My grandmother had an iron traveler’s trunk. This trunk had all her life possessions and it was barely full. It contained her Bhagwad Gita, Narayaneeyam books, three white nine yard sarees, a khadi silk nine yard saree, a shawl, a silver plate, and bowl, a pack of crisp new rupee bills, a small pouch with coins and a newspaper wrapped bottle inside a small bag. When I asked her what was in the bottle, she said it was a strong kashayam—an Ayurvedic medicine. When I asked for a taste of the kashayam, I was told that it was too strong for kids. Years down the road, my mom told me the secret of the kashayam bottle. She said that my uncle had given my grandmother a bottle of brandy saying it was medication for cough. According to her, my grandmother had no clue that it was alcohol, and no one bothered to tell her. But I really think my grandmother, being a smart, intelligent, cheeky old lady knew exactly what was in that bottle, took her innocence with her to the grave.
So, in my home, alcohol was the big elephant in the room. No one talked about it, nor did anyone deny it. Out of respect for my grandmother, there were many code words used for a drink.
After all these years, I would rather cook with it than drink it. I do enjoy a good cocktail every now and then. Here are some of the recipes with spirits that I make quite often.
Praba Iyer is a chef instructor who teaches team-building through cooking classes and custom cooking classes in the bay area. She is a consulting chef at Kitchit (www.kitchit.com). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roasted, Battered and Flambed
Wine Roasted Mushrooms
This dish is the best way to use leftover wine. It is delicious on a crostini or as a pie stuffing or in a Panini sandwich. You can substitute mushrooms with eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 shallots minced
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
½ tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1/3 cup of red wine
Garnish 1/3 cup fresh parsley
Heat oil in a flat pan and add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, sauté for a few minutes and then add salt and pepper. Then add the red wine and increase the heat to high. Allow the alcohol to reduce gradually, and continue to sauté until all the liquid is evaporated.
Remove from heat and add parsley.
Fried Cheese with Beer Batter
I stumbled on this dish many years ago. I had to take an appetizer to a party and realized that I had no baking soda. Since beer is carbonated I used it in place of the missing baking soda. The result was a crispy fried tasty delight. Later on, I learnt that beer battered onion fries and fish are very famous dishes in southern states.
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
1/3 cup chopped basil
1 can of beer or bottle (about 12 oz)
10 small goat cheese balls
10 small cubes of Monterey jack cheese
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the dry ingredients, Mix in the egg and basil and then whisk in the beer to make a batter. Heat oil for frying to about 350 degrees.
Dip each cheese ball and cube of cheese in the batter and make sure it is fully covered in batter. Then carefully drop it in the hot oil and fry it until golden brown. Remove and place it on a pan layered with paper napkins to remove the excess oil.
Jaljeera literally means cumin water, but jaljeera also has black salt, black pepper, mint, lemon juice and sugar along with the cumin and water.
All the guests at my party kept asking for this drink.
½ cup of lemonade
1 teaspoon heaped jaljeera powder
1 teaspoon of fresh roasted cumin powder
3-4 mint leaves minced
2 ounces of vodka
Garnish a slice of lime
The ratio is 1 part vodka to 2 parts jaljeera. And 1 part is equal to 1 ounce. Make a pitcher of jaljeera and make the shots as needed.
Chill the shot glasses and wet the rim and dip it in a plate of cayenne pepper. Mix all these ingredients chill and serve in cayenne rimmed shot glasses with a slice of lime.
Gulab Jamun Flambé
This is a show stopper. I make this for smaller get together and serve it at the table.
1 ounce cognac
Coconut ice cream
Garnish with mint
A few gulab jamuns in syrup
Remove the jamuns and place it in the serving bowls. Heat the syrup in a small pan. Add the cognac and once it begins to flame up, carefully transfer it over the jamun in the bowl. Then add a small dollop of ice cream on top and add a mint leaf and serve. The combination of hot Jamuns with cold ice cream and a kick of cognac is a good dose of heaven in a bowl.