Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tamil Egg Biryani - Pratibha Karan

Yes, here we go again on this blog - waxing poetic about Biryani. This time for a dish which some may call a pretender. If a chicken biryani is looked down as compared to the real deal of a mutton biryani - imagine the status of an egg biryani. NO meat at all? scoff the purists......However, I have eaten some excellent egg biryanis in Tamil Nadu - the fact that I love boiled eggs may have something to do with it!

The egg biryani in the small joints in Chennai are usually the same as the chicken biryani - the biryani often ladled from the same vessel with the chicken pieces replaced with boiled eggs. But an egg biryani made at home can taste very delicious and is an easy alternative to mutton or chicken if you don't have all the ingredients (or don't cook meat at home).

So, when I was looking through Pratibha Karan's book "Biryani" which I recently bought (delayed flights and an airport bookshop are not a good combination for my wallet!), this was the first recipe which I wanted to try. Yes - I know, sounds funny when you think of the several other recipes from all over India included in this book. But I have a weakness for egg biryani.

This recipe is very different from the fiery, red concoction one gets to see at places like Hameedia or Deluxe in Chennai. It is delicately spiced and the flavour seeps into the rice and egg quite beautifully, when cooked on dum. In fact it tasted excellent the next day in my lunch box, when the flavours had even more time  to meld.

The book is a nice one to have in your collection, if you like biryanis and would be willing to try different recipes. I usually don't like cookbooks which are limited to one category - but this one has so much variety from all over the country,it. I know, I probably won't ever make the Bater (Quail) Biryani or even so many of the mutton biryanis, but the novelty of recipes like Seviyon ki Biryani (vermicelli and mutton), fish and prawn biryanis from Kerala, Kairi Biryani (raw mango and mutton) as well as the fact that the book has recipes like Ambur Biryani and Salem Biryani - two very regional specialities from Tamil Nadu - will definitely keep me coming back. The recipes for raitas are a good selection - smoked onion and tomato raita and eggplant raita are definitely going to be on the menu.
Some of the recipes seem a little disconnected from the others though (Kampur Biryani and Arroz Con Pollo), but I guess there will be a few recipes in a book like this, that one doesn't relate to. The vegetarian recipes are interesting and include jackfruit biryani and qabooli. On the whole a very well researched and comprehensive biryani cookbook.

 Tamil Egg Biryani
recipe adapted from Pratibha Karan's book Biryani.

Basmati - 1 cup (250gms)
Water - 2.5 cups
Bay leaf - 1
Green cardamom (elaichi) -2
Cloves - 2
Cinnamon - 1 "

Wash and soak the rice for 15 minutes, then drain. Cook the rice in the water with all the whole spices and salt - the water should taste a little saltier than necessary for the taste to be just right after it is cooked.
 The rice should be just cooked and the grains should be separate. Keep aside.

4 eggs - peeled and cut in half, hard boiled (8-9 minutes cooking in boiling water)
1 tbsp oil
Garam Masala - 1/4 tsp
pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a non stick pan and fry the eggs lightly; sprinkle the salt and garam masala over the eggs while frying them. Keep aside.

4-5 tomatoes,blanched in hot water and then peeled and pureed along with:
Ginger - 1"
Garlic - 5 cloves
Green chillies - 4-5
2 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp ghee
salt to taste

2 onions sliced thinly and fried in 2-3 tbsp oil till golden brown. Keep aside.

Take a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. 
Heat the ghee and oil and fry the tomato spice paste for 5 minutes, along with the salt, till the oil separates.
Pour out the mixture over the lightly fried eggs and mix gently.

In the same heavy bottomed pan, smear a tsp of oil. Spread half of the cooked rice.
Top with the tomato egg mixture and cover with the remaining cooked rice. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup water and one tbsp ghee. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for about 5 minutes till the layers are all hot.

Serve hot garnished with the fried onions. A raita made with grated cucumber or bottle gourd (ghia/dudhi) makes a good accompaniment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

White Chocolate, Oatmeal and Macadamia Nut Cookies

I picked up a bag of macadamia nuts on my trip to Australia earlier this year and apart from eating some of the nuts as is, it has been sitting in my pantry quite untouched. I remembered the nuts while looking for a new recipe to try this week - when I spend time baking a couple of Christmas cakes and my daughter is nagging me to bake the Gingerbread People - I figure, in for a penny, in for a pound! Last year I had made these scrumptious White Chocolate, Cherry and Oatmeal Cookies, so I thought I could use macadamia nuts in the recipe instead. This combination is apparently a classic as well - the creamy white chocolate contrasting well with the nuts.

I dropped teaspoonfuls of the cookie dough and they came out a little thin and crunchy - thats how I like my cookies. If you like them softer and bigger, then you can drop more batter at a time and / or take them out 2 minutes earlier. The cookies will be soft to touch when they are done (and may look like they are undercooked) but they will harden a little as they cool. As long as they are pale brown on top and can be removed carefully with a spatula, they are fine. And no, for those who wonder, you cannot taste the oatmeal in the cookies. These cookies are lovely and crumbly, crisp outside and soft inside and nutty all over - one of the best I have made at home!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

White Chocolate, Oatmeal and Macadamia Nut Cookies
Flour - 1.5 cups
Oatmeal - 1/4 cup (I use quick cooking oats and run them for half a minute in the mixer)
Baking powder - 1 /2 tsp
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
salt - 1/4 tsp

Unsalted Butter - 110 gms (1/4 lb) - if frozen, bring to room temperature by microwaving at 10 second intervals, till just soft
Castor sugar - 1/4 cup
White Chocolate - I used Lindt - 100gms, chopped
Egg - 1
Vanilla essence - 1 tsp

Macadamia Nuts - 1 cup, toasted and chopped

1. Put the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl and place it inside a bowl of heated water and microwave in 20 second intervals till melted and smooth. Or put the chopped chocolate into a steel bowl and then place inside another bowl of water and heat gently over a low flame till it melts. Don't let the water come to a boil.

2. Cream the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes till it is smooth and shiny.

3. Beat the egg separately and add to the creamed butter and sugar along with the vanilla essence. Beat on medium till mixed in - about -2 minutes.

4. Sift together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently combine into the creamy butter sugar mixture - one third at a time - and run the blender on slow till just combined.

5. Pre heat the oven to 170C/325 F. Add the cooled and melted white chocolate and the macadamia nuts and combine well with a wooden spatula.

6. Grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Drop teaspoonfuls of the cookie batter leaving enough space for them to spread and flatten when they bake. A small tray will be able to accomodate only 5 cookies at a time.

7. Bake for 20 minutes at 170C. Remove and transfer carefully to a tray and leave to cool and harden. Store in an airtight container.

And for all those who love Nigella's cooking (and even those who don't!) - Maison Cupcakes is beginning a new event called Nigella Forever. "Each month there will be a theme and you can blog about any of Nigella’s recipes which fit in this theme.  The opening theme is “Seasonal Sensations”, "deliberately loose and fancy free so that as many of you get into the Nigella swing of things from the outset.
This month you can cook or bake anything Christmassy, anything celebratory for New Year, do party canapes or even wintery comfort food for snow days". 
Knowing the number of recipes I have cooked (and posted here) from her book, I am definitely going to enjoy this event.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Risotto

I grew up eating phulkas/chapatis every day for lunch, since it was so much easier to carry to school and work. Mom, born and brought up in Chennai, is definitely a rice eater and while she continues to have chapatis for one meal for health reasons, she is most happy with a plate of rice before her. For the longest time I vehemently believed I was not a rice eater. Turns out, that while I do love phulkas, when I haven't had rice for sometime, I hanker for it.

Just about the time I was noticing this, I also figured that my tummy was perfectly fine when I travelled abroad - so I pin pointed the difference down to the chapatis that I have for lunch every day when I'm home. Too much fibre for my digestive system (which struggles with any kind of fibre - just found I can't tolerate soy milk as well !). So, I sadly parted with the daily chapatis and now struggle to finish my rice, which I find makes me drowsy in the afternoons. I am currently experimenting with less rice and more veggies, but since I lose weight so rapidly, I need to keep up my carb intake and so try to alternate with pasta and sandwiches twice a week - yes, we skinny types have our problems too, Thank you very much!

Anyway, so why do I say I love rice? because my eyes light up when I see a steaming bowl of khichdi. my ears perk up when I hear of a nice biryani joint. Sunday afternoons are almost always rice based meals - all the better to have nice nap after. I dream of the sticky rice at Monk - a great Chinese restaurant in the Galaxy Hotel, Gurgaon. And, as my good friends have pointed out to me, I love ordering a risotto when I go out to a nice Italian restaurant.

Now this may also be because I have become instinctively aware of what rests easier on my stomach and so automatically gravitate towards it. Or maybe because there is something so alluring about a well made risotto - where each grain of rice is cooked just so. Not too little so that its crunchy and not too much so that it becomes a soggy mess. The creaminess of the stock and the starch melding to make a wholesome, satsifying dish - the subtle flavours of the herbs or mushroom or cheese making it such a good meal. And since it does take a bit of elbow grease and patience to turn it out at home, why not make the most of having it when you are out!

A couple of Sundays back, I pulled out the pack of Arborio rice which had been sitting in my cupboard for too long, determined to have risotto for lunch. Out came my (now) fav cookbook - Nigella Express, where I remembered seeing a cheese risotto and adapted the recipe to include mushrooms in it. The risotto was topped with some sharp cheddar cheese and was just perfect for our afternoon meal - one of our first winter meals in fact.

The important thing to remember about risottos is to keep stirring it gently, without being brisk and rough and breaking the grains of rice; also make sure the stock is warm all the time. Keep adding the stock one ladle at a time just as the earlier one gets absorbed;  take it off the heat while the dish is still creamy and serve immediately so that it doesn't dry out.

Creamy Mushroom Risotto

1 cup arborio rice

1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion sliced thin
6-7 mushrooms, sliced thin
1/3 cup white wine
1 tsp mustard
3 cups hot vegetable stock
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. Heat the pan and add the butter, when it melts add the oil. saute the onions till transluscent
2. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute till it releases water, drain the water into the hot stock. Add the rice and saute 2 minutes.
3. Add the white wine and the mustard and stir till wine is absorbed.
4. Add the hot stock one ladle at a time and stir when it is absorbed fully before putting in the next ladle of stock. Continue in this way - it took me almost half an hour before the rice was cooked - no overcooking till it is mushy, so it might feel like it still has a bite to it when you taste it.
5. Add the grated cheese along with a dash of freshly ground pepper.
6. Ladle straight into warmed plates, still stirring and eat immediately.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Cake preparations - and Milestones

I have been tardy this year in soaking the dry fruits for the cake I make for Christmas every year. I usually try to do it mid-November, or atleast by the 25th, but this year we seemed to have a million things to do on the weekends this month.
Started with our Diwali celebration at the beginning of November, in Mumbai with family, then there was a breakfast picnic like this one, outdoor parties before it becomes too cold, dance and musical performances -The Manganiyar Seduction (an international act of Rajasthani folk musicians performing in 36 boxes stacked one on top of the other in 4 rows) was particularly spectacular!  - a children's literature festival called Bookaroo which has managed to reach its third year with much support from enthusiastic parents and children and the driving force of Swati Roy and Sanjay Roy who own Eureka - the children's bookstore.

In December, the 3-day Jazz Utsav was this weekend - we went on Friday, which was the opening day, and were treated to some scintillating performances - especially the one by Ranjit Barot and Talvin Singhs' bands.
The Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) also began this weekend - it has a smorgasbord of events happening till the 12th December including some excellent classical dance performances and theatre. The first ever exhibition of Anish Kapoor in India - (Anish Kapoor is a celebrated contemporary sculptor), opened this week at the newly refurbished National Gallery of Modern Art - and while I don't pretend to understand contemporary art and installations, I am definitely not going to miss an opportunity to broaden my horizons. As I tell my daughter - its OK to not like something after you have tried it, but you should atleast try everything once.
Then there is the Old World Theatre Festival at Habitat Centre, Christmas fairs organised by the various embassies, the Christmas decorations inside hotels and malls to gawk at....November to February is such a nice time to do things in Delhi - its what makes the rest of the year bearable!

These are some of the pics from the German Christmas Fair yesterday - my daughter and I had a nice time picking through the stalls and looking at the christmas stuff all over. There was a stall by the Swiss German Bakery where I picked up some wonderful baguette and sour dough bread as well as the aromatic Lebkuchen - a traditional Christmas cookie/cake which is quite strongly spiced with cinnamon and cloves. The reason I call it cookie/cake, it though it is a cake, it is not soft, melt-in-the-mouth, but quite crumbly in texture with a nice crust. I was happy with my glass of German beer, a quiche and some bratwurst (which was quite pungent I must say) while K devoured a lovely chocolate croissant. 

Anyway, suffice to say that I have enough excuses to have postponed the soaking this long. But I got up early this morning and managed to soak all the dry fruits and nuts. They will sit there for the next two weeks till I bake the cake on the 22nd or 23rd December - the cake tastes better later, as the flavours have time to meld.

'Tis the season to be jolly and all that - well, Peppermill has turned 3 - yes, can't believe it, but my first post was in November 2007. Thank you everyone who reads this blog, for all your encouragement and support and for reaching out to me - I have received much more than I can give, and for that I am thankful.

Don't need an excuse to celebrate though, so if you have always thought of baking a fruit cake, now's the time to start! Its a small list of ingredients and all readily available. For those who don't want to steep the fruits in alcohol, just use orange juice. Also, there are a lot of recipes which recommend "feeding" the cake with alcohol, after its baked (some days before Christmas) till its finally eaten. I don't - I also don't cover it with marzipan icing which is another traditional thing to do. I like my cake slices just as they are - filled with fruit, soft and dense and with that lovely dark colour and rich smell.

These are the ingredients I soak

Mixed Dry Fruit chopped - 350 gms (choose from currants,sultanas,raisins, dates, fig, apricot)

I use equal quantities of currants,raisins, dates,apricots and plums (dried)
The dry fruits are soaked 3-4 weeks in advance in about 1/4 cup of dark rum (brandy can also be used)

For the complete recipe and the earlier post- look here

Or you can also try Chocolate Gingerbread Men or White Chocolate, Cherry and Oatmeal Cookies

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Urlaikizhangu Podimaas - Potato Stir Fry

Podimaas is probably the first "grown up" way of eating potatoes that a child is introduced to in Tamil cuisine and it remains a favourite comfort food for me well into adulthood. Podimaas refers to a simple stir fry of potatoes - boiled and then tempered with very few spices (usually green chillies and ginger); a teaspoon of lentils adds the crunch I look forward to in this dish which is otherwise melt-in-the-mouth soft.

For podimaas, the boiled potatoes are usually crumbled by hand till they are a little mashed but not completely. However, I like it when they are in small pieces (not choppped with a knife but roughly done with my hands). Since my daughter pretty much eats the same food we do, I use red chillies instead of green chillies since they are less spicy. Lots of turmeric is important for me -bright yellow is just the way podimaas should be! Different from the golden, crusty version I make at other times.

What is your favourite version of having potatoes?

Urlaikizhangu Podimaas - Potato Stir Fry

4 medium sized potatoes, boiled and peeled.

1 tbsp oil
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Chana Dal - 1 tsp
Urad Dal - 1/2tsp
Curry Leave - a few
Dried Red chillies - 2-3 broken (traditionally, one used fresh green chillies)
Ginger - grated/chopped fine - 1/2 tsp

Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp

Salt to taste
lime juice - a squeeze

1. With your hands, roughly break the boiled potatoes into small pieces; or chop them up.
2. Add the oil to a pan and heat, put in the mustard seeds and when they pop, lower flame, add the chana dal, urad dal, red chillies and curry leaves. When the dals turn goldern, add the turmeric powder and ginger.
3. Add the potatoes and salt and mix well. Stiry fry for about 5 minutes, till it heats through and is mixed well.
4. Remove from flame and add a dash of lime juice. Serve warm with rice and accompaniments like sambar, rasam or kozhambu. Thayir saadam (yoghurt mixed with rice) tastes sublime with this stir fry.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kathrikai Gosthu (Eggplant in Tomato Sauce)

Remember this story of pongal and first love? Well, I clean forgot to post the gosthu which went with that pongal. Its only when SIL reminded me about it and asked me to make it for the whole family two weeks back when we were together for Diwali, that I decided to come back and post it.

I am definitely going to make this more often - even my usually pernickety family (Dad can tell which ingredient is missing in Mom's rasam just by smelling it when its cooking!) loved it. My brother, when I tried to serve him the gothsu, sniffed and said he "preferred" his ven pongal with coconut chutney - if not anything, we are definitely food snobs that way! But after hearing my Dad raving about it, he finally tried it and then ended up polishing it off completely!

The base recipe is from Suganya's Tasty Palette and I have adapted it to our taste. I didn't use the freshly ground masala and instead used Sambar powder. I, however, sauteed the sambar powder in oil along with the brinjals and other vegetables first, before adding the tamarind extract and boiling. Once the vegetables were half cooked, I added the tamarind pulp - else, I find, the vegetables take a longer time to cook if the souring agent is added beforehand. I omitted the jaggery as well since we usually prefer savoury flavours for breakfast. The moong dal and potatoes mean that the curry thickens up nicely and doesn't need gram flour.

This is going to Nupur's Blog Bites #9 - The Holiday Buffet - the potluck edition which goes on till December - can't wait to see the entries for this one !

Monday, November 8, 2010

Asian Style Five Spice Grilled Fish with Spinach

Hope you all had a beautiful Diwali celebration this year....we certainly had one of the most memorable ones in recent years. We celebrated Diwali with my family (parents and brother's family) in Mumbai - the last time we did that was in 2005. The kids had a blast and the sweet teeth of my family meant that the amount of sweets consumed was more than what I have had in the last two Diwalis! Plus there was hubby's birthday the day before Diwali. Then on Saturday, we moved to my best friend's place and celebrated with her whole family - a truly special time for us. My daughter didn't want to come back to Delhi!

Coming back to reality and the rush hour of work days, I have today a very convenient and time saving grilled fish recipe which is also very delicious.
This is a dish which I made quite impulsively, one of those times one cooks according to a recipe seen somewhere and from vaguely remembered bits and bobs of it - but you do remember that it sounded like a really good recipe and you just have to try it.You know what I mean right.....What?!- you mean, no one else does this? Oh ok. Fine then.

I do things like this all the time - see some cookery show on TV (and don't have the patience to actually note things down) or read some recipe in a library book (again, postpone noting down the recipes I like till its too late and the book has to go back) or even worse, read a recipe from a book while standing in the library waiting for hubby to choose his books (I take 5 minutes since I have a list from here to Timbuctoo, while he only knows what he doesn't want!) - so no question of writing it down anywhere!

Well this Asian style Grilled Fish recipe doesn't even have these sources to boast of! I rushed into the newly opened outlet of Godrej's Nature Basket in my next door market one evening, to pick up some bread on my way back from work. While I was drumming my fingers on the cashier's desk waiting for him to bill it, I saw a stack of fliers. These are the usual ones they keep every week, with recipes using the exotic ingredients they stock - I guess to encourage people to buy  said exotic ingredients - think Fleur de Sel, African Meat rubs and marinades, Corn Relish, Mustard Pickle, plum conserve - you get the drift.

This particular flier had two recipes from the host of some cookery show on the NDTV Good Times channel - I guess if they were quoting him as the source, he must be a minor celebrity but I couldn't recognise his name. I picked up the flier since I quite liked the Five Spice Powder Chicken recipe it had.
The next day was a Saturday and I bought some fish while doing my weekly grocery shopping, intending to use the Five Spice recipe for that evening - yes, I know the original was for chicken, but I'm like that wonly!

But, when I reached home I couldn't find the flier - likely it must have gone into the old paper cupboard or even the trash because my hatred for the fliers that fall out of newspapers is well known in this house (I even rip out the bookmarkish kinds of thick advt pages in magazines because I find them sooo annoying!) So, I decided to wing it with whatever I remembered. The five spice powder, the onion powder and the garlic powder I definitely remembered - the rest are all approximations of what I think should go into an Asian Style Grilled Fish. The original recipe had a sweet plum sauce made to go with the chicken, but I just decided to serve some spinach on the side. Asian greens like bok choy would be good too for this dish.

The pictures don't do enough justice to the lovely, lovely meal this turned out to be. The fish was seared and crisp on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside. The taste of the spices mixed with the honey and soy mixture was unusual and very tasty.

  Five Spice Grilled Fish with Spinach

Sole Fish fillets - 350gm cut into 3 large pieces


Five spice powder - 1 tbsp
Onion powder - 1 tbsp
Garlic powder - 2 tsp
Chilli powder - 1/2 tsp
Soy sauce - 1 tbsp
Honey - 1 tbsp
Crushed peppercorns - 1 tbsp
Rice wine vinegar - 2 tbsp
Salt to taste

Spinach - 2 cups washed and chopped long
1 onion sliced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp oil
salt to taste

1. Mix the spice powder, garlic powder and the onion powder together and rub into the fish fillets.
2. Mix all the other ingredients of the marinade together mix the fish into it into a wide bowl. Keep aside for half an hour or refrigerate if cooking after an hour.
3. When ready to cook, pre heat the oven to 350C. Heat the oil in a wide pan and saute the garlic for half a minute, then add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes till soft.
4. Add the chopped spinach and saute on high for two minutes till it just wilts, Add the salt and remove from flame
5. In the same pan add a little more oil if needed and sear the fish fillets on high heat - 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and keep aside.
6. In an oven proof bowl, arrange the sauteed spinach and then the fish fillets on top.
7. Bake for 30 minutes or till the fish is flaky.
8. Serve with some crispy noodles on the side or even some sticky rice. The spinach can be served on top of the fish fillets.

You could stir fry the spinach for a few minutes and serve it on the side without baking it with the fish. that way it would retain the fresh green colour. However, you may want to add some more seasonings. By baking it along with the fish, the spinach soaked up some of the marinade juices and was just right.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lemon Rasam (Elumichai Rasam)

Rasam is a thin, lightly spiced (and mostly clear) soup-like dish which forms an integral part of Tamil cuisine. It is usually served as a second or third course and mixed with plain, steamed rice. While some people call it an appetiser, traditionally, it has always been served with rice, after the sambar or kootu preparations - both lentil based dishes. Though rasam is lentil based as well, it is much lighter using only a small quantity of lentils as a foil to the sour, tamarind pulp and avoiding a complex mix of spices. Eating rasam on a banana leaf is an art by itself and for the longest time I would never eat rasam at a traditional ellai saapadu (traditional meal served on banana leaves)
There are different types of rasams - there is the fiery Milagai Rasam which gets its heat from black peppercorns (and from whence the Anglicized verison - Mulligatawny Soup - evolved) - best had when you have a bad cold and your head is heavy. Then there is the Tomato Rasam - a pleasant, tangy concoction, much beloved of children and the perfect comfort food when one comes home after a long journey. The Pacchai Rasam is, as the name suggests, pacchai or raw - the spices are not roasted or boiled, in keeping with the fact that it is made for nursing mothers and is supposed to be bland but nourishing and so has no spices. In addition to the different types, even the Tomato Rasam or the lentil based Parippu Rasam which are made almost on a daily basis, vary from home to home. The choices seem endless, but are often non-negotiable to some. 
Do you use lentils, strained lentil water or do you soak the lentils to be ground with spices? Freshly crushed spices or home made spice powder or store bought? Tomato pulp or tomatoes quartered? Boil for 1 minute and then turn off or simmer gently for 5 minutes? Garlic in tempering or garlic crushed with spices? 

It was said that the first test for the new bride was her rasam - if she got that right then her cooking skills were bound to be good. Hmm....maybe I should tell my daughter, this should be the test before she chooses her partner - the times I have craved for a nice rasam when I was sick and glared balefully at my Maggi making husband!! My favourite rasams are the ones made by SIL, Mom and my husband's aunt - truly outstanding.
If a souffle is one person's bogeyman and shaping modaks another's, then lemon rasam was mine. Rasam itself took me a long time to master, given that I never quite took to even eating it, till I was well into my twenties. As a child there was the whole question of "touching issues" so I had to be given a small coaster or plate to keep under my plate to make sure the rasam did not touch the veggies or the veggies would have to be transferred to a smaller bowl....sigh, I don't argue with my daughter now when she does the same. But atleast she loves rasam.

Marrying into a rasam crazy family meant that I soon developed a taste for it (actually, what's not to like!) and after many attempts managed to get it right myself. But this was the usual parippu rasam or lentil based one made with either crushed spices or rasam powder. Tomato rasam was the next progression - not sure why it took me so long to get there. But lemon rasam I did not venture towards for a long, long time - it seemed too ethereal for me to try! 

Delicate in taste and light on the stomach - not for it the sourness of tamarind but just a squeeze of lemon right at the end when its taken off the heat. Any sooner and it will turn bitter. Too many instructions basically for a person like me, it seemed. But when I finally did get around to making it (with a recipe from Mallika Badrinath if I remember), I realised that it wasn't that difficult. The bogeyman faded away. I started reserving the lentil water after cooking dal and if you have a lemon handy, its just a couple of minutes after that.
Some recipes advocate soaking a tablespoon of tur dal and grinding it along with cumin, garlic and pepper. But I prefer crushing the spices roughly and mixing them into the strained lentil water I have reserved before hand.
Simmer gently and add the lemon juice once you have taken it off the flame. A mild tempering of asafoetida and mustard and a generous sprinkling of coriander leaves and you have a beautiful rasam ready. 
For one Sunday lunch of ours, it accompanied an Andhra mince curry and stir fried vegetables.

Lemon Rasam  (Elumichai Rasam)

 1 large tomato, chopped into 6 pieces
1/2 cup arhar dal(tur/pigeon pea/tuvaram parripu)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
coriander leaves for garnish
salt to taste
Juice from 1 lemon

Crush coarsely :
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1" ginger 
2-3 green chillies
1 tsp oil
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - few
2 dried red chillies
pinch of asafoetida

1. Cook the tur dal (lentils) with 3 cup of water in a pressure cooker. Drain the lentil water and reserve, add 1-2 tbsp of cooked and mashed lentils to the lentil water. Use rest of the lentils for some other preparation.
2. In a heavy bottomed pan, mix the crushed spices and chopped tomatoes with the lentil water, add salt and turmeric powder and bring to a slow boil, simmer gently for 6-8 minutes and then remove from flame.
3. After removing from heat, add the lemon juice and mix. Do not add while still on heat, it will turn bitter.
4. Heat oil for tempering in a small pan, add the mustard seeds and when they pop, add the asafoetida, curry leaves and dried red chillies. Remove from flame after half a minute and add to the rasam.
5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Diwali! Have a wonderful and safe festival of lights celebrating with all your friends and family!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Burmese Khow Suey (Kauk'swe)

I discovered Khow Suey quite late - the first time I tasted it was in a friend's house in Chennai. Her mother is an expert cook and she had made this dish for dinner. My friend's Dad was in the merchant Navy and had travelled a lot around the country. Her mother learnt to make this dish when they were posted in Calcutta. I was very, very impressed with that delightful mix of flavours I tasted that day - the creaminess of the gravy, the lovely array of toppings which made it a sort of a customised delight for oneself (while still letting someone else do the cooking!) and of course my undisguised love for coconut milk. The next time I tasted Khow Suey, was also in Chennai - in a delightful, little restaurant on TTK Road in R.A.Puram called Stop at Sam's (which sadly closed down) which had quite an eclectic menu. The fact that I got to meet and speak to my only fav B town hero Aamir Khan (those were the days he was dubbing for Lagaan) , may have added to my memories of the dish, but it definitely left me hankering for more.(The dish not Aamir).

But its been after coming to Delhi that I have really been able to eat Khow Suey to my heart's content. The Kitchen at Khan Market - run by the same team which manages Ploof and Blanco - serves up an excellent Khow Suey and I don't think we have managed to try much of the other items on their menu because their Khow Suey is so heavenly. They have managed to crack the code completely - not too cloyingly thick, not too sweet, not bland at all - a perfect blend of flavours which pleases the palate. Their Khow Suey counter was running well into a hundred thousand, the last time we visited. I have heard rumblings that the one at the next door Market Cafe is better, but why miss with perfection, really?! Unless of course, we are talking of the Khow Suey cooked by one of my friends in Delhi - I would abandon all pretensions of loyalty to have the one she slaves over for a couple of hours, till it is just right.

 It was after quite a while therefore, that I even decided to try this at home....I am still tinkering with recipes to create my version of what is just right - Khow Suey is perfectly suited for tinkerings, there are as many recipes there are people who love it. The main ingredients are coconut milk, onion, ginger, garlic and lentil paste for the creamy consistency. The piece-de-resistance, according to me though, are the toppings - the noodles of course are much the main dish; and then boiled eggs, chillies, lime juice, crushed peanuts, fried garlic - you can add as much or as little of what you want to create YOUR perfect dish. Soupy noodles? or noodles with a bit of gravy. More heat? Less tang? medium crunchiness? NO annoying add ons between you and your dish? As you please. It makes for a perfect dish to have on a party menu, precisely for this reason.

This time I have played around with this recipe I found on the Food Fairy's blog. I brought down the proportion of lentils considerably to suit our taste, but I did think that the idea of using lentils itself was much better than the gram flour (besan) which is usually recommended. It lends itself far better to melding with the coconut milk than flour does. It also does not mask the taste of coconut milk like gram flour might. I also increased the chilli powder, since between the lentil paste and the coconut milk, the heat just wasn't coming through.

For the toppings, I added chilli flakes and fried garlic to the toppings - I would also recommend chopped spring onions since it lends a lovely crunch to the dish. Hubby loves green chillies while I like red chilli flakes and our daughter loved the boiled egg. I also marinated the chicken for a bit and it absorbed the flavours of the curry beautifully - I would definitely recommend doing this, though since it cooks for quite a bit, its not really necessary. The lentils were cooked in a pressure cooker instead of on the stove top and this saved a lot of time; plus I didn't have to puree the lentils, just whipped them and they were smooth.
With the weather turning cooler, this is a perfect dish to have. The combination of noodles drowned in a delicious, creamy curry topped with some piquant bites of this and that makes this one of those irresistible meals where you can keep going on and on.

I am sending this to Nupur's Blog Bites 8 - the latest edition is themed around One Pot Meals. While I usually don't write out the recipe for this event since the intention is to share recipes from other blogs, I have adapted this a quite a bit and have just written the quantities out for my own reference, while I go about trying to see what happens as I tweak things around a bit. Do however, visit the original post for Malini's step-by-step recipe complete with pictures.

Burmese Khow Suey
(adapted from a recipe from Food Fairy)

Egg Noodles - 1 packet, boiled in lots of salted water, tossed in 2 tbsp of hot oil in a wok for 2 minutes and kept aside. (Next time I will use thinner noodles, like the ones you get ready made in Delhi's local markets)

Chicken - 250 gm of boneless chicken chopped into cubes and marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, salt and a pinch of turmeric for half an hour.
Oil - 1 tbsp

2 onions chopped
1" ginger piece chopped
10 small cloves of hill garlic or  6 big cloves of garlic chopped
2 green chillies chopped
To be sauteed and ground to a paste.

1/2 cup chana dal soaked in water for 1 hour;
 then pressure cooked with turmeric in 5 cups of water for two whistles and 3 minutes on low. Remove, drain a little of the water and reserve and whip the lentils till smooth. I kept adding  a little of the reserved lentil water as and when the curry thickened, since we like to have it thinner.

Coconut milk - extracted from 3/4th of a big coconut (about 350 to 400 ml)

Chilli powder -  1 tsp or more, according to taste
Chicken stock cube - 1

Coriander leaves for garnish
Salt - to taste

Detailed recipe - here 

In short, the chicken needs to be sauteed with the onion paste and then simmered with the lentil puree, seasonings and coconut milk for about 20-25 minutes till smooth and creamy. Water down as needed and keep stirring from time to time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sundal - a Navaratri Speciality (Tempered Chickpea Salad)

 Each year I never seem to see the festive season coming up, before I am actually in the middle of it! This year was the same - the first week of October saw me travelling on work and hubby and kiddo came along since the schools were shut for the C'wealth Games. By the time we got back, Navratri - the nine day festival dedicated to the Goddess in all her myriad forms - had begun.

Saptami (the seventh day) this year, was also the closing ceremony for the Games and that was the first day of the Durga Puja in our neighbourhood pandal. The aarthi in the evening with the rhythm of the Dhak and the langurous movements of the beautiful Bengali women as they worshipped the Goddess in their own special way, was overwhelming.

Just as each day of Navratri has a special significance for various communities in India, the food which is prepared for each day also varies. At home, we didn't have a tradition of fasts or of keeping "Golu" - the beautiful symbolic practice of arranging dolls at home and inviting ladies and children in the evenings for some bhajans and pradasam.

In our home, Saraswati Puja on the 9th day - Navami, was the most auspicious when books and pens and tools would be laid out in the prayer room and the whole house decorated with haldi and kumkum (including all the appliances!). And the main preparation on this day was Sundal - a simple preparation of cooked lentils or legumes tempered with mustard and coconut - black chickpeas for Navami and white chickpeas for Dasera or Vijayadashami - the 10th day. People who had rituals or fasted on the other 8 days as well, prepare different lentils/legumes for each day - moong dal, urad dal, chana dal etc.

For the past couple of years, I have started preparing this through the year as well so that hubby can have it as a salad - a break from the usual cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, roasted veggies etc. Its filling, nutritious and fibre filled - perfect for filling you up without the extra calories. It is very, very, simple to make but I am including a recipe anyway.

This year for Saraswati Puja - we had this sundal made of black chickpeas- then there was Boli (also called Holige and Obbattu in Karnataka where it is very popular) which is basically a flour based poli (flat bread) stuffed with a coconut jaggery filling and shallow fried on a griddle. Medu Vadai - deep fried lentil fritters- and Bisibele Bhath - a delicious rice cooked with lentils, a coconut based spice mix , tamarind and some vegetables, made up the rest of the meal.

Wishing you a very Happy Dasera celebration!

Sundal (Tempered Chickpea Salad)

1 cup Black chickpeas - soaked in water overnight or for 6-8 hours atleast. (You can used canned chickpeas as well)

 2 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
curry leaves - handful
red chillies - 2-3
grated coconut - 1/4 cup

salt to taste

1. Pressure cook the chickpeas for 45 minutes to an hour - that would be 2 whistles and then 30-35 minutes on a low flame. If using canned, go to step 2
2. Heat oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and when it splutters, add the rec chillies, asafoetida, urad dal and curry leaves.
3. Toss the cooked chickpeas in the tempering and heat through till any moisture or water from the chickpead dries up.
4. Add salt and grated coconut; mix and remove from flame after a minute.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Friends, Farsaan and Rain Flurrys

As the (10!) readers of this blog never fail to be reminded - I was born and brought up in Bombay and I continue to be attached to the city. Yes, it is big (but not bad), in a hurry (but not impatient) and the differences are stark (but never out-of-sight); it holds a lot of fond memories for me and has the kind of cosmpolitan spirit I have not been able to find in either Chennai or Delhi. Sure these cities have their own charm and I definitely appreciate them, not allowing myself to be blinded by my love for Bombay. But there is something about Mary.....

So, even after leaving the city 13 years back, I have managed to make a trip back every year (barring 2002 I think) to spend time with my best friends and trawl through my favourite haunts. In the past two years, I have also been making business trips and if they are on a Friday, then I try to spend the weekend too. My brother recently moved back and I love the chance to spend time with my nephew and niece. I usually try to do this so that hubby and daughter accompany me too (the guilt of a working mother who doesn't want to sacrifice precious weekend time with family), but last month this wasn't possible and I just decided to anyway stay over at my best friend's house on Friday night and spend a day at my brother's place as well before heading back on Sunday.

S and I go back to college and have known each other for close to 20 years now and she is my BFF(as Paris Hilton would say ;)), if there ever was one ; we were super excited about spending time together. She also managed to get together half of our Gang of eight in college - the other three are no longer in Mumbai - to come over for dinner on Friday night. Her younger sister who was often part of our shenanigans, also joined us that evening and the poor spouses and kids looked on while we rewound back to our patent silliness and hysterical laughter. Old jokes were brought forth, crushes revisited (and denied) and we pretended to look shocked when the incorrigible flirt of the group got down to changing nappies and mixing formula for his 6 month old cutie! It was such a fun evening - the barometer for us being when S laughs so much that there are tears rolling down her cheeks! - as we chatted and drank and ate and then laughed some more. We ended the night with some amazing brownies from Theobrama in Colaba.

pic courtesy Reuters
The next morning we dropped off S's adorable 3 year old to her Mom's house and along with her sister, set out to shop in Dadar. It started raining as we stepped out, but did that stop us - Naah. Have I shopped in Pondy Bazaar or Lajpat Nagar in the rain? - Nevah! But having grown up wading through knee deep water to get to school or even for bread (and later beer and bhutta!), the rain in Bombay doesn't seem to faze me. The heavy drizzle didn't bother us much anyway; the roads were not flooded and traffic wasn't snarled. So we made our way down Dadar TT  (later Khodadad Circle and now something else but we still refer to it as TT) and then on to Plaza, browsing the shops - (picked up some lovely handbags at throwaway prices and gifts for my Dad) and finally reached Sena Bhavan, where we wanted to go to a small jeweller. But he was closed for lunch and wouldn't open till 3pm - yes, thats how small the establishment was. It was 1.30pm and the rain had just picked up the pace and was now coming down in sheets. So, we quickly ducked into a tiny eatery next door, called Dattatrey, to get out of the rain and to have a bite as well.

Now this is a tiny place - typical of many such places in Dadar. Functional, clean and definitely not the place where they encourage lingering. The food comes to your table on the double, you are served efficiently and out you go!. So, we decided to order one dish at a time so we could last till the jeweller opened after lunch. The story about this place goes that it was on the verge of shutting down due to operational and cash flow issues, but since it was a favourite of Mr Thackeray (he used to frequent in his heydays and apparently still enjoys food from there), it was re-opened and still continues. The food is typical Bombay Maharashtrian vegetarian fare - mostly snacks like Misal, Kothmir Vadi, Thalipeeth and the like. But they also had full fledged "thalis" for lunch and dinner which consisted of servings of rotis or puris and rice with 2 types of vegetables, two lentil dishes, yoghurt and a dessert.

We ordered kanda bhajjias (onion fritters) - the perfect snack for the rains - and this was a tad greasy. But the puri bhaji , sabudana vadas and vangi bhath which followed one by one, were outstanding. I don't remember whether I ordered some sweets.....I know S didn't, since she gives up sweets for the month of Shravan (commendable to me; I can easily stay away from meat, but sweets?!).  But there was coffee at the end. All this cost a total of Rs. 204- I don't even remember the last time I ate a good meal that cost that little, even for one person, let alone for three!


All in all a really satisfying meal which one can't really put a price on (forgive the poor quality of the pics, they were taken on my mobile). Considering the amount of time we used to spend together in college and later, the fleeting moments we manage to spend now with our best friends, are priceless. A quick lunch between meetings, an hour at an exhibition in the same city on the way to the airport, staying one night before catching an early morning flight the next morning - these are the ways we stay in touch and connect and exchange notes on our lives - those important smiles and looks which can never be shared over the phone. Those resentments and resignations which seem so petty to talk about, when we are miles apart.

So, while I loved this place, you may have some other tiny-6-table places to recommend - whether for the excellent food or the beautiful memories. Do share.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Orange and Clove Tea Cake - Mad Tea Party comes home!

This cake was made on an almost instantaneous decision....no plan, no lingering over recipes, no comparing notes. Just 15 minutes to put together the ingredients and another 35 minutes to bake - it was the first time I was trying this recipe, so I was a little anxious how it would turn out. But it was perfect.

Just like the person and the tea party this was made for - an instantaneous connection made just by reading each other's blogs. Sensing the similar wavelengths, appreciating the passion for food, the honesty and the humility which shines through. So, when the opportunity came to meet - couldn't pass it up. Not even if the both of us were on the last weekend before we went on a trip and had a million things to do. And it all came together so beautifully - a perfect tea party (though coffee was drunk!) with the right company and some stimulating conversation.

As some of you may have guessed by now, this was me meeting up with Anita of Mad Tea Party. For our own Mad Tea Party.  Exchange of mails, telephone numbers, calls and we had a tentative plan to meet on the weekend. So Sunday morning, Anita called and we fixed up for that afternoon 3 30pm. My relatively free Sunday had by then transformed into a matinee show of Beauty and the Beast with kiddo followed by lunch with friends, so I knew I wouldn't have time to serve up an elaborate spread. BUT when you have a food blogger coming over, you have to have food!

I had a couple of tangerines at home and I knew a tea cake would be nice and light for that time of the day.  So, I quickly looked for an orange based cake, which I found on the Whole Foods Market website - scanned through the list of ingredients to check that there were no exotic deal breakers. The main ingredient was Greek Yoghurt - which I thought could be substituted with hung curd. So, I tied up some home made yoghurt to hang in the fridge and then left at 10am to return only at 3pm.

I then raced around roasting the cloves and then grinding them, combining the eggs with the yoghurt, honey and zesting the oranges and lemon, while Tara (my girl Friday) tried to get some semblance of segments from the tangerines without mangling them. Managed to get everything together and into the oven by 3 30pm and 5 minutes later Anita and her husband were at the door! So, the cake baked itself while we chatted and caught up on who we were and what we did and all the things that connect us in this small world.

And as the filter coffee perked, hubby joined us too after his brief siesta while my daughter came back from our neighbour's place and we talked some more.Finally, time to check the cake (I had set it for 45 minutes but it was done in 35) and it looked gorgeous - lovely brown crust with the oranges peeping out.  It smelt delicious too - the cloves and the orange filling up the house with their aroma.

By then the dance of the cameras had begun, with my daughter pitching in for good measure, insisting that she wanted to take a pic too - talk about seizing the moment! The husbands waited patiently ("long suffering" were the words used I think) while we took our pics. And then we sat back and did what we do best - eat! 

I had made some khari biscuits too - with my latest discovery of readymade puff pastry from a local gourmet chain. I really, really miss my khari biscuits and the puff pastry makes it as easy as one- two- three! Roll it out, cut and bake. But more on that later.
The cake was moist and had that lovely citrusy flavour - a little sweeter than the recipe said it would be, but not as sweet as a dessert cake. Went well with the coffee - despite what one might think about a citrus cake.

Orange and Clove Tea Cake (adapted from here)

1-2 oranges cut into peeled sections - I used one large kinoo (mandarin) orange.

1 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
1 cup refined flour (maida)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp clove powder (1 tsp cloves, roasted for 3-4 minutes and then ground) (the original recipe calls for 1.5 tsp but I didn't want to experiment with that much; this quantity gave a gentle bite to the cake without overwhelming it)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp orange extract

1 cup hung curd (hang about 2.5 cups of homemade yoghurt or 2 cups of  store bought yoghurt for atleast one hour)

6 tbsp honey ( I would reduce this to 5)
3 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup pure olive oil

1. Grease and flour an 8" cake tin. Pre heat the oven to 350C
2. Combine the dry ingredient - sieving the whole wheat flour before adding to the refined flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, clove powder and salt.
3. In a large bowl, mix the castor sugar with the lemon and orange zest with fingers. Add the eggs and honey and essence and beat till well combined,.
4. Add the olive oil and the hung curd and beat again till you get a smooth, thick batter. 
5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and arrange the orange segments on top so that they are half in and half out of the batter.
6. Bake for 35 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buttermilk Roast Chicken - Nigella Express

I have managed to try quite a few recipes from Nigella Express in just 2 months - a testament in my opinion, to any cookbook. At first glance, I thought the book would be more of a coffee table acquisition to drool over, than one which I could actually use on an everyday basis. This, especially in the context of Nigella's style of cooking as seen on her television show, where we see liberal lashings of butter and cream being used - something which I just can't seem to get myself to replicate.

To be fair, it is usually the Nigella Feast episodes and the Christmas specials where the calorie laden desserts seem to hold sway. The Nigella Express recipes are lighter and more practical: even where the recipe calls for a little more calories than I would normally use, its easily adaptable to a low fat version. Like I did for this recipe for roasted chicken.

The recipes in the On the Run section are particularly helpful when you are looking for a quick fix but flavourful meal - or even something you can pack for lunch. Her Sesame Peanut Noodles  for example - as easy as mixing together cooked noodles with peanut butter (yes peanut butter!) and some sliced peppers and chopped herbs - I added some chilli flakes to spice it up and it was a great work week dinner with the leftovers perfect for the lunch box a day or two later.

This recipe for roasted chicken though, turned out to be just right for a light lunch on Sunday after a heavy breakfast. The best part about it is it suits my style of marinating meat or fish into different portions as soon as its bought. Some for curry, others for grilled or baked recipes and so on. So, when its time to cook, you just have to thaw and cook the way you want it.

For this recipe, you need chicken drumsticks to be marinated in a very simple combination of buttermilk, maple syrup and garlic for anywhere between 2 hours to overnight or more. It literally takes less than an hour to put together a meal with these drumsticks. I had initially marinated this in preparation for my brother and family visiting us to celebrate my Dad's 70th Birthday. But in all the confusion that followed their arrival (and the fact that with my parents here, we were eating mainly vegetarian meals) I forgot about them!

So once they had left, and the house came back to just the three of us, I poked around the kitchen missing Mom's cooking and then came across these. I had substituted honey for the syrup and cut down the amount of oil in the recipe and it was delicious. The next time I made this, I used some golden syrup and a sprinkling of Mexican spice powder and it was even more delicious. My daughter loves chicken drumsticks and was thrilled with these. I served it with a lightly spiced Pulao (pilaf) and some Tomato Carrot Soup.

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken (Adapted from Nigella Express)


6 chicken drumsticks (I used skinless)

1 cup buttermilk - Buttermilk when used in Western recipes, refers to the whey left behind after curdling milk with vinegar or some other souring agent (like cream of tartare). I used, what we refer to as buttermilk in India - a little home made yoghurt whipped with 2-3 three times the water.

4 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves minced

1 tbsp black peppercorn crushed

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tbsp honey

1. Whisk together 4 tbsp of olive oil with the buttermilk, honey, crushed garlic, chilli pwd , pepper and the cumin powder.

2. Toss the chicken drumsticks in the marinade in a freezer bag.

3. If cooking in the next 2 hours, leave in the refrigerator, else freeze till you are ready to cook later. Remove from the 'fridge (or if removing from the freezer than thaw for half an hour to 45 minutes). Drain the marinade and reserve for making a sauce or jus for another dish.

4. Pre heat the oven to 190C, toss the drumsticks in 1 tbsp of oil and cook the chicken for 25-30 minutes till it is brown and crispy on the outside and completely cooked on the inside (you can check with a fork)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jhaal Jhol - Mixed Vegetables in a Spicy Mustard Curry and Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken

I follow Bong Mom's Cookbook very closely - seem to identify with the general disregard for rules where cooking is concerned, her penchant for adaptation and the close relationship she shares with her daughters. Plus she spins some fabulous golpo :)

I have been able to try more than a few recipes from her repertoire - especially Bengali cuisine. I have made a couple of the fish recipes, but the vegetarian recipes fascinate me with their lilting names - Charchari, Tara Tari Paanch Mishali, Shorshe Begun.....they call out to me to discover what they must taste like. So, one Sunday afternoon, while we were lying sprawled around the house after a heavy breakfast of puris and kurma - "pythonish" - as the household idiom goes; I wondered what to cook for lunch. Something light...hmm, maybe rasam, rice and a porial. Naah....not porial today - too bland for what I was craving right now this cool, rainy day in September. No coconut based masalas after the kurma in the morning....so what else can I make. I open the refirgerator and meditate in front of the crisper until the 'fridge beeps indignantly at being left open for so long. I look at the summer vegetables we have - now restricted to the gourd family since we have already eaten cauliflower, potato and carrot in the kurma.

And then I think of the other cuisine with a penchant for using as much of a variety of vegetables as we do in the South - ridge gourd, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, radish, pumpkin - Bengali cuisine. And not only do they love all the variety but they also like to mix it up together into one dish - all the better to have a perfect melange of sweet, sharp, bitter and sour flavours.

I remember my Bong friend here making a maacher jhol- a thin, light curry which had the pungency of mustard underlying it. And then I thought of the Charchari on Bong Mom's blog as well. As always I wanted everything; I wanted the mixed vegetables in a jhol like curry rather than the semi-dry consistency of the Charchari and I wanted the pungency of the mustard as well. So I adapted this recipe  - Borar Jhol/Jhaal Whatever (her title, not mine!)- secure in the knowledge that since she herself had adapted the recipe from her Mom's repertoire, she wouldn't mind. Especially, since I did stick to her Mom's tweak to the original recipe to make it jhaal (spicy) - so what if the daler bora (lentil fritters) were replaced with mixed vegetables? Wasn't the bora itself a replacement for the fish in Macher Jhol?

Armed with these justifications, I ground the mustard paste (shorshe bata) - managed to avoid the bitterness that she cautions may happen while using a blender. My theory is that a low wattage blender (like a coffee grinder) may overheat if run for too long and therefore turn the paste bitter. So if you are using one, grind it on slow, with breaks in between.
I also used yellow mustard seeds since I find that black mustard seeds tend to be bitter sometimes. I used 4 tbsp of yellow mustard seeds soaked for 20 minutes in warm water along with 1.5 tbsp of poppy seeds (khus khus) and ground together with 2 green chillies to a smooth paste adding two tsp of water at a time. Be patient.

For the vegetables, I diced raw bananas, egg plant, bottle gourd and ridge gourd - didn't have pumpkin or bitter gourd which I would have loved to include. I did not steam them separately and instead cooked them in the curry itself after frying them for 3 minutes - this way they didn't get overcooked and mushy, as gourd vegetables sometimes do, and also absorbed the spice paste beautifully.

The jhaal jhol was amazingly flavourful - the mustard-chilli paste gave the right amount of heat to the dish for us; though for people who find it too spicy, they can omit the red chilli powder - Bong Mom says she usually doesn't use red chilli powder for preparations with the mustard paste. The mustard paste in this case was an addition made later by her mother to the dish - something which according to me, takes this dish from simple to sublime! We had this mixed with rice and it was lip smackingly delicious. This one is going to become a staple in our house.

Recipe adapted from this one

Tempering of nigella seeds and asafoetida as per the recipe, then the onion and tomato (I used 1 medium one each, chopped fine) and 1 tsp of ginger garlic paste (since I didn't have ginger paste).
Skipped the potato and turmeric and went straight on to the coriander, chilli and cumin powders.
Then the diced vegetables (eggplant, bottle gourd(lauki/sorakai/dudhi),smooth ridge gourd (turai) - about 2 cups) fried for 3 minutes and then cooked cover in 1.5 cups of water and salt to taste for about 8-10 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked through and soft but not mushy.

Remove from flame and serve warm with rice.

This goes to Nupur's event Blog Bites 7 - the Iron Chef Edition - where we have to pick one ingredient and cook it two ways using recipes from other food blogs. My ingredient of choice for this event is Mustard - something we take for granted in Indian cooking, but one that has many more uses than the basic tempering we are used to.

The other recipe I have picked is Kalyn's Mustard, Lemon and Coriander Grilled Chicken Breasts - something which I knew would go down very well with us, having cooked similar recipes before. This was the first time I was including mustard though, but seeing that this was from Kalyn's Kitchen, I didn't have a shred of doubt on how it would turn out.

Kalyn's recipes are all tried and tested and beautifully healthy as well. Her blog is a treasure trove of information on healthy recipes, especially suited to the South Beach diet. Her step by step instructions are a testimony to the time andenergy she spends creating these menus/recipes and meals.

Her casseroles are a favourite at home and I have tried many of her other one pot meals. This recipe is no exception - the marinade of mustard,olive oil, coriander and lemon juice worked beautifully on the chicken and I also mixed in about a half a tablespoon of the mustard paste which was made for the dish above. I used English mustard instead of Dijon mustard and added a tsp of black peppercorns while grinding the coriander leaves for a little more heat.

Breast pieces with bone were used instead of boneless pieces. The preparation was also a bit different - I flash fried the chicken breasts for 3 minutes on each side in a frying pan and then baked it in an oven for 35-40 minutes at 180C, turning once half way. The top was nice and crispy while the insides were beautifully cooked and tender. Served this with pasta tossed in a light, sauce with tomatoes and herbs.

A must try.