Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pork with East Indian Bottle Masala and a few other conveniences

It's always on days that are really busy that I feel the urge to cook. Not only did I want to cook, I wanted an appreciative audience too. So I cajoled friends to drive down for dinner (from Pune!) and proceeded to raid the freezer and the store cupboards for inspiration. I took out the pork we had bought from a recently discovered pork shop nearby and waited for it to thaw while I finished my writing assignments for the day. I had a date with the kitchen to look forward to so I was inspired and the work was done sooner than I expected.

In the meantime I also badgered friends online for some ideas for the pork. I got some great suggestions but didn't quite have all that was required for the recipes. So I dug around my cupboards to see what I had. I found a packet of East Indian Bottle Masala that I had bought a few months ago at the Versova Koli Festival. It looked a nice fiery red and smelled awesome! I had it - a spicy pork curry was on the menu!
This is what I did-

500gms pork chunks with some fat
1 large onion, sliced
2 large potatoes cut into large cubes
4 slim carrots, in chunks

star anise
coconut Milk
red wine
sugar or jaggery


2 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 2sp garlic/cumin/red chilly paste

2 tbsp EIB masala
Method -

Wash the pork and drain it well. Marinate the meat for a hour or so in the ingredients listed above. If you're okay with a bit of heat add some red chilli powder to your marinade or some minced green chillies.
In a pressure cooker heat a tablespoon or two of any neutral oil. Don't waste your olive oil here, just use sunflower or peanut oil. This is a strong flavoured curry so the olive oil will be completely smothered. Fry the potatoes and let them turn slightly red/brown. Remove and put aside.

In the same oil add a couple of star anise and a 2" stick of cinnamon or cassia bark. Keep the heat down so you don't burn the spices. In a minute add the sliced onions and fry them slowly.
Let them start to brown and then add the marinated pork. Increase the heat and sear the meat well. Reduce the heat and let it braise nicely for a while. Give it a good 10 minutes and stir once in a way. Don't add any more oil even if you don't see any at the bottom of your cooker.
Just stir patiently and let it all cook slowly. Add the potatoes and the carrots and give it all a good mixing.
Pour in enough water till you can just see the water. Add 200ml coconut milk. You can extract fresh coconut milk out of the coconut or you can, like me, cut open a tetrapak. Your choice entirely!
Stir nicely and bring it to al boil. Add a very generous slug of red wine now and a sprinkling of sugar. If you have jaggery at hand use that instead. Just a little knob of it to give the curry a nicely rounded flavour - not an overt sweetness but enough to balance the flavours. Shut the cooker and once it has whistled/let off steam reduce the flame and let it cook for 15 minutes. Switch off and let it cool on it's own.
Voila! We're done!

Serve this with bread, steamed rice, or sannas.

While you might easily make this without the potatoes, don't. Heaven is in those potatoes, trust me. If you don't have carrots at hand that will be sad but can be lived with. You must have the potatoes.

The East Indian Bottle Masala that I used contained 24 different spices that included the usual turmeric, chillies (3 types), mustard seed, fenugreek, coriander seed, sesame and cumin. It also had cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, black cardamom, cloves, asafoetida, mace, nutmeg, all spice, star anise and other interesting spices like triphala and dagad phool.

Traditionally stored in long nosed glass bottles, that's where the masala gets its whimsical name. the masala is filled into the bottle and then tamped down firmly with a stick removing all the air in between the grains making it practically airtight. This allowed the spice to remain fresh over long periods of storage in the humid climes along the Indian coast. A little at a time is scraped out as required.

EIB Masala is available at most 'cold storage' shops in Mumbai. These are usually made by an enterprising lady in her own kitchen though some have built successful businesses selling this traditional spice mix.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Botticino - Ravioli and a Ravishing Lunch

A couple of weeks ago I was at The Trident at BKC for a ravioli making demonstration and lunch thereafter. Many people, like me, are unaware that The Trident has a gorgeous property right here in the suburbs. And here  is where you will find one of the finest Italian restaurants in the city - Botticino. This restaurant boasts a menu that goes way beyond pastas and pizzas and the much flogged Tiramisu. The menu covers the distinct cuisines from across Italy going from Lombardy to Tuscany, Piedmont and beyond.  

Drive confidently into BKC, down the main road and you will see big signs pointing you in the right direction. Once you're at the hotel, come up to the first floor and straight into Botticino. My first impression was of space and of light, lots of light. There are few things that put me off  more than an ill lit eating space and Botticino was bright and cheerful, with natural light streaming in from the glass sides of the building. There's a lounge area as you enter and the main restaurant is just beyond. 

We joined the other guests for the lunch in this lounge and chatted over some gorgeous Prosecco. I'm no wine expert or connoisseur but Prosecco is a word I recognise and love :) Once all the invitees had arrived we were taken on a short tour of the restaurant and then we trooped into the kitchen, ready for our very own Master Class in ravioli making. 

Ravioli has always piqued my interest the most among all the pastas...the mystery of a secret stuffing ensconced in the folds of fresh velvety perfectly cooked pasta..what's not to love?! A little mystery, a little excitement and then the amazing (we hope) burst of flavours in your mouth as you bite into the pasta and discover what lies hidden. Here was a chance to see how it was made and I wasn't going to miss it. 

Photo credit Nikhil Merchant of http://nonchalantgourmand.com/

Chef Vikas Vichare gave us a very patient and informative demonstration beginning with how to make the dough, then how to roll it in the pasta machine, making the filling, putting the ravioli together, cooking the ravioli and finally, plating it beautifully. We also had a look in the chef's pasta freezer where he keeps racks and racks of fresh pasta that is made in-house in his kitchen. Though quite large the freezer has to be restocked every two days, such is the demand for the pastas that they make here. 

Photo credit Nikhil Merchant of http://nonchalantgourmand.com/

                                         In the Botticino kitchen, geared up for class. 

By the time the demo was done I was ravenous for ravioli and the other goodies that were going to make up lunch. 

We were led to our 'flying' table which is a huge 10 seater set upon a platform that seems to float in mid air, discreetly supported by thin metal poles going to the ceiling. 

Photo credit: Megha Goyal of http://i2cook.wordpress.com/

Lunch was an orgy of Italian good food. A tomato and mozzarella amuse bouche did it's job and set us off on our journey into a delicious flavourful Italian meal accompanied by a lovely Chianti that went really well with what we ate. I liked the fact that we didn't have different wines with every course. As I said, I'm not that much into wine and for people like me, it can get quite intimidating if wine after wine is paraded in front of you. I could sit back and pay attention to what I was drinking and actually appreciate it. 

I chose the Foie Gras for my appetizer and went for the Chilli and Fennel crusted Snapper for my main course. Both turned out to be excellent choices. The food world is in the midst of much debate and discussion regarding foie gras and there is a very serious campaign on to ban it. Chef Vikas urged us to enjoy it while we still could. Every morsel was piece of heaven. Go over to Botticino and enjoy the Foie Gras while it's still available. Seriously. and not just because you might not get it anywhere in the near future, but because Chef does a fabulous job with it. Even the best ingredients need a master to cook it perfectly. Chef Vikas certainly has the Foie Gras mastered. 

                                                  Photo credit Nikhil Merchant of http://nonchalantgourmand.com/

Photo credit: Saee Koranne Khandekar of http://www.myjhola.in/

Fish is another ingredient that needs to be handled with love and respect. While Indian palates prefer lots of spices and flavours in their food, fish can be poetry on a plate even when done delicately. This was proved by the Snapper that Chef served at this lunch.  Chili and fennel crusted snapper in orange sauce.  I could have eaten another entire serving and died happy!

All this was accompanied by fresh home baked ciabatta that I couldn't have enough of. A dash of olive oil with a bit of balsamic and it was perfect. Good bread makes a world of difference to a meal and the fact that the Botticino bakes its own is good to know. 

Italian desserts! Makes your mouth water instantly and a peep into the menu card had told me there were ice creams to look forward to - three of them! Being diabetic I usually skip dessert and stuff myself on the main course and appetizers. This time I didn't. Coming up were Stracciatella, Lemon Cheesecake  and a Salted Caramel ice cream. 

                                          Photo credit: Megha Goyal of http://i2cook.wordpress.com/

The Stracciatella, nice though it was, didn't stand a chance against the lemon cheesecake or the  Satled Caramel gelatos which were both simply divine. You have to eat it to understand just how divine. 

Botticino has a very well stocked wine library and they also have Grappa on offer. Have it in a cocktail, in your coffee or on it's own.

I might not end up making ravioli in my own kitchen - I don't have all the toys. But then Botticino is there whenever I'm in the mood for a bit of mystery, not to mention that salted caramel gelato...