GOURMET FILES Vasundhara Chauhan

Getting cheesy

Just a lot of cheese. Photo: S. Thanthoni  

Last week two cousins were expected at teatime. Tea, yes. Biscuits, yes, and I had some lovely chocolate digestives. Namkeen, yes. But what else? Had they just dropped in, there wouldn’t have been any need for anything more, but since they had warned me I had to make a visible effort. Loyal readers, if any, will know that I have been separated from my oven, so no cake. Pakoras, bhaji? I can’t stand in the kitchen in 44° and, as I told myself, they probably wouldn’t want them in any case. Sandwiches would have been ideal, but I didn’t know whether they were vegetarian on Fridays, as many Dilliwalas are, so no ham, chicken or egg, and worse still, no mayonnaise, so not even cucumber or tomato; and whether their doctor permitted butter.

Life has become much more difficult after diagnostic tools got so sophisticated and, to compound the hardship, after we became so careful about offending the gods with our eating. So I foraged and salvaged the detritus of a cheeseboard: several lumps of hard cheese, of uncertain provenance. I think they were Parmesan, Pecorino and Cheddar. They were dry, like a forgotten bar of Sunlight soap, and as difficult to gnaw but they were easy to grate. So a cup or so of milk was boiled and the cheese stirred into it. My little garden, useless in most ways, has two luxuriant bushes of basil that, contrary to my experience, has neither turned bitter nor mutated into tulsi. So a generous handful was chopped and mixed into the cooling cheese and transferred to a pretty blue bowl. I always have crackers (except when my daughter’s eaten two packets in one night), so those, in a little basket, with the cheese thing. It was a success, I know, because one of the cousins, world class cook herself, asked whether it was bought, which cheese it was and how it was done. The final product was salty and cheesy, naturally, but of a creamy consistency unadulterated with starch, and with many layers of subtle flavour. The basil wasn’t entirely necessary, but it gave a fresh spike to the smooth comfort of the cheese. And the green looked cool. Sometimes I do this with chopped, skinned tomatoes and cracked pepper.

Another, slightly less easy thing that can be done with odd bits of leftover cheese, other than binning them, is to make a soufflé. The texture is improved: milk takes care of the dryness; unplanned, unsynchronised flavours meld together; and what you get is a “party” dish. The trick is in changing the game.

Now that I’m on to this Handy Tips for Housewives wagon, others are coming to mind. Kneading leftover dal into the dough for rotis doesn’t require elaboration, neither does combining several kinds of leftover dal and tempering them afresh: if you have the idea, you’ll do it. I hate but often find half a dozen little plastic boxes and katoris in the fridge, each filled with different things. Not one can be combined with the other, not one will suffice at a meal for two. So, change the dish, make a pulao: fry some rice with cumin, boil it, stir in whatever you find — alu gobhi, matar paneer, one and a half pieces of chicken, one chopped boiled potato, two tablespoons of keema, one tablespoon of beans thoren, half a cup of not-so-fresh chutney, whatever you find. Rice is a generous, forgiving medium; it refreshes the tired vegetable you’ve reheated and tried to finish the whole of last week.

I know people who make toasted sandwiches of leftover vegetables, but even I, untiring sandwich eater, baulk at cumin and turmeric-laden alu, gobhi, ghiya and tori. Not to mention bhindi. Basically any kind of meat works in a sandwich. The best, of course, is leftover roast — mutton or chicken — but the Indian substitute, tandoori anything, is positively good. In salads as well, slivers of meat add joy.

Salads are livened up by the unexpected inclusion of fruit, especially when stuck with too-early peaches and plums. In a salad, since you’re not looking for dessert-type sweetness, fruit that’s a bit tart, or that needed to be carved around the bad bits, or the forlorn, mostly stripped skeleton of a forgotten bunch of grapes, elevate the dish from ho-hum dutiful eating to something to enjoy, with juicy, sweet and sour red, orange and green segments whose texture is a change from the lettuce and cucumber. Grilled vegetables too impart flavour and crunch to salads and bulk up soups. You wouldn’t make the effort — sometimes they’re just there.


Serves 4

31/2 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing

4 tbsp flour, plus extra for dusting

1cup milk

300g leftover hard cheese, grated

1/2 cup double cream or crème fraîche

4 eggs, separated

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

Pinch of grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Melt all the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and use a little of it to grease a 20cm (8-inch) soufflé dish. Dust with a little flour. Stir the flour into the butter in the saucepan and let it bubble for a minute. Pour the milk in gradually, stirring all the while, to make a white sauce. Add two-thirds of the cheese and keep cooking till it’s melted. Remove from heat. When slightly cooled, add remaining cheese, cream and egg yolks. Taste and season; add red chilli powder and nutmeg. In a separate, clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into cheese sauce and tip the mixture gently into the soufflé dish. Bake for 25 minutes, until puffed up and golden. Serve at once.


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 8:43:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/getting-cheesy/article4912183.ece

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