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