Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pasta with greens and corn

I sometimes wonder whether I would have recognised many dishes from India 500 years back. More and more we are incorporating ingredients which we didn’t know exist a century back! Of course the traditional basis of meals in most countries do remain same. We still thrive on rice and lentils for example. All this high faluting thought occurred to me while making the following pasta. Which itself is of course, pretty new kid on the block (though how the Chinese did not manage to export it across the Himalayas puzzles me, given we are just at their doorstep and noodle-making was an old industry there!). And then the corns which arrived much later than the Portuguese (here also the Chinese had apparently nothing new to learn). Practically nothing in this dish is per se Indian, not even the nutmeg which admittedly we are very familiar with but came from a Pacific island far east. Any green can be used; I had a bunch of Chinese (again!) Bak Choy begging to be used up. The cheese (Morbier) was decidedly French being brought over dutifully by a collaborator of my husband’s, who brings over a basket of French soft cheese everytime he visits us from France! But other cheese can also be used as long as they melt a little. The dish takes very little time to make.


2 teaspoon butter

250 gm pasta; I used the ear shaped ones

6 Tablespoon Morbier, grated

6 baby corn, sliced

3 teaspoon salt

300 gm bak choy leaves, roughly torn

Spring onion, 4 white part only, sliced

Nutmeg, grated


Slice the baby corns thinly and cook it in salted water for 5 minutes, so they retain a little crunch. Drain. Melt the butter. Add the greens after tearing them with your hands. Sprinkle salt. Cover and cook for a minute. Add the baby corn, more salt and the nutmeg. In the meantime, boil the pasta in salted water and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the vegetables. Mix thoroughly. Season it with more salt if necessary. Turn off the heat. Add the cheese and mix it in. Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pretend Fish

This image was taken after we had made substantial inroads into the meal. Indeed this is the rest (note the missing tail) of the small fry, so to speak! The "mother fish" had already been consumed!

Here Comes The Pretend Fish

Once in a while one discovers a dish which is completely unpretensious, easy to make, and is a major hit at a party. The Pretend fish recipe was in one of my cookbooks, on Italian seafood. It mentioned that it was easy to put together and with time short on hand, that was a laudable point in its favour. It also helped that it was a fish dish which epitomised boneless-ness! Eating fish is an acquired art. I find that many people cannot manage to separate the fish bones and justice to fresh fish prepared in the usual Bengali style. This dish being made of tuna flakes took the pain out eating something fishy :). If you have the mashed vegetables ready, it takes about 10 minutes to put together. My cookbook had mentioned only potatoes. I used a mixture of root vegetables and plantain along with two cans of tuna.

400 gm potato
100 gm carrot
100 gm sweet potato
100 gm plantain
2 Tablespoon Bengali prepared mustard, kasundi
1-4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon coriander stalks, finely minced
1 teaspoon capers
1 cup mayonnaise, good quality
300 gm tuna, flakes

Peel and boil the root vegetables with salt. Boil the plaintain separately and peel. Mash all vegetables. Add mustard, more salt, chopped coriander and tuna. Taste for salt and add more if necesaary. Shape the mashed mass into the shape of a fish. I got 2 fishes of varying size. Pat and smooth the shapes. Put spoonfuls of mayonnaise and coat the sides completely. Once its uniformly coated, use more to make the scales and ridges on the tail. Add a few capers to make the eyes. Keep at room temperature before serving.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I am in the mood for using Chinese ingredients. The refrigerator is very well stocked with them now. And it helps if they cook with the minimum fuss. So I settled on making this hotpot recipe. I had it very frequently when I shared a kitchen with some Chinese friends in USA. They would put in a super-rich sauce out of a satchet. A set of ordinary ingredients would be transformed into something steaming and magical. The weather was awfully cold in Omaha. Most of the time we had it standing in the kitchen right next to the rice cooker where it was made. Practically anything can be added, as long as the stock remains clear. My friends would even add corn-on-the-cobs, though it does take a long time to cook. Back at home, I set my rice cooker on the dining table, arranged the prepped vegetables/ meat/seafood that were available around and started on making the hotpot only after we were all ready to eat. This is the ideal winter one-pot meal. I stress the one-pot part! The hotpot spice is basically lots of garlic, ginger, red chilli, salt, soya and bean sauces made into a paste and stored with oil. My Chinese friends could never tell me the exact recipe. But I intend to work around with these ingredients by and by to have something similar on hand.


3 cups water
2 cups home-made broth; I used chicken
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
½ cup sweet corn, frozen or 8 sliced baby corn
1 inch ginger, crushed lightly
2 cloves garlic, crushed lightly
300 gm boneless skinless chicken; I had a few pieces pre-cooked

200 gm paneer, cut into 1-inch cubes

A handful of prawns; I had frozen ones on hand

Crab legs; 3 frozen ones
200 gm mangetout, trimmed and sliced
2 medium scallions, chopped

1 to 2 teaspoon hotpot sauce

1 pack dried egg noodle

Salt to taste

Dipping sauce

2 dry chilli, crumbled

1/4 lemon, juice

A pinch salt

A pinch sugar

3 Tablespoon oil; I used garlic flavoured groundnut oil


Cut all vegetables into thin slices. It will take less time to cook that way. The ingredients I used are all quick-cooking. So I only brought the broth to a boil and in quick succession added the rest of the components according to how long they would require to cook. I added the egg noodle at the last in a strainer to retrieve it more easily. One can just boil it once the broth is ready, right in it. Anything which requires longer period to cook can be added into the broth at the beginning. Don’t overload the cooker; the ingredients need to shimmer. So in a group, encourage guests to add as they need.

The amounts suggested would actually feed easily 4. But making it in small volumes doesn’t make sense. The broth can be drunk in any quantities. The strained cooked vegetables/meat can be used as topping for rice or noodles.

The dipping sauce just requires the most cursory mixing. Traditionally sesame oil is used instead of groundnut.

Serve steaming in bowls and provide chopsticks for everyone.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sumptuous meals in Taiwan

I suppose one always learns new ways of cooking the oldest vegetable dish when one has been dabbling with a new culture. The eggplant dish served at the Academia Sinica canteen is one. It is plain garlic, soya eggplant. We had it twice a day. For breakfast and lunch! But the novelty of preparing such a dish with soya made an impression on me. Just garlic, eggplants, oil and and seasoned with salt, soya sauce and a pinch of sugar. That's the ingredients list!

Cut eggplants into cubes. Salt them. Heat the oil. Add a handful of chopped garlic and add the eggplants. Cook them for 5 minutes and coat the garlic flavoured oil. Add the soya sauce, salt and sugar. Mix in thoroughly. Add a few tablespoons of water, cover and cook for another 10 minutes. The eggplants should be soft by this time and dry. Taste to adjust seasoning. That's it!
I found many vegetables cooked this way. Long green beans were also commonly prepared this way in the Academia cafeteria buffet.

Before we left our hosts to us took a Hakka place. Hakka cuisine uses lots of pickled elements. Salt baked duck and pork belly in pickled vegetables were two memorable dishes. The stir fries are probably the only ones which I can hope to recreate at home.

At a marina fish market we ate right off the tables set next to the stalls. Our hosts did all the arranging so we tried all sorts of things. Like the deep sea fish which tasted just like jelly. Super fresh sashimi. Mussels made the Taiwanese way. It was the biggest fish market I have seen. And they contained fish and its sea brethren in every form. Fresh ones on ice and in tanks, processed into dry fish and prawn and finally in tinned and packed form. We picked a huge jar of a variety of sakura denbu. Perfect for sprinkling on rice and noddles or mixing into soup.

Another sumptuous meal coming to an end. I adored the items we had at a tea house in Shinyi on the way back from Pingxi. The village was called Pingli. The herb rice was my favourite at that meal. I shall certainly be trying to recreate it. And a gorgeous whole fish steamed to perfection.

Lunching at Pingxi. In Taiwan meals go on and on. Not all the items come to the table together, so you never know when the nth one will be followed by n+1! We over-ate every time! A case in point was the lunch at the one shown above, where it started with 3 dishes and multiplied to 10 at the end! Most of our meals were at very unassuming places where the concept of "digging in" is followed strictly. I was told that only fancy restaurants give side plates; everywhere else its customary to use lots of tissue papers to put all your leftovers on the side nested in tissues. I went through huge quantities of tissue papers at every meal!