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 :)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

A couple of weeks ago I made a spicy, coconut-y Kerala Pork Fry for a pop up. It was delicious and I was lucky to have found a good recipe and friends to approve and confirm that it would give me good results and authentic flavours. For that pork fry I'd made a batch of fresh Kerala Garam Masala and there was plenty left over.

I also had some of the toasted coconut that I'd made for the same fry.

Since I didn't have any pork in the freezer but wanted to enjoy those flavours again I thought of trying the same recipe adapted for prawns.

Oh my, did that work out well or what?!

Kerala Spiced Prawn Fry

500 gms prawns, cleaned
chilli powder
pepper powder

2 large onions, chopped
5-6 sprigs curry leaves
2-3 green chillies, more if you're okay with a lot of heat
1 pod garlic, peeled and chopped
3 inch piece ginger, peeled and pounded roughly
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp Kerala Garam masala*
1 cup toasted grated fresh coconut

Wash the prawns and marinate in salt, turmeric, chilli powder and some freshly ground, slightly coarse black pepper. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a wok, be generous, and once the oil is hot chuck in the curry leaves along with the green chillies. You can roughly break up the chillies, or chop them into small pieces. Add the garlic and fry for a minute and then throw in the pounded fresh ginger. Mix and fry for another minute or two. Now add the onions.

Fry the mix till the onions start to brown. Now add the dry spices and a little salt and mix well so it all cooks evenly. Add oil if required or the spices will burn and stick to the bottom of your cooking pot. Stir in the toasted coconut and mix properly. Cook on a low flame till the whole mix is fragrant and cooked. Adjust salt keeping in mind that the prawns have salt in the marinade.

In a separate pan heat some oil and fry the prawns in batches for around 30 seconds, just till they turn opaque. Add them to the cooked masala, stir well and cook covered for just a few minutes till the prawns are done. Remove the lid, ramp up the heat and dry off any moisture in the pot. You can add some more fried curry leaves for added flavour at the end.

Serve hot as an accompaniment with evening drinks, or make a meal of it paired with pav, rice, or rotis.

* Kerala Garam Masala

2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp pepper corns
2 star anise
4 inches cassia bark (desi cinnamon)
10 green cardamom pods
1 tsp cloves

Broil all the spices till fragrant, cool a bit and then whizz in a spice grinder.
There are variations of this with the fennel, pepper, cardamom, cloves being common and mace, nutmeg, star anise  or cinnamon adding to the flavours. You can add the combination that you like.
Store in an air-tight bottle. 

I Eat Pulish'er Daal to Grow Up Fast!

I was around seven or eight years old, on yet another summer vacation trip to Kolkata. On a warm afternoon I was at Khukhun Didin's house discussing the menu for the special feast she would cook for us, my brother and I, her very honoured guests. The shiny kansa dinner ware had been approved (at Lokhi Didin's house we ate off banana leaves with terracotta bowls and water glasses) and now we had to fix the dishes we wanted to eat. We'd also go across to Ranu Didin's for another feast or she'd feel left out, wouldn't she?! This was the advantage of having three of my Didin's sisters living just a few houses away from her. 

Mutton would have to be on the menu of course, with mishti bhaat, machher kalia, and yes chingri maach would be good too, cooked in any way Khukun Didin fancied. Now that we'd finished discussing the main parts of the menu I condescended to approve the less attractive bits like daal, torkari, shukto (eewww we don't like it so it can't be on the menu, no way!) and the bhajas.  

Oh yes, bhajas were expected in large quantities, and only aloo please because though I was happy to eat begun bhaja the brother hated begun (brinjal) in any form. With bhaja was always daal - actually it's the other way around but our primary interest was the bhaja so that's how we looked at it. Once the bhajas were sorted we moved on to discuss daal. 

"Ki daal khabe?" Khukun Didin asked. What daal will you have? And I promptly answered "Pulish'er daal! Ami pulish'er daal khai, pulish'er daal khele taratari boro hoa jay!" Police Daal! I eat Police Daal because Police Daal makes you grow up quickly. She stared at me in fascination and then went into complete peals of laughter! After drying her tears of pure delight she asked me which daal was 'pulish'er daal' and I looked at her in amazement - such ignorance! She didn't know what pulish'er daal was! Of course I couldn't enlighten her and she eventually asked my Didin what pulish'er daal was.

Years later, when I was in my early teens and learning to cook, pulish'er daal was a faint memory when one day I suddenly remembered it and asked Moni which daal it was. She looked at me in amusement, tinged with her own memories of her efforts at making the two of us brats eat our food without fuss, and revealed - arhar daal or tuvar/toor daal. 

Even today when I cook arhar daal there's a part of me that still calls it Pulihs'er daal and smiles. 

Pulish'er Daal

1/2 cup arhar or toor daal
a couple of green chillies
1 onion sliced
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
fresh coriander, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp jeera
mustard oil

Wash the daal and let it soak for 10-15 minutes if you like. You can cook it without soaking too. Pressure cook the washed daal with enough water and around half a teaspoon of turmeric. The daal shouldn't become a mush, the grains should be cooked but remain whole. 

In a kadai heat mustard oil and once hot chuck in the jeera and the whole green chillies. Add the sliced onion and fry till the onion just starts going brown. Add half a teaspoon of sugar while frying the onions. 

Pour in the cooked daal and bring it all to a boil. Add salt at this stage. My mom would add chopped tomatoes with the daal, I don't. I prefer the daal without tomatoes. 

Once the daal has come to a good boil stir in a generous dollop of ghee and switch off the heat. If you're vegan don't add the ghee.

Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve hot with plain rice. 

Accompaniments with the daal are ideally a bhaja or two - this could be fried fish, fried potatoes, brinjals, pointed gourd, lady's fingers, bitter gourd, etc. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

It was one of those days when breakfast outside has been a sore disappointment and I was feeling irritable and in dire need of comfort. The hubby had a rare day off from work and wanted a nice lunch to wipe away the memories of a truly bad breakfast experience. As much as I wanted the comfort of a home cooked meal, confident that whatever I cooked would be a balm on our abraded minds, I wasn't up to cooking a complicated time consuming dish. Yet I didn't want the 'same old thing'.

My first thought was prawns - delicious, easy to cook, and most importantly - done with minimum hassle. The fact that my local fish shop stocks excellent produce and a kilo of cleaned, shelled, and deveined prawns was just a phone call away only made the prospect of prawns more attractive. I decided to make a simple prawn curry to be paired with plain white rice.

I follow a basic easy recipe and make this light curry quite often but as I mentioned earlier, I wasn't in the mood for the same old thing. A trip to the veggie shop earlier that day meant that I'd come home with a bunch of fresh green garlic and a couple of green limes among the other vegetables I'd bought. We've been enjoying the green garlic in plenty of breakfast omelettes and scrambles and I thought it's high time I used them in something else. And that's how they landed up in the curry.

I replaced the coconut cream with coconut milk and ended up with a thin broth like curry which I liked so much I had a bowlful as soup while the rice cooked.

Coincidentally the theme for the week for a food photography challenge I'm doing with a small bunch of friends was soup, and since I suddenly had a lovely soup at hand I proceeded to dig out some pretty props and put together a photograph for the week. Instead of going the predictable soup bowl and spoon route I pulled out fancy tea ware and made an effort to style the photo instead of simply plonking a bowl of soup on my windowsill and taking a quick pic. I'm quite pleased with the result of my efforts :)

Well anyway, here's the recipe for the soup/curry-

Prawn Coconut Curry with Green Garlic and Lemon Zest

I cup prawns, shelled and deveined
2 inch stick, cassia bark
a sprig or two, curry leaves
a small bundle of green garlic, washed and chopped fine
1 tbsp, chopped fresh coriander
1 small onion, chopped fine
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 green lime

Marinate the prawns in salt and turmeric and set aside while you prep the curry ingredients.

Heat oil in a wok and lightly fry the prawns till they turn just opaque. This should take a couple of minutes at the most. Do it in batches so all the prawns are cooked evenly. Remove from the wok and set aside.

In the same wok add a little more oil and heat it well. Chuck in the green chillies, roughly snapped into two or three pieces along with the curry leaves and the cassia bark. Fry for 30 seconds and then add the chopped onion. Fry till translucent (don't allow the onions to brown) and then add the chopped green garlic (shoots, garlic bulbs, and roots) and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the chilli powder, a little turmeric, and salt, stir well and fry for another few minutes.

Now pour in the coconut milk and bring the curry to a boil. Add a little water so you have a proportionate amount of curry for the amount of prawns going in. Once the curry comes to a boil chuck in the prawns and cook for just a few minutes till they are nearly cooked, just a minute or so shy of being completely cooked. Put off the flame and grate in the zest from the green lime. Give it a stir, add the fresh coriander leaves, cover the wok and let it infuse for a minute.

Serve hot with plain rice and wedges of lime. Or enjoy it as a soup before main course.