Since last year, our indian grocer is bringing to us green mango exports straight from the heart of India. Whats different about them you would ask? They are much smaller in size, fibrous & sour and bring back picture perfect memories of those pickles & sharbatin the kitchen that I have grown up on. I am making chutney with them, as well as adding them to lentils.
However, such special things do always come with a big price tag (I paid $12 for 5 small pieces), so after spending that fortune last week, I made sure to come up with something new. After much thinking, this granita was made to beat the extreme summers that have hit our part of the world.
On a different note, this summer, I have been lucky with homegrown herbs and a little vegetable patch after trying hard for years. Each year my pots fell victim to weeds and heat but this time, so far all looks great. Even a small twig of it feels so rewarding. I used homegrown mint to infuse the refreshing notes in this recipe. It is the tang of the green mangoes enhanced with sweet lemon & tart lime juice and grassy heat of the green chili which makes it special, along with a much-needed refreshing notes from fresh, homegrown mint to a lightly sweet, healthy dessert for summer months. Granita (in Italian also granita siciliana) is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings. Originally from Sicily, it has a coarser texture. It is a very simple thing to make except that you need to stare open at a freezer scraping the bowl every other hour or so.
So if you do not desire to put in the baby sitting it needs, turn the same recipe to a sorbet. It tastes as good.
1.5 tablespoon fresh lime juice (adjust quantity depending on how tart the mangoes are)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (adjust quantity depending on how tart the mangoes are)
1.5 teaspoon black salt (kala namak, reduce amount if the mangoes are really tart)
1/4 teaspoon regular salt ( or to taste)
Wash the mangoes. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a pot and add the whole mangoes. Let boil on high heat for 5-8 minutes or until the skin turns pale and they are slightly soft to touch(take care that the mango skins do not break open). Take the mangoes out of boiling water and leave to cool off. Once cooled, peel off (the skin will separate in a squeeze) and discard the skins.
While the magpies are boiling, in another small pot, combine sugar and water and place over medium heat,cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the stove, immediately add the mint stems and leaves and leave aside to steep for about 3-5 minutes (do not leave for too long else the syrup will turn bitter). Strain the syrup through a sieve and let cool down.
Transfer the mango flesh and green chili( if using) to a blender and pulse to smooth. Take out in a large bowl and add the mint simple syrup, lime & lemon juice, black salt and salt to taste to it. Mix to combine. Strain through a sieve to a smooth mixture.
Pour mixture into a 11 inch by 7 inch glass pan. Cover and let freeze for 1 hour and 30 minutes uncovered. Scrape the icy edges with a fork. Freeze again. Scrape every 45 minutes until completely frozen (about 6-8 hours). Remove from freezer every hour or so; scrape with a fork until fluffy. Once semi solid ice crystals are formed, scrape till fluffy.Cover tightly and freeze. Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep frozen.
Scrape granita into bowls and serve garnished with lime wedges and mint.Dust with a pinch of chaat masala or black salt just before serving(optional).
If you asked me about what eating out during childhood years meant, I would have nothing vivid to recollect about fine dining and celebratory dinners. Except for may be the street foods which we gorged on every other evening at Arun Chaat Bhandar, a tiny one room eatery which had been around ever since I have known,the restaurant trips were rare. More so because my grandmother and mother had this undying wish to recreate all kinds of food in their kitchen and less because eating out was not as big part of the indian culture during the 1980s as it is now-a-days. You can gauge that from the fact that whenever I tell my mother about anything non indian food that my daughter likes her play school, she asks me to look up the recipe on internet and cook it for her. ‘Ghar par hi bana do, accha rahega“, cook at home, it will be far better in taste, she tells me. Well, we will keep it for another day as to how I go about her suggestions (wink!) but coming back to my chidlhood days, other than the chaat corner, the other place that me and my siblings looked forward to was indo chinese food at ‘Sabus‘, a neon red-painted food van permanently situated at the front of the back wall of an old housing complex, itched with graffiti of an indian comic character, Sabu, a monstrous alien from planet Jupiter, huge & strong, bald and muscular,always wearing gumboots. It would be slightly untrue to state that we loved eating at that van just because of the noodles, there was more fun in the form of free stickers, liquid filled transparent chopsticks and cheap stamps if you placed a large order. Unlike the food trucks in the States, that red van without tyres was a lot dilapidated, with a much tamed down kitchen as far as cooking facilities & techniques available, but the food from there made sure that the street infront always smelled of soy & spices. You know that burnt, fermented savory ‘stink’?, when the soy bubbles & splutters when as soon as it hits the hot as volcano wok, that! As I write this, I can still remember the taste of food there from some 20 years ago, of the greasy chowmein and the scarlet colored chilli chicken. “It’s all in the wok”, the little Nepalese guy with golden hair and wrinkly forehead replied whenever questioned about his recipes or where he got his condiments.
My mom has been making this hot and sour chicken for so many years, the only difference being that she serves it with a runny sauce than what we ate at Sabus. I follow her recipe mostly except that I do not deep fry the chicken, rather lightly sear it before proceeding to make the sauce.This recipe is more of for an appetizer or starter course than the mains, however the husband insists on combining it some steamed jasmine rice each time. Any which way, the way that garlic & hot chili laced sauce with hints of tomato, soy and fresh cracked black pepper combines with vinegar soaked succulent morsels of chicken is just too delicious. Try it!
A tangy fusion dish of vinegar soaked chicken stirred with garlic – chili paste, soy and spices.
2 tablespoon chilli tomato sauce (I use Maggi Hot & sweet, substitute with Sriracha & 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or use 1.5 – 2 tablespoons Sambal oelek )
1.5 tsp honey (or brown sugar, adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pure, untoasted sesame oil (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 cup chicken/vegetable stock or water
3-4 tbsp oil (I used sunflower, use any neutral oil)
5 scallion stalks, white & green cut separately
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to tolerance)
Salt to taste
1.5 – 2 tbsp white vinegar (adjust to taste, or use a few dashes of balsamic vinegar)
For Garnish – chopped scallions(green parts)
Clean the chicken, pat it dry. Cut the cleaned chicken into bite size pieces. Rub it with garlic, chili, soy sauce, salt & pepper, vinegar and let sit for about 25-30 minutes.
While the chicken is marinating, using your mortar and pestle or mini processor, crush the garlic and Fresno chillies to tiny bits.You could use some water if required for blending.
In a small bowl, mix up the soy sauce, chili tomato sauce, honey and sesame oil(if using). In another bowl, mix the cornstarch with the stock and set aside.
In a wide skillet (I used my 12″), heat up 2-3 tbsp of oil on high. Pick up the marinated chicken pieces, shake to release vinegar and layer on the skillet and let sear on both sides, flipping in between. Make sure that the chicken pieces cook all the way through. This may take about 7-8 minutes or more depending on the size of pieces.
Once done, transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and reserve the drippings in the skillet itself.
Add the 3 tbsp oil into the same skillet and heat it up on medium. Add the crushed garlic chili paste and fry up these for 20-30 second or so till you smell the aroma. Be careful that the garlic does not burn (else it will be bitter). Next add the chopped onions and scallions (white parts) and cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes or till light brown in color. Add the tomatoes next and let cook till they begin to soften. Next, add the ginger along with the soy sauce mix made earlier, let cook for 3-4 minutes till everything starts looking glossy or till you see bubbles on the sides. Next, add the cornstarch mix to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for another 2-3 minutes till the sauce thickens slightly.
Next, taste & adjust the salt in the sauce. Sprinkle the red chili flakes & vinegar to the skillet and stir everything well. Add the chicken & toss so that the pieces are evenly coated.
Garnish with chopped green scallions & serve immediately.
The summer mornings at my badi mummy’s (grandma) house started early with preparing for meals ahead that day. By the time I walked down half sleepy to the lobby, the central area of our house where the whole family gathered for chai in the mornings, at meal times or just to sit chatting away, the “lobby” with tiny pink and ivory marble pieces embedded in the floor and a fish aquarium decorating one corner of the wall facing the door that opened into the backyard, I would often find her either chopping vegetables,segregating them into what will be for which mealtime, kneading the dough , picking the lentils or just involved in some kitchen chore.A half filled teacup always on her side on top of a newspaper folded in quarters which she read in between of being busy.I inched to sit close to her and see what her keep busy.I would flip a few pages of the newspaper and often she told me ” hamare babuji 25 paise har mahene english padne ke leye jayda dete they”(my father spent extra money each month to let me learn english at school). In the 1930s, many old women of her age in India would not be reading english newspapers or speaking the language at that time.
When it was the pickling season, the attention shifted from regular tasks to raw mangoes, baby limes and chilies.To tell you the truth the pungent smell of strong pickling spices along with the piquant aroma of virgin mustard oil would be the last thing you would want to sniff at 6 in the morning but her dedication and involvement towards this business was contagious. Attention to detail boiled down to sterilizing the knifes and kitchen towels that would or could touch those chilies and mangoes,leave alone the large glass containers and spoons or bowls. In that time of no fancy appliances,magic bullets and all, hand crushing the tough seeds of fenugreek and tiny rai (brown mustard) did not come easy if you lacked sincerity. She often covered her nostrils with the end of her cotton saree, which was especially worn in any other color but white that day to guard against stains and those fragile, slightly wrinkly hands worked energetically in unison with the heavy terra-cotta mortar & pestle. In between, she paused to wipe off the spice dust off her steel framed glasses but continued with double vigor in the next few minutes.I often wondered if there could be anything, anything in this whole wide world right now which could deter her attention.
For the next few hours, the coarse ground fenugreek, nigella, fennel and mustard seeds were mixed with copious amounts of turmeric powder and salt and then doused in liters of raw, virgin mustard oil, the pungent oil, which my kitchen still feels lifeless without for I have consumed it right from childhood days. Half of the mixture was separated for the mango pickle to which she would add more chili powder later and the rest was stuffed inside plum,red peppers with slightly shriveled skin from a day or two of sun drying prior to pickling. The jars would be situated in sun to ferment for week or ten days and she found something else to keep her busy like no other.
Having lived on homemade pickles all those years of growing up, I could never acquire a taste for the store-bought ones.My tastebuds can make out the slightest hints of those citric acid and preservatives. It is my aim every season to make at least one pickle. Last year it was raw mangoes and prior to that I pickled no oil limes. It was the turn of red chili peppers as soon as I spotted them at Whole foods this time. Over the years, I have slightly changed the recipe to be more like my mom’s. Instead of stuffing the whole red chili peppers, I slit them in half and then stuff the halves. Thats the only change I have made to my badi mummy‘s recipe.
Ingredients (Makes 40 halves of pickled chilies and extra spice (masala) & oil )
18-20 whole red chili peppers (I used Fresno)
pinch of salt
4 tablespoon rai (brown mustard seeds)
2 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon Nigella seeds
1.5 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1.5 tablespoon amchoor (dry mango powder, buy online here )
2 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
300-350 ml virgin mustard oil, divided (or use olive oil, see notes)
You could use the same recipe to make whole stuffed red chili peppers.Instead of halving them, simply, remove the seeds and stuff with the spices.
Never under salt the pickle, it will go bad within few weeks.
If you do not like the strong taste of mustard oil, you can heat it up to do away the raw smell, cool down and then add. Or you can use olive oil in this recipe if you do not get mustard oil. The flavor of the pickle is slightly different from traditional but it works.
This is not an instant pickle recipe, the pickle is sun fermented and takes 7-10 days (or more depending on strength of sun where you live to mature and get ready to consume.
Wash and pat dry the chilies. Cut and discard the top stem and the entire green portion, then cut them into half. I discarded the seeds & veins of half the chillies,thats where the heat in the pickle comes from. You can remove seeds for all of them if you want. Layer the chilies on a wide, non reactive shallow dish, sprinkle a scant pinch of salt.
Using your coffee grinder, coarsely pulse the mustard, fennel, nigella & fenugreek seeds separately (this is important).You do not need to make a fine powder, if few specks of whole spices remain, its okay. In a small bowl mix the powdered spices together with turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt and amchoor.Taste the spice mix for salt, it should be slightly more salty than you think. Add 2-3 tablespoon mustard oil just so that the spice powder is moistened. This will be make it easy to stuff the chilies.
With dry hands, stuff whole or each half of the chilies with this spice mixture. Place the stuffed chili pepper in a wide glass dish (I use my pyrex). Add 200 ml of mustard oil, any spice mixture remaining and gently mix so that the chilies are coated in oil. At this point, the achaar will have a very strong smell and a bitter taste but that’s okay. Allow it to stand in full sun for two days. Try to stir the achaar once or twice a day with a clean, dry spoon.
On the third day transfer the achaar into a glass or porcelain jar (do not use a metal container) , check and adjust the salt and top with remaining oil and mix well. Cover the mouth of the jar with a muslin cloth, tie with a string and let mature for seven to ten days in sun. (this time will depend on the strength of sun in the area you live).Stir the contents once or twice a day.
At the end of sun fermentation, the skin of chilies would have shrivelled and the strong, bitter taste will go away. Store at room temperature for up to 2-3 months. Always use a clean spoon to serve the pickle.