You Can’t Eat Money…
but having it does help you to eat. Several days ago I transferred money from my savings account into my travel account. The money came out of my savings account immediately but it has not yet appeared in the travel account. The bank assures me that they can do nothing about it and that these things can ‘take several days’: of course the reason it takes several days is because the bank chooses to make it take three days this way they can use it on short term money market to make even more profit on it. So while the bank is increasing its shareholder dividends I found myself in a foreign country unable to pay my hotel bill. I had hoped to pay this bill with my credit card but for some unknown reason the machine demanded a pin number for a card that I always sign for consequently I have no idea what the pin is. Another expensive international phone call to the bank’s ‘support line’ yielded no help beyond suggesting that I get someone in Australia to do a Western Union transfer. I then tried to directly access my savings account only to discover that that card had expired. My last hope was an international money transfer to the hotel bank account: I log into the bank, get into the transfer section and discover that a transfer requires the bank to send an access number to my mobile phone …which happens to be in Australia. I can see this now as comedy of errors but at the time I suffered a complete sense of humour failure and went into hysteria.
In the end it was a fellow Australian you came to my rescue. Claire and her husband run an ethical travel company based in Puri (amongst the many activities they offer is an Oriya cooking www.grassroutesjourneys.com). I had only met Claire once but I called her out of sheer desperation and asked to borrow some money from her: she kindly agreed and had it to me in twenty minutes. This solved my hotel bill problem.
I am not completely penniless but I only have $20 on which to travel 1000 kilometers between Bhubaneswar and Varanasi. To ensure I have enough cash to get from one to the other I have had to compromise on food. Because I spent hours trying to sort out the money situation I reached Bhubaneswar, capital of Orissa, late in the afternoon in a snappy mood being both hungry and wrung out from the earlier hysteria. I did a reccy in the area surrounding my hotel hoping for some street food but there was none to be found. In the end I ate bananas, cake and namkeen (salty, crunchy snacks) from a tea stall/cum corner store. This did not improve my mood.
Then I was helped by a stranger for the second time in the same day. Chef Debashis at Swosti Hotel came to my culinary rescue by plying me with delicious Oriya specialties for dinner: mutton cooked with potatoes in an onion gravy; fish in mustard sauce; dalma (see Puris in Puri); a gentle vegetable stew called ghanto; badi churra, a mix of crisp fried lentil cakes crushed and mixed with thin slices of onion and chopped garlic that is used to add additional flavour and texture to other dishes (the onion also acts to aid digestion of heavier meal components such as mutton) and eggplant in yoghurt. This last dish was exceptionally good and I was surprised to discover how simple it is (I am going to give you the recipe below). It was also made with green eggplant, which was only the second time I have seen/eaten a green eggplant (the first was when Claire – see above – used one in the dalma she made for me). Apparently the green eggplant have been genetically modified to stop a particular worm from burrowing into them.
Dahi baigono (eggplant in yoghurt)
Serves 2 greedy people or 4 more restrained ones
2 eggplant cut into fingers*
Oil for frying
1 cup plain yoghurt
2 tsp mustard or vegetable oil
8 curry leaves
1-2 whole red chillies or to taste
Salt to taste
Heat enough oil in a fry pan over medium-high heat to cook the eggplant to a golden brown. Drain these on kitchen paper and set aside.
Beat the yoghurt with a fork until it is smooth (if it is thick yoghurt add a little water while beating it as it should be ‘soupy’).
Heat the 2 tsp of oil in a heavy based pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot add the curry leaves and red chillies. Stir around until the curry leaves change colour (this will happen quickly) and pour this temper into the yoghurt. Season with salt and add the eggplant pieces. That’s it. Enjoy.
*If you want to decrease the amount of oil that eggplant absorbs when it cooks zap the eggplant pieces in the microwave for 40 seconds or quickly steam them until barely softened. This starts to break down the cellular structure of the eggplant which stops it taking in so much oil.
Malabar Coast fish kofte with coconut sauce
500g white fish fillets
½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp white vinegar
3 shallots, grated or minced
2 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp dried coconut
the zest of one lime
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
I red onion, grated
1 tsp white poppy seeds ground to a paste*
½ cup yoghurt
½ cup thick coconut milk
fresh coriander leaves
vegetable oil for cooking
To make the kofte
Cut the fish into chunks. Mix the turmeric and vinegar with a little salt. Marinate the fish in the vinegar mix for 30 minutes.
Drain the fish and process it in a food processor with all the remaining ingredients. Do this on the pulse setting as you want the fish to retain some texture; it should come away from the sides of the processor jug and form a large ball (just as dough does)
Shape into golf-ball size balls gently between the palms of your hands and then slightly flatten them so that are more disc like.
Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
You can choose to gently shallow fry or steam the kofte. Set aside when cooked.
To make the sauce
Mix the garlic and ginger pastes with a little water to make a paste.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok or a heavy based pan over a medium-high heat. When hot add the cumin seeds and allow them to ‘pop’ then mix in the onion and stir until it softens a little. Mix in the garlic and ginger and the poppy seed paste and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and then the yoghurt and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in the coconut milk. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the sauce for 10 minutes. Stir the butter into the sauce.
Just before serving slide the kofte into the sauce and allow to warm through. Serve garnished with fresh coriander leaves.
* White poppy seeds are available from some Indian grocery stores and can be difficult to find. If you can’t get any please do not substitute black poppy seeds – these are not the same thing and they make the sauce look like black sludge. The best substitute is raw cashews or blanched almonds.