To put a positive spin on the situation, the cooking process 1) taught me something about what the slow cooker is good and not so good at, and 2) filled our home all day Saturday with enticing aromas. Sadly, though, like that of an inferior wine, the taste of my resulting dish did not live up to the promise of those aromas.
|Peter preparing to sample his first bite of food from our new slow cooker|
I'd decided to cook Rajma, which is just the Hindi word for Red Kidney Beans, for 3 reasons.
- This is the kind of thing I make a lot of, and I wanted to see how the slow cooker would alter the procedure with something I was familiar with.
- I had read online that most spices should be added near the end of the slow-cooking process (to prevent bitterness), and Indian dal (dried bean) dishes often have a last-minute flavoring step called chaunk (described below), in which oil and spices are added to the already-cooked dish.
- My reader Debbie requested an Indian dish. (You're welcome, Debbie. I hope the shirt you're sewing for me comes out better than my rajma. . . .)
Here's how I prepared my dish. [Disclaimer: I am not recommending that anyone follow this recipe, as the results were not up to my finicky standards. These instructions are shown here for educational purposes only. PmP cannot take responsibility for any insulted taste buds resulting from the actual preparation of this dish as described.]
My inspiration was the memory of a Madhur Jaffrey recipe I'd made years ago, which combined red kidney beans with turnips, many of which I thought were languishing in our balcony "root cellar." As it turned out, not a turnip turned up, but I did find 3 human-head-sized yams with only a little bacterial infestation:
|Note: The yam is not all that foreshortened in this photo; it was HUGE.|
After peeling off the molding outer surface of these enormous yams, they were more or less still the size of the yams you normally encounter in the supermarket. I used about half of the total for my dish and Peter put the other half in the vegetable mélange he cooked for our lunch that day. (His talents are by no means limited to sewing and blogging.)
I chopped the yams into largish chunks. I also sliced half a large onion and about 6 cloves of garlic. I set these ingredients aside on a plate, with about a tsp of turmeric and a little pink salt (less than a tsp). The advice I'd heard from readers and internet sources suggested that less salt is needed in slow-cooked food, since the long cooking times draw out more flavor from the ingredients, so I put in less than half the salt that a comparable Indian recipe would call for.
|Aren't the colors appealing?|
|Add some goldfish for a lovely Zen water garden. (But don't turn on the heat!)|
I had no idea how long the beans would take to cook using this method, so I decided I'd check them throughout the day, even though I'd been warned that every peek meant adding an additional 20-30 minutes to the total cooking time. After about 6 hours — the smells wafting from the cooker were already intoxicating by this time! — the yams and the beans were nearly cooked, but the onions still tasted a little raw, so I decided to keep cooking a little longer. (I was pleased to see that the beans, which I hadn't pre-soaked, were not taking an inordinate amount of time to become soft.)
After another hour, the onions were still tasting raw, and there was a bit too much liquid in the dish, so I decided to turn the cooker up to high and keep cooking. I also added a little ground dried ginger and a little cayenne pepper at this stage.
|Ginger/Cayenne in the right-hand dish. The mustard seeds in the left-hand dish will be used later in the chaunk.|
Another hour and then I cracked the lid a bit so that some water would evaporate. After 30 more minutes, I tasted again. The ingredients had reached a very pleasing consistency and I did not want to keep cooking them into mush, but the raw-onion taste was still quite unpleasant. (Not to mention that it kept repeating on me, though I'd sampled only 2 beans. Blechh.)
I was hoping that my final chaunk step would attenuate or at least mask the strong, lingering taste of raw onion that was marring my otherwise delicious dish. Chaunk involves heating some sort of oil or ghee in a small frying pan, adding a series of ingredients that may include spices, onions, garlic, and curry leaves, dumping it quickly over the cooked dish and covering the pot to seal in the flavors. For this Rajma dish, I had decided on a simple chaunk of mustard oil and black mustard seeds.
Mustard oil is widely used for cooking in some regions of India. Raw, it is sinus-clearingly pungent. When cooked, its pungency recedes into more of a sweetness, albeit a rather mustardy sweetness. It's perhaps an acquired taste. (Peter detested it the first time I used it many years ago, but has come to crave it almost as much as I do.) Strangely, the FDA in our country has not approved the consumption of mustard oil, so the Indian markets have to sell it labelled as a massage oil. I love this, because it lets me feel like a real rebel when I [gasp!] actually eat the mustard oil. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I would very much appreciate being anointed with a nose-tingling mustard fragrance during my next massage.
|The warnings on my mustard oil|
Sadly, although you can imagine how delicious this dish COULD have been, the mustard oil step was not able to disguise the rawness of the onion. I realize now that I should have sauteed the onions and garlic in a little oil before adding them to the slow cooker. This would have removed the raw taste and caramelized the onions into a delicious sweetness. At this point, however, the convenience of the slow cooker recedes a bit. I guess the main benefit is that it can cook my food while I am otherwise engaged, without needing to be tended.
I now have 2 big containers of not-quite-pleasing kidney beans with yams, 1 in the fridge and 1 in the freezer. I am planning to try to rescue the dish tonight, perhaps cooking it on the stovetop in a last-ditch attempt to caramelize the onions. We'll eat it — however it turns out — with some mustard greens cooked with lots of garlic and some plain basmati rice. I'll let you know how it turns out. . . .