Gourmet files Vasundhara Chauhan

Well bread

Sesame toast.  

The best thing about a bowl of soup is cradling it between one’s palms and letting its aromatic steam waft to the tip of one’s nose — the warming starts before the first mouthful. And the best thing about winter is the choice of ingredients: all things bright and beautiful, all colours light and dark. The demands on my limited imagination are over for a few months — broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, lettuce, leeks, new potatoes, tomatoes, dill and spring onions are all there for the asking. Driving past the neighbourhood vegetable shop, I sometimes come to an unscheduled stop. Not only is it a sight to savour, my depleted imagination soaks up the ideas it engenders. Instead of khaki-cooked cucurbits, we can have a salad of maroon and green lettuce and red tomatoes; emerald green spinach soup; brown new potatoes and something crisp and hot and freshly fried on the side.

In the cold months, mindful of early indoctrination, I try to use sesame. I was taught that til, sesame, has a ‘heating’ effect on the metabolism. But though for most of us in the North eating it is as easy as opening a packet of gazak or rewri, I can’t stand either the smell of sesame in these sugary confections or their pure sweet crunch. I’ve spent a lifetime refusing offers to ‘just try one rewri — wait and see — you’ll ask for more’. (Do they think I’m refusing because I’ve never tasted it?) But in savoury food, til is another story altogether. I devise ways to add it to food, hummus is always mixed with tahini, we toast and sprinkle it on salads, we grind it into masala for salans, roll fried chicken in it… and I wish there were more ideas someone would give me so that dinner becomes interesting while the side effect of maintaining my daily intake of calcium is ensured.

So yesterday, throwing caution to the winds, I did some deep frying. Though I propitiated the cholesterol demons by also making a healthy green soup. Because there is, after all, nothing better in the world than crisp golden brown toast, crusted with a gently spiced mixture, embedded with little pearls of nutty sesame.


Serves 4

300g raw, shelled prawns (or) 300g mashed boiled potatoes

1 tsp grated fresh root ginger

1 large spring onion, finely chopped

1 egg white, lightly beaten (or) 4 green chillies, seeded and chopped

1 tbsp corn flour

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp dark soya sauce

6 slices brown bread, toasted

5 tbsp sesame seeds

500 ml vegetable oil for deep frying

Devein and finely chop the prawns. Mix with the ginger, spring onion, egg white, corn flour, sesame oil and soya sauce. Heat a karahi of oil. Meanwhile, spread one side of each slice of bread with the prawn mixture, and place it, filling side down, in a plate of sesame seeds. Press gently. Fry the toast in hot oil, over a moderate heat, until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on absorbent paper and serve straight away.

Substitute the prawn-egg mixture with mashed potatoes. You won’t miss the egg; the corn flour will do the binding trick.

To grill, proceed as above but stop before you fry. Brush vegetable oil on filling side of toast and grill on an oiled metal tray in a preheated grill for 5-6 minutes.


Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 large potato, peeled, thinly sliced

4 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 spring onions, chopped

500g spinach, blanched, drained and chopped, about 1 cup after cooking

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, divided

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves, divided

Chilli Oil: Heat 2 tsp oil in small skillet over low heat. Remove from heat, stir in 1 tsp Deghi red chilli powder. Reserve.

Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until tender but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add potato and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add broth and green onions; bring to a boil. Close pressure cooker, cook until pressure builds to the maximum and turn off heat. When pressure falls, open and add spinach, basil, and coriander.

Simmer soup 1 minute. Purée soup in blender in batches; return to heat. Thin with broth or milk if necessary. Season soup with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining coriander and basil. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with chilli oil.

This can be made 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated. Reheat and add chilli oil just before serving. Its smoky flavour works really well with the green garden bouquet of the soup. Fresh mint leaves can be substituted for basil.


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 2:45:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/well-bread/article6689148.ece

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