Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sundried tomato and chili buns

When I first came to the US all googly eyed and filled with wonder the attractions (like in a theme park) never seemed to end - clean streets, order, vast and wide open spaces and of course the grocery store. The picture is not that perfect today, the shiny gleamy clean surface has lot of unwanted stuff shoved underneath. It is never pretty when a love affair unravels even in movies.

cut green chilies, remove the seeds

Moving back to grocery stores, the shiny polished fruits and vegetables, the picture perfect produce, no bug eaten or bug infested veggies, prewashed greens all seemed to make life so much easier. Nature is never perfect and what I was seeing was to the contrary, but I continued buying, cooking and merrily going through life without questioning the merits of perfect food.

sprinkled with salt and ready for toasting

Slowly things started to unravel, continuous news of the obesity epidemic, addiction to fast food, agro big business, cheap China products, food contamination, salmonella poisoning, mercury in fish all gave pause to my blinkered approach to food. Reading essays/books by authors like Michael Pollan, seeing the organic food movement take off, the popularity of farmers market have certainly made me think more about the source of food and how food is made.

after toasting for 10 minutes

Some foods that we grow during the summer we do mostly without during the winter months. These are mostly Indian vegetables which were never fresh or vibrant in the grocery stores to begin with. Examples of these are eggplants, bitter gourds, snake gourds and ridge gourds. These were not that readily available when we first came here and we survived. So I buy them once in a blue moon these days.

toasted for 5 more minutes and chopped

Following Pollan's advice in his book the Omnivore's dilemma I do the grandma test - if the food is something that your grandma would not recognize then don't buy it. I try as much as possible to follow the advice. I don't go crazy and buy exotic foods. I don't stop with what my Indian grandma would buy but I also shift to American, Italian, Spanish and a few cases Chinese grandmas just to cover the vast array of foods available. If I were to stick to just what my grandma would recognize we'd be very unhappy for sure.

dough ready for rising

We are a seafood loving family, every single member relishes seafood dishes but the purchase of seafood is harder than ever. The list of fish to be avoided is large because of metal poisoning, determine if it is farm raised or wild caught is enough to make your eyes glaze over. Add to this the uncertainty of where in the world the fish is coming from we now rarely eat fish. Farm raised fish is no better than and in some cases worse than industrialized poultry or meat. They are raised in toxic effluent waters doused with chemicals. I mostly buy frozen fish or shrimp because the false sense of security the "Made in ..." gives me. The rare instances we can make a trip to the waterfront in DC we buy fresh fish.

baked for 15 minutes and brushed with butter

What has worked for us is to modify our eating habits and eat seasonal produce and be mindful of how food made its way to our plate.

Ruchikacooks asked a very relevant question. She says while vegetables can be organic, poultry can be free range, organic, antibiotic free etc but fish which is to a large extent dependent on the water they live in - can it be truly organic? I had not seriously thought about organic fish because the very few I have seen are way over priced. I know for sure to avoid farm fish grown in China, where dumping antibiotic into waste water and raising fish is a common practice.

Can fish be truly organic?
Unlike a tomato which is deemed organic if it is grown without pesticides and using well defined organic practices or meat raised without antibiotics and certain other defined practices, labeling fish as organic is not a straight forward process.

If a fish is labeled as organic and you pay a high price for it, you are probably kidding yourself. The quality of water if wild caught fish cannot be truly ascertained and if they are farm raised the pollution these waters cause to marine life cannot make them truly organic.

Fish tend to be of different hues, colors and eating habits. If they eat other fish, how can that fish be labeled organic unless the feed fish is also organic.

If that is not making your head spin, the debates by aquaculturists, environmentalists and fishermen will sure make it.

Read this article from New York Times Free or Farmed, When Is a Fish Really Organic?

What about those fish labeled as organic?
A year ago USDA approved organic labels for fish obviously making aquaculture producers very happy, environmentalists very upset and we the consumer paying extra high price and not really knowing what the label means.

The organic standards approved by National Organic Standards Board would allow organic fish farmers to use wild fish as part of their feed mix provided it did not exceed 25 percent of the total and did not come from forage species, such as menhaden, that have declined sharply as the demand for farmed fish has skyrocketed.
Read the article here - 'USDA Panel Approves First Rules For Labeling Farmed Fish 'Organic'.

The guidelines established by the USDA makes it more confusing than clear. The 25% of feed from forage species can be non organic material is troubling say environmentalists because other animals certified as organic require 100% of the feed to be organic.

What is a consumer to do?
Now that I know more about the organic labeling on fish is not worth the premium dollar they command. Moreover the organic labeling just lulls us into a false sense of security. Besides organic labeling there are a few rules that can be followed while buying fish.
  • Buy small fish, those whole life span is not too long. They have lower levels of mercury. eg. mackerel, sardines and anchovies and are heart healthy

  • Do not buy fish that are in the higher levels of the food chain. They are accumulating mercury from the fish in the lower levels of the food chain. eg. swordfish, shark

  • Fish that reproduce quickly and grow quickly are good for eating eg. canned wild Alaskan salmon

  • Follow the politics of over fishing, eg. avoid the blue fin tuna which is in danger of fished to extinction

  • Listen to Good Fish, Bad Fish: A Consumer Guide on NPR.

    Table source Good for the oceans, good for you

    Now on to those spicy buns,

    The perfect results for the pav buns gave me the fillip needed to try a variation on them and was born the sundried tomato chili buns. Remember the sundried tomato paratha and sundried spice powder that was made, I still had a few tables spoons still left.

    baked and cooling

    Detailed instructions here.

    Sundried tomato and chili buns
    1. 1 3/4 cups bread flour
    2. 1 1/2 cups chapati flour
    3. 1 1/2 tbsp raw sugar
    4. 1 1/2 tbsp butter - melted + 1 tsp butter
    5. 1 tsp salt
    6. 1 packet active dry yeast - 2 tsp
    7. 1 tbsp sundried tomato spice mixture / roughly powdered sundried tomato
    8. 5 green thai chilies sliced into rounds and roasted with salt in a toaster oven
    9. 1 cup water + 3/4 cup fat free milk

    Preparing the dough
    1. Mix together the dough and all other ingredients except butter and roughly mix them.
    2. Heat the milk and water separately to lukewarm.
    3. Add the milk to the flour mixture and work it in.
    4. Add the water tbsp by tbsp till the dough is like chapati dough and pliable, should not be loose.
    5. Keep kneading the dough till it become smooth.
    6. spray oil on top of the dough and cover with a cling wrap also sprayed with oil and let it sit in a warm place to rest. (3-4 hours)
    7. Punch it down and make balls of desired size.
    Prepare a cookie sheet spread with wax paper sprayed with oil.
    8. Roll each ball with wet hands on a cutting board with cupped hands and set it on the cookie sheet in 2 columns with a small gap between each of them. Cover again with the cling wrap.
    9. Let it rest for another hour or so.
    1. Preheat oven to 375F and let it bake for 15 minutes.
    2. Brush with the butter on top and bake for 5 more minutes.


    1. Wow i want to have those delicious buns. Looks yumm.
      Yeah when i first came here too I was really shocked by all these things too. But then it was in 90.
      And here we didn't even get any Indian things.
      Yeah all love affairs has to come and end too.
      That is a good question, i too have seen and heard about organic fish in the shops, sometmes i think that is just a word so that the shop guys can grab more monjey from us.

    2. Those buns looks super spice, love the addition of chilies in them.
      Happy pongal Indo.

    3. Yummy ISG..Many uses of sun dried tomato :)
      And with chilies?? Top class..

      I wondered about organic fish 'coz that is something that cannot be organic right? Dont know how many places sell organic crabs or shrimps and how many people believe it that!

      Fish like codliver oil is supposed to be good for the heart, but I have also read about fishes consuming the mercury products in the thrown into the sea..and they give guidelines on what fish to consume and what not..Headache...there is already enough toxic stuff around..even in water..

      Wishing you all a very Happy "Bun"gal...I mean pongal :)

    4. I Know! Life is never perfect as it seems or looks here, is it? I used to be fascinated by western grocery stores too, staring with UK and then US. Now looking at the size of a gigantic carrot scares me a bit. When I was in Bangalore (Rajainagar), I was almost in tears looking at all those beautiful fresh vegetables in the market and sometimes right at your door. But then you should see those worms crawling in some Gobi and Cabbages which scares the day lights out of you. No escape!!:D

      Love Salmon, pre packaged ones, don't know whether they are Organic or not but we don't eat that much of Seafood. Heard that pregnant should be avoiding eating too much Fish because high Mercury content.

      Spicy buns, yummy. I made some spicy without Tomato, loved the taste, like the ones we get in Iyengar bakery.

    5. So, the Sun god did visit our cozy nest on this Sankaranthi day ;)

    6. Woww buns looks tremendous...lovely work Indo, love the addition of those chilly chunks..

    7. love how you intertwined a recipe with a very serious and relevant storyline :) Sun-dried tomatoes and chili buns, now whats not to like there! usually I would shy away from baking breads because of my lack of baking voodoo but this one is so hard to pass by.. looks great!

      Yes, organic fish is a whole different can of worms.. have you ever seen price differences between organic, wild and farm raised alaskan salmon? Its just amazing.

    8. That looks so yummy Indo..the flavours would be so delicious I am sure!..Happy Pongal!

    9. Indo, just started to check my comments and somebody asked where to get the Curry leaves plant. I started searching and to my surprise, read that USDA has banned or restricted all curry plants in US!Did you know about this? I was thinking of buying a second one, disappointed now.

      Got to run now, have a dental appointment at 10am. I will come back and answer that question, I just linked a few articles.

    10. Wonderful Combo, Indo!

    11. Fish -- I won't comment about ;-), I will eat all fish even if it is "fishy"

      The buns look too good

    12. Some questions..what do you think or have heard of teh wild fish like angel fish caught in Bay Of Bengal/Arabian seas?My folks back home eat that regularly...I could not find any reports that talk about mercury contamination in the Indian waters?

      Great post again!And the buns look yummy like masala buns in VB bakery,Bangalore

    13. I loved the sundried tomato and chilli combination in this bread, it looks so yum !

    14. Wish you & your family a very happy Pongal!

    15. Now that is a buns I can eat daily!

    16. I have heard a lot from my friend about choosing fish to eat in US. I know how painful it is for a seafood lover. And Indo you rock! the buns look very moist and spicy and would love to have some with a cucumber raita!

    17. these buns look so nice..esp with the tomatoes and chili flakes..too good..

    18. Those are indeed perfect yummy buns..
      But what I liked the most was your narration of your experiences with food & maintaining its continuity, unfolds the making of the bun too....

      I simply loved that..... GR8!!!!


    19. You Smart girl, You kept feeding us with the photos until we have read it all completely. :)

      We are a seafood loving family as well and I was just reading more about seafoods and their mercury pcb levels..

      Brilliant idea to combine sundried tomatoes and green chillies.

    20. Nothing much to say on the Fishy Fish. I just get the Tilapia, shrimp and Salmon once in a while and get it from where ever I find them.

      Those buns look seriously good. Love the way u toasted the chilies!

    21. I so miss fish too ... in fact just the other day when I made prawn curry, I kept wondering there was something amiss in the curry. And then realized it was the prawns that were totally lacking in taste :(

      That's such an innovative use for sundried tomatoes ... lovely!

    22. You always have such useful info to share ISG :)

      The buns looks awesome.I make kaara buns frequently. So this will be a good variaton

    23. Im sure you have got a trick up your sleeve to make that halwa taste even great..

      Missed you ISG..Really..:(

    24. Thanks Sowjanya. A new post coming up real soon.

    25. Dear ISG -- I am so late getting to sleep tonight I can't give a comment deserving of your post, but let me say this -- fish has me wondering, too. At the risk of sounding naive, it's tough to police the entire ocean. We know chemicals enter the ocean from myriad sources -- so there is that issue. And what of fish farming? Aren't they farming in the same salt water? It seems nothing is entirely pure anymore. Then there is freshwater fish -- another subject entirely.

      It's great that you're sharing your research with us! And I'm glad to see the pics of your delicious tomato-chili buns :):)

    26. These look very very tasty Indo! I have a box of dough in the fridge - didn't rise when I first made it so abandoned it. Sigh, have to open it and figure out in what condition it is!


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