A few days ago we had visitors to dinner. Nothing exceptional about that, except that rather a lot of mince was left over – an unusual occurrence in the Reshii household where, over the years, I’ve learnt to cook just enough because of an irrational dislike for eating stale food. As a consequence, I have never had to deal with leftovers. What I did therefore, was snatch every last vegetable that had been bought that day, hollow them out and stuff them with mince.
What were the vegetables I used? Tomatoes, capsicum, aubergine and bottle gourd, also called ghia. Because the mince was already cooked, with ginger, garlic, onions, curd and tomatoes besides spices and chopped coriander leaves, I did little else besides peel the bottle gourd, and scoop out the seeds and pulp of the gourd and aubergine. The tomatoes proved to be the most fiddly to scoop out, and the capsicum the easiest. Left in a medium oven, the tomatoes and capsicum were done the fastest. However, their own flavour competed with that of the mince. It was the gourd that is not the most popular vegetable in the house that tasted the best: its own bland taste was a perfect vehicle for the spicy mince. The aubergine was not bad either.
Indeed, using mince as a stuffing is the oldest trick in the (cook) book. Tibetan momos, Chinese dimsum and Italian ravioli may originally have been invented by or for the cook on a shoestring budget, but have now become high points of their respective cuisines. Cornish pasties, which use the same concept of mince in a casing, retains its homely appeal. One of my favourite dishes at a neighbourhood restaurant is Murgh Darranpur, in which an escallope of chicken has been filled with coarsely ground mince, before being given a turn in the tandoor.
Its success is because of the interplay of a single ingredient with a variety of textures: exactly the same concept as the Chinese dimsum chef who will send out four types of dimsum, each encased with prawn. The delight will be in the varied preparations of the prawns, which will be kept whole and crunchy for one type of dimsum; coarsely minced prawn with garlic and chives will have scarcely anything in common with the flavour and texture of prawn forcemeat with green peppercorns.
In that way, the dimsums are not unlike my own homely experiment with mince baked with a variety of vegetables. My neighbours were aghast that I did not think of keema parathas, keema toasted sandwiches, keema-filled potato chops, or keema fists. This last is the invention of a neighbour with an extremely young child. Slices of bread are soaked in water, filled with mince and pressed tightly shut. If you do this correctly, you’ll get them to look like closed fists, and any excess water will be squeezed out of the bread. You deep-fry the result, with or without the aid of an egg-wash, and serve with lashings of mint and coriander chutney.
For fancy food, pumpkins, cut horizontally, make attractive cook and serve vessels, besides being suitably bland ‘vehicles’ for strongly seasoned stews.