Saturday, November 19, 2016

Orpie's Beet 'Loot' Salad

The perfect side dish

If you live in India, then you cannot have missed knowing about the demonitization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. For or against is a different matter altogether, and something I will not get into right now. But owing to the scarcity of smaller value currency I decided to try out online grocery shopping from Modern Bazaar. It was a good decision, and the vegetables that were delivered were bursting with freshness and colour :)

I wanted to make a healthy salad and after spending some time Googling recipes, I didn't really find a recipe that was perfectly matching the ingredients I got delivered. So I tried out my own version that Rupak has famously called the beet 'loot' salad! Haha! I was super impressed how the salad turned out and I said to him, "had I had eaten out and paid for my beet 'root' salad it would have been pretty expensive. Needless to say most halfway decent restaurants are making a LOT of money dishing out simple salads. 'Looting' customers!" And, then he called it my beet 'loot' salad! How perfect! And that is how this salad got its name.

What you need

The ingredients are very flexible obviously. I simply used what I had. 

2-3 beets, medium sized (I used one large and one medium)
Handful of spinach leaves (or, any salad greens)
Some sweet corn, steamed or roasted
Some paneer (could use cherry mozarella, or feta, or tofu)

2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
3-4 garlic pods, crushed
salt, to taste

How to

Wash and pat dry the beets. Cover them in foil and roast them in the over for about an hour at 180 degrees.

Ready for the oven
While the beets are getting cooked, wash the salad green and keep aside.

Steam, or roast, the sweet corn.

Prepare the vinaigrette: Mix together all the ingredients under dressing.

Come back in an hour to check on the beets. Once they have cooled for ten minutes or so, peel the skin and slice thinly. 

Beautiful beets

Ready to assemble
Well, then. Mix everything together and add some crumbled paneer or feta or cheese on top! But remember to assemble this salad just before serving or else you will have a salad that is all beetroot-red in colour! :D


Sunday, October 23, 2016

To cook from scratch, or not

Basa in black bean sauce

Theoretically I like the idea of making everything from scratch. This not only applies to my interest in cooking, but also to other aspects of my life. And so, assembly line isn't really my thing. Needless to say the satisfaction that one derives from doing something from get-go all the way to the end, is far beyond any that involves assembling ready-made items. Hence, I ask, when it is really okay to say 'I made this from scratch?' Let me give an example, when I have a peanut butter jelly sandwich using store-bought peanut butter, jelly, and bread, and say that I made it - is it really true? Or am I merely putting together these three components of the sandwich? :P

Well, that said, how practical is my idea? Not particularly, and definitely not when one is like me, with oodles of the lazy gene and a natural tendency to love sleep! In an ideal world, where I could do only the things I wanted to, perhaps things could have been different, in addition to having a bank account spilling over with crisp, clean notes. In fact, after my pesto post, I am ashamed to say that there has been little experimental cooking in my kitchen. 

Lately, I had been craving for Chinese food, especially for some variety of a stir-fried fish preparation. I zero-ed down on fish cooked in a black bean sauce, and did a Google search for a black bean sauce recipe, and realized that fermented black beans would be next to impossible to find here. Well, not impossible perhaps, but with limited means and an urge to instantly satiate my craving, I did what any sensible person would do. I bought a bottle of black bean sauce! And out flew all my plans of working from scratch!

Ah well. So, last weekend for my mum's birthday, I decided to make a quick fish in black bean sauce and served it with some noodles. The sauce turned out delicious. Basa, like always, had an almost-melt-in-the-mouth texture, perfectly complementing the slightly crunchy green capsicum. The original recipe can be found here.

On a platter

What you need

500 gm basa fillet
2 tbsp cornflour
2 onions, small-sized, quartered
2 capsicums, cut into small pieces
1 inch ginger, sliced
2 pods garlic, chopped
1 dried red chilli, deseeded
2-3 tbsp water mixed with 1/2 tsp cornflour, as a thickening agent

2 tbsp black bean sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp fish sauce
3/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp water

How to

Wash and clean the fillet and cut into small bite size pieces. Sprinkle this with the 2 tbsp of cornflower and keep aside.

Once the fish has been prepped, the sauce can be prepared. In a small bowl, mix together the black bean sauce with the sesame oil, fish sauce, and sugar. Add 2 tbsp of water to this paste.

Now for the cooking: In a non-stick pan, add some cooking oil and let it heat. Then add the dried red chilli, ginger, onions, garlic, and capsicum. Cook on high heat till fragrant. 

Now, move the veggies to the side of the pan and add the corn-flour coated fish. Give everything a good stir and cook until the fish is three-fourth cooked. Basa is a very soft fish and it took scarcely a couple of minutes to complete this step.

Then, add the sauce and give it a good stir so that the fish and veggies are coated in the sauce. 

Finally, add the cornfour mixed with water. After five minutes turn off the heat and cover the pan. This restaurant-style fish in black bean sauce is now ready to be served!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mutton cooked with raja mirchi

Seriously, when it comes to food, there are no limits to how much an average Bengali will eat during Durga Puja. Yesterday, was Dashami, or the tenth day, that marks the end of the pujas. It is a day on which it is customary to eat fish, which seems funny to me at times, because when did we stop eating it anyway?

Unfortunately, I am not very traditional and owing to the fact that I  had no fish at home, I decided to make mutton. One of the items on my to-cook list this puja was Bhutwa Mutton. I wrote about this in my last post and I thought to myself what better than make just that. It took me about an hour and a half to prepare this dish, during which time I realized that I had run out of two ingredients from the original recipe. How important these were I cannot tell, so I decided to do what every home-cook must resort at such times of crisis. Improvise!

And so, in place of Schezwan pepper, I used my all-time favourite raja mirchi from Manipur. These lend a beautiful smokey flavour and a LOT of heat to the dish.

Bhutwa mutton with a twist

What you need

750 gm mutton

Whole spices
2-3 black cardamom 
3-4 cloves
10 peppercorns 
1 bay leaf 

3/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 dried Kashmiri mirch
1 dried raja mirchi (can be deseeded to reduce the heat) 

1 onion, medium sized, chopped 
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (I used slightly more garlic than ginger in my paste) 
2 tbsp coriander powder 
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional) 

Mustard oil
Salt and sugar, to taste
1 cup hot water

How to

Wash and clean the mutton. Drain excess water and pat dry the meat with a kitchen towel.

In a hick-bottomed, non-stick vessel, add the oil, and let it smoke. Once the mustard oil has smoked, let it cool before you add the four whole spices listed above. Fry for a minute, or until oil is fragrant.

Now add the fenugreek seeds and both kinds of chilies. Give it a stir and wait for a minute or so. Throw in the chopped onions and fry until light brown in colour.

Add the mutton into the hot oil and let it brown. This should take at least fifteen minutes. During this time, you could add the ginger-garlic paste, as well as some salt and sugar. Keep the vessel uncovered.

When the meat has browned sufficiently, add a cup of hot water and cover and cook for half hour. Alternately, in case using a pressure cooker, give two whistles and turn off the heat. In case of the latter, you would need to wait for sometime before you can open the cooker and cook the meat for some more time until the oil separates. The water needs to evaporate completely, and the mutton should be dark brown in colour.

Let the finished dish sit for at least half hour before serving.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Homemade pesto for Shoshti

Pesto in a jar
I gave myself a pat on the back. That my friends, on top, is my first jar of homemade pesto sauce.

I wouldn't say the ingredients for this sauce are super easy to get if you live in Delhi, so on the whole I would say this is 6/10 on the difficulty scale. But, the method is easy-peasy so that's a big help. Also, the fact that it can be stored in a refrigerator makes it worth the effort.

Fresh from the garden

A couple of months back, during a visit to my favourite nursery at Noida, I happened to buy a small but perky-looking basil plant. We transplanted her into a biggish pot and she has grown into a lovely, healthy, fragrant shrub. I plucked a big bunch of leaves but even then I find the yield isn't much. Perhaps, next season when she grows larger... :)

The second most important ingredient used for this sauce is pine nuts. Pine nuts, as I found out, are chilgoza. Again, not a commonly available nut in the neighbourhood. Another added disadvantage is that it is super expensive! And then if course is Parmesan. I have found my favourite store for buying Parmesan in the city, but it is not very close to home. I am yet to purchase a fresh block next time I head that side. This jar of pesto thus has that crucial element missing in action yet!

Then there is the garlic and the olive oil that makes this sauce come alive! For about half a jar, I used three loosely packed basil leaves, a handful of pine nuts, 3-4 cloves of garlic, a generous amount of olive oil, juice of half a lemon, and salt. The method is simple: Put everything (except the cheese) together in a food processor and whizz away. You can always adjust the seasoning (and the Parmesan) at a later time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Flu fighting and welcoming Durga Puja

Along with planning the festivities, I had landed one more task in my kitty. Nursing a viral. Delhi seems to be drowning a deluge of the evil-faced virus, a bit of a biological warfare as I like to call it. But keeping with the spirit of the times, I think I have been able to ward off the evil-spirited virus just in time to salvage some of my Pujo plans. I don't see myself wearing any heels this time thanks to my creaking, aching joints, but that is a small price to pay, if I can at least be up and about with friends and family. 

For most Bengalis and indeed for many others in the vicinity, Pujo comes with one immutable fact. No cooking at home. I mean, why cook when the entire neighbourhood is practically transformed into one giant food paradise? I delight in these every year but this year I thought I thought of making use of some of my time to cook up one big indulgent meal for the family. One of the perks of being ill is that it gave me plenty of time to search for the perfect recipes.

I have listed below the seven recipes that I want to try out in the next couple of days. The first three are from yet another great treasure-house of Bengali cooking. The second list is a mish-mash really - my own take on some classic recipes. These are perfect for a quick healthy sandwich or a quick meal and just the thing for rushed mornings and weeknights.

Recipes for Pujo (coming soon!)

Homemade preserves for the season (coming soon!)

  • Marinara sauce
  • Pesto sauce with fresh basil
  • Hung curd dip
  • Honey rolled oats

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gur and Nariyal Modak

The onset of September is a reminder of the changing season. The summer sun gives away to the gentle breeze of autumn, morning chills, and foggy winter nights. For some reason I have always felt a bout of nostalgia during this time of the year, perhaps because it is a reminder of how quickly our lives fly by. This Sunday morning I was sitting on our favourite blue bench on the terrace watching a million dragonflies swirling in the air up ahead, the big tree in the middle of the park swaying from left to right, and it reminded me of excitement I had felt as a child before the Pujas began.

As per the Hindu calendar, the festival seasons begins in full swing with Ganesh Chaturthi. The elephant-headed God, Ganesh is especially revered in the western region of the country, and it is an important festival for many. But for me, a Bengali by birth, this day always passed by without much ado, except a reminder that the best months of the year were coming up, with Durga Puja and Diwali and, of course, Delhi winters!

In any case I tried something new that day. Not something that I can say I was hugely successful at, but I am happy to say that I tried. Modaks are traditionally made for Ganesh Chaturthi, and to be honest I have never tasted one. My attempt as you would see is a poor man's version of a modak, and these certainly aren't the prettiest I have seen! But we all popped one each at home and I thought they tasted pretty nice. The original recipe is by the super talented Dassana Amit, here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Adrak ki chai on a Tuesday morning

It has been the longest time.

Work has been very crazy and even after a quick weekend getaway to the city of lakes and palaces - Udaipur - I can't seem to shake off that feeling of push and shove of city life. I woke up resolved to skip work, and instead stay at home to unwind. After sending a couple of important messages I turned off the cell phone. Now, there are some things I absolutely abhor and one that tops the list is a messy room. Clutter. How I hate that word! And that is exactly how everything around me looked. From an unmade bed, to a sink full of dirty dishes, dust on the shelves, what not - I resolved to de-clutter, clean out my apartment. 

I thought I'd begin the day with my favourite adrak ki chai, and while that was getting done, went to brush my teeth, only to come back to the kitchen to find that the milk had boiled over. So much for relaxing with a hot cuppa!

But, anyway it is done and here I am punching out the keys while sipping my not-so-perfect chai - a somewhat halfway decent hot milky beverage that will probably set the tone for the rest of my day. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Cupcake lovin'

I just realized that in all these months I have posted nothing that is sweet, gooey, chocolatey! How is that fair?

Chocolate cupcakes

You can find the original recipe on this wonderful site, here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pickled Tuna

I feel especially happy today: two reasons primarily. One is because I got to meet an old childhood friend, Ranjana, who flew down from Sweden to spend time with her granny in Delhi. The other is that I shall get to see Len tomorrow night after a whole week - he is in Siliguri, for work.

Pickled tuna to spice up a dull meal

Ranjana, Madhu, and I: how long do we go back? Possibly when we were six, seven, or eight years old. I cannot clearly remember how we first met but as little girls in the neighbourhood, there was little else needed to build a friendship apart from possibly a love for play-time in the evenings and, yes, a severe dislike of singing classes that we attended every Saturday morning. At six or seven, classical music was not appealing to any of us, neither was the lady who taught us. In retrospect she was a rather sweet lady, who never forgot to bring us presents on our birthdays, or little knick-knacks now and then. But at that cruel age, none of these gestures made up for the strong aversion we had for that brand of music, nor the seemingly wasted Saturday mornings, sitting indoors pouring over a harmonium instead of playing little-girl games - whatever they might have been!

That was years ago. But it struck me suddenly today that the three of us who shared many-a-dull hour straining our vocal chords in unison, are now separated from each other by a continent each. Madhu in the US, Ranjana in Europe, I in Asia! Nevertheless, with some friends you pick up from where you left before and that is how it is with us :)  

The reason I am posting about a tuna pickle is because as Ranjana and I got talking over coffee today, she happened to mention that she is a big fan of pickles. I had tried out this recipe some time back, as a back-up plan for those quick-meal nights when all Len and I can muster up is a pot of rice and a pan of daal! This is the perfect accompaniment that can make week-night cooking a little bit easier and bit more satisfying :)

Pickled tuna in a jar

What you need

150 gm, fresh tuna* chunks, diced into 3 cm pieces
2 tbsp, freshly ground pepper powder
2-3 tbsp, ginger-garlic paste
2 inch piece, ginger roughly sliced
4-5 fat garlic cloves, roughly sliced
1 standard cup, vinegar (I used apple cider)
I tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp, chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
20 curry leaves
Oil, half cup (I used a 70:30 ratio of vegetable and coconut oil)
salt to taste

*This recipe would work well with shrimps, prawn, chicken, or even pork. The cooking time will vary depending on the meat used, but the flavours would be without doubt absolutely fantastic!

How to

Chop the tuna into small chunks - a teaspoon can hold about 4 or 5 pieces. Wash, clean, and air dry for a bit.

Then, marinate the tuna with some salt, about 3 tbsp vinegar, and ginger-garlic paste. (I left this in the fridge for a night, stirring it from time to time.)

Before you begin this step, allow the marinated fish come to room temperature. In a pan heat the oil. Add the tuna chunks along with the marinade, and fry until completely cooked. The oil will separate and the fish would be a dark brown colour and ready to eat. Remove from oil and keep aside.

In the same pan, throw in the mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, add the sliced ginger and garlic and fry until they are slightly brownish. Add the turmeric and chilli powder. Keep stirring. After a couple of minutes, add the rest of the vinegar. The vinegar should boil over and evaporate. I simmered this for about 7-10 minutes, or until the raw smell of vinegar (which is quite terrible!) disappeared.

Immerse the fried fish back into the pan. Cook this mixture for about ten minutes or so, or until everything is nicely integrated.

Remove from heat. Cool. Transfer into a clear, glass jar. Always store in the refrigerator (unless you reside in sub-zero temperatures!).

Friday, June 24, 2016

King of all fruit: Jackfruit

What can be a better way to start the day but with some ripe jackfruit?

First time ever. Ripe kathal in Delhi!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Potassium Bromide: What all we being fed?

Despite my staunch dislike of newspapers and anything to do with them, a news item caught my eye the other day. A recent probe and investigation by a team from the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) found traces (or perhaps more) Potassium bromide and Potassium iodate in samples of popular brands of bread being sold in the country. A little more reading revealed both these agents to be potential carcinogens. Not only packaged products by fast food joints such as Dominoes, Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonalds - all add these carcinogens to their dough. Personally I am not a fan - in fact I can not remember the last time I called for a pizza or a burger from any of these places - why have sub-standard pre-packaged stuff, if there is better stuff to be made at home?!

Anyhow, this revelation seems have caused a slight stir in the bread making industry because yesterday when I went to purchase a loaf, I see that Harvest Gold (one among the brands having higher levels of this carcinogen in its product) was selling all its products with a little sticker saying "Potassium Bromide FREE". Is this really true? As a Virgo, my instinct has always been of suspicion and I find it hard to believe if this would be entirely true or not. Are we as consumers in a position to really know what we get?

From antibiotics being injected into fish and poultry to slaughterhouses that run without any proper regulations in place, vegetables and fruits being grown out of season, kept in cold storage, coloured with harmful colouring agents to packaged food that is an absolute no-no for anyone looking for healthy food, there is no dearth of the bad stuff out there in the market!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Behold! It is Parmesan

Home-made delights!

I have been watching food shows on the tele and on YouTube for the longest time now. And if there is any conclusions to be drawn or inference to be gathered, it is this - people love to finish off a dish with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan (or even better Parmigiano Reggiano).

All this while, it had remained a big mystery - what is this magic ingredient that transforms the ugly duckling into the beautiful swan every time? For the most part, when I visit the local grocery stores in the neighbourhood, I come across the ubiquitous processed cheese by Amul and a handful of other 'herby' cheese spreads that have erupted into the Indian market. I have nothing against these, I mean whatever works -  but I have to admit that when I bought that block of Parmesan I had to pause to soak in the accumulated glory of at least five years of watching tele food shows!   

The Cheese Ball at Meherchand market has been a favourite of mine ever since I discovered it four years back, but I had always only tried their own brand - Flanders. So mozarella - ricotta - gouda, all had their moments but Parmesan, well that was a different league altogether. My cousin Shruti and I hurried back home and we tried out our precious purchase in simple vegetarian pasta dish. Tomatoes, garlic, basil, and dried wild mushrooms. All that with a generous portion of grated Parmesan - and, it was delicious.

Needless to say, my favourite tomato sauce has just got better. This is the one I use for my pizza sauce - here - (although I have stopped using onions in tomato sauce after I realized that I like better with just garlic). One could add a pinch or two of sugar though to add a tinge of sweetness to the sauce.

For the pasta, we used spaghetti and boiled it along with the mushrooms. The mushrooms flavoured the pasta water and added a hint of a smoky flavour, which I grown to love so much. Once the sauce was prepared we added a generous portion of the Parmesan along with the pasta, the mushrooms, and a small cup of the starchy pasta water. We let it cook for five to ten minutes, tossing the pasta every now and then so that every strand was covered in that heavenly goodness of tomatoes and cheese and basil. By the end of it we were so hungry that we turned on the AC in the bedroom, plopped down on the bed, and devoured the pasta in big mouthfuls.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating summers: Gourd, mong-phung, and lemon leaves

Summer-time delight


The shiny new laptop is here finally. The updates are done, thanks to Len and I am now the proud owner of a really jazzy piece of techie goodness. This of course means regular blog updates - no more excuses now - along with a healthy dose of good cinema, music, and of course, more writing.

Summers are here in full swing, and its been almost scorching most days. But luckily since Thursday the temperatures have dipped slightly and it has been partially overcast during the day. The best thing about this is that the plants on my terrace get some respite from the heat, and watering them once a day is sufficient. And anyone who has ever lived through summers in Delhi would instantly know that potted pants requiring water just once a day, is as good as it would ever get this time of the year! 

I had made a gourd curry some time back but lack of a working computer forbade me from sharing this recipe. It didn't strike a cord with some people at work when I insisted that boiled gourd can indeed taste good, but perhaps there are others out there who also like this vegetable in its most basic form! :) Our very own mong-phung tree (that we brought all the way from Manipur) has grown in size and I used it to flavour my curry along with some fresh lemon and coriander leaves. I had written a post earlier about how much I hate eating/making kofte, especially using gourd, and this recipe just reinstates the fact that when gourd is cooked in a way that keep its flavour and texture intact it is delicious.

Shades of green

What you need

1 baby gourd, diced
10-15 baby potatoes, scrubbed clean, whole or cut into half
2-3 garlic, cloves, chopped4-5 cherry tomatoes
Mong-che, a handful*
Lemon leaves, a handful
Coriander leaves, a handful, chopped
Green chillies, chopped
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp, vegetable oil
2 cups, water

* Mong-che has a slightly tangy flavour and generally the soft young leaves are eaten. When curried they become very soft and almost melt in the mouth. As a substitute, any other leafy vegetables could be used, along with a squeeze of lemon. Also, the number of cherry tomatoes could be increased to balance the flavours.

How to

Essentially boiled, the only time one needs to really watch this curry is at the beginning, when you add the oil and garlic. The garlic should be slightly golden - not more. Then add the potatoes and gourd.

Stir fry the vegetables for 5-7 minutes before adding all other ingredients. Add water and cover. The curry needs to cook for about 20 minutes after which it can be transferred on to a serving bowl.

With its soft fresh flavours, this curry tastes great with steamed rice and a dried-shrimp pickle on the side.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My favourite go-to Indian food blogs

Like all good things, a wonderful four-day-long weekend has come to an end. It almost seems like Sunday didn't happen, and I have plunged right into the heart of Monday after a lovely relaxed Saturday night! Returning to the grind is never easy and last night I found myself doing a mental calculation of all the meals that need to be prepared to get us through the week. This, as most people would agree, is no easy feat. It involves complex arithmetics involving ingredients available at home, multiplied by number of meals, divided by free time available after work to complete the task! And, as much as I love to spend time in the kitchen, most week nights - if I am cooking at all - it is a struggle. Having said that some kind strangers have helped lessen the burden by sharing with people like myself, some incredible recipes that are easy to cook and delicious to eat. For me, three websites stand out. These are my absolute favourites when it comes to Indian food, and I think it's time I put in a little thank you note to all of them. The photographs are of some of dishes I made, although these are not my week night choices. The ones I make on week nights are generally never photographed!

The websites are arranged alphabetically, simply because I can't make up my mind as to which I like more than the others! :) 

Bong Mom's CookBook 

The goddess of modern Bengali food blogging, Sandeepa's blog (and book, check it out here) is a treasure trove of fantastic recipes along with witty anecdotes from her life. I have tried innumerable dishes following her instructions and they have always turned out yum! I purchased her book sometime in 2013, and it continues to remain a prized possession that I know I can turn to, when in need of Bong food.

Flavours of Mumbai

I discovered this site only recently after Rupak recommended it for a prawn recipe. I tried it out, discovered a great deal more - innumerable recipes that I know I will try out very very soon. Here is a photograph of a Prawn Masala Dry dish that I tried out. 

Prawn masala dry

Veg Recipes of India 

This is the ultimate website for vegetarian Indian recipes. Period. There can be no argument, no debate on this statement. Very often when I have vegetarian friends coming over for lunch or dinner, I only check out this site! I can say with confidence that if you enjoy eating vegetarian food, there will be something for you here. The thing that makes this website stand apart is the fact that it offers multiple variations of the same dish. For example, the photograph I have here is using a recipe for Dal Fry (restaurant style). For those looking for a simpler dish, there is one called Dhaba-style Dal, which is similar but not quite the same :)

Arhar dal fry

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Local delicacies from Ema Keithel, Imphal

It has been a crazy month in many ways. And that coupled with the fact that my PC sort of gave up on me meant no way to blog really, except over the phone – not a pleasant experience by any means. But that is not to say that we have not been eating well or not experimenting with food. Spring is my favourite season and the best time of the year to enjoy outdoor meals, picnics, tending to the kitchen garden, and trying out new things :) I have only recently learnt about Navroz – a festival celebrating spring. Navroz as I learnt has its origins in Persian and Zoroastrian cultures, and it is celebrated in many parts of South and Central Asia. I am really excited to try out a couple of great Navroz recipes that I have collected from the web and would be sharing my experiments with you all shortly.

The other great thing is that Len is back from Manipur after a long break and we have lots of goodies stocked up in the pantry. All of these are from the all-women's market in Imphal, known as Ema Keithel. These are all local preparations of the maiteii community, locally made mostly by women in their homes. Rice puffs, jaggery, and sesame seeds are essential ingredients.

From left to right

1. Sweet-and-sour tamarind lumps. These are great after a heavy meal and help in cleansing the palate.

2.Puff rice and jaggery discs. Very similar to the Bengali moa, the only difference I find is in its unusual shape.

3. Puff rice powder balls. A perfect accompaniment with a cup of sweet tea infused with ginger.

4. Jaggery and peanut discs. Very similar to gurpatti, very common in northern India.

5.Jaggery and peanut lumps. Very similar to the discs (no.4) but better. These are nuttier and have soft sweet flavour. I can pop ten of these and eat them in a single sitting!

6.Sesame discs. The most unusual of the entire lot, this one is a total winner. It has black sesame seeds and jaggery. The texture is nutty and yet it has a lovely melt-in-the-mouth flavour.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Crispy BBQ-ed pork

BBQ-ed pork on a bed of lettuce
I suppose everybody has a go-to store-bought favourite sauce or seasoning that they like to turn to. And even though theoretically I want to make everything from scratch I don't always do it. In fact I have a few standards that save the day each time. One of them is the good old BBQ sauce. Its one of those party savers and weeknight mood-lifters when a little bit of BBQ-ed chicken wings can make dinner seem oh-so perfect each time! 

Weather-wise February is the perfect month in Delhi. The sun is shining and there's just the right amount of chill in the air. It is however notorious for spreading the flu - the ever persistent, nagging, and annoying as hell cold and cough that siphon off the joys of spring. Needless to say I have been bitten by the flu bug a few times this season. The other day sitting at home and generally too lazy to cook lunch for myself I decided to skip the usual curry routine and try some BBQ-ed meat. The only snag - no chicken. There was however some pork belly that has been sitting in the refrigerator for a couple of days. So I tried it out and it was a successful attempt! My favourite BBQ sauce came in handy yet again. Yippie! 

What you need

300gm pork*
5-6 tbsp, BBQ sauce
1 onion, small-sized, chopped
1 tbsp, olive oil
Pepper, to taste
Dry BBQ seasoning, to taste

* I used pork belly but I think anything works, just as long as it has a bit of fat.

My favourite!

How to

Clean and dry pork with a kitchen towel. Transfer to a baking dish and rub in the olive oil and a generous seasoning of black pepper.

In the meantime, heat oven to 180 degrees. Pop in the pork in the middle rack and roast for 20 minutes.

The pork would have lightly browned by now and all the excess fat would have come out. Drain the fat out completely and then coat the pork with the BBQ sauce. Put it back in the oven for 15 more minutes, first at 180 and then at 220 degrees for the last couple of minutes. Check if the sauce has caramelised in bits. BBQ-ed pork is now ready to eat.

The sauce at the base of the dish is really delicious. You could take it out and dunk in your pieces as you eat. Yum!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Red-white-green: Pizza Margherita

On a picnic plate

When fast food from the West first descended upon urban India there was just a single name to reckon with. Growing up in the nineties we all knew of Nirula's - their Big Boy Burger, pizzas, and hot chocolate fudge were immensely popular. Coming to pizzas I think I was in high school when the bigger brands - the MNCs - opened shop: I think it was mainly Pizza Hut and Dominoes, and very quickly they caught on. The rich kids threw birthday parties at either, and ordering in pizza on week-nights, weekends, special days, and anytime you didn't want to have daal-chawal for dinner, became the done thing. Pizza cheese was the stretchy cheese and extra oregano seasoning was always saved. In fact for the longest time I thought oregano wasn't just a single herb but the dried salty mix that came with pizzas.

But times have changed and thanks to the internet and greater awareness of Italian food, there seems to be a general shift in marketing strategies in the Indian food market. From American fast food to Italian gourmet. The thick bready dough has given way to thin crust and freeze-dried oregano to fresh basil.

So, when my cousin Shruti (check out her on-going project here) was over last weekend, she got me the best gift ever. A basil sapling and a fistful of sweet smelling basil from her garden. We decided to go partially gourmet! Pizza Margherita :) And even though I had been making my own pizza sauce for a long time now I had always used freeze-dried herbs for the lack of a better alternative. It worked nicely in the past but I never knew I was missing out on such an incredible flavor that fresh basil adds to any tomato sauce. Sweet and fragrant this pizza sauce perfectly complemented the salty mozzarella. In fact, I loved it so much that I made it again for a birthday picnic lunch with Rupak. Sadly though Caramel turned up her nose at my pizza preferring to run around on the grass and munch on her chew sticks and dog bones instead :)

Ready for the oven

What you need

This recipe makes enough sauce to spread over four ten-inch pizzas.

8 ripe tomatoes, medium-sized
1 onion, small-sized and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp, olive oil
10-15 fresh basil leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried basil)
Baking soda, a large pinch
1/4 tsp, sugar
2 tbsp, water
Salt and pepper, to taste

How to

This is probably the easiest pizza sauce I have ever made and yet the most flavourful!

There are two ways to prep the tomatoes. This time around I used the first technique. Stick a fork into a tomato and hold it directly over the gas-stove turning it from time to time. This loosens the skin and once slightly burnt, it can be easily peeled off. This needs to  be done for all the tomatoes. Once the skin is off, roughly chop them. I like to do this for a chunky tomato sauce but if you want a smooth puree, try this second one: cut the tomatoes half and place on a slightly oiled baking tray at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes. Once cooled, they can then be pureed and used for the sauce.

In a pan, pour in olive oil and heat slightly. Add the onions and sauté till slightly pink. Now, throw in the chopped garlic and cook till the raw smell of garlic disappears.

Now add the tomatoes (whichever variant you choose). They need to be cooked for about ten minutes: then add the baking soda, salt, pepper. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. If it gets too dry, add a sprinkle of water and cover.

Add the sugar before turning off the heat.

Lastly tear the basil and add them to the sauce. Cover and allow it to cool.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fish with fenugreek to warm our hearts

Fish with fenugreek

All those people lamenting over the lost winter season in Delhi are biting their frosty tongues now. It's windy and cold and the temperatures have dipped to finally. Yippie! After nine months of sunshine I love the fog and the mist and I would very well be happy to not see the sun shine for a couple more days!

So, to make the most of the season we have been having lots of winter food, such as hot Maggi (with veggies) along with steaming cups of sweet coffee (with cocoa powder sprinkled on top) at the cafeteria at work and chicken momos (with that extra hot chutney on the side) from the market near home. It is also the season to be lazy, curse the morning alarm, and relish those extra five minutes under the blanket on weekdays. Weekends of course are different. I have been making good use the season - cooking with an extra bit of oil, just because... well its winters! Last weekend I got some fresh fish and prepared a curry with fenugreek seeds and kasoori methi. I used aarh fish, which I suppose is a kind of catfish. I think any white fish should be good for this recipe. Prawns would make a fine alternative too!

Aarh is really, really soft and gets cooked in minutes. Its a bit of a pain pan-frying it at times, especially when marinated with wet ingredients. They tend to stick to the pan. But as long as you use the same pan to make the curry it is alright because all those golden-fried crispy bits just add that extra dimension to the dish :)

Season the fish

Pan-fried, waiting to be curried

What you need

750 grams fish, cut into pieces

For the marinate:
Salt and chilly powder, to taste
1/2 tsp, turmeric powder
1 tbsp, coriander powder
1 tbsp, ginger-garlic paste
1-2 tsp, lemon juice or vinegar

For the gravy:
1 tsp, fenugreek seeds
2 onions, medium-sized, made into a paste
2 tomatoes, pureed
1 tbsp, kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
Oil for frying
Green chillies, sliced for garnishing

How to

Marinate the fish with the ingredients under marinade. Keep aside for half hour or so.

Heat oil in a pan and fry the fish till lightly browned. The ginger-garlic paste tends to stick to the pan, so its a good idea to keep scraping these as you go along.

Once the fish has been fried, add some more oil to the pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let it flavor the oil.

Then add the onion paste and fry till it changes colour and turns to pale brown. Add salt (and chilli powder, if you want it hot).

Add the tomato paste and fry till oil separates. This should take about ten minutes.

Add a cup of warm water and let it boil over. Then add the kasoori methi and green chillies. Cook for a minute or two and then put the fish back into the gravy. Let the gravy simmer for five minutes or so. Turn off the heat.