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Bert Greene's Kitchen

A Pair of Recipes in the Classic Style of India

March 05, 1987|BERT GREENE | Greene is a New-York based food writer

Scratch almost any successful cookbook author, and you'll discover a totally different former career lurking behind the apron strings.

A culinary artist with an uncommon background is Julie Sahni, writer, cooking teacher and former executive chef at Nirvana restaurant in New York.

Born in New Delhi, the second child in a family of dedicated professionals, Sahni came to America in 1968 to study architecture.

After receiving a baccalaureate degree at Columbia University, she became an urban planner for the city of New York for 10 years.

"In India," she said, "I certainly did not cook. At my parents' home, servants always did that. But I loved to watch and taste--so I learned. When I came to America and married, I still did not cook Indian food. My former husband loved exotic, foreign dishes like sushi. To please him, I went to a Japanese class. To please myself--for I soon discovered I enjoyed the experience--I studied French, Italian and Chinese cuisines as well."

It was actually at a class in Oriental cooking that Sahni first became seriously involved with food as a profession. The instructor, unable to explain the subtle difference between a Chinese stir-fry and an Indian turn-fry persuaded her to demonstrate the latter at the stove; which, in turn, led to a private class in her own kitchen of remembered Indian dishes, and, in time, a second career.

Her books "Classic Indian Cooking" (William Morrow: 1980) and "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking" (William Morrow: 1985) have been hailed by critics.

What follows are two Greene adaptations of Sahni inspirations, culled from "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking."

DILL-GARLIC-BARLEY BREAD

1 (6-ounce) potato

1 hot green chile, seeded, deveined and finely minced

1 large clove garlic, crushed

2 1/2 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chopped dill

3/4 cup barley flour

All-purpose flour

Cook potato in boiling, salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Peel potato and mash until smooth. Add hot green chile and garlic while potato is hot. Let stand until cool.

Add oil, salt and dill to mashed potato mixture. Stir in barley flour. Work in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour to form soft dough. Transfer to lightly floured board and knead 2 minutes.

Divide dough in half and roll each half into rope 6 inches long. Cut each rope into 6 pieces. Form each piece of dough into ball and roll out with floured rolling pin into 6-inch round. Stack rounds between layers of paper towels as you roll them out.

Heat greased cast-iron skillet over high heat 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and place 1 round dough in skillet. Cook until underside is spotted, 1 minute. Remove from pan with spatula. Stack breads between layers of paper towels as you cook them. Reheat in paper towels in very low oven before serving. Makes 12 small flat breads.

What makes the following croquette fiery is the amount of hot chile in Sahni's recipe. You can temper the scorch somewhat by removing the pepper's inner spines and filaments along with the seeds.

FIERY HOT TAPIOCA-PEANUT CROQUETTES

(Sago Vada)

1 (6-ounce) potato

1/4 cup tapioca

4 hot green chiles, seeded and finely chopped

3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

1/4 cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

4 green onions, white bulbs and green tops, chopped

1 small shallot, finely chopped

Peanut oil for frying

Salt

Cook potato in boiling water until tender, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Peel and mash. Place in bowl.

Meanwhile, place tapioca in fine sieve strainer and rinse under cold water. Transfer to small bowl. Cover with 1-inch cold water and let stand 20 minutes. Return tapioca to fine sieve strainer and drain, pressing out excess liquid with back of spoon.

Add tapioca to mashed potatoes with chiles, cilantro, peanuts, green onions and shallot. Mix thoroughly.

Moisten hands with water and pinch off about 1-inch dough pieces. Form each piece into ball and flatten with palms of hands. Place patties on wax-paper-lined plate. Cover with more wax paper. Chill at least 1 hour.

Heat 1 1/2 inches of peanut oil in heavy skillet until hot, but not smoking. Fry patties, 5 or 6 at time, until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to heat-proof serving dish. Season to taste with salt. Reheat in 375-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes before serving. Makes about 22 croquettes.

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