It all started because there was no rice.
The lentils for my dahl were bubbling happily in a pot, the mix of freshly grown fenugreek leaves, potatoes and tomatoes that were going to be the vegetable side were well on their way.
That only left the rice to be cooked and dinner would be ready.
Except, erm… the rice jar was empty.
I rumbled about in the cupboard… perhaps there was a half packet somewhere?
Now, to be honest, we all know there are more than one kind of rice and when I say ‘the rice jar’, I mean of course, the ‘basmati rice jar’.
I checked through my alternatives…
Mixed wild rice? No - needs soaking and takes way too long.
Black rice? Possible, if slightly spooky - only, there wasn’t enough.
Cauliflower rice? Great for those ‘low-carb days’ and would be fine for me… but… my beloved hates this stuff. ( note for the uninitiated… cauliflower 'rice' is made from grated cauliflower florets braised in a little water, spice, salt and lemon).
I was just about to go down a completely different route and put myself through the messy and floury business of making a few chapatis when, from the corner of my eyes, I spied a bag of sushi rice right at the back of the drawer.
Aha - that’ll do, I thought.
After all, I’m not cooking for anyone from either India or Japan who might balk at the idea of serving dahl with sushi rice / or sushi rice with dahl, respectively.
So, the problem was solved.
Except, as the rice was cooking, the creative part of my brain suddenly ( and, to tell the truth, without being asked) whirred into action.
“How about…,” it whispered “Trying to make a kind of sushi from the rice and the vegetables? It would be kind of fun!”
“You could create a kind of circle shape...,” it continued, warming to its theme, “Then turn it on its side in the plate of dahl and serve it topped with a twisted poppadom!”
That was it. I was sold!
Because you know, although I love Indian food, one of my main problems is that it often doesn’t look that great on the plate. A pile of rice, a yellow kind of liquid, and a lump of brown vegetables - that all taste completely divine, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they don’t always score full marks on the aesthetic side. ( google ‘rice and dahl’ and choose ‘images’ and you’ll see what I mean).
Thus, my sushi rice and dahl dish was born!
Now I know I mused once before in an earlier post about the mysteries of the creative process and before we get cooking I just want to return to this topic again. Because, although of course creativity is SO. MUCH. MORE than this little incident displays, it does throw light on one part of the ‘process’ that I see popping up again and again.
In fact, I was talking about this just yesterday with my photojournalist extraordinaire friend, Carsten. (check out his photos… they are amazing)!
We were talking about how often creations or ‘that magic moment’ are born from a certain ‘lack’.
When the path we choose to go do down is suddenly closed, ( in my case, this was an empty rice jar) creativity is what kicks in to help us find another way.
Restrict your palette to only 3 colours and suddenly a beautiful painting appears.
Hurt your middle finger while cutting roses in the garden but continue to play guitar with your remaining 3, and a totally different melody is born.
Give up on the day when you didn’t get the photo you wanted and go relax in a spa instead… then suddenly the perfect photo op. appears and you make the pic of the moment! (just loved this story, Carsten!)
And so it is in life, too. One door closes… another, often totally surprising and unexpected opens in its place.
What a mystery!
So, that’s enough ‘Deep Thought’ for the day.
Let’s get cooking!
INGREDIENTS - this feeds two with dahl left over for the next day
SPICES (best to gather these all in advance) :
a little bit of cinnamon bark
a large thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
a handful of fresh and finely chopped coriander leaves
a small green chilli ( optional)
5 fresh curry leaves ( optional - but fantastic if you can find them) Note: whenever I do find these fresh, I simply buy a huge bunch and freeze the leaves - they last for ages. :-)
salt and sugar to taste
1/2 cup yellow mung lentils
1/2 cup orange lentils
FENUGREEK VEGETABLE CURRY FILLING:
1 cup fenugreek leaves(want to grow you own? Check out this earlier post
1 cup frozen peas
1 medium sized peeled potato chopped into small 'sugar cube' sized pieces
1 medium sized tomato (blanched and skin removed)
- add your two kinds of lentils to a pot and pour on 1000ml water.
- add a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
- bring to boil then simmer
- after first 5 minutes cooking, scoop off the froth with a spoon
- cook for around 25 minutes or until lentils have cooked down and are nice and soft
- while this is happening get cracking with your veg.
FENUGREEK VEGETABLE CURRY FILLING:
- add a little oil to a pan
- throw in 1/2 tsp each of; black mustard seeds and cumin seeds
- when they start popping add half green chiili plus 1/2 tsp of: chopped ginger, turmeric, cumin powder
- now add 1 cup fenugreek leaves, 1 cup peas plus your chopped potato and tomato
- add 2 tablespoons water, salt and a little sugar
- cover and cook on medium heat until potatoes are soft
- while this happening, get your sushi rice on - you won't need a lot of this - 1/2 a cup for two 'sushi constructions' will be enough (follow the instructions on the packet - it will involve rinsing, bringing to boil then removing from heat with lid on... )
BACK TO YOUR DAHL:
- your dahl will be getting slowly nice and soft
- now it's time to add some nice spices
- get a little extra pan - add some oil or ghee(a nice authentic indian touch)
- throw in again: 1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
- let them pop then add: 5 fresh curry leaves, half green chiili, 1 clove, little cinnamon bark plus 1/2 tsp of: chopped ginger, turmeric, cumin powder
- cook for a half minute or so then throw into your dahl and mix around
- add salt, a little sugar plus lemon juice to taste. You are aiming to get a really nice balance of salt, lemon and spice. Trust your tastebuds. :-)
- just before serving add some chopped coriander saving a little as a garnish
NOW BACK TO YOUR VEGETABLES:
- the potatoes should be soft by now and everything cooked and combined nicely.
- season and taste
- now remove half the mixture and give it a whiz in your food processor (or simply mash it with a fork)
- add the whizzed mixture to the remainder and mix well.
NOW FOR THE CREATIVE BIT:
- think about your garnish and get that ready - I used some poppadoms but you could also go the easy way and just add some chopped fresh coriander.
- you want your food to be warm so you have to work fast here.
- if you have a food ring, now is the time to use it. If not,(and after all this particular post is all about getting creative when you don't have something) look around and see if you have something that might work. Could be a ramekin dish(a little oiled so you can turn out your 'sushi shape')
- Add 2 spoons of rice and push down
- now add 3 spoons of your vegetable mixture - again push down
- add a final 2 spoons of rice and push down so everything is sticking together
- put your dahl in a plate ( pasta or soup bowls work nicely) and sprinkle with a little coriander
- carefully turn out your 'sushi' and place in center of your dahl.
- top with something nice and hey presto - your creation is done!
That's it folks.
Wherever the way may lead you and whichever particular obstacles may be placed in your path...remember, it's all a door to the world of creation.