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.