Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 - Why I'm Looking Forward to It

Father and child. B&W Photo Challenge on Facebook.

It's been an eventful 2014 and there are a few things I've done well this year. At the top of the list is the fact that I have found a renewed enthusiasm and enjoyment in blogging.

I had become quite jaded with things and was a little bored of restaurant reviews and events. I would attend them but I rarely blogged about them. I ended up feeling a mix of guilt for not 'giving back', stress because I felt I should be writing about events I attended (I was being hosted after all), and boredom because one event seemed to blend into the next and the next - they all felt like the same thing. The urge to write seemed to be completely dead. I needed to change something somewhere or this blog was going to be dead very soon.

After a good deal of thought I decided to stop going to these orchestrated events. There's nothing wrong with them per se, they serve a purpose and fulfill needs of brands, businesses, P R companies and yes, bloggers too. But it wasn't something that worked for me.

It's been a refreshing year and I have actually blogged the most this year, averaging a blog post a week. A huge support system and motivation has been the Marathon Bloggers group on Facebook. We started the Marathon Bloggers Project 52 at the start of 2014 and have nagged each other, encouraged each other, come up with blogging exercises and online events, all of which helped me write more, write better, and write a little more regularly.

I also started a Facebook page for the blog and that has had its own positive results. More interactions with readers and more motivation for me.

The best part of this year has been that I have not lacked for things to write about. Recipes, dining experiences, and personal thoughts and feelings have filled my blog. It has truly become a window into my world for the rest of the world to peep in to.

Photography has also kept me occupied this year and I have learned a lot, and I hope I have progressed and improved too! Having a food blog is a great advantage because it gives me a ready made space to display my photos. It's a win win situation. I participated in a few photo challenges on Facebook too - these are great exercises which can make you think and push your creative boundaries. The photograph in this post is the result of one such challenge.

In 2015 I plan to continue in the same vein. 2014 has boosted my confidence greatly. I have signed up for a photography challenge and will be doing stuff with the Marathon Bloggers for sure. The monthly breads at We Knead to Bake will also continue and I'm hoping to join a couple of more diverse group blogging activities or challenges that will keep the creative juices flowing.

Blogging is one of my most satisfying activities and I am thankful that I got my groove back. Here's wishing everyone a fulfilling 2015!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bacon Rolls

Pull apart rolls are really easy to make and I like to make them as often as I can. It's good practice and one can variate the fillings without limit. My love for bacon is well known and it seemed to me that long strips of bacon tucked into the rolls would be simply fabulous. They were.

I made the bread dough using this recipe. 

Once the dough has proved the first time roll it out and then arrange your strips of bacon on it. Be sure to cook the bacon strips first. I left them slightly soft so they would roll with the dough easily. I had planned to grate cheese over the bacon strips but I forgot. I think cheese will be awesome in there so I'll remember it for sure the next time. 

Roll up the dough along the length of the oval so you get a nice long cylinder which will yield more rolls once you cut it.

Once you've made a neat cylinder cut into portions with a sharp bladed knife or a dough scraper. Don't use something with a serrated blade. You want clean cuts that will go through smoothly without snagging on the dough. 

Arrange the cut rolls in a baking tin leaving space for the rolls to rise. Leave them to rise in a warm place for around 20 to 25 minutes. Once they look like they're pushing each other vying for space they're ready to be baked :)

Pop the rolls into a pre heated oven and bake at 200C for around 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them - once the tops are nice and golden brown they're ready. Brush the hot rolls with butter and serve them warm from the oven with a hearty soup, a casserole, or just enjoy them on their own.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Julekake - A Norwegian Christmas Bread

The year comes to an end and along with it ends my first year with the We Knead to Bake bread baking group. I didn't manage to bake all the 12 breads of this year but I did quite a few - each one a new and interesting experience.

As I was making the Julekake, the chosen bread for December, I noticed how I was using ingredients, equipment, and various kitchen tools and toys that have come to me from a variety of people, some family and some friends, all spread across the globe. Each object is a connection and has created a tie, and as I went through the various stages and processes of making my Julekake I felt the ties get stronger as I measured, mixed, kneaded, scraped, poured and finally baked.

And I felt grateful for the Internet, for email and for Facebook, for these are the channels through which these ties were formed and I feel a flutter of happiness every time I open my packet of yeast, hear the clink of my measuring cups, fire up the KitchenAid, and dig through the pantry cupboard. My friends are with me.

I followed Aparna's recipe for Julekake with variations only for the filling and I left out the almonds and icing that are used as a topping on this bread/cake. I used pearl sugar to top my Julekake.

A simple though rich bread, it has a fine dense crumb which makes it cake-like. Call it cake or bread, the Julekake is one of the best recipes I've done with the We Knead to Bake group.


2 tsp Instant yeast
1/4 cup water, warmed
1/2 cup milk, warmed
1 egg
50 gms butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
A large pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
2 1/2 cups white flour or maida
1 cup mixed peel and soaked fruit
1/4 cup pearl sugar

Bloom the yeast in the warm water with a little sugar. Though I use instant yeast I still like to bloom it before I chuck it into my flour to check that it is still active. This saves the remaining ingredients from getting wasted just in case the yeast is dead. I store my packet of instant yeast in the freezer where it stays well for many months and this little step at the beginning doesn't hurt.

In a large mixing bowl put in the egg, butter and sugar. Add the bloomed yeast mix and beat them all together. You can do this by hand or you can use an electric beater or your stand mixer. I used my stand mixer because I don't use it often enough! Add the flour and the cardamom powder and continue to mix. If using the stand mixer use the dough hook. Knead till you have a soft pliable dough that is smooth and stretches easily without breaking. If required, add dry flour or water to get the right consistency.

Roll out the dough like a pizza base and scatter the mixed peel and fruit, or whatever filling you are using. Raisins, or dried cranberries or any other dried berries will work quite well here. Cover the entire rolled out surface and then gather the dough together to form a ball by first rolling it into a swiss roll style roll and then bringing together into a ball. Knead it lightly by hand for a couple of minutes and try to ensure that the fruit is evenly distributed.

Oil a bowl and set the dough in it to rise. Cover with a damp dish cloth and leave it in a warm corner undisturbed, to double in volume. This should take an hour.

Once the dough has doubled deflate it gently and give it a light knead with your hands. Lay the dough ball on a greased baking try or on baking parchment on the tray and leave it to rise again, for around 45 minutes. The Julekake can also be put into a cake tin.

Brush the top with milk and then dot the surface with pearl sugar, or sliced almonds. You can also brush it with an egg wash. I prefer milk because you can't break half an egg ;)

Bake the Julekake for 25 to 30 minutes at 180C. Let it cool completely before you take it out of the cake tin in case your making it in a tin. Slice the Julekake once cooled and serve with coffee.

We Knead to Bake 2014

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Friday, December 26, 2014

Fried Prawns in Koli Masala

Today is one of those days that is slow and everything's running a little late. Not that I'm complaining! We have been incredibly busy with Christmas orders and getting ready for them for the last few days and finally, with Christmas and its accompanying madness over, we're at home taking things easy.

I'm in the mood to cook but it was late by the time the marketing got done and we were both hungry. The hubby had brought some fresh prawns and we decided to fry them up as a pre lunch snack. Now I usually marinate them in salt, turmeric and chilli powder and then fry them up. Today I was in the mood for something more than this basic, though delicious, version. I rooted around in the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my jar of Koli masala bought from Anjali Koli who writes a lovely blog called Annaparabrahma, and also retails a variety of Koli spice blends, dried fish and other products. You can check out her online store here.

To make the prawns all you need to do is clean them, wash, and pat dry. Add salt and as much Koli masala as you can handle. This is a pungent spice mix with plenty of chilli so if you're not used to a lot of heat, use less like I did. 

Mix the spice in and let it sit for 15 minutes. Heat up oil in a pan and fry the prawns till done. Throw in some fresh curry leaves and stir for a minute. The fried prawns are ready to serve.
I used a flat griddle made of copper and tinned in the traditional way that we'd bought from a copper smith in rural Maharashtra. The pan is perfectly seasoned and can rival any top of the line non stick cookware. So if you have any of these old gems in your kitchen dig them out and use them!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chingri Mocha'r Chop - Prawn and Banana Flower Croquettes

There are many ingredients common in a Bengali kitchen that have never entered mine. Mocha or banana flower is one of them. My cook is now changing things drastically because with her help I am exploring and learning a whole lot of Bengali food that's new to me. Today we made chingri mocha'r chop, a very popular snack that is often served at a high tea, or as a starter at a fancy dinner. Another simple recipe and a really tasty dish that was a super hit with the hubby and me.

Chingri Mocha'r Chop

8 -10 largeish prawns, shelled, deveined and chopped into small pieces
1 Mocha/Banana flower, cleaned and chopped
1 large potato
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
dhania/coriander powder
jeera/cumin powder
chilli powder or chopped fresh green chilli

1 egg
1 tbsp maida or plain flour

Pressure cook the cleaned mocha along with the peeled potato, with a little turmeric in the water. Drain out the excess water and keep the potato aside. Squeeze out as much water as you can from the mocha. Mash the potato.

In a wok heat a little oil and saute the chopped prawns. After a couple of minutes add the mocha and the mashed potato. Add the spice powders, ginger garlic paste, and stir to mix really well. Add salt. Saute the mixture for a few minutes stirring and mixing constantly so it is evenly blended with the spices and there are no clumps of potato.

Cool the mixture and form flat round patties or chops.

Heat enough oil in a kadai to deep fry the chops.

In a wide bowl crack the egg, add the plain flour and beat lightly to mix. Spread some breadcrumbs in a plate. Now dip the chops one by one into the egg and then roll in the crumbs to coat completely. Deep fry till golden brown and serve hot with kashundi or ketchup.

If you're vegetarian you can leave out the prawns. And use a flour+water solution instead of the egg. In fact, this recipe then is suitable for vegans too!

If, like me, you're clueless about cleaning the banana flower just look it up on YouTube. There are plenty of videos explaining just what to do. I am lucky - the cook knows exactly what to do!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chorizo Oats

Marriages might be made in heaven but some blessed pairs are made in my kitchen. Like chorizo oats. I am in love with oats and have been making a savoury oats porridge with various vegetables and spices several times a week, and I'm always looking for new inspired combinations. Adding spicy flavourful chorizo to the mix has been one of the best ideas I've had in a long, long time!

Chorizo Oats

Quaker Oats 3/4 cup
100gm chorizo, peeled from the casing and crumbled
1 small potato cubed or cut into sticks
1 small onion, thickly sliced
1 small carrot cut into discs
1 handful frozen green peas
half a green capsicum sliced into 2inch pieces or 1 bhavnagari chilli chopped
3 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup
jeera/cumin powder
dry chilli powder or paprika powder

Heat a little oil in a wok or kadai and put in the carrots and potatoes. Fry on a medium flame so that they cook through. Add the chorizo and mix well breaking up the meat as you go. Cover the wok and let it cook for a few minutes. Now add the remaining vegetables, stir it all well and leave it alone for another five minutes or so. Add salt and the spices too.

Once the carrots and potatoes look nearly done sprinkle the oats on the vegetables and mix well. Let it roast a bit for a couple of minutes and then pour in enough water to cover everything under a centimetre or so of water. Stir and add the tomato puree or ketchup, whichever you are using. Let it come to a boil and then simmer till the water is absorbed and the oats are cooked through.

I reserved a few pieces of the chorizo once they were fried, to garnish the dish. The chorizo tends to disintegrate and blend into the dish so the reserved pieces are nice to bite into as you enjoy the oats.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Of Khadkhadle, Bhujne, Bombil and Kolambi - The Pathare Prabhu Table

A few weeks ago Manisha, who writes The Chronicles of the Sassy Fork invited K and me to lunch. She said it would be at a Pathare Prabhu residence and the meal was going to be cooked by Soumitra Velkar and his family. A chance to go feast at a Pathare Prabhu table?! I was going whether or not K could make it! The date was fixed and I had to wait. We'd had a grand dinner at Bimba Nayak's house some months earlier so I had a pretty good idea what I could look forward to.

Finally it was time to drive across the city to the Velkars' residence and luckily K had the day off too. I think I drooled all the way there...

The PPs (as they are called) are among the oldest settlers of Mumbai and have contributed greatly to making Mumbai the city it is, much like the Parsis. They laid the foundations on which this city grew into the Megapolis it is today. Common landmarks like the Bhau cha Dhakka and the Mahalakshmi Temple were built by them.

I had heard catering stories from the hubby about PP clients and how, for one party held at Shree Pant Bhavan at Chowpatty (a huge building owned and occupied by the community) they set up the kitchen in the lift of the building! Now this building housed a car showroom in the old days and the lift was massive enough to carry the cars up to the terrace where they could be parked - probably the only building in Mumbai in those days with a lift of that size! As it turned out, the son of that client was present at lunch with us today :)

Getting back to the lunch - we started with a rose sharbat with sabja seeds, and then a string of starters, one more delicious than the next. There was Bhanole, Kolambi Pie, Bombil Bhajji, and absolutely delectable Khimyachya Shingdya.

Rose and sabja sharbat.

Bhanole is an interesting dish that comprises cabbage and prawns, and is baked. Baking is a commonly used cooking technique in PP cuisine and this is a superb example of how well they have adopted and adapted a western technique to suit their palate and cuisine.

Kolambi Pie - another example of how baking is a favoured cooking technique. This is a sort of shepherd's pie but with prawns and a nice robustly spiced version.

Bombil Bhajji or bhajiyas - I love bombil or bombay ducks and my favourite way to have them is in the classic rawa or besan coated fry. This bhajji was a revelation! I could have curled up with a hot mug of coffee, a good book and a steady stream of these babies hot off the kadai and been very content indeed!

Khimyachya Shingdya - mince stuffed pastry crescents. Many communities in western India make crescent shaped stuffed pastry snacks and they're usually filled with either a sweet coconut filling or a savoury green pea or tender tuvar or pigeon pea fillings. Called karanji, ghungroo, ghugra, newri, these are quite ubiquitous in the region. When I discovered that the ones on the table today were stuffed with minced mutton my day was made :)

Eventually we moved on to the main courses. Phew! I was already stuffed but I wan't going to miss out on anything today.

We started with Mutton Gode served with pav, and a fantastic koshimbir (finely cut salad) of red onions, white radish, green chillies, fresh coriander and lime juice topped with crisply fried dried bombay ducks. I haven't eaten much dried fish and this koshimbir was a superb place to start.

The Mutton Gode - I love mutton and if it has been cooked with big chunks of potatoes my Bengali heart simply sings. This mutton preparation reminded me a lot of the sublime flavours of the Sunday mutton cooked in numerous Bengali households where the gravy is light and subtly flavoured. Though more robust than a Bengali mangshor jhol, I could easily have made a meal of the Mutton Gode with a mound of rice and a raw onion on the side. Like most of the coastal Maharashtrian communities the PPs also have their signature spice blends and the Mutton Gode had Parbhi Sambhaar masala in it. This masala has spices like naag kesar and hing in it. It also contains ground wheat and chana daal which work as thickening agents.

A rather unusual dish on the menu was the Ananas Sambhare. Made with coconut milk, cashew nuts and pineapple, this sambhar is quite unique with the sweetness of the fruit paired with the spice of their sambhar masala. I am not at all into fruits but I did taste it before gamely passing it on to the hubby who quite liked it.

Bombil Methkutache, Bombay ducks in a light but spicy gravy, this preparation has Parbhi Methkut, another spice blend that's typical to the PPs.

Only a true fish loving community would come up with a recipe that uses the bones of a fish as the star ingredient and just like the Bengalis use the head and the bones of some fish to make specific delicacies, the PPs have the incredibly delicious Katyache Bhujne. This dish had the spinal bone of the huge Ghol stewed in onions, chillies, coriander and garlic. The flavours of this preparation were very close to a version of the Bengali machher jhol that my mother and grand mother used to make. The only additional ingredient in their version was chopped tomato. I took two helpings of the bhujne and relished it with rice.

The PPs are very fond of prawns, and you will have noticed there were many prawn preparations on the menu today. This is the Kolambi Khadkhadle and it was finger licking good. By the time I got to it I was stuffed beyond belief, but I wasn't going to miss it.. so I soldiered on after a five minute break ;) Once again there was a good dose of garlic with red chilli, turmeric, some hing and the Parbhi Sambhaar masala creating a well spiced and delicious dish.

Cheek or kharvas - This is a dessert that is a favourite among Maharashtrians and is one of the hubby's top favourites too. Made from the 'first' milk of the cow, or the colustrum, and lightly flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg. Paired with it was a rose flavoured mawa (reduced milk). The hubby had two, or was it three helpings of dessert before I stood at his side and ensured he didn't have any more!

That we were stuffed goes without saying. That we were sated is an understatement. That I am in love with PP food is a fundamental truth. Quite in contrast to the spice and coconut heavy cuisines of coastal Maharashtra, the Pathare Prabhus have a lighter hand in the kitchen and I think that is what allows them to eat such a lavish spread without batting an eyelid!

There is a growing awareness of local cuisines in Mumbai and Soumitra Velkar along with his wife and mother, is doing a splendid job of showcasing his community's food to an eager audience. I cannot thank the Sassy Manisha enough for this fabulous treat :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sheermal - My First Indian Bread

Things have been a bit hectic for me and one of the things that got seriously neglected was the monthly bread baking with the We Knead to Bake group. I have missed five or six months of baking for one reason or another and I had to get back into it or the year would be gone and I would have hardly baked this year. I joined the WKTB group to learn different kinds of bread and to practice and learn new techniques. I was doing nothing, much to my disappointment. Well, there's no way to get back on to wagon apart from doing just that - getting back on. And so this month I'm back on the WKTB wagon, barely by the skin of my teeth.

The chosen bread for November is Sheermal. A mildly sweet, soft flat bread, sheermal has saffron and milk in it and can be quite rich because of the addition of ghee/butter and egg. This beautiful bread is commonly eaten in the regions spanning Persia, across the Indian sub-continent, as far as Bangladesh.

Incredibly easy to make, sheermal takes approximately three hours in all, including proving time. This is the recipe Aparna gave the WKTB group and I followed it mostly to the T. The only change I made was instead of rose water or kewra essence I used Orange Blossom water which comes from the Middle East. I didn't have rose water or kewra essence and I was looking for a chance to use the Orange blossom water anyway and the sheermal gave me the perfect opportunity.


2 1/4 cups sifted flour or maida
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup ghee
1 egg
1 -2 tsp Orange Blossom water
1/2 cup milk
a generous pinch of saffron strands

In a cup add the yeast to the warm water along with the sugar, if you're using active dry yeast or fresh yeast. This has become such an automatic step for me that I do it even with instant yeast though it's not necessary.

In your mixing bowl pour in the flour and sprinkle the salt and mix lightly. Now add the yeast mix and stir to combine. Beat the egg lightly and then add it to the flour mix. Give it a stir and now start adding the ghee a little at a time. Continue mixing till the ingredients come together to look like large crumbs. You can do this in a food processor if you have one. I didn't add all the ghee as I didn't require it.

Now add the milk a little at a time and bring the dough together. Once the dough formed a rough ball I took it out onto my work surface and kneaded it for a good 10 minutes adding milk, a little at a time, to ultimately get a beautiful and soft dough. I didn't use up all the milk either. I brushed my mixing bowl with a little ghee and put in the dough to prove. Cover the bowl with a damp napkin and leave it in a warm place, undisturbed.

Soak the saffron strands in a little warmed milk.

Once the dough has doubled (this can take anything from an hour to two hours) punch it down gently and knead for a couple of minutes. Put it back in the mixing bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Set the oven to preheat to 180C.

Remove the rested dough onto your work surface and divide into four portions. Shape each into a ball. Gently flatten each ball to form a disc approximately 6 inches across. Brush the top with the saffron and milk generously and then prick the entire surface neatly with a fork. Place the prepared discs on your baking tray and bake at 180C for 12 to 15 minutes till the sheermal turns a beautiful golden colour.

Brush with butter as soon as you take them out of the oven. Serve with your evening chai or with a spicy gravy main course for dinner. I'm going to make some chicken to go with my sheermal :)

We Knead to Bake #22

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Dreams and Making Some of Them Come True

We all have dreams. Some are big enough to remain fantasies and some are doable but remain dreams. We often class both together and let them remain dreams. We think about them wistfully from time to time but don't really do anything about making them happen. While many seem impossible, many of the dreams are not. They are doable and all one needs is the ability to decide how important it is and then the conviction to simply go after it.

K always wanted to own a Bullet. An iconic bike for most Indians, he dreamed of owning one for many years. It was one of those dreams I heard him mention off and on through the years. We nearly bought one several years ago but he chickened out at the last moment saying it was an unnecessary indulgence. And he continued to dream in a corner of his mind.

A few months ago I asked him what it was that was stopping him from taking the plunge. We had the money and could easily fulfill this dream. It wasn't an unreasonable one after all. He had no answer - just a hesitation to spend a largish amount of money on himself. At least that's what it seemed to me.

Remember my Yolo epiphany? Well, it was Yolo time for him and I was making sure we bought the bike. Sometimes you just need to grab a dream and make it happen. What's wrong with a dream coming true? Why do we instinctively deny ourselves the little and not so little pleasures?

Well, we went to the showroom and booked the bike a few months ago. And now we are the proud owners of a Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 (though I was hoping to buy the 500, but I know when not to push my luck!).

Examine your dreams and if you find you have one that isn't so impossible or unreasonable, go on and make it happen.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Spiced Chicken Legs - A Quick and Easy Dinner

The hubby dislikes chicken, even more so if it's in the mundane basic curry avatar. But chicken is conveniently available and cooks fast so I like it. As a compromise, though I cook it often, I try to make it as interesting and appealing as possible and what comes to my rescue are the variations of the simple pan grilled chicken. All I do is marinate in select spices or condiments for about half an hour and then slowly pan fry till it's done. On the side I make mashed potatoes or fries, grilled vegetables or even a salad, depending on what I have at hand. I do make elaborate curries which take time and effort to make and those are always a hit but they're time consuming and need some planning and gathering of ingredients. The pan grilled chicken is my friend when I'm in a hurry or just not in the mood for a lengthy session in the kitchen.

Spiced Chicken Legs

4 to 6 chicken legs
Cajun spice mix or any other spice mix that you like, or mixed dried herbs
bacon fat (optional)
olive oil

Make deep cuts in the flesh of the chicken legs. You can also use thighs for this recipe. Rub salt, pepper and a generous teaspoon of your preferred spice mix into the chicken pieces. If you're using dried mixed herbs add some minced garlic to the marinade.  Leave the chicken to marinate for at least half an hour.

Heat the bacon fat in a non stick pan. Add a splash of olive oil to it and let it warm up properly. Place the marinated chicken pieces in the hot oil and sear properly on all sides. Lower the heat and let it cook covered for around 10 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook evenly on all sides till the chicken is cooked right through. You can add a very small amount of water (a couple of tablespoons at the most) to the pan if required but be sure to dry off the water completely as the chicken cooks.

Serve the chicken hot with fries, potato mash, grilled vegetables, garlic bread, whatever you have at hand :)

If you like, fry a few slices of bread in the pan juices after you have taken out the chicken. The bread tastes divine!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dohneiiong - Pork with Black Sesame, from Meghalaya

A few days ago I went for an incredible lunch that featured the cuisines of the north eastern states of India. From aperitif to dessert, it was a wonderful gastronomic tour of seven states and I learned a lot about the cuisines of this region. I think the biggest lesson I took home with me is the fact that momos are not from the North East. They're from Tibet and Nepal, although they have penetrated into many regions of India, not just the NE.

Given my love for pork, I was quite thrilled to see a dish featuring my favourite meat on the menu. That wasn't all - we also saw a demonstration of how this dish was made. The recipe was shared with us and I am going to share it here on my blog for one very simple reason - you will find the ingredients anywhere and quite easily. There's no exotic ingredient that you have to beg your friends to bring back from their home in the NE.

Dohneiiong - Pork with Black Sesame by Gitika Saikia

Half kilo pork belly
100 gms black sesame seeds. Roasted and powdered
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger garlic paste
3 - 4 green chillies, chopped
1 tbsp red chilli paste
1 tbsp turmeric powder
mustard oil

Boil the pork belly and cut into largeish cubes.

In a thick bottomed pot or casserole dish heat a few tablespoons of mustard oil till it smokes. Reduce the heat and chuck in the sliced onions. Let it fry stirring it once in a while. Add the ginger garlic paste and fry for another couple of minutes. Once the onions have changed colour add the pork cubes, chillies and the chilli paste. Stir well and mix properly. Add the salt and the turmeric too. Saute on a medium flame and let the pork cook for a good 10 - 15 minutes.

Mix a little water into the sesame powder to make a thin slurry. Pour this into the pork. Water is added to the sesame powder to make it easier to mix it into the pork, so don't use too much water. Now cover the pot and let it cook for another 5 minutes or so. Give it a stir once in a while and it will be ready to serve as soon as the water is gone and the oil is released.

This tastes best served with sticky rice but you can enjoy it with whatever rice you make at home.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Tour of NE India Through Food at the APB Cook Studio

Mumbai is seeing a growing interest in the regional cuisines of our vast country and I have been fortunate enough to sample many of these not so easily accessible cuisines at various events and, sometimes, in private homes. We've been seeing food festivals emerge as a trend in the last few years with the Koli festivals, the Pathare Prabhu food fest and, very recently, the CKP food festival. There are also big dos like the annual Upper Crust Show and the Good Food magazine event where food professionals and businesses from across the city showcase their products. And there is the band of home cooks who are now having pop ups, custom designed private meals at their own residences, and sometimes they do a special event at unique venues like the APB Cook Studio.

North Eastern cuisine, like the term Indian cuisine, is a complete misnomer. There is such diversity in ingredients, cooking styles, influences, and food preferences that one simply cannot class the cuisines of the seven north eastern states of India under one banner. The Cuisines of the Seven States of the NE Demo and Dine event at the APB Studio today gave me a glimpse of this incredible diversity. With Gitika Saikia as our guide, we were taken on a culinary tour of the entire north eastern region The sheer variety of meats, herbs, local vegetables, cooking and preserving processes, and styles left me amazed and hungry - hungry for a deeper knowledge of what seems to me a wonderful world of food.

The menu for the event was -

An apertif made of amlakhi (amla) and hilikha (haritaki).

Pasa - A soup from Arunachal Pradesh. A flavourful broth of herbs and lightly cooked fish, this soup was one of the highlights of the meal for me.

Dohneiiong - Pork in Black Sesame paste. A Pork preparation from Meghalaya.

Eromba - A vegetable and fermented dry fish preparation from Manipur

Bai - A wonderfully light clear soup of assorted vegetables, bamboo shoot, lime leaves and rice, this delightful one pot meal is a staple from Mizoram

Akhuni or Axone - A chutney made from fermented soy beans. This is from Nagaland. Naga cuisine has loads of different chutneys that are pounded fresh just before the meal and I was fortunate enough to eat many varieties in the hostel in Pune, thanks to my Naga friends.

Mosdeng Serma - A chutney of fish, tomatoes and local herbs, this one was from Tripura.

Dau Jwng Sobai - Chicken cooked in urad or kaali daal. This is an Assamese preparation that had minimal ingredients, was slowly cooked, and ultimately tasted really good. This dish had 'khaar' or alkali extracted from the banana plant as one of its ingredients and the taste of the khaar was distinct, yet not overwhelming.

This was served with sticky rice, and an assortment of pickles for extra zing. The rice was served bundled neatly in banana leaf packets.

This is what my plate looked like piled up with food! The mash you see in the foreground is Eromba, of which I don't have an individual photo.

Dessert is not a traditional concept in the region and it is only in recent years that the trend of serving dessert at the end of a meal is slowly picking up.

Gitika served a simple flavourful dessert that was basically khoi, a variety of puffed rice, cream, and sugarcane jaggery layered in a bowl.

The session began with Gitika demonstrating two recipes, the Dohneiiong, and the Dau Jwng Sobai. Gitika is a naturally ebullient person and as she took us through the recipes she also told us about her experiences visiting various tribes in their villages, invading kitchens and shamelessly begging to taste whatever was being cooked, and even wheedling goodies to take back home!

As we ate our way through the cuisines of the Seven Sisters we were aware that this was just a mere glimpse of all that lay in that magical world in that mysterious corner of our country.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lau Bori - Another Example of the Simplicity of Bengali Vegatarian Food

I have a cook who comes over twice a week to ensure my fridge has a good amount of Bengali dishes in it. I make sure she cooks something typically Bengali, that you would find served in any random Bengali household - those ubiquitous preparations that are mundane and simple everyday fare that would make most Bengali housewives laugh at my interest in them. For me these are not mundane as I didn't grow up eating them. For me most of these are absolute revelations.

Take this Lau Bori for example. Once she had finished cooking I asked the cook to give me two minutes of her time so I could write down how she made the lau bori. She rattled off the recipe in four sentences and I looked at her, amazed. That's it? Didn't you add any more spices to it? Or anything else? No, she said. That's it. Now taste it and tell me if you like it.

Lau Bori

1 small Lau or bottle gourd, peeled and cut into thickish matchsticks
1 potato, peeled and cut like the lau
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tej patta or Indian bay leaf
1/4 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
1 minced green chilli
mustard oil
1 tbsp posto bori, or any other bori

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and fry the bori. Drain excess oil and keep aside. In the same oil throw in the kalonji, green chillies, tej patta and grated ginger and fry for a minute. Add the cut lau and potatoes and fry well on high heat stirring nicely. After a minute or two reduce the heat and cover the kadai. Let the vegetables cook. Once they're around half done add turmeric and salt and mix well. Once again cover it and let it cook further. Don't add any water. Keep the flame low and let the vegetables cook in their own steam for another few minutes. Then add the fried boris and cook covered for a further few minutes till the lau and the potatoes are cooked though.
Garnish with finely chopped fresh coriander.

I enjoyed this with fresh hot rotis.

Bengalis have a rich tradition of making boris and there is quite a variety of these daal based dumplings that are fried and crumbled or scattered whole over many vegetarian dishes. I found posto bori in one little shop in Lake Market in Kolkata on my last visit. They're much smaller than other boris and in fact, look like white chocolate chips.  I hadn't a clue what I would do with them but fortunately the cook does!

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kolmi no Tatrelo Patio - A Lesser Known Parsi Classic

The Parsis have a rich and varied cuisine with a predominance of eggs, meats, fish and sea food. One of my favourite dishes is Kolmi no tatrelo patio. A simple preparation that can be put together in half an hour, the best way to eat it is with ladi pav that is abundantly available in Mumbai. You can also have it with rotis or regular sliced bread.

Kolmi no Tatrelo Patio

20 medium sized prawns
6 spring onions, finely chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 cup fresh coriander, washed and finely chopped
6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
20 curry leaves
8 green chillies, finely chopped
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
chilli powder
mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp fresh Parsi garam masala* powder made with pepper, cloves, cassia bark, cardamom, black cardamom, star anise, shah jeera, nutmeg and mace.

Clean the prawns - shell and devein. Wash well, drain and then marinate in salt and turmeric.

Take a flat thick bottomed tava and heat oil on it. Crackle the mustard seeds once the oil is hot, reduce the heat and add the curry leaves, garlic, onions and spring onions. Cook slowly, stirring as you go.

Once the onions turn pink add the green chillies and cook for another couple of minutes. Now add the dry powdered spices and the sugar. Stir well and mix properly. Cook this for another four to five minutes stirring the mix continuously. Now add half the fresh coriander leaves and blend well. After a minute or so add the vinegar. Lower the heat and let it cook for another minute or so, stirring all the time. Add a little salt keeping in mind that the prawns have been salted already.

Now add the marinated prawns and mix them into the onion and spice mixture. Once the prawns are cooked sprinkle the remaining coriander on the top and serve it hot with pav or with dhan daar - plain yellow daal and steaming hot rice.

The word patio evokes a dish that has a thick red gravy that is sweet, sour and spicy, made from a masala paste, and served with dhan daar. That's one version. The tatrelo patio is a dry dish with similar flavours but from different ingredients. In this version the heat comes from green chillies and there is no ground masala paste used. The word patio actually denotes the vessel it is cooked in - a flat, squat, thick bottomed vessel, which looks like a flattened pot. A thick iron tava also serves the purpose for this dish.

*Parsi Garam Masala can be used in a variety of preparations like you would use any other garam masala blend. Make a batch and give a new flavour to your daily curries and side dishes.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Visit to Udvada

Udvada is to the Parsis what Mecca is for Muslims, Kashi for Hindus and the Vatican for Christians. This quiet little village in Gujarat houses the holiest of holy fires, the Iranshah.

When the Parsis first landed in India, at Sanjan on the western coast, they established the first fire temple on Indian soil in memory of Iran and in thanksgiving of their safe journey to India. The holy fire was eventually housed in its current location at Udvada.  It has been tended since then and has never been allowed to go out and has been burning continuously for more than 1,100 years.

Devout Parsis visit Udvada as often as they can, offer worship at the Atashbehram, and then  amble off for some local shopping, and a good meal either at Ashishvang or at The Globe Hotel. You can also book rooms here and stay over. The rooms at The Globe have beautiful four poster beds, and a glimpse of those were enough to make me want to stay!

Lunch at The Globe - Mutton Dhansakh, Papeta Marghi, rotli, tareli boi (mullet), kachuber, brown rice.

I had an impromptu chance to go to Udvada because K was going there for some work. Of course, I tagged along and I took my camera too. This was another opportunity to go around taking pictures, a chance to practice, learn and improve. And a good way to stay out of K's hair too. I got the chance to check out the Irani bakery, to get in and poke around a traditional Parsi kitchen, to have a sumptuous meal at The Globe, and to wander the streets where I also bought some local products.

The Irani bakery is run by a gentleman called Rohinton Irani. He keeps traditional Irani baking techniques and recipes alive and has a limited but classic range of products for sale. Cookies, macrooms, khari, sweet khari, batasa, nankhati, mawa cakes, buns, brun, sliced bread and of course, ladi pav, are available at his shop.

Batasas waiting to be baked.

The Chulavati or hearth is rarely seen in kitchens these days, even in the villages. My mother in law had distinct memories of her great-grandmom Soonamai cooking at such a chulavati. She has written about them in her first book Jamva Chaloji, and I was thrilled to finally see one myself. In the old days the chulavati would be set into the floor but in later times many households had them built at table level to make it easier to use. Since fire is held to be supremely sacred, the chulavati is also revered. It is often decorated with rangoli and pictures of the prophet might also be kept nearby.

Torans hanging at the lintel of every door are a hallmark of Parsi houses and I saw  very pretty torans in Udvada. Traditionally made with glass beads, these days plastic beads are also used. A special frame is used to 'weave' the torans and this is an art that is slowly dying out. How sad.

Leela lasan na papad or papads flavoured with green tender garlic is one of the things every Parsi brings back from Udvada. These are delicious eaten with curry chawal, ras chawal, khichri kheemo, or even as a snack with beer.

Parsi tea must have mint and lemon grass to flavour it and if you're lucky, you might get your hands on fresh peppermint while you're in Udvada. I did!

I also bought embroidered head scarves as little gifts for my sisters in law. Though machine embroidered, the motifs are the same as were hand embroidered on the gorgeous satins and Chinese silk Garas. Parsis cover their heads with caps or scarves when they are in a fire temple and these were being sold at a shop just outside the Iranshah Atashbehram. The shop sells all manner of Parsi knick knacks, pickles, prayer books, kors or saree borders, and torans too. The torans were priced between 1,500 and 4,000 Rupees.

Udvada is not a bustling busy town. It's not a sleepy village either. There's a beach, there's great food, and there's Parsi heritage in every corner. There's plenty for non Parsis to appreciate here so if you do get a chance, go check it out. The Gujarat highway is excellent and it will take you roughly three hours to get there if you're based in Mumbai.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52