Thursday, December 13, 2018

Murgi'r Jhol - Bengali Everyday Chicken Curry

Jhols are thin stews that a big part of the repertoire of any decent Bengali cook. From the rojgere or sadharon (everyday or ordinary) to the Robibar'er (Sunday) jhols there are many versions of this spiced stew. Usually non vegetarian, the jhol will feature seasonal fish, chicken, or goat meat, and often features seasonal vegetables in addition to the meat or fish that is the star of the dish. Jhols are easy to put together and cook quickly too. Given their inherent simplicity they are a part of mundane everyday menus though their variety is wide.

Murgi'r jhol, a thin chicken curry, would appear regularly on Sundays and occasionally in the middle of the week to perk up our bored palates, tired of the monotonous daily machch'er jhols that appeared with stubborn regularity at very lunch. Goat meat was the ultimate treat for us while chicken was compromise, a relief from the relentless bowls of fish curry. A typical meal during the week would comprise rice, daal, a seasonal vegetable, an occasional bhaja or fry to go with the daal, and some form or the other of fish curry or machch'er jhol.  In spite of there being a variety of fish in the jhols, they were all perceived as a boring continuum and the occasional blip in the menu with chicken was warmly welcomed!

After Baba passed away Moni had to go to work daily and there was no time for elaborate meals with multiple courses. Very often she'd just cook a large pot of chicken curry and that would stretch over a couple of meals with plain steamed rice. My brother and I were quite happy to eat just curry and rice without vegetables, etc., cluttering up our plates. Slowly Moni started instructing me to prep for meals and keep things ready for her to cook once she get home from work. Apart from chopping veggies and washing rice, I also started marinating chicken for the jhol.

This is how, like thousands of other girls, I started to learn cooking. Murgi'r jhol is one of the first things I learned and now I too cook it quite often as it is easy and convenient, and makes for a deliciously simple meal.

Murgi'r Jhol

1 chicken, curry cut
2 onions, sliced finely
4 potatoes
3 carrots
fresh corainder

for marinade-
1/2 cup curd
kashmiri chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder
garam masala powder
ginger garlic paste
mustard oil

3 inch piece cinnamon
4 cardamom
6 cloves
2 star anise
3 Indian bay leaves
mustard oil
1/2 tsp sugar
water as required

In a large bowl mix the washed chicken pieces with all the ingredients listed under 'for marinade'. Mix well and evenly coat all the pieces of chicken. Leave aside for a couple of hours at least.

Peel and cut potatoes into thick wedges. Peel and cut carrots into thick batons. Slice onions as finely as you can. Pick the fresh coriander leaves and separate leaves and stems.

In a large kadai or wok heat a generous amount of mustard oil. Fry the potato wedges till they start to lightly brown. Remove and keep aside, draining as much oil as possible. You should have a decent amount of oil left behind in the kadai. Heat it again.

Once the oil is nice and hot drop in the whole spices and cook on medium heat for a minute. Add the sliced onions and the sugar and fry till the onions begin to brown. Keep the heat at medium. Add the marinated chicken and braise for 10 to 15 minutes till all the pieces have turned opaque. Keep stirring so all the pieces cook evenly and cook covered for another 10 minutes. 

Add the fried potatoes, carrots and coriander stems and mix well. Cook for a few minutes and then add enough water to make plenty of a watery gravy. Cook this further till the potatoes are done. Once the potatoes are cooked through the jhol is ready. Taste the jhol and adjust salt if required.

Scatter fresh coriander leaves and let it sit covered for five minutes and then serve with plain hot rice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How to Make Apple Pie

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Some desserts are ridiculously easy to make and they're really delicious too. I made a slightly tweaked cheat's apple pie today for a potluck with friends. The theme was Chinese food and I spiced my pie with Chinese 5 Spice powder instead of just cinnamon. I also used ready puff pastry to top the pie as I didn't have the time to make short crust pastry this morning in time for the potluck lunch. Since no one complained about the pastry I'm confident the results were quite palatable!
Here's how to make an easy apple pie with ready puff pastry.

Apple Pie with Puff Pastry

4 red apples
4 granny smiths
1.5 tsp Chinese five spice powder or Cinnamon powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
50 gms butter
A large pinch of salt
A little milk
1 sheet puff pastry, enough to cover the pie
Vanilla ice cream to serve

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Peel and chop all the apples into large chunky pieces. Don't chop them small as they will turn mushy when you cook them for the filling. 

In a large pan heat the butter. As soon as it's all melted add the chopped apples. Stir well to coat all the fruit with the butter and cook for a couple of minute on medium heat. 

Sprinkle the five spice/cinnamon powder and the brown sugar onto the apples, stir to mix evenly, add salt, and then let it cook for a few minutes till the apples are cooked but not completely mushy. Leave some 'bite' in the fruit. 

Pour the apple mixture into your pie dish and let it cool. 

In the meanwhile get your puff pastry sheet out of the freezer. As soon as it's soft enough to work roll it out till it's larger than the surface of your pie. Trim from one side so you have a large enough piece to cut out decorations to put on top of your pie.

Cover the pie and cut out flowers or any other shape from the trimmed piece with a cookie cutter. Place the cut outs on the pie. Brush the top with milk and bake the pie in a preheated hot oven - 200C- for 15 minutes or till the pastry is a lovely golden colour. 

Serve the pie with vanilla ice cream. You can have it hot or cold. 

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Monday, September 24, 2018

How to Make Buckwheat Focaccia

Making bread at home is fairly easy. All you need is good quality yeast, flour, water and a bit of salt, at the very basic level. Once you're confident with that you can easily expand your repertoire with a few more ingredients and even with different kinds of flour. I find focaccia to be one of the easiest breads for beginner bakers like me. I've made innumerable focaccias and so far, thankfully, I've had no disasters! 

On a recent visit to the market the hubby and I picked up a packet of buckwheat flour. The plan was to use it to make pancakes in place of the regular APF pancakes I was making. 

buckwheat flour

I happened to make bread at home soon after and we immediately wondered how a focaccia with some buckwheat flour would taste. I did search on the Net but found recipes that were purely for those looking for vegan or gluten free breads. Since those required ingredients I didn't have I decided to just see what happened if I replaced a certain amount of APF with buckwheat flour in my usual focaccia recipe. As you can see in the picture above, it worked! 

Buckwheat Focaccia

2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1.5 tbsp sugar
2.25 tsp instant yeast
1.5 tsp salt
1 cup tepid water
1/4 cup good quality olive oil

extra olive oil
toppings of your choice - garlic, sun dried tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, etc

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer mix all the dry ingredients and the olive oil. Stir for a couple of minutes to mix. Use the dough hook if you're using a stand mixer. Now pour the water into the mixture in two lots, mixing well in between additions. Don't add all the water unless you need to. Mix the dough combining all the ingredients till it comes together. 

If you're kneading by hand tip the dough out onto your cleaned and lightly oiled work surface and knead for a good 15 minutes till the dough comes together in a soft, slightly sticky ball. Add dry flour if the dough is too sticky but work at it steadily with a gentle hand. 

You can let your stand mixer do the kneading, it turns out just as well. Keep an eye on things and add a bit of dry flour if required. 

Once the dough is ready shape it into a neat ball and put it into a large greased (with olive oil) bowl to rise. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave it undisturbed in a warm spot till it has doubled in volume. 

Now turn out the risen dough onto your work surface and deflate it gently. Divide the dough into two and shape two loaves by gently patting the dough onto baking sheets. You can make the loaves thick or thin, as you like. Press holes into the surface of the loaf with your finger tips and poke in slivers of garlic, bits of rosemary, sun dried tomatoes or any other topping. Leave the loaves to rise for another 25-30 minutes. 

While the loaves are proofing set your oven to preheat at 200C. Once the loaves have risen properly slather generously with olive oil and bake for 15-18 minutes till done. When you tap on the loaf you should hear a firm hollow sound. The buckwheat flour will give you a darker loaf so don't go by how brown the loaf has become. 

Remove from the oven and brush with more olive oil. Let the breads cool and then slice up and serve. Enjoy the focaccia with bowls of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soft cream cheese, and some cold cuts, or pair it with a hearty bowl of soup. You can also make superb sandwiches with this bread. 

Making Ghee in the Microwave

I love making ghee at home and have done it ever since I set up my own home. In fact, in these 18 years of being married and having my own household I've bought a tin of Amul ghee only once. It wasn't bad but it was obviously different from ghee made in my house and I never bought ghee again. These days the only out sourced ghee in my kitchen is Bonolokkhi ghee from Santiniketan. A little jar of that sits in my kitchen to be used as a drizzle on hot rice or khichuri.

However, as much as we enjoy the Bonolokkhi ghee, nothing gives me as much pleasure as home made ghee from full fat buffalo milk. As a child I had seem my mother make ghee at home.

There would be an aluminium dekchi or pot in which she would collect the thick cream. Our household consumed a litre of buffalo milk daily and the pot of malai or 'shawr' would fill up in a week. Moni would take the pot out of the fridge and leave it to come to room temperature. Once it was soft enough to churn she would get her churner - a hand-held gadget that would be plunged into the collected cream and then one would turn a handle that in turn made a wheel go round to turn beaters just like the ones we get on hand held electric beaters today. Of course, Moni also had a fancy Kenwood electric stand mixer with a detachable hand beater but she found it easier to use the manual gadget rather than unpack the Kenwood.  The job of churning the malai soon fell to me as Moni decided I was old enough to be used as free kitchen labour.

Once the malai was sufficiently churned dollops of white butter would emerge and this butter was scooped out and then cooked over a low flame in a thick bottomed kadai till the beautiful, aromatic and golden ghee emerged. Moni would cool the ghee and then strain it to be stored in the large glass Nestle coffee jars with their broad orange plastic lids. She had dozens of these jars and her pantry cupboard would have a line of these filled to the brim with her home-made ghee. There would be so much ghee that a jar of ghee would be carried as a gift for Didin on our yearly trips to Kolkata.

In later years Moni had a lot more to handle and she stopped churning the cream to make butter but would simply cook it directly to make ghee. It was quicker and less bothersome. I too stopped extracting butter before making ghee out of sheer laziness. It isn't the most efficient way and there's a fair amount of cleaning to be done, especially of the cooking vessel. And then I discovered the method of making ghee in the microwave on Chef at Large.

This was a revelation! Nothing much to it and no mess at all! No stubbornly stuck bits on the cooking pot, no multiple pots and gadgets to clean, and beautiful ghee too! I am a convert and here's how to do it.

Microwave Ghee

Collected cream

Large microwave safe glass bowl
wire whisk or fork
tea strainer
glass jar

Keep the collected cream on your counter top to come to room temperature.
Transfer the cream to the microwave safe bowl.

Whisk it lightly to make it smooth and even.

Set your microwave on 100% and then zap the smoothened cream for 10 minutes.

Stir gently with your spatula and then zap again for another 10 minutes. Hold the bowl with a napkin as it might get hot.

Give it another 5 minutes and then continue microwaving in bursts of 5 minutes till it looks like this -

Let the ghee cool and then strain it into a clean glass jar. Your ghee is ready!

The residue in the bowl will come off very easily so you don't have to worry about soaking the vessel and then applying serious muscle power to clean it. This method worked really well and the ghee tastes as good as ever. Do give it a try.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Chingri Bhaape - Bengali Style Prawns Steamed in Mustard, Poppy Seed, and Coconut

As my journey of exploration into Bengali cuisine continues I'm impressed again and again at the sheer simplicity of most of the recipes be they simple everyday dishes or quite often, dishes one would serve as a treat on a special day. The list of ingredients is frugal and the method quite simple. In fact it's often made me wonder if the recipe would actually work. But of course my doubts have evaporated every time I'm put my faith in the recipe and simply given it a try.

Yesterday I was meeting friends for a potluck lunch. I volunteered to make some Bengali dishes among which was Chingri Bhaape, which, translated literally, means steamed prawns. As I read through the recipe in the numerous Bengali recipe books I'm cooking my way through I was hooked. All you had to do was mix all the ingredients with the prawns and steam the whole thing. That's it. I'm a great fan of quick, no fuss recipes and I couldn't wait to try it out. The results, I must say, were excellent and Chingri Bhaape is going to feature on my menus quite often, that's for sure!

Chingri Bhaape 

500 gms large prawns, shelled and deveined

4 tbsp poppy seed paste
3 tbsp mustard paste
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup mustard oil
6-8 fresh green chillies
1 tsp sugar

Soak poppy seeds for around 30 minutes, drain and then grind to a smooth paste. I added a couple of green chillies (not the very pungent ones) just for added flavour while making this paste.

Soak mustard seeds for 30 minutes, drain and make a paste. You can grind the mustard along with the poppy seeds. I like to keep it separate in case the mustard paste turns bitter. In a pinch I use Sunrise mustard powder which I get easily (touch wood!) from my local fish shop. This powder also needs to be soaked before use.

You can keep the tails on the prawns if you like. I remove everything as the husband has a shell allergy. Marinate the prawns in salt and turmeric while the poppy seeds and mustard is soaking.

Once the prep is done you're ready to go. Take a steel box or dabba with a close fitting lid that's large enough to hold all the prawns leaving enough room. In the box put in the prawns and all the ingredients barring the green chillies and mustard oil. Give it all a good mix.

Pour the mustard oil over the prawns and place the green chillies on top. Shut the box.

In a cooker or large vessel (one in which the box will fit) with a lid put water to heat. Place the box in this water. The box should sit in the water but shouldn't get submerged and water shouldn't get into the box. If you're using a pressure cooker put the lid on without the whistle. If you're using a regular vessel put on the lid. Once the water starts boiling lower the heat and let the box of prawns steam for a good 15- 20 minutes undisturbed. Put a weight on the lid to keep the steam in.

Alternatively, you can also cook the prawns directly on a VERY LOW flame directly in a kadai or wok. Just remember to leave it alone so that the steam generated stays in and the prawns and the pastes cook properly. Keep an eye on the gas flame - since it's kept very low it might go off and you don't want any accidents thanks to leaking gas.

Serve the Chingri Bhaape with plain hot rice.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How to Make Kokum Sharbat

Home made foods do taste better and once in a way something totally random really rubs that fact in. I, like a zillion other people, had been enjoying kokum sharbat out of a mini jerry can and had taken it for granted that it was quite nice. It was. And then I had home made kokum sharbat made by Kunda Maushi.

Kunda Maushi lives in a village near Chandore and is very fond of the hubby. She took care of him and his team while he was excavating at the archaeological site at Chandore, and fed them good home cooked food an entire season when they couldn't find an alternative. One day as he drove the team towards her house he saw an adivasi boy with a mound of fresh ratambe or kokum fruit harvested from the trees in the neighbouring forests. He knew Kunda Maushi would happily do her magic with the fruit and there would be sharbat for sure, and so he bought whatever the boy had, much to Kunda Maushi's delight.

At the end of the excavation season he came home with a large plastic canister of Kunda Maushi's home made sharbat. I haven't been able to drink the commercial stuff since then.

Last weekend we were in the Konkan again and we encountered village women selling fruit on the side of the main road on the Mumbai -Alibag road. We stopped because I had seen fresh kokum among the mangoes, jackfruit, rose apples and other assorted fruit. To cut a long story short - we came home with a LOT of kokum... the lady's entire stock! That's the hazard of marrying a caterer, they have of sense of quantity when buying for personal use 😆

I did some reading, bugged a couple of friends and set out to make kokum sharbat. The process itself is fairly simple but needs patience, something I'm famous for lacking. But anyway, I was determined to try even though I had way more kokum than I had bargained for. I gave some to a friend and tackled the rest.

Kokum Sharbat

fresh kokum fruit

twice as much sugar as fruit. I used castor sugar.

clean glass jars with wide mouths and tight lids

Wash and dry the kokums. Once dry halve each fruit and discard the inner whitish pulp and seeds.

Now all you have to do is combine the fruit with the sugar and place it in a jar. A good way of doing this is to scoop sugar into each half of kokum and then place the filled fruit half in your jar.

Layer the filled halves of fruit in the jar and add extra sugar as you go.

Pack the kokum as tightly as you can and then shut the jar tightly. You can cling wrap the jars before putting the lid if the lid feels loose.

Leave the jars on a sunny windowsill and let the sugar dissolve slowly with the fruit as you can see in the jars below. The fruit will collapse in size significantly in the first couple of days itself. As the fruit breaks down the sugar will combine with the fruit and create a thick fruity syrup. Let it bask in the sun for 4 days to a week. Remember to shake the jars once in the morning and again in the evening.

Once the sugar is completely dissolved and only the bare shells of the fruit remain your sharbat is ready to be strained. Take a large colander and carefully drain the syrup into a thick bottomed pan or vessel.

Collect all the syrup in one large vessel if you, like me, have a lot of kokum to process.

Taste the syrup by making a serving of sharbat at this stage to check the sweetness. You can add some plain sugar syrup at this stage if it's not sweet enough.

Bring the kokum syrup to a boil adding a little salt. You can also add some toasted jeera powder if you like. I didn't as the hubby dislikes it. Once the syrup is boiled cool it down completely and then pour into clean bottles and store in the fridge.

To make a glass of sharbat take one part of the syrup and add 4 or 5 parts chilled water depending on how strong and sweet you like sharbat. My friend Saee often serves it with soda and a sprig of fresh mint from her windowsill.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Aloo diye Laal Shaak - Red Amaranth Greens with Potatoes

I always ignored the fresh greens section at the veggie shop frankly because I'm a lazy cook and the thought of spending endless minutes picking out a ton of leaves in prep put me off. But then with age comes patience (maybe) and better sense (bigger maybe!) and I bought a bunch of laal shaak or red amaranth leaves, also known as laal maath, tambi bhaji, etc.

Moni used to cook it quite often and I remember her insisting we eat at least a little of it, as she did with whatever she cooked especially the vegetables. We didn't need much coaxing to eat meats or fish! Of all the leafy greens she cooked the laal shaak was the most attractive - rice would turn a beautiful pink once mixed with the laal shaak and this miracle in the plate fascinated me. She would always add a generous amount of garlic and occasionally she'd cook it with potatoes. I never needed convincing when she added potatoes. The pretty pink batons would call out to me and I would even ask for more.

Like most vegetable side dishes, laal shaak is cooked with barely any spices and is done in minutes. And like most of our vegetable dishes the prep takes time.

Aloo diye Laal Shaak

1 bunch red amaranth leaves
1 small potato
4-5 cloves of garlic
2-3 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp nigella or kalonji seeds
mustard oil

Pick out the leaves and the tender stems of the amaranth greens. Discard the thick, woodier or stringier parts of the stem.

Wash thoroughly and drain in a colander. Chop roughly or finely, as you prefer.

Cut the potato into thick matchsticks. Peel and chop the garlic (do not mince).

Heat the oil in a kadai and fry the potatoes till nearly done. Add salt and mix.

Push them to one side and chuck in the nigella seeds and garlic, letting them sizzle for a half a minute. Tilt the kadai if it has a flat base so the oil collects together and is deep enough for the garlic and nigella seeds. This way you don't have to add more oil.

Now add the chopped greens and a little salt and then stir well to mix. Cook covered for a few minutes till the greens are completely wilted and cooked through. Check that the potatoes are done to a nice softness. Adjust salt if required.

Serve the laal shaak with daal and rice, or with soft phulkas. We Bengalis usually have it as a 'bhaja' that accompanies the daal course in our traditional meals.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Edible Flowers from the Bengali Kitchen

Over the last few years my trips to Kolkata were quite frequent and in contrast to the standard visits in summer, I happened to be in Kolkata in the winters too. Moni's house is in a quiet lane in Selimpur and a variety of vendors come to the 'goli' or lane calling out their wares. From umbrella repair to ice cream, from variety plastic products to fresh veggies and fish, everything comes to our doorstep.

I found the steady stream of vendors quite entertaining and slowly began to buy vegetables and fish for the novelty of buying at the door, so much in contrast to my life in Mumbai where veggies were either bought online or from a supermarket, an entirely impersonal experience. As I chose vegetables every morning I started examining the variety on the cart more closely and questioning the vendor about specific vegetables I was unfamiliar with. I'd also ask Jethima from upstairs or go bug Moni to identify ingredients and then to cook them for me. My interest vegetables and local ingredients grew and if you've ever enjoyed winter vegetables in Bengal, you'll understand just why I succumbed.

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What a glorious variety there was! Leafy greens, beans, brinjals, gourds, root veggies, the list can go on and on. And among all this bounty I found an array of edible flowers and inflorescence that are all a regular, even mundane, part of the Bengali kitchen, enjoyed in season and then looked forward to once the season was over. As I took photograph after photograph the subziwala, seeing my interest and quite entertained by my enthusiasm, started bringing unusual seasonal ingredients to show me every morning. I'd happily be awake at 6 am waiting for him to make his first circuit of our goli. Thanks to him I learned about many vegetables that are a part of the Bengali's winter meals. Not only did I learn from him, Moni and Jethima, the neighbourhood mashimas (aunties) also started educating me, making the entire experience richer and so much more interesting.

Edible flowers maybe trendy today and perceived to be modern and hip but for the Bengali they are a part of everyday meals and I discovered a wide variety in Kolkata, some of which I have listed here. Whether it's the blooms, inflorescence or stems, the flowering portions of many plants are commonly cooked into simple dishes or more elaborate fare.

Malabar Spinach or Pui Shaak is a common ingredient in many Indian kitchens, but did you know the inflorescence on this plant is also eaten? It's sold separately as an individual ingredient and I first saw it on the subzi cart.

Pui Mituni (inflorescence on Malabar Spinach)

Similarly the inflorescence on Spinach or palak, called Shish Palong in Bengali, is also a delicacy and Jethima made a quick stir fry with potatoes for me. 

Shapla or water lilies also star on Bengali menus. The stem is cooked with prawns or made into fritters. While prepping the stems may feel tedious the resultant fritters are perfect as a snack at tea time or are served as the accompanying bhaja in the daal course of a traditional Bengali meal. The flowers aren't eaten but they look lovely floating in a flat vessel full of water.

Shapla or Water lIlies

Then there were onion scapes or Peyaanj Koli as we call them in Bengali. Such a pretty vegetable! Mostly added to chorchoris or made into a simple bhaja with potatoes, the markets are filled with these in season. 

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Peyaanj Koli

This post would be incomplete if I didn't mention Kumro Phool or pumkin flowers. Mostly served batter fried, sometimes with a stuffing of prawns (yes, we Bengalis cook many veggies with prawns) I had plenty of these thanks to my beloved Jethima.

Kumro Phool 

On my last trip to Kolkata I encountered Jukti Phool. This flower enjoys a very short season and, from what I understood from the vendor in Gariahat market, is gathered from plants growing in the wild. A strongly bitter flower, it can be stir fried with potatoes and panch phoron or can be used in a sukto to impart the bitter notes.

Jukti Phool in the foreground with other Sukto ingredients

I also found Bok Phool or Agasti phool on an earlier trip to the market. These are cooked by many communities across India and I have seen many getting excited over them on myriad food groups on Facebook. These too are mostly batter fried and served as a tasty snack, much looked forward to by the Bengalis when in season. A simple chickpea flour batter seasoned with salt and chilli powder, a dash of turmeric and some nigella seeds is made, the flowers (stamens removed) are dipped in and then deep fried till crisp and golden. Sometimes maida and/or rice flour are added to make the batter lighter and the fries crisper but all these are variations from kitchen to kitchen.

Bok Phool outside Gariahat Market

Mocha or banana blossom is very widely known so it wasn't really a discovery for me. This much treasured ingredient in cooked a million ways by the Bengali - ghonto, chop, with prawns, chop with prawns... the list can go on and on. 

Mocha or Banana Blossom

And here's a picture of the man himself, the shobjiwala or veggie vendor. As I write this I realise I've never asked him his name as I always called him 'bhai' or younger brother. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sukto with Jukti Phool

Sukto is a lovely light stew of assorted vegetables with a hint of bitter. Flavoured with a bit of mustard and a hint of poppy paste, this stew also has milk in it and must be cooked very carefully. Though you can make sukto without the bitter element, many Bengalis believe that a classic sukto must have the bitter ingredient. I always avoided sukto thanks to the bitter flavour and never bothered to even see how it was cooked, turning up my nose and shaking my head this utter waste of effort! 

Over the last few years my interest in Bengali food has increased greatly - maybe I'm feeling the need to understand my roots now that I'm well into my forties and the attraction of other cuisines has paled. Somewhere I also feel great ignorance where Bengali food is concerned - it is after all the cuisine of my forefathers and I should know it in some detail at least. My frequent visits to Kolkata and the discovery of new ingredients at practically every visit to the market only fuelled my curiosity. The door to door vegetable vendor, seeing my interest, would bring new things to show me - pui mituni, kolmi shaak, shapla, kochu'r loti, bok phul, shish palong... the list is endless. 

My visits to Kolkata are now incomplete without a visit to Gariahat market, if only for a quick walk through just to see what's available. The last visit to Kolkata was for less than a week and I squeezed in a quick trip to the market on my last morning there. This time I discovered Jukti phool. 

Jukti Phool  Dregea volubis is also known as Sneeze Wort or Green Milkweed Climber. This plant is known to many Indian cuisines and has names in many Indian languages. In Marathi it is called 'harandodi' or 'naaksikani'. In Hindi it's also known as 'akad bel'. The Malayalam word for it is 'velipparuthi'  while in Gujarati it's called 'kadvo kharkhodo', and in Bengali it's also called 'tita kunga'.  See here for more details -

I'd never heard of this ingredient nor seen it but the tiny, pretty bunches of blooms were irresistible and of course I bought some. I asked the vendor how to cook it and he said to either stir fry it with a little garlic and plenty of potatoes or to use it instead of uchhe (bitter gourd) to make sukto. It's quite bitter, he warned, and I wasn't to try to eat it on its own.

Back in Mumbai I read several sukto recipes before I attempted making it for the first time. My mother loved sukto - or 'suktuni' as she preferred to call it - and I keenly missed her because it would have been so easy to just call her on the phone and learn how to make one of her favourite dishes. I wish I had paid attention on the rare times she made it... 

Anyway! Here's the recipe for the Sukto I cobbled together today. This dish has a lot of ingredients and therefore there's a good amount of prep to do before you start cooking so make sure you read the recipe from start to finish and make a shopping list before you go to get the veggies. 

Jukti Phool diye Sukto

Jukti phool - half a cup
1 small potato
1 small sweet potato
1 small ridge gourd 
1 small long brinjal or a chunk from a large one
7-8 green beans (yard longs/borboti or french beans, either will do)
7-8 papdi or seem (flat beans) 
1 drumstick
2" piece of ginger

2 tbsp mustard paste 
2 tbsp poppy seed paste

1 tsp panch phoron
1 tsp randhuni (ajmod seeds)
1/2 cup milk
mustard oil

Wash the jukti phool and drain in a colander. 

Peel the potatoes and cut into thick batons. Peel the ridge gourd, discard seeds and pith, and cut into batons of the same size as the potatoes. Don't cut the vegetables too thin or small or they will disintegrate while cooking.
String the beans and cut into 3" pieces.
Peel the hard outer skin of the drumstick and cut into 5" batons.
Cut brinjal into proportionate pieces, not too small.
Grate or pound the ginger into a rough paste. 

Heat a generous quantity of mustard oil in a wok or kadai and wait till it's properly hot. Fry the prepared vegetables one by one for a couple of minutes each and remove to a plate or other flat vessel. 

In the same oil, after you've finished frying all the vegetables, chuck in the panch phoron, randhuni and grated ginger (add a little oil if required before you throw in the spices). Let the spices sizzle for a few seconds and then add the mustard and poppy seed pastes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Keep the flame low and stir well to cook everything. See that the pastes don't stick to the bottom of the kadai.

After a minute or two add a cup of water and the milk. There are different methods followed with the addition of milk - some recipes add it at the end of the cooking and some add it early. I added it at this stage. Bring the whole mix to a gentle boil and then add the fried vegetables. Mix gently and then cover the kadai and let it cook over low heat till the vegetables are done.

Once the vegetables are cooked switch off the flame and drizzle good ghee over the sukto. Cover and let it infuse for five minutes.

Sukto often has bori (vadi or lentil cakes) in it. My mom would fry the bori and then crumble it over the cooked sukto before serving. I didn't have any bori so I couldn't do that bit. 

You can make sukto without randhuni. It will taste different but no one will accuse you of cooking a sukto that's not authentic. So don't stress out over the randhuni. 

There are many variations to the vegetables in a sukto. Use whatever you have at hand - brinjal plantain, radish, potato, sweet potato, beans of various kinds, gourds, and something bitter, be it bitter gourd or jukti phool. Did you notice there are no spices here apart from the panch phoron and randhuni?

Serve the sukto as the first course of your meal with plain rice. Follow it up with daal accompanied by a couple of bhajas and then a light machh'er jhol and you'll be on your way to a proper Bengali meal! Or just keep it simple and have it with hot rice and daal to follow.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mogri Aloo Subzi - Radish Pods and Potatoes

Mogri, moogri, lila mogra, lila mogri, rat-tail radish, radish pod - just a few of the names I've encountered for this winter vegetable. Somehow I didn't notice it at my local veggie shop all these months till I chanced upon it yesterday. I duly bought some as in another couple of weeks it's going to be difficult to find seasonal fresh vegetables as the temperatures are already soaring.


The weather is pretty awful already and I don't feel like cooking elaborate or even spiced up dishes and nor do I feel like eating much - it's just too hot! The mogri was perfect for a light lunch paired with a simple Bengali style daal and plain rice. It works well with chapatis too.

Mogri Aloo Subzi

250 gms Mogri
1 or 2 potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic
1-2 green chillies
chilli powder
jeera/cumin powder

Wash the mogri thoroughly and drain in a colander. Cut into 2 inch pieces. I found it easier to snip them with my kitchen scissors but you can chop with a knife if that works for you.

Peel the potato and cut into thin fingers. Peel and smash the garlic. Remove the stalk from the green chilli and break the chilli into 2 inch pieces.

Heat oil in a kadai - you can use any neutral oil or even mustard oil, I used peanut oil.

Once the oil is hot drop in the green chillies and the garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add the cut potatoes and cook over a slow flame for a few minutes till the potatoes are 3/4th done.

Add the chopped mogri and stir well. Add the spices and salt, stir again to mix the spices in, and then let it cook covered on a low flame for roughly five minutes till the mogri is cooked.

Serve with hot rotis/chapatis or as a side with daal and rice.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pui Chorchori - Malabar Spinach Stir Fry with Vegetables

Chorchoris are light side dishes that liven up a meal and provide plenty of nutrition thanks to the myriad seasonal vegetables that go into them. The spicing is minimal, usually dried chilies and panch phoron, apart from the basic salt and turmeric though some recipes have cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic and even onions. As with most things, recipes and traditions vary from family to family, kitchen to kitchen. I like the chorchori with as few spices as possible and use just panch phoron and chilli, sometimes fresh green and sometimes dried red ones.

The vegetables in a chorchori vary with availability and of course the preference of the cook and those who will eat. The usual suspects include brinjal, pumpkin, potatoes, flat beans, white radish.. the list is endless. Pui Shaak or Malabar spinach makes the base of this version.

Pui Chorchori

2 cups Pui tender stalks and leaves
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup red pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 cup brinjal, cubed

1 tsp panch phoron
1/4 tsp fennel
2 green chillies
mustard oil.

Separate the leaves and stalks of the Pui greens, discarding the wilted sticky leaves and the thicker hard stalks. Wash the leaves and the stalks separately. Wash really well. Leave in the colander to drip off excess water.

Prep the vegetables. Chop the pui stalks into small pieces (2-3 inches) and chop the leaves too.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of mustard oil in a kadai and once it's properly hot reduce the heat and chuck in the chillies, panch phoron and the fennel seeds. It will all sizzle.

Add the cubed potatoes and saute for a minute. Then add the pui stalks and the pumpkin pieces and saute for another couple of minutes.

Add the brinjal pieces, salt and turmeric and mix well. Cover and let it all cook on a medium flame for a few minutes. Then add the pui leaves and mix again.

Add half a cup of water, cover and cook on a low flame till the potatoes and pumpkin pieces are cooked through. Dry off the water and check for salt before you take it off the heat.

Serve the chorchori with daal and rice, and a bhaja for a perfectly light Bengali meal. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mangsho'r Jhol, Pound Cake, and Moni

It's Moni's birthday today. The first one after her death and it feels strange. A year has gone by marking the first this and the first that after she's been gone and in a couple of weeks it will be her first death anniversary too. Yes, a year has passed as years inevitably do. And we are figuring out what to do to mark the date.

She specified very strongly that there were to be no rituals. No rituals at the funeral, no observance of 'ashauchh' or the immediate days of ritual mourning, no Shraadh on the 13th day. While we followed her wishes to the letter it left me feeling a little lost, rudderless and even deprived...

We scoff at rituals, deem them meaningless, a show, a waste, and very often they are just that. But sometimes the rituals are an anchor, something to hold on to, something to focus on as you grieve, as you accept change, especially as you accept death. Maybe they were designed to simply keep the mind occupied; the rules told you what to do so you went the through the days mechanically without having to engage your mind wondering what to do, thinking about what to cook/eat, what to wear, etc. And then, after a reasonable period of time you have a ceremony where family gathers and you formally end the mourning period. And limp back to life because life goes on regardless.

And so here we are again with no rituals to cling to, to show us the way. Instead we have to make up our own and get through the days.

Mothers are usually the person we learn cooking from and I learned from Moni. The first thing I learned from her (apart from prepping the pressure cooker with washed daal and rice put neatly in the separator containers) was a basic pound cake.

It was a random afternoon and post lunch I was bored. She was in bed enjoying a Mills and Boon. To get me out of her hair so she could read in peace she set me baking a cake. Since she always make a double batch (my brother could, and often would, devour an entire pound cake on his own while reading his comics or a Loius L'Amour novel) I was doing the same. I went back and forth from the kitchen to her bedroom getting the recipe in installments and showing her what I was doing.

Ingredients were carefully measured, brown paper packets were cut to line the bottoms of the cake tins, the oven was set to preheat, and I proudly mixed the batter using Moni's precious Kenwood stand mixer. Eventually the batter was ready, the cakes were in the oven and I waited quite impatiently for the fruits of my labour. Finally they were out, and then cooled enough to be cut.

Oh NO! My cakes were thick and fudgy instead of being beautifully light and spongy. I was heartbroken and Moni was not amused at the monumental waste of all those ingredients. As usual I got a solid scolding for not paying attention to her instructions. In tears, I went through her instructions again and that's when we realised she'd only said three eggs instead of doubling them to six! My father had a hearty laugh and all he had to say was - this is what happens when you have your nose buried in those blessed Mills and Boons! Of course, Moni insisted she'd said six and not three eggs...

While Moni wasn't particularly fond of cooking she was ironically, a fantastic cook. Whenever we had friends over she'd make mangsho'r jhol and it eventually became her signature dish and we couldn't envision a get together without her making mangsho'r jhol. Every visit home to Kolkata involved demands of mangsho'r jhol to be kept ready for me to dig into as soon as I stepped into the house. The brother's demand was the same. Make mangsho'r jhol. And make cake.

So on that first anniversary I will make mangsho'r jhol, and cake. I can't think of a better ritual. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Green Garlic, Spring onion, Bacon, and Egg Tart

Green garlic season is on and as it's one of the favourite ingredients for Parsis I've been seeing it very often in my kitchen. One dish that we made quite often is leela lasan (green garlic) ne leela kanda (spring onion) per eeda which is eggs steamed on a bed of the two greens with salt, pepper and a light spicing of cumin or jeera. To be honest, I got a bit bored making this same thing so often and decided to play with basic concept and do something fun while still retaining the basic character of the dish.

I always have puff pastry sheets in my freezer and I also found a packet of bacon in there. And the idea of a tart was born.

Leela Lasan, Leela Kanda, ne Bacon per Eeda Tarts

1 bunch green garlic
1 bunch spring onions
1 onion
1 tsp cumin seed

1 sheet puff pastry
a few rashers bacon

To make the filling.

Wash the greens well and then chop as fine as possible. Use the roots of the green garlic too, they pack a lot of flavour.
Chop the onion fine.
In a pan heat some oil and add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Chuck in the chopped greens and the onion and saute on a slow flame till it is all cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the heat on medium to low as you cook because the onions and garlic mustn't brown at all. Stir frequently as you cook.
You can make this mix in advance and store it in the fridge up to two or three days, ready to use whenever you like.

To make the tarts

Preheat the oven at 180C

Fry the bacon rashers lightly and then chop into small pieces. Don't let the bacon become crisp - remember it will be baked on the tarts later.

Let the pastry sheet thaw a bit and then cut into four equal squares. Run a pizza wheel or a knife lightly along the edges to trace a 'frame'. Don't cut through the pasty. With a fork poke the middle of the pastry till the entire surface has been marked. Once again, don't go through the pasty.

Line your baking tray with parchment or baking paper and arrange the pastry squares on the sheet.
Arrange the leela lasan filling on each square in a thin layer making a slight hill along the edges. This will help keep the egg in the middle when you add it later.

Once all the squares are done pop the tray into the oven and bake for around 12-15 minutes till you see the pastry puffing up along the edges. 

Remove the tray carefully and get ready to add the eggs. Now this gets a little tricky so it's best if you break each egg into a cup or bowl instead of directly onto the tart. The egg white can spill all over and out of the tart so you have better control if you break it in a cup first. Use a tablespoon and carefully pick up the yolk and place it in the centre of a tart. Arrange bacon pieces around the yolk (it strengthens the 'fort' and helps keep the egg white in). Spoon over the egg white carefully. I found it harder to keep the egg white within the filling.

Crack fresh pepper over the tarts once you have placed eggs and bacon on each and then put it all back in the oven to bake at 160C till the eggs are set to your liking. This could take anything from 6-8 minutes to longer depending on how set you want your eggs but once the whites turn opaque it's good to go.

Enjoy the tarts hot straight out of the oven!

These are great for breakfast and work well as an evening snack too. Kids and adults will enjoy the crunch of the pastry and this is a great way to get your family to eat some greens :)