For someone who cooks often and treasures his kitchen, I am notorious for using ageing, blackening utensils. I may spend inordinately long periods in kitchen stores admiring the latest Teflon-coated wonder pan or the Italian passion-fruit juicer, but I don’t actually buy anything.
Let me see. My knives are, gosh, 15 years old, except for a sprightly five-year-old meat cleaver. My two main non-stick pans are more than a decade old, at least, as are my two cook-and-serves; all of them need continuous ministrations from a screwdriver to keep their handles from falling off. My dosa pan is awkwardly warped, the result of a merciless roasting from a stove on high heat while I was unsuccessfully searching for a bottle of Old Monk. My casseroles are nearly two decades old, their glass edges chipped. I can’t remember the last time I bought ladles and spoons.
Ready to serve: Rosemary Panch-phoran Chicken is another variation of the writer’s beloved roast chicken.
Why do I lead this life of culinary asceticism?
I am not really sure. Perhaps it’s a deeply ingrained Indian middle-class mentality to use, reuse and preserve anything that still seems workable. Perhaps it’s just a matter of being comfortable with what you have. Possibly, it’s a combination of both.
As you might imagine, the updates to my kitchen equipment are few and far between.
One such update occurred two weeks ago when my wife caught me gazing for the third time at a sturdy oval casserole with a lid. She looked at me, then at the casserole, and simply scooped it up, knowing it would be another unrequited love affair if she did not intervene.
So, I have a new casserole. I am quite delighted. I keep it on my counter, not stowed away in a kitchen cabinet, where some other rare acquisitions lie, often spending years there until first use.
I am happy to report that keeping the casserole in my sight pushed me to use it, perhaps five years before schedule. And you know what? Using it has led to fresh bursts of creativity. I spent a weekend trawling through my collection of cookbooks for inspiration and thinking hard about what I could do that I had not before.
I am, as some readers will know, notoriously bad with vegetarian cooking, only doing enough to keep my easy-to-please wife sated. I knew that baked and roasted vegetables are easy, flavour-releasing and open up endless possibilities. So, I produced my interpretation of a baingan-bake (okay, aubergine if you must), and one of endless variations on roast chicken.
I will be happy to receive your suggestions.
Rosemary Panch-phoran Chicken
1.5kg chicken (I used full legs, cut into three), clean and pat dry
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1-2 cups of chicken stock
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil
8-9 red chillies
Salt to taste
Roast and grind the following:
4 tsp panch-phoran (Bengali five-spice)
2 tsp khus-khus (poppy seeds)
2 large cardamoms
1 tsp saunf (fennel) seeds
In a large non-stick pan, gently heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Add 8-9 red chillies, snapped into two. Sauté for a minute, add the garlic and ginger pastes. Sauté till the mixture turns golden brown. Add chicken, salt and sear on high heat. After 5 minutes, add the roasted ground powder. Brown the chicken, stir in soy sauce and sauté for a minute. Transfer to the casserole. Pour enough chicken stock to cover half the chicken. Place the sprig of rosemary on top, cover the casserole with the lid and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for at least 70 minutes. Use the stock to baste the chicken.
Rosemary Baingan Bake
4 long eggplants (aubergines or baingan)
7-8 large garlic pods, crushed
6 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts
3 tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 small tetrapack tomato pureé
12 slices of mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil or as required
Wash eggplants and lop off the tops. Slice lengthwise, so each eggplant yields 5-6 slices. Some may be small, others larger.
In a large non-stick pan (you may need two), lightly fry garlic in olive oil, add eggplant slices and fry till soft. Lay the slices on kitchen paper to soak up the oil.
Retain garlic in the same pan (never mind if they are deep golden or brown), sauté onions till transparent, then add pine nuts and sauté. Add the tomatoes. When they start to disintegrate, add white-wine vinegar and fresh pepper. Set aside when a rich-looking pureé forms.
In a casserole, create layers of eggplant, cheese and pureé. Start with one layer of eggplant, then a layer of the home-made pureé, then slices of mozzarella. Create two such layers. For the final layer, pour tetrapack pureé over the eggplant slices and top off with grated Parmesan. Tuck the fresh sprig of rosemary diagonally into the Parmesan.
Cover the casserole with the lid and bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes or until the Parmesan melts and the eggplants start browning.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org