Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Introspecting Jackfruit

Introspection, in the computing world is the process of identifying objects, its properties and behaviors at runtime.

Jackfruit, known fondly as “chakka” and so is one of my nick names in school, is a native of Kerala. It is large, heavy and spiny with green exterior and bulbous fruit surrounded by sticky fibers inside. It grows in enormous numbers and is usually seen hanging on trees that are tall and lanky. One is usually turned away by its intoxicating fragrance –nevertheless, the golden flesh with a honey flavor can transform you to a fervent follower. You can eat the fruit ripe/unripe, cooked / uncooked. Although I wouldn’t recommend the unripe form of the fruit as it is not known to be a buddy of our gastrointestinal systems. To me, jackfruit is THE FRUIT of Kerala.

For city dwellers like us, this fruit is hard to come by. Usually we receive it as gifts and tokens of love from my father’s ancestral home. Unlike all others, the pre-processing of this fruit before one starts preparing the dish can be an arduous task. However you wouldn’t believe the fun we had while cleaning it, as a family circle time. Our jobs were to keep an eye on the cleaned fruit bites from the rest of the world. I still remember the juicy details of many stories explored in this circle, with our hands smeared in oil, patiently slicing it down, removing every bit of fibers, revealing the sweetest sensation. By the time, we have conquered every piece of the fruit; we were overwhelmed by its fragrance. The first two days in our home of that following week are enjoyable. We can smell the prepared dishes, a mile from our home. By the third day, we hit a frenetic eating pace of the fruit to avoid being used in every meal of the day.

Recently, I received a care package from my home, traveling thousands of miles. On opening it, to my surprise, I found one of my all time favorite preparations of Jackfruit – “Chakka Varatti (Jackfruit Halwa)”, a combination of ripe Jackfruit, jaggery and loads and loads of ghee. It has been ages since I last savored the taste of it. Now here comes the interesting behind the scenes tidbit: My dad, who is not a firm believer of ‘use it and throw’ concept or that each and everything has a finite life, decided to get his old and outdated cell phone repaired. He sought help of a ‘Mr. Fix it’, who claimed to have repaired many such outdated devices. Long forgotten, after being handled by many of Mr.Fix it’s apprentices, my dad realized that the phone was missing . However by the end of the day, he received a heavy package, a gift, which was not a cell phone but a Jackfruit. Ironically he does not share the same kind of passion for jackfruits. I am not sure what happened to cell phone or Mr. Fix it!! But the jackfruit is cooked to perfection as a fantastic sweet dish and is waiting on my table. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I wish I could share my package with each one of you. It is tucked into the corner of my refrigerator as my night treat till my father finds another one of his repair ideas!

Simplistically Yours,

Chakka-Varatti (Jackfruit halwa) (My Mom's recipe)
What to get:
Jackfruit finely chopped - 4 cups
Jaggery - 1 cup
water - 1/2 cup

What to do:
Steam the chopped fruit in a pressure cooker with a small amount of water. Cook jaggery and water in heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat until the jaggery is melted completely. Remove from heat.

Heat a large and heavy bottom pan to medium high heat. Add the steamed fruit, jaggery and saute it till it becomes golden brown. Keep stirring to avoid any lumps. Stir in ghee and continue cooking it until the fruit breaks down , water is evaporated and the halwa thickens. Stir constantly. Remove the pan from heat, when the halwa start seperating from the edges of the pan. Serve hot/cold. I prefer it cold!

Therali appam

My mom usually makes this dish in a special kind of leaf. Needless to mention, the unavailability of Therali leaves (I beleive it is the leaves of cinnamon tree), has driven me to prepare this dish using parchment paper. So here is my entry for JFI – Jackfruit hosted by JugalBandi, a secondary dish, prepared with the help of my mom’s “chakka-vartti”.

What you need:
Chakka Varatti (halwa) – 1 cup
Rice Flour – 1 cup
Milk – 2 tbsp (if needed)
Coconut grated - 1 cup
Cardamom powder – 2 tsp
Parchment paper

What to do:
Combine flour, halwa, milk, coconut, cardamom powder and knead to a dough.
Divide the dough into 6 portions and mold them into balls (1 inch size). Finely coat the parchment paper with ghee. Divide the parchment paper into equal sized rectangles about twice the size of the balls. Place each of the balls in between the rectangles and flatten it with your hands. Steam it in an idli cooker or a steamer for about 15 minutes. Abracadabra, you got an enjoyable snack from home. Enjoy!

C & J sandwich (Cream Cheese and Jackfruit sandwich)

How about a PB&J sandwich with jackfruit? Another one of my
JFI- Jackfruit entries.

What You need:
Low fat Philadelphia cream cheese / Neufchatel cheese softened
Oroweat Country Buttermilk Bread slices – 2 nos

What to do:
Spread one side of each bread slices with butter. Heat a non stick pan to medium high heat. Place the bread slices , buttered side down and cook to golden brown. Microwave the halwa on high for about 15 – 20 seconds. Spread a generous amount of cream cheese on the other side (not buttered) of one of the bread slices. Similarly spread halwa on the second slice. Carefully assemble the sandwich. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bits and Bytes

Bits are binary digits, the smallest increment data in the computer holding values 0 or 1: corresponding to electrical values of off or on.Bytes are units of measurement of digital information containing eight consecutive bits.

My introduction to computers began 15 years ago as a student of Electronics. We conversed electrical theories and had an appetite for dismantling any major electrical appliances. On the other hand, our counterparts, the computer engineers, the considered elites of our school, never paying attention to our gimmicks were always in conversation about "see" and "see ++". We tried to ignore them by undeniably believing that everything is electrons. We wore Navy blue lab-coats and had multimeter, capacitors and breadboards in our pockets. While they had nimble fingers, carpel tunnel syndrome and white lab coats. Our first blow came, in our final year when I happen to be friends with one of "them", a possible interpreter trying to bridge the gap. I had to write a thesis of 100 pages and was shuttling back of forth between departments in search of a type-writer, when she suddenly uttered those words of wisdom - why don’t you use computers. You know, you can do this in a day. Believe me, there I was, ready to manually write those pages- and I was being offered help by one of the elites.

The computers in our school were separated and secluded in a building , enjoying their Mai Tai's in crisp and cool air from the air conditioning systems- Not like electronics lab, dusty and filled with tiny oscilloscopes displaying those sinusoidal waves reminding us of a long due vacation in the ocean. A contradictory world!. With certain amount of coaxing and some amount of begging, I convinced a couple of friends to accompany me to this adventure to the "other world". We reached the lab on our assigned time slot and was welcomed by huge of pile of shoes in its front door and a group of disgruntled computer engineers with raised eyebrows - why are they here?? The computer room was filled with tiny boxes with some lights blinking. We were engulfed by cool air and were calmed by peaceful silence. It indeed looked like a shrine!!! As we were newcomers to this world, we were assigned a helper, one who out of pity decided to take some time off of his busy schedule to tell us more about this world. We were led to the corner of the room and were surprised by a small box sitting in front of us. It was like standing in front of the Himalayas, empowering and overwhelming. Folks, it was a windows 95 machine. My heart was pounding with excitement. We cramped into the tiny corner, all 4 of us. Back in those days, it was 1 computer for 4 people. Our helper showed us how to use Windows- and a software called Microsoft word which will help us in writing our thesis. Time flew by as we typed and typed our pages into the computer, we were informed that our time slot was over and were asked to leave. We hurried past our neighbors, which we noticed only now and was about to leave the room. Our hearts were giddy with excitement; our minds were filled with stories of our expedition, for our peers. As we rushed, I couldn’t help but notice that none of our elite friends were present in the room, but rather in a tiny room inside this one, with monitors, colorless. A shrine inside a shrine??? Probably my wandering eyes or my questioning look gave it away, our helper answered me. Those computers are not for you guys. They are unix machines. My heart sank knowing that I still am not a member of their world. A long way to go!!..With a swing of the front door, we were back into our world of dust and sunlight. It was like transcending from heaven. My introduction was over. I was at peace finally. My friendship with the computer world has stayed with me for many many years in my career and has become a buddy in my culinary journeys. As I sit in front of my computer, many years later, spattered with tomato stains and surrounded by the warmth of curries brewing in my stove, I am ecstatic with two simple passion of my life - my curries and my computer.

So fellow readers, here are some crunchies and munchies for you. Beware, these are not for the faint hearts!

Simplistically yours,

Hot And Tangy peanuts

What You need:
Peanuts – 1 cup
shallots – 4 nos
Serrano Chillies -
4 nos.
Lemon juice – ½ lemon, small size
Cilantro - a bunch finely chopped.
Masala powder – ½ tsp. Any brand will do. I used the one prepared by mom.
Bell peppers – ¼ size of bell peppers (various colors) finely chopped.
Olive oil
salt to taste

What To Do:
Preheat the oven for 4000 degree. Mix peanuts with lemon juice and olive oil. Roast them in the oven for about 5 - 10 minutes. Make sure that it is not burnt. Mix it with salt and masala while it is hot. Finally, add rest of the ingredients and combine it well.

Spice Snack Mix

What You Need:
Chickpea flour – 1 cup
All purpose flour – 1 tbsp
Potatoes – 2 nos
Peanuts – a handful
Curry leaves – a bunch
Salt to taste
Kashmiri chillie powder to taste
Vegetable oil to fry

What To Do:
Heat oil in a large skillet to medium-high heat. Mix chickpea flour , all purpose flour with water to make a smooth paste. Not too watery, not too tight. I usually use sevai press / Idiyappam press / Murukku press /
“Achu” to make this dish. They come with a wide variety of shape templates. I haven’t figured out a different method yet. But the search is still is on. Fill the press with the dough and press it into the oil. Cook for a couple of seconds until is golden brown. Drain on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Add salt and chillie powder while it is hot. Repeat the same for potatoes, peanuts and curry leaves.

Welcome To Curry Bytes

Dear friends,

A family of excellent cooks is probably nothing new to rave about. But what if they are hearty food lovers whose conversation centers around foods and extends beyond cooking. Well that’s who I am.

My memories of childhood have always been interspersed with interesting discussions, and stories about food. Our summer vacation travel itineraries were etched with foods to try than the places to visit. Well of course, I am not saying all stories of food were good. Discontented tumblers of milk, ooey-gooey green stuff in your lunch box and innumerous reminders from the grown ups of the good things about eating rice- are not the ones that I fondly remember. But then, the steaming plates of idlis, red hot curries blended with sweet smell of love are of course worth remembering. Although my appetite for good and interesting food have grown over the years making me horizontally challenged, I have always disliked spending several hours in the hot kitchen. Every meal in our table was a potpourri of flavors that usually needs many hours of preparation in special pots and pans. Each one of us have favorites, but we all come back to our roots of Indian flavors. Indian cooking can be simple and complex, but the end product have always been exotic. Henceforth the engineer in me tries to break down every recipe into simple steps of methods/procedures ensuring an interesting cooking and eating experience. So dear readers, this is a gateway to the simple world of my stories and my computational cuisine. Some stories are my mine, some I heard from others. Some are funny, some are sad. But everything connects to food. So, leave the chaos and complexities. Welcome to Curry Bytes!

Simplistically yours,