Sunday, May 20, 2018

How to Make Kokum Sharbat

Home made foods do taste better and once in a way something totally random really rubs that fact in. I, like a zillion other people, had been enjoying kokum sharbat out of a mini jerry can and had taken it for granted that it was quite nice. It was. And then I had home made kokum sharbat made by Kunda Maushi.

Kunda Maushi lives in a village near Chandore and is very fond of the hubby. She took care of him and his team while he was excavating at the archaeological site at Chandore, and fed them good home cooked food an entire season when they couldn't find an alternative. One day as he drove the team towards her house he saw an adivasi boy with a mound of fresh ratambe or kokum fruit harvested from the trees in the neighbouring forests. He knew Kunda Maushi would happily do her magic with the fruit and there would be sharbat for sure, and so he bought whatever the boy had, much to Kunda Maushi's delight.

At the end of the excavation season he came home with a large plastic canister of Kunda Maushi's home made sharbat. I haven't been able to drink the commercial stuff since then.

Last weekend we were in the Konkan again and we encountered village women selling fruit on the side of the main road on the Mumbai -Alibag road. We stopped because I had seen fresh kokum among the mangoes, jackfruit, rose apples and other assorted fruit. To cut a long story short - we came home with a LOT of kokum... the lady's entire stock! That's the hazard of marrying a caterer, they have of sense of quantity when buying for personal use 😆

I did some reading, bugged a couple of friends and set out to make kokum sharbat. The process itself is fairly simple but needs patience, something I'm famous for lacking. But anyway, I was determined to try even though I had way more kokum than I had bargained for. I gave some to a friend and tackled the rest.

Kokum Sharbat

fresh kokum fruit

twice as much sugar as fruit. I used castor sugar.

clean glass jars with wide mouths and tight lids

Wash and dry the kokums. Once dry halve each fruit and discard the inner whitish pulp and seeds.

Now all you have to do is combine the fruit with the sugar and place it in a jar. A good way of doing this is to scoop sugar into each half of kokum and then place the filled fruit half in your jar.

Layer the filled halves of fruit in the jar and add extra sugar as you go.

Pack the kokum as tightly as you can and then shut the jar tightly. You can cling wrap the jars before putting the lid if the lid feels loose.

Leave the jars on a sunny windowsill and let the sugar dissolve slowly with the fruit as you can see in the jars below. The fruit will collapse in size significantly in the first couple of days itself. As the fruit breaks down the sugar will combine with the fruit and create a thick fruity syrup. Let it bask in the sun for 4 days to a week. Remember to shake the jars once in the morning and again in the evening.

Once the sugar is completely dissolved and only the bare shells of the fruit remain your sharbat is ready to be strained. Take a large colander and carefully drain the syrup into a thick bottomed pan or vessel.

Collect all the syrup in one large vessel if you, like me, have a lot of kokum to process.

Taste the syrup by making a serving of sharbat at this stage to check the sweetness. You can add some plain sugar syrup at this stage if it's not sweet enough.

Bring the kokum syrup to a boil adding a little salt. You can also add some toasted jeera powder if you like. I didn't as the hubby dislikes it. Once the syrup is boiled cool it down completely and then pour into clean bottles and store in the fridge.

To make a glass of sharbat take one part of the syrup and add 4 or 5 parts chilled water depending on how strong and sweet you like sharbat. My friend Saee often serves it with soda and a sprig of fresh mint from her windowsill.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Aloo diye Laal Shaak - Red Amaranth Greens with Potatoes

I always ignored the fresh greens section at the veggie shop frankly because I'm a lazy cook and the thought of spending endless minutes picking out a ton of leaves in prep put me off. But then with age comes patience (maybe) and better sense (bigger maybe!) and I bought a bunch of laal shaak or red amaranth leaves, also known as laal maath, tambi bhaji, etc.

Moni used to cook it quite often and I remember her insisting we eat at least a little of it, as she did with whatever she cooked especially the vegetables. We didn't need much coaxing to eat meats or fish! Of all the leafy greens she cooked the laal shaak was the most attractive - rice would turn a beautiful pink once mixed with the laal shaak and this miracle in the plate fascinated me. She would always add a generous amount of garlic and occasionally she'd cook it with potatoes. I never needed convincing when she added potatoes. The pretty pink batons would call out to me and I would even ask for more.

Like most vegetable side dishes, laal shaak is cooked with barely any spices and is done in minutes. And like most of our vegetable dishes the prep takes time.

Aloo diye Laal Shaak

1 bunch red amaranth leaves
1 small potato
4-5 cloves of garlic
2-3 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp nigella or kalonji seeds
mustard oil

Pick out the leaves and the tender stems of the amaranth greens. Discard the thick, woodier or stringier parts of the stem.

Wash thoroughly and drain in a colander. Chop roughly or finely, as you prefer.

Cut the potato into thick matchsticks. Peel and chop the garlic (do not mince).

Heat the oil in a kadai and fry the potatoes till nearly done. Add salt and mix.

Push them to one side and chuck in the nigella seeds and garlic, letting them sizzle for a half a minute. Tilt the kadai if it has a flat base so the oil collects together and is deep enough for the garlic and nigella seeds. This way you don't have to add more oil.

Now add the chopped greens and a little salt and then stir well to mix. Cook covered for a few minutes till the greens are completely wilted and cooked through. Check that the potatoes are done to a nice softness. Adjust salt if required.

Serve the laal shaak with daal and rice, or with soft phulkas. We Bengalis usually have it as a 'bhaja' that accompanies the daal course in our traditional meals.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Edible Flowers from the Bengali Kitchen

Over the last few years my trips to Kolkata were quite frequent and in contrast to the standard visits in summer, I happened to be in Kolkata in the winters too. Moni's house is in a quiet lane in Selimpur and a variety of vendors come to the 'goli' or lane calling out their wares. From umbrella repair to ice cream, from variety plastic products to fresh veggies and fish, everything comes to our doorstep.

I found the steady stream of vendors quite entertaining and slowly began to buy vegetables and fish for the novelty of buying at the door, so much in contrast to my life in Mumbai where veggies were either bought online or from a supermarket, an entirely impersonal experience. As I chose vegetables every morning I started examining the variety on the cart more closely and questioning the vendor about specific vegetables I was unfamiliar with. I'd also ask Jethima from upstairs or go bug Moni to identify ingredients and then to cook them for me. My interest vegetables and local ingredients grew and if you've ever enjoyed winter vegetables in Bengal, you'll understand just why I succumbed.

Image may contain: bicycle and outdoor

What a glorious variety there was! Leafy greens, beans, brinjals, gourds, root veggies, the list can go on and on. And among all this bounty I found an array of edible flowers and inflorescence that are all a regular, even mundane, part of the Bengali kitchen, enjoyed in season and then looked forward to once the season was over. As I took photograph after photograph the subziwala, seeing my interest and quite entertained by my enthusiasm, started bringing unusual seasonal ingredients to show me every morning. I'd happily be awake at 6 am waiting for him to make his first circuit of our goli. Thanks to him I learned about many vegetables that are a part of the Bengali's winter meals. Not only did I learn from him, Moni and Jethima, the neighbourhood mashimas (aunties) also started educating me, making the entire experience richer and so much more interesting.

Edible flowers maybe trendy today and perceived to be modern and hip but for the Bengali they are a part of everyday meals and I discovered a wide variety in Kolkata, some of which I have listed here. Whether it's the blooms, inflorescence or stems, the flowering portions of many plants are commonly cooked into simple dishes or more elaborate fare.

Malabar Spinach or Pui Shaak is a common ingredient in many Indian kitchens, but did you know the inflorescence on this plant is also eaten? It's sold separately as an individual ingredient and I first saw it on the subzi cart.

Pui Mituni (inflorescence on Malabar Spinach)

Similarly the inflorescence on Spinach or palak, called Shish Palong in Bengali, is also a delicacy and Jethima made a quick stir fry with potatoes for me. 

Shapla or water lilies also star on Bengali menus. The stem is cooked with prawns or made into fritters. While prepping the stems may feel tedious the resultant fritters are perfect as a snack at tea time or are served as the accompanying bhaja in the daal course of a traditional Bengali meal. The flowers aren't eaten but they look lovely floating in a flat vessel full of water.

Shapla or Water lIlies

Then there were onion scapes or Peyaanj Koli as we call them in Bengali. Such a pretty vegetable! Mostly added to chorchoris or made into a simple bhaja with potatoes, the markets are filled with these in season. 

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Peyaanj Koli

This post would be incomplete if I didn't mention Kumro Phool or pumkin flowers. Mostly served batter fried, sometimes with a stuffing of prawns (yes, we Bengalis cook many veggies with prawns) I had plenty of these thanks to my beloved Jethima.

Kumro Phool 

On my last trip to Kolkata I encountered Jukti Phool. This flower enjoys a very short season and, from what I understood from the vendor in Gariahat market, is gathered from plants growing in the wild. A strongly bitter flower, it can be stir fried with potatoes and panch phoron or can be used in a sukto to impart the bitter notes.

Jukti Phool in the foreground with other Sukto ingredients

I also found Bok Phool or Agasti phool on an earlier trip to the market. These are cooked by many communities across India and I have seen many getting excited over them on myriad food groups on Facebook. These too are mostly batter fried and served as a tasty snack, much looked forward to by the Bengalis when in season. A simple chickpea flour batter seasoned with salt and chilli powder, a dash of turmeric and some nigella seeds is made, the flowers (stamens removed) are dipped in and then deep fried till crisp and golden. Sometimes maida and/or rice flour are added to make the batter lighter and the fries crisper but all these are variations from kitchen to kitchen.

Bok Phool outside Gariahat Market

Mocha or banana blossom is very widely known so it wasn't really a discovery for me. This much treasured ingredient in cooked a million ways by the Bengali - ghonto, chop, with prawns, chop with prawns... the list can go on and on. 

Mocha or Banana Blossom

And here's a picture of the man himself, the shobjiwala or veggie vendor. As I write this I realise I've never asked him his name as I always called him 'bhai' or younger brother. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sukto with Jukti Phool

Sukto is a lovely light stew of assorted vegetables with a hint of bitter. Flavoured with a bit of mustard and a hint of poppy paste, this stew also has milk in it and must be cooked very carefully. Though you can make sukto without the bitter element, many Bengalis believe that a classic sukto must have the bitter ingredient. I always avoided sukto thanks to the bitter flavour and never bothered to even see how it was cooked, turning up my nose and shaking my head this utter waste of effort! 

Over the last few years my interest in Bengali food has increased greatly - maybe I'm feeling the need to understand my roots now that I'm well into my forties and the attraction of other cuisines has paled. Somewhere I also feel great ignorance where Bengali food is concerned - it is after all the cuisine of my forefathers and I should know it in some detail at least. My frequent visits to Kolkata and the discovery of new ingredients at practically every visit to the market only fuelled my curiosity. The door to door vegetable vendor, seeing my interest, would bring new things to show me - pui mituni, kolmi shaak, shapla, kochu'r loti, bok phul, shish palong... the list is endless. 

My visits to Kolkata are now incomplete without a visit to Gariahat market, if only for a quick walk through just to see what's available. The last visit to Kolkata was for less than a week and I squeezed in a quick trip to the market on my last morning there. This time I discovered Jukti phool. 

Jukti Phool  Dregea volubis is also known as Sneeze Wort or Green Milkweed Climber. This plant is known to many Indian cuisines and has names in many Indian languages. In Marathi it is called 'harandodi' or 'naaksikani'. In Hindi it's also known as 'akad bel'. The Malayalam word for it is 'velipparuthi'  while in Gujarati it's called 'kadvo kharkhodo', and in Bengali it's also called 'tita kunga'.  See here for more details -

I'd never heard of this ingredient nor seen it but the tiny, pretty bunches of blooms were irresistible and of course I bought some. I asked the vendor how to cook it and he said to either stir fry it with a little garlic and plenty of potatoes or to use it instead of uchhe (bitter gourd) to make sukto. It's quite bitter, he warned, and I wasn't to try to eat it on its own.

Back in Mumbai I read several sukto recipes before I attempted making it for the first time. My mother loved sukto - or 'suktuni' as she preferred to call it - and I keenly missed her because it would have been so easy to just call her on the phone and learn how to make one of her favourite dishes. I wish I had paid attention on the rare times she made it... 

Anyway! Here's the recipe for the Sukto I cobbled together today. This dish has a lot of ingredients and therefore there's a good amount of prep to do before you start cooking so make sure you read the recipe from start to finish and make a shopping list before you go to get the veggies. 

Jukti Phool diye Sukto

Jukti phool - half a cup
1 small potato
1 small sweet potato
1 small ridge gourd 
1 small long brinjal or a chunk from a large one
7-8 green beans (yard longs/borboti or french beans, either will do)
7-8 papdi or seem (flat beans) 
1 drumstick
2" piece of ginger

2 tbsp mustard paste 
2 tbsp poppy seed paste

1 tsp panch phoron
1 tsp randhuni (ajmod seeds)
1/2 cup milk
mustard oil

Wash the jukti phool and drain in a colander. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into thick batons. Peel the ridge gourd, discard seeds and pith, and cut into batons of the same size as the potatoes. Don't cut the vegetables too thin or small or they will disintegrate while cooking.
String the beans and cut into 3" pieces.
Peel the hard outer skin of the drumstick and cut into 5" batons.
Cut brinjal into proportionate pieces, not too small.
Grate or pound the ginger into a rough paste. 

Heat a generous quantity of mustard oil in a wok or kadai and wait till it's properly hot. Fry the prepared vegetables one by one for a couple of minutes each and remove to a plate or other flat vessel. 

In the same oil, after you've finished frying all the vegetables, chuck in the panch phoron, randhuni and grated ginger (add a little oil if required before you throw in the spices). Let the spices sizzle for a few seconds and then add the mustard and poppy seed pastes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Keep the flame low and stir well to cook everything. See that the pastes don't stick to the bottom of the kadai.

After a minute or two add a cup of water and the milk. There are different methods followed with the addition of milk - some recipes add it at the end of the cooking and some add it early. I added it at this stage. Bring the whole mix to a gentle boil and then add the fried vegetables. Mix gently and then cover the kadai and let it cook over low heat till the vegetables are done.

Once the vegetables are cooked switch off the flame and drizzle good ghee over the sukto. Cover and let it infuse for five minutes.

Sukto often has bori (vadi or lentil cakes) in it. My mom would fry the bori and then crumble it over the cooked sukto before serving. I didn't have any bori so I couldn't do that bit. 

You can make sukto without randhuni. It will taste different but no one will accuse you of cooking a sukto that's not authentic. So don't stress out over the randhuni. 

There are many variations to the vegetables in a sukto. Use whatever you have at hand - brinjal plantain, radish, potato, sweet potato, beans of various kinds, gourds, and something bitter, be it bitter gourd or jukti phool. Did you notice there are no spices here apart from the panch phoron and randhuni?

Serve the sukto as the first course of your meal with plain rice. Follow it up with daal accompanied by a couple of bhajas and then a light machh'er jhol and you'll be on your way to a proper Bengali meal! Or just keep it simple and have it with hot rice and daal to follow.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mogri Aloo Subzi - Radish Pods and Potatoes

Mogri, moogri, lila mogra, lila mogri, rat-tail radish, radish pod - just a few of the names I've encountered for this winter vegetable. Somehow I didn't notice it at my local veggie shop all these months till I chanced upon it yesterday. I duly bought some as in another couple of weeks it's going to be difficult to find seasonal fresh vegetables as the temperatures are already soaring.


The weather is pretty awful already and I don't feel like cooking elaborate or even spiced up dishes and nor do I feel like eating much - it's just too hot! The mogri was perfect for a light lunch paired with a simple Bengali style daal and plain rice. It works well with chapatis too.

Mogri Aloo Subzi

250 gms Mogri
1 or 2 potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic
1-2 green chillies
chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder

Wash the mogri thoroughly and drain in a colander. Cut into 2 inch pieces. I found it easier to snip them with my kitchen scissors but you can chop with a knife if that works for you.

Peel the potato and cut into thin fingers. Peel and smash the garlic. Remove the stalk from the green chilli and break the chilli into 2 inch pieces.

Heat oil in a kadai - you can use any neutral oil or even mustard oil, I used peanut oil.

Once the oil is hot drop in the green chillies and the garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add the cut potatoes and cook over a slow flame for a few minutes till the potatoes are 3/4th done.

Add the chopped mogri and stir well. Add the spices and salt, stir again to mix the spices in, and then let it cook covered on a low flame for roughly five minutes till the mogri is cooked.

Serve with hot rotis/chapatis or as a side with daal and rice.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pui Chorchori - Malabar Spinach Stir Fry with Vegetables

Chorchoris are light side dishes that liven up a meal and provide plenty of nutrition thanks to the myriad seasonal vegetables that go into them. The spicing is minimal, usually dried chilies and panch phoron, apart from the basic salt and turmeric though some recipes have cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic and even onions. As with most things, recipes and traditions vary from family to family, kitchen to kitchen. I like the chorchori with as few spices as possible and use just panch phoron and chilli, sometimes fresh green and sometimes dried red ones.

The vegetables in a chorchori vary with availability and of course the preference of the cook and those who will eat. The usual suspects include brinjal, pumpkin, potatoes, flat beans, white radish.. the list is endless. Pui Shaak or Malabar spinach makes the base of this version.

Pui Chorchori

2 cups Pui tender stalks and leaves
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup red pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 cup brinjal, cubed

1 tsp panch phoron
1/4 tsp fennel
2 green chillies
mustard oil.

Separate the leaves and stalks of the Pui greens, discarding the wilted sticky leaves and the thicker hard stalks. Wash the leaves and the stalks separately. Wash really well. Leave in the colander to drip off excess water.

Prep the vegetables. Chop the pui stalks into small pieces (2-3 inches) and chop the leaves too.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of mustard oil in a kadai and once it's properly hot reduce the heat and chuck in the chillies, panch phoron and the fennel seeds. It will all sizzle.

Add the cubed potatoes and saute for a minute. Then add the pui stalks and the pumpkin pieces and saute for another couple of minutes.

Add the brinjal pieces, salt and turmeric and mix well. Cover and let it all cook on a medium flame for a few minutes. Then add the pui leaves and mix again.

Add half a cup of water, cover and cook on a low flame till the potatoes and pumpkin pieces are cooked through. Dry off the water and check for salt before you take it off the heat.

Serve the chorchori with daal and rice, and a bhaja for a perfectly light Bengali meal. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mangsho'r Jhol, Pound Cake, and Moni

It's Moni's birthday today. The first one after her death and it feels strange. A year has gone by marking the first this and the first that after she's been gone and in a couple of weeks it will be her first death anniversary too. Yes, a year has passed as years inevitably do. And we are figuring out what to do to mark the date.

She specified very strongly that there were to be no rituals. No rituals at the funeral, no observance of 'ashauchh' or the immediate days of ritual mourning, no Shraadh on the 13th day. While we followed her wishes to the letter it left me feeling a little lost, rudderless and even deprived...

We scoff at rituals, deem them meaningless, a show, a waste, and very often they are just that. But sometimes the rituals are an anchor, something to hold on to, something to focus on as you grieve, as you accept change, especially as you accept death. Maybe they were designed to simply keep the mind occupied; the rules told you what to do so you went the through the days mechanically without having to engage your mind wondering what to do, thinking about what to cook/eat, what to wear, etc. And then, after a reasonable period of time you have a ceremony where family gathers and you formally end the mourning period. And limp back to life because life goes on regardless.

And so here we are again with no rituals to cling to, to show us the way. Instead we have to make up our own and get through the days.

Mothers are usually the person we learn cooking from and I learned from Moni. The first thing I learned from her (apart from prepping the pressure cooker with washed daal and rice put neatly in the separator containers) was a basic pound cake.

It was a random afternoon and post lunch I was bored. She was in bed enjoying a Mills and Boon. To get me out of her hair so she could read in peace she set me baking a cake. Since she always make a double batch (my brother could, and often would, devour an entire pound cake on his own while reading his comics or a Loius L'Amour novel) I was doing the same. I went back and forth from the kitchen to her bedroom getting the recipe in installments and showing her what I was doing.

Ingredients were carefully measured, brown paper packets were cut to line the bottoms of the cake tins, the oven was set to preheat, and I proudly mixed the batter using Moni's precious Kenwood stand mixer. Eventually the batter was ready, the cakes were in the oven and I waited quite impatiently for the fruits of my labour. Finally they were out, and then cooled enough to be cut.

Oh NO! My cakes were thick and fudgy instead of being beautifully light and spongy. I was heartbroken and Moni was not amused at the monumental waste of all those ingredients. As usual I got a solid scolding for not paying attention to her instructions. In tears, I went through her instructions again and that's when we realised she'd only said three eggs instead of doubling them to six! My father had a hearty laugh and all he had to say was - this is what happens when you have your nose buried in those blessed Mills and Boons! Of course, Moni insisted she'd said six and not three eggs...

While Moni wasn't particularly fond of cooking she was ironically, a fantastic cook. Whenever we had friends over she'd make mangsho'r jhol and it eventually became her signature dish and we couldn't envision a get together without her making mangsho'r jhol. Every visit home to Kolkata involved demands of mangsho'r jhol to be kept ready for me to dig into as soon as I stepped into the house. The brother's demand was the same. Make mangsho'r jhol. And make cake.

So on that first anniversary I will make mangsho'r jhol, and cake. I can't think of a better ritual. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Green Garlic, Spring onion, Bacon, and Egg Tart

Green garlic season is on and as it's one of the favourite ingredients for Parsis I've been seeing it very often in my kitchen. One dish that we made quite often is leela lasan (green garlic) ne leela kanda (spring onion) per eeda which is eggs steamed on a bed of the two greens with salt, pepper and a light spicing of cumin or jeera. To be honest, I got a bit bored making this same thing so often and decided to play with basic concept and do something fun while still retaining the basic character of the dish.

I always have puff pastry sheets in my freezer and I also found a packet of bacon in there. And the idea of a tart was born.

Leela Lasan, Leela Kanda, ne Bacon per Eeda Tarts

1 bunch green garlic
1 bunch spring onions
1 onion
1 tsp cumin seed

1 sheet puff pastry
a few rashers bacon

To make the filling.

Wash the greens well and then chop as fine as possible. Use the roots of the green garlic too, they pack a lot of flavour.
Chop the onion fine.
In a pan heat some oil and add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Chuck in the chopped greens and the onion and saute on a slow flame till it is all cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the heat on medium to low as you cook because the onions and garlic mustn't brown at all. Stir frequently as you cook.
You can make this mix in advance and store it in the fridge up to two or three days, ready to use whenever you like.

To make the tarts

Preheat the oven at 180C

Fry the bacon rashers lightly and then chop into small pieces. Don't let the bacon become crisp - remember it will be baked on the tarts later.

Let the pastry sheet thaw a bit and then cut into four equal squares. Run a pizza wheel or a knife lightly along the edges to trace a 'frame'. Don't cut through the pasty. With a fork poke the middle of the pastry till the entire surface has been marked. Once again, don't go through the pasty.

Line your baking tray with parchment or baking paper and arrange the pastry squares on the sheet.
Arrange the leela lasan filling on each square in a thin layer making a slight hill along the edges. This will help keep the egg in the middle when you add it later.

Once all the squares are done pop the tray into the oven and bake for around 12-15 minutes till you see the pastry puffing up along the edges. 

Remove the tray carefully and get ready to add the eggs. Now this gets a little tricky so it's best if you break each egg into a cup or bowl instead of directly onto the tart. The egg white can spill all over and out of the tart so you have better control if you break it in a cup first. Use a tablespoon and carefully pick up the yolk and place it in the centre of a tart. Arrange bacon pieces around the yolk (it strengthens the 'fort' and helps keep the egg white in). Spoon over the egg white carefully. I found it harder to keep the egg white within the filling.

Crack fresh pepper over the tarts once you have placed eggs and bacon on each and then put it all back in the oven to bake at 160C till the eggs are set to your liking. This could take anything from 6-8 minutes to longer depending on how set you want your eggs but once the whites turn opaque it's good to go.

Enjoy the tarts hot straight out of the oven!

These are great for breakfast and work well as an evening snack too. Kids and adults will enjoy the crunch of the pastry and this is a great way to get your family to eat some greens :)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

A couple of weeks ago I made a spicy, coconut-y Kerala Pork Fry for a pop up. It was delicious and I was lucky to have found a good recipe and friends to approve and confirm that it would give me good results and authentic flavours. For that pork fry I'd made a batch of fresh Kerala Garam Masala and there was plenty left over.

I also had some of the toasted coconut that I'd made for the same fry.

Since I didn't have any pork in the freezer but wanted to enjoy those flavours again I thought of trying the same recipe adapted for prawns.

Oh my, did that work out well or what?!

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

500 gms prawns, cleaned
chilli powder
pepper powder

2 large onions, chopped
5-6 sprigs curry leaves
2-3 green chillies, more if you're okay with a lot of heat
1 pod garlic, peeled and chopped
3 inch piece ginger, peeled and pounded roughly
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp Kerala Garam masala*
1 cup toasted grated fresh coconut

Wash the prawns and marinate in salt, turmeric, chilli powder and some freshly ground, slightly coarse black pepper. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a wok, be generous, and once the oil is hot chuck in the curry leaves along with the green chillies. You can roughly break up the chillies, or chop them into small pieces. Add the garlic and fry for a minute and then throw in the pounded fresh ginger. Mix and fry for another minute or two. Now add the onions.

Fry the mix till the onions start to brown. Now add the dry spices and a little salt and mix well so it all cooks evenly. Add oil if required or the spices will burn and stick to the bottom of your cooking pot. Stir in the toasted coconut and mix properly. Cook on a low flame till the whole mix is fragrant and cooked. Adjust salt keeping in mind that the prawns have salt in the marinade.

In a separate pan heat some oil and fry the prawns in batches for around 30 seconds, just till they turn opaque. Add them to the cooked masala, stir well and cook covered for just a few minutes till the prawns are done. Remove the lid, ramp up the heat and dry off any moisture in the pot. You can add some more fried curry leaves for added flavour at the end.

Serve hot as an accompaniment with evening drinks, or make a meal of it paired with pav, rice, or rotis.

* Kerala Garam Masala

2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp pepper corns
2 star anise
4 inches cassia bark (desi cinnamon)
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp cloves

Broil all the spices till fragrant, cool a bit and then whizz in a spice grinder.
There are variations of this with the fennel, pepper, cardamom, cloves being common and mace, nutmeg, star anise  or cinnamon adding to the flavours. You can add the combination that you like.
Store in an air-tight bottle. 

I Eat Pulish'er Daal to Grow Up Fast!

I was around seven or eight years old, on yet another summer vacation trip to Kolkata. On a warm afternoon I was at Khukhun Didin's house discussing the menu for the special feast she would cook for us, my brother and I, her very honoured guests. The shiny kansa dinner ware had been approved (at Lokhi Didin's house we ate off banana leaves with terracotta bowls and water glasses) and now we had to fix the dishes we wanted to eat. We'd also go across to Ranu Didin's for another feast or she'd feel left out, wouldn't she?! This was the advantage of having three of my Didin's sisters living just a few houses away from her. 

Mutton would have to be on the menu of course, with mishti bhaat, machher kalia, and yes chingri maach would be good too, cooked in any way Khukun Didin fancied. Now that we'd finished discussing the main parts of the menu I condescended to approve the less attractive bits like daal, torkari, shukto (eewww we don't like it so it can't be on the menu, no way!) and the bhajas.  

Oh yes, bhajas were expected in large quantities, and only aloo please because though I was happy to eat begun bhaja the brother hated begun (brinjal) in any form. With bhaja was always daal - actually it's the other way around but our primary interest was the bhaja so that's how we looked at it. Once the bhajas were sorted we moved on to discuss daal. 

"Ki daal khabe?" Khukun Didin asked. What daal will you have? And I promptly answered "Pulish'er daal! Ami pulish'er daal khai, pulish'er daal khele taratari boro hoa jay!" Police Daal! I eat Police Daal because Police Daal makes you grow up quickly. She stared at me in fascination and then went into complete peals of laughter! After drying her tears of pure delight she asked me which daal was 'pulish'er daal' and I looked at her in amazement - such ignorance! She didn't know what pulish'er daal was! Of course I couldn't enlighten her and she eventually asked my Didin what pulish'er daal was.

Years later, when I was in my early teens and learning to cook, pulish'er daal was a faint memory when one day I suddenly remembered it and asked Moni which daal it was. She looked at me in amusement, tinged with her own memories of her efforts at making the two of us brats eat our food without fuss, and revealed - arhar daal or tuvar/toor daal. 

Even today when I cook arhar daal there's a part of me that still calls it Pulihs'er daal and smiles. 

Pulish'er Daal

1/2 cup arhar or toor daal
a couple of green chillies
1 onion sliced
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
fresh coriander, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp jeera
mustard oil

Wash the daal and let it soak for 10-15 minutes if you like. You can cook it without soaking too. Pressure cook the washed daal with enough water and around half a teaspoon of turmeric. The daal shouldn't become a mush, the grains should be cooked but remain whole. 

In a kadai heat mustard oil and once hot chuck in the jeera and the whole green chillies. Add the sliced onion and fry till the onion just starts going brown. Add half a teaspoon of sugar while frying the onions. 

Pour in the cooked daal and bring it all to a boil. Add salt at this stage. My mom would add chopped tomatoes with the daal, I don't. I prefer the daal without tomatoes. 

Once the daal has come to a good boil stir in a generous dollop of ghee and switch off the heat. If you're vegan don't add the ghee.

Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve hot with plain rice. 

Accompaniments with the daal are ideally a bhaja or two - this could be fried fish, fried potatoes, brinjals, pointed gourd, lady's fingers, bitter gourd, etc. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

It was one of those days when breakfast outside has been a sore disappointment and I was feeling irritable and in dire need of comfort. The hubby had a rare day off from work and wanted a nice lunch to wipe away the memories of a truly bad breakfast experience. As much as I wanted the comfort of a home cooked meal, confident that whatever I cooked would be a balm on our abraded minds, I wasn't up to cooking a complicated time consuming dish. Yet I didn't want the 'same old thing'.

My first thought was prawns - delicious, easy to cook, and most importantly - done with minimum hassle. The fact that my local fish shop stocks excellent produce and a kilo of cleaned, shelled, and deveined prawns was just a phone call away only made the prospect of prawns more attractive. I decided to make a simple prawn curry to be paired with plain white rice.

I follow a basic easy recipe and make this light curry quite often but as I mentioned earlier, I wasn't in the mood for the same old thing. A trip to the veggie shop earlier that day meant that I'd come home with a bunch of fresh green garlic and a couple of green limes among the other vegetables I'd bought. We've been enjoying the green garlic in plenty of breakfast omelettes and scrambles and I thought it's high time I used them in something else. And that's how they landed up in the curry.

I replaced the coconut cream with coconut milk and ended up with a thin broth like curry which I liked so much I had a bowlful as soup while the rice cooked.

Coincidentally the theme for the week for a food photography challenge I'm doing with a small bunch of friends was soup, and since I suddenly had a lovely soup at hand I proceeded to dig out some pretty props and put together a photograph for the week. Instead of going the predictable soup bowl and spoon route I pulled out fancy tea ware and made an effort to style the photo instead of simply plonking a bowl of soup on my windowsill and taking a quick pic. I'm quite pleased with the result of my efforts :)

Well anyway, here's the recipe for the soup/curry-

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

I cup prawns, shelled and deveined
2 inch stick, cassia bark
a sprig or two, curry leaves
a small bundle of green garlic, washed and chopped fine
1 tbsp, chopped fresh coriander
1 small onion, chopped fine
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 green lime

Marinate the prawns in salt and turmeric and set aside while you prep the curry ingredients.

Heat oil in a wok and lightly fry the prawns till they turn just opaque. This should take a couple of minutes at the most. Do it in batches so all the prawns are cooked evenly. Remove from the wok and set aside.

In the same wok add a little more oil and heat it well. Chuck in the green chillies, roughly snapped into two or three pieces along with the curry leaves and the cassia bark. Fry for 30 seconds and then add the chopped onion. Fry till translucent (don't allow the onions to brown) and then add the chopped green garlic (shoots, garlic bulbs, and roots) and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the chilli powder, a little turmeric, and salt, stir well and fry for another few minutes.

Now pour in the coconut milk and bring the curry to a boil. Add a little water so you have a proportionate amount of curry for the amount of prawns going in. Once the curry comes to a boil chuck in the prawns and cook for just a few minutes till they are nearly cooked, just a minute or so shy of being completely cooked. Put off the flame and grate in the zest from the green lime. Give it a stir, add the fresh coriander leaves, cover the wok and let it infuse for a minute.

Serve hot with plain rice and wedges of lime. Or enjoy it as a soup before main course.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari ar Luchi - Bengali Style Long Cut Potatoes with Puris

Sometimes breakfast demands to be elaborate. The usual toast and eggs or muesli simply don't make the cut and the heart demands something more. And then, if it's Kali Pujo, the demands are louder. Since I don't make luchis very often I decided Kali Pujo was a special enough occasion to put aside all thoughts of counting calories and carbs and to simply indulge. And thus we had luchi and alu'r torkari for breakfast today.

Now there are many different kinds of alu'r torkari, or potato preparations, that can be paired with luchis, the pale, pure maida Bengali puris. From a simple alu bhaja (fried potato) to a more elaborate alu'r dom, alu phulkopi, sada alu'r torkari, Bengalis have a wide range of options. One that my mom used to make very frequently was a lomba kaata alu'r torkari.

This is a very simple preparation with barely any spices or ingredients and is absolutely delicious. It's also quick to cook which makes it perfect for breakfast. Once in a way mom would make this early in the morning for our school tiffins too. She'd roll up luchis with the torkari tucked inside and put three or four rolls in the box, enough for me and my friends to have a high treat at tiffin break!

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari

4 large potatoes
2 green chillies
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
1 tomato
chilli powder
mustard oil

Cut the potatoes into matchsticks, not too thin. You can retain the peel, make sure you wash the potatoes really well.

Chop the tomato and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and once it's properly hot chuck in the green chillies followed by the kalonji.

Once the kalonji finishes sizzling, add the potatoes.

Stir well to coat the potatoes with the oil and kalonji seeds.

Cover the wok and lower the flame, let the potatoes cook for a couple of minutes. Do not let the potatoes brown.

Once the potatoes are translucent add the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and tomato and stir properly to mix well. Let it cook for a bit, a couple of minutes.

Now add enough water to just cover the potatoes.

Bring it to a boil and cook uncovered till the potatoes are done and the water nearly dried up.

This dish doesn't have a gravy, but don't let the water dry out completely. The gravy should be barely there, just coating the potatoes.

Serve with hot luchis.

Here's the recipe for Bengali luchi.

This torkari goes well with porota and with regular everyday rotis too. Mom made it for dinner paired with rotis quite often. On days when you'r short of ingredients this torkari can be a lifesaver. For me, this torkari is something I associate very strongly with my mother - memories of Sunday breakfasts and special dabbas for for school. Such a simple torkari, but so much more than just a torkari.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Jaffna Mutton Curry

After two trips to Sri Lanka it goes without saying that my pantry is well stocked with Sri Lankan spices! A few days ago as I looked through my collection of spice blends I found the stash from Sri Lanka and decided it was high time I started using them. The easiest and most appealing (to me) would be a curry, redolent of spices and coconut milk and so I went looking for a recipe and settled on Peter Kuruvita's recipe for Jaffna Goat Curry which you can see here. Needless to say, I adjusted the recipe according to the ingredients I had at hand.

Here's what I did -

Jaffna Mutton Curry

500 gms Mutton, on the bone, cut into regular curry pieces
1 stick Sri Lankan cinnamon (As you can see in the photo this is a thin papery cinnamon, quite different from Indian cassia. If you're using Indian cassia a 2 inch piece should do)
7-10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
1 tbsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped fine or blitzed
200 ml coconut milk
2 onions, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh curry leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, bashed
1 inch ginger, bashed
3-4 green chillies
1 tsp dried pandan leaves or one long 4 inch fresh leaf
Juice from half a lime
10 cm lemongrass stalk (I didn't have it so I went without it)
oil for cooking
salt as required

Wash the mutton pieces lightly and set aside.

In a clean bowl make the marinade by putting the dry spice powders, tomato and coconut milk together and mixing well to combine. Pour this over the meat pieces, mix well to coat properly and set aside for an hour or so.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed vessel and fry the onions with curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chillies, pandan leaf, and lemon grass stalks. Stir and fry till the onions turn translucent.

Add the marinated meat to this onion mix, stir well and braise for a couple of minutes. Though the original recipe doesn't require you to braise the meat, I am so used to braising meat a little before I add any liquid, I did it anyway. I also added salt at this stage.

Now add water to just cover the meat, bring it to a boil and then simmer it for 25 minutes or as long as necessary till the meat is cooked and tender and your gravy is not very watery. Squeeze in the lemon juice and serve with hot steamed rice.

This is one of the easiest curries I've ever made. There's hardly any prep to be done, the marinade is simple, and it's cooked in an hour if you follow the original which does't call for any long marination. I love easy, no fuss recipes like this and I'm going to make this pretty often.

Like most curries this one too tastes better eaten the next day so if you can wait that long, good for you! Otherwise just dive in right away.