Thursday, 10 May 2012

Coriander, Conscience and Couscous ...

Couscous Coriander Cuts

Cous Cous hota hai!    Khus Khus Hota Hai!   Cous Khushit (Crisp and Savoury in Marathi)   Kothimbir- Kous Kous- Khus Khus Kakes…

Oops! Twisted my tongue trying to be funny- and now I am tongue tied! Not funny. I still haven’t answered my question. What do I call this dish?

It took inspiration from the very traditional Kothimbir Vadi which means Coriander Cakes, but all this confusion has been caused and compounded by the couscous. Why couscous? Well, I had this bunch of coriander that was losing its will to live. And I was trying to take a philosophical approach to its impending demise. Moreover, lessons learnt as an entrepreneur in a labour starved economy urged me to cut my losses and let it go, not worth spending half an hour of my time, cost of ingredients and the price to pay for calories, outgoings like gas, water, prime real estate occupancy rate in downtown Melbourne… too impelling a non-business case!

But then I remembered the lessons learnt from my mother and grandmother, who developed and spread the awareness of ‘waste not, want not’ in their local communities and in the family in Pre and Post-World War II tough times. I remembered my mother telling me about how her mother used to grow coriander and store it in a clay pot lined with wet gunny sacking. She used to dry the excess coriander harvest for use in the summer months when it was scarce, an exercise that involved careful picking, drying in the sun, remembering to put it away for the night and take it out to spread for another day. Protecting it from fungus, rot, pests, storage logistics, all this effort only to make the best use of resources for her family! She educated the local women about home economics, nutrition and taught them to be self-reliant. Back to the coriander, my mother also diligently sorted and picked coriander and stored it in separated bundles, the leaves with the tender stems on the one side and the flavoursome tougher stems on another to be used in chutneys or curry pastes.

These ladies had been so ahead of their times and were so ingeinus and resourceful! And how 'cool' of them to promote such awareness in the days of yore…that even the tough stems are the most nutritious and tastiest part of this wonderful herb is a fact now endorsed by umpteen cook books, blogs, internet recipes, videos and TV cookery shows! The humble coriander has been romanticised!

Conscience poked self admonishment! We have such a mixed attitude towards things that selflessly add flavour to our lives! What was scarce once is now available in plenty, but we still moan about the expense. It pains to pay $2 or more for small bunch, when you could have higgle- haggled with the vegetable vendor to throw it in as a freebie after buying all the vegetables for the day, back in the days of my childhood. But we are too finicky and don’t like dried coriander and coriander pastes, only fresh will do.  And I am ready, if somewhat grudgingly, to pay a bit more for a bunch of coriander grown in Queensland (with soil still on the roots) than to buy the local produce. And to think of it, this unassuming, incidental herb not only gets the grind for its flavour, but also sits atop a plated dish as its crowning glory.

This fickleness and these hard to please, quick -to- dismiss, taking- for -granted behaviours cause us great strife – I am not talking only about global strife, but also about my internal struggle about deciding the fate of that bunch of coriander sitting in the crisper!

Guilt kicked out all the logical consideration and feasibility and risk and loss mitigation reasoning, and I made this instant decision to immortalise the coriander into this dish. A half pack of couscous caught my attention as I stepped into the pantry…it had to be a signal! I had read this recipe of couscous by my friend Anjali in the morning. So in went the couscous, sharing limelight with the ‘never fail’ besan (gram flour), coriander and spices and making my plans of making the simple kothimbir vadi go awry!

But off-beat, off-track of-ten turns out interesting! So did these cuts or chips or whatever you may call it. The couscous gave a great grainy texture to the vadi and was an excellent or even better alternative to the traditional mix of flours such as wheat, rice and millet. All other ingredients were traditional.


1 cup (or more) chopped coriander

½ cup couscous

1 cup besan (gram flour)

1 (or more) teaspoons green chilly paste or green chilli powder

½ teaspoon cumin powder

½ teaspoon coriander powder

¼ teaspoon hing

¼ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon Eno Fruit Salt (baking soda will do)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt to taste

For the topping

1 teaspoon khuskhus (white poppy seeds)

1 teaspoon white sesame seeds

Oil to shallow fry

In a heatproof bowl, pour ¾ cup boiling water over the couscous, cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Fluff it with a fork to separate the couscous and add the rest of the ingredients except the oil. Mix thoroughly and add a bit of water to make a pliable dough.

Oil a cake tin or plate/ thali and tightly pat and pack the dough in a thin layer. Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to make one or two batches, as it can’t be too thick. Smooth the top and sprinkle the sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Steam the plate or cake tin in a pressure cooker without the weight, or in a steamer, for about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Allow it to cool.

When fully cool, slide a knife around the edges and take out the cake. Cut it into  diamond shapes or let your imagination run amuck. You can make these ahead and store them in the fridge. Just before serving, shallow fry the pieces/cuts in oil, bottom first and top (seeded) side last.

Serve hot with mint chutney and/or tomato sauce- makes a great starter. It can go in as a base for a canapé with different toppings, too!

1 comment:

  1. I love all these :)
    nice effort
    thank you !


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