Blog challenge recipe #6: India

If you are a new visitor to my blog, you can read about my blog challenge here in my post ‘I’m setting myself a challenge’.

For the sixth recipe in my blog challenge, I decided to head to India (not literally!) and cook a delicious curry. So far the title, ‘challenge’, has been slightly misleading because none of the recipes I’ve cooked are especially challenging. But sometimes simple is best! I hope to work some challenges into my cooking during the next few weeks and since I have had blog visitors from nearly forty countries, I have plenty of opportunities to cook unusual dishes and investigate different world cuisines.

Spices


Public domain image: Spices by Jiří Dokoupil

When you think of Indian food, you probably think of curry. It is a staple dish in many Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and there are thousands of different types of curry. In India alone, curries vary according to tradition and region, for instance, in Kerala (a state in south-west India) curries are often vegetarian and are made with creamy coconut along with spices such as coriander and turmeric.

Coconut palm tree

Public domain image: Coconut 1 by Greg Getten

The recipe which follows is one which I created using basic ingredients from the store cupboard. Simple, nutritious and very, very tasty! It took me approx. 15 minutes to prepare and about 30 mins to cook. I made this for dinner last night and didn’t bother measuring out ingredients so the quantities listed here are very approximate and you will have to adjust according to the amount of servings you need — recipe below serves 2 with generous portions. Feel free to alter, change or add anything (it might be nice with a few crushed garlic cloves) and as always, let me know if you enjoyed it and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Potato and cabbage curry

Ingredients:
10 baby potatoes, chopped into chunks
½ green cabbage, chopped into shreds
1 onion, finely chopped
Cream of coconut – a block of compressed coconut, not coconut milk. I used approx. ½ cup of this.
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
Black pepper to taste
A 2 cm chuck of fresh ginger, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
Boiled water

Method:

1. Finely chop the onion and gently saute in the olive oil. While the onion is cooking, prepare the curry paste mix. Add the creamed coconut, chopped ginger and spices to a blender with approx. ½ cup of boiled water and blend until the coconut is dissolved and no lumps remain.
2. Wash the potatoes and chop them into approx. 3 cm chunks. Add them to the onion along with the coconut mix. Cook on a moderate heat, stirring frequently.
3. When the potatoes are nearly tender, add the chopped cabbage. Add just enough water to almost cover the vegetables and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked but not overdone (overcooked cabbage = eww!) and the potatoes are soft. I served it with steamed carrot sticks and brown basmati rice.

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Spicy tomato sauce recipe

This recipe comes courtesy of my brother who requested to be credited as the Master-chef! It is delicious served with roast potato wedges and only takes a couple of minutes to prepare.


Public domain image source: Small Tomatoes by Jiri Hodan

Ingredients

⅓ can chopped tomatoes
4 cloves crushed garlic
½ tsp sea salt
2 heaped tsp hot smoked paprika (Spanish Pimentón if possible)
2 tsp dried oregano
Lots of ground black pepper
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Put the tomatoes in a jug, add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly together, then serve. If you cannot find pimentón, use cayenne pepper but use less of it.

The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

Blog challenge #5: nettle soup

Nettles

Public domain image: Nettle Flower by Максим Кукушкин

Recipe number 5 of my blog challenge comes from Panem….no, not really. Just kidding! Please ignore my current Hunger Games obsession. But it does sound like something they would eat in District 12 because it’s inexpensive, simple and nutritious. No one knows the exact origin for nettle soup but it’s a traditional recipe in Northern and Eastern Europe, in countries like France, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine. Since I have had blog visitors from all of those countries, this is the perfect recipe for my fifth challenge.

I followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s nettle soup recipe (link) and it is really delicious. Because you’ll need to sort through the nettles when you’ve picked them to avoid bits of grass and stalks, the method I used is to blanch them in boiling water for five minutes, making sure all the nettles are covered by the water. After that, I carefully drain them and rinse them in cold water. The boiling water gets rid of the stings so they are fine to handle and chop if necessary.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! Don’t be deterred by the unusual sound of it. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by the taste.

The rebirth of the dystopian novel

The Hunger Games front cover - image source: Wikipedia. No copyright infringement is intended and all rights belong to their respective owners

You’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games. You might even have read The Hunger Games trilogy of books or gone to see the recently released movie adaptation. And to you, it might be just another mainstream franchise which pulls in big money at the box office. There is no disputing the fact that it is mainstream: The Hunger Games spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the film is now at the top of movie charts worldwide. But just because it is turning into a franchise to rival Harry Potter and the like doesn’t mean that it should be viewed as trivial. Sure, I would be among the first to admit that, as with all pop culture phenomenons, there is too much hype surrounding it in my opinion. But I think it is unique compared to most other big-name pop culture trends and media franchises because Suzanne Collins’s writing actually portrays a meaningful message.

The trend for dystopian literature is rising and rising; the worldwide success of The Hunger Games exemplifies this. I find it interesting that there are currently so many recently published dystopian novels on the market. It makes me wonder whether global reading trends are influenced or perhaps driven by world affairs; socially, culturally and economically. Is it a coincidence that dystopian fiction is experiencing a revival when the economic situations of many countries are so bleak?

In a quote from their dystopian fiction page, Utopian and dystopian fiction, Wikipedia says that “Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society”. And that is exactly what the author of The Hunger Games has done. Part of the acclaim which surrounds the series relates to the key focal points of the books; Suzanne Collins takes current societal and cultural issues, presenting them using stunning yet subtle comparisons which remind us of our frequently inconsequential ‘First World problems’. I can see significant parallels between the fictional world of Panem – a futuristic United States as portrayed by Collins – and the state of our world. For example, the stark contrasts between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished Districts whose inhabitants work to provide goods, gadgets and fuel for said Capitol reminds me strongly of low-paid factory workers toiling to churn out the latest gadgets and cheap clothes for spoiled, privileged Western consumers.

There are several other instances where Collins made me stop and think, especially surrounding the issue of the desensitization to violence. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before; there’s too much violence on TV and in video games etc. But that is precisely the point. When something is omnipresent it loses some of its initial bite, like a threat which is repeated but is never actually carried out. This is one of the themes of The Hunger Games. The Capitol citizens are so desensitized to violence that they are happy to watch reality TV shows based on shocking brutality. Of course, this is not a new concept: violence was a spectator sport in Ancient Rome and Suzanne Collins has said that “the world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references” (source: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins) as well as being based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Nevertheless, it is a point worth thinking about.

And to conclude, another one of the reasons why I am a fan of THG is because of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. After a certain other pop culture trend which I feel slightly embarrassed to mention in the same sentence as THG, it is refreshing to read something mainstream which has such a strong central female character and which does not have a ‘girl meets boy’ story as the plot.

I look forward to seeing the movie this week so expect another Hunger Games themed post very soon. I have doubts about the casting (President Snow in particular is different from how I imagined him) and the way in which the subtle themes from the book will be portrayed on-screen but we will see…

The Hunger Games official trailer – linked from YouTube.

And I got through a whole discussion of The Hunger Games without once attempting to compare it to Twilight…until now. Oops! Just one sentence: it isn’t Twilight, no matter how much people keep comparing it, and Katniss is the complete opposite of insipid Bella.

See you next time!

Blog challenge recipe #4: Greek koulourakia

Greek flag

For my fourth blog challenge recipe, I chose to make something with an Easter theme. And I found the perfect recipe for delicious Greek koulourakia at Brownie Bites. Although you can buy koulourakia all year round from bakers in Greece they are a traditional Easter specialty too.

The only things I changed in the recipe:
1. I added more orange juice (about half a cup) than the recipe states but then I had to add more flour as the dough was too sticky.
2. I used brown sugar instead of white because I prefer baking with brown sugar and that was the only sugar in the store cupboard anyway!
3. I added approx. 1 tbsp of finely grated orange zest to the mixture.

Happy Easter!

Blog challenge recipe #3: Honduran cuisine

WordPress has recently added country stats to the regular stats page and I have had blog visitors from a few countries which my little flag counter widget didn’t identify. So now I have even more recipes to prepare! One of those countries is Honduras so, without further ado, here is a post on Honduran cuisine.

I already knew that the typical dishes served in Honduras were based on beans and rice. The food varies depending on the area, for example, the food of coastal regions of Honduras is focused on seafood and fish as you might expect. Ceviche, a dish prepared with fish marinated in lime juice, is very popular and I would love to make it sometime as I have never eaten it. The following recipe is very simple and is inspired by traditional rural Honduran cuisine. Pimenton (hot smoked paprika from Spain) is not commonly used in Honduran food – cumin is a staple spice there – but I decided to use a little anyway as it is so delicious with nearly every savory dish!

Blog challenge recipe 3

Honduran pinto bean recipe – serves 4

Ingredients

½ cup pinto beans (per person)
Onion, finely chopped (2 medium)
Garlic, crushed (3 cloves)
Carrots, diced (4 medium)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ tsp pimenton (or cumin, if you want it to be more authentic)

1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Then rinse them and boil until soft (approx. 1 hour). Rinse in cold water again.
2. Saute the onion and garlic together until soft and golden. Add the diced carrots and cook gently until the carrots are tender (about 20 minutes). Add your chosen spice – pimenton or cumin – along with the pinto beans and canned tomatoes. Cook until piping hot and serve with rice. Cheese is a common ingredient but I made this recipe for vegan family members so it’s entirely dairy-free. If you choose, mix some crumbled quesillo cheese or regular cheese into the dish just before serving. ¡Buen Provecho!