Ask Amma

Fall Colors! Sweet Potato and Collard Green Soup with Millet

In Recipes on 30 October 2015 at 3:21 am

My sister came across this dish at a lunch club that she joined in her old office — members took turns preparing lunch for the whole group.  Reminds me of my co-op in Madison.  Like most of her preparations this was beautiful and bursting with flavor.  Unlike most of her fancy dishes, however, this looked like something I could make!  She even threw in a few ingredients without measuring them :-) and Khiyali, host of the Young Person’s Cookery Show, even got to help.  I watched.

The dish was called African Peanut Stew.  The name conjured up colors of lush forest green and robust orange with accents of nutty brown … and sure enough we stirred these up in the pot and beheld the dish before us.  We made some variations to the recipe posted at Budget Bytes, (but all within the budget).

What a great way to eat different leafy greens – we made it with collard greens, but one could try other greens as well.

Stew made of collard green and sweet potato served with millet.

Stew made of collard green and sweet potato served with millet.

Whiteness, Food Colors, and Food Culture

In How on 4 September 2015 at 8:00 am

Food Colors and Food Culture

“No race ever yet ate black bread when it could get white; nor even brown, yellow, or other mulatto tint.”

Dr. Woods Hutchinson in McClure’s magazine, 1906.

In the mass conversion towards refined and processed foods that has swept much of the world over the past few generations, many foods normally occurring in a wide variety of earth tones, became white, as if a formidable fairness cream had descended upon the food industry.   White flour, white sugar, white bread, white spaghetti, white rice, white upma ravva, white urad dal occupied the markets.  At first a status symbol for those who could afford them, refined foods later became a status symbol for those who need not eat the coarser grains because they lived a delicate life and could hire workers to do their heavy lifting for them.  Eventually they themselves became cheaper than their whole grain counterparts, while the nutritious polish and peels were diverted to the livestock industry.

Thirty years ago, Sidney Mintz unpacked the social, economic and political context of food in his seminal work, Sweetness and Power.  The history of whiteness and power with respect to food offers much to explore.   While evolutionary biology may account for our predilection towards the quick calories that processed foods offer, taste and food habits evolve under a variety of influences and cultural messages. 

Black Gram Matters

In Recipes, When on 1 September 2015 at 2:04 am

Since when are idlis white?

Not more than a few generations.    And if you look at all things that have become white over the past century, one by one they are regaining their color.   White bread, white pasta, white flour, white sugar, white rice are now recognized as more or less empty calories and are being replaced by their whole counterparts, on the brown to black side of the color spectrum.  It is time for idlis to do the same.

Soaked Urad - bursting out of its skin!

Black Gram (Urad): Soaked and ready to burst out of its skin!  Urad or Black Gram attracts wild yeast from the air.  As it ferments, the yeast makes the batter rise.

What are idlis made of?  Black gram and rice.   Or black gram and millets.


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