I’d not realized how hard it is to photograph food while it is cooking. There was something satisfying about taking photos of brinjal (Aubergine, egg plant, use your favourite synonym) as it is frying in a pan. The brown, black, and purple colour palette reminded me of the tortured paintings of Goya, reflected in the spilled guts of the fried brinjal.
But why a post about deep frying, you ask? Well, after weeks of being locked away at home, I was dying to eat something different. There was a large brinjal on the kitchen counter, which reminded me of deep fried Bengali brinjal. So I decided to adapt it to an experimental low-oil cooking method. I cut it into thin rounds, and then heated a tea spoon of oil in a non-stick pan. I put in three disks of brinjal, and they soaked up the oil immediately. The idea that I was trying to bootstrap is that they would release the oil after they were done, and I could put in more of the vegetable then, and cook it in the same oil. As you can see from the photos, this process could continue until I had the whole baingan fried. The Family pronounced this a success. “Unfortunately, you can’t make puri this way,” she told me.
Normally we buy vegetables in small quantities, and use them up in a day or so. But now, in order to keep control over our exposure to large crowds, shopping is less frequent. Some time back we wanted to guard against COVID-19 by disinfecting all produce. Eating soap is not a great idea, so we were certainly not going to washing food in soap. The Family skimmed her expertise and recalled that bacteria and viruses are killed by a solution of salt in water. So now we dunk all produce for about fifteen minutes in salty water. The water can be reused, and salt does not need to be washed off, so this is also a water conserving way of cleaning produce.
On some days our house is full of vegetables being cleaned and dried, chopped and sorted. Since the salt water bath removes bacteria and viruses, we now find that the veggies stay fresh and usable much longer. Bananas and plantain, tindli and tomatoes, everything stays fresh and colourful for several days. Tindli? Does ivy gourd sound more familiar? I didn’t think so. It is after all a rather local vegetable (featured photo), so best to call it by its local name.
We used to be in a desperate rush to use up mushrooms before they rot. Now mushrooms stay fresh longer too. Perhaps the salt water treatment also kills the fungi which sometimes grow on these mushrooms. I know that some people use baking soda and potassium parmanganate, but that would also require more water for post-treatment washing. We wanted the lowest water-use possible, and I think the salt solution works well for that. The Family consulted her old colleagues about this treatment, and found a good consensus of opinion for it.
There are no desperate attempts to refrigerate fresh produce to keep it from spoiling any longer. Everything can now be kept in trays and bowls in sun and air. Also, now that we can keep the veggies for longer, we can wait for good combinations to develop. For example, plantains are not very common at our neighbourhood vendor’s, but when we get it, we already have the other veggies that we know will go well with it. The result has been an explosion of new recipes at home. Lunch is quite a journey of discovery these days.