Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Half-Day in Galle - The Sri Lanka Chronicles

It's been a hectic few days in Sri Lanka as the hubby settled into his stint as Senior Visiting Faculty at the Department of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya. Introductions to the faculty, a tour of the department, meeting the Dean, the students, and finally starting the lectures, not to mention settling into our lovely accommodation - it's been busy days!

Apart from classroom lectures there are site visits planned and the first one outside Colombo was to Galle, the beautiful seaside town in the south. After a pleasant drive of a couple of hours along the Expressway from Kadawatha to Galle we arrived to visions of clear blue skies, the ocean, white breakers, and fishermen hauling in nets... It was just beautiful!

Hauling in the nets - Galle

We hopped off to have a closer look and the hubby and I spent a blissful 15 minutes drinking in the beauty of the scene in front of us and the fish market, right there along the beach.

At the fish market on the beach - red fin and black fin tuna


Fresh fish cleaned and cut according to your requirements

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and proceeded to the Dutch Fort at Galle. The fort was built in 1588 by the Portuguese and later extended and better fortified by the Dutch in the 17th Century. There are many lovely buildings, churches, a lighthouse, a hospital renovated into a fancy shopping complex, restaurants, curio shops, and of course, museums. You can easily spend an entire day in the fort or spend a couple of days in Galle and see the fort and the rest of this lovely ocean-side town.

The entrance to the Dutch Fort, Galle

You can see the British Coat of Arms up there at the top - there's the lion and the unicorn (with the crown around its neck), with the rose and the thistle below and by the side of the central shield. Much lower, at the top of the arch is the symbol of the Dutch East India Company - VOC.

Since we'd gone with archaeology and tourism under grad students of the University of Kelaniya, we went straight to the Maritime museum. It was a hot day and frankly, I was quite happy to be out of the sun! We spent a couple of hours looking through the display galleries starting with a short film about the Avondster Project. This project worked on recovering and restoring artefacts from the shipwrecked Avondster, among other things. In a tragic twist, just days after this project was completed, with artefacts recovered, conserved, and ready to be archived or displayed, the terrible Boxing Day tsunami hit Galle and all the artefacts were lost back to the sea.

The Maritme museum still has plenty on display and you can see artefacts from all over Sri Lanka from the earliest periods right till the British era. There's a nice gift shop too with souvenirs, post cards, books, and DVDs on sale.

We drove around the fort and had a quick tour without visiting the other buildings individually. The views of the ocean are spectacular! Like I said, there's tons to see in the fort complex so go with time on your hands.

As we drove out of Galle on our way to Matara, where another fort waited for us, we passed a fruit market housed in the original market building which is now a heritage structure.

Galle fruit market

This little market beats Crawford market in Mumbai just for the sheer variety! Rambutans, mangosteen, mangoes, varieties of citrus, apples, pears, a zillion kinds of banana, strawberries, and lots more - a fruit-lover's heaven this is! Those earthen pots you see are full of buffalo milk curd, a favourite here in Sri lanka. This thick curd is eaten with kithul molasses which they call kithul honey. Kithul is a variety of palm. You will see this pots for sale in the fanciest supermarkets and in the smallest markets in the villages too, such is the love for this product here.

Sri Lankans love fish and dried fish seems as popular as fresh in spite of the abundance of fresh fish straight out of the ocean.

Varieties of dried fish

more dried fish

These were on display at a grocer's shop, not in a separate shop for dried fish. Just goes to show how regular a product dried fish is here that you can stroll into your grocer's to get some!

We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the beach road in Galle where I tried out some Indian food. Now, don't get horrified! Hear me out. Indian food like all other cuisines changes when it goes goes abroad and I wanted to try the Sri lankan version of it. And I was so glad I did! I had ghee rice with chicken kurma. Lovely plump short grained rice redolent of buffalo ghee paired with a coconut cream kurma - the kurma was a take on the kurmas you get in the south in India, but had fewer spices and a very dominant and rich coconut cream sauce. It was yum!

Ghee Rice and Chicken Kurma

I'm hoping to go back to Galle and spend a day or two there... the ocean stretches forever, the air is clean, the fish is ridiculously fresh, and there's that gorgeous fort begging to be explored properly. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Chichinge Peyanj Bhaja - Snake Gourd and Onion Stir Fry

Moni (my mom) had a pretty limited repertoire in the kitchen but once in a way she would stir up something we weren't so familiar with. It is a fact that neither I nor my brother were great fans of vegetables and as a single mother she took the easier way out and cooked meats or fish just so we'd eat with a little less fuss. But as I grew up, and more so after I got married and developed an interest in food I started asking her how this vegetable or that was cooked - and with that began a journey of discovery for me of the myriad vegetarian delights of Bengali cuisine.

Moni and I agreed that cooking non vegetarian food was always easier - there was less chopping and prep involved. But there was a wonderland of food in the vegetarian component of Bengali cuisine and once I showed an interest she would cook more vegetarian things as she finally had a less fussy audience. The fact that the brother (starved of vegetarian food in Dubai, thanks to his own limited repertoire in the kitchen) was also now willing to eat his vegetables certainly helped!

One of the dishes she made quite frequently was chichinge peyanj bhaja or snake gourd stir fried with onions. This preparation is as simple as a dish can get and yet is as delicious as ever. As I learned more vegetable recipes I realised how frugal the ingredients would be and how minimal the spicing. Most everyday vegetable recipes in Bengali cuisine let the vegetable and its own flavours shine, as you will see in this simple preparation of Chichinge Peyanj Bhaja.

Chichinge Peyanj Bhaja

3 feet long piece Snake Gourd
2 medium onions
1/2 tsp Kalonji or Nigella seeds
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp Chilli powder
1 tsp sugar
Mustard oil

Cut the snake gourd into manageable pieces and scrape the surface to get rid of the white outer skin. A peeler will dig into the flesh of the gourd and you will end up wasting a lot. A good scrape with a sharp knife works just fine. Cut the gourd in half length-wise and scrape out the pith and seeds with a teaspoon.

Now slice the gourd as finely as you can - a couple of milimetres thin is perfect. Slice the onions equally fine. You should have gourd and onions to the proportion of 3:2. The gourd reduces as it cooks so having equal quantities will unbalance the dish.

Heat mustard oil in a kadai/wok and once the oil is hot chuck in the kalonji and let it sizzle. Add the sliced gourd and fry on medium heat for a while. Once the gourd has started to soften add the onions, salt, turmeric and chilli powders and mix everything well. Add the sugar too at this stage.

Now all you have to do is be patient and fry till everything is cooked. Cover the wok with a loose lid and let it cook for a few minutes, coming back to stir once in a way. Once the snake gourd is cooked through let any moisture dry off and let the onions caramelise just a bit.

Serve with plain hot rice and a simple daal. It makes for a lovely light summer lunch.

This recipe, like many traditional Bengali recipes is also vegan.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Posto Murgi - Chicken cooked with Poppy Seeds

I set myself blogging goals nearly every year and even though I don't achieve exactly what I set out to do I like the idea of having goals and direction. In 2017 once again I will try to have an average of a post a week; so what if we're at the end of the 7th week and I have written just one post so far? I will catch up.

Setting a number goal is just one part of it - what am I going to write about every week? This year I feel the urge to cook and therefore there will be many recipe posts on Euphorhea. I will be cooking from recipes on my friends' blogs and from the vast collection of cookbooks that have made themselves at home with us apart from other random things I might be inspired to cook.

Today I set out to start on this cooking and blogging journey with a recipe I had never tried before. As I browsed through blog after blog, trawling through cakes, desserts, savouries, and curries, I kept stumbling as I would be missing one crucial ingredient or other in my pantry. While I admit I invariably tweak a recipe fiddling with quantities or ingredients, I did want to try to cook as close to a recipe as possible. So no, substituting mutton for chicken, chilli powder for fresh green chillies, lemon for tamarind, etc., wasn't an option. I got frustrated and gave up. And made myself a comforting bowl of nonta suji to soothe my irritated mind.

And then after a good Sunday afternoon nap I examined a couple of shortlisted recipes and figured out what  missing ingredients I could buy from the stores in lane. There was no need to give up in a sulk, all I had to do was get off my lazy bum and go get the ingredients. I ended up having a brisk walk around the neighbourhood and all the ingredients for Posto Murgi from Bong Mom's Cook Book. 

Bong Mom's Cook Book is one of my favourite blogs and I have been drooling over her recipes for as long as I can remember. And today I was going to cook from her blog. Finally!

I made a few changes to her recipe. Instead of 5 pounds of chicken I cooked around 2 pounds, and therefore tweaked the quantities to make it work.

Bong Mom's Posto Chicken

3 full chicken legs divided into thighs and drumsticks
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mustard oil
juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp poppy seeds
6 cloves garlic
1 inch fresh ginger
2-6 green chillies (according to the level of heat you can handle)

3 cardamom pods
2 inch cassia bark
3 cloves
1 scant tsp fennel seeds (saunf)

1 large onion sliced
1 tomato, diced fine
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder (I used Everest)
fresh coriander
mustard oil.

Wash the chicken pieces and marinate with the ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric, lemon juice and mustard oil. Let it sit for a couple of hours.

Soak the poppy seeds for 20 minutes or so. Then grind to a paste with the garlic, ginger and green chillies. Add a little water (a tablespoon or two) to get a smooth paste.

Heat mustard oil in your wok or pan and toss in the whole spices - cardamom pods, etc. Once they begin to sizzle add the sliced onion and fry slowly on a medium flame till the onion begins to turn pink. Add the chopped tomato and cook for five minutes till the tomato is mushy and cooked through. you can add a little bit of sugar while frying the onions.

Now add the poppy seed paste and stir as you cook it slowly. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and cook on a low flame till the oil begins to separate. Add the chilli powder and the garam masala powder and mix. Cook for a couple of minutes more.

Add the marinated pieces of chicken and mix everything well so the masala coats the chiken pieces properly. Chop a little bit of the fresh coriander leaves including the stalks and add it to the pot. Don't use too much as you don't want the coriander to overpower the poppy seed flavour.

Braise the chicken in this masala for a few minutes and then add half a cup of water. Add more if you want more gravy. Cook covered till the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with plain hot rice or rotis/parathas. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh coriander.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Sukeli and Jhola Gur Upside Down Cake

This cake has been on my mind for months. I hadn't heard of sukeli till one of the staff brought us some from his village in the Vasai region of north Mumbai. As it is I don't eat fruits and am unfamiliar with most things fruit - but this was way, way out of my ambit! 
Sukeli is a kind of preserved banana, peeled and sun dried, then wrapped in banana leaves. The fruit gets dehydrated and takes on a golden hue with a toffee-like sticky texture thanks to the natural sugars getting concentrated. 

What I liked about sukeli is that it doesn't have that strong banana smell (something I dislike very strongly). The hubby munched on one packet of sukeli just as they were and I asked him to leave the second one for me to play with. Life got in the way and it took me a couple of months till I found the time and the mental bandwidth to get back to the sukeli. 

I had decided I would make some sort of upside down cake using the sukeli. I only had to work out what else I would put in that cake. On my last trip to Kolkata I picked up nolen or jhola gur, the liquid jaggery that's a winter specialty and it occurred to me that sukeli and jhola gur would work really well together. 

As I thought about the adjustments to a straightforward pound cake recipe that would be my starting point I wondered if I would have a cake or a disaster. I experiment very confidently when I cook but not so much when I bake. I like to have the support of a recipe even if it is something I have baked a zillion times already. But this time I felt I must be confident and just go for it. The 40 minutes that this experiment sat in the oven were the longest in my life! And then the interminable wait for the cake to cool, the hubby to wake up from his post-lunch nap and give his final report on the cake - that was an exercise in patience for me. The story had a happy ending after all which is how you get the recipe for a delicious Sukeli and Jhola Gur Upside Down Cake. 

Sukeli and Jhola Gur Upside Down Cake

1 cup flour 
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup jhola gur
125gms butter
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essesnce

1 packet sukeli (there will 3-4 in the packet)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar

Set your oven to preheat at 180C.
Separate the sukeli carefully and then slice them into 1/2 cm discs. Keep aside.
Combine the 1 tbsp butter with the 2 tbsp brown sugar in a bowl and zap in the microwave for a minute in 30 second bursts. Whisk together with a fork and pour into your baking tin.I used an 8 inch round tin. Spread the mixture all over the base covering as well as you can. Place the sliced sukeli pieces to cover the entire surface. Don't worry if there are gaps. Keep this aside.

In a clean mixing bowl sift the flour and baking powder together. 
In another clean bowl cream the butter with the 1/2 cup brown sugar. Use a stand mixer or a hand held electric mixer and mix for at least two to three minutes till the sugar is smoothly blended and not grainy. 
Add the eggs one by one along with the vanilla. 
Now add the sifted flour and the jhola gur in alternates till you have a smooth thick batter. 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan over the layer of sukeli. Tap the tin to remove any bubbles and then put it into the preheated oven to bake for 35-40 minutes. Test the cake for doneness with a long tooth pick and remove from the oven when done.
Let the cake cool completely before you take it out of the tin. Be patient and let it cool or the caramelized sukeli will remain stuck to the tin. If you look closely at my cake you will see evidence of my impatience!

The cake itself will have a pale coffee colour and a slightly dense crumb. Don't worry about the nearly black colour of the sukeli on the cake, it's perfectly caramelised and not burned at all. 

You can try this recipe with kankvi or any other variant of liquid jaggery too. I think it will work quite well. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gondhoraj Lebu and Blueberry Bundt Cake

Some days ago I treated myself to a haul of expensive but gorgeous fruit imported form across the world. I don't eat fruit at all but the hubby does. But I hadn't bought the fruit to be eaten as they were - I was going to play with them. Seeing so many beautiful cakes and desserts with fruit of various kinds in them I wanted to make some these tempting things, and of course the chance to play with new and unfamiliar ingredients is always a big lure!

 And then from my recent trip to Kolkata I had these beautiful Gondhoraj Lebu (lemons) waiting to be used.

The hubby ate up the blackberries. I have plans for the currants and the Meyer lemons too, but the blueberries just begged to go into a cake. Instead of the usual blueberry and lemon combination I decided to use the Gondhoraj instead. A nice desi twist to an otherwise classic combination but without going too far out of the box.

Gondhoraj Lebu and Blueberry Bundt Cake

2 tbsp zest of Gondhoraj lebu
1 cup blueberries, washed and dried.
2 cups maida or APF
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups fine sugar
250 gms butter, softened
6 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

for the glaze
 1/4 cup lemon juice
3-4 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp zest of Gondhoraj lebu

Preheat the oven to 180C

Prepare your bundt tin by greasing it well with butter.

Sift the maida with the baking powder and set aside.

In the mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar till it is a pale whitish yellow and there are no lumps of sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and keep mixing in between each addition. Add the vanilla and continue to beat. Add the lemon zest to the mix and stir further till it is all blended in.

Add the sifted flour a little at a time till you get a smooth thick batter. Stir half the blueberries into this batter using a spoon.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and then add the remaining blueberries. Smoothen the top patting gently with a spatula.

Put the cake into the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 180C till the cake is done. A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.

While the cake is baking make the lemon drizzle by mixing the icing sugar and lemon juice till you have a smooth lump-free thickish solution. Stir in the zest.

Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes and then unmould carefully onto a plate. Drizzle the still warm cake with the lemon glaze. This is a thin glaze that will seep into the cake giving it a nice lemony kick. Use as much as you like depending on how lemony you want the cake to be.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Chocolate Buttermilk Bundt Cake

This turned out to be one of the best cakes I've ever baked in my life. I was browsing around on Pinterest looking for something new to try out. I also had a new bag of Callebaut cocoa powder that I was waiting to play with. As I looked around I chanced upon this recipe on the Taste and Tell blog by Deborah Harroun. I had most of the ingredients and the recipe was the kind I like - straightforward and uncomplicated. What I didn't have I could make or replace easily and so I decided to try it out.

I didn't have cake flour so I made some - all you do is replace 2 tbsp of plain flour with 2 tbsp of cornflour for every cup of flour and sift it well. I made more than required for the recipe and stored the extra cake flour in a labelled canister in my baking supplies cupboard.

I didn't have Dutch processed cocoa so I just used the Callebaut cocoa I had.

For buttermilk I put in a dash of white vinegar into the required quantity of milk and let it sit for a few minutes.

Instead of unsalted butter I used normal Amul butter and didn't add salt as the recipe demands. Most of us are used to baking with Amul butter and so am I and I don't stress out when a recipe asks for unsalted butter because usually the recipe also required you to add salt. I just use good old Amul and no one has complained about my cakes yet!

I used a Nordicware bundt pan instead of a regular 'boring' cake tin to get a fancy looking cake. This was also because I didn't want to ice the cake and therefore wanted it to look nice on its own. Since the pan I have is quite large I doubled the recipe. You will find the original recipe in the link above.

Chocolate Buttermilk Bundt Cake

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup hot coffee
3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Set the oven to preheat to 180C.

Butter the bundt pan well and dust with loose flour.

Mix the hot coffee and the cocoa powder till you have a smooth thick mixture. You can brew fresh coffee or simply use instant coffee and hot water like I did.

Now sift the cake flour with the baking powder into a clean mixing bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if you're using a hand held mixer) cream the butter and sugar till it's pale. This should take around 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time and keep mixing between each egg. Make sure your eggs are not cold from the fridge because the batter might curdle. Don't panic if it does, though - just proceed with the recipe and it will sort itself out on its own.

Add the vanilla after the eggs and then start adding the cake flour. I use the smallest measuring cup from my set and slow the speed of the mixer as I drop in the flour a little at a time. Once the flour is all in and is just about combined it's time to add the coffee-cocoa mix. Keep the speed of the mixer slow so you don't splash everything with the liquid.

Once it's mixed in pour in the buttermilk. Mix and then finally add the chocolate chips and mix further till just blended into the batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake till the cake is cooked through - around 35 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the bundt and your oven. Poke the cake in the centre with a cake tester or long satay stick to check. If it comes out clean your cake is ready.

Let the cake cool in the tin for a while - at least 20 minutes - and then unmould carefully. Let the cake cool completely before you cut it or it will break while cutting.

You can serve the cake with a dollop of plain vanilla ice cream to balance the rich dark flavours of coffee and cocoa, or have it as it is like my family did.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Chushi Pithe'r Payesh

Making payesh is as good as meditation for me - with a dessert to look forward to at the end of the process. Payesh takes patience and needs attention and concentration, just like I imagine meditation does. The process is simple but it's slow and it takes time. And practice. Just like meditation. And I find it calming and steadying, just like meditation is supposed to be. So I make payesh more often than I meditate.

My last visit to Kolkata threw up many new ingredients as I wandered markets and melas whenever I had the chance. Among the myriad things I saw was Chushi or Choshi Pithe - small rice shaped dumplings made with either white flour or rice - used in payesh. It reminded me of 'ghavlye', a similar dumpling made in Maharashtrian households and also used in kheer. Payesh and kheer are both desserts made by reducing milk till half and then adding flavours, sweetness, and a thickener in the form of either rice, vermicelli, and occasionally these rice-like tiny dumplings. Similar dumplings are made among many communities across the country.

Chushi pithe are extremely laborious to make and as a result not many women make them any more. Who has the time?! Fortunately there are enough enterprising women from villages and small towns who are happy to make these labour-intensive products and bring them to the big cities for sale. I bought several packets and once back home in Kharghar I made Chushi Pithe'r Payesh at the first chance.

The lady who sold me the pithe gave me very simple instructions. Fry the pithe in ghee till it's a nice golden brown and keep aside. Make payesh as you normally do adding the pithe to the reducing milk so it cooks properly. That's all.

Chushi Pithe'r Payesh

2 litres full fat Milk
1 cup Chushi Pithe
1 cup fine Sugar
5 Cardamom pods
3 Indian bay leaves or Tej patta
2 - 3 tbsp Ghee
1/4 cup Raisins

In a thick bottomed vessel bring the milk to a boil and then simmer over medium heat to reduce it to half. Put in the cardamom pods and the tej patta while the milk is reducing. Remember to pop open the cardamom pods.

In a small pan heat some ghee. Use good quality ghee and not vanaspati. Once the ghee is hot fry the chushi pithe till the grains turn a light golden brown. This takes just 10 to 15 seconds so keep an eye on it while frying. Do it in batches if necessary. Drain off the ghee and keep the fried pithe aside.
In the same ghee fry the raisins and keep aside.

Once the milk has come to a boil add the fried pithe to the milk so it cooks while the milk reduces. Stir gently to ensure the pithe doesn't stick and form clumps. Let the milk simmer gently and reduce till at least half. The colour will change to a light pinkish brown. Check that the pithe is cooked through and isn't hard in the centre.

Add the sugar and stir nicely to combine. Add the fried raisins too keeping aside a few for garnishing later. Let the payesh cook for another 10 minutes or so till it is as thick as you like it. Remember payesh will thicken as it cools so don't reduce the milk too much or you will end up with a solid pudding.

Remove the payesh to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining fried raisins. You can also add lightly fried cashew nuts or almond slivers to the garnish.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

FBAIDailogues 2016 - A Morning Well Spent

I have been very openly skeptical about FBAI since it started a few years ago and viewed it as a bunch of bloggers going from restaurant to restaurant doing reviews. I did't see how it functioned as an association of bloggers or how it helped blogging in any way. And so I kept my distance.

Over the years I met Sameer Malkani at random events and gatherings and got acquanted with him and his wife Saloni who is also a part of FBAI now. My friend Rushina has been associated with FBAI for quite a while and told me about the FBAIDialogues, something interesting that was not about reviewing restaurants but was about conversations related to food, the various aspects of the food industry, and bloggers who wrote about these things. For various reasons I'd been unable to attend the earlier two sessions and after Sameer called me to invite me once again I decided I simply had to attend this one. And I am so glad I did.

The FBAIDialogues Season 3 started with a panel discussion on Ethical Blogging with Rushina Ghildiyal, Kalyan Karmakar, Nikhil Merchant, all very senior bloggers, and chef Ashish Bhasin, Executive Chef at The Trident, BKC, on the panel with Bhisham Mansukhani moderating. The conversation covered many areas of being an ethical blogger ranging from the importance of research, identifying your audience, responsibilities to your audience and writing constructively even when doing a negative review. The idea of a charter outlining basic blogging ethics was also proposed. A healthy and fruitful discussion followed by an interactive session with the audience made this session well worth my journey from Kharghar to Juhu.

There are many issues that dog the food blogging world and it was good to see many of these issues being acknowledged and discussed on an open forum with bloggers, journalists, restaurant owners and chefs in the audience - instead of being confined to private conversations in closed rooms. It was good to see a relevant and constructive discussion about issues that affect blogging and the food industry.

The next session had restaurateur and icon Rahul Akerkar speaking about the Next Chapter in the Indian Restaurant Business. To say the least, I was star struck!

Unfortunately I couldn't attend the subsequent sessions but my experience of that morning gave me great hope. Here we were talking honestly and openly about issues that affect the ecosystem of bloggers, food professionals, restaurants, and the entire food and hospitality at large. Dialogues solve problems and I was happy to see meaningful and constructive dialogues that morning.

There is hope after all and I have a positive feeling about the FBAI and its role in the future helping bloggers improve their game. 

Pork with Lai Xaak

There's a special place in my heart for food from Assam and the rest of the North East. With all sorts of vegetables and lots of variety in meats the cuisines of the North Eastern states have so much to offer it will take more than a life time to savour it all. My friend Gitika has been working hard educating us Mumbaikars about the food of that region and she regularly has fresh produce and ingredients flown in for her very popular pop ups showcasing the wonderful food from the NE. A couple of days ago she called me to inform me that she had a little surprise for me - lai xaak! She was sending some over so I cook with it in my own kitchen. I am indeed blessed to have friends who share not just food but ingredients too. There is a different joy in cooking with things that are new to us and for me, a chance to cook with lai xaak was special indeed!
Lai Xaak Image

There was no discussion or even any question about what I'd make with the lai xaak - pork of course! I looked up a few recipes and made something that suited the tastes of the family. The brother, who' visiting, likes it hot, the hubby will sulk if there are no potatoes, I was in the mood for something comforting to be enjoyed with rice. The recipes I saw were very frugal in flavours letting the greens dominate. I have saved half for a more authentic rendition, today I just sort of winged it. It's not too far off from what you might be served in an Assamese household but I don't claim this to be an authentic Assamese recipe.

1 kg Pork 
1 bunch Lai xaak 
2 Onions 
2 Potatoes 
4-5 Green chillies 
2 tsps Ginger paste 
1 tsp Garlic paste 
1 tsp Turmeric 
2 tsps Chilli powder 

Wash and clean the pork pieces and marinate with salt. 

Chop the potatoes into large chunks and chop the onions fine. 

Heat oil in a pressure cooker and chuck in the chopped onions along with the green chillies. Fry on low heat till the onions turn pink. 

Add the pork to the pot and braise well for around 10 minutes. 

Put in the ginger and garlic pastes. I used freshly made pastes for better flavour. 

Add turmeric and chilli powder, mix them in and cook the whole thing covered for 5 minutes. 

Wash the lai xaak well in running water separating out the leaves and washing inside the stalks properly. Break into rough pieces and add to the pork. Stir well to mix and let it cook for another 5 minutes. 

Now add the potatoes and enough water to give you plenty of gravy. I used around a cup and a half. 

Shut the cooker and cook the pork under pressure. Once the cooker whistles reduce the flame and cook for 10 minutes. Shut off the heat and let the cooker cool on its own. 

Serve the hot pork curry with plain hot rice. 

Alu Phulkopi diye Chingri - Prawns with Cauliflower and Potatoes

A few mornings ago as I rooted around in the freezer I found prawns. Later that morning as I was explaining to the hubby that I didn't need to make a trip to the fish shop immediately because I'd found the prawns his eyes lit up and he said "make phulkopi alu chingri". I stared at him in surprise. I'd never made it before. Where had he learned of this dish?! Somewhere on social media, I guess because we see so much food online every day. Well, I had everything required for the dish so there was no reason not to make it. I Googled, and looked up a couple of Bengali cookbooks from my own library and set out to make this very typical Bengali dish.
1 cup Prawns 
1 Medium cauliflower 
1 Large potato 
2 Small onions 
1 Tomato 
1 tsp Ginger paste 
1 tsp Garlic paste 
3-4 Green chillies 
4 Cloves 
2 inches Cassia bark 
3 pods Cardamom 
Mustard oil 
Chilli powder

Shell, devein, and wash the prawns. Drain well and marinate with salt and turmeric. 

Cut cauliflower into small florets, peel and cube potatoes, finely chop onions, and puree or finely chop the tomato. 

Heat mustard oil in a wok and fry the prawns for a minute or so just till they turn opaque. Remove from the oil and reserve in a bowl. 

Fry the cauliflower and potato cubes in the same hot oil till they start browning on the edges. Remove from the wok and keep aside. 

Add a little oil to the wok if it has reduced considerably, let it heat up well and then put in the whole spices. Stir for 30 seconds and then add the finely chopped onions. You can also add the green chillies at this stage. Slit them if you want more heat from the chillies. Fry till the onions start to pink. 

Now add the fresh ginger and garlic pastes. Stir and mix and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the tomato, followed by the chilli powder, turmeric and salt. Stir and cook on a low flame till the oil is released from this mix. 

Put the fried potatoes and cauliflower back in the pan and mix. Cook for a minute or so and then add half a cup of water. Add salt. Bring to a boil, simmer and cook covered till the potatoes are cooked through. 

Now add the prawns and cook for another couple of minutes till the prawns are done. 

Serve with plain rice, parathas or rotis. Depending on what you're serving with make more or less gravy, as required. 

Soupy Pork Stew

Soupy Pork Stew is perfect for nippy winter evenings in Kharghar where the temperatures don't freeze your bones but there's still a nice chill in the air and a hot soupy meal is very welcome. It's a basic no fuss recipe and something that I like make as often as possible, after all it tastes great and is easy to put together - what's not to like?!
1 kg Pork 
Ginger garlic paste 
4 Potatoes 
2 Carrots 
3 Onions 
2 Green chillies 
1 Star anise 
3 pods Cardamom 
5 Cloves 
2 Indian bay leaves 
1/4 cup Bacon fat 
Fresh pepper

Wash the pork and marinate with salt and ginger garlic paste. Use a little less salt because the bacon fat that's used later will be salty. 

Cut the potatoes and carrots into large chunks.

Chop the onions fine. 

Heat oil in your pressure cooker and fry the carrots and potatoes till the edges turn brown. Remove to a plate and set aside. 

In the same oil drop in the whole spices, fry for half a minute, and the throw in the chopped onions. When the onions turn translucent throw in the green chillies. Use more chillies if you want the stew to have a lot of heat. 

After a few minutes when the onions begin to pink add the pork pieces to the pot. Stir well and braise the meat for 10 minutes at least. Grind fresh pepper directly into the pot. Mix. 

Add the bacon fat and stir again. Let it cook for another five minutes. 

Now put in the potatoes and carrots. Add just enough water to cover the pork and shut the cooker. Let it come to pressure and then reduce the heat. Let it cook under pressure for 10 minutes. Then switch off the heat and let the cooker cool on its own. 

Check salt and adjust if required. 

Serve hot with plain rice, pav or sliced bread. 

Hokus Porkus - A Porky Pop Up

Anyone who knows me knows I love pork. 

I started The Porkaholics on Facebook just to share my love of this wonderful ingredient with like minded folk, a space where we could revel in the joys of honey roast hams, bacon breakfasts, jamon Iberico, Goan choriz, and everything pork that anyone encountered. As with most food groups on Facebook off line meet ups soon began to happen and I organised a couple of lunches and dinners at restaurants known for great pork dishes, pork-centric pop ups with home chefs, and even pork based pot lucks. These events were always fun and well attended and soon members in other cities got together and had similar events celebrating the beauty that is pork. I was ready for something new. 

And so I thought of doing a small Porkaholic Bazaar sort of event - a few stalls with people selling porky goodies. I was sure it would get a decent audience and it would definitely be fun. I told the hubby about my latest new idea and he just rolled his eyes. I could see that thought bubble above his head - "Here we go again!" For me that was the go ahead sign ;) 

Next, I pinged a few of my pork loving friends who I knew were really good cooks, already doing a variety of pork dishes at their pop ups and other events. I pitched the idea to them and within minutes we were excitedly exchanging ideas. The bazaar was going to happen! Ideas, options, and possibilities flew back and forth and finally Hokus Porkus was born. 

Menus were discussed, our venue was fixed, we had a date, and we were ready to tell the world. 

I was a pop up virgin. I've never cooked food myself and put it up for sale at an event. Yes, I've done pop ups under the Katy's Kitchen banner but there I was managing things, not shopping, prepping, cooking and packing. For Hokus Porkus I was on my own, as Euphorhea. I had no idea how to go about things beyond the basic idea that I would cook stuff and carry it all to the venue on that day of the event. I leaned on my team mates -Gitika,Subhasree and Madhumita - who were generous with advice, ready to hit the brakes on me every time my enthusiasm gave me unrealistic ideas, and perked me up when I felt I couldn't really do this on my own. To tell you the truth, I was never alone, they were always with me. And for that I am supremely grateful. Euphorhea couldn't have asked for a better team to debut on to the pop up scene with. 

My menu featured a selection of some of my favourite pork dishes. Obviously! These were things I'd cooked often enough at home but now I was going to be cooking for the paying public. So more attention to detail, strict quality control, and a lot of organisation was required. On my menu I had Bacon Jam, Pigs in Blankets, Choriz Pav, and Bourbon Bacon Brownies. I tried to have a menu that could make a complete meal, plus I had a condiment that people could enjoy at leisure at home. 

Hokus Porkus had no budget for marketing and we decided to do everything ourselves at minimum cost. This part of doing Hokus Porkus was a huge learning experience for me because I knew nothing about sustained promotion on social media. After the first edition of Hokus Porkus, seeing the incredible turnout at the event I was just awed. It IS possible to successfully market your event without spending a bomb on marketing or hiring a professional.

We had a lovely venue in Cafe Terra and very cooperative and supportive people running the place. I loved the open bright space - it looked so inviting! Many of my friends who'd not been there before fell in love with the place and have vowed to go back just for the relaxed ambiance and vibe. And the beer. 

The event itself was quite a success. On the whole things went really well and I was very heartened to see the incredible turnout - way, way beyond anything I had expected, certainly not numbers I'd even dared to dream about! I was sold out really quickly. Which was good, but not good at the same time because so many people took the trouble to come and went away without trying my stuff. I felt I let them down, and I did. This was another lesson. 

I had a great time doing this event. Interacting with people, serving them food I'd cooked myself, getting feedback there and then, watching happy porkaholics relaxing with food from my kitchen, seeing people come back for more... it made my heart sing. This is what I want to do... celebrate pork. Here are some photos from Hokus Porkus. See you there next time :)

Friends and family sent me cute piggy stuff to use at Hokus Porkus!

That's four of us all set to make pork great again! I just LOVE the piggy ears Subhasree made for us :)

Bacon Jam! I made two variants - One richly flavoured with Port, and one with the solid punch of Bhut Jolokia chillies.

A little self promotion!

Pigs in Blankets with beer - a marriage made in heaven!

The complete Hokus Porkus Menu

We're definitely stirring the cauldron again and gearing up for Hokus Porkus 2. So stay tuned because if you missed us this time, you're getting another chance :) 

Pav Bhaji - Spiced and Mashed Vegetables with Bread

Pav Bhaji is an iconic street food from Mumbai that is now available in various versions across the country and even abroad. I love it and my favourite is from Sardar Pav Bhaji in Tardeo where the bhaji and the butter seem to be in equal quantities! That steaming hot plate of flavourful bhaji topped with a huge chunk of Amul butter, garnished with fresh coriander and finely chopped onions, and accompanied by soft ladi pav that's been lightly grilled with ... you guessed it, butter, is something that makes me weep with pleasure. 

It occurred to me that I'd never made pav bhaji myself. Innumerable posts on various Facebook food groups made me drool and when a vegetarian friend was set to come for lunch I had the perfect opportunity. The hubby was sent off to shop for the essentials and pav bhaji was on the menu. I didn't have time to make the pav at home but luckily there's a local bakery that makes lovely pav so we were sorted.

3 Large potatoes 
1 Large green capsicum 
2 Carrots 
1 Small cauliflower 
2 Onions 
2-3 Fresh green chillies 
2 Tomatoes 
half cup Tomato puree 
1 inch Ginger 
8 cloves Garlic 
Pav Bhaji Masala 
1 tsp Turmeric 
2 tsps Chilli powder 
2 tsps Jeera powder 
Fresh coriander 
1 Medium onion 
Amul butter
12 -15 Pav

Peel the potatoes and carrots, break the cauliflower into florets.

Pressure cook these vegetables till cooked through.

Chop the onions and green chillies finely. Chop the capsicum too.

In a flat thick bottomed pan heat some oil and fry the chopped onions. Add the green chillies and continue frying for a few minutes till the onions are completely soft and begin to brown.

Smash the ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Add to the frying onions and cook it for 5 minutes.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the frying pan. Stir well to mix and then add in the chopped capsicum. Let this cook for 5 minutes and smash the tomatoes with your spatula as it cooks.

Add the spice powders and 2 -3 teaspoons of Pav Bhaji masala and mix. 

Add the boiled vegetables and mash it all in as best as you can. Add salt and some water at this stage.

Use a potato masher to mash up the vegetables making sure there are no big chunks of any vegetable in the mix. You don't need to have a smooth puree, but a properly mashed mix works well. 

Add the tomato puree and more water if required, cover the pan and let it all cook for a few minutes.

Now add around 50 grams of butter to the bhaji and stir it in. Taste the bhaji and add salt if required. If the mix is bland add more pav bhaji masala.

Heat a tava or griddle for the pav. Take two pavs at a time, cut them into half horizontally but not right through. Butter generously and grill on the hot tava. 

Make a nice pile of grilled pav to go with the bhaji.

To serve garnish the bhaji with fresh coriander and a big chunk of butter. On the side have finely chopped onions and lemon wedges ready to be added as per individual preference.

Add green peas to the mix if you like. I didn't as the hubby is not particularly fond of them. To be honest, I didn't really miss them either.

The thing about pav bhaji is that you can't be stingy with the butter. Ideally use good old salted golden Amul (that's what Sardar uses!). While you don't need to add excessive quantities of butter, you must be generous with it. The butter is the backbone of pav bhaji and without it, it simply doesn't work.