Classics with a Twist
No, it’s not coffee. It’s Bulletproof coffee, aka buttered coffee, and it’s trending on social media. Made by blending coconut oil and unsalted, grass-fed butter into your coffee, the concoction promises to deliver both “mental clarity and sustained energy,” according to enthusiasts. Talk about a classic with a twist!
While not all of us have tried it, Bulletproof coffee is very much on the cutting edge of food innovation. A cup of coffee that has had a makeover, it’s a reminder of how often we are oblivious to just how much thought goes into formulating foods. Whether it’s food created in a plant or a meal made from scratch at home, there are some foods that we gravitate towards that much more. Food scientists know exactly what will have us licking our fingers, just as our favorite chefs do.
When Sameena Basha of Rochester, Michigan, lived on campus she often found herself craving haleem, a classic Pakistani comfort food made with meat, wheat, and lentils. When she asked her mother for the recipe, she got one where instant unflavored oats was a substitute ingredient for the wheat, barley, and all the lentils, including chana dal, urad dal, and mung dal.
“What’s this? This isn’t going to taste anything like the original,” was Basha’s flabbergasted reaction. And then she tried the recipe. In came the oats and out went the need to soak the lentils overnight. “It tasted just like it was meant to, rather than a twist on a classic. Twenty years later I don’t even use the classic recipe. My mother’s recipe called for one and a fourth cup of uncooked instant oatmeal for every pound of boneless meat, and the haleem was ready in ten percent of the cooking time,” she says.
“We are here in America, and we have to do what we have to do,” says Basha’s mother, Parveen Quader, also of Rochester, Michigan, where she’s lived for the past 30 years. “I learned to cook after I moved to America and learned by trial and error and by practicing. When I tried the instant oats in my haleem, it turned out nice, so I just started to use that,” she recalls.
Another staple and classic that’s undergone a twist in her kitchen is the milk and rice dessert, kheer. “I use Cream of Rice instead of rice to quicken cooking times, but there is no difference in the taste. People still enjoy it, and it’s [ready in] less than half the cooking time!”
Aasem Khan of Atlanta, Georgia, has a twist on haleem, too. “You do everything like you do with regular haleem. However, instead of beef, you can add textured vegetable protein (TVP) in the same quantity as you would the meat,” he says. “TVP gives the texture of meat, but it takes a lot less time. Given the spices we have in haleem, we can’t tell the difference in taste. In haleem, the meat pretty much disintegrates in the rest of the ingredients and TVP gives that meaty texture.” TVP is Khan’s replacement for ground beef, in the same proportion, whether he’s making chili or spaghetti sauce. “The spices mask the taste of meat anyway.”
So what prompted Khan’s experiment with TVP? “The decision to become vegan was health-based. Like many South Asians, heart disease and diabetes run in the family, so I wanted to be proactive. So I read up on the benefits of being vegan and I became a weekday vegan. Slowly, I stopped eating meat completely. Today, I am mostly vegan, but sometimes I’ll add dairy.”
Does that mean he spends a lot of time experimenting? The short answer is yes. “I wanted to find more vegan alternatives to egg-based breakfasts,” says Khan. “The pakoda waffle is the best waffle you can have. It’s a fusion recipe. Two cups of chick pea flour to half a teaspoon of baking powder—this is the only proportion to remember; adjust the spices to taste. I add red chili powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and mix in whatever I want, like (finely diced) mushrooms, onions, and pour it into the waffle maker. The steam cooks everything inside, and if you want to make it more moist, add oil to the mix. I serve it with the green chutney and the tamarind-date sauce that you use for samosas.” While the pakoda waffle takes double the time of a regular waffle to make, unlike a regular waffle it now has fiber and unlike a regular pakoda needs no frying. “It tastes awesome, but no milk and eggs are required so it’s vegan-friendly. Anything you eat regularly, you can find a vegan alternative,” insists Khan.
In Sabina Abdul Qadir’s kitchen, wonton wrappers have replaced flour, hand-made wrappers for samosas, fruit juice is a substitute for water in recipes, and cake mix from a box has been used to make doughnuts, pancakes, pie crust, and in place of puff pastry. “It’s the same thing,” says this consummate cook and Naperville, Illinois, resident.
“Everyone has a different lifestyle. For me, it’s about what’s quick and easy,” Abdul Qadir shares. When summer rolls around and she’s inevitably hosting a BBQ for several extended relatives, “quick and easy” is still her M.O. “When it comes to BBQs, I marinate everything just as I would regularly do, but then I bake it till the meat is two thirds done. The next day at the BBQ, we’ll throw it all on the grill, and it’ll be done in half the time. The pre-baking also ensures the meat is cooked all the way.”
What’s cooking in your kitchen? Any new flavors you’re adding to a classic? Send us your thoughts!
Naazish YarKhan has bylines in more than 50 media outlets including Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post.