Whether it is soups, diamonds or a piece of utensil -- I look for two things. How accommodative? and the degree of versatility. Nine times out of ten, if these two pre-requisites are satisfied, I will take one. Or two. Depending, to a certain extent, on fabulous things called sales and discounts. Then, I am likely to take four. Well, you know, when I say four, I actually mean five.
So, it goes with woks. I am yet to meet a uni-tasker, and so far, one that I haven't liked. The ones in my kitchen, deep-fry, braise, stir-fry, broil, boil. Heck, I use the dome-side of my aluminum kadhai, to bake Rumali-rotis from time to time. Believe you me, if someone would let me, I wouldn't think twice before trying to pressure-cook in my go-to wonders. You would think such supreme over-confidence must mean I am not in the market, or on e-bay, actively looking for woks. Nope. Nada. Nix. Yeah, yeah I know, I all but put the words in your mouth. But, how could you presume there's such a thing as enough shoes, clothes, and bags! Or woks. The outrage!!
Not surprisingly then, after I solemnly swore to the other-half about laying off woks, for awhile anyways, I unexpectedly ran into "THE" wok at our little outlet mall, on the outskirts of town. Much to the annoyance of the husband, it made me squeal exactly like Sarah Jessica Parker, in the presence of Manolo Blahniks. I didn't care other customers and the store clerks were looking at me funny. Or the possibility that I must look like a cross between SJP and Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in Ice Age, putting life and limb in danger for the acorn ... er wok.
Then, began the rationalization.
"This was definitely not the same as our 14-inch cast iron one, was it?" I asked. Besides, we'd always wanted one, for you know, when there was a small bunch of spinach, or a piddling cauliflower or cabbage. And oh, oh. Imagine if we wanted to fry a small batch of French-fries. Or a mini-assortment of fritters. "The possibilities are endless, honey," I said holding it up to the light. Its strong, wood handle fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. And oh, the bottom! Again, and again I caressed its smooth, undulating form. After four years, AM now knows better than to argue logically with his wife when she says "honey."
And, so we bought our sixth "essential" piece. I don't think I have ever expressed gratitude for my God-given gift for rationalization, as much. Today, were I to advise a novice on his/her "only" fundamental kitchen must-have. This would be it. The dimensions, its depth and the sheer feel of it. Perfection like you won't believe it. The only, how can I put this delicately, pain-in-the rear has to do with its upkeep. After use, it demands an immediate wash with luke-warm water and soap. Then, it needs to be wiped clean and tucked on to the kitchen shelf after a quick a dab of vegetable oil.
What can I say? It's so much like owning your very first piece of Cashmere.
♣ U.M.A.M.I : D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S
Sure, the Chinese might have given us egg rolls and General Tso's chicken. But, the gobi manchurian -- that's as Indian, as well, Amul butter and pav-bhaji. As most NRI's one of the things I miss most about India, is the Chinese food. And so, like almost every immigrant who wants to re-create home, with its flavors and unique smells, I do too.
One of the first things I wanted to try in the new wok was the following recipe for manchurian, by one Harish Amble. It had been heavily tweaked and lay idling around, pressed between the pages of Better Homes and Garden for quite awhile. Then, we bought us some Kikkoman sweet and sour sauce from a Chinese grocery store, and took the recipe for a spin. The kitchen hasn't stopped smelling like Mainland China, on Dhole-Patil Road ever since.
1 big cauliflower, broken into medium-sized florets
2 T Cornstarch
8-10 Thai chillies or Serrano peppers, julienne
3 T chopped garlic
1 T chopped ginger
2 T Soy sauce
1 bottle of Kikkoman's sweet and sour sauce
Spring onions, roughly chopped for garnishing
Peanut oil for deep-frying
Set the wok with enough oil to deep-fry the florets. Then, slowly add cold water to the cornstarch, we need just enough to make a relatively runny batter and one that can thinly coat the cauliflower. Dunk in the florets , a little at a time, and deep-fry until golden-brown. Remove and set aside on a wire-rack, similarly fry the remaining cauliflower and leave it be until later.
Heat another wok (you have two, don't you?) and add a couple of tablespoons of oil. Toss in the ginger, garlic and green chillies and stir-fry until they turn a chocolatey brown. Spoon in the Soy sauce and a couple of tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce, tossing and stirring constantly, so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
Mix in the fried florets at this point, depending on how dry or moist you prefer your manchurian add some more sweet and sour sauce. AM and I use up almost the entire bottle for a big cauliflower. Toss and mix for about 7-10 minutes. Throw in a handful of chopped green onions, and nosh with fried or steamed rice.