Wednesday, 28 May 2008

How to deal with a Dudhi, and other Obscene Vegetables.

This is Jo:

Last week, for reasons best known to herself, Jo proudly presented me with An Obscene Vegetable. This vegetable (if, indeed, it was actually a vegetable) was about a foot long, rounded and about 2 inches thick, and a lovely pale green colour all over, rather like a slim, pale marrow. At least, the marrow is the safest description we could come up with....

This Thing turned out to be a Dudhi, although knowing this did not really shed light on what to do with it. According to the shopkeeper, Dudhis go well in curries. This remains to be seen, since when I finally got round to cooking it, (as opposed to staring at it in the fridge nervously, waiting for inspiration to hit) I wasn't brave enough to add it to pilau or fry it up in spices or marinate it.

Instead, I created Dudhi Pie. This was a recipe invented on the spot, and as such, whatever I did to the Dudhi, I could always pretend it was supposed to be like that and get away with it. At an educated guess, I assumed the Dudhi was some sort of squash, so I put it with courgette, potato and plenty of cheese. I also made a herby eggy mixture with nutmeg and tarragon, and poured it over the top so the whole thing resembled quiche. I topped it with toasted breadcrumbs and slabs of brie. I had no idea if any of those ingredients and flavours suited a Dudhi, but it looked vaguely appetizing.

I did not even know if I was supposed to peel this thing. I brutally chopped its end off, and found it to be exactly the same colour inside as it was outside - the pale, pastel green. I peeled half of it experimentally, anyway. and found that I was just scraping off strips of green. It was indeed very squash like, but not actually squashy, the flesh is firm. Also, there were no seeds inside like a marrow or pumpkin. It smelled very fresh, like cut grass almost. If anything can smell "green" then this is it.

I cooked my Dudhi pie for around half an hour until the egg had solidified and the top browned. As pies go, it was a little on the heavy side - I think it would work as a cheesey quiche, and doesn't need the potato. But the Dudhi did make it a little different from average baked squash dishes. It has a delicate, almost nutty flavour, a little bitter and very 'summery', and it worked very well with nutmeg and the brie. It is nicely savoury and to my mind, (and my husband's) the whole thing tasted like it ought to be good for you. Overall, a success, methinks.

Unfortunately, Jo was not around that night to try the Dudhi. However, I have half of it left; a vegetable as obscenely sized as that could not be consumed by the two of us in one sitting. So, assuming it doesn't go off in the fridge (though quite how you'd tell is beyond me), I shall endevour to curry this strange object. Results to follow! I hope Jo continues to surprise me with Odd Vegetable matter. They are useful excuses to experiment in cooking, and hopefully my eccentric friends will be able to sample these experiments next time!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

An evening of international feasting and other debauchery

I like having friends for dinner. The other evening we welcomed Anna to the table. (and very tasty she was too.)

Vague cannibal references aside, this particular dinner was marked by it's total randomness, or, if I am to be less flippant, by my inspired 'fusion cooking.'
Anna is accustomed to big, warming, and filling dinners. She makes a fabulous 'bigos', or Hunter's stew, national dish of her native Poland. Bigos usually contains a variety of meats of which the only compulsory one is kielbasa, or Polish smoked sausage. As she puts it, Poles are big on dead pig. I have attempted bigos-making before as well, it appeals to my preferred style of cuisine: bung everything in a big pot, slow cook it an see what happens. Along with Miscellaneous Dead Pig, bigos also contains huge quantities of fresh cabbage and sauerkraut. It is one of the few dishes I am willing to describe as 'hearty', which is not a word I like to use often. It also gives you serious wind!

What do you feed a Pole? I asked myself. I wasn't willing to cook her bigos in case my version wasn't up to scratch. Instead, I did chose to do Trinidad Pepperpot - Caribbean as the name implies, but with some odd similarities to the Polish counterpart. The idea of a pepperpot is to slow cook the different meats (again, mainly pork) together with plenty of spices, so that the meat practically crumbles and melts in the mouth. The longer you leave it, the better it gets. Whereas the rest of a Bigos is made up of cabbage, a pepperpot is obviously full of colourful bell and chilli peppers. Another similarity though is the presence of vinegar, cider vinegar in pepperpot counterbalanced by rum and brown sugar, and residue from the sauerkraut in bigos, topped up with red wine.
The combination of roasted spices in the pepperpot gives it its distinctive Caribbean flavour, but those are my secret recipe and will remain undisclosed for now. That evening, I simmered it for nearly four hours, and it was indeed a thing of beauty. However, in a break from authenticity, I used my Potjiekos pot. The Potjie is my giant, cast iron cauldron that I lovingly lugged back from South Africa. As previously discussed, the Afrikaans are also fans of slow, meat-filled one-pot cookery. Pepperpot was originally a slave dish in the Caribbean, designed for ease of cooking - one pot suspended over a fire, and enough spices to disguise low quality meat and offal that would have gone in it. My recipe requires pork - shoulder or chop, belly if you have no alternative. However, the original recipe requires trotters, snout and other squidgy bits I'd rather not contemplate.
It does interest me a great deal that this style of cooking - big meaty slow-cooked stews pop up all over the world. The English equivalent I guess would be a good casserole or maybe even a pot-roast. Some Himalayan curries are done in this fashion using up tough goat meat; Norwegians do thick fish stew with heavy dumplings, but all are variations on the theme. It seems to equate to a cooler or possibly mountainous climate however - I cannot think of a Meditteranean or Oriental equivalent!

To celebrate the universality of this food, I cooked Caribbean pepperpot, using Danish pork, in a South African pot, in my kitchen in north east England, for a Polish gourmet. It was accompanied by Mexican guacamole using avocados from Israel, and for dessert I made Brazilian 'Santa Catalinas' (a mousse made from cream, rum, Italian-style espresso and in this case, Ecuadorian chocolate) and washed it all down with luxurious Nicaraguan coffees. Once digested, we drank Chilean wine and then boiled ourselves in an authentically Finnish sauna. It was a great night, and we are all encouraged to celebrate diversity, right? But not so much the Food Miles. Doh.