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Bengali Butternut BBQ Sauce recipe - with volume amounts - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
Bengali Butternut BBQ Sauce recipe - with volume amounts
After Watson played Jeopardy, the developpers at IBM decided to turn their computer protégé's attention to... cooking! It recently came up with a concoction they called Bengali Butternut BBQ Sauce, but all the ingredients were listed by weight. I tried making it the other day, and so I present my modified version with approximate volumes for the ingredients. Anything marked with an asterisk means I changed the suggested amount.

2 cups diced butternut squash
1/4 cup butter

2/5 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp tamarind concentrate
1/6 cup water
1 + 3/4 cup white wine
2 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

3/8 cup dates, pitted and chopped
4 Thai bird's eye chilies
1 + 1/2 tsp mustard seed
1 + 1/2 Tbsp fresh turmeric (aka haldi), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 cup coriander/cilantro leaves (loosely in cup, not packed down)
1/4 tsp fresh lemon rind (packed)*

1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp fancy mollases*

1. Gently cook the squash in butter over medium low heat until softened, 5-10 minutes.
2. Add vinegar, tamarind, water, wine, Sriracha, and soy; bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Add the dates, chili, mustard seed, turmeric, and cardamom. Continue to simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly; add coriander leaves and lemon zest. Put in blender or food processor and blend to a smooth consistency.
4. Season the mixture with salt and molasses to taste. Chill.

Personal notes - This was expensive to make because I don't normally have wine in the house, and some of the speciality ingredients (tamarind concentrate, chilies, mustard seed, fresh turmeric) were only available in bulk. Luckily there's an ethnic grocery store in Winnipeg that's central (therefore easy for me to reach) that caters simultaneously to East Indian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean shoppers. Which counter-intuitively has an Italian name, Dino's.

Fresh turmeric looks like ginger root, except thinner and less bulbous. When you remove the skin, the inside is a bright orange, and it stained my skin and fingernails yellow, along with my cutting board and the white plastic of my food processor blade. But it has a really interesting scent; something extra that you don't get in the powdered spice.

I'm surprised this recipe included cilantro, which means that it's immediately yucky-tasting to 10% of the population. The original recipe called for a lot more lemon (both zest and juice), and when I made it (with 1 tsp of lemon rind), it became way too lemony. I also added more mollases. The end product is good! Not a mouth-watering orgasm, but good. If not for the lemon getting in the way, the most prominent flavour would be the butternut - but without being too forward. The rest is a mysterious blend in which it's hard to identify anything specific, except that it tastes softly exotic. I was expecting more heat; more chilies would be needed to give it that extra kick.

I wish I was more broadly experienced when it comes to food, because it's hard for me to describe the taste. It's on the sweet side; it reminds me (distantly) of a chutney, only without the lumps and none of the pickled or fermented stuff. Once chilled in the fridge, it doesn't pour but can be spooned out easily. A single recipe fills about half a tomato sauce glass jar.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed that a computer was able to come up with this. Interesting times! I dunno how long this stuff will stay good, or how fast I can consume it; I've already got a backlog of things in the kitchen I'm trying to use up. Soooo... anyone want a small, spare jar of tamarind concentrate?
12 comments or Leave a comment
ungulata From: ungulata Date: July 9th, 2014 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a sauce... so perhaps that is why there's so much lemon. ^_^ A machine concocts a recipe that is both expensive and has ingredients that are difficult to find... not too surprising. 8^D
plonq From: plonq Date: July 9th, 2014 02:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am not surprised that an algorithm would give the measures in weights, rather than volume, since the former is a more accurate - especially for dry ingredients whose density can change with temperature, humidity and the like.

I ended up buying a kitchen scale when I started looking up more recipes online, because many of the ones from Europe gave their measures as grams.

I am mildly amused by this:

>2/5 cup rice vinegar

So you don't have a good scale, but you have an apparatus that measures fifths of a cup. Anyway, that is secondary.

>1/4 tsp fresh lemon rind (packed)*
>1 Tbsp fancy mollases*

You put asterisks as if to suggest there would be footnotes further down in the entry, but there were not footnotes. Were you just messing with us?

As a personal aside, I have probably ruined many recipes because of it, but I only buy blackstrap molasses and use it even when a recipe calls for the fancy stuff. It is more robust and flavourful, and a little less sweet than the lighter varieties.
dronon From: dronon Date: July 9th, 2014 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep, I know the advantage of weight-based recipes, and I have a kitchen scale, but the whole point of this post was to provide approximate volume equivalents. I made a double recipe using my scale, looked at the volumes, and divided by two.

Asterisks: First paragraph, last sentence: "Anything marked with an asterisk means I changed the suggested amount." Further down: "I also added more mollases." I use fancy mollases many because it's easy to pour (especially when the container is over half-empty) and to clean up afterwards. It is just so, so much easier to work with. Flavour be damned when it comes to molasses, IMO, I prefer the ease of the fancy type.

"2/5 cup" - Well, it ended up weighing about the same as water, so 100g would have become 100 mL, except none of the other mesurements are in mL, and "0.423 cups" sounds anal, so I rounded it down to 2/5 of a cup, since changing the whole recipe to volume amounts meant things weren't going to be exactly the same anyway.
atara From: atara Date: July 10th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)
>Flavour be damned

...then why bother cooking anything at all, and just consume Soylent instead?
dronon From: dronon Date: July 10th, 2014 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
...Are you kidding me with that comment? The flavour needs to be close enough; the minor differences aren't going to transform the dish in a huge way. I'll substitute blackstrap with fancy molasses, no issue; but I wouldn't replace it with marine algae or bananas. When I say flavour be damned, it's "robust and flavourful" that I'm rejecting between two kinds of the same thing. Sheesh.

plonq From: plonq Date: July 10th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)
>"Anything marked with an asterisk means I changed the suggested amount."

Oops, my bad. I missed that bit at the end.

>"0.423 cups" sounds anal, so I rounded it down to 2/5 of a cup

I poked a little fun at this because I'm not entirely sure how one measures out 2/5 of a cup. Silly Imperial system uses measures like 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, etc.

The usual convention is to combine measures: "Add 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp rice vinegar" That would get you pretty close (.4375 cups), but it lacks challenge and finesse, and does not afford one a chance to spill vinegar everywhere.

I would probably grab the individual measuring cups and fill the 1/3 cup to the brim then pour it into the 1/4 cup until that one was full. Then I would pour what was left in the 1/3 cup into the mixture, pour the 1/4 cup back into the 1/3 cup, top that up and add it to mixture as well. This would yield .416667 cups, which is slightly less under the desired amount than the first measure is over the desired amount.
dronon From: dronon Date: July 10th, 2014 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Aieee! This gives me flashbacks to adventure game puzzles where you're to supposed to get quantity X of some liquid except all you've got to measure with are beakers of volume A, B, and C and you have to spend five minutes pouring stuff back and forth until you get the math right. :) (But yes, I could've worded it something like that, true!)
From: cjthomas Date: July 12th, 2014 07:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd probably do it the lazy way and round up "0.423" to half a cup. It's within 20% of the desired value, and there's enough other liquid that it won't change the balance very much.

But I'm a heathen who's willing to fudge things rather than use precise measurements =^.^=. Plonq's way (adding teaspoons) is probably the Right Way for your purposes.
From: cjthomas Date: July 10th, 2014 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting and nifty!

The biggest "machine signature" I noticed was that it picked awkward volumes. I'm not sure how much of this was the original recipe vs your conversion of the weights. Human-made recipes tend to tweak both individual quantities and the total recipe yield to get whole numbers or very simple fractions for as many measurements as possible.

There are a handful of recipes that I make algorithmically, but the result usually ends up being more of a template ("X flavoured pudding") than a continuum ("40%/60% on the pudding/custard axis"). What exactly was Watson trying to optimize for when inventing new recipes? Or were they just using it as a search engine/amalgamation engine to pull up variants of existing recipes?
dronon From: dronon Date: July 10th, 2014 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I get the impression Watson was looking for combinations, things that seemed to go with each other, and avoiding things that tended not to be found together - I'm guessing it then was given a general class of recipe (sauces) and then tried to apply the patterns within those restrictions?

So instead of tomato you end up with butternut squash; instead of brown sugar you get lemon, molasses and dates; vinegar becomes a combo of vinegar, wine and water, and so on.
pierrekrahn From: pierrekrahn Date: July 10th, 2014 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm way too lazy to try anything like this at all, but I am fascinated with the concept of computer-generated recipes :)
dronon From: dronon Date: July 11th, 2014 03:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, here are some other concoctions of Watson's, although I think these were partially tweaked by some actual human chefs:
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