Saturday, January 19, 2019

Moog Daal'er Khichuri



My oldest memory of moog'er daal is of Didin perched on her stool in her kitchen at her electric heater stirring moog'er daal or moong daal in a large shining iron kadai. The clinging sound of the 'khunti' and the swish of the daal as she leaned over the table stirring continuously was a common occurrence in the mornings as she prepped for the day's breakfast and lunch. Didin didn't cook a wide variety of dishes nor did she make special festive foods to mark the different 'parbon' that came by every month. She didn't observe fasts on the shastis and ekadashis either. The Hindu calendar was not a big part of our lives in Kolkata or in Mumbai as Moni didn't follow any of this either. But she cooked for us every day and we looked forward to our visits to her house for there would be a steady stream of everyday food tempered with special treats of mangsho'r jhol, machh'er chop, khichuri and other delights.

Though Didin had a frugal repertoire in the kitchen she fed us very well and we looked forward to our annual trips to Kolkata where we'd be pampered silly by Didin, and all the mamas and mashis - my mother's siblings and cousins. 

The smell of roasting moog daal is something most Bengalis will identify with - it is the smell of home, of Bengal, of grandmothers and mothers, of comfort and comfort food. The moog daal I saw at Didin's house was tiny in comparison with what I saw in Mumbai. Each grain was the size of a pin head, so different from the longish grains I had seen in the shops in Mumbai. This is Sona Moog'er Daal, a variety that is grown in Bengal and is naturally, the preferred variety in Bengali kitchens.

40 years ago it wasn't available in Mumbai and there was only that much Moni could carry back from Kolkata when we visited. So we ate moog'er daal only in Didin's house, Moni rarely cooked it at home in Mumbai. Nowadays it is far easier to find regional ingredients in Mumbai - not only do large supermarket chains carry good selections of regional ingredients, there are stand-alone shops that have a captive clientele for whom they source ingredients. That's not all - there are quite a few online stores that specialise in such products and deliver pan India.

In Kharghar I am very fortunate to have Jambon Stores in Sector 20 which has transformed from being just another cold storage shop selling chicken, fish, cold cuts, frozen peas, etc., to a Bengali ingredients emporium where fresh stocks arrive every week by train from Bengal. And among all the wonderful products are varieties of rice and daal from Bengal including the beautiful small grained sona moog daal.

One of the most popular dishes made with moog daal is khichuri. While khichuri is a must at the Durga Puja pandal bhogs, cooked without onions or garlic, and paired with a delicious mix vegetable preparation called labra, it also shows up on home menus depending on the season. The monsoon is deemed khichuri weather and in the first week when the rains have just arrived, while the rest of the world celebrates with chai and bhajias/pakoras, we Bengalis rub our hands in glee looking forward to a plate of steaming khichuri with a variety of bhajas on the side.

Winter is also khichuri season but with beautiful winter vegetables adding their flavour - cauliflower, red carrots, green peas, potatoes are the top favourites in a "sheet kaal'er khichuri" or winter khichuri. Here's how to make it.

Moog Daal'er Khichuri

Moog Daal - 1/2 cup
Gobindobhog rice - 1/2 cup
2 medium potatoes
1 tomato
1/2 cup green peas
3-4 large florets cauliflower
1-2 carrots (optional)
4 Indian bay leaves/tej pata
1 tsp jeera
4 cardamom
4 clove
2" cinnamon
2-3 green chillies
2" piece ginger
salt
turmeric
jeera powder
dhania powder
Bengali garam masala
sugar
mustard oil
ghee
water as required



Wash the rice and leave it in a fine mesh colander to drain.

Roast the daal gently in a dry wok for around 10 minutes till the colour changes and there's a lovely toasty aroma. The daal should change from its pale yellow to a nutty brown. Roast it to a level you like, just ensure you don't burn it. Once roasted, wash the daal once, drain and set aside. Don't wash the daal very vigorously or repeatedly as you will lose all the lovely toasty aroma and flavour.


Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Cut the cauliflower florets but not too small as they will then disintegrate into the khichuri. Peel the carrots an cut into thick barrels, if using. Shell the peas or thaw frozen peas. Peel the ginger and smash in your mortar and pestle till relatively smooth. This barely takes half a minute so use fresh. Wash and chop the tomato.

Now in a thick bottomed vessel heat mustard oil. Once properly hot fry the potatoes, then the cauliflower and reserve on a plate. Fry the veggies till they brown a little. This frying helps keep them intact while they cook in the khichuri.

In the same vessel add a little oil if required and then add the whole spices. Let them sizzle and then add the chopped tomato and the smashed ginger. Chuck in the green chillies, broken into 2-3 pieces depending on their size. Cook everything on a medium flame till the tomato has totally disintegrated and everything is mixed well.

In a small bowl mix all the dry spices in a little water to make a runny paste. Add this to the pot, stir well and cook till the spices have lost their rawness and oil is released.

Add the drained rice to the mix and saute for a few minutes. Then add the washed and drained bhaja moog'er daal or roasted moog daal. Mix everything well, add salt and enough water to cook the khichuri. Once the mix has come to a boil lower the heat and add potatoes. Cook covered on medium heat. Once the potatoes are half cooked add the cauliflower, peas, and carrots. Add a teaspoon or so of sugar at this stage. Cover the pot and let the khichuri cook.

If you're using frozen peas add them at the end, in the last couple of minutes. make sure they are thawed properly before you chuck them in.

Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the vessel. Add warm water only if required. Cook slowly till done. Once the khichuri is cooked add a good dollop of ghee and a sprinkling of Bengali garam masala to the pot and stir it in. Taste for salt and adjust if needed.  The khichuri should be thick and porridge-like, not dry.

If you're vegan, leave out the ghee.

You can serve this sheet kaal'er khichuri with begun bhaja, potol bhaja, or a simple omelette with onions and green chillies in it. A fried papor/papad will make it complete!



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Palong Shaak Ghonto - Spinach with Vegetables



Spinach/palak/ palong shaak is the leafy green that was cooked the most often in our house. On occasion we would eat laal shaak or red amaranth which I loved because of that fabulous colour it oozed onto the rice in my plate. Moni was not fond of cooking though she was a good cook and tended to make the simpler dishes that required less prep. So greens like methi never appeared on our dinner table. In spite of its frequent appearance at meals I never got tired of palong shaak and I cook it quite often too.

Palong shaak features in many Bengali recipes and this one with brinjal, potato and 'bori' (dried lentil dumplings that look like Hershey's Kisses in shape) is a general favourite. Like most everyday dishes, this shaak ghonto is quite easy to cook. This dish is also vegan.

Palong Shaak Ghonto

1 bunch spinach
1 medium potato
1 small brinjal
a handful of bori
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tsp panch phoron
salt
turmeric
mustard oil.

Chop the spinach, wash thoroughly in plenty of water and leave aside in a colander to drain.
Peel and cut the potato into smallish cubes.
Cut the brinjal into proportionate cubes.

Heat oil in the wok and fry the potatoes, brinjals, and the boris separately and remove to a plate/vessel.

Add a little oil to the wok and let it heat properly. Chuck in the panch phoron and the dried red chillies and fry for a few seconds. Don't let it burn.

Add the drained spinach leaves and mix well. Add salt and turmeric, stir to mix, lower the flame and cook the spinach covered for around five minutes.

Add the fried potatoes and cook till the potatoes are soft and most of the water has dried up.

Add the brinjals, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally add the fried bori, mix them in and take off the heat after a minute or so.

Serve the ghonto as an accompaniment to rice and daal, or enjoy it with hot chapatis.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Kaale Gajar ka Halwa - Purple Carrot Fudge



There's a certain pleasure in cooking with ingredients that are seasonal and available in limited areas. Like Kaale Gajar or purple carrots available mainly in North India. I certainly haven't seen them in any market in Mumbai.

My friend Sangeeta Khanna of Banaras ka Khana  an excellent blog that showcases recipes from Benaras and Eastern UP, was coming to Mumbai for a very short trip and at my request, brought me a generous bagful of beautiful purple carrots. "It's early in the season and the carrots are baby sized" she warned me as she handed me the precious cargo. I was delighted to receive the carrots, large, small, or baby sized!



If you post the question "What to make with kaale gajar?" on social media you will get two answers - halwa, and kaanji. There are no takers for kaanji in my house so I made halwa with a portion of the booty. Throughout the process of making the halwa we were entranced at the beautiful colour of these carrots and I took lots of photos, some of which you can see here.

A common issue with this halwa is that the milk tends to split. Luckily for me that didn't happen. It could be thanks to the full fat buffalo milk I used.

You can add more sugar if you prefer the halwa sweeter. We're a diabetic household so I kept it as low as possible. I also used condensed milk which is sweetened - another reason why I kept the grain sugar low in my recipe. The recipe also has raisins which add their own sweetness.

There are numerous methods for gajar ka halwa, this is what I did.

Kaale Gajar ka Halwa

3 cups peeled and grated purple carrots/kaale gajar
1 litre milk
2 tbsp sugar
a pinch of salt
4-5 cardamom pods
1/2 can Milkmaid condensed milk
75 grams khoya + 25 gms extra for garnish
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp sliced and fried (in ghee) almonds


In a thick bottomed vessel place all the grated carrot. Pour in the milk. I used full fat buffalo milk from my local milk shop, not branded tetrapak-ed milk. Add the sugar and salt, stir well and then put it on the heat to boil. Chuck in the cardamom pods, lightly bashed to open them up and expose the seeds within.
As soon as it comes to a proper boil reduce the heat and let the carrots cook and the milk reduce. This will take a while so be prepared. The milk will slowly change colour as it absorbs colour from the carrots. I was so amazed by the beautiful colour I took a photograph of some of the milk separately and then poured it back into the pot.



Stir the mixture every few minutes checking to see that it hasn't stuck to the bottom of your pan/vessel.
When the milk has reduced to less than half pour in the condensed milk, stir well to mix, and cook further. Add the raisins at this stage.
On the side, heat ghee in a tadka pan and fry boiled and sliced almonds till golden. Keep this aside.

Keep cooking the carrot-milk mixture till it reaches the sticky thick consistency of a halwa. As the mix thickens it will need constant supervision and stirring so the halwa doesn't stick or burn. This is the last 10 minutes or so of the process so don't worry, there's not too much effort required!
Crumble the khoya and mix it in. Cook for a few more minutes till the consistency is perfect.



Remove to a pretty bowl, garnish with more khoa and the fried almond slivers. Serve the halwa hot. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Chingri diye Kolmi Shaak - Water Spinach with Prawns



Leafy greens are a big part of Bengali cuisine and you will a wide variety of recipes for an equally wide variety of greens or 'shaak' as we call them. Pui, palong, notey, kolmi, methi, sorse, ...the list is long! My visits to Kolkata always include a few trips to Gariahat market to pick up seasonal veggies. And in addition, there is a sobji-wala who comes to the house every morning laden with produce. This means there is no lack of good veggies whatever the season. Luckily for me, I also have an excellent veggie shop near my house in Kharghar where I get almost everything that is available in Kolkata, enabling me to cook quite a lot of typical Bengali dishes even though I'm not in Bengal.

Most of us tend to pick up regular spinach but not so much the other leafy greens. I certainly spent many years cooking only spinach, not being confident with the other greens. But now, after having read innumerable excellent Bengali food blogs and having really chewed the two volume Amish o Niramish Ahar by Pragyasundari Devi (my Bible for Bengali recipes) I have broadened my repertoire considerably. I learned many recipes for the various shaaks in combination with root vegetables, peas, brinjals, and of course, prawns.

I also look at recipe videos on YouTube and among my favourites are the ones showing recipes from Bangladesh. The ingredients are mostly the same as those from West Bengal but the recipes can differ quite a bit! Like this recipe I saw for kolmi shaak or water spinach cooked with prawns from Rosonar Shad  that includes onions. The Ghoti (West Bengali) recipes from my family don't include onion when cooking leafy greens even when they have non vegetarian elements like prawns. I liked the newness of this recipe and how different it is from the pui chingri I cook very often. The instructions are detailed and the recipe is quite simple. 

Chingri diye Kolmi Shaak 

kolmi shaak - 1 bunch
shelled and deveined prawns - 1/2 cup
mustard oil
1 onion
2-3 green chillies
salt
turmeric
dhaniya/coriander powder

Apply salt and turmeric to the prawns and leave to marinate while you prep the kolmi shaak.
Cut the kolmi shaak finely including the tender stalks. Wash thoroughly and leave aside in a colander to drain.
Slice the onion.
In a wok heat mustard oil and fry the prawns till they turn opaque. If you have large prawns cut into halves or smaller pieces and then fry.
Add the sliced onions and the green chillies to the prawns. You can slit the chillies for more heat or break them into pieces for less heat.
One the onions lose their rawness, add the chopped and drained kolmi shaak. Add salt keeping in mind that the prawns have already been salted. Stir well and let it cook covered for around 5 minutes. The shaak will release water and everything will get cooked in the steam.
Sprinkle a little coriander powder and mix well. Cook open, letting the excess water evaporate.
Serve with plain rice and daal.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Murgi'r Jhol - Bengali Everyday Chicken Curry



Jhols are thin stews that a big part of the repertoire of any decent Bengali cook. From the rojgere or sadharon (everyday or ordinary) to the Robibar'er (Sunday) jhols there are many versions of this spiced stew. Usually non vegetarian, the jhol will feature seasonal fish, chicken, or goat meat, and often features seasonal vegetables in addition to the meat or fish that is the star of the dish. Jhols are easy to put together and cook quickly too. Given their inherent simplicity they are a part of mundane everyday menus though their variety is wide.

Murgi'r jhol, a thin chicken curry, would appear regularly on Sundays and occasionally in the middle of the week to perk up our bored palates, tired of the monotonous daily machch'er jhols that appeared with stubborn regularity at very lunch. Goat meat was the ultimate treat for us while chicken was compromise, a relief from the relentless bowls of fish curry. A typical meal during the week would comprise rice, daal, a seasonal vegetable, an occasional bhaja or fry to go with the daal, and some form or the other of fish curry or machch'er jhol.  In spite of there being a variety of fish in the jhols, they were all perceived as a boring continuum and the occasional blip in the menu with chicken was warmly welcomed!

After Baba passed away Moni had to go to work daily and there was no time for elaborate meals with multiple courses. Very often she'd just cook a large pot of chicken curry and that would stretch over a couple of meals with plain steamed rice. My brother and I were quite happy to eat just curry and rice without vegetables, etc., cluttering up our plates. Slowly Moni started instructing me to prep for meals and keep things ready for her to cook once she get home from work. Apart from chopping veggies and washing rice, I also started marinating chicken for the jhol.

This is how, like thousands of other girls, I started to learn cooking. Murgi'r jhol is one of the first things I learned and now I too cook it quite often as it is easy and convenient, and makes for a deliciously simple meal.

Murgi'r Jhol

1 chicken, curry cut
2 onions, sliced finely
4 potatoes
3 carrots
fresh corainder

for marinade-
1/2 cup curd
salt
turmeric
kashmiri chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder
garam masala powder
ginger garlic paste
mustard oil

3 inch piece cinnamon
4 cardamom
6 cloves
2 star anise
3 Indian bay leaves
mustard oil
1/2 tsp sugar
water as required

In a large bowl mix the washed chicken pieces with all the ingredients listed under 'for marinade'. Mix well and evenly coat all the pieces of chicken. Leave aside for a couple of hours at least.

Peel and cut potatoes into thick wedges. Peel and cut carrots into thick batons. Slice onions as finely as you can. Pick the fresh coriander leaves and separate leaves and stems.

In a large kadai or wok heat a generous amount of mustard oil. Fry the potato wedges till they start to lightly brown. Remove and keep aside, draining as much oil as possible. You should have a decent amount of oil left behind in the kadai. Heat it again.

Once the oil is nice and hot drop in the whole spices and cook on medium heat for a minute. Add the sliced onions and the sugar and fry till the onions begin to brown. Keep the heat at medium. Add the marinated chicken and braise for 10 to 15 minutes till all the pieces have turned opaque. Keep stirring so all the pieces cook evenly and cook covered for another 10 minutes. 

Add the fried potatoes, carrots and coriander stems and mix well. Cook for a few minutes and then add enough water to make plenty of a watery gravy. Cook this further till the potatoes are done. Once the potatoes are cooked through the jhol is ready. Taste the jhol and adjust salt if required.

Scatter fresh coriander leaves and let it sit covered for five minutes and then serve with plain hot rice.







Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How to Make Apple Pie

Image may contain: food

Some desserts are ridiculously easy to make and they're really delicious too. I made a slightly tweaked cheat's apple pie today for a potluck with friends. The theme was Chinese food and I spiced my pie with Chinese 5 Spice powder instead of just cinnamon. I also used ready puff pastry to top the pie as I didn't have the time to make short crust pastry this morning in time for the potluck lunch. Since no one complained about the pastry I'm confident the results were quite palatable!
Here's how to make an easy apple pie with ready puff pastry.

Apple Pie with Puff Pastry

4 red apples
4 granny smiths
1.5 tsp Chinese five spice powder or Cinnamon powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
50 gms butter
A large pinch of salt
A little milk
1 sheet puff pastry, enough to cover the pie
Vanilla ice cream to serve



Image may contain: food

Peel and chop all the apples into large chunky pieces. Don't chop them small as they will turn mushy when you cook them for the filling. 

In a large pan heat the butter. As soon as it's all melted add the chopped apples. Stir well to coat all the fruit with the butter and cook for a couple of minute on medium heat. 

Sprinkle the five spice/cinnamon powder and the brown sugar onto the apples, stir to mix evenly, add salt, and then let it cook for a few minutes till the apples are cooked but not completely mushy. Leave some 'bite' in the fruit. 

Pour the apple mixture into your pie dish and let it cool. 

In the meanwhile get your puff pastry sheet out of the freezer. As soon as it's soft enough to work roll it out till it's larger than the surface of your pie. Trim from one side so you have a large enough piece to cut out decorations to put on top of your pie.

Cover the pie and cut out flowers or any other shape from the trimmed piece with a cookie cutter. Place the cut outs on the pie. Brush the top with milk and bake the pie in a preheated hot oven - 200C- for 15 minutes or till the pastry is a lovely golden colour. 

Serve the pie with vanilla ice cream. You can have it hot or cold. 


Image may contain: dessert and food

Monday, September 24, 2018

How to Make Buckwheat Focaccia



Making bread at home is fairly easy. All you need is good quality yeast, flour, water and a bit of salt, at the very basic level. Once you're confident with that you can easily expand your repertoire with a few more ingredients and even with different kinds of flour. I find focaccia to be one of the easiest breads for beginner bakers like me. I've made innumerable focaccias and so far, thankfully, I've had no disasters! 

On a recent visit to the market the hubby and I picked up a packet of buckwheat flour. The plan was to use it to make pancakes in place of the regular APF pancakes I was making. 

buckwheat flour

I happened to make bread at home soon after and we immediately wondered how a focaccia with some buckwheat flour would taste. I did search on the Net but found recipes that were purely for those looking for vegan or gluten free breads. Since those required ingredients I didn't have I decided to just see what happened if I replaced a certain amount of APF with buckwheat flour in my usual focaccia recipe. As you can see in the picture above, it worked! 

Buckwheat Focaccia

2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1.5 tbsp sugar
2.25 tsp instant yeast
1.5 tsp salt
1 cup tepid water
1/4 cup good quality olive oil

extra olive oil
toppings of your choice - garlic, sun dried tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, etc

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer mix all the dry ingredients and the olive oil. Stir for a couple of minutes to mix. Use the dough hook if you're using a stand mixer. Now pour the water into the mixture in two lots, mixing well in between additions. Don't add all the water unless you need to. Mix the dough combining all the ingredients till it comes together. 

If you're kneading by hand tip the dough out onto your cleaned and lightly oiled work surface and knead for a good 15 minutes till the dough comes together in a soft, slightly sticky ball. Add dry flour if the dough is too sticky but work at it steadily with a gentle hand. 

You can let your stand mixer do the kneading, it turns out just as well. Keep an eye on things and add a bit of dry flour if required. 

Once the dough is ready shape it into a neat ball and put it into a large greased (with olive oil) bowl to rise. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave it undisturbed in a warm spot till it has doubled in volume. 

Now turn out the risen dough onto your work surface and deflate it gently. Divide the dough into two and shape two loaves by gently patting the dough onto baking sheets. You can make the loaves thick or thin, as you like. Press holes into the surface of the loaf with your finger tips and poke in slivers of garlic, bits of rosemary, sun dried tomatoes or any other topping. Leave the loaves to rise for another 25-30 minutes. 

While the loaves are proofing set your oven to preheat at 200C. Once the loaves have risen properly slather generously with olive oil and bake for 15-18 minutes till done. When you tap on the loaf you should hear a firm hollow sound. The buckwheat flour will give you a darker loaf so don't go by how brown the loaf has become. 



Remove from the oven and brush with more olive oil. Let the breads cool and then slice up and serve. Enjoy the focaccia with bowls of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soft cream cheese, and some cold cuts, or pair it with a hearty bowl of soup. You can also make superb sandwiches with this bread. 

Making Ghee in the Microwave



I love making ghee at home and have done it ever since I set up my own home. In fact, in these 18 years of being married and having my own household I've bought a tin of Amul ghee only once. It wasn't bad but it was obviously different from ghee made in my house and I never bought ghee again. These days the only out sourced ghee in my kitchen is Bonolokkhi ghee from Santiniketan. A little jar of that sits in my kitchen to be used as a drizzle on hot rice or khichuri.

However, as much as we enjoy the Bonolokkhi ghee, nothing gives me as much pleasure as home made ghee from full fat buffalo milk. As a child I had seem my mother make ghee at home.

There would be an aluminium dekchi or pot in which she would collect the thick cream. Our household consumed a litre of buffalo milk daily and the pot of malai or 'shawr' would fill up in a week. Moni would take the pot out of the fridge and leave it to come to room temperature. Once it was soft enough to churn she would get her churner - a hand-held gadget that would be plunged into the collected cream and then one would turn a handle that in turn made a wheel go round to turn beaters just like the ones we get on hand held electric beaters today. Of course, Moni also had a fancy Kenwood electric stand mixer with a detachable hand beater but she found it easier to use the manual gadget rather than unpack the Kenwood.  The job of churning the malai soon fell to me as Moni decided I was old enough to be used as free kitchen labour.

Once the malai was sufficiently churned dollops of white butter would emerge and this butter was scooped out and then cooked over a low flame in a thick bottomed kadai till the beautiful, aromatic and golden ghee emerged. Moni would cool the ghee and then strain it to be stored in the large glass Nestle coffee jars with their broad orange plastic lids. She had dozens of these jars and her pantry cupboard would have a line of these filled to the brim with her home-made ghee. There would be so much ghee that a jar of ghee would be carried as a gift for Didin on our yearly trips to Kolkata.

In later years Moni had a lot more to handle and she stopped churning the cream to make butter but would simply cook it directly to make ghee. It was quicker and less bothersome. I too stopped extracting butter before making ghee out of sheer laziness. It isn't the most efficient way and there's a fair amount of cleaning to be done, especially of the cooking vessel. And then I discovered the method of making ghee in the microwave on Chef at Large.

This was a revelation! Nothing much to it and no mess at all! No stubbornly stuck bits on the cooking pot, no multiple pots and gadgets to clean, and beautiful ghee too! I am a convert and here's how to do it.

Microwave Ghee

Collected cream

Large microwave safe glass bowl
wire whisk or fork
spatula
tea strainer
glass jar
napkin


Keep the collected cream on your counter top to come to room temperature.
Transfer the cream to the microwave safe bowl.


Whisk it lightly to make it smooth and even.


Set your microwave on 100% and then zap the smoothened cream for 10 minutes.



Stir gently with your spatula and then zap again for another 10 minutes. Hold the bowl with a napkin as it might get hot.


Give it another 5 minutes and then continue microwaving in bursts of 5 minutes till it looks like this -



Let the ghee cool and then strain it into a clean glass jar. Your ghee is ready!

The residue in the bowl will come off very easily so you don't have to worry about soaking the vessel and then applying serious muscle power to clean it. This method worked really well and the ghee tastes as good as ever. Do give it a try.




Monday, July 30, 2018

Chingri Bhaape - Bengali Style Prawns Steamed in Mustard, Poppy Seed, and Coconut



As my journey of exploration into Bengali cuisine continues I'm impressed again and again at the sheer simplicity of most of the recipes be they simple everyday dishes or quite often, dishes one would serve as a treat on a special day. The list of ingredients is frugal and the method quite simple. In fact it's often made me wonder if the recipe would actually work. But of course my doubts have evaporated every time I'm put my faith in the recipe and simply given it a try.

Yesterday I was meeting friends for a potluck lunch. I volunteered to make some Bengali dishes among which was Chingri Bhaape, which, translated literally, means steamed prawns. As I read through the recipe in the numerous Bengali recipe books I'm cooking my way through I was hooked. All you had to do was mix all the ingredients with the prawns and steam the whole thing. That's it. I'm a great fan of quick, no fuss recipes and I couldn't wait to try it out. The results, I must say, were excellent and Chingri Bhaape is going to feature on my menus quite often, that's for sure!

Chingri Bhaape 

500 gms large prawns, shelled and deveined
salt
turmeric

4 tbsp poppy seed paste
3 tbsp mustard paste
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup mustard oil
6-8 fresh green chillies
1 tsp sugar


Soak poppy seeds for around 30 minutes, drain and then grind to a smooth paste. I added a couple of green chillies (not the very pungent ones) just for added flavour while making this paste.

Soak mustard seeds for 30 minutes, drain and make a paste. You can grind the mustard along with the poppy seeds. I like to keep it separate in case the mustard paste turns bitter. In a pinch I use Sunrise mustard powder which I get easily (touch wood!) from my local fish shop. This powder also needs to be soaked before use.

You can keep the tails on the prawns if you like. I remove everything as the husband has a shell allergy. Marinate the prawns in salt and turmeric while the poppy seeds and mustard is soaking.

Once the prep is done you're ready to go. Take a steel box or dabba with a close fitting lid that's large enough to hold all the prawns leaving enough room. In the box put in the prawns and all the ingredients barring the green chillies and mustard oil. Give it all a good mix.

Pour the mustard oil over the prawns and place the green chillies on top. Shut the box.

In a cooker or large vessel (one in which the box will fit) with a lid put water to heat. Place the box in this water. The box should sit in the water but shouldn't get submerged and water shouldn't get into the box. If you're using a pressure cooker put the lid on without the whistle. If you're using a regular vessel put on the lid. Once the water starts boiling lower the heat and let the box of prawns steam for a good 15- 20 minutes undisturbed. Put a weight on the lid to keep the steam in.

Alternatively, you can also cook the prawns directly on a VERY LOW flame directly in a kadai or wok. Just remember to leave it alone so that the steam generated stays in and the prawns and the pastes cook properly. Keep an eye on the gas flame - since it's kept very low it might go off and you don't want any accidents thanks to leaking gas.

Serve the Chingri Bhaape with plain hot rice.

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
salt

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. 

Image may contain: plant, flower, outdoor and food


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 - http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Sneeze%20Wort.html

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
water
salt
sugar
ghee


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.