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!

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 donâ€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
  • 1 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!

Yogurt Stewed Cauliflower & Potatoes

The silence of the afternoon in the house is totally different from the one at night.It is not as quiet and soothing as when its dark outside but definitely relaxing. I sit on our beige couch tucking a pillow below the knees and legs streched out to rest on the coffee table. It the time when I mostly hear the day than just seeing it. Sounds of normalcy, sounds of neglect, symphony of routine. The tap of  each key on the board is louder than usual as I write this, also the tick tocking of the clock above. I raise my head and through the blinds witness how extremely windy it is outside, the tall desert palms forcibly swaying against the milky blue sky. The street is that quite so the humming of the sprinkler in the front yard is evident even through those noise proof panes and the dancing water droplets in the glaring yellow sun promising that sweet summer days are not far. The irregular clattering above our fireplace indicating how we have been putting off that exhaust pipe repair and the aquarium in the is screechy than usual due to the interrupted  flow of the water through its uncleaned filter. My little girl naps in the afternoon and since I could never abide by the concept of afternoon siesta and certainly do judge people who follow it (well almost) these few hours of the day are most precious, ‘me’ time as they fancifully term it. I want to soak up in the nothingness of this moment before I rush back to regular household chores. Afternoon is also time for tea. Something simple, cozy and warm to sip on while I spend few hours practically doing nothing. The humid air in the room is intense with the aroma of lemongrass, time to get up, strain the tea and rest the hissing pot.I guess that the neighbors are soaking in their pool for I can hear a water splash every now and then, lots of laughter too.Engrossed in ‘me’ time, at the back of my head, ‘what to cook of dinner’ thoughts also hover by. I ponder over what my refrigerator stocks and mentally tick up and down a lot of ideas. It could be a cauliflower for dinner kind of day today. Some days inspiration does not come easy, particularly when we are tired of regular turmeric hued aloo gobi. If I want to make something different which does not need me to continuously stand beside the pot but still with deliciously deep flavors,I make this recipe, one of my mom’s best.

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 4 tbsp virgin mustard oil (use olive or sunflower/grape seed)
  • 3/4 cup red onions, thin sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 ” cinnamon stick 
  • 1 black cardamom, cracked open
  • 3 whole dry chillies (adjust to tolerance, any mild hot variety will work)
  • 1 fat garlic clove, grated
  • 1 ” fresh ginger shoot, grated
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium cauliflower (about 1 lb)
  • 1 large potato
  • Up to 1/2 cup water if required
  • Chopped cilantro (for garnish, optional)

For the spice rub

  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1.5 tsp coriander seeds
  • Pinch of ajwain (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp plain greek yogurt (or equivalent quantity, thick hung yogurt/curd)

Method

Cut the cauliflower into florets. Peel the potatoes and cut them roughly the same size as cauliflower florets. Wash thoroughly under running water & let the water drain completely.Ensure that the cauliflower and potatoes are completely dry, use kitchen towel if required. 

Using your coffee grinder, grind black peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves, and ajwain(if using). Mix these ground spices along with nutmeg and salt to the yogurt.

In a large bowl, combine the cauliflower and potatoes with spice mixed yogurt and let sit.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot with lid on medium heat.Once the oil is just about to smoke, add the chopped onions to the pot. Also add the bay leaf, cinnamon, chilies and black cardamom. Cook the onions till golden brown. About 5-7 minutes. Next, add the grated ginger & garlic to the pot. Cook for 1 minute.Add the tomatoes to the pot and let cook for 2-3 minutes till they start to sweat.

Lower the heat, wait for few minutes (very important to avoid curdling of yogurt)and add the marinated cauliflower to the pot next and combine well.Cook for 2-3 minutes with constant stirring, You will slowly see yogurt releasing water.Cover the pot and let cook to almost done,about 18-20 minutes. (This time will depend on your variety/size of cut too)

Lift the lid, check and adjust the salt now. If you want gravy, add water to the pot and let cook for another 5-8 minutes. Try not to stir the pot else the vegetables will turn mushy.

Remove from heat and let sit covered for another at least half an hour. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm.

Spiced Lamb Burgers With Garlic-Mint Yogurt

Should I eat it? How will it taste? Will it be okay to eat it in public? Similar to hesitations when trying anything new, I was a bit reluctant when I ate lamb first couple of times. It was a red wine stewed lamb T- bone at one of the elaborate buffets here and the husband was all over it. I could not help but stare at his enthusiasm. If I remember correctly, it was only lamb that he ate all night. Eventually I fell prey to his company and gave in. No points for guessing that I did not quite like it at first, you know how clingy we can get to childhood tastes-  firstly the lingering taste of mutton I grew up with & secondly I am not quite up for wine sauces – not yet.

During the initial years, we never really cooked it at home.I scurried through the supermarket aisles just looking at the the wide variety of cuts available but never really bought it.

However, once I did (thinking I will empty my spice box while cooking to layer ‘that’ taste),there was no going back. Lamb paired so beautifully with those cardamons & turmeric in my kitchen and as I cooked it more, adding indian flair to recipes, we slowly embraced it as a regular in our meals. Even though mutton mince ispopular back home, after eating it more and more, we have as much love for lamb dishes in our household now as poultry & seafood. Due to its easy availability, I have substituted all my keema recipes with lamb mince & there is hardly anything not to like. Equally good, equally satisfying & equally delicious is all I can say.

This lamb burger is for those days when we are looking for a change & feeling lazy to cook but still want to eat at home. It is hearty. It is big, spicy and juicy. It is something which is a quick every now & then dinner for us.

I like to stuff my buns with lots of tomatoes, and with that mint laced, garlicky yogurt or whatever salad leaves at hand, however the husband keeps all that at bay. His meaty version is indulgent in itself with just the mince patty & lots & lots of onion slices and kettle chips on the side (which by the way are a must out here).

Ingredients (Makes 5-6 burgers)

  • 1 lb lamb mince (or use mutton/beef mince)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1″ ginger shoot, minced
  • 3 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 Thai green chillies, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 green cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste

For the Yogurt Mayo

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp Lemon juice (or to taste)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For assembling the burgers

  • Buns
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Sliced Onions, Tomatoes
  • Pepper Jack, Colby or any easy melting cheese

To serve alongside

Fries, Chips, Onion rings, beer, hot sauce,pickles etc

Method

In a small bowl, mix up the mayo & yogurt. Mince the garlic clove using your microplane and add the mint leaves to the yogurt. Add lemon juice, salt & pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Using your coffee grinder coarsely grind black pepper, fennel, cloves, cumin and cardamom.Set aside in the grinder itself. In a bowl, add the lamb mince. Add the garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro & green chillies. Add the ground spices over it along with nutmeg,cinnamon & olive oil.Using a fork (or your hands), lightly mix up the mince with all the herbs and spices. If you have time, you can cover the bowl with a cling film & let it sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours or else you can use it right away.

Heat up a cast iron pan. Divide the lamb mince into six equal portions.(We do not like very thick patties, so I could make 6 out of these, however if making thicker patties, divide into desired portions). Brush a tsp of oil on the pan and cook the patties on moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip the patties and cook on the other side, about 3-4 minutes more. When cooked, add the cheese on top and cover with a lid, the cheese should melt in under a minute.  Note – We like our burgers cooked through and the times are noted for that. If you like your burgers pink in bewteen, please reduce the cooking time.These burgers grill beautifully, you can use your outdoor grill to good use for cooking these. 

While the patties are cooking, you will see the mince releasing a lot of fat and juice, soak it up by warming up the bun halves on the same pan. 

Assemble the burgers by slathering the yogurt mayo on both sides of the buns,add in the onion & tomato slices, lettuce and place the cooked patties.

Serve immediately along side chips.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Murgh (Chicken)Tikka

Spicy, smoky and succulent – you could hardly go wrong when these define the dish you make.Bites of chicken grilled to perfection and instantly sprinkled with chaat masala for that much-needed tang and served immediately. I cannot think of a better appetizer or a side to fragrant rice pilaf. If you think healthy, skip the carbs and serve over a bed of greens and you are good to go.

When cooking chicken, I make sure not to skip the marination part – it does wonders to the otherwise plain poultry. Hours of marination in yogurt and spices not only makes the chicken morsels tender but packs them with so much flavor. I always plan leftovers because these are excellent tucked inside a wrap with some green chutney (or hot sauce), mayo and few fresh veggies.

It would be false if I told you that I grew up eating home cooked chicken tikka. Every now and then when we had family dinners, tikkas of all sorts were ordered from a barbecue take out place near to our house. In India, home delivery is so common and free if you live in the same area as the restaurant. The tikkas came wrapped in layers of aluminum foil, still warm from the tandoor (clay oven).There used to be pink hued pickled pearl onions, lime wedges and chutney to go along the smoky bites.At times,it did not matter to transfer the contents on to a dinner plate, just spread open the foil and everybody helped themselves – a really informal way of entertaining if you may think so.

Tikka (meaning chunks or pieces) is an extremely popular street food back home. All kinds of marinated vegetables, paneer as well as meat and poultry are available readily for a take away or a quick mid evening snack by the road side.

However, these are not to be confused with Chicken Tikka Masala, a spicy curry from the indian subcontinent which could definitely use a tikka like these simmered in sauce. You would find a lot of recipes of making tikka in India, each using almost the same spices in varying quantities.I am sharing what I make every now and then with all kinds of herbs & an essential dollop of ghee that goes into the marinade.

Morsels of chicken marinated in yogurt and fresh ground spices and then grilled to perfection. You could use the same marinade for paneer tofu or with vegetable chunks.

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs 
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the marinade

  • 3 tbsp thick plain yogurt
  • 1 green cardamom
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2″ cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder (this gives the color, not the heat)
  • 3 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 green chillies, finely chopped (adjust to tolerance)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 heaping tsp kasuri methi, crushed between palms(dried fenugreek leaves)
  • 1 tbsp ghee 
  • salt
  • oil for brushing the grill top/skillet
Garnishes – Chopped Cilantro or mint, lime wedges, chaat masala.

Note –

  1.  You could use chicken breast too in this recipe. But I find that thighs turn out much more juicy and succulent.
  2. If you don not have all the whole spices mentioned above, trust your favorite tandoori spice powder & use it. Don’t skip the fresh herbs though.

Method

Clean and pat dry the chicken thighs. Cut them into bite size pieces. Rub with lemon juice, minced garlic & ginger,1/2 tsp salt and keep aside for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, tip in cardamom,coriander,black pepper, fenugreek, cinnamon & cloves into your coffee grinder and grind to a (not too fine) powder. Mix this powder in a bowl with yogurt,cumin powder, turmeric, chili, cilantro, green chili, kasuri methi, ghee & mint leaves. Marinate the chicken with this and keep refrigerated for at least 8 hours (overnight is best).

Take the marinated chicken out of the refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking. Sprinkle salt to taste before ready to grill. I use my stove top grill to cook them, however you can skew them and cook over outdoor grill.These cook very well over a cast iron skillet/tava. Cook the chicken pieces to perfection flipping regularly to cook on all sides.

Serve hot along side onion rings & green chutney.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Palak (Saag) Paneer – Spinach & Indian Cheese

I think that one of the best palak paneer that I have eaten ever is the one prepared with home grown spinach from my grandma’s house. One from the vegetable patch which sprung to life with all sorts of greens under the winter sun. It was so thoughtful how our maali (gardener) was instructed to allocate square patches to vegetables.The cilantro, dill and mint which were used so very frequently throughout the day were sown first, followed by tubers and other root vegetables.To wade away the pests, every now and then badi mummy would keep a lighted incense amongst the large coarse leaves of the eggplant area.And it worked.Last few rows were the leafy greens & other delicate creepers, just so that you go towards them only when you need to.

There were the few aromatic methi (fenugreek greens) with its distinctive bitter sweet smell and the laal chaulai having smooth & shiny leaves.Then appeared the tender garlic & onion scapes which were plucked every now & then to accompany the lunch.As compared to these spinach rows were many and more sought after. During winters, spinach became a sudden favorite in the house, it was added to lentils, tossed in salads, made into fritters with evening chai or simply stir fried with garlic & potatoes.

The juicy, fleshy short stems reminding you how simple yet nourishing mother earth’s bounty can be. The mellow, soft taste of the organic leaves hardly needed a dash of lime juice and salt to become a perfect salad alongside dal – rice.Having eaten homegrown for so many years, that fresh taste is something hard to match with anything I cook from stores.

I was always the child who ate her vegetables. I cannot eat meat for more than two days in a week. I love vegetables and if I don’t eat them for a while,my body starts missing them. On days, when I cook rich & heavy foods for the husband which I am not much in a mood for, I treat myself to palak paneer. Slow cooked spinach gives the dish a beautiful green color and creamy homemade paneer add the perfect richness.This recipe uses very less spices & no cream/butter so that the delicate taste of spinach is not overpowered by them.

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 8 oz organic spinach
  • 2 – 2.5 cups water
  • 1-2 cloves
  • 4 tbsp mustard oil (or any neutral oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds, finely crushed
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 fat garlic clove,minced
  • 3/4 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 2-4 Thai green chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • pinch of turmeric
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1.5″ fresh ginger shoot, grated
  • 1/2 tsp  kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, optional but recommended)
  • 6 oz paneer, cut into cubes (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream to finish off (optional)

Notes - 

  1. Use extra firm tofu in place of paneer and skip cream to make it a vegan recipe.
  2. You can lightly fry the paneer cubes in 1-2 tsp of oil before adding to the curry if you want.

Method

Add cloves to water and bring to a boil.Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the spinach leaves. Roughly chop the leaves if they are too big. Since I use baby spinach, the stems are tender, however you can pick the stems out if they are too hard.Once the water is boiling,turn off the heat & immediately add spinach to it.Let the leaves soak for 2-3 minutes and then drain. Reserve the liquid and transfer the spinach to food processor.Put in the cloves too. Pulse. I do not like to make a smooth puree however you can blend the spinach to desired texture. If needed, the reserved can be used liquid while blending.Set the blended spinach aside.

Heat up oil on high in a kadai or medium heavy bottomed pot.Once the oil is smoky, reduce the heat to medium & wait for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped onions to it along with fennel & cumin seeds (in that order) and sauté  till the onions start to lightly brown.Next add the garlic, chopped tomatoes, coriander powder, green chillies, turmeric & cinnamon to the pot and keep on cooking on medium low heat till you see oil separating on the sides of the pot. This may take 8-10 minutes. Add the spinach, ginger, and salt to the pot and mix well. Also add 1/3 cup of reserved liquid. Let the spinach cook on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes and then reduce the heat to low. Let cook on low heat for least 20 minutes. The spinach will bubble a lot during cooking (you can put a lid) and you will need to stir it in between to avoid sticking to bottom. Also the spinach will change color to dull green and you will start seeing glisten on the sides of the pot. At this point, add the paneer cubes and kasuri methi (if using) to the pot along with reserved liquid (quantity depending on how runny you want the dish). Also add the sugar. Cover and let cook on medium low for another 8-10 minutes till the paneer softens.

Let sit for 1-2 hours before serving. When ready to serve, add the cream, reheat and serve alongside hot flatbreads, steamed rice & salad.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by.

Chicken With Yogurt & Whole Spices – Sabut Masale ka Murgh

A very homestyle, rustic kind of chicken dish where you just need to throw everything together and let it be on its own for some time.The soggy whole spices steeped beforehand in warm water burst open their flavors over slow heat. The dark chicken meat soaks up all of it and gives in,releasing its juices to the sauce and requiring very little care as it cooks.

If you try to lift up the lid to peek in, a strong aroma wafts out, filling up your senses. Once the steam clears you would see little bubbles in the sauce with holes in the centre and reddish glisten all around from fat of the chicken. You know its going to be good.

Except whole peppercorns, almost all the spices (including the red chillies which become sweetish) melt away in the gravy.Even though you might be intimidated by the long list of spices but the addition of yogurt perfectly offsets the heat level, not making the sauce too spicy, rather savory.

I made this dish quite a number of times for few weeks. This is what happens when we like something. We keep on cooking and eating it till we are at the brink of getting bored. Then we nestle the recipe for a while and start our quest for another spice blend, another curry, different flavors.

Sabut (Khade) Masale ka Murgh- Chicken with Whole Spices & Yogurt

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 1 lb  chicken thighs, cut into 2″ pieces (use dark meat)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 3-4 tbsp mustard oil
  • 3/4 cup onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
  • 1/3 cup water (or more/less depending on the desired consistency)
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped Cilantro for garnish

In a small bowl, steep the spices below in 1/3 cup warm water for 30 minutes –

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds 
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 black cardamom
  • small twig of mace
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon
  • 6-7 dry whole red chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2″ shoot of fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (optional,this primarily lends a beautiful color)

Method

Marinate the chicken in yogurt,turmeric and 1/4 tsp salt for about 2-3 hours, refrigerated.

Once ready to cook, take out the chicken from the fridge and let sit on the kitchen counter. In a large pot, heat up the mustard oil on high till you see its slightly smoky. Reduce the heat to medium and wait for 2 minutes. Add the sliced onions to the pot, also add the tejpatta and cook till onions are lightly browned.This will take around 5-8 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and add the marinated chicken to the pot.Using the cooking spoon, slowly toss the chicken pieces to combine with the browned onions. Let cook for 5-6 minutes.Do not rush else the yogurt will curdle.

Raise the heat to medium and add the soaked spices (along with liquid) to the pot and mix well with the chicken. Let cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add salt to taste to the pot. Next, close the lid, reduce stove to low and let the chicken simmer for 30 minutes. There is no need to stir continuously, you can check 1-2 times in between than the chicken is not sticking to the bottom.

After 30 minutes,check the seasoning and the doneness of the chicken. Raise the stove to medium heat, add 1/3 cup water and let simmer for another 10 minutes.

Let rest for at least 2-3 hours before serving.

When ready to serve, reheat, garnish with chopped cilantro & serve.

Enjoy & Thanks for Stopping by!

Dum Aloo – Slow Cooked Spiced Potatoes

I loved it when it was the potato harvest time at grandma’s house. Those few days when our maali ( gardener) pulled out the tubers from the soil, we were allowed to assist him. I remember that he used to water the garden a day before the D-day so that the plucking becomes easier. Next morning, exchanging chirpy conversations and knee-deep in the moist ground, we dug up aloo (potatoes) for hours. In the afternoon, just before lunch, mom gave us a bath in the house veranda, rubbing mud off our stained fingers, slathering petroleum jelly on them.

It was then time to rub off the flaky, paper thin skin off the dug up potatoes. She would soak them in seasoned water for a while and then use a tooth-brush to clean. Just a simple tempering of cumin or fenugreek seeds in mustard oil did the trick.

For weekend brunch it was dum aloo & triangle parathas along with mint- coriander chutney. 

I grew up eating dum aloo done with new baby potatoes. However, P does not like the taste of new potatoes. How weird? right? So, mostly I make it with the usual diced up white potatoes.Even though any kind will work here, for authentic taste, use new tots.

In hindi ‘ dum‘ refers to slow cooking. Here potatoes are slow cooked with spices and yogurt to make for a scrumptious curry. You will find a lot of dum aloo recipes in India, differing from region to region.In my family, every aunt’s recipe is different from mom’s. But still, all very delicious and comforting , after potato is another name for comfort in the culinary world!

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)
  • 4-5 medium size white or red potatoes, washed ( or about 1 lb baby potatoes)
  • 3 cups of warm water + 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp mustard oil ( or any oil)
  • 1 small tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
  • 1/2 ‘ dalchini stick (indian cinnamon)
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 tsp hing powder (asafoetida)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli ( or cayanne, adjust to taste)
  • 1 tsp kashmiri red chilli powder ( this lends the beautiful color)
  • 3 tbsp plain, slightly sour yogurt, beaten
  • 2-3 medium roma tomatoes, finely chopped ( about 3/4 cup)
  • 1″ fresh ginger shoot,minced
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 cup-3/4 cup water (depending on desired gravy consistency)
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped Cilantro for garnish

Coarsely grind together

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 2-3 green cardamom
  • 1.5 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds

Method 

Cut up the potatoes in half and in a large bowl, soak them in salted warm(not hot) water for 8-10 minutes. After soaking up, drain the water, peel off the skin (you can skip this for baby potatoes) and quarter them if you like.Using a kitchen towel or paper towel, dry up the potatoes. Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat up the oil on medium heat. If using mustard oil, heat it up till its smoky to do away the raw smell. Lower the heat once oil is hot. Wait for 1-2 minutes. Add the tejpatta and cinnamon stick to the oil. Let crackle for 20-30 seconds.

Add the sliced onions and potatoes to the oil. Also add the hing. On medium – low heat, stir around the potatoes and onions and cook for 5-7 minutes.You will see that the onions begin to soften. Next add the coarsely ground spices to the pot along with chilli powders and turmeric. Stir and continue cooking on low for another 3-5 minutes. Next, add the tomatoes, ginger & yogurt to the pot, stir everything and continue cooking on low heat. The potatoes will release their juices and you will see the gravy becoming watery, but do not worry.

After about 20-25 minutes ( this will depend on size and variety of potatoes, adjust accordingly), you will see that the potatoes have almost cooked, the gravy has a nice reddish color and thin oil bubbles have separated on the sides of the pot. At this point, add the water, sprinkle the garam maasala, cover the pot and let cook on low heat for another 8-10 minutes till the potatoes are totally cooked.

Let sit covered for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

Notes-

  1. Please avoid using starchy variety like russet potatoes here.
  2. The cooking time depends on the quality and the size of cut of potatoes, you need to adjust.
  3. You can substitute the whole spices with ready to use store bought ground spices.
  4. Indian dalchini (cinnamon) is quite sharp in taste, if using the usual ones, you can go ahead and use the whole stick for a pronounced taste. 

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Everyday Chicken Curry

There is a reason I call it the everyday curry. Every family has its own recipe and in Indian homes, normally chicken is cooked with spices and a tomato/yogurt/coconut base to make a curry. It is not everyday that we cook or eat curries doused in cupfuls of cream or dyed in  food coloring or mellowed down with loads of sugar.

Even if you have bare minimum spices in your rack, you can still turn chicken into this gratifying curry. Utterly delicious and redolent with spices, it is what I cooked for P almost four years back for the first time and he admitted that he could eat hundred rotis (flatbreads) with it.

Though I have been cooking it religiously every week since then, I still try to tweak it. Sometimes I make it more yellowish in color as he likes it, at times I double up the whole spices to spike it up and many times I  have mixed in thick coconut milk for a luxurious flavor.Give or take, my husband will polish it off.

That, I guess is the versatile nature of curry, add or skip ingredients at your free will, keep on tasting all the while and in the process develop your own kind – soupy, saucy, spicy, sweet. Curry can mean different to different people, for P its that deep flavored gravy he looks forward to, for mom, it’s the bite of coarse ground spices in the masala, for dad, it needs to be way soupy than the usual.When I make chicken curry for P’s friends it’s the creamy- sweetish kind that they like.

For me, each time I cook and sit down to eat, it’s as if I have plated memories.

However, it disappoints me when I see how the enormous popularity of curry has in fact done it a disfavor. Not only in terms of ingredients but also regards to the effort involved, people find making curry a daunting task and resort to shortcuts, when in real, there aren’t any. I always presume that a good curry needs time and patience. If you are short on any, then probably it’s not your cup of tea.

I posted a  picture on facebook and instagram feed few weeks back and many of you asked for the recipe. Since then, I have made Papa’s recipe thrice.With the kind of slow cooking involved, the recipe works best with bone in – dark chicken meat – thighs or drumsticks. Even if you decide to go boneless, opt for dark meat.That said, you can put your slow cooker to good use here.

Ingredients 

  • 1.25 lb bone-in chicken, dark meat,de skinned (I used 4-5 drum sticks)
  • 4 tbsp mustard oil (substitute with olive/sunflower/vegetable oil)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup thin sliced red onions
  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes, roughly diced
  • 3 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1″ fresh ginger shoot
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Up to 1 cup water (depending on the consistency of gravy you want)
  • Chopped Cilantro for garnish

Spices for Marinade

  • 1.5 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 whole green cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeeds
  • twig of mace
  • 1″ cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole dry red chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (this lends curry the beautiful red color, not the heat)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Notes : In the spices for marinade above, you can substitute whole seeds with lightly dry roasted coriander, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, cardamom powder.

Method

Wash the chicken pieces thoroughly & pat dry using a paper towel.Set aside.

In a small sauce pan, on low heat,dry roast all the whole spices for marinade [except turmeric, kashmiri chilli powder & salt] till you smell the aroma.About 3-4 minutes.Let the roasted spices cool down a bit.Once cooled, tip into your coffee grinder or using mortar & pestle,grind the spices. You don’t want them to be powdery. Add turmeric, kashmiri chilli & salt to the ground spices. Mix this with 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl to make the marinade.

In a Ziploc bag or a bowl, place the cleaned chicken along with the marinade and rub a little so that all the pieces are covered in the marinade. Set aside for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight in the refrigerator to marinate.

Take out the marinated chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. Once ready to cook, heat up oil in a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat.Once the oil is just smoking, lower the heat & add the chopped onions to the pot.Add the bay leaf too. Cook the onions till golden brown. About 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, yogurt, garlic, ginger to your food processor and pulse to a smooth mixture. Once the onions have browned, reduce the flame to low and add the tomato-yogurt mix to the pot, stir to combine well with onions. Also add the 1/2 tsp turmeric powder. Cook on low-medium heat with constant stirring to avoid curdling of the yogurt. Initially, you will see yogurt releasing water, but that’s okay. Increase the heat to medium and keep on stirring till you see oil separating on the sides of the pot.

Add the marinated chicken to the pot next. Add salt to taste. Keep on stirring around the chicken pieces so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. They will slowly start releasing their juices. Keep on turning around and cooking the chicken pieces on medium heat for good 20-25 minutes or till they are 95% cooked. Add water to the pot now depending on the desired consistency of the gravy, check the salt again, cover the pot with a lid and cook the curry for another 10 minutes or so till the chicken is completely cooked.You will need to stir in between once or twice.

Once the curry is cooked, remove from heat and let sit covered for at least  45 min – 1 hour before serving.

Garnish with cilantro & serve warm. Whether you serve with flatbread or rice, I highly recommend making kachumber (indian salsa) alongside.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Mutton Meatball Soup

Cold & rainy- the weather has been like this for few days. Although wanting to stay in bed all day with a tea mug on my side, this afternoon, I yearned to take a walk outside. After a week of grey, the warmth of sun rays glistening through the rain drops still clinging on the window were calling me. I put on the boots and walked out, shivering, looking for a cozy corner. It was fiercely windy but sitting on a corner bench as to block the gusts, I soaked up the bright sun. As the rays percolated through thick knits of my gloves, I felt a magical sense of rejuvenation and warmth.The clean feeling after the rains always draws me, the blue skies softly feathered with clouds, the biting humid air,wet cobbled pavements, the vivid green of fauna. ..It feels as if everything had been renewed, repainted on nature’s canvas.

I walked back, constantly admiring the crispness around me. Sun was fading behind the cloud cover, the dullness was getting an upper hand again. Stepping inside, I quietly settled myself in the kitchen, soup was the only thing on my mind. Whenever I have a desperate longing to nestle myself in a cozy blanket slurping on a steaming bowl of broth, this meatball soup is what I resort to. Not only is it comforting but intensely flavorful. I have a particular liking for clear & brothy soups and this recipe is just that. 

Dad always insists that this soup tastes better the next day. Amid cooking the meals to be eaten within in the next few hours, I saw mom mixing spices with the mince, pinching the meat, squeezing the balls, murmuring all the while about the non ending kitchen chores. Her kitchen was overly busy during winter evenings, soups were prefixed to regular meals, any one coming back from work or school wouldn’t settle without a bowl.

The soup preparation takes a little extra work, but since you will be making a pot full, it will last you for at least a day or two and yes dad is right, it tastes much best the next day. If you add a handful of rice, which you totally should, this can even make a super supper!

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Mutton Meatball Soup

A warming soup with juicy mutton meatballs and spicy broth.
Course Soup
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Mixing bowl, Dutch Oven

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

  • 1 lb (1/2 kig) minced mutton (You can use minced lamb, chicken, pork or beef)
  • 3 Thai green chillies (adjust to tolerance)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 inch fresh ginger shoot,finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 egg

For the Soup

  • 2 cloves
  • 1 tsp corinader seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes adjust to taste
  • 1/3 cup onion paste (I add roughly chopped onions to blender & make a smooth paste adding little or no water)
  • 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste I use microplane/hand grater to quickly grate 2-3 cloves of garlic & fresh, peeled shoots of ginger)
  • 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika
  • 2 large tomatoes pureed in a blender, yield 1 cup (or use canned tomatoes)
  • 3.5-4 cup hot water
  • Salt to taste
  • Garnish – fresh cilantro leaves, fresh lemon juice (optional), chopped onion, chillies etc

Instructions

  • In a bowl, place all the ingredients  for the meatballs. Using your fingers, gently combine everything. Dont squeeze the meat, keep it as fluffy as possible. Spread some oil on your palms and pinch lime sized balls of the mixture and line them on a plate. Cover with a cling film and set nearby till ready to use.
  • Using a mortar & pestle or coffee grinder, coarsely grind cloves, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Set aside.
  • In a wide-mouthed pot (pot should be wide enough so that all the meatballs can be placed without crowding), on medium,heat oil to smoking point. Temper the oil with cinnamon stick & tejpatta. Saute for 5-7 seconds
  • Add the chilli flakes and immediately odd the onion & garlic-ginger paste next, reduce heat to low,fry till the color is light brown and the raw smell is gone,about 5-7 minutes.
  • Continue on the low medium heat and add the ground spices along with red chilli powder, tomato puree, sugar and salt. Mix everything and fry for another 7-8 minutes or till you see oil separating on the sides of the pot.
  • Add hot water next and on medium heat, check the seasoning, it should be sharp salty and bring the broth to a boil.
  • Once the broth is boiling, reduce heat to low and wait for a minute. Carefully, layer the meatballs into the simmering broth one by one. Make sure to have enough water that the meatballs are covered. Dont stir else they will break. Cover the pot and let cook for 10-12 minutes.
  • We like the meatballs firm and cooked through and hence the cooking time.You will need to adjust the time depending on the tupe of mince meat used. To check whether the meatballs have cooked to your liking, after 5-7 minutes of simmering in the broth, using a fork take out one ball and cut into half. You will be able to decide on extra cooking time depending on how pink it is on the inside. 
  • Once done switch off the stove and let sit covered for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed. Whenever ready to eat, reheat on low, discard the tejpatta & cinnamon stick, garnish with cilantro, squirt of fresh lemon juice and serve.

Notes

  1. To make this soup more hearty, you can add 1/3-1/2 cup cooked rice to the broth. 
  2. If using chicken mince, avoid using ground chicken breast, rather use dark meat. 
  3. Avoid using too lean or too fatty mince. I usually for a 85/15 or 90/10 blend.