Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fresh vegetables poached in clean water

Guide books for western tourists in India have two key and related pieces of advice: drink bottled water. And only eat well-cooked food. Preferably boiled or deep fried. Preferably in front of you. Preferably no meat.

Water is treated in major Indian cities, just not necessarily in the ways that Australian or Americans or the French are used to. So chances are tourists will react a bit adversely. And this links back to the cooking methods – sufficient heat will kill off those minor bugs, so better safe than sorry. And because electricity can be a bit hit and miss (and hence so can refrigeration) meat is best avoided.

Delhi in the middle of winter is pretty cold. Look at it on a map – it’s a long way north of the equator. The Himalayas aren’t that far away. It’s not exactly Birmingham in January, but even if you could safely eat the salad, chances are there wouldn’t be much of it around. It’s not in season.

What you do have on tap is dahl. Lots and lots of dahl. Which I happen to love. Thin soup like consistency, fire-hot on the spicy scale with idlies (streamed rice dumplings) floating in a bowl for breakfast. Thick dark lentils enriched with ghee and cream with whole wheat rotis. Parathas (a whole wheat unleavened bread) stuffed with thick paste- like dahl. All good. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.*

But the butter and oil and carbohydrates and general stodge takes its toll. Lightly steamed vegetables and salad and fruit and a really good steak** starts to have an appeal after a week or so.

* I need a break before I can recreate these in all their glory.

** I know, cows are sacrosanct in India. But when a girl craves steak she craves steak. Good, medium rare, organic heritage-breed eye fillet steak. With little criss-crossed charred marks and a melt-in-you- mouth texture.

Vegetables poached in beurre monte

Serves two people desperate for fresh vegetables

1 litre water
60 gm butter
4 baby carrots, peeled and cut in half length ways
4 brocollini stalks
1 fennel bulb, sliced into thin wedges
2 small yellow button squash, cut into thin wedges
10 cm piece leek, sliced lengthways into thin strips
1 small zucchini, sliced into batons
100 gm green beans, top and tailed

In a large deep fry pan, bring 1 litre of water to a rapid boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, whisk in butter, half a teaspoon at a time until emulsified (this make a very thin beurre monte). Add a teaspoon of sea salt flakes.

Bring back to the boil. Add brocollini and carrots. Simmer for about 3 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and simmer for another 3 minutes. Remove vegetables to a warm plate. Scatter with chopped herbs, sea salt and cracked pepper to taste. Serve with char-grilled steak.

For a simple sauce for steak, reduce remaining poaching liquid by half, and then whisk in approximately 1 tablespoon butter, half a teaspoon at time and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. This should result in a thickish silky sauce, to be spooned over a perfectly cooked eye fillet.

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