In the India of my day, a rectangular two-burner stove would stand in almost every middle-class kitchen. Fom one end a green pipe would run through a hole in the soapstone countertop to a bright-red metal cylinder.
In the ’90s when I got married and first set up house, those cylinders were precious. You often had to wait months if not years to get one from the government-run oil and gas companies, and once you did it was like winning the lottery. Because the only option to a gas stove in those days was a kerosene one that took ages to start up, or one of those square electric hotplates that burned the food before they cooked it.
The cylinders — about three to four times the size of the little white ones you can buy for outdoor grills here in the United States – would last about a month after which you would call the supplier and they would send over a replacement in a few days.
The cylinder-wallah would arrive in a loud, clanging contraption that looked like a bike dragging a metal cart piled precariously with the cylinders. At the foot of the apartment building, he would hoist one of the heavy cylinders over a sweat-drenched shoulder, walk up a few flights of stairs if the building didn’t have an elevator (and many in Bombay didn’t), snap the new one into place and take away the old one.
Figuring out when to call for your replacement was a science. If you called too early, it was possible the new one would come in before you actually ran out. If you called too late, it was back to the kerosene stove until you got your replacement.
Last year, when we traveled to Leh in north India, one of the most delightful sights we saw was when a truck crammed with cylinders would make the rounds of the homes and monasteries perched steeply on craggy hills in the lap of the Himalayas. The monks would negotiate narrow stairs to get their replacements, cylinders on shoulders. In the villages down below, men, women and children would line the streets, waiting patiently for the truck.
Here in the United States we are used to the luxury of piped gas. You don’t have to worry about the gas ever running out or about red cylinders and cylinder-wallahs, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes think fondly of those old days when I knew the value of this precious natural resource and used it more reverentially than I probably do now.
When we bought our house four years ago, it came fitted with an electric stove. Although the electric stoves here are quite sophisticated, I am not a big fan (although many cooks might disagree). So I was really thrilled when, finally last week, we replaced it with a gas range.
I find gas stoves cook more gently and evenly than their electric counterparts. For instance, the banana nut bread I made in my new oven, with my own often-tried-and-tested recipe, took many more minutes to cook at the same temperature in the gas oven, but it also browned more evenly.
As I re-cook some favorites that I’ve blogged about, I shall be going back to those posts, especially the ones with recipes that needed baking, and add in in any differences in cooking times and temperatures for the gas oven.
Now finally, here’s a little bit about today’s recipe: basic but heartily delicious Mexican refried beans fired up with some smoky chipotle chilis in adobo sauce.
Refried beans aren’t really fried, just simmered in water until they are done. So despite the unhealthy-sounding name that makes one picture two vats of boiling oil (one to fry and the other to re-fry!) these are actually tremendously healthy.
I used black beans, but pinto beans are also often used to make refried beans, and if you can’t find those where you live, just go with any old bean you can lay your hands on.
This one goes out to It’s A Vegan World: Mexican, the second in our vegan world cuisine series. Do send in your entries before the 31st. Remember, you don’t have to know a whole lot about Mexican food to enter, and you certainly don’t have to have only Mexican ingredients. The staples– beans, rice, corn and vegetables — can be found anywhere in the world. Just improvise, innovate and create. In fact, isn’t that how the best dishes get made?
Mexican Refried Beans
1 cup dried black beans, soaked for a few hours and then cooked until tender enough to mash (can substitute with about 2 cups of washed and drained canned beans)
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (use less or more if you like yours milder or spicier)
2 cups of water or the bean-cooking liquid
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a saucepan.
Add the onions and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until they are richly golden brown. It will take about 8-10 minutes. Don’t burn the onions.
Add the minced garlic and stir for another minutes.
Add the chipotle chilis, finely chopped, and stir in. Then quickly add the beans.
Use the back of your ladle or better still, a potato masher, to mash the beans. I don’t mash mine completely because I like the texture.
Add the water or liquid, bring to a boil, and allow the beans to simmer away for another 10-15 minutes until the liquid has reduced.
The beans should still have some liquid when you take them off the heat because they will thicken up on standing.
Top with a dollop of vegan sour cream or soy yogurt and serve hot or cold with some tortilla chips. You can also roll ‘em up inside of a burrito, heap them on a taco, or eat them as a terrific side dish with some guacamole and rice. These are very versatile.