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