Old Man Winter is loosening his grip…soon the winter bounty will be over. Enjoy it while it lasts and if you put in some extra effort now, you could make it last longer. And I am not talking about pickle making.
Drying is one method which works on summer as well as winter vegetables, though dishes prepared with re-hydrated vegetables have a distinctly different taste. Like many people preparing for long hard winters ahead, Kashmiris too have a tradition of cooking with vegetables (and fish) dried in the sunny and warm summer months. Turnips and turnip greens, eggplant, bottle gourd, tomatoes, cauliflower, cooking apples (bum tchoonth), can all be seen threaded into garlands and hung up to dry by a sunny window all over Kashmir, and relished later in the winter. Everyone has seen pictures of Kashmiri red chillies strung similarly. And of course, you have all also heard of the prized dried morels or guchhi (kannguchh in Kashmiri).
I have experimented with sun-drying vegetable very successfully myself. I have to learn some Kashmiri preparations before I try my hand at turnips and eggplant. In addition to tomatoes, I have tried sun-drying cauliflower, and karela (bitter gourd) in the Delhi summers. Mint can be similary dried for monsoon-season and winter use when it becomes scarce. Just snip bunches of fresh mint, give it a quick rinse, shake of the excess water, and let it dry in shade. Once it is dry, crush it between your palms, throw out the stems, and store in air-tight glass jars. As the end of winter nears, I do the same to make my own kasuri methi (the more fragrant cousin of the regular methi/ fenugreek greens) for later use in stews and chicken curries.
This winter, and last year as well, we made amla supari. Salt stoned and chopped amla (Indian Gooseberry), mix in salt and some grated ginger, and dry in the sun. This is great to chew on after a meal or when you have a bad taste in your mouth. The puckering sour of the amla combines well with the salt and ginger for a healthy mouth freshner – amla (yes, the same key ingredient in Body Shop’s Amlika Hair Conditioner!) is one of the richest sources of vitamin C, though all that sunning must kill off most of that. In any case, it tastes great.
But what I want to showcase today is freezing vegetables. While the frozen food isles in the US stock everything under the sun, it is not so here in India yet. Mother Dairy Fruit and Vegetable outlets (and also the fancier grocery shops in the air-conditioned malls) carry Safal frozen peas on a regular basis. You will also find cauliflower in the summer, sometimes bhindi (okra), as also tomatoes.
But in this house we are very picky about the peas we consume – matar (sweet tender peas) as opposed to watane, the plump peas better off dried into lentils. Or if of the yellow pea variety – dried and cooked to make the most delicious of north Indian street foods – the matar-kulcha– boiled yellow peas, mixed with chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies, coriander and a special fiery spice mix and served out of shiny bright brass pots with warmed leavened flat breads, at a bus stop near you. 100% fat free to boot. (You didn’t think that was chhole (chick pea) now, did you?).
So we continue to freeze peas for year round use in matar pulao, aloo matar, and matar paneer, as we did before we had Safal.
The following procedure can be used to freeze peas, cauliflower, broccoli (but who can afford this vege here!) carrots, beans and the like. Carrots cook easy so remember to keep the chunks large.
Prepared vegetables (shelled peas, cauliflower cut into large florets, green beans cut into 1 ½” lengths…)
A large pot of water
Salt (1 t to 1 l of water)
Zip lock bags
Bring the salted water (4-5 l, about a gallon, I think) to boil. Add the prepared vegetables in batches – a couple of pounds can go in at a time. Blanch the vegetables for 2 minutes exactly. The pot should continue to be the stove top. Do not wait for the water to come to boil. Drain the vegetables or skim them out. I usually dump mine into the colander kept over another large pot to catch all the water. It is much faster this way. Put the water on the boil again. Add some salt – another teaspoon or so. Quickly bag the steaming vegetables into zip-lock bags, and freeze right away. Repeat for the rest of the vegetables, doing different veges in separate batches.
To freeze tomatoes, pick and wash perfect ripe tomatoes, bag and freeze! I also keep some ginger and green chillies in my freezer for emergency use – so I’m never out of these two spicy ingredients!
And this is for the silent readers who visit regularly or occassionally – it is still de-lurking ‘month’ – so let me know who you are. Whatever we may like to pretend, we like to know there is someone at the other end – reading and enjoying!
The de-lurking image has been taken from Meeta’s WFLH.