Ancient cuisine meets high tech

Books on the burner

October 03, 1990|By Sujata Banerjee | Sujata Banerjee,Evening Sun Staff

MOGHUL COOKING, WHICH began 400 years ago in India, is a cuisine for royal tastes. Once, great rulers enjoyed savory spiced meats and vegetables and aromatic rice dishes. These dishes, served at fine Indian restaurants today, are not the easiest to reproduce at home. But cookbook author Julie Sahni, who has written about Indian food for the last 22 years, is now daring to do the previously unimagined.

Sahni has whisked Moghul food out of the glorious past and slid it into the microwave!

"Moghul Microwave" (William Morrow 1990, $27.95) successfully merges high tech with tradition. Some Moghul dishes that require braising, Sahni argues, actually are improved with a microwave. Sahni shares recipes that taste better microwaved than cooked conventionally. A recipe for Bombay Coconut Shrimp is one Sahni never attempted in earlier books because the dish traditionally required deep-frying and resulted in a greasy texture. With the microwave, the shrimp are cooked for just 1 1/2 minutes in their own moisture. The coconut stays crisp and keeps the shrimp from drying out.

The microwave also saves the day when cooking basmati rice, which traditionally must soak first and then cook gently. In the microwave, rice cooks in only 12 to 14 minutes and requires no soaking, resulting in perfectly long, uncracked grains of rice. And creamy milk-based sauces, which easily produce lumps, are not lumpy when microwaved.

"Moghul Microwave" is very exacting about the types of microwave utensils needed. A carousel, covered skillet and casserole designed for microwave use are most important. Sahni does not recommend cooking with plastic wrap. Each recipe also includes information on preparation and cooking times, recommended oven power and necessary cookware.

If you follow directions, there isn't much to do while waiting for a microwave dish to zap itself into fragrant readiness. This very absence of effort has led cooks in the past to sneer at microwave food as non-gourmet. But gourmet is exactly how one would describe these recipes.

Though the recipes may be short-order, cooked in under 15 minutes, they do require standard preparation such as slicing and mincing and do not overlook the traditional Indian techniques that create complex, fragrant taste. In the microwave, just as on the stove, cumin and mustard seeds fry in hot oil before other ingredients are added. Yogurt and cream are stirred in during the last minutes of cooking for a smooth finish.

"Moghul Microwave" is a superb, breakthrough book for anyone who loves Indian food or fast, fun cooking.

Savory Keema Cake

Makes six servings. Ingredients should be at room temperature.

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef round

3 tablespoons Bulgar

4 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 large egg

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon crushed or grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh, or 1 tablespoon crushed, dried mint

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pack into a ten-inch microwave safe pie or quiche plate or ten-inch microwave-safe skillet.

Cook, uncovered, at 100 percent power in a 650-to-700-watt watt carousel oven (see note) for seven minutes (or until meat is cooked and a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean). Remove from oven. Let cake rest for five minutes before serving. Serve sliced into wedges and accompanied with Spicy Indian Tomato Sauce or Cool Yogurt Sauce.

Note: If your microwave doesn't have a carousel stand you can buy one.

- Spicy Indian Tomato Sauce

Makes one cup.

4 medium-size (1 pound) red ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 -inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

1 large shallot, peeled

1 to 3 fresh hot green chilies, stemmed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves

Put tomatoes, ginger, shallot, chilies, cumin and salt into the container of a blender or food processor and process until the contents are pureed. Transfer sauce into a 2 1/2 -quart microwave-safe dish.

Cook, uncovered, at 100 percent power in a 650-to 700-watt carousel oven for ten minutes (or until sauce is boiling and loses its raw fragrance). Remove from oven and stir in coriander. Return sauce to the blender or food processor and process until the herb is thoroughly blended. When completely cool, pour sauce into sterilized jars and refrigerate. The sauce also keeps well stored in a covered container for a week in the refrigerator.

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