Saturday, August 14, 2010

Besan ftw!

For the past few days, I’ve been consumed by the need to write something about besan (or gram flour) – that yellow powder tucked away in the corner of the kitchen shelf (or pantry). < As an aside. I like the word pantry. Depending on my mood, the word “pantry” can evoke tendencies that hark back to the my childhood days of Enid Blyton. I imagine myself to be one of those boarding school kids devouring pies and puddings stolen from the pantry during midnight feasts. Or it can evoke more memories of real experiences, of 2 day train journeys in India, where the pantry always smells good, regardless of the cheap oil they were using, and the food pretty delicious as well. Indian train food must be given a whole cuisine category. There is a lot to be said about the gluttonous and pleasures of watery, peppery tomato soup, cutlets with so much oil that they soak the paper plates on which they were served, and pulao’s and kurmas and curd rice with little pickle sachets, and bread omelettes. And the tiny cups of tea, coffee and hot milk that come by at regular intervals. But most of all I like the world pantry. I’m one of those people that dream of houses with pantries just so that I can use the word “pantry” legitimately instead of creating elaborate contests in which their usage is justified – such as the one you’re currently reading > < END DETOUR. END INTERESTING PART OF THIS POST>

Now the praise of besan, despite all its value, is even less unsung than train cuisine. It’s the ingredient that is always forgotten on shopping lists. An accommodating sorta fella, besan doesn’t expect to be added to every dish. In fact, he’s not needed at all. I know of a few kitchens that do not even have besan. And it is likely they will remain that way for ages and will manage to satisfy the palates of many that dine there. Besan doesn’t seek to advertise himself unlike the multitude of other flours that seem to embellish themselves with free-flow and what not to enhance their appeal. Besan, the thick, lumpy chap cannot be bothered to change himself. It doesn’t ask for too much attention really. It seems as if producers of the product and nature itself have simply relied on the fact that cooks will serendipitously discover its need, and once they do, they will find it impossible to turn back. Like the use of tobacco without needing advertisements and despite all the statutory warnings. Besan, however is so much more healthier.

To use besan is to go that extra length, to make your food taste from good to “oh my God. What have you added. The taste just lingers and lingers. And it’s awesome”. Besan can make you aware of all your taste buds, and possibly sprout some new ones. Surprisingly, advice columns on women’s magazines ignore besan all the time when they have to reply to questions such as “What can be done when I add too much salt in my food ?”. Now, in my opinion, these people shouldn’t even be given any recourse. That’s the only way they’re going to learn to use a smaller spoon. However, they’re often told to add a potato to the food, which apparently simply absorbs the salt. Do people then go on to eat this potato, I’ve often wondered. No wonder then, that we're battling increasing levels of cholesterol and diabetes. Of course, in many parts of the world, they've decided to simply do away with the initial extra salty cooking and cut right to the potato with lots of salt. We know it as french fries. In my house, one just deals with extra salty food with huge helpings of yogurt on the side (yes yes. Homemade. Organic. Probiotic. Lactobacillus-uberexotica. Traditional. Goodness). Anyway. I wonder why these horrified cooks, couldn’t resort to adding besan. I have tried that, with good success. Of course, the food doesn’t taste the way it was originally intended. But the new taste is rather appealing.

Such is the power of besan. You can never screw it up. It’s one of those things that can make food taste roasted and shallow fried without adding much oil. It gives a certain fullness to the flavor unparalleled to any combination of spices that I have tried. It is the ultimate finisher. It can bind things together. It can give that tiny edge of sweetness that even ardent resistors of those Indian cuisines known for their sweet food, will not be able resist.< The fact that Indian grocery stores stock it in huge packets makes me wonder if this post and my fawning prose for besan is completely premature. But it gives me hope that there so many more uses that I am yet to discover.> For me though, a small amount will do. It just sits, in its corner on the kitchen shelf waiting to be drafted into service. And when it does, boy! does it do its job! The besan, when bought, sits in the *pantry*, serving at the pleasure of the cook forever and ever.

It’s as close to a fairy tale that most of us are ever going to get. Besan is why I decide to keep cooking, much less write about it.

Besan completes my kitchen.


Arvind Suresh said...

"Now, in my opinion, these people shouldn’t even be given any recourse. That’s the only way they’re going to learn to use a smaller spoon."

Boy now thats a harsh punishment don't you think? Even veteran cooks struggle at times to get the salt right!!

Janani said...

@ arvind

well i doubt veteran cooks write to women's magazines about what to do if they add too much salt.

they are therefore not be subject to my rigorous notions of culinary pedagogy.

V said...

Hey I just started reading your blog and totally love it :) Is it ok with you if I add you to my blogroll?

Janani said...

hi V

Glad you liked it. Feel free to blogroll me :)

V said...

Hey I am actually your friend Alok Pandurangi's cousin and it was he who showed me this blog :)

Janani said...

@ V

hey, good to know he's leading some net traffic my way.