Know your Onions

Making Coconut Milk


I was shocked today when I saw the price on a 200 ml packet of coconut milk. The General Store owner asked me " Kaunse Zamana ke baare mein baat kar rahe ho?" ( Which age are you speaking of?) when I mentioned the price I thought it was.

That made me even more determined to NEVER use packaged coconut milk and ALWAYS make my own. It is anyway so much better.

Here's how to go about it if you have never made coconut milk before.

Buy the freshest coconut you can find. If it has a husk,  shake well and check if it has enough water inside. If it is dehusked check for patches or discolouration.Patches generally means that water has leaked out of the nut and the shell is cracked. NOT good.Look for any seepage or discolouration round the "soft eye".

Do not buy if the shell looks grey or old.

Ok , now that you have found a nice fresh coconut drain the water by making a hole through the soft eye. You can drink that up right away or keep it refrigerated for a couple of hours.

Now put the whole coconut in a plastic bag and smash it on a hard surface.

I could give you plenty of tips on how to crack the coconut in half, but since we have no need of a nicely shaped shell I will dispense with those instructions.

1Grated-coconut 2Blended-cocnut-gratings-and

Pressing-out-coconut-milk-t4 Coconut-milk

Take the flesh out and peel the brown cover with a potato peeler if you like.( I don't) Chop into small pieces and put it in a blender to shred. Once it is of a grated consistency add 250 ml of hot water and blend till the water has turned opaque . Strain through a fine sieve, squeezing out as much milk as possible. This is called the first pressing.

Return the coconut grounds to the blender and add another 250-350 ml of hot water. Repeat the process above, once more, till all the milk of the coconut has been extracted.The second pressing has less milk, is not so white but is still packed with flavour.

Use all the milk while it is fresh. Its great for Indian, Thai, Malay or Indonesian food. Also for cocktails and shakes.

And, believe me, packaged coconut milk is not a patch on the real thing!

How to make Yogurt- Dahi

Set yogurt Some one recently went to Bulgaria and asked what I wanted. This was my chance! I have always wanted a spoonful of "jamai" i.e.yogurt starter. Not ordinary "jamai" but a Bacillus Bulgaricus one.
It has been identified as the reason for Bulgarian longetivity. You dont get to be 135  without having a solid reason. It seems to be the yogurt that does it. And since Bulgarians drink it in one form or another the whole day long, as ayran, a buttermilk like drink, or just plain, I figured we could do with a bit of it ourselves.
Sadly, I was told I was crazy. They did not want to be arrested at customs for a little bacteria and anyhow...this being something I had to accept... bacillus bulgaricus flourishes only in Bulgarian farm yards! Away from the land of its birth the bacteria dies.
So back I went to my own "jamai", a teaspoonful of which keeps the dahi fresh, sweet and going day after day.

You need to buy fresh yogurt from a dairy as a starter not store bought, packed yogurt.In case this is not possible curdle some boiled and cooled milk with a few drops of lime juice and leave overnight in a warm place.The next day use a teaspoon of this a starter.

Set dahi Photo 7 1. Take a clean ceramic bowl. Put a spoonful of yogurt on the base.

Set dahi Photo 6 2. Heat previously boiled milk to luke warm.The way to test that it has reached the right temperature is to dip your little finger in the milk and count ot ten. if you can make that figure just comfortably the milk is just right. If it is too hot wait till it cools down to luke warm.

Set5 dahi Photo 8 3. Now pour it into the ceramic bowl over  the spoonful of yogurt.

Set dahi Photo 9 4.Stir gently to mix.

Set dahi Photo 10 5 Cover tightly with a lid and a tea cosy. Keep out of any draft.The fresh yogurt should be set in 4 hours in a warm climate and in 12 hours in a cold climate.

6. Set a bit everyday to keep the culture fresh.It lasts for months.

7. If the yogurt gets too sour, which can happen if the milk is too hot, or if it has been kept out too long,  begin the process again.

How to make Ginger Paste

It has taken me years to organise myself in the kitchen. It was a place I faffed around in, as they say here. A place to relax and produce something of note in a leisurely way, once in a while.
Organisation was for my work. There every detail was worked out in the mind ahead of time. No computer needed thank you. My training in film was more like disaster management and it came in handy for daily work where nothing could be taken for granted.
Then, on the home front, it became necessary to come up with something edible twice a day. What had changed ? Additions to the family, whose hungry cries brooked no delay in coming up with the goods.
Suddenly I needed to make something that was quick, simple and tasty. Or we could be sitting there at the table till kingdom come, waiting for a couple of morsels to be swallowed. Have you encountered mutiny of this kind? Gandhian in a way.  Very non-violent but  oh so silent and stubborn. Small jaws clenched and stuck out in defiance. No food would enter that mouth !
New strategies had to be thought of immediately. I had to regroup my forces. My house needed to be put in order.
This required some of the lengthy processes of Indian cooking to be cut down. Obligatory ingredients had to be at hand and prepared for use.  Ginger, Garlic, Chillies and Coriander.  Essential and impossible to stock fresh every day.  Their keeping qualities were limited and preparation required the patience of an elephant.
I was not willing to give up taste and quality in the need for speed. So- no ready made bottled ginger garlic paste. Uncompromising you might say.
As a result the following shorthand measures, taught to me by more practical friends , came to my rescue.  You can cut at least five minutes of preparation time by having this in your freezer.
Buy ginger by the pound. Peel it roughly, chop into large bits and pop it in the blender. Blend till it becomes a rough paste.


Now spoon it into ice cube trays, with a lid if possible, and freeze. You are now set -to add  a cube of ginger to dal instantly or to any other dish that requires it and you'd have saved  yourself much washing up as well. Even if its hairy ginger, like this lot, it will still taste good and definitely better than the  ginger paste you get bottled which tastes of....nothing.