Stinky foods – how we love them! Of course, we don’t necessarily all agree on which ones stink and which don’t. Sometimes, we may even find them aromatic! Take hing or asafoetida, for example. I doubt if there is an Indian who would denounce it because it stinks. In fact, we may even believe it imparts our food an added layer of complexity. The European world relinquished this foetid resin a long time ago only to make other stinkier foods their cherished delicacies!
While Anthony Bourdain feels that a life without stinky cheese, amongst other less loved foods, is not a life worth living at all, Samar (who I only recently discovered is also a food writer!), thinks all kinds of dried stinky sea food is divine. I love my onion and garlic and am planning to give dried fish another shot very soon. I like what fish sauce does to Thai curries; even shrimp paste. I don’t think Brie stinks. In fact, I love most cheeses I have come across. But, blue cheese, for all the snobbery associated with this moldy one, has been a different story altogether. I cannot swallow it. I actually gag.
My brother-in-law, knowing my love for cheese, always brings delightful pickings from the deli. The last time (three years ago!) this included a package of blue cheese which has since been sitting in the freezer waiting an epiphany. Okay, so I exaggerate. But a little divine revelation would have helped immensely.
I would break off bits every now and then to see if I had developed a taste in the intervening time… Despite keeping an open mind nothing of the kind happened. Obviously, I couldn’t throw it away (after all, I am Indian!). My trusted friend suggested I try it in a salad dressing but I was loathe. At the same time it had been occupying very precious freezer real estate all this while.
Inspiration finally struck. Necessity. TH had been declining the Britannia crackers that I usually serve as snacks with the weekend drinks. He’s become a bit of a health freak lately and everything is either too much fat, or too much maida, or both! I didn’t have any leftover roti to make into chips with the dips. I would have to make my own healthy crackers. I decided to kill two birds with a stone: surely a recipe that involved baking would render stinky cheese less obnoxious and more edible. I had bookmarked a souffle recipe somewhere but crackers would be less effort and more worth my while. There was, after all, a strong underlying possibility that the product of all the effort might just get tossed on to the compost pile.
I am happy to report that this methods bakes off most of the offensiveness of the prized cheese leaving behind a much mellowed aroma, one that is more palatable to my Indian taste buds. No, it’s not just me. When I was baking these the whole house, all two floors of it, was smelling. TH wanted to know if I was making ghee from butter that had gone bad. The neighbour and first floor tenant T, politely remarked that despite my careful attempts at maximizing kitchen ventilation (exhaust on high, kitchen window and courtyard door open) the whole house
reeked smelled of my baking. Once she knew it was the crackers, she let her mother enjoy the lot I sent all by herself. 🙂
Blue Cheese Crackers
2 C atta (whole wheat flour)
1 C blue cheese, crumbled
2 T olive oil (or any other mild flavoured vegetable oil)
1 t salt
1 t (or more) chilli flakes
1/4 t soda-bi-carbonate
chilled water for kneading (3/4 C or thereabouts)
In the jar of a food processor pulse all the ingredients using as little water as possible till they begin to just come together into small balls. Take the dough out and press to form a ball. Do not knead any further. Roll out to 1.5mm thickness. Score with a knife into desired shapes/sizes, and prick over with a fork. Remove to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a pre-heated oven at gas Mark 5 (375F) for 20-25 min, turning tray around midway, till edges are golden and the crackers are spotted with brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Snap along the scored lines and store in an airtight container. Serve with fresh salsa or a cream cheese dip.
PS: Thank you for the helpful comments on the previous post. I picked the easiest way to preserve the sundakkai – soaked in salted buttermilk and sun-dried! Unfortunately, the manthakkali had spoiled by the time I returned, but I found store-bought ones in my stash!
The easy pickle made with green peppercorns, mango-ginger, and narthangai was super but was obviously, not going to keep. So spices (and sugar) were added to that; let’s see if that improves its shelf life. The kidarangai I treated like a regular lime pickle and added methi seed powder, red chillies, and tempered oil; I am still not sure it will keep…maybe Pel, who knows everything there is to know about the science and art of pickling, can shed some light?