in the recognizance) that we share the country with other cultures and values, which deserve consideration and compromise.

Whenever these mass shootings happen, many people, understandably, advocate for tighter gun control. But the more intelligent, less emotional voices on the other side make good points:

1. There is nearly one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US. So "lots of guns" is a given for the foreseeable future. It's politically unfeasible (not to mention unconstitutional) to take firearms away from their lawful owners; so any proposal hinging on meaningfully reducing guns is demonstrating Trumpian intellectual integrity. If the mass shooting problem is to be addressed, it must be done with the assumption of a landscape flush with guns as a given, whether we like it or not.

2. The crazies will always find access to guns. We can try to tighten their access a bit (mostly to the inconvenience of non-crazies), but crazy people tend to be, if nothing else, persistent. And further stigmatizing and segregating the mentally ill would be no solution (who among us, for one thing, is completely mentally well 24/7?).

3. I'm no expert, but I gather that current gun-control/safety proposals would likely have prevented scant few of the mass-shootings we've seen in recent years. This point seems well-conceded by pragmatic voices on the left.

To me, that last one is pretty convincing. Since it's already unlawful to kill innocents with guns, further legislation either needs to be very smart, or else simply fulfill a kneejerk desire to "do something", and good government oughtn't work that way. And, alas, no one claims to have the smart answer. Leaders shouldn't simply flail, even amid horror.

Let me be clear: every single gun safety law I've heard about makes abundant good sense to me. I'd love to see them all implemented! The gun trade is horrendously under-regulated, and most Americans are sane enough to recognize that we need to tighten them. But none of them would prevent the shootings we're seeing. These solutions wouldn't fix the problem.

That's why the right is outraged by these seemingly common sense proposals. Remember after 9/11, when neoconservatives seized the opportunity to invade Iraq, a long-time to-do item for them - for reasons completely unrelated to 9/11? And do you remember how the rest of us screamed our heads off about exploiting tragedy to pursue unrelated political aims? That's how the right feels when liberals renew pushing for gun control (always on their to-do list) after these tragedies, when those laws wouldn't prevent these sorts of tragedies any more than Saddam's demise would have prevented 9/11. It's not that they're against gun safety. It's that they've spotted the misdirection, and it gets their backs up.


Another thing to remember: anytime you hear astronomical statistics on American gun violence cited by the left, know there's a catch. Suicide accounts for way more than half of it - though it's seldom noted by gun-control advocates. So it's not just the right who bugger statistics and blur fact. Dissemblance makes people mistrustful, and mistrust explains why sane conservatives, otherwise inclined to gun safety laws, push back so hard against them.

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