Reproducing the write-up by Samar Halarnkar (in picture) which appeared in LiveMint, an Indian daily business newspaper, published by HT Media. This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective.
Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
“So, chicken for dinner tomorrow?”
“No! Appa, please. I’m bored of it!”
You know how it is. If you are a meat-eater somewhat conscious of health, chicken is your fallback option. It is what you may eat if you don’t want to think too much or do too much. But I was taken aback with the vehement reaction, marked by furrowed brow, screwed-up face and raised volume. My seven-year-old is not a fussy eater, and the vehemence was interesting.
I should have seen it coming. I, too, was tired of chicken. Modern-day broiler chicken, as I have observed before, is a safe but sorry food option. There weren’t that many alternatives. She’s never really taken a liking to beef, (unless it’s in the form of a burger), fish is expensive during the monsoon, she already has lamb or goat two times a week, and she has an egg—two, actually—every morning.
Well, there’s the other white meat. When I was a graduate student in the US, in the early 1990s, I was delighted to see advertisements issued by the National Pork Producers Council saying as much: “Pork, The Other White Meat.”
Naive as I was—and as many continue to be—I believed pork was the same as chicken, nutritionally speaking. Even in my fog of naiveté, I did suspect problems with this reasoning, particularly when I watched the liquefied fat oozing out whenever I cooked pork. Of course, that fat is the reason for pork tasting the way it does. And did I love its taste—mellow, rich and smooth. What a fine single malt was to some folk, fine roast pork was to me.
Only after the turn of the century did it dawn on me that pork wasn’t any kind of white meat, and for health reasons I began to strictly ration its intake.
Then came my daughter, who displayed the same affinity for the meat. Her mother thinks this is part of my brainwashing, but the fact is she lists “pork fat” as her favourite food. I did notice, though, that the seven-year-old made a little mountain of fat whenever she ate pork and discarded the curry and most of the meat, proceeding to demolish the mountain with evident relish.
In one of her rare, reflective moods, she explained that the pork I cooked was “too spicy”. I suppose it was. She is very un-Indian about heat in her food, my little moppet—the lesser the better. The pork I cooked was influenced by friends who were Kodava or Goan, both cuisines that make liberal use of chillies or pepper.
While I do recognize that there is much to be said for the Western way of letting good meat speak for itself, it is hard for an Indian to begin cooking without reaching for the spice cupboard. It’s just the way we are. Before I start cooking, I first consider the condiments I have available and then the meat (or vegetable) itself. It is an instinctive reaction that I am trying to abandon in order to gain approval from my most important clientele.
I resisted the temptation to use the smoky, black spice packet meant for a robust pandhi (Kodava pork) curry. I ignored my bottle of home-roasted-and-ground spices. Surely, I could make my daughter a school lunch with no spices?
As it emerged, and as the recipe below indicates, it was not difficult. I only had to leave my instincts behind, which I did.
Proof of success would, however, come only after the blue BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) bus would disgorge my hyperactive child. When she emerges from her bus, the first thing she informs us about is the state of her lunch box. “I didn’t eat my lunch,” she says, when she has finished it and wants to give her mother tension. “I left only a little,” she says, when she has left most of it. Only rarely do we hear, “It was yummy,” which means it has been polished off.
So, when bus No.9 trundled up to our gate and I saw my somewhat dishevelled daughter get off, I waited with bated breath (children do that to you). She stared at me, slowly lifted her thumb, then suddenly grinned. Winning a child’s approval can be very satisfying.
PORK PULAO WITH GINGER-GARLIC AND VINEGAR RECIPE:
Half kg pork with some fat
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup white rice, washed
Salt, to taste
In a pressure cooker, gently heat olive oil. Fry the onion till translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for 2 minutes. If the paste sticks, drizzle white-wine vinegar. Add pork and salt and mix well until the pork starts to brown. Add two cups of water, close the cooker and wait for three whistles. Reduce the heat and wait for another whistle. Let stand for 10 minutes, then release steam and open the cooker. Drain the liquidized fat and oil and place the pork in a rice cooker. Add white rice and water, roughly an inch above the pork and rice. When done, serve hot.