Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

I have become a little obsessed with citrus - every sort of citrus fruit seems to occupy my mind these days. And of course, the cosmos conspires to provide me with plenty of variety! Not only have I had top quality sweet limes or mosambis as we call them, from Luv Thy Farmer, which I used to make this amazing Mosambi Cake, I got Meyer lemons from Imtiaz and Sue which I used in these beautiful Lemon Cakes, and then Rushina gave me a couple of Pahadi Limbus that she'd got from her in laws' village in Garhwal! My cup of happiness was overflowing. Did I mention I have been haunting gourmet stores, making a beeline for their fresh veg sections and getting busy scratching and sniffing the lemons looking for the fresh and flavourful ones?!

Anyway, coming back to the pahadi limbus. They are huge. Bigger than your average apple, in fact. The skin is thin and must be zested carefully. But what a burst of freshness when you give it that light scrape against the microplane!

The limbus waited patiently for me to find a recipe worthy of them and I chanced upon this Hot Buttered Rum Pound Cake recipe. The recipe uses oranges but I thought the pahadi limbus would shine here, and oh they did!  A look in the drinks cabinet for something instead of rum, a hunt through the pantry cupboard for the rest of the ingredients, and I was set.

The recipe has three elements - the pound cake, the soaking syrup, and the hot buttered brandy. I'm going to give you the recipes in the order they are made so you're not going back and forth between ingredient lists and the methods, thereby giving you less room for error and confusion. Though I have largely followed the recipe above, I have made a few adjustments and replacements to make it more suited to what the hubby likes.

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

Brandy syrup for soaking cake

1/2 cup sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 to 3 tbsp brandy

Mix the zest into the sugar with your fingers and help them release their oils. This gives more flavour.

In a small pan heat the sugar-zest mix with the brandy and a little water. Bring it to a boil stirring gently till all the sugar is dissolved. Boil the mix on a medium flame for another minute and then leave it to cool as you make the cake.

Pound cake

1 1/3 cups ground sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 cups maida, sifted
1 tsp cinnamon powder
6 green cardamoms, seeds pounded
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Amul butter
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set the oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, cinnamon powder, and the crushed cardamom seeds with a whisk.

In a small bowl mix the zest into the granulated sugar till it starts getting clumpy. This step helps release the oils from the zest and extracts maximum flavour from it.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a regular mixing bowl beat the butter on medium speed till it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar-zest mix to the butter and beat for a few minutes till it's all mixed and light. Beat at a high speed for a few minutes. Make sure you stop the beater and scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle to mix everything properly at least once.

Now it's time to add the eggs. Add one egg at a time and beat well to mix completely before you add the next one. Once all the eggs are added in  pour in the vanilla extract. The original recipe has zest and a flavour extract - I opted not to use the flavour extract because I was sure it would mask the flavour from the zest completely. I'm glad I did because the cake was full of natural lemony flavour and didn't need any help at all.

Once the eggs and vanilla have been fully incorporated add the flour mix next. I do this a little at time with the help of my 1/4 or 1/3 cup measuring cup, whichever is clean and at hand. Keep adding a scoop of flour and continue beating till you have a smooth batter. This cake has a thick batter beautifully speckled with the crushed cardamom seeds and cinnamon powder.

Though the original recipe says a 9x4 loaf pan will do, I found it was not big enough. I used a disposable loaf case for the leftover batter and had two beautiful bars of pound cake. I think two medium loaf tins should work well. Line the tins with parchment or grease well and dust with flour before you pour the batter in. Level the top with a spatula and it's ready to be baked

Pop into the preheated oven and bake for roughly an hour at 180C, till the cake is a nice golden colour. It should ideally split along the middle too. If your cake is browning too fast reduce the temperature to 160C and bake it longer till it is cooked through. Test with a skewer to check for done-ness.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for around 10 mins or so and only then remove to a wire rack to cool further. Place a tray under the rack to catch any drips, poke the surface of the cake with a thin skewer and then brush it with the brandy syrup you have left to cool. Be generous and keep slathering the cake - it will absorb a lot of that syrup. Do this while the cake is still quite warm. Let it cool on the wire rack.

Hot buttered brandy glaze

50 gms Amul butter
1/3 fine sugar, preferably brown
2-3 tbsp brandy

Heat the butter in a small pan till it begins to foam and turns brown. It will start to smell nutty. Stir with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula to brown the butter evenly. Take off the heat and let it cool for a minute. Now add the sugar (preferably brown) and then the brandy. Stir nicely to combine. Use a fine grain sugar for a smoother glaze.

Spread the glaze on top of the cake with a pastry brush. Slice and serve your Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake immediately. Keep any leftover glaze in a covered jar and warm it slightly to serve with any remaining cake.

This is another beautifully flavoured tea cake that has the freshness of lemon and cardamom along with the warmth of cinnamon. Since the pahadi limbu is difficult to get, you can use regular oranges as in the original recipe. The cake has many sugary elements and therefore I have cut down the sugar slightly in the cake. You can adjust the sugar according to your preferences. Meyer lemons would also work very well in this recipe as would mosambis or sweet limes. Use more zest if you're using mosambis as they tend to be quite mild in flavour.

You might have noticed there's no baking powder or baking soda in this recipe. As in the classic old pound cake recipes, this one has none. Yet, I had a wonderfully light and well aerated cake. It's all in the slowly added ingredients and the many minutes of beating. In spite of a thick 'heavy' batter, the cake rises perfectly. The more recipes I explore, the more I learn :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Memories of a Another Flood - Mumbai, 26 July, 2005

Image from Mid-Day

The inundation of Chennai over the last so many days and the sheer magnitude of the ravagement that city faced has left many of us, safely far away, just watching in disbelief. Yes, we mobilised ourselves and did what we could - from simply sharing information on social media to actively getting involved in relief efforts.

It was only natural for me to remember how my own city ground to halt all those years ago on the 26th of July, brought to a standstill by incredibly heavy rains. We were brought to our knees for two days. No communication, no transport, and thousands trapped or stranded in cars, buses, on the roads, in offices, and all manner of random places. More than a thousand people lost their lives.

We were living at V.T., on the top floor of an old building, with my parents in law on the floor below us. A family gathering had been planned and we were gearing up to have a feast for dinner with all the family present. The parents were going to drive in from Lonavala that day. Some time that afternoon I noticed how strangely overcast it had suddenly become and some instinct urged me to check with the parents to see where they'd reached. They hadn't passed Panvel yet and I urged them to go back. I don't know why I felt it so strongly but after a bit of an argument with Dad, I managed to convince them to go back. It was drizzling already but the overcast sky had made me nervous for some reason. The parents drove back to Lonavala.

By the evening it was raining seriously and news trickled in from the suburbs that there was a lot of water logging, the local trains were severely late, and crowds had built up at the stations, packed with stranded passengers.

There was no Facebook or Twitter, but I was active on the Ryze Network. I saw posts there from various people about flooded roads, stranded vehicles, traffic jams, stalled trains, and worse. The city was in crisis and there were thousands and thousands stuck out there in the rains.

I called up a couple of my friends to check if they were okay. Mostly people were still trying to go back home and it hadn't quite registered to us in South Bombay just how much rain fell in the suburbs that day - a whopping 944 mm in 24 hours. I did urge them to feel free to come over and stay with us, just in case they couldn't get home.

I stayed online keeping track of my friends on Ryze. I remember chatting with one girl who was stuck in her office, till late in the night, just keeping her company. The Internet is an incredible thing and I was experiencing that incredible-ness right then.

As the evening progressed things only got worse. People were stuck, unable to get home as the trains had shut down, and there was severe water logging on most arterial roads so traffic wasn't moving either.

That night we had around 20 people staying over at our house. We knew just one person among them all, a friend. The rest were her office colleagues. Fortunately there was plenty of food (remember the family get together?) and space because the parents' house was empty. Between upstairs and downstairs we managed to fit everyone in.

Hundreds of people opened up their homes, kitchens and hearts to help people in need. That is the way we are - fundamentally good and willing to what little we can to make things better in a crisis. We do the same today too. But in those days of no social media, at least not in the form it is today, there was no tom-toming of Muslims helping Hindus, Hindus helping Sikhs, or any of that. It was just about people helping people. And that's the way it should be.

But we live in a world where politicians hijack relief materials and shamelessly delay the distribution to stick the face of their leader on the packets, and where the politics of religion is inescapable.   

Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Microplanes, Meyer Lemons and Lemon Cake

It's no secret that I love baking. It's no secret that I love kitchen gadgets. And it's no secret that I like playing with new ingredients either.

I had wanted to add a Microplane to my small tools drawer for a long time but somehow never actually got around to it. This year the hubby gave me a stash of money to spend on random things I wanted, as a birthday treat. I bought that Microplane finally! I'm not fond of fruit in general but I do love the citrus ones. I saw Meyer lemons at a gourmet food store and decided to indulge myself, their steep price-tag notwithstanding.

And there I was! Armed with the ultimate zesting tool in creation and a variety of lemons I'd been drooling over from a distance for a long, long time - it was time to bake!

I have spent many hours looking at lemon cake recipes and even bookmarked quite a few to try out once I had everything in place. But somehow, I couldn't settle on any recipe when I set out to bake. After hours of back-ing and forth-ing between recipes I decided to just wing it and do my own thing. After all, I'd been baking for as long as I could remember and how hard could it be?

Lemon Cake

1 cup Maida or APF
3/4 cup Sugar, powdered
3 Eggs, at room temperature
125 gms Butter, softened
1 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Meyer lemon, zested, and juice extracted
1 -2 tsp Sugar for the drizzle
a little zest, reserved for the drizzle

Grease and flour an 8 inch cake tin. Set your oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean bowl sift the maida with the baking powder.

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a mixing bowl using a hand held mixer cream the butter with the sugar till it's smooth and pale.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating. Add the vanilla extract too.

Once the mixture is smooth, chuck in the lemon zest. Mix till it is combined nicely.

Add the flour into the mix in small amounts. I use the 1/4 cup measuring cup from my set, and whisk well after each addition. Mix in all the flour to get a smooth batter.

Pour batter into the cake tin and bake at 180C for 35 to 40 minutes. Check with a cake tester in the centre and if the tester comes out clean your cake is done.

In the mean time make the lemon drizzle. Combine sugar into the lemon juice and mix well till the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the reserved zest. Taste and check for a good balance of sweet and lemony sourness.

Sprinkle the drizzle randomly on your cake while it's still warm. Let the cake cool completely before you unmould it. I didn't soak the entire cake with the drizzle but just randomly splashed it on the surface. This resulted in surprise lemony explosions of flavour while eating the cake, which I loved.

Serve this beautiful cake at tea time, add slices to lunch boxes or, like me, make them in disposable cases and distribute to your friends. Deliciousness, like happinesss, must be shared. So go on, get baking!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Boti ni Akuri

When you marry into a different culture you never stop learning about it and my curiosity about Parsi food is relentless. That's hardly surprising considering just how good their food is and how different it is from Bengali food, the food of my own background.

We're constantly casting about for new things to try to make our mundane meals a little more exciting  without being too complicated to put together, and boti ni akuri fits the brief perfectly.

Boti ni Akuri is something I had vaguely heard of and it was on my long list of Must Try Parsi dishes. Akuri itself is one of my favourite breakfast dishes and the addition of boti or chunks of mutton took it to another level entirely! The easiest way is to reserve a few pieces from the mutton curry or any other mutton preparation that you've made for dinner, to be used for this akuri the next morning. A tiny bit of planning can get you awesome rewards!

Boti ni Akuri 

6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
6 chunks of mutton, cooked and deboned.
2 onions, sliced and fried till brown
1 small tomato, chopped fine
3 green chillies, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh coriander, washed and chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh mint, washed and chopped fine
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Dhansakh masala
1/2 tsp pepper powder

Prep all the ingredients and keep them ready. Chop the mutton pieces into really small cubes. If you're using mutton leftover from dinner wash off the gravy from the pieces or your akuri will taste strongly of dinner. 

In a nonstick pan heat the butter gently. Use a couple of tablespoons of butter at least. Once heated, add the chopped chillies, mint, tomato, coriander, and spices and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the cooked mutton chunks and then the fried onions.  Mix it all well and let it cook.

In a clean bowl beat the eggs with the milk and a little salt. 

Pour the beaten eggs slowly into the mutton mix and stir as you go. Keep stirring slowly allowing the eggs to cook and everything to mix nicely. Once the eggs are done to the consistency you like take them off the heat. Garnish with chopped coriander and fried onions if you like. 

Serve the Boti ni Akuri with hot chapatis, sliced bread or fresh pav from your local bakery. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Irish Barmbrack - A Tea Flavoured Sweet Fruit Bread

I haven't been able to bake the monthly breads on We Knead to Bake through most of 2015 much to my disappointment, and have only watched as others baked a variety of beautiful breads. Luckily I managed to do the October bread and I am so happy I did!

The Irish Barmbrack turned out to be one of the very best breads I've ever baked in my life. Not only was it quite easy, it also had enough unusual things going to make it quite different from any bread I've done before. But then, that's the beauty of the WKTB group - we bake breads from all over the world learning new recipes, new techniques, new flavours, and new breads, of course. The Barmbrack is full of fruit and is mildly sweet. Commonly made a Halloween, the bread is often filled with charms that are fun to find while eating the bread.

This is the recipe shared by Aparna for us to follow. However I did make a few changes according to the ingredients I had at hand. I followed the technique as given in the original, of course. Most of the kneading was done in my stand mixer but once I added the soaked fruit to the dough I hand kneaded only.

Here's what I did.

1 cup Tesco's Presoaked Mixed Fruit

1/4 cup sultanas

a scant handful cranberries

1 1/2 cups Tulsi Ginger tea

1/4 tsp dried ginger powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 cups plus extra maida or APF

2 tsp instant yeast

2/3 cup powdered sugar

30 gms butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

In advance soak the dried fruit in the hot tea in a bowl and let it steep for a couple of hours or more. I put the tea leaves in a fine mesh strainer and left the strainer in the bowl to steep so that the tea flavours could be absorbed to the maximum by the soaking fruit. Once the fruit becomes quite plump discard the tea dregs and drain the fruit carefully. Reserve the tea liquid. Put the fruit in a strainer and let them drain while you get the dough going.

In the bowl of your mixer mix in the flour, yeast, sugar, spice powders, and salt. Give it all a stir. Add the beaten egg and the butter and mix again.

In a measuring jug mix milk and the tea liquid to make up one cup. I had loads of the tea liquid so I used half milk and half tea liquid. If it's gone cold warm it a little in the microwave. We're going to use this liquid to make the dough so it should be just warm enough to help the yeast bloom, not too hot or the yeast will die.

Pour in the milky tea and start the mixer at a slow speed till dry and wet ingredients are mixed well. Increase the speed by one level and, using the dough hook, knead the mix till you have a sticky but smooth dough. Add dry flour if required.

On a floured surface turn out the dough and knead for a minute or two by hand. Flatten out the dough and scatter the drained fruit on it. Fold over the dough and knead to mix the fruit into the dough. I added the fruit in a couple of batches to distribute it better - add the initial lot, knead to mix, flatten dough again, add fruit and knead again to incorporate.

Oil a proofing bowl and place the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp napkin and leave it aside to double.

Once it has doubled remove again to your floured surface. Divide the dough into two and knead gently for a minute each. Place in greased loaf tins or shape into freestyle loaves and place on your baking sheet. Cover again with a damp towel and leave to rise for another hour or so. I used a well floured banetton for my loaf.

Bake the breads at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes till golden brown on top and hollow sounding when tapped. If your bread is browning too fast cover loosely with foil.

Cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. We had our Barmbrack for breakfast and tea, slathered with butter, jam and honey. This bread toasts well too.

*Use any dried fruit to make up that 1 cup of fruit - raisins, prunes, apricots, sultanas, cherries, cranberries - whatever mix you like. I had that bag of Tesco's fruit so I used some of it.

*Use regular strong tea. I didn't have any so I used the tulsi ginger tea a friend had sent a while back. How nice that some of it got used!

*The original recipe calls for allspice powder. I didn't have any so I used more cinnamon. A mix of clove and cinnamon with a star anise thrown in would work quite well too.

We Knead to Bake #32

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Comfort that is Daal Bhaat

It's been a tough year so far and the last few weeks have been quite high on the difficulty scale. Stretched nerves, eroded patience, a whole lot of stress and a big surgery later we brought Mom home from the hospital. I don't know who was the most exhausted by the time we got home. You know how it is... after endless days spent in hospital, those last few hours till you finally step over the threshold and out of the building seem to pass with excruciating slowness. And then when you finally pile into the car, the drive home seems to take another age.

And then you're home! Exhausted but exhilarated.

Soon the exhilaration evaporates and the tiredness hits. The mind wants to shut down and crawl into a deep dark corner but there are mundane jobs to be done, lunch to be made.

Today the hubby stepped in and whipped up the simplest meal in creation - Daal and Rice. I had rooted around in the veggie drawer in the fridge and I found a plump brinjal, ideal for a bhaja to go with the daal and rice. And so that's what we had - Bhaat, Daal, Begun Bhaja, and my homemade Ghee.

We ate in silence as the simple meal comforted and strengthened us, assured us that all would be well, embraced us in a blanket of familiarity, normalcy and peace. Daal and Bhaat. That's what it does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Thousand Years of Fusion - My Article on Parsi Food Ancestry Published in the CaLDRON Magazine

I wrote a couple of articles and contributed some recipes for the Two Year Anniversary Bumper issue of CaLDRON Magazine. Here's the one I wrote about Parsi food as we know it today and its ancestry tracing influences from Iran and India that have all made it what it is today. 

Do check out the issue here and see my article up there in print on page 68!  

Parsi Food – the words evoke images of Dhansakh and Patra ni Machhi in most people’s minds. But there’s much more to the cuisine of this much beloved community epitomised by philanthropy and eccentricity in equal measure.

The Parsis arrived in India as refugees from Iran, a little more than a thousand years ago and first settled on the Gujarat coast. Legend has it that the leader of the earliest groups went to meet a local chieftain to seek asylum. The chieftain showed him a bowl brimming with milk and said his land was like that bowl, with no room for more. The leader of the refugees sprinkled sugar into the milk and said, like the sugar, he and his people would not only blend into the milk but would improve it too. And thus the Parsis remained in India, and not only did they blend in, they certainly added plenty of sweetness to the land.

In Iran their diet included plenty of meat and wheat, punctuated with a profusion of fruit which was also dried to last through the year, pulses, herbs, a few spices, saffron, onions and garlic. Bread was a big component of the meal and they were skilled bakers. In India they found an abundant variety of fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, a wide range of spices, and coconuts. While fusion food has become a fashionable buzz word in the last few decades the Parsis were at it as soon as they arrived. Most of modern Parsi cuisine that we see in India is a result of a fusion of Persian with Gujarati and coastal dishes, with influences from British cuisine, along with a dash of Portuguese thrown in.

Thus were born classics like Patra ni Machhi that uses coriander and coconut, the vividly red Parsi curries that use coconut, dried red chillies and poppy seeds, the Patio which uses vinegar, red chillies, tomatoes, and is garnished with vegetables like drumsticks and baby brinjals, Lagan nu Custard which is a classic British egg and milk custard with cardamom and nutmeg added to the mix and topped with nuts and dried fruit, to name a few.
There was no Dhansakh in Persia, nor was there any Patra ni Machhi. However we see Persian ancestry in the Pullaos, and in various other preparations that use dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, and saffron. The fondness for lamb over other meats is another vestige of their Persian heritage. However, they avoided beef and pork in India because these were taboo to many locals.

The Parsis don’t have many festivals but the start of a new year is of marked importance. August is a month of celebration with three important days – there’s Pateti, Navroze, and Khordad Saal. Pateti is the last day of the year and is a relatively solemn occasion where one reflects on the deeds of the year gone by; taking stock of the good and bad one has done, and resolves on doing better in the forthcoming year. Navroze, the ‘new day’, is the first day of the New Year and brings with it hope for a new beginning, celebrated with feasting and family outings to plays and concerts. Khordad Saal is the day of the Prophet Zoroaster’s birth. All three days are marked with visits to the Agiary (fire temple) and plenty of good food.

An invitation to a Navjote (initiation) or Lagan (wedding) is quite coveted for the guest is guaranteed to be wined and dined in style. Here too, the Indian influence is seen in the meals being served on banana leaves. Of course, these days many people prefer to have a buffet spread but the sit down meals are as popular.

In the old days a wedding feast menu featured mutton dishes from start to finish. The goat being a large animal, it was only slaughtered at weddings where there would be a large crowd to feed. The menu featured Aleti Paleti (pan fried offal in a spicy gravy), Bhaji Dana ma Gos (mutton cooked in fresh greens and peas), Khattu Gos (mutton cooked in curd) and a sumptuous mutton pullao or plain rice accompanied by Masala ni Daar (spicy daal). Mhowdi, a liqueur made from the mahua flowers, would be served in little silver cups called ‘fuliyas’. 

The advent of poultry farms and broiler chicken has changed the Parsi diet considerably. Chicken was now easily available and one didn’t have to sacrifice a valuable layer that provided eggs. Eggs have always ruled the roost in Parsi kitchens and there is an endless variety of egg preparations, the most well-known being ‘Sali per Eeda’ or eggs on straw potatoes. Kasa per Eeda or eggs on something is an entire chapter in Parsi cuisine where eggs are steamed on top of a variety of bases. The base could be leftover vegetables, a simple mix of onions, tomatoes, and spices, a piquant kheema, or something as decadent as clotted cream! 

Fish also gained popularity and today, no Parsi feast is complete without Patra ni Machhi or Sahs ni Machhi made with pomfrets, the Parsi’s favourite fish.

While the Parsi loves proteins more, there is quite a variety of vegetarian recipes in the repertoire – much to most non Parsis’ surprise. Granted, most vegetable recipes have some meat added ‘to make it palatable’ but there are plenty of completely meatless vegetable preparations too, no doubt the result of intermingling with local communities and the sheer abundance of vegetables in India.

The cuisine today is a wonderful mix of original Persian preparations with strong local influences starting in Gujarat, going south along the western coast as they moved towards Bombay and beyond, right down till Goa. A thousand years of fusion has resulted in a unique cuisine that celebrates local produce and ingredients and yet holds on to the rich culinary heritage of the land of its origin.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Luv Thy Farmer and Mosambi Cake

Mosambi (Sweet Lime) Cake

I noticed a post on Facebook where a friend was making an effort to help a fruit farmer get a decent price for his produce (mosambis or sweet limes) by selling it via the social network. The usual route for farmers to the retail customers is through multiple middlemen which means the farmer gets paid a fraction of what you and me, the end users, actually pay for produce. In Mr Gaikwad's case he was getting roughly INR 12- 15 per kilo while we were paying around INR 70 per kilo. My friend Ranjit decided to try to bridge this enormous price gap and thus Luv Thy Farmer was born.

I bought a 5 kilo bag of mosambis for INR 300 - that's INR 60 per kilo for mosambis which turned out to be far better than the ones I'd bought from my online grocery store, and cheaper too. I did juice quite a few of them but these fruits were so fragrant I wanted to make something more than just juice. A cake was the most obvious thing that came to my mind and I set about looking at a few recipes to see what I could do.

I liked this recipe for Moist Lemon Bundt Cake on a blog called Amy Kay's Kitchen and I adapted it to include mosambis instead of lemons. I have also reduced the sweet elements that make up this cake. Here's what I did -

Mosambi Cake

2 1/4 cups maida, sifted
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups castor  sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 large mosambis
1 1/4 cup milk
150 gms butter

Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a baking tin, either a Bundt pan or any regular shaped cake tin, by coating the inside with butter. I used a pastry brush to spread the butter evenly.

In a large bowl combine the sifted maida, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer crack the four eggs and mix on medium speed till thickened. The eggs should turn a pale lemon colour. Add the sugar in small amounts beating continuously.

Add the zest and the vanilla extract and continue to mix.

Slowly add the dry flour mix, a little at a time incorporating completely into the egg mix.

Heat the milk and add the butter to it. Stir to mix and let the butter melt. Remove from heat. The milk shouldn't get too hot or boil.

Slowly add the milk-butter mix into the batter and let it all combine. You will get a runny batter.

Pour batter into the prepared cake tin and set it in the oven to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. A cake skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.

You can drizzle the cake with a mosambi juice and icing sugar glaze if you like. I didn't because we are now a house full of diabetics and this cake is stretching the limits as it is! I just sprinkled some extra mosambi zest on top of the cake. The fresh burst of flavour from that zest was just superb.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

White Sandwich Bread - My Little Rebellion

Everywhere I looked there was an obsession for what is perceived as healthy - recipes that boasted of being egg free, gluten free, fat free, no white flour, no sugar, no butter - only oil, and a zillion other 'healthy' claims. The sad thing is most people have no idea of what genuinely is healthy, or rather relatively healthy, and what is actually quite far from being good for anyone. That's not to say all things touted as healthy or good for you aren't - one just has to realise that blindly substituting and replacing, often with synthetic substitutes, is not the path to healthier or nutritious eating.

Tired of this I decided I had to have my own little rebellion. I was going to make that terrible. terrible thing - white bread. Made with no compromise to the all purpose white flour. No whole wheat flour or any other 'healthy' flour would even be allowed to come near. If the recipe asked for a pound of butter I was going to put in a pound of butter. If eight eggs were required eight eggs it would be. You get the drift...

I asked my friends to share tested recipes and I went looking around on my own. I read quite a few recipes and finally decided to use one by Julia Child. My main motivation to use her recipe was that I'd never made anything from a Julia Child recipe and this was the perfect opportunity. And the recipe was simple and straightforward, perfect for an amateur like me who needs a recipe to bake bread. Always. Even for breads I've made many times over. So I made my date with Julia and we made white sandwich bread from here.

I'm not rewriting this recipe as I didn't change anything in it. Just replaced the 1 tbsp Active Dry yeast with 2 tsp Instant yeast.

The dough for this bread is quite sticky and I was quite sure it was not going to work out. But it did. I was nervous because it took time to come together and I had to struggle not to add too much flour beyond what the recipe called for. Don't worry, this recipe works! And the stand mixer did most of the work ;)

Make sure you have a couple of loaf tins ready before you start. I didn't have two of the same size so I divided the dough accordingly instead of blindly halving the dough.

Make the bread the evening before and have it for breakfast the next morning. It tastes much better after resting for those hours. Don't slice the bread unless it is absolutely cooled. Patience is the key here.

As it turned out all this recipe requires is APF, yeast, and water, with a little bit of butter to help it along. Not so evil after all! So bring out the butter, Nutella, the jams, marmalades, honey, cold cuts, fry and egg or two and have yourself a feast.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Food Blogging. Quo Vadis?

Another popular food blogger got caught plagiarising.

A beautifully styled blog, well written posts, lots of attractive photographs, a wide variety of recipes and cuisines, and of course, a new post every couple of days - it isn't surprising that this blog caught the attention of many. 

A new blogger, just a year into blogging, she was under so much pressure she said, that she did the unthinkable. But it wasn't a single instance. There was so much plagiarised content on her blog we got tired of looking. Stolen content that spanned recipes, food styling on her photographs, 'How To' posts, quotes, and even a personal story from another blogger - and not a hint of credit anywhere. The thievery was not limited to the confines of the blog. A magazine was given plagiarised content, a DIY dessert kit was being sold using someone else's recipe. The rot was so deep it was appalling. 

Predictably, once she was caught there was a severe backlash and this blogger is now in a lot of trouble. As she should be. 

Many bloggers debated and outraged over this incident on a closed group on Facebook and over private messages that blazed for two days, as the plagiarist tried desperately to save her self, her blog, and her reputation. 

We all know plagiarism is wrong, we all frown on it, we all outrage loudly when someone is caught but most of us also wait for someone else to blow the whistle. We also look the other way because we don't want to be the one to make a scene. We worry about the plagiarist's reputation, family, children, and everything else. Sometimes I wonder if we're looking for excuses for the plagiarist. But no, we're not. We're just not motivated enough to get off the couch and do something about it, just like we are lazy about a million other things that should be changed but we rather someone else did the changing. 

In all the debate one question kept coming up - what's the hurry? Many of us have been blogging for several years and we see the blog as a personal diary or chronicle that we allow the world to read. It's all about passion, and dedication, and love, and warm fuzzy feelings. Because when we started blogging, that was all there was to it. You wrote what you liked and felt happy if anyone stopped by and actually read what you wrote. There was no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or StumbleUpon, and if they existed they were nothing like what they all are today. There was nowhere to broadcast the fact that you had written something on your blog. Your blog was not accessible to a zillion people at the click of a mouse. 

Today the scene is very different. Blogs earn incomes. They are marketing tools. They are platforms for selling opinions, information, advice, anything! A blog is supported with a myriad social networking tools to give it a larger audience. If you're successful at leveraging all this to your advantage and your blog begins to get noticed the fame and the followers grow, invitations to events, restaurant launches, product launches, etc., start pouring in. And let's be honest, it's bloody hard to resist all this seduction. You might even land some paid writing or photography gigs if you're good.

And this is where the temptation to grow fast comes in. You see others who have made it big and you want the same for yourself. And you want it fast. But for that you need the numbers. Followers on your blog, on the Facebook Fan page, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, G+, and every other platform you can think of, and you have to write keeping SEO in mind. The pressure to post more builds up because you're worried about Google and Alexa ranks. And your worry is justified because you are looking at numbers, numbers which will convert to income eventually. Or a whole lot of fame, fans and freebies if not real cash. 

But all this takes dogged hard work, sometimes of impossible proportions. Let's take that Google ranking thing - you have to put up 200 posts in a year to get a good site rank. (See Addendum) That translates to four posts a week. If you're a recipe blogger that means you have to select what recipes you're going to blog, shop for all ingredients, cook the dish, sort out props and styling for the photographs, set up the shots, take photos, edit photos, write the post, add photos, publish the post, clean up your kitchen, put away your photo equipment and props, promote your latest post out there on social media which means Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, at the minimum, and as many food groups and blogger groups on Facebook that you can find that allow you to share your blog links. All this, at least four times a week.  And you still have a regular job, a family to look after, a life to live. 

Is it any wonder that you soon start looking for ways to make it easier? And before you know it you are stealing content. Blogging has changed from a personal hobby tool to an industry. Maybe it's not a job for one person anymore. And certainly not if you have a full time job. 

Think about why you blog. If like me, you blog because you like to and are not too concerned about followers and income, that's great. But you should consider growing and not stagnating. I've worn my refusal to grow like a badge of honour and I am ashamed of it. If you're blogging because you want the bigger things then think it through, plan how will go about it, think of the resources you can use (and no, I don't mean other blogs or sites you can copy from), and be realistic about how much you can do and how long you can sustain it. There's nothing wrong with earning money through your blog. But it is wrong if you are doing it by stealing someone else's work. 

We all have responsibilities as bloggers. There are many things wrong with food blogging today and they need to be set right. New bloggers need guidance and mentoring and older bloggers need to accept and learn the new ways. We need a community and a support system. We need to deal with the rot. Ignoring it makes us equally responsible for it. 

*** Addendum - I misunderstood Google ranking criteria to some extent. So it's not 200 posts literally but you have to really populate your blog with a ton of content so 200 posts a year is the sort of goal many bloggers blindly set themselves in a bid to get that high Google ranking. But prolific posting on your blog is not enough by itself. There are many other factors that in combination with prolific posting will get a blog a high Google rating. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

I have great ambitions about baking cakes. I love cakes. I sit for hours on Pinterest looking (and drooling) over the myriad cakes that call out seductively. Some are so beautiful, in fact, that I don't even care that they're fruity cakes - I want to bake each one some day. Baking, like cooking, is something I find incredibly relaxing and today I really needed that therapeutic dance of measuring, mixing, and baking till a magical cake appeared.

Usually I simply throw together the basic sponge or pound cake that I learned when I was just a kid, and the most I do with that recipe is add booze soaked fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, preserved fruits, etc., to make it a little different. Today I needed more than that comfortable, familiar, and nearly mindless recipe. I needed to be involved. I needed to be wholly occupied with baking a cake leaving no room in my head to think about anything else. So went on to Pinterest to look for something that suited my needs and what I had in my pantry.

I found this Kahlua Chocolate Cake recipe and it fit the bill perfectly. A simple enough recipe with no branded ingredients that I would find impossible or expensive to procure, and with enough to do to keep me fully occupied, this chocolate laden cake was destined for me today!

I'm reproducing the recipe here with easier measurements and a slightly more detailed method keeping in mind the hiccups I had while making this beautiful cake. This recipe has several steps so read the entire recipe first and get your ingredients and equipment together before you start.

Kahlua Chocolate Cake

For the Cake

2 1/4 cup Maida
1/4 cup Hintz cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

110 gms chocolate

1 cup Kahlua
1 cup sour cream

125 gms butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup chocolate chips

For the Glaze

110 gms chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 or 2 tbsp fine sugar (if required)

Start with the cake -

Preheat the oven at 180C.

Prepare a 12 cup Bundt pan by greasing it with butter. To figure out the capacity of your Bundt pan simply pour in water using your cup measure and count how many cups fit in. If your pan is small you will have left over batter. No worries, make a small cake in a suitable cake tin or make cup cakes with the leftover batter.

Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. I zapped it in the microwave till it was silky and melted.

In a measuring jug pour a cup of Kahlua. Now add enough sour cream to take it up to the 2 cups mark. I used Amul sour cream and needed one full tub which I beat lightly with a fork before adding to the Kahlua. Mix the two with a fork till they have blended.

In a clean large bowl mix the maida, cocoa, baking soda and salt till all are well combined.

Place the butter in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer or in any mixing bowl and use your hand mixer. Use the paddle attachment if you're using a KitchenAid. Add the brown sugar and cream it well till the sugar and butter are blended, light and fluffy. Now add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Pour in the vanilla now along with the melted chocolate and continue to mix.

Get the boiling water ready.

Alternating between the dry flour mix and the Kahlua-sour cream mix add the two to the butter-sugar-eggs mix till everything is incorporated.

Now add the boiling water and mix carefully. Slow down the speed of the electric mixer as the water can splash out. It takes about half a minute to get incorporated so be careful. Add the chocolate chips and mix them in gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes till a skewer poked in comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the mould before you remove it. This is a soft moist cake and it might break. So be patient. Cool further on a rack before glazing it.

My cake had risen while baking so I had to trim it to get a flat bottom. It was easy enough, all I did was wait for it to cool and then went at it with a large serrated bread knife. We scarfed the scraps quite happily (there was no way I was letting anyone near the cake before I'd taken photographs, obviously!).

To make the glaze -

In a small pan bring the cream to a boil. Have the chocolate ready in a jug. Pour the just boiled cream over the chocolate and let it stand undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Mix with a spatula till you have a smooth glossy glaze. I added a couple of tablespoons of fine sugar as the chocolate I used was quite bitter. Add a tablespoon or two of Kahlua and incorporate fully till you have a satiny smooth pourable glaze.

Place the cooled cake on the rack over a tray to catch any drips and drizzle the glaze over the cake. I spooned the glaze over and 'helped' it dribble down the sides attractively ;)

Let the glaze set and your Kahlua Chocolate Cake is ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Goan Choriz in Instant Noodles - Comfort Food at its Best

If you've lived in a hostel it's more or less guaranteed that you've experimented with instant noodles. Maggi and other brands were the backbone of our meals, especially if one wanted options apart from Mess food! Assorted vegetables, ketchup, chilly and other sauces, spices, pickle masalas, anything and everything was pressed into service to add zing and flavour and even body to the basic noodles.

I spent many happy years living the hostel life and one of the best things that emerged from those years is my concoction of instant noodles with Goan choriz. Slightly soupy, the thick and spicy sauce coats every strand of noodle punctuated with chunks of the fat and meat of the choriz beads - heaven in a bowl!  The unique flavours of this local Goan sausage are the foundation of this dish. The cheese slices cut the sharpness from the spices of the choriz and give the sauce a wonderful roundness.

I made some for my lunch today and my friend M pinged me to ask for the recipe. I confidently told her to look it up here on the blog. And then I thought why not dig out the recipe myself and send her the link. That's when I discovered, much to my horror, that I haven't written about it. You cannot imagine my shock!

Anyway, let me fill this terrible lacuna right away. Better late than never, correct? So here goes...

Noodles with Goan Choriz

Instant noodles - Maggi or any other
Goan choriz sausage - approximately 15 to 20 beads, peeled
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 slices Britannia Cheese
tomato ketchup

In a pan fry the onions and garlic till just brown. Remove the onions to a plate.

In the same pan add enough water to cook the noodles. Add the flavouring spice that came with the noodles now.

Add the choriz and let it boil in the spiced water for a few minutes.

Break the noodles up a little and add to the pan. Let them cook fully.

Add the fried onions and garlic, a good splash of ketchup and the cheese slices. Stir to mix.

Reduce the liquid to the consistency to the consistency you like and serve.

I usually make a big bowlful and then get comfy in a big chair and enjoy it with a good book. The perfect dish for a solitary lunch.  No. I don't share. 

The Express Lunch Buffet at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi

Every once in while my gal pals and I meet up for a girly lunch and gossip in Vashi. We usually go to Inorbit and end up at one of the restaurants there for lunch and follow it up with a bit of browsing and shopping, and finally coffee and cake at the Starbucks there. With so many new places opening up in the area, and a few older ones remaining unexplored we decided to step out of the comfort zone today.

The Four Points by Sheraton at Vashi has three or four restaurants/coffee shops and they have a lunch buffet in one. I looked them up on Zomato and read rave reviews about the Express Lunch at Wrapped, the coffee shop. It sounded good and so that's where we went.

Confusion reigned. The lunch buffet turned out to be at the Asian Kitchen on the second floor, not at Wrapped. I asked at the Asian Kitchen and the staff seemed to have no idea what I was talking about, in fact, one person even called the coffee shop Wraps. Finally I managed to confirm that the Express Lunch had been shifted to the Asian Kitchen from Wrapped to accommodate more guests.

The Asian Kitchen is a lovely airy large space and a great venue for dining out. They also have an open kitchen allowing guests and the kitchen staff to interact. We were led to a nice table by the windows and we settled down for lunch. After ordering a glass of wine for myself we proceeded to check out the buffet spread.

To put it plainly - I was not impressed at all. This was one of the most lacklustre menus I have ever seen. And the selection of dishes seem to be made quite indifferently - there was nothing that piqued my interest or made me drool in anticipation. The selections included  assorted salads which had been portioned into small bowls (which I think is a great idea), a line of chafing dishes holding the main courses, breads and soups on one counter, and two forlorn looking dessert options on one side.

When you approach the buffet from the dining area the first thing you encounter is the dessert, opposite which are the soups. You walk ahead and high up on one side are the salads, and in front at a perpendicular are the main courses. The plates are placed awkwardly below these chafing dishes. Browsing the menu and serving oneself in this weirdly arranged buffet meant constantly going back and forth, bumping into staff and other guests while balancing the plate and trying to see what there is.

The salads included Red Cabbage and Apple Coleslaw, Corn and Bell Pepper Salad, Cucumber in Brown Garlic Yoghurt, Paapri Chaat, and a chicken salad tossed in some green sauce (I've forgotten what it was called). I like to see fresh salad at a salad counter. At least a basic one. And a couple of simple dressings or vinaigrettes. There was none.

This buffet has no starters or snacky things at all. Not a one. There were papads, however.

There were two soups on offer - a vegetarian and a non vegetarian one. We opted for the chicken broth which turned out to be a watery tomato based soup with a reasonably generous smattering of small chicken chunks. Low on flavour and eminently forgettable.

The main course options included -

Daal Lasooni which was nice enough, nothing very exciting.

Oven Roasted Parsley Potatoes. These were quite nice but didn't quite go with anything else on the menu. An Indian masala aloo would have been perfect.

Stir Fried Vegetables - I've never seen a stir fry like this.

Subz Hyderabadi. I didn't try this one so no comments.

Paneer Bemisal - I quite liked this preparation. The paneer was soft and had absorbed the flavours of the gravy quite nicely. It went well with the buttered tandoori rotis that were served hot at our table.

Murghi Lucknowi Masala. Another middle of the road preparation. Nothing spectacular but nice enough with hot tandoori rotis.

Plain Steamed Rice

and a Peas Pulao. I didn't see the sense of having plain rice and then this rice tossed with green peas and fried onions on the menu. A tossed pasta or noodles would have added much more value to the menu, and also would have given guests something to pair the potatoes or that 'stir fry' with.

The desserts on offer were Kiwi Mousse

and Doodhi Halwa.

If one was to compare this buffet menu with what's on offer in other restaurants in Navi Mumbai this buffet is trailing. However, it is probably one the cheapest ones around.

A big grouse I have with this menu is the paucity of non vegetarian fare. One chicken salad and one chicken main course is all that was on offer, along with the soup. Is chicken the only protein they could find? Compared with four or five vegetarian options among the salads, and the same in the main courses I felt non vegetarians like me didn't have much to choose from.

They have a huge open kitchen. A live counter offering freshly made pasta or a wok station doing stir fries or noodles would have been fantastic.

I spoke to the chef who came by to ask what I thought of the buffet and the food. I told him the same things I've said here. Their brief was to aim for the lunch-break crowd from the numerous offices that are nearby, which is why this is called the Express Lunch buffet and is priced at INR 450+Tax. Looking at the as good as empty restaurant, with just one or two other tables occupied, I think they've completely missed the brief. The nearly empty restaurant at peak lunch time seems to echo my sentiments.

I've had some awesome food at the Asian Kitchen (the hubby and I are huge fans of their Breakfast Buffet) and I was quite saddened by this lunch buffet. The place is usually packed for the breakfast buffet which has loads of options including live stations, a selection of cold cuts, hot options like poha, idlis, hash browns, bacon, assorted breads, cereals, eggs to order, tea, coffee, juices... it's awesome!

I'd rather pay a little more and get my money's worth from the numerous other buffet options in the area than pay less and yet come away dissatisfied. Navi Mumbaikars are hungry for good places to dine out and the Asian Kitchen is missing a great opportunity here. I really hope they make this buffet much more appealing.

Express Lunch at Asian Kitchen, Four Points by Sheraton, Vashi - INR 450+Tax per head. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dinner Rolls and Friendship Day

The Hallmark holidays pop up every time you turn around and the latest one was Friendship Day. Social media was flooded with pithy sayings and mushy pictures celebrating friendship and a fair number of cynics wondering what the need for a special day was. Though I didn't post anything about Friendship Day I did think about it. And I felt grateful for the Internet where I have met most of my current friends and created some very close bonds that have taken us beyond the online space and deeply into each others' lives.

Among them is Saee who started me off on my bread making journey at a class at Rushina's Studio. Rushina is another Internet friend who is now among my close buddies. Her blog is the first one I ever read and where I discovered the concept of a blog. I have been a devoted follower of Saee's blog and YouTube channel for the bread recipes simply because they have never failed. What better reason does anyone need?!

No friendship related post can be complete without K, the centre of my universe, my best buddy. It's been a crazy few days, so busy he's barely had time to think... and as the day progressed I thought to myself, why not make some bread for the fellow. I remembered the dinner rolls we'd made at that bread class I'd attended with Saee and Rushina and decided to make those again. A Friendship Day gift for my bread obsessed best friend :)

I followed this recipe to the T barring the kneading for which I used my stand mixer. Take a look at the video and you will see just how easy it is to make fun shaped dinner rolls for the family. I topped my rolls with black poppy seeds which another very dear friend, my Santa Claus in London, Manish sent me.

Start at least three hours before you want to serve - the rolls must rest for an hour before serving. Of course, K refused to wait at all and scarfed down a few rolls hot out of the oven! But they do improve with the resting, so wait.

Serve with soup, with a curry or stew, or have them for breakfast with an assortment of spreads. Make a big batch and share with friends. So, Happy Friendship Day after all :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bacon Jam with Bhut Jolokia

I'd been meaning to make bacon jam for months but just didn't get around to it. Then a bunch of friends from all over the world made a plan to meet and I thought, why not make bacon jam as a gift for them. As usual, I wanted to play around with the recipe and try something new. The basic recipe is awesome and is a superb canvas for adding new flavours - just like basic mayonnaise.

I looked through the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my stock of Bhut Jolokia chillies that I'd bought on my trip to Assam earlier this year. Bacon jam with a spicy kick sounded like a good idea to me and so that's what I made. The basic recipe remains the same and I replaced the regular green chillies with  a dried bhut jolokia chilli. This chilli is seriously potent so be careful how much you use. I'd say be conservative the first time and work your way up in subsequent trials.

I didn't use whiskey in this batch. Instead I used port wine. Well that was also lying around neglected and this was a nice opportunity to use it up. The flavours worked very well indeed! The whiskey didn't get me very excited (hardly surprising because I don't really like the stuff!) and replacing it with some other flavour was at the top of my priorities. Red wine and port seemed to be good choices and they were.

This is my basic bacon jam recipe. The element I consider integral to it, apart from the bacon and the onions, is the freshly brewed coffee. Don't skip the coffee. And don't ever use instant. I can't resist playing with recipes once I have mastered the basic version and this jam recipe is like a doorway to a land of wonder - the possibilities are just endless. Yet, some basic principles must be kept in mind so that there is a high chance of success once you've finished tweaking.

  • It doesn't matter if the onions are not perfectly chopped, or that they're not very finely chopped. But cook them slowly and thoroughly.
  • Don't brown the onions
  • Don't let the bacon crisp
  • Use only as much of the bacon fat as required. Too much fat will mask the flavours of the other ingredients and you will get a stodgy jam.
  • Use a mix of back and streaky bacon for a good balance of fat and meat in the jam
  • Use the best quality bacon you can afford. 
  • Use freshly brewed coffee, even if it's not a premium or fancy one. NO INSTANT.

The experiment with the Bhut Jolokias was not limited to a change of chillies. I also did away with vinegar entirely, and added port and pomegranate molasses to the mix. Both liquids gave the jam a deeper, more rounded sweet and sour element compared to vinegar which has a sharp sourness. I'm tempted to slosh in a good slug of Balsamic in a batch...I'm sure it will work fabulously well.

It's all very well concocting bacon jam recipes in the head but the toughest part, trust me, is when you're in the middle making a batch and you have a pile of perfect 'soft fried' bacon in front of you, and you have to do your best not to eat the lot! Look at this and you will understand... Sigh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kolmi na Kari Chawal - Parsi Prawn Curry with Rice

The brightly coloured, coconut based curries are common to almost all the cuisines along the western coast of India. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in each version but the foundation of most is a paste of dried red chillies and coconut, along with other spices.

Many of us label any Indian preparation that has a gravy as a curry but after I got married I discovered that curry is a very specific preparation among the Parsis, and also in the coastal cuisines - this bright orange or red gravy full of spice and punch which ideally had sea food in it but was also great with chicken, mutton or even boiled eggs in it. The sauce is so good that even a vegetable curry is delicious!

The Parsis don't have multiple courses at their meals like us Bengalis - there will be one dish that's the centre of attraction, and at the most there will be a side dish to go along with. This is served with either rice, bread, or rotlis. A simple salad may or may not be there. So once every few days curry would be on the menu. A huge pot of curry made with pomfrets, surmai, prawns, or chicken - accompanied by fluffy white rice, a pile of deep fried papads, and a kachuber made of sliced onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, and plenty of lime wedges, would grace the table.The Parsi curry is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes today.

I always felt intimidated at the thought of making a Parsi curry myself, especially at the thought of having to grind a masala. Bengali cuisine rarely involves elaborate masala pastes - mustard, posto, etc., are simple one or two ingredient pastes - and to me a curry paste with its myriad ingredients in specific proportions seemed scary, to say the least. In fact my mother never owned a 'mixie', something that is so basic in many kitchens. We never had use for one.

There's always a first time for everything and eventually I took the curry plunge myself. We have an excellent fishmonger here in Kharghar and I often get plump fresh prawns from him. There's nothing like a hot and spicy prawn curry to perk up a cold and wet day and so today I had prawn curry on the menu. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I remove the heads and tails of the prawns completely. Feel free to leave them on if you prefer - most of the flavour is in there.

This is my mother in law Katy Dalal's recipe for curry with a couple of minor adjustments. Use the same recipe for any sea food.

Parsi Prawn Curry

2 cups large prawns, deveined
1 coconut, milk extracted.
2 tbsp dried kokum
6 fresh green chillies, slit

Curry masala paste -
1 coconut, grated
15 Kashmiri chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame or til seeds
1 piece turmeric root (use 1 heaped tsp of powder if not available)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chana
1/2 cup cashew
1 large pod garlic

Broil the dry spices on a tawa and then grind all the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding water as required.

2 -3 sprigs curry leaves
potatoes (optional)
5 or 6 drumsticks (optional)

Marinate the prawns with salt and a dash of turmeric.

In a large vessel heat a generous bit of oil. Add the curry leaves to the hot oil, stir for a minute and then add the masala paste and the fresh green chillies carefully. Stir well and cook the masala paste till it is cooked through and has turned red. Rinse out the grinder jar and add the water to the pot along with the coconut milk. Use store bought coconut milk if you like, but fresh coconut milk does taste far, far better. Bring it all to a boil, adding as much water as needed to make the required quantity of curry. Add washed kokum and salt and let it cook.

While this is boiling prepare the drumsticks. Peel off the hard outer bark and then chop each drumstick into longish pieces. Cook them in salted water separately till just tender. Drain and add them to the curry.

If you're adding potatoes, cut them into medium sized pieces, fry lightly, and then add to the curry as early as you can.

Prawns can get overcooked quite fast so put them in last, judging cooking time according to the size. The curry is ready as soon as the prawns are cooked. If the curry looks watery fish out the prawns on to a clean plate or bowl and let the curry reduce to the consistency you like. Pop the prawns back in for a minute at the end.

Serve the curry with lots of rice, papads and kachuber.