Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasonal Pakoras

This is a particular great time for foodie experimenters. On wandering through the lush vegetable market in our area on my trip home to Kolkata, I came upon items with which I had no familiarity. Both PuiN er Metuli and Maatha Maach are it seems standards in rural Bengal though. My mother who is an adventurous experimenter in the kitchen joined me to make the following dishes. PuiN saakh is one of the staple greens in Bengal. What beckoned me in the market was not the Puin itself but its exuberantly green blossom! Puin er Metuki is its name in Bengal. We made pakoras; the Indian fried snack out of it. Maatha Maach similarly has very humble beginnings. It is basically the leftover small fry (really really minute!) which is left at the very bottom of the fisherman's net. It contains myriad tiny and fishes small krill/shrimp. It must be cleaned thoroughly before use, but once that part is over, it lends itself to wonderful fishballs and fish patties.

250 gm PuiN blossom, stalks, flowers included
1 cup Besan (ground gram flower)
1 level teaspoon salt
1 bunch of coriander, finely chopped, about a cup
1 and half seeded green chilli, finely chopped
2 teaspoon ground pepper
Water only if necessary
Oil for frying, about 1 and half cup

Chop and steam the methuli/greens for about 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Mix the rest of the dry ingredients. Tip the cooled methuli into the dry mix. Add just enough water to make a thick batter with dropping consistency. Heat oil. Drop a spoonful of the batter mix and fry until brown at medium heat. Drain excess oil. Serve hot with sauce of choice.


250 gm Shrimp-(small prawns, fish)
2 Tbalesppon Oil
1 onion, chopped finely
3 Tablespoon Garlic, chopped finely
2 teaspoon Green chilli, finely chopped
2 teaspoon red Chilli powder
1 teaspoon blackPepper, ground
1/2 teaspoonTurmeric powder-
3 medium sized white bread slices, ( soaked in 1/3 cup milk)
Salt, as required.
For coating the balls:
2 Eggs, beaten
5 Tablespoon toasted bread crumbs
Oil for frying, about 1 cup

Clean the shrimps thoroughly. Heat the oil. Sauté the chopped onion,garlicm along with the shrimps/small fish. Stir. Add the chilli powder, chopped green chilli, pepper, turmeric powder. Mix thoroughly. Lower the heat. Mix in the beaten eggs and the mashed bread soaked in milk. Stir again. Cook the mixture on low flame stirring all the time till it is thick enough to hold its shape. Cool and shape into bite size balls (About 40 balls).
Roll them in bread crumbs. Dip them in the beaten egg. Roll them again in bread crumbs.
Deep fry the balls till golden brown.
Remove keep them on paper. Serve hot with sauce of choice.

Sizzling snacks : Elo Jhelo

Like in so many fields, making Elo Jhelo are a dying art. Which is a pity, seeing that they being basically junk food, ought to take the fancy of the younger generations. My mother-in-law who excels in all things related to Bengalee cooking (and European style soups!) makes it as special treats for us whenever we come to visit her. This is her recipe.
They are to me beautiful as pieces of art and worth preserving. Packed in even plactic containers they make lovely gifts too!

2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
3 Tablespoon white oil as shortening
1/2 cup milk

Sugar syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Boil the two until you have sticky syrup

Enough oil for frying. About 2 cups.

In a pan boil the sugar and water to make the syrup. The syrup should coat the back of a spoon. Let it cool.
Add the 2 cups of flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and baking powder and mix them thoroughly. Add the shortening and rub it in. Warm the milk until it is lukewarm. Add the milk until the dough comes together. It should not be sticky. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes.
Make small balls out of it, about one and half centimtre in radius. Roll out the balls into a pancake shape. The thickness should not be less than 1 mm. Otherwise it will be too fragile. With a knife cut slits into the pancake. Keep a gap of about 1 cm from the edge. From the edge of the pancake with two fingers roll in. Heat the oil until a cube of breadcrumb fries golden immediately. Drop the rolled Elo jhelo and lower the heat to a shimmer. Fry it. Make sure that it remains white and doesn't become brown. Heat the oil up again before dropping in the other elo jhelo rolls.
Drain the oil and drop it into the sugar syrup while it is still warm. It should not remain in the sugar syrup for more than half a minute. Just coat the ele jhelo in the syrup and drain. Let cool before packing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pink Panacotta

Gulkhand Pana Cotta

My husband craves for sweets after supper. Most Bengalis have a sweet tooth. His is a pronounced one. If we don’t have two types at least, he insists on going and buying some from the sweet shop just opposite our gate. Yes. Fortunately or unfortunately its right in front. In order to stave off some impulsive buys (not that I am complaining against impulsive purchases!), I try to have something ready at home. Not surprisingly, I stick to desserts which can be made in a jiffy.

So, panacotta is made quite frequently. A pack of gelatine, heavy cream, sugar and any seasonal fruit is all one needs! The variation is endless. The featured one was an inspiration that I had on purchasing a bottle of Gulkhand. Gulkhand is a not-too sweet rose petal preserve. I had bought it as an Ayurvedic tonic but THAT in fact increased its appeal. Now, I could tell myself that along with all that cream I am having something healthy!

I like my panacotta creamy though solid, so I have gone easy on the gelatine. I use Ru-af-Za, the rose-scented concentrate we use in cooling evening drinks to give both colour as well body. Ru-af-za contains a lot of sugar, so you can reduce the amount sugar to sweeten the panacotta.


Makes 6

3 tablespoon Gulkhand
3 teaspoon gelatine
570 ml heavy cream
100 ml milk
60 g sugar
3 teaspoon Ru-af-za

1 tablespoon rose-water


Soak gelantine in cold water for about 10 minutes. Dissolve the gelatine completely, then add the Ru-af-za.. Spread a thin layer of Gulkhand on the bottom of 6 buttered muffin tins. Combine the double cream and milk with the sugar and simmer for 10 minutes or until it dissolves. Mix the rest of the Gulkhand (about a tablespoon) with the milk-cream. Mix in the gelatine-Ru-af-za into the cream-milk mixture. Stir in the rosewater. Leave to cool.
Pour the panna cotta into the muffin tins when it has cooled down carefully so as not to distrub the layer on the bottom, then transfer to the refrigerator and leave to set for at least 3 hours.

To unmould, dip the muffin pan into a tray of hot water quickly and turn it upside down on a large plate.

In the Land of Coconut recipes

Though the restaurants in Fort Kochi area were largely disappointing, much of the time on this trip to Kerala we ate very well. On the day we ventured into Matancherry, we also hunted up Rahmatullah of Biryani fame. The place was absolutely no frills. The seating arrangements reminded me of the strictly utilitarian school benches and in terms of choice; well, we were offered Mutton Biryani or Chicken Biryani. We dutifully chose both. This was Biryani at its simplest. Very little oil, the very basic of whole garam masala spices and large chunks of meat to soothe one down. And awfully reasonably priced!
Breakfast was always at the homestays so we always began the mornings on a great note. Idiappams figured twice on our breakfast menu on this trip. Both time it was paired with egg curry, Malayali style. The Following Iddiappam recipe as I saw it done by Dai Kutty of GKRiverHomestay. Its simplicity itself. Iddiappams are by themselves bland and are great for absorbing any kind of flavours. These are best eaten warm.


2 and half cup rice flour
2 and half cups coconut milk
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon oil

3 Tablesppon, grated, fresh coconut
1 green chlli, very finely chopped

Idli steamer
Rice mouli

Bring the coconut milk and hot water to a boil. Sieve the rice flour and salt and mix. Pour the hot coconut milk mixture into the flour. As you pour, mix in the flour so that it brings the flour just together. It should be in-between a dough and a batter. The whole coconut milk mixture may not be necessary.
Mix the grated coconut and green chilli. Dai and her mother-in law oiled the mould and sprinkled a little bit of this chilli-coconut into the idli moulds. The rice mouli they had was beautiful piece of brass. A small container with a sieve and another solid piece with handles on both sides to press the dough. You fill up the container with the sieve with the batter and press down the solid piece which fits into it. The rice noodles which come out are put straight onto the idli mould. Once they are filled, the moulds are closed and placed into the steamer. 10 to 15 minutes of cooking should be more than sufficient. Take off from the steamers. Dai used a large metal spatula to unmould.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An orgy of Cheese

This post about our trip to the Nilgiris in August should have been up long ago. But I didn’t have a blog running then. And we have just finished the huge amount of organic cheese we got from Acreswild. So this is going to be both a travel and food post. Escaping the heat of Chennai itself is enough to make me ecstatic. Added to that, I could look forward to a really good cheese haul!

We stayed at the exclusive (exclusive because only worker bees, like Sitabhra, and their hangers-on are allowed) Radio-astronomy Centre (RAC) Guest House in Muthorai. Muthorai itself deserves better notice. In the internet its claim to fame is the RAC and the Central Potato Research Institute. Its about 10 kms from Ootacumund, so you can drop into 'town' at any reasonable hour without too much trouble. Yet, it is on the way to all the nicer places in the Nilgiris; Avalanche, Emerald Valley, Parson’s Valley to start with. The RAC campus itself is one of the few patches of verdant green in the region; most of the area being assiduously cultivated. One can walk up or down from its gates and feel virtuous about taking some exercise! If it is not tea, this region is cultivated for its fields of carrots, potatoes, cabbages and green veggies. On our second day in Muthorai we set off for the “Emerald District”. Emerald District? The name conjured up vistas of rolling green dotted with lakes. The few sketchy routes I had found in the internet all agreed that it is within the purview of such out-of-shape city denizens like us to walk from Muthorai to Emerald Valley. The weather as we came out was lovely; lightly cloudy but not threatening (that is, by the way, very deceptive in the Nilgiris).

We climbed down from our perch at the RAC after a substantial, old-fashioned breakfast and went into the Muthorai village. From there, we followed the main road. The road is tarred, so the traffic is considerable and houses, farms, schools straggle almost half the route. En route we would stand to look at cabbage fields and carrot threshers. At cross-roads we would patiently wait for a vehicle or a local to point the way towards Avalanchi. Avalanchi, deep in the forest, is 21 km from Muthorai. There is a perfectly good bus service and to any local it must have seemed a bit mad on our part to want to walk. In fact, one very nice truck driver stopped his vehicle in order to ask if he could drive us to our destination! Away from Muthorai, the country-side became less populated. For long stretches, we would walk in quiet solitude each engrossed in their own thought, maybe stopping to click a photo or two. Then came our first real break; a tea shop. Makeshift though it was, it served welcome hot, sugary tea in small glasses. We had it with some snacks we had brought along. It was a satisfied trio which resumed walking. The roadsides by now were sporting lots of wild-flowers so the stops to admire them became more frequent.

And then, as we turned around a wooded corner, the first of the lakes came into view. Across miles of rolling hills we looked down into a lake nestled among green hills. Small houses dotted the hillsides among the tea gardens. The sky had become slightly overcast by now. A wind was blowing. It was what we had been walking for. We were loathe to move from there. Only the thought that there were perhaps better views spurred us on. The district was definitely green and as the sky darkened it looked even more wild. The whole area is riddled with lakes all inter-connected. Small, big, medium. Shores fringed with woods. Shores upto whose edges tea estates rolled. As we blissfully made one turn after another it had escaped our notice that the sky had started looking ominous. It was only when the droplets started falling I realised to my chagrin that, decoyed by the blue sky, I had decided to keep my raincoat back at the guesthouse, neatly packed at the bottom of my backpack. One hat and one umbrella were all we had to protect three of us. By the time we reached Ithalar twenty minutes later, the rain had become more persistent if not ferocious. The question arose; do we take a bus back home or take a bus towards Avalanchi, another 10 kms ahead? A bus towards Avalanchi came soon. We piled in. It was surprisingly empty, so we each grabbed the best position and rode through the winding, narrow (by this time it was unpaved or untarred too) roads. Soon, we crossed Emerald village where the dam over one of the lakes consolidates the importance of this village. Avalanchi is inside protected forest areas, so if we hadn’t been aboard the local bus, special permits would have been necessary to get into this area. One can stay only in designated forest rest houses and as I knew from previous experience, Wildlife Wardens are notoriously fickle in letting the hoi polloi in. This area was heavily forested. Branches of trees regularly scratched against the bus and poked through the open windows. Where the trees had thinned out, we could glimpse series of lakes flashing by. Half an hour later we were deposited in the Avalanchi Power Station area. It lay close to another lake. Green, fringed with woods and definitely wild. The area had been cleared specifically for the power station. It was hemmed in by formidable crags. The tops of all of them were clad in clouds and wisps of fog rolled down their slopes. Sometimes one could spy a lonely tree, lopsided and valiant in its efforts to stand at the summit. In fact, it reminded me of my views of Lake District in England. That had been a gray, chilly trip in December. This was obviously greener. But looked equally stern! We had been warned that the bus would leave in half an hour (the power station being the last stop) and it was the last one for the day! There was a lot of scrambling for the best points for photos and before long we were headed back. The rain seemed to have let up only for us. Very soon it was pelting on the roof of the vehicle and only when we were away from Ithalar did it stop. By this time, we were pretty hungry and since the lunch hour was way past, we didn’t have much hope that there would be anything left for us at the guest house. So on disembarking at Muthorai, we stepped into a shack. Never did idli and sweet tea taste so good. The idlis were plump and fresh. We dipped them into a soupy sambar, spooned some coconut chutney and gulped down huge quantities of tea with it. Having taken the edge off our appetite, we felt we could tackle the climb up to the guest house. Once we had dropped of our belongings we made our way to the canteen, having not completely given up about more food :>. We were not wrong. They had been specially kept in what looked like a hot air oven. So we had two meals for lunch. The food in this jaunt was nothing spectacular. Stolid and substantial. And warm.

The organic cheese from Acreswild Farm in Coonoor is of course another story and I was aching to try all the different things I could do with them. We had been overwhelmed by their Camembert when we had visited the Khans three years back (I must admit I had been wowed by their bungalow with ponds and cow and goat sheads and herb garden too :-)). And their Monterey Jack and Cheddar. Coonoor to Muthorai is about one and half hours drive and when we reached their old place at Coonoor we found they had moved to their new place where not only are they going to continue their cheese-making, but also give a taste of their life at little cottages inside their (former tea) estate. I am happy we had one of their employees to guide us. As it is, part of the journey was quite hair-raising. The place is not far from Coonoor town centre, but it looks like another world! The going was steep, there was no road to speak of (though I hear they have the internet!) and the fog deliberately drifted only ten feet in front of the car! When we got there, the first thing we thought was how to reverse the car and get it to climb the steep incline! The Khans are still establishing things at their new quarters. We did do a tour of their new cheese-making cottage. They are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible and doing an amazing job. Gobar-gas unit, rain-water harvesting and vegetable garden will all add to the minimum human footprint. A must visit if you are going to Coonoor. They are super-friendly and it was a pleasure interacting with them.

They sell their cheeses through quite few outlets now, so on taking our leave we trooped down to Baker’s Junction and splurged on huge amounts of cheese. This is something I miss awfully in India. Good cheese. But given India’s hot weather most places can only stick to paneer and ricotta. Anyway, we got as many hard cheeses as possible to stash and of course their Camembert (which was just wonderful spread on cream-cracker biscuits or with grapes) and their new, flavored soft cheeses. Needless to say, you can’t store all varieties for equal lengths of time. So the feta was used up pretty fast in a Greek Country Salad. And some dishes were more successful than the others. Some of the recipes were adapted from other sites, some from my cookbooks.

Cauliflower three cheese bake

This was inspired by a Greek recipe. I added some other vegetables for good measure. It made a meal itself.

1 small head of cauliflower, kept whole with leaves and core removed

2 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

300 gm pumpkin, cubed

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

2 Tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon mint, chopped

2 cups skimmed milk

2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 beaten egg

1/4 cup Gruyere, grated

1/4 cup Gouda, grated

1/4 cup crumbled Tomme de Savoie


Bring a pan of water to boil. Chop all the vegetables (except the cauliflower) into equal sizes. Add the carrots and potato five minutes before the pumpkin and simmer. Cook for 5 minutes more and add the cauliflower for about and switch off the flame. Drain. The water can be used for other purposes like boiling rice in! In a bowl, combine cheeses and toss to mix thoroughly. Preheat oven to 180C.

In a saucepan, heat 2 cups of milk with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg over medium-low heat. When the milk is steaming, switch off and add the beaten egg mixture, whisking continuously so it doesn't boil. When the sauce thickens, remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the mixed cheeses.

Arrange the cauliflower in the centre of the baking dish. Arrange all vegetables. Sprinkle the chopped herb on top. Pour the sauce over evenly and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake at 180C for about 40-45 minutes.

Greek Country Salad

The simplest Indian salads are vegetables cut into rings and arranged on a plate. I grew up on tomatoes, cucumber and onion arranged and sprinkled with salt as the staple salad. So this one reminded me a lot of my childhood.

Adapted from Horiatiki Salata, Mediterranean Cookery

For the vinaigrette and garnish

150 gm crumbled feta

12 black olives

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons minced flat-leaf coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix together all components.

Salad Components
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into batons
3 ripe tomatoes cut into wedges

1 green pepper, seeded and cut into rings

1 medium sized onion, cut into thin rings

Arrange all salad ingredients and mix it with the vinaigrette.

Tuna mousse

My husband hoards tinned tuna and sardines. When the stacks of cans start becoming alarmingly high, I have to look at the food blogs for inspiration. This one was from Orangette: Bouchon au thon. There are a few changes in the ingredients. I used yoghurt and added half teaspoon of jaggery instead of crème fraiche, 2 eggs (instead of three) and coriander (not parsley).

I loved them warm! We had it with bread.

180 grams canned tuna in water, drained
3 Tbs tomato paste
4 Tbs yoghurt
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Pepper
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander
¼ cup minced onion

Cheese shortbread

These have been made with many different cheeses, with added flavourings of herbs or spices. I have used Acreswild Gruyere, Green Chilli Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Gouda and Romano.

1 Tablespoon Whole roasted cumin with 1/2 teaspoon ajwain,

1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder with 1 teaspoon paprika,

1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves

and in another case 1 teaspoon nigella seeds, have all gone down very well!

I have also baked them in different shapes. In a typical 9” cake pan they come out as wedges, sliced thinly from a log (dough shaped into a log) in circle, cut into batons as cheese sticks. The basic recipe is from the Complete Book of Breads. I add skimmed milk to bring the dough together.

Dill cheese bread

Adapted from the Complete Book of Breads

Beetroot with halloumi

This was simplicity itself. Peeled, whole beetroots were boiled and thickly sliced. The halloumi was sliced. Try to maintain equal sizes for the beetroot and halloumi for reasons of stability. A tahini-yoghurt dressing was whisked up. Arrange beetroot and cheese in a tower form. Pour dressing. Some pomegrante seeds were strewn as garnish.

P.S - I sometimes make my own tahini; works quite well.

100 gm Halloumi, sliced thickly

3 boiled, peeled beetroot, sliced

1/2 pomegranate, seeds separated

6 Tablespoon yoghurt

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 mint leaves, chopped finely


1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds, ground

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

pinch of red chilli powder

Mix all ingredients together into a paste.

Mix tahini, yoghurt, salt, pepper and mint for the dressing. Top the layered cheese-beetroot towers.

Crab cottage cheese pie

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup slices spring onions,chopped

1 teaspoon dill

1 teaspoon basil

400gm crab meat, fragments of shell and such removed

6 sheets of filo pastry

1 tablespoon prepared mustard (I used the Bengalee kasundi)

2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs beaten

150 gm cottage cheese (I used green chilli flavoured soft cheese)


In medium-size skillet saute onions, add dill weed, and basil. Remove from heat; stir in crab meat, one teaspoon salt, pepper, mustard. Oil a flan tin and arrange each filo sheet so that it covers the tin. Oil each sheet and arrange the next one so that it partly overlaps. Let the sheets overhang. Spoon carb mixture into shell. Beat remaining ingredients. Pour over crab mixture. Fold the hanging bits of the sheets. Bake in preheated 180-degree oven 40 to 45 minutes until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You say "tomato", I say "tomaataw" (Tomato Chutney, My Way)

OK, that song has not much to do with the recipe, except that when it comes to making Tomato Chutney, there are more ways than one. I will be presenting the version which I learned at my mother's knees (I can hear my Mom saying, Hrmmm...). Tomato chutney is a doyen of Bengalee chutneys among with a host of other bright stars in the firmament, like raw papaya chutney and Mango chutneys, which I will add by and by. There are fond memories associated with the first time I made it. You could say, it was my first solo run in cooking. When my friends took a house (and a cooking stove) along with their first salaried jobs, some lucky, few hangers-on used to regularly join them over the weekends and try our hands at cooking. Those were heady days! The tomatoes were carefully selected for their glossy redness, and the chutney lovingly made; always in bulk! As it simmered, it filled the house with a gorgeous smell. The aroma is a perfect marriage of fresh chilli, ginger and the panch phoron.
I just have to taste it along the way while its cooking. Its sweet, sour and finger-licking; indeed this version is quite sticky.

Begin by assembling all the whole spices and grating the fresh ginger and slicing the green chilli. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and maybe even a little thinner depending on size. Heat the oil in a large kadai/wok. Before it starts smoking, add all the whole spices. Let them splutter, which they should do within seconds. Add the ginger and the chopped chillis. Saute them until an intense aroma comes off; about 3 minutes over low heat. Add the tomatoes. Coat with the spice mix thoroughly. Stir a few times. Add the salt and turmeric and mix in again. Let the tomatoes cook for 5 minutes then add the sugar. Thoroughly stir it until the sugar is completely dissolved. At this stage, you can cover it and leave it to its own devices for about 10 minutes at the lowest flame. The tomatoes will release copious amounts of water and will gently simmer and soften. Take off the lid and check how much liquid is present as well as the firmness of the tomatoes. The skin should be flaying off and the flesh soft. If not, cover and give it another five minutes. Taste it. It should be sweet but not over-cloyingly. Add a little bit of salt if necessary. Now increase the heat and stir. The liquid has to be reduced until it is leaving a red streak on the ladle when you spoon into it. There's a personal element here; my family like it thick. Remember that the chutney is going to congeal more as it cools. The chutney must be stirred all the time at this stage, so that it doesn't stick. Its hot work, but worth it! Should take about 10 minutes on medium heat. Taste it once more. Shut the burner and add the dates and raisins. Mix them in. By this time the chutney should have cooled slightly. Add the lime juice. Add half of it first, let it be completely incorporated and then add according to taste. How much is needed depends on the sourness of the tomatoes too! The sour and sweet must balance each other. Let it cool down completely (this takes time) before bottling it in sterile container(s). I usually boil my jars in water for 10 minutes before drying them in the oven at 200 degrees for 10 minutes.

2 Tablespoon white oil
2 bayleaf
1 and half teaspoon black mustard
1 and half teaspoon whole cumin
1 Tablespoon Panch Phoron
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 green chillies, seeded and sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
900 gm red, ripe, firm tomato
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 lime, juiced
2 Tablespoon raisins, soaked in water
5 seeded dates, chopped

Ingredients for Panch Phoron

The distinctive aroma of Bengalee dishes is frequently due to this spice blend made of five whole spices. Like all great things, it can lift the mundane to new heights! This is the combination of the store bought stuff. Needless to say, every home has its variants in amounts as well as in spices! Its best to make it in small quantities since it goes musty quite fast.

1 Tablespoon nigella seeds
1 Tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

Combine all spices in a heated kadai, roast for about 10 seconds while stirring it, cool and store away from heat and light in a jar.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Picture Perfect Paratha

This trip to Bangalore was a trip down memory lane. My friends, Sunit & Shweta have recently moved back to India from Canada and had been insisting that I drop in . With the 2nd October weekend around the corner, it was all arranged in a rush. We arrived at 4:00 in the morning in a delicious light drizzle and from then onwards it was delicious all the way! One day was spent in looking up old haunts. Things change of course. I was pleasantly surprised by the much-improved public transport of Bangalore. I was very disappointed that Lalita's Paratha Point, where we used to eat some good, old-fashioned, heavy-duty parathas had vanished with the intervening years.No matter! Sunit & Shwetha whistled up the following parathas the next day for a very, very satisfying brunch. Just Parathas and Raita. Did I say just? This is one of the most decadent breakfasts in India.
North Indians love their parathas, not least because of the endless variety possible. Your stuffing can be made with anything. It had however be best consumed hot. Indeed, it is very hard to resist when a paratha is piled on your plate straight from the tawa! These were stuffed with three different fillings. The fillings can be prepared in advance and kept refrigerated.
The measurements are for 16 parathas of 6 inch diameter. The trick to paratha making is making sure that one doesn't over-stuff the filling. The first rolling out of the small balls of dough is critical, as is the second rolling to form the flatbread.

For the Dough
3 and half cups white flour (you can add upto 1 cup wheat flour too)
1/2 teaspoon roasted ajwain
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 cup oil, for frying

Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add one-third cup of the water and work it to make the dough. Add water as you go. The final dough will be slightly sticky but can be made into smaller balls. Add sprinkles of flour to each small ball of dough to keep them separate once they are pinched off the main mass.

These can be stored back in the refrigerator if not used up at one go.
Potato filling for Aloo Paratha
4 medium sized cooked potatoes, cooked and grated
2 Tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 large onion, finely grated
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 green chilli, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon oil

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Saute half of the chopped onion until they pick up brown flecks. Will take about 1o minutes at low heat. Add the salt and the chilli powder to mix it in thoroughly. Add the fried onion mixture to the grated potatoes along with the rest of the ingredients (onion, coriander leaves, green chilli). Mix it up with your hand. Let it rest so that the grated potato absorbs the flavours.

Paneer filling for Paneer Paratha
110 gm ready-made paneer, grated (any cottage cheese can be substituted here, or one can make home-made paneer)
1/2 teaspoon cumin, dry-roasted and ground
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix up all ingredients with hand.

Processed Cheese filling for Cheese Paratha
110 gm processed cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder

Mix up all ingredients with hand.

Making of the Paratha
Heat up a tawa or heavy cast iron pan. On a well floured surface, roll out each small ball of dough into a circle, not less than half centimetre thick. Add half teaspoon filling of choice. Fold over from the four sides to completely cover the filling. Firmly close the edges and roll into a ball again (with the filling inside now). Again roll it into a circle on the floured surface. This is really the most important part. The circle must rotate all the time to allow for uniform thickness. Its a good idea to flip it once in a while so that it does not stick. Again, the thickness of the paratha is what decides a good paratha. Too thick and it wouldn't cook through; too thin and it sticks to the surface. It usually is safe to make it about 5 millimetre thick. Flip it onto the hot tawa. Quickly cook both surfaces for half a minute each. Add a tablespoon of oil around the edges to cook/fry at the lowest heat. One tends to listen for the sizzle to ascertain whether the tawa-facing side is cooked. Usually takes about 4-7 minutes (depending on the thickness). Flip it to the other side, add about a tablespoon of oil. Cook it. Golden with a few brown flecks. Keep them warm in a towel or better still consume immediately!
A raita or a chutney is the usual accompaniment. Ghee or salted butter is the other choice for an indulgent breakfast.

4 Tablespoon ghee or salted butter dor serving

250 gm beaten curd
1 teaspoon ground, dry-roasted cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly goround pepper

Mix everything with a fork. I usually chop some mint into it, but plain serves the purpose very well!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Eggplants: Tickled Pickle

Whenever I see or taste something tickling to my tastebuds, I have this urge to go back home and recreate it. The eggplant pickle featured below was the outcome of tasting a gorgeous pickle made of eggplants (or brinjal or aubergine) at a dinner. Eggplants are great vegetables. They can be served simply just by frying them with a little salt, or made into any amount of elaborate dish by roasting, stuffing, baking. They just absorb spices so beautifully that its no wonder that all over Asia there are thousands of recipes with them. Their sizes also make them amenable to lot of different creations. For this recipe I picked small eggplants, about two to three inches long, rotund or leggy, only they must be bright, shiny purple without any bruise. On each eggplant I make a deep cross, extending upto a centimetre or so to stem. I like to salt them for half an hour just in case some of them are a little on the bitter side. This also allows a lot of water to drain out, which I am told makes the eggplants absorb less oil while frying. The salted eggplants are drained of their water by tissue papers, patted dry and then deep fried. In fact, the drawing out of the water considerably reduces the frying procedure since the eggplants soften much faster. The whole procedure of frying both sides takes just about ten minutes. Drain the eggplants on an absorbent paper but keep the oil. The next step is making the spice mix. I started with about 750gm eggplants, so the measure is for that amount.

For 750 gm small sized eggplant
4 Tablespoon salt for salting the eggplants

5 inch ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 dried chilli pods, deseeded
0.7 cup vinegar
Make a paste of the ginger, garlic, dried chilli and vinegar. I did this with the blender.

1/2 Tablespoon turmeric, usually comes as powder
1 Tablespoon black mustard
3/4 Tablespoon fenugreek
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Roast all the spices in a kadai/wok over medium heat without oil until the aroma comes off, about 2 minutes. Cool them. Grind them in a spice grinder. Mix them with the ginger-garlic-vinegar paste.

0.5 cup sugar
3/4 cup Kasundi or Indian prepared mustard
3/4 Tablespoon tamarind paste
Mix the kasundi, tamarind and sugar with a whisk.

Keep about 2 Tablespoon of oil left over from frying the eggplants in the kadai. Heat it. Put the ginger-garlic , spice and vinegar mix and saute for about 5-7 minutes. The oil should separate out. At this stage, add the kasundi-tamarind-sugar. Stir continously to dissolve the sugar. This takes about another 10 minutes. Cool the mixture completely. In the meantime, in sterilised bottle arrange the cooled, drained, fried eggplants so that their stems stick out at the mouth of the bottle. Pour the cooled spice paste. If the spice doesn't completely cover the eggplants add some oil from the kadai. Before putting on the lid the bottle must be allowed to come to room temperature. Close, upturn it once so that the stems see some of the spice! Store it at room temperature. I usually find it keeps longer in the refrigerator once I have opened it. The finished product does not look great, but it taste heavenly!
I love it with rice!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cinnamon bun

My brain always goes into an over-drive when somebody invites me to a special dinner. What should I take along? Shall I ask them so that it fits in with their menu? This was to be a Id celebration. So Yusra, who hails from Hyderabad would be sure to have a spread on. Morever, her mother-in-law had arrived recently, so it would be a dinner to rival all dinner!
So I settled on buns. An odd choice you think for bringing along to Id?
These buns have two types of fillings; one a classic cinnamon-sugar and the other a more
desi dates-coconut-ginger. The fondant in both cases was flavoured with apricot kernel.
The buns are made of a rich dough; eggs, butter, milk and raised with yeast. I love working with yeast. It sort of comes alive with time and it appeals to the biologist in me enormously!

I use live yeast which we are lucky to get at the Nilgiris Department Supermarkets in Chennai. Nothing wrong with dry yeast, only I am always anxious they won't rise!
I mix the warm milk, a pinch of sugar and crumble a teaspoon of yeast and leave it to rise for fifteen minutes or so. In the meantime, the rest of the sugar, softened butter, eggs are creamed together sequentially. Once they come together to form a creamy concoction (about 10 minutes at low beating speeds), I add the milk-yeast and whizz briefly. The liquids are then mixed into the dry ingredients, in this case measured flour and salt. I do all this with hand, but of course a food processor can be used too. The liquid is incoporated slowly while beating the batter continuously, until the whole of it is absorbed into the flour. Then comes the kneading part. This takes about ten minutes, so I tend to move out of my hot kitchen, stand under a fan to do this. This is a great dough to work with since the butter and eggs makes it quite oily. The dough is left to its own devices for about two hours (longer doesn't harm either). At this stage, I popped it nto the refrigerator. Of course, the dough needs to be warmed for a couple of hours for the next stage in that case.
This time I made two fillings for the buns so after the dough had doubled in bulk, I divided it into two balls. I also incorporated the some of the chopped dates into one half of the dough at this stage. While the dough had been rising, I had made the fillings; the recipes are given below. I take each dough and roll it out on a flour-sprinkled surface into a rectangle. The size really doesn't matter so much as long as the thickness is around half inch. The rectangular shape is important though. Let the rolled out dough rest for about five minutes. Spread the fillings upto the edge. Roll up into a log shape. The fillings will appear as a spiral. With the seam side down, I cut the logs, each into one and half inch pieces. And rest the pieces for five minutes or so.
The butterpaper on the oven tray was oiled and then carefully each piece was transfered. Its important to make sure that the seam is firmly closed at this stage, otherwise the spiral tends to unwind during its second rising. From each log I had got eight buns. This was perfect for my small 16 litre oven. Just enough space to between each bun to let them expand in girth. Between each there must be about half inch gap.
The waiting part now is always tedious. I always want the buns to hurry up! Another two hours or so and they are ready to be popped into the oven. 180 degrees for 25 minutes is what these buns got. Half-way through the process I turn the tray around so as to allow for equal exposure to heat.
Only the fondant now remained. The sugar and milk with the apricot kernel were melted to prepare the fondant while the buns were being browned. In about ten minutes after the buns came out I drizzled with the whisk I had been using to dissolve the sugar-milk, some drops of the fondant. I let the drops coagulate and cool completely before serving.

Yeast Buns
Adapted from "Hot Cross Buns", The New Complete Book of Breads
Makes 16 small buns

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup warm milk
3 -4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon live yeast
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 Tablespoon chopped dates for half the dough

Cinnanon Sugar filling
3 and half Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Just mix them together thoroughly.

Coconut-ginger-date filling
3 Tablespoon finely shredded coconut
3 Tablespoon finely chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
Mix them up thoroughly. I use my fingers to make sure that everything is well mixed. You can use a grinder too.

1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
Ground flour from 4 apricot kernels
Melt the sugar in the milk completely. Mix in the apricot kernel flour to make it into a thick cream.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Of Peppers and Spice

One of my friends had been to China recently. On hearing that food stores do have some things written in English I asked him to get some Sechuan pepper. He put in tenacious effort in tracking down the real Sechuan pepper, " huajiao fen". That's what culminated in today's Chinese style dinner. Thanks, Nadeem! I may be blogging about it, but the real foodie is the one who went to multiple supermarkets and squinted at any number of condiments in his effort to bring the right spice! The Chinese five spice powder used in the Veggie dish was powdered in a mortar and pestle minutes before being added to the dish. The mixed vegetables were accompanied by another first for me, dimsums filled with chicken filling. They came out rather well, so I have included their picture though dumpling images on the internet are dime a dozen. The images were taken by my husband, Sitabhra.
The dimsum recipe was from Chinese steamed dumplings in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I use this book a lot. The recipes work for me everytime!
Below is the Five spice powder mix composition. It works with a lot of dishes, but I like it particularly with mixed vegetables and rubbed on fish fillet.

2 star anise
1 Tb spoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon Sechuan paper
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cloves

Dry roast the ingredients until they give out a whiff of their aromatic oils.
Grind into powder. Cool and store.
Incidentally, I later on found that Sechuan pepper is used in Indian cooking quite frequently and goes under the name of "Triphal" on the Konkan coast where it is frequently paired with fish! So next time I run out of this spice I know now where to approach!