Sunday, January 30, 2011

Salem Biryani

As you can see, I am on a roll here - two biryanis in two months is unparalleled in this household! The closest I have come to ODing on biryanis is when I was working in Chennai - my boss was a biryani freak and would eat biryanis almost every day - though I would carry lunch from home, just seeing that biryani almost everyday was enough!!
But its much better to try out biryani recipes in winter when your body craves  carbs and fat, rather than in summer when all you want to do is lie about and drink nimboo paani (lime juice) by the gallon. I had already decided on the weekend, that I wanted to eat biryani as soon as I got home. This was prompted by a rather lacklustre biryani I had on my trip (which was more than made up for by the unplanned company of Vir Das at that dinner - what an intelligent, humurous person he is!).

So, on Republic Day, after a nice home made breakfast of idli and sambar (with my favourite combination of broad beans, drumstick and pumpkin), I pulled out Pratibha Karan's Biryani -which I have written about before.  While watching the Republic Day parade on TV and and playing Uno with my daughter (have you tried this? its a little addictive - especially for the young 'uns when they realise they can beat the adults!) , I flipped through the pages trying to decide on a biryani (yes, the combination of woman plus Gemini is just made for multi tasking!) for the afternoon. I had just ordered the mutton at 11am, so I couldn't use a recipe which called for 3 plus hours of marination. At the same time, we do like our meat to be cooked well and soaked through with the spices.

I saw an impressive Hyderabadi Gosht Biryani - but it needed chironji (nutty seeds) which I didn't have. The other Gosht biryani needed marination. Flipping through the book and by elimination, I finally reached the Southern section - the Ambur biryani called to me since I have passed through this town a few times and hubby would sing paens to the biryani which originated here. But it seemed too reliant on ready made spice powders - maybe on a day when I am in a hurry.

The recipe on the previous page was for Salem Biryani and it seemed perfect - no marination but the meat is cooked in water separately before adding the spices and then cooked again before adding the rice. It also had an easy spice paste made of poppy seeds (khus khus), onions,ginger and garlic.

Karan describes this biryani as one which is credited to have originated in the town of Salem in Tamil Nadu. Meat based dishes outside of home, as she says, were usually available in "Military Hotels" - a nomenclature which described places serving non vegetarian food and which arose supposedly from eating establishments which catered to soldiers. In a time when eating out was not that widespread, soldiers were a new clientile and were bracketed as meat eaters or atleast not pure vegetarians. This dish was probably invented in one of these military hotels in Salem.

I am not posting the whole recipe since I pretty much stuck to it for the most part and wouldn't be fair to reproduce it word for word. Do email me at peppercornmill AT gmail DOT com if you want the recipe and I will be happy to share.

Bacially after cooking the meat in some turmeric water, it is cooked again with sliced browned onions,  the poppy paste ginger garlic paste, tomatoes, green chillies and a mix of yoghurt and spice powders. The rice is then fried in a little ghee separately and layered over the meat and then cooked together till done. It was a beautiful winter afternoon and we opted to sit out and eat in our balcony - a glass of wine, pan fried eggplant slices, mutton biryani and an onion raita - the perfect Sunday meal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getaway from Delhi

As we get down to the routine way we all tend to mark the 62nd year of becoming a Republic, an attempt to appreciate the natural beauty and heritage of our country. This is a fort in Alwar, Rajasthan - just about 200 km away from Delhi - now converted into a B&B. We were here for a much needed getaway in mid January - just one day since we had gone without K - and what a lovely getaway it was. Truly romantic.

Jai Hind!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Anita's Gogji Nadir (Turnips and Lotus Root)- Kashmiri cuisine in my kitchen

Gogji Nadir is this subtle dish from Kashmiri cuisine which combines turnips(shalgam/nulkol) and lotus root (kamal kakri/bhein)- a combination that I have never had before. In fact, these two vegetables don't make an appearance very often in my shopping bag - turnips, I do buy for about two months during winter because they make a good addition to the vegetables we eat. They are almost like potatoes in that sense - easily adaptable and go well with many other vegetables. But lotus stem I tend to ignore for the most part - most of the recipes I have tried just involve frying them till crispy; I do love the baked recipe on Jugalbandi though.

But the moment I saw this dish on Anita's blog, I knew I had to make it. The recipe is simplicity itself - less than 5 ingredients - and gets made in a jiffy. The fact that you are using vegetables which are in season makes it unnecessary to smother it with a lot of spices - the crisp flavours  of the vegetables shine through in this dish and the broth is light and inspiring. There's just some chillies,mustard oil, asafeotida and it all comes together quite nicely. The soft turnips go well with the crunch of the lotus stem - I guess you could substitute with other veggies (Anita recommends a kohl rabi combination with lotus root for another dish called Monji Nadir), but even I, who am not a stickler for recipes, would really recommend sticking to this combination. By the way, did I tell you that we had a mini blogger meet last month? Manisha (from Indian Food Rocks), Anita and I met at Anita's place for lunch - en famille - and we had a great time talking about food, eating food and then talking some more! It was great fun and yes, Anita does cook like a dream - her Mutton Kalia was just outstanding with the stew simmered till the meat was falling off the bone!

Anita's recipe has detailed pictures including exactly how the vegetables are cut for this dish - I just added one more chilli and a pinch of coriander powder. Simply Superb. Try this - the winter in Delhi has been severe for a couple of weeks, but over the weekend it looked like it might end very soon, so I am going to make this a few more times while I have fresh vegetables around. The fact that turnips are cheaper than onions and tomatoes helps as well!

Anita's Gogji Nadir (Turnips and Lotus Root)
Adapted from this recipe from A Mad Tea Party

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Nigella Spread for New Year's Eve

This New Year's Eve was the third consecutive year we stayed home - After many, many years of partying the night away from home.  2008 saw our dear friends from Chennai spending New Year's with us, so we had a great time with them. Then hubby was diagnosed with swine flu on New Year's Eve last year, so that was a very quiet New Year's Eve dinner. This year too, we decided we didn't want to be driving around Delhi in the fog; also since Christmas vacation began, our daughter had been staying up later than usual and we thought it would be so much nicer to have her up with us as well, now that she is older.

So we planned to have dinner with some friends - our neighbours from upstairs and another couple of friends who live down the road, came over. It was a lovely evening - great conversation, excellent company, wine and music and a sit-down dinner to complete things.

The menu came together just the day before for me - a combination of things I had in my mind for some time - they fitted together very well. For appetizers there was -  

Bacon Wrapped Dates   - A lovely mix of sweet and salt flavours - seedless dates wrapped in strips of bacon, held together with a toothpick and then roasted in an oven at 180C for about 25 minutes. Easy Peasy as my daughter would say.

This is adapted from Nigella's recipe in her book Nigella Express - it has the usual chickpeas pureed into a slightly grainy hummus, but with a twist in the form of roasted red peppers being added to the mix. Garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and a dash of paprika powder make up the rest.

Crudites with Hung Curd Dip 

This is basically yoghurt, about 500ml, hung for about an hour or so and then mixed with salt, a tsp of chopped garlic and a tbsp of chopped coriander. Squeeze of lime if needed and sometimes a tbsp of cheese spread mixed in.

Cocktail Sausages

Another Nigella Express recipe - Sausages tossed in honey, sesame oil and soy sauce and then roasted for 40 minutes at 180C - I cut up the sausages though, instead of roasting them whole as in the recipe.

 A from upstairs, brought a  lovely broccoli salad and I had baked this Rapid Light Wholemeal Loaf earlier in the day

And for the mains there was
Spanish Chicken baked with onions and potatoes 

The original recipe from Nigella, was supposed to have Chorizo sausages, I had some Chorizo salami which I thought I would add half an hour before it was done - but I forgot. Still good though, the flavour of the roasted onions mingled with orange zest marinated chicken was fabulous - a must try addition to your party menu, because it literally cooks itself while you spend time with your guests.

And a creamy Meatball Stew with Chickpeas, Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin served over steamed rice
This stew is perfect for winter - it brings a touch of the Carribean summer and warms you up. Nigella's recipe had store bought "mini meatballs" - I made them from scratch using minced meat (lamb or goat mince is fine) mixed with bread crumbs, egg, oil and some herbs and spices. Make balls and then deep fry or bake. These were then simmered for about an hour and a half in coconut milk and stock along with chickpeas, sweet potato and pumpkin (in lieu of the butter squash in the original recipe).

And to end the meal and begin a New Year- a decadent Chocolate Pudding

Now while, I did plan the Pudding and the Hummus - I have made the pudding before and the hummus is something I have been wanting to try - the Spanish Chicken and the Stew just came together at the last minute (especially the chicken which I made up my mind about only in the afternoon!) and it all turned out to be Nigella's recipes!! Truly, her stuff is eminently doable and so so hassle free.

 I also made some Chocolate Fudge for my daughter to have through her vacation - though mine had Macadamia Nuts and Raisins in it and she picks all the nuts out!

For any of the recipes, just mail me at peppercornmill AT gmail DOT com or leave a comment naming the dish you want a recipe for and I will be happy to mail it to you.

Maison de Cupcakes is hosting the first edition of a brand new event called Nigella Forever - this time's theme is centred around Seasonal Sensations  - "anything Christmassy, anything celebratory for New Year, do party canapes or even wintery comfort food for snow days".

Monday, January 3, 2011

Poori Bhaji - Breakfast Heaven

Is Poori Bhaji everyone's weakness? It is in this house atleast. My 5 year old loves her puris....Hubby too goes weak in the knees when he thinks of a plate of poori aloo - yes the bhaji in Poori Bhaji is all about the potatoes isn't it! I don't make it that often because of the deep frying involved - but it usually finds its way to our table about once in two months and especially when we have guests staying with us over the weekend. It is wonderful to have a leisurely breakfast, one puri after the other, ladling some more of the silky, potato gravy to finish up the "last" piece of puri and then having one more puri to finish the "last" portion of gravy! The puffed up puris are light as air and that lulls you into a false sense of comfort; till suddenly you discover you've eaten so much you can't even move from the table! So, you roll over to the couch and lie there in a sleepy torpor.

The winter months are especially nice to have steaming hot puris straight from the kadhai, along with the carb comfort of potatoes cooked in a mild gravy. Add a the weekend edition of your favourite newspaper and you have the recipe for a perfect Saturday morning. I must say this though - having help in the kitchen to make the puris for you so you can have it piping hot (without getting annoyed about how this one turned out flat and that one didn't puff up) is a luxury. I am definitely enjoying it while it lasts!

The potato gravy though I like to make myself - I keep changing the dish depending on what I feel like eating that day. One version is the Tamil one we have grown up eating - a tempering of chana dal, urad dal, green chillies, asafoetida (hing) and ginger. Followed by crumbled, boiled potatoes mixed with turmeric and simmered in water till the starch in it breaks down to make a slightly thickish gravy.And a squeeze of lemon at the end. Then there is the dry bhaji which you get at railway stations and which is what we ate in BB Dadar in Mumbai, growing up - I can still taste that amazing combination of sunshiny yellow potatoes mixed with green chillies and coriander.

The one I made this weekend is a recent favourite - its modelled on a dish I had at my SIL's place - which in turn had been made by her neighbour who is from Bihar. I didn't meet her and my SIL didn't know the recipe, but the version I make now is an approximation based on how it tasted. In this venture, I was helped by Tara - my girl Friday - who is from Jharkhand (the state which was carved out of Bihar). So there is tamarind juice, red chilli powder, dhania powder, onions and kasoori methi. The tempering however, remains the same as the Tamil recipe since we like the crunch of the dals. The gravy turns out with a nice tang to it and the lovely flavour of kasoori methi underlying everything. The tamarind juice melds with the starch in the potatoes and the gravy thickens up quite quickly. It takes just 20 minutes of simmering and its done.

Poori Bhaji

Atta (wheat flour) - 2 cups
Oil - 1 tbsp to knead,
salt - a biggish pinch
Water - about 3/4th of a cup to 1 cup
Oil - 1.5 cups to fry the puris

1. Mix the atta with the salt and oil (1 tbsp) and then add as much water as needed to fashion a dough which is a little firm. Firmer than the dough for rotis (Indian flat breads).
2. Rest the dough for about 10-15 minutes. It is preferable not to knead the dough too much in advance, it may dry out and absorb too much oil.
3. Pour the oil into a kadhai (wok) and heat - but not till smoking, else the pooris will brown too fast before being cooked and become crisp.
4. Take a small piece of the dough (the size of a small lemon), roll into a smooth ball and flatten with the rolling pin. Roll out to 2.5 to 3 inch disc dabbing a little oil on first - it shouldn't be too thin, but not too thick as well.
5. Slide the poori into the kadai - it should rise to the top - if it doesn't, the temperature of the oil isn't right and it may need to heat up some more.
6. Carefully splash a little of the oil with a slotted spoon, on top of the poori and it will puff up. Turn it over once it is golden brown (about 3 minutes) and then cook the other side as well till it is brown.
7. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some tissue paper to absorb the excess oil.
8. Repeat with the rest of the dough - serve piping hot with Aloo Bhaji.

Aloo Bhaji

Potatoes - 5-6 - boiled, peeled and crumbled roughly into medium sized chunks
2-3 tsp oil
Chana dal - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Hing - pinch (asafoetida)
Green chillies - 2

1 onion chopped
1 tomato chopped into 6 pieces
red chilli pd - 1 tsp
Coriander powder - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Kasoori methi -  1/4 tsp

Tamarind extract - 1 marble sized ball soaked in 1 cup of water or 1 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
Coriander leaves for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the tempering ingredients. When the dals turn light brown, add the onions
2. Saute the onions till translucent.  Add the red chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and kasoori methi and fry for about a minute.
3. Add the tomatoes and fry for half a minute. Pour in the tamarind extract, add salt and the potatoes and bring to boil. Add half a cup more of water and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes till the gravy thickens, the tamarind loses its sharpness and the potatoes thicken the gravy.
4. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve hot with pooris.