Thursday, April 29, 2010

Baked Fish with Phad Thai Noodles

Just back from some work travels and while it was bordering on insane to be travelling to the badlands of UP and the fields of Maharashtra in 45C weather, it was also immensely satisfying to be able to talk to farmers and be out and about on their fields. We had some visitors from abroad and they were mighty impressed by how much we do with so little on our hands. I am especially proud of the Maharashtrian farmers we met - progressive, enterprising, intelligent and so hardworking. And the women are equal in almost every sense of the word!!!

So, though I said my previous post would be the last one for a while, I have time to squeeze in just one more before I leave this weekend.

The meals I love best are the ones I plan at short notice - the ones that are cooked on the basis of what I feel like eating right then. Not as per the pre-planned menu made at the beginning of the week, not because there are some eggplants lying in the crisper which need to be used up right away and not because we have had three nights of rotis, so its time for rice!

A few weeks back, while Hubby was doing dinner with our daughter (which meant that the whole household got to hear The Three Billy Goats Gruff in a loud baritone!) I unwound after getting home from work. A conscious effort on my part to avoid treating the whole evening "routine" as well, a routine! and to make sure I get some "off" time of my own atleast once or twice a week.

Well, after a bit I decided to see if I could make something different for dinner (of course the idea of putting my feet up loses its sheen after the the first half an hour!). Got some fish out of the freezer to thaw and decided to bake it. So I pounded together coriander, green chillies, peppercorns and salt to marinate the fish in. Once that was done, I wondered if the fish fillets would be enough; remembered I had a packet of ready-to-cook Phad Thai somewhere and got that out. The idea was to bake the marinated fish and then serve it on the Phad Thai noodles. The fish was flaky and tender and went very well with the spicy sweet Phad Thai. I would definitely do this dinner again - especially on a week night - it hardly took about an hour from start to finish to make.

The Phad Thai I used was the Real Thai brand - they have sauces, rice noodles, rice vermicelli and even rice paper rounds with which I have made steamed Vietnamese rolls. The packet has flat noodles which need to be immersed in hot water for about 10 minutes till softened; also a packet of the spices for the Phad Thai - sweet and spicy and with the taste of peanuts. I sauteed some onions in oil and then added the Phad Thai spice mix to it, a splash of water before tossing the cooked noodles into it - adjust salt with care since the spice mix has salt in it. Perfect combination. And the perfect unwinder for my evening :)
Baked Fish with Phad Thai

2 fillets of fish (Feeds two) - I cut the fillets into two, but you can keep it whole.

Marinade - pound together
Coriander leaves - handful
Green chillies - 2-3
Peppercorns - 1/2 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1/2 tsp
Salt - 1/4 tsp
Mix with
Lime juice - of one lime
1 tbsp -olive oil

1. Apply the marinade on the fillets and marinate for 10-15 minutes
2. Pre heat oven to 180C (350F), bake the fish fillet in a covered oven proof dish for 35 minutes.
3. Meanwhile take One packet (130gm) Phad Thai noodles
4. Soak the noodles in hot water for 25 minutes. Drain, and keep aside.
5. Heat 1 tsp sesame oil in a wok, add half a cup of sliced onions and fry for 3 minutes.
6. Add the seasoning from the Phad Thai noodles and fry for a minute
7. Add 4 tbsp of water and heat through, add the cooked noodles and stir fry for 3-4 minutes.
8. Add a handful of chopped coriander and turn off the flame.
9. Portion out the noodles onto two plates. Place one baked fillet each on top of the noodles.
10. Pour the drippings from the oven proof dish over the fillets.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rava Pongal and Kathirikai Gothsu (Semolina Breakfast Dish with Eggplant)

Pongal is a traditional South Indian breakfast - in fact some people consider it to be completely Tamilian in origin. The way I have always had it at home is with rice and split moong lentils cooked together till just mushy and tempered in ghee with cracked pepper, cumin seeds and cashews and served with coconut chutney.
It was only after moving to Chennai in my 20s that I discovered other versions of our usual breakfasts at home. So, there was rava khichdi - which was basically the usual upma made with semolina, but with vegetables, tomatoes and garam masala added to it which made it different from the lighter version we made basic tempering of mustard, gram dal and onions along with maybe peas or carrot.

And then there was the rava pongal which I tasted on the way to Kodaikanal in 1996 - we had stopped at one of the TTDC (Tamil Nadu Tourist Development) restuarants just outside Trichy. It was a brand new car, two people newly in love - and the keys locked inside the car.

Since it was a new car, the duplicate key wasn't in its usual place, the wallet - so while we sweated and tried to get the central locking open (why is it that there are always 10 people around you giving advice on things while not actually doing anything concrete to help?!) it was getting hotter and more frustrating. Finally we gave up and my to-be hubby very sadly got out his trusty Swiss knife to cut out the quarter glass. Long story short, we reached Kodai with the window held together with duct tape and 13 years later, the love story is still going strong while the car went out of our lives after 9 years and some memorable road trips.

But this story is actually about the rava pongal and gothsu we ate at that TTDC restaurant - I had never tasted anything like that before and the combination of soothing semolina with a tangy eggplant was an immediate hit. And while I have often thought of it, have never got down to replicating it - after all what if the taste was enhanced by the flush of first love ;)

Nupur's event Blog Bites #2 - the Copy Cat edition made me think of it once again and I decided to make it for a weekend breakfast. The semolina and moong lentils make this quite filling and I would even suggest this as a brunch idea. The gothsu recipe I have adapted from Suganya's recipe from her blog Tasty Palette - my go-to blog for authentic Tamil cuisine recipes as well as some amazing ideas for baked and healthy vegetarian goodies. While her recipe has mixed veggies in it, I restricted mine to eggplants alone in order to recreate the dish I had so many years back.

The rava pongal recipe I retrieved from Red Chillies - again, thanks to RC's food blog aggregator I keep in touch with much of the blog world as I can. The recipe is truly "simple and easy" and got done in minutes - but I must warn you, don't get fooled by the quantity, less is more here and its quite a filling meal. Together the pongal and gothsu were a delicious combination!

So Thank you Suganya and Soma for helping me to go back in time and savour a piece of history - we smiled as we at the table day and thought back to that day and all those shared memories we have - isn't that what makes a relationship strong at the end of the day?

PS - Taking a small break now - am on a work trip till the 6th May and then on vacation till the 17th May. So, see you when I am back - be good people!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fish Curry with Potatoes

This dish came about as an improvisation after making an assumption on what I had in the freezer. I usually buy fish or chicken about twice a month (we primarily eat vegetarian food), divide them into portions, marinate them in a couple of different types of marinade - lemon juice and salt, ginger garlic and red chilli etc - and then freeze the portions in zip lock bags. That way I take out one portion, thaw and cook as needed for the dish I have in mind.

So this one Sunday afternoon, when I opened the fridge, there were two ziplock bags in the freezer and I thought they were both fish pieces. So I got them out to thaw while I went ahead to prepare a simple fish curry. When I finally got around to opening the bag I realised that one had about 3 pieces of fish while the other was actually some boneless chicken! By then the masala for the fish curry had already been ground and the curry was simmering away waiting for the fish to be put in! Luckily I had a couple of boiled potatoes in the fridge, so I quickly peeled, chopped and put it into the curry to make up for the lack of fish. The chicken I cut up into small pieces and put into a kurma for my daughter for her meal. No harm done but maybe time to start labelling the packets before putting them away!

The fish curry is great with rice (isn't it always?!) and very easy to make. I used surmai (kingfish)- but its good with any firm fish - the potatoes aren't usually something I have in a fish curry, but as is usually with potatoes, they blended in very well.

Fish curry with potatoes

Surmai (king fish) fillets cut into two - 350 gms
1 tbsp oil

1 " pieced gingerfinely chopped
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 green chillies slit lengthwise
curry leaves - 5-6
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp haldi
1 medium onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
2 small potatoes, boiled, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp oil
4 red chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
Grated coconut - 1/2 cup

1 cup diluted tamarind extract
salt to taste


1. In one tsp of oil, roast the red chillies, coriander and fenugreek seeds till they give out a nice aroma; add the grated coconut and roast 3-4 minutes. Cool and grind to a paste.
2. Heat 1/2 tbsp of oil and fry the fillets for 2-3 minutes on both sides and keep aside.
3. In the same pan, add the other 1/2 tbsp of oil and put in the mustard seeds, when they pop add the curry leaves and then the turmeric, ginger, garlic and green chillies.
4. Add the onions and saute for 3-4 minutes; then put in the tomatoes and fry till pulpy.
5. Add the ground masala, tamarind paste, salt and one cup of water and bring to boil.
6. Cover and simmer for about 10-12 minutes till the raw smell goes away and the gravy thickens.
7. Put in the chopped potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add some water if needed.
8. Then add the fish pieces, simmer for 5 minutes and then cover and remove from flame. Serve with steamed rice.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wheat Pancakes - Doddak

My best friend is from Mangalore and I have literally lived in that house while in college and then my post grad studies. I have not met more warm and welcoming people and everytime I go back to Mumbai, its in their house I feel like I have come home.

Konkani food differs a from region to region as well as between the various communities ; but I love the coconut based, mild flavours of "amchi" food. Aunty S is a wonderful cook and I have some great memories of her randayi, dali, taak, ambat, sukke preparations. Batata song is one of my favourites and I make it at home quite often. I tried this version of saasam and it was good too.

Raaga from the Singing Chef is part Amchi and part Tamil so its great to read her blog with the mix of both cuisines. She lives in Gurgaon (where I work) so we have managed to connect on mail and phone, though we are still working on actually meeting in person! She has some great cupcake recipes and meal in a jiffy ideas - perfect for working women!

Singing Chef was the blog of the month for the Tried and Tasted event hosted by Divya of Dil Se but by the time I finally got around to making the wheat flour dosai I have been planning for a long time, the deadline was over...ah, well. The one at S pachhi's house, my friend told me when I was speaking to her today, is made of semolina and grated coconut. This one is made of wheat flour, coconut and a little semolina and is called Gave Pitye Doddak. Took just minutes to make and was a really filling breakfast, served with green chutney.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baked Chicken with Za'atar

Middle Eastern cuisine is quite fascinating - familar too, considering it uses many spices and ingredients common to Indian cuisine. My first brush with Lebanese cuisine was in a restaurant in Chennai called Cedars (Is it still around?). I remember some really nice hummus, pita bread and baba ghanoush from my meals there.

Delhi has definitely more choice when it comes to world cuisine and almost within a week of landing here - while staying in the guest house waiting for our stuff to reach - we went to this restaurant called "Its Greek to me". While there were some Greek dishes, we found a lot of Middle Eastern items on the menu - I guess Greek dishes which would suit the Indian palate were too limited and they needed some more variety! We found it a little overpriced since the portions weren't large enough - or maybe at that point we weren't used to Delhi prices for eating out!

In the meantime, I have cooked some meals with Middle Eastern influences - courtesy the blogging world making everything seem so easy! It has also become much easier to get the ingredients needed to make these dishes - tahini? check! couscous? check! pita bread? check!

Which brings me to the latest ingredient my friend H found at the Dastkaar Mela while we were there one lovely winter afternoon last December. Za'atar - this is a spice mixture unique to Lebanese cuisine and is made from a mix of roasted sesame seeds, sumac (ground dried berries) and thyme. I even have a recipe for it tucked away in my book, but never got around to doing it because there seemed to be no good substitute for sumac.

Once I got the za'atar the next thing was to find a suitable recipe to use it -easier said than done. Finally one weekend, when hubby suggested having baked chicken I decided to keep it really simple. Instead of an elaborate sauce with 10 ingredients, I used just this one spice mix. Chicken breast-on-the-bone, a rub of a tablespoon of za'atar along with some red chilli flakes and olive oil, baked for 30 minutes - a lovely, light meal.

It had this really nice smoky taste - quite unlike the usual pepper/cumin/ coriander we are used to. Some salad on the side and you have a well rounded meal - especially for people who want to cut down on carbs.
Baked Chicken with Za'atar

One Breast of chicken (I used bone-in but you can use boneless)
Marinade - 2 tbsp lime juice and salt

1 tbsp za'atar spice mix
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly crushed black pepper

1. Make cuts in the chicken and marinate with the lemon juice and salt for atleast one hour.
2. Mix the za'atar powder, red chilli flakes, salt, pepper and oil and then rub into the chicken.
3. Pre heat the oven to 180C and bake the chicken in an oven proof bowl for 35 -40 minutes till the chicken is completely cooked.
4. Serve with a salad on the side.