Tandoori Chicken

Sinfully Spicy - Tandoori Chicken #indianfoodOn evenings coming back from work, when the bus was running terribly behind schedule, I volunteerd to get down way before my stop and walk down home.The side walk still wet from the rain spells an hour or two before smelled of decaying earth and lush green foliage all along looked as fresh as just bathed.The moist breeze of monsoon evenings was a much sought break after spending the whole day in air conditioning.

The fastest way to home get to home was through of busy market surrounded by the yellow government quarters (apartments) which looked like tiny match boxes stuffed on top of each other. In India, such streets are dotted with places to eat and these little food joints have been around for so many years that they turn into local favorites.

There was is a take out restaurant which was one of our favorites for non vegetarian food in the area. All you notice as a passerby were two or three young men wearing colored vests standing in front of the clay oven (tandoor)on one side,their hands stained in spices skewing marinated birds and tikka on to the slender iron bars, and some making rumali roti (paper thin flatbreads) on the other side. The aroma of smoke & cooked dough clinged to the blanket of air surrounding the entrance and the eternal long queue at the coupon station was a common sight.

When we went to Delhi last year, I made sure that the husband tastes the food from there. I remember we ordered garlicy naan, butter chicken and tandoori chicken for home delivery. Its been quite a while and we still talk about the meal from that night so you know what I mean. There must be thousands of places in Delhi serving bestest tandoori chicken but this little restaurant thriving in a tiny pocket of big city is where most of my family memories are woven around – of celebration, of laughter of cheerful Sunday meals around the table.

This recipe  took me quite a few attempts to get together. In India,the tandoori is more charred and blackish in appearance  than the orange hued you see here at restaurants. Infact, if you use good quality turmeric and kashmiri chilli powder, ideally the reddish-orange color should come along on its own during high heat roasting. In India, we do not eat chicken skin, so whenever making tandoori, use skinless chicken, the meat should be succulent and moist on the inside & chewy on the outside (not crispy).

Ingredients

  • 8 chicken drumsticks  (my package weighed total 2 lb, you could use any dark meat cut)
  • oil for basting
  • For serving – Chaat masala, onion slices, lemon wedges, fresh chopped cilantro.

First Marinade

  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder or cayenne (adjust to tolerance)

Second Marinade

  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 black cardamom, seeds only
  • 1 green cardamom, seeds only
  • 2 cloves
  • 8 raw cashews, broken (or use 2 tbsp cashew meal)
  • 1 small twig of cinnamon (see notes)
  • 1/4 cup thick plain yogurt
  • 1″ fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1.25 tbsp chaat masala
  • 2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (this lends the color,not the heat)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
  • scant pinch of ajwain seeds
  • 1 tbsp ghee, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp good quality saffron threads (optional)

Notes:

  1. Indian cinnamon is quite sharp as compared to the sweet cinnamon used in the west, that’s why I have noted a small quantity, adjust as per taste but do not go overboard.
  2. Black Cardamom has no substitute in this recipe. It has a woody, strong flavor and aroma much different that the sweet smelling cardamom. If you do not have it simply skip it.
  3. Chaat Masala is a tangy blend of spices which is used in indian cuisine.In this recipe it makes the marinade thick as well as lends it distinct hints of sharpness & smokiness,if you do not have it, use some lemon juice and a bit of roasted cumin powder in its place. If you want you can order online  or buy at indian/pakistani store. It keeps well for almost a year and can be used in salads, roasted vegetables or meats etc.
  4. You can make the tandoori marinade and immediately freeze it up to a month. When using, thaw it in the refrigerator and mix in the proteins or vegetables you are using.
  5. I recommend not using lean or boneless cuts like chicken breast for making tandoori because the high heat of cooking will immediately make the poultry chewy. You could use whole boneless thighs though.

Method

Skin the chicken and wash it under a running steam of water. Using paper towels, completely pat the chicken dry.Using a sharp knife, make incisions in the chicken and place in a bowl. Thoroughly rub the chicken with lemon juice, salt and chili powder. Set in the refrigerator.

Lightly crush the the black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cloves and cinnamon in mortar & pestle.Place them into the blender. Add the cashews, yogurt,ginger, garlic, garam masala, chaat masala, kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric, nutmeg, ajwain, ghee, saffron and salt to the blender.Blend everything very very well till a smooth paste is formed. Refrigerate this paste for 30 minutes for flavors to mix.(If its not very hot, you can leave it on the kitchen counter top else in the fridge so that yogurt does not turn sour)

Mix in the chicken and the marinade and let sit refrigerated for 18-24 hours (at least). This time of marination is really important. You could marinate up to 2 days in advance.

Once ready to cook, leave the chicken pieces out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil (this makes cleaning easy) and set a rack over it. Also, preheat your oven to its highest temperature  (600 F in my case). Place the chicken pieces over the rack and roast for 20 -25 minutes or until done, basting liberally with oil. Use a lot of oil for basting, this is very important for a moist chicken. You will need to open up the oven door and brush the chicken 3-5 times, keep on turning it to cook on all sides. Alternatively you could grill the chicken outdoors,basting it at intervals

Serve hot immediately with chaat masala, onion slices, lemon wedges, fresh chopped cilantro.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Layered Mango & Raspberry Dessert

Remember I mentioned that I made two desserts back to back over the 4th of July weekend? This is the second one besides the mango pudding. It is rather an assembly than a cooked or baked dessert but it came out so well. It is a spontaneous idea that I trying to share with you.But this layered thing came out so well and mainly because it is the best thing I have made so far this summer,I wanted to share it. Share it badly so you can try it this season itself before the mango & berries are gone. I don’t even know what to call it, maybe an indian cassatta because that’s closest to what I had in mind when I was it putting together. Maybe an ice cream cake? Or let’s just call it a frozen-layered-dessert. 

Literally, I played with food. I just had an idea to start with and few leftovers – mango puree after making the pudding, cake slices and heavy cream nearing expiration. A dessert which brings together pound cake, ice cream, berries, mangoes and cream and nuts(if you like)could hardly not taste good. It like hitting the bull’s eye standing at arm’s length. This was a bomb.Literally. It is not everyday that the husband complains that I should have considered a 8 or 9 inch round instead of the little 6 inch cake pan. But then, I wanted to finish off the leftovers rather than start something new in itself. Anyhow.

You can use the recipe just as a guideline and play around with whatever flavor or textures you like. I wanted to sneak in some dried mixed fruits and nuts but held back since the other half is not very fond of textures in food (how boring, right?). Whatever, make this dessert before summer ends and if your kids are of that age, involve them in the fun too.

It took me half a day to put all these layers all together – freezing the previous one and topping with next one and all. But so worth it. When I saw family asking for second or third serving, I decided that the next time I make this, it would be a 9″ or 10″ round.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

Rajma Masala

Spice laden tomato(ey) sauce, gooey beans, hints of cinnamon and cardamom, steamed rice on the side and lots of fresh cilantro on top.This pretty much sums up rajma (kidney beans)-chawal(rice). Quite similar to the warming pot roast, we pretty much savor this dish every other Sunday afternoon in the house followed by a long nap which by all means is the necessary element of the brunch ritual. This north indian kidney beans curry is spicy and comforting, all of you who love beans and a side of carbohydrate (potatoes/rice) would know how addictive it can get, just few minutes into eating.

When I think something comforting – an event, a memory, food, travel or in general, any milestone of life, I want to be in that moment and think more and even more about it.These days, I seem to remember my home in India a lot. The routine of daily life back there keeps on flashing in my mind now and then.Our domestic help sitting on the floor peeling and chopping squash, talking about the other homes she works in, mum next to her and grinding fresh chilies and garlic in our decade old mortar & pestle. They discussed nuances of long power cuts- the preparations that precede it, casually chatting about unusually above normal temperatures and yet how late monsoons have been this year. In between, my mum would pour her elaichi chai with few crumbly rusks, both having a good ladies time.

While I brew my green tea on summer afternoons, my lil daughter napping, I also prepare dinner side by side, it is such a pleasant time to dig pockets of such spontaneous memories when I am all by myself in the house. It’s a warm feeling – nostalgic & bitter – sweet at the same time.

When I severely miss home, it’s just left to the meals to comfort us. Talk about comforting and rajma masala is my soul food. Not only because of how hearty it is but also because how uncomplicated the flavors are.Its bright and nourishing, its simple and doesnt need you to baby sit the pot. You could start with a simple masala, add the beans, let simmer and done. As a variation add vegetables (I am thinking whole baby potatoes or even few chopped greens here), why not? I personally like to serve it alongside paneer bhurji, rounding off our punjabi meal.

If you happen to taste this dish at restaurants, it comes rich and heavy, the base recipe remains similar but the final dish is finished with butter and cream. Most Indian restaurants in the west do not cook like how indians cook at home. I don’t know how this piling on of the fat started.The way rajma masala is made in rural, punjabi homes is a far cry from the overbearing use of butter and cream, it is homely and essentially what true Indian food is like. That said, stay clear of butter pool and make this kidney bean curry –  delicious, healthy & comforting!

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)

  • 1 cup red kidney beans, raw (make sure the beans are not more than 6 months old, I buy my stock from Whole Foods)
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 black cardamom
  • tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
  • 1/4 heaping cumin seeds
  • small twig of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1-2 fresh Thai green chillies, whole or slit (adjust to tolerance)

For the Sauce

  • 5 tbsp mustard or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes (slightly sour)
  • 1.5 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder/cayenne (adjust quantity to tolerance)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp amchoor (dry mango powder)
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  • Salt
  • Chopped cilantro

Method

Cooking the beans

Note – Skip this step if using canned beans, add the whole spices listed under cooking the raw beans at the time when you make the sauce.

Soak the kidney beans in enough water overnight or for at least 8 hours. This is an important step if you are using raw beans, if not soaked enough, the recipe will not turn out well. Once the beans have swelled, drain and discard the water. Transfer the kidney beans to a pressure cooker. Add 3.5 cups water, cloves, cardamom, tejpatta, cumin, cinnamon, oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Close the lid of the cooker and pressure cook on medium heat for 2-3 whistles or till the beans are 95% cook. An easy indicator to know if the beans have cooked is that the skin starts peeling off from few of them but the shape is intact. You could cook the beans open in on stove top till tender for approximately 45-50 minutes.

Once the beans have cooked, pick up the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, tejpatta and discard. Transfer the cooked beans and stock to a bowl and mix in the ginger and whole chillies. Let sit while you make the sauce.

Making the Sauce

In the same cooking pot/pressure cooker that you boiled the beans,add the oil and heat on medium till you see ripples on the surface.If using mustard oil, you will need to heat tills it’s about to smoke so that the raw smell goes away.

Reduce heat to slightly and add the finely chopped onions and garlic and cook them till golden brown. About 6-8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the tomatoes next along with chili, coriander,turmeric and amchoor powder. Cook this masala on low heat till the oil starts separating from the mix along the sides of the pan. About 10-12 minutes. If you see masala sticking to the bottom of pan, add some stock. Cook thoroughly.This slow cooking is very important to develop flavors and color of the paste, please do not rush.Allow the masala to reduce till it acquires beautiful reddish to brown color.

Add the boiled beans to the pot next along with all the stock.Check and adjust the salt. Add the garam masala & kasuri methi. Cover and let simmer on low heat for 25-30 minutes.

Once the beans have simmered, removed from heat and let sit undisturbed for 2-3 hours.

Serve warm garnished with cilantro.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Mango Pudding

On days when I have to have a dessert, either we drive down to Freeds Bakery, or just about any bakery that is open after 8 pm and I bing on a slices of florentine cheesecakes and parisian chocolate cake or almond croissants with extra shot of espresso and phew, I am covered for a week. If its way too late to step out I make this quick pudding. The sugar rush is taken care of in hardly any time- because I like it lightly warm.

After a dessert making hiatus of over two months, (when I made these ladoos),this long weekend,while the husband was pretty much glued to world cup for most part of the day, I whipped up a couple of them back to back.It started with this mango pudding after I got reminded of this childhood favorite in one of the indian buffets and the other one was put together rather compulsively because I wanted to finish up that 20oz of mango puree leftovers.

Done right, this could be a luscious dessert that you can put together in no time. My mom used to make a lot of pudding for after dinner treats growing up, I remember how in winters, the warm, luscious vanilla custard was topped with caramelized apples while the chilled mango version was a summer thing. In the most clumsy way, I always licked that velvety, thick thing more from the back of the spoon and it was gooey and almost coated all your taste buds – comforting just like a sweet dish should be!

This eggless custard is such a breeze to make and one of those baby steps in indian dessert cooking, infact the recipe is a no brainer, cornstarch is used to thicken the sweetened dairy and then you let it sit in the refrigerator to set. The only way to spoil it is during the time when the mixture is on stove (I say that from experience), its slightly tricky to stop cooking just when the custard begins to thicken and though I have noted times in the recipe, I strongly recommend you to trust your instincts and gut when the stove is on.

The pudding can be served as it is,with any kind of seasonal fruits you like. You can fill up a tart base for a decadent dessert or top it with few teaspoons of sugar and brûlée it (ideas!) Do not mix fresh fruit with the custard unless you are serving all of it right away, this way it can keep good in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Ingredients (Serves 4-5)

  • 200 ml whole milk, cold
  • 200 ml heavy cream, cold
  • 1.5 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour
  • 2 heaped tbsp fine cashew powder
  • 8-10 saffron strands
  • 3-5 tbsp sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1.5 cups mango purée/mango pulp
  • Grapes, Mangoes, berries (or any fruit or nuts of choice to serve)

Notes

  • I use tinned mango puree available in indian/pakistani stores, if using fresh, choose the sweetest mango variety and grind to make a smooth pulp.You can add little bit of saffron for color and flavor.
  • You can substitute the heavy cream with whole milk but the cream makes the custard nicely rich and (of course) creamy and delicious.

Method

Infused saffron in warm milk.

In a heavy bottom pot, , mix cold milk, cream, cornstarch and cashew powder. Whisk thoroughly till all the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Stirring  continuously let the mixture warm up. It will take about 5-6 minutes. Once you start seeing little bubbles on the sides, reduce the heat to lowest and continue to stir. The mixture will thicken fast and will stick to bottom if you don’t stir.

To test if the milk-cream mixture has thickened,  coats the back of a spoon and draw a line with your fingers in the middle, the line should stay separate. Immediately  add the sugar and mango puree. Whisk thoroughly and let cook on lowest heat for a minute till sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the saffron. Mix well.  Strain using your soup strainer in a bowl so that any lumps are removed. At this point, you can mix the dried fruit if using. They will swell lightly as the pudding chills. Tear a cling film and place it right on the surface of the custard, this avoids the formation of skin as the pudding chills.

Chill overnight or for at least 5-6 hours. Serve with fresh fruit/nuts of choice.

Enjoy &Thanks for stopping by!

Fish in a Light Mustard Sauce

Over the years, I have changed this recipe a lot from how mom used to make it. When one of our neighbors gave it to her some 8-9 years back, in the most unexpected way we embraced it in our cooking and more so instantly loved it just because it broke the monotony of the ‘only’ fish curry that we had been eating all the while.

In India a lot of exchange of food and gossip happens with neighbors.This aunty (as we fondly call anybody other than family back there),her house eternally smelled of cakes and good food but this recipe is one of the best things that she shared with us. She churned the tomatoes with nigella and mustard seeds to the point that they become almost velvety. Instantly, the blend hit the hot, virgin mustard oil, a loud sizzle, and boom, the sharp aroma choked up all your senses along with the piquancy of turmeric and fenugreek.Then the masala (spice paste) got slow fried for a good half and hour till it got brown and caramelized. The crisp, deep-fried fish steaks from the other side of on the stove stove finally met the party along with few cups of water and slit green chilies. The soup then simmered for another half and hour and rested till meal time. That light tart, soupy sauce ladled over steaming rice was all you could ask for on hot summer evenings.


I remember how growing up we would not eat much of seafood from April to August since these summer months were categorized as the breeding season, quite contrary to here in the States when essentially seafood is labelled as ‘summer foods. A couple of weeks back I visited our asian seafood store after a gap of year or so and could not help but gorge on the vast choices available – crabs, shellfish, live lobster and what not. I really can’t tell you why this place is one of my favorite,the fact that I can get the freshest black pomfret and indian mackerel here – cut and cleaned ‘my’ way or because of the produce which I do not find in my regular grocery store – taro root, banana leaves, bitter melon squash. Not to forget – fresh jackfruit and lychees!

I bought home fresh tilapia thinking about this curry all the way. With the temperature hitting over 110 degrees F in my part of the world as the Independence day approaches, I could not think of an easy and light meal than this one.

You might try to find an east indian influence in the recipe but sadly it will disappoint you. The use of tomatoes lends this quick recipe the right amount of tart, acidic profile to balance the piquancy of mustard and nigella. I do not deep fry the fish even though that is how it should be done.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 1 lb fish ( 4-5 steaks,I used tilapia)
  • 1 tsp virgin mustard oil
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp oil

For the Sauce

  • 1+1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp nigella seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves,minced
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp virgin mustard oil
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp virgin mustard oil
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 cup fresh tomato puree (just take 3 -4 medium tomatoes and process them to smooth in your food processor)
  • 2 green chillies, slit open (adjust to tolerance)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 1 – 1.5 cup water (depending on the sauce consistency you desire)

Notes 

  1. The sauce from this recipe has a pronounced mustard taste and a bitter end note. We like it this way. However, you can reduce the mustard quantity to not less than 3/4 tsp for a mild flavor.
  2. I used fresh roma tomatoes in this recipe so didn’t feel the need to add any souring agent (like lemon juice or amchoor /dry mango powder), you could add them at the end of cooking if you feel that the sauce needs some tart.
  3. Mustard oil is traditionally used in for the curry and it enhances the taste of the sauce. I cannot suggest a substitute but you can use any neutral oil.The curry will taste different though. 

Method

Clean the fish. Pat dry with a paper towel and rub with 1 tsp mustard oil and turmeric. Set in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Grind mustard and nigella seeds to a powder (not very fine) using your coffee grinder. In a small bowl, mix with garlic, turmeric , 1/2 tsp mustard oil and red chili powder. Add 2 tbsp water to make a paste. Refrigerate this paste along with fish for 2 hours. (do not skip this refrigeration part)
 
After 2 hours, take out the fish and mustard paste from the refrigerator and set on the kitchen counter.
 
In a wide, non stick pan, heat up the 1 tsp oil on medium. Layer the marinated fish steaks on the pan and sear both the sides of the steak.About 2 minutes on each side (this time will depend on the variety and thickness of your fish). Put the stove off and let sit.
 
Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed pan/kadhai, pour the 3 tbsp mustard oil and heat it on medium till you see ripples on the surface.Reduce the heat to low, wait for a minute and temper the oil with fenugreek seeds. Sauté for 20 seconds till you smell the aroma. Next, reduce heat to low and very carefully add the ground mustard paste. While adding to hot oil, the paste will splutter a lot so be careful.Cook the paste on low heat for 2-3 minutes till you see oil starting to separate on sides of the pan. Add the salt, tomatoes puree and mix well.Let cook on low heat,or about 10-12 minutes, stirring in between so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook the paste till you see oil separating on the sides of the pan as well as it changing color to deep reddish-yellow. Make sure that all the water has evaporated and the masala is thick and shiny. Again, as the tomatoes cook,they splutters a lot, be careful.
Once the paste has cooked, add the water, green chillies, cilantro,check the salt and bring to a boil on medium low heat. Once boiling,add the pan fried fish along with the drippings in the pan if any. Also add the sugar. Cover and let cook for about 5-8 minutes. (this time will depend on the variety and thickness of your fish, cook till the fish is done)
 
Remove from heat, and let sit for at least an hour before serving. Serve warm with steamed rice. You could squirt some lemon juice at the end if you like.