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Idly browsing Food52, I alit upon this recipe for Punjabi Buttermilk Stew with Spinach Dumplings and was drawn in.  The dish sounded so utterly delicious. (Which it was, and is why I wish to share it.)  Preparing it became a kind of odyssey of ingredients, questions and realisations, about which I’ve written what I hope is not too laborious a blog post.  Please disregard if it is! These are the issues that came to the fore for me as I prepared the dish:

  • Culturing Buttermilk
  • How to substitute local winter kale for frozen spinach
  • Sour substitutions for citrus in your cooking
  • Peasemeal as a UK substitute for Gram Flour.
  • Cooking oil conundrums. British Rapeseed Oil as a solution?

Maybe you’ll want to keep the recipe open in a different window to refer back.  Hope that doesn’t feel inconvenient. I found myself referring back to it a lot. I’m quite sure that if I make it again it will seem much easier and more straightforward.  Again I stress this dish is delicious and was like nothing I’d eaten or certainly prepared before.

Buttermilk:

I’d bought a pint of buttermilk — buttermilk in the sense of tangy, slightly sour dairy milk that is “cultured” by lactic acid bacteria and makes a delicious drink. Knowledge of this ingredient cannot be assumed in the UK, even though one can increasingly find it in shops.  In fact when I bought it, the woman in the shop asked me how I planned to use it.  I explained that it’s a frequent ingredient in American baking because the acid reacts with baking soda to help the batter rise.  And that as a live-culture drin,k it’s considered a health food, as in Indian lassis, etc.

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One of the first fermenting skills I learned all those years ago from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation was to mix a small amount of cultured buttermilk, perhaps from what one’s bought at the shop, with one’s own milk, leaving it out at room temperature overnight, for DIY cultured buttermilk.  It’s so easy and delicious (and one can use organic milk, or mix it with cream for a sour cream).

So my first step upon reading the recipe was making more buttermilk the night before. But I didn’t end up making enough.  So I added some already prepared kefir to the buttermilk, and this was perfectly tasty.  Really glad to have these ingredients on hand.

Frozen Spinach / Kale.

It’s not always possible to find frozen spinach in the shops where I live.  And though I love spinach, I also know that kale grows so hardily and heartily in cold climates in the winter that it’s great to find ever expanding uses for it, as a local food– and as one I actually succeed in growing.  I did manage to buy one pack of frozen spinach — and supplemented this with kale I’d blanched (quickly cooked then covered in cold water so the green stayed bright) and pureed.

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I’m sharing a picture of this puree because it’s so useful– I’m thinking in crepe batter, in mashed potatoes for children as my Danish friend Lisbeth always serves, in smoothies, cakes– anything to up that vegetable intake! Pestos, dips, all that too…  Forgive me if this is really obvious, but a particular friend requested I not overlook the obvious in my posts… Pureed blanched kale– woo hoo!

Sour Seasonings

Shveta Berry calls for Amchur Powder, or sour mango powder, in her dumplings, and I saw it’s also called for in this recipe for Chaat, another dumpling ingredient .  Many of us might not happen to have it– I didn’t.  I did have sumac— here’s a particularly novel use for sumac on a blog I love — and I might have gone for that, had I not realised I could grind and finally use the preserved Sour Grapes that had been lingering in my cupboard for a year and a half.  Was so pleased!  I would say, prepare in advance for having these sour powders– whichever one you want.  I love the fact that I can buy small amounts of things on the internet if I’m organised.  I also love the idea that sour can come in lots of forms; it’s easy as a western cook to just think 0f lemon or vinegar — though of course fermented vegetables have (re)expanded our notions of sour too. But these sour fruit are interesting as well and certainly worth playing with…

Peasemeal

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the slightly yellower peasemeal on the left.

I’ve said this before but I want to say it again– Peasemeal is a perfect substitute for Chick Pea Flour/ Gram Flour and I like to promote it’s use because a) it’s a Slow Food Forgotten Food and B) it’s grown and milled in the UK– I believe in principle and practice that everywhere needs to vary in growing and processing and eating local food– this is an issue for food sovereignty as well as food security and diversity and nutrition and climate change and heritage and everything.

Cooking Oil Conundrums

I asked Shveta Berry in the comments what oil she’d recommend for frying, because I am never sure what t0 use, knowing how oils become less healthy at high temperatures and how bad oils are implicated in diseases of circulation and aging brains (dementia, etc.)  (I feel I really need to get to grips with what is often contradictory information, industry promotion, and culinary practice (flavour, performance, taste).  I know frying is not good in general, and that I’m pretty crap at it..  Her response was from a culinary perspective — to use grapeseed oil, or a vegetable oil — oils that are easy to fry with and relatively flavourless.

Further down in the comments Shveta also gives instructions on how to bake the dumplings if you just can’t face frying.   Wish I had done that. Will do next time.

I’ve developed, however, a particular interest in local rapeseed oil, and received a freebie sample of the Welsh Blodyn-Aur.  British Rapeseed Oil puzzles me though– it’s similar to what Americans and Canadians understand as Canola Oil, but it’s processed a little less intensively so some of the smell and taste that is considered undesirable in Canola Oil remains; I’ve felt British rapeseed oils to be intense, and have questioned how media chefs and recipe writers use it as an alternative to olive oil.  People are opinionated about it, or represent the industry in such a way that it feels like Public Relations.

In the new thinking about health and fats, it’s not necessarily a bonus for an oil to have less saturated fat than olive oil, say.  And in different places one reads different information about the smoke point and frying virtues/ vices of canola.  There really is very much to understand regarding cooking oils, and I am in no way a guide and don’t know myself whom to follow when it comes to getting Asian and South Asian flavours in a vegetarian context.

At some point, however, it occurred t0 me t0 think of the Rapeseed plant as a brassica– a mustard relative– and I recalled reading about the politics of mustard oil in India. Hella D summarises Vandana Shiva’s writing on this history here. In many parts of that country, mustard oil has been a mainstay for frying, until recent scandals of adulteration and then a political response that led to a market influx of other cooking oils.

(There is also the issue 0f Erucic Acid perceived, controversially, as dangerous, and therefore banned.  Linda at A Gardener’s Table discusses her take on that here.  Erucic Acid is apparently no longer a problem, having been bred out of contemporary strains of rapeseed/ canola. )

In Indian cooking, Mustard Oil gives a traditional aroma and flavour, a little pungent, perhaps, but I realised pungent is what I’d describe as the errant, perhaps less enjoyable taste in this British Rapeseed Oil. Yet when I started using it in my Indian dishes, everything began to taste more “authentic,” or so I told myself delusively– or at least conferred onto my kitchen a smell that was familiar from visiting South Asian friends and neighbours…

So listen here British Rapeseed Oil Marketers– I think there’s an upscale and an ‘ethnic” market you could be trying to reach!

Meanwhile, in India, it would seem that there’s a steady beat of support for good old mustard oil, as a traditional food, even if it’s been superceded by international agribusiness soybean oil, as Vandana Shiva wrote here in 2002

Read about it’s benefits here, and in this Times of India piece.

I’m awash in a sea of all this information, all swooshing around as I was attempting to fry those very scrumptious spinach dumplings bound by my yellow peasemeal…

One last thought, and that is the idea of a…

Sauce-  — Soup

This recipe made A LOT of sauce, and I ended up thinning it down with water for some very nice bowls of soup with various added vegetables.  This opened up my mind to a very lovely kind of soup, the medium of which could be a thinned version of Shveta’s buttermilk gravy– carrots, greens, roots, anything really, sauteed and spicy.  Later I read this recipe for Indian Buttermilk Soup and felt my horizons had already been duly broadened.

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This recipe is a real knowledge, skill, and taste broadener in general, and I do indeed recommend you try it.

 

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