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Saturday, 15 July 2017

A Visit to Vancouver and a Recipe for Naan

Capilano suspension bridge
We were in Vancouver a few weeks ago. I can confirm that Canadians truly are as nice as they are made out to be. Even the immigration officers are nice, and that's really saying something.

The first thing we did after getting out of the Vancouver airport was to submit ourselves to the city's underground metro system. We spent a few minutes on the platform, cluelessly looking this way and that, trying to figure out if we were waiting for a train headed in the right direction. It is a ritual that I find myself repeating every time I am in a new country (and sometimes even in the city I call home).

Before long, we had a friendly gentleman by our side, explaining all the quirks of the transit system, and a couple of nifty tips on how to get the most out of a transit pass. After a couple of stops, we got off the train, waving goodbye to our new friend. Then we realized that because of a travel disruption, the bus we were waiting for would arrive at a different stop. We found help quickly. A remarkably cheery college student (he was headed to an exam, which he seemed to be almost looking forward to) was headed in the same direction. He allowed us bedraggled strangers to tag along.

University of British Columbia
Stereotypes are often of the nasty variety. They are best avoided. I was happy that a nice one about nice Canadians rang true during our time in their country.

It wasn't just the people who were nice. The food was nice too. We spent our first afternoon ambling around Granville Market, which is chock full of food stores. I'd booked us on an early morning flight that left San Francisco at an inhumane hour, feeling very pleased with myself for having snagged a good deal.

It was a terrible idea.

We were far too tired to take in the sights and sounds of Granville Market. Here are some pictures that I managed to click despite my sleep deprived, foggy state.

Granville Market
We happened to be visiting at a historic moment in the the life of the country. Canada was celebrating its 150th birthday. There was a quiet air of celebration, but no chest thumping displays of nationalism. I wish the rest of the world would learn a couple of things from Canada. Not only a lesson in niceness, but also one on How to Elect a Sane President.

Maple everywhere
The food was memorable. Nothing exotic, but it was consistently tasty. I wanted to try traditional Canadian food. Our college student friend informed us that there really is no such thing. The disappointment on my face was probably obvious. He thought a little, scratched his head, and finally said, "Try Poutine".

And that's exactly what we did. In fact, it was the first thing we ate once we got into the city. A Quebecois dish from Francophone Canada, poutine is a carb fiesta. Essentially, it is a bed of french fries topped with cheese curds, gravy and (sometimes) meat.

Poutine
Although the food was good, the wait times at some restaurants were excruciating. I meant to eat at a much feted restaurant, Medina. We made it to their front door 3 times over a 5 day visit. Each time, the wait for a table for two was an hour or longer. We left Vancouver without having eaten a meal at Medina.

On Canada Day, we spent some time in Stanley Park, one of Vancouver's most popular attractions. There were scores of Punjabi families milling around, setting up foldable chairs and laying down blankets by the waterfront for a view of Canada Day fireworks. There were grandmothers in salwar kameezes, men in pugris, and conversations in Punjabi. It felt like I was back in Delhi. For me, it was a small reflection of Canada's openness to the rest of the world.

We didn't visit Vancouver's Punjabi Market, but when I returned home, I did make butter chicken and naan using a very reliable recipe that I found on Epicurious.com. It's foolproof. Do try!


Naan and butter chicken

Naan (adapted with minor tweaks from this recipe)

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup whole milk (I used 2%)
1 1/4-ounces envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for surface and hands
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
1 small onion, finely chopped (I left this out)
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
2 tablespoons melted ghee (clarified butter)
1-2 tbsp of kalonji or nigella seeds (optional)

PREPARATION

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until warm. I didn't use a thermometer as suggested by the original recipe. Instead, I simply dipped a finger into the bowl. Initially, it was uncomfortably hot. I waited for it to become tolerably warm. I figured that if it is good enough for me, it must be good enough for yeast.

Transfer milk to a small bowl and whisk in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl to blend. Add yeast mixture, onion (if using), yogurt, and 2 tablespoons ghee. Mix dough until blended but still shaggy. Note: I think it would be easier to mix all the wet ingredients first so that they are uniformly incorporated and then add to the flour.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead until a smooth dough forms, adding flour as needed (dough will be sticky), about 5 minutes. Lightly grease another large bowl with ghee, place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and divide into pieces. The original recipe says 10 equal pieces. I simply broke off pieces that I thought were large enough, and rolled them out as I went along. You could easily get ore than 10 pieces if you prefer to make smaller naans.

Using floured hands, roll each piece into a ball on a lightly floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest 10 minutes.

Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat with ghee. Working with 1 piece at a time, stretch dough with your hands or roll out with a rolling pin to 1/8" thickness. Sprinkle with salt per the original recipe. I skipped this step as I didn't want oversalted naans.

Cook until lightly blistered, puffed, and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve. These are best served hot off the pan. They become a little chewy if left out for too long. I found that the naans that were cooked right away tasted best. I refrigerated some excess dough for a few days for another meal. The naans turned out fine, but there was a slight yeasty taste to the finished product, which wasn't unpleasant, but not ideal either.

Finally, here's a dose of encouragement - I don't have any rolling pin skills, and the naan still turned out fine.

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