Friday, December 10, 2010

Karachi Food Diaries Day 4 (dumplings in yogurt, dahi phulki)

December 10, 2010 Friday- Day 4
Wrestling with my jetlag, I took a full lexo last night (with half a tablet the night before which had led to only 4.5 hours of sleep). Lexo, as it is fondly called, is short for Lexotanil or Bromazepam, a muscle relaxant and sedative, and is the guilty pleasure of Karachi ladies. So, I arose from a hazy full night's sleep, feeling groggy yet oddly rested. Breakfast was the same as yesterday with the addition of an orange. I ate it sitting in the breezy, netted veranda with the chirp, chirp of sparrows and the muted sounds of the neighbors going about their business.
Okra rules; at least 3 regularly broken
Lunch was at the ever-popular Okra restaurant with some friends. As appetizers, we ordered beef carpaccio, chilli prawns with avocado and grilled halumi with asparagus and baby aubergine for the table.
The carpaccio was tender and wafer thin. However, it was dressed with shredded sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, arugula and shaved parmesan; an unusual preparation, not wholly unpleasant but far from the traditional. It was a bit dry though and I did miss the lemony dressing, the bite of black pepper and the crunchy complexity of Parmesan cheese.
Prawns and Avocado
The prawns were overcooked and tough and the avocado unripe.
Partially consumed Halumi platter
The halumi was a pretty plate; the cheese was firm, if a little bit too salty and dry, and smeared with an aubergine puree. The aubergine and asparagus were nicely grilled and the pomegranate seeds were a nice garnish.
Seekh kabab
Apparently, I ordered the wrong entrée.  Instead of ordering fish or any of the other western dishes that they are known for, I went for the seekh kabab in my quest for a desi kick. Bad move. It came on a bed of haphazardly chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers with an accompaniment of watered down yogurt sauce. It looked like a dish bored with itself. The kababs were again dry, over-cooked and over-seasoned. My friend who ordered the other Pakistani dish, sarson saag (mustard greens) with makai roti (thick corn bread), a quintessential and rustic Punjabi dish, was also unimpressed. All the fish entrée, on the other hand, were well-received. However, the general consensus at the table was that the food that day was below par.

From there, I headed to my mother's aunt's place who was having a majlis also. It was a poignant and sad visit because she had recently lost her husband and was full of tears. I shed some with her. This month of Muharram is therapeutic. Since the expression of grief is so accepted and even encouraged, it can be a release for emotions that are unrelated to the intent of the gathering. Shias grieve openly and temporarily ease their emotional baggage. It is a cleansing, reflective month as it lifts the weight of the world to an extent and helps us go inwards. For me, the overwhelming feeling these days is that of gratitude. In the past few months, I have been very restless for certain reasons. This turmoil within has at times translated into moodiness and negativity. My thankfulness now is for being blessed with such strong, generous and wise people in my life. My family and my love emanate their particular strengths in my microcosm and challenge me to be better than myself. The hisa today was potato samosas. I accepted but didn't partake as I wanted to stick to 'mindful eating'. Also, I had sneaked a peak at the lunch menu at home from earlier in the day and wanted to save my appetite for leftovers at dinner.
Dinner... yum. The menu was tehri (spiced rice and potato pulao), sauteed carrot and cauliflower medley, dahi phulki (fritters in yogurt) and daal with roti. I ate contentedly, with full concentration and postponed my reformation program for another day.. seriously.
Dahi Phulki
Dahi Phulki is the centuries old remedy for parched, hot summer days. It is eaten as a snack or as a side dish to compliment other more fiery concoctions. Soak 1/2 cup urad dal in water for 2-3 hours. Remove and mix with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, a generous pinch of black pepper and salt and some cayenne pepper and mash together. Keep mixing and add a litle water and some baking soda to achieve an even but thick consistency. Heat a small wok and add oil till it almost fills the wok. When the oil surface starts to glimmer, scoop up the mixture with a spoon and drop in the oil. Repeat till all the mixture is in the wok. Turn heat to medium and let the fritters cook (as the lentils are raw, they will need a little extra time). Separately, add 1 tbsp sugar to 3 cups of yogurt and whip till smooth and creamy. Also, fill another pan with cool water. Keep an eye on the fritters and when they start turning golden brown remove with a slotted spoon and immediately drop in the pan of water. Let them soak for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the cold water and gently squeeze between the palms till the excess liquid drains. Lay the fritters on the serving dish and starts layering with yogurt till completely covered. Drizzle with tamarind juice and sprinkle with chaat masala.
Chaat Masala: amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, kala namak (black salt), coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. 

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