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