Monday, January 30, 2006

Red Chile Enchiladas



The word "enchilada" derives from the Spanish verb "enchilar", which means "to cover with chiles." Nonetheless, there are numerous variations and sauces---some nearly chile free---that are covered by the term enchilada. This post is about a getting close to the definition of enchiladas: corn tortillas covered in a sauce based on dried red chiles.

Chiles and corn are indigenous to the Americas, and tortillas were a daily staple of the Aztecs and Mayans, so it is possible that something like the enchilada has been around for millenia. Not every dried chile is suitable for enchilada sauce. For example, a sauce made from the finger-sized chile de arbol or japone chile would be incindiary and not very flavorful. Instead, the chiles that are used are mostly about flavor. They are relatively large, and include the ancho (1,000 Scoville units), guajillo (5,000 Scoville units), and New Mexico (1,000 Scoville units). For reference, the habanero has a heat rating of 300,000 Scoville units! (See the note at the end of my Winter Salsa post for comments about Scoville units)

Although the final product looks simple, its creation requires a several step process. The basic steps are to rehydrate the chiles in hot water, blend the chiles and other ingredients, dip the tortillas, and sear the tortillas. The result is richly flavored, with the earthy tortilla contrasting with the bright, fruity and slightly hot chile sauce. Side dishes add to the variety.

I like to serve these enchiladas with roasted vegetables like squash and potatoes that are cooked with the chile sauce at the last minute; black beans; and a tangy salad of cabbage, carrot, onion, and cilantro dressed with lime juice, white vinegar and a neutral-flavored oil. And don't forget a margarita: tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and orange liqueur shaken with ice and strained into a ice-cube filled glass with a salt encrusted rim. I typically use 2 parts tequila, 1 part lime juice, and 1 part orange liqueur. My favorite tequila is Sauza Tres Generaciones Plata, but Sauza Blanco is good too (and 1/3 the price).

Enough with the prelude, it's time to enchilar! I decided not to post a complete recipe, but instead I'm posting a photo overview and commentary on making this wonderful dish. For recipes and additional instructions, I recommend the books of Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, and Susanna Trilling, and the Epicurious web site.


Ingredients for the sauce

The sauce consists of dried red chiles, garlic, spices (cumin, oregano, cloves and black pepper), and water (or your favorite stock). There are seemingly myriad dried red chiles available at the Mexican market, and several of them can be used in this dish. My favorites are ancho, pasilla, New Mexico, and guajillo (photos at Cook's Thesaurus). The labeling of dried chiles can be inconsistent sometimes, with the same chile having a different name at each shop (ancho and pasilla especially). Diana Kennedy recommends bringing a photographic guide book to the shop. My own personal preference is not to worry about it too much.

Toasting the chiles (l), pan-roasting the garlic (r)
After removing the seeds and stems from the chiles, I tore them in halves or quarters with the goal of making them into flat sections to ease the process of toasting each side in a dry skillet for about ten seconds per side (photo above). After a chile piece was toasted, I put it into a bowl that could hold a few liters of water. While toasting the chiles, have your stove fan running and try not to breathe any smoke, as it will make your nose burn for a while. (I have never tried making enchiladas without toasting the chiles, but I should try a comparison someday. My nose would probably thank me.)

I pan roasted the garlic cloves in their skins in a dry pan over medium heat, turning them now and then. They roasted for about 10 minutes. It is OK (even preferable) for the skins to blacken a bit. The photo above also (vaguely) shows the process in action. After the garlic cloves were roasted, I put them on a plate to cool, then removed the papery husks.

Rehydrating the chiles
After the chiles were toasted, I covered them with hot water and let them soak for about 30 minutes. Then I used a pair of tongs to put the chile pieces into a blender. The roasted garlic, oregano, cumin, cloves and black pepper also went into the blender jar. Then I blended the mixture until it was very smooth, adding some water now and then to keep the mixture blending.

Straining the puree
Chile skin can be a bit tough and some seeds sometimes make it through the pureeing process, so I pushed the sauce through a medium-mesh strainer. Next, I added enough water to make it the consistency of tomato sauce.

Finally, it is time to coat and cook the enchiladas. I have not quite figured out the best way to do the chile coating. Most cookbooks that I have read recommend the "dip and fry" method. The other method that I have tried is "cook and dip." First I'll explain dip and fry in detail, then summarize the cook and dip method.

Dip and fry
In this method, the sauce is cooked after it has coated the tortilla. The sauce is prepared as described above, then each tortilla is dipped in sauce (first photo below) and fried in a skillet (second photo below) for about 30 seconds per side, then folded into quarters and placed in a baking dish. I also like to put a piece of melting cheese on the tortilla before I fold it. Ideally, the enchiladas are served immediately, but they can also be kept warm in the oven for a few minutes until it is time to eat.

The advantage of this method is that it gives the sauce a beautiful flavor and makes the tortilla soft and pliable. The disadvantage is that the meeting of hot oil and a water-based sauce can lead to incredible splattering. Also, the tortilla can soak up the oil and thus require many additions of oil to the skillet, which becomes progressively more covered with crispy chile sauce. But a non-stick skillet seems to reduce the disadvantages. Or, in other words, if I had recorded my utterings during the tortilla frying illustrated below, they would not have been raving curses, but something like "I'm amazed that this is working so well."

Dipping a tortilla

Frying and folding tortillas


Cook and dip
In this method, the sauce is cooked before it has coated the tortilla, and the tortilla is pre-treated in the oven to make it pliable. I prepare the sauce through the straining step as described above, then cook it before dipping the chiles by heating oil in a sauce pan, pouring in the sauce, then reducing it over medium heat with frequent stirring until it is reasonably thick, then adding water or broth to bring it back to the proper consistency. I brush the tortillas with a little fit of oil, and place them in stacks of three or four on a cookie sheet, then put them in a 300 F oven for about 15 minutes. To finish the dish, I dip each tortilla in the sauce, fold it in quarters, and place on a baking sheet.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Low SHF 15 - Tropical Triangles


Low is the New High in shapes and layers: triangles of coconut-flavored sticky rice stuffed with minced mango on layers of sliced mango and pomegranate sauce. The richness of the coconut, the perfume and natural sweetness of the mango, and the pleasant acidity of the pomegranate sauce dispel most thoughts of the thick sugary desserts that I consumed at the end of 2005.

The bulk of the effort for this dessert was making the coconut sticky rice. First, I rinsed the rice and soaked it in water for a few hours. Then I poured it into a metal strainer, shook it a few times to remove excess water, and set the strainer on the rim of a saucepan above a few inches of simmering water. I placed the pot lid on top of the sieve, and let it steam for about 30 minutes. It was transformed into a beautiful, translucent mass of discrete rice grains.

Near the end of the rice steaming period, I made a coconut sauce by combining canned coconut milk and palm sugar (see note below) in a sauce pan and bringing it to a boil, and then stirring until the sugar was dissolved. I turned down the heat and kept the coconut sauce warm until the rice was finished, then combined them and let the mixture rest for about 30 minutes to allow the rice to soak up the coconut sauce. The recipe for the coconut rice can be found at Epicurious.

I made the pomegranate sauce by removing the fruit of a pomegranate, grinding it in a food processor, straining out the juice, and reducing it with some palm sugar and pomegranate molasses on the stove. Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern markets, and keeps almost forever in the refrigerator.

Notes: Most of the raw ingredients are shown in the photo on the left below. The palm sugar and sticky rice (a.k.a. sweet rice or glutinous rice) can be found at most Southeast or East Asian markets (I bought mine at the excellent Tuk Tuk Thai Market on University Avenue in Berkeley). Palm sugar is sap from certain species of palm tree that has been boiled and evaporated until crystallized.

The tools for making the rice triangles are shown on the right below. These particular items were brought to me from Japan, but I imagine that they could be found in Japanese markets outside of Japan. I hope to use the rice triangle forms to make other portable goodies in the future. For example, herbed rice stuffed with mushrooms in red chile sauce, Indian-spiced rice stuffed with sauteed vegetables, "fried cheese with club sauce"(audio), or even rice filled with "spicy club sauce"(audio). [context for audio clips, which are from an Arrested Development Fansite (Steve Holt!)]




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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Winter Salsa

As part of my efforts to eat more seasonally, this winter I am going to try to make Mexican-style salsas for burritos, quesadillas and tacos that do not rely on summer vegetables like tomatoes, tomatillos and fresh chiles. The goal is to use items available at the Berkeley Farmers' Market, dried ingredients (e.g., red chiles), or canned ingredients.

The results of my first efforts are shown in the four-dish photo at the top of the post. The dark red salsas on top are both based on the cascabel chile and sundried tomatoes (one is strained, the other isn't). The bright red salsa in the lower right is chile de arbol and sundried tomato. The greenish-brown salsa in the lower left is made from tomatillos (still available at the Farmers' Market), canned chipotle chiles, onion and cilantro. I used the salsa on flour tortilla quesadillas with monterey jack cheese, roasted butternut squash, and black beans. The salsas would also be excellent on tacos, sopes, or just about anything needing some zing.

Cascabel - Sundried Tomato Salsa
Cascabel means "little bell", a name that derives from the shape of the chile (see photo below) and the fact that the seeds come loose when the chile dries. It is relatively mild, with a Scoville rating of 3,000 (for reference, the Habanero has a heat rating of 300,000 Scoville units. See note below for more about Scoville and chile heat.). This chile is about flavor. In the salsa, I noted aromas and flavors of chocolate, coffee and fruit (raisins and apples).

Ingredients

12 Cascabel chiles
5 sundried tomato halves, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup water
Salt

Method
In a dry skillet over medium, toast the chiles, turning frequently, until lightly browned. Allow them to cool, then remove the stem and grind to a powder in a spice grinder (alternatively, just break them into small pieces). Put chile powder, rehydrated tomatoes, garlic and a little bit of the water into a blender jar, and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the water and blend again. For a less rustic salsa, pass the puree through a strainer to remove any bits of chile skin or seed that wasn't fully ground.


Chile De Arbol - Sundried Tomato Salsa
The Chile de Arbol is small and roughly the size of a little finger (see photo below). They are relatively hot, with a Scoville rating of about 25,000.

Ingredients
12 chiles de arbol
5 sundried tomato halves, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup water
Salt

The method for this salsa is the same as for the Cascabel-Sundried Tomato Salsa, except that the chiles should be toasted for a longer time at a lower temperature so that they become fully dry and crispy.


Tomatillo Salsa
I'm planning a post on roasted tomatillo salsa in the coming weeks, but if you can't wait, check out Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen or epicurious.com (23 versions of tomatillo salsa).

Notes on Chile Heat
The Scoville scale is the most widely used ranking, but is far from perfect. To obtain the rating, human subjects taste samples of chile that is progressively diluted with a neutral substance. The test continues until the taster can no longer detect any chile heat in the sample. Since the tasters are human, there is some subjectivity and variability. Another source of variability of chile heat is the chile itself. The heat level can be affected by growing methods, climate, ripeness at harvest, storage, and the properties of the variety (e.g., some people are working to breed a "heatless" Jalapeno). Sources of information include Chile Today Hot Tamale, chemsoc, Chile Pepper Institute and Uncle Steve's.


Chiles de arbol (left) and chiles cascabel (right)

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Slashfood D Day - D is for Dal

D is for Dal, a word that encompasses lentils, beans and peas on the Indian subcontinent. Countless varieties are probably used across the enormous land. Off the top of my head I can think of (only) 13 varieties and variations: three kinds of mung dal (whole, unpeeled split, and peeled split), two types of chickpea (whole and peeled split), three types of urad dal (whole, unpeeled split and peeled split), moth dal, masoor dal, vatana, and toor dal (whole, split, and coated with oil).

Just as there are numerous varieties of dal, there are numerous uses across the whole menu: snack mixes, desserts, breakfast, as a element of crunch and flavor in dishes like lemon rice, and, of course, as the base of a range of soup-like or stew-like creations.

The process for preparing dal dishes is roughly as follows:
  • Collect the ingredients
  • Wash and cook the lentils, sometimes with flavorings like tumeric, ginger, green chile.
  • Prepare the vegetables and other flavorings (e.g., tomatoes, pumpkin).
  • Fry some spices and other flavorings (e.g., curry leaves, dried red chiles) in oil and pour over the lentils
  • Serve with garnishes like chopped cilantro and pickles.
In the remainder of this post, I will explain the steps in more detail.

Collect the Ingredients
The photo to the left shows most of the ingredients for a dal called "amti" in the cookbook I'm using (Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking). The back row shows split moong (Vigna mungo) on the left and masoor (Lens culinaris) on the right. The plate in the middle row has a ball of tamarind paste, pieces of jaggery (a raw sugar from India), and some grated coconut. The front row has some of the spices: turmeric, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds (not shown are garam masala, salt and ground red pepper)

Cook the lentils
Pick through the dal for sticks, stones and other foreign objects, then wash the lentils in several changes of water. Drain, and pour them into a deep sauce pan and add the required amount of water (dal:water ratio is usually 1:4 or 1:3). In this treatment, some turmeric is added to the lentils at the beginning. The dal are first brought to a boil (they like to foam, so be careful that they don't boil over!), then the heat reduced to low and the dal cooked with the lid partially offset until the dal are tender. For a thicker texture, the mixture can be stirred with a whisk to thicken it.


Prepare the other flavorings
This dal has tamarind to provide sourness and flavor. Tamarind comes in at least three forms: unprocessed (lower left in the photo above), as a block of paste with seeds and fiber (lower right), and as a concentrated paste (not shown). The unprocessed form requires a lot of work just to remove the shell, and I'm don't know what I was thinking when I bought it. The blocks of pre-skinned pulp are what I use, and are available at Indian, Thai, Chinese and other Asian groceries (and possibly Latin American shops too). To separate the fruit from the seeds and fiber, soak the tamarind pulp in boiling water for about 30 minutes (shown in the photo above). It can help to stir it now and then to increase contact between the water and fruit. Pour the water and tamarind into a medium mesh strainer set on top of a bowl, and press as much of the pump through the mesh as practicable.

Add the tamarind water, along with the jaggery, to the lentils and stir. Let it cook for a few more minutes while you prepare the spiced oil.

Fry the spices
Put the spices in small bowls next to the stove and have a pot lid ready before you turn on the heat (mustard seeds have a tendency to pop and fly all over the place). Place a small skillet over high heat, then pour in some oil or ghee. When it is hot but not smoking, add the spices in the order specified by the recipe. Whole spices like cumin seed or mustard seed go in at the beginning and cook for a 30 seconds or so, then ground spices and leaves are added for a few more seconds, and finally the hot spice oil is carefully poured over the lentil mixture. Stir a few times and then let it cook over very low heat for a few minutes to settle the flavors.

Serve, and experience the Deliciousness of Dal.


Postscript - D in the Archives
D foods have appeared quite a few times in my blog: five previous posts on Dal (Masoor, Urad 1, Urad 2, Moong, and Toor---it was December, after all), Durian and Dark Chocolate Cupcakes.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dried Red Chiles - Not Just For Heat

If you think of chiles as only a source of pleasure (releasing endorphins) or pain (burning your mouth), the complex and varied flavors that can be coaxed from large dried red chiles will amaze you. Countless varieties of chiles are used across the spectrum of Mexican cuisine. They are so important that Diana Kennedy's From My Mexican Kitchen devotes almost 30% of her section on Mexican ingredients (40 pages out of 140) to chiles and their uses in Mexican cooking. Not surprisingly, the chile is native to the Americas and the word "chile" derives from the Nahuatl language word chili (Nahuatl is an indigenous language of Central Mexico).



Starting at the bottom and going clockwise, the photo above shows chipotle (a smoke-dried jalapeno, the name is derived from the Nahuatl words chili, "chile", and pectli, "smoke"), chile de arbol, guajillo, New Mexico, and pasilla, with chile cascabel in the center. The flavors are as different as their appearance. The ancho, for example, has a sweet, fruity flavor that reminds me of cherries and raisins, with just a little bit of heat. A chipotle imparts a rich smokiness and a lot of heat. The cascabel has a deep flavor with hints of chocolate and coffee.

When I lived in beautiful Ventura, California, I visited the grocery stores that specialized in ingredients from Latin America. I still remember the first visit to one of the larger stores. Near the produce section were five 55-gallon drums filled with large dried red chiles. I wondered, "Why would anyone need so many chiles? What could they be used for?" Since then, I have learned the answer, and learned how to use them in my own kitchen. Examples include enchilda sauce (I'll post on that in a few days), table salsas, mole (a complex sauce for meat and tortillas that sometimes---not always---contains chocolate. 2 articles about mole: World on a Plate and the LA Times), in a marinade for fish, and even in a chocolate cake.

If you don't live near a store that specializes in Latin American ingredients, there are plenty of mail order sites and sometimes the big grocery stores carry small bags of dried chiles. Once you have the chiles, consult books by Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, and Susanna Trilling (to name a few) for recipes and techniques.

In the next week or so I will have a few posts about how dried red chiles are used in my kitchen, so stay tuned (or RSS'd).

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Burrito Dissected

Today I'm dissecting a modern San Francisco burrito to reveal a little bit about the origin and history of the ingredients. Europe and Asia contributed wheat, cheese, onions, beef, pork, chicken, and rice; the Americas contributed the tortilla, beans, salsa making techniques, chiles, tomatoes, and avocados.

Flour tortilla: The corn tortilla is an ancient food, but wheat flour did not arrive in Mexico until the Spanish conquest of the 16th century. Wheat-flour tortillas are most popular in Northern Mexico (and Texas). I have not yet seen a good explanation for this, but imagine that the agricultural conditions are an important reason. Corn tortillas are delicious but make lousy burritos because they have little strength or flexibility. Wheat-flour tortillas, on the other hand, are rich with gluten and can be stretched, stressed and folded to hold more filling that you would expect.

Beans: Part of the critical trinity of the pre-Columbian Mexican diet, the other two being corn and squash.

Meat: Most of today's meat fillings (Chile Colorado, Carne Asada, grilled chicken) were imported by the Spanish. Sokolov (see below for full citation) writes that the Aztecs and Maya only domesticated a few animals: the turkey, the Muscovy duck, the dog, the bee and the cochineal insect (used for making a red dye). In the Andes the list also included the guinea pig and various camelids (like the llama). Wild-caught animals, like game birds, fish, and other seafood were certainly an important part of the diet.

Cheese: Dairy cows, sheep and goats were unknown to the pre-Columbian Americans. The tropical Mexican climate is not conducive to cheese making, so the cheeses of Mexico are generally simple and fresh, or simple and well-aged. The cheese that typically goes into burritos is a mild melting cheese like Monterey Jack.

Tomatoes: They originated in South America and were carried north over time to Mexico. The Aztec word tomatl meant "plump fruit," and they called the tomato xitomatl. The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa, tomate verde, husk tomato) was called miltomatl. The Spaniards called both fruits tomate. This page at the Texas A & M Aggie Horticulture Network has an interesting story about how the tomato was introduced to the United States via Europe.

Chiles: Chiles (genus Capsicum) are native to the Americas, and evidence indicates that Native Americans were cultivating them over 5,500 years ago. The credit (or blame) for naming this vegetable the "chile pepper" is usally given to Columbus, who was reminded of black pepper (Piper nigrum) by the New World chiles' heat. This means, of course, that until the Spanish voyages of the 15th and 16th century, cuisines that are today associated with fire (Thai) did not receive the chile until relatively recently. Visit Center for New Crops & Plant Products at Purdue University for plenty more about chiles.

Cilantro: Also known as coriander (Latin name: Coriandrum sativum), this pungent herb is indigenous to Southern Europe and has been cultivated around the Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years.

Onions: Onions most likely originated in Central Asia and were first cultivated over 5000 years ago. Pictures of onions have been found on ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. Onions came to Mexico as part of the Columbian Exchange. Source: National Onion Association

Garlic: Today, garlic grows wild only in Central Asia, but earlier its range might have been from Eastern Europe to China. Garlic is one of the earliest crops cultivated by humans: 5000 years ago in India and Egypt, 4000 years ago in China. Visit the USDA for more details.

Avocado: The Food timeline website says that the avocado is from southern Mexico and was first cultivated around about 1,000 B.C. See also the California Avocado Commission and the Accidental Hedonist's recent post.

Rice: Rice is descended from a wild grass that might have been first domesticated in the foothills of the Himalayas and upper portions of the Irrawaddy, Salween and Mekong rivers.



References
The Food Timeline
Raymond Sokolov's Why We Eat What We Eat
The Oxford Companion to Food


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Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Modern Burrito, a "Fusion Food"

The burrito was originally a simple and rustic food---a flour tortilla, rehydrated dried beef, and probably some hot sauce---that was eaten by miners, cowboys, and others who needed portable and nonperishable food for long journeys into the wilderness of Northern Mexico. Although the burrito has never disappeared, it led a quiet existence in the U.S. until it was reinvented about 30 years ago in San Francisco. Today, in many U.S. urban areas, the new burrito is an essential source of nutrition and pleasure for artists, bloggers, computer programmers, hipsters, and people in many other occupations.

The reinvention probably took place in San Francisco's Mission District, and converted the burrito from a small meaty snack into a portable meal comprising flavored rice, beans, salsa, cheese, meat (or grilled vegetables), and various other items (guacamole, sour cream) wrapped in a freshly-steamed flour tortilla and packaged in foil. At most taquerias, there is a long steam table, and the burrito is made for you as you walk down the line, sometimes with four or five different people asking you a question ("whole or refried?", "hot or mild salsa?", "sour cream?") and adding an ingredient or two before it is rolled into a tight package and covered with foil. The fame and distinctiveness of this style of burrito is such that Wikipedia has an entry and Calvin Trillin wrote about using it as "bait" to convince his daughter to move from S.F. to N.Y. In addition, at least one podcast has been devoted to it, there is a blog (Burrito Eater) about S.F. burrito restaurants, a national review site (Burritophile), an annual award for best burrito, and even a UNIX command.

Fusion cooking has been hot in top restaurants for a decade or two. Mexico has been at the forefront of fusion for centuries. On the east-west trade routes between Europe and Asia, Mexico received frequent infusions of new ingredients and cooking techniques, like rice from Asia and milk from Europe. Rick Bayless's latest season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time (on PBS) has a episode called Fusion Revolution which includes visits to some upscale restaurants in Mexico City that are blending ancient Mexican ingredients with flavors from the Pacific Rim. He ends the show at a humble street stand describing how the modern burrito is another type of fusion food. Even in its original state---a flour tortilla and rehydrated air-dried beef---the burrito was a fusion of Old and New World ingredients, with beef and wheat from Europe being prepared using Mexican techniques. Today's burrito is a far more complex example of fusion, and will be the subject of the next post.

Photograph from Sparkletack, subject to a Creative Commons license

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Noodles in Indian Cuisine

During a conversation with a friend a little while ago, the subjects of "noodles" and "Indian food" came up. Although we are both somewhat familiar with Indian cuisine, neither of us could think of any "classic" Indian noodle dishes on par with those of Burma, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. For these countries, a dish that features noodles is sometimes one of the first one can think of (e.g., Pad Thai, Pho, Zaru Soba, Chap Chae). That my first impression that the noodle is not similarly important in Indian cuisine surprised me because of India's proximity to nations with legendary noodle dishes and its position on the major trading routes.

To help quell my curiosity, I hit the books. The Oxford Companion to Food has this in the Noodles of Asia entry:
One salient point is the relative lack of noodles in the Indian subcontinent. It is hard to explain this on a simple basis such as lack of suitable cereal crops in the subcontinent, since noodles can be made from so many different and basic ingredients. The phenomenon seems to be more of a historical one. It may be that the kitchen territory which might have been occupied by noodles of certain kinds was already devoted to dishes in the dal category. There is, however, one kind of Indian noodle which has achieved a moderate degree of prominence (sev and seviyan...). [author's note: sev and seviyan are actually two kinds of noodles, as we will see below]

This explanation seemed to make some sense, but after further reading, I learned that my lack of noodle knowledge was because of the vastness of the cuisine of India and how little is presented in the United States. My research showed that noodles appear in many forms in the Indian kitchen, primarily in snacks, breakfast, dessert, and as an supporting ingredient. At least four types of flour are used to make noodles: wheat, rice, chickpea (channa dal), and cornstarch.

Wheat Noodles
Madhur Jaffrey's Flavors of India describes the regional cuisines of India, and has this in her section on Gujarat (info and map):

If they [pilgrims] are passing the village of Vartal, where little babes swing from cloth hammocks, they may pick up some flat, whole wheat noodles drying in coils on outdoor cots. Anthropologists today believe that noodles probably originated not in China or Italy but wherever there was wheat. This, they feel, points mainly to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the Middle East and to the Indus Valley now mostly in Pakistan but extending into Northern Gujarat as well.

As towns dating back to the 2nd millenium BC have been discovered here (with evidence of both wheat & sugar cane), it is likely that the wheat noodles in Vartal are completely indigenous, going back perhaps 4000 years. [author's note: article about 4,000 year old noodles found in China]

The village preparation is very simple. Wheat dough is rolled out very thin and cut into 3 mm (1/8") thick strips. These are wrapped into small coils and dried in the sun. At the harvest festival of Holi, the coils are thrown into boiling water, drained and then eaten with melted ghee and sugar. The use of noodles is widespread in Gujarat.

The Indian Spice Kitchen, by Monisha Bharadwaj, has a recipe for a famous use of wheat noodles sometimes called kheer seviyan. This is a pudding-like dessert containing fried vermicelli, milk, sugar, nuts, dried fruit and spices which is often served as part of post-dusk meals during Ramadan.

The left-hand product in the photo at the top is an Indian vermicelli, with three suggested uses on the package: uppma, pilaf and milk pudding (kheer). To confuse things somewhat, these wheat vermicelli are called seviyan, while noodles made from chickpea flour are called sev (more on sev below).

Rice Noodles
Also in The Indian Spice Kitchen, there is a recipe for a breakfast or snack food called noodle upma (a.k.a. appa idi, idiappam) which consists of thin rice noodles in a spiced oil (for example, mustard seeds, chilies, urad dal, and curry leaves) (Recipe). A special press is used to make these noodles, in which the dough is pushed through a perforated plate onto a metal tray with large depressions. Each depression contains spiced oil to flavor the noodles. The tray is put into a steamer, and the noodles are topped with more spiced oil.

Chickpea Noodles (Sev)
Sev are crisp fried sticks of extruded chickpea-flour dough (the word sev might be derived from a word for 'thread' which came from the root siv, referring to sewing). To make sev, chickpea flour is combined with salt, spices and water to form a dough. The dough is then pressed directly into hot oil to cook the noodles.

Lord Krishna's Cuisine has this description of sev:
Sev rivals peanuts as India's most popular munching snack. Anywhere people gather, a sev vendor is sure to appear with an assortment of freshly made fried noodles. Some noodles are spicy and spaghetti-thick, while others are very fine and unseasoned.
In The Glorious Noodle, Linda Merinoff writes "...[sev] is used to make the Indian version of the American trail mix, deep-fried sev refried in clarified butter with dried fruit, boiled potatoes, diced onion, puffed rice, or other ingredients and more hot spices." The product on the right side of the photo is one example of a snack mix with noodles. In this case, the noodles are made of chickpea flour and accompanied by moth dal (the legume Vigna aconitifolia, a.k.a. mat, matki, mankashtha, and vanamudga) and plenty of spices. The mix is high in fat and hard to eat (such small pieces), but quite tasty.

Cornstarch Noodles
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, by Julie Sahni has a cornstarch noodle called phalooda. She writes that it is a traditional accompaniment to Indian ice cream (kulfi), or can be eaten on their own with a milk sauce and/or fruit. Wheat or cornstarch combined with water and cooked into a paste. Then the paste is forced through a noodle press directly into cold water. The paste solidifies as they hit the water to make a more or less translucent noodle.


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