Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari ar Luchi - Bengali Style Long Cut Potatoes with Puris

Sometimes breakfast demands to be elaborate. The usual toast and eggs or muesli simply don't make the cut and the heart demands something more. And then, if it's Kali Pujo, the demands are louder. Since I don't make luchis very often I decided Kali Pujo was a special enough occasion to put aside all thoughts of counting calories and carbs and to simply indulge. And thus we had luchi and alu'r torkari for breakfast today.

Now there are many different kinds of alu'r torkari, or potato preparations, that can be paired with luchis, the pale, pure maida Bengali puris. From a simple alu bhaja (fried potato) to a more elaborate alu'r dom, alu phulkopi, sada alu'r torkari, Bengalis have a wide range of options. One that my mom used to make very frequently was a lomba kaata alu'r torkari.

This is a very simple preparation with barely any spices or ingredients and is absolutely delicious. It's also quick to cook which makes it perfect for breakfast. Once in a way mom would make this early in the morning for our school tiffins too. She'd roll up luchis with the torkari tucked inside and put three or four rolls in the box, enough for me and my friends to have a high treat at tiffin break!

Lomba Kaata Alu'r Torkari

4 large potatoes
2 green chillies
1/2 tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
1 tomato
chilli powder
mustard oil

Cut the potatoes into matchsticks, not too thin. You can retain the peel, make sure you wash the potatoes really well.

Chop the tomato and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadai and once it's properly hot chuck in the green chillies followed by the kalonji.

Once the kalonji finishes sizzling, add the potatoes.

Stir well to coat the potatoes with the oil and kalonji seeds.

Cover the wok and lower the flame, let the potatoes cook for a couple of minutes. Do not let the potatoes brown.

Once the potatoes are translucent add the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and tomato and stir properly to mix well. Let it cook for a bit, a couple of minutes.

Now add enough water to just cover the potatoes.

Bring it to a boil and cook uncovered till the potatoes are done and the water nearly dried up.

This dish doesn't have a gravy, but don't let the water dry out completely. The gravy should be barely there, just coating the potatoes.

Serve with hot luchis.

Here's the recipe for Bengali luchi.

This torkari goes well with porota and with regular everyday rotis too. Mom made it for dinner paired with rotis quite often. On days when you'r short of ingredients this torkari can be a lifesaver. For me, this torkari is something I associate very strongly with my mother - memories of Sunday breakfasts and special dabbas for for school. Such a simple torkari, but so much more than just a torkari.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Jaffna Mutton Curry

After two trips to Sri Lanka it goes without saying that my pantry is well stocked with Sri Lankan spices! A few days ago as I looked through my collection of spice blends I found the stash from Sri Lanka and decided it was high time I started using them. The easiest and most appealing (to me) would be a curry, redolent of spices and coconut milk and so I went looking for a recipe and settled on Peter Kuruvita's recipe for Jaffna Goat Curry which you can see here. Needless to say, I adjusted the recipe according to the ingredients I had at hand.

Here's what I did -

Jaffna Mutton Curry

500 gms Mutton, on the bone, cut into regular curry pieces
1 stick Sri Lankan cinnamon (As you can see in the photo this is a thin papery cinnamon, quite different from Indian cassia. If you're using Indian cassia a 2 inch piece should do)
7-10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
1 tbsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped fine or blitzed
200 ml coconut milk
2 onions, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh curry leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, bashed
1 inch ginger, bashed
3-4 green chillies
1 tsp dried pandan leaves or one long 4 inch fresh leaf
Juice from half a lime
10 cm lemongrass stalk (I didn't have it so I went without it)
oil for cooking
salt as required

Wash the mutton pieces lightly and set aside.

In a clean bowl make the marinade by putting the dry spice powders, tomato and coconut milk together and mixing well to combine. Pour this over the meat pieces, mix well to coat properly and set aside for an hour or so.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed vessel and fry the onions with curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chillies, pandan leaf, and lemon grass stalks. Stir and fry till the onions turn translucent.

Add the marinated meat to this onion mix, stir well and braise for a couple of minutes. Though the original recipe doesn't require you to braise the meat, I am so used to braising meat a little before I add any liquid, I did it anyway. I also added salt at this stage.

Now add water to just cover the meat, bring it to a boil and then simmer it for 25 minutes or as long as necessary till the meat is cooked and tender and your gravy is not very watery. Squeeze in the lemon juice and serve with hot steamed rice.

This is one of the easiest curries I've ever made. There's hardly any prep to be done, the marinade is simple, and it's cooked in an hour if you follow the original which does't call for any long marination. I love easy, no fuss recipes like this and I'm going to make this pretty often.

Like most curries this one too tastes better eaten the next day so if you can wait that long, good for you! Otherwise just dive in right away.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Personalised Whiskey Glasses from Perfico - Or How to Please the Husband!

Every birthday I wonder what to get for the hubby and ever so often the birthday passes by with plenty of good food and celebration but no gift. This year too it was the same. And it left me feeling disappointed once again that I hadn't found anything interesting or perfect enough for my man, my rock, my best friend.

A month or so ago I saw an email from The subject line mentioned gifting and out of curiosity I had a look. A quick browse through the email and then through their website and I was caught. He'd sent me links to his range of personalised whiskey, champagne, and wine glasses.

As I looked at the various options the idea of having whiskey glasses with the hubby's initials etched on them looked more and more attractive. Here was something I thought would be appreciated by the Single Malt loving hubby. Not quite a birthday gift I know considering a few months had passed but why get technical?

I responded expressing my interest and in a week the postman rang my bell. The glasses were superbly packed in form fitting thermocole inside a sturdy cardboard box. As I took them out I was quite delighted to see the hubby's initials framed in a wreath perfectly positioned on the sides of the glasses. The glasses themselves are of good quality and very clear and the etching has survived a couple of washes in my dishwasher quite well. To be honest we've also been enjoying juice at breakfast time in these glasses.

Perfico has a massive range of personalised gift options and when I say massive I really mean it! Browse their website to find everything from personalised coffee mugs, beer mugs, wine glasses, etc., to aprons, passport holders, flip flops (!),  and much, much more. You can personalise the item of your choice with whatever writing you like including images. Impress the boss, woo a girl, say sorry to Mom, please the hubby, whatever is the need of the hour!

They're also offering free shipping across India.

Disclaimer: The product was sent by Perfico, not purchased by me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Masala Day and Sunday Malvani Chicken

Sunday Malvani Chicken
Sunday Malvani Chicken
Among the myriad blends of masalas that I got for the Masala Day Spice Swap was a Malvani Sunday Masala sent by Shakti Salgaonkar. This fiery vermillion coloured mix smelled heavenly and I was eager to cook with it. The weekend was on us and I decided to make a Sunday Malvani Chicken using the masala she'd sent. I followed the recipe Shakti shared and the only thing I tweaked was the quantity of onions (I used more). The recipe below is completely Shakti Salgaongar's and like I mentioned, just the quantity of onions is greater.

I had heard of charred onions being used in recipes but had never done so myself. This was my first time and I was quite excited to learn a new technique. I have to say the results were worth all the effort.

Prep for Malvani Chicken

Sunday Malvani Chicken

3 full chicken legs cut into thighs and drumsticks

3 tbsp curd
1 1/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste

2-3 tbsp Malvani Sunday masala
3 medium onions sliced
2 onions charred over the gas flame
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
A few sprigs fresh coriander

Half a dried coconut (vati)
2 tbsp fried onion


Marinate the chicken in the marinade ingredients for an hour or longer. Make slashes in the fleshy parts of the meat so the marinade goes in nicely.

Grind the charred onions to a paste.

Heat ghee in your cooking vessel and fry the sliced onions till they turn brown. Don't burn the onions. I like to add half a teaspoon of sugar for a richer brown and deeper flavour. Set aside a couple of tablespoons of fried onions for the Vaatan.

To make the vaatan grate the dried coconut and toast on a tava till you get a nice aroma. Cool slightly and then grind to a paste with the reserved fried onions.

In the wok with the fried onions add the Malvani masala powder and the charred onion paste. Fry slowly till the masala is cooked and has no raw smell.

Add the marinated chicken legs and cook further till the masala is nicely coated on the chicken and the meat has turned opaque. Add water and cook till the chicken is half done.

Now add the vaatan and mix it all well. Adjust salt and then cook covered till the chicken is cooked through.

Remove to a serving dish, garnish with fresh coriander and serve with rotis or parathas or even with rice if you like. A simple kachumbar of sliced onions, minced coriander and lemon juice also goes really well with the Sunday Malvani Chicken and parathas.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On Grandmothers and Half-Fried Potatoes

My Maternal Grandmother


Most of us have fond memories of our grandmothers and a big part of those memories are linked to food. I guess the most pampering happened through food, followed by bed time stories and snuggling up to their softness in the night, and of course protection from the parents' scoldings and spankings that invariably followed all our mischief.

Since my parents moved to Bombay I got access to my grandmothers only in the summer holidays when we went to Calcutta. Needless to say the pampering was even more because we weren't around all year through.

My Didin, mother's mother, and her sisters married into the same family, marrying brothers and cousins. Consequently they all lived quite close together and whenever we visited it was like having multiple grandmothers to indulge us in every whim. There would be umpteen unplanned meals, teas, and treats, and then there would be the planned and orchestrated meals where I would expect to be served on banana leaves with terracotta bowls and glasses to complete the experience. The thing is, we invariably missed most family weddings thanks to exam schedules and this was our chance to experience the traditional spreads at least to some extent.

The grand uncles would be packed off to the market and the grand aunts would sweat over the hot and smoky 'unoon' (clay coal-burning stoves)cooking for us spoiled brats. At lunch time we would be seated at the table, just my brother and me, and we would be fed a royal repast - the menu decided by us of course!

On the road leading from Didin's house to her sisters' house (three of them lived in a large house divided into three portions) was a coal shop that also stocked soft drinks. This was another great source of indulgence as we would often stop at the shop and share a bottle of Campa Cola or Rush or Limca. It was taken for granted that some uncle or aunt would pay for these! Soft drinks were never permitted by the parents in Bombay so the few we had from this coal shop were treats of the highest order!

This same road housed many momo shops, some of which are now very well known. Though the grand aunts, Didin, and in fact, most of the women in the family including my mother looked down their noses at the food from these shops, occasionally one of the numerous uncles would indulge us with a plate of hot steaming pork momos and the inevitable plate of chow mien.

My fondest memory, however, is of the stolen half-fried potatoes. Potatoes are always present in some form or other in Bengali meals and Didin was always frying them for use in various vegetable preparations or the mutton or fish jhols (stews). Potatoes would be peeled and cut in specific shapes and proportions for the dishes of the day and would be lightly fried and kept aside. Oh the joy of whacking a piece or two! These would be semi-fried and not quite cooked through so once in a way if you chanced upon one that was completely fried it was heaven!

Half fried potatoes

I was indulged even more by my Thakuma - dad's mother. I was the first granddaughter after a long string of grandsons and I was spoiled thoroughly by everyone. Thakuma was a strict matriarch and ruled her daughters in law with an iron hand. She supervised the cooking of all the meals and her daughters in law assisted and worked under her instruction. She would sit at the unoon and proceed with the cooking and one of the things that was a daily affair was frying potatoes. The fried potatoes would be lifted out of the hot oil and placed carefully in a stainless steel bowl waiting to be added to whatever dishes they were set aside for.

One day as she cooked she reached for that bowl of potatoes only to find it missing. I was discovered sitting under the dining table, hiding behind the chairs enjoying those potatoes.  I was a toddler then, and Thakuma was so amused and pleased with her apparently faultless granddaughter, from then on she would fry a small bowl of potatoes and leave them aside for me to find.

How sweet those simple indulgences and the sheer love. Those indeed were the days...

Friday, June 2, 2017

On My Love-Hate Relationship with Fruit

Lemon Blueberry Tray Bake

In the years at Deccan College I encountered many people. And among them was Mrs Misra, Dr V N Misra's wife. Dr Misra was the hubby's PhD guide and the hubby therefore spent a lot of time with him in his office, and at his house too. The ties were closer than that of the other students with their guides because Dr Misra had also been my mother in law's PhD guide - probably a unique occurrence among guides and students the world over.

My memories of Mrs Misra are of a typical Indian housewife immersed in her husband, her family, and her household. And like most women of her generation, immersed in her kitchen. It goes without saying that she saw a steady stream of students at her table over the decades and must have cooked countless meals and made gallons of tea! And of course I heard stories about her cooking.

What intrigued me the most was the fact that she was a staunch vegetarian but would often cook chicken when there were guests at her table, be they students or Dr Misra's colleagues. I used to wonder how she cooked with ingredients whose flavours she had no idea about.

A few days ago I'd baked this blueberry and lemon cake and on an impulse I took some over for my friend Deepa. She said something to me that somehow explained how Mrs Misra cooked chicken without knowing how it tasted. Deepa said she was amazed at how in spite of my deep dislike for fruit I looked forward to fruits of the season, sought them out, lovingly photographed them, cooked or baked with them, and in fact, enjoyed them so thoroughly without needing to eat them.

Fresh Cherries

The hubby loves fruit and desserts and I love baking and cooking. Somehow fruit would always get left out because of my dislike but somewhere along the way as I spent hours on Pinterest, friends' blogs, and various websites, seeing beautiful cakes and desserts my interest was piqued. Alongside my friends would get excited over the variety of fruit as the seasons changed - mangoes, berries, stone fruit, citrus, the list was ever-changing and endless all the year round. There they were squealing over cherries or mulberries, planning strawberry trips to Mahabaleshwar, posting pictures of rambutans and dragon fruit, going ga ga over mangoes and pineapples - I felt left out.

Fresh Apricots

And thus began my love/hate affair with fruit. The first fruity thing I baked was probably a banana cake - the hubby mashed the bananas and I was just this far from putting a clothes peg on my nose to keep from breathing in that banana-y smell (oh LORD!). But now you will nearly always find fruit in my house waiting to be flung into a cake, pie, or clafoutis, turned into a compote, zested within an inch of its life, or cooked in some form or other.

Plum Clafoutis

The journey is exciting. From learning how to buy fruit to learning how to prep, to anticipate flavours, think of combinations, and to finally create something edible - but with stuff I don't eat - the experience wasn't strange, I never felt handicapped. There's so much information out there to tell you what works and what doesn't. You just find that starting block and you go on from there.

Lemon Zest and Microplane

And now I understand how Mrs Misra did it. It made her man happy and yeah, it makes mine happy too. And that is the biggest motivation indeed.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Vietnamese Dinner with Peckish, Mumbai

The home chef scene in Mumbai is buzzing and in all the noise there are some who leave a lasting impression. Aparna Surte who runs Peckish is one. I met Aparna at a couple of home chef meets and events and finally had the chance to sit at her table for a Vietnamese dinner thanks to my very dear friend Manisha.

I've never eaten Vietnamese food but have read and seen so much about it online, and heard friends discuss it, I had a reasonable idea what to expect. So I looked forward to meeting a bunch of my food enthusiast friends and an evening of new flavours.

We started the meal with Cha Pe Sua Da - Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. This had been made with cold brew coffee and a VERY generous slug of condensed milk. And I really mean very generous! I didn't stir mine too vigorously because I'm not too fond of strongly sweet things (and thanks to being diabetic and therefore not having a lot of sugar anyway, I'm hypersensitive to sweet). The coffee was lovely and being an instant coffee loving barbarian I was surprised how much I liked it. There's much to be recommended about the cold brewing technique and I'm going to learn it soon.

Aparna made us more coffee later in the evening and she customised mine with just a fraction of the condensed milk she would use normally - and it was perfect.

Vietnamese Cold Coffee

After coffee came the first appetiser - Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps. Crisp ice berg with pickled veg, Asian spiced minced pork, herbs and a spicy Asian mayo. I'm always wary of 'salad-y' wraps because they're invariably stuffed with raw tomatoes and cucumbers. Aparna made mine without the pickled cucumbers and I could honestly have eaten two of these - the only reason I didn't was there was a lot more food coming up in the meal!

The next appetiser was Nem Cuon - Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp served with Nuoc Cham, a beautifully tangy dipping sauce, which I consumed in copious quantities! These were among the prettiest foods I have ever seen. See through rice paper wraps stuffed with pickled veggies, fine rice noodles, herbs, and shrimp.

While I totally loved the sophistication of the nuoc cham, the nem cuon felt unbalanced. Too much of the fine rice noodles in the wrap ruined the balance and masked the flavours of the other ingredients. I would have liked half the quantity of noodles/vermicelli in the wrap which otherwise would have been fantastic.

Next up was Pho, albeit a vegetarian one. Such a famous dish and I was a teeny bit disappointed that it was vegetarian, till it was served. The mushroom-y broth was surprisingly flavourful and I lapped up every last drop. This pho had mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, chillies, and rice noodles.

After the pho we took a break. Phew!

Then came the main course - Pork Bun Cha. This was pork meat balls served over rice, drizzled with garlic scallion oil, accompanied by pickled veggies, lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham on the side. For me this was the star dish of the evening in close contest with the lettuce wraps. Yes I'm biased, both had pork in them. But they were flavourful and beautifully balanced and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Succulent juicy meatballs smothered in an Asian sauce with sweet notes, the hit of garlic from the oil, the crunch of the lettuce and the pickled veggies, all worked together to make a wonderful bowl of food.

Next up was dessert - Che Chuoi, a plantain, coconut cream, and tapioca pearl dessert. Though I didn't have any (I'd feasted on enough carbs through the meal and being diabetic I choose savoury carbs over sweet desserts) going by the reactions of the others at the table this was a hit. Ermm.. the hubby had two. I guess I needn't say more about how good this was!

This was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I've had in a long time. The anticipation of trying something new and finding it to be quite up one's street - it was good. While this was a non vegetarian meal I liked the fact that it was full of vegetables  and wasn't very meat heavy. It suited the hot summer of Mumbai perfectly.

Another thing I really liked is the fact that Aparna knew her food and the cuisine she was serving, and was able to answer our questions quite capably. It's easy to whip out the phone and ask Google but getting that information from your host and having a discussion while eating what you're talking about is just incomparable. I think that really added to my experience at this meal.

If you have the chance go for Aparna's pop up events, you won't be disappointed. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chicken Cutlets Parsi Style

Chicken cutlets figure at the top of my brother's list of favourite foods - and not just any cutlets, but those made by us at Katy's Kitchen. These are fairly easy to make and as long as you're generous with the chicken and season the mix well you will get pretty good results.

I often pack these in the hubby's lunch box and I like having a few of these in my fridge for days when I don't feel like eating a full meal. A warm cutlet sandwiched between two slices of bread makes for a lovely light lunch!

Chicken Cutlets 

1 cup shredded chicken
4 slices white bread
1 egg
1 small onion
1 small potato, boiled
green chillies
fresh coriander
chilli powder
garam masala
bread crumbs
oil for frying

Soak the bread in water and squeeze out as hard as you can. Break up the resulting lump into small pieces, as small as you can.

Mince the onion, green chillies and fresh coriander as fine as possible. Mash the potato.

In a large clean bowl mix the shredded chicken with the onions, chillies and coriander. Add the crumbled soaked bread, the egg and the dry spice powders.

Mix everything properly. Add as much mashed potato as required to get a mix that will bind properly when you shape the cutlets. You can make this mix in advance and fry the cutlets when you want to serve. Store in a closed box in the fridge and use when required on the same day.

Take bread crumbs in a flat dinner plate. Beat two eggs in a bowl. Start with two and only add more if you require them as you make the cutlets.

Heat enough oil in a wok/kadhai to deep fry the cutlets.

Make medium sized balls of the chicken mix and flatten to form a cutlet between your palms. Give the cutlet a neat oval shape and then place it on the bread crumbs. Pat gently into the crumbs to make them stick - do this on both sides of the cutlet. Make a few cutlets in this fashion and keep ready in a clean plate.

When the oil is hot pick up a cutlet and dip it into the beaten egg. Turn to coat the cutlet all over with egg and then put it in the hot oil to fry. Fry on a medium flame till the cutlet is a beautiful golden colour. Do these one at a time just to be safe, especially if it's your first time making cutlets.

Keep a bowl of water and a napkin handy to wash your hand and wipe before you pick up the next prepped cutlet for frying. This final process is a little fiddly and can get messy so make sure you have enough space to work in and have everything you need before you start frying.

Serve the cutlets hot with a dollop of plain tomato ketchup.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Aam Daal - Bengali Daal with Raw Mango

I spent a lot of time in Kolkata last year and the urge to learn more about everyday Bengali food became stronger and stronger as I spent time there. On previous visits I had bought many recipe books written in Bengali, some dating back to the late 1800s even, and the food I ate at my aunt's table motivated me to return to those books when I was back home in Mumbai. My list of dishes to try out grew and grew. Many of these I've never eaten before but they seemed interesting and I decided to try them out one by one as I read more and more about Bengali cuisine and its recipes in books, magazines, blogs and websites.

Since mango season is on and raw mangoes are still available I made Aam Daal, something ideal for summer. I also liked the idea of cooking with something in the correct season instead of randomly cooking without thinking. I felt I was, in a way, cooking like our grandmothers did.

Aam Daal

250gms masoor daal
1 tsp turmeric
1 large unripe mango
2-3 dried Kashmiri chillies
1 tsp mustard seeds
mustard oil

Wash the masoor daal well and then pressure cook with enough water and the turmeric powder.

Wash the mango well and cut into large chunks or slices.

Heat mustard oil in a wok or kadhai and temper with the kashmiri chillies and mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds have finished popping add the raw mango pieces and fry on a medium flame till the mango pieces begin to soften.

Put the boiled daal (still in the cooker) on the flame and add the sauteed mangoes and spices to the daal. Add water as required and bring it to a boil and add salt. Stir well and let it simmer till the mango is cooked but still firm.

Serve with plain steamed rice and a vegetable.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tometo'r Chatni - Bengali Style Sweet Tomato Chutney

Moni would make tometo't chutney quite often when we were really young and later on it sort of faded out of her kitchen only to be revived again when we started visiting her in Kolkata after she retired. She then had the time and the inclination to cook for us and loved making these easy additions to the typically simple menus that we demanded - mangsho'r jhol, bhaat, or daal, bhaat, maach bhaja, occasionally accompanied by a vegetable preparation of some sort.

Tometo'r chatni is ridiculously easy to make and is not restricted to a season like kaancha aam'er chatni or raw mango chutney. This tomato version is a more aggressively sweet preparation and often has raisins or dates or even both added to it. However Moni usually made the no frills version and that's the one I like best. In some ways it's a strange concoction because there's the sour tang from the tomatoes, there's sweet from sugar, and there's the strong flavour from mustard seeds and an underlying pungency or 'jhaanj' from the mustard oil it's cooked in. 

Tometo'r chutney is a sort of palate cleanser and at wedding feasts it is usually accompanied by papor bhaja- or  fried papad. The chutney makes its appearance at the end of the meal but don't mistake it for dessert. For dessert there will be an array of Bengali mishti and top quality mishti doi for sure!

Tometo'r Chatni

250gms tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 Kashmiri chillies
mustard oil
1 cup sugar or as required
20 raisins, cleaned

In a wok heat the mustard oil. Once hot chuck in the mustard seeds and the chillies and let the seeds pop. 

Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes letting the tomatoes break down properly. Smash away at them with your spatula to help them along. Add a small amount of salt and stir. 

Once the tomatoes release oil again pour in sugar and stir to mix. Once the sugar has blended in and more or less melted pour in about  half a cup of water and bring it to a boil. 

Put in the raisins and let the chutney cook till it is thick but not sticky. It should have a sheen to it and should not look cloudy. 

Serve at the end of the meal. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

On Making Mango Pickles and Memories

Everyone I know seems to have childhood memories of pickling sessions, of mothers and grandmothers, aunts and grandaunts gathering around hills of mangoes or other seasonal fruit or veg, vast quantities of spices, acres of muslin, big, beautiful ceramic jars and glass bottles, sunny balconies and terraces, gossip, natter, and a whole lot of fun.

I had none of these memories - we didn't eat pickles in our house, my grandmother didn't make any, neither did anyone in the extended family (at least to my knowledge). If neighbours or friends gifted us some it lasted forever. Pickle was never a big deal.

Once I was older, in the last couple of years at school and then in college, I started cooking. Simple meals, basic stuff. I'd often make lunch for myself and plain rice with daal was frequently on my menu. This is where I discovered pickle. Bedekar's mango pickle became the backbone of many of these solitary lunches. Hot rice with daal, a dollop of ma's home made ghee, and spoonful of tart and spicy mango pickle. Till today Bedekar's mango pickle is my favourite mango pickle.

I first encountered chhunda when I was in college. A classmate often brought theplas with chhunda and it was a revelation for me! Love at first bite - as cliched as that sounds!

Later, when I moved to Pune for the Master's in Archaeology I discovered myriad pickles from around the country - olive pickles from Assam, more chhunda, vadu manga and avakkai from the south, Punjabi mixed veg pickle, and of course prawn pickle made by my soon-to-be mom in law.

As you can see, I entered the pickle game pretty late in life and I actually made my first pickle only after I was married. My mother in law had a slew of Parsi pickle recipes and I spent many a happy afternoon helping her make pickles at home - prawn, chicken, various mango pickles, brinjal, and quite a few others.

Then Rushina called me to tell me about celebrating Indian foods and the concept of dedicating days to specific Indian foods and food preparation. So like macaron day, doughnut day, nutella day, etc., why not have aam achaar day and a few others like that? This appealed to me at many levels and I was sold. Since I didn't have any mango pickle making experience I volunteered to make kaancha aam'er chatni, a favourite in Bengali homes in the summer.

And just like that in a couple of weeks we met at the APB Cook Studio and there we were, making pickles! We had everything - the piles of mangoes, the mounds of spices, the bottles of oil, and of course, the gaggle of chattering, laughing, gossiping women!

Small mangoes for vadu manga

Grated and salted mango being squeezed of excess liquid

Instructions, chit-chat, anecdotes, gossip!

Catch them young!

All hands on deck! 

Me making kaancha aam'er chatni 

You can't make pickle without tasting! 

The picklers! 

For me, it was the wish for a memory come true. I finally had my pickle making memory. I'm so looking forward to the other Indian food days we're going to celebrate...
Rushina, thank you 💖

Photo credits - Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, Suunil Murudkar, Rhea Mitra-Dalal

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Choriz Upma for President!

I love choriz. The Goan variety - full of spices and flavour and nuggets of fat. Among porky ingredients it's my favourite and I fool around with it a lot, adding it to this and that seeing if the combination works. This Choriz Upma is one my great successes.

I often eat meals on my own and it goes without saying that I tend to make simple one-pot dishes whenever I can. Nonta Suji as we Bengalis call our version of upma, is loaded with vegetables and has a mild tempering of nigella seeds. I used to cook this very often for mom in the later stages of her illness as she found the soft texture of the dish easy to eat. Nonta Suju features on my meals on my own quite often and in pursuit of a variation I decided to try it with a good handful of choriz thrown in. It was one of my best ideas, even if I say so myself!

Choriz Upma

20 links of Goan choriz, peeled
1 small potato, cut into matchsticks
1 small carrot, cut into small pieces or matchsticks
1 small green capsicum, chopped into thick juliennes
1 onion, sliced
a handful of green peas
1 green chilli, chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup
1/2 cup roasted rava/semolina
chilli powder

In your wok or kadhai heat a little oil and fry the choriz till it breaks down and has rendered off all the fat. Remove the choriz leaving behind as much of the oil/fat as you can.

Discard some of this oil/fat if there's too much and then fry the potatoes and carrots along with the green chilli in the remaining oil/fat in your kadhai. Keep the heat low and cover the veggies while they cook. When the potatoes are half cooked add the sliced onion and stir. Cook till the onions become translucent.

Add the julienned capsicum and the green peas and cook for another couple of minutes. If you're using fresh peas boil them before adding them in. Add salt and chilli powder and stir to mix. Then add the roasted semolina and stir over a low flame. Roast the semolina with the veggie mix for a couple of minutes without scorching or burning the semolina.

Put the fried choriz back into the kadhai. Reserve a little to sprinkle on top of the finished dish if you like.  Add enough water to just cover and the tomato puree/ketchup and give it all a good stir. The semolina will start absorbing the water so keep stirring.

Once the upma has reached the consistency you like switch off the heat and serve it hot.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Aloo Begun or Easy Eggplant with Potatoes

Everyone has easy, quick to cook recipes for those mornings when you're running late and the lunch box is yet to be readied. A quick survey of the veggie box often reveals an uninspiring medley of bits and pieces because it's the end of the week and things have to be restocked. On such days it's the simple no fuss recipes that need just a few minutes of prep and are quick to cook that we all turn to. Like this Aloo Begun or Eggplant with Potatoes. No fancy ingredients and no complicated prep make it a big favourite for me. And since the hubby and I are both very fond of eggplant there's always some in my veggie box.

Aloo Begun

1 medium eggplant, chopped into cubes
2 medium potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 small tomato, chopped small
1 onion, sliced
1tsp ginger garlic paste
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
jeera powder
dhania powder
chilli powder
mustard seeds

Cube the eggplant and potatoes into equal sized pieces. Sprinkle salt and turmeric on the eggplant cubes and set aside while you prep the other ingredients.

Heat oil, I used mustard oil, in a wok or kadhai and fry the potatoes till they start to brown.  Cook on a medium flame and cover them so they cook. Once they are about half cooked remove to a bowl and in the same oil fry the eggplants. Stir well and fry till the eggplants start to soften. Remove to the bowl with the potatoes.

Add a little oil to the wok if required and let it heat up. Chuck in the green chilli and mustard seeds and once the mustard seeds have calmed down chuck in the sliced onion. Stir to mix and fry on medium heat till the onion start to pink.

Add the chopped tomato, ginger garlic paste, turmeric, chilli, jeera, and dhania powders, and mix well. Add a splash of water to prevent the spices from burning. Cook over slow heat till this masala mix starts to release oil. You can also add chopped fresh coriander at this stage, I didn't because there wasn't any in the veggie box. Use the stems for sure!

Put the potatoes back in the wok, stir to mix and then cook covered for five minutes adding a quarter cup of water. When the potatoes are done add the fried eggplant pieces, stir and cook covered for another couple of minutes. Add salt if required keeping in mind that you've salted the eggplants right at the start.

This simple subzi goes very well with rotis or parathas and is perfect as a packed lunch.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Freezer Clear Out Pie - A Pork Pie with Possibilities

After the recent Hokus Porkus Piggy Bag event we did I had random leftover ingredients that weren't enough to be used on their own but could be combined with other things to make a good dinner. Thus was born another edition of my Freezer Clean Out Pies. I often throw together random ingredients from the fridge or the veggie box to use up bits of ingredients and it goes without saying that I do the same with stuff from my freezer.

This time I had leftover cooked ham, puff pastry, and a leek, from the Ham, Potato and Leek Pies I'd made for the Piggy Bag orders. I also found a couple of sausages from the Sri Lanka stash, and another opened packet of cocktail sausages that I could use. The hubby wanted a pie for dinner and so that's what I made with some added ingredients to the leftovers and scraps.

You will need

Cooked ham cut into cubes
Cocktail sausages, cut into small pieces
Breakfast sausages

1 large potato, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
1 leek, sliced as fine as possible
1 onion, sliced fine

1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk (more if required)
50gms cheese grated


Puff pastry to cover the baking tin
cookie cutter to cut pastry scraps to decorate (optional)

To start with prep the vegetables and the sausages.

Heat oil in a pan, I used olive oil, and saute the potatoes and carrots till nearly cooked. Remove to your baking tin, and then saute the sliced leek and onion. Take your time with this and keep the flame on medium or low ensuring you don't burn or brown the leeks. Stir often and add a little oil if required. Once the leeks are soft and cooked and the onions pink pile them onto the potatoes and carrots in the baking tin.

Now fry the sausages. Just heat them through and brown them a little. I left the breakfast sausages whole and cut them after frying because they tend to disintegrate if you cut them before frying. Once the sausages are done add them to the baking tin remembering to cut the breakfast sausages.

Add salt and pepper and give the whole thing a good mix. Add the ham cubes too. Flatten everything so it's uniformly spread in the baking tin and then sprinkle grated cheese over the top.

Make a white sauce - heat butter in a clean pan and sprinkle flour into it. Once again keep the heat at medium so you don't burn the roux. Once the flour has lost its raw smell (it takes just a minute or so) pour in the milk slowly whisking as you go and ensuring that there are no lumps of flour. Once the sauce is smooth let it come to a boil, simmer and let it thicken a little. Season with salt and pepper. You can add dried herbs if you like, I didn't.

Pour the sauce over the pie filling and nudge the sauce into the filing so it's not just sitting on the top.

On a clean work surface roll out the puff pastry to fit the top of your baking tin. Cut the pastry to fit the top of the filling properly. Cut out shapes with a convenient cookie cutter from the pastry scraps and decorate the top of the pastry. Use a dab of water to stick the cut outs to the pastry.

Bake the pie in a preheated oven at 200C for 20 to 30 minutes till the pastry is puffed up and a pleasing golden brown.

Serve the pie hot!

Pies like this one are easy to throw together and of course you can vary the ingredients as much as you like - play with cooked chicken, fish, prawns, mixed meats, go veg, whatever you like! 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Supermarket Experience - The Sri Lanka Chronicles

Wherever I go I like to check out the markets. I love markets and I don't discriminate between supermarkets, wholesale markets, or local markets - I love them all! Our second visit to Sri Lanka was a relatively long one (18 days) and since we were staying in a bungalow with a fully equipped kitchen I knew I would not only be visiting the markets as a tourist but I'd be shopping too. Markets are a great way of getting a glimpse of the food culture of a place and supermarkets can give you a broader perspective, beyond fresh fruit and veg.

For practical purposes I shopped at the supermarket because communication was easier - the staff at the supermarkets usually had at least basic English so I could ask for stuff and even get basic instructions and descriptions about unfamiliar ingredients and products. Supermarkets are very popular in Sri Lanka and we'd see one nearly every half a kilometre whenever we stepped out to go anywhere in Colombo. I saw them frequently on the highways on our trips to Galle, Kandy, and Dambulla too. Basically, you're never too far away from a supermarket in Sri Lanka! Take your pick from the Cargill's Food City outlets, Arpico Super Centres, Laugfs, and Keells Super outlets, to name a few. 

Though I found Cargill's outlets very near our house next to the University of Kelaniya, I preferred the Arpico around 10 minutes away at Wattala. It is a huge store and I spent many a happy hour browsing in the aisles, drooling over the meat and fish counters, exploring the vegetable section, and picking up random things from the kitchen good department. They even have Noritake! The local Cargill's outlets are also very well stocked but being smaller were restricted mainly to food. For fresh produce both at absolutely at par. 

Fresh fish, cleaned, cut, and each piece individually wrapped

All sorts of fish and conveniently labeled 

On one of my visits to Arpico I saw this and it completely spooked me! There nestled among the chicken nuggets and other ready-to-fry goodies sat this hideous carved face. Eeeek! 

Milk is of excellent quality and there are many varieties of flavoured milk. Apart from the usual chocolate and vanilla, we also found this falooda flavoured milk which the hubby absolutely loved. It didn't have sabja seeds or the actual falooda noodles but was a fun flavour all the same 😋

Good old Maggi in Sri Lankan flavours 

Fresh veggies at Cargill's. What I loved about shopping for vegetables was that there were plenty of familiar veggies and a good number of new things to try so cooking wasn't a daily challenge where I had to constantly Google before I cooked. 

If you like salad then you will love Sri Lanka! The veg shelves are packed with varieties of salad greens and they are as fresh as ever. I don't think I saw one wilted leaf anywhere! 

Fresh pork at Cargill's

And at Arpico

Elephant House is a big brand in Sri Lanka and they also make some amazing pork products. Here's a part of the haul I brought back home to Mumbai with me. 

My prop and equipment loving self also went a little nuts at Arpico! It's not like you don't get stuff in our supermarkets here but the joy of finding all manner of unfamiliar bits and pieces or just mundane things but of good quality made my heart sing. take for example this display of coconut and kithul wood spoons - 

I think I bought a few EVERY time I stepped into Arpico! 😊

I didn't buy a single mortar and pestle even though they are so pretty! I need a prize for such self restraint! 

And that is Noritake on the shelves at Arpico. Noritake has three or four ranges in quality and the middle range is available at Arpico. I loved this classic white and gold set but since we don't drink tea at our house I couldn't justify bringing an entire tea set with me regardless of how much I liked it. Sigh!

The one disconcerting thing about the supermarkets is their lavish (and wasteful) use of plastic. At the checkout coutners I struggled every time to get them to use fewer bags (getting your own bag wasn't allowed). Nearly every category of goods would be bagged separately and on my first visit I came home with more than 10 plastic bags!  Seeing individual pieces of fish, pork chops, steaks, etc., wrapped in miles of clingfilm made me unhappy too. It's such a beautiful country, I hope they cotton on to basic concepts of keeping their enviroment clean and safe really soon. 

We were lucky to have been in Sri Lanka for a long-ish visit and one where we weren't in a hotel. Our breakfasts and numerous meals were home cooked where we tried out local products and local variations of familiar things. I could even host a dinner when the hubby's friends and colleagues from the University of Kelaniya came over one evening. 

Daal, rice, jeera aloo, pan grilled masala chicken, and fish curry

It was lovely to live a bit of the Sri Lankan life doing mundane things like going to the supermarket and running a house in Kelaniya. It wasn't very different from our life here in Kharghar but there were many new flavours. Even if you're staying in a hotel do visit a supermarket near you so you can try some of the local stuff. There's no better way to enjoy local food beyond what you get at restaurants.