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!