Kitchen Corner: Teppal — A Taste to Acquire

I have grown up with its taste and I am sure it is one you can acquire quite easily over time. The distinct, aromatic fragrance of Teppal (also known as Tirphal) is not widely known throughout the country, but used in the coastal cuisine of Goa and Karnataka. Teppal goes well with coconut, which is the mainstay of the coastal cuisine.

It was originally an ingredient in vegetarian cooking, and over a period of time, also began to be used in fish preparations. Not a week goes by in our household without cooking Teppala Ambat (fish curry made with teppal).

Teppal has a strong woody scent. It’s odd how this spice works. You cannot bite into the spice without gasping. Once it’s put into your mouth, you know that it’s not meant to be eaten. Do not eat the teppal as you would eat a curry leaf for example. It should not be ground directly with coconut when you are making the ground coconut masala. While making gravy, teppal should be slightly crushed in one tablespoon of water, and then added to the dish, after the coconut masala.

Teppal has carminative properties, which means it prevents the formation of intestinal gas. If you look up teppal, you will find that Sichuan pepper is considered as its English equivalent. But it is nothing like a Chinese Sichuan pepper — it is unique and stands on it own. Teppal produces the tastiest curries.

Try this Lima Bean curry (recipe below), rest assured you’ll relish it.

Method:

-Boil potato, but do not overcook.
-Boil the tur daal in pressure cooker until it is mashed. Keep aside.
-Pressure cook lima beans for one whistle only.
-Make the coconut masala, by grinding all the masala ingredients with a bit of water. The masala should be made into a very fine paste. Add more water if required.
-Meanwhile, heat a thick bottomed pan. Add the coconut paste, boiled potato along with water, salt, jaggery and cook until the raw smell of coconut is gone. Add dal and lima beans. Check for taste and season it, if required.
-Meanwhile, crush the teppal in little water using a mortar and pestle and add to the curry along with the water. Let it boil for 5 minutes and then close the lid.
-Serve hot with rice or rotis.

(Nutritionist and author of  What’s for Lunch, Rita Date, shares some interesting recipes and important food facts in her fortnightly column Kitchen Corner in She.)

Kitchen Corner: Non-stick pans…A sticky affair

Non-stick – cooking involving no sticky mess is simply brilliant.

The inventors of Teflon, the wondrous material that is ‘non-stick’ and the most widely used, made many people’s lives easier —- no sticking means easier cooking, less use of oil, and no soaking and scrubbing pots and pans. Dosas, omelettes, curries, and just about any food can take advantage of being cooked in a non-stick vessel.

However, there has been an ongoing debate over non-stick surfaces releasing toxic substances during the cooking process. A synthetic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, is used in the manufacture of non-stick pans. When the vessels are heated, the coating can break apart and release these toxic chemicals. The point is still being debated. The important thing to note is the temperature at which this damage begins. A test published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an independent consumer watchdog, shows that a Teflon, even on heavy-bottomed pans, can easily be heated to above 382°C in five minutes during the normal process of pre-heating.

So how hot should be the tawa when you are making dosas, for example? The directions for all non-stick recipes mention medium heat, which is approximately 204°C. I measured 180°C on a good quality tawa used to make dosas. It was heated for 2 minutes which is sufficient pre-heating to make dosas. The heat is reduced and controlled after this point and appears to be safe as far as heat conduction is concerned. It is up to you to control the heat.

Consensus
Most researchers agree that using non-stick utensils for cooking is safe if temperatures are less than 232- 260°C. At very high temperatures, pans significantly decompose, emitting strong chemical fumes. These pans would not have been in the market if heating to such high temperatures were commonplace. The more older and scratched the non-stick coating gets, the more harmful it is, because the surface is more vulnerable to erosion and particle emission. In Indian households, many a time these pans are not handled with care and scratch easily during the cooking and cleaning process. Employed cooks need to cook quickly to get to the next household, so they generally use high heat for faster cooking. The non-stick pan deteriorates with every use with such high heat. One solution is to only use non-stick pans when you cook and control heat.

sticky affairWhen using non-stick, keep these tips in mind:
Use good quality, heavy-bottomed cookware. It will sustain higher temperatures. If the bottom is too thin, then it gets heated too fast. Good quality is more expensive, but it is a must if you want to use a non-stick.

  • Do not use metal spatulas or spoons — they scratch the surface.
  • Clean with mild detergents and a soft scrubber.
  • Do not use scouring pads.
  • Do not leave pan on a high flame. If you are making dosas or chapatis, you need to make sure the pan is not left on high heat at all times.
  • Learn how to control the heat. Most cooking should be done on medium to low heat in any case. When the surface begins to scratch or chip, it is time to get a new vessel.