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Recipe Thu Feb 08 2007
Chicago food is taking me to India. More accurately, cooking Indian food with my pals in Chicago is taking me. I'm curious to see how much the dosas (thin and crispy crepe-like pancakes folded over, sometimes filled) differ in Bombay and Bangalore from Devon Avenue's Udupi and Mysore Woodlands. Even more interesting will be comparing the dosa differences among Indian cities. I imagine chutneys fresh off the streets, like produce fresh from Chicago's farmers' markets with flavors that will far exceed my expectations as set by commercially prepared varieties from Patel Brothers on Devon.
Three of my pals, two from Bombay and a third an American Desi, seeded this trip in a Chicago apartment last August. During a cooking session, one of them blended onions and garlic, and then moved them to a pot to sauté in hot oil for a very savory eggplant dish from back home. He let the onions darken and reduce, about 15 minutes. He had sliced globular Thai eggplants almost through to the stem a few times with parallel cuts, and started to roast them. It was his serious attention and patience that was about to make this dish amazingly tender and flavorful.
Meanwhile in a pan, he sautéed cumin, coriander, paprika and turmeric until they absorbed into hot oil. Then, came soy yogurt. After the eggplants became soft, they went from the oven to the pot of onions. Bright red tomatoes from Lincoln Park's sustainable Green City Market jumped in, as did the soy yogurt with saturated spices. Everything sat together under a little heat to finish. Meanwhile, my other Bombay friend worked hot-water-softened tamarind pulp free of its seeds by hand, and peanuts came fresh out of their shells, for tamarind rice. She sautéed both pulp and nuts together with black mustard seeds and salt, and then added them to cooked rice. The flavors exploded brilliantly. I had just about made up my mind. I was going to India.
Two of these pals were about to plan the trip to India with me; but we had more bonding to do, first over bicycling, food, and Chicago. One asked me to pedal around with her snapping shots of the neighborhood. Another rented a bicycle for her second bicycle ride in about ten years - and all of us cycled down the path in Lincoln Park under the trees toward the zoo's pond, stopping at the Bourgeois Pig Café for veggie sandwiches. Later, two of us cycled to Devon Avenue for Indian food supplies, and before one went to live in Bangalore, we had more cooking to do.
During another session, one pal ground overnight-soaked mung beans with a blender into a thick dosa batter to spread out on a hot oiled griddle, topped with onions and fried until crispy. We ate these with a ginger chutney that her Mom had made on a recent visit to Chicago from India. Another time, she rolled up on her bicycle with beet greens sprouting from her backpack. The beets, with potatoes, went into a pot of water we brought to boil to make them tender. We sliced the roots for a double-stacked white bread sandwich with raw onions, tomato and cilantro chutney like the kind you'd find on the streets in Bombay.
These times together on the streets and kitchens of Chicago brought us together, and in just a few days, we'll be eating from street vendors in India. One will show us the way to street sandwiches in Bombay, and another will take me to rice flour pancake-like dosas and the steamed rice flour patties called idli in Bangalore. Perhaps, we'll take it inside kitchens, snapping photos of the action, gathering more stories and recipes to bring home. In the homes of my pals' families in India, I hope to get bossed around the kitchens; it'd be better than any cooking class. Until then, I'm finishing my pre-made chutneys for breakfast on toast and for lunch mixed up with smashed roasted fingerling potatoes.