Saturday, 11 April 2009

Have you missed me?

I have been having the time of my life on holiday in India. While there I went in search of people and restaurants still using a haandi to cook with and create the dishes in time honoured and old fashioned way. On my first day in India I noticed a round vessel for cooking lentils in my sisters house. I had never noticed it before and was amazed to see the ease with which she put the final touches to daal, with a "Tadka". On further questioning it transpired that she and everybody else in the family had a haandi and used it for cooking,which I had not noticed as I was not allowed in my home kitchen.

On further questioning it appeared that every household in india has one. The reason being its efficiency over an old fashioned wood fire or coal fire before the days of gas and electricity. The rounded bottom of the handi guided the flames and heat to upper reaches of the haandi to ensure an even and fast cooking. The shape of the vessel also helped with the spillage probelem, as the narrow mouth prevents it and also it can be easily tilted as the contents become less inside the haandi.
later, during a visit to a restaurant in delhi, I noticed that every dish in that restaurant was cooked in a haandi,they called it a "Degchi" or "patila". It was a restaurant listed in lonely planets guide for good cooking and frequented by foreign tourists. I shall write about it later with their recipes and pictures. The name of the restaurant by the way is Karims in jama masjid area.

From delhi I had planned a visit to Kanha national park and tiger resrve in central india, which was an unique experience as I had never seen a tiger outside a zoo.We stayed in a safari park hotel inside the tiger resrve compound and again I noticed the Haandi in the kitchen being used for preparing the vegetables with gravy.I was surprised to note that the haandi had been around me all my life, but I failed to see it. Perhaps it was my new found interest in cooking which was responsible.I shall talk about the Kanha visit later, but was intrigued to learn more about haandi cooking from the people running the kitchen. These people are local tribesmen aand fiercly guard there way of life including cooking.The cook noticing my enthusiasm for them and their way of life, they invited me in the kitchen and let me observe the cooking process.
They told me that they almost always use some herbs or spices to flavour the oil before cooking. They used cumin seeds and asfoeteda for in the hot oil before sauteying the vegetables and then adding water when additional spices were cooked and the aroma from them was pleasing tto thge nose, I shall give the details of the recipe in future blogs.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

all about haandi

Haandi, a versatile cooking vessel is also called a patila and sometimes a pan. Originally haandis were made of earthenware and were destroyed after cooking thus eliminating the chore of cleaning or storing the pot after use. Apart from being hygienic it provided an earthen taste to the cooking which was most alluring to the senses, specially in vegetarian dishes. Also it mainly lends itself to one pot cooking it was ideal for the itinerant lifestyle of early humans. During the history of early civilizations war was the universal activity and necessitated migration of the people to new locations which were safer and thus eliminating the need for carrying the cooking utensils. As life became more permanent gradually the utility and the versatility of the haandi became more apparent.

With the passage of time as life assumed permanence and haandis started to be produced in more stable and permanent materials like iron,brass and copper.copper and iron are the base metals and brass and other alloys are produced from various metal combinations. Copper has been in use for atleast 10,000 years an has been found in indus valley civilization since 3rd millenium B.C. Copper is a very good conductor of heat as well as being decorative and has antigerm properties. As such it was an ideal base for the manufacture of the cooking vessel. It is also very ductile and can be factored easily into any shape and is suitable for smelting,beating and moulding processes in the factory. Later on as metalurgical science developed other alloys containing copper,like brass came into use.
the shape of the handi having a cavernous main body and a narrow neck along with a flat base lends itself to heat distribution in the pot more efficiently and quickly.
A narrow neck is useful for various cooking processes like initial shallow frying,boiling and steaming the cooking mayterials used for any dish. The opening of the haandi can be easily controlled according to cooking method employed. This is achieved by a lid or keeping the mouth of the haandi open or covering it with a wet towel and lid for partial steaming or sealing it completely with dough for total seal as in "dum" variety of cooking. Being a good conductor of heat it is also suitable for slow roasting.stewing or cooking in the oven.