14 April 2006

ambil and pupusas

somehow almost a week has gone by since the march ended and i haven't finished typing up the journals yet. im on march 23rd and haven't slept well in days and just trying to stay hydrated.

a few culinary notes:

1. there's an eight-day fast/festival called "ambil" that's part of the jain tradition. the rules of the game include

a. no brushing of the teeth

b. water allowed only between 7am and 7pm, and only boiled (cooled) water at that.

c. no spices besdies salt and pepper

d. no oil

e. no fruit or vegetables

f. no getting up once you've started eating

g. one meal per day

so essentially you're eating various types of whole grains, separate or mixed, cooking with a few different techniques, including:

a. ground into flour, mixed with water, cooked like a pancake

b. boiled or steamed (like rice)

c. ground into flour, steamed (like kichoo)

d. ground into flour, cooked into chappatis/tortillas

e. ground into flour, rolled very thinly, roasted until crispy (pappadum)

f. boiled or steam into soup

g. made into tea

from these techniques and various permutations of mung (green gram), urad (black gram), chana (chickpeas), wheat, barley, millet, rye, and rice, they make something like 40 different dishes a day at the local jain temple eatery. the dishes are mostly different for each of the eight days so the fasters don't get too bored.

i tried it for a day. the food was pretty boring except for the black pepper tea, which i surreptiously pored over the other grains and breads to liven up the system a bit. ahmedabad during the day gets to 40 degrees ( 104 degrees F ) and by 9pm i needed some water in a serious way. i decided any fast which denies you water was stupid, broke ranks with my auntie, and took down two lites of delicious cool.

there is saying here "fasting is easy, but ambil is hard".

2. last night i went back to the sabarmati ashram and jayeshbhai's house for a closing ceremony to my trip. the morning of march 12th i woke up at jayeshbhai's beautiful house -- covered with indigineous art and craftwork, infused with the love of so many well-treated guests -- and started the march from the sabarmati ashram (surrounded by tv cameras).

at jayesbhai's i gave a talk about john giuliano, the civil war in el salvador, agent orange, brain cancer, burying the dead, and pupusas. they had cornflour and neilu and i had b(r)ought a backpack full of vegetables so I managed the production of pupusas. twenty-six days on the winding indian roads, never alone and always under the burning eye of the jaguar sun, i had salad (ie, raw vegetables) exactly twice. so i made three salsa/salads to go with the pupusas, and filled them with spinach instead of beans and cheese. nixtamalized corn is a complete protein anyhow.



for the dough mix corn flour (masa harina in the states) with a little salt and enough water until you can roll a big ball (squash ball sized) in your hands without sticking. as you roll you have to be aware of consistently wetting your hands and the dough to prevent dryness and cracking.

slowly roll and squish the ball into a UFO shaped creature, and then further into a disc. central american tortillas, unlike their mexican brothers and sisters, are flattended with your palms rather than rolled on a board, and end up about as thick as the tip of your pinky.

at this point you can cook the tortilla on the grill with a little oil or take another trip around the helix and convert it into a pupusa. to do so, place a spoon of filling (on the dry side) into the center of your tortilla-d palm and turn the edges of the dough up, around the edges, to enclose the treasure within. join the edges at the top, and smooth the sides so you have a ball of dough once again. it should look exactly the same as before and nobody will know the difference. flatten again into a disc and further into a tortillas, this time slower and more carefully.

the first couple will burst and crack. on the first day, perhaps even the last couple will burst and crack. it's okay. if after a few evenings and beers you still can't get, fly to the Americas and travel overland to the state of Chaletenango, El Salvador. they can help you out.

cooking with a little oil, browning well on both sides. if they are too thick or you don't cook them for long enough, the corn will remain raw on the inside and dinner will feel rather "heavy". so cook them well.



you can fill with anything you goddamn please. see the cookbook. i sauteed some garlic until brown, tomatos until dry, and spinach until all the water was gone. oregano and black pepper make good spices. they don't really use spices, as i remember, in salvador cuisine, so i held back on the cumin or anything otherwise delicious.

realistically, most people would prefer cheese. cheap simple processed cheese. if you grate some and stick it in the middle you be universally acclaimed as a prophet, even in your home town.



the typical salsa served with pupusas in el salvador, or least in guarjila, was a disgusting melange of soggy cabbage and old tomato, maybe with some sugar added. i tried to diversify a bit:

a. carrot / cabbage salsa: finely grated equal parts of cabbage and carrots, mixed into a little salt and a little more vinegar ( green chile vinegar works wondrously ) for at least an hour. the carrot and cabbage soften but still crunch.

b. a standard pico de gallo: young onions (white and green) from the market, tomatos, and cilantro diced together with salt, some crushed garlic and the juice of a couple limes. i decorated with freshly ground roasted cumin.

c. an indian item -- three points of grated green (raw, sour) mangos (two of them, medium sized) mixed with a puree of 100g of mint, three long thin spicy green chiles, and three long thin bland cucumbers. spiced with trikatu (mixture of three spicy ayurvedic herbs: piper nigrum, piper longum, and dried zingiber officinalis) and salt. a sharp spicy sour taste with all the love of the irreplaceable green mango worldview.

www.somethingconstructive.net mangolandia.blogspot.com

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