(3kg Chocolate, 5kg Cheese… It must be European Food Day!)
At some point last month, Camille (my fellow volunteer, who has now left me for Nepal) and I decided that it would be fun to cook some food from our home countries for the community here at Pathashaala. ‘Cultural awareness’ was certainly the motive we named, but it might have been that we were simply hungry for a meal or two that didn’t involve rice. We confess to nothing. But wait —
The school has no oven, and only a very small fridge. Also, the menu is entirely vegetarian, and it turns out that Indian vegetarians don’t eat eggs.
Our dreams of pizza and creme brûlées came to a grinding halt.
We returned, in the end, to rice, and entered the kitchen last Thursday morning to make a sort of fudge cake (auf Deutsch Kalter Hund) for snack time, vegetable stock for Friday’s Risotto, and Chili without Carne (yes, we know that’s Mexican) for supper.
Our first dish, the dessert, came off swimmingly, which was fortunate, given the hype surrounding Pathashaala’s first ever consumption of chocolate in a seven year history. Since it tastes great and is so incredibly simple, I’ll include the recipe:
400g condensed milk
200g cooking chocolate
1 cup of coffee (we used chai, which was also lovely)
200g or 24 buttery biscuits/cookies
Melt the chocolate and combine with the condensed milk. Then dip the biscuits in the hot beverage of your choice, and create a base. Layer biscuits and chocolate (you may need more biscuits than are called for). Chill for a couple of hours.
The Chili was another story altogether. Thanks to the help of a few students in the afternoon, we were able to get the prodigious amount of vegetables chopped in time, but there had been a miscommunication about cooking the kidney beans in advance (the Akkas who work in the kitchen were reminding us to do so, but we misunderstood their Tamil). Thus, supper took quite a lot longer than planned. Pathashaala is, fortunately, a spontaneous place, and as we put the finishing touches on their belated meal, the entire school gathered for an informal open mic, or as they call it here, a Flock Together. I’m pleased to report that, as a result of their own spontaneity and the ultimately good flavor of the food, everybody went to sleep happy that night, including Camille and myself, smelling of onions.
Forewarned is forearmed, and the risotto was cooked and served the next day in a timely fashion, in spite of worries from some quarters that the rice was going to burn; Manikumar, the tirelessly good-humored fellow who holds the kitchen, and a boatload of other areas, together, was summoned by the shouts of Lila Akka as I added raw rice to onions and garlic. Apparently rice-before-water-or-broth is not common practice in Indian cookery.
For someone who has recently spent a great deal of time working in restaurants, Pathashaala’s kitchen is a wild, wonderful, and occasionally alarming place. There are ingenious systems, such as the string of steam cookers designed (if I understood correctly) by Manikumar himself, where the rice water, for example, can be drained out the bottom of the pot at the end. There is a relative disregard for hygiene, as lots of the chopping is done on the floor, and vegetables are superficially washed in unfiltered water.. There are marvelous combinations of spice, sweet, and salt that I delight in with every meal. There is a spirit of improvising with what I have, as seen in the disinfecting of grapes using a turmeric powder in water.
I suppose I will leave here with a laissez-faire attitude towards ants in sugar I can’t apply at work in Germany, a higher tolerance for spice and sugar, and a better fortified stomach. It’s an adventure.